Showing posts with label media relations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label media relations. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 5

Are There Too Few Analysts In The Field Of Journalism?

There is one place broadcast news continues to beat out print journalism online and it's about time print-to-digital migrants took notice. People aren't looking for news outlets anymore. They are looking for informed experts — analysts, informants, and influencers — who add commentary and consult to their observations of world events and breaking news.

For many journalists, especially those hanging on to the last thread of objective journalism, the concept sends shivers up their spines. It's something different being a columnist or critic than a hard news journalist — writers who prefer to be seen not for their style but for the masthead they make home.

But that's not what people want. They don't want to find the same news in every paper. They don't want truth in media if that means vanilla reporting. And they certainly don't want forgettable bits of top-down information that can be spun out by anyone no matter how hard print tries to maintain it.

Print-to-digital migrants need people that the public can identify.

Sooner or later, print-to-digital migrants have to realize that their decision (some of them, anyway) to cut costs by letting all their veteran journalists go in favor of young, cheap, and desperate writers was a mistake. They needed to double down and transform those old school journalists into quasi-celebrities, a status once reserved for columnists, investigative reporters, and Gonzo journalists alone.

Except, unlike some of their more biased brethren, they need to usher in an era of impassioned objectivists — journalists who aren't afraid to look at the world the way it is (rather than the way they want it to be) and still turn a phrase that causes you to turn your head or wreck you gut or shake you awake. They need to write so well, in fact, that we want to know them by name and trust them to shape our brains.

By shape, I don't mean the advocacy and affirmation news that broadcast serves up on daily basis. What I mean is striving for stories that leave people so deeply informed about a topic that they can form their own opinions. What I mean is writing articles that aren't afraid to dig deeper into topics so we may transcend the tit-for-tat tactics of sourcing two opposing viewpoints who only talk around the surface of the subject. And what I mean is raising the bar rather than insulting the public's intelligence.

How to make print media relevant again with modern reporting.

Just as news publishers are learning in Pakistan, news organizations are learning all over the world: The "power of the press" shrinks exponentially when the public can buy digital ink by the barrel too. In other words, reach ceases to be a value proposition when companies and campaigns frequently beat out the circulation of most major news organizations. So maybe it's time to change it all together.

• Develop more specialists. Whereas news reporters used to be generalists, the public craves to get their information from specialists. This is one of the reasons some research firms have thrived in recent years — they publish content by passionate analysts who are informed, visible, and objective.

Journalists can easily take a page from their playbook or any number of 'new media' publishers that began delivering better content in some verticals than the dailies did, starting almost a decade ago. These people didn't just report the news and other people's views, they provided real analysis.

• Market semi-public reporters. Of course, content wasn't the only place new media started to crush some dailies. Almost every new media publisher and content provider won on personality too. Instead of providing authoritative reporting from under a masthead, the public was treated to a snapshot of the people behind the words.

Much like broadcast has known for years, the messenger can be just as important to the public as the message. In fact, most of the public will even forgive openly biased reporting as long as they feel like they know the person behind it. Ergo, the reporter IS part of the value proposition nowadays.

• Content needs to be intuitive. Ask most people about the ideal length of web content and most of them will skew short. It isn't really true, but plenty of people make a great case for short. Most folks only want a few graphs that sum up everything, they say.

What they really want is tiered content — short introductions that allow them to discern whether or not it's a topic that interests them enough to dig deeper. In fact, I've met more and more people who tell me they use media outlets like Newsy to scan the content and then turn to The New York Times or The Washington Post for in-depth coverage in an attempt to create a DIY hybrid of content agility.

• Multimedia wins the Internet. Sometimes people want to stream clips and other times they want to scan headlines with pics, but they want so much more from anything they decide to dig into deeper. Just as it is having an impact on content marketing it is true for journalism too.

Different people learn differently so they want their content to be visual (see), auditory (told), kinesthetic (touch), or language based (read/write) as it suits them. So knowing this, it only makes sense that digital journalism needs to be multimodal whenever it makes sense — reinforcing whatever story that happens to interest them with maps, infographics, interactive displays, video clips, animation, or anything that make sense.

Maybe all we need are authentic journalists with dazzling content.

While most newspapers have been busy chasing eyeballs to make themselves look more viable than they are, they should have be reinventing their value proposition instead. Consider the obvious.

What if more print-to-digital migrants hired authentic reporters that people could trust to deliver passionate stories that could help us better understand the world? And, what if they did it in such a way that we could preview the content before immersing ourselves in interactive multimodal content?

While no one can be certain, odds are that this kind of publication wouldn't have to worry too much about circulation. In fact, when you look at how people cobble multiple sites together to get the same effect, they wouldn't have to worry about revenue either. Journalism would become relevant again.

Wednesday, March 18

There Is Little Room For Truth With The Future Of Media.

When you reconcile the state of communication today, its condition is critical. Journalism is giving up ground to public relations, which continues to be swept aside by content marketing. It will continue to do so at least until technology rewrites the definition of social media as we know it, with a rapidly evolving future as documented in a conversation that continues with Danny Brown today.

Follow that path to its logical conclusion and you'll discover that we really are witnessing the steady decline journalism in favor of special interest advocacy that masquerades as valuable content while being fueled by any number of organizational agendas. We now live in a world where even science becomes a public relations battleground to win over public opinion — a throwback to the era of a yellow press when news was less important than eye-catching headlines much like today.

New media has been reformatted for a new master. So now what?

Unless you live in a vacuum, you already know that the changeover from old media to new media is a pejorative concept. The media had been consolidated for some time, mostly among six media giants that once controlled about 90 percent of the media. Want to know who owned what? Look here.

This suggests that the transition from corporate-owned media to corporate (or special interest) generated media is largely lateral. Except, it's not. Even when corporations owned the media, they mostly left management alone, which left the reporters alone in turn. That isn't the case now.

When corporations and special interests decided to stop funding somewhat objective news outlets in favor of more advocacy eyeballs and carefully controlled content marketing, they created a fiscal rift that made owning a news organization an investment liability (unless that outlet earned eyeballs too).

That in and of itself accelerated a growing problem. For about 100 years, reporters only had to tell the truth or shame the devil to be successful. But with the advent of click counts and page views, the journalist started facing a very different job description. Each story has to stand on its own eyeball count and each journalist became responsible for developing his or her own niche following, which (sadly) continues to be defined by eyeball counts over professional prowess.

Under these conditions, telling the truth (or shaming the devil) really isn't enough. You have to tell the truth people want to hear and shame the devils that the public doesn't like. And you have to do it for a fraction of the cost because journalism hasn't kept up with scalable salaries.

Nowadays, only news commentary consultants and talk show hosts command real income-earning potential as they deliver the goods that people either love or hate. Call it biased infotainment — news adorned in a "what to think" packaging — sound bites that sum up most of it.

On the other side of the fence, brand journalists are attempting to do the same. The modern special interest gatekeepers — professionals who once catered to the journalists — are increasingly interested in spinning their own never vetted musings of content marketing as news, which maintains an objective that is the polar opposite of journalism. The new job is to add perspective and praise the internal angels, with budgets that eclipse what journalism once spent tenfold.

The budgets don't only make the output potentially more infectious but also make these new brand journalist/content marketing positions slightly more fun, significantly more visible, and reward with substantially better salary caps — at least enough to lure away the very people who used to be considered the fourth estate. All that is required in return is that the one-time-journalist see the world thorough the lens of the organizational perspective first. That isn't so bad. Or is it?

Earned media has become an archaic term. It's all pay, up front and often. 

There is no question some of it will be useful, even if the next generation will likely be lost in a world with no truth tellers. They'll be left in a place where everything is an opinion. Moral facts will all be optional — except when they are decided en masse by a simple majority that changes with the tides.

On the surface, content marketers seem relatively happy with a growing share of the communication landscape (over public relations, which is over journalism). But over the long term, no one should be too happy about it. Whereas journalists had a loyalty to citizens and public relations practitioners had a loyalty to both the organization and the public, content marketers serve organizational interests.

And when only the readily available content comes from an organizational perspective, then we've lost something as a thinking society. The content we will believe will largely be owned by whichever organization has the dollars to convince us as all of the others are drowned out by multi-channel repetition, with the only real irony being that most people will prefer it over time.

What do you think? Will there ever be a miracle resurgence in people being willing to pay for valuable, truthful, and objective news? Or will organizations simply fill the void with advocacy news, well-funded stories and slants that serve up "value" as long as it produces other outcomes too?

Wednesday, December 10

Why Picking A Fork In The Road Will Doom PR

Public Relations
Twenty years ago, most professionals agreed that public relations could be segmented into three basic disciplines — public relations, media relations, and publicity. All three saw some overlap, with only practitioners and amateurs confusing the terms outright.

Nowadays, it's shaping up to be considerably different. When public relations decided it wanted to "own" social media, it created yet another schism within the industry, with some hoping to define its practices as traditional public relations, advocacy public relations, and social media PR. And it's this split that could eventually doom public relations because none of them resemble public relations.

According to one Forbes column, traditional public relations can be defined as media relations, with the principal endeavor being the pursuit of media mentions in a world with an ever-shrinking pool of news outlets. Advocacy public relations can be defined as the heavy guns, where strategists fund research to support whatever message points were voted on by special interests a week prior. Social PR covers everything from the 19-year-old intern managing Twitter to more lucrative content creation and social network distribution models. And that's it?

All three forks lead to oblivion. Don't pick any of them.

As author Robert Wynne points out, traditional public relations (as defined by the article) has faced a market contraction. Traditional firms that focused primarily on media relations are seeing their monthly retainers shrink as fast the news outlets they once catered to. Some have even made the mistake of accepting "per placement" rates, which only reinforces the pursuit of publicity at all cost.

While it used to be considered a nobler pursuit than writing pitches and press releases exclusively, many advocacy public relations firms have been sucked down the black hole of propaganda. Wynne cites several political spin campaigns, ranging from health care to global warming, whereby organizations invest millions of dollars to prove their points of view rather than find the truth.

The third fork, social media PR, runs accompanied by the myth that anybody can do content marketing and then attempt to sway the masses direct by creating some sort of viral phenomenon online. It was also the cause of many public relations budget cuts. In their desire to "own" social, many firms missed the memo that it meant more work for less money.

If these are the three forks from which public relations professionals can choose, the field might as well fold today. The first is too narrow, relying too heavily on a single public to be effective. The second isn't public relations as much as it is propaganda. And the third has already been played out, with the next step in online communication being very different than what we know today.

Public relations desperately needs to get back to the business of outcomes.

The real problem with thinking of public relations as being split into three forks is that it misses the point. Public relations is not a process as much as it is a concept. It's fundamental purpose is to transform "us" and "them" into "we" by evaluating trends, making recommendations, forging relationships, and providing for communication that produces mutually beneficial outcomes. 

It doesn't matter how that communication is exchanged — through a news outlet or direct to public. But what does matter is that any content shared is authentic, accurate, and truthful in order to ensure mutually beneficial outcomes. Anything less isn't public relations as much as it is propaganda. And anything more tends to compound the challenges that the field has yet to adequately address.

Maybe it's time to reconsider the original three disciplines again.

Public Relations. The job is to provide counsel on the exchange of mutually beneficial communication.

Media Relations. The job is to maximize positive media coverage without paying for it directly through advertising.

Publicity. The job is the deliberate attempt to proliferate the public's perception of a subject.

With the original model, all anyone had to remember was that the world view of public relations and publicity was fundamentally different. It otherwise worked fine, even after social media arrived. It also produced more outcomes.

Wednesday, October 29

The PR Call To 'Be The Media' Is A Misnomer

There's no question that social media has become an important part of the media/public relations landscape. Given that the media have completely integrated social media into journalism, it makes sense. And social, after all, has been integrated into every facet of communication and beyond.

It has become such a big part of public relations that there is even some ground swell over the notion that public relations could eventually "be the media" with equal footing. And why not?

Some firms even say that it's essential if businesses want to "reassume direct control over their reputations and news flow." Others say that it's a surefire solution "to become a producer as opposed to a facilitator" and earn a larger piece of the MarComm budget. And yet others think that in doing so, they can "skip the media middle man all together." It might even be vital to do so in some cases.

Being the media is not an evolutionary step for public relations. 

You don't have to subscribe to the notion of content shock to see a real problem with companies attempting to circumvent the media. The real problem is that it moves public relations away from its core tenet to strengthen the relationships between the organization and various publics in favor of a top-down communication — the same one that social was once purported to solve once and for all.

It also changes the perspectives, objectives, and outcomes of the communication. As quasi media, companies are incentivized to measure the reach, engagement, and conversion outcomes over programs designed to ensure mutually beneficial and measurable outcomes for the organization and its publics. And while it's true both efforts can work in tandem, the thinking is light years apart.

Reputable public relations teams would never view the media as a 'middle man' but rather as one of its very important publics — a reasonably objective (hopefully) voice that assists in bringing clarity to important issues, even those that are relatively niche. They also also understand that the increasingly diminished role of the media leaves an organization front and center as a direct source that must compete for attention against anyone who is looking for link clicks.

In other words, skipping the so-called media middle man further fragments communication, with each organization vying for its share of spotlight. It also opens up cause for corporations to supplant independent news, justified by the mistaken belief that the concept of objective journalism is a myth.

It seems nowadays that many public relations professsionals (and journalists) fail to understand that objective journalism works because the method is objective, not necessarily the journalist. And when objective journalism is allowed to work, it serves organizations and the public by vetting any claims, setting the agenda, and supporting the truth when the facts are paramount to the public good.

The evolutionary next step of public relations is collaboration.

Don't misunderstand the message here. Content marketing, social media, and corporate journalism have become vital components for any communication plan. But all of these tactics work best when they are employed in tandem with media relations, public relations, and other collaborations — something that even marketers see as having tangible value across multiple media venues.

Sure, I've always been an advocate for integrated communication, direct-to-public public relations, and teaching public relations professionals to think like a journalist. And at the same time, when it comes to public relations specifically, I also remind students that the simplest definition of the field is to transform "us and them" into "we," which would include a shrinking pool of pure journalists.

Monday, July 30

Making Media Relations Better: A Rock Star Primer

Public relations has plenty of problems. They're always easy to find. They tend to get plenty of publicity.

The reason they do is relatively easy to understand. Nightmares make for better news than best practices. Almost all negative events meet the criteria for news because they have an impact or conflict, doubly so when someone of prominence is involved. But that's not to say best practices don't exist.

The best practices of public relations plod along unseen. 

Having worked as a journalist, editor, and publisher, I've seen best practices on a regular basis. And one of the reasons they are best practices is that they are uneventful. It makes everything super smooth and much more manageable.

As some people know, I also have a side project called Liquid [Hip], which puts me in touch with designers, musicians, authors, publishers, and other talented individuals on a regular basis. Enough so that some days it's hard to keep up with the emails. I might even neglect the inbox for days or a week.

When I do have time to dig into it, I'm exposed to people at every level and every role. Sometimes the contact comes from an artist. Sometimes it comes from the agent, publisher, or label. And sometimes it comes from a public relations firm. And, for the most part, public relations firms do a great job. 

What does the best public relations firm do that few others do? 

It's simple. They know who we are. They know what we want. And when they think they have a match, they send it along as an introduction. We probably receive around 100 inquiries every week.

1. Recognition. The best practice starts with first contact. The email and salutation is always addressed to me or a specific reviewer. For those who have worked with us before, it alludes to some connection we share or builds on a growing relationship.

2. Immediacy. Immediately following the salutation, the pitch is condensed into a couple of paragraphs or embedded in a well-written release. It introduces the artist, genre, and why the firm thought it was a good fit. Sometimes they admit it's a guess. Sometimes they ask what we think.

3. Efficiency. Given it's a review site, they always include an embed a clip or link to the work. We have to see it or hear it to consider it for review, especially because we only review things that have some shade of cool (which is a higher standard than what we like).

4. Content. If the sample passes our standards, we review everything before making a commitment. The best practices always include a link to a dedicated one-page EPK with backgrounder, album tracks, social links, videos, and photos. Everything we might need is right there, except lyric sheets.

5. Preparation. Almost any time we decide to review something outside of self-discovery, we prefer to include an interview, email or otherwise. There is a wait. They know the artist's availability, tell us up front, and manage the questions (which take more time to write than the review).

6. Patience. Once the questions are answered to our specifications (e.g., we don't accept "band" answers), there's no need for the firm to follow up. Most know that we'll either tell them when the story is slated as soon as we know or, in a worst case, send them a link once it is published.

7. Promotion. Most firms know we promote our own reviews across social networks where we've established a presence. But beyond that, reviews provide them an opportunity to promote the artist and gives the artist an opportunity to promote themselves. It keeps their social streams fresh, opens up conversation, and gives them an opportunity to engage us too. 

8. Detailed. The best practices also consider small details. For example, the best photo selections almost always include vertical and horizontal shots (staged, casual, and live). It's not only important for our purposes, but sometimes one interview set might be used to write for another publication with different specifications.

When the process is this smooth, it might not be news but it does make us more likely to consider the next submission. And for those who don't — including us on a blind pitch lists, sending everything but the kitchen sink, or having us send interview questions that are ignored — they slip by unnoticed next time. There is too much good material to cover than waste time. And, if we're on the fence, any past experience could tip the scale one way or the other.

I don't mean that in any spiteful way. It's as straightforward as math. We receive 300-400 inquiries a month. We have space for 20-plus reviews. Of those, 2-6 are picked from a pitch. Do it right.

Friday, May 11

Changing Media: PR Pros Need To Follow

While more public relations pros (those that aren't too niche) know the scope of their work exceeds media relations, it's still important to keep up with some of the changes journalists are making every day. Recently, Ragan's PR Daily highlighted one change. Phone interviews are becoming past tense.

Ragan Daily cites a number of reasons that this is becoming true, including the relative ease of finding sources on social networks. But even more than that, most people (reporters and sources) agree that email interviews can sometimes be more efficient.

Every question is laid out. Every question is answered. The margin of error in misquoting someone is almost eliminated. And there are no wasted minutes trying to navigate the chain of command to sync something as a schedule to make the call.

The trend can easily be debated. There are plenty of reasons reporters would want to conduct a phone interview or possibly conduct one in person (especially if they want to sniff out a better story). There are also plenty of reasons a client might want one too (it creates a better opportunity to establish a rapport).

Journalists are evolving beyond email interviews too; public relations pros take note. 

When Bruce Spotleson, publisher of Greenspun Media, spoke to my Writing For Public Relations class a few months ago, he was very clear about changes that are occurring in journalism. And much of it doesn't sound like journalism as most public relations pros were introduced to it.

Nowadays, journalists are asked to consider the tone of a story for the web as well as print. All of them take cameras wherever they go. Most of them are armed with video cameras (or smart phones too).

Understanding social media is an absolute must. Not only do they use social networks for sources, but they listen intently — looking for potential stories, trends, and the occasional dust up. The idea that journalism is somehow separate from the Internet anymore just doesn't ring true.

Along with a more visible presence online, many are being asked to be more presentable offline. I'm not talking about suits and ties like journalists wore before becoming an acknowledged profession. But I am talking about being presentable enough to appear on camera or, on occasion, bring eyewitness testimony to bear on specific events. Even if the paper never runs the video, all of it makes for great archives.

All in all, the future journalist is going to be much more malleable with the times, virtually fusing the distinctions that people used to see between print reporters and television news teams. In the very near future, they will be one and the same with some emphasis on web trends.

Right, newspapers are tracking web trends with IT departments making suggestions based on which stories are read, how long they are read, and how much they are shared. While this doesn't necessarily mean reporters won't use old-school strategies for investigative pieces, it does impact the general fodder that is published every day — and might even impact which sources are chosen long term.

Where public relations professionals ought to take note if they haven't already. 

Ten years ago, it was relatively easy to distinguish strategic communicators (e.g., corporate communications) with public relations. Strategic communicators were most commonly generalists in their practice. Public relations professionals were generally specific, with an emphasis on external communication to specific publics (of which the media were one).

Anymore, it's not so easy to tell the difference. Public relations professionals and corporate communication professionals pass tasks back and forth all the time. And who is responsible for what is more dependent on the employer than the field.

Still, I don't think corporate communicators will be the driver to change public relations. I am starting to believe media will be the driver. If journalists become multifaceted professionals who are social media/social network savvy, video proficient, and occasionally offer on-air commentary, then it stands to reason public relations professionals will have to match those skill sets and then some.

Friday, September 16

Influencing Editors: Public Relations

Years ago, as publisher of a hospitality trade publication (and earlier as a staff writer for several others), we were mildly amused by the volume of errant pitches and press releases. Public relations professionals would send anything.

Well, almost anything. News and relevant content were obviously in short supply. We didn't see much.

Nowadays, seven years later, we have a different kind of publication. I still consider it a side project as an online venture, even if the subscription base eclipsed the one we sold years ago. (Mostly, I only call it a side project because it's too much fun.) And public relations professionals still send almost anything. 

Well, not all of them. Some public relations professionals are different from others. Let's see how. 

A tale of two public relations professionals and their pitches. 

Once upon a time, there were two public relations firms: Jack Sprat and Joan. And as you might have guessed, Jack Sprat, much like his namesake, could eat no fat. But Joan, like his wife, could eat no lean. 

That made for a curiously different public relations practice, particularly in the area of pitches. For every one release Jack Sprat sent out, Joan would send 10. And while her clients thought that was impressive effort, something very different was happening under the table. 

All the Sprat pitches received coverage. But all the Joan pitches received none, except one. And that one, if everybody is being honest, was a fluke. Joan couldn't understand it. And finally she could not stand it. 

"How is it, Jack, that I do ten times the work and come up quite dry," she scolded. "But you, oh so lazy, come out quite well."

"My dear Joan, you might see it if you read," laughed Sprat with a shrug. "I never send fat, just the meat and some bones."

The meat and some bones will always do better than everything. 

To be clear, the first public relations firm sent three pitches. Of the three bands they pitched, one didn't fit. But the public relations firm knew it and included some information about the band's nonprofit affiliation. We do feature causes, and it was a good one that tied in with their music. We'll cover it soon.

On the other hand, the second public relations firm sends us pitches on everyone they represent, not only new album information but remixes and coverage by other pubs. But most fall so far away from our musical leanings that we have to laugh. Don't get me wrong. I don't really mind. Sometimes the pitches are entertaining, even if it's all too clear they don't know who we write about.

Over time, you have to wonder how an editor or publisher might develop an impression of the firm. While I don't mind the 10-1 pitch difference, it doesn't earn much respect. Neither did asking us to exchange a few facts for fluff the one time we did cover one of their clients. 

Conversely, the first public relations firm even gave us a head's up when they knew one of their bands  would avoid one topic. We asked anyway and the band didn't bite, but no one was worse for the wear.

But the main point is much simpler. Lean makes a publisher look forward to more. But even funny fat and gristle begin to convince them that emails from that sender can wait. Think about it.

Wednesday, November 10

Integrating PR: How Media Relations Has Changed

media relations for restaurantsA few days ago, one of the local restaurants we work with was reviewed by the area's most critical reviewer at the largest area daily. The review was a pleasant surprise. While the general manager sends out news releases from time to time, he hadn't lately.

There was no release. There was no pitch. Instead, what prompted the reviewer to visit was the consistent stream of direct-to-public communication across the restaurant's social media program. There was no other communication, which made me think about how media relations has changed.

Traditional Media Relations For Restaurants.

A public relations firm would prepare all the necessary content for the restaurant, sometimes in the form of a media kit. And then, depending on the retainer, it would either pitch or send press releases to area dailies to secure a review. Sometimes it would over communicate the need, especially if it counted column inches as justification for the retainer.

Eventually, the reviewer (hopefully not aggravated by the constant contact), would visit the restaurant on one unspoken condition. Once they entered the restaurant, all claims of being influenced by the relationship were off. Only the quality of the food, decor, and service would remain.

If the restaurant was having a good day, the review would be positive and the public relations firm would claim credit. If the restaurant was having a bad day, the review would be negative and the public relations firm would wash its hand of responsibility while counting those negative impressions as having the same value as positive impressions.

Regardless of the positive or negative nature of the review, the public relations firm would also be charged with making sure all the background information and necessary photos were delivered (unless the reviewer took pictures and/or arranged a photographer after the fact). And, once the review ran (assuming it was positive), everybody — meaning the firm and the restaurant owners — would throw up their hands in celebratory delight.

And that is where it ends, with exception to public relations professionals finding new ways to convince the reviewer to come back. After all, most restaurants are not going to be reviewed every week (or even written about weekly, despite any news they might think up).

Modern Media Relations For Restaurants.

Today, things can work much differently. A restaurant (possibly with the support of someone who knows social media) can publish direct-to-public communication about any variety of topics related to its cuisine. This is significantly different than press releases and pitches because none of the communication is wasted. All of it goes somewhere.

In addition, these various messages not only reach potential patrons but also provide a direct opportunity for them to engage representatives of the restaurant. And, with almost certainty, some of these people might be journalists (assuming the the social media communicator is savvy enough to connect with them).

There is no pitch. There is no release. It's just a steady stream of positive and valuable communication. There is no pressure on the reviewers. They just read what they want when they want and promptly ignore the rest. Until, one day, they decide to visit.

They review the restaurant, either positively or negatively, based on performance. All the photos and background content are at their fingertips via the Internet. They save time and the publication saves money. No one has to follow up to ask how it went. Everyone will know soon enough when the review is published, and if it isn't published, no one will even notice.

Afterward, there may be an internal celebration. However, the celebration isn't where the communication ends. It's where the communication begins. Because the restaurant has a social media program, it can either explain why a review was bad (if they choose to) or share it with customers that already have a positive relationship with them.

They can also publicly semi-thank the reviewer, simply by being unafraid to share whatever they want. It's the best gift you can give a journalist; they don't want bribes as much as a chance to be read. But even more importantly, they would appreciate a little more attention to what they have written as opposed to when they might write something again.

Some Media Relations Is Built On A Weak Link.

While this does not hold true for all public relations firms (some are good), it does hold true for many. The relationships they claim to have are weaker than most would admit.

While the press release might not be dead (especially as it pertains to news that is not yet public), the dynamic has changed. Journalists, much like anybody, prefer to discover news as opposed to having it pushed at them. And the public, especially those who are engaged, are genuinely happy when restaurants can validate fan experiences with a critical review.

Tuesday, September 28

Faking Fans: The Flawed Netflix Apology

In 2007, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) learned that staging fake news conferences, complete with fake reports, was a bad idea. While the tactic defied common sense, spin remains alive and well in some public relations circles.

Netflix Inc. hired actors to pose as fans in Toronto, including stereotypical roles such as "mothers, film buffs, tech geeks, couch potatoes." The gimmick, according to Netflix, was to use the actors to gin up enthusiasm and attract a crowd.

Misleading the public was bad enough, but the Netflix actors began to offer up even more excitement by accepting media interviews. The gimmick was undone after reporters noticed the actors even had instruction sheets on how to act and how to give a good interview.

"We are embarrassed," spokesperson Steve Swasey said. "We regret that this put a blemish on what should have been a perfect day for Netflix."

While Netflix claims embarrassment, it continued to place spin on the situation. Swasey said they are not sure who decided the actors should give media interviews under false pretenses. However, the deception is in the details. It didn't accidently happen if the actors had media interview scripts to work from.

In fact, as Swasey says it was never the company's attempt to mislead the public or the media, the Globe and Mail published the instructions given to actors. It says very clearly that "EXTRAS are to look really excited, particularly if asked by MEDIA to do any interviews about the prospect of Netflix in Canada."

All of which begs the question whether Netflix is embarrassed because of the actors or simply embarrassed that they were caught. The latter seems obvious, especially for a company in the U.S. where the FTC recently accepted a settlement from Reverb Communications for boasting about fake app reviews.

Faking fans, reporters, and reviews is not public relations.

While the allure of being the star is always tempting for some, public relations professionals are always tasked to do more than represent their clients. The profession asks them to serve both organizational and public interest. This is doubly important, even in marketing, when you consider how much hinges on a company's ability to make a realistic promise.

In this case, Netflix had always accurately conveyed a brand promise and delivered on that promise. It seems to defy logic that the company should attempt to prove it delivers on promises by risking its reputation with a lie and then persisting to lie by attempting to downplay the bad decision.

The takeaway here is pretty obvious. Faking a splash is less effective than not making a splash. And, equally important, companies caught in the act might as well confess it up front before someone releases the script and undermines the sincerity of any apology. At least, I think so.

Saturday, February 27

Writing For Public Relations: On Spreading Messages

Since people first learned to speak, they have attempted to master the art and science of persuasion. Throughout history, new methods to manipulate, control, and manage information have always followed every single innovation designed to set it free.

Think about that.

The adoption of social media is no different. Today, public relations professionals and communicators are tasked with balancing the opportunities that come with infinite reach as well as the new challenges it creates. Part of the job is to manage organizational communication; not with an intent to manipulate it, but to ensure misinformation doesn't overshadow the truth.

How can they do it?

The above deck is one of the teaching tools I'm using this year for Writing For Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The intent of this deck is to help students understand the opportunities for and threats to organizational communication in the modern world. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 20

Writing For Public Relations: What Makes News

I never learned how to pitch a story like a public relations professional. I learned the hard way, sending query letters to editors in the hope of an assignment.

Sometimes the letter was more important than a contract. Without one, it was harder to secure interviews. And even with one, you knew the story had to be good. Stories written on speculation were only bought if they were really good or great. If they weren't bought, you would have to rework the story and try to peddle it elsewhere. If they were great, editors were very open for more.

When I was asked to write my first news release, it never occurred to me to write one much differently than a news or feature story (with the exception of following an inverted pyramid lead for those familiar with the term). Writing format aside, I always believed that if editors paid writers for news stories then there was a chance they would accept some for free.

The above deck is one of the teaching tools I'm using this year for Writing For Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The intent is to teach students how to find news within their organizations rather than resort to pitching into the wind. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, December 23

Fragmenting News: "Driven Media"

Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? — Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen, journalism professor at New York University and author of What Are Journalists For? might have posed his question last April, but its poignancy will become front and center in 2010. Although people like to poke fun at "old media," there is no such thing.

Old media has gone the way of the dinosaur. And if you missed it during the last decade, it's because things rarely happen all at once. They happen slowly. Old media went out with a whimper, not a bang. And I suspect most people don't even know what we've lost.

I think about it all the time, given I'll be teaching Writing for Public Relations this spring. It will be my tenth year teaching this core requirement for a public relations certificate program, but it might as well be my first.

With exception to the AP Style Guide, the text I once required (Writing in Public Relations Practice: Form & Style by Doug Newsom) has become largely obsolete. I've decided to make it elective, but only because there has yet to be a textbook published that I can justify requiring students to purchase.

The change hinges on what has become the fragmentation of media. There are some remnants of traditional media, but the entire field has been fragmented and the lines between the various practices are blurred. Tomorrow's public relations professionals have to know it all, but even their days are numbered as 80 percent of them think social media is the answer to everything when it's only the answer for some things.

What has been propped up in the place of traditional media are six divisions of journalism-like content. (I'm only offering up six divisions to help people get their heads around it. Most are blurred, blended, or feature multiple content divisions.)

Six Divisions Of Modern Media Content

Editor-Driven Media. This is the last stand of anything resembling traditional or old media, which is still one step removed from objective journalism. The concept is simple enough. "Experts" choose the news, with the best of them following in the footsteps of their professional predecessors and the worst of them attempting to set an agenda or practice "he said, she said" journalism, which is something people like Rosen and myself have railed against time and time again.

Blogger-Driven Media. While the vast majority of bloggers have no intention of becoming citizen journalists, public relations professionals have given some of them the first call leverage they need to be popular (sometimes in exchange for positively slanted reviews). But even without direct intervention by companies, bloggers have filled various special interest niches with the only real requirement being the time it takes to develop, market, and nurture a blog. Like it or not, bloggers can set the agenda for what receives attention and what doesn't based on variables as varied as the topics they write about.

Citizen-Driven Media. While most bloggers never aspire to be citizen journalists, there are a handful who do. Some of them used blogs to share content that resembles, aspires, or even competes with journalism on networks like the fledgling BrooWaHa, The Blog Paper, or any number ofdozens of others. Crowd-sourced content, like the Wikimedia model, fits well enough within this division too.

Consumer-Driven Media. While it might resemble editor-driven media on occasion, the presentation of facts are biased to provide consumers with the "news" they're looking for and/or an affirmation of their opinions. While the editorial team still calls the shots, they skew to trump up their circulation online or off using any number of tactics. Two of the most common: news dictated by what's hot on the search engines today or simply building niche content for special interests, left or right, so people with specific opinions can tune in to find preset facts. (e.g., if you think the country is on the right or wrong track, there is a news program for you.)

Propaganda-Driven Media. Special interests have done an excellent job at shifting traditional news desks toward special interest agendas or creating entirely new media outlets predisposed to researching, sourcing, filtering, and presenting information that is designed to support nothing other than a point of view. Years ago, it was called yellow journalism. Today, it's called progress. It's also disingenuous to the public because important topics like health care reform no longer have objective forums to vet out the worst of it.

Advertising-Driven Media. I recently read a post (but forgot to bookmark the link and backtype didn't pick it up) where a public relations professional said that the separation of news and the advertising desk was no longer needed. He went as far to say that it is part of the evolution of journalism. Within his context, it's not an evolution but a regression. Sure, I support companies establishing their own content online (heck, that's what we do), but the other form is much less authentic. Specifically, advertisers are setting the news agenda at media outlets.

The net outcome, at least in the short term, will be exactly what Rosen framed up, except with many more divisions than "he said, she said" media alone. People will be asked to sort out who's faking it more, despite their current predisposition to choose based on nothing more than popularity, affiliation, and social media metrics.

Get ready for a bumpy ride in 2010. It seems increasingly likely that it will be the year when the public makes its choice: do we want to support what we and/or our associates believe (true or not) or do we want to support those who are attempting to objectively pursue the truth (even when we don't want to read it)? I'm hoping for the latter, but am tasked with helping public relations students understand how to work in a world based on nothing more than the former.

Thursday, December 3

Mocking Tiger: Spirit Airlines & Everyone

"I think that the public is very used to it at this point, this happening, not only with athletes, but with people in general, from all walks of life. I think that infidelity is prevalent in all realms of society worldwide." — Rita Ewing

With almost everyone attempting to cash in on the Tiger Woods scandal, we almost passed until the Spirit Airlines advertisement landed on Adfreak. Saying the airline hasn't been "this inspired since holding its 'Many Islands, Low Fares' (MILF) sale," Adfreak featured the cheesy online advertisement of a tiger driving into a fire hydrant. The copy read...

"It's a jungle out there! Make sure you avoid all the obstacles and get the lowest fares."

In terms of generating publicity, the advertisement worked. In terms of selling seats, it's hard to say. However, Spirit Airlines is one of the few U.S. passenger airlines generating a net profit during the recession, despite being fined $375,000 by the Federal Aviation Administration for violating consumer protection regulations .

Tiger Woods is big business, and perhaps even bigger business in a crisis.

The Ottawa Citizen published a top ten list inspired, in part, by the buzz up from comedians Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno, George Lopez, and Wanda Sykes. It seems only David Letterman, not surprisingly, took a pass.

The same cannot be true for public relations professionals. Most of them are jumping in to rehash the classic bullet points, with the most obvious being that Woods waited too long to say anything at all. It's par for the course, they all say.

Or is it?

Sure, Ari Adler is right in that under most circumstances, crisis communication requires disclosure. Scott Soshnick is right in that a loss of privacy is often the price of being a public figure. Gerald Baron is right in his frame up of a fictional crisis communication conversation.

And yet, all three are very wrong.

In terms of personal branding, Woods is playing just below par. While this golf celebrity had gone to great lengths to preserve a certain image in the past, he has also passionately pursued keeping his personal matters out of the public spotlight. That much, at least, remains.

Woods is not Mark Sanford or Gavin Newsom or Michael Phelps or take your pick among those who demonstrated poor judgement this year.

Overall, Woods is a golfer whose image was created less by his own effort than those who wrote about him. He didn't market himself to earn endorsements; he played the game better to earn them. He didn't seek out publicity; the tabloids frequently sought him out. Nobody bought products because he 'endorsed' them; his presence merely made people more aware of them.

So if public relations professionals took a little more time to think before riding the Woods wave today, they might remember that crisis communication is situational. And this situation requires an accounting of key considerations. Here are some...

• Woods has set his priorities, and it does not include public discourse.
• Most of his sponsors support his decision, including Nike, Gatorade, and Gillette.
• It appears that the Woods family has yet to find resolution in what might come next.
• There was no risk of public health or safety in regard to a matter involving his family.
• His family has a long history of attempting to separate their private lives from public exposure.

How the Tiger Woods story could play out, depending on personal decisions.

The Tiger Woods brand will remain intact, though a little worn at the edges, provided his wife decides to work past present circumstances and if he continues to win tournaments in the aftermath of this personal crisis. It would have less chance to remain intact had he held a press conference, played victim of circumstance or ignorance, or suddenly tossed himself on the mercy of the court of public opinion. All of those options, for Woods specifically, would have been less than authentic.

Sure, there are those who are making the case that Woods is missing an opportunity to allow others to learn from his mistakes. I submit he has offered up a lesson that might help some people learn from their own mistakes. Perhaps we might even consider that transparency is a gift and not an expectation, under certain circumstances. What do you think?

"But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don't share my view on that. But for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one's own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions. ... I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology." — Tiger Woods

Tuesday, October 27

Pitching Wind: Public Relations

"The traditional one-way media model has definitely had its day. So agencies are talking to clients about these engagement models much more." — Sam Lucas, chair of Burson-Marsteller to Adweek.

With consistency, public relations practitioners, even those who shrugged off social media earlier, are giving up on pitches and turning toward directly engaging consumers through original content they and their agencies are creating. And why not?

Diminishing Circulation Feeds Social Media For Now

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, 379 remaining daily newspapers had a total circulation of 30.4 million, down 10 percent since April. Sunday papers were not exempt. Of 563 daily newspapers, circulation had dropped to 40 million, down 7.49 percent. Magazines don't fare much better.

However, reactionary planning might backfire in the long run. Mark Hass, CEO and partner of MH Group Communications, who told Adweek that traditional media is a lot less important than it used to be, might be describing an accurate view of media today. But what about tomorrow?

The papers that remain, especially those that are moving to electronic platforms, will still be there tomorrow. One recent study shows that print publishers are very keen on the next step in distribution. And that distribution model will one day be mobile.

• More than 80 percent of newspaper and magazine publishers believe people will rely more heavily on mobile devices as a primary information source in the next three years.

• Nearly 70 percent of respondents agree that mobile is receiving more attention at their publications this year than last. More than a third believe their publication already has a well-developed plan for attacking and conquering the mobile market.

• Forty-four percent of respondents who track mobile’s impact on their Web site traffic said the devices increased visits by up to 10 percent today. Half believe mobile traffic to their Web sites will increase by 5 to 25 percent in the next two years.

If publishers diminish the cost of print (despite the majority of publishers wanting a print-electronic solution) and readers overcome mobile setbacks, some publications may flourish.

Restructuring Public Relations Firms May Diminish Their Value

Not always, but often, the pubic relations industry was commanding higher retainers than social media. So firms that throw too far into social media may diminish their own value as their media relations function becomes devalued over time. Worse for them, an overemphasis on direct-to-consumer communication, which was typically seen as a function of marketing, could seriously shift the practice toward astroturf or content resembling the modern press release (most of which are unreadable).

At the same time, newspapers that do survive and adapt with better mobile solutions may develop very different relations around public relations, thereby cutting out what some journalists consider client-side gatekeepers. And in some cases, journalists who work for re-emerging news teams might even remember which public relations practitioners kept the lines of communication open and which did not.

When you add it all up, the trends suggest an increasing need for an integrated team approach over attempts to control communication and marketing budgets. Simply put, public relations cannot afford to diminish the value of media relations to the point of alienation. After all, media isn't dying as much as it is being restructured. So what to do?

Consider the core functions of each discipline. Social media tends to work best in delivering customer-centric content (sometimes with a customer service overlap). Marketing and advertising work best in focusing on prospect-centric demand creation. And public relations tends to work best in reaching publics beyond the customer. Sure, overlaps exist around every corner, but recognizing priorities is still important.

Thursday, October 22

Failing At Public Relations: Obama Administration

You know your public relations efforts are failing when you talk to more people (reach) more often (frequency) about an issue (message) and it produces a negative outcome despite having a powerful brand. When that happens, the most prudent course of action is to shut up and listen to people. But not the Obama administration.

Their strategy seems crystal clear. If you don't like a plan, they will talk you to death. And if you still don't like a plan, they will talk about you to death. And if you still don't agree, then they'll declare war. Shudder the thought.

Why the war on Fox News will backfire.

Before pointing out the obvious, I might offer up that this post has less to do with politics than it does communication. Simply put, politics doesn't have to be part of the equation to plainly see that the Obama administration is not only failing at public relations, but they also seem to be their own worst enemy (even more so than the previous administration, which one would have thought to be impossible).

There has always been plenty of evidence to support the idea that Fox News leans right. There has always been plenty of evidence that MSNBC leans left. In general, there is ample evidence to support most media leans left and talk radio leans right (but not as much as some people think).

Indeed. The vision of Walter Lippman is dead. Objective journalism is at the end of its brief, but worthwhile run. And the public has lost its appetite for true news in favor of flavored coverage.

Any questions?

And if you work for any White House administration, you have a choice. You live with it or you resort to diatribe. The current administration has chosen diatribe based on the mistaken notion that if you cannot win the debate, you beat the debater.

Of course, that tried-and-true political tactic doesn't work with the media. It only compounds the problem.

When you take media "opposition" seriously, it means you risk increasing its credibility. And in the case with the White House war against Fox News, that is precisely what is happening.

Ratings for Fox News is up, easily beating CNN and MSNBC. In fact, Fox News averaged 2.25 million total viewers in prime time for the third quarter, up 2 percent over the previous year, according to left leaning The Huffington Post.

Meanwhile, White House poll numbers are dropping. Why? As President Obama and his team obsess over criticism, anyone who is uncertain or critical of unpopular policies are added to a list of undesirables. Take your pick: health care reform policies or the struggling economic climate or the troop buildup in Afghanistan or the abandonment of a promise for open communication or the failure to deliver a tax break for seniors making less than $50,000 a year. And the list goes on, with dozens of more reasons why people are interested in hearing other ideas. And, according to the administration, you'll find them on Fox News.

Wait a minute. That's not an attack ... that's advertising. At the current rate of decline, Fox News stands to gain a majority while other media outlets play ball with the President. Even the President is speaking out against Fox News, but his position makes a play for another tactic — good-natured belittling. (Sorry, David. That will not work either.)

The real criticism, where the American public ought to be concerned (contrary to President Obama's opinion), is from the First Amendment Center at the University of Kentucky

"The White House has basically said that they don’t believe in the marketplace of ideas, they’re not willing to engage in debate, and they are going to be associated with John Adams and the Sedition Act and Richard Nixon and his ‘enemies’ list — is that the company they want to be in?” says Mike Farrell, director.

It sure seems that way. Anytime political communicators choose a clash of personalities over opinions, it means their opinion might be weak. And, based on a 10-point drop in polling, it seems to me that people are tuning to Fox News because they do not agree with the President; they are not changing their opinions because Fox News is influencing them.

The lesson is simple really. Obama won an election because the public has been rallying around those who affirm their ideas. And right now, what the Obama administration seems to be missing is they have yet to be a source or affirmation because while Americans might want some of the ideas presented on the campaign trail, they are less than thrilled with the proposed execution of those ideas.

Mostly, the bills don't deliver on promises. They might make things worse.

Thursday, July 23

Picking Channels: Amazon And Zappos

Not everyone understands why Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos chose YouTube and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh chose a blog post to break yesterday's $807 million* acquisition while reportedly ignoring mainstream media on the front end, but I think I do. Hsieh all but says it in his post.

"Over the next few days, you will probably read headlines that say 'Amazon acquires Zappos' or 'Zappos sells to Amazon'. While those headlines are technically correct, they don't really properly convey the spirit of the transaction," Hsieh wrote.

Less obvious in the statement but demonstrative in example, the Bezos video is even more telling. Take a look.

Still unsure? Both Bezos and Hsieh have a story to tell. And neither of these stories would overshadow whatever the mainstream media might happen to ink about the deal. In effect, intentional or not, Amazon and Zappos may have demonstrated why social media sometimes means more message control, not less. Or did they?

Social Media Meets Message Control?

Sure, there absolutely were news releases sent out and none of them include the more colorful quips about home-based power grids and purchase ding dongs as seen on the Amazon video. They do, however, carry quotes aligned with the direct communication via the Zappos blog and Amazon's YouTube video.

Ironically, while both the reflective and visionary are apparently confined to singular sound bites, the details of the purchase price are all over the map. Amazon released $807 million. Most reported $847 million. And TechCrunch estimates $920 million. Some of the numbers can be easily attributed to stock fluctuations. Some cannot.

Much more interesting than the numbers is the simple idea the mainstream media was initially left out. In doing so, the companies seemingly have more control over the message as most mainstream media seems content to run with what was provided.

ZD Net seems a little less impressed, taking the time to answer its own questions since nobody else is willing to. Fast Company has written all sorts of amusing things about the communication, which means they may be less than amused. Meet The Boss even sent out a news release that it had some sort of exclusive interview with one of the elusive CEOs. The story, however, doesn't really seem to measure up to what it was reported to be.

Even The Wall Street Journal has a mash up of what everyone else seems to be saying. All the while, no one seems to have direct contact with the sources.

Social Media Tends To Be Messy.

Do people really think the initial story, broken on public channels, was designed as an externally transparent internal communication to the employees of both companies? Weird.

It seems more likely this was a public communication designed for anyone who was interested in hearing it (with Bezos and Hsieh being the most interested) while establishing what Amazon and Zappos want the message to be. Is that a good thing?

I haven't decided. I like both companies well enough. We have good enough relations with Amazon, and its nice to know Zappos will still keep its home in Las Vegas (for now, anyway). I also have to admit that both the notion of internal communication shared with the public first or the idea that corporate posturing without probing questions from the media gives me goosebumps.

After all, this bit of communication clearly demonstrates that social media, for all its praise of being open, two-way communication, could take a turn to being completely closed if the public allows it. Given that the public doesn't really care about the deal (not until it affects purchases) and those who did mostly offered a quick "congrats" and moved on, it seems like the public absolutely will.

Wednesday, December 3

Slashing PR: Dennis Howlett

He may have been a few weeks too late to match the launch date of the perfect sequel to Chris Anderson's original Halloween: The Night He Banned PR Flacks, but Dennis Howlett, who has provided comment and analysis for publications such as CFO Magazine, The Economist, and Information Week, still promises to cut a few to the bone. BOO! YOU’RE DEAD TO ME!

And who can blame him? Sure, there are plenty of good public relations professionals out there. But as industry growth seems to outpace industry education, one might wonder how many journalists it will take before the entire profession becomes ignored.

"In any one day I field up to 20 PR requests. I can guarantee that 90+% of them have done zero research to find out what I’m interested in," writes Howlett. "In the worst cases they won’t have done a basic Google search to find out who I am or where my interests lay. In 2008, that’s beyond unacceptable, it’s criminal."

It's also not public relations. It's media relations. But it's not really media relations. It's message placement services. In fact, it might even be message placement 2.0. And, right now, for a limited time, the hottest thing on the table seems to be that message placement 2.0 is looking past media to target the untapped masses of renewable social media participants as opposed to the shrinking pool of objective journalists. Do you still wonder why Howlett thinks the industry is regressing? He continues...

"In the 1990’s, good PRs could write a half reasonable press release that would at least be engaging. You would have thought that with the tsunami of material about social media that in 2008 the situation would have moved on. Sadly, no. If anything, the industry has regressed."

You see, Dennis, today's message placement 2.0 professionals already know it's all about the math. By following each other to inflate rankings, they can very easily demonstrate to an unsuspecting client just how successfully they can reach a greater readership online than the total combined circulation of the top five newspapers, with more "hits" to boot. Cool, eh?

How do they do it? Easy! Message placement 2.0 doesn't require any story writing skills whatsoever. Just replace journalists with other public relations pals and followers. After all, if everyone in your echo chamber is an ally, then you may never have to worry about the surprisingly few pros who sometimes serve as industry foils:

PR Watch
Valley Wag
Bad Pitch Blog
Collateral Damage

Sure, I know what some might be thinking. Message placement 2.0 doesn't do a thing for clients if flacks are simply passing pitches around to other flacks. However, let's face facts. It's a whole lot of fun to hang out with friends for $2,000 to $10,000 a month. The client will be even happier living in ignorant bliss. And the latest mantra "just be, online" can thrive as the advice du jour. Scared yet?

You will be. Come back tomorrow for a "no chills, just trauma" take on Matt Bacak!


Wednesday, November 26

Breaking Relationships: When PR Is To Blame

While the definitions vary, public relations is basically the practice of managing information between an organization and its publics. If you think like me, it is public relations' job to serve both the organization and the public interest, which is intended to facilitate better relations with various publics, including but not limited to the media. But it's not always so.

Accuracy Matters

When Nevada District Judge Donald Mosley issued a statement through a public relations firm about his son's involvement in a fatal crash, the statement said, "My heart goes out to the William's family." The problem was that no one named William was involved. The public relations firm got the name wrong. But even more telling, Mosley didn't have a hand in the statement.

Relationships Matter

When I was arranging interviews for a business article I was working on, one of the public relations professionals cc'ed all of our e-mail correspondence to the editor of the publication. When I asked why she would do that, her answer was "I have a relationship with them. You are working for them aren't you?" Yes, but I have relationships with people too, including her boss. I sometimes string for national publications too.

Client Relations Matter

When I was working on another story, the public relations professional referred me to the head of the department. But unfortunately, the head of the department was only interested in dissuading me from interviewing them. The entire process took one week to set up and one minute to shoot down because the public relations professional didn't educate the client as to why they wanted to be part of the story.

Efficiency Matters

I received a news release yesterday for inclusion in a publication I owned and managed, um, five years ago. Not surprisingly, the release didn't even consider the publication's readership, which was hospitality executives and professional concierge. They wasted their client's money, and I briefly considered running the release as a bad communication example.

Deadlines Matter

Another public relations professional recently took two days to respond to me, which was forgivable because he was on vacation (although I still don't understand why his office referred me to him while he was on vacation). He was very prompt in setting up the interviews with the appropriate people, er, one of whom was on vacation.

All of these gaffes will be included in my Writing For Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas next spring. The students will chuckle about them, and I will too. But for all the good humor, there is one lesson — when public relations professionals do not serve both the organization and the public interest, they generally aren't serving either one.


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