Monday, June 15, 2015

Is Showing Both Sides Persuasive?

A friend of mine who got a master's degree in public relations at an East Coast university shared a link to a blog post written by one of his professors in that program, an adjunct who works at a major PR firm's office near the university. In this post, the author was discussing the wisdom of including an opposing point of view when writing an op-ed or position paper on behalf of a client.

The gist of this man's argument was that doing so was not his job. After all, he was hired by the client to present the client's point of view. He did note that mentioning alternative views in order to point out their flaws may be necessary on occasion. But generally, he opined, it was a waste of time and space to devote attention to the other side.

I have an....alternative view.

In the blog post, my friend's former professor puts forth a position based on a preference for efficiency and fiduciary responsibility. He also notes his years of experience. I would suggest that a concern for the effectiveness of actually persuading an intended audience should be a consideration as well. Indeed, if you can be more likely to persuade, you are hardly wasting space. Also, if a concern is doing what the client wants, do they want someone merely to write or do they want it to have the benefit of persuasion?

So the question really is not about how someone has written op-eds throughout their career, or the preference for loyalty to the client's point of view. It should be about the outcome in the minds of readers. And for that, we need to consider broader evidence from empirical research that informs persuasion theory.

In the just-published third edition of the book "Persuasion: Theory and Research" by Daniel O'Keefe," a required text in my Corporate Communications Writing class in the future, there is a helpful chapter on message factors. On the subject of one-sided vs two-sided (including alternative points of view) messages, the research results are more nuanced than a simply include or don't include the opposing point of view.

Basically, including alternative points of view--and then refuting them--(called "refutational two-sided messages") are dependably more persuasive than one-sided messages. However, two-sided messages in which the opposing points of view are merely acknowledged and not refuted are slightly less persuasive than one-sided messages.

In other words, raise the opponents' points of view, but be sure to knock them down. Readers don't take messages in a vacuum. They may be playing devil's advocate or wondering about other perspectives in their mind. If you address is head on and can argue against it, you have a better chance of winning them to your side. Or, if they had not considered alternatives, but you raise them, you look more credible, competent and therefore persuasive. Raising and refuting alternatives also has what's called an inoculation effect, meaning that later when someone else raises the opposing opinion, readers have been prepped with foreknowledge of the argument and why it is not sufficient and can be "immune" to its persuasive appeal.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

TV Ads Still Rule

Something happened the other day that made me hit the pause button. Literally.

I was watching TV, a show my wife and I had recorded on the DVR, and we were doing what everyone does--fast-forwarding through the ads. But something caught my eye, and I hit pause, rewind, and then viewed the ad.

And it hit me--people have always skipped ads, unless they haven't. When shows were aired live, people would go to the bathroom, get more to eat or drink, or talk to each other during ads. Today, they just use the technology that allows skipping or fast-forwarding through ads.

However, if an ads have certain merits, wait for it.....people....will....watch.

This is common sense, confirmed by several communication theories and concepts (media uses and gratifications, information utility, salience, etc.) and recently confirmed in a study reported in Advertising Age. The study, commissioned by Turner Broadcasting and Horizon Media, showed that TV ads outperform other media, including digital, when it comes to driving consumer sales. A natural assumption would be that TV ads do well for awareness, reputation, and other objectives as well.

So what might make people "take pause" and view an ad even in this multi-mediated, frenetic media world we live in? As the theoretical concepts mentioned above suggest, there are several:

  • visual appeal
  • relevant content
  • useful information
The take-away is that now more than ever advertisers can't live in the era of assumed audience. You have to lure them before a hook can be set. Also, as the study authors suggest, no once can live on TV alone. It has to be part of a strategic media mix that supplements radio, print, outdoor, and digital ads as well as earned media. 

Like anything else in media, TV advertising is not dead. It's just constantly changing. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

LEA Wins Small Business of Year, Promotional Video Awards

The Grand Rapids public relations community is well-represented by top notch and award-winning talent. In addition to the record crop of winners at this year's PRoof Awards, Lambert, Edwards & Associates recently received some recognition for its PR prowess.

LE&A, with offices in Lansing and Detroit as well as Grand Rapids, was named small business of the year at the recent EPIC Awards, a program of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. The EPIC awards are so named because they celebrate businesses that demonstrate "entrepreneurial, progressive, innovative, and collaborative" traits in the community.

Meanwhile, LE&A was recognized at the Horizon Interactive Awards for a promotional video about the firm. You can view the video on LE&A's YouTube channel I would recommend taking a look at the video if you are interested in not just what LE&A does, but to see how a PR firm promotes itself. Check out other videos to get ideas for a firm YouTube channel. They have a variety of videos sharing news about the firm, its clients, and some simply fun and engaging content, such as firm president Jeff Lambert sliding into the YMCA pool in a suit.

Kudos to LE&A for the awards, which help the firm but also make PR look good.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Why Are There Not More PR Pros on Nonprofit Boards?

I have often noticed and admired PR professionals who serve on the boards of area nonprofits. This has, as we PR people would say, a "mutual benefit." PR pros do this as a part of their PR role of community relations. If in an agency, it's a form of new business development because of the networking with other board members. The organization also benefits from PR counsel at the board and executive level.
But I have also noticed that a lot of nonprofit organizations do not have PR professionals on their boards. So I did what academics do: I launched a study on the subject.
The results of my study is now a chapter in a recently published book:  Routledge Research in Public Relations: Public Relations in the Nonprofit Sector. My chapter, “PR Capacity on Nonprofit Boards,” gives insight on the value of having PR professionals serve on nonprofit boards.
Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 12.11.16 PMI worked with the assistance of the Johnson Center on Philanthropy to put together a list of the executives of the nonprofits in Michigan with more than 1 staff member. Of the 704 on the list, 215 responded.  Their answers to a survey reveal that executives of nonprofit organizations do not view having a PR professional serve on a nonprofit board as a priority, but rather as “nice to have.” 
Most executives in the study claimed that they did not seek out board members with a public relations background. Additionally, nonprofit executives do not have an accurate understanding of public relations as a whole.
Specifically, while a majority (76%) said that communications with stakeholders was a role and capacity sought in board members, only 11% indicated it was the most important board member ability. While 52% said they had at least one board member with PR education or experience, this may be due to the fact that 75% define public relations as “getting the word out.”
Clearly, there is a need for more PR professionals to serve nonprofit organizations at the executive and management level. Part of that service would be to educate nonprofit management about the full role and benefit of public relations as a sophisticated effort in relationship building, with multiple publics.
A summary of the result is found below:

 

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Reading List for People Making Transition to PR

A local broadcast journalist recently contacted me via social media and asked if I could recommend a book on PR because they were considering making the transition into the field.

OK, first of all, never ask a professor to recommend “a” book J But I have to say the instinct is good to do some research and not make assumptions about the field. I have written before on this blog that journalists do have some assets they can carry over into PR: http://gr-pr.blogspot.com/2012/01/assets-laid-off-journalists-can.html But there is also a lot to learn.

So to answer the question, here is a list of several books—and some other resources--by category and some other resources useful to potential and current PR practitioners. This is only partial (I just ordered another book today that is not on this list). So, anyone else who has suggestions feel free to note them in the comments. To be concise I list titles and last names of authors only, but they should be easy to find at any online book site.

Introductory PR Books
There are several introductory PR books used in college courses. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) also has a list of recommended texts for those thinking of studying to take the exam to become accredited in public relations (APR): http://www.praccreditation.org/resources/recommended-texts/index.html . Here are some intro texts that I recommend.
  • THINK Public Relations. By Wilcox, Cameron, Reber and Shin.
  • Today’s PR. By Health and Coombs.
  • PR Strategies and Tactics. By Wilcox and Cameron.
  • The Practice of PR. By Frasier Seitel.
  • Strategic Public Relations: An Audience-Focused Approach. By Diggs and Brown
  • PR: A Values-Driven Approach. By Guth and Marsh.
  • Cultip and Center’s Effective Public Relations. By Broom and Sha. (an update of a classic)
  • This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations. By Newsome, Turk, and Krukeberg.


Research
Research is a fundamental skill of PR professionals. It has to be more than basic interviewing skills that a journalist has. There are several possible texts, but the one standard I would recommend is:
  • Primer on PR Research. By Stacks.


Writing
Journalists know how to write, and how to write in AP style. But PR writing is varied, and includes persuasive as well as objective writing. There are several good books on PR writing.
  • Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques. By Wilcox and Reber.
  • Becoming a Public Relations Writer. By Smith.


History
Every day in the blogosphere I read some bloviating blowhard carry on about some “new” vision in PR. And I grin, shudder, and roll my eyes. If only they knew their history. Several books and resources can help a new practitioner—or a veteran one—understand PR’s past to make better sense of the present and future.

Crisis
Journalists may have reported on a crisis or two, but that does not mean they know how to handle one as a PR person. Several good books on crisis communication offer practical and theoretical information:
  •  Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication. By Lukazsewski  Ongoing Crisis Communication. By Coombs
  • Crisis Communications. By Fearn-Banks
  • Crisis Communication. By Zaremba


Evaluation
Measuring the results of PR efforts has long been advocated and taught, and more recently it has been asked for by clients and management. But it still is not done well or completely by many. There is one great book I would recommend on the subject, this one updated to included social media measurement.
  • Measure What Matters. By Paine


Social Media
Social platforms have been around a while, and lots of people assume they know how to use social media. But using them for personal communication or as a journalist is different than managing social media for a brand or organization. There are many books on social media use, but these are the ones to start with. I’ll also add some online links that are helpful.


Law
There are many areas of law that affect the practice of PR. You don’t need to be a lawyer, but you do need to be informed.
  • Digital Media Law. By Packard
  • Advertising and Public Relatons Law. By Moore, Maye and Collins


Ethics
The PR profession gets a bad rap in the news and entertainment media, as I’ve written about countless times. Ironically, some of the big ethical blunders are made by former journalists. To be a “professional” PR practitioner means to practice ethically. PRSA offers a helpful Code of Ethics http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/#.VQIaTSkmXeM . There are also several good books on PR ethics.
  • Ethics in Public Relations. By Fitzpatrick and Bernstein
  • Legal and Ethical Constraints on Public Relations. By Gower
  • It’s Not Just PR. By Coombs and Holladay (This is a good one to give friends who criticize PR as only "spin")

Consider searching major publishers for additional books on topics of interest or relevant to a specific area of practice. For example, here’s a shameless plug for a book I wrote a chapter in called Public Relations in the Nonpfofit Sector http://www.amazon.com/Public-Relations-Nonprofit-Sector-Routledge/dp/1138795089
You can also go directly to publishers and search for public relations books, such as Routledge, which has a special series on public relations: http://www.routledge.com/books/series/RNDPRCR/ ; or Sage http://www.sagepub.com/home.nav  There are several other academic publishers as well.

In addition to books, several academic journals are available for free (vs through association membership or an academic library). These include:


Finally, there are various trade publications and reports that are useful to practitioners (some content requires subscription or membership; but some email newsletters are free):



Whew! That’s a lot. But there’s a lot to know.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why Do PR Pros Seek Accreditation (APR)? Latest Research

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) established the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) program more than 50 years ago, in 1964. Since then, thousands of PR professionals have worked to earn the designation as a mark of superior PR skills, knowledge and ethical practice.

However, not all practitioners seek the APR credential. In fact, PRSA noticed the percentage of practitioners who are accredited has gone down in recent years. So the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB) has encouraged academics to look into the reasons why professionals do and do not make the effort to earn the APR mark of distinction.

Hence, my latest research research with my co-author Dr. Kaye Sweetser of San Diego State University. "Role Enactment, Employer Type, and Pursuit of APR" was just published in the journal Public Relations Review. The journal article is available here. Or, since the journal article is an abbreviated version, you can email me for a full copy.

Or you can just read on here for a summary!

First, a quick explanation of the key terms and variables in the study. "Role enactment" is an academic term that describes the specific role that PR practitioners enact in their jobs. Prior research has boiled these roles down to two: a "technician" is more of an entry-level role focused on tactics; a "manager" may still work on tactics but is more focused on strategy and advising organizational management and making communication decisions vs merely implementing them.

"Employer type" has to do with the fact that PR professionals may work for a corporation, but they could also work in many other contexts. Vast numbers of PR professionals work in non-profits, government agencies, educational institutions, the military, or public relations firms.

We were curious to see if the context in which a practitioner works, or their years of experience or level of authority/status in the organization, were factors in whether or not and why they sought the APR credential.

Results showed that employer type and practitioner role did make a difference. The practical take-aways:

  • Respondents pursued APR mostly for personal satisfaction or to be a better practitioner.
  • Seeking the APR to get a promotion was correlated with younger practitioners.
  • Those in PR for many years were more likely to pursue APR for higher salary than those who transfer in from other fields (who may seek APR for knowledge and legitimacy in their new field).
  • Pursuing APR to gain respect from clients/employer was more common for those in agency, nonprofit, or government/military.
  • Those in a manager role were more likely to pursue APR for higher salary, while those in a technician role were more likely to pursue APR for a job promotion or when seeking a new job.
  • A somewhat counter-intuitive result was that men are significantly more likely than women to be motivated by respect from an employer or client.


This research extended previous studies about the differences between those PR practitioners with and without APR. The UAB may use the results to tailor their promotion of the APR program differently to practitioners, based on their gender, specific role, years of experience, and the type of organization in which they work.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Documentary on Future of Advertising is Old News

A colleague shared with me this documentary called 'Transmediatic' which purports to be revelatory about the future of advertising. It is actually a summating of the present and a recap of where many have already been for some time.

Some key notions are that the "product is the message" and "clear is the new clever". These are just new clothes for the old notions of transparency, authenticity, two-way symmetrical communications, and mutually beneficial relationships that have popular by most legitimate public relations practitioners and taught by PR educators for as long as I have been one, which is since 2001. The documentary's line "the naked brand" reminded me of a book I once read. Sure enough, on my shelf is "Naked Conversations," by social media early adaptors and gurus Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. It was published in 2006, the year Twitter was launched.

We've kind of been there.

But to people who aren't in advertising or PR, the documentary is useful to give a visually rich explanation of the changes in the field, and indeed in society. Here then is a recap of what the documentary recaps for the initiated:


  • an "institutional speaker box" no longer exists
  • transparency is not a choice--does it happen to you or do you participate?
  • trust is the essence of every great brand
  • The Edelman Trust Barometer routinely points out that people don't trust executives
  • Consumer Sovereignty is an old concept made more relevant in today's media environment
  • 90% of people trust peer reviews; 20% trust advertising (see Yelp)
  • You can't create image (I always point out to students the distinction between image and reputation--one is merely communicated, the latter is earned and based on experience)
  • Related to above, companies have to shift from saying they are great to being great. (PR people have noted this for years, dating back to Arthur Page in the 1920s and the mantra of the Page Society today)
  • There are positive externalities to ads--such as information utility
  • Design thinking is where advertising needs to go (Our GVSU Ad/PR alumnus Mike Rios spoke about this on campus last semester. See this Guardian article about his and a partner's explanation of design thinking and an example of it in use to benefit society)
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a continuing trend. It dates to the 1970s in PR. See CSRWire for stories of CSR. Or see the Pepsi Refresh Project as an example of CSR that provides social branding.
  • A final note: the US is NUMBER 1 in advertising, but NUMBER 13 in R&D. More focus on good products, and the advertising can be transparent, and bette than clever. That's also fundamental PR--mutually beneficial relationships.