“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?
Her au pair asks, “Ready to go?” She doesn’t respond, her thumb on Instagram. A Barbara Walters meme is on the screen. She scrolls, and another meme appears. Then another meme, and she closes the app. She opens BuzzFeed. There’s a story about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, which she scrolls past to get to a story about Janet Jackson, then “28 Things You’ll Understand If You’re Both British and American.” She closes it. She opens Instagram. She opens the NBA app. She shuts the screen off. She turns it back on. She opens Spotify. Opens Fitbit. She has 7,427 steps. Opens Instagram again. Opens Snapchat. She watches a sparkly rainbow flow from her friend’s mouth. She watches a YouTube star make pouty faces at the camera. She watches a tutorial on nail art. She feels the bump of the driveway and looks up. They’re home. Twelve minutes have passed.
Thus begins 13, right now, a fascinating story from Jessica Contrera in May 25’s Washington Post, focusing on one 13-year-old girl’s relationship with the Internet. Much of what she learns and experiences comes from a supercharged combination of mediated messages, entertainment content and online peer relationships.
This topic is also explored in a recent documentary titled Screenagers, about teen addiction to smart phones. “Only three percent of teens’ screen time involves creating stuff, according to Common Sense Media. The rest of it is devoted to consuming video and music content, playing games and using social media,” notes a February article in Forbes’ by Keith Wagstaff.
How our relationships with screens affects communication today in terms of marketing, advertising, public relations, news, entertainment, etc. is speedily evolving. For those in the industry, the challenge of reaching people with our messages is daunting. If this 13-year-old engaged with a half a dozen platforms and saw scores of images in just 12 minutes, how will our messages reach her and her demographic? Can we penetrate the harmonies and cacophonies of the Internet and its maddening number of entertainment and information options? What skills do PR professional now need in a communication environment of total immersion? Your thoughts?
“spin” (public relations) — In public relations, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion…While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, “spin” often implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics. — Wikipedia
As a PR teacher and practitioner, it upsets me terribly when I see the awful “spin” word used to describe our profession. Yet, “spin” remains front-of-mind when people think of public relations. Sadly, “spin” and PR have been linked for a long time.
The first known use of “spin” as related to story-telling appeared in 1812 in James Hardy Vaux’s A new and comprehensive vocabulary of the flash language, describing when sailors would go about, “yarning or ‘spinning’ a yarn, signifying to relate their various adventures, exploits, and escapes to each other.”
“Spin” re-emerged around 1980 when the terms “spin doctor” and “spin control” became closely associated with politics. In 1996, Stuart Ewen wrote a best seller titled, “PR! A Social History of Spin.” Larry Tye followed up with “The Father of Spin: Edward Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations.” And just a year ago, an article by Cheryl Connor appeared in Forbes with the headline, “The Death of ‘Spin’ (Will it Kill the Future of Public Relations?)” She wrote, “In many people’s minds, the world of PR is the world of spin. Next to hired assassins or hackers, perhaps, PR is often considered the world’s most ungodly career.”
Stuart Ewen, now a distinguished professor at Hunter College, will be lecturing on March 25 at the Museum of Public Relations on the legacy of Edward Bernays. I hope he’ll take the opportunity to explain–and denounce–the use of the word “spin” in his book’s title. It’s disparaging and disrespectful to those who practice PR ethically.
Thomas Hoog, former CEO of Hill+Knowlton, told participants at PRSSA’s national convention in October, “In PR, we’re all about truth. There’s no place for ‘spin’ in our profession.” As students and practitioners, let’s find ways to forever expunge the association of “spin” and PR. Your thoughts?
Film comedy fans are celebrating the 40th anniversary of “Blazing Saddles,” Mel Brooks’ landmark film which Entertainment Weekly said “redefined comedy forever.” It’s the story of a couple of crooked politicians in 1874 who appoint a black prisoner the sheriff of a Western town so they can drive out the townspeople and build a railroad through it. The movie, famous for its outrageous characters and a singularly hilarious beans-around-the-campfire scene, uses the “n” word 17 times, according to various Internet sources. Yet “Blazing Saddles” is on most critics’ lists among the funniest comedies of all time.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling made controversial remarks about African-Americans in a private conversation that was recorded and later made public. Although he didn’t use the “n” word, he’s been found–in the court of public opinion–guilty of extreme racial prejudice, and has subsequently been barred from basketball. Now it’s likely that the other National Basketball Association (NBA) team owners will force Sterling to sell the team.
So why do we celebrate a 40-year old movie that liberally sprinkles racial and other prejudices throughout, and yet we feel compelled to throw an 80-year old bigot out of professional basketball? Let me suggest a couple of reasons:
First, no one should be subjected to bigotry. Second, the NBA is an international brand. “In recent years,” wrote Alicia Jessop in Forbes in February, “the league has…develop(ed) its brand outside of the United States’ borders. The NBA has done this by, amongst other things, establishing league offices overseas, developing training facilities outside of the U.S. and supporting various goodwill initiatives globally.” Jessop noted that 312 international media members from 46 countries traveled to Houston to cover the NBA All-Star game last year.
As a worldwide brand, the NBA depends on goodwill, good PR, and projecting a positive image. Sterling’s comments put that image at risk.
Mel Brooks made “Blazing Saddles” to effectively laugh at prejudice and expose its heinous stupidity. It worked. The NBA is now compelled to punish that same prejudice– and do it very publicly. Your thoughts?
A PR blog I recently read featured an article from Cheryl Conner in Forbes titled, “Why Toughest Bosses Are Best.” She wrote that bosses who set high expectations, never give unearned praise, and articulate clear goals and milestones are most desirable. She posted Jill Geisler’s “Seven Deadly Sins of the Too-Nice Boss,” which lists how softies-in-charge get little accomplished. I began reflecting on my own bosses during my 31 years working and teaching in public relations.
Not counting agency work, I had 15 different bosses in that time period, from college presidents to politicians to heads of nonprofits. Only a handful were “tough,” and the others were somewhere between wishy-washy and downright silly. The silly bosses were self-absorbed and unfocused, and were most concerned about their next promotion or job. The wishy-washy bosses were either competent professionals who rarely took a stand; or they were too nice, allowing for staff complacency and incompetence. This only resulted in frustration for those who worked hard to pick up the slack.
I think my least favorite boss was the person who wanted my suggestions but never empowered me to take action. That individual would endorse my plans one day and nix them the next without explaining why.
My tough bosses could be very tough. One of them never praised, or said “thank you;” his autocratic style sometimes scared me. But he set the bar high and expected his staff to reach it, which made me try to look at my work through his eyes. My favorite tough bosses were very smart and would respect the work done by my colleagues and me, taking the time to explain the rationale behind their decisions.
Extremely high on my boss list was the person who gave me my first PR job. She was a true professional and a mentor. Like a good teacher, she allowed me to make decisions and mistakes, encouraged me to be self-reliant, and always took the time to explain. I’ll always be indebted to her, one of my kindest–and toughest–bosses. Your thoughts?