Making sense of advertising

At first glance, it might seem like advertising is doomed. After all, it’s almost 20 years since Al and Laura Ries declared “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR.”

By the same token, it’s been almost 30 years since the first banner ads appeared on the nascent World Wide Web, 27 years since the advent of digital tracking tools, and 17 years since we got hyper-targeting in the digital realm.

Meanwhile, Statista reports that in 2023, ad-supported streaming content will generate more than $7 bn, and there still are about 25 million people who watch ad-supported TV. There’s a huge opportunity out there, still, for advertising. Maybe that is why we still teach it.

In the Online Strategic Communication MA, MC 6553 is Advertising Research and Practice. It’s not a very theoretical course, which probably is why I like it so much. It’s about how advertising and similar paid strategies work, and why. It’s about understanding audiences, and discovering the value proposition. Features and benefits are still important, but so is knowing where your audience is and how to capture their attention and create strong calls to action.

The students analyze existing ads, learn how to write creative briefs, create ads of their own and explore paid strategies that sit alongside traditional advertising. This is a class on execution, and whether it appears early in the curriculum or later on, it provides a solid perspective on the role of paid strategies among the communication mix.

It’s another excellent course that helps make our StratComm program so valuable.

Oh, and regarding the ad up top? I want a Cleveland automobile!

Ready to make communication YOUR business superpower? Investigate the BGSU MA in Strategic Communication, Sean Williams, Coordinator, and associate teaching professor, 419-372-2372.

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Learning research methods: Challenge or phobia?

We know the cliche from Saturday Night Live: “I was told there would be no math.”

That’s why we communicators often quail at the prospect of research. We always envision acres of mysterious formulae, tables of incomprehensible numbers, Greek letter symbols and even muttered incantations.

Easy there, tiger.

In our online Master’s in Strategic Communication, we have two required courses in research methods, MC 6301 (which I teach often and will in Spring 2024) Quantitative Research Methods; and MC 6401 Qualitative Research Methods. The latter is going on this semester and features Dr. Josh Atkinson in the pilot seat.

We offer these two because anyone in strategic communication leadership has to be able to understand when to use what sort of methods (depending on the purpose and application of the research), and enough about how they work to know how to work with research specialists and suppliers.

In MC 6301, we cover the main methods: surveys, quantitative content analysis and experiments. We also cover digital metrics, such as web and social media. The idea is to make sure students know why we use the methods we do, what constitutes proper methodologies (like writing good survey questions), and what we do when we analyze the data we get from them. This makes it easier as a leader to select suppliers and specialists, and to operate from a strategic perspective. The basics of statistical analysis, like mean, mode, median, correlation, regression, etc. are introduced, but the emphasis is on understanding the output of the research and applying it to various types of communication situations.

In MC 6401 it’s interviews, focus groups, ethnography, participant observation and qualitative content analysis. The idea is to be able to DO these methods — they are the most common that professional communicators are called upon to do. You also read a bunch of research reports and apply them to current events and situations. Finally, you learn which circumstances best lend themselves to qualitative methods.

Does that scare you? I’ve now been knocking around the research world for a while, so it no longer does me! Explore our program and see if it’s for you. If you are looking to expand your knowledge, prepare yourself to lead the communication function or take on more responsibility in your agency or firm, give me a shout. 419-372-2372.

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Learning the scope of strategic communication

I am not making a comment that strategic communication planning requires alcohol — I just thought the graphic was interesting…Photo by Julien Mussard on Unsplash

Every several months, it seems, we in the professional communication discipline have a spirited discussion about what to call ourselves. The marketing world seems to be winning that discussion (in the end, it’s all about selling something…), and then the Public Relations side (note capitalization) surges forward (in the end, it’s all about building and sustaining relationships with various publics…), and even the legal/compliance/HR peeps jump in with risk management and mitigation. I wrote about this debate last year.

They all are right.

We scholarly types seem to like “strategic communication” as an umbrella term that includes everything. Note that “communication” is singular in this description. Merriam-Webster defines it thus:

  1. a: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior
    also : exchange of information

In BGSU’s online MA in StratComm, that’s how we define it. MC 6001 is the course that lays it all out, employing all four of the channels (Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned, or PESO as Gini Dietrich tagged it). MC 6001 doesn’t start there, though; the methods by which this communication occurs are really the last step in the strategic comm process. We use AMMO, RPIE and several other pithy acronyms to explain how organizations plan and execute their stratcomm — it’s the center of the coursework to actually BE strategic, connecting comm planning to the business and other objectives of the organization.

Our program is intended to serve early career professionals looking to move up, and others to expand their perspectives (such as people in advertising looking to get with the 21st century and embrace all of the methods at our disposal). The biases, therefore, of PR vs Marketing really are irrelevant. A modern professional communicator must understand and use all of the tools at our disposal depending on the audiences (stakeholders), objectives and messaging.

That’s why the culminating assignment in the course is writing an integrated plan that must include research, measurement and evaluation.

It does occur to me that PRSA’s combination of test, portfolio and presentation to attain accreditation is probably attempting to do the same thing we are in this class. That’s good. Our world needs MORE strategy and less of a tactical view. In the end, the future of our discipline has to be more than merely production of creative works — AI is no longer politely knocking on that door, it’s grabbed a Chat GPT battering ram and the door jamb is splitting open.

To succeed in MC 6001, you have to broaden your thinking, embrace the tools you learn and stretch your approach. Students seem to agree that this is a valuable exercise, and personally, I don’t know of any other way to operate!

Ready to make communication YOUR business superpower? Investigate the BGSU MA in Strategic Communication, Sean Williams, Coordinator, and associate teaching professor.

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Learning research methods

This is not an example of the tools you’d use in
MC 6301. At least not in the 21st Century. Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

As communicators, we are socialized from the womb to avoid numbers. We word nerds like all kinds of things, but mainly, the land of the quantitative does not contain very much we want.

Au Contraire, mon cher!

I’m here to tell you that data is sovereign. You know you need it, that you need to understand it, use it, interpret it. It’s an inescapable part of our world, including the world of words.

Just think – the digital realm alone is stuffed to the max with numbers. Website visits, views, clickpath; social media likes, shares, clickthroughs (well, clicks-through, more accurately), followers, connections, engagement… If you are a pro communicator, you cannot ignore the numbers. Well, you can.

If you want to shorten your career.

I’m not saying all of you have to be mathematicians. Far from it. I’m just saying that certainly when it comes to research, whether primary or secondary, whether digital or analogue, you need to understand what research is and how it works. That’s where MC 6301, Quantitative Research Methods for Strategic Communication comes in.

Amazingingly, I’ve been teaching this course now for four years. I’m NOT a “quant.” Many of my colleagues are highly so, whereas I’m the guy who says, when confronted with a need to run SPSS, “don’t we have people for that?” That’s why when I teach it, it’s not about how to do structural equation modeling, it’s about how to use the results of the quantitative analysis that SPSS spits out and make sense of it.

There are several main tools in the quantitative research toolset: Experiments, Surveys and Content Analysis. You can gather data through primary or secondary sources, and the way you analyze that data is to use methods that enable you to count, and to use numerical values to discuss trends and predict future outcomes. This is what you learn in this class.

I promise, it’s a cool, fun, engaging course! Well, just like all of our StratComm courses!

Ready to make communication YOUR business superpower? Investigate the BGSU MA in Strategic Communication, Sean Williams, Coordinator, and associate teaching professor.

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Welcome to organizational communication.

Image of sign. Text reads "BGSU School of Media and Communication."

I have spent most of my professional life in matters of internal/employee communication. One of the academic angles for that is organizational comm — the different ways we can explore, interpret and conduct communication activities that are intrinsic to building, maintaining and enhancing organizations.

In the BGSU StratComm online MA program, it’s one of the deeper courses, very strategic and challenging. There’s a strong emphasis on how management and non-managers interact, the reasons underpinning those interactions, and practical and theoretical implications of those impacts.

For example, early on in the 19th and 20th centuries, people researching the organizational world tended to see a rather scientific view – organization as a machine with interconnecting parts, each of which could be made to function more efficiently. Communication was mainly viewed as a one-way thing, with the manager telling the workers what to do and how to do it. There would be “one best way” to do the work, documented and enforced.

They wanted workers to have specializations, and communication within those disciplines was seen as important. But across functions? Bottom up? Not so much.

In the second third of the century, we start to see criticism of that approach, and an impulse to let employees have more input into HOW the work gets done. That leads to some pretty radical concepts – that employees could participate more equally in the work, that power could be shared across hierarchies, and by the last third of the century, that treating employees like children was a bad way to make them loyal, hardworking and otherwise valuable.

Organizations are still fighting these fights, and knowing the history of these communication approaches, makes for a better communicator, a better PR person, and a better marketer. I like to say that communicators are business people whose superpower is communication.

In this class, we expand your foundation of knowledge about business, management, leadership and organizational life. All you need after this is your cape!

Ready to make communication YOUR business superpower? Investigate the BGSU MA in Strategic Communication, Sean Williams, Coordinator, and associate teaching professor.

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The case for higher ed

BGSU logoMaybe it’s because I’m in the process of wrapping up my fourth year as a full-time professor, but I’m more convinced than ever that higher education is a public good.

Some politicians are making a massive market in outright hatred of university educations. They grasp at red herrings, use exceptions to prove their rules, seize on extreme examples to castigate the entire enterprise. There are bills before state legislatures that demand control over vast reaches of the academic mission and operations.

It sure is ironic that nearly all politicos are lawyers, people who themselves have deep educations that have enabled them to be handsomely paid in luchre and power. Most lawyers study history, or political science, or even philosophy prior to law school (Grey, 2022). These liberal arts and social sciences are part of what these folks are attacking.

There’s no doubt that the huge rise in the number of attendees in college has led to some unintended consequences. As of 2021, more than 37% of Americans 25 years and older have a Bachelor’s degree; many more have an Associate’s or at least some college. This is up more than 7 points just since 2011. In 1970, the former figure was less than 20%.

What’s the impact of nearly doubling the number of college graduates? Add in an ever-broader menu of coursework and majors, and there certainly are jobs that require a Bachelor’s that don’t need one. That does not mean that a college degree is useless, even in the liberal arts.

For me it all comes down to Objectives. My old website’s headline was “Objectives are everything.” It is still the case that getting a degree makes one more employable and that college grads earn more over time than those without one (save for skilled trades, which is a topic for another post.) A Georgetown study from just a couple of years ago says Bachelor’s degree holders average about 75% more in lifetime earnings of someone with just a high school diploma, and those with a master’s degree double that of high school grads.

A college education is more, however, than a pathway to higher income. It’s a means of learning how to think critically, how to learn, to be inquisitive and curious. College is a safe place to explore different ideas, to meet people different from yourselves, to figure out how to work with people you don’t know.

University is a means of learning to lead, to follow, to criticize, to write, speak and otherwise express yourself in a supportive environment. This is not a particularly quantifiable set of goals, but it nonetheless is crucial to becoming a functioning, contributing member of society.

The experience will be different for everyone, and that is totally OK. Some people won’t like it, will find it difficult, will have poor experiences. But most will remember it as a time of critical transition in their own lives.

Come back to college, or come for the first time. My own journey took a rather long time – 16 years for the Bachelor’s and 5 for the master’s. Both changed my life immeasurably for the better.


Grey, S. (2022). The Top 13 Pre-Law Majors: What’s The Best Major For Law School Admission? Forbes. Retrieved from

Nietzel, M. (2021). New Study: College Degree Carries Big Earnings Premium, But Other Factors Matter Too. Forbes. Retrieved from

Schaeffer, K. (2022). Key facts about today’s U.S. college graduates. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

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Why attend a PR research conference?

Michele Ewing, Kent State University; Stacey Smith, Jackson, Jackson & Wagner; Sean Williams; Julie O’Neil, TCU at the 2018 IPRRC.

In just under two months (!!!) this lil’ ‘ol professor will become CEO of the International PR Research Conference. It’s been more than 15 years since I became involved in IPRRC, almost as long ago as I joined the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission.

As I’ve been doing some fundraising for the conference, an old series of questions filtered up through the not inconsiderable fog of memory and distraction of current academic events. And one was a big question.

Why should anyone who’s not in PR higher ed even go to a conference that’s mainly for professors and graduate students to present the research they’re doing? Fortunately, the answer to that thorny query popped up in short order:

Because research matters to the practice.

Those of us who grew up in the profession may or may not have had coursework in research. As a University of Washington Political Science BA holder, I took my first real research course == Political Research Methods == in about 1990. I kept my fingers in the pie however, when I worked at KeyBank, DIY’g our employee surveys, and at “a large American Company” when I not only did research but published about it with Dr. Julie O’Neil.

I’m a bit of an anomaly, I realize, but I’d offer that anyone who does strategic communication should be tapping into the huge body of knowledge that research conferences present. It’s not just that we benefit from sharpening our intellectual saws, but that we, as people DOING the work, can be of nearly inestimable help to the academics who are studying it.

We like to say that IPRRC features research about the practice, by the practice and for the practice. Partnerships abound between academics and professionals, just ask Dr. Julie, or Stacey Smith, or Michele Ewing. As a pro, you could be next, expanding your mind, your network, maybe even your very concept of the world of StratComm.

You should come. This year, 2023. If you’re north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the location is a plus: Downtown Orlando, Fla., March 2-4. It’s a value-heavy conference = you get breakfast and lunch every day, you get two receptions, and you get an intellectual feast that will challenge you in the best ways. I’ve read the abstracts for what’s being presented, and it ranges from corporate social advocacy and responsibility, to crisis communication, to health communication, to social media, integrated communication… Like I said, a feast.

Why should you go? Because you owe it to yourself and to your employer/clients to keep that saw sharp as it can be.

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PRSA ICON 22: Highlights from my angle

Mark Weiner, Public Relay and John Elsasser, PRSA at ICON 22

Among several good sessions at PRSA’s International Conference this year was this conversation between John Elsasser of PRSA and Mark Weiner of Public Relay about PR Measurement. The main message was that measuring the media needs to be measuring the media that matters most to your organization/brand.

That matches my practical experience.

In a past job, we were all about the volume. More items, more impressions, more likes. Quite rightly though, we got the question, “what’s that matter?” Once we focused in on a few media outlets (and social accounts) we discovered that accuracy and audience were far more important to that particular brand. Seems obvious, no? But the continued believe that more is better gets in the way. This is one reason ad value is such a dubious metric!

What are the most important measures?

Weiner said, and I paraphrase: It’s a subjective question, but OUTCOMES – did we sell product, raise money, staff the company… The other metrics are less impactful, but can contribute to outcomes. That too is aligned with my research and experience. When we use the output, outtake, outcome, business impact continuum, we can identify specific levers to pull that will lead to impact.

I cannot do justice to the entire interview, but encourage you to read Mark’s book, PR Data, Technology and Insights. I assign it in classes and it’s hugely helpful.

Another important session featured Dr. Katerina Tsetsura, Univ. of Oklahoma, and Dr. Dean Krueckeberg, UNC-Charlotte and their analysis of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speeches at the outset of the Russian attack on that country.

Katerina and Dean assigned a typology to the content of these speeches, showing how appeals to the head and the heart galvanized both domestic and international opinion. I’ll be excited to read their journal article!

Next installment? FullIntel’s Angela Dwyer (who recently joined the IPRRC board) and her presentation on predictive artificial intelligence!

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PRSA ICON: Two cents at a time

Mark Weiner, Katie Paine, Angela Dwyer and Me at PRSA Icon in Dallas. Measurement Commissioners all!

For the first time since 2019, the PRSA Conference was held in person, and I was there.

The venue, the Gaylord Texan resort in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex was super-deluxe, and in the worst ways possible. First it was hella expensive to stay and eat, and second it was overwhelmed with families kicking off the Christmas at the Gaylord season (Sign: So. Much. Christmas.)


I’m no grouchy Grinch, mind, I just want a reasonable wait time for the elevator, and some ability to go to a reasonably priced place for breakfast that doesn’t require a 3-days-ahead-reservation.


I got there Friday prior, with Leadership Assembly on my calendar for Saturday morning. It’s four times, I think, that I’ve carried that responsibility — three for the Employee Communications professional interest section and this one for PRSA NW Ohio. In Assembly, most of what we do is listen. It’s like a bad college class; well-intentioned speakers saying things that are rather important to the management of our Society, but the constant suspicion that there surely would be a better way to handle that information.

I just wrapped up my 25-week course on Effective Teaching through ACUE (The Association of College and University Educators), and a key insight is that I have over-lectured and under-participated my classes. I switched my script about halfway through the semester and have been doing a lot more discussion-based work to great effect. Assembly finally got around to some discussion-based work with barely an hour left in our day, and we were supposed to discuss six initiatives in about 35 minutes. Aieee!

We probably should have a lot less presenting in Assembly and a lot more applied discussion and insightful sharing!

One of the Big Questions was about ICON itself – whether to change how we do it (it’s keynoted general sessions and breakouts, just like every other conference) and where we hold it (we have one more year with Marriott and the Gaylord folks). On the latter, do we move to a convention center model, with multiple hotels available? Drop or reduce keynotes? Do something about the price, which is among the most expensive conferences in our industry?

Speaking as a public servant and a teaching professor it is WAY too spendy and exceeds budget. I go because I get some help from several institutions to pay my way! Our Society wants to have more diversity, equity and inclusion, but the economics for ICON are surely exclusionary on many levels. A heap of my colleagues come only for the Educator’s Academy event, and nothing else.

What do you think?

In my next posts I’ll cover more of the sessions I saw and the people I met.

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Surging interest in employee communication shouldn’t shock us

When I first started in employee communication, oh, about 10,000 years ago, it was very much the junior partner in the corporate communication mix.

The media relations folks got all the glory, and most of the staff. Employee comms were the “folks who do the newsletter,” which was full of “babies and bowling scores.” My friend Steve Crescenzo made a series of speeches falling-down funny dissecting this tendency.

The old Journal of Employee Communication from Ragan and its Ragan Report tried to turn the discipline into something more strategic, as did Pat Jackson, Shel Holtz, Angela Sinickas, Linda Dulye, Alison Davis and others. Now there is another paroxysm of effort in that space, this time focusing on the result of effective employee communication: Employee engagement, advocacy, company culture. The October edition of PRSA’s Strategy and Tactics focuses on the latter. Quite the trick for the organization long perceived as more about external comm (especially via New York agencies.)

This focus on impact is a welcome development (yes, I know, many of us have driven for more outcome-based measurement in this space.) I’ve read lately that as the news media has continued its transformation, brands are trying new employee comm mechanisms in hopes of creating advocates who will support the organization through thick and thin (remember Raving Fans?)

In our Organizational Communication course, we talk a lot about identity. Not just personal identities, the Crystalline Identity, but also the need to help employees see their organizational employment as part of that constellation of identity. It is this growth in identification that leads to “employees acting like owners,” to discretionary effort and to advocacy and loyalty.

Without a strong sense of identifying with one’s employer, it’s not a career, it’s a job. So it’s not all about employee engagement, or even advocacy. Trying to directly influence those is complicated by multiple inputs. But building a sense of teamwork, of collaboration, of the sense of being part of something important; that’s a communication outcome that inspires and that can be measured in attitudes, beliefs and behavior.

What are your thoughts? Am I off base here? On track?

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Is public relations evil?

Illustration of a devilMy pal Bob Batchelor, once upon a time a professor and before that, like me a PR guy, used to give a lecture with the same title as this post.

You can find it in pieces on YouTube, and as summer begins to fade and the return to campus is showing on the horizon, I think of that lecture and the discussions Bob and I have had about it.

Like any set of tools, the strategies and tactics or public relations can be used neutrally, for objectively good aims and for objectively bad aims. I once wrote a post averring that political PR comes closest to actual evil, because in that application of our craft, openly lying is often expected and commonplace.

As much of a committed free marketer and even capitalist I am, though, the tendency to use strategic communication tactics for harmful means seems to be on the rise. In crisis communication, we often coach execs to parry direct questions and answer the ones we prefer to answer. That’s the tactic of “Let me just say this about that…” and hijacking the questioner in the direction we want to go.

Lawyers have nothing on PRs when it comes to that strategy!

So where does that leave our practice, our profession, if you will? I run an academic program designed to build senior-level professional communicators, people prepared to lead teams in agencies and in organizations. Do we teach them this type of work?

We have codes of ethics in advertising, marketing, public relations and other forms of professional comms that are allegedly there to rein in our worst impulses. There is not much of an enforcement mechanism in this codes, however.

What do you think? Are we just engaged in a campaign of deception, heedless of our responsibilities to people, society and our clients? Or is the latter constituency the only one that counts?


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On universities outsourcing courses

Image of People in Purple graduation robes and mortar boardsA story in the Wall Street Journal this past Wednesday (July 6, 2022) talked of universities and their relationships with for-profit companies to create, teach and operate coursework, and they don’t like that practice at all.

It’s easy for me to see why.

The piece explains that the private companies work with the universities as their clients. The bulk of the tuition revenue goes to the company commensurate with the amount of work they do. The hiccup, the authors write, is that aoften the company uses university email addresses, letterhead and other means to obscure the relationship and make it seem like the university is actually doing the course.

I have NO problem with working with companies to help the universities operate the courses, but I have a huge problem with the apparent (alleged?) effort to hide that work. In our School of Media and Communication, faculty create, operate and teach the courses. We have both full-time and part-time (adjunct) faculty, the latter of whom we vet thoroughly and supervise accordingly.

Other areas of the university use companies to help market their programs; I’d love to be able to have that help! I draw the line, though at anyone selling our coursework if we aren’t the ones delivering it. The WSJ article notes that some “customers” felt deceived once they found out the universities weren’t actually teaching the classes. I’d be too!

Higher education is a tough business right now; the undergraduate “cliff”, a (mostly) resurgent economies often reduce interest in graduate programs, just as recessions increase it, and there’s an impulse again to deemphasize the value of a university education in general.

The answers to these issues, however, absolutely cannot be to a) outsource to a non-academic provider entirely, b) deceive the student into thinking that provider IS your university, and/or c) mortgage your reputation by doing “a” and “b.”

Am I being näive?

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Why ‘Strategic Communication’?

Photo of Sean WilliamsAny longtime reader knows that I’m a fan in the most inclusive sense of the phrase, “public relations” to describe the work I’ve done for more than 30 years in professional communicaiton.

As a board member of the International PR Research Conference, and my activities with the Institute for PR Measurement Commission, plus years with PRSA’s Employee Communication section, and now leading the NW Ohio Chapter of PRSA, PR is in my blood. And yet, there periodically are spasms of discussion about what we call ourselves, particularly as Content Marketing creeps into our sandbox, Native Advertising and Sponsored Content tries to pass themselves off as news content, and the “media” changes practically by the moment.

I’ve held for a long time that there is more to PR than media relations — employee communication, reputation management, issues management, crisis, and much more — but that has meant some people hear me say PR and misunderstand. So the effort to find another term for what we all do is understandable to me.

I like “Strategic Communication” quite a lot. I also like “professional communication,” which may be a bit inaccurate because we don’t need professional licensure the way accountants, doctors and lawyers do. We are, however, the only people in most organizations who are business people for whom communication is our superpower. So why not embrace the more general “communication” in some fashion that differentiates it from telecommunications — the technology to carry our messages?

A lot of people like “Integrated Marketing Communications,” but I believe (as others have quoted me) that all marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing. So that’s not going to work. A ton of smart people like to say that everything is about marketing anyway, so why not just used that term?

J’ Rèfuse! See comment above!

Gini Dietrich uses PESO === Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned == and I bring that to my students all the time to show how different tactics help us communicate to our many stakeholders and constituents. In my AMMO model (audience, message, method, objective) PESO covers the methods. The remaining components are the ultimate in strategy, and thus lift up our discipline to the highest levels.

So StratComm is it, at least for me. It’s the only term that lets me fully blend the various elements of the communication mix. What are your thoughts?

Sean Williams is an Asst. Teaching Professor of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University, in NW Ohio. He coordinates the School’s online master’s program in StratComm.

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When did it get to be April?

Ummm, April of 2022?

I know I’m kind of a busy guy. I teach seven classes a year, about 200 students, a mix of graduate and undergraduate. I teach across the BGSU School of Media and Communication, which means in any given semester I could be teaching advertising, public relations, media studies or “regular” communication (such as organizational communication.)

I started this blog with full intent to treat it just as I did my previous one (sadly not available anymore…) That meant a couple of posts per week, commenting on #PRMeasurement and research, plus covering events like the International PR Research Conference, where I serve on the Board of Directors. (I know it’s an old picture.) I’m also the 2022 Chapter President of PRSA NW Ohio, serve on three committees within our School, plus join the Faculty Senate Committee on Professional Affairs next month (name’s not on the site yet), plus am wrapping up service on the search committee for the new Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

I should be more active in AEJMC, the Central States Communication Association, and some kind of local not-for-profit. And I still have a client or two.

Excuses, all! Sleep? Fuggedaboudit.

Seriously, though, I know part of my job is coordinating our online master’s program, and that means marketing, with no budget, no staff and a recently crowded marketplace. Sounds like fun, right?

Well, truly, it is fun. I love it here. We’ve settled in here, and despite the obligations, I really adore the work and the people. Now that Auntie Covid is growing weaker and more wan, maybe we can really get ourselves involved.

In the meantime, Thank You for reading, and I promise to be more pithy and active as the weeks proceed.

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Why do we care if we call it PR or Marketing?

Two people with megaphones shouting at a third person, 3d cartoon image.

The battle has been going on for a while. The public relations side says that our work is a management function designed to create, enhance and sustain relationships with relevant parties, securing public permission to do business.

The marketing side says that all that is important, sure, but in the end it’s enabling sales, creating an exchange relationship of value, and that the end result we both are seeking is to generate revenue, and if we PR peeps aren’t doing that, we are simply irrelevant dinosaurs.

Oy Vey.

Does it really matter? Our central skillsets are a little different, with PR ideally seeking to use more of the PESO than marketing. We generate content and seek to either convince the media and influencers to use it organically. Marketing generates content and simply buys the audience, space or time to promote it.

We are senior counselors, with the reputation of the organization at stake, and the tools of employee communication, media relations, community and government relations and issues management at our behest. Marketing controls vast budgets, but mainly thinks “top of funnel” as it generates awareness and describes features and benefits. In fact, a new entry to a marketplace will struggle to generate awareness (the first step to landing in the consideration set) without paid strategies.

I’m a little “internet famous” for the phrase, “All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing.” I strongly believe that these are complementary disciplines, not interchangeable ones, and that a chief communication officer with responsibility for all the functions, including marketing, is a superior model to a chief marketing officer because of the CCO’s inclusive remit.

Regardless, though, this ship may have already sailed. Marketing is ascendent still, even if Al and Laura Ries predicted that PR would steer the ship. The Cluetrain Manifesto declared that the age of brands and organizations dictating the terms of marketplace communication was over, thanks to social media. As it turns out, advertising has seized the moment across the media mix, and social does a lot less empowerment of the consumer/user than was predicted 25 years ago.

In the end, therefore, what does it matter and why do we care what we are called?

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Musing on news

I’m teaching two courses this summer. In this, the first session, it’s JOUR 4500, Media and Ethics for Journalism. In second session I’m adapting that course for MC 5010 – a special topics course on media and ethics for strategic communication.

That means that I have to throw a few knuckleballs when it comes to things like prior restraint, libel, and the First Amendment. Should be interesting.

The news is getting a bit of a salvo of missiles these days. The government would like the media to be more like PR people and cover positive stuff. Businesses would like the media to be more like PR people and support their initiatives.

The media would like to have the time to report on the salient stories of the day, but is largely too busy serving the 24/7 news cycle of instant gratification – updated web story, video report, expanded piece from the one that aired, extra material from the story that printed…

And yet, mainstream media contributes hugely to social media, a channel through which more and more people are accessing news content. It’s hard for any institution to change.

That’s among the reasons why there’s a management discipline dedicated to change management. News does seem to be changing. I wonder what it’s changing into?

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Ethics. Does public relations have any?

Word Cloud on Ethics
Credit Boris 15, DepositPhotos.

I admit it. That’s a link-bait headline. But I honestly am wondering, as some of the most public PR that exists right now is a whopping load of BS.

As I’ve written before, I’m talking about political PR, the Spin Doctors, the Professional Liars. Retroactive speechwriters who try to gaslight us into believing what we actually heard and saw was not really there.

As a member of PRSA for many years, I know we are governed by a Code of Ethics that includes a Statement of Professional Values. I also know that most of the people who serve politicians nominally as PRs, press secretaries, and who-knows-what-they-are-calling-themselves-this week, are not members. Nor are they actually PRs.

What’s most disappointing is how many were journalists before they picked up the remit to serve the public.

I know, ha-ha, right?

Lawyers have to represent their clients, vigorously, and do their level best to obtain the most positive outcomes for those clients. That’s part of legal ethics, and part of licensing, without which you cannot practice law. The American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct are interesting reading.

In PR, we don’t have licensing. Our ethical code is voluntary, and there are several organizations that PRs can belong to. .

For the majority of PRs, that’s no issue, because we have no quarrel with staying on the ethical side of the PR street. Obviously, however, there are exceptions to that happy rule.

So, how about this: I’ll give some scenarios below, and you respond to them in the comments. Draw on the PRSA Code of Ethics, and tell us what you would do and why.

Scenario 1

• The safe limits of dioxin in effluent from industrial processes have long been a subject of dispute. Industry leaders have been convinced that scientists supported a lower limit than that requested by environmentalists. Government authorities have not been so sure. They recognize that it would cost tens of millions of dollars for industry to meet the higher standards that were proposed, but they also worry that lower minimum levels might lead to deaths in the surrounding area. Your firm has been approached to bid on an assignment to represent an industry association. What would be your concerns about the assignment? Would you bid or no? Why?

Scenario 2

• Acid rain falling in the northeast of the U.S. is thought by most environmentalists to be caused primarily by coal-burning plants in the Midwest. Modifications in those plants to meet new standards would be extraordinarily costly — and these costs would be passed on to the consumer. A coalition of industries urged Congress not to take action until further study could be made — which might take years. Opponents said that this was merely a stalling tactic on the part of industry. You’re the press secretary for a member of Congress and she has asked you for your views on this issue. It’s especially difficult because before you joined her office, you worked for the largest power generation utility in your state. What would you advise? Why?

Scenario 3

• Agricultural run-off has been pointed to as a major part of pollution in the Maumee River Watershed, which has been implicated in toxic algae blooms in western Lake Erie. Agribusiness is opposed to enacting mandatory limits on fertilizing, which environmentalists say will cut manure-driven phosphorus that supports the bloom. “60 Minutes” among others challenged the the farm lobby’s position. Your firm has had a long term client relationship with a major agricultural concern, which now is asking you to construct a campaign to “get out in front” of this issue and reduce pressure on the industry. What is your response? Why?

Scenario 4

• A major real estate development that would bring an economic boom to a declining community was opposed by environmentalists. The developer brought to public attention extensive research supporting his position; the opposition offered data to contradict the claim. The struggle went on for years. The developer was convinced that an environmentally responsible development could be built that would protect nature and revive the community economically. Opponents were convinced it would be an ecological disaster. The Ohio Public Interest Research Group wants to hire you to represent them publicly to handle press and support their social media efforts to keep the development from coming to be. What is your response? Why?

Adapted from:
Finn, D. (1995) Ethical Dilemmas in Communications. Institute for Public Relations. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from

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Lies, Dang lies

Aside from the thoroughly disturbing tendency some people have to see conspiracy everywhere, the media, politicians, social media users and even your Aunt Molly seem to seize on statistics to support their misguided perspectives.

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” This aphorism is attributed both to Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century prime minister of Great Britain, and repeated by American author Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens.) (, or Why would this belief endure?

First is the desire to be right. If you believe honestly that Democrats are blood-drinking pedophiles, you can find evidence (or lack of evidence) that supports your claim. If you believe that Republicans are secret fascists at best and actual Nazis at worst, same thing.

Second, is a serious lack of numeracy, the mathematic equivalent of literacy. Because few people have any background at all in stats, everything needs to be reduced to its simplest form to appeal to the hoi polloi. The mistrust of anyone in authority for the past, oh, 60 years or so, has fueled the feeling that the media, the politicians, the universities and businesses are all out to hoodwink us.

Finally, a lack of civics education. Most people don’t know the three branches of the federal government, and the functions of each (hint, they are co-equal and not subordinate to each other. They don’t know the difference between law and regulation, nor the relationship of population to House of Representatives, or the function of the Senate.

These three issues lead to misinterpretation of not only complex issues, but of the research that underpins the reports we see in the media. Add in the paucity of specialists in the media, and you have a recipe for problems.

I’m teaching a quantitative research methods course this semester, and we spend a lot of time talking about details such as validity, reliability, sampling, experimental design and the rules for content analysis. This is (I hope) creating a comfort with stats and a skepticism and curiosity about research results, survey reports, and the like.

I don’t “blame the media.” The idea that there is a global media conspiracy is laughable on the face for anyone who has either been IN the media (67, KWNK-AM, Simi Valley!) or who has dealt with the media (in my case, KeyBank, Goodyear, National City, a host of schools, etc.) The media aren’t organized enough to participate in, let alone plan and conduct a conspiracy!

What we need here is better education for people that breeds critical thinking and both literacy and numeracy. And maybe, that will give us more than a fighting chance to survive this age.

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Baseball: The Hot Stove Heats Up

A pal texted me this morning asking, “How could we have two Cy Young award winners and not with the whole thing?” Ah, yes, the pain, the pain.

Here’s what I believe.

Number one: Underperforming hitting. So many teams with terrific pitching have their offenses suddenly play snooze tag during the playoffs. In the MLB’s list ranking the last 25 World Series Champs, there’s ample evidence that the old adage “good pitching beats good hitting” is true.

But, even anemic attacks can come alive on any given day. Just ask St. Louis’s David Eckstein, who won the WS MVP in 2006, or (ack!) Edgar Renteria for the Marlins in (darn it) 1997. Or Steve Pearce for the Red Sox in 2018, David Freese for the Cards in 2011, or Pablo Sandoval for the G’nts in what, 2012?

Without the element of luck on the offensive side, it doesn’t matter how great your pitching is. The Indians have had the best staff in something like five out of six years, and yet they’ve made the Series once and been booted in the first round twice because there was no offense. Even from star offensive players!

That’s the proof to my thesis. You need pitching good enough to hold down the best of the opposition, but without someone standing up to hit, you will lose a lot of low scoring games. How we typically talk about this conundrum – offense vs pitching and defense — is a throwback to the days of Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax. Dominant starters supported by a variety of hitters who were flexible in their attack.

Let’s put it another way: No one cares if you win 11-10 or 2-1, as long as it’s a W.

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Where’d August go?

Is it just me, or has the time sped up to about 30% faster than “normal?”

I noted that I started teaching a summer course on July 6, wrote a post the next week, and now it’s Sept. 1! What happened to August?

We need new metaphors for time moving quickly. Get on that, will ya?

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