April 27, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Media Bullseye Roundtable 2014.17 with Guest Co-Hosts Jen Phillips and Doug Haslam

Media Bullseye Roundtable 2014.17 with Guest Co-Hosts Jen Phillips and Doug Haslam

While I attended the PRSA International Conference in Washington, DC this week, Jen Phillips of 4L Strategies graciously recorded the Roundtable with Doug Haslam of Stone Temple Consulting. They covered three topics:

— Harassment of women in technology, with specific reference to Kathy Sierra and Brianna Wu.

— Tips for PR pros using LinkedIn.

— Ebola and handling communications in a panic situation.

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*** UNVERIFIED TRANSCRIPT ***

Please review the audio before quoting to confirm accuracy of this unverified transcript.

Jen Phillips: Hello, and welcome to another edition of Media Bullseye Roundtable. I am Jen Phillips, and I am filling in as guest host for this week for the traveling Chip Griffin. The guest co-host this week is Doug Haslam. Welcome back Doug.

Doug Haslam: And thanks for having me back.

Jen Phillips: Terrific. Well, I think we’re going to just jump right in to the topics. There’s a lot going on this week. The first subject that we have identified to speak about is kind of an interesting one. I’m not quite sure what to make of this, so I’m going to lean heavily on you to hear what your thoughts are.

Doug Haslam: Oh, boy.

Jen Phillips: Kathy Sierra, who many of the listeners of the Roundtable will know, was online, and has been on line for a number of years. Then, back in I think it was 2007 or 2008, she left the online space due to what could only be described as incredible levels of harassment. She has reemerged very temporarily, I think. She was very clear on that – she’s not even sure how long she’s going to leave her post up about this – to kind of come back and talk a little bit about it.

Well, she lays it out. She says, “This month is the ten-year anniversary of my first online threat,” and kind of rehashes a little bit of that, but then fills it in with some more thoughts that she has about, you know, just the horrific harassment that she went through, and that a lot of other women go through.

You know, Doug, there’s just so much to talk about here. What are your thoughts on this whole situation, why she has come back, why she felt the need for it and what this says about the online space and how we can continue to interact in it?

Doug Haslam: Sure, ask the white male. Well, just I remember when Kathy Sierra went off – I said off the air – off social media back in 2007 through this harassment, and it was really there was a lot of talk about it and a lot of support for her. She stayed silent for a while and came back within the last couple of years. Again, people celebrated that, that she felt like she was ready to come back and do speaking, be online and engage with people again, and then started getting harassed again.

I think, rather than trying to figure out all the details and kind of go through my mind’s perspective on it, it’s just that there’s this culture in the minds of some – and I’d like to think that it’s not all – but it’s obviously, you know, a vocal and active group that just does not take kindly to women in tech.

Now, the main chief tormentor, this “weev” I think it is, or – is trying. He had a response to Kathy’s recent post, this Kool-Aid post she put up, that he bent over backwards trying to make a distinction between women who “make tech” and women who are “in tech,” which is – you know, basically, he ends up making the argument because he says, “I have a lot of friends, women. Friends who are women who code.”

That’s like a racist saying, “I have a lot of black friends” and then spouting racist staff. So, I see an invalid argument there and trying – also, his response was in trying to excuse the behavior of the “doxing” which is just, you know, exposing personal details of people in order to harass them. That’s criminal behavior, and it is harassment, and it makes people fearful.

In all of this, there’s actually another person, a game developer named Briann Wu who had to leave her home because she was getting death threats. Now, that’s not necessarily directly connected, but there’s this whole – it’s just part of this whole culture of harrassing women in tech because why? They can’t be in tech, or the people or just being sexist about it, and acting in ways that are cruel.

You know, personally, I can’t imagine how this goes, but this is just the way that the minds of a lot people work. These are just a couple of current extreme examples, but you can even go to things like Microsoft’s CEO going into a conference and saying that women shouldn’t ask for raises, but just sit back and wait for karma to run its course, and you’ll get what you need.

It was like, well, no. It’s that we’re not in a situation in an economy and society where people who are getting paid less than 80 percent of what men are [can] just sit back and not ask for things. You don’t get things unless you ask for them. I mean, I’m sure that there are other things that fit into why he made that comment, but it just shows part of the mindset that just sets a lot of people back.

I could go around and around in a circle, and down rabbit holes, as to examples as to the sexism in the industry. I’m not, and I wouldn’t even consider myself someone who’s in tech, in terms of being able to code or make products, but if we’re in a society that’s trying to encourage young girls to take science and engineering classes, and this is the example of what happens when they get to a certain point of notoriety in the industry, then it can be discouraging if it happens more and more.

Jen Phillips: Yes, well, the whole thing, honestly to me, I read both Kathy Sierra’s post discussing this, and weev’s response to it. It’s just so chilling to me to see this kind of behavior and it’s I wonder what the long-term ramifications are.

As you mentioned, the encouraging of girls in tech fields, and if this is the kind of a platform that we are sending them to, what are we setting them up for? Really, I don’t think that, given the lopsided numbers, it’s going to have to be a changing of the hearts and minds of those who are currently in tech before we see any kind of sea change, in my personal opinion, because I don’t see how people can continue to – how women would continue to put themselves into this environment, voluntarily.

I think that part of this is the response of, “Oh, well, you’re getting special treatment.” Well, you know, there’s that same argument that was made for any kind of affirmative action or protected classes and that sort of thing and, really, it’s a nonsense argument.

You know, you need to have more diversity within in that field. It just brings so much to the table when you have a diverse set of voices, and I hate to see anyone squelched and this is. Boy, the level of harassment that was discussed here is just terrifying to me.

Doug Haslam: It is, and should be terrifying. I think one of the other issues is what is done about it, and what are the repercussions in terms of criminal complaints, and what can you do to these people? That seems to be unclear in that, either the laws are not clear, or that the willingness to prosecute jurisdiction is not clear. Those things probably need to be kind of cut through with a sword at some point, so that people can act to that.

You know, and this isn’t the only place where that’s going on. You see that in the sport’s world, and not just the criminal cases that are in the news, but even things as small as you wonder what the new assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs (the NBA basketball team) might be going through that we’re not hearing about. Just, you know, the first female coach on the NBA team.

So you’ve got to think that people are saying stuff there because this is, again, someone penetrating an “old boy’s club,” basically. That’s part of what goes on here. I’m not going to say it’s the whole thing, because I think that there’s a whole bevy of important issues that are all tied up in these incidents, and trying to separate the strands and create solutions is probably more of a long-term thing than what you can do today.

But what can be done today on these things? I mean, it’s hard for me to say. You know, go back to the “ask the white guy a question” part of this. What can I do, except to be positive and set a positive example, whether I’m talking to, say, my son’s friends, female friends who might be interested in going into science, and see this stuff, if that comes about. You know, what do I say to them, or what do I say? How do I treat people in the industry?

So I just joined a consultancy that has a lot of people who are well versed in technical SEO and some of them are women, and I was like, “Well, you know, let’s put that forward,” but be prepared to support people if they get attacked for just being female.

I think it goes to the marketing conferences. We look at the makeup of speaking panels and speaker slots, where it’s predominantly male, and there are probably a bunch of reasons for that, that sexism has got to be front and center. So you have one speaker, and I don’t have this story in front of me, but one male speaker said, “I’m not going to speak on all-male panels any more,” because he looked around, sitting on the panel, and realized that they were all guys.

You know, it’s some of the issues you would discuss in the industry, it’s hard to be taken seriously if you don’t have a diverse panel, and not just gender, but that’s what we’re talking about here. So, he’s taking the extreme point of view that – and maybe it’s not so extreme – but the point of view that “if the panel is all male, I’m not going to serve on it; you have to have a woman on it.”

Yes, we’d like to get to a point where that shouldn’t matter any more, but obviously it’s bad enough that people have to say that.

Jen Phillips: Yes, it’s fascinating, in a good way, that someone would draw that line, draw that distinction. I guess the reverse kind of comes to mind in the PR space, it being a largely female-dominated workspace for many, many firms. Yet, I don’t ever see the reverse type of treatment, obviously, so it’s meaning I don’t see female PR pros hounding male PR pros, and that sort of thing. What is your take on that?

Doug Haslam: Well, I’ve been treated well. I haven’t been hounded out of the industry, I guess I’m saying.

Jen Phillips: I’m glad to hear that. I really am, because of course I’m not sure that it would have been brought to my attention had it happened.

Doug Haslam: But, even if you go through numbers, I think you’ll see it. I hear about PR being female dominated. I’ve been in a lot of the firms that have focused on technology. What that has done, actually, is that it seems that the numbers are probably more – yes, I never thought of the firms that I’ve been in, and the agencies that I’ve been involved with, as female dominated. Especially as you get up to management ranks where there are at least some examples where it’s more men. Then you’re dealing with tech companies which are very male dominated, and a little less so, I’d say, in the marketing departments, but they’re still par of that.

That speaks to it being an old – going back decades, an “old boy’s club” that still some people do not think is – you know, it’s a locker room that some people are reluctant to invite women into.

Jen Phillips: Exactly, and you know I can’t say, as my PR experience was entirely female dominated. Again, my background was in the public affairs area which draws from politics. So we had a far more balanced team, but looking around the rest of the divisions, you could see that there were quite a few more women, but not within the public affairs practice group. That was more evenly divided, but it’s an interesting issue. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this, but I think for now we are going to pop on over to our next topic, unless you had anything else that you wanted to say.

Doug Haslam: No, if I try to make up things to say, I’ll get myself in trouble.

Jen Phillips: Well, we don’t want to make up things to say.

Doug Haslam: Well, no, it’s touchy, you know, it kind of is.

Jen Phillips: Yes, it is.

Doug Haslam: It’s, there are a lot of viewpoints on this.

Jen Phillips: Yes, it’s something that I’m sure we will not – I’m sure we’ll be discussing it at another time, in some other context. So, on to using LinkedIn for PR pros. We have a piece on PR Week that the title of it is “4 Counterintuitive Tips for PR Pros Using LinkedIn.”

I’m not sure, so much, that these are counterintuitive. They didn’t seem counterintuitive to me, but perhaps that’s because I’m a little bit outside of the box myself, who knows, but I sent this along to you. He gives some interesting pointers here about how you shouldn’t just rely on data to tell you what to write about, and how you should measure outcomes, rather than just clicks.

What were your thoughts on this piece?

Doug Haslam: The first thing that was interesting is that it was Dan Roth. The first and last that I remember him, or the first that I remember him, it should be, is that he was I think the senior editor at Fortune for many years and working in the tech space. So he was one of those people who inevitably showed up on press lists for technology companies.

You know, Fortune is obviously a lot harder to pitch, but he was also part of a group of journalists, if I remember correctly, that he was one of them that created a site called Buzzkiller.net, and apologies if I’m getting that wrong, but I’m pretty sure he was involved, where basically they took buzzwords and just skewered them.

They just wanted to get buzzwords out of the lexicon of PR people, and they actually would set up email filters, some of these reporters, to get to – basically, they wouldn’t see emails that had the certain buzzwords in there.

You know, they were pretty extreme about it, but there site was – I don’t think they’ve updated it in a long time, but the site was pretty entertaining. We’re talking about almost 15 years ago that this site was active. That was a long time ago, despite the picture on the post about the LinkedIn speech, as it does make him look like he’s eight years old, but he’s an experienced technology journalist.

It also speaks to the fact that, while he’s senior editor at LinkedIn, and he used to be at Forbes and Fortune, that tells you a lot about the industry and a lot of these – and he’s certainly not the only one – but a lot of these former editors and writers from these esteemed publications are now finding a better career path, working on content-oriented corporate jobs. You know, we’re seeing that Dan Lyons works for HubSpot, and he’s again one of their, at least locally, pretty high profile examples.

So, Dan Roth is with LinkedIn, and just to get to the point of his counterintuitive points, I mean, he had four, so I can kind of list them out here.

One is, data gives you guidelines but it can’t tell you what to write. I mean, I think a lot of it is common sense. I’m not sure how counterintuitive it is, despite the fact that he presented it that way, because basically in that he’s just saying “don’t just robotically write to the data.”

What was interesting to me is that, working now in consulting, so it’s called StoneTemple.com, by the way, and it’s where I’m working now, where we have a lot of people who are experienced in SEO and use some qualitative numbers to decide who is in a good place to go after sharing content with.

Well, even that, we recognize that that’s a guideline and not a direct thing. Sometimes there are reasons to do things that aren’t necessarily supported by the numbers but can have some effect down the road. I think that’s what I read into that sort of thing.

Anyway, he goes right into measuring outcomes differently which I think, to me, is a similar point, but it’s more just about defining what you want to get out of what you’re doing with content versus just saying, “Oh, we got a lot of views on this.”

Well, you might get a lot of views on something, but did it get you what you need, and what do you need? Do you need new business leads? Do you need more traffic to your website? Do you need to change the tenor of the conversation?

You know, then how would you measure that, and how do you, and is that something that you keep measuring, going forward? Or, do you have to keep revising your goals based on different campaigns, different corporate objectives and things like that?

Jen Phillips: Exactly. Well, I thought that – oh, go ahead.

Doug Haslam: There were two others, the “giving up ownership of the story,” but on that I think, again, it’s just the thing in letting content out into the wild. I’m not sure if this is exactly what he was getting at, but letting content out in the wild, people are going to do things, whether they’re going to react to it right there, and post a reaction, which is a good thing, because you’re getting it spread out there.

People are going to take and maybe twist what you say to fit their own agenda. I mean that in a good way. Like people have different perspectives and viewpoints and it creates discussions that kind of veer off or spin off to the side of what you were originally saying. So sometimes you just have to put something out there and hope that people get what you were getting at, but also embrace the different viewpoints, and even different topics, that spin out of it.

And then the whole thing about using LinkedIn. Since he works for LinkedIn, he wanted to talk about how you’re using LinkedIn, and people use LinkedIn to build their personal brand as well as their company’s brand.

That almost seems backwards to me. Because I think building a company brand well, and it’s well established in LinkedIn, I’ve always thought of that as the second thing in that corporate publishing on LinkedIn is a more recent phenomenon than using LinkedIn as kind of a personal career networking tool. So that was interesting to say.

Jen Phillips: Exactly, it was the only one that, to me, seemed counterintuitive because with what you just said, with the history of LinkedIn.

Doug Haslam: Oh, it was a little reminder of today, yes.

Jen Phillips: Yes, but I thought overall the piece contained some very solid advice and good reminders for PR pros. You now, perhaps it’s one of those pieces where a pro can say, “Well, I know you’re asking me to track clicks and shares, but here’s what we really should be doing, according to Dan Roth,” you know? So, perhaps, it’s more of help for individual PR pros who know what they should be tracking.

I guess, to me, the most obvious one was “measure outcomes differently.” He says, essentially, that you should look at the conversation to determine what the post achieved. Look at the comments on it.

Again, we’ve been in the online space for how many years here, and we’ve had social sharing for how many years? The fact that we continue to see reminders of paying attention to the conversation, and not just the clicks and shares, is to me a little bit discouraging that we’re still having that discussion or that pointed out, or even if that could be considered counterintuitive at this point.

But, be that as it may, I like to see it in print, and perhaps it will give some PR pros some cover if they need to push back .

Doug Haslam: Again, common sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad advice. Or, it’s just very good advice, and it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be repeated and put in this different wrapper that Dan puts it in. I think that that’s actually beneficial, so I’m not trying to be negative about the article because I think it’s good advice.

Jen Phillips: No, not at all, yes.

Doug Haslam: I don’t think counterintuitive, necessarily, but it might be to some people and, again, not enough people are doing it in common sense, that perhaps it is counterintuitive in a counterintuitive way of thinking about it.

Jen Phillips: Double counterintuitive. Rather than talking about the headline, we should be focused on the content.

Doug Haslam: And, just again, just [?] since he focused on data and measurement on top or that, as much as we want to be a data-driven world and make decisions based on data, that does not mean that we give up the qualitative. Anyone who works in – and whether your basing some decisions on SEO – you’re still looking at the qualitative.

You know, if you’re basing decisions on how many clicks it’s going to get, well, sometimes there are more reverberations around what you’re doing that make it worth doing even if you’re not sure about what the numbers are going to be. So, data-driven, yes, but throwing out qualitative in favor of all data-driven, probably not.

Jen Phillips: Correct, do you have any final thoughts on this piece before we move on?

Doug Haslam: No.

Jen Phillips: We’re going to move on to our final topic of the day. This is a very short post by Jim Horton over at Online Public Relations Thoughts. It essentially talked about the role of PR in communications in what he refers to as “panic situations.”

Of course, what we’re referencing here is the current Ebola issue, and I refuse to call it a “crisis,” because we have, what? Two, maybe three people in the US that have this, or “had” in one case, past tense.

Clearly, this is something that people are going to be concerned about. It’s an infectious disease that was nowhere near our shores for many, many years, and now it’s here, and people are trying to get their arms around what to do with it.

He points to a piece on Forbes that says that I think they are up to 5,000 false alarms over the past couple of weeks since Mr. Duncan was admitted to the hospital in Texas, as the first Ebola patient in the United States. You know, really focusing on the PR aspect of this, I have kind of two questions for you.

One, is PR enough, really? Is it sufficient to calm hysteria in situations like these? And, I guess the second thought is, how are they doing? Is the CDC doing okay in that area, or do they need to step up efforts? What are your thoughts on this?

Doug Haslam: Well, I don’t know how the CDC is doing in terms of making a judgment. If you look at some of the news and some of the social media that is out there, you might conclude they’re doing a terrible job because people just want to get hysterical about this. Of course, you’ve got all the “wing nuts” out there saying that this is a conspiracy to bring the disease in, you know, a lot of really crackpot stuff out there, but even in the mainstream media there’s just a lot of sensationalist reporting, which you should expect from mainstream media.

In terms of PR being enough, you know, as PR professionals, we can only concentrate on what that can do, and that’s giving clear messages. You know, in the case of panic, you really want to have simple messages that resonate very clearly why you should be calm about this, and “here are the real facts.” So we can’t do enough myth busting about the true nature of Ebola or any other type of crisis. Like, “Here are the real facts, despite what you might be hearing other than this. This is it,” and just get them in simple form that people can share and pass around.

So, but is it enough? No, because you have to really make sure that whatever officials and employees, or people acting on behalf of the CDC and other organizations are acting in a way that does not feed the flames of panic. So, whether it’s, “Yes, we need to do health screenings on planes from certain areas,” be clear about the communications of about how that’s happening and the low-risk that the disease represents, but you just still will want to get one through.

But, also, as it’s being implanted, make sure that the people on the ground are not making mistakes or doing something that can incite the panic, whether it’s how they present how they’re doing it, and it’s just like, “I just want to make sure that none of you on the plane have Ebola.” [Or], it’s like, “No, we’re just doing it. We’re just making this a routine check because you’re coming from an area where this disease is,” and that’s probably not even the best way to say it.

But there are ways to get those people on the ground to be active, and that’s not necessarily PR’s job, but the messages and how you say them should come from the same place, whether it’s above PR’s head or whether PR gets put in charge.

Jen Phillips: Yes, well, to me, it’s a very tough situation because people clearly – people worry about the unknown and clearly this is one of the bigger unknowns that we’ve faced from a public health perspective. There’s simply not – there’s quite a bit that we do know, but there’s still some that even doctors admit that they don’t know and don’t understand about this disease and transmission, and so on, and so forth.

I guess, to me, a lot of the wall-to-wall coverage on the news is not helpful because a lot of it does contain details that perhaps are not necessary, really. You know, “This person may have it,” and, “This flight was diverted because this person had flu-like symptoms,” and it’s enough to ratchet up anyone’s stress level, especially if they’re going to be flying any time soon, because there’s always someone on the plane that’s coughing and sneezing, and the last thing – you know, it’s bad enough when you think you’re going to come down with the flu.

But that being said, I don’t think that this is just PR’s responsibility. I think that it’s that we just all need to keep cool heads about it.

Doug Haslam: Yes, and just one example of the things that can happen that don’t help the situations, is that there’s a thermometer that’s being used out there, that’s being referred to as a “temperature gun.” There’s a picture making the rounds of a person with a mask over their face, pointing a gun at a presumably African woman.

Jen Phillips: Oh, goodness, not helpful.

Doug Haslam: It’s one of the most unfortunate images, I can even think of. You know, it doesn’t necessarily say, “Okay, this is panic time,” but it unnecessarily brings up an image that can be construed as racist, even violent. You know, I’m sure that’s not the intention, but it gets spread around as basically a stock image and people are looking at this image and saying, “What the heck is going on here?” before they read what it is, because it’s, “Oh, yeah, we’re just taking a temperature and making sure we don’t have any Ebola-like symptoms coming off of a plane from Liberia,” but little things like that.

Sometimes, it’s just that you’ve got to sweat the little things. Like, “Is this image really what we want to have out there?” because it creates these side conversations that don’t help anybody.

Jen Phillips: That’s absolutely, undoubtedly, true. It’s watch your images, be careful what you say and stick to your talking points to make sure that they’re simple and easy to understand.

Well, unless you have any closing thoughts on that, we’ve kind of come to the end of our time here.

Doug Haslam: I think so. Thank you for giving me sexual harassment in the tech space and Ebola topics .

Jen Phillips: Well, I do what I can to keep it interesting. Doug, do you want to let our listeners know where they can find you.

Doug Haslam: Sure, well, I’m on Twitter @DougH and I keep a blog that’s been a little sparse lately, as I’m ramping up on a new job, but it’s DougHaslam.com, and I’m now working at Stone [fumbles] Temple Consulting – way to screw up the name of a new employer, and they’re at StoneTemple.com.

Jen Phillips: StoneTemple.com, okay. Well, you have been talking for a good 20-30 minutes, so we all fumble a little bit at the end, I think. I know I do. Thank you everyone for listening and we will see you next week on another edition of Media Bullseye Roundtable. Thanks so much, and have a terrific week.

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About The Author

Chip Griffin is the Founder of CustomScoop. He writes and speaks frequently about data-driven public relations. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

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