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Of papal resignation, PR & Communication!


English: Emblem of Vatican City Italiano: Embl...

English: Emblem of Vatican City Italiano: Emblema della Ciattà del Vaticano Македонски: Амблем на Ватикан {| cellspacing=”0″ style=”min-width:40em; color:#000; background:#ddd; border:1px solid #bbb; margin:.1em;” class=”layouttemplate” | style=”width:1.2em;height:1.2em;padding:.2em” | 20px |link=|center | style=”font-size:.85em; padding:.2em; vertical-align:middle” |This vector image was created with Inkscape. |} Emblem of Vatican City.svg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pope Benedict has expressed his intent to move on, owing to palpable health reasons – and going by the looks of the visuals widely aired by television channels, it appears to be true. 

Late on Monday night, the Vatican has released the text of the Pope’s speech informing a close door meeting of his decision – read it here http://bbc.in/YT31jU
 
Yet, the Vatican authorities, and more-so, the communication advisers at Vatican seem to have missed a golden opportunity in seizing the moment – from a PR and communication angle!
 
Even hours after the news broke, the communications team of Vatican did not come up with a formal statement, may me with a mention of the events that led to the pope’s decision.
 
The highest religious authority of catholic Christians in the world is wanting to move on from his role, and surprisingly, his communications or pr team does not back it up with a statement of facts, and may be a succession plan with a timeline.
 
Even worse, in the news broadcast on BBC news aired this morning, a communications adviser to the pope was seen as saying that “people missed the hints thrown in by the pope in an address a couple of months back” 
 
Communication advisers are meant to simplify the messages and send it to the target audience, and not act as soothsayers or those who just dissect comments – that was the role of external communication pro’s and not the least of a Vatican communications adviser.
 
If people have to read between the line of what Pope’s say time and again, then that would be only a recipe to more confusion and a clear lack of communications authority at the papal seat.
 
It was only a few weeks back that the Pope chose to join the social media bandwagon by coming on to twitter – an acknowledgement of the changing times by none other than himself! http://bit.ly/YT4pDa
 
Yet, the team of communicators at the Vatican left the media, the believers, and people of the world guessing on the ifs and buts.
 
The Vatican’s communications team have proved that they are redundant?!

Community public relations – Managing crisis


Carpet bombing tactical aid

Carpet bombing tactical aid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are in India, or even elsewhere in the globe, you would have sure heard of Koodamkulam, which sometime back was the epicentre of brewing trouble, with the protests by the local populace snowballing into a mass movement. While what and who is propelling and catalyzing this people aggression (and any such community driven flare up anywhere) are complex questions, the only savior in such occasions can be a very pro-active communication/PR strategy by the authorities, and all PR professionals involved in containing any such ‘citizen movement’.

While the in-situ circumstances can differ from place to place and country to country, there is some amount of standardization in the communication strategy that can be followed with rigor. These are essentially aimed at not muddying the situation in the run up to the final citizen flare-up and also in the course of any such agitation.

  1. Communications committee – This committee shall draw people from all the stakeholders and various interest groups – a judicious blend of experts to with the kind of plant/industry, with equal representation by the locals, who perceive them as the affected community.
  2. Isolate the non-stake holders – Any agitation or public movement gets precipitated and turns rudderless when people who are not connected with the local interests move in to garner some political mileage, and in turn hijack the entire local movement. A prudent strategy would be to keep watch for such vested interests in any public agitation. In handling such agitations, isolating the non-stakeholders by consistent means of ‘direct’ engagement with the locals is the key. The goal must be to earn trust, address the genuine concerns, and get all the fringe elements out of the game.
  3. Form locals committees – It’s never too late to completely involve every bit of the local community, when the situation looks like it might spiral out of hand, even remotely. The authorities and communicators must use every tool in the communications armor to reach out to the locals. Communicate to them that the authorities are willing to address every single concern/fear that may be in the mind of every one, who thinks he or she may be affected. This must be a sustained exercise, with no timelines, and the intent must be to understand what exactly are the perceived fears that loom large in the minds of the people in that area. Those which are well founded must be answered with facts, and those ill founded and planted by miscreants can be quashed to the dustbin.
  4. Unleash a carpet-bombing local PR campaign – This might sound too aggressive – yet, in situations of public agitations, there is no rescue other than to communicate more and more. A crisis in the best time to speak out must be the PR mantra – while the opposite in reality causes incalculable harm to success of any well laid communication strategy. Make use of not just the national media in that place, but make sure every local reach to communicate is made use of – vernacular media, local radio, community radio, billboards, leaflets – just every possible tool to reach door-to-door in the region. Remember – if the fringe can manage a perception that there is a massive opposition to the plant or public amenity, the authorities can plan a turnaround in that perception with a well planned and executed strategy.

This is a broad communication template – a  combination of all these above will make sure that a space is created for a people centric dialog, which would lead to a solution to any citizen agitation.

Earning trust, end of the day, is the result of a sustained PR effort, with a conscience.

In public relations measurement, keep ‘context’, as a mantra!


Veracity with Tenacity: VVV Public Relations F...

Veracity with Tenacity: VVV Public Relations Firm Offers Guerrilla Marketing Revelations & White Hat Black PR To Take Down Corrupt Corporations With Truth (Photo credit: watchingfrogsboil)

How many times has someone walked up to your organization with this as a pitch – hey, look, you are working with xyzee agency, and I see that you are not getting optimal coverage across platforms : and to seemingly substantiate the claim presents the easy tool in the PR weaponry – the competitive news track?

The tendency of any management or internal communications team is to jump at the prospect of having more column cms’ and more clipping and mentions in prime time television media! At the quest of measurement of PR, the crucial parameter – context – is given a miss.

Stories about your organization or about your product, services or people, are not the media’s making… they are always your making – what PR does is to amplify the talking points, at the appropriate time, in the right context. And when the mention or coverage is apt enough, that is a winning communication that some pointless ‘friendly journo’ spiel on your product, which most in your target audience will attach little value to.

Both in the practice of PR (which now effectively is trans-media story telling), and in PR outcome measurement, CONTEXT is the thing to look for. Keep asking, if the media or social-mention of your brand or people, is in the right context in the right form/media.

Good to remember this – one column inch in the right place may be more relevant for your communications program, which a ten plus column inches in a media that does not anyway matter.

So, when someone comes in with a pitch which only speaks the language of quantity (measurement), ask you, whether it will impact to the power of context.

Remember, context is the most relevant and powerful PR measure mantra!

‘Newsle’ : a great tool for communication professionals!


A conversation with a  friend in the communications fraternity made a mention to me about a Newsle, an innovative news/content aggregation tool on people all over the world!

Newsle… check it out.

Picking up from their bio,  Newsle combs the web continuously, analyzing over 1 million articles each day – every major news article and blog post published online, as well as most minor ones. Newsle’s core technology is its disambiguation algorithm, which determines whether an article mentioning “John Smith” is about the right person.

On sign up using your Linkedin or Facebook id, you get to view all your friends, and network connects – with every mention in the news across the globe about them captured in one nice screen short – with their bio, news coverage with their quotes and views, and their twitstream.

In the crowd of a hundred new tools, I am not sure if there is any similar social space akin to Newsle. There may  be.  Yet, what immediately struck a note is how Newsle can be of immense use as a social and global tracker of people you know, you may work with, and people who you want to track.

Yes, i can hear you saying that’s what you do with Google Alerts, yet this appears to be more convenient, and easy to use – scores over Google Alerts on that.

Here are the quick uses that a communication professional can see in Newsle.

  • Track real-time your client organization and the key people.
  • If you are a PR agent for the rich and famous, you can see what is being said about them in the news across the globe.
  • Track competition and its key people, and figure out what PR opportunities are out there for a grab, and how you must hone your agility and ‘think out of the box.
  • Track journalists of your choice, in your country, region and across the globe – to get a real time feed of the kind of story opportunities, for now and for the future.
  • Newsle also has its own list of top trends (of people) in technology, CEO’s, CXO’s, journalists, and a whole lot of people like that! It could help you in people-spotting, and may be trend-forecasting, if you can cut through the maze!

The above are some hints of how Newsle can make life better, for communication professionals!

Go try it out for yourself!

Executive leadership, art of communicating, & “Reputation”!


English: President Barack Obama and Vice Presi...

English: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with BP executives in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, June 16, 2010, to discuss the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Pictured, from left, are BP CEO Tony Hayward, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP General Counsel Rupert Bondy, BP Managing Director Robert Dudley, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Attorney General Eric Holder, Biden, Obama, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a person on the communications learning curve ever, I am a great fan of Steve Farnsworth’s @Steveology blog, and a student alike.

I found this post “3 Things Executives Can Do To Be More Quoted In The News” a very informative one in the context of every top manager/leader being communicators for the organization!

By now, the world of communicators is too familiar with the reputation disaster the erstwhile BP CEO Tony Hayward was, in his now famous (rather infamous) “I’d like my life back” comment to the humongous disaster, the oil spill was.

The cardinal rule for any CEO/CXO who is in the line of sight of the media is to be always “battle ready”. This might indeed sound ominous, yet it’s the closest to reality and the best communications mantra!

Picture this – there could be a call from anywhere in the globe on something which has just been just happened a few minutes ago (hours and day response time are dead and gone forever – another rule to remember!). Any of these calls, if not responded to swiftly, can a long term ‘reputation impact’ on your company and its fortunes.

Add to the events per se that may impact your company, the buzz in the social media universe – someone cooks up a rumor, or goes by sheer hearsay, and tweets or posts a few words that could go viral in minutes, or hours – the ‘reputation’ consequences will impact you and your company too!

One quality that will keep your reputation index in good stead is this – your ability to respond in an appropriate manner to any query from any corner of the world!

The CEO may not have a magic wand to all queries, and it is important to admit and realize that – the best answer when confronted with an uncomfortable or ill-informed query is very simple – give me a while and we will come to you with the facts!

What happens in real-life is, on many such occasions, just the opposite – out of a quest to close the issue, and under pressure of the situation, the response is wee bit casual.

This is a perfect recipe for inviting negative media and negative soc-med, and  you are possibly and un-alterably messing up an already fluid situation.

If you think that an expert coaching intervention is needed to handle such events with the media, do ask your board or your organization, and tell them that it is a reputation imperative. Most organizations tend to have the belief that the CEO spokesperson must be suave and possess extra-ordinary skills in communication! This can be a huge advantage but not a pre-requisite at all.

In fact, track some PR crises and how suave spokesperson handled them – you will see that the over-confidence that comes out of being suave and flamboyant brings in a tinge of arrogance – a perfect recipe for many a media disasters!

Facts and truth, yes, nothing but truth – put across in simple language with amazing clarity and miles ahead of a suave and ambiguous, arrogant and just too casual remark.

Many PR careers have been shunted by usage of inappropriate language, unintended it may be – someone somewhere leaks it out when things go out of the hand! The mantra ought to be state the facts and only facts, in a language that can be scrutinized anytime later.

While speed of response is a paramount criterion, it never can be at the cost of language that reflects an unprofessional and casual attitude! Make sure that facts are not colored by style and the tone and tenor of the spoken or written language!

Executive leaders must endeavor to be masters in the art of communicating to the media. And get to being masters one event or crisis at a time – sans making any costly ‘reputation’ screw-ups.

Media briefings… some greatly useful notes for communicators


Communication professionals in any organization constantly have to face the media, on a litany of ongoing issues. They could be at any level – be it the Corp Comm executive, right up-to the CEO. Media briefings are regular pressers are just a couple of communication tools that have yet retained the charm, despite the arrival of a barrage of social media tools, which are at the disposal of any right thinking public relations professional.

If one looks around, its it such media briefings and pressers that communication professional are at the risk of exposing themselves and in turn make their organizations image vulnerable – not by mistakes in facts, but by failing to address questions in the right manner.

More so, in times when crisis hits at the heart of an organizations PR armor. Under pressure, its very natural that the communications professional however well equipped, reacts to the situation, as the media event goes astray by the volley questions lobbed in by the media. Faced with this barrage, even the best communicators wilt under pressure, reacting with their emotion laden language – all leading to a perfect recipe for an ‘image disaster’.

Yet, such situations can be better handled, more deftly, and to the complete ‘image advantage’ of their organization.

  • Lay down ground rules – At the beginning of the presser, make sure you lay the ground rules – state it  in clear terms that the intent of the briefing is to address such and such specific issue, and any question shall be around that issue only. Any query that does not pertain to the issue on hand would be taken to be answered later.
  • Better, begin with a written statement – The simple step of circulating a well written media note, detailing the views and facts on the topic would serve well as a pre-cursor in setting the agenda for the right kind of questions. Make sure the facts that need to be taken to the media are mentioned with utmost clarity, and mention that questions can be around the statement. By making such a statement, you also possibly tend to take the steam away for any digressions that are planned by some members of the media fraternity.
  • Plan for complementary statements – You have in hand a written statement; but if there are some questions that can be responded to with more facts, it would be a great idea to respond verbally, and also tell the media that these responses will be typed and circulated at the end of the presser. This can be easily done with the help of the communications team; and not just that, a complementary press note at the end of the press conference is a great way to re-iterate fact, highlight your responses, and way to ensure there are no map – territory distortions at the end of the day.
  • Maintain a friendly and cool demeanor – this may sound way too basic, yet a whole lot of media face offs go astray only for this precise reason. One provocative question, and the communicator loses his cool, making a completely unintended gesture or remark – and however the presser be well armed with facts, this one spar hijacks the image of the organization. The best way to handle any unfriendly question is just a broad smile, or stating can we take it later, or I would come to back to you as soon as I can provide this information. And if the media persists with the same uncomfortable question, the communicator must persist with the positive demeanor, a simple smile, and the planned response – one of the three above. With this, in a matter of few minutes, the questions will move on.
  • Avoid a “we know all” trap – Its often suggested that communication professional while addressing the media, must know all – yes, you must  be armed with a whole lot of facts on a situation. However, that is so different from displaying or exhibiting a know all demeanor in front of the media. That demeanor, mostly leads to a tinge of arrogance, and arrogance is the last thing you need in your PR weaponry. And it is such arrogance that tends to color the most accurate facts with the yellow of distortion. So, it is in your interest and organisation’s interest that you always maintain “I don’t have all the answers, but will endeavor to get them soon” demeanor right through. In fact make it a SOP for your media interactions, and the benefits are immense.

These 5 simple practices will serve to better your image management in a big way. They may sound simple, yet it is these that most of us as communicators or PR professional fail to inculcate in our PR armor, and also educate our spokesperson.

Who in PR is promising you the moon?


Does you PR advisor tell you this – come what may, we will make sure that we get
your company covered in the media – in a nutshell, call it a “column cm guarantee”?

Nothing can be far from a blatant lie, and honestly, PR never works that way in any
part of the globe.

As a matter fact, if you have a long term PR/communication strategy for your company in mind,
you must quietly stay away from such ‘column space coverage’ guarantors!

Look at the media (and the journalist fraternity) as end consumers of your content. They have their their own creativity constraints – and its in a sense a battle between classy content, the most crucial advertisers (who walk away with a chunk of the col cms), and the editor who wields the wand as to what the reader must see and know!

The same analogy can be drawn to all kinds of media – print, television, online and so on. Add to this, the clutter of competition in your own industry – which is only increasing by the day!

In all this, if someone walks up to you and gives you as assurance of guaranteed coverage, it can be only if you are gullible enough to think that any of us in the PR business wield that influence.

The fact is, none of us, yes, NONE of us have that, and to some extent, it would be an insult to the independent thinking of the media if we imagine such a thing!

While we could be your company’s image advisors, we are just facilitators to friends in the media – sometimes involuntarily pushing information we perceive as useful, and at times offering a helping hand when sought. We are only catering to the content needs of the journalist fraternity, and this is in their own terms.

In all this, we also see how well we could position our client PR needs, and offer some expertise in creating media oriented content, which will be relevant and consumed!

Look at PR advisors as partners in your long term communication strategy execution plan. Not as someone who could just wave a magic wand and get you instant headlines in the next mornings newspapers! And by the way, such a magic wand never exists with any PR advisor!

What should we ask from our PR agency?


Public relations agencies of different hue and size may keep pitching with your organization, to get an opportunity to engage with your communication strategy and execution. And we have always seen that organizations just look for these – does your agency have the scale, size and a national/international presence, and would you be able to reach across all (including social) media, in every nook and corner of the world!

There is nothing wrong, and in fact, it’s important to check on what credentials your prospective agency comes with! Well, at the same time, it is important to bear in mind, that the agency must also have the ability and agility to engage in PR strategy and execution of an organization of your kind.

You may hire the best of the agency in the universe, but think about this – is there a point if their strengths do not sync with your company’s scale and strength, and what if their capabilities are more specific to large sized companies, and not for the kind your company is – a niche small organization, yet with its own unique service offerings or qualities.

So why not check for the following few, when you think it’s time for a PR agency.       Does the agency have a history of delivering PR value to companies of your kind, and how often have they done it?

  • Do they have the agility – not just in the pitch of theirs, but do they seem to fit your scheme of things – would they find synergy in working with a client like
  • Do they have the kind of commitment to work with companies like you in the medium and long term, so that you eventually get the real benefit of engaging with an agency. Else, if you are just looking for one off bursts of media coverage, the need to spend time analyzing the agency can be done away
  • Do they have the de-learning skills for adapting to your needs? This is so important. Like it or not, large and global agencies come with a mindset, and even if they are willing to do their best, they may not be if your communication needs are vastly
  • Do they have an understanding of your specific industry needs, and would they be willing to invest the time and energy in gaining insights into your media visibility
  • Are they just a plain vanilla release churning agency? Or do they learn in-depth about you, see what works best for you, and showcase
  • How much more credibility and enhanced image value can they bring to the table (not just across, but over a period of 2 – 3
  • Are they contemporary? Are they social in the true sense? And they in the business of facilitating the journalist world’s news crowd-sourcing
  • In case your needs are local, do they have an insight into what works in that market/geography of yours? Sometimes an easy exercise in one part of the world, may not be even doable elsewhere. And they must be willing to tell this, straight on your face.
  • Do they speak of practical and doable communication work? Sometimes large agencies are too good at large scale events, which will fetch some visibility burst; but the value that you derive from such exercise is zilch.

So, if you are looking at a PR agency to help you in your long term communication plans, ponder over these questions, and make sure that you understand the dynamics of the value promised.

Happy image management. Happy PR’ing!

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