Friday, April 21, 2006

Best Practices

Now that I've done blogging for a few months, it's time for me to reflect. After reading, researching and talking to bloggers and P.R. professionals, I've accumulated my own list of "Best Practices". These are points I want to share with young people trying to break into the P.R. biz. It's only the begining, but this is what has struck me thus far.

If you learn nothing else, know these things...

READ THE PAPER, WATCH THE NEWS.
I groaned when Professor Flournoy insisted upon this two years back in one of my primary CCPA classes. Now, my morning ritual consists of a cup of coffee and 30 minutes to an hour of reading online news publications, the Today Show in the background.

HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY.
It's obvious, I know, but I can't help but repeat this because it's not something I'd ever want to lose. I personally always want to be respected and thought of as a publicist of integrity and morals. Michael A. Burns of Michael A. Burns & Associates makes clear if you make a mistake, admit it and apologize, otherwise your client loses trust in you. You can call it honesty, transparency, ethics, CSR--whatever you want. They are all rooted in the same ground and they are all necessary. Reputations are worth taking the time to build, but remember they are easily destroyed.

WORK ON YOUR BRAND.
Before I handle someone else's image, I need to create my own. Denise Fernandez of the Julden Group shared excellent ideas regarding self-branding. My client needs to know what I represent and who I aim to be. When this is established, I can then work on their name and how the media views them.

STRONG WRITING.
Enough said. If you don't like to write, or you're not "good" at it--run the other way.

HAVE GOOD PRESS RELATIONS.
Create and maintain strong relationships with media people that relate to your clients. Have a thorough media list with your key contacts and keep up with them. Wayne Hickey of Weber Shandwick suggests sending an email or making a phone call ever so often to act as an information source or sounding board. Even if it doesn't mean getting your client press. Also, Hickey suggests avoiding "transactional relationships"--that is asking for favors without doing anything in return.

LOVE TECHNOLOGY.
Although you "love" is a strong word, the internet and other developing forms for technology is crucial to succeeding in P.R. I can remember back in high school when a teacher asked me to email my homework in as an attachment--my heart started beating fast as I thought there was no way I could figure that out (and had little desire to learn). I've moved past that closed minded and eaily-intimidated mind set and started to embrace the technology culture, and the experts say you've got to. Blogging is a prime example of one of the emerging forms of technology being used as a communications (and learning) tool for the P.R. industry. Ms. Fernandez also professes the power of SMS messaging, or text messaging.

NETWORKING, NETWORKING & NETWORKING.
It sounds cliche and expected, but it is one of the most valuable public relations tools you can have, and it all comes from you. There are basic concepts to networking such as the "6 degrees of separation", "treat everyone respectfully" and "you never know who you're going to meet". Such widely accepted ideas are then applied to the act of networking--introducing yourself, having a business or calling card to give and receive, following up with someone and creating a mutually beneficial relationships.

Similar to Mr. Hickey's advice for media relationships, it is important to keep in touch with people you meet so you don't simply calling them for a favor when needed. Denise Fernandez suggested the use of networking websites to promt your connections--the sites allows you to visualize how many people you are connected to; it kind of solidifies the concept of networking. It's safe to say networking isn't going anywhere and can happen everywhere. As Pat Porter of the Dallas Business Committee for the Arts told our class, every elevator ride is a 30 second chance to introduce yourself, ask who they are and say what you do.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bad P.R. = Good P.R., Part 2

A New York Times article about Kate Moss makes a good addition to my thoughts about clients having badly.

Kate Moss was recently caught in a compromising situation regarding her use of cocaine. Pictures made headlines, prompting questions about the future of her career. Well, she may have been dropped from a few companies, but she isn’t going anywhere.

Maybe it’s the photos—providing unquestionable evidence that she is a user—but I don’t see why anyone would question her career length now when she was made famous by her “Heroine Chic” look of the early ‘90s. Miss Moss’s career thrived on the drugged out description and earned her praise by the fashion industry as a sexy and fresh face. Does damage control really matter?

There are plenty of bad boys and rich-people-done-wrong in Hollywood (or New York, the only two cities that matter in the media’s eyes.) Some make it out alive, and some don’t. Britney Spears has not only fallen off the A-list (and B-list), but she has been cruelly labeled a bad mother who has lost her looks and is married to a gold digger. Think P.R. can help her image?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Is Any P.R. Good P.R.?

Just when we thought Tom Cruise couldn’t ruin his image any more, he did.

For the past nine months leading up to the birth of little Suri, Cruise has been attacked the media and over-exposed on the pages of many glossies such as Star and Us Weekly.

In addition to the TomKat over-saturation, his name is tainted with controversy. Whether it’s his view on anti-depressant medication or the silent birth practiced by Scientologists, enough is enough.

Last November Tom hired entertainment P.R. firm Rogers & Cowan to replace his sister in representing him. What a daunting job. With someone like Tom Cruise (or Paris Hilton, or Michael Jackson), how do you succeed as a good publicist when your client follows a cycle of self-sabotage? How long do you put up with them before you quit?

You think Scott McClellan has a tough job, how do you clear up rumors of your client eating their baby’s placenta? I don’t think I would last half as long as McClellan did with W.

In learning the fundamentals of public relations, you hear a lot about crisis management. To me this means a business facing an illicit scandal, a CEO’s indictment or a financial disaster.

When it comes to “The Biz” crisis management often takes on the role of image management. No one really cares about the devastation of a drug addiction or divorce; the Hollywood folks are concerned over how the “crisis” will affect the box office, if their client will work again or if Chanel still wants the star to represent their perfume.

Clearly the smog and the sunshine do strange things to many of the minds in Hollywood. However I think the P.R. challenges within the industry are overlooked or disregarded because they often are so preposterous.

When the birth of TomKat’s offspring is announced in the first 30 minutes of the Today Show, I think it’s safe to say pop-culture drives our society. Could this mean the role of the entertainment publicist is more influential than one might think?

Monday, April 10, 2006

What's Your Brand?

On Friday I attended a PRSA Dallas Pro-Am Day luncheon with Denise Fernandez as the keynote speaker. The president and CEO of the Julden Group provided an excellent presentation chock full of information about buzz marketing and the future of mobile media, as well as advice and ideas regarding networking and personal branding.

By now I’ve realized successful public relations pros tend to be “Renaissance men”—they need to be ready to meet their clients’ demands regardless if it’s “in their field” and must be knowledgeable in a breadth of subjects.

Marketing and publicity are now thriving through media such as MySpace, text messages and blog—the more innovative and creative, the better. Ms. Fernandez insisted that everyone at the luncheon should learn the language of “html” and explore web design. Every bit she covered in her hour-long presentation was fascinating and relevant for an eager novice like myself, especially the ideas regarding networking and personal branding. She provided invaluable advice that will help one stand out in the P.R. industry.

The Julden Group exec emphasized the importance of marketing yourself and deciding what you want your brand to be. Most people think they present themselves one way, when in reality they’re seen in another. She suggests if one has the time, and courage, to spend a weekend creating a collage of words, colors and images that you think represent who you are. Show that collage to your friends, family or colleagues. Do they see you in those images? Ms. Fernandez said 80% of the time they don’t.

Whether it’s stationary, your resume, or your hairstyle, it’s important to recognize what image you are presenting of yourself and if that is how you want to be seen. This is easy to overlook when you’re breaking into public relations because much of your focus is on your client and representing them properly that you may neglect your own image. Did you ever think you’d represent yourself? Be your own publicist? This kind of representation isn’t just for public relations folks; it carries out into all aspects of human interaction.

Ms. Fernandez provided some websites such as Plaxo.com and ZeroDegrees as places to start networking. Although some might keep an old-fashioned Rolodex or rely on Outlook’s address book like I do, she suggests using an organized online network to keep in touch with the people you meet along the way.

A business card wont take you very far if you don’t follow-through with it. She stresses that these networks must be mutually beneficial relationships to keep strong bonds. That is, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It’s too competitive of an industry to hand out favors and not get anything in return. Spread the word…

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Keeping Up With The Joneses?

Looks like everyone's trying to keep up with the Next Big Thing...

The New York Times published an an article today regarding the competition ad agencies face in keeping up with the newest and latest in the biz. Advertising, much like public relations, is forced to abandon some old tactics and replace them with the creative, innovative and tech-friendly.

Anthony J. Hopp of Campbell-Ewald says agencies wont succeed with 30-second commercials, instead they must find “new ways to engage and connect with consumers.” As the media becomes increasingly customized for consumer needs, companies survive on their branding to fit various demands.

“Old school” Coca-Cola is a prime example of a once classic brand becoming progressive and maybe even “edgy”.

The New York Post published a piece about Coca Cola promoting itself though an entertainment website, Stageside.tv, featuring their own branded music and encourages file sharing. By associating themselves with pop artists, behind-the-scenes videos and iPod friendly music, Coca Cola shows the public they embrace new forms of marketing and can meet the needs of young consumers.

They may be a leader in soda pop beverages, but they now want to dominate the market of cool branding. Kind of like media mogul Rupert Murdoch, 75, purchasing Myspace—an internet craze amongst young people. He spent a lot of money and had people doubting him but now media execs are green with envy as they watch this form of digital entertainment taking off.

Whether it’s a media conglomerate, ad agency or P.R. firm, everyone is looking for the Next Big Thing as the technology revolution makes innovators and execs quick on their toes to keep up and stand out.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

What you don't know can't hurt you?

High school prepares you for college and college prepares you for a job, right? Or some might say college prepares you for the “real world”—as if they world I’m in right now isn’t lively and crucial enough. A phrase such as that suggests there is something more “real” than what I am living.

I’m starting to wonder how much college—any college—can prepare you for life post-graduation. Regardless of your anticipated profession.

Recently my professor, Nina Flournoy, brought in a few SMU to grads to tell us what they’re doing with their Corporate Communications & Public Affairs degree from SMU. This was our chance to see where we might be in a year or two.

They are Assistant Account Executives from Edelman. I don’t think half my class knew that they might be an “AAE” next year. I’d heard the title before, but never in the classroom. And forget what the job is called, what do you do all day?

Although I have had internships, constantly put my “feelers” out into the field of PR, and even daydream of my first full-time job après-SMU, I don’t know what it is that I thought I’d actually be doing. I think the Edelman AAEs visit to my classroom was a good wake-up call.

All I could think as these young ladies went through job details about income, holidays, job perks, day-to-day tasks, etc., was “when was I going to find out about all this?!” If they hadn’t given me the heads up now, who would’ve? There’s nothing worse than facing major surprises as you search for and accept your first job after college.

PR has become such a vast and nebulous field that there is no right path to take. While a company like Edelman might be one route to start on, I could easily find a job that fits my interests and capabilities outside of a huge public relations firm. The options are endless. I love that.

I think those “above” me—in both their work experience and power held through certain institutional hierarchies—scoff at the sentence, “I want to work in PR.” They don’t think we know what PR really is. Partially true. How will I truly know PR until I give it a try? Communications students hold an awkward position in the PR field: we have the fire in the belly and are green with skills needed for the job; we just don’t know what that job might be.

No one is to blame. Since when has a professor had the responsibility of a sitting an undergrad down and giving them the nuts and bolts of life after that fateful day in May? I think half of what I know about PR is from the classroom, the other half is from my in-field experience. You can’t know PR without being out there and doing it. At the same time, that can’t be held against us—how will we know PR unless we try it?

Monday, March 27, 2006

PR Can Take You From Geek to Chic

Our most recent class assignment was to examine a case study and provide our own analysis. When I was looking through the Holmes Report, a Publicis Dialog case caught my eye.

At the turn of the century the United Soybean Board faced threats concerning the safety of soy products. The public became aware of risks involving trans fats (which are found in hydrogenated soybean oil) and agricultural biotechnology (which is how many soybean seeds are enhanced). Concerns about cancer and cholesterol were linked to soy products too.

Publicis worked with USB to create a program that dealt with issues management and the promotion of USB’s Better Bean Initiative. They targeted key people in the food and feed industry, influencers such as media representatives and healthcare professionals and consumers concerned about cholesterol and heart health.

In one analysis of the mainstreaming of soy, Publicis’ campaign was described as moving soy from “geek to chic”. Well, it worked.

Through trade shows, newsletters and websites Publicis helped promote the important role of soy in preventing and treating diseases as well as general awareness of soy products (e.g. soy milk, tofu, soy flour).

In turn, the volunteer farmers who comprise the USB and represent 600,000 soybean farmers nationwide benefited from the maintained market share, increased consumer awareness and increased use of resources.

As for the public, not only is soy a household name but less people turn their nose up at tofu and embrace delicious products like Soy Crisps. PR might have made soybeans somewhat chic.