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.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What impact has the media had on the economy?

The other day as I stood in a long line at Costco to buy my two small items (they really need an express lane there), I was struck by how many people were there despite the current state of the U.S. economy. On a previous trip to Costco just a few days earlier my wife and I were surprised to see how many people were walking out with huge, flat-screen TVs. All of this, plus some discussions I’ve had recently, led me to ponder on what kind of impact the media has had on our economic difficulties of late.

Phrases like “economic turmoil,” “cash burn” and “downturn” seem to make their way into nearly every media story I read, watch or listen to. How many times have you seen a picture of a stock broker with his palm against his forehead and a look of dismay on his face? I’ve now become an international finance expert because I can tell you everyday how well or bad the Asian markets performed overnight. Yet, despite the economic crisis, I still find myself waiting in a long line at Costco.

I’m not naive enough to believe that all is wonderful with our economy, but part of me has to believe that the media has contributed to some of the panic and despair some people have experienced in these hard times. Things are tough for sure, but I have to wonder how much the negative media coverage of the economy has had upon Americans’ psyche. Does this contribute to the panicked sell-offs on Wall Street? If I made my financial decisions based solely on media reports, I’d be hiding my money in my mattress (which I don’t do, so don’t come looking).

Perhaps in the media’s haste to get readers, viewers or listeners, they make their financial reporting as sensational as possible. What if they tempered their coverage of the bad news by reporting on some bright spots in the economy (aside from the booming profits of the oil companies)? I have to believe that this would contribute to increased consumer confidence.

Perhaps I’m way off in my thinking on this one, but if not, what relevance does this hold for us as public relations practitioners? I’ve often questioned how much impact media relations has on our efforts to build relationships with our publics, but I’m beginning to think that broad and repeated coverage of our organizations is influential; for good or for bad.

I’m interested, however, in your thoughts. Has the media contributed to panic and uncertainty in the economy? How much impact does media coverage really have on our publics?

UPDATE: Corey Mull of TMG Strategies just alerted me to a similar post he wrote for their blog a few months ago. It echoes much of what I wrote here, with some additional insight.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Turning the tables

I recently received a new assignment at GM in Chevrolet Communications. I'm responsible for PR activities associated with Corvette , Chevy Impala , Chevy HHR and my personal favorite, the all new 2010 Chevy Camaro . As part of my new assignment, I had an interesting opportunity with the staff of Car and Driver  yesterday.

Every year Car and Driver invites PR representatives from all of the automakers to come out to their headquarters and bring one of their hottest new vehicles (I brought a 2009 Chevy Cobalt SS  Turbocharged). It's basically a chance for Car and Driver to get to know more PR people as well as a great networking opportunity for all of us. The highlight of it all is getting to drive a variety of vehicles from competitors.

It was really interesting to be hosted by the media on a program. It's often the other way around for me. I think this is a smart move from Car and Driver, and goes to show that some media realize the importance of the public relations profession. Granted, the major automotive publications come to us more often that we go to them, but this event reiterated for me how important it is for us to work to build relationships with our media contacts. Plus, I got to drive alot of cool cars!

So, have any of you ever experienced the media reaching out to PR people in a similar way?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Happy Ethics Month!

It's time to bust out the cake, ice cream and crazy hats because September is officially Ethics Month. Well, at least for PRSA it is.

In this month's issue of Tactics there are a number of articles dedicated to ethics in the public relations industry. Ethics has always been a topic of interest to me, and I even took not one, but two media and communications ethics classes in college.

It seems that now, more than ever, PR practitioners are faced with a litany of ethical decisions, and it's time for those of us "budding public relations professionals" to be examples of ethical behavior in all we do, both professionally and personally.

In taking the aforementioned classes, I was exposed to many different books and articles regarding ethical issues. Much of the information I read, particularly in my Advanced Ethics class (yes, it really was called that), was based on the writings of philosophers, but I had a really hard time wrapping my mind around that. It seemed that some of these individuals took a simple topic like ethics and twisted it into a convoluted, abstract concept. I believe our personal ethics should come from within. Ethics, in my opinion, is a reflection of who we are. I'm not saying that someone can't gain some valuable insight from the writings of highly intelligent ethics experts such as Immanuel Kant or Sissela Bok, but for me ethics seems to be a simple matter.

I am not naïve enough to believe that making ethical decisions is an easy process, nor is it always black and white, but I do believe this process can be simplified by abiding by the moral compass within all of us. I also believe that everyone has an innate sense of right and wrong, but this sense can be refined and improved. Conversely, this sense can also be dulled through lapses in ethical judgment. One way I personally strive to improve my sense of right and wrong is through study of scripture and other religious texts. Outside of these texts, however, are three excellent books that have made a significant impact on my ethical behavior. They are as follows:

Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes, Gordon B. Hinckley

  • An excellent book by one of my heroes. This book inspires everyone to take a stand for what's right and to live a life of only the highest moral character. I simply cannot recommend it enough. I read this book for the first time in high school, and it was the first nonfiction book I'd ever read. I continue to consult it today.

Winners Never Cheat, Jon M. Huntsman

  • Jon Huntsman does a superb job of providing some insight on what it means to be an ethical person, and supports this through numerous business examples gained during his time in the corporate world.

There's No Such Thing as Business Ethics, John. C. Maxwell

  • Kudos to Maxwell (or perhaps more accurately, his publishing company) for a really great title. The basic premise of this book is that there is no such thing as business ethics, because ethics, as I've stated, is simply a matter of who you are. Ethics at work should be not be any different than ethics in one's personal life. This book is a really short read and can easily be finished in a day.

I love these books because of their down-to-earth, very practical information and application. These are my favorites. Are there any I should add to this list? I'm always looking for great books to add to my reading list, so recommend away.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Please talk about us: Making our external publics our ambassadors

I've always believed in the importance of making sure employees are provided with the information and tools necessary to be the best kind of ambassadors for a company. I still believe this is important, but in this post I'd like to take it a step further and discuss the importance of inviting those outside of our company or organization to be effective ambassadors.

The topic for this blog post was prompted by the following video from Elder M. Russell Ballard, an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am a member. More below the video.

As you see in this video, Elder Ballard is calling upon members of the LDS faith to embrace various social media tools in to clarify misconceptions and to talk about the Church. On a side note, it's fascinating to me to see the Church's public affairs staff employing such cutting edge technology to reach a variety of publics; but that's content for another post.

One thing Elder Ballard says in this short clip was particularly insightful. He mentions that the LDS Public Affairs staff is not able to join in all the conversations happening online, so he asks the Church's 13 million members to get involved. This isn't the first time Elder Ballard has addressed this; in a recent session of the worldwide General Conference of the Church he called upon members, in essence, to create a list of key messages and talking points they can use in talking to friends and acquaintances about what we believe in.

Think of the power that can come from giving your publics free reign to go online and elsewhere to talk up your company or organization. I know in PR we often talk about reaching the influentials, but do many companies ask these opinion leaders to actually go out and talk up the company? With the rise of social media, we simply don't have time to get out there and join every conversation happening about our company, but if we can get our fans to do it for us, why give them all they need and then actually asking them to do it. While I think this is a stellar idea J, I'd really like to hear your thoughts on it. Do you think it's a good idea to get out there and ask your supporters to help you communicate your company's messages? As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

For those of you interested in learning more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please feel free to contact me. My contact info is listed in my Blogger profile. You can also visit for more information.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Don't pitch me, bro!

Ok, I admit I stole the title of this post from a flier I saw recently, but I just thought it was hilarious given the context of where it was placed (if you don't get the reference, click here). I recently spoke on behalf of General Motors at the Social Networking Conference in San Francisco, and during a break in sessions I noticed some fliers on a table with the phrase "Don't pitch me bro!" in large bold print. The flier was basically an advertisement for a company's services, but was making light of all the in-person sales pitches that happen at conferences like this.

After my presentation, I had a line of about 12 people waiting to talk to me. Generally when I speak at conferences people will come up and tell me how cool it is to see what GM is doing in social media and to say "thank you" for presenting. At this conference, however, it was one salesperson after the other with some service that would inevitably be a "good fit" for GM. Needless to say, I spent the days following the conference gently telling people we weren't looking to hire any additional services.

I've noticed that when someone tries to sell me something I shut off mentally and don't listen to a word they say. I'm not sure why this is; all I know is that I loathe being sold to.

I have to think that more and more people are getting frustrated by constant sales pitches. Take the advent of TiVo and other DVR services. Sure, there is some draw to being able to record your favorite shows, but I think there is also a number of people who like being able to skip commercials using DVRs. Satellite radio also offers commercial free radio (at least they used to, not sure if that's still the case). What about the iPod? Now you can download all your favorite music and never have to listen to a single commercial. Or look at it this way, when was the last time you bought anything from a telemarketer?

So how does this apply to PR people? I believe there is value in advertising and that it will not be going away anytime soon. Advertisers will have to adapt to people's changing attitudes regarding being sold to, but I'll leave solving this problem to the advertisers. I believe that it is our job as PR people to build solid relationships with all of our publics, and then the marketing guys and gals can do their work. With the lines between PR and marketing often being a little fuzzy, I think it's easy for some PR practitioners to start pitching product and miss the relationship-building component so key to all public relations work.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not slamming salespeople or their techniques. I know many good people in sales who are very good at their jobs; I'm just saying that I find being sold to extremely annoying.

But what about you? Are you as annoyed by sales pitches as I am? How do you prefer to find out about products?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Are newspapers going away?

I wanted to stand up and applaud when I read a post by Steven Hodson at Mashable who refuted Robert Scoble's opinion on the death of newspapers. Scoble, probably one of the most well read bloggers out there, recently remarked that his son would be probably be witness to the end of the newspaper industry.

I won't rehash, Hodson's post, but I highly recommend taking a look at it. Check out the following quote from his post:

The fact is that newspapers aren’t going anywhere and chances are they will
still be around by the time your grandkid’s children are having kids. Sure they
are facing some hard economic times much of which is of their doing, but you
don’t kill over a $45 billion industry within a generation especially if that
industry contrary to popular belief is still growing.

This is something I've discussed with a number of individuals before. Newspapers and other forms of traditional media outlets are not going away. They will have to adapt, but they are not going away. Take for example the advent of radio. When radio came out people were certain that newspapers would go away. The rapidity of radio news seemed to negate the need for newspapers who were reporting the news a day after it happened. Yet, newspapers survived. Then along came TV, and with it speculation that it would replace radio and newspapers. Still, radio and newspapers escaped demise. Finally, the Internet was born. Now users can read the news, listen to podcasts and online radio and even watch videos and TV shows. Surely, this is the end-all for other forms of media, right? Let's see...I listen to the radio every day, read a hard copy newspaper every day, watch the news nightly and am on the Internet throughout the day. True, maybe I'm an anomaly, but I use these diferent forms of media because I get different content from each one.

Like I said, traditional media will have to adapt to the changing nature of information sharing, and they are already doing so. Most major newspapers already have all their content online for free (The Wall Street Journal is an exception). You can listen to radio online now. Many journalists also blog. I've even started to see some publications on Twitter and Facebook. Reuters also recently reported that newspapers may even be free in the future.

Hey, and don't forget about the oldest medium out there...books.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Back to school!

I’ve barely been out of college for a year, yet the thought of going back for grad school fills me with unspeakable dread. I know, however, it’s something I must do and soon because my family, work and personal obligations will only continue to increase.

I briefly considered going to get an advanced degree in PR or communications, but from what I’ve heard from others it sounds like many of these programs are very focused on theory. While I understand that there is some value to learning theory, I don’t think it would be something I would really be able to enjoy (yes, I do believe I need to enjoy what I’m learning!).

I’ve heard a number of people recommend an MBA as a great advanced degree for PR practitioners. It exposes you to more aspects of business, and helps you better understand how companies work. I’m pretty sure that I want to stay in PR my whole career, but am not sure if getting an MBA will really put me on the fast track to an executive PR position (which is my ultimate goal). I know that an MBA will enhance my business acumen and make it so that I can better speak the language of business.

I’m about 99 percent certain that I will pursue an MBA, but am unsure of whether to go back full-time or part-time in an evening or weekend program. I’ve heard that full-time is better from a recruiting standpoint, but I’m comfortable in my job at GM and don’t foresee leaving the company anytime soon. I’m interested in hearing whether or not anyone has heard anything about the quality of education from an evening or weekend MBA program compared to going back full-time. Is there a difference? Is one preferable to the other? An executive MBA program is out of the question for me because I don’t want to get the average seven years of experience before going back to school.

What do you think? I welcome any input! GMAT preparation tips are welcome too!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Keeping it real

The idea of “keeping it real,” in PR has been on my mind for sometime, and in light of recent events with Scott McClellan, former White House Press Secretary, and his tell-all book it seems appropriate to write about it on my blog.

Lying is wrong. Period. There is no other way to describe it. Despite the comments by CBS Sunday Morning legal analyst Andrew Cohen, about the only truthful PR people being those who are unemployed, I have to believe – some may say naively – that the majority of my fellow PR practitioners do not outright lie. (See PRSA's response here) However, I think an all too common practice has infiltrated our PR work, and that is the practice of never saying anything negative about your organization or client. This practice has led PR practitioners to be labeled as “spin doctors,” and, dare I say, rightly so. Maybe this worked in the past. Maybe people just believed all that was being said by a spokesperson or executive, but \ this is no longer the case. Our publics have caught on to this game, and will readily dismiss anything we say. They will seek alternative sources of information. Hence the popularity of social media. (Consequently, I believe the traditional media can be just as guilty of spin as PR people.)

Take for example, America’s current presidential race. I watch with frustration as TV anchors ask the candidates tough questions and the candidates lightly touch on the question (without answering it) and then jump into one of their key messages. Guess what: Once they fail to answer the question, I immediately tune out. Call it sensationalism, but I like it when the media ask controversial questions of politicians and company executives. I just wish the interviewees would answer like real people.

If we only ever have good things to say about our organizations or clients then we are doing a disservice to our publics. I mean, come on, do we really expect people to believe that everything is perfect? Keeping it real means not shying away from all of the truth. Maybe that means we have to share some information we’re uncomfortable sharing, but I believe that this will only engender trust and goodwill among our publics.

I had this experience once in my short PR career. During an event with some media I made a comment about something I personally disliked about a certain thing and immediately got a look of displeasure from a well meaning colleague. Some may argue that it’s not my job to share personal opinions, but I would counter that by so doing I make myself more of a real person and in turn, more credible.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we all go out there and find negative things to say about our organizations and clients; I’m simply saying that we can’t be afraid to tell it like it is. If we do so we build a relationship of trust with our publics and they will come to see us as reliable sources of information. Conversely, doing otherwise makes our public less willing to listen to what we have to say and again, they will go elsewhere.

I, for one, will do all I can to keep it real during my career in PR. How about you?

Thursday, May 1, 2008


The other day someone at work remarked that they believe the Public Relations Society of America is all about media relations, whereas the International Association of Business Communicators is more focused on helping people become better communicators in general. This comment about PRSA being solely focused on media relations really got me thinking about my membership in the Society.

I have been involved with PRSA since 2006 when I joined the student arm of the Society, the Public Relations Student Society of America. Perhaps I latched on to PRSSA rather than IABC simply because my school had a chapter, but I have to think that despite this fact I still would have pursued PRSA. Call it a simple case of semantics, but for me two words in the names of the organizations say a great deal about what I believe my role is as a PR practitioner: relations and communicator. I believe strongly that my job is to help build relatioships with my organization's publics, not simply to communicate to them. True, part of building relationships with publics involves communicating with them, but communication is simply an aspect of what I must do to make this happen.

But now back to my co-worker's comment. Is PRSA only about media relations?

I think the answer lies in the people who make up of the membership of PRSA. If the members of PRSA perceive PR to be only about media relations than that's what's going to be discussed. For example, I counted 16 articles on media relations in May issue of Tactics. I, for one, think that many PR practitioners engage in nothing more than simple press agentry. Don't get me wrong, I believe good media relations skills are a must for all PR practitioners, but we must not limit ourselves to this. "Good PR" goes beyond a hit in The New York Times

A quick scan of IABC's vision and mission showed me that they are not too different from PRSA in what they are trying to help their members accomplish. I did, however, find it interesting that they listed public relations in a long list of other forms of communication (i.e. financial communications, employee communications, etc.). It seems there is a difference in how the two organizations define PR.

So maybe PRSA is currently focused heavily on media relations, but that doesn't mean it has to stay that way. One way to change that is for us as younger PR pros to help PRSA in "advancing the profession

Thursday, April 3, 2008

PR's Role in Scandals

I love the great city of Detroit. Sure she's got some rough patches, but she's a great city and really gets a bad rap. The city seems to be on the rebound, but unfortunately, her image has not been helped at all by the scandal the "hip hop" mayor of Detroit has been involved in lately.

Basically, the mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty, had two police officers fired for their investigation of Kilpatrick and Beatty having an affair. Both Kilpatrick and Beatty denied, under oath, that they had anything to do with firing the two officers and also denied the affair. However, the Detroit Free Press obtained copies of text messages between the two that proved that they were, in fact, having an affair, and were very much involved in the firing of the officers. What's worse is that Kilpatrick spent $8.4 in tax-payer money to mount his defense and eventual settlement. Beatty resigned just a few days after the text message news broke, but Kilpatrick still refuses to do so. Both face multiple felony charges. Full details of the scandal can be found here.

Kilpatrick has now hired a PR person to help him improve his image with all this mess. The PR person is none other than Judy Smith, the same person who tried to help the image of Monica Lewinsky and Republican Senator, Larry Craig. Man, she really knows how to pick clients (or not).

The inspiration for this post is a recent op-ed in the Detroit Free Press by Berl Falbaum, a specialist in crisis communications and part-time professor at Wayne State University. The title of his op-ed sums up exactly what I feel about this whole mess with the mayor: PR Experts Can't Fix a Scandal. How true this is.

I once spoke about this idea with Chris Thomas. Chris is the owner of Salt Lake City-based The Intrepid Group and former spokesman for the family of Elizabeth Smart during her abduction a few years ago. Chris remarked to me that if he ever has a potential client come to him who has "messed up" and they want him to help fix things, he'll only take them on if he sees they are penitent and are willing to admit their mistakes. If not, then there's no deal.

I think this is something often lost on people who don't really know what PR is all about, or even practitioners. To quote Berl Falbaum again, "PR experts can't fix a scandal." Falbaum points out that PR professionals can really only do two things in a scandal: "With their communications and strategic skills, they can enhance good performance or, in case of crises, they can mitigate bad performance." This is sound advice for any PR practitioner. We must counsel our organizations and clients that if they're involved in scandal they need to step up and apologize for what they've done and take action to remedy it (i.e. Detroit's mayor should resign). This strategy is not new (ever heard of the Tylenol and cyanide incident?), yet we still see people and companies being obstinate even when it's widely known they're in the wrong. And stubbornness never works.

A scandal is something I'm sure no PR practitioner wants to be involved in, but we must be prepared regardless. Remember, though, PR experts can't fix a scandal.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Power to the People

Last week I had the unique, and might I say, unprecedented, opportunity to attend a gathering of enthusisasts for a car that is not even built yet. The car, the Chevrolet Volt, is an electric vehicle designed to go 40 miles on electricity alone, and then using a small motor to recharge the batteries for another 600+ miles.

So what's the big deal about this event? The event was hosted by Lyle Dennis, founder of a Volt enthusiast blog, The short story is that Lyle, a NY-based neurologist, found out about the Volt at its debut last year and created the blog shortly thereafter. He quickly gained a large following of individuals anxious for the Volt to arrive. Last year he approached some people at GM about the possibility of doing an informal town hall meeting with GM and some members of the community. And so, Volt Nation was born.

It was amazing to see a few hundred enthusiasts (sorry for the low quality pics; I took them on my camera phone) come from as far as California to have the opportunity to get an insiders view of what's going on with the development and production of the Volt. The event was hosted by Lyle, and GM was simply a guest. We allowed Lyle to use they Chevy display at the NY Auto Show for the meeting, and made sure he had executives and subject matter experts on hand to answer questions. Our vice chairman, Bob Lutz was there to speak to the crowd and answer questions. He even brought a few pictures of the Volt's battery pack to share with Volt fans in attendance.
I say that this event is unprecedented because of the people in attendance. Normally at events like this all you have there are media. This time it was just everyday people with a passion for the vehicle. Not only did they get to see the car up close and personal, but they even had the chance to mingle with and ask questions of the executives and subject matter experts. Furthermore, this was not an event hosted by GM, but by a blogger. We simply gave him the resources he needed to make it happen.

Volt Nation, in my opinion, is an excellent example of good public relations practices. Volt Nation allowed GM to have two-way communication between the company and the people who will actually buy the Volt when it comes out. It was candid, open conversation. Doesn't get much better than that.

Links to stories about Volt Nation:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Working for Free: Pro Bono PR

A while back I read an article in PR Tactics, PRSA's monthly newspaper, about the power of pro bono public relations, and I was absolutely intrigued by the concept of volunteering to do free PR work. I had the opportunity as an assignment in one of my college classes to spend the semester volunteering for a local nonprofit. I chose to volunteer for a small, start-up aquarium in Utah, and learned first-hand how much value PR people can add to small nonprofits. They were overjoyed to have me help (only person with PR experience there), and I can honestly say that that internship was the most personally rewarding of any of the four internships I completed.

So what's the point of volunteering one's PR skills to your community or a nonprofit? I'm sure that many would answer that it's another opportunity to build your resume and enhance your PR skills, but for me it goes far beyond that. On one of the entrances to the campus of my alma mater, BYU, there is a sign that reads, "Enter to learn, go forth to serve." I've often pondered that statement, and I truly believe it is incumbent upon us all to apply our knowledge and understanding not only to our jobs, but to give back to the community and those around us.

Maybe I'm too altruistic in my thinking, but this is truly what I believe. Since I read that article I have been thinking about where to best volunteer my PR skills, and it looks like I've found the perfect opportunity with Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium, a group of volunteers working to reopen the aquarium that the city of Detroit shut down a few years ago due to budget restraints. I look forward to taking what I learned in school and from past jobs and interships and applying it to a cause I believe in.

Do you do nonprofit work? If so, where and why?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A great explanation of Twitter

If you've never seen the "Plain English" videos on Common Craft, I highly recommend you check them out. While the folks at Common Craft have done a number of these videos on varying subjects, I suggest checking out the Plain English videos on blogs, social networks, RSS, social bookmarking, wikis and online photo sharing. We've used these videos here at GM in social media training sessions with our PR colleagues. Common Craft does an amazing job of taking something that appears very complex and simplifying it to the point where anyone can understand it. I used these videos to understand RSS and social bookmarking, two concepts that I could never quite figure out before.

The most recent video is a great explanation of what Twitter is, and how it can be used. Check it out below:

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Traditional PR

I have to be really careful in my role in social media here at GM not to lose track of other valuable PR skills that may not employ social media. I am adamant that social media is not the silver bullet for everything we want to accomplish in PR, though it is quickly becoming a huge part of what we do. As I've stated before, social media helps us get back to the very basics of what public relations is all about: buidling relationships between an organization and the publics upon whom the organization's long-term success depends.

That said, then, are there some PR practices that are timeless? Are there some things PR people have done for years that are just as effective today? I say yes. Here are some aspects of PR that I don't think will/should ever go away:

  • Press releases -- Though I would advocate we shorten them and use them more strategically.
  • Traditional media relations -- I'm not one of those people who believes getting a story in The New York Times is the greatest achievement a PR practitioner could hope for, but there is a big place for tradtional media relations. Furthermore, I don't think the Internet marks the end of print media. Many believed the advent of radio would kill newspapers too, but they're still around.
  • Soliciting feedback from publics -- Two-way communications is and will always be a "must- have" in our PR work
  • Research -- whoever can figure out the best way to measure ROI of specific PR activities will make a great deal of money!

So these are my ideas, but I'm sure there are others. What are some of the solid PR practices you think will never go away?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

There may be a place for Twitter after all

As noted in my previous post I am a bit skeptical with regards to Twitter being an effective tool in public relations. However, benrmatthews just wrote an excellent post titled, "How can PR practitioners use Twitter?" In his post he not only cites a few examples of Twitter being used in other PR efforts, but also links to a few tools that make Twitter more relevant. Of these tools, the one that most impressed me was TweetVolume. TweetVolume allows you to enter up to five terms and then the tool will actually search Twitter to find out how many "tweets" mention those terms. It's very interesting. I wish there was some way that you could see the actual tweets, but for now this is pretty good. Who knows, maybe Twitter will become more mainstream, but if not, it seems there is a significant audience using Twitter so it might be worth my while to try to engage the community more.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Next Big Thing

In my work in social media here at General Motors we're constantly asking the question, "What's the next big thing?" Sure, MySpace and Facebook are the big dogs in social networks right now, but what's next? Is it the concept of creating your own social network like Ning is proposing? Blogs, in my opinion, still dominate the social media realm, but will this last? I think blogs are one channel of social media that will be around for a while, will the new concept of microblogging (Twitter or Jaiku) take off next?

It seems to me that once a new social media tool comes out that a number of PR professionals hop on it and start lauding it as the "next big thing," but I find that once I too get involved with this new tool that the only people using it are other PR people. I think Twitter is a perfect example of this. Granted, the likes of Dell, GM and CNN are using it, but I would venture to say that the large majority of people have no idea what Twitter is, much less how to use it. Is it really the next big thing if only the PR people know about/use it?

So my big questions for anybody reading this blog are 1) Is it the job of PR professionals to alert our publics to the next big thing, or do we let them find out about on their own; and 2) What is the next big thing?

I welcome your input!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Visiting with PR students at BYU

Yesterday and today I have had the wonderful opportunity of visiting some PR classes and participating in a panel discussion on social media at Brigham Young University. It has been interesting to see how much these students are interested in social media, and want to know how it best fits into what we do in public relations.

I was impressed with the caliber of students that I met during these classroom visits. Before I launched into my full presentation I always began by asking the students to rattle off as many GM brands as they could, and they never disappointed me. Without fail, Chevrolet and GMC are the first ones to be mentioned, they even remember that Saab and Saturn are also GM brands. I was expecting to surprise them by letting them know about all the different brands of GM, but they beat me to the punch.

Then I would ask them to candidly tell me what their opinions of GM and the other American automakers are, and without fail they always mentioned that the quality of our cars and trucks pales in comparison to the Japanese automakers. One thing, surprisingly, that doesn't come up when I ask them about what they think of us is the environmental factor. They may view us as only building "gas guzzlers," but for these BYU students at least, we're not seen as the environment killer that others perceive us to be. Perhaps as college students, they're more concerned with how much driving they can eek out in a single tank of gas, than they are about CO2 emissions and global warming. I'm speaking at Louisiana State University and Southeastern Louisiana University later this month, so it will be interesting to hear their students' responses to these questions.

It was also surprising to me to get little or no response at all when I asked students to give me a rough definition of social media. All I usually got were blank stares. But when I asked how many of them are on Facebook, almost all the hands shot up. I was frequently asked what they can do to better understand social media and how to use it, but I have to conclude that these BYU students don't really participate in social media beyond Facebook or MySpace. I think that many times people just assume that social media is something all the high schoolers and college students get, but in reality this may not be the case. Only a few students I talked to actually have a blog, and not many of them indicated they listen to podcasts. Maybe social media is not always the best way to reach students in our PR efforts.

Also, I had the opportunity last night to participate in a panel discussion on social media. Joining me on the panel were Quint Randle, a print journalism professor at BYU and the School of Communications' resident social media guru; Erin Enke, a Digital Strategist at Fleishman-Hillard in New York; and Jessica Mallard and Sara Brueck Nichols of Cobalt Communications Group in Salt Lake City. Here are a couple things (paraphrased) I took away from the discussion:

- Learn the strategy of PR; if you don't talk about it, they're going to talk about it without you (Enke on the use of social media in PR)
- PR hasn't really changed with social media, we're just listening better than we used to (Enke)
- Social media communications is really dimensional communications; a sphere (Nichols)
- Be a jack of all trades, but a master of two (Randle)

It was fascinating also to hear what Fleishman-Hillard does to identify which social media is most influential for work they do with different clients. Some of the tools they use to identify this (all new to me) are Icerocket, Snapshot, Quantcast and Alexa. I've only had the chance to look at Icerocket, but I like what I see so far. I think it's a better tool than Technorati or Google Blog Search. When they do this kind of research they call it "online mapping," and it takes them two to four weeks to do this.

Everyone seemed to agree that the best thing all of us can do in PR is to learn, learn and learn. Nichols recommended students peruse the Harvard Business Review to find books to read.

It was a great two days for me, and I learned a good deal from my discussions with students and fellow PR practitioners.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mourning the passing of a great PR professional

Last night I got word that Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints passed away. I am deeply saddened by this news as President Hinckley is the LDS Church president (also a prophet) I am most familiar with. Beyond my love and respect for him as the leader of my church, the LDS Church, I also wish to express my respect and admiration for him as a great example of a highly effective public relations practitioner.

President Hinckley spent nearly his entire professional career working for the Church. In the mid-1930s he was assigned to organize what is now the Church's Public Affairs Department. An article on the Church's Newsroom also notes that "for 20 years he directed all Church public communications."
His experience in PR prepared him for the various interactions he would have with the mainstream media during his time as President of the Church. Two days after he was named President, he called a press conference in Salt Lake City and fielded questions from journalists. remarked that this was the first time a Church president had done something like that in 20 years.
His interaction with the media did not stop with this press conference. In 1995 he sat down for two interviews with the intimidating, Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes. These two interviews showed just how adept President Hinckley was at dealing with the media. NPR did a story on President Hinckley's passing today, and quoted Mike Wallace:

It was Hinckley's "candor," Wallace told NPR, "his willingness to entertain any question, no matter how difficult or, perhaps embarrassing," that charmed Wallace.
"He was just absolutely open with me," Wallace said. "It became quite clear that there was a great deal in the Mormon religion that I genuinely admired."

President Hinckley was also featured numerous times on Larry King Live, and demonstrated his public relations skills while fielding some tough questions from a hardened reporter.

Farewell, President Hinckely. Thanks for everything you taught me, both in word and by example. You will be missed. I hope to be half the PR professional you were.

Mainstream media reporting on President Hinckley's death: