Friday, October 21, 2016

PR and Podcasting

A few weeks ago I was musing in a class discussion that podcasts may not be for everyone. As for me, someone who consumes a lot of media, I would prefer to read. I can read faster than I can listen in real time. I can skim, skip, and delete to get through more content faster. So while I have a few podcasts in my iTunes podcast app on my phone and tab in my laptop iTunes software, they tend to add up while I am busy reading through my blog feeds, email newsletters, academic journal table of contents alerts, and even books on both Nook and hard copy.

But then the evidence to the contrary about the popularity of podcasts started accumulating. Local media and a student organization launched new podcasts. I participated in a Twitter chat about podcasts, and I started a discussion in a LinkedIn group of PR professionals to ask about podcasts.

GVSU PRSSA's Podcast.
One new podcast is PR Hangover, recently launched by the GVSU PRSSA chapter. The podcast is a bi-weekly recap of the chapter's meetings as well as interviews with officers and other news about the student PR group.

Student Kelly Darcy, who has a background working for WCKS 'The Whale" student radio, hosts the podcast. She says the primary audience is PRSSA members, from GVSU and other chapters, but also other young professionals. They've had more than 100 listeners on their Mixcloud account already, and more will come as more episodes are released (there are 5 as of this posting) and now that they are also available on iTunes.

"I am using a Blue Snowball iCE condenser microphone (soon to be two of those, for better sound quality) and recording/editing in Garage Band on my Macbook," Darcy said. "There wasn’t much a learning curve, but after being involved with the radio I had a pretty good grasp on how to record, do sound checks, watch my levels, all of that. Google has also been my best friend."

Even with her radio experience, Darcy is learning a lot doing the podcast and sees the importance of the skill for aspiring PR professionals. She said her peer millennials are constantly on the go but crave learning, and podcasts serve as blogs for busy people.

Pat Evans, a reporter for the Grand Rapids Business Journal and the host of its new podcast, also expects to reach a younger audience with this extension of the weekly paper.

"As the GRBJ Podcast grows and establishes a footing and consistency, it can help us attract a younger demographic along with the growing segment of people who no longer pick up a physical newspaper, don't get to their email or don't have time to read their news," Evans said.

Evans also had experience in college that helped him, in his case doing podcasts for the State News at Michigan State University. But they brought in a sound engineer and producer to ensure the audio quality is professional. He says the radio format isn't too strange for a print journalist--he just forgets the microphone is there and has a conversation like he would in a regular interview.

Both the college student group and the local media outlet have specific reasons for their podcasts, but they also are using them as a PR tactic that serves to expand their reach, educate audiences, and build their brand. 

I asked about using podcasts for PR purposes in the PRSA LinkedIn group and got positive responses from PR professionals in agency, corporate, association and county government settings. A woman from a law firm said audio is less intimidating than video and the casual nature of the conversations gave the lawyers a friendly reputation. Another professional said the podcasts established their company as industry thought leaders. The professional in county government said podcasting was an effective way to educate constituents about county services. 

One of my pet peeves about podcasts is that the audio is not rich or the participants mumble. Podcasts have to have quality sound or people bail. However, everyone I talked with said GarageBand, Pro Tools and other software make this aspect easier. It's just important to test sound levels and quality before posting. 

I also asked about length. As I said at the outset, I'm busy and can't sit still for too long "just listening." My commute is only about 20 minutes. Evans said the length is determined by the guest and how interesting the conversation is. Darcy said they've tested several lengths and a medium length seems best. For both of them the average length is 20-30 minutes. 

However, in a Twitter chat about podcasts hosted by Ragan Communications, social media guru Shel Holzsaid his listeners are not put off by podcast episodes that last an hour and a half. So the length depends on the subject matter as well as audience interest and media consumption preferences. 

The bottom line here is that podcasts are a good and relatively easy tool for modern PR professionals. They offer a new format with the advantage of intimacy and also efficiency for people on the go. They also are a new media relations opportunity. A 20-minute interview on a podcast by GRBJ or other media is a wonderful long-form media placement.

If you want to learn more about this yourself, Ragan is offering a Podcasting Boot Camp for Business Communicators next Wednesday.

Meanwhile, I'll be listening. In addition to the two podcasts mentioned above, I subscribe to "PR Week Review", "WSJ Media Mix", "Inside PR", "On the Media", and my quirky interest, "Presidential", a series of historical reviews of all US presidents. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

4 Shocking Facts About PR Ethics

September is Ethics Month for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). So before the month runs out, I wanted to chime in on the subject.

If the headline got you to come here, well good. I used the ethically questionable "click bait" tactics of using a number and offering a list, and the word "shocking" probably had you expecting something negative and therefore compelling.

But what actually will shock you is the four things I will impact here about PR and ethics are largely positive. Read on:

1. PR is inherently ethical.  Many people associate PR as "spin" or deception or mere image gloss. And, to be sure, there are some practicing PR that do that. But when their bad deeds come to light the media and others call it a "PR" scandal. This itself is untrue, unfair, uninformed and unethical to paint an entire profession with a broad brush to imply that PR is by definition unethical. That's the shocker: PR, if properly understood and practiced the way it is taught, is ethical by definition. It is impossible to be unethical if PR is done as,what academics call the "two-way symmetrical" model of PR practice. That means that the essence of the field is to build and maintain relationships of mutual benefit, to balance an organization's interest with the interests of society. Some might say that's easy to say but it doesn't happen that way all the time. No, it is aspirational or normative theory. But it also is empirical--it has been observed that PR professionals DO counsel management and co-workers and clients according to this view of the field. Every profession has bad examples; but bad examples are violating professional standards, not defining them.

2. PR is the ethical conscience of the whole organization. Because the public relations function is the only one that considers all publics and works to build positive relationships with all of them, it is best suited to ensure an ethical conscience and culture not just in the PR department or function but throughout the whole organization. An educated PR professional is well trained to listen to all publics, see the big picture, and advise management of all functional areas in ways that ensure ethical considerations are put in practice. If so, crises are prevented, operations are productive, employee retention is enhanced, and profit is achieved.

3. PR problems are most often caused by other people. When an organization is caught in activity that is seen as unethical by a reasonable public, it is called a 'PR scandal,' as mentioned previously. But closer examination of situations reveals that often and even most of the time the deed was done by a CEO, someone in marketing, someone in law, or any other functional area. They may not have sought or did not listen to advice from a "real" PR person. If they had, the ethical lapse is less likely to have happened because, as noted in number 1, the public interest would have been considered.

4. PR as a profession contributes as much positive to society as medicine, law and technology. Ethicists talk about a profession's "role morality," or what is it that the profession contributes to society. Some think that an occupation does not deserve to be called a "profession" unless it has a positive and vital benefit to society. Public health and civil management of disputes are why medicine and law are considered as obvious professions. As for PR, it is all about enabling informed decision making in a democratic society. Whether promoting a product or advocating a point of view on a cause, the public is well served if they have information representing all views. If PR people practice ethically according to a code of ethics and do not manipulate or hide information, they are fulling not just their occupational role but a necessary social one as well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

No-Show Events A Bow to Busy Culture

I recently received an invitation from an area non-profit organization that really caught my eye. It was for a 'No-Show Gala."

I was cordially invited "NOT to attend."

"No need to hire a sitter. No meed to buy a new outfit. No need to remember how to tie a black tie. We've got NOTHING planned!" So went the hilarious copy.

Then, of course, came the response card.

"Don't go out. Send it in."

I loved it, partly because of the creativity. But also because it seemed to acknowledge a feeling that I have and suspect is not unique--I'm busy, I'm overwhelmed with invitations and requests to get involved and sponsor and support and attend.

In fact, a simple Google search on "no-show gala" yielded quite a few images of similar invitations. This is now what the young people call "a thing."

As a  PR professional and professor, I know of the value and purpose of events. But my skeptical side often says, what a lot of hullabaloo when you're really just asking for a donation. This latest direct mailer cut to the chase and I felt it was refreshing.

But it also is a cautionary tale. If people are so overwhelmed then it gets more and more challenging for PR pros to break through and not just get attention, but foster relationship and earn involvement and support.

So while this invitation I received acknowledges that society is busy, it also caves in to making the appeal a simple fiduciary relationship. And we all lose something there, something simple yet big. We lose a sense of meaning and human bonding. We lose the essence of PR--relationship.

My advice to non-profits and businesses and political candidates and others is to stop thinking of events as mass appeal and think of them as intimate opportunities. Also, stop thinking of events in terms of an occasion to make the case for a cause and use them as a venue to celebrate achieving it. Have interesting speakers, positive messages about what has been done. Make it feel-good, not fill-the-bucket.

People might then send it in later with greater feeling of connection, and possibly therefore in larger amounts. If you tell them "don't go out" too many times they may just go away.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

On Being a PR Adjunct Professor

At college campuses across the country, adjunct instructors are common in the classroom. In any public relations program, there are likely a good mix of part-time adjunct instructors and full-time professors. As one who currently has responsibility of coordinating the schedule for classes in the Advertising and Public Relations major at my university, I can say it is not a cliche to say that "we could not do it without them."

However, there is a good and bad way to do it.

Most of the adjuncts who teach for us have a relationship with me or one of my full-time colleagues. They have solid experience in the field, ideally a master's degree at minimum, and proven ability to teach. With a little initial coaching, coddling and setting them up with resources, they do a great job. But there are some behaviors of aspiring adjuncts that need correction.

1. The "Put Me in Coach" Approach
It's great when a professional comes to me and inquires about teaching. But there are some who grate on nerves when this is an announcement as opposed to an inquiry, as if we can just make room for them because they now want to teach. Professionals who want to teach need to realize that adjunct positions, even though part time, are like any other position. There needs to be a need or opening. There likely are several other candidates. We need to see a resume showing relevant experience--ideally both professional practice and teaching.

2. Disrespect for Subject Matter
I recently chatted with an associate who is an adjunct in a completely different field. She in turn has a friend who recently was downsized out of a teaching job in yet another completely different field. She advocated for her friend as a potential adjunct for me. "But she's in (name of field)," I said. "Oh," my associate puffed, "she can teach anything."

Well, no. There are people with actual experience in PR who can't teach it, or at least not well. There are people with advanced degrees in something related to PR who just don't have the depth of understanding, the "savvy" of the field to sustain them in front of a room of 30 bright and eager students for a semester. Also, I look for passion, integrity and commitment for the field of PR. Saying you "can teach anything" shows a lack of all of those. I would add that those with PR experience should look at the curriculum and say which specific courses you want to--and are well-suited to--teach.

3. The Over-Eager Innovator
Once on-board, it is a common behavior for a new adjunct to suggest large-scale "innovation." I put that in quotes because we probably have thought of it already and done it or rejected it with good reason. Every hiccup or blurb or trend in the trades becomes occasion for "a new class." Take some time, as in any job, to learn the landscape of the program, university, and curriculum before making suggestions. We love ideas from professionals and adjuncts, but they need to be sound. Also, consider the implementation factor--will the idea replace a class, be a required or elective class, how many sections, what is the staffing plan? Higher education is our "business," You're new here. Keep that in mind.

4. The Event Planner or War Story Blowhard
I had another woman from out-of-state planning to relocate to my region contact me about the prospect of being an adjunct. Her main selling point is that where she taught before  she brought in PR professionals from near that campus for every class period. Well, any of us can do that too. And sometimes we do. But not to replace our own teaching. We don't need event-planners or talk show hosts who bring in guests to tell stories. We also don't want adjuncts who only tell their own war stories of how they did or do things in their singular experience, however stellar their career. Students like this to a point, but they want instruction and not just entertainment. We want students to see the big picture. Examples should supplement and not replace sound teaching. We need adjuncts who can put together structured lesson plans, with learning objectives, integrating theory and practice--you know, "teaching." 

5. The Anti-Intellectual
Another potential adjunct actually bragged to me that her classes have no theory. She only discussed practical things. This is a sure way to lose favor in the company of academics. While adjuncts do have the advantage of being in the trenches with current practice experience, they lack the theoretical perspective that is why college is called "higher education." It is not mere job training. This person poo-poohed theory in a way that revealed she did not have a grasp of it. There is nothing more practical than theory. Theory actually describes the "real world" (a term I despise) better than one person's experience. Good theory is the result of the empirical observation of multiple people--professionals or the public--tested repeatedly, analyzed statistically  or formally. In my program--and in those of many around the country judging from the many professors I talk to--we talk about integrating theory and practice. We need adjuncts who can do that, not arrogantly and ignorantly diminish educational value.

So, if you have thought about being an adjunct one day, I encourage you. But please, go forward thoughtfully, with a game-plan and some respect for the institution and the classroom.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Journalists Move from Mainstream to Trade Publications, and Offer New PR Opportunities

IIn the early weeks of the semester in my media relations class, I go over the media landscape for students. College students typically are not well aware of the various media outlets or how and why they cover news. This has been especially interesting in this era of media transformation, where legacy media have apps and multiple digital platforms in addition to traditional formats.

One of the things I always tell my students is to consider small, niche outlets, such as suburban weeklies, minority media, bloggers, digital-only outlets, and trade publications. These media outlets may have smaller reach, but they are more likely reach the audience most appropriate for the content a PR professional has to share. If a trade publication, there is an increased likelihood they will be interested in your industry-specific news release or pitch.

So I was interested to see another local example of a former mainstream media reporter striking out on his own to fill a gap with a new series of trade publications. In this case, it's Rob Kirkbride, formerly a business reporter with the furniture industry as part of his beat, launching several new global publications to cover that industry with greater depth.

He recently launched Bellow Press with two partners, a company that produces "Business of Furniture" and "Workplaces" magazine. Shandra Martinez, business reporter at Kirkbride's former employer Mlive (before that the Grand Rapids Press), offers a nice overview of the new venture, including one industry PR pro's positive reaction to the depth of coverage the trade publications will provide.

It has been interesting to watch what happens to former journalists who have left newsrooms across the country as the digital revolution spreads audience, lowers advertising revenue, and thus shrinks the size of newsroom staff. Many have gone into public relations, some taken to freelancing for newly created media outlets, such as Bridge Magazine in Michigan. Some, like Kirkbride, are getting entrepreneurial and finding a niche subject and market for trade publications.

This matters to PR professionals for several reasons. Primarily, as old media decrease and change, we need to be constantly monitoring the media landscape for new ways to reach audiences. Much of what we do now is owned or shared media, but old fashioned earned media also has new opportunities. We need to think not in mass reach to impress clients and bosses with numbers, but focused, targeted and strategic messaging. Trade publications offer this piece of a media mix. PR professionals in a given industry should watch for more emerging publications in their arena to monitor competition, spot and respond to consumer trends, and position their companies as industry leaders to grow and maintain business-to-business as well as consumer relationships.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Going LIVE! Can Kill Relationships

The new Facebook Live is popular. I know this because my phone is blowing up with notifications that so-and-so is now live.

These live posts are from everyone. There are friends showing their antics at the lake, or an activity at the office. There are self-appointed gurus of advertising, public relations, or something else posting live commentary. The various media outlets I follow have been going live, even the print ones that used to mock TV for going LIVE! for nebulous reasons. And of course various consumer brands and nonprofit organizations are going live at their events and for other reasons.

As I posted recently on my own Facebook account--those who go live too often will soon be dead to me.

Here is the problem with all technology: too many people use it because it is new, because they can, or because others are as opposed to harnessing some discernible value for themselves or others they are hoping to serve. This is now evident again with Facebook Live.

Many people are jumping on the bandwagon, going live because they can, not because there is some merit or reason for real-time proclamation or airing of whatever content they have.

There's a current ad that speaks to this, the one about the lawn mower. "It's not how fast you mow, it's how well you mow fast." The humor in the ad is that this silly statement becomes a meme. But it inspires me to offer a suggestion about live posting, on Facebook Live, Periscope, or other platforms: it's not that you can go live, but why and how you do it.

So let me offer some cautionary commentary to individuals and brands about going live. You can read this right now or later, it's up to you.

  • Everyone is doing it is not an excuse for children or professionals. If you see others doing something, you do not need to also do it. It should not be about how cool you look or keeping up with others. It should be about offering value to whomever you want to or expect to view your content. 
  • Consider the context and environment. Again, if everyone is going live, then your live offering will more likely be seen as an annoyance than a contribution. We quickly cross a line from interesting to intrusive and inundation. 
  • Time-shifting is also a thing. A key motivator in media consumption, particularly TV but other media as well, is the public control of WHEN. We record programs to binge watch later. We stream music playlists more often than listening to radio. We catch up with friends and any brands we follow on social media when we have a moment. So the live movement is contradicting this media convention. 
  • Having something to say is a better motivator than having to say something. Content itself can not be a commodity. There has to be something meaningful there, or it is only noise. How you say things also matters as much as what you say. So Live content must have an urgency or timelines to it that justifies a live notification--another one along with all the others--that justifies it.
In a nutshell, PR and Ad pros responsible for social media management need to be judicious about live content. Try to be interesting and instructive, not merely an interruption. Just as sending news releases daily to a newsroom has a "cry wolf" effect in which you'll soon be ignored, posting too much and too irrelevant live content will get you unfollowed in real-time. Here are a few ideas that might merit going live:

  • Legitimately urgent information. This could be really positive information, your own version of 'breaking news,' that has actual urgent interest to your publics, or it could be an added means of transparency and efficiency in crisis communication.
  • Live events. A nonprofit donor-recognition dinner, a corporate product launch event, a government speech. We can be the media with these and other types of events. Remember to base the decision to go live on viewer interest and not personal or organizational ego.
  • Engagement. Live offers the opportunity for virtual conversations and presentations, a Facebook version of a press conference. Allow people to ask questions via email or some other social platform, and respond on camera in the Facebook Live platform. 
I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has used Facebook Live creatively, if you've measured the response of intended viewers, or other thoughts you have on the topic.

Monday, June 06, 2016

West Michigan Firms Win Awards for 'Good' Advertising and PR

It is interesting to me that a conversation with students about certain professors in other major programs bad-mouthing the ethics of advertising and public relations coincided with news of two local West Michigan firms that earned awards not only for their work, but the fact that it exemplifies socially conscious communications work.

In my spring Fundamentals of Public Relations course, during a discussion of ethics in public relations, several students complained that professors in other courses labeled PR or advertising as nothing short of evil. While it is good to have students consider the negative consequences of some  in the field, it is also paradoxically unethical for someone from outside the field to make such a broad brush stereotype declaration about an occupation. It's what scholars call a synecdoche, in which a part (or one bad example, often of someone not even in PR) serves as representative of the whole profession.

So I was delighted to learn of not one, but two West Michigan firms recently lauded for their ethical and socially aware practice.

First, the Image Shoppe became the first marketing firm in Michigan to be certified as a Benefit Corporation, also called a B Corporation.  Basically, a B Corporation is one that meets rigorous standards we in PR call the "triple bottom line" of sustainability, which includes positive impact on the "3 Es"--economic, equity, and environment (some also use the "3 Ps" of profit, place, people). Learn more about this award in this RapidGrowth article.

Then just last week, Lambert, Edwards and Associates earned a Silver Stevie Award in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Program of the Year category. The award is part of the annual American Business Awards.  LEA won the award for its 10,000 Scoop Challenge cause marketing program that was created for Denali Flavors, the developers of the legendary Moose Tracks® ice cream. The campaign combined grassroots networking, experiential marketing, media/celebrity engagement, media relations and product sampling into one event. Attendees are encouraged to help eat ice cream for a cause, with every scoop eaten, Denali donates $1 to the local chapter of The Salvation Army, with the goal of raising $10,000 in a four-hour window.

We celebrate creativity and meeting business objectives in our field, and we laud local examples of excellence. It's good to know that we have local firms who are also leaders in terms of not just doing good work, but doing work that does good.