Monthly Archives: March 2008

I hate to be so choosy.

Since being turned on to Twitter and del.icio.us, I have weekly bouts of social media lust and today I have been frantically and rabidly building my web 2.0 application and social media empire. This particular quest began with a realization that, when faced with impending internship interview with Paull Young this week, I do not want to be caught off guard like I was for my first interview where I ended up fumbling through my experience with social media and why I like it. And stuff.

So, I began my research… I googled “Social Media” and found an entire wikipedia article. From there I found out about Pownce and from joining Pownce, I found about ten other applications that I wanted to join. But first, I had to update all of the others I’d joined from my last social media feeding frenzy – Technorati, LinkedIn, Stumble-Upon, etc. Once those were covered, I joined Twitxr and was about to join Jaiku. But come on, people. How many of these things can I have an actual PRESENCE on?! I’m a full-time college student with an internship and a job. My life cannot be devoted to social media. Yet.

So I have to be choosy. Not only choosy, but deliberate. For now, until I have a lifestyle that is mass social-media friendly, I must choose media that are quick, easy and painless and will let me join the conversation enough to be heard. I hate to be choosy, but in order to stay afloat in the the Web 2.0 sea, I have to trim some of the fat.

The remarkable thing is that, even with a lean arsenal of applications, I still am proactively engaged in nearly 20 social media networks. And this has to be true for other social media users, both organizational and business. There simply isn’t enough time or man power to enlist all of the networks and applications that would benefit your cause. In the same breath, it must be noted that not all of the flashy or “obvious” media will prove to be a positive promotional tool. For example, Facebook probably wouldn’t work for a toy company because young children aren’t on it.

So I’m learning, be choosy, be deliberate with your social media. It needs to be something that boosts your interests or the interests of your business or organization, rather than a hindrance to the efforts that really matter – in my case, school.

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Platonic PR?

This last Winter term, I took a Classics class. It was the first of its kind, comparing Plato’s The Republic and the writings of Mencius, the Chinese philosophical follow-up to Confucius. In my first class, I felt rather like an anchor had been attached to my foot and I was drowning in knowledge and readings I didn’t understand, while the rest of the class was calmly treading water at the surface, basking in the light of their knowledge – I’d never taken a Classics course, much less anything remotely to do with Greek or Chinese history or thought. I was terrified. But as I took in the writings of these two great thinkers and floated to the surface to join the others, one major theme plagued me as a communicator (Journalism major): Plato condemned Greek poetry and the poets.

Plato’s beef with poetry was that, in ancient Greece, poetry and mythology and the stories of Odysseus and the Greek gods encouraged the Greek people to engage in and invest in lives of amorality and baseness. Greek mythology, like MTV is full of self-centered gods who abide by no one’s rules but their own. The problem is, to continue this metaphor, that there were no other channels like CNN, C-Span, Discovery or TLC to encourage true knowledge and goodness. So if an audience is only getting MTV, that sure as hell entertains you, but doesn’t encourage its audience to better themselves, what conclusions should be drawn about life? It’s poetic and epic, but does it foster goodness?

This was a little convicting, because in the journalism school, out of all of the focuses – news-ed, magazine, broadcast, electronic media, etc. – public relations majors, and probably advertising, seem to be the poets of the school. What would Plato think of public relations professionals and the industry as a whole?

Is there such a thing as Platonic PR?

I suppose this could be, more or less, conceived as a question of ethical PR, but it’s more than that. Public relations writers craft messages that are pleasing to our audiences and our clients: we highlight positive information and find ways to hide or spin negative information. We tap into the vehicles that will best carry our messages to our publics.

The first thing that came to my mind was non-profit PR and what I’m doing for my internship. My team is working on a local account that creates curricula for new and young parents in order to foster low-stress home environments and eliminate child abuse and neglect. The greater good, right? Sounds very Platonic. We’re using our poetic skills to strategically create awareness for our client.

But is Platonic PR limited to non-profit organizations and charity causes? Can it encroach upon the corporate, for-profit realm?

I’m going to go with: YES.

Like I said, avoid calling this “ethical” PR, because you can do celebrity or Exxon Mobile reputation management and still play by the rules. Platonic PR seems to me to reach beyond just ethicality to help a client strive for the greater good and act with with justice and truth and the idea of the “good beyond being” in mind. I realize that the “good beyond being” means just that – it’s beyond being and unattainable. But I don’t think it’s a waste of time to try. As Shakespeare and Hallmark cards prove, poetry can be used to educate and stimulate goodness in a society.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

This is my last post that counts as an assignment for the class in which this blog was assigned. So in honor of St. Patty’s, I’d like to say, it’s not easy being green (as in inexperienced not eco-friendly).

This term, more than anything else for me has been: “What’s public relations all about?” And more than ever before, I’ve been asked to prove that I can answer that question. I have one instructor who insists that at its very fundamentals, PR is about influencing people. I have another instructor who stressed how much we needed to make messages that were going to “stick”.

So here are some things I learned this term to make me less green and more savvy:

1. In a trade publication, if you don’t know the audience, check the media kit.

2. Everything you write needs to matter to someone.

3. Accountability is important and it’s good to let a client know in a plan how you’re going to be accountable to them

4. Never list someone as a reference on a resume or CV until they know they are being listed.

5. In order to truely “join the conversation” you must be actively listening.

6. Shareholders don’t always care about the CSR.

7. Do not data dump in presentations.

8. Tripple Bottom-line: People + Community + Profit<– According to mis-read lecture notes – it’s actually People, Planet, Profit (Thanks, Emily).

9. Transparency is key.

10. In a media-advisory, make the photo-op irresistible to the press.

11. In a crisis, address concerns first.

12. Nail down AP style.

13. Listen and respond.

Thanks to all the PR pros that have indulged in my questions and concerns this term via Twitter and e-mail. I hope we’ll have an opportunity to continue the conversation.

*Image courtesy of http://www.smart-kit.com/

Chew Him Up, Spitzer Out: Lessons On Spin From A Pro

What a relief this Eliot Spitzer scandal is! A nice break for journalists trying to peddle the tired story of the growing Clinton-Obama-McCain “we’re good friends, but don’t respect each other’s policies”-triangle. A nice break for readers trying to stay interested in it. Oh! And the blogging opportunities! I can just see a young Christian Bale as a “Newsie” celebrating this latest golden headline and vending his “papes” with renewed vigor. It’s perfect! Here is the champion of decency, steadfastly intolerant of the corrupt and duplicitous among elected public servants, slain by his own silver bullet. Kind of. According Kimberley A. Strassel of The Wall Street Journal, the press are still trying to revive him.

As if this story wasn’t interesting enough, many people are starting to question why he thought he’d get away with it. In a scathing recent article, Strassel asserts that the press acted more like pre-teen NSync groupies when they covered him than like a balanced commentating voice: The unrelenting loyalty of the press is why he thought he could get away with it.

From the article: ‘”You play hard, you play rough, and hopefully you don’t get caught,” said Mr. Spitzer two years ago. He never did get caught, because most reporters were his accomplices.”

“[Gov. Spitzer] played the media like a Stradivarius.” Ouch! She then goes on to cite several cases in which the media not only turned a blind-eye to Spitzer’s indiscretions, but they also praised him for his commitment to the “people’s causes”.

This brings up an interesting point. Is it OK for the press corps to take sides on political movements and candidates? For example: The New York Times endorsing candidates. Is it instances like this that solidify the argument of an opinion-free press? Strassel asserts that one of the most important jobs of the press is to be political watch-dogs. If this is true and the circumstances in the article also true, then the press failed miserably.

Not that it was their fault entirely, according to Strassel. What we have here, is a master of spin. Spitzer knew what the media wanted and he gave it to them. He knew what would grab their attention and he worked it whether it was crusading for causes or feeding journalist friends with insider information.

Are you taking notes all you aspiring celebrity publicists?

…I honestly don’t have much else to say about this. Strassel has delivered the story beautifully and most importantly, thoroughly. All I can do is sit here with my friend Dan and shake my head at my recent discovery of the frailty and vulnerability of the modern press corps, professionals I admire and respect, people who have set standards and examples of excellence that I am instructed, daily, to emulate. What am I, a journalism major, what’s more, a PR major who has to constantly reconcile the needs of a client with social ethics, to take from this?
All I’ve left to conclude is: Britney Spears, if you want to get the media back on your side, call Eliot Sptizer. He’ll probably be looking for a job soon.

This seems brazen. Even before I publish it, I’m nervous to do so. What do I, a student, know about the ways of the world other than what I’ve been told? My idealism hasn’t been truly put to the test. “Oh yeah, Soto? Let’s see if you can find a job when you come down from that soapbox!” I suppose this post is just me needing to know that the pursuit of ethical practices and social responsibility is worth it.

*Image courtesy of http://www.gawker.com

Is It A “She-Thang”?

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, er – yesterday, I am compelled to devote this post to my sex. To my delight, the New York Times article Boldface in Cyberspace: It’s a Woman’s Domain delved into a new site called “Wowowow: The Women on the Web” which features blogs and articles written by professional women. Most of them have backgrounds in media like Leslie Stahl, and others are groundbreaking entertainers like Candice Bergen and Whoopi Goldberg – all of them brilliant contributors to our intellectual culture. It isn’t enough to say that these women and many of their colleagues stimulated me and my rabid educational and vocational pursuits. They motivate me daily.

It is with this mindset that I explore a new question: Is PR a women’s industry?

Now, first, as a disclaimer, I’d like to point out that I’m a student blogger and my topics are mere questions that I face and answers that I find. These might be brazen claims, but they are prompted by the fact that my internship and PR classes are female-dominated and this leads me to question whether that is the nature of the industry.

Sorry, guys. It is not my intention to ostracize. I also don’t wish to ostracize my own sex with the assertions I’m about to make based on clichés. I, rather, wish to question why I feel so comfy in PR. If we consider the stereotypical female persona, the one so often caricatured in sitcoms and their accessory traits – a persona with which I often identify- and compare it to PR, are they are perfect fit?

1 . PR is about communcation: We handle situations by talking. Not only that but we learn methods of talking that help us shape our message so that people understand us. We even adopt cadences to our voices to give us credibility and authority as we make our arguments and appeals. We tailor our language to each audience. Oprah says this is healthy so we do it.

2. PR is about relationships: My life is relationships, family, friends, boyfriends, teachers, bosses. I think about relationships, I talk about relationships. I’m good at relationships. Not only that, I manage my relationships. What’s more, I look for new ways to be better at managing my relationships. And if you’ve ever watched Sex and the City, this is in every episode.

3. PR is sometimes about SPIN: There are times when some publicists are forced to talk out of their badonkadonk in order to manage a client’s reputation. Some might call it being manipulative. I call it good celebrity PR.

4. There’s a soothing nature to PR: In a time of crisis, our client’s causes become our own and we form a Florence Nightingale attachment. It’s a natural, and, dare I say, nurturing response.

5. PR is SEXY: Sometimes it’s about talking the talk and walking the walk. It’s about perception and attraction. It’s about flashy marketing stunts and reputation make-overs.

6. Lastly, PR plays games and likes gossip: PR people play word games and mind games. And now, more than ever, we play these games to create buzz or gossip about our clients and their work. We love it when things go viral. We go crazy when everyone’s talking about it. It makes us want to talk about it more so that we can generate more buzz and have a final authority on the situation: “Actually, I heard on TMZ that this is Lindsay’s fifth time in rehab, not fourth.”

Obviously, this list is not representative of every woman and these are very much some things in which both men and women participate. It does, however, bring some insight about why I, for one, enjoy PR. It speaks my language. It uses my tactics. It mimics my voice. It demands my kind of communication. It calls to me.

*Image courtesy of http://bothhands.files.wordpress.com 

Mischief Managed: Recovering From PR Blunders

In my spare time, I’ve been reading Jane Eyre and at one point in the lengthy conversations between Mr. Rochester and Jane, I felt very convicted by something he said to her in an argument: “You are afraid – Your self-love dreads blunder.”

Here is something to which I can relate. I don’t know if it’s self-love that drives me or makes me hesitate, but I do think it is, to some extent, a fear of mistakes or messing up. I’m a cautious and slow mover. I fear that my chance and risk-taking won’t pan out to success. My question is, when you mess up, how do you recover? This isn’t crisis management but, to reference to Harry Potter, “mischief management”.

In a recent article by Keith Ferrazzi, Founder and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a strategic consulting and professional development firm, he gives advice on how to deal with both personal and professional mistakes and blunders.

1. Get some perspective: This makes sense to me. In the grand scheme of things, assess how much does this really matter?

2. Assess and forgive yourself: In the grand scheme of YOU (and/or your company), how much does this mistake represent?

3. Come clean: Trust comes from full disclosure and free-flowing information. This goes for all relationships, personal and professional. At least in my experience.

4. Get back on the polo horse: I don’t really get why he stipulated that it was a polo horse, but I’ll take it. Move on by moving on. Prove to everyone that this mistake doesn’t define you or your work.

This is very good advice and coupled with what I’m learning in college, it should help in at least assessing and projecting recovery tactics for PR blunders and mistakes. In my PR classes, my instructors have presented the “wrong” ways to do things and even given us some examples of easily avoidable blunders and then how they were mishandled. The media is full of such situations. I’ve even blogged about them (See “Let’s Rethink This”).

For example, let’s look at former aide to Barack Obama, Samantha Power and how her off-hand and insulting remarks toward Hilary Clinton cost her a comfortable advising position in Obama’s campaign when Hilary didn’t accept her apology. What’s worse is that she’s a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a Pulitzer prize-winning author. Apprently, in an interview with The Scotsman, a Scottish newspaper, she called Senator Clinton “a monster” in an off-the-record comment which the paper ended up publishing.

How was this mischief managed? She quit. She also went to the press.

According to the Irish television network RTE, Power told a reporter, when asked if she regretted her comments, “Of course I regret them, I can’t even believe they came out of my mouth.” She went on, [Sentator Clinton] is also incredibly warm, funny. I’ve spent time with her. I think that I just had a very weak moment in seeing some of the tactics, it seems, that were getting employed.”

This is all well and good, but let’s see how this fares in Keith Ferrazzi’s 4-step formula.

Did she:

1. Get some perspective? Yes – and she decided that this blunder would cost the Obama campaign more than her pride was worth. In the grand scheme of things, it mattered.
2. Assess and forgive herself? Sure. Or at least she’s getting there. Her press follow-up showed her remorse and regret over the situation and that she was looking to move forward.

3. Come clean? Well yes, the initial incriminating interview actually did that for her, and her above-mentioned press follow-up allowed her to own up to her mistake and apologize for it.

4. Get back on the polo horse? Well I don’t know. In an interview with the Boston Globe, she said that she resigned from her aide position to remove all of the distractions that her comments had brought on the campaign. That probably includes staying out of the public eye now that she’s had a chance to put an apology out through the press. I can’t find anything other than her RTE interview. If you can, please let me know via comment.

All things considered, I think Samantha Power handled it as well as anyone could. And now that I have some idea of how to handle mistakes, I hope to be inspired to drive my decision-making with my aspirations and goals rather than let it be bridled by my fears of screwing up. It seems to me that mistakes and the managing of them are essential experiences and that they can only benefit my understanding of PR and add to my ease as a future practitioner.

I can only hope Samantha Power eventually sees it that way if she doesn’t already.

*Image courtesy of PrAsanGaM via Flickr.

Romancing The Industry

I’ve never been the type to cry when pulled over by a police officer to get out of a ticket. I’d rather argue my way out of it and make the officer see my side of the situation. But I generally tend to approach situations with an emotional mindset strictly as a personality trait. It’s the way I’m wired. This doesn’t mean that each school project or friendship problem becomes a soap opera, but rather that I evaluate coping methods and work strategies in terms of how I’ll feel about it during and afterwards. Will I be proud of my work, will it stress me out and how will it affect my behavior and relationships with those in my life?

After reading David Armano’s blog disecting “The Novelty Curve” – a chart showing the stages of reactions to novelty, I had to wonder if my sensative approaches could breed success or foster fickleness in my profession. Is it better to tackle the industry with logic and reason or can I get by with ambition and emotion driving my decisions and actions? Will each project and client become a melodrama starting with infatuation and ending in boredom and intrapersonal friction?

The more I learn about public relations the more I see that “feelers” like me aren’t only welcome in the industry but necessary for success within it. Public relations revolves around the human experience and communication and networking. With every relationship built and every client gained, I must approach each opportunity with a fervor for human connection and interaction.

The danger that comes with emotion is that the business side of the industry is threatened by approaches that don’t hail from logic and reason. Public relations has so much to do with business to business relationships and then there’s that pesky saying “it’s not personal, it’s business”. Is there room for “feelers” in business-to-business PR ? In one of my PR classes, we’ve been discussing investor relations, and I’ve got to wonder, could I thrive in that field? Do they need what I’ve got to offer?

In the end, I can only hope that the logical tactics and strategies I’ve been taught and have yet to learn will be enhanced by my naturally emotional approaches and ultimately be useful in my future field. I don’t want a love affair with the idustry, I want a lasting, healthy, mutually-beneficial relationship based around communication, creativity, innovation and fidelity. Is that too much to ask?

*Image courtesy of http://www.enidlawsongallery.co.uk