Public relations 101: What is PR?

PR image

From time to time, people will ask me what public relations is. To a certain degree, it surprises me because we live in an age when information is so readily available and businesses, organizations and individuals are all concerned about their image. That said, if you’re a small business owner or leading a small nonprofit organization, you might not have a public relations professional on staff –not to mention that you have more pressing priorities than public relations.Read more

Why Brian Williams’ apology wasn’t enough

As parents, my wife and I are always looking for ways to teach our sons how to grow up to be respectable and respectful young men. So it was last year that my wife found some practical information about teaching kids how to apologize on iMom. I am reminded of it this week in light of the events that led the the 6-month unpaid suspension of NBC News managing editor and anchor Brian Williams.

In case you missed it, here’s a quick synopsis: Brian Williams made news this week for stretching the truth (tantamount to lying) about events that took place when he was covering the Iraq war in 2003. He was covering the delivery of bridge parts when a helicopter ahead of the Chinook in which Williams was a passenger was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. Over time, he began to say that it was his helicopter that was struck. On Friday, Jan. 30, it was repeated in another story, and veterans who were in Iraq said they did not remember that Williams was in that aircraft. For a detailed account of how Williams’ story evolved, I recommend this story from The New York Times.

Faced with criticism from veterans and the public, Williams did the right thing and apologized during his Feb. 4 NBC Nightly News broadcast.

From a public relations perspective, though, he missed the mark. While he did accept responsibility and sincerely expressed his apology, it didn’t go far enough. Listen closely to it, and you hear him apologize only to military men and women, “veterans everywhere who have served while I have not. I hope they know they have my greatest respect and, now, my apology.” That’s a problem because Williams sits in the anchor chair reporting the news to millions of people, the vast majority who are not military personnel or veterans. Don’t we deserve an apology, too?

From a PR strategy, it would have been the wise thing to do. It might not have stopped people from calling him a liar (after all, the memes about him are out of control), but all Williams has as a journalist is his credibility. To start winning that back, I would have advised him to add a statement apologizing to his entire audience. I don’t think that would have prevented his suspension because one does need to accept the consequences of bad decisions, but it would have put him on the right track.

Time will tell if Williams returns to the anchor desk. From media reports I heard today on NPR, if Lester Holt can maintain ratings and keep NBC as the top news program, the network might make the suspension permanent. But it could decide that Williams is worth the risk to try to bring the ratings back. Whatever happens, that’s a whole other PR issue to analyze in the future.


Using public relations superpowers for good: PRSA’s PR for a Day

My public relations career started in 1999 when I was hired to work in the press office at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. From there, I worked at the Pennsylvania Department of Education and later in the communications office at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. During those jobs, it became clear to me that, regardless of the politics, using my public relations skills in government was a way to make an impact on people and society in general. In some small way, the work that I did in communications had an impact on the air we breathe, the water we drink and what was happening in kindergarten classrooms and college lecture halls. I got a tremendous amount of personal and professional satisfaction from that.

So when the time to came to pursue other job opportunities, I was drawn to working at HDC MidAtlantic, the largest provider of affordable housing in Central Pennsylvania. And when I started McCloud Strategic Communications in 2012, I worked exclusively for the Pennsylvania eHealth Partnership Authority to create a system for medical providers to share electronic health records with each other.

Recently, the Central Pennsylvania chapter of the Public Relations Society of America announced to its members that the chapter will be launching a public service project on April 24, 2015, next year called “PRSA’s PR for a Day.” The concept is simple: PR professionals will be partnered with a small nonprofit agency in the Capitol Region to donate their marketing and PR experience and talent to projects for which the agency lacks appropriate skills or resources. The chapter is encouraging us to spend at least three hours on site with the nonprofit. Prior to the event, PR volunteers will receive background information on the nonprofit agency, and their projects and challenges, to help maximize the time spent on-site.

This is an exciting project because it goes to the heart of why I do what I do. If you are interested in having your nonprofit participate, please contact me and I’ll forward the information to the Central Pennsylvania PRSA chapter. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to work together next April!

Four PR lessons I learned from my middle school cross country team

This fall, I took on a new challenge of coaching the Elizabethtown Middle School cross country team. As I’ve become an avid runner, and my family has taken to the sport, too, I wanted to instill my love of the sport in the next generation. It has been a rewarding experience on every level: My girls’ team was 17-4 for the season, and a 7th grade girl shattered an 8-year-old course record at one of the away meets. Meanwhile, my boys had a terrific winning season. Perhaps more important, one of the seventh grade girls, who had never done any running before, asked repeatedly during early practices about the more experienced kids, “How can they run so fast?” or “How can they run so far?” And now, she’s running without stopping and hitting times she never thought possible.

I’ve learned about myself as a person and an athlete being a coach of a school team. Little did I expect that it would be a great reminder about practicing basics in public relations.Read more

The public impact of public relations

More than 20 years ago, I was working as a newspaper reporter for a small daily newspaper called The Record Herald in my hometown of Waynesboro, PA. I covered all kinds of local news, from the municipal government, the county fair, vehicle accidents, fires and people who had grown enormous tomatoes in their backyard gardens.

I remember commenting to a coworker, who like me was a cub reporter just out of college, that I didn’t consider what I was doing as selling newspapers.Read more