Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thoughts on Branded Content from a J-School-Student-Turned-PR-Rep

By: Ashley Rodriguez

Last night, the usual happened: I was skimming through Twitter, saw an interesting hashtag and then next thing I know a full hour passed as I was sucked into a single conversation. The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism hosted a panel last night on branded content featuring Lauren Drell, Mashable's head brand content editor; Jeremy Caplan, director of education for CUNY's Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism; Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, U.S. news editor of The Financial Times; Shane Snow, cofounder and chief creative officer of Contently; and Liz Spayd, editor-in-chief of Columbia Journalism Review.

Titled "Branded Content: The Death of Journalism or Its Savior?", the panel sparked a heated debate on Twitter. According to one tweeter, Edgecliffe-Johnson posed the interesting question, "Is it journalism, or advertising copywriting?" But the tweet that really sucked me in was from Daniel Roberts of Fortune:
So I started Googling. Indeed, THE New York Times ran a lengthy story in June on the unique needs of female inmates in the prison system. (Read it here.) But it was paid for by Netflix as a way to promote its hit series, "Orange Is the New Black." It's written by a j-school grad (yes, I LinkedIn stalked) for the publication's in-house branded content department, T Brand Studio. Looking at it online, it's very clearly a sponsored post -- from the URL to header with Netflix / OITB logos -- but only mentions "Orange Is the New Black" once. PR pros are no stranger to pay-for-play content that really pushes a marketer's message, but this is different. It's a well-written piece that at first glance could easily be editorial. But it wasn't.

Which begs the question -- would this story have been told otherwise if it had not been sponsored by a brand looking to get a small mention in a reputable publication? And is it ethical to somewhat "trick" readers into thinking it's editorial? Does it matter?

As a former journalism student now working in the PR world, branded content intrigues me. It's an interesting hybrid of the two fields that is blurring the line between true editorial and paid placements with a different agenda. Such content is here to stay, it seems, so I'll be curious to see where it goes from here. Will journalists -- suffering from cutbacks at big publications -- make the move to branded content? Will PR pros with journalism backgrounds do the same?

To read more of the convo, check out #deadlinepanel on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How to Make Your Brand Visual on Twitter

By: Chad Cohen

Think Twitter is only 140 characters? Ever given much thought about the images you share on Twitter? When was the last time you updated your cover photo? The images you use on Twitter can go a long way to building your brand and here are a couple quick tips to help you stand out from the crowd.

It's time to start thinking of Twitter as a visual medium because tweets that contain images consistently perform better than tweets without. Images are not only eye-catching, but they also make your tweet appear bigger in follower's timelines. That can mean considerable market share in frenzied real-time pace of the social media platform.

Also remember that each picture you put up is a representation of your brand and should resonate with your audience. If you're marketing sports products, posting pictures of crock pot recipes is probably not the best way to go.

Every time you share a picture, it should serve a purpose - to reinforce your brand, call someone to action, generate leads, move consumers to purchase, etc. Your images should add value to your audience and should move them to want to retweet.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Growing Support for Joint Employer Transparency

By: Chad Cohen

According the International Franchise Association, members of Congress are hearing a great deal from the International Franchise Association on the joint employer issue.  As a result of IFA lobbying, U.S. House members are circulating a letter that would ask the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for an explanation about its attempt to tie franchisors and franchisees together in several pending cases at the NLRB.  This letter follows an earlier Senate letter sent by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and a House letter sent by Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Jim Matheson (D-UT).  The joint employer issue has also attracted a great deal of attention from business groups, and it was the primary advocacy focus during IFA's Public Affairs Conference last month.  

Friday, October 24, 2014

Q&A with Sam Oches, Editor, QSR Magazine

By: Rachel Tabacnic

Happy Friday! To continue our new series of Q&As with some of the reporters we have worked with over the years, I tapped Sam Oches, editor at QSR Magazine and long-time friend of Fish. I first met Sam four years ago at a cocktail party for Franchise Expo South back in January 2011, where we argued over LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and heading to the Miami Heat. (He’s over the moon now that LeBron is back!) 

As the editor of one of the national restaurant trades, Sam has featured several of our clients including Dunkin’ Donuts, McAlister’s Deli, and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. (You can check out more stories from Sam here.) Sam is based in Durham, N.C. where he lives with his wife, Katie. You can follow him on Twitter at @SamQSR to see what he's up to.


Do you accept PR pitches and, if so, what's the best way for you to receive them?
I happily accept PR pitches, in fact, rely on them to assign a large chunk of our content. Email is always the best way to receive pitches. Sometimes PR folks send pitches to our freelance writers, or otherwise don't reach out to me directly. I don't know if they assume I'm not approachable or what, but let it be known: I prefer that pitches be sent to me! Send them to our associate editor, Tamara, too. Between the two of us, we'll take care of you.

We all follow you @SamQSR. What's your take on getting pitches through Twitter, yay or nay?
Well, I certainly don't mind receiving pitches by Twitter. But those pitches are more likely to slip through the cracks (and from my mind) than what's sent via email.

What's your biggest pet peeve about working with PR reps?
How much space have I got here? :) Just kidding. Kind of. I've got a few pet peeves, for sure (though I recognize that PR folks have pet peeves with editors that I surely, unknowingly, fall into. If that's the case, please tell me!). A big one is promising a story or a source and then failing to deliver. It's kind of crazy how often this happens, where an overexcited PR rep can't deliver their client after we've agreed to their pitch. Some others include: sloppy press releases; an overabundance of cliche buzzwords (enough with "mouthwatering"!); following up with a phone call to make sure I got the press release (trust me, I got it); not sending a photo with a press release, especially if it's news of a new menu item, store design, etc. (related: following up with me after I've posted the press release with a generic brand image asking if I can swap out the photo); and confusing me with my competitors. *Steps down from soap box.*

What kind of story ideas are topping your list at the moment and what do you wish you received more pitches for?
Obviously I love unique stories. I love to hear about something new and fresh that's happening in the industry, even if it's just at a small independent restaurant. That could relate to just about any subject, but right now we're definitely looking for fresh stories related to healthy eating, smart sourcing, upscaling food items, enhancing the brand experience, giving back to the community, and investing in the future of the industry. 
I'm also a sucker for human-interest stories; we love being able to tell the stories of passionate operators and franchisees, social responsibility efforts, grass-roots work, etc. So those are probably what I'd love to see more of.

What does it take to be featured on the cover of QSR Magazine?! Will a pretty picture cut it? 
Well a pretty picture certainly helps! Really though, the cover is a huge decision that we never take lightly. It starts three or four months before print, when we assign our features. Our team discusses the feature well and which story lends itself best to the cover spot. Once that's decided, it's a matter of deciding whether a person from the story best represents its message, or whether it's best expressed through a food image, store shot, or maybe something conceptual. If we decide to go with a person (usually half of the time), we choose someone who is important to the story and generally well known or upcoming in the industry.

Aside from being the Editor at QSR Magazine - what has been a major accomplishment that you are proud of?
I spent the last year as president of the International Foodservice Editorial Council (IFEC), which was a real honor and allowed me to better connect with the foodservice industry. For those of you foodservice editors and publicists, who aren't already involved with IFEC, go check it out at and become a member. It's a fantastic community, and I was proud to lead it this year.

If you weren't a writer, what profession do you think you end up in?
That's a tough one. I can only imagine being a writer in some capacity; if I weren't a journalist, I'd try to write fiction full time, something I currently do as a hobby. But if we were to consult 18-year-old Sam, he would probably tell you that the only other possible career I could commit to besides writing is being a rock-star drummer (OK, even present-day Sam clings to that dream). 

You write about food all-day long... what's your favorite meal after a long day of work?

My wife Katie and I live in Durham, NC, which is a fantastic, booming food town, so I eat far more meals out than I should. We aren't terribly picky, and love everything from burgers and Indian to sushi and barbecue. But, ultimately, it doesn't get a whole lot better than pizza and beer, whether that's at home or out on the town. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

5 More Reasons to Love Your Smartphone

By: Ashley Rodriguez

Remember when there weren't things called smartphones? They were called flip phones and it took ages to type a text message, but no one cared because you could play Snake. Now we can do a whole boatload of things -- and those things get cooler by the day.

1. Starbucks' Mobile Order Program -- Coffee drinkers rejoice. Starbucks announced this week it will roll out a pay-ahead mobile program in 2015. The (extremely lucky) residents of Portland, Oreg., will get the program before the end of this year. And to encourage people to use it, Starbucks is giving away coffee … for 30 years. Enough said. (Read more from USA Today.)

2. Facebook's Safety Check Feature -- OK, so you live in an earthquake-prone area and, of course, an earthquake hits. With Facebook's new "Safety Check" feature, users' smartphones in the affected area will receive a prompt to say either "I'm safe" or "I'm not in the area." Updates are pushed to Facebook's news feed and are compiled in a searchable database for family and friends to check. (Read more from

3. Contribute to Scientific Research -- There's an app called CRAYFIS (Cosmic Rays Found in Smartphones) that can help physicists "unravel the mysteries of the universe" by gathering data on cosmic rays. This is a real thing. And you should download it immediately and add "scientific researcher" to your resume. (Read more from Scientific American.)

4. Be the King of Halloween -- All I need to say is that this app tells you which houses are giving out the best stuff. It's like Waze for candy addicts. And I wish I wasn't 15 years past the peak trick-or-treating age. (Read more from News 12 New Jersey.)

5. Smartphone-powered Laser Beams -- At a 482-year-old church in Paris, you can watch a laser light show simply by sending a text message to the building. It's called "Shooting Thoughts" and the artist says he wants guests to "communicate with the heavens." While I'm on the fence about this one (something about installing a laser light show in a Gothic cathedral throws me off), I have to admit it's fun to see how smartphones can help us interact with the things around us -- and actually make us look up from our screens. (Read more from Daily Mail Online.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Q&A with Laura Dunn, Contributing Writer, The Huffington Post

By: Ashley Rodriguez

Some of the best PR articles I read are candid interviews with editors and reporters on how to work best with them. Everyone has a different style, so it's invaluable for me to have the inside scoop on the type of stories they are looking for and how they prefer to be pitched (if they accept pitches at all), so we can develop a good working relationship.

So, we're starting a new series of Q&As with some of the reporters we have worked with closely and who were nice enough to answer a few questions.

The first (of many, I hope!) Q&A in our new series is with Laura Dunn, a contributing writer with The Huffington Post. Laura writes a "Women in Business" column and has featured several of our clients, including McAlister's Deli, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, Togo's and Smoothie King. (Read more stories from Laura here.) By day, Laura works for an Assembly Member at the National General Assembly of Wales -- yes, she's based across the pond like our colleague, Jenna -- and recently started her own business, LED Media, making it even more important to know how she prefers to works with PR reps since she has plenty to juggle.


Do you accept PR pitches and, if so, what's the best way for you to receive them?

I do accept pitches from PR firms and representatives, and receive quite a few each day! I prefer receiving pitches by email as it allows me to work when I’m on the go, and it’s always easier when you have something in writing to refer back to. I have received some pitches by telephone, but I’ve found this is becoming a rare occurrence. 

I know some reporters love getting pitches through Twitter, while others hate it. What's your take?

I’ve received a few pitches through Twitter and I think it’s another great way of reaching potential sources. I’ve made a few pitches myself through social media. My pet hate is when people don’t follow up after they’ve publicly contacted you. 

What's your biggest pet peeve about working with PR reps?
My biggest pet hate is when PR reps don’t send through all the information that you need to complete a story. Having to reply back for further information puts me in a bad mood and adds delays! I also don’t like it when I’m sent information that I’ve expressly stated I don’t need or can’t use. You have been warned! 

What's the most important thing about your job as a journalist or how you work that you wish PR reps knew?

Blogging for The Huffington Post is just one of many things that I currently do, and I do make it clear that I am juggling more than one plate at any one time! Receiving repeated follow up emails/requests from the same individual or PR company in a short space of time does put me off working with them.

What kind of story ideas are topping your list at the moment and that you wish you received more pitches for?

I’m currently featuring women in business for The Huffington Post, something which has proved to be popular with readers and representatives alike! I’m looking to feature women in other industries, notably government and politics to tap into the number of important elections that are approaching. 

Check out Laura's blog, Political Style, here or sign up to receive her weekly newsletter. You can also follow her on Twitter @lauraemilyd.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fishing for Balance

By Alexis Acosta

Wakeup, shower, eat, work, eat, sleep, repeat.

We could all argue that the typical five-day workweek could easily look a little something like this. It’s easy to get caught up in what we think is the American Dream, which in recent years has seemed to translate into non-stop working.

Thanks to smartphones, we’re constantly connected. As a result, it can become difficult to distinguish a sustainable work-life balance. Sometimes, the world’s overachievers have to sit back and smell the roses, giving a new perspective on life. In my fairly brief transition from non-professional life to work life, I’ve made personal strides to create a strong work-life balance — the life I want to lead — by incorporating balance and happiness. Here are a few tips I’ve learned to keep me sane throughout the week.

Prioritize your time.

Studies show that we are only productive a portion of the day, so why not make every moment count? Set up your day every morning according to the most important tasks, which gives you a timeframe to accomplish everything and will keep you motivated to plow through to the next task. As we like to say at Fish, “A ‘to-do’ turns into a ‘to-DONE’.”

Practice open communication of your workload with your team.

Sometimes we can’t finish everything. Even when we try our hardest, we tend to get those 3 p.m. fire drills that force us to stop, drop and resolve. The more we communicate our schedules, the more we’re able to shed light on what we can and cannot do within our eight-hour day. It's okay to say, “I need more time.” It’s better to be open with your colleagues in terms of your workload rather than letting the quality of work suffer.

Keep an agenda.
An agenda is key. Write down anything and everything and you’ll never forget. The “flag” tool within the email system is another lifesaver that helps keep you on track and helps coordinate the day’s priorities.

Take Lunch.
Work always seems to pile up and it’s difficult to pull away when you’re in the thick of it. That’s why taking a lunch break is so crucial to productivity. It provides us all with a little sanity in the midst of our hectic days and gives us time to take a breath, contemplate life, laugh a little and enjoy leisure time with colleagues. 

Author Nigel Marsh puts it perfectly when he says, “It's up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility for the type of lives that we want to lead. If you don't design your life, someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like their idea of balance.”

Check out his video at TEDxSydney for more tips on how to keep your sanity. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

43% of Companies had a Data Breach in the Past Year

By Chad Cohen:

Great article in USA Today yesterday about data breach. Annual study on data breach preparedness by the Ponemon Institute finds that a staggering 43% of companies had experienced a data breach in the past year. That's up 10% from the year before.

The sizes of the breach are also going up. One in particular that most of us have never heard of occurred in January when more than 70% of South Koreans ages 15 to 65 - a total of 27 million - had their personal data stolen and credit cards compromised. The breach was caused by a worker at the Korea Credit Bureau, which provides credit scores to Korean credit card companies. Employee negligence not shadowy hackers.

Despite rise in breaches, 27% of companies didn't have a breach response plan or team in place. The number is down, but the problem is that few companies don't take the need seriously. Of the companies surveyed, just 3% looked at their plan of action each quarter. 37% hadn't reviewed or updated their plan since it was first put in place.

Unfortunately breaches are becoming more and more part of every day life and it's about time that businesses and franchises head the warning.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Top Three Take-Aways From the 2014 IFA Public Affairs Conference

By: Chad Cohen

With another International Franchise Association (IFA) Public Affairs Conference in the books, we once again had the privilege to engage with our members of the Congress and tell the story of franchising. While the IFA's Government Relations team helps guide the conversation around franchising year round, being in Washington D.C. again reaffirms how important it is that lawmakers hear from the members of the franchise community directly on matters that affect the business model.

The Top 3 things I took away from the conference are the following:

1. National Labor Relations Board - The NLRB recently recommended that franchisors and franchisees be designated as joint employers. According to the IFA's official statement, franchisees and their employees do not work for franchisors. The franchise owners who have built more than 770,000 businesses and employ millions of people control their own businesses. Franchisees have their own employer identification number with the IRS and file their own taxes. Franchisees establish day-to-day operations, employment practices and policies for their own business. Franchisees decide who to hire and fire, and also set wage rates, benefits and employees' work schedules.

If franchisors are joint employers with their franchisees, these thousands of small business owners would lose control of the operations and equity they worked so hard to build. The jobs of millions of workers would be placed in jeopardy and the value of the businesses that employ them would be deflated.

2. Be a More Informed Advocate for Franchising - members of the IFA are the best voices of the industry. Getting more involved will only help drive franchising's effectiveness of Capitol Hill and within state legislatures all year round. I need to do more than just Public Affairs once a year to make a true difference.

3. 40 Hour Work Week - Even though the Affordable Care Act is in place, there are key changes still necessary to help franchise small business owners better comply with the law. As the IFA states, a 40-hour work week definition of full-time employee will allow for more flexibility and pay for employees, a benefit many franchise business are able to provide for their workers. Defining a full-time employee as one who works 30 hours per week could ultimately hurt employees by forcing employers to manage their workers to fewer hours to avoid penalties or significant cost increases.

Infographic: Press Releases by the Numbers

By: Ashley Rodriguez

No, the press release isn't dead. It just needs to be adapted. Journalists are busy. If 70 percent are spending less than a minute reading a release, than let's adapt press releases to allow them to get everything they need in just 60 seconds. That means a clear and newsworthy subject line, as well as providing all the hard facts right up front. Sixty seconds may only allow for a reporter to read the subject line, subhead and one or two paragraphs before they click delete.

Check out the below infographic from Beth Stewart, who shared some press release stats in the latest Washington Women in Public Relations e-newsletter.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Reporter Who Replied to Every PR Pitch and Then Wrote about It

By: Ashley Rodriguez

Last week, a Newsweek reporter made my day when he penned this gem, "I Read and Replied to Every Single PR Email I Received for a Week."

As a former journalism student (who, unfortunately, graduated in the middle of a horrible job market for j-school kids), I often wonder had I stayed in the industry, how would I deal with the daily onslaught of PR pitches -- many of which probably are unrelated to my beat?

Wonder no more, because Zach Shonfield conducted the (painful) experiment for me. It's a candid look at how disadvantageous it is to the PR industry as a whole to blanket media with pitches. If we all took the extra time to send personalized, targeted pitch emails, everyone would benefit -- whatever side of the fence you're on.

I know there has been article after article on sending pitches to the right people, but Shonfield shows why we really, really need to start doing it. For real this time. Guys… c'mon.

And if you're wondering what his response was to the accidental popularity of his article, read his follow-up piece here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Paywall for a Cause

By: Ashley Rodriguez

As a former j-school student, I'm always interested in reading about how news outlets are coming up with ways to make money amidst years of declining revenue. Some frustrate me (paywalls), while others just confuse me (the "iTunes of journalism"). 

Last week, in conjunction with the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11, Esquire put its 2003 story "The Falling Man" behind a paywall -- but with all proceeds benefiting the James Foley Scholarship Fund. The suggested donation is $2.99.

Now that's a paywall I'm more than happy to pay for. While it doesn't turn any profit for Esquire, plenty of media are writing about it. It's a PR win and certainly shows there's not a one-size-fits-all paywall strategy. Publications can get creative. They can turn a paywall into a temporary fundraiser and show some goodwill. Or even develop some sort of pay-what-you-can pricing system (Panera style).

Paying for news, whether as a subscriber or on a story-by-story basis, will continue to evolve, but bravo to Esquire for making the bold move to forgo profits for a higher cause.

Friday, September 12, 2014

DiGiorno Debacle A Systematic Problem With Social Media

By: Toby Srebnik

One of the biggest social media mistakes brands continue to make is not thinking through a situation before hitting send on a keyboard or mobile device.  It happened again earlier this week when DiGiorno Pizza’s attempt to engage with the hashtag #WhyIStayed completely backfired. While the brand routinely interjects itself and its brand of humor into trending hashtag topics, the DiGiorno social media team failed to research why #WhyIStayed was trending.

Earlier that day, Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice was cut from his team and suspended indefinitely by the NFL when new video emerged from his domestic violent incident earlier this year. The new video became a discussion topic throughout social media Monday and led to frank domestic violence discussions occurring under the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft.

Instead of clicking on the hashtag to see why #WhyIStayed was trending, the DiGiorno Pizza social media team tweeted this to its 82,000+ followers:

Within minutes, the account’s mentions made it clear they had made a mistake and they deleted their tweet and apologized:

Because of screenshots, deleting the tweet didn’t make the situation any better. To the company’s credit, the team managing the account has done a phenomenal job of apologizing using different words in every single tweet back to people who tweeted their displeasure at the company directly.

However, this situation begs the question: Why don’t brands safeguard their social media the way they would any other communication tools?

There are countless examples of companies marketing around a tragedy (, not realizing which account someone is logged into while tweeting a personal opinion ( ), or deleting comments from a Facebook page in response to something the brand posted (

All of these things could be avoided if common sense principles are included when handing social media:

1) Interjecting your brand into a current events discussion without doing proper research beforehand can completely damage the brand’s credibility. Clearly, had the DiGiorno team spent 30 seconds reading through the #WhyIStayed tweets, they would have realized it was not a place to include their normal attempt at humor. Instead, they have spent the last 72+ hours apologizing to tens of thousands of people on Twitter and Facebook.

2) Train the social media team to triple-check scheduled and real-time posts before hitting return. Many errors can be resolved before a post or tweet is ever sent to the general public by taking an extra 10 seconds to make sure everything reads properly and that a link takes a person to where the team wants them to go.

3) Being transparent at all times, whether it’s a crisis situation or not. Whereas Chapstick alienated a lot of social media fans by simply deleting consumer comments rather than answering them, DiGiorno realized their mistake immediately and hasn’t shied away from apologizing for it. Countless people have tweeted to them or posted on their Facebook page that they’ve done a great job of handling themselves following a social media snafu.

Bottom line: Brand social media teams should think before they tweet and have a plan in place on how to handle a crisis in case one arises.