The Trust Crisis

March 23, 2017

by Roger Pynn

When I first read this article about research conducted by the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, I wanted someone to slap me awake.  “Could this really require research?” I asked.

The study concludes that Americans who find “news” online, it is not the organization that creates the news, but who shares it via social media that determines how much they trust the information.  In other words, if your beloved Aunt Jane (the one the family calls “Saint Jane”) shares an article on Facebook, you are far more likely to believe it because she shared it than whether it came from a highly recognized news organization like, for instance, the Associated Press.

As I read the story a second time, my attitude changed to “isn’t it a darned shame that news outlets lost sight of the basics of human trust?”

I’m like everyone else … concerned over the unraveling of American news media (I’ll not worry about media in Russia).  It goes way beyond the shrinking number of classically trained journalists, the shuttering of some fine papers and magazines, and certainly, the striking lack of editing or adherence to basic principles that used to restrict opinion creep.  I’m worried about the apparent inability of most people to recognize the difference between news and commentary – and that includes a lot of people who claim to be journalists.

This single comment left me reeling:

“All of this suggests that a news organization’s credibility both as a brand and for individual stories is significantly affected by what kinds of people are sharing it on social media sites such as Facebook. The sharers act as unofficial ambassadors for the brand, and the sharers’ credibility can influence readers’ opinions about the reporting source.”

Of course!  For Pete’s sake, are you going to accept something your most trusted friend tells you?  Even if it is published by some outlet you’ve never heard of?  You’ve probably never heard of the American Press Institute before, but if you’re reading our blog it is most likely because we have a relationship and you’re therefore likely to believe I wouldn’t share something with you if it was not reliable information.

All this boils down to the colossal failure of media organizations to earn trust.  It isn’t just because the President of the United States is cutting them up like paper dolls.  He’s simply capitalizing on their failure to create a relationship.  Facebook gets you to like someone.  Do you ever wonder whether your newspaper cares if you like them?


Conflict Abounds.

February 27, 2017

by Roger Pynn

If there’s one thing that’s certain, conflict is everywhere these days.  But it doesn’t stop at the borders of the District of Columbia.

My friend Elise Mitchell, APR, CEO of Mitchell Communications Group and of Dentsu Aegis Public Relations Network has a fascinating blog focused on leadership, and in her most recent post she addresses a leader’s role in conflict resolution.

Every day we are seeing people through the lens of the media, many running from conflict.  To the contrary, she suggests, it may be better to approach conflict the way a firefighter takes on flames … running into the danger.  She says, First, let’s clear up a common misconception: Having conflict on your team doesn’t mean you’re a bad leader. Conflict is just part of a leader’s journey, and you have to accept that, not run from it.”

Conflict is as predictable as the sunrise.  In our business, navigating conflict is essential.  God put us here to create relationships, and if we run from conflict we’re likely to be short-lived for the profession.

In her new book Leading Through the Turn (which metaphorically takes insight from what she’s learned as a motorcycle enthusiast), Elise suggests leaders ask themselves these questions:  1) Where do you want to go? 2) How do you plan to get there? and, 3) Are you enjoying the journey.  It was question #3 that made me wish I had met Elise a long time ago.


How to Be the Best Intern Ever

February 23, 2017

by Ashley Tinstman

As someone who was once a nervous, timid intern, I’ll admit—internships can be somewhat terrifying.  Your professors constantly stress the importance of getting multiple internships, but the process of seeking and obtaining those internships can sometimes feel overwhelming.

If you’ve ever felt this way, take a deep breath and relax.  Internships are a process of trial and error—they’re designed to help you learn what you like and don’t like, all while getting real-world experience.  And as employers, we’re here to help you grow, and that’s something we love to do.

Here at Curley & Pynn, interns are a valuable part of our team who get to work on all kinds of projects—drafting newsletters, doing research, building media lists and more.  Now, you might be thinking, “That sounds awesome, but what exactly do you look for in an intern?”  Luckily for you, I am here to answer that very question.  Here are five things that make a great C&P intern:

  • Write.  And then write some more.

But seriously … writing is a vital skill in our industry.  As an intern at C&P (and in your future jobs), you will be writing on a consistent basis. Whether it’s a news release, feature story or a media pitch, you must have strong writing skills and know how to tailor your writing to very specific audiences.  If writing isn’t exactly your strong suit, practice!  It’ll go a long way in helping you stand out during your interview.

  • Be a sponge.

Once you’ve landed the internship, be eager to learn all you can.  Observe what others do, take notes, ask to sit in on meetings and seek out advice. We are here to be a resource for you, so don’t be shy.  You can learn a great deal by observing and asking questions.

  • Be a problem solver.

In the PR industry, you will undoubtedly face challenges that require you to think critically.  You may have to do difficult research for a client or write about a topic with which you’re unfamiliar.  In those cases, be resourceful and attempt to work through the problem you’re facing.  But if you get stuck after trying, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  • View mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Everyone makes mistakes.  It’s an unavoidable reality.  You’ll make mistakes as an intern, and you’ll make mistakes as a seasoned industry pro.  But guess what … that’s OK.  Mistakes may not be pleasant in the moment, but they can be a valuable learning opportunity.  When your internship supervisor offers constructive criticism, view it as a positive.  We want to help you grow and succeed.

  • Take initiative.

One of the most valuable things you can do as an intern is take initiative. If there’s a project you want to get involved with, tell us.  If there’s something you want to learn more about, speak up.  If you don’t have enough work to do, ask for more.  We do our best to get our interns involved in a variety of projects, but we always like when our interns take the initiative to ask first.

If you’re interested in interning at an awesome agency with awesome people, you can find more information here.


Will Automation Put the Fact in Fact-Check?

February 15, 2017

by Dan Ward

Automated fact-checking may be the wave of the future, according to this Poynter Institute story, and that could be a good thing if it begins to add objectivity to what is currently opinion journalism.

Instead of checking facts and declaring them correct or false, many “fact checkers” today deal in degrees of accuracy, judging stories according to a scale of truthfulness.  Human judgment is required to determine whether a story is true, mostly true or half true, and that judgment requires a subjective review that inevitably is influenced by journalists’ feelings about a topic.  So instead of getting a verdict on whether a statement is true or false, we get an opinion that factors in bias, assumptions and context.

From the story about the goal of automation: “The state of technology and the maturity of fact-checking organizations today make it possible to take the first steps toward that goal.”

In a nascent industry that issues rulings like “Pants on Fire” and “Four Pinocchios,” the term “maturity” rates a Half True at best.

But of course, that’s just my opinion.


From Papercuts to Smartphones and Back Again

February 14, 2017

by Heather Keroes

I’m an addict.  It’s a Saturday morning and I am glancing down at my iPhone while attending a child’s birthday party.  Although I try not to respond to emails over the weekend and after close-of-business, I like to keep an eye on things.  The world doesn’t stop because it’s a weekend and as a PR professional, it’s my job to always be listening.  And so, over the cheers of children hitting a piñata, I multitask, switching between my phone and another forkful of cake.

I am not alone.  Most of us check our emails on smartphones and tablets and this mobility has changed the way we work.  When I began my public relations journey more than 13 years ago, you couldn’t check email on-the-go (unless you were among the first lucky folks to own a BlackBerry). And even with access to my desktop computer, I stuffed envelopes, mailed press kits, faxed information and (shocker) regularly pitched media by phone.

These days, I have significantly fewer papercuts and I’m able to manage client requests and issues anywhere at any time.  But this doesn’t mean that the “old ways” are obsolete.  In fact, they can still be the most powerful ways to communicate (I’m a fan of phone calls, especially).  It’s important for all of us – those who have grown up with email and tablets, as well as those of us who remember the pre-Facebook days – to not lose sight of the tried-and-true communication methods that foster conversation and engagement.

Ask anyone at Curley & Pynn, and they will tell you that once we have determined our publics and our message, we take aim and fire through mediums that have the greatest impact with our target.  And while that may often mean email or other digital means, that doesn’t mean we don’t get papercuts from time to time.


Bring Me Thinkers.

February 13, 2017

by Roger Pynn

An interesting article in Tactics, a publication of the Public Relations Society of America, makes a case for writing as the most sought-after skill in public relations.  With apologies to the author Hanna Porterfield, let me say that writing is just a bar for entry.  What I want is people with critical thinking skills … who hopefully are writers.

Of course, you have to be able to put your thoughts “on paper” in this business.  But I can teach even a fair writer to do better work in that area.  What I can’t do, I’ve found, is teach people to logically think through a problem or challenge instinctively.

Why?  I think it stems from what and how they are taught in school.  Few public relations programs I’ve seen have more than one – if even that – course addressing how to think through the challenges you’ll face as a practitioner.

Sure, it is true, that in your early days in our world you will be doing sometimes repetitive research to find out what has already been published on a topic, or to create a media list or identify thought leaders.  And you’ll be asked to write a lot less than the Great American Novel.  But if you are truly cut out for public relations, you’ll approach each of those tasks by asking one big question.

“Why?” is the question that should drive everything.  When you understand why you are doing something, why information is important, why the three paragraph release or blog post fits into an overall communication program, you’ll be on your way to bigger assignments.

We’re trying to hire an entry-level communications specialist now.  To us, entry level is someone with a couple of years of experience under their belt.  They should be looking for that second job … one that gives them the chance to write bigger things, be part of creating strategies and take their place on the front line with clients and community.

The biggest challenge for us right now is finding that person who can think … as well as write.


Everything Else

February 10, 2017

by Dan Ward

I read a tweet today in which George Orwell was quoted: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”

We’ve written often on these pages about the changing industry of public relations and how we often tell client stories in ways that no longer involve journalists.

Orwell today could just as easily say that public relations is telling stories that deserve to be told, but which journalists do not see fit to print.


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