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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

Before You Hit Send

20 Jul

Photo courtesy of jannemei via creative commons

Email has been a truly transformational tool in the business world. Information sharing is fast and much more efficient than anything that came before it.  Some of you can think back to the days of faxing documents with hand-written changes back and forth to update materials in development.  Email is also a great too as you can select every word and know it will be delivered exactly as you want.

But, will every word be *read* and interpreted exactly as you want?  Probably not. Every recipient of an email has a unique perspective based on their role, their relationship with the author, and environmental factors including whatever else is happening in their world.  It can be a challenge to effectively use email with larger groups to deliver a message that you’d like received and understood in a singular way.

I had an interesting experience discussing this issue based on how members of a group read the same message with entirely different interpretations.  While email is a simple tool, before blasting out that next message to a large group, remember to consider a few essential elements to avoid pitfalls within your audience.

  • Timing: Be mindful of the timing of the message as one sent at a time that can be viewed as inappropriate can create significant problems.  If sending a message to a large team, the day before a deadline isn’t going to endear you to them.  If the message is in response to something that happened recently that should be done differently in the future, be aware it may be viewed as a direct correction to someone who took action and it can generate a response akin to “ooh, who did that?” or “Dave’s in big trouble for that one.”
  • Role of the author: Every organization has a different culture but there are some core similarities.  If the president/owner sends out an email, it is viewed as a big deal regardless of the topic.  Whenever leadership communicates something to team members it conveys the message that this is the official position of the company.  This can be a good thing, when it reinforces the culture and style you want to have in the organization.  When Woot CEO Matt Rutledge send his letter to employees about becoming an independent subsidiary of Amazon it was in a style that fit with the culture they’ve established.  Or it can create a storm of new fires for the company like Dan Gilbert’s letter as owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. (and I didn’t even mock the fact it was comic sans font)   So, when determining who the author should be, take some time to decide if it really needs to be from the top of the  organization or if another member of the team might be more appropriate.  You are delivering a message before readers ever get to the content.
  • Tone:  This is a given but often where everyone struggles due to the nature of email communication.  It’s never good to let someone sit down and fire off a snarky message to everyone because of frustration.  It’s not helpful and will likely just reflect negatively on the author and hurt the success of the team. When communicating with others in the company the tone must remain professional (you must remember how easily these can be forwarded), but think about what the tone should be based on the content.  Does it need to be inspiring and motivating?  It is to solicit feedback?  Policy memo and you don’t want feedback?  All have very different styles that should be used in getting the response you want.

All-in-all, email is a great tool.  However, it is not a cure-all for communicating.  Be mindful of what you’re trying to achieve and evaluate the good and bad that goes along with email to decide if it fits or if you’re better off delivering the message in another manner…maybe even (shudder) in person.

The First Key to Writing is to Write

30 Apr

Some of you may recognize the title of this post immediately as a quote from a great film created a decade ago. The film Finding Forrester had a number of great writing related references throughout the story line of a young, talented writer who connects with an author that fled into virtual hiding after finding literary success.

As a communicator, my daily work centers around finding ways to write and share information in a manner that will resonate with an audience.  And some days, it’s difficult to even begin. It’s writer’s block on a grand stage. What do you do when you just can’t get started or you aren’t sure how to phrase something that you’ll be happy to present to your boss or the audience? You write.

My favorite scene from the film is one where character William Forrester (played by Sean Connery) is helping young writer Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) get started and to write with his heart. Wallace doesn’t know where to begin, then Forrester provides one of the great movie quotes of all time (at least to a guy like me who spends hours in front of a keyboard daily): “No thinking, that comes later. You write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head.”

I’ve been stuck lately. I’ve been worrying about every word and framing phrases. Thankfully, I remembered this little piece of Hollywood advice and I hope you’ll find it helpful as well when you need a reminder that the best way to start writing is to write.

Finding Forrester- 2000, Columbia Pictures Corporation