Monday, February 28, 2011

Publicists vs. public relations

Of all things.

Charlie Sheen's situation actually provides another great case study to help public relations professionals explain how our job is different from the duties of a publicist.

Today, Sheen's long-term publicist, Stan Rosenfield, quit. The story on ABC's website carries some pretty handy terminology that should help the mainstream media and the general public understand the differences.

It is clear that Stan, a very well respected publicist, has had his share of offering up "unique" defenses of his clients. You know, the kind of explanations that instantly draw a "yeah, right" response by the masses, yet remain effective because the "official word" helps deflect more attention or helps quiet the story.

Stan's efforts worked well for Charlie, because up to the last few weeks, the public was mostly sympathetic to Charlie. Even after Charlie nearly killed himself, allegedly strangled his wife, destroyed a hotel room, did enough drugs to wipe out a million lab mice and more. Even after all that, Charlie was not hated. So, Stan must have been doing something right.

So, before I give more props to his former publicist, the point is this: While public relations professionals are routinely called upon to defend reputations, the PR pros who follow codes of ethics do so without trying to "spin" the story. They advise clients on how to get out of a jam - and that usually means being apologetic and remorseful, to right the wrong, to admit guilt and to ask for the public's indulgence while we try to get past this difficult moment.

But it's tough to get our "difference" pointed out. We both - publicist and PR pro - are in daily contact with the same crowd: journalists. All they see is someone trying to "sell" them a story or "spin" a story.

It is difficult for PR pros to point across the field and say "See those people? They are publicists." As if we should also add the word "evil" before that job description, followed by: "We're not like them. We're better."

We can't do that. For one, our professional counsel and strategy usually tells clients not to deflect the attention and certainly not respond to a negative with a negative. Second, there are many good publicists who have the respect of journalists. The late Ronnie Chasen was noted for that.

So, how do we distinguish ourselves?

I know many good PR pros who would never accept a problem client. It's important to note that we certainly are great at crisis communication - because something "out of character" happened to a company. Yet, there are plenty of PR pros who drop clients with questionable backgrounds and character. Why? Because PR pros don't like to lie or hide truths and if a client's day-to-day operation and DNA gets into the red zone of deceit, we'll walk away.

PR pros continually advise clients that it's better to offer up the truth - sooner rather than later. A client will earn greater respect with the media, and the public, if they are upfront and honest. Problems go away sooner this way. If you try to hide something, it will be found out eventually and blow up to a worse problem.

We don't spin. (Keep reading a great blog on this call SPINSUCKS) Spin is a "daily" event. PR pros are more concerned with long-term reputations - and that's done by building trust and credibility, by reading and understanding the audience and making sure we communicate in terms they will understand and accept. Proven, proven, proven.

Like publicists, we also tell stories. There are a thousand stories to be told with a lot of competition within a very narrow space to get our story heard, and heard correctly. So, PR pros must know how to effectively navigate this landscape. To make sure our story "breaks out" from all the other noise and clutter.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

RIP Nancy Carr

Public relations pros should take note of this passing.

I did not know Nancy, but her reputation as a communications executive seems to be matched, or exceeded, by her heart and charitable nature.

Look at today's brief obituary, but more importantly, look at the comments from her friends.

I would hope all PR pros look at the importance of not only giving out of your pocketbook, but also out of your soul, as Nancy did to rescue cats.

And, of course, we still battle the "name game" - we are public relations professionals, not publicists.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Best Green Journalists?

Please provide comments (below) on your recommendation for journalists who cover green and sustainability issues very well.

We are holding a media breakfast in Los Angeles next month. We'd like to get insights from those who cover this area.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

PRSA Social Media Policy is out

PRSA members get an additional bonus today - a social media policy and toolkit.

This is one more example of PRSA taking a leadership role and providing true value to its members.

It will be interesting to see how many read this policy and begin adopting the principles with their own work and with their clients.

Did it miss anything? Your comments are appreciated. Yes, only PRSA members can view it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A tireless business advocate

Sad news to hear about the passing of Lee Harrington. Lee was a former client when he led the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.

Reports say he died while surfing near his home in Hollister. He was 64. Some nice words here from his successor.

Lee was one of the more focused business leaders I've met. He always had the bigger picture in mind, didn't suffer fools lightly and was looking at least two steps ahead of the rest of us. He did not contain his opinions when it mattered, which usually occurred when he needed to get leaders to move off a position to reach the best solution for the greatest benefit for the broadest audience. He was extremely well connected and in the difficult and thankless world of business and public policy, he was one of the rare ones to have leaders drop their party affiliations to realize what was really best for CA.

He also was an practical optimist, and let his smile and warm personality carry the day in the toughest of times.

After he left the LAEDC, he remained deeply focused on making Los Angeles and Southern California a better place for business - by leading the Southern California Leadership Council. While this org is focused on bringing big names together, he also made sure budding leaders were exposed to these "insider" meetings to see how it was done.

Lee, we'll miss you.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The power of Social Media - A reminder

When I began this blog post (check your watch), Volkswagen's "The Force" video had about 3.1 million views - IN JUST TWO DAYS. By the time you are reading this, the views could be....(you guess!). Probably not a record, but worth noting.

As was reported in Mashable, Volkswagen created this as a Super Bowl advertisement. We all know that companies gear up for the Super Bowl. They pay gobs of money because....a lot of people watch the Super Bowl.

However, about two years ago, companies began to test a "pre-release" of their Super Bowl advertisements. Sort of a: "Let's see what this social media buzz is about about" test.

I'm hoping to hear more about the strategy behind this early release on YouTube. The agency behind this, Deutsch, is certainly a killer at producing great TV ads. (Think: "Snapple," "DirectTV" and the California Milk ads with Cow auditions.) But I'm not sure it was their call to go viral early.

For now, all I can surmise is:

  • Put a cute kid in a Darth Vader costume, add a dose of very subtle vexation and pint-sized physical humor, all the while listening to a very familiar score and then close with child-like amazement and fulfillment. Add in about the best 60 seconds of editing I've seen in a TV ad in quite some time. (Did ILM have executive producing credits on this?)
  • Someone said: "This has GOT to go on YouTube, now." Any parent, especially moms, instantly fell in love with this poor kid, and his astonished "look" at the end. You can so read his mind, "Did I do that?" It came at a moment when the world was a bit crazy, so we needed a laugh. We posted this cute video on our Facebook pages, tweeted it and, boom, an overnight hit.
  • I'm sure about 5 percent of the listed views are repeats as co-workers and families tugging at sleeves, saying "Come over here, you've got to see this."
By far the hottest video on Volkswagen's YouTube page. Their other "teaser" Super Bowl ad is not even close.

I can tell you that I now like the Passat because of this ad. Seriously. They gave this car just the right about of "classy" look to be a "sale."

So, now what?

Is there a strategy to keep the momentum going?

I'm sure my fellow PR colleagues would love the chance. Do you leave it as viral video and hope people stay glued to their screens during the second-quarter commercial breaks? Or, do you try to get some news media coverage about the "pre-bowl" buzz of this gem? Who is the little guy in the costume and how many "takes" did it take to get those great little "moves" of frustration and amazement? What did Lucas think of it? Will there be a sequel? (It is based on a movie, after all).

If we needed any reminder of the power of social media, more than 3 million hits in 24 hours is a good start. No, that's a great start. Hey, Volkswagen, you just made an advertisement that was viewed by 3 million people and you didn't have to pay a cent for placement. Think this may shake up some traditional advertising channels, like Fox?

Which brings me to the final consideration: Where does it really go from here? We now live in the world of "metrics." Will "The Force" capture more than our views?

That galaxy is not so far, far away.