In-depth Learning of the Four-step Process is Necessary

Last night Professor Jasso walked us through the four-step process referring to the PR campaign practice, including:

  • Defining the problem or opportunity
  • Planning and programming
  • Taking action and communicating
  • Evaluating the program

The class seemed to be so theoretical that some of us might find it less interesting than usual. I had the same experience in my second year of university. My professor spent a whole year teaching us this four-step process. She wanted us to understand accurately and comprehend the significance of those steps by analyzing several events and breaking them up into pieces to see the depths in each step. I thought that it was unnecessary to take such a long time to learn it.

However, I didn’t know I was wrong until I entered into the professional world. Even though in the day-to-day work, we didn’t usually explicitly indicate each step, we did follow the four-step process for every campaign and event and also for the long-term annual plan of each year:

  • Research: conducting investigations of the market environment, media angles, and familiar case studies to define the most primary issue we are going to solve, avoid making the same mistakes as others did, as well as save time and effort in fixing the mistakes
  • Planning: based on the research study, setting the overall goal, objectives, strategies, and programs
  • Action: delivering the programs with crafted messaging, selected channels and scheduled actions
  • Evaluation: time-consuming but necessary to have a thorough review of the whole execution process, and to learn from strengths and weaknesses to improve ourselves

Each step is indispensable, and they link with each other as an integrated system. Missing any step will make an impact on the result, and sometimes it could be fatal.

keep-calm-and-stay-grounded(Picture credit: https://adamevenevenadam.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/grounded/)

Wernher von Braun said: “Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” Unfortunately, research is the step that we usually easily overlook or get through carelessly, but nevertheless is a prerequisite for successful planning. It will help us learn what we didn’t know before and understand what we are experiencing now internally and externally. It also guarantees that we will set a realistic goal, select effective strategies, and find the right track to follow to achieve the goal. Once we’ve done this step, we will have the confidence to move to the planning phase, conduct the programs and have criteria to evaluate the programs.

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Results rule or ethics rule?

John Kultgen believes that “If I have done my job well for the right purpose, my life has substance and meaning. If I have done my job poorly or for the wrong purpose, I have squandered my life, however much I have prospered.” This is also my philosophy of work. As a PR practitioner, sometimes we have to face an ethical dilemma between good results and moral things. Since we are in a profession ruled by results, obtaining good results is the only way to satisfy our bosses or clients, but results-oriented thinking may tempt you to sacrifice your ethical values.

One year ago, I interviewed two PR managers for my PR professor’s study of PR ethics in the professional world. Talking with the interviewees made me more confident with this profession in my country. Both of the PR managers did their jobs by practicing extraordinary ethical self-discipline. Professor Jasso said, “we won’t be revoked licenses or bear legal liabilities if we violate the PRSA Code of Ethics.” Every decision we make is up to ourselves but don’t forget that news runs from mouth to mouth. The PR manager from a renowned company told me, “This is a small world, I do what I say. For the sake of personal and professional credibility and the company’s reputation, do not break your word. Otherwise, no one will trust you.”

(Picture credit: http://www.abanorthtexas.com/i-made-a-choice-today/)

The other PR manager from an agency also frankly shared her point of views, “I hesitated when I was facing a dilemma, whether I should disclose negative market information regarding a main opponent of my client to the media and industry partners. If I did, we had an opportunity to hit their business badly. However, in the long term, I will lose my credibility among my peers and this industry. PR is a profession about doing things right, but doing right things is more important.” Her story echoes Professor Jasso’s reminder, “Be trustworthy, because of the nature of your profession, you will have a bigger chance to gain inside knowledge in advance than anyone else. Do remember that your job also needs to fulfill social responsibilities by promoting free, ethical competition and enforcing high standards of conduct.”

We should take this occupation as a real profession, not just a job for a living. Although not everyone is in the same boat, especially when we may need to pay a “high price” for one ethical decision, more and more peers are taking pride in their jobs and having desire to do it ethically. I believe that is the way to help improve the regulation of this industry.

A Clear Goal Leads to A Measurable Result

I was glad to see my favorite quote from Socrates in Professor Jasso’s class, “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” From the perspective of a PR professional, this quote means that the most significant factor of doing a good job is following your goal, and having a measurable outcome. No matter how fascinating you say, the PR campaign is, only a real and good measurable result matters.

Measurable outcomes are one of the key components of our job and make PR a visible function in a company. From my experience, the review reports are an essential part of this job; they give you an excellent opportunity to show the highlights of your work. However, today we cannot justify our work by simply showing a cover story on Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the company’s name in a news article, or media clippings generated from insignificant and irrelevant news sources. We need measurable standards for story angles, media types and target audiences we can reach, etc.

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(Picture credit: http://curchew.com/category/services/)

How to gain a good measurable result? According to Professor Jasso, this involves several core axioms of public relations, including:

Roles

  • “Takes a broad view of an organization’s environment by attending to a wide range of issues and relationships.”
  • “Strategic management, seeking to avoid or solve problems through a goal-oriented process.”
  • In my opinion, a PR professional should be a “detective” and a “doctor.”

Strategic planning

  • “Begin by identifying the conditions, contributing forces, actors, objectives, and overall program goal. “
  • “Outline how the organization will get from where it is, to where it wants to be. “
  • “Seek senior management’s support and cooperation.”
  • In my opinion, if we do not have a clear goal to direct us, we cannot measure the result; if we do not align with company goals or marketing plan instead of doing it only by ourselves, we will be lost.

Standards

  • “What the organization DOES than on what it SAYS.”
  • “All actions, communication and outcomes are ethical, legal, and socially responsible.“
  • “Success is based on the organization’s impact on society and culture.”

To do a good job as a PR professional, particularly in a firm or an agency, we cannot forget that PR is a function that requires strategic management with a clear goal. The goal should be followed by careful analysis. Leading with a clear goal and an evaluative criterion, we will know if our PR campaign is feasible, and whether the results are good or bad. PR is a goal-oriented job even though the fascinating part is the process.

Know Them before You Write for Them

According to Barbara Hardy, “we dream in narrative, daydream in a narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative.”

People rely on good stories to give them valuable content. But today, people are likely to find themselves lost in the sea of stories overload and living unconsciousness, as Professor Jasso mentioned that there would be very few pieces of story gripping their attention. Most of the stories flash by and will be invisible after all. As a PR professional and a story crafter, the capability of storytelling is essential for success. Making your story distinctive and inspiring among a bunch of various stories is one of the keys.

In my opinion, the first thing to do to write a distinctive story is to constantly perceive the world that is rapidly changing. And when we do PR for an organization, my understanding is:

  • Keep a conscious understanding of the internal and external world of this organization and the industry
  • Identify your target audience (media and public) and know them VERY well
  • According to Professor Jasso, include these elements to make one narrative inspiring: raise interests, plot points, crisis and climax (Resolution)
  • Last but not the least, do not bombard your reporter friends’ email box with tedious news

toptenz-clapping-audience
(Picture credit: one of the blog posts on Wheeler Blogs on April 18, 2012, link: http://wheelerblogs.com/2012/04/18/social-media-personal-and-visual-pt-1-know-your-audience/)

I remembered once my client told me that, “we should distribute one customer story every day, so our target audience will see our name everywhere, and let them have an illusion that we are much better than other competitors.” Her intention was good. Unfortunately, we had not done the research on other competitors, the target audience and the benefits they cared about. We just wrote several irrelevant articles with the general introduction of the event and the product, as well as vague and inane quotes of spokespersons who said everyone was happy about this deal, just like Professor Jasso’s “happily ever after” story. You can imagine that this was definitely a failed approach. We even had reporters complaining about our annoying emails, because our story was not inspiring, no motivating or no engaging to them.

We have to craft an engaging “outside-in” story. When you keep conscious of what is going on outside your “small” company, we will understand the real concerns your target audience have. Even though they don’t say it directly, we can do some research, which will be a good start to write a good story for your company and your audience.

Diversity and Beyond: It is Not about Color, Nationality or Gender Anymore

Last night, Professor Jasso said, “Diversity is being invited to dance.” It is a very interesting analogy to remind us that we are already living in a diversified world, and minority groups are not “wallflowers” anymore. So, it raised other topics that are worth digging up, including a new definition of diversity groups and the impact it makes on pubic relations, particularly its workforce.

Professor Jasso brought up the topic of diversity when he was elaborating about stakeholders in an organization, including employees, suppliers, customers, government, investors, local community and special interest groups.

Even though stakeholders are differentiated by their roles, it is not that simple. Today we need to further diversity this category beyond even colors, nationalities or genders. Thus, PR practitioners who work on internal and external communications must be very mindful that all the stakeholders are treated with approaches, messages or languages simply based on their objective characters. In this new diversified world, it’s far more challenging to define diversity.

human_diversity

(Source: http://alternative-right.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-myth-of-diversity_4.html)

Objective characters, like color, nationality and gender, are only the starting point; the subjective characters are more critical. Professor Jasso introduced a new term, “psychographics,” which is a method to define interests, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of each stakeholder. This term is quite intriguing to me since this is way beyond the stereotypical way of distinguishing diversified stakeholders. For instance, take employee group, the most important stakeholders in an organization. Like Professor Jasso said:

  • They are the “front line” representing the organization
  • They have great credibility with outsiders
  • They will respond with loyalty when the organization makes them feel valued
  • Ultimately, I believed that employee loyalty is one of the most precious properties of the organization.

Unfortunately, from my observation in PR, many companies just hire minority groups to represent their diversity cultures, which are still focusing on color, nationality, or gender. That will lead to a negative effect that some with minority backgrounds will not be hired because of their personal abilities, professional skills, or values that they can bring to the organization.

The real value of minority groups, in my opinion, is that they can bring fresh perspectives and insights to this industry and their companies, and that will help companies develop sustainably in this diversified world. It is time to look beyond and look for a new diversified culture. The new definition of diversity will not just help PR practitioners to prioritize target audiences and create messages/languages for them, but also promote the cultivation of innovative talent. We, as one of the minority groups, expect to be hired because of our internal motivation of career pursuit, an intelligence of interpersonal communications, skills of relationship handling and problem-solving, and multicultural perspectives. It also echoes Professor Stein’s encouraging words in her class that, if you have a plan just go for it, regardless of where you are from.