The News Release is not Dead, but it’s Dying

It’s been over a year since my last entry, but for good reason! I’ve been working as a social media coordinator for almost two years now, building an online brand and reputation that has thrived since my humble start at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in August 2013. A job in social media may sound fun to most since it’s something we all use on a daily basis, but it takes an incredible amount of hard work, dedication, planning and strategy to manage social media for a company or organization. I’ve been fortunate enough to promote the great research being done at the institute via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Instagram, and the most rewarding part of it all is getting to learn about Florida’s natural environment and the many fascinating marine science and research projects happening around the state. I’m learning something new everyday, and the knowledge I’ve gained over the last year and a half is something I never could have never imagined when I first started in this position.

One thing I’ve come to find out while immersed in a social media career is that the media no longer relies on the traditional news release for ideas and story leads. Reporters now have the luxury of scanning social media sites for story ideas, and the PR industry has benefited by reaching the media via different channels. On the institute’s Facebook page, print reporters and local, state and national television news stations track our content on a weekly basis, and our stories have gone viral from news outlets picking them up directly from our social media channels. As our audience has grown larger, we’ve become more aware that the general public is not our only target audience. Technology and the rise of social media has transformed the PR industry for the better, and it’s given us an opportunity to foster trust and good will with not only the public but with members of the media. The news release will always be a staple in our profession, but social media gives PR pros another avenue for reaching reporters at the right time, with the right message and on the right medium.

Social media is here to stay, and public relations professionals need to begin identifying how it can be best leveraged to achieve important communications goals for a client, company or organization.



Publicity Does Not Define Public Relations

the oscars
Publicity and public relations do not go hand in hand. As a communications professional it’s easy to make this distinction, but to  the general public it may not be as easy to differentiate the two. The 2014 Oscars are tonight, and while it’s a great event honoring our best and brightest in film, a problem still persists that continues to plague the PR industry, which is suffering from mistaken identity.

To put it lightly, the entertainment industry has belittled the value of public relations. If an actress sleeps with her married director (cough Kristen Stewart) and her reputation is at stake, what are the first words you hear? Public relations. Need to do some damage control? Get the PR person on it, because that’s clearly all we do as PR professionals. Our profession strives for transparency, trust, and a strategic approach to communication. A word like publicity is grouped with public relations so often, that if you don’t study our trade it’s easy to assume public relations is superficial and lacking depth.

Unfortunately we have many forces working against us, with the media as one of the primary culprits. They’ve perpetuated the false idea that public relations is only newsworthy and relevant when a major crisis erupts. Crisis communications is only one of many concentrations that fall under the large umbrella of public relations. Our work is not one-dimensional, but to outsiders I can see why that common misconception is alive and well.

To fix this problem, we must do what we do best. Educate, then persuade the public to maintain a certain point of view about what we really do as communications professionals. We’ve had a difficult time branding this new era of public relations, which isn’t just about manipulating news stories and unethical practices of the early years. Our profession has matured, and it’s time to make an effort to change the negative, uninformed perceptions and attitudes associated with PR.

Weiner Sacrificing his Reputation for a Chance to Become NYC Mayor

anthony-weiner-loses-campaign-manager-suffers-a-brutal-day-on-the-sunday-talk-showsAfter months of ridicule spawning from leaked photos of Anthony Weiner exposing himself to multiple women via Twitter, he’s recently made the decision to continue his New York City mayoral campaign. The man’s got more balls than I do, (see what I did there?) but his choice to stay in the race is unwise on many fronts. He’s surrounded himself with yes men, and he has no business running for mayor with all of this negative publicity affecting his personal and professional life.

His situation is dire. Ultimately it’s his call on whether to ride out the storm or drop out of the race, but at this point he should be more concerned about repairing his severely damaged reputation. Weiner’s dilemma can be compared to a PR firm working with a client in a time of crisis. The client may think they know what’s best as far as goals, strategies and tactics to implement, but a forward-thinking client will take a PR consultant’s advice seriously to eventually agree on an effective crisis communications plan.

Weiner is acting as the client who is disillusioned, uncooperative and stubborn. Dropping out of this race in his eyes would be a blow to his pride, but sometimes you need to swallow that pride and make the selfless decision to cut your losses. If I were his publicist, I would strongly urge him to put the mayoral campaign on hold and focus on stabilizing areas of his life outside of politics. The countless hours he’s spent on the campaign trail could have been better spent improving relations with his wife Huma or attending sessions with a therapist to eliminate his embarrassing problem.

The title of my post says it all. By staying in this race, he’s digging himself into a deeper hole by choosing short-term success over long-term happiness. In order to save his political career, Weiner must take care of personal matters first to show his family, friends, supporters and the voting public that he’s ready to be back in the limelight.

Publicists and Unethical PR Pros Abuse Reddit’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ Feature

FailIf you’re unfamiliar with the popular social news site Reddit, chances are you have no idea what my headline  suggests. For nonusers, Reddit’s functionality is relatively simple. Users post content, whether it be pictures, news articles, memes or gifs, then registered Reddit users have the option of upvoting or downvoting content based on how funny, interesting, creative or relevant each submission may be. The best content on the site will normally acquire a lot of upvotes, which in time will push the best content to the front pages of Reddit. Each post is divided into subreddits, which essentially are categories where similar content is posted. If your post is meant to be funny, (most aren’t) then you would post it to the r/funny subreddit.

Now that we have the nonusers up to speed, I want to bring up an issue within the confines of Reddit that is smearing the reputation of publicists, press agents and the public relations industry as a whole. The subreddit, IAmA, or Ask me Anything, gives Redditors the opportunity to interact with celebrities, thought leaders, musicians and anyone with a great story to tell by asking them questions on a live feed within the subreddit.

A great example that comes to mind is comedian Louie C.K’s recent IAmA, which can be found here. His genuine responses went over well with the Reddit community, and his honesty and integrity with each reply shows how much he values his fans. If used correctly, the platform is a great way to gain exposure by nontraditional means.

But if you ask Morgan Freeman or Woody Harrelson how their appearances on Reddit went, they may have different stories to tell. These men are two excellent actors, but the way they handled their AMAs resulted in a PR shit storm when it was all said and done. Each of their lazy, thoughtless responses to fan’s questions made it seem like a publicist was on the other end churning out bullshit response after bullshit response with genuineness nowhere to be found.

The worst part about it is we will never know if a publicist is acting unethically by doing these AMAs on behalf of the actual celebrity or musician involved. Either way, it’s hurting both parties involved. The actor catches flack for dishonesty and an overall lack of transparency, and the public relations industry suffers because there are publicists out there with terrible morals who ruin it for those of use who work with a sense of integrity.

If we ever want to be respected and trusted as an industry, these practices need to stop. We have a code of ethics for a reason, and it needs to be followed and enforced for the long-term stability of our profession.

Changing Perceptions of a Misunderstood Profession

The negative and often misunderstood perception of public relations professionals and the entire industry has been the thorn in our profession’s paw for decades. We’re managing the reputation and image of clients we represent, but what’s being done to manage the reputation of our own industry?

The C-suite is starting to realize the value of public relations toward the overall success of an organization. If we want the respect we deserve as a profession, PR executives must be included in strategic business decisions made by top executives. The tides have slowly been changing, and it’s exciting to see the influence public relations has garnered in recent years.

It boils down to an industry’s damaging image that’s been shaped by the media, television and the ethical wrongdoings of days past. There’s a common misconception about what we do as PR professionals. For a thorough, accurate explanation of what we actually do as practitioners, this PRSA article sums it up perfectly.

If we’re hoping to improve our industry’s reputation and gain influence atop the corporate ladder, we must:

  • Prove our worth by using appropriate measurement standards to tie in PR plans and strategies to the bottom line of a company
  • Not let publicity define public relations
  • Highlight and enforce our Code of Ethics to ensure the profession continues to be positively perceived in the eyes of consumers and other professions.
  • Change the stigma of PR pros being viewed as flacks or spin doctors. Transparency and openness is crucial toward the success of our profession for the long term.
  • Practice corporate social responsibility by supporting the communities and people you serve. These good deeds humanize our industry and make it clear that philanthropy, not profit, is at the heart of what we do.

This is clearly not an extensive list, but surely a  proactive vision toward a fresh start. The work we do for clients is invaluable, and our good practices and efforts should be better recognized and appreciated.

Brands Need to Make a Better Effort to Engage Audiences via Social Media

Two weeks ago, I sent a friendly tweet to the PRWeek twitter account asking if they had any plans to improve the sound quality of their weekly podcasts. Weeks went by with no reply, and my inquiry remained unanswered. I work in an industry that stresses the importance of audience engagement and participation, and as a fan of PRWeek’s insight and content I felt devalued when my simple, one sentence question went unanswered.

Social media transformed the PR industry in many unique ways. Never before have we been able to reach targeted audiences in a space where everyone can share content, ideas and opinions with friends, family and complete strangers. It’s been an absolute game changer within the public relations profession. My experience made me realize that some companies and organizations don’t place enough value on social media and the trust it creates with an audience. It can be time consuming for social media managers to sift through each individual twitter mention and send tailored replies, but going the extra mile ensures people will remain loyal to your brand.

What consumers want more than anything is a sense of belonging and knowing that their voice is being heard. Social media is an effective customer service tool, and it’s often the platforms brands can use to make a good first impression.

Media Fragmentation and Monitoring

While social media has become a dominant player in mass communications, it’s also created a difficult task for public relations professionals to monitor trends, publicity and perceptions that directly affect a client’s product, service or brand.

With the explosion of blogs, social networks and other forms of non-traditional media, we’ve given consumers the keys to either make or break our brand. It’s essential to be proactive and aware of the conversations that are happening about your client. Keeping your finger on the media pulse will help prepare you for any crisis that may arise. In this highly fragmented media environment, it takes a dedicated effort to keep a close watch on public perception. Pick up your local newspaper, scan social media, hit the news wires and do whatever you can to stay informed about topics related to your client, industry and locale.

Know your audience and know them well. Where do they spend time online? What is their purpose? Is there any way to foster two-way communication? Listen, learn and adapt.