Monday, June 28, 2010

Best LA PR pay for it

What price for education?

I've heard a few comments about non-member price for the PRSA/Los Angeles July 13 event.

So, let's do the drill. What else would you fork over $75 and what is the return?

A nice dinner and bottle of wine. Sure. That's in the "relaxing" or "I deserve this" category. Or, "It's been a while since I got out of the house with my husband/wife/partner" justification. If you are lucky, you get two hours of being away from the kids and "America's Got Talent."

That comes out to $37.50 an hour.

The July 13 event the Millennium Biltmore will come out to $25 an hour, if you show up at the start of reception and stay till the end.

What price for networking?

The July 13 event will be one of the biggest gatherings of public relations, public affairs and public information officers in Southern California. We're expecting 300.

In Los Angeles, it would take you at least six months of driving, phone calls and other events to connect with all the folks you'll see in one setting. Let's say you spend 2 hours a week driving to and attending social functions and chatting with colleagues (online counts). That's probably 52 hours in six months. Calculate your hourly rate...starting now.

Treat your client.

A consistent theme for successful client relationships is to "give back." My dad had Dodger season tickets and used them extensively to treat his clients. The results were obvious. Clients stuck with him for a long time because the felt they had a relationship with my father's business, rather than one focused on billings.

Good seats at Dodger stadium are $75, and you still must pay for parking and food. And while it's a nice little one-on-one time with a client, the "education" element is not there. Really, how do you translate a routine fly ball into a tangible communications lesson?!

A relationship builder is July 13, where presidential politics and behind-the-scenes maneuvering is told in stunning detail. I'm going to remember this one better than how many times Manny reached base safely.

It's all about the value, the opportunity and the education.

When you consider the return on this investment (client happiness and a learning experience), the fewer times you will be on our freeways (to meet a colleague) and a very nice setting, the price is not an obstacle.

Seriously, what else are you going to do with that $75? And, get some exclusive, hopefully educational, information.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

PR wire mishap

It happened again. A fake news release went out. This time, the victim was General Mills. As reported in today's The Wall Street Journal, the fake release erroneously said President Obama was investigating the cereal maker's supply chain.

Although PR Newswire acted quickly to instruct journalists to disregard the fake release and said it was sent out by an "unauthorized user," the incident is another reminder that hackers and pranksters still operate and are waiting to pounce or pull a fast one.

The stakes are huge. Market share can decline. Reputation is temporarily affected, requiring huge amounts of time and money to calm nervous investors and stakeholders. See here for an example of stock decline when a fake release went out.

Attacks can occur in many forms, but "fake news" seems to be a route of choice. And, despite the best controls added after each one, loopholes are found and folks just let their guard down. We like to think ALL news outlets verify information sent to them, but it doesn't happen. Rumors run rampant online, particularly with blogs.

Public relations pros are aware of these potential attacks. Instant monitoring services that send alerts to your cell phone are a great tool to "stay on top" of breaking news about a client, industry or issue.

Interestingly, this fake release went out after midnight, possibly on the hunch that those who may be monitoring the news would be asleep.

However, most international companies are generally prepared 24/7 with teams and individuals around the world under clear instruction to notify superiors the second they hear or suspect trouble. If your company doesn't have this fundamental crisis communication system in place, the General Mills incident provides a nice poke to get going.

Also, don't rely entirely on technology, such as alert systems that scan the Internet for key words. A "human" backup system is always a good bet, especially if a rumor reaches someone via a phone call or, gasp, in person.

So, here is the BW item. (Business Wire was either quick to issue a "security" response or just lucky a message to its members was already in the works.) Interestingly, there is no message on PR Newswire's site, as of this morning.

A Message From Business Wire CEO Cathy Baron Tamraz

June 2010

Dear IR professional:

We are aware that the competition for your business has never been greater, and that some companies may be confused by the cacophony of conflicting competitive claims.

To help you navigate through this minefield of misinformation, Business Wire would like to focus on the two most important reasons clients use a newswire: disclosure and distribution.


Business Wire is all about full and fair disclosure. Our patented news delivery system, NX, ensures simultaneous, real-time distribution of material news to ALL market participants.

Further, our security, redundant technical systems and operational procedures are audited annually by world-class accounting firms in multiple jurisdictions, providing for 24/7/365 delivery. We are proud that our proven disclosure model continues to provide the greatest transparency possible, with equal access for institutional and individual investors alike - always using the latest web-based technologies.

Several competitors have recently launched do-it-yourself filing systems. We view this as a disaster waiting to happen. With nearly 200 editors in 21 newsrooms worldwide, we authenticate and validate our members, vet copy for accuracy and legitimacy and catch countless client errors, particularly on market-moving earnings releases.

The coding, keywords and meta-tagging (XHTML) that we add to each release are critically important in how copy is processed by advanced search engines, enterprise IT systems, algo traders and databases. These sophisticated systems filter and route copy based on complex criteria, providing for maximum release visibility, and conforming to the international standards of the IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council), a global consortium of major news and information services.

Disclosure is too important to leave on auto-pilot; there is no substitute for human intelligence in the handling of material news. With Business Wire, there is a complete audit trail for each news release - every step of the process has a permanent footprint that can be retrieved in the event of unusual stock activity, a stock halt, etc. These safeguards are of critical importance in the event of legal or regulatory review. Equally important, with Business Wire, every step of the disclosure process is handled in-house for confidentiality and quality control assurance; we won't outsource disclosure.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Young adventurers

An event can stir the imagination...and controversy. Being prepared for all angles is an essential component of public relations. Otherwise, the pitchforks are out.

When Abby Sunderland left the California coast for a solo, around-the-world sail, the 16-year-old was dispatched with mostly well wishes. Perhaps in a calculated way, Abby's parents chose to focus on her skills, the journey, the equipment and not dwell on the dangers. They probably knew there would be plenty of adults with questions and criticisms. Not much they could do about skeptics, they figured. They had the experience already with their son and probably expected the same with their daughter.

If anything is certain, no two events are the same.

Public relations professionals prepare for the worse, and conduct deep analyses of public sentiment. If handling a client or project where controversy is apparent, a key goal of our work is to ensure "our" side is heard and understood. It's not spin. Our jobs are to ensure facts and other points of view and perspective are considered. We know there are plenty of critics - educated and otherwise. News is generated from controversy. As a famous newscaster once said, "We don't report on the number of planes that take off and land safely."

So, the key is to anticipate controversy and how reporters and bloggers will cover the story.

From there, public relations professionals utilize their skills and experience to design and execute a plan that brings balance and fairness to the coverage, or, by other means, get our client's story "heard" by the public.

There are hundreds of case studies detailing how a solid public relations strategy and program helped bring balanced news coverage of a controversial subject. And, there are plenty of examples detailing either a failed or non-existent public relations program.

Perhaps the Abby Sunderland story will be a case study.

As Abby sailed out of sight from the cameras on Jan. 23, the criticism subsided. (Perhaps just as her parents anticipated). Other matters took our attention, like an oil spill. But when disaster struck this week and Abby's boat lost its mast in a fierce storm requiring a rescue, the lions were out for the kill.

Now, unlike their son's successful end to his around-the-world sail, Abby's parents were faced with the next-to-worst ending.

News coverage questioning the sanity of Abby's parents to "let" their daughter take this trip was brutal. In his lengthy Associated Press article, reporter John Rogers sought out a variety of experts to offer their insights and points of view. One sociologist said parents are pushing their kids too hard to excel, and questioned the maturity of any 16-year-old to handle a journey like Abby's. This is certainly the most prominent argument heard from parents and others criticizing Abby's parents.

So, what would have been a public relations strategy to manage this? Some key messages would have been nice for the dad. Not the "life in general is dangerous" or "no more than driving a car" ones. Those have only enabled the critics to build ranks and get louder.

Perhaps the strategy would have started last summer. Let a reporter go along for a sailing trip with Abby as she put her "Wild Eyes" to the test. Have an expert sailor join her to evaluate her skills. Perhaps have a sociologist or psychiatrist put her through some tests about her reasoning skills. Or, find an expert to discuss how children are growing up faster and many are handling tasks and challenges much tougher than previous generations. (Let's not forget that 16-year-olds have gone into battle, given birth, run families, etc.) The goal here would have been to show the world that Abby was not your typical 16-year-old.

Perhaps an additional strategy would have been to line up the "women's" support. The sexism is now very obvious - what was okay for Abby's brother, who also sailed around the world solo as a teenager - was not okay for her.

And, where were the supporters of adventure?

There is still time to bring balance to this story, but the Sunderland family will need to act fast. They have a few days before the "reunion" photo/event. They can line up the supporters. If not, the pitchforks won't be put away.