Two-Way Street

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

Posts Tagged ‘The Castle Group’

Social media land grab

Posted by thecastlegroup on October 23, 2009

Did you hear? There’s a big debate on who is best equipped to manage social media, ad agencies or PR firms. Go ahead, Google it – I’m sure there’s some conversation out there.


My take? This needs to stop being an “either or” argument. This land grab for social media assignments has resulted in a host of qualified – and an equal number (if not more) of unqualified – social media “pros” looking a piece of the action. I think my son’s 5th-grade class is seeing a presentation next week from a former creative director who now writes for and has reinvented himself as a social media expert for the middle school universe.

What we are really seeing is the true emergence of the concept and practice of integrated marketing. PR, ad shops, marketing, search and digital firms are shifting toward this blurry middle. No doubt some firms are ahead of others, but there are more “experts” in this new space than is really possible. Building out a social media platform within each of the marketing disciplines as these firms are currently formed seems to me a losing battle.

Mergers, acquisitions, start-ups, niche firms – these are some of the opportunities that can help build the new marketing integration model. Firms that embrace shared services and collaboration, filled with smart thinkers, can also work to deliver optimal client results.

The next couple of years? I see a rise in new model firms and a likely consolidation of the types of firms listed above. Though some firm websites claim to espouse the complete marketing package, wrapped snugly in a social media blanket, I don’t think anyone has really created the next generation marketing communications firm yet. We’re working on it aggressively here at The Castle Group.

What’s your take? Is there a model that gets it right and offers that comprehensive mix of strategy, services and tools?

Posted in Social Media (or the Digital Divide) | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Reality TV’s lessons reflect business realities

Posted by thecastlegroup on July 1, 2009

Not to say the team at The Castle Group is addicted to reality TV, but, well, we are. Today, Castle co-founder Sandy Lish sprinkles water on the theory that, yes, reality TV can teach us lessons about actual reality.

Today is Wednesday, and in my house, my kids look forward to watching “Wipeout,” a network reality show where contestants traverse a variety of bizarre obstacle courses for cash prizes. Yes, my husband and I watch it too. And, perhaps in the interest of justifying my enjoyment of such a mindless and non-redeeming program, I have decided that “Wipeout” provides some life lessons, particularly related to the state of today’s world.

“Wipeout” is like life today because:

  • Contestants have never been through anything similar before.
  • Surprises are around every corner.
  • Those who plan their course strategies fare better than those who just “go for it” without any planning.
  • The same applies to those who are physically fit (e.g., have the experience) to handle the course.
  • Someone will win, but not everyone wins. It is survival of the fittest (not to mix my “reality TV metaphors.”)
  • It helps to laugh.


The takeaway: Be prepared for anything today, but draw on your life experiences, plan strategically for any/every situation, and laugh. I am sure that what does not knock you off a giant spinning wheel makes you stronger.

Posted in fun stuff and more | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

LinkedIn sub-groups

Posted by thecastlegroup on June 24, 2009

For those of you who manage LinkedIn groups, like our Castle Friends & Family group, there is a sub-group feature coming if you want further break-out within your group.

Here are FAQs on managing and participating in a sub-group.

If you want to suggest a sub-group for Castle’s group (or join if you haven’t already), let us know.

Also, feel free to share the LinkedIn groups that you belong to and find the most valuable.

Posted in Social Media (or the Digital Divide) | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Banker & Tradesman’s Best of 2009 Awards

Posted by thecastlegroup on June 19, 2009

Last day to vote in Banker & Tradesman’s Best of 2009 Awards:


You’ll see some obvious favorites in there, such as clients Braver PC and Salem Five, and a terrific PR firm based in Boston!

Posted in PR | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Monday Morning Intern

Posted by thecastlegroup on June 15, 2009

We asked our summer PR intern, Emily Grund, to write a weekly column talking about her internship experience at The Castle Group. Please tune in Mondays to hear about Emily’s latest intern adventures.


Here it is: the intern blog, a once forbidden concept now encouraged by more employers as the social media world expands. When company blogs first emerged, the idea of posts by interns may have been seen as irrelevant due to a misunderstanding of how much their interns had to offer. The Castle Group has always been an exception in that regard and other companies should take their lead. They utilize their interns to the max and encourage us to utilize them, not just for “grunt work” but for ideas. For instance, this very idea of an intern blog came from a social media meeting I had with the senior vice president, Mark O’Toole. Interns at other businesses would be lucky to even meet the SVP, let alone exchange ideas. Yet, here I am, with a fantastic opportunity to write and in turn help The Castle Group expand on their already fabulous blog. I can’t help but point out this matches perfectly with The Castle Group’s mission of “two-way street” communications.

The internship program has been around since The Castle Group was founded in 1996 by University of Massachusetts Amherst alumni Sandy Lish and Wendy Spivak (Go UMass!). They appreciated students’ need for experience before entering the business world and have made a permanent place for students to come and learn. As their website says, many interns have stayed for multiple semesters and in some cases found employment upon graduation. This is a clear sign of a symbiotic relationship.

The orientation that Kristina McSharry, the events intern, and I went through together set the grounds for a successful relationship to build upon. While each internship that I’ve had has been a great experience in its own way, none of them started off with a day full of meetings with almost everyone in the company. We were introduced to everyone in small groups, learned which accounts they worked on, what kinds of projects we would assist them with and, most importantly, were encouraged to be as involved as possible. From there not only did it make it easier to remember everyone’s names, but also to not feel as intimidated to ask questions or reach out to others.

In blog posts to come, I plan to write about the abundance of things I am learning. In addition, I hope to reach out to other intern bloggers to get an idea of what their readers find important or interesting. Ultimately, I hope to further expand a positive image of The Castle Group through social media so that I can give back to the company that has given me a priceless opportunity.

Posted in PR | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Value of Motivation

Posted by thecastlegroup on June 5, 2009

Castle co-founder Wendy Spivak weighs in with her perspective on motivation, summer and recognition done well.

From the time we were all in grade school, summer has been a time to kick back and relax. But in the working world, a Monday is a Monday. Which, as I glance out the window at the tourists here in the Navy Yard visiting the U.S.S. Constitution, brings up the concept of motivation. Corporate motivation is a specialty of our events and incentives practice, and is the responsibility of every manager, CEO, team leader and supervisor, regardless of your company’s mission.

Motivation is the underlying mission behind successful incentive programs and events, laying the groundwork for exceptional results for our clients and their staff. Incentive programs, and many corporate events, are designed to motivate staff, business partners, community members, customers, etc. to do SOMETHING.

Let’s focus on the employee audience. How do you encourage employees to excel at their jobs—and continue to do so on a regular basis? Your first thought may be that this is a question for the HR department, but think again. Marketing communications can provide the answer.

At The Castle Group, we work with companies large and small to conceptualize programs that will motivate and inspire participants to excel. We know that every employee is different, and that corporate culture and individual preferences dictate the parameters for motivational marketing programs. The payoff? A properly designed and executed recognition and rewards program increases productivity and helps drive a company’s success. We find the most successful companies work with us to build programs that challenge staff to overachieve, not just perform their everyday jobs—and then reward for this success appropriately and often.

But before you purchase those trophies and start tracking brownie points, keep the following five points in mind:

1.      “You Want Me to do WHAT?”

Understanding what makes your employees tick is key to developing a successful program. Some of our clients’ teams thrive on friendly competition, others on peer recognition. For these, an incentive program that tracks performance and culminates in an exclusive event—such as a high-end luxury trip, group outing or awards ceremony—motivates people to “win.”

Perhaps your employees are motivated by the ability to have more time with their families. Family-friendly activities or time off can provide encouragement.

Do you have a tech-savvy audience? These folks may be more responsive to an online rewards program with the latest gadgets as prizes. Whatever the environment, develop a program that considers all audience members.

2.      It’s the Big Picture, It’s the Details…It’s BOTH

An employee recognition program should define team and/or individual goals that link to the company’s overall objectives. The prettiest bells and whistles amount to little if they don’t factor into the bigger picture.

Be specific and spell out exactly what is expected of each participant. If details are vague, rigid or difficult to understand, employees may not fully engage in the program. It’s also important to determine the “what’s in it for me?” factor. A program must clearly define what the participants receive for achieving the stated goals. Be realistic and set rewards that are equitable to what is being measured.

3.      Here’s Where Communications Comes In

You know the old adage—and it’s one we harp on in our media training programs—tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them again, and then tell them what you told them. Creative, unique and targeted communication is key to any incentive program. How do you get the word out? Boldly launch the program at a company-wide meeting, build buzz with teaser communications, recognize milestones—”You’re halfway there!”—and personalize the digital communications, snail mail, voice mail and in-person reminders. Keeping things lively and interactive will ensure your audience is engaged, and build anticipation for the next program.

4.      Function vs. Flash—Making the CEO and the COO Happy

You’ve mistakenly bought the fancy stilettos when a pair of Tevas would have been more realistic (gentlemen, please insert your own analogy). The same mistake can be made with an incentive program. You need not send the winners to the moon to solicit buy-in. An exclusive, private weekend trip to a local resort or team-oriented group outing to a ballgame, if properly planned and executed, can do the trick.

When developing your budget, project the program’s ROI and work backward. When ROI is difficult to determine—for example, if the goal is to facilitate teamwork and communication between departments—set a reasonable standard. Start small, remembering you can always add rewards but never subtract them. If your budget can’t support the whole group, try smaller rewards such as a day off or lunch with the CEO. Sometimes the little things really do have the most impact.

For example, at one end of the spectrum, we’ve had clients rent out an entire castle in Europe for staged theatrical performances, and fly in winners and company executives for a five-star team-building and reward experience. Others work with us to build interactive online rewards that are budget-flexible and provide daily, real-time motivation through customized micro-contests and rewards.

5.      Measure Results and Keep Going

You can only reap the benefits if you know what they are. Survey your respondents. Get candid feedback from managers. Could anything have been better? Did the program work for everyone?

Motivation is an ongoing process. It shouldn’t end when the program does. Build on the program’s momentum and incorporate your findings into the next program. And remember that an audience’s needs and wants can change over time; you must regularly reevaluate the success of your program. Programs should raise the bar each time they’re introduced and sustain a level of excitement to deliver tangible results.

So instead of looking out the window at the tourists enjoying their vacations, your employees will have their own rewards in the backs of their minds, as they productively and purposefully attack and achieve the goals you’ve set

Posted in Events & Incentives | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

March of Dimes walk

Posted by thecastlegroup on June 1, 2009

Thanks again to the Castle team that participated in the recent March of Dimes walk.

Please feel free to contribute here:

march of dimes team

Posted in Castle News | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The customer is always right

Posted by thecastlegroup on May 28, 2009

The Castle Group’s co-founder, Sandy Lish, weighs in today with a post on customer service and social media.

The customer is always right. An old adage, but one social media is making a harsh reality for many companies. Some, like Comcast, JetBlue and Zappos, have embraced social media as an outlet to resolve complaints, share information and interact with customers.

And while some consumer-facing companies are encouraging social media participation, others are ignoring its utility. But when it comes to customer service, social media is merely another avenue. The real interaction should happen at the point-of-sale, e.g. in your stores and showrooms. Below are two anecdotes that illustrate this movement.

customer service

Thanks Hyundai

“These days when you buy a Hyundai, you tell everyone – by email, text or tweet. You call it social networking, we call it good PR.”

Yes! This was how a Hyundai commercial I saw last night started. But I could not have said it better. It caught my ear because of the reference to “good PR” – not something you hear often in ads. In some circles, PR is still equated with “stunts” and “publicists” and “spin” – and nothing else. We know better. Social networking is PR – whether comments on social networks are good, bad or indifferent, it’s critical to listen and, when relevant, respond. Thanks, Hyundai for pointing that out.

I applaud Hyundai on its willingness to encourage customer interaction. I would recommend that they load their television ads onto their own site, though. If you run an ad encouraging social networking, shouldn’t that ad embody that spirit as well?

Has anyone recently purchased a Hyundai? If so, did the showroom customer service meet the “tell everyone” status boasted in the ad?

 customer service 2

Customer Service: Act Now or Pay Later?

The other day I was in a department store, and observed an irate customer trying to resolve a problem with a return. I overheard her, on her cell phone, calling the retailer’s corporate office to complain about the service she was getting, saying she had already spent 45 minutes trying to resolve the issue with the manager – to no avail.

I shopped around for at least 25 minutes, passed by her again, and overheard her on the phone, escalating her problem, but still not resolving it.

So at least 70 minutes spent (I left without knowing if she found resolution) – precious time she can’t get back. Now if she told everyone she knew – “by email, text or tweet” to use Hyundai’s language – complained on the retailer’s blog and posted negative comments on consumer blogs, she would likely have set off a far more viral process that attracted those with similarly poor experiences. She would have had the power that was once limited to consumer advocates working for traditional media companies to spread the word and influence others.

I’m sure many people are tweeting about their new Hyundai or forgoing customer service for customer action. PR is clearly in the hands of anyone with a mobile device or a laptop, and it is important for merchants to recognize the power of the consumer.

Posted in PR | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Global business needs global PR

Posted by thecastlegroup on May 28, 2009

PRGN, our international network of outstanding independent PR firms just got a little bigger (see below). Our network now has 43 members around the world, which is beginning to feel more and more like an international virtual firm, as the number of queries, information requests, new business opportunities and suggestions increases every day.

In the last 24 hours, I have been in contact with members from Singapore, Poland, Spain, Atlanta, San Francisco, South Africa, Ireland and India. Last month, the group’s agency principals met in Sao Paolo, in November we convene in NYC, and next spring it’s Brussels. I never did a semester abroad when I was in college, but I feel like I am making up for that now.  

Every day I learn about not just what is happening in PR in other vital cities, but about how those cities are being affected by the global economy, digital and social media, sporting events, weather and even the swine flu. This insight is helpful to my clients and to my staff, and is a daily reminder of how things are both different and the same in other cultures.  

If we accept that PR is about reaching audiences, there is no better eye-opener than hearing about how different methods and approaches work in different cultures. The European members tend to be more collaborative, as different countries obviously have their own languages and cultures to contend with; in the US there is less client collaboration, as the agencies don’t typically have those barriers when representing national clients. Although it is fun to work collectively on clients that have local market needs, we learn that what works in Atlanta might not work in Boston, and vice versa. I admit I’m slightly jealous that in London it is still acceptable for journalists and PR people to discuss their pitches over drinks. 


Joining the ranks of PRGN are:

CooperKatz & Company (New York)

Ground Floor Media (Denver)

The Harrell Group (Dallas)

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Castle is a Stevie Award finalist for best PR agency in America!

Posted by thecastlegroup on May 22, 2009

We’ll be making more noise about this, but we are thrilled to make the finalist list as PR Agency of the Year for the Stevie Awards. We’re in the company of some other significant agencies. Our placement here is testament to our great team, terrific clients, strong work for Boston-area companies and also our national and international clients, our growing social media presence and activities, and the quality of our work.

You like us, you really like us.

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