Archive for June, 2011

From Inkhouse.net: How PR is Getting Better.

I write about things I think are important in public relations, and sometimes that means commenting on bad moves by my colleagues. I get tired, however, of the wholesale and unsupported criticism of public relations. Beth Monoghan wrote a great piece about how public relations is improving. It appeared in her blog ( http://www.inkhouse.net/inklings-blog/) and in PR Daily.  Thanks, Beth, for giving me permission to republish this. It’s definitely worth a read. 

In the early days of my PR career, I stood in the mailroom with a stack of a hundred or so cover letters sending out blast faxes to newsrooms as our press releases crossed Business Wire.

That same period saw me making late-night runs to Logan Airport, where the very last FedEx pickup happened around midnight as I rushed to get five boxes of press kits—which we’d been stuffing that evening—to Las Vegas in time for the opening of NetWorld + Interop the next day.

Inevitably, we’d outsource the press kits, receive them in the late afternoon, and discover all too late that a page was missing, so we’d take them all apart and redo them ourselves.

I can’t remember the last physical press kit I’ve seen or the last fax I’ve sent to a reporter. Today, our addiction to email and social networks has fundamentally changed the way in which PR professionals connect with reporters.

We used to call pitching “smiling and dialing” when I was just out of college, but caller ID put a quick end to stalker-style PR. And that is a good thing. It means that relationships, research, and quality content matter now more than ever.

Though many can argue the inherent lack of wisdom in 140 characters, the need to cut through that din with thoughtful, compelling, and divergent points of view makes public relations a more exciting profession. We have to be more creative and know our facts like never before. So, without further ado, here is my list of the six ways in which I believe PR has changed for the better:

1. Blast emails are going the way of blast faxes.

No one has ever liked bulk mail. I remember building long lists of reporters’ email addresses so we could send out our press releases when they crossed the wire. Inevitably, the mail merge wouldn’t work and Jane would receive a message that began, “Hello, Frank.” Thankfully, this is (almost) a thing of the past. We don’t allow blast emails at InkHouse. They don’t work. Personal emails related to a reporter’s area of interest have always been the best route, and today it’s the only route.

2. Quality content matters.

We used to struggle for the press to tell our clients’ stories in the words we’d like them to use. Today, the opportunity for quality content is practically endless. Companies have vast opportunities to seed, syndicate, and curate their own points of view and position themselves as thought leaders. However, the only way to do this is to have something interesting to say that is truly different. It’s not enough to agree with your peers.

3. New channels.

Between press releases we used to rely on trend stories, customer case studies, speaking engagements, and awards to maintain momentum and buzz for our clients. These tools are still important, but social media and blogging open up new channels every day. There might be a community just for cloud-based customer service that is eager for content. You may have a blog post on mobile travel technology for executives that Forbes wants to publish. Or maybe your point of view on the Groupon IPO is so unique that you are lighting up Twitter and the LinkedIn Groups about daily deal sites. Opportunities are out there, and they can drive real engagement, conversations, and even traffic. Good PR people know how to find them and how to engage in them.

4. Relationships matter more.

Media relations has always been about relationships. I have always believed that PR professionals should treat journalists as clients—we should help source information and experts even when it does not benefit our own companies or our clients. Social media has made relationships easier, which is the good news. However, you have to participate to be in those conversations. Yes, Twitter does matter for PR professionals! It’s a different kind of relationship, but suddenly PR people have instant access to real-time information about reporters’ stories, opinions, and deadlines. If we pay attention, there are volumes of useful information. The trick is organizing the onslaught into something easily perusable; I highly recommend Twitter lists organized into TweetDeck columns!

5. PR drives SEO.

It’s no secret that reporters aren’t using the wire services as news sources. In a recent conversation, Jon Swartz of USA Today said that he hasn’t looked at Business Wire or PR Newswire in more than five years. However, the wires do provide an important source of search engine optimization juice. Of course, this assumes that you are maximizing your keywords terms in your press releases, but if you are you can do your company or client a great favor and drive some traffic.

6. We can measure results.

I remember the days when we provided reports on circulations, which we multiplied by two-and-a-half to get impressions. We were mirroring advertising measurement models, and we knew that it wasn’t an appropriate comparison back then, but it was all we had. Today, there are lots of ways to measure PR success: Klout scores, Technorati Authority rankings, engagement through social channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), name your favorite new social measurement tool. My favorite tool is Google Analytics and its handy annotation feature. We can show how PR achievements—press clips, blog posts, conferences, keynotes, Twitter chats, you etc.—drive traffic. We can also see which PR activities are driving traffic through the top referral sites.

Beth Monaghan is a principal and co-founder of InkHouse Media + Marketing. A version of this story originally appeared on the InkHouse blog.

 

June 30, 2011 at 2:07 pm

PR lessons from the line-of-duty death of a friend

In addition to my public relations counseling practice, I’m a firefighter and emergency medical technician in my home town. Yes, I operate the apparatus, go into burning buildings and take care of sick or hurt people, but as you might expect, I’m also the public information officer.

 Our department provides both fire protection and emergency medical services. On May 31, I responded to call for an unresponsive child. Such a report is bound to bring every available firefighter and EMT to the scene. Among the responders was Assistant Fire Chief Tom Shields. In addition to being a chief, Tom was a close friend.

Within an hour of clearing the call, Tom suffered a heart attack and died at the young age of 42. He left behind a wife – also a good friend — and two sons. The fire service recognizes death by heart attack within 24 hours of a call as a line-of-duty death.

Over the next five days, I juggled my grief and the responsibilities of public information officer. While the situation is not unlike the death of a CEO with whom a public relations exec is also a friend, Tom’s death brought a lot of extra visibility to our department. State and county fire officials as well as representatives of other agencies with whom we regularly worked swooped in to help us with the arrangements, mental health issues, coordinating the help and condolences we received from other fire and EMS agencies, and investigations that come with a line-of-duty death. They also established a command post because other departments took care of fighting fires in our area for those few days. Everybody we dealt with was sensitive and helpful. As PIO, I was in the thick of everything.

In addition to being a great guy, a good administrator and a sharp fireground tactician, Tom was an excellent teacher. In the relative quiet since those five crazy days, I’ve thought about the lessons this incident has taught me. He would want me to share those with other PIOs and public relations practitioners. Here are the Top 5 things Tom taught me through this experience:

  1. Catch your breath and acknowledge your pain. We PR types immediately think of the communications needs of our client organizations. OK. But stop and take care of your own needs first. There’s nothing wrong with a little private mourning before you make your plan and offer your counsel. And find ample time to take care for yourself during the situation. 
  2. Be patient. You know that the questions are going to come, but the people with whom you’re working are dealing with the situation in their own way. Their perspective is different than yours. Give them space, especially in the first few hours. Let them know you’re there and protect them from being caught off-guard, but give them the time they need. If you’ve built a good relationship with them, they’ll soon recognize the importance of your role and be ready to listen.
  3.  It’s OK to be human. A PIO can’t wear his or her heart on his or her sleeve, but I’ve come to realize that nobody will think less of us if a little genuine emotion breaks through while the pain is fresh. While talking with Star Ledger reporter Dan Goldberg, who regularly covers our department, the dispatcher announced Tom’s passing on the fire department radio. I choked up. I don’t remember exactly what Dan said at that moment, but he gave me the moment or two that I needed. Would another reporter have done the same? I hope so. But I really don’t care. I’m human and my friend was dead. I’ve decided there was nothing for me to be embarrassed about. 
  4.  Don’t lose track of all the rules of good crisis management. I stayed informed of what else was being done, pitched in where I could and worked with our county fire administrator to determine if a joint information center (a sort of multiagency press room) was necessary. We decided it wasn’t. But we ran our communications program just as every crisis management textbook says to do. My existing relationships with area media paid off and the media training we’d done in the firehouse was evident. 
  5. Get help. After four days of handling things on my own, I decided I didn’t want to be a PIO during Tom’s funeral. I reached into my network and Mary Danielsen, principal of Documented Legacy and a great public relations person, came to back me up. During the funeral, she took photos, charmed the hell out of everyone in the command post and made sure reporters and photographers got what they needed without bothering Tom’s family. It was a relief to have her there and I realized I should have asked for help earlier.

Tom believed in learning from every experience. I hope I never have to be PIO for a line-of-duty death again, especially if a friend is involved. But, I’ve learned a few valuable things that I’ll apply to any situation where I’m the guy doing the communicating.

Have you dealt with a similar situation? What other lessons should we add?

June 27, 2011 at 11:40 am 3 comments

I’m accredited for another 3 years — here’s why that’s good

I got a note from the Public Relations Society of America the other day informing me that my accreditation has been renewed. That means I can put that APR thing after my name for the next three years.

The second paragraph of the letter warned me to start collecting continuing education and professional development hours because in 2014, I’m again going to need to show that I’m keeping up with whatever the world is throwing at us.

I get a kick out of all the debates I see on Linked-In and other places about accreditation. All I know is that my father, Norman, was an APR (among the first) and the credential served him well and that it has served me well.

So what do those three initials mean to my clients?

Well, let me start by telling you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that I have any official status that my unaccredited colleagues don’t have. And I readily admit that there are some excellent practitioners out there who, unfortunately, are not accredited. I don’t get to charge clients more for my APR. And I don’t buy the idea that masters degrees in PR have replaced accreditation.

 OK, so it’s nice to put those letters after my name. What does it do for my clients?

Jim Lukaszewski, APR, once told me that APR stood for “accepting personal responsibility.” I told him I was going to steal that line and use it and now I have. But that’s one of the things it means: Clients know that I take responsibility for my professionalism and my behavior.

  • Related to personal responsibility, APR is a pledge to live by the PRSA Code of Ethics and conduct myself accordingly. By extension, it’s a commitment to demand a level of ethical behavior from colleagues and clients. So clients who hire me know that they’ll be treated ethically and that I’ll represent them aggressively, but ethically. They also know that I’ll expect that courtesy returned.
  • Also related to personal responsibility, the APR – and the warning to start piling up new CEUs — is a commitment to professional growth. At my age, it would be easy to coast. Instead, I keep up with developments in my chosen profession. That means I understand social media as well as traditional media. It means I am current with thinking on how the law applies to public relations. And it means I don’t just talk about social media and turn a kid loose to explain it. Instead, I understand it as a tactic and how it fits into a communications strategy.  Clients, then, know they’re getting somebody who understands public relations and communications, and the latest technology and trends in research, communications and measurement, but also has some perspective about how those fit a strategic approach to communications.
  • I enjoy the company my APR puts me in. For clients, that means they get the advantages of a network where I’m usually only a couple of phone calls away from top-notch people to help me accomplish whatever the client needs done.

In short, my APR is a commitment to myself and to my clients to do the best job I can for them. So there’s no debate in my mind that accreditation is good for me and good for my clients.

 Signed: Doug Fenichel–APR

June 14, 2011 at 11:38 am

Keep Communicating, Even When Times Are Clear As Mud

The news headlines that I receive each morning from Google make the housing market very clear. Look at a recent sample:

  •  Brinkman Sees Signs of U.S. Housing Market Recovery – Washington Post
  • Cold Reality for housing market here – STL Today
  • Economist sees housing market stabilization – Chicago Tribune
  • Spring market declines – WTHI, Terre Haute, Ind.
  • Housing market continues to disappoint – WNYC, New York
  • Demand up for downtown housing – Montgomery, Ala
  • Don’t expect a housing market recovery until 2014 – Forbes

 So, folks, there you have it: the market’s recovering. No, it’s down. Wait, it’s stabilizing. Ulp, it’s declining. Wait, it’s up, at least downtown. OK, it’ll recover…in three years.

This clear analysis and definite trending makes it easy to plan, right?

You’re already dealing with a market that is at least confusing and, according to some, in a double-dip. I can’t tell you what to do about the technical part of your business. But I can tell you that it’s not the time to be quiet.

Just as you’re thinking strategically about buying supplies, what projects you undertake and who you hire, you should be thinking carefully about how you’re communicating with the world.

Here are three things to think about: 

  1. What are you communicating?

Yes, you are communicating. If you’re hunkered down waiting for the good times to return, it sends a message. If you’re out there doing events, seeking out people and advertising in real estate sections, you’re sending quite a different message. You should think about the messages you are sending and the messages you should be sending. Are they the same? Are they proactive, strategic messages or are you just answering questions? Do they send information about who you are and how you want to be understood? 

  1. With whom are you communicating?

Customers, right? But how do you know that? Are you talking with past and present customers as well as potential customers? And what about the other groups on whom your business depends? Are you communicating with your employees and business partners? How about officials who have an impact on your business?  How these groups understand your business can have as big an impact on your business as customers coming through the door. And, by the way, what are your customers, employees, business partners and media people saying about you? 

  1. How are you communicating?

How you communicate sometimes sends a louder message than what you say. Everyone expects you to run pretty ads with your best product on it. But are you being cited as an expert in professional panels and by reporters in traditional and new media? Does your opinion carry weight? Are you using social media to blast out ads or are you actually engaging in conversation? Are you out in the community, participating in events and ready to answer questions or are you hiding in your office? 

 After you’ve thought about all these things, there’s one more question you need to ask yourself: Am I being heard?

 The better people understand you and your organization, the more likely they are to do business with you and to give you a little latitude as you work through the realities of getting the job done. How you communicate, what messages you send and how you send them create your reputation and people’s perception of your business. It’s not the kind of thing you want to leave to chance. You can’t handle the communications aspect of your business on the run.

 Running a business means being an expert in a lot of things, including knowing when to ask for help. Many organizations find it helpful to work with a communications professional, much like they have an attorney look at legal documents and an accountant look at the books. If you’re more comfortable negotiating a deal than writing and optimizing a news release, a firm like In-House Public Relations can help you.

 The economy and the housing business probably won’t become clear for a while. In addition to everything else you’re doing to protect your business, managing its reputation and making sure people know what sets you apart from others will establish and maintain your leadership.  Maybe they won’t call you tomorrow. But when they’re ready to call, you’ll be at the top of their list.

June 1, 2011 at 10:54 am


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