Archive for March, 2010

The more things change…

Long before anyone ever thought about a computer, public relations practitioners were warning clients that the best way to manage crisis communications was to prevent the crisis.  The Web and social media makes that advice more urgent than ever.

Jay Deragon, a management consultant and social media strategist, recently wrote about social media as a management crisis (http://tinyurl.com/yhlpz54), expressing concern that executives aren’t taking the time to truly understand the impact of social media on how they do business. He talks about the ability of people to organize and affect an organization’s reputation using social media, and points out that failure to understand the impact of social media and to prepare for its use is a recipe for disaster. Interestingly, he points out that social media attacks can be internal as well as external, and points out that those who run companies must be willing to learn, to grow and to change.

“Social media represents a velocity of change that requires new knowledge to be applied to internal and external dynamics which are revolutionizing how markets operate,”  he writes. “The empowerment people get from social media is akin to dropping a match into a pool of gasoline, kaboom! As soon as you marshal the resources to put out the fire another one starts. Managing by distinguishing fires is not managing.”

Deragon does not call himself a public relations person. This, however, is what PR people have been telling management for years. In 1946,  Arthur Page, a PR pioneer, said, “Any concern that does business with the public is in a public business. It is subject to regulation in many ways — (including) by the public’s giving or withholding patronage, and by public praise or blame from the press, radio, political leaders.”

People don’t need the press, radio and political leaders to express their disapproval or anger any more. As public relations counselors, it’s incumbant on us to make sure our clients understand that social media is not only a great way for us to link directly withour constituents to sell them something or convince them of our point of view, it’s a way for our constituents to let us know what they think. Public relations always has been about two-way communications, but it’s always been tough to get the client to buy into the “listening” part.

Deragon’s point, I think, is that today’s managers and executives better understand that listening, responding and doing things the right way are where success starts.

I don’t believe you can prevent the fires from starting. One of the downsides of social media is that it doesn’t require that people tell the truth. Angry comments and accusations are “vetted” publicly and that’s too late. Those of us protecting corporate reputations deal with a certain element using social media because of buyer remorse, a desire for something they’re not entitled to or just plain petulance.

By doing business ethically and transparently, and by listening to constitutents, it’s possible to keep the fires under control. Deragon’s point — that managers need to understand the power of social media to keep it from being used to stoke the fires — is a good one. And while in the world of crisis management, social media is just one hazard, he points out how great that hazard is and how we need to help our clients understand why they can’t dismiss social media as something that doesn’t apply to them or that doesn’t change how they do business.

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March 26, 2010 at 12:55 pm

The SEO Magic Act

Many magic tricks work because of misdirection, a technique of distracting an audience. Does search-engine optimization doesn’t have a little of that kind of magic in it?

I’m not taking anything away from search-engine optimization or search-engine marketing. Obviously, SEO is a valuable tool in today’s search-engine-driven world. It’s wonderful to deliver our message directly to constituents, whether it’s a sales message or an opinion on an issue. And my internal clients, including my bosses, are very impressed when I can tell them that a release we put out drove X-number of people to our Web site and, depending on what service we use to distribute the Web site, that even more people saw the release on the Web, even if they didn’t click through.

Nice numbers, but what are we teaching our clients? Is this little magic trick I work regularly these days misdirecting my clients from what PR is really supposed to be about?

The problem comes for practitioners whose clients have a hard time grasping that public relations needs to be part of a proactive strategy to be effective. Even if they do sort of “get it,” 300 visitors to the Web site is something they really “get” – and like. After all, isn’t that what they’re demanding of their marketing and advertising folks?

There’s a danger here that the singular tactic with very visible result could become more important to clients, especially those short on funds, than a larger strategy about reputation, even if that plan secures our place in the market and helps with sales or meets other business goals. These days, when I say to my internal clients “community meeting,” “community relations event,” “interview with a non-too-friendly reporter” or other just talk about reputational issues, my clients tell me they’d rather see another optimized release and numbers to the Web site.

So why, you may ask, can’t you do all of these things? They should be tactics in a full campaign. You are right, of course. But for practitioners in my boat — a department of me, myself and I with no agency – we just can’t do it all at the same time. It’s complicates the constant education we have to do to explain what public relations brings to the table beyond eyeballs on the Web site.

So SEO can certainly help us work magic. But that magic itself can make it more difficult to explain the real goal of PR: Assuring that our company is one others want to do business with.

I’d love to know how other small agencies and departments are handling this challenge.  I’m in the process of writing a new communications plan to put a strategic rudder back in the water. I plan to emphasize that search engine optimization is just one rabbit in my hat of tricks to maintain my company’s good reputation. And I plan to be ready when I’m asked why all that’s necessary when I could spend my time writing more optimized articles.

I don’t want my magic act to turn into black magic and fail to contribute to my company’s business goals.

March 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm

He did it!

As discussed here and in several other places, including the Ethical Optimist, Jack O’Dwyer, publisher of a newsletter that monitors the PR industry, told agencies they had to pay to be included on his list of top agencies. Many declined, citing ethical reasons. According to PRNewser, he dropped several agencies from his new list. Well, if I ever get the budget to hire an agency again, the agencies that declined to pay to be on the list will be the ones I’d consider calling. And as for the agencies that are on his list, I’d love to see a discussion of the benefits of being on one of these lists, especially one where you have to pay to be there. Perhaps they see it as another ad.

March 9, 2010 at 10:42 am


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