Archive for the ‘Public Relations’ Category

All good things must come to an end. And Great Things must begin!

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017
Sean's career in summary

What a long, strange, wonderful PR trip it has been!

For eight wonderful years, I rode the wave of the entrepreneur. Communication AMMO is my second-longest tenure of employment in my near 30-year career in Public Relations and communications. Beginning next week, CommAMMO becomes part of True Digital Communications, a Greater Cleveland-based communication agency, that focuses on the digital world, including advertising, marketing, PR and content.

In my new role, I will lead the education practice that Communication AMMO and True Digital have partnered on for several years, and will also establish a new internal communications practice, which will include the Face2Face Communication Learning Program that CommAMMO acquired two years ago.

I’m thrilled to have the chance to cross-train people on conducting both the Face2Face and AMMO programs. As part of the firm’s leadership team, I’ll also have an operational role for True. As an educator, helping others learn is a critical part of who I am.

This is a terrific opportunity — only such a great one could get me to move on from CommAMMO — and I’m looking forward to working even more closely with True’s principal, Chris Baldwin, and being part of the True team!

This post also appears on LinkedIn. 

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How do you do communication planning?

Friday, July 29th, 2016

Planning is SO crucial to effective PR that I can’t even when I encounter communicators who don’t or can’t do it. Fortunately, there are fewer of those all the time, and I really respect those who ask for help. Here’s a short primer on doing effective strategy.

My two cents is that you have to start with objectives. Objectives are everything. When they are SMART, they set the stage for cogent strategies and effective tactics, and for measurement. If your objectives are too broad and high level, it’s much harder to make them work.

Even the term, “objectives” is a bit fraught, because of the war between “goal” and “objective.” Some models use goal as the more specific and objective as the more general. The OGSM model does this. It’s an excellent model that specifically connects different departmental plans to one another.

For our purposes, we will use goal as general, and objective as specific.

I have two templates to share with you. One now, and one later. First is the AMMO model. Audiences, Messages, Methods, Objectives.  You put a 2X2 box together with Audiences and Objectives on the top row and Messages and Methods on the bottom.

filloutammo

For this purpose, Audience is equal to stakeholder. We typically prefer the latter term, as audience implies passivity, but stick with me. For each audience, you articulate what you want them to think, feel and/or do.  Then you push that information through the SMART filter — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. This is probably the hardest part of the planning effort. Keep driving to get each SMART element into your objectives.

Next, you determine messages — what information do you need to transmit to realize your objectives? What do you have to hear back from the audience? The message platform isn’t ad copy — it’s the thoughts and ideas that guide development of content.

Finally, methods – which communication tactics will effectively transmit your messages and bring your objectives to reality?

The construction of effective objectives relies on your ability to continue refining and narrowing your focus.

For example:

You may hear “We want media coverage.” That’s not an objective, even if we quantify the type and amount of coverage. It’s a strategy designed to reach your end audiences. So, we ask, “Why?”  Answer: We want to elevate awareness among our target audiences. Still not a SMART objective. What is the current state of awareness? By how much shall we increase it, and over what time period?  Good objectives have a benchmark, a target, and a timeframe.

But we still are expressing this in “output” terms — what about the effect of increased awareness? What we really are asking for is increased sales, improved attitudes and beliefs about us, actions to recommend us, etc. Our objectives have to include outputs (what we do and that immediate result), outtakes (also known as communication outcomes, like web traffic), and outcomes (business results).

Our objectives must include all three levels – and the relationship among those levels must be valid.

Strategy is a road map — objectives are the destination. The messages are the fuel and the methods the vehicle.

Below, two resources I highly recommend — a paper from Anderson, et. al. on objective setting, and one from Rawlins on stakeholder priorities. Both are Gold Standard papers from the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission, of which I also am a member.

Anderson, F., Hadley, L., et.al. (2009) Guidelines for Setting Measurable Public Relations Objectives: An Update.  http://www.instituteforpr.org/topics/setting-measurable-objectives/ 

Rawlins, B. (2006) Prioritizing Stakeholders for Public Relations.  http://www.instituteforpr.org/prioritizing-stakeholders/ 

There is TONS of great stuff at www.InstituteforPR.org — it’s free, there’s no membership or registration, and it reflects the cutting edge of measurement research for the practice. Please consider supporting the IPR — it relies on donations to keep going. 

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Politics: Remember the ‘Litany Against Fear’

Friday, July 1st, 2016

innocent dog portrait on white background

Why are politics the way they are right now?  We’ve got a Hobson’s choice here in the U.S., and Brexit threatening not only the European Union, but also to the United Kingdom itself. There’s a sharp turn in many countries, and I’m not bringing up the spate of terrorism (which isn’t political in the same sense as the other stuff.)

The main economic and social order that has characterized the post-war (meaning World War II) world — free market economies, democratization, upward mobility — has come under scrutiny at least, if not outright threat.  The communication angle to this change can be seen in news media coverage, public relations and public diplomacy, and the rise of user-generated media.  There are many more voices in the public sphere than 10 years ago.

An externality (to use a term from economics) of these communication changes is that much media (whether social or mainstream or fringe) has become a contest to gain attention, rather than to add enlightenment and insight.  This means rumor dominates over truths, which a lot of people see as wholly subjective. It’s like the comment about being paranoid: That diagnosis doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you!

People analyze based on their perspectives, just as always, but now there is a ready echo chamber for conclusions. We seek out fewer alternative opinions in favor of justifications of our own. Why?

My unresearched, and rather seat-of-the-pants diagnosis is fear.

  • People who have jobs are afraid they’ll lose them, and with good reason.
  • People without jobs are afraid they will never be able to find one, also with good reason.
  • People in universities know people who graduate with huge debts and no job, and they’re afraid they will be the same.
  • Parents are afraid they’ll never be able to offer their children a better life.
  • Liberals are afraid that rich people exert too much power, preventing government from operating effectively.
  • Conservatives are afraid larger government will bring less liberty.

That’s a heap of scared.

Americans have the reputation of being confident to the point of brashness, so egoistic that we are convinced we’re the best. We seem to be losing that mojo, and that in itself fuels fear.

History has not been kind to societies driven by fear — Canadian author Erna Paris seems to be hiding in my shrubbery today, as is Don Hazen — it seems that fear is a precondition to tyranny.

Perhaps Frank Herbert can help us here.  In Dune, when the protagonist is being tested to determine his humanity, he must conquer his fear. But he doesn’t do this by ignoring it, dismissing it or trying to avoid it. He recites the Litany Against Fear — maybe we can get Mr. Cameron, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump, Ms. Merkel and others to chant it together — and respects the fear, but does not let it define him or his actions. It’s worth a try, no?

The Litany Against Fear

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert, Dune. Retrieved July 1, 2016, from http://dune.wikia.com/wiki/Litany_Against_Fear

 

 

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3 new research items that move PR forward

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

ResearchBlockThe research at the International PR Research Conference in March includes several items from Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß of the University of Leipzig, who, as has become usual, is at the vanguard of public relations research. These three papers are leading our practice – and deserve much more notice among those of us who do the work. They join several others that I covered previously.

I’ve written before about the need for practitioners to embrace the academic professionals who are researching our field. Zerfaß brought with him Ph.D. student Sophia Charlotte Volk, who shared two papers co-authored with him (and won a heap of research awards at the conference, including this one) that I’ll briefly describe in successive posts. Talking with Ansgar and Sophia was terrific, and I learned a lot from them.

The Communication Value Circle — Introducing a multi-disciplinary framework for aligning communication with corporate strategy. (Zerfaß & Dr. Christine Viertmann) This research project explores the theories and concepts that explain communication value in the context of business, and identifies and arranges in a system communication goals, and links them to corporate goals. This latter portion of the project establishes that communication contributes to overall business objectives in four ways:

  • Enabling operations through publicity, customer preferences and employee commitment;
  • Building intangibles through reputation, brand and corporate culture;
  • Ensuring flexibility of a corporation through establishing and maintaining relationships with stakeholders, and building trust and legitimacy, and
  • Adjusting strategy through thought leadership, innovation potential and crisis resilience.

Implications:

This work begins to codify, clearly, not only how to describe the impact and value of organizational communication, but to build measurement strategies to demonstrate it.

  • “Enabling operations” speaks to organizational effectiveness, productivity, and sales leadership and the measurement of each.
  • “Building intangibles” can give input to balanced scorecard figures on nonfinancial indicators.
  • The point on building and maintaining relationships suggests measuring the strengths of those relationships.
  • The most important, to me, is “adjusting strategy.” Measurement isn’t only about proving value, it’s about actionable intelligence that allows organizations to course-correct.

Stay tuned for other posts on the IPRRC 2016 research.

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Latest PR Research sheds light

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

Research is ImportantThe International PR Research Conference is a boon to public relations people like me, because it enables us to dig deeply into the state of the profession as researched by the academy, often in partnership with the practice. I wrote an appreciation of the conference over on LinkedIn, and this new post on my blog is the first of several going into some detail on what I found most useful.

Dr. Denise Bortree of Penn State examined 194 video sustainability reports from a variety of organizations, seeking trends. Her findings? Building legitimacy is the main goal — it’s less about the actual documentation of activity and more about the result of that documentation. Classic outcome measurement, as these organizations obviously see benefit in being perceived as sensitive to their non-financial obligations.  The UK and Europe are using video more frequently than do other regions of the world. These types of reports are seeing a recent rise in popularity.

Radford University’s Dr. Lynn Zoch and Dr. John Brummette looked into the connection between personal and organizational values, examining 10 annual reports from Fortune 500 companies and a series of depth interviews with PR professionals and organizational leaders to evaluate the link. This is the first step in a wider study, but the initial findings are that values do matter quite a lot on both sides of the equation. This supports the concept that several organizations have expanded lately — EY for one, focusing on purpose and hiring only people whose personal purpose aligns with the firm’s.

Several researchers from Purdue University, led by Dr. Alessandra Mazzei of Universita IULM, Italy, evaluate the role that organizational authenticity and employee empowerment have on the practice of employee endorsement of their organizations.  This “megaphoning” depends a lot on the quality of relationship between organization and employee (no surprise there). Particularly during a crisis, having employees who trust their organization and who feel motivated as a result to take action in support of their organization leads to positive behavior.  Marketers trying to make people into “brand ambassadors” through some sort of training or indoctrination should take heed — build great relationships internally and people will be ambassadors without any such program.

More to follow – This post is already kind of long, so part two coming soon!

 

 

 

 

 

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HBR covers employee complaints about managers

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

It’s almost a cliche, so much so that some don’t even believe it.  Employees have certain expectations about their managers, and too many managers totally #fail at meeting them.  In the Harvard Business Review, Lou Solomon hits the high (or low) points.  Read the article, then see http://bit.ly/CommAMMOF2F.

 

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5 questions to ask your employees now

Friday, April 17th, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-185452608We’re struggling in internal communication. The move to “social” within the enterprise is shifting our focus to tactics when we are still grappling with strategy.

What is internal communication for?  Are we advocates for employees? Advocates for management? Internal propaganda officers? Magazine editors?

We exist to help create organizational competitive advantage. Our executional elements for that will include tactics and tools, certainly, but in the end, our messaging and measures must reflect our existential mission.  Research from a few years ago (O’Neil, J. (2008)) shows that the answers to five questions can reveal *53% of the variance in employee comprehension of strategy, vision, values, etc. Here they are:

I am kept informed about the reasons behind company decisions. Nothing is more important to comprehension than reasons, and yet, organizations still persist in the belief that they’re not relevant or important enough to share. I think there’s a fear factor here — “What if they disagree with the reasons?” So what! Tell people plainly why you’re doing what you’re doing. They may not like it, but will respect you for sharing.

My business unit/function does a good job of communicating information to all employees. Perception of value is crucial. When employees believe the organization is good at internal communication, they tend to better understand the business.

The information I receive from my business/function is complete. Another faux pas is restricting information from internal communication. Employees are smart. They know when the sin of omission is committed, and in the absence of information, they will make up their own.

I am kept informed about major changes occurring within my business/function. When the answers to this question are poor, you’re almost guaranteed to have a workforce that doesn’t comprehend what you need it to. It’s shocking how many times leaders will assume that people don’t need to know about a major change, often claiming that because it’s outside of their area of direct responsibility, it’s not relevant.

I am kept informed about major changes occurring within the company. How can you operate your organization without keeping people abreast of the most significant changes? There are too many organizations which simply don’t think employees care. Good heavens, of course they care! Don’t you care about your organization? There are counter-examples, but the exchange relationship commonly associated with customer relationships usually doesn’t apply when you work for the company. It’s a less transactional, deeper and more substantive relationship with employees that leads to high performance.

Why not ask these questions every three months for a year?  Quick, easy surveys, postcards after town halls, postscripts to intranet stories.  Ask them and use the results to guide your editorial and manager communication activities. You might find the results more than compensate for your time.
*R2 = .526; F = 625; p = .000

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Major imbroglio from Forbes piece on PR and ROI

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

186140619I’m not including a link, because generally speaking, this is a case of not wanting to feed the trolls.  Over at Forbes, some guy wrote a post saying that nobody should pay for PR if they aren’t in a major organization. This brought the PR defense out onto the field, including Stephanie C from PRSA. Next thing you know, it’s a party.

OK, maybe not a party. Instead, it was a comment Battle Royale, with wounded PRs insisting that PR had value, and the writer asking for ROI figures as proof. Not awareness, not reputation, real money. Katie Paine ran in and offered her 30 examples of PR driving sales, and many others (including a great post from Gerry Corbett) supporting the bloodied public relations profession.  The writer, meanwhile, agreed that PR had value, but not for smaller enterprises who really need to convert prospects to dollars.

I thought about commenting myself, but in the end, it’s just a post with a link-bait headline and a pretty half-assed set of complaints about high retainers and lack of sales as a result. Yawn.  What’s interesting to me is the reaction from the industry. I mean, look, I say all the time that ROI is just one useful measurement of public relations — there are all kinds of things that organizations need we PRs to do other then sell. We certainly can, and do, do that, and often at much lower cost than our pals in marketing.

All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing.

As I’ve said about 20,000 times, attempting to reduce all value to the monetary leads to all kinds of mischief.  If it’s just about revenue, get rid of your overhead departments entirely. Let managers take care of HR matters, use outsourced legal, stop internal communications, forget branding, make business units manage their own financials, and don’t bother with community relations or government relations… Yeah, right.

The biggest error in that guy’s thinking is that PR can be done by amateurs. Hey, if it’s only about getting your local media to cover you, just reach out to them, it’s easy, he says. Send a letter or email, do a list of media influencers on Twitter and tweet to them. Of course, unless what you have is newsworthy, you’re going to fail. Part of what we PR people do is counsel our internal or external clients on what constitutes news. We do all kinds of stuff that has value, but no direct contribution to sales. It’s not required. We help make a field more fertile for sales, we don’t plant the seeds, pull weeds (well, maybe we do that…) or spread fertilizer (except in political PR. Just kidding. )

In the end, if we add value, organizations invest in us. If we don’t we’re out. Some of that will be ROI. Some of it will be common sense.  We want to help our organizations win in the marketplace. How we do that is STRATEGY. And no matter how smart a business owner may be, chances are a professional public relations person can do a better job of creating comms strategy than he or she can.

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The ongoing debate about PR & Sales

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

37c10c2This is how the meme goes: Every activity by a commercial organization, profit or nonprofit, is in the end about selling. It’s the ultimate triumph of marketing, the absolute ultimate objective. Let’s explore this thinking.

Mike Love (@therealitygap), in a Twitter discussion with Judy Gombita (@jgombita) and several others, avers this perspective, which prompts this post. Love’s view is that the sale is the thing and challenged all of us to describe what else it possibly could be.

I realize that I straddle the fence between practice and academy, and so that makes me a bit didactic, but my view is the all marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing. I therefore reject the conclusion that sales is the ultimate objective. This might be better understood through the prism of the “3-outs.” When we measure comm activity (internal, external, regardless of industry) we need to measure at all levels — the output level, whether we are conducting activities appropriately; the outtake level, examining the immediate result of our activity; and outcomes, the business results emerging from the communication results.

An example would be following a strategy intended to educate and inspire employees involving changing the content of our intranet, increasing the number of stories focusing on strategy and the human results of our business strategy — we analyze the content to determine whether that occurred. First level measurement, but important. Second, we look at intranet traffic, to see whether employees consumed the content, including commenting, sharing, downloading, etc., AND we ask them to what degree the content helped them better understand our organization, feel more connected to it, and/or prompted them to recommend it or its products to others. Lastly, we look at retention, job performance, internal job posting, managerial affinity, etc. For some, we may examine impact on revenue or expense control. These are the business results and they constitute the deepest level of measurement.

In the Balanced Scorecard, enlightened organizations consider not only the usual metrics, but also the non financial metrics — attitudes and behaviors that might be distantly connected with sales, but largely are not, or at least are not provable conclusively. These types of organization define success more broadly than purely at the bottom line; it is true that enlightened organizations often do perform better than their counterparts, but which came first? Chicken or egg?

Contrast that perspective with that of a company that places sales at the point of the triangle – some of the most notable scandals (WorldCom, Enron, Arthur Anderson, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers) were also notable for their “anything goes” attitudes, driving sales at all costs.

This is what I think of when I see a meme like the one above. If everything is about sales rather than customer relationships, being a great place to work, being a stalwart in communities, making a difference in the world, then we risk becoming amoral slaves to the sales imperative.

In some ways, it’s a semantic distinction, and probably reveals a soft view of the role of business in societies. In others though, it reflects a sincere belief in the power of words. That’s why I see the “it’s all marketing” crowd as reductivist. It reduces the core relationships between organization and publics to a mere transaction, an exchange relationship. Especially as regards employee communication, such thinking makes building strong communal relationships (absolutely critical to employee engagement) much more difficult, more disposable.

When we declare that the only purpose to our activity is to sell, we define ourselves solely as agents in a transaction, powerless and dependent on the payment received. When we see the sale as one possible result of an effort to build a trusted relationship, we elevate ourselves and our publics to a more sustainable, deeper and more ennobling purpose.

Your thoughts?

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Many conferences, many objectives

Monday, October 20th, 2014
PRSA's big dance kicks off

PRSA’s big dance kicks off

During the past 12 months, I’ve spoken at six conferences and attended three others. That’s a lot, no? Yes, a lot. Several were communication conferences, Ragan’s measurement conference, IABC’s 2013 Heritage Region and their International Conference, PRSA’s Connect ’14 employee comms conference and just a week ago, it’s big shebang, the International (#PRSAICON).

Plus, I went to Fusion 13, an IT service management conference; the National Association of Independent Schools conference, the SSATB conference for independent schools admission officers and (my favorite) the International PR Research Conference.

For the most part, all of these were, at least, good. I confess that at this time in my career, the comms related conferences are a mixed bag. That’s not a dig at the dais or planners; it’s hard to put these things together. I’ve done it for Heritage Region and for Connect, and you’re serving five different masters. You need content and speakers who will drive registration (the famous or nearly famous, the veteran speakers who have their fans, the striking, surprising people who will make people say, “OK, her I have to see!”)

You also need content for different levels of experience, from newbies to crusty old coots (present company excepted…) That can mean that at any one time, 80 percent of your audience won’t be happy. “Why is HE here again. She’s an idiot! He’s a moron!”  So I come not to bury Caesar but to praise him!

IPRRC is all academic research that boggles my mind in the best way. The Schools and IT conferences are business development opportunities. The Connect conference is my responsibility as Chair of PRSA Employee Communication professional interest section, and the Heritage conference is my comfortable IABC slippers. The internationals are another thing entirely. In some ways, they are merely about being seen among the crowds, though Twitter (and conference apps) give opportunities to stand out (I still didn’t make the top 20 posters in the conference app. Blame my lousy battery!).

IABC was in Toronto, one of my favorite places, and it had been since it was last there that I had been there. With all that has transpired to damage IABC’s brand over the past few years, I felt invested in the organization enough to go.  PRSA I had attended only once before, and as my Section leadership position requires a level of visibility and participation, it was a good thing to be there for Saturday’s general assembly and the many leadership-related meetings that the international conference includes.

Another reason to go is the need to identify speakers who’ll fit in other conferences. Let’s face it, you can’t be a good speaker without seeing good speakers anyway, and since we’ve got PRSA Connect ’15 in May upcoming, why not go see a few and have some firsthand experience of their abilities to go along with the cold paper of their proposals?

Sooooo…. what about the PRSA conference? Hey. 500 words of preamble – it’s a CommAMMO post. Wait for part two.

 

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