A Modest (Book) Proposal

3 04 2008


So, my wife Staci is really into reading. She loves sitting down with a good book. Jane Austen is usually the preference, or anything similar (she’s really into Stephenie Myer’s Twilight Books), though she’s been branching out lately. And we’ve come across an interesting situation. Being conservative and religious, we’re finding reading isn’t as “safe” as it used to be. In particular, she’s finding some of the books that are highly recommended, have sexually explicit material.  It’s hard to pick out a book and get a sense for the kind of content you’re going to come up with. Even in Harry Potter books, you would come across some explicit language.

So, my wife came up with this idea: Books should have a rating system. Movies have it. TV has it now. Even video games have it. Music at least warns you of explicit material. Why not books? They’re considered entertainment media, right?

So why is this on this blog? Well, it’s always my endeavor to define PR, and I think this is PR. The first book publisher to offer a rating system, is the first book publisher to show that it really does value its readers. Public relations is about creating a relationship with publics who are affected by or who affect organizational decisions. And readers are probably the most important public a publisher can focus on.

This is going beyond getting book reviews at the NY Times and sending out press releases about a new book release, this is creating a relationship of trust with your readers that says, I know your interests go deeper than reading a story. You have values, morals, and interests that we value. The first book publisher to do this will be the first book publisher to branch out from PR as promotion to PR as strategic relationship management…and…

The first book publisher to do this should be the first book publisher to thank my wife in the acknowledgments section of the book. 


The Balance Scale

12 11 2007

This past Thursday night I was presented the Ketchum Excellence in Research Award at the Institute for Public Relations’ Distinguished Lecture at the Yale Club in New York City. After getting to meet some of the most renowned CEOs, and hobnobbing with some really interesting people (you know, the type you read about in Fortune magazine…fun stuff!), we were treated with a short message from Lawrence Foster, who headed up the very first public relations department in the U.S., when he left journalism and joined Johnson & Johnson over 50 years ago. Foster was receiving a lifetime achievement award, but his message is what really stood out. And what was odd is it wasn’t anything new. He said to look at communication (marketing, PR, etc.) on a big balance scale. One right side place all your cell phones, black berries, email, and technology, and watch the balance dip. And then on left, put simply relationships, and watch the balance rise to the right. He went on to say that no one knows how much heavier the left would be than the right, but it would be noticeable. Speaking from experience, he mentioned how he had nothing but a rolodex and a lot of face time in “his” day of public relations, and to consider the weight of such relationship building.

My wife afterwards said that was quite a profound message, and I had to agree with her. But it made me think…this isn’t anything new. Everyone is talking about it…and yet, what is the real weight of relationships?

It reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend the Metrics man a few weeks ago. He often argues that you can’t measure relationships, and they are not an end in an of themselves. Rather, they’re a tactic…even a strategy, but not an objective.

And it makes me wonder…which one is it? Can you measure relationships or can’t you? Now, perhaps the two anecdotes about relationships I’ve just cited is like comparing apples and oranges, but it causes one to think. If we’re moving towards relationships in business communication–marketing is becoming more about brand relationships, word-of-mouth, and relationship marketing than it is about ad dollars these days–how will we track our success? Now I don’t pretend to know the answer to this question, because I’m one to believe that relationships are vital in any business. But I wonder how far we can get in quantifying the value of relationships. You can quantify things like marketing spend and the result on sales, but what about relationships. Can the value of relationships ever go beyond the “we have built great relationships that are contributing to our success” metric? As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, it’s often a matter of testing a company’s strengths in consumer trust, satisfaction, commitment, and involvement. But does this satisfy the demand for quantification? And can you really link it to company performance…better yet, should you? I don’t have an answer to this, but if you do, post your thoughts.

Relationship Crisis

26 07 2007


Being a huge NBA enthusiast, I couldn’t help but take deep interest in the developing story around the NBA referee controversy. A week ago, news broke that Tim Donaghy fixed point margins and NBA game outcomes to pay off gambling debts. And since then, it has quickly become one of the most credibility-crushing events that the NBA has ever seen. NBA referees have already been under incredible scrutiny about shady calls and now the credibility of the entire NBA is in question.

I for one have always been skeptical about “star” calls and referee bias, but this turn of events has made me wonder even more. But questions about referee calls will probably never be resolved, even after the NBA makes it out of this mess.

What interests me most is what this means for the relationship between the NBA and its fans. Chris Sheridan of ESPN  discussed this issue, asking the question: What can the NBA do to repair the relationship with its shrinking fan base? According to Sheridan, the NBA should “worry about restoring its integrity with the fans who have stuck around…because the hardcore fans are the lifeblood of any professional sports league.”

In essence, Sheridan’s “mandate” is a question of public relations…that question being: What can the organization do to repair a relationship with its strongest supporters, once those supporters’ trust is betrayed?

Research from scholars like John Ledingham, Stephen Bruning, James Grunig, and others identifies several variables that determine the strength of a relationship between an organization and its public. Most of them fall under 4 categories: Trust, Satisfaction, Commitment, and Control Mutuality (or the level of control publics have within the organization).

The issue the NBA faces would appear to be an issue of trust, but that would be a hasty conclusion. Sure, fans’ trust has been betrayed, but launching a “trust” campaign–which the NBA will ultimately do–might not be the most effective strategy. No matter how strong a variable trust seems to be, research has shown that control mutuality and satisfaction are the strongest…and since it can be argued that satisfaction is a composite of the 3 variables, control mutuality rises to the top here.

For years, fans have wanted a stronger voice in the decisions of their favorite sports, not the least of which is the NBA. Up until now, the only option has been to yell at the TV at a bad call, curse team management, or express their dismay while attending games. Basically, the fan has no voice in the NBA, outside of selecting the players for the All-Star game.

Maybe it’s time the Commish hands over some of the control to the fans–his most important public. This is more than just an issue of improved transparence in NBA officiating, it’s recognizing the fan in NBA issues like this. Obviously, rule by the masses is not what I’m preaching here, but the Commish has to figure out a way to amplify the voice of the fan in league decisions and issues. Trust and commitment will follow, leading to satisfaction and a better NBA will emerge from this controversy.