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/