Monday, June 2, 2008

What’s Next?

In a recent article on Bull Dog Reporter, trend spotter Marian Salzman revealed upcoming trends in the world of public relations. According to Salzman, here are a few things we should keep an eye out for.
1. The subprime mortgage mess and what's going to happen as home equity gets eaten away

2. The rise of millennials in the workforce

3. The rise of Chindia (China + India) as an economic power

4. Brand promiscuity where loyalty wanes as savvy consumers increasingly seek and pursue the best deals

5. The rise of intangibles

Now the first three I would say aren’t particularly surprising. The forth seems practical given current economic conditions. However, Salzman gives little explanation about what she means by “the rise of intangibles.”

She goes on to say: “Another trend I think is important, however, we all have too much stuff. We don't need as much. People want to get down to less—we're really seeing a desire for simplicity, and that's going to have an impact on markets and top brands, too.”

Perhaps with our reduced resources and our over consumption, we all will gravitate towards purchasing things that hold value to us, but are intangibles.

One other thing I took away from this article is Salzman described the importance of taking to a varied set of people. In the world of public relations we can become isolated in our own world. I agree with Salzman that it is important to talk to people at every level of the food chain. If we want to truly serve clients, we must have our head in the game.

Photo by: 油姬's

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What Reporters want from PRos

Earlier this week my public relations class had the opportunity to sit down with the editors from two of Portland’s alternative weekly newspapers. Kelly Clarke is the Arts and Culture Editor at the Willamette Week and Amy Ruiz is the News Editor at the Portland Mercury.

Both Editors offered their honest perspectives on the relationship between reporters and PRos.
Here are some great tips I took away from the conversation

1. Reporters use press releases as background information. Both women said they rarely write a story about a single press release. However, they will file press releases away and search through their email if a related story comes up.

2. Write a short description of your press release in your email. Having a three-sentence description of the press release will allow the reporter to quickly know why you are contacting them, and allowing them to decide quickly if they are interested or not. If your message is too long and complicated, chances are it won’t get heard.

3. Make sure you are sending your email to the right person. This might seem a bit obvious, but both editors said they constantly received emails directed to the wrong department. Both receive hundreds of emails a day and do not always have time to forward the email to the correct person. This also plays into the next tip.

4. Get to know the reporters you are pitching. Both contended that personalize messages sent to three reporters who might have a genuine interest are much more effective and efficient than sending a mass email. Nobody likes spam, and this includes reporters. I have heard of using twitter to get to know a reporter. I think this a great idea, but neither editor I spoke to is currently using twitter. They suggested reading past articles to get a sense of a reporter’s interests.

5. You know what happens when you assume… Don’t be presumptuous in your message. As alternative weeklies, these editors get plenty of messages saying: “Since you’re young and edgy your readers will like this.” The reporters were put off by these emails because the PRos assume they know the readers. Leave those decisions up to the reporters because they know their readers better than you do.

6. That follow up call is not necessary
If you have done everything correctly, chances are the reporter probably already received your message and has it safely saved in their inbox. If they are interested, they will let you know. Both editors found phone messages that give the same information as an email tedious and annoying. The only reason to call is if the reporter is a true luddite and hasn’t really caught on this whole email thing.

While not every reporter will have the same preferences, I think these are a great place to start. Please leave comments if you disagree or have had different experiences. I would love to get a discussion going in the comment section.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Twitter must improve

I have been hearing a great deal of discussion among my twitter friends. Almost everyone who uses the service regularly is tired of the outages.

A recent post by Mack Collier at The viral garden suggested that users would not be as frustrated if twitter had a public face or was transparent about the reasons behind these outages. It is true that transparency could probably help.

I have also heard talk of paying for twitter in exchange for better service. While I personally would consider paying for twitter, I am opposed to this idea. The problem is a fee, even one as low as $5 a month will discourage many from using twitter. In fact those with less than ten twitter friends would probably drop out all together.

At this point the service needs to grow and expand not lose users.
But if twitter continues to have regular issues and crummy service those occasional users might drop out all together. I can understand someone with 700 followers continuing to use the service, but what about someone with 7 followers. Twitter needs to figure out a way to give better service without charging users or it will never survive and flourish.

Photo by: Southernpixel

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mistakes were made

I have often heard the phrase mistakes were made used as an example of the passive voice. The sentence lacks a clear subject, and it leaves the reader to ask: Who made these mistakes?

Unfortunately, I have also heard these three words used as a way to define what public professionals do.
Supposedly we find eloquent ways help people who do wrong avoid responsibility. I would argue that this stereotype is unrelated from the careers of the majority of public relations professionals. However, often situations in the field of crisis communications arise where PRos must debate about whether or not to apologize.

A recent post by Crisisblogger explains the moral (and economic) value of saying you’re sorry. Crisisblogger recommends apologizing because, “It’s the best thing for your organization’s reputation and trust level.”
I understand when a company chooses not to apologize because of legal concerns, but there are other instances where a direct and honest apology accompanied by meaningful action will actually avoid a legal struggle.

I learned the value of an honest apology when I was financing my schooling by working at the front desk of hotel. Often guests would come to me with angry complaints, requesting refunds. I did not have the authority to give guests a refund, and the best I could do was to recommend they call the manager first thing Monday morning.

I quickly learned that rather than a refund the majority of people simply wanted to feel validated for their feelings of discontent. Genuinely listening to a complaint and doing everything in my power to appease the customer went a long way. This commitment to hearing the customers resulted in our hotel having the highest online customer ratings.
Apologies, accompanied by action can be remarkably powerful.

Photo By: Qatari Mother

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Why we should care about our bad reputation

Earlier today I was reading a post by Bill Sledzik, PR and the 'chick factor': What Kent State learned about the missing men of public relations. Sledzik and his students conducted a survey to help determine why many public relations programs and the profession are dominated by women. One quote from a non PR student was pretty telling. 

"'s harder to tell if a woman is lying, so they're probably better at the job," said the student. It's easy to roll my eyes and say that this young man is clearly misinformed. However, I wonder how much this is a representation of how most people view public relations. 

One of the problems with our profession's image is the average person has very little contact with a public relations professional. Unless they have a relative in the PR business, the first time many people encounter PR is after college. That is why characters such as Samantha Jones from Sex and the City heavily influence perceptions. People do not have a reality to compare the fictional representation against. I've personally been compared to Samantha Jones more times than I would like to count. 

I think the best thing we can do is get to high school students early. Have PRos come in to career centers and speak in classes. Even those who do not go into PR will have an accurate perception of who we are and what we do. 

Photo by Discoodoni

Monday, May 12, 2008

Interview with Christopher Lynn about Twitter

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Christopher Lynn of Shift Communications, who also writes the blog SocialTNT. Chris spoke about many of the benefits of twitter for PRos. You can download the first edition of the How I learned to stop worrying and love PR podcast.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A thin line

Add ImageA City University of New York student, Heidi Cee posted fliers around the campus pleading for help after losing her Coach bag. Cee later claimed the person who turned in her bag, actually deceived her and gave her a counterfeit purse.

This prompted her into action, writing posts on her blog, and eventually organizing an anti-counterfeiting event.

If you think this sounds like a dream come true for an anti-counterfeiting organization, you're half right. Heidi Cee was all dream and no truth.

That is because a class of City University of New York public relations students made her up as part of a campaign for the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC), which sponsored the class.

A recent Adweek Article covers every detail of the incident. It is a great case study.

The sad thing is, these student's plan almost worked. Cee's site received 48,000 hits its first week and more than 700 visitors signed an online pledge against counterfeit goods.

There is some controversy, but I doubt it will damage Coach's sales. As a advocate of increased transparency, I find it depressing when an elaborate hoax proves largely effective.

Photo by SummerTX

Monday, May 5, 2008

Bribing Bloggers

With traditional media there are rules. You cannot bribe a journalist. There are laws against that sort of thing. Bloggers do not have these kinds of rules. Should we as public relations professionals rejoice at the new possibility of offering gifts in exchange for favorable blog posts?

I read two interesting blog posts recently about the topic. In a recent post Chris Brogan wrote "If you want us to write about your software app or your new gizmo, give a few away." Many of his twitter friends appeared to agree.

However, another post by Jason Falls presented a different view point.

"Shwag, in fact, normally gets you outed and made fun of," wrote Falls. "They want to know you understand who they are, what interests their blog serves and then what their audience is interested in." The comments appear to agree with his post.

Clearly there seems to be some disagreement about whether or not bribing bloggers will work. I am inclined to agree with both Brogan and Falls. I have no issue with a company giving free stuff to a celebrity in order to get the media coverage of the celebrity wearing or using a product. Bloggers are the same way. They are individuals and have the right to accept money or stuff for their endorsement. However, if bloggers continue this practice, and the products are not actually worthy of their endorsement they will ultimately lose credibility.

I also agree with Falls that giving bloggers free stuff does not usually work. While I do not see any real moral implications with bribing bloggers, I believe that making personal, genuine connections with bloggers is more effective. Ultimately, this is what Brogan is advocating as well.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Add your twitter status to your blog

I just figured out how to add my twitter status to my blog. Here is the link to a post describing how to do it for those of you who are interested.


Today I did it. I signed up for twitter. I heard about twitter earlier this year when I stumbled across an online show Epic Fu. I had avoided signing up because I already had facebook status, and did not see a reason to sign up for one more annoying online service. Today, when I read the PR Squared post: Get into twitter or get outta public relations, I was finally convinced to sign up. It's an excellent post, and I highly recommend reading it.

Low and behold, 9 people in my address book are already on twitter. Interestingly enough, all of them are public relations students or professionals. I have to wonder if twitter will ever turn into a mainstream phenomenon. Also, if the reason for getting on twitter is for career advancement and success, how honest should I be on my twitter updates. With every update should I consider if it is the type of post I would want a potential employer to see?

I am already conscious of my online persona. Although, I have always desired to keep my work and personal spheres separate. I wonder if social media has permanently merged the two.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Workin' It: The differences between agency work and internal government

I was recently linked by my instructor Kelli Matthews to a post by unSpun on Shift Communications. The post was basically going over the difficulties of agency work, and the beneficial highs that keep many professionals going. As someone who has not actually worked in an agency, I found this very interesting.
At my current position I am not sure I would call what I do public relations. I spend very little time trying to communicate with the public. Instead, the majority of my work consists of documenting success stories for government funded initiatives, in order to later communicate those stories to the state legislature.
The goal is convince the legislature to renew funding for these initiatives. The work I do requires the same skills, but is essentially different because I am not trying to reach my target audience through any other media. I am not alone though. More and more in public relations many professionals are reaching their audiences directly. I think the same responsibilities and concerns still apply as when you are reaching out to your audience through the media.

View the original unSpun post here.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Stumptown Comics Fest uses social media to enhance the experience

     This weekend I attended the Stumtown comics fest in Portland Ore. I have been a graphic novel fanatic for two years, ever since I read Blankets by Craig Thompson. Thompson also happened to be a headlining speaker at this event. 

      I have been anticipating this event for months. After I first heard about the event from Thompon's blog, I instantly wanted to know more. I usually find myself hunting around the internet in order to find information about one of my interests. However, with the comics fest this wasn't necessary. 
     The conference produced a Web site utilizing social media. The site features a  blog, podcast and a link to a flickr pool of pictures from the 2007 event. It also links to articles written about the 2007 event. 
        Yes I would have been excited about the conference if I had merely seen a poster in a store window, but it was the information on the Web site that really made me anticipate the event. 

Image: Poster from the Stumptown Comics Fest Web site 

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Propaganda in an age of transparency

My instructor and social media guru Kelli Matthews recently directed me to a story about how the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) ssupporters responded to the late March raid of the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, which ended with 437 children in state protective custody. View the original press release.

Photo from Web site:

advocates recently posted a Web site, which includes heart wrenching videos and photos clearly designed to tug at the heart strings of visitors. Videos include sobbing little girls being taken away by state officials, who confess to not having a search warrant in another clip.

Watching the videos I can't help but feel manipulated. Seeing pioneer children in tears conjures my childhood associations of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I feel frustrated with the way they are side-stepping the main issue. The Web site does not attempt to defend the FLDS way of life Rather, it frames the story in terms average Americans can relate to, the need to return innocent children to their parents, avoiding the real issue completely.

What would have happened if FLDS had taken a more transparent approach? Instead of insisting that the FLDS does not perform the weddings of underage girls, and the lifestyle is really not different from that of average Americans, the sect could have admitted their lifestyle differences. Then they could have argued that different is not wrong that it does not automatically result in child abuse.

I am not sure if many people would buy this argument, but avoiding the issue completely and producing propaganda will only make people assume that you have something to hide.
Unless the primary purpose of material is to give additional fuel to those who already hold this viewpoint, rather than changing public opinion, the site will be completely ineffective. I do not see a place for propaganda in an age of transparency.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ethanol oil subisidies: How do we transform information into action?

Recently, I've noticed increased interest about the effect increased demand for biofuels is having on the global price of food. Since I read the December cover story of The Economist, The End of Cheap Food, I've felt passionate about eliminating corn ethanol subsidies. While I am glad to see the increased coverage, I wonder why it has taken the American media four months to catch on to this story?

I feel the reason is the complexity of the issue. It is difficult to explain to the average person how these subsidies are causing the price of food to rise. When I read The Economist story, one fact stood out: "fill up an SUV's fuel tank with ethanol and you have used enough maize to feed a person for a year."

This is an easy message to digest and understand. Breaking down a complex message into a simple example is a key tenet of public relations, and is a necessary skill. Public relations professionals must not only communicate clear and simple messages, they must also indicate why the issue is important.

Finally, we must compel people to action. This is where I struggle with the ethanol issue. Even if a large group of people actually become familiar with the issue of ethanol oil subsides what action should they take? How can we transform this information into action?