Sunday, September 19, 2010

Do You Want Management to Think You Are an Expert?

I just came across a list in a communications textbook that identifies four types of public relations professionals. The first, a "communications technician", is an individual responsible for process-oriented tasks--writing newsletters and copy for collateral, producing and distributing news releases, maintaining a contact database, etc. The role is purely tactical and more often than not represents the first role in a young public relations practitioner's career.

The third and fourth classifications of professional reflect strategic roles in which they understand their clients' business and industry, and are capable of making informed recommendations based on environmental scanning, risk assessments and relationship-building opportunities with key publics. Yet it is the second classification of professional--the "expert prescriber"--that most interests me as a potential danger to the client organization and the practitioner.

I was once hired by an organization to generate publicity for projects the company believed had newsworthy value within its target industries. Fair enough. If you haven't proactively done this before and if you believe you are doing newsworthy work, why not pursue this? I was hired as the public relations expert and, as such, was expected by management to build relationships with and deliver visibility in tier 1 media markets.

There were warning signs even at the beginning which, if I'd been more experienced at the time, I would have recognized as dangers-in-waiting. First, in this role I had no access to top management, and therefore lacked insight into key issues impacting the organization. With this knowledge, I might have had the tools to make more strategic decisions about which media markets to focus on. My new role also included responsibility for producing internal publications requiring significant communication with employees to develop accurate and in-depth copy; this essentially brought an overwhelming overlap of technical and strategic responsibilities. Finally, representatives of middle management often did not attend meetings to discuss activity in their departments.

When I was hired, it was as the public relations expert and, as such, little corresponding sense of responsibility remained with management to participate in the public relations process. No champion for PR existed in the suite of top management professionals. Any and all PR within the organization fell in my lap, no matter how essential collaborations were to success.

My relationship with the organization did not end well. I was an "expert" who ultimately was not deemed an expert. The failure was not entirely that of the organization, but a failure of my ability to lay out (at the beginning of my tenure) realistic expectations and an explanation of resources needed to attain the success the organization wished to achieve.

The dangers of being an "expert" were apparent almost immediately; without the participation, buy-in and endorsement from top management public relations can accomplish little. Of the four types of public relations professional, the role as "expert prescriber" has the potential to present the most danger.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mismanaging the 9/11 Tribute Says a Lot about America Today

This was the first year since 2002 that I woke up and had to be reminded by a news broadcast that it was 9/11. Time passes and our lives accumulate the detritus of daily responsibilities. But nine years later, the terrorist attacks seem no less horrible nor does my memory of the morning fade; I remember the clear blue sky of Washington, DC where I worked two blocks from the White House. I remember facilitating a morning event for the Science and Technology Fellows at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I remember the phone call I got from my friend Greg who first told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

Earlier today, as I was perusing my Facebook page, I came across the image of a 9/11 tribute flag on the feed of a high school friend (see above).

I added it to my feed as well, believing it a noble tribute to the 3,000 Americans who lost their lives that day. Well, it was a noble tribute. It may have also been a partisan ploy for publicity.

When the flag appeared on my Facebook feed, a small subhead also appeared under the image that read "Being Conservative". Whether I am conservative or not isn't important. If it had said "Being Liberal", I would have been just as disappointed. Needless to say, I removed the flag. Or rather, I removed the flag that happened to be attached to a partisan message.

One memory I have from just after 9/11 is when Republican and Democratic members of Congress sang God Bless America together in a striking and moving show of bi-partisanship. As one commenter on YouTube wrote about this video, "This always makes me cry...."

Two days ago, ran an article entitled "U.S. Losing Competitive Edge". In terms of international competitiveness, America slipped behind Sweden and Singapore to the number four spot on the list of all nations (we were already behind Switzerland before the list was published). One of the contributing factors to the loss of our competitiveness is that: "the United States is hamstrung by its distrust of politicians".

That we have become more partisan as a nation is plain to see. That our sick economy is sinking beneath the weight of bloated debt on one hand and inconceivable levels of unemployment on the other is also clear. That this alarming situation has not brought political leaders together to devise solutions on behalf of one nation that has experienced three horrible years is a tragedy beyond words.

These three horrible years still do not compare to the horror of 9/11. But when we honor 9/11 by "being conservative", we lose America. That's the road we seem to be on now and that is, unfortunately, yet one more tragedy.

Let all Americans always remember the 3,000 people who lost their lives nine years ago. Let us also work together to improve our economy and bring a new dawn to the United States.


"Being American"

Monday, September 6, 2010

When Twitter Should Take a Back Seat

As Twitter allows us to do more things--segment follower lists, add bling to profile pages and categorize topic-related tweets via hashtags--it's easy to come worship at the altar of Twitter. What can't it do? Twitter is a great communications tool!

Except when it's not.

In honor of Ethics Month, the Public Relations Society of America held a Twitter chat about ethics on September 2 and posted the transcript on their website.

In a recent tweet, I complained how difficult it was to make sense of the transcript as it recorded every retweet announcing the chat beforehand. And the hashtags are all in blue which, when set against the black font of the actual conversation, makes for difficult reading. I guess this is what a transcript, literally defined, is supposed to be. But I didn't read it.

I'm a proud member of PRSA and am less than two months from sitting for my Accreditation in Public Relations exam. As a result, I was eager to read what people had to say about ethics--but then was quickly turned off when I saw how difficult it was to read.

@joederupo replied with a tweet reminding me that an edited transcript (which, I suppose, I was indirectly requesting) might somehow and somewhere intersect with the PRSA Code of Ethics as it pertains to accuracy and transparency.

I think that's a little ridiculous. I'm not here to serve Twitter; Twitter is here to serve me. And if Twitter is supposed to be a communications tool, it should facilitate not inhibit communications.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, if you wanted to be a web designer, you needed to know HTML. Nowadays, WYSIWYG content management software can help get past that problem (even though it's still good to know HTML!).

Similarly, there has to be some way of documenting Twitter chats that doesn't make the reading experience a painful turn-off.

In Hamlet, there was a yammering old man named Polonius who kept talking and talking; he had some memorable lines but most of what he spouted was hot air. Finally, the irritated queen who was forced to listen to Polonius told him: "More matter with less art."

When I'm using Twitter, hashtags and retweet symbols (RT) are useful tools. In a transcript though, especially if you're presenting it for public consumption, less art would be much appreciated.