What’s the Difference?

May 8, 2014

by Roger Pynn

We’re often asked why we position our firm as providing “public relations, marketing communications and public affairs” services.  People want to know what the difference is and whether the reference to “public affairs” means we are lobbyists.

So when I saw ‘Public Affairs vs. Public Relations: What is the Difference?’ promoted on Ragan’s PR Daily, I hoped to find helpful insight for that discussion.  Unfortunately, I was left wondering exactly what the author’s point is, but perhaps I can offer food for thought.

First and foremost, we are not lobbyists.  But we work closely with them when an issue needs to become part of a broad public conversation.

Lobbying is an honorable and important function.  Everyone (and every organization) has the right, and perhaps the responsibility to attempt to influence outcomes in the government and political process.  Lobbying requires an enormous investment of time in building trust, relationships and an understanding of government processes.  It is full-time work.

To us, public affairs is the business of giving visibility to those issues that lobbyists and government officials must take up … creating top-of-mind awareness for the need to enact legislation, create or change policy.

It demands the use of almost everything in the communications toolbox if we are to successfully create momentum behind a cause.  Public officials want to know that public opinion supports the decision they are being asked to make, so everything from letter-writing campaigns to petition drives to publicity, editorial board support and appearances before public bodies come into play.

Understanding how that happens requires much the same attention to the process as does lobbying if you are to successfully position an issue with the public and with those who influence decision-making.  But perhaps the most important thing to remember is that after the fact, once you’ve succeeded, there’s one more very important step.

Two public affairs efforts we’ve been involved in this year reminded me that every effective public affairs program ends with giving credit to those in government who make the tough decisions we ask of them.  Just as your parents taught to write “thank you” notes for birthday, Christmas and wedding gifts, don’t forget to express your gratitude when you get your way.

The Best

April 29, 2014

by Roger Pynn

Who wouldn’t like to be part of this list? “America’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens in 2014” compiled by Corporate Responsibility Magazine is a pretty heady company.

For public relations people it adds emphasis to what we tell clients all the time:  “Want your name in the media, do good things.”

And that doesn’t necessarily mean giving away great amounts of money … although that’s always nice.

What it means is that the media will cover you, and the public will recognize you, for what you do … not because a PR person pitches a story about how nice you are.  So be nice, be generous, be effective … be good at what you set out to do.

People will notice.

A Rare Find

April 25, 2014

by Roger Pynn

When WKMG’s Lauren Rowe announced her retirement, the Central Florida media market lost more than a pretty face.  Gone will be a sense of insight rare today.  Lauren did more than report.  She probed – not in the aggressive, combative mode of so many, but rather from an educated sense of interest in her topic.

Her contribution to public service programming in this city is unmatched.  She always did her homework.  Lauren Rowe got more thoughtful information on the table during her Flashpoint programs than any other on local television.  In so many ways, she brought network quality to the screen.

She knew how to be tough when needed.  She projected a professional image.  And she knew how to be human, to let her guard down and to take a genuine interest in what others were talking about.  She’ll be missed.

Swiss Money?

April 17, 2014

by Roger Pynn

I’m a fan of Fast Company.  It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, there’s always something to learn from FastCo whether on design, technology, marketing, workplace issues, leadership or dozens of other topics they cover so smartly.

But this piece on how to get the press to cover your startup company fails to deal with a gut-level issue that every startup exec needs to understand:  that before you start pitching your company to the media, you have to have done something that makes an impact.

The Q&A format item by Gannett CMO Maryam Banikarim, and Maxine Bédat, co-founder of the fashion site Zady, has some great practical advice.  But this preface is, I’m afraid, apt to make startups focus on the wrong objective:

“It’s not enough to have a great business if no one knows your company exists, but getting the media to pay attention to your startup can be tricky.”

In our experience, too many startup leaders want that exposure before they are ready for primetime.  To the authors’ point, our question is often, “What have you done to make sure you’re ready?”

The point is that many of them forget market research that confirms there is pent-up demand, that their product or service provides the features the target audience wants and that they’ve actually developed an answer the market will buy.

We’ve been working for a couple of weeks to develop a relationship with a startup that appears to have done everything right.  They’re anxious to get to market, but patient like what savvy real estate folks often call “Swiss money” … investors who know when it is finally time to sell.

So, long before they take the tactical advice Ms. Banikarim and Ms. Bédat prescribe, they are doing the due diligence necessary to make sure their pitch is based on a market-ready concept.  Swiss money.

Flight 370 Clues: Ties to Orlando?

April 10, 2014

by Roger Pynn

That headline was a cheap trick.  Not, perhaps, anywhere near as questionable as the nonstop babble on CNN devoted to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but nonetheless I was using that to get your attention.

However, the real purpose of this post is to point out how important history is to telling a good story … and, more importantly, how important it is for journalists to know and explore history in their work.

If you’ve lived in Orlando most of your life as I have, you remember a mysterious building at the northeast corner of Summerlin and Gatlin Avenues, south of the city on a murky little pond known as Lake Gem Mary.

The U.S. Navy Underwater Sound Lab dated back to the 1940s and much of its technology is at work today … almost certainly helping those who are searching for the missing airplane … and yet none of this shameless nonstop coverage has looked at how searchers know how to find it.

At the Lake Gem site, naval researchers worked on the development of underwater sound measurement devices and precision measurement on sonar equipment.  For years there was a huge steel dock extending over the lake that was used to hold listening equipment tested in the tiny but very deep lake … very much like that being used now in the Indian Ocean.

naval lab

Photo Credit:  State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

And that’s what history can add to a good story.

Measuring Public Relations

March 28, 2014

by Roger Pynn

Here’s a Huffington Post blog item on the measurement of and return on investment from public relations.  I find it interesting because for all its interesting insights it misses one striking point.  The practice of public relations is a process, not a form of communication.  It is a conglomeration of strategies and tactics that require planned, careful, nimble implementation … and a healthy willingness to recalibrate in response to the dynamic environment organizations live in today.

All of the opinions offered in this article are worthy of attention both from people in our world, as well as the clients we serve.  You’ll learn from five folk recognized for their knowledge in this ever-changing profession … several of whom I follow regularly.

One offering in the post really stands out.  Julie Wright (@juliewright), president of (W)right On Communications, says to give it time.  “Predictable, consistent, and, of course, interesting communication is the key to build trust and relationships with our audiences.”

But the focus seems to be on outcomes that are clearly and often ethically beyond our control.  We can’t promise placement of your story.  We can only make every effort to get your story told and target the most appropriate media.  It is up to them to decide what makes news.  Nor can we promise to increase sales.  We can, however, create an environment in which selling is easier … if we do our job.

We tell clients from the outset that the most important measurement of our services is to track whether we do what we say we will do.  In fact, at every client meeting we focus on that metric.  One long-term client who has been with our firm more than two decades fanatically tracks what we promise him.  A power user of Outlook, he has every statement I’ve ever made attached to my contact and his calendar.

Now that’s attention to detail.

Distributed Listening

March 14, 2014

by Roger Pynn

A recent conversation among staff members led me to realize how important it is to learn how to talk out of both sides of your mouth … figuratively speaking, of course.  We were talking about the challenge we face with one client in particular whose target audiences straddle two – or even three – generations … meaning we need to enable our clients to communicate with different generations effectively.

Then along came an Ipsos Media CT white paper released at South By Southwest (SXSW) based on new research showing how vastly different media habits and perceptions have become.  Consider this from the study:  “30 percent of millenials said their media time is spent with content created and curated by their peers.”

Whether you are part of the social media explosion or not, this conclusion cannot be argued:

“Social media has taken on the most powerful form of marketing, a recommendation from a peer, and given it nearly limitless reach.”

That study rolled out in partnership with the Social Media Advertising Consortium at SXSW suggested millenials trust user-generated content more than traditional media is no surprise.  That it said they spend 18 hours per day consuming different makes me think sleep deprivation may be a great field for career seekers.

Regardless, it is no more possible in this age to speak on a single channel than to be informed by just one.  Influencing public thought is more challenging than ever before … but doing so requires distributed listening where communicators from all generations must hear each other first.

If It Isn’t News

March 6, 2014

by Roger Pynn

One more reason not to trust anyone who utters or prints the words “breaking news” came today at OrlandoSentinel.com where unsuspecting readers were lured to click their way to a story about an incident that took place in 2011.

Sure, headlines have always been intended to capture reader attention.  But when a newspaper positions something as having just happened, when in fact it is more of an educational story about something readers may not have known before … it is clear the headline is a blatant promotional effort to build ad revenue.

The headline under the Sentinel’s Orlando Breaking News banner read:  “Otter kills gator at Florida wildlife refuge” and it promised photos if you clicked the link.  It even said the story had been updated at 10:15 a.m.  Here’s where the click took readers … to the paper’s “Gone Viral” blog, positioned as “trolling the Internet for news and not news.”

If it isn’t news, how can it be “breaking news?”

So #Yesterday

February 19, 2014

by Roger Pynn

When I saw this article by Matt Shaw in the Council of Public Relations Firms’ blog Voice, it struck me that the alphabet is no longer 26 letters, but rather 26 letters and a single character.

How long do you think it will be before another character takes on the hashtag?  Can that thing above the three survive?  After all, if it has become a letter, as the producers of #RichKids of Beverly Hills suggest in titling their new show to appeal to a new generation, the # has to be so #yesterday.

As if to offer the answer, now comes Birds Eye, the frozen veggie maker, offering a frozen potato in the shape of symbols stolen from the keyboard by social media.

#Lord.  #Have.  #Mercy.

Target Missed

February 14, 2014

rpynn by Roger Pynn

I suppose that as much as I long for the good old days, I should like being mistaken for a youngster, but the email I received from Rutgers University via PRWeek’s sponsored message program is a classic failure where target marketing is concerned.

“Your Public Relations Career will take more than time and energy to grow,” it said.  “You need a strategy for career advancement.”

It offered a PR Certificate from Rutgers School of Communication saying “The Rutgers online program is the only one of its kind for mid-level PR and communications professionals like you.”  It promised to take me beyond PR 101.

After 40 years in the business, I hope I’m past the mid-level … and I hope the folks at Rutgers – a fine university – become better at targeting their prospects.


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