Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why PR needs a seat at management's table

I was appalled last week to find out that Chrysler LLC, one of the Big 3 automakers, has shifted its public relations department from reporting to the CEO to now reporting to human resources. This amounts to nothing less than a slap in the face to Chrysler's PR people, and, dare I say, to the profession in general.

As noted in "Public Relations Practices: Managerial Case Studies and Problem," "although everyone in the organization affects the organizations relationships with varioius publics, establishing public relations policies, goals, and activities is a managerial function. Public relations staffers are part of managment" (emphasis added).

While I'm sure the argument could be made that a PR department reporting to HR doesn't really change the work they do, I have to say that unless we are close to the C-Suite we really can't make much of a difference in the way the organization builds realtionships with publics.

Mark Phelan, a writer for the The Detroit Free Press, wrote a great article on the value of communications in an organization. I love the following quote from the article:

Communications must have a seat a the grownups' table, with direct access to Chrysler's bosses...Somebody in communications must be able to walk into the CEO's office and say, "There's a crisis. Here's what we have to do," and the boss must trust that person enough to listen.


He also went on to say:

An effective communications team can steer management away from bad decisions and build long-term plans to help the company succeed.


I couldn't have said it better myself, and I love the fact that this defense of PR as a management function is coming from a journalist, not a PR person.

Edward Lapham of Automotive News also wrote about the importance of PR and it's relationship to managment in an article published on Dec. 11.

It's all about trust, which is important to the those of us in the news business who gather, process and distribute information. And it ought to be important to our readers and viewers.

Lapham also expressed his disappointment that Chrsyler's PR arm is now reporting to HR and pointed out that GM (my employer I'm proud to say!) is the last of the Big 3 to still have a "direct PR-to-CEO line on the org chart." He goes on to laud the praises of Tony DeLorenzo of GM "who half a century ago built and perfected the communication system at GM that became the blue-chip standard for corporate America."

Now I could go on about how much praise Lapham and Phelan give GM for our PR efforts -- which is really awesome and I recommend everyone read the two articles -- but that's not what this post is about. I simply want to stress the importance of keeping PR as a managerial function. In closing, let me illustrate this point by sharing a story that Phelan related in his article:

John Mueller, a retired GM communications executive, worked closely with chairman Rick Wagoner when Wagoner ran GM's North American operations. One day, he suggested Wagoner do an interview with a journalist from a leading newspaper. Wagoner said that his schedule was full.

Mueller picked up the phone and called Wagoner's assistant. "Tell him I'll be right up," he said. As Mueller stepped into Wagoner's office, the future leader of the world's largest automaker smiled.

"If you think it's important, I'll do it," he said. "Don't you ever quit challenging me when you believe you're right."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Update from the 2nd Annual Society for New Communications Research Symposium: Part 1

My team, GM social media communications, is attending the second annual Society for New Communications Research Symposium in Boston this week. We were recipients of an Award of Excellence for our initiatives in social media. Other recipients included representatives from Edelman, Coca-Cola, Dow and Microsoft.

Prior to the awards gala tonight we were able to hear from Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes, UMASS Dartmouth Chancellor professor of marketing and director for the Center for Marketing Research. She recently completed a study on the use of social media by higher education. Here are some stats/thoughts from her talk tonight (note: I was writing frantically so I take responsibility for any errors):

* 53 percent of colleges are familiar with social networking

* 51 percent of colleges are blogging

* College admissions offices use the following forms of social media:

  • 33 percent are blogging
  • 29 percent are using social networks
  • 14 percent are not using social media at all

* 92 percent believe videoblogging to be the most successful social media tool

* For those not currently using social media plan to use the following methods in the future

  • Blogging: 42 percent
  • Podcasting: 25 percent
  • Videoblogging: 22 percent
  • Social networks: 20 percent
  • Message boards: 16 percent
  • Wikis: 4 percent

* Only 61 percent of colleges enable comments on their blogs

* 26 percent of colleges use search engines to research prospective students; 21 percent use social networks to research them

* Hits and comments are the primary measurement tools of colleges' efforts in social media

* #1 users of college blogs are the parents of students

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Further proof of PR's damaged reputation

This Mac commercial is an embarassment to PR professionals everywhere. While the ad is done in good humor, the fact remains that it is perpetuating the stereotype of PR people being spin doctors. While it would be nice to fault Mac for misrepresenting the public relations profession, we have no one to blame but ourselves for creating this stereotype. The responsibilit lies with each one of us as PR professionals to change this stereotype through good public relations practices.

Share

Friday, November 9, 2007

A breach of ethics?

While listening to a recent episode "For Immediate Release" this morning, I was disappointed to hear about a recent catfight between two PR agencies, BlinnPR and 5WPR.

Shel Holtz goes into greater depth about this spat in a recent post on his blog, so I will only give the highlights here. I welcome your comments on this matter.

The debacle began with a blog post by Chris Anderson, the executive editor of Wired magazine. Anderson was upset with the barrage of e-mail pitches he receives from PR people and, as a result, blocked more than 300 people from sending him anymore e-mail. Furthermore, he actually posted each one of these blocked e-mail addresses on his blog. A quick scan of some of the e-mail addresses show that many of these are from notable companies and PR firms (Wal-Mart, Edelman, etc.). What's worse is that The New York Times actually wrote about this in an article this past Monday.

I wish I could say the mess ends here, but it gets worse. Upon seeing that his firm was not on the list of blocked e-mails Steve Blinn, president of BlinnPR, began bragging about this fact in e-mails to employees and clients of another PR firm, 5WPR. Instead of being big boys and just letting the matter die, the CEO and executive vice president of 5WPR decided they would go on the offensive against BlinnPR, and they were not nice about it. A post at Silicon Valley Insider lists a number of e-mails from 5WPR in which they made threats of stealing employees and clients from BlinnPR. Adam Handelsman, 5WPR executive VP, actually even stooped to the level of name-calling by calling Steve Blinn a moron. Here's just a taste of some of the wording in these petulant e-mails:

Handelsman to Blinn

I am going to hire someone to stand outside your office... 5k commission on new business to your staff, plus a 20% raise just to leave with your clients.You made my night. And yes, I am forwarding to all of your clients your note that you don't work late or hard... thanks... I do.

This is disheartening to see this kind of behavior from so-called PR professionals. What makes it worse is that the perpertrators were leaders of their respective companies.

Shel Holtz is advocating that the Public Relations Society of America, International Assoication of Business Communicators and/or Council of Public Relations Firms come out and publicly censure these two firms for the way they have acted. While I doubt any of these organizations will actually censure them, I do believe that something should be done because these two firms are demeaning the practice of public relations. Holtz cites violations of each organizations' code of ethics by BlinnPR and 5WPR. The argument could be made, however, that these two firms have no affliation with IABC, PRSA or CPRF. That would be unfortunate.

As a member of PRSA I have agreed to abide by the organization's Code of Ethics. Part of my responsibility as a member of PRSA is to enhance public relations by working "constantly to strengthen the public's trust in the profession." Furthermore, I have acknowledged that "there is an obligation [on my part] to protect and enhance the profession."

With this in mind and recognizing the fact that my job is not to be a PR ethics policeman, what can I do when stuff like the above happens? Do I just sit idly by and let this kind of stuff keep happening or can I take action? I'm not sure what I can do, but I do know that people notice when PR messes up and are quick to call us on it. For further proof of this, look at what one individual had to say about the embarassing fight between the two aforementioned firms (note: language has been cleaned up):


Ah, this is nice to see. I always thought that PR was a bull[***] industry run by idiots who generally do more harm than good for your company.... and now I see that this is the case.

Thanks for the insightful emails… always good to see the shards exposed for the jack[***] they are.

Like Lawywers and Venture Capitalsits, these are parasites on the creative and productive.... and their desperation makes it clear that they know it!
(source: Silicon Valley Insider)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Some thoughts on podcasting

While I'm a big fan of all things social media, I was reticent to accept podcasting as a viable medium in this realm. With the rise of online video I found it hard to believe that there is much of a market for straight audio podcasts. I have, however, changed my opinion on podcasting. Here's why.

During my summer internship at GM, our team hosted a media panel featuring some experts in social media. One of the panelists, Neville Hobson, co-host of the popular podcast, "For Immediate Release," gave my boss a copy of his and Shel Holtz's (the other co-host of "For Immediate Release") new book, How to Do Everything with Podcasting. I quickly borrowed the book from her and read through it over the course of a week. That book thoroughly changed my opinion of podcasting. I now see podcasts as a great way for PR practitioners to communicate and engage with publics.

One of the greatest benefits of podcasts is that they're portable. With blogs, newspapers, television or radio, you are pretty much confined to one spot if you want to use these forms of media. Podcasting, however, allows you to download and subscribe to what interests you most and then you can listen to it when and where you want. I often listen to podcasts while at the gym. Some people have iPod hook-ups in their car so they can listen to podcasts as they commute. It's like talk radio on demand.

Another great benefit of podcasts is the interactive nature of them. A good podcast should always be tied to a blog with comments enabled so you can get liisterner feedback. You can then address those comments on your podcasts. Very nice.

Despite the obvious advantages in audio podcasts, they have yet to really take off. Why is this? A while back Shel Holtz wrote a post on his blog titled, Why hasn’t audio podcasting gone mainstream?, Holtz refutes the notion that online video has killed audio podcasting. He is of the opinion that a lack of good infrastructure has contributed to the relatively slow rise of podcasts. In other words, if there were easier ways to download podcasts to portable MP3 players, podcasting would be more prevalent.

Well now that I'm converted to podcasting the next logical step is to start doing it. Today marked the launch of a new podcast series that my team and I created for OnStar. The series, "OnStar on Your Side," is not about marketing OnStar, but rather is a way for us to build an affinity with publics who have an interest in safety and vehicle-related issues, regardless of whether or not they are OnStar subscribers. Each episode will be focused around a separate vehicle or safety issue and we will have third party experts come on the show to give advice regarding the day's topic of discussion. The first episode is on protecting yourself against auto theft and feature Chet Huber, president of OnStar and an inspector with the Michigan State Police.

So go ahead and listen to the show. Let me know what you think. The more feedback we get the better it will be!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Writing about ethics again

I was saddened (literally) to hear about the Federal Emergency Management Agency's fake news conference last Tuesday. For anyone unfamiliar with the situation, here's a little background.

In the midst of last week's devastating fires in Southern California FEMA decided to call a press conference/media briefing. The problem with this was that they called the briefing 15 minutes before it was scheduled to start, and thus, most reporters were unable to attend. One could easily dismiss this as oversight or lack of planning ahead on FEMA's part, but it gets worse.

According to the Washington Post's story on the incident, reporters unable to attend the briefing were provided an 800 number which, surprisingly, was "listen only." In other words, reporters could listen in, but couldn't ask any questions. Seem bad? It gets worse.

After some brief remarks by Harvey E. Johnson, FEMA Vice Adm., the "reporters" in the room were able to ask questions. The news conference proceeded as normal, but the Washington Post notes that none of the reporters were asking really tough questions. The reason? The so-called reporters in the room were merely FEMA employees! Ridiculous.

How in the world could this have happened? How could any of the FEMA PR staff have let this slide by. Was no one courageous enough to stand up and say a fake news conference is a bad idea?

PRSA responded to the FEMA debacle in a release on its Web site yesterday, but from a quick scan of the reader comments, it's easy to see that people think PRSA should have been a little more harsh on FEMA for its actions.

We as PR people struggle enough to maintain credibility, and actions like this do nothing more than to destroy all the good things we do. This action by FEMA further demonstrates that there are PR people out there that either don't know what they're doing or are just completely lacking in ethics.

Part of PRSA's mission is to to help advance the profession of public relations, but I think this is a responsibility that lies with every public relations practitioner out there. It is imperative that we have the courage to speak up when something goes against what we know to be right. I could be altruistic and say that good will always prevail in these situations, but the sad fact of the matter is that it may not. Jobs may be lost, promotions may be denied, but unless someone stands up and takes the bullet, stuff like FEMA's fake news conference will continue to happen.

I'm not saying we should sacrifice jobs and careers to make PR look good, we should make these sacrifices simply because it is the right thing to do.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

1 a.m. Ethics

Yesterday I read an excellent article in PRSA Tactics, titled "1 a.m. ethics." The article, written by Susan Walton, a professor in the best public relations program in the world (slightly biased here!), makes some really interesting points about "wrestling with those small, everyday choices that we face."

She begins her article by talking about a job interview she had in which she was asked to describe an experience she'd had when an employer asked her to do something unethical. She replied that she had never been asked to do anything she considered to be unethical. She then adds:

"However...I have often made personal, individual choices to behave ethically. Most often these choices have revolved around my day-to-day work rather than around highly visible or significant events. And, in most cases, the outcome of my choices was not known by anyone other than me."

She calls these choices "1 a.m. ethics."

I think I've often been guily of thinking of ethics only in terms of cases like Enron, Tyco or WorldCom, the very poster children of ethical breaches. When it really comes down to it, however, ethics is a personal matter and rarely involves anyone but yourself. Ethical decisions we make may never be known to anyone but ourselves. "Sometimes we make our our most important ethical decisions at night when the only voice of persuasion is the whisper of our own conscience," Walton writes.

In an advanced media ethics class I took at BYU, we talked about a number of ethical theories, but the one that stood out to me was the principle of virtue ethics. Louis Pojman defined virtue ethics this way:

"Rather than seeing the heart of ethics in actions or duties, virtue ethics centers in the heart of the agent--in his or her character. Virtue ethics emphasizes being a certain type of person" (Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, p. 161, emphasis added).

I could not agree more with Pojman's statement. Ethical decision making comes from within. We have to decide now how we will act when faced with any ethical decision. We must live by ethical principles, and by so doing, we will be prepared for any challenge to ethics that may come along.

If we are truly ethical, making that tough decision at 1 a.m. won't be so hard.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Online News Conference

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (disclosure: I'm a member of this church) hosted an online news conference yesterday as a test to see whether or not such a news conference is a good way to communicate with journalists around the country. The news conference opened with some comments from two individuals from the Church's public affairs department and the rest of the time was devoted to answering journalists' questions (both from call-ins and e-mails).

In addition to answering questions, there were also a few video clips from M. Russell Ballard, an apostle in the Church. It was really cool to see the Church getting involved more in online public relations efforts. The Church's online newsroom is another great online tool for members of the media and others interested in news from the Church.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Is it possible to be too transparent?

Sorry for the two-week lag in putting up new posts. I'm in the Boston airport right now waiting for a flight back to Detroit, so I figured now is as good a time as any to catching up the blog. I spent the day today hosting some bloggers at a GM-sponsored luncheon. We had a GM executive on hand to answer questions and then to take them over to the Chevy booth at the AltWheels Festival in Boston this weekend. It's always fun hosting bloggers, especially those who don't normally get invited to be a company's guest at events like this.

Anyway, hosting bloggers is another post for another time. What I want to write about today was inspired by part of the For Immediate Release podcast hosted by Shel Hotlz and Neville Hobson. Shel spent a few minutes discussing how we at GM (more particularly my boss, Christopher Barger) handled a sticky situation through the use of corporate blogs.

GM has recently been in some pretty tight-lipped negotiations with the United Auto Workers Union, and endured a two-day strike while details of the negotiations were hammered out. Due to the confidential and sensitive nature of the negotiations we are limited in what we can say about them, and rightly so.

Shel compliments (click here to hear the clip) Christopher on how he used GM's Fastlane blog to address readers' comments about the GM/UAW negotiations and strike. Simply put, all Christopher did was put up a little post (commenting was disabled) that told people we know they want more info on the matter, but that we are simply not allowed to comment (mainly because we really don't know much more beyond what's in the papers and on the blogs). You can access the post here.

This is one of those times when being completely transparent is actually the wrong thing to do. I'm an advocate of corporate transparency, but I am not naive enough to think that companies should put everything out there for the public to see. To do so is neither practical nor smart.

It's been an interesting week in corporate social media communications. I'm sure learning a ton!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Pitching" Bloggers

I have written more than once on this blog about the inherent problems I see with pitching stories to the media. While I agree that we need to inform the media when we have newsworthy information, I have a hard time buying into the notion of pitching stories that are nothing more than free ink for our ourganizations or clients. If it's newsworthy do I really have to pitch it?


In light of this, blogs give PR practitioners yet another medium to pitch company and product information. Neville Hobson, a blogger and co-host of For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report podcast, recently wrote an entry on his blog about what it takes to "pitch" bloggers. Hobson and his co-host on For Immediate Release often talk about how many pitches they get, so Hobson is well-qualified to speak on what works and what doesn't.

I found this post to be extremely educational for me and my efforts in working with bloggers. Here are some of my key take-aways from Hobson's post:


  • "Most [pitches] illustrate only that the sender has not actually read my blog . . . and so has no sense at all about the type of thing that interests me and which I write about."

  • Leave relevant and well thought comments on the blog you are thinking of pitching

  • Reply to comments from the author; basically, engage in a conversation

  • Only after you've done the above can you send a "pitch" over

While I am not involved in pitching bloggers on GM and our cars and trucks, I do, however, frequently invite bloggers to attend various GM media events. I now realize that I need to establish some sort of relationship with potential blogger invitees before I actually invite them to the event. This will take a little longer than usual, but will, in the long run, yield greater results.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

What? PR Degrees Are Unnecessary?

A recent forum discussion on MyRagan.com, brought my attention to a disturbing item from the Princeton Review. According to the public relations career profile on the Princeton's Review's Web site, "though some colleges offer a degree in public relations, most industry professionals agree it's unnecessary."

Wait, say that again? Well, I guess I better throw away that diploma I just received a few weeks ago. Yeah, whatever.

I completely disagree with Princeton Review on this one (is it a coincidence that the initials for Princeton Review are PR?). This "summary" of public relations shows that maybe they don't have all their facts straight. Another line further validates this point:

"Any major that teaches you how to read and write intelligently will lay a good foundation for a career in public relations."

It gets worse:

"Or, as one PR person put it 'if you can write a thesis on Dante, you should be able to write a press release.'"

Who is this "PR person" they're quoting anyway?

Anyway, this goes back to something I harp on constantly: PR is the art of building relationships. Yes, writing is an important part of this field, but it's not all that PR people do. It doesn't matter how well you can write if you can't articulate a good phone pitch, presentation or speech. There's so much more to PR than writing!

My PR degree taught me things I would never have learned in any other course of study, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I feel sorry for the students who read this "summary" and pursue a different major only to find find that all the PR jobs they apply for after graduation require a PR degree.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Perceptions

I have had many discussions regarding perception and reality, but when it comes down to it, perception is reality. Regardless of what the facts are, if you can't overcome or change people's perception, then their perception is the reality you have to deal with.

A teacher once taught me that everyone's beliefs are tied to an experience that that individual has had along the way. How true that is! Think about it for a second. Why do you have certain opinions? I bet you can tie it back to some kind of experience you had that shaped that opinion or belief.

That's the issue that GM is facing right now. We are building safe, quality vehicles, but people don't believe that. Many people (including some members of my family) have had bad experiences with the quality of past GM vehicles and believe that the quality of GM vehicles is inferior to that of the foreign automakers. The fact is that GM has made leaps and bounds to improve quality to the point of meeting and surpassing many of the foreign cars. Despite this, however, people still perceive GM as having less than reliable vehicles and thus, this is the "reality" we now face. We need to work to create experiences for these consumers that will show (not just tell) them that we do have great quality cars and trucks.

As I constantly deal with helping to overcome people's incorrect perceptions, I have become aware that I sometimes may have incorrect perceptions as well. I have learned to not make blanket statements, but try to evaluate every issue, company and individual from an objective point of view. I can't change others' perceptions if I am guilty of holding on to unfounded perceptions myself.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Advertising and PR in Social Media

There is a time and a place for everything.

This age-old adage has taken on new meaning for me as I continue to work in social media from a PR standpoint.

I have long been a proponent of keeping advertising and marketing out of social media. In fact, my feelings on this actually resulted in a blog post on PR Communications. John Cass, owner of PR Communications, developed an Aug. 2 post based off a previous comment I made in which I stated my belief that social media should only be a PR tool. After reading his response I started to rethink how marketing and advertising can use social media to further their business purposes. Again, however, there is a time and a place for everything.

I read an article in today's Wall Street Journal that helped me change my paradigm on advertising and marketing in social media. The focus of the article is how Facebook is preparing to implement an ad targeting campaign. As long as advertisers are open about advertising their products then I say more power to them, but when they get on Facebook or other social media avenues and pretend to engage in conversation to sell a product, I draw the line.

I should now restate my views on marketing and advertising in social media. They should be welcome to participate as long as they are open about what they are doing, but when it comes to communicating and building relationships, let us PR people take care of that.

Monday, August 20, 2007

My 5 Minutes and 10 Seconds of Fame

Call me cynical, but I've never been a fan of graduations. I think it goes back to my high school graduation when some "important" person gave a speech in which he turned the word "graduation" into a 10-letter acronym. That's right, he had something to say about each letter in "graduation." It was very long, and I was very bored.

Anyway, I was adamant about not wanting to walk in my college graduation; much to the dismay of my wife and parents. The way I see it is you pay $40 bucks to rent a dress robe that you wear for two hours and sit through a painful reading of every graduates' name.

Ok, I know I sound extremely pessimistic, but rest assured that my attitude has changed. I decided to walk in graduation after receiving an invitation to speak on behalf of the PR department at convocation.

So, Friday morning at 8 a.m. I graduated with a B.A. in Public Relations from Brigham Young University. My speech went well and it was an honor to be asked to speak. I titled the speech "Relationships to Last a Lifetime: Embracing Your Inner PR." Lame title, I know, but I had submit the title of my speech before I'd even written it. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

All in all, graduation was a great experience for me and I'm glad I did it. I gave my five minute speech and had my five seconds of fame as I walked across the stage to get my diploma. I still, however, may need to be convinced to walk again in graduation when I get my MBA.

Here's some excerpts from the speech:



Public relations, or PR, has started to take on a negative connotation in today’s world. We often hear phrases like, “That’s some bad PR,” or “That company has a real PR problem.” Phrases like these and many others lead me to believe that public relations itself has, well, a PR problem.

In an attempt to understand public relations and how we can embrace that inner PR in all of us, we must first understand what public relations really is. To do so it may be helpful to outline what public relations is not. Public relations is not spin, free publicity, making your organization (or client) look good, nor is it lying. On a side note, just because these four items identify what public relations is not, this does not mean that there are not individuals out there doing these sorts of things. One would be hard-pressed to find a profession without its unethical practitioners.

Now that we understand what public relations is not, let us now identify what public relations really is, or at least should be. Laurie Wilson, seated on the stand today, defined public relations as “an organization’s efforts to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships in order to communicate and cooperate with the publics upon whom long-term success depends” (Strategic Communications Planning for Effective Public Reations and Marketing, 3).

Notice the words “mutually beneficial relationships,” “communicate and cooperate,” and “long-term success.” There is no room for spin, lying or free publicity in this definition.

Given this definition of PR as being the art of relationship building, it’s not hard to imagine then, that there is a little in PR in all of us. Art, music and, yes, even molecular biology students, all have a little PR within themselves. Let’s delve a little deeper into the various relationships many of us have established.

Prior to graduation today, I have gained a great deal of experience in public relations. In fact, my most recent internship with General Motors has now turned into a full-time job. I highlight this not to be boastful, but to show how my professors have helped me gain the experience I need.

During my time at BYU I have been blessed to have some absolutely wonderful teachers to guide and inspire me to be the very best PR professional (and individual) I can be. The enthusiasm and passion of my first public relations teacher, Mark Carpenter, inspired me to forgo the legal field and to pursue a career in public relations. Or there is Brad Rawlins, who taught me that humility is what makes a good employee, not a sense of arrogant entitlement. I attribute all the PR experience I have to the influence and guidance of these great professors. Because of the relationship I have cultivated with these professors, I feel comfortable asking for professional advice even after I graduate.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

PRSA to Explore Certification of Public Relations Professionals

A recent story on the PRSA Web site revealed that PRSA is organizing a task force to explore the feasibility of certifying public relations professionals. The organization offers an accrediation program (APR) that PR professionals can strive for, but nothing like certification currently exists for the PR professional.

I am in support of certifying PR professionals. PR is becoming a field that many think doesn't take much knowledge to work in. I recently went through the job application process and found a number of administrative assistant jobs whose duties included PR. Public relations should not be part of a list of job duties, it's a job in and of itself.

PR certification will help to ensure that PR regains and maintains credibility as a profession.

Read the whole article here.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Immersion


im·merse [i-murs]–verb (used with object), -mersed, -mers·ing.
  1. to involve deeply; absorb

  2. to embed; bury

Two of my fellow interns and I spent this past Tuesday and Wednesday completely immersed in car design at GM's Design Center in Warren, Mich. It was an exhausting, but enlightening two days.

Our assignment was to spend time with this year's GM Design Interns. GM has enlisted 18 young designers from 14 design schools to design a future Chevrolet car for the Gen-Y driver in 2012. We spent a few hours in their design studio talking with the student designers, sculptors (they all have to sculpt a clay model of their car), mechanical engineers and graphic designers, as well as getting familiar with each of their projects.

One of the more difficult parts of the assignment was writing the bios on each intern. We had to interview each of the interns to get a feel for their experiences at GM so far and what their future plans are. The interviewing was the easy part, the hard part was taking each interns' wealth of knowledge and experience and condensing it down into three or four paragraphs. This helped me learn how to communicate a powerful message in as few words as possible.

We also had to write a press release on each of the six cars being designed. This was difficult because not only did we have to describe each project in detail, but also try to highlight what each team was trying to convey with their car. I also learned how to coach some of the interns along as they tried to come up with a good quote for the release.

Creating three to four key messages for each project was interesting because we really had to take everything we learned about the projects and boil it down into just a few words. We learned that when creating messages it's important to use everyday language and not corporate speak.

Finally, we created a comprehensive communications plan surrounding the unveiling of these vehicles if they are to appear as concept cars at an auto show. Since the cars are targeted to Gen-Y we focused heavily on social media as one of our primary channels of communication. Some ideas we came up with were hosting a virtual auto show on Second Life, creating a Facebook application that would allow consumers to vote on their favorite car and creating a series of podcasts to highlight the design process from start to finish. We also came up with ideas to use traditional media and face-to-face communication on college campuses.

Having spent the last four months completely focused on social media, it was nice to enhance some of my other PR skills. Being immersed in a project like this was a tough, but very rewarding experience.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Bob Lutz Responds to Bloggers' Questions

Making the transition from speaking "to" audiences to speaking "with" them

This post was inspired by a post I just read over at Force for Good.

I realize that the focus of this blog has shifted from general public relations thoughts to more about the use of social media in public relations. I can't stress enough the value I see in the traditional public relations practices. I'm not going to sit here and tell the world that we need to stop the traditional PR methods and focus all our efforts on social media. In terms of media relations, social media serves to enhance our efforts with traditional media, not replace print or broadcast media.

Social media, however, goes beyond simply getting our messages out there, it actually engages the publics we are trying to build relationships with. As Jon Harmon writes:

"The role of the corporate communications professional is rapidly changing, responding to the sea changes all around us: the rise of consumer-generated social media, globalization, the incredible personalization of information technology, greater expectations on corporations for transparency and social responsibility, and increasingly inter-connected stakeholder groups including often-adversarial activists."

Harmon goes on to say:

"Corporations need their PR professionals to move beyond helping them communicate to stakeholders (the traditional role of corporate mouthpiece); they need guidance on how to engage in fluid conversations (that means listening as well as talking, respectfully understanding the new rules of engagement)."

I could not agree more. This is why public relations is so important. We need to show management how to communicate with their audiences, rather than to them. Our audiences have a voice and our anxious for us to hear it.

This is something my team at GM has really been focused on. For example, one of top executives, Bob Lutz, took some time last month to sit down in front of a camera and answer some of the questions bloggers have posted in the comments of GM's Fastlane Blog. This is a great example of using social media to speak with our publics. The video is posted in the post above.

Jon Harmon's post is excellent and I highly recommend reading it in its entierety here.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Video: RSS in Plain English

I'll admit, RSS (really simple syndication) never was "really simple" for me to understand. I've started to understand more as I've used it, but this video does a great job explaining it. Take a look.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

How to use social networks

Man, I've been a blogging fool this week! I normally don't get this many posts in during one week.

Anyway, it's always nice to have someone validate thoughts you thought were just your own. I had this experience after reading a post on PR Communications. The author made a number of interesting points about how to best utilize social networks in building an effective social media community. While I agree with all his points, the following stood out most to me:

"No more marketing promotion - the biggest turn off in this type of community is a marketing shill. Trust comes from credibility and authenticity. Let your own people, and your developers criticize your efforts, if the criticism is correct, agree with them and move on, if wrong argue your case reasonably, remember everyone's goal is to produce the best software, if not all you are trying to do is sell something."

I recently had a similar experience creating some dialogue for GM on Facebook. Most of those who participated in the discussion were passionate, but respectful. When they criticized the company I would readily admit where we were wrong or correct anything erroneous. It turned out to be a very positive experience and a great conversation.

It's for this reason that I believe that social media should be a PR function only. Marketing, in my opinion, has no place in social networks. We build the relationships, then marketing can take it from there.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Update to yesterday's Facebook/Media Relations Post

Check out an interesting follow-up to the post on Facebook and media relations that I linked to yesterday.

Here's the the follow-up.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Facebook and Media Relations

Whoa, two posts in one day! Crazy.

I just saw a great post on Strategic Public Relations on using Facebook in your media relations efforts. I echo the following from the post:

Don't sign in and start pitching. You can't anyway. But as you learn Facebook, you'll learn more about your editorial contacts (and their work) than the basic information provided by media databases.

Check out what the author has to say. It's quite interesting. Here's a video from the post.


Your own social network?

The interesting thing about the rise of social media is the ever-changing nature of this beast. I'm constantly amazed at all the new channels that are popping up in social media. Granted, not all social media will become the next YouTube or MySpace, but organizations truly wanting to get into social media need to be aware of all that's out there and objectively evaluate whether the various forms of social media will enhance the organization's PR efforts.

The newest thing to come in social media now is creating your own social networks. One of my supervisors here at GM, recently pointed me to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about a site created by Netscape founder, Marc Andreessen. The site, Ning, allows users to actually create their own social networks around a variety of topics. It's an easy-to-use site, with numerous cool features that allow anyone to create a social network surrounding their personal interest. In less than 15 minutes I created my own social network for young PR professionals (similar to this blog) at http://youngprprofessionals.ning.com/.

Your own social network, what's next for social media?

From the WSJ article:


It's unclear whether [Andreesen's] third effort, social-networking site Ning, will succeed. But while entering an established business is a new approach for Mr. Andreessen, there's a chance he'll once again radically change the game.


Think about it this way. Hardly anyone heard of the World Wide Web when Mr. Andreessen developed his browser. And many wondered what he was doing when he co-founded Opsware's predecessor, Loudcloud, in 1999. Automating tasks for servers in data centers seemed a tech backwater. But again, he was ahead of his time. Advances in server technologies have created a lot of work for Opsware, which explains H-P's interest.


...social networking may be particularly prone to revolutions. After all, the first commonly used service was probably sixdegrees.com, started in 1996. Friendster, which led the fray after its 2002 launch, was rapidly eclipsed. Mr. Andreessen's record suggests it would be foolhardy to dismiss his view that the next big social networking trend will be decentralization. If he's right, it would mean hot sites such as MySpace and Facebook may suffer the same fate as their now-forgotten forebears.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Move Over MySpace, Here Comes Facebook!

There's been a great deal of discussion at work lately concerning the viability of MySpace now. I have long said that MySpace is losing (or has already lost) credibility among the younger crowd. We like Facebook. MySpace has unfortunately been infiltrated with spam and other unsavory marketing practices.

While it's inevitable that social networks will be used as another channel to communicate, they should not be used as channels to sell stuff. What I've learned is that you cannot market to social media users. I truly believe (and perhaps I'm biased) that, aside from banner advertising, the only corporate work going on in social networks should be communications/public relations work. Anything else just doesn't work and only serves to alienate those you most want to reach.

Ok, those are my personal feelings, but to help back up what I'm saying, take a look at a recent study that highlights the immense growth of Facebook in terms of membership numbers. According to the study (conducted by comScore), Facebook experienced a growth rate of 89 percent from May 2006 to May 2007!

I have long maintained that my age group (18-30) really doesn't use MySpace as much as Facebook, if at all. I remember walking into my college computer labs and seeing numerous people on Facebook, but MySpace was MUCH less prevalent. MySpace has simply become too commercial. Hopefully Facebook won't allow itself to fall into the same trap.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Blink

Due to a combination of GM's annual summer shutdown period, being sick and a severe case of writer's block, the blog has been relegated to that infamous back burner. Without further ado, here's the latest post.


I recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's (author of , The Tipping Point) book, Blink. This was quite an interesting read with a number of important points for all PR practitioners.
According to http://www.gladwell.com/, Blink is "a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye." Gladwell seeks to examine what happens in the first two seconds we encounter someone or something.
In my college PR classes at BYU, we were constantly reminded of the importance of doing extensive research before embarking on any kind of PR campaign. We were counseled to not simply go with our gut instincts, but to really weigh all the facts before moving forward. Blink refutes this notion.
To illustrate, let me relate one of the stories in the book. In the early 1980s the Coca-Cola Company began to see its market share slipping away as Pepsi started gaining ground. To further boost its sales, Pepsi began the Pepsi Challenge: a taste test in which cola drinkers were asked to pick their favorite cola after sampling two unmarked cups of Coke and Pepsi. Much to the dismay of Coca-Cola, the majority of people taking the challenge preferred Pepsi over Coke. A number of research projects led Coke researchers to conclude that Coca-Cola's taste was much harsher than the smooth taste of Pepsi. Long story short: Coca-Cola replaced its classic formula with the now infamous New Coke. The rest is history (sorry for the cliche').
Despite all the research that said Coca-Cola needed to revamp its taste (New Coke repeatedly beat Pepsi in numerous taste tests), consumers still wanted the old Coke. To this day, Pepsi still beats out Coke in taste tests, yet Coke remains the dominant soft drink throughout the world.
Sometimes research can lead us in the wrong direction. Am I saying that we should never do research and always "go with our gut"? Of course not. Research is beneficial, but despite what die-hard researchers may say, I have to believe that we sometimes "just know" whether or not something will work. We may not be able to explain the why, but that feeling is there all the same. Blink helps us recognize the importance of rapid cognition.
I highly recommend this book to all PR practitioners.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Who are the media?

I just looked up the definition of media from Dictionary.com, and found the following:

"me·di·a: (usually used with a plural verb) the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines, that reach or influence people widely"

This definition, however, is a bit shortsighted considering the world we live in today. Media are no longer just radio, TV, newspapers and magazines (though they are still all very strong media). We need to expand the definition of "media" to include bloggers, podcasters and, to a certain extent, users of social networks (i.e. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). These are what constitute social media.

Last week at work we held a pilot session for what we hope will become on ongoing series of classes on the basics of social media for GM employees. Christopher Barger, director of global communications and technology at GM, was quick to point out that our team (the social media team) is not out to try to tell people that social media is good or bad; people just need to understand that social media is here and we can choose to embrace or reject it.


Professional PR and communications practitioners need to avoid a common mindset that social media people are not really the media. If we only ever think of print, TV and radio as the only media out there then we are doing our organization and our publics a big disservice. When we invite traditional media out to cover events, we should be inviting bloggers and podcasters as well.


Social media is here. We as PR practitioners can either accept it or not, but it's here to stay.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Tour of The Detroit News

As part of an internship activity yesterday I had the opportunity to take a tour of The Detroit News newsroom. Our host, Mark Truby, business editor at the paper, was more than accomodating when it came to answering our questions and showing us around. Upon entering the actual newsroom we were greeted by piles of different newspapers, stacks of various books, a large collection of Pez dispensers and an even larger collection of bobble head dolls.

One of the interns in our group asked Mark what he thought the future of the newspaper business looked like. Mark replied that while the paper's circulation had decreased (as I'm sure is the case with the majority of the papers around the country), readership had actually increased due to more people reading online. Mark also made a point of saying that news still has value today, and that mass media makes money from the masses. They want to print the news that will sell papers and capture those "impulse buyers" who may buy a paper simply from what they see "above the fold." This has some serious implications to PR practitioners who often engage in "pitching" news to the newspapers. It's important that we not only pitch news, but pitch news that will sell papers. This is a self-interest of journalists that I have never thought of before.

We also had the opportunity to speak with another editor and to get her opinion on what are the best and worst ways for PR people to work with print media. She told us that the most helpful PR people are those who understand what journalists do and allow themselves or their client to be accessible to the media as much as possible. She recommended that we do all we can to help the journalist get the story he/she wants.

One thing she told us to beware of is something I've heard before: stop blanketing journalists with news releases. I've always been taught that doing this is a bad PR practice, but she put a new spin on it for me. By inundating journalists with news releases some of the really important, newsworthy information may be lost in the mix. She also recommended shortening releases and maybe even just bulleting the information out so they can read through it quickly. It seems the news release is becoming an increasingly irrelevant part of the PR industry.

It was a great experience to visit The Detroit News and see more of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on in a newsroom. Now I want to visit a broadcast news studio! I recommend that all budding public relations professionals take some time to tour their local newsroom and visit with the journalists.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Interacting With Bloggers

This blog seems to be morphing into more of a commentary on social media, but, hey, that's what I'm immersed in now, and it is a vital part of public relations.

This past Thursday I had the opportunity to participate in a news conference for Challenge X, an event co-sponsored by GM. Given that Challenge X is a contest for college teams to create more fuel-efficient and decreased emissions engines for the Chevy Equinox, the Social Media Team here at GM decided to invite a group of "green" bloggers to attend the event and news conference. Our guest bloggers included Sam Abuelsamid from AutoBlogGreen, Phillip Proefrock from GreenOptions/EcoGeek, Matt Mayer from Groovy Green . Lyle Dennis from Chevy-Volt Forum, Matt Kelly from NextGear and Todd Kaho from Green Car Journal.

It was interesting to note the differences between interaction with social media and the traditional media. GM brought the bloggers out to Michigan to participate in the events at Challenge X and to attend the news conference where this year's winners were announced. Following the news conference and driving activity the bloggers had the opportunity to sit down with Micky Bly, director of GM Hybrid Intergration, and ask him questions about GM's efforts in alternative propulsion. Later that evening the bloggers joined us for dinner with an engineer and scientist from GM, and were able to ask more questions about energy diversity, the Chevy Volt concept and other topics.

One thing I noticed about the bloggers was how passionate they were about the subjects they write on. The entire conversation at dinner was focused on cars and cars only. There was no small talk! The bloggers all seemed to be very down-to-earth and grateful to be included in this event. More than one of the bloggers told me how honored he was to be there and how exciting it was to see what GM is doing.

Bloggers quite often have day jobs and blogging is just something they do on the side. I was impressed to learn that one of the bloggers, Lyle Dennis, is a neurologist in New York and does his blogging in-between patient visits.

The reason I want to include this in the blog is to show how companies should interact with bloggers. Bloggers are a critical "public," if you will, for all PR practitioners. We can't afford to ignore bloggers and their immense influence on our other publics. This experience showed me how to host bloggers at a media event as well as how important of a voice they have.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Social Media Blunders

My boss sent me an interesting article today that highlights a few companies who have made some big errors in trying to engage in social media. The article, titled "What Kills a Social Media Campaign," goes through a number of blunders various companies have had in working with social media.

Being an intern in New Media Communications at General Motors, I have learned so much about how to correctly engage in social media activities. An interesting thing I've learned here is the importance of being completely transparent about who you represent in the social media sphere. For example, any time I start or participate in dialogue on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, I have to identify myself as a GM employee.

Another thing I've learned is the importance of being sincere. Anything less than complete sincerity sounds like a cheap marketing or public relations stunt. Social media users do not want to be marketed to and willl not put up with it. Each time I engage in dialogue on social networking sites I try to solicit input and advice from the users, while still identifying myself as a GM employee.

While the use of social media can greatly benefit an organization, misuse of it can greatly harm it as well.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Blogs = Dialogue

In my work in New Media Communications at GM I frequently read and comment on various blog posts. I've learned a great deal about blogging and how it can best be used. One of the biggest lessons I've learned in regards to blogging is that blogging is a unique type of media in that it allows for organizations to create meaningful dialogue. I suppose I always thought of blogging as another way for an organization to "get it's message out there," but this assumption runs counter to what public relations should be all about: generating two-way communication between an audience and its publics.

Blogging differs from traditional media, such as newspapers and broadcast news, in that it provides a forum for an organization to not only tell it's news, but to get feedback from its publics as well. Blogs allow organizations to understand what their publics (including customers) are thinking and what they want; a luxury not easily available with traditional media. By way of measurement, perhaps organizations can assess their relationship with publics by measuring not just the number of blog posts about the organization, but what comments people are making in response to these posts.

Blogs are, and will continue to be, an extremely imporant media that public relations practitioners cannot afford to ignore, but if abused they can greatly hinder an organization's PR efforts.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Trust

I have recently been reading Trust or Consequences by Al Golin (2004). The basic thrust of the book so far has been the need for organizations to build trust with their stakeholders or face negative consequences for not doing so. One concept Golin introduces in this book is a "trust bank." Golin developed this term (trust bank) to "describe how deposits of goodwill can serve a company well when it faces a crisis or other negative news" (Golin, 2). The book then outlines various reasons why organizations need to establish a trust bank and how to do it.

It is important to note that "trust directly impacts an organization's success and profits" (Public Relations Practices: Managerial Case Studies and Practices. Center, Allen & Jackson, Patrick. Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2003).

While I agree completely with the above statements, I have to wonder if actively working to establish a trust bank for the purpose of increased profits and success is ethical. Perhaps I'm too altruistic or naive, but I believe an organization should want to build trust simply for the sake of building trust. Having ulterior motives in building trust is, in my opinion, not trustworthy (for lack of a better term). Imagine how a group of stakeholders might react if they found out their organization has embarked on an active trust-building campaign (as Golin suggests doing in this book) simply to increase revenue. I don't imagine it would go over too well.

I believe organizations should work to maintain and increase the trust of its stakeholders, but only for altruistic purposes. Organizations should be a good corporate citizen simply because that is the right thing to do. That, in my opinion, is the best way to build trust.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The World of Corporate Communications

This past Monday I embarked upon the biggest career move of my life so far: an internship at General Motors Corp. I have been assigned to work on the Social Media team for GM at the headquarters here in Detroit. It has been an absolutely overwhelming, yet amazing experience so far. I'm definitely a very small fish in a very large pond.

I have been most impressed with the kindness that has been exhibited to me by everyone here. They truly know how to make a brand new intern feel welcome and comfortable. I feel like they are giving me the red carpet treatment. I have no problem asking some of the higher-ranking leaders here for advice and counsel. They have all been very supportive.

I have also been impressed with the immensity of GM's communications department. We had a meeting yesterday for all the North American communications people. There were more than 200 people there! GM has segmented its communications approaches to a number of different areas: labor relations, parts and supply chain communications, plant communications, corporate communications, social media, media relations, etc. GM is truly a company that knows how to communicate with its numerous and varied publics.


On a side note, I just have to write about what we did yesterday. After the meeting we all drove up to the Milford Proving Grounds, an enormous site where GM does all of its vehicle testing. The purpose of our visit? To drive alot of the new 2007 vehicles. I drove so many cars yesterday. I drove the new GMC Sierra truck, a Hummer H3 and H2, a Saab 9.5, a Cadillac Escalade, GMC Acadia (very nice), Saturn Aura Hybrid (which won the North American Car of the Year Award for 2007) and the Pontiac G6 convertible. The highlight, however, was driving a 2007 Chevy Corvette Z06 and an '07 Cadillac XLR. The pickup on those cars is exhilarating. I got both of them up to 90 mph in just a matter of seconds. I also had the chance to drive a Hummer on a course designed to highlight all that a Hummer is capable of. It was amazing.


I think I'm going to enjoy my time here at GM. :)

Monday, April 30, 2007

What is public relations?


This weekend my wife and I went to dinner with some friends. During the course of our conversation one of my friends remarked to me that she doesn't really know what PR is. Her idea of PR is, in her opinion, simply "getting your nameout there." I was quick to jump on that and explain to her that that is not what PR is. I'm slowly begin to learn that PR has, er, a PR problem. Most people either have no idea what PR is or have some serious misconceptions about it. Here's my personal list of what PR is not, or at least should not, be.

Public relations is not:

- Strictly media relations (although media relations is an important part of PR)
- Spin (although, unfortunately, some practitioners continue to do this)
- Simply making your client or organization look good
- Getting your name out there

Public relations should be concerned with building and managing reputations with a client's or organization's various publics (audiences or stakeholders). To do this, PR practitioners may need to use the media. PR practitioners only hurt themselves with they use "spin" to make their client/organization look good or to achieve more name recognition. An important part of public relations is helping your client/organization practice transparency.

I truly believe that part of my role as a "budding public relations professional" is to help spread the knowledge of what PR does and clear up the litany of misconceptions surrounding the practice. We all need to help PR clean up it's PR problem.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Wikipedia as a news source?


It seems Wikipedia has started to become more than just an online encyclopedia. According to an article in The New York Times today, Wikipedia "served as an essential news source for hundreds of thousands of people on the Internet trying to understand the shootings at Virginia Tech University."

Check out the entire article here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Social Media and Crisis Communications


It is so interesting to see the rise of social media. It is no longer simply a means of entertainment for teens and college students, it is now a vital communications tool. I check my Facebook account as often as I check my e-mail (multiple times each day). In a post on the "Force for Good" blog, Jon Harmon highlights the use of Facebook in regards to Monday's terrible massacre at Virginia Tech. Check out what he has to say.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ethics


I just read "Can PR Salvage the Imus Brand? Should It?" by Jim Sinkinson at the Bulldog Reporter.

Sinkinson states three PR questions that need to be addressed in regards to defending a client's reputation when he/she messes up:

1. "What happens to your clients' reputation when they say stupid things in public?"
2. "Can you salvage their reputation even after they say stupid things?"
3. "Should PR help criminals, racists, sexists and other miscreants salvage their reputations?"

I would like to focus on the last of these three questions.

In a recent assignment for an ethics class we were asked to interview a professional in our field. We were asked to find out what types of ethical issues they face and how they deal with them. I interviewed Chris Thomas, owner and officer at The Intrepid Group (a Salt Lake City-based PR agency). On a side note, Chris was also the spokesperson for the Elizabeth Smart family during her abduction in 2002-2003.

He talked to me about potential clients sometimes coming to him asking him for help cleaning up a mess they'd gotten themselves into. Chris said he only takes on these types of clients if they were willing to admit their wrongs and are willing to make restitution for them. If they want him to be deceitful and make them look better than they really are, he will refuse their business.

No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. One thing we can do as PR professionals is help to right wrongs as much as possible. We can facilitate the healing of those who have been injured. I believe we do have a moral responsibility to help those "repentant" individuals who have messed up. This said, however, surely there are some situations that would warrant not helping out on a PR front. Check out the Sinkinson's article for a more articulate discussion on this topic.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Entitlement and Internships

My class recently had an interesting discussion on the feeling of entitlement some students/new grads may have as they embark on internships and entry-level jobs. This really got me thinking about my attitudes in the internships I've done. I realize that I have truly had this attitude of entitlement. It has been a struggle learning that I am really just an intern. I have so much more to learn. I think I've been really well-trained in the management side of things, but I need to learn to crawl before I learn to walk.

That said, however, sometimes interns are often relegated to the position of office gopher; doing whatever is asked of them:making copies, making coffee, doing projects no one else wants to, etc. A recent article in the April 2007 PRSSA Tactics highlights some of the challenges facing current PR interns. The article was written by Kathleen S. Kelly, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA. Try as I might, I was unable to find an online version. Here are some highlights.

Dr. Kelly quotes a recent study (conducted by the Commission of Public Relations Education) which found that "many educators believe that the tasks performed by students during their internships do not provide adequate learning opportunities." While I completely understand that interns should not be doing high-level PR work, I think they should at least be exposed to it. My idea of an great internship is where the intern gets to do some of every aspect of PR in that organization (under close supervision, of course).

Dr. Kelly also discusses the issue of whether or not PR interns should be paid. Here's a couple of quotes from her article:

- "...only 36 percent of internships provide salary or stipends for student work."
- "Failure to compensate students for work is particularly troubling in the case of for-credit internships since students must pay tuition for all credit-hour work in colleges and universities"
- "'Unpaid internships are not jobs, only simulations. And fake jobs are not the best preparation for real jobs'" (quoting a New York Times op-ed piece by columnist Anya Kamenetz).

Monday, April 9, 2007

AntiAstroturfing


I learned about Astroturfing through the NewPR Wiki and was appalled at what I learned about this practice. Dictionary.com defines Astroturf as "a trademark used for an artificial grasslike ground covering." Note the use of the word artificial here.

So what does Astroturf have to do with PR? The practice of "Astroturfing" is another example of unethical (or irresponsible) individuals giving public relations a bad name. Basically, Astroturfing is creating fake grassroots political organizations in order to generate support for candidates or issues. Grassroots organizations are to hard to organize, but can be extremely effective. Astroturfing "professionals" recognize this and thus, have started creating fake grassroots organizations. For an extended explanation see this post at Blog Campaigning.

Many believe PR is behind all of this, and for good reason. As reported on Blog Campaigning, the DCI Group, a Washington-based PR firm created a video slamming Al Gore's recent environmental documentary. The firm, however, wanted people to believe that a college student had created the video and put it on YouTube. The kicker? One of the firm's clients is Exxon, a company that does not want more environmental regulation. Hasn't Exxon had enough problems with PR?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The squeaky wheel gets the grease...

Want to see what bad PR people are doing to the PR industry? Check this out:

The Bad Pitch Blog: The Center for Media & Democracy Puts the Spin on Spin

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Insights

I'm really trying to get more into the world of Web 2.0. I am slowly beginning to understand how this whole blogging thing really works. A former colleague of mine recommended I check out "nerd-in-residence," a blog on public relations and the impact of social media. The author, Dave Donohue has some really good insights on how public relations can work with social media. You can check out his blog here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Expert advice

During last year's PRSSA National Conference I had the opportunity to join several of my fellow PRSSA members in going to dinner with Richard Edelman, president and CEO at Edelman, the world's only independent global PR firm.

I was impressed with his breadth of knowledge and insight into PR, but more especially his understanding of the new communications tools (i.e. blogs, social media, etc.). He asked us alot of questions and gave us some great advice. Because of my interaction with him I started reading his blog. It is really informative and I highly recommend it to any PR professional. I realize, of course, that Edelman has had some recent ethical problems, but I do not believe, however, that these few incidents automatically indicate Edelman is an unethical company.

Anyway, check out Richard Edelman's blog. The blog is titled 6 a.m.

Monday, March 26, 2007

How I really feel about public relations

I was reading through some of my past postings and I realized that I sound like I have a negative view of public relations. Let me clearly state that I absolutely love public relations! It's a field I kind of stumbled on to, but I'm glad I did. I really am passionate about PR and hope to spend the rest of my professional career in this exciting field.

That said, there are some current trends in PR that are frightening to me. I really hope the entire profession does not morph into media relations alone. If an organization fails to build relationships with all of its publics and concentrates solely on media relations, public relations, I fear will slowly fade into the background. There is so much more to PR than just media relations: employee communications, crisis communications, advising management, etc. Let's learn to think outside of the press release and work to become strategic communicators for our clients or organizations.

Monday, March 19, 2007

PR Measurement

Check out this great white paper on aligning communications efforts with business objectives:

http://www.factiva.com/campaigns/marketing/segment/F-2965scottwpRev2.pdf

Let's talk about evaluation

“How to Measure PR’s Contribution to Corporate Objectives,” Presented by Donna Coletti, Texas Instruments

How do you determine the best measurement techniques for your specific campaign or objectives?

Coletti gives a few tips for how to determine which measurement technique is best. The first of these is matching the proposed measurement technique to the available resources (i.e., how much money you have to spend, how many people you can devote, etc.). This step, I believe, needs to be done before implementation of strategies and tactics. Evaluation should be figured into the budget, or else you might find yourself without the needed money to adequately conduct evaluation.

Second, measurement and evaluation does not necessarily have to be expensive. For example, small surveys or quantitative tracking of messages can be done for little or no money and with limited staff.

Finally, when trying to determine the best measurement techniques, you need to find something that will be important to management. You can have amazing success in evaluation, but if your evaluation doesn’t highlight something important to management, then your efforts are lost. The quote Coletti gives in this presentation sums this all up: “Providing Value Add to management will help build a case for a measurement and evaluation budget.”


“Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE),” Jeffries-Fox, Bruce. Institute for Public Relations, 2003

Is Advertising Value Equivalency really a viable way to measure media relations efforts?

Simply stated, Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) is a measurement effort to compare the effect of media relations efforts to the dollars spent on traditional advertising. This is done by “measuring the column inches (in the case of print), or seconds (in the case of broadcast media) and multiplying these figures by the respective medium’s advertising rates (per inch or per second). The resulting number is what it would have cost to place an advertisement of that size in the medium” (2).

I tend to view AVEs as being an unreliable way to measure media relations efforts. It just seems too quantifiable for me liking. My personal views aside, the author of this paper does cite some substantial problems in regards to AVEs.

First, there is no factual basis for assuming that a particular news story has the same (or greater) effect on an audience than an advertisement would. Like advertising, we cannot guarantee that people will see a media placement, much less act the way we desire them to simply because of the placement.

A second problem is that AVEs “only value what actually appears in the media” (3). As the author points out, there are many times when an organization would not want publicity. In cases such as these, AVEs do not provide an accurate measurement.

Third, an advertiser can run the same ad a number of times to persuade its audiences. News doesn’t work this way. The same story is not repeated verbatim. It may be told again with a slightly different take, but it is still different. Therefore, AVEs cannot be used here to effectively measure the effect of media hits.

There are other problems with AVEs, but these I’ve listed are enough for me to do some serious thinking before I employ AVEs in my measurement techniques.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Is creativity an intrinsic characteristic?

Something intrinsic is something "belonging to a thing by its very nature" (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/intrinsic). With this in mind, I have never considered myself a creative person. One only need look at my grade school art projects to appreciate the validity of this statement! However, after reading the text's small blurb on creativity I have come to believe that creativity is not an intrinsic characteristic, rather, it something everyone can gain and enhance.

The text defines creativity as "the process of looking outside ourselves and our routine to discover new ideas and innovative solutions" (W&O, 139). The commonly used cliché, "think outside the box" may need to be reworked for public relations practitioners. Perhaps we need to learn to "think outside the press release." This is not to say that we should never think within the box (press release), but creativity pushes us to go beyond the bounds of our self-imposed comfort zone. As the text states, "creativity often means borrowing and adapting ideas" (W&O, 141). Being creative does not mean we have to come up with brand new ideas all the time. We would live in a very primitive world if no one ever built on the ideas of others.

Finally, "fear is probably the single greatest barrier to creative behavior" (W&O, 144). I often hesitate to voice my ideas and opinions for fear of rejection or ridicule. Doing so greatly stifles my creative capabilities. We are not born with or without creativity, but our fears can certainly limit it.

What I've learned about media relations

I hate media relations. I think it is used too much in current public relations practices. That being said, however, I do agree that media relations is an important part of public relations. What follows are some tips on working with the media that I've picked up along the way. Whether they are valid or not is open to interpretation!

1. Be a blessing, not a burden, to your media contacts. Understand and respect their needs and deadlines.

2. Pitch news, not free advertising. I once had the opportunity to talk with a reporter from The New York Times about her views on working with PR people. She told me that The New York Times gets thousands of press releases each day (about three e-mails per minute), but most are just trying to get publicity for their client. Reporters’ jobs are to report the news, not your client.

3. "Provide quality media contacts" (W&O, 159). Make sure you use the writing style of the particular media outlet and that there are no errors in what you submit to them. Make sure the people they interview from your organization are knowledgeable, personable and well prepared.

4. "If it can be handled in a news release, use a news release" (W&O, 159).

5. Proofread all e-mails sent from you to media contacts. I learned this the hard way when I failed to proofread an e-mail I sent to Walt Mossberg, a prominent Wall Street Journal reporter. Because of this, he misinterpreted my meaning and sent me a scathing e-mail. Needless to say, he wasn't interested in the pitch after that.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Of publics, messages and objectives...

Is it better to set objectives before choosing publics or to choose publics before setting objectives?

This is a difficult question to answer. I can see how both ways could be beneficial, but I agree with the authors of the text; they feel it is best to set our objectives first and then chose our key publics.

If we are using the 10-Step Strategic Communications Planning Matrix, during the Background portion of our Research section we will identify and profile all potential publics that may be affected by the current problem or opportunity. First, we must sit down and identify all of the potential publics. Notice that right now we are referring to them as "potential" publics. Later on we will identify our "key" publics. This should be done in a brainstorming session "to ensure that no potential publics are left behind and everyone has a chance to participate" (Wilson & Ogden, 68). Even though this list is comprehensive, we still have work to do. Once we have our list of potential publics we then must create in-depth profiles for each public. These profiles should contain demographic and psychographic information. We must also state the organization's current relationship with the public, the public’s influentials and the public's self-interests. Remember, these are only our potential publics. We have not yet decided if these are the publics we are going to focus our public relations strategies and tactics on.

Now we are ready to set our objectives. If we try to choose key publics before we set objectives we run the risk of having public-specific objectives. Some may argue that this is exactly what we want. However, we must "recognize that any given communications effort may need to encompass publics other than those identified as organizationally key" (W&O, 112). Our objectives need to be flexible enough to be able to apply to more than one public. Furthermore, by choosing key publics before setting objectives we are focused on who we want to reach rather than what we want to accomplish.

What's the point of meticulously of taking time to research and segment our publics if we only use mass media to reach them?

This idea has become somewhat of a hot button with me. Research is not easy. It takes time; it takes work; it takes money. Furthermore, it takes considerable time and effort to select and segment our key publics and respective messages. When we do all this, yet choose to simply "shotgun" the message through the mass media, all of our previous efforts have been in vain. It doesn't matter how good your research is, how well defined the core problem is or how amazing your publics are if they never hear the message. Wilson and Ogden have stated, “We would do well to remember that just because a medium is designated mass does not mean that the publics consuming the information are mass (W&O, 114).

I believe there is a perception both within PR and without that if your organization is mentioned on the local news station or featured in the paper that everyone will see it want to change their behavior. How false this idea is! We must remember that people "choose to perceive a message only when we design it specifically to appeal to them" (W&O, 114). I am not saying that we never use mass media to reach our publics, we just need to make sure we use mass media outlets to appeal to the self-interests of our publics.

It's this kind of stuff that give PR a bad name!

Want to see an example of how NOT to pitch the media? Check this out:

http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/software/worst-pr-pitch-ever

Monday, February 26, 2007

Stakeholders and Planning

This entry is a combination of discussion questions from Strategic Communications Planning and "Priortizing Stakeholders for Public Relations," Brad L. Rawlins, March 2006.

Can the terms stakeholder and public be used interchangeably?

According to Rawlins (2004), the answer to this question is simply no. Rawlins states that often the terms are used interchangeably, "but they shouldn't be." I originally had a hard time understanding the difference between the two. It seems that I have always been taught, or at least been under the assumption, that stakeholders are publics and publics are stakeholders.

Rawlins points out that stakeholders are identified by "their relationships to organizations," but publics are identified based on "their relationship to messages." But aren't stakeholders always recipients of an organization’s messages? Don't all publics have some sort of relationship with the organization? If they don't have a relationship why are they publics?

We must remember what Freeman's (1984) definition of a stakeholder is. In the broadest sense of the term, Freeman defines a stakeholder as "any group or individual who is affected by or can affect the achievement of an organization's objectives." In the narrower definition, however, Freeman states that a stakeholder is "any identifiable group on which the organization is dependent for its continued survival (see Free, R.E. 1984. Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach. Boston: Pitman Publishing).

On the other hand, Wilson and Ogden (2004) define publics as "segmented groups of people whose support and cooperation are essential to the long-term survival of an organization or the short-term accomplishment of its objectives" (Wilson, L.J. & Ogden, J.D. 2004. Strategic Communications Planning for Effective Public Relations and Marketing. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing)

From what I have read it seems that sometimes the two terms can be used interchangeably, but it's not always this way. I believe a public is always a stakeholder, but a stakeholder is not always a public.

Why are employees "critical to the effectiveness and efficiency of [an] organization?"

Employees will generally be grouped into the functional linkage of Grunig and Hunt's model. Functional linkages "are those that are essential to the function of the organization" (Rawlins, 4). Without employees it is impossible to operate a business. Center and Jackson (2003) wrote, "The first public of any organization is its employees -- the people who make it what it is" (Center, A.H. & Jackson, P. Public Relations Practices: Managerial Case Studies and Problems. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall).

I truly believe that an organization can only be as successful as its employees are happy/satisfied with their jobs. Take Google for example. In January 2007, Fortune Magazine named Google as the No. 1 company to work for in America. I don't think it is a coincidence that Google is doing so well and its employees are so happy. I remember an internship I did last summer. Many of the employees were not happy working for this company and the company suffered as a result. Consequently, the company's second-in-charge left the company and two of us followed thereafter. If a company's employees are not happy, the business suffers.

Employees are also the ambassadors of an organization. If they have a good relationship with their employer they are more apt to promote the organization to their friends and associates. Conversely, if they are unhappy at work it seems that they will tell everyone possible about how bad the company is.

What are the benefits of planning before implementing?

The beginning of this chapter gives an interesting quote from an anonymous source: "If you fail to plan, plan to fail." How true this statement is! Planning is so critical to implementing an effective campaign. Some may say we can't afford to spend time planning, we must start implementing. I say we can't afford not to plan. Planning ensures that we will only employ the most effective of techniques to achieve our goals and objectives. Like Wilson and Ogden have stated, "unless we know where we are going and have some idea of an appropriate course to get there, our arrival at the destination will be left to chance" (96).

Our planning is must be based on intense, good research. If it is will we greatly increase the chances of achieving success in our goals and objectives. I'm sure that no executive ever plans to fail, but we he/she may not realize is that by failing to plan effectively they are doing just that.