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Liam O'Mahony

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September is PRSA Ethics Month

Every September the Public Relations Society of America commemorates the importance of ethics and advocates upholding its principles to members. Here is the Code of Ethics that outlines the core values and decision-making steps for members to abide by and adhere to the highest industry standards for one’s organization or clients.

Here is my “ETHICS” acronym since they are such a popular part of our business culture and everyday parlance.

   Everything That Helps Individuals Communicate Straight (or Comply with Stakeholders!)

Ethics is such a broad, complicated and much-debated topic in many sectors. Its mere mention can elicit a variety of perspectives and definitions, yielding to further discussion or debate that can be equally vast, divisive and troublesome. With so many controversial examples of ethical behavior looming large in the business and political arenas, ensuring that ethics has a prominent place as a core principle of normal operations is no easy feat. Rather, the elements and tenets of ethics, its considerations and consequences have such a far-reaching impact in which people can delve into philosophy, morality and legality when broaching the topic.

At some point in your career, you may have experienced, observed or read about ethical breaches or questionable situations such as:

  • Disparaging someone to further a cause or undermining a competitor, colleague or client.
  • Having a conflict of interest that wasn’t disclosed at the outset of a relationship or project.
  • Taking a shortcut that might otherwise go unnoticed by other stakeholders.
  • Manipulating information to fit one’s objectives or needs or those of a client.
  • Withholding material information from a member of the media.
  • A person or agency “stealing a client” or “poaching staff” from a rival, directly or indirectly.
  • Allowing others to believe someone else’s work or accolades were yours.

People like to say you can validate or test your response to an ethical scenario by asking yourself one of these questions:

  1. Would you feel good about yourself if your words or actions pertaining to the situation were printed on the front page of the newspaper?
  2. Would your mother be proud of you if she read about it?
  3. What if your actions were read to a ballroom full of your colleagues and friends?

When a potential ethical quandary emerges, one is left to ponder whether it could be a minor bump to navigate through or around (if said individual is the only one consciously aware of it) or does it have the potential to mushroom into a minefield of public awareness (when action is eventually discovered by organization, client, customer or independent third party).

Does the element of discovery only make an ethical breach more unacceptable? It is perhaps similar to the old saying about a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. If no other parties to the situation realize the significance of an ethical implication or ensuing consequences, is it a forgivable error, whether by acts of commission or omission, or a major professional transgression and violation of trust that could bring shame to the practitioner and his or her organization or firm?

Does your organization have a concrete code of ethics manual or resource guide to consult when faced with situations that require good judgment and proper decision making? Its scope and relevance probably should be formally addressed and posted or published in some fashion. Such a guide should also be issued as a requirement for managers and employees to sign as an acknowledgement and intent to comply, agreement to accept as part of the company’s culture and knowledge of location for quick access and reference for employees.

Earmarking the position ethics and decision-making principles holds within organizations and the emphasis in which they are maintained may vary among industries and individuals in terms of their priority or commitment. The ideals that come from developing and embracing an ethical standard guide outlining honesty and fairness when dealing with an organization’s many stakeholders and the public surely would seem to be strong candidates for universal adoption in the business world.

One person’s ceiling is another man’s floor, and the subjective, philosophical interpretations of ethical conduct pose so many sides to so many scenarios to opposing participants, creating the proverbial “grey area” or “he said/she said” defenses. Who is to judge when two sides are pitted against each other in their pursuit of their competitive objectives or management-mandated incentives, deemed righteous and earned in their eyes?

Even when the need arises for an attorney, mediator, ombudsmen or a human resources referee, both sides of a given ethical dispute may never budge even if the facts and actions are clearly documented for all parties to dissect in the aftermath.

If only the deployment of ethical behavior and the importance of honesty and disclosure were as simple as The Golden Rule. It is often a little more complicated than that oft-cited virtue depending on situations, perspectives and priorities. Perhaps The Silver Rule could at least be embraced in which one always aims to do the right thing by their organization and stakeholders.

PRSA Buffalo Chapter ~ Crisis Communications Panel

The PRSA Buffalo Niagara Chapter hosted its third Sunrise Seminar on Tuesday at the Hospice Buffalo Education Center. Twenty-five members of varying industry experience levels attended to hear a one-hour discussion and Q&A concerning crisis communications planning and response. The panel consisted of three public relations managers, Marissa Wilson from Perry’s, Katie McKenna from Tops and Kandis Fuller from Univera Healthcare.

The focus of the seminar was to hear the panelists’ perspectives on planning for, managing and effectively communicating during a crisis. Panelists touched on several recent public relations dilemmas, corporate-community issues and celebrity snafus, such as cruise lines, “pink slime” and Paula Deen. logo

The discussion reminded me of a great presentation on crisis response planning at a PIO symposium in Phoenix last spring.

Beyond the generally accepted best practices of updating your crisis response plan, preparing key messages, media training spokespersons, responding accurately and in a timely fashion, controlling your information channels and limiting your community/content managers to a select few, the key collective takeaways from the panelists for practitioners who may take on a significant role in an issues management or crisis communications situation were as follows:

  1. Don’t react too fast; be ready before you present the situation from your company’s perspective.
  2. Offer behind-the-scenes access to reporters to provide context and additional background for balanced coverage.
  3. Speak first, speak clearly and speak often.
  4. Stand firm in your role as the expert in the court of public opinion for your organization, management and stakeholders.
  5. Uphold your values as you prepare your key personnel and navigate the organization through the situation.
  6. Take a breath, pause and do research instead of fretting or rushing to a response.
  7. Gather the pertinent information and uncover all of the scenarios before you create your plan of response.
  8. Have an efficient approval process in place for your communications response approach and materials to avoid becoming mired in minutiae of edits with too many “wordsmiths in the situation room.”
  9. When monitoring employee social media behavior, use traditional face-to-face communication to address grievances or issues so they don’t always feel compelled to seek out media outlets to vent complaints or frustrations in the workplace. Sometimes people just want to be heard but yet often feel bad when they realize the scope of their “broadcast” of internal matters.
  10. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal in any issues management or crisis communications situation is to protect your company’s integrity, values and image while maintaining public trust in your organization.

Check out these 10 tips for preparing for a crisis from a 2012 PRSA blog.

August Issue of IABC Communication World

The August issue of IABC Communication World features the perils of social media.

Are You Meeting Your Meeting Efficiencies?

“What time is our 9 a.m. meeting?” “Do you know which room we are in today?”

Are these questions you hear too often in your organization? Do you get bogged down in a meeting meltdown when they are stacked on top of each other? Are you meeting after the meeting to clarify what transpired and schedule yet another meeting?

What is your solution when you feel like you have reached meeting threshold? Do you try to skip out on some or send a proxy to gather information?

If ideas are the soul of business and entrepreneurship, perhaps meetings are the veins to transfer and cultivate the concepts and visions of collaboration all while occasionally challenging, frustrating and confusing their participants.

We all have our share of meetings, and we need them to manage normal operations, improve communication and procedures and foster innovative thinking. Perhaps more intrinsically, we are social, curious beings that like to discuss ideas and have our chance to perform on stage with an audience regardless of its size.

But what happens when a meeting’s quest for efficiency begets new inefficiencies or additional meetings in troubling meta fashion?

I like to think about miscellaneous projects throughout any meetings I attend and lead. I listen and take notes, but I also scribble down ideas or activities for other projects simultaneously. It’s my own way of feeling efficient, staying focused and planning ahead if a meeting is running long or a discussion has gone off the track. I’m still engaged and still processing all that is going on in the meeting, but I feel the need to be glancing around the corner, asking myself:

  • “What are the concrete action steps that should be completed by the group for the next session?”
  • “Will this same issue or topic come up the next time we meet?”

I keep a dated page of notes for every meeting and I organize them into the appropriate folder. Sometimes I will refer to the last gathering to review what really transpired. I want to know where there was progress for the group or my own action items. That’s the old reporter in me trying to address the core news-gathering questions.

I aim to maximize productivity before, during and after meetings in the following ways:

  1. A day or two in advance, I like to email the group a 3/4-page agenda with three or four categories or sections comprised of bulleted updates or upcoming activities.
  2. I strive real hard to keep it to one hour; 40 minutes is ideal.
  3. To break up the routine of a standing meeting, I like to invite a guest presenter (where appropriate or relevant) to speak to the group for the last 30 minutes once the agenda has been covered. I used to bring in a different media or advertising representative every month. That worked great until we exhausted the supply of contacts. It was very productive for story idea discussions and networking.
  4. If I’m not leading the meeting and the discussion strays from the agenda timeline, I’ll try a subtle maneuver to steer the dialogue back to the next matter. A segue comment or “softball/leading” question can often do the trick.
  5. I like to take my action step notes on the agenda and provide a quick recap of what I am promising to deliver for the next session as the meeting concludes.
  6. For professional and nonprofit association board meetings, I always skim the PDF packet of minutes before the next meeting to see where ideas are reaching fruition or projects were actually completed [It also helps to do a search for your name to make sure you haven’t dropped the ball on something!].

In closing, if you hold a meeting, prepare an agenda; if you don’t have an agenda, share a story; if you don’t have a story, make a point; and if you don’t have a point, give up the floor and please pass the mic…!”

July Issue of IABC Communication World

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The July issue of the IABC Communication World magazine features cover story “how to make your way up the career ladder.”

Second Annual BEMA Award Winners

The second annual Buffalo Excellence in Media (BEMA) awards dinner was held at Salvatore’s on Friday, April 26. There were nearly 250 people from various local media outlets and communications organizations in attendance as winners were announced in 11 categories. Melissa Holmes from WGRZ-TV and Jickster from 97 Rock served as the event emcees.

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The winners were as follows:

Radio Personality of the Year Radio Station of the Year
Jud Heussler/WKSE-FM WGRF-FM/97 Rock
Best Use of Social Media Behind the Scenes Maverick
Rob Lucas/STAR 102.5
Mike Mombrea, Jr. /WIVB-TV
TV Personality of the Year TV Station of the Year:
Diana Fairbanks/WIVB-TV
WGRZ-TV
Sales Executive of the Year Backpack Journalist of the Year
Lenny Kostelny/WIVB/WNLO-TV
Ed Drantch/WIVB-TV
Rising Star Award Trailblazer Award
Brittni Smallwood/WIVB-TV
Phil Arno/WBBZ-TV
Pinnacle Award
Eileen Buckley/WBFO-FM

Cheers to the Irish, Near and Far!

Cities, villages, economic development agencies and businesses large and small in Ireland are in the midst of a year-long initiative called “The Gathering” that is sure to help augment the country’s economic recovery and omahony-coat-of-arms-family-crest2.giftourism revenue for this year and beyond.

Essentially, the public relations campaign is an invitation for descendants, family and friends to visit the “home turf” throughout 2013 and participate in special events.

I saw the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin in 2011, though June through August is generally the best time of year to spend a vacation on the Emerald Isle, as the weather is generally ideal and you can bask in long summer nights of daylight with the high latitude.

Slainte and Erin Go Bragh!

March Issue of PRSA Tactics Newsletter

The March issue of the PRSA Tactics newsletter features topics on “creating news sense.”

Marketing Exercise Scenario

Citing a decline in registration revenue and lower ratings from a customer satisfaction survey, an organization has instructed you to develop a new branding campaign to better promote the department, its mission and services.

  1. Create a logo that embodies the inter-connected themes of “people, plants, places and animals” that would promote the recreation facilities, services, activities and special events.
  2. Write a concise, creative one-sentence tagline that can accompany the logo in embracing the above theme.
  3. Write a short internal messaging executive summary (50-100 words) that is intended to educate management as to what the new brand will mean to customers and how the logo and tagline effectively address these values and themes.
  4. In 150-200 words, discuss which approach you would execute – a formal launch announcement of the campaign or a more gradual, subtle rollout through existing marketing communication channels.
  5. You have a budget of $7,500 to initiate this new image and branding campaign. Outline the marketing and communications priorities that you would undertake to convey the new brand to the community. Do not list out traditional or digital media tactics that should be implemented, but rather how would you best allocate the entire budget toward just two or three marketing channels.
  6. For the purposes of this branding scenario, you are directed to only choose one “free” communication channel to announce or unveil the new logo to your customers and articulate the brand meaning to local media outlets. Pick just one form of outreach (i.e. video, news release, press conference, special event) and explain why that is the method you deem the most effective to announce and articulate the new campaign, its values and key messages.

Theoretical & Practical Marketing Questions & Answers

An organization asked me to provide several interview questions to assist the search committee in interviewing candidates for a marketing position. Below were the questions I provided to for the panel to consider when conducting the interviews.

1. This department has multiple divisions in different locations that provide their core services to various ages and audiences. Talk about how you would approach the development of a consistent brand through the existing communication channels such as customer service surveys, social media and the department magazine.

  • Study the nuances and features of all the different divisions and locations to assess their unique offerings, or “sub-brand” within the overall department brand.
  • Have a unified look with logos and taglines for the different areas that  can still effectively and concretely support the main city’s themes and department’s services.
  • Customize the consumer collateral for some of the different locations yet have it still be complementary to the overall city and department look and feel. It could be that a particular color or iconic image is specific to a location or program, but that it can still look parallel to the larger picture of the department’s values and mission.
  • Recognize that in an organization of this size, there will naturally be different selling points and imagery to support and convey the brand of some locations or services. As long as the collateral and designs are clear, concise and embody a colorful or creative link to the greater city brand or theme, then the subtle differences will appear authentic, understandable and interrelated to the other divisions.

2. If you were tasked with distributing an electronic newsletter or uploading a video to YouTube and had never done that before, what would be your approach to mastering these tactics in a short time span?

  • Study existing newsletters or online videos
  • Use YouTube & newsletter software vendor help tools.
  • Refer to Google stroubleshooting community forum questions and answers
  • Consult with existing staff
  • Refer to materials left behind predecessor

 3. Outline some website architecture changes or interactive features you have added to a recent website. What ideas would you have to enhance the current Recreation website?

  • Assess periodic blog by directors or managers
  • Add Google event calendar for each facility
  • Add specific class search function for registration page
  • Improve the online media room & press tools section

4. What is your experience with conducting surveys and organizing and interpreting the data for trends and results? Talk about how you would present survey results for the big picture for department management.

  • Compile data, sort for high-level trend analysis and benchmarking for previous years as available.
  • Write executive summary for management interpreting highlights of data

5. For an industry award application, you have the flexibility to incorporate a variety of work samples or supporting media, what kind of items would you include in addition to the writing that addresses the criteria for the award?

  • PDFs of prominent magazine or newspaper coverage
  • Video highlight link from YouTube Channel or DVD of short video samples
  • Executive summary of year’s highlights and outline of next year’s goals, pending projects and expected figures or results.

6. You will lead a monthly marketing group meeting. What would be your process for preparing yourself and the various staff members from different divisions and facilities to ensure they are informed and all attendees are fully prepared to maximize the one-hour time limit for this status meeting?

  • Prepare a succinct agenda divided into several key marketing & PR categories
  • Distribute agenda to staff 24-48 hours in advance with meeting details, time limits and expected results
  • Keep meeting to an hour while sticking to agenda; monitor unscheduled discussions and keep them from running off track for too long
  • Conclude meeting with major action items for staff or expected deliverables for the next meeting

7. What methods of communication or creative distribution of information and/or imagery would you leverage to better engage with local writers, editors and news producers to cover the department more regularly for earned featured opportunities?

  • Provide weekly or monthly previews of special events or key dates
  • Send brief recaps with photo galleries to pitch following major events
  • Have a “house call” and visit media outlets with information packets
  • Invite targeted media personnel as guests at staff marketing meeting
  • Leverage YouTube Channel by sending brief pitches with video links to promote upcoming events and activities to media contacts

8. You will be the only staff member working at a resident information booth at a free community wellness event. What items or materials will you bring to promote the department’s various programs, classes and special events?

  • A large display board and table for distributing information
  • Magazines, brochures and event flyers
  • Business cards of several staff members
  • Sign-up sheet for newsletter
  • Giveaway items such as magnets, key chains, pens or bags

9. What website, social media and newsletter metrics would you regularly monitor to assesses the engagement and traffic of the department’s online communication channels?

  • Compile and review Google business listing search and traffic stats for various key facilities.
  • Utilize free social media measurement tools (YouTube, Facebook)
  • Consult with IT’s internal traffic and user source traffic reports each month.

10. When supervising a graphic designer on marketing collateral such as a brochure or magazine, what are the branding, content and style guidelines you would look for to adjust or maintain.

  • Develop a style guide with clear and concise parameters for types of logos, positioning on materials; tagline use and brief boilerplate contact information.
  • Conduct a creative audit of past logos and brochures to see progression and evaluate whether an update or newer look and feel might be a productive endeavor for staff to undertake for future resident marketing communication collateral.

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