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PR Rock Stars: Metre’s Zachary Spanton

As many of you know, I’m a Winona State University grad. And while I have certain loyalties to the U of M, and my Kansas Jayhawks, I bleed purple and I’ll always think of Winona State as my college home. So, whenever I get the chance, I try to highlight the great people here in the Twin Cities who also call themselves Warriors. Zach Spanton is one of those people. Zach’s a recent grad (2017) who I met a couple years ago during one of my many visits to the WSU campus. Most recently, Zach earned the prestigious MN PRSA Willard Thompson Scholarship–a first for a WSU student! That was more than enough for me to feature him here today. Let’s hear from this rock star grad.

First and foremost, you’re a recent Winona State grad (go Warriors!). So, I always ask everyone I meet who’s attended WSU–why Winona?

Winona was the sweet spot for me. Growing up in a town of 3,500 in South Dakota, I wanted new experiences in a place that was a bit bigger, but not too big, and far away, but not too far. Once I visited, I fell in love with the place. After getting settled, the people and professors I met confirmed that WSU was the fit for me.

 

During your time at Winona State, you had at least two internships, and it appears at least one part-time job. Can you talk a little about the value of those internships–and a part-time job–during your college career?

I found I was able to learn what I liked and didn’t like along with building valuable skills. During my internships, I was able to try my hand at many tasks including writing, research, design, photo/videography, and project management. Either there aren’t as many internships out there involving just getting coffee, or I lucked out. Even at a campus job unrelated to my field (I made a lot copies there) I had opportunities to practice certain skills, like designing posters and writing. Being able to transfer and grow those skill sets from each job built me a foundation that jumpstarted my career path.

Besides learning a lot at my internships, it kept me in the mindset that I was working toward something. It made me understand that everything wouldn’t magically fall into place once I graduated. I had to work for it and plan while I was finishing my studies so I wouldn’t be left high and dry on graduation day.

 

You’ve made the transition to full-time work pretty well. However, many students in the PR and marketing fields do not. Why do you think that is? And, to what do you credit your success in that transition?

It’s hard to say why that is. I have friends who weren’t as lucky as I was leaving school. Getting a good amount of experience before graduation likely gave me an edge though. I can also give credit to persistence, networking, and of course a bit of luck. I made an effort to follow up with people I met in the field and transferred skill sets from one experience to the next, ultimately leading to my internship at Metre, the ad agency I work at full-time now.

I should also stress the importance of confidence, or at least the fake-it-til-you-make-it version. Some people looking from the outside in might be surprised to hear I was pretty scared most of the time in my college journey. Being able to choke it down and keep pushing myself was key to helping me get to where I am.

 

So many people talk about finding that first job out of school and how hard that can be. But, fewer people talk about the life transition from college to full-time work and how that impacts your life. Talk about how you’ve made that transition and tips you might have for those who will make it in the years ahead.

It’s definitely a different environment! Transitioning from going between classes, clubs, and a part-time job to being in the office most of the day is a big change of pace. There are still a lot of deadlines, but with more serious consequences 😉 And there aren’t any clear guidelines of what you’re supposed to do. You kind of have to figure out a lot on your own.

So, I’ve tried to carry things into my career that helped me at school: I stay in touch with contacts and those I can learn from, I keep the mindset that I’m still learning and always will be, and I set deadlines and milestones for myself.

On top of work, there’s also life outside of work. To those who will be walking the same path I’m on, I would say to work hard and take the advice I listed above, but enjoy your free time, explore your new surroundings, and take time for interests and hobbies. Personal growth is as important as professional growth.

 

You recently made the decision to move from your job in LaCrosse, Wisc., to Minneapolis. That’a big shift! Why the move? And what are you looking forward to most about living in and working in Minneapolis?

Once I decided what field to go into, I knew I’d ultimately want to transition here after school. It’s a place not far from what I’m familiar with where a lot of talented and helpful people live who I can learn from. So, as I was nearing graduation, I talked to the owners of Metre, where I was interning, and expressed my interest in moving to Minneapolis. It just so happened they were wanting to build up the satellite office there. (Again, where a bit of that luck played out).

I’m most looking forward to getting into the local culture (I can’t say the beer and biking have disappointed), seeing what exciting new projects come up, and meeting more people. It’s only just begun!

 

You also recently earned the Dr. Willard Thompson Award as part of the annual MN PRSA Classics Banquet. Congratulations! Can you talk a little about what this honor means to you and how (if at all) it’s impacted your life in the last couple months?

Thank you 🙂

Receiving that honor was a huge boost to self-confidence right before graduating. It felt great to represent WSU when that honor is usually snatched up by UM students. It’s taught me to be confident in my abilities, and to always keep pushing myself.

At the Classics, I saw familiar faces and met many great people who were all willing to chat with me, share their experience, and offer advice. Since then, I’ve met with two of them again and have two more meetings in the works. One of the best parts was getting to have lunch with Heather Cmiel, MN PRSA President. She’s one of the kindest, most helpful, and personable professionals I’ve met. Overall, this honor really helped me build a support network that I plan to grow.

 

You were also very active with PRSSA at Winona State, serving on the board, leading tours and in general, volunteering a ton of time your sophomore-senior years. Why made you do that, initially? And, do you think all that time and effort was worth it? Why or why not?

Honestly, in high school I wasn’t involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, and I wanted to change that in college. Once I had chosen PR as a major my sophomore year, I figured it would be smart to join PRSSA and learn more about the field (because it still seemed like a total mystery). Once the opportunity to apply as an officer came up, I wrestled with the decision for about a week before finally sending the application off last minute.

The time and effort was absolutely worth it, because it forced me into a leadership position where I had to learn a lot. The responsibility of making sure the club was worthwhile for everyone helped drive us. Creating those opportunities to learn together as a group and to go off and meet professionals in the field was invaluable.

 

Note: Photo above courtesy of Minnesota PRSA.

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Prediction: 50% of media relations positions will be eliminated in 10 years

Now THAT’S a headline, right? Sure, it might seem a little bombastic.

But, it’s actually rooted in a number of facts. And that’s exactly what I want to talk about today.

You see, it seems to me we’re at a bit of a crossroads. On one hand, I see a lot of people still working in an environment similar to 2001. Mainstream media still dominated the landscape. Smart phones weren’t even a thing yet. And Facebook wasn’t even a thought in Zuck’s mind.

On the other hand, I see a lot of other people working in the new paradigm. Where audience reach seems to be more fragmented by the day. Where no platform or media dominates. And where adoption of new approaches and technologies is the norm.

But make no mistake about it, these are two separate realities. And they’re miles apart.

And, it’s mostly predicated on the belief, and expectation, quite frankly, that the mainstream media will always be numero uno in the PR/marketing game.

Sure, mainstream media still have huge reach today. The New York Times still matters. People still watch NBC News (although fewer than did 10 years ago).

But, look how much has changed in 10 years (keep in mind, in 2007, the iPhone was invented).

How much will change in the NEXT 10 years?

A whole lot, methinks.

In fact, my prediction: 50% of all media relations jobs will be eliminated in 10 years.

Consider the facts:

  • FACT: Mainstream media reach continues to wane.
    • SUPPORT: A Pew Research Center study claims that total weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers (print and digital) fell 8% in 2016–the 28th consecutive year of declines.
  • FACT: Local media continues to struggle as well.
    • SUPPORT: Viewership for early morning (down 12%), evening (down 19%) and late night news broadcasts (down 31%) have all fell since 2007.
  • FACT: Millennials have a more negative view of mainstream media.
    • SUPPORT: Just 27 percent of millennials say mainstream media has a positive impact on them, down from 40 percent just 7 years ago.
  • FACT: The way in which Millennials consume news is increasingly fragmented

So, mainstream media reach continues to suffer, local news is still diving, and millennials think less of news than they did just seven years ago and consume their news is MUCH different ways than most of us do/have.

Translation: Media relations will not be the cornerstone of comms and PR departments like it once was–in some organizations, this is already changing.

And while it might not be a “fact”, here’s one more important point to consider: In the current state, Boomers and Gen Xers serve in leadership positions (for the most part) within large agencies and large companies. They are the ones dictating terms. Budgets. Direction. Strategy.

What kind of media did those people grow up with? What kind of media are they most comfortable with?

You guessed it. NBC News. New York Times. The 10 pm local news.

Now think 10 years forward. The very youngest Boomers will be 61–the oldest will be 79 years old. The youngest Gen Xers will be 47–the oldest 62. This means, most of these folks will be moving into retirement, or taking a step back at the very least.

Meanwhile, Millennials will be moving into decision-making roles. They’ll be in the prime of their careers–ages 30-46.

What does this mean? It means Millennials will approach things a LOT differently than their Xer and Boomer counterparts. And, I’m not sure media relations will play the primary role with them that it does with the Boomers and Xers. It’s just not what they grew up with, or what they experienced. And, I can’t even begin to imagine how the yet-to-be-named generation (my kids–ages 0-13 now) will be consuming media in 10 years.

Make no mistake: Leadership is a big reason why many companies and agencies continue to pursue media relations as a discipline. And that’s fine…for now. But 10 years from now? I think we’ll see half the media relations jobs we see now.

So, what’s the result of the market losing 50% of these jobs? I think you’ll see more content-focused positions–in fact, you’re already seeing that. You’ll see more jobs where media relations is just one piece of the job (and a smaller one, at that). You’ll see more generalist roles vs. media-specific roles.

To be clear, I’m not saying media relations is dying, or is dead. Far from it. But, I do think the day and age of jobs solely dedicated to it is coming to an end–quickly. All signals point that way for now.

photo credit: Sole Treadmill news via photopin (license)

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Why execution eats strategy for breakfast

For years, I’ve listened to experts and thought leaders tell me PR and digital marketing is all about strategy.

And yes, sound strategic thinking is important.

But I’m here today to tell you that in my experience execution eats strategy for breakfast.

OK, so I’m playing off the old “culture eats strategy for breakfast” cliche. But, I really believe this to be true.

Not because I minimize the value of good strategic thinking.

But because without fantastic execution, the best strategy in the world is useless.

I’ve seen it play out so many times.

And particularly in the social media marketing world.

For example, let’s say you’re Nike (full disclosure: Nike is NOT a client). And you want to sell more fly-net shoes to the younger set (15-18 year-olds). You determine one key way you’ll reach this audience is by using everyday Nike employees to tell stories about how they’re using their fly-nets via Instagram Stories (this is just an example, keep in mind). You determine you’re not going to spend money on Instagram ads, but instead that you’re going to experiment with this “Story” model for six months and then re-evaluate options.

OK, so the strategy is set (again, this is just an example).

Time to execute, right?

But, unfortunately, your team sucks at executing. The visuals, Boomerangs and live videos they come up with absolutely stink. You see limited engagement and in six months you’re on to the next strategy.

The strategy was sound–but the execution cost you in the end.

Here’s another way to think about it. Consider the senior-level folks in your PR/marketing organization at this moment. Why did they ascend to those roles? Was it because they demonstrated sound strategic thinking? Or, because they were excellent executors and doers?

I’ve found the latter to be true at least 80 percent of the time.

Again, execution eats strategy’s lunch (see what I did there?).

I know many are going to disagree with me on this one. But, that’s the way I’ve seen it over the past 20 years of my professional life.

What do YOU think?

photo credit: JaBB VanilleTraum, Clementinen, Birne & Banane via photopin (license)

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OMG, can we please make the “how to” posts stop now?!?!

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you work in the PR or digital marketing industries. And, if you work in those industries, chances are you are responsible for content development for you company or clients. And if you’re responsible for content development, you’re always looking for best practices, ways you can craft your content different to deliver on results.

Then you see a post like this one from BuzzSumo in your LinkedIn feed. “How to write engaging B2B headlines: Analysis of 10 million articles shared on LinkedIn.”

YES! Best practice research! This will help me crush my job! My content will get clicks. My clients will be happy! I will be successful and make millions of dollars! (OK, let’s not get crazy)

And while this research is somewhat interesting. And it is rooted in research. And, it is exhaustive (not sure how many scrolls I had to make to complete). It’s also research I feel like I’ve seen about 145 times in the last 3-5 years.

And that’s exactly why you should ignore it.

If you read the entire BuzzSumo post, you’ll learn:

  • Posts starting with “How to” vastly outperformed all other posts.
  • “How to” and lists posts dominate B2B headlines.
  • “The future of” was the phrase used most often in B2B headlines

None of those “insights” is even mildly surprising. In fact, these are known facts to virtually anyone who’s cracked a computer open in the last 5-7 years.

And, I see posts using these structures every day in my feeds. To the point where my Feedly is FULL of either “list” posts or “how to” posts. In fact, I’ve almost come to ignore these posts altogether for that exact reason.

I tend to think others may be doing the same thing–or WILL be doing the same thing soon. Because this “how to” and “list” post content is completely dominating the internet.

It’s everywhere. Facebook. LinkedIn. Twitter. You name the social network (outside of maybe Instagram), and you’ll see these posts. A LOT of them.

This brings me to my point. Sure, these posts are popular. And, according to this data, they “work” (meaning, simply, they get clicks). But, when EVERYONE else is doing the SAME THING doesn’t that worry you? Aren’t you concerned your content will become part of the sea of content that people can’t discern? I am. You should be, too.

One of my central social media marketing themes I’ve tried to follow since the very beginning is this: When everyone else is going one direction, run screaming the other direction.

The other problem I see with this research is that it doesn’t account for the artistic, or creative side, of writing. I mean, writing isn’t a scientific endeavor. That’s not why most of us went into this profession. So, as much as the data geeks want to make writing a scientific process, it’s just not.

This is why I laugh when I see stats and graphs like this from the article above:

Really, the NUMBER FIVE is the top number starting B2B headlines? Give me a break. There’s no way that matters. And there’s no way I’m paying attention to that when I’m writing a headline. Complete overkill.

Or, this stat/graphic from the same article:

No way–“The” is the most popular single word that starts B2B headlines? THAT’S GROUNDBREAKING RESEARCH! This graphic and research is almost useless–I see no way you can use this in your headline crafting.

Why? Because writing good headlines is an art form–not a science.

Yes, better understanding what makes a headline get clicks is valuable information. But, it’s not like you can, or should, piece together a headline based on this info–like a robot. In fact, that’s where this is all going. If you were to follow the guidance in this article, we’re very close to robots writing our headlines.

Again, say it with me, writing is an ART FORM–not science.

#RantComplete

photo credit: MANYBITS UNEMPLOYMENT via photopin (license)

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Boy Scouts missed the boat with response to President Trump’s Jamboree speech

A few years ago, I attempted to get my then 9-year-old son into Scouting. After all, he had shown great interest in the outdoors, camping and other areas Scouts routinely participate.

But, after a few meetings, I found out the Scouts were about so much more–and all of it very good. You see, I didn’t grow up a Scout. In fact, I knew very little about the Scouts before taking my son. What I discovered is that their entire organization is based on the notion of service. And they hold values like honesty, trustworthiness and kindness closely.

So, I was excited to get my son involved with an organization that had these kinds of beliefs at its core. And, I saw them being carried out first-hand in the meeting I attended. It seemed like a great place for my son to continue to develop these core beliefs.

Since then, my son has fallen out of scouting (to my chagrin)–he’s more involved in basketball, soccer and YouTube these days. I’m hopeful he might rejoin, and as a result, I kept a close eye on the Scouts Jamboree last week, especially since President Trump was speaking.

To recap, in case you haven’t been following along, POTUS spoke at the annual Scout Jamboree last week. The speech was well covered and laced with political references. Not surprisingly, it elicited a lot of media attention and retorts from current and former Scouts.

And while, to be fair, the speech did include many references and messages that aligned with Scouting values, it also included many references and messages like the following:

“You know, I go to Washington and I see all these politicians, and I see the swamp.  And it’s not a good place.  In fact today I said we ought to change it from the word swamp to the word cesspool or, perhaps, to the word sewer.  But it’s not good.  Not good.  (Applause.)  And I see what’s going on, and believe me I’d much rather be with you.  That I can tell you.”

And:

“By the way, what do you think the chances are that this incredible, massive crowd, record-setting is going to be shown on television tonight?  One percent or zero? The fake media will say:  President Trump — and you know what this is — President Trump spoke before a small crowd of Boy Scouts today.” (NOTE: CNN covered the Jamboree live and featured it in many shows and telecasts).”

And:

“By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?”  

After POTUS’ speech, amidst the to-be-expected negative feedback, the Scouts released an official statement from Michael Surbaugh, the chief scout executive. Here’s a key excerpt:

“I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent. The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition that has been extended to the leader of our nation that has had a Jamboree during his term since 1937. It is in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies. For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.”

It goes on to say:

“While we live in a challenging time in a country divided along political lines, the focus of Scouting remains the same today as every day.

Trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness and bravery are just a few of the admirable traits Scouts aspire to develop – in fact, they make up the Scout Oath and Scout Law.”

You can read the entire statement here.

Here’s the problem with the Scouts response: If you do indeed focus on the traits above as the foundation of Scouting, why not call out POTUS when he directly contradicted many of those values right in his speech?

You might say, sure, Surbaugh apologized for the fact that “politics were inserted into the Scouting program” (side note: What did you THINK was going to happen when you invited this POTUS to speak?!?!?). And sure, he states the Scouting values and how they make up the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

But, I believe the Scouts didn’t go nearly far enough to highlight that the man standing on the stage in no way reflects the larger Scouting values.

Again, while POTUS’ speech actually had a number of messages most people would get behind, and he did thank the usual list of people most president’s would thank in a speech like this (Scout executives, former Scouts, moms and dads who support scouting, etc.), there were many other parts of the speech that were all about HIM (as they often are).

He put down former presidents and his challenger in the 2016 election.

He put down the media.

He alluded to mistrust in media.

Put simply, many parts of the speech did not reflect the trustworthiness, loyalty, and kindness values the Scouts hold dear.

As a result, you now have op-ed columns of former scouts talking about turning in their Eagle Scout badges. That’s not great PR for an organization that has historically struggled with its public image.

And it’s not great PR for an organization, like many others, struggling to attract young people in an environment littered with activities for young people.

What’s most troubling: I have yet to see a strong message from a current Scout leader defending these Scout values and how the current POTUS went against many of them in his speech (and goes against many of them in his day-to-day activities).

In his response, Surbaugh said: “It is in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies. For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.”

If that’s true, when the current POTUS (the head of the political world) takes dead aim at your CORE VALUES, why not defend them?

That’s the part about this whole thing I just can’t figure out.

photo credit: worldscouting 23rd World Scout Jamboree via photopin (license)

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