Monthly Archives: November 2009

Merry Holiday?

It’s that time of year again. Cold weather, gift shopping, twinkling lights and… “holiday” trees? What happened to Christmas trees?

At a Lowe’s store in Austin, Texas, there is a banner advertising fresh-cut “holiday trees.” This caused quite an uproar in the community, and it brings about a valid point: are we trying to be too politically correct about the holiday season?

It turns out that most studies find that people don’t mind the word “Christmas.” They simply want other holidays to be recognized also. A recent PRWeek article by Rob Webb mentioned that according to the last census, 72 percent of Americans consider themselves to be Christians. So why are people trying so hard to snuff out words that might exclude people?

The problem rests in poor communication. Most policies are well-meaning. A town near my home in Pennsylvania recently mandated that the traditional nativity scene be moved from the town square and placed in front of the church. They did this not because they did not want people to enjoy the scene, but because other groups then began petitioning the town for permits to place displays in the square. There were too many groups who wanted to be included, with not enough room for all. Therefore, better none than some. Unfortunately, due to lack of good external communication, some people saw it as an attempt to “ban Christmas.”

The Lowe’s “holiday” tree incident falls in this same category. The store was not trying to ban Christmas, but was rather trying to include others. But as Lee Odden questioned in his Media Relations Blog, “Are people really more likely to buy a tree if it is labeled ‘holiday tree’ instead of ‘Christmas tree’? While ‘holiday tree’ is certainly more inclusive, ‘Christmas tree’ follows centuries of tradition. Furthermore, does a Christmas tree cease to be a Christmas tree just because it has a different name?”

The current holiday campaign for the Gap, a international clothing manufacturer, focuses on including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and any other holiday consumers could want to celebrate. According to the Gap corporate Web site, “The campaign offers a fresh voice featuring choreographed dancers and models belting catchy holiday cheers about defying convention, and captures the essence of the Gap’s roots but also looks forward with an optimistic eye on America.” However, the commercials caused controversy because some groups felt that the ads were making fun of religion, and some groups are even planning to boycott the Gap.

The Gap practiced effective communication when dealing with this, stating that the Gap “is and has always been an inclusive, accessible brand in which everyone can participate and we embrace diversity across all of our customers, and more importantly respect their beliefs as individuals… We focus our marketing on the joys of the holiday season as a whole.” The Gap and its sister companies, Old Navy and Banana Republic, are standing by the ads.

A recent Dave Fleet blog post entitled “If I Were Santa’s Public Relations Guy” took a more lighthearted approach to the holiday. Fleet jokes that “the merchandising is pretty neat but there’s a lot more potential there” and goes on to discuss how Santa could capitalize on his abilities and improve communication. But his amusing insights could be taken seriously when viewing the holiday as a whole. Christmas is an important part of American tradition, and in order to prevent people from feeling that they need to ban it to include everyone, communication needs to improve.

So let’s stop worrying about being all-inclusive in our language. It’s okay to talk about Christmas – it’s been around for as long as public relations itself! Let’s just make sure that we’re talking about every other view, religion and holiday also. Everyone should get their little piece of the publicity, without having to worry about using the “C” word (Christmas), the “H” word (Hanukkah) or the “W” word (winter solstice). You get my point.

by Jaclyn White


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Underground Information Trade Tops Global Drug Trade

Public relations is going viral. A tweet from a recent #journchat session on Twitter said, more or less, “If you’re not practicing PR 2.0, you’re not effectively practicing PR.” Shifting to online communications and personal profiles, every day we are creating a more concise, digital version of our human selves. If we’re going to put our lives out there (wherever the Internet is), we must first consider who else is out there with us and what they’re capable of.

We’ve all heard of social networking. We’ve all heard of identity theft. We’ve all heard of the issues surrounding Internet scams, frauds and cyber crimes. We’ve all heard of privacy settings. We’ve all heard of common sense. What do all of these terms have in common?

Think back to the last time you forgot your password – any password to any account. When you tried to reset your password, you were most likely prompted with a “security question.” Can you remember what that question was? Was it specific to your knowledge? Was it a question that only you could answer? Was it a question that ensured you were the only one capable of reseting your password and accessing your information?

Now think Facebook. “Which witch are you?” Home, wall, info, pictures, video. “Which movie pair are you and your BFF?” Status updates daily, hourly, mobile – constant status updates. “Which celebrity are you compatible with?” Suggested ads. Sponsored ads. “How well do you know me?” How many hundreds of friends do you have? How many networks do those hundreds of friends connect you to? Are you the only one who can access your information in your Facebook account? Do you follow where I’m heading?

Whenever a Facebook application is given access to your account, sponsored ads tailored to your interests start appearing on the sidebar. As distracting as invitations to join friend’s Mafia Wars or Farmville legions are, the potential for carelessness to leak information increases. The more personalized your Facebook account ads are, the more of your information has reached third party sites. Facebook does a good job of controlling its users information, but nothing is perfect and this is one of the more visible examples.

For each question listed, ask yourself if the answer could be found in the information available on your social networking sites and online profiles:

  • What is your Mother’s maiden name?
  • What was the make of your first car?
  • What is your favorite movie?
  • What was your first cat’s name?
  • What is your father’s middle name?
  • What elementary school did you attend?
  • Where did you honeymoon?

Each one of the questions listed above is considered a “security question.” Using common sense, the relationship between the two should be getting clearer. Personalized security questions are only as secure as the information about the person in question.

The University of Alabama’s Office of Information Technology hosted “Get online. Stay in bounds.”, an Internet and cyber safety seminar, to inform the student body of online threats, risks and strategies to avoid them. Speakers at the seminar included a cyber crime specialist from McAfee and a cyber security strategist from Symantec. But allow me to introduce you to the term introduced during the seminar instead: social engineering.

For a more detailed explanation,, a security-specific information resource for enterprise IT professionals, defines social engineering as a “non-technical kind of intrusion that relies heavily on human interaction and often involves tricking other people to break normal security procedures.” The site also said, “Social engineers rely on the fact that people are not aware of the value of the information they possess and are careless about protecting it.”

The McAfee representative said that Web 2.0 is crucial as it is the main target of social engineers and that “we facilitate cyber crimes.” She explained that MySpace and Facebook are not security vetted, they’re network focused, and blind acceptance through friendship is one of the easiest ways to access otherwise private information. She stressed common sense and challenged users to question anything suspicious.

The Symantec representative spoke about malware, malicious computer software, making up 65% of online content, exceeding good content on the Web. One slide showed statistics of malicious sites growing five times faster per day than in the entire year 2007. The Symantec representative even admitted that “antiviruses aren’t going to be good enough as we turn this bad corner.” Again, common sense was the focus of his closing statements.

Here are some facts and suggestions from both representatives to consider the next time you fill out a quiz, load a photo album or let that hot avatar persuade you:

  • More money is in the Russian underground information trade than the global drug trade.
  • One identity only costs $15 on the information market.
  • 90% of all threats are financially motivated.
  • One in 10 laptops are stolen.
  • Yearly credit checks are vital and FREE! Don’t ever pay for one.
  • Jobs run credit checks too.
  • Presume criminals will take advantage of anything hot and new.
  • Mistyped Web sites are set up as vicious links by criminals in hopes you’ll mess up.
  • Being unaware of how information is marketed or gathered puts you at risk.
  • Common-sense security questions are common information answers.
  • 18- to 24-year-olds are the demographic hardest hit.

The University of Alabama’s student body is exposed to as many threats as the rest of the Internet’s users, but may be at a higher risk level due to increased demand for work being done online. Remember how Mom always said, “Better safe than sorry”? Whether you are a student, educator or PR practitioner, please help promote UA’s OIT Cyber Safety Awareness by being aware, being safe and remembering cyber safety is personal.

By Josh Morris

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Bitten by a Trend: Vampire Fever

What’s hot? What’s everyone talking about? What’s the 411? In the world of public relations, it’s crucial to know what our clients’ customers are excited about, as companies must anticipate trends in order to leverage the demand they create. I doubt many anticipated the current vampire phenomenon sweeping the nation, but yet it happened, and it’s leaving the public with a growing thirst – a thirst that marketers in all industries are anxiously trying to quench.

Regardless of one’s personal opinions about the living dead, it’s become difficult to not admit that vampires and their fangs are everywhere. They are in our television sets, filling the aisles at our bookstores and strategically hung on the racks at our favorite department stores. They have literally “sucked” their way into our lives.

Friday was a big day for the supernatural world. Vampire stalkers (yes, myself included) across the nation were able to finally see the second installment of the Twilight Saga, New Moon. The mania associated with the film’s release has opened many companies’ eyes to a potentially new customer base within the movie’s fan base. As a result, they are acknowledging the impact of this phenomenon by gearing their products, promotions and advertisements towards the pro-vampire community.

Volvo believes vampires and New Moon will sell its cars. The company has recently released a campaign using vampire hunk and New Moon character Edward Cullen as its point of focus. The advertisement highlights scenes from the movie and welcomes its fans and customers to access its Web site,

Burger King created a New Moon fan pack for its most loyal vampire fans. The pack consisted of trading cards, coupons and movie memorabilia.

AT&T has also taken a bite out of the excitement surrounding New Moon. The company partnered with 2ergo to provide ringtones, wallpapers and mobile games to its customers through the New Moon mobile site. The site allows fans to download games and songs and provides access to its Facebook page.

Whether you want to believe it or not, the United States has found itself living in a vampire-loving day-and-age which Anne Rice, Buffy and Angel could never have anticipated. Vampires have literally “come out of the coffin” and are appearing at the forefront of our nation’s (and pop culture’s) minds. It’s important for public relations practitioners to recognize trends like the current vampire obsession and incorporate them into their company’s campaigns and messages, where appropriate. This allows them to effectively align the client’s and company’s goals with the needs, wants and, in the case of vampires, obsessions of their target customers.

by Meghan Zimmerman

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Word of Mouth: Your Opinions Matter

Who do you trust more when deciding on where to shop and what to buy: your friends and family or the hundreds of advertisements you see daily? For me, it’s a no-brainer. I value my friends’ and family’s opinions over anything an advertisement will try to lead me to believe.

This reasoning supports the statistic that word of mouth is two times more effective than advertising. According to a Customer Dissatisfaction Study from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), “On average, U.S. shoppers tell four people about their negative experience, embellishing the story as they tell it.”

WOMMA considers word of mouth as the voice of the consumer relaying information about products, services or brands. As a consumer, I always express my opinions if I have a positive or negative experience within a store, but I had no idea how much of an impact I was making on a company and its reputation.

The customer study continues, “More than 50 percent of American shoppers say a negative shopping experience of a friend or co-worker will prevent them from setting foot in a store altogether.”

We are all influenced by our close family and friends, so how can companies combat the negative word-of-mouth phenomenon? First, companies need to be aware of the specific problematic issues their customers are facing and take control by fixing those problems to create positive word of mouth. Specifically, companies should utilize their public relations tactics to make the positive attributes of their products or services known to consumers to encourage positive word-of-mouth circulation.

Public relations practitioners can manage word of mouth with careful planning and techniques. Most importantly, companies need to focus on making consumers happier by simply listening to them. Targeting their complaints and concerns will allow companies to discover the root of the problem in order to address it properly.

by Ashley Ross

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Tough Love in PR

Rule # 1: Don’t be weird. This is Steve Ward’s first rule in his VH1 show Tough Love, a boot camp for women who have personal problems finding a significant other. Ward says if these women follow his rules, he guarantees he will find them love.

I was watching the season premiere (a little inside information — I’m really into reality shows) on Sunday when I realized that maybe the tough love advice Ward gives to the nine women on the show can apply to all public relations students seeking a job.

Ward says he is going to give these women a “heavy dose of reality” on what they’re doing wrong when it comes to relationships. Then it hit me — many PR students, including myself, need help when it comes to employment. A lot of students, much like the women on the show, need tough love.

In episode one of the show, Ward teaches the importance of first impressions. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” says Ward. “In the unforgiving world of the male perspective,” first impressions are extremely essential. His advice applies directly in job interviews: first impressions are vital in the unforgiving world of employers.

On the show, Miss Body Issues has self-confidence problems. Ward advises her “a guy is never going to be convinced in you when you’re too busy convincing them why not to be.” The same applies to students in an interview: an employer is never going to be convinced to hire you when you’re too busy convincing them why they shouldn’t. You need to be confident in yourself; otherwise, you’re going to look like you either don’t want the job or you have no idea what you’re talking about.

You can guess the issue by her name: Miss Gold Digger. So, how does it apply to PR? Just like men want to see women more interested in the relationship and not the money, employers want to see you more interested in the experience, not the money. Having low-paying jobs (such as nonprofit) or unpaid internships on your resume looks good to employers because it shows you put effort into something substantial that may not financially reward you in return.

Okay, so a lot of the issues the women have on the show don’t necessarily relate to students’ issues. However, it’s fun to watch, and most of the women’s problems coincide to real-world issues. There are many more women to cover, such as Miss Wedding Belle, Miss Lonely and Miss Off Her Rocker. You can go to the Tough Love Web site to find more of Ward’s rules, and to try to figure out the connection between these women and students in a job search yourself. I’m excited to see what “guerilla tactics” Ward has to give his tough love to PR students in next week’s episode.


By Niki Gautier

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Men Are From Mars…

We have all seen the television shows and movies portraying public relations professionals. Last week, our blog explored these stereotypes of independent, sexy women by examining characters like Samantha Jones of Sex and the City fame. We see this type of woman portrayed in the media all the time, but where are all the men in the public relations world?

According to the Public Relations Society of America’s podcast Endangered Species — Men in Public Relations?, women make up 70 percent of PRSA membership, leaving only 30 percent for men. Even more startling, women comprise 90 percent of Public Relations Student Society of America membership, with men only holding 10 percent of membership. These are shocking differences that show the increasing trend of men absent in the PR field.

Dr. Rochelle Ford of Howard University discusses why men are shying away from professions in public relations during the PRSA podcast. She says, “Focus group research reveals men see public relations as a ‘female’ profession, less respected than other corporate functions, such as marketing and finance.” Ford also says that the lower salaries associated with entry-level public relations positions could deter men from the field.

So, why is the gender gap a problem for the public relations field and what can we do to bridge the gap?

If the trend of female domination of the PR profession continues, men will become extinct in the public relations field and the industry will lack diversity. Women and men have different worldviews and perspectives, and without the male perspective, public relations could become a one-sided profession.

We may not be able to bridge this gap immediately, but we can take several steps to encourage men to look at public relations more closely as a career option or field of study. We need to educate everyone, especially men, about PR and what being a PR professional really entails. Although it is fun to wish for Samantha Jones’ lifestyle, we must realize that lifestyle is only a fantasy for most. Once men see that PR is not just for women with great style and an unlimited credit card, they are more likely to explore public relations as a career option.

Even though women still outnumber men on the planet, we must continue to diversify the public relations field to include more men. Men may be from Mars and women from Venus, but that could be just the type of diversity public relations needs.



By Jessica Boyd

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After the Journey: My Priceless Experience at the 2009 PRSSA National Conference

As promised, I am reporting back to Platform readers to highlight my trip and experiences at the 2009 PRSSA National Conference in San Diego, Ca. Five days come and go too fast, especially when you are busy learning, networking and having the time of your life.

First of all, what a success! I have to applaud the PRSSA National Committee (including Rebecca Timms, National President, and Nick Lucido, National Vice President of Professional Development; both have contributed to Platform in the past). This committee, comprised of eight PR students from across the nation, worked so hard to ensure that this conference was the most valuable it could be for its one-thousand-plus participants, and did they ever succeed. Besides the occasional hotel elevator getting stuck with participants inside (OK, it was more than occasional, but we survived), the conference went off without a hitch. We appreciate all of the hard work and dedication that went into providing us with such a valuable experience – thank you.

So, were my expectations met? Exceeded? I had mentioned several hopes and goals in my previous blog. Some of these were: meeting and networking with other PR students; gaining resources and knowledge from the sessions; and promoting Platform Magazine to students, educators and practitioners, as I was the sole representative of Platform. Missions accomplished.

As I mentioned, there were over 1,000 PR students from around the country, and being PR students, most were talkative and eager to meet people by nature. I met so many wonderful people, and it was so much fun getting the inside scoop on their goals and plans, and even how their PR departments and PRSSA chapters run. We were instructed to bring business cards to network with and that was a great idea! I now have countless contacts from around the country that will be entering the real world in May, just like me, and I plan to keep in touch with as many as possible.

I not only had the pleasure of meeting some of the amazing, talented, soon-to-be graduates who may be my competition for jobs in the near future, but I was also fortunate enough to meet some of the most highly respected PR professionals. Following each session, we were invited and encouraged to ask questions and introduce ourselves to the speakers, which I took full advantage of. I can proudly say that people like James Holtje, Senior Manager of Leadership Communications for Siemens, and Rana Kay, PR Manager for the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, now have my business card (even if it is among hundreds of others). The opportunity to meet some of these people, whom I aspire to be like some day, was priceless.

One of the best experiences of the conference was a special panel called “A Conversation with PR Legends” and included: Joe Epley, APR, Fellow PRSA, Founder and CEO of Epley Associates; John Paluszek, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Counsel at Ketchum; and Jerry Dalton, Jr., APR, Fellow PRSA, Retired Director of Public Affairs of U.S. Air Force. The panel was moderated by UA’s very own Dr. Bruce Berger, Professor in the UA Department of Advertising and Public Relations. This panel, which was sponsored by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, was a discussion based on student questions, with topics ranging from the biggest change witnessed in PR, to the skills most important for a career in international PR, to what can be done to encourage diversity in the field. It truly was an honor to hear these four highly esteemed PR professionals give their words of wisdom to the future of PR.

One portion of the conference was a career exhibition, with companies such as Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard, Up With People, CW Network, 2010 U.S. Census and Ketchum. These companies, among others, set up booths, held short informational interviews with students and accepted resumes and business cards. Students were given a great opportunity to explore companies more in-depth and ask those tough questions that might not be found on a company’s FAQs. I and other UA representatives got the chance to tell PR students about the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and to encourage them to read and contribute to the Platform magazine and blog.

It was a long, tiring trip and San Diego is rough on a college kid’s budget, but in the end, attending the PRSSA 2009 National Conference was one of the most valuable experiences I could have asked for. Not only did I meet amazing people, learn lots and have fun, but I have a more clear vision of what I want for my future and the tools and resources to get me there.

By Amanda Aviles

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