Two-Way Street

PR, social media, events and incentives – Collaboration & communication ideas for demanding businesses from The Castle Group's Mark O'Toole

Social Tuesday: Social media for the people, by the people

Posted by thecastlegroup on January 26, 2011

President Barrack Obama successfully used social media as part of his election campaign in 2008. Consequently, the White House is now using social media for political interactions with the public. Last night’s State of the Union Address was live streamed on several online portals. After the address, a series of live online events took place to answer questions submitted via Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.


Along with the White House, the U.S State Department increasingly uses social media to reach out to the public and is using Twitter to communicate and announce U.S. policy decisions.


And last but not least, New York City proudly presents its first Chief Digital Officer. In an effort to boost transparency and communication with the public and businesses, Digital Officer Rachel Sterne is working with Twitter and Facebook to reach out to residents and to make the city’s website more user-friendly.

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Social Tuesday: Twitter, meme, social enterprise

Posted by thecastlegroup on January 18, 2011

Today we discuss “social” social media.

Social media sometimes has a life of its own – and from time to time, it even has the power to begin a new one: Twitter followers of this year’s Golden Globe Awards witnessed the birth of both a mini-meme and a social media star when CNN’s Piers Morgan started a hashtag around the Globes’ shrinking screen time for host Ricky Gervais. It didn’t hurt that Morgan made magic just ahead of the launch of his new Piers Morgan Tonight.

Social media is not only beneficial when it comes to creating a fan base; it enables you to mobilize support for your good cause. After the flooding in Brisbane, Australia, Facebook and Twitter networks successfully rallied volunteers to help the community recover. According to a local social media expert, social media was “invaluable” to inform and connect the residents during and after the disaster.

A great example of target group specific social media use for educational purposes: The British health information provider NHS Choice uses the accessibility of social media to by using an interactive YouTube video to encourage teenagers to use condoms.

Social media is a great tool for reaching out to hard-to-reach groups or communities. Read more on how to use social media for social enterprises.

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Castle adds partners, capabilities in India and Russia

Posted by thecastlegroup on December 20, 2010

Castle’s global PR network, PRGN, recently appointed two new member agencies. Joining the ranks of PRGN are Perfect Relations in India, and CROS Public Relations and Public Affairs in Moscow.

For clients with global needs, our network is more informed and “plugged in” than just about any other communications group. With local knowledge and histories of success, PRGN has grown significantly over the last few years.

Let us know if you’d like to learn more.


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How long are elfs’ ears – Holiday Season 2010

Posted by thecastlegroup on December 20, 2010

Please read below the 2010 musings of “Castle kid” Lila in her annual letter to Santa. (Read Lila’s 2009 letter.)

Dear Santa,

Hi, I have some things I was wondering! How long are elfs’ ears?  How can you go around the world in one night? Do you ever have time when you don’t have to work? Do you have different rooms for everything you do? What do you do with the reindeer that don’t fly your sled? How does your sack fit all the presents in it?  How come you only use eight specific reindeer and not your other ones?  Do you have names for all your reindeer?  How can you tell which reindeer is which? How can you put all the presents under the tree without waking up and how do you know when not to come and when to come because someones awake? How does Mrs. Claus help you prepare for Christmas? Why do you want us to give you cookies and milk?  How do you stay away from pets? How do you fit down the chimney? How long do reindeer live for? Do you ever wish you had one more day before you had to deliver all the presents? Do you always wear the same red coat and pants and black belt and black shoes?  How old are you? How do you not get full of cookies and milk?  What do you do if somebody sees you?  Hope you write back and have safe flying!!



What are your holiday questions?

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Teambuilding for the holidays

Posted by thecastlegroup on December 17, 2010

Are you looking for a unique way to engage, inspire and motivate your employees? Castle has seen a new trend toward office-based, local teambuilding activities. Many of our clients have turned to us recently for ideas to help boost internal ties and bonds. Here’s a thought…

In lieu of hosting a traditional cocktail party during the holidays, why not consider a teambuilding activity or event? Below are a few ways to motivate and inspire–and reconnect–this holiday season (or any season for that matter).

  • Clue-based challenges promote team-based strategy: How about an “amazing” race or a scavenger hunt through your town or office? You’d be amazed at how competitive teams get and how much good-natured teasing and bonding results.
  • Dare we say, arts and crafts are just plain fun, especially when those who aren’t so crafty are “encouraged” to join in. Conduct a miniature golf hole-making competition at your office, then all play a round on your custom-designed course – complete with 19th hole, of course.
  • Cooking challenges are hot! Yes, we did say, “hot!” Consider a chili cook-off, an iron chef contest or a grilled cheese competition. Or, for something simpler to pull off, how about a gingerbread-men decorating competition with make-your-own hot cocoa and s’mores stations.

One of the ways we foster creativity–a core mission at Castle–and boost internal bonding is through our annual “Thing” competition. Each December, we hand out a set of raw materials (a different theme each year) to all of our employees. They are given a week or so to create some-“Thing” unique from the supplied items and then present it at our annual holiday get-together.

Year after year, we are consistently reminded how creative our entire team is, not just by the “Things” they create but by the presentations themselves. For us, this is the best gift of all.

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Fargo = Fail

Posted by thecastlegroup on December 15, 2010

Castle co-founder Wendy Spivak has been building large-scale, successful incentive programs for companies and their sales forces for two decades. But she’s never planned an incentive to Fargo. Read below for her thoughts on a company that recently has traveled to Fargo — in December.

I just read an article about a sales incentive program that failed.  And I felt very conflicted—impressed by the publicity it garnered and by the way the sales team made the best of it, but on the other hand….IT FAILED TO ACHIEVE ITS GOALS.

Here’s what happened: a candy company created a sales incentive program to motivate its sales team to achieve certain goals.  If they achieved those goals, they would win a company-paid trip to Hawaii.  If not, they were going to Fargo, North Dakota.  Definitely clever.  BUT, they didn’t achieve, and they went to North Dakota.  The article includes images of the employees bundled up and freezing.  They made the best of it—wearing company-logo’d hats, they had a lot of winter team-building activities planned, and they handed out care packages of the company’s candy to the locals.

I LIKE the ingenuity, the opportunity to market and team-build, and create a memorable experience.

But again, THEY DID NOT MEET THEIR GOALS.  So while there was some goodwill and esprit de corps and even a little marketing, the incentive did not have the intended impact on the bottom line.

At Castle, we plan, manage and market sales incentive programs for many leading national and international organizations, across a number of industries.  And we always start with the GOAL in mind—not where do you want to go, what will make people happy, but “what numbers are you trying to achieve,” and then we figure out how to hit those numbers.  Maybe in the case of this candy company, there were some key elements overlooked.  Perhaps they didn’t fully market the program during its life span, to keep momentum and enthusiasm high, and ensure people’s eyes were on the prize (the good prize, not the consolation prize).  Maybe the numbers were unrealistic.  Maybe the program didn’t have time to “bake.”  But something went wrong.

So I remain conflicted.  As a professional in this industry, I appreciate the creativity involved, and as an employer, I appreciate the employee experience the company created.  But as a businessperson who takes my clients’ goals and ROI very seriously, I don’t think that’s enough to make this more than an interesting story about failure.

What do you think? Is a reward for a job kind of well done worthwhile? How do incentivize your teams?

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Social media, Project Runway and the right accessories

Posted by thecastlegroup on December 2, 2010

Sandy Lish, Castle co-founder, recently attended a meeting with our international PR partners. Read more below.



Last month, I met with the principals in our international PR alliance, the Public Relations Global Network, four days with our counterparts from around the country and around the world—from as far away as Australia, South Africa and India. As you might imagine, there was a lot of discussion about social media. While nearly every client of every firm has some level of social media engagement or interest, the dozens of member firms unilaterally see social media as a means to an end…not the end.

It’s difficult sometimes to convey that when folks are all abuzz about the latest Facebook app, but let’s travel back to the days when websites were new. (This is about the 10th time in two weeks I have used a cultural reference and massively dated myself, but what the heck….) Companies were building websites and some new websites were, for a while, actually news.  You could announce that “XYZ Company Today Launched its First Website.”  Then everyone realized…if you build it, they may come, but only for a little while. Some websites were cool but not driving business. Others were just the opposite. You had to commit to an overall marketing communications strategy, and then consider a splashy new website (for a fun look at companies’ older-model websites, check out the Way Back Machine) as a tool to apply to that strategy.

It’s the same thing with social media. Building a fan page or setting up a Twitter account is not enough. You can’t just sit back and wait for the customers to find you. The traditional marketing rules apply—you have to reach your audience in a number of ways, creatively, consistently and memorably. Social media is a great way to do that, but it is a strategic element, not the strategy itself. Like “professional media” (my colleague in Sweden tells me this is the term preferred over “traditional media,” which I quite like!), speaking and conference strategies, relationship marketing, events and the many other communications avenues, social media must always map back to the business goals.

On “Project Runway,” Tim Gunn tells the fashion designers to “Use the Bluefly accessory wall wisely” to perfectly showcase their garments. It’s not a mad dash to combine any pair of shoes or purse with any outfit…it’s about being thoughtful and strategic, and keeping an eye on the big picture. I like “Project Runway” (and my 8-year-old daughter does a fabulous Michael Kors impression), so I’ll attempt to apply the fashion analogy to social media. If you’re trying to sell a dress, make sure your tools—color choice, model’s makeup and hair, accessories—complement that dress. If you’re trying to market your product or service, make sure that your chosen social media tools, like your other communications tools, support your message and your strategy.

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BlogWorld observations

Posted by thecastlegroup on November 1, 2010

Castle VP Hilary Allard was a panelist at last month’s BlogWorld. Below are her observations from the event.

I was honored to be asked to present on a PR panel at last month’s BlogWorld event, a blogging and social media conference that attracts more than 3,500 people. There were many inspiring, thought-provoking and surprising insights shared about how the intersection of technology and communication has changed our world.

Here are a few observations from the event:

The impact that technology and social media has made on the lives of military members and their families is profound. In a video introduction, General Petraeus spoke of how the ability to communicate with their families via Facebook, email and Skype has helped military members through the challenges of their separation. A website,, provides troops with a place to share their look at Army life. Here’s a post on the site about the Army experience at BlogWorld.

While thought leaders have high-level discussions about social media and the future of communications, the fact is that many individuals – and organizations – don’t know what to do or where to start. The prospect of adding to already full to-do lists is daunting. (More on that in this space at another time.)

Everyone is willing to share. Just as I experienced during the TechMunch summer event in New York, media, brands and bloggers are all willing to share their experience, insights and challenges, putting the “social” in social media. It’s no longer “us against them,” it’s “we’re all in this together.”

Social media has given everyone a voice – and they’re not afraid to use it. Audience members politely yet aggressively (“Pardon me for saying so…”) challenged well-known speakers during one keynote session on politics. My favorite was an elderly woman who stood up and talked about her blogging and participation on Twitter. She clearly was energized by this aspect of her life and the new doors it had opened for her.

Are you involved in social media? If so, has it changed your life, personally or professionally? If not, what obstacles are in your way that are preventing you from engaging online?

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How not to become a jaded employer

Posted by thecastlegroup on October 28, 2010

Todd Defren recently wrote about millenials and how that generation views employment and loyalty, and how we as employers can deal with generational differences.

Here are my thoughts on how not to become a jaded employer and start thinking every employee is a temporary one.


-People will leave. It’s the nature of the employee and the challenge of the employer.

-Finding and training new staff  is hard.

-Keeping good staff is great.

-Generational differences exist, though they are not universal — some staff will live by the new rules, others will resemble a more traditional pre-millenial employee.


-Sometimes it’s good to have turnover to re-energize a team and introduce new thinking.

-Often, those who leave were not cut out for the job, as much as we convince ourselves we are super smart about hiring.

-If you love something, set it free… I’ve had talented staff leave and generally have seen two results. 1) They keep the entrepreneurial spirit we helped them develop and have become leaders in new organizations or started their own ventures, or 2) I keep an eye on them, watch them grow and bring them back when it makes sense for them and us.

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Save the Date: March of Dimes Gala

Posted by thecastlegroup on October 21, 2010

On Friday, November, 5, the March of Dimes will hold its annual Franklin Delano Roosevelt Humanitarian Award Gala, emceed by 7News reporter Janet Wu. This year, the MOD honors James Roosevelt, Jr., president & CEO of Tufts Health Plan and grandson of FDR. Castle Principal Sandy Lish, recently named MOD state board chair, thanks Castle colleagues who support the March of Dimes in its mission to ensure that all babies are born healthy, at full term, and to prevent the complications that arise from preterm births.

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