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.

Related posts:
Photo credit: ashleighozment via Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, August 2, 2013

Burrito that cried wolf and smelly sockpuppetry: Lessons in #PRethics

If you are intentionally deceptive with your communications, you're doing it wrong. Two recent cases of fake identities and deceptive misrepresentation should give pause to PR pros from using these types of unethical tactics that harm the profession:

#1 The Case of Burrito that cried wolf

According to Mashable, the Chipotle brand looked like its @ChipotleTweets account had be hacked due to a "series of confusing and seemingly random tweets over the course of an hour." In a Mashable follow-up post, the company admitted through a spokesperson that it faked having its account hacked as part of a publicity stunt tied to its 20th anniversary promotional campaign. (Wait, what!?)
"'We thought that people would pay attention, that it would cut through people's attention and make them talk, and it did that,' Chris Arnold, a Chipotle representative, told Mashable in an interview. 'It was definitely thought out: We didn't want it to be harmful or hateful or controversial.'"
While not getting into a content marketing/advertising debate on whether or not brands should/should not lie to generate buzz, customers, etc. I'll just go with this is wrong and it fails the ethics smell test.
Nope, there was never "a little problem" with their account. They knew exactly what was going on, and that's the troubling part.

I sincerely hope a public relations professional was not in the vicinity of this final decision by Chipotle. A good PR pro worth her/his salt would advise against an online misrepresentation tactic because it makes the brand look ethically-challenged.


Speaking of failing the ethics smell test...

#2 The Case of the smelly Sockpuppet

A former well-known Dallas/Ft. Worth TV news anchor turned communications consultant was recently outed for work "as a consultant for Dallas police-fire pension lawyers, used online aliases to attack opponents and promote pension officials" as well as a downtown Dallas luxury residential high-rise. Repeat after me: creating and using fake social media profiles for the purposes of misrepresentation and obfuscation is wrong, wrong, dirty and wrong.

Thanks to the Dallas Morning News for investigating this sockpuppetry and special thanks to Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist, Bud Kennedy for shedding light on this from a communications professional perspective referrencing the PRSA Code of Ethics.
Communications professionals call it other names. 
“The use of deceptive identities … constitutes improper conduct” under the ethics code of the New York-based Public Relations Society of America, the leading professional organization. 
A word is underlined for emphasis: Professionals “should not engage in … anonymous Internet postings.”
Thanks, Bud.

A "special obligation to operate ethically"

PRSA affirms its commitment to ethical practices, stating that “the level of public trust PRSA members seek, as we serve the public good, means we have taken on a special obligation to operate ethically.” Members are called to “serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent” and “provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.”

But haven't the rules changed a bit because of social media, culture, and online activities? The short answer for PR pros: No! The ethical values of advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence loyalty and fairness are still true today for professional communicators.

In 2008, PRSA issued among its advisories one that directly addresses the question of deceptive online practices and the misrepresentation of organizations and individuals and includes the following statement:
The use of deceptive identities or misleading descriptions of goals, causes, tactics, sponsors or participants to further the objectives of any group constitutes improper conduct under the PRSA Member Code of Ethics and should be avoided. PRSA members should not engage in or encourage the practice of misrepresenting organizations and individuals through the use of blogs, viral marketing, social media and/or anonymous Internet postings.
Photo credit: darrenkw via Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, July 20, 2013

In defense of (and clarifying) #schoolPR

Some people really don't get school public relations (or even PR in general). Repeat after me, public relations is greater than media relations. It's even worse when someone has worked in the field and still doesn't get it.
Thanks to Delaina Biernstein for sharing an article that perpetuates a silly mischaracterization and miscalculation of what is/is not school PR. In the Yahoo! Contributor Network article, "New York Taxpayers Foot the Bill for School Public Relations Services," the writer suggests:
School public relations specialists are essentially hired to spread the word about the good things being done by students, with the hope that getting the information out into the media will help districts get their budgets passed.
These specialists do photography at student recognition nights at school board meetings, write press releases on the latest district news, and assist with school publications. 
They prepare newsletters, flyers, posters, brochures, and articles for district websites. Additionally, school public relations specialists attend major district functions, such as board of education meetings, homecoming, and graduations, to compile stories and photos for dissemination to local media outlets. [emphasis added]

Tactics, tactics, tactics

That brief description above is just a bunch of boring tactics. School PR is more than what this writer purports. I believe school PR pros must approach the position from a strategic communication vision

The Texas Association of School Boards HR Services Division defines the Communications Officer [school PR] function as one that: 
“Manages and directs the dissemination of public information regarding the district. Coordinates the exchange of information with media outlets and the general public. Develops public relations programs and materials to promote a favorable image of the district and its activities.” [2012 Position Detail Report for Communication Officers]
Did you catch that? Coordinates the exchange of information with media outlets and the general public.
To be fair, I'll cut that writer some slack since he claims to have three years of experience working in school public relations. My guess is he likely served in a tactics-driven specialist job and was never given the great professional opportunity to write PR plans using the RPIE process. What he described is the implementation of some tactics that, whether he knows it or not, are from a strategic vision for a district. 

It's also worth noting that in New York, as in other states, a school district's operating budget must be approved annually by vote. This no doubt adds an interesting (challenging) dimension for school communicators, but a strategic process is still in play.

Education leaders must keep school PR in and around their vision and strategy discussions if they hope to have any success in program or campaign implementations. The media may well be a key audience, but it's certainly not the only audience to consider.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Smart PR save from a high school yearbook mistake

High school yearbooks these days are massively creative homages to the school year. Yearbook editors are carefully selected and with the help of their staff piece together pages with the days in the lives of their peers. The vast majority of times yearbooks are published and distributed to classmates without problems.  

But sometimes there are problems, big problems, media-attention problems, problems having serious implications for teens. (Yikes.)

So naturally my heartbeat quickened when one of our high school's journalism/yearbook teachers called me last week asking if I had seen some of the negative reaction to their yearbook(Uh oh.)

Their crime: misspelling our school district's website address on one of the first few pages. (Whew!)

Yeah, that's supposed to read instead of Oops. Thankfully, the typo really isn't that big of a deal. According to the teacher, the editors and staff started to see some students at their school and from the out high schools in the district making fun of the typo and posting on social media.

Instead of tucking tail and hiding their faces in shame, the yearbook editors, staff, and teacher took a more proactive and creative response and turning the joke on the detractors. They bought the misspelled domain and set up a website to poke a little fun at themselves for the mistake.

From the 'About This Site' page:
Hey Bronco Nation, we at the Arena and the Rider Online realized that very often parents, teachers and even students misspell ‘Mansfield.’ Statistically, it’s bound to happen. In typing just those two sentences we hit the backspace button twelve times. Now, normally we would just suggest simply retyping the url and continuing on your way to, but we came to the realization that there was an entire untapped market of people who came to and were very saddened and confused when it led them to a giant 404 error. We felt this was a grave injustice, and we dedicate this page to those poor, lost souls. Welcome, friends, to Mansfiled ISD, home of the typographically challenged.
In addition to funny bits about yearbook mistakes, Photoshop disasters, headline errors and Funny Sloth Video, they included a downloadable page to print and place in yearbooks with the corrected web address. This page printing or in some cases, printed stickers to cover up offending mistakes has become the norm since reprints can often cost in the tens of thousands of dollars for many schools.

No harm, no foul.

I think the yearbook sponsor and his students learned a good PR lesson: How you react to mistakes determines your ability to recover and move on.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

First Follower Leadership and the Communications Pro

In the last few months I've had various people share or present on the (now widely popular) video, First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy

It's a pretty simple, great video lesson on leadership from Derek Sivers. If you haven't already, take three minutes and watch it:
"...Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire..." [full transcript]
So why is the first follower leadership lesson important for communication professionals? We have dual roles for movements within an organization: Communicators should serve as (one of the) first followers or promoters of the first follower(s) for senior management. From an internal communication perspective, the communication and public relations team should be on the front-line to help propel a movement for employees. We should look for and share the bright spots in programs and initiatives to fan the flames of positive progress so others can see the how and the why and importance of things.

Sivers sums it up nicely: 
"It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader. There is no movement without the first follower."
Are you a first follower?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Scope media coverage before sending your news release

Yesterday, a horrible bus accident occurred in Irving, TX on a major highway. A private charter bus carrying seniors to an Oklahoma casino veered across a busy DFW freeway and crashed. First responders, onlookers, and local media outlets quickly portrayed a chaotic scene for rescue of dozens injured or trapped inside and unfortunately, recovery of two people who lost their lives.

As the story developed, national news coverage broke with local affiliate footage from the scene as well as area hospitals where trauma teams awaited the arriving ambulances. The media echoed the calls from first responders to alert area motorists to avoid that and nearby roads. Additionally, reports came in citing the clean record of the bus company. The investigation will continue, but for the most part, I think it was a solid example of textbook media coverage for area outlets. As residents in DFW, our hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones affected by the accident.

So what does this tragic accident have to do with public relations? Yesterday was not the day to send irrelevant news releases to local media. I was reminded of this as we had some district information to share in partnership with a local hospital on something pretty fun for elementary students. But...yesterday was not the day to send out our news release. It was not the time to bother with something lighthearted in comparison to the day's events on the roadway.

The lesson: PR pros must pay attention to what's happening in local media coverage before pushing send on news that will fall on deaf ears because of something much more important. Situational awareness is a valuable asset.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Get to know the PRSA Code of Ethics like the back of you hand

Score one more for the value of the Public Relations Society of America. Last week, PRSA launched an app for the Code of Ethics.

Oh no, public relations ethics. How boring.

PR ethics is what separates the wheat from the chaff. It separates those public relations professionals who are useful and valuable to an organization from those that are all but worthless.
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is committed to ethical practices. The level of public trust PRSA members seek, as we serve the public good, means we have taken on a special obligation to operate ethically...Each of us sets an example for each other - as well as other professionals - by our pursuit of excellence with powerful standards of performance, professionalism, and ethical conduct....We believe our professional values are vital to the integrity of the profession as a whole.
Codes of ethics are not unique to PRSA, a quick search of a few other related communication organizations, National School Public Relations Association, International Association of Business Communicators and the Society of Professional Journalists, found well-crafted and robust ethics guidelines.

According to the announcement, the ethics app provides easy reference to PRSA’s Code and Statement of Professional Values and Code provisions. It also includes:
  • PRSA ethics-related blog posts
  • Professional Standards Advisories which offer timely guidance on emerging ethics issues such as illegal recordings, ethical use of interns, professional conflicts of interest, use of VNRs as a PR tool, etc.
  • Email access to members of PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards
  • A short Ethics Quiz
The PRSA Ethics app is available for free for Android devices on Google Play and Apple iOS devices. Is this mobile ethics app a game-changer for the profession? Probably not. What it tells me is that the PRSA continues to find ways to provide resources to its membership for the benefit of the public relations profession.

Good work and thank you, PRSA.

Friday, March 15, 2013

We Choose Texas Public Schools

Over the last decade, it seems numerous groups have thankfully formed to advocate for public school districts across Texas. While these groups have strong commitments to public education, each has its own vision, mission, and objectives, often leaving school districts, parents, employees and public school supporters without a simple unifying message or call to action. My hope is for more people to stand up and say, "We Choose Texas Public Schools."

We Choose Texas Public Schools is a concept campaign offered freely for public school district communities, parents, students and staff. I came up with it for a public education celebration rally in February that my school district hosted with four other districts in North Texas. We had yard signs (pictured above) made to distribute to attendees. (The cost of these signs was covered by a sponsor.)

School choice continues to be a major topic of debate and conversation both in the Legislature and out in the public space. Texas public schools educates nearly 5 million students. I'm not going to delve into the arguments for/against restoring state education funding, school vouchers, high stakes testing, or other un-funded mandates in this space. Again, there are other public education advocacy groups already making positive steps for these debates. Healthy debate is good in my opinion. I offer this simple idea as a counter-message to the negative notion repeated again and again that students are “stuck” in public schools. In actuality, many families simply choose public education. I want to give a unifying message for those parents who freely choose Texas public schools.

Be proud, Texans and share that choice.
Please feel free to share, use, distribute the We Choose Texas Public Schools concept. I've shared the PDF of the yard sign art for others to use. I look forward to seeing how this concept develops.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Texas Rangers Ryan-Daniels Drama Power Play or Publicity Stunt?

The Texas Rangers issued a press release at the end of the day on Friday, March 1 at 4:54 p.m. CST with a headline that read, "Jon Daniels Named President of Baseball Operations/GM - Rick George Named President of Business Operations." This left the obvious question hanging out there of what's going to happen with Nolan Ryan, who up until Friday was President/CEO? The release explained that like this:
The Texas Rangers announced today the promotions of General Manager Jon Daniels to President of Baseball Operations/General Manager and the promotion of Chief Operating Officer Rick George to President of Business Operations.
In their respective roles, Daniels and George will continue to oversee the day-to-day baseball and business operations of the Rangers organization under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Nolan Ryan.
And so the Dallas/Ft. Worth sports media proceeded to go absolutely nuts. One of the first to do so was longtime baseball writer/columnist and ESPN radio host, Randy Galloway who was quick to speculate that this move might signal the end for Nolan Ryan. Others piled on over the weekend and well into this week in the local jock media kingdom and abroad

The media has portrayed this move as a power struggle between Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan. At one point we've heard Nolan Ryan could be out by season's end or as early as the end of spring training. Speculation and rumors have been swirling since day 1 and it has truly been interesting to observe locally as a sports (and Rangers) fan and as a public relations pro. 

Bungled PR or Savvy Publicity Stunt?
One of the common themes that's out there is that the Rangers front office had bungled the public relations aspect of this news. At first, I was on board with this assessment. First, they release the news at the end of the day on a Friday anticipating some level of attention, but hoping the weekend takes care of most of the issues. I didn't see/hear/read anything from the Rangers organization until Tuesday of this week with the new President of Baseball Operations/GM, Jon Daniels basically saying all is well, nothing really has changed. By that point, the narrative of major speculations and rumors had taken over. 

The media had settled on this was either a power grab by Jon Daniels or ownership being more interested in keeping Daniels (the young baseball mind) over Ryan (the Hall of Famer and well-loved veteran). If you frame this as a fiasco waiting to happen, then the Rangers' ownership has seriously miscalculated the fans' potential for push-back and disdain. 

At least that's how the media has portrayed this mini-drama will/would play out.

But what if it was orchestrated this way? What if the Rangers ownership, Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels, and Rick George (who ever that is) were all in on this as a way to get major media attention. Since the announcement, the Texas Rangers have been at the top/front page of most local media outlets sports pages and newscasts. If it is/was an elaborate ruse to get tons of coverage while in spring training, it's working. 

A quick look at the local sports landscape is good for this type of play. The Dallas Cowboys are not major news right now, the Dallas Mavericks are struggling to keep playoff hopes alive, and the Dallas Stars are trying to get people to remember they like hockey. The Rangers lost some key players, personalities, and bats. They are continuing with their youth movement. The team, in my opinion, will be contenders again, but will do so with the strong players on the 40-man roster as well as minor league talent. But all that doesn't keep the attention of the casual sports fan until the season starts (or well into the season). This team news provides that narrative of controversy and puts the Rangers front and center. 

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe this is a sign of real fissures within the team management and foreshadows rough days for the team in the very near future especially if the fans revolt. But all it would take for this to stop would be for Nolan Ryan to come out and say publicly, in his classic country drawl, "everything is good, I'm fine and we are looking for another great season of Texas Rangers baseball." If he said that, the story would have nowhere to go and we'd move on. If he said that, this episode might have just been all a publicity stunt. And it will have worked.

(Photo credit: phoca2004 via Flickr Creative Commons)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Duality of Conscience and Credibility for the PR Pro

Public relations professionals who provide ethics counsel to senior management do so out of an understanding that they serve their organizations as well as the public interest. Advocacy of truth and honesty from within the organization should be among the primary functions of senior PR pros. A recent study takes a look at some how's and why's of this PR role as organizational conscience.

The study, "PR Professionals as Organizational Conscience," published in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, was conducted by Marlene S. Neill, Ph.D., APR a lecturer in the department of journalism, public relations and new media in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences and Dr. Minette Drumwright, an associate professor of advertising at the University of Texas at Austin. The authors conducted in-depth interviews with 30 senior PR practitioners from 10 states in the U.S. and Australia, who had an average of 27 years of experience.

Their findings indicate that being an effective PR practitioner and being able to provide ethics counsel work in tandem due to the similarities in skills and competencies required for each. In fact, PR professionals willingly embraced an ethics counsel role even it was not specifically outlined in their job descriptions. The authors note,
"Their duty to the public interest was not an option; it was a mandatory professional obligation, and they were at least as fervent about it as they were about their obligations to their organizations, perhaps even more so." [emphasis added]
This research points to the need for PR pros to view themselves as independent voices in senior management which can cause uncomfortable situations when the practitioner must ask critical questions and address sensitive topics. Essentially, a PR person cannot be a "yes" man/woman. Also, situational awareness (being counted on to identify, analyze, and articulate issues before they become problems) is an important talent to foster.

Another major aspect of the study was how their respondents avoided the "kill the messenger" predicament when they had to provide ethics counsel to senior management. From mock news conferences, the headline test, and offering ethical alternatives to actions and playing devil's advocate, the study responders found ways  to attempt to persuade leadership from taking undesirable steps.

I recommend PR pros take some time to review this study for these and other important themes that have an impact, both positively and negatively, on a PR pro's ability to serve as organizational conscience.

Additional Reading:
Photo credit: peskylibrary

Monday, January 14, 2013

Thoughts from a blogging hiatus

Hiatus - n. 1. A gap or interruption in space, time, or continuity; a break

I took a break from blogging. The holidays provided a much-needed opportunity to enjoy my family and recharge. It also gave me a catch up on some things professionally. The first was the transition from being in charge of programs to membership for the Ft. Worth PRSA. This led to some reflecting on what volunteering means for professional development. The second was time to consider the local implications of recent news-making issues in education (campus safety and security, testing, and funding). And lastly, I came across an intriguing idea for blogging worth exploring: topic buckets

Volunteering and Professional Development
In 2012, I was the VP of Programs for Ft. Worth PRSA and I think we put together a solid mix of luncheon programming and evening mixers for networking and knowledge. Over the break, a group of chapter members volunteered at a local mall manning the Salvation Army Angel Tree table for our service project. We assisted people in the Angel Tree donations process who wished to bless some families in need. If your group has opportunities to serve your communities, don't limit yourselves to the specific roles for which you gather. Instead of helping a nonprofit by crafting press releases or writing communication plans, a simple service project with peers met a need and made a difference.

I'm looking forward to 2013 and continuing to serve alongside a dedicated board members and committee chairs intent on continued growth for the professionals and profession. If you are a PRSA member (or any professional communication or public relations organization), please consider giving back as a volunteer. It can be a great opportunity to network with regional PR pros, learn from the experiences of others, and gain valuable feedback on your own work through connections and conversations.

Education issues and School PR
Working in public education always has its challenges and mandates from revised curriculum, accountability and testing, funding, extracurricular, attendance zoning, school choice (school vouchers in disguise) and the ever-popular, local taxation issues. Those challenges are magnified in Texas when the Legislature is in session. To be honest, school district employees in Texas hold our collective breaths when lawmakers come together every two years. We wonder what new ridiculous  unfunded mandates will befall educators, schools, and districts this time? Or, as in the last session, how much will the state cut in education funding this year? (During the last session, the Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education.) 

This time, the realities are clouded even more because of major campus security debates across the country following the elementary school shooting in Connecticut in December. There are absolutely no easy answers to these and other issues for public education. That said, I absolutely believe school districts need to lean on professional communicators to help explain, explore, and expand on important topics facing public education. 

My advice for school PR pros is to pay close attention to the major issues and potential laws impacting education. Thankfully, we work with experts in curriculum, testing, finance, etc. at our districts that each of us should turn to for briefings on these areas. I'm also thankful for the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA) has some plain-English resources for school PR pros on many of these same issues.

Topic Buckets and Blogging
On January 6, 2013, I caught a random tweet from the #blogchat Twitter chat about Topic Buckets as a way to organize and plan your blog. From
"...You want to blog more often, but coming up with ideas is sometimes tough.  Something that has helped me is organizing your blog’s focus into Topic Buckets. 
The basic idea is this: Pick 2-5 main topic areas that you want to cover on your blog...Now the great thing about Topic Buckets is that they really help you organize your posting patterns. You may be trying to think about how you can blog 2-3 times a week, but if you can create 2-3 Topic Buckets, then all you have to do is write one post a week for each topic, and you are set! Also, it’s a good way to keep track of what you’re blogging about..."
I let that idea simmer a while and have concluded that using Topic Buckets is an idea worth trying and sharing. I'll need to leave that idea unfinished at this point until I can come back with more details on how topic buckets can improve my blogging experience on this one and the blog I manage at work.

See, taking breaks is good.

Photo: svenwerk