Monthly Archives: January 2012

Who’s Your Daddy?

"...behind every successful company is a Sugar Daddy handing out the cash."

I must admit that I was not too excited about Chapter 5, “Investor Relations” in Guth and Marsh’s Adventures in Public Relations. Something about the words “investors” and “shareholders” lull me to sleep. But alas, PR professionals have to face the facts; behind every successful company is a Sugar Daddy handing out the cash.

Investor Relations is a seemingly complicated topic, but it ultimately boils down to full disclosure and honesty. Money is the backbone of investor relations–making this relationship even more sensitive than those with other publics. Some of the greatest PR blunders are a direct result of poor communication between a company and its investors.

Enron is a perfect example of investor relations gone awry. The major energy and commodities company provided false information about the company’s financial condition in an attempt to keep investors. When the company filed for bankruptcy in 2001, however, the truth was revealed.

Investors and shareholders were furious about the deceptive practices and took legal action. Enron’s top executives took the brunt of the punishment, including Mark Koenig, who had to serve an 18-month sentence in federal prison. Can somebody get this guy a box of Kleenex?

So how does a company avoid Enron’s and poor Mr. Koenig’s fate?

A recent article in CFO World offers some smart tips on how to maintain relationships and assure stability in a floundering global economy. The article suggests that a C-suite remain a prominent figure when communicating with investors. This gives the information more credibility and will help quell any concerns.

CFO World also suggests establishing a succinct message from the start and sticking to it. I think this is a necessary step in all PR campaigns. Consistent and stable communications convey a sense of reliability. It is important to build this foundation of trust long before any form of crisis occurs. Many professionals make the mistake of waiting until it is too late to form a coherent direction for their company.

The book explains how PR professionals are becoming less involved with investor relations as it shifts to other areas of a company. Should PR professionals step aside and let someone else take over? How many people does it take to make investors happy?

I think investor relations should be a three person job; one person who understands the numbers (Bill from accounting), another who can translate those stats to the general public (PR Guru, duh), and finally a C-suite who can give his/her stamp of approval. A trifecta such as this would not only provide honest information, but offer it in a palatable and satisfying manner for the resident Sugar Daddy.

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What’s in it for Me?!!

"I'm a member of blah blah"

Membership relations are highly specialized, but overwhelmingly common, bonds that need constant care and attention.

What’s that you ask? How can something be “highly specialized,” yet “overwhelmingly common?” Well, I’ll tell you! A membership in an association entails a level of exclusivity and privilege. The thing is, there are currently over 150,000 associations in the U.S. alone!

I personally have been a proud member of numerous associations; the PRSSA, the National Honor Society, my middle school drama club, TY Beanie Baby Club, Lisa Frank Fan Club–I think you get the picture.

The Encyclopedia of Associations states “Associations serve their members in many ways, but, above all, they do for the membership that which individuals cannot do for themselves.” Basically, associations are meant to support, educate, and untie members in a way beyond their own abilities.

Our dear friends Guth and Marsh, of Issues in Public Relations, offered a number of examples where member relations were tested. They site the American Library Association as one group that rallied together to fight challenges from the outside and spread awareness. Members of the the American Library Association created the Library Bill of Rights to counteract potential censorship of reading material. Their efforts criticized book banning on a large-scale and encouraged communities to do the same.

In a more recent, similar situation, teachers from the New Jersey Education Association banned together to protest legislation. The state is trying to pass a bill that will adjust healthcare benefits and pension for public workers at the detriment of the employees. The teachers decided to maintain a sense of order, and only rallied in the morning before classes. They wore matching red shirts to signify a halt to the bill and show unity. Their protest exemplifies the purpose of an association; according to the writeup, “for the staff themselves, it was all about supporting each other and taking a stand against the legislation.”

While both of these instances show a sense of comradery, I can’t help but wonder, are the associations or the people responsible for their efforts? Do memberships really benefit the members or are they just a  figure head? This seems to me like a “chicken or egg” argument that could go on for ages…

From a PR standpoint, it’s imperative to tend to these relationships on a regular basis. Members want to feel a sense of worth and inclusion–especially if they are paying to be a part of something! The best associations have more to offer than a name and some button that says “I’m a member of blah blah.” They offer advice, newsletters, forums, and support. Both the American Library Association and the New Jersey Education Association deserve three cheers for not only relating to their publics, but giving them a voice.

So if a member asks herself, “What’s in it for me?!” associations should be prepared to with a list of reasons and rewards for membership. Associations must emphasize their worth through an array of media channels, but more importantly, by using existing members as spokespeople.

 

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It Starts from Within

"People at all levels can inadvertently develop tunnel vision."

The communicative relationship between a business and its employees is not only important–it’s necessary! Like any structure, a company must have a strong foundation before it can start to build or expand. Unfortunately, it looks like there is a disconnect between how and what information is communicated from upper to lower level members of a business. According to Guth and Marsh of our handy blog guide, Issues in Public Relations, 71% of managers feel they are truthful with employees, yet only 53% of employees agree!

Yikes! So what is the issue here? I feel, especially in large corporations, there is a lack of understanding for how each department functions independently. People at all levels can inadvertently develop tunnel vision. They become so hyper-focused on their work and forget what is best for the other departments involved, and even the overall company.

Should employers offer full disclose to their employees? Or would excessive information become overwhelming?

It seems unfair to expect each individual in a company to understand every department inside and out, however I think companies should require employees to meet (at least once a year) to discuss what they are doing. Managers today need to keep all lines of communication open and strong.

The best businesses go above and beyond mere business communication and see the well being of each employee as a major concern. Dealer.com is a business in Burlington, Vt that exemplifies this philosophy; they hookup their employees with fitness centers, nutritionists, entertainment, and more. Talk about kickbacks! Just like little Johnny needs a gold star from the teacher, so does Steve in the IT department.

To what extent does a business spoil it’s employees? After all, aren’t consumers equally important?

Target was recently faced with a PR crisis of their own when employees at a Texas location shunned a breastfeeding customer to the fitting rooms. The customer was outraged and ordered the members of the Mom Squad to join her in a National demonstration. The poor Target Corporation was stuck between the lactating mom’s and their uneasy employees.

What should a company do in this situation? Stand by its employees or the customers?

Target remained neutral, but ultimately leaned toward the customer. They released the following statement, “We continually educate our team members in stores across the country on store policies to ensure all guests have a great experience. Target has been in touch with the store to ensure all team members are aware of our breastfeeding policy. Target is proud to support all mothers who breastfeed year-round, including today.”

While this didn’t turn into a PR catastrophe, I would say Target’s attention to employee relations is sob-worthy in this instance. Come on guys, don’t leave your employees high and dry!

Employee relations means taking care of a key public in good times and bad. It’s important for businesses to maintain communications across all departments and offer rewards when they are warranted. Poor employee relations can lead to a low morale and mediocre output. Public Relations practitioners must keep in mind, everything starts from within the company.

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Shoulder to Cry on, or a Pat on the Back?

 PR Tissue Issues is a way to look back at past Public Relations blunders and either sigh or cry.

In some cases, PR pros rose to the occasion and used crisis communications as an opportunity to improve their image. Others, however, sank with the ship. I will offer my thoughts on these sad events in the PR industry and decide if they deserve a shoulder to cry on or a pat on the back.

Of course, there is no use looking at the past without considering the present. PR Tissue Issues links the mistakes of the past to crisis communications in the current PR world.

I have this unique theory that history tends to repeat itself–but that’s just me.

Happy Readings,

Ms. Pal

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