Monday, August 31, 2009

PRSA Condems Industry Malpractice

On Thursday, PRSA national released a statement criticizing the recent barrage of unethical cases involving deceptive online practices, front groups and pay for play. The statement is online. And I have posted it in full below.

August 27, 2009
PRSA Condemns the Growing Use of Disingenuous Editorial Content, Deceptive Commentary on Blogs and Other Venues

NEW YORK (August 27, 2009) – Over the last few months, there have been several news accounts of promotional tactics that signal a common thread of malpractice under the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Code of Ethics and PRSA Professional Standards Advisories (PSA). While each tactic varies in method and medium, PRSA states categorically that misrepresenting the nature of editorial content or intentionally failing to clearly reveal the source of message contents is unethical.

Recent reports have included:

• A public relations firm allegedly engaging its interns to write wholesale positive product reviews for online message boards.
• A lobbying firm sending letters on other organizations’ letterhead.
• Bloggers posting positive reviews of products and services while receiving products for free, as well as being paid by the sponsor for such positive reviews. (Proposed new Federal Trade Commission rules deem this practice to be false advertising.)
• A marketing firm creating a program to match clients with tweeters for positive mentions.
• Special interests setting up and/or funding organizations whose only constituent is the organizer or funder, and that take active positions purporting to represent larger constituencies in the current national health care reform debate.

While they vary in method and execution, each scenario shares a common thread of potential malpractice because they fail to conform to fundamental obligations of the professional communicator to protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information and foster informed decision making in a democratic society.

Deceptive Online Practices
Under the PRSA Code of Ethics, the source of editorial material must be clearly identified. Any attempts to mislead or deceive an uninformed audience are considered malpractice. The PRSA code calls for truth and transparency and full disclosure of the causes and interests represented. The goal should be responsible advocacy on behalf of clients, sustaining credibility with all audiences, and strengthening the public’s trust in the information they receive and the profession that provides that information. Deceptive practices produce unethical advocacy. The code also specifically targets deceptive online practices by individuals or organizations using blogs, viral marketing and anonymous Internet posting in Professional Standards Advisory PS-8.

Front Groups
One frequently used vehicle that fosters misrepresentation and unethical advocacy is a third-party organization, known as a “front group,” established specifically to deceive or mislead an audience about the position presented and its source. In Professional Standards Advisory PS-7, the PRSA Code of Ethics spells out the unethical nature of engaging in or assisting such groups’ deceptive descriptions of goals, causes, tactics, sponsors, intentions or participants. The ethical communicator is obligated to reveal all information needed for informed decision making, thereby maintaining the public trust. Withholding or deceptively concealing sources or sponsors of information or their intentions or motivations fails to satisfy the principles of truth in advancing the interest of clients and of serving the public interest as responsible advocates.

Pay for Play
Providing payment to generate or influence editorial coverage, regardless of medium, is unethical and constitutes malpractice under the PRSA code because such exchanges of value are hidden from the reader, viewer or listener. The PRSA code clearly champions the values of honesty, fairness, transparency and objective counsel to clients. “Pay-for-Play” also runs counter to the code’s warning to avoid any conflict of interest that impedes the trust of clients, employers or the public. Under Professional Standards Advisory PS-9, professionals are told to disclose any exchange of value so the reader, viewer or listener has the opportunity to make up their own minds about the value, bias, accuracy and usefulness of information provided by others.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mayor Engages His Community Through Twitter

Donna Papacosta presents a great example of how Twitter can be used to support real communication goals. In her Trafcom News podcast, she recently interviewed the mayor of Oakville, Canada. Mayor Rob Burton wants to be the “most accessible and engaging mayor in the history of Oakville.” And he is genuinely looking for opportunities to do just that. Some tactics have worked better or gained more traction than others. But the key is, he’s not afraid to try something new.

Listen to the interview in Trafcom News Podcast 88.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Finding Gold in International PR Case Studies

by Deborah Charnes Vallejo, been vice president, public relations at Bromley Communications

Americans can be rather insulated, oftentimes not thinking beyond our borders. For decades, we have been bombarded with “buy American” messages. This last presidential election season we heard “this is the best country in the world,” in almost every debate.

I am proud to be an American. As proof, I have chosen to live here, after having resided in other countries. But those flag waving commentaries make me uneasy. I hear condescension in the speaker’s voice. While I don’t mind when someone says “Chicago has the best deep dish pizza,” or “San Antonio has the best prickly pear margaritas,” there are very few people who have the knowledge, experience and understanding to claim which country is best, and why.

Throughout my nearly 30-year career that has focused primarily on U.S. Hispanic and Latin American communications, I have tried to maintain a sense of openness and neutrality, yet, it is impossible to totally erase the airs of American superiority that prevail.

This summer, I was especially careful to put on the neutrality cap as a juror of the International Public Relations Association’s Golden World Awards for Excellence. After nearly 30 days of reviewing communications case studies electronically, 27 judges convened in Warsaw, Poland. We chose 30 category winners out of 126 finalists selected from 342 entries submitted by contestants from 42 countries.

Not surprisingly, there were excellent campaigns submitted by public relations agencies, NGOs, corporations and non-profit organizations from the United States. However, the highest awards were given to campaigns from Ukraine, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Japan, Turkey and Switzerland.

Contrary to what some people may assume, PR practitioners are not just seeking positive publicity. We are seeking a change in awareness and behavior that in many cases are achieved exclusively through PR. Furthermore, as an industry we are constantly seeking better means of evaluating results and return on investment. Most of the winning case studies, beyond quantifiable solid media coverage and Web traffic, delivered hard results and ROI, without the help of any advertising.

For example, Turk Telekom, the biggest provider of integrated telephone services in Turkey, wanted to reduce its cost of issuing paper invoices. The PR team created an awareness program to launch the first e-billing service in Turkey where the vast majority of homes are not online. Since the campaign began, nearly 1 million Turkish households switched to e-bills, saving more than 4,200 tons of paper annually, equating to 50,000 trees. Turk Telekon is in the process of creating branded forests and has already re-planted 50,000 trees, beyond the 50,000 “saved” trees. Finally, the values of Turkish society have changed, becoming much more environmentally conscious than before this initiative.

Another interesting example was from the Ukraine, where the PR team was challenged with making a history book about the WWII Babi Yar massacre of interest to teens. As in most countries, Ukrainian teens don’t opt to read a history book unless there is an exam the next day. Yet the breakthrough PR campaign placed this one on the top 10 list of best sellers in the country, becoming one of the most discussed works of historic literature ever among Kiev youth.

To achieve that success, the agency created fictional personas in social networking communities. On the anniversary of the tragic Babi Yar memorial, all fictional mates “died,” leaving a mourning stripe on their avatars and the message: ‘Hi, I am dead. Today I was killed by Nazis along with 50,000 others.’ This link led to the book’s website. Off-line, the agency implemented guerrilla warfare at soccer matches and shopping malls with bold statements on posters and mirrors such as “This reflection could be alive. During WWII every other Kiev citizen died: page 308.”

Beyond the quality of the entries from all corners of the world, what was equally impressive to me was the fact that my judging team members and I were in agreement on 100 percent of the difficult choices we had to make. The jurors represented all ages…all parts of the world...many languages...all specialty practice areas. We were diverse, yet with the shared appreciation for our craft and understanding of how to achieve success for our clients or employers via our profession.

Today, in the United States, most young PR pros have a degree in Communications or Public Relations. When I started in the field, we tended to rise out of Journalism. Among the IPRA members, there is an interesting cross section. Many do not have formalized PR training at their universities. One professional explained how his engineering background was a benefit in PR, as it trained him to isolate the problem or challenge, and design and implement a campaign that would meet and surpass the objectives.

I have always been a firm believer that the best education is on the job, as evidenced by my fellow IPRA jurors. Judging the Golden World Awards has been my summer school for many years, and I look forward to many more summer studies with my colleagues.

IPRA, the International Public Relations Association, is the leading global network for public relations professionals. We aim to further the development of open communication and the ethical practice of public relations. We fulfill this aim through networking opportunities, our codes of conduct and intellectual leadership of the profession. With more than 50 years of experience, IPRA, recognized by both the United Nations and UNESCO, is now present throughout the world wherever public relations is practiced. For more information please visit

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Winners Named Today in PRSA San Antonio Drawing

It’s time for our annual “Eat Lunch and Win” drawing. Each time a PRSA member in the San Antonio attends a chapter event, his or her name goes into the bucket. Events include our monthly luncheons, senior breakfasts, teleseminars and mixers from January to August of this year. This year, there are 292 names in the bucket.

The prize is free early-bird registration ($995) to the 2009 PRSA International Conference, which this year is in San Diego November 7-10. This is just one more benefit of membership in PRSA.

The drawing took place this morning at our quarterly Senior Practitioners Breakfast. See the video of the drawing below.

We drew six names. If the first place winner cannot attend, the prize goes to the second place winner, and so on. Here they are, in order:

Josie Villela
Bob McCullough, APR
Paige Ramsey-Palmer, APR
Fran Stephenson*
Rebecca Villarreal
Jennifer Milikien

Our chapter president, Robert Sheldon, APR, will contact Josie to see if she can accept.

For everyone else, don’t let not winning keep you from this awesome conference. I have attended three times and found it extremely beneficial both in terms of both professional development and networking. Be sure to register by the September 25 saver rate deadline to save $200!

Congratulations Josie!

* Fran will be speaking at the conference and serving as one of our assembly delegates.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

“Pointless Babble” is the Stuff Relationship are Made Of

Recently, Pear Analytics, which is based in San Antonio, conducted a study of Twitter usage. Their goal was to how people are using and consuming Twitter. They reviewed 2,000 tweets from the public timeline during a two-week period and categorized them as: news, spam, self-promotion, pointless babble, conversational or pass-along value. The study focused on English-language tweets in the United States.

Their stated results were: “Pointless Babble won with 40.55% of the total tweets captured; however, Conversational was a very close second at 37.55%, and Pass-Along Value was third (albeit a distant third) at 8.7% of the tweets captured.”

There’s more info like, when during the week is best for which type of tweet, for example, when are your tweets most likely to be shared. It’s definitely worth a look.

What strikes me though is the category title of “pointless babble.” I’ve heard many people say they don’t want to know what someone had for lunch. (Despite the fact that Twitter asks, “What are you doing?” and sometimes, you really are eating lunch.)

The assumption is that any tweet that does not provide for deep conversation or breaking news is noise. And it may be to some extent when you’re looking at the public timeline. But among your connections, this kind of “babble” is far from pointless. Relationships are built around the mundane stuff of daily life.

How many marriages have you seen where the only talk is of the deep philosophical variety? None that I know of. And coworkers get to know each other by talking about traffic and weather and television shows, not strategy and core competencies.

So while the other facets of Twitter are powerful, don’t brush off the babble.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Social Media: Keeping Up

by Beth Graham

Okay, your organization has made the decision to enter the social media arena. They’ve done the research, understood that social media are just one part of a successful public relations and marketing strategy, decided how social media will further the organization’s mission, and integrated social media into the overall plan.

Now you’re responsible for the blog, or the tweets, or the Facebook page, or whatever channels your organization has decided to use. It’s been drummed into your consciousness (and perhaps your sub-conscious and unconscious as well) that the key to successful social media participation is keeping information current and interesting. OMG! What do you write about?

Special events, upcoming promotions, big fundraisers, of course. But those don’t happen all the time, and you have a blog post to put up at least every other day. It’s really helpful to remember that none of your readers will know as much about your organization as you do. Details and factoids (nothing proprietary, of course!) about your operation that you might find so familiar as to be dull could be fascinating for your audience.

Think about the standard “who, what, when, where and how” questions and come up with little-known information items that you could share: how does a library book arrive on the shelf, ready for the reader to check out? How do those huge planes that get serviced at the airport travel from one little service area to another? When was your company founded and why? Who is the most productive member of your staff and why? Where are your offices located and why?

In other words, you have complete control over the space and time of your social media posts. Use that access to let the world get to know your company or organization, on a more personal basis than could ever be possible with advertisements or news releases. It will help your readers – and potential customers – feel as if they have already become acquainted with you, and much more comfortable about dealing with your organization when that time comes.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

PR-Based Novel a Fun Read

There’s just two more weeks left of summer reading time, and I thought I’d tell you about a book I just read by the late PRSA Fellow, Stan Sauerhaft. Stan has been a top exec at two big global PR firms and has taught and developed PR curriculum. But this book, End Game, is a novel of the good vs. evil sort, where the protagonist battles it out with a guy who will stop at nothing to get ahead.

What I found especially interesting was that the setting was a large PR firm and its mergers and acquisitions division. Stan weaves into the story what amount to little case studies of PR work in the M&A world that few of us ever see. The best part is that, given Stan’s experience, it presents a more realistic view than the “Wag the Dog” and “Sex in the City” type portrayals.

It’s not out in audio, which is why it’s been on my shelf for a few years. But on vacation last week, I finally got to read a real book that I was holding in my hands.

Did I saw two months of summer reading time left? Actually, it’s more like 13 days.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Twitter Search Your URL

Steve Rubel, director of insights for Edelman Digital, reminds us that when we are monitoring mentions of our organizations on Twitter, don’t forget to monitor links to your web site. In his blog post, Put Eyes Behind Your Back: Monitor Your URLs on Twitter, on June 30, Steve lists a few Twitter search services that will also show you links that use shortened URLs. Others are mentioned in the comments to his post.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

5 Ways to Improve TV Coverage of your Next Event

As public relations practitioners, we often struggle when pitching television stations for event coverage. Mainly, it's because our training was focused on print journalists and their needs. Getting television stations interested in your next event is not as hard as it sounds. Here are five ways to improve the likelihood of coverage.
1. Event timing. Invite media to an event when crews are actually available to cover. Daytime events have a better chance than Saturday and Sunday, when fewer crews are on duty. Time of day is also important...the later in the day, the more likely crews are to be returning to the station to edit and post their stories.
2. Assignments editors are your friend. They are the hub of the newsroom and make daily coverage decisions. Make sure your request for coverage goes to the assignments editor on duty.
3. Use your technology. In San Antonio, the local assignments desks have recently moved from faxes to e-mail. Now they reqeust releases by e-mail so they can be cut and pasted into an electronic day book.
4. Less is more. How are you pitching your assignments desk? Keep your media advisory or RFC short -- one page only -- and demonstrate why your story is visual by adding a sentence or two on what the crew will see when attending your event.
5. Make it visual. What will they see? Make sure you pitch a visual story. Invitations to lectures are boring and will get overlooked in favor of stories with people, motion and sound.
Not sure what your chances are? A call to the assignments desk....early in their shift....will get you a brief opinion about the likelihood of coverage and could garner additional tips on what the station is looking for in future stories.