Plan to Protect Your Reputation


By Beverly M. Payton, M.A., APR

Public relations professionals who specialize in crisis communications are among the highest paid in the industry. That’s because they are usually called in to consult for an organization only after a crisis has been boiling over for some time. Besieged leaders hope the consultant can invoke some PR magic that not only turns down the heat, but also moves the boiling pot off the burner and cleans up the gooey, sticky mess. Most of the time, they can’t. The kitchen is already on fire.

What will you do when the S%#$ hits the fan?

A famous quote usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin reads: “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” As with most things in public relations—indeed, in life generally—planning trumps reacting. But, incredibly, many organizations don’t plan for how they will communicate in a crisis. So, when a crisis occurs, organizational leaders are blindsided, with no blueprint for what to do or say. The resulting chaos usually exacerbates the crisis because the media and other important publics get the impression that the confused organization is inept at best, or unethical at worst.


Don’t fall into the trap of thinking: “This can’t happen here.” Public Relations media is peppered with case studies of spectacular crisis communications failures in government organizations (e.g. Flint, Michigan’s water crisis), businesses (e.g. Volkswagen’s diesel dupe), nonprofits (e.g. the Red Cross disaster response debacle) and even religious organizations (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church’s pedophile priests cover-up).


Implementing a well-thought-out crisis communications plan can prevent misinformation from gaining a foothold, give your organization’s leaders credibility and preserve trust among your most important stakeholders.

Eight Steps to an Effective Crisis Communications Plan:

  1. Assemble a crisis communications team and develop between three to ten possible scenarios of things that can go wrong and cause your organization unflattering visibility. Prioritize by significance and likelihood.
  2. Develop a telephone call tree specifying the order in which key decision makers will be notified about a crisis.
  3. Create a plan for each scenario that specifies: what, during those first critical hours, you will do (ordered by priority), who will do it, what you will say, who will serve as the interface between your organization and each public (e.g. victims, board of directors, employees, donors, reporters, government officials etc.) and who will speak on behalf of the organization to the public in press conferences, interviews and on the internet.
  4. Develop processes for how you will communicate candidly, compassionately and completely with key internal and external stakeholders. Create a draft news release and social media posts.
  5. For each scenario, develop a list of hypothetical Q&As of what reporters and key publics are likely to ask you. Develop some “placeholder” statements you can use during the discovery process while you are searching for more complete, factual information to share. This is no time for the synthetic emotings of corporate speak; your initial statement must project sincerity, humanity and empathy. By the way,“No comment.” is never an acceptable placeholder statement.
  6. Write your mea culpa statement, sans finger-pointing blame games. After the facts are known and communicated, you must explain what went wrong and what you will do to alleviate the situation and prevent similar future occurrences. For example: How will crisis victims be cared for?  What and how will you change?
  7. Run a fire drill of your highest risk scenario. Assess how effectively your team responded and make changes to your plan, as needed.
  8. Give each person on the crisis response team (including your CEO, executive director or other fearless leader) two copies of the finalized crisis communications plan—one for the office and one to keep at home (in case the dreaded phone call comes at 3 a.m.)


Review your crisis communications plan at least annually—quarterly is preferred. Are there new risks or vulnerabilities to consider? Do you need to make changes to the crisis team phone tree? Distribute two copies of the updated plan to everyone on your crisis communications team, and tell them to destroy previous versions.


Please share how your own organization planned for a crisis. Do you have any other helpful steps to add? Also, if you had to carry out a crisis communications plan, how did it go? What would you do differently next time?



Media Relations 101: Don’t Spam the Press!

Blame the publicist, not the media database.

New York Times consumer columnist David Segal, aka The Haggler, went off topic this week to slam publicists who clog his email with spam—press releases on topics that are irrelevant to him, his readers, and, most likely, The New York Times readership.  In his column, Swatting at a Swarm of Public Relations Spam, Segal complains about publicists who subscribe to a very powerful and—when poorly used—dangerous media relations tool, an online media database.


 The offenders he hunted down were using Vocus, but other media database providers–Cision, Agility and Media Pro–to name a few, are equal opportunity platforms for making a pest of yourself.

Segal isn’t the first journalist to rant about press release spam. In 2007, former Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson published, in The Long Tail blog, a long list of PR and publicists’ email addresses, whom he declared would be forever blocked from his email because they sent him press release spam or didn’t target their pitch to the right person on his staff.

“Lazy flacks send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching. Fact: I am an actual person, not a team assigned to read press releases and distribute them to the right editors and writers.”

David Henderson, award-winning journalist, former CBS News correspondent and Author of Making News in the Digital Era said in a Strumpette Leaders Perspective guest column:

“Most news releases are not read or are ignored. Unsolicited, irrelevant and meaningless news releases—the overwhelming bulk of releases emailed to newsrooms—are the #1 complaint of journalists about the PR business.  The problem has reached such proportions that most news organizations now actively work to block press releases in special spam filters to prevent the sheer volume of them from overwhelming the email in boxes of reporters and editors.”


How and why spam happens

As someone who has used both Cision and Agility media databases, I have a pretty good idea of how such spam happens.


Let’s say your public relations firm is engaged by the Lightsaber Training Academy on the planet Tatooini to “get us some press.”  (A really bad way to begin an assignment, by the way, but that’s another topic.) The media database allows you to plug in filters for reporters, editors and bloggers based on specific criteria. You can target media in a designated market area (DMA), a geographic location, the topic the outlet covers, the topic the journalist or blogger covers, audience demographics and other relevant parameters. But often, if you are too specific, nothing comes up when you plug in your ideal search criteria. So, you systematically start broadening your filters.


Maybe your topic category was too narrow. After all, with newsrooms shrinking into oblivion, you rationalize, many reporters are now expected to cover several beats. So, in your topics filter, instead of typing, “Jedi” or “lightsaber” or “training,” you choose the more generic “news” category.


Or, perhaps there aren’t enough media outlets on Tatooini to give you a respectable distribution list. So instead, you choose a few of the main DMAs in the United States: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc. This will bring up a potential distribution list of hundreds of contacts, almost all of whom will not be interested in your Lightsaber Training Academy on Tatooini, because: 1) none of their readers are aspiring Jedi and 2) they don’t live on Tatooini.


You know this, of course, but it would be too time consuming to examine each one of those contacts to determine whether the outlet and its audience are appropriate for your topic. If you’re being paid on a flat fee or project basis, time is literally money out the door. And, if you’re billing hourly, you’ll have a hard time explaining to your client or boss why you are billing for several hours of database research only to cull a tiny handful of  journalists who will receive their precious release.


So, you conclude, the most efficient solution is to upload your press release, hit the SEND button and hope that at least some of those hundreds of outlets and journalists will be on target and snag you a “hit.”


Moreover, now you can report to your client or CEO that you distributed the release to hundreds–not a mere dozen or so–journalists. It sounds like a win-win. You save time, your client or boss is impressed by the volume of your output, and the hundreds of  journalists and bloggers you just spammed can simply hit the delete key? So what’s the big deal?


“That’s like fishing with dynamite.”said Andrew Lazorchak when Segal spoke to the managing director of the company that hired the spamming publicist. As Segal points out, fishing with dynamite is actually more productive.


As a former journalist, I feel their pain. 

Before being seduced by The Dark Side, I spent nearly 20 years in a newsroom, so I know, from painful experience, what a big deal press release spam can be. And I can say, with near certitude, that if you routinely send spammy press releases you, and the organization you represent, will have little or no credibility with the news media.


Journalists are just as time crunched as you are, perhaps more so. And most of them are predisposed to distrust public relations “flacks,” anyway, regarding them as little more than gnats buzzing in their ears. So, if, on top of their preconceived attitude, you heap obvious disrespect for their time, you court their wrath.


As a newsroom copyeditor, I had to take my turn at the dreaded duty of cleaning out the bin below the fax machine (remember those?). We had to winnow through the overflowing heap and distribute the few, relevant news releases to the appropriate editor or reporter. It wasn’t long before we learned how to screen the releases by the headline, and later, simply by looking at the PR firm or business’s logo. Releases from habitual spammers went straight into the recycling bin, unread. When I entered the public relations field, I swore I’d never forget or betray my journalism roots that focused on factual accuracy, good storytelling and relevancy.


Journalists use email to stay in touch with genuine news sources and communicate with colleagues. When their email gets too cluttered, its harder to find that crucial piece of information they need to plug a hole in a story before the copy deadline. This is more than irritating. It makes it harder to do their jobs.


Remember that PR does NOT stand for press release; it stands for public relations, which is about forging mutually beneficial relationships with people–including the media. So spend some time getting to know the most important media outlets and journalists that cover your client’s or organization’s sector. Read what they are writing about, follow them on Twitter and other social media outposts (but don’t spam them there either). Occasionally send them useful news tips, even when it has nothing to do with your client or organization. Finally, pick up the phone and talk to them (first making sure they’re not on deadline) to find out what topics they are most interested in and how and when they’d like you to pitch story ideas. Always be polite and respectful.


Keep in mind that journalists avoid covering the same story that ran in a competing media outlet, so consider offering your most important media outlet an exclusive, or at least an individualized story treatment.


Follow these media relations tips.

Once you refine your media distribution list to precisely the right journalists, keep these tips in mind when crafting your release:

  1. Lead with a story (about people — not things or corporate entities)
  2. Show (don’t tell) how and why this impacts the news media’s audience.
  3. Stick to the facts (Kill as many adjectives as possible. Fact-check your information.)
  4. Keep it short. (The reporter will call you if he or she wants more information.)
  5. Never call a reporter to ask: “Did you get my press release?”

Be your own media outlet.

Finally, in today’s media marketplace, there’s no reason to rely on the traditional news media and its gatekeepers to tell your story. Use your website, social media outposts and other venues to identify and communicate with your most important stakeholders. Forge a mutually beneficial relationship with people who are engaged with your organization, your cause or your brand. Inspire them to share your important, relevant information with their own networks. Who knows? Maybe a journalist will notice the online chatter and cover your story.

Media outlets can do more to solve the PR spam problem.

Instead of—as Segal suggests—declining to be listed in the media databases, which would be a disservice to both public relations professionals and journalists, media outlets can develop a better solution to deal with the volume of press releases. Set up a separate email address specifically for press releases on various topics, such as: Regional and Local News, Science and Technology, Business, Health, Travel, etc. Then have section editors sift through their press release email as time permits. I’m certain they’d cull interesting, relevant and useful information fairly often. Also, this would help PR professionals quickly identify the correct address based on the topic of their release. Seriously, it doesn’t have to be this hard.



In PR, Measurement Matters; But How Do We Do It?

Key Takeaways from the Public Relations Society of America Measurement Symposium

Mark Weiner, CEO of Prime Research


Any public relations professional who has studied for the APR exam, or who has read the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, released in 2010, knows that research and measurement are key components of an effective, strategic communications plan.


The first Barcelona Principle stresses the importance of goal setting and measurement. Effective measurement begins with developing communications objectives that answer who, what, when and how much the PR program is intended to affect.  A useful acronym many PR professionals are familiar with is SMART–Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-driven and Time-based.


Yet many of us still struggle to apply measurement in our everyday practice.


For those seeking guidance, PRSA and the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) teamed up to present a pre-conference measurement symposium during the 2013 PRSA International Conference that took place Oct. 27 at the PRSA 2013 International Conference in Philadelphia.


“Data is a competitive advantage,” said Allyson Hugley, in her opening remarks. Hugley is chair of the AMEC North America chapter and executive vice president of Measurement, Analytics and Insights at Weber Shandwick. “Companies that are data driven are more productive and more profitable.”

Baby Steps to Measurement Management

Marguerite Marston, commercial PR manager for IKEA U.S., described her department’s struggle to develop a new measurement mindset. The catalyst for change was a new chief marketing officer who used analytics to drive the business forward. Prior to that, Marston said, the PR department was measuring campaigns, but not yearly progress.


“What stopped us was lack of awareness and that PR was more of an afterthought, with the smallest budget in the marketing department,” she said.


IKEA’s PR team members began by educating themselves about the Barcelona Principles, and having an ongoing dialogue about how to move towards integrated measurement. Marston said they then took “baby steps” towards implementing changes. “We were talking about outputs and impressions and now we’re seeing a shift towards reporting behavior change,” she said.


Marston advises PR teams taking their own baby steps to keep it simple, affordable and make sure your approach is aligned with your client’s or organization’s needs.

Outputs, Outcomes and the Rise of Stupid Machines

The second Barcelona Principle states: “Measuring the effect on outcomes is preferable to measuring outputs.”  Outputs include all the tactics deployed by the agency or organization, whereas outcomes include shifts in stakeholder awareness, comprehension, attitude and behavior.


Mark Weiner, CEO of PRIME Research and author of Unleashing the Power of PR said PR professionals must measure both.


“Measuring outcomes without measuring outputs is the slowest path to victory,” he said, because outcomes are measured infrequently—usually only once or twice a year. And since these outcomes reside in the mind of your target audience, the primary way to measure them is to conduct a survey designed to capture the outcomes you need to measure.


“That’s not agile enough to guide day-to-day decision making,” said Weiner. As an example, he said, knowing what press releases were picked up, and which ones weren’t, immediately informs your ongoing media relations decisions and activities because you will know what kind of content whets journalists appetite.


“On the other hand, measuring outputs without measuring outcomes is the noise before defeat,” Weiner added, because without outcome evaluation you will never know enough about your performance to make improvements as needed.


The fourth and fifth Barcelona Principles state: “Media measurement requires quantity and quality;” and “AVEs [Advertising Value Equivalents] are not the value of public relations.” So, instead of reporting clip counts, impressions and comparing the space of earned media (news stories generated by press releases and media alerts) with its equivalent in paid media (advertising), public relations professionals are asked to measure such things as tone, credibility and relevance of the medium to the target audience, key message delivery, inclusion of a company spokesperson and prominence within the medium.


The principal method for measuring these qualities is through content analysis. Weiner noted that content analysis methods have evolved through three distinct trends.


The first wave was manual content analysis by communications professionals.  “This was appropriate and possible when the pace and volume of media was slower and manageable,” he said. This produced high quality content analysis, but the process was slow.


The second wave was fully automatic content analysis, which came about in an effort to keep up with social media, which moved at a faster pace than human eyes could track. So, software solutions were developed to track such things as keywords.


“These were fast, but they were stupid,” Weiner said. “They couldn’t tell the difference between such statements as: ‘Ford makes great cars and Ford makes anything but great cars.’ This high-tech approach to content analysis generated lots of irrelevant and inaccurate data, and resulted in a lot of false, misleading insight.”


Now, he said, a third wave is evolving that’s a hybrid of both technology and human measurement, which Weiner says is far superior. This approach is shaped around letting tech do what it does best—delivering speed and consistency—and letting humans do what they do best—uncovering relevancy and insight.


“If it was about technology alone, everyone with a keyboard would be Tolstoy,” Weiner said.


Demonstrating Value and ROI

But measurement without context isn’t enough. The third Barcelona Principle states: “The effect on business results can and should be measured where possible.”  For many public relations professionals, this is the most challenging—and most expensive—analysis to undertake because it involves marketing mix modeling and statistical analysis—fine if you’re Wal-Mart, Apple or General Motors, but not so much if you’re, well, nearly anybody else. Yet there is broad consensus that public relations must demonstrate value and show a positive return on investment.


“Measurement is essential to the ROI/Value conversation,” Weiner said. But he cautioned that public relations professionals should avoid using those terms interchangeably.


“ROI is measurable,” Weiner explained. It’s a quantitative financial measure, which relates dollars spent with business results. Value, however, is subjective and relates only to perceptions of expectation, worth and importance.”


Weiner invites communications professions seeking online guidance about measurement to visit PRIME Research’s content database at


Measurement that’s sweet for the C-suite

Valuable metrics answer the questions executives care about.


Mark Stouse, vice president, Global Connect of BMC Software explained the Influence Scoring System (ISS), a measurement platform his company developed after a pivotal conversation with a CEO who asked some tough questions, such as: “I know this is important, but how important is it?” and “How much of what you do is luck vs. skill?”


Stouse said this motivated his company to change the conversation about communications metrics and start with “the big three — the Crown Jewels in the CEO world: revenue, margin and cash flow.” ISS was developed for business leaders, with their collaboration and guidance. The system was field tested for eight years in three public companies and later with five PR agencies.


ISS integrates tactical, operational, and strategic outputs to calibrate marketing and communications activities. First, all tactics are given a point value, then an “environmental difficulty index” is applied, which Stouse said is analogous to driving a car on a paved road at one end of the spectrum versus a dirt road in the rain at the other end.


The third overlay assesses each tactic for demand generation, deal expansion and sales velocity. These affect revenue, margin and cash flow. “All three levels are always fully exposed, based on principles of transparency,” he said. This ensures all stakeholders know and understand all three perspectives.


“ISS creates a logic path that chief executive officers recognize and respect, and data correlations they need to make decisions,” said Stouse.


He added that the platform also “enables agencies to run their organization like an investment fund, to accurately predict performance and impact across multiple functions.”


It also eliminates client subjectivity around performance and allows agencies to automatically adjust performance objectives based on increases and decreases in spend, he added.

A version of this post was published in PRSA Tactics available here. 


Predictable Disaster Giving

April 2013 has been unusually tragic with many disasters. First there was the Boston bombings, shortly after that was the Texas plant explosion, and finally the earthquakes in China and on the Iran/Pakistan border. In the aftermath of these tragic events, many of us feel compelled do something to help, and unless we are first responders or have had disaster relief volunteer training, there is only one reasonable option—make a donation.


In just one week, 50,000 donors gave more than $20 million to The One Fund – Boston. We can thank the media for making this remarkable generosity possible. Images of the Boston tragedy pulled at our heartstrings and moved many to take immediate action to give money.


But what about disasters that don’t get as much media attention? And what about other worthy causes, such as child hunger? Extreme disaster giving impacts the entire nonprofit sector since donors may be less inclined to give to other charitable organizations if they gave significantly in response to a specific disaster.


And how is all the money given to The One Fund going to be programmed out? Many gave on faith that this money would be distributed responsibly. Perhaps, it would be better if cities and states proactively develop victim compensation plans and when tragedy strikes, they can activate these strategies. They could even set limits to the fund based on the number of people affected so that once enough has been raised to cover estimated costs, donations are no longer accepted.


I am reminded of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I worked at the American Red Cross national office in D.C. shortly after this tragedy. I learned then that the Red Cross received more 9/11 donations than they could possibly use to provide traditional Red Cross disaster relief services. But since donations designated to a particular disaster have to be programmed for that relief effort, these donations could not be spent in other areas where there was significant need. There were multiple hurricanes causing devastation along the Atlantic coast in 2004 and there was not enough money in the Red Cross disaster relief fund to cover those relief operations. Yet, money sitting in the 9/11 fund could not be touched.


Disasters are horrible and, for the most part, unpredictable. But what we can predict is that they will continue to happen. Why not then proactively build a relationship with disaster relief organizations? Get to know The Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children, and others and give annually so they are prepared to respond to all disasters, not just the ones that garner a lot of media attention.


The reality is, to most efficiently respond, disaster relief groups need money in their relief funds before a disaster strikes so they can pre-position supplies and train relief volunteers. Once the disaster happens, these organizations need to move quickly. They can’t wait for media coverage and disaster response donations.


Here’s how you can help in advance of the next one:

  • Give annually to your disaster relief charity of choice

             — Individuals: Get to know your local disaster relief groups.

             — Companies: Establish local, national, and international relief partnerships, and also give bulk products, space, or services in-kind if that makes sense. Plus, you will get better customer service and recognition for your support if you are building a relationship before disaster strikes. Surges in episodic disaster giving are overwhelming for nonprofit staff, therefore, some donors do not get the attention they deserve.

  • Get trained as a disaster relief volunteer with your favorite local relief organization
  • Get your family prepared for a disaster
  • Donate blood regularly – There is a constant national blood supply shortage. If a disaster happens in your backyard and you or a loved one needs blood, you want there to be enough. Plus, when there’s not a disaster going on, your blood goes to sick people who really need it.


The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any previous or current Payton Communications’ clients.

Holiday Giving Guide

I continue to be inspired by people’s generosity around the holidays. Here are some individual and workplace ideas to increase the impact of your philanthropic and volunteer efforts during this season of giving.


Giving Tuesday

  • Today, November 27, is #GivingTuesday. The campaign’s mission is to create a national day of giving to encourage charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.
  • Isn’t it time to create a new family holiday tradition? Why not suggest that instead of buying another ugly Christmas sweater, family members donate to a favorite charity?


Give Blood

  • The national blood supply declines around the holidays. Help keep it stabilized.
  • Make a blood donation appointment with the American Red Cross at a location near you.


Food/Toy/Coat Drives

  • For food drives, coordinate with your local food bank. You can search by zip code through Feeding America.
  • For toy drives, search by state and county to find local opportunities with Toys For Tots.
  • For coat drives, follow the drive organizer steps with One Warm Coat.
  • A great combination of a drive and a volunteer activity is Project Night Night. Individuals can purchase a new blanket, toy, and book and put them into a comfort tote for a homeless child.


Gifts that Give Back

  • Do good and check items off your holiday gift list! Shop your favorite online retailers though KarmaWell and they will donate a percentage of everything you buy to the causes you care about. A triple win!!!
  • As mentioned in a previous blog post, you can use to shop for gifts from certified B Corporations.
  • Charity gift cards are a great idea for workplace recognition or gift exchanges. They’re also good for the person on your gift list who already has everything. I like JustGive for donations to U.S. charities and GlobalGiving for those who might like to support projects abroad.


Matching Gifts/Money For Time

  • If your employer has a matching gift and/or volunteer grant program, take advantage of it! Programs vary by company, so check your company’s intranet or contact your company’s programs administrator for information on programs and policies.
  • If you’re not sure who administers your company’s program, or if your company even has a program, Double the Donation can point you in the right direction with its searchable database of corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs and contact info.


Donating Vacation Time

  • Does your employer have a “use it or lose it” paid time off policy? If you have more vacation days than you can possibly use before they expire, this recent WSJ article details how employees can donate extra vacation time to help disaster relief efforts.
  • If your HR administrator needs guidance on how to get a program like this up and running, have him/her check out this Employer’s Guide to Employee Leave-Sharing Programs.



  • Volunteer Match is a great resource to find volunteer opportunities in your community.
  • For Superstorm Sandy volunteer activities, check out Points of Light.
  • Keep in mind that plans for holiday volunteer activities are typically finalized a month or more before the event. It may be too late for this year and your time might benefit the nonprofit more during a slower time.


These are just a few suggestions. Please share other ideas you have in the comments of this post for others to see.


Happy Holidays (and happy giving)!

JetBlue and KaBOOM! Build a Playground and More!


In June, children at the Community School for Creative Education in Oakland, Calif. designed their dream playground and on Saturday, August 18th, their dream became a reality thanks to JetBlue, KaBOOM! and 250 volunteers. This is the 15th playground JetBlue and KaBOOM! have built together. The project was so impressive that I asked Icema Gibbs, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for JetBlue and Meredith Darche, Manager of Corporate Partnerships for KaBOOM! to share what makes their seven-year partnership so successful.


“We started by dating,” Gibbs quipped.  “JetBlue was invited to participate in a build with another funding partner and we had a great experience that turned into a marriage.” She added that KaBOOM! didn’t ask for money up front. “They wanted our involvement.”


JetBlue seeks nonprofit partners that can provide volunteer opportunities for its crewmembers and customers and projects that have a lasting impact in the communities JetBlue serves. They also favor a nonprofit that has similar brand values – KaBOOM! and JetBlue align on fun, passion, and safety.


Darche says what sets JetBlue apart as a national partner is that it brings all of its resources to the table. JetBlue not only provides a significant financial contribution, but has brought in more than 3,000 volunteers so far (employees and customers). It also helps with logistics and planning, travel vouchers, thought leadership, JetBlue swag, public relations efforts, and JetBlue even helps provide food for the events.


JetBlue and KaBOOM! create positive volunteer experiences with good food, fun music, and well-organized activities. During the build, volunteers are divided into teams. A team leader provides direction and answers questions so that no volunteer is left wondering what to do next. JetBlue encourages customers to come out and do something fun that is also good for the community. If customers participate because JetBlue inspired them, that inevitably helps JetBlue’s brand and supports its business. Dozens of TrueBlue (JetBlue’s loyalty program) members participatd in the Oakland project. And more than one Community School parent remarked that they will now choose to fly JetBlue because of this build.


Gibbs and Darche both agree that listening to your partner is the most important part of building a successful long-term relationship. KaBOOM! employees listened closely to JetBlue’s specific interests so that they could facilitate the best possible program. Icema recommends that other CSR leaders express a genuine interest in the cause and try to understand how the nonprofit organization works. She also suggests an inclusive strategy, not a top-down approach.


JetBlue provides opportunities for customers and staff to provide input. For example, in February, JetBlue customers were asked to choose the location for this project by voting on Facebook. , “You want the passion to be contagions,” says Gibbs. “The only way to do that is to listen.”


JetBlue has committed to building 3 more playgrounds with KaBOOM! through 2013, but together they are building more than playgrounds. They are building up a neighborhood. The Community School now has a new network of supporters who will help the community thrive, and the children of Oakland now have the opportunity to play in a safe environment.

B the Change

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – this popular quote paraphrasing Gandhi’s philosophy has been one of my favorites for a long time. Now it means even more to me.


Payton Communications recently underwent a rigorous impact assessment to become a certified B Corporation. A B Corporation is triple bottom line certification recognizing companies who believe there is a better way to do business by focusing on people, planet, and profit[1]. The “B” stands for “benefit,” as in the public benefits that are created for all of the stakeholders engaged in your business, not just your shareholders. B Corps are certified by a nonprofit, B Lab, to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.


We achieved our certification just in time to attend the B Corporation Champions Retreat this week in Half Moon Bay, California. Nearly 300 B Corp champions attended representing 60 industries and 15 countries. I am so proud to be a part of this inspirational group of social entrepreneurs who are using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corps are literally changing our world for the better.


B Corps are creating a new sector of the economy and they are thriving! There are 631 B Corps so far, representing $4.2 billion in revenue. An interesting stat I heard at the retreat is that while 36 percent of startups fail after two years, only 10 percent of B Corps fail after two years.


Measuring what matters helps companies attract and retain the best talent. According the Harvard Business Review, millennials, which represent roughly 50 percent of the global workforce, want work that connects to a larger purpose. Employees who care about this are more likely to step up and lead. Hewitt Associates has found that companies with higher levels of employee engagement outperformed the stock market by nearly 20 percent!


Not every company will meet the high standards to become a B Corp, but there is no harm in taking the assessment to benchmark performance and use the tools to set goals for improvement. Additionally, by encouraging your company to purchase products or services from a B Corp, you elevate the movement. Corporate purchasers can search the B Corps directory to find everything from office supplies to consulting and banking services.


Consumers can also support B-commerce! Check out Amazon’s to shop by B Corporation. They have 932 products up there from baby stuff to household items. I’ve already bought cleaning products and office supplies from certified B Corps and now I’m about to buy an awesome hammock to kick back in while I think about even more ways to “B the Change.”

[1] B Corps are different from Benefit Corporations, a class of corporation required by law to create general benefit for society as well as for shareholders (Benefit Corporation is a legal status just like LLC or S Corp).

Corporate Volunteers to the Rescue!

If your nonprofit is not yet taking advantage of corporate volunteer programs, here’s why you should (and a few pointers on how to get started).


Many nonprofits hold events or provide services during business hours (fundraising luncheons, food pantries, etc.). Typically, corporate volunteers prefer to participate in volunteer activities during business hours so it doesn’t cut into their personal time. So, offering employees the opportunity to volunteer on company time –and get paid for doing so– is a major corporate perk since many employees do not have time to volunteer outside of work. Plus, when you measure employee engagement over time, you find that it improves morale and retention, which ultimately improves profit! (These calculations can be complex. If you are a corporate volunteer program manager and you want help demystifying these stats, please contact me.)


In addition, many companies offer “dollars for doers”. Dollars for doers programs recognize employee volunteer efforts with donations. When an employee volunteers with an eligible nonprofit, the company matches their volunteer hours with a financial contribution to that nonprofit. The typical formula is $10-20 per each eligible hour spent volunteering with a maximum donation amount per employee (typically $500).


Pro bono work is not just for lawyers! Many companies have a formal skills-based volunteer programs to help nonprofits with everything from accounting to tech support. The value of this service is much higher than having that same skilled volunteer paint a fence. For example, the market value of having an IT professional serve food in a homeless shelter is tripled when that same IT professional provides pro bono tech support to the nonprofit instead. Currently, only about 15 percent of corporate volunteerism is skills-based, but I expect this figure to increase since pro bono service is a great way to support a nonprofit. To see which companies are setting the standard, check out A Billion + Change (, a national campaign to mobilize billions of dollars of pro bono and skills-based service by 2013.


If you work for a nonprofit and you want to start using corporate volunteers, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Plan ahead. Many companies have a scheduled day or week of service.
  2. Try to offer group volunteer activities. Many corporate volunteer groups use this as a team-building opportunity for employees. And they usually want to wear their company t-shirts and get some good group pictures.
  3. Try to pick tangible, direct service work such as planting trees, picking up trash, painting fences, serving food, etc. Many corporate volunteers spend all day working in an office environment so they don’t want to be in an office stuffing envelopes on their volunteer day off – they want to get their hands dirty!
  4. Have corporate volunteers start with direct service work before diving into skills-based volunteerism. Your pro bono volunteers will appreciate the opportunity to see the mission in action first.

The Marriage of Cause and Company

At the 10th annual Cause Marketing Forum (CMF) in Chicago this week, I was struck by how far cause marketing has come. More companies are leveraging their financial and human capital to help nonprofits end hunger, ensure clean drinking water, eradicate infectious diseases, and so on. At CMF, recipients of the Cause Marketing Halo Awards and other cause marketing leaders shared best practices for building strong partnerships. To develop a long-lasting marriage, nonprofits and companies must bring their best assets to the table, work at the courtship, and nurture the relationship.

Here are some key takeaways from the cause marketing experts at CMF.


For Nonprofits:

  • Make sure you are registered for fundraising in each state that requires this. This is different than registering with the IRS as a 501(c)(3). Large nonprofits with in-house legal counsel are most likely already compliant, but I know of several small nonprofits that might be naïve about this legal requirement. Click here to read more about this.
  • DO NOT promote the cause marketing promotion on your corporate partner’s behalf! While this may help with fundraising, in doing so, you are actually advertising for the company and will have to pay Unrelated Business Tax Income (UBIT) on the fair market value of the marketing services you are providing for your corporate partner. Do not email your constituents about it, do not post flyers, and do not place ads for your corporate partners in your program materials. Besides, engaging in business activities, such as marketing services, detracts from your social mission and may jeopardize your tax-exempt status. So, what can you say about the promotion? Not much. Leave it at, “Thank you XYZ Company for supporting us. For more information, go to XYZ Company’s website” and include a link to the site with information about the promotion. That’s it. For more on this, check out attorney Ed Chansky’s article.
  • Talk to your corporate prospects about what’s in it for them. Have a few talking points about your cause and how XYZ Company’s investment could make an impact, but keep the pitch focused on what you can offer XYZ Company. Will the partnership increase favorability with customers? Will it increase sales? Will it increase employee retention? Share success stories about how other corporate partners benefited from their relationship with your organization.
  • In the first meeting, LISTEN to what your potential corporate partner wants. Don’t bring a ton of handouts to the first meeting. Ask questions and take notes so you can craft a partnership opportunity that addresses your corporate prospect’s business objectives. And DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Get online and research the company, their competitors, and the contact you are meeting with. The more you know, the better your questions will be.
  • Split your cause campaigns and programs up into different .org domains. You can attract sponsors for each different site and build up the interactive web features around a particular purpose. A great example from my days at the American Heart Association:,,, and about 15 other domains. On that note, according to Nancy Gofus, COO of .ORG, 81 percent of survey respondents believe an organization’s website is still the most trustworthy place to go for information (social media is great, but don’t neglect your website).
  • Tell stories! Who doesn’t love a well-told story? It’s why the movie industry is so huge. Craft stories about what your cause is doing and tell them well. Use pictures and videos!


For Companies:

  • Use your fabulous marketeers to promote the heck out of your cause marketing promotion. After all, it is a promotion. To maximize ROI for you and your nonprofit partner, you need to promote the campaign. In case you haven’t seen the research yet, your customers and employees actually want (and maybe even expect) you to partner with causes on their behalf. So be proud! Your stakeholders will thank you and you’ll make a much bigger impact on the issue your have chosen to address.
  • Be transparent. Don’t mislead consumers. Tell them exactly how much is going back to the cause.
  • Develop a cause program that achieves your business objectives and meets consumers’ fundamental human needs for a fulfilling life: certainty, variety, contribution, growth, significance, and connection. Inspire consumers to take action and be a hero for the cause. Then, reward them with loyalty program perks!
  • Incentivize consumer action! Everyone loves a freebie! Reward desired actions with coupons, discount codes, free gifts, etc. This is also a very measurable tactic!
  • Test your cause campaign with your company’s employees first before you put it in front of customers. Have them participate in volunteer projects or pro bono service with the chosen nonprofit. This will give you the opportunity to solicit feedback from a key stakeholder group and tweak the campaign before going to market. This degree of employee engagement also increases employee morale and productivity. And it will give you real stories to share with external audiences. Remember, your employees have families and friends – turn them into ambassadors for your company and your cause campaign!
  • If your cause partner comes under fire for a decision you may not agree with, talk about it. Maybe you can work through it in marriage counseling. Remember, at the end of the day, partnering with this cause is still doing something that’s good. Be brave. Pointing fingers only detracts attention from the lifesaving work that needs to be done.
  • For crowdsourced donation campaigns, use responsibly designed systems. It’s very easy for a tech savvy individual to cheat by gaming the system. If you do go down this path, rather than creating an “opt in” for voters to share their contact info with the nonprofit, make it an “opt out”. Your nonprofit partners deserve the opportunity to cultivate relationships with their voters.


For Both:

  • Create clear simple messages like Believe in zero and then leverage all of your resources to spread the word.
  • Leverage the power of social celebrity clout. Discuss which celebrities care about your issue and how you can approach them to take a stand in your campaign.
  • Be authentic. Don’t force a fit where there isn’t one. Date around. Look deep inside your organization and examine its core purpose. Seek partners who can help address that purpose with your shared target audience.
  • Start small. Don’t try to go too big with your cause marketing promotion too fast. Pilot in one market or region and then apply lessons learned as you expand.
  • Be responsible. Be a force for good, not evil.


When a cause and company build a strong partnership, stakeholders will celebrate the union by taking the desired action and ultimately making the world a better place thanks to your campaign.

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