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The Value of Information

16 May

Social media has certainly changed the role of PR pros in a myriad of ways. Clients or employers no longer expect just a book of media clips to show the value of public relations. More and more, communicators are being asked to extend their roles to encompass what might have been described as marketing, sales, and customer relations.

Aside from the titles and tools though, has the real value proposition changed?

In 1987 one of my favorite film characters ever, Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, hit on a very real business truth. “The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”

Information sharing is at the core of social media. At a time in the PR industry when access to members of the media is just a mouse click away for almost anyone and a well done blog post can generate as much visibility as a hit on the six o’clock news, PR pros can play a vital role in organizational success based on this concept.

  • Assess the information coming into the organization

Begin by listening to what’s being said. What are the messages resonating about your company? Are they positive, negative, or (perhaps even worse) unclear?

Provide your clients/company with strategic counsel at this stage on what the marketplace is really saying about the brand. The speed with which problems can go from minor to a major issue is significantly faster with social media than in the past. Continually listen honestly to understand where you fit in market in the eyes of the public and communicate that with the leadership team.

  • Understand the benefits and limitations of distribution channels

Next step, take some time to think critically about old habits and if there is a need to change your approach. As an example, if a controversy were to flare up online, PR pros need to make the call on how to respond. A traditional news conference likely isn’t the fit. Get rid of any habits that are wasted effort.

Facebook fan page complaint may well be best addressed in a discussion right on the page. But what if the comment is on a third-party blog? Spend time *now* before there is an issue to get up to speed on social channels and how information moves uniquely in each one. Social media communities are not interchangeable and cannot be treated as such.

  • Create information to fill a need

This is where the preparation comes together. Once you understand the market perception of your organization and the channels available to you, it comes down to providing the audience with the information they need and can’t get anywhere else.

Rather than pushing out material *at* people, this is the point where PR practitioners can demonstrate their own value by creating unique content that addresses gaps for the customer. Consistently hearing that your company isn’t providing clear guidance on a service? Then try a YouTube video shared socially to walk through those challenges in a simple manner with some personality. Or maybe it’s a well-written post on a major industry blog to address the concerns. The key outcome is solving a problem that exists for the market and in doing so; you will enhance the value of a particular brand.

Gordon Gekko had it right 24 years ago; the most valuable commodity is information. Now go out and share some information that will be helpful as well as advance your goals.

Don’t Fear the Financials

31 Mar

finance, financial PR, annual reports, PR mathOne of the great misconceptions about the communications industry is that it is just a creative industry. Only right-brain people need apply and it’s all about being a “people person” and connecting.  Those are fine traits but communications professionals must be balanced and there remains an inherent fear in a lot of PR or communications people to tackle math and financials.

The truth is that it isn’t that hard to pick up a decent level of financial understanding and I have great faith in my communications colleagues. It’s just a matter of practice and taking the time to work through a few examples. Being able to read an annual report effectively is an important start so you can understand the current state of your company, clients, or competitors. By just walking through a few tutorials, you can understand all the basics needed to find important information about a company in those seemingly confusing sections. As a starting point, check out this How to Read an Annual Report post which provides a nice step-by-step process and examples.

From there, communications pros that are a bit shy about annual reports, 10k filings, and regulatory documents might be pleasantly surprised what intelligence and research is already out there about companies that will help improve their own work. After getting a few of those basics down, try checking out a site like Investopedia to work through the next steps like economic indicators, analyzing earnings (earnings calls are another great source of information for communicators by the way), and mergers and acquisitions. Or check out a book like Finance and Accounting for Nonfinancial Managers by William Droms and work through it at your own pace.

This isn’t to say you need to be a CPA to be an outstanding communicator but it also doesn’t hurt, especially when working with business leadership who are responsible for every number reported in that annual report. As with anything else, adding another strength to your creative communications toolbox is a good thing and these tools and resources can be helpful for anyone starting out learning more about finance.

What has your experience been working with finance departments or leadership? Is the relationship challenging or have you found tips to bring together the creative and concrete parts of your organization?

Five Ideas to Repair the Credibility of PR

29 Sep

Photo courtesy of DoktorSpinn under Creative Commons.There’s an issue that has always been a challenge for a lot of good PR people and it rears its ugly head a few times each year.  How can PR improve its own reputation?  I had a couple of reminders on the need for this work recently from very different sources.

First off I saw an interesting post from Keith Trivitt on PR Breakfast Club titled Ethical vs. Unethical: A Lot Rides on Only 2 Letters that highlighted yet another case where PR ethics were called into question around paid toy pitches that were framed as “expert” opinion.  Of course the problem is the expert was a front.  Transparency? Nah, why bother.  Focus on the audience? Crazy.

The second time the issue of our professional credibility came up was a chat I had with the stylist cutting my hair.  She asked what I did and I explained a bit about my varied communications work. She was surprised by the variety of efforts I mentioned.  She shared that she essentially thought of PR as promoting celebrities. Ugh.  She asked more about if PR could actually drive customers to a business like hers.  I explained that it sure better or you’re wasting your money and your PR person isn’t doing their job.

The professional of public relations has been relegated to the world of used car sales credibility for too long.  What can we do to improve the reputation of our field? Here are a few starters:

  • Highlight broader knowledge: The discipline of PR isn’t just media relations, it never has been.  Working with the media is an important skill but so is understanding product positioning, recognizing the importance and value of strong corporate reputation, and how online engagement has changed the dynamics of customer interaction.  Many PR professionals are handling all this and more everyday and their credibility is undermined by the type of PR people who believe the only credentials our profession requires are a good smile and the ability to raise a martini glass.
  • Industry advocacy: Our industry needs to continue to work on its own image.  At a national level, PRSA has been working to highlight the importance of ethical behavior and has a code of ethics for its members.  However, I think the industry needs to go further to push forward on what essentially equates to a campaign for itself to fight the stereotype of PR that continues to be pushed out by idiotic representations like The Spin Crowd.
  • Greater transparency:  Many of the problems surrounding the industry stem from questions around the motives of professionals and what is happening behind the scenes.  The toy review case mentioned earlier is a great example of what happens when your strategy is “let’s hope nobody notices or finds out.”  If that concept is ever raised in a meeting you know where its going to end up.  The need for transparency is well documented and is more important now than it ever has been as we live in an era where nearly everything can be tracked digitally.  If you aren’t comfortable with your name appearing next to your work on a billboard it’s a sign that you might want to rethink the idea.
  • Training: These issues can be very muddy to discern, especially when you’ve not faced them in the past, and greater training and education would benefit the industry in the long run.  Again, greater emphasis on real-world ethical case studies via PRSA programming could go a long way to providing guidance.  As could commitments from many of the larger agencies in the field.  A high percentage of younger pros get their first shot in PR from agencies and there are certainly some agencies out there that are part of the problem but many could also have a tremendous impact on industry reputation by including ethical decision-making as a key point of ongoing training.  By investing time on employees early on, they also protect their own reputation to avoid train wrecks that hurt the business like the FTC issues for Reverb and the industry.
  • Accountability: We are all responsible for this.  If you care about your own future in this industry and want to be able to hold your head high saying you work in public relations, you need to take steps to hold yourself as well as the companies and clients you serve to higher standards.  Take time to think about these issues and question those that would push you to compromise your values.  It’s ultimately your reputation and name on the line.

What else can we do to improve the expectations within our profession?  How can we take some time to repair our own image?   Add your ideas and share them with others so we can all feel good about the amazing work being done in our field and its future.

The Building Blocks of Success- Entrepreneurship as Growth

17 Aug

I’ve always been interested in a variety of industries and just generally in how businesses are built successfully.  So, after hearing some positive things about a local company here in Minneapolis and its team, I set out to sit down with Mike Rynchek and get to know him a bit better.  In chatting with him, it became extremely apparent to me that he’s one of those people that was really predisposed from birth to create and seek to build.

When I sat down with the July/August edition of Inc. Magazine I couldn’t help but catch the cover featuring a bold headline of “Bring on the Entrepreneurs” and it got me thinking again of the need to create and build successful, creative business models in the communications and marketing industries.  The traditional agency model, if not broken, is certainly in need of some good maintenance work as fewer companies are seeking single agencies to handle all their needs.  There is so much specialization needed that selling a one-size fits all model doesn’t make sense.   I again thought of my conversations with Mike and asked him to share a little more about his background and thoughts on building a business that is conducive to ongoing growth.

Q: What attracted you to the concept of starting and running your own business?

A: Two words, flexibility and opportunity. Since childhood, I’ve always wanted to be a CEO and I truly enjoy the power of marketing. Put them together and I found my passion.

Q: What can marketers/communicators learn from entrepreneurs in other industries that should be applied to this industry?

A: Marketers, much like entrepreneurs in other industries, should always be looking for inspiration. Now, with the advancement of technology, both entrepreneurs and marketers have the freedom to be creative and innovative in ways never thought possible.

Q: When you think about the creative process, what stands out you and what do you try to do at Spyder Trap to create an environment that is unique for your clients?

A: Consistency is key in any creative process, while forward thinking is crucial in defining our objectives. In combination, these elements help to capture the core needs of our clients. Additionally, our clients provide an external viewpoint for inspiration.

Q: How would you describe the business community in the Twin Cities? What have you found helpful, and what has been challenging?

A: The business community is lively in the Twin Cities offering an abundance of social engagements and community events to engage in. From simple coffee shops to extravagant galas, there is always something social happening in the Twin Cities business community. Social networking helps to establish, to connect, and to build upon professional relationships. One challenge I encounter is time; there is never enough time in a day. I often find myself needing to be in two places at once, if only I had a clone!

Q: A lot of entrepreneurs mention a constant nagging feeling of wondering what’s next. Do you experience that and how do you channel those thoughts into a productive model or path for new experiences?

A: “What’s next?” is a common question among entrepreneurs. This is a question I ask myself everyday! I have found that the best entrepreneurs are perpetually striving to find the pulse for what’s next in all areas of their business and environment. In my experience, the question of, “what’s next” has had a positive impact in aiding my growth as an entrepreneur. I am confident this question drives the growth and innovation necessary to remain successful in marketing. Larry Page and Sergey Brin had to be thinking, “what’s next?” before they launched Google in 1998.

Q: Who has served as an inspiration/mentor for you as you looked to build a successful business?

A: I am fortunate to have numerous mentors in my life who inspire me daily. As long as I can remember, I have found it important to gain insight from people in all areas of my life ranging from high-level executives to family and friends.

Recently, I have been incredibly inspired by philanthropic events that I am involved with, as I have learned that giving back is truly humbling.

I appreciate Mike’s help on this post and sharing some of his thoughts. I’d also like to hear more from the community on taking on an entrepreneurial mindset and what you believe is critical in creating companies that raise the level of quality in a creative manner. How do we collectively break into a new level of achievement that benefits clients and the organizations we serve?