Tag Archives: PR Professionals

Symmetrical Thinking, the Art of Storytelling

As a preface to this post, I must state that it’s written with a focus on theoretical constructs and their relationship to PR for my master’s theory course.

If you dare challenge yourself to read this post, you’ll certainly become inundated with some old and new theory. The thrust of this post will be how Grunig’s Symmetrical Model of mutually beneficial relationships and Excellence Theory and Thomas Mickey’s Sociodrama play in tandem with the art of storytelling in the PR profession. We are, at our roots, storytellers who craft narrative in all shapes and forms.

This post is designed to reveal my thoughts on how several theories of communication can both diminish and enlighten the PR practitioner’s ability to weave compelling stories.

Some Earlier Thoughts

Several important pieces of commentary arose from prior class posts that I believe need to be shared again to set the context for this discussion. I wrote about how the brand persona has long been a powerful force in sales because it focuses on “creating a powerful brand narrative… the articulated form of the brand’s character and personality.” More recently, practitioners have realized the value of extracting this brand persona within storytelling to “drive the continuity for the overall brand message” and drive target publics to a specific action. (Crystal and Herskovitz, 2010)

As an advocate for the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) model, I work to weave IMC into my client’s messaging and stories. Malcolm, McDaniel and Langett describe IMC as connecting a brand directly with the customer. They say that “IMC is a story or narrative that encourages action on the part of those within and outside the organization.”

Real-World IMC and Collegiate Experience

I previously discussed how my work with GE Lighting provided me with the perfect outlet to live the brand’s powerful persona and allowed me to craft compelling stories with human interest elements and depth. I mentioned how having all the functions, from product development to marketing communications, involved and working together, could ensure that the brand’s message conveyed its persona.

Persona-based storytelling, tied to the brand and executed within the IMC model, is a powerful set of tools to launch a successful brand. When Malcolm and Langett stated that IMC is dependent upon an “enlarged mentality” they were not kidding. IMC is one of the most challenging models to successfully achieve in any organization, because it requires c-suite and staff buy-in, support, imagination, and an attitude – as Malcolm and Langett would mention – that is similar to a “self-conscious pariah.” (Benhabib, 2000, p. 29)

Within the art of storytelling and IMC lies the discussion of Sociodrama, as discussed by Thomas Mickey. This theory is tied to Symbolic Interactionism by Mead and Cooley, and how people interpret and react to objects and symbols. This interpretation is based on sociology and how we are all “social participants in society… making meaning,” through language-based approaches. (Horn, Neff, 2008, p. 122)

I end my thoughts on persona-based storytelling and Sociodrama by saying that:

From feature stories to newsletter articles to social media posts, the art of storytelling is directly paralleled to Sociodrama and the sociology of the human race and condition. As long as we, as PR professionals, remember we hold the keys to reaching people and compelling them to act through words and visual imagery, we will have a special type of power that we must respect and take great care in using.

What are your thoughts on storytelling from this theoretical perspective? Can it legitimately be applied? If you’re not sure quite yet, read on and see what others and I think about the topic.

The Art of Storytelling from a Kent State University Professor

My Perspective on Storytelling

Crafting a powerful, compelling and memorable story is easier said than done. Only the best writers can compose a story that elicits strong emotions, while allowing the reader relate directly to the piece.

Using Grunig’s Symmetrical Model, which focuses on creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics, I find that it allows me to be able to flesh out more effective message strategy. When I am thinking about how the brand message and tone affect the internal and external audiences, I am much more effective in creating content and messaging that ethically resonates with both. The following is a video from Dr. James Grunig himself talking about the Symmetrical Model tied to PR.

‘‘ A brand narrative without a well-defined, recognizable, memorable, and compelling persona can become a series of disconnected adventures.’’ (Crystal and Herskovitz, 2010)

I have found that, when used together, Symmetrical thinking can open many new doors of thinking, such as brand tonality, voice, character, traits and personality. When I prepare messaging platforms I look to find the various perspectives Mickey discusses, including: interactional, interpretive and cultural perspectives. (Hanson-Horn, Neff, 2008, p.122)

It’s hard to ignore that Mead and Cooley’s theory of Symbolic Interactionism when I prepare messaging as well. Symbolic Interactionism “explores how people create meaning for themselves and the broader society… people actively create meanings of themselves and society through dealings with others.” (Horn, Neff, 2008) Mead and Cooley also suggested that “social research should take a humanist form and explore world views, cultures, and life experiences of different groups.” (Smith, 2001)

A Varied Approach to Message Development

When I develop messaging, I don’t just think of how the target publics would be affected by it, I look at how the brand – if it were a person – would interact with the publics. The brand persona, through symbols, personal traits and character are what connect people to brands. It’s akin to people relating to like people; but the other person is the brand in this case.

I work from this perspective when I develop messaging platforms. My content is driven by the creation of the truest brand persona, always acting the part. The key here is that the brand goes beyond the message. The employees, executives and closest constituents need to act the part as well. This is where Mickey’s Sociodrama comes into play. We are all “actors” in the literal and figurative sense, and must embody the brand. Whether it’s a customer service representative answering the phone or the CEO presenting in front of shareholders, the message and persona must be accurately portrayed. This is true IMC at its best with the core of Excellence Theory infused. I seek to find how we can use best practices for the good of the organization to bolster messaging that can live across the organization and compel my target publics to act.

This is how I ensure that the brand persona, character, and traits connect with the business objectives, goals and messaging. Get in the mind of the brand; live it, breathe it, and it will become part of people’s lives. The best brands, like Coca-Cola®, Hershey’s® and Jet Blue® do it extremely well; and that’s why they are worldwide business leaders.

Bibliography:

Web –

Print –

  • Hanson-Horn, Tricia and Neff, Bonita. Public Relations: From theory to practice. Boston: Pearson Education. 2008. Print.
  • Herskovitz, S. and Crystal, M. “The essential brand persona: storytelling and branding.”  Journal of Business Strategy, (2010): 31, 3.
  • Mickey, Thomas. Sociodrama: An Interpretive Theory for the Practice of Public Relations. University Press of America. 1995. Print.
  • Smith, Philip. Cultural Theory: An Introduction. Malden, Mass. Blackwell, 2003. Print.

Three steps to creating mutual expectations

I thought you said you said you were going to do more today! What's the deal?

Part two of a two-part series on setting expectations in your personal and professional life (Read first part)

Us PR folks all try and “get er done” at our jobs, but sometimes we go a little overboard. We take on so much that we begin to drown in a sea of self-imposed work. To better manage your workload and the expectations surrounding each project, consider these three simple rules of setting and managing expectations. You might just find that taking on that project isn’t the best use of time and resources for both you and your organization. Try and:

  1. Know your limitations and stay within them – We’re constantly put in positions to “learn on the job.” That happens, but be realistic. Can you do the project you’re attempting? Do you need more professional development? It’s better to admit your limitations than to fail because of pride.
  2. Be honest with yourself and your clients/bosses – We have a tendency to be “yes” people to everyone because we love to be the clutch player. That’s how we’re built. Know how much work you can handle to be successful and stay within those boundaries.
  3. Have a plan that’s realistic and routine – We’re planners and strategists, right?  So why shouldn’t our expectations be rooted in the same thought process? Well, they should. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and work to enhance your strengths and turn your weaknesses into strengths. Routine and constant learning do this. Know how much time and energy you can dedicate to each area and stick within those boundaries.

In the end, the insane world of PR can, to a certain degree, be managed. It takes setting realistic and mutual expectations, knowing  your limitations, having a routine and being honest with yourself, your bosses and clients.

Here’s a few other recent posts discussing PR as one of the top-ten most stressful jobs:


We expect the world of you… can you deliver?

Illustration by Marie-Michelle on Deviant Art

Why did I say yes to all this work?

Part one of a two-part series on setting expectations in your personal and professional life

After reading Andrew Worob’s recent post on Ragan’s PR Daily entitled, “10 reasons PR is a tough job,” I thought to myself, “Yep, he’s dead on with that list. PR people do live in one crazy, non-stop world!”

In Andrew’s article, he talks about the complexities and demands of our profession. Some of these demands include tough clients and bosses, meeting high (sometimes ridiculous) expectations, always being on call, and worst of all, getting no respect! Having any semblance of a work-life balance can seem impossible as well, unless your life is your profession.

Managing expectations is tough work!

So, if you want to have some sort of life outside of your career, it’s critical to manage your personal and professional expectations.

I can say from experience that our profession is extremely demanding, and our bosses, boards of directors and clients place extraordinarily high expectations on us. Sometimes those expectations are floating in outer space, and sometimes they’re within our atmosphere.

But I’m certain that most people reading this are a jack of many trades, doing whatever is needed from whomever asks. We’re the people behind the large curtain that make things happen. On any given day, we’ll write a press release, create an e-blast, present a strategic plan to a client and put out several fires, all before lunch time!

You think you’ve met expectations…

Even after we do all of this, there’s always more to be expected. Even Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz is a tough cookie to please. When she and her entourage come face-t0-face with the man behind the curtain, she forcefully proclaims:

“If you were really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises!” 

This response is funny, but true. When we think we’ve knocked it out of the park, we get flack and perceived failure. That’s our fault though. In most cases that means we didn’t properly set and manage  mutual expectations. If we did, then we’d all be on the same page respectively.

"There's no place like home..." I think this is what she wants me to do. I hope I meet her expectations of me!

I think Dorothy taught us a valuable lesson here. When you think you’re succeeding, take a step back in your sparkly red heels and say to yourself, “Is this what my boss or client expects of me?”  That simple question will allow you to know if you’re on or off track. I’m sure Dorothy wasn’t expecting that grand, imposing voice to be some elderly fellow using old hi-fi equipment to create the illusion of omnipotence.

Sometimes expectations can be based on illusion just like in the Wizard of Oz, especially in the PR business! We should, however, work to ensure expectations are transparent and realistic. Because if you don’t, someone will flip open that infamous green curtain to reveal the truth. You’ll definitely be in hot water if you get caught spinning wheels and pushing buttons when they find you.


To censor or not to censor, Google is the question

Google LogoGoogle has become quite the topic of debate in the last six to eight months. From alleged government hacking to having search content censored, the multi-billion dollar top search engine company has been under fire. According to a recent New York Times article by Jonathan Stray and Lily Lee entitled, “After Google’s Move, a Shift in Search Terms,” the company’s recent unfiltered search update for Chinese users created a flash of buzz and then fizzled. Traffic died after a few days because the Chinese government was slow to move on blocking content. Or should I say, allegedly blocking (hmm).

This move spurred an increase of more than 10 times the normal search traffic for politically delicate topics, such as “Falun Gong” and “corruption.” The article mentions that:

In tests over the weekend from several Chinese cities, users searching for “Tiananmen” or even the names of Chinese government leaders reliably found the site google.com.hk mysteriously inaccessible for a few minutes…The more frequently used Chinese search engine Baidu, which continues to censor its results, remained accessible no matter what users searched for.

Although this seems like the big issue here with Google in China, the bigger story here is the fact that anti-Google sentiment is on the rise and pro-Google sentiment is being “eradicated.” This is occurring through statewide digital mandates to remove any content involving Google or any associated terms, especially content that supports the company. This is one of the reasons that Google has been teetering on withdrawing its Chinese operations, but has yet to fully commit to doing so.

Another article in the Irish Times states that:

Most international companies participating in that market are willing to accept the constraints involved in the belief that this rate of growth will outpace the state’s ability to police and censor it.

Chinese FlagSo, what’s it going to be? Will they remove all operations and cease to fight what they call the good fight or tuck tail and run? Is it in their best interest to be there and maybe wait it out? Is it in the best interest of the people to have accessibility to information?

These questions are but a few that have been posed and remain to be answered. As a PR professional, I think they should remain in China and all other countries they currently operate in. I’m not saying they should become a democratic society, but information and valuable content supports knowledge, economic growth, freedom of thought and so much more. It’s what keeps a living record of our history and reminds each of us of our rich heritage.

Can we really afford to lose that? Chime in… let me know what you think.


Inclusion drives support for Treasury Department


Front of the Treasury Department Building

While I don’t typically discuss anything related to politics anymore (spent too many years in the political realm), I do want to discuss the recent Treasury Department meeting. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner held a meeting on Nov. 2 – which doesn’t seem out of the ordinary – except for the fact that he invited 20 key financial bloggers to attend in person.

Many of these bloggers had chastised the department and Geithner in the past, but have now changed their tune. Why? Because they were included in the real-world conversation – a first in the Treasury’s history. Of the 20 invited, eight showed up at their own expense. Not bad considering the economy; but fitting since it was at the Treasury Department.

According to an article in The New York Times yesterday, Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, who writes for the Marginal Revolution blog and contributes to The Times, said:

The meeting shows that the Obama administration is working very hard on outreach to a lot of different media sources… I think we were much better informed than the groups they’re used to talking to.

Andrew Williams, a spokesman for the Treasury who helped plan the event, stated that Geithner has “long valued the blogosphere.” Geithner had also commented that while serving as the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, he requested relevant daily blog posts.

Williams said another reason for the outreach is that the “blogs are influential, especially because they are read by reporters at more traditional outlets.”

How did PR impact this?
Geithner and his team made a smart decision to include financial bloggers in an ordinary, run-of-the-mill meeting. It made the bloggers, who usually feel disconnected, part of the conversation and decision-making process. They were able to ask questions in person, rather than make assumptions after hearing about it via a blog post.

Social Media is all about inclusion and developing strong conversations that resonate with your target audiences. I applaud the Treasury Department for its desire to take a step in the right direction – creating transparency, trust and advocates among their once weary target audience.

This is a great example of how a PR professional can influence the dissemination of information among target publics by being forward-thinking and proactive.

Steve Randy Waldman, blogger for the blog Interfluidity sums it up perfectly when he said:

I’d like to thank the “senior Treasury officials” for taking the time to meet with us, and for being very gracious hosts. Whatever disagreements one might have… It was an extreme privilege to sit across a conference table and have a chance to speak with these people… The mere invitation made me more favorably disposed to policy makers…


The state of the PR industry has changed

The PRSA International Conference was held this past week in San Diego, Calif. It’s a time that many PR professionals look forward to because of the pre-conference seminars, keynote speakers, networking and general sessions. By the way, the weather, food and entertainment only add to the excitement.

Of the nearly 25,000 PRSA members, a select group of us (about 325) have the opportunity to represent our local chapters as Assembly Delegates in the National Assembly – a day-long event akin to a session of congress. This marathon day typically entails review of PRSA bylaws, including amendments and resolutions to enhance the structure of our society.

Ralph J. Davila, Tom Duke, APR, Fellow PRSA at Assembly

Akron Area Chapter Delegates: Ralph J. Davila and Tom Duke, APR, Fellow PRSA at Assembly

But this year was different. We were tasked with reviewing and finalizing a complete rewrite of the society bylaws, which would constitute the most significant change in the PRSA since its inception in 1947.

Many thought it would be impossible to achieve such a feat. But after about 10 hours of laboring, conversing, amending, compromising and sometimes arguing, we made it happen.

At about 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7, a majority vote of two-thirds was reached.

What changes were made to the bylaws?
The Assembly made vast changes, but  a few major ones should be mentioned. I will touch on them without going into too much detail since they are still in legal review.

APR Accreditation
The first major change that was debated for quite some time was the APR accreditation among membership and the National Board of Directors. According to a 2009 Membership Satisfaction Survey, 63 percent of the respondents stated that the APR was one of the most important programs offered by PRSA. With that said, the Assembly moved to require that any candidate for National Board have an APR to be eligible.

APR_Logo_smThis amendment makes a critical statement to the profession. It says that we, as PR pros, must work to achieve a higher standard of excellence by attaining an APR status.  The APR sends a strong message that PR is a true profession, and that we hold a stake in all levels of communication and at the management table.

I’d like to add that it’s not all about using your APR accreditation as a sales tool or getting a job. It’s about grounding yourself in the theory and practice of public relations, as well as the confidence you gain.

Membership Criteria
The other main issue discussed at length was how we, as a society, can increase PRSA’s value among the profession. There are approximately 250,000 people practicing PR in the United States, and only about 10 percent, or 25,000 of them, are PRSA members. Additional terminology was added within the language of the criteria that would have allowed other related professions to become members. After much debate, we as an Assembly voted to keep the language focused on public relations professionals as the membership target.

PRSA LogoWe have worked, since the start of the PRSA, to make our society the pre-eminent organization for PR pros. And to make sure that PR is taken seriously among others, we agreed that targeting our efforts on the other 90 percent of practicing PR practitioners would be best, and only strengthen our society and profession.

So, many members and PR pros asked why bylaw changes were made and how it would benefit them. Dave Rickey, APR, chair of the Bylaws Rewrite Task Force said:

The primary objective of the bylaws rewrite is to enable a flexible, nimble governance structure to support the best possible PRSA for members, leaders and the profession.

Final Thoughts
I believe that the rewrite will allow all of us to have a greater voice in decision-making and the direction we take PR and the society. It’s about inclusion, and we are in an age of both traditional and non-traditional communication, which makes this change both critical and timely.

We all have a voice in our society and profession, and need to come together to enhance PR’s reputation and understanding among the masses. Only then will we be appreciated and valued like we should be.


Social media releases (SMRs) and why they matter

Value of SMRSince the Social Media Release (SMR) was developed by Todd Defren from SHIFT Communications in 2006, public relations professionals have debated its value. Many ask if it’s needed to be on the cutting-edge of PR, while some question its use against traditional means (i.e. personalized pitch letters, phone pitching, etc.).

Is it really useful? Or is it just a fad?
I believe the SMR has taken the traditional press release, and accompanying news content, and made it relevant to the digital age. It’s harnessed the power of multimedia and Social Media, transforming traditional media communique into technologically robust user experiences. Continue reading


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