Monday, November 24, 2014

The Influence of Ads on Investors

In the context of a law class discussion of the SEC, I was talking to my students about ads and investors. My own research shows that investors look not only at finance tables and "dry" SEC documents, but all manner of PR and advertising tactics when making investing decisions.

That point came up later today when after class I caught up on reading the daily industry trades and blogs. A review of a Dick's Sporting Goods ad in Adweek caught my eye for different reasons.

(Disclosure: I do own stock in Dick's and do not have a daughter).

The review talked about the dads and daughters connection, and making sporting goods seem ingrained in family history. But I was thinking about the class discussion and how as an investor in Dick's this ad was relevant to me for several reasons.

For one, as an investor, I am hoping the ad does well for the company. I am an investor after all. I'd like to see the ad lead to good sales which in turn boosts the stock price.

I also like the ad for the image quality. It makes Dick's look like a relevant and caring company. (Some might argue it is just another company exploiting a religious holiday, but we'll save that debate for another post).

The point is, even when ads push product, they affect more than consumers and purchase intent. They affect other publics, company reputation, and ongoing investor relations efforts too.

I think Dick's scored.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

PR Pros Have Increased Need for Video and Photo Talent

I have been wanting to write a blog post for a while focused on how public relations professionals are increasingly using photography and video in many forms and channels as part of their typical work. So when I caught wind on social media yesterday that well known local photographer and videographer TJ Hamilton is now working full time for Sabo Public Relations I took note.

You can read the announcement on the Sabo PR Facebook page.

I have known both TJ Hamilton and Mary Ann Sabo for a long time, and I worked with each of them in the past on different projects. I have a high respect for both for their talents and integrity. So hearing of the announcement is kind of like when long-term friends tell you they are getting married :-)

But I was especially interested to note that Sabo PR, which grew from a sole practitioner practice to a firm with several employees, had enough demand to hire TJ full time. This one firm illustrates what many firms and in-house PR departments are experiencing--an increased demand for still photography and videography for all the standard brochures, newsletters, annual reports, and media relations. But the need is even greater because of the many organizations needing visual content for web sites, micro sites, blogs, and all the flourishing platforms of social media, especially those with visual emphasis such as Vine, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest.

Visual PR is on the rise for internal publics as well as external. At an campus event recently I chatted with two recent grads working in large local companies. One just hired a full-time videographer just for employee relations videos and the other talked about her work in photography and video as part of her growing number of responsibilities.

Educators have not lost this trend. We are constantly updating courses to give students basic technical skills and a grasp of visual concepts so they can create visual content or be able to work productively with experts who majored in photography or video production. One example is a video the students in the Grand Valley State University PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America) made as part of a presentation they made at their annual conference. It's a take-off on "Mean Girls" to illustrate involvement and leadership. They recently posted it to their GV PRSSA Facebook page. As the students explained to me, they created and scripted the video, and hired a video production major to shoot and edit the video for them. Collaboration is part of creativity, right?

So, whether you have the tech talent yourself or not, if you are in PR you will find yourself talking more and more about visual aspects of messages with greater frequency. You'll have to if you want to be relevant in our increasingly visual society.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Arthur Page--Thoughts on Social Media from a Time Before TV

Several years ago I received a pleasant surprise in the campus mail. It was a copy of the book "Words from a Page in History," which is a collection of speeches given by public relations pioneer Arthur Page from the 1920s into the 1950s. The book was sent for free to faculty in public relations around the country by the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication at Penn State University. The center is dedicated to research in the area ethics and responsibility in corporate communication and other areas of public communication.

I finally got around to reading it, and is often the case with history, I marveled at how prescient some of his comments were and how much they speak to the field of public relations still today.

But first, a little background. Page was a journalist who became a public relations professional and by 1927 had the title of Vice President of Public Relations at the largest company of the time--AT&T. The "Page Principles" are themes gleaned from his many public speeches and documents and are heralded by professors and practitioners as solid guidelines for PR practiced as ethical counsel to management of organizations. You can learn more about Page via the Arthur W. Page Society, on the Arthur Page "exhibit" at the online PR History Museum, or by reading the excellent biography of Arthur W. Page by Noel L. Griese.

So, as I was reading through Page's speeches, I got to thinking about the famous Page Principles that summarize the man's philosophy of public relations practice and how they might apply today to social media. Here's my quick application of each principle from before the TV era to the social space today:

  1. Tell the truth--always be genuine on social platforms, from your profile to your posts, and what links and other content you share.
  2. Prove it with action--don't automate and aggregate content. Don't present an image on social media but fail to live up to it by replying, sharing, and responding to comments. Be sure your offline presence is consistent with your online and social projection. Do what you say and say what you do.
  3. Listen to the customer--don't blast tweets and updates without first listening to conversations in the social space. And if people respond, reply back in kind, not just with your own agenda but to satisfy the questions and issues of those who reply to your social messages.
  4. Manage for tomorrow--social media is in the moment, but it's still wise to think long term. Analytics are great, but daily, weekly or monthly numbers of engagement should not be the sole driver or reward of social media management for a brand. Consider how social media is an extension of bigger objectives and a piece of a larger media mix that may not yield results for a year or more.
  5. Conduct public relations as if the whole company depends on it--Consider that all publics may follow social accounts, on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest and others. Do not see social media as merely a marketing megaphone, but an effort consistent with broader organizational goals and open to the views of many. 
  6. Realize that a company's true character is expressed by its people--many organizations only allow public relations or marketing teams to represent the company on social media. Consider engaging in a "distributed PR" model in which every job function is allowed to tweet and post as part of their job. People engage with multiple publics in many ways. This requires a healthy culture, but in the social space this especially makes sense to allow the organization to be visible in a positive way. As Page said, every employee, active or retired, is involved in public relations.
  7. Remain calm, patient and good humored--this is especially true in social media. Be careful what you say, and don't resort to anger and incivility. Allow comments, respond to them, engage in other social accounts to represent your organization transparently and honestly.
Clearly Arthur Page never had to handle social media. As I noted, the bulk of his career was completed before TV was ubiquitous in American households. But his principles of PR practice are timeless and a good reminder again to contemporary practitioners. Even the social media and digital communication are new, the concepts of integrity, honesty, ethics in PR practice are timeless and transportable across any medium or platform.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Award Winning Annual Reports--from a Municipal Power Utility

The Holland Board of Public Works has earned another recognition for its annual report, according to a story in the Holland Sentinel.

The work behind the creative annual report comes from Randy Boileau and Boileau Communications.

Apparently, this is the latest in a four-year run of awards for annual reports Boileau created for the municipal power concern.

What's interesting is that most people think "corporate" when they think annual reports. They also might think of thin paper, black and white pro-forma template content, and dense tables. Of course, many corporate reports do offer a basic 10K in compliance with SEC requirements, but also offer more colorful and creative content either on paper or online.

But nonprofits, governmental agencies and non-public corporations also should and do issue annual reports. This is because the annual document is not merely an act of compliance, but an opportunity to build and maintain stakeholder relationships and reputation.

As Boileau notes in the Sentinel story, annual reports are a great form of storytelling. Doing so in digital format not only saves printing and distribution costs, but allows an expanded reach and the opportunity for social shares and interaction.

The current 2014 BPW Annual Report, released the same day the award for 2013 was announced, illustrates the power (yes, pun intended in this case) of an online annual report. There is significant visual appeal, content is packaged and navigated easily--I like the "stories, facts, impact" outline of the current issue--and the substance of the content is informative and reader-centric. In short, it provides a great service to stakeholders.

So, congratulations for an award goes to the Holland BPW and Boileau Communications. And thanks also for an example of best practice work to practitioners and to the positive impact of PR to the public at large.