Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On Working Together

Our PRSA chapter recently held a joint program with our friends at AAF Fort Worth and Social Media Club Fort Worth to host author/speaker Jackie Huba for a fun evening at Four Day Weekend Theater. This night on the town took well over four months to coordinate, as the organizations' presidents met and e-mailed each other to work out details.

The groups share a few members, and we all recognized an opportunity to join forces on the March 27 event to meet our common desire to provide quality programming. We had a great time, too, as you can see by the photos on our Facebook page.

One day before, March 26, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram and WFAA-TV announced their own partnership. A content sharing partnership

"The news executives said their companies will share a wide range of content, including breaking news, sports, business, traffic, weather, dining and entertainment from all over North Texas. They also expect their staffs to work together occasionally on joint projects."

Both of these partnerships, our three organizations and the two local news outlets, caught some people by surprise. They took planning. They took not being afraid to fail. Hopefully when we look back, they will have provided positive outcomes. But if it was a fail, let us fail forward with intelligence gained.

My point is, I believe we are stronger together than we are separate. Unlikely mass communication compatriots can (should?) occasionally work together for the greater good. It might be one of the things that keeps us all afloat.
Corey Lark (SMCFW president), Jackie Huba, Rene Murphy (AAF FW president), and me.
A version of this post appeared as my President's Column in the eChaser newsletter.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

RPIE for the #schoolPR Pro: Communication Plan Checklist #tspra14

School public relations programs have a much greater chance of success with proactive, strategic planning that incudes measurabIe objectives set forth by research and evaluated. The following is the RPIE for the School PR Pro checklist I created to share with other school public relations pros to guide them through the 4-step process -- Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation.  

This checklist was first prepared and shared at the 2014 Texas School Public Relations Association conference during the roundtables session.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stuck between a shock and a tarred place

I first considered writing another column about the solid program we have for members and guests at the next luncheon. But that seemed like fluff when put up against a local, sensitive topic, the discussion of which substantially advances the PR profession and professional.

Sometimes working in PR and strategic communications sucks. That's where I believe the leadership and communications teams at JPS Health Network found themselves over the last few months. The situation of a patient and family leading up to a judge's ruling and follow-through on the order is unbelievably sad. To be clear, I have no interest mulling in print the thorny sociopolitical issues of this episode because it is so emotionally charged. Instead I would point to the well-presented and effective updates JPS released to the media.

JPS was stuck between a shock and a tarred place. No outcome was pleasant. Whether you're an in-house PR pro or hired consultant, in health care or nonprofit, a corporate communicator in education or in any part of the vast PR realm, at times things will go wrong. And the pain, the hurt, the confusion can last months.

Communication professionals provide strategic value to an organization in situations like these by being the voice of reason, conscience or even dissent to help leadership through the thicket. At such moments I appreciate the colleagues I know through PRSA who can help me strengthen an idea, clarify some wording, or just be a friendly ear. It’s great to know I’m not alone.

I tip my hat to the JPS Health Network communications and community affairs team. 

You do good work.
Photo credit: brookenovak via Flickr Creative Commons
The content for this post first appeared in the February eChaser newsletter as the my submission for the monthly President's Column. The eChaser is a joint digital newsletter for the Greater Ft. Worth Chapter of PRSA, SPJ of Ft. Worth, and IABC Ft. Worth.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Children, it's ok to be in PR. Just be ethical.

When things go wrong in politics, things tend to go right for the media. Political corruption lead stories and exposés (local and national) can be the stuff on which journalism careers are made.

Because of this duality, it's no surprise that a well-respected (and well-followed) journalism academic and commentator, Jeff Jarvis, would chime in on the recent #bridgegate scandel in New Jersey. Quick recap: NJ Gov. Chris Christie fired a deputy chief of staff as part of some fallout over what apparently was a politically motivated George Washington Bridge toll booth and lane closure issue.

On Friday evening, Jarvis was tweeting screen captures from released government staff emails involving early reporting and a Wall Street Journal inquiry into Fort Lee toll booth topic that lead to "stonewalling." Most of his commentary was about what one would expect from a journalism associate professor.

However, one of his tweets raised the hairs on the back of my neck when he wrote: "Children, this is why you don't want to be a flack for a living."
Well thanks, Jeff. </sarcasm>

Let's just go ahead and paint the PR profession with the same damaging brushstroke because some political staffers (perhaps with questionable ethics) wrote some internal emails trying to figure out their next steps. Of course they should know by now that electronic communication within government agencies falls under FOIA rules and tend to eventually see the light of day. Duh.

What bugged me is that Jarvis picked this episode to flippantly dismiss thoughts by students of going into public relations, strategic communications or really any career in which one might be referred to as a "flack" for an organization. To be clear, I do not believe for a second that his remark will be the deciding factor for a student exploring the field of mass communications to scoff at PR. To me, it's just sad (infuriating?) reminder that our profession gets a bum rap.

It's up to us as PR professionals to practice strategic communications in an ethical manner. We should be among the chorus of calls for transparency, honesty, and open communication. I'll leave you with the charge given to us from the PRSA Code of Ethics. The Code advises PR professionals to:
  • Protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.
  • Foster informed decision making through open communication.
  • Protect confidential and private information.
  • Promote healthy and fair competition among professionals.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.
Perhaps even academics like Jeff Jarvis can appreciate their future hacks working with ethical flacks. (tongue-firmly-in-cheek!) Or at the very least, I hope he understands that ethical PR pros actually do exist.

Photo credit: tracylee via Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, October 18, 2013

Agenda-setting theory: helped or hindered by social media?

I frequently read the editorials and columns in the opinion section of my hometown newspaper. I like their digital subscription option these days since the print version mostly ended up in the recycling bin unless I needed to wrap something breakable. But that's a different story. I like catching up on what those veteran newspaper journalists have to say in and about this city.

Recently, Jim Witt, executive editor, included an intriguing bit of insight into working in the media in a piece about a former colleague who left the newspaper business. 
“When you work at a newspaper, you get to be around a lot of smart people every day. You get to be “in the know” about almost everything going on, and — until Facebook and Twitter — you decide what the public knows. You can do things that help the community by pointing out problems and offering solutions.”
Did you catch it? He's alluding to a disruption to agenda-setting theory by a couple of social media tools. Agenda-setting theory describes the "ability [of the news media] to influence the salience of topics on the public agenda."1 
“In other words, the media shape top-of-mind presence regarding issues. The typical news consumer focuses on a handful of topics daily, and these topics are presented to him or her, in one form or another, by the media. With the next news cycle, a topic from the day before may disappear, and so does its importance among news consumers.” 2  
Now, PR pros understand that we play an important function in this multi-directional process since journalists cannot possibly cover all of the possible angles, stories, or topics. It's our role to augment and advance the issues through media relations that impact the communities and organizations we represent. 

But what about Facebook and Twitter? The behemoths of the social web. As the editor mentions, journalists used to have the market cornered on what the public knows. As masters of mass communication, media outlets laid out the news of the day. And then new media tools changed things. Over time, the eyeball economy has shifted to what some might describe as a democratized system of attention.  

A local reporter told me recently their assignment editor had been coming down on all of the reporters about being more entrepreneurial with the development of stories. Translation: dig deeper into those Facebook messages and Twitter leads. Sources are just waiting to help tell a story. (This reporter was not thrilled at this concept but understood the expectation.)

I believe it's important for PR people to understand that this shift has taken place. We need to use this to frame our thinking for issues management since their are tools to help monitor some of these very same sources. We still need to follow the conversation, streamline access to the facts, truth and subject-matter experts as needed, so we ultimately position our organizations for success.

The agenda-setting theory is still spinning today, it just has a few (million) more spokes in the wheel.

1 McCombs, M; Reynolds, A (2002). "News influence on our pictures of the world". Media effects: Advances in theory and research.
2 Study Guide for the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations (Communication Models and Theories)

Photo credit: rustman via Flickr Creative Commons

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ft. Worth @StarTelegram requires Facebook for comments; good for discourse, bad for trolls

In a move that I hope will send some of those online trolls to cower under their bridges away from the light, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram announced this week that they will now require users to log in to Facebook to use their commenting system.

In his announcement, S-T executive editor, Jim Witt explained that the reason was pretty simple: "Facebook requires account holders to use their names, and we believe that anyone who wants to contribute to our public forums should put their name on it."

He then went on to bolster the argument for signed (in) online comments because of the difference in discourse between those that were anonymous vs those that come in with real names attached.

"In signed letters for our print editions, writers make their points using reasoned and usually reasonable arguments. But online, comment threads too often devolve into a cesspool of name-calling. On some stories, we are forced to turn off the commenting feature because the language becomes too offensive. 
"In talking to readers, I’ve found that many have been discouraged from commenting because they are turned off by the nastiness."
I believe this is a smart move for my local paper and one that hopefully will raise the intelligence quotient a bit on stories that matter to communities across DFW covered in the paper. It seems to me the S-T recognizes that for at least the near future, Facebook doesn't appear to be going anywhere. And other media outlets use it as their commenting system of choice for some of the very same reasons as outlined in the S_t announcement.  
Why is this important for PR? Since a function of PR includes media relations, it's part of our job to know how the stories are getting developed, sourced and told. We should also know to whom we connect a journalist in order to provide the trusted source they need. (Hint: it's often not the PR person.) We've seen that a growing number of journalists are finding and using sources from social channels.

"...51 per cent of journalists worldwide say they use microblogs (e.g. Twitter, Facebook and Weibo) to gather new stories – provided the source behind those accounts is known and trusted by them (2012 figure, 54 per cent). As was the case in 2012, reliance on these sources falls dramatically when the sources are not known to the journalist: 25 per cent say they source stories in this way." [Oriella PR Network Global Digital Journalism Study 2013]
The study also indicates that in certain respects, a journalist's success on stories now tends to be measured in the number of unique visits, number of views, increase in social followers, likes/tweets on articles, and number of online comments along with advertising revenue and exclusive features.

I hope our journalist friends over at the Star-Telegram will take this shift to Facebook commenting as an opportunity to engage in what could be ongoing dialogue on the important issues in the community. It is not out of the realm of possibility to have a trusted source from within the organization chime in through article comments (if it's in the best interest of the organization s/he is representing) to provide clarifications, corrections, or contextual additions. This might give pause to some especially for those who don't like to mix work life with home/community life. I believe we've reached the point that our online professional and personal selves are blends now and we should treat online communication as such.

The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram now requires Facebook for article comments. It's a good thing and online trolls beware.

Photo credit: Doug Wildman via Flickr Creative Commons

Monday, September 2, 2013

Public Relations Roles of the #schoolPR Pro

I consider myself a life-long learner and as such I'm (still) in the process of studying to take the APR exam and preparing my materials for the readiness review in order to be an accredited PR professional.

This is not a post arguing for/against APR credential. Rather, it's based on reading the PR Roles and Responsibilities portion of the study materials that happened to coincide with the first week of a new school year.

I've been in school public relations since 2001 and each year look forward to new challenges and opportunities to improve or expand communication between my organization and its stakeholders (or publics). This year, I thought it would be good to share what it is we do in school PR.

The following definitions are based on a list found in the APR Study Guide which I think is a valuable tool even if you are not considering the APR.

Public Relations: A Management Function
School Public Relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between a school district/educational institution and the publics on which its success or failure depends. (adapted - Broom, 2009, Effective Public Relations)
Advertising: (paid content) Information placed in the media. It is a controlled method of placing messages in the media. It is useful as part of large campaigns that require detailed explanations such as bond/levies, technology, new/expanded programs, etc.

Brand/Branding: A product, service or concept that is publicly distinguished from other products, services or concepts so that it can be easily communicated and usually marketed. A school district sells trust and as such its branding must reflect ways in which it's distinguished from others.

Community relations: An area of school public relations with responsibilities for building relationships with constituent publics such as faith-based organizations, charities, clubs and activist interests of the neighborhoods or metropolitan areas(s) where a school district. Dealing and communicating with citizens and groups within district boundaries is typically the responsibility of the school PR team. 

Controlled communication channels: Self-sponsored communication channels, media and tools that are under direct control of the sender. Examples include paid advertising, newsletters, brochures, some types of e-mails, organizational websites and blogs, leaflets, organizational broadcasts and podcasts, intranets, teleconferences and videoconferences, meetings, speeches, position papers, and all other channels and communication products under organizational control. In short, be your own newsroom.

Counseling: Advising management concerning policies, relations and communications. Senior-level school PR practitioners should be among the rest of executive-level team in direct communication with the superintendent. In an advisory role, the school PR person often needs to act as organizational conscience

Crisis communication: Protects and defends a school district facing a public challenge to its reputation. These challenges can involve legal, ethical or financial standing. There are many potential issues that can flare up into full-blown crises. The school PR pro must be attuned to various facets or the organization in order to be aware of issues.  

Employee relations: Activities designed to build sound relationships between a school district and its employees, and a critical element in fostering positive attitudes and behavior of employees as ambassadors for the organization. The school PR person should be aligned with the HR team so that existing or new programs or topics are well-communicated with staff.

Financial relations: An aspect of school public relations responsible for being well-versed in the business of school districts. How education is funded from local, state, national perspectives and being able to explain it (or know who in the organization that can) in order to communicate finance topics.

Government relations: An aspect of relationship-building between a school district and other government agencies at local, state, and/or national levels, especially involving flow of information to and from legislative and regulatory bodies in an effort to influence public policy decisions compatible with the local school district's interests. Understanding legislative priorities is an important role for school PR.

Issues management: The proactive process of anticipating, identifying, evaluating and responding to public policy issues that affect school districts and their publics now and in the future. This is an important role for school PR for those that can accurate anticipate and analyze problems before they flare up.

Marketing: The management function that identifies human needs and wants, offers products and services to satisfy those demands, and causes transactions that deliver products and services in exchange for something of value to the provider. Targets customers.

Marketing communications: A combination of activities designed to sell a product, service or idea, including advertising, collateral materials, interactive communications, publicity, promotion, direct mail, trade shows and special events.

Media relations: Among strategic communication functions for the school district, the school PR pro coordinates the exchange of information with media outlets and the general public. This position maintains a dynamic newsroom and media lists as well as various information channels though which news releases and stories are posted and distributed. These enable media outlets and school district community members to keep up with what's happening in the school district.

Multicultural relations/workplace diversity: Relating with people in various cultural groups. Understanding multicultural and workplace diversity continues to increase in importance. Diversity in the workplace continues to provide challenges and opportunities to public relations practitioners and other managers impacting messaging, perceptions of ideas, and services. These considerations may include issues of household composition, ages, gender, ethnic and religious backgrounds, language, technology fluency, health status or disabilities.

Press agentry: Creating newsworthy stories and events to attract media attention and gain public notice.

Proactive public relations: Taking the initiative to develop and apply public relations plans to achieve measurable results toward set goals and objectives.

Promotion: Activities designed to win publicity or attention, especially the staging of special events to generate media coverage. Special activities designed to create and stimulate interest.

Public affairs: A specialized area of public relations that builds and maintains mutually beneficial governmental and local community relations. Also applies to the military and governmental agencies due to the 1913 Gillett Amendment.

Public information: Representation of a point of view in collected forms such as facts, news, messages, pictures or data; the process of disseminating such information to publics usually through the mass media; a designation describing persons charged with the task of such dissemination usually on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, colleges or universities. School PR pros are typically the public information officers for school districts. [Texas: Rights of Requestors and Agency Responsibilities under the Public Information Act]

Publicity: Information from an outside source that is used by the media because it has news value. It is an
uncontrolled method of placing messages because the source does not pay the media for placement.

Reactive public relations: Response to crises and putting out fires defensively rather than initiating programs. There are varying degrees of reactive public relations with some situations requiring implementation of a school district’s crisis plan.

Reputation Management: Reputation management is an important function of school public relations, which is often cited in the context of crisis management. The increased use of the web and related social media has given added urgency to the practice of monitoring, as the immediate and anonymous nature of the Internet increases the risk of communications that can damage a school or school district’s reputation. Online reputation management is a growing specialized segment of public relations.

Special events: Stimulating an interest in a person, product or organization by means of a focused “happening.” Activities designed to interact with publics and listen to them.

Uncontrolled communications channels: Uncontrolled communications channels refer to the media that are not under direct control of the company, organization or sender of messages. These include newspapers and magazines, radio and television, external websites, externally produced blogs and social media commentary, and externally produced news stories.

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Photo credit: ashleighozment via Flickr Creative Commons