Tag Archives: Public Relations
PR’s Continued Reputation Battle
September 26, 2012
In the never ending battle for respect, the reputation of our profession is once again under fire, related to the practice of “quote approval” – or more specifically, the end of that practice at The New York Times. My first reaction was, “Really? People ask for that? And they get it?” Followed by, “Really? Weren’t we just celebrating the fact that PR pros were finally getting a true seat at the table, and full partnerships at VC firms?”
Granted, POTUS has never been a client. But truth be told, I’ve never asked for quote approval, and it has never been offered. Heck, I’ve spent years, maybe decades, explaining to clients why journalists don’t need to submit their questions in advance…much less allow you to preview your quotes.
That’s why an entire cottage industry of media trainers exists…to be sure that people make the most of those interview opportunities. Get quoted the right way, and for the right things. Isn’t it?
I find it ironic that journalists ending their questionable practice becomes another black eye on our profession. Two steps forward, three steps back.
Working in PR, we are often tasked with helping clients tell their stories effectively. We strive for crisp, compelling messages that require little explanation. Sometimes consensus, complexity or both can get in the way. “Elevator speeches” become jargon laced run-on sentences about paradigms, engagement, solutions and other overused buzzwords.
But what if we could keep it simple? Here is some great advice about the need to sell your company, your product or yourself in 15 seconds or less. Easy to say, hard to do. Try it. Go ahead, I dare you.
And that’s all I’m going to say about this. But I am all ears….how do you tell your story with brevity?
Last night, I attended the PRSA-NY’s Annual Big Apple Awards. It was my first time attending this function, and I expected another long night that would only be fun if we were winning. Well, we did win big. And that was fun. MWW Group and JetBlue Airways won four awards for our labor campaign with the pilots that has been sweeping the industry awards this year. But the real thrill was listening to Dan Rather talk about his views on our profession, creating reputation and leadership. There is a reason he is the person America trusts for news – and among the last of the great generation of broadcasters.
Here’s what the man who’s covered every President since the Kennedy assassination, and every war since Vietnam had to say:
- Remember that you are serving a higher purpose than just serving your clients – you are serving public interest and our nation’s interest.
- Journalists and Public Relations professionals (he never called us “publicists”) are not enemies. We each have an important role to play to serving the public interest.
- The work we are doing is important for our nation – we need to continue to be a catalyst for dialogue and transparency so that we can help restore public trust in our nation, in our capital markets and in Corporate America.
- The most important ingredient in reputation is authenticity. He opined that authenticity was Mitt Romney’s problem – and that whichever candidate had greater authenticity with the American people would win in November.
Certainly, the opportunity to promote his new book – Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News – was what brought him to our event. But what a treat for us. At 81, Dan Rather is trustworthy, authentic, and more relevant than ever.
MWW’s New POV: It’s all about relevance
May 9, 2011
Last week, MWW Group held its annual leadership summit – and our first all hands meeting since we bought our agency back from IPG….and we unveiled our “new” point of view. (Technically, this is a new articulation of the point of view that has always driven our agency – but I digress).
Trust + Relevance = Action
Trust – too big to fail and the GEC (Global Economic Crisis) have created a crisis of confidence of serious magnitude. We don’t trust leaders, companies, religious institutions. So lots of big thinkers in our industry talk about trust & transparency as the end game.
Trust isn’t the end game. Trust is the table stakes. Unless you plan to go out of business, trust is a requirement. Not the goal. It’s true that some clients need help establishing, building or increasing trust…but if we stop there, we haven’t done our job.
• Because ultimately PR is about driving action….trust gives us permission to act, relevance makes us act.
• Because participation, without relevance, is just noise….tweeting, blogging, posting, sharing….none of it matters if no one is paying attention. Relevance makes us pay attention.
• Relevance provides staying power…when something is relevant to us, it becomes a part of our lives…and a part of who we are. We stick with it.
• Relevance is the engine of the peer-to-peer economy. It’s why sharing is eclipsing search. When something is really a part of us and our lives, we tell a friend.
Relevance is the game changer. It is what causes us to buy a product, apply for a job, welcome a company into our community, invest our hard earned money. It’s what makes a client newsworthy. It’s not just the end game. It’s the whole game.
Maybe we should call this blog Return on Relevance…because isn’t that really what a reputation is all about?
Does the Term “Public Relations” Have a Reputation Problem? Three things that can change the reputation of PR for the better.
April 26, 2011
Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Can the same be true for the term public relations? If you follow the industry blogs at all, over the past few days there has been some interesting conversation about the term public relations v. the term communications – which one is narrower? Which one is broader? Which one better describes what we do? Most of the pundits seem to agree that public relations, when done well, is more than communications – communications is one just one facet of public relations. Others advocate for a different term entirely – like reputation management.
The fact that there is this much debate suggests that the term public relations – too often cast as “spin” and suggestive of manipulation or downright dishonesty – has a reputation problem. And that problem is usually based on a bad experience someone has had with a PR firm. Like every relationship, agency-client relationships begin with baggage – of the agencies that pulled a bait and switch, or failed to deliver – of the clients who put their team in a compromising position with a journalist or an industry association. This isn’t something that can be changed by changing our vernacular.
So what’s the solution?
1. Know your client’s baggage and their organizational attitudes about PR. If offering a communications strategy (vs. a PR Plan) is the path to building consensus, securing budget and getting the opportunity to demonstrate the value of PR, so be it.
2. Practice your profession with integrity. Provide your best advice. Be honest and transparent in all you do for your client, and on your client’s behalf.
3. Think holistically, broadly and strategically. Provide integrated programs that meet your client’s business needs. Sometimes that means partnering (and sharing your budget) with a third party.
Earn your clients’ trust, and the reputation of PR will surely follow – one client and one company at a time.
Twenty years ago this month I put on my new Ann Taylor suit, accessorized with a scarf (flight attendant style) and began my entry level job at a little PR firm in NJ that no one had ever heard of. Those were the days when press releases were mailed (yes, my 20-something colleagues, you read that right), executives carried beepers, and you waited for the giant Burelles envelopes to come in the mail with your clips.
MWW Group was a startup – we’d just opened our 2nd office in Trenton, NJ, (of all places) and had a whopping staff of 5. I did it all….answered the phones, pretended to be our CEO’s assistant (he couldn’t’ afford one), made media lists…and got my first “hit” in The New York Times. Back then Bill Gates was “the devil” – not the hero-philanthropist of today. Gordon Gecko told us (the first time) that greed was good. And the overnight news cycle ruled the day.
A lot has changed in our business since then, and I guess I’ve changed a lot, too. I’ve worked in every practice in the firm – yes, consumer marketing and public affairs, too. I’ve held every position (ok almost every position…I haven’t run the finance department or been CEO). And I’ve seen some of the most dramatic changes possible… The (original) real estate bubble. The rise of the Internet. The dot com boom, and bust. Strategic Philanthropy has given way to CSR, employee communications is now employee engagement. Visibility became buzz and then, conversation.
But there are some universal truths that haven’t changed since I was an Account Coordinator. When it comes to the PR business, and building, enhancing, and protecting reputations these 5 things are constants:
1. We trust people, not companies. Back then, the Celebrity CEOs ruled…Iaccocca, Welch, Crandall. But we knew that putting a face on a company was a good thing…and we understood that it was important to have a story and a POV beyond just your own Company.
2. Third parties tip the scale. What others say about you is more important than what you say about yourself.
3. A mistake in the initial response of a crisis can damage your reputation forever.
4. The only way to build a great media list is to work the phone. Whether using today’s databases, or my trusty old 1992 edition of NY Publicity Outlets…nothing substitutes for direct conversation.
Another universal truth — my family still doesn’t understand what I do. Except now, when someone says I am in advertising, I don’t argue about it.
I’m thinking these might still be the same 20 years from now.
PR’s Reputation and Dancing with the Devil
January 7, 2011
We’ve all heard these terms to describe Public Relations professionals. And it is about the only thing worse than your grandmother telling everyone you work in “advertising or something.”
Public Relations is a legitimate profession….and when done well, provides real added value to Companies, brands and communities. Why can’t we shed the Spin Doctor rap?
Every time we promise senior counsel, and then deliver an intern, we reinforce the bad reputation. But perhaps there is nothing more damaging to the reputation of our industry than when a public relations consultancy represents the “bad guys.”
There is a difference between representing a point of view different than your own – everyone deserves a voice and the ability to provide all sides of an issue so constituencies can make educated decisions. But what about the issues that are true third rails? Tobacco. Guns. Illegal or illicit businesses.
Take these attempts to preempt a menthol ban. Buying negative URLs – that’s standard operating procedure. Pushing content via Twitter and Facebook that supports your position – reasonable. But Loillard’s efforts to thwart suggestions that menthol is more addictive than non-menthol tobacco do little to help their reputation, or our industry’s. Their arguments are simple, and come complete with tobacco funded coalitions, paid spokespeople and some “grey area’ contributions to third party groups:
• People who prefer menthol cigarettes should have a choice. (For the record, I am OK with this one, so long as they are adults.)
• Removal of menthol cigarettes will create a black market in communities who have enough trouble with crime. (Menthol cigarettes are largely preferred in the African American Community)
• Banning menthol cigarettes is a jobs issue.
I am sure this account is lucrative. And perhaps for the strategists, the challenge is stimulating and interesting. But is it right to take on this issue? Should agencies use their resources to protect a lethal product being marketed heavily to a minority community? Every agency needs to answer that question using their own moral compass. But as long as there are people willing to do this work, we really shouldn’t wonder why our industry has a negative reputation.
Happy Independence Day, MWW Group
January 6, 2011
I’ve worked at MWW Group for almost 20 years….and I’ve seen a lot of changes. When I first started, I answered the phones, brought clients coffee and did just about anything no one else in our 5 person, one office agency wanted to do. It was a time when we mailed press releases, held lots of press conferences, carried pagers (and calling cards to dial the pay phones to check the page) and research was done in a library.
In these two decades, our agency has grown a lot and changed a lot. We’ve added offices, practices and people. Interns have grown up to be senior counselors. Faxing replaced mailing, then gave way to e-mailing then tweeting. The Google generation approaches research in a whole new way.
But one thing hasn’t changed….our Aim High and Deliver mantra that keeps everyone at MWW continually raising the bar for ourselves and for our client programs. And in our own version of Back to the Future, we are going back to our independent status after 10 years as an IPG agency.
It’s a great time to be independent….you can read all about it here. The world is changing faster than ever…and we’ve always prided ourselves on staying ahead of the changes…and helping our clients determine how, where, when and why to change their communications priorities, approaches and programs.
Look for great things from MWW Group in 2011…we are ready to take our new, independent agency to new heights.
Does the public have crisis fatigue?
July 19, 2010
If you’ve followed this blog or tuned in to the webcasts where I’ve been a panelist, you know that I’ve been saying that 60 seconds is the new “first hour” – the textbook window of time when a Company must take control of a situation in order to preserve reputation. And while that is a somewhat hyperbolic statement, the Miracle on the Hudson is my case in point – and was the day that I began to rethink everything I had learned about crisis communications 101.
Today, I heard that BP’s cap may be leaking. An editorial in the New York Times calls Congress to the carpet for not taking detector tampering in the Massey Mining explosion that was the industry’s worst in 40 years. But the furor and public outcry seems to be losing steam.
Certainly, the intensity and speed with which information moves creates some unique and new challenges for crisis communicators….but does it also create opportunities? Are memories shorter? Does interest wane more quickly? Do we move on to the crisis du jour and give reputations a pass?
Has the plethora of “worst events in history” in the past few years desensitized us to the significance of these issues? Or does the pervasive mistrust of all things big – big banks, big companies, big governments caused us to expect the worst?
Big questions for a rainy Monday morning…