PR Niblets

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Words Really Do Matter!

As professional communicators, public relations practitioners are true believers in the persuasive power of words, regardless of the format in which they are presented. However, many of us worry that information overload – brought on by a seemingly unending creation of snazzy, electronic gadgets – has forever distracted and fragmented the audiences we strive to reach.

The good news is that those we aim to influence are no more ready to throw in the towel and look elsewhere than we, as originators and purveyors of newsworthy information, should be. As a matter of fact, the rationale and need for strategic wordsmithing has never been greater. It’s all about making what we have to write and say for our clients be both compelling and accessible.

At least that’s my take from a recently released major study, “How Much information? 2009 Report on American Consumers,” conducted by the University of California San Diego’s Global Information Industry Center ( This report confirms that our thirst for knowledge and novelty has actually kept pace with the plethora of devices and technologies for conveying all that information.

UCSD research finds that the average American’s information consumption was 100,000 words, or roughly 34 gigabytes per day in 2008, equivalent to about one-fifth of a notebook PC’s hard drive, depending on the model. Over the past 30 years, the study estimates that information bytes consumed by U.S. households increased by 350 percent, for an average annual growth rate of 5.4 percent. In 2008 alone, total bytes consumed equaled the information (words!) stored in thick paperback novels stacked seven feet high over the entire U.S., including Alaska!

It’s perhaps noteworthy that the researchers chose this “written word” analogy to illustrate their point about rising American information consumption. Contrary to popular wisdom, we’re reading three times more words than we were in the early 1980s, before computers entered the information mainstream to challenge and ultimately displace TV and radio. While the share of printed words read by Americans for informational purposes declined from 25 percent in 1960 to 9 percent in 2008, the share of words read from the Internet and computer programs is now about 27 percent. E-mail, texting and “a lot of Web browsing is still in the form of reading,” according to Roger Bohn, director of the UCSD GIIC.

As the tremendous popularity of Kindles, BlackBerrys, notebook PCs and now iSlate tablet e-readers demonstrates, the importance and weight of the written, or filed, word to convey news and ideas remains vital. UCSD’s report concludes that “reading is the overwhelming preferred way to receive words on the Internet,” rendering press release writers’ output more relevant than ever in the Age of e-Information Technology.

To paraphrase loosely the other-wordly message that inspires farmer-baseball fan Ray Kinsela (Kevin Costner) in the 1989 movie classic, Field of Dreams, “If We Build and Strategically Issue Good Content, They Will Read It.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Things That Changed PR in the Past Decade (aka: I Always Wanted to Create a List Like This)

Unless you live under a rock, you probably noticed the hundreds of "list" articles over the last two weeks remembering all things 2009 and the past decade from fashion to quotes, to lists of lists, and even some cool videos. As much as we all love these articles, I didn't see anything for my PR/marketing colleagues out there as a reminder of all the things and events that changed our profession. So here's my short list of what I believe changed PR in the past decade:

The Social Media Revolution
We all know what a little thing called social media did for people around the world, but for PR and Marketing pros, it was instrumental in helping us to cut the fat and listen to our audiences. Sites like Facebook and Twitter stress pithiness in our pitches and allow us to geo-target our audiences. In addition, when the FCC called out disclosures for promoting clients and companies on social media sites, we all became a little more interested in the truth. I could go on for ages about how social media has changed PR but I also think it’s very important to note the effect that it had for some agencies and companies in the creation of new job roles and departments. Agencies began hiring social media experts (shiver) and directors. In the end, I think it's crucial that we all know and understand social media. We don’t ask interviewees if they are proficient in newspapers, do we?

The Economic Crisis
In the financial services industry (one of the hardest hit by the crisis), many PR pros coped with limited or no PR budgets. The PR teams that survived were forced to focus on smaller projects that would be sure to show ROI and not just fabulous events and excursions. But even for clients not in financial services, budgets were limited and PR/marketing folks were faced with difficult challenges.

Declining Newsrooms
The start of declining newsrooms happened earlier in the decade with the emergence of online news sites but the effects were felt in 2009 as shrinking newsrooms forced PR pros to look for alternative ways (i.e. pitches via Twitter) to grab the attention of the press. In-person meetings turned into 10-minute phone calls and eventually into email Q and As. But has this made us better story tellers and given us a keener eye? Only time with tell.

The Accidental Entrepreneur
For many people in PR, downsizing led to a growth in freelancers and start-up firms. Smaller firms have the ability to grow with their clients and in my opinion (but I may be biased), work harder to stay ahead of the competition. In addition, I believe PR entrepreneurs understand the challenges and travails of being a start-up and are therefore more in-tune than larger PR firms. Entrepreneurs are the backbone of the rising economy, and together with clients, are rebuilding it one day at a time.

Democratization of Blogs
Its amazing how many mommy bloggers are really out there! Blogging has become so ubiquitous that even my group of foodie girlfriends has a blog talking about what we eat. In PR, blogging is a great way for young and old professionals to hone their writing skills. As communicators we should be reading and writing blogs because they are the ideal medium for sharing instant knowledge, information and experiences with all types of audiences. So blog on pros, blog on!

Death of the Fax Machine
This slow death technically started a while back but the fax seemed to completely fizzle towards the end of the decade cemented by the fact that not many reporters and newsrooms accept faxes any longer. PR pros may use them to get a signed contract every now and then, but with scanners, emails and even the eFax, you can send a document just as quickly and easily.

PR for PR
I’ve noticed over the last few years that more and more PR pros are stepping forward to talk to the press openly about their expertise. Typically, PR firms have little time to think about their own brand when they are busy promoting their clients. However, in a time when personal and company brand image means everything, PR pros are doing what they are good at and promoting their own brands and images to the press and through social media. What good is a PR firm if they can't do PR for themselves anyway!

This ends my list, but FULL DISCLOSURE, my PR career only spans about half of the past decade, so I know I've missed major events that changed PR and marketing like 9/11 and the Dot Com Bust. So, I’d like to encourage everyone to comment on this post by adding on the things I missed. As JFK said: "Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."

Happy New Decade!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy "Elite" New Year

It's January 1, 2010 and I'm just back from my annual ritual -- the "mileage run." I didn't really yearn for Texas in December. Cancun was guaranteed hotter.... but not enough miles. Chicago had more to do and better food to eat... but it also fell short. San Antonio, at 4,700 miles roundtrip, was just right.

For those in the know, and nodding your heads with understanding if not compassion, this is the time of year when the airlines judge whether we frequent fliers have been good or naughty. Have we been faithful to our airline alliance and racked up the prerequisite points or mileage legs? Or have we cheated by taking seductive fares and turning our backs on our chosen partner? Or do we lead double lives and manage multiple alliances and try to manage all these relationships by giving each "just enough" without appearing duplicitous to our chosen airline programs?

This year's air adventures (business and family flights) took me to Stuttgart in April (business class/double mile bonus); Columbia and Charleston, S.C. in August (Alex's college run); Lisbon and Milan in October (another bonus flight) and San Diego in November (PRSA international conference where I spoke).

Heading into December, I was 5,600 miles short of the qualifying 50,000 miles to protect my gold elite status for the New Year. Already filled with angst about my illicit Jet Blue flight to The Bahamas with my son in August, I was thankful for a planned new business trip to Pittsburgh in mid-month which added 1,000 miles to my account. It left a 4,600 mile gap and threatened to downgrade me into becoming a lowly “silver” (the minimum elite rung) and not the coveted “gold” rank I currently held (or platinum -- the true holy grail). This sealed the deal for my wife and I to visit and “Remember the Alamo.”

And to what end? Elite status means choice seat selection including extra legroom seats, bulkheads and exit rows. It means no charge for checked or overweight baggage -- a meaningful perk these days as the airlines nickel and dime passengers for all service components once considered free.

Being elite also means that during the second round of boarding announcements, we get to walk the blue elite carpet to our seats -- past the scornful and envious eyes of regular passengers waiting to board the aircraft. The trek on board is less frenzied with a choice of overhead bins for the laptop, batteries, cables, DVDs and noise cancellation headphones we working passengers bring on board. It also means a fighting chance for the few remaining pillows and blankets (where they still are offered).

Most importantly, elite status means automatic upgrades – even for a traveling family member or colleague -- when space up-front permits. This is one serious perk!

That final trip, with a return home of December 30 (and little margin for error) in full fare economy, yielded a precious 2,353 elite qualifying miles each way -- enough to solidify my stature as a Continental Star Alliance gold for 2010. I returned to work on New Year’s Eve Day fulfilled in my year-long mission and proud of my newly won status.

As I await my new credentials for 2010, I take solace in the fact that my perks will continue for 12 more months. But I have this nagging little concern that it’s now one day closer to the 2011 deadline and I still have zero miles accumulated for silver, gold or platinum. Meet up in Hawaii, anyone?