The Year That Is, Was and Will Be: Bringing Your PR Full Circle

The end of the year is always a time of reflection, and 2007 gave business people plenty to reflect upon. There were corporate crises galore, from Chinese-manufactured product recalls to phony FEMA press conferences; a credit collapse that crippled the U.S. economy; and continued proliferation of digital communications platforms, a la Second Life and MySpace. Of course, all of the above kept most communications executives too busy to anticipate what's to come in 2008, but PR News got the inside scoop from a number of industry insiders. From what keeps their CEOs up at night to budget planning for 2008, here's what your PR peers had to say about the year that is, was and will be. The Year That Was Public relations has enjoyed an upward trajectory in many organizations, especially as disintermediation and increasingly vulnerable reputations lend themselves to communications intervention. But no year has ever gone by without showcasing some organizations' PR at its worst. How about this for CEO communications gone wrong: In August, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey was in the hot seat after news of his anonymous competitor-bashing online hit mainstream news. His affinity for using Yahoo! financial messages boards as a soapbox for defamatory remarks had a seven-year shelf-life, but his PR team had an organic mess on their hands when Mackey's cover was blown. Surely (hopefully?) the team wasn't aware of his secret life, but the crisis reiterated the importance of keeping C-suite executives informed on the opportunities--and dangers--of online communications. JetBlue PR execs had their own crisis to contend with when a Valentine's Day ice storm left planes--and passengers--stranded on airport runways for hours on end. Cell phone videos of passengers in captivity made their way to YouTube, and initial media coverage of the airline's response to the crisis was generally negative. However, Richard Levick, CEO of Levick Strategic Communications, commended JetBlue for "apologizing loudly, and offering refunds and additional perks to rebuild the goodwill of its customer base." Ken Makovsky, president of Makovsky + Company, pointed to the Don Imus fracas as another example of poor PR. When the radio personality made inappropriate comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, his subsequent apology didn't protect him from being fired by CBS and MSNBC. "My interpretation is that the mistake for which an apology is made can only be made once," Makovsky says. "If it is made twice (or more), the PR value is completely diluted." But here's a glimmer of hope as we slide into 2008. When asked what news story showcased PR at its best, Katie Paine, CEO of KDPaine & Partners, says, "The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' response to the Chinese pet food recall is an example of what PR does best: fast response to a crisis that provides a solution to a social problem." Steve Cody, managing partner of Peppercom, piped in with this best-in-class example: "Oprah's endorsement of Barack was beautifully orchestrated and a textbook example of how to gain maximum coverage of a single announcement. No one does PR better than Oprah." The Year That Is Self-reflection is a natural part of the holidays, and PR News readers and contributors shared their own professional New Year's resolutions, as well as a few things they would have done different in 2007, hindsight being 20/20 and all. Q: Looking back on 2007, what is one thing you would like to have done differently? A: "Lingering each year--and 2007 is no exception--is the feeling that I wish I could create more time to spend with clients," says Jerry Doyle of Commcore Consulting. "I'd spend that time strategizing more and getting involved earlier in the profession of the campaigns and initiatives that shape our industry reach day." "I would have hired up top talent that much quicker." -Ed Moed, managing partner of Peppercom (For some insight into one agency's quest for talent greatness, see sidebar.) Moed's partner Steve Cody seemed to agree, saying he wished he had "recognized sooner the new sense of entitlement that's arisen among junior employees and revamped existing management development training programs to better connect with the group." "I'd underwrite NPR--specifically, 'On the Media.'" -Katie Paine Q: What's your New Year's resolution? A: "To stop uninformed decision making for myself and my clients; to make more decisions based on data and fewer based on spur-of-the-moment thinking." -Katie Paine "To work smarter, not just harder. This will allow for more of a work/life balance." -Ed Moed "To delegate more of my day-to-day work activity to the very capable hands of my staff and spend that time with clients and partners to craft great messages and build great communicators." -Jerry Doyle The Year That Will Be As 2007 transitions into 2008, landscape-changing technologies seem to be top-of-mind for many communications professionals. "Anytime clients are trying to reach consumers, agencies need to stay at the forefront of leveraging new technologies, content and trends to achieve real results," Moed says. However, while virtual worlds, blogs and social networks will remain the communications platforms du jour for many, some newfangled channels still have their fair share of skeptics. When asked if 3.0 digital communications platforms would be relevant to 2008 strategies, Cody says, "Marginally at best. Certainly the larger clients are asking about such things, but the mainstream still aren't ready--and I'm not sure [the platforms] are that effective." Paine puts it another way, asking: "I don't think my customers care about Second Life, so why should I?" Perhaps it depends on who your customers are, as Second Life has a number of success stories in the PR field. Rob Key, CEO of Converseon, deemed it the chosen platform for nonprofit client Plant It 2020 because it "is the beginning of 3-D Web where users can have the closest approximation of more personalized real-world experiences." Only time will tell if there is life after Second Life; in the meantime, happy New Year. PRN CONTACTS: Ed Moed,; Steve Cody,; Richard Levick,; Katie Paine,; Jerry Doyle,; Rob Key,; Ken Makovsky, It Pays To Be Cool Creativity is all the buzz these days, and one agency is investing big bucks to infuse creative thinking into its culture. Ketchum recently hired two people to fill the roles of "creativity planners" (briefly called Creativity Catalysts)--that is, people whose main purpose is simple: be inspiring. These new additions round out Ketchum's ReCreativity Lab, a department dedicated to the idea-development process. Among the listed responsibilities of these creativity planners are: provide daily creative and strategic counsel to designated accounts in Ketchum's key practice areas; design and develop ideation techniques/workshops; and create "environmental" brainstorm sessions. Most interesting to PR pros looking to the New Year is this nontraditional approach to hiring. The title of creativity planner might not sound too serious, but the list of qualifications certainly does: A bachelor's degree in a creative field; 6-8 years experience in creative environment; excels at writing, visualizing/conceptualizing ideas; Demonstrates extraordinary creative energy (as a writer, idea generator, visual artist, designer, etc); Displays strong knowledge of pop culture; and, Exceptional collaborative skills; confident public speaker. One new "creative catalyst" hire, Aaron Tung, meets these qualifications and trumps them with an MBA. After all the time and money required to build a killer resume and land at a behemoth agency like Ketchum, getting paid to be cool is a pretty sweet gig.

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