Monthly Archives: September 2009

Apple v. AT&T: The MMS Blame Game

MMS. Who would have known that one little abbreviation could cause such an uproar in the technology community?

AT&T released Multimedia Messaging Service, or MMS, for Apple iPhone users on September 25, 2009, allowing customers to send pictures and videos through text messaging. It seems like good news, so what is all the fuss about?

According to the Apple Insider Web site, Apple announced iPhone’s capability to support multimedia messaging in June, but the actual service would not be available for use until “late summer” through iPhone’s only carrier: AT&T. Most iPhone users assumed “late summer” meant July or August, but those months came and went without the slightest hint of MMS availability.

Since then, AT&T and Apple have endured harsh criticism from customers, bloggers and technology enthusiasts about such a delayed release of a feature that has been promised since June and available in most other smart phones for years. Some customers have even gone so far as to file lawsuits against AT&T and Apple for breach of contract and deceptive and illegal trade practices.

But the real question remains: who is to blame for this mess, Apple or AT&T?

Most customers seem to blame AT&T for their MMS distress. While Apple announced the MMS capability in June, it was AT&T that delayed the release until three months later to ensure their service would be compatible with the new iPhone MMS software and could handle the increased data usage.

Customers sued AT&T for deceptive practices when sales representatives made false assurances about the availability of MMS to customers who purchased iPhones. AT&T customer Kyle Irving of Minnesota claims AT&T sales representatives assured him the MMS service on his new iPhone would work by the end of July, when it actually became available only last week.

Clearly, AT&T is in the middle of a public relations crisis. But they are not shying away from the criticisms and challenges.

On September 3, AT&T released a YouTube video featuring “Seth the Blogger Guy” to respond to the negative criticism surrounding the delayed MMS update. The video explained that AT&T is aware of the negative criticism surrounding the company and dealt with the negativity “head-on.” In the video, Seth, an AT&T employee, addressed the technical problems associated with the new service, including the recent dramatic increase in smart phone usage that is pushing the system to its limit and the complexity of updating the network to support MMS for the iPhone.

Although AT&T may be the likely contender for blame in this situation, one thing is certain: AT&T is not backing away from the challenge of saving its public image. Not only did AT&T release the YouTube video, but the MMS update launched successfully. I have already sent numerous MMS messages on my iPhone without a single glitch. While AT&T’s public relations battle is far from over, the company continues to take steps in the right direction.

by Jessica Boyd

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Venezuela’s Lesson in Free Speech

As members of the PR industry, we realize the media plays a critical role in our livelihoods. We use the media to communicate with target publics and to stay informed about the ever-changing external environments of our clients and organizations. The right to freedom of speech allows us to do so without fear that the news we consume is controlled by the government, and without fear of being prosecuted for expressing opinions.

The freedom of speech is not merely accepted in American society—it is a constitutional right. We expect the media to act as watchdogs, exposing corruption in business and government; we do not expect government censorship of the media. However, this is not the case in all countries.

Recently, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cracked down on the media in his own country. Chavez shut down at least 34 private radio stations, saying the stations did not comply with regulations. Many critics believe the stations were shut down for being critical of President Chavez, although Chavez denies the allegations. The Venezuelan government has also threatened to shut down Globovision, the only remaining television channel in Venezuela that strongly criticizes Chavez.

In a recent article on CNN.com about the radio station closures, Venezuelan Minister of Public Works and Housing Diosdado Cabello said, “Freedom of expression is not the most sacred freedom.” As a PR student and as an American, I find this statement outrageous. Although no one freedom is officially held more sacred than another in our nation, the freedom of speech lies at the core of democracy. When the citizens of a nation cannot freely express opinion, that nation’s government has the power to run rampant and abuse the rights of its citizens.

We, as members of the PR industry, should take the situation in Venezuela as an example. We must strive to uphold freedom of speech so that the rights we often take for granted will not be taken from us.

by Meg Watson

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Public Relations 101

You may think you know what public relations entails, but think again.

PR is not event planning.

Considering I am pursuing a degree in marketing, I encounter students from inside and outside of the public relations major who possess incorrect knowledge of what a PR professional does on a daily basis. I constantly hear wrong definitions for PR, and I have made it my personal mission to correctly inform those students with the misconception that PR is event planning.

Based on my experience as an incoming college freshman, the majority of my fellow classmates believed in the misconception that PR would lead to a career in event planning with A-list celebrities and/or major corporations. Little do they know exactly what public relations encompasses.

PR involves a lot more than just party planning. According to the Public Relations Society of America’s Web site, “Public relations helps our complex, pluralistic society to reach decisions and function more effectively by contributing to mutual understanding among groups and institutions. It serves to bring private and public policies into harmony.”

Simply stated, PR assists organizations and individuals with gaining exposure among their target audiences. Thus, PR practitioners manage the reputation of their clients. Almost every organization that has a standing in the public eye employs some stage of public relations to create a positive image in the community.

Even though public relations might be different from what you expected, it serves a reputable purpose and provides a solid, successful career. Competition in the public relations field is high because of the numerous benefits, such as media contacts, social events and associations with top-notch executives. Because of the tough competition, employers prefer job candidates to have prior experience.

An internship in public relations offers the necessary experience to gain an edge on the competition. Internships provide insight into the daily activities of a public relations department or firm, which prepares a potential PR employee for the required efforts at work.

Based on my experience in PR classes, in order to be successful in the public relations arena, certain strengths and abilities must be perfected:

1.  Writing skills
2.  Communication skills
3.  Creative abilities
4.  Ethical practices

By understanding exactly what PR involves and possessing the necessary skills, you just might be cut out for a job in public relations.

Since PR involves working with clients and managing communication between an organization and its audiences, students cannot assume that PR is solely a glamorous, party-planning lifestyle.

by Ashley Ross

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

How I earned my keep in an ad agency

Landing a job is not easy. It takes a lot of energy, both physically and mentally. I was no exception. I underwent so many meetings, consumed so many cups of coffee, and considered so many alternate post-grad options that by the time I was hired I was completely exhausted.

But the journey was over, right? Not just yet.

It wasn’t long into my first full-time, out-of-college advertising agency job that I realized my work wasn’t done. Sure, my interview with my boss and my introductions to the staff went great. But those are all words. I had to earn my keep, and that is done through performance.

When I first started off at the agency, I didn’t have a whole heck of a lot to do. I considered downtime my worst enemy and thought, ‘the less time I sit in this swivel chair, the longer they will keep me on.’ So I did a few, simple things that are now routine and ultimately have earned my place not only with the staff, but in the company’s future, too.

Keep in mind that these go for any entry-level agency role.

Read up on all the trades — Throughout the day I check Ad Age, PR Week, Media Post and Ad Week (that is a fair enough number to your Inbox.) I leave comments along with my agency’s Web site. I love the days when my boss says, “Wow, you should see all the hits we’ve gotten today.” (You will be beaming inside.)

Be a social media dashboard — I set up a Twitter account separate from my personal one to track every piece of information that comes out on the agency and the local ad industry. I follow all my clients/prospective clients, the trades (once again), and local and national news. You don’t need to advertise the account; just use it for yourself.

Web sites — I made the agency’s Web site one I visit as often as my online banking. In addition, I read up on all my clients’ Web sites and take notes. It is amazing how well I keep up with our staff conversations on clients and I haven’t even been here two months.

Fill the empty coffee pot — And I do all the other menial stuff. This includes organizing messed up files, answering phones, running errands, etc., etc., etc. Others appreciate someone who doesn’t mind doing that stuff.

Keep a positive attitude — This is something rare in those who are bogged down with boredom or running errands. I was meeting with my boss one day to discuss the traffic sheet when he complimented my energy and appreciation for my willingness and enthusiasm to work. (You will be beaming again.)

At home — I got some book suggestions from industry professionals to make me more knowledgeable on the business. Here they are (and no, I have not read them all.):

• Where the Suckers Moon by Randall Rothenberg
• Hoopla by Warren Burger
• The Art of Client Services by Robert Solomon
• Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. by Luke Sullivan
• Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
• Jack: Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch (former CEO of GE)

After doing all this, I have found that my co-workers see me as ‘a great fit’ and I am now earning the work I hoped to be responsible for. It just takes pushing through the finish line of getting a job. I promise you, too, will earn your keep.

by Carly Rullman, Contributing Writer

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Hitting the Target

Two days before classes began, the Target store in Tuscaloosa, Ala., opened its doors after hours for University of Alabama students. The university transported students from various locations on campus to Target.

That night Target offered a unique shopping experience. Hundreds of students packed the store from 10 p.m. to midnight to receive free gift bags and product samples along with special coupons. There was even a DJ to provide entertainment for the students while they shopped. The University of Alabama was not the only school to have this type of event with Target. Colleges across the nation, such as Rutgers University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, also had similar activities this year.

So why would Target open its stores after hours for college students? I believe the company did this as the first step in building a relationship with a new audience. First-year college students are entering adulthood and beginning to flex their buying power. Many of them are looking for a one-stop shopping location where they do not have to spend a lot of money for quality items. Target is an ideal option because it offers almost anything a student could need at a discount price.

By creating an event exclusively for college students, Target shows the students how important they are to the company. This group is so important that Target is willing to go out of its way to serve them. Through this kind of customer service, Target hopes to build and maintain its relationship with the students. The students will remember the good experience they had at the event and will be more likely to return to the store.

Another way Target maintains this relationship is through its strong online presence. The company has realized that social media is one of the best ways to communicate with its college-aged audience. Target has a Facebook page with more than 500,000 fans, where customers can voice their opinions about anything related to the store.

Special promotions with colleges, along with the use of social media, give Target shoppers a personal relationship with the company. These strategies show that Target values both the patronage and the opinions of its consumers. By doing this, Target is developing life-long customers.

By Enelda Butler

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Leadership styles in the PR field

What is a leader? Should a leader be humble? Bossy? Encouraging?

Defining leadership has never been easy.

What makes a leader specifically in the public relations field? Is it knowing how to effectively use social media? Is it having 329,349,085 connections on LinkedIn? Or is it knowing when to use the appropriate style of leadership when dealing with coworkers and clients?

Learning to work under different leadership styles is a challenge. As public relations professionals, it is imperative to know how to use leadership techniques. I have been fortunate enough to have interned under incredible leaders. However, every leader is different, and it is important to study various leadership styles.

According to Communicating for Results: A Guide for Business and the Professions by Cheryl Hamilton (2008), the autocratic leadership style always involves a leader as the central authority figure. This leader constantly maintains control and power over her followers. One-way communication typically does not allow followers to participate in decision-making.

The democratic leadership style is described as leaders and followers who are making decisions together. The leader is seen as an equal of the followers, and together they determine what actions will be taken. This style of leadership involves two-way communication.

In the laissez-faire style of leadership, the leader is not involved in a team’s decision-making. Members of the team make assignments and evaluate productivity among themselves. This style of leadership only succeeds with highly motivated members who are each leaders themselves.

Effective teams in the public relations field have flexible leaders who are comfortable using the democratic, autocratic and laissez-faire styles of leadership at the appropriate time.

Working at a local PR firm in Birmingham this summer was an incredible experience because of the leadership I witnessed. I had the opportunity to observe teamwork and how the agency adopted professional ways to communicate and be productive. As I monitored different leadership styles, I found that the firm mostly adopted the democratic style of leadership. This was extremely effective because everyone worked together for common goals, and they were always so complimentary of each other.

My current public relations internship began as the summer came to an end. Working for a local board of education is a very different experience. I had to quickly adapt to working under the autocratic leadership style. It has also been an incredible experience because of the work environment’s organization and the direct communication from my leader.

Despite the drastically different leadership styles, both internships have been valuable and enjoyable learning experiences.

My number one piece of advice would be to learn about different leadership styles, techniques and theories before entering the work force. Working with coworkers and working for clients can be stressful at times, and it is important to know your own leadership style and the leadership styles of those who are working around you.

By Sara Sanderson

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