Reflections on the State of PR, Via the PRSA Annual Meeting

I attended the Public Relations Society of America’s annual meeting this week in Philly, and as so often happens when you get out into the field to listen, think and discuss things with your peers, I came back to the office with some valuable new perspectives.

The event itself left few stones unturned regarding the immense challenges now facing PR and marketing executives.

Many marcomm issues of today were virtually unheard of five years ago, and many were featured in robust sessions during the four-day program.

Work sessions including “How Brands Successfully Culture-Jack the Big Moments,” and “Understanding and Embracing Open-Source and Hacker-Culture is Critical to PR’s Future” definitely moved the needle, brought new insights both to topics we think we know well and those we’re still struggling to understand.

The event also had solid coverage of traditional PR disciplines, such as demonstrating PR ROI and trends in crisis management and media pitching. There was ample discussion of brand building and corporate philanthropy, as well.

But in so many areas, the conversation is just starting. The lines continue to blur between PR and other marketing disciplines.

Now, back at the office, here are a few things I’m still thinking about:

> What’s PR’s role in an integrated marketing campaign, and who should “own” the elements of the campaign? As media and marketing become more complex, the elements—and participants—in these kinds of campaigns start to span different disciplines. Marketing is involved, right along with the advertising, digital and social media worlds, and PR is the traffic cop. Control becomes more difficult, and much more important.

> Visual storytelling. This is a broad new PR discipline, and one that’s relatively uncharted. There are many channels and many approaches, and PR folks should be eager to hear from marketers and Web-design companies alike on how to build a better a website and tell stories more effectively with pictures.

> PR and the C-suite. With PR at the core of strategic marketing and brand communications, it’s more important than ever to have a direct, and persuasive, line to the CEO. And yet, I sometimes think the opposite is happening. I’m looking for a CEO to share with communicators why he or she no longer looks at PR as a cost center, but a profit center.

PRSA is already starting to gear up for next year’s gathering, in Washington, D.C. Here’s looking forward to next year, and seeing what the next 12 months brings on these and other issues.

Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1

Be Aware: The Percentage of Funds Actually Going to a Cause Will Become Part of Your CSR Story

Amid all the noise surrounding Barneys New York and its alleged racial profiling, and whether the rap mogul Jay-Z should back out of his partnership with the luxury retailer, came this little noticed fact: Only 25 percent of the proceeds from the partnership, where sales are intended to benefit Jay-Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation, will actually go to the foundation.

And no doubt, only a fraction of that 25 percent will go to the ultimate objective, scholarships for economically challenged students.

And therein lies a significant issue inherent in all CSR efforts—trust. When people hear about a non-profit entity serving a worthy cause, the first thing many people think is, ‘how much of the proceeds are actually going to the cause?’

It’s a common question people ask themselves before they take out their checkbooks, and it’s legit. For example, Business Insider reported earlier this month that “a shockingly small amount of money from NFL pink merchandise goes to breast cancer research.”

How small? Business Insider said that for every $100 in pink merchandise sold, $12.50 goes to the NFL. Of that, $11.25 goes to the American Cancer Society and the NFL keeps the rest.

What these reports do is dampen charitable giving because people have images of well-paid executive directors, lavish staff salaries and benefits and rich expense accounts.

And so, from a communications perspective, PR pros who manage CSR and charitable giving need to know at least one thing: The actual percentages of funds going to a charity or cause needs to become part of CSR messaging, because the media is going to report on it anyway and it’s better to be ahead of the story.

And by mastering this one thing, you can avoid the reaction that ‘oh, well, it’s just another non-profit enriching itself before doing accomplishing social good.’

—@tonysilber

9 Tips for Public Speakers Who Hate Public Speaking

Butterflies in your stomach. Dry mouth. Fantasy of escaping through the back door. It’s inevitable: at some point in your career, you’ll need to speak in front of an audience. Whether at a small meeting, a conference, a general session, on a panel, or on your own. For most of us, it’s about getting out of our comfort zone. If it’s any consolation, the number-one fear of Americans is Public Speaking. Death is the number-2 fear. So you are not alone (until you die). Based on my own experiences and interviews with countless public speakers over the past year, I offer these nines tips to help you get through your next speaking gig with flying colors:

1. Research your audience: why are they there, what are their job responsibilities, how knowledgeable are they of the topic you’ll be speaking about? If possible, ask the event producer to survey the audience in advance w/a few questions that will help you tailor your presentation.

2. Avoid death by PowerPoint. Put another way, don’t talk them to sleep. Slides are important but they should be springboards to your speech and not littered with words and cheesy clip art. Large point size, consistent style and about half the slide blank are the rules. Show some video if you can – but not of cute puppies or kittens, unless you’re speaking to an animal rights group.

3. Master your content:. a corollary to tip #1, speak of what you know. You’ll be more relaxed and confident if you know your material. If you’re asked to speak about a topic that is complicated and not in your wheelhouse, decline the invite.

4.  Interact with your audience. Build a quick community with the attendees and encourage questions.

5. Limit talking about yourself. You know the speaker bio provided to the audience in advance? They already know who you are. Make it about them.

6. Wear your storytelling hat. There’s nothing better than a story to illustrate your point. That is what the audience will remember. Bring one great story to your speech – not 3 mediocre ones – and you will connect with your audience.

7. Own your content. I was listening to a speaker recently whose entire presentation was about quoting other authors and experts and not sharing an original thought. Find something unique and original to say to your audience. There’s a reason you were asked to take the stage.

8. Remember social media. Be careful what you say and how you say it. One off-color quote can go viral on social media and affect your reputation and your organization’s.

9. Don’t picture your audience naked. This is an old bit of advice predicated on the notion that the naked attendee is more vulnerable than you and so you have the upper hand. This advice doesn’t hold true — better to picture your audience thinking positive thoughts about you, and cheering you on. The crowd wants you to succeed, they are rooting for you. That‘s the naked truth.

What tips would you add to this list?

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

What I Learned at Comic Con

For reasons that escape me now, I said yes to my son Max when he asked if we could go to Comic Con together this past weekend.  Sounded like a fun day out in New York City: hanging with 125,000 pop culture fans at the Javits Center, more than half of whom came dressed as their favorite character from film, TV, comics, video games. I learned from Max that this is called “cosplay,” as in costume play.

Preparation was key, so I checked out the Comic Con NY web site for tips. Among them were to Shower and Don’t Make It Too Realistic (ie, don’t bring real weapons into the convention center).  I knew I was in for a crude awakening.

Because I’m not a “real” fan of 97% of the brands and products exhibiting at Comic Con, I followed my son from booth to booth, session to session with the personal goal of understanding what all the fuss was about.  Why would so many people want to spend an entire day or weekend scrunched into a convention center with strangers who clearly didn’t heed tip #3 to shower before attending, and certainly didn’t think their bosses would see them in that Captain America leotard?

It was clear from the moment I bumped into Thor that I was witnessing Real Community. The passion among the fans at Comic Con was unlike any I’ve seen before at an event. The hunger to meet a favorite graphic artist or a cult favorite TV actor, even if it meant standing in line for 90 minutes to get their autograph, was amazing to me – and admirable. The camaraderie among the attendees was so strong that I wished, for a split second, I had dressed up as Katniss so someone would give me a compliment or take a photo with me.

The passion at Comic Con was palpable and the event a complete fish-out-of-water experience. When I first entered the convention center, I said a little prayer of survival – get me through this so I can win Mother of the Year or “of the Day.” Yet I came away from ComiCon with a greater appreciation of the enthusiast/fan market and with a keener sense of what a passionate brand can lead people to do, say and wear. We often talk of Community in the sense of social media, but at Comic Con, the fans came face to face (or mask to mask) to be part of something big, to be the content and the entertainment.  That’s Engagement in action. I thanked Max for taking me to ComiCon and he didn’t quite understand why I was thanking him. It was so out of character.

- Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

Why is There a “Free Fall” in Media Advertising, and What Does it Mean for PR?

Last week, I read a well-done blog from a writer and social-media consultant named Paul Gillin lamenting the death of BtoB Magazine, which Crain Communications said it is folding into Ad Age as of the first of next year.

What especially caught my eye was this observation:

“The advertising market for business publications is in free fall, and since most of the magazine’s advertisers are themselves B2B media companies, BtoB has suffered along with everybody else.”

Being a student of the media industry, and a content specialist on PR News, I wanted to know why. On the PR side in particular, I would argue that a decline in advertising—in media covering media certainly, but in a lot of print media as well—portends serious challenges for the PR profession.

Consider that as newspapers decline, and advertising in traditional print brands shrinks, the space available for news will also decline. That, of course, means the space available for you to tell your stories via journalists shrinks as well. That’s a dilemma worth preparing for. And I’d argue that media relations is the most important function in PR.

Consider too that as traditional print media declines fewer journalists will be called to the industry, and those who are might well be less capable. Again, a challenge for PR pros who need to rely on reporters who know their beats and get things right.

What’s more, as traditional print brands decline, their influence declines with them, meaning that you, as PR pros, need to find the new kinds of influencers. That’s not always obvious, and it means you’re going to have to balance the old with the new for a long time into the future.

So why is all this happening? I have a few theories, and I like to test them out on other smart people. Sometimes they agree, and other times I suspect they think I’m way wrong.

So I wrote a comment to Gillin’s blog that asked him what he thinks is driving that free fall. Specifically, I asked:

• Is it that print advertising has become an inefficient way to deliver brand messages?

• Is it because software products have emerged in the media industry that render third-party suppliers—advertisers—less essential? In other words, is it a case of, ‘we can build, so we don’t need to buy?’

• And also, do we buy less? For example, online, we don’t need a printer in a continuous relationship, we need a Web development firm just once every few years.

• Is advertising in free fall too because new channels and technologies have emerged—such as Facebook, Google and database-management tools—that allow marketers to more effectively identify and communicate with prospects?

• And if that’s the case, does that mean that the audiences that media companies have traditionally aggregated are less valuable and less compelling to marketers?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. I don’t even know if they’re the right questions to ask. But something is driving the decline in advertising, not just in media on media, not just in b-to-b media, but in many print publications. My friend Jim Elliott says that advertising will come roaring back. It always has in the past. We shall see. What’s new is the volume of alternative media now available, and the ways in which people consume media.

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

Yucky Comments Can Sometimes Be a Beautiful Thing

PR execs are not supposed to parrot the boss. At least on paper.

Despite the tremendous changes throughout the PR field, one thing remains a constant: The ability of PR managers to take an alternative (if not contrarian) view of the party line and say to the top brass, “That may not be the best idea.”

For C-level execs who understand the role of PR, getting a difference of opinion from PR reps about, say, a potential marketing strategy or crisis management plan can’t be underestimated. It prevents execs from operating in a parallel universe in which everything those execs say or do is considered gold, and the rest of his or her staff nod in agreement. Too many top executives live in splendid intellectual isolation.

The best types of comments posted on companies’ websites, social channels and other media vehicles are those that take the brand to task and offer legitimate criticism.

That’s why Google’s recently announced move to change how YouTube uploaders manage comments on their videos may not do PR pros any favors.

The new system, which last week began rolling out to a limited number of uploaders, “favors relevancy over recency and introduces enhanced moderation tools,” according to Cnet.

The moderation tools for uploaders and channel owners include the ability to review comments before they’re posted, blacklisting certain words and whitelisting specific commenters so their posts will always be approved, Cnet said.

For brands looking for some unvarnished truths about their products and services the new moderation tools could be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Doesn’t social media foster enough conformity? Do we really need to inspire more? When I was in college a journalism professor told me that compliments are like kryptonite; they make you weak and prevent you from improving your writing or interviewing skills.

Same deal for PR folks. To get a better a sense of whether their campaigns (or YouTube videos) are resonating with the target audience they need to embrace all opinions, not least any vituperative comments that at the same time make valid points.

The vote here is to check out Google’s new moderation tools regarding YouTube, but be selective with them lest you end up whitewashing every last comment.

Sure, some comments posted online have all the charm of a dock strike. Sometimes I feel like taking a shower after reading the nastiest of them.

But cutting off communication, however unsettling, won’t do any good. It’ll just get you comments saying how wonderful your brand is. And how boring is that?

PR people are in the business of embracing communication, no matter how crude, not shutting it out.

Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1

 

 

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