Archive for the ‘PR Adventure’ Category

PR word cloud

I was very excited to find out the final voting result for PRSA’s “Redefining PR” campaign. Actually my first reaction was “I won!” since I selected the one that received the most votes.

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

I did put in a bit thought when I was reading the three finalists. I chose this one based on my own understanding of PR.

First, I believe public relations is a communication process. No matter how much this field has changed, we are still trying to communicate with publics about an organization. On my very first class as a PR student at Michigan State University, my instructor gave us a simpler definition of PR: “Communicating accurate image of an organization to the public.”That was a definition I strongly agree with, and the one from PRSA included the meanings it had.

Second, I am a firm believer that effective public relations will create mutual benefits for both parties (organizations and publics/stakeholders). Good PR should not be manipulative. Instead, it will make people “want to do business with you”. I learned that from another professor at MSU. Starbuck’s campaign “Every Love” for Valentine’s Day this year was a great example. Starbucks produced three excellent and moving videos about sharing love via its products. It is not just boasting about how good the coffee is, but educating people how much difference you can make with a simple cup of coffee.I was amazed by the great amount of emotional comments and stories shared on Facebook and Twitter by Starbuck’s fans. In the era of new media, great PR achieves communication between companies and consumers, and between consumers and consumers. This is how PR builds “mutually beneficial” relationships.

I had a hard time to explain what PR is to my families and friends when I decided to become a PR professional 3 years ago. I am still trying to improve my interpretation whenever I have a chance to tell them about my passion for this profession. I think what’s even more important in this PRSA campaign of redefining PR is that it gave all of us, the PR pros, a moment to think and a chance to reflect. No matter what definition in the future we use, we will be grateful for this process because it encourages us to get better at what we do, and make a contribution to the growth and evolution of this amazing industry.

Image Credit: NYTimes.com
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Courtesy of E Releases

Media relations 2.0 is real.

I say this because I found perfect evidence today. Social Car News, one of the automotive blogs under High Gear Media, published a post on Feb 18. The post questioned Jeep’s recent celebration as the “first domestic automotive brand with more than 1 million Facebook fans“, because Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro already hit the record before Jeep. Joel Feder, the author asked: “Is Jeep splitting hairs when it comes to Facebook Fans?

So far the post only attracted 57 views. Not really impressive. However, the only two comments surprised me a lot based on the people who left those comments.

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Last night when I was reading car blogs I was shocked by this:

Jalopnik –How GM “Lied” About The Electric Car

Then I opened more blogs to find out what happened, and I was even more shocked:

The Car Connection – How GM Didn’t ‘Lie’ About The Volt

Image Source: Jalopnik

This on-going “Volt gate” broke out the news that GM’s electric vehicle Chevrolet Volt is not actually pure electric. Its gasoline engine is connected to the drive train and can provide mechanical torque. After GM confirmed it, the “rumor cloud” turned into a storm of “liar criticism”.

Did GM lie about Volt? I’d like to quote and summarize several expert bloggers’ posts.

  • From a technical perspective, Chevy Volt is an electric car

[John Voelcker at GreenCarReports] Video: So Is the 2011 Chevrolet Volt An Electric Car? A Hybrid?

[Lyle Dennis at GM-Volt] Motor Trend Explains the Volt’s Powertrain

[Nelson Ireson at The Car Connection] How GM Didn’t ‘Lie’ About The Volt and Why the Press is Wrong

  • No matter how twisted Volt is as an electric car, GM did lie

[Ray Wert at Jalopnik] Chevy Volt: Lies, Damn Lies And Statistics

To me, this issue is so interesting that it combines engineering challenge with PR strategy. If you ask me to pick a side, I would say: GM did lie, and Volt is electric.

Volt has never been a pure electric car. It is an EREV (extended range electric vehicle). The battery only supported for a short mile, serving people’s need to commute from home to work. When you need to drive more than 70 miles, the gas engine can keep the electric generator work so the car won’t run out of power on the middle of the road. The video from Green Car Reports explained this in a very simple way: “If you took out the electric motor, the car could not run.” If you look for detailed analysis of Volt’s drive propulsion system, GM-Volt can tell you more.

As a public relations practitioner, however, I thin GM made a bad move. Consumers may not really care whether Volt is electric or hybrid, but GM shouldn’t bet the whole company’s credibility on a single one model. GM put so much effort in Volt’s marketing and promotion. It was delivering overestimated hope to the public.The company had many chances to simply explain how Volt works, but they traded them with an adamant claim that the internal combustion engine does not motivate the wheels. Surprise, it did. I remembered a word I learned from my first PR quiz: “stretch”. But even a stretch can makes you lose people’s trust over one night.

I notice that some observers don’t think this issue is going to affect Volt’s sale, and I partly agree with that. But when it comes to damage control, I think there is another group that GM’s public relations staff should talk to: media and bloggers. It seems that GM is working on this because some bloggers are posting information from the company or talking about the press release. What I was thinking, however, was GM owed an apology for providing stretched, exaggerated product information to media. After all, some one did ran a headline with “Repeat after us: The Chevrolet Volt’s gas engine does not drive the wheels!“. No offense, but sometimes one story can hurt two party’s credibility. PR and media – we are on the same boat.

The potential advantage of being a lone nut is that you could end up as a heroic leader.

Leader = A lone nut? This proposition intrigued me greatly when I was watching a speech on TedxDetroit conference.

 

I watched the video for twice and I laughed twice, but after “ROFL” (Rolling on Floor Laughing), I started to ponder this insightful topic.

In the first place, I cannot agree more with the speaker. The first follower showed a valuable leadership among crowds to pursue innovation. It is the first follower that “transforms a lone nut into a leader”. This reminds me of the well-known “Diffusion of Innovations” by Everett Rogers. According to Roger, adopters of a new idea can be categorized into five groups (shown as the graph below):

Diffusion of ideasImage Source: Wikipedia File

“Innovators” here mean the first batch of followers on new ideas. They are “willing to take risks… very social and have closest contact to scientific sources and interaction with other innovators. Risk tolerance has them adopting technologies which may ultimately fail” (Rogers 1962 5th ed, p. 282). They are the minority of 2.5%, but they are the decisive 2.5%. They introduce something that seems ridiculous but may be actually fantastic. From this perspective, the first follower should not only be credited for their courage, but also for how they accept the idea and try to show it to the world. They must own some leadership more than guts, because the subsequent followers will emulate them instead of the original “inventor”.

Examples of a follower becoming a leader are ubiquitous in the era of Web 2.0. Plenty of bloggers gain more attention by having other blogs’ links on their page. Another example comes from my personal experience in social media. Some people on Renren.com (The Chinese “Facebook”) earn their credits by “sharing” valuable links. They have no original posts. The only thing they do in social networks is to publish “share” – valuable posts about health, beauty, cooking, politics, etc. Eventually, these people become a credible source, because what they share is always informative and useful.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help wonder: what if you are born as a “lone nut” (I mean, innovative leader)? Then it’s the other way of adoption of the idea. When you have a great idea, don’t be afraid to be the “lone nut”, and more importantly, you must find your “first follower”. Considering the two-step flow theory in public relations, I think it is best that this first follower is an opinion leader. But if it’s not, at least you should find somebody who is enthusiastic about your ideas. Nurture your followers, and make your idea easy to follow.

In social media marketing, I believe we should put effort in both ways in order to spread our ideas: that is being a follower and nurturing your early followers.

Nurturing your followers obviously facilitate the diffusion of ideas. First, you are building connections and relationships with your followers, making them feel engaged and passionate about spreading your thoughts. Besides, you can make sure the message is spread accurately.

Being a follower, on the other hand, is more beneficial for long-run. By standing out and supporting other innovative ideas, marketers earn reputation among innovators. If the reputation accumulates and turn into thought leadership, the marketer will benefit a lot from it.

Either way, Web2.0 is subtly changing the meaning of leadership. The question is choosing to be the right “leader” in certain circumstances. As for me now, I will try to be a “hunter”, following the footprint of great ideas.