Tag Archives: public relations

Public Relations Isn’t the Cherry on Top

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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What Steve Taught Me

The following is a guest post from some of the people who worked the closest with Steve over the past 4+ years at Booz Allen. His impact on the firm and individual people within the firm will be realized for many years to come. We’ve captured a few of the top lessons learned from Steve that we will carry with us in our work and life forever.

Steve taught me…
·         …that fortune favors the bold and fearless. Specifically, he taught me that creative, thoughtful ideas that have the potential to transform and disrupt should never be held back.  —Michael Dumlao
·         …that you don’t have to wear a suit jacket to play with the big boys!!! —Mike Robert
·         …how to navigate in a large consulting firm after spending my whole life in the education & research world –Don Jones
·         …the power of empowering others to build something new by boldly leading –Don Jones
·         …that great ideas can change powerful institutions, even when their tendency is to remain in stasis –Don Jones
·         …that be willing to speak up and shake the status quo can pay off –Don Jones
·         …that you can take the boy out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take Pittsburgh out of the boy –Don Jones
·         …that people come first. Time spent developing your "second team" is the most strategic investment you can make in your career. — Jacque Myers

  …to lead by example. Don't tell people what they should do–show them, and then empower them to take the lead. –Jacque Myers

  …to take risks, but choose your battles. Sometimes you have to ruffle feathers to get things done, but make sure it's truly necessary. Don't be a rebel for the sake of rebelling. Work within the system, and if it's something worthwhile that can't be accomplished the traditional way, blaze trails. –Jacque Myers

  …to network, network, network. I can't even count the number of times Steve would say to me, "You know (so and so) right?" He has a way of identifying people that matter and then building – and sustaining – relationships with them. Fortunately, he freely shared that network with me. One of my biggest challenges (and opportunities) moving forward will be to expand my own network in his absence. –Jacque Myers

  …If you believe in something, don't stop until you make it happen. Steve had a vision for transparency and collaboration in government long before the Open Government Directive and the #gov20 hash tag, and he would talk about it to anyone who would listen. He found people who shared his vision, and he worked with us to challenge our clients and transform the way they do business. His vision has been realized, and now it's time to move on to new opportunities and new challenges. Steve – Best of luck to you as you begin this new chapter! –Jacque Myers

·         …how to say yes enough to earn the right to say no.  –Tracy Johnson
·         …that getting your hands dirty almost always pays off. –Tracy Johnson
·         …that being a great leader has nothing to do with a title.  –Tracy Johnson
·         …how important it is to be a champion and mentor for other colleagues. I can’t thank you enough for being my champion over the past 3 years. Your support and encouragement has changed my career and life for the better. –Tracy Johnson
What has Steve taught you? How did it change your career or life? Please share your thoughts and well-wishes for Steve’s new adventures in the comments section!
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The Year in Social Media Strategery

As 2011 comes to a close, it's only natural (and for a blog, virtually mandatory) to reflect on the year that's passed. Since that first post more than three years ago until now, this blog has served as the foundation for everything I've done in creating and building the social media practice at Booz Allen. During the first year, it was the pioneer, carving the way for others throughout the firm to feel empowered to create their own blogs as well. The second year was probably my most enjoyable year authoring this blog because I had moved beyond the "justifying my existence" stage, the Gov 2.0 community was active and engaged, and I found myself really in the trenches with a lot of my clients helping them work through many of the issues that I got to write about. This third year though, was a little different. As my firm's social media capabilities matured beyond the start-up phase and expanded to other areas of the firm, I found myself struggling with how to scale and sustain these efforts and this was reflected in my writing too. 

I wrote about a lot of different topics this year – from community management to higher education to public relations, and even personal introspection – reflecting the many different focus areas I had in my own career over the last year. Was I going to focus on Enterprise 2.0? Or Public Relations? Social Media? Social Media and Higher Education? Sports? Change Management? Management? While I remain interested in all of these topics (and many more), I've realized that I have do a better job of focusing, both professionally and personally. As I look forward to 2012 and my fourth year of blogging here, I'm going to do a better job of focusing my energy on a few areas instead of trying to get involved with every opportunity I'm interested in. Now, I just need to identify what those focus areas are….

While I think through that, here are my top five posts of 2011, as determined by how much you liked them, the reaction they generated, and how much I enjoyed writing them:

  1. Rest in Peace, Social Media Ninjas – Probably my most controversial post of the year as some applauded it and others (predictably, some social media ninjas) heartily disagreed. While I used stronger language than I usually do, that's because I really do think social is better when integrated into other functions rather than operating in a vacuum.
  2. Seven Things About Social Media You're Not Going to Learn in College – This post actually received a lot more interest over on the PRSA blog, comPRhension than it did here, but I was still very proud of this post as I heard time and time again from students and professors alike who referenced it in their classes.
  3. The Many Roles of an Internal Community Manager – One of my favorite posts I've ever written because I lived it and because this was one of the best ways I found to really show other people what it is a community manager actually does and why the role can't be filled by just anybody.
  4. More Than Words: How to Really Redefine the Term, "Public Relations" – This one hasn't gotten as much traffic as I would have hoped, but I'm including it here because I'm tired of the bum rap us PR practitioners get and because we've got an opportunity now, as an industry, to change this perception. We have the tools to put the relationships back into public relations.
  5. Insulate Open Government Efforts from Budget Cuts – This post became one a frequent soapbox of mine over the course of the year, as I frequently found myself asking both my team and my clients, "what's the business objective you're trying to achieve? Your goal isn't to get more Facebook fans – what's your real goal? How does this effort tie back to your mission?" 

This blog, much like myself, was a little all over the place this year. I'm looking forward to this next year, to meeting more of you who read and share my thoughts, to working on projects that really make a difference, and to sharing my thoughts and experiences with all of you. I hope everyone has a great holiday season and finishes out 2011 having a great time with great friends. See you all in 2012!!

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More Than Words: How to Really Redefine the Term “Public Relations”

There’s big news in the PR industry as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) recently announced that they are embarking on an international effort to modernize the definition of public relations. Chartered in 1947, PRSA is the world’s largest and foremost organization of public relations professionals and boasts a community of more than 21,000 members across the U.S. Their current definition of PR – “public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other” was last updated in 1982, before Twitter, before Facebook, hell, even before you had a computer at your desk. Technology has changed a lot over the last 30 years. So to have the ways in which organizations and their publics relate to one another. It’s definitely time for a change.

Adam Lavelle, a member of the board of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and chief strategic officer at the iCrossing unit of Hearst, agrees. In the New York Times article linked above, he says:

“Before the rise of social media, public relations was about trying to manage the message an entity was sharing with its different audiences.” Now, P.R. has to be more about facilitating the ongoing conversation in an always-on world.”

Unfortunately,  ever since the days of Edward Bernays, PR has had its roots in “managing the message.” PR grew out of propaganda, spin, and manipulation – no wonder we’ve had an image problem for the last 100 years! Too many PR practitioners have become so focused on the message that they have totally forgotten the relations part of public relations. As The Cluetrain Manifesto taught us way back in 1999 (also before social media), “public relations does not relate to the public, companies are deeply afraid of their markets.” From press releases that sound like this and media pitches like this, PR practitioners have gotten lazy, hiding behind words and messages instead of building an actual relationships.

PRSA (disclaimer: I’ve been a member of PRSA or PRSSA since 2000) should take this same advice while redefining the definition of PR. The words might end up being totally accurate and insightful, but if PR practitioners don’t also change their actions, the perception of the industry will never change. I hope that all PRSA members would realize the perception of public relations is about more than words – it’s about actions. And with that, here are ten actions that I’d like to become part of the new definition of public relations:

  1. Instead of spamming my email pitches to massive distribution lists, I will put in more than ten seconds of effort and personalize it to the reporter/blogger/writer/anchor/editor I’m contacting
  2. I will stop being a yes-man for my clients and actually provide the expert communications counsel I’m (hopefully) being paid to provide
  3. I will learn how to speak with an actual human voice instead of the voice of mission statements, brochures, and marketing pitches
  4. I will not forget the relations in public relations and will try to develop real relationships with the members of the media I work with instead of treating them like pawns that can be manipulated
  5. I will stop snowing my clients and inflating my value through the use of ambiguous outputs like hits, impressions, and ad equivalency and instead focus on the outcomes that public relations has helped accomplish
  6. I can no longer be the man behind the curtain, ghostwriting messages and press releases while I hide behind my brand or organization. I will take responsibility for my strategies and tactics.
  7. Regardless of my age, I will recognize that keeping up with and understanding technology is now a job requirement
  8. Likewise, I will stop assuming that social media IS public relations and vice versa. Social media is becoming a much larger aspect of PR and present practitioners with new tools to use, but they are not one in the same.
  9. PR cannot exist in a vacuum – I realize that my PR efforts will be more effective if I collaborate and communicate regularly with marketing, advertising, strategy, operations and other groups throughout the organization.
  10. And finally, I will recognize that good public relations isn’t about manipulating media coverage – it’s about helping an organization create and maintain stronger relationships with all of its stakeholders.

Redefining “public relations” is a crucial first step, but changing the perception of public relations will require more than than words – it will require a shift in the thinking and the actions of thousands of PR professionals. Let’s start modeling the behaviors we hope to instill in all PR practitioners and start taking PR from messages to actions.

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