In the Office

Are You Ready to for your next Media Interview?

Many find it difficult, challenging or even daunting to speak with the media. What should I say? Nothing is off the record. What if they twist my words?

The key is to be prepared. The more comfortable you are with the subject matter, the better your interview will be. This is especially true when the questions are about a topic is complex or sensitive.


Being prepared and staying focused will allow you to keep your answers clear and concise, and your demeanor calm and confident.

Here are a few tips:

Pre-Interview Preparation
Ask yourself the following questions so that you can think through the focus of your interview.
• Who is your audience?
• What is your objective?
• Who is your interviewer? What topics does he/she enjoy writing/talking about?
• What is newsworthy about your topic and what do you want your audience to understand?
• What questions are you likely to be asked?

During the Interview
• Be direct and concise – support with easy to understand facts and details
• Keep it simple (imagine explaining technical concepts in a non-technical manner to your grandmother)
• Avoid the use of jargon and industry lingo
• Listen carefully to questions/comments from the interviewer
• Never say “no comment” but rather say you are unable to discuss that topic. Or, bridge to another topic
• If you don’t know, say so! (It’s ok to not know everything! Your PR person can always get back to them)
• Don’t bad mouth competition – if asked to comment on competition, tell the reporter that you aren’t informed enough to comment, but speak positively
• Sit up straight
• Maintain eye contact with the interviewer
• Be aware of your body language
• Use gestures naturally and when not gesturing, relax hands on the table or in your lap
• Take your time, and pause often to collect your thoughts
• Use vocal variety to convey enthusiasm
• If you have humor, that relates to your story or your experience, use it in a positive way to keep the reporter interested (short stories or examples to make it interesting)

Handling Difficult Questions
• Stay calm, listen carefully
• Answer questions positively, don’t restate the negative
• If a reporter tries to put words in your mouth, clearly re-state your point. Maintain control of the answers
• If reporter introduces a false fact, graciously correct it and move on
• If interviewer uses a “pregnant pause” don’t be tempted to fill the silence!

If you are a spokesperson who will need to address crisis situations, consider bringing in an expert and getting media trained. This will help you be prepared and best represent your organization.

Week in Marketing: Siding Politically with Brands, Death to #ad, HS Seniors Purge their Social

Consumers to Boycott Politically Outspoken Brands

Research conducted by Ipsos reveals that a quarter of Americans are allowing politics to influence their buying habits. Certain companies, such as Uber and Nordstrom, have been under scrutiny for their respective right- and left-leaning viewpoints following the most recent election. HowardMerrell politics Is it worth asserting opinions on behalf of a brand to make a positive impact on those who agree, while driving away those who do not, or is it best to simply remain neutral?

Instagram Increasing Transparency
After struggling with enforcing Instagram influencers to hashtag their sponsored posts, Instagram has developed a tool that would act as a public agreement between influencer and brand. The “Paid Partnership” tag would inform viewers that the content in the post is in fact paid, sponsored content. The tag is being tested currently, and if proven successful, it will be available to all brands and influencers.

Today’s Marketers and Albert Einstein
Experimenting, thinking way out of the box, transparency between teams, learning from miscalculations, and always searching a better way to accomplish a goal: These are all ways in which both scientists, and marketers should approach their jobs. The data-driven world we live in today has pushed the marketing industry into a borderline scientific category, but is this causing marketers to lose sight of their main objectives?

HS Seniors Purge Their Social Media Accounts as Their Self-Marketing Strategy
Those looking forward to graduating high school, and moving long to higher education, know all too well the importance of a clean, online presence. Some tactics include changing their Facebook names completely, posting more private Instagrams to “finsta” accounts, or utilizing services that will automatically eliminate any posts on social media that paints the student in a bad light. This generation is quickly learning the importance of marketing yourself, not only by the words they speak, but by the tweets they tweet.

Facebook Gives Advertisers Some Say
For the first time ever, Facebook is letting advertisers preview where their specific ads will be placed, as well as giving them an opportunity to veto certain ad placements. This change will allow specific ads to be placed in more relevant places, as well as ensuring that distasteful content will be nowhere near the ads. Facebook plans to roll out even more features to increase transparency with advertisers down the road.

Getting to Know Our Client – Urban Food Group

We pride ourselves in truly understanding our clients’ business inside and out. It allows us to write in their “voice,” speak to their target audiences and use imagery that best represents them. In order to gain that understanding, we start by reading everything we can about the company and their competitors – websites, social channels, articles, online reviews and commentary, blog posts, internal documents, etc. motto howard/merrell

In addition, we tour the client facility(s), attend tradeshows and participate in events so we can become entrenched in the industry. If we can, we also test out the product(s) or service(s) they offer, to obtain the true customer experience.

Understanding new clients is time consuming, but it is very important. And, we have to admit, sometimes it’s a lot of fun.

In the case of Urban Food Group, a restaurant group with establishments in North Carolina and Denver, the task of truly understanding our client’s business has not only been fun, but very delicious!

We are proud to be named the Agency of Record for Urban Food Group. Urban Food Group selected Howard/Merrell to promote its restaurants in the Raleigh-Durham area: Chow in North Raleigh, Vivace and Coquette in North Hills, and Motto in downtown Durham.

Calamari howard merrell

As the Agency of Record, we are responsible for Urban Food Group’s media and blogger outreach, press material development, event planning, travel and destination marketing, as well as support for content development and management of social media.

Each location has its own personality and unique menu — from Tuscan-inspired trattoria and a true French brasserie, to eclectic Roman inspired dishes and the best pizza, burgers and wings in town.

We’ve been to all the restaurants and tried different dishes: pizza howard/merrell

• Crispy brussels sprouts with garum honey, chili and lemon
• Very spicy rigatoni all arrabiata, chilies, pecorino
• Pizza with peso, roasted garlic, smoked mushrooms, pecorino and yolks
• Calamari Fritti
• Piedmont burger with fried green tomato, pimento cheese and bbq sauce
• Marinated portabella mushroom sandwich with red pepper marmalade, spinach and ricotta
• Zeppoli (zabaglione, chocolate fudge, butterscotch) for dessert

Not only is the food incredible, but the presentation is great and the service is fantastic.
We enjoyed visiting each restaurant, meeting the chefs and managers, and promoting the unique qualities of all of them.

It’s exciting to tell everyone about Urban Food Group and encourage them to enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants.

Week in Marketing: Product Updates, Millenial Women, Fred, YouTube Banner, Delta Launchpad

What do Millennial Women Value?
The Answer: family and culture. But they manage to save more and do more with less money! A recent survey of more than 400 millennial females about their jobs, finances and social habits, revealed this. One of the study’s biggest take-aways was the fact that 83 percent of women said they want to own their own businesses.


Hi My Name is Fred
‘Fred’ is the named that has been coined for all of Google’s updates within their algorithms for the past couple of months. Recently though, it appears that the Fred update is now specifically talking about a number of updates that took place in early March. These caused a downturn in traffic for “ad-focused content that prioritize revenue above helping the users”.

How a Youtube Banner Campaign revealed the Truth
Amnesty International used Banners on Youtube to rewrite subtitles for some of the World’s biggest authoritarian leaders. They used those Banners to reveal information about human rights infringements going on within those countries. The Banner provided a link to each page specific to the cause it was making its audience aware of. In one week, its campaign attracted 370,000 views and 40,760 signatures for the concerning petitions.

Is VW’s Comedic Product Video Okay After an Emissions Scandal?
After positive results with an automotive pre-test that benchmarked its ad against other automotive ads, the answer was overwhelming yes. The ad was released on and eventually, TV. Two Bronze pencils and several prizes at New York Festivals later, the spot, shows the Trailer Assist product feature for Volkswagen in a memorable way. This is not the first time Volkswagen has made a memorable ad for its Trailer Assist product feature, and it probably will not be the last.

Music, Food, Film, and Delta Launchpad
Younger business travelers with smaller companies – this is the demographic Delta is trying to win over with its new indie inspired screenings, food gatherings, and music. They created the Delta Launchpad, which is a series of free public events that is entrepreneur-geared in Los Angeles, New York and Seattle.

An Intern’s First Day

Sharing the day with the veteran athletes as they competed in adaptive sporting events made this year’s Valor Games SE an amazing experience for Sarah Keener, a NC State senior, member of the Wolfpack and an intern at Howard/Merrell. Sarah said she had a blast at her first Valor Games.

“This was exactly the type of hands-on experience that inspires my pursuit for a future career in public relations.”


On my first day as an intern for the Howard/Merrell team, I drove to Chapel Hill, NC in the rain — not yet aware of what a great day was in store. Responsible for the public relations for the Valor Games Southeast, the Howard/Merrell team had to man the media center, speak with the athletes and create opportunities for media interviews with them.

I enjoyed working both the media check-in table and the competition floor inside the Dean E. Smith Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. These responsibilities allowed me the opportunity to familiarize myself with event procedures and ensure athletes were respected by visiting media.

One athlete in particular, Derrick, expressed great enthusiasm to be at the Valor Games SE and spoke with me about the impact of adaptive sports.

“A lot of veterans don’t know that adaptive sports are just as athletic as other sports,” he said.


Derrick specialized in the air rifle and archery events, but also enjoyed other sports like seated volleyball.

“This is a great event and I look forward to it every year. You get to see your friends—and a lot of us were all different people before we went into the service and got injured,” Derrick said. “This is my third year at the Valor Games and I’m definitely going to keep going and going to future games.”

For someone who had never been involved with the games, working on the public relations team for the event was a great way to familiarize myself with media relations. It was rewarding to facilitate interviews and ensure athletes—like Derrick — had the chance to share their Valor Games experience.

This was the fifth year Bridge II Sports put on the Valor Games SE and included over 120 veteran athletes. The Valor Games bring together veterans for three days of adaptive sports and friendly competition.

Week in Marketing: Don’t Take Gen Zs YouTube!, Storytelling, Colorful Nutella, Colonel Sanders in HS

Brands Should Use Authentic Story-Telling to Advocate for Social Change
Research has shown that more than 90% of young consumers prefer a brand that does good in the world. To take it a step further than simply donating funds to a cause, marketers should invest in social issue documentaries, that not only address the problem, but tie the idea of social change to the brand itself. However, in order to avoid a Pepsi-like PR disaster, it is crucial that the film be authentic, and not a clear use of celebrity endorsement.

howard merrell teen

Most Branded Content is A-Okay with Gen Zs
A recent survey of more than 1,500 teens aged 13-20 reveals their acceptance of branded content from both mainstream, and internet celebrities. This segment of the population continues to challenge marketers, as they are the first generation to be raised in an entirely digital world. More than 50% of respondents claimed that they “couldn’t live without” YouTube, which alone highlights the countless opportunities for branded content in the future.

Creative Nutella Packaging Leads to Massive Sales
The Ferrero Group, owner of Nutella, implemented a project for the ever-popular chocolate hazelnut spread across Italy. More than seven million “Nutella Unica” jars were produced, each adorned with unique, colorful label. The company utilized a special algorithm to create patterns for the jars, as well as a specific ID code for each to ensure that no two labels were alike. The jars sold out just one month after being released.

Pinterest Implements New Ways for Users to Interact with Brands

Pinterest has introduced three new features to their platform which help users find what they are looking for, and help brands gain visibility. The new additions include real-time photo searching and giving users to make purchases within the app from the pins they see in their feed. These new features also allow for a combination of targeting methods, to ensure that brands are being put in front of just the right people.

Colonel Sanders Takes Makes Guest Appearance in Yearbook

A Student at Bear Creek High School in Stockton, California reached out to the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant chain, enlightening them to an out-of-the-box advertising opportunity. Hannah Hightman, the student responsible, suggested that KFC place a photo of the iconic Colonel Sanders amongst the rest of the portraits in the school yearbook. Hightman noted that the millennial generation is becoming increasingly more difficult to reach through print media, however, yearbooks remain relevant as ever before.

Working the Valor Games Southeast

Valor Games Howard/Merrell

Nicole Balas is a rising Senior at Elon University majoring in International Business with minors in Communications and Leadership Studies. This summer, she is interning at Howard/Merrell.

For the past few days, I have been working with the Howard/Merrell team to support their client Bridge II Sports at an event they run called the Valor Games Southeast. Howard/Merrell is responsible for all the public relations for the Valor Games and their main role this week was to manage all the media activities happening at the multi-day event. This meant ensuring reporters, editors and cameramen had what they needed to report about the Games – i.e. accessing different venues, interviewing athletes and spokespeople

The Valor Games feature 11 sporting events with more than 120 disabled Veterans and disabled members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Games challenge participants and the community to redefine disability and see the power and potential of sports.

What I enjoyed about this opportunity is that it allowed to me to work with the client directly and facilitate media relations at the event. I enjoy working with people, getting to know their stories and what allows them to work to their fullest potential. I have worked with adaptive sports and veterans through the Wounded Warriors Project before, but this was my first time with Bridge II Sports. It was humbling to see how far these athletes have come, and the goals they have for themselves each day and within each event. Getting to work with them in the Dean Dome and Cameron Indoor Stadium was an incredible experience and I believe it added to the athletes’ drive to compete to their fullest ability.


Adaptive sports encompass more than just matching athletes to adaptive ways to play sports and stay active. What I found most empowering is that the coaches and referees came from the National level in all 11 sports that make up the Valor Games. Whether they were working with first time athletes or paralympians in training, each sport offered opportunities for athletes to gain confidence and learn from each other, and challenge their minds and bodies throughout the Games. These athletes come from all over. Some competed in the Valor Games for the first time, others were veterans of the Games coming back to compete against, and catch up with, old friends and make new ones (and yes, these even includes some of the service dogs).


Athletes were joking around with one another before, during, and after the competition. It was a high energy event with volunteers and staff who really cared about each athletes’ needs and level of comfort within individual events. Due to this, each athlete was able to be just that, an athlete competing and growing. They were taking on both seen and unseen challenges that aid in long-term health recovery and strengthening each athlete’s mind, body, and spirit.

The opportunity to support this event through Howard/Merrell allowed me to work with local media who were reporting on in depth stories about athletes and their progress, as well as athletes who were new to the Valor games.

Crisis Situation Hits – Now What?

If you or your company is suddenly cast under a negative public spotlight, it is all too easy to panic, shutting down important channels of communication. Knowing how and when to respond to negativity can prevent undesirable coverage from spiraling out of control and tarnishing your reputation.

A properly timed and executed response can even turn a potentially costly situation into something positive for your image.

Here are a few tips to help you develop an effective crisis communications plan:

Respond in a timely fashion- news travels fast.

The rapid nature of online communication leaves little time for message correction and no time to waste. A delayed response to negative news can send a message that you and/or your company has something to hide. Release a timely, factual report to help prevent the same or additional critics from commenting unchallenged by your point of view, while letting your audiences know that you are devoted to honestly and openly communicating with them.

Control your messaging.

Giving an unnecessarily lengthy response in the midst of a situation that is still unstable may leave the overpowering impression of a guilty conscience. It can also open the door for over-sharing. Explain what you can, but don’t divulge any unnecessary information. Your response could worsen your initial problem, leaving you with additional damage control to be done when events are already consuming valuable resources of time, money and your relationship with the public.

Have a team of trained professionals in place, ready for action when the crisis hits.

Establishing strategic contact with media, bloggers and other influencers is an excellent method of navigating a crisis. Equally important is the presence of a singular spokesperson to address the public during and after your event. Dissemination of information by one person helps to avoid confusion, both within your company and before your public, further ensuring the fluid delivery of a cohesive and clear message.

Though tricky and sometimes daunting, effective crisis communication can make or break your company’s image in the wake of negative media coverage. Many crises can provide the opportunity to evaluate weaknesses and move forward as a stronger and more transparent company.

Week In Marketing: Edible Bottles, PR Disasters, #NuggsForCarter, Chobani Comeback

Environmental-Friendly Alternative to Plastic Bottles
The Skipping Rocks Lab has created a new edible water bottle out of 10% biodegradable brown algae as an environmental-friendly alternative to plastic bottles. Ooho, the sea-weed based capsule is safe for consumption, can be flavored and colored. The ‘orbs’ are being tested at sporting events now. Can’t wait to see how they market this product!

United Airline’s PR Disaster
The airline company is in hot water after the video of a passenger being forcefully removed from a flight due to overbooking. The video surfaced on Facebook and was met with outrage online and in the media. The day after the incident the CEO apologized for the mistake, and again the internet went wild. Now, CEO Oscar Munoz has issued a second, true apology. United Airlines has lost $800 million in value and potentially done irreversible damage to their brand.

Did Pepsi Do It Right?
Between Pepsi and United Airlines, April has been quite the month for PR disasters. Although Pepsi responded quickly, and removed the commercial could they have still succeeded in marketing their product and brand? Despite the backlash the beverage company made headlines and trended on social media, which could be considered as an adverse success. What do you think?

New Marketing Campaign Brings People Together
Can a new marketing campaign help a company after a mold-related recall? The Greek yogurt company, Chobani, hopes so. It just introduced a new brand marketing campaign after being featured on “60 Minutes.” Check out the “Believe in Food” campaign with the tagline “Food brings us together”.

Take Notice: #NuggsForCarter has become a movement on Twitter
Wendy’s simple, one-off response to a once-little-known Twitter user, could improbably set a new social media benchmark, say social media experts. When Carter Wilkerson, a 16-year-old high-school student from Reno, Nevada, asked the fast-food chain how many retweets it would take to get free chicken nuggets for a year, Wendy’s replied in its usual cheeky and sassy brand voice: “18 million.” The teen answered, “Consider it done.” Wilkerson has become something of a celebrity. The hashtag #NuggsForCarter has become a movement on Twitter, and the teen has been profiled by a number of media outlets.

Week In Marketing: April Fools, Multicultural Trends, Oldvertsing, Controversial Ads, Subway Campaign

April Fools’ Best Brand Pranks
April Fool’s Day is always an opportunity for brands to prank consumers. AdWeek highlighted this year’s best pranks. From Dorito water, Burger King Whopper Cologne, to Chegg’s new energy drink Chugg – these brands outdid themselves!


Top Multicultural Trends
Hispanics continue to be among the top target audiences for brands. They have a purchasing power of $1.5 trillion and an expected population of 130 million by 2030. They’re a monumental force on social media, too. There are five trends brands should follow: Social Listening, Live Streaming, Storytelling, Influencer Marketing and Defining Diversity.

Brands around the world Are changing the way they portray seniors. Take Reebok for example. Their a new brand ambassador in China isn’t a taut young athlete, a muscular sports star or a dewy-cheeked model. It’s Wang Deshun, an 80-year-old grandfather who became an instant star after baring his super-ripped torso on the runway at Beijing Fashion Week in 2015.

Controversial Ads
It’s not bad when ads make you think. But it is bad when viewers ask — What were they thinking?

Pepsi released a new ad as part of their campaign featuring Kendall Jenner and Twitter users are not impressed. The “Live for Now” campaign is meant to celebrate moments that inspire “living in the now.” The two-and-a-half minute clip shows a peaceful protest that draws people in. Kendall Jenner is featured as a model leaving work to join the protest. What? Twitter users are not impressed, or convinced the soda company’s motives are have good intentions.

The beauty brand, Nivea’s invisible deodorant ad “Keep it clean, keep bright. Don’t let anything ruin it #Invisible” featured a risky and not thought through slogan: “white is purity.” The ad has since been removed due to concerns of the racial insensitive slogan. The beauty brand has since released an apology for the misleading message.

Sexual Harassment Campaign Leaves Lasting Impression
A molded penis on a subway seat served as a powerful representation for abuse that occurs on the subway. According to UN Women, “nine of every 10 women in the Mexican capital have been subjected to some type of sexual abuse riding the subway.” After just 12 days the YouTube video had more than 800,000 views.