The Digital Strategist Becomes a Spokesperson: Three Lessons Learned

  • Photoshoot in action
    Photoshoot in action with one of my fellow spokespeople.

Sometimes life and work come together in ways I could never predict. One of the biggest attractions about working here at Zone 5 has been our focus on the healthcare sector – not because I had a lot of professional experience in this area prior to coming here, but because I have a tremendous personal attachment to the industry.

I was diagnosed at a Planned Parenthood with breast cancer when I was only 27 years old, with no family history of the disease. To say that the whole experience was bizarre would be an understatement. But I made it through and eleven years later, I am still in remission. I have also been asked by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America to be a national patient spokesperson. I recently spent three days in NYC going through media training and participating in video and photo shoots.

I’m usually on the other side of that experience! In fact, I have a Zone 5 project going on with Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson right now. It’s been an honor to work with them as a communications professional, and it’s now an honor to illustrate their service offerings.

I had a lot of fun. I also learned some things. It’s been some time since I left the digital world to work on straight up media relations.

Lesson One: Trust between the subject and the communications professional is important.

“You are very comfortable in front of the camera, for a civilian,” my photographer told me. After laughing a moment at the idea I could easily slide into a world populated by models and entertainers, I concurred.

I wasn’t comfortable because I felt attractive that day. In fact, I hated the “natural make-up” look they gave me. Spending three days without eyeliner was some sort of record for me. I wasn’t energized because I felt glamorous either. We were shooting outside in NYC. They know what real models are like there – and I wasn’t fooling anyone, especially myself.

I was comfortable because I was 100 percent assured that the people behind the scenes – the folks that styled the shoot, did my hair, picked my clothes, and told me how to pose – all had the same goal. The goal was to make me look as attractive and approachable as possible.

No matter how silly I felt, I knew the communications professionals were looking out for me. No one was going to use that photo of me mid-sneeze, or spotlight the confused look on my face when I lost my train of thought on video.

All in all, when you trust in the communicators, and the communicators trust in you, the whole process goes a lot more smoothly.

Lesson Two: Don’t assume you’ll be asked again.

I fell into a pretty bad trap during the video interview portion. I’m familiar with my own story, as I’ve been sharing it for over ten years now in different forms. I’m intimate with the details, and knowledgeable of all the arcs, places of tension, and emotional pay-offs. When I tell my story, I do so with my kind of storytelling – a conversational back-and-forth and an unfolding of elements.

For some reason, I was assuming the producers would be as familiar with my story, and storytelling style, as I was. I kept baiting them and leaving open great opportunities for follow-ups, to which my replies would been stunning examples of my wit and storytelling skills, of course. I didn’t want to seem rehearsed.

But we just moved onto the next question.

After a few rounds of this, I realized what I was doing and was able to ask for a do-over, so I could share in a more complete kind of way.

Because this was a friendly environment, that was no problem. But in instances where one would speak to a journalist, or answer questions from a crowd, I learned to never assume there will be a follow-up question, or that you’ll be given a chance to clarify. Ain’t nobody got time for that, so leave the clever unveiling for a different time and err on the side of completeness the first time around.

Lesson Three: Passion still makes for the best stories.

Media training is all well and good. It helps save time and prevent PR accidents from happening. But sometimes there can be too much training and not enough time to practice all the techniques so they become seamless. The biggest challenge for me was putting aside my “professional communicator” brain in favor of the “grateful thanks” one.

Sometimes my insider knowledge was useful. I knew the pauses from the crew in shooting had nothing to do with me, and more to do with a muffled bang coming through the wall that may have been picked up by the microphone, or a stray shadow created by someone walking by. The starts and stops didn’t throw me off.

But I found myself overthinking it. Was that one of my messaging points? Was there a better way to answer that question? Did that example reinforce the brand?

My best answers came when I silenced the questions in my head and focused on how Planned Parenthood made me feel: grateful, happy, and alive. And as a professional communicator, I knew that’s what was needed – my passion, not my curated thoughts. For once, I just told my story, and left the editing to someone else.

Proctors Theatre – Cirque Éloize Promotion

cirque cyr wheelProctors, a landmark theatre in downtown Schenectady, NY turned to Zone 5 for a multimedia advertising and public relations campaign to launch the announcement of a five-year partnership with the Montréal-based circus troupe Cirque Éloize. Cirque Éloize, a leader in contemporary circus arts, will perform a new production at Proctors every August for the next five years, making Proctors “the summer home of Cirque.” Kicking off the engagement is the North American premiere of the show “Cirkopolis.” In addition to performances, Cirque Éloize will host summer camps for children and adults at the Proctors School of the Performing Arts.

To make this announcement a success, there were a number of challenges Zone 5 had to overcome, including promoting a non-traditional show in a region that traditionally only recognizes Broadway and creating enough excitement to fill more than 60,000 seats for a three-week run of performances during the summer months in Schenectady.

To create an announcement as spectacular as the performances themselves and to entice the Broadway crowd, Zone 5 began by using unconventional means to spread the word. Starting with the invitations to the press event, View-Masters with custom reels of a Cirque performance were mailed and hand-delivered to the press and community leaders. Weeks before the announcement, attendees were tweeting about the View-Masters and their excitement about coming to the event.

Capturing the importance of how these breathtaking performances would make a breathtaking impact on the Capital Region and more specifically, Schenectady County, Zone 5 invited international and regional elected officials, travel and tourism leaders and community opinion leaders to attend and endorse the event. Among those supporting and celebrating this announcement were Andre Boisclair, Quebec’s delegate general to New York; Kenneth Adams, president of NYS Empire State Development; and Senator Betty Little, chair of the New York Senate’s Travel and Tourism Committee. Their support helped set the tone for the breadth and impact of this announcement. Regional Assembly members and other elected officials hopped district lines to come to Schenectady to show their support for this regional win.

cirque at proctors

The announcement took place in the GE Theatre at Proctors and featured the Proctors’ CEO, the “Cirkopolis” artistic director and the director of the Cirque Éloize summer camp program — along with a surprise live “Cirkopolis” performance that thrilled the audience.

With more than 250 media outlets, elected officials, opinion leaders and community members in attendance, the event was a hit! Not only did Zone 5 create the biggest media buzz Proctors had seen for one of their shows in quite some time, they successfully turned what could have been an ordinary show announcement into a special artistic event.

Wozniak: Panel Discussion at Globalfoundries

New York’s Capital Region enjoyed a rare opportunity to spend the day with Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computers. Peaceful Acres Horses, a local not-for-profit that Wozniak supports, turned to Zone 5 to leverage our regional technology relationships, event planning, fund raising and public relations capabilities. Zone 5 worked pro-bono to create, manage and implement a series of events throughout the day — all in fewer than three weeks.

Wozniak at Global Foundries

A private tour of the University at Albany’s growing College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering campus gave Woz a preview of one our region’s technology pride points. The following day began at Tech Valley High School in Albany, where students were greeted on their first day of class by a keynote speech by Woz. This helped set an exciting tone for the rest of the academic year while creating a relationship-building opportunity for Tech Valley High School and their corporate partners and advisors.

This event was followed by a panel discussion at Globalfoundries in Malta, where Wozniak was joined by Peter Schultz, co-inventor of fiber optic technology, along with several other regional technology business leaders. A sold-out crowd of more than 700 attendees listened as the panel shared their views on the future of New York’s Tech Valley. The day ended with a benefit concert at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady featuring Canadian singer-songwriter Ariana Gillis.

Wozniak at Peaceful AcresThe events were a tremendous success, resulting in more than $75,000 raised for Peaceful Acres. It brought together a wide range of business, technology and opinion leaders throughout our region to celebrate our success and plan for our future. In addition, every major broadcast and print media outlet, and numerous key trade publications for the technology industry, covered the entire series of events throughout the day.

Zone 5 has new friends in Steve Wozniak and Peter Schultz. More important, our region has new ambassadors impressed with the growth of our technology sector, who promised to passionately share this story with the world.

Mystery, Comics, Horror… and Zombies on the Streets of Albany, NY

Mummy at the Palace in Albany, NYAlbany is welcoming a trio of events this month sure to satisfy the your inner adventure-seeker:

At a press conference earlier this week, Zone 5 helped promote their respective causes, as well as the fact that these events will have a significant economic impact that directly affects local businesses, employment opportunities, and households in regard to taxes. Yay economic development!

Mayor Jerry Jennings is feeling the zombie love.Plus, we got Major Jennings to spend part of Primary Day hanging out with a zombie, a mummy, and a mystery sleuth. Good times.

Check out some of the press coverage for these events:

  • WTEN: Zombie fans head to Albany for a bit of fun
  • CBS 6: Zombie Walk, FantaCon, and Bouchercon
  • Keep Albany Boring: The Palace announces 2013-2014 movie series
  • WNYT: FantaCon 2013
  • Nippertown: Festival Fever: Zombies Rejoice as FantaCon Returns!
  • The Saratogian: HORRORS! FantaCon comes back from the dead; movies and festival this weekend

Michele Vennard, President and CEO of the Albany County Convention & Visitors Bureau, and… friends.

And our social media analysis shows a strong presence of these events on Twitter, Facebook, and Blogs.

The fun starts for all this Thursday evening at the Albany Zombie Outbreak. At 6:30, the zombies will start making their way down Clinton Ave. toward Palace Theatre for costume judging and a viewing of Night of the Living Dead. There will also be a 45th anniversary cast reunion and panel discussion. After that, many downtown restaurants and bars will be offering discounts to those in Zombie attire.

Come down and join the fun, either as a full-on participant or from the safety of the Quarantine Zone. And check out the other events as well.

An Extraordinary Collaboration Between Proctors and Cirque Éloize

At the Cirque Announcement

At the Cirque Announcement

There was so much to announce! And Zone 5 was happy to help. Proctors and Cirque Éloize (one of the world leaders of contemporary circus arts) signed a 5-year agreement to make the Capital Region the Cirque’s summer home. As such:

  • Proctor’s will host the North American premiere of the show, Cirkopolis. It will run for three weeks this August.
  • Cirque Éloize performers are teaming up with the Proctors School of the Performing Arts to deliver amazing education experiences in the circus arts, for ages 12 – adults.
  • The economic impact of this partnership is estimated to generate nearly $9 million over the five-year partnership and generate $1 million in revenue for municipalities and roughly 150 FTE jobs.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the team of Cirque Éloize,” said Proctors CEO Philip Morris, “This is the largest commitment we have planned for the coming years. With a three week run and more than 60,000 seats available, Schenectady will be the place to be in August. What better way to draw in a new crowd than the commitment to deliver these fresh, enticing performances and camps.”

Zone 5, Proctors, and Cirque Éloize make a great team!

Zone 5, Proctors, and Cirque Éloize make a great team!

Zone 5 is having a great time working to promote this partnership. Whether our work is done through the press event, advertising, web work, or social media, we’re inspired by the words of Cirque Éloize’s Co-founder and Artistic Director Jeannot Painchaud when he speaks about the decision to partner with Proctors:

“You find people along your way that are much more passionate, maybe, than others. And I found this here, in this community, with Phillip Morris and his team. With the idea of really having the arts and the community blend together ro really change the idea of the city. And I think that’s what touched us.”

Media Round-up: Traditional

YNN: Cirkopolis coming to Proctor’s Theatre

Times Union: Proctors announces 5-year deal with Cirque Éloize (article and photo gallery)

Cirque Éloize’s Angelica Bongiovanni performs… (video)

The Business Review: Proctors partners with Cirque Éloize for five-year run

Phillip Morris expands Proctors’ empire (subscription only)

The Daily Gazette: Proctors plans major summer announcement

Proctors to partner with Cirque Éloize

Cirque Éloize artistry (video)

Proctors-Cirque Éloize partnership (photo gallery)

WGNA: Cirque Éloize Makes Proctors in Schenectady Summer Home

WTEN: Circus show makes summer home at Proctors

WRGB CBS 6: Cirque Éloize inks 5-year partnership with Proctors

I LOVE NY: Proctors Announces Five-Year Partnership to be the Summer Home for Cirque Éloize Performances and Educational Camps

Broadway World: Proctors announces five-year partnership with Cirque Éloize; CIRKOPOLIS to run 8/7-24

Media Round-up: Social

Twitter: #thecirqueiscoming

Twitter: Cirque Éloize mentions

Zone 5: Flickr and Facebook

Proctors: YouTubeTwitterFacebook

Cirque Eloize: Twitter and Facebook

Did You Weekend?: Goodbye Giants – We’ve Got Cirque Éloize! (blog)

Zaria & Bella’s: Cirque Éloize August 7 – 24 (blog)

NYCON – Executive Director Peer Group of the Capital Region: Proctors partners with Cirque Éloize for five-year run (blog)

Check back for additional media round-up links as they become available.