Saturday, December 03, 2005

RIM Proves Oblivious to Rules of Crisis Communications

If you're reading this blog, chances are you have also seen several stories detailing the potential disaster that lies in waiting for users of Blackberry handhelds. The devices, manufactured and marketed by a Canadian company named Research In Motion, have been at the center of a long-running patent infringement dispute.

That dispute, which is rapidly coming to a head, could result in the shutdown of Blackberry Internet service to everyone but federal government employees. At issue are patents held by a NTP, a U.S. firm, covering the "push" e-mail technology employed by RIM's devices.

While most everyone, including the judge involved is getting sick of the story, its outcome is of critical importance to the growing number of people who use the devices. Opinions on an outcome vary, but most feel a shutdown of the service is likely, since that would also mean NTP would be making no money from RIM off those patents.

As this story has been playing itself out in the media, RIM itself has been largely silent, except to say that it remains confident in a legal victory and to re-hash its belief that its arguments are sound. It's no surprise that statements like that are being issued; what is surprising is how they're playing Russian roulette with their business as they employ that strategy.

Any business that faces a threat from legal action that could be tremendously damaging should use every alternative to use every venue to not only lay out its version of the case, but to use stronger language than "just trust us" when they're trying to convince users that everything will be OK. Not only is this essential for current users, but even more so for prospective customers who can choose from a variety of other solutions.

After the dust settles, little is probably going to be written about this case unless it sets some sort of legal precedent, which at this point appears unlikely. But there's a lot that could be said about how this is one of the worst way to communicate with customers, investors and other core constituencies.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Kudos to Jack O'Dwyer

While many in the blogosphere have been criticizing the PRSA's handling of the cancelation of its annual conference, the fact that PR -- unlike advertising -- doesn't get widespread coverage outside the trade press, has largely meant this issue has gone unnoticed by the business community as a whole.

However, several important industry publications and some well-known bloggers have taken the PRSA to task and written on it extensively. For those with access to the O'Dwyer Report, I urge you to read the collection of articles on this issue. It's probably not surprising to many who have been following this issue that the PRSA has not yet provided any official commentary for the O'Dwyer Report, which to me again prompts the question who counsels this group on crisis communications?

I don't know about others in the blogosphere, but my Web logs show PRSA representatives have visited this blog each time a comment about them has been posted. So if they can find their way to one blog out of many covering PR, one wonders why they can't be faster in responding to members?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Another Black Eye for the PRSA

As some of you may know, The Public Relations Society of America decided to cancel this year's annual conference due to Hurricane Wilma. The decision wasn't surprising, and was really the only sensible thing to do in light of the dangers the hurricane posed.

With the decision behind them, the PRSA sent out a statement that included a refund policy requiring anyone asking for refunds to write a letter detailing why they weren't able to attend the conference. Needless to say that demand set a lot of people off, especially given the fact that an organization whose members often offer counsel in crisis communications, sent it out. To everyone but the PRSA, giving refunds automatically was just as much a given as the decision to cancel.

It seems these days that the PRSA is increasingly unconcerned with the image it generates among not only people in the profession, but among its members as a whole. This policy has the potential to generate even more anger from those who have maintained for a long time that it needs to be more aggressive in formulating policies on such things as proper use of video news releases (VNRs) and writing standards governing how PR agencies should interact with government agencies.

It continues to amaze me how a professional organization such as the PRSA could be so blissfully unaware of the concerns of its members and their profession. Instead they continue behaving as a monopoly of sorts that operates with a "love it or leave it" mentality. Unfortunately for them, many people already have.

Friday, October 14, 2005

More PR/Publicity Confusion

Perhaps no two terms are more confused than public relations and publicity. Most people outside the industry consider them one in the same, even though there are many substantial differences between the two.

Although opinions on just what those differences are vary, generally publicists work on behalf of an individual or a group of individuals and are responsible for managing their reputation. That can mean both getting them into The New York Post's Page Six column or keeping them out of it.

Conversely, public relations often involves the representation of companies rather than individuals directly. That involves conventional media relations techniques, but can also mean setting up speaking engagements, seminars or even publishing a newsletter.

In the Oct. 14 edition of The New York Times, an article advises students considering a career in PR to get accustomed to handing out "booze and bling." I, and I dare say the vast majority of my professional colleagues, have never engaged in the practice of handing either either booze or bling. We also don't have to spend years cultivating celebrity types to get clients coverage.

No, real PR involves going to well-known outlets and well-respected reporters with real information that the public wants to read. This can consists of things like a company launching a service or product that will be beneficial to many, but it can also be having a well-known attorney tell readers about an impending law change that will affect a large group.

To be sure, like every profession, the PR industry engages in a lot of things that causes it to get a bad rap. But, having worked as a journalist for a decade, I can also say wholeheartedly journalism does the same thing on occasion. That doesn't mean that people in either industry are generally bad at their jobs; it means they unfortunately pay a heavy price on occasion for the sins of a very, very small number of people.

Just as the vast majority of journalists combat that by doing solid reporting and editing and filling a very valuable role in society, I also do that by giving those very same individuals news that they, and their readers, will find useful. As long as the majority in both professions do this, both are providing a valuable service.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Crisis Communication Plans

How many times have you experienced an unforeseen situation at work mushrooms into something much larger than you ever imagined? While this happens routinely, and there are many examples large and small, there's nothing worse than waiting to an actual crisis to have your crisis communications plan tested.

As most probably know, crisis communication plans are created to help a business respond to a variety of unforeseen situations. Depending on the industry involved, they could be in response to everything from a power outage or a natural disaster to an actual crime. One thing's for certain: You don't want to have your procedure for dealing with the communications aspect of a situation until you're staring one in the face.

An effective crisis communications plan conveys to customers and employees alike that, in spite of whatever's happening around the business, there's someone at the helm executing a plan that underwent much deliberation and consideration. It also avoids the situation where an employee will be put in a situation where they'll say something incorrect or unwanted that could lead to a torrent of bad publicity.

As businesses in New Orleans are learning now and as those of us in the New York area learned on Sept. 11 and with the blackout, it's never too early to plan for a crisis, but once a crisis is upon you, it's almost always too late to properly react.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Publicity Versus PR

Often I see a lot of confusion in the way the services of a public relations practitioner are described. The most common example is the thinking that public relations and publicity are one in the same. This is most typically portrayed by the people who are in a position to purchase the services of a PR pro, so I believe it's to the industry's advantage to clearly delineate the services of each.

Public relations involves wide-ranging programs, only part of which is media relations. Other services that are commonly used include the creation of newsletters and other external material, arranging speaking engagements and setting up meetings with industry and financial analysts. All of this works toward the overall goal of advancing understanding of a client's goods and/or services. In short, even when PR practitioners are dealing with intellectual capital, as they do when working with law firms, all the work they do is done on behalf of the entire firm, not just advancing the cause of one individual.

Publicity, on the other hand, involves the representation of an individual or a group of people and focuses more on the management of their reputation. So, for example, you'll see publicists trying to keep their clients both in and out of well-known columns like "Page Six," which appears in The New York Post.

Since many people who engage a PR pro's services are often doing so for the first time or have limited experience with this type of professional, it's to the industry's advantage to make sure everyone is clear on exactly what is and isn't part of a PR person's job and a PR program.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Journalist-PR Relationship Once Again Makes News

It's no secret to anyone who's in either public relations or journalism that the relationship between the two professions can be somewhat strained at any given time. Much has already been written on this topic, primarily in public relations publications. Now, with the growing proliferation of blogs, journalists are taking their turn at the "podium" to expound on the subject.

In a recent blog posting, Jeremy Zawodny suggests journalists place a blanket ban on public relations from tech firms. Zawodny went on to equate the pitches he received with spam, and suggested that the best way for journalists to fight back was to filter their in-boxes so they would not receive correspondence from PR firms.

As a former CNN Financial News staffer, I know all too well what it's like to work at a major outlet, where you're flooded with e-mails, phone calls and all kinds of useless information. However, as with many things, I believe it's important not to paint with a brush that's too broad. There are many PR pros who go to the trouble to carefully research what reporters write about and to offer them genuine, new developments in those industries. I found that information very useful when I was at news outlets, and the response I get from reporters at major publications indicates they do as well.

I believe rather than perpetuating a divided camp discussion, the better approach would be for the two sides to work together with the mutual goal of improving the information they deliver. That will benefit the clients of PR firms, as well as the readers, listeners and viewers of the media outlets with whom they communicate.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Web Site Facelift

As some of you have undoubtedly noticed, the original version of Astoria Communications Web site did not exactly have that professionally-designed and polished look. Well, frankly, that's because the first version was not professionally designed, but rather was put together by yours truly.

To "celebrate" the first anniversary of launching my practice, I began planning for a Web site relaunch in early summer. I'm now happy to announce that the new site went live on Friday, Sept. 2 and should be bug free at this point. (If anyone does notice anything amiss, please do drop me a line.)

This blog is integrated into the Web site through a direct link, and I plan to do more with this forum in the coming months. In the meantime, I welcome anyone's suggestions on ways to make this blog a unique place among the PR community. We're fortunate to have many great PR representatives in the blogosphere right now, and I certainly don't intend to "compete" with them in any way, but rather to supplement what they're doing.

So please do feel free to write in and look for frequent updates to this space.



Monday, May 09, 2005

Proving the Value of PR

All too often, comparisons are made between various marketing methods, including advertising and public relations and the various media available to communicate those messages.

One of the things PR practitioners have to confront most often is a belief that a public relations program doesn't result in a quantifiable return on investment for companies looking to build a new brand or expand an existing brand's awareness.

A new article by Al Reis on the Web site of Advertising Age addresses this issue and has many good points that PR pros may want to use in dealing with this issue as part of the new business process or with existing clients.

The article may be found here:

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Story Discusses Influence of Blogs

Edelman Public Relations recently issued a report chronicling the importance of blogs. Titled "Trust MEdia.... How Real People Are Finally Being Heard," the aim is to help companies better understand how they can benefit from blogs and engage those who write them.

Not surprisingly, Edelman PR, which has been one of the first large agencies to get out in front of the trend and whose CEO was among the first in the industry to establish his own blog, believes blogs will become increasingly important through their ability to allow most anyone to rapidly publish and receive feedback on all types of information.

The report may be found here:

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Attitudes Toward Journalists

Time and again over the years, I've been amazed at the attitudes public relations practitioners have exhibited to journalists -- both to their colleagues and to clients. If an interview didn't result in a story, it's because the reporter didn't understand the idea. If an interview got canceled at the last minute, the reporter who took that action was said to be disrepectful of a client's time.

While PR, like any industry, certainly has its frustrations, I firmly believe the prevailing attitude that PR practitioners have about journalists is one of the reasons that the industry sometimes has to overcome so many negative perceptions. Those views are also incredibly short-sighted. I can't tell you how many times I've had a reporter who respected the way I dealt with him to come back to me for a source following an initial contact that didn't result in a story or interview.

It's actually quite simple: reporters and editors, like many others, know a talented, prepared and professional individual when they see one. While I put my clients' interests first and foremost, I believe my experience having served as a journalist for CNN and other high-level outlets, gives me the ability to deliver a unique perspective to clients on media relations. I encourage my clients to view media relations as more of a marathon than a sprint, and I believe other practitioners would be well-advised to do the same. The profession will be better off for it.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

New York Times Takes PR to Task

I would imagine that most PR practitioners will probably find themselves involved in a discussion regarding Sunday's New York Times article, which levels a rather scathing indictment of the public relations industry.

While it's always worrisome to see articles that can potentially paint a whole industry with a broad brush, there's also a lot practitioners can do to clear the confusion that this story will most likely create. It's true there are aspects of PR that are similar to those described in the story, undertaken by Ketchum and the agency led by Armstrong Williams.

However, the valued work that the vast majority of PR practitioners do is nothing that should be apologized for. We must work diligently to dispel the notion that PR involves twisting the truth or creating messages out of "half-truths." Most people who engage the services of a PR firm find that they greatly help streamline the process of sending out newsworthy messages to the right people. They do this by condensing information into a clear, concise format that shows journalists and others they value and respect their time. There are many respected journalists who will tell you good PR practitioners help serve as another resource for them by passing along information they may not yet had a chance to discover.

Also, perhaps most importantly, this story should help dispel the notion that small independents have no chance of competing in this industry. If anything, it shows honest, hard work is what really counts.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A Service Worth Paying For

More and more these days, PR practitioners are encountering individuals who are asking them about working on a pay-per-placement basis. And, contrary to popular notions, it's not only very small clients, but even law firms that are investigating the possibility.

From a practical perspective, I can certainly see how a PR practitioner might entertain this notion. After all, if you're attracted by the account and have the time, why not take the chance? The biggest danger I see, however, is the long-term implications this will have on our industry. Like any industry, PR has good and bad practitioners. But one could make that argument about most any professional service around. And I have yet to see someone asking an accountant or tax preparer to work on a commission basis, getting only a percentage of the refund; you won't see an attorney other than a personal injury practitioner willing to work for free in a civil action, etc.

Obviously, anyone encountering this situation in either an informal lunch or gathering or a more advanced business discussion must tread the issue with care. But I urge anyone in this field who can to fight against this trend. In a professional service field, a person is compensated for their knowledge and expertise. This is no different in public relations and practitioners should demand equal treatment.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Untold Firefox Story

While there have been many stories trumpeting the continual gains made by the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser, one key issue that was discussed in depth during the heat of the browser wars is noticeably absent.

There are still many Web sites out there, including many used by people in the course of ordinary, daily business, that use proprietary features available only in Internet Explorer. If you use these sites on Firefox, at best the site's design will appear mangled; at worst, it will be almost impossible to navigate the site, enter text in search boxes, etc.

So even security-conscious computer users who would prefer to use Firefox can sometimes have no choice. The issue of Web sites using proprietary design elements got a lot of press when Netscape's Navigator was still a leading contender years ago, but has since seemed to drop off the planet.

Has anyone written any of the Web sites they use and asked them to get W3C compliant?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Freelance Network

While sole practitioners often are able to offer an edge over larger firms in terms of fees, one of the disadvantages can be the lack of cohesive networks to help bring the individuals together as a large group that's able to offer all of their collective clients a wide range of expertise.

I'm interested in discussing the idea with independent PR practitioners and would welcome any visiting here to contact me via e-mail or to contribute their opinions to this blog.

It's Your Brand!

I'm amazed at the number of people who are willing to send out business-related e-mail correspondence under a free domain (e.g. Yahoo!).

While absolutely nothing is wrong with using such services, doing so to send business correspondence serves to severely undermine the value of your brand. Anyone who's going to the trouble of doing any kind of business-related correspondence over the Internet should do themselves a BIG favor. Get a domain name and learn how to use it or hire someone to administer it for you.

An Internet presence can be working for you 24/7, but the Internet only has value if used properly.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


This blog's primary purpose will be to facilitate discussions on the discipline of public relations, particularly as it pertains to solo practitioners. There are lots of us out there across the country doing good work for clients, but generally staying under the radar of industry publications.

While most of those publications assume solo practitioners will continue dwindling in number, just as independent PR shops have, I am among those that are convinced the future will continue to be bright for those who truly differentiate their services from the myriad of competitors and deliver value to clients.

So welcome, and feel free to post comments on this initial post or anything else that's on your mind!