Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Good communication tactics stand up to fire test

A towering flame just beyond one's backyard is quite possibly one of the most disturbing things a homeowner can see.  We recently had one such flame:

To quote Alfred E. Neuman, "What, me worry?" 
In any other circumstance, a fire of this magnitude so close to a neighborhood would be quite alarming. However, thanks to some effective corporate communication tactics, Chesapeake Energy alleviated fears, doubts, and general concerns.

The issues: Chesapeake Energy determined a need to conduct flaring operations at a location just west of my neighborhood to "more effectively assess a natural gas well’s production capabilities and determine areas where pipeline is most needed to begin transporting the gas to market." [source] From a PR perspective, their problem included the proximity to neighborhoods and area businesses and what needed to be done to help educate the community.

They kept it simple: From my perspective, the Chesapeake Energy communications tactics employed stem from a strategy which is heavy on community education and engagement.

  • We were first informed of the planned flaring operations via a letter from the company explaining the procedures, safety, and general information. 
  • The letter included a link to their Web site dedicated to answering additional questions on these and other relevant drilling-related topics divided by neighborhood
  • Lastly, a sign was placed at the entrance to gas well that gave relevant and useful information such as permitting, 24-hour supervision on-site, an emergency number, and of course their Web site again.
    (If you look closely, you can see the flames through the trees.)

To be clear, I have no connection to Chesapeake beyond concerned neighbor to one of their natural gas wells. In fact, I didn't think much of the initial letter when I read it. We, like most families in our neighborhood I am sure, were startled by the fire. (I even joked about it on Twitter and Twitpic.) Nevertheless, there was a good lesson here for communicators who want to avoid not having coporate messages heard.

Communication Carry-out:  With the right tactics and tools (even the simple ones) you can achieve effective communication enlightenment: message sent — message received. This is just my way of highlighting what a corporate communications win looks like from a member of the community.

What do you think? The comments are yours.
(Note: As a sat down to write this post, the flaring operations ceased.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Dialogue of Village Idiots

I wasn't going to write this evening until a blogging challenge was given by Jason Falls:

I am not sure how serious (if at all) he was at issuing this writing version of Taboo. This intrigued me since forms of those words are in my blog's masthead. (It least it's not in the blog's name like Valeria Maltoni.) Naturally, "village" and dialogue" came up as worthy alternate words.

There is a point here, trust me.

Earlier today, Michael Jackson passed away. The uncontrollable speed at which the news, rumors, dialogue,  conjectures, and lies spread today was pretty phenomenal via traditional media and the social web. There is no doubt others will cover this from a news/communications/social media/celebrity perspective (among others) ad nauseam.  

[Enter the Village Idiot] In contrast, an example of textual spew came from celebrity blogger, Perez Hilton who suggested Jackson was "lying or making himself sick." 

This of course caught the attention of the masses and rightfully so caused a backlash. Some have even suggested this was done as yet another way for him to be edgy and polarizing. I thought it was just stupid.

My lesson: I don't care who you think you are, being human is more important than being a blogger.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Obfuscation vs. PR's legitimate role

Eschew ObfuscationImage by stonehouse_ via Flickr

Our local PRSA chapter recently held a luncheon with a panel made up of publishers/editors of local weeklies in an attempt to hear how they were doing financially and how PR people and journalists could work together on news stories.

What attendees received was a peek at the reality for these journalists:
From the GFW PRSA Blog -
During the Q&A, Lee Newquist, publisher of Fort Worth Weekly, was asked how PR practitioners could be of the most value to the weeklies. As part of a longer response, Newquist answered, “PR companies, at least on the journalism side of what we do, are problematic because they’re in between (us and) the person with the real answer. I don’t want to talk to a PR person whose sole role in their career is to spin it and make it sound good."

Blake Ovard, managing editor of The Star Group weeklies, echoed: “All of the cities have a PIO, and their job is to keep you from getting the story, so they don’t understand why I don’t want to talk to them. They say, ‘Well, I have all your information.’”

I wish I could have attended the luncheon.

I did, however, interact with a number of fellow PRSA members who did attend as well as follow along some of the quotes from Twitter.

I think what seemed to ruffle the feathers of some in attendance was what has come to be seen as the typical broad-stroked summation from journalists that PR people block the news gathering process. This is simply not the case, at least not always. Are there PR people who do a horrible job for their organizations or clients. Yep. But the same is true in any industry (up to and including journalism.)

Speaking from a communication professional's perspective, it is true that for public information officers, sometimes we have to get to the information tucked away inside our government agencies. We understand and appreciate the journalists would prefer to speak directly with the internal expert and source and to be quite honest, in most cases this is our preference too.

However, there are times when we cannot provide information for privacy, personnel protection, and other various legal reasons beyond our and the organization's control. It is highly frustrating when these actions are then turned around and interpreted as obfuscation when our hands are simply tied.

Perhaps the panelists didn’t fully appreciate the host organization is made up of PR professionals who hold to a PRSA Code of Ethics,which state in part:

HONESTY - We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.

We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.

We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.
If you hope to reach your community and your community members find local weeklies useful, then the strategy dictates paying attention to and functioning in tandem with these media outlets. If your community does not find local weeklies relevant, move on.

Perhaps our organizations would be better served if public relations professionals work on being better as well as look to what could be in store for our profession and for journalists.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Twitter Hint for School Districts

I have been running a Twitter account for our school district for a little over a year now. It started as an experiment as part of our communication department's exploration of social media tools. I still recommend school districts use the tool and I am thrilled to see a growing number of school districts in our state that have found Twitter useful.

It's ok to broadcast
There seems to be a running debate about whether or not Twitter should be used as a broadcasting tool as opposed to a conversational tool. I believe that for school districts, a simple broadcasting Twitter stream could be an advantageous tool to provide useful information, updates, and links for the district community. 

I recently stumbled on another alternate use of Twitter,
Announcement Update Page

Twitter creates unique Web pages for each tweet. These pages could be re-purposed as announcement pages pretty easily:

Post an update on Twitter, locate the URL -

then drop in a link to that URL from the district's homepage (or other appropriate location.)

What you get is a ready-made district announcement page (if you've branded the profile to your school district) without having to create new or updating existing pages on the district's Web site.


This came in handy a few times last year when we had some things that required attention, but that really didn't merit a full production of press release or district announcement page. Plus, it was really fast.

I know this isn't ground-breaking stuff, but speaking as a school district communications/PR professional, I can assure you it is very convenient and should be considered if you are thinking about using Twitter for your school district.

Do you think this is a worthy solution for a common problem? Do you have any other alternate uses for Twitter? The comments are yours.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Look up every once in a while and dream

Clouds are so cool
Originally uploaded by vedo's pics
Stop what you are doing and look around you.
What do you see?
More importantly, who do you see?

Take a moment or two (or ten) and think about what is really important to you. It is easy to get caught up in the various business and complex pressures that we forget (or fore go) our purposes and dreams.

It's time we start pursuing our big dreams instead of granting the small wishes of others.

Are you a dreamer?

Thank you for indulging me in a short diversion away from normal posts on communications, public relations, education, and a bunch of stuff in between. Now back to regular programming.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Accredchat - June 5, 2009

In an effort to help others keep up or in some cases catch up on what was discussed during today's #accredchat, here is a snapshot document of the Twitter thread:

(Note: It is in reverse order, so if you'll have go to the last page to see where the conversations started. aLso if you want current tweets, check out the live Twitter search for #accredchat.)

This was the first #accredchat and I hope there are more. It was a bit confusing since there seemed to be no moderators. If it happens again, I think a panel or common questions might help.

What do you think? Was #accredchat useful? If you missed it, would you be interested in it on a weekly basis or would it be ok to organically build? The comments are yours.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Some PR people are like star-belly Sneetches

the sneetchesImage by badjonni via Flickr
Having kids allows me to stay current on some great new children's books as well as going back into the vault for wonderful stories I recall reading as a child.

During a recent evening story-time, I ran across a book that to my surprise reminded me of PR people who argue for/against accreditation: The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss. 

For those unfamiliar with the story, it starts off explaining that the absence of a "star" is the basis for discrimination in the Sneetch world.
Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars. Those stars weren't so big. They were really so small, you might think such a thing wouldn't matter at all. But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches would brag, "We're the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches." With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they'd snort, "We'll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!" And whenever they met some, when they were out walking, they'd hike right on past them without even talking. 
Now I don't seriously think there is this kind of deep discrimination between PR people with and without APR. In fact, I believe those who are Accredited in Public Relations (APR,) unlike the star-belly Sneetches, are willing to assist others in the field. However, some PR people can act like star-belly Sneetches by bickering over who are better at doing PR, those with versus those without accreditation.

(Disclaimer: I am not an APR professional, but I have decided to take steps toward earning accreditation in the near future.)

Agressively arguing over whether or not a PR person should be an APR is pretty dumb.

Accredited PR professionals will think being accredited is worthwhile. Non-accredited PR professionals (having no interest in it) will probably think it's pointless and/or question its value. While those of us who are considering it or already on the way are stuck in the middle.

What is APR?
I am looking forward to the experience of getting accredited. What I like about APR is the professional development notion best explained via the PRSA Web site:
APR is a mark of distinction for public relations professionals who demonstrate their commitment to the profession and to its ethical practice, and who are selected based on broad knowledge, strategic perspective, and sound professional judgment.
Can a PR professional be committed to his/her profession and ethics, plus have broad knowledge, strategic perspective, and display sound judgement all without having "APR" after their names? You bet.

Then why get the APR?
So then it begs the question, why get the APR? I think fellow professional communicator, Lauren Vargas, puts it best:
Why get the APR? The study process for the APR is a wonderful way for me to go back to my communication roots, discover why I chose this field and evaluate how I have practiced and put theory into practice. I am reestablishing my passion for public relations. The acronym on the signature block means nothing without the drive and results.
Translation: there is individual value in the accreditation process.

And the Sneetches?
The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches and no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches. That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars and whether they had one, or not, upon thars.
By the way, if you are interested in APR or ABC accreditation, join the Twitter #accredchat on Friday, June 5 at 1:00 pm  ET. Hopefully this will become a weekly chat over this worthwhile PR topic. Also, Kami Huyse, APR has some tips on getting the most out of Twitter chats.
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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dallas Inbound Marketing Summit - From the Back Row

SEO 101 with Mike Volpe at Inbound Marketing S...Image by LevelTen Interactive via Flickr
Last week I attended as many of the sessions from the Inbound Marketing Summit's Dallas stop as I could. (I'm still not quite sure what I was thinking in scheduling myself out of the school district for any period of time in second-to-last week of school, but that's a different story.)

What we have here are presentations I attended and some take-aways worth sharing:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) 101
by Mike Volpe - VP of Inbound Marketing at HubSpot

  • Have a broad footprint of published content
  • Publish content worth sharing - Would anyone actually want to share this beyond its intended audience?
  • Shhhhhhh! Social Media is actually an important aspect of SEO.
  • The type of marketing that works today is not the same as what worked before.
  • It's less about the big-budget and more about creativity, hard work, and brain power.

Advocacy, Badvocacy & Upsetting Apple Carts
by Tim Marklein - EVP of Measurement & Strategy at Weber Shandwick
  • We need to rethink the channels, reach, influence inside and outside the organization.
  • Traditional marketing needs to adapt to Advocacy marketing.
  • Tell many stores, one at a time, synchronized, through many voices, to "micro" markets.

Discovery & Ambient Awareness
Tools, Techniques & Processes
by Mike Walsh - CEO of Leverage Software
  • We are all limited by what we are able to consume.
  • Low "noise-level" helps keep you super-efficient.
  • Be like a kid [again] through filtered discovery!
  • Your community helps by letting you discover information you didn't know you needed.
Internet Marketing by the Numbers
by Mike Moran - Chief Strategist for Converseon

Related blog post: Internet Marketing, Texas Style

  • Once we start measuring things then we become responsible for making them work.
  • Your aquisition costs for new customers is much higher than for existing customers.
  • Case for Public Relations: How far did your message travel?
Social Business from the Inside Out - case study
by Greg Matthews - Director of Consumer Innovation at Humana
  • Be a vacuum - study, try, read, talk to trusted sources, and get good information
  • Try stuff - have the license to experiment
  • One of the benefits of doing wacky stuff is that it gets you noticed.
  • One thing to remember about Social Media is to be careful of what you say and where you say it.
Nuts About Online Communication
by Paula Berg - Manager of Emerging Media at Southwest Airlines
  • Engage with your advocates first.
  • Negative feedback is secondary.
  • Make the mundane fun.
  • Establish channels before a crisis.
  • Don't be afraid to join the conversation.
  • [Internally] You already have all the talent you need.
  • Take the organization's message and translate it into the language of the Social Media tools.
Greg's session and Paula's session were particularly interesting to me because each works in highly regulated industries (healthcare and airline) and both are being innovative and creative within their organizational structure. Many of their lessons learned could translate very well for other professionals who work within regulated structures like government agencies.

That's it. I was not able to make any of the other sessions. Thankfully others did and you might find their posts, decks, and videos useful as well.

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