public relations

The Death Of “Death Of …” Posts

Just a quick post to get this off of my chest.

Public Relations... not dead

Advertising… not dead

RSS Technology… not dead

Newspapers… not dead, just evolving (the smart ones are)

OK, these things are not dead. Let’s all get over the fact that despite everyone’s best bet, they aren’t dead.

What might qualify as “dead”

  • Friendster
  • MySpace
  • Kirk Cameron as some kind of religious leader

Before we all jump on the easy linkbait stories about the death of RSS, or Public Relations, or JR Ewing, or whatever, let’s all take a step back and think about what ever is being touted as dead and if it’s really useless to business needs, instead of our needs.

That’s what should be an overarching theme in social media, business and public relations for 2011. Is there going to be a shift back from the “social media” expert to an incorporation of social media into your communications plan?

public relations

Bad PR Can’t Cover Up for Stupid Actions

(Also from earlier this year, still moving content over)

And in news from Northern Ireland, where the deep winter freeze has wrecked havoc on water pipes throughout the small nation during Christmas-time, and the country’s water supply service had very limited plans to help provide water to patrons, what could add to the problem and potentially cost the head of Northern Ireland Water his cushy 250,000-pound/year job?

If you said “bullshitting the media and not answering questions until you get called out with irrefutable evidence of screw ups, and not addressing the growing public outcry asking what the hell is going on,” then you’d be right.

In yet another instance of not planning ahead for a disaster, and then not answering the media’s questions when said disaster happens, the Belfast Telegraph is reporting that Laurence MacKenzie, the head honcho of Northern Ireland Water is preparing to leave his job because of the way the organization screwed up the current water crisis going on.

This comes on the heels of multiple radio shows by BBC Northern Ireland’s Stephen Nolan, the head of what Nolan daily refers to as “the biggest show in the country,” (because at a projected 100,000+ daily listenership it probably is) digging into what was really going on with the lack of water in Northern Ireland. Nolan did what any good journalist would do – he didn’t take the story at face value and dug long enough until he figured out that one of the largest hospitals in the country, the Royal Victoria Hospital, was without water and having to hand out bottled water while telling the media at the same time that they were never doing this.

And at the same time that multiple news outlets are reporting that he is preparing to leave his office, MacKenzie steadfastly continues on stating he’s not getting ready to leave his job, and he’s definitely not leaving in on Wednesday. If the media is right and he leaves, then we’ve got one more instance of him trying to mislead the media to the end.  Oh well, at least he’d be consistent.

I’m not going to get preachy here, really I’m not. I’ve said enough times that if you are going to do something stupid and lie about it to the public then you are going to get caught, end of story (yet for some reason people keep doing it). My only advice in this instance, as a PR professional, is to come clean about what happened with this organization, allow the CEO to throw himself on his sword, cash in his severance package, and start anew with a new leader and a new promise to not do this again. Not the disaster, because those happen (and it’s good to prepare for them), but the lying.

And in a rare move of honesty and honorable service to the public, live up to that promise.

public relations, Uncategorized

Corporate Mindfulness, and not Letting the Past Rule You

(From March of this year, as I migrate more content over from SquareSpace)

Don’t repeat the past, the past is there to guide the present into the future. Too many organizations are mired in “how things used to be run” and how to reexamine bringing the past back into the present. The past is in the past for a reason, to be learned from to help you achieve a tomorrow that is better than today, not for you to bring it back from the dead.

The past is in the past for a reason.  Leave it there and learn from it. We try to focus on the past for so much because we want to, for lack of a better term, “hoard” time.

Too many of us want to “turn back the clock” and go to the “good old days.” In personal lives we want to regain our lost youth, and in business we want to return to a day when there was “more” to go around (jobs, wealth, financial security, etc).

While in our society we enjoy poking fun at people who are called “hoarders,” considering ourselves to be above them – but it does not dawn on us that too often in the business world we end up “hoarding” many other things: money, power, desire, contacts, etc. Much like the person who has too much physical clutter in their homes, businesses run the risk of running into too much corporate clutter which warps our mental state as much as any physical junk pile.

Being mindful of not just your corporate needs, but the impact your corporate decisions will have on your community,  can help alleviate some of this, if you are aware of when this clutter begins to show up in your mind.  It’s hard because in order to avoid this “corporate hoarding” you might have to act in ways that are good for the “spirit” but not always the best for the shareholders’ pocketbook (in the short-term, I believe when you look at the long-term it will be better for your organization/city/neighbors/etc)

public relations, social media

"Disney-fying" Your Story

Walt Disney World and Disneyland parks are often called “The Happiest Places on Earth,” however if you ask many of Disney’s detractors they’d say that Disney’s marketing just tells a good story. Regardless of how you view Disney (I personally am a huge fan), you should grab your Moleskein or netbook and take a trip to either park for a couple of days to take notes and learn how to “Disney-fy” how you tell stories.

When I talk about “Disney-fying” your story, I’m not talking about making a simple story, I mean think about how to create a more immersive story, using multiple media, online and offline, community development and more.

I was watching a special on Disney World when I started writing this piece. The show was describing the Disney Animal Kingdom’s Everest Ride, and how the “story” behind the ride started long before you arrived at the ride – it started as soon as you entered the “village” area for the ride, with posters about the yeti being shown on screen, and how the little shops, food areas, etc around the ride had elements about the yeti and the Nepalese mentality of “forbidden areas” around mountains that are believed to have yeti. These elements gave more of an “asian flavor” to the ride, giving it more background and depth than just another basic rollercoaster ride. (Think of your messages in this way, what can you do to provide more information or depth to your message – going beyond just having another message to tell.)

When you visit one of the Disney theme parks there are a myriad of stories being told beyond the obvious “Walt Disney” story. Far too often people are rushing around to really let the stories sink in with them, and if your communication efforts aren’t ready to meet the challenge of connecting people, they’ll rush away before your message resonates with them. (regardless of if it’s a sales message, a communication message, or a community building message)

This also goes to show you that you the importance of having people knowledgeable about storytelling and the elements of your organization, people who can’t fake this interest and knowledge, engaging with your audience in these multiple media. How do these elements work together, how do you play on their various strengths to tell your story?

Football, public relations

PR Tips: What Should NFL Players do in 2011?

The ending of the 2010 NFL season is quickly coming upon us.  Not soon enough for those of who are Bills fans.  And while the usual suspects are once again at the top of the league, when next August rolls around there is a strong chance that the players and owners will be at an impasse as to how to address the issues of player contracts, etc.

We’re on the edge of a lockout/strike, the two words that are going to be bandied about back and forth between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.  Athletes in previous strikes were not quiet about what they felt they had earned because of their skills and started talking on camera, and then lost any public support they had in their negotiations.

As an academic exercise, I’ve been thinking about what the players should do given the media storm that will start up as soon as the season ends.  Below are a few PR tips, this is not a complete list, but a starting point for a discussion.

  1. Take some time off – I know it’s going to be hard for you to understand, but don’t seek out the camera.  Let your agent, or better yet an actual PR professional (not one of your peeps) handle the media questions.  Eventually a player is going to say something that’s taken out of context that will hurt the negotiations between your representatives and the owners.
  2. Create one simple command message to give the media when you are asked: “To all of our fans, we are incredibly sorry that the owners have decided to lock us out and forfeit the 2011 season. We look forward to when we can be back out on the field entertaining all of you.”
    1. Period. That’s it. No discussion of the owners, their vast oceans of cash, their personal hygiene habits, the fact that they talk with their mouths full at dinner, or how that magic jumpsuit has been able to keep Al Davis alive after being clinically dead for so long.
  3. This is going to be hard for a lot of NFL players who are used to being the center of attention, but don’t talk about the lockout – period. Go back to the talking statement above, “We are sorry about…”
  4. Take a tip from the recent “Digital Death” campaign, get away from the social media a bit more.  I’m not saying stay off of it, but you’re going to be asked about the lockout, what your feelings are, why “rich, spoiled athletes are ruining the game we love so much,” etc. Don’t fall for the bait.
  5. Be seen in the community.  Not the community of sycophantic peeps that you’ve created around you, but your actual community.  What causes do you believe in (animal rights, poverty, education, etc)?  Why not dedicate some time helping your community out – above and beyond what the NFL appears to mandate you do. It’s a great way to build goodwill in the community, and it’s something you might want to start on now.
  6. I might have mentioned this already, but DO NOT COMMENT ON THE NEGOTIATIONS!  The owners realize that if they hang together, and don’t comment on the lockout outside of official spokespeople, that eventually one of the players is going to say something stupid (remember the NBA lockout? Latrell Sprewell I believe said something to the effect of “I have to feed my family, I need my millions.”)
  7. Each team is supposed to have one player represent them in the NFL Players Association. If anyone needs to speak for a team’s roster, let it be these players.
  8. This is possibly the worst economic time to negotiate from, the fans are not going to support you as much as you think because while you and the owners are fighting over a big pile of cash, fans are going to be busy trying to find jobs, to keep their family in their house, to pay for their kids education. And the owners are going to play the “greedy players” card on top of this.
  9. At the end of the day, it’s a numbers game – There are 32 team owners against hundreds of players. The odds of who will crack first and say something stupid to the media are slimmer for the owners than it is for the players.  It requires more than a bit of mindfulness on your part as an NFL player, but remember these tips in the upcoming negotiation period if you want a better chance of keeping the public on your side.
public relations, social media, Strategy

Play to Your Strengths

Some of the online discussion has recently asked who is the best to represent your organization in social media. Your PR or marketing agency? Or your in-house experts and communicators?

I’m going to go with your in house people. Having your social media team (which needs to be made up of people in your company from many disciplines – marketing, PR, sales, operations, development, programming, etc) spearheaded by your own employees allows your company to tap into a much deeper knowledge of the products, services, issues, etc. Much more in depth than your PR firm working 40 hours a month on your account.

This isn’t to denigrate the work that firms do for a client – it actually promotes a firewall separating the strengths of a firm and the company in question.  The primary social media content and creation needs should come from your company’s evangelists while your firm can bring the team important insights about your company or a new idea for social media tools (for example). Sometimes that outside viewpoint can give your firm the great ideas to move your organization into a new communications phase.

When you start a communications team/Firm partnership, you need to establish the ground rules for what each side of the equation will do. Be careful to not let the line blur too much, each team will work to their strengths, and the people on each team can hold the other team accountable to working to those strengths.

CEO Chat, Game Changers, Management Consulting, public relations, Strategy

Authenticity – A Discussion

Note: This is an edited transcript of one of a number of ongoing Google Wave exchanges between Will Reichard of CrossCut Communications and Benson Hendrix, author of bensonhendrix.com, a blog about public relations, strategy and new media. It is being cross-posted on both sites.

Will: One of the blog ideas I had was about “authenticity”–the importance of a unique voice in an online identity. Being authentic requires courage, self-awareness and practice. Benson, what are some of your favorite examples of authenticity in action in the online realm?

Benson: In addition to the three attributes you named for authenticity, I would add patience and mindfulness, an ability to not only listen to what people are telling you, but to really hear and absorb their words, mulling them over before responding.

One of the first examples that comes to mind for me is Richard Edelman, of the mega-PR firm Edelman Public Relations. While some of the moves his company have made in the online realm have been very questionable (anyone remember “Walmarting Across America?”) Edelman himself seems willing to be authentic and upfront on his own blog.

Dell is always one of my go-to examples for what is right in the online sphere. In addition to selling over $6 million through Twitter (reported naturally enough, on Twitter) Dell has really worked hard to change their image from going through “Dell Hell” to seeking out people with Dell problems and actively engaging them to help fix their problems – I know, I was one of them a few years back. Lionel Menchaca, Richard Binhammer and the rest of the Dell outreach team have done a great job.

Other examples of authenticity online include Bob Lutz at G.M. and the Fastlane Blog, and Scott Monty on the other side of the street at Ford. Both are doing interesting things online to get people excited about their products.

In the PR world, I also like following Richard Laermer and Peter Shankman. Each one has developed a social media presence that is truly a part of themselves, it’s not phony or perceived as a sham.

For smaller companies, or companies that have a one person commanding presence that stands out when you think of that company (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Lee Iacocca) it’s almost easier to use online tools and social media to develop your business presence around that outstanding person, since the two companies are linked already.

Will: Great points, Benson, and I love the idea of quiet consideration before responding–I really think it helps to discover what’s authentic in what one is about to say. I’m also put in mind of your blog post on “swinging back” — namely, that the authentic response is the right one, not just the one that convention dictates is “correct.” Which is another way of saying, textbooks are great, but at some point, you have to leave the crutches behind.

Which brings me back to the idea of courage as a prerequisite for authenticity. And this is especially an issue in social media, don’t you think? You’re operating at high speeds without a net (pun intended).

Here in New Mexico (though with a reach that goes way beyond), I enjoy watching Lee Stranahan in this regard (http://leestranahan.com/). Lee has a unique voice and rarely pulls his punches. It’s not always easy for him, but it’s also a big part of the reason he’s as widely successful as he is.

Benson: Yeah, it’s definitely OK for people to leave the crutches behind and start experimenting with new ideas. And you’re right that courage is needed, not just in authenticity but also in dealing with authority. If you’re unwilling to discuss your concerns with your boss, or you are left in a “need to know” basis, then you will always find yourself in a situation where you have to defensively respond to what’s going on while you try to figure out what’s going on. And you can’t build trust or any kind of authentic value doing that.

Will: Great point–with all the discussion about the role of communications in the C Suite–the “at the table” discussion–maybe we should talk about educating one’s organization on the value of authenticity. As a student of management, I’d have to say this is a great case of “getting what you reward.” Look at JFK, who told his Cabinet he didn’t want a bunch of “yes men.” And yet, that’s very, very difficult to create where there is any imbalance of power (and JFK suffered from that). An organization’s leaders have to (for lack of a better word) institutionalize that attitude.

If you’re looking for truth-to-power types, it’s important to make authenticity a part of the interview process, both for the interviewee and for the organization.  You might create some scenarios and ask the interviewee about them. Better yet, when you call his or her references (and you always should), ask them about it. In any case, managers need to build this into their process to avoid groupthink and ensure communications that are thought through and genuine. You have to hold up people who practiced authenticity and let everyone see that not only was that spirit tolerated, it is in fact rewarded. This can be really tough to do! Authenticity isn’t necessarily a comfortable solution.

Readers: What do you think? What role does authenticity play in communications? What examples have you seen?

public relations, social media

PR Firms as "News Stations?"

(crossposted at PR Open Mic)

Why aren’t Public Relations firms more effectively using new media tools to create their own “news stations,” reporting on what their clients are doing? As long as those firms fulfill government requirements for disclosure regarding clients/freebies/etc., it makes sense to create content to their client’s advantage.

Now this might seem to run counter to what I’ve said recently about the importance of companies taking control of their own social media messaging. It is important for your organization to create its own social media content, especially blogging and video work. But if you have a PR firm on contract, then you should let the firm showcase its content on their own blog.  It not only promotes the firm (and you as a client of the firm), it’s additional information about your organization that can be picked up by Google searches.

Why and how should a firm set up an online newsroom?

  • It’s like setting up any other blog, with categories and/or pages for each client, and using tags for subcategories.
  • With a WordPress theme like Thesis, and/or an SEO plug in like you’re posts about each client will also appear in an SEO-friendly format
  • Firms usually give the responsibility of creating basic content (press releases, story pitches, etc) to younger assistant account executives. Also put them in charge of creating the social media content as it relates to your clients.
  • Give these junior AE’s ownership of promoting their client on your Firm’s News Blog. This helps them to develop the needed social media skills for the changing PR sphere.
  • Firms should let their Account Executives promote this material to the media, especially the media in smaller communities where local news outlets might have suffered most from the recent economic crunch.

And as long as they follow some SEO rules (keeping in mind that SEO might become secondary from this point on, falling to more organic social connections) PR firms will be able to drive more online searches not just to their client’s site, but to their own as well, which can help in getting more business. (Since the firm can show potential new clients that they are able to work outside the traditional media, or even the recurring idea of “blogger relations”)

Now what do you think? Should more firms take the lead in developing their own news outlet for client and firm news? Or should they spend more time working with the traditional media?

public relations, social media

PR Firms as “News Stations?”

(crossposted at PR Open Mic)

Why aren’t Public Relations firms more effectively using new media tools to create their own “news stations,” reporting on what their clients are doing? As long as those firms fulfill government requirements for disclosure regarding clients/freebies/etc., it makes sense to create content to their client’s advantage.

Now this might seem to run counter to what I’ve said recently about the importance of companies taking control of their own social media messaging. It is important for your organization to create its own social media content, especially blogging and video work. But if you have a PR firm on contract, then you should let the firm showcase its content on their own blog.  It not only promotes the firm (and you as a client of the firm), it’s additional information about your organization that can be picked up by Google searches.

Why and how should a firm set up an online newsroom?

  • It’s like setting up any other blog, with categories and/or pages for each client, and using tags for subcategories.
  • With a WordPress theme like Thesis, and/or an SEO plug in like you’re posts about each client will also appear in an SEO-friendly format
  • Firms usually give the responsibility of creating basic content (press releases, story pitches, etc) to younger assistant account executives. Also put them in charge of creating the social media content as it relates to your clients.
  • Give these junior AE’s ownership of promoting their client on your Firm’s News Blog. This helps them to develop the needed social media skills for the changing PR sphere.
  • Firms should let their Account Executives promote this material to the media, especially the media in smaller communities where local news outlets might have suffered most from the recent economic crunch.

And as long as they follow some SEO rules (keeping in mind that SEO might become secondary from this point on, falling to more organic social connections) PR firms will be able to drive more online searches not just to their client’s site, but to their own as well, which can help in getting more business. (Since the firm can show potential new clients that they are able to work outside the traditional media, or even the recurring idea of “blogger relations”)

Now what do you think? Should more firms take the lead in developing their own news outlet for client and firm news? Or should they spend more time working with the traditional media?

public relations

PR is not a four-letter word – A Discussion

Note: This is an edited transcript of a Google Wave exchange between Will Reichard of CrossCut Communications (http://will.crosscutcommunications.com) and Benson Hendrix, author of Net News 54 (https://bensonhendrix.com/about/), a blog about new media. It is being cross-posted on both sites.

Several times in the last couple of years, we’ve been asked to present to budding communications students to give them an overview of the world of public relations. We have both been struck that their perception seems to be that public relations as an industry is equivalent to “spin.” We’re not naive. We know there’s a reason that PR people have been called “flaks,” and we know there’s a reason that shows like “Mad Men” continue to capture the popular imagination. Still, we thought we were past all that. We’re both huge fans of PRSA’s code of ethics, and in our experience, the PR industry is conscientious about doing the right thing. We’re both former passionate journalists who believe that PR has a vital role to play in modern organizations. Here’s part of the conversation we’ve been having on the subject.

Will: My theory is that PR is like legal representation–we’re all entitled to a vigorous defense within ethical bounds. That’s our system. But many of the people I talk with seem to feel the world exists in black and white, as though each situation has one “right” and one “wrong” answer. When I try to explain that situations are intricate and that the best PR people work to ensure that organizations are communicating everything they should be to their multiple publics, I see blank faces. I try to point out that all of us, every one, makes choices about how to present him or herself each day. We choose our words, our clothes, what to post on our Facebook pages, how to sit in a class or walk down the street. We are constantly choosing what to communicate. People seem to have a very hard time separating conscious communication from malicious manipulation. They tend to forget we’re all using these techniques every day.

Benson: One of my greatest concerns about public relations is that we as PR professionals are all too often seen as “spinners” by members of the C-Suite. This is a view that has been perpetuated on the profession not only by members of the media, including some memorable rants from Rachel Maddow – comparing one PR firm to “The PR Firm Hell Would Hire” – but also by a minority of public relations professionals who are beyond willing to please their bosses. There are firms willing to do what is necessary, and usually those same firms specialize in taking on clients whose public personas are seen as less than positive (see Wal-Mart, oil industry, nuclear industry, etc.). (And now to contradict myself, this isn’t exactly a bad thing. These companies can stand behind a record of providing jobs, bringing in money, etc., to a local community–if it’s true. When they get into problems is when they say these things without actually doing it, in the hope that the PR team can “spin the facts.”)

One of the main tenets of Edward Bernays’ book “Propaganda” is to not sell a product, but to sell the need for a product. Following up on that idea, good public relations professionals try to sell causes, ideas and concepts that might impact a person’s beliefs, instead of selling a group, or just a cause, etc.

Will: Perhaps it’s that our society is gravitating as a whole toward polarizing platforms. A world of “American Idol,” a world communicated in 140-character bursts, doesn’t have a lot of room for acknowledging that nuance is essential, that the “truth” is an intersection of multiple viewpoints, each of which must be clear and critical.

Or maybe it’s that we’re all so conscious of the controlled and mediated nature of communications that we want to dislike anyone who acknowledges it and calls attention to the fact. Maybe PR–as, ironically, one of the most upfront institutions when it comes to its motivations–occupies an important space as something we can point to and say, “We are not that.” We’re not so hyperattentive to our personas that almost any image we can project is by definition manufactured and, thus, largely impersonal.

Benson: Another reason could be that most people don’t realize the impact that public relations efforts have had in their day-to-day lives. Have you ever signed a petition for a politician? What about called in to a talk radio show on behalf of a cause? These are but two tactics that PR pros helped craft into the effective tools you see today. Many non-profits, especially non-profits that advocate, have taken cues and clues for effective communications strategy from public relations efforts of the past. In fact, later this month there will be a big communications conference for progressive non-profits (some of which don’t really realize how PR has impacted their groups).

How the public personally views each of these industries should be less of a concern for PR people (because for every person opposing a site like WIPP, there’s another in favor of the jobs it brings to the area). What should be a bigger concern for PR professionals is the ongoing view that we are nothing more than cleanup. Perhaps a future role for PR professionals is to go beyond PR and into Corporate Social Management, looking at the best moves for a company to make before they make them.

Will: Great points, Benson. In the executive MBA program at UNM, we spent a fair part of the program studying corporate social responsibility, which is heartening. Cultures change very slowly, but at least things are changing. Communications as a management objective is creeping closer to the C-suite. And fortunately, part of what managers are learning now is to look for a certain level of professionalism when they’re hiring public and community relations staff. I know you had mentioned recently that we’re seeing a lot of unskilled agents creeping onto the scene.

Benson: That really is another problem we in PR have been dealing with–the tendency for anyone to say “I’m a publicist” after watching 4 episodes of Entourage or Arliss, and the unwillingness of people who represent PR (either in PRSA or “stand-up guy” PR practitioners) to call out these faux-publicists when they do something wrong. I’ve heard stories about PRSA wanting to institute a “licensure” test for people to conduct PR professionally, but I don’t see that happening. Because unlike practicing law or medicine, you can’t stop people from getting in front of a camera and talking, regardless of how they sound.

Conclusion: What do you think of when you think of public relations? What does the industry do well, and what could it do better? Thank you for reading.