Back to the Basics, Social Media

“Did I Do That?” 2nd Annual Social Media Awards: Runner-up, Elizabeth Lauten

As a public relations spokesperson, one must act with an abundance of caution in both their personal and professional lives. It’s simply a prerequisite for the job. In the political realm, the most scrutinized arena in our society, the age old adage think before you speak is something that the wise live by and the foolish wish they had.

Elizabeth Lauten, the communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) would fall in the latter category of those who did not heed that sage advice. She resigned last month after causing quite the stir with the following Facebook post that criticized Malia and Sasha Obama’s appearance at the annual White House turkey pardon ceremony.

td4_elizaMs. Lauten, really??? Using someone’s children to throw a political punch?

These type of incidents make me wonder how in the world these people got as far as they did. A Communications Director for a US congressman is not an easy job. It requires thick skin, light feet and the ability to artfully position the congressman and your party in a favorable light under some really tough circumstances. This kind of blunder betrays the most basic fundamentals of public relations and the understanding that as a spokesperson, everything you do and say will reflect on the people you work for.

And this wasn’t Ms. Lauten’s first social media gaffe either. In August she posted a tweet about “shagging” from Mr. Fincher’s official Twitter account.

“God I love this song. And beach music. AND shagging #pandora,” Ms. Lauten tweeted in reference to an Embers playlist on Pandora radio.

She later deleted the tweet and apologized for the accident, clarifying that “shagging” is a dance term, not a sexual reference.

“It had nothing to do with Stephen Fincher. I don’t think he knows what Pandora is; he certainly doesn’t have it,” Ms. Lauter said, according to Politico.

In response to her attack on the Obama teens, Lauten posted the following apology on Facebook:

Too little, too late. Not only the post make you and your party look like bullies willing to stoop so low as to bash someone’s children in order to get a cheap shot in, it also cost you a job, and probably won’t make it easy for you to find a new one.

 Ms. Lauten’s resolution for 2015: Think before you post.
Back to the Basics, Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Tools

PR Must Evolve or Die… Start with the Obvious

I recently retweeted a story from Deborah L. Jacobs (@djworking) of Forbes and thought I’d take some time to highlight why it caught my attention. One of my last posts was about the lessons they don’t teach in PR 101 – Deborah’s piece highlights more valuable lessons that at least weren’t taught in the classes I took in college. Mind you, that was all the way back in the early 2000’s, before Twitter existed! There should be, and hopefully are classes today exclusively geared toward Twitter and PR. Hmm… more blog post fodder?

Deborah’s piece raises what hopefully is old news to most of us: the days of Edward Bernays and the press officer/manipulator extraordinaire, kicked the bucket long ago. If we want to survive and thrive as PR pros we have to get with the times. Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow PR pro and told him, rather frankly, that he had to stop treating social media like it was this new ‘thing’ he was trying to harness to keep up with a trend. Instead, he should treat it the same as email or the press release: another tool to get our jobs done. It is something that should fold into our daily activities, not something we force in clumsily to look like we are keeping up with the cool kids.

No too long ago, I covered the importance of building relationships with reporters. In her piece, Deborah points out that there are approximately six press agents for every journalist; imagine how many emails reporters are getting on a daily basis from folks just like you vying for a spot in their publications. In order to break through the clutter and build relationships you need to present yourself as a valuable source, not just an opportunist. Grant your journalist contacts unfettered access to the folks who would be most helpful to them – executives, clients, customers, etc. Let them speak to these people on their terms and decide for themselves if they have something to contribute that would make their  jobs easier, their stories better and their audience more engaged. You can’t just go spamming willy-nilly and hope to get coverage! I’m not saying that I don’t send the occasional one-off pitch to reporters that I don’t know, but even those are sent with as much intelligence and research behind them as possible. And when you do send those types of pitches, heed Deborah’s sage advice: “understand that no reply to a pitch means “No,” that follow-up by phone or email is ineffective…”

When I first started in PR, I would be disheartened by the terse, unfriendly and often times, rude responses I’d get from journalists when I‘d call them with a pitch. Years later, I realize where those responses came from. I’d be pretty annoyed myself if I got 20 misdirected phone calls throughout the day when I’m trying to do my job. I’d look at those people as pests, not sources.

Ms. Jacobs also makes the point that “a blizzard of press releases about studies that are statistically flawed or restate the obvious…” and forced, biased angles aren’t what journalists are looking for. They want news. This is something that is surprisingly overlooked these days. Think of the journalist as providing a service for their readers. In Deborah’s case, she provides her readers with information on the personal finance issues that are “keeping them up at night.” Before you reach out to a reporter, put yourself in their reader’s shoes. Is there value in this for them, or just for your client?  If it’s just for your client then it probably isn’t news and not something you should bother the reporter with.

Deborah suggests that it is time for PR to change its “long-entrenched industry practices.” I agree, with some qualification: the traditional tools of the PR professional will never go out of style as long as they are used correctly and not abused. News releases, pitches, media tours and even cold calls have their place in this field. But a shift does need to take place for those who haven’t already adapted. The first step is to stop spending so much time and energy on ourselves and focus on our audience. Only then can we take the necessary strides to ensure our services will not be rendered obsolete.

What else can we do to be more effective PR pros as the landscape continues to evolve? How can we become more valuable to journalists and influencers?


PR is NOT about Maintaining Public Image…


… Exclusively.

I recently came across this article in the Globe where a recent graduate working in a marketing agency reveals a special interest in public relations and asks the writer to  “tell [her] more about that field?” First off, I couldn’t believe that the promising youth of tomorrow would still want to subject themselves to such an oppressive, thankless and ever so stressful job. Just kidding… kind of.

When I was in college, PR & Communications was one of the most popular majors. I think there were two reasons for that. One, was the group of students who had yet to unearth the true calling that would determine their path and dictate their life’s work. For them, communications was more of a catchall, a way to ensure that they’d graduate with tangible and easily translatable skills that they could apply to a myriad of positions and industries. These potheads… ahem…  kids seemed to have the shared foresight that communications was the basis of success for any profession.

The other group of kids, mostly females, had the very misguided dream of becoming the next Lizzy Gruman. PR was a one way ticket to socializing with Hollywoods A listers and guiding these already awesome people on how to be even more awesome. Maybe the occasional DUI crisis PR as well. Yes, these girls took up quite a few seats in my comms. classes, but looking back, I can’t think of any who are actually in PR today. Probably safe to credit that with the harsh realization that smacked them in the head on their first day in the agency that PR is NOT glamorous.  It’s a hard knock life.

But the real reason I decided to post about this article was not because it conjured up memories of days where responsibility was optional and 9am seemed an obscene time to rise. Or because I can say I’m one of the few who stuck to the plan. No, the reason this article caught my attention was because I found it incredibly misleading.

The first part of the articles response is dead on:

“In the world of marketing, public relations professionals have one of the greatest challenges of all. In short, PR professionals try to create and maintain a favorable image for their employers (or client, employed by an agency). These professionals might write media releases, act as spokesmen for companies, or both.”

A PR consultant then adds the following insight:

“The PR practice is all about creating public perception… The virtual Rolodex is key — as it’s all about the media you know. The goal is to develop relationships and guide the press into writing”.

And that’s where I stopped – held a pillow to my face – and let out a furious ROAR. This young person is interested in getting into one of the most complex fields there is (OK, maybe not as complex as Neuroscience, or Quantum Mechanics) and all they get is it’s about creating public perception and working with reporters?? What about everything else? What about identifying the real influencers who will have as much or more effect on your client’s public perception? The bloggers, social influencers and advocates. What about being a content creator who can harness their command of the written word, paired with compassion and empathy, to craft messages that are impactful and meaningful?  And then, what about the need to be versed enough to know how to manage that message on an ever-expanding variety of mediums and platforms. And where was the mention of what happens on the inside that dictates public perception on the outside? Guiding and counseling executives to create a culture that will be publicly favorable. Strategy? Research?  Shouldn’t this person have been told about those things?!

Stepping back from this diatribe, I know that this response  was meant to be higher level overview, and again, there was some accurate feedback within. But my first reaction, being someone whose been immersed in the field for some time now, was that it seemed akin to telling a med student interested in being a surgeon that “it’s all about cutting the patient open and patching things up.”

What advice/insight would you impart on a recent grad or college student curious about the world of PR?