Will Social Media Eliminate Need for Lobbyists? Or Will Lobbyists Eliminate the Need for PR?

I recently came across an interesting article in BusinessWeek about the game changers in the lobbying world that have emerged since Obama’s inauguration, the most influential of which include heightened standards for transparency and disclosure. Alongside this transition has come another one: Traditional lobbying shops tweaking their services to instead call themselves “strategic advisors,” as former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle now does.

Lobbying-turned-strategic-advisory firms, says the BW article, now offer companies services like strategic planning, message development and crisis management. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s exactly what most communications professionals advise their clients on.

The article also glosses over what I found to be an equally compelling observation: Social media is becoming a tool for influencing key decision makers. In short, it allows anyone—not just “registered lobbyists” to campaign for or against a particular issue.

What do both of these developments mean for the communications industry? Will one-time lobbyists begin to commoditize PR? Or, will PR’s grasp of social media give it the head start it needs to stay one step ahead?

By Courtney Barnes

Putting Lipstick on the Management Debate

One of my favorite newspaper features is the New York Times’ “Corner Office” interview that appears every Sunday — in print and online.  The headline for the July 26 article, “No Doubts: Women are Better Managers” is a Q&A with Carol Smith, svp and chief brand officer of The Elle Group media company, in which she indeed claims that women rule (even though they don’t physically rule the corner office). To wit, she is quoted as saying: “Female bosses tend to be better managers, better advisers, mentors, rational thinkers. Men love to hear themselves talk.”  Smith concedes she’s generalizing but then goes on to say that in meetings led by men, she often arrives late, just in time for the sports banter to end and the real meeting to start (ouch!).  I sometimes have conversations with colleagues and friends where we delicately discuss gender in management roles and the consensus depends on the day, the particular crisis/situation and our general mood. I side with the feeling that a great manager is someone who listens, who is decisive but not stubborn, who get things done and leads his/her team to do the same.  A great manager, however, is not necessarily a great leader, but that’s another blog post.  Point is, while there might be wiring in our brains that leads females and males to act differently, to lead and manage in varying ways, to perpetuate the idea that women are better managers worries me a bit. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion and this is just Carol Smith’s POV, as told to NYT’s Adam Bryant — Mr. Adam Bryant. Fortunately, Public Relations is a field swimming with great female managers — and male ones. It’s less a conversation point than it was 14 years ago when I joined PR News. Surely, women are still not getting the corner offices like men do, but we need to steer the conversation away from gender and to results, from business performance to employee churn and morale.

What do you think — are women better managers than men?

- Diane Schwartz

PS: follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dianeschwartz

Apparently the Nice Guy Still Finishes Last–At Least, He Does If He Works for Yahoo!

Poor Yahoo! The communications execs there just can’t seem to catch a break—or, if you’re coming at it from a more cynical standpoint, they just can’t seem to do much right.

In the wake of a handful of missteps—among them leaked footage of former VP of corporate communications Brad Williams sleeping during the company’s annual meeting, and the departure of chief communications officer Jill Nash following news that she allegedly leaked a confidential job performance review—the newest communications VP, Eric Brown, is now under fire. His crime: Being too nice … or something like that.

Here’s the situation: On Brown’s first day of work (Monday, July 6), he sent an e-mail to Yahoo!’s global communications team, which read a lot like a high school senior’s yearbook page. Consider this excerpt:

“Where I grew up: Warsaw, Virginia– a tiny town about 90 minutes from Richmond, Virginia and 150 minutes from Washington, D.C. For those of you who are American history buffs, Warsaw is about 10 minutes from the birthplace of Robert E. Lee and 15 minutes from the birthplace of George Washington.

Where I live now: Sunnyvale, California. Can’ t beat the commute.

College: William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. BA in English. Loved lit crit. Senior honors thesis was on post-WWII masculinity in American society as represented by the works of Norman Mailer.

If the Internet didn’t exist, what I’d be doing right now: teaching literature to high school students. I believe that at some point in my life, I have to return to society what it has given me. And I’ d be a better teacher than firefighter or doctor!

Favorite place on Earth: Paris. I try to go there 3 or 4 times a year and have a couple of very close friends who are kind enough to let me crash with them. Second favorite is Hong Kong.

My first car: a Buick Skyhawk in a horrible shade of brown– the thing was so ratty that I had to add oil to it every other day so it wouldn’ t break down– it made its last hurrah on a cross-country trip from Virginia to California and made it over the Rocky Mountains without any issues but then was quite unhappy crossing the Sierra Nevada range.

My guiltiest pleasure: ice cream in bed with the Kindle– the ice cream HAS to be Ben & Jerry’s (LOVE being on this floor with the conference room names!) and my favorite is Peach Cobbler.”

It’s all very sweet, really, and most likely done as a gesture to seem approachable. Of course, the strategy backfired when the memo was leaked to blogs, where Brown was subsequently mocked endlessly.

All things considered, it’s not a communications faux pas of crisis proportions, but it definitely raises a red flag. After all, what was the top PR person at one of the biggest companies thinking when he sent such a flippant e-mail? He of all people should have known what events would transpire once he pushed “send.” Or, have we become so cynical that we can’t even appreciate a nice gesture?

By Courtney Barnes

The Best Job in the World

What would you consider the best job in the world? For many, just having a job is enough.  As for what the best paid job is, one company’s campaign looking for an “Island Caretaker” in Hamilton Island, Australia won the Grand Prix and PR awards in the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival for its Best Job in the World campaign.  The idea is that the winner (a Brit named Ben Southall) would live on the island and spread the word via video, blog, other social media so that Hamilton Island became a tourist destination. The whole concept seems to be working so far for the island, for winning agency CumminsNitro Brisbane, and for Ben.  To get the job, there were nearly 37,000 video entries from applicants across 201 countries on why they want this job and would love to spend time on Hamilton Island. Think of what your company could do just with those videos and with a posting touting the Best Job in the World.  Does it take a smart gimmick like this to get people to apply for your jobs, or is that the job itself — getting paid to hang out on an island and promote the sand and sun — is so unique? Granted, it is unique. But how many of us have the courage of our convictions to call our listing the Best Job in the World? The response to the job posting and the interest in the Queensland island is not surprising nor is the fact that the campaign won a distinguished award. But back at the ranch — your ranch — what can you do to make your company populated with the best jobs in the world?  How can you ignite such passion that people will send videos and blog about why they’d love to work for you? Did I mention that PR News is looking for the Best Places to Work in PR?  Take time to enter and tell us why your workplace rocks — even if it’s not an island in the sun.

- Diane Schwartz

Palin’s Friday Resignation: Was the Timing Smart or Suspicious?

Exactly one week ago, Sarah Palin surprised many by announcing her resignation from Alaskan governorship. A controversial figure ever since being nominated as John McCain’s running mate, her decision has only fueled the media firestorm, raising a number of questions that remain unanswered: Did she resign so she could start raising money to run for president in 2012? Is she trying to get out of the spotlight before a big scandal becomes public? Is she having financial problems?

Perhaps the most compelling question for a communications professional: Was the timing of her announcement—Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend—a brilliant strategy or a PR ploy gone wrong?

Indeed, waiting until Friday afternoon to announce bad news isn’t unheard of by any means. But Palin’s poetic timing only raised eyebrows as to why she might want to slip under the media’s radar and, in turn, avoid the brunt of their scrutiny. Regardless of her reasons, it calls into question the legitimacy of using a holiday news cycle as a PR manipulation. So, therein lies the question: Is this a cheap-shot tactic or a strong PR strategy?

By Courtney Barnes

Flossing Your Way To Brand Leadership

The “need” to measure is ingrained in any good PR’s person’ s DNA.  I say “need” because: 1. not every initiative is indeed measured and 2. we don’t necessarily know what to measure, how to measure and what to do with the results. But we know that we need to do this. Just like flossing one’s teeth (do you floss every day — truthfully?).  A new survey from Jupiter Research and the Verse Group had some interesting results, reinforcing the importance of measurement but pointing to some overlooking stakeholders in moving the needle.  In the survey, 50% of marketers surveyed said achieving measurable ROI is their most important priority. Forget that 50% of marketers and communicators didn’t say this was a leading priority (better than the 27% who say they floss daily). What I found very telling was that only 17% said a priority was  “building a corporate culture rooted in our brand.”  I wasn’t expecting this to be the #1 priority, but surely it shouldn’t be at the bottom of the list.

A rich corporate culture is directly tied to your corporate ROI . If your employees believe in your brand and are evangelists for your company and culture, then you have a lot less to worry about and a lot more to celebrate.  Your corporate culture is not a collection of cubicles and 12×12 offices.  It is a culture blanketed by Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc, and these employees are no longer silent.  And if they enjoy working for you, they will do a better job for you.  Surveys of PR professionals (not lumped into the Marketing category) will usually yield a higher priority for employee communications (not suprisingly). But aren’t PR and Marketing supposed to be singing from the same page?

You can, of course, measure what’s being said about you in the social mediasphere (and you should). But just as importantly, paying attention to the corporate culture and fostering passion and career growth will make your measurement results a lot more digestible and gratifying. It beats flossing.

- Diane Schwartz

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