APR Update

Last weekend, I visited Washington DC for the 2010 PRSA Leadership Assembly and PRSA Southwest District board meeting. To take advantage of the location, I invited my 94-year-old grandfather and mom to come with me to visit my granddad’s 98-year-old brother who lives in Bethesda. Some of my photos from the trip are posted on Flickr.

Now, for the real reason for this post — the discussions held at the Leadership Assembly. There were three bylaw changes proposed, with the most controversial being the removal of the APR designation as a requirement for PRSA National board members. The same issue was brought up last year and voted down by Assembly delegates. I wrote about it here.

The same arguments arose this year, but the conversation turned toward the need for PRSA to have a strategic discussion about the APR and its value. PRSA National has agreed to put together a task force to address the accreditation dilemma and assess the credential to determine what may need to change in the future. The task force is being chaired by Blake Lewis, APR, from Dallas. If you’re interested in helping, contact him.

What Should All PR Pros Know?

crayons_Education_72ppiLast week,  I wrote a quick post about what’s wrong with PR and it triggered additional thoughts on what PR pros need to learn to be better at their jobs. Over the course of my career, I’ve learned a great deal about the career I’ve chosen as well as business in general. While my degree in journalism played a small part in my knowledge, the mentors and professional relationships I’ve developed over the years have played a bigger role in my growth as a communications professional.

*** Note: we should always be learning. If we stop, then we grow stagnant as professionals and people.

Following are three things I believe all PR professionals should learn.

1) Learn how to read a financial report. While most of us have worked on an annual report or two, how many PR pros actually can understand what one says from a financial perspective? I believe it’s a critical skill that should not be overlooked. I realize that most communication pros entered this business because math and numbers are not our strong suit — I’m one of them. However, if communications departments expect to gain respect from senior management, the first step is in figuring out profits, losses and all that is associated with the financial side of the business. It will also make the budgeting process easier if you understand the company’s financial situation.

2) Learn your business. Whether you work for an agency or internally, take the time to get to know your business (or your client’s business). I think I’ve mentioned before that I had a boss who encouraged me to shadow other departments in the company to learn about their daily activities, challenges and successes. The experience better prepared me for questions from media, others in the company, external customers and industry partners who I worked with on a regular basis. Combining what I learned internally with what I heard from the outside, I was far better prepared to advocate for programs and projects that would strengthen our company’s market presence.

3) Share information. A key to building strong relationships with your internal and external customers, media, industry partners and more is to share information. As PR pros, we often find ourselves in positions where we cannot share information due to confidentiality agreements or clients who are not ready for information to be spread externally. However, this is more geared toward being a good team member. Many people believe that information is power so they hold on to important tidbits and dole them out only as necessary. This does not translate into a good team member. Managers and supervisors should take time to keep their departments up to date with internal news to ensure that they feel as if they are part of the company as well as better able to communicate with their customers, whether that’s internal or external. It builds trust between team members. If you are more entry level, be sure you share information with your superiors for a couple reasons. First, they need to be aware of issues that arise with a client or fellow employee to assist with combating problems. Second, sharing lets managers know about your successes that may not be immediately visible in a busy, fast-paced environment. (I’ve talked about this before | See this post on leadership.)

These are just three of many things to learn. What others would you add as top priorities?

The Importance of Listening

listening earIn this social media world, the importance of listening has come to the forefront. Platforms such as Twitter allow easy monitoring of what is being said about a person, a brand or an issue. If a person or company isn’t “listening”, then the point of social media is lost on them. It’s easy to monitor on Twitter with hashtags, Twitter search and third party tools such as TweetDeck for searching keywords. However, I don’t know that the importance of listening translates as well to the real world. A challenge we all have as communicators is figuring out the right way to get our message across and through the noise the bombards us all each day.

I’m sure we can all count the number of times we’ve said something to our spouse, friends or colleagues only to discover that the message was never received. Or do you remember playing “Telephone” as a child? The game where a message starts at one end of the line and by the time it reaches the other end, everyone gets a kick out of how it changed. While we enjoyed this as a game, the real world isn’t quite the desired setting for mixed messages. This typically leads to repeating yourself and getting frustrated with the non-listener.

As a communications professional, I’ve studied numerous theories that highlight all the ways in which a message can be misinterpreted or ignored by the recipient, depending on the noise elements that come into play. Every time I put a plan together, I think through ways in which the message may get lost. I look at past program details and I ask myself simple questions such as — Are emails opened or ignored? — Would a direct mail piece have more impact than an electronic piece? — Is there something going on to physically distract from the message? (i.e. activity at a trade show)

Besides the challenge of whether or not a message is reaching the intended audience, another challenge we face is whether or not there is comprehension. Someone may acknowledge receipt of the message with a nod or response but did the message actually click. Did the recipient actually understand what was being said and will it have the expected impact?

The social media world intrigues me because it does make listening easier in ways, but it also makes it more difficult. It’s yet another channel that we must understand and become well-versed in explaining to non-users. It’s the latest trend, and everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. But how many are actually listening to what is being said? And, with social media tools such as Twitter having 140 characters limits, how many people are truly understanding what is being said?

What’s Wrong with PR?

questionmark2I started reading Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, the new book by Brian Solis and Deirdre Breckinridge. I’m not too far into it yet, but they pose a good question early on: What’s wrong with PR? Of course, when you ask what’s wrong, it makes sense that you then offer solutions. While the book suggests several options — some from the agency perspective, some from the corporate side — I started thinking about what I perceive as being wrong with our industry.

1. PR pros spend too much time telling people what we’re not, instead of focusing on what we are. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard PR pros tell people that we are not advertising, marketing, or that PR is more than publicity. Rather than take that approach, why don’t we spend more time educating companies and individuals about what PR is and how we can help businesses succeed. This is absolutely critical for getting a seat at the proverbial table. Defining our role in an organization requires us to look at our profession creatively. When someone asks what we do, don’t respond with a long list of generalizations or tactics. We strive to ensure our audiences know our messaging so why don’t we all spend a little time thinking about our own elevator speech. And make it good. Then you are prepared when someone asks “what is PR?”.

2. PR pros have limited business knowledge. Business owners, no matter what size, want to see financial return on their PR investment. I’ve been in meetings over the years where PR professionals tell CEOs that it’s difficult to measure PR’s success outside of number of media clips. That’s not true, and it’s not what CEOs want to hear. Despite our protests, PR must have an impact on sales for business owners and management to see a value in what we do, especially if we don’t do a good job with our explanations in point #1 above.  In my career, I have seen very few PR pros who have solid business knowledge. PR represents the entire business, and that means we need to understand it inside and out. We need to know the competition. We need to be well-versed on the business plan and how our communication efforts translate into that comprehensive plan. This also means we must focus more attention on research and evaluation. Take the time to learn. Ask questions of everyone. It makes our jobs easier, I promise.

2. PR pros focus on tactics rather than strategy. Too many PR pros start the conversation with potential clients or management teams with a laundry list of tactics that need to be done. That’s the wrong approach. We must understand the business objectives for why something is being done, and that means we have to build the right strategy to make our chosen tactics work. The laundry list is dependent on the strategies. If every single tactic doesn’t translate to a strategy, then we need to go back to the drawing board. This also goes along with point #2 above — understanding the business means we are able to drive strategy on the PR/communication side. Conducting the necessary research beforehand and then following everything we do with evaluation to determine our success is extremely important.

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I’m pretty sure we can all agree that PR is not just the art of schmoozing, but that may be how a number of outsiders perceive us. It’s time to change that perception.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.

The Art of the Apology

1040-011-19-1101The last few days have generated a great deal of bad behavior in the public eye. I find it intriguing to watch and listen to apologies when people misbehave, especially celebrities. Most appear more as PR moves than sincere beliefs of poor behavior, and there is always a discussion as to whether the selected person is truly sorry. As a communicator, I find myself listening to the word choices used in an apology. Are they apologizing to the offended party or are they apologizing for the offended party? There’s a big difference, but it can be subtle.

A good apology is a piece of art and typically contains three elements — acknowledgment, regret and responsibility.

Dos and Don’ts
1. Do choose your words wisely. Good apologies should leave no doubt in the mind of the wronged that the person in the wrong is truly are sorry for his behavior. The offended person wants to know two things: that the offender understands where he’s gone wrong and that it won’t happen again.

2. Don’t apologize for the wrong thing. Companies often apologize for the “inconvenience” of poor service and individuals often apologize for someone else taking offense at something that was said. People and institutions tend to apologize for what they find forgivable. If there is no clear relationship between what the apology is for and what the offended experienced as the original wrong, the apology actually makes the problem worse. At best, the offender will appear blind to the problem; at worst, he will be perceived as intentionally distorting it.

3. Do consider the angle of approach. Are you dealing with an apology in a professional or personal setting? The relationship between the wronged person and the offender can play a big role in how the apology should be made. Consider whether it will be easier to apologize position to position or person to person. If the offender is angry with the person to whom he has to apologize, it might be easier to look at the apology in terms of the respective jobs or rank held. If senior manager is angry with an employee but must apologize for speaking harshly to him, then the senior manager might find it easier to frame the apology from the perspective of her position of authority.

4. Don’t think in terms of an “expression of regret.” Instead, the goal of an apology should be actually communicating true regret, showing the offended person that the person in the wrong understands the problem. Expression is one sided—as though one were getting an apology off one’s chest. Communication, however, occurs between people, and an apology needs to work well for the other person to be effective. It’s important to remove the focus from the apologizing person and keep it on the person who was wronged. That protects the person apologizing from sounding defensive, and the apology will be better received.

5. Do actually apologize. “I want to apologize” is not an apology. It’s a statement much like “I want to eat” or “I want to sleep.” Saying something like “I’m sorry you feel that way” also is not an apology. Actually take the time to put thought into it and deliver a clear, direct apology; don’t hide behind vagueness or clichés. The person wronged and the public will see through it.

What are your thoughts? Anything I’m missing?

PR in Pop Culture

ss-090913-vma-tease.300wSo, you would have to live in a cave not to hear about the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) last night and appalling behavior by Kanye West. If you are unaware, check out the story here.

As most of us know, there is a school of thought that says all publicity is good. I would have to disagree with that theory. While it’s true that the world is talking about Kanye and his actions, does the message being sent really put him in the best light? My answer is no. In my opinion, the true winners in this case is Beyonce and Taylor Swift, both of whom walked away from the night with physical trophies and endless support from the music industry and fans alike.

From a PR perspective, I’ve heard the “all publicity is good” argument for years. While the point of publicity is to get your name in the news, why would someone choose to have their name associated with negative stories? I’ve yet to figure that out, and stay mystified today.

Now my PR mind says that Kanye is targeting an audience that wants to root for the “bad boy” and will support his record sales no matter what he does on stage or in front of a national audience. Perhaps his research shows that the only way he can continue to sell records is to misbehave and stir things up. If that’s the case, then the message being sent to those fans is seriously flawed. And I have to ask about the ethics of the publicists being paid by Kanye who came up with this idea. Ethics is a touchy subject, and varies by individuals.

I live by the “golden rule” — Treat others as you wish to be treated. I abide by that rule in everything I do. I treat people with respect professionally and personally. I would never dream up a PR scheme that would humiliate and embarrass another person or organization.

What do you think? What Kanye right or wrong? Is it true that all publicity is good? I am curious about your thoughts.