Aug 7 2011

Dogbert’s PR Ethics

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Posted my 400th Tweet this morning. Dogbert’s “PR Ethics” highlight negative perceptions about our craft.“>

I moderated two APR Readiness Review panels a few weeks ago and neither candidate had given the PRSA Code Ethics serious consideration (yet).  I believe we can all benefit from further reflection on the ethical choices we make daily on the job.

Mar 10 2010

Lack of Brains Hinders Research

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Yes, this headline was a question on the APR exam to define one of Lippmann’s barriers to communication(The answer is: Distortion due to compression).

When I started my blog last fall, I had intended to write more about the process of studying for the APR exam. Instead, I found my passion in writing about social media, crisis communications and current events.

Now that I have earned my APR, I am both relieved and excited to join this elite group of public relations professionals. Here are my lessons learned for the successful completion of the APR readiness review and computer examination process.

1) Be ready to make the commitment to read a lot (study guide, text books, articles, case studies) and to exercise the APR knowledge, skills and abilities in hypothetical scenarios.

2) Form a study group. You can meet in person or chat online (e.g. Google Chat). Invite APRs to your study sessions. Talk through every scenario in the study guide and your own case studies. Deconstruct case studies and rebuild them.

3) Embrace communications theory. It had been years since I thought seriously about diffusion theory and the Grunig models of activating publics. These and other theoretical concepts have helped make sense of the confusion surrounding social media, for example.

4) Research and measurement tied to objectives. Unfortunately, many PR operations often do not have sufficient budget for pre and post research or measurement.  Yet, these topics are a significant portion of the exam. Study up, and you’ll find new ways of thinking about how to incorporate research and measurement into your job with no or little budget.

5) Business literacy and ethics. Experience is the best teacher in these areas. If you haven’t worked for a publicly traded company or been faced with challenging decision making, seek out colleagues who have.

6) Sitting in front of a computer for 3 hours and 45 minutes was not as painful as I envisioned. There is plenty of time to read the questions and review answers if necessary.

Feb 26 2010

Crisis On Display

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Chances are you missed this week’s other bi-partisan round table — Cyber Shockwave “We Were Warned” — a war game hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center and broadcast on CNN Feb. 20 and 21. It was compelling television.

This crisis simulation of a cyber warfare attack that cripples telecommunications, air travel and countless other activities that we take for granted was expertly executed. Participants — former national security officials and advisers from the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations — gathered in a mock White House war room to work through the scenario and prepare a briefing for the President.

Former press secretary Joe Lockhart role played the president’s adviser. His participation was critical to the success of the simulation. His counsel throughout the exercise illustrated the balancing act of sharing timely and accurate information with the public without causing panic. Lockhart’s focus on the effect of both the problem (an act of war by an unknown country, terrorist group or individual) and the recommendations for action (e.g. shut down the cell phone network) were poignant.

The communications/PR function must be at the table to recommend and help formulate policy and protocols as well as plan for information dissemination.

To view the simulation on You Tube, search”cyber shockwave”. If you’ve never been involved in table top crisis exercise, this is an excellent example of a crisis scenario.

Feb 13 2010

Building the Case for Social Media

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Many of the students in the media relations class that I’m teaching are frustrated with social media. They work for companies in Salt Lake City and Cairo. For Federal, State and Local governments around the country. For Fortune 500 companies. The common compliant?  I can’t get the CEO, legal counsel or other senior executives to approve a blog or other social media channels.

Social media may seem risky. But …. No risk, no reward. No pain, no gain. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Okay.  Clichés don’t win approval of your social media plans. How do you change perceptions of the C-Suite and build the case of social media — be it blogs, social networking, video/photos, book marking or a combination?

1)   Read. A recent study on corporate blogging by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research  finds that nearly 40 percent of Inc. 500 companies blog. About 16 percent of Fortune 500 companies are blogging. What lessons can be applied to your organization?

2)   Define your purpose. Why should your organization plan a social media strategy? How does it advance your business goals? Who are your audiences? What do you want to learn from your audience? How can you make fragmentation work to your advantage? Will social media be a long-term commitment? A series of marketing or education campaigns? Know what you want to do and for whom before presenting a plan to management.

3)   Look at all the options. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube are among the most ubiquitous. However, LinkedIn, Wikis, or Ning may be more appropriate to building community. The channels and integration depend on what kind of conversation you are trying to achieve. If you aren’t ready for a two-way conversation, then continue to monitor trends and competitors.

4)   Research. If you have budget for primary research to conduct a survey or focus groups, do so. If not, use the myriad of free tools and analytics to learn what content is accessed most frequently on the corporate Web site and to monitor conversations about your company (e.g. blog alerts, Twitter monitoring tools).  Study what your competitors are doing. Make a few phone calls – to peers at similar organizations, to journalists, to trusted customers or clients. Arm yourself with information and prepare a reasoned argument to convince leadership why social media is critical to help achieve business goals.

5)   Create a social media council. If there is strong resistance to social media in your organization, you may need to do this informally at first. Gather three or four colleagues from across the organization to understand better what their concerns and goals are. If your organization is actively planning to launch a social media strategy, defining this group of decision makers is essential to managing the success of the social media strategy. This also is the time to create a company-wide social media policy.

6)   Plan your work. And work your plan.

For additional resources on digital communications, visit PR-Squared’s Jedi Training list or read Digital Strategies for Powerful Corporate Communications.

Best of success!

Feb 6 2010

Snowed: PR Does Not Stand For Press Release

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The week started with Punxsutawney Phil predicting six more weeks of winter and end with a blizzard in the Mid-Atlantic.

Throughout the week, I’ve had numerous conversations about public relations and the necessity of relationship building for successful media relations programs. Discussing the challenges of demonstrating PR value to executives concerned with outputs (those dreaded activity reports and hit counts). How to set expectations and establish meaningful and analytic measurements of media relations outcomes. The importance of reading or watching the media and knowing the reporter’s bio before making a pitch.

Then I watched An Inconvenient PR Truth produced by a news release distribution service in the UK called RealWire. The campaign is designed to end the practice of “PR Spam,” sending unsolicited news releases to countless journalists on a media list — many of whom are unlikely to write a story. The solution? An American-style “Bill of Rights” — 10 tips to approaching reporters and bloggers. (e.g. be targeted and knowledgeable and no attachments.)

The inconvenient reality, however, is that such Smile and Dial or Spray and Pray practices will not be abandoned. Unfortunately, there will often be pressure to report that 50 reporters were contacted. A young PR newbie will triumpantly confirm that the reporters on the list got the news release. Why?  Because some manager or executive will cling to foolish expectations that such activity will produce media coverage.

I do believe that most PR professionals focus their media efforts on the key reporters and producers who likely to write a story as a result of a targeted and well-crafted pitch (email, call or tweet). The goal is to produce quality stories or bylined articles that help achieve a strategic goal.  Not to produce a call log.

While I applaud RealWire for a clever twist on this perennial blemish, I think the video and blog chatter miss the point. PR professionals need to work with management to set expectations about realistic outcomes (vs. outputs) and educate leadership on how to build relationships with key media critical to business success. This is a key management function of public relations.

Also, news releases do play a necessary role in the public relations process and become part of the historic record. And not everyone spams reporters.

Effective public relations is about the relationships and the story telling ability that generates media coverage. And more importantly, the trust between a reporter and a PR contact that can more positively affect reporting. Being responsive and providing timely background is critical to the success of the PR operations of any company or organization.

Frances Stead Sellers, deputy national editor of health and science at The Washington Post, spoke earlier this week to PRSA members. While much of her advice mirrors the “Bill of Rights” and best practices in media relations, she stressed the importance of context in pitching.

You can have a newsworthy topic, but you need to put it in context (e.g. largest gift of its kind, first discovery, contrary finding).  Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation needs to explain “why” a $10 billion grant for global vaccine research and delivery is important and how the financial commitment compares to previous investments.

Thus, getting a reporter’s attention isn’t about the press release. It’s about relationships, trust and having a news worthy story to tell or comment to share about current events and trends.

If you need a good primer on this process and how to communicate with management, please read How Come No One Knows About Us. In addition, recent research by Cision and Don Bates with GW’s Strategic Public Relations program provides insight on working with the media.