The How (Not) Guide to PR

This post is cross-posted on the LAF Blog here.

I blog a lot about PR tools, how social media affects PR and what we can do to be better PR professionals. However, what about those that are entering the PR field and wondering what tools they do need?

What about the tools they DON’T need? Let’s face it, not everyone is a rockstar PR professional, nor are they ever going to be. Many times, hard work and dedication will get you far in this field. If you don’t have the foundation, however, you won’t make it. Below are three points that won’t add to the next great PR pro:

1. I want to dress up, meet celebrities and like, host parties

sic_londonnyc_0 The public relations field is viewed as a glamorous all night party on many TV programs. With how my TV kids watch nowadays, it’s no wonder that many enter their college public relations programs thinking that’s what it is. Wrong. Public Relations does not equal solely publicity. Yes, you might plan events. You will be the one running around, making sure all of the details are seen to, dealing with any crisis and making sure that everyone is happy.

2. I have to write and research?

Yes. Two strengths I always tell PR students is that they must be able to write and research well. Most of my days are spent writing, researching and executing media relations. PR is all about getting the word out – and you have to know the market and your audience before proceeding.

3. “I’m a people person.”

Good for you – so is everyone else. Your personality can get you far in this field – but it’s through pitching, promoting a brand and landing media hits that will get you even farther. Many times, being extremely personable can come off as flirty and non-professional. There is a line – and you have to work for a brand that fits your personality.

So, what would you add?

*Photo copyright of HBO and Sex and the City.

Hack and Flack: Still Adversarial

Image via Wikipedia

From Andra Bennett, APR – Chapter President

My journalist husband and I have considered starting a blog called Hack and Flack, taking off on NPR’s Click and Clack but more like Mary Matalin and James Carville. Remember TV’s “Odd Couple” intro: “Can two divorced men {hack and flack} share an apartment without driving each other crazy?” Neil Hefti music up now.

Those sentiments were all in play at last week’s GFW PRSA luncheon when four publishers/editors of local weeklies [Lucie Allen, publisher/editor of the Spanish-language Panorama News; Lee Newquist, publisher of the Fort Worth Weekly; Blake Ovard, managing editor of The Star Group Newspapers, and Kay Pirtle, editor of the Wedgwood News] and an ex-ombuddy were corralled in a room of PR practitioners.

The weeklies were invited because Greater Fort Worth PRSA members wanted to hear how they were doing financially and how we could work together on news stories.

Oscar, meet Felix.

During the Q&A, Lee Newquist, publisher of Fort Worth Weekly, was asked how PR practitioners could be of the most value to the weeklies. As part of a longer response, Newquist answered, “PR companies, at least on the journalism side of what we do, are problematic because they’re in between (us and) the person with the real answer. I don’t want to talk to a PR person whose sole role in their career is to spin it and make it sound good.” There was nervous laughter from the audience, and several Tweets.

Blake Ovard, managing editor of The Star Group weeklies, echoed: “All of the cities have a PIO, and their job is to keep you from getting the story, so they don’t understand why I don’t want to talk to them. They say, ‘Well, I have all your information.’”

At this point, neck hairs began to bristle. Marc Flake, Tarrant County PIO, took umbrage with those statements and stepped forward. He related how he had facilitated the Weekly’s requests for a recent cover story by Peter Gorman that examined issues related to the medical examiner’s office.

“I was very helpful with Mr. Gorman,” Flake said, “and told him who he needed to talk to, gave him background, gave him all the documents (and) contract information he needed. I don’t stay between you guys (and county sources). I help you get the information you need.”

Spontaneous applause erupted from PR crowd.

I found the exchange refreshingly candid — and disturbingly enlightening. It brought home to me that the adversarial relationship between hacks and flacks is still alive and well.

Some may dismiss weeklies (and indeed all newspapers now) as non-influencers or think their constituents don’t read those papers, so who cares what they think? But with the market share of dailies falling and weeklies currently increasing, we need to have this honest dialogue to bridge the gap of misperceptions.

Maybe the panelists didn’t realize they were in a room with cream of the crop PRSA practitioners, who hold to a PRSA Code of Ethics,which state in part:

 

HONESTY – We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests ofthose we represent and in communicating with the public.

LOYALTY- We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.

FAIRNESS- We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and thegeneral public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.

PR practitioners are obligated to our organizations / clients and their stakeholders as well as to the public interest. Journalists are obligated to the public’s right to know, their readers and advertisers. (Yes, advertisers were mentioned several times by the panelists as being quite an important audience.)

Here’s the rub: being honest and ethical doesn’t always translate (in the private sector, anyway) to being as “open” as some of us would like. This is due to a number of reasons, including proprietary information, SEC regs, security concerns and political sensitivities.

As PR practitioners, we have to weigh the benefit vs. risk of responding to certain media inquiries. Brave responders will answer even a hostile reporter in order to provide balance. But cautious ones will favor silence if media objectivity is questionable and they are mischaracterized or taken out of context repeatedly.

In our changing media landscape and diminishing dailies’ prowess, it would behoove PR practitioners to eschew derogatory terms for alternative or community weeklies (punk rags, podunk papers) and appreciate their financial strength and scope of influence among many constituencies.

By the same token, journalists should re-examine their broad-brush generalizations about PR practitioners as spinners and blockers. In light of shrinking news staff and resources, ethical PR pros provide information, assistance and access to high-level sources that will only become more critical for journalists who want to report the truth.

Read about the financial status of the dailies and the hack’s take on it here.

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The last PR stand

This post by Linda Jacobson, APR is cross-posted from her blog, The Saltlick.


I’ve long been a proponent for ensuring that those who practice public relations need a sound ethical basis. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to make a decision that only you can make, whether it’s for a client or for a company and its employees. And it will involve this basic question: What do we owe strangers by virtue of our shared humanity? That’s the question Kwame Anthony Appiah asked in Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of strangers.

My premise is this: Whether you’re an adherent of a communitarian or utilitarian perspective, as a PR practitioner, be smart enough to know the values you follow before the proverbial s*** hits the fan.

Recently, I accepted a position with a company to direct its communications. It’s an exciting time for this firm internally, as the company is undergoing major restructuring. Change always brings possibilities – both good and bad. Almost immediately, however, I understood a culture that was devoid of fact checking and one that assumed “fudging” – a term, when I hear it, that always gives me pause and tells me a whole heckuva lot about the person who used it. Now “fudging” can possess varying degrees of meaning – but it always involves untruth.

In addition to hearing this term, I heard other statements from employees that were worrisome to me. Here’s a list that should raise red flags for any PR practitioner:
• This is the way we do it here—we’re [insert name of department].
• If we write it that way, then that’s the way it is.
• You’re new to this industry; we don’t ever tell our true [insert noun—numbers, facts, situation].
• I don’t care if you think this is wrong. Do what I told you to do.
• You have been told to get this done and to get it done by this date. Do you have a problem with that?
• Are you refusing to do the job for which we hired you?

Even before it happened, I knew that my time with this company would be short. Sure enough, within a few weeks, I was asked to publish a press release that had material errors in it. I knew the information to be incorrect. And, in my judgment, the errors were not of the “fudging” kind. They were substantial. And in that moment, the moment that I call the “last PR stand,” I had a decision to make.

In military terms, a “last stand,” occurs in one of two ways. One situation calls for the defending force to retreat, which leads to immediate defeat, usually due to the surrounding geography or shortage of supplies or support. The other situation arises when the defending force are ordered to defend their positions. Thus, retreat is not possible without being considered a deserter.

In my case, I knew I had no support for refusing to include incorrect statements. In fact, I was told to issue the release with the incorrect statements. I opted to retreat – resign – thus deserting. I turned in my security badge and my electronic gadgetry without the slightest thought of surrendering to the edict.

I’m now happily unemployed. I say this not because I am pleased about being unemployed – I’m not, and Lord knows in this economy, I could use the income – but because I know the worth that integrity brings to a PR professional and, by extension, to a client or a company that demands it.

If you’re in the PR or communications field, take the time to understand or to review your ethics perspective. In today’s troubling environment, you’re better served to be prepared.

Recommended resources:

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of stranger :: Kwame Anthony Appiah
Contemporary Media Ethics :: A practical guide for students, scholars and professionals :: Bill Hornaday and Mitchell Land (editors)
Public Relations Society of America :: Ethics resources

Words Every PR Pro Should Know

This post is cross-posted from FW PRSA member, Lauren Fernandez’s blog

There are many words that every public relations professional should know. Below are four that I think you should never leave home without – preferably in a cool Johnny Bravo lunch pail.

high-five

Preparation

I’ve heard many say that a PR pro is only as good as their next pitch. But how do you get there? How do you make sure that your message is being heard; that the right outlets and correct beat reporters are receiving your pitch? You prepare and plan. Media plans are an effective tool when outlining your course of action. My media plans to detail this way.

  1. Date
  2. What type of outlets I’m pitching (National Radio, Local TV, blogs, etc)
  3. How I’m doing it (Pitch, Media Alert, etc.)
  4. Angle I’m taking
  5. 3 points I can touch on if I connect with a reporter

Media plans should also include your follow-up time, and if applicable, what you plan to do after the event occurs. Being prepared to pitch a press release is important as well. You will, at best, have 30 seconds to hook a reporter. If it is filled with ‘uhms’ and stammers, the likelyhood that a reporter will continue to listen to you is pretty non-existent. You don’t sound prepared or knowledgeable, and a reporter views you as their first source and connection to a possible story. If they have a hard time with you, that will cast the first impression on your client. Even if it’s a great story, if you can’t get it out, it means nothing.

Evaluation

The best laid out plans need to be consistently evaluated throughout the process. You need to be able to demonstrate value by setting benchmarks and continuously measuring the impact. If it’s not working, change it. A media plan is not set in stone. A reporter hates the idea? Maybe you are pitching the wrong beat. You aren’t gaining any traction? It could be because you’re not hitting the target audience appropriately. If you continiously evaluate your success and learn from the failures, your plan will go consistently smoother and shows that you can project manage efficiently.

Concise

The two most important skills (in my opinion) for a PR pro to have are writing and research. Writing should be concise and tight, and get straight to the point. Remember the 30 second rule? You need to be able to grab a reporter’s attention in the first two sentences. I joke that PR pros have to be ADD because they are constantly switching projects or getting new ideas, and reporters are no different – I had a reporter friend that said unless they can see me sitting in front of them in a cute dress and smiling, they probably will have an image of me in their head as a robot talking/writing to them. If your writing doesn’t follow the basic principles (yes, including AP Style) you will be viewed as incompetent by the reporter. It doesn’t matter if you have the best hook in the world – if it isn’t written well and tight, you might as well forget getting a placement.

Confidence

It seems to be a no brainer, but you have to exude confidence in your professional role. You are the expert. You know the client well and should be passionate about the topic. If you are nervous, a reporter will pick up on that. They will probably ask you harder questions and try to find the “juicy juice” because they think you might slip. Before you pitch a reporter, practice. Write down a few sentences, or opening lines, on your computer to refer to when you’re on the phone. Bullet some key points to hit on. Practice in front of the mirror. Pull a co-worker aside and have them fire questions at you. Send a news release to someone who has no link to the company and ask them if they would be interested in reading a story on it. This will give you the confidence that you can pitch a release and have a great story for a reporter to pick up on.

So, what words do you never leave home without?

Public Relations Roles explained through Baseball Positions

CJ Wilson of the Texas Rangers pitching

This post is cross-posted on the Next Communications blog.

In honor of the start of the 2009 Major League Baseball season, I thought it might be fun to create a listing of the roles and functions for public relations by baseball positions.

  1. Pitcher (P) – In baseball, the pitcher is the player who throws the baseball from the pitcher’s mound toward the catcher to begin each play, with the goal of retiring a batter who attempts to either make contact with it or draw a walk. In PR, the pitching role is one where the professional attempts to garner publicity or attention through effective media relations.
  2. Catcher (C) – Positioned behind home plate, the catcher can see the whole field; therefore, he is in the best position to direct and lead the other players in a defensive play. In PR, this is role of strategy. Like a catcher, the PR professional sees the big picture where they understand that actions will lead to specific reactions.
  3. First baseman (1B) – A first baseman is the player on the team playing defense who fields the area nearest first base. In PR, this is the role of first response. The initial response to problems and/or crisis will make or break the situation.
  4. Second baseman (2B) – The second baseman often possesses quick hands and feet, the ability to get rid of the ball quickly, and must be able to make the pivot on a double play. In PR, this role is of measured quickness. A public relations professional helps to protect reputation and vital relationships when an organization is under attack.
  5. Third baseman (3B) – Third base is known as the “hot corner”, because the third baseman is relatively close to the batter and most right-handed hitters tend to hit the ball hard in this direction. In PR, this is the role of coordination and quick reactions that comes with experience from having to catch hard line drives or difficult internal communication challenges.
  6. Shortstop (SS) – Shortstop is often regarded as the most dynamic defensive position in baseball so naturally the PR role is one of adaptability. The one constant is that things change, it is up to the public relations professional to be aware and keep up with the changing landscape of the profession, media, and organizational industry.
  7. Left fielder (LF) – Outfielders must cover large distances, so speed, instincts, and quickness in reacting to the ball are key. They must be able to learn to judge whether to attempt a difficult catch and risk letting the ball get past them, or to instead allow the ball to fall in order to guarantee a swift play and prevent the advance of runners. In PR, this role can be equated to good judgment. Professionals need to understand when not doing or saying something will provide the best benefit to the organization.
  8. Center fielder (CF) – The center fielder has the greatest responsibility among the three outfielders for coordinating their play to prevent collisions when converging on a fly ball, and on plays where he does not make the catch, he must position himself behind the corner outfielder in case the ball gets past him. In PR, this role is made up of the credibility a professional must possess in order to be an effective communicator to both internal and external audiences. Just like a center fielder, the PR professional needs excellent vision and depth perception.
  9. Right fielder (RF) – Of all outfield positions, the right fielder often has the strongest arm, because they are the farthest from third base. However, oftentimes, as in lower-levels of baseball, right field is the least likely to see much action because most hitters are right-handed and tend to pull the ball to the left field and center. In PR, this is the role of monitoring and measurement. Unfortunately, many professionals are not as up to speed in this area (me included) as we should do whatever it takes to learn how to measure. It requires additional work and research, but it is one of reward and justification for jobs well done.

Additional Positions

  • Designated Hitter (DH) – The designated hitter is the official position in the American League to bat in place of the pitcher. In PR, this is the role the understands the usefulness of social media for listening and engaging an organization’s community. The professional needs to fully grasp various aspects of the social web to reach audiences including, at times, as a way to by-pass the mainstream media.
  • Manager– A manager controls matters of team strategy on the field and team leadership. In Pr, it’s the same thing; coordination of play and tactical movements are integral for successful public relations.

Play Ball!

 

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