In all honesty, I do not expect public relations textbooks to be laugh riots or thrill rides.
However, one area ended up being rather frustrating.
On page 95, Smith writes, “… goals are general and global while objectives are specific.” On pages 93 – 94, he writes, “Strategy is the organization’s overall plan.” And on pages 225 – 226, he says tactics are the visual elements of a public relations or marketing communications plan.
What Are You Saying, Mr. Smith?
First of all, to my mind, I saw great deal of overlap. Hence I feel that much of the book could have been better condensed. And essentially, I feel, the strategic planner or public relations expert wants to follow an organization’s general goals. For example, an organizational goal could be to get more exposure.
Plus they want to achieve this with special attention to specific objectives. Such as, they might want to increase awareness by 6% during calendar year 2017. And then add the nitty gritty of tactics. E. g. the strategic planner might believe they can accomplish this by tweeting every other day following a particular plan. And that seems more or less to be it. However, it did not take me over 400 pages to tell you that, now, did it?
However, in all fairness, there were some good parts in the book. Furthermore, the sections on SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and PEST (political, economic, social, and technological factors) analyses were very good. And you do not have to be in the public relations field in order to be able to use that information. But man, it could sure use some editing.
Key Concepts – Goals, Objectives, and Position Statements
For all three readings, the main thrust of what we learned this week is that you have to be specific when defining what you want, and where you want your organization to go.
Instead of having a vague, crystal ball-style idea that things will somehow improve, the jello has to be nailed to the wall.
Smith says it rather concisely: (Page 95) “… goals are general and global while objectives are specific.”
Goals are a kind of global idea of how a problem should be solved. E. g. if the problem is world hunger, then the goal is to either feed more people or have fewer people to feed. There aren’t a lot of other ways you can go with that. But an objective is far more specific, so an objective is more like educating 20% of all women of childbearing age in ten countries about birth control and marrying later, and doing so by the end of calendar year 2019.
For the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration (ILSC), the organization’s mission and goals are twofold, to spread the Small World Initiative (SWI is a learning program whereby students gather soil samples in order to help discover new sources for antibiotics) to more schools, and to test, track, and treat cases of pediatric HIV in Ghana. These are more like task or relationship management goals (Smith, page 96), as opposed to relationship management, with the task goal being to treat pediatric HIV and the relationship goal being to spread the reach of the SWI.
With reference to the Small World Initiative, an awareness objective could be to foster and maintain contacts with fifty decision makers in key high schools by the end of 2016. Whereas an action objective could be to spread the Small World Initiative to high schools in ten states by the end of 2016. Both types of objectives are explicit, time-definite, and challenging yet attainable (Smith, Pages 101 – 103).
For Ghana, the awareness objective could be to foster and maintain contacts with fifty decision makers in key hospitals or towns by the end of 2016. An action objective could be to gain access to test newborns in ten towns by the end of calendar year 2016. As with the SWI objectives, these are goal-rooted and measurable activities.
The ILSC either meets these objectives, or it doesn’t. There is no in-between. This is why objectives must be meaningful, reasonable and quantifiable – this way, you know when you’ve succeeded. Or if you still have a ways to go.
Positioning statements are different. Per Smith (Page 95), “A positioning statement is a general expression of how an organization wants its publics to distinguish it vis a vis its competition.” For the SWI, the positioning statement can be loftier, and look a lot more like, “With the Small World Initiative, your students can be the change you wish to see in the world of discovering new antibiotics.” For the project in Ghana, it could be, “Stopping the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa begins at birth. The ILSC aims to test, track, and treat every child at risk, until all children are well.”
Social Media-based recommendations
The Barbaric reading, in contrast, was strictly about social media goals and objectives. As Barbaric says, “Here are some examples of marketing objectives to get you started:
Develop Stronger Relationships With Stakeholders”
The strength of this article is that it looks at social media for what it is. Organizations usually need to sell a product or service. Social media can be directly tied to that, but Barbaric is right to focus more on what social media specifically does. Likes, shares, comments, and followers do not necessarily directly lead to sales, but they do lead to increased reach and credibility, all of the earlier parts of the top of a sales funnel. Social media may also help with conversions. One of social media’s biggest strengths is that it is mainly objective and measurable. If a goal is increased awareness, then an objective can be to increase reach by 15% by the end of the next calendar quarter. This is a yes or no question when the time is up – did the organization make it, or not?
“Objectives create a structure for prioritization.”
“Objectives reduce the potential for disputes before, during, and after the program.”
“Objectives focus resources to drive performance and efficiency.”
“Objectives help create successful programs by identifying areas for prescriptive change and continual improvement.”
“Objectives set the stage for evaluation by making it easier for sponsors and team-members to determine if the PR program met or exceeded expectations.”
“Objectives link the PR objective to the business objective.”
Anderson, et al seem to be more focused on specifics than Barbaric. Even with social media’s objectivity, there are still some nebulous concepts being put forth by Barbaric. After all what does it mean to “develop stronger relationships with stakeholders”? That is not a measurable statement at all. Stronger relationships are a matter of some interpretation. Does it mean that funding comes more quickly, or there’s more of it? Are jobs secure?
At the same time, the Anderson, et al reading was about any sort of objectives, not just those tied to social media. The readings all work well together – Anderson, et al and Smith give the reasons for setting clear objectives, and then Barbaric defines them in the context of social media and public relations.
Goals are where the organization wants to go; objectives are the roadmap.
I confess that’s the first thing I thought of when I finished this week’s readings, because it’s all about the slicing and dicing.
For the typical strategic planner, the universe of possible listeners, publics, customers, etc. does have its limits. Unless you’re talking about oxygen or water, most products and services don’t apply to everyone. And even if they do, there are geographic limits. Selling snow tires to Eskimos, or discussing John Stuart Mill with folks in Venezuela, is hardly practical if you’re in Kansas City. Hence there must be divisions. This is how publics are defined.
According to Smith, (Page 57) “A public is a group of people that shares a common interest vis a vis an organization, recognizes its significance and sets out to do something about it.”
He further adds, “A public is like your family. You don’t pick them; they just are.”
While a public might simply exist, defining its parameters is well within the strategic planner’s purview.
Tuten & Solomonmention that there are several ways to segment markets and publics, and they are often based on psychology or characteristics (e. g. demographics or benefits). Geography, demographics, psychographics, benefits, behaviors, and technographics are all ways to divvying up people.
A public isn’t meant to be a random sampling of individuals. Rather it is a consciously measured slice of the populace. To go back to the bass mentioned in the Aykroyd quotation, a public isn’t the puréed fish, an undifferentiated mass whose sole characteristic is that it was fish at one time. Instead, a public is the intact tail or the fins. It’s a defined piece of the whole.
Applicable current events or timely organizational challenges; theorizing “publics”
One well-segmented website is Wattpad. Wattpad is a large self-publishing platform whereby anyone can post an original book. Rather than simply dumping all submissions into one big pile, Wattpad instead divides them by genre and by some sub-genres. For example, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal are more generalized genres, but Wattpad also offers sections on vampires and werewolves. Works can and do cross genres, but the site will only allow one genre to a work. The author must choose or, if he is she makes an error, the moderating team will correct matters. Furthermore, there is another slicing of the submissions with respect to a ratings system. The author selects an age range for the piece. Again, if the age range is incorrect (e. g. a book with explicit sex scenes is in the bucket for all ages), then the moderating staff will correct the oversight.
Because individuals can be members of several different publics, Wattpad doesn’t make anyone choose where they go on the site. Within the confines of the Canadian (the site is based in Toronto), American, Filipino, and other legal systems, members who are over eighteen years of age are free to investigate whatever they choose. However, within each genre, there are specific moderators who handle those works and make some choices to promote certain works over others, based on quality and not just read counts and other quantitative measurements.
A twenty-one-year-old French woman searching for books that she likes can potentially be a member of the Chick Lit-reading public, the French public, the female public, and the eighteen-to-thirty-year-old public, all at the same time. If Wattpad is looking to get her to join the site, e. g. she’s at the stakeholder stage as is defined by Kim, Ni, and Sha (Page 753), then their mission is decide which problem she needs help in solving. Is it a lack of good French novels? Is it a desire to read books written by people like her? Is it an appetite for Young Adult or Chick Lit publications? As Kim, Ni, and Sha add (Page 753), “In most cases, publics approach organizations hoping to gain organizational acknowledgement of their concerns and proactive corrections to the problem.” If other sources of literature are ignoring our hypothetical user’s problems, then Wattpad can be well-positioned to provide a solution. And if this woman’s public turns out to be large, e. g. there are thousands of similar young French women searching for new reads, then Wattpad can do well by positioning itself as the solution for these problems.
How do the different approaches compare and contrast?
In comparing Smith to Kim, Ni, and Sha, and Tuten & Solomon, the approaches are pretty similar. The idea is, at essence, to whittle the population down to manageable, homogeneous chunks. Kim, Ni, and Sha (Page 758) talk about segmenting across problems and issues. For our young French woman, if her problem of finding her favorite kinds of books is shared by other people then, under this approach, those people could be Japanese, or male, or middle-aged. All they have to share is their desire to read a particular type of novel.
For Tuten and Solomon, the problem is more of classic and semi-classic demographics. They look at the social technographics research as shown by Forrester Research as one way of understanding a particular kind of public. Our young French woman might be defined as a Joiner (a person who maintains a profile on social sites) or a Spectator (a reader of the content on social sites).
Smith, instead, looks at (Pages 61 – 63) Categories of publics, dividing them as follows:
Secondary customers (e. g. customers of customers)
Shadow constituencies (no direct link to the organization but can still affect perception of it)
Producer – providing input to the organization
Enabler – groups serving as regulators by setting norms or standards for an organization (e. g. professional organizations of governmental agencies)
Limiter – competitors, opponents and hostile forces.
In Smith’s view, the French reader is a customer and perhaps not much else. Smith further subdivides publics into their relationship with issues (Pages 74 – 76). A nonpublic public is “a group that does not share any issues with the organization and no real consequences exist to or from the organization.” A latent public (also called an inactive public) “shares an issue with the organization but does not yet recognize this situation or its potential.” An apathetic public “faces an issue, knows it and simply doesn’t care.” An aware public “recognizes that it shares an issue and perceives the consequences as being relevant, but is it not organized to discuss and act on the issue.” And finally an active public “is discussing and acting on the shared issue.”
Our French reader is probably somewhere between aware and active, depending on how diligently she tries to solve her problem of not having books to read.
The key takeaways from this week’s readings
Possibly the most applicable takeaway is that a public has got to be clearly defined. As Smith says (Page 60), publics are –
This is not jello that we are trying to nail to the wall. Instead, publics are well-defined, no matter how the strategic planner slices them. They are readily recognizable, which makes them far easier to reach, whether the public is composed of French bibliophiles or high school science students or donors looking to make a difference in the instances of pediatric HIV in Ghana.
Publics are the fin, the scales, the tail, or maybe just the top half of the fish, and not the purée.
Strategic Planning, Formative Research, and Issues Management
Key Concepts in Strategic Planning
During the course of this week’s readings, a lot of concepts were thrown out, with several definitions. These were words that we use in common, everyday parlance, but they have special meanings in the world of public relations/strategic planning.
Smith covers increasingly difficult positions for a strategic planner to be in. First there is the fairly neutral situation, which is basically just a set of circumstances facing an organization. It neatly divides into opportunities and obstacles. After all, when the lights went out during the 2013 Super Bowl, Oreo could have sat tight like everyone else. Instead, ‘you can still dunk in the dark’ was born. Oreo didn’t just tread water – they scored a major victory. And it all happened during a situation that could have gone either way.
A step more difficult than a situation is an issue. Now, concern to the organization is baked right into the definition. There is more potential for problems when it’s an issue. And finally the definitions move to risks and then to crises.
The job of the strategic planner is to minimize and address the risks while, at times, dealing with out of control crises.
In the Reitz reading, a ‘dialogic model’ is mentioned (Page 43), where there is “a ‘communicative give and take’, where the process is open and negotiated between an organization and its publics.” This, in a way, is the essence of social media. It’s less of organizations dictating terms and paradigms to various publics. Instead, the publics are talking back, and it’s up to the strategic planner to carefully listen.
Formative Research’s Role
On Page 15, Smith mentions formative research, denoting three pieces of it, to analyze the situation, the organization, and the publics.
In order to evaluate matters intelligently, the strategic planner must take a look at what’s happening. For a financial services company, it could be anything from a worldwide sell-off to crop failures in Argentina to an employee engaging in what might be insider trading. For a car manufacturer, it could be recalls or new safety regulations or the applicable news from the United States Patent Office.
The organization must be assessed. Is there an opportunity? Is the organization vulnerable? Could this even be fatal to the organization? When Tylenol was laced with cyanide in 1982, there was a very real possibility that the fatal dose could be to Johnson & Johnson as well as the victims of the poisonings.
As for the publics, it behooves the strategic planner to consider how receptive they will be to any actions taken (sometimes the action to take is inaction, e. g. do nothing). For Johnson & Johnson, they were dealing with publics who were used to trusting drug manufacturers, and who felt that trust had been betrayed. If the organization had opted to do nothing, the publics might not necessarily have blamed the organization for the poisonings, but they might have saddled the organization with a reputation for not caring. Seeing the connections between caring, purity, and trustworthiness, the organization built its response around addressing safety concerns immediately. Probably a lot more product was removed from shelves than was necessary. It’s possible that some of the safety precautions added were redundant and/or unnecessary. But the organization spent the time and the money and the brainpower and it paid off with dividends. Johnson & Johnson is still roundly praised for its response to the crisis. It’s hard to see how they could have handled it better.
On Pages 49 and 50, Reitz talks about issues management. On Page 49, Reitz defines issues management as quoting, “Cutlip, Center, and Broom define issues management as ‘the proactive process of anticipating, identifying, evaluating, and responding to public policy issues that affect organizations’ relationships with their publics’ (2000: 17).”
A crisis is, by definition, unpredictable, but certain crises can be anticipated. If an organization prepares for inevitable crises, over half of the battle is already won. Here are some instances wherein an organization should prepare, as it is not a question of if, but rather one of when any of these will occur:
Automobile manufacturers and recalls
Product manufacturers and product liability claims
Maintenance companies and snow removal or trip and fall claims
Transportation carriers and lateness and accidents
If any of these organizations is unaware that such crises could happen, and that they could escalate, then those organizations might want to rethink their business plans.
Life does not come without risk. It’s a foolish organization that doesn’t at least make an effort to plan for it.
“Effective and creative planning is at the heart of all public relations and related activity.” (Page 1, Smith)
Social media has a reputation for being a ton of ‘just in time’ communicating. But the reality of public relations is that it is all about the planning. Which days do you post? What times? What does your ideal audience look like? What are the demographics for your buyer personae? What kinds of things do you post?
One thing I have learned in my internship work already is that there is an abundance of riches when it comes to ‘wow’ images from wedding, engagement, and wedding modeling photo shoots. After all, these are professional stylists working with superior equipment and artistic talent. It is a far cry from the cosplayers I see for the podcast I work for, with their homemade costumes, where most of the images are taken by amateurs with cell phone cameras.
Hence for the wedding blog, it’s not about finding ‘good’ images like it is for the podcast’s blog and Pinterest boards. Instead, it’s a matter of jettisoning anything at all ‘off’ or that does not stand out. For example, the owner of the wedding blog made it clear that she doesn’t want to see images of dresses on plastic hangers. Wooden hangers or padded ones? Sure, if the image is otherwise good. But plastic? Nope. It’s a small detail, but it means something to her and to the blog’s clientele (wedding merchants and service providers) and its future clientele and to the brides and grooms looking to the blog for inspiration and ideas.
These are details, and this is planning.
MacNamara and Zerfass, on the other hand, have found that there is a decided lack of planning in the public relations sphere when it comes to the social media arena.
“Examination of the types and forms of policies and guidelines informing social media use in organizations revealed that only 31% of European organizations and slightly more than a third (35%) of Australasian organizations have specific social media policies and/or guidelines—and even fewer appear to have social media strategies. This means that around two-thirds of organizations do not have specific policies or guidelines in relation to social media.” (Page 298)
For organizations that pay attention to every last detail, e. g. fast food franchises that require similarity between Boston and Berlin and all parts in between; or automobile manufacturers that sweat out the angle of the roof of next year’s model; and fashion designers who agonize over perfect shades and the correct hem length down to the millimeter, why is social media so often such a domain of whatevz?
Strategy and Perspectives
For Smith (Page 5), transforming obstacles into opportunities is at the heart of strategic communication, which is –
“… planned communication campaigns. … [I]t is the intentional communication undertaken by a business or nonprofit organization, sometimes by a less-structured group. It has a purpose and a plan, in which alternatives are considered and decisions are justified.”
This perspective, to me, makes a great deal of sense. For company (and nonprofit) communications, it can’t just be ‘letting it all hang out’. Instead, there are any numbers of limitations, whether it’s FINRA for financial services organizations; or the FCC for media companies; or Sarbanes-Oxley, where companies have to justify their actions to shareholders. Or maybe it’s just all too rare common sense, or good taste, or ethical considerations, or the legal department’s requirements or, at the barest minimum, a pledge to not offend others?
Gone are the days off handing over passwords and telling a high school junior to go and have fun with things. Organizations without strategic planning and communications are like hikers without maps. They are essentially just asking to get lost. Who will bring in sniffer dogs to find an organization that has lost its way?