Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal
There are two parts to our business: The issues-driven and reputation-focused work that is largely directed by external factors, and the marketing-driven work that can have a much longer lead time. Summer hasn’t even officially started, but we’re already well under way in planning marketing-related for activities to support the year-end holidays, and even preliminary 2018 planning. One of the big questions in our business is: How do you come up with ideas?
I recently came across two articles that addressed the ideation issue, coming at it from two different perspectives. The first article suggests that busy people need a “Shultz Hour.” Of course, that needs a bit of explanation. George Shultz, who was secretary of state in the ‘80s, carved out an hour each week to sit in his office with the door closed, with a pad of paper and pen, and thought about the strategic aspects of his job. He instructed his assistant to interrupt him only if one of two people called: The president. And perhaps equally importantly, his wife.
Shultz worked in an era before the interruptions and distractions of email, smartphones, Twitter and the like, but I’ve always been a firm believer in carving out some “alone time” to think about a creative problem or strategic issue, whether in my office, while exercising, or even if I’m just doing chores around the house.
The second article suggests a less conceptual approach to generating ideas: Washing your hands. A group of psychologists conducted a study in which individuals were instructed to focus on a goal, and then to wash their hands. After the physical act of washing their hands, they were more easily reoriented toward a subsequent goal. The physical cleansing created a psychological separation from the previous activity, enabling the individuals to focus more clearly on a new goal.
In many ways, we’re merchants of ideas. Whether great ideas come from dedicated reflection time – or from clean hands! – it’s less about the source and more about the results. What tips do you have for generating ideas?
Rob Martin, Agency Principal
I can remember the first time I read an editorial comment that had somehow crept into a news story. It was in TIME magazine sometime in the early 1980s. Since studying journalism in college and launching into my career in communications, I had always followed the newswriting style in TIME – casual yet factual – as the standard that I would try to mimic.
I don’t remember the specific story I was reading, but I do remember the moment of surprise I experienced. What was that I had read? The writer’s opinion? I probably passed it off at the time, but now I see that moment as eerily prescient. Today we live in a world where it would be difficult to find any news story that doesn’t have at least an element of editorial opinion inserted somewhere – if not in the actual copy, then in the headline, placement, or sources included to support the idea. It’s the world we have built and chosen for ourselves, and it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t profitable – or at least perceived to be a path to profitability – for the media companies that propagate it.
So is there still a role in this world for basic journalistic principles based on truth, fairness, accuracy and objectivity? I certainly think so. I hope so. Not only is journalism one of the cornerstones of our democracy, assuming the role of public witness for members of society, but we all can benefit from experiencing the thrill of reading a well-written and thoroughly researched piece.
In the public relations profession, good writing still counts, and I’m excited to see new young professionals who bring these skills to their work. Part of what we’re selling is quality, and you can’t argue with a well-written sentence or clever turn of phrase.
In fact, respecting the principles of journalism in our work can provide a number of benefits:
- Seeing multiple sides to a story
- Learning what is newsworthy and what isn’t
- Practicing objectivity and refining critical thinking skills
- Speaking the same “language” as the editors and reporters we interact with
- Adopting an approach to writing that is well suited to a variety of situations
- Appreciating the craft of the p.r. business, not just the mechanics of it
I do believe that opinion is now an important part of journalism as well, and informed consumers will recognize the difference. In creating content for our clients, we can leverage the benefits of various types of media content while staying true to our roots in journalism. Don’t throw out that AP Stylebook just yet!
Rob Martin, Agency Principal
We hear a lot about “fake news” these days. But what is it exactly?
Usually the term fake news may refer to a story that is patently false, having been fabricated out of thin air. But some stories that earn this label may actually contain an element of truth that has been misrepresented or exaggerated in a way to mislead or generate profit. Thinking in those terms, does our work in public relations – with a focus on the positive and promotional aspects of a client’s business – qualify as one form of fake news?
First, some background. You may think “fake news” is a relatively new phenomenon, having achieved prominent notice during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Only the term is new, but the concept is quite old. Did you know that Roman politician Mark Antony’s suicide in 30 BC was due in part to a misinformation campaign conducted by his political nemesis Octavian? And there are many other examples of fake news through the centuries, including major instances during both world wars of the 20th Century, and Benjamin Franklin’s fake news story about murderous Indians working with King George III during the American Revolution.
Now, what about the public relations profession today? It may be true that we hope to present a positive outlook in our work, but our output doesn’t have to look like total propaganda. There are many things we can do to ensure quality and fairness:
- Thoroughly check all facts to ensure accuracy.
- Remain transparent, and don’t pretend to be something you’re not.
- Use multiple sources to support the story, including analysts, customers and other third parties.
- Recognize there are opposing viewpoints where possible.
- Make sure it is clear that the client is the source of the material.
Finally, when writing a story, we should always adhere to sound journalistic principles. That will be our topic for next week.
Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal
Two events recently brought the world of direct selling back into the news: The eponymous pink mansion in Dallas owned by beauty mogul Mary Kay was razed to make way for new development, and the Wall Street Journal published a feature on how Avon plans to revitalize the company.
While the direct selling model seems almost quaint today, in a sense it’s the same model that we use in our profession, except we have a different product and a different audience. It’s all about a personal approach to selling, whether we’re meeting in person, using digital channels, or picking up the phone. Some lament that technology has diminished the personal, relationship-based nature of our business, but I’d argue that if used appropriately, we can find a middle ground where we can leverage technology to get closer to our audience. Consider:
- Opt for performance over convenience: It’s easy and convenient to rely on blanket technology, such as an email distribution service to send out communications in batches. But taking the time to develop individual notes personalized to the interests of the recipient will almost always deliver better results than the “spray and pray” approach. Individual emails also are less likely to get hung up by spam filters.
- Engage even when you’re not selling: Too often, we get caught up in our own content, focused on building engagement with the brands for which we work. But it only takes a few minutes to read and comment on others’ blog posts and articles, building a stronger two-way engagement as we define and elevate ourselves as professionals.
- Dive deeper in the tech you’re using: The major social media channels are continually tweaking their services to enable more precise targeting. If you’re using promoted tweets and sponsored posts to target audiences, try drilling down further into the demographic options. You can get down almost to street level to make sure your content is relevant to the audience.
- Low tech can be good tech: At the end of the day, this is a business built on relationships. A few years back, I asked a colleague to check with a co-worker about the status of a project. The following day, she said she hadn’t received a reply email. The odd part about this? The two individuals worked in the same office … two doors apart! Sometimes a good old-fashioned meeting or phone call can do more to personalize an experience than any technology can ever accomplish.
The next time you see a pink Cadillac driving down the street, remember that you and the driver are taking a similar approach to the work you do!