PR Niblets

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Visit to Coney Island in Tribute to My Mentor

Life's travels often take us in unexpected directions.  Growing up in Coney Island to immigrant parents was my only frame of reference.  I had no clue that one of the part-time jobs I would secure at age 16 would imprint my life so heavily.... but then Lou Powsner was no ordinary employer.

Lou was the owner of a small haberdashery store -- Powsner's Mens Shop -- but stopping there wouldn't scratch the surface. Over the 10 years of my employment there, and decades of friendship, he would  serve as a role model for what salesmanship meant and as inspiration for a career in journalism and later public relations. Lou died on April 6, 2014 at age 93.

New York City decided to honor Lou for his contributions to Coney Island, Brooklyn and New York City by naming the street corner near the former clothing store in his memory. The ceremony was held on Saturday, September 25, 2015. Lou's family honored me by asking me to speak at the event, together with speakers including former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, N.Y.C. Councilman Mark Treyger and N.Y.S. Assemblyman William Colton.  

My comments (apologies for the length) and some images taken by my son Alex appear below.

"Good morning everyone.  My name is Henry Feintuch. And for the first 25 years of my life starting in the early 1950s, I was a Coney Islander… initially living on West 30th between Mermaid and Neptune Ave. in a three-story walk-up. Then, as my family “moved up,” we were able to afford an apartment in the fairly new Coney Island Houses. I attended P.S. 188 and then was part of the first class at P.S. 288… followed by Mark Twain in the SPE…. and later Lincoln H.S. and Brooklyn College.

My folks were holocaust survivors; they migrated to America in 1950 with my brother Steven. My father, David, owned “Dave’s Barber Shop” at 2516 Mermaid Ave. across from Gittler’s deli. It was the era when Sam Horwitz owned the Mermaid Movie Theatre and Jay and Aaron Turoff owned a local hardware store nearby; Yankel had a live poultry store; Frank Giordano owned Frisica Pharmacy; and Al Sinrod and Morty Pearl owned competing men’s stores.  Sam Horwitz, by the way, later went on to become a beloved Democratic district leader and city councilman representing Coney Island; Jay became NYC’s taxi commissioner and later resigned in disgrace in a major scandal involving the TLC.

Coney Island was very diverse in the 50’s and 60’s…. before diverse was a buzzword.  Whites… black… Puerto Ricans… Italians… Christians… Jews…. In the 70s, Russian Jews and Vietnamese joined the mosaic here and in Brighton Beach.  Coney Island was a tough neighborhood… but we all got along.

Sidewalk plaque
It was against this backdrop in 1968 or 1969 that my late parents introduced me to Lou Powsner for a possible part-time job while I attended Lincoln. Lou hired me on the spot, and, because of that fateful happenstance, my young adulthood, career and values were forever shaped.

Working for Lou Powsner provided daily lessons in retail merchandising and salesmanship. If you came in for a pair of socks or Jockey shorts, you would be hard pressed to walk out without a sales pitch – often successful – for a shirt, tie and a three pack of t-shirts.  Life lesson #1:  clerks take orders; sales people sell.

And selling is what Lou did. Following in his father Simon’s footsteps, he sold Stetson hats to older Jewish clientele; Kangol hats and Devil Jeans to minority youngsters in the community; knit polos to Italian customers; and every other manner of clothing and accessory from suits and jackets to spats, suspenders and cufflinks to old, middle aged and young consumers alike.

Air Force honor guard at ceremony
If you walked into Lou’s store, you might have questioned the laws of physics and gravity with boxes stacked impossibly high from floor to ceiling. And yet, when someone came in for a double XL knit shirt that was in the right window 2 years ago, he knew that where it was located. Within a minute, he was up on an eight foot ladder juggling boxes and pulling out the garment in four colors. He was always right. And you wound up buying the shirt in two colors. Plus socks.  And underwear. And a handkerchief.

After a few years, I became Lou’s colleague and foil. We joked that we WERE running a father and son men’s store – where he wasn’t my father… and I wasn’t his son. But in many ways, we were nearly just that.

The OTHER things I learned working for Lou are likely the reason we’re all here today. He didn’t just run a “father and son” men’s clothing store – a sign on the building proclaimed “Welcome to Lou Powsner’s Little City Hall.” He held court six days a week as local residents, merchants, teachers, clergy, police, elected officials and others streamed in or called to discuss issues of the day and seek Lou’s help or guidance… or… simply to argue with him. Life lesson #2:  If you say you’re going to do it (or the sign says it), you’d better deliver.  Lou always did.

Dedication ceremony program
For many years, Lou was the president of the Coney Island Board of Trade. But trying to help the merchants of Coney Island to organize and improve Mermaid Ave. wasn’t enough for Lou. He wanted more clout and a greater voice. So he helped to form an organization of similar groups on Main Streets all over Brooklyn. Lou served as president of the new Joint Council of Kings County Boards of Trade. The calls came all day – answered by Lou in a jingle like voice that often boomed “Thank you for listening to the melodious tones of Louis Powsner.” The ring was so incessant one might of thought he was running a bookie joint. He wasn’t; he was following an internal calling to do good for others.

His causes were both local and far and wide – some popular; many less so: He fought against numerous sales tax hikes; tried to kill the Kings Plaza Mall before it put local main street merchants out of business; he lobbied for brighter street lights in Coney to protect residents and local merchants; he tried to bring casinos to Coney Island; he labored to revive the fading amusement section; he took on Fred Trump when Fred reneged on a deal to create set-aside low income units in Coney’s Trump Village; he took on big business and box stores; and city government giveaways to large merchants at the expense of mom and pop stores.
Marty Markowitz speaking

He called mayors and borough presidents and congressmen and assemblyman and councilman with a long list of needs and cries for help – never for himself but for fellow merchants and community residents. Despite the often unpleasant nature of the calls, government officials took his calls or called him back. This merchant of Coney knew how to shake things up.  Life lesson #3:  It’s not about size... it’s about speaking out consistently and strongly for something you believe in.

And Lou had another bully pulpit – he wrote a weekly column for the Kings Courier and Brooklyn Graphic and other local Brooklyn papers. Each week, he’d sit at a shirt counter and pound away for hours straight on an old manual typewriter. Sometimes he wrote sports columns; other times he wrote about a family vacation with his wife Irene and children, Farrell and Bonnie.  And then there were the columns that shook City Hall.
What Lou didn’t accomplish on the phone or during in-person meetings, he’d pursue by newspaper. He’d finish his column (typed in triplicate using carbon paper) and I would walk to the corner mailbox to send it on to the newspapers. When the columns hit, his irate subjects would call the store to rip him. All in a day’s work at Lou Powsner’s Little City Hall.   Life lesson #4:  Never underestimate the power of a strong writer and citizen journalist.

And I didn’t. By the time I went to Brooklyn College, my major had become television and radio… I became news director at Brooklyn College Radio and my career as a fledgling journalist was cast.

I continued working for Lou, part-time while at B.C., until one day he announced he was running for office.  Lou waged a Don Quixote-like uphill campaign, which he called the people’s campaign, for NYC councilman-at-large. He ran in the Democratic primary in a field of six candidates including the then Democratic boss Stanley Steingut’s son, Robert “Bobby Steingut.”  I took a leave of absence from school to help manage the campaign.

Lou's daughter, Bonnie Snow
Objectively, we had no chance of winning in a field of five better-known and better-funded candidates. For a half year, family, friends and merchants pounded the pavement, put campaign signs on our cars and pushed Lou’s view of the issues of the day out for all to see.  He came in fourth out of a field of six (Steingut won and would later be indicted and then cleared of campaign improprieties). Lou never regretted the campaign run but that ended his formal stint with politics. Life lesson #5:  Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams.

I finally graduated from Brooklyn College, and went to work on the air at WTTM Radio in Trenton and WMTR and WDHA-FM radio in Morristown, New Jersey. Lou was very proud. Then I landed a job at Channel 2 News in New York. Lou beamed again at my success. Between jobs, there was always roo

m for me at 1712 Mermaid Avenue where I could earn a few dollars to put gas in my car.

Then I finally settled down into a public relations career, now in my fourth decade. Lou and I always retained our love and respect for each other.

For me, the life lessons I learned in salesmanship, retail merchandising, civics, community activism, politics and ethics were all earned from the College of Louis W. Powsner. After all, here was a former soldier, husband, father and small town haberdasher who demonstrated the power that one man could have on his neighbors, community, city and beyond.
The sign in place and a community remembers

Family and guests proudly displaying new street sign

This stretch of Mermaid Avenue was always Lou Powsner’s Place to me. Now, it all comes full circle and we all get to share it together and keep his memory and spirit alive.

Thank you."

Monday, September 21, 2015

How PR and Marketing Writers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai Differ from U.S. practitioners (and why their new mantra includes snackable text, big-picture meaning, headline dominance, and image enhanced) by Don Bates

Editor's note:  This article is written by Don Bates, APR, and Fellow PRSA. It  appeared first in O’ (Aug. 14, 2015) and O’Dwyer’s Newsletter.

Actually, practitioners from these cities, and the countries in which they’re located, don’t differ that much from their U.S. counterparts when it comes to PR and marketing writing essentials.

Yes, they generally have more difficulty writing English because it’s not their first language (or a parallel language as in Singapore). And, yes, they generally have more difficulty writing in America’s preferred, common-sense PR and marketing style because they haven’t grown up in our “Mad Men” culture.

But despite these challenges, Asian PR and marketing writers have the same professional interest in meeting the needs of employers and clients with simple, clear, direct messages that communicate as strategically and effectively as possible.

They, too, want to write better with the goal of strengthening their organizations’ brand, reputation, sales and influence. They, too, want to know what’s new and how to harness it as part of their PR and marketing skills, knowledge and leadership.

How do I know so much?

During almost three weeks this summer, I taught PR and marketing writing to groups of Asian practitioners as a consultant instructor for Singapore-based Clariden Global.

Clariden runs executive business education seminars and conferences at sites that include Singapore, London, Australia, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Shanghai and the UAE. Instructors hail from Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Columbia, U. of Michigan, London Business School, and now New York University where I teach in the graduate PR and corporate communication program. 

           My particular workshops were in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. In two full days at each site, I covered the essentials of writing more productively in today’s increasingly social-media-dominated communication landscape. But I didn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. We also looked at traditional media, which is still a great source of high-profile media news, feature and editorial coverage that reaches high-level influencers in business, government and not-for-profit endeavors.

However, I focused mostly on what I refer to as the “New Writing Formulary” for PR and marketing scribes – a formulary that also works as well for business writing.  I encouraged participants to become “new era” writers, to throw off the constraints of self-absorbed content and long-form misdirection. In brief, I introduced the participants to a set of “New Rules” for writing more effectively in today’s global marketplace.

The rules begin with a clear understanding of key concepts. For example: form follows function; out of sight, out of mind; write from the outside in; take headlines more seriously than ever; and take charge of the writing function for your own survival. The “New Rules” build on traditional writing practice, but go further by isolating what counts most these days and drilling down to essentials, e.g., compressed text (as in squeezed to life), live quotes (as opposed to dead, the prevailing norm), and story enhancement (adding people to the picture). We also addressed the most prevalent grammar challenges such as adjectivitis, adverbialism, jargon, hyperbole, verbosity, pronoun confusion, and prepositional paralysis.

Following is a summary of the “New Rules” that all PR and marketing writers should follow when communicating with today’s audiences in both new and old media. The rules are intended to make writers think differently, more intently and more strategically about what and how they write. The rules borrow heavily from content marketing style and purposes. Meaningful brevity is the soul of what they entail.

  • Write “snackable” content (i.e., shorter and sweeter than in the past, and easier to read, understand and act upon).
  • Focus on the “big picture” meaning (what’s the all-important news for the audience, not for your employer or client?).
  • Create social-media style headlines (intriguing, enticing, engaging language). Take a look at and for examples.
  • Use super-condensed leads (incisive, sharply defined, credibly expressed).
  • Integrate outside content that enhances credibility (e.g., facts from a trusted third party that amplifies your message and mission).
  • Link to other content (e.g., advisories, commentaries and guidelines, but judiciously).
  • Aim for concrete action, FYA (for your action) not FYI alone.
  • Enhance with images (photos, logos, charts, illustrations, which have several times the draw of imageless text).
  • Disseminate via multiple media (both online and off and the many touch points in social media)
  • Develop templates to reflect and make the new rules easier to apply (I shared my 7-step pitch template as one example).
Bottom line, the “New Formulary” mirrors what social media pundits like Guy Kawasaki have been saying for a long while, but that I have defined more tangibly. During a New York Times interview, Kawasaki was asked, “What should business schools teach more of, or less of?” He replied, “They should teach students how to communicate in five-sentence e-mails and with 10-slide PowerPoint presentations. If they just taught every student that, American business would be much better off.” 

To the follow-up question – “Why?” – he added, “Because no one wants to read ‘War and Peace’ e-mails. Who has the time? Ditto with 60 Power Point slides for a one-hour meeting.”

Bob Dylan famously sang, “The times they are a changing.” They always are, of course, but never so much as now for PR and marketing writing. For one thing – especially since the Internet began to capture a huge chunk of our collective time and attention – short and sweet has never been as sweet as a rule for PR and marketing writers.  PR and marketing word-workers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai understand this as well as U.S. practitioners. Most important, they are just as eager to put new approaches into action for their employers and clients, starting with the idea of making writing more powerful as a tool for informing, persuading and influencing target audiences. They know that snackable content, big picture meaning, and headline acuity are driving a more efficient and effective writing style.

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Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a writing instructor at New York University, and founding director of the Master’s degree program in strategic public relations at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. Don also conducts writing workshops and works in PR agency management and M&A for Gould+Partners. Email:

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Home-run for PRSA-NY

Nothing screams perfect summer nights more than a ball game at Yankee Stadium.  With perfect weather, a buffet of burgers, hot dogs, and popcorn and great seats right along the first-base line, PRSA-NY’s annual summer social held this year on July 22 was a huge success.  But the hot dog buffet wasn’t even the most exciting part of the night.  Lucky PRSA-NY members had the exclusive opportunity to attend a briefing and meet Jason Zillo, the executive director of media for the New York Yankees.
PRSA-NY recognized on the scoreboard
The entire press room went silent as Mr. Zillo took the stand because in a room full of public relations professionals, this guy is truly a PR superstar.  Mr. Zillo shared some personal insight into the beginning of his PR career, how he ended up working with the Yankees and what rising PR professionals should know.

So how exactly did this seasoned PR veteran get to where he is today?  After graduating from Ohio University in the mid ‘90s, he held two internships with the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons before joining the Yankees as an intern in 1996.  He worked extremely hard for 11 years in the communications department before he was named to his current position in 2007.  There were (and still are) early mornings, late nights and work on the weekends.  It’s nonstop work, but very rewarding.

Without giving away too many of the Yankee’s trade secrets, Mr. Zillo gave some great insight on what it’s like to work in sports PR.
  • Media training is not only a PR best practice but essential to ensuring that every player knows how to interact with the media at all times (e.g., national crises, game wins, game losses, etc..) and that they have a cohesive message that is in-line with the brand
  •   There is a big difference in proactive vs. reactive media outreach, but they’re both important.  The Yankees communications team is constantly bombarded with media requests and sometimes it can be challenging to pitch media interesting and impactful stories that mean more than just the latest athlete gossip.
Jason Zillo takes the stand
On the other hand, he also gave us the cold, hard truth about the reality of getting to and being in the position he is in today.  “With just $140 in my bank account,” Mr. Zillo said jokingly, he made his way down to the Orlando Magic for the first of his two unpaid internships with sports franchises.  He knew no one, had nowhere to live and was about to make no money but he had a passion for the industry.  Even to this day, he loves what he does and never looks at the clock.

His best advice to those of us starting out was that internships are essential.  He made it clear that he wouldn’t consider anyone that hasn’t interned for him in the past.

Mr. Zillo took the stage for about an hour but it seemed he only scraped the top of his responsibilities
as director of media.  He is a busy, busy man and PRSA-NY appreciates and thanks Mr. Zillo for taking the time out of his schedule to give us a look into the sports PR world.  And to round out the night, the Yankees defeated the Orioles 4-3!  

Monday, August 3, 2015

Public Relations Through the Eyes of an Intern

Since beginning my summer internship here at the end of May, I have learned more about the public relations industry than in my three years as a public relations student.  I’m not saying that my university has not prepared me well for this industry, but there are so many aspects in this field that I simply could not have learned in a classroom setting.  

Fully immersing oneself is the best way to learn.  Observing client meetings, drafting client documents, watching my drafts go through rounds of copyediting, building media databases, and other tasks, have all contributed to a much-needed agency experience.  I thought I knew most of the responsibilities that public relations professionals do on a day-to-day basis – but boy was I wrong.

“People-skills” are a huge characteristic that every PR person needs.  Public relations is not a strictly desk and computer job.  We are constantly interacting with clients and media and the professional language is something I can only learn through experience and practice.  Learning how to professionally communicate is not something that a professor can teach you, but rather, it’s something that I have started to pick up while observing my coworkers and have begun practicing on a daily basis.

Public relations is strategic.  You can’t just randomly throw anything at the media and hope for successful coverage.  There is a date and time and place for every press release, media blast, launch announcement, proactive campaign, etc.  We are always trying to succeed for our clients and, therefore, a lot of planning, editing, and strategizing goes on behind the scenes to make sure everything is perfect.

Although, I can’t say that everything I’ve done since the start of my internship has been perfect.  It’s actually been anything but that.  I’ve made mistakes and have experienced times when I am extremely confused, but isn’t learning the point of an internship?  I have built upon my mess-ups, incorporated feedback given and applied these things to my later work.  

Ask questions.  This is easily the most important thing that I have learned.  I’ve quickly come to the realization that I don’t know everything there is to public relations and there is still so much to learn.  So as I’m entering the home stretch of my internship, I need  to learn as much as possible from my colleagues before I actually enter the “real world” upon graduation from Penn State University next May.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Ciao New York City!

We’ve all heard of culture shock – the emotional difficulties that come hand in hand with immersing oneself into another culture.  But over the past few weeks I’ve been experiencing something known as reverse culture shock – the emotional difficulties of returning home from abroad, and in my case - returning home from the greatest city in the world, Florence, Italy.

Just as studying abroad demanded many lifestyle changes, so has returning home.  Without even realizing it, I had developed new habits, new values and a new way of thinking during my four months abroad.  And just as I had gotten used to the slow, peaceful Italian lifestyle, I was thrown into this whole new-to-me culture of New York City.  I finally have cell phone service 24/7, everyone speaks English, I can use the dollar again as opposed to the euro, grocery stores are five times the size of those in Florence and Starbucks - oh how I’ve missed you!

Everything, I mean everything, overwhelmed me upon arriving in NYC.  There are people everywhere and they are always in a rush.  I’m seeing cars, taxis, subways and buses instead of mopeds.  Honestly, I hated the city at first.  The lifestyle here is a complete 180 degree flip from being in Florence.  I could not walk to all of my destinations within 20 minutes, Gusta Pizza isn’t readily available, my Instagram game has severely suffered and the luxury of extremely cheap and delicious wine is not right outside my doorstep.  Naturally I slumped into a post-abroad depression.  But just recently I began to notice this city’s beauty and exquisiteness and suddenly I began to fall in love with a new city all over again. 

The local caf├ęs and restaurants, the high-energy nightlife, the talented street performers, the amazing views from rooftops, the many parks and the mere spectacle of being in one of the largest cities in the world has unexpectedly and completely intrigued me.  There’s something new and amazing around every corner and I plan to take it all in during the 12 weeks I have in this city.  With a list of things to do, restaurants to hit, bars to explore and shopping that needs to be done – I’m ready for all you have to offer - New York City.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Going Global: Google Style

As you may have known from our previous blog posts, we kind of love to talk about social media. So of course we were thrilled to be the first hosts for a monthly series of webinars organized by our friends and global public relations partners, PR World Alliance, where we discussed optimizing LinkedIn company and brand pages.

While we may have been talking about LinkedIn, we also ended up getting a crash course in the social world of Google. As we were expecting a number of attendees from countries all over, we decided to use Google Hangouts on Air, an easy and free service that allows anyone with a webcam and microphone to become a virtual radio/TV host and anyone with a computer screen to tune in. Streamed from our headquarters in New York on February 19, we were joined by attendees from countries including Turkey, Italy, Canada, Sweden, France and Greece.

The page for our scheduled hangout came with its own private message board where the invited users could leave notes and messages. Leading up to the webinar, we used this as a way for us to leave tips for attendees or for them to tell us they were participating. Once the presentation began, we kept this open dialogue running by regularly checking in and asking attendees to post questions to the page. This allowed us as hosts to interact with the viewers and also let each attendee interact with each other. Rather than a one-sided conversation, the webinar became a social dialogue where each attendee could share his or her own tips and tricks. The U.S. was responding to Sweden, French was responding to English… no form of communication was off limits.

Throughout the webinar we discussed some of our favorite tips and best practices for LinkedIn. We walked through the required steps of creating an active company page such as selecting administrators, encouraging employees to link their current positions and outlining a rich company overview. We shared insight on what makes good content and how adding multimedia elements strongly drive engagement. We also introduced the webinar attendees to some of our recommended social media management tools such as Hootsuite and Buffer, which allow an administrator to schedule and queue posts; and Bitly, which shortens links and provides additional click though analytics.

In the end, even though Feintuch Communications was in front of the camera, each attendee had their own voice and role in the event. A big thanks to PRWA for letting us share this presentation and to all those who attended and shared their questions and advice!

You can view an archived cast of our first webinar and join our global conversation through the PRWA LinkedIn group.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Free Advice -- Worth What you Pay for It

This guest blog is written by Peter Walker, FNIPR, FCIPR, Chartered Public Relations Practitioner.
Mr. Walker is senior partner in PIELLE Consulting, Feintuch Communications' UK-based partner in the PR World Alliance. The blog post originally ran in PRO PR Magazine (Croatia) in Croatian and is soon to be published in Nigeria and Ghana.

Yesterday my doctor complained to me that she was worried at the number of patients who now came to see her armed with their own diagnosis of their ailment together with a list of treatments they wanted her to give them. It’s the internet she said, easy to access, free, just type in a set of symptoms and there you are, a menu of illnesses and a set of treatments. Instead of being respected for my six years specialist education and training, Wikipedia and websites are making me redundant in the eyes of my patients.

It was tempting to tell her that she had just joined the real world of professional advisors and the world where, thanks to Google, everyone is an expert and firmly believes they can do most jobs as well as a properly trained and experienced expert. Just ask any experienced public relations manager. It isn’t helped by those, among the ranks of every profession, who take a great delight in suggesting that flair creativity and personal genius is all you really need. Education, training and expertise born of experience is as nothing. It is particularly true in the world of the media what price a properly trained journalist with clear editorial standards in a world of the ‘citizen journalist’ When the immediacy or Twitter, Instagram and any number similar web based platforms are taken seriously and become the basis for Government policy and legislation it is about time someone sounded a warning. Are these really the expressions of the majority or, as is more likely, are they are the vehicles of self promoters, pressure groups, big business interests, and a host of vested interests?

During the so called ‘Arab Spring,’ the world was awash with Tweets, mobile phone videos and pictures. No-one questioned their provenance or suggested they were part of a propaganda war; only later did the truth emerge. Far from demonstrating that the youth of the Middle East were using the internet to shape a democratic future -- in reality the vast majority of the social media traffic was coming from vested interests promoting revolution from outside the countries where uprisings were being fermented. Professional journalists trained to answer to editors, check sources and certify the information might just have
provided a more balanced picture. Instead spurred by what they saw a commercial competition they joined in the battle as herd instincts took over to confuse and confound the watching, reading world. 

Contrast that position with the protests in Turkey in August 2013 when that Government proposed building over a park in Istanbul. Trust in the national and some international media fell to about 20 per cent and social media became the most relied on sources of reliable information. The circulation of newspapers dropped and with the drop came the loss of advertising revenue.

Only Government and Government agency advertising kept some of them afloat. The difference here was that under 20 per cent of the social media traffic came from outside the country and then it was clearly coming from expatriate Turks in the UK, Germany, and the rest of the world. A salutary reminder perhaps that professional advice and comment still has a real and important value.

Reflecting with some amusement on my Doctor’s despair, Linked-In this morning reminded me not to be smug. There, as the first entry in the PR community section I read on my phone, was an appeal by the managing director of a small electrical business for advice on where he could get low-cost public relations. He explained his was a small business and by inference couldn’t afford a real professional consultancy.

For a while I was tempted to suggest that he got a management handbook out, started out by defining the firm’s commercial, social and corporate objectives, and then thought carefully about just what he wanted a public relations programme to achieve for him, his business and as a contribution to the future he had defined. Then to think hard about what sort of budget he could afford to invest in the firm's future. Do that and he could have had a sensible conversation with a professional advisor about the art of the possible and advice on whether his aspirations for public relations were actually achievable.

We don’t know and probably won’t ever know whether what he wanted was just a few moments of photo-op glory in a trade paper, on local radio or TV on a slow news day and with a bizarre or creative enough idea a national newspaper might pick it up. Vanity has a value but for the professional advisor clear management based objectives are a better guide to shaping, managing and measuring the effectiveness of the programme. Did footfall into the store increase, have the reps on the road found that the company name and product is familiar to buyers – has making the sale become easier as a result of the planned and sustained public relations activity. Has recruitment and job applications increased, is staff retention high? In short have the objectives you defined and were then factored into the public relations programme been met?

It doesn’t take a fortune and it does not need a genius. It does require a manager who knows his business, has clear plans for its future, has defined his objectives and his budgets.

The next step and it is a difficult one is finding the advisor, the firm with whom you are comfortable professionally and whose advice you believe you can trust. There is no alternative to taking the time to research and then setting up and structuring the interview. If you believe that a beauty parade of companies each given up to an hour to convince you is the best way to select the people into whose hands you are entrusting the reputation of your organisation then go ahead.

But the smaller the budget the more time you should invest in interviewing the small number of likely candidate firms or individuals your research should have identified. A series of discussions rather than ‘pitches’ from a  professional advisor on how they would plan a properly planned and professionally managed public relations programme that responds to your commercial objectives and  can contribute to sustaining the present and realising the future is probably the best way to go.

When NASA was upgrading its computer systems some while ago they froze. Nothing the assembled array of computer engineers could do to restart the programmes on whose effectiveness the lives of astronauts -- let alone the prestige of the USA relied. In some desperation about the heritage programmes thought to be the cause, they sent for a long retired NASA computer engineer and flew him in from the wilds of Nebraska to take his advice.

On arrival he spent about three hours checking the programmes and coding asked for a small rubber ended hammer and walked over to the bank of servers and after ten minutes careful inspection he took the hammer in his left hand he gave a gentle but firm tap on the casing of one of the servers walked back to the desk asked for the system to be rebooted.

No surprise the upgrades started to load. Having seen them installed and satisfactorily operating, the question of his fee was broached. $350,000 was the reply, no surprise there was a clear objection at what one manager saw as a preposterous rate for just 4 hours work and 7 hours travelling time in a private aircraft sent by NASA.

"All you did was tap the casing and any fool could have done that and it could have been done for free.” Yes said the retired engineer but this fool spent 10 years in college and 30 years at NASA learning just where on the casing to tap.

There is plenty of free advice out there, most of it, worth what you pay for it. Any professional, even my doctor, can do more with an informed and well-briefed client, customer or patient. But every manager should be clear about their objectives and keep value rather than cost in mind when looking for a professional advisor particularly when the reputation of the organisation is involved.
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A former President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Peter Walker is a Freeman of the City of London. After a period in advertising, management consultancy, UK and European Government then as Secretary to the Board Pubic Policy Committee of one of the UK’s largest multi-national groups, he joined Pielle as one of the founder partners in 1980 and is a board member of the Public Relations World Alliance. An expert in international risk and issue management, Corporate Responsibility, community relations and governance his advice is sort on national and international public affairs and public relations programmes  that protect and promote business, brand ,individuals organisations and governments.