Monday, November 28, 2011

Help Define Public Relations - #PRDefined

In 1982, a first-class stamp was 20 cents, Michael Jackson's Thriller was released, the world's population was 4.6 billion, and Johnson & Johnson had a PR nightmare on their hands that led to what is now a model crisis response case study. Ironically, 1982 was also the last time the Public Relations Society of America defined public relations.

Last week, PRSA launched a campaign to create a modern definition for PR with a dedicated site and a strategic Media & Advertising column placement in the New York Times.  I was thrilled to see this collaborative effort to get an updated (and hopefully better) answer to the question, "What is public relations?"

We've needed something new. Public relations takes a beating outside the industry from those who relegate it to only media relations or worse, spin. And honestly, we seldom do an adequate job within the ranks of PR pros of fighting these and other misconceptions. So it's time for a change. (Disclosure: I've been a member of PRSA since 2001.)

Out with the old, in with the new
In 1982, PRSA adopted a definition for PR as:
“Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”
Today, we have an opportunity to adapt this definition to better fit what it is that we do. Take some time to review the notes from the one-day summit of the Definition of Public Relations Task Force.

The group concluded that a modern definition of public relations should be limited to a single sentence: 
Public relations [DOES WHAT] with/for [WHOM] to [DO WHAT] for [WHAT PURPOSE].
The group also saw the need for the modern PR definition to explain two specific things:
  1. How public relations drives business success; and
  2. How public relations protects and/or promotes the organization or brand.
Submit your definition by Friday, December 2, 2011.

Only the beginning
The campaign is just a start to what could be something really fantastic for public relations. Will the final definition end the debate? No way. Consider it the start to a much greater conversation within our field. I can't wait to see what's next.

Follow the conversation on Twitter with the #PRDefined hastag.
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Monday, November 14, 2011

Being a 'What's Next?' PR Pro

Martin Sheen, who provided the voice for the r...Image via WikipediaI loved watching The West Wing. To this day, if I come across it on television I make a point to watch because of the compelling storyline and characters.

One of the random things I took away from the series was a simple two-word phrase by Martin Sheen's character, President Bartlet: What's next?

When Jed Bartlet is in the early stages of his campaign, and his new young crew is laying out the terrain, he says: “What’s next?” – and then, When I ask, “What’s next?”, it means that I’m ready to move on to other things. So, what’s next?” [source]

What's Next? and Public Relations
A PR pro with a What's next? mentality is a significant contributor in an organization. You can get caught up in the wins/losses of the day or you can decide that whatever this day brings, tomorrow is next and you need to be ready. I think what helps position PR professionals the best is an ability to enjoy the moments of victories (or lick your woulds after defeats) but then quickly pursue the next challenge ahead.

Consider these: Congratulations on that local/state/national media placement. Way to go, you successfully navigated your organization's leadership through some sticky community relations problem unscathed. Take a bow, that newspaper editorial board is on your side for a change. Well done, you were able to convince your executive to dismiss a bad idea that could have been a catastrophic. Three cheers, you got out in front of a crisis situation and were able to tell you side of the story and thus helped with balanced reporting.

The above are a small sampling of what I'd consider to be public relations victories.


Public relations professionals must take the wins, along with the losses, in stride. Too many things are out of your control. Being ready to move on to other things allows for an appropriate level of professional detachment from situations. This comes in very handy during particularly stressful situations. Additionally, having situational awareness is a valuable asset for an organization. You know when things are working well and you should be able to tell when things are going straight down the tubes. Make adjustments and keep moving forward.

Don't spend too much time patting yourself on the back when things go well or kicking yourself in the rear when things go poorly. Instead, look for what's next.
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Murphy's Law and the PR Pro

(Photo credit: vcorne00 via Flickr Creative Commons)
Murphy's Law states anything that can go wrong will go wrong. In public relations, that adage is ever-present because we work within the realm of possibility and organized chaos.

Some days you keep those plates spinning and some days those plates come crashing in spectacular ways. Those times there's nothing else to do but step back and smile at the ridiculousness of the day.

Here are some PR plate-wobbling realities. A few I have personally endured and (thankfully) others I've had the pleasure of only hearing.

1. You'll have to do an on-camera interview on the day you skipped the tie and/or the razor.

2. Your story will get buried by breaking news.

3. Your carefully hand-crafted email pitch will get stuck in the reporter's spam filter.

4. Your phone battery will die right before that client/supervisor/board member/reporter calls you with urgent news.

5. You will get a jury summons for the same day as a massive special event.

6. A reporter will call after hours for a quote/statement right after you open your first adult beverage.

7. A reporter will contact you to confirm or comment on a situation and all you have to take notes with is the back of a receipt and an eye-liner pencil.

8. You will do an on-camera interview in a muddy field on the same day you happen to wear new shoes.

9. You will have to go after someone cool like a fireman or bomb-squad technician at the local school career day.

10. The day the media picks up that story and wants an interview is the day you wear one black sock and one blue sock.

11. After a year of convincing your boss about a good idea, they tell you the same thing after seeing it a trade show or convention.

12. After multiple design meetings and discussions, your client still wants to use Comic Sans.

13. Your parents still don't know what it is you do for a living.

Your turn. What would you add to this list? 

But first, in the words of the great Jimmy Buffett:
It’s these changes in latitudes,
changes in attitudes nothing remains quite the same.
With all of our running and all of our cunning,
If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Surviving a Pterodactyl Invasion with Social Media

On Halloween Monday the University of North Texas launched an awareness campaign for some official communication channels and procedures in a fun and creative package. The campaign had a simple premise: UNT had been invaded by pterodactyls.

The campaign included a fake press release, safety tips highlighting some campus resources and even a subtitled PSA from the mascot, Scrappy the Eagle.

Alyssa Yancey, a university News Promotion Specialist, pointed out that the project was "designed to show a lighter side of UNT" and encourage students to engage with the university’s Facebook page and Twitter 

(Full Disclosure: I am a proud alumnus of UNT and thought this was pretty cool.) 

I sent a few questions to Alyssa to get her take.

What was your inspiration for this project?
The University of North Texas’ Halloween mock-pterodactyl invasion was inspired by the Center for Disease Control’s Zombie Apocalypse preparedness tips from last May.

Why did you choose pterodactyls?
The University of North Texas wanted to choose a topic that would be recognized as a joke and not a serious threat immediately. UNT also wanted something that would resonate with students and alumni. An extinct dinosaur, with a striking resemblance to UNT’s mascot Scrappy the eagle seemed to fit the bill.

What did you hope to achieve through this initiative?
This initiative was designed to increase UNT’s engagement with our Facebook fans and our Twitter followers. We haven’t ever really done anything like this, so we wanted to show our students that we have a personality and a sense of humor.

Was it considered a success?
The invasion was definitely a success. Throughout the day, we engaged with students and others in the Denton community, and had a great time. We encouraged students to submit photos, and they did. Some went on to add to the pterodactyl storyline by submitting historic photos of pterodactyls on campus, and suggesting they know other dinosaurs are plotting a Thanksgiving invasion. Students also joined in on the fun by retweeting the safety tips, release and PSA, sharing information to their Facebook pages and blogging about the invasion.

On Twitter, our retweets, direct mentions and follower counts all showed a strong increase from regular news days. UNT Facebook posts about the invasion, as well as student-contributed content, received numerous likes and positive comments, and the Scrappy YouTube video shot to more than 500 views quickly.

In addition to Alyssa, I reached out to Samra Bufkins, MJ, APR, Strategic Communications Lecturer at UNT's Mayborn School of Journalism for some additional thoughts on the invasion"
"They were hoping for a little more student interaction, but we're finding many students still aren't on twitter or following UNT official accounts. However, I think it's the kind of thing they should try again, maybe at another holiday time. You expect stuff like this at Halloween and April Fool's Day—maybe have some fun around a holiday that's not one for pranks. It was a good, fun, creative outlet and allowed everyone to poke fun at the construction and some other things around here. And at mid-semester, everyone needs a laugh!"
I really loved this fun and creative attempt to increase awareness and usage of the university's Facebook and Twitter presences along with some basic campus resource information. This is a great example of an organization demonstrating that they have a personality. Well done.

[Top photo credit: UNT Facebook page submitted photo]
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