PR Definition

We work in PR – and soon we’ll be able to tell you exactly what that means

A while back I jokingly joined a Facebook group called, “I Work in PR and My family and Friends Have No Idea What I Do,” partly out of curiosity, but mostly because it’s true. Chances are the description will strike a chord if you work in the industry:

“They know we spend all day at an office and that we are very busy, but no one we know understands what it is we do all day. We are equally unable to explain it to them.”

But that’s all about to change, hopefully.

It’s no secret that public relations has a PR problem. Forget the tension with the media (it’s high time to declare a truce and move on…but that’s another post); I’m talking about the fact that – while a myriad of definitions are floating around – existing descriptions are neither intuitive nor able to encompass PR’s ever-evolving scope of work.

PRSA’s definition of public relations was last updated in 1982. Over the course of the past 10 years, the organization has assembled two special committees to explore modernizing the definition of public relations, but recent discussions, blog posts, tweets and mainstream articles have called for more decisive action. Public relations professionals, having grown tired of lack a de facto industry definition and unhappy with current descriptions, want to both modernize the definition and increase its value.

So late last year the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) decided to tackle this conundrum with its “Public Relations Defined” initiative, setting out to answer the question, “What is public relations?” After collaborating with partners in allied associations and calling for open submissions, PRSA unveiled its three definition possibilities this past week:

1. Public relations is the management function of researching, engaging, communicating, and collaborating with stakeholders in an ethical manner to build mutually beneficial relationships and achieve results.
2. Public relations is a strategic communication process that develops and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their key publics.
3. Public relations is the engagement between organizations and individuals to achieve mutual understanding and realize strategic goals.

We’ve got until January 23 to review, react and comment, and then the collective feedback will be aggregated and analyzed for use in a second “Definition of PR” summit. The goal of that meeting will be to produce three final definitions, on which the profession will be invited to vote, and then the final definition is slated to be announced at the end of February. For more information, annotated versions of the definitions and to leave your thoughts for consideration in the process, click here.

Do you think the definitions above are on track? If not, how would you better define PR? We’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

The Enterprise Still Confused by Social Media – Marketers, Where Are You?

A couple of years ago, we were hired by a global security software company to plan, write, distribute and implement a social media policy for their company – not a small job for an enterprise with employees in more than 100 countries across the globe, and products and technologies for over 300 million users worldwide.

Since that time, we’ve written a lot of social media policies for clients – and trained their employees on proper social media use in various divisions, but I still remember sitting in the board room during our initial kick off, going through questions to help us determine how much work was needed, when one answer shocked me: “We don’t know and it’s impossible to find out.”

This was the answer to the question, “How many social media accounts does the company have and where are they – who runs them?”

Now, while the answer stood out back then – considering social media was a bit of the “Wild West,” and companies were still struggling to buy into its value – I would imagine that today, businesses have a much better handle on who is representing their brand, where and in what way.

I’m wrong.

According to a report by Altimeter Group released yesterday, many of the challenges that we were navigating clients through years ago still exist. Jeremiah Owyang blogged, “Many companies have launched social media efforts with little planning. As social media spreads beyond corporate communications and marketing, business groups are deploying social media without a standardized process. In fact, enterprise class corporations (those with over 1,000 employees) have an average of 178 social media accounts and this number will only grow if left unchecked. Companies that don’t control these accounts are at risk of having abandoned accounts, lack of consistent experience, or untrained employees creating a crisis.”


I’m shocked that the enterprise hasn’t caught on yet. How can companies be so lackadaisical about who is talking for them in a public form? How did employees feel the freedom and right to go create branded accounts without some sort of process or checklist? Are companies aware of non-affiliated accounts that have been established (read: hijacked) in their name? (One of my favorite examples I use in my conference speeches on this topic is Chapstick.) And what do these businesses do now in order to reign it all in and get a handle on smart social media for business?

Altimeter Group’s report – and pending webinar to review it – is a good start. It covers market trends, industry problems and data – as well as a buyer’s guide for some monitoring tools – but I’d like to ask one other question. WHERE IS MARKETING?

How can marketing divisions in these companies not be concerned with public discussions of their brand, company and industry – even if they are not the ones running the accounts/updates? Even if other business groups are deploying social media accounts, shouldn’t marketing – as the brand police – know this and help to manage the messages? I blogged on a related topic a few years ago – that with social media’s rise, we are all now in PR, all now brand ambassadors and customer service reps. Because of this, marketing should now – more than ever – be setting, defining, monitoring and managing those messages, regardless of which business group is using social channels. How did marketing departments and PR executives let this slide?

Are we still that far behind? I like to think not. But, if you’re working with a PR or marketing firm that hasn’t yet audited your social media presence – and provided strategic recommendations for improving it – now might be the time to find out why.

Yes, we are all continuing to learn as the industry evolves and new tools are introduced, but this is marketing 101, folks. You monitor who is saying what about your brand and where – and you put a plan together that includes some action around these conversations. There’s no excuse anymore – social media is a part of all business marketing – if not customer service, HR, business development and more. But at the very least, marketing should know about the “on average” 178 “brand” accounts – and reign them in. Reports like Altimeter’s can help you choose the best tool vendors for strategic monitoring and measurement in the future. Get the right vendors, hire the right PR and marketing partners or executives and get your employees trained right – but don’t ignore it any longer. I don’t think the proliferation of vendors is any excuse for letting your brand go wild while you try to make a choice.


Looking back on 2011: A (virtual) walk down memory lane

As 2011 comes to a close, we’ve officially entered the “list” time of year. No, we’re not talking about the one being made and checked twice by the jolly fellow in the red suit for later this month; we’re talking about the flood of media coverage recounting the top memories of the past 12 months.

Chances are you’ve been moved by the 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011, or you’ve smiled in recognition (or shaken your head in disbelief) while reviewing Google’s 2011 Zeitgeist site, the 11th annual look back at the searches that compose the “spirit of the time.”

But as fascinating as those lists are, the one I’ve found most compelling, to-date, is Mashable’s 19 Biggest Social Media Moments of 2011. Why? Because at the beginning of each year everyone speculates on which trends will take off in the following 365 days, but it isn’t until we look back that we realize the true impact that some have had on the world. And social media has been a common thread throughout many of the moments we’ll remember from 2011.

Ask one generation where they were when Kennedy was assassinated, when Reagan was shot, when the OJ Simpson verdict was announced and when the twin towers were struck, and you’ll get one answer. Ask this generation where they were when Osama Bin Laden was declared dead, when the earthquake shook Japan, when the Casey Anthony verdict was read and when Steve Jobs passed, and you’ll get quite another.

But social media’s ability to allow us to relay and receive information instantaneously around the world isn’t the only legacy here; it’s also fueled revolutions, riots and reform. This newfound, organic means of communication among leaderless protesters allowed them to mobilize in Cairo, London and even on our own soil with the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement. Need more evidence of this impact? Look no further than TIME magazine’s recent choice of “The Protester” as its 2011 Person of the Year, which MarketWatch writer Jon Friedman cited for having reshaped the world, showing how individuals could make a major difference once united.

Many have criticized TIME’s choice, calling it a copout, but the magazine’s reasoning is that “leadership has come up from the bottom of the pyramid, not the top.” Social media has given a voice to the masses, allowing them to voice frustrations with government, the economy and social inequality by tweeting, commenting on Facebook, writing blog posts and uploading photos and videos to the web. And according to TIME, this combination of “the oldest of techniques with the newest of technologies” has allowed us to “shine a light on human dignity [and steer] the planet on a more democratic though sometimes more dangerous path for the 21st century.”

So as 2012 draws nearer, we’re once again in that awkward limbo where the past is being recounted and the future is being predicted. How many of Mashable’s top social media moments do you remember from 2011? And are you willing to hazard a guess as to what’s ahead in the year to come?

We would love to hear your predictions in the comments below.


5 strategic social media tips for PR pros

Fellow PR pros: Sure, you’ve got a Twitter account, a Facebook page and now a G+ account. You’re following key influencers and engaging with relevant media. But with time and attention at a premium these days, unless you’re using social media strategically, being active on such networks can sometimes do more harm than good. Below are five tips for better managing this increasingly-important facet of PR:

  1. Get organized. Yes, we’ve got to stay on top of the action, but it’s time-consuming to constantly troll the Internet in search of relevant news for Facebook and Twitter feeds. Instead, bring the news to you with an aggregation service such as Netvibes, which offers a personalized, real-time dashboard that syncs with multiple devices for easy access anytime, anywhere.
  2. Get acquainted. You wouldn’t make it a habit to walk up to strangers asking for favors (or maybe you do, but that’s an entirely different blog post…), and the same goes for journalists. Develop a rapport with reporters before you need anything from them – read their articles (c’mon, people, this should be a given), follow people with similar hobbies, start conversations, etc. – and there’s a better chance they’ll be open to reading that next pitch.
  3. Get creative. More publications are using freelancers, although many of them aren’t listed in media databases, so it can be difficult to track down these elusive writers. But thanks to the popularity of personal branding, there’s a good chance you can do a quick Google search and find out which social networks they’re using, along with other helpful information on how to best contact and pitch them.
  4. Get inquisitive. As much as PR is known for being a communications-heavy profession, sometimes it can feel like a one-sided pursuit (does anyone answer the phone anymore?). But by developing – and nurturing – a network of trusted colleagues in your social sphere, you’ve always got a trusted resource with which to crowdsource research, pose questions and get a flood of feedback. Veterans are often more than happy to share wisdom, knowledge, and even war stories, with those who will listen.
  5. Get real. Finally, as much as we operate almost entirely online nowadays, at our very core, humans are social creatures – and we crave face-to-face interaction. Social media allows us to expand our reach like never before, but there’s still nothing like a firm handshake and a genuine smile – be it with colleagues, mentors or members of the media. Leverage networks initially to expand your circle, but don’t forget to carry over those new connections into real-world interactions (try meeting up at industry events, local meet-ups, etc.), which can translate into offline working relationships that are both rewarding and enduring.

What are other ways that you’ve seen PR pros effectively utilize social media? Feel free to share examples and suggestions in the comments below.

Kids can Participate in Social Media….Safely


Recently I was watching a news story about several women who had fallen prey to a man with a fake Facebook profile. I often wonder how people fall for these scams, but as I watched it, I could see how it could happen – the man seemed genuine and “normal.” In fact, I have found myself believing in people that I’ve met online only to find out later that they’ve been less than truthful.

This scares me, because while I think I am relatively intelligent, and it’s my job to be online all day everyday where I come across every imaginable scam you can think of, I have been duped by “online personas.”  So if I can be tricked, what chance does my mother have online….or even scarier, my kids?

Our client, Location Labs, recently introduced something that I am hoping will help. I do not normally blog on client news, but this addresses something very important to me. Location Labs’ new suite of family safety services service, Safely, helps parents better protect their children. Their newly launched offering, Safely Social Monitor, makes sure their children are using Facebook in a safe manner.  You will be able to use this to see what your children are interacting with most on Facebook and what photos they upload.  Yes, you can do that by going to their Facebook page, but how many of us forget to look through email, or texts, much less have time to stalk them on Facebook.

But using Social Monitor, parents can get alerts when their children are tagged in photos or when they do other activities, like posting inappropriate words or phrases. And, they are able to do this with a dashboard that allows parents to visualize the data easily, without having to sign into Facebook.

I know many people think of this as stalking their kids and don’t want to do it, however, as a daily user of social media, the things I have seen make me very concerned about what could happen to my kids if I am not diligent.  Personally, I think it’s irresponsible as a parent not to do anything in my power to monitor their social media activity closely.

What do you think? Would you use a service like Safely to monitor your kids, or do you think it’s a violation of their privacy?