A Newsworthy Birthday

In May 1846, five New York City newspapers joined forces – spearheaded by New York Sun publisher Moses Yale Beach – to get news from the distant Mexican-American War. The consortium that we now know as Associated Press was founded with the mission “to gather with economy and efficiency an accurate and impartial report of the news,” an innovation in journalism at a time when most major newspapers took a strictly partisan editorial stance.

Impartiality wasn’t the only innovation. In 1914, Associated Press introduced the “telegraph typewriter” or teletype into newsrooms across the U.S. That, and the later launch of its Wirephoto network which transmitted images the same day as they were taken, gave AP a major advantage over other news media outlets.

The AP is also the only news organization that collects and verifies national and local election results in every city and county across the country. News outlets rely on the polling data and results provided by the Associated Press before declaring winners in major political races, notably the presidential election.

Sports fans have relied on AP’s college football rankings since 1936, and its college basketball poll is the go-to source for which teams deserve national attention.

And while writers have several style guides upon which to rely, the venerable AP Stylebook produced as a guide for reporters and now in its 55th edition, remains the grammar and punctuation bible for writers in broadcasting, magazine publishing, corporate communications departments and public relations firms like RLF.

Happy birthday, AP!

Perspective on Measuring Public Relations Value

In conversations with clients and potential clients, the issue of measuring the value and impact of investments in public relations is a frequent topic. It is a simple question without easy or straight-forward answers. RLF Communications’ (RLF) point of view is that measurement can and should be implemented if the client is committed to long-term investments in strengthening its brand, building awareness for its products and services, and deepening its relationships with stakeholder audiences.

At the simplest level, public relations can be measured with “ad equivalency,” “share-of-voice,” or other metrics that track earned media coverage. For example, ad equivalency metrics assign a value based on what that same “space” would have cost if it had been purchased. A story on a local television news program that airs for 60 seconds would be assigned the value of what that same airtime would have cost to run a commercial. Most formulas also assign a multiplier of 3-5 times to reflect the third-party credibility that comes from earned media. It can also be measured by creating dedicated landing pages or phone numbers tied to specific news releases.

While there are multiple variations and flaws with these approaches (how to measure tone, how to account for negative coverage that could have been so much worse without skillful PR support, etc.), it is the easiest way to create charts and graphs that can be shared with senior leadership teams. Although most companies have moved away from ad equivalency metrics, there is still a role for them as a baseline to track earned media efforts over time, particularly for specific projects such as product launches and promotional campaigns. RLF invests significant resources in monitoring systems and databases such as Cision, Sprout Social, Mention and other platforms to help provide this type of reporting and analysis.

Tracking the deeper impact of public relations initiatives to support company\organizational brands requires a more sophisticated approach. New services such as Signal AI are developing tools that harness the power of Artificial Intelligence in data gathering and analysis. Beyond that, there are a multitude of studies that address how to arrive at brand equity formulas but do not segment out the specific role public relations plays in creating that value. Even the Valid Methods Framework (VFM) adopted as part of the Barcelona Principles in 2010 does not provide helpful measurement tools that can be applied by organizations.

RLF defines public relations as “communicating, connecting and influencing stakeholders who can help or hurt an organization by what they think, believe, say and do.” As companies\organizations seek to establish or maintain leadership positions in their respective industries, establishing original and relevant business metrics will help determine the value of their public relations efforts with stakeholders. Those metrics start with RLF helping to clearly define what “success” looks like and what goals makes a meaningful difference to the company\organization.

Once we know which way is “True North,” RLF advocates adopting the “outcomes” model identified in the Guidelines for Measuring Relationships in Public Relations study commissioned 20 years ago by the Institute for Public Relations. It is still considered the gold standard in PR measurement techniques. The model identifies five outcomes of successful relationships with key stakeholders:

  • Control Mutuality (The degree to which parties agree on rightful power to influence each other.)
  • Trust (Built through integrity, dependability, competence and confidence.)
  • Satisfaction (Where positive expectations are reinforced, and benefits outweigh costs.)
  • Commitment (When the relationship is worth spending energy to maintain and promote.)
  • Communal Relationship (Both parties provide benefits to the other because they are concerned for the welfare of the other, even when they get nothing in return. This is in contrast to “exchange” relationships where all actions are predicted on expectations to receive benefits of equal or greater value to what has been given.)

Organizations that communicate effectively with stakeholders develop better relationships because management and stakeholders understand one another and are less likely to behave in ways that have negative consequences on the interests of the other. Therefore, the value of public relations can be determined by assessing the quality of relationships with strategic publics and measuring effective outcomes.

Every company\organization has a different set of key stakeholders, but they generally encompass both internal and external audiences, such as senior management, employees, boards of directors, regulatory bodies, legislative bodies, activist groups, analysts, retail shareholders, institutional shareholders, trade media, business media, local media, vendor partners, retail partners, suppliers, financial partners and labor unions. Let’s also not forget customers and the myriad of combinations they form. The list goes on and on, driven by an organization’s size, complexity and industry.

There will often be times when a company\organization is at odds with the needs and desires of certain stakeholders. In fact, there are times when going to war against those groups is required to accomplish organizational objectives. In those instances, the value of having done the hard work required in public relations pays off. As Sun Tzu recorded more than 2,000 years ago in The Art of War, “Know your enemy and know yourself, and fight a hundred battles without danger. Know yourself but not your enemy and win one battle but lose another.”

If companies\organizations truly want to understand where they stand with friends and foes, RLF recommends developing a Perception Matrix that assigns a current score for each “outcome” with every stakeholder audience. Strategies and tactics can then be developed to stabilize, improve and track outcome scores, with the desired objective to more effectively operate and achieve business objectives.

For example, companies\organizations can establish baseline scoring systems ranging from -5 to +5, with 0 serving as neutral. For each stakeholder group, an initial score can be assigned in each outcome category (Control Mutuality, Trust, Satisfaction, Commitment, Communal Relationship) and then work to create strategies with specific outcome objectives such as increasing positive share-of-voice, reducing regulatory cycles, aligning third-party supporters and other metrics that ultimately lead to improved company\organizational performance.

There is a no question this is tricky to figure out. Professor Jim Macnamara has written, “human interactions, relationships, feelings, attitudes, loyalties, perceptions and engagement do not yield easily to numeric quantification.” But companies\organizations can and should be able to develop a model that assigns numerical value to the investments they make in establishing (and maintaining) leadership positions in their respective industries.

Companies\organizations interested in these issues should also review insights gathered in the Authentic Enterprise report commissioned a decade ago by the Arthur Page Society. Page is composed of the top corporate public relations executives in the United States. The study was updated in 2013 and reaffirms that a proactive narrative is a key part of explaining an enterprise’s social value and defending the company’s reputation in the global marketplace.

Another resource that can be helpful is the annual Global Communications Report conducted by the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California. This survey is endorsed by the leading communication associations, and RLF participates in the data gathering process through our Worldcom Public Relations Group partnership. With more than 100 leading independent agencies around the world to draw on for trends, insights, proprietary research and best practices, we are able to access a multitude of resources for our clients.

RLF deeply believes in the power of public relations to move companies forward and build brand equity. Absolute quantification is a challenge in our industry, but we can develop metrics to inform our progress. We are devoted to ideas, strategy and service that help our clients succeed and we welcome the opportunity to work with clients who aspire to great things.

RLF Communications Hires Three Communications Managers To Support Client Growth

We are thrilled to announce the recent hiring of Lucy Dunham, Brianna Gillard and Calissa Holder as communications managers on the RLF team. These new hires will support a wide range of work for our rapidly growing client base.

“I am pleased for Lucy, Brianna and Calissa to join the RLF team. These women bring strong skill sets and capabilities to serve our clients’,” said Monty Hagler, president and CEO of RLF. “Expanding our team allows us to provide more depth and reinforces our commitment to be available for our clients whenever they need us.”

Dunham, Holder and Gillard will support our full range of public relations services, including media relations, internal communications, research and social media campaigns.

Dunham graduated from Villanova University, earning a dual degree in English and Sociology. She is a Greensboro native, and has held internships with local organizations such as The Cemala Foundation and also served as a court runner for Tuggle Duggins.

Gillard earned her bachelor’s degree from Miami International University of Art and Design, majoring in fashion merchandising with a minor in public relations. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional studies, public relations and corporate communications at Georgetown University. Prior to joining RLF, Gillard worked as an account executive for Osei PR and Iman Hasan Creative, where she worked with clients in the beauty industry.

A December 2020 graduate of Elon University, Holder majored in strategic communications and Spanish. During her time at Elon, she served as a communications assistant for the School of Education and as a marketing intern for the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce.

International Connectivity in the Age of COVID

by Monty Hagler

One of the defining traditions of being a partner in the Worldcom Public Relations Group is gathering every spring with more than 100 other agency leaders to share best practices, collaborate on projects and jointly fund research projects such as the Worldcom Confidence Index, which deploys artificial intelligence to analyze sentiments from 54,000 global CEOs and CMOs.

Worldcom Zoom call

As with all other traditions over the past year, the 2020 Worldcom meeting scheduled in Malaysia was cancelled and our recent 2021 global meeting was held virtually. Partners logged onto Zoom from nearly every time zone and there was robust discussion on important initiatives as we reconnected with old friends and welcomed new partners.

RLF Communications joined Worldcom in 2010 because of a compelling need to help our clients understand local markets in other parts of the globe and access a broader variety of resources to accomplish their business objectives. Those needs have only increased over the past decade as we become an even more global society. I’m currently serving on the Global board and as chair of the Americas region which stretches from Chile to Canada. I learn something new in every conversation, every interaction I have with my partners, and that makes me a better counselor and strategic advisor to my team and clients.

The annual meeting and regional meetings in the fall are important because Worldcom is made up of more than dots on a global map. We know, trust and value our partners. I’ve met with virtually every agency head, and spent time getting to know them and what they represent. I count on them to respond when I reach out. And they know they can count on me.

Because of the pandemic, one of the biggest shifts taking place is discussion about physical offices and remote working. Virtually every large company in the US has kept employees home for nearly a year, and many of them have no plans to bring staff back to the office for at least another six months. Many studies, such as a recent McKinsey white paper, are showing that for highly skilled professionals that utilize technology, there will likely be a permanent shift in how, where and when we reengage in office settings.

We cannot and should not try to put the remote workplace genie back in the bottle, but I believe there are significant drawbacks to moving to an all-virtual workforce in industries where in-person collaboration, cooperation and trust are the glue that holds the work together. The longer we create distance between teams, the more cracks are going to appear in the system. We found that to be true at RLF after 3 months working remotely, which is why I made the decision to bring everyone back to the office in June. We social distance in meetings, we wear masks when sitting close, we have glass panels between workstations, and we sit in separate rooms for client calls. But we are together to brainstorm, debate, laugh, plan, encourage, proofread and engage. It makes a world of difference. It makes us better for our clients and each other.

One of my favorite Harvard Business Review articles by Alan Webber back in 1993 drilled the point that in a knowledge economy, the most important work is conversation. Something important is lost when conversation only happens at a distance, no matter how easy it is to meet virtually through Zoom, Teams, Meets, Slacks and other such platforms.

For my part, I look forward to reconnecting – face-to-face — with my Worldcom partners when it is safe and appropriate to do so.

Fall 2020 Intern Spotlight: Lissy Shortall

At RLF, we are committed to providing opportunities and real-world experience to the next generation of PR practitioners. So, even with the COVID-19 pandemic, we felt it was important to continue our internship program this fall, albeit largely remotely. Meet Lissy Shortall, our fall 2020 intern!headshot of Lissy Shortall

“My name is Lissy Shortall and I am a junior strategic communications major at Elon University with a minor in multimedia authoring. I am originally from Rhode Island and wanted to experience something different than the tiny state I grew up in, hence I ended up touring out-of-state schools and absolutely fell in love with Elon where I have continued to cherish my experiences. While I am very devoted to academics, I also have 2 part-time jobs on campus as a student technician as well as a group exercise instructor. When I’m not in class, you’ll often find me in the library, taking strolls across campus or listening to Hozier at the lake.”

What made you want to pursue communications?

I’m very much a people person as well as a creative, so communications felt like a no-brainer. With each experience I’ve had, my love for communications has only been further affirmed! I love the fact that communications is involved in every industry in some way, shape, or form; it is a constantly evolving field so there are always new things to learn which draws me in even more.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I ask myself this question every day! I’m currently in a very unique place in my life in which I do not feel particularly tied to any one location. On one hand, this is awesome because the world is my oyster, on the other, it is a little scary since the world is so big! I would most ideally end up working on lifestyle, health, and/or fitness brands in a small PR agency that has a very family-like feel to combine my passion for health and wellness with communications.

What is your favorite part of the RLF internship program?

My favorite part so far is the hands-on approach to the tasks. I really enjoy the fact that, under the guidance and feedback of the RLF team, I get to see some many projects through from start to finish. In classes, I often only do one piece of the communications experience and do not work with actual clients. At RLF, I get to be involved with the entire process of research, writing and outreach which is exciting.

What is your favorite quote?

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” – Friedrich Nietzsche

What is your favorite movie?

I’m a sucker for Jake Gyllenhaal movies and my favorite would have to be Donnie Darko! I’ve probably watched it more than 25 times at this point.

If you could travel anywhere where would you go?

Something about Australia has always intrigued me and is at the top of my list! I’ve never left the country, but I would go everywhere if I could.

My Journey as an Intern in the PR World: What I Have Learned

By Lindsay Silverman

I never knew what I wanted to do with my life. As a child, I was one of those kids who ran around the house pretending to be an FBI agent or recording news segments on my desktop computer (does anyone have those anymore?). I played every sport and never stuck with just one. But one thing remained consistent, and that was my ability to read a room and connect with people. When I got to college, I once again was on a path of not knowing what I desired for a career. The pressure was astounding. But when I walked into my very first PR class junior year, I knew: I am supposed to tell people’s stories.

During spring break, I applied to 80 internships (Yeah, I know, the Gen Z mentality is a bit hyperbolic.) I made sure to personally email all of the places I wanted to apply to — no job boards allowed.lindsay silverman, intern, pet friendly office, RLF Communications

However, when I first stumbled upon RLF’s website, I knew it was the place for me. From its motto of being respected, liked, and feared, to its design work — I was obsessed, to say the least; and I hadn’t even met these people yet!

And then the interview happened. I was completely out of my comfort zone, this being the first virtual interview I had ever done. My voice was shaking and I was unsure of my answers, speaking to the 4 faces on the screen in front of me. All of these faces were so kind and engaged, and I felt like a fish out of water.

Towards the end of the interview, it was just me and two Communications Managers. I asked them why they do what they do, and they said: “Because we yearn to tell people’s stories. The look on someone’s face when you impact them can’t be compared.” And that’s when I knew: I had to work at RLF. I made sure to narrate that I felt the same way, and in those moments, I had never felt more connected to people through a screen then I did right then.

My experience at RLF has proven how important storytelling ties into the work that we do. Our clients give us the opportunity to shape narratives and change lives. I’ve really examined that in my coworkers here at RLF, in that each of them has an intense desire to make positive change. It is truly inspiring to work with such a dedicated, intellectual bunch who genuinely care for each other and their clients.

Throughout my first time at RLF, I have uncovered new skills and elaborated on my existing ones. I have discovered the hidden mysteries of pitching to national media, and how to pick the brains of journalists. I have learned how to use media database Cision to do extensive research and keep track of media coverage, which is something I didn’t know I would enjoy. I have perfected my writing skills by writing press releases and extending my creative freedoms with our social media postings. All of these things, I have done with success thanks to the confidence that the environment of RLF instills. In the time remaining with RLF, I hope to become as respected, liked, and feared as the rest of my coworkers at the hardworking agency I now call a temporary home.

Note: Lindsay has accepted a part-time position at RLF as she completes her senior year at Elon University.

RLF marks 10th Anniversary with The Worldcom Group

By Monty Hagler

This year marks RLF’s 10th anniversary in Worldcom Public Relations Group, the largest and oldest partnership of independent agencies in the world. I had the pleasure of serving on the Global Group board for several years and am now returning to a leadership position as board chair for the Americas’ Region, which is comprised of nearly 50 agencies stretching 5,350 miles from Santiago, Chile, to Toronto, Canada.

Worldcom has been an invaluable resource for RLF on multiple fronts. Our clients have access to local expertise, knowledge and contacts in virtually every region of the world. Our team has access to best practices, case studies, practice groups and knowledge sharing on nearly every issue we encounter. And I have access to thoughtful, experienced and insightful agency leaders who have become dear friends and mentors.

One of the requirements of Worldcom membership is face-to-face interactions with other agency leaders. We gather twice a year — a global meeting in the spring and regional meetings in the fall – to conduct business, hear from a diverse range of speakers and share ideas. Amazing meals, alcoholic beverages and impromptu exploration of our host cities are also part of the bonding experience. As a result, I know and trust leaders at more than 100 communications and PR agencies throughout the world.

When we reach out to partners on behalf of our clients or our own needs, they respond. They take ownership. They produce results. That is not achieved by luck or randomness. The vetting process for potential new Worldcom partners is rigorous, and once partners are in, there is a formal peer review process every two and a half years to ensure partners continue to meet the highest quality standards. I’m proud to say that RLF has scored exceedingly well in our 4 peer reviews over the past decade and benefitted tremendously from this practice of having partners review our operations and offer advice on how RLF can become an even better agency.

Although we did not hold our global meeting in Malaysia this past April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (nor will we gather in Philadelphia this fall for the Americas region meeting), our partnership is stronger than ever. We have been holding bi-weekly webinars for agency leaders to share insights and knowledge on rapidly changing topics such as COVID-19 communications, the global economic shutdown and the widening impact of the Black Lives Matter protest movement. We are getting real-time insights that we can incorporate into our counsel and work with clients.

I’m proud to be a Worldcom partner and look forward to my time as Americas board chair. #WorldcomStrong

Too Much Time, Too Many Books

By Monty Hagler

In a world of new routines, I have defaulted to extra-long morning walks with my dogs, Nigel and Nina, in lieu of swimming, weights and elliptical machines. We typically make our way in pre-dawn hours to the beautiful Bennett College campus. The dogs run free on the grassy quad while I stick to the concrete paths (honoring the tradition that Bennett Belles do not take shortcuts) listening to audio books, something I cannot do when I swim and choose not to do when working out indoors.two dogs together

As I have written before, I read less and less at night for pleasure because my old eyes are tired at the end of a day filled with reading for work. Hence the unfinished copy of The Overstory and the feeble progress re-reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Headphones and an Audible subscription meet an important need. However, when the pandemic hit, I was overambitious about how many books I could absorb. I downloaded seven books – three fiction, four non-fiction – and listened to them at 1.5 times speed in no particular order or consistency. I do not recommend this approach.

The non-fiction listening held up better than fiction listening for mentally re-engaging after going days or weeks between chapters. I highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear (he also has a great newsletter) for strategies on small steps for remarkable self-improvement. Since high school, I have believed that radical life-changing moments are few and far between, but small everyday choices contribute to who, where and what we become. If I can practice just 10 percent of what I learned in Atomic Habits, I will be better off for it.

Other non-fiction listens were Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell and The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. In a nutshell, Isaacson captures the essence (and minutia) of one of history’s most remarkable individuals; Gladwell is always entertaining and makes us look at the world through different lenses; and Johansson sheds new light on how innovation occurs when cultures, ideas and disciplines intersect.

The insights drawn by Johansson reinforced a guiding RLF principle to have staff work on accounts in different industries. Most big agencies silo people to only work in one industry sector (healthcare, financial services, energy, etc) or on just one client account. It is a highly efficient and highly profitable approach for the agency, but it does not do much to help employees grow or generate diverse ideas to benefit the client.

Unfortunately, the principles of The Medici Effect did not apply to creating a stew of fiction books every morning on my walks. I found it impossible to follow plot lines or connect with characters as I flipped back and forth between Ohio, The Three-Bodied Problem and The Once & Future King. For example, although Ohio is beautifully written, it is a non-linear plot line following four major characters across a backdrop of war, drugs, recession and disillusionment. Mix in plotlines involving mysterious Chinese physics and a hilarious retelling of stories from King Arthur, and I came home most mornings both out of breath and mentally disoriented.

As stay-at-home orders are lifted, I hope to return to my lifelong workout routines while still making time for long dog walks while absorbing new books. Less by Andrew Sean Greer is cued up and ready to go next. But I learned a lesson about focus during this pandemic. Just as I give myself permission to put down a book if I am not engaged after 35 pages, I will adopt a policy to shut off a book after an hour of listening if I am not learning, laughing or enthralled. There are far too many good books out there to explore. Many of my book selections come from recommendations from friends, co-workers and clients (shout out to John Dornan and Andrew Applegate for recommendations on two of the books on this list) and I welcome new suggestions.

Reflection on an Internship Disrupted

By Reilly Welsh

The beginning of May signals the end of something else: my time here at RLF. As a senior in college, I envisioned the last month of the semester including many more “lasts.” The onset of COVID-19 here in the United States quickly derailed my plans for the final months of my senior year, and as a result, I have had to adapt to a variety of changes, especially in my academic and professional lives. Even so, my internship at RLF has been incredible and unlike any experience I have had before – for a variety of a reasons.

person at computerIn the middle of March, I prepared to travel home for spring break with plans to return to school the following week to finish out my spring semester. Within days, it became clear that flying back to North Carolina would not be safe for myself or for others. I made the decision to stay with my family while transitioning to online coursework and a remote internship.

Although I never could have envisioned my internship would play out the way it has, I could not be more grateful for my time at RLF. Despite spending half of my time working in a different state, I have continued to build upon my skill set each day. I’ve had various professional experiences over the past four years, and while I have grown from each one, I can say with confidence that my experience at RLF has been the perfect send-off as I graduate and look toward job opportunities. When I applied for this internship last fall, I could not have predicted how much this role would advance my abilities.

In my previous internships, I got my first taste of the public relations world, creating media lists, producing copy and content for social media platforms and working on the occasional press release. At RLF, I have done all of these things and more. I have pitched local and national media, written copy for radio commercials, written articles for client newsletters and blogs and crafted social media posts for RLF as well as its clients. As a journalism-turned-strategic communications major, writing has always been a passion of mine, and I knew I wanted it to play a central role in my career. I loved having so many opportunities to hone my skills in a variety of contexts.

Undeniably, this is a difficult and uncertain time to go into the workforce, with the job market taking an unexpected downturn in response to the onset of COVID-19. I do not know what is to come in the following weeks and months, but I feel confident knowing that my four months at RLF have strengthened my foundation in the world of communications. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to every member of the team at RLF for their guidance and support throughout the semester. I look forward to seeing how I will take what I have learned over the past few months into my next role as I begin my career.

Monty Hagler Speaks to COVID-19 Communications

CEO Monty Hagler led a Q&A session with more than 100 Greensboro Chamber of Commerce members on best practices for communicating with key audiences during the coronavirus crisis. Key points of the discussion included:

  • Deliver a consistent message. Work with your company’s leadership team to come up with a unified message, then tailor it for different audiences. Consistent messaging and visuals show you are in control of the situation.
  • Expect criticism. No matter how perfectly packaged your message, someone will disagree. Be respectful, listen and adapt if needed. Expect that everything you write will become an external document.
  • Think about the long term. How can you plan ahead for six months to a year from now? Think about how this crisis will affect your marketing strategies going forward. Use any down time to work on projects you wouldn’t normally have time for.
  • Prepare for jagged re-entry. Companies will return to normal operations at different points. Where is your industry on the curve? Check will suppliers, employees and other stakeholders about their timelines.

The full conversation can be listened to here.