Category Archives: Communications

The Future Looks Bright For The PR Profession: Lessons From The 2018 PRSA International Conference

While attending PRSA’s International Conference in Austin this year, I thought how proud JJ&W’s founder, Patrick Jackson, would have been of all the conversations revolving around measuring behavioral outcomes and the PR practitioner’s role as relationship-builders and strategists… particularly at a time when our organizations, and our country, need these skills the most.

A few themes from the keynote and breakout sessions:

1.  As PR Professionals, it’s our job to help organizations understand how their key audiences think – how to reach them – and motivate them to behave

There were many sessions offering glimpses into the psychological profiles of Baby Boomers, Gen "X", Millenials/Gen "Y" and Gen "Z".Aria Finger, millennial marketing expert and founder of TMI Strategic Consulting, has engaged 6 million young people with her “DoSomething.org” website.Described as a “global movement for good,”she takes a creative approach to getting Gen Z involved in issues ranging from anti-smoking campaigns to collecting clothing for teens in need by asking them 3 simple questions:

       "What are you passionate about?”

       “How much time do you have?”

        “What would you like to do?”

Check out their website for more examples…including the “Teens For Jeans” partnership with Aeropostle.By the way – their original outreach for “Teens for Jeans” via email registered 89 volunteers – but their text outreach garnered 3,560 responses!Know what channels work best with your target audiences.

2.   PR can help drive the “Purpose Beyond Profit” movement by helping organizations identify the causes that make the most sense for their business.

In the “Digital Transformation of Communications” session, panelists discussed the fact that more than ever, CEOs and businesses are expected to lead change.Patagonia's very clear purpose of making the environment better and Starbuck's“Changing the World One Cup At A Time” campaign are two of many examples cited at the conference.Jonathan Mildenhall, marketing expert and former CMO of Airbnb, talked about the concept of “purpose driving performance”.He described how Airbnb took on the transgender discrimination issue with their “Mankind/Womankind/Trans-kind” universal belonging campaign.They used the triggering event of the ESPN ESPY Awards in 2015, when Caitlyn Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Award for courage, to launch the campaign.How has their approach impacted the bottom line, you ask?Airbnb now has 4,200,000 homes, 70 million guests and the company is valued at $31 billion.

3.    PR has the skills to bring conflicting parties together and facilitate civil debate and “eloquent listening”. 

The current Edelman Trust Barometer ratings show trust is at an all-time low. Keynote speakerRobert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, cites several reasons for the tumultuous, anger-filled environment we have today :

  • Tribal Geography (we live — online and off– where everyone thinks like us; we need to break out of our geographic and psychological bubbles, but it’s uncomfortable so we don’t like to do it)
  • Stagnant Wages:  Median wages since the 70s have not changed very much and there is a general frustration that “the system is rigged against us” – thus explaining the political gravitation to more extreme political figures like Trump and Sanders, who represent a move away from “politics as usual”.
  • Media Stirring The Pot.  The media is good at using anger, fighting and conflict as a way of grabbing reader/viewer attention.  As a society, we’ve lost the ability to listen with respect and engage in civil dialogue.  Reich says PR people can have influence not over the conflict of debates but over the tone of the debate.

There is an opportunity for PR to showcase our trust and relationship-building skills…both externally (i.e. by engaging communities opposed to an issue) and internally (i.e. within our employee work groups), capitalizing on our counseling and organization development skills.

4.    PR can help our organizations “break through the clutter”, by both using what we know about graphic psychology and utilizing emerging technologies.  Fun fact from consultant Christopher Hannegin:  4 out of 5 Smartphone users check their device within 15 minutes of waking up in the morning.  Yes…guilty here! 

And if you don’t believe we live in an over-communicated world, check out www.internetlivestats.com to see how many photos have been posted to Instagram, how many tweets have been sent etc…

According to Hannegin, we need to “tell the unexpected story” and “show familiar stuff in new ways”, incorporating the use of infographics when relaying complicating earnings data for our clients, for example.Stella Low, Sr. VP of Dell, urges us to continue learning about immersive technology and to consider how “virtual reality” and “augmented reality” can be used as new tools in the PR toolbox.

5.    PR is worth its weight in gold during crisis situations.

For years we have been talking about the need for the “court of public opinion” to be considered along with the “court of law” – and it is clear from the number of crisis communication presentations at conference that we have arrived at the decisionmaking table in crisis situations.Higher education consultant Joe Brennan and Eric Stern did a session on the “6 Tasks Every Leader Must Do” in a crisis and urged PR practitioners to:

  • Prepare for multiple scenarios – and while you’re preparing the spokesperson, include your 2nd in command — needs backup!
  • Guide leadership to speed up a traditionally slow decisionmaking cycle – your statement can’t wait in today’s 24/7 news cycle
  • Define the end of the crisis; rituals help to transition (e.g. a candlelight vigil after a shooting allows people time to grieve, and then move on)
  • Conduct a lessons learned review – it’s an opportunity to fix what went wrong for next time – but also, to recognize what went well.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast of NH.For more information, visit www.jjwpr.com or email her at rschell@jjwpr.com.

Strategic PR Planning Is Critical To An Organization’s Success

If your first thought when presented with a public relations problem or opportunity is to brainstorm tactics – e.g. “let’s do a newsletter” “send a tweet”, “post on Facebook”, “hold a meeting” — then you are planning, but not strategically.

If your first thoughts are: “how does this opportunity fit with our overall goals?”, “what behaviors do we need from our priority stakeholders?”, “what are the underlying psychological or structural barriers in the way of achieving those behaviors?” , “what communication/behavioral theories or case studies could support or guide our decisions?” … then you are being strategic.

I explain to PRSA Strategic Planning workshop attendees that they probably are strategic thinkers already. However, it’s often easier to default to tactics that are in our comfort zone and can be quickly implemented. The problem is that just executing tactics without strategic direction could end up being a waste of our time and our organization’s resources. In today’s environment, public relations practitioners are being held accountable to the bottom line … we need to be able to justify our actions to senior management and provide measurable results, just as legal, finance and other departments do..

The strategic planning process consists of five distinct areas of work: 1) Establishing Direction, 2) Gathering/Conducting Research, 3) Objective Setting by Priority Publics, 4) Determining Strategy, Tactics, Evaluation, 5) Setting Timeline, Budget and Staffing. Once the plan has been determined, we need to stay flexible, knowing the environment we are operating in could change; a “triggering event” could impact the effectiveness of our strategy; or research could show that our priority audiences are not responding to our key messages.

Before we even begin the implementation of our plan, we must have a clear idea of what success will look like …for example: our internal audience will buy-in to and support our process; senior management will lead by example; our budgets and person power will increase; we will achieve the behaviors we set out to change or reinforce; and we will become an integral part of the leadership team charged with achieving the organization’s overall goals.

I’ll be presenting a half-day version of the day-long workshop at PRSA’s International Conference in Austin, TX on October 7. Join me!
For more information about Jackson Jackson & Wagner, visit our website at www.jjwpr.com

Patrick Jackson and The Start of Modern Behavioral Public Relations

Pat Jackson, JJ&W’s founder, was a behaviorist. Plain and simple. He taught those of us fortunate enough to work with him over the years to learn to be behaviorists, too.

Behavior change is hard – ask anyone who has tried to go on a diet, stop smoking or change a dominant personality trait – so Pat taught us to look for triggering events that could be a hook into behavior change, and to engineer behavior reinforcement into existing behavior patterns. Most of us, for example, go to the dentist twice a year – and for those who aren’t good about flossing as a regular part of their oral hygiene, those dentist visits become “triggering events” to “cram floss” – usually the 2 weeks prior to the visit, and definitely the two weeks after the visit, when the dentist’s lectures and scary-looking gingivitis posters are top of mind. But it is what happens in between those visits to reinforce flossing behavior that is the key to going from “cram flossing” to flossing that is part of your regular oral hygiene routine.

We’re about to embark on a campaign to educate and change behaviors around an important health problem — Lyme disease. There is a need to educate both children and parent, about Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses so they can take steps to prevent it … and when prevention isn’t possible, to identify and treat it early to minimize long-term effects.
Data is leading us to target kids between the ages of 5 and 15 – particularly those with greater exposure to ticks, such as those kids in outdoor camp programs. This is a fantastic opportunity to partner with local not-for-profits who serve children and their families organizations for the one-two punch of effectiveness, to reach the parents so they can reinforce the behaviors we are teaching. These behaviors include, on the simplest of levels, how to conduct a check for ticks – and if a tick is found, how to remove it and what to do with it afterwards. If we think like strategic communicators about the best time to check for ticks, it’s when you’re naked – so tips that can be posted in the bathroom – and even more specifically, the shower stall — make sense.
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In fact, Pat was a big proponent of using the bathrooms to communicate messages, and I had to laugh when I went out to eat one of my favorite restaurants in Amesbury, Mass and saw the poster advertising the fact that the restaurant is now open for lunch, right on the bathroom door. Educating those most apt to come to lunch — a current customer. Very effective!
Whether you are spreading news about new restaurant hours or how to prevent Lyme disease, two cardinal rules prevail:

1. Learn about your target audience and the best place to reach them with your message
2. Think about the natural ways to reinforce behavior change until it becomes a force of habit … kind of like recycling is with many today.

Yes, Pat was a behaviorist, whether he was in a boardroom or a bathroom. He often closed his speeches by talking about how the directions posted near the hand dryers in the bathrooms should have read: 1. Push button to turn on dryer. 2. Place hands under dryer. 3. Rub hands vigorously under dryer. 4. Wipe hands on pants! Because 9 times out of 10, that’s what we all do.

(Want to learn more about Pat Jackson and his approach to behavior change? Check him out at www.patrickjacksonpr.com.)

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is senior counsel and partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm. For more information about JJ&W, visit their website at www.jjwpr.com or email Robin at rschell@jjwpr.com.