Monday, August 29, 2011

Characteristics of a Good Communications Leader

Our vice president of communications here at GM recently shared some info on the characteristics of a good communications leaders. These are based on recently updated results from a survey of 300 top communications leaders conducted by Heidrick & Struggles.

  • Understands all functions within the communications mix (and those aligned to it), including internal/external communications, marketing communications, financial communications, new media, public affairs, investor relations, philanthropy and community relations.
  • Can integrate these functions, even if not directly responsible for them all, into a comprehensive communications strategy.
  • Knows the organization’s key stakeholders and how to engage with them.
  • Appreciates the power of the growing base of “unofficial stakeholders” who use new media to reach mass audiences with their own content and interpretations.
  • Serves as a trusted advisor and counselor to the leadership team.
  • Places a high priority on Reputation Management.
  • Works to ensure that the organization’s actions and decisions flow from authentic values and are guided by ethical standards.
  • Is capable of helping to shape and lead organizational transformation.
  • Has the instincts and experience to create, redefine and/or leverage a brand.
  • Mobilizes employees to embrace and embody the brand.
  • Has the courage to face up to difficult situations and to present bad news.
  • Has strong fundamental skills as a thinker, writer and speaker.
  • Inspires his/her team by creating a sense of purpose and expanding their skills.
  • Balances discipline (planning/measuring) with agility (handling the unexpected).
  • Can navigate in complex, global environments.
  • Forges strong relationships and builds a network of good allies.
  • Knows the business.
  • Listens.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Strategic and Research Knowledge in PR

I've decided to recommit myself to blogging if for no other reason than to keep up my knowledge of the public relations profession. My goal is to read from one of my past PR textbooks once a week and blog about what I learned.

This week I've been reading from Manager's Guide to Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management by David M. Dozier with Larissa A. Grunig and James E. Grunig. If you're so inclined, you can actually read this book online. The link above will take you right to it.

Though much of the information in this book is more technical than I'm accustomed to reading, I found the material beneficial and applicable to my work in public relations. I was most intrigued in one chapter's discussion of strategic knowledge and research knowledge in public relations.
The book states that strategic knowledge includes the ability of a practitioner to:
  • Manage the organization's response to issues
  • Develop goals and objectives for your department
The first of these, managing an organization's response to issues is straightforward, but I was interested in how we should seek to strategically set goals and objectives. As the book points out, too often we tend to measure success in terms of the quality of the communications products we produce (press release, events, etc.), but we should strategically measure how these products helped us build mutually beneficial relationships with our publics. Our strategic goals and objectives help us measure this. We must remember "communication products are not an end in themselves -- they are tools used in the pursuit of desired relationships with key publics" (Dozier, Grunig and Grunig, 29).

Research knowledge involes the expertise necessary to:
  • Use research to segment publics
  • Conduct evaluation research
Dozier, Grunig and Grunig group publics into four categories:
  • Nonpublics ("not affected in any way by an organization's behavior")
  • Latent publics ("affected by a organizational behavior, but are not aware of this")
  • Aware publics (realize they have a common problem)
  • Active publics (aware publics that "organize to do something about their common problem")
Often our sole focus is on active publics because they are the ones mostly to have an immediate impact on our organizations, but we must not ignore the latent and aware publics. While active publics will "seek out information on the organization and the issue," they will also tend to "evaluate messages from the organization with a critical eye (Dozier, Grunig and Grunig, 31). Active publics also may be entrenched in their stance on the issue. Dozier, Grunig and Grunig advocate seeking to "communciate with latent and aware publics while there's still room for negotiation" (32). Only through thorough research can we identify our publics, hence the necessity for research knowledge.

More to come next week on the importance of research in public relations. Until then, if you get a chance to read Chapter 2 of this book I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, February 27, 2009

My last day with PRSA

Tomorrow I'll do something I never thought I would do: I will let my membership in the Public Relations Society of America lapse.

When I realized that the time for renewing my membership was coming up, I started debating whether or not to even ask my boss if I General Motors would be paying for it this year. I started to think really hard about what my membership in PRSA gave back to GM, and I was having a hard time coming up with much. In the end, our Communications leadership told our entire function that the company would not be picking up the costs for any professional memberships in 2009, and so, today is my last day as a member of PRSA.

PRSA, and most especially, the Public Relations Student Society of America have really helped me in my career path. In fact, had I not been involved in planning the PRSSA 2006 National Conference, I would not have been recruited by GM for their internship program, and would not be in my current job at the company. My time in PRSSA was extremely valuable, and I encourage every PR student join their school’s chapter if there is one. Because of PRSSA, I was able to meet a variety of professionals – many of whom I still keep in contact with – and learned about what it’s like to work in the profession. I’ll always be grateful to what PRSSA helped me accomplish.

When I moved to Detroit for the internship with GM, I joined PRSA, and our local chapter, PRSA-Detroit. I was blown away with the quality of the Detroit chapter and all the activities they have for members. Furthermore, I was fortunate enough to be here in time to assist with the planning of the PRSA 2008 International Conference in Detroit. The PRSA-Detroit chapter is extremely well run and has many, many amazing people in its ranks.

With this in mind, however, I’m not sure how valuable my national membership was to me. With the exception of Tactics and The Strategist (two publications I really enjoyed reading) as well as the daily “PRSA Issues & Trends” e-mail, there wasn’t much value to be had with my national membership unless I was willing to pay for all the conferences and teleseminars they put on. Someone on Twitter remarked to me that joining PRSA for them only meant paying membership dues up front, and then having to pay more money to get the most out of your membership. I think that is an excellent point, and frankly, I feel the same way.

In that same Twitter conversation, the aforementioned individual said she had a better experience in her local chapter than she did with National. I, too, noticed that. She thinks PRSA ought to offer members the chance to join only their national chapter. I think that’s a stellar idea, but recognize there are inherent problems with it. But for me, aside from the Conferences which still costs a great deal of money, all the value I gained in PRSA and PRSSA was from my involvement in my campus and local chapters. That’s where I was able to network with people I’m more likely to come in contact with, and where I got to learn about topics most applicable to my geographical area.

With PRSA offering members the chance to pay their membership dues in installments this year, I think they recognize the impact the economy is going have on their members. This is a smart move, but I think other big changes need to happen to make sure members are getting their money’s worth with their membership. Paying $300 a year, and then having to spend around $150 to participate in a teleseminar seems like a hard sell. Could they not offer a few more things that would be included in the membership?

This should not be seen as an attack on PRSA or PRSSA. I believe in PRSA’s mission of advancing the profession and the professional, but I think radical changes need to be implemented so that this mission can actually be achieved. Hey, if everyone reading this blog goes out and buys a new GM car or truck this year (preferably a Chevy), and tells their friends to do the same, maybe next year I’ll be able to renew my membership. For now, I’ll have to content myself with reading my old textbooks and PR articles online to enhance my skills and learn new ones.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pretend the microphone is always on

Yesterday I read about a VP at Ketchum who recently got in trouble with one of his big clients, Fed Ex, because of a remark he made on Twitter. Upon his arrival for a presentation at Fed Ex's headquarters in Memphis, this gentleman "tweeted" something to the effect of finding the place so undesirable that he'd kill himself if he had to live there. Some folks at Twitter saw the tweet and were none too pleased. Needless to say, he didn't get the business he was hoping to get. You can read Fed Ex's complete response to him here.

My point in writing this post is not to lambaste this individual for his lapse of judgment because, let's face it, we all do dumb things once in a while. However, this incident reminded me of something one of my college professors, Susan Walton, once told our PRSSA chapter: "Always pretend the microphone is on."

We've all heard high profile people make disparaging remarks thinking the microphone is off, and then watched as the unfortunate incident was covered in the media and on YouTube. It's unfortunate, but it happens. If they had simply assumed the mic was on, there would have been no problems.

But what if all PR practitioners adopted this philosophy in our interactions with peers, media, colleagues or clients? Or to take it further, what if all individuals adopted this philosophy in life. I imagine a great deal of heartache and sorrow would go away if we did so.

With the ever-increasing speed of information via the Internet, it's vitally important that we always pretend the microphone is on. Hey, maybe we should just remember our mothers' advice: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let's brainstorm!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to lead a brainstorming session for an upcoming vehicle launch that I'm working on. In preparation for this meeting, I consulted one of my old college textbooks, Strategic Communications Planning for Effective Public Relations and Marketing (Wilson & Ogden, 2004), for some ideas on how to conduct the most effective brainstorming sessions. I thought I'd share a few ideas with you here, and in the true spirit of brainstorming, ask for your ideas as well. Here are some of the author's (my paraphrasing) tips:

1. Brainstorming should last no less than five minutes and no longer than 20. 
2. Brainstorming is not the time to evaluate ideas. If you think it, say it. By thinking of something and not saying it you're silently evaluating your own ideas. Wilson and Ogden go so far as saying that even laughter is a form of evaluation. 
3. Record the session for review later. 
4. Skip the details. State your idea and then move on to another one. Specific details should be reserved for evaluation later on.

These are only a few of the brainstorming tips from the textbook, but I've found they work very well. I wasn't able to steer the brainstorming yesterday in exactly this direction, but we came close enough and generated some awesome ideas. What else have you found effective in brainstorming sessions? 

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Case for PR Theories

It's been an uphill battle for me lately as I've worked vigorously to defend General Motors and make the case as to why we should receive some government loans. Unfortunately, due to some grossly inaccurate perceptions of our company, and the media's near unrelenting coverage of the "corporate jets" issue, it's been difficult to convince many of our critics and even more difficult to get our message out there.

As I have pondered these difficulties in our communications efforts, I've started to wonder whether there might be some kind of public relations theory or theories that might help us do better. Many people, including fellow PR colleagues, have criticized GM for not doing enough to get our message out there, but I have to respectfully disagree. I think we're all working as hard as we can and are staying focused on a few key messages, but it just doesn't seem to be making it through.

I remember studying a few theories in college, but I failed to see the real world application of them. Perhaps it's time for me to rethink this. What PR theories do you feel would help most in the PR situation GM currently finds itself in? Now, I'm not asking for your input as to what GM should do or should have done (trust me, I hear enough of that), but I am asking for some good theories I can study. So what do you have for me?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Asking for your help

So this isn't exactly a post about public relations, but it does show the impact that social media can have for motivating people for action. I've e-mailed this and posted it as a note on Facebook. I hope you'll give some consideration to what I'm asking below.

As many of you know, I work for General Motors (specifically Chevrolet) here in Detroit, and if you've watched or read the news at all lately you know that GM, and the auto industry as a whole is having an extremely challenging time right now. We announced significant losses last week, and made it clear that we are burning through cash at an alarming rate. Last week, the CEOs of GM, Ford and Chrysler met with Congressional leaders regarding the automakers getting $25 billion in loans that would come out of the $700 billion Congress has already approved for the financial sector. While it's true that the government already approved a previous $25 billion in loans for the auto industry recently, that money can only be used for the research and development of more fuel efficient cars and trucks, and nothing more (plus all automakers, including the foreign companies have access to this cash). For GM a portion of that money will go to the development of the Chevy Volt (an electric car), more hybrids and increasing the fuel economy in current internal combustion engines. What we're asking for in this additional $25 billion in loans (not a bailout, we'll pay these back with interest) is a bridge to getting things turned around for the industry.

2010 is going to be a big year for us because that's when we'll be able to defer a huge portion of our healthcare costs over to the United Autoworkers Union. That's also the year the Chevy Volt and other important cars debut for us. So I'm simply asking for your help in contacting your senators and representatives to show your support.

Having traveled all over the country with this job, I know there are some serious hard feelings people have towards GM and the American auto industry in general. I know many people believe the government should just let the market work this out, and if GM and other automakers go under, so be it. I can tell you, however, that if this happened, the entire economy would experience catastrophic changes. You see, it's not just the people who work for these companies that are affected, but all those connected to them in some way: dealers, advertising agencies, public relations agencies, parts suppliers, rental car companies, etc. If peoople in these sectors lose their jobs, then they have less money to spend in the stores in addition to being unable to pay many of their bills (potentially leading to more home foreclosures). Here are a few facts on what would happen if the domestic auto industry collapsed:

  • Nearly 3 million jobs would be lost in the first year alone – with another 2.5 million to follow over the next two years
  • Personal income in the United States would drop by more than $150.7 billion in the first year
  • The cost to local, state, and federal governments could reach $156.4 billion over three years in lost taxes, and unemployment and health care assistance
  • Domestic automobile production would more than likely fall to zero – even by international producers, due to supplier bankruptcies
This is not me trying to use some cheap scare tactic to convince you of the need for these loans, these are facts. Furthermore, these numbers come from third-party sources, not from one of the Big 3 automakers.

In summary, I'm asking that you contact your senators and representatives to voice your support of these government loans to the automakers. My team at GM set up a Web site, that addresses many of the rumors surrounding GM right now, as well as a link on how to get in contact with your political leaders.

Maybe you don't drive an American vehicle, and maybe you never will, but we are all impacted by the U.S. auto industry in some way. I hope you'll receive this e-mail in the spirit it's intended, and not as a political issue. Don't hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns you have about this.