012 – Roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches – Megan Driscoll of EvolveMKD

Founder and CEO of EvolveMKD public relations agency, Megan Driscoll discusses what drew her to a career in public relations, what the future holds for PR and marketing, and the interplay between media relations and social media.  She also provides frank advice to those who are starting (or thinking about starting) a career in PR:  “Roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches.”

Episode 012 - Roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches. - Megan Driscoll

Starting a PR agency:

Megan shares surprising lessons she learned from starting her own business three years ago, including the importance of rallying people around your effort, and the challenge of gaining access to credit to fund the business.

As a business owner, she likes controlling her destiny, choosing who to work with and who to hire, how to invest in the business, and whether to expand.

Why a career in public relations?

When working on an internship, Meagan says that she essentially fell into a career in public relations after her boss suggested it as a good career opportunity.  She loves how dynamic this kind of work can be, as well as how you get a behind-the-scenes view of other industries and companies.

Advice for a successful career:

We have to continue to learn and grow, and we must be willing to always be challenged.  As technology changes, and we consume news and media in new ways, communications professionals have to adapt.  We also need to become adept at balancing the needs of our agency with those of our clients and the media.

Megan recommends that young PR professionals get well-rounded, diverse experience, especially early in our careers.  This will help us avoid getting pigeon-holed as having expertise only in one particular area, such as digital, media relations, writing press releases, handling budgets, developing strategy, and so forth.  PR pros need a wide range of tools and skills; developing them early and continuing to improve them throughout a career helps us be more effective at our jobs and provides a distinct advantage in the job market.

She also recommends taking writing classes (especially business writing) and paying attention to detail.  Megan noted that “if your best-foot-forward includes typos, that’s not good enough.”

In addition to developing solid writing skills, we should also “get comfortable with numbers” by taking classes in accounting, financials, and statistics.  “You have to have an understanding and appreciation for math,” Megan advises.

When speaking with new college grads, Megan tells them to “Be ready to work, roll up your sleeves, and get in the trenches.”  You grow and learn by having a lot thrown at you.

Some of the things that can be frustrating about working in public relations include a lack of education among potential clients, who don’t know what PR is now and how it has changed in a digital environment).  In addition to educating clients about the full range of benefits that PR can bring to the table, Megan also works with clients to broaden their understanding of what PR encompasses and how it can be a valuable voice of reason.

The importance of reputation management:

“Our job as communications professionals is to gently remind business leaders that you can say whatever you want, but if you don’t have the proof to back it up, you shouldn’t be saying it.”  As communication specialists, we help ensure they have thought through what they want to say and how they should act.

“Good PR people want their company or client to speak the truth; that’s an important part of the job.”

Megan noted that some clients can be short-sighted when thinking about the effect of their communication.  “The energy you put out there, the words you put out there, and the actions you put out there carry weight and have business implications.”

Advice to business leaders:

  • You can’t just talk the talk, you also have to walk the walk.
  • Think about what is behind a clever or fun campaign; what will you need to do from an operations perspective to reinforce the campaign’s message?
  • Media relations and social engagement must work together.
  • What do your leadership teams look like?  Do they reflect the consumers you’re trying to reach?

Understanding your customers:

“If you don’t interact with the people you’re trying to sell to, how can you have an effective strategy?”  Engaging your customers (and other publics!) and listening to them is a really effective way to understand their values, needs, wants, opinions, and attitudes.

Genius PR move:

Alyssa Milano’s (@Alyssa_Milano) support for the #MeToo movement on social media helped  drive real, meaningful discussion.

… and a not-so-genius PR move:

United Airlines’ handling of the removal of a passenger from a plane and the communications follow-up.  Bad operational decision made worse by ineffective communication afterward.  How could this have been handled better?

An example of a company making a mistake, but handling the aftermath well was Alaska Airlines’ (@AlaskaAir) prompt, on-target handling of Randi Zuckerberg’s (@randizuckerberg) complaint about sexual harassment by a fellow passenger.  The airline took immediate accountability, was open and public about it, and resolved the issue in a classy way.

Lesson: 

Just because you make a mistake, doesn’t mean you’re doomed; you have to own the problem, proactively acknowledge and solve it, and communicate with clarity and compassion.  Showing you genuinely care in this way keeps a mistake from turning into a crisis.

Megan noted how most “PR crises” actually start as operational issues that are mishandled.

What does the future hold for PR and marketing?

From Megan’s perspective, PR and social media are so intertwined that they will require integrated communication strategies.  Communications must be integrated and consistent for an organization to truly have a positive reputation.

Megan’s must-have tools:

  • Cell phone (it’s an appendage!)
  • Laptop
  • Mophie battery packs to keep mobile devices charged, so you can keep working and also stay connected
  • Cision, to create media lists, identify journalists who might be interested in covering your story, and keep track of your history of engagements with journalists (using Cision as a Customer Relationship Management tool)
  • Access to social media platforms

Speaking of using social media for research:

Megan uses social media tools like Twitter, which provides a great resource for understanding what stories reporters are working on, what competitors are doing, and for following the news

In addition to using Twitter for research, she uses groups on Facebook and Instagram to stay engaged with other communication professionals and journalists.

Helping clients avoid the shiny object syndrome:

With new social media platforms appearing almost daily, it seems as if everyone wants to be on Snapchat, or whatever the new hotness happens to be.  But just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it will fit.  Unless you’re trying to reach teens and those in their early 20s, Snapchat probably is not right for you or your company.  As Megan put it, “Snapchat is not the tool to sell anti-aging products.”  Truly.

Facebook might not be cool anymore, but it might be a great tool, depending on who you’re trying to reach and to what effect.

Megan noted that, “Having great media relationships isn’t enough to be a great PR person, you also need to understand the consumer your client is trying to reach.”  That understanding will help identify the appropriate media and engagement activities you should pursue.

EvolveMKD projects:

One of Megan’s clients, Lia Diagnostics, won TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2017 in Berlin with the first major update of the pregnancy test since it was created in the 70’s.

EvolveMKD also is working with Merz USA, another client, on a partnership with Christie Brinkley.

Finally, look for Megan’s new book, which will come out in Spring 2018!


Before closing out this episode, I want to give a shout out to Sam, who recently rode to work with me and shared her inspirational story. I wish you luck and I’ll be looking for you on House of Cards!

I’d also like to dedicate this episode to Lou Williams, who was a guest on episode 4, “What’s Wrong With PR?”  Sadly, Lou passed away recently.

Dr. Tina McCorkindale, President & CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, said,

“Over the holidays, we lost a great leader and friend to the field … Lou Williams was an integral part of the Institute for Public Relations.  He served as an IPR Trustee starting in 2002, thanks to being recruited by his friend Ward White, who passed away in 2016.  In 2007, he became an Honorary Trustee and continued to be engaged until his death. Lou made tremendous contributions to the IPR Measurement Commission and served as an IPR Research Fellow.  When I first started my role at IPR, Lou told me his call to action would be how to better interest, educate, and engage practitioners around research.  He started doing this more than 30 years ago with a two-day conference he created in the 1980s, along with writing his best-selling book Communication Research, Measurement and Evaluation:  A Practical Guide for Communicators.

Speaking personally, I can honestly say that we are all much better for having known and worked with Lou, and we will miss him greatly.  I first met Lou as we enjoyed a lobster feast at Katie Paine’s farm in New Hampshire years ago. He was a kind and generous soul with a brilliant intellect.  Lou, this episode is for you!


Thank you, my wonderful listener, for spending this time with me and for being an important part of this community!  Please let me know what you think by leaving a rating and review on iTunes, by dropping me a line, or by sending a voicemail with that handy little orange button on the right (yes, that one).


How to contact Megan:

Instagram:  @megankcraig

Twitter:  @mkdrisco

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/EvolveMKD/

Website:  evolvemkd.com

EvolveMKD main number:  (646) 517-4220

Media inquiries:  media@evolvemkd.com

Jobs at EvolveMKD:  careers@evolvemkd.com

New Business Inquiries:  info@evolvemkd.com


About Megan:

Megan Driscoll is a sought-after strategic media and communications professional with nearly 16 years of experience in healthcare, aesthetics and dermatology, and prestige beauty.  Key to her success is Megan’s ability to always find a way.  She finds potential in every opportunity for her clients through determination, relationships, agility, and sound strategy coupled with a creative spirit.

Megan has cultivated relationships with physicians, consumers, key opinion leaders, and taste-makers to gain her clients national  recognition.  At the end of the day, Megan wants to surround herself with smart, passionate people who value integrity — people who are serious about their work, but don’t take themselves too seriously.  This philosophy is at the heart of founding EvolveMKD, where Megan provides day-to-day client counsel, strategic direction, and a savvy eye for what makes news and who can make the news happen.

About EvolveMKD:

Evolve’s chief capabilities range from traditional public relations (PR) campaigns to social media content creation, platform management and metrics reporting to physician and influencer relations.

EvolveMKD is a tight-knit collection of storytellers, brand builders and caretakers, data crunchers, media hounds, digital strategists, and collaborators.  They operate as an extension of your team, getting to know your brand, your work, and your customers.  They will work directly with you to develop an effective campaign to meet your brand’s needs and strengthen the connection between you and your customers.

011 – Why PR and Marketing might become synonymous – Doreen Clark of SmartBug Media

Episode 011 - Doreen Clark

Doreen Clark, Director of Public Relations at SmartBug Media, shares some of her secrets to generating great press coverage, coaching executives to communicate more effectively, and the intertwining of PR and Marketing.

Media relations:

According to Doreen, public relations is a powerful tool and that we should, “Communicate in a way that is not just beneficial for us, but also for the people we’re reaching out to.” This forms a trifecta of solid media relations that comes together when we understand and communicate:

  • What our audience needs to learn,
  • The information reporters need to know to cover the story, and
  • What we want to deliver for our company or client.

She notes that, for media relations professionals, it’s easy to deliver the facts that journalists need. But journalists also need us to offer an opinion, because that helps them craft stories with perspective and emotion.

Media training:

Doreen has trained a lot of senior executives to be better spokespeople for their organizations. When she provides media training for senior executives, some of the key lessons include:

Coaching leaders on speaking to the common person, by using language they can understand. Executives are used to speaking with other experts in their industry; they frequently use jargon and technical language that the man on the street might not understand. Shifting their focus to be able to communicate with those who are not experts in their industry takes work, but helps them be much better communicators.

Helping executives learn to speak in soundbites during interviews. Long-winded, detailed explanations allow the speaker to be precise, but they run the risk of losing control of the messages that will come through in the final news report. Making the information digestible by giving clear, but concise quotes, helps ensure their most important messages are included in the story.

Everyone is a spokesperson:

In an age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, everyone connected to an organization essentially is a spokesperson. Having a strategic plan, in which everybody knows their role and what they are expected to do, is key to success in public relations. Doreen also recommends that we identify the subject matter experts in our organization, train them to be effective spokespeople, and that will lead to more opportunities to engage the media. It’s important for communication in an organization to be “by all, for all” and not just downward from managers.

Working with freelance writers:

When asked what she is most excited about, Doreen said that working with freelance writers has become a secret weapon. Her force-multiplier tip is to build relationships with freelance writers. It’s common for them to write for many different media outlets, both online and off. These relationships can help us get more coverage, if they are willing to share the work they do for us with their contacts in these outlets.

Merging PR and marketing:

Looking into the future, Doreen expects that “Public relations and marketing will become even more intertwined and might become synonymous.” She sees a blurring of the lines already, with paid advertising taking the form of earned editorial coverage. She sees a future in which PR will have more pay-to-play coverage, as advertising does now. While such changes could present signification challenges for those currently working in both PR and marketing, it could have certain beneficial effects, as it will drive improvements on both sides. For example, she notes that, “PR measurement tools are getting better and will eventually be on par with marketing measurement.” “

Doreen also sees a future in which podcasts and videos that are engaging, but brief, will become more important. After all, journalists need things to write about and to share as examples within their articles.

Lesson learned:

When asked what she knows now that would have been good to know when starting her career, Doreen said, “You don’t have to be everything to everyone; hone your craft; it’s okay to specialize.”

Quotable quotes:

“If you really pay attention, you can become an expert in anything.”

“Relationships are everything.”

“Stay up to date on your craft; you have to always be a learner.”

“PR is necessary, 100%.”

“PR is about elevating reputation and building credibility.”

“When you decide to do PR, make sure you’re starting from a strategic perspective.”


Contact Doreen:

If you are the Founder, CEO, or Marketing Director of a company that is looking to add public relations to enhance your 2018 goals, contact Doreen at dclark@smartbugmedia.com or connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/doreenclark

About Doreen:

Doreen Clark is the Director of Public Relations at SmartBug Media.  She has worked in PR and communications for more than a decade, on both the agency and the corporate side, and across multiple industries.

Doreen has created strategic plans to increase visibility, build credibility, and promote thought leadership through targeted media relations.  She also is  a member of the Forbes communications council, and a contributing writer for Huffington Post.

About SmartBug Media:

SmartBug is a leading intelligent inbound marketing agency that assists businesses in generating leads; increasing awareness; and building brand loyalty through inbound marketing, digital strategy, design, marketing automation and Public Relations.

SmartBug is a certified “Great Place to Work,” an Inc. 5000 company, and is the winner of 36 MarCom awards in 2017 alone.


Some of the resources Doreen uses:

Cision‘s database of media contacts.

CoverageBook saves time in compiling media reporting.

HubSpot to identify which articles have created the most traction based on links within the article.


Let us know what you think about this episode. Click that orange button on the right and send a voicemail.

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.

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I’ll catch you on the next episode!

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