Posts Tagged 'technology'

Exploring the Evolving World of Media, Technology and PR

Alternately as publicists, communications strategists, social media marketers, and general media advocates—in other words, as Public Relations professionals—we’re highly interested in the evolving world of new media, technology, and new methods and distribution channels for reporting. We understand that these developments are an integral part of what we do, and we’re pleased to be actively involved in some of these spaces. In the past few months we spent time away to examine more closely what’s happening in the fields of journalism, media, technology, and therefore public relations. We’re excited to post our first findings here.

Capping our activities, we participated in Illinois Humanities People-Powered Publishing Conference, subtitled “Innovation, Community, and the Future of Journalism.” As it turned out, this conference gave us a national picture of what’s happening in these areas.

A Changing Sense of Audience

To begin with, perhaps in the future, the whole concept of “audience” will change, or even diminish. Hearken, the company behind its namesake community engagement platform for news organizations, describes the audience as all of us, and the relationships we share with others.

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By this view, the “audience” isn’t consumers, or for PR purposes “publics,” sitting out there waiting to engage with us and what we do; the “audience” is our network of friends, associates and even strangers who we interact and engage with in some way on an ongoing basis. Think of it—as a practicing or aspiring journalist, PR person, social marketer, content developer or thought leader, you view yourself as an integral part of whatever community you’re looking to engage with, and not separate from it. Otherwise, you’re missing the point.

Giving and Receiving Feedback

When you’re in almost any business, especially media, PR, journalism and social networking, how we share information and receive feedback is vitally important. There’s a lot of study, development and, in some cases hand-wringing, going on related to how best to share, then receive and process feedback. In the real media world of today, much of that receiving feedback focuses on comments—how to receive them, what to make of them, and how best, or even whether, to respond them. Here’s a peak at how much actual science is going into how individuals are managing daily, or should be managing, such interactions as comments.

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Are you thinking about two-way conversation and feedback? Important questions:

1) whether comments are allowed;

2) what are the rules/guidelines for commenting and how are they customer-engagementcommunicated or monitored;
3) are comments curated or moderated, and who’s assigned those duties;
4) when we solicit feedback, especially in social media, are we too limited in our range of choices (e.g., like, share, comment, etc.)

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While we’ve always agreed that it’s not the best judgment to assign digital and social media curation to an intern, as many do, we wondered how much actual forethought organizations are giving to addressing crucial questions like those above, directly tied to audience engagement. It was also exciting to see that one group, the Engaging News Project makes the case for and offers additional feedback tools such as downloadable buttons for Respect, Important, Recommend, etc., for posted content.

Of course, your individual goals, objectives, organizational culture and policies, should guide answers to some of these questions. However, it was great for us as consultants and counsel to re-examine some of these questions to make sure we consider a wider array of options in making recommendations to clients.

Re-Emergence of Civic Journalism

What’s old is new again! Remember back in the 1990s (for those of you old enough to recall) the trend in journalism toward more participatory, collaborative reporting between journalists and community members toward what was considered the greater good. It was called civic journalism, and though the trend fell out of vogue, it never died in some places. With the further decentralizing of the news media, and news reporting capabilities now made possible widely via mobile, social and digital media, there’s a renewed push for more collaborative journalism between news reporters and community members. Be on the watch again for the terms civic journalism and “engaged journalism,” even “public journalism”—all of which speak to what the Democracy Fund, one of the organizations spearheading this media transition, describes as “transforming the relationship between news consumers and news producers.” (Overholser, Democracy Project)

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Some of the other organizations actively promoting more open and collaborative efforts include The Pew Center for Civic Journalism, which describes itself as “an incubator for civic journalism experiments that enable news organizations  to create and refine better ways of reporting the news to re-engage people in public life”; the Coral Project, dedicated to creating open source tools to further empower news content developers of all sizes; and university-based research centers such as the Engaging News Project, at University of Texas/Austin, mentioned above.

In addition to all of these, there are a number of working models and examples of collaborations between media and community organizations aimed at diversifying news gathering and news content. At People-Powered Publishing, several of those featured included experiments in Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia and Kansas City, to name a few.

Technology

More specifically on the technology front, Mozilla OpenNews, enables peer-to-peer networking and problem-solving by techs, journalists and digital content producers to “help journalism thrive on the open web.” It’s an example of the kind of high-stakes networking, research and development, and collaboration taking place to maximize and support technological developments in the news business.

At behooves all PR pros to at least be aware of these initiatives, and to perhaps look for ways to participate and engage on behalf of their organizations or clients. The news business is changing radically right before our very eyes. It’s important for public relations professionals to be on the cusp of those changes.

A Growing Drumbeat: Diversity in PR and Tech Takes on Many Dimensions

Diversity-1

 

After our post last month on Diversity in PR and Tech, we were reminded that such a far-reaching subject has many diverse perspectives. We recently came across a few that give added dimension to the reasons why the status quo in these industries can’t remain. So here, within one post, is a range of viewpoints on the important issue of diversity in tech and PR.

First, PR Week gives us a summary of panel opinions on why the diversity gap exists in public relations and what must be done, from its PR Week conference in New York. Among the panelists, Shante Bacon, founder of 135th Street Agency, opined:

We don’t need a new generation of African-American interns and assistants; what we need is African-American EVPs, SVPs, people who have a seat at the table, who can make decisions and who are trusted to manage a budget and make strategic divisions.” Read more.

On the subject of diversity in tech, technology vet Mark Luckie, gives us an inside perspective on what it’s like to be a Black employee at a tech company.

The most impactful detriment to diversity in Silicon Valley is the idea of ‘culture fit.’ Employees are actively encouraged to suggest friends or former colleagues for open roles. The premise is if the employee and the candidate have a congenial relationship outside of the company, the new recruit is more likely to work well with other staffers. The recommended candidates are given preference or special attention during the recruiting process. It should come as no surprise then that there aren’t more applicants of color to select from.” More

Another technology veteran, Catherine Lundoff, reminds us that in technology, as well as in other industries such as PR, color may not be the only barrier to a diverse workforce:

In IT, it sometimes feels like everyone under the manager level is 35 or younger. In some shops, even being older than 30 is ancient. It’s a culture that doesn’t value older workers or older tech: anything old is obsolete, no longer new and shiny. Old machines, old software and old people are things to be replaced…” More

Of course, we knew we weren’t alone in the growing drumbeat for diversity in tech and PR, but it’s nice to be reminded. Feel free to share these viewpoints, or your own, in the comment section below.

How Tech (and PR) Companies Can Increase Diversity

A real-life parable on the importance of inclusion

diverse tech workers

We think that diversity in public relations and technology companies—two of the global world’s most thriving industries—is one of the most significant issues of our time. To that end, we write a good deal about the issue. Our post below, a real-life parable on the importance of inclusion, focuses on tech, but could as well be written about public relations today. As always, we welcome your feedback and comments at the end.

Given the opportunity, do you think most African American or Latino youth would opt for an entry-level job at McDonald’s or one in tech? Of course, the answer in our tech-driven world is a virtual no-brainer: most would no doubt choose the burgeoning world of technology. Which is what makes this story so important.

Diversity through Mentoring

Nearly two decades ago, at least one technology company took the initiative to offer a similar opportunity to a few talented high school students. One result of their pioneering and perseverance is Jessica L. Williams, a 34-year-old information networking and technology manager in Chicago.Jessica_intro With the aid of an early start, now at age 34, she’s comfortably immersed in middle management, with 15 years of experience in technology–eight of them as an information networking manager, and the last two working for one of the largest convention centers in the United States. How and why she got to her current position is an instructive lesson for both tech and PR—two industries now under fire for the inexplicably low representation of women and minorities within their ranks. It’s worth noting here that Williams is an African-American woman, whose life experience contradicts the oft-heard canard that there aren’t qualified African-American techies out there. The point is these industries have to do more to develop and/or find diverse candidates.

Back in the 1998, during the early phases of the dot-com boom, an upstart technology firm, SDI Solutions, took the initiative to offer promising high-school students their first exposure to the fields of business and technology through the firm’s First Chance Initiative. Williams was one of those students. A junior at Whitney Young High School at the time, she had no idea what the technology field had to offer, as she hadn’t ever known anyone who’d had such a career. She only knew that she was good at math and science, and that people at school urged her to follow the tech path. The downside—she thought—was that she’d have to give up her job at McDonald’s, which provided additional income that she and her family truly needed. (Williams was parented by a single grandmother). Fortunately, she discovered that First Chance was a paid internship. As she would also learn, it also offered her tutoring and mentoring in a transformative experience that came to be a defining moment in her path to a career.

Finding a Niche in a Varied Industry

As an intern, my first introduction to a technology career was in marketing, then later coding. It was only by talking to people on the job that I learned about information systems technology [as a career option].”

Williams also found other supports at SDI, which led to her scuttling her plans for a post-graduation pre-med education in college, and put her on a path through business and marketing, coding, technology networking and systems design—all within the same tech company—during the heady days of the dot-com boom. Those varied work experiences led her to her niche in information systems networking. She finished her Bachelor’s degree with a concentration in business, with emphasis on technology. The company also provided support in her senior year of college to become a Cisco-certified networking associate. In all, through a series of progressive work and learning experiences, she became an established technology veteran with more than a decade of career stability at the same company.

Which is not to say the path to her current position as Technology Infrastructure Manager at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, was without challenges.

Challenging Workplace Insecurities


Jessica_talking2

My first [career] challenge was being typecast as a ‘young intern’.” As I grew professionally, “it was hard for me to be taken seriously for project management and other leadership roles.

It was only through proving myself by working on ‘special projects’ that I got the chance to show what I could do.”

One of her biggest challenges, she recalls—a challenge not uncommon to women, especially women entering the male-dominated fields like technology—was insecurity.

I had to learn to overcome the mentality that if I didn’t know something 100 percent initially, that I couldn’t do it. Instead I learned how to figure things out while working on the job.”

Asked about the current criticism of the tech industry as not being diverse enough and whether the dominant tech companies are prepared to live up to the corporate social responsibilities expected of other leading industries, Williams responds,Jessica talking 2

It doesn’t matter whether the tech industry is ready or not [to play a leadership role in social responsibility]; the social expectation is there, so the industry simply has to step up and meet [that societal expectation].”

PR, Tech and Diversity

Diversity-1

Like most good ideas, this post on PR, tech and diversity began with a convergence of events: first, was seemingly back-to-back articles in New York magazine and The Atlantic expounding, as many have done before, on the stereotyping and reality of PR as an industry comprised principally of underpaid women; second, was the growing attention to and release of the startling statistics on diversity in the tech industry—most notably, the virtual absence of African-Americans and Latinos and limited progress of women in what is arguably one of the nation’s most dominant industries; third, coinciding with these other events, was securing a long-sought opportunity to take a deep dive into the tech world, this time as a temporary contractor for a PR software firm. All of these have been instructive in revealing some truths about the PR and tech industries and the issue of diversity.

First, let us say that we’re PR veterans. We know the industry, we love the industry, and we’ve evolved with it over a period approaching some 30 years. We began doing what’s now known as traditional public relations, morphed into corporate communications and then integrated marketing communications. Now we’re adherents of PR 2.0 and emerging PR 3.0—which, to us, means cross-platform marketing, storytelling content development, and a whole array of nontraditional techniques and tools. In each phase, we’ve been in a position to experience the lack of diversity in each industry—particularly as it relates to agency public relations.

Thankfully, during those 30 years we’ve seen some growth and improvement in numbers and the status of individuals. Yet, as many industries overall have experienced significant progress in diversity, these two industries seem to lag. What to do?

The Diversity Problem in PR and Tech

Well, first we need to define the problem. Much has been written on this issue over the years—particularly in tech—where it’s been hard to miss the spotlight that’s been focused during recent months. For PR, as in the advertising industry and even journalism before it, it’s been a troubling issue for some time.diverse tech workers

Without turning this post into a treatise, comparative stats show:

►  In 1991, 22 percent of US workers were minorities; yet only 7 percent of the 150,00 people employed in public relations were of a minority group 1

►By 2010, PRSA’s census of practitioners (via its professional membership) showed that 14 percent of the membership self-identified as Hispanic, Black or African American, or Asian or Asian American—with that percentage doubling since 2005. 2

►As late as October, 2014, none other than Lou Capozzi, President of the PR Foundation noted that “African-American and Hispanic Americans make up only about 10 percent of all public relations professionals, while they’re 30 percent of the American population overall.”

Similarly, when stats from the tech industry were released by various companies last year, the findings revealed:

►USA Today reported that one percent of Google’s tech staff are African-American, while two percent are Hispanic. Yet, these groups comprise 12 percent and 16 percent, respectively, of the total population. Yet Asians, who comprise 12 percent of the US population, represent 34 percent of the company’s tech workers. Similarly 83 percent of Google’s tech workers internationally are reported to be male. When non-tech positions are included, male workers still dominate, at 52 percent.

►In August, a Tech Times story described Apple’s workforce as composed of 70 percent men, 30 percent women. It also described the ethnic make-up as 55 percent White, 15 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Black, 2 percent Mixed Race, and 9 percent undeclared. *These figures were said to include employees of their retail stores.

*Fortune magazine offers the most extensive review of tech companies and diversity: http://fortune.com/2014/08/29/how-tech-companies-compare-in-employee-diversity/

What to Do?

One of the first things the PR and tech industries have to do is let go of the canard that

qualified ______ (take your pick—African-Americans, Latinos, women, and any other under-represented sector, including age and color) are hard to find.

From our experience, truth be told, there’s a person of color that can match the qualifications of many already employed in tech and agency PR; it’s simply that too frequently they’re denied the opportunity: they’re not recruited, they didn’t attend the “right” school, they don’t know the “right” people, they don’t live in the “right” place, the list goes on.

diverse hands  End the Mythology

It’s past time to kill the myth that every White and/or Asian male (the dominant groups leading—or in the case of tech, employed in these industries) is infinitely qualified. This is especially true in tech, where the illusion promulgated is that every employee is a Stanford or MIT engineering grad, or at least a high achiever from some elite liberal arts school. Like nearly every other industry we’ve seen—and perhaps most industries—PR agencies and tech are largely peopled with ordinary foot soldiers, and among them, there’s an unfair share of nepotism, cronyism, and worse yet, incompetence. It’s often simply a question of who enjoys the “privilege” of getting paid to be “average” or a “slacker.”

An Issue of Culture, Not Always Competence

What keeps the PR and tech industries meticulously lacking in diversity is too often culture, not a question of qualifications or competence. These industries are self-perpetuating because there’s a prevailing culture within them where key leaders feel comfortable with the status quo. A recent essay in the New York Times titled “A Paradox of Integration,” observed that integration rarely happens without growing pains. As a respondent in the essay noted:

People are fine with racial difference as long as there’s no culture conflict.

The public relations and tech industries seem to be reluctant, if not averse, to suffer the growing pains of diversity toward a larger social good.

Yes, things are changing and leaders in both of these industries are loudly (in the case of the PR industry, still) proclaiming their commitment to do better. Leaders in each industry have announced significant diversity and inclusion initiatives, and some, e.g., PRSA, the PR Council, Edelman PR firm and Intel, among others, have committed real resources to inclusion and diversifying workplaces.

Yet we can’t help but find it ironic that two industries known for disruption seem to be among the most timid about the “disruption” that accompanies true social, cultural and racial integration. If there’s going to be real change, we think we’ll need to keep prodding them along!

What’s your experience with diversity in tech or PR? We’d love to hear from you.

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  1. From a study by Williams, as quoted in Women in Public Relations: How Gender Influences Practice, Larissa A. Grunig, ‎Linda Childers Hon, ‎Elizabeth L. Toth.
  1. Diversity in the PR field: Some progress, though challenges persist, Natalie Tindall, PR Daily, February 7, 2012

Exxon: Let’s Solve This

We never want to give praise to oil companies too quickly for fear we’ll be just as readily contradicted (like $5/gallon regular gasoline prices, offshore drilling, et al.). Yet, we have to say we’re impressed with Exxon’s advertising and “Let’s Solve This”  campaign to improve education, particularly US math and science education (STEM).

What grabbed our attention recently were the timely Exxon2and attractive national ads in support of teachers and educational improvement. Not only was the advertising dead-on timely, coming as it did about a week after the nationally-watched teachers’ strike that delayed the start of school in Chicago [and a few other places], but it also didn’t hurt that it coincided with a widely circulated New York Times’ story on teachers’ unions—once Democratic stalwarts—now cultivating strategic relationships with key Republicans across the country. While we’re not taking political sides on these issues, we acknowledge wholeheartedly our previous PR work on behalf of schools and school reform causes. In this instance, though, our aim is to acknowledge a company for its smart and committed corporate support on behalf issues critical to their corporate mission and for the betterment of society.

We’re always impressed when companies show they “get it” by not only taking up, but taking the lead on these kinds of issues. So, we took a look at the “Let’s Solve This” and found out some things you might want to know. Exxon/Mobil has been sponsoring this cause since 2009, with the National Math and Science Initiative, to promote teacher training and student preparation in so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). Without question, this is a critical issue for Exxon/Mobil and other corporations that depend on US ingenuity in these fields; but, of course, it’s also a critical issue for our society, in general, as Americans have been slipping further and further down in academic achievement in these areas. We like the fact the Exxon not only supports these issues behind the scene, but has shown a willingness to shine a light onto larger related issues (like the quality of education overall), even when such issues reach the point of contention.

So we’re hoping that “Let’s Solve This” does indeed make crucial headway on the series of vexing issues related to STEM. In doing so, perhaps they can provide a model for how corporate social responsibility, in general, can work on a variety of other issues.


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