How serious are PRs about being genuinely professional?

So many embargoed press releases...

A simple, musing, rhetorical, tweet on Monday evening about PRs who send out press releases under embargo prompted a wide-ranging conversation on Twitter among a handful of people about professional behaviour, education and training, and being prepared for the PR workplace.

Sending out press releases under embargo isn’t an unusual practice. On the contrary, it can be a worthwhile activity for a PR professional, agency or client-side, when you want to enable journalists and others you believe can help tell your story be as prepared as possible and be ready to go live at an agreed future time.

What prompted my tweet was the sense of despair I feel all too often these days upon receiving press releases under embargo from PRs I don’t know or with whom I have no actual relationship.

And relationship is key, in my view. I’ve always regarded making any public announcement under embargo part of a process of trust-building, where both parties to an embargo have, beforehand, mutually agreed to respect the terms of it.

That requires some kind of prior personal connection, either physical or virtual, between two parties that is the building block for a relationship of some kind.

What I see nowadays, though, has nothing to do with relationship (nor, hence, trust-building or even respect) when I get press releases embargoed for days forward from people I don’t know and with whom I’ve not agreed any terms of any embargo.

They just send out the press releases anyway, usually mail-merged in bulk to distribution lists built from Vocus or Cision subscription databases – in spite of clear guidance from those two respected firms that you’re not supposed to do that – and with little or no thought to understanding whether the press release contains information that is at least relevant to the receiver.

Relevance is a highly significant aspect of this. The worst case is when I get an embargoed press release from a PR I don’t know, and it’s totally irrelevant to me.

Remember An Inconvenient PR Truth’s push against irrelevant press releases a few years ago? Go on, remind yourself.

An Inconvenient PR Truth from RealWire on Vimeo.

I’ve written about this topic a lot over the years, filed under the ‘Spam’ category.

So, to my near-rhetorical question: “Why should I respect embargoes?”

I do, actually, but in a passive sense – there’s no way I will write or say anything about a company or its product or service, embargo or no embargo, on information I get sent this way. Ever. I just delete the email and any attachments that come with it, and move on.

So musing on Twitter provoked some others to share their thoughts on the topic. Quite a few like minds, thank goodness, starting with Barbara Nixon and David Kamerer in the US:

And leading to a lengthy discussion involving Gabrielle Laine-Peters, Chris Owen and Paula Stei in the UK:

Gabrielle captured the scores of tweets into a Storify curation so please review that for the full conversation flow, or see the curation embedded at the end of this post.

There are three aspects from the conversation that have been rattling around my head since yesterday:

  1. The practice of sending out press releases under embargo as I’ve described here is anachronistic at best, unprofessional at worst, especially at a time when authenticity and relationships are two watchwords for creating the climate of trust that every PR professional surely ought to be striving to do (read the Edelman Trust Barometer 2014 to see why).
  2. That leads to focusing on the word ‘professional’ and how PRs clearly wish to be perceived as such by others, according to the latest ‘State of the Profession’ survey from the CIPR, published last week, saying, “Whilst nine out of ten respondents wish to be acknowledged as ‘professional’, results indicate a practice which seemingly struggles to embrace its desired professional ambitions.”
  3. To that end, CIPR President Stephen Waddington issued a challenge to CIPR members (one that every PR should pay heed to, CIPR member or otherwise): “How serious are you about putting this ambition [to be considered a professional] into practice?

It would be an easy matter to stay in exasperation mode and dismiss all of this as so much snow in Hell.

Even Stephen thinks it may take quite a while to see change.

Yet perhaps now, there’s a chance that some people in, or about to become part of, the public relations profession care enough that they themselves will be the architects of change.

Consider Paula Stei’s comments in the Twitter conversation yesterday. She’s a third-year PR student at university, who has a clear view on what feels right or not, and questions some behaviours. Maybe Paula and others in her generation can be the drivers of change. I’m certainly optimistic that I wouldn’t get an embargoed press release from Paula if we didn’t know each other.

From little acorns do mighty oak trees grow, as an old saying has it. The meaning is clear – great things may come from small beginnings. Behaviour change in how you do press releases is a good example of a small beginning that can lead to bigger things.

Maybe it’s changing a small thing such as this that can get you on the road to being perceived as a professional.

  • Related: In this week’s FIR podcast episode 744, my co-host Shel Holtz and I discuss the CIPR survey and Stephen Waddington’s challenge, looking at other options that professional associations may consider for the big-picture of professionalism, including attaining accreditation or passing an examination as a condition and requirement for a member to be able to practice public relations. That discussion starts about 16 minutes and 50 seconds into the show.

And for the Twitter conversation that prompted this post, here’s the Storify curation of tweets by Gabrielle Laine-Peters:

Think of the new Gmail/Google+ features as part of the identity jigsaw

Gmail and Google+

Last week, Google announced the addition of an interesting new feature to Gmail – the ability for people you know on Google+ to email you even if they don’t have your email address. And vice-versa.

I first heard about it through seeing posts and reports galore about “how to disable Google’s new Gmail feature,” clearly suggesting that an awful lot of people see this as something really bad and to be avoided.

In fact, I’m ok with the idea as explained by Google, that enables anyone in my circles on Google+ being able to send me an email just by typing my name and using the result offered by Google.

And crucially, says Google…

[...] Your email address isn’t visible to a Google+ connection unless you send that person an email, and likewise, that person’s email address isn’t visible to you unless they send you an email.

I’m quite happy with that.

Interestingly, there’s an aspect of this that is much more significant than the simple matter of exchanging emails with people you’re connected to on Google+.

In a post yesterday at re/code, guest writer Hunter Walk has an intriguing idea:

Here’s what I think the integration of Gmail and G+ messaging is really about: Making communications about people and permissions, rather than possession of contact info.

I like this future-thinking as he expands on that idea:

[...] Current generations of kids aren’t going to have to worry about knowing your phone number or email or street address. They’ll be able to press your name or picture, and depending on the app or need, will initiate a text, call, delivery, whatever. Twitter has been experimenting with various DM permissioning. And why do you think Snapchat’s user base didn’t care much when phone numbers leaked? Because the phone number is the least personal data on a phone, compared to your text messages, photos or other app data.

My bet is that a year from now, G+ will be much more about communications, with content sharing as part of the interaction, rather than a social stream. If you were building Gmail and G+ from scratch today, they’d be the same product. And that’s the logic behind the messaging permission changes.

Project that out further and think about this as one potential element in identity verification. Not just your G+ profile or Gmail address, but the whole concept of verifying “name + picture = you” via rich sources of information in trusted databases.

It brings to my mind something that already happened to someone last month where his Facebook profile was accepted by the TSA in the US as validation of identity.

This is a big canvas that paints a huge picture that is one piece of the digital jigsaw that is identity and verifying it, balancing privacy and a lot more.

Lots to figure out.

Is your Facebook profile enough to prove your ID?

Facebook

One thing synonymous with air travel is declaring your identity, usually in the form of a passport or citizen ID card, depending on the country and other factors.

In some countries, you can manage just fine with a driving license (a de facto ID document in many places), residency permit for foreigners, or a multitude of means of proving your identity.

But would a social networking profile be an approved method of substantiating your identity? Facebook, for instance?

The Drum reports that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – the US government agency responsible for security at places like airports – has accepted sight of a traveller’s Facebook profile as an approved form of ID.

The news emerged after Twitter user @ZachKlein tweeted his experience on 22 December. [...] “Got to the airport, realized I left my ID at home. TSA allowed me to use my Facebook profile instead,” he tweeted.

According to the Drum’s report, the TSA says it will accept identification in lieu of other more traditional forms of ID from “publicly available databases.” And the TSA says this clearly on its website in the page entitled ‘Acceptable IDs‘:

We understand passengers occasionally arrive at the airport without an ID, due to lost items or inadvertently leaving them at home. Not having an ID does not necessarily mean a passenger won’t be allowed to fly. If passengers are willing to provide additional information, we have other means of substantiating someone’s identity, like using publicly available databases.

The web page doesn’t explicitly mention Facebook. But the question does arise – is this a new policy or just an individual decision by a TSA employee at one particular airport in how he or she interpreted the meaning of “publicly available databases”?

Another question is: what does it say about Facebook as a place of supposed privacy if a government agency sees it as a publicly-available database?

The possibility of using a social network profile for an ID purpose like this wouldn’t immediately occur to me. But when I think of it, I wonder: why not? If you set your profile to be visible publicly, doesn’t it qualify it as being on a “publicly available database”?

On the face of it, using digital information like a database of personal information to verify someone’s identity makes a lot of sense. It’s efficient, it doesn’t require you to carry bits of plastic or paper, undoubtedly it’s more cost effective, and more secure.

If you trust the end-to-end process of doing this, then it’s not a big step to imagine such digital information about you being used in many other areas where ID verification is required. Think of international air travel where a passport currently is an essential ID to show no matter what other form of ID you may have.

It’s also not hard to project that thought out to iris scanning or facial recognition as a way to verify ID, where no other form of ID is required. That’s not a new idea at all. Indeed, I remember making use of iris-scan recognition for entry to The Netherlands when I lived in Amsterdam a decade ago – no need to show a passport when arriving (or departing) on an international flight.

But all that’s the logic. The emotional aspect of it is a dark place given the absolute lack of trust many people have with regard to governments and personal information. Just ask Edward Snowden.

Still, if it helps makes air travel (for instance) a simpler, easier, safer and more pleasant experience, I like the idea.

I’d be willing to consider it. Would you?

Don’t ignore social voices, Knight Frank #LostMyGiggle

Tweets

It’s always very interesting seeing how the mixture of empowered social communication, Twitter and a hashtag can totally disrupt traditional communication and command and control behaviours.

We’ve seen this during the past week in two specific examples – the negative hashtag hijacking experience for British Gas (#AskBG), and the positive organization/consumer enlightenment experience for the Bank of England (#AskBoE).

As Shel and I discussed in this week’s FIR podcast, a Twitter hashtag that’s at the centre of a communication activity can be a double-edged sword.

So it’s with great interest that I’ve been following developments on Twitter (and elsewhere on the social web, especially Facebook) over the past few days with #LostMyGiggle, #knightfrank and #ruralvoice.

The first hashtag is central to a developing story involving my friend Heather Gorringe, owner of Wiggly Wigglers, a mail-order gardening supply business in Herefordshire; and Knight Frank, the London-based estate agency firm with offices worldwide.

The latter two hashtags play supporting, amplifying (hijacking, even) roles.

The heart of the matter involves a disagreement between Wiggly Wigglers and Knight Frank over professional advice by the latter to the former concerning a planned property purchase.

While I can’t comment on the details of the issue itself, I can comment on the communication and what’s happening online as a one-sided conversation is building that’s extremely critical of Knight Frank.

Results for #LostMyGiggle

One sided? Yes, because the object of all of the criticism is absent from the conversation in the primary place it’s happening.

And absent from its own hashtag, clearly ignoring this conversation that’s extending there as well.

Results for #knightfrank

Just reading the tweets timeline over the past week and more tagged with #LostMyGiggle shows the number of voices expressing concern and outrage at the unprofessional way in which they believe Knight Frank has behaved in this matter is growing by the day.

The total number of tweets (1,254) so far may be small but the reach (2,202,698) is what counts more – look at the number of tweets and retweets and the indicator of network sizes of those tweeters – as Heather posted today.

TweetReach

Facebook is also part of the big picture. Heather noted that Knight Frank deleted a post on its Facebook timeline that she had commented on.

"You have removed a post..."

As I write these words, that post hasn’t been undeleted by Knight Frank. Luckily for posterity, Heather took a screenshot before the post disappeared.

knightfrankdeleted

While I can also see all of this from Knight Frank’s probable perspective – it’s an issue that has potential legal, ethical and professional implications so no public discourse about anything – I can also see where staying mum isn’t necessarily the best course of action.

Some people may think this is all totally irrelevant and has no importance whatsoever. After all, what difference can a small business in rural Herefordshire, along with its vocal social community, make against a global corporation like Knight Frank?

That’s the wrong question, in my view. The TweetReach metrics Heather posted today give us a clue of what really matters here as the small number of critical voices on social networking sites continue to be critical, grow in strength and get amplified as more people discover or stumble across their posts.

Knight Frank should see all this as an alarm bell, a warning shot across the bows of reputation where they will be judged in how they address these online criticisms.

Ignorance is failure.

Filters and trust

Truth-O-MeterAs we get exposed to more and more information online, two elements assume great importance – filtering in the things we want to see; and verifying those things so we trust our filtered-in information along with the purveyors of it.

The former is easier done than the latter: there are apps, algorithms and all manner of technical tools to help you filter in what you want and, thus, filter out what you don’t.

Trust is a very tricky thing. Subjective, emotive and based largely on the things people say to one another, no one has yet come up with a method of automating trust that is convincing, reliable and, well, trusted.

Could PundiFact and the Truth-O-Meter be an answer? According to the US newspaper the Tampa Bay Times, yes, it could.

[…] The new site will have a dedicated staff of journalists who will research claims by media figures and rate them using PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter. The fact-checks will be published on PunditFact.com and will often be featured on the main PolitiFact site.

[…] “Pundits on TV and radio, as well as bloggers and columnists, are prominent voices in our political discourse, yet sometimes they blur the lines between opinion and fact,” said Neil Brown, editor and vice president of the Times. “Now we will hold them accountable, much as we’ve done with politicians.”

PolitiFact does have a track record of rating American politicians and what they say, presenting ratings in a way that you can, at a glance, see how particular public voices stack up on a truth scale. At least, according to PolitiFact.

trueorfalse

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is quoted in the Tampa Bay Times story with a resonating appeal:

I just want news I can trust, and PunditFact is a real contribution in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.

The bold’s my emphasis.

Maybe that’s the way to see this idea as one that’s “in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.” That sounds realistic.

I’d love to see a PunditFact for the UK!

Related posts:

Too much FUD and too little facts about fracking

Fracking equipment

If there’s one major issue of significant public interest today that’s shrouded in fear, uncertainty and doubt, it’s fracking.

If you believe the supporters of this mining process to extract natural gas and petroleum deposits from shale rock – formally known as “hydraulic fracturing” – it could be the salvation of our energy needs for the foreseeable future, maybe for the next forty years or more.

If you believe the opponents of fracking, it’s a major threat to the environment and to public health, causes earth tremors if not actual quakes and is not the answer to meeting our energy needs.

In the midst of all this FUD are governments looking for that political and economic Holy Grail of meeting energy needs that is low cost to do so, will create jobs, stimulate the economy and doesn’t have significant environmental impact, among other things. And might get the political party in government re-elected at the next election.

Who to believe? When trying to find some facts about fracking itself and the consequences of employing the techniques to extract the energy resources from the ground, what confidence can you have that the information you do find is trustworthy? Or rather, those who curate that content can be trusted?

For instance:

A few reports from the mainstream media (plus opinion in one blog post). But is it all just so much propaganda?

Seeing TV news reports of the recent protests surrounding the Balcombe site in southern England and the plans by Cuadrilla, an oil and gas exploration and production company, to carry out exploratory drilling to determine suitability of the site for actual fracking, I’m left befuddled and not knowing who to believe.

Even though the Balcombe protests look far too organized to be purely concerned local citizens – to me, it smacks of professional protesters parachuted in, so to speak, by a serious and well-financed organization, one with a big political agenda and little transparency in who’s behind it all – I’m also left with increasing alarm:  what if the anti-frackers are right?

Now take a look at this video I came across the other day, via Robert Llewellyn. I have no idea who the producer “Millie Thedog” is, what axe he or she may be grinding (or not), nor whether he or she is an information source I can trust. I have no information on that.

Yet this six-minute video presents a calm but disturbing assessment of the alleged impact of fracking in southern England if it actually happens, especially on the scale the video claims.

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

After watching the video for the first time, I asked myself: “Just because we could, does it mean that we should?”

Where’s the truth? Is it out there?

(Image at top of page via Cuadrilla Resources)