Monthly Archives: November 2008

A New Image: Cultivating Culture & Class in America

Public relations campaigns are everywhere and everyone seems to be a part of them. Whether for a political campaign, club opening or even a new product line, they seem to surround us and remain an integral part of the public relations world. While PR campaigns seem to play a vital role in the futures of politicians, celebrities and even Fortune 500 companies, maybe the one most in need of a PR campaign and image overhaul is a significant global power and world leader that we are all-too-familiar with. It may be considered a substantial undertaking and even unnecessary to some, but perhaps the “one” in need of a new image is our own country- the United States of America.

I had barely recovered from jet lag and only tasted a few bites of my first wiener schnitzel in Austria this summer before I was slapped in the face. No, I was not slapped by an angry Austrian man sporting lederhosen who suggested I drink more “house beer,” but rather by reality, and the reality was this: the Europeans were more consciously aware of the daily happenings on Wall Street or in the Senate than most Americans. They blew me away with more statistics, figures and opinions than I could ever imagine and wanted to discuss politics wherever we went. It did not matter if we were at a downtown café drinking cappuccinos or hiking in the Alps, they wanted to talk about our life, culture and political scene whenever I would allow it. While this knowledge and curiosity piqued my interest, I was left to answer some unsettling questions, but one stands out in my mind.

“Why are you bothering to learn a second language?  No one else in the United States does…”

That last question struck the wrong chord with me, especially after considering the fact that I was in Austria studying advanced German. However, it left me wondering: if the rest of the world regards us as dumb, lazy and wasteful Americans (as I was told by many Europeans), why don’t we do something as a country to change this general perception? While a public relations campaign focusing on America’s image might not be considered a high priority on Obama’s agenda with an economic crisis at hand, it might not be such a bad issue to tackle in the near future. What better way to erase the stereotypical image of overweight Americans driving Hummers to McDonald’s than by creating a public relations campaign focusing on educating Americans about literature, art, music and secondary languages?

While the White House is filled with many advisors scurrying about, telling the president what to say and how to maintain his image, perhaps the greatest advantage to any president is not the PR professional, but rather… the president’s spouse.

Let’s look back to the 1960s, a time when the United States was dealing with the Cuban missile crisis and nuclear policy causing rocky relations with France. Despite these troubles, one of President John F. Kennedy’s finest attributes was not his youth or charm, but rather his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, who acted as a magnificent public relations asset.

President Kennedy was barely inaugurated on snow-covered Capitol Hill in January of 1961 when Jacqueline Kennedy began her White House “transformation” with a goal to make the White House a “showcase for great American art and artists.” Her plan for establishing culture and class in America came into full swing after an official presidential trip to Paris.

While JFK and French President Charles de Gaulle were at odds over the development of nuclear weapons, Jackie was wowing the people of France. Before their arrival, Jackie had the White House press secretary arrange an interview with French national television where she spoke in fluent French for 15 minutes over her love of the arts and Paris. This public relations endeavor proved successful, as Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy were greeted by a crowd of 500,000 Parisians, enthralled and captivated by the “first couple.” Jackie enraptured President de Gaulle, as well, as he later told JFK that she “knew more French history than most French women.”

If the PR world had a hall of fame, Jacqueline Kennedy’s next PR feat would be in it. After her Paris visit, not only did she continue to nurture the relationship between France and the U.S. as the First Lady, she began promoting art, literature and music in America by inviting France’s Minister of Cultural Affairs, André Malraux, to the White House.

Some may claim event planning is not part of the PR world, but Jackie was one woman who could successfully pull off a political agenda and throw a lavish affair flawlessly. Prior to Malraux’s visit, Jackie spent five weeks meticulously planning his visit. She met Malraux at the National Gallery of Art (also a great press photo opportunity) where she gave him her own personal tour and spoke of the international significance of great art.

Mrs. Kennedy united the cultural world that night. In Malraux’s honor, she planned an extravagant state dinner where America’s finest artists, writers and musicians were brought together. As described in Vanity Fair, “The gathering of the most accomplished men and women of the American cultural scene not only underscored Kennedys’ support of the arts, but also demonstrated how adept Jackie was at employing the arts in order to add prestige to Jack’s presidency.”

And the result of such a grand evening? Minister Malraux agreed to make arrangements to have Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, Mona Lisa, brought to America which was the only time France had ever willingly agreed to let their beloved work visit another country.

The arrival of the Mona Lisa began to inspire America and made a lasting impression on Kennedy’s time in office. The masterpiece attracted millions of Americans, engaging and interesting them in art. As Arthur Schlesinger described, it was an exhilarating time in which “Washington engaged in a collective effort to make itself brighter, gayer, and more intellectual. The First Lady was at the center of this new feeling.”

Jackie touched the nation. She spoke superb French, enjoyed the arts, read masterpieces, entertained often and inspired women with her impeccable style and flair. Jacqueline Kennedy established the new American ideal. President Kennedy took his place on the international stage, but he did not do so alone like many presidents of the past. He made his mark on the world with Jackie at his side who acted not only as a wife, mother, and an art enthusiast, but as a diplomat, ambassador and First Lady.

Jacqueline Kennedy is still regarded as one of the greatest First Ladies of our time. And although she may not officially possess the title, she was an exquisite public relations practitioner who not only promoted art, literature, music and other cultures, but also established a new standard of living for the American way of life.

Reinstating this way of life and restoring America’s tarnished reputation should not be hard to accomplish, especially considering that our next First Lady, Michelle Obama, is regarded by some as the next Jacqueline Kennedy. This Princeton and Harvard Law grad is not only well-educated, but she also possesses an innate sense of style, similar to Jackie’s, and could be the chief proprietor in re-inventing America’s image.



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Get A Personality

Throughout my years as a student, I’ve heard teachers and practitioners alike ask students why they want to enter the field of public relations. And much to my dismay, the answer usually involves the term “people person.” Why do people believe that in order to be successful in the realm of public relations, they must describe themselves using this vague and unimpressive term?

Urban dictionary defines a “people person” as “someone who has no discernable skills.” While Urban dictionary may not be the definitive source for word meanings, no one wants to use a word with this connotation to describe themselves, especially when seeking a job within the field of public relations. 

According to Patricia Zonta’s article, there are many character and personality qualities that make a person well-suited for a career in public relations. Anyone who is creative, tactful, energetic, optimistic, respectful, ethical, or honest possesses qualities that would be an asset in the public relations field. It takes all types of people to make this world work, but some personality types are found to be more beneficial for work in public relations.

The Myers-Briggs Personality-Type Indicator shows that the following types of people are very well-suited for a public relations career:

  • ENFJ also known as The Giver
  • INTJ also known as The Scientist
  • INFJ also known as The Protector

The U.S. Department of Labor–Bureau of Statistics notes, “Public relations specialists must show creativity, initiative, and good judgment and have the ability to communicate thoughts clearly and simply. Decision-making, problem-solving, and research skills also are important. People who choose public relations as a career need an outgoing personality, self-confidence, an understanding of human psychology, and an enthusiasm for motivating people. They should be competitive, yet able to function as part of a team and be open to new ideas.”

It takes a person with a variety of “discernable” skills to be successful in public relations, so don’t sell yourself short. You can do more than just talk to people, so make sure that people know how valuable your skills are. The most important thing to remember is to choose the skills that come most naturally to you and begin further developing them. The more skills you develop, the more desirable job candidate you will be. Quit being a “people person” and start becoming a person that people want to employ.

Kristin McDonald

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The Biggest Threats Facing PR

Earlier this year, when reading a colleague’s blog post, it occurred to me that there are some very real threats facing us as PR Practitioners, both in terms of detriment to the field and harm to third party participants.

I am accustomed to thinking that there are no real threats, just challenges that are in need of adaptive approaches or strategies. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade… if life gives you oranges, make orange juice… and so forth and so on through the list of palatable fruits.

But the article about the danger of the site made me think about the very real impacts of making sites available that destroy the efforts of PR. At first, you might think that putting the power in the hands of regular media consumers would be good- that it might help keep things accountable, and if something horrible happens, we simply do our jobs as usual and get things back on track.

No, sites like these have proven records of direct physical harm to the users and their families/friends. Juicy Campus has led to depression and suicidal tendencies. YouTube has fostered a subculture of users who record children beating each other up. Facebook has developed a generation of users who stalk long lost acquaintances down.

The point is not that the users themselves or the tools they use are the sole threats. The threat is that together, unchecked, unmediated, without that set of risk and strategic management skills that PR fosters, not only will we suffer as PR practitioners, but society will begin to see a degradation in moral fiber.

However, this will also hurt us directly—in the same way that the media is and has been hurting us as well through lack of proper and adequate representation or understanding of what it is we do.

In the movie “Phonebooth,” a moderately entertaining psychological thriller about a man trapped in a phone booth by a terrorist, the man claims to practice PR as a “publicist.” This man’s daily routines involve twisting the truth, bribing, manipulation and complete dishonesty in order to only be considered “small time.” He uses the words “public relations” and “publicist” very clearly.

This stereotype is reinforced in shows like “Spin City” and movies like “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days,” often mistakenly combining the field with the field of advertising. While these are usually light-hearted and acceptable, we all know the dangers of mistaking the definition of PR from impressions on the silver screen and that PR is not “evil,” as the media may portray it. What we do not realize is its very real effect on those who don’t realize its falsity, and whom are now looking for revenge – a power put in their hands by the social networks, the online media platforms and the many blog sites available online.

We are in danger of being replaced by a subculture that does not believe we are necessary, but who do not have the facts, the training or the mindset to argue back effectively. They don’t need their facts checked, and they don’t have to care for another human being – they just have to have an agenda.

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The PR Department… A thing of the past?

Currently, the economy is not at its best. This may be the most obvious declaration you have read in quite some time. Our daily activities consist of eating, sleeping, working and being reminded of how the economy is ruining our lives. However, there are underlying aspects to this statement that some may fail to initially recognize. One of which is local outsourcing. The job market relies heavily on the economy, and in times such as these, we are seeing shifts in the common practices of big business. 

When a company’s budget gets tight, it is no secret that the public relations and advertising department is the first to get the ax. As PR students and practitioners working in the industry, it is important to be aware of potential cutbacks and actions companies take throughout the aftermath. 
The Turner Broadcasting Company in Atlanta, Ga., has recently had to trim down their amount of employees. Being the successful mega-business that they are, Turner acknowledged that though the payroll was getting shorter, they still had to produce the same end results. Here enter syndication and outsourcing. 
Among others, Career Sports and Entertainment was hired by Turner to create quality results equal to in-house production. Career is a private marketing agency in Atlanta, Ga., located literally down the road from the broadcasting company. 
Hiring private PR, talent and/or production firms to do the work, pay the workers, package the results and deliver it to your door is more cost efficient than in-house labor. Turner has inadvertently presented some of their staff with two options: either do the work of two to three people or accept the act of outsourcing. 
The efficient practice of outsourcing is nothing new. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been searching for ways to raise productivity and profit.
However, we normally equate the topic with the global market, not the local business down the street. This traditional view of international outsourcing has shielded our eyes from local practices that, eventually, may affect your company and more importantly, your job. 
Our present economy has led people to worry about their livelihoods by the masses. Outsourcing is not the most frightening practice we are experiencing, but it adds discomfort and confusion to stressful times. 
The ideal situation would be to keep every employee on staff and hire private firms when projects call for collaboration or specific talents. Except, things are not looking so ideal in the big business world, and realistic adjustments are being implemented. 
Whether I am a 22-year-old PR student, eager to enter the job market, or a 46-year-old company MVP, the current job cuts cause one to question her occupational future. 
Will the company PR/Advertising department become a thing of the past, leaving private PR firms to reap the benefits? Or, will outsourcing plateau and become a steady, healthy practice?
-Meredith C. 

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Free Giveaways!!!

Who doesn’t love freebies?! We all do, whether it’s a pencil, bumper sticker or food. There is no better way to win over people than with free stuff. Offering anything free is a sure fire way to draw attention too. That’s what several companies did for this year’s Presidential Election.

The 2008 Presidential Election was one of the most historic elections ever. There has been so much excitement and interest in this election. Possibly, one of the more exciting parts of voting this year is the free stuff.

In conjunction with the historical significance of this year’s election, several companies offered free items for those who voted. For simply voting, Starbucks offered its customers a free cup of coffee. Krispy Kreme stores rewarded voters with one star-shaped doughnut. Ben and Jerry’s gave away a free scoop of ice cream between the hours of 5-6 p.m.

The concept of freebies is nothing new, of course. However, more companies are utilizing this method as means to promote the company, to engage customers and to show social responsibility. Starbucks’ idea for offering free coffee was suggested on their online forum site, The move by Starbucks demonstrates their move to actively engage their customers, as well as form lasting relationships with their customers.

Another company, Taco Bell, launched the campaign, Steal a Base, Steal a Taco, recently offering their customers free tacos. Taco Bell’s promotion coincided with the Major League Baseball World Series. This effort helped to promote the MLB World Series, whose viewing numbers were down, and promote Taco Bell. Collaborative campaigns such as Steal a Base, Steal a Taco often brings together two unlikely forces to meet a common goal. In addition, Dr Pepper will give away a free can of Dr Pepper to everyone in American when Gun’s N Roses releases their “Chinese Democracy” album. Dr Pepper also launched a blog in conjunction with its offer. Like Starbucks, Dr Pepper is employing social media to connect with their customers.

Freebies and giveaways provide a simple yet efficient method to increase awareness of a company. Freebies can also have a positive reflection on the company by showing social responsibility, like Ben and Jerry’s, Krispy Kreme and Starbucks. By offering free items for voters, Ben and Jerry’s, Krispy Kreme and Starbucks come across as being involved in the issues in America and show social responsibility. Furthermore, freebies can positively promote a company, and bring in new customers. Overall, freebies are a win-win situation. Everyone involved has the chance to benefit.

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WOM- A useful technique for PR?

Remember back when you were in elementary school and a rumor started at the lunch table that got passed down through 20 kids in a matter of seconds?

Well, word travels fast and people have been using the method for hundreds of years. Benjamin Franklin, the father of advertising art, first coined the term back in the 1700s when he utilized it for spreading the word about politics and new technologies.

Today, many public relations professionals are using the word-of-mouth method. PR focuses on building relationships with individuals in hopes to create a good relationship with organizations. It all has to start with one person relaying the message on to another and so on.

Social media acts as a word-of-mouth method (better known as “word-of-mouse”) whereas features utilized on the Internet spread from one person to the other in a matter of seconds. Twitter and YouTube are accessed by millions of people everyday and people are sharing the information from these social media outlets by sending them to friends and colleagues.

Some companies do not use any type of advertising and bank on their employers to spread the word. MonaVie, a company that sells the premier acai juice blend, uses the word-of-mouth method. There are no commercials, no selling in stores on shelves—only sharing of stories behind the juice. After getting on board to become a Mona Vei distributor, that person is responsible for telling others about the juice personally and giving taste testing and informational meetings on their own. No use of advertising is necessary except a virtual office for people to buy the juice on their own.

“You are sending a message not selling a product,” independent distributor Tyler Wilson said. “MonaVie wants to inform people about the health benefits of drinking this premier juice blend.” The company’s slogan is “Drink it, feel it, share it.”

It is all about sharing the message and developing relationships with clients, which is the best way from a PR standpoint. The employers are not working as salesman, but almost as public relations correspondents. Each distributor works as a liaison to the company, providing good PR in their local communities and connecting them to one big beneficial organization.

MonaVie also created their own foundation called the More Foundation that builds homes, schools and hospitals in the Amazon. It also helps preserve 25 percent of the rain forest because that is where the berries are grown and a large part of the world’s oxygen comes from there.

Another percentage (50) of the company’s profit goes to their distributors every “Good Friday,” due to its compensation plan as a new binary system. MonaVie hit the billion dollar mark in two and a half years and is the fastest growing company in history. It even took Microsoft a good 10 years before it hit the billion dollar mark.

So, is there a little something that we can learn from word-of-mouth methods? I think so, public relations has always used this technique, but not on such a large scale. There is still a big difference in relational marketing and public relations, but I think both principles combined could result in success.

Bulldog Daily Reporter- PR University offers WOM strategies in accordance to its claim that social media is changing the conventional marketing of word of mouth and is “reinventing public relations.” Bulldog also offers information on how the modern form of WOM can be incorporated into traditional PR, campaigns that “show how these techniques drive brand and the bottom line,” using “word of mouse,” finding other WOM users and how to stay up-to-date with online WOM (Second Life, Twitter and wikis).

By Stephanie S.

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