Monday, August 31, 2009

The foundation of a communications condo

I really enjoy a healthy debate or discussion. (My wife would probably correct me and say that I enjoy arguing often just for the sake of arguing.)

As such I have quite enjoyed the recent discourse attempting to answer the question: Who owns social media?

Don't get me wrong, it is a good question considering many people have staked their professional claim in the social web while organizations continue to struggle with how best to implement social strategies and who best to do this for them.

Welcome to the communications condo
I know it doesn't look like much at first, but let's look at an often forgotten aspect of the big three: advertising, marketing, and public relations.  

All three are comfortable rooms inside a dwelling built on a solid foundation of effective communication.

(Photo credit: yeaiknit)

Advertising - Advertising is the kick-ass Media Room we all wish we could afford to have and showcase multimedia storytelling to our friends. We are often awed by those in our various industries that are quite comfortable in the advertising media room. They inspire us to push the boundaries of controlled messaging, compel us to compete, and put on a great show. (Photo credit: sarahleeab)

Marketing - Marketing is our Kitchen where we plan, prepare, and process the exquisite recipes for measured success. In the marketing kitchen, we hear things things like "ROI," "creative strategy," and "brand relationship." All of the ingredients (people's needs and wants) come together through the work of skilled professionals in satisfying feasts. (photo credit: emptyhighway)

Public Relations - Take a seat in the Public Relations Living Room. This is the conversation room. The PR living room is where dialogue, community, and trust take shape. Public relations needs to facilitate the delicate balance between strategy and tactics for organizations. Yes, planning and presentation are well received in this room as invited neighbors or guests are welcomed to the discussions. (photo credit: Roy Sinai)

All three rooms share the common foundation of communication. Without communication, these rooms are useless. Professionals in the three rooms would be better served (and would better serve their organizations) if they'd stop arguing with each other and start integrating together as much as possible. These are separate rooms where invited guests should be able to roam in and out freely in order to have the best possible experience in your home. You want them to want to be there. Let's not give them reasons to leave early.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

School Districts Sell Trust

Today my daughter started kindergarten. It was hard for me to see her all dressed up and excited about starting at her new school. It wasn't hard because I want her to stay a little girl, but because of my irrational fear of the big world.

All that aside, today gave me a uniquely poignant opportunity to explore the transaction of trust ideals and what school districts "sell" to their communities.

School districts and the business of selling
School district administrations have many choices to make on a daily basis with far-reaching implications. As a communications and PR professional for a suburban school district, I have seen first-hand the oftentimes arduous process these decisions go through and ultimately given to the community of parents, students, staff, and public.

So how are we selling trust?

In order for a school district to have an effective relationship with its community, the district's stakeholders must trust that...
  1. the school district will provide safe learning environments;
  2. their teachers will adhere to set instructional standards and expectations;
  3. all students will be given every opportunity to succeed and achieve;
  4. parents are a wanted and integral part of the learning process;
  5. technology and instruction will not be mutually exclusive;
  6. when things go wrong, the district will be open and honest when communicating and work to mitigate future issues;
  7. tax dollars will be spent and sought with sound financial judgment;
  8. facilities will be constructed and maintained with extreme care; and
  9. ultimately, what's in the best interest of students' education will be the guide.
Are you paying attention to the details?
I asked another new kindergarten parent, Kami Huyse (a respected communications professional) of her thoughts on trust from a school. Here's what she said via Twitter:
The orderly way in which things ran today was neat, controlled chaos. Also, the "call" from the principal yesterday and today, cool | Not sure if that is selling but made me more comfortable my kid was in able and responsible hands | The key was in the details, that they pay attention to details, makes me trust them more.
The numbered list above includes what I believe to be trustworthy ideals. They are what make your community believe you have "able and responsible hands." The ideals are quite difficult to achieve all the time due to circumstances beyond the control of district. However, as school communicators, it is our job to provide counsel, explore challenges, plan sound strategy in the face of adversity, and implement tactics to help facilitate the transaction of trust.

It is also not a complete list. What other ways do school districts sell trust?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The (Social Media) Natives are getting restless

This is cross-posted over on Geoff Livingston's blog, The Buzz Bin. I had the distinct pleasure of providing Geoff with a guest post while he's on vacation. I hope my readers who have not already done so, will take some time and explore his blog. It's one of my favorites. Enjoy...

"____________ is dead."

Go ahead and fill in that blank with the usual suspects; blogging, Twitter, PR, marketing, FriendFeed, the press release, the media, etc.

Admit it, you've probably seen, read, or possibly wrote something that fits the above standard claim. It gets repeated, rebroadcast, refuted, and recycled. And that's ok. That's how this stuff is supposed to work. It is what happens as people keep entering the house of social web and longtime residents become bored with the decor and want to move on to more interesting things.

The barriers to entry into social media are often easy to overcome with a little planning and commitment. Basically, you have to want to know because by this point, if you are not learning, experimenting, or using social media tools, you are choosing to ignore the significance and potential of the social web.

Natives + Immigrants
In his book Don't Bother Me Mom - I'm Learning, Marc Prensky writes:

"After dealing with Digital Natives for quite a while, I've become a kind of digital anthropologist, spending a great deal of time observing the rich digital world and life that the Natives are in the process of creating for themselves. It turns out that for almost every activity in their lives, the Digital Natives are inventing new, online ways of making each activity happen, based on new technologies available to them. Some of these new approaches Digital Immigrants can -and do - use as well. But some are so foreign to the Immigrants that they are almost, or totally, unintelligible."

Sound familiar? While Prensky is explaining to parents how children are actually getting valuable skills from playing video games, I am interested in how social media natives and immigrants are not adversaries. Instead, we should operate in mentoring relationships.

To the Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, and Late Majority on the adoption bell curve, you are the Social Media Natives. You get it, you've shared it, many of you are tired of talking about it.

To the Laggards of the adoption bell curve, you are the Social Media Immigrants. You're getting it, you're sharing it and yes, in time, some of you will probably grow tired of the tools.

But we can (and should) still learn from each other.  

We have a responsibility to share
In the seminal work for the PR field, Effective Public Relations, the authors write:

"Because professions draw upon a specialized body of knowledge developed through research, practitioners are obligated to support the advancement of professional knowledge."
(Cutlip, Center, and Broom)

As professional communicators, we should devote time to topics, writings, discussions, and brainstorms that keep us sharp and informed. If that means rehashing some old(er) debates, so be it. We'll all be better for it.

(Photo credit: matildaben)

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Take-aways from #accredchat - August 18, 2009

Earlier today another installment of the periodic #accredchat, a Twitter chat on accreditation in public relations. I am a part of a small APR study group within the Greater Ft. Worth Chapter of PRSA who are at the beginning stages of attaining accreditation in PR.
(Image credit: Universal Accreditation Board) 

Today's conversation mainly hit on some differences and similarities between the exams in the U.S. and Canada as well as as some interesting discussion on authority and the perceptions of accreditation.

APR Readiness Review Panels
The best take-aways available today came after a question on the Readiness Review Panel process.
For those that have sat on Readiness Review Panels: What are you looking for out of an APR candidate? Expectations, etc.?

Here are some of the responses:
rayatkinson A strong understanding and demonstration of strategy and planning. Important that they can ID potential weaknesses.
kamichat For readiness review we are looking to see if you are really ready to take the exam, we are also looking at your portfolio
kristen_okla RR [Readiness Review] panelists want to see how well you think on your feet, what experiences you have to prepare you for the exam
kristen_okla RR shouldn't be confrontational but should allow you to receive honest feedback on areas where U need to focus more attn.
kamichat Also we are looking to mentor you. Do you really understand the 4-part planning process
bprickett As panelist, I want to see that you planned, set measurable goals and that your evaluation/results were measured.
If you have ever sat on an APR Readiness Review Panel, what would you add to this list?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The hats we wear

The following is a guest post by my wife, Kristen Escovedo, who after 12 years as a dedicated school PR professional is moving on to the next chapter. This post first appeared on The Miss Information blog. (I just love that title, but I'm biased.)
Every Thanksgiving my husband's family descends upon his grandparent's house to enjoy turkey, dressing, and quality time with family. The tiny house is filled with aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins, some of whom I'm not sure I've ever met before.

Inevitably between the wishbone and pumpkin pie someone will ask, "Now, Kristen, what is it you do again?"

"I'm in public relations. I wear many hats."

This cliche, while tired, seems to work well in this situation, because generally speaking, it does not lead to many follow up questions, except perhaps, "Can you pass the yams?"

I would hazard to guess that most PR pros have been guilty of using this cliché more than once. I would also guess that not once has a cousin replied with the logical follow up question "What kind of hats? Ten gallon? Fedora? Top? Berets?"

Of course, when we say we wear many hats, we mean it metaphorically. When arsonists are coming out of left field, we sound the alarm, put on our firefighter hat, and start putting out fires. When our organization is under attack, we rally the troops, put on our combat helmet and prepare for battle. When we land that good news story on the front page, be honest ladies (and sometimes men), we put on the tiara and celebrate. And some days you just put on your ratty old ball cap and do the grunt work that nobody else wants to do because it has to get done.

We all have metaphorical hats that we swap off and on depending on the day, the hour, sometimes the minute.

However, in addition to all my metaphorical hats, I also keep one literal hat in my office that serves as my inspiration. The hat, or more accurately the mining helmet, belonged to my grandfather who worked in underground copper mines in Montana from the time he was 17 until he retired almost 50 years later. When my grandmother passed away two years ago I found the helmet in her attic.

It has been in my office ever since.

There are a few things you should know about both my grandfather and the helmet for you to understand why such an obscure object could serve as inspiration. My grandfather had an incredible work ethic. As you can imagine, winters in Montana are harsh and working in underground mines in those conditions is not easy. The shifts were long and the work was tedious. But my grandfather worked in difficult conditions for almost five decades to support his family. He was not one to complain, he was one to do his job.

It is hard to see from the picture, but there is a large crack down one side, which means that the helmet was used for its designed purpose. That means that at least once (and I suspect more than that) something substantial in size fell on my grandfather's head causing the helmet to crack.

Something about this crack intrigues me. He didn't get a new helmet. For whatever reason - sentimental or financial, he went back to work wearing the same helmet that had protected him from that accident. Perhaps it was his stubbornness that drove him back down into the mines wearing that same helmet with the crack down the side.

Perhaps it is that same stubbornness that drives us back into the field when we have taken a hit hard enough to rock us to our core. People often accuse me of being stubborn like it is a bad thing, and sometimes I suppose that it is. But sometimes I think a degree of stubbornness is required in a field that requires us to be firefighters, soldiers, advisers, janitors, counselors, and teachers.

People often ask about the helmet when they come into my office for the first time.

You have just read the long answer.

The short, but honest, answer I give is this; It reminds me that no matter how bad of a day I'm having, my job could always be worse. No one has to send a canary into my office first to see if I'm going to make it out alive today.

[Please note: Her grandfather's mining helmet now rests in a prominent location in my office today. Thank you Kristen, I love you.]

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The jobless grad and a stroke of PR genius

I read with the following headline with a fair amount incredulity:
Alumna sues college because she hasn't found a job (CNN)
Let's just let that sink in a moment.

Basically, the 27 year-old woman is alleging a business-oriented NYC school's career advancement office did not live up to expectations by not doing enough to find her a job nor providing any leads or career advice, yada yada yada, she wants over $70K.

There are already a number interesting news items, multiple blog posts and advice being offered based on this woman's actions.

Real (PR) Genius
Cover of "Real Genius"Cover of Real Genius
All that aside, I want to point to what I thought was a stroke of public relations genius announced earlier today by the The Ski Channel Founder and CEO, Steve Bellamy:
I don't know who came up with this idea for The Ski Channel, but I read the online press release at first with amusement then with amazement. They were able to zero in on a hot topic that was making the rounds on the internet that had absolutely nothing to do with their company or industry and morph it into what I think is and will be a positive bit of publicity and harmless, tongue-in-cheek fun.
"Either Ms Thompson is a cunning out of the box thinker and we want her," said Bellamy "or she isn't, and her position would not last long.  Either way, the law suit would no longer be clogging up the courts because there are now no damages.  She now has a bonifide job offer...If she is this feisty, we'll try her out. But if she is playing the victim card and pushing her problems onto everyone else - then her job wouldn't likely last long." [emphasis added]

What do you think? Was this a good jump for The Ski Channel to make?

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