How Do You Explain PR to People?

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Unlike many professions, most members of the general public have no idea what public relations is or what PR pros do. You know what I mean. You’ve been met with the “I’m going to nod my head like I know what that is but my face will give away that I’m clueless” look before.

Doctors don’t have this problem. Nor do insurance salesmen. For that matter, even our brethren in the marketing mix don’t have this issue. Tell Joe Normal you’re in advertising and he knows exactly what you’re talking about.

Part of that is probably due to the fact that much of the work in PR lies behind the scenes. We pitch the stories, but journalists write them. We write the speeches, but executives deliver them. We plan the corporate social responsibility campaign, but the CEO accepts the accolades.

Our daily professional lives cover such a broad range of strategic initiatives and tactical activities that it can be hard to even know where to start when explaining PR to a non-marketing person. So what do you say when they ask, “What’s that?” I try to make it relevant for them by putting it in terms of what they experience. Something like:

“I help companies communicate with people – customers, employees, legislators. And with you! If you’ve read a story in a newspaper or on CNN.com on a new product, a PR pro shared that with the reporter and lined up the interviews. If you see a business leader delivering a speech, a PR pro probably wrote it. If you happen across a really cool event in Bryant Park, a PR pro likely played a major part in the idea behind it. We work with executives to figure out the smartest, most effective ways to engage with people, let them know what’s going on with the company, and get their thoughts and feedback.”

What about you? How do you explain PR to your Aunt Martha or the guy sitting next to you on the airplane in a few sentences?

*Image by Keven Law.

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Let’s Put the “Folk Wisdom” to Bed Already

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I saw an interesting book on a coworker’s desk last week – The Art of War for Executives by Donald G. Krause, based on Sun Tzu’s classic text The Art of War. As I cracked it open yesterday and began reading it, a particular paragraph stood out to me and I found myself yelling “YES!” in my head.

“Sun Tzu warns us about relying on ‘folk wisdom.’ Folk wisdom is the body of unproven assumptions, unwarranted speculation, and generally accepted opinions that is present in any group of people. Great danger lies in not challenging folk wisdom. Reliable facts always precede successful actions.”

How much “folk wisdom” weighs us down daily, whether we’re talking about marketing, PR, social media or [insert your craft here], despite evidence that a new way may be better? One of the things I’ve said since the first post on this blog is that I want to use it regularly as a discussion starter to challenge the status quo and make sure we’re doing things because they are the best solutions, not simply because it’s the way we’ve always done them. Here are a few of the posts that have appeared here attempting to do just that.

I’m interested in your take. Do you notice any “folk wisdom” at work? Does it hold back your brand or the work you do for clients? Do you challenge the status quo even though it’s easier to go along with your boss or the crowd? What are ways we can challenge folk wisdom positively, constructively and effectively?

*Image by Kevin Dooley.

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What Can PRSA Do to Demystify PR For Business Leaders?

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A lot of people say that many C-suite executives don’t truly understand and appreciate the value public relations brings to an organization. There’s lots of talk about the PR industry being chock full of strategic communicators who can’t or haven’t successfully communicated their own worth to the business world.

My friend Arik Hanson and I were talking about this on Twitter a few weeks ago.
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Neither of us claim that the lack of understanding about our profession is the sole fault of PRSA nor that educating others about the value we bring is the sole responsibility of PRSA. But I think we’d all agree that, as the main association in our industry, it does certainly play a role.

You’ll notice that I ended the conversation with Arik pointing out that PRSA surely is taking steps to help overcome this challenge that I don’t know about. What I thought we could do is help spur new ideas that the organization may not have thought of yet. You know, be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I’ll kick it off.

Start at the Beginning. This is a long-term plan, but too many schools aren’t adequately preparing PR majors to understand Business – sales cycles, financials, product development, etc. And too many business majors never learn the benefits that PR can bring to companies beyond writing press releases. These are the business leaders of tomorrow. Could PRSA work with universities to help bridge this gap and require a class or two for each major that focuses on these areas?

Start a Roadshow. Think desk-side briefings for C-suite executives. We’re supposed to be strategic communicators and expert storytellers. Could PRSA create a compelling, 30-minute case for PR and take it on the road?

What ideas do you have? Share them in the comments and then let’s share the cumulative ideas with PRSA.

*Image by Isobel T.

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10 Clues Your PR Pro is Worth the Dough

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One of last week’s posts – 10 Clues Your PR Pro is Nothing But Show – generated a lot of great comments that added even more clues to the list. So I thought we’d continue the fun by looking at the flip side and highlighting the things that set great PR pros apart from the rest of the pack.

Here are 10 clues that your PR pro is worth the dough. It doesn’t include the obvious opposites of the “nothing but show” clues, which means there are really 20 clues that your PR pro is worth the dough between these two posts. If you’re experiencing any of these from the folks on your internal team or from an outside agency, recognize their efforts and give them a hearty thanks.

1. They dive headfirst into your business and industry, and immerse themselves in learning every in and out within both.
2. They ask smart questions.
3. They are strong writers and great storytellers.
4. They proactively sync up with marketing, advertising, interactive and media planning to help create compelling, robust campaigns aimed at achieving your business goals.
5. They challenge you to step outside your comfort zones and try new things.
6. They know what they don’t know.
7. They are resourceful and create solutions to overcome challenges.
8. They listen as much as they talk.
9. They bring creative energy and a positive attitude to the table.
10. They own their mistakes, learn from them and put processes in place to minimize the chance those mistakes happen again.

What would you add to the list? What tips you off that the person across the table is worth his or her salt in this business?

*Image by Eric Ward.

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Marketing Doesn’t Matter THAT Much in the Grand Scheme

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Like most people, I usually spend lunchtime eating lunch. Yesterday, though, I attended a funeral.

One of our friends lost her seven-year-old daughter last Friday. It was completely unexpected and what had started as any other ordinary day in their lives instead ended in tragedy.

As I sat through the service watching a slide show of images from this wonderful child’s life and seeing her father, mother and sister broken by their loss, I couldn’t help but think about how often I neglect those who mean the most to me in a race to get one more thing accomplished at work.

For example, I’ve eaten dinner during the week with my wife and two girls five or six times in the past three months. Last week, my three-year-old asked me why I don’t eat with her any more.

How many times can our presentations, press releases, emails, strategy POVs, and everything in between wait until tomorrow morning? In my experience, most of the time there is no difference between the majority of whimsically-proposed end-of-the-day deadlines and first-thing-in the morning – except a date on a time stamp.

Managers – What kind of work/life balance are you setting for the people you direct? Do you practice what you preach?

Those Being Managed – It is okay to make your family and friends a priority. Step away from the computer more. Set some boundaries and stick to them most of the time (urgent matters do come up after all).

It’s easy to put those closest to us off for work. They’ll understand, right? We’ll have more time to spend with them in a couple years when things will surely settle down a little.

What if we don’t have a couple years, though?

If something were to happen to one of my own children unexpectedly, I can’t imagine being glad I missed all those dinners with her so I could get a few more emails in the sent folder or a draft plan to my team a few hours earlier. Yesterday I decided I’m going to start making it home in time for dinner more often.

Is there anything you could do differently to put a little more focus on the people who matter most to you?

*Image by Travis Miller.

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10 Clues Your PR Pro is Nothing But Show

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I’ve read several posts recently on distinguishing the smart social media marketing professionals from the wannabes. It’s great to have guides likes these in a space that is relatively new in the grand scheme of things.

The social media sphere isn’t the only place where this is needed, though. PR more generally has a long list of fine folks who help move the industry forward and, unfortunately, a long list of those who help move the industry a step backward.

So I’m passing along 10 clues that your PR pro may be nothing but show. If you’re experiencing any of these from someone on your internal team or from an outside consultant, it may be time to cut ties.

1. They never bring new ideas to the table.
2. Their answer for everything is “let’s put a press release on the newswire.”
3. They think every story idea you want them to pitch is brilliant.
4. They never push back or challenge you. They just take marching orders.
5. They wouldn’t know a measurable goal if it slapped them in the face – hard.
6. They only e-pitch reporters and their phones are collecting dust.
7. Their clever social media strategy starts and stops at “we should get a Facebook page.”
8. Their reason for being in the PR field is “I’m a people person.”
9. They define PR mistakenly by one of its tools (PR is bigger than media relations or events, like social media is bigger than blogs.)
10. They don’t ask you what your business goals are so they can work to align PR goals against them.

What did I miss? What clues you in that the person across the table is a sub-par PR professional?

*Image from Brian Snelson.

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Do Social Media Tools Make Us Less Social Where It Counts Most?

best-friends

I’m relatively active on the social web and I frequently encourage other marketing communications professionals to at least test drive some of these tools that allow us to interact with customers like never before. However, I was struck by an interesting irony this weekend regarding social media.

It happened Sunday night around 8:30. We had two friends over to watch the Super Bowl. I had my laptop out and was rating Super Bowl commercials in real time with other people on Twitter. After the 10th or 11th commercial, though, I realized that I was so interested in the social aspect of sharing an experience online with thousands of others that I was neglecting the people actually sitting beside me in the same room.

I set my laptop aside and spent the rest of the evening interested in the social aspect of sharing an experience offline with a few people right in front of me.

Do social media tools make us less social where it counts? What do you think?

*Image by Stuart Seeger.

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