My Ship Comes In: From PR to DIY Journalism and Back Again

When I learned from Elmore Magazine I would be covering this year’s progressive rock cruise, Cruise to the Edge, I knew the term “DIY” would become my mantra for its duration.

DIY of course means “do it yourself.” It’s also the name of a song by legendary prog artist Peter Gabriel. In journeying back to reporter status, I knew it wouldn’t be enough to just write about this cruise. I would have to become an all-encompassing media entity – what headliner band Yes would call a “big generator” – taking photographs, setting up interviews with bands/artists, tracking down said bands/artists, and keeping the social media train rolling. Essentially all on my own.

Well I did have some help. There were PR agencies helping me with my requests in the weeks before the cruise. However, there were definite kinks in the system. A Skype interview with John Lodge of the Moody Blues almost didn’t happen as miscommunication led to rescheduling. A phone interview with an incoming Rock and Roll Hall of Famer took place in Logan Airport and was delayed 20 minutes because of bad cell phone reception. It all worked out, but it’s always better for PR agencies to leave multiple options on the table to ensure greater efficiency and cut down on the media curveballs.

I don’t want to necessarily say I could’ve done things better because really, we are always at the mercy of our clients. We adapt to reporters’ needs to better suit the organizations and individuals we represent daily. Having been on both sides of the media fence as reporter and PR executive, I know the one thing that doesn’t change for either is time. Everything happens by a deadline, or it doesn’t happen. As I flew down to Tampa I tried to remind myself of this; there was a chance I wouldn’t achieve all I wanted on the cruise. Then my inner reporter voice spoke up – I wasn’t to quit at any opportunity. The last thing I’d want from this once-in-a-lifetime experience was a swarm of “What ifs” buzzing around my head.

Any reporter rust I accumulated over the past few years I hope has been scraped away. Over five days, I tried to follow a self-devised DIY code seemingly applicable to any media scenario. I now share it with you. Adhering to these steps resulted in more than 8,500 collective words of coverage spread out over eight (hopefully nine) individual columns, and some of the greatest photographs I’ve ever taken.

1. Research, research, research [a.k.a. “He knew, knew more than me and you” – Kansas, “Portrait (He Knew)”]

As a true prog rock fan, I climbed aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas with an in-depth knowledge of several headlining bands playing on the ship throughout the week. Ask me anything about Yes, Kansas or Steve Hackett (Genesis) and I should have an answer within three seconds.

That said, I knew I could always learn more. I scoured Wikipedia pages, racked up Amazon CD purchases, viewed YouTube videos, and even had friends burn necessary material onto blank CDs. I also took it upon myself to memorize names and faces, for bands both old and new. Having the sense my time would be my own in-between planned shows and Q&As, I could walk throughout the ship with my backpack of equipment and hone in when I found a potential source.

A key advantage in doing your research beforehand is increasing your ability to ask questions outside the box. In differentiating yourself from others, especially in media, always avoid the obvious question wherever possible. For example, while everybody asked guitarist Steve Hackett (one of my musical heroes) about his time with Genesis, I asked about his professional relationship with folk singer Richie Havens. This led to Hackett diving deep in his memory banks to recall times, places, ambiances, and events that made for a phenomenal story stretched out over five minutes.

Most cruisers also asked noted progressive artist Roger Dean about the motivations behind his album cover designs for Yes. I opted instead to ask about his art for lesser-known bands like Budgie and Osibisa. He responded with the best opening line any source can give you: “I have a story about that…” If this statement is uttered, have a tape recorder handy because you’re in for a quotable treat.

2. Politeness is next to godliness [a.k.a. “Only the fool learns to get through” – Steve Hackett, “Camino Royale”]

Most bands/artists on the cruise walked freely about the ship and obliged their fans with photos and signings if asked. However, the cruise makes clear that outside of pre-determined events, any other outside requests made of the musicians are handled at their discretion. My main mission while on board was going after interviews and colorful anecdotes. However, as a fan, I was also after photos and vinyl album signatures. When approaching celebrities of any caliber it’s always best to be polite. A calm, “Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you…” can go a long way.

Bear in mind, being polite has the potential to yield curtness in return. You must remember not to be discouraged by that; it’s nothing against you personally. I felt horrible for interrupting Yes guitarist Steve Howe during his breakfast to have him sign an album for me. He didn’t even shake my hand. In time though, he came to my table and signed it. This wasn’t the easiest exchange, but I know had I prodded Howe further and ignored his request to let him finish eating, things could’ve been much worse.

I’m sure there were moments when I sounded like a blubbering fool in front of these megastars. Guilt did creep up over catching them at inopportune moments. However, in following the code of courtesy, I am currently awaiting frames for signed albums from members of Yes and Kansas, as well as Steve Hackett and Patrick Moraz.

3. Make pals whenever/wherever you can [a.k.a. “Lovely to see you again, my friend” – The Moody Blues, “Lovely to See You”]

While waiting to see Yes perform on the first night of the cruise, my wife Jen and I met the Wolds, a lovely couple from Hickory, North Carolina who happened to be personal friends with members of the band Kansas, best known for their classic hits “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry On Wayward Son.”

Considering I never heard back from Kansas’ PR team prior to our Tampa departure, I now had a prime moment to tell the Wolds about myself, what I was doing, and my particular level of Kansas fandom. This kind of openness resulted in their telling me Kansas founding member/guitarist Rich Williams was right outside the theater if I wanted to say hello. I met him, made my pitch, and snagged a quick photo (and eventually an album signature). The next day, I was sitting at band’s table during lunch asking questions about their Power album from 1986. Front-man Ronnie Scott even obliged me with a selfie.

I know these moments would’ve lacked the same potency had we not met the Wolds.

While waiting to see Steve Hackett perform the next night, I met Shawn, the founder of a classic rock website. Because he didn’t have a camera, I offered to provide him with extra photographs in exchange for credit on his website. He accepted and I now can add another outlet credit to my resume. Plus, it also didn’t hurt that upon tweeting photos of Kansas’ own ship concert to the band’s official Twitter page, they retweeted me. Suddenly, the new followers came pouring in.

The biggest highlight though came when I formally met and interviewed Hackett on day three of the cruise. I took a chance and went directly to his American PR agency with a request for a 10-minute interview. I had a response back within a couple of hours – the interview was confirmed and could I by any chance mention Hackett’s new album in my writing? No problem. I owe Hackett’s PR man a lunch, considering that the 10-minute interview ultimately stretched to 40 minutes. I’m still coming to terms with that fact it actually took place.

4. A picture is worth a thousand tries [a.k.a. “I am a camera” – Yes, “Into the Lens”]

It had been more than a year since I handled a camera for media purposes. In fact, I had to borrow an actual camera and equipment from a former colleague since I knew an iPhone wouldn’t make the cut for this trip. While I didn’t particularly enjoy lugging around lenses all day, this tool was crucial to making our cruise experience one for the ages. Sure, I could easily write about what I saw on-board and how great it was. It’s quite a different animal to see it colorfully come alive through a camera lens.

My camera and I logged tens of thousands of steps on the Fitbit together as we captured bands of all statures on different stages. Most times I’d be 50 feet away from them but the combination of a long lens and a lot of patience yielded, in my mind, fantastic results. And don’t worry, unless you are a master photographer, you will likely produce 30 blurry or bad shots for every terrific one.

Like my line of interview questioning, I wanted to be out of the box with my photography. I wanted to capture bands emoting in action. Nobody wants photos of subjects standing still looking bored. I wanted laughs, grimaces, exhaustion; anything to make the shot original and individual.

While I’m sure I’m not the first to capture these Nikon moments, I’m extremely proud of the following photos (showcased with this blog):

Normally stoic Steve Hackett laughing and clapping his hands instead of playing guitar

Normally stoic Steve Hackett laughing and clapping his hands instead of playing guitar

Normally stoic Steve Hackett laughing and clapping his hands instead of playing guitar

Focus frontman/flautist Thijs van Leer whistling while playing the piano

Focus frontman/flautist Thijs van Leer whistling while playing the piano

 Focus frontman/flautist Thijs van Leer whistling while playing the piano

Kansas drummer Phil Ehart throwing his arms up at the end of the band’s concert

Kansas drummer Phil Ehart throwing his arms up at the end of the band’s concert

Kansas drummer Phil Ehart throwing his arms up at the end of the band’s concert

These are only three of the roughly 115 shots I’m keeping. I know I deleted at least 200 more due to poor quality.

5. If at first you don’t succeed, keep going! [a.k.a. “You’re every move you make, so the story goes” – Yes, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”]

An unfortunate yet surprisingly motivating factor in journalism is frustration. A reporter, for example, may spend all day outside someone’s home trying to get a two-line quote and come back empty-handed, to their editor’s disappointment.

Even while frustrated, PR specialists and reporters alike must remain persistent in their media efforts. In my case, a substantial portion of my time on the cruise was spent scoping out select areas of the ship to hopefully connect with bands and artists, and keep my content exciting in real time. Over four days, I must have walked the entirety of The Windjammer Café on floor 11 at least 37 times. There was also theCentrum area on floor 4, a great spot to watch a radio interview and grab a quick signature as an artist headed for the elevators. Kudos to Alan White of Yes and guitarist Steve Morse for being good sports in this department!

My collective actions during this cruise could be considered foolish given that I probably should’ve just basked in the sun day after day, not letting thoughts like “What if this interview doesn’t happen?” control my brain. Yet I have no regrets. I accomplished everything I set out to do and came back home feeling inspired and at my most creative.

I also know that navigating the world of media isn’t always smooth sailing. However, I can assure you that in the case of covering something of this magnitude, the ride is always memorable, no matter how choppy things get at times.

###

Current cruise coverage:

Yes Cruises into RRHoF

Vinyl Confessions Special Edition: Prog: Rock's Other White Meat

Vinyl Confessions: Long Distance (Cruise) Voyager

Cruise to the Edge Diary, Day 1

Cruise to the Edge Diary, Day 2

Cruise to the Edge Diary, Day 3

Cruise to the Edge Diary, Day 4

Cruise to the Edge Diary, Day 5

Tom Brady Crisis Ahead. Why Uggs should be getting ready for a firestorm

Imagine you’re a marketer at Uggs, Under Armour or Movado. Chances are, you were feeling pretty good late at night on Super Bowl Sunday. Your celebrity spokesperson just won his fifth championship title and legions of fans were affectionately referring to him as the GOAT.

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Sealing a Tom Brady endorsement was likely a dream come true for these brands – but are they prepared for the potential fallout when pigskin and politics collide later this year at the ceremonial White House ceremony for the reigning Super Bowl champs? At least six Patriots players have already announced their intentions to skip the visit, due to their opposition to President Trump and his policies. It’s a good bet that at least a few others may follow suit. So what about Brady, and how will his decision affect the brands he represents? His friendship with Donald Trump has already been the subject of intense debate since the presidential campaign, with candidate Trump bragging about receiving endorsements from #12 and head coach Bill Belichick. Brady has shied away from elaborating on his relationship with Trump, insisting it “isn’t a big deal” and later saying his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, had prohibited him from talking politics in public.

But Brady has a choice to make in the coming weeks – whether or not to attend the White House ceremony – and America will be watching. You may recall Brady skipped the Pats’ visit to the Obama White House in 2015, citing a family commitment, yet rumors swirled that the real reason was political. Former Bruins’ goalie Tim Thomas faced an enormous backlash when he refused to visit the White House with his teammates in 2012, saying he believed the federal government had grown too large and was threatening rights and liberties.

So what’s a brand to do when a potential controversy is brewing with its celebrity spokesperson? We’ve been there – and while it’s not fun, there are ways to try and mitigate any potential damage to your brand:

  1. Be prepared. While this isn’t always possible, as crises tend to strike with little to no notice, Brady brands should start thinking now about how they’ll respond when he announces his decision. They’ll likely face backlash either way – if he attends, he’ll be seen as supporting President Trump, and left-leaning fans may cry foul about Brady having previously snubbed President Obama. If he declines, again citing a conflict, right-wing fans may accuse him of being unpatriotic, or of bowing down to pressure from the left. Uggs, Under Armour and Movado are likely already strategizing about how they’ll respond to customers’ concerns, including emails, phone calls and social media
    complaints. Better to start planning now instead of scrambling once it happens.
     
  2. Be proactive. This should be obvious to anyone who’s ever been media trained, but don’t say “no comment.” Brady brands should have statements ready for both scenarios (if he attends and if he doesn’t). It’s best to get out in front of the issue quickly with a public response. Acknowledge the situation and make it clear that your brand respects all customers’ points of view and welcomes feedback. Don’t be defensive.
     
  3. Be concise. Keep all public-facing statements short and sweet – simply provide an acknowledgement of the situation and what action the brand will take in response, if any.
     
  4. Learn from it. When the story dies down, think about how the experience might shape your future endorsement deals. Reevaluate spokesperson contracts, get expert advice on doing due diligence and ensuring that a potential spokesperson’s values are consistent with your brand’s, and think about the potential risk to your brand if your next celebrity face happens to cause a public controversy.

5 Ways to Make the Best of Client Sat Programs

It’s hard to believe that most professional services eschew client sat programs. That’s not to say these firms don’t believe in delighting their clients. It’s just they rely on ad hoc and anecdotal feedback. And that’s simply not enough if your firm wants the most predictable path to increased loyalty, retention and referrals. 

Simply put, every professional services business should develop an effective process to measure and track their clients’ satisfaction. To avoid being a meaningless exercise, that process should also include mechanisms to identify and act on areas for improvement. It’s rather simple really: what gets measured gets done. We know because Greenough has conducted annual client sat surveys since 2000, and here’s what we’ve learned over the past 17 years.

Measure What Matters

A client satisfaction survey should measure how well clients believe you have delivered on your promises. At Greenough, we ask every client to rate us on things like how well we’ve delivered on their business goals, how much passion we’ve demonstrated for their business, how well we understand it, the quality of our strategic advice, and the value they feel they’ve received for their budget.  

Make It Easy for Clients to Respond

A satisfaction survey has no value if clients don’t complete it. Although we’d love to get comments as well as ratings on each performance metric, we learned early on that it demanded too much of their time. Now our survey asks clients to rate their agreement with simple, first-person statements about our performance on a scale of 1–10 and to provide one summary comment with more specific feedback. 

Track and Analyze Your Performance

Tracking your performance over time lets you see where you are delighting your clients, where you are improving and where you still need to improve. The 1 to 10 ratings scale we use makes it easy for us to track year-over-year performance for each metric, both by client and for the organization as a whole, and to identify how our performance is trending in each area. 

Act on What You’ve Learned

Use the survey as a strategic tool to not only measure client satisfaction but also identify and, most importantly, act on opportunities to improve. We discuss our survey results with our clients to get additional insights that inform our planning process. Areas for improvement are incorporated into the plan objectives with specific action plans to address them. For example, in 2016 we:

  • Staffed up and significantly strengthened our marketing team.
  • Hired a dedicated senior writer and content strategist for our largest accounts. 
  • Strengthened our media capabilities by instituting weekly media best practices meetings with prominent journalist/editor guest speakers and by implementing a newsjacking process. 
  • Expanded our quarterly GMetrics report to include both insights into what did and didn’t work well and recommended adjustments to the PR or content strategy. 

Don’t Rest on Your Laurels

If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind. Use the process to continually improve your clients’ satisfaction with your services. The actions we’ve taken in response to our survey results and client feedback almost always result in higher satisfaction scores the next year.  

Implementing in an annual cycle of measuring and analyzing client satisfaction and acting on the results involves a significant commitment of time, effort and, often, money. But we’ve found it’s well worth the investment.  We‘ve maintained an impressive client retention rate in a very competitive market. Many of our accounts are the result of client referrals. Our client sat scores are the ultimate validation of our efforts: for the past 5 years, every one of our clients said they would recommend Greenough.

Five Content Marketing Rules for 2017

Five Content Marketing Rules for 2017

Content marketing became more than a strategy or tactic in 2016; it flowered into full-blown buzz-phrase. So, logically, you’ll want to quickly distance yourself from it. In fact, I’d encourage you to reject the title of this short piece. Instead, let’s say that the five items below are rules for brand storytelling in 2017 and, if followed, they will set you apart from the white noise content marketing has become.

Read More

The Evolving Print Edition: How consumer habits are impacting major publications

To conform to shifting reader habits and the quickening news cycle, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have both recently reorganized their publishing formats—most notably impacting the arts sections—and the Boston Globe is undergoing an audit of its editorial department.

The New York Times cut its local tri-state culture coverage in August and redesigned its arts section in December, concentrating on consumer-focused pieces such as “Show Us Your Wall” and cutting the weekly column, “Inside Art,” which had served as a “must-read” for everyone in the art market.

The Wall Street Journal launched a new print format with fewer sections in November. The publication introduced a new “Business & Finance” section which combined “Business & Tech” and “Money & Investing” and a new “Life & Arts” section which combined “Personal Journal” and “Arena.” Like the Times, the Journal also reduced its regional “Greater New York” coverage.

The Boston Globe is rethinking how the editorial department should function with today’s shortened news cycle. Rather than adhering to the deadlines demanded by the print schedule, the Globe will publish stories online throughout the day and night. To meet this end, they are creating an “Express Desk” to post breaking news and jump on trending stories.

The overarching result of these changes is reduced print coverage.

With limited space to work with, editors must decide which stories are selected for print. And not all make the cut. For example, although a recent review of the Museum of World War II’s anti-Semitism exhibition was featured in full in the Wall Street Journal’s print edition, a WSJ article on recreational marijuana in the workplace featuring Mirick O’Connell was shortened for print. In some cases, a story slated for publication gets bumped for a breaking news story, which was the case with a WSJ review of the Yale Peabody Museum when a Christie’s executive announced he was stepping down the same day. Or it may be delegated as an online only story, such as the WSJ review of the Museum of World War II’s exhibition on Pearl Harbor, which was never slated for the print edition in the first place.

In the digital age, where social media reigns, the idea that a story may only be published online is not necessarily a negative. It simply reflects our shifting news consumption habits.

With online stories, we can share content with a broader audience and bolster the reach of the coverage. As we have seen with the rise of Buzzfeed, the ability to share and “like” has a tangible, measurable and significant impact on the reach of digital media coverage.

Additionally, we are also in a golden age of video and audio reports shared through digital platforms.  Boston’s own NPR station, WBUR, continues to see strong support from its listeners and donors to expand its offerings and to report through new digital platforms. This year alone, WBUR launched a new website and mobile app which focus on the user experience of listening. They also launched the new education vertical, Edify, and received a $3 million grant from the Barr Foundation to bolster its arts and culture reporting, The ARTery. This is just one example of the kind of shift and dispersion occurring in the media landscape.

As we continue to witness the evolution of media, it’s important to understand the new limitations in print coverage, to manage the expectations of our clients and to be prepared to capitalize on the next trend in media.

- Maria Kucinski, Account Supervisor. Follow on LinkedIn

Maria Kucinski

Maria is an account supervisor at Greenough where she manages media strategy and relations for a variety of mission-driven organizations. Her clients include American Student Assistance, The Museum of World War II, WBUR, and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, among others.

Maria joined Greenough after a successful career entrenched in New York City’s art scene. She executed national media campaigns for a roster of high-profile museum clients at Resnicow and Associates; managed the careers of contemporary artists at the Cristin Tierney Gallery; oversaw the final tour of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company; and conducted fundraising for Robert Wilson’s avant-garde theater residency program, The Watermill Center. Maria is a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.