Archive for February, 2011

Will charging to read the news change how we pitch story ideas?

More and more newspapers are considering bolstering their financials by charging readers for content, according to an article posted last week in American Journalism Review.  The article discusses the dilemma from a publisher’s point of view, but I can’t help wondering what it means for those of us working with reporters and editors to tell our clients’ stories.

 Reporter Cary Spivak, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, says some papers are charging for all of their content, others are using a meter system and others charge for special stories. Spivak also says some of their content will continue to be available without charge.

How will this change the way a reporter or editor evaluates information we give them? Will publications skew their news coverage by making available more stories that people will pay for, rather than stories that have important political and social impact? Will they ignore stories that might not be as exciting or that don’t sell as well as others?  Will they look for spokesperson stars (“spokestars”?) instead of quotable, knowledgeable people?

If any of these answers are affirmative, it could mean we will have to change how we develop and pitch story ideas. Perhaps we will have to put reputation and point of view in the backseat behind sellability.  Or maybe we will have to pick our spokespeople based on star-ability rather than credibility. 

This is a scenario that could have grave consequences for our profession and our democracy. Of course, if we’re doing our jobs well now, our spokespeople are knowledge and well-spoken and, if we’re lucky, approaching spokestar quality. The stories we’re pitching should be developed to not only present our point of view and bolster our clients’ reputations, but to be exciting, full of information and something that should help a reporter tell a story others will want to read, even if they have to pay for it.

But the idea of stories being judged on their ability to get people to open their wallets instead of their minds gives me pause. What do you think?

February 27, 2011 at 5:10 pm 4 comments

Customer Service Needs To Be On PR’s Radar

My wife, Karen, and I had an incredible customer-service experience at the Culinary Institute of America this weekend. We had dinner at one of the student-run restaurants. The food was incredible and the service was like watching a ballet. With all that, students still had time to talk with us about their curriculum and studies.

What does that have to do with public relations? Everything. Public relations professionals must do better at considering the reputational impact of customer service, especially in today’s social networking world.

 I doubt any PR person wants to run call centers. But what sales department doesn’t want to work with PR? What progressive legal team doesn’t consider public relations to part of their strategy? So it should be with customer service.

Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles wrote about the sorry shape of customer service in their wonderful book, Raving Fans. If you haven’t read it, buy it today. It’s a quick read, but one that will change your view of serving customers. “Good or bad,” the book concludes, every “company had a customer service product that was how well the merchandise suited the customers’ needs and the human dimension of the customer/company relationship.” Another word for that combination is reputation.

Every customer contact is an opportunity to reinforce your organization’s reputation, good or bad.  Every question, comment, compliment or complaint is an opportunity to build relationships and reinforce reputations, especially in the social networking world.

“Social media represents an entirely new way to reach customers and connect with them directly,” say Deirdre Breakenridge and Brian Solis in Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.  “Your new role transcends the process of broadcasting messages and reactively answering questions to investing in and building a community of enthusiasts and evangelists.”

But even in the real world, you can observe customer service and consider its impact on reputation. The student restaurateurs were a good example of good customer service. More routinely, a lady at Staples who walked me through placing an order online because the store didn’t have what I was looking, presenting another wonderful example of customer service. She even helped me fill out the rebate request…all for a $10 sleeve of labels.

When you watch the people who represent your organization to the public, either online or face to face, what kind of reputation are they building for you? We would never let someone talk with the media without some coaching. Should we let people talk to individual customers without coaching from PR when those customers can instantaneously tell the world about their experience?

February 23, 2011 at 2:30 am 1 comment


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