Posts Tagged ‘iabc’

When leaders sell their profession short

I was shocked today to get pointed to a post on the Hootsuite blog by friend Kami Huyse. The post “What is the most sought-after selfie?” looked at recent famous selfies. What galled me was this paragraph:

2014 was the year of the first billion-dollar selfie. During the 2014 Oscars, Ellen DeGeneres snapped a group selfie, rumored to be sponsored by Samsung, with the likes of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. She then uploaded the photo to her Twitter account and ended up getting millions of retweets from people around the globe. Maurice Levy, CEO of advertising firm Publicis, said that the Oscar selfie was worth between $800 million to $1 billion to its client Samsung.

I immediately shared some inappropriate words, then I left a comment on the post. But apparently I still have more to say.

Lévy is the CEO of a gigantic conglomerate of agencies lumped together as Publicis Groupe, and he was doing a talk at the MIPTV summit in April, just after the Academy Awards. Here’s the crucial quote:

The quote: “The earned media —  all the buzz which had been done around the Oscars — represents roughly a value between $800 million and a billion US dollars, because it has been mentioned all around the world, and the Samsung phone has been either mentioned or seen.”

M. Lévy has, no doubt, achieved great things. His group of companies generated $2.3 billion in revenue (US dollars) in the first quarter of 2014. Compared to me, he’s a top predator, and I’m an amoeba. So I am shocked to see a man of his stature, in his position, use a metric that has been so thoroughly discredited — Advertising Value Equivalency, or AVE.

AVEs have been around for a long time. And despite the efforts of many professional groups and individuals, they remain. Why are they problematic? I can’t state the reasons much better than this 2003 paper from the Institute for Pubic Relations. I’ll turn the paper’s objections into bullet points for brevity:

  • There’s no factual basis for assuming that an “editorial” mention is equivalent to an advertisement
  • The credibility of media varies from one topic and one outlet to the other. So using one “multiplier” is impossible
  • AVEs only measure what APPEARS, while PR folk often work to minimize coverage or not see something appear at all. This is not measurable by AVE
  • Advertisements depend on repetitive mentions to build awareness. “Earned media” cannot do the same
  • Not everything is relatable to advertising. If there are no ads on the front page of a magazine, what’s the value of a cover mention?
  • If a story tangentially mentions a brand or an organization, does the equivalency relate to the entire story or the portion of the story mentioning the specific brand?

In 2010, a coalition of leading communication organizations agreed upon what came to be known as the “Barcelona Principles.” Principle number five of the seven principles states: “AVEs are not the value of public relations.” Yet, according to PR News earlier this spring, the principles are not being adopted as quickly as might have been expected. Or hoped. And when you have people in the position of Maurice Lévy using these discredited and disavowed numbers, while it remains disappointing, it becomes less surprising.

The lesson for us here? I could simply and flippantly say “Don’t follow leaders.”  But there’s a slightly deeper lesson here. Even if you’re working with a “top agency”, even if you’re hiring “the best” — you owe it to yourself and your business to be ready to call BS on what they tell you. Don’t simply assume they know best, that their advice should be taken. If you can’t understand the strategy, or the method of evaluation; if you can’t relate the tactics to your business goals: speak up. Ask for better.

And if you’re a communicator — find a way to help push our industry out of the bad habits that we’ve developed. We can do better. And we know how.

IABC “Trends 2013″ conference offers real value

I have blogged in the past about the role of professional associations in a world where there are meetups and all sorts of similar professional development opportunities that can be had for free.

I argued, at the time, that the proliferation of low or no-cost PD opportunities was a threat to traditional groups such as IABC or CPRS.

But an event coming up next week is an example of how professional associations can counter that trend.

Trends 2013” is a three-day conference organized by the eastern Canada division of IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators. Three days is a long time for anyone to devote to a conference, and even longer for someone in my self-employed position, where time is quite literally money. That’s why I was pleased to be approached to attend the event in exchange for some help in promoting it to… people like you, who read this blog.

But frankly, I would have considered attending this event even if I was paying for it. Why? Synergy.

I know some of the people presenting at Trends 2013. There’s my friend Danny Brown of Jugnoo and my friend Andrea Tomkins. There’s Michael Geist, who I got to know during my time at uOttawa. There’s Caroline Kealey of Ingenium Communications, creators of the Results Map. Donna Papacosta, who I have long admired from afar. Anick Losier, now of Canada Post and jack of all trades Gord McIntosh. And those are just the people that I really know. Even Industry Minister Tony Clement will be speaking at the conference, and while I think his government has done a poor job with social media, he’s a proficient user. So I want to hear from him about that.

There are a large number of people who have sterling resumes and reputations who I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet.

So for my money, what this Trends 2013 conference will offer attendees a chance to meet several dozen incredibly smart and engaging presenters. These people are difficult to get together, all in one place. Sometimes it takes the resources of an organization like this to bring them together and fund a conference like this.

So go. I look forward to bringing the things I learn at the conference back to my clients and to my students at Algonquin College and Eliquo. And to sweeten the deal, you have a chance to go as my guest. I want you to tell me in the comments what you think the most important trend facing communicators in 2013 is and why.

I will choose one of the responses on October 29, and that person will get a complimentary day pass to the conference for either November 2 or 3. Get writing, and I’ll see you there.

And if you’re writing about this conference, why not use the hashtag #Cdniabc12 ?

Why PR doesn’t matter to the boss

Get enough public relations professionals together, and you’ll inevitably hear the conversation. The one I’m thinking of starts around war stories, then moves to why the corner office folks (or the C-suite, if you’re more modern than I am) don’t listen to us, don’t take us seriously.

You know why? Because we cheapen ourselves. We do things that we shouldn’t, and we suffer the consequences.

Case. In. Point.

In California, water is a big deal. The water 18 million people in southern California use to drink, wash, and take care of their sewage arrives in their houses via a 240-mile pipeline all the way from the Colorado River. So I’d figure that the topic of water there is discussed a bit more than it is here in my city of Ottawa, where a mighty river brings all the water we need to our figurative doorstep.

The Los Angeles Times ran a story yesterday about one of the authorities which manage the water supply for 2 million folks living south of LA, the Central Basin Municipal Water District.  The CBMWD apparently signed a $12,000/month contract with a consulting firm to write and place stories about them on a news site called “News Hawks Review.”  The documents around this were obtained by the Times:

Central Basin News Site Agreements

The selling point? That this would be indexed by Google News as a news outlet. Well, that door’s slammed shut — as of this morning, Google News has de-indexed News Hawks Review. In discussions with the LA Times, Coghlan claimed to have no editorial role with the News Hawks site. However, he was a frequent contributor to the site and was listed as a “reporter” with an affiliated “newshx.com” e-mail address.

Before I start opining, a caveat. I attempted yesterday to contact News Hawks Review, Coghlan (the company seems to not have a web site, which is curious for someone working in social media), and the CBMWD for comment and to ensure that the LA Times coverage was not inaccurate. None of those people responded to phone calls or emails. So if I’m extrapolating from incorrect information, be aware that I tried to verify the facts as reported.

There are two issues here, to my mind. The first is that what was done is, in my opinion, unethical. This was an attempt to create a simulacrum of news coverage without disclosing the financial interests.

I asked PRSA for a comment about this, and here’s what Prof. Deborah Silverman, the chair of their Ethics Board, told me by email:

“This practice is contrary to the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics, which espouses honesty and accuracy in communication, the free flow of information, and disclosure of information. The Central Basin Municipal Water District’s use of a communications firm to create “news” disguised as media coverage is a serious breach of ethical standards, and the district is operating in a manner that does little to aid the public’s decision-making process.” I’m sad to say that I also e-mailed my professional association, the International Association of Business Communicators, and nobody responded.

Did CBMWD know their communications person or people were engaged in unethical behaviour? Did they endorse it? I don’t know.

Second, this is a ridiculously ineffective use of thousands of dollars. What is the measure of success here? What opinion was changed by these innocuous stories? A youtube video accompanying the story has a whopping 101 views:

Meanwhile the documents posted by the LA Times show the communications folks for CBMWD referring to this as a “unique and innovative utilization of an internet news service to distribute actual news.”

If we as PR professionals can do no better than to use the tools at our disposal in unethical and deceptive and ineffective ways, then why SHOULD the C-suite listen to us? And if the boss thinks this is what we do, why would he or she think of us as anything other than unethical shills?

UPDATE: Thanks to the PRbuilder blog, I discovered two things. First, Ragan’s PR Daily covered this issue, and second, that the LA PRSA chapter has sent a letter to the Times calling this an “egregious breach.” I don’t think the letter’s been published in the Times yet, but the Ragan story has it.

Social media is “new territory for PR,” sez PRSA. BS, sez me.

Food giant ConAgra and its PR firm Ketchum found itself in a reheated soup recently, when an event for bloggers in which food bloggers were fed frozen dinners as a “secret surprise” went wrong. At least some of the bloggers took offense, and a retreat was hastily beaten.

The story is an interesting one, as written by Andrew Adam Newman in the New York Times. But I was most interested in the quotes by PRSA ethics expert Deborah A. Silverman.

Here’s what Newman’s story closed with:

The promotion was “unfortunate” and “struck me as being not quite where they should be in terms of honesty,” said Deborah A. Silverman, who heads the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards at the Public Relations Society of America.

In an e-mail message, Ms. Silverman added, “Ketchum has an excellent reputation for high ethical standards,” but “the social media realm (including bloggers) is new territory for public relations practitioners, and I view this as a valuable learning opportunity.”

Does PR need a social-media Lewis and Clark?

Does PR need a social-media Lewis and Clark?

I have some issues with this. First, Ketchum’s “excellent reputation” has at least one gigantic hole in it in the shape of Armstrong Williams.  I wrote about the Armstrong Williams scandal when it happened in 2005. It stank then and it stinks now.

They’ve also been sharply criticized for their use of Video News Releases (VNRs) — criticism serious enough to cause PRSA to issue a bulletin about their ethical usage.

Second, the idea that social media and blogger relations are “new territory for public relations practitioners” is hokum and hooey.

A quick Google on blogger relations found articles from Lee Odden in 2006 and John Cass in 2007 on doing blogger relations right. Neville Hobson wrote an article for IABC’s Communication World magazine in May 2006 about blogger relations (I’m not a PRSA member, so don’t have access to their resources as I do IABC’s). I pointed to some guidelines from Cory Doctorow in 2008 on this blog.

I asked Deborah Silverman, who is a PR prof at Buffalo State in New York,  if she wanted to expand on her view, and she did. Here’s her response:

“The social media realm, including bloggers, is relatively new territory for public relations practitioners, as evidenced by the large crowds who attend social media workshops. Social media have been around for only about five years. Although many practitioners may be familiar with social media, there are numerous new ethical issues that are arising; one of those is where bloggers fall within the consumer-advocate-journalist continuum. So I do believe that this situation was a learning experience for all of us. Above all, it reiterates the ethical tenet in PR that disclosure of motivations, intentions and/or sponsorship is paramount.”

First, it’s unfortunate that Silverman chose not to respond to the concerns over Ketchum. Second, I disagree with her on a number of points. First, the fact that social media training attracts crowds doesn’t necessarily mean it’s new. People still go to speechwriting workshops and speeches aren’t new; people learn to write news releases and the news release is more than a century old. And while this may be a “learning experience” for Silverman, ConAgra, and Ketchum, I think a lot of social media practitioners only learned a new way to screw up blogger outreach.

One could be charitable and say that it’s too soon to REALLY know how to do this. But it’s not true. There’s no reason to not know how to do this well, and to do it.

May have more about these issues soon.

UPPERDATE: Tonia Ries at the RealTime Report has more thoughts and references related to this story, as does the always readable Jen Zingsheim at Media Bullseye.

Member vs. non-member prices: recruitment inside out?

Is the price right?

... or IS it?

I get lots of invitations to events related to public relations, usually from local chapters of professional associations like CPRS or IABC or business groups like the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, or from companies like Ragan Communications. Quite often, the pricing structure for an event – a breakfast, a webinar, a professional development session, whatever – goes like this:

  • Members $40
  • Non-members $55
  • Students $20

For example, Ragan says on its site

“Ragan Select members always get the lowest prices & access to all ragan.com content.” (emphasis theirs)

This is a sensible structure in some ways. Members pay a membership fee, so this is pitched as one of the benefits of membership — reduced admission costs to events. Makes sense. Also makes sense to give students a break on attendance. I didn’t have much money when I was a student.

But I was thinking about this as a way of recruiting new members. Associations cost money. Unless you’re a student, joining CPRS will run you nearly $400; IABC is a bit cheaper. And unlike the old days, there are a ton of PD events out there that don’t require a membership: Social Media Breakfast, TEDx, Case Study Jam, Third Tuesday, Ottawa Brain Drain, Podcasters Across Borders

So if you’re an association, and you want to bring in new members, is the best way to recruit to charge people more? Might you not be better served by holding special “non-member events”, where you gave the noobs a discount? Or an event without a charge at all? And for that matter, given the negligible amount of revenue that student attendance at these events likely brings in, might it be worth it to not charge them at all?

If you don’t change your pricing structure, do you risk losing people who want to pay “à la carte” for their professional activities? Is it the membership fees that pay for things like the massive research library that IABC offers (to members and non-members, at different prices)? Without those fees, what happens to the research? Or to the associations themselves?

It feels like a truism to say that the pace of change in public relations and communications is break-neck. The advent of social media has accelerated that pace crazily. Many people in the industry are having difficulty with the way the practice and principles of public relations are being challenged by new media tactics and by the move to make “symmetrical two-way communications,” to quote the Grunigs, approach reality.

The local chapters of associations are led by dedicated volunteers looking to make connections, and in some cases names for themselves. Is the “way forward” now to volunteer for associations, or to do “personal branding?” Is the way forward going to make PR professional associations irrelevant?

I don’t know the answers. But I find the questions interesting.

Release of Results Map just might be something big

I got a tweet today pointing me to the release of The Results Map. This is the brainchild of Caroline KealCaroline Kealeyey, CEO of Ottawa-based Ingenium Communications. I’ve known Caroline casually for a number of years, and she’s always struck me as a really smart communicator.(If you needed proof: when she teaches, she enforces the smartphones-off rule.)

And the Results Map, from what I see, doesn’t disappoint. The video tour they’re offering on the site is a good introduction. And she’s been smart enough to sponsor the “Strategy & Counsel” programming track at this weekend’s IABC World Conference in Toronto. If getting a solid product in front of a few thousand communicators doesn’t make for a good first few days, I don’t know what would.

Kealey’s been working on this idea for years, and the final product (if anything in this business is ever really final) uses the metaphor of the subway map to guide communicators through the process of developing, implementing, and evaluating communications programs.

I suspect this thing is going to take off in larger organizations. The one fly in the ointment? It is not cheap: $2800 CAD to get in, plus a $100/month sub for the online resources they’re offering along with it. A lot of smaller organizations will likely gasp at that cost.

Caroline has been gracious enough to give me a quick peek under the hood, so I’m hoping to post again in a week or two with a full review of just what this tool is and whether it’s as good as I’m guessing it will be.