Monthly Archives: December 2010

Holiday PR: Companies Who Believe It’s Better to Give Than Receive

During a time of year when time and money seem to be consistently troublesome issues, companies and organizations are working to share the wealth by generously giving back to the public and their communities. Public relations professionals know the importance of holiday PR and the enormous success that’s possible if it’s done correctly.

Last year, Barnes & Noble’s Annual Holiday Book Drive successfully collected more than 1.1 million books for children in need. Every year, each store selects an organization in its community to donate the books to; recipients include “Reach Out and Read,” “Boys & Girls Clubs of America” and local children’s hospitals. According to its website, the corporation also gives back on a national level. In 2009, it granted 50,000 books to Toys For Tots and another 150,000 books to the New Orleans School District through Reader to Reader Inc., a nonprofit organization that allocates books to schools and libraries in need.

“The Barnes & Noble Holiday Book Drive could not succeed without the passion of our booksellers and generosity of our customers,” Sarah DiFrancesco, director of community relations, is quoted as saying in a press release found on the company’s website. “This is a holiday tradition for us and a great opportunity for our stores and customers to come together to donate new books for children in the community who really need them.”

While media outlets are packed with themed gift guides, recipes and seasonal trends, the holiday season can be a difficult time to get a message out to the public. However, well-timed campaigns offers great opportunities for businesses, organizations and individuals to focus on their relationships with internal and external publics.

Mercedes-Benz of Greenwich builds relationships by remaining involved in the local community through participation with charitable organizations and partnerships with local companies. This year, the dealership presented its Reindeer Festival & Santa’s Workshop, held between Nov. 26 and Dec. 24. Event proceeds will go to “Kids in Crisis,” a Connecticut shelter that helps deprived children and families and works to help them escape unfortunate situations.

Through the “Heroes at Home” program, Sears has collaborated with Cause World to support military service members. The program helps provide support to service members, veterans and their families through joint efforts with various nonprofit organizations, including Rebuilding Together. For disabled veterans, the company’s goal is to raise $3 million and help rebuild 750 homes for military veterans this holiday season. To aid service members away from their families, donors can give online and assist parents coordinating Christmas without help. According to Sears.com, $1,900,000 in gift cards has already been raised this holiday season.

According to a 2010 Cone Holiday Trend Tracker survey, nearly nine out of 10 consumers want companies to support causes this holiday season, and 78 percent want to be personally engaged in these efforts.

“The holidays are a time when companies can go back to cause marketing basics, seamlessly integrating two traditions that define the season—shopping and giving,” said Craig Bida, executive vice president for Cause Branding and Nonprofit Marketing at Cone, in a PR Newswire news release. “Companies can use this time to raise mass amounts of awareness and dollars for critical issues through simple acts of consumer engagement.”

While philanthropic acts of kindness are good public relations practices for a company or organization, going the extra mile through genuine involvement can pay off and may be worth it for a company to forfeit the convenience of simply writing a check. This type of giving back not only strengthens a business, but also builds, maintains or repairs relationships with its publics. Spreading cheer and giving back during the holiday season is an excellent way for companies to help others and help themselves.

By Jessica West

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10 Blogs Every PR Professional Should Follow

By this point, every public relations professional should know the benefits of utilizing social media. It is common knowledge that Facebook and Twitter are great ways to directly contact your target public; however, we must remember these sites can also serve as resources to stay up-to-date on the latest industry news and trends.

According to an allfacebook.com article written by Brian Ward, there are 10 Facebook pages every public relations professional should follow.

“The public relations field is currently one of the fastest growing professions in the United States,” Ward said. “To have success as a PR professional, as with all professions, it is essential to keep up with the latest news and techniques in the industry. Today we researched ten Facebook pages to make staying current with the latest going on in the public relations profession a little bit easier.”

What you should follow and why, as Ward described them

1. PRWeek US: PRWeek has been a reputable publication for more than a decade. The title includes news, techniques, research, reviews and so much more essential information for its PR-savvy readers. PRWeek’s Facebook page includes updates from each issue, discussions from others in the field, video footage and podcasts. See what fellow public relations professionals are saying, and be sure to add your own opinion by fanning the page.

2. PR in Your Pajamas: PR in Your Pajamas is a blog run by extremely successful entrepreneur Elena Verlee who appeared on the list “20 Women for Entrepreneurs to Follow on Twitter.” Her blog offers tips and opinions aimed at entrepreneurs and small businesses. By following PR in Your Pajamas, you’ll find regular updates, a tab that keeps you current with the blog and a great amount of information that serves as a great resource to anyone in the field.

3. PR News : PR News is a source for the latest industry news, as well as a great place to connect and network. Fan their Facebook page for events and frequent updates that include news, articles and discussions.

4. PR on Facebook: PR on Facebook, which has more than 15,000 fans, is a place to network with other public relations practitioners and those interested in the field. Find various events, tips and start or join conversations with professionals from around the globe.

5. Danny Brown: Danny Brown is the Executive Director at Bonsai Interactive Marketing, and his blog offers great tips for anyone in the PR industry. His Facebook page is an interactive place that offers a tab linking you to his free Ebook and blog. The page also includes updates with tips, industry news and some excellent discussion questions to prompt conversation between his visitors.

6. The Future Buzz: The Future Buzz is focused on the PR, media and marketing industry. Adam Singer, who has quite an impressive resume, writes the blog and covers a wide variety of helpful and informative subjects. Keep up The Future Buzz on Facebook for updates directly from the site.

7. Public Relations Society of America (PRSA): PRSA is one of the largest organizations for public relations professionals in the world. Head to the PRSA Facebook page to keep up with the latest events, news and even search for jobs. Network with professionals from all over the globe, and be sure to add your opinion to any of the posts and articles. Whether you are a member of the organization or not, feel free to keep up with the PRSA Facebook page for great insights and information regarding the industry.

8. Edelman: Edelman is one of the top PR firms in the world with multiple prestigious awards to back their work. They frequently update their Facebook page with the company’s latest happenings, and it is a great place to go for inspiration and information. Be sure to comment on their projects and notes about their staff members.

9. Platform Online Magazine: Platform Online Magazine covers a wide variety of public relations issues. Their online presence allows them to continually post relevant and fresh content. Head to the online publication’s Facebook page for their upcoming events, articles and blogs from the magazine and other information and current events centered around the industry.

10. PR Job Watch: Though it is a group instead of a page, PR Job Watch is a great place for those seeking employment in the industry. The group is based out of London, but it is a decent place to network with more than 3,700 other public relations professionals. The discussions page and the wall are both filled with potential jobs.

These 10 pages can be beneficial to not only PR professionals, but also PR students. There are just some things you can’t learn from a textbook. These sites give students the opportunity to connect with professionals in the industry as well as keep up with current trends in the field. When I was a freshman taking my introduction to public relations class, Facebook and Twitter were not the strong Internet sites they are now. If I simply used the knowledge I gained as a freshman I would be left behind. Instead, I use that knowledge as a strong foundation and build upon it with great resources such as those listed above. Without learning from the top professionals, how do we expect to have the opportunity to work alongside them someday?

U.S. News recently named public relations one of the top careers for 2011. This is another great reason to stay current on industry trends and news. Employment of public-relations specialists is expected to increase by more than 66,000 jobs, or 24 percent, between 2008 and 2018, according to the Labor Department. I believe were bestowed this honor because, as a field, we are ever evolving, taking the steps to learn new strategies.

According to Gary McCormick, 2010 chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, the rise of social media has made an impact on the public relations field. McCormick said in the U.S News article that these days, companies expect PR professionals to be intimately acquainted with digital marketing and social networking.

“[Social media] is a tactic, but it’s a strategy as well,” McCormick said. “The person that understands social media from that standpoint — not just the technology — is really going to make a difference.”

How can you become more knowledgeable about social media and current trends? The first step is following the pages listed above.

What sites do you use to stay up-to-date in the industry?

By Katie Breaseale

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‘Tis the Season for Customer Service

It’s that season again . . . time for the hustle and bustle and last minute holiday shopping. Whether you are fighting the crowds at malls or sitting at your home computer, quality customer service makes any shopping experience that much better. Customer service is a PR tool any company must employ to be successful.

An article posted on Newsweek explains the top 10 stores that offer the best customer service provided by the National Retail Federation.  In alphabetical order:

-Amazon 
-JC Penny
-Kohl’s
-Lands End
-L.L. Bean
-Newegg
-Nordstrom
-Overstock.com
-QVC
-Zappos

This ranking is based on excellent customer service, familiarity and availability of staff and various communication outlets. Here are a few of the stores that meet customers’ needs.

One way L.L. Bean ensures quality customer service is through customer care on its website. Its website provides the ability to chat live with a representative or customers can contact an L.L. Bean representative via phone or e-mail. L.L. Bean also has an admired return policy that allows customers to return items at anytime, regardless of when they made their purchases.

Though Nordstrom is the only high-end retailer to make the top 10 list, like L.L. Bean, Nordstrom also has a generous return policy. Items can be returned at anytime and you are guaranteed a full refund. Nordstrom hires knowledgeable staff and has a sufficient number of people working in each department, making your shopping experience smooth and time-efficient.

Amazon is strictly an online store. A perk of buying from Amazon is that you can shop from home, which is convenient for people who work regularly or have children at home. If you have any questions or concerns, you can contact Amazon representatives through e-mail, or a representative can call you back if you leave your phone number. Providing your number and waiting for a call back saves you unnecessary hold time on the phone. Customers can also sell products on Amazon. After uploading inventory, once your product is purchased, Amazon transfers payments to you.

In an article titled “Customer Service is Public Relations,” Dave Fleet states, “Every touchpoint with your customers has the potential to either build loyalty or breed dissatisfaction.”

Public Relations is all about pleasing your clients; PR professionals understand customer service makes or breaks a relationship. The PR strategies you employ with your clients through quality customer service can impact the future you have with those key publics.

People enjoy when shopping is simple; these stores’ PR departments have it down. They know what it takes to have a positive shopping experience, and they realize that quality customer service will establish a returning clientele.

Where have you shopped and experienced quality customer service?

By Paige Niewerth

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Airport Security: TSA asking for TMI?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA)  recently decided to maximize the efforts of their aviation and surface transportation security policies. Among others, cargo screening and pat-down methods are two of the areas in which TSA is heightening its surveillance. The general public is none-too-pleased by the extreme measures TSA is taking, and is making it known.

Overnight, these detailed screenings and invasive pat-downs have become controversial issues. Many travelers have become overwhelmed by the so-called “enhanced” procedures, and stories of disputed incidents flood news outlets.

An Associated Content article quotes Fort Lauderdale Airport passenger Thomas Mollman, saying that a male TSA officer “… put his hands between my underwear and my skin, and did a 360 all the way around touching certain sensitive points in the back and in the front.”

TSA believes this new strategy is imperative and doesn’t appear to be backing down from its current stance anytime soon. TSA representatives are very straightforward with passengers by clearly stating, “If you refuse both [full-body scan and pat-down], you can’t fly.”

Transportation Security officers have even encountered dramatic objective displays by passengers stripping down to their underwear. On Thanksgiving Day, a man entered Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix sporting only a Speedo and the words “I heart TSA” written on his body, according to a Fox News article. With more than 11,000 YouTube views of the footage, these sardonic protest attempts are clearly being heard.

During a November Capitol Hill hearing, TSA Chief John Pistole remained composed and absolute when addressing the public’s snowballing dispute over the issue. He referred to last year’s attempted Christmas Day airport bombing when explaining the necessity for the controversial procedures.

“We know the terrorists’ intent is still there,” Pistole said. “We are using technology and protocols to stay ahead of the threat and keep you safe. Several near-misses by terrorists on airplane bombings got through security because we were not being thorough enough in our pat-downs.”

While able to justify why they took such drastic precautions and even alleviate some of the controversy concerning privacy matters, those were minor issues compared to the PR predicament waiting around the corner.

In a recent Huffington Post column, author Charles Kearney asserted that the new body-scanning machines and full-body pat down routines limit constitutional freedoms.

“The mainstream media sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly informs the American public that travel is a privilege, not a right,” Kearney said. “This is simply incorrect. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to travel.”

Additionally, he theorized that these enhanced safety procedures allow law enforcement agencies to violate others’ Fourth Amendment rights, as well.

“TSA now has the … authority to search, seize and question any innocent American who attempts to travel at an airport, without any probable cause whatsoever,” Kearny said. “This is an astounding civil liberties and criminal liability regression.”

The combination of a traumatized citizen, a powerful lawyer and streaming media outlets could quickly create a major public relations nightmare for TSA. Kearny predicts that it is only a matter of time before an individual publicly protests the unfair ultimatum—feeling violated or forgetting their flight—that they’re being handed.

TSA may have dodged one bullet, but it’s still facing another (if not multiple). We have yet to see how the public will respond if, and when, holiday travels are interrupted. While TSA surely had good intentions, the move may have landed it in the midst of a broad public relations blunder.

What do you think about the recently introduced security policies and how do you feel they’ll impact the Transportation Security Administration in the long-run?

By Jessica West

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WikiLeaks “Hacktivists” on a Mission for Transparency

An article published Wednesday, Dec. 8, by FoxNews.com addressed attacks toward companies trying to censor information published on WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is allegedly in the midst of a campaign called “Operation: Payback.”

The article says MasterCard was the most recently attacked website by so-called “hacktivists” in support of “anti-censorship.” The next victim was Twitter. Allegedly, the “hacktivists” temporarily shut down MasterCard’s website.

“MasterCard was the first to experience issues,” the article said. “The site remains disabled following attacks, though the company would not confirm to the Associated Press whether WikiLeaks was involved. Spokesman James Issokson said MasterCard was trying to restore service Wednesday [Dec. 8] but was not sure how long that would take.”

So the obvious questions arise: What did these sites do to deserve becoming the prey of extremely damaging Internet activism? How does a site powered by random individuals have enough power to bring down big websites like Twitter?

According to FoxNews.com, MasterCard completely severed all ties with WikiLeaks for reasons not stated, while Twitter tried to censor a recent #wikileaks discussion.

The bottom line is, the connection between WikiLeaks supporters and these websites no longer exists. WikiLeaks is making the first move in the battle for “anti-censorship,” and “hacktivists” are proving that the Internet only gives them more power. Supporters are making it a point to show the Internet and the public that classified information is always attainable.

FoxNews.com spoke to Chester Wisniewski, senior security advisor of Sophos security firm, about the issue.

“This is the first time we’re seeing mass civil unrest on the Internet,” Wisniewski said. “We haven’t really seen a public uprising like this before. And it’s a surprise to a lot of the public that the Internet is that fragile, that individual people can have an impact like that.”

Transparency, Transparency, Transparency. WikiLeaks’s mission is “dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. Provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. Publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices.”

WikiLeaks seems like a dream come true for journalists, but what about public relations professionals? A public relations practitioner’s goal, though always striving for transparency, is to create long-term relationships with shareholders, consumers, other businesses and other publics and to generate a positive image.

With websites like WikiLeaks, advantages and disadvantages arise. The same is true with any and all confidential information available at the click of a button. This topic is nothing new, but because WikiLeaks now provides the public with a new level of access to confidential information, it’s important for any public relations professional to keep these things in mind:

Advantages:

1. The free-flow of information on the Internet provides instant transparency.

2. The Internet holds public relations practitioners, and other professionals accountable.

3. Online media outlets provide the public with timely information.

4. The public can stay constantly informed and up-to-date.

5. The Internet allows for the consumer’s voice to be heard at all times.

6. The Internet is an easy and economical resource for communicating to a key public.

Disadvantages:

1. There is no company privacy. Everything is searchable and traceable.

2. Every move you make is under a magnifying glass.

3. It is vital to constantly update information related your organization.

4. The number of outlets that require regulating is exponential, and can be discouraging.

5. The Internet has the potential to easily damage your client/organization’s reputation.

These advantages and disadvantages are only a handful out of many that can help or hinder a public relations practitioner. We’ve seen firsthand from the WikiLeaks example what the public is capable of. The sayings, “the customer is always right,” and “give the customer what they want,” ring true now more than ever.

By Laura Rabushka

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New Social Network: “Come Together” for a Cause

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes officially launched his much-buzzed-about social network, Jumo, on Nov. 30. Hughes, 27, helped create Facebook from his Harvard dorm room and also served as the social media genius behind Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He has now narrowed his focus from friend requests and politics to a more notable cause — social activism.

Of the $263 billion Americans give to charity each year, 5.7 percent is given online, according to Blackbaud Inc.’s index of online giving, which tracks fundraising.

Thus far, other social networks have failed to connect individuals and nonprofits more efficiently and less expensively than traditional means.

Hughes said Jumo, which means “to come together,” makes it easier for people to discover, follow and support the causes that are meaningful to them and to their friends, family members and colleagues. The hope is that, over time, people will form a deeper relationship with and commitment to those causes.

According to Mashable, Jumo, with 3,500 organizations on board at launch, would-be philanthropists can find and follow something of interest upon joining.

“We can make it easier for people to connect with the professionals working in a lot of fields in order to make change happen,” Hughes said. “There are a million different groups out there working day in, day out to provide healthcare or education services, or do good government work and I think that our challenge is not to use social media to reinvent the engagement paradigm, but instead to support the work of the people who are out there getting the job done, day in, day out.”

This is a very positive shift in the world of social media. By using Jumo, users are making a bigger statement than simply clicking a “like” button; they can now connect directly with the cause they care about and donate in a fast, simple way. The site will not simply be a platform for donations, however. The main goal of Jumo is to promote the giving of time and effort, thereby creating relationships between the donor and the organization.

As Hughes told The Huffington Post, “Most every site that’s out there focuses on donations. And, don’t get me wrong, donating to organizations, especially right now, is really important. But Jumo is taking a very different approach. It’s not just about how much money are you donating to this or that group. It’s about what kind of relationship you are building with that organization.”

By Katie Breaseale

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My Phone=My Life

Most of us can’t get through the day without our cell phones. We feel naked and separated from society; we have to consistently be in the know. We constantly use them in the car, walking down the street and working out; we even attempt to discretely mess around on them in restaurants.

Some are so in love with their cell phones that they are taking them to the grave. An article posted on The Huffington Post, revealed some people are taking cell phones, BlackBerrys and Wii consoles with them when they are buried.

Isn’t this a little ridiculous?

Most of us use our cell phones for basic features: phone calls, texts and e-mails. In this generation, however, we use cell phones for much more. We have to immediately be aware of anything posted on Facebook and Twitter, and thousands of apps are now available for free. From ESPN to Urbanspoon, at the tip of your fingers, you easily find apps capable of providing any kind of information.

Multimedia has officially consumed our lives, and it’s becoming very clear that some people just can’t seem to live without it. According to a study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, teens between the ages of 8 and 18 devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes over the course of a typical day to media use. This includes cell phone, iPod, video game and TV use.

As PR majors, we are encouraged to have multimedia on our mind every second of the day. We are taught to be aware of the news and to be accessible to all forms of social media.

Are we leading ourselves into a black hole?

The PR industry has turned into a 24/7 job. We have to be available to the public any time of the day. But when it comes to managing our time, when is it okay to step away and take a break from technology? What if a crisis takes place when we are separated from our smart phones? As with many jobs, you have to find balance and know when it’s time to put the phone down.

As much as we would all like to deny that phones aren’t vital parts of our lives, I think that would be difficult to do. Cell phones are a huge convenience, and without them, life just wouldn’t be the same.

By Paige Niewerth

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