All posts by Robin Schell

How to Change Behavior around the Dangerous Behavior of Drink Spiking

True story.  Just two weeks ago, two 25-year old women walked into a local, popular Boston bar, accompanied by a young man who is a friend. It is 10 p.m.

It was their first and only stop of the evening.  After dinner and a few drinks prior at home, they ordered one round of drinks and brought them to their table – but the women eventually went the dance floor, leaving their drinks behind.  The young man walked away to talk to a friend.  Twenty minutes later, the girls could barely stand and at 11 p.m. the young man was asked to take the girls out of the bar.  The three of them hop in an Uber; one of the women becomes violently ill.  The Uber kicks them all out and leaves them on the side of the road.  The girls cannot function and have no memory of what happened; one hits her head on the sidewalk and gets concussed.  Finally, the police arrive: though they don’t see the group back home to safety, they do allow the young man to charge his phone in their car.  They manage to get another Uber and get home 2 ½ hours later.  The next day, the second woman gets violently ill.  By Monday morning, neither one can work – they get labs done and one reveals the presence of an opiate in her system.  This confirmed what all 3 suspected: someone spiked the girls’ drinks with drugs, likely while they were on the dance floor away from their drinks.  In this case, they were fortunate to be in the presence of a young man whose drink had not been spiked – but far worse things could have happened, had they been alone.

A Google search will reveal this is not an isolated incident:  there are stories of women across the country, of all ages, who have fallen victim to this crime – one woman reported it happened to her while she was out with her husband.  Women are typically the targets of drink spiking; and it can happen anywhere, from nightclubs and pubs to parties in private homes.

It takes only 15-20 minutes for these drugs to essentially erase one’s mind.  Drink spiking can be linked to crimes including sexual assault and robbery.  It is illegal to spike a drink with a drug or extra alcohol.  It’s serious stuff.  Yet, many victims don’t file a police report – for starters, it requires going into the police station in person, and some are embarrassed to do it.  However, without a police report, there is no investigation, and the bad guys can continue this illegal behavior.

The Public Relations body of knowledge recommends 4 types of campaigns that can be taken to change these behaviors and others: 

  1. Coalition Campaigns: target audience feels everyone who counts is trying to persuade them and it is the obvious thing to do socially (information based)
  2. Enforcement: where rules or laws mandate/outlaw the behavior
  3. Engineering:  enacting structural changes to work around the situation
  4. Social Reinforcement:  pushing social norming and rewards to help support the job of enforcing the new behaviors

How can these be applied to this challenge – on the part of patrons, drinking establishments, Uber/Lyft services and law enforcement?  Here are some initial thoughts:

Coalition Campaign for Patrons encouraging the following behaviors:

  1. Never leave your drink.  As the bar owner of the establishment told me, “once you leave your drink, it is no longer yours.”
  2. Don’t accept a drink from a stranger.  Buy your own drinks and watch the bartender pour them.
  3. Order drinks in cans and bottles – not foolproof, but harder to spike than an open cocktail.
  4. See something, say something.  If you observe someone putting something in someone’s drink, report it immediately.  In 2016, 3 women witnessed a drink-spiking at the FIG/Fairmont Miramar Hotel, warned the woman that her date had slipped something in her drink and reported it to the bar management.  They were able to find evidence on videotape and apprehend the man.
  5. Remain aware.  Don’t have so much to drink that you forget to protect yourself.
  6. Raise awareness.  Remind everyone this could happen to them.  Those who have had this happen have used social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok to warn others and offer protection tips.
  7. File a police report.  Without that, police and detectives cannot investigate the situation further.

Engineering for Drinking Establishments and Professional Associations

  1. Training your bartenders, managers and staff to look for drink-spiking activity.  Management at this bar were very cooperative when this incident was reported and has already arranged for an outside security company to come in and do further training for their staff members. 
  2. Security cameras.  Owners can view videotape to reconstruct what happened and hopefully catch the perpetrator in the act.
  3. Signage that indicates the safety measures in place and what will happen to anyone who attempts to spike drinks; both to comfort patrons and scare off the bad guys.
  4. Offer protective products for sale at the establishment.  Since researching this issue, I have learned there are products out there that range from Drink Safe coasters, nail polish that can detect date rape drugs (e.g. Undercover Colors); cups and Smart Straws (developed by a company called DrinkSavvy that was sold to Chemeleon in 2019) and cup covers like MyCupCondom  My Cup Condom™.

Engineering Behaviors for Uber & Lyft Drivers

Train drivers not to leave patrons roadside.  When I Googled, “what happens if someone vomits in an Uber?”, a list of charges came up that ranged from $80 for a “moderate interior mess” to $150 for a “major bodily fluid mess”.  Uber drivers are allowed to kick someone out of a vehicle “if there is a good reason – for example, a rider who is unruly, drunk and/or violent.  However, the safety of the passenger is important as well.”  One can understand the frustration of the Uber and Lyft drivers in this scenario – and yet, passenger safety needs to be considered. 

Enforcement by the Law

  1. Encourage victims of drink spiking to take the extra step of filing a police report.  Circle back with those who file the report to let them know what was found.  Even if the perpetrator is not caught this time, the offense is on record and could be helpful in future cases.
  2. Strengthen laws and strengthen law enforcement sensitivities  Drugging someone is considered an assault, even if no sexual or other contact occurs.  Make the consequences public.  This action is considered to be a Class B felony and can be punishable by imprisonment up to 10 years.  Officers should be trained to take these events seriously and watch for potential impairment – not victimize victims.

What are your ideas for changing behaviors and addressing the problem of drink spiking? Email rschell@jjwpr.com.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm on the NH Seacoast.

Life Is Good: How To Live With Purpose & Enjoy The Ride!

The authors of the Life Is Good book (and founders of the Life Is Good company), Bert and John Jacobs, grew up in my hometown of Needham.  They lived across the street from the Cricket Playground where we spent summers playing kickball, singing silly songs, and playing games in the field house on rainy days.  While I didn’t know the whole family, I knew Bert, who was close to my age – and I knew they had a big family and came from rather humble beginnings.

We all know what a great company Life Is Good (LIG) became, and many of us (myself included) own Life Is Good hats, t-shirts or other products sporting the image of “Jake” with his infectious orange-slice smile.  What a treat it was for me to read this book and learn the details behind the story of 2 college grads who sold t-shirts out of their van (named “The Enterprise”) and grew LIG into a $100 million company!

Viewing this story through my professional lens, I am impressed by the mission of Life Is Good — “to spread the power of optimism.”  What a refreshing change from all the negativity in the world right now.  I was also struck how these brothers remained true to their values through the ups and downs of growing a business and created a corporate culture that many organizations would love to have.

Reading this blog is no substitute for reading the book, but let me whet your appetite with an overview of their sage advice, linked to their “10 superpowers”:

  1.  Openness.  Be open to new ideas and experiences; changing up your routine and your physical surroundings will open your mind to fresh perspectives.  Adopt the rule of “yes, and…” used by improv comedians.  In short:  when you are brainstorming and collaborating, accept and build on each other’s ideas rather than “brainstomping” with the word “no.”
  2. Courage.  Challenges and adversity, self-doubt, skeptics – those barriers will always be there.  Don’t be afraid to fail forward, then adjust and move on.  Have the courage to try new things.  Heed hockey great Wayne Gretzky’s advice:  “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”
  3. Simplicity Say “yes” to the things that really matter and “no” to the rest.  Unplug.  Hit the “reset button” with yoga, meditation, fresh air, laughter and time with friends.  When these two brothers found they were becoming slaves to email, they made the bold move of dropping their email accounts and letting their team at Life Is Good prioritize and summarize the most important communication for them.  The result? Increased productivity and the freedom to focus on what is really important.
  4. HumorHumor is the great equalizer, according to Bert and John, and they have all the right instincts when it comes to creating a fun, productive work environment at LIG.  “When management is willing to let their guard down and laugh openly, especially at themselves, it invites others to do the same,” they said.  Humor leads to more unity and productivity in the workplace…and it is healthy to laugh!  Bert and John tell a great story of landing the Galyan’s account (later acquired by Dick’s Sporting Goods) before they had money to “wine and dine” – so they invited the Galyan executives to their small Boston apartment for a Ragu and pasta dinner.  In the end, it was the laughter around that dinner table that led to the long-term business relationship – and helped take the LIG brand national.
  5. GratitudeSee the glass as half-full, not half-empty.  Being grateful is a mindset:  change your mindset from “I have to” to “I get to.”  It’s no surprise that Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday of the Jacobs brothers, because it showcases the superpowers of simplicity, love, humor and gratitude – but their advice is, “don’t limit gratitude to just one day.  Take time every day to express your gratitude to others.”
  6. Fun.  Bert and John point to Dr. Seuss as a great example of someone who brought the power of fun to the task of reading – and changed the lives of teachers, parents and students as a result. “Fun is not a dessert reserved for special occasions; it’s a healthy party of the main course.”  The company commitment to fun resulted in the birth of their Life Is Good Festivals; their “Backyard Athlete” competition at Fenway Park (featuring games ranging from seed-spitting to Wiffle ball home run derby); and their partnership with Camp Sunshine, an organization that offers vacation retreats and other forms of support for sick children and their families.  In 2006 on the Boston Common, LIG teamed up with Camp Sunshine to gather 30,128 pumpkins in one place – breaking a world record and raising over $500,000 for Camp Sunshine.
  7. Compassion. Kids are the ultimate optimists and the inspiration for the LIG brand, so they are a natural fit for LIG’s charitable giving – thus, the decision was made to donate 10% of the company’s annual profits to helping kids in need.  When friend Steve Gross started the nonprofit Project Joy, focusing on the social and emotional health of Boston’s most vulnerable children, Bert and John were “in.”  Eventually Project Joy pivoted to “helping the helpers” by providing training and care for frontline caregivers.  The partnership grew tighter and eventually, the Life Is Good Kids Foundation absorbed Project Joy, renaming it The Playmakers and placing their offices in the center of LIG’s headquarters in Boston.  Two takeaways relative to compassion:  1) compassion begins with kindness to yourself.  2) Adopt a “just like me” mindset to help break down barriers and find common ground and resolution. 
  8. Creativity.  According to Albert Einstein, “creativity is intelligence having fun.”  Decorate your home or work space with colors that lift your mood and inventiveness (a favorite quote from the book: “Who wouldn’t cancel a full day with beige to go to a meeting with green or a party with yellow?”.  Physically explore your world to find inspiration – “exploreate”.  Choose any subject you love – read about it, listen to information about it and do something related to that subject.  Lastly, don’t keep creativity to yourself – invite others to join you.  Connect, collaborate and create.
  9. Authenticity“Be yourself; everyone else is taken” (Oscar Wilde).  Bert and John’s definition of branding?  “Know who you are and act like it.”  Understand that customers build your brand. “It’s not rocket science; we listen and try to deliver what people want.”  When you screw up, admit it – people appreciate honesty.  Don’t be afraid to take a stand, or to make a decision based on what feels authentic to you.  Tell your “heritage story” by sharing what’s different and special about your company and your products; people appreciate companies, and individuals, that are real.
  10.  Love.  Bert and John compel us to “spread love like peanut butter.”  The more you share your love, the more you connect with the people you love and the richer your life will be.  Think about the strength of love during the Boston Marathon bombings.  As a direct reaction to that horrific act of hate in 2013, millions of people performed acts of love; and this inspired LIG to create their “BOSTON:  Nothing Is Stronger Than Love” t-shirt.  The Boston LOVE shirt became their best seller, generating over a half of a million dollars in profit (and in their own act of love, the company donated every penny to The One Fund, established to help the victims and their families). 

Here’s a question:  what superpowers do you have and which ones do you want to work on?  For further inspiration, learn more about this innovative company and its founders at www.lifeisgood.com.  And for heaven’s sake, read the book!

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral PR and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast. For more information about JJ&W, visit www.jjwpr.com or contact Robin at rschell@jjwpr.com.

Pearls of Wisdom from pr Road Warriors

Last week I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at the PRSA Northeast District Conference called, “Pearls of Wisdom From PR’s Road Warriors.”  One of the things I value most about my membership in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is the willingness of our members to share their experiences (as well as their networks) with each other.  A few “pearls” from this session with Gail Winslow, APR (Director of Corporate Marketing, LexaGene); Clark Dumont, APR (Dumont Communications) and Gail Rymer, APR, Fellow PRSA (Gail Rymer Strategic Communications):

  •  Prepare Yourself With More Than Communications & Writing Courses.  Though the ability to communicate succinctly is important, it is not the only skill required in public relations.  An understanding of how to motivate behavior (psychology, sociology); how the organization you’re counseling operates (business); corporate culture (organization development) and research (statistics, analysis) are all essential.  “Knowing that PR is being called upon to provide metrics on outcomes and how PR contributes to ROI (return on investment), I wish I’d been less afraid of statistics back in the day,” said Winslow.  (References:  PRSA’s Barcelona Principles and 9 Ways PR Impacts The Bottom Line by Patrick Jackson). The good news:  we are never done learning in this field, and there are many opportunities for professional development, via courses offered from professional associations like PRSA, going back for a Master’s Degree or developing specialized skills through certificate programs.
  • Take Advantage of Networking & Mentoring Opportunities.  Whether you are attending a PRSA International Conference, representing your organization in a Rotary or Chamber organization or volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about, there are countless ways to build your network.  “Say yes to every cup of coffee” — because you never know where it might lead.  It’s never too early to seek advice and counsel; surround yourself with people who can serve as mentors throughout your career as you build your “personal Board of Directors.”  Reference:  www.prsa.org for information on Mentor Connect. The good news:  every time you invest time in mentoring someone, there is a good chance “reverse mentoring” will occur and you’ll learn something new yourself.
  • Building Authentic Relationships Requires Transparency And Good Listening Skills.  Gail Rymer, who had a long and successful career in Environmental Communications with Lockheed Martin and Tennessee Valley Authority, faced many “angry publics” in her career.  “There is no replacement for face-to-face communication — but it takes time and effort.  Only by listening to the issues, finding common ground and providing honest answers (even if they aren’t popular answers) will you earn trust.”  Identify those who are influential “opinion leaders” who can serve as credible 3rd party ambassadors.
  • Use Core Values To Guide Your Decisionmaking.  Clark Dumont shared wisdom gleaned from a culture transformation effort he led while working for MGM.  “When you’re disrupting people’s lives, it becomes personal.  Start with the ‘why’ – providing the rationale for change is key.”  Using values as their guide, MGM established themselves as a leader in DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion).
  • Trust Your Gut And Have Confidence In Yourself.  Confidence comes from a combination of experience and education, but even highly-skilled practitioners can suffer from “imposter syndrome.”  Have open conversations with organizational leadership; talk their language but stand by your own principles.  Explained one panelist: “I was told by leadership that I didn’t have the pedigree – meaning I didn’t have a degree from Harvard – to continue advancing in that organization.  During COVID-19 I took an executive leadership course at Cornell University that helped me build the confidence in myself to walk away from that job and find a better fit for my skills, talents and career path.”

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast of NH.  For more information, visit www.jjwpr.com or contact rschell@jjwpr.com.

#MASKUPMA: APPLYING THE BEHAVIOR CHANGE MODEL TO COVID-19

Here in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has launched the #MaskUpMA campaign to raise awareness and stimulate behaviors that will reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our state in the coming months.  His collective efforts to guide the public’s behavior during the pandemic follow the 4-Step Public Behavior Change Model, based on the work of leading public relations behaviorists Jim Grunig, Harold Mendelsohn, Max McCombs & others:

  1.  Coalition Campaign:  This phase focuses on 3 steps: Problem Recognition:  Good news – the vaccines are here!  Bad news: implementation is slower than projected.  Therefore, it is critical to follow COVID-19 protocols to slow the spread as we patiently wait for the phase-by-phase vaccinations to protect us. Problem Personalization:  To date, there have been over 12,000 deaths and 420,000 cases of COVID19 reported in the state of Mass.  A visit to mass.gov will give you access to updated statistics by age, town or city and other demographics – in your preferred language. Constraint Removal:  The #MaskUpMA campaign, which reiterates the simple message “wear a mask to protect yourself and others against the spread of COVID19” includes video testimonials by everyone from Governor Baker to Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster, PSAs and a dedicated section of the Mass.Gov website Mask Up MA! | Mass.gov
  2. Enforcement:  Since Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts on March 10, a series of executive orders have been signed which range from limits on indoor (10-person) and outdoor (25-person) gatherings to required face coverings in public places to a “stay at home advisory” between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.  Public establishments violating mask-wearing and social distance protocols have faced hefty fines.
  3. Engineering:  Structural changes have been put into place to discourage behaviors that might lead to spreading COVID19.  These include closing restaurants at 9:30 p.m. to discourage large late-night gatherings, limiting the number of people per table (6) and setting up tables to comply with social-distancing guidelines.  Another example of structural changes: the requirement of temperature checks of patrons when entering certain gyms, dental offices and other places of business.
  4. Social Reinforcement:  11 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing masks and social distancing have become as familiar as recycling.  One could argue that social reinforcement has almost gone overboard as people engage in “mask shaming” – even when people are walking and riding bikes outdoors and observing social distance protocols.

This model makes sense when applied to just about any issue (see JJ&W blog from July 2017 on “Changing Behaviors on Concussion Treatment Through Chalk Talk) and will undoubtedly serve as the foundation for vaccination, COVID-testing and other behavior-change campaigns.

Social Responsibility: How Organizations Are Leveraging Their U.S.P. (Unique Selling Proposition) In Times of Need

There are four basic ways organizations can offer their social responsibility talents in times of need:

Philanthropy:  Donations of money and in-kind services.  If you’re Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots, you can send your private plane to China to pick up PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in the form of N95 masks for healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID19 battle.  If you are fashion designer Ralph Lauren, you can make marks, isolation gowns and throw in an additional $10 million in response to the global pandemic. On a smaller scale, Ocean State Job Lots asks for 2% on every purchase to add to their $2/hr increase for employees who are essential workers.   

Advocacy: The American Bar Association advocates for the rights of special education students in this piece, which provides instruction on everything from advocating for needed services to documenting the decline in learning progress during COVID19:  https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/childrens-rights/practice/2020/advocating-for-special-education-services-during-covid19/

Volunteer Hours:  Companies like Timberland have years of experience providing the opportunity for their employees to give back.  Since 1992, Timberland has offered employees up to 40 paid hours each year to serve in their communities through their Path of Service program.  In 2019, Timberland employees served over 72,000 hours. 

For those organizations who are looking for ways to contribute during COVID-19, there are volunteer-finding platforms such as Idealist (www.idealist.org) and VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org) to help find the right cause for your organization and employee base – both have options for filtering remote-only and coronavirus-specific opportunities.  For example, I plugged in my city name and found opportunities that ranged from transporting fresh and prepared food from businesses to local human service organizations (through the nonprofit Rescuing Leftover Cuisine) to Table Wisdom, a video chat service that allows you to reach out to specific partners for regular chats on a range of topics during social distancing.  Love for the Elderly (www.lovefortheelderly.org) is an organization with volunteers from 56 countries looking for those who would like to send hand-written letters to the elderly living in care facilities who need an emotional lift.  And if languages are your thing … consider volunteering for Translators Without Borders (www.translatorswithoutborders.org) to help translate documents that will convey important information about COVID19 and how to prevent its spread to people around the world.

New Products & Services:  How can an airline help during these unprecedented times?  Delta Air Lines is partnering with the U.S. Air Force, UTS Systems and Highland Engineering Teams to deliver up to 76 rapidly deployable pods to help military troops infected with COVID-19 return home. Delta’s Technical Operations division and wholly owned subsidiary Delta Flight Products combined their advanced manufacturing capabilities to begin converting dozens of single-use, 40-foot shipping containers into rapidly deployable, reusable hospital care pods.  Each pod is designed to attach inside military transport aircraft.

In many ways, COVID19 has been a major triggering event for us to start thinking, planning, and acting differently.  Is there a way your organization can make a difference, using your unique talents and resources, during these trying times?

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast area of NH.  For more information about the firm, visit www.jjwpr.com or email her directly at rschell@jjwpr.com.

A Case Study In How NOT To Build Relationships With Customers: Boston Sports Clubs

Here’s what happens when you are NOT proactive and DON’T LISTEN to customers … I’m afraid Boston Sports Clubs are about to learn a painful PR lesson.  

While many gyms communicated proactively to customers that they would be halting billing and freezing memberships, Boston Sports Clubs went out of their way to make it nearly impossible for members to cancel memberships and freeze accounts during the COVID19 closure period.  A few weeks after closing, they sent an email to customers letting them know that when they re-open, they will work with members on credit arrangements.  They did not, however, provide any options for stopping payment while they remain closed.  As a result, they find themselves in the following boat:

  • Angry customers are blowing up BSC’s Facebook page with complaints
  • A class action suit filed against parent company Town Sports International, alleging it is impossible to cancel memberships
  • In Massachusetts, multiple complaints have been filed with the AG’s office and they are now investigating
  • Local media covering the story and suggesting members who want out of their memberships call their credit card company to cancel payments. 
  • Media have asked for personal stories about member experiences with BSC, indicating this negative press is far from over

In visiting the FB page of the local BSC, I found many negative comments about the rudeness of staff and dirty condition of the gym. BSC uses the same impersonal response every time:

Boston Sports Clubs We appreciate you taking the time to review our club. We’re very sorry for the issues you have experienced and we’d like to follow up with you personally. If you could email HereToHelp@tsiclubs.com, a member of the Customer Services team will get back to you shortly. Thank you for reaching out. Best, The HereToHelp Team

BSC fails to realize that this is a time to “serve not sell” your customers, not take advantage of them.   When gym members are being forced out of their normal behavior routine of going to the gym and are finding alternatives (exercising outdoors, constructing home gym setups, live streaming yoga classes), they should be finding ways to excite members about coming back, not drive them away.   Clearly BSC did not study their competitor’s policies or look at some of the creative ways other gyms are using their space to serve the public and build relationships with members (https://www.patriotledger.com/news/20200331/quincy-ymca-to-serve-as-secondary-homeless-shelter). 

All of this could have been avoided with some proactive communication and customer-friendly policies.  Lesson shared!

In Uncertain Times, Build Loyalty with Stakeholders – Lessons From The Pan-Mass Challenge Decision

      For those of you who are not familiar with the Pan-Mass Challenge, or the PMC, it is the largest single athletic charity event in the country. This 2-day cycling event, founded by Billy Starr in 1980, engaged 6800 participants and raised $63 million for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute last year. People are motivated to give because 100% of the rider-raised funds go directly to cancer research.
     In addition to the time and effort it takes to train for the bike rides (these vary in length from 25 miles to 190 miles), participants are also asked to guarantee (with their personal credit card) $5500 each if they are doing the full 2-day ride. Many say the stress of fundraising is more than the stress of physically preparing for the ride – yet, people are committed to participating, because cancer has impacted so many loved ones.
     Given the impact of COVID-19 on many businesses, Starr made the unprecedented decision to do away with the minimum fundraising requirement for the first and only time in 40 years – recognizing that riders may have a difficult time raising money from their regular sponsors.
     See paragraph #2 from Starr’s note to all PMC cyclists. His message will likely lead to several positive behavioral outcomes:
     1. Building loyalty with fundraisers and volunteers. Taking care of the people on the front lines of the fundraising effort insures they will want to keep coming back, participating and fundraising, in years to come when the fundraising environment improves.
     2. Motivating riders by reinforcing the mission. Starr does a good job of reminding everyone of the reason they ride … because the money raised saves the lives of people with cancer. Those with the means to do so will likely dig a little deeper into their own pockets to make up for the shortfall of their sponsors.
     3. Encouraging self-motivated fundraising. Starr says “Let your conscience be your guide” regarding your donor base and “As for timing, do what feels right for you”, acknowledging that he typically encourages riders to “ask early and often”. For this year, though, his instruction is to throw the usual fundraising recipe out the window and use our best judgment on how to get the job done.

As a longtime PMC rider, I am motivated to meet my fundraising goal despite the obstacles this year, so wish me luck!

To all PMC cyclists,
     The last few weeks have been extremely stressful for everyone. All of us have been profoundly affected by this public health crisis, and part of our anxiety is not knowing when it is going to end. One thing is certain: showing compassion to one another will help us all get through this.
With that spirit in mind, the PMC is taking an unprecedented step: WE WILL NOT ENFORCE FUNDRAISING MINIMUMS FOR 2020. Do we still need each PMC rider to raise as much for cancer research and treatment as she or he can? Yes, but you don’t need the stress of having to ask donors to support your ride if you believe they don’t have the ability to do so. For 2020, we simply ask that you raise what you can, support your own ride with a gift if you have the means, and otherwise let your conscience be your guide regarding your donor base.
     As for timing, you should do what feels right for you. Normally, the PMC encourages riders to begin their fundraising early and not be afraid to ask often. If this approach feels inappropriate at this moment, you should modify your PMC fundraising for 2020 with timing that works for you and your donors.
     For 40 years, the PMC has represented hope for cancer patients everywhere by raising vital funds for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. That’s not going to change in 2020. The remarkable longevity of the average PMC rider tells us that you are committed to this cause and will be in the future. Thank you, and we send you our wishes for good health.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is senior partner and counsel at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast of NH. She will ride her 8th Pan-Mass Challenge for Team LUNGSTRONG, to raise money for lung cancer research, in August 2020. For more information about JJ&W, visit www.jjwpr.com. For more information about LUNGSTRONG, visit www.lungstrong.org.

School Communicators Take Note: For Flawless Execution, Prepare Beyond Your Written Crisis Plan

Yesterday, it was the dismissal of a teacher at the Fieldston private school as a result of anti-Semitic remarks that enflamed tensions between Jewish parents and school administrators.  Today, it is concern over the Coronavirus and its impact on boarding schools with Chinese pupils and international study programs abroad.  What will it be tomorrow?

While most private schools – especially those with boarding school programs – have had had to put their crisis communication plans to the test with issues ranging from student fatalities to inappropriate teacher/student relationships – how many have solid issue anticipation programs in place to prepare for the crisis around the corner?

In our experience, spending a little time and money upfront on thorough preparation goes a long way.  For consideration:

  1.  Updated contact information for ALL key internal audiences.  Most schools have their Board members and leadership team on speed dial…but anticipate everyone you want to communicate with directly in a crisis.  This means working with Development to insure you have up-to-date text/email information for alumni, and with Admissions in case prospective students need to be reached.  When the crisis hits, you want to be able to press a button for instant notification.
  2. Spokesperson training in advance.  Chances are, your Head of School and Communication Director have had the most experience with on-camera or phone interviews – but how about your subject matter experts?  For example, you might have your Head of Security as the spokesperson in a data breach situation, or Human Resources for a roundup story on your school policies impacting transgender students.   Mock interviews — where your spokespersons can practice staying calm and circling back to key message points in the face of tough media questions – are a valuable exercise.  Take it one step further by recording and playing back the interview to observe body language, nervous habits etc.  Make it engaging by involving the others in the recap of what worked well and what needs improvement.
  • Make time for issue anticipation and social media monitoring.  Whether you appoint someone inside or work with an outside firm, your Communications Director should be asking themselves this question everyday: “What’s going on out there, and could it happen here?”  Social media monitoring tools like Hootsuite Insights and Synthesio allow you to monitor news sites, blogs and forums by specific topics and audiences.  Cultivate relationships with your PR/communications network of professionals for best practice sharing.  Google search recent cases on topics of concern to see how other schools handled – or mishandled – issues and learn from their situations.
  • Prepare templates for likely situations for a “headstart” on your holding statement.  While you can’t have a statement for every situation, you can identify likely issues within specific categories (e.g. mishandling of finances, security issues, personnel issues, accidents and fatalities etc.).  Decide with your leadership/crisis management team on key messages to deliver in each situation – then get the holding statement templates blessed by the legal team in advance.
  • Update your media, social media and spokesperson policies.  It’s one thing to have these on paper, buried on page 60 of your crisis plan, and another to proactively and regularly communicate them to all members of your school family.  You want everyone to know what to do when the media calls, or how to handle student friend requests on LinkedIn and Facebook.  When new employees come on board, make sure they are up to speed as well.
  • Have a system in place for the “Lessons Learned” review.  Decide who from the crisis team should be involved and schedule the review right after the crisis ends, while it is fresh in everyone’s minds.  Important:  appoint a good note-taker to capture the conversation … chances are you, or a colleague, will need it for future reference.

For more information on issue anticipation programs and proactive media training, contact Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner at 603/770-3607.

Stand Out From The Crowd: Research-Based Branding

My colleague Jayme Simoes and I had the pleasure of presenting on the topic of branding twice recently, first at the NH Nonprofits Conference and Expo and again at PRSA’s Northeast District Conference, NEXPRSA, in Providence, R.I.

Here are a few highlights:

  1. A brand is a space in the mind.  It’s more than a logo or a tagline; a brand is about the feelings and perceptions you stimulate when both internal and external audiences hear your name.
  2. Research is key to the process; it can help you test words, phrases and visuals before you roll out your branding campaign; create a baseline for measuring your success and provide an opportunity for a mid-campaign check with key stakeholder groups to see if messages are resonating with them.
  3. Articulate your U.S.P. (Unique Selling Proposition) in your mission statement.  Does your mission statement differentiate you from your competitors, or is it so “plain vanilla” that it could belong to anyone?
  4. Think strategically before you rebrand.  There are plenty of “triggering events” that may cause you to consider a rebrand (e.g. merging with another organization, expanding or changing the products and services you offer or even an upcoming milestone anniversary).  If you’re well-known and easily recognized, though, there’s no need to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” … a refresh of your brand may be enough.  For the “serial rebranders” – you may be doing more harm than good by confusing your customers.
  5. How effective are your brand ambassadors?  Is everyone in your internal family speaking with One Clear Voice?  Take the “elevator speech” test – select any 3-5 people in your organization and ask them, independently, to describe what your organization does.  Are they hitting on your key message points consistently?

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Counsel and Partner Jackson Jackson & Wagner , 603/770-3607 or rschell@jjwpr.com

The Art & Science of Behavioral PR Research: Effective Strategies For Measuring Outcomes and ROI

I’m delighted to be visiting the PRSA Tucson chapter this spring to talk about “The Art & Science of Behavioral PR Research:  Effective Strategies For Measuring Outcomes and Return On Investment”.  To give you a sense of what I’ll be talking about on April 23rd, read on!

Choosing the right strategies (for example, using the best methodologies for collecting data you need from the right target audiences) and asking the right questions the right way will insure that you are on a productive path to getting the information you need.  In many cases, your best measure of success will be the behavioral outcomes you achieve as a result of your researched-based campaign.  For example, if your goal was to increase membership by 30% this past year, you can measure your success by the numbers – you either hit that target, or you didn’t.  If the proposal for a new Walmart is accepted by your town – and you are Walmart – that is a measure of success.

A few things to keep in mind when designing and collecting research data:

  1.  Use creativity in your data collection strategies.  To get feedback on the newsletter at a national laboratory we counseled, we polled employees passing through the on-site cafeteria – which is where most people grab a copy to read at lunch.  To test perceptions and barriers to purchasing beer, we stood by beer cases in select stores and waited for the customer to put their hand on the beer they planned to purchase before asking questions about why they made their choice.  Think about your target audience and the best way (as well as the best time) — to capture their feedback.
  2. Ask the right questions.  Finding out if a potential customer is aware of your product or service is a good first step, but don’t you want to go deeper to find out their behaviors around that product or service?  Would they recommend it to others?  Have they done so in the past?   How likely are they to try an upgraded version of the product or service at a slightly higher cost?  Why or why wouldn’t they do that? 
  3. Ask your questions the right way.  Avoid biased or “leading” questions.  Vary your scales to make the respondent really think about the answers, in order to avoid “auto-response” and the tendency to check the same number of the scale for every question.  Include some “open-ended” questions to get valuable data about the “why” behind the question.  Anticipate the cross-tabulations you’ll want before you finalize the survey.
  4. Choose methodologies with a double purpose.  Research can be an opportunity to educate as well as measure.  To get a handle on the energy-saving behaviors customers were doing now and would consider in the future, we asked about everything from unplugging appliances when they were not in use to buying LED light bulbs to purchasing solar panels.  When helping a public health network identify behaviors around preventing Lyme disease, we used a “pre” and “post” test to measure the jump in knowledge levels and likely behaviors as a result of a presentation on that topic.
     

For more information about behavior-based research, register for “The Art and Science of Behavioral PR Research:  Effective Strategies For Measuring Outcomes and ROI” sponsored by the Tucson PRSA Chapter on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.  For more information about Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA or Jackson Jackson & Wagner, visit www.jjwpr.com or email Robin at rschell@jjwpr.com.