PR Dreams for 2010

Googling 2010 predictions shows that it’s the 36th-most searched subject on the final day of the decade. I’ve read some predictions, like these, with an enthusiastic nod. Still, I think there’s some of the “daring to dream” aspect that’s missing. That’s what I crave most, the idea that as a PR professional, I can do something in a new and unique way. So, without any prediction whatsoever, here’s my wish list for PR in 2010:

  1. I want to see my elected PRSA leadership affirm accreditation with one voice and promote it. The APR conversation will continue to be circular without a strong, united voice coming from the association’s elected leadership. My wish would result in more knowledgeable PR professionals coming up through the profession and agreement on best PR practices permeating down from the top. I’m tired of hearing the same old arguments about why senior PR pros who don’t possess APR think it’s a bad idea. Get over yourselves already, and together, let’s build up the profession with professional standards and expectations.

  2. I’m wishing for technology that allows PR to deliver green. Instead of just talking about how green an industry is, I’d like to practice green and add in the WOW factor. I can’t wait to deliver a PR communiqué using holographic displays from smart phones and e-mails. Or how about replacing Powerpoint with this type of presentation? Steve Jobs, can you hear me?

  3. Quality content. Repeat that three times please. And then do it. Don’t put something out there that isn’t relevant, fresh and timely. That means PR professionals will need to hone their strategic skills and nurture their journalistic relationships. Spend time doing this instead of putting out a news release every single day. We’ll all reap the benefit of that practice.

  4. Play nice with others. Marketers, advertisers and PR professionals need to be on the same team. Playing to each strength usually gets targeted results. When one of the three legs decides not to do this, the result skews and doesn’t deliver full strength.

I’m sure you have dreams for the PR profession, too. Please share those, so we can all toast them together, and here’s hoping your PR dreams come true in 2010.


A little bit of you

This isn’t a post about communications or public relations. This is a post about the human condition, and what each one of us is capable of accomplishing.

My daughter worked last summer at a local fast food franchise. There, she met Jessica.

After a couple of weeks, my daughter learned Jessica’s story. She was married; her husband, Sam, had lost his out-of-state job several years before. On returning to the Fort Worth, Texas, area, their house, which they had rented, had caught on fire and, though no one was injured, the structure was uninhabitable. So, Jessica, Sam and their four children, moved in with Sam’s dad, occupying the living room for what they thought would be a few months while their home was restored. Unfortunately, the contractor they hired took most of the insurance money without completing the work.

When my daughter met Jessica, the family was getting by on two minimum wage paychecks and federal aid – and had lived in Sam’s father’s living room for several years. My daughter called her dad to plead for help. One thing you must know about my husband is that he is extraordinarily gifted. He can build almost anything, and he can fix almost anything. Since retiring from being a 747 instructor pilot, he’s formed a contracting business, handling commercial remodels.

When he saw the house, he immediately knew two things: he could fix it, and it was going to take a lot of money, which Sam and Jessica did not have. In between his regular work, he began working on their home, praying that building materials would be donated for this family.

Within a couple of weeks, members of our church found out about this young family’s needs. Many people wanted to help and did. Some volunteered their time to work at the house. Some volunteered money to the church to be used for building materials. Some offered expertise in other areas, and many offered words of encouragement.

Finally, after more than three months, and with city approval for occupancy, our family helped Jessica and Sam move into their newly rebuilt home Nov. 30. It was the first time that their youngest daughter had ever slept in a bed.

This family considered themselves lucky, because they had a roof over their heads. A homeless person, according to 42 U.S.C. §11302, is one who dwells in a public or private place not designated for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.

I live in Tarrant County, Texas, and these are the facts about homeless persons here:

  • At any given time in Tarrant County, more than 4,000 people are homeless, and more than 6,300 individuals experience homelessness in Tarrant County each year.

  • Of the homeless in Tarrant County, nearly one third are children, 1 in 5 are women and children fleeing domestic violence, over 1 in 6 are veterans, and over half have a disabling health condition that largely contributes to their homelessness.

  • Of the homeless in Tarrant County, 97 percent reported wanting to escape from homelessness.

Since meeting Sam, Jessica and their four children, I have come to understand that it doesn’t take a lot to help. It takes a little bit. A little bit of whatever you have. Please remember those less fortunate this holiday season.


Your organization’s social media reputation: Better put a ring on it

As Beyoncé says, “If you like it, then you better put a ring on it.” I want to make the case that most large organizations still don't get the concept of social platforms and will need to make necessary adjustments to assimilate this into their strategic communication planning. What’s involved? Here we go:

1. Plan the launch into social media, and put the ring of authenticity into it. Sunday, Nov. 22, news that Target had joined Twitterville spread within a matter of minutes. The @Target account went from 156 followers to more than 400 within 30 minutes. Think about this. The speed of social media can be near instant. What was @Target’s response? Look at their initial Tweets:

Notice that their first Tweet said they were looking forward to hearing from followers. But an hour passed before the second Tweet, which hawked a sweepstakes. Zero engagement with consumers and literally no hint of a social media persona. Additionally, the account was activated Nov. 11, so, the organization had ample time – 11 days – to align its first Tweets with business objectives and to ensure that their social media tactic was carefully and thoughtfully deployed. They needlessly raised the expectation that they would engage with consumers - and then didn't.

2. Ring out in a *real* social media voice. Organizational communications is about consistency of message and integrating that message across multiple platforms. The transparency of social media practically screams for this integration and for a spokesperson who’s not afraid to listen and respond. Need examples? Look at @TOMs Shoes. TOMS sports a following of more than 200,000 on Twitter and has garnered the attention of the New York Times and Business Week.
Or take Ford’s presence. They opted to humanize their brand – via @Scott Monty – and amassed a following of more than 34,000, giving that company major visibility while selling cars. The sooner companies understand that social media reputation is built on authentic two-way communication, the sooner they’re likely to hit the social media golden mean. Why hit that golden mean? Glad you asked!

3. Ring in profits through engagement. No doubt about it. TOMs is selling shoes – roughly $13 million of footwear in 2009. Companies are using social media platforms because that is where the consumer can be found. But these companies seem to be forgetting that in integration, the four Ps of marketing move to the four Cs. Most consumers don’t want more ad and marketing messages. Daily bombardment is up to what? More than 5,000 messages. Consumers today want their needs met and the more cost effectively and conveniently, so much the better.

So, what’s Target doing two days later? Out of eight more Tweets, they actually responded to four of their more than 1,200 followers, but the content of the messages is still all about Target and upcoming sales. Since the account is unverified, I doubted at first that this was the “real” Target. I would have thought the brand that brought designer touches to mainstream America, through Michael Graves, Issac Mizrahi, and Mossimo, would have been more insightful in their social media communications. Even their bio is corporate speak and thus, blasé: Expect more. Pay less. They're right about one thing. I did expect more, a whole lot more, from this brand.

What are your thoughts on how Fortune 500s can “put a ring on it”?


Teaching PR: What do employers really want?

Since teaching public relations at The University of North Texas, I’m often asked by prospective employers about the skill level of senior PR students. It’s an interesting question on many levels but particularly when you stop to consider the foundation of that question. Certainly the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that I believe a PR student needs to have on entering the profession can differ radically from what a prospective employer envisions.

Overall, I think it’s important for PR students to learn strategic communications. I would rather students be able to critically think through their communications goals and objectives, and be prepared to practice public relations ethically. I believe that skill set will be invaluable to them, as they enter the field.

That said, a recent report undertaken by Korn Ferry and the Public Relations Society of America, 2009 Digital Readiness Report,“Essential Online Public Relations and Marketing Skills,” indicates that employers are looking for almost a 50/50 blend of traditional and social media skill sets for new hires.

I do teach social media technologies and the power behind viral PR, along with traditional media tactics, such as press releases, media kits and backgrounders; yet, it’s often a balancing act to ensure students are properly prepared to enter the field.

What KSAs do you see as being vitally important for PR newbies?


Top five PR peeves

I would rather we encourage best practices in public relations, but lately, I’ve noticed that some PR practitioners are developing some unhealthy habits. So, in the spirit of helping newer communicators understand what not to do, here’s my list of PR pet peeves:

1. Issuing communications without fact checking. A corollary to this is sending out communications without spell checking. And yes, drafts do count. When I get a draft, I expect the facts to be correct and that any editing I do does not include spelling corrections or AP style errors.


Comic strip credit: Scott Adams

2. Promoting self over service and product. PR is about the client, first and foremost. For that matter, this also applies to marketing. Newbies need to be aware that their time really belongs to the employer or client, so while we live in the era of digital communications, it’s probably not cool to promote yourself over your company, product or service. Remember, you need to bring real value to the organization, not just a reputation that they’re unable to successfully leverage.

3. Not playing nice with others. Today’s cross-functionality means that PR pros need to understand – and practice – the meaning of teamwork. And when working with others on a PR team, this means not “stealing” ideas. Always give credit where credit is due. Experienced managers understand team dynamics a lot better than you think. Sooner or later, that bad habit will catch up with you.

4. Spamming journalist pitches. Stop this. If you don’t know or understand how to target your pitches, find a mentor who can help you learn this. In the meantime, you’re making our jobs harder than necessary, not to mention journalists and bloggers.

5. Not understanding confidentiality and loyalty. We all have bad days and disagreements, but in the end, if you’re representing a client or employer, you need to put aside differences of opinion before you bad mouth an employer, client or decision. IF an action or decision involves ethics or wrongdoing, find a PR confidante who can help you work through that; otherwise, leave it at the office and understand that tomorrow will bring new opportunities for you to make an impact.

There, now that I have that out of my system, what advice can you offer new PR pros?


Three reasons why PR is no longer the whipping boy

From marketers to journalists to mom bloggers, PR has traditionally been the favorite scapegoat of those in other areas of the communication field. Commonly referred to as purveyors of the “dark side” of communications, public relations professionals have dealt with a tainted label far too long. But that label is a non sequitur now, and here’s why:

1. The economy is a great leveler. Hoards of journalists have exited their profession – and at least some of them have entered public relations, a field they once castigated. I’ve watched this trend with interest and predict that more seasoned journalists will come to view public relations professionals with a lot more respect.

2. Digital deadlines and a “news now” mindset necessitate an alliance. News journalists simply have more to do with fewer resources. Today’s journalist must view PR professionals as a service-oriented commodity, necessary due to digital news timeframes. Newer journalists will welcome strong PR relationships.

3. The mommy blogger PR Blackout yielded backlash. Even Trisha, owner of MomDot.com, admits that she ill chose the name of a one-week campaign whose intent she *claims* was to encourage mom bloggers to get back to the basics of parent blogging. The ensuing conversation split the parent blogging community, yielded poor participation (latest estimates were 20 committed to participating) and had journalists like Cnet’s Caroline McCarthy declaring that “Working with the public relations industry is core to any journalist's (and now blogger's) job, as is the use of press releases and in some cases review products.” It’s a sure sign that whipping up on PR is passé and not to be done.

I also think that PR is naturally embracing strategic relationship management and expectations from an increasingly complex array of stakeholders and publics in a way that marketers and advertisers cannot in Web 2.0. Stakeholder demand for authenticity is placing PR professionals in the leadership role to define corporate values and to sustain interactive relationship building. The result is that the PR profession is building trust with more constituencies than ever before.

Taken together, these markers signal – to me, at least – a new era in PR, one that shows the value of the profession.