“Public relations has always played its part in the marketing mix, even if it was added to plans late and rarely recognized like other disciplines. But the emergence of skippable, blockable, opt-out-able advertising, not to mention ever-more integrated campaigns, means PR can suddenly demand more than a supporting role—and maybe even take center stage.”
Tired of defending public relations? The above quote in a January Advertising Age article by Lindsay Stein is more proof that other professionals are finally recognizing PR’s place in the world of communication. That’s real progress. For too long and too often our profession has been disparaged by marketers, journalists and the public who see PR as spin–the purposeful altering of truth to achieve a desired outcome.
Stein’s article quoted Harris Diamond, CEO of McCann Worldwide, one of the world’s largest PR firms. “Clients increasingly understand that marketing is multichannel, and that the digital and experiential spaces lend themselves to magnification by PR,” he said. “More and more CMOs (chief marketing officers) are recognizing the power and importance of PR, and I’m seeing more practitioners in the field being involved in integrated campaigns, and that’s dramatically accelerated PR’s pace.”
Another example was noted by Stein: “‘At Chobani, where PR has always been a weapon to battle bigger-spending rivals, the discipline is becoming increasingly vital,’ according to Peter McGuinness, CMO for the Greek yogurt brand. The growing importance of PR is…a ‘macro-category trend’ because of highly curious consumers and the increasing need to reach them with brand information. Edelman, the largest independent PR agency, is ‘getting not just a seat at the table, we’re getting half the table,’ said Jackie Cooper, global chair-creative strategy at the firm.”
It’s not only because advertising will be “skippable and blockable” that makes PR more vital. A 2014 study from Nielsen found that PR is almost 90% more effective than advertising. “With advertising, you tell people how great you are,” wrote Robert Wynne in Forbes. “With publicity, others sing your praises. Which do you think is more effective?”
Public relations students and professionals know the answer to that question. Your thoughts?
Sometimes the sighs and the eye rolling are palpable. It happens on the first day of class as I review the syllabus and reveal that my students will be required to attend a full-day conference–and on a Saturday! Heavens!
However, when we return to class after the conference, there’s usually praise for the experience and a “thank you” from students grateful that they were “forced” to go.
Our profession’s leading trade organization, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), was founded in 1947 to “provide professional development, set standards of excellence and uphold principles of ethics for its members.” In addition to representing 22,000 members, PRSA has 10,000 student members through the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Each year, PRSSA selects just nine chapters to host regional conferences, and this year the Hofstra University chapter of PRSSA was chosen.
The conference, titled “Start Spreading the News,” will focus on the professional advantages Hofstra students have because of the campus’ proximity to New York City, the media and PR capital of the world. On March 18-19, students from Hofstra and other schools in the region will join three dozen PR specialists, communicators, journalists, and educators who will serve as moderators and panelists in eight different workshops. Workshops will be comprised of New York-based professionals in industries including entertainment, travel, nonprofit, technology, international relations, fashion, corporate, and journalism. They’ll also have the chance to meet and network with these practitioners throughout the event.
The conference begins this Friday with a tour of the Museum of Public Relations at Baruch College in Manhattan and a networking reception with working professionals–most whom are Hofstra alumni–at the Heartland Brewery in the Empire State Building . The workshops all take place on campus on Saturday and includes a keynote address from Ashley Trager Chauvin of Edelman, one of the world’s largest PR firms, plus resume reviews, professional head shots, lunch, and more networking.
Students can register online or visit the Hofstra PRSSA table in the Student Center atrium. And on March 20, I believe the excitement, growth and learning from the experience will be palpable. Your thoughts?
“As we mourn the loss of Robin Williams to depression, we must recognize it as an opportunity to engage in a national conversation. His death yesterday created a carpe diem moment for mental health professionals and those people who have suffered with depression and want to make a point about the condition and the system that treats it,” Lisa Kovitz, an executive vice president at Edelman, wrote to her clients this week. Kovitz added that most mental health organizations haven’t commented because they’re “trying to be non-exploitative or stay business as usual” but implies that they shouldn’t pass on the opportunity– and that Edelman will encourage its own relevant clients to “consider another approach that is more visible and aggressive.”
It’s a standard PR technique: advise clients to seek exposure in light of current events. Yet this blog created a firestorm within the industry and was roundly criticized by others. The problem: its timing and wording seemed cold at a time when a lot of people are mourning and in shock. Talking Points Memo’s Hunter Walker tweeted that Kovitz “actually wrote a how to guide for clients who want to use Robin Williams’ suicide for publicity.” Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan wrote, “Suicide: only a bad thing if you don’t have a communications strategy prepared,” calling Edelman “soulless.”
“I must believe that at the largest independent PR agency in the world, someone must have raised their hand and said, ‘This is not OK.’ If more than one set of eyes looked at the post and thought it was appropriate, then my faith in this profession might just be lost,” wrote PRSA Vice President Stephanie Cegielski.” This screams of ambulance chasing. Ms. Kovitz’s blog post did nothing more than disgrace and embarrass (the PR) profession…'”
For most of my three decades as a communications professional I put together content and programs for target audiences on behalf of my employers. Whether it was my brief time as a reporter or my lengthier tenure as a public relations practitioner, I worked on instinct, direction from my bosses, and trial-and-error. I also got professional advice and learned about the profession from my colleagues who pretty much used the same approach to do their jobs.
It wasn’t until I starting working in higher education, first on the administration side and then as faculty, did I realize there’s a world of academic research examining our profession. In the area of communication and public relations, university professors, graduate assistants and research teams look at the effectiveness of the tools and techniques professionals use. They analyze PR campaigns and results, audiences and influencers, pedagogy and practice. When I joined Hofstra in 2010 I quickly learned that I would also be involved on the research end of our practice, the goal being the advancement of our profession through journal publications and conference presentations.
This week I’ll attend the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference in Montreal, a several day event which will bring well over a thousand educators and professionals together to share their academic research. Papers will be presented on topics both highly specific (“Chinese Milk Companies and the 2008 Chinese Milk Scandal: An Analysis of Crisis Communication Strategies in a non-Western Setting”) and day-to-day practical (“An Analysis of How Social Media Use is Being Measured in Public Relations Practice”). Professors and graduate students will discuss their findings and we’ll all get a little smarter.
I’ll also be joining a group of more than 100 of my colleagues to visit the Montreal headquarters of Edelman Public Relations where top PR practitioners and managers will share their perspectives on our fast-evolving profession. We’ll hear about their staffing needs and they’ll give us their thoughts on teaching PR. Their positions and the important work of our academic colleagues are essential if we, as educators, are to be effective in the classroom.
In an Edelman PR blog a year ago, Arun Mahtani wrote about how video has emerged as a profoundly important tool for public relations professionals. “In public relations, we’ve always put storytelling front and center. It’s been key to winning media coverage for our clients.”
“In the world of YouTube,” he continued, “it’s real stories about real people that reign supreme. The site is flooded with users documenting their lives and thoughts. Brands and companies have leveraged this trend… In this new reality, our talents as public relations professionals are in demand. We just need to understand how video has changed. And be bolder about our abilities.”
It used to be that video was something someone else produced for the purpose of promotion, usually to advertise a product. PR practitioners would only flirt with video production, occasionally working on public service announcements for nonprofits, or sometimes producing a video news release. Today, according to a number of sources, using video in blogs, on websites, and on YouTube channels boosts search engine optimization (SEO) so much so that a client is 50 times more likely to appear on page one of a Google search.
What does this mean for public relations professionals? It means we all better get more comfortable and knowledgeable about video production, and learn basic scripting, lighting, shooting, and editing.
The good news is it has become relatively easy to produce good video; in fact. some of my students’ PSA projects are shot with an Iphone and edited in Imovie, and come out looking nearly professional. Video, desktop publishing, photography and other tools have become such a part of PR that we’re thinking about developing an advance course in public relations tools, building on the fundamental tools class we require of Hofstra’s PR majors.
“Authenticity is another factor that plays to our skill-set,” wrote Mahtani. “Like journalists, we are experts in showing people the way the world is, rather than constructing an alternate reality.” Which means we all better get good at using video to tell our stories. Your thoughts?
NOTE FROM JEFF MOROSOFF: Each semester, my public relations students in Hofstra University’s Honors College are required to contribute posts to my blog. The following guest post was written by sophomore Nyala Stagger:
In January, Arik Hanson, principal at digital communications consultancy ACH Communications, wrote an article about the hit television show, Scandal, and its representation of the PR industry. In this article he questioned other public relations professionals from top firms of the country and got their opinion of the show and its relation to PR.
When I initially saw the title, “Does Scandal’s Olivia Pope represent the PR industry well?” I automatically answered, “Of course!” being a proud gladiator (as fans and followers of Pope are called). She represents some of what I hope to be as a PR professional: passionate, savvy, quick-witted, strategic, and most importantly effective.
As I continued to read, however, I had to admit to myself that, like any other television show, Scandal is a fictionalization of the real world, and thus, some of Olivia Pope’s work as a crisis management consultant and campaign aide are very far from the truth. Obviously the task of covering up a murder committed by a top politician wouldn’t be a part of my day-to-day life in the PR industry.
Despite the campaign rigging, crime scene clean ups, and an affair with the president of the United States, nevertheless, Olivia Pope still exhibits some PR skills that are great examples for a public relations student, like me, including improving her clients’ public image, producing relationships with her clients and the public via the media, understanding the basic needs of people, and being tactful and strategic with decisions about her clients to satisfy those needs. As Anuli Akanegbu of Edelman said in Arik Hanson’s article, Olivia Pope “is a problem-solver that thinks quickly, strategically and creatively as any good PR practitioner should.”
How well do you think Scandal blurs the lines of fiction and reality? Do you think it gives people the wrong impression of an already hard-to-define profession or should she still be applauded for the great public relations skills she exhibits?
In my world, it seems that Steve Rubel is speaking everywhere. And what he’s saying concerns me.
A Hofstra University graduate, Steve is chief content strategist at Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm. His role (as I understand it) is to study and report on trends in social media, and how they affect the business of providing content. In recent presentations at Hofstra and the Fair Media Council, and in this month’s edition of Public Relations Tactics, Steve talked about trends that may forever change the way we receive news.
Quoted by Kyra Aufferman in the article, “Edelman’s Steve Rubel on content disruption,” Steve says communicators have to come up with new strategies to break through the masses of available media. “There’s a difference between the news you read and news you say you’re reading,” he believes. “One is to elevate your private self and the other is to elevate your public self. We (communicators) have to be thinking about that in the way we tell stories.”
Steve sees the lines blurring between journalistic content and content provided by PR and advertising people. “Brands and corporations now feel confident that they can tell their own stories in their own way,” bypassing traditional media outlets and using converging media to communicate directly with their publics in a two-way, feedback-friendly environment. This also means that paid content is showing up as news in social media platforms. Kyra Aufferman writes, “Today, more media companies are willing to collaborate with brands to place sponsored content–even the AP started posting paid tweets on their Twitter feed.”
We should be concerned. Does this mean that paid content and “free” content on social media, generated by professional communicators, could be disguised as reported news and perhaps take its place? It could happen–and Steve Rubel says it’s already happening. This puts a lot of potential power in the PR practitioners’ hands. Of course, to quote Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” As always, PR people must strive to create honest, responsible content for our new media platforms. Your thoughts?