February 7, 2012
Are you seeing the world through rose colored glasses?
This phrase has often been on my mind recently as we’re mired in divisive political discussions and this last week in the Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle. It has caused me to wonder if we can ever be unbiased, or ever read straight news stories. I realized we all have filters but they are often in our subconscious. It’s amazing we can hear the same words and listen to the same news story and come away with different interpretations.
When we read the paper, a magazine article, watch TV news or even (my favorites) Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, it is the reporter/anchor’s interpretation of a story; their version of an event. But what we actually hear is yet another version that’s colored by our own beliefs and background. It’s really not something we can control.
As concerned citizens and especially as public relations and communications professionals, we need to make sure we’re doing our best to remove those filters before advising clients or making decisions. I find one of the easiest ways to remove the filters is to gather information from many sources.
- Watch TV news on MSNCB and Fox.
- Read the local underground paper as well as the traditional daily.
- Listen to NPR and talk radio.
- Read a blog you like and then one that’s cited by that person as completely biased and wrong.
- Talk with – and listen to — people you know are on both sides of the issue.
One of the things I like about social media sites like Facebook is when people are excited about a subject, there are lots of posts/messages where I can learn. I suggest you read them critically. It may seem there are many different filters on a subject, but studies show we gravitate to people who are similar to us. It’s only natural.
So, while social media provides new sources, they might not present an opposing view. It’s easy to gain a false sense of security around an issue.
When next you are faced with learning about a subject, check your sources and add a few you might not normally review. Look beyond the normal websites and blogs to those sites, people and blogs you know will offer an opposing view.
And for heaven’s sake, listen to what’s provided on all the sites, and from friends. If you read but don’t listen or learn, you’re just wasting your time. As a communications professional that’s a very dangerous road. You need to understand both sides if you’re going to offer advice.
If we’re going to make this world a better place we can only do this if we look at issues and situations through multiple filters. We will only be able to collaborate on an issue once we realize and accept the many different filters through which others see the same world.
How do you make sure you’re listening to multiple sides of each story?
November 8, 2011
Almost since the beginning of my consulting career, I’ve dealt with clients who want guaranteed results for the work I do. I have never worked that way and hope you haven’t either. How I handle the discussion with prospective clients varies depending on the project but, in my opinion, is based on the fact our profession is art and not science. We are skilled in our art, but can’t always guarantee that our work will generate the results a client wants.
I find that the stronger the partnership between client and agency/consultant, the more likely everyone will be happy in the end. When I’m talking with a prospect, I look for that partnership and its absence often signals the end of discussions.
It also seems to me that until more companies understand our craft, we’ll continue to be dealing with this issue. The Public Relations Society of America’s Business Case for Public Relations includes a lot of the tools we can use to help tell our story. The resources available include definitions and helpful articles pertaining to the value of public relations and various aspects of public relations pertaining to strategy, measurement and how the craft fits within corporations for maximum effectiveness. The Business Case was initially developed by a committee of industry leaders. Today, PRSA regularly adds to the content using a wide variety of subject matter experts.
Knowing the business case for public relations is only part of the battle. We also need to understand our Code of Ethics and make sure our clients understand its importance to our practice and the profession in general. When working with new clients I like to discuss the Code with them in conjunction with my own professional credentials. This helps them to understand the strategic nature of our business.
Earlier this week, I was contacted about doing some fundraising for an upcoming event. The prospective client and I talked (well, emailed) about the project and discussed rates. Because it was going to be a “decision by committee” some of my danger signs were already evident. However, after learning my rates, the next email asked if there was a correlation between my rate and the amount of money raised or if the client “hoped for the best.”
Because this was a fundraising project, I immediately looked at the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethics where guaranteed results are prohibited. That’s all fine but how do you explain it in a way the prospect can understand. I chose to compare our profession to lawyers and accountants who also charge hourly for their work. I asked the prospect if he would consider asking them to guarantee results in exchange for their fee. He agreed that was a fair question but in the end, we also agreed that the relationship wasn’t the best for both of us for a variety of reasons.
Choosing clients needs to involve mutual respect for each other and a partnership. I know some professionals who work well with guaranteed results but most do not. What has been your experience? How do you handle the question when it’s asked by prospective clients?
November 26, 2010
Note: This is the last in a series of posts about communications and the recent election.
This year’s Alaska Senate race has made headlines across the county as Senator Lisa Murkowski made history as the first to successfully win a write-in campaign since the 1950s. Unfortunately, it also resulted in some headlines Alaskans are a little more chagrined about. From a communications standpoint both issues point directly to the First Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Here’s what happened:
US Senate candidate Joe Miller felt he was being unfairly targeted by the press who were investigating his personal life and background (CBS News). So, he told Alaska media after a debate on October 11 that he would no longer answer questions about his personal life. Just six days later, the candidate’s private security guards arrested the editor of a well-known online newspaper at a public event held at an Anchorage public school. The reporter said he wanted to talk with Miller but was not allowed to do so. (Anchorage Daily News)
Is the reporter protected by our Constitution? Should Miller’s private guards have arrested him in a public school? Did he have a right to be there? Did he have a right to ask the questions he wanted asked?
As the election drew near and discussions heated up over how the Division of Elections would interpret voter intent, chatter among Miller’s supporters increased about the need to have those with names similar to “Lisa Murkowski” register as write-in candidates in order to confuse voters and highlight the requirement for Murkowski’s name to be correctly spelled. Write-in candidates could register as late as five days before the November 2 election so chatter especially increased as the day grew near.
On, October 28, the deadline for write-in to register, right wing radio host Dan Fagan focused a good portion of his afternoon radio show on encouraging listeners to register as write-in candidates to confuse voters. He offered his listeners prizes (coffee mug and maybe a trip to Hawaii) for doing so, and especially if their name was close to Murkowski’s. The transcript was later reprinted by the daily newspaper. As a result of Fagan’s actions, about 150 individuals added their name to the write-in ballot. The controversy sparked was intense as many felt the show had crossed a line well beyond free speech by promoting chaos during an election to affect the outcome.
The station took the show off the air the following day. The following Monday, Fagan returned to the air along with his boss to discuss what had happened. Fagan admitted he had over-stepped his bounds.
But…did he? Was it really free speech? Or trying to fix an election? Did Fagan cross a line in using the airwaves to promote his message? Or is this guerilla campaigning at its best?
Earlier: This Election Was Personal For Me
Liar Liar Pants on Fire
Your Mother Would Be Ashamed You Said That
Message of the Day…Seems Simple but not always…
November 10, 2010
Note: This is the second in a series of election posts.
This familiar phrase came to mind several times during this year’s political season. So does the image of Pinocchio’s nose growing in the famous children’s story. Candidates and their supporters often proclaimed outrageous statements without first checking facts. It seems the desire to make noise and create negative attention for an opponent was often more important than accuracy.
All this does is further erode trust in our public officials and the electoral process. Voters want to know why TO vote for someone, or what the person can OFFER. They tire easily when things get negative and especially sensational. Strong political campaigns and candidates tell a story about why the person or initiative will help the audience.
Research shows negative campaigning does work so that’s likely why it’s continuing but it doesn’t really explain why the untruthful campaigning continues. What I don’t think works is lying or embellishing. This is also becoming more of an issue resulting in the growth of websites such as factcheck.org.
Additionally, the tremendous growth in social media since the 2008 campaign means that virtually anyone can call themselves a journalist. Bloggers, candidates or individuals with some influence could send a message that was passed around social media circles in rapid-fire fashion without regard to the truth. As you can imagine, this could be quickly damaging to a candidate.
One of the roles I had on Senator Lisa Murkowski’s campaign was to monitor Twitter and Facebook. It quickly became apparent that individuals outside Alaska were attempting to influence the election through their accusations. One, especially, was so outrageous I won’t give it credence here. However, it was retweeted hundreds of times by the end of the day since the writer was “influential” among a group of conservative voters.
The challenge was in deciding which rumors merited a response taking us away from our strategy and message. Throughout the day, our team monitored traditional and social media to determine if changes in messaging strategy were needed. Interestingly, supporters addressed the vast majority of challenges on our Facebook page while the majority of untruths/rumors on Twitter did not reach most Alaskans.
As a result, we were able to stay mostly on message. What we did do, however, was modify emphasis based on feedback from research, more than from the social media universe. This allowed us to respond to what OUR audience wanted rather than the background noise.
I do feel, however, this may change over time as even more professional journalists turn to social media for information and sources. Just as professional journalists abide by a code of ethics, so should bloggers. Many rules are yet to be written for the free-wheeling community but I don’t believe this means slanderous writings should be left unchallenged. What do you think?
If you just cant’ get enough, check out these references for more midterm lies.
Coming next: Your Mother Would Be Ashamed if She Knew You Said That
January 19, 2010
Friday the Anchorage Daily News announced they would be laying off more staff, something we seem to read about daily from newspapers around the country. At the same time, radio and television news crews are also crunched for staff. A recent Harris Poll reported just “two in five Americans read a newspaper almost every day.” Many of you may be saying, yeah, yeah, why would I?
A confession: I still take the daily paper. My husband and I (he more than me) want to touch the paper. We like drinking our coffee and turning the pages. It’s what we’ve done for many years and our parents did as well. Okay, we’re also baby boomers.
Today many of us get our news from 140 characters and not even the1-2 minute sound bites of television news. But what we’re not getting there is the real story, the in depth analysis that causes us to think, question and wonder. In today’s news environment, Woodward and Bernstein would never have been able to report on Watergate; Julia O’Malley (Anchorage Daily News columnist who’s terrific) would not have been able to share with so many the heart-wrenching story of a soldier injured in the Middle East and many in-depth examinations of what’s happening in our world.
Blogs and other online communiqué are replacing traditional journalists one by one. As one of those bloggers, realizing I am new one, I believe we have an obligation to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (yes…so help me God). We need to take a few minutes to make sure what we’re saying is accurate and forthright.
In the traditional media world, there are checks and balances that (most of the time) make sure that happens. As a blogger though, I’m pretty sure most of us don’t have editors looking over our shoulders to question what we’re writing and make sure it’s true, accurate and complete.
How do you balance the need to be first against the need to be correct? Have you missed being first but then found your story, just a day later, is more accurate and thorough? How have you handled the situation if you see something you think it inaccurate?