Saturday, September 12, 2009

Strategic and Research Knowledge in PR

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 27, 2009

My last day with PRSA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pretend the microphone is always on

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

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

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

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

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