. The Transom .

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Could I have the best job in the world?

I'm often asked why I love my job so much. While the specifics of my job are very fulfilling, I enjoy the business of public relations even more. For those students searching for a reason to look at the field of public relations, consider this:
  1. Access - Very few professions outside of PR allow you the opportunity to counsel senior managers and C-level executives on a regular basis about issues influencing their business. Access to these individuals is rare for most, but in PR it is critical and expected.
  2. Knowledge - In an agency setting, a PR professional will usually work on a handful of client accounts. We get to learn the behind-the-scenes information about a wide variety of industries. In just the last year I've had the chance to learn in-depth information about coal mining, wireless telecommunications, playground design and selection criteria, risk management, luxury hotel operations, soyfoods and their health implications, and much more. For those with a thirst for knowledge, agency PR is a fantastic choice. If absolutely nothing else, you'll kill at cocktail party small talk.
  3. People - The people who choose public relations as their profession tend to have certain commonalities. I believe these are a thirst for knowledge, a love of influence, an outgoing and robust personality, and the ability to learn and adapt quickly. Not a bad set of skills to have for your peer group.
  4. Results - I can't tell you how fulfilling it is to see the results of your labor put to good use. We counsel companies about the most important issues they face. When our advice is taken and acted upon, it is a feeling a great pride that we have contributed to the positive outcome of that counsel.
  5. The Profession - I've never witnessed another profession with such strong ties among the membership. I speak with other agencies on a regular basis about issues facing the industry, best practices, agency management, etc. As a group, we are constantly sharing and learning from each other. I have people all over the country, and the world, that I can call on with questions, advice, or just to share a joke.

I would love to hear thoughts from both PR insiders and other professions.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tiger Woods as my CFO

This post will be somewhat limited to the St. Louis area in terms of name recognition, but the concept is relevant across the country. Last week Karen Foss was hired by Ameren UE, our local electric utility, as its new vice president of public relations. Ameren has come under some fire in recent years for increasing prices, decreasing responsiveness, and the debacle at the Taum Sauk reservoir. So what better way to combat a growing image problem than bring in some fresh blood to lead the communications, right? Sure. Only one problem. Ms. Foss has no public relations experience. Zip. Nada.

For 25 years Ms. Foss was a television anchor woman in Kansas City and St. Louis. Granted, she was one of the more respected, well-liked media personalities in the area for a long time. But a public relations whiz she is not. In the announcement, Ameren stated that Ms. Foss would have a team of eight reporting to her. Can you imagine what they must be thinking, knowing that the intern probably has more PR savvy than the boss?

Why would Ameren make this bone-headed move? Because its heart is in the right place, but its brain took the day off. Hiring someone with a strong media background is a good move for most any PR firm. That experience can add valuable insight to a media relations team. But hiring someone ONLY because of media name recognition and having them lead the communications efforts with no real knowledge of PR is a clear-as-a-bell sign that you're looking to buy some credibility. And folks, you can't buy credibility. In this case, Ameren did the exact opposite of what it set out to do. When we see Ms. Foss being interviewed on TV about why Ameren screwed up again, are we going to believe that she speaks for the company, or as a hired celebrity? I think it's the latter.

Ameren essentially turned its communications effort into an ad campaign. Hire a well-known personality and have them say great things about the brand. Entertainment up, credibility down. Well done, Ameren. I expect its next hire to be Tiger Woods as CFO. Why? Because he's got a lot of money, which must make him overly qualified for the CFO seat.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Timing is everything. Just ask Lisa Nowak.

It's never a good thing when someone dies and this post is in no way intended to express an opinion either way in the recent death of Anna Nicole Smith. It does, however, provide me an opportunity to point out a tactic of the communications business. This tactic is utilized by most top agencies and most major companies in their communications work. What's the tactic? Timing your news.

I can think of two people who are rather happy Anna Nicole Smith passed away when she did. Lisa Nowak and Michael Devlin. In case you have been living under a rock, Nowak went AWOL from NASA on an attempted murder spree and Devlin made national headlines in the abduction and sexual assault of two young boys.

Smith's death has taken the front page news away from these two. While her death was unexpected, it served the same purpose as a planned news release. For example, if a company has bad news to report, right now would be a great time. If it's great news, I'd wait until Monday. On a slow media day, a news report about a company missing earnings might be page one stuff. On a day that has breaking news, it ends up on page 20. Mission accomplished for the company. Great communicators know how to time the news. Unless it's critical or breaking news, it can end up where you want it more times than not.

The reverse is also true. We had a major client event scheduled for 10am. Every TV station and print media in town was confirmed to attend. We had planned it for months. So what happened that morning? Saddam Hussein got pulled out of a hole in Iraq. Of course, our client got zero coverage.

Timing. You can't always make it work to your advantage, but you can do better than hoping.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pretty soon college tuition will be on eBay... too late...

Oklahoma Wesleyan University has put one year of college tuition up for bid on eBay. I hope for their sake this is a publicity stunt and not the beginning of a trend. Why do I say that? A university attracts students based on a number of factors, not the least of which is reputation and prestige of the school. Now we all know that Oklahoma Wesleyan is not Harvard, but it's not ABC Community Tech either. So it seems that by hosting an auction for a year of tuition, room and board the school is cheapening its reputation.

I'm all for utilizing new media and new marketing initiatives, but only if it adds to what you're doing. In this case, I give OWU an 'A' for effort, but a 'D' for execution.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl ads fall a little short

For the first time in a long time, the actual battle on the field kept my attention more than the battle on the breaks. The spots this year as a whole were just not as sharp, not as funny and not as motivating as in the past. One big disappointment in my mind was FedEx. Last year FedEx ran a spot that featured a caveman. This year it was set on the moon. Same basic situation, same predictable ending. Instead of a caveman getting crushed by a dinosaur, an astronaut gets hit by a passing meteor. Good for a quick chuckle but then you realize it's pretty unoriginal. Even Anheuser-Busch had its share of repeat losers. Last year we saw a donkey wanting to run with the Clydsdales. This year it was a homeless mutt wanting to ride with the dalmatian.

Some would argue this is consistent branding. I argue that it's just plain uncreative. The Super Bowl is unlike any other advertising opportunity on the world. I expect a little more than repeat themes. Maybe FedEx and Anheuser-Busch couldn't afford great ads this year since their budgets are being spent elsewhere. AB is pouring money into its new online "network TV," while FedEx is delivering the PGA Tour a check for nearly $50 million to be the title sponsor of the FedEx Cup.