Google offers good customer service in spite of itself

 

If you follow this blog, you know that recently my Google Glass had a serious hardware breakdown and I sought to get it replaced under the 1-year warranty.

Overall, the experience has been a positive one, but it there were times when I questioned whether a massive technology conglomerate like Google will ever figure out how to handle customer service. At this point I’d have to say they are getting close.

Interacting with Glass Guides, as they are called, has been great as they are very friendly when you talk to them. And Google Glass handles their account on Google Plus well. After noting my foil flaw on Google Plus, the Google Glass team jumped into the thread, apologized for the problem and provided me the link I needed to reach their Guides.

glass helpWhen you go to that link, you can opt to “call” Google, which really means you enter your phone number and press the call me button. It then tells you how long it will probably take for a Guide to call you. I called three times during this incident and each time it told me to expect a call back within 1 minute. All three calls actually came in within about 15 seconds, which is impressive.

The first Guide, Michael, was apologetic for my problems, verified my account info and then said he would send me an email with a questionnaire. He wanted to me to reply to the email with answers to questions about what was going on and include three high-quality photos showing the optics pod foil was in fact damaged. He said that would arrive within about 30 minutes. About 2 hours later I still hadn’t received an email. Given how responsive all the Google Glass interactions have been since I first became an Explorer, I worried there was miscommunication about my email address. Plus, once you start missing your Glass, you are anxious to get it replaced.

My follow-up call with a Glass Guide confirmed that they did indeed have my address, that someone was working on the case file, but that this second guide would jump in and push another email out to me right away. About 15 minutes later I received the email, but from the original Glass Guide.

I didn’t mind having to wait a few hours to receive the email; I would have not worried about it at all if the first guy hadn’t told me “30 minutes” when he meant “a few hours.” In customer service, under-promising and over-delivering tends to bring a smile to a client’s face.

The other disconcerting part of my first call was that Michael said he couldn’t guarantee a replacement but that they would look into the matter thoroughly for me. When you have a $1,500 paperweight in your hand — one that’s too light to really hold down much paper — with a known design problem affecting it you immediately become irritated when someone doesn’t say, “Of course we’ll take care of it!” But I realize that perhaps Google does not authorize every frontline person to make such commitments, even though they should be at every company. 

The email questionnaire was simple and straight-forward; it asked about half a dozen questions that all made sense to me in terms of Google Glass needing it for research purposes on a failed unit.

What happened before issue / breakage?

Any solutions come into contact with Glass?

What was the environment like?

How is the device stored or carried?

How is the device charged (only relevant for power issues)?

After sending my answers with three photos attached, I heard back within 4 days that Google was replacing my Glass and I would be notified when it shipped. Also, they had updated their advance replacement process, so they would send me the new unit without putting a hold on my credit card for the value, and provided me with a return shipping label for the busted unit. Hooray!

I made my third call during those four days, being an anxious customer and wanting to know what the resolution to my problem was going to be. The third Glass Guide I talked to verified that the Glass was going to be replaced. He said it unfortunately can take a week or so to get through the process, but that the good news was once it shipped, it would come by overnight air delivery.

Later that day, I received an email telling me my new Glass had shipped, but that it would take 3-5 business days and that they appreciated my patience. Here again, Google stumbled by providing mixed messages. The entire process took less than a week, but now the shipping would be by standard post, apparently, with a 3 to 5 day delivery period. Why did Glass Guides keep telling me different information? The last misstep by Google in this process was that they then shipped the new unit to me via overnight air delivery.

20140702-184840-67720482.jpgI had asked via email for the UPS tracking number so I could be available to sign for it. (I’m not sure why they didn’t just include the number in the first email; it’s better customer service and more efficient for their team than having to deal with another email or phone call from a customer.) I immediately typed it in and was told the package wasn’t in the system yet. Since they said it would take days to arrive, I figured I would just check 24 hours or so later and start tracking it.

Well, imagine my surprise when I received a notice from UPS via email the next morning that they had tried to deliver a package to me but no one was home to sign for it. That was on the Thursday before Independence Day, so they would try to deliver it again on Monday. No way! I contacted UPS, as I have before, and asked them to hold the package at the customer care center after the driver returned and I would pick it up from them Thursday night. That system always works very well and I’m pleased to say it did this time, too.

This worked out well in the end for me, but it could have been an infuriating situation. If you’re going to ship something overnight, don’t tell me it will take 3 to 5 days. This is one of those times where “under-promise and over-deliver” doesn’t work.

All is well that ends well, and I thoroughly enjoyed having Google Glass available for a July 4th party at my nephew’s house. I also have found the new unit to be incredibly responsive and smooth, details of which I’ll cover in a subsequent post.

But back to my earlier question: can a tech behemoth become a customer service powerhouse, as well? The answer is yes, and Google almost has it figured out. At this point, it’s offering good customer service in spite of itself. All the components are there now: friendly representatives (Glass Guides), an efficient replacement process, and a commitment to fast shipping.

Google HQWhat they need to do now is create a better guide for their Guides. It should include what information should be provided to customers about the units, the replacement process and shipping details. I’ve heard from other Explorers that the way to get the best customer service from Google Glass is to always work with the same Guide. But that shouldn’t be necessary, and other than what turned out to be relatively minor hiccups in my case, working with four different Glass Guides seemed to be fine. Consistency is key. Even if you’re telling your customers that something will take longer than they want to hear, if you’re up front and consistent with them no matter who they talk to, they should still be satisfied.

I have heard about research that shows customers with a problem that is resolved satisfactorily are more likely to say positive things about your company than people who have never had a problem. I don’t know where I read that initially, but I can probably find it on Google.

“OK, Glass…”

 

 

 

BETA can mean Bad Experiences Tactfully Alleviated

exploring-the-amazon-with-google-mapsAs a Google Glass Explorer, you’re not just a pioneer in wearable technology, you have to be a dedicated explorer, someone who is willing to put up with some discomfort as you reach for frontiers others may not visit for years to come.

This was never more clear than the recent kerfuffle that occurred when Google pushed out the first major software update in months and Explorers found themselves with units that ranged from wonky to bricked.

While some people complained it was too much to bear, most Explorers seemed to understand that Google Glass is indeed a beta product — from the hardware to the software to the accessories. Google and its Explorers like me are going to find flaws, problems, and difficulties that must be overcome before this device can go mainstream.

resourceWhen we recently upgraded from the XE 12 to XE 16 software, Google moved the operating system to the KitKat version of Android. This has a lot of potential for Glass and the apps, called Glassware, that developers are creating. In addition, the software update supposedly addresses some of the shortfalls Glass has experienced so far, especially battery life.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go very smoothly. In some cases, it resulted in constant reboots, features disappearing unexpectedly, increased battery drain, units overheating and shutting down and, in the most extreme circumstances, units becoming expensive paperweights.

Google, while at first a little slow on keeping Explorers informed on what was happening, learned its lesson quickly and tried to correct everything. We went from version 16 to 16.1 to 16.11 and finally 16.2 within about 10 days. Google fixed many things with each iteration, but other problems arose. And they aren’t done just yet. My device upgraded to 16.2 and began rebooting itself every few minutes for  a couple of hours. Then, suddenly, it stabilized and it has acted the best it has in weeks. I crossed my fingers and hoped that things are calming down now for a while…and that 16.21 isn’t released to fix problems other people are having and it somehow screws up my Glass instead.

In addition to learning quickly that they needed to talk to their Explorers instead of staying quiet, and then talk with their Explorers in a way that allowed them to listen better, Google made great public relations strides throughout this episode of Glass drama.

From what I’ve heard, they have been quickly replacing the Glass units that were bricked, offering Explorers the chance to change their color if interested, and snag an extra accessory as an apology for the mess and a thank you for being understanding.

Glass reply

I was frustrated at times and had to take a deep breath, reminding myself that I volunteered to pay money to enter a beta program. And I’m certain my problems weren’t as difficult as what many other Explorers were facing. But hopefully everyone’s Glass will be up and running smoothly soon and they can continue exploring something other than Google Plus posts seeking help and advice on how to save their Glass from self-destruction.

Could Google have handled the software rollout and patches better? At the beginning of the problem, yes. But it’s rare to see a company the size of Google adapt so quickly and bring its public relations activities up to speed so rapidly and effectively.

So while there’s no shame in Explorers having some level of frustration for what happened, it seems to me that Google proved “beta” can stand for “Bad Experiences Tactfully Alleviated.”

News releases are not news

News releases are not news. They might be newsworthy, and they might share information that can become news. But, in and of themselves, news releases are not news. They are a one-sided, unbalanced pitch originally intended for journalists who would, hopefully, create some news stories with them. In our modern communications era, they are used to spread information with a certain perspective to the public, as well, through websites and social media outlets.

It is abhorrent behavior then, for news outlets to take these news releases and print them verbatim on a news website. And yet, that’s exactly what happened recently with two outlets in Lansing — WILX TV 10 and the Lansing State Journal. They took a news release sent out by Sparrow Hospital and Hayes-Green Beach Memorial Hospital that explained a growing partnership between the two medical centers. The State Journal didn’t even bother to remove the sentence in the middle that announced a joint call for the media that day, including the passcode for the telephone press conference! The hospital actually had to change the passcode since the LSJ decided to announce it publicly through its latest veiled attempt at being a professional newspaper.

I do not fault Sparrow, Hayes-Green Beach or anyone involved in the public relations industry for what happened. It is their job to get the news distributed with as much of their information and perspective as possible. I’ve been in the journalism or PR business combined for more than 20 years. I’ve been on the receiving end and the sending end of news releases. I know how they are used and why they are used and have no complaints with that. I don’t even mind that we in the PR industry can now bypass the media and go straight to the public. I believe the public is smart enough to understand that what an organization is putting on its website is expected to be one sided. But are they savvy enough to figure that out when looking at a supposedly unbiased and objective news website? The problem is that as soon as that news release is posted to a legitimate news organization’s website, it’s no longer just a news release — it’s deceptive reporting.

WILX and the Lansing State Journal clearly shirked their duty to perform reliable, responsible journalism. The journalism industry is already suffering from a credibility gap, and acting as a shill for a public relations machine — either deliberately or through sheer laziness — is only expanding that gap.

Here are some screen shots of the news release, as well as the WILX and LSJ websites where it was posted:

Survey says: Pointless Surveys Are Dead

Breaking news! All forms of media are dead! They are useless to the world of public relations because what the media covers and what is being chatted about on social media just doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all about direct influence of consumers through…well, wait, if we don’t use the media and social media, how will we reach consumers? I’m sensing a flaw in the latest survey by the Reputation Institute that is making some communications pros question their media relations and social media outreach plans.

The basic premise behind the Reputation Institute’s findings is actually quite reasonable. It suggests that direct experiences with a company have more of an impact on how a consumer feels about a brand. They compared that with what a company says and does or what is being said about the brand in the mainstream media or on social networking outlets. Really though, I’m certain the proverbial 1,000 monkeys at 1,000 typewriters could have produced that report.

What I find flawed is the interpretations of the survey results. I’ve already heard one industry leader reference the survey and buy in to the Institute’s headline: “Media’s Net Impact on Reputation is Zero.” I imagine others will jump on this bandwagon as well. The survey suggests that the reputation gap between those people who have had direct experience with a brand and those who have not is nearly zero when measuring the influence of media and social media. That finding, of course, may have people wondering why so much attention (and budget) is being paid to social media experts and the media relations teams at various companies.

The problem is that the finding is utter nonsense. The category that had more of a reputation gap was the one that included marketing, branding and public relations. The largest gap was found in the area that included customer service, products and employment. The idea here is that the larger the reputation gap, the more impact that particular area has on people’s opinions of a company or brand.

But like too many traps in the public relations world, you cannot boil public relations, marketing, media relations and social media activities into one solitary silver bullet that is the cause of trouble or the salvation for your business.

What you make as a product matters to your reputation and so does customer service. Marketing your product, public relations efforts to consumers and branding activities involving social responsibility are important, as well. If you have a great product and excellent customer service, and if you spend money on marketing, public relations, and social responsibility, then you are probably involved with the mainstream media and social media as well. These areas are not silos that can be singled out as the best or worst thing your company should focus on. Instead, you need a more comprehensive and cohesive approach to success.

A great product will sell. Excellent customer service will bring in more customers. And both will be advanced through great public relations and marketing efforts. Those efforts, more than likely, will involve mainstream media stories, articles in industry publications and perhaps even some social media outreach.

So before people go running off declaring media doesn’t matter, perhaps we should look back to earlier reports. Remember the stories about the press release being dead? It’s not dead; it’s simply evolved rather than becoming extinct. Evolution is the name of the game now. Before you write off all forms of media relations because of survey results, consider whether they make sense or not. Perhaps what we need to do is declare pointless surveys with screaming headlines dead. Anyone willing to conduct a survey for me on that?

Buckle up PR pros

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about social media and public relations in 2011:

Buckle up PR pros: 2011 promises an intense ride on the social media roller coaster

The avenues for dispensing information will multiply, so communicators of all stripes will need to understand and manage numbers as well as words.
By Ari B. Adler | Posted: January 3, 2011
In 2011 the hunger for information will grow in intensity, and how it’s consumed will grow in complexity. PR pros will have to deepen their understanding of social media beyond the “shiny new toy” it was in 2010. 

“PR professionals will be expected to consume information faster than ever before. It’s just the speed of doing business now,” says Arik Hanson, principal of ACH Communications in Minneapolis. “It means you have to work smarter, not harder.”

Hanson suggested that using effective online tools, such as RSS and news feed readers, will be crucial to keeping up with the information flow.

Though social media will continue to play an important role in all the information sharing, at least one PR pro thinks we are already seeing some numbers plateau.

“I’ve noticed that trend in organizations, mine included,” says Angela Minicuci, communications coordinator for the Michigan Association of Counties in Lansing. “Fans and followers are becoming harder to find, and online social spaces are developing more niches.”

Minicuci says that just browsing the home page of tech news site such as Mashable shows a focus on buzzwords like “optimize,” “personalize” and “integrate.”

“The bandwagon has been jumped on, and now everyone is scrambling to find a seat and hold on,” Minicuci says. “It’s not enough for companies to just be in the social networking space; they have to utilize it and utilize it well.”

For corporations, that means a focus on video, says Mary Henige, social media and digital communications director for General Motors in Detroit. “Corporate video storytelling will expand, since this medium helps to humanize companies and brands,” Henige says.

Are ‘gurus’ goners?

Could 2011 finally be the beginning of the end for social media “gurus,” as more professionals start to understand its power and become familiar with its use? Henige noted that with more marketers engaging on the Web, the concepts of simply monitoring social media versus becoming an expert user will blur even further into one necessary practice.

It’s that blurring that will require PR professionals to “get smarter about the numbers” if they want to stand out, Hanson says.

Predictions for 2011
• Just being in a social space isn’t going to be enough for companies anymore. They will have to learn to use the space well. 

• Corporate video storytelling will expand as a way to humanize companies and brands.

• To stand out, PR pros must learn to translate data from places like Google Analytics, not just talk about it.

• New and traditional methods will become more important as the public becomes less enamored of the shininess of social media.

“Sure, at heart most of us are wordsmiths; we don’t like math,” he says, “but those who embrace the numbers and know how to translate them into real, actionable ideas for business will continue to win and excel.”

Hanson says it’s about translating the hard data from places like Google Analytics, not just talking about it.

“You can’t simply report the data anymore; you need to be able to dig into it, understand it and translate it for the client or organization,” he says.

Hanson, Minicuci and Henige agree that PR will have to continue to evolve as social media evolves, with Henige adding that the profession will see more influence from out-of-work journalists entering the field.

“Journalists will continue to vie for public relations positions as traditional reporting jobs and newspapers continue to shrink,” Henige says.

In addition, Minicuci says, PR folks will be dealing with a public that wants more.

“I don’t see the general public accepting social media as the be-all end-all solution to public relations, but rather I see social sites having to better define themselves in markets in order to stay relevant,” she says.

“Social networking will prove to be a very useful tool,” she says, “as the growing pains are worked out and practitioners find ways to integrate both new and traditional methods into their efforts.”

Blogging isn’t social media

Every time I turn around there seems to be another study being conducted about who is responsible for social media at a company or organization. Is it the role of public relations, media relations, marketing, advertising, customer service — or a combination of all the above? What I’ve found most interesting about these studies is that many seem to still be lumping “blogger relations” in with “social media.”

I’ve long held the belief that bloggers are not journalists. There is something to be said for a professional journalist who has been properly trained to research a story and write a compelling article that people actually want to read. At the same time, however, I don’t believe bloggers should be relegated to the social media realm either. When I think of social media outlets, I think of 140-character tweets, two-sentence Facebook status updates and comments, a photo with a cutline on Flickr or maybe even a short video with comments by viewers on YouTube.

Social media is more about the continuing small-talk conversation being carried on between you and the world. Blogging is different. It can be weighty stuff or it can be about fashion trends. It can challenge your thinking or it can be something sarcastic and entertaining. But it is not social media.

Perhaps the problem is society’s insatiable need to classify things — especially new things people don’t fully understand. Now, certainly, blogging isn’t new, but for many people it is uncharted territory, as is social media. And since both are done via the Internet it makes sense to folks to drop them into the same bucket. That’s a mistake. Blogger relations is a new component of a very old discipline: media relations. As I said, I don’t believe bloggers are journalists, but they are a segment of writers that need to be dealt with professionally.

That’s why I’d argue that blogger relations is a function of whomever is handling media relations in your organization. Bloggers need information, either on background or on the record. They need assistance gathering photos, videos, soundbites, facts and figures. In short, they need information to complete the publication they are working on. But it is not enough for the media relations department to simply send them a press release and a link to some photos. For years, media relations professionals have spent time honing their craft by learning about news outlets and what makes individual reporters tick. It’s time we started doing that with bloggers, too. It is going to add a lot to our workload, but passing the buck and letting marketers or customer service departments deal with blogging because it is “social media” is not productive. It may even come back to bite you in a blog post that is anything but social.

What do you think? Do you believe blogging belongs in the social media bucket, the news media bucket or all by itself in a shiny new bucket?

(Photo courtesy of Chris Jones’ Flickr stream.)

“PR” doesn’t stand for Problem Repair

Associated Press Television News photographer Rich Matthews went diving in the Gulf of Mexico to take a closer look. (AP Photo)

The public relations industry is taking a beating lately because of the BP Oil catastrophe since those in charge seem to think PR stands for “Problem Repair.”

Whether it’s customer service, product design, political popularity or a giant gash you cut in the bottom of the ocean, PR can’t fix the root cause of your troubles. Sure, public relations practitioners not adhering to the Code of Ethics can divert attention away from the situation, but they cannot do so indefinitely. At some point, the truth will be revealed, the problem will continue to grow, people will no longer be fooled and the ultimate answer — fixing the problem — will have to be addressed.

Ad Age recently interviewed “Leroy Stick,” the pseudonym of the creator behind @BPGlobalPR on Twitter. In the interview, Stick said:

I started this account because I think most people in PR are liars and most people in the media don’t have the balls to call them out on it. There’s a system set up where companies make press releases and the media regurgitates them. Personally, I’d love it if more journalists delved into why companies say what they say rather than simply presenting what they say.

I can’t help but think a little about the pot calling the kettle black, since “Leroy Stick” won’t reveal his true identity and is, therefore, also a liar. But I digress. The bigger problem is that BP executives and government officials all the way up to President Barack Obama are looking to public relations professionals to make this problem go away. There is only one way to the make the problem of oil flowing into the ocean go away: stop the gusher you created.

Talking about sealing the gash won’t close it. Pointing fingers at who might be responsible won’t let nature start its cleaning process. Demanding money or agreeing to pay it won’t bring back the livelihoods of people affected by oil slicks hitting beaches. Having a photo opportunity with the families of the oil workers killed in the explosion won’t bring those men back. And trying to change the subject to a political agenda pushing for more controls over greenhouse gas emissions won’t save the fish, the birds and the mammals being poisoned to death.

I’ve been involved in media relations and public relations as a journalist, a practitioner and a university instructor for more than 20 years. I’ve learned a few things along the way. One of the things I’ve had to teach to students, colleagues and bosses is that PR can help you explain difficult answers and it can help you repair your reputation after you’ve had to publicly offer a difficult answer. But PR is not the answer.

So if you have horrible customer service, pushing PR messages about how great your Twitter team is handling complaints about it won’t help in the long run.

If you have a dangerous product, pushing PR messages about how much you care about your customers won’t change the fact they are at risk.

If you’re responsible for opening a hole in the Earth that is spewing millions of gallons of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, pushing PR messages about how you’re going to make things right won’t stop the oil flow.

And if you’re the man elected to lead this nation in times of crisis, pushing PR messages about caring for the environment more than the other political party won’t change the fact that people disapprove of your leadership.

Sure, I’ve stood up and said I’m responsible for oil spills. But as a public relations professional, I’m here to tell you we don’t cause bad customer service, dangerous products, holes in the ocean floor or poor leadership decisions. So stop expecting us to be miracle workers. Fix your damn problem; then we can talk.

Shattered news industry means scattered media relationships

Here’s a commentary I wrote for Ragan.com:

Published: 4/16/2010

Shattered news industry means scattered media relationships
By Ari B. Adler

How are you adjusting to this rocky professional landscape?

I’ve often taught people that the strength of your media relations work is based upon the strength of relationships. Having a solid relationship with a reporter is invaluable. If you know they’ll read the e-mail you’ve sent them or answer the phone when they see your number on caller ID, that is going to help you, your employer or your client tremendously.

Media relations is getting tougher every day, though, as a shattered news industry scatters media relationships near and far. As the news industry changes, the public relations practitioners who deal with it regularly are going to have to adapt. In the long run, however, this could be an opportunity for those of us in the industry to thrive.

Many of us have prided ourselves on the connections we’ve made with various reporters at different news outlets. Often, we were able to rely on those connections for many years—either at that outlet or at an even bigger and better one as the careers of our journalism friends grew.

But a Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism research study released recently indicates those days are over. Newsrooms are being downsized, reporters are being laid off, and the public’s demand for information is catered to by amateurs or organizations with a financial or political cause at their center.

Newspapers have seen a 41 percent decline in ad revenue over the past three years, Pew reports. Local television ad revenue fell 24 percent in 2009—three times as much as it did in 2008. Magazine ad revenue dropped 19 percent in 2009. As much as the former journalist in me likes to believe people will pay for solid reporting and protection by professional journalists doing their jobs, I also am a realist. The ads pay the bills, including the reporters’ paychecks. Without ad revenue, a news outlet cannot survive.

According to the Pew report, 79 percent of online news consumers say they rarely if ever clicked on an online ad, so don’t think some new Web-based business model is the solution for the aging newsrooms of the world. Thirty-five percent of Americans say they have a “favorite” destination online for news, but only 19 percent of them would be willing to pay for access to that site.

Newspaper staffs often are cited as the biggest victims of the economic crash affecting newsrooms, and for good reason. In 2009, approximately 5,900 newspaper jobs were lost, and that’s on top of the same amount lost in 2008. According to Pew, approximately one-third of the newsroom jobs in American newspapers in 2001 are now gone.

The economic decline that has decimated newsrooms lately is not the only problem—some of it is the result of changing habits by news consumers.

As the Pew report points out: “Consumers are not seeking out news organizations for their full news agenda. They are hunting the news by topic and by event and grazing across multiple outlets.”

The economic turmoil and changing consumer habits are not likely to revert to the days of yesteryear anytime soon, so it’s incumbent upon public relations professionals to figure out the best way to manage all of this.

As a PR person who has always had media relations as one of my core competencies to offer a client or employer, I actually see this as an opportune time for folks in my field. Never before has it been so important to have someone dedicated primarily to keeping up with “the media.” I say, “the media,” because we can’t simply see media relations as dealing with reporters and editors at mainstream news outlets anymore.

We have to deal with bloggers and “citizen journalists” and with special-interest groups posing as unbiased information sources. We have to keep up with the initial reports as well as the incomplete or skewed interpretations broadcast via social media. We have to be on our toes 24 hours a day, seven days a week and able to respond at a pace more rapid than we ever imagined just a few years ago.

As the news industry has segmented and news consumers are dividing into more niches, perhaps the media relations niche of public relations will see a surge in importance as well. If PR practitioners haven’t started sounding the alarm bells for clients about this yet, they need to get started. Our world is spinning faster; try not to get dizzy and fall off.

No matter how hard managers stir, “communications” still isn’t a bucket

A recent column and blog post have created a dust-up over whether journalists should be hired to do public relations. It all started with a column by Jill Geisler at Poynter.org listing the 10 reasons why journalists could help public relations operations. That led to a post by Kathryn Hubbell at the Public Relations Society of America’s blog citing frustration in some parts of the PR profession with journalists invading the PR territory.

The comments at the PRSA blog turned nasty rather quickly, suggesting that Hubbell’s piece was inappropriate, short-sighted and, for some, insulting. I was bothered by the post, too, because it seemed to attack the path I had taken in my career. I was a newspaper journalist — first a reporter, then an editor — before jumping over to the public relations side of the business. I’ve always valued my media background, and so have my employers and clients. Journalists are trained to recognize a good story, write it well and explain it in easy-to-understand terms. Still, there’s more to public relations than that. There’s research, strategy and myriad other components involved in being a good PR counselor.

At first I was going to respond to the PRSA post talking about how off-base Ms. Hubbell was, but then the slew of comments that ensued took care of that for me. And as I watched those comments unfold, my opinion that some PR people are just snooty about their profession and want to defend it from outsiders changed. I came to realize that we’re all a bit like that, whether we specialize in journalism, public relations, marketing, advertising or any other form of communications. We hold our specific training and talents sacred — and rightly so.

The problem now seems to be that economic conditions have led to management teams losing sight of the fact that “communications” is not a bucket into which you can just stir in bits and pieces of professions and watch great products emerge. Journalists and their counterparts in the other various communications fields each have something to bring to the table. Unfortunately, we’ve reached an era where management is looking solely at the bottom line, hoping that by combining public relations, marketing and advertising into one discipline, with half the positions previously considered necessary, they have a winning managerial decision on their hands.

But the reality is all they’ve created is an inefficient and ineffective mess. Here’s a newsflash for those number-crunching CEOs: the people trained in those disciplines get upset when they’re told anyone can do their job, and so they should. Too many CEOs and vice presidents seem to believe that if you’re a journalist, of course you can do public relations. If you can do public relations, of course you can do marketing. And how hard can advertising really be, so why can’t the PR people or marketing staff take care of it? Oh, and internal communications — well, anyone can drop some cute stories into a company newsletter, right?

I’m a former journalist who now does public relations. The leap can be made. There are plenty of people who can be trained to cover more than one discipline. But it takes years of training, experience or both to make that transition and reach a point where you are comfortable saying, “Yeah, I can do more than one job for you.” But even then, it doesn’t mean you want to or that you should have to.

The company managers trying to figure out how to handle media relations, public relations, marketing, advertising and internal communications need to get a grip on reality. They should stop trying to save money by forcing people to work outside their disciplines, and then holding them accountable when they don’t get the biggest bang for the buck.

As I was thinking about this over the past few days while contemplating this blog post, I remembered a great lesson on figuring out the difference between several of the communication arts disciplines. It goes like this:

If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday’, that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed and it makes the nightly news, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it in the news story, THAT’s public relations.”

Maybe those of us involved in communications should begin communicating more with our managers, starting with delivering a copy of that story.

(Image courtesy of Jake Khrone’s Flickr feed.)

Social media and (not or) PR

There’s a level of frustration I and a few other colleagues have been feeling lately about social media and public relations. The issue seems to be that people are thinking of social media as a discipline — as something separate and distinct from public relations. That’s a false premise. It’s time for the thinking to switch away from social media or public relations to social media and public relations.

I was at an event this afternoon where Scott Monty from Ford was speaking to a group of PR students from several Michigan universities. The question was asked of Scott when Ford would be launching a new model solely via social media. His answer was, “probably never.” Scott noted that social media is just one component of an overall strategy that would be used for a product launch. It was refreshing to hear.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of speaking to PR professionals from across the country at the Ragan Communications Social Media for Communicators conference. I’ve embedded a short portion of my presentation that was shot on a Flip camera. It’s not the greatest quality video, but it gets the job done. So, rather than trying to type out the point I was making, I’ll just say, “Roll the video…”