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Edward Bernays would dig me. Seasoned public relations strategist (10+ years in the game) who has practiced PR in multiple cities: Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago & DC. I'm an observationist and a soon to be card carrying member of the Twitterati. I love comfortable silences, revel in the Seinfeldian absurdities of life and have been described as a habitual line stepper. These are my thoughts...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Excuse Me While I Put On My Public Face

“It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story”Native American Proverb

Recently, I asked my Twitter followers if it was a smart PR strategy to limit an organization to only one voice/face, or to allow for many voices. The way I see it, organizations have a choice and whichever approach that is adapted, there will be pluses and minuses.

To use a hip hop analogy, a company can be like Nas (All I need is one mic) or it can take the Wu-tang Clan, 36 Chambers approach (everybody has a mic and something to say). Typically, this would be where I would walk through the dynamics of both approaches and discuss the good and bad of each. But at this point in my career, I’ve come to embrace one method more than the other, so that will be the one I highlight.

Organizations today go through painstaking efforts to control the perception of their brand. They also go through a whole lot of effort to ensure that their brand takes up residence in that public relations nirvana known as Mindspace.

For those that forgot about this one-time PR buzz word du jour, in the simplest of explanations mindspace refers to how much an idea captures the audience. Some communicators believe that repetition of message or repetition of a specific delivery of message eventually takes hold and becomes entrenched in the receiver’s subconscious (also referred to as mindspace).

And what the hell does this have to do with employing one organizational spokesperson versus many? Well if an organization selected one person to be its public face and this person could deliver key messages strongly and was perceived as believable by external audiences, then this tactic could go a long way toward securing valuable mindspace. The use of a single voice also would allow an organization to have better control of its message and brand image. Typically, the person given this responsibility would be a company’s CEO, the VP of Communications, chairman of the board, or in some rare instances the head of legal.

However, that is not the strategy I endorse (didn’t see that one coming, did you?). Much like the old Indian proverb I shared at the beginning of this post, I believe it takes multiple voices within an organization to tell its story. One person can’t be expected to know everything there is to know about an organization’s operation; especially to any large degree of detail.

Back in my agency life, one of the account teams I led represented a very successful local hospital in S.E. Michigan. While this particular hospital wasn’t as large or had as many beds as some of its competitors in the region, my team was able to keep them positively covered by the media and top of mind as a healthcare provider of choice. And how were we able to accomplish this? One way we achieved success was by remaining ever aggressive in positioning this hospital with the media, but the other good thing that we did was to promote any army of voices.

In order to successfully implement this tactic, you have to identify individuals within an organization that are experts within a certain subject matter. For example with this hospital, when we wanted to discuss the business of healthcare, the introduction of new products/services or healthcare leadership in general, we tapped the CEO. If we wanted to talk about healthcare insights, operating procedures or certain types of prevention we tapped a physician. When it came to other key areas of healthcare, we positioned a variety of other staffers.

The key in making this really work was in first identifying media friendly staffers, who would also be good ambassadors of the brand. Second, we made sure they all experienced some degree of media training. In the end we got to increase the probability of securing news coverage and increasingly became a go to resource for the media covering healthcare.

This particular organization could’ve easily said no, we don’t want our unit managers or physicians speaking to the media, we don’t trust what they might say. But they believed in the process and trusted our counsel. In the end they were rewarded with a sizeable amount of media coverage and industry recognition in a very competitive market.

So that’s why I’m rolling with the Wu-tang Clan approach. But I’d be interested in getting your take…

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Say Hi…to the Bad Guy!

Rarely do I allow my creative process to be directly influenced by others, but I must admit that this particular post was inspired by DC area PR pro, Mike Schaffer. His blog post, “Justice League of Communications” got me to thinking about the other side of the coin.

If there’s one thing I know about heroes, it’s that every good hero needs theme music. Quiet as kept, my theme song is the 1982 b-boy classic, “Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop)” by the group Man Parrish. But in addition to a theme song, every good hero needs a foil; a villain who opposes them and uses his/her villainous powers to prohibit the hero from winning the day.

Being a person who loves his profession, I like to think of the PR guy as the good guy, the hero if you would. For the purposes of this post we shall call him – PR Man! PR Man uses his special powers to make an organization’s products and services appear bigger than life. He also positively influences public perceptions, or wards off the negative affects of bad publicity and the uncommon crisis situation. But in order to utilize his powers and “win the day,” the PR Man must neutralize and/or defeat the anti public relations version of the Legion of Doom.

Allow me to introduce you to the would-be villains:

Board Man

This organizational interloper sits on the board and has a tendency to cast his narrowed “in the box” thoughts onto PR Man and his accomplices. Board Man thinks our hero is never doing enough to keep the organization in the media. And when PR Man uses his special powers to come up with a creative idea, Board Man uses his influence to neutralize the idea. This villain is famous for uttering the phrase, “This is how we’ve always done things.” Just the mere verbalization of this phrase sends an organization’s leadership cowering into submission.

Executor (a.k.a. Bossman)

The brains of the PR Legion of Doom, Executor can grant or take away the life blood of the PR Man and he wields his mighty power openly. This villain may have no concept of public relations, but believes he’s good at it. He shuns media prepping and disintegrates carefully prepared talking points. His ultimate goal is to go on Oprah and dominate the world {insert evil laugh here}. Executor’s weakness is to go off script as well as making gaffes during interviews. He often and unwillingly cedes all of his power to his fellow villain, Media Outlet – the Multiple.

Media Outlet – the Multiple

This particular villain serves as the primary nemesis to PR Man. Media Outlet can be friend or foe and often plays either role without warning or provocation. Everyday our hero spars and jousts with this bad guy, each hoping to make the other submit to his will. As the exalted fourth estate, Media Outlet is extremely powerful in that it can build an organization up into prominence or tear it down, reducing it to rubble. In dealing with Media Outlet the multiple, our hero must use every effective tactic at his disposal to win the day. It also should be noted that PR Man and Media Outlet’s relationship is a symbiotic one. Each can not exist without the other in our ecosystem. But alas, Media Outlet has one glaring weakness – he secretly wants to become PR Man (mostly as a result of the higher pay and the apparent job stability).

Flack Hack

Much like the decrepit creature Gollum from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, this villain was once like PR Man until he succumbed to chasing the power of public relations and it destroyed him from within. Flack Hack is powerful in that he represents everything that is wrong with the PR profession. Whether it be the non-strategic media relations approach of e-blasting a media pitch to multiple outlets regardless of beat or dispensing of lame and jargon filled press releases about such non-newsworthy things as new websites or the participation in upcoming conferences. Flack Hack is a parasite drawing his only power off of other villains such as Executor or Board Man. This Bizzaro version of PR Man also unwittingly empowers fellow bad guy, Media Outlet.

Edit-tron – the Destroyer

This amorphous villain can transform into PR Man’s immediate supervisor or Executor himself. Edit-tron’s power lies within his mighty “red pen” from the planet Journalism (or possibly the much larger planet Egos). Edit-tron’s red pen is like kryptonite for PR Man. When our hero submits a press release, marketing copy, a speech or an employee newsletter article, Edit-tron posses the ability to completely destroy PR Man’s written work leaving it unrecognizable. In many cases this villain displays his power simply to amuse himself or to toy with our hero. Edit-tron’s weakness is hubris. Sometimes he edits something so much that it reverts back to the original copy.

Legal Eagle

This bad guy can be found entrenched within the internal structure of a particular organization and he wants to slap a muzzle on our hero thus prohibiting him from talking to anyone. Legal Eagle “the possessor of the unholy law degree” wields the power to stop PR Man from saying anything of substance that would benefit an organization in a PR situation. His powers also extend to any written communications. He can transform words with meaning into undecipherable legalese. Legal Eagle draws power from his cape of “non-disclosure.”

Clientus – the Unmerciful

If ever there was a super villain to fear, it would definitely have to be Clientus! Not only is he a great supplier of PR Man’s strength (he pays the invoices), but he often provides our hero with purpose. However, Clientus possess a dark side. While he often doesn’t know what public relations is, he knows that it can be a powerful tool in market domination. This bad guy wants the spoils of effective PR, but will unknowingly and in some cases knowingly create barriers for PR Man. Clientus is unmerciful in his critique of PR Man’s short comings and will offer no support. Clientus views PR Man as a vendor, not a partner, and often confuses his abilities with that of Advertising Man. This bad guy cannot be stopped. You can only hope to contain him.

So the question now is how many of these bad guys have you encountered? And what did you do to defeat them?