You, the PR person who just spent your morning drafting a press release and getting it approved, push send on it.
Your marketing automation software pulls in your media list stored in your customer relationship management (CRM) solution, sends to the list, and, once journalists start opening it and clicking the links, it feeds the data about the open rates, click-through rates, and other activity back to the CRM program, and that gives you detailed information on how each journalist on your list is interacting with your release along with past media campaigns you have conducted.
The next day, you confirm that your media monitoring software has picked up the media hits related to your most recent release and matched them against both the campaign’s report in your marketing tool, and against the specific contact file of the journalist who wrote each story, in your CRM tool.
Later that day, you make a few follow-ups and log those conversations in the CRM tool. You export the report from the marketing tool, showing the success of your release.
In a few easy steps, you have seamlessly shown the amount of effort it has taken you to generate X many impressions from one of your media campaigns. With those statistics firmly in hand, you check in on your monthly report to confirm if you are doing better or worse than the previous month.
It is hard to calculate the value of media relations – in an open and transparent organization, no one can question its value or necessity, but figuring out exactly what your media person returns to the organization in a meaningful dollar value is difficult (Some systems count media stories like advertising dollars, but your goal in buying ads is not to report on how much money you spent on ads – it is to encourage customers do something. You are still speaking Greek by reporting on ad value!). Further, figuring out the exact impact of media stories or coverage on the general public is near impossible – the best you can probably do is public surveying to get a ballpark idea of whether you are moving the needle, and even then you would have to know where you started from on a particular issue to determine that!
My Executive Director reminds me frequently to set goals you can control, and own the goals rather than the plan. The above formula and process I have worked out does that. It measures impressions generated based on time input (you are still on the hook to track that somewhat manually) and allows for benchmarking of month to month and campaign versus campaign. It allows you see when you’re flying and when you are in trouble. Most importantly, it saves times on reporting and a great many other facets of media relations!
The final piece to the puzzle here is actioning the media stories you have picked up through monitoring. I have seen platforms which let you create newsletters – not a bad start – but the best setup would be one which allowed you to easily post the content to your social networks in a controlled fashion. An example might be allowing you to set an interval for posting (20 minutes, let’s say) or in some way spread the content out through the day.
So…now I just need a company to come build that system! Anyone game?
“Can a smile elect a President?”
The question asked by a 1984 study which showed that ABC News anchor Peter Jennings smiled more when mentioning Ronald Reagan (and eventually other Republican candidates) than he did when mentioning Democratic candidates. It was also a noticeable difference between Jennings’ expression and that of his competitors Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather.
It didn’t seem to matter that ABC claimed to have covered more negative stories about Reagan than the other networks. It may, or may not, have been relevant that many or most of ABC news viewers seemed to support Reagan. What I think most of us can agree on is that Jennings was likely a Republican supporter privately.
Journalists can vote. Journalists can hold opinions. As the Peter Jennings study showed, journalists’ opinions are sometimes revealed in unexpected ways, and it is impossible to measure the impact that can have on their audience. It is impossible to ask them to not have an opinion and to not have a bias – as impossible as it would be to tell them they cannot vote.
In the news this week, there has been controversy over whether or not Peter Mansbridge, of CBC’s The National, should have accepted a paid speaking engagement with a petroleum producer. It is, as this Toronto Star article points out, one of many speaking engagements he has accepted, and many of those are paid. He is also not alone – many working journalists accept contract work as speakers, media trainers, teachers, and other positions. For most journalists, it is not a well-paying gig otherwise!
I brought up the Peter Jennings study because it was an example of a previously unknown bias which became known through the study. We rarely consider how journalists’ biases determine which stories get covered, who gets interviewed, who gets a larger share of voice in a given article, which photos get used, which quotes get used in a story, and many other facets that go into the news process.
With that being said, some suggest that because Mansbridge did not express an opinion in his presentation that it is OK for him to speak. The issue is not whether or not he has ever expressed an opinion on the issue. What concerns people is that, regardless of whether he expressed it, we know he has an opinion – he is human, after all. The worry is: was that opinion affected by the money? I think there are two reasons this concern should not be a major one:
1. Mansbridge’s speaking engagements are an example of a potential bias we now know about, and by knowing about it the effectiveness is rendered moot.
2. Those who suggest that paid speaking engagements or other compensation makes journalists biased ignore that journalists are already biased because human beings by default are biased.
This article is not an attack on journalists – rather, it is an effort to remind us all that you must always think for yourself, get your news from multiple sources (direct from the source where possible), and recognize that you have bigger things to worry about on television than whether or not Peter Mansbridge accepts paid speaking engagements.
Coca Cola thinks you are dumb for believing Coca Cola’s claims about vitaminwater. You almost have to wonder if that statement was dreamed up by a lawyer or some other individual who never chatted with Coke’s PR team. Either that, or this lawsuit must be worth a ruinous amount of money for the soft drink maker to think it is worth insulting a whole bunch of consumers.
Sadly, it’s not the only example of major PR fails where an organization was thinking with its wallet instead of its head. Last summer, there was a missing woman case in Ottawa. At about the same time, there was a murder of a young woman. Most news outlets began drawing conclusions right away and began using the missing woman’s photo in association with stories about the murder. Obviously this was highly offensive to family members of the missing woman, since police had not identified the body yet and they were concerned people would stop looking. Why were all these news outlets so eager to tie these stories together, besides the fact they were likely connected? They wanted to be the first to break the story – and gain the associated audience and eventual ad revenue – even if it meant angering several people in the process.
One other example, from the Calgary flood – coffee chain Tim Hortons said on Facebook their thoughts and prayers were with all their employees and customers in Calgary. This created a stir since the perception was that this company only cared about you if you contributed to the bottom end somehow. I personally did not have as much of a problem with this one – since, in theory, their Facebook page is for their fans and employees – but I definitely understand the outrage at what was a raw time for many people, and the easy solution is to just be inclusive on a post like that.
How could this have been avoided? For Coca Cola, I would suggest they consider: why they are being sued? “Because our consumers are dumb” is not the right answer. It is because Coca Cola made claims about the benefits of their product which cannot be proven.
For those news outlets so eager to publish the young woman’s photo, I ask why they would feel the need to publish her photo in a murder investigation before it is verified? They would likely respond to say because they believe the two stories are one and the same. So the follow-up question there is: why does it matter, and how will you leverage that information to better serve your consumers?
And finally, for Tim Hortons…why did they post a message about the Calgary flood? I am sure they would say to acknowledge the struggle of the victims. So the question is: are they acknowledging victims with their post, or just their employees and consumers who are victims?
What is the solution? The solution is that your PR department has to be at least a part of your organization’s moral compass. The Melbourne Mandate calls on PR professionals to
- define and maintain an organisation’s character and values;
build a culture of listening and engagement; and (most importantly)
instill responsible behaviours by individuals and organisations.
Media and community relations is oftentimes less about what you want to communicate, and more about helping your organization make good decisions. As you consider, “Gee, should I insinuate that my customers who think vitaminwater is healthy are dumb?”, if you take into consideration what people around the world (including consumers of vitaminwater) might say if you did that, you tend to arrive at the right decision on your own. Well, most of the time.
Canada recently won gold in men’s hockey at the Sochi Olympics. It was a great moment for our country, and it was all people – and the media – talked about that day, to the point where the typical Canadian refrain of “Sorry” seemed to follow each update of the score.
With the unusual schedule of this year’s Olympics, the game was broadcast on a Sunday morning and ended sometime after nine in the morning. For some, this meant the possibility of finding out the score after their Sunday morning church service ended (or perhaps when the service was interrupted by the hooting, hollering, and car horns blaring outside). I am a Christian, but my church service didn’t start until 10 a.m. so there was no impact to my church experience. Still, some mused about whether the church service should be delayed until after the game was over. In other places across the country, there have been pictures posted online of churches with big projector screens set up so the congregation could watch the game before starting their regular service.
We live in the always-on information age. We demand information now. We demand it on the go. We demand it on a variety of platforms. We demand to Know, before everyone else if possible.
The problem with the always-on information age is that we lose the ability to discern what it is we need to know. Put another way, when I worked in broadcasting we used the term “news you can use”. Are your taxes going up? What is being built in your neighbourhood? What time is the big game on TV? Will it snow tomorrow? This is useful information.
Nowadays, we don’t have to choose between need to know and good to know, and we can have it all now. And so celebrity gossip, sports scores, and other non-essential information has wound its way into our collective consciousness as being information we need to know now. The nation’s broadcasters certainly love this trend – sports broadcasting is seen as a field of growth because there is no way to find out the game’s final score ahead of time. In other words, you have to tune in to find out or wait until after the game is done and check at your leisure. Of course, they would prefer that you tune in.
At a time when our attention spans have never been lower, and our ability to develop selective hearing has never been greater, we are exposing ourselves to a hundred firehoses worth of information all at once and call it ‘being informed’. I use a church service as an example – maybe you go to church and maybe you don’t. Maybe you have been watching your email inbox or Twitter feed while there were precious moments happening in your life or when you could have been paying attention to your loved ones. The important thing I want to highlight here is how easy it is to get caught up in this information culture and forget to actually weigh the value of the information you are receiving.
I have been reading Amusing Ourselves to Death, a book nearly 30 years old and yet still prophetic, as it talks about the mediums we as a culture use to communicate and how that has an effect on what we value from our information. He argued in 1985 that we had entered the “Age of Show Business”, where the visual spectacle of TV means images weigh more than words, and the goal is to entertain you rather than inform you. If you need to ask yourself if that is true, consider what you remember from the last Presidential election debates in the US – was it the candidate’s platforms and policies, or was it quips about “horses and bayonets”, “binders full of women”, Big Bird, and “being able to fire people” that you remembered?
The book also argues that, while literature and long-form written and typed communication aims to be understood and to communicate something of value within context, de-contextualized short messages which scream out a bit of information only serve to be replaced with another short message lacking in context that can only be dismissed in anticipation of yet another message…there is no possibility of conducting in-depth thought and analysis. And before you guess that Mr. Postman was speaking about Twitter or email, remember that the book was written in 1985 – the medium he was referring to was the telegraph. We have been down this road before.
My point is that the methods of communication we have established for ourselves are great at instilling a sense of urgency where – usually – none exists. We cannot sit through a church service or pay attention to our child’s sports game or spend time with our spouses without checking our phones and mindlessly searching for ‘information’. Worst of all, we cannot sit back and think about our response – we have to get our two cents in right away. In observing these trends, I start to see the value and also the dangers of The Four Hour Work Week‘s methodology of only checking email once or twice a week.
I may have more insights gleaned from Amusing Ourselves to Death in a future blog post – great short read if you are curious about how our communication methods shape our message. For now, I encourage you to take a day, let your emails and tweets hang in your inbox for a bit longer than usual, and really consider how the ways we communicate are reshaping our priorities.
What do you think of when the word ‘celebrity’ comes to mind? Someone who is famous, for starters. A lot of people know their name, even if they aren’t sure why, and they have a lot of friends and admirers. There are people following them around, producing news reports about what they are doing, taking photos, and trying to find the juiciest rumours about them. The opinions of these people might matter to you – whether they eat Wheaties or Cheerios for breakfast, who they vote for, how they dress. Ultimately, most would probably agree celebrities lead remarkable lives.
Let’s think about how your life has changed in the last 10-15 years with the mainstream adoption of the internet and social media. Even if a lot of people don’t know your name, you have the ability to get your name out there and quantify your social network with how many people are your friends and are following your activities online. If you don’t have paparazzi following you, that’s OK – you can take selfies on your phone and write about your activities on Facebook our your blog. You can comment on a variety of topics and share your insights and preferences – everything from cereal to politics – with a wide audience very quickly (no reporter needed). Certain sites (thinking Facebook here as one example) might use your endorsement of a product or service – your ‘like’ on a page – to sell your beliefs and preferences to your friends. Regardless of how remarkable your life actually is, you can be who or what you want to be thanks to social media, and everyone (who matters) can know it.
There has been endless chatter about the culture of the ‘self’ in recent years – the Apple ‘iLife’ and Starbucks and the many ways we expect society to cater to us – but more importantly we must look at what the culture of self leads to. It is not just about making people feel like they are individuals and that they are unique – that is just the starting point. It is about the idea that within each of us is an element of ‘celebrity’. Even if your network is small, you are a thought leader or a trusted voice in that network and you have the power to influence others. Why would a company spend time and effort on a major celebrity endorsement designed to reach only a certain demographic who agrees that yes, Shaq is a good person to ask about which breakfast cereal I should eat, when they could instead bring you into their Facebook environment and leverage your personal brand to tell 100 of your friends that “Your friend (name here) likes Wheaties” or that Cheerios is “Followed by (name here)”?
I am not saying large-scale celebrity endorsements will disappear altogether, even though I question their merit most times. What I am saying is that, in the 21st century, we each have a brand and a following. We are celebrities on a smaller scale. Successful businesses will learn to harness this to both empower their consumers and reach new potential customers.
Everyone wants to communicate better. And who can blame them? Think of how much time you might save if you only had to remind your employee how to user the photocopier once, or if you didn’t have to show a coworker where to find your project files for the fourth time. But communications is a broad field, and when you’re asked to help communicate something it can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. If you are working in a small communications team, particularly in a bigger organization, this can mean you wear a lot of hats and are sometimes left to wonder what skills you should be focusing on. How will you best serve your clients with your limited resources (ie time)?
Some believe the answer is to be a jack-of-all-trades, which I believed when I first started. If only I can learn French, graphic design, and organizational communications theory this year, I’ll be fine! There is some merit to this idea in the sense that you are guaranteed to learn by doing, and if you get stuck in a situation that is a little beyond your talents you will either find a way around it or you will have to pass it to someone else.
What I have come to realize is that the communications field is more about being an expert in a few things, being knowledgeable about some other areas, and outsourcing the rest. You can only attend so many webinars, memorize so many new processes, and hone so many skills at once. My strategy in the past year has been to focus on maintaining my core skills, growing a couple new skills, and recognizing when I should call for reinforcements on other tasks.
What do I do with those other tasks? Sometimes it comes down to hiring freelancers, and other times it is simply a matter of rendering unto Caeser’s what is Caeser’s – that is, recognizing that it may in fact be someone else’s job. Bearing in mind what I said about resources, if you tally up the cost of the extra time you spend beating your head against a task that you cannot actually complete – whether due to a skill gap or workload – you may find it would have been cheaper to outsource it right from the get-go. Could learning a new skill save you time and money over the long-run? Possibly. But you run the risk of taking time away from your other tasks and your other skills in the meantime.
The moral of the story is: if you are just starting out in your career and feeling like you don’t have all the skills you need, talk with your manager about where you need to develop and then focus yourself on that.