Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Reluctance to Wear Apple Watch--Theory in Practice

I read with interest this article in Fortune about people who bought an Apple watch not wearing them.

If you look at the specific reasons why people aren't wearing the latest tech gadget, they match the key concepts of the Diffusion of Innovation Theory. In addition to spelling out the main types of adapters of innovation, the theory addresses the five specific factors that influence--or inhibit--adoption of technologies. Those five factors seem at play in the Apple watch owners:

  1. Relative Advantage - The degree to which an innovation is seen as better than the idea, program, or product it replaces.
  2. Compatibility - How consistent the innovation is with the values, experiences, and needs of the potential adopters.
  3. Complexity - How difficult the innovation is to understand and/or use.
  4. Triability - The extent to which the innovation can be tested or experimented with before a commitment to adopt is made.
  5. Observability - The extent to which the innovation provides tangible results.
Relative advantage relates to "missed my old watch." Compatibility relates to the various "didn't like" comments. The other specific comments fall into complexity. While these owners have conducted their own trial and observation of the watch, you can see how those factors did not in this case compel them to "adopt" (i.e. wear) the watch.

I teach this theory in several of my PR classes, and like to point out to undergraduate students that theory is not boring, abstract or irrelevant. It is immensely practical in explaining human behavior, and in forming strategies as a result. 

So, I thought I'd use the latest real-world example of adoption--or rejection--of new technology to illustrate the practicality of theory once again.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Should Your Company 'Brag' About Its Good Deeds?

A news release about local hospital caught my eye as I was trolling news apps and social media. "Metro Health Named One of the Greenest Hospitals in America" was the proud headline.

There is no doubt that organizations of every stripe issue news releases to tout their success. There are even special newsfeed like CSRWire dedicated to being a clearing house for news about various forms of Corporate Social Responsibility, a hot topic in public relations for years now.

But I got to thinking about this one given some recent research I read about what consumers want to know about companies' CSR. Yes, it would seem to be good for consumers to know that companies are doing "good" in addition to just making and offering good products and services. But is it seedy for companies to toot their own horn?

CSR was the topic of a 2014 special issue of PR Journal, published and available for free online at PRSA.org. One of the articles asked my question exactly: "Public Expectations of CSR Communication: What and How to Communicate CSR."

The results are interesting and helpful to PR academics who want to further research this area, as well as to PR practitioners who can use the study to be more nuanced and strategic in the ways they share their company's and clients' CSR activities.

Here's a breakdown:

  • consumers want mostly to know "who is benefiting" from the CSR activity. So PR pros should not write to make corporations central to the story, but to tell stories of improved lives or environments;
  • as far as sources of information, consumers preferred most to hear directly from beneficiaries, with the CEO or PR spokesperson the least preferred. In general, non-corporate sources were preferred over corporate representatives. So PR pros should quote or otherwise give voice to the publics their CSR efforts helped, and let the CEO and themselves be silent or a minimal part of the story;
  • in somewhat of a surprise, consumers liked to hear about CSR more from company controlled media like annual reports, social media, web sites, newsletters and so on as opposed to news media or expert blogs. My guess is this is as much about accountability and detailed information than it is about a particular source preference. But it is worth noting.
So the bottom line is that the news release I saw may be ok, since it was directly from the company and in fact quoted a third-party ranking of the hospital's green efforts, and it stressed the community benefit. 

For everyone else, don't play faux humility about CSR efforts, but also don't be too self-righteous. Strive for that middle ground where the company is in the background and the beneficiary is the star. Also, don't think media relations is the best when consumers are looking to your "owned" media for CSR information.

When it comes to doing good, it really is nice to share.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Insta Thoughts on Increased Popularity of Instagram

Instagram has reached 400 million monthly users, Adweek reports.

The social site which enables "instant" sharing of photos, as well as video, and of course text, has grown by 100 million users just this year.

It's easy to get all crazy excited about this, especially if you work in PR and have digital and social media as part of your job responsibilities.  But let me give some "instathoughts" about the news.


  • It's monthly users.  That means it takes a month to get 400 million people to use Instagram. That means people don't use it what could be called "regularly" in our hyper mediated world. They could use it daily, weekly, monthly. We don't have that data in this report. But the use is occasional.
  •  75% of those 400 million reside outside the US. That is fascinating if you work for an NGO or MNC and want to reach a global audience. But if you have a more domestic focus, you are talking about 100 million, or one-third of the U.S. population.
  • Instagram started as and still primarily is a photo sharing site. That means to engage those users--if you still want to, given the above--you need to think and act visually. Does the organization story you have and want to tell have a visual aspect? If yes, go for it. If not, maybe Instagram in spite of its growth is not right for you.
  • It's a social medium. Just because there are a lot of people on Instagram or any other social site doesn't mean they are patiently waiting for messaging from businesses and nonprofit organizations. They want to engage with friends and network with individuals mostly, and maybe, if the content is right and not too overtly a marketing message, they'll pay attention to a brand message. 
  • Sometimes less is more. People are still lured by large numbers, but the growth of Instagram in volume of users may not mean it's an easy targeting opportunity for brands. Consider networking in person. If you walk into a room of 20 people you may have more meaningful engagement than a room of 200, 2,000, or more. It's the paradox and tension of digital media and the nature of attention--more people means more chaos. Remember that in social the people are not just an audience, they are the participants and the messages as well. You have to find a way to be relevant, engaging and real. So, work to find niche audiences within Instagram.
All of the above is just some quick critical thinking about this news. There is still rich opportunity on Instagram, but it must be considered realistically and strategically.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Nature Conservancy Shows Good Visual PR (But Caution About Ads)

The Nature Conservancy has a project that is a good example of employing visual PR, i.e. video, to reach audiences in a compelling and educational way.

Their video collection of Michigan preserves caught my eye recently. I have worked with various environmental organizations in the past and know that it can be a challenge to educate a mass public about what a preserve is, how they are arranged, and why people should care. This is one case where visual communication is compelling and I would imagine effective to show rather than merely tell in this case.

I was alerted to the video series in an online article on MLive, this one focusing on the video about the headwaters of the Grand River, which flows from near Jackson to Lake Michigan at Grand Haven, thus meandering through many MLive readership markets. So the Nature Conservancy has the videos and is doing the media relations to get the word out about them. Kudos for that.

I did notice one thing that provides a cautionary tale about PR pros using online video across sites and platforms. While the videos hosted on the Nature Conservancy site simply play from the beginning, on MLive I was served up a pre-roll ad before the video played. No huge problem there--MLive is a media company and like any business needs to make a profit. But this particular ad was advocating that tracking or shale oil drilling can be done safely. I will not get into the pros/cons of that particular issue. But the point is that such an ad may conflict with the Nature Conservancy's mission and brand, and they don't have control over which ads run as a preface to its own video.

What do do? Organizations can hope that viewers will make the distinction between ad message and their own content. Or they can restrict views of videos to proprietary sites without ads. Or media companies could start paying more attention to not just content but sentiment of ads and try to offer some compatibility, such as we have seen in print over the years with some human judgment about ad placement relative to editorial content.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Government News Service for Residents: Offensive to News Media?

The Ottawa County (Michigan) government recently announced a new subscription news service to residents of the county. Being a resident, and  PR professor, I subscribed to receive by email a variety of county news releases across categories. I already have received several, and find them to be objective and informative, as government information should be.

But it didn't take long for one paper in the county, the Grand Haven Tribune, (self disclosure: I write a monthly column for the paper as a community columnist), to take issue with the county's new public service. The July 29, 2015 editorial (not online yet as I blog so this link is to the opinion page vs the specific editorial) cautions that the county's news service is a "slippery slope" and the put the word 'news' in quotes in the headline and throughout the opinion. Their concerns are that the county may be circumventing professional media, or that in time it will be like Pravda, the Russian state media. They wonder aloud if residents feel the county will give unbiased reports of County Commission meetings and other public information.

I take issue with the Tribune taking issue with all of this.

I have a degree in journalism and practiced it for a time and still respect the role of objective journalism in democratic society. But I also have studied, practiced and now teach public relations, as well as PR ethics and law, and I commend Ottawa County for this new service. I disagree that it conflicts with the role of traditional newspaper and other news outlets, and I would assert that there are many positives to a subscription news service for residents.

Let me first address the Tribune's complaints.

First, the Tribune needs to reconsider the arrogant posture that only it and other journalistic organizations have a corner on 'news.' News comes from newspapers and broadcast media, sure, but it also comes directly from organizations, institutions and individuals. Newspapers report news, they don't create it, invent it, or own it. The Constitution guarantees "freedom of the press" to any individual to print and disseminate information, not just "journalists." The residents or any other audience are the ones who should determine what is newsworthy.

On a related point, the communications professionals at Ottawa County are professionals. The Tribune expressed concern about the County circumventing "professional" media. But public relations professionals--whether in the government, nonprofit, or business sector--also have professional degrees and standards of practice.

What Ottawa County is doing is not new. It is good PR practice. PR practitioners have long communicated with a mix of forms of media, characterized by the acronym PESO--paid, earned, shared, and owned. Paid media is advertising or anything that must be paid for. Earned media is conventional media relations, sending news releases to journalists with the hope that the editors and reporters who receive it will do a story as a result. Owned media includes the newsletters, annual reports, brochures, web sites and anything else an organization owns and controls as a form of communication. And recently shared media is the digital forum where tweets and posts are passed along by individual users in their respective networks. If you go to the news page on the Ottawa County web site you can sign up for these news releases as well as newsletters, annual reports and other forms of information.

A third point is the fact that not all news is covered. Even though journalists call themselves the watchdogs of government, they have limits in what they can cover. There is a volume of information available from Ottawa County and I doubt the Tribune has the capacity to cover all of it. They have to make decisions as to what is of must value to their readers and the community at large. The county subscription service doesn't compete with newspapers, it complements them and allows small groups of individuals to subscribe to very specific information of particular interest to them which may not get any attention in mainstream media.

Finally, the Tribune should acknowledge that Ottawa County exists in the same media environment that conventional newspapers do. Just as the Tribune has expanded online and into the social media landscape, so must all institutions. Digital media enables interaction, individually tailored information across multiple platforms and formats. If newspapers do this, why not the government? The county will likely garner an assortment of small audiences for various forms of information. The Tribune will still be needed to bring the most relevant and important information to broad audiences who would not otherwise seek it. And if the county does fall into the temptation to control information like Pravda, that's where the watchdog role comes in. I'm sure that the Tribune staff will still be sitting in on open county meetings and reporting on them, going beyond what the news releases say.

Meanwhile, there are many positives for the county's information subscription service. They do not pass over the conventional media, they merely offer specific and direct delivery of information to their constituents--a laudable goal. They are providing more transparency and accountability. They are staying up to date with technology. They are serving their constituents. Sounds to me like good "news."

In fact, the county did make the news recently for winning another award for its website. I'm not concerned, I'm grateful. In time I think the Tribune will be also.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Is Showing Both Sides Persuasive?

A friend of mine who got a master's degree in public relations at an East Coast university shared a link to a blog post written by one of his professors in that program, an adjunct who works at a major PR firm's office near the university. In this post, the author was discussing the wisdom of including an opposing point of view when writing an op-ed or position paper on behalf of a client.

The gist of this man's argument was that doing so was not his job. After all, he was hired by the client to present the client's point of view. He did note that mentioning alternative views in order to point out their flaws may be necessary on occasion. But generally, he opined, it was a waste of time and space to devote attention to the other side.

I have an....alternative view.

In the blog post, my friend's former professor puts forth a position based on a preference for efficiency and fiduciary responsibility. He also notes his years of experience. I would suggest that a concern for the effectiveness of actually persuading an intended audience should be a consideration as well. Indeed, if you can be more likely to persuade, you are hardly wasting space. Also, if a concern is doing what the client wants, do they want someone merely to write or do they want it to have the benefit of persuasion?

So the question really is not about how someone has written op-eds throughout their career, or the preference for loyalty to the client's point of view. It should be about the outcome in the minds of readers. And for that, we need to consider broader evidence from empirical research that informs persuasion theory.

In the just-published third edition of the book "Persuasion: Theory and Research" by Daniel O'Keefe," a required text in my Corporate Communications Writing class in the future, there is a helpful chapter on message factors. On the subject of one-sided vs two-sided (including alternative points of view) messages, the research results are more nuanced than a simply include or don't include the opposing point of view.

Basically, including alternative points of view--and then refuting them--(called "refutational two-sided messages") are dependably more persuasive than one-sided messages. However, two-sided messages in which the opposing points of view are merely acknowledged and not refuted are slightly less persuasive than one-sided messages.

In other words, raise the opponents' points of view, but be sure to knock them down. Readers don't take messages in a vacuum. They may be playing devil's advocate or wondering about other perspectives in their mind. If you address is head on and can argue against it, you have a better chance of winning them to your side. Or, if they had not considered alternatives, but you raise them, you look more credible, competent and therefore persuasive. Raising and refuting alternatives also has what's called an inoculation effect, meaning that later when someone else raises the opposing opinion, readers have been prepped with foreknowledge of the argument and why it is not sufficient and can be "immune" to its persuasive appeal.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

TV Ads Still Rule

Something happened the other day that made me hit the pause button. Literally.

I was watching TV, a show my wife and I had recorded on the DVR, and we were doing what everyone does--fast-forwarding through the ads. But something caught my eye, and I hit pause, rewind, and then viewed the ad.

And it hit me--people have always skipped ads, unless they haven't. When shows were aired live, people would go to the bathroom, get more to eat or drink, or talk to each other during ads. Today, they just use the technology that allows skipping or fast-forwarding through ads.

However, if an ads have certain merits, wait for it.....people....will....watch.

This is common sense, confirmed by several communication theories and concepts (media uses and gratifications, information utility, salience, etc.) and recently confirmed in a study reported in Advertising Age. The study, commissioned by Turner Broadcasting and Horizon Media, showed that TV ads outperform other media, including digital, when it comes to driving consumer sales. A natural assumption would be that TV ads do well for awareness, reputation, and other objectives as well.

So what might make people "take pause" and view an ad even in this multi-mediated, frenetic media world we live in? As the theoretical concepts mentioned above suggest, there are several:

  • visual appeal
  • relevant content
  • useful information
The take-away is that now more than ever advertisers can't live in the era of assumed audience. You have to lure them before a hook can be set. Also, as the study authors suggest, no once can live on TV alone. It has to be part of a strategic media mix that supplements radio, print, outdoor, and digital ads as well as earned media. 

Like anything else in media, TV advertising is not dead. It's just constantly changing. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

LEA Wins Small Business of Year, Promotional Video Awards

The Grand Rapids public relations community is well-represented by top notch and award-winning talent. In addition to the record crop of winners at this year's PRoof Awards, Lambert, Edwards & Associates recently received some recognition for its PR prowess.

LE&A, with offices in Lansing and Detroit as well as Grand Rapids, was named small business of the year at the recent EPIC Awards, a program of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. The EPIC awards are so named because they celebrate businesses that demonstrate "entrepreneurial, progressive, innovative, and collaborative" traits in the community.

Meanwhile, LE&A was recognized at the Horizon Interactive Awards for a promotional video about the firm. You can view the video on LE&A's YouTube channel I would recommend taking a look at the video if you are interested in not just what LE&A does, but to see how a PR firm promotes itself. Check out other videos to get ideas for a firm YouTube channel. They have a variety of videos sharing news about the firm, its clients, and some simply fun and engaging content, such as firm president Jeff Lambert sliding into the YMCA pool in a suit.

Kudos to LE&A for the awards, which help the firm but also make PR look good.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Why Are There Not More PR Pros on Nonprofit Boards?

I have often noticed and admired PR professionals who serve on the boards of area nonprofits. This has, as we PR people would say, a "mutual benefit." PR pros do this as a part of their PR role of community relations. If in an agency, it's a form of new business development because of the networking with other board members. The organization also benefits from PR counsel at the board and executive level.
But I have also noticed that a lot of nonprofit organizations do not have PR professionals on their boards. So I did what academics do: I launched a study on the subject.
The results of my study is now a chapter in a recently published book:  Routledge Research in Public Relations: Public Relations in the Nonprofit Sector. My chapter, “PR Capacity on Nonprofit Boards,” gives insight on the value of having PR professionals serve on nonprofit boards.
Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 12.11.16 PMI worked with the assistance of the Johnson Center on Philanthropy to put together a list of the executives of the nonprofits in Michigan with more than 1 staff member. Of the 704 on the list, 215 responded.  Their answers to a survey reveal that executives of nonprofit organizations do not view having a PR professional serve on a nonprofit board as a priority, but rather as “nice to have.” 
Most executives in the study claimed that they did not seek out board members with a public relations background. Additionally, nonprofit executives do not have an accurate understanding of public relations as a whole.
Specifically, while a majority (76%) said that communications with stakeholders was a role and capacity sought in board members, only 11% indicated it was the most important board member ability. While 52% said they had at least one board member with PR education or experience, this may be due to the fact that 75% define public relations as “getting the word out.”
Clearly, there is a need for more PR professionals to serve nonprofit organizations at the executive and management level. Part of that service would be to educate nonprofit management about the full role and benefit of public relations as a sophisticated effort in relationship building, with multiple publics.
A summary of the result is found below:

 

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Reading List for People Making Transition to PR

A local broadcast journalist recently contacted me via social media and asked if I could recommend a book on PR because they were considering making the transition into the field.

OK, first of all, never ask a professor to recommend “a” book J But I have to say the instinct is good to do some research and not make assumptions about the field. I have written before on this blog that journalists do have some assets they can carry over into PR: http://gr-pr.blogspot.com/2012/01/assets-laid-off-journalists-can.html But there is also a lot to learn.

So to answer the question, here is a list of several books—and some other resources--by category and some other resources useful to potential and current PR practitioners. This is only partial (I just ordered another book today that is not on this list). So, anyone else who has suggestions feel free to note them in the comments. To be concise I list titles and last names of authors only, but they should be easy to find at any online book site.

Introductory PR Books
There are several introductory PR books used in college courses. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) also has a list of recommended texts for those thinking of studying to take the exam to become accredited in public relations (APR): http://www.praccreditation.org/resources/recommended-texts/index.html . Here are some intro texts that I recommend.
  • THINK Public Relations. By Wilcox, Cameron, Reber and Shin.
  • Today’s PR. By Health and Coombs.
  • PR Strategies and Tactics. By Wilcox and Cameron.
  • The Practice of PR. By Frasier Seitel.
  • Strategic Public Relations: An Audience-Focused Approach. By Diggs and Brown
  • PR: A Values-Driven Approach. By Guth and Marsh.
  • Cultip and Center’s Effective Public Relations. By Broom and Sha. (an update of a classic)
  • This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations. By Newsome, Turk, and Krukeberg.


Research
Research is a fundamental skill of PR professionals. It has to be more than basic interviewing skills that a journalist has. There are several possible texts, but the one standard I would recommend is:
  • Primer on PR Research. By Stacks.


Writing
Journalists know how to write, and how to write in AP style. But PR writing is varied, and includes persuasive as well as objective writing. There are several good books on PR writing.
  • Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques. By Wilcox and Reber.
  • Becoming a Public Relations Writer. By Smith.


History
Every day in the blogosphere I read some bloviating blowhard carry on about some “new” vision in PR. And I grin, shudder, and roll my eyes. If only they knew their history. Several books and resources can help a new practitioner—or a veteran one—understand PR’s past to make better sense of the present and future.

Crisis
Journalists may have reported on a crisis or two, but that does not mean they know how to handle one as a PR person. Several good books on crisis communication offer practical and theoretical information:
  •  Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication. By Lukazsewski  Ongoing Crisis Communication. By Coombs
  • Crisis Communications. By Fearn-Banks
  • Crisis Communication. By Zaremba


Evaluation
Measuring the results of PR efforts has long been advocated and taught, and more recently it has been asked for by clients and management. But it still is not done well or completely by many. There is one great book I would recommend on the subject, this one updated to included social media measurement.
  • Measure What Matters. By Paine


Social Media
Social platforms have been around a while, and lots of people assume they know how to use social media. But using them for personal communication or as a journalist is different than managing social media for a brand or organization. There are many books on social media use, but these are the ones to start with. I’ll also add some online links that are helpful.


Law
There are many areas of law that affect the practice of PR. You don’t need to be a lawyer, but you do need to be informed.
  • Digital Media Law. By Packard
  • Advertising and Public Relatons Law. By Moore, Maye and Collins


Ethics
The PR profession gets a bad rap in the news and entertainment media, as I’ve written about countless times. Ironically, some of the big ethical blunders are made by former journalists. To be a “professional” PR practitioner means to practice ethically. PRSA offers a helpful Code of Ethics http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/#.VQIaTSkmXeM . There are also several good books on PR ethics.
  • Ethics in Public Relations. By Fitzpatrick and Bernstein
  • Legal and Ethical Constraints on Public Relations. By Gower
  • It’s Not Just PR. By Coombs and Holladay (This is a good one to give friends who criticize PR as only "spin")

Consider searching major publishers for additional books on topics of interest or relevant to a specific area of practice. For example, here’s a shameless plug for a book I wrote a chapter in called Public Relations in the Nonpfofit Sector http://www.amazon.com/Public-Relations-Nonprofit-Sector-Routledge/dp/1138795089
You can also go directly to publishers and search for public relations books, such as Routledge, which has a special series on public relations: http://www.routledge.com/books/series/RNDPRCR/ ; or Sage http://www.sagepub.com/home.nav  There are several other academic publishers as well.

In addition to books, several academic journals are available for free (vs through association membership or an academic library). These include:


Finally, there are various trade publications and reports that are useful to practitioners (some content requires subscription or membership; but some email newsletters are free):



Whew! That’s a lot. But there’s a lot to know.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why Do PR Pros Seek Accreditation (APR)? Latest Research

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) established the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) program more than 50 years ago, in 1964. Since then, thousands of PR professionals have worked to earn the designation as a mark of superior PR skills, knowledge and ethical practice.

However, not all practitioners seek the APR credential. In fact, PRSA noticed the percentage of practitioners who are accredited has gone down in recent years. So the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB) has encouraged academics to look into the reasons why professionals do and do not make the effort to earn the APR mark of distinction.

Hence, my latest research research with my co-author Dr. Kaye Sweetser of San Diego State University. "Role Enactment, Employer Type, and Pursuit of APR" was just published in the journal Public Relations Review. The journal article is available here. Or, since the journal article is an abbreviated version, you can email me for a full copy.

Or you can just read on here for a summary!

First, a quick explanation of the key terms and variables in the study. "Role enactment" is an academic term that describes the specific role that PR practitioners enact in their jobs. Prior research has boiled these roles down to two: a "technician" is more of an entry-level role focused on tactics; a "manager" may still work on tactics but is more focused on strategy and advising organizational management and making communication decisions vs merely implementing them.

"Employer type" has to do with the fact that PR professionals may work for a corporation, but they could also work in many other contexts. Vast numbers of PR professionals work in non-profits, government agencies, educational institutions, the military, or public relations firms.

We were curious to see if the context in which a practitioner works, or their years of experience or level of authority/status in the organization, were factors in whether or not and why they sought the APR credential.

Results showed that employer type and practitioner role did make a difference. The practical take-aways:

  • Respondents pursued APR mostly for personal satisfaction or to be a better practitioner.
  • Seeking the APR to get a promotion was correlated with younger practitioners.
  • Those in PR for many years were more likely to pursue APR for higher salary than those who transfer in from other fields (who may seek APR for knowledge and legitimacy in their new field).
  • Pursuing APR to gain respect from clients/employer was more common for those in agency, nonprofit, or government/military.
  • Those in a manager role were more likely to pursue APR for higher salary, while those in a technician role were more likely to pursue APR for a job promotion or when seeking a new job.
  • A somewhat counter-intuitive result was that men are significantly more likely than women to be motivated by respect from an employer or client.


This research extended previous studies about the differences between those PR practitioners with and without APR. The UAB may use the results to tailor their promotion of the APR program differently to practitioners, based on their gender, specific role, years of experience, and the type of organization in which they work.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Documentary on Future of Advertising is Old News

A colleague shared with me this documentary called 'Transmediatic' which purports to be revelatory about the future of advertising. It is actually a summating of the present and a recap of where many have already been for some time.

Some key notions are that the "product is the message" and "clear is the new clever". These are just new clothes for the old notions of transparency, authenticity, two-way symmetrical communications, and mutually beneficial relationships that have popular by most legitimate public relations practitioners and taught by PR educators for as long as I have been one, which is since 2001. The documentary's line "the naked brand" reminded me of a book I once read. Sure enough, on my shelf is "Naked Conversations," by social media early adaptors and gurus Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. It was published in 2006, the year Twitter was launched.

We've kind of been there.

But to people who aren't in advertising or PR, the documentary is useful to give a visually rich explanation of the changes in the field, and indeed in society. Here then is a recap of what the documentary recaps for the initiated:


  • an "institutional speaker box" no longer exists
  • transparency is not a choice--does it happen to you or do you participate?
  • trust is the essence of every great brand
  • The Edelman Trust Barometer routinely points out that people don't trust executives
  • Consumer Sovereignty is an old concept made more relevant in today's media environment
  • 90% of people trust peer reviews; 20% trust advertising (see Yelp)
  • You can't create image (I always point out to students the distinction between image and reputation--one is merely communicated, the latter is earned and based on experience)
  • Related to above, companies have to shift from saying they are great to being great. (PR people have noted this for years, dating back to Arthur Page in the 1920s and the mantra of the Page Society today)
  • There are positive externalities to ads--such as information utility
  • Design thinking is where advertising needs to go (Our GVSU Ad/PR alumnus Mike Rios spoke about this on campus last semester. See this Guardian article about his and a partner's explanation of design thinking and an example of it in use to benefit society)
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a continuing trend. It dates to the 1970s in PR. See CSRWire for stories of CSR. Or see the Pepsi Refresh Project as an example of CSR that provides social branding.
  • A final note: the US is NUMBER 1 in advertising, but NUMBER 13 in R&D. More focus on good products, and the advertising can be transparent, and bette than clever. That's also fundamental PR--mutually beneficial relationships. 

Monday, February 09, 2015

Brian Williams, Journalists Lying, and The Moral Superiority of Public Relations

OK. The headline of this blog was a bit sensational and an obvious attempt at click bait. But a poor blogger has to do something to keep up with the big boys at Rock Center to grab some eyeballs. Do me a solid and read on.

Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News has taken himself off the air voluntarily for a few days because of his unfortunate episode of, to quote him directly, "misremembering" some facts related to report he did on the Iraq War.

Apparently he said he was in a helicopter in Iraq that was hit by enemy fire, and military veterans called him out on that. His statements when covering Hurricane Katrina are now also called into question, according to an article in USA Today, one of many national media stories on the subject.

Leave aside the fact that reporting should not be done from memory. Does not a journalist take notes or record when "reporting"? One wonders what else Mr. Williams may have fabricated in his recently celebrated 10 years in the anchor chair at NBC. Were he not an employee of this fabled (pun most definitely intended) network, Dateline NBC would be putting the finishing touches on a graphic for an expose called "Brian Williams: Decade of Deception."

But let's ease up on Brian Williams a little. After all, he's not the only national journalist to lie. Dan Rather over at CBS has his own wikipedia entry for his famous fabrication about George Bush's military background. Stephen Glass at the New Republic, Jayson Blair at the New York Times, and others are recounted in this Yahoo new media round up of old media journalism liars.

I have practiced both journalism and public relations. Now I teach public relations. And what I hear a lot is how public relations lacks ethics, and implied is how righteous journalists are by comparison.

So let's pause and reflect on this "teachable moment," shall we?

Any profession has good and bad practitioners. In PR, there are some who are intentionally deceptive or do other unethical deeds. But it would be unethical and intellectually dishonest to indict the entire profession. That is especially the case when a lot of research shows that unethical PR deeds are usually committed by non-PR professionals--lawyers, marketers, CEOs--or by people with no bonafide training or degree in PR. In fact, some of the largest whoppers of unethical PR are committed by former journalists (eg. Burson-Marsteller's smear campaign of Google for client Facebook). 

A lot of the criticism of PR is co-mingled with a phobic anti-corporate sentiment. But, we must keep in mind that NBC, CBS and other major national journalistic enterprises are also corporations. Big corporations. They shamelessly promote their various interests on their own programs. And they compete with each other relentlessly. They need attention, to have an audience to sell to advertisers, whom they want to charge ever more money.

There are a variety of reasons journalists may lie. Business competitive pressure. An ideological worldview contrary to the person or party they cover. Or simple ego to succeed.

The point is, they lie. We don't even know about all the times they lie. To insinuate that the institution of journalism has any moral high ground over the profession of public relations is just another lie.

Professions are neutral. It's the professionals who vary in their ethics. Brian Williams is the latest evidence of this. It's probably only a matter of time before we have more.

In the meantime, we all get to watch NBC and Mr. Williams engage in some public relations, as they seek to manage this crisis, work on image restoration and re-build the NBC brand. Now THAT should be good television.