Reflections…

Am I the only one amazed that it’s nearing the end of April? It seemed like the winter lasted for like 7 years, but the spring is flying before my eyes so quickly that I can’t even stop to enjoy it! The end of the semester is near, my motivation to do anything remotely related to school is pretty much nonexistant, and I’m ready for warm weather, flowers, and to give my brain a rest.

I’m going to be honest and say that this public relations class was literally one of the hardest classes I’ve ever had to take at Grand Valley so far (and during our last class discussion, I’m not the only one that thought so!)… Maybe it’s because I was so clueless at the beginning so I was trying my absolute best to keep up, maybe it was all the writing and blogging, maybe it was the fact that it was a 10 am class and getting the motivation to get up in the mornings was a struggle in itself. It’s a really hard class! But, I’m actually really proud of how far I’ve come in these (long, cold, wintry) months.

Take, for example, our campaign planbook for our university client, Men In Action. They’re a rape-prevention group on campus who is struggling to find members. The first day of class when my professor talked about said campaign book, I literally had no idea what she was talking about. With the help of my professor, classmates, and research, I came up with tactics like giving away free stuff to students and co-hosting an event on campus. Okay, maybe they’re not the most creative of ideas, BUT a few days ago, I handed in my professionally bound, 41-page (but I mean, who’s counting..?) campaign book and I’m really proud of the result. I never would have thought I could do it, really.

And these blog posts? Sure, it may have been annoying to come up with a topic and sources to match, but I think I’ve run a pretty successful blog, if I do say so myself. Also, keeping this blog up-and-running will give me something to do during the summer!

I think the skills that I’ve learned throughout the semester will be able to help me whichever direction I decide to go in, if I can ever decide… I think it’s important for most all careers to have some sort of background in communications in public relations, because we use these skills pretty much every day.

So reflecting on this past semester and wrapping up my final blog post (and doing pretty poorly on the online final exam…whoops), I’m actually really glad I took this class. I met some great people in the class, had exciting class discussions that I was actually interested in, I created a real campaign that I can use in a portfolio if I so desire, my professor was knowledgeable and down-to-earth, and I now actually know what “public relations” means beyond Samantha in Sex and the City. I’d say that’s a pretty successful semester.

And let’s not forget to mention, that 41-page campaign I talked about will definitely help me in other, future classes. A 6-page paper? 8 pages? 12 pages? Piece of cake.

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PR Definitions: Then and Now

Just a few months ago, I was coming into my public relations class not knowing a single thing about what PR was, what it meant, what I would be learning, etc. I remember looking up the definition and trying to put that idea into my own words and I think I ended up with something like this: “public relations is portraying the client in a positive way for the public.” Looking back now, I think I had the gist of what PR was, but Google was a very helpful tool in that. After being in this class for 4 months, I can now safely say that I have a pretty good grip on what public relations is, what the goal is, and what PR practitioners do to reach that goal.

I think one of the most important things that I have learned this semester is physically doing something that a typical PR practitioner would have to do, which is writing a campaign book. This idea of “learning-by-doing” has proven to be greatly effective in teaching students skills that last. In an academic article by Clark, Threeton, and Ewing of Pennsylvania State University, they agree with this, saying that, “this direct experiential encounter with a learning event requires active engagement of the student as opposed to passive engagement commonly associated with teacher directed instruction that generally results in minimal student interaction in the learning process,” (2010). In other words, it was more helpful for me to learn the idea of a campaign (which, at the beginning of the semester, I had no idea what it even meant) by actually writing it out in a real life scenario, than flipping through pages of my textbook and listening to lectures about it.

Moral of the story, my definitions of public relations from the beginning of the semester compared to now are vastly different, mostly in part to experiential learning about PR. And while I (kind of) hated every second of writing my 40-page campaign book (sorry, don’t shoot me!), I will be the first to admit that the experience has made me much more aware of what public relations is, who public relations is, and how public relations is. After all, “It is one thing to understand the parts of a news release, but the process of crafting an actual release for a client’s approval creates an experience of learning,” (Maben, Whitson, 2013).

 

Clark, R, Threeton, M, Ewing, J. (2010). The Potential of Experiential Learning Models and Practices In Career and Technical Education & Career and Technical Teacher Education. Retrieved from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JCTE/v25n2/pdf/clark.pdf

Maben, S, Whitson, K. (2013). Experiential learning labs in public relations programs: Characteristics of undergraduate student-run public relations firms on U.S. college campuses. Retrived from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:4ndJHQmA0PMJ:www.researchgate.net/profile/Sarah_Maben/publication/256082435_Experiential_learning_labs_in_public_relations_programs_Characteristics_of_undergraduate_student-run_public_relations_firms_on_U.S._college_campuses/file/504635217de16ef25e.pdf+&cd=5&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Career Aspirations and Public Relations

Over the course of this academic year, I’ve been thinking about changing my major. Freshman year, I started out as a biomedical sciences major, wanting to go into the pharmaceutical business. When I almost failed out of Chem 115 and 116, I changed my major to health communications, thinking it could be the best of both worlds: being in a hospital setting, but never having to take another chemistry class again. Lately, with no rhyme or reason, I’ve been really wanting to be an elementary school teacher. It didn’t have anything to do with the classes that I’ve been taking (I swear, I’ve passed all my classes this year!), so I really have no explanation. So, I changed my major to integrated sciences for elementary education.

As annoying as a third major change is, the classes that I’ve taken this year haven’t been a total bust, especially this public relations class. One of the most important topics that we covered in this class has been the importance of crisis communication. According to an article by David Roos of How Stuff Works, “a crisis could be an accusation of corporate crime, a fire or flood at a manufacturing plant, or something as deeply tragic as a school shooting,” (2012). When the U.S. was shaken by the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, it’s sad to say that the school could have used a better crisis plan. Global crisis communicator Gerard Braud commented on this flaw by saying, “few if any schools or school systems will do anything to prepare for the day when they might have to communicate with parents and the media about a tragedy at their own school,” (2013).

As a *newly* aspiring elementary school teacher, I would hope that my employer would have a solid crisis communication plan, whether it be for a shooting, a disease or infection outbreak, severe weather, chemical spills, bus crashes, bomb threats, natural disasters, etc. Because anything is possible, that’s a huge reason to have a good crisis communication plan, as this class has taught me. An article about the crisis communication plan at Sandy Hook states that, “you must have a plan in place to effectively deal with a crisis. Without a plan, you will be scrambling for how you will respond during the exact time that you need to be responding,” (Gryp, 2012). It’s not only important to have a crisis plan in place, but it’s important for everyone involved to know the plan and how to react during the crisis itself. After all, “knowing what to do when faced with a crisis can be the difference between calm and chaos, between courage and fear, between life and death,” (U.S. Department of Education, 2007).

So, I may not be going into public relations or a field where I will be in direct need of public relations knowledge anymore, but I still feel like I will benefit from knowing the “fundamentals of public relations.” It’s essential for schools to have a good plan in the event of a crisis, and I know that learning all about PR and how it affects everyday life will give me a leg-up in my career. And…hopefully this is the last time I will change my major.

 

Braud, Gerard (2013, January 13). One Month After Sandy Hook: Effective Crisis Communication in Critical Times. CommPro. Retrieved from http://www.commpro.biz/public-relations/crisis-communications/in-the-wake-of-sandy-hook-elementary-effective-crisis-communications-in-critical-times/

Gyrp, Catherine (2012). Crisis Communication Lessons from the Tragedy at Sandy Hook. The Buzz Bin. Retrieved from http://www.buzzbinpadillacrt.com/crisis-communication-lessons-from-the-tragedy-at-sandy-hook/

Roos, David (2012). How Public Relations Works: Careers in Public Relations. How Stuff Works. Retrieved from http://money.howstuffworks.com/business-communications/how-public-relations-works6.htm

U.S. Department of Education (2007, January). Practical Information on Crisis Planning: A Guide for Schools and Communities. Retrieved from http://rems.ed.gov/docs/PracticalInformationonCrisisPlanning.pdf

ROI in Public Relations

An obvious important step in the public relations field is measuring return on investments. It’s important for the PR professionals, the client, and the client’s clients to know that there is positive efficiency of investments. They want to know that their business is growing and the strategies/tactics they’re using to implement the growth are working, as well. ROI’s are measured using different equations to calculate profit from investments, but, as described by Tom Watson of Bournemouth University and Ansgar Zerfass of the University of Leipzig in an academic article on ROI’s in public relations, “in public relations’ practitioner parlance, however, ROI appears to be used in a much looser form to indicate the results of activity,” (2011). 

So, in this loose term of return on investments, an article published by the Huffington Post blog asked PR practitioners to share their best advice about measuring public relations efforts. One of the recommendations to measure the success (or lack-there-of) of a public relations campaign, was from Shonali Burke, president and CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc., who suggests to constantly ask “why?” “‘Why’ are you investing time and resources into a particular campaign? What do you hope to get out of it? Ultimately, your PR efforts should support your business objectives, so don’t stop asking, ‘Why?’ until you get there.” This goes back to a main part of developing a campaign, the objectives, strategies, and tactics of reaching a goal, and figuring out who the target audience is and how to reach them. It’s also important to not only keep an eye on the client’s ROI’s, but also to keep track of competitors, which “requires analysis against key competitors within target strategic areas in a defined set of media” (Borchers, 2014).

Once PR professionals have determined what strategies they will use to measure the success of a campaign message, they need to implement those strategies. Some ways to possibly measure the effectiveness of the campaign tools used are, “common measurement devices like site traffic, targeted keyword searches for the brand, call volume, brand-awareness analysis (pre- and post-PR), sentiment tracking, and SEO metrics,” (Santoro, 2012). Obviously, these aren’t the only way to measure return on investments, but certainly with this being the “technology age,” online measurement tools can be very valuable to PR professionals.

It is important to note, however, that return on investments aren’t influenced solely by public relations tactics. For example, Jackie Malloy, a research strategist in communications for General Motors (GM), spoke out at a PR News Conference about why ROI’s are only an accounting measure. She said, “I am responsible for research and measurement for GM Communications. While there are a lot of PR measures that I track, I also know that ROI is not a measure I can do. Why? Because it is impossible for me to link every GM sale to what it was that influenced a person to ultimately purchase a vehicle,” (Davis, 2013). She suggest using benchmarks and Barcelona Principles to track public relations measures.

So, while ROI’s are definitely an important tool for public relations practitioners and can be measured and analyzed in many ways, it’s important to take into account other factors that could be contributing to those numbers, as well.

 

Watson, T., Zerfass, A. (2011). Return on investment in public relations: A critique of concepts used by practitioners from communication and management sciences perspectives. Prism Journal. Retrieved from www.prismjournal.org/fileadmin/8_1/Watson_Zerfass.pdf

Borchers, M. (2014, March 26). Measuring the ROI of Public Relations: Five Experts Weigh In. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/molly-borchers/measuring-the-roi-of-publ_b_5021600.html

Santoro, M. (2012, February 23). 8 Ways To Measure Return On PR Investments. CMO. by Adobe. Retrieved from http://www.cmo.com/articles/2012/2/23/8-ways-to-measure-return-on-pr-investments.html

Davis, L. (2013, May 21). Why ROI is Often a Useless Metric for PR Professionals. PR News. Retrieved from http://www.prnewsonline.com/uncategorized/2013/05/21/why-roi-is-often-a-useless-metric-for-pr-professionals/

Crisis in Retail…Again

What is it with company heads calling out and alienating their (apparently not-so?) valuable customers?

I’m sure you all remember the huge Abercrombie & Fitch scandal (I wrote about this previously because I just can’t seem to forget about it…) where CEO Mike Jeffries told Salon magazine, “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” (Levinson, 2013). This comment (and plenty of others in the same interview) brought huge criticism to the company, and probably wasn’t the best move for the people on his public relations team. I feel for them. While their sales plummeted, the PR team had to come up with a way to retract the statements. Jeffries later wrote a statement, which A&F later posted on their Facebook page, (sort of) apologizing for the comments he made in the interview. Comments like this are ones that directly affect sales, and are what create crises in the first place! When will companies learn..?

…Quite apparently not soon enough. Chairman and co-founder of popular athletic retailer Lululemon, Chip Wilson, said some similar comments. On the topic of the fabric used for their yoga pants pilling, Wilson replied, “Frankly some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for [wearing Lululemon pants]… it’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it,” (Shaw, 2013). In other words, he was saying that their yoga pants aren’t really meant for bigger women. This comment (and a few other equally repulsive comments) spread like wild fire and received huge criticism from everyone from bloggers to major magazine sites. Once again, something had to be done, so Wilson released an online video apologizing for his comments, saying, “I’m sad, I’m really sad. I’m sad for the repercussions of my actions,” and he stepped down as chairman of the company (Murray, 2013). Poor guy.

Luckily for us media and scandal junkies (and unlucky for the companies and PR professionals), the Internet and this age of technology doesn’t make it easy for people like Jeffries and Wilson to get away with making comments like this. According to Gordon Alan Harrison of Georgia State University, “changing patterns and speed of information flow, changing organizational dynamics, more volatile financial markets caused by greater stakeholder access to information, and societal changes, including a public that demands more information,” are all factors that create the need for good crisis management (2007). Sadly, crisis within a company is somewhat inevitable, so it’s up to the PR pros to prepare for what comes next. And hopefully, with a solid plan, we can avoid the Jeffries’ and Wilsons’ of the world.

Now it’s time for them to repair their companies’ reputations… Good luck with that.

 

Harrison, Gordon Alan (2007, January 12). Communication Strategies as a Basis for Crisis Management Including Use of the Internet as a Delivery Platform. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1021&context=english_diss

Levinson, Sean (2013, May 3). Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Explains Why He Hates Fat Chicks. Elite Daily. Retrieved from http://elitedaily.com/news/world/abercrombie-fitch-ceo-explains-why-he-hates-fat-chicks/

Murray, Rheana (2013, November 13). Lululemon CEO apologizes after saying not all women should wear the brand’s yoga pants. NY Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/fashion/lululemon-ceo-pants-gaffe-article-1.1515476

Controversial Advocating…

Advocacy in public relations is one of the most important principals in the field; obviously, PR practitioners want to make a company’s target audience look favorably upon their product. The other day, I saw a commercial on television for an e-cigarette company, NJOY. Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard all of the arguments – it’s only vapor so it doesn’t harm those around you, it doesn’t contain tobacco so it’s better for you, it’s a coming-of-age product freeing people from the grips of cigarettes, etc. etc. Apparently, advertising for e-cigarettes is legal, but the ads “aren’t allowed to say that their products help people quit smoking or are less harmful than traditional cigarettes” (Esterl, 2013). Regardless of the legal standing of the commercials, it fascinated me that some PR and advertising firms were open to the idea of advocating the promotion of e-cigarettes, which still contain nicotine, the addictive part of a tobacco cigarette.

While some PR practitioners are advocating for a less-harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes, others are advocating for no cigarettes at all. There’s been a story floating around the media for a few days now about how CVS Caremark has decided to stop selling all cigarettes and other tobacco products. Claire Celsi, author of the blog Public Relations Princess, believes this to be a smart PR campaign. She praises CVS’s decision, saying, “as a PR practitioner, I see the move for what it is – a smart business decision that will pay dividends into the future” (2014). The PR professionals behind CVS Caremark recognize that the company is known for being a health and wellness store, and it’s all about catering to their target audience.

According to an article about advocacy in PR written by Ruth Edgett of Syracuse University, in order “for public relations to be effective in highly controversial environments, the best method of communication is a give and take situation in which organizations display openness, honesty, sincerity, and willingness to change course if necessary” (2002). So, whether PR professionals are advocating for or against a controversial product, it’s important that the audience is being told honest, and unbiased, information. And, whether you believe CVS or NJOY is making the right decision, you can’t deny that both companies are receiving a ton of attention…

 

Celsi, Clare (2014, February 5). The CVS Cigarette Decision – Good PR Move and Financially Smart, Too. Public Relations Princess. Retrieved from http://www.publicrelationsprincess.com/2014/02/the-cvs-cigarette-decision-good-pr-move-and-financially-smart-too.html

Edgett, Ruth (2002). Toward an Ethical Framework for Advocacy in Public Relations. Journal of Public Relations Research. Retrieved from http://www.cmstest.truty.org/PDFs/PR/(PR)TowardAnEthicalFrameworkForAdvocacy.pdf

Esterl, Mike (2013, December 26). Holy Smokes: E-Cigarette Ads Debut on TV. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304753504579282752217648562

Research in PR

I feel like this question is a no-brainer. Why research in public relations? What would happen if we avoided research? Research is an essential skill in PR. We need it to learn about the company we’re going to represent; how could we possibly come up with a solid plan for the company without knowledge of who they are and what they do? We need it to identify the public that the company aims towards, whether we’ll be ” selling the product to teens or adults, males or females, students or professionals” (PR Friend, 2013). We need it to keep an eye on similar competitor companies. We need it to get the company’s name out there and generate publicity. Without research, the company and the PR firm would eventually fail.

We live in an age where all we have to do to find something out is type it in a search engine. As Melanie James of the University of Newcastle, Australia eloquently puts it, “the Internet gives public relations practitioners a unique opportunity to collect information, monitor public opinion on issues, and engage in direct dialogue with their publics about a variety of issues” (2008). Research has become more accessible to everyday people in the electronic age, as well as easier for people in the PR field to get the information needed to develop a successful plan for a company.

It also poses a challenge to PR practitioners; news travels fast, whether it be good news or bad news. I mean, we hear about things the second they happen over the Internet: Justin Bieber was arrested for a DUI and my Twitter feed blew up, Richard Sherman gave an intimidating post-game interview and social media went wild, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch said their clothes weren’t made for fat or uncool people and Facebook moms everywhere threw out their kids A&F clothes. We’re all humans, and humans make mistakes, but the people behind the scenes in the PR world have to have a backup plan for when things like this happen. Research can help prevent crises like these, or have a plan B when they happen. Anyone can access the Internet, that’s why “research has to be more considered and thought provoking,” and “most certainly, no more exaggeration” because, with the world able to be so exposed to the public, there is hardly room for error (mustard, 2013).

Obviously, research plays a huge role in public relations. To sum up what I’ve already pointed out, PR Friend gives us this tip about research: ” It’s important to know a client’s needs, target market, and available resources in order to draw up a good PR plan” (2013). Especially in this day and age, people in PR can’t escape the importance of research in keeping both the client and their own firm successful and up-and-coming.

 

PR Friend. (2013). The importance of research in public relations. PR Friend. Retrieved from http://www.prfriend.com/research-in-public-relations/

mustard. (2013). Market Research and Public Relations – the what, the why and the how. mustard Blog. Retrieved from http://www.mustard-research.com/blog/13/11/market-research-and-public-relations-%E2%80%93-what-why-and-how

James, Melanie. (2008). A review of the impact of new media on public relations: Challenges for terrain, practice and education. University of Newcastle, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.pria.com.au/sitebuilder/forms/forms/file/34-174/Melanie%20James%20article%20Asia%20Pacific%20PR%20Journal.pdf

Diversity in PR

Diversity has been a pretty dominant topic in the media lately. From things like racial profiling to LGBT rights, diversity is a word that keeps popping up. Think about it: Martin Luther King Jr. day just passed and the world is still celebrating his work with the civil rights movement, almost 50 years later! It’s pretty amazing. We’ve come a long way (and we still have a ways to go) with racially diversifying our country, but we still have a lot of work to do with gender and ethnic equality.

As with pretty much every other field (business, advertising, and medicine are a few that come to mind), public relations has been dominated by upper-middle class white males for years. You could do a simple Google search and learn the same thing. You could look at media and learn the same thing; shows like Mad Men (set in the late 1960s) portray the predominantly white male atmosphere at an advertising firm. So why, in 2014, are we still battling problems of diversity in the work place? According to Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), the field lacks ethnic diversity because most ethnic minorities are not educated about the field of public relations, but instead are “encouraged by their parents to take up law, medicine or accounting” (Stimson, 2013).

It also probably doesn’t come as a shock to know that white men dominate higher-up positions in the field, and are also paid more than women. More and more women are entering the field of public relations, but despite this fact, the wage gap is still widening, with women only earning, on average, about 77% of what their male counterparts are making (Huffington, 2013). Not only is the wage gap an issue of diversity in PR, gender discrimination, such as sexual harrassment, is also a major problem in the field. In an academic journal written by Tiffany Derville Gallicano at the University of Oregon, she points out the fact that despite men are in “power positions” and are more able to change aspects of these companies, they perceive that gender discrimination is happening to a lesser degree, if it is happening at all (2013).

Despite obvious lack of diversity in PR, this isn’t to say the field isn’t trying to solve the problem. Gallicano summarizes some of the efforts to try to diversify the field,

Despite the paucity of diversity in public relations agencies, there are signs of efforts to change. For example, Fleishman-Hillard (2012) has a paid six- to 12-month fellowship program for college seniors and recent graduates who are ethnically/racially diverse. Meanwhile, Edelman (2005) developed a program to recruit employees from historically black colleges and universities, and it launched a pilot mentoring program. Porter Novelli partnered with Together Our Resources Can Help (TORCH), a nonprofit that provides opportunities to underserved students in New York City public high schools (PR Week, 2011b). Porter Novelli gave an eight-week PR101 course to more than 40 TORCH students, raised $100,000 for the nonprofit organization, hired TORCH interns, and assigned TORCH students to Porter Novelli mentors (PR Week, 2011b). (2013).

It took years for Martin Luther King Jr. to change our views of racial segregation throughout the country, but we now live in a world where blacks and whites are more-or-less equal (like I said, we still have a ways to go). Slowly but surely, we are seeing small changes in PR, integrating both gender and ethnic equality, into a quickly growing field.

Gallicano, T. Derville. (2013). Millennials’ Perceptions About Diversity in Their PR Agencies. Public Relations Society of America, 7, 2, 7-8. Retrieved from http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/PRJournal/Documents/20132Gallicano.pdf

Huffington, C. (2013). Women And Equal Pay: Wage Gap Still Intact, Study Shows. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/women-and-equal-pay-wage-gap_n_3038806.html

Stimson, S. (2013). Why the PR industry lacks diversity. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://careers.theguardian.com/pr-industry-lack-diversity

Public Relations Background

Coming into this class I don’t really have a huge amount of background knowledge on Public Relations. My favorite show, Sex and the City, features a Public Relations executive as one of the four main characters and most of my knowledge stems from this as well as one of my best friends whose major is PR. Samantha Jones, the character from Sex and the City, owns her own firm in which she hosts many parties for various companies and groups, showcasing a specific idea or product. For instance in one episode, she put together a book release party for the publishing company of her friend and author, Carrie Bradshaw. Also my friend is currently a PR major and hopes to become some kind of publicist to handle press and media coverage for clients. This, essentially, is my understanding of Public Relations, taking an idea or some creation and communicating it in such a way that the general public understands and reacts in a desirable fashion, thus becoming a middle man between a client and the world. My major, Health Communications, I feel goes hand in hand with this class because I know that eventually I will have to be in contact with a group of people or the public and relay the clients objectives. Another one of my intrigues for this class is that I believe that PR people run the world because they are the ones who everyone consults before letting things go public so mainly they’re the ones who get final say over what goes where. I realize that I’m probably skating over the topic but this is my first class of this kind and I am eager to jump in with both feet. My baseline knowledge comes from my experiences through other people and this is the first time dipping my toe into this narrow field and like I said, I’m excited!