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Tips For PR Pros

There isn’t a day that goes by on which advice for the PR profession pukes forth from the blogosphere like a broken New Orleans levy. (This in some part has to do with the people offering the advice deriving some – if not a large part – of their revenue/income from consulting to the PR industry).

Some it is smart. Some of it tiresome. Some of it just plain stupid. Here is today’s flow in the order it lands in my NetNewsWire:

  • Shel via James over at Redmonk points to the needs for companies to not speak with one voice – I take this to mean "any message goes, say whatever you want, distribute whatever information you want". This is different though than speaking authentically and honestly. Sun is the master of speaking in many tongues but with one voice. Nobody wants to sound like a corporate drone. Nobody wants to be entirely repetitive. Everyone want to have their own twist. Any good communicator has been advocating this for years.

There is no question that the odd critic from within creates a sense of authenticity (content + tone), but when this becomes a cacophony, you get the kind of perceptual meltdown Microsoft has been recently going through. So, I’m with you that authenticity matters. I don’t agree with communications anarchy. We’re running businesses with shareholders.

Oh, and lets not confuse how perceptions are formed amongst the blogerati – we have a pretty academic view when it comes to brands vs. the mainstream buyer or user. It’s very different in the ‘real world’.

  • Onto the rest of Shel’s list then. He says "Listen, Really Listen" – yep, been advocating that for years. Unfortunately most listening by PR types is directed to executives and not customers and users. Just ask any agency what their listening/research budget is. His second and fourth points, "Feed the Bloggers" and "Be Transparent" are self evident. Yes.

"Be Out Of Control", point #5 is one of those neat little phrases that gets bloggers all excited. It’s just nonsense in the context of business; to which PR and communications are irrevocably connected.  A business needs to be managed. It needs to be governed – both by its own policies and regulations. It is influenced by an aggressive competitive dynamic. And communications is part of a broader set of  functions. So, communications needs to be controlled.

While the Participatory Era has created an entirely new context for managing those communications we need a more intelligent response than this. (And, BTW, agencies  have much less control over orchestrating events  than the management teams and legal departments inside their clients.)

  • I feel the same about #6 on Shel’s list – "Facilitate, then be quiet". Research aside (plenty of other professions faired less well than PR), I don’t buy that PR people shouldn’t engage in dialog. To suggest this is to suggest that PR people are little more than meeting makers, devoid of content and intellect. Where Shel is right is that PR people shouldn’t view themselves as gating and control points for conversations. In fact, the way for PR to build trust is for them to be outspoken. How they do it and what they say is a very different matter.

Afterall, aren’t all folks enaging in blogging on behalf of their company doing "public relations" in the broadest sense of the word? :-)

So, I hope these comments are taken in the spirit in which they were given, as part of conversation.

Next up was Dan who has some great remarks for the PR profession (these are from is most recent article in PRWeek for whom he is now writing a monthly column):

In a world of blogs, podcasts, video mash-ups, interactive maps, and so much more, the nature of corporate communications must change from top-down control to multi-directional openness – from lecture to conversation. If all that is daunting, however, keep in mind that the new options are available to the newsmakers and the PR people advising them, not just the bloggers.

The way entry-level PR people and journalists deal with each other isn’t a trivial matter; solid press relations are part of a smart PR strategy. But they are becoming less important than the way newsmakers – the people and institutions journalists cover – deal with various other constituencies.

I love the idea of "multi-directional openness" – this is a far more powerful notion than that of "be out of control". Implicit in it is that those you have a conversation with are also going to be open. Are the media are for the same degree of transparency they seek from companies?

Dan also nails the point I am trying to make when I say it isn’t necessarily right that companies should have many voices – but that it is right that the tone and construct is authentic and original:

"Blogs are all the rage, and I encourage their use as part of the external – and internal – communications process. Unlike press releases, which tend to read as if they’d been composed by the mating of a computer and lawyer, good blogs have a distinctly human voice. They are conversational almost by definition."

So, maybe I am getting wrapped-up in semantics re: voice/message and tone. I don’t think so though.

As Dan says, we all have plenty to learn.

3 Responses

  1. By shel Israel on October 8th, 2005 at 10:14 pm

    I’m not certain if you consider my post to have been “smart,” “Tedious,” or “just plain stupid.” In any case, I want to raise two points: (1) I make not one penny from the PR industry, and to imply otherwise is not accurate, (2) If you actually read the sentence following the one in which I advised companies (not PR people) to not speak in one voice because it dehumanizes perceptions of the company, I added that it was important for company representatives to sing in harmony. For you to characterize this as a call for anarchy seems to me to reveal a great gap in reading comprehension on your part.

    //Actually, I would put your comments in the smart category. I didn’t imply you made a cent from the profession. That comment wasn’t directed at you. In fact, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that – the point I was trying to make was that there is a large number of commentators from well outside the profession with little or no experience of it.

    You’ll find Shel, that engaging in conversation is best undertaken without insults. So in that spirit I’ll no throw any back at you. Or hey – how about I live by your policy and just delete your comments (“if I consider you rude or you won’t tell me who you are, I’ll simply throw you out of my blog”).

    If you’d bothered to read on into my peice you would also see that I say that this could all be an issue of semantics. Oh well – so much for a conversation. My piece wasn’t rude – it was both supportive and critical.

  2. By shel Israel on October 8th, 2005 at 10:23 pm

    One other thought Andy. A lot of people are writing about PR because it is a subject that interests a great number of people. Since you are not among them, I would suggest you don’t read them

    //Really Shel? You really thing that? You obviously don’t read my blog. Of course I am interested. I do believe there are a largen number of folks out there that view the commentary on PR as little more than sport and nice hyperbole – they use their commentary to enhance their position rather than enhance the profession.

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