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:

Renault pushes envelopes with the Kwid

Renault Kwid

Since the 1950s, concept cars have been ways that car manufacturers have showcased their ideas, talents and creativity about a new model of car, new styling and new technology.

They’re typically shown with great fanfare at motor shows to gauge media and public reaction to new or radical designs that may or may not make it into mass production.

Here’s one from French carmaker Renault that certainly showcases some terrific – perhaps radical – thinking about new technology, capturing the attention of the mainstream media over the past week.

This is the Renault Kwid, a crossover vehicle that Renault presented at the Auto Expo 2014 in New Delhi, India, aimed primarily at the Indian market.

What makes it especially interesting – indeed, it’s what has largely driven the close media attention this past week – isn’t so much its design and styling, but more to do with a little gadget that might come with the vehicle.

Most media reports call the gadget a drone. More accurately, it’s a quadcopter. Check out the video.

Says Renault in its press release:

[…] Taking off from the rotating rear portion of the KWID CONCEPT’s roof, the Flying Companion can be operated in one of two modes – the automatic mode using a pre-programmed flying sequence and GPS location as well as the manual mode, which enables the companion to be controlled using a tablet inside the vehicle. The Flying Companion can be used for a variety of purposes, including scouting traffic, taking landscape pictures and detecting obstacles on the road ahead.

Much of the media reporting I’ve seen talks mainly about the quadcopter as a means to spot traffic jams. My first thought was how handy it would be to spot where to park your Kwid in crowded cities!

The Renault Kwid also represents a pragmatic international view of car design and car use, as another video Renault posted to YouTube shows with interviews with some in Renault’s design team comprising employees from around the world with their views shaped and influenced by their cultures and outlooks.

Says Renault:

Renault Designers around the world cooperated to conceive a vehicle made for local markets and designed to meet the latters’ needs. The interior of the vehicle was designed by François Grenier (Technocentre Design, France) based on original drawings by Mishu Batra (Renault Design India) and the exterior by Anton Shamenkov (of Russian origins, Technocentre Design, France) based on original drawings by Jean Semeriva (Studio Design Brazil). The colors and materials of the vehicle were worked upon by Neha Lad (Indian trainee, Technocentre Design) and developed by Chie Yanagisawa (Japanese designer, Technocentre Design). Axel Breun (Technocentre Design) was the overall Project Manager.

As a concept, the vehicle is pretty neat. It also comes with much more technology innovation including some serious eco-credentials.

I could see this idea of a crossover + quadcopter in action, although that view is more of an emotional desire than a practical perspective.

Will it make it to actual production ? Time will tell. But it’s imaginative.

Making the #CIPRSM redundant

#CIPRSM

One of the great things about a professional association is that it can be a powerful force for change in taking a leading and proactive stand in helping those in the profession – association members or not – understand and more likely embrace the change if that’s a goal.

I see that as a great position the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is now in with regard to social media and where it fits into the broader organisational communication landscape.

Social media has been at the forefront of the CIPR’s professional development agenda for some years, especially since the formation of the Social Media Panel (#CIPRSM) in 2010.

The Panel brought structure, focus and strong and effective advocacy and leadership to a topic that was becoming increasingly important to CIPR members and, indeed, to the CIPR itself. Not only that, it has been a driving force behind the creation of best practice guidelines on how to engage with Wikipedia, and the publication  of two books about social media and PR (Share This and Share This Too) among other achievements.

Today, the CIPR announced new leadership for the Social Media Panel in 2014 and a significant shift in strategic focus over the next two years “that will change the remit of the panel under the leadership of new Co-Chairs” with Gem Griffiths and Dan Tyte taking over from current Chair Stephen Waddington as those Co-Chairs.

The shift in focus is most interesting. In Gem Griffith’s words:

Our ambition is to make #CIPRSM redundant within two years by integrating digital and social media into all aspects of training, education and policy at the CIPR.

We’ll know we’ve done a good job when the panel stops advising solely on social media sites and digital platforms and shifts its focus to discussing and advising on innovative trends – social, technical or otherwise – that will impact and shape the future of the public relations profession.

The timing couldn’t be better to firmly and confidently take social media to the next level in the PR context and en route to that shift in focus Gem mentions aimed at shaping the future of the public relations profession.

Read the CIPR’s full announcement for details: CIPR Social Media Panel sets out ambitious strategy for 2014 under new leadership.

The sorry state of trust according to Edelman’s 2014 Trust Barometer

14-point trust gap

A key finding in the 2014 Trust Barometer published today by Edelman PR shows that, once again, public trust in governments around the world trails far behind trust in business.

Moreover, the ‘trust gap’ has increased markedly in the 2014 findings compared to 2013 – now a 14-point gap – and, indeed, overall compared to five years ago when the financial crisis was starting to bite.

While this gap illustrates a global average, where people’s trust in governments varies within each of the 27 countries in which Edelman conducted its research for the 2014 survey, it’s small comfort as the gap is driven by a decline of trust in government and not an increase in trust in business, Edelman says, with the gap at 20 points or greater in nearly half of the countries surveyed.

A few other highlights from the 2014 report’s findings:

  • Business is now expected to play a much bigger role around the debate and design of regulation as 79 percent of those surveyed believe government should not be working alone when setting policy.
  • A majority of respondents (84 percent) believe that business can pursue its self-interest while doing good work for society.
  • There is call for more regulation in several industries including financial services (53 percent), energy (51 percent) and food and beverage (48 percent). Regionally, the study found that 66 percent want more regulation of the financial services industry in Germany, 73 percent of people in the UK want more regulation of the energy business, while in China, 84 percent desire stronger regulation of the food industry.
  • Trust in CEOs has plateaued, and while they have recovered from a low of 31 percent in 2009 to 43 percent this year they still rank seventh out of eight, sitting only above government official (36 percent), as most credible spokesperson (and Edelman believes that CEOs must become “chief engagement officers” in order to educate the public about the economic, societal, political and environmental context in which their business operates).
  • Academics (67 percent) and technical experts (66 percent), a “person like yourself” (62 percent) and employees (52 percent) continue to be far more trusted. CEOs can build trust in themselves and their companies by communicating clearly and transparently (82 percent), telling the truth regardless of how unpopular it is (81 percent) and engaging regularly with employees (80 percent).
  • Globally, family-owned (71 percent) and small- and medium-sized businesses (68 percent) are more trusted than big business (61 percent).

Companies

  • Companies headquartered in BRIC nations continue to suffer a trust deficit compared to western-based companies. Globally, respondents rated companies based in Germany, a market known for efficiency and productivity, highest (80 percent) followed closely by Sweden (79 percent) and Switzerland (79 percent), both of which are known to have strong policies aimed at protecting the environment and employees and communities. Companies based in Mexico (34 percent), India (35 percent) and China (36 percent) were trusted least and have seen no improvement over the past five years.
  • Technology (79 percent) and automotive (70 percent) were once again the most trusted industry sectors, while banks (51 percent) were least trusted with dramatically low trust levels in Western Europe – Spain (16 percent), Italy (23 percent), UK (32 percent), Germany (33 percent) and France (38 percent).

This is the 14th annual report from Edelman that examines the state of trust in major economies. During the years, it has become a credible and trusted source of valuable insight into the intangible thing called “trust” that, increasingly, has tangible impact on business and government performance.

Retrospect

Note from the retrospect, above, the milestone findings in 2006, 2009 and 2012 – the effects of which we see markedly today.

One other finding in the 2014 report caught my attention – the power of search.

According to Edelman, there was a consistent answer to these questions:

When looking for general news and information, how much would you trust each type of source for general news and information?

On a typical day, what is the first source that you go to for general information about business?

What is the first source you go to for breaking news about business?

Which of the following sources do you turn to MOST often to confirm/ validate information on breaking news about business?

The answer? Not the mainstream (or social) media, but online search.

The power of search

People clearly prefer their own “natural search” methods rather than the pre-packaged (and untrusted) alternatives.

Edelman will be formally launching the 2014 Trust Barometer during a presentation and meeting in London on Tuesday January 21, 2014, at 8:30am GMT. You can see it live.

  • Shel and I will be discussing the 2014 Trust Barometer in this week’s episode 739 of The Hobson and Holtz Report podcast, recording today and publishing later today UK time.

Additional reading:

Re-Defining Today’s Communicator

Dilbert

Two weeks into 2014 and much of the talk about what’s hot and what’s not for communicators is about technology.

Of the many, many tech topics that appear on trends and predictions lists, there are three that I believe warrant our attention in early 2014 above all others:

  1. Mobile: especially usage shifts and trends such as BYOD, the mobile cloud, and the “appification” of the workplace and business generally.
  2. Collaborative economy:  access to and/or use of an asset – a product or a service – when it’s needed, rather than the actual ownership of that asset; and the rise of peer communities to facilitate the sharing of and  access to products and services. This shift has big implications for businesses, both in how they sell products and services and in how employees work.
  3. Data analytics: gaining actionable insight from raw data needs a broad understanding of tools and methods to process that data, quickly and effectively. It also means a greater need to filter information, knowing what to look for and what to ignore. The need for expert knowledge is paramount, so the role of data analyst will grow. Yet not everything needs deep or detailed analytics, meaning the communicator needs “DIY skills.”

For communicators, the focus at the very least is understanding the role of technologies and behaviour shifts like these in the organisational communication setting, internally and externally. It’s not about being expert in use – although proficiency is clearly a good thing – nor being the go-to guy or gal for everyone with a question.

It’s about understanding…

  • the relevance and context of such technologies and behaviours in the workplace;
  • what communicators need to do; and
  • how, where and when.

Understanding digital and how to use social media have been a huge focus for communicators during the past few years. As knowledge of social networks, tools and channels have become mainstream – in society and in the workplace – and use more universal, the pressure for communicators to “embrace social” has grown to be almost overwhelming.

But today’s communicator must do much more than tweet and post likes to her timeline or pics to Instagram. Today’s communicator – at whatever level he or she occupies in the organisation – must, as never before, have clear vision and understanding of how communication and the communicator are key strategic assets that support measurable business objectives.

Here’s what you need to have as your foundation for 2014:

  1. Deep understanding of organisations and how they function.
  2. Understanding of your own organisation culture and structure.
  3. Knowing who the major influencers and key subject-matter experts are within the organisation.
  4. An impeccable understanding of your organisation’s business vision and mission.
  5. A clear view on the measurable benefits that can arise from being a ‘social business.’

Your foundation is critical to enabling you to fulfil the important role you must play in the rapidly-changing landscape that embraces organisation change, behavioural change and technology change; and where the three intersect, online and offline.

In an age where anyone can claim to be a communicator in business, it’s time for professional communicators to prove their relevance and context in what they do for their employers and clients, showing evidence through confident knowledge and the context of its benefit – the ROI – to the organisation.

Let’s get cracking!

First published by simply-communicate.com on January 10, 2014, as part of a larger feature entitled Internal Communications predictions for 2014.

The feature includes opinions from Marie Wallace, Analytics Strategist at IBM Social Business Division; Mike Grafham, Yammer Customer Success Lead; Kevin Ruck, Co-founder The PR Academy; Mark Morrell, Intranet Pioneer; Stephen Welch, President of IABC UK; Ian Buckingham, internal communications champion, senior partner at various IComms consultancies and author; Marc Wright, Publisher of simply-communicate; Tim Johns, Change Agency; The IC CrowdRachel Miller, Jenni Wheller, Dana Leeson; Euan Semple, Director, euansemple.com and author; Gloria Lombardi, Community Manager, Webmaster, Reporter at simply-communicate; and Neville Hobson (that’s me).

Dilbert cartoon at top of page by Scott Adams, published on December 26, 2010.

Introducing "FIR presents Thought Leadership with Mitchell and Michael"

The FIR Podcast Network is pleased to announce a new podcast focused on thought leadership that will begin later this month. Presenters Mitchell Levy and Michael Procopio explain…

What is a thought leader...

What is a Thought Leader? How do you become a Thought Leader? Why bother; what are the benefits?

You’re in the right place to hear a discussion of the answers to these and other questions about Thought Leadership.

We are excited to be part of the FIR Podcast Network with our new podcast “FIR on Thought Leadership with Mitchell (Levy) and Michael (Procopio).”

Thought Leadership is more important than ever with the customer taking charge of the sales process. Thought Leadership attracts customers and opens the door to many opportunities.

In each podcast we will interview a thought leader or someone involved in thought leadership to tease out how to become an effective thought leader and best practices.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new show on the FIR Podcast Network.

Mitchell and Michael.

About Your Hosts

Mitchell LevyMitchell Levy is the Thought Leader Architect and CEO of THiNKaha® who has created and operated fifteen firms and partnerships since 1997. Today, he works with corporations to turn their experts into recognized thought leaders.

He is an Amazon bestselling author with nineteen business books including #Creating Thought Leaders tweet. Marshall Goldsmith, The Most Influential Leadership Thinker in the World, called his book “The career Bible for thought leaders!”

Mitchell has provided strategic consulting to over one hundred companies, has advised over five hundred CEOs on critical business issues through the CEO networking groups he’s run, and has been Chairman of the Board of a NASDAQ-listed company.

Michael ProcopioMichael Procopio is a Social Media Strategist at Michael Procopio Consulting. A Consultant, Author, and Speaker with a focus on ROI; he is also a member of the Society for New Communications Research with more than 20 years’ marketing experience in marketing.

Michael has experience in high-tech organizations as a business leader, and technology and marketing manager. As a social media strategist he consults with companies from startups to Fortune 1000 on social media and social intelligence.

Previously he managed the overall social media presence and direction at a Fortune 50 company where he demonstrated a 2500+% ROI for a social media activity.

(Cross-posted from For Immediate Release, Shel’s and my podcast blog.)