Tag Archives: PR

Outgoing IABC Executive Chair Talks Future of Communications Profession



Adrian Cropley, ABC. Photo: Leland Holder

Adrian Cropley, ABC, fresh from serving the past year as chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) executive board, talked trends and the future of the communication profession during a special appearance with IABC’s Atlanta chapter on Tuesday.

“The landscape is changing quite rapidly for us,” says the former food-chef-turned-communicator.
Cropley began his career in internal communications at Ericsson 20 years ago, when the CEO challenged him to improve communication with employees.

“I became hooked ever since,” says Cropley, whose career has included working with Unilever, Ernst & Young, Shell, NAB, ANZ, National Foods and Kraft, as well as various government organizations. Today, Cropley runs Cropley Communications, a global internal communications training firm based in Melbourne.

Cropley with members of IABC Atlanta’s board. Photo: Leland Holder

He observes that communications professionals are starting to take on more roles that encompass
engagement and culture – functions historically belonging to the HR organization – as well as embracing digital platforms for their communication messages. 

“In this day of communications, it’s not just about internal communications that drive engagement; it’s internal and external because the boundaries have completely blurred. We’re crossing over boundaries and we’re seeing this happen globally,” he says.

While communications is going to get bigger on the agenda, we as professionals “could face an identity crisis if we don’t clearly outline our value to the organization and continue to make ourselves relevant,” he cautions.

One area we can’t take control of is the message with citizen journalism and social media today.  He referenced Kevin Thomson’s book, Emotional Capital, which contends that organizations have two types of capital – intellectual capital that firms harness, and emotional capital, or the will of people in an organization to put their knowledge and abilities to the betterment of the organization.   
An interesting insight is that the value of both of these to the organization is “identical.”

“Today we are looking today that this blurring of the boundaries between on internal and external means we really need to focus on things like engagement no matter who the organization is – it’s all about that emotional message- how do I engage people in a very honest, open way?”

In the future, we are all about multi-disciplinary communication globally because that’s where the landscape is eventually going.”  That’s the beauty of IABC, he adds, given IABC’s multi-disciplinary focus.

Why should companies care about engagement? Communicating and connecting with employees can have a major impact on organization productivity, he says, citing the Towers-Watson Change and Communication  ROI Study Report, which found that companies that are highly effective at communicating are 1.7 times likely to outperform their peers. He also quoted a study that found engaged employees in the UK take significantly less sick leave than those who are disengaged. 

Three findings from the Towers-Watson report are that sustainable business performance depends upon:

  • Clarity – having a clear direction for everyone
  • Competence – competence in leadership and in organizations
  • Community – it’s all about giving everyone a shared experience

He cited the 2011 European Communications Monitor study that tracks the evolving role of the communications profession in Europe and where the field is headed. The report pointed to the changing perception of PR globally and whether “PR” as a title creates a negative connotation in the market. To illustrate his point, Cropley shared a press article in New Zealand that complained that the government employed too many “spin doctors.”

“We have to reposition communications to make it very clear that it is a business value to organizations: What is our scope? What is it that we deliver?” Cropley says. “We have to start to clearly brand ourselves and what we do for the organization, then we’ve got to measure the tangible of what we do.”

Cropley contends that communicators are at a key moment in their profession where they can play influential roles. What do we need to do today as communicators to thrive in the future?

  • Understand the cultural context in the global business world.
  • Understand that our audience is different and it is we who must adapt our approach based on the audience – with honesty and a desire to build a relationship with our audience.
  •  Broaden our skills as we converge – understanding the path for communications is knowing a lot of different disciplines.
  • Meet our audience where they are.
  • Don’t drop the tactics, including core skills like writing– “find the sweet spot between tactics and strategy,” he advises.

What Media Need: Quote-worthy, Credible Experts

On Ragan.com today, Lindsey Miller reports that PR pros now have a third service to use to get their clients in front of the media. Newly launched Reporter Connection joins Help Out A Reporter (HARO) and Profnet as the newest online resource providing a deadline-intensive window into the world of breaking news. All three connect reporters to PR people, who want to position their experts for stories. Knowing about these leads is only part of the battle; you have to come up with thoughtful, well written and persuasive pitches that stand out. Only then can you convince the journalist that your source has a unique take on the trend and is quote-worthy.

I have used both Profnet (as a paid subscriber through PR Newswire) and HARO, a free service run since 2008 by Peter Shankman). A nice attribute Profnet offers is being able to post a short bio on your expert that subscribers can access anytime. Both HARO and Profnet organize leads by category and push out digests of these new leads to their subscriber base daily (sometimes more often).  I love the breadth and scope of HARO’s base of journalists and the fact that it is a free service. Anytime you can position a client as a resource to the media and help them make their story better is a win-win for you as a PR professional and for the reporter.

The journalist-PR pro exchange is always a delicate (and sometimes tense) dance of give and take, where the reporter needs sources, but he or she doesn’t always have time to make nice with PR folks, especially if in return they will find their inbox flooded with press releases. On the other hand, public relations professionals are paid to raise their clients’ profile, but they need to do it with the long-term picture in mind. It’s unreasonable to expect a steady stream of in-depth profiles. Clients need to know that they must invest their time and their knowledge without the immediate expectation that they will be the article’s main attraction. More likely, they may get a well-placed quote in the context of a larger trend story. When working with journalists, it’s critical to find out what their hot buttons are and educate clients on how the news cycle works.  Put simply, it’s not about us.

“What I like about Profnet and HARO is they do give you a chance to see a story in progress and decide if you have an expert who can help with that story, which as a good PR person, you want your clients to be resources for stories,” says Mitch Leff, owner of Atlanta-based Mitch’s Media Match.com, the local Atlanta equivalent of these national services.

Mitch started his service a few years ago after local media told him they wanted local sources for stories. His service has 150 experts, representing a diverse range of industries, including education, economics, real estate, sports and healthcare.”One interesting thing I found after I launched the service is there are a lot of media requests for a general reaction, so I created a separate category of ‘man-on-the-street’ type queries. The AJC does a lot of stories about jobs and employment and they like to quote real people who have recently lost or got a job, for example.”

Building a relationship with reporters is key.  “If you want to be a part of a story, you want to pitch how your expert can be part of that story.  Not every story is going to be about your company,” Mitch says.

Clearly, as newspaper pages (and the number of papers) continue to shrink, it’s becoming more and more important to build a relationship with reporters, Mitch says.

Some PR pros I spoke with disagree, noting that the relationship building, while nice, may be challenging given that there are fewer journalists to reach, and those who are on a news desk today could be reassigned or riffed tomorrow. In addition, these media workers have less time to build rapport than ever before, given that many are writing for multiple beats and are expected to produce content for both print and online channels. Your story angle and the quality of your source are king.

“It’s nice to build relationships, but you have to come to a reporter with something real; they don’t have time to just relationship build,” notes Dan Marcus, president of Marcus Associates LLC., a 10-year communications and marketing consulting firm based in Connecticut. Dan ran PR for PanAmSat prior to starting his own company. Before that, he was a journalist.”I’ve worked a lot with financial columnists and I always approach them in the context of what they’re writing about.”

Everyone agrees that a great starting point is to know what the reporters want to talk about. Check out the resources above and tell me what you think.