Hat Man

I've always been a hat man. Panama hats, fedoras, baseball hats, cowboy hats, I like them all. But these days it seems like everyone is wearing a lot of hats, especially PR pros.

That was the topic of conversation at the Colorado Healthcare Communicators program this week. As the media landscape shrinks due to mergers, layoffs and closures, journalists are becoming scarce. So to get our clients' stories told, we have to play the role of journalists. We have to be writers, editors, producers, reporters and photographers. We have to produce the stories and feed them to the media in a format they can use in print, on the air, or online.

Not long ago, the media would have turned up their nose at our VNR. Now they are practically begging us to send them video. The good news about this trend is we have a lot more control over the story. Now we can actually create it instead of wondering if our messages will be diluted, misconstrued or edited out altogether, or if the story will paint our clients in a negative light. We can make sure our clients say something clever, compassionate or profound, and that they always look like an expert. Then we can take the story and put it on our own video channel. Just like an ad.

In some ways, that is also the bad news. Bad because we are losing a level of journalistic integrity that allows the public to trust that the source of the news is credible, honest and objective. We can debate about whether the news media has already lost that claim, but if PR pros can now deliver not just the idea for the story but the actual finished product, what's to prevent us from only telling one-sided stories that always paint a positive picture? Nothing, really, except our own professional code of ethics, which we can choose to abide by or ignore.

The real question is, if PR is evolving into citizen journalism, do citizen journalists have an obligation to adhere to the same ethical standards as professional journalists? Do citizen journalists have an obligation to practice journalistic integrity? The answer is, it depends. And the way you feel about that depends on how you answered.

Like every complicated issue, there are two ways of looking at it. Which is why we as a profession are so conflicted. By day I'm a PR pro. By night I'm a citizen journalist. What can I say? It's my fate. It's my curse. I'm hat man.

Bookmark and Share


The Dumb and the Useless

Like an episode of the classic soap opera, The Young and Restless, which a friend of mine aptly dubbed The Dumb and the Useless, I am becoming a little annoyed with the crusading social media evangelists who gleefully dance on the graves of newspapers and PR firms while busily texting and tweeting people they've never met about every inane thought and intimate detail of their apparently really cool and exciting lives.

I admit it, watching a room full of people at a conference tapping away on their iPhones and Blackberries instead of giving the speaker the courtesy of listening seems to me to be rude and obnoxious, not hip and trendy. If never being present anywhere is the future, let me off at the next stop.

And another thing, I don't care what you had for breakfast or when you are going to the gym or how bored you are at work. Keep it to yourself. Tell me something I don't know, share your opinion about something important, or let me know about an event or cause or organization I might be interested in, and you might get my attention. Otherwise you are just wasting my time.

Look, I get it. It's new, it's evolving, it's your world and you love it. But please try and explain it to me in a way that doesn't sound like anyone who has a different opinion about it or doesn't quite see it the way you do is a total moron just living in the past and hanging on for dear life against the rising tide of global change. Dig (with one g) this: We are all members of the same family and there is room here for all of us.

Social media has its place but so does traditional journalism. Public relations is evolving and it should evolve, but it is still about building relationships with groups you need to communicate with and determining what you want to tell them. Sometimes the best way to build those relationships is over the phone, or even (gulp) being present enough to meet someone face to face. Imagine the possibilities.

I'll make you a deal. I'll listen and learn from you if you will be present long enough to listen to me. Or as Dylan said, "I'll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours."

Bookmark and Share


It's about the band

The Dead came to Denver this month on their first tour in years, and the party was on. Non-Deadheads may wonder what the big deal is about a band that's been around for 45 years and has lost a few members along the way, including its spiritual leader, Jerry Garcia. But as any Deadhead can tell you, what makes the band special is their ability to play as a team.

Like jazz musicians, they seem to telepathically communicate and instinctively understand what the other band members are going to do next. On stage, everyone is improvising. With few words and minimal body language, they can play long sets of complex songs, shifting gears seamlessly as one cohesive unit. No set or solo or concert is exactly the same from one night to the next. The fans have their favorites but the band has no stars. The difference between the Dead and most other rock bands is that the Dead is about the band, not the players.

So what is it that creates teamwork and how can you instill that attitude in your organization? In sports it's called chemistry. Winning teams have chemistry and losing teams need it. But do winning teams have natural chemistry or do they create an environment that encourages it? Does team chemistry require a charismatic leader to set the right example, or can a group of players with a common goal create their own chemistry?

Not to be Zen about it, but the answer to those questions is yes. Teamwork is something everyone can appreciate but it is difficult to accomplish. Each leader and each organization is capable of creating it, but many are not willing to devote the time or make the commitment. And sometimes it just happens.

Take the mysterious case of the Denver Nuggets. Maybe some of the Dead's attitude rubbed off on them, because the notoriously me first Nuggets are suddenly playing the type of team first game that NBA coaches dream about. They are even talking championship. The lesson here is, if the Nuggets can play as a team, anyone can. It takes a major commitment but the rewards are worth the effort. Once everyone buys into the concept, the results will come quickly.

There is no specific roadmap to teamwork, but the path becomes illuminated once an organization is open to following it. To quote the Dead, "that path is for your steps alone." Ramble on easy.

Bookmark and Share


When a pig flies

Swine flu is making us sick. Not the virus, just the overwhelming media frenzy that is scaring the pants off everyone. It would be one thing if pigs were actually flying, but the reality is that so far, this appears to be a new but milder strain of the seasonal influenza virus, which causes 36,000 deaths every year in the U.S. To put that number in perspective, to date we've seen 26 deaths in Mexico and only 35 of the 286 confirmed cases in the U.S. have resulted in hospitalization. Not exactly cause for widespread panic.

It seems that what we have here is a failure to communicate, or at least a failure to coordinate clear, consistent and factual messages. The media, seeing a great opportunity to jump to conclusions, sensationalizes the flu hoping for news of deaths or at least a few school closings and people on airplanes in surgical masks. Public health officials are sending mixed messages, one day warning us about a scary pandemic and conjuring images of the Black Plague, and the next day reassuring us that it is not as bad as we thought. One day we should not get on a plane and the next day we should not overreact. One day it's off with the pigs' heads and the next day it's not even called swine flu anymore.

No wonder we are all confused. It's situations like this that make PR people crazy. We'd like to sit everyone down, have them all take a deep breath, find out exactly what the facts are and then prepare a few clear consistent messages for a few key spokespeople so that each expert speaks to their area of expertise in one collective, level-headed voice.

When a crisis happens it breeds chaos. It is natural for people to speak before they know the facts or to panic if there is too much uncertainty. Rumors can spread and the damage can grow worse by the minute. But the only way to put out the fire is to be deliberate, disciplined and organized. Follow the plan and stick to the rules. Be compassionate. Do not speculate. Maintain your composure. Communicate clearly, consistently, factually and transparently.

No doubt, public health officials, media and PR pros will learn a lot from this crisis once it finally resolves. We will look back and examine what we did right and what went terribly wrong. It will be a good crisis communications case study. But for now we must endure weeks and months of rumor, speculation and recrimination, while the media camps out at schools and hospitals, following every parent with a sick child, hoping for some drama.

Bookmark and Share

Copyright © 2011 Denver Public Relations: Pushkin PR All rights reserved.
Wp Theme by Templatesnext . Blogger Template by Anshul