As we all know by now, here in Minnesota we’re in the midst of a four-week shutdown–at minimum.
No more restaurants.
No more health clubs.
No more youth sports.
For at least four weeks (my guess: probably more). Even though there’s finally a light at the end of this tunnel, we’re in for a pretty damn dark next few months. And, as case and death counts rise here in Minnesota, one constituency has been somewhat quiet until just recently: Our Minnesota health care leaders.
Just in the past two weeks, I noticed impassioned posts from leaders like Andy Cochrane, CEO of Maple Grove Hospital and North Memorial CEO, Kevin Croston, pleading with people to wear a mask, socially distance and stay at home. These posts also advocated for their staff—people who were lauded as heroes in March and April, but now are coming under fire from patients and are on the verge of burnout.
We’ve also seen posts from HealthPartners CEO, Andrea Walsh and Fairview CEO, James Hereford, essentially sharing the same message–but, in a much different way.
There’s a huge difference between Dr. Croston’s post and James Hereford’s.
Let’s look at that a bit more closely, because in this case, the execution makes all the difference.
First, take a peek at Dr. Croston’s post (I know it’s from the North Memorial account, but bear with me for a moment).
First, the format–video. We know video is (generally) performing better on LinkedIn. We also know video lends itself well to emotionally-driven topics like COVID-19 and health care. But again, for North Memorial, it was all about the execution. Giving the COVID nurse the floor to emotionally talk about what’s going on in these COVID units at North Memorial drives the point home in a way no text or photo ever could. You can’t see her tears, but you know they’re there. And, you can almost feel Dr. Croston wanting to give her a hug. The emotion isn’t just palpable–it’s right in front of your damn eyes. Very powerful. The only downside (and you probably guessed it by now)–he didn’t post it on his personal account first. I would have thought he’d post there first–then the North Memorial account would come over the top and re-share his post. Classic two-for one.
On the other hand, look at Hereford’s post
It’s a lot of the same message, right? So why doesn’t it work anywhere close to as well as Dr. Croston’s? Because, visuals matter on the social web of 2020–even on LinkedIn. And, in this case, video told the story MUCH more powerfully than text. Not to mention, Hereford’s post didn’t even have a visual! Finally, like I said above, COVID is an emotional issue–it’s literally life or death. As such, the text of any executive message needs to reflect that. There needs to be a healthy dose of sympathy. And, a lot of human emotion. You just don’t see that in Hereford’s post. It doesn’t come through like it does in Dr. Croston’s post.
Now, let’s look at Cochrane’s message compared to Walsh’s.
First, here’s Cochrane’s message, which is actually more than a post–it’s a LinkedIn “article.”
A quick read, you can feel the emotion coming through. In this case, it’s more frustration and anger. He even uses those words in the post. Essentially, he’s defending his team and making a case for people to be more safe to give his hospital and team a break. Really short and to the point–but, effective. Human. Emotional. And, as a result, you saw some comments that seem to support that.
Now, let’s look at the post from Walsh.
She chose to promote a collective effort recently formed by many (all?) of the health care systems and insurers around the state. It’s a solid message, but it’s pretty stiff. In fact, to make an industry-appropriate analogy, it’s almost clinical. Nothing necessarily wrong with that. Andrea is a well-known health care leader (maybe one of the more respected leaders in our community), so really anything she posts is going to resonate and impact people. But, I would argue she could have done so much more with this. Bring in the emotional element. Bring in the humanity. Talk about your teams at HealthPartners and how, specifically, this is impacting them. And again–visuals matter. Using the link image from the Fight COVID campaign is fine–but it’s not evoking the emotion we want to hit on.
Now look, I’m not comparing these to throw Hereford and Walsh under the bus. But I am trying to prove a point. Execution matters. And, a thoughtful approach matters. In this case, using video was a very wise choice. Getting your executives to open up and show some humanity is a good choice (although, I know that is difficult communicator friends).
In the end, the format and content need to fit the situation. As we continue in this pandemic, I think that’s a good reminder for us all–whether we’re working in health care, retail or B2B.
By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the viral Ocean Spray TikTok moment. Nathan Apodaca riding a longboard down an off ramp sipping on a jug of Ocean Spray after his car broke down.
The viral moment spawned tens of thousands of copycats (including one from Mick Fleetwood) and online visibility Ocean Spray only dared dream of. The company reacted, fairly quickly, and offered Apodaca a new truck packed full of Ocean Spray juice. The CEO of Ocean Spray posted his own TikTok in response to Apocada–an homage of sorts.
All in all, Ocean Spray handled its viral moment quite well.
They were patient–they didn’t react too quickly, or too slowly.
They embraced behavior and visuals that are most certainly not “on brand” (you think a guy longboarding down an interstate drinking Ocean Spray is “on brand” for the company?).
And, they responded and participated on the platform where the original video took off.
Overall, Ocean Spray did a lot well here. They reacted like a socially-savvy company.
Now, on the other hand…
…we have Sherwin Williams. This is the viral moment you may not have heard of quite yet. Tony Piloseno, an Ohio University senior who worked part-time at a Sherwin Williams was fired earlier this year for creating TikToks where he performed creative paint mixes on the popular social network (read the full story here).
His TikToks created millions of impressions for the brand.
And, they fired him for “gross misconduct”, “wasting properties [and] facilities,” and “seriously embarrass[ing] the Company or its products.”
What’s worse: Piloseno said he actually pitched Sherwin Williams the idea of being more active on TikTok with some of his videos. Piloseno says it took TWO MONTHS to get in touch with corporate marketing and they “basically told me that there wasn’t really any promotions going on so there wasn’t a need to see the presentation.”
So, on one hand we have a company that embraced its viral moment. Who participated actively and has reaped the rewards. Millions of impressions. Tons of positive media stories about the brand. And surging sales of its product.
On the other hand, we have a company that seems to have its head in the sand. One that is stiff-arming a clear opportunity to generate awareness and engagement most brands would die for. One that, to be honest, just doesn’t seem to understand social media marketing at all–AND WE’RE LIVING IN THE YEAR 2020!
Now, we don’t know the full story, really. We’re only getting Piloseno’s side for now. But, Sherwin Williams did release statements in the Buzzfeed story above (although I’ve seen nothing on their social channels about this–expected since Piloseno was fired).
But, the dichotomy here is startling. Again, one company embraced its viral moment–and saw immediate marketing and business rewards. The other stiff-armed it–and is getting (rightfully so) mocked and ridiculed (just search “Sherwin Williams” on Twitter for proof).
So, how do you avoid having your company being mocked and ridiculed like Sherwin Williams? How do you cultivate a culture like Ocean Spray’s that embraces the moment?
Education. It’s as simple as that. And, more importantly, ONGOING eduction.
Because, look at where both of these viral moments started: TikTok. Neither Ocean Spray or Sherwin Williams had a presence on TikTok before these moments (SW still doesn’t). So, maybe the marketing teams of both orgs had mentioned TikTok in a meeting or two here or there. But, there was most likely no education of executives or key leaders as to the opportunity of this platform.
Let that be a lesson to us all. With social media marketing, it’s incumbent on us to ALWAYS be educating our partners. About new platforms. New features. Trends. Because you never know what’s around the corner.
Your viral moment may happen this week.
I guess the question is: Do you want to be an Ocean Spray company or a Sherwin Williams company?
Today’s a first for this blog–and series. I’m showcasing someone who no longer works in the PR industry…because she retired! And, I feel kinda badly about that because I really should have highlighted Holly a long time ago. If you’ve worked in the Twin Cities PR industry for any length of time, you’ve probably heard Holly’s name come up. And, when you did, you never heard a bad word about her. There couldn’t be a better testament. After all, I always say (I shamelessly stole this from somewhere), your reputation is what people say about you behind your back. And, when people talk about Holly behind her back (in the best way possible!), they use words like “kind”, “thoughtful” and “hard-working.” I can’t think of three better words. Heck, I hope people use those kinds of words to describe me! But, we’re here to talk about Holly–so let’s get to this most recent PR Rock Star conversation.
You had a vibrant and long career in PR, working in almost every possible setting–from corporate to agency to non-profit. Can you talk about what you liked most about each of those different settings?
Arik, thanks for the chance to reflect on my career and give some tips! I liked agency life because you could specialize in media relations and have the company of other professionals in marketing and PR. But I also liked being more of a communication generalist inside organizations, managing everything from events to publications—even sales collateral. I thrive on change and new challenges versus maintenance. So that drove me into a lot of different settings. Corporations and non-profits are not that different from each other. They both have constituents, revenue needs, and growth goals. What really differs from one setting to another is the quality of leadership and the resources you have to succeed. I was a solo corporate comm. director in several corporations, and that was really challenging.
We worked together during your time at Feed My Starving Children. What drew you to a strong mission-based organization like that?
PR people are natural bridge-builders and peacemakers, so any setting can be a mission. But ever since becoming a follower of Jesus in my teens, I wanted to work at least for a while in a place 100% devoted to pouring His love into the world. I adored FMSC for the way it brought people of all stripes together to make a tangible difference. I’ll never forget working shoulder to shoulder with the Minnesota Somali community to raise money and pack meals for their people during the East African famine. It was amazing to work with American volunteers on the one hand and the 100+ missions distributing food to pockets of need around the world—from orphanages in North Korea to schools in Kenya and hospitals in Haiti. I was attracted by FMSC’s need for a solid communication infrastructure. When I first came, they relied on mainly fundraising letters and galas to grow. I got to hire staff and build social communities, start publications, train employees in messaging, and conduct media relations, especially during disasters. The pace and volume made for the most intense, but gratifying, three years of my life.
You were also a solo pro off-and-on for years. What was so attractive about solo life? And, why did you decide to move away from it?
Solo work was great when my three children were small, since my husband traveled quite a bit. I liked the flexibility, but the trade-offs were less security and stability. I was generally happier, I guess, when I could plug my talents into a team and structure and not worry about generating a pipeline of work. But I loved getting to know the Minnesota PR “solopreneur” network while I soloed!
Obviously, you enjoyed agency life–you came back after working at Colle+McVoy (now Exponent) earlier in your career to lead PR/content at DKY. What brought you back to DKY?
DKY and I started a long friendship back in early 2000s, when I did media relations for their Cargill account on a freelance basis. Later, they did some important pro bono branding work for me at FMSC. In 2016, when a client approached the DKY partners with a lot of content needs, they decided it was time to add a full-time PR and content function, which I was super happy to come in and anchor. The DKY partners have cultivated a really collegial agency—the best culture I’ve worked in. The firm is relatively small and quiet, but does big-agency quality work in integrated marketing communication with a senior practitioner in every discipline.
Like many in the media world, you made the jump to PR in 1989. Do you ever regret it? And, what advice would you share with media members who are thinking about making that jump in 2021?
Broadcast news was a fantastic preparation for PR because it taught me to quickly assimilate and summarize a complex set of facts. But journalism does addict you to quick results and to working alone. Moving into PR, you need to slow up, learn to work within organizational channels, and collaborate. The other advice I’d give is to learn the strategic practice of PR, integrating all the disciplines beyond media relations. Pick up Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations for a good primer.
Having worked in the PR industry for the last 30 years, what changes, shifts and trends made the biggest impact over that time? And, what trends do you see driving our industry in the next 30 years?
I wrote my first commissioned newsletter article at 15, and my last content for ADM at 65, so by my figuring, that’s 50 years! Obviously, the biggest change has been the internet (boy does that date me!). The digital world has ushered in so many channels for directly engaging our audiences. That calls for smarter choices, broader skills, and more functions to integrate if you manage a team. I’ve also found the gray space between PR and marketing is shrinking. Most organizations want you to be able to generate leads and revenue, not just manage reputation—or at least prove a cause-and-effect.
As long as I’ve known you, you’ve been a big proponent and supporter of PRSA. How and why did you become involved with PRSA initially? And what role did it play in your development and career?
I got involved in PRSA early in my career while I was at Colle+McVoy PR (now Exponent). I helped organize the monthly programs and the agency required us to enter the Classics awards. Then I went quiet in the chapter during my busiest corporate years. I returned to Minnesota PRSA in 2015 to pursue accreditation (APR) to give me an edge in pitching clients as a solopreneur again. The free prep workshop alone was a fabulously valuable experience, and I wished I’d done it years ago. After earning my pin, I served on the accreditation committee to recruit others into the process, and then served on the board for two years. There are a lot of marketing groups you can join these days, but if you really want to practice strategic and comprehensive public relations, PRSA is the only game in town to learn from.
You’ve held numerous leadership positions over your storied career. What leadership lessons did you learn over the years that you could share today?
Gosh, I’d say to become people-oriented, not just task-oriented—especially if you’re leading a team. Relationships are the foundation of effective departments and keeping good people. I’d also say to fit into the culture you work in. A funny example is a 2nd-hand furniture I chose for my office at Feed My Starving Children. Even though it was cheaper, it looked a little fancier than average, I think, which in retrospect may have set up perceptions I had to overcome. You need to stay humble and relatable, not come across as the grammar and branding police. Along that line, keep your writing conversational. Hardly anybody, especially executives, have time to digest long, windy plans or even emails anymore. I’ve noticed a tendency for PR people to write like academics. Many times, this backfires. Be sure to circulate. Don’t get so heads-down producing newsletters that you miss the scuttlebutt. At a health benefits plan once, I didn’t know about a big premium hike and contract problems with an AIDS clinic until the media called, after complaints from members. Sometimes newsmaking changes happen behind the scenes and you need to stay connected to prepare.
Staying on the leadership topic, what local leaders did you look up to during your career, and why?
Oh, so many. Arik, you’ve been a great “cross-pollinator” of ideas and practices among contemporary PR practitioners, especially when it comes to social. I’m a big devotee of Karen Lyons, Betsy Anderson, and Janet Swiecichowski, my APR mentors. I also admire Jason Sprenger, Heather Cmiel, and Eva Kaiser, recent presidents of Minnesota PRSA, who sacrificed so much to strengthen the chapter. And I have to thank Rose McKinney for my “aha!” moment about audience-based PR objectives. Her workshop forever changed the way I conceptualize plans.
When people retire, they talk about legacy. What is your legacy in the PR world?
People have often called me quiet, focused, and driven. I hope that means I’ve been tenacious in using the power of communication to change important things. I’ve thrived on building new initiatives versus digging in for the long tenures. While this made life and change stressful sometimes, I think God’s used this quirk to bring me into good organizations that needed a stronger communication infrastructure at a critical time. DKY’s mission statement is, “We help good people build brands of great impact.” I sincerely hope I’ve done that on a personal level.
It’s the age-old debate (at least over the last 10 years!): Do you need to be active on social media channels to be successful as a social media marketing professional?
A Jess Smith post on Twitter about a month ago got me thinking about that question again. Because, historically, it has been a controversial issue.
Some folks say “no, you don’t need to be active on social media to be good at this job.” And, I respect that opinion. In fact, I know plenty of people that are great at social media marketing but folks I don’t see on Insta, Twitter or LinkedIn all that often. It’s definitely not a prerequisite to success.
HOWEVER, I do think it can be a PREDICTOR of success–for a variety of reasons.
Again, this isn’t a black-or-white argument. I’m not sure there’s a “right” answer here. All I’m saying is if I were a hiring manager and I was looking for social media talent, an individual’s social media activity would definitely play into my decision.
#1: There’s a depth of knowledge you gain by immersing yourself in the platforms. Case in point, I know very little about Snapchat. Sure, I know the basics. I know how it works. I know the pros and cons of the platform. I even know about things like “Snap streaks” (which, if you’re 15, are HUGE!). But, I don’t have a huge depth of knowledge. I know enough to be dangerous, but since I’m not a big user, others would have a big advantage over me. Now, LinkedIn? That’s a different story. I spend 20-30 minutes every day on LinkedIn. I’m a power user. I know the ins and outs. I know what kinds of content resonate with people. I have depth of knowledge. So, that comes in very handy when I’m counseling executives on how to best use the tool. I believe there is a difference.
#2: Picking up the subtleties of the platforms. Again, tougher to do this if you’re not on there every day or so. Example: A while back I noticed @noraborealis (local MN folks will know her) was posting on Instagram, but with very, very long posts. At the time (maybe 5 years ago), this was fairly uncommon. After all, “snackable content” was the trend. But, here was Nora making these lengthy posts all the time–and people were really responding to them. Well, that was a subtlety. And, it quickly turned into a full-blown trend. I probably wouldn’t have known about that if I wasn’t checking Insta regularly and seeing Nora’s posts. Picking up on those subtleties matters. And, it happens more easily if you’re participating regularly.
#3: Getting in the weeds has benefits. Management-level folks will tell you, “I don’t need to get in the weeds. I have my people do that work.” The implication: I don’t have to get my hands dirty–I just need to know how to explain what my team is doing to others. That may be true–to an extent. But, actually understanding what your team is doing in those weeds is so much more beneficial. Example: Instagram just unveiled Reels–the competitor to TikTok. One of your team members manages Insta for your squad. And, she’s all over Reels. And, you publish a few. But then, senior management has questions. They come to you. But, you have no answers. Why? Because you’re not using Reels. You have no idea. You have a team member who handles that, so you have to ask her for more details. Now, this isn’t the end of the world–this scenario plays out daily. But, wouldn’t it be nice to have those answers yourself because you’ve been messing around with Reels already? Wouldn’t that look a little better for you with management?
#4: Yes, you can set strategy, but creative ideas will come from those who are immersed. Of course, this isn’t 100% true, but I believe the more creative social media ideas will usually come from those who play with the platforms more. I mean, think about TikTok right now. You’re telling me someone who spends absolutely no time on TikTok could create content that’s every bit as good (if not better) than someone who’s on it creating every day? I’ll take the person who’s immersed in the platform 10 out of 10 times on that one. In fact, I think that’s an absolute no-brainer.
OK, I laid out my case. Let the debate begin (again)! Do you need to be active on social media channels to work successfully in this business? Let’s have it out, folks!
Seven-plus months into this pandemic, we’re all tired of working from home. But, as we stare down the barrel of quite possibly the roughest winter of our lives, there’s little chance too many people in our industry are going back to the office before spring or summer 2021.
Given that backdrop, people are looking for different and creative ways to “work remotely.” For some, that might mean spending a month in Phoenix or Palm Springs (something we’re considering for January). For others, like my friend Chuck Grothaus, it’s meant working from an RV for most of the summer!
What was once considered “crazy” (not my words), working from an RV is now a pretty viable option for many who have the family flexibility (read: this is much tougher with 2 small children!). I venture to guess some might even try is this winter and definitely next spring and summer as we all figure out how to ride this pandemic out.
So, I thought I’d ask Chuck some questions about what it’s like to work remotely from an RV for months on end. It’s a pretty interesting approach–and one that’s had me pretty darn jealous all summer watching him from afar from his Instagram feed. And, it’s even more interesting when you figure in the pandemic–how has he stayed safe? Are they finding places to park the RV with all the popularity of RV camping now? Let’s hear what Chuck has to say about working from an RV during a pandemic.
You’re not new to working remotely from the road, but why have you chosen to spend so much time on the road the last six months during the pandemic?
We purchased our first RV well before the pandemic and experimented with working while traveling to make sure the lifestyle worked for us and also to ID and eliminate kinks – like connectivity, for example. We spent the month of February 2020 in Arizona and New Mexico, working and exploring in our free time. By the end of February, just as the pandemic entered the U.S., we rushed home thinking it would bring most travel to a halt. After three months at home, like most of us, by late May we were going crazy in our downtown Minneapolis condo and, honestly, felt we would be more safe from infection working from the RV in a remote site. We can be totally self-contained in our RV and still have the ability to hike trails (minus the city crowds).
What’s been different between working from your RV pre-pandemic vs. during the last six months?
The most significant change has been the struggle to find places that aren’t overcrowded. RV sales in May, June and July skyrocketed (one study says sales increased 300% in this period) resulting in packed campgrounds everywhere. Our #1 priority is setting up our rig in an area that isn’t overrun with people but still has cellular connectivity so we can work. We put on a lot of miles finding locations that accommodated our needs. In pre-pandemic days, we could set up just about anywhere and then drive to the nearest local library to work (libraries offer some of the fastest wi-fi on the planet). Post-pandemic, libraries were closed or only offered drive-up services, so we had to become much more diligent in finding locations where cell service was reliable.
What’s your day look like working from the RV? Take us through a typical one.
Our days working in the RV resemble our days working from our home office: Typical office hours, Zoom calls with clients, computer time. However, when we work remotely in the RV, we try to keep the calendar clear after 3 p.m. so we can explore trails, hike in the backcountry and get to know the nearby communities where we’re staying.
What about your setup? You work with your wife in the RV–how does that work? Have you run into any challenges?
The only challenge is finding wi-fi or cell service that allows for Cheri to upload and download large graphic design files and lets me participate in bandwidth-sucking Zoom calls. Our set up includes devices that boost either wi-fi or cell service no matter where we are. We also have a mobile hotspot — a lifesaver when we need to use cellular. The RV has a dinette booth that we use as our workspace. On good weather days, we have a pop-up gazebo that allows us to work outside.
Do you plan your trips in advance? Or, do you kinda plan as you go?
We do a little planning in advance – like, “What’s our final destination and for how long.” One of our hobbies is hiking the highest point in every state (we’ve done 18 high points so far) so we often plan our travel around that objective. But RV remote working requires a whole lot of flexibility as well. For example, on our road trip to Arizona last February, we stayed spontaneously in Las Cruces, New Mexico at a little mom and pop RV park. It offered great wi-fi and gave us a chance to de-winterize the RV. Typically we only stay for three days in one spot, then we move on to the next location.
How do your clients feel about you working remotely? Do they even care? Did they care pre-pandemic?
This hasn’t been an issue for our clients. They are typically a little envious of the work/life that we lead. Oftentimes, the first question I get on conference calls is something like, “Where in the heck is Chuck this week?” And, they seem a little disappointed when I have to tell them that we’re back at the home office.
I have to think some people might be considering this as we head into winter. Taking an RV to the southern states doesn’t sound like such a bad idea right now! What tips and advice would you have for those people when it comes to working from the road?
- Be flexible with plans.
- Figure out your connectivity and tech needs well in advance – and test them to make sure they work for you.
- If you hope to go south to Arizona or S. California and set up in an RV park with wi-fi, plan ahead. Most RV parks – and many state and county parks – are totally booked in the south from December through March. Also, when you set up in a packed RV park, the wi-fi is going to be terrible because everyone is on it.
- If you’re new to RV-ing, get a little practice driving/towing, setting up, dumping waste tanks and working from the RV before doing any major road trips.
You had some amazing adventures this summer–Colorado, Utah, North Shore. What were your favorite spots and why?
Our newest favorite spot is the Western Slope of Colorado. We spent a week there in September (Grand Junction, Grand Mesa, Ouray, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park). The people there are friendly and the climate is similar to ours in Minnesota (although they get less snow and below freezing temps), Grand Junction is an emerging “Napa Valley of Colorado,” and there are fewer tourists in the backcountry. When we backpacked in Grand Mesa, we had an entire US Forest Service campground to ourselves. We’ll definitely return to this part of the U.S.
What kinds of spots do you look for when seeking a place to park at night? State/National Parks? RV campgrounds? Walmarts? 🙂
We search for county parks and campgrounds that get less use and aren’t packed with RVs. National and state parks are top-of-the-list locations for most tourists/travelers. They’re always crowded and connectivity is usually poor there. We’ve never had to stay in a Walmart or Cracker Barrel parking lot – or a rest area for that matter. There are several online groups that RVers use to find good locations. Campendium is super helpful because people can review campgrounds and RV parks, and note if cell service exists. We joined a group called Harvest Hosts as well. For an annual membership fee of $70, you can stay at more than 1,400 wineries, breweries, farms, museums and, yes, even golf courses, for FREE. Usually, the stay is limited to one or two nights and they typically don’t provide water or electric hookups. But these venues take us off the beaten path. Definitely worth the membership fee.
Have you felt safe traveling so much–even in an RV? What precautions have you taken?
We do feel safe on the road. During the pandemic we take all the health and safety precautions – lots of hand-washing, hand sanitizer, avoiding public places and crowds. We’ve seen all levels of behavior on the road, but RVers tend to respect the importance of social distancing. Again, our RV lets us stay self-contained – we can cook, eat, sleep and have our own private bathroom. It really is a second home. I should add that we generally stay at home when coronavirus cases are spiking (like now). It would suck to be traveling and get sick with this terrible disease.
Where are you off to next, and when?
We have tentative plans to escape Minnesota in late January/early February in 2021. The hiking and biking in southeast Arizona (Tucson) is hard to beat in February.