Posts Tagged ‘downsizing’

How Do We Become Indispensable?

November 30, 2011

I just read an article in the Harvard Business Review about how to make yourself indispensable. The author describes an employee that has done a terrific job, done everything right. He applied for a promotion and was stunned when he didn’t get the position. It went to someone else. He asks, “What did I do wrong?” and his boss says, “Nothing, you’re doing a great job.”

The author argues that it’s much easier to improve your performance (and your position in the corporate world) if you haven’t been doing so well, but much harder when you’ve been doing a great job. He concludes that incremental
improvements don’t help as much as developing other, complementary strengths. For example, an engineer who indisputably does a wonderful job for the company would gain a lot less by becoming an even better engineer than by improving a skill such as writing or people management.

The article stimulated a lot of comments and debate. How do you make yourself indispensable: by keeping on top of the
ever-changing needs and wants of your bosses, and then working to meet those needs? Or by determining how you could become more valuable, based just on your own strengths?

This led me to think about how public relations practitioners can be perceived as indispensable by their clients or, in the case of internal PR staff, by the top management of their companies. There’s nothing more frustrating than losing a client, or not winning a client, due to a decision not to have an external PR firm because top management feels that PR isn’t a high enough priority. In these situations, when we are considered dispensable, the marketing department or the internal communications staff may disagree, but they’re overruled.

So how do we, as PR practitioners, make ourselves indispensable? Unfortunately, just as explained in the HBR article, simply doing a great job isn’t enough. The answer isn’t to provide even better results. If what we do is really that valuable to a corporation, then the onus is on us to make senior management understand that we are, indeed, indispensable.

It helps if we set measurable goals in the beginning of a project or a year and then actually do the measurement. However, this is a lot easier said than done, and a lot of attention has to be paid to what kinds of goals are set as well as how they are measured. Otherwise, who’s to say, for example, that it was the PR, not some improvement in the product or services, the sales methods or the distribution methods, that helped sell more?

It’s very hard to measure the impact of PR in isolation from other factors. It’s crucial to agree on goals that we can, without doubt, take credit for reaching.  Often even if we can suggest appropriate, measurable goals, our clients don’t have the budget to spend on measurement.

In my most cynical mood, I’d say that very often it’s the people who have to be indispensable in order to sell senior management on PR, not the actual contribution PR makes. The most successful people in the PR industry (as everywhere) are those who have strong personal charisma as well as the ability to cozy up to the decision-makers in an organization and win them over. Sometimes indispensable means a bond of dependency.  That kind of relationship trumps PR results every time.

I wish I had the answers to how we can make PR indispensable. Maybe you do. I’d like to hear what you think about this.

Lucy Siegel


Media Cutbacks Hurting Local News Coverage

June 22, 2011

I’ve written before on this blog about the danger to our society from the huge payroll cuts at news gathering operations, due to the current transition of traditional media to online “new” media.  The cuts in staffing have affected the amount of news that can be covered at the very least, if not the quality of the reporting.  With papers such as the Washington Post eliminating their local bureaus (the Post shut down all of its U.S. bureaus and now covers the whole country from its headquarters in Washington, D.C.), readers only get second-hand reporting of news outside the region in which the media outlet is located. Newspapers and broadcast news operations nationwide are depending on re-reporting news from local media.

However, according to a lengthy new report released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the amount of news coverage at the local level has fallen off sharply, also, due to drastic cutbacks by local broadcasters and newspapers. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, speaking on June 10th at Columbia School of Journalism about this report, commented that the biggest challenge to journalism in theU.S. is “the disruptive impact the Internet and economic pressures have had on local news gathering.”  He noted that newspapers have cut back on staff, some have even shut down, and many local broadcasters also have cut back on news budgets.  He said, “…Many stations have no news at all…This matters, because if citizens don’t get local news and information, the health of our democracy suffers.  Journalism provides a vital check against corruption by those with power. The less quality local reporting we have, the less likely we are to learn about government misdeeds, schools that fail children, hospitals that mistreat patients or factories that pollute the water.”

I’ve seen discussions online among journalists about the big hole left in their coverage of the news and their fear that it will be filled with news releases supplied by public relations people.  You’d think that as a public relations professional this would make me happy, but it doesn’t. It isn’t a healthy way for the media to operate, and it will ultimately result in a further weakening of traditional media.

Some people feel that so-called “citizen journalists” will take the place of reporters who have been laid off, and that they’ll do just as good a job, if not better.  But self-proclaimed “citizen journalists” can’t replace trained professionals. For starters, readers can’t assess the accuracy of their reports. At least journalists working for media outlets have been interviewed and chosen by seasoned professionals, and their work is scrutinized on a daily basis by those who hired them!

Last weekend on an NPR segment about the new FCC report, I heard an interesting observation about the effect that Google search algorithms are having on the news people consume online. It turns out that Google’s software works in a similar way to Amazon’s and other retail sites’ search engines.  When you buy something – or even search for something – on Amazon, the site’s software makes assumptions that you’re interested in that product, and the next time you log into Amazon, you’re presented with suggestions for similar items to buy. Google’s search engine remembers your searches and the clicks you make on search results to select websites. If you search for or visit Fox News, the next time you’re looking for news, the search engine will push Fox News as well as other conservative news sources to the top of your search results. Similarly, if you visit the New York Times or the Huffington Post, you’ll be directed towards other liberal-leaning news sources. Therefore, Google’s search mechanism in effect reinforces people’s opinions and biases.  When I do a search on Google, the results I get can be drastically different from what someone else gets, even if the search is done at the same moment in time.

This built-in news bias, when added to the dearth of reporting at the local level, is very worrisome. No wonder politics in theU.S.has become so polarized, with the distance between red and blue, left and right, growing bigger all the time.

Lucy Siegel

“Old” Media: More, Not Less Powerful

November 30, 2009

Representing our clients to the media has become quite a difficult task, given the current painful death of the traditional media in the U.S.

Every day there’s another article about a newspaper or magazine publishing company that has cut 100, or 200, or 500 jobs. I read a report earlier this fall about unemployment in journalism that confirmed what all of us in the communications industry already suspected: the rate of unemployment is considerably higher in journalism  than for the society as a whole. Close to 36,000 journalism jobs disappeared between September 2008 and September 2009. Most of them are in the print media.

The destruction of the news media in the U.S. is both national and local. Downsizing has affected network TV and nationwide news publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Time. But city newspapers have been folding one after another, also.  This has led to a couple of noteworthy trends: the American news media is becoming more centralized, and in the process, a few media outlets are becoming much more powerful than they ever were.

In many countries there is one national communications hub city where all the important media are located. While New York is the biggest American news media center, there are influential media voices in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Miami, and many other areas.  Now, however, several once-prominent local news organizations are gone and others are severely weakened.

For example, The Rocky Mountain News in Denver died this year after being published for 150 years. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer also stopped print publication this year, after 146 years. And the The Washington Post just announced it was closing all of its U.S. bureaus and will rely on its Washington-based reporters to cover the news either remotely or by flying in and out to visit a news scene.

The consequence of downsizing and centralization is that local news isn’t being reported as thoroughly as it used to be. In addition, many local newspapers now rely solely on outside sources – syndicated material and wire services – for all non-local news, such as science and technology news, book and movie reviews and national news.  An example: only two or three of the top 10 daily newspapers in the U.S. still do their own science reporting and write their own book reviews.

Only a few big city papers are strong enough to produce a wide range of content, and those papers are selling their content to all the others.  So while the American news media used to be decentralized, the current destruction of traditional media has led to growing centralization. As a result, those few big papers, along with Associated Press and Reuters, are now immensely influential, since their content is used so widely in place of locally-produced content.  This is ironic, since the biggest print media outlets are being eviscerated, too, and the staff cuts keep coming. 
It’s healthier in a democracy if there are more, rather than just a few news gathering organizations controlling media content. While we’re going through a very dark period in American journalism right now, I’m hopeful that there will eventually be a total restructuring of the news industry that will bring it back to health and bring us back a greater variety of news sources and more thorough news coverage.

–Lucy Siegel

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