Thursday, December 20, 2007

50 Years in PR

Happy Holidays!

If you weren't lucky enough to attend the 50th Anniversary Gala, you can still enjoy this incredible video tribute, chronicling our chapter's first 50 years and looking into the future.

Kudos to
  • Erik Elvejord, editor and PRSA Board Treasurer;
  • Paul Lasley recording and narration; and
  • Julie Hunt, The Edge Creative, production.
And a special thank you to outgoing PRSA president David Blandford for having the vision and determination not to miss a single opportunity to celebrate our 50th Anniversary in PR.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Do's and Don'ts for Times Op-Ed Writers

For those of you who weren't able to join us for our sold out "Spotlight on Seattle Times" program last week, I thought I'd provide some Do's and Don'ts for Seattle Times Op-Ed Writers, provided by Jim Vesely, editorial page editor at The Seattle Times.

Special thanks to Jim and Managing Editor David Boardman for their insight (and humor). Additional thanks to Corey Digiacinto for helping us arrange this great event!


1. DO have an opinion and state it forcefully. Many opinion pieces submitted are explanations of an issue rather than an argument about an issue.

2. DO present the case from the top down. It’s usually better to begin with the premise rather than assembling the facts and presenting a conclusion at the end.

3. DO read The Seattle Times before submitting an article. You should know some of the basics: space available, the general tone and format of op-eds. If The Times ran a piece on the same subject last week, have a good reason an editor should revisit the topic.

4. DO be timely. Editorial pages prefer essays about the events of the current season.

5. DO be patient. Typically, an author will say…”I’ve worked on this piece for the past month. Can you get it in the paper tomorrow?” It’s better to call or email us before you assume we will use a piece.

6. DO be willing to submit charts, grafs or photos. That often helps explain the piece and enhances the visual presentation.

7. DO write tight. Ideally, an op-ed is between 700-800 words, although up to 1,000 words is possible for the right topic. A tightly-written essay of 750 words often has greater impact because it is more often read.

8. DON’T use footnotes or cite references. Nobody cares about them. Attribution to other authors can be done in the body of the text.

9. DON’T demand review of editing or headlines. “Titles” on articles submitted rarely pass muster with our copy desk. Most editors are willing to discuss editing changes for brevity or clarity but are seldom patient with nitpicks.

10. DON’T submit the same article to competing newspapers at the same time. Editors hate to see the same piece printed in a nearby newspaper. As a general rule, ride one horse at a time.

11. DON’T use specialized jargon, especially in articles about education, health, transportation, the environment, war, peace or family vacations. Keep the language simple, but don’t ever talk down to the reader.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Hot Topic - CSR Communications

When we were planning the July PRSA breakfast program, we knew that corporate social responsibility and communications would be an interesting subject based on the number of recent articles that we'd seen in mainstream and PR publications over the past several months. But we had no idea how passionate and involved our audience would be.

As a moderator I was prepped with a full page of questions - and only got through three before our very-engaged audience started to raise their hands! Why is this such a hot topic?

Our three panel participants - Andy Fouche with Starbucks, Megan Behrbaum with REI and Josh Chaitin with The Frause Group - articulated it well. It's not just enough for consumers to purchase any old product to fill their needs. These days, consumers want to purchase products and support companies that are following through with a deeper committment to "doing the right thing" - perhaps it is to fill a selfish desire to create a perception of responsibility on the consumer's part or perhaps it is truly a deeper seeded interest in social responsibility. Either way, we can't avoid it!As Andy Fouche stated, "Customers used to be just buy a great cup of coffee. Now, they want to know the story behind the coffee - about the farmers, the procurement, and everything else that goes into making it. And they want to know that it's done in a responsible way."

Our presenters reminded us that companies make sure their committment isn't just a bunch of "green washing." The risks are high when you say one thing but do another! They also suggested that companies should consider looking at focus areas that have direct ties into their missions - for example, Megan Behrbaum mentioned REI's support of the trails program, which is a perfect match for the outdoor clothing and equipment retailer.

A common theme throughout the program was the challenge that we all face of further developing the understanding of the importance of incorporating CSR communications into a broader communications strategy - and getting our bosses and clients to buy off on it. In our communication about this program we shared figures from PR Week: "Positive CSR information has led 72% of the respondents to purchase a company's product or services and 61% to recommend the company to others. Conversely, negative CSR news has led 60% to a boycott a company's products and services. At the same time, CSR also creates brand loyalty among key stakeholders and helps retain high-quality employees."Our presenters confirmed these findings, sharing ways that they've been able to measure the impact of CSR communications through targeted surveys and sales return.

To learn more, presenter Josh Chaitin offered some great resources on this intriguing topic:

The Sustainability Advantage & The Next Sustainability Wave (both by Bob Willard - New Society Publishers). Both of these books discuss specific steps for creating more sustainable, socially responsible businesses, and attempt to quantify the benefits gained.

Mapping the Journey (Lorinda Rowledge, Russell Barton, et al, Greenleaf Publishing). This book provides several case studies of companies/organizations adopting thorough CSR strategies. Some very useful insights.

Cradle to Cradle (William McDonough & Michael Braungart, North Point Press.) This book is really focused on the way we make/manufacture things and how we can get beyond the idea of a product having only one useful life. The book itself is printed not on paper, but on some kind of recycled polymer (kinda cool).

It's Not Easy Seeing Green (Josh Chaitin, Sustainable Industries Journal Green Marketing Newsletter.) This is a link to an article I (Josh) wrote for the SIJ's newsletter: - I think users may need to create an account to access this, but it's free and, I hope, useful.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4th

While enjoying today’s stunning Seattle weather it struck me that there’s a link between what we do every day and the annual celebration of America's independence. We’re communicators, after all, and open communication is a prerequisite for democracy.

I also got to thinking how the rapid changes in technology during the last few decades have profoundly impacted (and continue to impact) the cacophony of voices in our pluralistic society in new and unanticipated ways. It’s not an exaggeration to say that today virtually anyone with a PC can enter the public debate regardless of credentials or motives, with potentially immediate and global reach.

This makes our job as PR practitioners more important to society, not less. It also underscores the importance of maintaining high standards of professional conduct and a commitment to advocacy, honesty, expertise and independence as represented in the PRSA Member Statement of Professional Values.

By upholding these values we contribute to the dialog and facilitate the communication needed to foster understanding and awareness across a range of diverse issues. For those of us who work in government, the role is even more direct and visible: helping serve the interests of the citizens and communities we represent.

OK, I know it’s not this simple. Lots of people don’t agree, and many see PR practitioners as little more than spinmeisters and snake oil salesmen. And, yes, there are some. But the vast majority of us adhere to these values in our everyday work because we know it’s the right thing to do – for our employers, our clients, our profession, our community, and ourselves.

At the end of the day, public relations practiced well, with integrity, fosters the mutual understanding that strengthens society and allows pluralism to flourish and democracy to thrive. As Thomas Jefferson said, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

Happy 231st Birthday, America!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Politics 2.0

With presidential hopefuls from both Democratic and Republican parties appearing in debates this week, one could be forgiven for thinking that the election is this fall – rather than a year later, on November 4, 2008. That every campaign cycle seems to be starting earlier and earlier may be unwelcome news to most, although I hazard a guess that a good many of my fellow PRSA colleagues are watching the presidential campaign with interest.

It was during the last presidential election that Howard Dean first demonstrated the power of the web for political campaigns. In the few years since, every major candidate has launched websites and taken advantage of Youtube, online communities and social networking (e.g. MySpace and Facebook), Wiki’s and other means to share information and raise funds. Digital media is reshaping how campaigns communicate with voters, supporters and volunteers, and has made possible both a wider reach of message and, concurrently, more targeted communication to specific communities and interest groups. There’s also opportunity for enhanced interaction and informal dialog – if you want John Edward’s mother’s “secret” pecan pie recipe you can get it by donating $6.10 online.

This is of more than passing interest since campaign staff face the same uncertainties and dilemmas that we, as PR practitioners, face in understanding the new age of digital media: what is it, what does it mean, where is it going, and (most importantly) how can we use it to maximum effect? Online publications, podcasts, RSS feeds, Youtube, social networking, blogs (like this one!) … each is an important and expanding way that people are getting information, interacting, and even forming interest groups and communities.

But there’s a cautionary side to the digital age. Great examples are last year’s re-election defeat of Senator Conrad Burns (D-MT) and Senator George Allen (R-VA), both due at least in part to widely-viewed Youtube videos. (As you’ll recall, the Burns posting showed him asleep during a farm bill hearing; the Allen posting showed him using the term “Macaca”.) At the time, I remember being surprised to learn that these were not just random examples of video footage getting posted onto the web: in both cases it was either an activist or staff member of the opposing campaign who had been tracking the candidate and shooting video in the hope of capturing just such footage. We’re beginning to learn what it means to live in an age when almost anyone anywhere can make a videotape and instantly make it available to viewers around the world (something I can do with my smart phone), and how to monitor and prepare to respond quickly when bad news hits.

Given the importance of image and messaging to political campaigns, the 2008 election provides a marvelous fishbowl to watch how the candidates and their campaign staff applying new media, both proactively and defensively. So, from a certain standpoint, I’m actually glad that the campaign has begun already – it gives us more time to watch and learn how these master communicators and their skilled teams avoid the pitfalls and mine the opportunities presented by digital media – or not.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

50 Years of Seattle PR

It's interesting to consider what the PR world looked like 50 years ago in 1957. Just ask David Blandford, president of the Puget Sound chapter of PRSA. He wasn't there. But, if he was he, would say that plenty was cooking at that time. He recently took a look back while visiting the UW time capsule that contained many interesting items.

This year (2007) marks 50 years of PR in Seattle. There are many opportunities to share in the celebration of a profession that I find incredibly fascinating and enjoyable (my little aside):

- "Celebrating 50 Years in Public Relations," Holiday Gala, Thursday, Nov. 29 at the Space Needle

- "The Next 50 Years in PR," Annual Meeting, October (Date TBD) at the Fairmont Hotel

- Historic Photo Parade: Snapshots and anecdotes from personal photo albums(Note: If you have any cool shots please send them to

- 50-Year Perspective: Watch Newsflash for trivia and quizzes to test your knowledge of the past five decades, and profiles of influential members

- 5:50 Cocktails: Monthly cocktails throughout the city for PR professionals

More to come on the last 50...stay tuned. Erika

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Farewell to a PRSA friend

Thanks to past PRSA Puget Sound president Wendy Townsend for sharing with us the loss of former PRSA member Frederick Short, who passed away Saturday, May 5, 2007, at his home in Shoreline, WA. He was 86.

Many of you may remember Fred as an active member of PRSA who worked in public relations for the Port of Seattle. Fred joined the Port of Seattle's Public Relations Dept in 1961. He handled corporate, seaport and Sea-Tac Airport media relations for 20 years and had a popular column for the employee magazine, Caught Short By Fred, which was a creative and entertaining commentary on the Port and society.

He was also active in many professional organizations associated with international transportation, maritime commerce and public relations including the Maritime Press Association, Public Relations Society of America, Propeller Club and the Virginia V Foundation.

You can read his obituary in The Seattle Times for more information about his fascinating life.

Suggested donations to Steamship Virginia V Foundation, WA Library for the Blind, Nature Conservancy or Providence Hospice of Seattle.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The legality of viral marketing

The music is probably more up the alley of a college aged student but the efforts behind this story are still relevant to PR practitioners.

The story goes like this: Trent Reznor, the lead singer of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, took part in a viral marketing campaign in which he left USB drives containing digital copies of songs from his unreleased album in the bathrooms at Nine Inch Nails concerts during the European tour. Lucky fans who happened upon them distributed the songs on personal blogs and websites. The campaign also included fans deciphering messages on t-shirts and websites. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is now suing Reznor for leaking the music.

I personally find the campaign to be brilliant. It's cost effective and relies on a cheap medium to deliver the news and promote the upcoming album. The fans are the best way to get other fans excited and build momentum. Selectively releasing tracks gives listeners a preview into the overall sound of the album. It's mysterious and keeps fans talking about the album, the band, the campaign, Reznor himself and so on. The RIAA is making a stretch in its efforts to reign in Reznor in my opinion. The stories report that Reznor personally authorized the release of the tracks. The fact that the RIAA sent e-mails to bloggers insisting that they remove the songs from their sites has only worked to create more hype and more buzz about the album. Despite this marketing campaign and the intentional release of three tracks the rest of the album has not been leaked on the internet. The album is set to be released April 17.

I'm a fan of viral marketing. I like the concept of using inexpensive media techniques as a PR vehicle. After reading this story on several different news sites I'm confused about what the base of the RIAA's case is. Reznor has the right to release the music he holds the intellectual property rights to doesn't he? Are there ethical considerations to take into account? All my reading tells me that Reznor is behind the release so it doesn't infringe on any issues of right or wrong. Finally, even though Reznor (most likely) recorded the music in the United States the USB drives with the music were discovered in Europe. What, if any, are the legal issues surrounding the campaign?

What are people's thoughts on this campaign? Is it effective? Do the professionals think it would work? What is everyone's overall opinion?







Respectfully submitted:

TJ McMahon

Friday, March 30, 2007

Advance like a pro

In the most recent edition of PRSA Tactics an article caught my eye. It was entitled "Skip the brownnosing: How new pros can advance by thinking like leaders." The article outlined several tips that new professionals entering the field can do to put themselves on the fast track to advancement while maintaining credibility and professionalism. They are:

1. Be seen: If you wait around for someone in upper management to notice you, you will be left behind.

2. Do more than you need to do: ...You need to carry yourself as a higher-level professional than you are to help those above you to envision you in that role.

3. Think smarter: No one wants to replace one person who does the work for three by having to hire and pay three people when they can keep you. Avoid that trap by thinking smarter, not just working hard.

4. Demonstrate leadership: Be the person on your team who always has a vision or solution.

5. Pay attention to the bottom line: If you want to get ahead, you have to be willing to deal with the bottom line, because face it-- those that make the gold, make the rules.
All excellent tips. Are there any others that people can think of? Any contradictions or arguments about those above? How do students go about getting and demonstrating these skills to potential employers or internship possibilities? As a student I think we rely heavily on our teachers personal experience and the "non-class" related material they tell us to understand these principles including stories and personal philosophies. Students also have to rely heavily on their own moral and ethical compass to work towards advancement.

I look forward to reading responses from everyone!

Respectfully submitted:

--TJ McMahon

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Do You Trust?

I recently downloaded the Edelman Trust Barometer 2007 from their Web site. If you haven't had a chance to do so, please take a minute. This is a research report they sponsor. I'm interested to know facts around how the public perceives messages from varied sources. You can find it at As the Puget Sound chapter ethcis officer this year, I find this to be an interesting overlay to the discussion about ethics and PR. What's your opinon about the concept of public trust in the marketplace? And, how does the current state of the PR practice nuture or hurt this public trust?

Enjoy, Erika

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Communicating with Diverse Audiences

Know your audience.

It's a basic principle in public relations, but it can be interpreted and applied in so many ways.

At Thursday's Puget Sound PRSA Program on Communications and Diversity, our panel discussed understanding and overcoming social, cultural and language barriers to effectively and efficiently deliver messages.

The one piece of advice they all shared: Know your audience-- really KNOW your audience.

  • Read the ethnic or specialty publications you're pitching if you can.
  • Build a relationship with those publications by, not only sending news releases and pitching, but by purchasing ads when your budget allows.
  • Get to know who the community views as leaders. Don't just look to the five or six mainstream ethnic leaders you hear about in the media all the time.
  • Recognize the best ways to gain entry into a community. If you haven't built a relationship with a community, partner with groups the community trusts for your initial entry.
  • Really take time to build relationships. Don't just pop in and out of a community when they have something you need.
  • Work with public affairs specialists who know the community and can help you communicate effectively with them.
  • Make a long-term commitment to building new relationships. If your budget only allows you to translate a news release or two, work to increase efforts in the future. It makes no sense to reach out to a non-English speaking community with one news release in their language then have no one available to answer questions if they try to follow up with your organization.

Thanks to:

Share examples of your best practices in our comments section!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Is Main Stream Media Suffering an Identity Crisis?

For those that know me, you know I am a big fan of community supported media. NPR, the News Hour with Jim Lehrer and of course Front Line are all great outlets to get some balance when on a steady mainstream media news diet like I know we all are. I am really excited to point out a series that starts that starts tonight on Front Line called, News War. Go check out the series on the Web; it is a great site and they integrate many new media tools to get viewers interacting with the content and connecting with other viewers. PBS does a great job of virtualizing their content and that is another area I am passionate about; but that is a topic for a future blog post. :)

So back to the News War.

What is wrong with the mainstream media? And to be fair, what happened to the promise of citizen journalism? So far it seems the explosion of blogs has done less to enable access to the truth and more to blow up sensational coverage of celebrities and voyeuristic mainstream news coverage. Off the top of my head, The Defamer and such come to mind. They have also had huge impact in political realm as we are all well aware. John Stewart weighs in as only he can - and what does it say about us that programs making fun of the news or news pundits are becoming some of the most popular shows on TV?

The four part series will investigate how federal prosecution has chilled investigative reporting, how the business of news today has changed in competition for eyeballs with new mediums and information vehicles cropping up every week. It will also look at the blogger movement and how the user’s appetite and preference for consuming information is changing.

Why does this matter to us? In large part becuase our reputation as a profession is forever linked to the reputation of the media, and vice versa. Often the relationship between PR and media is contensious but our individual desitinys are closely tied to each others success.

I hope you take the time to watch the Front Line series starting tonight and come back to this blog to weigh in.

Is it truth or hype? Are public relations tactics, like astro turfing, just as bad as 24 hour coverage of Anna Nicole Smith and the astronaut gone bad?

Perhaps once the series is complete we can get a group together for a showing? Maybe mix a cocktail hour with a showing of News War then have a discussion as a group on the implications for our profession? Post a comment and let me know what you think!


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Into 2007

As the president of a boutique communications firm, I spend a good amount of time absorbing information and trends then sharing the informaiton with my publics. What's my process? I read voraciously (current reading an awesome book on hospitality and customer service), surf the Web, talk (and talk), listen to music, watch TV, go to movies, engage in discussions, volunteer, eat lunch, day dream and brainstorm ideas with my team. I also talk to my husband and our two sons. My seven year old is passionate about the computer while my youngest can clearly tell when music is dance-worthy. I'm really interested in Second Life, My Space, YouTube, and Facebook, and am currently in-love with Danny Meyer's book on the finer points of hospitality. And, have you seen that peanut butter and jelly video craze? If not, check it out as an example of social media. Another resource that I use is the PR Tactics newspaper from PRSA. I really like what Rhoda Weiss, APR (2007 PRSA Chair) has to say about the profession. She speaks about how PR professionals are so much more than publicity machines. She again validates the growth in the profession. She reiteraties how we are tapped for our strategic thinking, problem solving, crisis prowness, stakeholder relationships, and communications leadership.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New hires and interns--Unrealistic expectations?

Thanks again to our host, Tim Smith at Wagg-Ed, and our guests, Professors Erica Austin and Bruce Pinkleton from the WSU Murrow School of Communication for all the great discussion last Friday.

Friday's debate over the popularity of public relations as a major and the increasing competitiveness for certification at the WSU School of Communications morphed into a discussion about the quality of public relations interns and new graduates from Washington state universities in general.

One high-profile forum participant, owner of a premiere local PR firm, said he prefers new hires from East Coast for their motivation and competitive nature.

Other participants voiced frustration at the amount of time spent educating and training new hires who seem to lack the initiative to "figure out the answer on their own" or even to proofread their work before submitting it for review by their superior.

Can you teach initiative, confidence, responsibility and innovation?

Is it fair to expect PR programs to do this?

Are these things as important as strong writing skills, solid research capabilities and the ability to conduct a strategic communications campaign?

As hiring professionals, what do we want our universities to teach? What's our top priority?

Is it the University's responsibility to teach students a work ethic and professionalism or do the PR professionals who hire these interns play a role?

Is it unrealistic to expect interns or students right out of college to be ready to enter the workplace without significant coaching and guidance from their new employers? Are we willing to mentor these young professionals?

What were we like as interns and/or new graduates? Have we forgotten what it was like to be just starting out?

What do you think?

So you want to work in PR?

The PRSA Puget Sound introduced its new "Issues Forum" for senior practitioners with a lively discussion about public relations education at Washington State University's Edward R. Murrow School of Communication.

Featuring special guests, Professor Erica Austin, interim director of the School of Communication, and Professor Bruce Pinkleton, who teaches 300- to 500-level public relations classes, this first issues forum, hosted by Tim Smith at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide in Bellevue, sparked a series of spirited conversations.

Those of us who love our jobs can understand why public relations is one of the most highly sought majors at WSU. In fact, communications is among the most popular majors at WSU and the 7th most popular major nationwide.

Nearly 600 students were enrolled in communications at WSU in 2005 with a combined GPA of 3.0- the highest in the history of Murrow School certification. As the competition rises, more and more students are turned away. Is this a problem?

If so many students come to WSU to major in public relations that the Murrow School is regularly turning away large numbers of students, should the University increase resources in this area to allow more students into the program? Or is it a good thing that the minimum requirements to certify continue to rise as the competition increases?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Getting Socially Involved

A member survey in 2006 shared that professional development and networking (can we say social!) were top member value. We pulled off both, and had an amazing number of well-received casual events where PR professionals could engage and meet each other. More to come in 2007!

International Conference in 2006

The chapter hosted a gathering for students at the PRSA International Conference in Salt Lake City in 2006. Central Washington University students were there in full force. Details about the conference themes, speakers and content (including an overview of Tavis Smiley's key note), go to