What PR isn’t – nine things

Most people equate public relations with media coverage and publicity or confuse it with advertising. They’re selling it short – way short.

1. PR isn’t narrow, it’s broad.
Public relations – properly practiced – takes into account every single stakeholder (or “public”) an organization deals with in its daily life. Employees. Consumers. Local communities. Local/state/federal governments. Bloggers. Partners. Policy makers. Channels. Reporters. Industry analysts. Buy- and sell-side financial analysts. Stockholders. Literally, everyone an organization touches. There may be different levels of priority, but they all have to be factored into the mix.

2. PR isn’t self-serving, it’s serving others.
Public relations has a broader – and more strategic – agenda. It’s all about earning a trusted reputation with stakeholders by acting in their best interests – not the organization’s own myopic agenda. An increasing number of smart companies are adding corporate social responsibility to their agendas for this very reason.

3. PR isn’t advertising.
Advertising exists to sell. Advertisers can communicate whatever they want (within reason of course) because they pay for it. They can decide what they want to say, where they want to say it and how often they want to repeat themselves. It’s a controlled process.

By contrast, public relations is an uncontrolled process. It’s an adventure, shifting constantly as it mirrors real-time happenings.

4. PR isn’t best at awareness building.
There are lots of ways to build awareness. PR’s “secret sauce” is its ability to build credibility.

5. PR isn’t sales, but it influences sales.
Some people confuse search engine optimization (SEO) with PR. They’re two completely different things. SEO is focused on optimizing a Web site to increase targeted traffic. PR is focused on earning a trusted reputation which in turn creates positive word-of-mouth.

6. PR isn’t publicity or marketing.
Public relations is typically relegated to the marketing function. This organizational structure may reflect the perceived role of PR within an organization, namely that it exists to help market products and services.

While promoting products and services may be a piece of the PR pie, it should never be its sole focus. When it is, public relations becomes a lower-level function called publicity.

7. PR isn’t one-way, it’s two-way.
When you send out an e-mail blitz to a prospect, run an online banner ad or issue a news release, these are all examples of one-way communication. The message is crafted and pushed out. These are closed-loop systems.

By contrast, true public relations is an open system and a two-way process. The goal isn’t simply to communicate, but rather to be understood and believed. To affect this attitudinal change, continual conversations must take place between the communicator and message recipients (publics). If companies/organizations don’t listen well or engage in open, honest dialogue with the people they want to influence – and change behaviors when necessary –trust isn’t built.

8. PR isn’t fabricated.
The technology industry learned a valuable lesson with the dot com bust. If you spin stories that aren’t true, the fabric doesn’t survive many wash cycles.

Effective public relations isn’t rooted in hype. People are smart and instinctive; they quickly figure out when unfounded claims are bogus. When they do, brands suffer damage.

9. PR isn’t about “me,” it’s about “you.”
To become a successful brand, a product or service must become a personal, positive thing – an individual experience – something that feeds a person’s own self identity.

Great PR is focused on helping a company strategically figure out how to deliver a consistent brand experience, which in turn, yields a community of interested, involved participants.

Green economy will bring new measures of success to replace growth

Venture capitalist Paul Maeder backed some of the biggest winners of the tech boom – Chipcom, Avid Technologies, Sybase, SQA. Now Maeder, a co-founder of Highland Capital Partners, is turning his attention to companies developing the technology to support an environmentally sustainable economy. Maeder shared his views on progress toward a sustainable economy with the Brodeur Clean Technology Practice.



Super Bowl ’09 ads tackle corporate social responsibility

There was plenty of usual advertising fare on last night’s Super Bowl, from Pepsi’s silly “Pepsuber” and Budweiser’s schmaltzy “Clydesdale Circus,” to Doritos’ frat boy “Crystal Ball” and GoDaddy’s steamy “Major league enhancement” spot.

But the ads that got my attention weren’t peddling products.

Among a sea of seemingly entertainment-for-entertainment-sake ads were a handful of visionary advertisers who aligned their companies with social causes while simultaneously driving traffic to their corporate Web sites.

Did you notice?

GE ran a clever spot – inspired by the Wizard of Oz’s Scarecrow character – plugging “smart grid technology.” Yes it was self-promotional, but it also conveyed a “larger than GE” thought leadership message built around its successful “Ecomagination” campaign which urges a cleaner, greener world.

First time advertiser Pedigree used humor to make a bigger statement. It showed owners of exotic pets frustrated by their behavior:

  • An ostrich chasing a mailman
  • a wild boar sticking its head out a family car’s rear window to catch some air
  • a rhino rampaging through a living room as the owner called its name to go out for a walk
  • a bull that wouldn’t catch a Frisbee.

Pedigree capped off the frivolity with a crisp message:

Maybe you should get a dog. The Pedigree Adoption Drive. Help us Help Dogs.

Pedigree has promised to donate one bowl of food to animal shelters every time their Super Bowl commercial or related vignettes are viewed on the Pedigree Web site. Their objective is to get 4 million Web site views, enabling Pedigree to make the claim that every sheltered dog in America was fed for one day.

Denny’s literally stepped up to the plate with its Super Bowl ad. While advertising their Grand Slam breakfast, Denny’s announced an amazing act of kindness: giving away free Grand Slam breakfasts for everyone in America on Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at all 1,500 locations. While self-servingly winning new customers, Denny’s is also building tremendous ‘helping others’ goodwill at a time when people need it most.

Frosted Flakes raised the bar with its 30-second “Plant a seed” spot, urging people to visit FrostedFlakes.com to nominate youth playing fields to be rebuilt pro bono by Kellogg’s. Tony the Tiger even made his Super Bowl debut. After sorting through thousands of nominated playing fields, Kellogg’s will narrow the list to 100. Then it will select 30 which will all be brought back to life by Kellogg’s.

The NFL and United Way have long collaborated on many “giving back” campaigns, frequently communicating their good deeds via TV spots. This year’s Super Bowl featured a simple ad that tackled the subject of childhood obesity and promoted a mobile text link to donate.

It’s about time.

72% of Americans wish their employer would do more to support a cause and social issue. 87% are likely to switch from one brand to another brand if the other brand is associated with a good cause (Source: 2007 Cone Cause Evolution Study).

Last night’s advertising assault finally included companies with a conscience who understand that it’s good business when brands make-the-world-a-better-place.

A broader PR palette now critical to move clean technology industry forward

Clean technology investment was a major platform for Obama during his campaign.

He said, “My energy plan will put $150 billion over 10 years into establishing a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million new jobs over the next two decades.” He promised to create a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund, hoping to invest $10 billion per year into this fund for five years. Obama also promised to double science and research funding for clean-energy projects, including those making use of biomass, solar and wind resources. This was such an encouraging vision for our industry.

But the encouraging news is that this wasn’t campaign rhetoric.

Yesterday, President Obama boldly acted on fuel efficiency and global warming. He urged passage of the $825 billion economic stimulus package in the House and Senate. Those bills include billions for investment in renewable energy, conservation and an improved electric grid. He said, “No single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy.”

There’s never been a more critical time for authentic, persuasive, pragmatic, inspired communications. But does “traditional PR” play within this unfolding drama? Are messaging, thought leadership and media relations the core PR elements needed to affect the necessary change?

No, certainly not.

The clean technology industry is a complex ecosystem that includes economics, politics and public policy. Clean technology companies must continually balance these considerations. The industry also has a vibrant moral dimension – a making the world a better place element – that adds legitimacy, scope, involvement and urgency.

In this dicey economic time, the clean technology industry needs even greater support from investors, public policy makers and the public itself to blossom. To achieve the progress President Obama envisions, we must think, plan and act holistically from a communications perspective as the clean tech industry develops and markets products and solutions that ultimately enable us to live cleaner, greener, better lives.

Thankfully, public relations now represents a much wider palette. It should – and must – embrace a variety of strategic areas including thought leadership, public advocacy, social media, crisis communications, ethnography, employee communications, corporate social responsibility, multi-cultural relations, healthcare, change management and financial communications.

To name a few.

Depending on the clean tech company, product/service, market segment and challenges faced, many of these communications ingredients must be thoughtfully weighed, integrated and acted upon, often in the same relative timeframe. Again and again and again.

Yes, these are complex, critical, consuming, highly charged challenges for communications professionals.
But what a historic moment to shape a societal/global movement that will continue to grow in urgency as tough times morph … into stable times … and better times.

Thought leadership

Everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout thought leadership …

While the notion of being a thought leader is readily embraced by most clean tech companies (who doesn’t want to be one?), you have to play it right or risk undermining your organization’s credibility.

Eight things you need to know:

1.  The starting point? The word “thought.” Begin by creating a big picture idea with relevance to many. Look outward, not inward. The idea isn’t myopically focused; it has appeal to others outside your company. And while it doesn’t have to appeThought leadership – Beaupre & Co.al to a vast universe, it must appeal to a market or a segment of the clean technology market. Pervasive thought leadership platforms cleverly rise above (A) a company, (B) its products, (C) its technologies, and (D) its services. This is definitely the hard part.

2.  Companies create thought leadership ideas to forge a differentiated position for themselves. By developing big concepts, the thought leadership company creates competitive advantage. How? Because the marketplace perceives it as a mover and shaker: someone shaping the agenda vs. responding to it. Great thought leadership campaigns give their creators an offensive vs. defensive position. And get them noticed. Example: GE’s “Ecomagination” campaign. Despite a former checkered environmental record, GE effectively re-positioned itself: an initial $700 million in clean tech R&D in 2005, expected to grow to $1.5 billion by 2010. GE wants $25 billion in Ecomagination product revenues that same year. A commitment of that size resonates across the industry.

3.  An effective thought leadership idea has forward appeal. It’s not a rehash of where things have been, it’s a brilliant definition of how things should be and where they should be headed. It’s a desired state with emphasis on benefits. Example: Obama has consistently spoken about the need to take dramatic action to revive U.S. manufacturing and create jobs by investing in alternative energy sources. He emphasized it in his inaugural address, “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

4.  Effective thought leadership ideas are embraced (sometimes readily) by others. The ideas are so strong and compelling, that direct competitors either overtly or indirectly respond to – and shape themselves around – the idea. In some instances, competitors adopt the thought leadership idea but morph it with their own language.

5.  Great thought leadership lives a long life … years not days. It isn’t intended to be a short lived advertising tagline or a bumper sticker … it’s a concept that becomes a definitional stake-in-the-ground for high-level corporate messaging.

6.  The best thought leadership ideas are thought provoking, challenge the clean tech marketplace and are perceived as newsworthy by the media.

7.  Now for the second word, the “leadership” part. Great thought leaders don’t sit back and say, “Give me a call when you want to talk about this idea.” They are bold, aggressive and in-your-face. They push the ball up the floor and take their message out with great consistency.

8.  There is – for the bold and socially minded – an even higher state of thought leadership. Companies can rise above their own market niches (and self interests) by making their world a better place to live. Clean technology is at a perfect crossroads for this kind of corporate social responsibility.

Going green without getting a black eye

The International Herald Tribune today reported that technology companies are increasingly trying to go green by cutting data center energy. It turns out as little as 30 to 40 percent of the power flowing into a data center is used to run computers. The rest goes to year-round air conditioning which keeps hardware cool. Even a 1-megawatt data center can accumulate $17 million in electric bills over a 10-year life span.

I’m pleased action is being taken; this is one of the important issues of our time with massive “pay it forward” impact. Unfortunately, most of the technology industry hasn’t been on top of its game in the area of sustainability. Thankfully, some players – like IBM, AMD and HP – have demonstrated leadership. More companies need to ponder and build support around this issue.

The Herald Tribune article included some interesting comments relative to communications, public relations and going green. “So with energy costs high and environmental friendliness making for good public relations, more technology companies are touting ways they are “greening” data centers.” Reporter Brian Bergstein went on to say, “But it is a lot easier to put out a press release than to build a data center with a significantly smaller environmental footprint.”

There’s the rub. As professional communicators, we must lead and inspire management to approach corporate “green alignment” with thoughtfulness and credibility. The key is to build consensus around a legitimate green position, back it up with substance and not overplay it.

As tech companies start wearin’ the environmental green, they have to take care not to strut more stuff than they actually have. Dell’s “Plant a tree” initiative, for example, had a public backlash. Publications such as Computing said the initiative looked more like a marketing ploy than a serious carbon-neutral program. Dell didn’t say whether it was donating any funding to the program to cover the emissions generated by manufacturing its computers. This would have been the more substantive move.

The lesson to remember is that “green alignment” must be a legitimate outgrowth of a company’s core business. Better to do a little bit in this area – and make it real – than over-promise, grandstand and have it linked to vaporware.

Let’s make sure technology companies go green without getting a black eye.