Re: Do Not ‘Reply All’

Ever wonder who came up with those e-mail sending options? Probably not, but surely you use them all the time.  Whether you cc colleagues or clients, bcc your biggest in-office ally (or legal counsel), or have a penchant for including everyone you’ve ever met on e-mail chains, your use of the world’s most impersonal personal communications method is marked by e-mail functions.

Unless you work for Nielsen. According to recent reports, the company’s CIO has disabled the “Reply All” function on all corporate Outlook programs, making it that much harder for employees to 1.) Inundate every staffer’s inbox with unnecessary “Will do” or “Talk to you then” messages, 2.) Communicate private information to an audience of many or 3.) Completely humiliate yourself by accidentally sending a snarky comment about your boss’ new haircut to the entire office.

Will this move:

a.    Reduce non-essential messages and enforce e-mailing in moderation
b.    Add unnecessary busy work for employees who really do use the “Reply All” function correctly and with admirable self-control
c.    Become a cruel social experiment to see who in the organization goes postal first

Feel free to choose all that apply.

By Courtney Barnes

PR is on a Roll…

We’re buying less toilet paper, apparently.  According to an article on Ad Age’s site ,  Kimberly-Clark reported a 5.5% decrease in toilet paper sales last quarter.  No offense to all of us in PR, but there are analogies here.  Corporations are not conducting less PR, though they might be making do with the resources they have and being creative in their outreach. To wit, Kimberly-Clark execs say people aren’t necessarily not using Cottonelle, they’re  just reaching into the backs of their linen closets for those last rolls of toilet paper. So: Aren’t we all spending a little time dusting off our shelves and finding ways of leveraging existing resources?  Likewise, PR firms and corporations in general are not laying off staff like other sectors  (in fact, I’ve seen reports pointing to boosts in PR spending in the last year and years ahead). However, I haven’t spoken to one general manager at an agency who is buying extra of anything — toilet paper included.  Yet I’ve heard from corporate PR colleagues who are spending more time on measurement tools to prove PR’s worth to the C-suite. So we’re treading carefully in this economic quagmire, and rightly so. But every organization needs PR and if they think they can do without it, I refer back to that last sheet of toilet paper on that last roll in your closet — you just don’t want to be in that position.

Can you share some of examples of how your PR department or agency is conserving costs, toilet paper tales excluded?

- Diane Schwartz

Welcome to the Age of Transparency

Democrats and Republicans alike watched Tuesday’s historic inauguration with a delicate combination of excitement, fear, hope and skepticism. Perhaps hope was the most widely publicized emotion, with the media sinking its teeth into every possible euphemism for change we can believe in. But alongside this hope was—and still is—fear and skepticism, as Americans know that, like him or not, Obama is our only chance for finding the light at the end of this tunnel.

Well, for the business world at least, Mr. President made quite a first impression, using his first full day on the job to impose aggressive new rules on government transparency and ethics—a move he called “a clean break from business as usual.” Indeed, this has significant and immediate implications on businesses, which are anticipating Obama’s reign to tighten regulations and, of course, demand more transparent communications with all stakeholders.

What does this mean for PR professionals?  In theory, it should mean that very little has changed, as transparency is among the most profound communications commandments. But in reality, we all know that this is wishful thinking. Crises that stem from lies, fraud and corporate malfeasance are ubiquitous, and communications executives are the ones who are left to pick up the pieces.

Will Obama’s policy changes formalize the code of conduct that communicators have been pushing for ages? Or will they just do more to undercover the rotten underbelly of “business as usual?”

By Courtney Barnes

Friends Aren’t What They Used to Be: A Facebook Folly

When my daughter — who just crossed over into teenager territory — asked me how many friends I had, I was reminded of how things have changed.  Surely I have less friends, now that I am in my fourth decade. Yet by her definition I actually have more friends than ever. Just a second ago I confirmed that I was friends with someone who I didn’t even know. Friendship is a wonderful thing.  I plan to “un-friend” her just as I have “un-friended” many others who have entered my social network online and who, just like with my “real” friends, I really don’t need to know that they’re running to Starbucks to get a latte or that their dog just got his shots. By the way, I have been de-friended a few times online and it doesn’t feel so good.

I am a communicator at heart, and as the publisher of PR News, I advocate for honest, open and intelligent dialogue with the public.  But I am hearing from PR people that Facebook in particular has been both a blessing and curse. Corporate PR Directors are now friends with their direct reports. Agency heads are friending clients.  A media relations director at a nonprofit told me she just defriended her whole staff on Facebook because she “just didn’t want to see it all.”

So, it’s open for debate whether Facebook is good for us as business people. We know it’s not good for (or to) nursing moms, yet we know it’s fun and usually harmless to connect with old friends and classmates. And for industry colleagues, it’s great to have them as friends now, since it’s harder to connect in person these days.

But I would advise to think twice next time an employee of yours asks to be friends with you on Facebook.  Your relationship will take on a different nuance. Which brings me back to my daughter who asked if I wanted to be “friends” with her on Facebook.  We agreed that would not be a good idea, as I just don’t want to know it all. But she did give me her password to check in on her time and again.

What has been your “work” experience with Facebook? It’s time for some friendly discourse…

- Diane Schwartz

For PR Pros, Are Rules Made to be Broken?

“Rules are for other people.”

That’s what my father told me just before Christmas, when I questioned the legitimacy of his prime curbside parking spot in front of a shopping center packed with last-minute shoppers. He was joking (sort of), but the comment had a peculiar sense poignancy given the times we face in the earliest moments of 2009, as we look ahead at 360-odd days of almost-certain chaos. And I’m not implying that my dad operates under some anarchic, Blagojevichian philosophy (he acknowledges the difference between rules and laws).

But business–and the business of PR–might benefit from some maverick-style pushing of comfort zones. In many ways it already has, what with the increasingly accepted revisionist approach to communicating and engaging with stakeholders in untraditional (read: digital) ways. True, improvements have been made, but the status quo remains. What’s more, the main sticking point to leaders’ willingness to embrace change remains the same: fear of losing control.

Well, if 2008 taught us anything, it’s that control is long gone (and, for the most forward-thinking execs, already forgotten). The best thing leaders can do for themselves, their organizations and their stakeholders now is to cease clinging to the last wisps of corporate hegemony. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to step out from behind my editorial curtain for the length of one column to give my perspective on the proverbial state of the union, having spent many hours gathering intelligence from industry leaders. Most of my thoughts have some connection to my dad’s words of “wisdom,” if only in the sense that they suggest that many old-fashioned (and even new-fashioned) rules are hindering execs and organizations’ evolution. So, without further ado …

On Digital Communications

I could write an entire book on this topic (and I did), but it’s worth condensing the topic into a few key points. Many executives still fall back on traditional communications techniques–one-way delivery of force-fed messages–because there are rules attached to them. The conversational approach to engaging stakeholders via digital media seems lawless. “Bloggers don’t have the training to be considered legitimate news sources!” “Consumer-generated media has corrupted the high standards of journalism!” “People can say whatever they want about my client/company, even if it’s not true!”

The hardest part about this situation is that the solution is simple, but people are often too afraid to speak honestly and risk seeming mean. But I’ll take one for the team and state the solution in no uncertain terms: Get. Over. It.

If you are still dwelling on the fear that your brand will be demolished by the rules-don’t-apply style of modern communications, then you’ve missed the point entirely. You can’t change the inevitable effect of digital platforms on your business; you can, however, take comfort in the fact that online communications is self-correcting. If there is no truth in something, it usually fades. The best safeguard is a strong reputation, and that doesn’t always come from following the anachronistic rules of conduct.

On Talent Management

Generational conflicts are one of the biggest catalysts for the rapidly changing talent management landscape. Specifically, as Millennials move up the corporate ranks into management positions, their idiosyncrasies are permeating corporate cultures. Impatient, entitled, demanding, talented, creative and hard working, these employees are the illegitimate children of opportunity and angst. They want the world, but they also don’t seem to have a problem with going out and getting it. They also balk at rules they deem senseless. So, who’s right, the Millennial who wants complete laissez-faire management, or the manager who wants to set rules?

Neither. That’s the problem: We are in a state of limbo with regard to talent management and employee relations. A dismal economy, which decreases job security, tightens budgets and limits perks, puts senior managers in a difficult position. The natural reaction? To want to regain control. For junior staffers, this admittedly legitimate gesture seems staggeringly unfair. It raises so many questions: How do they plan to compensate me for my hard work? With widespread cost cutting, will I get a raise? If not, what else is in it for me?

PR News runs story after story urging communications executives to consider untraditional benefits that act as incentives for these complex creatures. This will be even more critical in 2009, when fewer perks will come in the form of monetary raises and bonuses. Strategies for assuaging the resulting internal strife:

These are just two broad topics that fall under the umbrella of communications, but they are two that I repeatedly hear industry leaders discussing. They are also leading the massive changes taking place within organizations. But if there is anything that can be learned from the past year’s trials and tribulations, it’s that rules do have a place in business, but that place has changed. Saying that rules are for other people may be flippant advice, but tweak the concept only slightly, and you’ll arrive at an old Latin phrase that, when translated, offers a compelling message:

Fortune favors the bold.

By Courtney Barnes

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