Since 2010, I have served as Executive Director of Communications for Davenport University. That will continue for the foreseeable future, as I have no plans to leave. That said, I am interested in the possibility of providing counsel or support to clientele who are interested in tapping into my expertise and experience. Please feel free to reach out if you would like to discuss what you’re working on and how I might be able to help.
A bit of a brouhaha has erupted over George Stephanopoulos‘ reported $75,000 gifts to the Clinton Foundation. Actually, that’s sort of a misstatement, since the gifts were unreported despite the fact that ABC News, presumably, was reporting on the investigations into the Clinton Foundation. Frankly, although George changed his stripes when he went from being a political advisor and communications director for a president to a political commentator and then news anchor, it should have come as no surprise that he would make contributions to the foundation. After all, ABC pays him millions and he did work for President Clinton for a number of years. He probably thinks he owes it to Bill to throw some money at the foundation, right? What possibly could be wrong with supporting a non-profit intended to “strengthen the capacity of people throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence.”
Frankly, there isn’t a problem with George contributing money to the foundation. The problem is not issuing a disclosure statement when reporting on stories about the foundation and possible issues with how it was spending the contributions others had made to it. By not reporting on his gift, George doubled down on what was probably a non-issue. People would understand his contributions to his former boss’s foundation. They wouldn’t understand why he decided to keep it a secret. Maybe ABC had something to do with this. Perhaps he wanted to disclose but ABC did not want to provide FOX News with fodder to support claims of liberal bias. That’s a double down by ABC on a bad bet. ABC’s PR department may have doubled down on that bet again by deciding to drag its feet when responding to a conservative news outlet’s request for comment on this issue while feeding the story to another news outlet that it felt could be better managed.
I studied journalism in college and anyone else who did knows there are certain rules about what you can and cannot do as a journalist if you wish to remain unbiased in the eyes of your readers or viewers. You cannot become a part of the story. That was George’s first mistake. Again, understandable, since even his co-workers don’t think he’s really a journalist. He studied political science, not journalism at Columbia. PR has a code of ethics, too, although many who reportedly practice PR don’t know that. For good reason, people distrust journalists, public relations professionals AND politicians. It’s a pretty rare feat for one person to make the mistake of being all three at once, but somehow Stephanopoulos has managed to do just that!
Within a few weeks I will complete the capstone course required for my Master of Management degree from Davenport University, even though I already participated in Commencement exercises at the end of April. The past two years have been intense, with only a few weeks of breaks between the 11 consecutive 7-week courses that comprise the MM program. I have had earlier opportunities to complete graduate programs, having started the Master of Communication program at GVSU more than a decade ago and then considering DU’s Executive MBA program. I’m glad I waited to be included in the very first cohort to complete DU’s MM program, however, because it leveraged my experiences over the past 25 years and prepares me well for continued growth as an organizational leader.
The capstone course I am in focuses on strategy, bringing together all that I’ve learned in global marketing, project management, organizational design, human resources, information technology management, finance, leadership and other courses over the past two years. In small groups of three or four, our class is now working on four projects for Hope Network. In these projects, we are operating as consultants. Hope Network gets to keep our work at the end, of course, and we get another practical experience in applying our strategic thinking to real-world organizational problems. In two hours (at the time of writing this), my team will meet with a project leader at Hope Network to discuss how to optimize the use of their trademark red buses. I will keep you informed on our progress with Hope.
How you approach Twitter may say something about you!
While the following post may be drastically overgeneralized, it reflects what I think a person’s Twitter account says about them. It may not always be true; in fact, I’m certain it’s not always true. These are my quick-draw reactions to what I see, however, and I wonder if you agree. Let me know if you don’t!
You have a private account
Duh. You are a private person and likely you use Twitter as a tool to communicate with personal friends only. Also, you may be sharing things that you don’t want future employers to know about. Like those crazy pics from the club.
You have a large following, but follow few people
You must be some sort of rock star! Also, you are likely interested in building your personal brand by broadcasting messages to a large following, rather than hearing what others have to say and carrying on an active dialog.
You follow many people, but only a small percentage follow you back
You probably follow a lot of celebrities, industry leaders and news organizations, who rarely follow you back. You use Twitter as a newsfeed to replace or augment other media outlets. You also may be a little obsessed with celebrities.
Your “following” and “followers” counts are pretty balanced
You are actively engaged or at least interested in having a dialog with people, whether it is a smaller circle of people you actually know and have met or a larger circle of people who share similar interests.
You make it clear in your profile that you #FollowBack
You are interested in developing a large following either for marketing purposes (i.e., creating an audience to spam) or because you equate large followings on Twitter with “fame” (i.e., poor man’s celebrity). NOTE: This also goes for those who follow people only until they follow back, at which point they are unfollowed, causing confusion for the person who was followed when they try to send a direct message, only to discover they cannot because the other party unfollowed shortly after a reciprocal follow was realized.
There are quite a few spam accounts, SEO companies and porn sites following your account
You don’t monitor who follows you or you don’t care enough about who follows you to block them. Or, you like porn.
You post frequently throughout the day
You may be lonely, seeking affirmation and response from others via Twitter. OR, you may be a business that seeks to keep your name in front of prospective customers (who likely are unfollowing at this moment). Or, your mom said she wants to know where you’re at and what you’re doing at all times, and Twitter is the best way to keep her informed.
You haven’t posted since March 2011
OK, this could be a lot of things, and a few of them might not be so great. The best scenario is you tweeted 30 or 40 posts and didn’t get the response you thought you might, so you became disinterested. Or maybe you tweeted too much and then finally forced yourself to quit your Twitter addiction because it was consuming too many of your waking hours. Another scenario is that your Twitter account was tied closely to a job you no longer hold, which may be a positive (if you hated the job) or a negative (if you remain unemployed). It’s probably a best practice for individuals and the companies that hired them to clean up these “loose ends” since they do make a brand statement about both.
Another, more final, explanation might be that you have passed away, leaving behind a legacy of untended social media accounts. I can’t tell you how often I’ve reviewed a Twitter account that had once been tremendously active but suddenly stopped and wondered to myself if something tragic had happened to the person whose face once appeared regularly in my feeds.
Your only tweets are FourSquare updates
You want your friends to meet you in person to converse. Or, you set up the FourSquare feed to Twitter a year ago and forgot about it.
You mostly post pictures of yourself at home, at work, on vacation, and everywhere in-between
You want to show everyone just how awesome your life is. Plus you find it difficult to write using your smart phone.
You mostly post links to industry articles and share experiences from your work
Your use of Twitter is totally professional and you prefer Facebook or an actual face-to-face interaction to share what’s going on in your life.
You mostly post pictures and tweets about your cat(s)
You’re a cat person.
Creating winning PR Award Entries.
The deadline to enter the WMPRSA Chapter’s annual award competition is in less than three weeks. Today I’m leading a little seminar on “how to” create award entries for the PRoof Awards. Below is what I am sharing with attendees; really it’s appropriate for most PR award competitions, including those hosted by national PRSA.
Good PR entries start with good PR practices throughout the year. Those practices need to be documented, so that you have material for the entry. The assembled entry is a PR communication vehicle itself and needs every bit of attention that you would put into campaigns for your clients. It needs to tell a story and explain succinctly, to complete strangers, the problem to be resolved, the research conducted to fully understand and analyze the situation, your strategic approach, your tactical execution, and your results. Pretty simple huh?
FIVE REASONS TO ENTER (AND WIN) PROOF AWARDS
- Validation (affirmation that you did it right)
- Justification (supporting the case for approval of future work)
- Recognition (for you and your client)
- Promotion (of you, your agency, your department)
- And, the #1 reason to pursue PRoof Awards not just in February but all year long: Professional Excellence. Executing PR projects and campaigns with an eye toward entering and winning PRoof Awards will make your work continuously improve, because you’re taking the right steps to Research, Plan, Execute (sometimes referred to as Implement) and Evaluate – the proven formula for successful practice of Public Relations.
AWARD ENTRIES IS A YEAR-ROUND PROCESS
While it is important to create a good entry to win an award, it is more important to do work that is award-worthy and well-documented. If you plan to enter the PRoof Awards – or any awards competition – you should make it a practice to keep complete records that document the life of your project or campaign. Because you know in advance that you will be required to provide a write-up that describes the Research, Planning, Execution, and Evaluation, you can create file folders (online or those actual cardboard thingees) that organize what you will need MONTHS before you actually need to construct your entry. In the middle of your campaign, if you notice that certain folders remain empty, it should serve as a prompt to either A) do more work in that area or, if the work has been done, B) save your work in the folders for award entry use.
IT’S ABOUT GOOD STORYTELLING
Most of us can feel in our gut when we’ve done something really special. Not all of us can tell that story to strangers a thousand miles away in a manner that will earn Silver, Gold or Best of Show. As professional storytellers we need to know how to educate and influence our “publics” to help our clients and employers achieve their objectives. We need to approach our award entries in the same manner: we are telling the story about our project or campaign in a way that will earn the support (and positive reception) of PRoof Judges. And PRoof provides the titles for the four chapters of your story: Research, Planning, Execution and Evaluation.
There usually is a back story to a project or campaign, which typically includes an organization’s “problem” requiring a “PR solution.” For instance, a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company might be launching a new product for which it needs to build a market. Or, a non-profit is launching an event as its new primary fund-raiser and needs to get the word out and deliver an experience that generates the expected results. The “problem” stories help lay out your organization’s situation so that the judges can review the quality of the next four “chapters” of your award entry story in context.
Chapter 1 – Research
This section demonstrates to the judges that you obtained all the data and info you possibly could to provide an accurate analysis of the “problem” situation. PR professionals won’t know where to begin if they don’t have a clear understanding of the problem they are attempting to resolve.
In the best of all worlds, you will conduct formal primary research to help you better understand your target public’s awareness and understanding, giving you a very precise baseline to work with. (Formal is research that results in scientifically representative samples; primary indicates research conducted by/for your organization). Informal and secondary research are completely satisfactory and will help demonstrate that you understand all angles of the problem you are attempting to resolve.
Include as backup documentation: audience survey results ? anecdotal evidence ? internal data ? third-party surveys ? industry best practices ? interview results ?brochures or information related to products/programs
Chapter 2 – Planning
In the intro you shared the “problem” and in Chapter 1 you elaborated on the situation based on research conducted. In this chapter you *finally* share the “PR Solution” that was proposed. A motto used by the Better Business Bureau is “Say what you do, and do what you say.” In the Planning section, the PR professional “Says what they will do.” See Chapter 3 for the second part.
To the judges, this section demonstrates the good thinking that goes into a proposed solution. For the purposes of the award entry, you need to share the strategy, key tactical components, targeted audience(s), and budget. Above all, you need to share your clearly stated, measurable objective. The name of these awards, after all, is PRoof. It’s hard to prove PR’s effectiveness without determining your starting point and providing a “desired future state.”
Include as backup documentation: plans with proposed budget and objectives
Chapter 3 – Execution
In this chapter you share what actually happened. This is pure journalism in short form. You said what you would do in Chapter 2. Now tell us what you actually did. You need to share how much time, money and effort was invested in the campaign (important to ascertain ROI). This chapter also is the place to describe unforeseen challenges that were faced and how they were dealt with.
Include as backup documentation: work product ? news releases ? articles ? photos of event(s) ? print pieces ? videos ? supporting advertisements
Chapter 4 – Evaluation
This is where you PRove your work was successful. This is not a beauty contest; PR is about saying what you will do and then doing what you said. So, how much did you move the needle; did you achieve/exceed the stated objective? Were there additional benefits to the organization that weren’t even planned? Were there failures that were helpful as “lessons learned” for the organization going forward?
This is the final chapter of your story, and we know there’s a happy ending or else you would not be creating an award entry. Tell us why this is a winning entry, based on your PRoof.
Include as backup documentation: describe method(s) of evaluation ? share results of follow-up research ? number of placements ? impact on organization ? plans to continue ? the degree to which you met and/or exceeded stated objectives
Penn State University President Graham Spanier doubled down on PSU’s reputation gamble — and lost.
I’ve written before about the necessity for organizations to practice Honest, Open and Transparent Communications (HOT Comms). It comes to mind again as we witness another allegation of leaders concealing the truth related to the child-abuse charges against former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
In this case, former Penn State president Graham Spanier has been charged with concealing child abuse. I’m sure Spanier was thinking that keeping the public and his own board of trustees in the dark about allegations against Sandusky a decade ago would preserve his university’s reputation (and ability to capture donor dollars, ticket sales and student enrollment). In fact, it did the opposite. By hiding facts from the light of day, Spanier threw his university’s reputation onto the craps table alongside Sandusky’s.
The public would have understood and forgiven PSU had the truth come out because of the university’s actions, not despite them. There are legions of PSU faithful who continue to support the university even now; many more would be on the administration’s side had it acted with integrity and practiced HOT Comms.
With HOT Comms, it is important to remember that people see through b.s., so obfuscating with unclear language and “spin” is never a good option when communicating about an issue. Attempting to conceal it altogether isn’t a good idea, either, because eventually all “secrets” become known in this age of hyper-connectivity. Sharing information — good or bad — in a consistent, straightforward manner builds trust on the part of an organization’s key audiences.
Deliberately delaying the sharing of a “truth” or even an “allegation” basically tells people, when they find out (and they will) that you are dishonest and will place others at potential risk for monetary gain. Spanier’s concern for PSU’s reputation was about donor dollars, football ticket sales and enrollment numbers, plain and simple. Negative news might impact any of those categories by as little as 5%, costing PSU millions of dollars. But only for the short-term.
Penn State failed on many levels. It concealed damaging information and practiced numerous delaying strategies. The world would have forgiven the university quickly had it acted promptly and honestly when issues first came to light. By doubling down and throwing their hat in with Sandusky, Spanier and other PSU administrators took a big gamble and lost.
Pro sports leagues are shooting themselves in the foot … er, feet … and their reputations will suffer as a result.
Last night I watched two Keystone Kops (aka NFL Replacement Refs) signal two separate interpretations of the final play of a game, with the final outcome being the wrong call winning out and the wrong team winning the game.
Not wrong because I’m a fan of one team or the other (I root for the Miami Dolphins, which is a whole different kind of wrong right now) but because it had chipped another chunk of credibility away from the one professional sports league that still had some.
Professional sports is in a reputation crisis. Team owners, represented by league officers, quibble with players and officials over pocket change. For instance, the NFL is arguing with its refs over salaries that lag behind other league officials as well as retirement benefits. The owners may be right in contending that NFL officials shouldn’t earn as much as an NHL ref or MLB ump because they officiate just 16-20 contests a year.
Bringing in DIII refs to coach in the NFL, however, is ludicrous. By the way, who would blame DI or DII football refs for sticking with their current gigs rather than jeopardize their current income for possibly just one or two games at the highest level.
As my friend Elizabeth used to say, the NFL is tripping over dollars as they stoop to pick up the pennies. Their reputation, after all, has a dollar figure attached to it, and it’s quickly becoming tarnished.
The NFL’s brand is about a quality experience for the fans, including the best coaches, the best players, the best stadiums, and all the team paraphernalia a heart could desire. It is not about two zebras disagreeing on a call, a replay ref unable to overturn a wrong call and every person watching the game knowing that the wrong team won but unable to reverse the results.
The NHL, meanwhile, is in its fourth player lockout in 20 years, demonstrating that some people never learn. Each of the previous lockouts resulted in reduced fan interest (which equals lost revenues for team owners and players). Perhaps the NHL and NHLPA will pull this one out of the fire before too much damage is done, but it sounds like many are ready to dig in for the long haul (with many players already signed to play for European teams this year).
Major League Baseball has been rocked by doping, bad umpire calls and inflated egos for years. The sport lost me years ago when it failed to deliver a consistent level of parity across the league (something the NHL and NFL actually did achieve), allowing small-market teams to continue struggling for the Yankees’ leftovers.
The NBA, meanwhile, is a collection of over-inflated egos and salary cap rules that allow certain big-city markets to form and re-form all-star teams in big city markets while the hinterlands can only hope they can naturally grow their talent into a contender once every generation.
Individual athletes — think Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong or Lebron James — have had their own reputation crises the past few years. We expect individuals to be flawed and make the kinds of mistakes these guys did (hurting their own careers, legacies and marketability). One would hope that the collective wisdom of many smart people, including many high-priced consultants of every ilk, would come up with better solutions than the ones we have seen so far from professional sports leagues in North America.
Advice for PR students as they work toward launching careers. Good for all students, actually.
1. Write. Your PR career is going to involve lots of writing, so you had better get used to it. Yes, you will need to know how to write a good press release, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to PR writing. You’ll need to write up reports, white papers and memos. You will need to communicate frequently with many different people via email (see below). You will need to prepare backgrounders, talking points and scripts for executives. You will need to write good web copy. You likely will be involved in social media writing, which often can be the toughest assignment of all – getting a succinct, relevant message out in just 140 characters isn’t easy!
2. Work (often for free). If you expect to get a job right out of college so you can pay your loans, you will need to do a couple of internships before graduation. The job market has never been more competitive, so getting a head start has never been more necessary. Getting a paid internship (yes, they do exist) that will actually some income while you’re a senior probably will require you to have completed one or two lesser internships first. That means you need to get started on internships the summer following your sophomore year. It doesn’t have to be much. It might be as simple as providing some volunteer PR services for a non-profit in your hometown. Maybe it’s writing up and executing a PR plan for a small business (you must know somebody who owns their own business … if not, your parents will).
3. Socialize. You are about to enter a profession where you are expected to “relate” to key “publics” and where you will be expected to advocate for a client or employer. Get a head start by relating to some key publics on behalf of your most important client – you! If you want a job after college, you should start reaching out and creating relationships with potential employers. Start following professionals on Twitter. Read blogs written by professionals and offer comments. Attend meetings held by your local PRSA or IABC chapter and make it a goal to meet and talk to two professionals. After you have been at it awhile, you might set a new goal to talk to four professionals you’ve met at previous meetings.
4. Grow up (aka “Be professional”). How you dress, how you communicate, how you present yourself to the world are all important as you embark on your career path. Your social media accounts reflect who you are, so be sure that prospective employers will like what they see!
5. Be ethical. First of all, you should be a member of PRSSA as a student and PRSA as a PR professional. It provides ongoing networking and development opportunities. It also provides you the resources to better understand what is and what is not ethical in the professional practice of public relations. You WILL be placed in situations during your career where clients or employers ask you to do something unethical. Don’t do it. You can always get a new job, but it’s very difficult to repair a bad reputation.
6. Be authentic. Be the real you and don’t fake it. Over time, if you’re just faking it, you won’t be happy and it will show in your work. Also, if the “real you” is mean and conniving, I’d rather you get that out there right away so you get fired before you work your way into positions of authority. But for most of you, the real you isn’t bad, it’s just different … and it’s our differences that make us more marketable and help us land in the place we were meant to be.
7. Put in the extra effort. People that count the minutes before they will bolt for the door because of a 9-to-5 attitude will be treated as a commodity resource rather than a strategic resource. Always demonstrate to your bosses that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done right … even if that means you miss happy hour. In the long run, it will pay off.
8. Achieve balance. Putting in the extra effort at your job can be good, but making your whole life about work is not so great. Without life balance, you will eventually burn out. Work may provide some happy moments and boost your self-esteem, but it also will let you down and make you feel hollow. Make sure there’s something more important in your life than your job (faith, family, friends, a cause) and devote as much attention to that as you do for clients who won’t be around forever.
9. Be positive. Approach every day with a positive, can-do attitude and don’t get sucked into the office politics and griping with co-workers by the coffee machine. You don’t have to be where you are … you can always find another place to work. So devote your efforts to understanding others and doing all you can to make where you’re at the best place it can be.
10. Love. Do what you love, and love what you do. If you find yourself detesting the kinds of things you’re required to do day after day, you’re in the wrong career (or with the wrong employer). Better to change tracks early while you still can!
Writing’s important to PR, but empathy comes first
A couple times each semester I have the opportunity to talk to students. At Davenport, GVSU, Ferris, Calvin … typically in PR or marketing classes or to PRSSA groups. When I speak with PR students I am usually asked the all-important question: “What is the most important skill for the PR professional?”
Early on in my career I would not have hesitated and simply blurted out “writing.” I still believe solid writing is a non-negotiable skill all PR pros must have. This especially holds true for those who focus on media relations, trying to share their organization’s important messages through the filter of the news media. Writers at traditional newspapers and magazines can be quite scornful of “flacks” who can’t write up to their level. Even for new media proponents, good writing is necessary to build and hold an audience. Plus, good bloggers have to overcome writer’s block and post often or risk losing their following.
Today, however, I believe there’s a skill that’s even more important than writing to the successful PR pro — the ability to empathize. Let’s face it, in PR we have many “publics” we need to understand and address. It’s easy when you’re talking to audiences who think and act just like you do. Unfortunately, 99.9 percent of all PR pros must at times talk to people who aren’t exactly like them. Which means you need to be able to empathize.
It requires you to understand your audience and know their wants and needs. It requires you to do the research and maybe conduct some interviews. The better you understand your audience, the better you will be able to communicate with them. Makes sense, right?
So, if there’s an important initiative at Davenport University that we need to share with others, I have to understand the needs of our key audiences, including our students, our faculty and staff, our alumni, our donors, community leaders and legislators, prospective students and their influencers (i.e., parents and counselors), our board of trustees and … well, I’m sure there are others! Each have a different perspective on whatever our news item might be, which means we have to tweak our message by audience. One message does not work for all audiences.
So, it starts with empathy. But it still ends up with writing. And along the way, you had better be good at research and planning. Oh, and if you have solid design sensibilities and are handy with a camera, you’re golden!
Wrapped up my first fiscal year at Davenport University.
Although I haven’t been at Davenport University for a full year yet, we just closed the books on our fiscal year last week. And what a year it was!
I started the day after Labor Day, and it wasn’t long before some serious labor was going on within Davenport’s University Relations & Communications group! First, the new Exec. Director of Marketing, Steve Landrum, and I collaborated on new branding for the University, resulting in a new look, feel and key messaging, summed up with the new tagline “Get where the world is going.”
Simultaneously, we co-led the creation of Davenport’s new website with the head of IT, Brian Miller. This project, already in the works when we started, involved creation of an outcome-focused design to lead prospective students to the information they need to make the decision to join Davenport. Launched last week, the site is totally on-brand and really does a great job of positioning the University as the place to go for business, technology and health.
After creation of the brand, Steve’s efforts were devoted to launching it via DU’s advertising, while I set about the task of rebranding all University communication vehicles. We began with internal electronic newsletters for students and staff, with outstanding results. With new branding and new functionality, the blog-style newsletters achieved 350% and 250% traffic increases, respectively. We then rebranded the President’s newsletter to key stakeholder audiences, created a new brochure sharing the University’s Vision 2015, and rebranded the alumni magazine, DU Review.
Of course, along the way we needed to support various University initiatives, including the opening of its new Sneden Center, the new Downtown Center for graduate studies, announcements about campus changes in markets across the state of Michigan, events like Hot New Year’s Eve in downtown GR, Commencement and the Excellence in Business Award Gala. PR and Social Media efforts were ongoing, of course, and there is always the need to create new plan and report on everything we’re working on.
That pretty much sums up how I “got where the world is going” this past year. I’m looking forward to what the New (Fiscal) Year has to bring!