TOOLBOX TOPICS – Reprinted from AdNews – Philly Ad Club – November -December 2010
Public Relations playbook: some thoughts
Every now and then seasoned communication professionals need to review the basics. Here are some thoughts from Larry Litwin’s The Public Relations Practitioner’s Playbook (AuthorHouse – 2009)
By M. Larry Litwin, APR, Fellow PRSA
Whether the profession is public relations, public communication or strategic advising, it all begins with the ABCs of strategic communication: anticipate, be prepared and communicate clearly, concisely, consistently, calculatingly (measured tones – weighing each word), and completely (specifically and simply).
Anticipate the reaction to a strategic message before communicating it. As Sir Isaac Newton said, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The reactions to a CEO or spokesperson’s comments may not be equal and opposite, but they could take a strong opposing viewpoint that could damage a client’s image or reputation. Messages could be misinterpreted. “Test” them to be sure the “C” is achieved.
As columnist George Will points out, “Clarity is achieved only if our message is received and interpreted as we intend it.” That’s where the “B’ comes in. Through proper planning, effective strategic communicators are more likely to achieve their objectives and goal, which means synergy is achieved.
So, what is public relations?
Back in 1971, colleague Ralph Burgio and I brainstormed a definition of public relations. Here is what Ralph scribbled on a napkin at Mom’s Peppermill Inn just off exit 7A of the New Jersey Turnpike. It remains relevant nearly 40 years later:
Public relations is as simple as a thank-you note and as complicated as a
It’s as specific as writing a news release and as general as sensing community
It’s as inexpensive as a phone call to an editor or as costly as a full-page
It’s as direct as a conversation between two people and as broad as a radio or
television program reaching thousands of listeners or millions of viewers.
It’s as visual as a poster and as literal as a speech.
HERE, MY FRIENDS, IS THE BIG QUESTION: What IS public relations?
It’s a term often used – seldom defined!
In its broadest sense, public relations is “good work, publicly recognized.”
Believe me, there are no secret formulas. Public relations is simply: the group itself saying —
• “This is who we are;
• What we think about ourselves;
• What we want to do; and
• Why we deserve your support.”
The Public Relations Practitioner’s Playbook (AuthorHouse – 2009) contains hundreds of proven tips and techniques. Here are a few:
“Tell the truth, provide accurate facts and give the public relations director access to top management so that he/she can influence decisions,” said Ivy Ledbetter Lee, recognized as an early media relations professional.
Warren Buffet said, “If you lose money for the company, I will be understanding. If you lose one shred of the company’s reputation, I will be ruthless.” Buffet, one of America’s wealthiest individuals, is chair and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
Jack Welch, former General Electric chair and CEO, said, “I want strategic advisors who tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. Honesty and integrity are the only way.”
There is a common thread to the ethical practice of public relations. Arthur Page, recognized as the “father of corporate public relations,” developed these seven principles: tell the truth, prove it with action, listen to the customer, manage for tomorrow, conduct public relations as if the whole company depends on it, realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people, and remain calm, patient and good humored.
Strategic counselor James Lukaszewski, in his book Why Should the Boss Listen to You? stresses that public relations counselors should strive to be the “number one, number two” person in an organization – the go to advisor, associate or assistant to the CEO. Lukaszewski pushes company and organization leaders “to look over the horizon and see what’s there – have a clear vision.” He points out that the best leaders “have in place the people and skills necessary to achieve the goals and objectives the boss promised to accomplish. He also encourages CEO’s “to promise less and achieve more.”
A favorite public relations tip is credited to Patrick Jackson – the “Double Bottom Line Theory,” which has evolved into the “Triple Bottom Line”:
First Bottom Line: Create relationships. If the organization has already achieved that important first line, work on enhancing the relationships and, at the very least, maintain the relationships you have. It costs far less to retain a customer or client than it does to attract new ones.
Second Bottom Line: Revenue. It generates from sales developed from the relationships created and built in the first bottom line.
Third Bottom Line: Profit. After all, that is what it is all about – making money. To make money, though, revenue must be generated and costs controlled. Like the other tips, the “Triple Bottom Line” is more than theory, it has been proven time and time again – just look at Southwest Airlines, Staples and Wal-Mart.
Even before the Phillies became perennial winners, president David Montgomery recognized the value of relationship building. He turned an evening at the ballpark into an experience – a family experience – from the moment you pull into the parking lot and scan your own ticket until the final out. Those relationships turned into revenue, the revenue into profits and, with Pat Gillick, Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manual’s strategies and tactics, the Phillies have won their fourth straight division title.
Former Rowan University marketing director Ed Ziegler says, “Reaching the desired outcome – is a process.” He says, “By educating your publics, you give them the knowledge needed to develop the proper attitude that leads to the behavioral outcome you want. When the organization’s output equals the outcome, synergy is achieved.”
However, none of these tips and advice mean a thing if the following principle isn’t followed. It comes from Melissa Matthews, Rowan class of ’01 and Woman’s Day beauty editor. She said it in the October 2011 issue in response to “What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?”
Said Melissa: “Make sure everything you do is open, honest, thorough and valid. I follow this advice from my college mentor, Professor Larry Litwin. It helps me make decisions, especially when evaluating beauty products.”
M. Larry Litwin, APR, Fellow PRSA, is an established strategic advisor, teacher, mentor, role model and ethicist, and an award-winning public relations counselor and broadcast journalist.