Seniors Are Awesome

Storytelling is, if done correctly, an essential part of good PR. Raising awareness about a business, brand, organization or cause begins with telling a great story. Support for what you do is less about what you do and more about who you’re perceived to be.

We’re fortunate, as a PR firm, to work with numerous clients who happen to be in the business of providing care to seniors. Some offer care, like assisted living. Others offer lifestyle. Many offer a continuum of both. The story, however, isn’t in the care options. It’s in the people.

Imagine a story on the local news about a couple who have been married for 70 years. In the background – as they talk about love, commitment, life’s challenges and their enduring affection – is the logo of the retirement community where they live. The newscaster doesn’t have to say a word. The story touches the heart of the viewer and achieves awareness of the community all at once.

There are few things universally enjoyed by consumers of mass media. The stories of seniors – their lives, their hobbies, their wisdom – are almost always a hit with viewers or readers.

If you’re in the business of senior living, you have a treasure trove of amazing stories within your community. World War II vets, Rosie the Riveters, world travelers, people who were at Woodstock, people who worked on the Apollo missions…the list goes on and on.

Our passion is telling stories. We love all stories but we really love senior stories. Simply put, SENIORS ARE AWESOME.

Quantifying Good PR

When a business decides to roll back their PR budget, the reason given is often the same.

“You can’t quantify the value of PR. There’s no data that shows PR equals sales.”

Guilty as charged. It’s difficult to show concretely that the work of a PR agency is the catalyst that led to a sale. PR doesn’t work that way. It was never intended to work that way.

There is more data available than there once was, and agencies like ours should and do use it. We can, and do a degree, show the numbers that point to a probable correlation between what we do and your bottom line. With that said, we really don’t have to show those numbers to show our value. Good PR is quantifiable, just not in that way.

If you can’t, then, correlate PR to sales as specifically as you might like, the way to show the value of the service is to look at the impact the absence of PR can have.

If a business doesn’t have good internal and external communications, will they be as successful?

If a business doesn’t share stories with the media, will they be as well known?

If a business doesn’t handle their online reviews and have a plan for growing and maintaining a positive reputation, will they be able to live out their mission?

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates understood the value of great PR from the beginning and has never wavered.

“If I was down to my last dollar,” he quipped. “I’d spend it on PR.”

If you agree with Mr. Gates, and you want that PR dollar to go far, we hope you’ll give us a call.

The Heart of the Matter

COVID-19 has turned all of us upside down. In normal times, we might be promoting countless events or stories for our clients. Instead, most of our work these days involves virus updates – new policies, positive cases, protocols, procedures and legal language fun. While all of that communication is essential, might we suggest another form?

Across the nation, the heart of our country is on display and often goes unnoticed. We see the protests, the unrest, the politics and the fear. What we often miss are neighbors helping neighbors, families reuniting through windows and plexiglass, moments of healing and moments of true compassionate service.

If your business is involved in these moments or has a story to share, why not let us help tell it? Yes, the media loves a controversy, but they also love a tear jerker. As much as they like to broadcast the despair, they also like to broadcast the hope.

Here’s an example:

A friend of mine wanted to donate to COVID-19 research. He wasn’t sure what else he could do, but realized he also needed to organize the basement. What resulted was a massive online sale of a ton of items he no longer needed, with all the proceeds going toward organizations that are doing research on the virus. His way of helping was right there in his own home, just waiting to be sorted and sold.

He could’ve watched the doom and gloom and felt this was too big to tackle on his own. Instead, he took what he had, turned it into something positive, and played his role for Team America. While he wasn’t interested in being on the news, his example is one companies can and should emulate. Do the good, tell the media about it and change the narrative from division to unity.

We’d love to help you tell a great story.

Saint Randy of Kansas

We all got our big break somewhere.

Long before the founding of Bell Public Relations, mine came via a phone call from a guy named Randy.

I had left the world of journalism, tired of early mornings and subpar earnings, but had yet to bridge over into the world of PR. I’d applied for some jobs and was earning money as a sales broker in the interim. I’m a people person, so I figured sales would suit me fine if PR wasn’t in the cards but truth be told, I wasn’t happy. That’s when Saint Randy called.

I don’t use the term lightly. His call was the beginning of seeing the light of my true career calling. Randy only wanted to know two things:

  1. Was I still interested in PR?
  2. What was I doing in sales?

We had a great conversation, which led to an interview, which eventually led to a job offer. As it turned out, Randy also had a background in journalism and as a PR Vice President, had found success hiring those with a reporter background. Lucky for me, I’d done more than my share of reporting the news.

If Randy’s contributions to my career had stopped there, I might just refer to him as “Blessed Randy” or “Venerable Randy” but he did much more for me than just give me a start in public relations. Randy was a mentor in every sense of the word. He taught me the craft, the work ethic that goes with it and was never too busy to offer advice or share his wisdom. As foundations go, Randy helped me build a great one.

As I said, we all get our big break somewhere.

As is often the case, Randy and I eventually ended up at different places, continuing to grow our careers. We stayed in touch, however, and he was one of the first people who reached out with kind words of support when I founded my business.

It’s good to know if I ever need advice or a word of encouragement, Saint Randy would be there at a moment’s notice.

We should never forget those who helped us get where we are – teachers, friends, spouses, family members and mentors. I’m proud to count Randy among those foundation builders in my own life.

The David Letterman Rule

My general philosophy when it comes to crisis communication has always been what I call the David Letterman Rule.

In 2009, in the midst of a blackmail plot involving the Late Show host’s extramarital affairs, Dave took to the airwaves and gave it to us straight. He explained that he’d been having relationships with several people who were not his wife and that he was dealing with someone trying to blackmail him over this information. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t blame others. He simply admitted his mistakes and asked for some privacy while he and his wife sorted out the damage.

The popularity of the late night host remained intact because of a simple communication tactic: HONESTY.

How often have you seen a politician get caught in a web of lies while trying to cover up for another web of lies? It’s sadly as common as spring thunderstorms. What we tell our clients in times of crisis is this:

Be David Letterman. Do not be a politician.

Let me be clear, not every crisis is your fault. Not every crisis is the same as a celebrity’s seedy affairs. The general principle, however, never changes. HONESTY.

As we all deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, crisis communications have never been more important. HONESTY (there’s that word again) has never been more important. Clients and customers understand there are going to be inconveniences. They just want a clear explanation of what’s changed, why it’s changed and what you’re doing to help them out.

You might be familiar with a recent story involving a Georgia man who allegedly lied to his employer about the results of his COVID-19 test. It cost the company thousands of dollars and may cost the man some jail time. In trying to take a short cut, he ended up making things much worse. The business, on the other hand, from what I can tell, has communicated the situation in a straightforward way. They were dealt a tough hand by the lying employee, but they didn’t make things worse by trying to cover anything up or spin it in a different direction.

HONESTY.

People respect it, it always works best in the end and it truly is the best policy.

When communicating, remember the David Letterman Rule. You’ll be glad you did.

Lessons from the News Desk

Long before I founded Bell Public Relations I worked on what you might call the “other side of the fence.” From humble beginnings at a weekly, small town newspaper to Kansas City talk radio, my journalism career spanned more than a decade. During that time I had the honor of serving as President of the Kansas Associate Press Broadcasters and building relationships that have lasted to this day. When I shifted, as many journalists do, to the PR “side of the fence,” I brought with me the lessons learned at the news desk.

Reporters don’t get into their craft for the vast earning potential. While a popular talk show host or cable news channel personality may clear a lot of cash, most reporters do what they do for the love of telling a story. Of course investigative journalism and crime reporting are part of the job for many, but at its heart, good reporting is about painting a picture for the reader, listener or viewer. Truth be told, I enjoyed doing human interest pieces much more than covering a violent crime. Those are the stories that bring us together.

Now that I’ve been in the PR world for a number of years, those lessons from the news desk still resonate. When a client is able to help me uncover a great story about their business, we almost always get media coverage. I’m not talking about free advertising, of course. In a way that’s what news coverage provides, but no reporter is interested in promoting for the sake of promoting. What will get their attention are the stories within the story of who you are.

One of the most successful media relations campaigns I’ve run had to do with a client in the field of senior living. In talking to the retirement community’s sales and marketing team, I uncovered that they’d hired a down-on-his-luck cook with a checkered past. In the years since they gave this prodigal son an opportunity, he’d become one of the most beloved members of their staff. Residents adored him and his life had gone from mess to masterpiece.

The coverage we obtained for the community was, of course, a great way to promote them and get their name on the local news. It wouldn’t have happened, however, without that story beneath the surface of a local business giving someone a shot at redemption. Reporters loved it, a wonderful story was shared and the retirement community was promoted in a positive way.

That’s just one of the many lessons I learned at the news desk.

Rolling with the Changes

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
― Brene Brown

As someone who comes from a family of business owners, I often reflect on what it was like for my Grandfather in his day. He ran a small hardware store and lumber yard in a time long before the Internet or social media. Reaching his customers took a different form of networking. He had to be present in the community, building trust and relationships in person. While we still do this, we have the added advantage of building and networking online. Times change and with that change comes vulnerability.

Word of mouth now exists across the web, with reviews, social media posts and the success of our websites. There is no doubt that times have changed since my Grandfather honed his craft.

Since I consider him to have been a wise man, I think it’s possible to learn how to help my clients adapt and change by learning something about how he did the same. What, during his life, was as new and evolving as social media and the world of online reviews are today?

Television might provide a clue. Born in the 1930’s, it’s safe to say that Grandpa grew up with radio. By the time he was running a business, however, television was a new medium taking the nation by storm.

I don’t know if my Grandfather ever used television to advertise his business, but he was unquestionably aware of its influential power. By the time his grandchildren were born, television was the most common way for people to learn about a business, local or otherwise.

It’s common today for businesses to utilize the power of the new mediums, brought about by the internet. It’s also common, however, to hesitate. I once had a client tell me they didn’t claim their Google Business listing because “if we don’t use it, we won’t get negative reviews.” I was able to show him that reviews of his business already existed, with or without his consent to claim the page. A switch to a proactive approach helped his company to successfully manage and respond to reviews, including those less favorable.

If you aren’t using your website, social media and business listings to promote your company, you’re running a risk of missing out on the positive outcomes these solutions provide. Partnering with an agency that has experience managing these platforms is a small investment with big rewards.

We’re all vulnerable online. How we choose to address that vulnerability defines us and the businesses we’ve built.

The “DO” of “PR”

Long before I founded Bell Public Relations I was a kid growing up in the 1980’s. I was the kid who collected Transformers and tried my best to use “the Force” to clean my room. That first decade of my life was foundational. No, I still haven’t mastered any Jedi mind tricks, but what I took with me from those times is essential.

The lessons of my childhood are all about DOING.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

When I think about that time, every message I received from the culture around me was centered on what we CAN accomplish. Nike told me to “Just Do It.” President Reagan said our best days were on the horizon. E.T. knew he’d get home if he could just get that darn phone to work.

Successful PR must be based on the belief that any problem has a solution. We don’t try to solve it. We just do it.

In my own career, I’ve navigated the challenges faced by clients like Indiana Jones cutting through the jungle on his way to an ancient artifact. Once the “weeds” of a problem are removed, we can see it clearly and take action. Whether it’s a client facing an onslaught of negative online reviews, a change in public perception or the need to communicate a great story, we never question whether a solution exists. We simply find it.

Whatever the PR issue our clients face, we tell them the truth. There IS a solution. Your best days ARE ahead of you. That’s the DO in PR.

To Respond or Not to Respond

Businessman Kevin O’Leary (you probably know him from ABC’s Shark Tank) hits the nail on the head when addressing the topic of online reviews. In times past, if someone had an issue with your product or service, their best source of expression was to call customer service. Today, he points out, that’s all changed. If someone isn’t happy with your business, they go online and, as O’Leary says, they “go nuts.”

Reputations can be ruined or severely damaged by negative customer feedback that’s there for all the world to see. How you respond, or even IF you respond, matters.

Businesses typically take one of two approaches:

  1. They don’t respond, hoping the negative feedback will eventually be buried by other reviews or forgotten altogether.
  2. They respond in a generic way, asking the reviewer to contact them in an offline forum.

BOTH approaches are, on some level, incorrect.

In almost every case, it’s important to respond. Consumer surveys show that businesses who ignore online reviews (especially negative ones) are less trusted than businesses that respond. HOW they respond, however, matters just as much.

It’s a good idea to take a conversation with a customer offline. No one wants to read a back and forth between an angry consumer and a business. With that said, they also don’t want to read a generic response that sounds cold and distant. When responding to online reviews, WARMTH is important.

Here at Bell, we call it the “I hear you and I see you” approach.

Remember, online review responses aren’t just seen by the reviewer. They’re seen by everyone who looks at your business profile. When a response is thoughtful, warm and shows that you care about resolving whatever situation has been addressed, customers NOTICE.

Agencies like ours offer review response management to our clients because we know you’re often too busy to give each review the attention it needs. We offer well-written, effective responses that reflect the voice and personality of your business.

In a world where, as O’Leary points out, anyone can “go nuts” at anytime, we’d love to be your partner on this important business front.

The COVID Connection

Young children know it well. Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” is a sweet, optimistic song that tells us “rainbows have nothing to hide” and they’re “only illusions.” In this time of uncertainty, what connection can businesses make to the message of this simple song? The answer might surprise you.

While COVID-19 is certainly no illusion, the fear that’s impacted our economy is, to a certain extent, illusory in nature. Over the past few months, we’ve learned that businesses can adapt to even a situation as difficult as this pandemic. Whether it’s purchasing and requiring masks for associates, allowing the flexibility of work from home or finding ways to provide essential services to clients and customers, innovators innovate. It’s what we do.

Part of innovating, however, is communicating. It’s essential to let your network of customers and colleagues know what you’ve done to provide a safe environment for business to be transacted. Unlike the Spanish Flu pandemic of the last century, our means of communicating are greater and more expansive. Social media, websites and blogs are just a few of the tools at our fingertips. How we use these tools measures the success of our pandemic-related communications efforts.

The illusion of the COVID connection is that we’re not connected, that we’re somehow going through this separately. When we reach out, we find that our common purpose is the same – to get through this together. As Kermit tells us, “Somebody thought of that and someone believed it, and look what it’s done so far.”

So during this time of trial, reach out. Stay connected to customers and associates, alike. Share your successes and the lessons learned from trial and error. As we always say, good PR is more than just awareness. Good PR is about making connections that last well beyond this time of trials.