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