Why the *^!% Not Pay for News Placement?

David Shank, President/CEO, Shank Public Relations Counselors

For the past several days I’ve been reading and participating in a conversation on the LinkedIn Public Relations Professionals group.  The discussion started innocently, but incredulously enough, with this question: “Is it ethical for a public professional to pay to get a story placed?”  Since my professional history has been based on the PRSA Code of Ethics, my first thought – you have to be kidding, what a stupid question.

As the comments flowed like a Hoosier stream during spring rains, I was disturbed by many of the comments: “Sure, why not…our job is to get the story in” or “why not as long as it’s factual” or “it’s the medium’s job to make the ethical decision.”  The comments were countered occasionally by someone saying “if you pay for it it’s advertising and if you don’t it’s PR.”

Many brought a global viewpoint, pointing out differences in international practices, but essentially the message was mixed.

The PRSA Code of Ethics (http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics), which few in the discussion acknowledged, is explicit – you don’t do it.

I was beginning to tire of the conversation, but it was so fascinating I couldn’t stop — sort of like watching a train wreck or “American Idol.” The comments emphasized getting the ‘story’ placed, but the emphasis should be on the end reader or viewer or listener — do they, will they, trust and believe the information they get?

Our product is not placements but credibility and transparency. If the story is paid, the reader will see through the honesty-scam and not believe it, not trust the news medium and eventually our clients or issue. The philosophy of getting ‘placed’ at any cost is short-sighted, demeans the process and will eventually backfire on the public relations professional, the client/issue and the news medium.

I don’t have a problem with paying for space as long as it’s amply labeled “advertorial.” One doesn’t have to look further in recent professional history than the Atlantic Monthly / Scientology debacle to see how this affects truth and credibility. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/the-scientology-ad/267198/

What do you think?

– David Shank


Build a relationship in a tube

It was a classic small town groundbreaking of a major new development for our client. The Mayor was there with two or three town council members, the Chamber president and his entourage of five or six people. The client’s associates were exuberant in their excitement for the new project.

The ground was soggy but not really muddy, the sun was out but it was still early-Spring chilly, and the 8’x8’ pop-up tent, furnished by the local rental center, stayed up.

The economic development guy welcomed the new project, the Mayor talked about the new jobs, the client representative talked about the company. The newspaper reporter and the radio reporter were reporting.

It was a great event.


The newspaper reporter came over to me and said (and I hate it when they open with this), “I have a bone to pick with you.”  Uh oh, here we go, I thought.  The news story had been misleading, something was misspelled, the information was outdated, I had the wrong street name, the not-for-profit organization name was wrong.  Whatever the problem, I was dreading to hear it.

“I can’t find tomato sauce in a tube in your store!  They used to have it. The store down the road doesn’t have it, either,” said the reporter.

“Have you asked the manager?  They are usually pretty good about customer requests,” I advised.  She hadn’t. I half-promised to look for tomato sauce in a tube to send her way. She walked away unconvinced.

Fast forward three months.  We found a store that carried tomato sauce in a tube.  In a light-hearted manner, I sent the tomato sauce in a tube to the reporter: “I bet you thought I’d forget about getting you the tomato sauce in a tube,” I said.  “I always keep my promises to reporters,” I concluded.

A week later I received a sincere hand written thank you note from the reporter.

Fast forward a year, to now.  Our company vice president is working with the same reporter for a different client. The reporter finishes an email with “Thank David for the tomato sauce in a tube.”

I made a friend…a relationship with a reporter.  A relationship not built on Twitter, or Facebook, or Pinterest but a relationship built on converting a little “bone to pick” into a low-cost action step and sensitivity to hearing what the reporter was asking.

There is a certain element of real human interaction, of listening and hearing real words and feelings coming from real people that leads to real relationships. And real relationships are what the public relations business is all about.

A Good Public Relations Person Pt.3

Well here you have it, the remaining seven (plus one) things that make a great public relations person. May you be challenged by the 21 items and cultivate your skills! Find the full list on our website.

  1. Be confident but not arrogant – speak your mind when your opinion is supported by facts or experience.  As baseball Hall of Famer and broadcaster Dizzy Dean once said – “It ain’t braggin’ if you done it.”
  2. Be a problem solver:  We are by definition problem solvers not just communicators:  How do I introduce this product or service?  How do I protect the company reputation?  How do I get this new technology to work for my client or organization?  How do I get the package to that city in the next 45 minutes when the elevators just shut off (this comes from a real world public relations experience)?
  3. Be accountable and dependable.
  4. Get out of the cubicle and off the X-Box 360 or PS2 and experience life and real people of all kinds.
  5. Understand news media in all of its various forms – know what is news and what is not; understand the continuing 24-second news cycle; understand deadlines and how newsrooms around the world work.  Know how journalists think, work, act, write.  Be able to speak like a reporter – know what a cop-shop is, and how to use B-roll, for example.
  6. Have fun.
  7. Be good to yourself and to those you love.

7+1.  You don’t have to “like people.”

By David L. Shank, President/CEO

A Good Public Relations Person Pt. 2

As promised, here is round two of what makes a great public relations person. If you had the chance to attend the PRSA Hoosier Chapter luncheon meeting yesterday you would have heard the College of Fellows share their thoughts on this. (Check out Twitter #PRSAHoosier for the live tweets from the event). What do you think makes a great PR person?

  1. Understand the culture around us – what’s significance of the Kardashians?  What does “The Hunger Games” say to the 18-30 year old segment?  Why was “The Avengers in 3-D” a box office blockbuster? What does “American Idol” mean to the American desire to see quality talent and earned success?  Why are the “reality” shows such as “Auction Kings”, “Deadliest Catch” and “Dirty Jobs” so popular and with whom? What do bloggers, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest mean to our society?
  2. Be curious – why did he/she say that?  Is that really the only solution?  How does that work?  Why did that group respond that way? How can I structure my program to get a different result?
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask intelligent and meaningful questions – anywhere.
  4. Be flexible, but organized.
  5. Be able to do a dozen things at the same time and do them well – this business does not allow linear thinking and delivery.
  6. Understand technology and its application, but you don’t necessarily have to be a technogeek.  Know how the Internet is useful and a detriment; understand blogs; Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Vimeo, Ning; web pages, videostreaming, Skype interviews, etc. IMHO: social media IS NOT the answer to everything!
  7. Be proactive and optimistic – don’t adhere to “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” but rather “if it’s not broken, improve it.”

By David L. Shank, President/CEO

What Makes a Good Public Relations Person

Not just anyone is cut out to be a good public relations person. David Shank has a pretty idea of what works and what doesn’t. Here is part one of a three part series on what really makes a good public relations person. Enjoy!

  1. Integrity and ethical grounding – know what’s right and what to do if you’re asked to do something else.
  2. READ – anything and everything you can get your hands on. Read real books, magazines and newspapers.  Read beyond your own present interests.  Go to the library and grab a book randomly off the shelves and finish it.
  3. Have the ability to think through difficult issues and to be able to see around the corner at what may be coming at you; and see forward weeks and months and years at what may be expected in the future.
  4. Understand how people think and respond to the culture and world around them.
  5. Be versed in numerous disciplines – psychology, sociology, history, government, current affairs, art, science, BUSINESS!
  6. Be a GOOD WRITER – who is easily understood, can comprehend difficult topics and simplify them to the level that Aunt Norma at the Beauty Shop can understand it.  On the other hand you must be able to write at more sophisticated levels for white papers, speeches, articles, presentations, etc.
  7. Be able to write in numerous formats and to switch gears instantly.  How you write a Tweet, isn’t the same as writing an op-ed for the New York Times; writing a blog isn’t the same as writing a technical article for a business magazine.

By David L. Shank, President/CEO

Thank You, Mike Wallace

Thousand of public relations professionals and crisis managers owe Mike a huge debt of gratitude. We have created a meaningful and purposeful industry of helping business and institutions work through crisis management with the single opening question:

“Are you prepared for the day when Mike Wallace walks through your door?”

Wallace, a mainstay of the CBS News program “60 Minutes”, died April 7 at age 93.

That’s never a real threat in most cases but just the thought of Wallace’s aggressive and credible investigative journalism was enough to turn normal steel-nerved business people into glassy-eyed, undulating gelatinous blobs like Jabba the Hut, brain fried and medically unresponsive.  And these were the leaders who were innocent.

His fellow “60 Minutes” reporter Morley Safer described him: “Wallace took to heart the old reporter’s pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” as reported by Adam Benstein in the Washington Post.

Wallace was old-school journalism.  He was the guy Woodward and Bernstein looked up to before Watergate-reporting was cool.  He was of the Walter Cronkite and Eric Severeid generation.  Reporters first, make-up wearers second.  More than if it bleeds, it leads.

There is a lot to be learned from Wallace and his take no crap attitude:

  1. Do the right thing – If you and our enterprise are doing the right thing you shouldn’t have to worry about this and the next generation’s Mike Wallace crashing through the door.
  2. Be prepared.  Wallace’s scathing interviews were based on hours of research, confirmation, witnesses, testimony.  He knew when the truth was stretched and would hit you with his classic “Oh, come on…”  You need to be equally prepared.
  3. You need to know how to react to the crusading reporter as they come at you.  You have rights as a subject.

Wallace tormented his subjects, but his objectivity, honesty and credibility could never be challenged.  He wasn’t perfect, He fought his own devils. But he also demonstrated hard-hitting, investigative reporting of the highest quality could pull real audiences in prime time.

In his own way he made a better world, if for no other reason than forcing us to ask our clients: “Are you prepared for the day when Mike Wallace walks through your door?”

By David L. Shank, CEO/President