Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

Posts Tagged ‘public relations

There’s Famous, and Then There’s Infographic Famous

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It’s amazing to see the creativity at work lately in the area of infographics. As I’ve written before, this informational, educational art form has been around for a long time. But 2012 really seems to be the year when it caught fire.

PR Daily 12Most.com’s Anita Hovey recently listed some of the top infographics in the world of social media. Among the best was “Seven reasons to embrace online culture,” by J6 design. From “showing you are human” to “don’t ignore negative online reviews,” these are great tools to have in your toolkit if you find yourself having to convince the boss to include social media as part of your office’s overall public relations and marketing efforts.

But, since social media has empowered the “me” in all of us to an extent never before seen, my favorite infographic has to be “What About Me?” from Intel. This free online service mines your Facebook and Twitter feeds to create a custom infographic about little ol’ you.

Here’s mine. This is the thumbnail version, so click to see the larger version. Fascinating, huh? I think so, but then, that’s just me. And it can be you, too.

I’m not so sure it will make me famous, though, or even infographic famous. And maybe that shouldn’t even be my ultimate goal. I’m just happy looking at a graphically pleasing, informative display about the details of my online life, in a way that can help me be a better communicator and a better person.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

May 29, 2012 at 8:06 pm

“Pink Slime” Gets PR Assist

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An effective crisis communication response plan has always been part of successful public relations. It seems obvious to state this, but for many years, good crisis communications was like a well-kept secret, slowly trickling out to the wider industry over time and, seemingly, only in response to historic PR disasters like Exxon’s response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the decision to launch the Challenger space shuttle, as well as in recognition of crisis communication success stories like the Tylenol cyanide poisoning response.

So it’s tough to watch the Beef Products Inc., a Texas-based company, in the PR fight of its life in the wake of the recent “pink slime” controversy. This PR Daily story by Gil Rudawsky summarizes how social media powered the efforts of parents to get the beef products banned from schools and removed from grocery store meat departments.

The company, which uses industrial processes to retrieve tiny scraps of trimmed beef that otherwise would be discarded, launched the beefisbeef.com website to explain why the meat is perfectly safe and nutritious, and to argue why the term “pink slime” is wrong, misleading, and libelous.

Get The Facts infographicThey even include an effective infographic that explains why the use of ammonia in the process, one of the problems cited in the “pink slime” protests, is actually common throughout the food processing industry.

I use the word “tough” to describe this campaign because, on a technical level, while the company seems to be doing everything about as well as it can be done to address the critics and try to set the record straight, I suspect that the power of the phrase “pink slime” may be too much for them to succeed in the long run.

The Center for Media and Democracy’s famous PR industry expose, “Toxic Sludge is Good For You,” ascribed wondrous powers of persuasion to the practice of public relations. But nothing, not even PR, is totally invincible. In the end, the public does get to decide what they like and what they don’t like. And, if they don’t like “lean beef trimmings” or “pink slime,” they will vote with their dollars and reject the product.

— Update: April 2, 2012: The Consumerist reports that AFA Foods, another manufacturer of “lean beef trimmings,” has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, blaming the uproar over the “pink slime” news coverage.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

April 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Facebook Timeline Can Help PR Tell the Never-Ending Story

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Facebook logoOne of the theories of communication that has had a big impact on me in graduate school is “narrative theory.” The theory, described in the SAGE Reference service, states that humans are natural story tellers. Using narratives to make sense of the world is so basic to human experience that people can really be described as Homo narrans, or “story-telling human.”

I write this because I think the new Facebook Timeline is a surprisingly powerful way for Facebook to insert itself into the ongoing narratives of its users’ lives.

Who doesn’t enjoy the occasional trip down memory lane? I certainly do, and I must say that combing through my personal information and Wall posts in preparation for the switch to the Timeline resulted in a series of “blasts from the past,” looking at old photos and remembering friendships that have strengthened over tine and those that faded away over the years.

This powerful impact is not limited to individual users. Facebook recently opened up the Timeline format to brands, which makes perfect sense. Narrative flow has always been a powerful tool for advertisers looking to change or strengthen brand loyalty.

The Timeline format also holds promise for public relations practitioners, according to Tonya Garcia of PRNewser. Her article, “Four Reasons PR Pros Will Love Facebook Timeline for Brands,” highlights how public relations can work alongside marketing to help tell and shape the story of their organization. As a company reaches milestones in its growth and development, for example, its Timeline can help strengthen its relationships with stakeholders in a compelling way, establishing contexts and promoting the organization through its unique story.

If we humans are really Homo narrans, then the Facebook Timeline is just the sensible next step in our ongoing evolution, telling a story that never has to end.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

March 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm

A New Definition of Public Relations

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The Public Relations Society of America recently announced on its “PRSAY” blog that it had updated its official definition of “public relations.”

PRSA didn’t make this decision by executive fiat; it put the issue to a public vote. The top three definitions were posted to the PRSA website and votes were tallied over a two-week period.

The winning definition:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

As I have discussed before, there has been a struggle among PR professors as to what public relations is “really all about.” Some believe that the core of PR is rhetoric, the classical exchange of persuasive arguments, while others believe the fundamental organizing principle is the cultivation and management of relationships.

Each side of this argument can take heart from the newly-announced modern definition of PR. Rhetoricians can point to the phrase “strategic communication process” to make their case, since rhetoric is something that never stops. It’s an ongoing process of persuasion and counter-persuasion in the public square.

Meanwhile, relationship proponents can cheer because the word “relationships” is front and center in the new definition. And for those who know their PR scholarship, professor James Grunig of the University of Maryland has to be smiling at the inclusion of the words “mutually beneficial,” echoing his groundbreaking work on the two-way symmetrical model of PR.

Social media has a crucial role to play in the future development of both persuasive communication and the management of relationships. As Shel Holtz recently wrote in PR Daily, social media is changing the way that PR practitioners persuade their organization’s publics. For example, the tried-and-true news release is fading in importance, replaced by the well-timed Tweet or Facebook post. And social media itself is bringing together organizations and their publics in a human, one-on-one way as never before.

The old definition of PR had stood since 1982. With each year bringing new ways to connect and communicate, I suspect it won’t take thirty years to do this all over again. We will have no choice.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

March 6, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Targeting Multiple Media Platforms for PR Success

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Social Media - image via MashableAs a public relations practitioner with an interest in social media, I am always eager to read about the many ways these fields can interact with each other.

That is why I was pleased to read this Mashable article by Heather Whaling, “How to Take Your PR Pitches to the Next Level.”

While technically accurate, the title of the article does not quite do justice to the topic, because the article is really an excellent guide for media relations practitioners looking to use social media to sharpen the effectiveness of their pitches, and to widen the base of communicators that may be open to those pitches.

Based on my experiences working with local news media, the first suggestion makes the most sense: incorporate new platforms. Every local reporter I know is cross-platforming: the newspaper writer who also blogs, Tweets, and produces short videos; the television reporter who rewrites copy for the print-style version of their story on their channel’s website; the radio reporter who Tweets and posts audio podcasts of their news stories online.

Anytime my team can produce high-quality content that fits with a story these journalists are working on, in such a way that our content can be repackaged and featured on their website, I consider that a mutually productive, two-way communication outcome.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

March 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Infographics – Classic Communication Made Modern

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Infographics are becoming a hot topic among social media outlets and communicators.

Bloggers such as Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing and Marcie Giovannoni at Complex Visuals have written about the recent jump in interest in infographics, which deliver often numerically-laden information in a way that helps, not hurts, understanding. Koerth-Baker also explores the history of this communication art, including an illustration considered to be the best infographic ever created, the map by Charles Joseph Minard that illustrated the destruction of Napoleon Boneparte’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812.

Charles Joseph Minard's map of Napoleon's 1812 Russian campaign lossesPublic relations practitioners are climbing aboard the infographics party train. PR Daily’s Meryl Serouya recently wrote an article specifically exploring the use of infographics as press releases, citing their brevity and focus, especially when distributed via social media channels.

Serouya wrote that infographics “can prove especially powerful in press releases by extending the core message and highlighting the important components to bring the text to life.”

I agree completely. Infographics certainly are full of promise as communication channels, although I would not go so far as to say they should replace a news release. If I was advising a client about the use of infographics, I would say that they do have their place, but not as stand-alone releases.

SC Johnson infographic on shifts in consumer environmental actions and behaviorAn interesting infographic could accompany a news release, whether it is e-mailed to media outlets, posted to an organization’s Facebook page, or Tweeted to its followers, giving the story extra context, drama, and background while explaining the more complex parts.

Even though infographics have been around for a long time (like the 17,000-year-old Lascaux cave paintings in France), a well-crafted infographic still has the power to take dry information and make it seem fresh and new and understandable. I’m looking forward to seeing how this hybrid of art and communication will change and grow in the future.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Relationships vs. Rhetoric in Public Relations

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Relationships vs. Rhetoric - two sides of the same coin? Image Courtesy of iStockPhotoOne of the more interesting classes I have taken in my pursuit of a master’s degree in public relations has been a look at the theoretical underpinnings of the industry.

Normally we don’t think of what we do as having a basis in theory. You can’t just pick up a theory and hold it toward the light. It’s an abstract concept. But it is helpful to ponder some of the competing ideas that try to explain what public relations is, why people and organizations engage in it, and why it works (or doesn’t work).

In that class, we spent a great deal of time discussing whether “relationships” are at the heart of public relations, or whether “rhetoric” is the basis of all that we do.

I was reminded of that discussion by a recent article by John Trader in PR Daily, which listed the “5 key traits of a successful PR professional.”

The article outlined the following must-have traits for anyone wanting to “make it” in public relations:

  • Thick skin;
  • Resiliency;
  • Attention to detail;
  • Creativity; and
  • Relationship building.

In my experience, all five of these traits really are “must-haves,” but the final item intrigued me. There it was, plain as day: support for “relationships” as the bedrock of PR success. But reading deeper in the article, Trader described “relationship building” as the ability to “bridge communication chasms through quality conversations.”

That’s the point at which my PR professors would say “A-ha! And what are quality conversations made of? Rhetoric. The ability to communicate with others in such way as to persuade them of the rightness of your position, while being open to being persuaded if their arguments have greater merit.”

That is what a “quality conversation” is. Anything else is just a monologue.

As public relations practitioners continue to learn how to use social media to create and improve relationships with their publics, using the tools of effective rhetoric, it might be safe to say that instead of being in conflict with each other, relationships and rhetoric are actually the two sides of the same coin.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 17, 2012 at 6:43 pm

A Good Way to Break Bad News

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Being a better communicator means sometimes having to break bad news, in a sensitive but direct way.

Public relations practitioners sometimes find themselves in no-win situations, explaining or justifying their organization in the face of criticism from external audiences and their own internal stakeholders.

We sometimes find ourselves in no-win situations in our personal lives as well, when we must share something that we really, really wish we didn’t have to. It reminds me of the title of the Harlan Ellison short-story collection “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” when we discover that we are simultaneously torn between having to say something and being unwilling or unable to say it.

Writer Adam Dachis of the Lifehacker blog recently posted some good advice on how to break out of that “can’t say it/must say it” trap. It sounds simple, but is quite powerful: instead of beating around the bush, you must phrase the bad news in as simple a message as possible, and then go ahead and deliver the message.

Putting things off or minimizing the impact of your words will not make a situation better. It’s like only partially removing a splinter from your finger. It may not hurt as much, but the pain is still there.

To that, I would add the thought that you must be prepared for the consequences of the bad news you have just shared. You can choose what to tell someone, but you cannot choose how they react to it. Only they get to decide how they want to react to it. It’s like un-ringing a bell: you can’t do it. Once you have said something, it’s out of your control.

It’s the same way with social media, only faster. If you give a person bad news in a direct, face-to-face conversation, it may not go much farther than that. But if you post bad news to your social media sites, it’s instantly shared with everyone you know, and archived for all time in The Great Internet Cloud.

That loss of control is one reason why I don’t think social media are an appropriate place for sharing bad news. More than one person I know has accidently informed all of their Facebook friends of a breakup by allowing their change of relationship status to be posted to their news feed.

So even if it is not possible to avoid being the bearer of bad tidings, there certainly are better ways to do it.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Information Subsidies or Just Good Stories?

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When public relations professors and researchers talk about news releases and tip sheets, they don’t call them news releases, they call them “information subsidies.”

I am about to finish my master’s degree in public relations, so I have taken my fair share of classes on public relations theory and practice.

When I first encountered the phrase in one of my classes, I experienced an “aha” moment: I had never thought about it before, but I knew instantly that it was exactly correct.

A big part of what we do as public relations professionals is produce information subsidies, or content that helps journalists do their jobs easily and more quickly. With layoffs and hiring freezes in newsrooms, the remaining staffers are squeezed as never before, so the assistance we provide in tracking down good stories can be very helpful to the working media.

Standard stuff for a PR practitioner, right? Yes. But as social media accelerates change in all forms of communication, practitioners will need to expand their own definition of what qualifies as an “information subsidy.”

The PR Daily blog recently posted a great roundup of how changes in media content delivery will impact public relations.

For me, the takeaway points were:

1) remember that journalists are not just looking for text anymore, they are looking for multimedia opportunities,

2) don’t try to pitch reporters using social media, but

3) do get to know the reporters via their social media profiles.

Building and maintaining good relationships with journalists is a must for PR professionals, and social media is one more way of doing just that.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

January 29, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Look on the Bright Side!

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Welcome to the first entry for my first blog, “Cautiously Optimistic.” True to its title, this blog is not going to break any dishes, shatter any paradigms, bloody any noses, or get too carried away. At least not too often.

What I hope it will do is set a tone of hopefulness, wisdom, and, yes, optimism about the future.

My professional background is in journalism and public relations. I will share what I have learned over the years, both in school and in the School of Hard Knocks, as well as my thoughts and opinions of current events and future trends, to explore how we can improve ourselves and each other, how we communicate, and how social media can play a role in that process of discovery and improvement.

My goal is to use this forum to persuade you that improvement is possible in all areas of our lives. Will I achieve that goal? As you might have guessed, I remain cautiously optimistic.

-CP

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

January 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm