Monday, September 20, 2010

a change is gonna come...or it has already started

Reminding me of my favorite Sam Cooke song, this week's readings discussed the changes in the PR industry and how these changes affect the way non-profit organizations should go about receiving good media coverage.

Ch. 5 starts by talking about the emerging trend of freelance writers. Freelance writers are becoming a common trend among media because it is often cheaper to pay freelance writers than to have full-time employees. This makes it more difficult for non-profits to get their organizations out into the media because it's harder to make solid contacts at a specific news company. Luckily though, even freelance writers often have specific topics they prefer to write about and are often hired by the same medium several times. As an example, here's an article from The Huffington Post (an entirely online newspaper!) written by a freelance writer, Terry Gardner, (who has a few specific topics she continually writes about) about a non-profit organization, Sustainable Works. Also, after taking all these PR classes, I realize that this was very likely pitched to Gardner by a PR professional from the organization. This article from The Huffington Post leads me to the next point from this chapter: the Internet! The Internet is completely changing the way journalism works and the flow of information. While it means PR professionals have possibly thousands more influentials to watch (the blogosphere is huge now) and communicate with, it also opens thousands of doors (including the organization's own website) to get the organization's name out for a much lower cost than traditional media. The book says it well with "Bloggers-Eliminating the Gatekeepers."

With these now thousands of options for media coverage, there are many steps/aspects to earning good coverage. Ch. 7 is long - in fact, the longest chapter in the book - which I think just emphasizes the point that receiving good media coverage is very important and one of the keys to success for social change. The chapter starts by talking about the importance of relationships with reporters, a point it continually makes throughout the chapter and in other chapters of the book. I like the way Karen DeWitt, a VP of communications for a social justice organization in DC, puts it, "You have got to get to know reporters, and the best way to form relationships is to bring something of value to the relationship" (quote taken from book). Reporters are constantly bombarded with story pitches. Having a story with something interesting or different can help your story cut through to the front of a reporter's mind.

Much of the chapter also discusses the various ways a PR professional can make it easy for reporter's to get information. One of the ways suggested is to have a press room section on the organization's Web site. This section should include information on the organization in easy-to-read formats (backgrounders, fact sheets, etc.), links to articles mentioning/featuring the organization, press releases, multimedia (photos, audio/video clips, graphs, etc.) and contact information. The book also suggests telling reporters when new information is posted so they also know what's happening. I like this idea because it adds a sense of timeliness to an organization's happenings which is key for news stories. Something that kind of caught me by surprise was the extensive use of the telephone in dealing with reporters. I guess since I've basically grown up with the Internet and mainly communicate through e-mails and text messaging, I didn't realize the impact the telephone still has (Also, I kind of detest talking on the phone. There is something about not being able to see someone that throws me off.). Telephone still seems to be a way to reach a reporter quickly and with a short, concise spiel ready, it can communicate easily without wasting the time of the reporter. Also, the telephone is often used for interviews, audio press conferences, and even radio tours. I guess I'll have to get over my thing against telephones. I will obviously use it in my career.

Alright, the last main point I want to talk about from Ch. 7 is the planning and details of press conferences and major events. I never realized the amount of work, research and planning that goes into both of these. You must alert and invite media well in advance and send multiple reminders (makes sense as I said before, reporters are bombarded with pitches). A lot of planning must go into choosing and setting up the physical locations of press conferences and major events. Training spokespeople and choosing the right visuals are also key for success. While more for major events (though it applies to press conferences too), the production is very important. The book compares it to a theatrical production which I think is pretty accurate. Of course, another key to press conferences and major events is the evaluation. This is something that is emphasized in every PR book I read, every PR class I take, every PR blog I follow. You don't really know if something was a success until you evaluate it. The main reason this is so important is because this shows what worked and what didn't so you know what to change in future events. I'll admit this also sounds like one of the really fun parts to me. It's a chance to see if your ideas were a success and often leads to a second chance if they didn't. All in all, the changing industry has affected the way PR professionals work, yet traditional methods are still popular and some tried-and-true aspects have stuck around (like research, planning and evaluation).

On a side note, I don't know if this means I'm in the right major or just kind of a nerd (possibly both), but I think the Freedom Forum's Newseum sounds really cool! It's definitely on my list of places to go if I ever make it back to DC.

Monday, September 13, 2010

values, values and more values

Alright so once again, after reading chapters 3 and 4 in our book, one thing keeps coming back as a highly important aspect of effective strategic communications: values. (Ok not to completely dismiss the Ch. 3, research is highly important too and the book suggests that media trend analysis and taking stock of public opinion are two of the easiest ways to research for a communications plan). Basically everything needs to go back to values; but with this emphasis on values comes a need for a thoroughly thought-out message. The idea of "contested concepts," or different definitions for values-based messages is really interesting to me. This is something I definitely see as changing the view of a message and therefore important for PR professionals to understand. All contested concepts have an essential, uncontested core and that is what communications plans must resonate with its audience. I think this is where the FrameWorks framing elements and levels take form. Though it simplifies the process, the three levels used by FrameWorks work well to describe the basic foundation for framing. The three levels are these:
1. Big Picture - This is where the general public is on most issues. It's the basic idea of a movement.
2. Issues & Movements - This is where activists are. These are the more specific groups of people to whom you want to appeal who you already know care about a certain issue.
3. Specific Policies & Legislation - This is where policy makers and experts are. These people know a lot about the issue and usually have a lot at stake when it comes to the issue.
**Note - The book also expresses the need to operate at the level of the audience to whom you are appealing. Using the language and jargon necessary for that particular audience is very important.

I think the way the book explains the importance of framing messages so well, I'm going to quote it: "By properly framing messages, you build a communications strategy on widely held values that shape opinions. And within those frames, you can create targeted messages, assembling the specific concepts and language that will resonate with those who are persuadable and ready to move to action" (p. 44). This presents the "challenge" in the book: to move people past their natural habits and thoughts to a new frame or re-frame the words describing the issue.

Trying to find an example of values shown in an ad:
So this is certainly not for a non-profit (Louis Vuitton is probably considered the exact opposite of that) but I found it interesting that this was the first video in the results after I searched "values" on YouTube.

The messages and reflections on values in this ad are strong. And yet, you would never know what it was for until the very end. There is absolutely no mention of the brand, just the idea of a journey and its effect on a person. This is interesting because it does a good job in connecting a value/idea to a brand. It is obviously appealing to an audience that enjoys travel and puts "being worldly/cultural" high on a list of values. This equates to an audience that can afford to travel a lot, and moreover can afford to buy LV. Many of the comments stated how much they loved this commercial and its branding power; however, others thought it was too fake (connecting this "love life" value with a expensive brand). I applaud LV for this commercial but I too wish it was for something a little more substantial than a designer brand. The emotions and values presented in this video could do wonders for some sort of non-profit organization that wanted to promote cultural tolerance or even an organization like the Peace Corps. People would be less likely to see the commercial as pretentious if the organization behind it was more substantial and fit better with the values presented.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

not just the big picture..but that too

This week we were asked to read chapter two in our book, Strategic Communications for Nonprofits (which I love the way it is set up). This chapter went through the elements of a strategic communications plan, and I mean all the elements. It discussed every little detail for a successful communications plan, yet was able to relate everything back to the big picture - an organization's overall goals and values (that, of course, are based on each other). I think that's what I liked so much about the emphasis of the chapter. An organization must set its goals based on its values, and everything else in a communications plan must stem from that.

The other thing that was repeated throughout the chapter was - get this - the plan! Basically, you cannot over plan a communications plan. A successful communications plan relies on research, well-developed messages, trained spokespeople, high-quality materials, and knowing exactly what resources you have and how you will use them. After defining your goals, you must define your audiences - and then learn everything you can about them. Then you need to know what media they use and to whom they will listen (then learn everything you can about them). A part of the plan that I find interesting personally is the use of the Internet. As a webmaster for an organization, I understand the importance of the Internet and its ability to relay information. The chapter's emphasis on an updated and well-organized Web site is key. You must know what the site is meant to do.

I'll admit, when I first read all of this I thought, this is a lot of work. How do PR professionals do this every day for their organizations? And is it all necessary? After reading the case study on The Fairness Initiative on Low-Wage Work, the answer is yes, definitely. All of these steps and planning were necessary for the success of the Fairness Initiative. This really was the perfect outcome because they did exactly what they wanted; they changed the policy on their issue (and I'll admit that I benefited from this change myself, so kudos to them). The effort and collaboration (20 different groups coming together is impressive!) of the Fairness Initiative was the reason they were able to call attention to their issue and eventually make the ultimate difference.

The last point I found interesting about this chapter is its use of the term "earned media" (p. 74). I really like this term because I feel that it truly embodies the importance of a good communications plan. With the advent of the Internet came an overload of information because now any one can make his or her opinion public (and make it seem professional, whether it is or not). A good communications plan is necessary to gain significant coverage of an issue. If you want your issue to become more than just a blog topic or internal organization issue, a plan gets it regular, positive news coverage.