Posts tagged ‘PRSA’

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.

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June 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

In-House PR is not just a blog anymore. It’s a full-service agency. May I help you?

I’ve been putting this off, but it’s time to make the big announcement: I’m hanging out my own shingle.

My new public relations firm will be called In-House Public Relations, and this blog will be my soap box. The firm, in fact, is named after the blog, which has been around for three years. It’s as good a reason for an agency’s name as any other.

You’re probably thinking, “Oh great. Just what we need: Another one-man PR shop.” I’ve said the same thing myself. But times have changed for me and for the business world. In addition, I bring something special the table: my energy, my outlook and my passion.

For more than 20 years, I’ve helped organizations large and small tell their stories, build their reputations and use strategic communications and engagement to meet their business goals. Being passionate about your reputation permeates an organization, influences the behavior of its employees and makes its stories compelling and credible. That, in turn, leads to business success.

In-House Public Relations will focus on real estate, homebuilding and related businesses, applying what I’ve learned over the past 11 years in that business. My sites also are set on clients in the public safety area, where I can combine my years of communications experience with my even-more years as a firefighter and paramedic. I’ve also worked in telecommunications, automotive, packaging and other areas. Naturally, I’m more than happy to work with any organization.

I moved from journalism to public relations to join the internal team that took AT&T through its historic break-up. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to work with and around people who bring uncompromising quality to the job, as well as a high sense of ethics. By quality, I mean a strategic view, attention to the client’s needs, effective and measurable tactics and a lot of energy to get it all done.  The network of top-notch professionals I’ve put together over the years and through my active involvement with the Public Relations Society of America will become my clients’ network.

Over the years, I’ve successfully used most of the tools in my box: sales support, media relations, crisis management, employee communications, government affairs, special events and social networking. I have the insight and experience of a guy who’s been around the block once or twice and the technical skills to understand the latest social media trends. What’s equally important is I see how they all work together strategically.

So why head out on my own now? I believe the current economy is creating new opportunities. In-House Public Relations is an example of that new economy, and is taking advantage of the opportunities it has created.

As large companies shed staff in response to the economic downturn, those people used their expertise to set up smaller companies. While they might not be able to do things on the scale of their former employers, their smaller scale, lower overhead and more nimble structure enables them to do things their former employers couldn’t do. The Fortune-750 national homebuilder I worked for over the past decade has spun off at least two new homebuilders, a floor-covering store, home-design consultants, sales coaches and others…and now a public relations firm. These new, smaller companies also need public relations counsel, just as they need financial and legal counsel. A firm like mine can use its network to take care of a large national or regional organization’s needs, and we welcome that opportunity. But we have more flexibility and lower overhead, enabling us take care of these new companies’ needs, as well.

I’ve spent most of the past 20-odd years as a client. That is, I was the in-house public relations counsel for different organizations. I know what clients need. I know how I liked being treated. And now I’ve got the opportunity to meet that high bar for my clients.

And now, a demonstration of my new entrepreneurial technique: Give me a call. Let me be your in-house public relations counselor.  At least wish me good luck.

May 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm

‘Tis the season, I guess.

I spent one evening last week with a bunch of eager students forming the Fairleigh Dickenson University PRSSA chapter. PRSSA, of course, is the student affiliate of the Public Relations Society of America.  

While it was the first meeting ever for the Fairleigh chapter, PRSSA chapters are having their annual organizational meetings all over the country. As a public relations professional, it strikes me as an exciting time.  I’m much closer to the end of my career than the beginning of it, and to see the enthusiasm of these young people just starting out charges my batteries.

Throughout the year, I work on scholarship programs, judge contests like the Bateman Award and, if I’m asked to, I meet with students when I attend the PRSA International Conference. When we had an intern program at my company, I enjoyed working with my interns. I always learned from them and felt they left with a little better understanding of what public relations really is. Ironically, one of the most satisfying experiences was when a student worked with me for two semesters and came to me and told me he had decided he didn’t like public relations. Better now, I figured, than after he had finished his degree and started working his first job! Of course, other interns have gone on to major PR agencies, to internships at the Vatican and to counsel state legislators…but I’m bragging now.

While some students leave me shaking my head, most impress me. Bateman Award entries almost always leave me very impressed with the quality of thinking and with the work that’s produced.  I always get a feeling that our profession will be in good hands.

Some things do worry me. As I looked around the room at Fairleigh Dickenson the other night, there were only two or three young men. The number of minority women was equally small. Why aren’t we attracting more men and more minorities into our profession? This, of course, continues to be a topic of discussion every year and I certainly don’t know the answer. But we need to find an answer.

What I do know is this: If you have the opportunity to get involved with young public relation students, I urge you to do it. It keeps you on your toes and is very satisfying. If you’d like to get involved, but don’t how, drop me a line. I’ll hook you up.

And to the students: Have a good year.

September 28, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Fake reviews hurt every PR practitioner

Special thanks go out to Reverb Communications for apparently allowing its staff to post fake reviews, thus making my job and that of every other ethical pubic relations practitioner that much harder.

According to an article (http://tinyurl.com/2dcuood)  in the Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog,  Reverb agreed “to settle with the FTC over charges that its staff posed as members of the public to fake reviews of video games developed by its clients. The company and its owner were accused of engaging in deceptive advertising by having staff post game reviews without disclosing that they were hired to promote the games and that they often received a percentage of sales.”

For a minute, put aside the fact that no company wants to tangle with a federal agency. The Code of Ethics of the Public Relations Society of America ( http://tinyurl.com/yfp2ean) is pretty specific about this sort of thing. “We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public,” it says. One of the guidelines says a member shall “be honest and accurate in all communications.” Another says that a practitioner shall “be honest and accurate in all communications,” “reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented,” “disclose financial interest in a client’s organization” and “avoid deceptive practices.”

Do I need to burn pixels explaining those things in terms of not disclosing that you’re getting paid to write good reviews? PRSA member or not, do I need to burn more pixels explaining how damaging this is to the credibility of that public relations firm, its clients (all of them) and, by extension, everyone one of us who acts as a counselor on matters of public relations.

One of my jobs is to gather advertorials by customers. It’s the fun part of my job because these are all people who have purchased a home and they love the home. We don’t pay these people. We don’t allow our associates to do advertorials unless we disclose they are associates. And we never make up the people, although it’s been suggested.

But the next time I go into a meeting, and someone tells me to make up a homeowner or pay a homeowner to give a specific message, and I tell them it’s unethical and illegal, what’s to stop them from waving Reverb’s efforts in front of me?

Reverb says its staff posted the reviews after purchasing the games with their own money and the reviews reflected their own enthusiasm. Sorry. Doesn’t wash: Working ethically is an individual act, albeit made easier in a culture of ethical behavior. So if your people are working unethically, Reverb and anyone else thinking of taking this stand, it’s because you’re failing to educate them and failing to demand high ethical standards.

The Bulldog Reporter quotes Mary Engle, director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices as saying, “Companies, including public relations firms involved in online marketing, need to abide by the long-held principles of truth in advertising. Advertisers should not pass themselves off as ordinary consumers touting a product, and endorsers should make it clear when they have financial connections to sellers.”

Those rules of law apply to all of us who offer an opinion – ours or a customer’s – to the public as a way of positioning our clients. To me, though, the impact of the PRSA Code of Ethics is even more important: It’s about keeping communications and dialog open, credible and truthful. When you’re talking about a product, you’re talking about reputation and sales.

Important stuff. But take this tactic to the next step, and you may be taking about issues that pertain to the very foundation of democracy.

August 30, 2010 at 5:01 pm 4 comments

Agency rankings: O’Dwyer takes agency rankings from meaningless to unethical

One of my favorite blogs is Ann Subervi’s The Ethical Optimist.  She just posted a great entry about publications that offer listings of public relations agencies (http://tinyurl.com/yhs2pt7). These lists, she says, are useless because there’s nothing standardized about them, they’re not verified and agencies can send whatever information in that they want.

She also chastises Jack O’Dwyer, who publishes an industry newsletter and goes out of his way to antagonize members the Public Relations Society of America (of which I’m a member). Mr. O’Dwyer provides a listing of agencies, but now charges agencies to be on it.  If that doesn’t skew results that are already skewed by a lot of other factors, I can’t imagine what would.

By way of full disclosure, I have my own personal list of PR agencies and Utopia Communications is right at the top. Ann and her folks have supported my work at K. Hovnanian for many years, helping with media relations, events, crises and just keeping me cheered up when the weight of the real estate market got to be too heavy. We are talking about doing some social media work together.

But Utopia isn’t the only agency that I’ve used (sorry, Ann). And I do not use the listings from O’Dwyers, PRWeek or any other publication. It’s an interesting place to look and see where my friends’ agencies land (if they’re on there), but that’s not how I make a decision. Instead, I look at who’s writing articles or teaching seminars conducted by PRSA or International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) or other groups I respect. I talk with others and ask who they use or would recommend. I use my network to find names and check them out.

When you’re looking for an agency to work with, you’re looking for a business partner. Not only do they need the technical skills to do the job, they have to match you in size, ethical position and temperament.  You have to keep in mind that huge agencies usually require huge retainers. Is it worth burning your budget on a name? If your budget is as meager as mine (read: $0), you have to find someone who’s really good and better fits your budget (read: $0…ok, just read: reasonable).

Are they willing to adhere to your strict ethical standards? Any agency that works with me must adhere to the PRSA Code of Ethics and sign an agreement to do so.  Our company also has a code of ethics that it requires trade partners to agree to.

And because I’m a one-person department working at about a million miles per hour, anybody I hire better be able to follow my instructions and hit my high standards with a minimum of supervision. And the reality is that the most successful people with whom I’ve partnered learn to read my mind.  They understand what K. Hovnanian PR needs and don’t need me to sit in long conferences to get jobs done.

The last place to get that information is a list, especially one where one of the qualifying factors is ponying up an inclusion fee.

February 28, 2010 at 2:00 pm 1 comment

Living in a pot of water warming to a boil

SAN DIEGO, Calif — I’m attending the PRSA International Conference (#prsa2009). We had the Assembly Saturday and today, several business meetings.

The high point, for me, was the presentation to the Sections Council about plans to start a Real Estate and Construction section, a place for folks practicing public relations for clients — internal or external — involved in homebuilding, real estate, commercial building or other related industries to discuss PR issues.  More about that when I get confirmation that we can forge ahead with it.

The opening program was Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, author and TV personality. and healthcare advocate Wendell Potter, APR. Some time ago, I wrote about Potter (http://tinyurl.com/yh5jvya), so it was interesting to hear him speak today. And what he said affirms what I said last September.

As I tweeted during the talk, Potter’s tale is truly a cautionary one, especially for those of us who are in-house PR counsel. We have to buy into our client to do our job. We have to believe in what our company does and what we are doing to support our client’s business strategy. We can’t do our job unless we do.

Potter talked about doing an ethical self-check to be sure that your moral compass is working right. He gave certain warning signs, like being worried about information getting out and asking if you would be willing tell your mother what you’re doing. He suggested that he didn’t see the warning signs.  It should make every practitioner step back and re-examine what they’re doing and how they’re doing to check for warning signs.

Ethical breaches are a proverbial slippery slope that starts imperceptably. Potter alluded to the old story about a frog in a pot of water that’s being heated to a boil. The frog doesn’t notice til it’s too late, unlike what would happen if you dropped the frog into the boiling water. Kinda makes you look for signs that the water’s heating up.

It starts with being asked to put a “spin” on a story. Then maybe it’s changing numbers…you know…just a little. Where does it stop? At what point does it become worth threatening to quit?

These are tough questions. I guess there are times when a little spin, or an adjustment of numbers is harmless…providing you realize you’re on that slope. The problem, of course, is when they ask you to do it again, you’re going to have a harder time saying, “No.”

Potter talked about being the conscience of an organization. It’s a line I’ve used before, and I know many others have as well. But you can’t “spin” or adjust facts one minute, and be the conscience of the organization the next. Potter’s experience urges each of us to be very aware of the ethical implications of every decision we make, especially we’re playing with shades of the truth…or doing something you want to tell you mother.

 

November 9, 2009 at 5:23 am 1 comment

Why My Mother Was My Best PR Teacher

I’m dealing with two issues this morning:

First, I found an interesting post on a ZDNet blog that I wanted to reread, so I saved the link to bit.ly. Now I can’t find it. The bit.ly URL doesn’t work and a search of ZDNet doesn’t turn it  up. Very frustrating. Maybe I imagined it…

But the column, which was about what not to do to reporters on social media sites, got me thinking about the second thing on my mind: lessons from my best PR teacher –my mom.

I’m second-generation PRguy. My dad was among the original APRs, and he taught me a lot. But my mom laid the groundwork.  Here’s why:

Public relations is about ethical behavior and establishing relationships. You can’t learn either of those things in classes, seminars, webinars or by reading articles. You learn the basics when you’re young.

Each time I talk about ethics, I make the statement that my mother taught me everything I needed to know about ethics by the time I was 10. It’s usually good for a chuckle. OK, she didn’t have me reading the PRSA Code of Ethics and understanding that it was wrong to misrepresent who I was working for. But she did teach me that lying was wrong.  She also taught me that there aren’t shades of truth. And she taught me that there are some things you don’t tell your mother, something I tried hard to explain to my kids when they were in college and shared some of their “fun” experiences.

Same thing with building relationships.

The blog entry that I can’t find talks about things you shouldn’t do to a reporter on social media: don’t “friend” somebody (I hate seeing nouns used as verbs…and vice versa) on Facebook, then pitch them. Don’t jump on social media conversations and twist them into discussing your product or service.

Why do we have to say these things are bad on social media. They’re bad. Period.

All this discussion about social media etiquette leaves me with the same reaction as the discussion about  ethics: Your mother should have taught you better.

Why would you befriend someone — really or virtually — just to take advantage of that friendship with b.s.? Why would you pitch a reporter, regardless of the medium you use to do it, with a story that you know damned well has no news value (note to marketing people who bug your PR people to pitch self-serving puff — do I need to repeat that last?)? Do it a few times, and you won’t have any reporters — or friends — to talk to.

Calling someone a friend or colleague implies that you respect them. I was taught to treat friends and colleagues accordingly.

Social media is a way of talking with people. What’s marvelous about it is that you can get feedback, resulting in improved understand and a better feeling for what both sides of the conversation need. Think telephone on steroids.

If I have a reporter’s phone number, do I call that reporter and abuse the relationship? Not if I want that reporter to take my calls. Do I call any other business contact and abuse the relationship? Again…not if I want my calls taken.

Again…respect.

Social media also provides a way for people to reach you. For me, I not only have to answer my phone, which always rings as I get into rhythm on some writing assignment.  Now I have to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, email and my cell phone.  An important part of the social media equation is that you have to answer and reply. Ignoring a reporter or other business contact — especially one you profess to call a friend — will make your telephone or Facebook wall very quiet very quickly.

How many times have you ignored your office phone, only to hear your cell phone ring? If you ignore that, an email message pops up. And, yes, I’ve had a Facebook notice.  It’s a clue that someone really, really wants to talk to me. My mother taught me to take those calls and be polite.

But I keep those multimedia calls in mind, especially the ones that turned out to be unimportant, before I start banging on every communications channel available to reach someone. I was short on patience and had a reporters’ demand for immediate response long before instant communications made us all impatient. But I’ve learned over the years how counterproductive that impatience can be.

I could mention “respect” again here, but I won’t.

At the end of all the discussion about new media etiquette, it comes down to remembering what your mother told you: Be nice and treat others how you would like to be treated.

October 21, 2009 at 11:36 am

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