SparkWire’s Monday Morning Coffee

At the beginning of each week the SparkWire and PubliticsPR+Digital team put together a collection of good reads to kick off the week.  This week our picks range from a great piece on MLK and leadership to data breaches.  Check it out below:

4 Little Known Reasons Martin Luther King Was an Amazing Leader, Human (Fast Company)

Today we celebrate MLK Day here in the States.  It is important to reflect back upon what Dr. King did for this country as a leader and as a human being.  Drake Baer at Fast Company penned a great piece about the qualities that made MLK not only a great leader, but also a great human.  Read more here:

How the Feed Changed the Way We Consume Content (Mashable)

Mashable writer Rebecca Hiscott put together a piece on an infographic released by ad tech startup, Sharethrough, on how the feed format has totally changed the way we consume content.  It’s a good quick read: 

The New York Times Most Popular Article of 2013 Was Not an Article (The Atlantic)

In case you missed it, the NY Times released their most Popular Articles of 2013 list last week.  At the top of the list was the “How Ya’ll, Youse and You Guys Talk,” the interactive feature where readers could see what dialect of American English they fit into best as well as offered a comparison to other dialects.  The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer offered some important insights on how the Times could’ve capitalized better on this incredibly engaging piece of content.  Head over and read it now:

Did Target Notify Its Customers About Security Breach Quickly Enough?  Nobody Knows.  (Re/code)

Target has had a boatload of surrounding the massive data breach that occurred this past holiday season.  Jason Del Rey at Re/Code raises some very important points about disclosure of data breaches and strengthening federal law to require speedier disclosures.  This is a must read for anyone interested in tech policy and public relations as it relates to data crises.

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How to Turn Great Customer Service into a Great Story

We so often hear about instances when businesses and organizations stumble into customer relations related blunders that ultimately blow up into full-fledged PR disasters.  Perhaps it’s a bad flight or just a simple complaint on Twitter gone ignored.  The new reality of customer relations is that it can’t be extracted from a brand’s narrative.  In this new reality, brands are under increased pressure, but with increased pressure come new opportunities.

Customer Experience

Customers and clients are the backbone of business.  Without them, success isn’t possible.  Every customer has a reason for choosing a particular brand and every customer has a unique way in which they interact with a brand.  These interactions can create good storytelling opportunities for brands.

One of the biggest mistakes brands tend to make when producing content is making it all about the business, meaning content tends to focus on products and services.  There is more to a brand than just products and services, however.  A brand is a set of values and experiences.  Customers experience brands.

That is where great customer service comes in.  Many brands are already providing their customers with great experiences, but what happens beyond the initial customer experience?  Brands have a great opportunity to produce content that is customer or client centered and highlights these great experiences.

Focus on Needs

All customers have needs and expectations.  Creating content that centers on customers’ needs will help connect with the experiences that customers are having or want to have with a brand.  Helping customers see themselves using your products or services will provide for better engagement.

Build a Broader Narrative

Weave customer experiences into your brand’s narrative.  Engaging with a brand is the same reason we decide to watch a movie or read a book.  People think in and respond to narratives.  Let your customer’s experiences tell a story about your brand values.

Use Customer Service to Inspire Aspiration

It’s important to tell a story about why your product or service will make a customer’s life better in some way.  Again don’t just list features of a certain product or service, use a customer experience to build a story around it.

In a social media connected world, customer service is an important component of communications strategy.  It’s not all about dealing with complaints; it’s about telling stories about your customers.  Brands that succeed with content understand that strong narratives need to be centered on the customer.

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2014: The Year of Content Distribution

If a piece of content is posted on the Internet and no one is there to see it, was really posted?  We’ll wax philosophic in just a moment.

In 2013 there was a resounding call to action for brands to create content of all stripes.  Unfortunately, many took the, “if you create it, they will come” approach.  We’ve learned a lot since then.

If 2013 was the year of content then 2014 will most certainly be the year of content distribution.  The bottom line for brands is, if the intended audience isn’t seeing and engaging with content, then the return on investment on developing content will be minimal.

Content is great for boosting your rankings in search, but good content strategy has to go beyond SEO.  The ways in which to distribute content are legion, so finding best way to do it will depend on strategic objectives.


Social media is the most obvious way for brands to distribute content.  Brands that have cultivated active communities on their social media channels will have an easier time getting the mileage they want out of content.  The big players in the social media arena, however, are always changing the way that they deliver content to their users.

One of the driving factors behind the extremely fluid nature of the social media landscape is the fact that social media is now a business.  Social media giants Twitter and Facebook are now public companies that have shareholders to answer to.  Other social media players will have to ask themselves how they are going to structure their advertising offerings so they can make money.

A side effect of this is that social media platforms are going to continue to increasingly put emphasis on paid advertising.  The question is, how can brands use paid reach to capitalize on content in a cost effective way?

Capitalizing on paid reach 

Most major social media channels offer ways to increase reach through paid and targeted advertising.  Some are better than others and some social media platforms will work better than others for different brands.  They all offer different ways to target audiences and to budget.

That being said, one of the big mistakes smaller to medium sized businesses tend to make is not targeting their choice of platforms or audiences (or worse, aren’t distributing content at all).  Some social media channels offer better content distribution opportunities than others.

Native advertising and paid content

The native advertising craze is picking up steam.  Native ads are pieces of sponsored or paid content that integrate with the content on a given platform, unlike traditional display advertising that is meant to stick out from the general flow of the user experience.  Google search ads, advertorials, Facebook sponsored posts and Twitter sponsored tweets are all examples of native ads.

More and more media companies are getting into the native advertising game.  Buzzfeed, the Atlantic Media Group and The Onion all have set up internal ad agencies that are dedicated to developing native advertising content for brands.  The New York Times just re-launched their site to accommodate native ads.

The price tag is hefty, many times too hefty for many small to medium sized businesses.  The biggest value of this type of advertising is that media outlets know their demographics and know how to drive traffic to content.

Crafting a distribution strategy

Regardless of budget, if brands are investing time into crafting content, then they also need to invest in developing a content distribution strategy.  Larger brands with big budgets have a broader arsenal from which to draw on, while small to medium sized brands will have to get creative.

The key for small to medium brands is to build up a sustained audience through a mix of paid and organic reach.  Brands don’t have to promote every single piece of content, but can strategically select more engaging pieces to promote through various channels.

In addition, brands that aren’t able to take advantage of larger media outlets like the Atlantic or Buzzfeed, will have to develop their own targeting strategy.  While demographic targeting is still maturing for many social channels, there are ways to target the right audience with moderate spend.

Finally, brands have to measure and make adjustments accordingly.  Content strategy cannot be approached with a “set it and forget it” mentality.  Brands have to be vigilant about measuring and adjusting based on data.

This year we will see brands that get content right and brands that totally miss the boat.  To a large degree success will depend on how well brands are distributing content.  

Get in touch:

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Real-time marketing Super Bowl 2014: The Battle off the Field (and the TV)

Sure, the Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event in the United States.  It’s also arguably the biggest day for advertising in the country, with 30 seconds of space going for, on average, a cool $4 million.  With that type of price tag, brands are under an enormous amount of pressure to create an ad that will have millage beyond the 30 or 60 glorious seconds during the big game.  Creating that extra millage will depend upon how well brands utilize the power of the “second screen.”

Increasingly, audiences are turning to their smartphones, tablets and to a lesser extent their laptops for enhanced viewing experiences where they can share their impressions of the action as well as tune into what others are saying.

The good and bad news is everyone can get in on the game regardless of whether an ad buy is made.  Brands that choose to forgo behemoth ad buys can still play ball on social media.  The classic example being the infamous and much lauded “dunk in the dark” tweet sent by Oreo’s marketing agency.  The tweet unleashed upon the world a flood of attempts at real-time marketing ranging in quality and effectiveness.

This year’s Super Bowl promises to be fertile ground for brands that are looking to make splash with clever social media marketing, particularly since this is the first Super Bowl to ever be played outdoors in a cold weather state.  Variables like snow and extreme cold could provide more fodder for marketers.

The importance of the second screen. 

More eyes than ever are engaged in second screen experiences.  Audiences will be following the game both on TV and on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.  The second screen creates and environment for conversation and engagement.  Brands want to be a part of it, but that doesn’t always mean it’s a good idea.

A brand is a story and a set of values.  It should mean something to people.  Sometimes bad real-time marketing can hurt the way a brand is perceived.  If marketers try to jam square pegs into round holes, it could spell trouble.  That is why brands have to be prepared to define the objectives of their real-time marketing campaigns.  Without a roadmap, the odds of a campaign falling flat, or worse garnering negative viral attention, increase appreciably.

Getting ready.

The Oreo “dunk in the dark” tweet didn’t just materialize as a product of pure luck.  Their agency setup a war room stocked with marketing professionals who were charged with engagement during the game and were ready to go at a moment’s notice should something out of the ordinary have occurred.

Brands have to weigh the risks and rewards of complete spontaneity.


Before sending out that tweet or posting to Facebook, it’s important for brand to ask, “does this fit with our narrative and our values?”  It helps to plan out set objectives for engaging with audiences.

What are the different points of engagement you are targeting?  What audience are you trying to engagement with?  These are questions that essential to waging a successful real-time marketing campaign.

Understand the big one may never come.

This is important to understand.  The big one, ala Oreo, may never come.  Having a list of smaller goals and general content categories will help make real-time marketing efforts worthwhile even if you don’t score the proverbial touchdown.

For smaller brands without gigantic marketing teams, this is a good strategy.  That is not to say that viral gold isn’t possible, but rather understanding that trying to force a clever gimmick may not work well.  Brands need to remember what kind of story they are trying to tell.

It’s not all about football.

A smaller part of the Super Bowl is actually about football than one might think.  There are halftime shows, media personalities, ads and other sideshows that occur during the game.  See what parts of the big game your brand fits into.

To be sure, brands will be looking to top Oreo’s magnum opus this year.  There will be a lot of noise, there will be good stuff and there will be abysmal failures.  Brands will need to stay focused on telling their story and keep their heads in the game.

Keep an eye out for our Super Bowl 2014 real-time marketing recap after the big game.

Editors note: We’ll be really pissed if the Super Bowl is moved to Monday. 

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Upcoming Events: January

January Events: The Madison Tech Meetup

PubliticsPR+Digital is a proud to provide content, communication and advocacy services for the Madison Tech Meetup.  The Meetup provides a monthly networking events, educational workshops and keynote speakers.

January 15th: Workshop:Business Model Development using the Business Model Canvas

Presented by Dom Celentano of Celantano Foods

Morris County Library

30 E. Hanover Ave, Whippany, NJ 

Business Model Development using the Business Model Canvas

New business ventures work with a series of untested hypothesis. Lean startups fail fast, learn, adjust those hypotheses… they need to go beyond the traditional business plan format.  The old ways of creating a business plan with the focus on the operating plan and financial plan don’t work today… the process is linear vs. iterative

The Business Model Canvas, along with the Value Proposition Canvas, focuses on planning vs. the plan… and is based the latest thinking in Visual Languages and Design Thinking.  Why? Because many times words just don’t work!

Participants will learn how to build their business models in three stages: Napkin SketchElaborated Canvas and Business Case Canvas.


JuiceTank and Mad Tech present: Co-Founder Date Night

220 Davidson Ave, Somerset, NJ

This event is for startup founders who are looking for a developer co-founder or a developer looking for an interesting company.

The format will start with 3 minute overviews by developers. This is a great opportunity to brag a little and make members aware of your experiences & interest. Following the developers will be 3 minute pitches by founders who are looking for a CTO or equity developer. This is a founders big opportunity to get a hot shot developer excited about their project.

Charge: $5.00 includes beer, wine and snacks. 

RSVP here —>

WORKSHOP: Building a Technology Brand

Morris County Library

30 E Hanover Ave, Whippany, NJ

If You Build It, They Will Come

– Having great technology is not sufficient to sell that technology.  Buyers do care what your technology does – for them. Attend this hands-on workshop to learn how to communicate the essence of your brand and the value that you bring to buyers and investors.

Gary Schwartz is President of Onward Marketing, a B2B consultancy that helps SMBs deliver compelling brand messaging and value propositions, and build repeatable, scalable lead generation programs. He serves as Non-Executive Director at Rapide Communications, a British Customer Experience software vendor. His extensive experience leading marketing organizations and driving product direction for enterprise software vendors includes senior roles with Infragistics, a global leader in user experience software, Confirmit a global leader in Voice of the Customer software, Informative, a market research software vendor since acquired by Satmetrix, and Microstrategy, a leader in business intelligence software.


IMHO: Privacy & Security: The Biggest PR Headache of 2014 (Already)

Snapchat, brought in the New Year with news that it was the victim of a hack.  The group that perpetrated the data breach claimed that its intention was to bring awareness to security vulnerabilities in the app.  Mission accomplished.

The hackers posted usernames and phone numbers to a public website, that has since been suspended.  While the company didn’t have the misfortune of losing millions of credit and debit card numbers, it does highlight a spooky reality for tech companies: security is inextricably tied to the bottom line.  If users don’t feel like their information is secure, then they won’t use the service.

But, if we’re being realistic, then we know that hacks and data breaches will happen, so the question becomes, how will companies handle it?

Snapchat is putting on a clinic on how not to handle the PR side of a hack.  Snapchat’s response both lacked an apology and did little to assuage the fears of users.  The company posted on their blog:

“Theoretically, if someone were able to upload a huge set of phone numbers, like every number in an area code, or every possible number in the U.S., they could create a database of the results and match usernames to phone numbers that way. Over the past year we’ve implemented various safeguards to make it more difficult to do. We recently added additional counter-measures and continue to make improvements to combat spam and abuse.”

There just isn’t much there.

Things didn’t get any better Friday morning when Snapchat CEO, Evan Spiegel gave an interview on the Today Show.  The interview emphasized the young CEO’s “outrage” at the idea that someone would exploit the “Find Friends” feature on the app.  When asked about the apparent warning Snapchat had received from an Australian security firm, Spiegel responded, “You know, I believe at the time we thought we had done enough.”  The CEO continued, “”But I think in a business like this, in a business that’s moving so quickly, if you spend your time looking backwards you are just going to kill yourself,” though he did reassure Snapchat users that no photos or videos were compromised.

The problem here, however, isn’t what actually happened, it’s the perception of what happened.  In the grand scheme of hacks, the Snapchat breach isn’t the worst thing that’s ever occurred, however it does present a slippery slope scenario for users, who may be asking themselves, “if hackers can get names, usernames and phone numbers, is it possible that they could get my photos?”  Snapchat’s rather cavalier response doesn’t really help to prevent a potential slide.

The Anatomy of a Solid Response

So what is a young, but flourishing startup to do in the case of a data breach or hack?  Above all, there is a need to mobilize quickly.  It’s important to show your users or customers that you are putting all of your resources into verifying the problem and then fixing it.

The second piece of the puzzle is authenticity.  Tech startups need to understand how users are feeling and reacting.  If it comes to light that security experts may have warned your company, pre-hack, that your app was vulnerable, then apologize.  Which brings us to our next point.  In most situations, you’ll end up apologizing anyway.  Doing it up front is way better than issuing a begrudging mea culpa after being dragged kicking and screaming through the mud.

Finally, tech companies need to be transparent.  Snapchat’s response was anything but.  Saying “we’ve been working on safeguards” doesn’t quite pass muster.  While most of your users aren’t computer scientists, it is important to offer specifics on how you’re fixing the problems where possible or offer explanations as to why specifics aren’t possible.  The key is to reassure users.

The Year Ahead

It is clear that security and privacy issues are going to be at the center of serious PR crises in 2014.  Tech companies, particularly startups, need to have a plan of action that goes beyond technical fixes.  Users fuel business.  If they feel alienated or lose trust, tech companies will feel the pain in their bottom lines.


Publitics Trending- PR Trends to Watch in 2014

Click here to see the slide deck:

2013 just flew on by, but not without leaving a mark.  From real-time marketing disasters to the shifting media landscape, 2013 was a busy year.  2014 looks like it won’t disappoint.

The PubliticsPR+Digital team has been tracking some of the trends to watch in PR and branding in 2014 .  We’ve put together a little slide deck of our picks.  Feel free to reach out with any questions and be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get insights and updates straight to your inbox.    

Shifting Media Landscape

2013 was a big year. Most media outlets are still trying to figure out how to get their feet under them. Sadly others will fade away in 2014.

We saw the sale of the Washington Post go to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and BuzzFeed continued to build a viral content empire that helps subsidize real reporting. The future for media is both bright and uncertain all at once.

As media tries to find its way, PR won’t be able to continue to rely solely on earned media (though it is still very important).

Additionally, brands will have to recognize that 2014 will be all about figuring out how turn their customers into evangelists for their brand. To do it, brands will have to humanize.

PR will have to figure out how to work with clients to leverage other means of capturing attention.

Getting Smarter About Content

Content marketing was a huge buzzword in 2013 and was a year where some brands started to work the kinks while others became frustrated.

Brands in 2014 will need to develop high quality content to keep audiences engaged.

One of the big challenges will be to figure out how to create great content at scale.

And finally, clients will begin to demand more accountability. They’ll ask “how does strategy x to get us from point a to point b.” Good PR shops should be integral in answering that question.

Crisis at Breakneck Speeds

2013 provided us with examples of crisis situations that easily spiraled out of control on social media.

One driver of social media crises are marketing companies themselves. The pressure on brands to come up with clever real-time marketing hits like Oreo’s infamous “You can still dunk in the dark” move during the 2013 Superbowl.

Unfortunately not everyone had the good fortune of Oreo. From MTV’s fake Twitter hack to Gogo’s failed attempt to capitalize on former IAC PR exec, Justine Sacco’s, social media meltdown. 2014 will be less forgiving to real-time screw-ups.

Security breaches also created problems for brands, from real Twitter hacks to Target’s loss of millions of credit card numbers. Security now has the potential to be a serious PR problem.

Finally, brands need to learn to humanize their customer relations responses on social. Robotic responses can often seem off-key and offensive. A bad customer experience can quickly turn into a viral (possibly promoted) tweet.

Mobile and Wearable

In 2014, the Internet of Things will become more of a tangible reality. Smartphones, watches, glasses and other items will be connected. Innovative PR/media companies will have to figure out how to get eyes and ears on their message while people are spreading their attention over multiple devices.

Brands and PR companies will have to figure how to create content that works across devices.

As a part of developing smart content, brands will have to harness the power of video. Vine and Instagram videos have been great for brands who have figured out how to harness the power.

Visual Design and Creative Trends

Sadly, we think infographics have run their course. There are a lot of infographics floating around out there that don’t really provide too much info. That is not to say that there are some really good ones, but by an large, they’ve lost some of their novelty. Look for new methods of data visualization on the horizon.

A lot of design is getting simpler. Look for brands to try to de-clutter in 2014.

On the web design side, brands need to make sure that their online properties are usable across platforms.

Visual branding will become more important a different online channels place an emphasis on visual content.

Also, brands may look to try their hand at taking some of the polish off their video content.

Social Media Fails of 2013: Robots can be d*cks

Social media is here to stay and as we’ve been saying all along, it’s a multi-way street.  The smallest error by a brand can turn into a rapidly metastasizing disaster.  Whether it’s lost luggage or simply a bad customer experience, social media can amplify a brand’s slipups and contretemps.  We have complied a list of the most egregious social media meltdowns, fails and tantrums of 2013 as a part of our end of year review.

Without further ado, here is part 1 of 5 of our Social Media Fails of 2013 Series: Robots Can be D*cks

It was a balmy day in July when activist Mark Hamilton (@darthmarkh) of NJ took to Twitter to announce that he had been shuffled away from a Bank of America Branch in Manhattan by police after chalking a protest message against foreclosures on sidewalk out front.

As Mr. Hamilton’s message gained steam on Twitter, other activists began to Tweet at B of A.  The financial giant’s crack social media robot took over responding to messages with stock customer service Tweets (see the full Twitter-stream here).  Our favorite was the tone-deaf robot’s response to the @OccupyLA Tweet above.

The lesson here?

Twitter can be a labor-intensive platform for brands, so the impulse to automate is somewhat understandable particularly when it comes to running a large-scale customer relations feed like @BofA_Help, but automation comes with significant danger.

Many of the big financial brands have been facing down a bit of a credibility gap with the general public, so it stands to reason that they’d want to be extra careful.  Canned customer relations Tweets can seem insensitive and out of touch and that is exactly what financial brands do not need.

Automation is fine, however, the keepers of the brand have to monitor the feed.  In the event of an abnormal spike in activity, it might be a good idea to take the social media operation off of autopilot to see what’s going on and then follow protocol for dealing with a social media crisis.

One more note: If your thinking “gee social media doesn’t really matter, these snafus don’t go beyond a small community on Twitter,” you’re wrong.  A fail like this will land you a spot of dozens of “Biggest Social Media Fails of 2013” lists just like this one.

Stay tuned for our next installment.

Click here for more information about PubliticsPR+Digital or get in touch below:

Crowdfunding Part 2: Success After Falling Short

So what happens when you run a crowdfunding campaign for your startup and fall short?  Does it mean it’s all over?  Not for John Genovese, founder of  NJ Startup PolitePersistence.  On this episode of Mad Tech TV he discusses how PolitePersistence fell short on it’s crowdfunding campaigns and how they have since grown as a company.  Check it out!  For more information on PolitePersistence visit:

The Collective Musings of the PubliticsPR+Digital Team


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