013 – Jason Anderson explains why emotional stories hook donors

Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Capital Impact Partners, Jason W. Anderson discusses how he got into a communications career, the power of good storytelling in connecting with stakeholders on a deep level, and why emotional stories hook donors.

emotional stories hook customers

“Have an authentic story to tell; don’t be afraid to yell it from the rooftops.”

emotional stories hook customers
Mark and Jason enjoying craft brews at the tap takeover at Pentagon City’s Whole Foods Market.

Jason’s must-have tools

  • Trello for project management
  • An editorial calendar

 


How to contact Jason

Instagram:  @jjtrinva

Twitter:  @jasonandersondc or @capitalimpact

LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonwandersondc/

Website:  https://www.capitalimpact.org/

Capital Impact main number:  (703) 647-2300

Media, blog, and marketing inquiries:  janderson@capitalimpact.org

Jobs at Capital Impact:  capitalimpact.org/careers


About Jason

Values and passion for mission-driven organizations have defined Jason’s career. This has led to many diverse opportunities for him to make a difference using a unique set of marketing, communications, branding, and corporate social responsibility skills.

He has helped launch a business unit and rolled out new brands, debuted a roller coaster with Disney, worked with Harrison Ford to change international environmental policy, escorted a TV crew through Ecuador on mules (in the rain and dark!), written copy for Starbucks’ coffee cups and McDonald’s Happy Meals, and been honored with a West African tribal name.


About Capital Impact Partners

Through capital and commitment Capital Impact helps people build communities of opportunity that break barriers to success. A nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Capital Impact has a 30-year history of delivering strategic financing, social innovation programs, and capacity building that creates social change and delivers financial impact nationwide.

Capital Impact believes that every community should be built on a foundation of equity, inclusiveness and cooperation. This requires them to break down the barriers to success by addressing key social and economic justice issues. That is why they are dedicated to delivering both the capital and commitment that help people build strong, vibrant communities of opportunities; places where all people have access to high quality services that foster good health, economic growth, and interconnectedness.


Podcast Transcript: Why emotional stories hook customers

Welcome to episode 13 of Better PR Now. In today’s episode I have a conversation with Jason Anderson, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Capital Impact Partners in Washington, DC.

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This is the first podcast ever recorded, I believe, in a Whole Foods Market, and I know it’s the first podcast recorded in the Whole Foods Market in Pentagon City, Virginia. The reason we’re here today is there’s a tap takeover by breweries from Richmond, Virginia, and I’m joined by Jason Anderson, somebody I’ve known for a long time who is a really fantastic communicator. Jason, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Mark.

So, your current position?

I am the Senior Director of Communications and Marketing at Capital Impact Partners.

Fantastic. Now you’ve had a really fascinating career. We’ll talk about your education, and then you worked for CNN. So tell me about how you got into communications and what drove you towards a communications career to begin with?

Yeah. So I grew up in Southern California, and went to Claremont McKenna College where I actually majored in Government and Literature. I actually had an opportunity to attend USC for a broadcasting degree but decided that I wanted to really get the fundamentals of a hardcore political background. Because really my goal at that time was to get into political journalism. And that ultimately fulfilled itself by joining CNN for about 10 years where I literally started as what they called a video journalist, a VJ, at that time. Making roughly $15,000 a year.

Killing it.

Killing it. And there we did everything from running the camera to running the teleprompter with paper scripts. Which is something in this day of digital age if you think about it. And even robotic cameras, which we didn’t have back then. But there I saw a number of fascinating things, really cut my teeth on what journalism was. Learned how to edit videotape, learned how to produce a segment and did a whole number of things with them, but ultimately decided after a number of events, ultimately concluding with the Monica Lewinsky episode in Washington DC, that I decided it was time for me to move on and pursue some of my more personal goals along with journalism. Which was at that point thinking about the environment.

That’s wonderful. And so after a decade or so at CNN where you focused on political and other reporting, you moved over to the non-profit world. Tell me about that transition.

Yeah. So I saw an opportunity at an organization called Conservation International, which does international, non-profit environmental work in communities all across the world, and the opportunity was to take my journalism skills and apply them to public relations. How do we take the things that we do as an environmental non-profit and translate them into actually what news is, and serious news not just marketing, and talk to reporters about covering that news? So I did that actually for a division of Conservation International which was called the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, and it was really thinking about, how do we work with corporations to reduce their environmental footprint, to contribute to the things that we were doing at Conservation International and translate that all into good. You know ultimately, the public relations part in a sense was marketing, in a sense was how do we drive fundraising, how do we drive other corporations to do good things?  How do we put pressure on the organizations that we’re working with to do more good things? But, ultimately, it was a really fascinating experience.

And then after Conservation International, you stayed in the non-profit world?

I did. At that point after 10 years of working at the global sphere and working with Fortune 500 companies like McDonald’s, like Starbucks, like Walmart to change their footprint and actually do some interesting marketing things with them. I really wanted to focus more in on local communities. And I found a small organization doing really fascinating things called Rare. And they would actually run marketing campaigns in local communities and these are hyper-local communities. Places you’ve never heard about or can’t even find on the map in Indonesia, in Africa, throughout Asia. And what they would do is, they had the ability to take over the radio, take over the newspaper, create mascots around essential message because you have that hyper-local opportunity to not talk about a product, but to talk about environmental conservation. And perhaps it’s water, perhaps it’s a species, perhaps it’s pollution. And you get folks really thinking about ways they can change their practices locally and using mass media to do that. It was fascinating to watch how that would happen. Now again my job wasn’t to do that work. We had specialists with a whole theory of change and the use of psychology, but my job was to get people interested in what we were doing. So, again …

Were they trying to change behavior?

Behavior change, exactly. That was at the core of it, which you can do in a place like that. Much harder where we are in Pentagon City to get people to recycle the cups that they were drinking from these fine, Virginia breweries (i.e., Hardywood Brewery, Ardent Craft Ales, and Kindred Spirit Brewing). But you can do it in these awful places and getting donors interested in thinking about that was part of my job.

So give me an example of one of the projects that you worked on.

Sure, so we worked in a village in the Philippines, where they essentially had no fish, which is a problem when fish is what you rely on to eat. So we had to really go in …

Was this because of over-fishing?

It’s over-fishing. So …

So you really needed to change that behavior or you’ll never fix the problem.

Meloy - https://www.meloyfund.com/
Meloy, the Panther Grouper mascot (photo by Rare.org)

We needed to change the behavior of over-fishing. So we created a mascot called Meloy (From The Meloy Fund’s website:  The campaign is named after Meloy, a Panther Grouper who was the mascot in one of Rare’s Pride campaigns in Inabanga, Philippines. The campaign, which started in 2011, is focused on community ownership and participation in protecting Inabanga’s marine resources.). And Meloy was central to this media campaign. He appeared in billboards. He appeared in local restaurants. He appeared in the newspaper. He appeared in local parades that you might see down our main streets. And eventually people got the message. I need to think about the fact that I can’t go out every day, 24-hour days, and fish. I need to think about okay, how do I fish responsibly with everyone else who needs to feed their families and also maybe some of the companies who are coming in and using us to buy fish to sell to distributors? And eventually, the metrics showed an uptick in that particular region in terms of number of fish available, but of course fish take a couple of years to spawn and reproduce and create a viable colony.

Then you move [inaudible] to Capital Impact Partners. Different mission, but also in the nonprofit world. Tell me about their mission.

Capital Impact was sort of my way to come back home. This is after the great depression, after the big financial crises that we all faced. And I thought to my self, certainly, there’s a great [inaudible] outside of our boundaries, but then, in the United States, we have a lot of communities that are suffering, and how can we help them recoup from what has happened to them. And so I joined Capital Impact Partners, it’s what’s called the community development financial institution, which is a long-winded way of saying, “Where are the good guy bankers?” We are a bank with the mission behind us. So we make loans to other nonprofits essentially, hospitals, healthy hood ventures, education, or people and organizations that are really trying to change the paradigm in their communities. But because they’re operating in low-income areas, big banks won’t finance them. So you can’t build that house center, you can’t build that grocery store that’ll sell healthy food, you can’t build the apartment that’ll have affordable housing. Big just won’t support it. We will, that’s our mission. That’s the risk we take, and in fact, we don’t measure our end of the year success by our profit, we measure it by how many desks are being built for students, how many more affordable housing units have been built.

That’s really tangible good in the community.

Yeah. What drew me to it is, they were interested as more than just a lender because they saw that just bringing money into a community wasn’t going to do it. So we had to bring research, we had to bring a team that would develop programs that addressed this systemic issues being faced and think about how to do it differently, how can we do it this way and instead of the old way. A classic example that we use is around the nursing homes system. You put people into institutional nursing homes, nothing changes, people grow old, they get sick, they eventually pass away. What we’ve decided was, there’s got to be a better way. So how do you go in, and develop a different type of nursing home that’s as a community where you’ll have your own room, where you go to a kitchen that feels like your home, where you communicate with the outside world? It’s called the greenhouse model. We were able to deploy it in multiple states across the country, and it’s become a real success. But it really shows that money is one thing, creating systemic change is a whole different paradigm, and that’s what really drove me to the organization.

So how do you tell that story in a way that’s going to [inaudible] and engaging to people who either might be in a position to support it or might be a potential customer or beneficiary?

Right. No. It’s something I struggle with each and every day because we don’t just working agent, we work across seven sectors. And how do I tell that one story to people in seven sectors, whether they want to borrow money from us, or change a program, and then how do I elevate that story to …

Is it possible to tell a story that reaches different audiences and is equally compelling across different sectors, and people who have maybe different motivations, and [inaudible] paying attention, or do you have to tailor the story based on your audience?

So I approach it from literally story telling. What is good storytelling? And that begins with someone who really has to overcome a barrier and how do they overcome that barrier, which is, if you think about any Hollywood movie, and I just took my kids last week to see Black Panther.

Yeah, me too.

Yay.

Good movie [laughter].

How do they overcome that barrier of the mineral that they are trying to mine and save the world? Are we saving the world? Maybe. So one of the things I did was when I came into the organization about three years ago was to create a story section to the website. It doesn’t market our learning activities, it doesn’t market any of the other kind of programmatic activities we do, what it does do is tell the stories of the people it was serving. So in the greenhouse model, we literally sending a photographer, journalist. He spent a couple of weeks with these residences, and he told their stories to a series of photo captions. And it’s sort of that heart versus brain effects. How do I pull on your heartstrings to really get you understand this is what you’re doing at this kind of visceral level.

And we know. I mean, we know from theory that we also know from the experience that you can make a really, really good logical argument that makes perfect sense to the brain, but if doesn’t have that emotional impact, it doesn’t matter, people might not even pay attention to it. So if you don’t make that emotional connection, you need to be able to follow it up with a logic. But sales are made through emotions. Donations are made through emotions. People care about emotions. They want to follow it up with logic to prove to themselves there’s nothing else that their emotions were sound if that makes sense.

So [inaudible] make an example of that. We could talk about the greenhouse model as here are 10, 12 group homes with individual rooms, it serves maybe 30 to 50 percent of the residents around Medicare. That’s great. I mean, honestly, that’s a fact that’s excellent. Again, there was a guy named Irvin who we talked to. His wife, basically, she didn’t have the capabilities of living in the same room, because she could become violent. So what he would do is he would go, while she was sleeping, and literally cuddle up with her at night, and sleep with her, and then wake up in the morning, get up, and go back to his own bed. And she wouldn’t know, but now we have this opportunity to show this individual who is still able to be with his wife in their old age at a time when they went to the traditional nursing home. She actually might have been institutionalized, but this was not the case.

We might be able to empower them to keep their relationship alive for months or years longer than they normally would have.

And I was so proud, as a person in marketing, to tell a story that values that relationship.

That’s wonderful.

Which I don’t often get to do.

Okay. So, all right, you just got my heart strains, right?

Yeah [laughter].

All right. So now I’m ready to make a donation which is sort of [inaudible], right? I mean, you want to make that emotional connection, and want to get somebody walk into your want to understand it and feel it, maybe feel it first. Then understand it, then get involved, and support it. So, thinking about when you were going to school, when you were starting your career, what do you know now that you wish you had known then?

I think it is the personal aspects of what I do. Drilling down into emotion and storytelling. I went to a school that valued– I went to Claremont McKenna College, which was mostly an economics school. I was sort of an outlier as someone who wanted to do nonprofit work. And so there it was research, it was analytics, it was data. Which was great, because it got me thinking about those things, because I never really thought about those things. But somewhere I knew deep inside me that there was still emotion and story that drives us. Maybe that was I was drawn to USC, because of their film elements and all of their production elements. Toss up whether I should’ve gone there or not, but ultimately I think that now is what makes me a successful marketer, is driving story versus data. Because I could easily talk about, we’re a lending institution at our heart. Before I came, we talked about, oh we financed this building. Oh, it’s 26,000 square feet. It’s in this area that has a 200% under the certain net worth for individuals. Government data, and I can’t remember. I can’t think of it, because it doesn’t drive me.

And that’s your proof right there.

Right. Who goes to school there? Who now has a home there? Who’s getting health care in that building? That’s what I care about.

And one person’s personal story can negate reams and reams and reams of paper of statistics and facts.

Absolutely, yeah. And I do think that you need to back it up, with the ultimate, we have the great story of Irvin, but I could tell you any number of stories. There’s a woman who was once homeless. She went to a health care center that we helped finance in San Francisco. [inaudible] San Fransisco, does that mean health care? Well, there are huge amounts of homeless people in San Francisco who have no access to equitable health care. Now it’s part of the mission of this– now she got off drugs, she got off alcohol, and she has now literally a board member of this hospital because they want a certain amount of their patients to be on the board. That’s not data, that’s a story, that’s a person’s life who has changed. But the data, ultimately, we still need to talk about. This hospital went from an alleyway to a building that serves 20,000 patients, who are uninsured possibly, and so they now have healthcare. That saves X amount of health care dollars. Yeah, so you need that data to back up the story.

So for somebody who’s an aspiring storyteller, regardless of the medium that they’re interested in, what are the things that they need to know, what are the skills that they need to develop?

You need to be emotionally involved in your projects. One, the word I always give to people when they think about communications and all of the things and the tactics and all of that is what is your authenticity? You can have your strategy, you can have your tactics down, you can have everything to a T, but if you’re not authentic, it’s not going to resonate with people. And ultimately, that’s going to  you may get a– the phrase is, “Fool me once it’s on you. Fool me twice it’s on me.” Authenticity is the same way. You may fool a donor or funder or an investor a couple of times, but ultimately they’re going to get it. So make sure you have an authentic story to tell. And then don’t be afraid to tell it from the rooftops. Just yell it, scream it, promote it, put it on video, put it on social media. Don’t be afraid to be hyperbolic. If it’s authentic, it’s real.

Right. I think that’s really wise council. What tools do you use that you absolutely can’t do without?

Well, I’m old school, so I use a lot of pen and paper. We’ve been experimenting with a tool called Trello which is a kind of electronic tool for project management. I think you do need an editorial calendar of sorts because it allows you to be proactive versus reactive, especially for someone like me where I have multiple sectors to promote. And all those sectors need to ramp up into corporate objectives around social and racial justice. I need to think ahead about, “All right. We’ve got this day coming up. We’ve got this conference coming up. We’ve got this project coming up.” How does that react with everything else that we’re doing? So that the messaging can be funneled up to, kind of ultimately, what we’re trying to talk about.

What advice would you give for somebody, who is either starting school or starting their careers right now, who’s interested in following a path similar to yours?

So, this may be antithetical to most people. I did not get a background in marketing. I did not get a background in communications or any of this stuff. I’m not saying that’s not valuable. I got an education in what I loved and what I believed in. At that point it was government and literature. Now if you think about it,  I know work in finance so– and with a stop over, a 15-year stop over, in the environment. So I was just say be passionate. Explore. Which also comes with a lot of self-learning and reading everybody else’s e-newsletters, websites, and understanding what they do. And there was some self-learning about what the consumer journey looks like. What does the donor persona look like? All of those things, so that I could apply what I had hints of in my brain and make them very tactical.

That’s wonderful, so these last two questions are sort of fun ones. What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen somebody do in communications and marketing?

All right. Off the top of my head I can’t think of the dumbest thing I’ve seen. But I will say that it’s funny watching an organization I left, and I will not name them, reuse a tactic that we used. And used to sort of minimal effect. It felt like an organization that was out of ideas and was just trying to think about, “All right, we’ll just reuse that in a different way,” Without really understanding what can we actually achieve with this. It was a social media campaign about investing in a certain project and who knows in terms of the actual tangible value of it? And I’ll pick another, which is another organization that I worked with, do a multi-million dollar campaign. Hollywood superstars, literally Hollywood superstars using cutting edge multimedia techniques, putting this out on every communication channel possible, but ultimately almost no impact. I’ve heard a superstar say this and I’m interested, because I’ve heard it in three or four different ways. Now what do I do? Well, what I do was give 10 bucks.

I take your point that you need to craft your strategy and your tactics based on the existing situation, which means whoever is working in communications and marketing needs to be acutely attuned to strategy and organization. They need to understand the situation, and they need to bring something fresh and creative. It’s not sufficient to continue to rehash what might have been a great idea before, but that is already played out.

Yeah. And I’ll also add to that. The idea that you’re going to run into a CEO who thinks that they can create a movement– and God bless you, if you can create a movement, do it. And don’t not try. Definitely try it. But go in with the market research of what the public says. And I’ll take the environment for example. So, I did that for 15 years. And creating a movement for the environment was always top of mind of the executive for marketing. You can affect any environmental space, 5% of the population, with what we call the dark greens. And they will give a ton of money. You cannot affect the 95% of the population to give their $10, which will equate to billions if they did it. And if you said, “Oh, hogwash,” think about yourself. I’m an environmentalist, and I do all the right things. I compost, I recycle, I drive a Prius …

Yeah, me too. We might actually be parked next to each other [laughter].

But are all of these people going to give their 10 bucks? It’s been proven time and time again that that’s not going to happen. And that’s for children’s charities, it’s for multiple charities. I would say the one example would be the Ice Bucket Challenge. Okay. Let’s talk about that for a minute. I know we’re doing my last questions, but let’s talk about that for a minute. I heard the woman who was on– I can’t remember the organization, which there in itself, right, should tell you something– talk about the Ice Bucket Challenge, made millions for that in a short amount of time. We don’t talk about them anymore. It was actually not self-constructed. It was an anomaly of a guy– I think it was multiple sclerosis?

Yeah. I think so. Or ALS, maybe.

ALS did it. No affiliation to the organization. He sent that video to three or four people, and it literally went viral. The organization literally had no idea how to harness that or what to do with it. They just rode the wave. And year one, they made X number of dollars. Year two, they tried to recreate it, were unable.

Of course, because the underlying dynamic was not theirs, and it’s since morphed into the cinnamon challenge and the dadbod challenge and something else that somebody’s going to come up with.

But there was an authenticity in the original Ice Bucket Challenge that people loved.

Which made it powerful.

Which made it powerful. And you can’t create that. Sometimes you just have to ride it.

“If you’re lucky enough to do something that goes viral, awesome. But don’t count on it. That should not be your main strategy”

Well, right. And you can’t program or predict virality. If you’re lucky enough to do something that goes viral, awesome. But don’t count on it. That should not be your main strategy, because it’s so unpredictable and so unlikely. Try. Try. But try with caveats to your CEO or your chief marketing officer or whomever that you’re not getting a ding for that if it doesn’t happen.

Yeah. Absolutely.

Okay. The last question I asked you was about the dumbest move you’ve ever seen in communications. What’s something that’s remarkable, that’s memorable, that you think is particularly powerful and well-done in the way of marketing, communications, or public relations?

I had a boss who stressed, ad nauseum, about the power of visuals. And to me back then, I was like, why are we agonizing over one photo over another? And I think the best example to give of that is if you watch the movie about Steve Jobs, where he talks about the 57 charts that he used in his Powerpoint. Now I mean that’s sort of an example, but what it shows is – and it goes back to storytelling – people are very visual. Iconography goes way back to when we lived in caves. That tells you something. So something about visuals and thinking about your Powerpoint presentation with 100 lines of text per slide. No. Stop it. Steve Jobs did presentations and they might not have any text.

Changed my life.

Yeah. In fact, have you ever read Presentation Zen that Garr Reynolds does? Phenomenal book. [Garr also has a great website! – Mark]

Read that. Yeah. Read it. Yeah. A piece of advice that I give to people who work for me is, you’re going to get a lot of information about a particular project. And they’re going to want data, they’re going to want analysis, and they’re going to want all this stuff in their communications. But what do we all do? I call it the finger-up analogy. You flip your Facebook, and you just finger up through your phone.

You’re swiping up, or you’re scrolling up and down, or you’re swiping left and right.

Maybe you’re swiping right, if that’s what your thing is.

But you’re swiping.

You’re swiping. And you’re reading quick and fast. What catches your eye?

If you’re reading at all. Oftern, you’re just looking.

Right. You’re looking at visuals, and you’re getting maybe 50 characters of text. You’ve got to boil down your message to that to really communicate well.

Yeah. I think you’re absolutely right. So, Jason, thank you so much for being on this episode of Better PR Now.

Yeah. Thank you so much.

Appreciate it.

And that wraps up another episode of Better PR Now.

I really want to hear from you. Let me know what you think about the podcast overall or about this particular conversation. Like to know what you think about recording on location. I know there was a lot of noise. But let me know. Was it too distracting? Was it okay? I want to hear from you. And also if you have any questions about public relations, marketing, or corporate communications, let me know, and I’d love to address those in a future episode.

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Also, I want to remind you about a special offer that we have from the official transcription partner from the podcast, TranscribeMe. You can get up to 25% off their transcription services. Just go to https://TranscribeMe.com/BetterPRNow.

That’s it for this episode. I look forward to visiting with you again on the next episode of Better PR Now!

009 – Harnessing Leadership, Ethics, Intuition, and Courage

009 - Harnessing Leadership, Ethics, Intuition and Courage

Deb Radman discusses the power of harnessing the four horsemen of public relations: Leadership, Ethics, Intuition, and Courage. She explains why she would advise her younger self to shut up and listen, so she could really understand what’s being said. She contends that there is great power in taking time to think about something before you formulate an answer. We should then leverage the power of persuasion to engage, motivate, and activate.

Note:  This is a continuation of a conversation with Deb Radman from Episode 008.

Because of changes in the media landscape, PR now has “the opportunity to be the primary source of ideas for our companies and our clients as they seek new ways to communicate.” To do this, we have to venture way outside the box we’ve been in for so long, and have the guts and courage to do that.

Deb is in favor of integration across the communication spectrum. She argues that public relations professionals have “to be strong enough to go to clients with recommendations that transcend specific disciplines; we cannot be afraid to recommend integrated campaigns that include advertising, digital, promotion, direct response, and public relations.” According to Deb, all of these disciplines are part of PR, because they are all part of trying to persuade an audience to do what you want them to do. In her words, “Paid, earned, shared, and owned media all have to work together.” If paid, earned, and owned are not consistent, they will not help people share our message, because it will be fragmented. With this in mind, she argues that social media now is the province of public relations, because it is part of what PR practitioners do in the earned media arena.

According to Deb, mentoring adds tremendous value by helping our people develop creativity and that “it’s no longer sufficient to be able to write; we must also be creative problem solvers.” She describes the PRSA’s College of Fellows work with educators to create momentum for mentoring. She also urges junior PR practitioners to “Find teachers and mentors who will teach you what they know and what other people know.” While public relations people might be well-trained in communication techniques, they need to be even more capable of understanding what motivates people to engage. Deb stresses the importance of lifelong learning and the value in being exposed to marketers, innovators, researchers, and creatives in the advertising world and beyond.

High points in her career have included winning the USO contract, when she won her first Silver Anvil award, presenting the James C. Bowling Executive-In-Residence Lecture at the University of Kentucky, and serving as project lead for the IBM centennial celebration, which included IBM’s Watson competing on Jeopardy.

Listen to Part 1 of the conversation


Quotes:

“Paid, earned, shared, and owned media all have to work together.”

“Shut up and learn to listen.”

“Great teachers in public relations make leadership, ethics, intuition, and courage your learning target; if you can embrace that, you’ll go far.”

“Appealing to the heart is the most powerful motivator to get people to communicate on your behalf.”

“Communication is part of everything we do and who we are.”

“I wish we could have more breadth and experience in different disciplines in the PR programs, such as at the University of Kentucky.”

“Think about learning as a project for your whole life.”


Let me know what you think about this episode!

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008 – You really need a reputation for integrity – Deb Radman part 1

008 Deb Radman part 1

PR veteran Deb Radman explains why you really need a reputation for integrity, the value of non-traditional hires in public relations, the power of intuition, and the necessity of courage. She explains how PR nightmares come from bad decisions. She presented the James C. Bowling Executive-In-Residence Lecture Series in the University of Kentucky’s Department of Integrated Strategic Communication.

Note:  This is Part two of a two-part series with Deb Radman; Part two is here.

Deb explains how the PRSA College of Fellows is promoting professional mentoring by Maria Russell (at Syracuse University‘s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications), Judy VanSlyke Turk (Professor Emerita from Virginia Commonwealth University), Elizabeth Toth (at the University of Maryland‘s Department of Communication), and other Fellows, because that is what will help non-traditional public relations professionals earn a seat at the table.

She also draws on lessons from Harold Burson, Richard Edelman, Betsy Plank, CKPR, and the USO.

Listen to Part 2 of the conversation


Key quotes:

From Deb Radman:

“If you want to get to the table, you have to learn to be a leader.”

“Shut up and learn to listen.”

“Engage, motivate, and activate.”

“PR can never be a panacea for bad behavior.”

“If you want to get to the table, you have to learn to be a leader.”

“Establish a reputation for integrity.”

From Richard Edelman:  “You have to aspire higher.”


How have you had to exercise courage in your practice?

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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!

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