Thursday, July 22, 2010
Your Career and You..."Check the Facts; THEN Communicate!"
This week's USDA fiasco has proven once again the crucial need for accuracy in communication. It's one thing to spell the name of your board chairman wrong; it's another to publicly fire someone without checking the facts first.
What does this have to do with your own career as a public relations professional? Not to sound too snarky, but if you have to ask this question, maybe PR isn't the field for you!
Ask Dan Rather. A miscommunication...failure to thoroughly check facts before making a public announcement...led to his highly publicized resignation from CBS Evening News.
Both the Rather incident and now the Shirley Sherrod debacle demonstrate the rising power of the "other" media, including the legions of bloggers weighing in on any- and everything under the sun.
In the "good old days" (as those of us who have been around for awhile like to think of them), you had a pretty good idea who covered your territory, and you had a sense of his or her take on issues.
You also knew that, if this individual was doing a story about your organization, he or she was going to try to contact you for comment. (Yes, I know there were some unsavory types who were going to tell the story their way; but at least you knew who they were and where their stories were going to appear!)
Today, as I constantly tell my Communication major students at Curry College, where I oversee the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR-specific courses, things are different.
While we still have (and please, Lord, may they live long and prosper) mainstream media, most of whom are schooled in the ethics and practices of good journalism, there are growing legions of others who are not.
Things are changing, and it is on your shoulders to keep up with the times:
* The speed with which information can be transmitted has increased exponentially.
* The platforms through which information can be communicated increase daily.
* The audiences that potentially can be exposed to this information have expanded immeasurably.
* The ability to communicate ideas and opinions has no bounds.
The damage that can occur to your organization remains the same. Loss of reputation. Loss of revenue. Loss of...fill in the blank.
Back to you and PR. Part of your job is to make sure that your boss has the facts before he or she makes a decision and acts on it publicly... note the public part!
"But how do I keep track of the hundreds of bloggers and others who might have an interest in my organization?"
It's not easy, but there are any number of media monitoring services that you can use to monitor traffic and alert you to comments about your organization.
And, when you do become aware of potentially negative or inaccurate information being communicated about your organization, check it out. See what actually has been said. Then determine what kind of response is needed...if any at all.
Next step...get face time with the person who is most qualified to respond and make sure he or she has the full story and not the "sound bites."
You may not win the battle all the time but, as I have said in so many previous posts, at least you will have done your job as a qualified public relations counsel.
As Ivy Ledbetter Lee, arguably one of the "Fathers" of modern public relations, said in his Declaration of Principles (1906): "In brief, our plan is frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about."
It's as simple...and as complicated...as that.