Knowing that my views often contradict hers, Amanda invited me to write this "Week in Review" specifically to offer my contrary views. This is the second of these reviews; it will be interesting, to say the least, to see if it isn't the last.
The attack on Phil Gomes left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, the same disgusting taste I've experienced when reading other broadsides aimed at individuals when they have done nothing to warrant it. It undermines Strumpette's other commentary on the profession. People like me who are offended by the savagery of these undeserved attacks wind up viewing all Strumpette posts through the same filter, or simply give up on the blog altogether.
The specifics of this particular attack are especially confounding. Phil simply reported that he was moving from Los Angeles to Chicago. He made it clear that the primary reason was a desire to be close to the woman he loves, with whom he has had to suffer through the difficulties of a long-distance relationship. Why this should be a launching platform for insults unrelated to any reality is a rationale that escapes me.
Labeling the piece "satire" doesn't make it any more palatable.
Make no mistake. If Phil had done something egregious in his work or written something outrageous on his blog, he would be a legitimate target. But he did not. And the glee with which Amanda has found a way to twist an innocuous post into a venemous assault is disturbing, to say the least. You have to wonder if there isn't something personal going on here.
By way of disclosure, I should note that I know Phil Gomes. I like him and respect him deeply. I think he's a scary-smart guy who has done a lot of good work. He has also given of himself based on things he cares about. He is one of the co-founders of the Bay Area's Third Thursday event. He produces EarShot, the Edelman podcast, in his spare time; it's not one of his job responsibilities.
Beyond that, he's one of the only people I know who wins awards he didn't seek. Most of us submit entries to competitions, but Phil just finds out that he's been honored for his work. His clients are always delighted with his work. (Phil once told me that the only complaint ever lodged against him was over the fact that he uses too many big words.)
Phils has creds. He spent five years with the Stanford Research Institute, where he earned widespread, mainstream, and sustainable attention for concepts and technologies that make my head spin. While working essentially as an independent communicator, Phil helped guide startup clients to win -- twice -- the Technology Pioneers honor at the World Economic Forum.
Now Phil works in the Me2 Revolution group at Edelman, another of Strumpette's routine targets. There's no question that Edelman has stumbled in its efforts to implement social media solutions for some of its clients and deserves to be called out for it. In fact, I've written less-than-flattering posts about Edelman during the various WalMart debacles and the Vista kerfuffle. (I've also written about Ketchum and several other agencies whose behaviors warrant attention.) But these are a handful of incidents compared to the thousands of assignments for countless clients who have been well-served by Edelman's expertise. I recall hearing, for example, that Edelman is the AOR for the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. The only word for the PR efforts on Dove's behalf is "masterful."
When Edelman or Phil or anyone else blunders, I'll be right there with Amanda commenting on it, not for the delight in skewering someone, or the perverse job derived from knowing you've hurt someone, but rather to learn from the error.
But this kind of pointless, mean-spirited attack? There is no justification for it.
Now, on to other matters.
License to Practice
In the first post of the week, Amanda discovered that Nigeria requires public relations practitioners to be certified in order to be able to practice. If you're not certified -- the equivalent of a license -- you're breaking the law.
Nigeria is not the only country with this requirement that is more commonly associated with doctors, lawyers, accountants, and the like. Panama and Brazil (where I'll be traveling next month) also require licenses. The most prominent proponent of licensing, in fact, was Edward Bernays, the widely-acknowledged father of modern PR.
The arguments for licensing have been covered broadly; not the least among them is the notion that licensing will elevate PR into the ranks of doctors and lawyers -- that is, it will become a true "profession."
But I don't buy it. Not only are doctors, lawyers, and accountants required to obtain a license, they need to get the license for any jurisdiction in which they want to practice. When a doctor moves from New York to California, he has to pass the test to practice in California. Licensing is a means of assuring that someone engaged in that kind of work is thoroughly versed in the laws and standards in that region.
PR is different on two counts. First, the practice of PR is based largely on creativity; it is not grounded in black-and-white solutions. Accountants have limited ways to tote numbers in a ledger. Doctors must diagose the right illness and treat it with proven methods. Communicators, on the other hand, work in a business where their job is to differentiate their employers or clients from the pack, to make them stand out. We do that by finding new and different ways to get messages across, to get people talking, to address organizational issues. We should, of course, be governed by ethical behavior, but unlike a doctor whose course of action will be "treat with an antibiotic," a PR practitioner is rarely required to "issue a statement" or "hold an event." How, then, do you test practitioners when there are no black-and-white, up-or-down, yes-or-no correct answers? And do you punish a practitioner for stepping outside the bounds and trying something that's never been tried before (like the recent upload of an unscripted announcement by JetBlue Chairman David Neeleman to YouTube) just because it's not on the exam?
Second, geographic issues are often non-existent but other dimensions are critical -- culture, for example.
We're better off with accreditation programs like those offered by PRSA and IABC that are able to gauge a communicator's general understanding of what it means to manage a communication function. Those programs only need greater recognition to have meaning outside the insular profession.
So Amanda's discouraged. She finds people in the profession doing despicable things and paints every practitioner with the same brush. She thinks she's discouraged? Sheesh -- try working in this profession with honorable and decent poeple whose behavior would never mirror that of the subjects of Amanda's post, then being told you're just like them because you happen to work in the same field. Now, that's discouraging.
I even remarked on this in the latest installment of "For Immediate Release," the podcast I co-host with Neville Hobson. I read another assault on the profession, reported by New York Times tech columnist and blogger David Pogue, that referred to us as "PR parasites." I was preparing to craft a response, but finally said, "Screw it."
Look; we're in one of the most visible professions on earth, one of the few with the word "public" in the name. Every profession has its bottom-feeders, its losers, those who take the easy way out or will do anything for a buck. Because we're so visible, these people stand out. It's easy, then, for the cynical to assume everybody in the business is like that. The epiphany for me was this: There's nothing we can do about that. The answer, then, is to do outstanding work, to behave ethically, and to take pride in what we do.
As for Amanda, she could benefit from spending some time in the offices of people like Mike Manuel or any of the countless others who toil honorably, produce excellent results for the clients, and manage to do so while adhering to the highest of ethical standards.
It's worth noting that Pogue, in response to a comment, said he was only quoting someone else and that he thinks many PR people do top-flight work. He wrote...
They bring cool new products and trends to my attention.
They actually tell me who their RIVALS are, so I can do a more complete roundup of the product category.
They make themselves reachable nights, weekends, in sickness and in health, to help me get questions answered and problems solved.
They remain available after the column comes out, even if they got a savaging review, to answer follow-up questions from readers.
With very few exceptions, they are forthright, professional, and honest even about their product’s failings.
If there are PR practitioners who motivate that kind of response from a journalist, Amanda should feel better.
Phil Hall believes PR measurement is important. We have no argument there. He also believes it's easy. Well, it can be. But simply attributing any change you were trying to affect to your PR efforts is just plain silly. Is PR the only function working to affect share price, sales, reputation? Of course not; several factors are in play working toward these goals. To take credit for a spike in share price just because you launched a PR effort ignores the various other forces that could account for some or all of that increase.
While measurement should be part of PR 101 classes and texts, knowing how to do it is not a 101-type of exercise. I wish it were; it would make life easier for a lot of us.
First, you need a baseline against which to measure. There is a current state and a desired state. The impact you want to have must be aligned with the objectives that drove the strategy you developed. I just love reading case studies from people who lay out lofty objectives (e.g., "To move 15% of the negative opinion about product X into the neutral or positive camps"), then offer the results ("Sales went up after we launched our effort.") Excuse me? Those sales could have come from new customers or existing satisfied customers. Your effort was aimed at disaffected cusomters. Your must measure against your objectives.
While it may be easy to measure sales if you're a marcomm professional trying to drive sales, what about the crisis communication effort? If JetBlue doesn't start selling a ton of tickets in the next couple weeks, did their crisis communication efforts fail? No, it's more complicated than that (whether we like it or not). JetBlue is dealing with emotional reactions to events and trying to influence opinions. The payback will be long-term, not short-term. (And, not to beat on a dead horse, that's one of the differences between PR and marcomm.)
As I said, measurement sometimes is easy. The degree of difficulty depends on the objectives. But to dismiss advanced, well-thought-out measurement techniques and philosophies because they're not simple is a mistake. If measuring against the objectives you set for your effort is easy, congratulations. If it's not, then do the work necessary to get valid measurement.
Until next week...
Shel Holtz, vice president of new marketing for crayon and co-host of the For Immediate Release. Shel has nearly 30 years of experience in organizational communications. He is the author of four communications-related books, including "Blogging for Business" and is a regular on the communication speaking circuit. He is accredited by the International Association of Business Communicators, and is the recipient of five IABC international Gold Quill awards for communication excellence. In 2005, IABC named Shel a Fellow — the association's highest honor.
There is much talk within PR about measurement. Some people might say there is too much talk – entire conferences and online resources are devoted to the subject. A few trade journals devote endless amount of editorial space to pondering the subject of measurement, writing about it with such awe and mystery that it seems on par with the Kabbalah in its complexities and mysteries. There are even a number of characters running around the industry that claim to be specialists in this subject – and I use the word “characters” without irony because these people are making a nice living telling their peers the most obvious information imaginable.
What is “measurement”? The definition, truth be told, is painfully simple. PR measurement is simply trying to keep track of the quality of the PR work and its quantifiable returns. Notice I said “quality of the PR work” rather than “quality and quantity.” Quality and quantity, as any honest PR expert will confirm, are not synonymous. A PR campaign can generate hundreds of news clippings, but if they don’t bring about the desired results then they simply represent an excess of valueless ink.
How serious is this issue? If you believe some people, it is on par with global warming. I’ve waded through the numerous articles, blogs and conference sessions devoted solely to making sense of measurement, and the subject is viewed with an acute seriousness that you’d think the fate of the industry depended on the ability to measure PR activity.
To be frank and cruel, measurement is PR 101. Or maybe it’s PR 050, considering its focus is still heavily skewered on media relations (which, as we will see later in this book, is only part of the PR puzzle – and, as the new PR evolves, it becomes a relatively smaller one). But to amuse those who need to be comforted on the subject, here are some of the main concerns relating to measurement:
Keeping track of media coverage is too easy. There is no shortage of clipping services, monitoring services and search engines that can keep you updated on the latest coverage relating to your current PR project. None of them are infallible, but on the whole they do a fine job and usually catch most of the coverage that’s out there.
You can confirm the quality of your measured success by synchronizing it with recorded sales activity, web traffic, stock activity and/or consumer or B2B inquiries that occur the moment your PR efforts take off. This is really too easy, though many PR “experts” insist it is extremely difficult. It is difficult only if the PR person doesn’t ask the sales people and webmasters to keep track of activity relating to a particular PR happening or news event. Honestly, is it difficult to piece together product sales levels, web traffic, telephone inquiries or the audience turnout for a special event after a PR-related story or promotion occurs? And if the company in question is publicly-traded, how difficult is it to keep track of stock activity after corporate-related news is set loose into the information stream?
Fudging the truth on the quality of coverage. This happens too frequently on the agency side of PR, when the guns-for-hire have to explain the lack of high-profile coverage. The answer is to play up insignificant coverage and pretend it is something special. Measurement gets skewered when activity reports are thick with “hits” coming from low-power TV and radio stations and publications in second- or third-tier markets. Again, quantity is being substituted for quality – and if the level of attention isn’t met with a level of activity resulted from the attention, then the perception of PR’s ability suffers accordingly.
From a personal perspective: I never had an issue with measurement, nor did I wind up in situations where I could not provide an accurate measurement of how the PR effort aided the corporate goals. I have problems fathoming how PR professionals are flummoxed when they are required to present a detailed measurement of their work. In the new PR environment, those who cannot measure the effectiveness of their work will be out of work – and rightfully so.
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book "The New PR" will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)
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