Sword and the Script

No, PR Does Not Look More Like Advertising

PR does not look like advertising

Photo credit: Flickr

by Frank Strong

PR Daily ran an oped earlier this week:  The PR industry today looks an awful lot like advertising.

Why does it look like this, according to the author?

Because, he says, with social media, blogs and even press releases, PR is going straight to the audience and bypassing the traditional media.

According to the post, “It doesn’t matter whether they’re selling information, clothes, or coupons—they are selling it direct to the audience. So are they advertising or PR-ing?”

No, PR does not look like advertising

What the author is getting after is third-party validation: by skipping the media and publishing to reach audiences directly, PR is missing the credibility that is earned through the media.

But he’s wrong. Sometimes the press release is the story.

Read More…

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Three PR lessons from April’s fools

By virtue of sheer numbers, April Fool’s Day must be growing its marketing spend each year.  It’s got a long way to go to catch up with the monetization of Christmas, which for retailers now starts before Thanksgiving, but the Web was alive last Sunday, April 1st, with the marketing of fools.

Google ran about a dozen such pranks (round up), BMW introduced a driverless running coach, surely you heard about Richard Branson’s trip to the earth’s core, and even the media got in on it when Forbes declared Mitt Romney had exited the race for the Republican nomination. I don’t think Forbes will be getting any exclusives from the Romney camp.

Of all the jokes, gimmicks and playfulness two stood out for me:  PinPal’s social media dating experiment and PR pros on strike.   I’ll skip the latter, because I’ve said all I think I’m going to say about that here for now; if you really want to know what I think about the root of PR’s problem, read this post or this follow-up.  Here’s the skinny on the former:  Read More…

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Social media principles are 30 years old

The principles scholars identified 30 or 40 years ago are only now be adopted by practitioners. They still see their jobs as placing news stories in the media and hope that somehow that persuades people to do what they want them to do.

So says James Grunig.  Some may know him as a consultant to Edelman.  Others might know him as Dr. Grunig of the University of Maryland. I remember him because he’s one of the few researchers whose work I found relevant in the journal databases when researching my thesis. His articles in the Journal of Public Relations Research were the most prominent. 

Grunig says the role of PR is more symmetrical – its role is to give the public voice in the management organizations – that PR should be a management function, not just a messaging function. 

Though I admire the man, I’d qualify my own endorsement of that statement. Grunig, who also has an economics background, might appreciate Milton Friedman’s words that “The discussions of the ‘social responsibilities of a business’ are notable for their analytical looseness and lack of rigor.”

It’s an echo of Adam Smith’s sentiment that a corporation that focus on growth is socially responsible by delivering value – products, competition, jobs and economic growth.  PR isn’t to give public voice within the management organization, it’s to be the voice of the organization, though I’d suggest that voice should indeed be synergistic” to borrow Stephen Covey’s phrase.

The future of social media? They are more relevant with social media than with traditional media because former put the control of communication in the hands of publics.

Sound familiar?  You’re not in control of your brand anymore.

The public has access to any source of information they want.   Practitioners have to engage in dialogue because publics will get information someplace else otherwise.

Here it from the man himself in this video interview from PRSA. 

Like to geek out communications theory?  Sample these:
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Powerful ideas for dealing with social media crisis

Darcy Spencer of NBC Washington covered this story.
Photo credit:  NBC Washington

“Would you bother owning a telephone if you had no intention of answering it?” That’s the question I asked over the weekend to Dominion Power (Twitter: @DomVApower).  The social phone was ringing but Dominion wasn’t answering.

Four industrial-sized transformers, that feed power to about 400 condominium units housing roughly 1,000 people, blew out about 12:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.  Power would not return until 5:00 p.m. three days later.  It was a period of time for which Dominion was all but silent, but perhaps a time, when they should have been talking the most. (Screen shot right from NBC news coverage here).

Photo credit: NBC Washington
Dominion’s automated help line sends customers into that dizzying cataclysm of the inhuman variety we’ve all come to detest.  All in response to a crisis that is quite essential to humanity.  For this building, without power there is no cooking, no hot water and no heat.  While a person of my background and training can quite easily make do with canned goods, and I have gone many weeks, let alone days without showers, the heat is something people cannot do without.  This is especially for the senior citizens and young children that reside in this building:  Winter is upon the DC area, and the mercury has fallen.

About 11 hours after I logged a complaint with Dominion’s automated telephone line, I received an automated call back that power would be restored at 8:00 a.m. the next morning. This was about halfway through the outage and the message would prove inaccurate – it would be another 24 hours before power would be restored.  Even as I type these words, the fix that is on is only temporary.  We may yet see another outage before this problem is completely remediated.

When you want to talk to your customers, it’s personal and it’s about money; yet when customers want to talk to you about service interruptions, they get automation — robo calls — and with flawed facts at that.

This anecdote goes to show why traditional communication systems are a poor substitute for social media – real time communication to borrow a phrase from David Meerman Scott’s mantra (and a book you should read).  While social media may seem like a haven for critics in a time of crisis, it’s also where social media can be at its finest hour. 

As the season turns colder, Dominion Power would do well to warm to this idea because while the building I live in poses as a small city, if last winter’s accumulation of snowfall is any indication, this is bound to happen again, and on a much larger scale.  Moreover, as the year closes, we’re seeing social media adoption by average consumers increase dramatically. And you don’t get cool points for merely being on Twitter anymore:  you must engage.

Conjecture and experience tells me Dominion is afraid to engage the public on Twitter.  They’d rather keep it hushed up, engagement means attracting attention to the story and more people would know about it.  You can discard those ideas — it’s — out — there — and it’s quite public.  A better approach would be to join the conversation, use the medium to deliver tips that are useful in a time of crisis, and help frame the issue with the air of calming confidence and penchant for customer service. 

Yes, it might mean more headcount, but what’s the cost of abstinence? Especially for a company that audaciously raises electricity rates 18 percent as the nation plummets into a recession.  Twitter may have no memory, but the people behind Twitter do.

Photo credit:  iPhone 4
To understand the problem I did what Dominion could not seem to do:  I talked to the crew.  I walked down to the site, found the guy that looked like he was in charge and asked some questions. I wasn’t rude, or upset, I simply was looking for information:  How bad is it?  How long before power will be restored?

It was at this moment I learned where Dominion had missed its opportunity:  I found hard working Americans, missing their own holiday turkey, working tirelessly to troubleshoot and correct the issue.  The first night these men coordinated the delivery of new transformers – which are about the size of a midsized sedan – installed them and soon got some power back to about half the building.  Many of these men had been awake for 24 or more hours and working in an inhospitable climate.  So at 6 a.m., I bought two giant boxes of coffee from a local coffee shop and a carton of Honey Buns and set them up at their work station. The foreman waved his thanks.

What would I advise Dominion Power to do differently?

Twitter. Engage.  It’s that simple.  It’s okay if you don’t have the answers.  Develop systems now for your people to get in touch with…your other people and get the answers.  Post updates as to the size, severity and duration of the outage.  Give people the answers they are looking for.  Will you get beat up?  Of course you will. But that goes with the territory.  You hang in there, do the best you can, and overall, you’ll win over most reasonable people over.  Let’s face it:  electrical work is pretty darn close to rocket science.  People understand that.

Facebook.  First, take charge of Facebook – those pages you control now, and those you — probably — weren’t — aware — even — existedFacebook is an intimate platform, but you have information your customers want. There is no better place for you to engage customers and with all the benefits of multimedia.  The work you do is incredibly technical, the engineering feats spectacular and perhaps worthy of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs.

Flickr.  Digital photo sharing offers a very easy low risk way of enabling your entire work force to take photos from work sites and offer them for upload to Flickr.  You can post directly by email, or develop a process where workers e-mail a generic corporate site and have a “photo editor” review and approve photos accordingly.  Pictures are worth a thousand words; think: complexity of wire networks, the fatigue on the face of an unshaven worker on his 9th cup of coffee braving the cold to restore service, or the numbing chill of seeing electrical wires strewn about the road after a heavy snow fall.  These photos sell stories for newspapers – they can help you get your {human} message out too!

YouTube.  Put your people on the front line…on the social media front line.  When I talked to your crew, I found them to be sincere, competent and genuinely concerned people working as hard as they could to restore power.  How much would it take to put a hard hat on a corporate PR person and send them down with a flip cam to do a couple of interviews?  Not very much.  Better still, give your foreman a little training and iPhone and allow them to do it themselves.  A couple of two minute videos would do well to humanize the work you do and the steps you are taking.

Blog.  Create a dedicated blog for such emergencies and updates.  Sure you’d take some flack in the comments, but it’s also a platform where you can integrate your other social media efforts – like those from YouTube, Flickr and Twitter.  This blog would become the focus of news outlets covering outage causing winter storms, flash floods and high winds.  Sure, not all the coverage would be positive, but you’d keep the negative coverage, posts and comments pointing to the blog and not your home page, while also framing the context by offering a {human} response.

For the tireless critic.  You’ll get these guys from time to time, and one of my most read posts of all time is exactly on strategies for dealing with negative bloggers.  If I were to update that post, it would still favor engagement, only I’d try a personal YouTube video addressed to the perpetual thorn in side, or even perhaps an invitation to a personal tour by someone with an important sounding title in the support department – and to be clear: I’m not pitching for one here, it’s just how I’d handle it if roles were reversed.   In a public social media world you are judged by both how you cultivate your fans and engage your critics.

Be human. My initial question that opened this post is more rhetorical than literal.  Answering the social telephone doesn’t mean you’ll have it right 100 percent of the time.  When learning to ski with my father growing up, he used to say something that has stuck with me my whole life, “You’ve got to fall down 1,000 times before you’re an expert.”  Those words ring true for social media as well, in essence, it’s an admission that we are all human, even big corporations.

*  * *
Rest assured Dominion’s situation is not unique.  Any telephone, Internet, cable, or similar utility service provider, with tens of thousands of customers, is in the same situation: vulnerable to nature, headlines and seething customers armed only with an iPhone that can be recharged in a vehicle.  Moreover, given the regulated nature of these industries, it wouldn’t surprise me if in ten years such a response on social media sites became compulsory, rather than prescriptive.

All said, I’m not a fan of “flame” posts, I don’t believe in doing them, as I usually find them obnoxious, self-serving, and I can empathize with a like-minded person surely sitting on the opposite side of a post like this.  However, this event literally struck home and is reflective of some very interesting conversations I’ve had – prior to this event – this month.  I took a day to cool off before writing this post and I’ve tried to be constructive in my comments, but would welcome your thoughts:

What advice would you give companies like Dominion? What criticism would you have for me?

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Social media | you can’t buy friends or loyalty

“So, how are you supposed to win the affinity of consumers?” wrote Ragan.com on its blog PR Junkie.  “Easy. Give them free stuff. 

Ragan’s was reflecting the findings of a Cone survey, which eMarketer also picked up a while later (eMarkter’s graphic is displayed nearby). 

Of course people will engage a brand online if they are giving away free things.  But the problem with giving away free stuff, wrote Peter Shankman is “It brings in NEW CHEAP PEOPLE who want to WIN FREE #$%@ [redacted].

While I’m an advocate of Chris Anderson’s free philosophy, I believe this applies mostly to information and content and so I couldn’t agree with Shankman more:  you cannot buy friends, fans or loyalty.  I’m not suggesting that a contest now and again isn’t a good idea – I do think marketing should mix it up a bit – but it’s a poor vehicle for a central, sustainable and rewarding lead generation or social media program.   Read More…
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Stop the presses! It’s a press release revival

Google skipped a press release for it’s quarterly earnings a short while ago, which spawned another round of “Is the press release dead” posts that stretched out along the summer.  Even PR Week jumped on the “trend” as evidenced by a HARO query for a “Gloves Off” section I noticed a few weeks back.  I haven’t seen the article post yet — just checked.

Sigh.  I find such posts to be old, tired and misguided. After all, Bill Sledzik wrote he first heard the press release was dead in 1979!

Yet as the seasons have turned it seems to have brought a renewed appreciating for the staple press release.  Blame it on the Tea Party.  It’s a revival.  To celebrate, let’s give the press release a new name prefaced by a six letter word that begins with an “S.” 

Here are a few posts I’ve spotted lately that spawned the idea for this post:

Journalistics: Use News Releases for More Than PR
The Buzz Bin: People Are Talking In Press Releases, But Is Anyone Listening?
Pop!  PR Jots: The Press Release Isn’t Dead. No, Twitter Didn’t Kill It.

Here are a few of my previous thoughts the topic:
Nineteen-seventy-something…and a press release
5 Tips to Optimize Your News Release for New Media
News Flash! Press Releases Aren’t Just for the Media Anymore
The best day to send a PRWeb press release

As for the Google screenshot nearby?  Yeah, I’m feeling lucky. 

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PR = Relating to the Public

Ted Nugent is many things, but it never occurred to me he was into PR.  Love him or hate him, he’s got the right idea that PR is about relating to the public.  More than money, Nugent gives up something far more valuable:  his time.  Any celebrity can donate to a cause looking for a quick PR win, but those that give up their time…that’s committment.

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NPR: National Public Relations {crisis}

A Google News search serves more than 4,000 articlesA blog search returns 675,000 posts.  A Web search fetches more than 50,000,000 resultsThere’s no doubt about it: NPR has a national public relations crisis.

The irony is revealing, because while some say NPR leans left, its coverage often makes me feel like it has a bent for public relations.  Consider the following:

“…discuss their findings with reporters without being muzzled by public relations.”
“…victims of a sophisticated public relations campaign ginned…”
“…the guy has played the public relations game magnificently…”

In other words, PR is a game played by sophisticated spin doctors, usually at the behest of big corporations, preferably oil companies, that gin up strategies to muzzle scientific research and inhibit the journalistic quest for the truth.

Clearly this not scientific, but I do far more than just sample NPR’s content:  I wake up to NPR.  I listen to it on my commute – to and from work.  I often download podcasts to listen to when I’m puttering around the house, folding laundry or exercising.  In aggregate, I’d say I spend about 10 hours a week with the likes of Steve Inskeep, Renee Montagne, Michele Norris, Robert Siegel and Melissa Block.

If communication professionals can learn anything from NPR’s crisis this week it’s this: public relations is not about spin, it’s about how you relate to the public.  The way a person, a brand or organization relates to the public can have both positive and negative consequences of great significance.  For NPR that impact has been nearly overnight. 

NPR has…

Turned an employee into a critic. NPR has lost a widely respected reporter to a competitive broadcast news organization and put him on the offensive (or a “battle”) on other major networks.

Swayed public opinion against them. The public overwhelmingly calls NPR’s move a misstep – 46 percent says NPR “erred” while 19 percent said they did the right thing.  Thirty-five percent had no opinion.

Created a new political issue. NPR has politicians gearing up to take away the 3 percent of a $154 million annual budget that comes from the U.S. taxpayer.  In Washington, DC, the timing couldn’t have been worse for NPR local affiliate WAMU, which was in the middle of its Fall Membership Campaign.

Disenfranchised its listeners. NPR has disenfranchised its own listeners.  As NPR’s ombudsman, Alicia Shepherd wrote in a post, The overwhelming majority are angry, furious, outraged. They want NPR to hire him back immediately. If NPR doesn’t, they want all public funding of public radio to stop. They promise to never donate again. They are as mad as hell, and want everyone to know it.  It was daunting to answer the phone and hear so much unrestrained anger.

Earned a plethora of media admonishments.  The media fallout has been severe:  Political odd-makers from the PBS New Hour — analysts Mark Shields (D) and David Brooks (R) — agree that NPR was wrong.  Diplomatic as these gentlemen may be, they rarely agree. Even The Muslim Public Affairs Council has spoken publically against NPR’s decision to fire Juan Williams, offering instead, that this event should be used as an opportunity to work towards resolution. Headlines and stories from other media outlets, both national and regional, reflect these notions:

For me, as a news consumer the personal loss is the contribution to an intelligent discussion – I liked having a reporter from NPR on Fox News.  On television, Juan Williams, strikes me as a relatively calm, soft spoken, candid and thoughtful commentator with an uncanny patience for Bill O’Reilly’s bad habit of interrupting guests.  I am grateful to have a commentator that contributes to a civil conversation rather than shout one-lined political zingers across the airwaves. 

If PR professionals can take a lesson from the last week, then so too can NPR. Digging out of this mess won’t come on the ink of a carefully worded press release; rather it will be earned through organizational self-reflection, honest dialogue and transparent decision making.  In many ways, these are the tenants of crisis communications…there’s still ample opportunity to relate to the public. 

Here’s the episode that spawned these events:

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Six must read posts on social media influence

There is a psychology to influence:  Edward Bernays, dubbed the father of public relations, understood this when he put in practice the theories of psychologist Sigmund Freud. 

The best example is when Bernays single-handily, and perhaps overnight, doubled the market opportunity for the American Tobacco Company.  Bernays understood that social influence was the best opportunity to change cultural limitations that restricted a market. Sexism is a word that comes to mind. (Note: There’s a seven minute video on Bernays’ work at the bottom of this post well worth watching).

Today, smoking is frowned upon given the obvious health risks.  However getting to that point has been no small feat and I can’t help but to think there’s been a thousand replications of Bernays initial campaign to influence a nation of people 300 million strong towards behavioral change – toward that measurable outcome.

The network of influence has always existed, but the digitization of influence has enabled us to more closely examine its formation, its movement and measure its outcomes.  I believe the study of social media influence is one of the most important undertakings a PR professional can engage to enhance their career and deliver meaningful results.  To that end, here are six must read posts on social media influence:

1. Mashable A Control Freak’s Guide to Social Media Influence “The reality is that great branding has always been about influence and not control – influencing consumer choices and desires in a manner conducive to your goals and their satisfaction.”  Paul Worthington

2.  Lithium Lithosphere | The 6 Factors of Social Media Influence “The influencer’s power to influence depends on two factors:  a. Credibility: The influencer’s expertise in a specific domain of knowledge…b. Bandwidth: The influencer’s ability to transmit his expert knowledge through a social media channel.” Michael Wu

3.  Daggle | Fast Company’s “Influence Project” – So Lame, Fast Company Ignored Its Own Results
“It’s fair to say that some of the most influential people on the web aren’t going to take the time register in a project, to begin with. I mean, they’re influential! As part of being influential, they’re probably busy doing the things that made them influential in the first place, not worrying about proving their influence.”
Danny Sullivan

4. Digital Influence Mapping Project | The 5 Emerging Disciplines in Influence Planning
“Brands who take influence planning seriously will start by embracing a deep and strategic approach to using social media. They may not wake up next Tuesday and say “I need to transform the way I market,” but once they get started they’ll be hooked.”
John Bell

5.  eMarketer | When Eyeballs and Dollars Don’t Match Up
“…it’s apparent that respondents regarded popularity as the sheer number of contacts on a social network and reach as the ability to actually communicate meaningfully with some number of those contacts. As one respondent put it, ‘A person can have only a few contacts and greatly influence just those few.’” 
Paul Verna

6.  Social Media Examiner | 7 Ways to Use Psychological Influence With Social Media Content “Social decision-making is a term used to describe the idea that we are looking for ways to make good decisions without extraordinary effort.” Rachna D. Jain 

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How to create a tightly connected Twitter network

Fifty-seven percent of survey takers said that a person with fewer follower, but a tightly connected network would have a more measurable effect on an outcome than a person with a loosely connected network but many followers.  Conclusion?  Tighter network is more influential in a social nichework, as Brian Solis might say.
So how can we develop a tighter network?  Here are some ways to engage:

When a new follower subscribes to your Twitter feed…
…turn off auto DM and send them a human generated welcome Tweet
…check out their profile and ReTweet something you find interesting
…check out their profile and comment on something you have in common
…if they have a link to a blog, subscribe to it via RSS, Tweet a post periodically
…send them a solo shout out on a #FF and provide a good reason why
…introduce them to someone in your network where you see a fit
…notice their Twitter connections and comment on one that seems familiar

When you develop fans, or people that actively engage you and your posts…
…send them a “thank you” for Tweeting your link
…reply to their Tweets with a comment that furthers the discussion
…add them to a list of special users or a list for Paper.li
…favorite a Tweet you find interesting
…visit their blog and post a thoughtful comment
…connect with them on another network like Amplify or Posterous
…bookmark their content on a social site like Digg or Delicious
…invite local Twitter followers to an IRL networking event
…interview someone for a post on your own blog
…check in periodically with old friends
…have a conversation that isn’t public, over DM
…notice something one of their other interests in a Tweet

What suggestions would you add for creating a tightly connected Twitter network?

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