Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dennis Wilcox: 5 Q&A on Corporate Reputation

Well, I couldn’t manage to organize my trip to Subotica last month and meet THE public relations guru, Dennis L. Wilcox, in person, but I did contact him through facebook and asked him for a short interview on corporate reputation.

Reputation, its management and measurement, is the focus of my interest these days, as a part of the research I do for my master thesis.

So here are his answers on my questions.

1. How do you define corporate reputation?
Corporate reputation is the collective perceptions of an organization's various stakeholders. It represents the collective perceptions and opinions of individuals who have some relationship with the organization as customers, suppliers, employees, members of a community where the organization has a store or plant, government regulators, investors, financial analysts, journalists who cover the organization, etc.

2. What is the difference between corporate reputation and corporate image?
A corporate reputation is formed by stakeholders involved or affected in some way by the organization. Corporate image, on the other hand, is more internalized. Image is what the organization believes it is and wants to project. A bank, for example, may wish to project the "image" that its staff is friendly and helpful, or that the bank is successful and well managed. Public relations and advertising campaigns are often focused on projecting an "image" of an organization or that its product brands represent quality and good value.

Customers, for example, may feel that the "image" being projected is wrong or misleading. They find that the bank staff is not particularly helpful or friendly -- or that the product is of poor quality. Thus, the bank might have the "reputation" of being unfriendly although the bank continues to project the image that it is friendly through its advertising.

3. What makes a good corporate reputation?
A good corporate reputation is based on the organization's core values and actions. A corporation that treats its employees well, makes excellent products, actively participates in the community, supports worthwhile projects, and actively works to ensure that its environmental impact is minimal, usually has a good reputation. Reputation is based on actions, not slogans and lofty speeches. There is a good quote from Abraham Lincoln, which puts things in perspective: "Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."

4. Measuring corporate reputations accurately is crucial if they are to be managed. What is the best way to measure corporate reputations?
Measuring corporate reputation involves a mix of methods. The basic concept is to continually "listen" to the corporation's key publics. This may be in the form of focus groups among employees or customers, monitoring customer service queries and complaints, doing a content analysis of comments and discussion about the corporation and its products on the Internet and social network sites, and even in-depth interviews with community leaders and industry "influencers." It's important to establish a matrix of various publics to assess reputation within each public. The corporation may have an excellent reputation among the financial community (investors and analysts) but not a good reputation in the communities in which it operates. Or a particular product may have a poor reputation for quality, whereas other products have a much better reputation. By assessing "reputation" in various sectors, the corporation can then take action to correct problems and enhance its reputation as a responsive organization. There are also international indexes -- reputation surveys of corporations by various publications and nonprofit groups. In the U.S, for example, Fortune Magazine does an annual ranking of the 100 most admired companies. Apple, Google, Coca-Cola often come out as the "most admired" companies based on a number of factors.

5. How do mainstream media influence reputation?
Mainstream media have much to do with forming perceptions of a company because people who don't know much about the corporation rely on media reports to form their opinions. If the corporation is in the news because of a plant disaster, or being forced to do a product recall, people usually perceive that the corporation is not very good -- thus lowering the reputation of the company. The extensive media coverage of corporate CEOs making large salaries (in some cases, $l00 million) while, at the same time, laying off thousands of workers and asking for government bail-outs caused a severe erosion of reputation for such companies as AIG, Citigroup, and the Bank of America. On the other hand, Walmart -- the world's largest retailer -- has improved its reputation in recent years by a series of actions and initiatives that have put it in the forefront of the "green" movement and sustainability. Favorable media coverage of these initiatives have done much to improve its reputation among the general public.

Thank you, professor! :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Does CSR pay off?

Very often the business managers ask the question how much is it worth to spend on CSR strategy and does it really pay off?

Recently Forbes has published an article on this topic, defending the opinion that CSR practice does not bring the company positive impact, a conclusion taken from David Vogel research, based on companies from Fortune 500 list. But there are many other experts with similar analysis who have come to different conclusions.

For instance, the Goldman Sachs Report from 2007 shows that among six sectors covered (energy, mining, steel, food, beverages, and media), companies that are considered leaders in implementing environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies to create sustained competitive advantage have outperformed the general stock market by 25 percent since August 2005. Additionally, 72% of these companies have outperformed their peers over the same period.

Even according to the Domini 400 Social Index, companies with positive ESG performance have compared stronger than the S&P over the last 18 years.

One more recent research, made by Panel Intelligence in November 2008, once again confirms that CSR actually pays. According to this study, 80% of sustainability leaders surveyed say they intend to maintain or increase spending in areas related to sustainability next year. In fact, they reported that sustainability and clean technology spending, as a percentage of corporate revenues, is expected to increase 73 percent through 2010.

Another recent study reveals that, as a result of “ecoflation”, packaged goods companies may expect a reduction in earnings of 19 to 47 percent in the next decade if they do not implement adequate sustainability measures.

The study Trends in Communication Management and Public Relations made by European Communication Monitor in November 2008 shows that 73% of the PR professionals in Europe think that CSR will be even more important in the following three years, and four of ten believe that CSR is a strategic issue that the communication management must deal with.

In addition, this study gives some more useful hints on CSR. For instance, 75% of the European PR pros are involved in CSR, and the main motivation for that (at almost all types of companies and all European regions) is the reputation management (70%). The most practiced CSR activity is the corporate profile (values and strategy, 60.8%). However, in some regions of Europe, the selection of CSR strategy differs: while in East and South Europe the social actions are the main aspect, the corporate ethics plays the main role on the West and North of Europe. Communicating environmental activities is less valued in East Europe.

So, does CSR really pay off? This question is so often probably because the results from CSR practice cannot be seen quickly. Lots of managers that decide on corporate budget splits cannot see the CSR effects and that is why they more easily decide to invest in strategies that can provide results for shorter period.

On the other hand, CSR cannot be directly linked to improved financial performance of the company, so probably it is necessary to make a broader business case for CSR. However, it is more than obvious that CSR indirectly helps in increasing of the company value, through: increasing the engagement among employees, bolster corporate reputation, leading to product innovation and differentiation, helping manage risk, decreasing environmental impact and contribute to solving social problems, and so on.

But at the end of the day, Vogel is right when saying that CSR is not going to save a company that has made poor business decisions.

PR in 2009 ... and beyond

The New Year usually inspires columnists and bloggers to make a review of the year that is gone, summarizing the events and results, and to give some general predictions for the year to come. I haven’t even tried to avoid that cliché - the theme just popped up: What should a PR professional be in 2009 and what skills must he/she posses? In other words, in which direction will the PR profession develop in the new year that started few days ago?

The list of recommendations given bellow is generally aimed at the PR industry in my country, Macedonia. For very little people here, these recommendations mean presence, they already practice them. For most of PR practitioners - they represent a far future, far beyond 2009. And a good part of my colleagues - if they bother to read this at all - will take these recommendations as totally unnecessary, and will continue - as usual - to limit their professional everyday life with their only PR activity - having coffee with journalist-friends.

Thus, let these recommendations be a kind of New Year’s Resolution for every PR pro who wants to keep up with the new trends in the industry and to work in direction of advancement of the public relations as a profession.

So, if you haven’t mastered these skills yet, it is time to at least understand that:

1. PR will be even more open and wider profession than it was before, and it will demand even more skills, various skills.

2. As a PR pro you must know your client so well, that you will know the question the client plans to ask you even before he does.

3. A PR pro must be a storyteller, must know to tell stories that move people.

4. The PR pro will be a content creator, not only a communicator who delivers messages.

5. The PR pro must be even more curious, thoughtful, innovative, insightful, creative …to have even more passion to his/her profession… and above all to be even more daring and bold.

6. A PR pro will must be capable of leading a conversation with the audiences, to dialogue instead of pure message delivering. He/she should ask questions, and to give answers to ones. Moreover, he/she should be prepared to listen to the answers to the questions asked.

7. A PR pro must follow all the fast changes happening in his/her environment and to react quickly on each of those changes… The PR pro must be prepared to quickly adjust or change even his/her own belief, attitude, prejudice…

8. For a successful PR strategy, focusing on traditional media is definitely not enough anymore. The PR professional must think in direction of integrated campaign that will include even tools such as making movies and videos, (micro)blogging, social networks, building of applications for mobiles and computers, video games… in other words, to use all tools available, so the “alternative” communication tolls will become “conventional” media.

9. The measurement of the real PR effects will replace the pure counting of media placements. A PR pro must be ready to seek for and to propose new creative ways to evaluate PR actions, evaluation that will reflect the real picture and the impact in the society.

10. And last but not least, the PR pro should not succumb to the pressures of the ongoing world crisis. The PR pro must understand and believe that the intellectual and the creative “assets” he/she owns cannot be taken away by no recession! And creativity in PR is needed as never before.

In addition, here is one great video produced by Ogilvy PR Worldwide for PR Week. The video is a compilation of statements of top PR experts worldwide, and the title is PR of the Future.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


My motivation for this post came from the fact that many journalists switch to PR profession, or at least they think about it. This trend is not neither new nor typical for our (Macedonian) environment only. But what I want to discuss here is do they know what they are going into, and is journalistic background enough to become a good PR manager?

How PR differs from journalism?

Although there are some common activities (writing in journalistic style, interviewing, gathering and synthesizing large amount of information, producing good copy on deadline, and so on), they are fundamentally different in: scope, objectives, audiences, channels.

Few words for each of them.

Scope. PR has many components, ranging from counseling to issues management and special events. Journalistic writing and media relations, although very important, are only two of these elements. So, before a journalist decides to go into PR, he/she should know that effective practice of PR requires strategic thinking, problem-solving capability and other management skills, beside only systematic transfer of information. In addition, the practice of PR demands budget planning, project management, client handling and advising.

Objectives. Journalists gather and select information for the primary purpose of providing the public with news and information: Communication activities are an end in themselves. PR personnel also gather facts and information for the purpose of informing the public, but the objective is different: Communication activities are only a means to the end. In other words, the objective is not only to inform but to change people’s attitudes and behaviors, in order to further and organization’s goals and objectives. Whereas journalists are objective observers, PR personnel are “advocates” of a particular point of view – our client’s or our employer's point of view.

Audiences. Journalists write primarily for a mass audience – readers, listeners, or viewers of the medium for which they work. By definition, mass audiences are not well defined, and a journalist on a daily newspaper, for example, writes for the general public. A PR professional, in contrast, carefully segments audiences into various demographic and psychological characteristics. Such research allows messages to be tailored to audience needs, concerns, and interests for maximum effect.

Channels. Most journalists, by nature of their employment, reach audiences through one channel – the medium that publishes or broadcasts their work. PR professionals use a variety of channels to reach the audiences previously described. The channels employed may be a combination of mass media outlets – newspapers, magazines, radio and TV. Or they may include direct mail, pamphlets, posters, newsletters, trade journals, special events, posting messages on the Internet, building social networks… all of them with same importance as the conventional media.

PR takes more than writing

But journalists worldwide often decide to go into PR anyway. Why is that? Sometimes for them making a transfer to a new profession represents a challenge, but for most of them it is simply a retiring (going to a pension). The last ones believe that after they have “reached the peak in their journalism careers”, they will automatically be great PR professionals, without any additional efforts or a training! They really think that the skills and personal contacts gained during their journalistic experience is all they need to be a good PR manager. But they have to understand that PR is far more that writing of press releases and having coffee with old friends and colleagues!

Connections with the journalists can be obtained during the work as a PR practitioner as well. The journalists were not born with their “connections” or journalists friends, but they have obtained them during their journalistic practice and career.

It is true that previous journalistic (and writing, in general) practice can be helpful in the improvement of writing technique, speed and style, but on the other hand, it is far from crucial element since the basics of journalistic writing can be learned in a minute (the pyramid scheme). Those who have more experience as TV journalists have other skills as good orator skills and a body language, also important for a PR professional, but mostly for a PR that works in a special area such as a spokesperson.

But PR takes more than good writing and communication skills… “You don’t earn your right to sit at the PR table just by being able to write well”, says Robert Moulthrop, Scudder & Clark Public Relations, New York.”I’ll admit you probably won’t be asked to pull up a chair without that skill. But keeping your seat requires more these days – a strategic contribution, big picture focus, broad-scale knowledge of the world within and outside your business, and the courage to be the reminding voice about ethical conduct, environmental impact, or the personal consequences of economic decisions.”

In my practice, I have met both PR practitioners with or without journalistic background, and I can freely admit that the longer experience in journalism they have, the harder they fit in the new Pr profession. In some cases, the long journalism career makes more damage that use in PR practice – their “journalistic matrix” is so deeply rooted that it is very hard to them to adjust to the needs of the new profession. The exceptions are very rear.

Maybe this will sound a bit brave, but I personally believe that a PR practitioner can be a better journalists, that vice versa. However, I know many journalists who became (or plan to become) PR pros, but I have never met a single PR who would want to become a journalist.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

New Moment TV commercial wins Epica silver

I feel very proud that I am part of the most awarded agency in my country!

New Moment Macedonia has won silver on Epica Awards, for the TV commercial "Nuns", produced in 2007 for the client COSMOFON. More than 5.500 entries of 730 agencies, coming from 47 countries were competing for the prize this year.

This is the biggest international advertising award won by a Macedonian agency. For the agency, this is the 63rd international award, which makes New Moment the most awarded agency in Macedonia.

The Black Sheep - PR blog

Hi, guys! I just wanted to share here that recently I started another, local blog, hosted on a blog platform called The Black Sheep. My new blog is entitled Воглавно Јавно, which in English would mean something like Generally public. The blog is strictly professional, and it’s all about PR, advertising and communications industry. It came as a result of an old idea for a local blog made by a professional, by someone that works in the area. The blog is in Macedonian, so I will try to also write (or at least adapt) some of the posts here in English.

There are lots of PR professionals that are not willing to share their knowledge and experience publicly and free of charge. I personally believe that it is not only selfish, but also a non-sense, especially in this century when the knowledge is more accessible than ever! Hundreds and thousands of handbooks, text-books, expert and case studies, etc. today are only one click away!

Experience is something else – you really need to work in the area to gain experience. But for a PR beginner, reading Public Relations for Dummies is more than enough to enter the PR industry.

That is why I will try with this blog not to be selfish and to share as much as I can my knowledge and my experience I have gained (and I still gain) during my PR career. Maybe I won’t be always right. But that is why I expect comments and quality discussions on all my blogs, which I believe can lead only to promotion of our profession.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

This Thing We Call “PR”

Viewed as a professional endeavor, public relations is most often defined as the management function that seeks to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between an organization, commercial or non-commercial, and the audiences or "publics" on which the success of these entities depends. These publics may include any of several possible constituencies: customers, investors, employees, suppliers, legislators, competitors, government
officials and other “influentials.”

Working within the context of the prevailing public opinion, laws, politics and societal norms of the country or countries in which they work, public relations practitioners develop programs and craft messages aimed at creating favorable support for the goals of the organizations they represent. Obtaining significant, positive news and feature coverage in the print and broadcast media is a key objective.

Unlike advertising or marketing, with which it is often confused, professional public relations is more “soft sell” than “hard sell.” It emphasizes information and persuasion as opposed to packaging and paid media, diplomacy as opposed to force. Owing to its subtleties, it is occasionally viewed as “propaganda” or, in more current jargon, “spin,” the intentional manipulation of public opinion without regard for what is accurate or true.

Although professional public relations has certainly been misused from time to time, its record of historical achievement suggests a much deeper and abiding respect for and adherence to openness and honesty in its dealings and communications. Public relations blossomed as a professional endeavor in the 20th Century, most conspicuously in the United States, but its roots, both philosophical and pragmatic, can be traced throughout civilization.

“Mini-Me History” by Don Bates, Copyright © 2006, Don Bates, Published by Institute for Public Relations

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Electrolux Design Lab 08 campaign in Macedonia

Electrolux Design Lab 08: How to stimulate local creativity to win globally?

Vacuuming shoes, portable solar food cooker, a plastic decomposer as a flower pot, washing machine that works on air instead of water, eco washing machine that uses soap nuts instead of detergent, automatic cooker that makes delicious and colorful cookies out of fresh vegetables and fruits… and many other brave ideas and product design solutions has been sent by students worldwide to participate on the international competition Electrolux Design Lab.

But can these design solutions come only from students from world’s top industrial design universities? Or can these ideas be only begotten by creative and highly ambitious youngsters from Singapore, USA, China, Germany or Taiwan? Or is it true that creativity knows no geographical boundaries after all?

Macedonian people generally face lack of self-esteem and disbelief in their own educational system, and Macedonian students don’t believe that they can be equally valued as the students of Western Europe, USA, and the fast developing East. Well, I personally disagree: we may not have the world’s best universities or advanced industries, but we have our creativity. As Riderstrale and Nordstrom say: “The main production tool is small, grey and weighs around 1.3 kg. It’s the human brain”.

Although the project is established in 2003, New Moment first promoted Design Lab competition in Macedonia two years ago, and from the start we have faced the problem of students’ lack of self-esteem. Our goal in promoting Design Lab was first to stimulate Macedonian students’ creativity and to inspire them to apply for the competition. And our vision - to have a global winner of Design Lab coming from Macedonia.

However, the client’s objectives were mainly focused on raising awareness of the students and the general public on Electrolux, its philosophy and products, as well as to generate media coverage on Design Lab and on Electrolux.

On Design Lab

Electrolux Design Lab, established in 2003, is an annual global competition open to undergraduate and graduate students who are invited to present innovative, daring ideas and solutions for home appliances. In February this year, Electrolux has launched the 6th edition of the competition via So far thousands of students have participated in Electrolux Design Lab.

The competition culminates at an international press event in a different city every year. Previous venues include Paris, Barcelona, Stockholm, New York and Budapest, and this year the international finals will be held in Zurich in October 2008, where 8 finalists will compete for the three main prizes. The Design Lab has a First Prize of 5,000 Euro and a six-month internship at one of Electrolux’s global design centers. The second prize is 3,000 Euro and third prize 2,000 Euro.

Each year the company announces a different brief for the students to create concepts for home appliances. This year’s submissions are aimed at the iGeneration, it is expected to be out in 2-3 years and it addresses food storage, cooking, and/or washing. The company defines the Internet Generation as brand-conscious, busy young professionals between 25-35, who are independent, concerned about the environment, and whose lives are intertwined with technology and online social networks.

An international jury judges the entries based on intuitive design, innovation and consumer insight. “We are looking for daring ideas and solutions,” says Henrik Otto, Head of Global Design at Electrolux and Head of Design Lab jury. “Entries should reflect iGeneration’s core interests and concerns like mobility, convenience, time, materials, personalization, entertaining, technology, and sustainability.”

Last year’s competition “Green designs for 2020” was won by Levente Szabó from Moholy-Nagy University of Art & Design, Hungary, with E-wash, a compact washing machine that uses soap nuts instead of regular detergent.

On inspiration and stimulating local creativity

The Design Lab jury evaluates students’ entries based on intuitive design, innovation and consumer insight. What is most important is the story behind the products design concept, the consumer research made by the student, the identified problem and then the solution of that problem. Listening to consumers, understanding what they really need and want, what they really wish…

During the campaign we focused on encouraging the invention and innovation of Macedonian students, by asking them the right questions related to designing the concepts of future home appliances for Design Lab competition. How do consumers use their products? What would make their lives easier? How do lifestyles affect how people use their appliances? What can be the solution of their needs, or their frustrations? And at the end, to imagine how our everyday life will look like in the future, or tomorrow?

We have first spread the briefs and questions on the internet, giving hints from the previous Design Lab winning solutions, the most daring ideas. In the call-for-entry phase we produced and distributed hundreds of posters and brochures, published video briefs and clips on YouTube and relevant blogs, we posted photos on Flickr, Photobucket, Facebook, we did much online PR and placed web banners on relevant student portals...

Over 5000 students were addresses personally through series of Design Lab e-newsletters. We have also designed a special Design Lab blog in Macedonian ( that provides all information needed, rules for applying, briefs, questions, previous winners, different experiences, opportunities, inspiration….The ‘Design Lab 08’ group on Facebook, with discussion topics and briefs, photos, video clips, wall posts to inspire visitors, gained over 170 members, looking for inspiration and recent news on the competition.

We have established a local partnership with a student organization - AIESEC, in order to have more credibility with the key media and to generate non-commercial coverage. New Moment and AIESEC team has organized a series of Design Lab student workshops and faculty presentations, reaching over 1500 students from 6 faculties at 3 universities, who were briefed on the competition and designing innovative product ideas. A Design Lab stand was placed at Career Days, Student Forums and Education Fair during the campaign, reaching around 2000 students.

As a culmination of the campaign, two weeks before the competition closes for entries, we have organized, together with AIESEC, an exhibition of photos and sketches of previous Design Lab winners (2003-2007), in order to inspire students and encourage their creativity. We invited all the students, the university teachers of IT and design, the media, and general public. We even invited the Macedonian Minister of Information Society, but after unsuccessful attempts to come up with a convenient time schedule for both parties we had to turn down his request for the postponing of the event.

We have distributed several press releases to the media; we have placed interviews with Henrik Otto, interviews with the previous Macedonian entrants, with AIESEC representatives. We also arranged a broadcast of the video brief on Sitel, national TV.

The whole campaign has generated media coverage worth over 200.000 euro. The key media (highest circulated daily newspapers and magazines, national TV and radio stations) have joined the campaign and covered the Design Lab call for entries, supporting and encouraging Macedonian students’ creativity.

Finally, on the effects

At the moment I am writing this article, the Design Lab competition is closed and more than 600 iGeneration-design entries (sent in by students from 42 countries) have been evaluated, which is the highest number of Design Lab entries so far. The selection of top 21 finalists is made, and now the selection of top finalists is in progress. Submissions came from students in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, England, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, U.K., U.S., and the Ukraine. “The entries we’ve received are high-quality and very innovative,” says Henrik Otto, Head of Global Design at Electrolux. “It won’t be an easy task selecting the top finalists.”

Now, here are the results of our local Design Lab campaign:

  • The campaign has encouraged many students to develop their creativity and work on their ideas for future home appliances concepts. As a result, Macedonia has given the highest number of design entries at Design Lab 08 of all the Balkan countries. It is also the highest number of Design Lab entrants among Balkan countries since establishing of the competition.
  • Nena Boskovski from Architecture Faculty in Skopje, Macedonia is selected as one of the 21 top students out of 600+ Design Lab entrants from all over the world! She is the only semi-finalist coming from the Balkan region. Nina’s design concept is called Iron Glove – a small domestic wireless appliance, for quick ironing that works on solar energy, a great ironing solution for busy young iPeople.
  • If winning is not enough, and for those who still measure effectiveness in AVE and ratio – we have also achieved over 200.000 euro of coverage Ad Value, which in terms of ratio represents 1:50!

P.S. At the time I am writing this article, the jury decides on the winners of Design Lab. Hope that Nena is among the top three. Thumbs up, Nena!

Monday, June 9, 2008


You work in public relations for some time. Maybe for years. Maybe you even worked in media before you started your career in public relations. So you are a good news release writer, you know all the journalism writing principles. You drink coffee with the right people, you care for good relations with media... People say that you have it. You have the sense, the “nose” for a good story. Your clients trust you and they know that you will bring them “coverage”. Yet in your lovely PR life, you are still wondering: do media and PR practitioners really agree of what is “newsworthy”?

It happens all the time. You work “by the book” - you make a research, detect the main problems in your client’s image, create a PR strategy and propose as a part a corporate or social responsibility event. The client approves, you make a charity event, you make a good use of your “nose” and write a good news release, you make all necessary “coffee chit-chats” and follow up phone calls…. You are sure that it will be a real success! After all, you have the knowledge, the skill, the experience, and the “nose” for what’s a newsworthy story! But the next day – the name of your client is not in media! What happened? Where did you go wrong?!

You think that what was newsworthy for you maybe was not newsworthy for the media… Maybe there were more important and more newsworthy events that day so the media gave priority to others than you?!… But no, it’s not it…. It must be something else…. And you start to suspect your “nose” for newsworthy stories…

So, what is the problem? Is it your “nose”? Or is YOUR concept of newsworthiness same as what MEDIA understand as newsworthy story? At the end, do the PR people and the media agree on what’s newsworthy?

This is not a new problem, and probably all the PRs have it from time to time. The problem exists even in society systems where public relations are really sophisticated and advanced professional skill.

Some are and some aren’t newsworthy?
While most of your company’s or your client’s activities are valuable, not all merit media coverage. Television, radio and print media are competitive business. Think about all the events and critical news that happen in your area. Now, think about the job of the reporter, TV assignment editor of section editor that must fill up all that information into a very limited length of time or printed space. Why would the editor publish YOUR news release? Of all annoying “junk mail” of news releases in editor’s mailbox (inbox) what will catch his eye? Of course, the newsworthy ones. What is then newsworthy though?

If you put yourself in the editor’s shoes for a second, what will you do with a news release on a corporate picnic? How about an announcement on a half-price summer sale? You would probably trash the news release. After all, editor’s job is to dig out newsworthy ideas for his audience. He’s looking for ideas that are sufficiently interesting to the general public to warrant reporting. Editors are looking for story ideas addressing significant or unusual events, trends, personal accomplishments, new services or new products. On the other hand, they’re turned off by fluff pieces filled with unsubstantiated claims and exaggerations.

Some experts believe that probably there is no such thing as real “newsworthiness” working in practice at all! Especially if you define newsworthy with “some companies are, some companies aren’t” approach. The media are constantly anointing new “darlings” even while banishing yesterday’s cover boys and cover girls to the “newsworthy graveyard”. It is no coincidence that in journalism parlance the archive of newspapers and magazine clips is called the “morgue”! If people and things were inherently newsworthy, there would be little room for newcomers and old-timers would seldom forfeit appeal to the media. This is by the way the basis of Dean Rotbart’s theory called More Than Your Fair Share (MTYFS).

Steve Salerno wrote in LA Times about what he perceives is the prevailing -- and largely damaging -- method of news judgment –one that tends to “trendify” and overemphasize stories that are in fact, just anomalies. “In its most elementary sense, after all, newsworthiness is built on a foundation of anomaly -- the classic ‘man bites dog’ paradigm.” And this results in a confusion of what is actually relevant, and ultimately, newsworthy.

The Washington Post’s Colbert I. King argues that it has much more to do with “how we decide whether one story is more worthy than another. How do we determine the merits of a case?” Which brings us back to the ambiguous nature of what is “newsworthy”: “It's an amorphous term, but editors claim to know it when they see it. Unfortunately, in my view, that decision seems to boil down to what those of us in newsrooms, and not readers, care about”, he says.And there's the problem. What draws the interest of people in the news business (what they like to read and write about) often bears little relationship to what common people care about. In that sense, what newspapers deem “newsworthy” is not actually information that is most relevant in terms of its potential effect on readers’ and viewers’ lives, but what is most out of the ordinary.

So what is newsworthy to the audience? Do people follow the news solely to learn how and what is going on in the world will affect them? Are they looking to read or watch a story that has little to do with their own lives, but is newsworthy because it is unique? The reality for most people is likely a combination of several motivations -- making the obligations of those who purvey the news that are much more complicated. But one indicator of how audiences are responding to the news judgment that was once reserved only to the conference rooms at newspapers and television networks might be the fact that more are veering toward the Internet to get news, where to a greater degree the news judgment is one’s own.

What about domestic media?
Well, we all agree what a newsworthy story should be. The media, the PRs, here or abroad… we all say that the story in the news release must be unique, timely, to have local angle and to be of public interest. It is known that what can also be useful is if the story is visual, unusual, involves celebrities or politicians, or some neutral “messenger”. Put like this – it seems like we don’t have a problem, if everyone do his/her part of the job, right?

Although the media claim that “newsworthiness” (as described above) and ethical standards are prevailing in their editorial policy, my experience tells me not always to agree with these claims. Especially after a recent experience when we sent a message to the press about our client’s social responsibility event. The leading newspaper published (almost) everything about it, yet completely ignoring the true organizer of the event by simply not mentioning it in the article! The author simply missed one of the 5 journalistic “W”s – the “Who”!

Since this was not the first experience of this kind in my PR career, I decided to make a small survey and examine why this happens. My colleague and I interviewed several domestic media “gate-keepers” (editors-in-chief and their deputies), asking them what is prevailing method of judgment of newsworthiness on some company’s public event (social responsibility project, humanitarian activity, etc.).

I must say that I was a bit surprised when the deputy editor-in-chief of the very same newspaper that missed one of the Ws, admitted openly that “having in mind the fact that our medium exists on commercial basis, it is important if the mentioned company is our partner and a client”. Than he continued: “The other factor is the question how this company is involved in the event, is it a subtle or a vulgar way of its advertising? So it is important to promote the company but to some fair limits.” His colleague from the same newspaper supported this practice by explaining that “generally, we try to avoid publishing articles where the open promotion is evident, or at least we give those articles different shape. For such purpose, the company can buy advertising space to present its product, campaign or service as advertorial.”

Other media and editors speak about it in a similar way - they consciously and intentionally avoid publishing news releases if they think “the company promotion is evident”. They say: “I don’t publish event of smaller significance, in which I recognize placement of ‘marketing’ under the label of ‘humanity’”. Or: “It is irritating when the name of a company very often pulls through the information and by all means the writer is trying to attract the readers’ attention. In such cases, we never publish the press release as it is, because it looks as an advertisement of the organizer.” Even this: “If the event has a humanitarian goal, the publishing depends on the size of donation, the size of the event, celebrities involved, etc. But at the end of the day, even if no journalist will admit, the decisive factor is if the company advertises in that medium or not.” Thanks my dear, you would be surprised too, but they did admit it.

The other problem with the media market in Macedonia (media themselves are very aware of it) is that the media don’t really give us, the PRs, much choice. Beside the prime time news, there are very little broadcast shows where a PR can place news on client’s social event. Except if your client is the Prime Minister himself. Which could not be said for the print media – they have pages aimed at other issues than politics, economy and sports.

However, the true problem that I see here is that these “Media gate-keepers” are “caught” in this situation of competitive media business existing on commercial foundations. In that kind of environment, the roles of the marketing manager in the media and the editor are a bit overlapping. What makes this problem even more serious is their lack of knowledge of what PR actually stands for - by placing the term “marketing” (meaning advertising) instead of journalism, story or “newsworthy”, they reverse even the meaning of the slightest PR action. Most of the media simply don’t understand what public relation is or better to say, that public relation is NOT advertising.

Still looking for “newsworthiness”?
Yes! My best advice that I would give to any PR is not to give up, even if you as a PR agent should work with media in this kind of media environment, and even your client is not the biggest advertiser in those media. Simply, when you plan you PR actions or write the news releases, let it stand on its news value alone: a unique and timely story of a public interest. For media and for the public sometimes it is also ‘newsworthy’ if a celebrity or a politician is involved, but you can also use of a neutral, outsource messenger.

Next step - forget about over-signification of your client’s role when writing the press release. When journalists say that they are irritated by the “vulgar promotion”, “bolded companies’ names”, don’t irritate them additionally. Simply – don’t write such press releases. Focus on the “newsworthiness” of your information.

Nevertheless, if you are still not sure if you search for newsworthiness in on the right line, test it. Put yourself in the journalist’s shoes: if you were him/her, what would be the headline of the article? This is your key message. Than, put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Test your key message. Is that the headline that you expect to see in the papers?

However, sometimes it is the client that insists that you should write and send a non newsworthy release. And beside your advice that it is a bad idea he still insists. And even after not finding a good different angle – he still insists. What you should probably do is to make a limited distribution of the news release, only to a selected list of media.

Understand journalists and media. It is not their fault if they don’t really understand our work. Try to understand them, and in long term – to educate them (make meetings, briefings, informal contacts) and bring them “the big picture” closer. Explain them why is public relations important, even for them. Can you imagine the world without PR for one full year? How would the news we read and watch change? How would the world change? Or would it?

That is why you must not give up your hope! Our PR efforts can give results. If you need to be encouraged, here are some optimistic facts (Houston Business Journal):
- 22% of journalists credit public relations firms with generating more than a half of their stories.
- 90% of TV stations use outside-produced video newscasts.
- The number of interviews and broadcasts taken from radio media tours increased from 31% to 35% in the last four years.
And finally, your PR tools are definitely worth the effort when your company or your client is interested in telling their stories! They can be an effective way to inform and educate the marketplace. The keys are to determine what the company has to offer and who would be interested. So, the PR agent and the editor need to agree on how to define “newsworthy”, but it is you as a PR practitioner who must agree first that the news release should stand on its news value alone.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Welcome to Ventilator! It was about time to start it going...