Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some 2012 Predictions for the PR Field

Every year, prognosticators lay forth their predictions for the coming year, and when you look back one year later you find that in some cases, they couldn’t have missed the mark any further, while in others, their predictions would better be described as pointing out the obvious. 

With that in mind, I will follow that tradition here in making my predictions of PR trends for 2012:

1.       The fax machine will make a comeback.  As more and more people tire of high-speed Internet connections and instant access from anywhere there is a smart phone, they will long for the days when they had to sit next to a fax machine and wait for it to jam.
2.       During the 2012 election cycle, politicians will usher in a new era of civility.  In debates, they will let each other finish their sentences and the media will give each candidate equal time.
3.       The social media fad will go the way of the hula hoop, pet rocks and Chia Pets.  Rather than spend hours on Facebook or texting, people will once again walk to the public library to read, meet face-to-face for lunch, and listen to their favorite music on eight-track machines. 
4.       The news media will ignore stories about Lady Gaga, and do more stories on how most companies actually create jobs and help society.
5.       In 2012, not one PR professional will call for a new definition of the profession or send out a single, meaningless press release.

Right or wrong, I’m betting that by next year at this time, I will have batted 100 percent. 

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

When You're Hard to Buy For

“You’re hard to buy for,” it’s a line I started to hear for the first time this season from family trying to figure out what I might want or need for Christmas.  Since I said it enough times to my own parents I know what is behind it.

It means that the things I want you can’t buy or you can’t afford. 

I’ve seen those luxury car commercials during the holiday season that show beautiful young couples buying each other cars that cost more than my first house, all wrapped up in a red bow on a snowy Christmas morning.  These cars are so special you can’t just buy them during a Holiday Sale but rather a “Winter Event.” 

Someday, maybe I will wake up to a new Mercedes with an oversized red bow on it, but that day won’t come on this weekend.

“You’re hard to buy for,” my wife told me just a few days ago, and I know what she means.

Over the years, if I’ve wanted something, I bought it myself when I thought I needed it.  If I didn’t think I needed it, I didn’t buy and never asked for it.  I’ve never seen the need to drop hints in the months leading up to Christmas and then wait for it.

I’m not much of a collector.  I don’t wear jewelry, and whatever big boy toys I’ve wanted over the years, I already have by now.  But I do know what I really want and I’ve already compiled my list on bended knee and mailed it to Santa.  Here are a few items on their way to the North Pole right now:

·         I’d like the people I know who’ve struggled with health problems in 2011 to have a healthy and happy 2012.
·         I’d like to find new ways to spend more time with my family.  This is something that’s been on my list for as long as I can remember and it never gets old even when I get my wish.
·         I’d like to see my kids continue to find their way as best as they can, support them when need be, and be there when they see the fruits of their labors.
·         I’d like new socks.
·         I’d like to be able to continue to work with the many good friends I’ve made over the course of my career, which is the best thing about doing what I do.
·         I’d like Hershey’s chocolate in my stocking.
·         I’d like to read the newspaper, go online or watch TV one of these days and see more truth and less agenda.
·         I’d like to see more football.
·         I’d like to spend more time with friends old and new.
·         I’d like a nice warm day on March 17th, the day of the Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
·         I’d like to get more use out of that treadmill we bought last year.

But most of all, I’d like to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Difference Between a Social Media Crisis and a Traditional Crisis

My last blog post on the crisis communications missteps of Lowe’s sparked some interesting dialogue with some social media professionals.   My point in the blog post is that if you have a social media crisis, turn to a crisis communicator before relying on a social media guru for advice.  This is because social media gurus typically have very limited crisis management experience.

The first thing that struck me in some of the feedback was how the social media industry defenders jumped to the assumption that it’s more important to know the technology and the current etiquette of social media than to have a broader understanding of effective crisis management.

If I were to buy into that line of thinking then it would also make total sense to me to have a golf pro serve as primary investigator of a murder on the basis of the fact that the crime took place on the 14th tee.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’d still rather have an experienced detective on that case.

My point is that when it’s crisis time you need someone familiar with crisis management and strategy first and foremost.  Since social media is a channel or delivery system for communication, understanding the fineries and etiquette of managing such things as “comments” sections becomes secondary.

This brings me to one of the most fundamental discrepancies I have found in some research on social media crises – because so many social media gurus are so new to crisis communications, they are not able to differentiate between a social media crisis and a traditional crisis.  This is extremely important if you are to manage a social media crisis effectively.

Case in point, one social media marketing guru defined a social media crisis according to this three-part criteria:  “1) You don’t know what’s happening; 2) There is a spike in commentary or a new topic of conversation; 3) An issue with a very broad impact or interest is raised.”

It would be easy to dissect those three statements for the remainder of this blog post, but the main thing is that not one of these factors is exclusive to social media.  Further, they are not very good barometers of the severity of any crisis.  In fact, these statements can apply to a broad number of normal, non-crisis situations.

So let’s go back to what defines a crisis and then get into how that differs from a social media crisis.

What is a crisis?

A crisis is any development or potential development that has the potential to seriously disrupt the company’s or organization’s operations.  Against this premise, the organization typically does not have the systems, personnel or resources in place to address the situation in the normal course of business, and so the situation becomes a high priority until it can be brought under control.

Since every organization has its own issues, what might be a crisis for one may not be for another.  An extreme example of this is a fire company.  Since fire companies exist to extinguish fires and save both property and life, responding to out-of-control blazes is a part of their normal operations.  They have systems in place to deal with what are crises to every constituent they serve.

What is a social media crisis?

A social media crisis is any development or potential development that is rooted in social media or can be exacerbated by social media that has the potential to seriously disrupt the company’s or organization’s operations.  The two definitions are similar with one basic exception – in this instance social media activity is at least part of the problem if not the cause.

This is where the social media gurus have the biggest challenge in dealing with such crises.  If they are not crisis communicators first, they often don’t appreciate that when a crisis occurs, every company behavior must go under the microscope, including all forms of social media activity.  Nothing is sacred.

This is standard crisis communications practice.

Where social media experts tend to fall down is their continued belief that some things tied to social media are sacred.  Most base their counsel on the belief that companies cannot and should not withdraw from social media forums or change their fundamental behaviors to address a crisis. 

In several social media crisis situations, the general consensus in the social media community is that the company at the center of the controversy should not aggressively moderate comments in social media forums that they control.  This is just one example.  Another common belief is that if a crisis flares up on social media, it must be handled there.

This can be a problem when a comments section of a social media site is filled with hate speech or such vitriol that it can spur violent or irrational behaviors in the public.  And that’s just a worst-case scenario.  Many other social media wild fires can spell disaster for a company.

Without getting into specific situations and strategies, it is important to remember some of the basic objectives of crisis communications and then to act accordingly.  To the extent that effective communication can help, we have a duty to protect the reputations of our organizations and brands, the health and safety of our constituents, and to do so with integrity, ethically and truthfully.

Crisis management is about fixing the fundamental problem first, and when a crisis is rooted in social media behavior, then that behavior must be addressed and corrected before substantive change can be achieved.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Some Holiday Greetings

It's that time of year when our mailboxes fill up with holiday greeting cards.  In the spirit of the season, I thought I'd post some holiday greetings YouTube-style.  Here are some songs, commercials and features that may strike a holiday chord with you.  Happy Holidays!

Charlie Brown Christmas Song

Griswold Finds the Perfect Tree

Miller's Classic Christmas Card Commercial

Budweiser's Entry into Commercial Christmas Cards

Bing Crosby's White Christmas

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Keeping the DUQ in WESA...huh?

Essential Public Media purchased WDUQ radio from Duquesne University not too long ago.  They made a few somewhat unpopular programming format changes that no doubt alienated some of the now former listeners of the station.  At the same time, the current format is likely starting to build an audience of its own.

I will refrain from injecting my opinion on all of this, but I can say this: I became a lover of jazz music going back to my days as a student volunteer at the station.

Just recently, the management of 90.5 FM, which is now WESA-FM, reached out to us WDUQ alums to garner our support of an effort to ensure a continued presence of Duquesne University students on staff as part of a special program.  That is very encouraging for those of us who benefited from learning from our own successes and mistakes courtesy of WDUQ.  They asked us to provide a few words of what WDUQ meant to us. 

After I wrote my comments, I thought an edited version might be worthy of a blog post, so here they are:

My tenure at WDUQ ran from 1980-82 in the station’s News Department, where I volunteered and then worked a part-time student aid job as Assistant News Director.  Because the station was student-run, we may not have produced the seamless on-air product that WDUQ later became known for, but a team of very motivated and driven students did some things at that station that set us up for successful careers in communications.  We experimented, hustled and competed with each other to see what we could do.

One of my proudest moments was when I had the opportunity to cover a speaking engagement in the 1980 Pennsylvania primary, when I covered Republican candidates Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, both speakers at a dinner in Westmoreland County.  I sensed that Mr. Bush for the first time opened the door to the notion that he might lose to Mr. Reagan, but he’d support the Republicans no matter what.  As soon as the dinner ended, I scrambled up to Mr. Bush, thrust a microphone between two Secret Service agents and got the sound bite I needed that essentially confirmed this fact. 

The next morning, my work aired on Morning Edition, but just as importantly, I got a check for $40 from NPR and I was no longer an unpaid volunteer.  I cannot tell you what that meant to me at the time, and what it still means to me when I think about it 31 years later.

Over the years, I have been reminded that the foundation for my career was built at WDUQ and through the opportunities to experiment with and experience the power of radio.

About six of us WDUQ student volunteers ended up landing jobs at KDKA-TV and Radio at before we graduated from college.  Obviously, WDUQ was doing something right.

It would be my hope that Essential Public Media could continue to foster an environment where Duquesne students will have the same opportunities that I had.  Without them, not only would I not have been able to achieve what I have so far, but more importantly, I would not have been able to help the people I have been fortunate to be able to help during my career.

It is also my hope that the structure of the student program be such that students be afforded more responsibility than a typical internship.  By having the chance to make our own “executive” decisions as students, and then to see what worked and what didn’t work, we were able to more effectively and more rapidly hone our skills and secure our place in the profession.  This eventually helped the station by having many well-placed alumni in solid positions in the community.