Recently, a college student interviewed me for a public relations class. I enjoyed the conversation and realized that her questions revealed how we at Executive Media think about the work we do. Here are excerpts:
How did you get into your job? I worked as a newspaper reporter and magazine editor for 16 years in Virginia, New York and Indiana. My first PR position was as press officer to Gov. Evan Bayh.
What advice would you give students pursuing PR careers? Sharpen your writing and editing skills in every format: news writing, copywriting, broadcast writing, blogging, etc. In a large field filled with charming, assertive, ambitious young people, those who can write will have the skills that make them distinctive. Work on the media side in internships. Experience working in news media will serve you well for years to come.
Favorite/Least favorite parts of the job? Best part is using skills, judgment and experience in helping a client express his or her message in a way not possible without our help. Worst part is that many people either don't understand or devalue what we do.
What common problems do businesses face in PR? Crisis management is not regularly required, so what are more day-to-day issues? Crisis management is an ongoing exercise. We help steer the client away from situations in which crises occur. The positive responsibility is to create and maintain a strong, accurate identity for the client in every channel of communication. That means PR must work with design, advertising, HR and the corporate suite to keep messages consistent and effective.
What has been one of your most difficult experiences? The most difficult experiences have been when we have had to say to a client that they need a lawyer more than public relations; or when we have had to tell them that we cannot accurately represent them when they do not tell us the truth.
How has social media changed PR? Social media has brought challenge and opportunity. The challenge is to monitor and master many more channels of information than print and broadcast, with the concepts of news cycles and deadlines trashed. The opportunity is to acquire new products and services that can be used to help our clients.
Other major differences from when you started? When I started in media, all news was rooted in print coverage. By the time I became an advocate, the adage became that "it's not news until it's on TV." Now both print and broadcast often find themselves chasing blogs and tweets. At one time there was a strict dividing line between advocacy and reporting. Reporters were independent observers. Advocates were paid to provide information helpful to their client. Now, with so many entities – corporations, sports teams, government agencies, not-for-profits – essentially covering themselves in websites, Facebook pages, blogs and other vehicles, the line between representation and reporting is hard to see.
If you'd like to ask question, call me at (317) 231-7000 ext. 203.
We always tell our clients that Rule #1 is “Tell the truth.” It’s always good to remind ourselves, and our clients, that Rule #1 applies to public relations agencies, too.
Public Relations Firm to Settle FTC Charges that It Advertised Clients' Gaming Apps Through Misleading Online Endorsements A public relations agency hired by video game developers will settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it engaged in deceptive advertising by having employees pose as ordinary consumers posting game reviews at the online iTunes store, and not disclosing that the reviews came from paid employees working on behalf of the developers.
“Companies, including public relations firms involved in online marketing need to abide by long-held principles of truth in advertising,” said Mary Engle, Director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices. “Advertisers should not pass themselves off as ordinary consumers touting a product, and endorsers should make it clear when they have financial connections to sellers.”
Under the proposed settlement order, Reverb Communications, Inc. and its sole owner, Tracie Snitker, are required to remove any previously posted endorsements that misrepresent the authors as independent users or ordinary consumers, and that fail to disclose a connection between Reverb and Snitker and the seller of a product or service. The agreement also bars Reverb and Snitker from misrepresenting that the user or endorser is an independent, ordinary consumer, and from making endorsement or user claims about a product or service unless they disclose any relevant connections that they have with the seller of the product or service.
Reverb is a company that provides public relations, marketing, and sales services to developers of video game applications, including mobile gaming apps. Between November 2008 and May 2009, Reverb and Snitker posted reviews about their clients’ games at the iTunes store using account names that gave readers the impression the reviews were written by disinterested consumers, according to the FTC complaint. Reverb and Snitker did not disclose that they were hired to promote the games and that they often received a percentage of the sales. These facts would have been relevant to consumers who were evaluating the endorsement and deciding whether to buy the gaming applications, the FTC complaint alleged.
In its revised endorsements and testimonials guides issued last year, the FTC specified that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the online post by a person connected to the seller, or someone who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product or service, should disclose the material connection the reviewer shares with the seller of the product or service. This applies to employees of both the seller and the seller’s advertising agency.
The FTC vote to approve the administrative complaint and proposed consent agreement was 5-0. The FTC will publish an announcement regarding the agreement in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through September 27, 2010, after which the FTC will decide whether to make it final. To file a public comment, please click on the following hyperlink: https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/reverb. Copies of the complaint, the proposed consent agreement, and an analysis of the agreement to aid in public comment are available from both the FTC’s website at http://www.ftc.gov and the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580.