Passion Creates a Better Story

During High School and college I worked at several radio stations and was lucky enough to interview several famous musicians.  One was the Piano Man himself, Billy Joel.  He shared some advice that some 20+ years later still resonated with me.  He said, “Figure out what you’re good at, and do that.  Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time.”

Over the years, my memory of that interview is triggered by something I see or hear.  It’s happened a few times this week so I thought I’d write about it.

The first triggers stemmed from LinkedIn and Facebook posts.   I saw a few different photos and memes on the importance of passion.  For example, one said “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress.  Working hard for something we love is called passion.”

I also received a phone call from a peer that I highly respect seeking some advice.  About a year ago he quit his job after feeling burnt out.  He launched a new career and business, which is doing well.  But he admitted he was considering returning to his former career because he missed the passion he used to have for his work.

It got me thinking.  Being good at something isn’t the same as being passionate about it.

After that long lead-in, here’s my point.  Don’t waste your time.  Figure out a way to combine your personal passion with what you’re good at doing.

Here’s an example.  A financial advisor I know (no, not my wife) had a passion to ensure that his personal investments were not “terror infested.”  Unfortunately, no mutual fund existed that screened out U.S. companies operating in terror nations like Iran, Syria and North Korea.  So he created the nation’s only mutual fund developed to ensure all investments are terror free.  The fund screens the S&P 500 for companies operating in terror nations and replaces them with companies who have decided not to operate in rogue states.  He combined his talent with his passion.   It’s not easy, but it’s fulfilling and personally rewarding.

Our role as public relations professionals is to recognize the passion within ourselves, our organization and within our peers.   Then, we need to tell that story.  These human interest based stories will create memorable images that will create positive public awareness for your company.

Because passion is more memorable, and more contagious, than talent.

So to update Billy Joel’s quote, “Figure out what you’re good at and passionate about, and do that.  Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time.”

Why PR Pros should love Valentine’s Day

Some of my favorite media stunts relate to Valentine’s Day.  I’ll share examples in a moment, but first let’s examine the anatomy of how to construct a holiday focused media event.

They key is blending two unique components, or visuals, into the same story.

Part one is to identify the unique visuals for your organization that when someone sees it, they immediately think of you. An easy example for a transportation related company is its fleet of vehicles.   When you see a FedEx truck, you know what they do without having to think about it.  As it relates to a service business, when you see someone wearing scrubs and a stethoscope you immediately think of healthcare professionals.

Visuals for an ambulance service would be the ambulance itself, and a crew in uniform.

Part two is to list the visuals that are universally synonymous with set events or holidays. For example, a Christmas tree for Christmas or carved pumpkins for Halloween.  Visuals for Valentine’s Day could be anything with a heart or romance related.

Now the hard part– create a media event combines your work related visual and the holiday visual in the same screen shot/story.  Let me share a few examples.

Example #1:  Learn Hands-Only CPR Today, Save Mouth-to-Mouth for Valentine’s Day.

This headline/teaser was used for one of my favorite media stunts.   We had a paramedic in uniform standing in front of an ambulance, with a mannequin on a gurney in front of him so that we could teach how to do hands-only CPR.  Surround the mannequin with lots of Valentine’s Day items like candy hearts, balloons, etc.   By combining the ambulance service’s visuals with Valentine’s Day visuals and adding some puns, we made an every day story that media would normally ignore worth covering.

In addition to inviting media for the training, we created our own social media videos.  I had one out-of-state operation send me video clips which I directed remotely and I edited them into the following YouTube video.

On this story, the local PIO gave me one of the greatest compliments I can recall.  After sending out her media advisory for the event that included my recommended headline, one of the assignment desk editors responded telling her that the headline was in the running for their internal collection of best press advisory subject lines/headlines of the year.

Example #2:  A Special Valentine’s Day Date.

One of my all-time favorite media stories was for an ambulance service that used its vehicle to transport a husband that lived in one nursing home to a special lunch with his wife that lived in another nursing home.  You can watch that story here. 

While it’s a great story that viewers loved, the true business benefit came from the process.  In searching for a patient we increased the company’s awareness within care facilities to increase transport requests.

By offering the transport to a care facility, the administrator asked facility nurses and case managers if they knew of any transport candidates.  The same nurses and case managers that choose which ambulance provider to call for scheduled transports.   Even when they couldn’t find a candidate, they appreciated the thought and remembered who offered.  The best case scenario was actually when a facility said they couldn’t identify a patient.  This allowed us to start the process anew with another facility, getting us noticed by even more nurses and case managers.

Once the story ran, we then sent a link of the story to the care facility, resulting in numerous facility staff compliments and their thanks.

When planning your event, don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.  Simple and punny often get the best results.  The best part is that once you find a formula that works for holidays, you can repeat the event year after year.

Let your news story live and breathe

It’s not my intent to get all DORKestra on you, but when I was younger I was a DJ and was obsessed with music.  Not surprisingly, I also used to love rock and roll movies.

You may remember the movie “Eddie and the Cruisers.”  It’s less likely that you remember its follow-up, “Eddie and the Cruisers II.”  There’s a scene from that movie that really resonated with me as it has a very important lesson that relates very well to public relations.  In the scene, that can be viewed here, one character explains that a fancy guitar riff was so dazzling that it wasn’t memorable.  In contrast, “letting the music live and breathe” makes it last.

As the spokesperson for your company, you might not think this lesson applies to you, but you’re wrong. Too often we overwhelm reporters and the community with unnecessary information to the point where they don’t hear us at all.  Try telling one story at a time.

The natural inclination when putting together a press release or sharing a story is to include everything. Don’t.  The more you try to say in a story, the less your audience will hear or remember.  You need the key message to be concise, and simple to understand.

Think of it this way.  A TV news story on your event is going to be 45 seconds long no matter what. Do you want to try and jam 3 different messages into that 45 seconds, or are you going to have a better, more memorable story if the entire 45 seconds are on one specific topic or subject?

The same rule applies for a print story.  Reporters normally want into a story knowing how much space on the page, or what word count they want to fill.  If you clutter a story with interesting but unnecessary angles or facts, you’re wasting your space that otherwise could have been focused on your core point.

The more you try to say, the less your audience will hear. Keep the message simple to digest, and easy to remember.

And to help drive home my point, I’m making this my shortest PR Medic column to date.

Choose your words wisely; Cloning your best customers is a great way to generate new ones

Whose words are you using to promote and market your company?  When I start working with a new client, I always suggest we do a simple “core message” review before creating and implementing a long-term public relations plan. This review is really a message audit. It doesn’t need to be expensive, and it doesn’t need to be a long drawn-out process that creates a huge report that no one reads.

What your goal should be is to simply confirm that you’re saying the right things to achieve your desired results- increase awareness or sales. Otherwise, you’re spending a lot of energy spinning your wheels without getting anywhere.

Identifying the right core message

First, I ask company employees:  What are the top five reasons for why they believe their company is the best?

Second, I ask the company’s current and best customers for their top five reasons why they love the company.

The top five reasons that the staff provides, and what customers give are never the same. Two, maybe even three answers may overlap, but there’s always several that are different.

Here’s the key takeaway: It’s easier for a company to become what everyone already thinks they are in a positive way, than to try and convince people that already like them to think something else.

It’s their words, not yours

If you want to clone your best customers, use the words your best customers already use. Incorporate these them into your website, collateral materials, potential client and partner conversations, and media relations efforts.

Word changes, big and small

Some of the language updates might be easy to implement. For example, if you describe yourself as “warm” but your clients call you “friendly”, use their word instead of your own. The word obviously resonates better with your best customers, so it would be foolish not to repeat it.

Other changes might be more of a major shift. For example, a common attribute I hear companies say about themselves is customer service. But clients rarely list customer service as a reason they like a company. In fact, in all the surveys I’ve done I don’t recall ever seeing customers list the phrase “customer service” as a reason they like a company. That’s not to say customer service isn’t important; rather, it’s expected.

Think of a restaurant like a Jason’s Deli or Panera. When you go in, you expect your food within 10 minutes, that there will be clean tables, that they’ll bring your food out to you, and that they will clean up after you. That’s an expectation of good customer service. If any of those expectations aren’t met, people get upset.

The phrase customer service has become so overused and broad, that it’s almost universally ignored. Why waste your words on a phrase that won’t get you results? Instead, give specific examples of what makes your customer service truly noteworthy. Those examples will likely come from the customer survey results.

What to say to future customers

After you update your message, there’s a third survey that you should consider. Ask your potential customers what they know about your company, and what they look for when deciding whom to call. You shouldn’t change your language for this audience. Instead, change how you educate and talk to them based on their feedback. This is a lesson for another column.

In short, stop telling your potential customers what you think makes you the best and instead tell them why you actually are the best.

Would you rather see a story about your company in USA Today or the local church bulletin?

Would you rather see a story about your company in USA Today or the local church bulletin?

In most cases, if you said USA Today, you’d be wrong.  Think about it… do you truly read through every page of USA Today every day?  Probably not one person reading this column actually does.  You probably don’t even do that for your local Daily newspaper!

Now answer this. Do you look at every page of your church bulletin when it arrives?   A decent percentage of people probably say yes. 

I know you’re not actually reading it word-for-word, but you are looking through each page skimming the headlines and looking at the pictures to decide if there’s anything you want to actually read.

The reason is actually pretty simple.  You chose to be part of this community.  It’s also likely you have friends or family who are members, and that you’d recognize other church members.

When you see someone you recognize in a photo, you read the caption and possibly even the full story to see why they are included.  Same if the header has information you need or is of interest to you.  More people in your community are likely to read and remember a story about your service in the church bulletin than people in that same community that read USA Today.

The same concept applies to free community papers—the ones that get left on doorsteps or are mailed to your home.  People flip through these small, locally focused papers to see if they recognize their neighbors or if local shops or schools are mentioned.

Here’s the key point of which too many spokespeople and public relations people fail to take advantage… it’s a lot easier to get a positive in a church bulletin or community paper than it is to get a positive story the big daily newspaper.  These small papers often only have one or two people on their editorial staff.  Unlike a big paper reporter receiving 200 story ideas by email each day, the local community papers need to delete most stories ideas because they’re only looking for very localized community stories.

A community paper only considers a story if the business is literally, physically located in their distribution area or the company is doing something targeted specifically to residents in that target area.

Can you repeat an event you already have planned in another neighborhood and easily recreate it or submit a picture in front of numerous different local landmarks to make sure each community paper gets a local pictures to personalize your story so that they care?

An easy way to do this would be to take multiple pictures from different locations when you make a donation or offer a community training event.   If you’re providing tips to school kids, take photos in front of different schools and send the right picture to the appropriate community newspaper.  Even if you never enter the school, it’ll still make the story more locally newsworthy.

When you send photos, make sure to say where the photo was taken so that the local paper is forced to acknowledge that the photo is local/personalized for them.  Don’t expect them to recognize every photo/building.  If you take this extra step to personalize the visuals, you’ll absolutely get more coverage for your agency.

If you can’t physically do an event in a paper’s distribution area, there’s another way to increase the changes you’ll receive a story.  Quote or include a photo of an employee that lives in that area.  When sending the story to the paper, include an editor’s note stating which employee lives in their area, and include the zip code in which they live.  Doing this makes a story local… even if the actual event occurs 20 miles away.

Church bulletins might prove harder to get a story included than the community papers, but if you’re creative you can find an excuse or two each year to get included.  For example, if you offer a free CPR or AED training at the church, you’re likely to get a great PR or photo opportunity.  Same if you do a touch-a-truck tour of the ambulance for the kids.  Try to assign crew members or a spokesperson that’s already a member of that church.

The New York Jets have a “bridge” to sell you, and your spokespeople should be buying

Jets card of bridge messages side 1
Jets card of bridge messages side 2

Do you know how to pivot, or bridge a difficult or unflattering question from a reporter into an answer that puts your agency in a more positive light?

The NFL’s New York Jets recently gave their players a laminated card which phrases they could use to spin their answers.  New York Daily News reporter Manish Mehta took photos of one of the cards and tweeted it out.

Granted, it’s the Jets.  So they have been mocked mercilessly and it is embarrassing to the organization that the card has been seen by reporters and the public. But that doesn’t mean the idea of helping players bridge tough questions into positive answers is wrong.

Here are some of the “bridge” suggestions of how to transition from a difficult question to a more positive message:

  • Let me just add that…
  • That reminds me…
  • Let me answer you by saying…
  • Another thing to remember is…
  • If you look at it closely you’ll find…
  • The real issue here is…
  • That’s not my area of expertise, but I think your audience would be interested to know that…

Putting a positive spin on an embarrassing or negative story is part of the job as a spokesman, but it doesn’t stop there.  The reality is that every employee is a spokesman or public ambassador of the company.  The key is knowing what you want to say BEFORE the reporter even asks the question.

Let’s say that a company vehicle with your logo gets in a bad crash and media start asking questions.  An immediate response might be:  We’re investigating the cause of today’s crash involving one of our vehicles, but it’s important to note that our company has 50 vehicles on the road travelling more than 700,000 miles a year.  All drivers have passed a background and driving record checks, and have completed company driver training before receiving driving status to operate our vehicles. Once the investigation is complete, we’ll review the findings to ensure we’re doing everything possible to protect and care for our patients and the public.

In this simple deflection I provided lots of new facts and figures that could be included in a story.   If all I did was say the company was investigating, or acknowledge that the company driver caused the crash, the only thing the reporter can say is negative because they have nothing else to consider reporting or sharing within their story.

Sharing a silver lining in a negative story is completely appropriate, but let me be clear.  A spokesman should NEVER lie to a reporter.  Lie once and get caught, and you’ll never be trusted again.  There’s an adage that “crow taste better warm than cold.”  If your company or an individual employees makes a mistake, acknowledge it.

Think of it this way.  Fire fighters run into the fire, not away from it.  Your strategy should be the same for negative stories.  Put out the kitchen fire before it becomes a house fire.  I used to joke that when I served as the spokesman for an ambulance company, I hadn’t realized I was signing up to be a fire fighter because I’d spend most of my day putting out fires.  The faster you acknowledge and respond to a story that may be negative the better.  In acknowledging the mistake, explain what changes you’re making to help make sure similar mistakes don’t occur again in the future.

Pivoting to a positive response increases the options for the reporter to write a positive, or at least less negative, story.  More company spokespeople should memorize and carry a card like the Jets.

Looking for practical ways to practice?  Have a friend or co-worker start by giving you an obscure company fact or even a completely unrelated physical item—like aluminum siding.  Then, have the person ask you a question. The question doesn’t even need to be serious.  It can even by “why did the chicken cross the road.”  Your task is to logically, and conversationally transition the question of why the chicken crossed the road to an answer about aluminum siding.

Initially, it’s going to be difficult to make the transition feel natural and less obvious.  But after a little practice after you get comfortable using a bridge statement, it’ll become easy.  You just need to have the right players in position, practice and execute the game plan.  Just like the Jets.

p.s.:  For the record, no I’m not Jets fan.  Go Cleveland Browns (hometown)! Go Arizona Cardinals (home for the last 13 years)!

Timing is everything: A reporter’s deadline is more important than your own convenience

When you were a teenager, how did you ask your parents to agree to something they just as easily could have refused? You waited to ask for the right time, and asked in a manner that was more likely to get you the answer you desired.

It’s the same when asking a reporter to write a positive story about your company.

The first step is to understand a reporter’s deadlines, and respect them.  Once you understand their needs, you can time your strategy to increase your odds of success.

Deadlines and what they mean
Every media outlet is unique, but generally, here’s some sample timelines and daily deadlines for different types of media.

  • Television timelines: If a TV station has their newscast at 5pm, that means a reporter has to record, edit and hand in their story before the newscast begins.  If your media event is at 3 p.m., it means that it is likely to end closer to 3:30. The reporter will need to drive back to the station, edit the piece and turn it in.You’re cutting the timeline pretty close.  Instead, if you have the media event in the morning or at least before 2 p.m., you would have a better chance of getting coverage.Another consideration for TV is when the daily “morning meeting” occurs.  This is when the news department leader and the assignment team dole out the day’s assignments to reporters and photographers.  Many stations hold this meeting at 8:30 in the morning—after the morning newscasts are done but right before the next shift of reporters comes on for the day.During this meeting, they schedule out all the “pre-pitched” stories for the day.  So, if you send them a media advisory after that meeting has started, you will have little chance of getting a camera sent to your event that day. All the cameras have already been assigned to other events.
  • Radio timelines: Most stations run news during the early morning and late afternoon hours, when people drive to and from work.  There are also often short news updates at the start of the hour, as well as 30 minutes of the hour. If you call the station during these hours, you’re unlikely to talk to someone in the News Department.  Instead, midday is a better time to call to offer your story.
  • Community and weekly newspaper timelines: You should ask each paper for their editorial deadlines, but generally if a paper comes out on a Friday, their deadline for the print edition is often Tuesday or Wednesday.  If you pitch a story on Monday or early on Tuesday, you have a better shot to make that week’s edition.  If you pitch them on Wednesday afternoon, the earliest would be 10 days away — which for many stories would make them no longer newsworthy or timely.
  • Daily newspaper timelines: By 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., reporters are often hard at work writing their stories to submit to their editors, who then return the stories to reporters asking for additional edits or information.  If the reporter then asks you a follow-up question or a new query, help the reporter in a way that improves the chances the story will be covered in the way you want.

Help the reporter cover your story
The rule also applies to when you’re reacting to a reporter’s inquiry. Often, a reporter may ask a detailed or unexpected question in which you need to research the answer, or run your proposed answer through management. That can take time. Reporters understand that you don’t have every answer off the top of your head. But that doesn’t change their deadlines.

Whenever a reporter calls, before hanging up ask them when is the latest time you can call them back.  They’ll respect you for asking.  Sometimes you’ll be surprised to learn that they don’t even need the answer that day — giving you extra time to prepare your response. The key is that you must respond before that time.  Otherwise, you’ll look bad and untrustworthy in their eyes.

Avoid making more work for the reporter
Here’s another tip that’s important.  If the deadline is approaching but you won’t have an answer in time, call the reporter, apologize and admit you won’t have an answer by their deadline. The earlier you alert the reporter that you won’t make the deadline, the more he/she will respect you. It provides an opportunity for the reporter to locate an expert somewhere else, or write the story in a way where the missing fact can be avoided.

If you wait until the last minute, you’re putting the reporter in a bad spot. They may have to go back and edit a story they already wrote, or look for another source on short notice.

A reporter’s deadline is more important than your convenience.  Respecting those deadlines is a sign of respect to the reporter, and ultimately you’ll receive better, more positive coverage.

Elevator speeches: Like a good pick-up line, introductions should be memorable

How do you introduce yourself?   Are you creating the intended impression that elicits the desired action?  If not, perhaps you are not selling yourself – or your agency – as well as you could be.

Think of it like a single guy/gal trying to get a date.   There are a lot of different kinds of pick-up lines that can be successful.  There are even more that are crash and burns.  They key is finding the approach that works best for your personality and find the right match.

Your professional introduction, commonly called an elevator speech, is a lot like delivering a pick-up line.

An elevator speech is a concise, 30-second summary where you quickly introduce yourself with the goal of being memorable.  The reference to an elevator relates to the idea that you only have the amount of time it takes to ride an elevator.  You want to quickly leave an impression and create a desired reaction.

If you don’t know where to begin when crafting an effective elevator speech, you’re not alone.  Most people don’t have a pre-conceived, practiced introduction.  Frankly, it’s often obvious they don’t when they introduce themselves.

An example of a bad introduction is something like:  Hi my name is Josh and I’m a realtor.  If that’s the first thing people hear, unless you’re at that very moment in need of a realtor, you’ve already tuned that person out.

In comparison, the handful of people who give a good introduction really stand out.

You should have two primary goals for your elevator speech.

1)      Paint an interesting, mental/visual picture of what it is you do.

2)      Create a call to action.

Even better, if you let your personal passion come through, your introduction will succeed.

I often get complimented on my elevator speech, so let’s use it as an example.

Have you ever heard of the ten to one rule?  (pause- look for head nods or hands)  The ten to one rule is that it takes 10 good things to be said about your company to equal one bad.  And since it’s only a matter of time until a negative story is going to be said about your company—legitimate or false—it’s essential to build up your good will bank to protect your image and reputation.  I believe in this philosophy so strongly, that I named my public relations company 10 to 1 Public Relations.  I have some simple, yet very effective tricks to help companies tell their story to media reporters and potential customers to help them build their business.

For me, this has been a very successful conversation starter.  I begin by asking a question to engage my audience, then they immediately hear my passion in building a positive image for my clients.  I also make it easy to receive the intended follow-up question— which is often a variation of:  what simple, yet very effective tricks do I use to help my clients build their business?

This allows me to then turn it back around to their business and share some examples of what I would do to help them.

Here’s some tips to building your own introduction.

1)       Hook them.  Start with a rhetorical question or a one sentence story that explains why you’re passionate.  Here are a couple examples:  Have you or someone you love ever needed an ambulance?  Well when I was eight-years-old, an ambulance came to my house to help my mom and I immediately knew that one day, I was going to be a Paramedic so that I could help people too.

Or let’s say you’re a financial advisor, a good opening sentence might be:  I’ve been helping clients with their investments for XX years.  But a few years ago I attended a conference that had a real effect on me…

2)      Explain your approach/what makes you unique from your competitors.  It’s okay to have 2 or 3 unique examples, but only share one—using the example most appropriate to the person/people whom you’re talking.

3)      Create a call to action.  Ask them a follow-up question or make it easy to get them to ask you a question or to share their own related experience to build a connection.

You’ll also want 2 or 3 variations of your elevator pitch- adaptable depending to whom you’re talking.  However many variations you have though, the base of your introduction should be consistent.  The more you practice and tell it the easier and more natural sounding your elevator speech will become.

If you still need help, feel free to email me your draft.  I’m always good for an opinion!

Raising your Company’s reputation, one employee at a time

Your organization has a hundred employees and you get 10 co-workers to volunteer for a day building a house for Habitat for Humanity. Do you consider that a success? Optimists would say absolutely yes; pessimists instead would point out the remaining 90% of employees who didn’t participate.

Does that mean 90% of your employees are heartless community haters? Of course not! In fact, many of those employees in the 90% group likely volunteer outside of work sponsored events. They may volunteer through their church, a local pet rescue organization or as a mentor or Big Brother or Sister to at-risk kids.

Wherever they donate their time, it’s obviously personally important, often passionately, to them.

The better question is — how can your company receive credit for the personal volunteer efforts of your co-workers while they receive the recognition of performing good deeds? Once you figure out this riddle, you’ll accomplish several things.

  • Your employees will be happier as you recognize and appreciate what the good they do outside of work hours.
  • Potential employees will like seeing the commitment and encouragement to be community involved.
  • Potential customers and decision makers in the community will credit the company for supporting and encouraging the personal efforts of your employees.
  • You’ll have a lot of no-cost media opportunities to promote and brand your organization through the amazing people who work for the company.

The best part is that you don’t need a lot of money to succeed (I’ll share some ideas how to stretch your budget later in this column). First and foremost is a decision to spend the time and energy to learn what your co-workers are already doing in the community.

Start with a simple survey to all of your employees asking:

  • To what organizations do co-workers volunteer their personal time?
  • Do they serve on any non-profit boards and what volunteer titles they hold (Board Member, Chairman, etc.)?
  • Do they volunteer anywhere (little league coach, religious school teacher, food kitchen, etc.)?
  • Where have they volunteered in the last 12 months — even if just once?
  • To which charities do they donate their own money (church, pet rescues, cancer society, etc.)?
  • How many volunteer hours do they perform each month?

I promise you’ll be amazed to learn all that your co-workers do in the community.

Now compile the collected information into the following lists.

  • All the organizations mentioned
  • All of the boards/community groups of which your employees serve
  • A total of all the volunteer hours for the entire year (if individual surveys say they volunteered 10 hours a month, multiple by 12 to show a total year average)
  • A total dollar amount of personally donated dollars by employees

Draw a line under each list and add company coordinated or sponsored organizations, donated cash plus in-kind dollars and any in-kind donated hours (free standby’s, etc.).

Now you’ve got an impressive list to promote! All you need to do is qualify the stats. Instead of saying “COMPANY donates more than X dollars to the community,” now you simply say “COMPANY and it’s employees donate more than X dollars to the community.”

Don’t hide the origin of the full list — highlight it. Take credit for hiring amazing people who not only do a great job for the company, but for the community as well!

Place the list on your company website and marketing materials. Even include the list in proposal bids to retain or expand service. This strategy is especially effective for companies that are unable to donate a lot of time or money as an organization in the community.

Over the years, I’ve helped many companies create philanthropic donation programs to help build their community image. The key is to start with a budget number and create a donation strategy that fits your marketing goals.

Let’s say you have $20,000 total to donate. Are you better off donating the entire amount to one organization or giving $500 to 40 different organizations? The answer may depend on the community image you wish to create.

Are you trying to make a significant impact on solving a single problem? For example, if making sure every kid has a bike helmet to prevent head injuries is your focus, you can buy a lot of helmets with $20,000.

You can then spend the rest of the year passing them out at events, schools, etc., while collecting media attention along the way. Your organization can OWN this issue.

Or does your company gain more by having 40 community organizations send you “thank you” letters? You can distribute 40 press releases or hold 40 events where you hand over check you write so that local leaders view your agency as a true community partner and supporter.

Here’s another strategy — I once put together a successful program where each employee could choose where to designate a $50 donation from 25 to 50 pre-approved charities. The program was extremely popular with employees, led to great media coverage and ultimately only cost the company about $5000 — less than they expected.

My point is that it’s not about the amount spent, but about the impression created. Yes, it feels good to be involved in your community. It feels even better to get credit as a company for that involvement, all while creating a positive image and reputation for your agency or company.

Does your company use another strategy? Share it in comments so we all can learn from your example!

When you need PR ideas, turn to your co-workers

When I was a Public Information Officer for a private ambulance provider, I used to speak to new employee orientation classes. Of the 30 minutes I was allotted, the first 25 minutes were spent explaining my role, process and policies related to why employees can’t talk to media, etc.

But for me, the last five minutes were the most important. It’s when I asked the group what public relations and community involvement programs they liked that a previous employer did or what ideas they might have that their new employer should consider.

Most suggestions were ideas we were already doing or had considered, but decided not to pursue for cost or other reasons. Once in a while, an idea can become a real gem — if you’re willing to hear the suggestion and open to considering ways to implement it.

My favorite example is one I originally rejected. Toby was new to our marketing team and one of his personal passion projects was about the Safe Baby Haven law. Safe Baby Haven laws exist in many states across the country. A new mother can drop off her newborn child (72-hours or younger) to any hospital or fire station and absolve herself of any future responsibility for the child, no questions asked. The idea is to make sure that the newborn isn’t abandoned in a dumpster.

Toby was part of a volunteer group in the state that was promoting the law and trying to educate the public. He suggested that we place large Safe Baby Haven logos on the sides of all our ambulances and make the ambulances drop-off locations.

I’ve always been wary of putting too many logos and decals on an ambulance — we aren’t stock cars and the more logos added the fewer people see — but that’s a column for another day. Initially, I thanked Toby for the idea but mentally rejected it.

To Toby’s credit, he kept asking so I took another look at the law in Arizona. It stated that in addition to hospitals and fire stations being official drop-off locations, the law said that the baby could be handed to any uniformed Paramedic or EMT and the crew must accept the infant, no questions asked.

I was still against the idea of putting “drop off location” logos on the ambulances, but since the law already said we played a role, why not make sure everyone knew it? Working with Toby, we partnered with the Safe Baby Coalition, who had already secured a proclamation from the Governor declaring Safe Baby Haven Day.

We held a press conference at one of our facilities with numerous ambulances behind us as the backdrop to announce that the public should view all of our ambulances as Safe Baby Haven “locations” when the newborn is handed to an uniformed Paramedic or EMT.

You caught that last part, right?  It was already the law! We weren’t really announcing anything new!

And, now, for your moment of serendipity: During the press conference, where there was a full set of television cameras, reporters’ cell phones began ringing. It turned out that a baby was found in a dumpster — at the same time of our press event.

All of a sudden, our low level “C” story became the day’s lead story. Every mention of the baby in the dumpster included how preventable it could have been had the child been handed to an ambulance crew. We had 43 news mentions within 24 hours.

Example of TV Coverage:

Within a few days, fire chief’s in other major cities announced that they were making their ambulances drop-off locations too.

These turn of events, which stemmed from an idea that was initially rejected, happened because of a quick question thrown out at the end of an employee orientation speech.