In Your Clients’ Shoes

By Nandi Thorn

You’ve probably thought to yourself more than once: I wish I could clone myself.

NandiWhen you’re in the business of client service, you should be asking yourself every day how you can be that “clone” to your clients. It is not only critical for successful communications outcomes, but for building strong and lasting partnerships.

At The Fearey Group, we pride ourselves on being true partners. That means having a relationship, not a transactional exchange. While one size doesn’t fit all, there are a few fundamental things we can all do to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes.

Shadow: Consider asking your client if you can spend a day or half day with them at the office once a week or month. You will quickly learn more about their day-to-day priorities, business demands and get to know their team on a more personal basis.

Study their job description: Ask yourself if you really know ALL that your client is responsible for and how their performance is evaluated. You might just find something new that could help you bring even more value to the table. For example, what if he/she is in charge of social media or perhaps marketing for a certain product or service?

Request a copy of their business plan: Any smart and impactful communications campaign is tied directly to the business goals of an organization. With this knowledge, you can bring forth more strategic and focused recommendations. You will also have a better sense of what is important to senior leaders at the organization.

Make a date outside of the office: Sometimes the best conversations and “aha” moments occur outside of the office, away from day-to-day tasks. Get to know who they are and what they love to do when they aren’t working.

Meet their team: If you haven’t already, suggest a mini roadshow with key stakeholders within their organization. This will help you understand the different facets of their business and provides an opportunity to meet thought leaders and experts. Once you have those relationships in place, you are better equipped to step in and be a true back-up for your client. It can be as simple as participating in a meeting, staffing an interview or hunting down details for an upcoming announcement when they are double-booked.

The Fearey Group has had the privilege of being an embedded team member for two recent clients. While we still learned something new every day, I can say that the time spent putting ourselves in our clients’ shoes made this possible. We already had a trusting, enduring relationship – one that couldn’t be built just by participating on a weekly check-in call and exchanging a few emails in between.

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Re: Enough Already

Have you guys heard of this new thing? It’s called electronic mail. ‘Email’ for short. Instead of writing a letter, putting it into an envelope, sealing it, addressing it, stamping it, dropping it into a postbox and waiting days for a reply, you can now just hit a button called ‘send’ and be done with it. It’s amazing and fast.

Unfortunately, aside from the speed thing, email is almost exactly like paper mail: there’s too much of it, it’s mostly junk, and it’s very hard to have a conversation with it. Sometimes it comes in waves with too much text. Imagine corresponding with paper mail by stapling your response to the original and sending it back. Back and forth you go, the wad of papers getting bigger and more unwieldy. Now imagine digging through to find a bit of info hidden inside, a needed detail. Now imagine that there are five or six other people involved, all adding to the wad. No need to imagine too hard, we’ve all been there. Email is a mess.

And yet we still use it. It is common form. Yes, it has its function, but its ubiquity in the workplace encourages us to use it for almost every type of communication. “Hey, John – can you send me the Nordstrom research document, again?”

It’s like building a birdhouse using only a hammer; we need a range of tools for a range of tasks. Fortunately, we now have many good, application-specific communication tools at our disposal.

For managing projects I have begun to use Basecamp, a tidy little piece of software built only for that purpose. Everything is dynamic, the attachments are organized, roles are properly assigned, it’s great. The same thing done via email is an obnoxious chore. For fast conversations I prefer text messaging (or DM’s on twitter). I don’t ever want to send an email that just says, ‘thanks’, nor do I want to receive one. If we’re exchanging one word at a time let’s stay out of each other’s inboxes, ok? I even like Twitter’s In Box (DM feature) instead of email. I can control the participants, it’s uncluttered, and the best part: it’s concise. 140 characters gets you to the point very quickly, and I like getting to the point.

So what does that leave? Letters to Mom. Email should be used for the exact thing it was invented to replace. The letter.

Well, that and exciting investment opportunities from Nigerian business folk.

Happily Branded: How the Seahawks Made 12s of Us All

They’re everywhere. Flapping from truck beds and car antennas, beaming across T-shirts, and obscuring windows all over town. It’s super uncool to be a major piece of urban architecture without one (aka Hawkitechture!). How can you not get caught up in it? It’s not just an emblem of the conference champs for whom we’re all cheering, it’s an emblem of ourselves; the 12th Men and Women. Yay us!

It’s both a thrilling community phenomenon and an astounding feat of PR.

Aaron Blank, his wife, Lacey Yantis, at the NFC Championship game in Seattle.
Aaron Blank, his wife, Lacey Yantis, at the NFC Championship game in Seattle.

After last weekend’s epic conference championship clincher Pete Carroll and Paul Allen both graciously thanked “all the Twelves.” My wife and I cheered our heads off. But it’s important to note the wording. Not Twelfth Men, just Twelves.

It may seem like a harmless truncation for the sake of brevity and possibly gender neutrality, but it’s actually more, and it’s genius.

In 2004, a year after I arrived in Seattle, the Hawks weren’t doing so hot. Suffering the longest drought of playoff victories of any NFL team, they were in need of a brand boost. Bill Chapin, the newly hired director of marketing, decided to reignite the near dormant 12th Man concept and make it the crux of a new strategy. It was started back in the 1980s. In 2005 the reinvigorated crowd roared enough to inflict 24 false-start penalties. The Twelfth Man was back. Later that year the Seahawks claimed the NFC championship and went onto the Super Bowl in Detroit.

But the Hawks don’t own the term “Twelfth Man”, they’ve been licensing it since 2006 from Texas A&M for $5000 a year. It probably is the most brilliant PR campaign for any team in NFL history. Just look at Seattle, right now, and you’ll see – everyone is a 12 – it is all over the city!

After the license expires in 2016, the Seahawks can’t legally use it all. But they can use the number 12. So what do they do? They pivot. They negotiate, likely at a much higher rate than $5000 a year!

So now we’re simply Twelves. Do we need the rest? Nope. The cumulative history of the term, from the retiring of the number 12 in 1984 to the record—and eardrum—breaking roar of CenturyLink Field to the crushing victory of Super Bowl XLVIII is all neatly packed into one blue number. 12. Boom.

Go Hawks! Win on Sunday. Make us, the Twelves, shine yet once again.

Sincerely, a 12th Man.

Aaron Blank with Alan Chitlik, owner of Puget Sound DJ at the 2014/15 NFC Divisional Game against the Carolina Panthers.
Aaron Blank with Alan Chitlik, owner of Puget Sound DJ at the 2014/15 NFC Divisional Game against the Carolina Panthers.

Meet The Seattle Times’ new health reporter, JoNel Aleccia

By Amy Snow Landa

When Carol Ostrom retired from The Seattle Times on Oct. 1, the paper lost one of the Northwest’s most prominent and experienced health reporters. Many wondered if the paper would be able to find someone with the right combination of knowledge, skills and experience – as well as energy – to cover such an important and challenging beat.

JoNelAlecciaBut it appears The Seattle Times has found that person. Starting Dec. 1, JoNel Aleccia is the paper’s new full-time health reporter. When we talked with her recently, JoNel said she was “chomping at the bit” to get started. “I’ve got so many stories that I can’t wait to tell,” she said. “That first week I’m going to have to calm myself down a little bit.”

JoNel, 53, has the enthusiasm of a newcomer, but make no mistake: she’s a veteran with chops. Start with more than two decades of experience at newspapers in Washington and Oregon, including 21 years as a reporter, editor and columnist at The Mail Tribune in Medford, Ore., and two years covering health and social services at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane.

Add to that more than six years as a national health reporter. JoNel made the leap to national reporting in 2008 when she joining msnbc.com – the online partnership of Microsoft and NBC – as a health reporter based in Seattle. When Microsoft pulled out of msnbc.com in 2012, JoNel moved to NBCNews.com and continued to report national health news from Seattle for another two years.

But over time it became clear that NBC planned to centralize editorial operations in New York and reduce staff in Seattle. So JoNel made another leap – this time to Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She joined the communications team at Fred Hutch last summer, following other NBCNews.com veterans such as Jennifer Sizemore, who was named vice president of communications in 2013.

Over the past four months, JoNel reported for the nascent Fred Hutch News Service, which is part of a larger effort within the Hutch to create a newsroom separate from public relations that produces original news content. Among the more interesting stories JoNel reported for the news service was her interview with Andrew Madoff, son of convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, a week before his death in September and more than a year after he had received a stem cell transplant at the Hutch.

Looking ahead, JoNel said she is excited about returning to community journalism at The Seattle Times. “Seattle is still a great town to be a reporter, and the paper is one of the few places where there is still a concentrated group of serious journalists,” she said.

JoNel said her passion is reporting consumer advocacy stories that have an impact on people’s lives. At NBCNews.com, she was one of only a handful of journalists in the country who consistently covered food safety issues such as the salmonella outbreaks associated with Foster Farms. She also reported on faulty products ranging from contaminated medical wipes that led to deaths and injuries in kids to jerky treats made in China that caused death and illness in thousands of dogs in the United States. JoNel said she plans to become a watchdog on food safety and other consumer advocacy issues again at the Times.

We at The Fearey Group look forward to following JoNel’s coverage and wish her the best.

Meet Annie Zak, PSBJ Healthcare Reporter

A. Zak

Annie Zak is the new health care reporter for the Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ). In September, she replaced Valerie Bauman, who moved on to a reporting position at Newsday in New York.

Annie stopped by The Fearey Group offices recently to meet our team and share a bit about her background and her work.

Annie is not entirely new to the Pacific Northwest, having completed an internship at Portland’s alternative newspaper, Willamette Week.

Prior to joining the PSBJ, Annie was in Southern California reporting for the Los Angeles/Orange County Register. Before that, she earned a master’s degree at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where she focused on investigative reporting. She also has a bachelor’s degree from Knox College in Illinois.

So what is it like being the new health care reporter for the PSBJ? Annie says it is quite different from her previous position as a general assignment reporter. That said, two months into the job, she is hitting her stride. Annie has made a point of meeting as many people in the health and life sciences community as she can.

What many people don’t know is that Annie writes two or three stories EVERY DAY and spends much of her afternoon planning for the next day’s news.

She says that while she enjoys the diversity of subjects she covers each day, her passion is pursuing more in-depth stories that take time to develop. She also has a keen interest in life sciences. Good news for her – there is no shortage of biotech and biomedical companies in the area.

So you might be wondering: why publish so many stories each day? The answer: digital is king. The PSBJ has increasingly emphasized online news content, which requires frequent updating. But the weekly print edition, delivered each Friday, remains vital as well.

Other than sharing a little from the inside, Annie offered a few tips for PR pros and the organizations that we support:

  • Know your audience. Too often we receive pitches that are irrelevant for this market and our readers.
  • Always be thinking about the headline when you pitch a story. Would it motivate you to click on a story?
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. What good is a story so mired in jargon and technical speak as to be incomprehensible to the average reader?
  • Studies can often be a hard sell for readers; on the other hand, news about the latest startup launch or research breakthrough tends to draw attention.
  • No surprise, controversy attracts interest, whether it’s controversy over mergers and acquisitions or competition between institutions.
  • Email remains the best way to reach reporters, but don’t overlook Twitter DMs or texting once a relationship is established. And sometimes it’s an old-fashioned phone call that does the trick.
  • Keep reporters’ daily and weekly deadlines in mind before you reach out. Timing is everything.

Thanks to Annie for stopping by The Fearey Group. And a big welcome to Seattle!

The 366th Day: A Reflection

Time flies when you’re having fun. Cliché? Yes. True? You bet.

Not sure how often that phrase is referenced when talking about work, but I’m going to go ahead and put it out there. Today I celebrate my one-year anniversary here at The Fearey Group and I cannot believe how quickly these past 12 months have flown by.

First day!

Before you dart off thinking this will be all Kumbaya-like, stay with me for a moment. If you’re a PR person reading this, you’ve likely heard and battled every stigma ever noted about the PR industry – very fast-paced, high-intensity, long hours, overly demanding at times, etc. I would be lying if I said that there isn’t a smidge of truth to some of these. But all that aside, there is such rewarding glory in doing what we do as PR and communications professionals. Having spent my career working as an in-house counselor, an account executive at a global agency, and now an account supervisor at a boutique local firm, I feel I can say with confidence that serving as a strategic and thoughtful counselor to members of my community is a job unlike anything out there.

Every place I have worked has impressed upon me the marks of its passion, and The Fearey Group is no exception. Looking back at the past 365 days, I think about the ways in which my time here at TFG has helped to shape me as a PR pro and as a professional:

1. I get to help my neighbors tell their stories. Storytelling is why I got into this industry in the first place. Serving as a bridge to help translate the heart and soul of a brand or company to audiences near and far is a creative outlet that should not be taken for granted. It’s problem solving on a whole new level and in a way that deeply impacts public perception for days, months, years to come. What a challenge!

2. Fearless and nimble – that’s how we do it at TFG. We have a motto here – “Fearless Thinking.” It means that in everything we do, we strive to marry the creative with the courageous to bring about an impact for our clients that is bold, surprising and successful. To be encouraged by leadership to take these risks and be daring is liberating to say the least. Not to mention the look on clients’ faces when our campaigns help them achieve the highest in metrics – it’s a win-win!

3. We are family (cue Sister Sledge!). There are many benefits to working within a boutique firm, many of which are centered around the fact that we are able to be more nimble and forego much of the process and red tape a larger agency would require. But beyond that, Aaron Blank (our fearless CEO here at TFG) has continued to ensure that TFG goes beyond the tradiional offerings of an employer – helping to make TFG one of the best places to work in Washington. We have each other’s back, we support each other in all that we do, we have the flexibility to keep a healthy work/life balance, and at the end of the day, we really like working with each other. Hugs all around?

Mostly my time here has flown by because I’ve been fortunate enough to take on the very best this industry has to offer under the roof of one of the most respected agencies in the city. You can’t beat that. At the risk of coming off salesy and showing my true bias, here’s a link to open positions we have here at The Fearey Group. Come join me in taking on the world and feel free to contact me either over LinkedIn, via Twitter or email!

How to Make Measurement Tangible and Manageable for Employees and Clients

Before this year’s PRSA 2014 Counselors Academy Conference, we reached out to Linhart PR’s Kelly Womer to learn more about her presentation, “How to Make Measurement Tangible and Manageable for Employees and Clients.”

Measurement is one of the most challenging things to deliver in a digest able format for both employees and clients. At Linhart PR they have developed a method, Linhart PRoof™, to give their employees and clients an impactful measurement tool that shows what successes they have seen. We asked Kelly to give us a sneak peek into the framework her team uses to provide measurement for clients.

Kelly: We developed LinhartPRoof to help us better determine and measure what most matters to our clients. It gives our team a seven-step framework, guided by best practices we already use, to know when, how and what to measure to share success. The seven-steps include:

  1. Mission and objectives: It starts by understanding the ins and outs of an organization’s business and how communications can help.
  2. Strategic planning: This involves developing ideas – from “mild to wild” – to create a plan, scope of work and budget to meet the goals created during step one.
  1. Success metrics: Any agreed-upon plan and activities must be measured to understand what’s working and what’s not.
  1. Tools: There are many measurement tools and techniques available, ranging from online software to in-depth consumer research.
  1. Frequency and formatting: It’s important to develop a schedule for reporting results based on the plan, the organization’s needs and budget.
  2. Analysis and reporting: There’s great power and potential in interpreting results-related data at appropriate intervals.
  3. Satisfaction: There’s always room to learn and continuously improve

We can’t wait to see Kelly’s full presentation and learn how effective measurement has become a best practice for her team to deliver results for their clients.

Why Attend a Conference?

By Aaron Blank

Each day our email boxes are full of mails from conference planners trying to entice you to attend their conference. Is it worth it? The time and money alone are pricey hills to climb. I am writing this blog post to tell you that you should find and pick the best conference to go to — and go! Break out of your day-to-day motions and learn from others.

I’ve done both – been to PR industry conferences – and I’ve been to conferences outside my industry. Both are equally as good. This year I am attending the PRSA 2014 Counselors Academy Conference from May 4-6. The focus is on the keys to PR agency management. I’ll have the chance to expand my knowledge base, improve some skills and network with others with similar situations. In past years, I’ve attended WPPI’s Wedding and Photography Conference & Expo (2014’s conference was last week). Why? Well, I learned a ton about the multimedia facet of our industry in a completely different way. Plus, I left feeling inspired in new ways.  

While you may think you are awesome at your job (YOU ARE!), I am sure you will learn something valuable just by spending a day or two outside the office. What do you get from attending a conference? Rejuvenation, excitement! for your work, ideas, and relationships!

For my agency counterparts, who either manage an agency or a team of PR professionals, CAPRSA’s annual conference is worth the time and effort. I assure you, your work will still be at your office when you return, but you’ll come back to it with a refreshed outlook.

See you in a few weeks!

Last Night’s Really Big News

by Alex Fryer

Seattle voters made history last night, radically changing the political landscape in ways we can barely foretell. No, I’m not talking about the mayor’s race, which trended along an anticipated narrative. The big game-changer last night was Charter Amendment 19, which ends the current way of electing city council members at-large. Instead, it creates a City Council where seven members are elected by district, and two citywide.

In all the hue and cry of the mayor’s race, this radical departure from the status quo was largely overlooked. The Seattle Times reported that the pro-Charter Amendment 19 campaign was largely supported by a single benefactor, North Seattle business advocate, Faye Garneau, who contributed $232,447 of the campaign’s $262,860. The campaign against district elections raised just $5,400.

That kind of financial imbalance doesn’t usually make for good public policy. During the campaign, current city council members seemed reluctant to take on district elections. Maybe they’re good prognosticators: the measure appears to be winning 64-36 percent. That’s a landslide in anyone’s book.

What will be the results? You can expect a lot more people to file for City Council. After all, the cost of running a campaign in, say, Southeast Seattle or downtown and Magnolia is a lot cheaper than citywide. And you can expect that, once in office, these folks will keep an ear close to the ground. And that ground will only cover a handful of neighborhoods. And who cares what an adjacent district thinks of them? The only constituents who matter are the ones that vote.

Ideally, district representation will mean everyone will know who to call in City Hall when the potholes get too large, the graffiti too obnoxious, or the police too lackadaisical.  The complaint line will be open.

On the flip side, the Mayor’s Office will likely be empowered to play off council members against each other, and public policy will no doubt become a series of horse trades, some of it visible and obvious, some of it not.

Under district elections, we may know who to call to complain. But we may actually know less about what’s really going on.

The Fearey Group: The Next Thirty Years

Imageby Pat Fearey

The first thing I wanted when I started my public relations business was an electronic pencil sharper. I needed to write a lot. And the efficiency and technology of those whirling blades seemed to foretell a promising future. That was 33 years ago, and I couldn’t have guessed my good fortune.

I got my start doing public relations for the Seattle Center. After a few years, I began dating the man who eventually became my husband: Jack Fearey, Seattle Center director. I didn’t want anyone feeling they had to show me special deference because I was dating the boss so I left for a short stint doing PR at the Southland Corporation. It wasn’t too long before I hung out my shingle. My first big client was the Northwest Marine Trade Association, the folks who put on the annual Boat Show. And we never looked back.

Just a few short years ago, we used to huddle around a large table in our office to assemble press kits. Today, that table is pretty much unused, a place to put the large paper cutter, which also seems like an antique. When I started, there were no cells phones, no faxes (remember those?), no desktops. An IBM Selectric was a big investment. Everything has changed in communications. Sometimes, it simply astounds me.

But technology isn’t the biggest part of the story. That’s always been the people, both who we’ve worked with and those we’ve worked for. I feel blessed to remain in contact with so many former Fearey Groupers. They are an amazing group of people, with energy and passion and good ideas. I have always thrilled in the creativity of my colleagues. The learning experience never ends.

And of course, there are the clients. I’ve been there when they’ve won national awards for projects we helped develop. And I’ve gotten the call when things seem the darkest, when tears well up as problems are explained and situations unfold. It’s hard in this business to not get close to your clients. It just happens. I’m proud to say some of these friendships have stretched for decades. I’m delighted that I’m still making new ones.

I’ll be taking a lot more of my energies out in the tennis court instead of the court of public opinion in the next few years. But I’m happy to pass the baton to someone whom I both trust and admire, Aaron Blank. Integrity has been foundational to my business. Aaron shares this value. He has the people-skills, critical-thinking skills, and social media chops to lead and grow the company for the next 30 years.

I’ll still look over the balance sheet, offer an observation or two, make connections and share ideas. I’ll come into work and continue to be inspired. And every once in a while, I’ll make sure I have the sharpest pencils in the office.