Q. In your book, Spin Sucks, you discuss the convergence of media. Why is it important for a business to have a mix of media (earned, owned, paid and shared)?
A. About a year ago, I was talking to a journalist at the Boston Globe. She was lamenting to me that some communications professionals are great at pitching stories, but that’s where it ends. She said journalists are now not only responsible for writing stories, but for including multi-media and increasing pageviews. She asked why communications pros couldn’t help them achieve those goals. I didn’t have an answer because, well, I think we should be responsible for some part of that. When you take that conversation and you think about how to integrate the other media types, suddenly you’re helping the journalist reach their goals and you are increasing awareness for your company or client. You use your own social networks to share the story and extend the message and open the network. You use your owned media to blog about the story or the interview process or some behind-the-scenes things that didn’t make it into the story. Perhaps you have video from the interview that you can edit into something valuable for your audiences. And you have other owned media – audio or visual – the journalist can share in the story. Then you use paid media (which is where I also lump lead generation and email marketing) to reach those who don’t use social media.
Q. How important is it for communications professionals to understand SEO and how far beyond the basics should their learning extend?
A. There is only one way you are truly going to understand SEO and that is if you constantly create content for yourself. I’ve always believed communications professionals should have their own blogs because they not only will figure out how to write consistently valuable content, but also they’ll learn how to optimize said content, how to tweak website and blog assets, AND they’ll learn how other pros pitch stories (because they’ll be pitched). If you don’t have that direct experience, you’ll never truly understand SEO or how bad most of our industry is at pitching stories (which will make you better at earned media). That said, content should always be created for humans. If that happens, the SEO will come with it. As communications professionals continue to create content, they should learn SEO and dig deep into it as their education continues.
Q. What can businesses do to better manage their reputations online?
A. Always tell the truth. Warren Buffett famously said, “If you lose money for the firm, I will be understanding. If you lose reputation for the firm, I will be ruthless.” Things happen. People make mistakes. And organizations are run by human beings. There are going to be times your reputation will be called into question. If you tell the truth, apologize, and publicly provide a solution, people will forgive you.
Q. How do you stop an issue from becoming an online crisis?
A. Don’t sweep it under the rug! Some of the most famous online crises of late are issues that could have been handled internally, but the decision-makers chose, instead, to not deal with it. An issue can be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Sometimes without external audiences ever finding out about it. A crisis has the potential to bankrupt an organization.
Q. As veterans in PR, we know that spin sucks. But, for young professionals entering into the workforce, what advice would you give them so they move forward to understand the importance of credible and transparent communication?
A. You and I know that spin sucks, but I wouldn’t say most veterans know. Some of the things I see our peers do makes me shake my head. Because of that, it’s really hard for young professionals, who have been taught that ethics are the only way to go and who are fresh and eager to stand up to their bosses and say, “No, this is wrong.” My mom used to say to us, when we would leave the house, “Remember who you are and what you stand for.” I repeat that to every young professional who wants to do the right thing. You only have your ethics and you are the only person who can decide if you are going to compromise them. If it feels wrong, it likely is wrong. Say something. Stand up for yourself. And if it means you have to find a new job because of it, there are plenty of organizations that will hire you because you stood up for yourself.
Q. What does communications look like for a business that wants to succeed in the future?
A. The organizations that figure out the best way to grow is through honest and open communications will win. There are many, many executives today who believe they will be retired before they have to change internal operations. They are flat out wrong. If they haven’t begun to evolve their organizations to this new way of communicating, it’s too late. Millennials may not be the decision makers yet, but they influence the decisions…and the first place they go to get information about the companies they may be working with is online. They read former employee reviews. They read customer reviews. They dig through the social networks. They find friends of friends who have experience with your company. They research to death and then they make their recommendations to the decision makers. If you aren’t communicating honestly and openly and if your online reputation stinks, you will not make it to the short list of organizations to work with.