by: Gwin Johnston | stored in: journalism, media

Don’t you think that this Ebola “scare” has gone far enough? It has been completely generated by the media. The New York Times had several pages devoted to it this Sunday, and you can’t get away from online and broadcast assaults.

30 years ago, it would have been treated as just another disease, but when a friend in Wyoming remarked to me about it, I was convinced. The media can do good things, but this is so blown out of proportion that I question their power.

What good things have you seen them do lately? Sure they present both sides of issues in an election but social media is exempt, and who reads the newspapers or watches TV anymore?

Media is a competitive business, and as I’ve always said, media piles on media. And then they forget about the issue they’re so bent on talking about.

by: Gwin Johnston | stored in: politics

Compromise is a beautiful thing. Thanks to Governor John Hickenlooper for suggesting it and for Congressman Jared Polis for agreeing to it. It makes a world of sense both for fracking and anti-fracking camps. And, it saves them money. The only people not happy about it? The media, who won’t be getting the advertisements and the ad agencies that won’t be getting all that income. Maybe, too, the public relations firms who won’t be getting their fees. But it’s still a beautiful thing.

Why do people, particularly journalists including some of public relations own, insist on calling public relations firms “agencies.”  I don’t get it.

I have always told our staff that we’re a firm.  We’re not an agent of our clients but a counselor to them.  It got started with advertising agencies which are or were truly agents of their clients.  They bought advertising on their behalf, and paid for it, and sometimes got burned in doing so because the clients couldn’t pay them.  And they didn’t charge their clients for their time; instead they took a percentage of the advertising that they did on behalf of a client.  Some still do.

Public relations firm are not agents of their clients.  We charge fees and sometimes charge a percentage of the costs it takes to print a brochure or put on a special event.  But we’re a firm, and so are most groups of people who perform work for a client.

I can take on any arguments about firms vs. agencies.

by: Gwin Johnston | stored in: public relations

There has been talk in the public relations field about marketing and whether to call our trade marketing and public relations.  After checking definitions of marketing from the American Marketing Association and Wikipedia I feel strongly that I’m not sure.

In my mind marketing has always been about developing a product and selling it, but that’s not what these definitions infer.  Rather they indicate that public relations and marketing purposes are intertwined because public relations is about the bottom line and so is marketing.  Though the bottom line in public relations is broader than the bottom line in marketing.  Paul Holmes, who is a pundit in the public relations field, has always maintained that marketing and advertising are part of public relations.   He may be right.

Public relations has always taken the broader view that corporations must worry about their reputations from all aspects – whether it be about their products or services, about their shareholder value, their sales force – everything.  That’s what branding is about – it is all a corporation does and says.

My conclusion is that public relations rules. Do you disagree?

With the fall of MySpace a few years back, many analysts predicted that social media would just be a fad and would eventually disappear… boy, were they wrong! Social media is now one of the most effective forms of communications and has redefined many industries including public relations.

This is good news for those of us in the public relations world, because this means that there will always be a place for us. The more people have and use social media, the more public relations becomes a necessity.  And from this beast is born a new monster: the social media specialist.

The social media specialist is the person responsible for overseeing and managing the social media sites and creating brand awareness. But beware social media specialist: social media is an effective tool if used correctly, but equally so, social media can also be a deadly weapon against yourself if used incorrectly.  So here are my 5 rules to social media

1.    Don’t overuse social media: Nobody likes the guy who is spamming up your feed with random useless posts and tweets. The same can happen if too much is posted daily by your social media specialist. Don’t make too many posts at one time; separate your posts by at least 2 hours.

2.    Don’t underuse social media: You want to create brand awareness, and you’re not effectively doing that if you only make one post or tweet a day. My general rule of thumb is 2 to 4 posts pending on the content that you are posting or tweeting.

3.    Understand when to use social media: Studies show the most effective times to use social media is between 1:00 pm -4:00 pm in your respected time zones. These are the times when Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube get its heaviest traffic. Post or tweet your most important information at those times. Like everything in life, the earlier the better.

4.    Don’t just retweet or repost other people’s posts: I get it, sometimes posting up other people’s stuff is effective. But if done too often, it makes you look lazy. It’s a nice way of telling your social media audience: “hey, I’m too lazy to come up with any new ideas but check out their idea”. Be creative, who know…other people may start reposting and retweeting your stuff.

5.    Interact: Too often is social media in the professional world treated like a robot, only able to speak but not understand. Communicate with people. Notice the word “social” in social media. We’re all really good at communicating with our personal social media platforms, but we do a horrible job at it with our professional sites. Don’t sound like a robot, talk to the people.

Social media is still in its early age and were all still learning how to use it correctly. But follow these rules and you’re bound for an effective and successful social media campaign.

by: Gwin Johnston | stored in: social media

Social media has been called a lot of things:  unnecessary, fleeting, here to stay, influential.  Personally, I use it primarily for what it was intended – keeping up with friends and family.  Businesses generally don’t understand it and think it will deliver more than it can.

I often don’t recommend social media participation for business to business clients for a couple of reasons.

  1. What’s to guarantee that their customers are on social media?
  2. What does a “like” on Facebook mean to them?
  3. Is it the best way to get their message out?
  4. Is it consistent?

Some individuals might think I’m being negative when I ask these questions, but I don’t think social media is the be all and end all.

There is a place for social media among consumer product companies.  It encourages two-way communication among customers and can build consumer loyalty, but there has to be a strategy behind it.  Mostly, I’ve seen it used for consumer contests.  I know what the strategy is, but isn’t it just a different way of delivering a contest?

But then, I’m in public relations and we have to be intimately familiar with all types of communication.  To that end, we’ve hired Serr Her, a 2013 graduate in public relations to make JohnstonWells more visible in social media.  Serr and I will work together to develop a strategy and he will be responsible for maintaining our Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Instagram reports.  He will make sure that we’re including social media in our recommendations to clients.

Serr is a traveler – having been in 43 of the 50 states and he’s a Colorado man.  He hikes, snowboards, fishes and hunts and is a big Bronco’s fan.  You have to be to live in Denver, don’t you?

Stay tuned!

by: Gwin Johnston | stored in: women

Today is Women’s Equality Day. What? You say? Why do we need a day for Women’s Equality. Shouldn’t that be every day?

I’ve been reading “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. In the book she says women are basically screwed because they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Have kids that is. I guess those of us who entered the professional life years ago were lucky. We HAD to work. There are still women today who have no choice in the matter, but if a woman is married and her husband has a good job, today they can contemplate having a job or having children.

Someone told me today, that if a man had the babies, abortion would not be a question. It would be accepted.

But we’ll have a Women’s Equality Day and then see what happens. Nothing.


I’ve had experience on both sides of this question, and I can say definitively, I don’t know.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  In the public relations business telecommuting often doesn’t work for the very reasons Marissa Mayer, the new head of Yahoo, states.

Public relations is a very collaborative business.  Have you ever done a brainstorming session over the phone?  It doesn’t work because although people are connected by voice, there is a huge thing missing.  You’re not in a room together throwing spit wads or acting up or using body language.  We had a woman working for us who had a baby and then moved to San Diego.  We didn’t want her to leave, so we hired her on a telecommuting basis.  She was the exception to the rule.  She worked hard, hired a babysitter, showed great results and came into the office for a few days each month when she met with clients as well as her teams.  She was great, but she was an exception.

When most people work from home, though they’re connected by all sorts of technology, they fail to generate new ideas because no one is there to challenge them.  It’s a boon to mothers, but I don’t know if these mothers are free from their children enough to get much done.

Working at it makes it work.  Team and client meetings generate collaboration essential to our business.  Perhaps Mayer will make it work after she has more time in the job.


CareerCast, an online site for job seekers, says that public relations jobs are among the most stressful.  Why is that?

I have had my own public relations firm for 41 years and I know the reason we’re stressed.  Our bosses.

It isn’t that we have bad bosses, they just expect a lot and they don’t understand public relations.  Even if your boss has been in public relations or is in public relations s/he seems to forget that what they are asking you to do is nearly impossible.

And if, like me, your bosses are your clients, they don’t understand public relations, they don’t know what they’re asking and they don’t understand why you can’t deliver exactly what they want.  Plus the fact that they don’t communicate with you on a regular basis, but they expect you to know what you need to know to get the job done.  There are exceptions.

We pass our stress on to the workers below us.  A client yells at us, we yell at the team that services that client.  And we’re put in the uncomfortable and often no-win spot of telling the client s/he is wrong, is mistreating the team or resigning the business.  That is stressful.

I keep thinking that bosses will understand that what they’re asking A) doesn’t solve the problem, B) won’t work or C) can’t be accomplished.  That is endemic in corporation because the big boss doesn’t get public relations either.

How do we solve the problem?  Perhaps teaching public relations in business schools is a beginning, but that takes time.  Educating clients?  Easier said than done.  Oh well, maybe nothing can be done – we’ll just continue to be stressed.

by: Gwin Johnston | stored in: public relations

They’re all the rage in marketing, but I’ve never figured out how to use them.  I have an iPhone and have installed a QR reader but can’t be bothered to figure out how to use it.  If there is more information someone wants me to know, why don’t they just tell me?

Before my iPhone, I had a Blackberry.  No QR code readers worked on it, so advocates of QR codes are dismissing a lot of potential customers.

I’ve just been looking around for a QR code (where are they when you need them) and can’t find one to see if my iPhone scanner works.  Maybe these are for technologically skilled younger people, but 40 and over?  Forget it.