Author Archives | sradick

About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

Public Relations Isn’t the Cherry on Top

April 23, 2012

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user SeRVe Photography

"Let's bring PR in so they'll get us some media coverage for the new launch!"

"Let's make sure we have PR look this over to make us sound better."

"Can you have PR develop a plan to make sure the public thinks we're awesome?"

"Our customers keep complaining about our product – can we get PR in here to help drown that out with good stuff instead?" 

"No one is following our Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Pinterest/LinkedIn/Foursquare account – can PR go get us more fans/followers/likes/subscribers/friends?"

We've all heard these things at one point or another in our career because people continue to misunderstand what public relations is. Despite coming up with new definitions, there continues to be a lack of awareness on the part of our clients, colleagues, and friends about what we actually do and the value that we bring to a business. PR isn't:

  • Some transactional activity that's thought about only after the advertising campaign is created.
  • Something that's brought in after the product is completed and you're gearing up for launch.
  • About getting media coverage.
  • About making the public think your product is the best or that your company is awesome
  • About generating "buzz"
  • Something that's going to cover up bigger issues like customer service or product quality

Public Relations is much deeper than all of this. Public Relations is about – you guessed it – building and maintaining relationships with the public, the very public buying your products, walking into your stores, writing about your company, and telling their friends about their experiences. Those users, demographics, markets, and audiences that you and your analysts always talk about? They're actual human beings. Human beings with very loud voices who can, at moment's notice, make or break your business. Your brand isn't determined by what you say you are, but by what you actually do. It's determined by what your customers see and hear from you every day.

The general public has never had more power than they do right now. Yet, businesses continue to try to take the easy way out clumsily advertising, optimizing, and marketing to these people like they're switches that can be turned on and off if we hit the right levers. What most companies don't realize is that not only is the public more powerful than ever, they are also smarter than ever too. Your customers, employees, and partners want require more than a company talking at them – they want a company that talks with them. They want to talk to actual people. They want companies who care about more than selling more widgets. They want companies who think about something other than their own bottom line. 

Paradoxically, organizations continue to look at public relations practitioners – the very people trained in developing and maintaining these relationships that are more important than ever – as little more than an afterthought. "Oh yeah – we're going to need PR to drum up some media coverage too!" Smart organizations are realizing that marketing and advertising can only take them so far. As my favorite book, the Cluetrain Manifesto says –

"We have real power and we know it. If you don't quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that's more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with."

Successful organizations are integrating public relations earlier and deeper than ever before. Instead of being a key component of their marketing campaigns, PR is now becoming an integral part of their business plans. This integration, while more time-consuming, has many benefits:

  • Online communities of advocates who promote your brand not because they're being paid or because they have to, but because they truly love your brand
  • Consumers who are more likely to forgive when you inevitably make a mistake
  • Employees who truly love your brand and who act as an extension of your marketing department through their everyday work
  • People who will pay a little more for your product because they trust you
  • Reporters who call you asking for story ideas instead of the other way around
  • Organizations who voluntarily cross-promote your products/services because they trust and respect you
  • People who will leap to your defense in the face of attacks and criticism
  • A corporate voice that sounds authentically human instead of stiff, hollow, and fake
  • Content that is entertaining, informative, and/or useful instead of screaming BUY OUR STUFF NOW!!!!
  • Issues that never become full-blown crises because of the relationships that have been built with employees, customers, media, and partners
  • Corporate counsel that represents the public, not just the bottom line or the shareholder

The public is more powerful now than ever before and good public relations has never been important for your brand. Shouldn't PR become more than a bullet point at the end of the agenda, more than last department to get budget allocations, more than the cherry on top of the sundae? Shouldn't your relationships with the public be a key component of everything you do?

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Stop Trying to Take the Easy Way Out

April 8, 2012

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Lazy Peep by Flickr user [F]oxymoron

I attended the PRSA Digital Impact Conference last week, and like many PR events, it had a mix of really great presentations but I also noticed the continuation of a disturbing trend throughout our profession – laziness. Laziness disguised as "social media best practices" and cool new tools. 

Don't get me wrong – I don't think people are actively trying to be lazy. I don't think most people even realize that they're trying to take the easy way out. I think they view it as becoming more efficient or effective. And while many of these tools and practices may help someone increase their reach or save them some time, they are also making social media a hell of a lot less social. Why are marketers and PR pros doing everything they can to eliminate the most beneficial part of social media – the people? We are taking what should be a boon to our industry – social media – and making the exact same mistakes we've been making for years with other media. We're reducing relationships to impressions. We're eliminating conversations in favor of automated Tweets. Auto-DMs have replaced actual introductions. Hell, ghost-tweeters even allow you to remove completely  yourself from the equation altogether. People, relationships, and feelings are complicated – metrics, statistics, and tools are a lot easier to deal with. 

Imagine if we could do the same in the real world. Tired of going on all those dates without that…ahem…"payoff" you're looking for? Here's a tool that will let you isolate the targets most likely to deliver said payoff. Tired of all those boring conversations with your wife about how her day went? Here's a tool that will play auto-responses from you so that you can focus on watching the game instead.  I'll just use this app to create a hologram to sit at my desk even when I'm not there and auto-talk with the people I work with. That way, I can be "interacting" with my co-workers 24 hours a day!! 

Dan Perez wrote a post a few months ago – "The Bastardization of Pinterest Has Begun: A Rant" – where he noticed how marketers, advertisers, and PR people have flocked to Pinterest, crowding out actual conversation in favor of more and more content, infographics, and promotions. Social media used to be about people connecting with other people. Forming and strengthening actual relationships. Sadly, it hasn't taken long for people to figure out how to game the systems, how to eliminate actual conversations (those take time, you know) and minimize actual relationships (those can get messy). 

Like the kid scoring 10 goals on wraparound goals on NHL '94 (seriously, if you played that game, you know what I'm talking about – that play was unstoppable) or blocking extra points with Lawrence Taylor on Tecmo Bowl, people are sucking all of the fun and authenticity out of our social media platforms via tools and practices that promote automation and efficiency over relationships and conversation. 

Integrating social media into your public relations and marketing strategies can be difficult and if you haven't already done it, it's only going to get harder. There are a lot of PR professionals out there who think it's going to get easier – there's going to be some new tool that will automate everything, some new "best practices" that they can copy, or that some social media playbook is just going to appear that gives them the step-by-step of how to "do social media." There will always be people claiming to have tools and methodologies that will maximize your time in social media or to eliminate the time you spend Tweeting with only one person (if you would just Tweet between the hours of 3 and 4 on Tuesdays, you'll maximize your reach!!). 

Don't be one of those guys. Be the guy who values actual relationships and conversations over likes, impressions, and followers. Instead of trying to game the system, take some time and actually enjoy the people you're getting to know. Being able to blast your generic press releases out to 10,000 more people isn't a good thing. Focus on sending it to the right 1,000 people instead. Talk with a reporter about the stuff he's writing before you need something from him. Instead of measuring your success by how much stuff you put out and how many people it may have reached, measure your success by how many people actually read it, shared it, and did something with it. Just like playing Tecmo Bowl or NHL '94, gaming social media is easy, fast and unfulfilling. Building actual relationships and talking with people takes time, can be messy, and isn't real efficient, but it's much more rewarding. 

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Identify the Right People to Manage Your Social Media Initiatives

March 29, 2012

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A version of this post originally appeared on this blog last year. I'm re-posting it with a few minor modifications because I just gave a presentation based on this content at PRSA's Digital Impact Conference. The full presentation is embedded below and available here.

Who leads your organization's social media initiatives? Is it someone who rose up and took the role or is is someone who was assigned that role?

Social media isn't something that can just be assigned to someone any more than you can just assign someone to be the homecoming king. Adding "social media" to that junior public affairs officer's job description isn't suddenly going to turn your organization into the next Zappo's. While you're at it, you might as well add "organizational budgeting" and "legal review" to his job description too – those are two other things that he/she might be able to do well, but would you really entrust those duties to them?

This is why so many social media initiatives fail – not because of technology or policy, but because of people.  We talk often about what department should lead social media, how to get leadership buy-in for social media, or what technology should be used, and while those are important discussions to have, you should be focused on identifying WHO should be leading the social media initiatives.  Not whether that's the Chief Marketing Officer or the Director of Public Affairs or the Community Relations Lead, but actual names of people.  Remember, social media is driven by the person, not the position.

The best person right now might be Joe over in Marketing, but what if Joe leaves the organization?  Who leads the social media initiatives then?  The answer isn't necessarily Joe's replacement.  It might be Kim over in HR. It might be that new guy over in community relations, or maybe it's your webmaster.  The point is that social media doesn't fit nicely into just one job description.  There's a very real human element to it, and identifying the wrong person, even if it is the right position is often the biggest determination in the success or failure of your social media initiatives.

To find the right person to handle social media for your organization, look for people who:

  • LOVE your organization and really understand its mission – first and foremost, find the people who love their jobs and believe in your mission. This isn't a job for the person interested in just the paycheck.
  • Believe in the transformative power of social media – it's not about applying the same old processes to new tools. It's about fundamentally transforming the way your organization interacts with the public, your customers and with each other.
  • You enjoy being around – If a person is a real butthead in real-life, he's going to be that way online too, and you can't afford to have someone like that representing you or your organization
  • Have little fear of failure – Early in my career, a client pulled me aside after they shot down 3 straight ideas I had and told me, "I want to make sure that you understand we WANT you to continue bringing those off-the-wall ideas because it forces us to think of things we never thought of and even if we don't take your suggestions now, they all become building blocks for future ideas."
  • Enjoy working in teams – Social media is "social" – you have to enjoy working with a diverse group of people
  • Are responsive – There is no 24 hour news cycle any more. It's real-time baby. You need people who you KNOW will reply to emails, tweets, texts, etc. quickly and thoroughly. Interestingly, these are also often the people who are the most ambitious and passionate about your organization too.  (*note – these are also the people who may take longer lunches or come in a little late because they don't just "shut off" at 5:00 PM)
  • Can speak like a human being – Corporate marketing speak, statistics, facts, and figures are good, but when was the last time you got inspired by a pie chart? Find people who can connect with their colleagues/customers/clients on a personal level
  • Are very aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are open about them – One of the first things I tell new employees is to find out what you're good at and find out what you're not good at, and then find people who are good at those things and make friends with them. In social media, you're going to come across issues regarding privacy, IT, legal, communications, and HR, not to mention specific functional areas of your organization. You can't know it all – know what you don't know, and know who to contact for help.
  • Are humble -People mess up in social media. A lot.  It's ok.  Admit you're wrong, fix what you messed up and move on. Not everyone can do this, and very few can do it well.
  • Are diplomatic – The point of social media isn't just to get more followers and friends. It's to help your organization reach its communications, marketing, and sales goals. That's why social media managers need to know how to educate others across the organization and demonstrate how social media can help their business.
  • Are dedicated to building a scalable, sustainable team – People go on vacation. People take other jobs. People get transferred. Make sure that your social media manager has the organization's long-term interests in mind and isn't just focused on raising his or her profile.

Now that I think about it,these are many of the same qualities that exist in any leader, right?  So, what other qualities would you look for when trying to identify someone to head up a social media initiative?

This post was inspired by Andrew Wilson's "Innovation Lab | Who Should Be At The Table" post and Lovisa Williams' "The Intersection" post. Fantastic stuff (as usual) by the both of them.

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Establishing a Vision and Then Getting Your Team to Buy Into It

March 23, 2012

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As I wrap up my first week in Chicago, I've fully realized the advantage of working with the same people for years – they knew exactly how I thought about PR, social media, communications, and branding. They knew what I looked for in their work, what questions I would ask, what points I wanted them to make. Over the years, they had heard me say the same things so many times that they had all bought into the same approach to our work. This wasn't because it was mandated  or because I beat it into them (I don't have, what you might call an intimidating presence), but because we were worked together to form these axioms and bought into them collectively. 

The "Follow Me" statue in Infantry Hall at Fort Benning, GA

This past week however, has been a bit of a trip back in time for me as I again have to not only share my unique approach to our work, but also get my co-workers to see the value in the way I do things and buy into that approach. This is one of the differences between management and leadership. Can I get my new team to buy into my approach not because they have to (they don't) or because they'll get fired if they don't (they won't), but because they believe it's the right way? 

That's one of the big things I'll be working on over these next few months. So what are those things? Here are a few of the things my old team probably heard me say a million times:

  • Ten actions that will define how you look at PR – Too many PR practitioners have become so focused on the message that they have totally forgotten the relations part of public relations. Let's not fall into the same trap.
  • It's not about the technology, it's what the technology enables – Something I've said ever since I started using social media. All the bells and whistles and new features are great, but don't get distracted by the latest tools. Stay focused on our clients' goals and objectives and if the latest tech will help achieve that, then great. But don't try to use Pinterest, Highlight, Path, and Google+ just because you saw some social media nerds saying it's the "next Facebook!" Use them if and when they can help your clients achieve their communications goals.
  • Be you and be you all the time – Don't try to act/dress/talk like someone else just because you think that's what you need to do to get promoted  or to be accepted. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses and be confident in your unique abilities.
  • Don't be afraid to take risks – If it's been more than a few months before someone had to pull you back from an idea or you got scolded for pushing the envelope a little too much, you're probably not doing your job as well as you could. Don't be afraid to take calculated risks, but don't be reckless. Have a rationale for your decisions and try new things. I'll trust you and provide you with the top cover to take those risks. 
  • Don't become a social media ninja – use social media to become a better… – Social media technology offers tremendous tools for PR pros, and yes, I think we all need to be aware of their impact on our industry. However, I have no desire to create a team of gurus and ninjas. Instead, I want my team to understand how to best incorporate social media into their PR strategies and tactics. Social isn't the be-all, end-all of communication.
  • Don't forget that you're a human being so remember to talk like one – The Cluetrain Manifesto said it best – "In just a few more years, the current homogenized "voice" of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court." Remember that your goal is to develop and strengthen relationships with actual people, not just to sell something to a faceless, nameless customer.
  • Let's not look for "established best practices" for our clients – let's create the practices other people call best practices – You should absolutely continue to research what other companies and agencies have done or are doing. See what you can learn from their successes and failures, but don't identify a best practice and then try to replicate it. Use these best practices and lessons learned as source materials and then come up with your own idea, an idea that no one's ever thought of before. Sure, maybe 90% of your ideas will end up on the cutting room floor, but that one idea that makes it will be ten times better than if you had taken the easy route and followed the best practices laid out in the PR person's handbook. 
  • Be a trusted adviser – Your relationship with your client should be a partnership, not a dictatorship. Learn how to do more than just do what your client says. Build your relationship with them so that you can be candid (both positively and negatively) with each other.
  • Nothing is more important than your people – If you need something, I will get it for you. If you're interested in something, I'll do my best to give you those opportunities. If you ask me a question, I'll get you an answer. If you send me an email, I'll reply as fast I can.

I'm sure there are many more that I've forgotten here (if you've worked with me before, what else would you add?), and many more that I'll learn along the way. I'm excited to find out how these views fit into the culture here, and how they might adapt over time.  Until then, I guess it's time to go annoy a whole new group of co-workers with my little sayings 🙂

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