Tag Archives: #tweet

PR Lesson from a Twitter Flap

Emma Sullivan

@emmakate988

Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot

When Shawnee Mission High School student Emma Sullivan jokingly tweeted her friend on November 21st, expressing her opinion of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s education policy, she had no reason to suspect that her 87-character message would ignite a firestorm of national debate; generate media exposure from nearly every major news source; increase her Twitter followers to nearly 16,000 from 61; or make her the poster child de jour for the First Amendment.

It wasn’t Emma’s tweet that caused the high-profile controversy. The flap was created by a staffer in Governor Brownback’s office who was compelled to contact the leader of Emma’s “Youth in Government” program, who notified Emma’s high school principal, who demanded an apology from Emma, who responded by notifying the media that her God-given American right to tweet was threatened. Stop the presses: we’ve got ourselves a sexy story that’s ready for prime time.

At this point, Governor Brownback and the Shawnee Mission School District had a big decision to make: either hold your ground, or back off a controversy that the media was likely to milk for days, and would position the governor and educators as free speech bullies and social media terrorists.

Contrary to decision-making you might expect from politicians and bureaucrats, both parties immediately backed down. The governor issued an apology, and the school district publicly stated its support of free speech and said Emma was not required to apologize. Smart move.

The PR lesson from this tweet heard round the world is that an apology is often the most effective way to limit damage to one’s reputation or brand. It takes guts to admit an error, but if it’s done correctly, you can build goodwill that offsets the mistake.  For some guidelines on how to apologize correctly, check out Ken Makovsky’s blog post on John Kador’s book, “Effective Apology.”

Emma Sullivan might want to put Kador’s book on her Christmas wish list. She has yet to learn basic diplomacy skills from her Youth in Government program. To date, Emma has refused to apologize for her salty tweet.

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Death by Content: How Press Release Abuse Killed Public Relations

Self-serving Press Release Content Has Killed PR

The origins of the press release are unclear, but in the not too distant past, this communication tool was called a “News Release.” And its sole purpose was to provide the press with information likely to be of interest to the public; containing what journalists still call “news value.”

Prior to popularization of fax machines in the 1980s, news releases were delivered by human messengers to major wire services such as AP, UPI and Dow Jones, which in turn communicated that news to their subscribing media outlets over a broadtape machine – much like a financial ticker tape, but using a much wider roll of paper. For non-daily news sources such as magazines, news releases were often sent through the US Mail.  Regardless of how they were delivered, news releases served an important role in mass communication.

But the news release has lost its franchise as a communication tool, for two reasons:

  • Thanks to technology, news releases became an anachronism. Online news portals and email killed the underlying functionality of paper releases as a news dissemination tool. The internet delivered news faster, and this was a good thing.
  • Thanks to the PR profession, news releases (aptly re-named press releases) became platforms to deliver content with little or no news value, and largely of no practical value or interest to the press.  Flacks began using the press release as a marketing and propaganda tool, and this was a bad thing.

Over the past two decades, the sustained volume of press release abuse by PR practitioners – driven in large measure by CEOs (and clients) who fail to understand that journalists are not ad hoc members of their company’s Communications Department – has greatly diminished the stature of the public relations profession in the eyes of journalists, and has also reduced the ability of PR pros to leverage the media as a valuable means of securing objective, third-party exposure and validation for their company, product or cause.

As the number of journalists who post “Do not send press releases or pitch story ideas to me” on their Cision or Vocus profiles increases every year, the PR profession will eventually lose one of its most fundamental roles: to discover or create content that has bona fide news value, and to properly package and present that information to media sources.

If journalists find no practical need for flacks, organizations will likely follow their lead. For public companies, dissemination of financial results and material events will be handled by their legal department. Because press releases are now considered sales collateral by their target audiences, “media relations” for all companies will be managed by the marketing department. Public Relations, as a profession and a function, will simply cease to exist.

Twitter, blogs and other social media-based “pull” tools may eventually replace the press release. But unlike social media, press releases have been pushed at journalists, filling their inboxes, wasting their time, and reinforcing the media’s perception of PR as a self-serving and often ignorant generator of meaningless noise.

It may be too late to repair the self-inflicted damage done to the PR profession by years of press release abuse. Morphing from a Public Relations professional into a Social Media professional may buy some additional career tenure for young communications practitioners, and hopefully they’ll learn from the lessons of PR’s suicide: that whether it’s tweeted, posted or contained in a press release, news and information lacking intrinsic value will always reflect poorly on its source. And over time, it will make you irrelevant.

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