The Influence of a Number in Storytelling: A Takeaway from Social Media Week

If you were in the audience with me at Social Media Week in NYC, then you’re relieved like me to learn that smart editors are still in control of editorial content. The numbers – clicks, views, hits, shares, likes, favorites – may guide the editorial decision makers, but don’t drive their decisions…for the most part. And while it might not always be this way, it should be.

This may come as a surprise to some of us. It stands to reason that if a popular story, or video or any other visual is a rousing success, then a media company would want to do what it can to repeat it. Well, it does, just not in the way you might think.

I was a journalist at about the time web traffic figures really started to invade the planning process (early 2000s). It predates modern social media of course. We designed story packages for web portals such as Yahoo! much like a media outlet today might for Facebook. But it didn’t change the fact that we were reporting the story. It simply influenced the packaging and delivery of that story.

Representatives from Business Insider, Medium, FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times, Vocativ and BuzzFeed comprised the panel, “Is Data the Future of Journalism?” at SMW on Feb. 26. They all weighed in on the importance of a number in the newsroom when it comes to what’s published and where it’s published.


Said BuzzFeed’s Data Science Lead Jane Kelly: “It’s hard to build something that’s smarter than a 200-person newsroom.” She spoke in reference to using data as a predictive and/or a prescriptive tool to help make editorial calls. “They (editorial staffers) are crafting the story in a way that’s hard to do programmatically.” The same can be said of a smart PR team tasked with developing content for a client.

Said FiveThirtyEight Senior Editor Chadwick Matlin: “I don’t think it (data) is the future of journalism because data is just evidence and any good journalism before was evidence based. It’s going to be now and it’s going to be in the future as well.” Well put. And data in journalism is no more important than it is in PR. Client data helps us tell and support a story and in some form or another it always has. It always will.

Then what’s the measure of good editorial content? Well, it’s perhaps best addressed in the anecdote shared by Business Insider’s President and COO, Julie Hansen.

Hansen said that one day Business Insider founder Henry Blodgett posted an in-depth story on the site about Yahoo! It was well received. Hours later and completely unrelated, he posted a picture of a whale crushing a boat. The Yahoo! story took several hours to produce, while the whale photo, which he sourced from elsewhere, took minutes. Both drew an outstanding audience. But it doesn’t mean the site will focus on sea mammals forthwith. It just means it and other sites are best served when they give readers a choices.

Ultimately, that’s what numbers empower editors to do – make the right choices.


“Success is the sum of details” – Harvey S. Firestone


2015 will mark my 15th anniversary working in public relations. Cupcakes are welcome.

Prior to working in PR, I was a TV reporter with a CBS affiliate in northern California. My first beat as a general assignment reporter was covering agriculture. It was not unusual to file my reports knee deep in rice fields or chasing cows around a dairy farm…..but I digress.

In 2000 I exchanged one hat for another – and a pair of boots – and made the switch from journalism to PR. As career transitions go, the move is common, and my experience as a reporter has certainly proven helpful. There are numerous areas where the two disciplines crossover, but one stands out as the most valuable.

Details. Details. Details.

Looking back from my days working in the KHSL newsroom, alongside other staff hunched over IBM Selectric III typewriters (Google it), I fondly recall my news director reminding us, shouting over the click, click, click, to pay attention to the facts in our broadcast stories.

It was a simple directive then, and it holds true today in public relations. Using the incorrect spelling of a name or the improper date of an event kills a story’s accuracy, which ultimately reflects poorly on the credibility of the journalist and the PR professional.

Without credibility, there is no reliability. And without reliability, there is no integrity. It’s that simple.

In fact, the issue of credibility is currently playing out in a very public forum. Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly is being questioned for his assertion covering the Falkland’s War in 1982. Brian Williams, anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” has temporarily stepped away from his duties amid questions he misled the public with details of a helicopter flight he took in Iraq in 2003. Williams, who has been considered one of the most trusted people in the news business, is now the focus of an internal investigation at NBC to fact-check this story and possibly others. Will people ever trust Williams again?

In light of these recent allegations surrounding O’Reilly and Williams, people are clearly more skeptical of what “truth” is. For our industry, this presents a tremendous opportunity to establish honest credibility. For instance, in today’s environment PR has many more channels to reinforce a positive position and build a genuine trust. We have moved from “just” media relations, aka earned media, to embracing social media and crafting messaging seamlessly through all its platforms, providing content marketing, developing strategies and campaigns that engage all of our audiences and stakeholders.

While a lot has changed since my days as a reporter, the importance of truth, credibility and integrity in PR has never gone away, in fact it’s never been more important than it is today.




“You Are A Moron” and Other Things you May be Communicating Accidentally

At Water & Wall Group, we are animal people. Between the lot of us, we’ve had dozens of pets ranging from hedge hogs and boa constrictors to multiple breeds of dogs, cats, fish, rabbits and rodents. Take a quick peek at any of our inboxes, you will see “19 Samoyeds Who Will Warm Your Wintery Heart” between FundFire and client emails. Puppies, and some children, but mostly puppies.


So why do we love dogs so much? Sure, a dog will give you a happy woof when you get home from work, or howl when it’s feeling lonely, but that’s just the beginning of how they communicate. What about when a dog pulls his ears back because something has gone wrong? I think one of reasons humans feel so strongly about their furry (or scaly, prickly, fluffy) companions is because we’ve learned how to communicate with them in a non-verbal way that leaves little doubt as to how they’re feeling.

They’re not alone. A surprising amount of human interaction is done without words, like slouching in a meeting when bored, or pursing your lips when you don’t like what someone’s saying. Non-verbal communication is often more important than the spoken word. Anyone can say, “Things are fine,” but a raised eyebrow will indicate otherwise.

This is why during televised or recorded interviews, we advise fidgety people to keep something in their hands to avoid using them too much. We also recommend keeping good posture to radiate confidence and poise, an important aspect of being considered an expert on a topic.

Ultimately, the best way to control non-verbal communication is to relax. By managing stress, you can limit the twitchy movements that we’re are all guilty of from time to time. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Here are a few of our top tips to alleviate pre-interview/presentation stress, especially for those not used to being in the limelight:

  1. Prep! Usually a TV producer will schedule a prep call where you’ll be briefed on the questions. Draft answers and use those to guide your on-air answers. When you’re underprepared, you lack self-confidence, which may show itself in fidgeting, ear-touching, darting eyes, and other nervous behavior.
  2. Sit tall to radiate authority; lean in to show engagement.
  3. Bring along lip balm to avoid constant lip-licking. This behavior might be interpreted as nerves, and we don’t want anyone to think you’re nervous about what you’re saying.

Our pets understand our moods and feelings. They know when we’re upset, when we are happy, and when we’re scared. By being unaware of how you reveal yourself, you’re probably alerting others to your feelings as well. Be conscious of your non-verbal communications and you’ll be well on your way to building alignment between your words and actions.


One Lesson that Forever Changed my Writing


I’ll never forget the greatest lesson I learned to become a better writer.

In my sixth grade English class, baseball player Nomar Garciaparra’s poster was hanging up front, depicting him holding a stack of books and encouraging us to read. Our desks were in a horseshoe shape; my desk replete with a spiral notebook and SpaceMaker pencil case. Mrs. Gees, my teacher, handed out a sheet of paper numbered 1 through 25. Her instructions were to write a short story, but to make sure each sentence began with a different word.

Grammar was a meaningful part of this exercise, but her rule of beginning sentences with different words has stuck with me and it’s one I try to live by today. Although it seems simple and somewhat intuitive, it is a practice that many of us fail to follow. Press releases, even from prestigious brands, are plagued with too many sentences beginning with the same personal pronouns. Being mindful of the first words in your announcement can make that ordinary statement something a little more appealing to your audience.

Naturally, being a sixth grader and writing a story without a lot of pronouns was difficult. One way Mrs. Gees guided us away from our bad habits was, instead of telling the story, describe the story. Jack and Jill can go up the hill to fetch a pail of water, but what did they see along the way and what were they feeling (especially when they fell down)? Creativity soon followed.

For companies, remember that ‘telling’ can get boring fast, so describe your announcement. What does this new initiative or employee hire achieve for your company? Who will benefit? Is this part of a larger plan or has a new direction for the brand begun? Convey a story and your audience may thank you.


When Corporate PR becomes Personal PR, and How to Navigate it

A few weeks back, we, like much of the investing community, were “glued” to the TV, watching the Delivering Alpha conference, waiting to hear what the best and brightest had to say about the economy, the markets, and their predictions for what’s to come. Despite differing on the economy, Fed policy or promising stocks, all the “talking heads” had one thing in common: their brands exceed those of their firms.

Being a business “celebrity” can have its benefits. In the long-term, however, it can sometimes be hard for businesses to continue beyond the celebrities who run them. We saw this take place when Tim Cook assumed the helm at Apple. With larger-than-life Jobs seen as the genius behind Apple’s success, media quickly predicted Apple’s demise as soon as Cook was appointed.

Tying brands and personalities together is natural. In general, businesspeople work hard to build something about which they can feel accomplished. Often times, though, the personality becomes even more center stage than his or her business. Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet, Carl Icahn, and Sir Richard Branson are just a few examples where one doesn’t even need to name the company. Yet, can the company be successful without the leaders who’ve come to personify them?

More specifically, take a look at hedge funds, who often are called upon to defend the chances of their survival beyond their leaders. Institutional Investor magazine covered the topic some two years ago, and raised questions key to investors looking for long-term assurance that the tiger won’t change its stripes on them overnight. Ultimately, the solution lies in making public a bench of “celebrities” and their protégés, so that over time, they become synonymous with one another.

Hedge fund or not, multiple spokespeople demonstrate that the company doesn’t only lead intelligently, but that it hires intelligently too, populating itself with future leaders.

For those men and women who appeared at Delivering Alpha, it’s an excellent way to deliver your message. The question is, is it your message or the firm’s message? Failure to distinguish this can make the difference as to whether your firm will be there when you’re not.


America’s Next Top Model: Water & Wall

After many requests (read: Bully begged us), the Water & Wall team has added photos to the “About Us” section. Huzzah! Now you can better picture our smiling faces when you call us to chat (except Andrew – he wasn’t over the Rangers loss yet.)

Of course, none of us were pleased with the results. After sifting through the “linebacker” and “neighborhood creep” photos, we selected the ones we posted to the site. More importantly, we learned a few lessons we thought we’d share.

Always have an elevator pitch ready. When we first met our photographer, he immediately asked us to tell him about ourselves. Sure, he’s a photographer and not a financial reporter, but you never know where a connection will lead, so it was important for us to have an intro ready. This is true for everywhere you go – what you ate for breakfast isn’t exciting (sorry, Instagram), but your company’s objective is.

Serious faces can be scary. Either in photos or on TV, try to relax while speaking with a journalist. If you look too serious, you may come off as angry and unapproachable, which won’t endear you to the audience. Be as friendly and amenable as possible, and your points will find the audience.

The photographer is your friend. As previously stated, not every photo was a “glam” shot. We learned that the smiling-while-not-smiling-and-not-being-creepy pose is tough. We can’t imagine having to get the look right while being under the pressure of questioning!  Our biggest lesson: the camera man is the expert, so take the advice seriously.

Account for warm-up time. Listen as much as you can to the people directing you; they are only trying to help you improve. But even with great advice, it still takes time to warm up and look right. Make sure to have a break between a meeting and a journalist interview – 5 minutes to focus and run-through your ideas will have a big impact.

Take a look for yourself! We think we are a pretty handsome bunch.  That said, we’re hoping this won’t happen again for a while.


Who’s that new hottie on the block? Oh it’s the WSJ!

Have you read a story in the WSJ recently and felt like it belonged in BI or Buzzfeed? It’s not just you. Between a fake story to get you out of work for the USA-Belgium game and an opinion piece titled “Hooray! The War on Women is Back,” The Journal seems a little more hip.

Illustrator Kevin Sprouls created the now iconic hedcuts in 1979.

Illustrator Kevin Sprouls created the now iconic hedcuts in 1979.

Why is this a big deal? It wasn’t so long ago that the Journal printed its first image, the now iconic hedcuts. That move, designed to steal eyeballs from competitor USA Today, was decades after its competition had been employing images. The fact that a publication this traditional is quickly going contemporary means these experiments are ones to notice.

While shocked by the headlines, we can’t say these moves are surprising. The paper has been able to increase readership as many long-standing publications crumbled, so leadership is clearly thinking creatively. As click-bait publications like UpWorthy and Buzzfeed take a greater share of even the business audience (remember, CEOs are people too!), leadership had to take notice of what’s working.

What does this mean for you? If publications are looking for 2.0, then your stories and pitches need to lean that way as well. Editors care increasingly about time on the website and social shares, so if your story doesn’t have a click-worthy hook and visual, it’s time to start creating them.


What Samsung learned from Elvis


“I’ve been getting some bad publicity, but you got to expect that.” Elvis Presley

With the negative press surrounding Samsung’s presidential selfie, you may think its PR team would be trembling. But look a little deeper – part 2 of the “Samsung Selfie” is getting the brand’s name – and the quality of its phone camera – in the public eye in a way of which publicists can only dream. Even better, the stunt was just a fraction of the cost of the previous Oscar gig.

For those out of the loop, last week, Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz posted a selfie with President Barack Obama while being honored at the White House. All was well for the moment of genuine joy – until Samsung said they were proud to make it happen. Piggybacking on the famous star-studded selfie snapped by Ellen DeGeneres at the Samsung-sponsored Oscars, the mobile company revealed that they had a contract with the baseball star, but insisted that the picture itself was completely organic.

The ensuing media frenzy is exactly what Samsung wanted to achieve. The photo, and more importantly, Samsung cheekily taking credit for it is water cooler discourse de jour. To the obvious delight of the phone maker, the Obama/Ortiz photo was retweeted more than 41,000 times. This raises the question, is all publicity good publicity? Well in Samsung’s case, yes. No one has called for people to boycott the company and there is no #StopSamsung hashtag trending on Twitter.

The American people haven’t vilified Samsung in the same matter as the media has. The worst backlash has been from reporters labeling the move “sneaky.” Additionally, the White House is considering banning all selfies with the president. While that’s not the best endorsement, it did make the product stay top news, trend on Twitter, and be on everyone’s minds long enough for them to at least consider the quality lens.

Why wasn’t there as much media animosity towards Samsung after the Oscars as there is now? Samsung paid millions of dollars to sponsor the event, making their product placements predictable and acceptable. No one was surprised when Ellen DeGeneres consistently used the phone to take photos and live-tweet them. The Red Sox being honored by at White House was an event of a different breed. It was not sponsored by Samsung, yet they were still able to take advantage of the opportunity and work their phone into the happening.

Samsung is no stranger to over-the-top marketing, but this product placement has been met with significantly more backlash than the Oscars selfie. Why? There are strict rules governing commercial endorsements, especially for those that try and rope in the leader of the free world. My guess as to how Samsung is responding to White House anger? “That’s Alright.


What you need to know about The State of Media

newspaperThis week Pew released State of Media News 2014, giving us insight into the industry we work with every day at Water & Wall. The report is chock full of interesting figures as to how people are crafting and consuming the news, but alas, it can be a bit… long. A few highlights:

Paid content –AKA native advertising – is growing rapidly.

Or rather, your ad dollars might be best spent creating stellar content that reads more like a story than an ad. In the same way you need a story to pitch press, when you are playing press there needs to be intrigue. You may be able to work with news outlets to better position your message, but if the content isn’t resonating with their audience, you won’t be asked back.

Most outlets are still keeping editorial and advertising separate (though at NYT they now sit together), but the walls are eroding.

Media is rebuilding its global staff.

News outlets see the world as a big place, and they’re looking to triangulate stories. We regularly see US stories translated for a foreign audience, which means editors are going to look for stories that impact the global citizen.

VIDEO watching is up 44%.

While people can’t get enough videos, there are only a handful of video producers. Consider making video part of your marketing. Despite the extra production time, it’ll be worth it to stand out. Additionally, this means TV interviews are especially pivotal, since they provide your marketing team with more video fodder.

social-mediaPeople are reading their news on social media – even when they don’t intend to.

Almost everyone is viewing news on social. However, most of these eyeballs are focused on content shared by friends, not brands. As cracking the social algorithm gets tougher and more expensive, it’s critical for your content (see #1!) to speak to people enough to share. The good news? While business ranked as the least-read type of news on social, 31% of Facebook users still see business news there. However, users who read news on social are less likely to interact than those going directly to the website.

Fox is kickin’ it.

CNN and Fox increased their daytime viewership, and at night Fox has more viewers than CNN, MSNBC, and HLN combined. This makes sense, because Fox has been pouring money into talent and content recruitment. So a mention on Fox gets you an extra snap.

Washington Post had more views than Buzzfeed.

Let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Similarly, despite years of dwindling ad revenue, the media industry is still making a greater profit than Google. #thereishope

Print isn’t dead.

It seems everyone is calling print dead, but apparently it still accounts for 71% of news circulation. We’re a little skeptical of the methodology (delivering a paper does not mean the paper is read), but it’s still worth pondering.

Events are hot.

Live events can bring together an outlet’s editorial, circulation, social, and ad staff to create a power-play for readers. More outlets are catching on to this concept, but they’re newbies. Be on the lookout for an increase in media-sponsored events – and consider lending your own expertise to the right one.



The Reality of Social Media in Finance

Social media has been covered thousands of times and seems to be the primary topic of discussion among tech enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike. One minute I’ll be talking to a friend who will say it’s the future and its unrealized value is endless. The next minute I’ll talk to another friend who will say they’d rather be a waitress than a social media coordinator (true story). But both friends will say it’s a topic overdone. And I agree.

shutterstock_151589798Luckily for you, this time is different. Sort of.

An inspiration for this post was a Gorkana event I attended this week, “Rules of Engagement: Leveraging Social Influence in Regulated Industries.” It was a fascinating panel with great speakers and an engaged audience, and after an hour long discussion that dug into every corner of corporate social media in finance and law, the simple conclusion might as well have been consolidated into a 16 character Tweet. Ready to have your mind blown? Here it is: Use common sense.

I can hear some of you whinging – “common sense” is too basic of a solution for this topic – but let it sink in and let’s remember what every professional social media user should ask themselves before posting on Twitter or LinkedIn: “What are my goals for using this platform, what am I trying to gain right now and what risks should I be aware of?” Simple stuff for sure, but if everyone asked themselves these questions before posting online there’d be a lot fewer social media disasters in the corporate world (though some of them can be rather hilarious).

People use social media for different reasons. Journalists use it to break news and interact with sources/readers. Students use it to look for a job or interact with other students on timely issues (or stalk that pretty girl in Econ 101). Professionals in finance have their own reasons, but regardless of the social media platform the strategy is usually the same: if you share a variety of interesting and diversified content that’s of genuine interest to your followers (easier said than done), engage with them (many of whom might actually be paying clients), and actually listen and respond to them, then more times than not your efforts will help enhance your firm’s reputation and earn your followers’ trust and respect. As an extra bonus, if you’re good at it and continue to always focus on your followers rather than yourself, then you might win their business as well.

Again, common sense. Sounds simple enough but very often the most effective business strategies are.

Other key takeaways from the event:

-It’s not all about you: One of the biggest complaints people have about professional social media sites is that the content is too one-sided. So your CEO was profiled in Barron’s this weekend? Congratulations. That’s worthy of a Tweet, but make sure to go beyond spamming us with your media coverage feed. Share content that your followers will actually want to see: white papers, interesting articles, survey results, infographics, photos, etc. If your social media presence looks too much like an ad, you’re doing it wrong.

-Don’t Hide: If Joe the Plumber wants to know why these “enormous” fees are being taken out of his 401(k), do you answer? Absolutely, and do so in a quick, honest and straightforward manner. There’ll always be angry customers. You can never win over each one, but at least you can’t be accused of ignoring them and hoping the problem goes away. Joe may not like your answer (who wants to pay fees?) but at least he’ll know that his bank/401k provider is responsive and professional. And if you treat him with respect and don’t ignore his problems, you might end up keeping his business

-Nothing is Private: Don’t believe me? Just Google Anthony Weiner. Case closed.

-Take it Seriously: Whether you work for a small community bank or a global investment bank, don’t think that social media doesn’t hold the same weight as a live conversation. In fact, in today’s day and age, it might hold even more. So act appropriately and use common sense. Your compliance and legal department will thank you, and so will your CEO.

If you want to continue a discussion, feel free to reach out over LinkedIn or Twitter