What is PR?

What do you think public relations is? For the past thirty years, the Public Relations Society of America has defined it as follows: ”Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other. Hunh?!?

The PRSA recognizes that this definition may not be meaningful to many people. It is surely outdated even for those who subscribe to it.

Gini DietrichMartin Waxman and I talk about the PRSA’s initiative to develop a new definition of public relations on this week’s Inside PR.

I’m not sure that they PRSA’s “fill in the blanks” crowd-sourcing approach will yield the type of definition that truly reflects the enhanced role of PR in the era of social media. Sadly, I think it lends itself to a “we act on people” definition, not the “we are part of something” perspective that is more appropriate to the age of social media.

Hopefully, my fears are misplaced and the PRSA will come up with something much more sophisticated. To do so, they need look no farther than the definition developed by the Canadian Public Relations Society. The CPRS defines public relations as “the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics through the use of communication to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals and serve the public interest.” In my opinion that’s a much better definition.

Gini Dietrich suggests that whatever definition is adopted, it will only be useful if it can be readily understood by the general public. And she believes that right now most people believe that PR amounts to little more than media relations.

I agree. Seeing PR as media relations is too restricting. It puts the PR industry in a small box within marketing or communications. A more expansive definition is needed that captures PR’s full role in the era of social media and meaningful online relationships.

Martin argues that the public relations profession should define itself through the lense applied by Jeff Jarvis when he asserts that “In a world of publicness which allows us to connect to each other, to information to actions and to transactions, links, i.e. linking up, help us organize new societies and redefine our publics.”

You can listen to our full discussion on Inside PR

 

Three things every PR practitioner should know to succeed in social media

If you were asked to give public relations practitioners the three best pieces of advice about how to succeed in social media, what would you tell them?

I’ve been asked to do that at a PR Agency Bootcamp organized by the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms. I’ll be appearing with some social media-savvy panellists: Martin Waxman, Mark Evans, Michael O’Connor Clarke and Alex de Bold. So I’ll need to be on my best game in order to keep up with these folks.

As I thought through all the advice I could offer about being successful in social media, I settled on these three pieces of advice.

1)  Be a blogger.

If you don’t stand out from the crowd, you won’t have a stand-out career. You no longer are competing just with the person across town, but with people across the continent and the globe. The age of social media has made it possible for really smart and creative people to project their voice and their identity online – beyond their own local market right into yours. If you don’t raise your voice, they’ll scoop the best jobs and assignments right out from under your nose. Where will that leave you? Probably competing on cost for low value assignments and routine jobs. Competing on cost leads in only one direction – razor thin margins, working longer and longer hours, and burnout.

So, you need to stand out. And stand out in a way that will impress others who may be looking for smart, talented people.

“But,” you say, “I’m on Twitter and Facebook and I have thousands of followers and friends. That makes me stand out.” Well, maybe it makes you stand out as a well connected person and a person who likes to be part of the flow of chatter. But it does not make you stand out as a smart, thoughtful person.

Look around and you’ll realize that virtually all of the people in PR with large followings on Twitter and Facebook also have blogs in which they frequently post content into which they’ve put a lot of thought. Look at people like Steve Rubel, Mitch Joel, Shel Holtz, John Bell, Jay Baer, and Gini Dietrich. Yes, they have thousands of followers on Twitter. But they seed the conversation with intelligent, long form blog posts. That’s thought leadership. And it’s different from being a gadfly on Twitter or Facebook.

Don’t lurk in the shadows. People respect and follow those who have something original to say. There’s no excuse today for being unknown. You a unique perspective on the world. Share it.

And when you do share your perspective, put that perspective on your own place where you can develop your ideas over time. Where people can see your body of thought. Blogs are still the best place for that. You own your blog. It’s searchable. It is a platform for every type of content: text, audio, pictures and video. It’s linkable. If you have something worthwhile to say, why wouldn’t you put it on a blog?

Stand out from the crowd. Be a blogger.

2) Become the new beat.

We are in a constant search for expert opinion. Research is a neverending activity for people who need to write about a subject. So contribute to the body of knowledge.

Don’t think about yourself as someone who’s going to pitch stories to reporters. Think of yourself as a contributing member of a community of interest. Research and write as if you were a beat reporter.

Pick areas that you care about and structure your public relations practice around becoming a member of the expert community. Write about your area of expertise. Share what you know. Become recognized as someone who knows your stuff and contributes real value on an ongoing basis.

As you do this, you’ll find that you attract a following of other people who share your interest. Many of them will have blogs of their own. Some will even be reporters. And as they follow you, you’ll build credibility and trust. When you do talk about a client, you’ll be able to do this (with full disclosure, of course) to a group of people who already care about the subject area. They’ll know you and they’ll listen to you.

This is the future of public relations. Isn’t that better than building your workday around a series of cold call pitches to reporters who are little more than names on a media list?

3) Develop your own sources

There’s been a lot of talk from some people about how they stopped subscribing to RSS feeds or using their feed readers because they now get pointers to the content that matters to them through the people they follow on twitter or via Facebook status updates.

If you’re a serious professional trying to develop a reputation for expertise in an area, you absolutely need to recognize that getting your links through twitter or Facebook links means that others are making the primary judgments about what content you see and framing it in their perspective. That’s lazy and it’s also biases your own thinking. You should make up your own mind about what’s important and approach content from your own unique perspective.

I may see one thing in an article. You may see something totally different. Why? Because we are approaching that content from our own unique perspectives. So if you want to be taken seriously and if you want to be able to generate interesting, original writing, start looking at your feed reader again. Start finding and subscribing to interesting and authoritative voices and read those every day with a fresh eye to what may be in that content. That primary research will give you an advantage over everyone who is dependent upon what others may link to.

Your turn

So there it is. Three things that I would tell a PR practitioner about how to succeed in social media.

Do these make sense to you? Are there other things that you would put ahead of any of my points? Or do you think I’m just plain wrong? Let me know in a comment below this post. I’m always interested in learning from those who are prepared to consider and challenge my ideas. (Maybe that should be a separate piece of advice: Always keep an open mind.)

What would you charge for public relations services?

istock_000000752057xsmallI received an email  through the CCPRF Website from a new public relations practitioner asking how he should charge for his services. I’d like to share his email and my response.

The question:

I’m an up and coming media/PR consultant.  I was in the media industry for 13 years and now I’m looking to develop my own consulting business.  …

Recently, I acquired my first client.  I’ll be paid on a per project basis. The client wants me to work on a social networking website campaign I suggested.  Basically, I’ll be putting together this small business’ Facebook and Twitter pages.  I’m trying to figure out how much I can charge this business.  Should I go with a per hour rate?  If so, how much?  Or a flat rate? If so, how much?  I’m also trying to determine how long it will take to build traffic and interest to these social networking pages.  I’m guessing it’ll take 4 to 5 months for any substantial growth.  This company is looking at this campaign as a new way to attract interest to its website/store.
I’d appreciate any thoughts as to how much I can charge.

My answer:

What you charge depends on the overhead you must carry (your needs), the value to the client (what you should charge), the budget of the client (what you may only be able to charge.) Bottom line, I’d start by asking for a fee equal to what I think the project will be worth the the client based on anticipated results. Then, if they cannot afford this, you can decide whether to negotiate an acceptable fee.

Your thoughts:

How would you answer this question? What’s the right way to charge for public relations services?

Cross-posted from the CCPRF:

This is cross-posted from the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms‘ Weblog. I’m this year’s Chair of the CCPRF. And while the posts there are not as frequent as I would like, I think it’s worthwhile subscribing to it’s feed. When posts do appear, they’re usually authored by a CEO of a Canadian PR firm. It’s a unique aggregation of content.

Memo to Jim Flaherty: Please don't make it harder to manage through this recession

At Thornley Fallis and 76design, our payroll costs routinely run at about 60% of our topline revenues. That means that 60 cents of every dollar we receive for our services goes directly to create jobs. Good jobs. Jobs that employ creative people. Jobs that employ knowledge workers. Workers who help companies – and government – use the new social media to create communities of interest, accelerate knowledge sharing and get closer to the people they serve.

So, I was dismayed to read the following section in Finance Minister James Flaherty’s November 27 Economic Statement:

“There will be no free ride for anyone else in government either.

“We are directing government ministers and deputy ministers from every single department and agency of the Government to rein in their spending on travel, hospitality, conferences, exchanges and professional services.

“This includes polling, consultants and external legal services.”

Consulting. That’s me and my industry. The government contracts with knowledge workers as consultants. So, are we about to be on the chopping block? Does Minister Flaherty think that we are some kind of bureaucratic boondoggle?

When I read Finance Minister Flaherty’s statement, I fear that he and the government are failing to see the value of the economic activity our industry generates.

Clearly, he doesn’t understand:

  • the economic efficiency of our industry in creating jobs,
  • how important government is to our industry as one of the largest communicators in the country,
  • how communicating with Canadians to restore confidence is essential to the economic recovery, and
  • how government spending on communications not only is part of the solution in getting past the recession panic, but will also enable our industry to maintain employment levels.

Does Minister Flaherty understand that if he takes a broadsword to consulting contracts, he will be killing jobs – lots of jobs – at a time when we should be trying to sustain employment?

The Department of Finance announced last Thursday that it is conducting online consultations in advance of the January 26 budget.

This is my submission.

Mr. Flaherty, please don’t pull the rug out from under knowledge workers with one hand while with the other you are seeking to build up infrastructure.

Yes, please do invest in extending broadband Internet access so that more people can have access to the benefits of the Net. (And while you’re at it, please encourage innovation by supporting net neutrality.)

But while you are pouring dollars into building roads, bridges, buildings and bandwidth, please don’t undercut the knowledge workers whom you are counting on to use that infrastructure to create jobs in the future.

People like me are trying to preserve jobs for knowledge workers.

We aren’t getting any free ride. We help government to connect with Canadians. And we also help you to listen to what Canadians are saying. We are also very efficient at creating jobs. Jobs right here in Canada.

We count on you and our government to be wise and to legislate in the public interest. So, please take a closer look at small business and industries like mine before you act. I think you’ll find that it makes sense to provide us with stability, not the back of your hand.

And if you provide us with a stable environment, I’m sure you’ll find that we do our part. And isn’t that really how we’ll get through the recession? If everyone does their part?

The new face of public relations

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I believe that social media is a game changer for public relations.

It forces public relations people to come out from behind the curtain. No longer can we be the "unnamed source" who talks "on background."

We now are in a world in which the traditional news cycle has been replaced by a constant flow of breaking news and immediate commentary. We must start to monitor conversations well before we ever wish to enter them in order to find where people are talking, listen to what they are talking about, identify the new influencers, and understand their point of view.

And then, when we have done this, we join the conversations where they are occurring. This helps us to build credibility and trust among those who are already engaged in the issues of importance to us.

And all of that occurs before the words "corporate blog" are ever spoken.

Social media demands transparency and authenticity. That means that we must be front and centre as individuals when we are playing the role of spokesperson for our organization. If you want an example of what I’m talking about, take a look at RichardatDell . Richard Binhammer has been one of Dell’s most high profile people in the blogosphere since mid-2006. He is part of the conversation through his personal blog , direct outreach to bloggers , Twitter and real world presentations . And he does this with transparency and authenticity. The corporate spokesperson becomes a real person – and our trust increases because of this.

And that’s the template for the new PR practitioner.

And I’m not alone in my view. It was encouraging to read other industry leaders underline the importance of social media during a recent roundtable discussion organized by PR Week (April 14, 2008, p.12). A couple of statements that caught my attention:

"Traditional PR is getting completely redefined. I won’t say it’s dying, but I think people need to get with what’s on the cutting edge, in terms of building communities and starting conversations – as opposed to that traditional one-way dialogue." Karen Kahn, Vice President, Global Communications, Sun Microsystems.

"The bigger evolution in our job is not learning about social media and digital. It’s about changing from a [text] storyteller to a visual storyteller. I think as PR pros we always related to the written word, and these new Web 2.0 applications relate to being more visual…" Luca Penati, Managing Director of the global tech practice, Ogilvy PR.

Things to think about when you’re planning your own career and growth path.

UPDATE: Shel Israel posted this video interview with Richard Binhammer on Global Neighbourhoods TV shortly after I posted. It’s worth looking at for an illustration of the "up front" PR person. There’s very little (if any) "corporate speak" on Richard’s side. Just a PR person speaking in plain language about what he believes about his company.

When hiring a PR firm, there’s no short cut past setting realistic expectations

The road is littered with disappointed clients and fired communications agencies. One of the primary reasons for this is a failure to establish clear and realistic expectations at the outset.

It’s hard for a company to look a proffered contract in the face and say, “Hold on. Let’s be sure that your expectations are reasonable before we start.” But it’s absolutely essential. And the companies that have the courage to insist on this step will only help themselves in the long run.

This was driven home during Mike McDerment ’s and Saul Colt ’s appearance at Third Tuesday Toronto .
McDerment says of Freshbook ’s first use of a PR agency. “We cut it off after four months. Because nothing happened.”

Picking up on this Saul Colt suggests, “We had different expectations than some of the PR companies we have worked with. We have the greatest story in the world. So we can’t understand why we can’t get coverage in some really desirable places. … PR companies should sit down and say, ‘hey, you’re about to sign a contract and we just want to let you know that you’re not going to be [in all the places you want.’”

Good advice from clients who have seen the wrong side of disappointed expectations.

Other clips with Freshbooks’ Michael McDerment and Saul Colt :

A Fresh(books) approach to social media by Dave Fleet

Building a Winning Team

Your next great business idea may be staring you in the face

Freshbooks: Don’t talk about the product. Talk about what it means to people

Freshbook Execs listen and respond to customers

Online media deliver results. But traditional media still add legitimacy

Agency Link wants to improve the way that companies select public relations firms

Competitive pitches for new business. They’re the bane of any agency or firm that must participate. And they’re also an unavoidable fact of life.

Public relations practitioners get up every day looking forward to doing great work for their clients. But in order to get the opportunity to do this, we first must win the confidence of those clients.

This is best done by developing a reputation for doing outstanding work and the network of people for whom we have done this who will then call us directly or provide us with referrals. In this situation, the battle is nearly won by the time that you hear the words, "I have this challenge that I’d like your advice on…"

However, not all relationships originate in this way.

Competitions: Costly and Capricious

Many potential clients, especially large corporations and governments, feel they need to conduct formal competitions for their business.

The way these competitions are run is highly idiosyncratic. Short list. Long list. With creative presentations. Without creative presentations. Proposal only. Proposal plus presentation. Budget revealed in advance? Maybe. Maybe not. A blind competition in which you do not know the identities of the competitors? More often than should be the case.

And costly. Boy, does it cost a lot to win a competition. A determined firm will pull in a team to research the client, the client’s industry and the client’s competitors. Brainstorm(s) will be held to develop ideas. A formal proposal will be prepared. Artwork and mock ups will be created for visual, physical and Web elements of the program. Cost quotes will be obtained and a budget prepared. All of this will be pulled together into a bid package. Then a PowerPoint will be prepared to support the team presentation, which will itself be rehearsed. Finally the team will get a chance to present their ideas to the client.

All in all, thousands and probably tens of thousands of dollars worth of time and direct expenses are invested in a competitive bid. So, it’s only natural that communications firms pine for a simple bid process that is fair and transparent.

Agency Link says it can be better

Now, a new firm, Agency Link , wants to get into the middle of the selection process with a promise to help clients find the PR partners who best meet their needs.

Agency Link offers a range of services, including audits and evaluations of existing client-supplier relationships, assessments of RFPs, assistance with search and selection of PR firms, and contract negotiations. Agency Link will work for the clients, not the PR firms. And they have published a Code of Conduct to reassure both clients and PR firms that they will conduct themselves in a fair and transparent fashion.

This is a new concept in Canada. And most PR firm heads I know are quietly supportive of Agency Link, hoping that it will deliver on the promised of a more effective selection process for those clients who use its services.

Agency Link is the brainchild of two co-founders, Stan Didzbalis and Sheila Corriveau . Both Stan and Sheila have extensive experience as PR firm principals and on the client side. Stan was the founder of BenchMark Communications, which he grew to over 50 consultants before he sold it to Omnicom. Before establishing his agency, he worked in communications at two bluechip corporations, IBM and Inco. Sheila is a former CEO of Porter Novelli in Canada. Her corporate experience includes leadership roles in several communications functions at The Dynacare Health Group.

Interview with Stan Didzbalis

I caught up with Stan Didzbalis this week in Toronto. He took a few minutes to talk to me about what Agency Link is up to.

Stan told me that there are two sides to Agency Link’s business. "One is to help clients find the right agency fit – whether it be a public relations agency, a digital marketing agency, an investor relations firm. … The second part of our business is a consulting practice. We consult with clients to help them optimize their agency relationships and get the best that they can out of their agencies."

The benefits to agencies? According to Stan, "We hope to take some of the inconsistencies out of the search process. We hope to eliminate cattle calls. We really want our clients to minimize the agency churn. The best way we can do that it to educate the clients on how best to utilize an agency resource."

Here. Here. I’ve gotta wish Stan and Sheila total success in achieving these objectives.

You can watch the video of my interview with Stan Didzbalis here.

Inside PR live at Third Tuesday Toronto

The next Inside PR podcast will have a distinctly different sound to it – the hum and crackle of a live audience.

Terry Fallis, David Jones and Inside PR panelists Martin Waxman, Julie Rusciolelli and Keith McArthur recorded Episode 106 at Third Tuesday Toronto. And the room was packed with members of the Toronto social media community who participated in the episode, asking questions, offering comments and generally cheering on the production.

Episode 106 will be posted next Tuesday. To whet your appetite for the complete show, here’s a video segment of the panelists setting up and opening the podcast. The lighting is poor and from the rear (audio producers don’t always set up the room with video in mind.) But one thing you can see is that the only apparent element of advance scripting is David Jones reading the opening sequence from notes in his Moleskin. They really do make this stuff up as they record it.

Interview with Pat Gossage, Chairman of Media Profile

Pat Gossage, Chairman of Media ProfilePat Gossage, the founder and now Chairman of Media Profile, talked to me recently for the series of video interviews with heads of Canadian PR firms that I’m conducting for the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms.

Some of the highlights of the interview:

What makes Media Profile a special place?

“I wanted a firm I enjoyed coming to work at every day. And I wanted a firm that had a pleasant, accepting and respectful atmosphere amongst its workers. A lot of teamwork. Bringing people up from within rather than parachuting from above. I was much more interested in creating a culture than creating a big, successful firm. The culture is here and the success followed.”

On client relations:

“The other thing we stress is being incredibly attentive to clients. We’re good listeners. Somebody once told me that when you are listening to the client your are winning. That’s been a theory we’ve put into practice and it’s been an important aspect of us winning and keeping clients.”

Advice to young people considering a career in public relations:

“The atmosphere in an office is very important. … It’s whether you want to come to work at a firm and whether the senior people are accessible, whether there’s a mentoring program, all the things that will allow you to build on your skills over time. And stay with one firm, which is very important to all of us in public relations, so that we have continuity with our people. That’s what the client respects. The client doesn’t want to be dealing with different people every couple of years.”

You can view the video of the complete interview with Pat Gossage on the CCPRF Weblog.