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‘Scandal:’ The Latest Representation of Public Relations on Prime Time

Washington Monument

There is a common question that people ask when they hear I work in the public relations industry: do you do what Olivia Pope does? “Scandal”, a dramatic take on public relations in politics, is currently one of the most popular prime-time television shows. With its intense plot and all the components that make for great TV (sex, drama and politics), the show has captured quite an audience, myself included.

So, why is this show so fascinating? Olivia Pope ensures Washington’s most prominent figures keep their images squeaky clean – what we would call reputation management, or influencing public perception of clients by ensuring that messages are communicated clearly to their target audiences. But, does “Scandal” represent the public relations industry well? Is Olivia Pope an accurate depiction of a PR professional?

Apart from crossing the ethical boundary here and there, a few aspects of the show are true to the industry:

  • Always be one step ahead: If you aren’t staying up to date with today’s 24/7 news cycle, you’re already too many steps behind. Whether it’s news about your client or a competitor, you need to know what’s going on and have a game plan on how to tackle anything that comes your way. Thankfully, technology makes it easy for us to stay on top of news with the help of Google Alerts. Trust me – they will be your best friend.
  • Trust your gut: If your client comes to you with a question, an issue or an idea, it is your job to ensure that what follows is in their best interest. Sometimes that means trusting your intuition and learning to say “no” to a client. Open, yet direct, communication is key.
  • Create a dynamic team: “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Building your own team of “gladiators” that complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses will be your lifesaver. Olivia Pope & Associates team members always have each other’s back no matter the situation. With the ups and downs of the job, that is the type of people you want beside you in the line of fire that is the public relations industry.

While “Scandal” is a fictional television show, the basic foundation of public relations and reputation management is evident. In times of need, we are called upon to strategize, plan and execute campaigns that help our clients improve or maintain their images. In a sense, public relations professionals are gladiators in the world of business.


Image “Washington Monument” by Jeff Kubina via Flickr BY 2.0 CC / cropped from original.

Saving Green in April (Hey, Earth Day Bandwagon, Pull Over!)

Money - Saving Green in April

It’s April, and that can only mean two things: taxes and Earth Day. Companies will be hopping on the proverbial “going green” bandwagon this month in the hopes of cashing in on America’s obsession with being environmentally friendly. While these campaigns can be beneficial, our idea of “going green” is to help clients save some – of the Ben Franklin variety, that is.

Here are a few tips on how you can run a more “green”-friendly PR campaign (just in time for Earth Day):

Look for Deals

You always look for a good deal when shopping and going out to eat, right? Just because you’re at work and in an agency, doesn’t mean you need to limit yourself by assuming good deals do not exist for businesses. For example, Google AdWords is great at offering incentives for advertising campaigns. Every so often, they’ll offer a special, such as “spend $25 on ads and get $75 for free.” Be on the lookout for offers like these.Get your client $100 worth of advertising for $25? Yes, please.

Plan in Advance

More time to plan, develop and execute a campaign will almost always be near the top of a PR pro’s wish list. Get your client to field you details sooner rather than later. You’ll have more time to be strategic and creative, and in the process you’ll conserve hours. Nothing burns hours faster than ill-planned, vaguely defined last-minute work. Better quality work and no rush charges sounds like a win-win situation.

Use In-House Talent

Uncover your team’s hidden talents! For example, if you’re planning a video/photo shoot, check your internal resources first. For example, while photography is not my profession, it is a serious hobby and I’ve personally shot client assignments as well as doubled as a makeup artist. My colleague Lindley Presley has been cast numerous times for internal videos, including as a hand model. You avoid third-party costs for vendors and your team gets to shine. Showcasing your team’s full range of talents plus reducing vendor costs? Client love it.

Image “Money on Money” by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr BY 2.0 CC / cropped from original

Should Your Brand Tweet on the Anniversary of a Tragedy?


While we’re always on the lookout for trending topics where our clients can chime in on social media or other channels, it’s also our job to advise clients when to steer clear of a sensitive or controversial topic. National tragedies are near the top of that list.

We’ve all seen examples of misguided advertising that tries to seize the moment when all eyes are following a particular hashtag on Twitter. For brands, the best idea to follow when a tragedy occurs is to observe radio silence on social media. However, best practices become a little less clear after the tragedy is over – especially when a year passes and the anniversary of the tragedy is nearing. An example, and probably the most sensitive one, is the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

In the years since 9/11, there has been an outpouring of remembrance on each anniversary with tweets using hashtags such as #neverforget. Many brands often join in and offer their condolences, but some have gone a little too far by seemingly trying to exploit the tragedy. To ensure your brand doesn’t inadvertently post something distasteful while the nation is mourning (such as during next month’s anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing), let’s take a look at what two brands did to commemorate 9/11 last year.

AT&T’s Camera Phone Tweet – On the morning of September 11, 2013, AT&T tweeted an image of the 9/11 Memorial “Tribute in Light” that was captured on the screen of one of their smartphones with the caption “Never Forget.” The tweet faced some serious backlash and was taken down within an hour. The problem with AT&T’s tweet was that it blurred the line between respect and exploitation by prominently featuring one of their products in the image. Rather than a touching tribute, the image came across as a smartphone advertisement that was cashing in on the sentiment surrounding 9/11. AT&T would have been better off simply tweeting “Never Forget” or not saying anything at all.

Sherwin-Williams’ Moment of Silence – The day before September 11, 2013, Sherwin-Williams’ last tweet was a short note with the hashtag #neverforget. The tweet stated they wouldn’t be tweeting tomorrow out of respect for the victims of 9/11 and that they would return on September 12. Sherwin-Williams deserved a respectful nod for this – they conveyed authenticity without overstating their sentiment and respected the tragedy by tweeting the day before all the attention would be on #neverforget and other similar hashtags.

There is one question a brand should ask itself when it’s deciding whether to act on the anniversary of a tragedy: would a social media post be, or appear to be, exploitive? More likely than not, the answer is going to be yes – most brands should respectfully remain silent. If you absolutely feel the need to tweet, leave all products or services at the door – offer sentiments that are short, authentic and understated.

Image “Quiet” by Paul Mison via Flickr used BY CC 2.0 / Cropped from original

Media Minute: Kimatni Rawlins

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Name: Kimatni D. Rawlins

Media Outlets: Automotive Rhythms (President & Publisher); Fit Fathers (Publisher); Haute Living (Auto Correspondent); eBay Motors (Auto Writer); U.S. News & World Report (Health Contributor)

As PR professionals, we know positive media relationships and the ability to craft a compelling pitch are the keys to coverage and content success for the brands and products we represent. As part of our new (occasional) “Media Minute” series, I caught up with auto lifestyle industry veteran and writer Kimatni Rawlins to learn more about him and get his quick take on the state of media and PR.

How long have you been a writer? Roughly 25 years. Before I ascended into the world of automotive journalism I was (and still am) a nomadic thinker and have written scores of poetic pieces of work, research documents and short stories.

What topics do you cover? My forte is evaluating the technologies, safety capabilities and driver experiences of new vehicles, SUVs and motorcycles. I also blog about health, fitness and wellness topics under the auspices of my Fit Fathers brand as it relates to family nutrition, chronic disease prevention, and life enhancement through daily physical activities and contribute to travel websites.

Pitching Tips? PR folks should think about my interests and specialties first to conjure up a story angle within my realm. When the storyline is custom targeted then both parties are happy. My preference is covering events and products that I naturally aspire to as my writing flows better under these circumstances.

Differences in the industry now vs. then?  Boy has the industry changed since I first entered shortly after graduating from Georgia Tech. Press kits came in huge and heavy binders and media sites where unheard of. Invites to test drive new cars were delivered by way of snail mail and fax was the go-to technology. However, with the advent of social media you could debate that the stream of info is a bit too wide open.

Differences in your writing scope now vs. then? Yes, initially I wrote more with a flair to meet the expectations of the urban market Automotive Rhythms was designed to target. As the years passed, our audience began growing and became more diversified into technology, luxury, and professional outlets.

Advice for PR professionals? Be forthright with your intentions. No one has time for child’s play. We are all professionals so give it to me straight like a shot of wheatgrass!

Elements of a great story for you? The subject matter has to be magnetic or even polarizing. Whether it’s a new sports car or an eco-friendly travel lodge, your story should be comprised of elements that are appealing and hold their own brand merit with consumers. It should not sound like a proposal or commercial spot. There is far too much info cross-pollinated on the web and on newsstands. What makes your story unique and engaging? This must be answered immediately.

2014 Winter Olympics: Everything Old Can Be New Again

Leveraging new ideas to refresh an old one

The first Olympic Winter Games were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France. Since then, the world has been enjoying the dynamic and competitive nature of these tournaments. With all of the research, planning and execution required to have a successful event, the Olympics are essentially their own public relations campaign. So how can a long-standing event evolve to make each year special? How do you come up with and incorporate fresh ideas into a recurring event?

Let’s take a look at a few Olympics tactics that would work well for any long-in-the-tooth event or campaign:

  • New location: The Winter Olympics are hosted every four years in a different location that is chosen by a committee. The anticipation of naming the next host city and the excitement in exploring the globe is part of what makes the Olympics a popular subject each turn. When planning client conferences or staging campaign events, consider switching up your location. Holding a conference in the same city at the same venue every year just isn’t going to cut it – expect to receive a ‘zero’ from the judges.
  • New activities: If you don’t expect someone to show up for a conference that’s been in the same place the last decade, you can hardly blame them for not wanting to hear the same lectures or speakers and participate in the same agenda. This year, there are 12 additional competitions on the Winter Games roster. Through the years, many sports have come and gone in an effort to mix up the agenda and provide viewers with something new to look forward to. Don’t leave your clients skating on thin ice – suggest something unique!
  • New pizazz: While pizazz is not an official term on the public relations checklist, it’s the general concept that you should consider when freshening up client campaigns. The word might mean something different to every client: a new speaker, a new theme, a different time of year – heck, even new food! For 2014, Olympic uniforms are turning heads. One Brandware Public Relations client is a fan of choosing a different theme each year and coming up with taglines and designs to accompany it – just one extra touch to make the event special.

I encourage you to consider these winning ideas and take home the gold for your client events in 2014! If you’re interested in the event/campaign development process or on-site support Brandware can provide, please drop us a line.

Image “Olympic Shadows” by Kevin  Dooley via Flickr used by CC 2.0 / Cropped from original.

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