Monthly Archives: March 2011

Who can say no to free!?

By Karissa Bursch

Over spring break, I attended the music festival South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. According to the website, the SXSW conferences and festivals “offer the unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies.” In other words, it’s a chance for a music-lover like myself to go wild on an overload of free and amazing shows for almost 24 hours a day. Thousands of Austin residents and outside visitors flood the city for the event. Needless to say, it’s a great PR opportunity for companies across the nation to connect to distinct, dense audiences all in one location.

PR professionals definitely took advantage of this opportunity. Along with the usual means of promotion, such as flyers, stands and billboards, I saw a very interesting collection of promotional items and hand-outs throughout the day, such as sunglasses, stickers, pins, drinks, cups and more, as a part of many companies’ and organizations’ PR plans.

The PR side of my brain started working as soon as I saw those free promotional items. People were just throwing them at me out on the street. As they shoved pairs of sunglasses into my hands, they would should shout,“You can’t say no to free!”

Many times I felt no recognition when I viewed the logo and was unsure of what product the brand was associated with. This lack of connection brought to my attention a major flaw in the idea of throwing free promotional items at the public. Many times these items lack connection to the brand and one of an organization’s main goals should be brand recognition with its publics.

I think PR practitioners have to make an effort to not rely on the idea that “any promotion is good promotion.” There still needs to be effort behind it with the driving goal of making the public understand where the free item is coming from, what the brand offers and why they should care.

Free promotional items can, in fact, be very successful. For example, in PR Couture’s Blog “Diary of a Fashion PR Intern: Streetwear Fashion Tips”, guest blogger Hadiyah Daché wrote that free promotional items were one of the main reasons for the success of her first client, Plush .357.

“Ironically, promotional items such as stickers and buttons played a large part in the PR success as well,” Daché wrote. “It got to the point where stickers and t-shirts became collectibles.”

Near the end of her blog she gave advice about the use of free promotional items and encouraged PR practitioners to make those free items personal with the help of word-of-mouth.

“Stickers, buttons, free shirts, graffiti, pens, hats, heck anything considered a “promotional item” is definitely your friend,” Daché wrote. “Give the public a memento and encourage them to pass it along to their friends. These items keep your name in the public and makes your brand easy to recognize!”

Free promotional items are great. I’ve never had to spend much money on pens, notepads, stress balls or USB drives because of it. Still, remember that there is a message and purpose behind these free items. Make sure your audience knows the brand that is imprinted on the item and understands the message behind the brand and the gesture of a free item. Meanwhile, keep on enjoying all of those free handouts!

Originally posted on PROpenMic.

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(Insert Hashtag) Social Good

By: Victoria Corley

Social good: Two words that easily describe a specific “good” that is shared and beneficial for all (or most) members of a given community.

Other words that may be interchangeable for “social good” are philosophy, ethics, and political science.

These small words make a huge impact in the world of public relations every day. No matter what trends you’re following on Twitter or the types of news an RSS is feeding to your computer, there is always a campaign reaching you, and asking you to help. Regardless of the condition of our economy, Americans are giving back. But how?

In our lifetime, it has become easier than ever to #giveback and help with a cause. No matter where you are, even online, there will be an opportunity to experience a campaign that is targeted to you … the up-and-coming philanthropist.

From tweeting donations to buying songs on iTunes, we have the opportunity to give back, but what does this mean for the PR professional?

Social good has ironically become a hot topic in social media. It is great that giving is now conveniently a click, tap or download away, but it is much more than that.

No longer is “giving-back” just giving; it’s a business. It is easy for people to spend money. But when solicited for funds, they are quick to say no. It’s now the job of a PR professional to market a cause in a way that gives the consumer an urge to spend. Social media has become the modern-day billboard for those marketing objectives.

Social media cause campaigns are similar, but not identical to traditional cause marketing. Where traditional cause marketing involves the cooperative efforts of a for-profit business and a nonprofit organization for mutual benefit, social media cause campaigns allow for more flexibility.

Blogs like Mashable have helped in giving “social good” a new meaning. If one happens to StumbleUpon a Mashable article about Gaga & Bieber’s newest collaboration, you won’t find it under the entertainment section of the site, but rather under the social good tab.

Social media cause campaigns have created a new outlet where PR professionals develop comprehensive communications plans that are all about “feeling good.” These campaigns provide small businesses an opportunity to gain exposure without breaking the bank, while allowing large companies to reach millions of consumers in a matter of hours.

Social cause campaigns can be run by individuals and nonprofits without big company sponsorships. They provide easier, faster involvement with supporters and require fewer resources.

Obvious examples of “social good” campaigns are the Tide Loads of Hope campaign and the Pepsi Refresh Project. It could also be something as simple as Edge’s Anti-Irritation campaign.

It is safe to say that inflation hasn’t ruined everything. A dime can still be used as a screwdriver, and PR professionals can evoke the public to do “social good.”

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Lindsay Lohan’s Top 5 PR Lessons

by Amanda Coppock

As often as stars like Lindsay Lohan are in the public eye, you would expect them to understand how to use better public relations to their benefit. Lohan, for one, clearly has missed out on how to use PR to save her career. While we “normal people” cannot afford to use trial and error to determine what is best for our reputation, we can learn by observing what not to do. Lohan has clearly never had a lesson on good PR, but there are several lessons we can learn about what not to do by observing her. So, live from Lindsay Lohan’s ruined reputation, are the top 5 lessons we can learn from her about PR:

  • Number 5: It’s important to separate your private and professional life—As a celebrity, this is a lesson that Lohan has had a hard time learning, partly because being in the public eye makes keeping things private more difficult. However, many celebrities such as Beyoncé and Jay-Z, have gone to extreme lengths to keep their private lives private. Lohan clearly hasn’t gone to such, or any, lengths to keep her private life private, and it has negatively impacted her career.

In the PR world, it is important to know what aspects of your life should not carry over to the workplace. On an eHow blog, journalist and communication specialist Bill Bucy provides several steps on how to achieve this separation. He recommends controlling the amount of private information you offer, not feeling obligated to share because others do, being careful about social relationships with coworkers and evaluating each situation individually. Maintaining this balance can keep you happier and ensures that your workplace interactions are appropriate.

  • Number 4: Don’t rely on past success to carry you —Let’s be honest. Aside from negative life choices, Lohan is best known for films of the past. The last film she starred in that became popular was released in 2004. For a young actress, that is quite some time to go without starring in a hit film.

In PR, it is critical to always improve upon your past successes. Think of it as a competition to one-up yourself. The PRSA Code of Ethics includes Expertise, part of which reads, “We advance the profession through continued professional development, research, and education.” It is critical for a PR professional to consistently improve and focus on self-education.

  • Number 3: Dress for successLohan’s wardrobe choices for court have been far less than professional. Between her tight, white minidress and her revealing tops, Lindsay has made a less-than-good impression while in court.

PR practitioners know that appearance affects how others perceive us. Showing up to an interview or a first day on the job in a revealing or offensive outfit would most likely lose us the job as well as respect. People make judgments about your abilities within your first few minutes of meeting and wearing a conservative suit will get you much farther than showing off your goods.

  • Number 2: Take responsibility for your mistakes —While in court, Lohan’s judge said, “I don’t care that you are Lindsay Lohan. This case does involve jail time, period. If you plead in front of me — if this case resolves in front of me — you are going to jail.” Lohan has clearly used her status as a starlet to try to avoid the consequences she deserves. Essentially, this judge told her that it would be better to admit fault than to keep using her name to try to get out of punishment.

In our field, it is important to realize what went wrong after we make a mistake. If you make a mistake, own up to it and do everything in your power to correct it.

  • Number 1: Not all publicity is good publicity —Even Lohan is beginning to realize this point. In an interview with Extra she said, “[I want to create] great movies, great films, [and tell] great stories. That’s what I’ve aspired to do my whole life and personal instances in my life got in the way. But, I don’t want that to be known for that anymore.” What Lindsay clearly hasn’t realized is that if you put yourself in situations that raise the public eyebrow, you will be in the news for the bad things.

As PR professionals, we should aim to achieve only good publicity for our clients. Having a client in the news is not worthwhile if it’s a story that could tarnish his reputation.

So before taking risks with your own reputation, consider how far this Disney star has fallen. The transition from “Parent Trap” to trapped behind bars may have been avoided had Lohan kept her own PR in mind.

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The Dilution of the Film Industry

By: Miriam Fry

When a movie idea is pitched to a studio executive, one thought is running through her mind: “Will this movie make money?” And while yes, making money is important, is it the most important part of the industry? To what lengths do we go to make money? What do we sacrifice?

In a recent GQ article written by Mark Harris titled “The Day the Movies Died,” Harris detailed the negative implications of focusing too much on marketing/PR and making money. He said instead of making a great movie, directors are focused on the bottom line. Today’s studio executives have decided that making a drama is too risky and that filmmakers and others involved should instead go with their best bet to make money. That, of course, is to make a movie based on something that is already a brand.

“Everyone has cut back on not just ‘Oscar-worthy’ movies, but on dramas, period,” said Jan Dinks, the producer of Milk and American Beauty. “Caution has made them pull away. It’s infected the entire business.”

Harris pointed out that movies in the works for 2011 include a long list of sequels (conveniently, they already have a brand) and four adaptations of comic books, which also already have a brand! June 10 is the set release date of Fast Five, the fifth movie in the series of The Fast and the Furious.

You’ll see a trend here, and it does not stop. There is nothing in the line-up that is intriguing and different like Inception was in 2010, Harris argues.

What does this say about the film industry? Producers and studio executives are not willing to take a risk with a movie idea, for fear that it will need an original marketing plan or that the movie/plan might fail. Most movies today are being made from a marketing and PR standpoint instead of a film standpoint.

Harris also said that one demographic dominates the Hollywood marketing strategy, the “ADD-addled, short-term-memory-lacking, easily excitable testosterone junkie.” Categories left out of the mix are women and those born before 1985. According to Harris, women are not worth taking the time to figure out, and if you were born before 1985 you are old because you have developed taste. A taste that is obviously not for sequels or remakes.

What does this say about PR? Luckily for us, that it’s important. Perhaps the most important factor aside from the profit made. The PR person has an influential voice at the table and a distinguishing role in the whole process of movie production. Too often people think that PR practitioners are only good for party planning and tweeting. As we see in the movie industry, we’re good for much more than that. And a movie pitch does not get the green light until producers know that it can be marketed positively.

Although it’s comforting that PR is important, today what we’re seeing is an over-reliance on PR and marketing that dictates what kind of movies are made: bad ones. Movie makers are sacrificing content just to make money. They are producing the “safest bet” in terms of money and results at the box office, while leaving us with mediocre entertainment that we’ll most likely waste our money and time on… ultimately diluting the film industry.

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No Ordinary Video Game; No Ordinary PR Campaign

By Wesley Vaughn

Video game reviewers have billed it as “not your ordinary first-person shooter.” Combining lightning-fast gameplay, striking visuals and a brazen attitude, Bulletstorm separates itself from the pack of typical video games.

It makes sense that its public relations campaign would do the same.

Bulletstorm, a game developed by People Can Fly and Epic Games and published by Electronic Arts, was released on February 22. But, the coverage for the game began earlier in the month, thanks in part to a not-so-ordinary PR tactic.

The Call of Duty series has been one of the most prominent first-person shooter franchises in the video game industry. Though it has remained successful, the latest versions of the game have received criticism for becoming boring – not the description normally desired for a video game.

The makers of Bulletstorm attempted to capitalize on this lack of excitement by not only creating Bulletstorm, but also Duty Calls. Released on February 2, Duty Calls is a free-to-download video game that satirizes the dullness of Call of Duty.

What an ingenious way to target an audience. Recap: Video game developers develop a video game that both advertises for their upcoming video game and makes fun of their competitor for people who play video games.

It didn’t take long for Duty Calls to cause a stir among video game media and gamers. This stir undoubtedly brought attention to Bulletstorm that it may never have received.

Enough attention that it prompted Fox News to ask if Bulletstorm was the worst video game in the world. Epic Games President Mike Capps said that he appreciated the publicity either way.

“For a game that’s over-the-top, they [Fox News] probably helped sell more units than they convinced people to pick at us,” he said in an interview.  One website has reported that Bulletstorm could end up with sales beyond $4.5 million.

None of this may have happened without Duty Calls. The idea and execution of reaching a target audience so well with a quality-marketing tool created enough discussion to send Bulletstorm to the mainstream.

Are there other examples of a marketing tool such as Duty Calls in other industries?

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Sarcasm So Works the Best

by Katherine Baker

When you think of a YouTube video that you have watched dozens of times, what do you see? Do you see animals, babies, double rainbows or maybe even men getting kicked in the crotch?

Well, that’s what Smart Water associates with “viral videos,” as seen in its newly released video advertisement featuring Jennifer Aniston.

Jennifer Aniston’s public relations team had her use sarcasm to get a point across about how videos go viral, while promoting Smart Water.

And it worked.

An article on Green Muze stated, “In the latest Smart Water campaign, Aniston’s PR people have created a ‘viral’ video using everything from cute dancing babies to hundreds of puppies to labelling the video a ‘sex tape’ to garner more views/hits and sell more bottled water.”

Jen’s PR people did not want her to just talk about how she loves Smart Water for this particular ad. They wanted to implement viral video tactics by channeling other videos that have already gone viral and add the element of humor. Portraying this ad as a “sex tape” was a funny and somewhat brilliant move for Smart Water. I laughed out loud when I saw what the video really was about.

Sarcasm and irony incorporated with celebrity endorsement works for PR.

As noted in Hannah McDaniel’s blog post, “Pauly D. does not approve this message,” celebrity opinions make for humorous, yet effective, ads.

Using non-traditional elements with celebrity personalities is going “viral” in the PR and marketing industries, just like these particular videos.

So PR professionals, hop on the sarcasm bandwagon when considering your next campaign.. or don’t. Because imitating other funny videos in your own video is so not funny.

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#Oscarfail: Twitter’s Impact on Live Broadcasts

by Amanda Coppock

Five years ago, if you were to say you wanted to “tweet,” the person you were talking to would probably think you were crazy. As pervasive as Twitter is today, five years ago it was nonexistent. When Jack Dorsey launched Twitter in 2006, chances are he never imagined that it would have such an impact on traditional media. Now, people tweet simultaneously while watching their favorite shows, and those on the Twitter-verse can find out who won every Oscar Award without even turning on the tube. Most importantly, Twitter is changing how brands interact with their publics.

Many television fans are shifting back to watching shows in real time, rather than watching a recording at a more convenient time. Twitter supplements the viewing of many popular shows by allowing fans to follow the conversation about episode happenings.

Glee is perhaps one of the best examples of how Twitter is effecting television viewing. “People feel like they have to watch the show while it’s going on because the community is tweeting about the show and the characters are tweeting as the show’s happening so [they have to] watch it in real time,” said Twitter CEO Dick Costolo in an interview for the Consumer Electronics Show. With characters who tweet while the episode airs, Glee creates a new level of interaction for viewers. Twitter creates buzz before, during and after each episode of Glee.

With the popularity of social media, anyone can become a critic of any and every event. While increased interaction can certainly help brands, it also poses a danger. Everyone can and will comment on the things they don’t like. Credibility or journalistic training is no longer needed for a comment to be taken to heart by the public.

The Oscar Awards took advantage of the increased conversation that Twitter provides. Its Twitter handle, @Oscar_awards, was used throughout the evening to tweet winners. While this tactic was useful for people like me with little time to watch award sagas, the takeaway from the Twitter-sphere was that the show itself was not at all entertaining. With hashtags like #Oscarfail trending during the show, this new media became a tool for fans to express their dislike with the famed awards show.

CNN published an article based on the tweets about the Oscars. In this article, one line that stood out was: “Richard Robbins, director of Social Innovation at [AT&T], tweeted that the show’s producers might consider tuning in to Twitter and other sites in the future to gauge how the show is playing and make necessary changes if needed.”

While Robbins may not have meant this as a serious idea, he makes a valid point. Twitter could very well change the way of live broadcasts. It would simply be good business to change directions with a live broadcast when things like #Oscarfail begin trending.

A key part of public relations is understanding how the public responds to your brand. Twitter is more than a new tool to reach people; it is a way to monitor and predict what will happen to your brand. Social media, for many, is the primary source of news. It is critical for brands to monitor and participate in the discussion on Twitter.

Twitter is often used to help the public feel more connected to a brand, but it can even be used to quickly learn about and lessen the effects of a crisis. On the Blast Media blog, Megan Giannini wrote, “Recently, some of the world’s biggest brands have faced crises… in communication. It is understood that brands cannot necessarily predict a crisis like an oil spill, brake malfunctions or public outcry on privacy settings within a social network–but regardless of unforeseen crises, companies should be prepared to take quick and effective action.”

Twitter’s ability to connect directly with the public has the potential to give it a higher credibility than traditional methods. If the public feels that a brand is taking the time to connect with them on an individual basis, a crisis can cease much faster than it would with a basic news release or company statement.

With the many uses of social media, there is no way for news to come only from traditional media. By incorporating Twitter and following the discussion about the brand on Twitter, a public relations practitioner can better understand how to relate to the public. Twitter may not replace traditional media, but it is certainly a supplemental tool that can affect a brand’s image. Social media must be a part of any communications plan for a brand to succeed.

Do you watch and tweet simultaneously? What do you think Twitter means for the success of a brand?

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A Homage to Rosanna Fiske

by Marissa Stabler

After reading a letter that Public Relations Society of America Chair and CEO Rosanna Fiske wrote to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, I mused in awe for some time.

The letter was sent prior to the subcommittee’s March 1 hearing over a contentious public relations contract awarded to a private Kansas City firm (Jane Mobley Associates) by the General Services Administration in 2010. Fiske urged the subcommittee to avoid restricting the federal government’s use of approved public relations and public affairs firms.

Fiske asked the senate to consider “the substantial public interest served by public relations and public affairs” on behalf of the federal government. She stressed that PRSA advocates “the free flow of accurate and truthful information that is essential to contributing to the informed decision making in a democratic society,” a value, she reminded the senate subcommittee, that is grounded in the core principles of the U.S.

Fiske’s very convincing dispatch disputed any claim against the government’s use of PR. If such a reasoning existed, Fiske shot it down with more persuasive counter-reasoning. Had Fiske read this letter in person, I believe members of the subcommittee would have been left dumbfounded and speechless.

Lucky for them, she kept it in writing.

The government’s role in communication

Fiske asserted that all stakeholders in society, including governments themselves, must actively take part in communicating their goals, objectives, programs and knowledge to the public.

Fiske wrote, “Whether educating the public about government services, providing information on public health and safety, explaining the tax code, attracting businesses to an economic enterprise zone, or any of dozens of other areas, governments have a clear role in communicating effectively and efficiently to the public.”

Outsourcing can be cost effective

Chairwoman Claire McCaskill (D-MO) previously stated that the GSA’s private firm contract was “not in the best interests of taxpayers.” GSA said it hired JMA because it did not have the in-house technical expertise for its public information effort, nor was it comfortable with its ability to respond to inquiries from the media.

According to Fiske, outsourcing can actually save American taxpayers money, because it can “multiply the impact of an in-house work force without taking on permanent employees and their associated costs.”

PR is beneficial to the economy

Fiske reasoned that PR facilitates the “U.S. economy in a time when jobs are needed all across America.” She cited the U.S. News & World Report, which ranked ‘PR Specialist’ as a top-50 career in 2011, remarking that the PR field will add 66,000 jobs to the U.S. economy by 2018.

“The U.S. government, in fulfilling its mandate, is estimated to spend $1.3 billion on advertising and public relations services,” wrote Fiske. “[It] is an important driver for this economic engine.”

In case she left anything out, Fiske provided back-up ammo in the form of a bulleted list — all bona fide reasons why the governmental use of public relations is essential:

Regarding the Federal Government’s Use of Public Relations Services

• Public relations advances the free flow of accurate and truthful information; open and transparent communication fosters credibility and trust in global institutions.
• Public relations serves the public interest by providing the context, clarity and information necessary to aid informed debate and decision-making in a democratic society.
• Public relations helps to build mutual understanding among a wide array of global institutions and audiences.
• Public relations professionals have a special obligation to practice their craft ethically, with the highest standards of truth, accuracy, fairness and responsibility to the public. The PRSA Code of Ethics provides a practical set of standards to follow.
• Public relations serves the public good by changing attitudes and behaviors toward some of the world’s most pressing social issues, from breast cancer awareness to drinking and driving to smoking and obesity. The public relations industry also has prevented consumer injury and illness, raised awareness of products that have improved our quality of life, advanced worthwhile causes and provided pro-bono services for institutions that needed public relations assistance but could not afford it.

(She also included a bulleted list of questions regarding the GSA’s contract with JMA.)

I must say, however, the PR chieftain saved the best for last in a paragraph brazenly directed at McCaskill, who has made some rather unflattering comments about governmental use of PR.

“Finally, I also would respectfully request that the subcommittee use discretion when attempting to characterize the federal government’s use of public-affairs and public-relations contractors,” wrote Fiske. “Pejorative statements, such as ‘spending money to minimize bad publicity’ and ‘hiring someone to help [the government] ‘spin’,’ are speculative misnomers that debase the important work being performed by approved federal contractors working on GSA-authorized contracts, whose main goal is to help inform the public of relevant issues.”

It gets better.

“Elected officials and federal workers are no strangers to having inappropriate language used to describe their work,” Fiske declared. “I would hope that as a result, the Subcommittee would be mindful of this concern.”

Bold. Compelling. Credible. No stone left unturned.

PR at its finest. And that’s how it’s done.

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