Short Term “Gain” for Long Term Damage… April Fool’s!

Ah, April Fool’s. I have to say I’m not a fan. In 9th grade, I was voted “most gullible” by my classmates, if that tells you anything about my April Fool’s history.

From a public relations perspective, pulling a prank on an audience – whether it’s your customers, the media or colleagues can be dangerous. The ones that work, in my opinion, are in good fun and have no victim.Year after year, organizations try jokes that just don’t work – they confuse, offend, humiliate or worse.

Today, the Eugene Emeralds, our local minor league baseball team, put out a release claiming that Jeremiah Masoli would be pitching for the Ems in the 2010 season.

I heard it this morning on the news as a real story and frankly, just didn’t give it much thought.

Throughout the day, though, I picked up through Twitter that the story was a hoax, a fake release.

I’m sure the PR folks who wrote the release thought it was funny. I’m sure that plenty of people thought it was funny… in concept. But the prank shows a lack of understanding of the media market in Eugene and the importance of relationships with editors and news directors.

The prank crossed the line into being questionable ethically when Ems management apparently lied when asked if it was an April Fool’s joke so that it would get “more play.” Yikes.

Broadcast news (and really any news media) is highly competitive. Each station is trying to get the best stories for their viewers/readers and hopefully it’s not the exact same story as the other outlets. Issuing a prank release with such high profile parties (such as the oft-in-the-news Masoli) preys on that need to get the story, get it fast and tell it right.

By preventing the station from doing its job, this kind of prank damages the sometimes fragile relationship with the news directors, assignment editors and reporters. And ultimately, that has the potential of preventing the PR manager from doing her job in the future.

Lying is never ok.

What do you think? Does local media just need to stop taking itself so seriously? Do I need to get a sense of humor?

See the coverage on the prank here:

Eugene Emeralds Lie About Masoli Playing for the Ems (KEZI)
Minor League Baseball Team Scams Local Media (KVAL)
Ems Admit Masoli Announcement Was an April Fool’s Joke (KMTR)
Emeralds Pull of April Fool’s Joke (Register-Guard, which of course was too smart to fall for it…)

Guest Post: Simple Yet Savvy PR – Disciplined News Monitoring

This is a guest post from Jamie Szwiec, a PR colleague I connected with on Twitter. More about Jamie at the bottom of the post.

I can remember when I went client-side and my boss gave me the task of personally monitoring the news, daily, through Google news alerts and RSS feeds.

Something along the lines of … “Spend an hour a day, first thing. I’m not talking about those third-party monitors that charge an arm and a leg. Do it diligently, for competitive analysis, tracking trends and sharing ideas with the team. Most importantly, media relations.”

The internal dialogue in my head was along the lines of … “Dude, you’ve gotta be kidding me. Fine, I’m client-side and don’t have to worry about the lingering 0.25’s and billing my time now.”

At first, it was daunting. More than a dozen Google alerts to sift through every morning followed by 30-plus relevant publications in the RSS reader.

After about a month, I got it down to an hour worth of time. The internal marketing folks loved it.

And, in a short amount of time, the sea of headlines, news alerts and RSS began to generate tangible and intangible results, including:

  • Breakthrough with reporters – I’m sure many savvy media relations people can attest: it’s an awesome thing when you email a reporter with their recent story in the subject line, info and idea(s) for future reference.
  • Data – Pulled right from the news, saving time to dig up facts later and giving us hooks to support pitches. Some times, a single piece of data can hold a newsworthy angle together.
  • Better writing – Reading all that news, over time, will make you a better writer. As a PR pro, it will gradually show up in your work when you start to notice you’re writing like a reporter. And, it will give you plenty of story ideas. If a story has worked nationally, why not tie it to a client locally as well.
  • Media list building – Done right. Done organically.

The “I don’t have time to this everyday” dialogue in my head was turned off.

I quickly realized it was one thing to monitor the news on an as needed basis. But a whole different ballpark to do it with discipline.

Going agency-side again nearly two years ago, the practice continued. Spreading the news across industry pubs for the agency and keywords for PR clients. The benefits are still endless. From breaking the ice with national reporters to gathering story ideas for local media to establishing an organizational RSS feed and gathering solid Twitter material.

In more than five years, Jamie Szwiec has ventured with organizations across industries to deliver PR solutions and quality editorial coverage on mainstream Evening News with Katie Couric, the pages of newsstand magazines such as Cosmopolitan and People, the front of target daily newspapers, the cover of client wish list publications, online with major media outlets and on-air with 24-hour cable news. He currently lives and works in Milwaukee, Wis. You can learn more about Jamie at his site: jamiePRszwiec.com.

Using LinkedIn: A Primer for Undergrads

Connecting with people in your industry is as easy as creating a LinkedIn profile and using it as a live resume. Treat LinkedIn as the “suit & tie” social network and put forward your most professional self. Your profile should be kept up-to-date and polished regularly.

A LinkedIn profile, as you’ll see, is a great way to build your network & a place to send prospective employers to get info about you and your experience.

So how do you get started?

First step is to sign up & complete your profile:

  • Use your complete name
  • Fill in your title (Public Relations student at the University of Oregon is ok… but what about Intern at XYZ Company or Account Executive at Student PR Firm?). You can have more than one title & then choose the one you want as your headline. My profile includes significant volunteer experience in my title alongside my business titles. Your primary title is what people see first, so be smart about what you include.
  • Create a summary of your experience, aspirations and inspirations. Keep it relatively short and edit like a madman/woman. This is your first impression and the info that people see before they’ll see your specific work experience details.
  • Include the last three positions you’ve held. Internships, volunteer positions and student organizations are all okay and show your breadth of experience.
  • If you have a blog, add it.
  • Claim your custom URL/public profile link. Then use it! Include it in an email signature line, on a business card, etc. Mine is: http://www.linkedin.com/in/kellimatthews

When you think you’re done, walk away and come back later. Try to look at it with fresh eyes – they eyes of a potential employer. Does this profile say, “wow! I need to hire this person!”

The second piece is to make connections:

  • Start by letting LinkedIn scan through your email address book and find people who are also on LinkedIn. People who are on LinkedIn will have the little “in” blue box next to their name. You’d be surprised how many people you find. I always am! Don’t just add everyone, but go through each contact and be smart about who you add (especially at first).
  • Want to connect with particular people or particular types of people? You have two options. Look at the connections of those in your network and ask for an introduction (more on that in a minute) and also do a search for people by location, employer, job description and more.
  • When you add connections, be sure to include a personal note. The standard LinkedIn templates are boring and well, standard. This is particularly important if you are asking someone you don’t know to be part of your network. Tell them why you’re knocking on the door.

A word about introductions: Asking for an introduction is a great way to meet people and build your connections. When you do, though, be extra conscientious of the message you ask your contact to forward. For example, I should feel comfortable forwarding what you write to me with a note that says, “this person is worth your time.” As a general rule of thumb, treat that message as a mini cover letter.

Now, my LinkedIn contacts are comprised of people I know in real life and those I know via social networks, but they are all people to whom I could forward a message and make an introduction. It’s important to note that everyone cultivates their networks in different ways, however. It’s always good to ask first if someone is comfortable with this process generally and making an introduction to a specific person.

This should get you started, but here are some other LinkedIn tips worth a read:

Thanks also to @jmartens, @mihaela_v, @ValerieSimon & @mhonald for their tips, too. In an upcoming post I will talk about how to join and participate in groups. There are several for PR students that are worth checking out.

If you’ve already started with LinkedIn, what tips would you share or what questions do you have?

Basic Ethics of Media Relations

Picture 1Public relations professionals are, I would argue, faced with ethical decisions every day. They might be small or they might be life or death. In this business, the “product” we have is our integrity and credibility. Doing things that breech either can damage your reputation and your ability to be effective and just do your job.

My best all-purpose advice is to develop a decision making process for yourself and to think through in advance, how you’ll handle difficult situations.

One of the trickiest areas of practice for PR professionals is dealing with the media. Spin, control and manipulation can not be part of your repertoire. Period. Some specific (and basic) tips for behaving ethically in a media relations function.

  • Don’t lie. People will find out. And in this day-and-age, they will find out more quickly and the backlash will be broader and more far reaching than ever before. You’d think that case after case of people who have been caught should teach others a lesson.
  • Be upfront with how much you can share. If you’re not able to share certain information about a situation, be upfront about how much you can share. Legal or privacy regulations (such as HIPPA in the healthcare communications arena) will keep you from being able to share everything all the time.
  • Be a resource, even if you don’t benefit directly. This might be more of a best practice than a tip for good ethics, but it all ties in together. If you have a relationship with the media, foster it by being a good resource and ensuring the reporters, editors or producers know that you understand what they need to do a good job.
  • You cannot control content (even if you don’t like it, or you think it’s wrong). The key benefit to getting media coverage (vs. buying an ad) is the third party credibility that it offers. The media gatekeepers get to decide how the story is covered and that doesn’t always mean that you get the exact quotes or even specific information that you wanted. Get over it. Do not demand information be changed, do not throw a fit if you don’t get the coverage you want. (If there’s a genuine error of fact, you can request a correction, but do this only when absolutely necessary.)
  • Don’t lie. This is important enough to mention twice. Don’t do it. People will find out and they will never forgive you.
  • Be fair. Reporters and editors and producers and people, too. And sometimes they aren’t very nice people. But it’s important that you be fair and give equal access to a story. If you’re holding a press conference or issuing a statement, don’t leave someone out of the announcement because you don’t like them. Be professional and do your job.
  • Disclose, disclose, disclose! Disclose who you represent and what the organization’s interest are. Don’t be manipulative or less than transparent on this. Again… people will find out and you will damage your reputation.
  • Let the media do its job. Don’t undercut or sabotage a story.

What do you think? I know there are tips you’d add to this list and I know you have some examples. Let’s hear them!

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes…The Importance of Empathy in Public Relations

It’s easy to think of cool ways to reach your peers, to identify strategies and tactics for and audiences made up of people who are like you. For most students, that means the temptation to focus on students and how to reach students is strong, even when it doesn’t make sense to include a student focus.

But more often than not, public relations campaigns must focus on audiences that are decidedly not like you. Understanding how to reach those audiences takes a skill (a trait?) I don’t think we talk about in public relations much, but I would rank high on the “must haves”: empathy.

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s place and understand their feeling, emotions, motivations and values. Many argue it’s a core competency of emotional intelligence, widely seen as crucial to business and leadership success.

It’s hard to step outside your comfort zone, to think beyond your life experience and to stretch as a communicator. It’s scary. And an imperfect practice. But it’s also exhilarating! And to be able to do so is powerful. Empathy is the glue that connects everything we do in public relations. At the core, PR is about building and maintaining relationships, right? That must take more than carefully crafted messages, well-designed material and expertly-delivered speeches. People connect with people, not messages and not talking points. Being an empathetic practitioner requires making human connections and making those connections scalable (one-to-one communication is not always an option).

I think empathy is complicated and multi-faceted. But you can start with the first step of any PR campaign, research.

When you start a project where you’ll be reaching a new (to you) audience, do your research! In addition to the standard instruments (surveys, focus groups, questionnaires), try more “informal” methods, too: talk to people and observe. Just talk to people – as many people as you can that might give you some insights and increase your understanding. And observe – look for opportunities to observe how your audiences interact, where they hang out, how they move through time and space. Listen more than you talk and think more than you react.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you consider yourself empathetic? How do you know? And how can you develop better skills?

Wheel of Shoes by Sarah and Mike …probably, via Flickr

Blogging: Creating a Window to Your World

From My Apartment Window in Tuscany by Foto Iervolino
From My Apartment Window in Tuscany by Foto Iervolino

When you’re ready to launch a blog, rather personal or professional, it’s important to think beyond just “what am I going to blog about?” Your blog is a window into your professional life and what people see and how they see it is up to you.

Have a strategy: Even if you’re creating a personal blog, have a sense of what you want to accomplish with it. Do you want your blog to be informational, to help you to define and explore your thoughts & ideas about working in public relations or maybe show your interest and expertise around a topic or issue?

Think about functionality: Think about what you want the experience to be for your readers. Making your blog easy on the eyes and simple to navigate is the first step. But remember that window analogy – what do you want your readers to see? Do you want to share photos? How about a Flickr widget. Also think about including things like a Twitter widget, recent comments, videos, etc. The possibilities are vast. It may seem like simply window dressing, but think about what a blog tell you about its author. And then, in turn, what you want people to know about you.

Create a schedule: Know how often you want to blog and stick to a schedule. Most blogging software will let you blog whenever and then schedule your posts, so you don’t have to necessarily blog on a schedule – hey! life comes up. I usually blog on the weekend and schedule posts to update during the week.

Develop a ethics & comment policy: This may seem silly, but it’s important that you think through what your policies are and how you will handle tough issues when they come up (not if, but when). You can check out my policies for this blog and feel free to borrow.

Include an “about me” section with a picture & bio. People connect with people and being the real and authentic you is an important part of blogging. You don’t need a boring headshot and overly-scripted bio. Be yourself!

Include a blogroll: I love the way WordPress lets you organize links. Being able to categorize them allows me to think through what topics I want to discuss and frame my blog appropriately. Regardless of your platform, however, don’t take your blogroll lightly. It’s important to think about what your choices reveal about what you want to say.

Just spend some time thinking about your blog and what role you want it to play in your professional life. By doing so, you’ll be able to design the best window into your world that you can before you invite people over.

I’d love to hear other tips. What lessons have you learned as a blogger along these lines?

Guest Post: Embracing the Next Phase

This guest post is from my Twitter friend, Kellye Crane. Kellye is one of those PRos that I always recommend students follow. She’s super smart and has good advice for PR people at all levels.

As the school year draws to a close, I’m sure many PRos in Training are thinking about the future, and pondering what Modern PR means today. Whether you’re on the job market, starting an internship, beginning a new position or just trying to keep up with the latest advancements, you’ve no doubt heard and read a great deal about the vast changes taking place in the approach to public relations.

As current students know, whether it’s called PR 2.0, New PR, or some other catchy label, it’s clear that public relations is moving into a new age. At the forefront of this evolution is PR’s incorporation of a more conversational approach to communications, made possible – and necessary – by social media.

All this change can feel a bit intimidating, but the good news is this is truly an exciting time! Those who stay abreast of the changes and adapt to the evolving climate will thrive. If you’re worried, I’m going to let you in on an open secret:

Today’s students are every bit as prepared as the more experienced PR pros to succeed in this fast-changing environment.

For most of the class of 2009, adapting to new technologies, conversing online and being authentic is second nature. Much of what my colleagues and I are trying to learn – from the social norms of texting to the unspoken rules of Facebook – is old hat to you. PR is going to look very different in the near future, and the truth is some of the experienced pros are set in their ways.

Of course, the fact that the methods of communicating have changed doesn’t alter the fundamentals of public relations we should all be practicing. This is where the PR veterans have much to teach new PR pros.

These circumstances create a unique opportunity for emerging and experienced PR pros to join forces for a perfect partnership of wisdom and new ideas. While it’s essential to give appropriate respect to your managers, at the same time you should feel comfortable to share your perspective. The best workplaces will welcome your input and – whether it’s used or not – you’ll be credited with thinking strategically.

Your fresh perspectives combined with the expertise of your senior colleagues will be a powerful alliance. Together, you’ll be unstoppable!

———-

Kellye Crane founded Crane Communications, LLC in 1995, and has 18 years of experience in strategic public relations and marketing communications. Her blog is Solo PR Pro and you can find her on Twitter at @KellyeCrane.

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Guest Post: Creating the Job You Want

This is a guest post from UofO alum, Sarah Essary. You can follow her at @ConsumingPR.

I like to think of job descriptions as simple suggestions. Coloring outside the lines is perfectly acceptable in the workplace, but only if your art becomes a masterpiece.

Not too long ago, I was hired as a Reservationist at The Citizen Hotel. My job duties included answering the phones, filling reservations, assigning room numbers and routing payments. After a few weeks, I offered to develop the hotel blog and Twitter account. Soon, I proved to be knowledgeable in public relations and took on more responsibilities. Before I knew it, I was launching a social media campaign and taking a dual position as Public Relations Coordinator.

Currently, I am the Reservationist and Public Relations Coordinator for both The Citizen Hotel and Grange Restaurant & Bar. My duties include updating and writing all social media content, handling media inquiries, working with our public relations agency, editing all press materials, coordinating local media outreach, media monitoring and brand awareness, as well as writing and distributing the restaurant newsletter.

Practicing public relations during a dodge ball game is the best way to describe my typical day. It is imperative that I stay on top of all public relations activities while answering the phones at first ring. I may fill 10 reservations while at the same time edit an entire public relations plan.

This dual role is the best way for me to understand the market first hand. I’m in the trenches and the lookout tower all at the same time! It’s fulfilling when customers choose to stay at our hotel after noticing our Web site, news coverage, blog posts or even our Twitter!

As a Reservationist and Public Relations Coordinator, I am able to pitch and position my business with a first-hand understanding of the current market. There is nothing like disseminating a message to media and observing the impact on the target audience. It’s a blessing to have both worlds at my fingertips.

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Balancing a Reverse Coaching Role as a Young PRo

Most entry-level PR PRos will start in a technician role, participating in the “craft” side of public relations: writing, editing, taking photos, running special events and doing the legwork of media relations. The technician implements the management’s communication strategies.

I always try to focus on helping students show that, while they have the skills to be a technician, that they have the capacity for the problem solving, planning and counsel that is required of managers.

With social media, I think we’re seeing entry-level practitioners, well-versed in the tools of the trade, being asked to provide solutions, the strategic planning and serve as “reverse coaches.” I was chatting with my friend and colleague Pat McCormick from Conkling Fiskum McCormick about how important this “reverse coaching” role is in today’s business, especially in public relations and communications. CFM has hired several Ducks and recognizes how much its entry-level employees have to offer.

The balance, however, is that while, as new employees, you bring much-desired skills to the table, they have much to learn that only experience and strong senior mentors can bring. The way that young PRos get information, exchange information and build relationships is shifting fundamentally the way that we all communicate and they are the natives. I also think that as educators, professionals, employers – and even students – we’re just starting to really get a handle on this shift.

We have the responsibility to help prepare our students for this “reverse coaching” role, and also help them to approach that role with grace, professionalism and an open mind. They have much to learn to from their colleagues to fully realize their potential to be remarkable strategists, problem solvers and counselors.

What do you think about the changing face of communications and the entry-level practitioners role in it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Finding Friends & Building Your Network on Twitter

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...Image by luc legay via Flickr

The question that I hear the most about Twitter is “How do I find people to follow?”

Twitter often seems a bit overwhelming at first, but when you find the right people to follow (and follow you back) you can start to build really meaningful connections.

To start, figure out who the thought leaders are. You can get a good sense of these by checking out lists of recommended people to follow.

Three great lists:

  • Dave Fleet’s two lists of people to follow: one, two.
  • The Twitter Power 150 (the twitter IDs of the top 150 marketing, advertising and PR bloggers)

But maybe you’re looking for people in a specific niche or outside the realm of marketing, PR and advertising? Some good applications to try.

  • TweepSearch: This site will let you enter keywords or locations and searches people bios.
  • WeFollow: Twitterers tag themselves with up to three categories. You can search by tag. This is a pretty new service, but seems to be very popular and populated with lots of people.
  • Nearby Tweets: Just enter a zip code, keyword and/or radius and find people in your community.
  • TwitterPacks. Find like minded people sorted by category and interest.

Hopefully this list will give you some fuel for your twitter bus. You can also check out this great list of 100 twitter tools, designed for educators, but the tools can be used by anyone. And of course, lots of tips and resources via my Delicious bookmarks.

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