Steve Crescenzo Keynote at PRSA Southwest District Conference on Saving Bad Corporate Communications

Caitlin Kaluza

Posted on April 12, 2012

Posted in Events, Official Schipul Blog, Public Speaking | Comments Off

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This week Katrina Kokoska & I have the privilege of speaking at the PRSA Southwest District Conference. This morning was the keynote by Steve Crescenzo (@crescenzo) on Corporate Communications.

Highlights from Steve’s fantastic presentation:

Everybody Has ADD

The bad news: With so many choice out there, corporate communication has no chance against sites like (seriously, look at the articles on that site).

The good news: This is a great time to be a communicator because of all of the new tools out there. It’s also a dangerous time – because it’s easy to abuse new tools.

“Proceed until apprehended – stop asking for permission” – Steve Crescenzo


4 Most Common Mistakes Made by Corporate Communicators:

1. Not Embracing and Pushing for “Three Way Communication”

Two way communication is flying all over the place – smart companies are embracing 3 way communication -

  1. We (the company) talk to them (clients/consumers/community)
  2. They talk to us
  3. They talk to each other and we sit back and watch

The advantage of the third type of communication is that the corporation gets content and ideas from the conversations that happen. It’s better for customers or employees or your community to vent to us – we can correct misconceptions and address their concerns. Smart companies realize that these conversations are happening anyway.

“Even if they say something bad, I’d rather them telling us instead of someone else”

Your Employees are PR Ambassadors

“Your employees are your PR people. Your employees are the media”

GM’s David Gerace  Paying for the Chevy owner behind him in the drive through

One of the great examples Steve shared of Three way communication is on GM’s internal website “Overdrive” where employees can talk to each other and share internal discussions. GM employee David Gerace (apologies if I spelled his name wrong) posted a short story about how he noticed the woman behind him at the drive through was driving a Chevy, and  paid for her food. He told the cashier to tell her it was “because she drives a Chevy.”

The story had a ripple effect and over 200 GM employees commented on the story that they loved the idea, and would do the same thing. And many, many of them did. Steve showed us a short video of David describing what happened. My favorite quote:

“If you build relationships, you can build ties that bind people to your product. Little by little we can all have a huge impact on market share and customer satisfaction.”

Employees are publishing information about the company as well. They are part of the third type of communication as well. Treat your employees right and they can become your biggest PR ambassadors.

2. Using the Wrong Channel for the Wrong Message or Story

“Everyone loves video – but it doesn’t always work”

Steve discussed the prevalence of media like video – but noted that it doesn’t always work. For example, a quarterly earnings report doesn’t make sense read aloud by the CFO. He showed a great example (well… an example that illustrated the point well) of a CFO droning on and on about numbers. He called this a “hostage video” because it makes you feel like you’re being held hostage. Painful.

Southwest explains their earnings in print with a publication that explains the “4 Magic Numbers” to focus on, and creates a “scoreboard” that shows each number and where they are. Complex ideas often need to be digested in other ways.

Video is great for showing passion, emotion, taking people places they otherwise couldn’t go.

3. Not asking the question – “Would I watch/read this?”

When writing content – think about if it would grab you. If not, don’t be afraid to push back on Executives to question why you’re writing it in the first place – or come up with a new way to tell the story.

“Left to their own devices, corporations will almost always create bad content”

4. Not realizing that corporate communication is dead

Creative and conversational communication has won to get people’s attention. Stay away from the Press Release with the “quote” no one ever said that doesn’t sound the way a person would actually talk. Readers get excited about quotes because quotes come from people – and people want to hear from people. Quote the way you talk, and stay away from useless buzzwords.

5 Tips for Using All the Channels you Have to Tell our Organization’s Stories

1. Find the people with passion and emotion to tell your story

You no longer have to be the main publisher of information. Part of your job is to be a talent scout.

2. Do whatever it takes to grab their attention

Don’t do things the way you have always done them. Be creative!

“With a great headline you’ve got a chance of getting someone’s attention”

3. Look for multimedia sidebar opportunities

Write about people. Incorporate photo/video about people to help tel the story. Even “boring things” we write about often like training, recruiting, safety, awards, etc. involve people – find a way to tell the story in a compelling way.

4. Capture interesting moments

Find the story!

5. Don’t be afraid to be human

In Conclusion

A few quotes and major themes from Steve that I took away from this presentation:

  1. Never accept these words again: “That’s the way we’ve always done it around here”
  2. Ignore your first instinct to do things the way you’ve done them before
  3. Have personalty
  4. Write about people
  5. Stop fighting the wrong battles

There are so many battles to fight in Communications from day to day, including the battle to make the deadline & the battle to create something safe enough for the approval process. The only battle that matters is the battle for our audiences’ attention.

Mast of the time we don’t have time to do anything creative because we do too much. Do less and do it better.

Thanks Steve for a great session!

More on the PRSA Southwest District Conference!

For more on the PRSA SW Conference, follow the hashtag #PRSASW & @PRSATulsa on Twitter.

Check out our sessions tomorrow!

For those of you attending the conference, I hope you’ll check out Katrina’s session tomorrow at 9 AM on “Social Media Fatigue and How to Keep it Fresh Online” and my session tomorrow at 1015 AM on “Take Command of your company’s website: Lessons in website management for PR pros” – for more details, view the full PRSA SW District Conference conference schedule here.


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