Posts Tagged ‘Journalist’

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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Crisis demands understanding, says expert Hennes

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

IABC Cleveland is no stranger to Bruce Hennes. He’s the 2011 communicator of the year and his firm, Hennes/Paynter, is the local champion of effective crisis management through communication. At the 21 Feb. lunch, a small but lively crowd ate up his pithy prescriptions for communicating in very bad times.

I’ve seen Bruce speak many times, first at a luncheon for the Legal Marketing Association, then at an IABC lunch in 2011, and now today, and he always impresses me. As a speaker, he’s an unassuming guy, not given to theatrics, but his content is peerless and his delivery always excellent. Many speakers could learn from him how to hold an audience’s attention through sheer strength of story.

Hennes uses catchy terms — the 3 Tells, 3 V’s, F’up, Fess-up, Fix-up  —  and demonstrates through example what he means. The first of these is the command that supercedes all others — you have to tell the truth, tell it first and tell it all. The 3 V’s are the frame that the media places around stories. Everyone involved is one of these: Victim, Villain, or Vindicator. Care to guess where business (especially executives), education administrators and other “powerful” people find themselves?  The goal for most organizations in the midst of a crisis is to move from villain to vindicator, he says. When you, ahem, Mess up, you need to fess up and describe what you’re doing to make sure it never happens again.

The media brings its own filter to the proceedings, and they’re on the lookout for you to reinforce the role they want you to play. That’s why “no comment” or its usual cousins are so bad — what does “no comment” mean to you? Guilty!  Hennes insists that the media’s job isn’t to inform or educate, it’s to tell stories — the triumph of the Little Guy over the Establishment being a fairly common one — Victim, Villain, Vindicator.

The good thing is that when we know that, we can take action.  Hennes tells a story about an embezzlement scandal at a governmental organization. Hennes/Paynter brought the executive director straight to a reporter and gave them the story in exquisite detail, without violating privacy dicta, and when the very big story broke, its headline put the organization in very positive light, instead of the reverse. The reporter told Hennes later, that if the organization had not brought the story in, the paper would have socked it to the organization big time.

Entertaining, educational and excellent all the way around.

Note: I’m still having no luck uploading photos for the blog since it changed URLs. Help? 

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Giving marketers – and marketing – a bad name

Monday, August 27th, 2012

The 26 August edition of the New York Times carries a long story about Todd Rutherford, an Oklahoma entrepreneur who in 2010 started a company that solicited authors to buy online reviews of their work.  Rutherford paid freelancers to write the reviews, and for a little while, was making $28,000 per month. The piece quotes him saying, “These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.”  Yeah, well, once upon a time there was a difference.

They have a term for when you buy space to trumpet your products and services: Advertising. A review in a publication or a broadcast is editorial content — by definition, it cannot be paid for. That division ensures that the reader/viewer is getting a third party view of the material, not one colored by someone with a vested interest in it.  If you made the rash conclusion that “user” reviews on Amazon are written by real users, I guess pity the fool. I often thought the reviews were too fawning and too “professional” to be done by real people, but I figured, “hey, if someone styles themselves a critic and wants to write 500 words on this book, movie, whatever, go for it.” It never occurred to me that someone was out there paying for reviews. Jeepers, no wonder so many Amazon books get five stars.

The Times spends 70 paragraphs exploring this issue. We hear from eBook authors who paid for reviews, freelance writers who wrote them (nearly always without reading the publication in question) and Rutherford himself now “regrets his venture into what he called, ‘artificially embellished reviews.'”

As much as I am a committed free marketeer, I still have quite a lot of heartburn about this. Rutherford says the market will take care of the issue, with true negative reviews overcoming the false positives. I’m not so sure about that.  I wrote earlier about bloggers taking either direct payments or junkets in exchange for talking about a product or company. This seems clearly to be in the realm of deception –under the law, the relationship between advertiser (the authors) and the editorial source (the  publication) has to be disclosed. Only then is the consumer of the review equipped to judge its veracity and its utility.

Rutherford’s firm was engaged in deliberate deception — the authors got the ratings and reviews that helped with sales (though some of the more successful ones didn’t give credit), Rutherford and the freelancers made money.  This doesn’t work for me. It’s fraud.

 

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Bloggers – Got Paid? It’s Commercial Speech

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Earlier this year, I did some research on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission guidelines on endorsements and testimonials for a class. As I dug into it, I wrote a post promising to share the paper, so here it is. I thought I’d share the results in hopes that anyone in social media would understand that pay means business, and that means disclosure.  The style is academic, which means there are a lot of endnotes and a sizable bibliography, but it shouldn’t kill you.

The short version: If you get stuff from a company to write about (even if they don’t demand it be positive), you are expected to tell your readers. If what you say is deceptive or misleading, you could be blogging from the Hotel GrayBar — or at least be a little lighter in the cash department.

But wait a second, what about free speech?  Journalists don’t need to disclose if they get free stuff!  Well, let’s just say that the Government — and the Courts — have ruled that your free speech is secondary to the rights of consumers.

I don’t think I can argue. But you can — just read the paper first.

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Is Blogging Commercial Speech?

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Courtesy of FBI.gov

Here’s a little brain-teaser for you.  Not too long ago, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission issued regulations saying that bloggers who get into product promotion have to tell us if they got compensated for doing so. How does that ruling affect the free speech rights of the bloggers?

I’m going to do some research as part of the class I’m taking — Law of Advertising and Public Relations — and after I turn in the paper (and get a grade on it) I’ll return to this topic. I found a really interesting article in the American Business Law Journal that explores this topic, mostly from the perspective of the company and its own blogs, but the discussion on what constitutes commercial speech is rich indeed. And, it offers a lot of other articles and legal opinions that will help my research immensely.

But, in the meantime, what’s your view?  Is a product review paid for by the company commercial speech, or individual speech not subject to the FTC’s rules?

 

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Does ‘spam’ work?

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

I know I’m a bit addled lately with multiple priorities and projects, but I just wondered why I got 18 junk comments on me blog, here…? Do BS things like that actually work? Are there people who buy based on unsolicited emails, junk Tweets, nonsense comments on a blog?

For that matter, can anyone explain why the same batch of Snopes.com de-bunked email rumors keep staying alive?  For heaven’s sake, no one is releasing cell phone numbers to telemarketers, there’s no email that can wipe your hard drive (unless there’s a bad attachment and you…open it.) Let’s not even discuss the, ahem, male enhancement claims…

Of course, there are people who think Keith Olbermann, or Sean Hannity, or Rachel Maddow or Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or whomever are the paragons of objective journalism, but that’s a topic for another day.

Maybe they’re the ones clicking through to buy the male enhancement do not call database wipe your hard drive virus email text.

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My name’s Sean and I’m a Media Junkie.

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I wrote a piece for my Theory of Mass Comm class that I thought might be interesting for you, dear reader. Especially because my Lost October gobsmacked my blogging and Tweeting, I feel guilty about this — CommunicationAMMO.com is MINE, and I’ve (gratefully) passed the torch this 35 days.  And, I feel guilty about feeling relieved. Did I mention guilt? Please read, comment, and whine.

From the time I was 10, I’ve been a media junkie. The summer of 1968…watching the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Democratic National Convention from Chicago. Dan Rather punched by goons, Chicago PD pummeling “Yippies” and Gene McCarthy’s delegates locked out of the convention by Mayor Daley’s machine. The last of the smoky back room method of choosing a nominee.

Last week, I read my usual newspapers (in print), the blogs I frequent, Twitter, watched the NBC Nightly News for the first time in years; I also caught CNBC, The Weather Channel and watched most of two baseball games.

I read the Cleveland Plain Dealer for local and state news (especially political news, given the season), and for the quick overview of the rest of the world. The Wall Street Journal gets me caught up on international news, national politics, and news about companies and the economy in detail. A hotel visit left me with the USA Today. That paper’s a bit like white bread – it fills the belly but doesn’t amount to much nutrition.

The Nightly news happened to be on prior to a baseball game, and in moments I determined I didn’t care what Brian Williams thought was important that day — I chatted with other denizens of the restaurant about unrelated things and generally ignored what I saw as the valueless drivel the airbrushed talking heads were discussing.

The blogs gave me a few interesting perspectives on marketing and communications — from people I don’t know but whom I’ve found cogent of thought in the past (I found them on recommendation from people I know and trust).

Twitter is audience participation — forwarding and responding to what others said, making me feel connected to a wider team, something, as a sole proprietor, I miss. It’s almost conversation (the delay makes it a bit different, but with enough similarity to make it seem valuable to me.)

Why do I continue consuming these media? I remain a news junkie.

A couple of weeks ago, I was too busy to do my usual routine. There I was in two of the best newspaper markets in the U.S. (Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.), and I didn’t once read either newspaper. Sigh.

I don’t feel right not knowing. I don’t feel good being ignorant. I’ve got to have that fix.

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5 Reasons Why HR & PR Don’t Get Along

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Ask any corporate communicator who they want to report to and they’ll say, “the CEO!”  Now ask who they’d NEVER want to report to. They’ll say, “HR.”  why is that?

Our corporate cousins in Human Resources have many of the same issues that we do. They want to be seen as strategic resources, not mere tactical cogs in the wheel. They struggle to be taken seriously outside of their functional silos.  They fight for budget and resources with some difficulty, because they “don’t drive sales,” or “don’t understand the business.”  By these lights, we should be strong partners — the shared pain of the back-office services would seem to be a logical impetus for a good relationship.

My own experience demonstrates that possibility. Goodyear’s (now retired) Kathy Geier was a trusted member of then-CEO Bob Keegan’s cabinet.  She reached out to me often on all kinds of matters, and recruited me onto a task force on business process optimization. Many of her team sought me out (and I, them), and we forged a strong, positive relationship. KeyCorp’s Diane Coble and Jeff Darner (since moved on) and I enjoyed similar mutual respect and partnering. Even my brief tenure at National City Corporation included positive experiences working with HR.

But in other organizations, jealousy, turf wars, even outright stiff-necked opposition are the order of the day. Why?

Here are 5 reasons why HR and PR don’t get along.  Next week, 5 ways YOU can build a good relationship with them.

1. HR thinks they’re smarter than PR. There’s a stronger academic body of knowledge in HR, a business school connection missing from most all PR programs, which reside in Journalism.  They think their college experience was more demanding and quantitative than ours.

2. HR is hungry for budget and control.  They want more than just the functional duties of compensation, personnel, etc.This is key to their strategic aspirations; the “support services” model often puts an HR person in charge of all the support functions, elevating them to higher pay and bonus as a result of larger budgets and spans of control.

3. HR often believes that only information critical to the employee should be communicated to them — and that means comp/benefits, business conduct and training opportunities should be top of the fold in the employee newsletter and front-and-center on the intranet. They believe that they know more about communication than we do (and sometimes they’re right, but that’s another post).

4.  HR provides training in many fields, so it believes it knows better how to train managers to be communicators than we do.

5. HR likes checklists. Communicating something is an output to be checked off, not a process with a closed loop. They prefer push to pull, wanting to declare that a communication has been sent and therefore is complete. This is especially fraught when discussing how to measure the effectiveness of communication activity.

Just a reminder — these aren’t hard and fast rules, they’re examples. Your results may vary.  In fact, share your thinking here!  Do these resonate with you? Am I full of it?

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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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Social Media Crossing from Personal to Business

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

At the May 21 IABC Cleveland luncheon, Christina Klenotic, who gets paid to worry about such things, revealed that journalists Google, Facebook and Twitter-search the PR people who call them for placements.

Citing personal experience and data from the Society for New Communications Research, the Dix and Eaton vice president certainly surprised me when she said that nearly half of media members reportedly used social media tools. Klenotic also said that a USA Today reporter “friended” her on Facebook right before she was due to meet him in person.

O’Dwyer’s Kevin McCauley blogged about the Wall Street Journal new guidelines on social media on Monday.

I’m very new to this universe, having been a “reader” and occasional commenter on other people’s blogs, Yahoo! message boards, MyRagan, and a few others. I started a Twitter account today, in fact, after about two weeks of using Facebook. Luddite? No, just a bit concerned about blurring the lines between public and private.

Klenotic uses these tools for work, so I guess I’m not surprised by her decision to share the social media space with friends, family, and whomever. But it’s hard for me to avoid jumping to conclusions about the willful intersection of one’s personal life with the world of work. There is a pattern emerging, here, and it’s not limited to social media’s move from self-indulgent claptrap to essential business tool.

The sphere of the public, especially the state, is reaching more deeply than ever into the private sphere — perhaps that’s desirable, perhaps not; this is not a political blog, so let’s please not go there. I will keep my Facebook profile to friends and family, and maintain my LinkedIn profile for business purposes, along with this blog and my Twitter account.

Somehow, I just can’t get past my aversion to sharing truly personal information with people I don’t know personally. Besides, no one really wants to know anyway, do they?

P.s., Klenotic and Eaton Corporation’s Hillary Spittle will continue the social media discussion at the new Greenhouse Tavern, on E. 4th St. in Cleveland May 28 at 5:30 p.m.

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