Warning: Google May Be Hazardous To Your Public Relations Success


Critical thinking Blog Photo

In the house where I grew up, a replica of Rodin’s well-known sculpture, The Thinker, made its home between an array of classic and modern novels, antiques and family photos on a living room bookshelf. The iconic depiction of a man rendered incapacitated by thought, served as an inspirational reminder of the boundless gravity of thought, as we headed out the front door each morning.

But, in today’s world, where every solution or answer is just a few finger taps away, it makes you wonder if The Thinker has effectively been replaced by a new icon more appropriate for the times: The Googler?

There is no doubt that having the solution to nearly any problem or the answer to almost any question at your fingertips is powerful, but are we devaluing critical thinking and problem-solving skills by habitually repurposing and presenting someone else’s spoon-fed solutions as our own?

Ask any group of Millennials (or younger) to find a solution to a specific problem and more than likely you will see a race to be the first one to Google the answer. Why not? With that kind of power in the palm of your hand, it would be borderline careless to not use it.

The alternative would require a group discussion that, after a few hours, results in an answer based on logic and deductive reasoning. No thanks, I’ll just Google it, say the masses. Why reinvent the wheel, if you can just use someone else’s wheel? — even if it may be the wrong-sized wheel.

In some ways, the sense of satisfaction that comes from thinking through a problem has been marginalized by the satisfaction and accolades that come as a result of finding and sharing someone else’s content.

The creators of Twitter recognized this desire to circumventing thinking when they created a platform that allowed people to “rent-a-thought.”

Twitter users often receive more social affirmation from sharing another user’s original thought, than they do from sharing their own original thought. And, a recycled Twitter thought that goes unacknowledged is a much easier hit to the self-esteem than an original thought that is snubbed by 300 million fellow Twitter users.

The rapid-fire approach of recycling thoughts unquestionably leaves little time to engage in the process of thought.

Lack of time is the enemy of critical thinking, and the less time we have, the less we are able to initiate the process of thinking.

We see it every day as the 24-hour news cycle forces media outlets to rush a story to the public, without time to critically think about the credibility and validity of the story. But, in today’s fast-paced media landscape, the risk of being second to the table with information far outweighs the risk of coming to the table with the wrong information.

But, for those in the public relations field, short-circuiting the thought process can have some very serious brand and legal ramifications.

Companies depend on PR professionals to apply their expert critical thinking and problem-solving skills to stay ahead of trends and to deliver accurate brand messages that resonate with information overloaded public.

Some of the most successful public relations campaigns are outcomes of a critical thinking process rooted in a foundation of skepticism.

Clients hire PR experts to chart a long-lasting defendable strategic path around the dynamic barriers and obstacles in their marketplace, and in doing so, deliver brand messages to the various audiences along the way.

The Googler is capable of finding the obstacles and barriers, but The Thinker will always chart the path.

The value of public relations rests in the industry’s ability to identify where the information seeking ends, and the critical thinking begins.

As savvy brands increasingly look to PR firms to better position their brand for the future, it is The Thinker that will always be the most desired asset.

Don’t believe me? Google it.



How To Earn A Five Star Review From Your Summer Interns


The upside to hiring summer interns, young people with a desire to learn the PR trade and gain the necessary experience in order to find full-time employment, has been well documented. But there seems to be a significant disparity in resources available for employers with tips and advice in how best to manage said interns, regardless of whether it is a promising high school student with an aptitude for video editing or an entire office full of college seniors with nothing but a pipe dream.

A simple Google search reveals millions of excellent online resources and tips for prospective employees to help make the most of their time (“How to be a rock star at your internship this summer!”) but those that are aimed at employers are decidedly less upbeat and more stale (“Three tips for effectively managing interns”).

While these types of articles are utilitarian and straightforward, they tend to leave out the human element—which is to say that these are human relationships, which are inherently complex and no two are the same. It is simply not enough, nor is it effective, to stick a bunch of humans in one room and assign them to menial tasks of no value.

A summer internship has the potential to be equally beneficial for both parties. As an example at our own agency, this is a wonderful way to allow younger staff to grow into becoming better managers and supervisors.

With a little more less than two months left in the summer, this may be an excellent time to (re)-evaluate the working relationship you currently have with your interns, and consider these five ways to ensure you and your intern have a mutually beneficial, educational and productive experience:

Set clear expectations for the duration of their employment.

Nearly all companies conduct an introductory orientation meeting for new hires to get them acquainted with workplace policies. This is the perfect opportunity for both employer and employee to ask questions and leave with a clear understanding of expectations during business hours. Interns should not be exempt from this step. By accepting an internship, he or she enters into a mutually binding agreement with non-ambiguous conditions of employment.

Does this sound overly serious? Well, shouldn’t the intern get used to life in the real world?

Empower them to work independently and exercise good judgment.

There is a difference between overseeing an intern and micromanaging. Supervisors must carefully consider the types of assignments they assign, as well as the quality of work they’re looking for. Does the intern possess a “can do” attitude and volunteer for projects? Can you assign them to research a certain topic, and then take the next step and write a press release as well? Are they extremely proficient at Photoshop and therefore able to make a significant contribution to an important project? Empowering an employee to take control of a project, whatever the size, is a powerful indicator of trust and higher expectations.

Assign a variety of tasks and responsibilities.

You can be certain that your intern, particularly one still attending school, is probably already highly proficient at using Snapchat and Instagram. Consider finding opportunities to assign them different tasks outside of their comfort zone. Challenge them to find the discipline to do things you know they won’t enjoy doing. But most importantly, aim to assign tasks that will prove to be valuable in the long run and can be included in their resume or online portfolio.

Encourage them to think and act like PR professionals after work hours.

Try as we might, it is virtually impossible for those of us in this profession to go home and shut off our smartphones, turn off our TVs and block out the constant stream of news that we consume through so many different channels. The reality of the business dictates a 24-7 (maybe 18-7 to allow for some sleep?) news monitoring lifestyle. Engage your intern in daily discussions about current events and pop culture, and encourage them to get their news from as many different news sources as possible.

Aim for excellence over respectability

Interns will ultimately “grade” employers on the quality of their experience, from the perks and amenities to the rigor of their workload, which is no different than how our clients evaluate our work on a daily basis. Building a reputation for an internship program and experience is hard work because, frankly, it is work. It requires communication and managing expectations and counseling them on effective PR strategy…. Sound familiar? So why offer anything less than a five star experience when your daily philosophy is to under-promise and over-deliver to your clients?


Three Steps To Interim PR Solutions When Client’s Needs Change


Three Steps To Interim PR Solutions When Client’s Needs Change

How often does this happen to public relations professionals? You’re plugging along your planned activities and programming for the client, when all of a sudden, your client contact tells you to stop what you’re doing and that things have changed and the current programming is no longer needed or desired.

After your jitters have calmed down, you recognize that change happens and, as happens with any professional service business, client needs are constantly evolving and changing. So, retaining clients and keeping them happy, means adapting and going with the ebbs and flows of accounts.

When the first knee-jerk reaction of jitters calms down, there are steps that can help plug the hole in your retainer – or not. In any case, first step is to:

  1. Identify why the previously agreed-upon PR programming was stopped. Did it go south because of personnel or other internal changes at the company? Did the old marketing goals no longer align with the changes? Clearly understanding what triggered the change in programming is the first step toward finding a viable solution.
  2. Review current programming to check what’s salvageable or what’s tweakable, before throwing out the client and the bathwater. This can help spark new ideas that fit the changed client needs or it can crystalize what goals or activities still matter to the client.Nothing salvageable? Go back to the drawing board and brainstorm brand new concepts that would better support the changes in real time.
  3. Identify new client opportunities. Start digging deeply into a client’s industry news or their upcoming events calendar, to find opportunities for PR programming. What is the current buzzworthy news in client trade publications? What events or sales missions are coming up that PR could amplify your client’s presence? While these opportunities could generate much success for your client in the interim, to ensure new tasks support their needs, continue to review your client’s goals and the identified problem from step one.

The Re-defining of PR Generalists


Traditionally, PR Generalists were defined as having in depth experience in several industry sectors, as compared to specialty agencies that focused primarily on a single industry. For example, some specialty agencies would solely focus on the tech industry or healthcare industry or on the consumer packaged goods industry. Traditionally clients had greater confidence in specialists and the “sell” for generalists to convince companies that their industry experience matched that of specialists, was often an uphill battle.

As CEO of a generalist agency, I was once asked by a shoe company who was searching for an agency, as to how many shoe company clients we had worked with. That was their stipulation for hiring an agency. If agencies had gone that granular as to categories of specialties, it would have just attracted a handful of prospective clients, and sporadically at best, and therefore would not have been sustainable for any agency.

So the traditional generalist agencies categorized their specialties according to overall experience in larger groupings such as business-to-business, which dealt with all sorts of professional services and associations, or consumer electronics, which covered the gamut of technology as it related to consumer use, or sustainability, which included environmental concerns, or non-profits which were not industry specific. Then there was the travel and tourism specialty that covered a slew of categories, from hotels to travel sites to international resorts and more.

However, given the dramatic changes in today’s communications landscape, the traditional agency model, whether generalist or specialist might very well be dying or even dead at this point. Per an article by Arun Sudhaman, partner and editor-in-chief at the Holmes Report, the new PR agency model is tilting in favor of structures that group people around distinct “specialisms” that are totally unrelated to industry experience. A new breed of client servicing is sprouting that includes specialties in idea creation, insight, content creation and engagement. Golin was the first major agency to commit to such a model, with such specialisms as “connectors” those that engage consumer and business audiences across several media categories (earned, shared, owned and paid); “catalysts” those that grow client relationships, “creators” those that generate ideas, and “explorers” those that deliver insight and measurement. Others are following suit with major restructuring of similarly grand ambition.

But really nothing has changed. Only the titles have changed, for all agency account handlers have had those same responsibilities in the traditional model. They have been responsible for coming up with creative concepts, have had to offer fresh insights, have had to deliver content, manage all sorts of media relationships (earned, shared, owned and paid) and certainly had to engage a client’s diverse audiences. This new structure seems to be a new variety of micro-specialization in skills, talent and expertise, rather than industry-specific.

I agree with Arun Sudhaman’s comment that what we now have is a resurgence of the PR agency generalists, but with a twist. The perception that generalists may have had a disadvantage vis a vis specialist agencies, will now be a thing of the past. If this new structure of “skill specialisms” as opposed to industry specialists, will be adopted and become widespread, generalist agencies will have been re-defined and the “score” will have been evened out. The key, however, will be in the “sell” of those specialisms to prospective clients and in understanding how to implement them effectively, as well as build a client’s confidence in these, as opposed to industry specialists’ expertise.

The pendulum appears to be swinging back toward an emphasis on skills and capabilities as a strategist and counselor, rather than that of a focus on industry experience — which was the standard bearer of all agencies in the first place.

The PR agency generalist has demonstrated an enduring capacity for reinvention.

Generalists are redefining themselves now…

What happened to CSR?

"The Human Stain"Phillip Roth’s famous book, The Human Stain, speaks about an irreconcilable mistake in judgment that left an irrevocable “human stain.” Last week there was a “corporate stain” that will surely prove to be an irrevocable judgment call on companies that, in their rush to distance themselves from any involvement in Bangladesh’s garment factory disaster, forgot that corporate reputations depend on consumers that buy their products and that the voice of consumers demanding a corporate social responsibility (CSR) from the companies whose products they buy, has become increasingly vociferous, and as such, it will be the consumer who decides whether they want to consume the product of a company that has left a “corporate stain.”

In other words, companies have come under scrutiny by the very consumer that buys their service or products and it is not easy to wipe a corporate reputation clean.

There were clothing brands that issued stark denials that they authorized work at those factories in the building — even when their labels, such as Benetton’s, were said to be found in the rubble. A few remembered that today’s world is, after all, transparent and that the consumer rules. These acknowledged their connections to the tragedy and promised compensation such as Britain’s Primark and Canada’s Loblaw Inc. But my sense is that even this was thinly veiled as a calculated way of minimizing damage.

With several deadly disasters and fires in Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry in the past six months, possibly the only way retailers and clothing brands can protect their reputations is to visibly and genuinely work to overhaul safety in Bangladesh’s garment factories. As costly as that may be to a company, it is a pittance when compared to the loss of consumers who care deeply enough not to buy, no matter how cheap the product.

Just consider the profits reaped to the foreign garment industry over the past decade from Bangladesh, where a minimum wage of about $38 a month has helped boost profits in a global business worth $1 trillion a year.

Spain’s Mango said it hadn’t bought clothing from those factories but acknowledged it had been in talks with one factory to produce a test batch of clothing. German clothing company KiK said it was “surprised, shocked and appalled” to learn its T-shirts and tops were found in the rubble. The company said it stopped doing business with the Bangladesh factories in 2008. It promised an investigation. Walmart said there was no authorized production of its clothing lines at the collapsed Rana Plaza building, but it was investigating whether there was unapproved subcontracting.

The Walt Disney Co. needs to be lauded. Apparently it pulled out of Bangladesh production altogether after last year’s fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory, where its branded clothing was found.

Any marketer knows that a global corporate reputation is carefully built over a long period of time, but can also be lost in a very short period of time — and not easily regained. Companies should not count on the consumer’s short memory.

A corporate stain is just that…