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Don't Insult PR People by Calling Them Marketers

Posted: 10/02/2013 6:37 pm

Do people quoted in newspapers review the stories before they run? Can advertisers legally lie? Are PR people the biggest liars of all? How much does it cost to get a story into The Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star? Who do you pay? Once you start reading, why does the headline have nothing to do with the story?

Last Saturday's (Sept. 28) Globe and Mail has a story by two excellent reporters, Steven Chase and Steve Ladurantaye, writing about the new CBC boss-to-be Heather Conway. They write, "... an incredible challenge for a marketing and public relations executive who hasn't worked in the news industry ...."

Well, I suggest being the PR boss for politicians and a bank means she has worked in the news industry.

I have a good understanding of what PR is, after four decades. PR is multi-faceted, but it's the publicity and media relations sub-set that most people think of as PR.

These PR people are in the news industry, on the content side. Here are two short definitions.

"The media relations and publicity part of Public Relations is the management function that builds, maintains, restores and evolves reputations of individuals and organizations using messages that have an editorial and public interest sensibility, often delivered, seemingly for free, through 'the media'."

When most people think of Marketing, it is the "P for Promotion" part of the traditional Fours Ps of Marketing, primarily advertising and sales promotion. The other three Ps are Product, Place and Price.

Advertising messages are published exactly as created.

Marketers buy complete control of their message.

"Editorial and public interest sensibility" means we in PR do our best to craft honest and non-misleading messages, we believe in "the public interest" as well as "of interest to the public" and many messages are conveyed with the third-party endorsation and the alterations and editing of editors and producers and other controllers of the information conduit.

Yes, in later columns I'll explain "public interest" and "third party endorsation" and "editorial conduit."

This is my first Huffington Post column. It's written to help people sort out public relations from marketing. Future columns will help you understand how PR affects your life in many ways, mostly positive.

Almost all the words a marketer creates are planned to cause people to give money to the marketers' organizations. Last Saturday's Globe and Mail had a page one BMO ad about treasury solutions, subordinated debt, and other obscure offerings. It was followed on page two by three Tiffany rings, one Cartier ring, and some free soup bowls if you buy the right Wedgewood dishes from William Ashley.

The only reason this stuff is in the paper is because marketers paid for it to be published, exactly as written, photographed, and designed.

The best known element of public relations is media relations, or publicity. The words surrounding the ads throughout a newspaper are called editorial, and are decided by journalists, whether reporters, columnists (different from reporters), editors or producers.

Many but not all of those stories are influenced by PR people like me who work with journalists. We do not have any control over whether or when a story we suggest, help with or try to block, will run, nor what words will be used, nor what will be said about our organization, its people, and its competitors.

Sometimes PR people think up a story idea and try to get journalists interested. We call this "pitching a story." Other times, the journalists have the ideas and ask PR people for help. Or, because our goal is to keep a negative story out of the paper, journalists try to go around us to interview real subject experts without any PR interference.

No money changes hands between story subject / PR people and journalists. The subject does not get to review the words. Advertisers can't lie, but many are masters at subtle shades of meaning. PR people rarely lie, partly because journalists usually look for confirming sources and alternative viewpoints. Headlines are wrong because reporters who know the story don't write them. Editors write headlines, some editors are in India now. Other editors are in Hamilton for papers in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and more.

Two last thoughts.

ONE: Newspapers' front news "A" sections and their business sections -- The Globe's Report on Business and the Financial Post section in The National Post, for instance -- are the media most likely to follow this distinction between public relations and marketing. Women's "home" or "shelter" magazines are probably the most likely to stray from them.

TWO: Most people buy and read publications for the "editorial content" that so often comes with help from PR people. They do not usually buy them for advertising from marketers.

My next column will look at the mix of PR activities that help build and maintain an organization's reputation.

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  • The Straits Times Curses Followers

    On April 2, a staffer for Singapore-based news outlet <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/stcom" target="_hplink">The Straits Times</a> posted an offensive tweet on the company's feed. "I'd like to apologise unreservedly on behalf of our staff member. He mixed up his personal and corporate accounts," social media editor <a href="http://twitter.com/NgTzeYong" target="_hplink">Ng Tze Yong</a> tweeted, after the offending post had been deleted. [hat tip Christine L.]

  • Chrysler Tweeter Drops F-Bomb

    In early March, a NSFW tweet found its way onto the <a href="http://twitter.com/ChryslerAutos" target="_hplink">Chrysler Autos</a> feed. "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f***ing drive," read the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/09/chrysler-twitter-account-_n_833571.html" target="_hplink">errant tweet</a>, which was promptly removed. New Media Strategies, a social media agency in charge of the feed, took the fall for the ensuing controversy and fired the employee who managed Chrysler's tweets. Not long after, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/10/chrysler-twitter-f-bomb-tweet_n_834246.html" target="_hplink">AP</a> reported that Chrysler had ended its relationship with New Media Strategies.

  • Kenneth Cole Misuses #Cairo Hashtag

    The Twitterverse recently turned against fashion designer <a href="http://twitter.com/KennethCole" target="_hplink">Kenneth Cole</a> after his official Twitter feed apparently misused the hashtag #Cairo to promote Cole's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/03/kenneth-cole-tweet-uses-c_n_818226.html?ir=Technology" target="_hplink">spring clothing line</a>. At the time, Cairo was a trending topic on Twitter due to protests in Egypt. Cole soon deleted the tweet and apologized, calling the incident "poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate."

  • The Red Cross Gets 'Slizzerd'

    In February, the <a href="http://twitter.com/RedCross" target="_hplink">Red Cross</a>'s social media specialist <a href="http://twitter.com/riaglo" target="_hplink">Gloria Huang</a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/16/red-cross-rogue-tweet_n_824114.html" target="_hplink">mistakenly posted a personal tweet</a> on the company's feed. "We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys," an explanatory Red Cross tweet said. <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/dogfishbeer" target="_hplink">Dogfish Head</a> retweeted the "gettingslizzerd" hashtag and encouraged customers to donate to the Red Cross.

  • Marc Jacobs Intern Allegedly Flips

    Someone claiming to be an intern for <a href="http://twitter.com/marcjacobsintl" target="_hplink">Marc Jacobs</a> CEO Robert Duffy recently posted a rant on the company's official feed. The <em><a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1370024/Marc-Jacobs-intern-brands-company-CEO-tyrant-meltdown-fashion-labels-Twitter-account.html" target="_hplink">Daily Mail</a></em> reprinted some of the tweets. "You guys and gals have no idea how difficult Robert is. I am only an intern. My last day is tomorrow. I wouldn't be tweeting this if not!" one read. "Good luck! I pray for you all. If you get the job! I'm out of here. See ya! Son't want to be ya! Roberts a tyrant! Seriously! He is tough!" read another. The tweets were deleted and the incident was blamed on a stolen password.

  • Bing's Japan Tweet Sparks Controversy

    Shortly after the Japan tsunami, search engine <a href="http://www.twitter.com/bing" target="_hplink">Bing</a> posted a tweet that promised a dollar for every retweet from followers. Tweeters <a href="http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/bing-tries-to-help-japan-on-twitter-walks-into-a-pr-nightmare_b4455" target="_hplink">bristled</a> at the post, which was generally viewed as more of a marketing strategy than a charitable gesture, and Bing eventually backpedaled. "We apologize the tweet was negatively perceived. Intent was to provide an easy way for people to help Japan. We have donated $100K," <a href="http://twitter.com/bing/status/46698091604226048" target="_hplink">wrote</a> Bing.

  • Habitat Intern Spams Hastag Feeds With Brand Promos

    Back in 2009, UK furnishings retailer <a href="http://twitter.com/habitatuk" target="_hplink">Habitat</a> allegedly spammed popular hastag feeds with tweets promoting the brand. Habitat later apologized and blamed an "<a href="http://www.brandrepublic.com/News/915903/Habitat-blames-Twitter-faux-pas-intern/" target="_hplink">overenthusiastic intern</a>" for inserting "#mousavi" (a 2009 Iranian presidential candidate) and "#iphone" into their promos.

  • Vodafone UK's Profane Tweet

    In November 2010, the following tweet appeared on <a href="http://go.telegraph.co.uk/?id=296X467&url=http%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2Fvodafoneuk" target="_hplink">Vodafone UK</a>'s feed: "VodafoneUK is fed up of dirty homo's and is going after beaver." Customers were incensed, and some assumed that the account had been hacked. Vodafone admitted, however, that an employee had written the tweet. "An individual posted an obscene remark on the Vodafone UK Twitter account [...] The individual has been suspended pending further notice," read an apology issued by the company, according to <em><a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/feb/05/vodafone-twitter-obscene-tweet" target="_hplink">The Guardian</a></em>.

  • Before we meet, let me offend everyone....

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Craig_Isaacs"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Craig_Isaacs">Craig Isaacs</a>:<br />Mr. Andrews of Ketchum decides to offend FedEx worldwide through Twitter...right before he meets their marketing team to demonstrate Twitter.

  • Sony PR Rep: "you sank my Battleship?". No, sir, you skuttled it.

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/strydre"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/strydre">strydre</a>:<br />While simultaneously prosecuting a hacker for making full use of his PS3 and defending itself in a case of feature removal, Sony PR rep tweets the cryptographic key needed to (re)unlock the PS3's potential.

 

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