Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chapter Hosts Summer Mixer

Two weeks ago, I attended the PRSA Summer Mixer at the Alamo Cafe. It's not a new event; the chapter has been hosting an evening July event for several years. Based on a record number of attendees, it's definitely on the "cool" list for professionals in our city. We had the pleasure of hosting more than 70 professionals that evening, most were non-members. My job, and that of my fellow PRSA San Antonio board members, was to introduce ourselves and our organization. Many of you told us that lunch time events are often difficult to attend and that you would be interested in evening events. We heard you! Many of you had questions about the organization and what we do. We shared with you! Many of you said you would be interested in attending our professional development luncheons. We're looking forward to hosting you! I met at least six people I had not been acquainted with or worked with in San Antonio, and I thought I knew everybody. At our next board meeting, we will set a date for the next mixer. Based on our attendance, enthusiasm, and noise level in the room, it's easy to see why PRSA San Antonio is a thriving organization for communicators. See you at the next mixer!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Learn about Social Media with the Help of the Common Craft Show

I’ve been leading a series of sessions for our staff to introduce them to the world of social media and to specific online social tools they can be using right away. I’ve led a two-hour overview session a couple of times that introduced them to a world most had no idea existed. I’ve walked them through using Jott and setting up an iGoogle page and finding RSS newsfeeds to populate it with. (One senior staff member was practically doing cartwheels when he started using Jott, I kid you not.) I’ve also begun to introduce them to Twitter, which is really hard for anyone to grasp until they dive in. Soon, I’ll be leading sessions on using Delicious, which I think they’ll love.

There is one web site that I’ve found really helpful: the Common Craft Show. Headed by Sachi and Lee LeFever, this web site provides short (two- to three-minute) videos that clearly describe certain social media elements. They are simple and highly creative. But most importantly, they are instructive. They help folks get the big picture.

Here is a list of topics from the site:

Social Media in Plain English
Blogs in Plain English
Twitter in Plain English
Online Photo Sharing in Plain English
RSS in Plain English
Wikis in Plain English

The only change I would make is that I wish the video that focuses on Twitter would give a little more attention to how organizations are using it. But frankly, since they came out with this video so quickly after Twitter use took off, people may not have been using it yet professionally.

The LeFever deserve lots of praise for taking this on. They’ve developed something really innovative in order to help others. It really reflects the generous spirit of Web 2.0

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Common Elements of Effective PR and Baseball Pitching

We’ve adopted the term “pitching” from that great American pastime – baseball. In our field, it means communicating with a reporter to urge him or her to write or produce a story about whatever you are pitching. Sometimes the pitch is over the phone, in recent years, it’s been done by e-mail. But there have been other forms as well. Unfortunately, pitches are sometimes directed to anyone who will listen – and to many who won’t.

But we have to remember the key elements of pitching in baseball. The pitch is directed at one bat at a time, it is strategic (curveball, slider, changeup), and it is really, really fast.

I am not an expert in media pitching. Perhaps you are. Perhaps you’ve figured out how to peak the interest of a reporter in less than two minutes on the phone. But have you ever done so in the equivalent of 140 characters?

That’s what Twitpitch does. Using Twitter, you can pitch in less than 140 characters -- counting spaces. The concept came from the brain of big-time blogger, Stowe Boyd. And now, Business Week has published an article about it, featuring Stowe and Brian Solis.

If you have already taken my advice and gotten aboard Twitter, you’re all set up to try this out. Once you’ve gotten your pitch nailed down to 140 characters for Twitpitching, you’ll also be better prepared for e-mail and phone pitching. That’s because, you’ll be focused on targeting your pitch, being strategic about your message and being lightening fast.

Let me know how it goes!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Put Away Your Toys!

As a child, my parents would say this to me -- and to my brothers -- often. While we didn't always get why they were asking us to do it, we understood what they meant when they said it. Finish what you started, clean up your mess and move on. Fundamentally, I have been doing this all my professional life, even if the toy part as a child was lost on me. Projects are finished, you clean up, sort through the manila file, which usually contained everything related to that product launch or media event or community relations opportunity. Then, you tossed what you didn't need or what was duplicated and put a new label on the file and with some very savvy coding, filed it in a metal filing cabinet.

Then along came the Internet and electronic documents and now what do I do? There's just not one place for everything anymore. Sure, I have bookmarks and favorites, but not all my technical gizmos can be neatly placed in a manila file folder, much less the cabinet.

It may not be that the "pages" are all 8 1/2 x 11 either. The real reason may be that the projects just don't end anymore. They morph on and repeat and often the lines are blurred between finishing one project and starting another. This does not even address the issue of time compression and project overload. So the question in my mind is now: when is it time to put away my toys?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

San Antonio Express-News Playground Barrage Has Affect

As described in my last post, the San Antonio Express-News took on the city by investigating the status of city parks, their disrepair and unethical treatment of the city auditor. To date I have counted multiple articles by Todd Bensman (whose first story got the ball rolling, 6/9, 6/12 and 6/13) and Guillermo Garcia (6/22, 6/24) along with columns by Cary Clack (6/10), Jaime Castillo (6/10, 6/15), editor Bob Rivard (6/15), Ken Rodriguez (6/16, 6/20), Scott Stroud (6/28), public editor Bob Richter and the editorial board (6/19). Fourteen stories so far in one month. (Some of the articles are only available through the Express-News online archives.)

And with good reason. City leaders seemed to be much more concerned about looking good than about making sure that our children are taken care of. Though it is true, they were operating on information provided by the parks director, who turned out to be lying.

So, it took the city manager 28 days to speak up clearly. But there were some steps the city took leading up to that.

Three days after the first story hit, the city manager and the mayor announced that all 114 of the city’s playgrounds would be re-inspected.

Twelve days later, the parks and recreation department director was forced to resign. (Director of parks is forced to resign, 6/22)

Sixteen days later, a city council committee was set up to clarify the role of the auditor’s office and presumably how to keep it from being influenced by political interests. (Panel will examine post of city auditor, 6/24)

And finally, 28 days later, city manager Sheryl Sculley provided her own op ed with the opening line: “The safety of our children is a priority of the city of San Antonio.” She provided a summary of results from the inspections promised after the first story and gave a deadline for when repairs would be completed. She also pointed out that inspections did not categorize any playgrounds as dangerous. Finally, she stated that a long-term maintenance plan would be submitted to the council and that an analysis of the parks department service delivery was underway.

This case study is far from closed. There will be debates about the auditor’s office. There will be further checking into the status of playground repairs. I wouldn’t surprised if a lawyer somewhere is able to find a child who was injured on one of the dangerous playgrounds identified in the 2003 inspection. Wouldn’t you?

I’m curious about the role – if any – the city’s public relations staff played in this whole affair. I’d like to believe that they gave appropriate counsel and weren’t listened to. It’s also possible they weren’t involved at all. Perhaps some effective crisis communications training is in order for city leader staff.

photo credit: Jerry Lara/Express-News

Monday, July 07, 2008

San Antonio Playground Affair is a Case Study in What Not to Do

Twenty-eight days. Four weeks. 672 hours. That’s how long it took for San Antonio’s city manager to stand up and say we are going to repair the city’s playgrounds. Twenty-eight days.

So here's the question. What do you do when a local newspaper or television station unveils your dirt? What do you do when they won't let go of an issue that you haven't solved?

Well the city of San Antonio’s current dangerous playground affair is a case study and exactly what not to do. And it’s still playing out (pardon the pun).

For those who don't know what's going on or don't live San Antonio, here’s the set up. The San Antonio Express-News has been publishing articles revealing the high number of city-owned playgrounds that have gone unrepaired for years, some of which have been rated dangerous. City leaders reacted – to put it mildly – defensively. Their lack of transparency and poor responses are weakening residents’ trust.

Trust buster #1: It all started in April when the city's auditor wanted to conduct an audit of the process the city uses to inspect it's playgrounds. The city committee refused to allow that audit to occur and fired the auditor.

So the city paper started digging and found that the last inspection in 2003 found “15 of 114 inspected playgrounds were so dangerous or substandard that they should be torn down, put off limits to children or extensively repaired.”

Trust buster #2: Many of those playgrounds have still not been repaired and there is no formal process for safety checks.

Trust buster #3: The playgrounds in the worst conditions are located in low-income, high minority sections of the city.

Trust buster #4: City leaders still maintain that an audit isn’t necessary, leading people to wonder what else they have to hide. According to the Express-News, the mayor claimed, “I don’t think Gonzales’ audit would have found a single thing!”

Since some people new beforehand that the Express-News was investigating and would be publishing a story, you would expect city leaders to be prepared to respond. But they weren’t.

Trust buster #5-10: When the first story by Todd Bensman broke on June 9, city leader responses included denials that there is a problem, claims that the auditor was fired for overstepping his bounds (which later articles refuted), sending crews out to wrap plastic yellow construction-zone tape around some playgrounds, a campaign by the city manager to show that playground safety has been well managed and that no serious lapses have endangered children, refusals to talk with reporters, distributing packets to city council members critical of the newspaper reporting, and pointing out that the city has not been sued for injuries to children on its playgrounds.

Everyone in public relations knows the first thing that you do is admit your mistake or misstep or whatever the wrongdoing is, apologize, commit to fixing it and commit to taking actions to keep it from happening again. City leaders did exactly the opposite; they tried to gloss over the multi-pronged problem.

After stumbling along, city leaders eventually began to take better actions to rebuild trust. In my next post, I’ll outline those steps.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

All the news that's fit to print...

I have a new role with my organization, Keeper of the Web Site. I have always helped keep it updated, but now it's my responsibility. Woot!

We've recently had an overhaul of the look and content, and I've learned how to upload most of the dynamic information easily. What I'd like to expand is the ease of our site as a resource for journalists and the community at large. Right now, there is a news release archive, and my contact information, but not a very extensive "newsroom" as a resource.

I registered today for PRSA's professional development webinar "Top Ten Elements to Have in an Online Newsroom" . I'm hoping it offers a lot of good tips. There are obvious elements needed for a successful resource (contact information, physical location of organization, executive information, news release archive, etc.). But, what are your suggestions for a really useful, efficient online newroom? Have you seen some good ones? Some really bad ones?

Show me yours, and I'll imitate all the good parts! If you want to see the site as it is now, here is the link. There is some content we have to keep on as part of the parent company, but I'd love your feedback on all aspects of the site, even if it's not to fulfill my current goal of creating a stellar newsroom!

SA Business Journal’s Two PR Stories

I know I’m a week behind, but did you see the June 27 issue of the San Antonio Business Journal? There are two front-page stories related to the local public relations industry.

One profiles how real estate developers are calling on PR agencies to build support for their projects. The story, “Developers turning to PR pros to help ramp up project buzz,” by Tricia Lynn Silva, quotes Katie Harvey of KGB Texas Public Relations, José Sena of Blue Clover, Skip Wood of The Wood Agency, Marsha Hendler of Marketing +, and Trish DeBerry of Guerra DeBerry Coody.

The second story focuses on the big news from Creative Civilization’s ending its advertising account with Spurs Sports & Entertainment, “Spurs trying to score new ad agency in challenging times.” Naturally, the writer, Scott Bailey, talked with Al Aguilar. He also quotes Skip Wood of The Wood Agency and Melanie Mahaffey of Austin-based GSD&M.
I have nothing to add about these stories. I just thought it was interesting to see them both on the front page in the same issue.