Last week I attended the Global Alliance’s 2016 World Public Relations Forum in Toronto on behalf of my master’s program at Syracuse University. Over the span of three days, I took the opportunity to learn about different perspectives on the practice and attitudes of PR professionals around the world by attending keynote sessions and workshops.
Here are some of the most interesting insights I took away from the conference:
Canadians and Americans are kind of the same – One of the most useful tools I learned about is Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions through Janet Morgan’s keynote on “The Cultural Gap – Communications from the Centre.” Part of her presentation showed this graph comparing the United States with English-speaking Canada. Ultimately, while there are slight differences, they’re not steep enough for PR professionals to have to implement vastly different campaigns for both countries.
PR needs more balls – In a session about the recently released 2016 Global Communications Report from the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations and The Holmes Report, director and Golin CEO Fred Cook compared the PR profession to a game at the pool table. Cook summarized the report’s findings by saying, “the more experiences you have, the more options you have, and the more balls you have.” By having more experiences, PR professionals can expose themselves greater opportunities to be successful in advancing their careers.
Specialization isn’t such a bad thing – Another interesting point raised at the same session involved the concept of Golin’s four communities of specialists: explorers, creators, connectors and catalysts. Admittedly, I’ve always thought that it was best to achieve career success in PR by being a generalist – someone who can be good at a little of everything. However, what I learned from Cook and the session is that large multinational firms are setup in a way that is more conducive to specialists. Maybe then, it’s best to be a master of one trade than a jack of all trades.
Don’t always have an “ask” – A topic of discussion for PR professionals from all nations is how to communicate with its indigenous population, or natives. While the panel session provided numerous strategies, one that stood out to me was the strategy of simply getting to know your nation’s indigenous population without having an agenda. This strategy can be applicable to any publics you’re looking to build relationships with, as it emphasizes having trust in one another.
Unique challenges and opportunities exist in African nations – Two different sessions on PR in Africa focused on career trends and the importance of traditional media methods. While the study on career trends found that professionals on the continent are dealing with decreasing pay and budget constraints, opportunities exists for those who demonstrate the skills and competencies needed to be successful. At the same time, while new media is emerging among African nations, PR professionals should not abandon common traditional methods for reaching publics, such as town criers, local markets, folktales and proverbs among others.
Overall, what I learned at the WPRF was that while the concept of PR is nearly the same around the world, professionals must take time to carefully listen and learn different aspects of the cultures they’re trying to reach. No two cultures are completely alike, and those who can communicate across cultures will improve their chances of being successful on a global scale.
Most public relations professionals would tell you that differentiating themselves from their peers in marketing and advertising has become a part of the daily duties. So why then would a PR professional ever be interested in reading a book titled, Confessions of an Advertising Man?
I recently read David Ogilvy’s book for my PR Management course at Newhouse. Believe it or not, Confessions of an Advertising Man draws many interesting parallels for PR professionals to consider in their own line of work. Here are my ten favorite quotes and their relation to PR:
“You don’t have to be a Christian to behave like a gentleman” – One of the more humorous quotes, PR professionals (or all reasonable professionals) should conduct their work ethically and as if the entire organization depends on it. (See Arthur W. Page Society principles)
“Imitation may be the ‘sincerest form of plagiarism,’ but it is also the mark of an inferior person” – Being authentic goes a long way in PR.
“It is easy to be beguiled by acres of desks, departments, and other big agency appaurtenances. What counts is the real motive power of the agency, the creative potency” – Bigger isn’t always better when you’re trying to find the perfect agency to work with or work at. Remember: quality over quantity.
“A habit of graceful surrender on trivial issues will make you difficult to resist on those rare occasions when you must stand and fight on a major issue” – Not every disagreement with a client is worth being right over. PR professionals must often pick and choose their battles.
“When you sit down to write your body copy, pretend that you are talking to the woman on your right at a dinner party. She has asked you, ‘I am thinking of buying a new car. Which would you recommend?’ Write your copy as if you were answering that question” – In other words, most PR writing should be factually-based with limited “fluff.”
“I never tell one client that I cannot attend his sales convention because I have a previous engagement with another client; successful polygamy depends upon pretending to each spouse that she is the only pebble on your beach” – The best leaders in PR are able to deliver personalized solutions for their clients’ needs.
“…I praise my staff as rarely as Pitard praised his chefs, in the hope that they too will appreciate it more than a steady gush of appreciation” – Maybe not everyone will agree with this one, but it’s something to think about when trying to avoid becoming complacent.
“…I see red when anybody at Ogilvy, Benson & Mather tells a client that we cannot produce an advertisement or a television commercial on the day we have promised it. In the best establishments, promises are always kept, whatever it may cost in agony and overtime” – For PR professionals, time management and teamwork are key to avoiding such situations.
“I have never wanted to get an account so big that I could not afford to lose it. The day you do that, you commit yourself to living with fear. Freightened agencies lose their courage to give candid advice; once you lose that you become a lackey” – Whether you’re just starting out your career or an established firm owner, PR professionals should never put all of their eggs into one basket.
“I admire people who work with gusto. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, I beg you to find another job. Remember the Scottish proverb, ‘be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead” – Sounds easy enough, right?
As a fairly quick read, it’s no wonder Confessions of an Advertising Man is considered a classic for business professionals. I highly recommend it for professionals at all levels.
Vanguard Communications, a minority-owned public relations firm in Washington, DC, recently published a blog post providing six steps for organizations to focus on partnership development. In these six steps, author Shannon Walsh focuses on the need for not-for-profit organizations (whom serve as Vanguard’s primary clientele) to be able to build strategic partnerships with other organizations in a way where their core competencies complement each other. In short, this means that both organizations offer a service or fill a need that the other is missing. Walsh’s six steps include:
Determine your needs
Identify strategic partners
Have an initial outreach
Make a clear and specific “ask”
Follow up, come to an agreement and put it in writing
Nurture the relationship
As a soon-to-be graduate hoping to break further into the PR profession I’ve noticed how easily these steps could also be applied to the types of relationships I, and my fellow classmates at Syracuse University, desire to have with their supervisors. Here’s how Walsh’s six steps could work in an associate-supervisor professional relationship:
Determine your agency’s needs beyond the job description – Agencies (and really all hiring companies) use interviews to screen for the best candidates who fit their culture and get a sense for how they can contribute to their well-being through their skill-sets. So for prospective employees, why not use that same interview process to delve deeper into what the agency is looking for in their next hire?
Make your specific “ask” clear before starting – When starting in a new position there’s always some type of learning curve to help an associate get used to their new environment. During the first few weeks, it’s beneficial to both me as a new associate and my supervisor to set clear expectations and goals for what determines our team’s success.
View your hiring manager as a strategic partner – Agencies select the candidates who are the best strategic fit for their long-term goals. Naturally, this means there’s a level of trust that’s been earned where the working relationship involves two-way communication. Millennial professionals such as myself highly value this give-and-take with our leaders because it allows our opinions to be heard.
Nurturing the work relationship – While having the initial two-way communication with my supervisor is a good start, it’ll ultimately be up to me, or any new professional, to maintain that relationship. While this can be mostly accomplished through my job performance, it’s also up to me to continue to ask questions that give me a better understanding of the agency’s culture and the way it does business.
Agencies who foster a mutually beneficial partnership among their employees also develop an organizational culture that inspires others to want to work there. Ultimately, partnership development isn’t just important for agencies to be able to implement when it comes to finding new clients, but it’s also important for them in order to maintain their relationships with the associates who make the agency tick.
Meanwhile back home, the big story this week was a district-wide teacher sick-out which closed schools throughout Detroit Public Schools (DPS). The sick-out is reported to be a protest by the teachers’ union against the conditions their schools are in, as well as compensation and benefits. Overall, DPS has been dealing with a number of issues for nearly a decade, mainly due to a sharp decline in student enrollment and the district’s nearly billion-dollar budget deficit.
The night and day differences between BPCSD and DPS are part of the reason for my interest in education PR, so that I can be a part of changing the conversation to highlight the positive things going on in the latter. Based on some of the things I’ve learned volunteering for BPCSD, here are some ways I’d attempt to do for DPS:
Highlight students, teachers and staff – As a former student of DPS, I can attest to part of the reason for the perceived lack of motivation from those in the trenches: and it stems from their lack of appreciation. Deep down, there are students, teachers and staff who truly desire to do the right thing; however, their efforts for doing so are often under-appreciated. Many schools have programs in place where teachers and students work to keep students out of trouble and are successful at doing so. Highlighting these individuals and groups would be a good way to keep them motivated to influence change in their schools in spite of external situations. Everyone loves recognition, and few people could use it more than teachers in inner-city schools.
Use social media to stir up friendly competition – What’s potentially an underestimated method of engaging students is social media. Specifically at the high school level, most students use smartphones and are on many, if not all, of the most popular social media networks. But what would make them interested in following their school district or school on social media? Contests. Opportunities. Recognition. Interaction. Prizes. Ultimately it’s using social media as a tool to listen to and show concern for what they have to say.
Create micro-fundraising campaigns – Another one of the key things I learned at BPCSD was that school districts are a lot like nonprofit organizations in the way that they rely heavily on outside funding aside from tax-payer funds from both the city and state; unfortunately, those only go so far in keeping schools and their districts solvent. Using the right messaging, DPS could appeal to its parents and alums to do the little bit they can to contribute to improving their school’s conditions and resources. Although most parents of students in the district seemingly struggle with their own finances, the use of research and analytics to find the most affluent parents and reaching out to them might be worth it.
In spite of these ideas, it’s important to note that there are other factors beyond a communications professional’s control that might limit the ability to put forth new ideas in place. Ultimately, it’s up to the management and board of directors above any communications professional to do their part in repairing DPS’s myriad of issues. While that goes on, one can do the little bit they can to show appreciation to those who are directly impacted by management’s decisions.
After all, a little appreciation (and friendly competition) can go a long way.
Not only did I get to hear the story behind EKOCENTER when I attended the PRSA International Conference in Atlanta last month, but I also made it the focus of my final paper for my Public Relations Theory course at Newhouse.
In many ways, Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTER initiative, which is geared mostly towards developing nations, perfectly relates to my paper’s topic – Strategies for Effective Community Relations and Practicing Corporate Social Responsibility. Anyone who knows me well knows about my passion for community relations. Working on this paper gave me the opportunity to develop trends based on research and actionable steps for any organization who’s looking to use community relations as a way to improve their overall reputation.
Here are the three main trends I’ve found that make organizations successful at community relations:
Personification storytelling – What always makes stories so appealing to us are the characters behind them. The same is true for organizations who want to communicate how their community relations efforts make an impact on the people they serve. In telling the story of EKOCENTER, Coca-Cola does a great job of strategically communicating the initiative’s value while capturing the moments of all the people behind the kiosks’ success through videos and photo blogs.
Proper alignment with core focus – You would expect NFL teams to sponsor the Play60 initiative because athletes are great for promoting physically active lifestyles to kids. On the opposite end, Starbuck’s “Race Together” campaign fell short in part because it didn’t make business sense for a coffee shop company to encourage its customers to talk about matters of racial justice. The point is, it helps when companies do things for the community that relate back to their core purpose. Coca-Cola realizes this, as EKOCENTER uniquely ties back to each of its three main CSR focuses.
Correlating positive CSR with profits – While it’s widely known that most companies do benefit from having a good corporate reputation, no company earns it overnight; whether good or bad. That’s why it’s important for organizations to establish a solid foundation for their CSR efforts so that in time it pays off in brand equity and an improved financial bottom line. While it remains to be seen if Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTERs have made a significant contribution to Coca-Cola’s profits, it does make sense for the company on a practical level to use the kiosks to sell their beverages.
If implemented effectively, positive community relations can lead to significant benefits for an organization, among them being improved brand equity which can lead to increased profits. Even without these motivations, it’s good for organizations to demonstrate care towards their community publics. While a positive relationship with publics is beneficial, having a negative or nonexistent relationship can also impact an organization just as much.
When it comes to getting information and news about your interests, who do you turn to? Is it their personality that draws you in? Do you often find yourself modeling your opinions after theirs? Just what is it that causes them to have such an affect on you?
Whether you know it or not, your favorite media personality, blogger or even entertainer may be a “One-Percenter” – that is, an influencer in the vast community of content creation. According to W2O Group‘s strategists, who spoke to Newhouse students at many events this week for Social Commerce Days, the influencers make up the top 1% of your interests’ community of content. Influencers are the ones who create the content that becomes shareable with their audience. Their biggest fans, or their advocates, are in the 9% who repackage this content into their own. Meanwhile, the other 90% consists of enthusiasts – average consumers of content who look to influencers and advocates to stay on top of trends. This is the 1:9:90 framework of social content, and it’s important for PR professionals to understand this as they seek out non-traditional methods of getting their message out to target publics.
Influencers have three characteristics that make them appealing to communications professionals:
Reach – Influencers get to be in the 1% of content creators because of the large audience they attract. They have their fair share of advocates who not only repackage their content to reach more people, but they also defend their influencers from criticism.
Relevance – If you let the strategists from W2O tell it, relevance is the new reputation. Previously, communications professionals wanted to align themselves with someone with a positive reputation. Now that attention spans are shortening, communicators have to find ways to align their content with influencers who have a stronger grip on their audiences’ attention.
Resonance – Finally, it’s not just enough for professional communicators to create content – it has to actually be good, if not, exceptional. Audiences flock to influencers because their content has a personal touch or flair to it. Influencers brand themselves to be memorable and not just put out content that their audience won’t find useful; therefore, communicators must be sure their content fits the same criteria when pitching it to the influencers they want to work with.
At the end of the day, being in the 1% isn’t always glamorous. Influencers have spent months, and probably years building their audience and delivering content that matters. It’s this drive that makes influencers unique, enviable and in a position to be gatekeepers of information, similar to journalists. Once PR professionals find and build the relationship with influencers, their clients will reap the benefits of an increased audience and another channel to reach them.
Hearing our speaker’s presentation gave me additional ideas for reasons why PR professionals should embrace the tools of digital analytics. As it specifically pertains to social media, gaining knowledge of analytics can be helpful in the following ways:
Determine your audience’s demographics – When developing a communications strategy, it’s usually common practice to know your target audience or primary publics. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all have analytics dashboards that can help you determine if you’re really reaching them or another unintended audience. Characteristics you can find are average ages, ethnicity, and geographic location among others.
Find out when they’re viewing your posts – There are a ton of articles out there which will tell you that there’s a specific time to post on social media – usually between 1 and 3 p.m. on Facebook. These articles, however, take a generalist approach and assume that what works for one page works for the other. Once your communications strategy is implemented, you may find that your target audience requires a different approach.
Uncover their purchasing preferences – What might be creepy to know is that analytics can dig more than just your audience’s demographics. Analytics uses tracking codes that can tell you where your audience likes to shop and what items they like to buy. That’s when you can use this information to publish social media ads that tie-in to their purchasing habits.
Find out what they’re saying about you – Analytics is useful for finding the conversations which your audience is having about you. At a basic level, you can use searches on Twitter and Instagram to find almost every post that mentions your brand’s hashtag or name. At an advanced level though, you can use tools such as Foresee, Ubervu and Meltwater to get a general scope whether those conversations are positive or negative.
Create social media ads geared towards their interests – Once you use analytics to find out the information you need, you can use its many tools to figure out the best way to reach them. As one example, Facebook allows you to “boost” certain posts beyond those who’ve liked your page. Of course it’ll involve a monetary investment, but you can spend as little as $1 for five days to expand your posts, and your page, to a broader audience.
It’s inevitable that understanding digital analytics will be crucial for public relations professionals going forward. However, those who understand its tools and tricks sooner will reap the benefits of being able to communicate well-crafted messages that speak exactly to their public’s tastes.
Digital analytics has become somewhat of a dirty buzzword for those in the communications industry lately. Ironically though, it has been the theme of my third week into the fall semester at Newhouse. From Sysomos training for my research course, to my continued work as Dr. Ford’s research assistant, I’ve found myself regaining my appreciation for the science behind gathering meaningful analysis.
Whether you like it or not, public relations and analytics are becoming synonymous with each other. It’s not just enough for PR professionals to communicate their clients’ message, but they also have to prove that those messages are effective. Best of all, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to have decent analytics in place as social media tools like Facebook and Twitter offer dashboards for you to see how your content is performing.
Here are some ways that analytics can be a beneficial tool for public relations professionals:
Finding your biggest advocates – One of the best things you could have in PR is a loyal fan who’s willing to go to bat for you. They’re the ones who are always sharing your content and are usually the first to leave comments. The frequency with which your biggest fans share your content is a metric you could utilize in addition to recognizing them for their free promotion.
Following the process – If you have a registration process for attracting donations or purchases, you can use analytics to determine the likelihood of visitors to complete the process, also known as the conversion rate. High-end tools like ForeSee, and easy-to-use tools like Google Analytics, allow you to set up tracking codes to determine where visitors might be losing interest and leaving your site, especially if it’s in the middle of a process.
Timing your visitors’ stay – If you’re putting out content that features multiple elements, you’ll want to find out how much visitors are engaging with it. With tracking codes on your website, you can find out just how much time the average user is interacting with your site’s pages. For instance, if you embed a five minute video on a webpage, you might be concerned if visitors are spending listen than five minutes on that page.
What you’re doing right – If you’re putting out a steady stream of content you eventually want to know what type of messaging works for your audience. By keeping track of metrics such as likes, visits and page views, you can notice trends that are more effective than others.
What you’re doing wrong – Of course if you find that engagement with your posts are low you can use analytics to figure out why your messaging isn’t resonating with audiences. You could also use sites like justunfollow.com to see if you’re losing your audience on social media.
With this in mind, I’d hope that more PR professionals will come to recognize digital analytics not as a niche area, but as part of the overall strategy. Just as PR has become integrated with advertising and marketing, digital analytics will continue to make its way into the mix for years to come.
A good story is a relatable story – Our biggest assignment our Writing for News and Public Relations course was to put together a media kit for a fictional event based on a partnership between a corporation, a nonprofit and a celebrity spokesperson. Each student then had to pitch their media kit idea to their class, where only two or three would be chosen to conduct a press conference. I noticed a common trend among the projects that were selected: each of their corporations had strong brand recognition. Among the corporations that were chosen were Bank of America, Disney, Build-a-Bear and the Green Bay Packers. Having a strong brand name, along with some genuinely creative event ideas, is what I believe allowed these students to garner enough votes from their classmates to be selected.
Be humble – One of the reasons why I decided to enroll at Syracuse over my other top choices was my confidence in being able to land a coveted graduate or instructional associate position based on my prior work experience. These positions were particularly attractive to me because they offered tuition credits, which would limit the amount of loans I’d need to take out to cover remaining expenses. While I was granted interviews for two positions, it was disappointing to learn that I wasn’t selected for either. The rejections taught me that while I’m great at demonstrating my abilities on paper I still have room for improvement when it comes to sealing the deal in interviews. I’ve also gained a level of respect for the students that I’ll have to compete against for jobs.
Trust your instincts – In addition to completing my PR course, I also took a graphic design course learning how to use Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. My first assignment in the class was to design a wordmark for my resume. My professor hated my first ten drafts, but when I came up with another ten she saw some that we both really liked – even though it was in a typeface that she admittedly wouldn’t approve of for most people. As it’s pertained to completing other projects, I’ve found that I produce my best work when I’m not concerning myself too much with how my professor will judge me. The more I’ve trusted myself, the better my work has turned out to be.
It truly has been a great start to my master’s program here at Syracuse. I’m looking forward to what the fall semester holds, right after enjoying two weeks off!