Let’s assume you are brilliant. And you’re an inspiration to your peers, an asset to your organization. Let’s also assume that while you’re an A-player you still have a lot to learn. As the late, esteemed UCLA coach John Wooden noted, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
If you’re still with me on this concept, then let’s assume you have less than a month to prep yourself for a stellar 2016. If you’re taking time off for the holidays then really you have just a few weeks to get things together, to get your particular Act in motion. To give you a running start on 2016, I’ve compiled a list of 11 things you can do in the next few weeks to sharpen your PR skills and acumen. Like the bowl of vegetables at the holiday table, these ideas aren’t what you’re craving to add to your plate. But make room for them if you are truly hungry to succeed.
Consider these 11 simple activities at work:
- Conduct a content audit: review the posts and articles on your web site and social media platforms to get a clear picture of your brand’s story over the past year. Too much of one topic, not enough of others? Create an Edit Calendar with wiggle room.
- Reverse mentor: if you were born after 1992, then match yourself up with a Millennial at your organization and spend some time learning from him/her. Likewise, if Mary Tyler Moore and Wite-Out don’t ring a bell with you, there’s a lot you can learn from the Baby Boomers and Gen X. (Read my blog on this topic.)
- Brush up on the Barcelona Principles. You already know what they are (right)?
- Have a meeting with your Marketing colleagues to share ideas and develop cross-discipline communication strategies.
- Do a Social Media Cleanse. Does your brand need to be on Pinterest? Is Instagram working for you? Are your Twitter followers not the best representation of your brand? What’s Facebook doing for you?
- Review your Crisis Plan and update it, if necessary. If you don’t have a crisis plan in place, create a first draft asap and share it with your team and C-Suite.
- Assess your media relationships. That holiday card you’re about to send won’t endear you to a reporter. Set up a meetings with key journalists in the first quarter of 2016. Brush up on their body of work beforehand. Commit to developing meaningful relationships with this important stakeholder group.
- Familiarize yourself with your organization’s stated mission and goals and make sure your PR dept’s Mission and Goals align with Corporate. Likewise, if you’re with an agency, be sure your client is in sync with its organization’s overriding mission.
- Audit your resources. Do you have the right team in place to take on the challenges of 2016? What are the most important job responsibilities and skills you need on your team next year? Consider this carefully and don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations and make bold moves.
- Do a Diversity Check. Is your brand inclusive and are the voices representing your organization and brand diverse?
- Host a Failure Fest in the next few weeks; members should share their favorite failure of the year and what they learned from it. No #Winning stories allowed.
Keep me apprised of your progress on these 11 ideas. If you can’t get to all of them this month, there’s always next year.
– Diane Schwartz
On Twitter: @dianeschwartz
At the Oct. 26 Platinum PR Awards Luncheon in NYC, PR News honored the top PR campaigns of the past 12 months and the teams behind them. The level of sophistication and creativity among the winning campaigns is a testament to the power of public relations and the advancement of our profession. (Check out the winners and see for yourself.)
Meanwhile, back on the awards stage, we asked award winners one-answer questions, such as what is the one skill that PR people will need going into 2016, and what one characteristic are you looking for in your next great hire?
Patterns emerged in the answers, and most noteworthy was a growing sentiment that PR and Marketing need to collaborate more – or at least start earnestly talking to one another. Being nimble and flexible were also mentioned often – perhaps a nod to the do-more-with-less even as things change at warp speed. The obvious skills such as being a great verbal and written communicator, knowing how and what to measure, possessing business/financial acumen were not mentioned because they are a given and also do not make for pithy sound bites when you’re on stage in front of hundreds of peers.
We also asked the winners to name the social media platform or app they wish would go away. The majority answered Snapchat, which surely is all about disappearing but there’s no sign it’s going away anytime soon.
Here’s what your peers say are the most important characteristics and skills for PR pros going into 2016:
- Collaborating with marketing
- Marcom skills
- Sense of humor
- Positive Attitude
- Willingness to be nimble
- Multitasking abilities
- Ability to adapt
- Willingness to adapt
- Insatiable curiosity
- Ability to focus
- Adept at identifying new stakeholders
- Able to deal with volatility
- Embracing technology
Which top skills would you add to the list? Don’t be shy!
– Diane Schwartz
Envision a nationally televised debate among leaders in Public Relations. Who you picture on that stage is a pretty good indicator of the state of our profession. To keep the personalities out of this for now, what issues would you want debated? What are the themes resonating now that also will prepare us for a stronger future as the leaders of reputation management, storytelling and fair public discourse?
Following are some potential debate topics that Anderson Cooper and the like might ask PR leaders. Please chime in since it’s about all of us coming together for a brighter future, right?
- Social media as strategy: After all the Facebook likes and Twitter followers, what do you have to show for it? Does social media move our brands forward or are we wallowing in a false sense of popularity or unpopularity? How can we make social media communications more meaningful?
- Are we really that into Measurement? At a PR News conference in early October, roughly 90% of attendees said they did not know what the Barcelona Principles are. Does that mean communicators aren’t following those measurement guidelines, and is it beholden on senior leaders to ensure that all PR staff study and execute on this short list?
- Are we getting closer to integrated communications? How can Marketing and PR collaborate more effectively and how can we resolve the issue of who gets a bigger piece of the budgetary pie? In other words, why can’t we all just get along?
- Is the press release dead?: Media relations is a touchstone of Public Relations, but are reporters and other stakeholders reading press releases? We know the release is an important communications vehicle, so how can we make sure it’s leveraged effectively and is not the sole means of telling a story?
- Is voice communication losing its sway? With texting, social media, emoji mania and email communication representing the majority of daily interactions, are people forgetting how to talk to one another and how can PR lead the way?
- Is employee communications an HR thing? Though employees are on the front lines and the most likely brand ambassadors, what role does and should PR play internally?
- Can PR be tied to sales? We’re told that it can, but how are you proving this and once proven why are we not shouting it out from the rooftops? This goes back to my Measurement question earlier. Shouldn’t PR be a driver of sales?
- Why isn’t there more Diversity in PR? What more can we be doing so that at all voices are represented in this profession, that ethnic, racial and gender diversity are not a problem within our own ranks?
- PR advocacy: there are at least a handful of PR associations representing the industry, but are we doing enough within our organizations to evangelize the power of PR?
Let’s end the debate on a high note. Public Relations is stronger than ever, as evidenced by the growing number of people entering the profession, the increase in PR compensation year over year and the utilization of PR counsel at the highest levels of an organization. The issues we face, however, will continue to challenge our profession. Let’s deal with them head-on.
- Diane Schwartz
At PR News’ upcoming Measurement Conference in Chicago, Kirstie Foster, director of corporate and brand communications for General Mills, is going to present a case study looking at a new measurement program she just rolled out for brands such as Cheerios, Yoplait and Pillsbury. Historically, there’s been a lack of consistent PR measurement across General Mills’ brands, according to Kirstie, and there hasn’t been formal integration of the Barcelona Principles until now.
We’re talking about a complete rethinking of PR’s role at one of the oldest continuously operating companies in the U.S. It’s a full-scale attempt to make sure that PR is held accountable for its efforts from the point of view of management, and to make sure that management sees clearly just how vital the communications function is to a company’s business success.
One thing’s for certain about what Kirstie’s doing at General Mills—the measurement overhaul was proactive in the extreme. From what Kirstie tells me, it’s all-encompassing. We’re not just talking about the integration of social media measurement with more traditional PR metrics—we’re talking about well-thought-out training for the staff, both internal staffers and those with her agency partners.
Before our Measurement Conferences we send out surveys to attendees and ask them what questions they want presenters to address. The most common questions run along these lines:
“What’s the most widely used metric for measurement being used today?”
“What’s the single most effective way to communicate the value of PR?”
“What’s the best tool for measuring social media engagement?
It’s a human trait to want black-and-white answers to difficult questions. Solving questions about PR measurement might not be in the same realm as solving problems associated with climate change, immigration and violent fanaticism, but as with those dilemmas, there’s no simple solution, no silver bullet.
“What’s the best metric for measuring PR?” is probably not the most fruitful question to ask. If you suspect you might need the same kind of overhaul as the one led by Kirstie Foster, a more existential question might be a better starting place, such as, “What can I do to help my organization succeed?”
Proceed from there with your measurement overhaul.
—Steve Goldstein, PR News @SGoldsteinAI
Why is it still newsworthy when PR is called to the rescue or joins a strategic team? “Pet Company Hires PR Firm to Clone Calico Cats” or “PR Counselor Recommends AshleyMadison.com to C-Suite” – now those would be worth writing about. To wit: there is still a jaundiced view of PR. To utilize PR is sometimes akin to admitting you’ve reached The Last Resort.
Part of the reason for this mentality is the media’s view of PR – the same journalists creating a news story out of a non-story are the journalists whose respect for PR is wavering at best. Surely there are outstanding relationships between PR pro and journalist. Enough rotten apples and we become spoiled, in a bad way.
Another reason PR is not yet elevated within an organization is a lack of strong and ongoing advocacy for PR. PR professionals are the go-to storytellers, writers, advisors, counselors, organizers, implementers and strategists — right?
Some heavy lifting is needed. We might start by dispelling these 5 myths about PR:
PR is nice to have but not need to have. The truth is that the strongest brands and reputations deploy smart public relations tactics that are seamlessly integrated into the core mission and culture.
PR people suck at math and finance. PR execs need to add metrics and measurement to the business conversations and hold PR accountable in front of senior management. We talk about measurement among ourselves – time to apply what you know to the conversations you have with the C-suite and marketing colleagues.
PR should not be seen — and needs to stay behind the scenes. Of course not. You have the advantage of context and clarity – there’s no reason you can’t be the spokesperson and certainly no reason why an organization shouldn’t be proud to have a smart PR counselor backing its reputation.
PR’s main role is media relations. Media relations is a subset of PR and not the end-all, be-all. While strong relationships with journalists are critical for many PR people, the Public in Public Relations includes those hanging out on social media, the employees in your organization and the people on Wall Street and Main Street. Change the conversation from positive media coverage to positive coverage.
What other myths would you add to the mix, and what are your suggestions for busting them?
– Diane Schwartz
Let’s follow each other on Twitter: @dianeschwartz
The lines are blurry. As a communicator you are usually selling something – an idea, a story, an interview to the media, a budget, a campaign. To close on that effort – to get the story, win the account, score a larger budget – is a similar feeling your Marketing counterpart has when her campaign idea is approved or when a customer buys the product based on her messaging. And the salesperson down the hall from you? He is always prospecting, aims to be in front of clients or at least on the phone with them, understanding their pain points and their spending limits.
These three levers of Communications – PR, Marketing, Sales — are at their best when they’re working together, not separately. Most practitioners and strategists agree with the premise, but the underlying pain points, frustrations, budgetary constraints, conflicting goals may stop the three from even wanting to work together. I’ve posed the question in a previous post, Will PR and Marketing Get Married One Day? A lot of you responded and as a whole we’re in favor of this matrimony. But how about we go on a few dates first?
The best communicators will be the ones who have a firm grasp on Marketing, who partner with Sales to help close business, and who are pushing for consistent messaging across this spectrum. If you shy away from Sales or snub your nose at Marketing (that department that steals some of your budget), then you will be OK, possibly. That is to say, you can get by. But to be an extraordinary communications executive you need to spend some time in their shoes. Here are three easy things you can do in the next 30 days to narrow the gap and broaden your organization’s (and your own) opportunities:
Lead a Sales Call: Try to sell something to a client: ask your sales dept if you can sell your company’s service or product to one prospect. Set up the appointment, do your research, lead the meeting, close the business, send out the proposal, wait for the signature. Sometimes you’ll be waiting longer than expected for a signed contract and that’s part of the process and why the rewards taste so sweet.
Be a Marketer: Sit in on Marketing meetings and listen without your PR hat on. Understand how they measure success and manage budgets. Ask to work on a campaign in which you need to partner with the PR team. It’s not always easy to collaborate and see the other side. As a marketer, you may want to spend more on b-to-c advertising while PR is pushing for a media relations push with the trade press. Find common ground and share in the hits and misses.
Break Bread & Barriers: Set up monthly Integrated Communications Breakfasts. An early morning meeting of the minds where you are fresh and prepared could work wonders. Share current initiatives, report on performance of campaigns, ask for help and guidance. This will increase transparency and lead to more collaboration.
There’s nothing like coffee and bagels to smear away the friction that exists when three departments are used to eating alone.
– Diane Schwartz
The melding of PR and marketing is one of the biggest challenges facing communicators of all stripes.
As C-level managers demand more accountability from their PR departments, communicators increasingly are trying to take their lead from marketing when it comes to measuring activity and demonstrating value. And, unlike even a few years ago, a growing number of PR execs now report to CMOs.
Wide disparities remain between the two disciplines. Marketing is conditioned to showing fairly immediate returns on the investment—PR, not so much. Indeed, it might take years for PR efforts to flow to the top and/or bottom lines.
But the arc of media consumption is bending toward PR. Online consumers have much more interest in having a conversation with brands, the domain of PR. Still, if they’re to succeed in the future, both marketing and PR need to work together.
How marketing and PR are collaborating on digital was discussed Monday during PR News’ Digital PR Conference.
“Communication pros who think like brand marketers will have a better appreciation of the purchase path,” said Torod Neptune, VP and head of corporate communications for Verizon Wireless.
Neptune has made several moves to provide for better collaboration between Verizon Wireless’ PR and marketing teams. They include:
- Expanding the PR department by hiring executives from digital agencies, as opposed to traditional communications professionals, who are well-versed in all things digital.
- Training PR execs to speak in a marketing vernacular and learn the terminology that the marketing department uses. “This should be the way we talk about our craft, which is one of the big opportunities” for PR, Neptune said.
- Encouraging PR execs to be more proactive, rather than reactive, about establishing the corporate narrative and speaking in the brand voice.
Jody Sunna, executive VP for Havas PR North America, stressed that bolstering fundamental communication between marketing and PR is key. She recommended the following tips for better collaboration:
- Maintain message consistency across all channels and all platforms.
- Look to bring all marketing, PR and digital team members to the table from the get-go to uncover opportunities and workarounds.
- Cross-promote and amplify content outside of your channel. Share PR stories with sales teams and across social channels. Share fan feedback from Twitter and Facebook with PR and marketing, and share marketing sales figures with PR.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
I was in high school when my Home Economics teacher disclosed that Betty Crocker was not a real person but was a device to personalize the brand. For this naive Jewish girl in Baltimore, it might have been the equivalent of hearing there is no Santa Claus. Betty Crocker was not a real person. I resented that teacher and General Mills for many years, though relished in this newfound knowledge and spread the word about Betty to anyone who would listen.
Fast-forward 30 years and we are still inundated with Betty Crockers. Seemingly real, but not. All smiley faced and perfect, at least in the kitchen.
This dawned on me recently when at a PR News conference two attendees embraced and one said to the other: “I never really thought we’d meet in person. Great to know you are a real person and not just a Twitter handle!” To that, the other said, “Isn’t it great to get out of the office and meet real people?”
(Excuse my nosiness, but I was doing PR News research.) My radar was on for these types of interactions throughout the day of our event, and they were rampant over the course of 6 hours. To wit:
One well-respected industry leader declared proudly to me: “I am no longer using Facebook—I don’t even recognize my own siblings on there. I am going to focus on the here and now.” I get what she was saying. Last week alone, three people asked to be my friend on FB, and I have no clue who they are and what value I bring to them. They are connected to me through other acquaintances who I wouldn’t know if I bumped into them while buying a Betty Crocker mix. But more to the other point, who we are on social media is usually not who we are In Real Life. That means, to some extent, that what our customers are doing and saying online is not necessarily who they are offline. Understanding these nuances requires a human, not a machine. We all know this, though the lure of automated technology and social media communication can blur our vision.
The PR News conference last week was focused on PR Measurement, and there were a lot of great conversations about creating the ultimate PR dashboard, understanding Big Data and proving PR’s worth. It was agreed by most that even though we have an unprecedented array of technologies to assist us, it is beholden on us as brand leaders not to forget the human touch and the human brain. An algorithm can only tell us so much about our audience or our campaigns. A dashboard can reveal a lot, but it takes a human being to sift through the data and make real sense of it.
We can tweet and post and like and follow, but at what cost to human interaction? It is very efficient to use email and social media, but it is divine to sit across from a journalist, a customer, a colleague or any stakeholder and have eye contact, exchange words and ideas, relate in real life.
As we take on Big Data and elaborate dashboards, cloud computing and crowd sourcing, let’s remember to humanize our communications and apply human expertise to PR measurement so we can spot a Betty Crocker when she rears her pretty head.
– Diane Schwartz
Forget new year’s resolutions about losing weight, completing your first novel, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail while learning how to play guitar. Those sorts of resolutions just set you up for disappointment. It’s time to get realistic. As far as career resolutions go, there’s no shortage of things we can do better. As communicators, we are fortunate to be working in a field that is constantly changing and therefore challenging our skills and patience. With that in mind, I put together 15 activities that can set you up for a more gratifying year on the job. This doesn’t mean you can’t still try to master the art of French cooking or call your in-laws once a week. Give at least a few of these a try in the coming week:
1. Become data savvy not data obsessive: understand what all the hullabaloo is about “data” in your organization and then learn how to leverage it for good, not just because.
2. Tell a good story: that’s one reason why we’re in PR, to tell great stories. If it means re-reading your favorite Rudyard Kipling short story to remind you of great storytelling, well that wouldn’t be so painful.
3. Foster a relationship: whether it’s with a co-worker, a reporter, a client or a customer, get out there and get to know someone new.
4. Look up: practice proper protocol and be in the moment by not staring down at your phone while in a meeting or in social interactions.
5. Find a mentee: help a budding communicator navigate the increasingly complex areas of PR. Seek a mentee through your own organization or through industry groups like PRSSA.
6. Give your customer a face and a name: find out who your optimal customer is (or your client’s optimal customer) and tack a photo of that person by your desk. Gear your efforts toward him or her.
7. Measure twice, cut once: best to know what the key metrics are before you launch a campaign or initiative and use those as your guide; it saves you much time and heartache in the long term.
8. Write something: practice writing every day; the more you write, the better you get at writing. Volunteer to write a blog post for your company or to guest post for a client; write an article in your company newsletter or update your group or clients with a well-crafted email memo.
9. Switch jobs (for a day) with IT: gain a better understanding of what your digital team does every day by spending some time dealing with people like us who are always needing something from them.
10. Get your policies and plans in order: do you have a social media policy? An employee handbook? A crisis plan? Have you read or updated them? Now is a good time to brush up on the dry stuff.
11. Audit your assets: take stock of your content libraries (if you have them), your photo archives, press release templates, review your About Us web page, and other assets that could come in handy in the event of a crisis, merger, acquisition, corporate change or last-minute request from a reporter.
12. Drop a social media platform: do you really need to be on Pinterest? Maybe that stagnant LinkedIn Group is making your brand look bad, not good. No need to be there if your audience is not visiting.
13. Adopt a social media platform: try out a new platform – whether it’s Snapchat, tumblr or Google+, test new social media waters to develop a stronger sense of where your should invest time and resources.
14. Hand-write a thank you note: A few times a month, thank a customer, a client, a colleague, a reporter, an analyst; be on the mental lookout for those people who are helping you and write them a note. Your letter will stand out and all parties will be grateful. (Don’t forget to mail it.)
15. Advocate for PR: I’m not telling you anything new when I say that Public Relations as a discipline is only as good as the disciples. Become an advocate for measurable PR strategies and tactics that move the needle in a positive way. Share your best practices of the trade and spread the word about the power of Public Relations.
Happy new year, friends of PR News!
- Diane Schwartz
A while back I compiled a list of annoying phrases and words we utter as communicators (and human beings), from “at the end of the day” to “guru” and “epic”. The list, via my blog post, grew as you added your own phrases that annoy (“I don’t hate that” and “synergy,” to name a few).
When the other day I heard someone complain about not being able to take a campaign viral, I knew it was time to create The Epic List of Useless PR Tactics. To make this epic, you will need to add to it, shamelessly and without hesitation. Every profession has tactics that consistently don’t work because the very premise of them is flawed.
I should preface by stating that most PR people I know, and whom we cover in PR News, are hard-working, intelligent and effective. But we all know colleagues who subscribe to one of the tactics below that only serves to set PR back as a profession:
Creating a viral campaign as goal #1: it’s gratifying when a campaign goes viral like the Oreo blackout tweet or the ice bucket challenge and social media has accelerated our ability to spread our messages (for better or worse). But understanding the motivations and psychologies of your stakeholders rather than making the medium (Twitter, Facebook, etc) the central focus will more likely result in spreadable content.
Using ad value equivalencies as a metric: While public relations is still struggling to agree on a standard metric, it has come a long way with the Barcelona Principles and matrices to better measure the value of PR in general and a campaign in particular. Applying AVEs to PR is the best route to going backwards.
Spraying and praying: you need media coverage, so the best way to get that is to send the same email and press release to thousands of journalists, most of whom do not cover your industry. Wrong! Even with updated and accurate databases at our disposal to target the appropriate journalist or influencer, telling a story to the right audience is still elusive to many.
Baiting and switching: there’s nothing a client hates more than thinking they’ve just hired a seasoned PR counselor only to be met the next week by someone a few years out of college who’s the lead on the account. After nearly 20 years in the PR space, I can say that there’s more transparency in agency-client relations and less bait-and-switch; the minority cases drown out the advancements.
Forgetting you have a voice: Email is an excellent communication tool but nothing beats talking to someone in person or by phone. Go retro and phone an industry friend, meet with a reporter or client and meet up with stakeholders on their turf (industry conferences, for example)
Forgetting you have ears: as with most disciplines, PR suffers from hearing loss. Listen to what your stakeholders are saying and be present in the places they are saying it. Listening is a workout: you have to discipline yourself to do it regularly but the rewards are noticeable.
Working in a silo: if you want to limit what your organization can achieve, then it’s important you stay neatly tucked into your department. But if you see that the lines have blurred and that it takes a village to raise the bar, then you know that aligning with your marketing peers (see my last blog on this), and even those in IR, IT, HR and other two and three letter departments will be the way forward for effective communications.
I want to hear from you. You’re on the front lines. What are some PR tactics we need to put an end to, stat? Please add to my list.
On twitter: @dianeschwartz