004: What’s wrong with Public Relations? (and how do we fix it) – Dr. Dave Dozier and Lou Williams

 

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What’s wrong with Public Relations (and how do we fix it)?

Key points from the study:

  1. To be a profession, we must figure out who we are and what we do, and agree on a definition of the practice; it should speak to the good we provide to organizations and society.
  2. We need to respect the difference between PR as a strategic management function and the journalist-in-residence role.
  3. We must educate organizational leaders on how well-educated, strategic PR professionals can help improve the quality of their decisions, because they are attuned to the organization’s publics.
  4. There are requirements that we behave in a professional, ethical manner, including advocating on behalf of the public when we’re talking to the dominant coalition.

Other key points from the conversation:

  • PR serves as the eyes and ears, as well as the mouth of the organization.
  • We’re ethical because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s the pragmatic thing to do.
  • PR is a strategic management function for organizations, not a technical support or communications support function for other departments.
  • PR leaders often are not part of the decision-making process; they must be part of the dominant coalition.
  • The best PR prevents problems, rather than putting out fires after a problem has happened.
  • PR professionals must think about the organization and all of its stakeholders holistically to understand how publics will likely react to decisions; in this way, they can anticipate unintended consequences.
  • Universities do a good job of training PR technicians, but don’t necessarily train people to be PR strategists who can think holistically, anticipate problems before they happen, and help organizations avoid unnecessary conflicts.
  • In many ways, PR is being subsumed by marketing; instead of thinking about strategy, PR practitioners end up doing publicity.
  • Excellent organizations have strategic managers running the PR department, but they also have excellent people who know how to implement communication programs.
  • Excellent organizations often had a crisis where the importance of doing strategic public relations came to the fore.
  • PR professionals should stop thinking of themselves as communicators only, and start thinking of themselves as organizational problem solvers.
  • PR’s job is to identify and fix problems with public relationships when they’re small, rather than waiting until they’re large problems; think about what are the relationships we have with our various constituencies, what are the potential threats to those relationships, and what can we do to make sure those bad things don’t happen.

Transcript:

Mark:         Welcome to Better PR Now, episode four. In the last episode, we had a great conversation with Boston University’s Doctor Dustin Supa about his research on the Dude Deficit among undergraduate Public Relations students. In this episode, we visit with Professor Dave Dozier and Lou Williams on a paper they presented titled “What’s Wrong with Public Relations and How It Might Be Fixed.” They provide a thoughtful assessment on the state of Public Relations as a profession, and they offer four specific steps that we might take to move our profession forward. Here we go!

We’re here at the 19th annual International Public Relations Research Conference in Miami. I’m joined by Professor Dave Dozier from San Diego State University (@SDSU) and Lou Williams from the Louis Williams Companies. Dave will you give me a little background on yourself.

Dave:         Yeah, I teach in the School of Journalism and Media Studies (@SDSU_PSFA) at San Diego State, and my content area is public relations. I’ve been doing that for 35 years and prior to that I worked in both journalism and public relations.

Mark:         Fantastic. Lou, how about you?

Lou:            I came out of journalism as well, but practiced as a practitioner. Much of my experience is on the consulting side. I ran a public relations firm for about 30 years.

Mark:         Fantastic. So, during this conference you co-presented a study you had done entitled, “What’s Wrong with Public Relations and How It Might Be Fixed.” Can you talk us through what that study consisted of, and I would like to get into what you learned from it.

Louis:        Dave, why don’t you start that, because you’re the one that really had the concept for this, I think?

Dave:         Well, I think the fair way to describe it is it’s our look at the field after years of experience; together it gets close to 100 person-years of work in both the academy and in the profession. And we just took a look at where things are now and where we had hoped it would be back many years ago when we were young and enthusiastic about the future of public relations. I think we’re still enthusiastic about the possibilities, but there hasn’t been a lot of change in the sorts of things that we thought were important.

So, what we did in terms of the structure of our analysis of the problems in public relations is we started out with an ideal model. And to be completely fair, this isn’t our model. You can read it in Managing Public Relations by Jim Grunig and Todd Hunt. It’s also in Cutlip and Center’s Effective Public Relations, by Glen Broom and Bey-Ling Sha (@DrSha).

It’s basically a strategic management model that says that public relations is a strategic management function. It’s not a technical support or communications support function for other departments in organizations. One of the most important things about public relations is that you have to be part of the dominant coalition in organizations, that’s just fancy rhetoric for saying access to the C-Suite or a seat at the decision-making table.

And it doesn’t have to be a formal relationship. It can be informal, but to be the best that we can be in public relations, we have to be able to influence organizational decision making.

Why? Because the best public relations is when you prevent problems rather than putting out fires after a problem has happened because somebody in senior management made a decision, didn’t think about the possibilities, and some of the unintended consequences now you’ve got a big mess and you’re the person that has to stand in front of the cameras and try to justify something that may not be justifiable. So that’s core.

Then the next part of that is okay, so why aren’t we at that table? And obviously this doesn’t apply to every single organization. We’ve had folks come up here from IBM and General Motors saying, “Wait a minute, we do have that access to the C-Suite and we do impact the decision making. And so okay, make some exceptions for some people who are doing some really excellent public relations. But by and large, PR practitioners are separate from that decision-making process.

So how do we gain access to that? And I think part of the answer is that if you are simply providing communications support functions, you have nothing to contribute to decision making. So why would you be invited? What possible value-added do you bring to the table?

Mark:         It sounds like a catch-22.

PR serves as the eyes, ears, and mouth of the organization

Dave:         Exactly. But, if you think of two-way communication, that is you’re the eyes and ears of the organization, as well as the mouth of the organization, you’re the expert on how the public is likely to react to decisions and can anticipate unintended consequences.

Senior management’s not going to want to make a decision without getting your take on “Okay, what do you think’s going to happen if we do this?” And how do you do that? Well, you do focus groups, you do analytics, web analytics, you do surveys. You either do them yourself or take advantage of secondary analysis of existing surveys.

You’re the expert on these relationships and how organizational behavior affects those relationships. You’re not afraid of evaluating your programs, because if your program doesn’t work, wouldn’t you want to make it better. So I think those are all part and parcel of what would make for an excellent public relations department that really does best practices.

Mark:         It sounds like the continuation of the Excellence Study (which led to excellence theory of public relations), of which you were an integral part.

Dave:         Well, Jim Grunig was the principal investigator, but yeah, Lou and I have an intimate relationship with the excellence study. Our worldview is heavily influenced by it.

Lou:            For sure. You know, it really all leads to the question for the profession of asking the question, are we bringing in the best and the brightest? Are we getting people who are up to the standard that we know has to be met? I’m not sure we are.

I know there are some university programs where public relations is a second choice, an alternative to what they really wanted to do. That’s not unusual necessarily. I know I ask myself constantly, “Are we really answering the hard questions that managers and leaders really need to ask?” Do we have the ability to be able to think strategically, are we being trained to do that, and do we have the innate brightness to do that?

I think the jury is out for us right now. There is a fair amount of high interest I guess is the phrase, high interest in numbers, and the numbers have to do with technology. Technology is queen, and technology is really nothing more than a technique, a tool that we as practitioners can use. If we use it well, it’ll work on our behalf. If we don’t use it well, it won’t.

The numbers we’re seeing have to do with everything from clicks to click-throughs. And they’re really not very helpful, but we really cling on to them as if they were coming down from above; but they’re not. So we really have to get into a discussion of how we’re training people? Is it the right training? And are universities innovators? Are they asking tough questions? Are they thinking outside the box for research? Is the research that we’re doing today as good as the research that was done when Dave was doing it as part of the excellence study?

Mark:         Great questions; what did you find? What are your conclusions?

Dave:         Well, where we ended up was trying to figure out who the enemy was, and it turns out it’s us, all of us. I think the education in public relations has moved into a very comfortable place.

In our paper, we discuss the paradigm shift that Jim Grunig (@jgrunig1), Glen Broom, and Scott Cutlip, and a number of the other academics that really did some very, very innovative thinking about taking public relations from the set of craft skills – and both Lou and I come from a journalism background, so these are our people and we can say this. The notion of being a journalist in residence, where you used to work for a newspaper or a TV station, and now you’re doing public relations and it’s basically the same job. You’re basically a distributer of messages and that’s a real comfortable place to be.

I’m in a school of journalism and media studies, so it’s very easy to see public relations as this communication output function. And I think we both are very adamant, very clear, that you need to do that very, very well. It’s not to say that isn’t important; it’s to say that’s not enough.

And when we start looking at what kind of preparation that we are doing within the university to prepare people for strategic management, I don’t think, you know there are some exceptions to that, but generally across the board I don’t think we do a very good job at that.

I think universities do a good job of training public relations technicians. They don’t necessarily train people to be public relations strategists, public relations managers, people that can think outside of the box, think holistically, anticipate problems before they happen, and help organizations avoid unnecessary conflicts. And I think that was the academic side of it.

As a side note, the research in public relations has moved from answering big questions to answering smaller questions.

Mark:           Which normally happens when a discipline matures.

Dave:         Yes, it’s moving from scientific revolution to normal science, to use some of the rhetoric of the academy. I think we’re definitely in a normal science phase.

Mark:         Do you see that as problematic, given that we don’t have broad agreement on sort of central theories?

Louis:        What is “Public Relations?” We don’t even have general agreement on that. I was with a group of people last week who said ‘Oh, you’re a spin doctor, eh?’ And then on the other hand, I was in the hotel and in the middle of the hotel lobby was a chair and a table, and on top of the table it said “Public Relations.” They were guiding people to rooms and answering questions about hotel events, etc. What is “Public Relations?”

Mark:         Right, so we’re drilling down into the esoteric questions, and maybe that’s a normal thing, before the discipline has matured to that point. Maybe it all happens simultaneously.

Louis:        I’m not sure how much the field has matured. I can remember 30-40 years ago watching public relations managers and leaders be part of the dominant coalition. If there are more people doing it now than there were then, it’s possible, because there are more opportunities. But, I’m not sure if it’s necessarily matured. I think it’s larger, I think it’s more powerful, but I think it’s losing some power.

In many ways the field is being subsumed by marketing. The worst possible thing could happen to us.

Mark:         Why is that?

Louis:        Because, when you get under the marketing aegis, you are then all of a sudden a tool for them; instead of thinking about strategy, you’re doing publicity. You’re trying to sell a product, sell a service, whatever, and you’re not thinking holistically about the organization. You’re not at the table. Whoever you are working for might be at the table, but you’re not. So it just makes it more difficult for us to make a mark.

Mark:         That then precludes the public relations professional from functioning at a strategic level and adding strategic value to the organization.

Dave:         Exactly, because the problem then becomes that the strategy that you’re implementing adds a communication support function for marketing and that you are helping to implement a marketing strategy. And at a conceptual level, there’s this overarching function that every organization needs. So there’s got to be somebody there that’s thinking about the organization and all of its stakeholders holistically. Everybody else has their silo; they have a particular focus. Because of that, you do things that have unintended consequences. Those unintended consequences can be catastrophic. I’ll give you one quick example.

So, as a former public affairs officer, you’ll probably relate to this. And you may recall that in Afghanistan they discovered that prisoners of war were passing messages back and forth written into the Koran. And so somebody thought it would be a really good idea to confiscate all the Korans and burn them.

That ended up getting American soldiers killed. And so that’s the problem with having everybody in the organization focusing on their own particular narrow objectives, and nobody’s thinking about the big picture.

And there are lots of other examples that we can come up with, where if you had somebody thinking holistically about all of these strategic relationships that organizations have with constituencies, including in war, where a public is the enemy, or prisoners of war are a group of people you have to be concerned about.

You need to think about these things holistically, and I don’t think that the academy is training people to do that. I don’t think practitioners are necessarily comfortable doing that. And I think the professional associations or the trade associations are doing a very good job of promoting that; I do think they’re more concerned about maintaining membership than moving us from a craft to a profession.

Mark:         That’s a very dangerous place for us to be as a profession. So, in the study towards the end, you had some very prescriptive recommendations for things that we ought to address to improve the situation. Would you like to go into those a little bit?

Dave:         Yeah, we had basically a four-point plan; reasonable people can disagree and we expect them to disagree. That was kind of our purpose in doing it, to stimulate a dialog rather than actually tell people that this is exactly the right way to do it.

Point 1:  Figure out who we are and what we do.

But we have some serious concerns about, collectively, folks in public relations, reaching a consensus on a good definition of the practice. Our concern is that it ends up being this tactical communication support function. And if left to their own devices, we might end up doing that. So we need to agree on a definition of the practice; what is the practice? It needs to be much like this ideal that we described, rather than what our comfort level is, what’s easy to do, or what’s going to help PRSA and IABC maintain their membership. It needs to be something that really speaks to what good do we provide to organizations and what good do we provide to society if we want to aspire to professionalism. So that’s step one. Figure out who we are and what we do.

Point 2:  Respect the difference between PR as a strategic management function and the journalist-in-residence role.

Second step, we need to respect the difference between strategic management function in public relations, and the communication technical support, journalist-in-residence role.

It comes across – and I’ve been criticized for about 25 or 30 years for doing this – that managers are high, they’re better than these lowly technicians. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the excellence study showed us that excellent organizations have strategic managers running the communication department or the public relations department, but they also have excellent people that know how to implement communication programs. They have great, creative, artistic practitioners, as well as great strategic managers.

So that’s key, and we need to develop a track that allows us to say, okay, if you want to do this creative artistic stuff, there are going to be consequences for that. Your life will be less stressful. You’ll probably have a longer life expectancy, but you’re not going to get paid as much money.

On the other hand, there’s this strategic management function; a parallel career track. It’s more stressful, you may not live as long, but you’re going to make a lot more money, because you’re providing a value-added as somebody that helps organizations functions better. So that’s the second step in the process.

Point 3:  Educate organizational leaders on how PR can improve the quality of decisions.

Now the third one is something we’ve encountered. At San Diego State we have a program for military public affairs officers that started in 2005. We get feedback from our officers who came in with a lot of professional experience. We talk about some of the problems they have in terms of being strategic thinkers and all of that. And the opposition they get from their commanding officers – you know exactly what we’re talking about. They go back to the fleet and they encounter commanding officers who think, “Oh, yeah, you’re the person who takes pictures when we do cake-cutting ceremonies.” When, in fact, they could be helping with much more sophisticated problems.

So, a third step is we need to educate the people that we work for in organizations; the dominant coalition if you will. They need to understand that public relation is a much more sophisticated activity. Yes, we are the communication experts in your organization. Yes, we know how to put together messages. We know what appropriate channels are. But we’re also the experts in what’s going on out there and we can help improve the quality of your decisions, because we know what’s going on out there better than anybody else. We need to get the people that we work for to understand the resources that a well-educated, strategic public relations practitioner can provide.

Mark:         So we need to have a seat at the table so we can inform decisions, but we also need to be prepared to take on that role when we find ourselves at the table or earn our way to the table. So that was number three.

Point 4:  We must behave in a professional, ethical manner, including advocating on behalf of the publics.

Dave:         And number four is – and this will probably be the one that a number of people will be most unhappy with – that we like to call ourselves professionals. Professor (Don) Stacks (@donstacks) has insisted here at the conference that we stop calling PR practitioners ‘practitioners’ and start calling them ‘professionals.’

Well, ‘professional’ actually has a very specific meaning, and we’re not a profession. And in order to be a profession, you need to first of all have a body of knowledge, and I think we’re there.

We have to have a social benefit; a good that we provide to society. Not just to our organizations, but good that we provide to society that justifies licensing. And so, if you’re going to be a real profession, you license people. If they behave in an unethical manner, they get thrown out of the profession. It’s the same as doctors and lawyers. There are requirements that you behave in a professional manner. And that has very specific meanings and has very specific consequences when you don’t behave in an ethical manner.

Lou:            It has to be enforceable.

Dave:         It has to be enforceable, and until we’re there we’re really not a profession. Now here’s the thing that’s interesting about that:  One of the things we argue in the paper is that as a public relations practitioner, you advocate on behalf of the public when you’re talking to the dominant coalition. You’re the person that goes ‘Well, wait a minute, what about this?’

You’re the person that knows what it’s like to be or think like the folks outside of the organization and get people inside the organization to understand that, while you might all be in a consensus about this, a lot of folks out there don’t look at the world that way and you need to be sensitive to that.

We are ethical because it's the right thing to do and it's the pragmatic thing to do.

That’s, I think, where we can argue a societal benefit from doing public relations ethically. So, we’re ethical for two reasons: Because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s the pragmatic thing to do. Because – and you’ll have to decide whether you want to use this in your podcast – when the **** hits the fan, you’re the folks that are going to have to go out and make excuses for it. So it’s to your advantage to make sure that doesn’t happen. You have a lot of motivation to argue for ethical conduct to your organization.

And if you had a professional society that says, “If you don’t do that, you’re behaving in an unprofessional manner.” You can use the pressure of professional sanctions as a way to justify, “Look, I know you don’t want to hear this, Mr. CEO or Ms. CEO, but I have a professional obligation to tell you that this is unethical. It’s the wrong thing to do.”

Lou:            And here’s an irony: This concept of licensing was pushed very hard and for decades by Ed Bernays, one of the real founders of our business, (but) could never get it done. We’re talking about the advances of public relations in public relations, and yet he was pushing for this in the ‘20s and before.

Mark:         And we’re still not there

Lou:            No, we’re still not there.

Mark:         So, is it hopeless? Where do we go from here?

Lou:            I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. I think we are making progress. I think it’s going to be slow. I have some serious questions. My big serious question is, “Are we getting the best and brightest?” If we don’t get the best and brightest, we will not make it, and I’m worried that that situation is, if not on top of us, at least close to us. So, I think that really is the tipping point.

Dave:         I think from my point of view, I will always be grateful to the mentorship of Glen Broom, who helped me clarify my thinking on the strategic management approach to public relations. I was thinking, “Okay, we’re five years out; five years from now, everybody’s going to be doing it the way we’re training our students to do it.” Then after I was there 5 years, well, okay maybe (it will take) 10 years.

So there’s a part of me that says, “Well, this isn’t happening very fast.” But like a lot of things in life, things sometimes take a lot longer to accomplish than you think they will. And I see things to be optimistic about.

Lou and I serve on the (Institute for Public Relations) Commission on Measurement and Evaluation. You know, there’s some excellent work being done there as practitioners, academics, and vendors sit down and try to agree on things like ‘What do we mean by this?’ and ‘How do we measure this?’ Again, as the Institute for Public Relations describes it: Trying to build the science beneath the art of public relations. Those are all very optimistic sorts of things, so I don’t think it’s hopeless at all.

I just wish it would happen faster. I’m 66 years old now and I’d like to see it before I’m dead. It may not happen that fast.

Mark:         You’ve got four areas that we need to move forward in. If you could see one through what it be? What’s the one next-most important step?

Dave:         I think the most important step is agreeing who we are and what we’re about. Again, that is inherently problematic, because the easy answer is ‘we’re a communication support function; we’re part of the marketing mix.’ That’s the easy answer, but then you’re not public relations anymore, as far as I’m concerned. And at a conceptual level, you’re not doing public relations anymore; you’re a publicist, and you’re basically cranking out communication in support of marketing.

Mark:         And your value proposition is entirely different.

Dave:         Exactly.

Lou:            I think Dave’s right. Without that foundation, nothing else happens. We need to understand that and then we need to take that and build it into all of the elements of the business: University level, agency level, consulting level, organizational level, everywhere, because everything else will follow after that, if that makes sense.

Mark:         Do you think more recent developments like the Barcelona Principles and Barcelona Principles 2.0 are going to help move us closer to the goal?

Lou:            I think it’s a step in the right direction. It’s flawed, but it is helping. One of the Barcelona Principles is that you don’t use AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalents). People are still using them all the time everywhere, I mean, it’s just everywhere. They’re not rules, you can’t enforce anything, so how do we make that happen? But it’s a step in the right direction.

Dave:         I agree. I think it’s a step in the right direction. But until we can get to the place where we’re going to set standards and enforce standards on our practice, then it allows anybody with a credit card and access to a photocopy shop to have a business card printed that says ‘Dozier and Williams,’ or more accurately, ‘Williams and Dozier Public Relations.’ We could be street people living out of a shopping cart and we would still be as much of a practitioner as somebody who has APR or APR+M.

Lou:            A few years ago, I actually counted in the Yellow Pages in Chicago how many public relation firms there are in the Yellow Pages. Would you like to hazard a guess?

Mark:         I have no idea.

Lou:            372. Now, most of them are one-person shops, you know people who hang out that shingle. But we don’t know who they are, where they’re coming from, how they were trained, what knowledge they have, how ethical they are; we have no idea. They’re just out there making this business.

Mark:         We’ve talked a lot on and it seems that we focus a lot on the supply side of the equation. Is there something we can do on the demand side? On the supply side, we’re preparing people to enter the profession, and we are, hopefully, mentoring them as they progress in their careers. But what about on the demand side? Is there something we can do to create an expectancy that the public relations practitioners or professionals will be delivering more than just – I mean you have to be a good technician, but coming in with the ability to speak the language of the business, to understand the nature of the business, to have a strategic perspective, to be able to think critically – all the things that go into making a good senior Chief Communications Officer on the demand side to create that vacuum that might help move the profession along?

Lou:            Doing the business well: How to do that and make that happen. That’s an easy answer and I’m not sure it’s the answer you’re looking for, but that really does help us. If we do really good work, we get more work. Anybody who runs a business knows that. Build a good product, you sell more product. Build a bad product, you sell less.

Mark:         Deliver value, people want more of it.

Lou:            Right.

Dave:         I think in the excellence study – and I know we’re talking ancient history here, but it doesn’t mean that just because it’s old doesn’t mean that it’s any less true now than it was when we did the research back in the 1990s – and one of the things we found intriguing and came out of one of the follow up case studies is that, real quickly, what we did is we had an index of excellence which had you know multiple measures of excellence and this was all quantitative. Then we identified organizations that were excellent. Then, in the euphemism are public relations, there were a bunch or organizations on the bottom of the scale that were less than excellent. And we went out to try to find out why are you excellent and why are you less than excellent?

And one of the things that we found about excellent organizations is that very often they had some kind of a crisis where the importance of doing strategic public relations came to the fore.

A great example of that is the oil industry. Without mentioning names there were several petroleum companies that were in the study and they basically had very excellent public relations departments and that was in reaction to oil crisis. And at that time it was Exxon Valdez. Now it’s BP. But the problem was that, up until a particular point, the CEOs were basically engineers, and public relations was equated with publicity.

And then you basically lay an oil streak along the Alaskan coast, and all of sudden public opinion is kind of important. So they either hired new people or took advantage of people that might have been frustrated managers that had never been asked, “How do we deal with this stuff?” And they were doing some very sophisticated stuff in terms of measurement, environmental scanning; and all of this was due to a crisis either in the industry or that particular organization. That’s kind of a pessimistic way of looking at it: Something bad has got to happen before you realize the importance of public relations. Maybe we can be more proactive.

But I think that speaks to our third point, which was: We need to educate dominant coalitions. We need to educate the top managers of organizations that public relations can do more for you than what you think they can do. And if you’ve got people that can’t do this, then you need to get additional people that can help you with that.

Mark:         Create expectations.

You might have really great artistic creative folks: Great communicators, great at message design, really understand media relations, you know, whatever. But you know there’s nobody doing the strategic management aspect of public relations. And if you don’t have somebody doing that, you need to get somebody to do that for you. It’s too important in an interconnected world, you know shrinking globe, interconnected world to where everybody’s hooked up to communication, multiple channels of communication; two-way communication going back and forth like a spider web.

You really need to have somebody who knows what they’re doing to provide the strategic thinking to make public relations and organizational effectiveness better than what it is now.

Mark:         Totally agree. Shift gears real quick and briefly; what advice would you give to somebody who is either just starting their career or is relatively early in their career to prepare them for success, to prepare them to be able to do what you just described, to deliver that value to their organization? What can they do to prepare themselves?

Lou:            Well, I’ll give you a couple of things. One is take business courses, read, understand the business of business, I guess is a better way to put it. And get a foundation, the writing foundation. I don’t care if it’s Twitter, or an annual report, or the Bible. If you can’t write well, it ain’t read well, so you need to have that. David, you have a much more sophisticated answer

Dave:         I don’t know, we’ll see; wait until I’m done before you say that. I think that this is kind of a mantra that we do at San Diego State with our undergraduates and now with our graduate program and especially with public affairs officers, which is basically ‘you need to stop thinking of yourself as a communicator only, and start thinking of yourself as somebody that solves problems for organizations.’

And the minute you shift gears, and in fact I have this wonderful moment, a young Marine who was going through the program, and at the end of the program she was turning in some loaner books that I’d given her. And she said, “I’ve got to level with you. When I first got here and you guys started talking about the strategic management approach to public affairs, I didn’t know what you were talking about. It just didn’t make any sense at all.”

But she said that somewhere around week two or week three, because we had this very intensive program where it’s like five days a week, most of the day. And she said that somewhere around week two, it was like, “I got it. It made sense. We aren’t just simply distributing messages, we’re basically solving or preventing problems for the fleet, for the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense. And she said, “I got it. And after that everything started to make sense in a totally different way.”

So, there’s almost like a mind shift that happens when you stop thinking of yourself as the journalist-in-residence, basically distributing messages for the Navy (@USNavy) or Marine Corps (@USMC) or you know a large corporation or an NGO (non-governmental organization), or whatever. And you stop thinking that way and you start thinking yourself as a person who has to think about what are the relationships we have with our various constituencies, what are the potential threats to those relationships, what can I do to make sure that those bad things don’t happen, and my job is to basically solve problems before they’ve become problems. Or fix them when they’re small problems, rather than waiting until they’re large problems.

Lou:            That’s a much more sophisticated answer.

Mark:          They’re both great answers. Gentlemen, thank you so much. How can listeners get in touch with you?

Lou:             “lou at lcw1.com

Mark:         And I’ll include links and all the information in the show notes.        

Dave:          The best way to reach me is also email, which is “ddozier at mail.sdsu.edu

Mark:           Fantastic. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

Lou:             Always more complicated than I am!

Dave:          It was fun; thank you.

Mark:          Thanks for joining us for this conversation about a topic that’s really important to our profession. I think Dave and Lou are really onto something vital here. As public relations professionals, whether we’re scholars or practitioners, or have a foot in both worlds, we have a vested interest in moving our profession forward toward a more strategic approach. As mentioned in the interview, this really is a long process, but we must keep moving forward.

I’d love to hear what you think about their assessment and recommendations, as well as any questions that you would like to have addressed on future episodes. Give me a shout by clicking the orange ‘Send Voicemail’ tab on the right side of every page of the betterprnow.com website. It’s a quick and really easy way to participate in this ongoing conversation.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, please share it with a friend. I’d also appreciate an honest review on iTunes. Thanks for taking this journey with me as we improve public relations one conversation at a time!

I’ll catch you on the next episode!

To benefit from every episode, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Player FM, or Acast.

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003: Prof Dustin Supa on The Dude Deficit in Public Relations

Prof Dustin Supa - Don’t assume people know what you do in Public Relations

To benefit from every episode, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Player FM, or Acast.

Prof. Dustin Supa’s key points:

  • 80%-90% of Public Relations undergraduate students are women.
  • Most of the male undergraduate PR students had a prior exposure to PR.
  • Teachers are uncomfortable teaching PR, because they don’t know what it is.
  • Public Relations is a field with a PR problem.
  • Public Relations is not diverse enough, either demographically or in diversity of thought.

Transcript:

Mark:               Hey, welcome back to Better PR Now. This is Episode three. I recently caught up with Prof. Dustin Supa of Boston’s University College of Communication. He was presenting the findings from a pilot research project that explored ‘The Dude Deficit’ in undergraduate public relations classrooms; why are so few young men choosing to major in public relations, as opposed to related fields like marketing and journalism? Dustin’s research points to an explanation and suggests some ways to address this issue.

                            I’m here at the International Public Relations Research Conference in Miami Florida, and I’m joined by Dr. Dustin Supa, from Boston University. We’re going to dive into a study that he presented here with his research partner Liza Moskowitz, who was a 2015 undergraduate alumni at Boston University’s Public Relations Program.

                            The title of the study was An Examination of Undergraduate Males’ Reticence to Study Public Relations. Dustin welcome.

Dr. Dustin Supa:       Thank you very much.

Mark:               Okay, let’s jump on this study, because I think there’s a lot of really interesting things to unpack out of it. So, tell me about the study; how did you do it and what did you find?

Dustin:               Well, the study originally came from the concept that you keep reading all these non-empirical studies or anecdotal information, particularly in a lot of trade pubs about how we need more men in public relations. Why do we have so few men? And, you know, this kind of concept of the PR girl, right? Everybody has the picture in their mind when we use that. And that’s really become, at least at the entry level, the kind of dominant paradigm.

If you have a public relations entry level job open, you might have one male apply, but you might have 200 females apply.

Mark:               And your experience in the classroom?

Dustin:               And the experience in the classroom is that, if you have more than one male student in your classroom, depending on the size of class, you’re impressed because you just don’t see that very often.

So that’s why I wanted to kind look at it and say, “Okay, maybe we should take an empirical look at this; is there something there?”

We know that 60% of students going to college are women. But that doesn’t account for why 80% or 90% of students in public relations are female. So there’s the deficit, ‘the dude deficit,’ if you will.

Working with Liza, we did a lot of background research. And first of all, there’s not an issue with too many women in public relations; the issue is not enough men in public relations. So we’ve got to be clear on that, because women traditionally had not been in roles of leadership and I think that’ll change over time, given our numbers right now.

We wanted to see if there were any systemic reasons why we were not seeing men. So we looked at 262 undergraduate males representing 62 institutions, so it was a fairly broad spectrum.

Mark:               So this was not limited to Boston?

Dustin:               No, this was nationwide. There were Boston University students, and there were other Boston-area schools, but it was all across the country.

We wanted to see and we wanted to find male undergraduate public relations majors. Male undergraduate communication majors, not public relations, so maybe in advertising or journalism, or even to some degree marketing, and then undergraduate males who were not in communication, not in public relations, so we kind of had three groups set up.

And what we found was that the males who were undergraduate public relations majors really seemed to have a solid grasp of the field. They seemed to understand what public relations did. The understood the upward mobility, they understood the job openings pretty well. So, the males who are doing public relations seem to get in it and they seem to have a high opinion of the field. The issue was not that they’re being driven out of public relations, because the ones who were in public relations really seemed to like the field.

Mark:               So it’s not that they’re leaving; they’re just never coming in.

Dustin:               They’re just never coming in. We did find that the other communication majors, non-public relations, also seemed to have – not to the same degree, but also seemed to have a pretty strong understanding of the public relations industry, had a fairly high perception, not as high as those in the field. But it doesn’t really surprise us that a journalism major may not think as highly of public relations as a public relations major, so again not super surprising because they had some knowledge.

But really the non-communication, the non-public relations majors, the evaluation of the field was significantly lower of those in the field. They did not perceive public relations as something that they wanted to do. They did not perceive public relations as a field that had financial stability.

They basically looked at public relations through the lens of shows like Scandal or Sex and the City, or saw public relations as mostly as event planners, social media stuff and just media relations, so they see the tactics of public relations and they’re not interested in those tactics.

But one of the things that we found that was really interesting was that most of the students who were in public relations came to it because they had a prior exposure.

Mark:               Did you get any sense for what what that prior exposure might be?

Dustin:               Usually it was a family member or a family friend or somebody that they knew was in public relations. And that’s where most of the people said, “Yeah, that’s interesting.” The other thing was they had found it after they had been another major. I mean the average undergraduate changes majors seven times.

Eventually public relations may or may not have been one of them. One of the questions we had was, “Have you ever been a public relations major?” The non-communications majors, no, but some of the communications majors had been public relations at one point. So some of them were leaving, but I don’t think that’s really one of the issues, because they tend to move around a lot. And some of them had been other majors before they were in public relations.

So they’re finding out about public relations usually in the first communication class. Well, if a student comes in and doesn’t take communication classes or doesn’t take an intro-level communication class, they’re probably not being exposed to public relations. When we started digging into it like, “Why don’t you want to be in public relations?” and more than 70% of them never heard of it.

One of the things that we think potentially could be, not the solution, but a solution is to see what we can do about increasing exposure and getting factual information out there. Not just the cultural perception of public relations, but factual information about public relations, because a lot of our students were in marketing. And marketing aligns perfectly with what I want to do. Well, great, but there are enough elements of public relations that you shouldn’t be saying, I’m in marketing because it aligns perfectly with what I want to do, and then strongly disagreeing about public relations aligns with what I want to do.

There may still be a discrepancy there, but there should be that much of a discrepancy. Obviously, they’re different fields but they’re not so entirely different that they should be at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

One of the things that we looked at is, could we offer some exposure programs either at the high school level, most people were taking journalism in high school. And most people maybe even get some kind of principles of marketing or some business level type of course in high schools, but there are no public relations.

And in fact, one of the comments that I heard during the discussion was that teachers are uncomfortable teaching public relations, because they don’t know what it is. And we have a hard enough time finding our own field just to our friends and family, but how do we then try to educate others on public relations? It’s not just talking to the media. It’s not just planning events. It’s not these things, but we need to be able to say here’s what it is. And that’s one of the solution that we think might help start addressing.

I don’t think we’re ever going to have equality and we may or may not be on the tipping point. I don’t ever think we’re going to have a 50/50 split of males versus females, but 80/20, 90/10 that’s not healthy for the field either.

Mark:               So, if you put on your prescriptive hat and you look at the academy, and you look at the world of professionals who are out practicing, do you have recommendations for things that they can do, either on the academic side or on the professional side, to start to mitigate this? To make the profession more widely known and to make it more attractive to a truly diverse audience of folks who are potential students and future practitioners or professionals?

Dustin:               I think one of the things that all practitioners should do is understand that they are in a field that has a public relations problem. And what are they doing as individuals to help that situation? I think if we can recognise that, “Hey, I’m in public relations and public relations may not have the best perception. What can I do to change that?”

Could I go to my kid’s career day? Could I offer to speak to a class, or is my company involved with something that is a pro bono client or charity organization that deals with children? Is there something that I come in and say, “Hey, here’s what we are helping with, and here’s what we do.”

So it’s not even a matter of doing stuff that’s so outlandish. I don’t think that we should necessarily be trying to weasel our way into high schools to find people. But if there are opportunities where I have some younger people or high school students, I’ll take the 30 seconds to say here’s what I do.

Or if I’m out doing something and someone asks, “What do you do?” “I’m in public relations.” Well maybe you add a sentence. So, instead of saying “I’m in public relations,” maybe at the end of the sentence saying, “I’m in public relations and here’s what I do on a regular basis …” to help explain to people what it is that you do.

So, I’m in public relations and I help manage the relationship between this organization and this group of people. Or I am involved with promoting the work that is done by this non-profit organization, or something like that.

And I think that if we can just add that second sentence and not assume that people know what you do when you say, “I’m in public relations.” I think even that starts the ball rolling in a simple way; those are some simple steps.

Mark:               Brilliant. Is there anything else you would like to add about the study, or the next steps on the research side, or the next steps to address the issue?

Dustin:               Well, I think the important thing is to recognise with this particular study, is it’s totally a pilot. Right? We didn’t look at comparing men and women. We just wanted to start seeing some empirical data. So what we hope to do is to take this pilot study and then use that to get a grant to help us understand what are the bigger issues?

We have 262 responses; that’s great, but what happens when you get 5,000 responses? How do we really start winnowing down? Are there scales or are there things that we need to know that would make the difference? So, we’re at a starting point.

Mark:               What would your next questions be as you start to dive into this deeper?

Dustin:               I think what we want to do is look at the factors that went into them deciding there are other majors? What were those factors? I think if we can start seeing why people chose the major they’re in, then we can start saying, “Okay, what can we now do about that?” But, we are going to need bigger samples. And there are existing scales that do that.

We are just going to come at it from, “Okay, how do we address this lack of diversity?” And diversity is obviously an issue in public relations anyway. But diversity comes in many styles. Because we are primarily a female field, that doesn’t make us diverse; that actually makes us less diverse. We do have a severe lack of African Americans and Hispanics in public relations. If we were 100% African Americans, we would not be diverse then. So we’re looking at this from [the perspective of] “How do we make public relations truly a diverse field?”

Mark:               You have diversity when your profession or your group mirrors the same diversity in the larger society, and we’re not there.

Dustin:               We’re not there, and one of the bigger challenges though, I think, is not only mirroring the diversity in society at large, but also understanding that diversity is not necessarily a category you can see. True diversity means that eventually you have diversity of thought, and that’s really where we need to head towards.

Mark:               Great. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I love this topic.                       

—-

Thanks for joining us for this conversation about a topic that really is so important to our profession. I think Dustin really is onto something here, and I can’t wait to hear what he finds out in the larger study.

As public relation professionals, whether we’re on the academic side, the practitioner side, or have a foot in both worlds, we all have a stake in this issue. And we can take action to make a difference right now.

I’m going to take Dustin’s advice to help more young people understand what public relations really is about. The more people understand our profession the more it will be seen as a viable career choice for both men and women from every background.

The diversity of perspectives is really important to the future of our profession. Will you join me in this effort?

—-

You know, I would love to hear what you think about the podcast, and any questions you would like to have addressed. Give me a shout by clicking the orange ‘send voice mail tab’ on the right side of every page on the Better PR Now website.

If you are enjoying the podcast and finding it useful, I will be eternally grateful for an honest review on iTunes. Please also consider subscribing and sharing with friends who might benefit from the podcast.

Thanks for taking this journey with me as we improve public relations one conversation at a time. I’ll catch you on the next episode!

 

002: Col Mike Lawhorn on the Power of Asking “Why?”

To benefit from every episode, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Player FM, or Acast.

Col. Mike Lawhorn on the power of Why

 

In this episode, we discuss the power of Why? plus:

  • How changing the words you use can have powerful results
  • Three key questions to guide your work
  • The importance of reading professionally
  • The importance of being a team player

Col. Lawhorn’s Key Points:

  • Help your boss articulate the outcomes he or she is looking for.
  • Before starting a project, always ask these three questions:
    1. What problem are we trying to solve?
    2. Why is this a problem we need to solve?
    3. What do you think it will look like when we solve this problem?
  • Think about how communication can help achieve organizational objectives; don’t just focus on separate communication objectives.
  • Substitute the word ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ when disagreeing with somebody to help find a solution.

Resources:

Malcolm Gladwell “Blink

Malcolm Gladwell “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference
Continue reading “002: Col Mike Lawhorn on the Power of Asking “Why?””

001: Dylan Phillips on starting an advertising career

Know your stakeholders - Dylan Phillips

To benefit from every episode, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Player FM, or Acast.

In this episode, we focus on advertising, particularly:

  • How to use the Internet for brand research:
    • How pain points can give insight into stakeholder
    • How to use Amazon reviews as a good source of opinion data about products and brands
    • How to use Reddit to spot emerging trends, then monitor their progression on Twitter, Facebook, and BuzzFeed
  • The power of good stories, in addition to statistics
  • The importance of understanding your stakeholders

"Listen more." - Dylan PhillipsQuotes:

“Who you work with is more important than the name on the door.”

“It’s really important to get to know who your stakeholders are and treat them like people, rather than just numbers on a page.”

“The whole point of the BrandCenter’s strategy track is to learn how to learn about people, to think strategically, and how that applies to advertising.”

“You need to understand the essence of a brand, who cares about it, and why they care about it.”

“Looking for pain points is a great way to figure out how a company or brand can fit into someone’s life.”

“As human beings, we’re story driven.”

“Get to know who your stakeholders are, treat them like people rather than numbers, and figure out how to strengthen the emotional connection.”

On VCU Brandcenter: “Overall, a great experience … it’s kind of difficult to get in, but it’s totally worth it.”

“Listen more.”

Transcript:

Continue reading “001: Dylan Phillips on starting an advertising career”

000: Creating the ‘Better PR Now’ podcast

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To benefit from every episode, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Player FM, or Acast.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to add to the tools in your communications toolkit
  • The importance of a strategic mindset
  • The real power of public relations
  • How you can avoid becoming a PR short order cook
  • How you can benefit from the ‘Better PR Now’ podcast series

Quotes:

“I want to help PR professionals have the tools to help organizations make informed, smart decisions and bring their public relations expertise into that decision-making process.”

“Public relations, when practiced strategically and ethically, has huge potential to make a very positive impact on every type of organization and its publics.”

“If you have a strategically minded PR professional at the table when decisions are being made, they can help an organization avoid creating a crisis or … friction with their publics.”

“Public relations, when practiced appropriately, is a strategic function of the organization.”

“PR has the power to be a sensory system, to help the organization detect when its environment is changing, and how it can best adapt to those changes so it can thrive.”

“An organization should rely on its PR function to provide strategic intelligence about how it’s existing in its environment, how decisions on the part of the organization are going to affect its key stakeholders, and how they’re likely to react.”

“PR is not about just broadcasting; it’s about identifying, creating, and nurturing really important relationships that are absolutely critical for the organization to be able to survive and thrive.”

“Public relations can help once you are in a crisis, but the real value is it can help avoid creating a crisis.”

“Take care of your people, because they’re the ones who get the job done and you cannot do it without them.”

“Focus on your craft at a tactical level, but also … develop the mind of a strategist, so you think about issues strategically and are able to provide long-term visionary counsel.”

“Keep an eye out for new opportunities, but also be able to focus your energy on the things that are most important to your practice and your organization.”

“Public relations can help once you are in a crisis, but the real value is it can help avoid creating a crisis.”

Transcript:

Hello, and welcome to the ‘Better PR Now’ podcast, Episode Zero. You might be wondering what is an episode zero; well, in a nutshell it’s a short introduction. And it is one in which we explore what this podcast is about, why I’m doing it, and most importantly what you can gain from coming on this journey with me.

In most episodes I’ll interview leading experts as they share their knowledge and insights that can help each of us become a more effective communicator. This episode is different however, as Dr. Gwen Schiada (founder of CareerPuppy.com) interviews me about creating this podcast. So why should you listen? Well, in the next 27 minutes we’ll discuss how to put more tools in your toolkit, the importance of having a strategic mindset, the awesome power of public relations, how to avoid becoming a PR short-order cook (I’ll explain what I mean by that), and how you can benefit from this podcast series. There’s a lot of great information here and I really look forward to going on this journey with you, so let’s jump in! Continue reading “000: Creating the ‘Better PR Now’ podcast”

Mayor drops a groove as he rocks social media

How do you get people to accept bad news?

That’s tough. What’s even more difficult is getting people to accept news that will have a negative impact on their lives. Perhaps the most thorny challenge is to get them to laugh and share that negative news. But, that’s just what the brilliant communicators at the City of Los Angeles accomplished.

Give your message a (musical) hook

In a stroke of creative genius, the mayor drops a groove as he rocks social media. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s slow jam lets Angelenos know that “the 101 will close for 40 hours this weekend, so we’re getting ready to take it slow.” The Sixth Street bridge is a major thoroughfare that will be shut down for construction, so there is some risk in making light of the situation. This communication initiative works, though, because the unique music video promotes the www.sixthstreetviaduct.org website that serves up key information for motorists.

Make the message integral and memorable

This approach also works, because it features a very polished performance by local high school students. According to Mayor Garcetti, “We teamed up with our friends at Roosevelt High School to drop a slow jam and get the word out.” Not only is he sharing information about road construction, but he also delivers subtle messages about infrastructure investment and the efficacy of the public schools. The fact that the Rough Rider Jazz Band is so smooth and polished makes this video instantly shareable.

Help your audience share your message

The team created the #101SlowJam hashtag and promoted it on the @LAMayorsOffice, @ericgarcetti, and @RooseveltHSLA Twitter feeds.

Kudos to Mayor Garcetti and his communications team for doing #BetterPRNow !

Outsourcing: Interview Transcripts

To transcribe or not to transcribe? That is the question.

To transcribe (your podcast) or not to transcribe? That is the question.
To transcribe (your podcast) or not to transcribe? That is the question.

Apologies to Mr. Shakespeare! When launching a podcast, there are as many ways to produce and market the new podcast as there are podcasters.

For me, the answer is definitely, “Yes.” Some of the top podcasts recommend posting the transcripts of each session on the website. This can provide rich content that is accessible by search engines and can enhance the site’s SEO score.

Continue reading “Outsourcing: Interview Transcripts”

Getting Started as a Podcasting Newbie

Getting Started as a Podcasting Newbie

"FOCUS = Follow One Course Until Success" - John Lee Dumas
“FOCUS = Follow One Course Until Success” – John Lee Dumas

Super simple or crazy complicated?

Launching a podcast can be very straightforward:  Record, then post.

Super simple, right? Not so fast, sparky.

Launching a professional podcast that is polished and can serve as the hub of an online business is something else entirely!

Continue reading “Getting Started as a Podcasting Newbie”

“Creating a PR Podcast”

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Creating a Strategic Public Relations Podcast

"Communicate openly, honestly, and frequently." - Deborah Lee James Secretary of the Air Force (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tyrona Lawson/Released)
“Communicate openly, honestly, and frequently.”
– Deborah Lee James
Secretary of the Air Force
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tyrona Lawson/Released)

Why blog about a podcast?

In this blog, I’ll document the process for creating the “Better PR Now” podcast, website, social media presences, and supporting collateral materials. I’m doing this in a public blog for two reasons: First, by publicly posting progress (or lack thereof), I will create some social pressure to keep me moving forward. Second, by documenting this process, I hope to provide useful insight for others who might learn from my mistakes and, hopefully, use what worked to jump-start their own podcast production.

Before focusing on the mechanics of creating the podcast, let’s take a quick look at the topic: Better PR Now. What does this mean?
Continue reading ““Creating a PR Podcast””