How PR Pros Can Support Journalism In Trump Era

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In the new Trump era, it is more important than ever for PR professionals to support journalists and a free media.

As PR professionals, it’s in our self-interest to ensure that we have a free and democratic media. As U.S. citizens and members of this nation, it is in our self-interest to ensure that we have a free and democratic media.

Anti-media rhetoric is filling the mouths of talking heads – these so-called “surrogates,” many of whom are inexplicably and rather ironically paid by news outlets to spew rhetoric – and our very own president-elect. The public has grown increasingly hostile toward media. The media themselves don’t often help their cause. But don’t be fooled – the media is never more critical than during regimes like the president-elect’s.

Media absolutely must be held accountable when they make missteps and many of them treat ethics loose and fast. With a lack of training combined with the dangerously alarming speed that reporters must churn out non-fact checked articles, journalism itself has lost a lot of credibility. Despite that, it is not only unfair to malign all of media but detrimental to America’s health as a democracy to do so.

But this isn’t a post about the value of media – we don’t need to emphasize their importance. This is a call to arms to fellow PR professionals to ensure that we’re helping, not harming, the progress of this country. There are many things that PR professionals can do to contribute to a better media landscape, including:

Don’t work with dictators, liars, deceivers and corporations that do very bad things. It’s easy, just say no. You don’t need the business, it should be more important for you to sleep at night. Representing violators of human rights, dictators, oppressive government regimes and outright criminals is bad for business and bad for life. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Educate your clients on why it’s important to be transparent and honest, and why it’s better business. The public values honesty. Brands that have made mistakes that they’ve owned up to have often been forgiven. It’s the brands that continue to lie and obfuscate who never regain the public’s trust.

Fact check your own statements and reports that clients provide to you. Yes, you work for your client, but you also have a set of ethics. If something doesn’t sound right, take the time to research something to make sure you’re not disseminating lies. 

Support journalists by not lying or deceiving them. Share positive articles and don’t normalize behavior like threatening to kick journalists out of news conferences because they’re doing their job.

Ensure that you’re promoting factual news and striking down propaganda and click-bait. Work to ensure that platforms like Facebook and Twitter not populate these fake news links, and debunk any false reports and articles that do arise. As PR pros, media monitoring is an integral part of our job. We see the news before many others, so make sure you’re not spreading unverified stories and let others be aware of ones that are.

Give back and provide pro bono resources for organizations. Like Meryl Streep implored, the Committee to Protect Journalists is one that deserves your support. The Center for Investigative Reporting has also been doing standout work. Pick your passion and go.

Above all, we need to work with journalists to make sure that all of our voices are heard – every citizen, not just those who pay the most money. As public relations professionals, our obligation is to the public, first and foremost. We have a civic duty to use our skills to disseminate stories that are honest, truthful and provide value to the public that we all serve as citizens of this great nation.

By Katy L.

How PR Has Lost Control Of Its Own Brand

As PR pros, the first thing that we did when we sit down with clients is discuss their brand. Who are you? What do you do? Who do you do it for? – That endless barrage of “W” questions. We constantly tell our clients to brand themselves, stick with their key messages to reinforce their branding, and to do so strongly, before their customers do and they lose control of their own brand.

 

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In recent weeks, the New York state’s Joint Ethics Commission has been attempting to redefine PR as lobbying. For most PR professionals, this is more than a head-scratching move; it’s one that elicits anger and righteous indignation. PR is not lobbying, plain and simple. Or is it?

 

PR has lost control of its own brand, due to many factors: the massive shift in the industry (thanks, social media!), struggle with advertising over who owns what, and a lack of clear, strong leadership both within internal industry organizations and powerful corporate agencies.

 

As a profession, PR was never well defined in the first place. We knew we weren’t advertising, but now, even those lines have blurred significantly as plenty of PR firms handle social media advertising for their clients (us included). Amongst the turmoil and existential crisis within the industry, the hand-wringing and attempts to justify one’s profession (and existence?), PR professionals have lost sight of one of the most critical rules of the trade: always have strong branding.

 

The fact that PR professionals are misinterpreted and routinely described as muckrackers, spin doctors, publicists, marketers, lobbyists, all compounds to actions like the NY Joint Ethics Commissions attempt to put a label on PR, one that is being defined by an outside body that has little respect for the profession (don’t get me wrong, PR hasn’t done a good job of ensuring respect).

 

Ultimately, the NY Joint Ethics Commission’s measure to redefine PR into something that it isn’t is exactly what happens when you don’t define your brand for yourself.

 

 

 

Truth In PR

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Recently, brain game company Lumosity was slapped with a hefty $2M fine by the FTC. The reason? FTC claimed that Lumosity’s brain training ads are misleading and false advertising. The language used in Lumosity’s ads were the clear culprit. Specifically, touting medical/health benefits without backing up the claims with science and data naturally irked the FTC.

Other companies have faced similar accusations of glitzy marketing glossing over faulty science, including Hampton Creek, Theranos and even shoe brand Sketchers. The case against Lumosity highlights truth in advertising and PR.

Often, PR language imitates marketing/advertising language (for brand consistency). When we repeat these claims that turn out to be false and/or exaggerated, we’re perpetuating bad practices. Food and health brands have to be particularly sensitive to the language being used, but this scrutiny should be applied across all markets.

Many PR pros see little to no problem with repeating misleading claims in email pitches to reporters. However, making grandiose claims to a journalist in an email pitch is just as harmful as splashing said claim across a gigantic billboard. Journalists pick the language up, potentially repeat it, or more importantly, they call you out on it (something more reporters should do, frankly).

If you’re using PR language like “first to market,” “only one of its kind,” and more critically, “improves your brain memory,” you better have the data and/or science to back these claims up. Using this language in PR is just as dangerous as using it across advertising channels. There might not be an FTC oversight but you’ll create more harm for your client or brand than you will interest. And it’s just frankly wrong.

Don’t Be Fooled by the YouTube Views

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In an industry based solely on getting a message out to people, new technology has turned the PR world upside down and which way out. With the ever-growing social media presence in PR, things are not as simple as they once were, and we’re not just talking about the increased use of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram among PR professionals and brands themselves.

Unlike the advertising business, where attention is bought, PR is the act of getting earned media attention, but the “earned” part is suddenly not so black and white. If you see a Youtube video with thousands of views, you would immediately think that this video is getting attention for a reason. Maybe it’s awesome, maybe it’s hilarious, maybe it has cats, or maybe someone paid for view counts.

Indeed, places like Swenzy and GigaViews allow people to buy YouTube viewers, instantly boosting their videos. Other popular sites to do so include socialsbox.com and viewsaccelerator.com. The same can be said for Instagram. With the use of Instaliker, LikeBooster and +Like, Instagram users can simply buy both followers and likes, which boosts their pictures and in turn, their credibility. It’s time for the general public to recognize all the tricks and shortcuts that are going on.

In an industry that is supposed to help individuals, causes and companies gain attention, is this unethical? Is boosting your viewership through money turning PR into nothing more than another form of advertising? Many have argued that buying up video views or followers is deceitful and unethical. PR is supposed to be strategic and tactical, but these services that allow people to buy attention could become a detriment to the industry.

Despite the many legitimate critics and the many bad PR professionals who saddle the profession with a negative reputation, PR is supposed to be authentic and truthful (don’t laugh, we really believe this). However, one could also argue that it’s no longer about having great content when no one can view it in the first place without paying to play. With Facebook charging brands for posts to be seen by their fans, and YouTube being nearly impossible to grow organically (without the addition of cats, of course), someone has to game an already gamed system.

So don’t look at a video’s view count or an Instagram account’s astronomical number of followers, look at engagement and how many people are sharing that content, and how many people are talking about it. Nowadays, that seems to be the only true barometer of “viral” success.

By Jacquelyn Matter

Startup Tips From a Startup PR Firm

We at Change Communications love nothing more than working with startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses. These risk-takers are fearless, exciting and visionary, and we’re proud to consider ourselves a startup PR firm that specializes in startups. Based on our experience, we’ve put together a few tips for anyone thinking of growing a startup or small business. Go forth and conquer!

Reach out to mentors who will provide you value, not just connections. There are plenty of mentors out there who aren’t names you’d see splashed all over TechCrunch but who can give you the same guidance and more attention than busier, flashier mentors. Don’t just seek out all-stars but look for business leaders who genuinely believe in your business and will do more for you than get you an invite to the latest party.

Your most important priority is your Product. Your product is your #1. Nothing else matters. Yes, marketing is important, and there are a lot of products out there that have had their uselessness overshadowed by smart, creative marketing and PR. But all of that smart, creative marketing and PR will yield you ZERO results if your product sucks and your customers, and the media, will figure that out quickly.

Don’t be afraid to do it better. You don’t always have to be first-to-market (in fact, it can sometimes hurt you). If you’ve seen a company that has a product/service that you like but you have a million issues with it and think you have a better idea, do it.That being said, do NOT be a leech and copycat that steals ideas. There’s a big difference between creating a brand new web browser with features no one has seen before because Firefox, Chrome and IE aren’t doing it for you, and blatantly ripping off an existing idea. If you do that, you’re dishonest not only to your brand but to yourself. We don’t care how much money you’ll make, you won’t sleep well at night and everyone will know you’re a fraud and thief.

It’s all about the talent. If you’re the founder(s), don’t let your ego hang you up. Hire people more talented than you, who have skills you don’t. And give them what they need to stay motivated. We’ve witnessed lots of boardroom blowups that stemmed from pure ego and relationships go haywire simply because someone wasn’t happy with someone else’s title. Keep a healthy, talented team, shine the spotlight on them and nurture good people.

Pivot early. This is the most critical part for startups. At a point in your growth, you’ll find yourself at a crossroads. Either you’re about to get really big or your business is faltering and you need to start fixing what’s not working. We’ve worked with a few startups who have smartly pivoted and were willing to embrace the change. There are many startups who have done so and reaped the benefits. Fab.com is the most recognizable example of an excellent reset. We’re not saying that these shifts always work — we all know that for every Fab.com, there are hundreds of startups who pivoted and failed. So it’s a strenuous, agonizing decision that shouldn’t be treated lightly but it’s one to always consider. You also can’t pivot every single time something goes awry with your business. It’s almost a one-and-done move, for most.

Don’t party like it’s 1999. For the love of Michael Arrington, stop blowing your funding on unnecessarily expensive office space and meaningless parties that do nothing but stroke your ego and prove to attendees that you can’t do the robot. You’ll be stunned at how quickly you can blow through that $2m seed funding and how difficult it will be to secure more funding once VCs and investors discover how lavish you are. Spend that money on hiring talent, improving your product/service and, when the time’s right, hiring PR/marketing help. Which brings us to our next point.

Don’t get PR too early. Now, we’ll be the first to go on and on about the importance of PR. We truly believe in its value and we’ve seen first-hand how much it has helped companies, especially startups. If you’re a startup seeking PR, you’re smart! Good decision. However, be careful not to secure PR too early. Some companies like to get PR input on whether they can “sell” the product during the development stage, and while that’s important, it detracts from your product development. Focus on the best product you can make and then find the right PR firm (oh, HAI!) or professional who believes in it, too.

Surround yourself with skeptics. Don’t surround yourself with yes-men and people who tell you how brilliant you and your product are. Surround yourself with people willing to be the devil’s advocate and who question your tactics. It will help you immeasurably.

Don’t be evil. Can we add this one? It’s really important and perhaps has become a bit of a punchline now. But seriously, don’t be evil.

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