Friday, July 31, 2009

PR Week Study Finds the PR Industry is Struggling to Integrate Social Media

PR Week reported in “Top PR Firms Fail to Make the Grade Online,” last month that PR agencies are not doing enough “to capitalize on the explosive growth of interactive marketing, the incredible influence of the social Web and the oasis of opportunity in content marketing.”

The researchers used Website Grader, a free SEO tool that measures the marketing effectiveness of a web site, to evaluate the web sites of top PR agencies. The study gives detailed results and lists the scores of the top 25 agencies.

The study is based on the assumption that in order to be knowledgeable in social media tools, PR agencies need to be active in using those tools for themselves rather than just on behalf of their clients. The study rightly doesn’t claim that one social media tool, like blogging, is more important than another.

You can use Website Grader to get a free analysis of your web site.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Believe in Accreditation

Anne Keever Cannon, APR

I believe in accreditation.

We’ve seen lots of opinions over the years in favor of and against public relations accreditation. One old argument is that “APR” doesn’t equal a bigger paycheck. That may be true. Nevertheless, the process helped me greatly increase my knowledge and expertise in the field.
That’s because I came to PR through a side door. I studied Spanish in college with a vague intention of foreign service. After a 5-year stint in the Air Force, I got a master’s in theater, with the idea of becoming an actor. Finally the Army hired me as an intern in public affairs (what the federal government calls public relations).

That got me two years of on-the-job training and two months at the Defense Information School. I had the basics—news writing, photography, media relations, community relations, how to write a speech, etc. I was doing OK.

Some years later my boss at a Corps of Engineers office in Dallas told me about PRSA and accreditation. She encouraged me to join the organization. She sent me to a two-day PR seminar at Southern Methodist University. The speakers talked about measurement, strategic planning and other things that were new—and very interesting—to me. The Dallas PRSA chapter offered free accreditation preparation classes on PR history, the code of ethics and much more. I got my APR in 1991.

When the accreditation maintenance program began, it stretched me again. I took seminars, gave presentations myself, attended the national conference and became active in the Dallas chapter. (Full disclosure: I was accredited soooo long ago that I’m exempt from the maintenance program. But I still try to keep it in mind and continue my professional development.)

So I always encourage students or new PR folks to pursue accreditation—even though many of them have the educational background that I lacked. Putting together that portfolio (something I didn’t have to do back in the “old days”) can help identify strengths and weaknesses. The exam preparation serves as a skills review. The maintenance program pushes people to brush up on some areas and learn new ones.

The bottom line: Accreditation and maintenance make up an outstanding way to develop and to keep current—something that’s especially important in this fast-changing world.

Quick! This Webinar is Today: Bad Pitch Night School (During the Day)

Authors of the Bad Pitch Blog are hosting a teleseminar next week on how to “make yourself pitch machines!” Here’s their description:

All attendees will learn a smart, step by step approach to pitching that includes hilarious case studies and goes beyond that simple email. From looking at the whole pitch lifecycle, including the truth about pitching bloggers and using social media, to tips that will no doubt make you better-informed (and tell you how) plus the keys to pitch inspiration, we'll help you improve your game. Plus we will show you our tricks!
The one-hour teleseminar is today, July 29 at noon central time. The cost is $49 and includes free e-book, Full Frontal PR handbook. A few scholarships are available.

Get details and register now!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Lessons Learned: The Classics File

By Paul Hart, APR

Back in my day, you didn’t dare go into PR until you worked several years in the media – newspaper, TV or radio. I came up on the newspaper side and I learned lessons that I apply to the practice of public relations to this day.

I spent several productive years on the business desk of the Tulsa World working for a terrific editor and all-around character. He taught me how to write well, but one of his greatest contributions to my career was his Classics File, a stack of press releases created over the decades and kept in his lower drawer. They were so bad they were laughable. Most, but not all, were a weak response to a crisis situation.

On the occasional slow afternoon, he’d pull out the pile and read a few aloud to the enjoyment of all us in the area. There were some beauts: How about the coal company that issued a release stating an “incident” at one of its mines occurred when “the ceiling came in contact with the floor?” No kidding. There was no mention of a cave-in or collapse. Then there was the oil refinery that suffered damage due to “extremely rapid, uncontrolled and unexpected oxidation.” Nope, nothing here about an explosion and fire.

It was only after I went into PR that I truly understood the immense amount of effort that went into crafting these gems. I came to understand the worst offenders were, sadly, the product of hours and hours of work in hot and stuffy conference rooms, trying to get something put together despite loud protests from Legal, Marketing, Operations or some other embarrassed department. A poor, overwhelmed PR staff was expected to send out the muddled result.

Our guy had a great respect for “press agents” as he called all public relations people and knew his success in maintaining our award-winning business news section depended in part on their help. He understood public relations practitioners have a particular skill set and often work with clients who do not appreciate that expertise. I saw times when a new Classics File candidate would arrive in the newsroom. After reading and laughing loudly, he would call the appropriate PR person and ask, “Now tell me what REALLY happened.”

The Classics File taught me a valuable lesson about PR: Don’t spin. Be open, honest and dependable, and tell your client why. In the long run, your client will gain.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Alamo Bickering Delays Innovative PR/Marketing Plans

What do you do when your entire marketing and PR plan suddenly gets axed? That’s what happened recently at the Alamo.

The Alamo’s marketing director, Craig Stinson spoke at our PRSA chapter luncheon in March. He outlined the amazing new initiatives the Alamo board and staff were taking to diversify revenue sources and build relationships with visitors and history buffs. Strategies included becoming accredited by the American Association of Museums, creating a service mark to begin collecting revenue from use of the new Alamo logo, starting a membership program so that fans could pay for special access to events and a newsletter, and stepping up the web site to include more social media features.

But as Scott Huddleston of the San Antonio Express-News detailed on Sunday, the whole thing seemed to go down the drain beginning in May when the Daughters of the Republic of Texas voted for a “delay.” Soon after, Craig resigned. I haven’t spoken to him. There could be other reasons for his departure. But the director, David Stewart, resigned in late May, the shop director retired and some members are taking steps to create their own group.

As a proud San Antonio resident, a fifth-generation Texan and relative of an Alamo survivor, I am really saddened by this news. I can’t help but wonder, will we ever get it back on track? Surely someone can broker the peace. Can the mayor help solve this rift on behalf of the city? Will the state have to step in? How about leaders in our local tourism industry?

After all, the Alamo is the most visited historical site in the state. Its success is our success.

Update: See July 23 story, "‘Renegade' DRT member starts Alamo nonprofit."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Storytelling Key to Winning Awards

By Celine Thomasson, APR

Having submitted entries for professional awards and also serving as a judge for competitions, I have a few tips to improve your award entry.

Project summaries or narratives make or break an entry. Focus on a specific problem. Describe that problem clearly and quickly. Talk about how you went about solving the problem. Wrap up with a resolution. A compelling narrative will document opportunities that arise suddenly or describe unanticipated obstacles. If the project summary does not convey the essential story then all the flashy collateral materials are for zilch.

The presentation of collateral materials or work samples is like creating a scrapbook. It is the tactile content that supports the summary. Embellish with notes, photos, samples, and clippings. However, if you can’t secure that key chain or promotional item in the binder it would be better to include a high quality photo. Video, web, or any type of electronic materials should be included but unless the award category is specifically for this type of production don’t count on the judges to see it. A better idea would be to print samples of web content. Your website will change from the time of the project until the competition deadline. If the web content is an important part of the strategy, be sure to print or save as you go along. Finally, include only those pieces that are the most critical or best showcase your work.

Give your story a powerful ending by including photos and testimonials. The evaluation narrative is necessary but often dry. I judged an award submission that included handwritten notes from children who had participated in the event. It was a small but powerful touch to bring the entry to a close.

You be the judge! There is no better way to gain insight into how to submit award entries than to volunteer to judge competitions.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hands-On Social Media Training at Your Desk

Here’s a great resource for learning about social media without leaving your desk. Lee Aase, the manager for syndications and social media at Mayo Clinic, has set up the Social Media University, Global (SMUG) a “post-secondary educational institution dedicated to providing practical, hands-on training in social media to lifelong learners.”

He uses the university model by grouping courses into categories like: pre-admission coursework, core courses and tracks for majoring in general social media, blogging, podcasting, social networking and widgets, as well as platform-specific classes for Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube and others.

Unlike the university model, the courses are all free and available at your convenience. Check it out!

Listen to an interview of Lee Aase about SMUG and his social media initiatives at Mayo Clinic conducted by For Immediate Release.

You can also follow him on twitter at: @LeeAase

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bright & Shiny Things: PRSA Awards Enhance Careers

The El Bronce award goes to esd & associates... not something you’re likely to hear at a PRSA awards banquet. You have surely seen our sponsorship credits, but you didn’t hear us called up to the stage over and over to pick up awards.

What you would hear are the names of our client-partners announced, one right after the other, to pick up their La Plata or El Bronce recognitions. Year after year, esd submits award nominations for our client-partners to say “thank you” for trusting us with their campaigns. esd & associates covers the entry fees, assembles the award entry and makes sure our clients are front and center to receive their awards of excellence.

PRSA awards are important because they are judged away from the market. Industry professionals volunteering for PRSA chapters in other cities examine the submissions and make decisions without vested interests in the market. When a client wins a PRSA award, it indicates superior achievement.

Awards surely boost esd’s image and we feel good when one of our campaigns wins a prize, but they are far more important to our client-partners. When our clients have their annual reviews or take on a new marketing initiative, a tangible award recognizing previous success can help make the case with their senior management.

The Community First Commercial Marketing team phrases it best: “We were in unfamiliar waters when Community First started offering commercial health plans. esd has worked with us for years, so we already had a productive relationship going. The campaign worked well, and Community First was able to reach a lot of new customers. The El Bronce award confirms our marketing efforts to everyone at Community First. It makes us feel proud of our work - takes it to another level.”

Entering awards in our clients’ honor reflects a core business value for esd: clients are partners. We keep our focus on the client’s objectives, we design targeted communications, we produce with a passion for excellence, we measure results and we celebrate the client’s success.

So why should you enter the PRSA awards? It looks good on your CV, it speaks highly of your skill set and it sends a clear message to management that the marketing department is focused on ROI.

Christine Kleha
esd & associates
PRSA Board Member

P.S. And when you hire a firm, choose a company that partners with you – understands your objectives and culture, shapes strategies that enhance your brand, measures impact and achieves results. If they enter award competitions and assigns full recognition to you, you know you’re working with good partners.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lessons Learned: Hunting with a Shotgun

By Paul Hart, APR

The July issue of Public Relations Tactics has an article on the simmering lawsuit between the nation of Ecuador and Chevron Corp. This has been a big issue in the energy trade press but has had scant coverage in the general media.

The case involves allegations by Ecuador that Texaco Corp., which Chevron acquired in 2001, did environmental damage to Ecuador’s pristine jungle while developing an oil field. Chevron points out the work was done under a permit issued by Ecuador’s government and it met, or exceeded, all environmental stipulations set by the nation.

The stakes are huge.

Ecuador seeks $27 billion in damages, equal to half of that nation’s annual gross domestic product. The suit could end up as the ultimate ambulance-chasing, tort-lawyer shakedown of a wealthy defendant, or a landmark environmental judgment that could alter worldwide environmental standards.

One of the first mentions of the case in the general press came in May when CBS aired a 60 Minutes piece. In response to what it feared would be a negative story, Chevron produced a video on the issue and posted it on YouTube. That sounds innovative – using social media to counter the general media. But consider the differing results:

• The 60 Minutes episode had an estimated audience of 12 million viewers.
• The YouTube video has drawn 5,916 views, as of this writing.

Which medium had the bigger impact? You be the judge: The YouTube video has had 0.049percent of the audience the CBS News program garnered. I have no idea how much time and money Chevron spent producing the video. But one has to question its effectiveness in swaying public opinion.

The point here is its best to consider the potential audience a medium reaches when deciding where to place a client’s message. True, the traditional ink-on-paper and over-the-air broadcast media have been losing readers-listeners-viewers for years. But their audiences are still huge. And they won’t go away soon.

It may be best to couple social media placements with the general media when you want to reach an audience. In other words, use a shotgun, not a rifle. That way you have a better chance of hitting your desired target.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

PR Is Not the Circus

As you probably heard, the circus was in town last week. Not just any circus, but the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I’ve got to say, for the money, they provide tons of entertainment. And they are masters of making something look bigger and more exciting than it really may be.

P.T. Barnum is credited with developing several tactics used in public relations today, like press agentry, advertising, product promotion and the pseudoevent. He called his the “greatest show on earth.” He promoted Joice Heath as George Washington nurse (at the claimed ripe old age of 161). He brought us Tom Thumb and Jumbo. Scott Cutlip says Barnum’s audiences were so hungry for entertainment, they accepted his exaggerations. The “willingly deceived,” as the London Times reported.

He was an author, publisher, philanthropist, sometime politician and amateur psychologist. Wikipedia says he was the first “show business” millionaire. But the problem is, as you know, he also used deception, hoaxes and exploitation.

Unfortunately, I believe that this part of his reputation is what plagues our profession today. For the throngs who really don’t understand public relations, it’s easy for then to believe we do what he did: Lie, spin, look out for our organization’s interest above all else. It’s easy for them to believe this because they have been lied to, spun and victims of institutional self interest.

Usually these acts were committed by people other than PR folk. But look at those who worked for organizations that most recently lied to and exploited our faith: key people in Wall Street, financial institutions, and corporations as well as politicians. Not all, but enough.

PR professionals have a responsibility when working with an organization that is headed down that road to speak up or leave. It’s never that easy. It probably sneaks up on them. But there is a point where gray becomes black.

I’ve been there myself. Speaking up didn’t work, so I left. The organization eventually had to close its doors.

But I still reserve the right to enjoy the circus.

PS: The image I used is from a great blog post by Bill Sledzick, “The 4 Models of Public Relations Practice How Far Have You Evolved.”

Monday, July 06, 2009

Bringing in the Gold: How to Build an Award-Winning Entry

By Paige Ramsey-Palmer, APR

In the PR profession, our results often are measured by the number of reporters we attract to our event or program. Yep, that’s how we let the public know that we’re doing good stuff for our organization/community. But that shouldn’t be the end of our work. Entering that project in an award program provides a “next step” in promoting what we do. Winning award recognition shows your organization that you’re doing a great job when your work is compared with a standard of professional excellence. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to get this professional recognition for yourself and your team.

I entered our 6th Annual Shred Day in the Del Oro La Plata Award category, which recognizes outstanding campaigns, and I was thrilled to receive a beautiful trophy! As a tip, I consciously pre-thought the project as a future entry, keeping the La Plata guidelines in mind. These comments are based on the La Plata guidelines; the process may differ slightly for El Bronce entries or for other programs. Here are a few things you might consider for a La Plata entry next year:

• PLAN the entry BEFORE you start the project. Remember to collect your notes, communication and promotional pieces, media clips, etc. to make the entry easy to assemble. You have two pages to showcase your entry - make the words count.
• Use the Del Oro guidelines to be sure you have completely thought the project through. For example, every campaign must have research that justifies the project’s existence. Don’t forget to state your budget. This pre-thinking will help you define the range of tactics that you will eventually use.
• Goals and objectives must be itemized. For example, be sure each objective is clearly stated, measurable and time bound.
• Strategies and tactics used in implementation must be appropriate to the objectives. For example, the tactics need to directly support the objectives. All the parts need to interweave, supporting each other.
• Make sure your evaluation reflects the results of your research and planning. For example, how successfully did you stick to a budget, reach or exceed your objectives, and use creativity/strategy to get your results? Then, what went well and what could be refined for a project in the future, i.e. what were the lessons learned?

Finally, creating a successful award entry is much easier if you’ve been a judge for other award programs. Each year our chapter reciprocates in judging another chapter’s award entries. Set aside time in the spring to partner with a seasoned PRSA member and volunteer to judge a set of the entries. You’ll build confidence when you’re ready to develop an award-winning entry. Remember, if you don’t enter, you can’t win!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Eight Ways Graduates Can Prepare for the PR World

by Melissa Vela-Williamson, PRSA Board Member and a former Horizons Award winner for the San Antonio Chapter.

When I was a student nearing graduation, I had an overwhelming sense of pressure to find my first “career” job. I had learned about public relations from another student’s capstone presentation, and thought it sounded like the ideal fit for me. I read about the market and learned that PR was a competitive area to work. So what did I do? I hustled and began applying for jobs months before graduation. Luckily for me networking helped me find my opportunity to freelance and earn a full-time position at an agency.

That sense of desperation was just what I needed to start my career path. I can’t tell you how often I’ve run into interns or wandering graduates who are struggling to find a PR job. What they seem to all have in common is a sense of degree entitlement. You get the degree; you get the job…right? Any practitioner can tell you it doesn’t work that way. Additionally, today’s shaky economy has left the job ads empty and journalists pushing into our field. Couple with that the loss of some practitioners’ jobs and a new graduate with a chip on their shoulder is likely to remain jobless for a long time.

How can a new graduate prepare to earn (and keep) a place in the PR world? Here are eight essential tips that have helped me succeed through the early years.

1.Hone your writing skills
If you don’t know AP style, take a class right away. Also, continue to take writing classes once in the field. Nothing kills credibility quite like bad grammar.

2.Develop two-way relationships
Network with the purpose of building a relationship. You’ll reap endless rewards for being sincerely helpful. Being a source for journalists, a team player in the department will help others remember you…in a good way!

3. Keep up with technology and trends
If you don’t keep up, you’ll get left behind.

4.Do more than is required

Problem solve, over-deliver and always do your best to stand out.

5.Be humble
The second you think you know it all, you’ve just made your greatest mistake. Look for mentors, share your knowledge and be grateful for any chance to refine your PR skills.

6.Be straight-forward; not rude
The fast-paced PR world needs straight shooters, but always watch how you craft your own messages.

7.Look for new ways to approach the same thing
New angles to view events, story ideas, and logistics can help you improve your work and keep your responsibilities fresh

8.Make the most of every opportunity
If you are interning, put all of your energy in learning everything and impressing anyone you can. Show appreciation for others’ knowledge, time and contacts. People will want to help you if they know you take advantage of their assistance.