Social web and the evolution of PR: Guest Post for @behindthespin


I recently had the opportunity to write a guest post for the UK-based magazine, “@behindthespin,” which is a magazine for PR students and young practitioners that publishes online throughout the whole year. Though based in UK universities, the publication effectively aims to take a global perspective on issues of relevance to the above mentioned groups. I will provide a link below to the article that I recently wrote for their site, but first, through a quick recounting of how the actual opportunity came about, I will hopefully offer you an illustration of the power and utility of social media and engagement for young pros who are looking to get their names out there through great content (which is a must considering the near ubiquitousness of the “Googling” of people’s names), and to then hopefully parlay it into job opportunities.

I became aware of the opportunity to write a guest post for Behind the Spin when I came across one of their tweets, which was a re-tweet from David Clare, the PR & social media section editor for the magazine.

I choose to get involved and shot a direct message over to David and explained my interest in writing for them. After brainstorming some PR and social media related topics, we settled on the topic of why/how has social media required PR to evolve, and what in fact will be the end result for the profession?

Since the post has gone live, another interesting, powerful and social facet of this opportunity will hopefully commence. Comments and insightful conversations around the piece and traffic driven to both Behind the Spin and this blog because of it, where more interaction around this topic can take place, will surely signal a mutually beneficial and healthy undertaking – the guest post.

Here is Social web and the evolution of PR.

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Stealing Opportunity from Cracks in the Status Quo

Photo Credit: Arvind Balaraman

Although there are myriad intelligent discussions, analysis and practice occurring lately about and around social media and the power and utility of the social experience, I wanted to take a step back and inward, to explore the vivid terrain of personal experience and what it itself can mean for the agency of the individual as well as for the social experience. I attempted this traversing of the subject of power, possibility and personal experience and broke the macro task down by looking at it through the lens and the phenomenon of “the news.”

News & the Process Through Which it’s Produced Determines Public Experience

One salient postulation that got me thinking about this whole subject of personal experience, structures and therefore human agency and opportunity is a quote by the sociologists Harvey Molotch and Marilyn Lester. “News is the information which people receive second-hand about worlds which are not available to their own experience.” This means that news and the process through which it is produced determines the experiences of the public. There is a middle-man and there are those with vested interests and the unequal power to get these interests addressed.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not explicitly saying having vested interests and influence are always negative attributes, just that we, as young communicators who probably do not have built-up influence, have to be alert, versatile and dynamic to make and take advantage of opportunities when they are presented to us – because they are increasingly few and far between.

Molotch and Lester go on to write that although the news, and especially routine, promoted events such as the president making an inspection tour of a ravaged Gulf Coast, is managed, there are certain times when the status quo is breached, true power dynamics are exposed and opportunities can therefore be swiftly exploited. In all such circumstances, we must be on the ready and have the confidence to take full advantage of these cracks.

For an example related to the news, after a very public accident occurs where oil is released in large amounts into an ocean basin and direct consequences of this unplanned event are that well-loved wildlife are killed and are being killed, this cannot be easily hidden from the public’s view – no matter how powerful the actors who may have caused it and no matter how much they may want it spun. According to Molotch and Lester the media must now become truly objective and serve as the public’s ally, not the partner to the ones with the power and influence.  Here we are able to witness such information usually obscured from public consideration as the close ties and the in-step decision-making that takes place between the federal government and Big Oil.

The opportunity lies within one leader or in-tuned individual of an environmental group being aware, proactive and taking advantage of the very public and the very negative climate produced by the spill that chastens Big Oil and cries out for regulation. He/she can then internalize and utilize this event and the subsequent crack in the dominant political structure to effectively lobby for changes to offshore drilling laws etc. The social experience for many will have been affected.

For our purposes and on a related note, I think its important that we take our personal experiences for what they are and to also be cognizant of their intrinsic value. We should make the most of these events and always be on alert for possible changes and trends in the industry that can signal our opportunity.

For example, taking a job right out of college that may not be our “dream job” in PR or journalism and internalizing the experience as we keep working to find and even cause the tremor that cracks the status quo and leads to our big break. What do you think about finding and making your own personal opportunities?

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LeBron James: A Veritable PR Genius?

Some say that LeBron James is a bona fide “public relations genius.” This may or may not be true, we will explore this in a bit, but the fact remains, the basketball star and free agent has managed to dominate the news cycle and foster massive amounts of speculation and therefore buzz around the decision of which b-ball team he would choose to continue his vaunted career with. Would James stay in Cleveland where he has doggedly chased the elusive championship ring for 7 seasons and formed a relationship of sorts with the city and its fans, or would he sign with another franchise, leaving Cleveland high and dry? And if choosing another team, which one would it be?

This event certainty had all the makings of a dramatic narrative from which to create and implement a solid and responsive PR campaign from. But was it?

Not counting the rumors that have been circulating since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where he met fellow players Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, from approximately early June to July 8th, when he finally announced at a live ESPN press conference his decision to go to the Miami Heat, “King James” has been a very popular guy. For example, as of late June his newly launched Twitter account had already acquired over 300,000 followers.

So, to get back to the bona fides that have been bestowed upon James, the real question is: Has the lead-up to the big decision and also importantly, the actual decision, been evidence of James’ (and his handlers of course) public relations genius?

Lets briefly start from the end result and go from there. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Nielsen Co. estimated that 9.95 million people watched James announce on ESPN that he’s leaving Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat, “making it the third-most-watched program on cable television this year.” Even though he already was a big star and media draw, this deluge of viewers obviously shows the campaign did something right because a part of PR is creating awareness and buzz around a product, company or even an individual. This earned recognition has its advantages, and in this particular case, it’s money. James has deftly shown he can command great attention for himself and the league, which may translate into a bigger signing bonus, contract etc., now and down the road. Therefore this aspect of the campaign is indeed a success, but is it unique or different from any other media relations, strategic marketing or publicity campaign? No, not really.

Now, the lead-up to the “The Decision.” James has declared that all advertising revenues from the ESPN performance would be donated by James to the Boys & Girls Club of America. This is a smart PR move as it illustrates a concern for and an awareness of other people beside the proverbial pampered MVP and his big “Decision.” Also, as I mentioned above, James launched a Twitter account and a new website. Both in place to ( ideally) create a channel in which to connect with fans, reporters and the public. Although this is a great idea, it’s pretty standard for any PR campaign these days, as well as the fact he ignored a vital public relations practice: he hasn’t exploited either channel to really interact with his publics in any meaningful way (e.g. he hasn’t followed anyone on Twitter), so a genius this does not make.

On top of these points we also have to factor in the Bitterness in Cleveland and elsewhere that is running quite deep these days. James’ stubborn and increasingly stark reputation as a quitter is not a positive by-product or evidence of a masterful PR campaign. Could he somehow have handled differently this departure from a city that had adopted him as a hero? Yes, he probably shouldn’t have announced his decision on live TV without connecting with his (loyal) fans first. Therefore, I would not call LeBron James a “Veritable PR Genius.” What about you?

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Apple’s iPhone 4 Reception Problem and Subsequent Response – A Recipe for Organizational Crisis?

Iphone4 Unboxing

The dynamic and extensive history of Public Relations practice is replete with cases of organizations who have, as scholars Heath and Millar write, “lost brand equity, suffered damage to products, services, and lost issue positions because of inept handling of crisis preparation and response.” Is Apple fated to join these mismanaged cases of yore?

Apple’s now well-known iPhone 4 reception issue first surfaced hours after the phone’s release on June 24th and only recently (8 days later) has Apple seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of the complaints and offer a murky explanation (apologia?) for the highly publicized problem in a posted open letter.

Apple claims it is not an antenna problem but instead a flawed software formula that displays the handset’s signal strength, so that in most cases the phone shows two more bars than it actually should. A software fix is due in a couple of weeks according to the company. But has the damage already been done?  Does the signal and reception issue itself constitute an organizational crisis for Apple? And if the actual product flaw doesn’t, what of Apple’s response to the issue thus far? Taking all this into account, is this then an organizational crisis?

To provide some clarity and context to these questions before we precede, here is the definition of crisis that Millar and Heath provide:

An untimely, but predictable event that has actual or potential consequences for stakeholders’ interests as well the reputation of the organization suffering the crisis.

Also, if you look at the rhetorical definition of crisis and its approach you see that the responsibility for a crisis, its magnitude and its duration are in fact contestable – by both the organization and its publics. This gives the organization, such as Apple, an opportunity to effectively manage the crisis before, during and even after the crisis event occurs. This approach stresses the role that message development, framing, people’s interpretation and information provided to publics play in organizational preparation to crises and the subsequent response. Therefore, is this indeed a crisis for Apple, and if so, has Apple appropriately regained control and managed the crisis through its communications response?

Apple’s Response to Antenna/Reception Complaints

First, I would venture to say that this is indeed a crisis for Apple. The poor reception and dropped call problem is untimely (no time is good for a crisis quite frankly) but it could have been predicted. Design flaws happen, it’s not unheard of – that’s why a specific crisis communication plan should be in place beforehand. Also, and more importantly, stakeholders (e.g. consumers who bought the phone, stockholders, vendors etc.) have been harmed and Apple’s reputation has certainly been damaged. Apple now has to spend time, money and energy on issues (such as a lawsuit) that it normally would not have to during a time of normal organizational narrative and business – this signals a crisis.

But what really has stoked the fire, and is even more unforgivable and damaging in terms of reputation, has been Apple’s dismal initial and continuing response to the firestorm. Most recently, the Letter from Apple regarding the troubled iPhone 4 and its reception was posted on their company site, but only after a poor attempt by Apple and CEO Steve Jobs to respond to the growing complaints concerning their flagship product by telling consumers to “avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band.” Apple also initially refused to drop the restocking fee (%10) for customers returning the phone within the 30 days after purchase. Worse still, they had offered a $29.00 “bumper” case as a solution to gripping the side of the phone and therefore causing the phone to not hold a signal and drop calls etc. It’s the end users problem. Nice.

Ethical and Effective Crisis Communications

Getting back to the questions I floated above. The manner or form of an ethical and effective crisis response is truthful, timely, sincere, and voluntary. Initially, Apple glibly responded that some loss of signal from gripping a handset is “a fact of life for every wireless phone.” Before publicly responding to this issue, did Apple in fact know that there was indeed a bigger problem involved besides this “fact of life”? Computerworld reports that in the Maryland lawsuit, mentioned above, Apple is accused of knowingly selling a defective product and breaking its warranty promise. If it comes out that Apple did know something was wrong with the phone it could be damaging and definitely doesn’t constitute a truthful response.

Also, sincerity and understanding of the customers plight seems to be lacking here. For example, many customers felt that by being told they were “holding it wrong” Apple was patronizing them, and therefore, that Apple didn’t have a true intention of making it right. This is a problem. A leaked Apple internal memo has also contributed to people’s sense that the company isn’t concerned with “appeasing” their customers.

Moving on. The content of an ethical and effective crisis response includes fully accepting responsibility, expressing regret, asking for forgiveness, fully disclose information related to the event and offering to perform an appropriate corrective action. Apple thus far has done a poor job on all counts. But among other things, please consider the offering of appropriate corrective action. Is making your customers buy a rubber case after spending hundreds of dollars an appropriate corrective action? Also, in the letter released on Apple’s site it fails to explain why holding the phone with your left hand even causes dropped calls. Many people have reported that they were able to replicate the terrible reception. Therefore, these specific complaints should be addressed and taken seriously for it to be an ethical response and effectively managed crisis. I would also venture to guess that this isn’t fully disclosing all that Apple knows about the issue – another strike.

In conclusion, I offer that Apple’s overall crisis communications response and proposed remedy for the iPhone 4’s obvious flaws have made its key publics even madder and the magnitude of the crisis more serious. I also predict Apple’s latest response with their “apology” letter won’t return the organizational narrative to normal anytime soon. Therefore, their ineffective crisis response will extend the duration of the crisis. What do you think?

Photo credit: denharsh

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Live Twitter Chats: A Perusal for PR Pros

Quite obviously the dark days of the old school broadcast mentality are dead and gone. Good Riddance.

And we all know social media is empowering public relations and marketing professionals to have conversations directly with the publics that define and matter most to the brands they represent. But one of the most attractive and inspiring aspects of social media is that people with common interests, professions and goals now, and with a robust sense of community, can easily share info, tips, trends, questions and solutions surrounding best practices or they can simply just listen to the collective from the comfort of their own homes – but in the age of transparency and participation this is not always recommended.

These days, it’s all about utilitarian information, conversations, niches, communities, stories and the value that each possess and can bring to someone else. A perfect example of people utilizing social media to assemble and virtually interact amongst themselves for the purposes and betterment of all of those things I just mentioned above is the live Twitter Chat.

Twitter Chats are group conversations on Twitter centered around a distinct topic or issue, for example, “financial well-being for nonprofit employes.” Chats are usually steered by a moderator or guest host and the larger ones can have general rules in place to foster seamless and polite talk. These conversations, which can include hundreds of people, are conveniently organized around and searchable by tweets with a common hashtag (e.g.#foodchat).

There are also web-based applications that can be used to track and participate in these live and spirited conversations, but what I will concentrate on here are a few of the most salient weekly Twitter Chats that are a must for those of us looking to break into public relations, learn to ethically and effectively apply the tactics and strategies used everyday to drive action and get results and harness the digital evolution which is blazing forward at incredible speeds. A caveat;  As I write this post, I myself am still learning about and exploring these Twitter Chats and will therefore be embarking on the journey with you – so look for me out there in the Twitterverse!

Live Twitter Chats for PR Pros

1. #CommsChat: This UK-based Chat is cofounded and produced by Adam Vincenziniand Emily Cagleand goes live on Mondays starting at 8:00 pm UK time, which is 3:00 pm EST for us on the east coast. These conversations are based around “all aspects relating to communications including PR, traditional & social media, journalism, blogging, marketing and more.” What makes this a must for us is that knowledgable pros, from varying communications disciplines, participate in and share their experiences and opinions with the community. Social and New Media have blurred the lines between these disciplines and have made integrated and collaborative campaigns essential, so this Chat rocks. Check it out.

2. #blogchat: This weekly conversation takes place on Sunday nights at 8:00 pm Central, which is 9:00 pm EST. The host of the Chat is Mark Collier, a social media consultant, speaker and trainer. Each week a different blogging topic is chosen, with Chats covering such topics as “how to optimize your blog for search engines” and “how a company can pick its blogging team.” The value inherent in this Chat is quite obvious – blogging, whether personally or for business is an easy and effective way to establish thought leadership. Create awesome content that also solves people’s problems or gives them value in some way and get noticed by the world – whether your goal is to get noticed by prospective employers or by consumers. It is one of the most important topics for us as young communicators.

3. #journchat: Hosted by Sara Evans, this Twitter Chat between journalists, PR professionals and bloggers goes live Monday nights from 7:00-10:00 pm CT, which is 8:00-11:00 pm EST. Concerning the ethos behind the Chat Evans writes, “I believe there is a need in this evolving world of media and public relations for some major dialogue between those who make it happen.” This is one of the best and most dynamic Chats around, and we should certainly be participating in it because the folks having the conversations comprise the very influencers, we as PR pros, should be familiar with and knowledgable about.

4. #pr20chat: Weekly Tuesday Chat about Public Relations 2.0 at 8:00-9:00 pm EST. This conversation is moderated by @PRtini and @JGoldsborough. I included this Chat on the list because its community’s focus is on “how social media influences PR professionals’ engagement with ALL publics (not just the media and bloggers).” This Chat, combined with #journchat should give some insightful ideas on the strengthening of relationships and engagement with all the stakeholders we are expected to reach and interact with, genuinely and effectively. Here’s a recent transcript of the Chat to check out for yourself.

5. #socialmedia: This Chat is serious. The guys behind this weekly Chat, live every Tuesday from 12:00-1:00 pm EST, are Jason Breed and Marc Meyer. In the interest of space their bios are here. The Chat hosts “Leaders of Fortune class companies as moderators and participants to share, moderate and challenge this group to come up with industry specific best practices, new concepts, etc. related to #socialmedia.”

What makes this Chat a must is that the topics covered on a weekly basis are among the most challenging but interesting and definitely critical for us as communicators. For example, on June 22nd the Chat featured Shel Holtz who guided conversation on The New Digital Press Release. Also, check out their site to stay up on special events and the specific hashtags to follow for them (e.g. #sm65).

Let me know in the comments section if there any other conversations that we, as young, driven communicators should know about.

Thanks.

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7 Crucial e-books for Young Communicators

As this is mainly a blog for younger, entry-level communicators, I often want to post resources that will aid in navigating the PR, Marketing and Journalism landscapes and provide powerful and effective tips, tools and techniques to those in search of them.

Because communications, sales and specifically public relations and web marketing now revolve around creating and building useful and valuable content for niche audiences (the Long Tail), and establishing thought leadership and brands, free industry e-books from companies and individuals have become quite prevalent and very important (for both the companies themselves and their customers). As David Meerman Scott says, we must all “think like a publisher.”

Therefore, I scoured the Internet and came up with a list of 7 valuable e-books for young communicators from today’s thought leaders. I realize that this has been done many times before, but I’m attempting to zero in on e-books that specifically provide value to us as young professionals. Enjoy!

  • Brink: SHIFT’s Todd Defren wrote this e-book on social media, consisting of his best thinking over the past five years and offered it for free on his blog PR Squared. Defren explains the book best: “Let’s face it: most of this blog’s readers already ‘get it.’ You understand that we are poised on the ‘brink’ of amazing change. You can already see how social media is irresistibly changing the face of marketing. But, I’ll bet you have a ton of friends who either ‘don’t get it’ or only ‘kinda-sorta do.'” What I find handy here is that Defren illustrates, using real situations faced by real companies and through a familiar human voice, how we as communicators can/should create interactive channels through which we share, learn and directly participate within the appropriate markets that define our business.
  • Social Media Marketing GPS: “Interviews with 40 Marketing Leaders” by Toby Bloomberg. Shel Israel writes in the forward that “SMGPS will tell you the why & how using social media, 1 tweet at a time. You’ll learn essentials in digestible little spoonfuls.” This e-book focuses on conversational methods of marketing and succinctly explains why old broadcast practices are becoming obsolete. I found useful and engaging the format of this resource with the short, but concise interviews and answers from practitioners (thankfully “digestible,” considering the info overload we face today), with each of their Twitter handles easily accessible for following. Especially worthwhile is the section on metrics – what to measure in social media marketing and why – as well as the section on the esoteric but meaningful topic “social media ethics.”
  • The New Rules of PR: “How to create a press release strategy for reaching buyers directly.”  e-book from author, keynote speaker and marketing strategist David Meerman Scott. Although the e-book is from 2006 I include it here because crafting releases is something new hires are usually tasked with and because it lays a solid foundation for current industry practice today – PR and web 2.0. He writes, “It is time to step it up and consider the promise Web 2.0 public relations holds.” I also put this on the list because the implications of a proper, effective press release strategy are far-reaching and integral to PR best practices. Meerman makes plain the utility and power of utilizing the press release as a direct consumer-communication channel. Take heed!
  • Geeks Guide to Promoting Yourself with Twitter: “Promote yourself or your business in 140 characters or less on Twitter.” This e-book is produced by GeekPreneur and it explains why you need to be on the service, the ins-and-outs of promoting yourself on Twitter once there and how to brand your business on Twitter, among other nuggets. This is basically just a refresher for most but I believe it is relevant to us young communicators because it explains how to take hold of the service, its various “Twitter Tools,” and how to then utilize it to create a more interactive experience, which results in getting your name out there as someone who is adept in social media and has something valuable to offer. It also helps sow the seeds of a community that you can learn from and rely on in your burgeoning career.
  • The Social Web Analytics e-book: This highly detailed and informative e-book is from Philip Sheldrake , a partner at Influence Crowd LLC. The author writes “I review [in the book] how all organisations can try and make the most of the unprecedented wealth of information afforded by the Social Web, the incredible facility to ‘listen in’ on conversations close to their heart, and to initiate and engage in this dialogue.” The really insightful part of this book, which also touches on the semantic web, is that Sheldrake explores “text mining technologies,” the disadvantages of traditional market research and the advantages of continuous engagement instead. He also covers the controversial but increasingly important terrain of measuring and evaluating PR and marketing campaigns. This adds context to the metrics section of SMGPS found above – Really important aspects of any strategy or campaign in today’s business environment.
  • Marketing in 2009: “12 marketing professionals reveal their execution imperatives.” e-book from Valeria Maltoni and offered on her blog Conversation Agent. I included this book because it explores traditional marketing quite well and from different angles, as well as what social media means to it. Why some organizations won’t adopt social media in their business strategies and the necessity of building internal social media evangelists is discussed. I think its important for millennials to understand the big picture (not just social media), and where we have been.
  • Johnson & Johnson Does New Media: case study e-book by Ron Ploof. This e-book is solid because it is a case study, and as such, it provides (although somewhat specific to 1 company) a detailed picture and an opportunity for the reader to sharpen their analytical and problem solving skills. It chronicles J&J’s journey into the world of New and Social Media and it includes some links to their various social and multimedia efforts. The lessons contained within could possibly be used to illustrate to management the utility and advantages of an online communications campaign.

Bonus
Here are some bonuses –  Ragan.com offers a great list of PR, Marketing and Media podcasts.

  • The Essential Guide to Social Media: e-book by Thought Leader Brian Solis. An outline of social media tools and resources needed to listen and participate, guiding PR, customer service, product development, and marketing. This e-book is essential because it covers a wide array of PR 2.0 topics as it explains the vital role social science plays in social media – blazing a trail to success for us in a very clear and conversational tone. And what would a social media list be without Brian Solis?

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Photo credit: Daniel Lobo

Public Relations Ain’t no Journalism

I’ve been in a pensive but inspired mood lately. This particular frame of mind could be attributed to the fact that I’m all set to finish up at graduate school in a few months and setting upon a new path always monopolizes space, good or bad, in a person’s thoughts. During this time I’ve begun to think quite pragmatically about the choices I’ve made academically, and more specifically, about my decision to go on to post-graduate work in public relations after receiving a B.A. in Journalism.

What I’ve been batting around lately is the old power struggle and ingrained belief that journalism and public relations are on opposite sides of the professional and even the societal spectrum. One is credible and respected and the other, supposedly, is not. Is this even true? And if so, how can I and other young professionals trained in both fields reconcile these two backgrounds and passions in our personal lives and careers? PR and journalism do not complement each other in practice or in theory and they certainly do not share the same skill sets. Or do they?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, “Journalism graduates have the background for work in closely related fields such as advertising and public relations or communications, and many take jobs in these fields.” So, considering this assertion, the long-held discrepancy between the two professions and my belief and experience that other young communicators are indeed in the same boat as I am, I thought this a worthy topic to explore.

Some context:

In 1961 L. Feldman conducted a study, that back then, was the first of its kind and was subsequently built upon by other researchers. His study included 746 city editors of newspapers and 88 officers of local Public Relations Society of America chapters across the country, with the ultimate goal of comparing how journalists and public relations practitioners assessed each other. This study, as well as later ones in the same vein, found discrepancies in the attitudes of the two groups on dimensions such as credibility, professionalism and occupational status. For example, journalists generally held negative attitudes toward public relations practitioners, their values and professional status, while practitioners actually looked upon journalists as credible purveyors of high news values, and to themselves as attributing to its production.

Studying journalism in school, reading the works of and looking up to iconoclast journalists I.F. Stone and H.L. Mencken, muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, and especially reading such anti-PR texts and blogs as “Toxic Sludge is Good for You,” and PR Watch, in the realm of public communications and especially media relations I found, as did Feldman, that there does exist some stigma of public relations as the evil sibling, communicating messages solely with an eye toward gaining something, and journalism, the saintly one, out to serve and inform.

This has contributed greatly to the friction in my thinking mainly because I do in fact believe this description of journalism is definitively true. But is this a zero sum, either-or argument, with the negative description of PR practice inherently true if you believe journalism is the altruistic, above crass-commercialism, credible profession its practitioners, students and society believe it to be? I do not believe so.

Journalism and news are irrefutably oriented toward a public agenda and a general audience. It performs the vital functions of keeping the republic and its citizens informed, unruly and immoral corporations and governments are kept in check by accountability journalism and through adept and trained analysis, good journalism verifies and explains in understandable terms complicated events, issues and processes.

Journalists also contribute mightily to the marketplace of ideas, flooding it with worthy illustration of “how the other half lives,” disseminating and stirring up community knowledge and supplying multiple view points in their articles, all leading to much-needed choice and information for us citizens. And as the authors of the 2009 CJR report on reconstructing American Journalism write, independent journalism makes accessible “issues of race, social and economic conditions and the role of government in people’s lives.”

But is PR really the evil sibling possessing no intrinsic value and offering little worth toward our society and the marketplace of ideas? And again, can these two passions and background of mine mesh together to form an effective and ethical PR pro with an eye toward increasing exposure and access to different ideas and content, while at the same time driving action for clients? Without a doubt.

Although the PR profession is not perfect, and pro’s have sometimes hidden behind the brands they represent, pushing out impersonal messages without genuinely engaging the community they are attempting to reach, I believe that through the web, the evolution has already begun and we who are trained in the craft of journalism can make the public relations profession more effective, more cognizant of and better targeted toward the real needs and interests of myriad publics – which translates into successful and worthy PR. Good PR leads to effective communication, between practitioners and consumers, and even between practitioners and bloggers, analysts and journalists. The journalistic skills of knowing how to produce and package compelling and newsworthy content, for both traditional and digital media, along with the recognition of the special obligation we have as communications professionals toward transparency, ensures efficacious and powerful communication – both for organizations, clients and society.

Something interesting that also came out of those studies I talked about earlier on the practitioner-reporter relationship was that researchers found in their data that “For journalists, familiarity with PR practitioners apparently breeds respect.”

On a relative note, the Director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, Dan Gilmor recently said that “If we understand that journalism education is a valuable step into any number of professions, we should not just celebrate the graduates who’ve gone on to fame (if not fortune) in journalism, but also those who’ve made marks in other fields.”

Well said Mr. Gilmor.

(Please join in on the conversation by commenting and letting me know if you agree that journalism training and its skills do indeed provide a worthy background for PR, and more controversially, is crossing over into a PR career a negative thing for journalists? Those who have completed this career switch, how do you deal with the stigma discussed above? Just Curious!)

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Helpful Links and PR/Marketing Books for Communications Graduates

As you may know by reading my recent posts on this blog, I’m currently a graduate student passionate about digital marketing and emerging media, and I am looking to break into the field.

To accomplish this goal I have been studying for the past 6 years straight, forming a strong educational background in both traditional and new, digital media, and discovering how these two areas might converge. Also, how they can and should reinforce and complement each other effectively during a campaign.

I’ve also been immersed in discovering how to spot and create newsworthy content, as well as the journalism, advertising and public relations industries and their respective strategies and practices.

During that time I have been reading voraciously about digital media and communication trends, traditional public relations, metrics and most interesting and compelling to me – PR in the era of web 2.0 and social media. For young communications professionals, such as myself, I wanted to share my current favorites when it comes to sources of relevant, engaging and most of all, helpful information about public relations today.

1. First and foremost, the Institute for Public Relations’s website is a great treasure trove of research, education and news related to the practice and the science behind public relations. Through its Essential Knowledge Project, the site provides free documents for downloading, which cover a multitude of topics related to the industry, and they are extremely enlightening for new college graduates or anyone for that matter that wants to keep up on excellent public relations practice. For example, the most recent docs I grabbed are titled “Social Media & Strategic Communications,” and “Using Web Analytics to Measure the Impact of Earned Online Media on Business Outcomes.”

2. Another well-known but useful website that covers with some breadth the public relations career choice, such as wages, projections and job outlook, is the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 edition for Public Relations Specialists. I would recommend this particular source of info more for someone considering the profession because you can learn about the nature of the work here and you can discover if its something that might interest you and be a good fit. I found the section on training, qualifications and the opportunities for advancement useful because it helped me to find what employers in the communications industry are currently looking for. Consequently, it also helped me to choose the academic and real-world paths that would best augment the skills I already have and make them more marketable.

3. Next, I highly recommend the newly released (2010) PR “handbook” by Robert L. Dilenschneider, of the Dilenschneider Group, titled “The AMA Handbook of Public Relations.” What I really like about this book and one of the main reasons I actually purchased it is because Dilenschneider writes it not only for the “digital immigrants” already in the field who need to catch up on social media and digital apps, and those who may want to rethink how to do their jobs, but it is also written for “The digital-savvy Millennials (born between 1980 and 2001) who know technology quite well, but not how to apply it to business and organizational problems.”

I believe this fact as well as the succinct information and relatively concentrated strategies contained  inside, which highlight the advantages of combining the tools and techniques of the Internet with a conventional understanding of communications, makes this a very useful handbook in today’s changing world of influence and democratized media.

4. Another popular book that deals with the evolution of public relations and how what matters most is individual “people” not impersonal, mass audiences, is “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” by Brian Solis (@Brian Solis) and Deirdre Breakenridge (@dbreakenridge). This book is great for college graduates or anyone in school looking to learn about the current iteration and practice of PR. The book is invaluable in explaining how to manage reputations and brands, effectively solve stakeholders’ problems and also how to form strong, genuine relationships between the brands we represent and the public, all by utilizing and transparently participating in social media and the communities that people are now forming and interacting in daily with great research, fervor and care.

Speaking with a “human voice” is key in PR and this book illustrates in detail how best to do this, and ever more importantly, how to convince those in the C-Suites of its value. I was assigned this book for a graduate course in 2009 called “New Media, New Markets” and I have reread it twice since! Check it out.

5. Lastly, I recommend the following blogs for new communications professionals such as myself:

Slice– This blog is from the staff at SHIFT Communications in Boston and it offers “snackable pr.”  One reason I recommend it to those just starting out and the reason that I read it myself is because it is written by staff, therefore it can give you a good idea of the type of blogging PR agencies look for when hiring new people, and it will undoubtably give you a leg up if you are hired and asked to write on an company blog etc. It also contains some great info on new technology and how to utilize it in your daily job as a communications specialist. (For example check out this new post on TwAitter).

Bad Pitch Blog– This is a cool blog written by marketing communicator Kevin Dugan (@prblog) and former journalist and author Richard Laermer (@laermer). The reasoning behind including this blog here is because “effective” pitching that offers mutually beneficial opportunities is such a large part of excellent public relations. The blog is humorous, topical (which is key in PR) and it has a great angle and insight because Dugan is so familiar w/ media and what makes an effective pitch as well as anything to do w/ media relations.

Obviously there are plenty of other great sources on PR for young professionals and these are just the current ones I’m personally perusing. So, if you have any ideas on cool blogs, books, websites, white papers, slides presentations etc. that we should be checking out let me know!

*Update* Here is a great post by Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology) of the blog Digital Marketing Mercenary, which suggests the “Top 11 Must Read Social Media and Marketing Articles for 2009.” A few of his picks are especially relevant to this blog post; ideas and guidance for young communicator’s looking for PR/Social Media best practices. Here is the post:

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A Reflection and Life Lessons

I traveled last night to Cambridge for a congenial reception held by the research center & think tank Political Research Associates (PRA) for the introduction of their new Executive Director, Tarso Luis Ramos. In 2008, and a junior in college, I served as the Public Relations/Editorial Intern for the progressive organization and I know Luis Ramos from my time there when he was the Research Director. So, I was appreciative and excited to be invited to attend the event. Even though I became lost on my way back to Brighton (instead of a 15 minute ride it took me 2 hours!), I was glad I went because besides seeing old friends, the evening got me critically thinking about the profession of public relations, what I have learned since an intern there and what I ultimately want out of a career in the field.

As I was sitting in our host’s spacious but increasingly humid living room, I began to think back when I was just starting the internship and what I then perceived was the practice of PR and what its true value and contribution was to the public good as well to the client, organization etc. At that time I had a picture in my mind of PR practice that could best be described by the press agentry/publicity model.

In this one-way asymmetrical model, PR serves a promotional function where the practitioner is a “conduit,” as Millar & Heath write, between an organization and a passive public. There is no strategic management of an organization’s communication function and there is no two-way dialogue between an organization and its stakeholders. Therefore, the organization does not implement any  much needed changes in behavior because they do not open themselves up to receiving relevant info from these stakeholders – for one, because there is no listening or engagement on the part of the organization and two, because the sole purpose here is to push the message out, with very little if at all, research and feedback. “All publicity is good publicity,” right? Wrong. Strong, mutually-beneficial relationships can not and do not form this way. That’s just a fact.

When I first started the internship I received their media list, among other materials, and then began to update it for new contacts that I believed would be interested in giving our authors time and our message, that PRA produces quality, important and useful progressive research and analysis, play. Right off the bat I wrote three or so press releases, back-grounders and put together a media kit.

Unfortunately and incorrectly, I then began a campaign of just blasting out emails, making calls and waiting for responses. There was very little research, genuine engagement on my part, ranking of strategic stakeholders in order of importance and listening first before contacting the media and PRA’s ally’s. Instead of finding out how these producers, journalists and analysts preferred to be contacted, as well as what they cared  and wrote about, I’m sad to say I engaged for the most part in a one-way transfer of information, concentrating on getting the organization into the media and to then achieve publicity for them.

After the first couple of weeks I did see some results (I booked a few interviews in the media for our authors and got an article excerpt placed on an ally’s website), but while I was thinking about how best to make connections and get results, I began to understand what was missing and needed to be put into place to achieve lasting brand recognition and loyalty as well as effective communication with PRA’s stakeholders, such as the media, local government, employees and influencers.

For example, there wasn’t a clear understanding of the power and utility of the iconic Cluetrain Manifesto’s assertion that “markets are conversations,” and that instead of just pushing “the facts,” with a relatively static press release template, a story must be told that connects with each of the niche communities that we are ultimately trying to reach and benefit with our products or services. There wasn’t a strong effort to elicit any response or action on the part of the public and there wasn’t transparent participation or an effort to form lasting, solid relationships. I could go on but I want to make this as succinct as possible.

Now, I can attribute this lack of knowledge and initiative to my inexperience mostly, the length of time I had at the job (about 3 months), and the small, dedicated but overworked and underfunded staff. I believe the important thing now is that I recognize my shortcomings and have been able to correct them and move forward as a stronger communicator at my present job in Suffolk University’s College of Arts & Sciences’ Communications Dept., with a much more strategic and deeper understanding of the practice of PR. Importantly, I understand that the practice of PR has always been oversimplified and that its value to society as a communication mechanism for binding society together and facilitating the “marketplace of ideas” is in fact vital. Considering these facts, the current socialization of media and the power and opportunity PR 2.o provides us, I look to the future with excitement and no regret.

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Notes on a Public Relations Career


Public Relations’ evolution is so interesting to me and its current practice squarely puts a large hole in the proselytized image that sometimes emanates from journalists (my B.A. is in Journalism and I love and respect the profession), and others, who see PR as solely publicity.

One reason I say this is as @briansolis & @dbreakenridge write in their 2009 book “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,”

“Social media is changing PR outreach from pitching to personalized & genuine engagement.”

After years of hearing how PR practitioners were just “shills” for publicity and are squarely in the employment and camp of large, powerful corporations and will with-hold the “truth” to the very detriment of the public good, I am now excited and actually proud to be embarking on a career of public relations and the unprecedented opportunities stemming from PR 2.0 inspire me.

PR 2.0, according to SolisBreakenridge, was born “through the analysis of how the web and multimedia were redefining PR and marketing communications, while also creating a new tool kit to reinvent how companies communicate” with the people and stakeholders important to them.

I believe strongly this evolution has changed the profession and industry in such a way that while it still calls for the traditional skills of succinct & effective writing, critical thinking and speaking, but it also now calls for a different set of skills that in my opinion, I excel at. And at the same time, I enjoy employing and exploring. For example, these skills that I’m talking about include empathy for and skillful understanding of other people, transparent and genuine participation in social networks instead of marketing at folks and also understanding the importance of dialogue vs. monologue especially in terms of seeing markets as two-way conversations, “not message throwing.”

In terms of “planting seeds” first before jumping right in to these social communities as a marketer, Solis & Breakenridge write, and I whole-hartedly agree with, that we should form and nurture altruistic relationships and understand the community’s sociology so we can be sure to contribute in a meaningful way. If this is not further evidence of the true value of PR I do not know what is. Any thoughts?

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