Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

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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You are the expert in communication

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Does that headline make you nervous? A lot of corporate communicators (public relations, internal comms, etc.) don’t embrace the full extent of their capabilities. Your organization has internal experts in finance, law, accounting, operations, supply chain, marketing, public relations, etc., but you might not be seen in the way that could be most valuable for your organization.

What sort of impact would improving communication among managers and employees yield? If you seize the mantle of “expert in communication,” you can move into new territory beyond being the tactician, and have great impact on the functioning of your organization.

There is no one better qualified than you to take this on. Your friends in HR may “own” training, but you’re the best judge of the state of communication among managers and employees. You can be the sponsor for improving it.

When I ran the Face2Face Communication Learning Program for Joe Williams Communications, the people who typically brought us in to train their managers were communicators. Companies like John Deere, Lucent, Merck and Prudential had communicators who saw the effort to build communication capability in their companies as crucial, and they made it happen.

Now that I’ve bought the F2F program from Joe, I’m once again beating the drum for a more strategic view of communication that includes this type of training. Sure, I’m a capitalist – but this happens to be intrinsic to my purpose in professional life: To help people and organizations communicate more effectively.

This purpose gets me going every day. It’s a passion — because I see the impact in real terms. Companies that communicate, perform. People who communicate well foster and maintain better relationships with everyone.

I can help people, teaching them these tools, sharing my own experiences and setting an example to others.  Communication can change peoples’ lives for the better, and it starts with someone declaring that more effective communication is something the organization deserves, wants and needs.

Can we start with you?

 

 

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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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Threats to PR practice, or not?

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

iStock_000009739238SmallContent marketing. Brand journalism. Native advertising. Promoted user endorsements. OK, so is this paragraph just linkbait, or what? No, it’s the subject of research from Kirk Hallahan of Colorado State University exploring whether these trends — some of which have been the provenance of public relations — are eroding the power and influence of PR in organizational communication.

kirkhallahan

Dr. Kirk Hallahan, Colorado State University

Dr. Hallahan presented the early research at the 17th annual International PR Research Conference, March 6-9. He identified five reasons for concern that PR might take the rise of these disciplines with trepidation.

Encroachment and marginalization: Marketers have seized upon all of these activities as traditional advertising has seen issues in connecting with publics. PR’s seeking of third-party endorsement doesn’t guarantee placement for organizational messages, whereas if these elements are part of a paid strategy, do. Ads permeate commercial communications, including TV, radio, and print, and consumers are increasingly turning to media that excludes advertising, including pay-cable TV, satellite radio and internet content that uses less intrusive ad strategies.  It’s an attractive proposition to simply pay for play.

Undermining professionalism in both journalism and PR: Whether it’s former journalists enlisted to produce branded copy (that often still looks like editorial) or marketers writing pithy, short copy reminiscent of advertising but presented differently, paid content could erode the perception of value of journalism and call into question whether organizations are earning coverage or not. Traditional PR could be hurt as expectations rise among organizations that merely buying “eyeballs” is enough.

Devaluation of relationship-building: The “relations” part of PR and the ideal vision of the practice calls for two-way, symmetrical relationships between organizations and publics. There are myriad examples of how strong relationships have helped organizations during times of stress, as well as how the PR/Journalist symbiosis serves the common good in a democracy.  Turning that relationship into a mere financial transaction, and corrupting the concept of user endorsements could be a threat from which the practice might not recover.

Challenges to transparency: All types of branded content are designed to appear as though they are happenstance; this is a deceitful practice that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission hopes to discourage through disclosure rules, but there are powerful inducements to keep such matters opaque from the public. Dr. Hallahan worries that social media users might not realize how “likes” might not represent an honest endorsement from their friends, but the result of a purchase transaction, and that would foster distrust in an age sorely lacking in trust at all.

Confounding of measurement and evaluation: The idea that an objective third party — an editor — might decide to cover an organization’s news and therefore be relied upon to assess that organization’s claims, factually, is fairly essential to the concept of news media. If the lines are sufficiently blurred between paid and unpaid content, how can value be accurately measured outside of the financial result? Perhaps this is the point, that is, to reduce all communication activity to sales, and ignore all other tactics entirely. How do we measure effectiveness beyond the output level?

Dr. Hallahan’s thought-provoking research permits only deep questions — not answers. I’m grateful to have had the chance to hear it and discuss it.  Is this a threat? The marketers will say that if it is, it’s because PRs haven’t done a good enough job leveraging it in service of dollars and cents.

The biggest threat I see is that this all continues a reductivist argument that makes all communication into marketing. That’s what I see as the ultimate threat.

Thoughts?

 

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To German CEOs, PR heads still not ‘equals’

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Ansgar ZerfaßIt was disappointing to learn that public relations people, even at the topmost level in an organization, are not seen as the go-to person on communication topics among senior leaders, according to a study involving more than 600 German executives.

In research presented at the International PR Research Conference this year, Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß of the University of Leipzig and newly minted M.A. Muschda Sherzada surveyed CEOs, managing directors and executive board members of German corporations in ten industries. They discovered several interesting findings, including:

  • Mass media is more influential on corporate reputation than social media — 96% to 71%
  • Personal communication by leaders is more impactful than that of professional communicators — 87% to 65%
  • When exchanging views on building public opinion or communication strategies, peers on the board or in functional divisions are most important, versus the contribution of the communicators or communication departments — 87% to 64%
  • CEOs and other top execs say motivating employees, fostering corporate trust and supporting a positive image are the most important objectives of corporate communications, more than fostering dialogue with stakeholders and gaining trust among journalists.
  • Marketing communications and financial communications are rated the most effective sub-disciplines in corporate comms, but internal communication is seen as most relevant.

That comms pros aren’t seen as the first choice when it’s time to talk communication strategy is telling. Many of my colleagues say that they are business people who use communication skills in service of company objectives. But clearly in Germany, our function is tactical, not strategic, and communicators focus too little on internal communications and effective counsel.

What is it like in your organization?

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Feeding mind & soul at PR research conference

Monday, March 10th, 2014
Dr. Vincent Hazleton, Prof. Michele Ewing & Dr. Dean Kruckeberg

Dr. Vincent Hazleton, Prof. Michele Ewing & Dr. Dean Kruckeberg

Many of my colleagues in public relations quail when I tell them I make a habit of attending the International PR Research Conference.  It’s an academic conference that features scholars presenting papers they have written (or soon will write) in 15 minute blocks. Half the time they explain the main points of the research, and the other half we listeners get to ask questions and make suggestions. That works great for me, and beginning in 2014, I’m now a member of the IPRRC Research Advisory Board, so will have a chance to be more involved.

For a lot of these papers/presentations — which are requirements for Ph.D.s and doctoral students — there isn’t a direct connection to practice. That doesn’t mean discussing them is not useful, and I admit readily to being enough of a geek that I appreciate the deep mental stretching that the more esoteric topics bring forth. Among the more usual questions I ask: “So what?” Most of the time not quite so bluntly (though one longtime friend of the conference, a practitioner who passed away last year, Jack Felton, felt no such reticence), and always with the desire only to understand the research’s impact on our practice.  We need more of the usual PRs to delve into this stuff, because the academics need our feedback, and we need to be there to give it!

One of my favorites was among the most academic. Denmark-based professors Finn Frandsen and Winni Johansen of Aarhus University are exploring a general theory of intermediaries in PR. That’s trade unions, trade associations, the news media and others as stakeholders on their own account. Finn and Winni pose that there’s a trifecta of reputations at stake — the industry represented, the members of the intermediary organization, and the organization itself might be sharing reputation in a commons of sorts. Made my head hurt a little, but in a good way.

There were several other presentations that made a strong impression. Here’s the first few I took note of. 

Place

Dr. Shannon Bowen listens to Dr. Katie Place

Dr. Katie Place of Saint Louis University, presented on ethical decision-making in public relations. She is seeking to understand how professionals evaluate or reflect on their decisions. Dr. Place has started a qualitative study on the topic, and finds that there are few constants in process, with relying on one’s “gut” one of the few.  It’s a highly personal and rather eclectic mix, she finds, and that matches with much I’ve read on the topic.  We need more research on this, especially as PR Ethics is so often considered an oxymoron.

Doctoral student Arunima Krishna of Purdue University explored a “big 4” accounting firm’s unauthorized Facebook “Confessions” page, exploring whether the passion, vigor and dedication associated with highly engaged publics (groups of people) who are negative toward their organizations present particular challenges to our practice.  She posits that engagement — frequently assumed to be positive and desirable — might have a dark side. Stay tuned, and look for your organization’s Facebook Confessions page ASAP.

 

Holley Reeves, doctoral student

Holley Reeves, doctoral student

Holley Reeves, a doc student at University of Georgia, looked at corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs as contributors to organization public relations activities. She conducted interviews with PR pros to determine what they thought of their org’s CSR, and sought to determine whether the CSR was primarily used to accomplish PR goals. It’s early, but the preliminary findings are encouraging for those who a) believe CSR is the right thing to do regardless of its business or PR value, and b) that CSR is no replacement for confronting and solving organizational problems and issues. 

There are more to review — look for another 3-4 in the next post, including the offering from my Kent State University colleague, Prof. Michele Ewing!

 

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Summing up: IABC Heritage Conference a Winner

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Conf_BrochureI’ve given serious thought in recent months to letting my IABC membership lapse. With all the drama earlier this year, it crossed my mind more than once. But then, I attended the Heritage Region Conference, Oct. 13-15 in Indianapolis.

The IABC International is huge — 1,500 isn’t out of the question — and its venues, large hotels in big cities (New York, Toronto, etc.) makes for a spendy trip for the likes of a sole proprietor. But the regional conferences are more compact, are in smaller cities, and yet offer terrific programming.

This year was no exception.

I’m a little biased, as I had the chance to speak once again, but the quality was wonderful — Jim Lukaszewski held court for three hours, evangelizing on the concept that communicators need to be much more business-centric than communication-centric, particularly in times of crisis.  We know that we get more popular when it’s time to sweep up after some sort of conflagration, but too often, Jim averred, we see communication as the solution to every problem.

Case in point at my own expense:  Jim asked why the CEO of BP — Tony Hayward, of “I’d like my life back” fame — lost his job in the wake of the oil platform explosion that killed people and brought the US gulf coast to its economic knees.  I piped up instantly — blame-shifting, insensitivities, cluelessness

Jim said I was wrong – it’s just how things are done. The disaster happened on his watch, and so he paid the price. He’ll be OK, Jim added, because these guys get paid no matter what. But he’ll never lead as large or important a company as BP.  Jim’s point: we communicators need to better understand how business operates, not just the role that communicators play in it. There’s more, of course, including Jim’s gentle good humor, phenomenal stories and exceptional insight that comes from doing this work for 40-odd years.

Tim McCleary of The Involvement Practice keynoted Monday morning, offering not only a valuable speech, but a couple of fun exercises demonstrating how we can move from informing to involving people.  Establishing the central objective, then helping people understand it through real dialogue, then immersing them in the world of the new so that they own that objective and finally activating the power of the internal network (the What, Why and How of communicating change), was clear, intuitive and actionable.

Kent Lewis of Anvil Media, and serial entrepreneur, talked social media analytics — but not in a dry, statistical way. He shared stories of how to measure effectively — key performance indicators, metrics and goals for each platform, content strategies, etc. — that resonated well with attendees. Two big reminders for me — YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine, so having content on that platform is critical; and that SlideShare adds immeasurably to both search performance and sharing content effectively. One more from Kent — LinkedIn is essential in B2B, and one’s company page needs to be robust, clear and urgent.  I need to get on that right away!

That’s just a couple of examples.

The point is that about 150 attendees really got the chance to network. I met at least five people I’d not met before, and I reacquainted myself with dozens more.  The seven-person dinner Monday night at the Dine-Around was terrific, even if Harry and Izzy’s shrimp cocktail blasted my head (and everyone else’s) into a tear-streaked paroxysm of anguish and bliss.

IABC might be struggling to right itself, but they might have kept me in the fold thanks the Heritage Region team’s great work.  Check out the Twitter stream at #iabchrconf.

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PR measurement: 3 reasons for hope

Friday, September 27th, 2013

A couple of years ago, I wrote that with so much BS in measurement (particularly in social media) that I was wearying of the chase. Now I’m more hopeful, not because there’s less BS, but because people are getting a bit more wise to it.

Here are three reasons why I’m feeling good about measurement:

1. The social media measurement standards coalition:  There now is a document outlining professional standards for measurement in social media! Thanks to MANY people — Katie Paine at the top of the list — and the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), Council of PR Firms (CPRF) and the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) — and the #SMMStandards Conclave, plus the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Chartered Institute of PR (CIPR), Federation Internationale des Bureaux d’Extraits de Presse (FIBEP), Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), Digital Analytics Association (DAA) and Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).

2. PRSA’s “value of public relations” project: David Rockland of Ketchum spearheaded the effort to enlist the U.S.’s main professional association for PR, and the academic community, in a conversation about the value that public relations brings and how to prove it effectively.  The very conversation was off limits when I joined the PR measurement world just 9 (!) short years ago. Goodness.

3. Classes in Measurement making it into college PR programs: I built a Measurement/ROI class for Kent State in 2011, and have taught it now three times for grad students in-person, and twice in the online masters’ program there.  People who take this class have better, deeper, more cogent and more effective final projects than those who don’t, according to the school.  Strategic thinking and planning changes among these minds as a consequence of taking merely an intro course in measurement.  These are the future leaders of our profession, and among the greatest achievements in my professional life is contributing that class to the curriculum.

I’m more hopeful now, even amid the continuing battle for social media’s soul between the “marketers” and other communicators, than I’ve been in years!  How about you?

 

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PRSA’s Corbett: ‘You’d think that companies would learn from history. But they don’t’

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Gerry Corbett has surely seen it all in some forty years of communicating. But social media is what has him worked up these days, and not the way you might think.

Corbett, the immediate past chair of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), sees social not as the end of corporate communication, but as the catalyst for the discipline’s reinvention.  At a joint luncheon of the Cleveland chapters of PRSA and the National Investor Relations Institute, Corbett said that both public relations and investor relations (and for that matter, marketing and employee communications) were properly part of a single activity: communicating with and building relationships between organizations and various stakeholders.

“Investor relations and public relations are likely to merge,” Corbett said, “because both are communicating and advocating for organizations, whether to employees, customers, media, investors or analysts.”

He remarked that only a consolidated communication executive can solve the trouble that ensues when messaging among these many publics becomes inconsistent and disjointed, especially in an age when just about anyone can seize the attention of companies. “With social media, anyone has a podium and can have their way.”

Corbett drove home the point by saying that communicators are the only ones who can properly educate the C-Suite on social media, and that with social media use rising in every aspect of corporate communication, the coordinated approach is the only alternative, as is reporting to the CEO.

The CFO is worried about funding the business, not about messaging, and if the CEO isn’t paying attention, he or she is failing to assert full responsibility as only that position can, he said.  The advent of social media is only the latest innovation that companies may be failing to embrace. “You’d think that companies would learn from history. But they don’t,” Corbett said.

My take

It was a good talk, but the big value for me was the Q and A following. Corbett’s best in dialogue and response, and unlike many sessions where one struggles to get the participants to open their mouths other than to devour the ubiquitous chicken, there were good, strategic questions, including a lulu from Melanie Eyerman of thunder::tech — how do you convince reluctant CEOs who don’t understand social media or its importance?

Corbett offered that building relationships at that level, becoming a Consigliere to leadership, a trusted advisor, even taking the CFO out for drinks, are all valid strategies. I’m not sure about the last one — it’s pretty hard to break past the gatekeepers at that level unless you’re already at the table.

That question intrigues me, though I suppose you do so the same things to sell any idea at the top of the house: figure out the communication style of the leader and present your case in that form; research thoroughly and articulate both benefits and risks, etc.  It’s the research angle (duhhh) that I think is most valid, unless the person you’re trying to convince has categorical short-attention-span disease. I want to explore that concept further, perhaps at a happy hour.

A number of other ideas circled around my weary synapses — place social in the category of issues management (however laughable the idea of managing issues might be in the age of social…) — write a white paper called “making sense of social media” and don’t use any “social media gurus” as sources — focus more on broad communication outcomes than on narrow marketing ones when it comes to social — dig hard for social case studies within specific industries, and don’t use Dell or Comcast unless you’re a) selling online, or b) making a case for communication to take  over customer service.

Definitely worth the luncheon. Besides, I got to hang out with Ann-Marie Halal, Rick Batyko, Laurie Mitchell, Tom O’Konowitz , Dave Meeker, and Jim Roop!

 

Note: I’m having a devil of a time posting images to this blog ever since it changed URLs last year. I’m open to suggestions!

 

 

 

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