• 26Jan

    I wanted to share an interesting blog from today’s Daily Fix on MarketingProfs contributed by David Reich of Reich Communications. In light of the changes in the role of today’s marketing professionals, the PRSA has been struggling to update the formal definition of Public Relations. They solicited input from their membership and 625 responses were distilled into three definitions. Reich sees flaws in all of them, center_prand so do I. You would think that professionals who deal with branding and brand communications for a living would be able to find a better way to define their own profession, but then this definition has become more challenging because the rules dictating PR have changed.

    I, personally, have been struggling with how to label my evolving role in the marketing and communications process. People ask me, “What do you do?” and I reply, “I’m in public relations.” What image does that conjure up? If you are old school (like me) you think of the characters from Mad Men, schmoozing reporters over cocktails and trying to get stories printed about your clients. Although that perception is antiquated, I know it’s still out there.

    Others who have worked with PR people that our job has to do with helping our clients refine their market message, package it, and get the word out to people who need to hear it. It used to be that our primary job wasn’t really public relations, but rather media relations. Sure, the clients needed help refining their story, identifying what might be newsworthy, and then creating materials like press releases to tell the story, but if I wasn’t working the phone and pumping the story with reporters and the trade editors I clearly wasn’t doing my job. Clients wanted press coverage, period, and that meant getting in front of the media influencers.

    These days, the “public” is back in public relations. Sure a lot of my job still consists of a calling on editors and dealing with the media to promote client news, but now that the Web serves as a self-service news bureau, so it’s equally important to format brand messages to reach consumers and target customers directly. I spend more of my time feeding blogs and developing SEO strategies than I do pitching editors.

    So how does this all translate into the latest definitions of “public relations” as refined by the PRSA? Here are the three definitions that are currently up for consideration:

    Definition No. 1:

    Public relations is the management function of researching, engaging, communicating, and collaborating with stakeholders in an ethical manner to build mutually beneficial relationships and achieve results.

    Definition No. 2:

    Public relations is a strategic communication process that develops and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their key publics.

    Definition No. 3:

    Public relations is the engagement between organizations and individuals to achieve mutual understanding and realize strategic goals.

    Like Reich, I am not really crazy about any of these definitions. The problem with opening these types of initiatives to public vote is you try to create by committee, and the end result is usually a compromise at best and not a definitive statement of purpose or intent. My issues with these definitions is they are too broad, and tend to have buzzwords and catchphrases which are rapidly becoming meaningless. The word “stakeholders” is overused and is starting to lose its core meaning. I also am not sure I understand how to interpret “key publics” or “strategic goals.”

    Reich notes that PR pundit Jack O’Dwyer commented that none of these definitions don’t take into account vertical specialties, such as health care, technology PR, and the like. I agree, and I also note that these definitions fail to capture the broader role of today’s PR professional. These days I find myself doing customer relations, SEO consulting, market research, and general marketing support as well as what could be considered traditional PR work.

    Perhaps the greatest challenge we all face is that the communications market is changing rapidly, and with it our role in that market. The  rules and the tools have changed. I recently cleaned out my office and I found boxes of dusty print labels for press release mailings. It dawned on me that I hadn’t done a press release mailing in over a decade and would probably never have to do one again. And although I continue to work with editors and analysts, I also know that reaching customers directly is now even more important than influencing the influencers. My role continues to change with the needs of my clients, and trying to define what PR really people do on a day-to-day basis is becoming more like holding smoke in your hands.

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  • 19Jan
    Social Media Theorist Clay Shirky addresses the broader implicaitons of SOPA and PIPA

     

    Okay, I ripped off this video to share with you here. I am not going to make money sharing this content, but if the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation pass, my sharing this information would become illegal.

    I have some thoughts on what Clay Shirky offers in this particular TED talk. Whether you agree with what Shirky has to say or not, I do know that mainstream media producers are rabid about protecting their intellectual property. As they should be! As a content producer myself, I understand the value of copyright and being able to protect your ideas and your work so someone else doesn’t steal it for their own gain. However, as I understand it, the new SOPA and PIPA legislation now before Congress will do more than just protect IP, but it will eliminate the ability to openly share a lot of the information we exchange today. Social media and the Web as we know it may disappear.

    During my formative years as a trade journalist, I watched the copyright wars play out in the home video business, in the satellite TV business, and elsewhere. Video advocates like Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America were incredibly threatened by new technology such as Betamax, the VHS video recorder, DVDs, and computers. Digitization of entertainment made it easier to disseminate over channels such as the Internet, and led to the birth of whole new sub industries, both legal and illegal, to address content protection. I was part of the rise and fall of the home satellite industry which boomed when home owners miles from the nearest cable link or TV station suddenly discovered they could get TV signals direct from the satellite, until the content owners like HBO and ESPN decided to scramble their signal to prevent theft. That led to the birth of the underground black box industry, as well as new industries like DirecTV. Technological progress has often been the result of the struggle between information dissemination and content protection, but where do you draw the line?

    What constitutes fair use of IP? In my mind it has to do with profit. If you are not stealing content for profit, or maliciously trying to undermine someone’s copyright for illicit purposes, then if you purchased the content, it should be yours to use as you wish. Apple has been progressive in this regard; they figured out a way to sell you music that you can play on your computer, on your portable music player, or burn to a CD for your car and still protect the artist’s copyright. If I buy a movie, I want the license to include the ability to watch on my computer, on my TV, or on my phone if I choose without having to buy the same product multiple times. It would be nice to share parts of that content with family and friends, assuming I am not undermining the artist’s rights to earn a profit from their work. But where do you draw the line?

    I believe in protecting IP, but not at the expense of locking down all freedom of expression. As Shirky notes, consumers like to share as well as consume, and creative sharing will actually increase profit from IP, not limit it. What the “old school” media have failed to grasp is the power of the Internet, especially social media, to sell their product. I buy music, movies, books, and other digital products because I get to sample it; because people send me clips or I found online sound bites that inspire me to purchase the original work.

    If you take away the freedom to share content, then the flow of information will slow to a trickle and we all will suffer, including the media companies behind SOPA and PIPA. If sharing digital content becomes illegal, then we all run the risk of becoming criminals.

    Let’s all work to defeat legislative stupidity and promote a fairer, wiser alternative.

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  • 05Jan

    I have been talking to a lot of executives over the years, gathering information for press releases, case studies, and strategic plans. And as I have become more involved in customer relations, I spend a lot of time talking to IT managers and C-level executives about tactical issues that affect their business. Interviews are tough, because you don’t want just the Jack Webb interview – “Just the facts” – but you want to get the Piers Morgan interview, with deep and colorful, quotable responses.

    Many marketing and PR pros (and even journalists) are being consumed by the ever-increasing demand for content. They have lost the fine points of conducting a really meaningful interview that yields more than just who, what, when, where, and why. Interviewing is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced or you get rusty. I want to thank Carol Tice for providing a refresher course from the freelance writer’s perspective. Here are some of her tips on the best way to conduct an interview, adapted with some of my own experience to make them more relevant for the marketer:phoneinterview

    1. Email exchanges are not interviews. I have been relying more on email questionnaires for convenience, but the information I get from those exchanges is always sparse. I have seen more journalists and analysts doing the same thing, and I have to urge my clients to dig deeper and provide a little color with the facts when they write their responses. Carol also notes that emails are not really quotable as part of best journalistic practice; live interaction is always preferred. You always get more from a spontaneous exchange that is fresh and quotable.

    2. Make a connection. I find that the best interviews come when you establish a rapport with your contact. Take the time to set the stage with a couple of ice breaker questions about family, sports, the weather – something to forge a connection. If you need to use that contact in the future, then be sure to leave the door open for future discussions, and try to leave a thread to reestablish the link. If they are fans of the Red Sox, for example, open with a baseball reference they next time you call.

    3. The subject is as worried about the outcome as you are. Your job is to gather the information for that killer case study, application profile, or for use in a press release. You have something at stake in the conversation. So does the other party. He or she wants to make sure you get your facts straight and don’t make them look foolish to their boss, their peers, or their customers. Use that mutual concern to work together toward the common goal – getting the best story down on paper.

    4. Be prepared. Don’t walk in cold saying, “tell me what you do.” Do your homework. Read the company  web site. Understand the basics of their business. Research their business challenges. You want to bring sufficient knowledge to the interview to ask meaningful and revealing questions, not waste time asking questions to which you should already have the answers.

    5. Respect the interviewee’s time. Schedule your interview in advance, be prompt, and be brief. Executives don’t want to waste a lot of time talking to you so be focused and get the information you need. If possible, leave the door open for a follow-up call or contact for clarification or more information, when you can go into greater depth if you have to.

    6. Be prepared to follow up. Thank your sources. Keep them apprised of the progress for a specific project. Get them to review the content as part of your fact-checking. Be sure that you have your subject’s complete contact information, and determine who else in their organization should be involved in reviews and approvals, or who else might provide additional information.

    Developing marketing content is not the same as writing for a newspaper or a magazine, but the rules of a good interview are still the same. Your objective is to get the best story you can, with all the facts and in living color. The final approval process will be different. You will won’t just be fact-checking, but you usually share the finished product with the interviewee for formal approval. That doesn’t mean you should put the onus on them to fill in the blanks or correct a sloppy interview. Think like a reporter and get everything you need the first time around. It saves a lot of effort and embarrassment later on.

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