Company, Product Communications…Open Up, Loosen Up
“Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” -- Thomas Paine
In theory corporate policy is to encourage creative thinking, initiative and growth.
Their communications policy is to quickly and accurately support all of the audiences.
Firms constantly seek new ways to efficiently and effectively accomplish that goal…as long as it follows corporate policy and conventional wisdom.
Conventional wisdom says:
1. Public relations should be the sole spokesperson for the company
The more mature the company, the more mature the PR policy. Unlike business processes and procedures as well as product lines that are constantly evaluated regarding their value to the company and the consumer, PR policy is seldom scrutinized. Few organizations seriously look closely to see if old efforts, measures and controls make sense in today’s environment. Hence releases and clippings are the key measurement.
Many monolithic firms have a clear policy that conceals marketing, product and engineering management from the press. Policy dictates that all queries must be centrally managed, filtered and controlled.
In an era of global communications, some still focus on attempting to manage, even manipulate news coverage.
In this scenario the probing press-type explains the problem, question, issue to the PR person. He or she will interpret it to one or more of the internal contacts. They will then filter the query to someone else who will provide an answer (or partial answer). This will be passed to the PR person who will then provide the information to the member of the media.
If only part of the answer is provided, if it stimulates an added question or if clarification is needed; the cycle begins again.
At some point, the media person either forgets the initial question or is on deadline so he/she goes with the best information at hand…no matter how weak. Or they find their own information source access.
It is difficult to understand in today’s instant access environment how filters/funnels/blockades can survive in an environment when facilitators and enablers are important to an organization’s success.
In an Internet connected world good and bad news will not be tethered. The bird will fly!
2. PR should develop, run and manage all blogs.
The funnel worked well prior to the Internet. In theory it even sounds good today.
The Internet made the world accessible to everyone in the company.
IBM has tens of thousands of employee-to-the-world blogs. Microsoft has tens of thousands. HP has tens of thousands. Even small-medium sized firms often have 10 or more blogs that are added to and read…every day.
In addition a few corporations have initiated public blogs.
The success has been mixed based on management’s ability to deal with full, complete and open discussion.
To stem the tide of consumer complaints, Dell initiated a blog to communicate more effectively with customers and partners. The faintly veiled PR effort was quickly taken to task as being nothing more than an outbound publicity shill for the company. Management quickly turned the project into an open effort to communicate solid information and ideas while inviting unfiltered feedback.
Sanctioned or non-sanctioned, pro- or anti-company/policy the blogs exist and have their audiences. Depending upon the tone and substance of the employees’ blogs they have gained credibility with the global community.
Information and ideas flow smoothly…in both directions.
Short of firing bloggers for moral or professional/business misconduct there is little public relations or management can do to stem the blogging tide. In many instances the blogs humanize the organization. As long as there is a healthy balance of positive and negative comments, observations and ideas enhance the company’s image and credibility with the marketplace.
Doing away with the blogs and individuals simply isn’t practical !
Apple silenced “The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.” Too bad. But it resurfaced in a much diluted form – http://fakesteve.blogspot.com.
Mini-Microsoft the unauthorized Microsoft blog (http://minimsft.blogspot.com) does a superb job of humanizing the company.
The best approach is to work with the bloggers providing information, background and general/legal guidelines they should consider regarding their daily Internet diaries.
Wise/credible bloggers balance their company/business messages – pro and con.
Wise PR people learn how to work with the bloggers providing guidance, information and assistance.
3. New products, new services require an editorial tour
While our industries are entering a period of dramatic innovation, economic concerns and disruption some PR concepts are difficult to abandon. Not the least of these is the sacrosanct product press tour.
The press tour used to be a vital part of the product introduction process following several years of product development. There were a few key press locations – New York City, Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Montreal.
Downsizing, media expansion/consolidation, remote offices, contract specialists, vertical websites, influential blogs and the crunch of producing more content in a shorter period of time has impacted companies, agencies…and media outlets.
A few firms have developed a new approach to producing long-term success with an accumulation of ongoing short-term successes.
This was crystallized at a recent conference on living with and managing change. It was noted that:
- The universe of information is simultaneously expanding and contracting
- 1 in 4 people have been in their job less than a year and 1 in 2 less than 5 years
- The top 10 jobs in 2010 didn’t even exist in 2004
- An average week of NY Times contains more information than people obtained during their entire lifetime in the 18th century
The speed of technology change shows no sign of abating. Instead, it is accelerating. Products used to enjoy a lifecycle of one-two years. Today that has shrunk to three - six months.
Product roll-outs need the same sense of urgency.
Time, not talent, for media types is a precious commodity.
While conventional media have been reduced to almost skeleton staffing these individuals now carry out double and triple duty. They write for their print or radio or TV outlet. They have their online site and often a blog or two.
They aren’t alone. New outlets also find audiences on the web.
News outlets, businesses and individuals generate more than 1.5 Exabytes of data and content each year.
Shortly we will be sending 10 trillion bits over a single internet optical fiber every second.
More efficient, more effective, more creative means of launching products and services have to be implemented beyond the tired old standby – the static press release. For example:
- Web-enhanced individual conference calls enable the company spokespersons to “meet” with as many as 10 editors, reporters, analysts a day. The combination of phone discussion and on-line presentation facilitate the dissemination of complete and accurate information as well as individualized news gathering.
- As the world goes green, online trade shows and event support from firms like VPO (Virtual Press Office) are efficient and effective. Introduced years ago to help companies and media people eliminate paper at every trade show, VPO has opened up even more online applications of their news/information delivery service.
The media/research people pre-qualify themselves online and indicate their product interest area(s). They are already predisposed to receiving your information. Even when we have met with people at a trade show, VPO’s reports often show that these people obtained additional company/product information.
Expanding this to the next logical step – product roll-out press kits/events leverages their expertise, their media relationships/predisposition and organization time and budget.
Making all of the information, including educational/informational videos, available to the media regardless of clock or calendar meets the immediacy needs of the company and the press. It delivers low-cost, timely coverage around the globe with a positive impression on editors, reporters, analysts, bloggers, social net visitors and consumers.
- Do-it-yourself presentation in a box – If you have a core target audience of 100-200 individuals consider a comprehensive announcement package that includes the product, reviewer documentation and video presentation that can be viewed on the system from a CD, DVD or USB drive.
It’s an excellent way for the recipient to work with the product and review portions of the presentation/demo as often as he/she wants to cover the new product/service accurately.
- If your goal is to reach beyond the media and go directly to your B2C or B2B client, locations like MySpace, YouTube and SecondLife deserve serious product launch considerations.
With more than 200 million registered users and the average page being accessed more than 30 times a day, MySpace and similar social networking sites represent a potent viral PR opportunity.
The new virtual world, SecondLife.com, already has leading name firms setting up stores and information booths. The parallel universe has more than 10 million registered users. At almost any time of the day or night more than 50,000 people (avatars) are walking the streets and alleys.
There are an ever growing number of opportunities for companies to communicate with their markets, their media, their customers. The only concern for communications people who want one-way control is that direct contact efforts allow for, encourage and produce feedback. Feedback that can make you smile…or cry.
The other area of concern is that these people expect to talk with knowledgeable people, not talking heads.
Most of all they need the key ingredient communications people stumble on the most…follow up, follow up, follow up!
In the flattened world of communications and information dissemination there is no such thing as a tiered priority of media people…they can all nail a phony!