Yes, Stefan, They ARE Storytellers

“My philosophy has always been that I believe that art is not an elitist gift for a few select people. Art is for everyone.” — Richard Attenborough

Recently, Juxtapoz featured a video by Stefan Sagmeister in which he proudly proclaimed, “No fuckhead, you are not a storyteller” to, well essentially anyone who isn’t a novel writer or a feature film director.

(The tl:dr version of this post? “Yes, Stefan. People are storytellers. And despite making some good points, you’re an idiot.”)

Stefan (can I call you Stefan? I mean, after watching your video and tearing it apart so many times, I feel there’s a certain kinship here) makes some interesting points, some of which even make sense. I understand the need to say outrageous things. After all, if you don’t then how will you convince people to show up to your next TED talk, or get picked up by Juxtapoz?

Continue reading “Yes, Stefan, They ARE Storytellers”

Why Do You Need a “Chief of Staff?”

“I’ve gotta keep the knucklehead stuff off of his desk, and this is worse. This is actual hot-button knucklehead. This could be a thing.”
John Spencer as Leo McGarry
“The West Wing”

Sometimes starting out at a new leadership position can feel like this!
(Image courtesy U.S. Government archives)

Congratulations! You’re now a CEO. The leader of an organization. (Large or small, nonprofit or for profit. It doesn’t matter)

But your time seems to be taken up with decisions that aren’t worth your time. Your calendar is full of meeting with department heads, other executives, maybe the media, and community leaders, but by 9:30 or 10 a.m. it’s been blown to hell with “crises” and problems that other C-Suite or director level positions can’t handle, or people who demand to speak to you “right now.”  It’s the classic argument of what’s “important” to you as a leader, and what’s “urgent,” jumping up and down demanding attention.
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Making Your Community Relations Play

Community relations needs to be a large part of any overall communication campaign, whether you’re working in politics, corporate PR, nonprofit or association communications.

If you’re going to be serious about community relations, you have to be involved in your community (online or offline) long before you actually need them. You’re working to build up community capital that you can cash in later when you need your community to back your proposal. If you’re a local civic leader, you can even beat back the threat of being fired with enough community support.

But like anything worth doing it takes time and hard work.

Community relations isn’t like a spigot – you can’t just turn it on and have goodwill come flooding out. It takes time – venturing out to meet with members of your community, and not just your immediate community, but across a geographical and demographic layer beyond your comfort zone. You have to go to their local summer BBQ’s, shaking hands and kissing babies, much like the best politicians.

You have to be involved in local governmental affairs. You can’t imagine the importance of good relations with local officials when you are trying to work on your university’s master plan, or building support for a Bond Campaign.

If you work at a school, college or university, your job is supposed to be easier. You should have departments dedicated to building bridges to communities. Parent Associations. Alumni Departments. PTAs for K-12. School Spirit Organizations. They are out there. You have to give them reasons to support you. Involving yourself with them matters.

How do you do this?

Continue reading “Making Your Community Relations Play”

Organizational Evangelism

(Or, “Darwin’s Bulldog 2.0”)

Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog”

Recently I’ve been talking with my friends about an idea that business guru Guy Kawasaki has been at the forefront of for many years, the idea of “product evangelism” or utilizing your biggest supporters to positively promote a product or organization (i.e. Apple’s iCabal).

Following up on this thought, you should look at how to develop your company’s/industry’s supporters into a cohesive “pack” (for lack of a better word) that is willing to support and defend your company.  Non-profit coalitions have been doing this for quite a while, and businesses can learn quite a bit from these organizations.  Many non-profits, if not almost all of them, have spent decades doing more with less when it comes to communications and coalition-building.  What these groups lacked in financial strength, they made up for in passion, perseverance, strategy and volunteerism.

What social media tools then did was lower the bar for strong content creation by these groups.  Once the bar was lowered these groups were able to produce their message cheaper and for a potentially larger audience.  This content creation then works hand-in-hand with social networking to build a larger base of volunteers, or as they tend to be called in a business setting, “evangelists.”

I call this idea “Darwin’s Bulldog 2.0″. (but I didn’t create this idea, it’s been out there for a while, but I wanted to look at how to use evangelists to passionately support and bolster your organization.)  A quick history lesson for y’all:

Thomas Huxley was a 19th century biologist from England.  He was a fierce proponent of this burgeoning scientific theory called “evolution” at a time when evolution was still being derided by many intellectual elites in England.  It was because of this devotion to his cause that he became known as “Darwin’s Bulldog.”

Huxley was groomed by Darwin and for a time became the face of public debate in favor of evolution.  He was known for his spirited debate about evolution with Samuel Wilberforce in 1860.  After this debate he served notice to the forces of traditional orthodoxy that evolution would not be easily pushed aside.  He stood in the face of this adversity for much of his career after the Wilberforce debate, giving as good as he got.

What does this have to do with public relations in the Web 2.0 world?  Quite a bit actually, especially when you advocate for your position or organization.

You can see much of the same kind of fervor online today, usually in political partisans (see Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin, Daily Kos, Eschaton, etc.)  since blogging entered the political realm back in the wee early 2000s.

While not all organizations or industries would need someone to vigorously defend them, as your organization moves into the social media realm, or develops a social network of allies (on Facebook or Ning, which I recommend) you can start to “feel out” if there are any of your online evangelists that could/would serve as your fervent supporters or defenders.

Trying to put together a “viral” social media campaign will not be successful without some level of separate, independent evangelism from your supporters.  (see “Walmarting Across America” or the definition of “greenwashing.”) This is where working with Ning, Awareness Inc., a site like My Barack Obama, or Facebook can help with creating a community for your supporters.  Giving them a chance to interact with each other, sharing and improving on ideas for your organization or product.

Suffice it to say, you will need to monitor and nurture this potentially burgeoning community.  As your community grows, you’ll get opponents signing on to keep track of what your organization is doing, and potentially flaming your community and sabotaging your efforts in growing the community.  You need to have a member of your social media team, probably one of your bloggers (if you have the luxury of hiring more than one person to take care of your social media creation needs) also oversee the community and interact with your evangelists in it.  Check out Dell’s IdeaStorm site for ideas to build on.

It’s important that these people be organically independent of your business.  You don’t want to be caught in the position of “paying” for support,” and the following blogstorm that will ensue. (see “Walmarting Across America” for an example of what not to do)

If your evangelists do work for your organization, they have to be up front about it – and then go the extra steps to prove that they mean what they advocate, and aren’t just cashing a paycheck. As long as they own up to working for the company, they aren’t disqualified for representing their company with passion.

To my PR readers out there, what do you think?  Should your organization have a “bulldog,” someone who is out there passionately defending your brand?  What do you think the downside is?  Can they be seen as a “loose cannon” who can do more damage to your brand?  Should you let one of your internal defenders speak out for you, or do you think that will cause more damage to your organization’s brand?

Using the Message Matrix in Communications – An Overview

Political season is well upon us in the United States (for my International readers, both of you, you might find this interesting as well) and one of the tried-and-true keys to developing a message in a political/issues campaign quickly is to use a message matrix.

A message matrix lets you set up a grid and take a look at your situation and helps you answer the following questions:

1. What can your opponents/activists/competition say about your organization/product/etc?

2. What can your opponents/activists/competition say about themselves?

3. What can your organization say about itself/product/etc.?

4. What can your organization say about your opponents/activists/competition?

A basic message matrix

 

When you take the time to sit down and look at your matrix, this is the time you need to take a critical look at your organization and your competition. Be honest with your organization’s strengths and weakness, and develop your potential messages accordingly. As a part of the message box, you might want to conduct a SWOT and/or PESTLE analysis, depending on your time.

If you look at your competition or activist groups in advance, a message matrix can help you organize your thoughts as you prepare questions, responses and talking points before you need them. It’s always good to show the executive leadership you’re prepared in advance for any media problems they might run into. It can also help you determine those messages, talking points, and possible responses on the fly if you need to.

This is just an overview of the message box, we’ll get into closer detail soon enough. But keep in mind, these messages will probably need to be vetted by your legal department, executive leadership, etc.

Where Does PR Go From Here?

“The Road goes ever on and on…”
J.R.R. Tolkien

(We’re taking a break from our usual lovable business advice column to bring you the following message)

Public Relations has a PR problem.

I know, a lot of people have heard that very lead over the years. But we really have a problem, and it’s getting worse, not better. In the past few years we’ve seen things from prominent PR firms astroturfing online campaigns to loosely-termed “PR Reality TV” shows provide an unrealistic view of public relations, an ABC show that portrays us all with a fine veneer of “we’ll do anything to save our clients” BS, and some of our worst representatives getting the most attention from the press. (Lizzie Grubman ring any bells?)

And what do we in PR do about it?

Not enough.

I remember when I finally received my degree in PR and advertising. Not more than thirty minutes after commencement I was talking with my dad, who congratulated me on finally getting the degree and then dropped a verbal pipe bomb of his own on me.

“Congratulations. You’re now a professional bullshit artist.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to step up and take back what it is public relations professionals do for a living. We have allowed this to happen. Years of not pointing out the weak actions of public relations professionals have allowed the media, and those activists who love to attack us as corporate liars, to frame us as unethical, lying bastards.

But these same people never want to be held up to the same standard of professionalism. The irony in this is that the same members of the media and activists (right or left, anti-corporate or not) who decry public relations as craven “spin masters” and liars who are busy “telling people what to think” use many of the same tactics created by public relations practitioners throughout the years on their own supporters. If we’re going to hold PR people up to a predisposed view, then these detractors need to be held to the same standard.

(It’s called the “Agenda Setting Theory” and we’ll get into a soon enough. But let me say with the increase in digital media, PR people have many new means to hold the media up to our own standards.)

It is because of public relations’ poor image that those professionals whose work is exemplary, people who should be held up as examples of ethical practitioners with a strong work ethic are immediately under suspicion of being “just another flack.” It’s true that there are poor PR professionals, those who haven’t been trained in PR (yes, a successful PR pro is trained beyond just the regular view of “I’m a writer” or “I’m a people person”), just like there are unethical journalists, or bad teachers, or misleading activist groups.

“If we’re not running offense, we’re running defense. And if we’re not playing defense… there’s some clever sports analogy that explains what happens then.”
Allison Janney as “C.J. Cregg”
“The West Wing”

Our default view as communications professionals appears to be one of “we’re writers. We communicate. We’re ‘people’ people.” What we don’t promote enough, or study enough, is the importance of strategy in communications and in business. (which involves quite a bit of research (which you’ll learn when you start to study for your APR or a business degree)

We are rarely brought into the upper echelon decision making, because we’re not only seen as, but want to promote ourselves as, just “writers.” According to a 1999 white paper by crisis management expert Jim Lukaszewski, a management consultant explained to public relations professionals why they would rarely be able to address the concerns of the C-Suite. And it was a shock to many of the PR professionals in the audience. For all of our talk about the importance of communicating and writing in public relations, few professionals are able to show the C-Suite the impact that we have on those numbers that are important to them. Finances, sales, increase in profits.

(And don’t give me the “advertising equivalent” argument – that’s the biggest load of BS that public relations has ever come up with)

I give PRSA some credit for trying to improve the professionalism of practitioners around the country, with the APR program and now the organization’s new MBA initiative, tying public relations closer to business schools (where it needs to be). This is only the start of the necessary push to improve public relations’ image. It took us a long time to dig into this hole, it’s going to take us a long time to get out of it.

Why should PR professionals stick up for what we do? I’ll let Ron Silver’s character from “The West Wing” respond for me. (please ignore the politics if it’s not your thing, but the underlying sentiment is solid.)

Is this a Post-Blog Era?

An interesting question to ask, but it’s something that I’ve been pondering for a while. Ev Bogue brought this back to the front of my mind recently with his Google+ post stating his belief that we are in a post-blogging era.

I thought about it – I haven’t posted on here in a few months, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been creating content. In fact, between my Facebook page, Twitter account, InstagramTumblr (which currently is where I’m sorting through Instagram) and even Google+, I’m creating a lot more content and engaging with a lot of people, even if my blog doesn’t reflect that. (And this doesn’t even count my top secret new project or the Rugby SuperSite)

Is this really a blog-free era? And if so, what does this mean for companies (if GM is to be believed, buying Facebook ads doesn’t help with sales) or personal brands/regular people who are interesting in elevating their profile? These are some of the ideas I’ll be tackling in the near future here.  I’m curious about what your thoughts on the issue are.

– BH