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The Slime Gets Everyone Dirty

15 Jun

I was excited recently when I happened to see a link to an article from The Economist on PR. I knew it would obviously be a bit on the sensational side given the title of “Slime-Slinging” that screams link bait but I really love the writing in the publication. The article takes a look at the recent mess that is the Google vs. Facebook debacle and was interesting indeed but I was again irritated by the painting of all PR people as the evil slimy underbelly portion of the “new” media environment.

I think at the core my real problem is that despite the vast majority of PR people operating in an ethical manner it’s seemingly always a fun story to write about the bottom of the barrel. However, if we’re going to get at these issues honestly then let’s really do it.

There are bad PR people who operate very questionably and will sell their ethics

Or maybe they never had ethical standards in the first place. Yes, it’s sad but true and I will concede this but I’ve been working in the communications industry 15 years now and would say that there have only been a handful out of a thousand plus I’ve known who truly missed Morality 101. It’s really unfortunate when things like this happen and chasing a story or the almighty dollar becomes a priority and someone is willing to throw their reputation and career out the window. However, most communications pros understand that all you have at the end of the day is your credibility and integrity. If I am going to work in this industry I must always remain honest, upfront, and seek to provide good counsel to clients, employers, as well as bloggers and journalists. Most of us understand this point.

There are journalists that aren’t saints either

Again, the very, very vast majority of journalists I’ve worked with over the years are honest, credible, good professionals. Yet if we really want to open this discussion up and have a conversation on what our new media environment looks like with the rise of blogs, social media, and citizen journalism we need to acknowledge that there are a few journalists that don’t like playing by the rules either. It happens.  In truth this particular sentence in The Economist bothers me a lot on the hypocrisy scale, “The PR flacks who did Facebook’s dirty work were two ex-journalists who had only recently gone over to the dark side.” Really, just recently went to the dark side? Clearly nobody could’ve been an ethical question mark until crossing into the PR world right? The fact that these journalists weren’t trained in PR ethics is part of the problem as they likely believed the myth that any journalist makes a good PR pro. It showed they don’t know where the line is in working credibly with a client or they didn’t care. It’s the people, not the job.

There are bad bloggers, writers, and social media snake oil salespeople

Anytime there’s a new market it takes a few years to settle in and become a functioning (or at least semi-functioning) environment. It has been a pretty long-standing joke with many in the social media community around how thousands instantly became self-appointed “gurus”, “ninjas”, or “rockstars” in the online community. Opening up to new viewpoints and ideas has been one of the truly great benefits of all these new channels. The ability to connect with smart people professionally or personally regardless of location has transformed how we collectively communicate but it also requires that everyone looks with a critical eye on who is worthy of trust. Because someone has a great looking blog or a large follower base on Twitter shouldn’t grant them a free pass to report or publish anything under the sun as gospel truth.

The Burson Marsteller, Facebook, Google mess is an example of what happens when people lose sight of their ethics. Let’s not look at this only as a PR problem though. It’s a credibility problem, one that impacts all of us working in communications regardless of what “side” you’re on.  The day I compromise my morals and can’t look my colleagues in the eye or can’t tell my daughter that I’m proud of what I do is the day I need to leave.

I think a real discussion of the issues facing PR, media, and bloggers would be outstanding and I’d greatly appreciate viewpoints and representation from all of them here.

How can we collectively work to boost credible collaboration so all of us aren’t smeared with the same slime generated by a few?

*initially posted on http://www.prevolutionblog.com

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?

Time to Think

24 Feb

It’s hard to do when competing in a truly 24/7 world that depends on constant motion to stay ahead of the curve and ahead of your competition. However, there is an essential element to growth and success that requires leaders to make a conscious, and seemingly backward, choice. Stop. Think.

Instead of pushing for faster and more efficient there are times when you need to look for slower and more thoughtful. In just the PR world, if you search on Google for PR Consultant List you’ll get over 3.2 million results on how to be a good consultant, who are the best consultants and much more. The point of all this? There are thousands of other professionals in any field that are tactically able to execute to some level in the same general way.

Finding creative solutions is not a new problem, every great advance in human history is brought on by the need to solve a challenge that required a different type of thought. The industrial revolution for example was a shift focused on economic development that increased the growth of major cities and moved countries away from a predominantly agricultural model. In 2011, as we collectively look at a landscape of economic challenges, significant global turmoil, and rapidly changing technological advances; it’s time to think again. People in every industry are seeking and desperately wanting to find creative ideas. That desire for truly smart thinking is why TED Talks are so engaging and popular. Smart thinking is not a commodity business, churning out tactics is.

Find ways that work for you to think and evaluate what’s next. A few ideas to consider might include:

Blocking time on your calendar – Literally carve out time on the Outlook or Google calendar that pushes you from meeting to meeting. Close the door for an hour to read, think about a challenge in front of you from a different perspective, or write out a few free-flowing ideas (maybe crazy ones) to spark your thinking.

Talk with others – Go out, get away from your typical environment. If you’re a social thinker you’ll be well-served by gaining energy from the process of gathering input and feedback.

Shut it down – If your goal is to push a 2,000 pound boulder up a hill, just pushing harder isn’t going to cut it. Same thing happens when we try to solve problems by just pushing. Go entirely away from the situation, find a place where you’re relaxed and can find new perspective. Maybe you’ll find that there’s actually a good boulder on the other side of the hill and you don’t need to push the first one at all.

The communications profession is not just a collection of tactics. It relies on smart thinking, problem solving, and understanding human dynamics which cannot simply be found on a checklist.

There is no right answer and everyone will find their place and style but having a place to think and create is critical. It’s what separates you from the 3.2 million other options out there for your clients and employers. What do you do to think and find focus? What has worked for you?

Where Are You Going? Three Benefits of Setting Goals.

6 Nov

As fall begins to settle in here in the great state of Minnesota, it gets cooler and the leaves fall. We collectively drag out some warmer clothes and bitterly put away those summer shorts and wonder why we do live here year after year. Fall also reminds me of looking forward and sorting out what’s next. You see, despite Outlook for both the office and my phone, Google calendars, a calendar on the fridge, a calendar in my office (you’re getting the idea) I still keep a planner too. It’s nice for me to make notes or change appointments on the go and it’s always with me. As I get ready to order the 2011 planner, I looked back and flipped through the pages of the last year. It’s amazing to see the journey you take in a year. There are reminders of successes, failures, and moments to remember both personally and professionally.

I also set goals in the back of said planner. Some are for the next year and some are significantly longer-term. I recently hit one that I’d set out more than 10 years ago when speaking with the president of the first company I worked for out of school. He’d asked “how will you know if you’re successful in your career? My response was, when my peers and those I respect come to me for thoughts, assistance, or to chat when they hit challenges in their careers. It was an answer rooted in what I saw in my dad growing up as he worked hard but gave freely of his time to try to help others and his profession. It was a surprising moment for me and one that probably wouldn’t have meant much if I hadn’t set out some goals about what I want to achieve and how to do so.

So, as we enter 2011, consider the benefits of goal setting in your career.

1) They provide focus: The process of goal setting is one where you need to stop and think. These goals aren’t just the tactical elements that need to be covered for you team/boss next year but think about where you really want to be in three years. What are the steps you need to take to make that possible? It’s difficult to take time to stop and slow down but it provides clarity to what you truly want to achieve.

2) You have accountability: The simple act of writing out goals provides you with a measurable timeline. You’ve laid out your goal, perhaps some building block goals along the way, and you have a path to guide you. You’re far more likely to meet your goals when they are written out than just saying “someday I want to…”

3) Goals serve as a reminder: When times get tough, which they will, looking at your written goals can provide you inspiration to keep moving forward. The challenges remain but when aiming for a larger goal, you can ride out the ups and downs along the way.

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.