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31 ‘New Clues’ for PR Practitioners

February 23, 2015

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This post originally appeared on PR Daily

book-midFifteen years ago, “The Cluetrain Manifesto,” one of the most important business books of the Internet generation, took the world by storm.

Last month, two of that book’s authors, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, created the “New Clues,” an updated perspective on how the Internet affects marketing, PR and technology.

As I read over the “New Clues,” I thought about the original “Cluetrain” and reflected on how uneducated so many marketers remain to this day. I was wrong to look at the original “Cluetrain” as predictions of what was to come. They were, as the “New Clues” are today, a rallying cry for how things could and should be. These clues challenge readers to stop and consider the world-changing potential the Internet continues to have rather than defaulting to what we’ve always done.

Today’s public relations pros require their own rallying cry. Since the original “Cluetrain” came out, we’ve watched the journalism industry crumble, allowed social media to be taken over by marketers, and seen the rise of native advertising.

It’s do or die time for PR. We have to stop pining for how things used to be and instead take advantage of the opportunities right in front of us.

Maybe these 31 clues will help kickstart your brain and get you thinking bigger. Maybe they’ll be something you share with your teams as I did with the original Cluetrain. At a minimum, I hope they help replace some cynicism with a bit of optimism.

  1. Let’s say it together: PR does not equal media relations.
  2. Impressions, Advertising Value Equivalencies (AVE), hits, clips, reach, and engagement statistics can be manipulated (or even made up) to say anything we want. Clients are starting to understand this, too.
  3. We become what we measure. And what we’re measuring is garbage.
  4. That segment you secured on “The Rachael Ray Show” is great, but how exactly does that reach the target demographic of 45-year-old, single, male truck drivers?
  5. Bragging about the number of media placements and impressions you got is like bragging about the number of hours you worked. Neither number necessarily means you accomplished anything for the organization.
  6. Just because we can measure and optimize something doesn’t always mean we should.
  7. If you’re tired of your client continually asking you for more hits, impressions, or “likes,” show him the metrics that he should be paying attention to, maybe even metrics that are tied to his business goals.
  8. If we aren’t going to educate our clients on how they should measure PR success, who will?
  9. When trust in the media is at its lowest point in history, talking up “third-party credibility” doesn’t exactly conjure up images of Cronkite or Woodward and Bernstein.
  10. If we showed half as much interest in our client’s sales figures as we did to our last media placement, we’d be more likely to get that seat at the table we’re always asking about.
  11. Thanks for running through your comprehensive PR plan. Since you included every last detail, I can tell you put in a lot of work, but by slide 79, I needed a second cup of coffee just to make it through the presentation.
  12. If you’re going to talk about the value of one-on-one relationships in your proposal, try to wait at least a few days before you send the same press release to a thousand people on behalf of that client you just won.
  13. If relationships are so important, why do I only hear from PR people when they’re trying to sell me on something?
  14. Let’s put our money where our mouth is and require our teams to cultivate and maintain those relationships, even if it’s not during billable time.
  15. Given the choice between native advertising content, where impressions, message, and calls to action are guaranteed, what’s the incentive to allocating dollars to PR where not only do these guarantees not exist, the brand is opening itself up to substantial risk?
  16. Media placements in The New York Times or Time magazine don’t mean nearly as much to cost-focused clients when they can cut a check and get the same coverage with more control.
  17. Integrated marketing involves a lot more than simply bringing the SEO guy to the meeting.
  18. You do know that “writing” means more than just copying and pasting lines from a variety of previously approved materials, right?
  19. Writing in AP style and using the inverted pyramid is great, but you know what’s even better? Writing something that someone will want to read and maybe even share.
  20. Stop taking yourself so seriously. You’re managing Facebook and Instagram, not performing brain surgery. Stop thinking your customers are waiting with bated breath for your content. They’re not.
  21. Act as though you actually care about what your customers need and want rather than what will get the most “likes.”
  22. If you’re afraid of what customers might say about your brand if you ask them, you’ve got bigger problems than what to put on your content calendar.
  23. The most powerful phrase for a PR pro, in any medium, to anyone, is simply, “How can I help you?”
  24. Unfortunately, that won’t help our metrics so instead we’ll upload an image of a cat holding a sign that says “I haz help for you” with a search-optimized caption for our brand.
  25. Before you talk about your organization needing to be more “authentic” and “transparent,”you might want to take a peek behind the curtain. What’s authentic about your organization might be greed, scandal and obliviousness.
  26. On your next list of target audiences, include “employees.” Things will go much easier if you consider them before they learn what’s happening to their jobs from the local news anchor.
  27. PR had the opportunity to take the lead with social media and fundamentally change the way organizations communicate with people. Instead, we let marketers take control and turn it into an arms race for “likes,” fans, and followers.
  28. You’ve probably already told the guys writing the checks that if they took half the money they’re spending on banner ads and put it toward providing better customer service, they’d make their money back ten-fold. Keep telling them.
  29. And no, the customer doesn’t care that customer service is handled by another department with a separate budget. They’ll happily take their business elsewhere, and drop you a #fail tweet before they go.
  30. Is this why you really got into PR? Haggling with mommy bloggers over sponsored posts and creating Facebook meme photos?
  31. Even when “big data” becomes “huge data” and “mega data,” and our cars are driving themselves, PR will still be more art than science. It will still be about human-to-human interaction.
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Is Our PR Community Part of the New Pittsburgh or the Old One?

February 3, 2015

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This post originally appeared on PRSA Pittsburgh’s blog. 

Kayaks on the Allegheny

Creative Commons image from Flickr user Slackley

In this month’s Pittsburgh Magazine, there’s a story highlighting how millennials are literally and figuratively transforming my hometown.

Where there once existed the attitude that young people had to leave Pittsburgh to find a career, there’s now a sizable part of our city that feels is staying in Pittsburgh to create their career. And people around the country are taking notice.

From startup incubators to entrepreneurs to civil activists, Pittsburgh is attracting a demographic I grew used to being surrounded by over the last 12 years in both Washington D.C. and Chicago. People who care more about making an impact rather than getting a promotion. People who volunteer alongside competitors and clients to advance a cause they believe in. People who go to as many networking events, conferences, and happy hours as they could just to be a part of the energy around them.

When I moved back here in August, my friends and colleagues all asked if I’d miss that feeling, that energy. They said that atmosphere doesn’t exist here because if you’re talented and ambitious, you know better than to stay in Pittsburgh. They said I’d miss that vibe and that I’d wish I didn’t move. They said Pittsburgh is where you go if you can’t hack it in a bigger city or when you’re ready to slow down and take it easy.

I want to prove them wrong.

Pittsburgh and other mid-size cities get a bad rap in the PR and marketing industry. “You need to be in NYC to get access to the media,” they say. “The most creative work comes out of the big agencies because they can afford the talent,” they say. There’s a hell of a lot of talent outside of New York and Chicago that tends to get lost because, paradoxically, PR people generally do an awful job at promoting themselves. Even in our own city, it’s the startups in the East End, or the CMU engineers, or the foodie restaurants that are opening up who get all the attention for the “new Pittsburgh.” Where’s the PR, advertising, and marketing community in all of that?

I want to show them that we’ve got some cool things up our sleeves too.

And I think there’s a whole lot people here in the Pittsburgh PR community who feel the same way. Whether it’s the wonderful team that I have at my agency or the enthusiastic PRSA Pittsburgh Board members or the people I met last night at the PRSA Pittsburgh Renaissance Awards, I’ve seen that ambition and desire to make an impact, to be at the tip of the spear of something big. The potential is there.

This year, let’s show the rest of this city and the country what we’ve got here.

Let’s commit to never saying “because that’s how things have been done before.”

Let’s do a better job at educating the people in our organization about the value we bring.

Let’s collaborate and come together more often (virtually and physically) to learn from and push each other to do big things.

Let’s think bigger.

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PR Pros: Start Thinking Bigger Before It’s Too Late

November 24, 2014

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This article originally appeared in PR Daily.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at PRSA Pittsburgh’s Professional Development Day  where I spoke about some of the changes that integrated marketing is having on the PR industry. The part of my presentation that drew the greatest reaction from the mostly entry level and student attendees was when I said that the industry has to stop the incessant whining about how PR doesn’t have a seat at the table or how people just don’t “get PR.” I even shared a great quote from my friend Rick Rice that raised some eyebrows –

“The PR industry is in need of disruptive change and none of this generation are even willing to try.”

All of the issues with today’s PR industry – that we’re an afterthought, that people don’t understand what we do or the value we bring, that anyone can do what we do – are nobody’s fault but our own. For years decades, many public relations professionals have chosen to complain about their lack of participation in the big picture rather than taking charge and forcing their way into it. Here’s a hint for all you young PR pros out there:

Kids Table

Image courtesy of Flickr user terren in Virginia

If you want to sit at the big kid table, start acting like one of the big kids.

What does this mean? Well, to start, it means that you have to start speaking their language. Stop talking about hits, placements, and impressions and start talking about share points, aided and unaided awareness, conversions, leads, and sales. That doesn’t mean that PR is going to be directly responsible for any of these, but it does show that you are invested in the whole of the business, not just your specific workstream. It shows that you can add value beyond the PR section of a deck. Every time a PR pro says “I hate math – that’s why I went into PR,” the industry gets pushed further and further down the ladder.

It means that you have to stop talking about how the sausage is made and start focusing on the impact to the larger business. Have you ever watched a presentation from a brand planner? Compare that to a PR guy’s presentation. The brand planner focuses on the big picture. She gets everyone excited about the insights, the winning strategy and how it leads to the overall end result – the impact that it’s going to have on the business. It’s quick. It’s to the point. It’s visual. But most of all, it’s interesting throughout. The PR guy, on the other hand, will feel the need to justify his existence by diving into the nuts and bolts of each individual tactic. He includes all kinds of bullets and charts and graphs. By the time he’s on phase 3 on slide 14, all of the excitement has been sucked out of the room. He’s now trained everyone in the room to believe that PR is small and tactical rather than big and impactful.

It also means that you have to stop rushing to quick wins and slow down. Before launching into your PR ideas, strategies and tactics, ask to see the overall marketing plan. Ask to see the brand’s business objectives. Ask to see the proof behind the copy points in the ads. Ask if you can talk with customers and employees to learn more about what makes the brand unique. Stop trying to rush around so that you can get some results, any results. Slow down, do your research, understand the business. Make it a required part of the PR process. Don’t give in. As an industry, we have to stop asking “how high?” anytime a client or account manager says jump or we’re never going to get the respect we deserve.

Now that brands can pay to secure native content in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Wall Street Journal that achieves similar (if not better) statistics as traditional editorial content, the value proposition of a PR pro has to change. As publishers get better and better at integrating native advertising both effectively and ethically, the PR pro’s old standby – “earned coverage has a lot more credibility paid media” – starts to erode. Given the choice between reallocating some of my paid media dollars to native advertising content, where my impressions, message, and CTAs are guaranteed, in a format that is achieving similar traffic, what’s the incentive to trying to earn editorial coverage where I have none of those guarantees and potentially open my brand up to a negative article? Saving a few dollars? That might work for smaller brands without a large media budget, but what about the big brands with millions of dollars?

Some of us have added things like social media, content marketing, media buying, and SEO/SEM to our resumes to try to stay ahead of the curve but these are short-term, tactical solutions. We have to think bigger, beyond the execution of these roles. We have to understand consumer’s entire journey with the the brand’s category and what, if any role, the brand should play at each stage. In a world where transparency and authenticity have become marketing hallmarks, PR has to think of itself less as a workstream and more as a mindset that’s integrated across everything a brand does.

Someone needs to understand how all of these different parts work together. Why can’t PR assume the role of multi-channel quarterback?

What if PR served as a kind of corporate ombudsman, there to call bullshit on the hyperbolic marketing language and “hit you over the head” marketing tactics?

What if (gasp!) PR led your creative?

What if PR, the people who know the public better than anyone, helped shape a brand’s products and services?

What would happen if we started thinking bigger?

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Running a PR Department vs. Running a PR Agency

September 15, 2014

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Picture courtesy of Flickr user popculturegeek

The PR skillsets and attitudes differ whether you’re leading a PR agency or you’re leading a PR department in an integrated agency

Running a PR department within a larger agency is very different from running your own PR agency. From the employees that are hired to the way PR is even talked about, the skillsets don’t necessarily translate from one to the other. Try to run your department like an agency and watch as you slowly isolate your team from the rest of the agency, leaving adversarial relationships in your wake. Run your agency like a department and get ready for lots of frustration when you’re unable to expand and scale your work. After leading a number of PR and social media teams within large organizations as well as working with a number of people who run their own agencies, I’ve realized that while both roles may have the Director title, the two roles are very different in a few fundamental ways.

  • Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Doubling the number of people on my team isn’t a success metric. Sure, I’m always looking to grow the agency’s business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the PR business should also get larger. Sometimes, growing the PR business on a particular account may not be part of the agency’s strategy. Sometimes, securing another PR-led account might mean I’m not able to dedicate the time/talent to other integrated accounts.
  • PR vs. PR. There’s no single definition for what PR should or shouldn’t entail. In many organizations, it’s everything – media relations, investor relations, events, social media, web content, etc. In others, it’s only one or more of these. In an integrated agency, you have to understand what aspect of PR you’re responsible for and what other agencies are responsible for and work with them. In many cases, I’ve found myself working right alongside another PR agency because they’re responsible for the client’s overall corporate communications whereas my team is responsible for the earned media portion of an integrated campaign.
  • PR isn’t always the answer. There’s no hammer searching for a nail here. When you’re leading your own PR agency, you’re always advocating for your agency and trying to secure additional hours/scope. In an integrated agency, you have to not only understand PR, but also paid media, SEO and SEM, Digital, Social Media, User Experience, etc. You have an entire toolbox of capabilities at your disposal and you have to understand how and when and where to leverage them all.
  • Learn to give to get. Sometimes when I’m part of these huge client meetings, I’ll say something like, “you know, I’ve got $10K in my budget that I could slide over to the Digital team if that would help get the site up and running on time.” People will still look at me like I have three heads. “You’re giving away the PR budget????” Well yeah, if there’s another strategy or tactic that will help meet our business objectives, why wouldn’t I? When you’re working in an integrated agency, you have to understand that whatever money you take is coming from someone else’s budget. Show a willingness to share budgets and resources with other departments and it’ll come back to you, often from departments with much deeper pockets.
  • Your clients are brand managers, not PR people. There are going to be times where you absolutely kill it from a PR perspective and it won’t matter one bit to the client. You might be uber-excited about that opportunity you’ve secured with that morning show, only to have your client shrug his/her shoulders and say “eh, we’ll pass.” The hits, the placements, the coverage that gets PR people all excited doesn’t always have the same effect on people who are responsible for the overall marketing campaign. To them, every dollar that gets spent on trying to earn media is a dollar that could be spent paying for guaranteed media. You have to understand and empathize with their plight and figure out ways to fit PR into that mindset rather than getting frustrated that they “don’t understand PR.”

As more and more agencies integrate paid, owned, earned, and social media in their own ways, the PR professional needs to evolve accordingly, especially those in senior level positions. It’s one thing to have a leadership role at a PR agency, but unfortunately, many of those lessons learned and best practices no longer apply to leadership roles at a PR department in an integrated agency.

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