Monthly Archives: October 2009

Before the Journey: Hopes, Wishes and Expectations for the 2009 PRSSA National Convention

As I anxiously await my impending early November trip to San Diego, Ca., I think about how lucky I am to have the chance to experience everything that I will in less than a month. PRSSA will host its annual National Convention this year in sunny San Diego, and I have the chance to take part in a week that will not only prepare me for the real world with resources and networking, but has the potential to open many doors for my future.

My hopes for the convention are widespread, and my doubts that they will be surpassed are nonexistent. I anticipate meeting many other students from PRSSA chapters around the country who are as nervous, excited and eager to spread their wings and fly into the PR world as I am, and I hope to make new friends and connections through these students.

I also foresee learning priceless information and gaining abundant amounts of resources from the sessions I will attend, most of which will be led by top professionals in the field. The registration packet that I received boasts page after page of seminars and sessions such as “Go Global, Get an Edge”, a session on International PR, and “Cruisin’ with PR,” a discussion on corporate versus agency work. I hope to enjoy as many sessions as possible, but have already found clear favorites that I hope to attend.

This convention is special for me in another way: I have the unique chance to go as two people at once. I will not only be representing The University of Alabama’s PRSSA chapter along with three other members, but I will also be the sole representative of the Platform Magazine Fall 2009 Editorial Team. This gives me the challenging but rewarding opportunity to promote the magazine to PR professionals, educators and students during the convention on behalf of the entire Editorial Team.

What I will gain from the convention, I can only speculate for now. Business attire: Check. Resumes: printed. Business cards: jumping out of my wallet at the chance to network. Check back with Platform’s blog on Nov. 13, when I recap my trip and discuss the experience in the second half of my two-part PRSSA National Convention blog post. Bon Voyage!

by Amanda Aviles

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Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

For nearly three years, “Gossip Girl” has been one of the most talked about shows on television. The show is featured on covers of major publications, like Rolling Stone and New York Magazine. The stars of the show are regularly mentioned in tabloid magazines and gossip Web sites. “Gossip Girl” also garners attention for its racy advertisements, containing phrases like “WTF,” which stands for “Watch this Fall.” With this constant media coverage you would think “Gossip Girl” is one of the top rated shows on television. However, it only averages about two million viewers per week.

“Gossip Girl” is on The CW television network, which has fewer stations around the country than other networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, or FOX. This could be one reason why The CW normally has lower ratings than other networks. But I think the main problem is the network’s image.

The CW offers almost exclusively teen-oriented programming. With shows like “Gossip Girl,” “90210,” “Melrose Place” and “America’s Next Top Model,” it’s obvious that the network’s target audience is young women. And the network is relatively successful in reaching this demographic. Recently, The CW had the largest percentage gains in viewers of any network in women ages 18-34. These numbers include live viewers as well as those who record the show on DVR and watch it during a seven-day period after the show airs.

The CW’s ratings are also indicative of a larger trend. Less people are watching television shows when they premiere, opting to record them using DVRs, buy them on iTunes or stream the shows on the network’s Web site. When these numbers are taken into account, The CW’s ratings grow considerably. In fact, ratings for “90210” and “Melrose Place” increase by almost one million viewers when DVR users are included. But even with this increase, The CW’s ratings cannot rival the viewership of other networks. Last Monday at 9:00 p.m., “Two and a Half Men,” which airs onCBS, had 11 million viewers, while “Gossip Girl” had slightly more than two million viewers.

I think The CW has a niche audience of teenage girls, but in order to increase viewership they should target other groups. However, the network offers little variety in its programming. The CW has several shows about rich and attractive young people, like “Gossip Girl,” “90210” and “Melrose Place.” The CW’s emphasis on superficial content is almost insulting to its audience. It would be refreshing if they began creating shows with characters who care about more than clothes and money.

One of the most popular new shows this season is “Glee,” a part-musical, part-comedy about a high school show choir that airs on FOX. I believe a lot of the show’s success stems from its originality. Many people watch the show because there is nothing else like it on TV. The CW should take note. Developing diverse programming may be a risk for a network, but it can be worth it. By expanding its creativity, The CW can gain new viewers and become known as more than a network for teenagers.

by Enelda Butler

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How to Find a Public Relations Mentor

While reading the PRSSA blog, I was reminded of great advice: find a mentor. The importance of a mentor in the PR field is extremely valuable, especially in today’s economy.

As we come to the end of PRSSA/PRSA Relationship Month, the PRSSA blog emphasized the value of maintaining relationships with mentors in the field. Resources such as the PRSA Job Center, social media and peers can all help provide mentor contacts.

I have two people I currently look to as mentors in the PR field. Holly Lollar, president of The Lollar Group, has been so kind to mentor me over the past couple of months. As I worked with her during the summer, I was so encouraged because of the way she included me on projects. She was always so optimistic and thoughtful. She also gave incredible advice about the PR field and encouraged me to always update my portfolio.

John H. Merrill, director of community relations and community education at Tuscaloosa County Board of Education, is currently my mentor. He taught me how to improve my writing skills. He edits press releases, memorandums and letters before I send them to the media. He gives constructive criticism, and I know it is preparing me for any future career.

The PRSSA blog also noted that Ryan McShane, a 2007-2008 National Committee member, gave tips on his blog about what to look for in a mentor. He listed the following seven qualities.

1) “Well-Established – As the newbie of the office, you’ll want to find someone who pulls some weight. If your mentor sticks his neck out for you at the end of the day, you’ll want it to mean something to the person deciding your fate.”
2) “Interested in Helping — As a follow-up to the first key quality, my suggestion is to not necessarily find the person at the top of the food chain. The higher-ups of an agency may not be available at your disposal. Try to find the right balance in selecting someone who holds clout and is interested in your development.”
3) “Not Far-Removed – Another reason to find balance in the food chain, you want your mentor to be able to relate to your situation. The industry has changed quite a bit over the years with the paradigm shift in media relations.”
4) “Common Personality — You’ll click with some members of the office better than others. Find a mentor you enjoy talking with — someone you share hobbies / interests with. This will help you establish a good mentor / mentee relationship.”
5) “The Door Opener — Look for someone well-connected in the industry. If your agency can’t keep you full-time at the end of the summer, the door opener just has to make a few phone calls before you wind up with an interview.”
6) “Knows Their Stuff – Maybe your office has a social media guru — maybe it’s media relations you’re looking to perfect. Find a mentor who will be able to put tools in your toolbox.”
7) “Takes It Off-the-Record – In addition to finding someone you can look up to and emulate, you might look for someone who you can trust to keep things confidential. If you’re having a rough week and need to vent, it helps to have a go-to who will respectfully keep it between the two of you.”

I cannot imagine how I would feel as I approach graduation in May without the encouragement of both of my mentors. I encourage anyone and everyone — freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors — to look for someone to mentor them in this field.

by Sara Sanderson

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CelebriTweets

Since when are celebrities treated like normal people? They haven’t been and never will be.

Though this may be true, I applaud the celebrities who make an attempt at a semi-normal (at best) life, even trying out Twitter as their key to normalcy. Celebrities use the ever-growing social media tool every day to pretend their lives are ordinary, by tweeting mundane things like, “Great Sunday with my hubby. We watched some football and Saw 2 n took a long nap. Bout to make some dinner now w/ Hank,” like former Hugh Hefner girlfriend Kendra Wilkinson recently did. Psst… people still don’t believe you are just like everyone else.

Sometimes, though, celebritweeting can get a bit out of hand. Recently, Miley Cyrus and best friend Demi Lavoto, both tween Disney stars, got into a Twitter battle. After media speculation of who was to blame and how the friendship went south so quickly, it was discovered to be nothing more than two 16-year-old girls with nothing better to do on a Friday night, besides, you know, be famous.

Would this kind of scandal ever have happened if the faux-fight had been between two teens at County High School? Of course not, which brings about the idea that celebrities have a responsibility when it comes to social media. No, it’s not fair. Stars should be able to use Twitter however they want. But they are in the public eye, and when they broadcast their lives on Twitter, they can’t expect to say or do immature things without some public scrutiny.

For further proof, think about all of the bad publicity Jessica Simpson recently got for tweeting, “WTF!? Do I really have to sleep like this???,” while staying in a tent in Uganda, where she was filming for a new show. While any Average Joe might have gotten some cyberspace ridicules from his friends for saying something like that, Jessica made headlines. Then again, how can one expect not to with 1,675,356 followers?

And then there are the just-plain-ridiculous celebritweeters. Chad Ochocinco, a football player for the Cincinnati Bengals, plans to tweet from the endzones this season. What?! Yes, my reaction exactly. Mashable’s editor in chief, Adam Ostrow, explains in a blog post that Ochocinco plans to fly a different fan out to the game every week, pre-discuss some hand gestures he will make to the fan and in turn his fan will tweet his messages for him from his personal phone. By going to such elaborate lengths, Ochocinco bypasses all NFLrules prohibiting tweeting from the field. Honestly, I can’t get over the fact that theNFL actually has to address Twitter field-use at all.

Celebrities must learn how to effectively use this social media tool as just that — a way to reach out to fans, spread messages they believe in and maybe even do some self-promotion, as many stars are known to do. Kim Kardashian, for example, does a great job of promoting Quick Trim, a dietary supplement for which she is the spokesperson, on her Twitter. She tweets about promotional events and even posts pictures from Quick Trim photo shoots she does. She has also begun promoting her new perfume, set to be released on Valentine’s Day 2010, and has engaged her fans by posting pictures of bottle shapes and colors and asking for input and votes. A self-proclaimed PR person, Kardashian seems to really get this social media thing.

If these stars can’t use this social media tool the way it is meant to be used, maybe they should take a hint from Miley Cyrus, who recently deleted her account after the previously mentioned Twitter war with her bff. Cyrus claimed (in a YouTube rap video, no less) that by doing this she hoped to keep her private life private, something she just could not handle with a Twitter account.

In order to avoid such drastic measures and continue to reach out to fans through Twitter, celebrities must choose where to draw the line between personal and private, and should respect the proper uses of Twitter. Fans don’t want to follow stars who will waste their time having Twitter wars or racing their significant others to 1,000,000 followers, as reality couple Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt did. After all, ordinary people want to see the stars using Twitter to connect with fans, not using them to compete for the biggest fan base.

By Amanda Aviles

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US News Media: Bad PR for Americans?

Wolf Blitzer was interviewing the family familiar with appearing on television and reality shows when the cat was let out of the bag. Wolf didn’t throw a curveball but was definitely taken aback by what Falcon Heene, the now world-renowned 6-year-old daredevil who apparently took flight in a homemade hot air balloon Thursday, October 15, said on live television:

“Um, you guys said, that mm, we did this for the show.”

Father Richard immediately mumbled “Man,” and mother Mayumi followed with a subtle “No.” Dad then turned adamantly defensive and became “appalled” at the notion that the highly publicized event was all a publicity stunt. This is where the story shifted: many of those delighted to see the boy safe became skeptics of the idea that he was ever in danger.

Colleagues of the father’s have since spoken out against him, saying that he is a schemer and publicity hungry. Related blogs filled with accusations keep popping up all over the internet and T-shirts picturing the balloon with the words “Go Falcon, Go!” can now be purchased online, turning this 24 hour news sensation into a mini pop phenomenon. YouTube has a video of all three children rapping rather mature lyrics and included is a cameo from mother Mayumi, shredding a few chords on an electric guitar.

So what if this really was all a hoax? The evidence is mounting faster against the Heene family than it is in defense of their story.

Remember the story of the man who “caught” Bigfoot last year in Georgia? Authorities initially spoke of pressing charges and the two men who masterminded the hoax are now being sued privately by a man who tried to purchase the fake body for $50,000. These two individuals created a Web site, an elaborate story and posted pictures of a hideous costume in a large cooler — none of which required public funding, occupied emergency response vehicles, or simply wasted important community resources.

Think that the new Heene family “balloon boy” hoax deserves any less attention? The answer to this question comes in two parts, in my opinion:

1. No, the Heene family should be held accountable for the cost of the search and rescue detail that responded. Also, the family should be charged, fined and banned from making any money from television spots, let alone making any appearances.

2. Yes, the “balloon boy” alleged hoax deserves far less attention than the American news media is giving it. If it were a legitimate tale of a boy floating away and his body not being found, there would be such justification. Reality is, we’re feeding publicity hungry animals when we should let them starve.

Why do we feed the publicity hungry when we have more pressing matters and timely causes to be informed of?

President Obama visited New Orleans for the first time since taking office. Two F-16 fighter jets collided off of the coast of South Carolina and one pilot is still missing. The Taliban have been responsible for more than 150 deaths in the last few weeks. All of these events took place during the coverage of the balloon floating, landing and the Heene family’s face time.

Why do we, the American people and news media, glorify such utter disrespect to our intelligence, character and overall purpose?

I can’t remember how many times I’ve been taught recently about the importance of news worthiness being at the top of the checklist when writing news releases. To me, this story completely skips that checkbox and for that, it should have skipped our television screens — if not last night, at least by now.

I’d like to think, in fact I know, that I’m better than that, but our news media isn’t prioritizing its own reputation. And unfortunately, it’s that materialistic, unintelligent and immature reputation I’m associated with when I travel around the world.

So, is the US news media bad PR for Americans, or are Americans who watch and allow this kind of news coverage bad PR for themselves?

By Josh Morris

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Social Media Marketing Overload

I log onto my Facebook account. Another fan page request, this time for a cosmetic product I don’t even use. And even if I did use it, why on Earth would I feel the need to let everyone else on Facebook know that I am a passionate fan of this shampoo?

Many companies have begun infiltrating social media in order to promote themselves, gain new customers and create an online “presence.” Many of these companies aren’t using social media tools to their full potential.

Those in the public relations field know that PR is about building relationships, not selling products. It’s about building an image, not creating immediate revenue. Basically, there is no instant gratification. Similarly, social media is also about building relationships. That is the reason most individuals sign up for Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites: to build or maintain relationships. So companies should look at these tools in the same way.

Contact Media, a company that helps small businesses with marketing strategy, stated in one of its blog posts, “Just because your customers are congregating online doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate or effective to interrupt them with promotional messages. In fact, that’s probably the single most annoying thing you can do.” The post continued, “It’s not about how many fans, followers or friends you can accumulate, it’s about how much value you can add to the conversation.”

In a BusinessWeek article, “Beware Social Media Marketing Myths,” Gene Marks addressed the many misconceptions about social media. He pointed out that most users are teenagers, and that most adults on the site “are merely nostalgic to check out boyfriends and girlfriends from youth to see how fat and bald they’ve become; whatever they’re doing on Facebook, it’s typically not engaging with a small business brand.” A tad dramatic, but his point is clear.

Companies should use social media to build relationships with consumers, not to annoy or inundate them with multiple “invites” or “friend requests.” Social media can be a great PR tool for raising awareness, generating excitement and quickly responding to certain situations. If the customer doesn’t feel that you are trying to sell them something, or that they are just another number or friend, then social media can go a long way.

But please, please stop asking me to be your fan if I keep rejecting you. You’re making me never want to use your product, and I don’t even know what it does.

By Jaclyn White

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Norma Hanson: An Industry’s Hero

The millennial generation sees limitless possibility in almost every kind of endeavor. Being a part of this, the idea of being denied advancement because of my sex had never even crossed my mind. However, little did I know that this idea would soon be brought to the forefront of my attention. I came into contact with someone who had to face this realization and the associated challenge head-on at the very beginning of advertising as a profession.

On Oct. 1, the College of Communication at The University of Alabama welcomed educators, practitioners and students to its annual Advertising Day, a day-long event consisting of seminars, presentations and question-and-answer panels. There, individuals who excelled in the career field discussed their experiences and shared their knowledge. Some topics included media sales, nonprofits, sponsorships, design, portfolio building, political campaigns and minority-target advertising.

I attended the “Hall of Fame Role Models” presentation where I was fortunate enough to hear from an industry pioneer who quickly became a personal hero. Seventy-five-year-old Norma Hanson of Dothan, Ala., was described as the first female force behind the advertising world in Alabama. She was thrilled to be back at the university and was eager to share her experiences about a life of hard work plagued with continual gender struggles.

When she graduated from the university years ago, little was known about the advertising industry. Hanson’s only sources were her reading books, which were limited. A change of venue was in her future, so she packed her things and moved to Atlanta to interview at the advertising agency, Tucker Wayne.

“I had a mouth. I loved people and I knew how to sell. You need to sell yourself,” she said. Hanson was hired and proved her talent immediately. She was working long days, engaging in as many aspects of the career field that she could get her hands on. Hanson said, “I had a positive attitude…I wanted to learn…I was a sponge…What it took I wanted to do.”

Hanson was proud of the recognition she received within the company, especially with her boss. She never expected the day she was told her efforts and achievements were insignificant and the South was not ready for female accounting executives. This did not settle with Hanson—she was determined to break the mold.

In 1980, a young man came to her with a mission and an idea. He wanted to open an advertising and design firm and he wanted Hanson and her experience. She took the plunge.

“You need to be willing to step out from the norm and do something different. You need to be willing to take a risk,” Hanson said. Together they opened the firm Slaughter Hanson, which later became a $40 million agency. Hanson also opened the marketing and advertising agency, Norma Hanson & Associates in 2005. “I have tried to retire three times but I cannot stand the thought of not being in the middle of it,” Hanson said.

Hanson has worked within the marketing and advertising industry for more than 50 years. When asked what advice she has for students she said, “Being male or female is not the big issue. It’s wanting something and wanting it bad enough.” Last Thursday, Oct. 8, she was inducted into The University of Alabama’s C&IS Hall of Fame. She will be forever recognized as a hero in our industry.

by Meghan Zimmerman

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