Some tidbits from PRSA ’09

Bausch_and_Lomb_logoI’m in San Diego at the Public Relations Society of America national conference and I attended a session today that I was tweeting from a lot, which tells me there were plenty of good tidbits. I’m going to share the tweeted items and some of my own thoughts with you in this post.

First, however, a tip of the hat to Mike McDougal, vice president of corporate communications and public affairs at Bausch & Lomb. He did a great job packing a lot of information into the session despite being let down by the convention’s lackluster audio/visual capabilities.

So, here are the tidbits and thoughts, in no particular order of importance:

  • “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” That’s a quote attributed to Winston Churchill. If that’s how he felt about things back in his era, imagine what he would think of the world we live in today! The session Mike was speaking at was advertised as “how to deal with the 24-second news cycle.” It was a fitting description.
  • Through video examples of news broadcasts, Mike proved his statement that “we’re living in a world where ‘unconfirmed’ is the new norm.” That should scare journalists and PR professionals alike. But it also should scare the public. We must find a way to get the news media back to where it values facts above opinion and accuracy over expediency.
  • As a matter of being prepared for trouble, Mike suggested that companies should consider using a truth squad with the media to defend themselves against stories that weren’t fact-checked, but also to poke holes in your competitor’s statements. I like the idea; I’m just not sure many reporters won’t just give you the brush-off because you are the competitor. Mike claims it worked when he was at Kodak and they took on some claims Hewlett-Packard was making, so I’ll defer to him on this one.
  • Mike also offered a bit of commentary during his session and one item in particular caught my attention. He said, “More and more, the media isn’t reporting news, it’s making it.” Maybe that stuck out to me more than other comments because we had just come from the convention’s opening general session where we heard from Arianna Huffington. She noted that in order for a story to be picked up by the media anymore, it has to have “drama.” Are we letting the media focus too much on the dramatic? Why can’t solid information still be considered newsworthy? Why the drama, drama, drama? I was watching the news this morning in my hotel room and caught a piece on CNN where they were conducting interviews about an interview FOX News did recently with Rush Limbaugh. So, essentially, CNN was doing an interview about another network doing an interview. What was the point? From what I could tell, it was to show the world that CNN is more newsworthy than FOX – but if that’s how they are going to try to prove it, then they’ve already failed.
  • As I mentioned earlier, part of Mike’s session was talking about the “24-second news cycle.” To deal with that, Mike suggested having some evergreen news ready to push out online as a way to either push your unflattering news out of the way or to push your competition’s good news aside and get your news into the cycle as well. It’s not a bad strategy to consider, but I’m wondering if it’s really getting you in and out of a news cycle or just impacting organic search. Even affecting searches has merit, but I think that’s different from news distribution.
  • At Bausch & Lomb, they “deputize employees” to have help monitoring the news and reviewing what it means to the company and its customers. That’s an awesome idea. To keep up with today’s crazy glut of nonstop information, it would be incredibly helpful for communications departments to have the eyes and ears of every employee working with them.
  • Finally, a note about something I’ve been saying for some time now and it’s good to hear others say it, too. Mike noted that despite all the technology and all the changes, “the basics still apply.” That’s a great point and I wish more people lusting after social media would remember it. I don’t care what kind of slick new delivery system we have for sharing news – the bottom line is that public relations, media relations, government relations, employee relations, etc. all rely on one main ingredient: relationships. Having great relationships that you can tap into and that others can tap into your expertise through are invaluable when it comes to communicating effectively and efficiently.

If you want to follow along with what I and the thousands of other people at this conference are talking about, get on Twitter and follow the hashtag #prsa09.


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