Social Media, Reputation Metrics and…Britney Spears: PR News Debuts Its Inaugural Media Relations Forum

Attracting a diverse crowd of nearly 200, PR News’ inaugural Media Relations Forum made an auspicious bow March 10 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. In a day jam-packed with back-to-back sessions that explored in-depth topics along the lines of digital/social media, reputation measurement, public affairs and marketing communications, the confab was timely, to say the least.

As to be expected, digital and social media nabbed the lion’s share of attention.

“Whether we like it or not, bloggers are legitimate,” said Scott Krugman, VP of public relations for the National Retail Federation, during the “Measuring Your Reputation’s Complete Media Footprint” panel. Noting how important it is to engage these online communicators and catalysts, particularly those whose credentials may seem dubious, Krugman repeatedly emphasized that it’s critical to dive into the social media space. At the same time, he admitted it’s “hard to measure.” Still, brands must be more proactive in monitoring and measuring what is being said about them, no matter how problematic the task may be.

That doesn’t mean face-to-face interaction is DOA. On the contrary, it’s a facet of engagement that still ranks very high for many media relations professionals. In her opening address at the conference, Chris Bozman, communications manager and strategic advisor for Shell Oil Company, recounted how her brand was able to rehabilitate its tarnished reputation by sending its then-president John Hofmeister on a 50-city media tour. The premise was for Hofmeister to directly engage everyday people—and the media—in various markets about his company and the industry while fielding occasionally hostile questions. Bozman and her team also invited reporters to shadow Hofmeister throughout the duration of the tour.

Even with an “overstretched internal media team” and “pockets of resistance [within the organization] to the tour concept,” Shell’s media relations campaign was a resounding success, scoring extensive coverage on such high-profile outlets as the Today Show, Meet the Press, USA Today and an 8-minute Nightline segment. And, according to Bozman, it was all done without leveraging Twitter, Facebook or other social media tools. Imagine that.

In between the how-to and best practices-focused presentations, there were some interludes on what not to do. During the “Navigating Media Mazes and Minefields” session, speaker Andy Gilman, president of CommCore Consulting Group, played a video clip from CNBC’s Squawk Box that featured an embarrassing interview between two of the show’s aggressive hosts and a ludicrously ill-prepared top executive of a brand better left unmentioned. If this gentleman had accepted his company’s offer of media coaching, added Gilman, then this fiasco could have been averted.

Keynote speaker Howard Bragman, founder of the West Coast-based PR firm Fifteen Minutes (and author of the recently released book, “Where’s My Fifteen Minutes?”), punctuated his presentation with entertaining Hollywood anecdotes while enumerating his “10 Commandments of PR.” Explaining his first edict—“all press is not good press,” Bragman, whose clients include some of Tinseltown’s crème de la crème, said that no matter how often he tries to drill this basic concept into the heads of people he works with in the entertainment community, they still don’t fully grasp it. After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? Wrong, said Bragman: “Bad press hurts people in so many ways.”

For one commandment—“PR is not the answer to everything,” Bragman broached one of the tabloid world’s favorite subjects—Britney Spears—to illustrate his point. Recalling how someone asked him if Spears, whose personal and professional trials and travails endlessly make the front-page rounds of celebrity weeklies, has a “PR problem,” Bragman (to use show biz parlance) brought down the house by replying, “No, she has a life problem”—a comment that embodied his statement that PR no longer stands for public relations, but for perception versus reality. It’s up to you to find the balance.