Paint Brushes

PR: Not Just Name

Wikipedia has just publicly named a Texas-based “public relations” firm, Wiki-PR, for whitewashing a number of entries on their webpage. Specifically, Wikipedia accused the organization for “sock puppetry” or creating false user identifies to “praise, defend, or support a person or organization.” (Wikipedia). This story is receiving significant attention from several media outlets (i.e., Verge, Los Angles Times, Wikipedia), but some of the news coverage is framing the company as a public relations firm, not a Wikipedia consulting firm.

This story raises an excellent question, what should a company look for in a public relations or social media consulting firm?

PR Defined

The best place to start is to review a commonly accepted definition of public relations. PR is not simply the distribution of a news release or the creation of a social media pages; instead it is a “Strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” (PRSA). In the Wiki-PR case, Wikipedia is a public that can be both influenced by outside sources (i.e., your company) and influence your stakeholders (i.e., potential customers). Engaging in “sock puppetry” does not build a mutually beneficial relationship between your company and Wikipedia, the firm representing you, and other publics.

A public relations firm should have an “about us” page or other relevant information that demonstrates they understand the role of public relations in creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. For example, Edelman, one of the top public relations firms in the world, has an extensive “about us” page that presents its values and understanding of public relations. When searching for a PR consulting firm, make sure that you can review the firm’s values and approach to public relations.

PR Ethics

A public relations firm becomes an ethical advocate for a company or organization. In turn, ethical practices are critical in fairly representing your company to the public. A PR firm should have a statement or clear description of ethical values. PR practitioners are often members of the Public Relation Society of America (PRSA). The PRSA is the largest public relations organization in the world and places significant emphasis on educating its members about ethical standards. Over the years, PRSA has established a Code of Ethics that helps practitioners and firms navigate ethical dilemmas. Compare a firm’s values to the PRSA Code of Ethics. This comparison should give you a good idea of whether a firm places enough emphasis on ethics.

Another sign of a reputable PR firm are employees who hold Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credentials. APR is an industry recognized standard established by the PRSA in 1964 and evaluates a practitioner’s understanding of a number of important aspects of public relations, including ethical practices. A quick Google search or inquiry to a firm can confirm if an individual holds an APR.

Just a Name

Would you judge a book by its cover? When looking for public relations firm you must be very selective. You are not simply selecting someone to write a media release, but someone who will be publically advocating for your company. A little bit of research goes a long way to preventing a crisis situation, (think Wiki-PR and Wikipedia). Go beyond the aesthetics of a website and review a firm’s concept of public relations and ethical values. A great PR firm will be more than willing to share with you their strategies and tactics for achieving your campaign goals


Is It A Strategy Or Tactic ?

A topic that commonly confuses public relations students and sometimes clients is the difference between strategy and tactics. Confusing these concepts can lead to major misunderstandings between team members and other stakeholders. There are many ways to explain the concepts, and I will give you a breakdown of the differences.

What is a Strategy?

Simply stated a strategy is an overall plan of action to achieve a particular goal or objective. Think of strategy as the “what” element of the equation. Paul Smith, author of Great Answers to Tough Marketing Questions, suggests that a strategy “…summarizes how to achieve objectives in general terms – the big picture”. It’s not the same as goals or objectives. Strategy is built on a number of factors including research and theory.

For example, environmental scanning is a strategy to acquire information from the external environment to use in issues management and crisis communication.

What is Tactic?

On the other hand, a tactic is a specific procedure, method, or activity for implementing a strategy.  If strategy is the “Big Picture” then tactics can be considered the smaller details. In a sense tactics are the ability and available resources to accomplish the strategy. Tactics should only be planned after a strategy is created. Keep in mind a tactic is not an outcome. A PR professional does not write a media release simply to write a media release, instead the media release is one specific tactic (activity) to help achieve the big picture.

A tactic in implementing environmental scanning would be to set-up a keyword alert system to inform PR professionals about potential issues and threats.

Why the Confusion?

In PR education, students are often overly focused on the tactics because they are the most visual part of a public relations campaign and students can easily relate to real world examples. In the same line of thinking clients are often more focused on tactics because they are thinking in turns of public perception. On another level creating strategy requires a considerable amount of critical thinking, as a strategy is abstract compared to concrete tactics.

There are two great ways to help solidify the differences between strategy and tactics. First, analyze great public relations campaigns, such as PRSA Silver Anvil Award winners. Copies of the winning campaigns can be found on the PRSA website and are available for PRSA and PRSSA member to download. Secondly, find a PR situation (opportunity or problem) in the media and develop a series of strategies and tactics to resolve the situation.

Or course this may involve a little time and critical thinking, but the knowledge you will gain is well worth the effort.

Google Hummingbird

PR is Not SEO

Google has recently changed the game regarding search engine optimization (SEO). On Thursday Google announced that it was upgrading its search engine algorithm, codenamed Hummingbird. This new update has followed in the wake of other structural updates including Panda and Penguin.

These updates have creating significant buzz on the Internet, specifically among advertisers and marketing professionals. The concern revolves around the effectiveness of previously established SEO techniques (i.e., link optimization). PR professionals have also raised concerns due to the changes
regarding press releases.

Debate about these new changes and the effectiveness of PR tactics such as media releases will no doubt continue for years to come. However, theses new rules provide an opportunity to remind our clients and management that while SEO does play an important part in the technical side of PR, there is indeed more to PR than improving your search engine rankings.

More than Just Press Releases

Does your C-Suite understand the strategic role of PR? Google’s media announcements, provides a chance to inform those departments about both the technical and strategic roles of public relations.

Although the most recent 2012 GAP Study noted that 60% of companies PR/COM report directly to the C-Suite (CEO, CCO, etc.), it is important to evaluate the C-Suite’s knowledge of PR and when necessary help change perceptions.

In communicating with the C-Suite it is also helpful to highlight the limitations of specific tactics. For example, online media releases will continue to be affected by changing policy and search engine updates, however, high quality content and strategic placement of resources will continue to have a strong place in effective campaigns.

Timing is everything

In PR timing is crucial. If Google’s announcements are creating buzz at your company  it may be a great chance to increase awareness about the strategic role of public relations. The technical side of PR will always be directly influenced by changes in technology, however it is the strategic side that will navigate these changes and ensure that your company will reap the benefits.

Green Turf

Undercover Bust Reveals SEO’s Dark Side: Is Your SEO Legit?

USA Today reported that an undercover operation dubbed “Clean Turf” uncovered 19 SEO firms who were creating fake online profiles and employing foreign freelance writers to post positive reviews.

The firms were positing positive reviews on popular websites such as Bing and Google. Attorney General, Eric Schniderman, revealed in a press conference today that the firms agreed to pay over $350,000 in fines and to cease posting fake reviews.

Clients often hire PR firms to help increase a brand’s presence or awareness among a specific audience. To achieve these objectives many PR professional engage in SEO tactics such as identifying relevant keywords, including backlinks, and securing guest posts. However, if your firm does not have extensive experience in SEO or is interested in outsourcing this service you will want to check on the following.

Black, White, or Gray Hat?

You need to ask your SEO firm about tactics. Black hat tactics, such as the creation of fake profiles and reviews, keyword stuffing, invisible text, and doorway pages are high risk and unethical. In contrast, white hat tactics such as improving title tags, meta tags, restructuring URLs, site navigation improvement, and the creation of site maps are all considered ethical. Its good practice to ask your firm about its practices and make informed choices.

Beware of Secrets

One of the core provisions of the PRSA Code of Ethics is the disclosure of information. SEO companies who insist on “secret” practices for page ranking and will not disclose the specifics should raise red flags. Good SEO providers take pride in full transparency and will be more than happy to discuss their strategy and techniques.

The Guarantee of #1

Everyone wants to be #1, but in the world of SEO, it is a long hard battle. Avoid any SEO firm who guarantees #1 rankings for popular search engines. Search engines such as Google and Bing keep their search algorithms private   and are constantly changing them to provide a better user experience. No one knows the secret trick to achieve #1 ranking.

Keep in mind that not all SEO providers are ethical, and unethical SEO practices can result in reputation damage as well as legal problems. In considering an SEO firm, ask the right questions, demand transparency, and follow the PRSA Code of Ethics.


Court Ruling on Facebook “Like” Creates New Policy Issues

On Wednesday the Forth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Facebook “Likes” were protected as free speech under the First Amendment. This ruling creates new policy issues for social media managers and public relations practitioners.

The court reversed a ruling by a Federal District Judge, Raymond A. Jackson, who dismissed a lawsuit in 2012 on the grounds that a Facebook “like” was insufficient speech to be protected by the constitution.

In the ruling the Court stated “In sum, liking a political candidate’s campaign page communicates the user’s approval of the candidate and supports the campaign by associating the user with it. In this way, it is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech”.

This decision follows a growing trend to protect the rights of employee’s engaging in social media. Several organizations including the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have issued several decisions regarding social media policy and have created helpful guidelines for employers. Generally speaking, social media policy cannot freeze an employee’s right to organize, bargain collectively, and improve their working conditions.

Communication Policy

This ruling breaks new ground in determining what constitutions free speech in an online environment. In the past the Courts have declared that written Facebook posts were protected by the First Amendment, but this is the first ruling regarding simple “Like” button is a different and abbreviated form of expression.

Considering that public relations professionals are often involved in the creation of social media policy, it is important to stay informed about court rulings regarding social media when reviewing and developing your social media policy.

Undoubtedly more cases will be brought before the courts in the future and the definition of free speech in an online environment will change. PR practitioners need to work closely with legal advisers and take into consideration court decisions and the NLRB guidelines when developing social media policy.

The new ruling and decisions by the NLRB does not mean that you should avoid creating social media policies. Specific and well-crafted social media polices protect both the employee’s right to free speech and the employer.

Disclaimer: This information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice.


Here’s Looking at You Mini Drivers

This summer BMW launched a “Not Normal” public relations campaign that targeted current Mini owners in a larger than life manner.

One key tactic of the campaign centered around new “smart” electronic billboards that were capable of recognizing Minis as they passed by on the highway. The billboards then display targeted messages directed towards Mini drivers.

BMW launched the campaign in London. UKMN reported that human spotters were located at strategic positions along the highway to identify upcoming Mini drivers and then remotely send a specialized message to the billboard.

Drivers were greeted by simple and creative messages such as “Hello Green Mini Driver” or “You Da Man”. BMW (owner Mini) also planned special events related to the billboards. Nearby locations were designated as “pit stops” offering drivers free treats, fuel, or other small surprises. Additionally, drivers were given the opportunity for a Kodak moment with the special message for a keepsake.

Calling All Mini Owners

Brand loyalty is a key factor in a successful business. It cannot be generated by simple marketing or advertising, but can be developed through strategic planning and excellent public relations.

Brand loyalty is an emotional connection based on trust. BMW had an excellent understanding of this concept when they launched their “Not Normal” campaign.

By reinforcing the idea that Mini owners are unique and inventive individuals, BMW is strengthening the emotional connection between the product and the customer. The “smart” billboards increased awareness about the campaign among Mini owners and in turn invited them to engage in dialog with BMW representatives. This tactic also had the potential of increasing brand awareness in future customers by creating curiosity.

Old Technology, New Twist

Overall, this campaign is a great example of personalizing a traditional asymmetric form of communication (i.e., billboards). The campaign itself is “not normal” and helps illustrate the uniqueness of the Mini brand. It will be interesting to see if it resonates with current customers.

Belfast Press Kit

The Belfast Press Kit Disaster: A Cautionary Tale

Film critics were both shocked and disgusted after receiving press kits for the upcoming movie, A Belfast Story. The story, reported by the Daily Mail, noted that the press kits contained questionable items such as balaclavas, duck tape, nails, and sensational news clippings.

Press Kits

Used properly press kits (PKs) are a great way to break through the media clutter. They essentially assist the media in understanding a story. Typically, PKs consist of press releases, biographies, pictures, and reviews. More creative PKs often feature branded “swag” to help peak the media’s interest.

Michael Levine author of Guerrilla P.R. 2.0 recommends that excellent press kits embrace two key elements: (1) tell a good story and (2) incorporate some form of originality. In examining the Belfast Story’s press kit, how did the creator’s miss the mark?

Know Your Public

Instead of creating interest in the film, the press kit did not take into consideration the history of Belfast. Did the press kit tell a story? Yes. Was it original? Perhaps. However, the message of the press kit was ambiguous and the key publics interpreted the contents as offensive.

In compiling any press kit you must know you publics and your story must be crystal clear. Remember that press kits help clarify your story, not cause confusion or increase ambiguity. The elements of the press kit should be carefully selected and have no negative connotations. In considering the Belfast Movie’s press kit two elements, the balaclava and nails are often associated with crime and terrorism. Criminals often use masks or balaclava’s to hide their identity. Nails, while innocent by themselves undertake new meaning when combined with the other elements of the press kit.

PR professionals must always consider Audience Theory. In essence the audience (i.e., publics) ultimately impose meaning on the media. The creators of A Belfast Story had a very specific and positive story contained within the press kit; however, the publics and movie critics had their own interpretation of the story.

The Bin Laden Blunder: Handling Sensitive Information

Reports have surfaced regarding activity that was happening on the night of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. Specifically, in a conversation at the UCLA Luskin School of Affairs, Reggie Love, Obama’s former personal aide was asked to describe events that occurred that night. According to a story by Vulture, President Obama spent a portion of that day playing cards.

“Most people were like down in the Situation Room and [President Obama] was like, ‘I’m not going to be down there, I can’t watch this entire thing,’ We must have played 15 games…” said Love at a public event.

These statements present a crisis communication situation for the White House, as it negatively portrayed the President as being detached and uninvolved about real-time events that were happening on the night of the raid. Although his statements do not contribute additional information concerning the actual timeline of events, we do know that the President was present in the Situation Room for the now famous photo.

In contrast, The Washington Post reported that Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, present in the Situation Room during the raid, told NBC news that

“He was in the room before they landed in and also in the (situation) room until after the (helicopters) were out of (Pakistan’s) airspace,” Leiter said. “He largely stuck around after that, although there were times he stepped out, but not for especially extended periods – except to work the speech.”

Although this report offers more details about the event, it also appears to conflict with Love’s account of the situation. NBC also reports that the White House declined to comment on the reports.

New Scrutiny

These new reports concerning the administration’s involvement in the event, have prompted other media figures to reevaluate publicity photos and accounts of the event, including the Situation Room photo. Individuals are examining the composition of the photo, including the president’s position at the table and body language.

The media including NBC has repudiated the Obamam Aide for revealing the preseident’s behavior during the raid. Even Al Roker, NBC weatherman, joked “Remmember that non-disclosure thing you signed.”

Unintentional Leaking

The above story presents a perfect opportunity to consider an important area of public relations, handling confidential and leaked information.

The subject of nondisclosure agreements, legally binding contracts which a person promises to keep specific information as a trade secret and not to disclose it without permission, is a valid area of concern for PR professionals. Often PR firms are asked to sign contracts when working with clients. In addition, PR professionals can and should be involved in creating communication policies covering employee nondisclosure of confidential or private information. Reviewing and establishing communication policies regarding sensitive information can prevent potential PR disasters.

Purposeful Leaking

In contrast, it should be mentioned that a strategic press leak of information is a useful tactic available to PR practitioners. Leaking information can be a proactive strategy if your client will be facing bad news and you can locate a sympathetic media outlet. The negative event will eventually reach the media, so a preemptive release of information can limit damage, and “soften” initial reactions to the news.

Leaks will Happen

Information leaks will occur even in the most secure organizations, just ask Edward Snowden.  What should matter to practitioners is prevention and reaction. Planning ahead and having communication policy in place can potentially decrease the number of leaks. If a leak occurs, and it will given enough time, having a strategic plan will ensure that all internal publics will be on the same page and initiate the proper response.

Did the White House handle this crisis situation adequately? If the leak was authorized, it may part of a long-term strategy regarding the Bin Laden raid.  If the leak was unauthorized, declining to comment is essentially the same as “no comment”. As Elaine Nahanson, APR and Fellow PRSA states, “As a reporter, ‘no comment’ means ‘go away,’ ‘I don’t have to talk to you,’ It’s none of your (or your readers or the publics) business.’ From a public relations view, it means “I’m guilty,’ ‘I have something to hide from you (or your readers or my clients and customers).”

In any event PR professionals should always apply the PRSA’s Code of Ethics, strive for transparency and hold truth in high regard.


5 Easy Tips to Step Up Your LinkedIn Game

LinkedIn can be a very powerful tool for professional networking if used effectively. Here are five easy tips to step up your game.

Complete Your Profile

LinkedIn, unlike Facebook, is a business oriented social network. Potential business contacts want to collect as much background information as possible. List your complete educational background, past employers, skill sets, and professional organizations. Don’t forget to add a profile picture, including a headshot allows people to put a name with a face. Concerned about privacy? You can change your settings so that only connections can see your headshot.

Post Regular Updates

Why are you on LinkedIn? What are you working on? Unless your work is classified, posting regular updates will keep potential business contacts (and future employers) informed about your work. Updates are a great way to showcase your productivity.

Join Groups

LinkedIn groups provide another opportunity to establish new connections and keep abreast of trends in your industry. When searching for the best groups think about keywords specific to your industry or profession. After you join a group don’t be a troll, actively participate. You won’t build any new connections by sitting alone in the corner.

Add Backlinks

LinkedIn allows you to add three links to your profile. Backlinks are helpful in increasing your SEO and will help you increase your page rank with search engines like Google and Bing. Backlinks are also another way to encourage potential connections to check-out your webpage or portfolio.

Try Premium

LinkedIn is a free social media network, however it also offers premium plans with a number of valuable features. The most affordable business plan ($19.95 monthly) offers you a chance to see who’s viewed your profile, direct messaging tools, an expanded number of introductions, and a convenient reference search. Take a test drive of the premium service, you never know what opportunities await.


Razor Sharp Burgers: A Lesson in Crisis Communication

Recently a Burger King customer discovered a razor blade between her cheeseburger in Willits, California. An investigation into the incident revealed that it was not a prank, but the result of a questionable practice by a Burger King franchisee that allowed loose razor blades to be used for cleaning.

Luckily no one was hurt in this incident. Although the crisis happened 10 days ago, the story has went viral with over 605 tweets and 126,281 impressions. Has Burger King employed an effective crisis communication strategy? Lets examine two elements of effective crisis management, communication and organizational stance.


No matter the crisis, an organization must implement a communication plan to ensure that the public and the media are well informed. In Burger King’s case they have only released a minimal amount of information about the incident. In a phone interview with USA Today a company spokesperson, Miguel Piedra said “Food safety is a top priority for Burger King restaurants globally…Burger King Corp’s strict food handling procedures clearly outline that razor blades are not permitted in or near food preparation areas at any time.”

Although this statement clearly highlights the company’s concern over the incident, they have not issued any formal press releases on their Corporate Newsroom webpage and have not responded to the incident on Facebook or Twitter.

This delay in communication is troubling in the age of social media. News travels fast and companies must quickly unitize all their communication channels to inform the public.

Organizational Stance

When faced with a crisis, a company must determine its stance or position for dealing with the conflict. In most cases a company will choose either an accommodative or defensive stance. Burger King appears to have adopted a more accommodative strategy, acknowledging the crisis and taking corrective action (i.e., reinforcing food preparation procedures, retraining staff, removing razor blades from the franchisee).

However, the company has made it clear that it was an isolated incident that happened at a franchisee, not a company owned or operated store. Here the company is rationalizing the incident, which can be perceived as a defensive stance.

Conflict Resolution

Has Burger King handled the incident effectively? Regrettably there are no clear-cut solutions to handling a crisis situation.

At first glance, it appears that Burger King was very restrictive in informing the public about the incident. An early and immediate dialogue with the public might have curtailed the story from going viral.

In addition, the lack of social media response calls into question the company’s social media strategies. With over 160,000 Twitter followers and 6 million Facebook “likes” it’s puzzling as to why the company has not issued a response to this issue using social media channels.