Brian Williams and NBC News: What Does it Mean for PR Professionals?

By now, the Brian Williams/NBC News mess has been dissected by everyone who follows journalism, broadcasting or media celebrities. But I’ve yet to see anyone talk about what it means for PR professionals and the practice.

Yes, what Mr. Williams did was wrong. As I teach my PR students, the first rule in media relations is never lie to a reporter. And the first rule for the media should be never lie in their relations with us.

Call it a lie, call it an exaggeration, stretching the truth, or “misremembering” as Mr. Williams did, the fact is he told the same story of his heroism and derring-do while covering stories in Iraq in 2003 that just didn’t match the facts. He was out-ed for it and is now on a six-month suspension. Whether he’ll ever report for NBC News again is still an open question. I imagine NBC management (whose parent company, by the way, is Philadelphia’s own Comcast) is still struggling with what to do long-term. At the very least, it certainly didn’t help his credibility. According to a recent poll conducted by The Marketing Arm, his ranking dropped from 23rd most trustworthy person in the country, to 835, on par with the star of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty.”

The spotlight on him didn’t help his industry, either. A Gallup poll shows the public’s trust in the news media in steady decline. According to Gallup, from 1999 – 2014, the public’s trust in the mass media to report news fully, accurately and fairly dropped from 55 percent to 40 percent. And in 2014, only 18 percent (the lowest since 1993) of Americans said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in television news, putting it next-to-last on a list of 16 institutions tested. Only Congress ranked lower (make of that what you will).

While newspaper and magazine readership, as well as TV news viewership has been going down due to a variety of factors, the fact remains a lot of Americans still depend on the mass media to get their news. Indeed, as it’s the only industry mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers certainly recognized its importance. But when you can’t trust it, what’s a populace to do? Rely on what’s posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? Heck, Stephen Colbert’s gone and even Jon Stewart’s leaving The Daily Show, so that’s out.

So what can we do about it? Well, as citizens we can be more vocal in our demand the news media get it right first, then tell us about it.

And as PR professionals, we can help them do that.  If we want to help them build, maintain, or in some cases, re-build their credibility, it’s incumbent on us to be as accurate as humanely possible when we give them information so they get it right.  This may seem obvious to many, but as the pressure to get the client or organization’s story out rightnow in the fast-paced all-information, all-the-time landscape we operate in, corners still get cut.  Sadly, “spin” is still practiced in our profession.

And what’s the benefit to us?  By making sure the information is right before we hand it off to a reporter, we build our own credibility.  We become the trusted source, the reliable supplier of information, increasing the value of “earned media” vs. unearned (e.g., paid).  And we become more valued – and valuable – to those we represent.

As PR people, can we prevent people – even reporters – from making stuff up? No. But it’s our obligation and our duty to help our media brethren to do their job the right way. We all benefit.

Gregg Feistman is an associate professor of public relations in the Department of Strategic Communication at Temple University.  He has led the public relations sequence for the department since 2002.  He is the faculty advisor for both the PRSSA chapter (founded in 1969) at Temple and the student-run firm PRowl Public Relations.  He has a BA in Communications from Rowan University, received their Outstanding Alumni Award in 1993, and an MA in Communication from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY.  He received the Public Relations Society of America’s prestigious Anthony Fulginiti Award for Commitment to Education in 2010, The Department of Strategic Communication’s Outstanding Service Award in 2011, The School of Media and Communication’s Faculty Service Award in 2012, and the 2014 Temple University Outstanding Faculty Service Award. Contact Gregg via email at greggf@temple,edu.

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The Marriage of PR and Employee Engagement – Industry Experts Weigh In

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Public relations is defined as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” PR is telling the story of the organization and protecting its reputation on behalf of all stakeholders. Knowing that it’s an organization’s employees that give the company structure, substance, and culture – and not the other way around – it’s vital to engage your workforce in this process.

However, one must be engaged themselves as a PR professional first to be viewed as credible to his or her audience. When the PR employee is perceived as a genuine, ethical and trustworthy colleague, in both favorable and disastrous times the organization and its reputation both win.

In his book, WE, How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engagement, author Kevin Kruse defined employee engagement as, “the extent to which employees are motivated to contribute to organizational success and are willing to apply discretionary effort to accomplishing tasks important to the achievement of organizational goals.” Based on a 4-domain model, employee engagement is governed by four primary key drivers: communication, growth, recognition and trust.

A simple exercise mentioned in Kruse’s book is the “We Test.” The test is performed by asking employees to describe the way they refer to their workplace. Is the word “they” used when describing the organization or do employees refer to the organization in “we” terms? “You can tell a lot about an organization’s culture and whether workers are fully engaged in their jobs by how often they use the word “we” as opposed to “they,” “our” or even “I,” states Kruse.

With this in mind, how does PR help to build and enhance employee engagement?

PR needs to be the link in getting employees educated and excited to perform and exceed. “It’s a symbiotic relationship. You really can’t have one without the other,” said Georgina Gonzalez-Robiou, APR, director, marketing & public relations at Baptist Outpatient Services & Baptist Health Enterprises in Miami, Fla. She continued, “employees with a higher level of engagement are more likely to be active on behalf of the organization and serve as brand ambassadors.” Brand ambassadors can be your biggest advocates in the community, be it for charity walks, serving on boards, or representing the organization in various outreach events.

At St. Peter’s Health Partners in Albany, N.Y., engaging the employees as brand ambassadors was the key to a successful merger between two large health systems. “We wanted people in each of the legacy organizations to visibly see people (in a television branding campaign) they recognized as both leaders and co-workers who they truly respected and say to themselves, ‘I know that person, that person has bought into this – I am part of it too’,” said Elmer Streeter, director, corporate communications. The branding built trust and the campaign was centered on collaboration and inclusion. “We wanted the unofficial and official leaders of the system who live the mission to be a part of the campaign,” said Streeter.

Matt Cabrey, executive director, Select Greater Philadelphia, said, “PR not only sets the company tone and shapes the image and reputation for how audiences view the company, it has a direct influence on internal communications and the level of pride employees feel in their role and in the organization.”

Bill Cowen, professor and PR program director, Villanova University and president, Metrospective Communications LLC, said, “Whether through tangible rewards or being given a respected voice at the table, collective and creative employee engagement is more crucial than ever to talent cultivation and retention in PR. This is especially the case with the newer generation of professionals that wants to believe fully in the organization.”

However, keeping employees engaged comes with its challenges. For example, the BP oil spill disaster carried with it negligence on behalf of the rig workers, lack of compensation payouts and continuous internal strife. Were the BP employees kept up to date regarding the changing events? Who was taking the blame? When companies are in survival mode it’s even more important for them to engage their employees.

“Relegating employees to some lesser level of importance during a crisis is a mistake,” said John J. Moscatelli, APR, Fellow PRSA, owner, JJM Communications LLC, who teaches PR at Rowan Universtiy. He continued, “uninformed or ill-informed employees, those relying on rumors and speculation, tend to be distrustful of management, express a lack of confidence in the organization to their friends and neighbors, and, in a worst case, make the crisis even worse.” However, out of chaos comes order. The very definition of PR suggests the relationship itself between the organization and its audiences.

Joe Anthony, president of financial services & partner at Gregory FCA, said, “…thoughtfully deploying key employees in telling the company story and weaving their roles into the company narrative can make them feel more a part of the company culture and direction. We do that here at Gregory FCA and encourage our clients to do the same. It’s not just about “staying in front” of employees, it’s about keeping them working alongside of you. That’s why it’s so important to keep them feeling as if they are in the loop.” BP would have fared better if they had strived to achieve this from the beginning.

Often seen as the face of the organization, and an employee themselves, the PR professional must remember it’s important to keep both sides of PR and employee engagement well represented and all parties informed. And remember that it’s an ongoing process. It must start at the recruiting stage, continue through employment, and flow from top to bottom and bottom to top of the hierarchy chain.

As noted by Kruse, trust is a key driver. “Research shows that employees who feel more pride and trust towards their employer are more satisfied and expend more discretionary energy on their work, enabling them to advance key business objectives and achieve results,” said Cathy Engel Menendez, director, communications, PECO. And that after all, are what companies are in business to do. If PR is telling the story of the organization in a favorable light, what better way than to communicate that by using your biggest assets…your employees.

Meg Boyd is a corporate communications professional who is passionate about PR and employee engagement. She earned a master’s in strategic communication from Villanova University and a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Dayton. She is currently seeking opportunities. Contact Meg via email at marg.j.boyd@gmail.com or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Boost Your Brand With Online Storytelling

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Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools to build and strengthen your brand, yet many companies are still not using it to their advantage online. PR experts know how to analyze, contextualize and create stories and narratives to showcase brand attributes and draw consumers. Add a social behaviorist to the team and your business is ready to rock your story online!

Why is a social behaviorist so important? The attention span of an average internet user is only 8 seconds. That means digital marketers have only 8 seconds to connect with consumers and entice them to take meaningful action. Understanding social behavior and how target audiences respond to your brand story online brings a competitive edge that delivers greater results from your marketing efforts.

What can online storytelling, in expert hands, do for your business?

  • Strengthen brand perception.
    One of the greatest advantages of social media is being able to listen to your consumers in real-time. That aids in finding possible gaps between the way you position your brand, and the way the public perceives it. Storytelling fills the gaps and creates a smooth transition for audiences to respond positively to your brand message.
  • Boost brand engagement.
    To strengthen brand loyalty, you need to deepen your online engagement. When consumers become aware of your story, they become a part of it as active participants. Emotional attachments develop and consumers believe the thoughts formed in their head are their own – and they react accordingly. They believe the messaging and become brand advocates.
  • Build trust.
    In 2013, 46% of all internet users claimed that social media influenced their purchase decisions. To influence an audience, you first need to build a relationship based on trust. Storytelling can build a human-to-human relationship that leads to trust between your brand and a consumer. And it will last longer than the notorious 8 seconds.

Storytelling forms a strong connection between your brand and its consumer. That’s why it is important to control the way your story is told. Your storyteller must have a deep understanding of your brand and its history. The story told on social media should be a part of an overall brand story that has been integrated across all media and communication channels.

Powerful storytelling enhances your brand, especially if it’s part of a cohesive approach. Is online storytelling part of your brand story?

GillespieHall is an integrated marketing and digital PR firm. Our award-winning team is comprised of astute PR communicators, sociologists, digital strategists, and creative content designers. We are leaders in exceptional results-based marketing, brand development and crisis management. Follow @GILLESPIEHALL on Twitter.

Give Your Client the Loyal Treatment

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The harsh reality all PR professionals must face is perfectly stated in this line from a recent edition of the Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat: “the majority of your pitches won’t get a response -” Then, as if offering a tiny glimmer of hope, the sentence continues: “but some will.”

It’s true. We all know media pitching is more of an art than it is science. But what happens when your pitch is a home run, the reporter wants the story…then you have to call a timeout?

It sounds like the unthinkable, but as I recently found out, unthinkable doesn’t mean impossible. Here I was, two days away from an interview I’d set up with a veteran reporter from a widely-read daily. All was well until the reporter’s interest shifted–albeit slightly–away from my original pitch. Great for the reporter, not so great for my company’s brand.

A rock and a hard place is an understatement. Yet it was a real life wake-up call that as a PR professional, I must be diligent in the loyalty I have for my company’s strategic goals; even if it means letting go of a media placement I worked so hard to get.

I like to call it the “loyal treatment.” Not unlike kings and monarchs, treat your company and client like royalty when it comes to protecting their brand and public image. Here are a few more tips to remember.

Know your client’s/company’s intended public brand
Ask your client or company’s senior leaders “What do you want the brand to be?” Also, “What don’t you want it to be?” As times change and companies evolve, answers to these questions will inevitably change, so don’t be afraid to ask more than once. The point is, know what the brand is (or isn’t) so you know not to deviate from it when pitching the media.

It’s ok to tell a reporter “no”
I know it sounds crazy given the sheer difficulty involved in getting a reporter to even acknowledge that you exist (unless you work for Apple or some other big name brand that reporters drool over). But trust me on this. If you suspect the end media placement could compromise the brand in any way, respectfully and tactfully decline. Think about it. The repercussions of making your company or client look bad are far worse than one missed opportunity. Which brings me to my next point…

Put yourself in the shoes of the spokesperson
One of the things I love about our work is that we get to make other people look good. In doing this though, we can easily lose sight of the fact that it’s their face, their words, their reputation that’s on the line; not our own. Now ask yourself, “What if it was me?” This change in perspective can make a world of difference when you consider which media placements to pursue.

Have you ever had to give up a media opportunity to protect your company or client? Share your experience and advice in the comments below.

Andrea Carter is a Public Relations Specialist at AWeber, a certified news junkie and an aspiring world traveler. Check out Andrea’s back story here then follow her on Twitter @SheLuvsPR and connect on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/carterandrea/.

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