PRSA Twitter Chat for PR Students (JOUR 4460)

On May 5, @PRSA and @PRSSANational hosted “What Your PR Classes Didn’t Teach You,” a Twitter chat between PRSA, PR pros and PR students. The chat’s special guests or “industry insiders” were Ron Culp and Amanda Lewis Hill. Hill is the director of strategic development at Lewis Public Relations in Dallas. She is both a Baylor PRSSA and University of Texas PRSSA alum.

Public Relations Society of America hosts Twitter chats throughout the school year, but this one caught my attention. The chat focused on questions that students had about being PR professionals and the real world of public relations after earning a degree. Students who joined the chat include PRSSA presidents, PRSSA members, NCPRSA members, PRSSA faculty advisors, public relations students and graduates, members of the PRSA National Board of Directors, and various PR pros.

The first question was about pitching to the media. Here are some things I learned:

  • Journalists might think PR pros get in contact with them for a hit and run (to get publicity and never call them again), but the truth is they are trying to build relationships.
  • Make sure you’re pitching to the right person, otherwise they will most likely have no interest. Research your target.
  • Observe other PR pros when they pitch. How do they do it?
  • Don’t make pointless phone calls/send pointless emails to reporters. Have a purpose.
  • Make it brief and be authentic.
  • Don’t just build digital relationships. Get out there and meet people.

Question two was about students asking for help and seeking instruction.

  • Always ask questions so you don’t fail.
  • Try to solve problems by yourself first (look to the past for answers), but always ask for help if you cannot find a solution.
  • Experienced pros like when interns/entry-level professionals ask questions.
  • Be forthcoming and confident.
  • Ask your mentors, not just your boss.
  • It’s always better to ask questions when confused then to completely fail in the end.

Question three was about participation and speaking up in meetings. Voicing my opinion in a room full of experienced professionals seems daunting. Here’s what I learned:

  • Everyone’s opinion is valuable.
  • If you are informed, aware and will add value, be bold and confident.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • If you are always silent, it will be expected. You won’t be looked to for new ideas.

The fourth question was in regard to approaching bosses about continuing education.

  • Good mentors and bosses will encourage you to continue your education.
  • Ask them for advice.
  • Tell them about the benefits and the cost.
  • Offer compromise in some financial area, like PRSA dues.
  • Look into programs that your boss has connections to, not just programs that are pricey.
  • Explain the value it will bring to the company!

The fifth question was the most important in my opinion. It asked students about how they will show initiative and asked pros what they looked for in newbies.

From PR pros:

  • Be curious. Seek out volunteer opportunities.
  • Ask questions, show interest, do more.
  • Always do something and ask what else you can do before you leave the office.
  • Be prepared, do your homework.
  • Do extra research.
  • Look at the big picture.
  • Don’t say negative things.
  • Be humble.
  • Look for paid internships.
  • You will pay your dues.

From students:

  • Volunteer to take on more work.
  • Keep a positive attitude.
  • Be a little bold.
  • Say yes to assignments, unless you’re completely swamped. Stay hungry.
  • Have passion.
  • Try something new.
  • Be kind.

I was unable to participate in the Twitter chat, but it was still extremely helpful. Every PR student or recent grad should review this chat. Thanks PRSA, PRSSA and everyone who participated for the tips, tricks, advice and insight!

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Organizational Twitter Account Versus Personal Twitter Account (JOUR 4460)

Mr. Chad Shanks, former digital communications manager of the NBA Houston Rockets, was fired after tweeting this:

He sent the tweet during the fifth game of the Houston Rockets v. Dallas Mavericks 2015 NBA playoffs series. As a MFFL (Mavs fan for life), I was a little disappointed in my team’s performance and extremely disappointed in the referees’ calls. With only a couple of minutes left to play, it was obvious the Rockets were going to win. The tweet added insult to injury and went a step too far because it implied that all of the Mavericks would soon be shot and killed. A playoff loss can definitely feel like a shot to the heart, but threatening to shoot the Mavericks, even in emoji form, could be taken as a serious threat. The Mavericks’ 2015 playoff run may be over, but their lives are not.

Every individual has the right to cheer for his or her favorite sports team and criticize the other team. But when professionals represent an organization, they can’t say whatever they want. Shanks was responsible for protecting the Rockets’ reputation and failed. Criticizing is one thing, but threatening is another. If Shanks had tweeted from his personal account, I don’t think he would have been fired. Unfortunately he didn’t think twice, like countless other professionals who have made grave mistakes on social media. Although Shanks apologized, the damage had already been done.

Fortunately, the Mavericks’ social media manager handled the situation very professionally.

Credit

Go Mavs! Credit

Moral of the story? There is a difference between what you can tweet on your personal account and your organization’s account. Be careful and think twice before you post, especially if you are holding the reins of an organization’s reputation.

We’re All Screaming for Ice Cream! (JOUR 4460)

Blue Bell

Blue Bell is finally following in the wise steps of Tylenol by recalling all of its products. According the Centers for Disease Control, the listeria in Blue Bell ice cream has been an issue for four or five years. CDC research shows the bacteria causes about 260 deaths each year along with 1,600 illnesses. This year, there have been 3 deaths and 10 illnesses in Kansas, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma. The same strain of listeria that made people sick this year is the same strain that made people sick in 2010.

Credit

Listeria is no joking matter. Credit

Connection? The Blue Bell factories. Listeria can stay alive in pipes, tubes and freezing conditions for years unlike some viruses and bacteria. Listeria-contaminated ice cream is obviously not an issue to take lightly. So why did it take Blue Bell so long to do a total recall?

1. Blue Bell has never needed a total voluntary recall in 108 years

2. Blue Bell didn’t want to take a hit to its bottom line for two to three weeks (loss of profit, cost to test and sanitize, cost of staff time while on leave)

This raises a question: Will Blue Bell prices be astronomical when products are back on shelves?

3. Blue Bell didn’t want to take a public hit to its reputation

The fact that it took the company years to do a total recall might actually be worse for its reputation than if it would have recalled its products immediately after people became ill in 2010. But on a positive note, at least the company is now putting its customers first. Blue Bell’s CEO and President Paul Kruse released this statement on April 20:

We’re committed to doing the 100 percent right thing, and the best way to do that is to take all of our products off the market until we can be confident that they are all safe. We are heartbroken about this situation and apologize to all of our loyal Blue Bell fans and customers. Our entire history has been about making the very best and highest quality ice cream and we intend to fix this problem. We want enjoying our ice cream to be a source of joy and pleasure, never a cause for concern, so we are committed to getting this right.

Although he didn’t blatantly admit fault for anyone’s death or illness, the apology and commitment to do better is there. The statement is a little more heartfelt than the typical corporate apology. The company’s use of utilitarianism is good (and ethical) PR.

Find the details about the Blue Bell recall on the company’s website. 

Jeni’s

Another ice cream company, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, also recalled its products on April 23 because of listeria fears. The company hasn’t come across any complaints of illness from its customers, but doesn’t want to take a risk. Jeni’s has the right idea. If there is public fear, the best thing to do is recall products and only sell them when there is 100 percent certainty that the product poses no health risks.

Based in Ohio, the company has scoop shops in Ohio, Tennessee, Illinois, Georgia, South Carolina and California. Its products can also be ordered online and found in stores like Target and Whole Foods.

Visit the company website for more information on the recall.

Craving Ice Cream?

Don't Worry. It'll be back soon! Credit

Don’t Worry. It’ll be back soon! Credit

After reading about listeria and its effects, I can’t say that I am. But I do know at some point my Blue Bell cravings will come back with a vengeance! For now, I do hope everyone is enjoying their over-priced Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. But just remember, Blue Bell will always be number one (at least in Texas)!

Lane Bryant vs. Victoria’s Secret (JOUR 4460)

On Monday, Lane Bryant launched its “I’m No Angel” advertising campaign. The ads promote the brand’s Cacique lingerie line. Lane Bryant is taking a stand against the false perception that most or all women have perfect bodies like the Victoria’s Secret’s Angels.

The brand’s website says, “The women who wear Cacique know that sexy comes in many shapes and sizes. They’re no angels—and they own it.” The print and video ads feature plus-sized models like Ashley Graham, who has modeled for the brand before, while the campaign invites other women to join in redefining what sexy is by posting and using the hashtag #ImNoAngel.

Lane Bryant is paralleling the VS Angels in another way by introducing each of the six plus-size models and telling their individual stories. Victoria’s Secret hasn’t had much of a response, except for continuing to post photos and videos of the VS Angels.

In terms of public relations, running off of what Victoria’s Secret is doing is brilliant. Considering VS is the most popular lingerie brand in the nation, Lane Bryant will get more impressions and media attention by creating its own “Angel” brand. And at the moment if you search “Victoria’s Secret Angels” in Google, some of the first news results are about Lane Bryant. And although the campaign is paid media, there will most likely be positive feedback and negative backlash for Lane Bryant. Therefore, public relations strategies and tactics must be applied to handle the interactions from its publics.

The company has already made one smart PR move: CEO Linda Heasley gave an interview explaining the campaign’s intentions. 

Many women are proud of what Lane Bryant is doing and have joined in the campaign through Twitter and Instagram. The brand has also created a Tumblr page devoted to the #ImNoAngel campaign to feature all of the women joining in.

But there are also critics saying the Lane Bryant is trying to body shame others who don’t look like the plus-size models.

I don’t think that Lane Bryant is trying to body shame anyone. I think they’re trying to show that yes, there may be some women who look like Victoria’s Secret models, but that the majority of women do not have perfect bodies. On the other hand, Lane Bryant probably should have taken into consideration that VS sells lingerie and clothing that will fit women of many sizes. Either way, running off the popular Angel theme is earning Lane Bryant a lot of attention.

Apple CEO to Give Away Hundreds of Millions of Dollars (JOUR 4460)

Tim Cook has the right idea.

Before he dies, Cook will donate almost all of the estimated $700 million fortune (Apple stock and net worth combined) that he has amassed since taking over for Steve Jobs in 2011 to philanthropic projects and charities. His only other wish with his money is to put his 10-year-old nephew through college.

I just want to say thank you, Tim Cook, for being an positive example in a time when greed and selfish tendencies abound. Thank you, Tim Cook, for showing the world that no one needs $700 million dollars to live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life. I wish more of the wealthy would realize that truth.

Let’s take clean water for an example. There are people in this world that can’t even afford clean water (something required for basic human survival). According to The Water Project, building a well that will provide clean water for a few hundred people in Africa costs around $13,000. Now imagine how many clean water wells could be built with $700 million!

It is so sad to hear facts like those in the infographic above. But Cook is taking that fact (more people have a mobile phone than a toilet) and turning it on its head. He’s taking the money he has personally amassed through Apple (which sells millions of iPhones a year) and using it to better the lives of others.

Tim Cook has a serious interest in supporting the future of the human race. He takes a stance when it comes to social issues like human rights, immigration reforms and stopping the spread of AIDS. In October 2014, Cook announced he was gay in an essay published in Bloomberg Businessweek. He even said that his sexual orientation was a “yawner” and I agree. There are more important issues and endeavors for he and the media to focus on. No matter what your opinions are on a gay man as CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you can not deny that he is doing a great things:

  • He is being honest and being himself (only publicly gay CEO in largest 700 corporations)
  • He is giving selflessly to improve the lives of others
  • He is looking at the bigger picture (the future)
  • He is fighting for equality
  • He is using his position of power to give a voice to those who don’t have a voice
  • He is getting consumers’ attention for Apple in the best way possible (Even if his views and sexual orientation are controversial, he stands for all the right things. This is philanthropic public relations/cause marketing done right.)

Cook is following in the footsteps of other powerful men and women like Bill and Malinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Jack Ma and even Steve Jobs with his Product (RED) endeavor.

More millionaires and billionaires need to take a hint. The one percent can do a lot of good even with a small portion of their money. I can only hope that one day I will be as lucky as Tim Cook and be in a position to make a huge positive impact on the larger population.

Read Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky’s comprehensive article to learn more about Tim Cook.

Crisis Communications: March 2015 (JOUR 4460)

This month, two major news stories have required the use of crisis communications. The first was about Levi Pettit’s and Parker Rice’s (Oklahoma State Sigma Alpha Epsilon members) racist chant that was caught on camera and spread rampantly on social media. The second and more recent story was about the Germanwings aircraft that crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 passengers.

Pettit’s and Rice’s need for crisis communications was obvious from the moment the video was posted. But the extent of Germanwings airline’s need for crisis communications was not as immediately obvious. Of course the airline had a problem on its hands because the plane crashed and killed all of the passengers, but two days later the story got worse. Authorities are now saying the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, intentionally flew the passengers to their horrible deaths. Both of these incidents required immediate response from the responsible parties.

Pettit & Rice

When the video of the racist chant began to spread, the President of OU, David Boren, quickly suspended the entire fraternity and then kicked it completely off campus. Pettit and Rice did nothing, which made things worse.

A few days later, Pettit’s parents issued an apology. Unfortunately, the Pettit family implemented the crisis communications plan all wrong. Everyone wanted a sincere apology and explanation from Pettit, not mommy and daddy. A couple of hours later, Rice released a written apology through his father. But there was no face behind the apology, no voice with real sincerity. The apology was almost too eloquent to be written by Rice. Like University of North Texas professor Samra Buskins said in an interview with the Dallas Observer, “It would come across as a lot more sincere and believable if they went on camera, even if they did a YouTube video, and did it themselves.” The fraternity’s executive director announced the implementation of a diversity training program and diversity committee and also publicly apologized.

On March 25, more than two weeks after the release of the video, Pettit publicly apologized in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:

I pray that Pettit has learned some valuable lessons. Mainly that racism has absolutely no place in our world.

All parties involved in this situation (the OU president, the fraternity executive director and the students) implemented crisis communications. The president and executive director may have been somewhat successful, but the students are still in the hole they dug themselves into. Only actions, not words, will improve their situations and chances of ever getting jobs in the professional world.

Germanwings

Although the story is still unfolding, one thing is for sure: the plane crash was not an accident. The airline’s parent company, Lufthansa, began its crisis communications right after the crash on March 24. The “black box” or voice recorder in the plane was recovered and investigators found that there was nothing but steady breathing from the co-pilot in the cockpit and later screaming in the background from the passengers, pilot and flight attendants. The investigators made the announcement early on that the crash was intentional, most likely before the company was ready to speak publicly. But how could a company really prepare for something so horrible?

Andreas Lubitz Credit

Those who knew Lubitz never thought he was suicidal or never had any obvious problems, physically or psychologically. Lubitz does have an unexplained gap in his flight training though. Today, more evidence of a mental illness came to light. Investigators found torn-up doctors notes stating Lubitz was too ill to work, including one dated the day of the crash, at his home. Apparently he had been evaluated by doctors twice in the months before the crash, but not treated for anything.

The company is probably going to see a drop in sales and a huge hit to its reputation. Germanwings must effectively communicate all new information about the crash and the co-pilot to its publics and families of victims, as well as implement programs that will make passengers feel safer, like tougher guidelines and psychological tests for pilots and co-pilots. The airline will not bounce back over night, but may not be completely doomed if its PR professionals handle the situation correctly.

 

Public Relations Versus Promotion (JOUR 4460)

In my personal experience, I’ve found that most people don’t know the real difference between public relations and promotion. I have a palm-to-forehead reaction when I tell someone I am studying public relations and they say, “Oh, like advertising?”

Public Relations is “the value-driven management function that helps establish and maintain mutually beneficial, long-term relationships between an organization and its external as well as internal publics through continuous two-way communication to serve both the organization’s and the publics interest in the democracy toward this goal” (Fuse). In simple terms, public relations is the management of the relationships an organization has with its internal publics (like employees) and its external publics (like donors). Public relations is all about earned media, while advertising is paid media. Earned media is free, but is more difficult to achieve than paid media. Networking is also an indispensable part of the public relations industry.

Promotion on the other hand is an attempt to increase awareness and traffic for an organization, a blog or an event through a variety of traditional and non-traditional media channels. Promotion focuses on short-term goals, while public relations focuses on long-term goals.

Although public relations agencies and professionals may use promotional tactics while executing communications plans, that is not their main purpose.

This infographic is a great illustration of what promotion can involve:

In today’s world, public relations is a necessary management function in any business or organization. Public relations is most effective when it works hand-in-hand with company leadership. And it is usually best if the CEO is the company’s spokesperson, not a PR professional. Its publics want to hear from the men and women who have the power and are making decisions.

Although promotion, advertising and marketing are also important functions, public relations is absolutely necessary and invaluable.

 

Sources

Fuse, Koji. (2014). University of North Texas.

Coca-Cola Introduces Its New Drink: Milk (Yes, You Heard Me Right) (4460)

The Coca-Cola Company is taking yet another step to promote its “healthier” image. In 2013, Coca-Cola joined the anti-obesity fight and tried to convince the public of its social responsibility through its “Coming Together” campaign. Many blame sodas and the companies that produce them for obesity in children and Americans in general.

Trying to promote healthy lifestyles again, the company has announced its new drink: milk. The milk brand, called Fairlife, claims the milk has “superior nutrition” and is “ultra-filtered” because there is “less sugar, more protein and calcium, and no lactose” (Fairlife). Colbert had something to say about that. The brand offers reduced fat (2%), chocolate, fat-free and whole milk. It should be available sometime in April of this year and will cost around $4 for a half gallon, if not more.

The campaign ads are quite interesting, featuring pin-up girls wearing dresses made of milk. The ads have already been criticized for being sexist and too racy. While the photos are quite revealing and sexy when you see them close-up, they do what any ad campaign is supposed to do: get attention. The campaign appeals to adults, teens and children in its (much less racy) animated video below, but like many of the “Got Milk?” campaign ads, the milk promotion is aimed at adults.

Coca-Cola goes even farther and is promoting sustainable farming and humane treatment of animals.

Because milk is such a shocking off-shoot from soft drinks, I think Coca-Cola may have some difficulty selling the product to the health-conscious. The parent company name combined with the high price is going to narrow Fairlife’s target public significantly. But fortunately, launching a drink perceived as health-concious and promoting responsible farming will aid in Coca Cola’s efforts to show its publics (including every American consumer) that the company is in fact socially responsible.

And with American’s drinking less soda, including less Coke and other Coca-Cola products, the company needs to find a way to boost sales and profits. Americans drink about 450 cans a year now compared to 56 gallons a year in 1998.

Will the famous soda producer succeed in the Milk market?

 

 

Salvation Army Uses “The Dress” in Anti-Abuse Campaign (JOUR 4460)

Initially I thought “the dress” was black and blue. In certain lighting, the dress is white and gold while in others it is black and blue. But appearances can be deceptive. Salvation Army South America is using the same concept in its new campaign against domestic violence:

The first ad, which appeared on Twitter on Thursday, states, “The only illusion is if you think it was her choice. One in 6 women are victims of abuse. Stop abuse against women.” The second ad appeared on Twitter today. The campaign is using #stopabuseagainstwomen as its hashtag.

The Ireland Davenport advertising agency brought the campaign idea to the Salvation Army, arguing that “the dress” controversy actually meant nothing. They wanted to use its popularity for good. Carin A. Holmes, Salvation Army Spokesperson, told NBC news that they hope the campaign brings attention to violence against women and the organization’s work with CareHaven, shelter and psychiatric care center for abused women and children in South Africa.

This Salvation Army public service announcement/ad campaign is an amazing public relations play on an Internet sensation like “the dress.” With the controversy having gained so much attention and creating millions of interactions, the ad agency was right to jump on the opportunity to use it to promote anti-violence. The ads have resonated with and received support from many on Twitter:

There is no doubt in my mind that social media skills are a requirement for today’s PR and communications professionals. I think knowing how to use the trending topics on Twitter, Instagram and other sites to your advantage is necessary to achieve success in online campaigns. This could also be called content strategy. Advocacy groups and nonprofit organizations can especially benefit from these skills because, for most, using PR is more realistic than using advertising (advertising is expensive).

If domestic abuse was talked about as widely and openly as the white and gold dress controversy, I think more victims of abuse would report it, find safety and live lives free of fear. It is almost impossible to be unaware of or ignore trending topics today because of social media. Therefore, I hope more organizations take the cue from the Salvation Army and use these opportunities to create awareness of real issues in our world.

Make or Break: Social Media (JOUR 4460)

For public relations and communications professionals, social media can make or break them. This also goes for students looking for a career in the PR field. Social media is now such an integral part of 21st century communication. But it must be used ethically because posted content is so public (meaning everyone can see mistakes) and can never really be deleted. There are many professionals who have ruined their own reputation or the reputation of their organization by misusing social media.

One of the absolute worst, disrespectful social media blunders was made by PR executive Justine Sacco in 2013. I’ll just leave her tweet here for you to decipher:

According to Forbes, this could be filed under “lacking sensitivity.” But it goes even further than that. Sacco is blatantly racist, completely insensitive to those who actually have AIDS and embarrassingly sarcastic. This ended very badly for Sacco: she lost her job and ruined her reputation.

Although she tweeted on her personal account, she was still representing the organization she worked for. That’s something that I think a lot of young professionals and PR students do not understand. No matter what you do, as a public relations specialist or any other position, you are always representing your employer. In any public setting, physically or online, you must uphold your reputation, credibility and moral character.

Social media mistakes will not always be as obvious as Sacco’s. Failing to engage or respond to customers, focusing too much on yourself or your business’s goals and misusing hashtags are all ways to earn a spot on lists like this. (Note: You do not want to end up on a list like that).

Students looking for work need to be aware that their potential employers will check out their social media pages. Therefore, students should not post anything offensive (e.g. foul language, pictures at parties with drinks).

But social media is also an awesome way to network, make new connections, find a job and learn. The best ways to avoid making any type of detrimental social media mistake is to be aware of current trends, news and social norms, think twice before you post, proofread multiple times and use common sense. And always follow the golden rule: if you wouldn’t say it in public, don’t say it online.