Tag Archives: public relations

Huge Shift in PR Speed, Responsibility & Accountability

In the previous post, I outlined our strategy for the president’s announcement about possible changes on campus.

Shortly after our announcement, a faculty member friend expressed concern about announcing the news on social media, feeling that the news was detrimental to the university.  She appreciated the administration’s transparency but felt we should be more cautious in what we “share with the outside world.”

Her concern is  legitimate.  In the mad rush of last minute rewrites to hit a 10 a.m. deadline we inadvertently posted the president’s letter to the campus community on our News site  instead of  the news release.  But the release exactly reflected the letter.  The information was the same.  But there was, to some,  the perception of sharing inside information.

I told my colleague  that in today’s  social media driven world, as soon as someone says something, whether it’s true or false,  it becomes public. People share and comment on it, spreading it whether it’s true or false.

As a PR department, we do have a need to be truthful, accountable and swift.

So it’s crucial to get the the institutional announcement out as quickly as possible.  In doing this, we own the news on this matter; we are the originators.

This was reinforced  when a reporter with a local daily tweeted our news with a link to our announcement.   The reporter had to do no work at all.  This is an ongoing, major  shift in journalism.

Gone is the the buffer of “according to PR spokesperson. . . .”  The reporter simply links our story — the source.

We are no longer PR Departments .  We are multimedia production agencies, creating news stories and distributing them to the understaffed journalism profession quickly and truthfully.

This is a huge responsibility.

More on this in the next post.

If you missed my previous post, check it out to see how we successfully minimized the sting of our announcement about possible campus changes.

The Successful Message: Sincere & Relevant

Our president, Fran Hendricks, is a retired Air Force brigadier general and a 1979 graduate of our university .
A sincere Veterans Day message from him seemed like it would be appreciated by veterans and non-veterans alike. We wrote a script and he edited it. We shot it with a single camera in his office with the U.S. and Pennsylvania flags behind him. These were not props. They’re part of his office.
He speaks straight into the camera. We cut to B-roll of photos of MU graduates and area veterans from all branches.
It ends with him saying: “Veterans, thank you,” and a salute. We fade to an image of  raising the flag on Iwo Jima.
The music carrying it is “America the Beautiful.”
I had put a lot of thought behind this before we even started. We did not want him in uniform. He is a university president. But after serving the country for 33-years, Fran Hendricks is very much a soldier, and always will be. It’s a source of pride to him, faculty, students, staff, alumni and area residents.
Hendricks is a humble man and I knew that a “message from the president” would not pass muster. He’s a service-oriented person and the university is the greater body that he now serves. The message would be from Mansfield University.
Most importantly, there was no sales pitch. I repeat for all of you PR folks who need reinforcement for your superiors: no sales pitch. No website at the end telling veterans or potential students to check us out. It is a message, pure and simple, of appreciation to veterans and current service people.
The results were heartwarming, inspiring and revealing. We posted it on YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Our ultra-savvy web person, John Maslar, targeted veterans and bases in a five-state circumference, as well as alumni and students
His stats show show that in a five day period, the video:
-was seen by 125,000 Facebook/Twitter users;
-was shared on Facebook 75 times;
-earned more than 700 likes;
-was retweeted 8 times
-Between likes/views/shares/retweets/clicks, we had about 2,500 interactions.
As John points out: “that’s 18 cents per person who took the time to read and interact with the message.”
The video worked for several reasons:
-It is succinct (1:12);
-Hendricks is straightforward and sincere;
-the message is simple and direct;
-There is no “extra message.”
It gained us appreciation from students, alumni, staff, faculty, constituents and introduced us to new audiences.
Yes, you can count on one hand the number of colleges who have a retired general as a president, but every college has a special person who can convey a relevant message on an appropriate occasion.
Just be clear, concise and don’t pollute it. A clean message has its own halo effect that lasts for years.

In other words, make the salute sincere.

“Disrupted” Author Gives Advice on iGen Marketing

My last post was a review of Disrupted, which I  like a lot. So does my president. He told his cabinet members to read it. At a recent conference of college presidents, he recommended it to his colleagues.

I’ve recommended to everyone in the business.
I sought out author Stefan Pollack to do a Huffington Post piece about it. You can check out the full article there or just cut to our question/answer session below. Stefan kindly indulged me last week while he was on vacation.

Five questions about his findings and the future of marketing/advertising.
1. Why have you labeled people born after 1994 the “iGen generation?
Until now, most circles have labeled this generation Z, but based upon my observations there is enough of a generation gap between Y and this generation, that they needed a proper title. iGen describes quite a bit in just a few letters: they are inherently mobile, they value individuality, they are unique compared to the working generations of Y, Z and Boomers. The name also implicitly nods to Apple’s iPhone and iPad, which, among other forces, helped instigate the great communications disruption of the last decade, empowering this generation to lead brands into a consumer-controlled environment.
2. How large is the disruption created by this new consumer generation?
To be clear, while iGen has certainly created a disruption in the marketing world, the reality is they are natives of a post-disrupted environment. They don’t know a world apart from this intuitively mobile and consumer-driven one in which we currently live. iGen grew up knowing they have the entirety of human knowledge on small devices in their pockets. The consequences are staggering. Never before could a generation completely and totally omit a brand from their consumer decision-making process—they can find out anything and everything without consuming one iota of traditional media or brand-controlled messaging. This is probably the largest disruption our industry has ever witnessed.
3. What do companies and colleges need to do to communicate with these consumers?
The most important thing brands can do is listen. Identify the target audience and listen to them, learn their behaviors, their wants and needs, and deduce how a brand or message can coexist or nurture that lifestyle—then a brand or message will be relevant to iGen. Additionally, companies can identify influencers that iGen already listens to and capture their attention with a message, however they will concede control of the message once the influencer becomes an advocate.
4. What do we need to keep them?
Simple: be transparent, authentic, and honest. iGen and digital natives are the bloodhounds of consumers—they can spot disingenuous marketing long before it reaches them. However, once a brand or idea is embraced by iGen, they become fearless advocates and behave as influencers in their vast networks.
5. What will advertising and marketing look like in five years?
At the velocity of current trends, advertising and marketing will need to adapt to correct for the massive ad-avoidance rates. Now that people are mobile, their attention is moving from TV and print to their devices. Mobile marketing will continue to be a leading force in the industry, but it will need to be targeted—both demographically and geographically. Specific niches, such as video and music streaming, augmented reality, and location-based promotions, have tremendous potential for success. iGen is not adverse to marketing or advertising as long as it is relevant and authentic. The days of sandblasting a controlled message and hoping that enough of it sticks are over. Marketers must be accurate with their analysis of target audiences and use only tools that appeal to them.

Fox Interview Will Flourish in the Classroom

Lauren Green’s interview with Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth will live forever in college courses in both a positive and negative way.
The negative, of course, is how to begin an agenda-laden interview and then awkwardly and totally lose control.
I’ve been a PR director in higher education for 35 years. I’ve known professors of every type. Some of my best friends are scholars. Most of them have Ph.Ds. Some are cool and some are social misfits.
I’ve also dealt with journalists of all ages, types and backgrounds. And I started my career as a journalist.
So let’s begin with the fact that Green’s question about why a Muslim would want to write a book about Jesus is a fair one. “Why” is always a first question. On a recent Fresh Air episode Terry Gross asked the same question but she allowed Aslan to answer. He explained that he grew up a Muslim, turned to Christianity, then returned to the Muslim faith. Gross’ question and Aslan’s answer set the tone for a substantive interview that enabled Aslan to talk about Roman history, politics, insurrection and the man responsible for creating the revolution.
Green didn’t allow that and it became clear that there was an agenda. She continued to ask how he, a Muslim, could presume to write about Jesus.
Aslan explained that he has a Ph.D in religious studies and has studied and taught it for 20 years. It was a clear, cool explanation that could have been addressed to a confused high school student. It was clear that with each stumbling question, Green was becoming frustrated and angry, not a good thing when you’re a journalist.
When Green pointed out that many scholars disagreed with Aslan’s premise about Jesus, Aslan almost gleefully answered that this was what scholarly debate is all about. He is, of course, correct. I’ve seen scholars debate. Yes, they can get heated, sometimes about seemingly small things, but debate is at the core of all scholarship and always has been.
Green’s most embarrassing moment as a journalist should have been when she accused Aslan of hiding the fact that he is a Muslim. Aslan calmly zeroed in with a clear, concise attack (and yes, I believe he knew exactly what he was doing), when he pointed out that he states his religion on page two of Zealot and that he has made it clear in every interview he’s ever done, challenging her to find one in which he has not stated it.
That effectively ended the interview, making it painfully clear that this professional journalist had not even opened the book and that her staff/producers had done no preparatory research.

The Green/Aslan interview will be taught in college courses for years to come. Journalism professors will use Green as an example of what not to do in an interview, especially when you lose control of it. PR professors will point to Aslan as a prime example of the importance of staying composed and professional while under fire and the importance of reiterating key points (“I have a PhD. . . . I am a scholar . . . I write about all religions”).
In the end, the goal of attacking a scholar on the basis of his faith and staying with an agenda at the expense of a true conversation did five things on an international scale:
-it damaged the interviewer’s credibility;
-it made a scholar a celebrity;
-it instantly drove Zealot to number one on the bestseller lists;
-it created a renewed discussion about religion and scholarship;
-it made a lasting contribution to the teaching of journalism and public relations.

Corporate Loyalty & Real PR

Dick Jones is one of the most respected professionals in the PR consulting field.  Over the years, his company, Dick Jones Communications, has assisted more than 60 colleges and universities in the areas of public relations, story placement, media relations and  crisis communications.  I asked Dick to do a guest post on the role of the PR professional.

Arthur W. Page was a very smart man. He was the first corporate vice president of what today is known as public relations, taking that post in the 1920s for American Telephone and Telegraph Company.
Page “got it” from the start. He knew that sending the company’s messages to key publics was only half the job. The other half—and the more important part—was to inform AT&T and to provide counsel on what the public was thinking and feeling about any topic that could impact the firm.
The PR Department, said Page, “…ought to bring to the management at all times what it thinks the public is going to feel about a thing.”
Public relations scholars agree. Think how much heartache could be avoided if this occurred routinely. This mandate, however, is ignored more often than observed and that is not because PR professionals don’t believe in it or understand it. It is ignored because senior management does not believe in it or understand it.
Unfortunately, PR pros who sense trouble ahead and alert management to it are often running risks, especially if the trouble they spot is headed their way because of some action proposed by the organization they serve. This is particularly true within organizations that value loyalty—or rather a misplaced definition of loyalty—above all else. In such circumstances, the PR practitioner is liable to be considered disloyal or, at the very least, not a team player, if he or she has the temerity to point out problems that may arise from a particular course of action.
Of course it is not disloyal at all to point out potential public relations troubles arising from an organization’s decisions; quite the opposite, in fact. But if senior management doesn’t see it that way, it can derail a career and often has.
You can get a sense of the value an organization places on honest, reasoned feedback by whether or not the public relations function is included in senior management. If PR pros are present at the creation of policy, that’s a good sign. If, however, PR is “represented” in the councils of top management by some other staff function which then “interprets” management policy to the PR staff, that’s not such a good sign.
PR people who find themselves in the latter position will want to:

(1) see if they can find a “seat at the table” where they can provide feedback to senior management;

(2) resign themselves to doing only half of the job they are supposed to do;

(3) update their resume and look for a place that values the full public relations function.

Penn State, PR, Media & Chaos

I’ve been following the Penn State story with the same sorts of feelings nearly every other human being has had. But from a professional’s point of view I’ve concluded that both the public relations and news professions have failed miserably.
I have known the Penn State university relations VP for decades. He is the consummate PR professional, as are his staff members. So I have to assume that the PR staff was told to sit on the sidelines during unfolding debacle.
Why do I think that? Because no PR professional would have let his or her college president meet the media and support, by name, two employees who would surrender to police the next day.

I’ve been in crisis PR situations on a much smaller scale. In every crisis situation, the prevailing force is chaos. The president relies on the PR staff for guidance and knowledge of how the media works. It is a time when cool heads, logic, and especially truth as far as it is known, is needed.

I doubt if a PR person would have waited until the last minute to cancel Paterno’s weekly press conference. By now there were reporters on hand from around the world. A university spokesperson should have stepped in and held the conference because when there is a void, someone will fill it. And when someone else fills the void, it’s probably with content you’d rather not see.

The story would not have turned out any differently, but PR professionals would have helped set a tone of civility and helped the media as much as possible to smooth out chaos’ rough edges.

The media were allowed to run wild, and the media today are, in good part, a batch of barbarians sniffing for blood and egging each other and the public into an unholy frenzy when the bleeder is found.

Granted this is the perfect storm of scandals with:

– an alleged crime so heinous most of us cannot imagine it;

-an American icon;

-football, which is as much about self-identification and emotion as it is about tactical ways to move a ball to and fro.

Sit enough monkeys down with computers and they’ll eventually get a good take on Shakespeare. Our monkeys are thousands of bloggers with opinions, some sincere, some just hit mongers. We have news analysts screaming empty-headed opinions and unchecked “facts” because they have to fill time and race in the ratings.

We have news sites like Huffington Post coloring our view before we even read the story with headline words like “Legendary Football Coach FIRED Among Horrific Scandal!” and “HORROR: Ex-Assistant Rumored to have “Pimped Out” Young Boys.” They’re spinning stories out of rumors.

Facts were allowed to be muddled. Chaos reigns. The victims, for God’s sake, have been smothered in the dust of the stampede for the Next Big Thing.

I know there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes that we’ll probably ever know. But I also know that there was no visible PR staff to act as a conduit between university and media.

And the media, for the most part, have acted like undisciplined, irresponsible, screaming children.

MU President: I’m Leaving. Announcement at Noon.

On Monday, Sept. 26  at 10:30 a.m. our president, Maravene Loeschke, dropped by my office. “Can you come up and see me at–” she paused and looked at the wall clock behind my assistant — “11:40?”
I said of course. When a president asks a question like that, it’s rhetorical. You say yes, of course.
At 11:40 she sat on the couch and I in the chair across from her. “I have accepted the position of president at Towson University as of January 1.”
I nodded, as PR people do when given such news.
“At exactly 12 noon, the chair of our board of trustees and the chancellor of the chair of the University System of the Maryland Board of Regents  system will send out an separate announcements,” she said. I  made a couple notes and we talked for 10 minutes.
I returned to my office at 11:55.   Five minutes later, the announcements appeared.
Within minutes the Baltimore Sun’s  story was online.  Within a few more minutes Google Alerts was in full swing with links to media picking up the story.
By 12:30 pretty much everyone on campus –and the universe —  had the news.
The announcement surprised people but after some thought, made sense. Towson was Loeschke’s alma mater.   She earned her degrees, taught and held administrative positions there for 32 years.

***

I talked to our national media consultant, Dick Jones, the next day. Dick and I have had a professional relationship for decades. We’re the same age. We both started in the business as reporters.
“Didn’t it bother you that no one even involved the PR Department?” he asked.
The question surprised me.  “I hadn’t even thought about it,” I said.   “No. Honestly, it was handled so cleanly, we didn’t have to do anything.”
Only a few short years ago the president would have had a secret meeting, given a few of us the news. We would have to prepare a news release, call all the media and tell them there would be a press conference, then spend a couple days fending off all the questions.
She would have made the announcement and then we would  spend a couple days arranging individual interviews. The above would have taken nearly a week.
This was over in 15 minutes.
Dick’s question made me think about the radically changing world of communications and the role PR.

More in Part 2.