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PR Rock Stars: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota’s Laura Kaslow

I don’t remember the first time I met Laura Kaslow (give me a break, I’m getting old and losing brain cells over here!). But, what I do remember is being impressed. And, she’s done nothing but confirm that initial suspicion since that first meeting (even if I can’t remember it!). She’s a life-long learner (see–pursuing advanced degree). She’s an active networker (I saw her once at a local coffee shop meeting with a mentor she arranged all on her own). And, she’s got a great reputation as a valued counselor over at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. Let’s meet Laura!

Rumor has it you have a new role at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. Do tell.

Sure do. I’ve transitioned from a more traditional senior PR specialist role to a senior PR specialist for digital and social engagement. In this role, I’m really focusing on building our digital PR capabilities. So basically, I’m building on the work I’ve been leading in social media for the company over the last four years, but now shifting my focus to solely be digital, including taking on the role of editor of Blue Cross’ new corporate blog (www.blog.bluecrossmn.com). It’s a more digital content marketing focused role, which is part of the work that I really love. It also allows me to focus a lot more of my time on our social media capabilities, which has been just a portion of my role in the past. There’s a lot of potential for us to grow in these areas so I’m really excited to begin implementing some of the many ideas I’ve had that I just haven’t had the bandwidth to take on in my previous role.

You’ve been at BCBS now for four-plus years–how has social evolved at Blue Cross and what do you see as THE key opportunity for your organization in the years ahead?

Health care organizations in general have so much opportunity with social. It’s all growing and changing so fast, but the biggest driver for us (and I’d argue for anyone doing health care, or at least health insurance) is focusing more on the consumer. Historically, health insurance companies (like many areas of health care) are very B2B focused. We talk about our members, but we don’t talk about them as the consumers of our products, we tend to think more about the employer groups as the consumer. That’s all shifting on a macro level in health care and that trickles down to social.

Now, with social media, we’re talking directly to our members— and health care consumers more broadly. We have to be human with our social media followers. Sometimes that means taking care of their customer service needs. (That’s a lot of it and the obvious part.) But, more broadly, we have to think about how can we engage and inform our members on social channels. This can mean providing great health information from our experts, helping people understand health insurance terminology (it’s so confusing, even when you work in it), and I think most importantly being directly a part of a conversation with the people who have an opinion about or question for your brand.

I think in any area of social, you have to remember that this a public forum for a person-to-person conversation. If you’re not talking to someone like they are your friend or neighbor, you’re probably doing it wrong. But, you have to balance this with the “world watching” part of it. And yes, you can still do this while holding to approved corporate talking points… We have to do that all the time. Really, it’s that balance that I argue is why people need to put on their public relations hat when doing community management over social media.

Over the years, you’ve morphed from a focus on public relations to one on social media and digital. What drew you to social/digital and how do you see your career evolving from here?

In some ways, it just happened naturally. Social media and digital have been of growing importance in communications and marketing jobs in general. I spent six years prior to Blue Cross in higher education. Higher education (unlike health care) was a quick adopter to social media for recruiting students and managing student life purposes. I also did a lot of work with our development team on social, which was a whole other animal because we were talking to elderly donors, not millennial students.

So, as I said, some of it was based on where the work was, but I really fell in love with it and kept pursuing it and growing with it. This was especially true when I made the shift to corporate health care. When I started at Blue Cross, the company was not particularly active on social media. So, I took a deep look at the strategy for each channel, especially before launching the corporate Facebook page. I wanted make sure each channel was a good fit for the company and the content we put out was a good fit for the audience. I love that balance because it’s constantly ebbing and flowing.

As to how I see my career evolving, I want to continue to lead this work going forward by helping really focusing on how to use social media as a strategic outlet to build corporate reputation and brand loyalty. There’s endless opportunity in the digital world and I think that willingness to take on new challenges is so important. What we’re doing today, won’t be relevant in the near future, but something else will be and if I want to do this work in the long-term I better be paying attention to what’s coming. That’s what’s so exciting about this—the known unknown.

Speaking of career advancement, you’re in the midst of completing your MBA at the University of St. Thomas. Why did you decide to pursue your MBA? And, since you’re now working more in the world of digital marketing, how do you think it will impact your career trajectory in the years ahead?

I always knew I wanted an advanced degree, even as I was an undergrad. It was a matter of timing for me. I actually started out as an MBC (Master of Business Communications) student at St. Thomas and ultimately, based on personal preference and program changes, shifted to an MBA with a graduate certificate in corporate communications. I’m also focusing on taking electives courses that will help me in leadership development.

So, with that, I think the greatest opportunity for career trajectory for me is the leadership and strategic business skills I’ve built through a variety of classes, both core classes and elective courses. I look at challenges differently and lead in my work differently because I’m getting this degree. I’m learning to be both more creative and more analytical—and those skills can overlap (left brain, right brain).

However, frankly, what I am getting from school isn’t what’s making me be a smarter digital marketer. (That’s not to say there isn’t a course or two in digital marketing that may be valuable—there are… it’s just not what I’m doing.) For me, I get smarter in digital marketing  by doing the work and reading content from other smart marketers; i.e. being involved in Shonali Burke’s Social PR Virtuosos group (highly recommend!), being a PRSA member, attending MIMA events, and digital marketing/social media focused conferences, etc.

My advice is that if you want to be a smart digital marketer, focus on the content readily available—and do the work and learn from what your own campaigns, channel analytics, etc. If you want to be a smart and strategic business leader in any area—including digital marketing/PR, an MBA is worth every hour and dollar to build those skills.

What’s one big trend you expect to see in the social media world in 2017?

I’m not much of a trend predictor, but one area I find really interesting as a PR person is the post-election backlash of the fake news stories. I think that there will continue to be more focus on this. (Facebook has already taken steps to help people mark questionable stories, update their algorithms and such.) Social media continues to make “everyday people” into “reporters” (or perhaps more accurately messengers of news).  I think that one thing we’re seeing already is what impact that has. Social media companies have become defacto news bureaus, and the real world impact of this is starting to get more attention.

While, I don’t know if that is a big trend, I think it’s something people will be paying attention to for a couple reasons. People begin to demand more credibility and easier fact checking. I’m just as lazy as anyone in my social media perusing and probably won’t always put an effort into debunking fake news, but I do want to have a warning flag if a source is questionable. I’ll be curious to see how algorithms start so shift and guards are put into place to help people discern credibility of real news verses fake news.

You’ve been a part of PRSA for years–in fact, you’ve been an active committee member for the last several years. Your work has earned Classics Awards. Clearly, you are a big PRSA supporter. My question is this: How will organizations like PRSA remain relevant in an environment where their previous strengths (networking, programming) are being commoditized and marginalized?

Such an important question. Yes, I’m a huge supporter and am proud of the work I’ve done and grateful for all the amazing people I’ve met through PRSA. But, you’re absolutely right that times are changing and professional organizations need to change along with a changing world.

I’ve gotten a ton out of networking through PRSA, but that’s because I really worked at it as an active committee member. This was especially important to me because I was in a bit of a niche role in a graduate school career prior to hopping over to health care and those connections (including you!) really helped me in myriad ways (including interviewing differently, knowing people who have a connection to a company, industry I’m interested in, etc.)

Honestly, I think, like you point out, that the programming component is going to be tough because there’s just so much good content out there these days. But, it is also a core part of any trade organization. So, I think really it is really important that organization like PRSA find their niche to show their value. No one (arguably) should understand public relations better than PRSA. So, the programming for that organization should be on social media and reputation management, or using content marketing to create a news bureau for your organization. That’s what PR people need from PRSA.

However, strong programming alone is not enough to really maintain relevance and membership numbers. I think looking at what the next wave of potential members need will be important and good programming will help that. What may be a bigger gap for these organizations (at least from what I hear anecdotally) is how to maintain interest among more senior practitioners. I’m pretty savvy with social PR because I’ve been at this for a little while now, so how can I use my membership to develop my career in an area where I have core skills? That’s a big challenge any professional trade organization has to look at these days—balancing the basics to give value to those newer to the profession with the deeper strategy/leadership needs of those who are in more senior roles. I don’t have a perfect answer as to how to do this, but I think it’s really important.

It’s the New Year. Everyone is looking for a new show to binge watch. I know you’ve been watching Gilmore Girls. Any other favorites to recommend to those who might be looking for something new to watch?

Oh gosh. Gilmore Girls. Yes, I’ve been slowly going back to Stars Hollow. (What’s up with Rory, btw???)  So, for those who just binged and need a Gilmore-like fix, I strongly recommend Hart of Dixie. (Wade will be your new Luke. Promise.)

As far as other favorites… I’ll go with a few standbys that I feel like anyone can binge and enjoy… The Office, Big Bang Theory (not on Netflix, but you can record episodes on demand or go to the ye ole library and borrow discs); I always recommend Six Feet Under, LOST and Parenthood. For newer shows, I’d say Stranger Things (for those Netflix people), The Good Place and This is Us. Oh and for those sci-fi nerds, if you’re not watching Doctor Who yet… well… just do.

 

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6 ways to better prepare for a fake news attack

If there was one “trend” that emerged in 2016 that should scare the bejesus out of PR counselors it’s this: Fake news.

We’ve all read about the phenomenon by now and its impact on the 2016 election. But, what you may not have given as much thought to is fake news’ potential impact on your company, its executives and your organization’s reputation.

Again–bejesus. Scared out of you.

Why? Because this is something that’s completely out of our control and sphere of influence.

And, it’s already happening. Just as Pepsi and CEO, Indra Nooyi.

But, isn’t this just an election thing?

No, according to many. Including, long-time blogger, podcaster and counselor, Shel Holtz:

“But let’s be realistic. Efforts by Facebook, Google, and others to stifle fake news will fail. This genie is out of the bottle. Now that people know fake news produces real outcomes, they will find ways around the blocks, just as spammers and hackers who deploy computer viruses have.”

Sufficiently scared yet?

You should be.

But, I believe there are steps you can take to (at least try to) protect your corporate reputation against fake news villains. If I were a director of corporate communications at a Fortune 500 company, I’d be considering the following approaches:

Start managing expectations with execs now (before the fake news hits)

Most likely the most important item on this list. Why? Because most execs really have no clue about the details of fake news. In fact, the likely response you’d get from a CEO if defamatory fake news were to emerge against him/her would be: “Just take it down!” Am I right? I’d suggest getting ahead of this by having the conversations now with your executives before the crisis situation presents itself. Explain what fakes news is, how it works, and what steps you can and cannot take to combat it.

Be prepared to ride it out (like social attacks)

The fake news phenomenon feels eerily similar to what we see when political groups attack social brand pages. I’ve been a part of one of these attacks before on the brand side–it’s not pretty. Political organizations rally their troupes to encourage followers to post on Facebook walls and to tweet at companies they have their sights on. The result is an endless flurry of negative posts that the brand cannot possibly keep up with. And, the resulting action brands typically take is the only smart one: Nothing. Responding once (or minimal times) and riding it out, appears to be the standard operating procedure. And, I think that same approach (responding minimally) will probably apply here, too. Think about the environment–a fake news source that cannot be influenced. People who will believe what they want to believe. And, a social media ecosystem designed to encourage the sharing of said message. Riding it out seems like the only option, really.

Be ready to move quickly with employee communication channels

That said, I think you can take a few steps to mitigate the damage–especially with one audience you can communicate with effectively: Your employees. Being able to react QUICKLY to fake news becomes paramount. Make sure your team and processes are up to the test.

Be ready to rely on relationships with key journalists

Not so much to push a story, necessarily. But, to serve as a resource to provide factual information–something we appear to be in short supply of these days.

Be ready to use executive LinkedIn profiles

Another channel that affords you the opportunity to speak straight from the horse’s mouth: Executive LinkedIn profiles. I’ve been a huge advocate of LinkedIn Publishing as a channel for the last few years. Great way to connect with employees, vendors, prospective employees and customers in a way very few other channels provide (mostly, the authenticity angle). No different here.

Be ready to use paid dollars to ensure your message is seen via social.

Seems counter-intuitive from a PR perspective, but most social channels are now full pay-for-play. Here’s the trick with this approach, however. You’re never going to counteract ALL the fake news. Most fake news is being shared in circles that your company, its employees and customers don’t necessarily interact in. But, sometimes it’s about optics. And, in this case, at least trying to counteract the fake news counts for a lot–with executives, with employees and with customers.

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14 people I’d love to have coffee with in 2017

Last year I made a post that I’m going to make into an annual series–or challenge. The concept is simple: Publicly document and state 24 people I’d like to meet and grab a cup of coffee with in the next year.

How did I do last year? Not too shabby. I did get to know the following folks better: Kait Cox (Sleep Number), Molly Snyder (Target), Dory Anderson (Lemke Anderson), Anna Lovely (Cargill), Dane Hartzell (Honeywell), and Crystal Schweim (OLSON).

via GIPHY

On the flip side, I whiffed on a LOT of my proposed list. I missed chances to meet: Dustee Jenkins (Target), Stacy Anderson (Anytime Fitness), Mike Fernandez (then Cargill) and Amy Von Walter (then Best Buy). And, I also didn’t connect with a slew of folks on the list that I already know, but haven’t seen or talked to in quite some time.

Letter grade for 2016: C-.

Time to take things up a notch!

So, I’m re-committing myself to coffee meet-ups in the New Year. Part of why I got away from them in 2016 was I was busy with client work. But, I can definitely do better. Coffee meet-ups don’t take a ton of time, and when done right, I can work them into the schedule rather easily.

So, here’s my list for 2017. Hoping to meet the following in the New Year!

Craig Pladson, GoKart Labs

Been on the list for a while. And we have so many common industry friends. It’s time.

Joanna Hjelmeland, CHS

“Met” her recently via LinkedIn through a common friend. Hoping to meet in real life in 2017.

Jamie Guse, Best Buy

His name keeps popping up in different situations. That’s a clear sign.

Julie Scheife, Land O’ Lakes

As luck would have it, she’s presenting at MIMA in two weeks. A relatively easy chance for a handshake at least!

Amanda Gebhard, Boston Scientific

Interestingly, I don’t know a single person who works for Boston Scientific. Figure this would be a good way to fix that! Plus, I know she volunteers for Social Media Breakfast. And, someone I know is speaking at SMB later this month 🙂

Matt Wilson, General Mills

If I’m not mistaken, Matt has referred work to me in the past at Mills. Probably about time I officially thank him face-to-face.

Kristin Zima, Optum

Kristin was the web content manager at Dow Corning before the web was even really invented (in 1991!). That’s intriguing enough–also, her current role at Optum as director of social has to be an interesting role.

Allison McMenimen, Nina Hale

Was all set to meet Allison earlier in 2016, but circumstances derailed us both. Hoping to correct that in 2016.

Whitney McChane, Carmichael Lynch Relate

CLR–another agency where I seemingly know no one anymore. I think I’m getting old.

Tim Laughlin, Xcel Energy

In case you haven’t noticed, there aren’t all that many guys who work in the PR/comms world. So, I aim to meet as many of them as I can 🙂

Katie Cerney, Thrivent

Interesting and diverse background with Fortune 500 companies in town. 40+ common friends. Seems like a logical connection to me.

Kirstie Foster, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota

Almost had a chance to meet her when she was with General Mills. Now, she’s over with the Blues. Probably a big reach, but gotta reach for the stars, right?

Heather Leiferman, Buffalo Wild Wings

Another one of those companies where I don’t know a soul. Also time to correct that wrong.

Lori Fligge, Cargill

Global News Editor at Cargill. That’s a damn cool job title. And definitely someone I want to know.

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Mainstream media versus YouTube Influencers – Which has the bigger audience?

2016 was a good year for influencers. Specifically, 2016 was a VERY GOOD year to be a YouTube influencer.

Just ask Casey Neistat who sold his video-sharing app, Beme to CNN for a cool $25 million.

But, for every Casey Neistat (who’s been huge for years), there’s an emerging Tanner Fox. Or, Liza Koshy.

And, these influencers have MASSIVE and very loyal followings.

How loyal? My 12-year-old son knows the exact time of day Tanner Fox typically posts and waits with bated breath for his posts. His new goal: To become the next Tanner Fox. God help us all.

How massive? In many cases, these YouTubers have bigger audiences than mainstream media shows (the video below posted by Neistat had almost 8 million views as of the the pub date of this post).

I know the mainstream media is dead (wink wink), and no one is watching anymore, but shows like The Today Show, Jimmy Fallon and SportsCenter still have a MAJOR role in the media mix. A lot of people are still watching these shows.

Yet, many of these big-time YouTubers are exceeding those mainstream media reach numbers.

Wow.

Why am I writing about this? Because, one trend I see for 2017 is the expanding partnership between brands and YouTube influencers. Not just the Samsung and Targets of the world. I’m talking all kinds of companies working more closely with these video experts to create content that resonates with their audiences.

So yeah, these influencers’ ability to create content and nurture followings is huge.

How huge? Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape:

Good Mythical Morning vs. Today Show – WINNER: Today Show

Good Mythical Morning: 1,221,767 views (average of last 10 videos)

Today Show: 4,716,000 (as of March 31, 2016)

Dude Perfect vs. ESPN – WINNER: Dude Perfect

Dude Perfect: 14,573,904 views per video (source: average of last 10 videos of YouTube channel)

ESPN: 3.9 million viewers for 2015 Christmas Double-Header on the four-letter network (source: ESPN)

Brave Wilderness vs. Animal Planet – WINNER: Brave Wilderness

Brave Wilderness: 3,427,983 views (source: average of last 10 videos on YouTube channel)

Animal Planet: 652,000 viewers (Source: TV Insider)

Liza Koshy vs. Ellen – WINNER: Liza Koshy

Liza Koshy: 4,425,232 views (source: average of last 10 videos on YouTube channel)

Ellen: 3,783,000 viewers (source: Nielsen)

Tanner Fox vs. Jimmy Fallon – WINNER: Jimmy Fallon

Tanner Fox: 1,479,847 views (source: average of last 10 videos on YouTube channel)

Jimmy Fallon: 3,478,000 views (source: Nielsen)

Note: Fallon is the winner here…for now. But I would argue Tanner Fox may eclipse Fallon’s reach by the end of 2017 (if not sooner) based on how he’s trending (and note his audience size is a THIRD of Fallon’s right now–that’s insane).

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Face it, there are no “dream jobs”

It’s time to give up the ghost.

There are no “dream jobs.”

Yeah, I said it. And you know why? Because I’m living my “dream job.” (outside of running social media for the PGA Tour)

And while I’m exceedingly happy with my current role, it’s far from a “dream job.”

Because the “dream job” is simply unattainable.

Think about it.

What does the term “dream job” imply? For many, I have a feeling it means one or more of the following:

  • A job where you get to do everything you want to do
  • A job where you have authority to make decisions
  • And, a job with very few, if any, drawbacks

Except two of those three bullets are complete fallacies to begin with.

First, no job is devoid of drawbacks. Take my current role. While I do enjoy the perks of schedule flexibility and controlling who I want to work with, there are significant drawbacks to the solo lifestyle.

For one, it’s a very lonely existence. You really have to make an effort to get out and see people–and even then, you don’t have a “team.” No one to bounce ideas off. No one to call bullsh*t on your stupid ideas.

Also: it’s not the most glamorous life. You don’t win awards, because often it doesn’t make sense to submit an entry. You don’t enjoy the “status” of being a VP at Target because you’re a independent consultant and you work from your dining room table most of the time.

No, this job DEFINITELY has drawbacks. All jobs do. The key is this: If the pros outweigh the cons, it’s probably a darn good job. And for me, right now, this is a darn good job.

Second, you’re never going to have a job where you get to do everything you want to do. It’s just not realistic. Again, I’ll use myself as an example. In my current role, I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the biggest brands in the Twin Cities (Sleep Number, Trane, Andersen Windows & Doors, Cargill, General Mills), and I’ve done some great work with them that I’m really, really proud of. But, I’m just a solo consultant–I don’t typically touch the large, primary campaigns these kinds of companies are working on because they have big agencies to do that kind of work. So yeah, I’d love to do that work, but I know my role and I’m comfortable with it. But, it certainly doesn’t include “everything I’d want to do.” So, be realistic about what that might entail. You might get to do 2-3 things that you’ve always wanted to do–but you also have to do 1-2 other things that really suck. So what? Who cares? It’s all about setting expectations.

And, that’s really the key to this whole dream job thing: expectations.

Again–there is no dream job. Adjust expectations accordingly.

There are no jobs where you’ll get to do everything you want to do. Adjust expectations accordingly.

There is no job where you’ll have the perfect balance you’ve been seeking. Adjust expectations accordingly.

And, there is no job where you’ll get to make all the decisions. Adjust expectations accordingly.

Once you own up to the fact that there are no dream jobs, you’ll find a little weight has lifted off your chest. A little less pressure. Because there’s not that drive to FIND that dream job–because IT DOESN’T EXIST.

Stop worrying about finding your dream job. Instead, go find a job where your days fly by. Where you feel fulfilled. Where you work (mostly) with people you enjoy.

And don’t forget to adjust those expectations.

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