Mar 30

Attention Wal-Mart bashers….PR is playing an increasingly important role in managing the beleaguered retailer’s image and reputation

A New York Times article today reports that Wal-Mart is looking to hire two senior PR executives ASAP. One would hold the title of director of media relations and be responsible for overseeing crisis communications. The second gig is described as a "senior director of campaign management" who will be responsible for directing Wal-Mart’s communications staff and the "war room" from which it monitors and responds to the many, negative attacks leveled at the company.

The two new hires will also be tasked with keeping tabs on "opposition research" and "relations with bloggers," many of whom beat the living crap out of Wal-Mart on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

Wal-Mart’s investment in a sophisticated public relations capability is emblematic of the rise in respect and responsibility our field is experiencing. You don’t see the giant retailer pouring more and more moola into print advertisements or broadcast commercials that consumers are increasingly tuning out or dismissing outright. Instead, the organization is attempting to harness the power and effectiveness of public relations to create direct, honest one-on-one conversations with friend and foe alike, leveraging new and emerging technologies in the process.

I’m no fan of Wal-Mart or its practices, but I salute their recognition of the growing importance of PR in shaping, maintaining and defending an organization’s image, credibility and reputation.

Hat tip to Ed Moed for suggesting this.

Mar 07

If NYC is slamming the ad industry for its lack of diversity, can PR be far behind?

New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook has announced that he will be convening public hearings in the next three weeks to slam Madison Avenue for its near total lack of diversity. Seabrook is a man on a mission and has called the New York ad industry’s hiring practices "an embarrassment for a diverse city." In his quest, Seabrook says he intends to subpoena agencies and clients alike.

In my mind, clients are the key to solving the diversity challenge. Until they begin to mandate that agencies become more diverse, we won’t. We’ll talk the talk, undertake studies and keep our eyes open for smart, diverse candidates. But, truth be told, the average public relations firm isn’t spending a lot of its waking time figuring out how to be more diverse. Instead, we focus on staying one step ahead of our clients and competition.

We, for example, are proud of the diversity strides we’ve taken and are happy to have established relationships with traditionally black colleges and universities. But, does our workforce population reflect the greater society? Nope. Does any top public relations firm’s staff reflect the greater population? Nope.

So, before Councilman Seabrook comes gunning for the NYC PR community, here’s hoping that our clients will be a little tougher on us, and mandate that we become more diverse. Because, as we all know in our heart of hearts, diversity isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s a smart business strategy. One day soon, the McDonald’s and Coca-Cola’s are going to wake up and say to themselves, "Hey, wait a minute. Our firms are almost all white. Yet, they’re helping us market to an extremely diverse population. Maybe it’s time we found some new partners?

Oct 21

Journalism’s Evil Twin

I’m in the midst of reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, "Bait and Switch: the (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream."  As she did in her incredible "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" tome of 2001, when she went "undercover" to see what it was like to be a member of America’s working poor, Ehrenreich goes incognito in search of a new story.Int_ehrenreich_25

This one really hits close to home, as the former New York Times columnist reinvents herself as a 50-year-old unemployed public relations freelancer and event planner.  She takes the reader along as she goes job hunting for a full-time corporate PR gig.

Unlike "Nickle and Dimed," however, the story is slow and unappealing. The author spends far too much time ridiculing the various self-help job search gurus and PR executives she encounters on her sojourn. What really got my attention, though, were Ehrenreich’s constant jabs at, and put downs of, the public relations field, which she refers to as "journalism’s evil twin."

Ehrenreich reminds me of so many other "holier-than-thou" journalists who look down their collective noses at PR and refuse to admit how much they depend upon us for ideas and access.  This has obviously been an age-old problem for PR people and isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

Still, I’d love to hear or read something from a journalist that speaks objectively about PR, and recognizes what we bring to today’s 24×7 world.

Well, I can always dream. Oh, and by the way, Ms. Ehrenreich?  We’d never hire anyone with such preconceived notions and such an obvious chip on her shoulder.  Better hang onto that day job.