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Jul
02

Just a Public Relations Move

It happened today. Someone I have known closely over 20 years, and who is VERY familiar with what I do for a living and what public relations is, actually said the evil words: “They just did it as a PR move,” when referring to a cosmetic action made by his employer to avoid making a substantial operational move that was badly needed.

That he said it was bad enough. That he said it to ME is worse. That he said it automatically, without thought, is horrible. When I called him on it, he dug himself deeper by saying, “you know what I meant.” Yes, I did know what he meant. I knew EXACTLY what he meant. And I seethed for quite a while afterward. I stewed over how to communicate just how much that hurt, coming as it did from one person I would trust completely. Read the rest of this entry »

Jun
22

Putting a Foundation Under a Writing Dream

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
― Henry David ThoreauWalden

Anyone who knows me has heard me vent about the quality of writing in many of the public relations students I teach, and the issues I have with the textbook we use in class. I have spent the past several years collecting articles to supplement the perceived gaps in the textbook, and writing handouts about specific elements when I couldn’t find anything that explained issues or techniques to my satisfaction. But despite all this, I’m still not satisfied. And since I’ve always detested people who sit there and bitch about something, yet won’t lift a finger to improve the situation, I’ve decided to write my own book on PR writing. So there.

Now it’s no longer just a writing dream – or maybe that’s a nightmare? Now it’s down in black and white, posted out there for the entire world to see: I. Am. Writing. A. Book.

Now I don’t have a choice. And to make it even more definite, I’m setting a goal of finishing the first draft by Labor Day. So check back periodically and I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going. And if any of my PR or marketing colleagues have suggestions or pet peeves they’d like to see covered, feel free to submit them, and I’ll see if I can work them into the book – with proper credit, of course!

Now on to the writing!

Jun
01

The Pain of Words: #YesAllWomen and David Ortiz

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will never hurt me

Except when they do.

When someone hurls cruel words at another person, the intent of the insult is to hurt, to taunt, to degrade and inflict pain on the targeted person. Take yesterday’s brawl between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. The fight was triggered by David Ortiz being hit by a pitch from Tampa’s David Price. Normally I don’t pay attention; bench-clearing brawls are a dime a dozen in professional sports. But in venting to the media afterward, Ortiz hurled an insult Price’s way that caught my attention: “You can’t be acting like a little girl out there. You aren’t going to win all of the time. When you give it up, that is an experience for the next time. If you are going to be acting like a little b—- every time you give it up and put your teammates in jeopardy, that is going to cost you.”

Normally I would just let this slide. I’ve heard all things female used as a metaphor for all things nasty and ineffectual my entire life, so that I no longer notice it. However, Ortiz saying this in the aftermath of the shooting at the University of California-Santa Barbara and the growth of the #YesAllWomen conversation online really caught my attention.

You want to know why there’s a persistent problem with domestic violence in this country? Just look at Ortiz’s words, and consider the unspoken message: that women are bad. That to be “like a girl” is to the worst thing you can be, especially in a masculine world of professional sports. The effects of these insults on the rest of us aren’t taken into consideration by the one doing the insulting. Of course, we don’t want to become so thin-skinned we can’t bear to hear the most minor complaint, no matter how justified…. but there are still people who think that nasty, ill-intentioned words denigrating women and girls aren’t a big deal. In reality, they are, especially given the recent events in Santa Barbara. Read the rest of this entry »

May
26

Don’t Talk Yourself Out of a PR Career

Young woman sticking her tongue outI recently read a blog post from someone I know who’s hunting for a job. It was posted on Facebook and, I’m assuming, other social media sites as well, which is bad, because in it he makes a strong case against ever being hired in the PR profession.

I’ve observed this person, and even made attempts to provide contacts, tips, and professional development opportunities, to no avail. Since I can’t seem to help this person individually (and I’m not going to name him publicly), I’m going to explain in general terms what he’s doing wrong, in the hopes that others might avoid these same mistakes…and yes, I’ll be venting a little, because it’s incredibly frustrating to watch someone self-destruct professionally and alienate the very people he needs on his side in his job search. He’s working hard at never working professionally again, and is close to succeeding. He’s certainly succeeded in making me stop attempting to help. My first reaction after reading his blog post was distinctly unprofessional, I’ll admit. After taking some time to cool off and do some unprofessional venting of my own to the sympathetic ears of my spouse and dogs, I decided to try to help in a more general, professional way. Read the rest of this entry »

Dec
15

Old Dogs Already Know the New Tricks: Ageism in Hiring

Man Looking At Job Ads“Buy low and sell high.” That’s how you make money. You buy your stocks or your raw materials at one price, then sell the stocks, your services or your finished product at a higher price that pays your expenses and salaries, and leaves a profit left over. It’s simple, right?

So why is it that when it comes to stocks and employees, we seem to be incapable of understanding and acting on this very simple premise? We rush to buy stocks when they’re “hot” and prices are at their highest, then sell when they fail to reach even higher heights and perform as we expect them to. Big surprise.

The same faulty thinking applies to hiring, particularly in the PR field. The recession created an incredible pool of experienced talent available at a bargain price, but what do we do? We keep chasing the same pool of inexperienced employees that need a significant investment in training and education before they can be a fully functional member of your team.

Studies cited by AARP highlight the myths held by HR and hiring managers, including that older applicants were more likely to be burned-out, resistant to new technologies, absent due to illness, poor at working with younger supervisors and reluctant to travel, are less creative, less productive, slower mentally and more expensive to employ.

“But Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of business and coauthor (with former AARP CEO Bill Novelli) of the 2010 book Managing the Older Worker, has looked more closely at these stereotypes, pulling together research from fields like economics, demography and psychology. What he determined: Virtually none of them holds up.

When it comes to actual job performance, Cappelli says, older employees soundly thrash their younger colleagues. “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age,” he declares. ‘I thought the picture might be more mixed, but it isn’t. The juxtaposition between the superior performance of older workers and the discrimination against them in the workplace just really makes no sense.’”

But many employers are uncomfortable with the professional skills of younger workers.

“A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.”

Our stereotypes and prejudices are preventing us from finding the best, most qualified employee because we stop looking at many candidates for reasons that have absolutely no connection with how they do their job. How do we “know” that a new college graduate can’t function effectively solve problems? Did you ask them for an example of when they’ve been faced with a problem they were responsible for solving? How do we “know” that a 50+ worker doesn’t know technology or social media?

Here’s one opinion from a Millennial who decided to insert herself into a LinkedIn group discussion on ageism in the PR profession. The name has been withheld to protect the guilty:

Though I do believe that older employees due hold more reliability and comfort to the company in which they work for. However, the face of media is rapidly changing as technology is taking over or at least being implicated into business plans. Because of this fact, I think that younger professionals have more of an advantage because we grew up in an environment where we were able to watch and participate in many social networking sites. We know how it works and understand how to use it. I am not saying that an older professional could not figure how to utilize these strategies to benefit the company, I’ve personally found that many of those who have been in the industry for a while unwilling and still are unable to see the value that technology provides. I think the only solution is to mix the new with the old, then we would be able to use the expertise of our senior executives while still providing insight as to the benefits of technology.

Acceptance of technology is key–after all, our generation is integrating into the PR field and your resistance and bitterness isn’t going to stop it. We all have value in this profession and if we work together, imagine how successful we would be. @John: I’m sorry if you don’t agree with my quick response via iPhone (technology at its finest), but maybe you should focus your energy on how to effectively communicate with others and stop taking your bitterness out on younger generations.

I kid you not. She does have a valid point, once you restrain your twitching fingers from reaching for your red pen. She also demonstrates a significant bit of cluelessness as the young (and some not-so-young) so often do in her post. She chose to insert herself into a social media group of mostly 45 and up professionals sharing our personal experiences with age discrimination to tell us we don’t understand/aren’t willing to learn how to use social media, and essentially said it’s our own fault that we’re discriminated against. And when the inevitable blowback occurred, she resorted to the Millennial version of the-dog-ate-my-homework excuse: “It’s the phone’s fault.” MmmHmmm. Sure. Good way to persuade persuade people.

The whole point of my argument was actually summed up very well (and more diplomatically) by another Millennial who participated in the same discussion, Ashlee Espegnell:

I think this kind of a hiring trend hurts everyone in the long run. I worry that if companies stop having experienced PR/comm people on staff to mentor new employees, they’re going to end up with a workforce full of people who know the tech but not the important aspects of the business (clients, past successes/failures, etc). I personally would prefer to learn the practical application of skills from someone who’s had experience doing it; not from a company’s social media strategy document! It’s also not particularly encouraging for new people in the industry to think that there may not be long-term job prospects out there. Here’s hoping – for all of us! – that this trend doesn’t continue.

So how do we fix this? How do we persuade employers and HR departments that age is irrelevant, that it’s attitude and ability that matters most? I’m open to ideas.

 

Dec
12

Apologies and Leaders: It’s Simple, Really

Does saying “I’m sorry” help? As with most things in life, the answer is: it depends. For an apology to work, it needs to be real. It needs to be unequivocal and sincere. You can’t tap dance around the issue with phrases so beloved of corporate offenders such as, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by [insert the sin du jour].

No you’re not. You’re sorry someone is offended, not that you committed the offense. You’re sorry you got caught, and you’re trying to get away with the barest amount of public remorse so you can go back to doing whatever you shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. Too many company leaders try to wiggle out of actually being sorry with backdoor escapes like this. It’s no wonder people are cynical about corporate executives and politicians these days, with what passes for apologies out there. Read the rest of this entry »

Dec
10

Sunday Coffee Contemplations: Battling the Blog

iStock_000018161229XSmallWhy is it so hard to write a blog post? I have my own personal blog (obviously, you’re reading it), plus my company blog, and to top it off, I teach writing to aspiring PR professionals. Should be a breeze, right? Except that it isn’t. Just look at how long it’s been since my last blog post.

I will do ANYTHING rather than sit down and write a blog post. Well, almost anything. I’ll wash dishes, pull weeds, walk the dogs, anything! And Facebook! FB is a fantastic procrastination tool. I can kill HOURS on FB, sharing snarky political memes and photos of lost dogs.

I don’t know what it is about that blank screen that wipes my mind free of inspiration faster than Bounty’s Quicker Picker Upper – it soaks up all my ideas and leaves no trace behind.

So how to overcome writer’s block? Here’s my Top 10 ways to get the creative juices flowing: Read the rest of this entry »

Aug
06

Journalist, Heal Thyself First

Shut up. I don’t want to hear another word or snarky remark from journalists about the supposed ethical shortcomings of PR professionals. Not after former broadcaster Mike Snyder created fake social media accounts to wage a public war with Nasher Sculpture Center over the Museum Tower on behalf of his client, the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System.

Snyder used fake Facebook accounts to “flame” and attack opponents over the  glare of sunlight reflected into the Nasher by the 42-story condominium tower, which is owned by the pension system. Snyder, hiding behind these personas, posted comments to online news articles defending pension officials and attacking the Nasher Center, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and others, according to The Dallas Morning News. The conflict led the Dallas chapter of the Public Relations Society of America to issue the following sharply worded statement:

“In the strongest terms possible the Public Relations Society of America, Dallas Chapter repudiates the actions of someone claiming to practice public relations. Re: Museum Tower Skullduggery – ex-newsman Mike Snyder, who admits to creating fake social media accounts, does not represent the PRSA Dallas chapter. He is not a member, never has been a member and never will be a member.” - Rand LaVonn, President PRSA Dallas

Snyder has been quoted as defending their use as part of a larger effort embraced by the pension system to “facilitate a community dialogue.” Really? Lying and throwing attack bombs is how you facilitate community dialogue? I must have missed that chapter in my PR class in college.

The paper goes on to quote Snyder as saying:

“Social media is an integral part of this information process and open to anyone who wishes to participate,” he wrote, “and they may participate in anonymity if they choose to do so.”

Snyder is correct…technically. But I’d like to know how he would have responded as a journalist to an interview subject who tried that excuse on him in his broadcasting days. Somehow I can envision high-minded pontificating on the forces of PR Evil attempting to unduly influence the good citizens of Dallas. To be fair, I don’t know if that’s what would actually happen, but with journalists’ history of using PR as their favorite pejorative, it’s a fair assumption.

My point is that ethical behavior is not dictated by the profession you choose, unless you choose to be a crook, which is another subject completely. Ethical behavior is integral to who you are as a person. You don’t suddenly check your ethics at the door, just because you retire from journalism and decide to call yourself a PR person – which doesn’t actually make you a PR person, by the way. It’s not an easy profession, and it takes more than a journalism background, or being a “people person” to be even a mediocre public relations executive, just as it takes more than an ability to read a teleprompter to be a journalist.

From the sound of it, Mike Snyder belongs in neither profession.

Jun
22

PR has a PR Problem…and it’s Journalists, Pt. I

Late last night, as I sat grading final projects from my PR writing students, I had one of the all-news TV stations droning on in the background for the noise to keep me going, I heard it. The “P” word. Actually, he said the “P words – plural.

PR Problem.

As in, “that company has a PR problem,” meaning that company has been caught with doing something it shouldn’t  and now needs to whitewash its sins. Cue the insincere gaggle of spinmeisters, racing in to dish out the fluff, to distract everyone and make it all better so the company can go back to business as usual, screwing the public. Hmmm….sorry, I don’t see any racing going on.

In a way, it’s not the fault of the anchor tasked with filling that particular hour on a Friday evening with trying to make the endless repetition of news interesting. He was just using a term that is all too common in the news media. And it’s our fault – we PR people. We allowed it to happen. And now we’re paying for it… and I’m fed up with it.

It’s no secret that the PR profession has more than its share of people who don’t belong in it. People who can’t write, can’t spell, and think that there’s nothing more to it than being a “people person” with “charisma” [insert your best high school voice here]. As a professional wordsmith and teach of PR writing, this drives me nuts. Journalism has its share of the guilty as well, which is the topic of another blog post.

For most of the last century and this one, journalists have seen themselves guardians of the public, watchdogs for the voiceless, enshrined in the aura of the Bill of Rights. PR people, on the other hand are the Evil Ones, corrupt purveyors of the Dark Arts, sinister shadowy beings….well, you get the idea.

PR execs tend to have a deep-seated respect for reporters and the journalistic world. Many of us started out as journalists, others were taught in college that journalists were the ultimate wordsmiths. We grew up idolizing Edward R. Murrow, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Walter Cronkite and others of their ilk. After all, who else spends so much time studying reporters, their habits and preferences? We obsess over every interaction, every word, every contact with reporters. Major companies such as Cision, Vocus, BurrellesLuce and others provide detailed dossiers on what subjects they cover, and how they prefer to be contacted. We’re more obsessed with them than the most dedicated stalker.

And how is that devotion returned? Journalists casually use terms like “PR ploy, PR problem, flacks,” etc., as their favorite pejorative, to the point where PR has become synonymous with lies, cover ups, corruption and any number of other sins. Don’t believe me? Just Google “Journalists hate PR.”

And in our reverence and reluctance to cross those almighty reporters who hold the key to coverage of our clients, we have allowed them to saddle our profession with a reputation it doesn’t deserve.

We can’t afford to live in fear of the Big Bad Reporter anymore. According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists:

Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should:

— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.

[Emphasis mine]

That goes for accidental, casual distortion as well. I think it’s time that journalists reexamine their choice of words, and stop unfairly maligning the public relations profession. For the good of both PR and journalism, we need to speak up when we as a profession are unfairly maligned.

More on this topic later.

Jun
17

Farewell to Arthur Yann, APR

Last Thursday night, Arthur Yann, Vice President of Public Relations for the Public Relations Society of America, was doing something most of us do every day. He was

Arthur Yann, APR
1964 – 2013

commuting home from a long day at work when he suffered a massive heart attack and passed away. He was only 48. Just a few months younger than I am. In the same profession, doing the same things I do every day. It’s more than a shock – it’s just surreal. People our age don’t just suddenly die without warning. But he did. He left behind his wife Amy and his young daughter, Sofia, and lots of memories.

I first met Arthur at one of PRSA’s national Assemblies, the governing body of the professional society of which we are both members. Arthur was just settling into his role at PRSA; I was in my first year as a delegate representing my chapter. But I really got to know Arthur during the debate over the accreditation requirement for PRSA officers as part of our massive bylaws revision a few years ago. The delegates’ conference calls leading up to the Assembly were almost exclusively focused on this issue, and it engendered many passionate discussions. It also attracted the attention of a perennial PRSA gadfly, who sought to distort the debates as a tool in his never-ending vendetta against PRSA, and decided to use me as one of his tools. He did so by doctoring quotes and attributing them to me.

People who know me know that I am passionate about this profession, and I am extremely vocal about it. I generally don’t have to explain who I am to the staff at PRSA in New York. Being somewhat mouthy, as soon as I found out about the quotes I immediately spoke out against this publicly, and since it involved PRSA, I gave Arthur a call to give him a heads up. The gadfly was persistent…and so was I. Which means Arthur and I got acquainted rather quickly over the whole issue. It became an annual event for a few years, up to and including last fall’s International Conference.

When I feel strongly about something that attacks me personally, I can get pretty scathing, and Arthur had the unenviable task more than once of lowering my professional pressure gauge to manageable levels,  getting me to voluntarily edit out some of my harsher rhetoric even though, in my opinion, it was my best writing.

He had a wonderful sense of humor, which is a must-have quality for this profession, especially when you are the PR person for the PR profession’s association. It was never more on display than at last fall’s Assembly, when we were talking in the back of the room during a break about our latest favorite single malt scotch. The members of the national nominating committee had a prank planned on Committee Chair Gary McCormick involving those countertop bells you see in businesses. A committee member walked up to me to get a bell – and I was caught red-handed. Arthur stopped mid-sentence, laughed, and then just asked if I had any spares.

The last time I talked to Arthur, we joked that one of these days we were going to gather the scotch drinkers at the conference for an evening sampling single malts and swapping favorites. We’d talked about doing it off and on, but it always ended up being “next year.” Unfortunately, we won’t get that chance now. But this fall, I will make sure that “next year” becomes “this year” – even though it won’t be the same without him. And I’ll never put off seeing friends again. Another lesson learned from Arthur.

Arthur meant a great deal to our profession, and everyone who knew him is grieving his loss. I can’t imagine how his wife and daughter feel at this moment, losing him so suddenly, and so close to Father’s Day. I know the Assembly and PRSA won’t be the same now. I hope some of the stories being shared on various blogs and PRSA’s Facebook page will bring comfort to his family. Amy and Sofia, please know you are in our thoughts and prayers.

Slainté, Arthur.

Note: Additional tributes to Arthur from Bill Murray at PRSA can be found at In Memoriam Arthur Yann, from Gini Dietrich at Rest in Peace Arthur Yann, and from Martin Waxman at A Tribute to Arthur Yann, APR

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