Beth Comstock on change and risk, NASA's social me
Charting the future of public relations
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Beth Comstock on change and risk, NASA's social me

Paul Holmes

Beth Comstock is one of a handful of public relations professionals to earn the CEO title, so when she speaks it behooves us all to listen. Now senior vice president and chief marketing officer at General Electric, she makes the case in this [email protected] article that leaders should embrace change but always challenge the consensus. "Everyone really wants to kick people like that in the butt, but what we are doing is challenging them,” she says. “We ask questions that are annoying, that people might not want to face.... But you have to be willing to expose yourself. You have to put yourself out there. Instigators take on great challenges. The ultimate thing about being a leader is whether you can be an instigator and an agent for change.” One more thing to recommend the article: she quotes both Samuel Beckett and Dilbert. It’s no great surprise that NASA is able to provide some pretty amazing online content, but it’s a little more surprising that a government agency is one of the best at online engagement, listening to and conversing with its fans and followers through a variety of social media platforms, and earning a place on the list of the most engaged brands. According to Henry Min, founder and CEO of Nestivity, which commissioned the Twitter engagement study: "What they've done remarkably well is nurture and grow an extremely engaged community using compelling, real-time content and engaging in two-way conversation with their followers as often as they can, proving once again that simple conversation and the human touch goes a long way towards building life-long relationships." I’m a little embarrassed to admit, as a Brit, that I was until recently unaware of Sir Basil Clarke, who is apparently regarded as the UK’s own “father of public relations”—a title bestowed in the US on Edward L Bernays. In any event, there’s a new biography of Clarke, previewed in this Guardian article. An interesting Sydney Morning Herald piece looks at “black PR” in China. Perhaps the most impressive thing is how brazen some of the practitioners of the dark arts appear to be. The Herald reports that “a quick search showed at least 30 companies have sprung up to offer government officials, shady businessmen and scandal-hit celebrities the chance to wipe their slates clean.” Several of those firms are happy to discuss their rates and their ability to get damaging articles deleted from online publications. This is clearly an issue on which mainstream PR firms need to take a stand. The Weekly Standard believes that the Center for Media and Public Affairs has uncovered new evidence that political fact-checking group Politifact has a liberal bias. According to the Center, “52 percent of Republican claims… were rated ‘mostly false,’ ‘false’ or ‘pants on fire,’ versus just 24 percent of Democratic statements…. By the same token, 54 percent of Democratic statements were rated as ‘mostly true’ or ‘true,’ compared to just 18 percent of Republican statements.” If only there was some simpler, more obvious explanation for that discrepancy. And finally, of all the things that might have finally pushed the Wall Street Journal editorial board over the edge and into complete derangement, who would have guessed New York’s bike-sharing scheme?  
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