Posts Tagged ‘iprrc’

Skills for PR need revision, research finds

Friday, March 28th, 2014
Prof. Michele Ewing presents as Dr. Dean Krueckeberg (R) and Dr. Vince Hazelton (L) listen.

Prof. Michele Ewing presents as Dr. Dean Krueckeberg (R) and Dr. Vince Hazelton (L) and others listen.

Public relations educators might need to re-examine the core curriculum to keep newly minuted pros relevant in the current market, according to research by Kent State University’s Prof. Michele Ewing.  A qualitative study of the required skills and knowledge for entry-level advertising and PR majors finds that planning, writing, multimedia and business knowledge are among the most urgently needed competencies.

Professor Ewing conducted interviews with 31 pros ranging from CEOs to mid-level professionals across agency, corporate and not-for-profit organizations, and the results were presented at the 17th International PR Research Conference, March 6-10, 2014.

The findings:

Strategic communications planning: Understanding of research and comms strategy is the foundation of PR education. Students must have critical thinking skills and grasp the basics of planning and measurement.

Writing across multiple platforms: Telling stories appropriately for the medium, including content intended to go directly from organization to stakeholder. Yes, we do need people who know the difference between writing a post-length piece versus a feature versus an objective piece.

Multimedia storytelling: Social, mobile, online — they all depend on imagery, audio, video, text, infographics… Visual storytelling is a great phrase, and knowing the power of graphics and imagery and how to lever them appropriately is essential. So is knowing your Adobe suite.

Interpersonal communication: You’ve got to be able to speak, present, engage, persuade, face to face, online and in print.

Digital: Social media and data analytics, including the strategic understanding of engaging audiences through these new tools, but that engagement is only the beginning. Community management, multimedia for social, online and mobile, and the ability to use data analytics to both develop strategy and measure its effect.  More important, it’s the ability to make sense of the data as applied to business issues and problems to facilitate decision-making.

Converged media: Owned, earned and paid work together, and pros need to know how to apply each in service to wider goals. Paid or sponsored social content was an area of emphasis noted.

Business knowledge: Understanding how businesses work, including entrepreneurship, business development, profit margin and bottom line, distribution and purchasing, basic economics… Yes, we still need to address our aversion to numbers as a profession and be business people who happen to lever communication skills.

Exposure to key practice areas: Internal communications, media relations, public affairs, issues and reputation management — but also industry sectors, B2B, healthcare, crisis, energy and technology communications are growth areas in our practice.  But, specializing as an expert in one or more of these is seen as preferable to the generalist approach.

Congrats to Michele on a terrific presentation of a very important topic.  What would you add in the way of advice to improve the curriculum?

 

 

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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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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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Big Banks Get Whipped: 2008 News Coverage

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Think back two years. The financial crisis hit its gallop around this time in 2008, when the U.S. government sold Bear Stearns to JP Morgan Chase before its wrecked hull could breach and take the global economy down to Davy Jones’ Locker.  But that was just the beginning of a wicked huge bear market brought on by inflated real estate prices, preposterous mortgage loans, complicated and unregulated investment vehicles, and a collapse in confidence by everyone from global investors to your local school custodian.

Those of us who watched from a courtside seat (and wished we were in the bleachers, one bank CEO said) remember it all too well.

That’s why I thought twice about hearing University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s David Remund, a doctoral student, present his paper, “Crisis of Confidence: News Coverage of America’s Largest Banks During the 2008 Financial Crisis” at the 13th Annual International PR Research Conference.

Remund did a content analysis of news releases and national and local newspaper coverage of the 10 largest American banks for the second half of 2008, looking for some kind of systemic understanding about how these banks used crisis communication techniques to spray some pain-killer on the daily parade of negative information marching down Main Street.

Two crisis communication theories applied: Image Restoration Theory, which holds that if you’re at fault, you admit it and share the steps you’re taking to address the situation and prevent it from recurring. Situational Crisis Communications Theory says that you need to show concern for people who’ve been hurt by your crisis. Remund’s hypotheses offered that banks that acknowledged the financial crisis and showed concern for consumers in their media relations efforts would enjoy a higher proportion of confidence-building news coverage as a results.

Whoops. Remund’s findings were the exact opposite, with neither hypothesis supported.

Instead, the media pretty much held that banks’ actions contributed to the financial crisis, and the quietest banks got the greater proportion of positive coverage.  So, what happened?

As I wrote in my own research covering one company, the crisis had so many contributing factors, was so broad and so extensive that we got to the point where facts and data simply didn’t matter. It was a mob, running headlong down the street screaming, “Run! Run!” Everybody had to run, even as they asked what what happening. Secondly, Remund’s research drew from a rather small batch of news outlets and from only the largest banks.

Finally, by the third quarter of 2008, the news media wasn’t about to trust pretty much anything that banks had to say. Washington Mutual raised capital and swore up and down that it was solvent, even as its capital dwindled away toward federal seizure. Lehman Brothers didn’t think it had any problems in the summer and was dead by September. IndyMac, Countrywide, Wachovia, National City… all positioned themselves as in good shape — but what else could they say?

We PR people are always recommending the most transparent approach — the article of crisis communication faith seems to be , “Tell it first, tell it fast and tell it all.” Aside from a recent study, all the literature calls for that type of approach.  I believe it’s far more situational — once you’re in a systemic crisis that reaches past you and your world, your ability to affect its course gets a lot more difficult. Sometimes, you just have to wait it out.

The Remund study reveals more about the limits of crisis communication, than about bank public relations in a crisis.

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Survey: Internal Comm Effectiveness ‘Important Concern,’ But…

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Researchers Dr. Juan Meng of the University of Dayton (Ohio) and Dr. Bruce K. Berger of the University of Alabama cut to the chase in their research presentation at the Institute for PR International PR Research Conference. Their first finding? “Though communication effectiveness has been an important concern for organizational leaders, the assessment of communication effectiveness has not been widely applied by using business outcome metrics in organizations.” Sigh.

Meng and Berger used both the results from the 2007-2008 IABC Research Foundation/Watson Wyatt international survey of senior communicators, and a series of in-depth interviews with 13 IABC Gold Quill winners to look for process links between internal communication effectiveness and organizational financial performance.

For me, this represents a sort of Holy Grail: we internal comms experts know that our work is impactful, but have lacked the hard evidence of causality that we perceive the C-suite respects and demands. I was disappointed, yet again, though that first finding is by no means the only one.  In brief, the other five are:

  • Measuring internal comm effectiveness should be standard operating practice.
  • There’s lots of measurement going on, evaluating awareness/understanding; engagement; job performance; employee behavior, and improvement in overall business performance.
  • Everyone has good reasons why measurement isn’t as robust as it should be, and they’re the usual culprits — lack of time/money/staff and the pain of finding actual cause-and-effect toward business results.
  • The measurement approaches used are employee surveys, employee participation in communication activities and manager surveys.
  • Four valuable purposes for internal communication: Explaining/Promoting programs and policies; educating about culture and values; providing information about performance and financial objectives, and helping employees understand the business.

At Goodyear, we made great progress toward true outcome measurement for internal communications, but didn’t quite get there. We did establish a strong link between employee knowledge/comprehension, intranet use and managerial behavior, but never got the chance to take everything to the organizational performance level.

At National City Corporation (the regional bank), our focus from the first day I arrived was on external measurement, for a variety of reasons. But the internal side wasn’t ignored — we were a Gallup Q12 company, and despite the wretched economic conditions and horrific, calamitous financial performance of the company, we still topped 94% participation in the Q12.  Right until the last moment, we were using Q12 results in our planning process, as well as beginning to use editorial content more strategically. But, again, we weren’t reaching the business outcomes level of measurement.

Here’s a quote from one of Meng & Berger’s in-depth interviews:

I think the biggest challenge in measurement continues to be convincing clients to spend, not so much the money, but to spend the time. As the industry develops, I don’t have a hard time in convincing them about the validity of measurement, but they are reluctant to actually take the time away from business to actually administer surveys or focus groups or some other measurement tools.

Looks like we have to continue making those tools easier to use and more valuable, even as we continue to scale the mountain tops for the Holy Grail.

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Amazon’s Recovery from Kindle Content Deletion Crisis Evaluated

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

In the middle of 2009, owners of e-reader Kindle got a nasty surprise when Amazon snatched back e-books that it turned out were supplied illegally. Amazon’s supplier didn’t have the rights to distribute the content, so Amazon accessed Kindles and deleted it.

Seems like no problem to me, but then, I don’t have a Kindle. Amazon got to enjoy seven days of flame and shouting for its trouble.

Drs. W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay of Eastern Illinois University (kind of a hotbed of pithy PR scholarship), presented a paper about Amazon’s week from hell at the 13th International PR Research Conference.  Dr. Coombs is a preeminent theorist on crisis communication, the author of several books and papers about it, and a good presenter who carries a quick wit with his slide rule.  He a smart dude.

Apparently, the “Kindle Community” was pretty angry about having “their” stuff unceremoniouslyyanked. Amazon’s notification statement lacked complete information, or ordinary human compassion, according to those who read it:

“The Kindle edition books Animal Farm by George Orwell, published by MobileReference (mobi) and 1984 by George Orwell, published by MobileReference (mobi) were removed from the Kindle store and are no longer available for purchase. When this occurred, your purchases were automatically refunded. you can still locate the books in the Kindle store, but each has a status of not yet available. Although are rarity, publishers can decide to pull their content from the Kindle store.”

Commenters went ballistic, and before you could blink, there were boycotts threatened. So Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos posted an abject apology, saying in part: “Our ‘solution’ to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles.” He beat on his company pretty hard.

Coombs and Holladay found that the florid, nearly over-the-top apology worked very well. 71 percent accepted the apology, nearly 16 percent accepted it conditionally, and just 13 percent rejected it.  More important, more than 21 percent indicated they were more likely to buy from Amazon versus 10.5 percent said they were less likely to buy.

So what’s that mean? It means that Coombs’ main theories of crisis communication are holding steady in the online world — the process of admitting you’ve done wrong, taking steps to rectify the situation and ensure it won’t happen again, and beating yourself up a bit in the process result in restoring positive feelings among your stakeholders.

There surely are crises where this won’t happen — some things are just too bad — but this study gives additional support to the basis for advice during crisis times.

Watch for the complete paper in May when the IPRRC proceedings are released.

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