Archives 2013

Invisible Employee

Did you ever had a collaborator or subordinate (if you are “director” for 20 years now, the first word is not so clear for you, probably) who would be invisible?

Meaning to accomplish his attributions– formal and non-formal ones– so good that you have the feeling that all things come together by themselves? To be so efficient and pro-active that you wouldn’t need to actually put him to do something? “Some things” are there, always, already done. Have you ever thought that you don’t need him/her (the collaborator), that you don’t need the small things he/she does? Wrong thinking.

He/She takes a week of leave. Suddenly all telephones start to ring at once, e-mailbox fills (or, 20 years ago, correspondence map) and colleagues yell at each other. Yes, attributions have been taken over by somebody else – in some cases even by more that one person, if these attributions are from different areas of activity.

So what? Chaos is at its place.

You are stunned. Planets must have aligned in an evil way and a black moon is watching them.

It’s just that the key may not be only to one person.

Yes it may.

Nobody is irreplaceable. It’s true.

Some collaborators though are ire-price-able. (priceless)

Don’t lose such a collaborator if you have the luck to work with him/her. He/She needs simple things as motivation – to be visible once in a while. To recognize in front of everyone how important are all the things he/she does in the same time, all the deadlines and various activities he/she is juggling with, like nobody else does.

by Raluca Filip Iasi

Confronting with journalists

When you have to confront with journalists, you shouldn’t use a different “language” from the one you usually do. You shouldn’t be false towards your own person. Be as natural as you can.

It is important to have clear arguments in your mind before the “gang” from the press comes and it is also important to be devoted to the topics you want to stress. Repeat them as often they ask you without betraying your impatience. If some of them are late, make sure you welcome them and let them know YOUR point of view.

The most unproductive and dangerous mistake that can be made by someone who dares to talk to the media is to see such a meeting more as a threat than as an opportunity. Journalists are, in a way, predators and predators are programmed to smell and exploit fear. If you are not a serial killer, a rogue or a rapier, you should avoid a defensive behaviour or give the impression you are this kind of character!

Timing

 Don’t hurry up with declarations / answers until you check the facts. It is better to say “I can’t say anything yet, but when exactly is your deadline?”. Hang on to the argument “all the others answered the question”. When you don’t know the CONCRETE FACTS, the less you say, the better it is. “I will contact you” is the best option – and even call in due time. Always call, always answer, but when you are well informed and prepared.

 Don’t hide

It is vital not to give the impression that you run or hide from the media. This thing will give the signal for a hunt – possibly a humiliating one – which is not only justified but also actively induced. Here is an example of elegant avoidance: “I am sorry, I can’t declare anything for the moment, in this stage; you understand there are many things that depend on the today meeting. But after that I will be happy to talk to you.” This way you have at your disposal:

  •      A rational reason not to declare anything
  •      You showed you were not hostile towards the media
  •      You made a concrete promise that you will speak later

Paraphrasing Casanova (“Memories”: “Paris was a city where people were judging appearances”), I can say that Romania is a country where people are judging appearances; there is no other country in the world where it is so easy to assert yourself.T

That is why, I think, the secret of success in Public Relations  – a field full of paradoxes – is not to allow yourself to be led by appearances or fooled by them. Try to impose on others, to convince them of their own appearance as an image – but also to have a high standard in your activity. This is the only basis of a good reputation and publicity.

 by Raluca Filip Iasi

            

What does it mean to be Public Manager

A topical-interest article regarding public institutions activity, published in 2006 in Local Public Administration Romanian Magazine. And a habit of mine that became already a reflex even if I am not by name a public manager anymore: to observe flaws of a system and to oppose to conformation. As natural and human is the change resistance, the same is natural to me the „conformation resistance”.

 by Raluca Filip Iasi,

Public Manager Iasi County Prefecture

 At the beginning of my activity in this job I used to answer to the questions like “what does it mean and what does a public manager” with quotations from the special laws of public managers (Law 156 / 2005, GD 783 / 2005 regarding Methodological Norms, GO 56 / 2004, Decree 854 / 2004, Law 452 / 2004 and GO 6 / 2005).

Now, after almost 2 years of experience as Public Manager, my answer is more complex and more complete, considering also my previous public administration experience. Thus in theory, the name itself should define the integral activity of a public manager in a central or local public administration institution. In practice, the public manager is what the top-management of that institution makes of him/her: a special status civil servant “thrown away” in a department and forgotten about or a project coordinator who acts in the department where he/she is called or where he/she observes that his/her intervention is needed. This can be done by authority delegation, both formally and non-formally to the public manager and by “decisional de-concentration” to specific projects of the public manager. He/She doesn’t have to be in a department, no matter what department, because he/she can coordinate programmes, projects and activities in any domain (where his/her expertise is needed). Graphically this can be transposed in the organizational chart of the institution by “separation” of the public manager and his team, like in the “Internal Audit” or “Control Body” cases. Where the PM doesn’t have a formal team, it is that of the department where he temporarily conducts his “reforming” activity. Because the separation mentioned before it has to remain only a graphical representation of the freedom of action and not to become isolation and lack of communication towards other public institution departments.

 Concerning the concrete activity in a PM Job, I think there are no “good practice” examples, there is only practice. It is true that when I present my realized projects (activity reports, evaluation reports and informal discussions) I accentuate on those projects considered successful. But they are not by far perfect and I now best the obstacles that I passed or I didn’t pass. I want to remember them because, by all means, I want to avoid them next time. That is why when I talk about practice, I bring to discussion the things to avoid – offering my experience advantage to those around me for them not to deal with the same obstacles.

 Due to the limited publishing space, I remind only an example. The First National Conference of Public Managers, organized in Iasi on 30th of June 2006, was a success, as the participants and guests present there are asserting. The major disadvantage of organizing a manifestation of such scope by a tertiary credit coordinator (like a county prefecture) is the lack of funds. The disadvantage can be surpassed by appealing to sponsors (sponsorship running, sincerely said) but the recommendation is that all payment (between sponsor and beneficiary, between beneficiary and service providers – printing, serigraphy, catering, etc.) to be unfold through one of the sponsor or through a partner (legal operation, it can be mentioned in the sponsorship / partnership agreement). Otherwise, the Order of Public Finance Ministry (1661/2003) for approving methodological norms of cashing and using funds from donations and sponsorships by public institutions, stipulates 9 different steps (with its own due time) for approving cashing / payment of sponsorship funds, steps to be accomplished by a tertiary credit coordinator like a prefecture for example.

 Being a Public Manager means to provoke and manage change in better (both internal and external) of public institutions where we activate – ingrate mission with late recognition, sort of post-mortem glory, useful only to heirs and only to those heirs who obtained and registered author rights.

 And why should we change anything? To get to “European standards”? No, because much invoked European standards mean only common sense and civilization, nothing else extra. They are covered in a certain form– still bureaucratic of course, standardized, European level accepted– different though of the form that Romanian public administration is used to.

 The answer is simple: because “modernization”, “reform” and the mentioned “European standards” should not be empty words anymore, met in dry speeches. We can make them concrete concepts, tangible and earthly – like the world and real problems we confront every day.

The spokesman’s booklet

It is first useful to the institution’s spokesman / representative / president / director, but also to anybody who is in the situation of representing the institution in a certain moment. It may comprise various pieces of advice, like:

  • Plan the interviews, never try to bluff.
  • Answer politely to naïve questions. If the interviewer asks something simple is because the TV viewers or listeners would like to ask the same.
  • There are many ways of telling the truth, but avoid the wrong representations.
  • Listen carefully to what the interviewer says.
  • If it is necessary to contradict a supposition (“Many people think …”), you must do it firmly but politely, using proofs if possible: ”I understand that you believe this, but our statistics show that 80% of the public …”.
  • You must adequately prepare what the spokesman has to declare. Don’t count on a spontaneous speaker.
  • Concentrate on the good news and avoid the temptation of justifying.
  • Don’t allow the interviewer to take control of the situation. Be calm and concentrate on the essential. Don’t let yourself distracted.
  • Learn to transform the technical terms in a simple language. Avoid slang.
  • Don’t say anything during or after the show that you may regret later.
  • Keep a summary of the main problems that you want to cover.
  • Think about interesting ways of illustrating your point of view.
  • Stay enthusiastic. Talk, through the interviewer, to the audience.
  • Don’t allow being interrupted.
  • Correct any mistake from the questions.

Keep the “off the record” comments to an absolute minimum. Don’t forget that “who gossips with you, also gossips about you”. If you can avoid saying something off the record, it will be a great advantage because the chances to be understood wrong are minimized. In other words, suppose that the journalist will use every word you say. Never use expressions such as “you can quote me about that” – they are pretentious and a sign of dilettantism. Let the journalist decide if he needs to quote or not.

  • Never complain to journalists who criticize you; never thank them if they praise you – just be accessible and friendly all the time.
  • Never lie a journalist, any journalist. Always remember that journalists have a job to do – try to help them do their job.
  • Always correct the factual errors, either by the right to reply or by a letter to the publication or by a direct personal note to the interested journalist.
  • In Public Relations it is all about perception. If the perception about your organization or about you is simply bad, you must adopt a long-term vision to correct it. It could take you years to change attitudes – you must continue with your own message, again and again.
  • Remember that journalists are not different than you and they cannot keep secrets.

By Raluca Filip Iasi

The crisis plan

Public Relations represent the responsibility of those who take decisions. Only if top management appreciates correctly the importance of this activity, it can bring a maximum contribution to its efficiency. Sir John Harvey-Jones declared that the main activities that a president or director should deal with are strategic planning and Public Relations. He should personally be interested in the Public Relations of the organization. And this is because reputation is something that should be treated as any other good. The methods of protecting reputation should be taken into account when things go wrong – a sort of “reputation insurance”.

Many organizations have crisis plans prepared for emergencies. Unfortunately, this is a Public Relations area still developing. Reality shows that organizations should plan not to have “incidents”. But things get complicated here and are wider than Public Relations. The best crisis plan is the one minimizing the risk of not wanted incidents. But before the plan, there should be made an analysis of all the problems that may affect the reputation of the organization.

This plan will cover more things except for communication: safety, marketing, human resources, staff and others and the final variant will have to be signed by the executive director / president, after discussions, amendments and formal presentation in front of the leading board.

All the staff in the team in charge with the “crisis” needs adequate media training and be familiar with the basic information about the company in order to use them in interviews.

By Raluca Filip Iasi

Handbook of Public Relations

Producing a handbook of Public Relations for the organization is one of the most efficient methods of increasing the quality and consistency of the organization’s communication. There is certainly a handbook of financial operations that is probably treated with a degree of respect by the managers centered on profit. There should be the same status for the handbook of Public Relations. Call it communication handbook if you like, because the managers could think this title is more acceptable – referring to a responsibility they have.

The handbook has a totally different role from the procedure handbook of the department. There is an annex with the organization’s identity:

  • It describes Public Relations’ policies and structures;
  • It explains what managers are encouraged to do  and when they have to check with the center;
  • It gives ideas and advice for the managers in their own programmes of Public Relations;
  • It gives contact details for the Public Relations team, aiming at help requirements.

The handbook for Public Relations may be a source of ideas, help and encouragement for the managers of the organization to also consider in their plan the Public Relations activities. It may also be a mechanism of control that clearly establishes the areas where Public Relations activities must be discussed with the center. It may establish as well the quality standards for the way in which work in Public Relations is implemented in the whole organization.

The handbook should be edited for all the management members (the leading board), for the chiefs of the big departments and all the general managers. It is vital that a list of the handbook’s addressees should be created and updated. It could be done according to the title and position occupied and it could be included in the handbook, so that the structure of the list and the responsibility for communication and control are clear – and in order to demonstrate that the handbook should stay at that position when the owner of a job changes (each copy could have a number).

The handbook will comprise ideas for programmes, some basic pieces of advice on the techniques, a clear declaration about how to get the support and advice of experts and updated lists of all material available from the center and how managers can have access to it.

Of course, all the declarations of policies included in the handbook must be seen by the executive directors – to show that these policies / ideas are approved by them. An approach could be the discussion of the policies separately and after some time their consolidation in a handbook; this helps at planning the work at the handbook and it is easier to get support and real discussions and involvement than if management is presented a pile of materials, at the same time. Any handbook made without being discussed and approved first has little credibility among the colleagues.

At the same time, the handbook shouldn’t be just a couple of days miracle but a living good for the communication programmes. This will depend on the scrupulous attention to the list of circulation and continuous updating – the contents should stay fresh and relevant for the changing needs of the organization. Creating new sections can do this, from time to time, with the reference information, like the contact lists. There may also be included references to the handbook in other communications of management and by searching feedback on its value.

  By Raluca Filip Iasi

The code of behaviour

There should be some simple rules for the employees of Public Relations departments to respect, and why not, any clerk who comes into direct contact with the citizens:

  1. Answer to the greeting of the person who enters the room – in case you don’t see that person first to welcome her.
  2. Be kind and show understanding. Do not give the impression you are bothered.
  3. Do not treat differently according to appearances (I call it “torn” discrimination). If a non-discriminatory behaviour is not at ease, then start from the premise that you may never know who stands in front of you.
  4. The students who have practical work, those on probation or recently employed people will be treated like colleagues with less experience – so with all necessary attention and consideration. Don’t forget that nobody is born educated!
  5. Identifying the publics connected to the organization (stakeholders) and building a map of them because these will be (or are) the main objective of the communication programmes conceived by the experts in Public Relations.
  6. You are a part of the organization, neither the most important one nor the least important one – a package of muscles in a living body! Consequently, the collaboration with colleagues from other departments is essential for the life of the organization.
  7. If the request is made by phone, TAKE A NOTE of the details, in order to be able to find the most suitable and explanatory materials. If it is a vast work, phone back and let the petitioner know about the progress and if you ask a colleague to phone for you, CHECK if he did it.
  8. Don’t show on TV, at the radio or in front of the press unprepared and don’t let anybody from the organization do it. There is nothing worse than improvisation, because for the media there is nothing “off the record”; everything is recorded.
  9. The language used must be as clear and simple as possible; avoid specialty vocabulary accompanied or not by a superior attitude.
  10. Smile! It is more important than you may think and it is vital for a job in Public Relations, and even more in Public Administration.

  By Raluca Filip Iasi

Public Relations for Public Relations

“Public Relations for Public Relations”

 Top-management must be aware of and educated in connection with Public Relations, that’s why there are necessary:

  • courses of relations with the media at business and administration schools (future managers are aware of the communication credibility);
  • education of the business community;
  • founding professional associations from Public Relations.

Training in communication

Some institutions offer a “media training” to the executive managers and advisers. This one can be bought from the shelf or it can be adapted to the needs of a certain local authority. It consists, in fact, in offering to the members of the staff some practical experience in interviews, presentations etc. Among them some are reserved and others are enthusiastic. The retort often met, at the suggestion of training in communication, is: “we already know how to communicate!”. But there are many kinds of training:

  • seminars of awareness;
  • simulations of opportunities for communication – interviews, reinforcing trust etc.;
  • feedback on hidden or “implicit” communication;
  • “training” to speak in front of the public and for presentations, short answers, distinctive style, easy language;
  • a contact with journalists and editors for a mutual agreement.

Who is the training in communication for? Priority should have those who have to do with the public regularly and those who formally represent the authority – but the others must also be determined to become aware of the fact they also have to communicate.

 By Raluca Filip Iasi

Public Relations, an essential responsibility of top management

Public Relations are an essential responsibility of top management, in my opinion – not an optional one or a function that can be delegated. The policy must be decided – and sustained – from the top.

Good Public Relations need thinking, planning and organization. No manager can claim that he has “natural” Public Relations abilities as he doesn’t have natural talent for law, staff and finances. A good professional in Public Relations has no satisfaction when it is proved he was right in his recommendations, recommendations that were ignored and that’s why everything went wrong. Too little bosses say:

  • “Everything is so good that the last thing we should worry about is that nonsense of good relations;”
  • “I think we can approach to this as we go on, without spending money or time on any complex and boring plan;”
  • “Believe me, I am a natural communication man. I don’t need advice from any Public Relations person;”
  • “Let me play this card. We don’t want to ruin spontaneity with a summery or a rehearsal”, etc.

 The colleagues in an organization / institution often don’t understand the importance and aim of Public Relations, because the experts in Public Relations are considered to be the key. So that many experts in this field go towards marketing, which has more credibility and it is more measurable.

Consequently, there is no confidence from the organization. Sometimes the lack of confidence is accompanied by the physical isolation of the office of Public Relations.

Speaking about strategies and policies in Public Administration … a department of Public Relations in such an institution should have a strategy. It is like a publicity campaign, thought of in the smallest detail – only that in Public Administration there is no beginning and no ending (especially it doesn’t have an ending), being always in the public’s eye.

 By Raluca Filip Iasi

Using Public Relations agencies

Advantages in using Public Relations agencies

  1. The partners from the agency are independent and are thus able to give neutral advice. There is also a strong but wrongly guided tendency to respect the advice that comes from the outside, preferring it to the one that is as good or even better from the inside.
  2. The employed staff worked or is still working for other customers as well and has a greater experience for different situations;
  3. The cost of the service is known before and has a direct relation with the agreed programme. The budget can be slowly varied from time to time and there is no question about social protection or supplementary reward;
  4. If the results do not reach the expected level, the contract can be easily cancelled or amended.

Disadvantages

  1. An outside firm might not have detailed knowledge about the activities of the institution and needs careful information. The regular consultancy is essential and the failure in this regard is the most common cause of insatisfaction and finally of cancelling the contract;
  2. The questions of the press are not concrete or easy to answer, they must be given to the organization and this slows down the speed of answer, so important in the relations with the media;
  3. There could come up a lack of continuity because the staff of the agency may leave or change the functions.

 By Raluca Filip Iasi