Monday, July 07, 2008

Some Light PR Summer Reading

In the summer I try to get away from the grind of academic life, but you can never escape PR even in light summer reading. So, here's a quick review of some PR articles I read recently at the beach and patio:

The New York Times Describes PR Pitching

This article points out that PR pros (in Gotham at least) use key buzz words to pitch stories and have greater success when they do. This makes PR sound seedy and tricky once again, which can mean that NYC PR pros are seedy and tricky. No doubt some of them are. But at the same time, stressing what journalists perceive as newsworthy is only a natural inclination, if there is substance behind the pitch. As one pro says in a quote, it's good to put the pitch to the "so what?" test before calling a reporter. If these buzz words work to generate publicity when they should not, that says more about journalists who respond to buzz, don't do the due diligence and reporting on the story, and are given to marketing news as product instead of providing needed info to readers. As always, I wonder what non-PR readership of the article think about the PR profession after reading this article. If I were the guy described in the article as a "PR stunt planner," I would sue for libel. If the guy actually calls himself this, I will take him out for lunch, or just take him out, in a Gambino family sense of the phrase, when I'm in New York later this month.

TIME Magazine Describes Fundamental PR Without Actually Mentioning It

Interesting one-page "Curious Capitalist" column in TIME's July 7 issue that describes the 'Employees First!" philosophy of the CEOs of the Container Store and Whole Foods. Essentially, the article says that maximizing shareholder value is not the primary purpose of business. They stress that happy, empowered employees beget happy customers, which of course leads to shareholder value as well. They humbly predict this will be "the dominant philosophy in business in the 21st century." Well, gosh, I guess I'm a precocious professor. I've been talking about the dotted line to the bottom line, the PR management philosophy that you need to balance mutual relationships with ALL publics, for years. Actually, I can't take credit for that. Arthur Page, who took the role of VP of public relations for AT&T in 1927, had this philosophy, as did many of his contemporaries. As TIME shows in this article, managers who stumble across fundamental PR philosophy often think they've invented it. I think many CEOs have grasped this for years actually, and some have even acquainted the idea of employee empowerment with PR. I wish more did, and saw PR as a management function associated with setting policy and not merely a communication function announcing other managers' decisions.

The Atlantic Describes PR Role in GM Push for Electric Car

A fascinating article in the July/August double issue is all about the backstory on the Chevy Volt, the electric car GM hopes to bring to market in 2010. But the backstory to the backstory is how GM's PR was actively involved in the project from development to public exposure. GM is going through a cultural change, and PR has been key in this process. A good read. I believe WMPRSA had Steve Harris, GM"s top PR officer, speak to a chapter event in West Michigan about 6 or 7 years ago. It would be interesting to have him come again and talk about electric cars, the whole shake up of the auto industry currently, and the role of PR in all of it.

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