Saturday, February 17, 2018

South Korea Follows Tradition

Relations between public relations types and the press have always been interesting. Before there was  social media, the press very much had the upper hand. Newspapers decided what they wanted to cover with little coaxing from outside sources such as publicists. Those press agent folks needed reporters for the simple reason they had very few outlets at their disposal to contact a wide audience. This put the press very much in the driver's seat. Even with the efforts of creative communicators as Edward Bernays, the press had the final word as what they would give attention to. It was an uneven relationship.

The Internet changed everything. This provided publicists with the means to reach the public without having to use the traditional press such as newspapers and television and radio. A key result was that it made reporters much more receptive to what public relations professionals brought to their attention, thus giving greater balance to the dynamic between the two. Generally, this is how the relationship stands today, particularly in Western cultures such as the United States. Working with both the media and public relations agencies here in South Korea as I do these days, however, the dynamic is similar but with a slight variation.

Despite the obvious fact the Internet is alive and well in South Korea, public relations agencies continue going out of their way to court reporters far beyond what their counterparts in the U.S. do. For example, often when publicists plan a press conference for a client, part of the itinerary is providing reporters with a formal lunch. Not just coffee and - maybe - doughnuts, but a sit-down lunch with silverware and catered food. It is as nice as it is expected. Why go to such trouble and expense when the press can easily be bypassed? In South Korea, it is a matter of tradition. The press expects to be courted and public relations professionals seem to be content with courting them.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Very Broad Term

"What does communication look like to you?" It was and is an excellent question. The question was raised at a staff meeting of mid-level managers that I attended recently. The meeting was held in response to concerns raised by the managers that communication within the organization was not as good as it should be. Communication, the chief executive officer noted, is such a broad term that it is not always clear what exactly is meant when it is used. For instance, is one talking about how information is shared? Are you referring to the channels used to pass along information? Or is this a comment on how well people are allowed to voice their views?

Listening to the discussion, I was struck by the realization at how often many of us are, in fact, unclear when discussing such an important topic. We say the word "communication" and assume everyone knows what we are talking about. Yes and no. The fact is people do have their own perspectives on it simply because their communication needs vary. The CEO, for example, may feel it refers to how clearly his or her directives are being understood by those within the organization. The staff, on the other hand, may be more concerned with the opportunities they are given to be heard  or have meaningful input.

"What does communication look like to you?" How would a classroom teacher answer that? What would their students say? What about the patient? Or their doctor? Different people in different positions with different communication needs and goals. Without question, communication is an important conversation to have regardless of the location or group dynamic. At the time, for it to be fruitful, a clear understanding of what is meant by it must be established. Otherwise, there will be miscommunication about communication. That may sound funny, but the reality of such an occurrence is anything but that.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Press Relations

Quick. What does it mean when February and March arrive? For those of you said "It's the beginning of a new baseball season," then go to the head of the class. You are right. Spring training is now underway as the players report for duty to prepare for another season of over 160 games and lots of travel. The season officially begins in early April, but between now and then the players will be getting back into the groove, vieing for starting positions and once again return to the attention of their fans and media scrutiny. There are many sports, of course, but none quite like baseball, a game that has been with us for nearly 200 years.

This reminds of a guy named Ed Doherty. Doherty was a public relations manager who worked for the Boston Red Sox back in the late 1930s and into the 1940s. The team owner Tom Yawkey hired Doherty to improve relations with the press. Unfortunately, Doherty, as described by one observer, "considered the writers parasites and made no attempt to conceal his contempt for them." Given that, it is no surprise that relations between the Red Sox and those writers that covered it were quite poor. If that wasn't bad enough, Yawkey fired Doherty and replaced him with a guy named Larry Woodall who disliked reporters even more. Go figure. Needless to say, press relations did not improve.

A key aspect of any public relations worker's job involves interacting with reporters. While some reporters may not be all that much fun to work with, the fact is the great majority are a hard-working bunch who care much about about being good and credible communicators. Press or media relations are vital to the success of public relations. It helps if one has at least a healthy regard for the efforts of and even the role reporters play in society. Successful public relations practitioners should have a solid appreciation and understanding of the work required of reporters, particularly if they are going to have a respectful working relationship with them. The last thing any organization needs is a Doherty or Woodall.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Against Human Nature

Public relations at its best goes against human nature. That is what makes it such a challenge. Let me explain. It is human nature to act in our best interest. Even with the best of intentions, all of us generally spend our days doing what is best for us. For instance, we work to make money so we can buy food we need to eat, help take care of people we care about, and support causes that we believe in. Depending upon the circumstances, some of us even hire public relations professionals to help us carry out those efforts. Those communicators then put together plans or strategies to enable us to carry out needs and meet our needs in the most successful way they can.

Such a scenario, even though it does involve others, is about us as individuals. Thirty-four years ago two communication scholars, James Grunig and Todd Hunt, identified another type of public relations designed to foster collaboration and/or more successful interaction between folks. They called it the asymmetrical model of public relations as opposed to the symmetrical model which pertains more to the needs or wishes of one person. The asymmetrical model calls for individuals to put aside their own priorities and replace them with the priorities of them and another. Another way to put this is "the greater good."

I am not suggesting that people generally are not interested in interacting with others to make the world a better place. I believe they are. At the same time, people tend to approach such a hope from their own perspective. This goes back to human nature. The asymmetrical model is designed to move folks from doing what comes naturally to taking a step away from that and giving the needs, interests and perspectives of others equal footing. Doing that on a sustained basis is not easy for any of us. Inevitably, the question "What about me?" pops into our psyche. This, then, points to the reality of how complex public relations can be. It is also not surprising to know that the symmetrical model is a much more popular practice than the asymmetrical model.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Delivery is Important

What is the difference between a good speech and a speech that is good? Often the terms seem interchangeable. While I agree, on the surface, they seem to mean the same thing, there is a difference that speaks to how effectively or how well such public remarks come across. To say something is a "good speech" refers to the actual text, the words themselves. Are they coherent? Are they of substance or do they have weight? But a "speech that is good" refers more to how well it is delivered. There are words or bottom-line message versus how well they are communicated. In other words, a good speech is not necessarily a speech that is good.

Why is this important? Should not a good speech stand on its own? If a speech is good, then should not that fact come across even if it is delivered poorly? That is possible, of course, but not necessarily  guaranteed. "Over the Rainbow" is a great song but as I do not have a good voice and have never sung in public, if I were to sing it before an audience, then the chances are quite good the power of the tune would not nearly be as strong if delivered by a person with vocal talent and stage presence. This reality, then, does speak to the importance of delivery. In the context of communication, it speaks to the value of packaging.

A good speech needs proper delivery. Perhaps the most famous speech of all, "The Gettysburg Address" by Lincoln, was not really acclaimed for what it was at the time it was given. Lincoln's remarks did not really pick up steam until months after they were introduced. If we want words to have "pow," then often they must be showcased. This is why marriage proposals are often made in the context of, say, a moonlite night or candlelight dinner; a good speech packaged in a special way. "It's all in the delivery" is not necessarily a trivial statement. Proper showcasing is important. At the same time, however, it helps a great deal if what is being showcased also has substance.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Interactions & Exchanges

Twenty-five years ago (1993) several organizations in the philanthropy business, including the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Association of Healthcare Philanthropy, Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, and the Giving Institute, banded together to create what they called a donor bill of rights. Basically, this document was designed to identify a clear set of guidelines to help ensure that those in the business of fundraising operated in an open manner and that those folks wishing to make donations were doing so in an environment in which their best interests were protected. 

The donor bill of rights consists of ten key points. Among them are: all gifts will be used for what they were intended; donors will receive the proper amount of recognition and acknowledgement; all donors will be treated in a professional manner; and that all donations will be received and handled legally. This document is worthy because it addresses a sensitive subject - money - and attempts to ensure that the passing of it from one party to another is done so in a proper, transparent, and respectful manner. As the donation of money represents an interaction, it is important that it be given as much protection as possible.

This particular "bill" is not all that different than the code of ethics that was devised and is updated periodically by the Public Relations Society of America. Obviously, what the PRSA devised pertains to the act of communication. The interaction of two individuals or two parties can often be as sensitive as is the giving of money by an individual to another or by an individual to an organization of some sort. One parallel here is that interactions or exchanges are not taken lightly by key elements of society. Not only do we value money but many of us also place an equal premium on communicating. This is how it should be.

Saturday, January 27, 2018


No matter the professional field, when it comes to sustained success and sustaining one's position or status, a primary factor is how well one gets along with others. Relationships. That as much as anything is what generates the support and respect any of us need to advance. You might ask, "What about competency?" No question that is a key component. After all, one must be at least half-way decent at what they do in order to advance at the job or within an organization. Having said that, however, I personally have seen persons advance even though they are not particularly good at what they do.

Those folks move ahead because of who they know and because what abilities they do possess meet the needs of their organizational superiors. Their success is relationship-based. This also applies to those who are talented and well-connected. They, too, move upward based on their relationship with others. People either like them, respect them or both. Their success is also relationship-based only in a slightly different way. Looking at these two types of workers, what are the elements of communication they need to follow in order to gain and sustain the goodwill or support of those with whom they work?

Interestingly, the two need to follow the same play book: be respectful, treat those with whom they work and to whom they report as a high priority, and do not be shy about making known one's successes or achievements. Modesty may be an appealing quality, but it can be a liability if one wishes to advance. Personally, I admire those who do not blow their own horns. But I also recognize those who do tout themselves tend to be the ones who get the nod when promotion opportunities come along. Bottom-line: to some degree we must all be our own public relations manager. We all exist in relationship worlds.