Posts Tagged ‘reputation management’

Proctor Academy Comms head nails marketing advice

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

GirlHandUpAs I’ve written before, the main issue with independent school marketing is their belief that they don’t need it. Second — once they realize they DO need marketing — is that they lack proper planning and strategy. You can’t know how to get where you want to be without a map.

In a recent podcast interview, Blackbaud K-12’s Peter Baron and Proctor Academy’s Scott Allenby discuss the latter’s excellent case study on how independent schools can use inbound marketing.  Aside from spot-on comments on the requirements to develop and maintain the website content needed to help tell your school’s story effectively, Scott avers that schools must start with understanding the distinctiveness of their offerings.

This sort of soul-searching (Who are we as a school?) is much more common in the business world, particularly in the service industries like banks and retailers.  The products most often are the same, and many are commodities. The “secret sauce” needs clear definition in order for the marketing and communications folks to do their thing.

In our work with schools (and other types of organizations), we start with the research and planning needed to set a proper course for the future. We want to know what makes you, you! Why families choose you, and why they take a pass. What truly is unique — which should be something other than selective admission, smart children and great history. If a school isn’t really distinctive, no amount of marketing magic is going to change that!

Take the 25 minutes or so and listen to the interview — it’s well worth your time.

 

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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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The ongoing debate about PR & Sales

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts?

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3 reasons why independent schools must market

Friday, January 9th, 2015

CityOfLondonSchoolAn axiom in independent schools has been that marketing is unnecessary. Reputation, history and narrowness of market obviate the need to invest very much in the marketing effort, so the meme goes, especially in boarding schools. After all, when Presidents, Senators, and Captains of Industry graduated from your esteemed institution, why sell your school like soap?

Schools are finding, however, that a number of factors now are putting paid to the past preferences. It’s no longer nearly enough to buy a few ads in the local newspaper, and any effort to buy advertising in national publications carries a much bigger price tag than most schools are prepared to pay. But that’s a tactical problem, and the big issue is strategic; it’s the plans and thinking that most need to change, and here are three reasons why strategic and sophisticated marketing and communications are crucial for independent schools, especially boarding schools.

  1. Your alumni’s kids don’t live near you anymore. The demographic shift south and west has resulted in Washington, San Francisco, Atlanta, Phoenix and Dallas as places your alums now live instead of New England, Pennsylvania and New York. While boarders might “come back,” they’re not doing so at the same rate as prior years. For independent day schools, it’s much the same story: there are fewer families to draw from locally, and many schools are located in older neighborhoods no longer favored by full pay families.
  1. There is competition never before seen. Charter schools. Parochial. Magnet schools. Independent day and boarding. Home schooling. There are many outstanding public schools. This places parents in the catbird seat for choice. Add to that a fountain of data, information and wisdom about education, educators and schools, and you’re just one piece of the puzzle.
  1. Changing trends in news are challenging communication strategies. Let’s not belabor the point, but suffice to say that people get their news and information differently today than just 10 years ago. TV ratings, terrestrial radio and newspapers have lost market share. People don’t have to rely on curators like editors to get access to crucial information, and that means your school’s story should be told in multiple ways in multiple channels. It’s more than just a website, because the story is told by more people than just you. That was the case before, too, but now social media has made it easier than ever. Mind you, this doesn’t mean eliminating other media — it just means being strategic and data-driven in your paid media mix, your public relations, your community relations and your admission contact strategy.

There’s no doubt that the independent school world is being tilted on its axis by these relatively recent developments. In many schools, there still is a sense of denial — but this is a world where even the top, elite boarding schools are banding together to share techniques, tips and strategy.

What is your school doing to prepare for the next disruption?

 

{Note: This post also appeared on LinkedIn.}

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Indep Schools face challenge of trends

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

186140619Independent schools have nearly always been a world apart from the scruffy marketing-essential business world, but a series of trends from SSATB Exec Director Heather Hoerle show how the economic pressures are changing how these elite private schools need to market.

First — Pricing negotiations are here. Full-pay families with the ability to pay are demanding discounts. Some schools are even eliminating the “this is the price” from their websites in favor of a scale of discount available by family income.

Second — Markets, after years of fragmentation, are coelescing around two profiles: Value-oriented families who demand discounts and are constantly seeking validation for their thriftiness, and those seeking a new economic order based on authenticity. The latter care deeply about a customized experience, which complicates a marketing process traditionally based on unified messaging.

Third — Demographics. It’s not our imagination. There are fewer full-pay families in our traditional markets, and we need to be aware of that.

Finally — choices! There is unprecedented growth in charter schools, many public schools have significantly improved their offerings, and private and parochial schools continue to compete.

More to follow, no doubt.

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Join our conversation on PRConversations

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Over on the sine qua non of public relations blogs, PRConversations, I’ve inveighed against the provincialism of the idea that we PRs are engaged in some sort of war with marketing over turf and assets. Sure, I still believe that all marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing, and certainly the measurement challenges are more on our side than on that of our marketing cousins, but that’s no cause to think it’s a binary choice for organizations.  Have a gander — especially at the comment stream — and weigh in.

Many thanks to Judy Gombita and Heather Yaxley for their offer of space for my screed…

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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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A study in crisis: Blazin’ Blazek

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

iStock_000011508802_SmallUPDATED 26 Feb:  If you’re a PR/Comms pro in NE Ohio, you know about @NEOHcommjobs, run ably by one Kelly Blazek.  She recently was honored by IABC Cleveland as its 2013 Communicator of the Year.  You also probably know by now that Ms. Blazek flamed the bejesus out of a young PR person who reached out via LinkedIn, responding with an email best described as more than tart.

KB abides strongly by the LinkedIn credo that you should LinkIn only with those you know well. Thus, a passing acquaintanceship on social media, or mutual “friends” is highly unlikely to meet with a favorable resolution.  Back a few years, I reached out via LI and got a nice note back outlining her policy in that regard, along with the hope that one day we might indeed work together.

I’ve got no truck with that.

Well, as this post outlines, Blazek went off on said young one and impugned the professionalism of all like her in the process.  The process to even join the Yahoo! group that gets you an email summary of NE Ohio jobs in our field requires a brief email to include some background and why you want to join.  Apparently, failure to follow directions to Blazek’s satisfaction is strike one, with a LI invite worth two strikes, two additional outs, and a “blazing” email — which then the offended party shared with several close friends…wait for it…on social media.

Hm.

@NEOHCommJobs is shut down, as is Blazek’s LI.  Bruce Hennes says there are Villains, Victims and Vindicators in any crisis scenario. Right now, it’s all Victims and Vindicators — all that’s missing is the Red Queen shouting, “off with her head!”

Go read the post (it includes images of the offending missive), or watch WKYC-TV and tell me —  Should IABC Cleveland go through with the honor?  And, excuse me, Ms. B., but where is your voice in this?

What should IABC Cleveland do? What should Kelly Blazek do?

UPDATE — In a story on Cleveland.com by @janetcho, Ms. Blazek apologizes. It’s fairly textbook, and it doesn’t seem to be a “non-apology apology” that you hear from sport figures and politicians.  I do wonder (as do others who’ve commented on Facebook) about its true sincerity. If it’s true that this was, as one person told me, “standard operating procedure” and “the most open secret” then you have to assume that only the social media scrutiny brought about the rejection, no?  If we apply an ethics lens to this, however frustrating it might be to receive off-topic notes from people who aren’t in the target market, and who perhaps are a bit presumptuous in asking for help without first attempting to create a relationship, you don’t have license to be rude, in my opinion.  I try to be understanding and kind, well, all the time. Sometimes I don’t succeed, and when I’ve been a snarky dude I own up and apologize. Because I’ve got a rep as a nice guy, people know I’m sincere. I’ve declined LI and FB invites from people I know only tangentially, but lately I tend to be more open just because I know how hard it is to get connected with the right people.

But seriously — given the fact that people can take offense rather easily (not speaking of this current situation, as I do not know the principals well), is it right to share your outrage publically?  Does KB deserve to be blackballed, banned, placed in stocks in Public Square? What do you think?

 

 

 

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