Stephanie Johnson

Stephanie Johnson

These are my thoughts about online marketing and industry practices, both good and bad, to help you understand the importance of controlling your image in today’s media-rich online environment.

You can also find me on

Wednesday, 03 February 2016 00:26


bowieCh-ch-ch-ch-Changes, sang the great David Bowie, who recently dominated the news cycle by reinventing himself — once again — from beyond the grave. He faced the ultimate change with grace, class, dignity, and a very clear-eyed command of his circumstances. 

Here in Houston, where we're all bemoaning the freefall of oil prices, the bu-bu-bu-bu-Bubble has once again burst and the ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes aren't pretty.

Valued clients are no longer allowed to hire "contractors" (like lieberjohnson) and close friends trudge to work wondering if each day will prove their last taste of gainful.employment.ever.

We lived by the energy sword and now many feel like they're dying by it. Employees of all ages now know what it feels like to be a much-maligned millennial, defined and bested by economic circumstances beyond anyone's control.

It’s not a good time for the many who confused their six-figure salaries and net worth with their value as human beings.

But marketing and PR are the mother and red-haired stepchild of business reinvention. They always dress up and show up no matter what. Change is the currency of spin and cynicism aside, meaningful growth.

Real value lies in your ability to cost-effectively ch-ch-ch-ch-Change and pitch your brand according to the vagaries of a heartless world economy.

Money’s tight but marketing is never luxury. It should be an affordable investment in your business future. Act like a red-haired stepchild to survive and thrive in the under-$30/barrel environment:

  1. Stop overspending on websites. The average Joomla/WordPress/Drupal template costs less than $100 and between $5,000 to $15,000 to build out.
  2. Get your hourly rates down. You don’t need a big agency at $250/hour even for “crisis-communications” or “thought-leadership.”
  3. Pithy writers can spin anything at rates well under $100/hour.
  4. Monthly retainers need to die and go away. Hire marketing and PR firms for specific projects and let them work against hours.
  5. Don’t waste precious staff time on IT turf wars. Let your PR firm manage the technical aspects of your website.
  6. Don’t overlook the value of an intranet site. You can communicate daily and globally with employees for less than $10,000 plus a $50/hourly rate for content management.
  7. Social media isn’t a yawning maw only the witty and young can feed. Task your agency with identifying 3-4 topics a month then breaking them down into weekly or daily Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook etc. posts you can make.
  8. Writing insightful, meaningful content for your website and keeping the site fresh with new blog items and changes costs little but generates great results in search rankings.
  9. PPC is complicated so let experts manage your spend at hourly rates you control.
  10. You have no reason to complain about limited “media” any more. The worldwide Internet of bloggers, consumers and review sites lies completely at your disposal. Talk, with the help of a reputable and cost-effective agency, is very cheap relative to the returns it commands.
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 14:09

What are they tweeting about you?

Paul Bradshaw posted an extremely useful tutorial today on his fabulous

Twitter has a "search within lists" feature that allows journalists to find local reaction to breaking national news ... meaning potential "sources" for stories about your "incident." You can use it, too.

Instead of paying high-dollar marketing firms to ferret out online chatter about your reputation, try this before you get into crisis mode. You might find it useful for identifying and trying to engage with stakeholders before they become credible sources.

shoutPlease don't  read this if you're one of my clients. It might offend you to know what copywriters and editors really think about language that seems effortless and appropriate to you

On Dec. 23, Oz-based The Plain English Foundation announced the worst doublespeak -- err corporate language -- of 2015.

To be fair, several of these worst-of-the-worst phrases probably represent the culmination of hours of arguments and micro-finessing between in-house attorneys and corporate communications groups (which always lose to the lawyers, sadly).

Here are the highlights, as deliciously rehashed by

VW takes top prize for using "emissions" as shorthand for "emissions regulations," as in "possible emissions non-compliance."

FIFA captured mixed metaphor-of-the-year honors with "Not even death will stop the avalanche that is coming. The die is cast. There can be no turning back. Let the chips fall where they fall."

The UN went down for a 20-page, 16,000-word report on climate change by promising to "faciliate clarity, transparency, and understanding."

"Over-firm denial" now means lie. "Precision guided weapons" are bombs.

As observed with startling accuracy, "Editors are no strangers to convoluted constructions and garish grandiloquence."

Which is precisely why CEOs and lawyers need to pay attention when PR or corporate communications types say "no" to the way a press release or response is tersely worded.

Australia has our backs.

Tuesday, 05 January 2016 13:47

Invite feedback

Don't know if I'm the only one waking up from a sleepy holiday season to discover this new feature in The New York Times: The ability for readers to provide instant feedback to articles they're reading.

The gray lady's created feedback "fields" a paragraph or so into selected articles. Many readers have an agenda when they peruse articles with headlines like "Even Insured Can Face Crushing Medical Debt, Study Finds."  NYT has found an excellent way to channel their experiences in a way that adds color and interest to other readers. I'm presuming these comments are moderated so crazy trolls or long-winded pseudo experts are left to more conventional "comments" threads.

LieberJohnson pitched this idea yesterday to several clients building corporate intranets. True and meaningful employee engagement has eluded internal comms groups for years. There can't be a better way in 2016 to kick off two-way communication or build interest in even the most-mundane corporate news than posting realtime employee comments and observations.

It's very easy to integrate this component into any website. Ring in the New Year by giving us a call.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015 11:19

Controlled honesty is the new transparency

In the past, many of our energy clients settled for "credible transparency," the holy grail of most PR outreach. They paid us to pay lip service to the environment and stakeholders, but seldom backed up their corporate citizenship efforts with meaningful outreach.

As we preach in our pitches to new and potential clients, social media and millennial expectations aren't just chiseling away at this approach to reputation management, they've blasted it apart.

Therefore, it is with the greatest admiration that we salute Chevron's approach to the new game in media: "Controlled honesty."

Owning what you do in a difficult operating environment like the entire State of California is a good business practice. It's also incredibly gutsy PR.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015 10:54

No new news, just new business!

In case you missed it, the San Marcos area's about to add another corporate neighbor to its already impressive roster of new businesses.

The I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio is hot, and LieberJohnson couldn't be busier, helping clients get in front of the big dollars headed their way.

Of course we're bringing tried-and-true tricks to the trade - press releases, detailed media lists, thought leadership - but increasingly we're managing all social-media accounts for smaller firms that are just waking up to the fact they're missing out on one of the most cost-effective ways to message potential customers.

Monday, 06 July 2015 13:31

shrug ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

How many times have you watched Star Trek Capt. Jean-Luc Picard "face palm" online? Repeatedly?

There's a name for this type of Internet communication. According to an item on jStor ("where news meets its scholarly match") that was picked up by Longreads, the so-called reaction gif is "one of the more interesting aspects of Internet culture...the transformative ways people engage in creative language play, particularly when it comes to expressing emotions and reactions through words alone."

Facebook enthusiasts are very familiar with reaction gifs, which frequently dot responses from millennials. Reaction gifs are much better than old-fashioned emoticons at conveying emotion, irony and sometimes sarcasm. They convey gestures - especially of embarrassment or disbelief.

From there, they reenter the daily lexicon as gesture-based compounds like "facepalm." It's a short hop, skip and a jump before these lovely summary words appear in headlines, e.g. "He facepalmed on the country's behalf" (Esquire).

PR practitioners once feared soundbites gone awry from clients who strayed off-point and off-message in TV interviews with clever reporters.

Now, those soundbites can be reduced to vines that can be shortened to reaction gifs that stream ad nauseum online. Worse, an ill-advised soundbite or flaky pronouncement on a Twitter feed is guaranteed to provoke witty reaction gifs and gesture-based compounds very difficult to refute.

Corporate employees are advised to think of how their emails would sound, if read out loud in a court of law. LieberJohnson strongly urges its clients to think of the many ways their statements and actions could be interpreted by reaction gifs and trendy linguistics on the Internet.

For better or worse, this is the new world of thought-leadership. Stakeholder emoticons and gifs are shrugs and gestures by living and breathing stakeholders not necessarily interested in meangingful debate.

It's not in the nature of many brands or corporations to dabble in the world of symbolic speech, nor should it be. However, in today's intense online environment, it pays to out-trend this linguistic morphology by appearing savvy and sophisticated in other venues like Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, blogs and websites.

The fight for public opinion begins and ends on the Internet. Offset the impactful gif with meaningful dialog.

Friday, 12 June 2015 11:26

The six superpowers of mobile

Meet the Newsosaur. Alan D. Mutter dates back to the days of handset type. The former big city newspaper editor has reinvented himself several times, riding the cusp of technology tidal waves crashing onto the eroding shores of traditional journalism.

In today's blog post, he focuses on the growing impact of mobile on ad spends. "Any day now, we will cross another technological tipping point, as the majority of digital advertising purchases moves to mobile devices from desktops and latops."

Mobile, he says, is "where the eyeballs are."

No surprises to this zombie, who at least remembers the days when people didn't sleep with cellphones. As the Pew Research Center noted in April, we spend almost three hours per day on mobile devices.

LieberJohnson isn't an ad agency, but as the lines continue to blur between journalism/marketing/advertising/public relations, Mutter's observations apply to anyone trying to manipulate public opinion or engage with a stakeholder.

"The powerful attraction that mobile pones hold over their owners overcomes the single greatest challenge facing advertisers: capturing a customer's attention."

Mobile phones, Mutter correctly notes, are addictive, targetable, social, transactional, measurable and unavoidable.

What more could a client or PR firm wish for?



Tuesday, 12 May 2015 10:24

Wither journalism?

“What does the reporter really want?”

Corporations – always suspicious and publicity shy – pay PR people and media relations types a lot of money to deal with calls from the media. This is the first question we typically hear from wary executives of publicly traded companies.

What they fail to intuit, as one professor observed in the business section of last Sunday's Houston Chronicle, is that the very nature of their operations ... like drilling for shale gas ... makes them appear oppositional in any dealing with the public. Hence business' default media response is defensive and curt instead of seemingly genuine, empathetic and transparent.

As the big bang of social media continues to expand at unimaginable speed, this default stance is dangerous and counter-productive. Reporters today don't just report. They tweet, blog, post, and film. They follow Twitter, read expert blogs, carefully monitor posts on social media, read comment sections, and watch uploads to YouTube.

The better question to ask is, "What does the reporter do?" How should a corporate response to a media inquiry be shaped by current technology? What reporters write may no longer be as important as the forums they use to disseminate information.

Reporters graduating from J-schools around the country are digital natives who use digital forums that come quite naturally to them.

The Columbia Journalism Review, published by one of the nation's leading journalism school, recently asked its students to investigate this new frontier or "leading edge" of journalism. You can review their special edition HERE.

Click HERE to read about journalism experiments they identified as likely to impact the way the media covers news. Reporters are digital explorers, not just natives. They're focused on finding new mediums that, as one reporter observed of podcasting, feel "more participatory because the person's voice is in our ears."

How can corporations become part of that voice in stakeholders' ears?

Setting aside the fairly salient observation by the Harvard professor (sorry, we can't find the link to the article on the Chron site), they can start by using the same tools reporters do. Students in the CJR provided many excellent examples.

Corporations, with many resources at their disposal, should consider adopting some of these best-practices and, incorporate them into their online messaging. Offer up what reporters need on website and issues-management micro-sites.

Fundamentally, one thing will never change: Reporters want answers. Companies that can deliver messages in the formats reporters need will thrive on the new frontiers of journalism if they can strategically deliver sound bites, infographics, interactive maps, coded confirmation systems, card stacks, virtual reality, long-form articles, captivating illustrations, websites optimized for information dissemination, enhanced searchability, and targeted content.

What reporters really need are answers they can present in high-tech online forums. Deliver answers in various permutations so reporters don't even have to ask.

After all, the best media call is the one that isn't made. Eliminate the risks inherent in "talking to a reporter" by eliminating the need for media calls. As we tell all our clients, it's easily to be credibly transparent if you play the online game the right way instead of butting heads with stakeholders.

Friday, 08 May 2015 11:17

PR's finest hour

New uses for old products ... PR people live for this kind of stuff.