Posts Tagged ‘communication messages’

What are your predictions?

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

I decided to take a stab at putting together a “communication predictions for 2012” post and asked on Twitter for contributions in hopes of getting it out this coming week. As it happens, Judy Gombita (@jgombita) and Paul Seaman (@paulseaman) have obliged with their thoughts, and Heather Yaxley (@greenbanana) has written a definitive post on PR trends that bears close examination.

I’d  appreciate your thoughts, especially about measurement and internal communications. Where might we go in 2012?

My reactions to Judy and Paul are below – about Heather’s piece, I can say only, READ IT.

Judy’s comment:

Fingers crossed @CommAMMO: #corporatecommunications (aka #PR) is going to embrace LEADing (not OWNing) #SoMe for integrated communications.

Integrated communication is not only inevitable, but highly desirable, especially around Social Media. What I’d hate is to have Marketing inserted between Integrated and Communication.  As Judy’s crossed fingers aver, this isn’t an ownership question, it’s a question of leadership. You know my adage: All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing. Thanks Judy!

And Paul’s:

@CommAMMO #corporatecommunications the only safe prediction is that 2012 is unpredictable. Yet I forecast an increase in PR spend over 2011.

Speaking as a small businessperson, I hope Paul’s right! But I also hope that the increase in spend includes a modicum for effective measurement, research and evaluation. We CAN measure the effectiveness of communication activity and do so cost-effectively, but not for free. I fervently hope that the extra PR ducats are for issues management, reputation and employee communication, not just publicity and press agentry. Here’s hoping. Many thanks, Paul.

Note: 2012 marks my third year in the land of entrepreneurship and blogging/tweeting. It’s been fun, and I very much appreciate your kind attention to my fevered scribblings. As per lately, I’m blessed with clients, teaching, grad school and family obligations, but aspire to participate in a few chats and cogitate herewith for your consideration. Mazel Tov for 2012!

-Sean

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Verdict on American Airlines’ Bankruptcy Comms – Good So Far

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Courtesy AA.comDuring my putative lunch today (29 Nov) the erstwhile Roula Amire of Ragan.com asked if I’d write a quick post on the bankruptcy communications coming out of AMR Corp., the parent company of American Airlines.  At first I said no, too busy, but as my home office was still captive to contractors, I quickly reconsidered and wrote something (thank you, Panera wi-fi!).

Bop over to read my piece. I’ll tell you this much — given the requirements of lawyers and the, I don’t know, 12 different constituencies they needed to satisfy, I think they did a good job.  I like the Facebook video from AMR’s CEO, and the customer service Twitter stream pointing people to FAQs.

This is another case of “Dirt-sandwich-and-everybody-has-to-take-a-bite.” There’s not much we can do but smile and chew.

 

 

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PR as sales support: EZ 2 Measure, but…

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Our ongoing conundrum in public relations measurement is how best to move our practice from simple output measures to more substantive matters. Mostly, we struggle to connect our outputs to business outcomes – results. This puzzle has led to thinking of ourselves as extensions of marketing, looking to conduct activities that have a more direct impact on sales. Certainly a fair number of people are having a fair amount of success in that respect.

There are a few things that worry me about this type of focus. Among them, Whither internal communications?  Subject matter that targets employee engagement often has little direct effect on revenue. Even attempts to get employees to “think like owners” and “spend each dollar like it was your own” have to have only the most tangential effect on savings. Does that mean we shouldn’t attempt to help employees identify with the company? Avoid communicating the benefits of working there? Forget about generating employee ambassadors?  I hope not.

What about corporate social responsibility? Helping to create the environment where the organization can thrive is critical, but doesn’t turn up consistently on a balance sheet. There’s research that says people want to do business with companies that match their own ethical priorities, but that’s not the same direct connection as conducting a product PR campaign focused on sales.

Investor relations and government relations have different impact than direct sales – it’s part of the public affairs world that, like CSR, has a roundabout relationship to sales. Do we stop doing that? (BTW, I’m aware that these are usually separate departments, but stick with me, please.)

As apocryphal as these cases might sound, there’s a real danger in thinking of PR only in the direct-sales case. Our profession is wider than that.  When we seek to measure only in ROI terms (a financial term with a financial result), we unnecessarily limit ourselves and start to think that if one sees everything as a nail, every tool looks like a hammer.

Reputation and issues management should be critical to strategy development. Third-party endorsement and the two-step flow to influencers are still relevant.  Sales-related PR isn’t wrong or bad — it’s just not the only relevant game in town.  We have other tools in the toolbox that serve different purposes…All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing.

 

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Employers shocked, shocked, that morale is low

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

In what can be described only as a stunning command of the obvious, a MetLife study shows that workers are growing restive as the economy rebounds from three years of struggle, and that employers are oblivious.

A story in the 28 March edition of USA Today quotes a psychologist saying that workers are stressed after watching co-workers get fired, being told to take on more work for the same pay, and longer hours. The MetLife veep is quoted (nice pop, MetLife PR!) saying that business’s understandable focus on financial matters has led to it ignoring human factors. It is pretty easy to be a “best employer” when the tide is in and Wall Street rocking.

There’s even an indirect from Towers Watson saying that companies are having a hard time “attracting employees with critical skills.”

How can any company say they’re surprised by these results? Add in a healthy dose of capitalist excess in the form of higher executive pay and you have a combustible mixture of anger and envy alongside the feeling that you need to leave to be appreciated.  During a downturn, people are OK with making less money — they indeed are just happy to have a job. After their sacrifice (which is how they see it), when the picture turns better, they expect to make up lost ground — the 3% raise isn’t enough — they didn’t get a raise for two years, so now they want 9% to pick up the slack. But Wall Street will punish any company that lets its fixed costs leap up like that!

Where’s a leader, though, who’ll redirect his or her whacking huge bonus to throw a bit more on the regular employee pile? How about a one-time 401(k) contribution? Maybe a small bonus to show the boss notices the dedication of the past few years?

If they can’t see how the tough stuff hurt loyalty and morale, they don’t deserve to be in business.

 

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Employee Engagement Still Relevant

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

On 24 August, a group of internal communication folks gathered on Twitter for #ICChat, the twice-monthly discussion that a few of us think might be valuable. The topic: Employee Engagement, the Gallup Q12-fueled effort to make employees feel good enough about their organization that they turn into brand champions. (Or peer leaders, or influencers, or advocates, what have you. Pick a term).

This edition was far and away the most participation we’ve had, thanks to interest from several prominent IABC’ers and, no doubt, relentless marketing by Yours Truly (grin).  We’re following in the huge footsteps of Twitter mega-chats like #SoloPR, #PR20Chat, #BlogChat, #B2BChat #PRStudChat #IMCChat and a bunch of others, so 20 chatters and 241 tweets gives me hope.

By the way, #ICCHat and those other # thingies are ‘hashtags‘ – a string of text that makes it so that you can find tweets that contain it when you search on Twitter.  I use a third-party application, www.TweetChat.com, to organize my chatting — it automatically puts the hashtag into the tweet and makes it so you can see the chat stream separately from your other Twitter activity. E-mail me if you need a primer.

If you’d like to work through the transcript, you can find it here. Otherwise, read on for my summary and opinions.

Defining employee engagement was quite the task, as you can read here.  Not much consensus, but many interesting perspectives. I liked @DMarkSchumann‘s line:

“you know, engagement is simple – we all simply want to believe we matter – silly us”

I also loved @JGombita‘s:

“Q1: Employee engagement is when corporate values can talked about without eyeball rolling or sniggers”

@JPChurch said:

Q1: EE is the point where emps are in synch with your org’s goals, know how they affect their own jobs, and can take the ball & run

And the capper of employee-focused employee engagement-ism from @CSledzik:

“Q1: we’ve been using a 1st person description. An EE can say: ‘I fit, I’m clear, I’m supported, I’m valued, I’m inspired.'”

We talked about how to foster engagement — and our answers ran the range from the general, from @HeatherSTL:

“Honestly? Extend trust, hold ppl accountable, reward success :)”

to the specific, courtesy of @BenjaminRossDC:

“The best way to foster engagement, hands-down, is though profit-sharing incentives”

and @JostleMe:

“helping each individual understand they are part of a winning team that is making a difference”

and @JGombita:

“One of the best ways to foster engagement is if you ask employees for feedback, .actually do something with it”

Walking one’s talk — building trust through authenticity and openness — was another frequently offered mode of generating engagement. Responses to the question, “Why is authenticity, transparency, ‘do right’ seemingly so difficult for organizations to embrace” were fascinating. @JPChurch:

“Because leaders wrongly think those things are “soft,” and have no obvious ROI. Au contraire.”

@RobinRox offered the contrary example:

“Depends on how you get to that bottom line. Container Store site “what we stand for” makes me want to shop there more.”

I could go on, but just read the transcript – there are great quotes (one cool by-product of Twitter chats)…

With so much responsibility falling on the shoulders of leadership, we discussed the role of communication styles on the engagement equation. @RobinRox:

if the leader’s style is so contrary to the “feel” of the company and its values, it is harder to gain a loyal following

@CSledzik:

“Culture of comm. equally important. Nothing beats two-way open comm channels, esp when leadership is involved in the convo.”

@JGombita:

“Q4 don’t think it’s so much whether the leader is an extrovert/introvert, it’s whether s/he actually LISTENS & implements”

@DMarkSchumann:

“[…]engagement only matters to employees if leadership demonstrates that people matter”

@JPchurch:

“Must be careful not to change comm efforts too much to match exec style, though – messages must be genuine & lasting.”

@DMarkSchumann

“no longer can a leader delegate engagement to others – it is the job”

It was a terrific conversation.  You could see for yourself.  If you’re not on Twitter, just sign up for a name — you don’t have to do the rest of the stuff we Twitter-people do if you don’t want to.  Just use the account for participating in Twitter meetings like #ICChat.  By the way, we resume our discussion September 7 at 2 p.m. Eastern time — topic is likely “Emerging Internal Web Tools/Trends.” Hope to see you there.

By the way, Jostle’s Brad Palmer wrote a summary here; and D. Mark Schumann did so too.  Many thanks to all of you.

Q1: EE is the point where emps are in synch with your org’s goals, know how they affect their own jobs, and can take the ball & run #icchat
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Some Crises Are ‘No-Win’

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

In a balanced article in the 22 August New York Times, writer Peter S. Goodman talks to a heap of PR folks about the Goldman Sachs, Toyota and BP communication nightmares. It’s a good piece, especially one graf:

“Which raises a question: Are some crises so dire that public relationship victory is simply not on the menu? And, if so, what’s an embattled company to do?”

After living through the financial crisis with a regional bank, I can tell you that we did wonder whether there was anything we could do differently to try and make our sow’s ear into a silk purse. Or even just a paper bag, anything except what we were getting.

The question of visceral hatred that we see for Goldman Sachs and BP isn’t equaled for Toyota. Of course, the corporate reputations of both Goldman and BP weren’t near as positive prior to their crises as Toyota’s. In the Goldman case, was public opinion merely scapegoating a convenient target? We didn’t much like the idea that this company was busy racking up big profits whilst the average Joe saw 401 (k) collapses, layoffs and strife. BP had held itself out as a new breed (Beyond Petroleum). Meanwhile, Toyota had become the largest auto company in the world on the strength of perceived exceptionally high quality. There was more goodwill built up around Toyota, and although they had a few bumps, they seem to be returning to their lofty status.

One expert quoted in the article said when the facts are horrible, “the best PR fix may simply be to absorb the pounding and get back to business, while eschewing the sort of foolish communication gimmicks that can make things worse.”

We see, however, how heavy the pounding can get when companies decide to stonewall or be overly parsimonious in their statements. But I agree that sometimes, the news is just so bad, so damaging, that there’s no way to win. So, the question becomes, just how much crisis medicine are you willing to take?

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IT Conference Reveals Unexpected Connection with PR

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Ask most PR people whether they’d like to attend a conference filled with IT people. Go on, ask. Read the conference brochure and marvel at “2000 Years of IT Service Management,” “Achieving Technology and Business Superiority through IT Organizational Transformation,” and “IT Alignment: It Takes Two to Tango.”  It turned out to be one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended.

Everyone should take the time to assess their own objectives for attending a conference, seminar, luncheon or other event. Think through what you want to get out of it, what you’re willing to put into it. My objective, this summer, is to expand the network, among people who might want to engage my services.  I’ve been marketing myself through social media, and among communication organizations — the IABC Conference, my presentation to Lake Communicators, and this fall’s presentations at the PRSA International Conference and IABC’s Research and Measurement Conference.

While reviewing networking opportunities here in Cleveland on Pat Ropchock’s blog (she’s locked in big time), I noted “Integrate 2010: Uniting the World of IT” put on by the Greater Cleveland Local Interest Group of the ITSMFUSA — it’s a mouthful of an acronym that means, “IT people who want to be more relevant and strategic.”  They call the main discipline Service Management,” a process for aligning IT services with the needs of the enterprise.

The themes that emerged from most of the presentations I saw were fascinating.

  • IT feels like it’s not at the leadership table. Instead, they’re brought in after the business strategy’s in place and have to scramble to make things happen.
  • IT struggles to articulate its business value for all but a handful of services.
  • IT gets stuck on describing activities rather than defining its service portfolio in terms that the business leadership understands.
  • IT often can’t “sell” itself effectively, caught up in jargon and technical detail that isn’t relevant to leadership.

What happens if we replace “IT” with “PR” or “Corporate Communication?”

  • A consistent theme of IABC/PRSA material for years was “winning a seat at the table,” and then keeping it. We’ve been talking amongst ourselves for as long as I’ve been in the business about being business people first and communicators second. Yet, we’re still not there consistently.
  • Think about the debates over measurement methods — PR activity is difficult to isolate in the communication mix, and there are no standard answers for return on communication investment. Just last year, PRSA and the Institute for PR began working on a project to prove the business value of our profession. Internal communication is especially vulnerable to the question of ROI — and social media value outside of direct sales is still an unfinished book.
  • PR/Communications people frequently take as a given that their professional activities are impactful, regardless of the lack of data to support that claim. Our “service book” describes our activity from our perspective, not from that of our customers.
  • We (especially in internal communications) tend to resort to tactical explanations using our own lingo, rather than speaking about our work in terms readily understood by HR, Finance and leadership.

Sometimes it may seem like IT is on a different planet — more science than art, more Mars than Venus.  We, however, aren’t that different in our desires to be taken seriously by leadership as business people who employ specialized skills.

In addition to a few other things I discovered, this knowledge about IT was worth the price of admission.

More to follow on the conference shortly.

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Another IABC International Conference…

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

I recognize that if I’m not a speaker at the big IABC soiree, I’m probably not the target audience for it. I’m not surprised, therefore, that my first blush reaction to the Toronto gathering wasn’t particularly positive.  My goal for attending this year was to meet some new people and make contact with some who I haven’t seen in a while. I hope to eventually get some business from it, but really just need to expand the network.

The programming and format are nearly identical to my first International, in 1995, also in Toronto. That one was a revelation — I was just 4 years or so into the profession, and everything was new.  Every session offered fascinating insights or enhanced skills.  I met scores of people and hung out with many, enjoying my first trip to Toronto and my first extended business trip in several years.

In 1997, L.A. was a different experience. Many of the speakers were the same as two years earlier, and in 2002 at Chicago, there were just a few sessions that really caught my eye. So I took a vacation from the big show until this year.

Things that impressed me:

Erin Dick from Pratt & Whitney — a social media case study that wasn’t from a Silicon Valley firm… Her use of blogs, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr to help support P&W’s client (the U.S.Government) on the selection of an engine for the Joint Strike Force fighter was off the charts — brilliant. And it had a fairly strong measurement component. I decided to Tweet the session instead of trying to take notes. The benefit was that I had a great summary, though my thumbs threatened to lock up from BlackBerry-itis…

William Amurgis from American Electric Power — Looking for use of social media in internal communications? Amurgis delivered. AEP’s blogs, discussion boards, employee-uploaded photos, etc., set a high standard of participation. The company’s intranet philosophy? Enhance employee productivity, reinforce corporate messages and provide a place to meet for all employees. Everything has to pass through that frame, or it doesn’t happen. And, rather than buy software solutions, AEP makes their own. Amurgis has a designer and a developer on his staff.

The UnConference — OK, it was a bit different than other UnConferences (usually low-or-no-cost, open to anyone; you had to buy the day (at least) for the IABC Conference to get in, and it wasn’t cheap) — but the method of operation was different and fun. There was no pre-set program, just a list of ideas posted on the TorontoTalks website (that a few people did discuss first), and three 5-minute “keynotes” — very informally delivered.  The three-hour session on Sunday afternoon was comprised of four 25-minute blocks of time with six possible topics (being held at six tables). We wrote on sticky notes our question or suggested topic, then stuck it on a flip chart in an empty time slot. The writer could lead the discussion, or someone else could.  I talked measurement (what a shock!) with seven other folks and it was fascinating. We didn’t solve the ROI question in full, nor did we get into other facets of communication, but it still was valuable and fun.

The thing is, the (nice) venue, formal structure and overwhelming size of the show made it hard to connect with people. Even the formal networking session (the big one held on the floor of the exhibit show) was just an hour long — not near enough time to connect. (I also didn’t attend Monday’s sessions — none particularly grabbed me. That might have inhibited my networking activities, so shame on me!)

The cost was pretty high for a new entrepreneur, not only in travel but in the conference fee. I’ll be considering very carefully before jumping on again soon. But, if I wind up as a speaker…

{FYI, I’m speaking in November at IABC’s Research and Measurement Conference in Seattle, as well as at the PRSA National conference in DC in October.  I’m also willing to come to chapter lunches, etc., and can make a deal for my PRSA/IABC fellow members!}

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Mainstream Thinks it ‘Gets’ Social Media

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Two mainstream media stories 1 June tackle social media. The Wall Street Journal ($) offers perspectives on the ultimate measurement of social media effectiveness, direct sales through social channels; Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer looks at the risks of permitting social media use at work, quoting security consulting companies, lawyers and interactive marketing expert Dominic Litten (@DJLitten).

The Plain Dealer story is fairly predictable — “corporate challenges” presented by social media, together with tales of employees fired, foolish companies and an emphasis on the need for strong policies.  The central message is “CONTROL.” This disappoints me, especially because the story dwells so much on blocking social media. Katie Herbst (@katieherbst), who manages social marketing for an insurance company, offers a good counter to the blocking argument, pointing out that time-wasting won’t necessarily be limited by the lack of social media.

The Journal piece talks about apps that can turn social media platforms into sales generators — unmentioned is the time-honored technique of pointing people to a URL.  A couple of strange notes — a marketing professor is quoted saying that businesses must advertise to make people aware of their Facebook fan page, and that large numbers of fans are needed to “sway” buyers. This is a very traditionalist approach that ignores the relationship-building that’s at the heart of social media’s appeal.

Also, the story includes the requisite warning that social media could make for customer service challenges — another professor recommends an even higher level of service to support a Facebook page than other channels.  A Houston sports retailer added a Facebook app to its Facebook Fan page in 2008, but has sold only 50 products through it. Again, a narrow view of success, because unmentioned is the impact of Facebook relationships on other sales channels.

In both of these stories, the reporting is surface-only. The frames in which they operate are very much rooted in mainstream marketing, and little in either story (apart from @DJLitten’s good perspectives on technology and productivity) reflect the reputational and relational opportunities that social media is really all about.

Of course, many marketers are guilty of similar biases — they see the “captive” audience of Facebook fans and want to broadcast to them. Learning to see these tools in their proper context is a challenge all its own.

Present company definitely included.

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Measurement Crucial to PR’s Business Value

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

My learned Australian colleague Geoff Barbaro waxes rant in a post from 17 May (US time), where he inveighs against measurement.  Perhaps not the concept, as much as the practice. He asks:

Do you measure how you look after your family? Do you count the meals, the trips to school, the time spent with children to evaluate effectiveness? When you buy that great new dress or suit that you love, did you then sit down and work through complex metrics to measure what you did?

So why do you think it’s different in business? I’ll tell you why, it’s because you don’t trust people to do the job you employed them to do. You don’t believe they are motivated and care about their work, so you can only make sure they are working by measuring what they do, and then argue that this is the motivational tool. Measuring because “we do what we measure” is a failure of leadership, a failure of motivation, a failure of selection, a failure to define values, a failure of engagement and a failure of communication.

Sorry, Geoff, but this is fuzzy-headed thinking about a vital enhancement to the profession of Public Relations.

I started a comment on Geoff’s blog (a fine and interesting read, btw), but found that it was all too likely that I’d hijack it. And that’s not right. So, here is my reply to Geoff’s shot across the bow. Man the torpedos!

========================

Oh, my. Nothing like an existential rant to get one’s blood up, eh Geoff?

Let’s start by differentiating terms. Measurement isn’t gotcha. It’s not “check-up-on-the-poor-employees.” Neither is it merely about outputs or activities, at least not when it’s strategic.

We in PR have long been the only department in a firm that can say to the C-suite, “trust me” and get away with it. The question on the CEO (and CFO, especially) mind these days, however, is, “What business value do I get for my investment in PR?”

We can take a SWAG (stupid, wild-assed guess) at the answer, but then we sound like witless weasels (um, we build reputation and protect…uh, no, uh, we get media coverage…no, uh, we help the organization communicate effectively, wait, ummmm.)

The fact is that most of us don’t have a clue what the quantifiable business value of PR is, and that’s why PRSA has commissioned a task force to work on that very question. It’s also one of the driving forces in modern PR. It’s created an industry specialty that people are finding value in, even though there is much sophistry and bad measurement out there.

In modern business, every department must contribute to the bottom line. So, direct sales and the support for sales is a winner, as is direct effort to improve efficiency, save money, etc. There’s also credible research about the effect on brand awareness, attitude and disposition of various PR activity. On the internal side, engagement metrics, and employee knowledge and behavioral metrics lend credence to a communicator’s value.

The trick is to a) Measure what matters; and b) Link communication outputs to business outcomes. This is, indeed, a hairy process, filled with risks — bad math the most prevalent, if you ask me.  Correlation is not causation, but frequently it’s a pretty good stand-in for it, if your math is good.  We mustn’t give up on the goal of establishing impact metrics and ROI just because it’s so much easier if we don’t!

I don’t know, Geoff, if I agree that “what gets measured gets done,” but I’m sure that if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.

Cheers,

Sean

@commammo

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