Cause Marketing vs. Good Old Fashioned Philanthrophy: PR’s role in clarifying the heart of corporate giving

According to good ol’ Wikipedia (den of unchecked facts tho’ it oft may be), the first major cause marketing campaign launched in 1976, and was a collusion between Marriott Corporation and the March of Dimes. Marriott’s goal was to drive high profile PR for a massive new family resort in California, and the March of Dimes had a singular goal to improve fundraising levels. Launched in 67 cities across the country, the campaign exceeded its goals and provided tremendous benefit and visibility to both organizations.

The point of this, as with any cause marketing strategy, is to pair marketing efforts by a for-profit with the good-will associated with a non-profit for the mutual benefit of both. And while that term, mutually beneficial might perk up the ears of most PR pros, it’s important to emphasize that cause marketing is not the same as philanthropy, and that while positive press and earned media should result from a well-targeted cause strategy, it’s not – in the purest sense – bonafide “do gooding.” And it should not be dressed as such.

Cause campaigns are, essentially still about the exchange relationship. This is why they are not tax deductible endeavors. The goal is still to make money by selling whatever it is you sell using the campaign as a leverage. That said, it is evident that cause marketing is often an extremely smart and successful approach. An October 09 post on brand channel noted that Edelman’s 2009 Goodpurpose Consumer Study found that a full 57% of consumers worldwide say a brand or product earned their business because it was associated with, or supported, a good cause. After all, emotion sells – and a good cause will tug at the consumer emotions.

I buy Dove products for precisely this reason. I appreciate what Unilever is attempting to do by providing funding for self-esteem projects for teen girls as part of its long-standing Campaign for Real Beauty, and so I buy Dove soap and lotion. Cause marketing is good, solid strategy, but its not social responsibility.

Here’s the thing, however, as 2010 starts with a bang – cause marketing seems to be everywhere. Maybe it’s the recession, maybe it’s that we have a Democrat in the White House, but apparently the ad gurus are certain that consumers will be swayed by a cause approach to marketing that softens the hard sell of advertising and helps me feel really great about buying that bag of Sun Chips, watching CNN, consuming that media, whatever the product is that is being peddled.

Obviously there are problems here – saturation, and legitimate concerns of provoking an “enough already” response from consumers that could threaten the whole notion of using cause marketing … after all, once consumers smell opportunism instead of philanthropic decency, the whole game stands to be lost.

In the midst of so much kinda-do-gooding, PR pros need to balance cause marketing from the ethical expectation that organizations simply be good social citizens, which often requires engagement in social responsibility and old-fashioned giving. And it will be important for the PR leader to get the messaging right, so that consumers don’t become either immune to important cause related tactics (which really do improve society even as they help sell lightbulbs), or cynical about the real philanthropic effort your organization might decide to engage (“Oh, that’s just another advertising stunt.”) It’s terribly important, from a branding and PR perspective, not to confuse the audience with what is marketing/advertising, and what is good social citizenry. If at the end of 2010, consumers simply roll their eyes when they read a bit of news about corporate giving, charitable partnerships, or the benevolence of your CEO and assume it’s just a ploy to sell soup, you’ve got big problems because philanthropy has always been a sort of PR gold mine. It’s genuine, earned, and authentic (uck – buzz words, anyone?), and you can ride the good vibe for some time if you manage the publicity properly.

As great as cause marketing is for the top line sales goal – don’t let the marketers and the sales team muddy the perception of corporate do-gooding. Be a voice of measured, ethical, reasoned strategy, and leave it to the ad-men to find other emotion-rich ways to sell, sell, sell.

Putting the Relationship Back in Public Relations: Internal Relationship Development for Busy PR People, An Open Door Approach

Public relations professionals wear many hats in any given day. Our task list can be instantly re-prioritized with the chime of an unexpected email landing in the inbox, or scraped entirely in the wake of a morning visit from the CEO. Often, my work is disrupted (and we’ll come back to that word) by drop-ins from coworkers looking for advice; hoping to talk through some phrasing or potential strategy; or generally raising any number of a wide variety of PR needs that you might expect to find in an organization that is pursuing a passionate mission marketing thousands of products across the country and world.

I seem to spend a lot of time looking up and saying, “Come on in.”And internally wishing I could just lock the door.

Don’t get me wrong, on days when I just have to plow through, I tack my “Gretchen is writing. Please feed the fish later,” sign onto my big glass window wall, and try not to look up from my screen even when I can sense folks standing there, reading my work-in-progress memo, and staring anyway in the hopes that I’ll stop, look-up, and let them in. (This is incredibly difficult to ignore, by the way. And it’s slightly creepy, too.)

But this post isn’t about those times; this post is about that myriad of real-time exchanges that just land at your door on any given day. How do you approach these exchanges? I’d like to suggest that how you approach, appreciate, and manage your personal internal exchanges in the workplace says a great deal about your true moxie as a public relations professional.

Realistically, it can be annoying to stop tweeting, emailing, checking the Blackberry, or skimming the latest updates from Ragan, FastCompany or PR Week to focus on the need of the person who has entered the room. But I’ve decided to stop calling these conversations distractions. Here’s why: if I neglect to use my expertise for relationship (and I like to call it coalition) building in the context of the closest relationships I have within my organization, I am missing the real heart of the PR profession. If my primary focus is on crafting the right corporate message, tracking the latest new media venture, or assessing the issues confronting the brand and strategizing winning solutions (all of which are absolutely critical to great PR work), but find myself annoyed, less than engaged, or out-of-touch with the coalition in my own work group and beyond – then I am grossly out of touch with the real relationship management of the company.

Unfortunately, I follow quite a few PR types on Twitter and other places who seem woefully out of touch with what it means to cultivate a relationship. And that is the center of what we’re about. Fundamentally, PR people need to get relationships – inside and out – and then we can work to truly engage “protect and enliven mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its multiple publics.” (Ugh, the old definition, right?)

Lately, in addition to just helping to sort through the specific task at hand, I’ve been paying particular attention to what I will call “the moment” of interaction, the actual communication exchange and relationship unfolding in the room. My early graduate work was actually in Counseling Psychology, which is really interesting considering that I landed in my real calling as a public relations practitioner. In truth, the two degrees are not distant. Relationships require real, authentic moments of genuine connection and communication. And if I can’t practice this exchange with my coworkers, my work in PR will be stunted.

If I can practice it, goodPR will follow.

One of the key pieces you learn with life is that experience enriches all of your future exchanges. For those of us in the business of relationships, this has the potential to re-frame literally every exchange we have into a moment of professional development. I mean that. As I encounter customers, associates, vendors, other executives, residents in the community, the green grocer (okay, I don’t know that I actually have a bona-fide green grocer – what is that really?), or the soccer-parent on the parking lot, I practice the art of relationship development: fine tuning my understanding of communication, increasing my skill set, applying new ways of listening and responding to new topics, learning to suppress or express my opinions, viewpoint, or understanding of a situation to achieve a certain end goal.

I become, in essence a better communicator.

Consider what I learn when I pause to not just meet with, review an agenda with, or pitch a design concept with my colleague, but when I really relate with him or her. Today, for example, I learned that one of my marketing managers is really hesitant about expressing a point of view, for fear that he doesn’t have enough permission from his superiors to really go after the results he wants. Okay. Let’s solve that by bringing the right people into the room and making sure the right conversations happen to get this young person the tools he needs to run with the ball.

Or consider that I learned that another director has a great idea to improve how we currently allocate dollars for outsourcing and design, and was unsure whether or not I would support this new way of thinking because we’d never really gotten around to that in a conversation.

Or that a talented member of my group has aspirations in an entirely different area of our work, and finally had a moment to just express that – and that revelation is going to dramatically shift and generally strengthen our ability to cross train people in our department.

Focusing on relationships improves the immediate work environment, but it teaches me more about the specific attitudes, passions, fears, strengths, and weaknesses that make-up the people who daily make, pitch, create, and shape the brand I’ve been hired to protect. I can better move, grow, and promote the brand because I know the people. Relationships, internal to begin, are the core. So open that door – stop tweeting and start talking, and see what new avenues open up in your environment.

Sometimes all those tweeting birds can be pretty dang obnoxious

An article today answered the question: who finds Twitter more effective, advertisers or consumers? With the relative absence of MOST consumers across most demographics on the short-format life-update (a.k.a. microblogging) platform, the answer seems to be resoundingly: the advertisers. Shocking, eh?

Here’s what the article has to say:

The research, which included surveys of US advertisers and Internet users, found that while 83% of advertisers were familiar with Twitter, only 31% of Web users were.

Naturally, younger respondents were more familiar with the microblogging site. Only 11% of 18-to-39-year-old advertisers did not know enough about Twitter to have an opinion on its value, compared with 20% of advertisers ages 40 to 49 and 21% of those 50 and older.

Among Internet users, 55% of 18-to-34-year-olds said they were not familiar enough to have an opinion, compared with 80% of those 55 and older.

In terms of Twitter’s effectiveness for promoting products and ideas, both advertisers and consumers were tepid.

I’ve got to say I’ve been pondering lately just who we’re all tweeting at, for, to … I follow countless media and pr gurus, other organizations, other publishers and non-profits, and a huge handful of friends. For the most part, I personally use Twitter to provide pithy (at least to my mind, thank you very much) life updates via my Facebook account, ask the occassional well-targeted question, or provide the occassional observation about my field, my social setting, etc. That’s me Tweeting as me, self, persona Gretchen. When we consider how to Tweet as an organization, we seem to change the tone; we become more broadcast oriented and less conversational. And I’ve not yet decided whether that’s a problem, or not.

I’ve also paid more than cursory attention to what I define as an effete snobbery by the Twitterati (typically in the media and pr categories), who often come off sounding a bit like the stereotypical junior high cool kid when they critique and generally put-down the average Joe’s use of the platform. Some in my peer group, it seems, have definitely determined that there’s a “right” way to use Twitter, which seems (in my mind) to actually dissemble the entire point of platform! And that has led me to really wonder: does it matter how all of the media and marketing communications experts think Twitter should function (billboard vs. conversation; status update vs. status “shaper”), or should we really be paying better attention to how the “normal” user is making use (or as the article referenced above points out, doesn’t even use) of Twitter, and adjust our message via the media accordingly?

This isn’t revolutionary at all. The concept – the media is the message – is as old as … well, as old as McLuhan was in the late 60s when he coined the phrase. And good communicators understand that you can’t use the media in a way that just doesn’t talk like the other people in the room, be it virutal or more staid and traditional (four walls, actual faces looking at you, you remember those days!). Case in point: one of our organization’s core products enjoys a very unique core customer — the volunteer suburban parent (typically mom). IF (and I definitely stress IF) we decide to talk to her via Twitter, we better use the media to talk with her in her language. If she’s accustomed to using the platform as a conversation, let’s give it a go. If she thinks it’s more useful as a savvy broadcast platform – better lead with that. The point is, as Brian Solis wrote in his early summer 2009 post, “Is Twitter a Conversation or a Broadcast Platform“, it seems it can be both. He writes:

In the meantime, Twitter will continue to flourish as a rapid-fire broadcast network until people learn how to communicate, understand how to participate and what to contribute, and eventually ease into a collaborative, two-way meaningful dialogue that represents Twitter’s greatest promise.

The point isn’t so much whether you are using Twitter “appropriately” to begin with, but are you using it as part of plain old excellent communication strategy — you know, using it to share, hear, respond, and explore real, meaningful dialogue with people you truly want to reach and know. And to get there, you’ve got to be realistic about how the people around you think Twitter (or Facebook, or the company blog) is supposed to work, and grow the cacophony from there.

Social media missteps in a PR2.0 world

I’m currently working on my 2010 corporate communications strategy, and have been immersing myself (more than usual) into any topic I can possibly find related to social media.

With my mind already tuned in that direction, and my hypothesis taking shape that there is “nothing new under the sun; you just have to actually KNOW what it truly means to communicate” (even in the Webby world of PR2.0), a situation emerged at the office that put the idea of just what social media “is” into stark relief for me, and now for my communications team.

Here’s what transpired: basically a misinformed person decided to complain about the frequent Tweeting of a junior member of my work group. First, this person called the young staffer’s activity “blogging” (which it wasn’t), and second this well-intentioned tattler insinuated that this type of communication was absolutely inappropriate during the work day (which given that the staffer in “question” is exceptionally talented, exceeding expectations for her input to the company, sends tweets from her PDA in about 2.5 seconds (as do most of us), and had simply made a totally inane comment about the view from her window, made the entire allegation even more ridiculous).

But what this, and the subsequent who-haa that ensued (dare we say a “policy” will emerge) really demonstrated was that we have experienced a seismic shift in what we “understand” communication to be, particularly when it comes to social media. To younger-minded (not young) people, social media simply is an extension of other forms of communication: email, Facebook, Twitter, texting, talking on a cell phone, blogging, writing an old-fashioned letter, I suppose — oh yeah, and actually speaking to other people in my immediate reach — is all part of the same continuous conversation of life. When this young woman sent a tweet, it was no different than talking to someone in the room. And are we planning to stop that?

It’s not like this was necessarily a watershed moment for me intellectually or anything, but my extremely annoyed reaction did put my perception toward my organization’s social media forrays into terribly stark relief.

And I realized, we aren’t doing such a hot job. And that’s uncomfortable to admit in a world filled with savvy PR bloggers, expressive new marketing mavens, and chronically opinionated media experts climbing around our industry. And it’s even more uncomfortable to admit because I’m the person responsible for this at the office. But it’s the truth.

When faced with the situation, I became defensive for our staffer, and then just plain annoyed because I don’t (personally) perceive any gap between communication that I might choose to do via my cell, or via my Facebook page, or via my Twitter feed. It’s seamless, cohesive, and all “me.”

But I haven’t carried that attitude toward our corporate social media engagement, and I realized – it’s time to change.

Here is a listing of my (our) social media sins: (And having just finished reading the Engagement db report ranking the world’s most engaged brands and unpacking the clear connection between social media and good old-fashioned bottom line dollar success, I’m feeling all the more convinced that we haven’t been doing this right.)

1. Uncoordinated: Classically trained and degreed, I get communications theory (and I will talk some other time about how good theory is just that – good theory and doesn’t hinge on the platform from which the message is being shared) and so when new social media opportunities come along, we’ve jumped in but without a total understanding of how we need to build true momentum. Now, to a degree some of that risk-taking MUST happen, but there has to be a larger end-game in play.

2. Traditional: We’ve been (generally) treating our social media activity like a traditional conversation, where we push and the customer simply takes it. This is not necessarily problematic for us – yet. Our organization boasts benchmark levels of customer engagement, and so this generally loyal lot just sort of takes what we dish out. However, that lot is aging, and as we look to reach younger-minded customers, we can’t use new media in old ways.

3. Defensive: Instead of “deputizing people throughout the organization” to be engaged in a coallition for customer engagement via social media, we’ve tried too hard to keep people in-check with the corporate message. While there needs to be balance here, too – I think we’ve been a bit too preoccupied with hand-slapping and telling folks NO, out of fear really that their efforts will damage the organization. I’m not advocating a social media free for all – but I am thinking that we should do a better job of channeling the desire of so many within the organization to be involved in our new media efforts.

4. Unrealistic: Just because you put something on Facebook doesn’t mean you have a strong marketing or communications plan! And unfortunately, there seems to be a perception that social media should be a magic potion that will yield impressive results. The trick here is that IS actually true, but not without lots of internal effort, coordination, and teaming. And we haven’t done an adequate job of martialing the troops.

I suppose this sounds pretty depressing, and probably is raising eyebrows (“who let that lady in as the PR person!”), but I have a sense that our organization is neither unique nor too far removed from the experiences of many, many others in industries like ours, and beyond.

What I have come to embrace through my personal reaction to the close-minded accusation levied against a peer is that I need to think not just of personal social media use as inseparrable from “plain old communication,” but I truly, truly need to start to defend and advocate the same for our corporate use of these powerful tools. What it comes down to is the age old theory we PR people know intrinsically: it’s about the relationship. Talk to people, not at them, above them, or around them. Hear them, engage with them, learn from them. It’s what we’ve been wandering around advocating in board rooms filled with sales and marketing types for years. Social media provides an outstanding outlet for the PR professional to really strut her stuff – it’s time to start talking, personally.

Authentic YOU, Authentic Company: personal vs. corporate brand strategy

Observations are often obvious. Here’s one to start us: It’s a new era in communications, socialization, marketing, and certainly in relationship building and management.

Recently @mariansalzman posted a tweet querying where the future of political campaigning is headed in the U.S. She ponders, “#pnid If candidates are brands, what attributes will resonate in local elections ’09? Change overused? Issues vs. values? Role of vision?”  And while there are potentially thousands of viable responses to this question, what I think she’s really getting at is what will ring as authentic with the public when it comes to our leadership in the coming years.

That’s not in-and-of-itself a new thing – for generations, Americans have elected candidates that they probably would have agreed were (seemingly) authentic. But apparently, how we define authenticity shifts over time. The attributes that make up authentic character, and authentic relationship, are murky – at least that seems to be the idea here.

A recent article that ran online at FastCompany, by Christopher Meyer also digs into the notion of defining individuals as brands these days – and that means interesting things for PR folks.

How important is it to manage not just your organization’s brand equity, but the brand equity of your leadership and other related “star” talent at work within the culture of your organization and among your audience?

Meyer suggests the answer to this is really nothing short of blatantly ironic as the consumer public demands increasing authenticity and “de-brand-personality” from major brands, but is intrigued by the brand identity of celebrated personalities.

How much should the personal brand management of your organization’s leadership figure into your overall public relations strategy? And as social media leaps forward and pulls your CEO willingly (or unwillingly) into the extremely exposed public square, does it really matter if you don’t think personal brand should figure in your greater PR equation? Because the fact is, it does.

Working for a non-profit as I do, it’s pretty important that our organization define its overall personality as separate from individuals, and define oursevles most significantly by our mission. However, people are mission in action. Our leadership, and a variety of high profile characters on our team are de facto living expressions of brand – and if we don’t engage our audience with them as individuals, it can get dicey. So for us, it’s a delicate balance of mission vs. hubris, personal passion vs. collective effort.

Meyer posits a gleeful concept of a new corporate job, that of personal brand manager. And I am sure there are some folks already paid handsomely to do that … and many of us do it already because that’s what you do when you introduce your organization into new relationships, and nurture it in its long-time relationships. You manage it as if it is a person, and you manage the leadership as if they are the brand itself.

Here are some things to consider when building personal brand for your organization’s leadership and shining stars that adds equity to your corporate identity:

1. Keep it real. Frightenly, words like “authentic” and “sincere” lack all illusion of genuineness (to me) these days. But in the best sense, and whenever possible, leadership needs to really communicate in their own voice. Sure the PR person can coach and edit, and offer insight – but particularly when it comes to today’s social media applications, it has to be genuine if it’s going to really work. I hand my CEO cards for presentations all the time, and he does a great job of staying on pitch – but guess what? He never reads my notes verbatim, and I’ve decided not to be annoyed by that! He needs to be him – and it’s my job to help coach him on the circumstances, the players, the key themes – and then help him shine as he personally relates to the circumstance. GM is about to take this on in a new way with its decision to put brash, bodacious Bob Lutz in place as its communications big chief. I appreciate the challenge Lutz will bring to his own PR staff, and he seems to recognize the stress he’s going to put them under if his comments in today’s USA Today are any indication: 

And although he’ll be overseeing communications, Lutz says he expects the public relations department also still will need to keep tabs on him and what he says publicly.”I expect people to step in,” he says. “But having said that, I do believe we have to be much bolder and much more self-aware, and in some cases, more controversial or willing to tell it like it is rather than putting out a more sanitized version.”

 When it comes to managing real personal brand, you gotta keep it real, but careful so that it doesn’t unwittingly (or arrogantly) capsize all you’ve worked to build for the total brand.

2. Access. Access. Access. Good PR earns it’s spot at the CEO’s table, and keeps it by providing pragmatic, useable insight that works. If your organization has leadership that wants to leverage the power of personal brand – the PR folks should have access to them to discuss openly how that can support the larger communications goals of the organization. You have to know your communications theory, and offer solid strategy that fuels what matters most to the organization – your own PR styled ROI. Trust means: leadership will listen when you offer them strategy for how best to leverage their personal strengths (and even professed “growth edges”) on behalf of the organization. A perplexing example of how a personal brand campaign doesn’t clearly jive with the total strategy is seen in Sprint’s ads with CEO Dan Hesse. They are unique, but I’m not terribly sure what having his personal endorsement means to me as I consider Sprint in today’s mobile media market. There needs to be a larger strategy, personal branding needs to fit the total goal, and the PR person needs direct access to leadership to blend it all together.

3. If you’re going to be social, do it right. Just because individuals can have a Twitter, Facebook, or Blog doesn’t mean it’s the right media for their voice and style. The old addage, “media is the message” is accurate, and part of what that means is understanding how media selection amplifies or distorts messages. If your leadership is absolutely not naturally narrative, figure out ways to blog that showcases their practical style. If they are not naturally pithy or concise, maybe Twitter isn’t their niche. Use the tools that will work, and do it with excellence.

4. Diversify your strategy. Good PR is comprehensive. Don’t bank on any one component as the golden ticket for long-term positive brand messaging. Leadership changes: tragedy, scandal, and plain old career change shifts the style and tone of an organization. Make sure that on whatever your key message is built, you have other adequate blocks shoring up your overall strategy. Be smart. Great leaders come and go, missions (if they are something people connect with on personal and philosophical levels) last. Build relationships that will, too.

The Evolution of Blogging (Start Talking Comfy)

On Copyblogger, there’s a great post by Brian Clark that explores the seemingly cyclical-rumor that blogging is dropping off in popularity as social media short-format options rise in “prominence.” Blogging is Dead (Again) is the catchy title, and Brian does a great job of suggesting that this is really not the case, and (to use his words citing Chris Brogan) elevates the real-story that while “snack-sized social networking content has its place, from a marketing standpoint it only works in conjunction with longer, more thoughtful content.”

“Whether you’re trying to build an online business, market your stuff, or promote a cause, those who seek maximum influence know that creating valuable longer content is the way to go.”

Ah, Brian – – you used a few keywords there that are music to my ears: thoughtful, and valuable.

Here’s what’s going one: the rise of Twitter and Facebook has actually allowed the casual-blogger to gravitate more easily to the communication format that best works for them. The more we play in the Webby-world of communication, the more and more we start to recognize that, much like real life, we just don’t all talk in the same ways. With the idea of Twitter gaining ground, the guy at the party who only has a few sentences to say can do so powerfully, succinctly, and easily – and that’s great. And frankly, probably makes his communications that much more effective because it’s more his style.

Clark’s piece was particularly interesting to me because just this week, a friend Twittered that she was done with blogging, “I’ve decided to stop blogging. I can only think in 140 character phrases anymore anyway.” Interesting. Good for her, too. We’ll see if it sticks.

This isn’t the death of blogging, it’s the evolution of thoughtful communication via the Web. We talkers can hold forth and continue to work hard to contribute thoughtful, valuable insight into the noise (at the aforementioned party, we’d be the folks tucked comfortably in the overstuffed sofas talking up the night over several rounds of drinks, no doubt), while our more restrained pals can move from blogging to talking and listening – and participating! – in ways that better fit their style.

And here’s another thought that takes this farther: the best bloggers are in all the formats, meaning that we are using the mode we want to support the message of the moment. (Ah, the media is the message … man, will that concept ever prove defunct …) When I have more to say, I blog. Quirky, simple, (or in my hopeful mind – profound) short outbursts: give me Twitter. Shared interaction and interplay – head to Facebook.

I love it.

Communication is a living, organic real thing. Whether it’s marketing driven, or being used to soapbox, or simply personal – there are certain concepts about how and why we communicate that are holding true even in this new online room. Blogging dead? Nope. Evolved.

Gimme That: Corporate Social Responsibility as PR Strategy

I’ve been handed a large new assignment. My CEO has asked that I come up with a singularly impressive philanthropic gesture for the company; one that will really cause our stakeholders to take serious notice of our overwhelming good will. As a professional public relations practitioner, this assignment is truly music to my ears.

To a degree.

It will truly be a melody I want to hear when I am able to nurture a broader appreciation that such gestures need to be ongoing and strategic, and not just a one-time, limited-time gesture.

Good PR involves charitable giving – corporate social responsibility – that is strategic, which means it isn’t giving just to give. We give, essentially, to get. And when we give strategically, we get more than we might ever imagine. And this makes the it all the more challenging. These days, many companies are expanding the scope of their responsibility – take the new Global Responsibility initiative from Starbucks as one example. And when your organization is a non-profit, the gift-wicket gets stickier still.

After all, what on earth is palatable about strategic goodwill? It sounds so … corporate.

There is an episode of the television comedy, Friends in which Joey taunts Phoebe with the challenge of doing something that is truly altruistic. (Not the vocabularly word used byJoey, but that’s what he meant.) Phoebe tries everything, including allowing a bee to sting her, before finally recognizing – to her utter dismay – that Joey is right. It’s impossible to do something totally selflessly, because it makes you feel good in response, and that means you have a motivation for the do-good-ing.

PR professionals face this paradox.

The place of corporate social responsibilty in a robust PR strategy cannot be overlooked. But there are key principles that need to be applied when making strategic decisions about where to do the most good – and generally, those principles are designed to make sure you get the most good for the good you … give. Let’s consider a few:

  1. Don’t avoid the obvious – yes, we are a company and our giving has to help us achieve (not our business/financial objectives) our mission – our very reason for existing! And isn’t it amazing that we can help some folks out in the process.
  2. Be committed to a long-term strategy that isn’t dependent (entirely) on good financial times or poor.
  3. Develop a well-rounded strategy that maximizes core competencies of your organization within its industry (a children’s literacy endeavor, for example, by a publisher makes a lot more sense than that same publisher underwriting a local senior center) and that touches a variety of giving opportunities: human care, environmental, crisis, etc.
  4. Make sure that at least one major corporate event involves physical effort – real sweat – by key corporate leadership.
  5. Cultivate an attitude and value for philanthropy organization-wide – from top to bottom – and offer ways for employees to be involved in personal and individual ways in giving back to their community.
  6. Coach senior leadership to express their desire for social responsibility in real terms that are personal, and focus on the good the company will give, not on the brand equity they hope to grow.

In the end, corporate social responsibility is about being an ethical, engaged, useful, and contributing force in a society. You need clear, strategic objectives in the program that fuel larger corporate goals. It needs to be well conceived, and not just an after thought. It needs to be a transcendent attitude that permeates all levels of the organization’s culture. And it needs to be genuine – and yes, that means admitting that it might “seem” self-serving (to a degree, and hopefully only to the most jaded critics).

Doing good to get a little good in return is certainly better than no good. Right? You betcha. So it’s to the drawing board for this PR girl – we’ll see what results.

Twitterati – It’s Not How Many Use It; It’s How It’s Used

There’s an awful lot to say about Twitter. Far more words than this little 140-word max micro-blogger would ever allow are being bandied about by a motley crew of observers in countless media forums, at corporate lunch tables, and from comfy coffee shop sofas. Whether it’s a fascination with what celebs are (or are not) Tweeting; or a conversation about why Gen Y remains conspicuously absent from the growing fan-base (and I guess I am old enough to be okay with the adult world venturing into a digital room without the kids for at least a little while!), or today’s hot political jabber (and related CNN coverage) about the influence of Twitter on the poli-social doings of the Iranian people and government, we’re all a’twitter (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself) with the possibilities, the limitations, and the speculations of this new way of interacting.

Most of the dialogue focuses on the numbers of folks using the application – the rate of adoption if you will. But the real intrigue of the story is actually not so much how many are on Twitter, but how the current Twitter-elite use this fascinating tool. Twitter allows influencers to converse and build consensus in a way that is not happening on Facebook. Whether or not millions are using the service, if the people who use it are using it to influence, to change, to invite conversation (and from the media buzz folks, clearly, it’s a workable strategy) then we’ve got something slightly revolutionary on our hands.

The Twitter Elite, an interesting concept. In our organization, for example, one of our designers just finished off the sleek new graphic design to festoon our CEO’s Twitter page and commented to him, “Welcome to the Twitterati.” And I had to laugh, because right now – those of us who Twitter, even if it links to our Facebook status, have a certain sense of “ahead of the pack” that intrigues me.

Where this all fits for public relations is (obviously) in the relationships that are being borne via this and other social media. And that has yet to totally pan out. For example, in a matter of days, I’ve already gone from following celebrated personalities in my professional sphere, to being their fan on Facebook, to being confirmed as their friend on Facebook. This progression of relationship is totally unique – and suggests a new way of engaging age-old ways of mixing and mingling, professional networking, and certainly influencing in the future.

Status Quo

My group is reading Tribes. That surely means a great deal to some true Godin fans; little to people who have never heard of him; and probably provokes something of a sneer from those who pretty much have decided that the thesis is overdone. For our group, it’s been a great read and a great catalyst for discussion.

The concept today – how do you bust up status quo? How do you adopt remarkable behavior? And recognizing that as soon as you bust status quo, you become status quo – what do you do with that?

Our group is uniquely Corporate Communications. We are a mix of public relations, publicity, internet marketing, and marketing communications. It’s a great blend – and our reach extends across the organization, which can make us alternately everyone’s best advocate or greatest headache depending on what someone is trying to accomplish. The really interesting reality for this type of group: we are influencers by the very nature of our craft. We shape messages; we help mold culture; we hear the language of the corner office and the facilities blue collars and weave it together into the corporate speak.

Here’s how to start leading from within. Here’s a way to  shape a new kind of status quo:

  1. Constant Push: raise the good questions and clarify the “why” behind the standard “how”. Do this (here’s a key word for me) winsomely, non-defensively (which is a taller and taller order in today’s culture); and always be willing to back up the push with clear counsel and the ability to pull solutions from those you work with.
  2. Be What You Want: Demonstrate flexibility and a willingness to create new ways of doing and being in our own group, and inspire others to do likewise.
  3. Pursue the new! Encourage an intentional emphasis on being “up” on new ideas and ways to communicate, and to be truly wise find ways to use new media and new techniques in ways that complement the “old classics”.

I spent my early career as a history teacher. And so, I admit that I have a certain healthy skepticism about the continuous “need” for the new. When you study history, you really see that there truly are no new ideas under the sun – and that’s where communications theory becomes essential to today’s new ways of engaging with audiences. There are, however, endless combinations of methods and tactics, and endless possibilities for applying them in new forms.

The idea here – breaking status quo isn’t as much about what or how you do something – it’s about the why.

Good PR

Disagree if you want, but if they were being really honest (the kind of anonymous that usually only happens under the cloak of Internet anonymity, or the kind that comes after a 2-martini Happy Hour, depending on your level of personal expression) many business-types consider PR the soft-shoe of real marketing savvy. The blatant truth of the matter is, without relationships, business – like most of life – just doesn’t work. So it’s not like they eschew the idea of relating because it just doesn’t get much more obvious than that. No, it’s precisely because it IS so obvious that everyone thinks they don’t really need PR-people. After all – how hard is it to manage relationships.

If it’s that easy, there’s a whole lot of public relations experts out there masquerading as finance directors, marketing executives, advertising schleps, and CEOs.

Sure – in today’s high energy business environment, the mantra is “integrated communications,” and so PR has (perhaps grudgingly) earned a spot at the table. And in truly Fast Company-esque enterprises, there’s more than just a sense that relationships need to be the first thought, and not the afterthought, but still when tough business choices find their way to the board room, the sales managers will strut their product-emphasis, bottom-line dollar approach, and the finance types will hold forth on a dizzying array of market analyses spreadsheets, and the corporate leaders will reference the one course they had way back during their MBA days, and all will skeptically leer at the PR practicioner, waiting for her to launch into her namby-pamby soft-sell of ooey-gooey relationship strategy.

Most times, we PR types take it in stride. After all – we get relationships, so we get the core issues here. But there are other times when it’s just a bit wearing.

The thing is, when the chips are down, the House favors the PR person: when things are going great, it’s rarely the thought; but when things really go South, it’s all about how to massage, spin, communicate, and generally pay real attention to the relationships beyond lip-service.

The point of this blog is to talk about public relations – what it really, really means to build mutually beneficial relationships for an organization. What it really looks like to adhere to a doctrine of “thou shalt not spin”, and how – in the incredibly worn-down, overly reached, media drenched, skeptical market true public relations can and should function. The goal is to invite a dialogue about how we communicate – how we relate, which is the fundamental drive for PR people who get-it.

If you like that idea – and you are open to frank conversation without to terribly much ego-manical holding forth, stick around, weigh in, and let’s talk.