Monthly Archives: January 2011

The PR of Politics

By Amanda Coppock

In light of recent remarks by Alabama’s newly elected Gov. Robert Bentley, I can’t help but wonder: do politicians realize they have such a strong impact on their states’ reputations? Any governor of a state or president of a country has a big job: not only to serve their political function, but also to serve as the PR person of the area they represent.

When electing politicians, citizens often consider far more than the political stance of the hopefuls. The politician’s ability to present himself and his reputation — both morally and politically — likely influences most citizens’ votes. We would never (I hope) elect someone who was known for infidelity, heavy drinking or violent tendencies. These traits do not necessarily lessen the individual’s ability to govern but do make unappealing qualities in a representative.

This is not to say that Gov. Bentley has a bad reputation or questionable morals — in fact it is quite the opposite. He is known for his strong religious convictions, which perhaps led to this PR blunder. During a church service before his inauguration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day he said, “So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”

Speaking as a Baptist preacher or even as an individual citizen, Bentley would not have raised any eyebrows. However, speaking as the governor, Bentley did not choose his words wisely, which implied that he would only represent Christians. Some even felt that he was trying to use his position to push Christianity upon others. These remarks quickly caught the attention of the national news, primarily because fewer people were upset by his comments than would be expected. While what he said was not bad in and of itself, it made Alabama citizens look like they do not accept those of other religions.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are many politicians whose loose morals have been the cause of bad PR for their states. Take, for example, former Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. As if having an extramarital affair would not bring enough negative attention to his state, using state funds to travel to Argentina and lying about his whereabouts added insult to injury. He has managed to fly somewhat under the radar since the publicity explosion of 2009, but most people now think of his scandal when considering South Carolina politics.

Needless to say, politicians are in a very public position. Their personal opinions and choices affect their politics. As a citizen, I hope that those elected think about PR in everything they do. Public relations is all about relating to the public, which is something a politician must do on a daily basis. While remaining under constant public scrutiny cannot be easy, it is a part of a politician’s job description and so it is his responsibility to keep that in mind.

What do you think about a politician’s responsibilities when it comes to representing her citizens? Should her personal life and opinions weigh on her ability to govern?

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Networking: The Power of Face-to-Face Communication

By Libby Page

With the start of a new year, many PR students and professionals are seeking job opportunities. This is a daunting task for most people. From sorting through job applications to assembling the perfect portfolio, the experience is overwhelming.

When I began my personal job search, I felt overwhelmed and stressed as well. Recently I have reaped benefits from networking with business professionals. Many people overlook the importance of face-to-face communication. In a world that is on technology overload, it is important to get your face in the door in order to be memorable.

One of the most difficult tasks is getting the networking process started. I began by making a list of contacts that I had met or heard of through internships, family and friends. Another way to gain contacts is to attend a PRSSA conference or meeting. PR professionals attend these meetings and conferences because they want to help students. Ask a professional if they would be willing to meet with you to talk about opportunities in the field.

Once you gain your contacts, call these individuals and ask if you can set up an informational meeting. Although most people would prefer to send an e-mail, it shows a higher level of interest if you call. Also, most professionals receive hundreds of e-mails a day. If you call you become more memorable to the employer.

Informational meetings are great for learning about the PR field and the opportunities available. Even if the company you are meeting with isn’t searching for new employees, chances are they know someone who has openings. Here are some networking tips to help you along the way:

1. Meet with as many people as possible.
Don’t limit yourself. If you meet with multiple individuals, your chances of landing a job somewhere will increase. It is important not to put all your eggs in one basket. Be willing to expand your horizon and meet with people in different job settings. You will be surprised at the different perspectives and pieces of advice you gain from each experience.

2. Be genuine.
Networking is about creating authentic relationships so that you can maximize your career options. Be yourself so that you can find a job that truly fits your personality.

3. Never ask: “How can I get a job?”
You are accountable for your own success. Don’t make the employer feel obligated towards you. Instead, let the professional know you are seeking guidance.

4. Ask open-ended questions.
Don’t ask yes or no questions. You want the employer to do all the talking. You’re the one who requested the interview after all! So ask questions that will help you. Here are some of my favorites: How were you able to gain success in your career? What are some of the key characteristics you look for in employees? What advice do you have for someone like me who is just starting out?

5. Always follow up with a handwritten thank-you note.
Write a thank-you note to every person you meet during your appointment. Let them know you appreciated their time.

Although the job hunt can be stressful, it also can be interesting and exciting. Stay positive in your thoughts about the future. You have something special and distinctive to offer to the PR field.

What tactics have helped you find jobs/internships?

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Staying Social Beyond Facebook

By Hannah McDaniel

A social networking panic recently arose when an article released by Weekly World News, reported that Facebook was shutting down. Mind you, this is a blog that regularly reports on aliens and mutants. That said, people panicked. Facebook representatives quickly squashed the rumors, and members’ blood pressure stabilized.

What if Facebook dissapeard forever? What would you do?

Lately, I have heard people say that social media is played out or that it is a passing fad. Yet I hear Twitter references in worship services. Students and faculty alike use the expression “Facebook me” on a regular basis; and “The Social Network,” the movie about the rise of Facebook, recently became a hit at the box office. These events lead me to believe that Facebook is, in fact, very important and not going anywhere.

So, why do some debate that social media isn’t here to stay? I think this can be answered with another question: is all social media fading, or is Facebook becoming less powerful?

I will be the first to say that Facebook is one of the most influential sites, not only for PR professionals, but also for anyone wanting to give or receive information – or just to kill time. There are some companies that rely solely on Facebook for their online presence, rather than having a website. Even with privacy settings, one can easily learn a lot about a person based on the information on their profile.

While Facebook is useful in many aspects, PR practitioners should also embrace the endless niche-specific social networking sites that can be used to our advantage.

Here is a list of some of my favorites:

Twitter
– Twitter is great for self-promotion. It has become the new status update and is useful for business networking. However, it is easy to get lost. If you still have trouble navigating around Twitter, then try out a website such as TwitTip.
– Example: A small town Chick-fil-A restaurant has more than 100,000 followers. How? It’s all about the incentives. With all the money it saves by using free promotions, it can afford to give out discounted products to its followers.

LinkedIn
– LinkedIn is another site that is great for business. However, you aren’t going to find someone talking about anything other than business. Use LinkedIn for your behind-the-scenes work. LinkedIn is great for networking, connections and, in some cases, self-promotion.
– Example: Skip Freeman, author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Change . . . Forever!, has more than 500 connections whom he uses to network and hire for his clients at the Hire to Win Group recruiting firm.

YouTube
– There’s nothing better than an addictive viral video that makes your publics laugh while delivering a message. However, too many times a creative team creates a video without ensuring the desired message is delivered. That’s where YouTube comes in.
– Example: Trigon Blue Cross Blue Shield’s series of commercials featuring two small children discussing health topics has gathered more than 10 million views. Consequently, Blue Cross Blue Shield is one of the first health insurance companies I think of when I think about going to the doctor.

PROpenMic.com
– A growing hodge-podge of all things PR, this site is great for agency, in-house and consulting practitioners. PROpenMic is not new, but it is still gaining momentum. With 6,000+ members worldwide, it’s no small site. The social networking site is great for networking with other practitioners, as well as as keeping informed about some of the newest things happening in the field.
– Example: One of the main stories on the home page right now is called PR v. Marketing. Not only is there a video of two professors debating the subject, but there is also a blog with detailed information about each argument.

There are countless interest-focused and industry-focused social networking sites out there. The key is to remember that social media does not have to be the same as social networking. While the two are related, they are not always co-dependent.

So the next time you sit down and start planning your social media communications plan, remember: it’s not just Facebook anymore. And don’t be panicked about this either. This is a good thing — embrace it and try to keep up!

What are some of your favorite ways and places to use social media?

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Oprah and the Ethics of Enticement

By Karissa Bursch

As one of the most recognizable and influential women in the world, Oprah Winfrey appears to be everywhere. She is a self-employed philanthropist, a TV personality, an actress and a producer. She has her own highly successful talk show, magazine, radio channel and an up-and-coming television network. How does this one woman do it all while still maintaining a pristine image and a consistent level of success? Is it just an uncanny sense of great PR or is it something else?

I began thinking about this question when I saw an Entertainment Weekly headline reading, “Oprah promises to reveal family secrets.” Upon further Google research I discovered that today, Jan. 24, Oprah promised to announce on her talk show “something so shocking and groundbreaking about her family life that not even she was in on it until somewhat recently.” She was quoted as saying in a promo for the episode, “[I] was given some news that literally shook me to my core. This time, I’m the one being reunited. I was keeping a family secret for months, and on Monday you’re going to hear it straight from me.”

When I saw this I was somewhat shocked. Is this what needs to be done to continue obtaining large viewership? I will admit I am just as intrigued as anybody else at the prospect of getting to hear a celebrity’s family gossip, but I have to wonder at the ethical implications of this kind of PR.

I think it is her right to share or not share any information about her personal life, but when such information is used as a PR angle, that’s when I think you toe the ethical line.

Has Oprah used this tactic in the past? I feel like she has not. I think that a more positive type of PR can be achieved by proactive action and person-to-person audience communication instead of just giving away “family secrets.” She’s shown she can achieve this. Oprah should look to herself as an example and, instead of using cheap tricks for her talk show, use a more professional PR tactic.

In the sports and entertainment field it can be easy to use sensational news to garner attention for a client. However, there are different, more positive ways like fundraising and political activism that can potentially be just as successful.

Do you think it is a smart move using family secrets as an enticement for viewers? Do you think this calls into question any PR ethics?

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College Students: Not Your Average Audience

By Karissa Bursch

College students are a popular target audience for marketing initiatives. They’re young and vibrant with specialized tastes. They are ready to try anything and go anywhere. According to CampusClients they are comprised of “a geographically stable, affluent group of more than 18 million people aged 18 to 24.” However, college students are commonly lacking the things most public relations professionals hope they have: a lot of disposable income, permanent addresses and frequent viewing of mass advertisements outside a campus environment.

So this is my advice to PR professionals looking to reach out to college audiences. Play by the college students’ rules!

Don’t bother spending a lot of money. Put yourself in the mind of a college student and think, “What is the cheapest way to do this?”. A lot of on-campus student newsletters and other publications are willing to print advertisements for a relatively inexpensive fee. In an article on CNN Money titled “Marketing to College Students”, Susan Otte, director of marketing at Boston University, said, “Working with the student publications on campus is usually really inexpensive.” She said these publications are often printed during the summer or the first week of school, enabling you to make connections and secure visibility early.

Another low-budget way for a PR professional to reach out to the college audience is through on-campus events where companies are allowed to market their services to students. Beth Goldstein,CEO of Marketing Edge Consultant Group, said in the same article, “There are events that go on for students within the first few weeks, and those are great opportunities to get access to the incoming students and their parents. That’s key because, depending on the product, the parents could be a better asset.”

Don’t spend money trying to reach students directly via snail mail – which will prove difficult, both in procuring a permanent address and in getting students to even open the mail. Do as any other good PR practitioner would: use e-mail and social media. Jerome Katz, a professor of entrepreneurship at Saint Louis University, said in the CNN Money article, “Incoming freshmen classes are electronically driven. If you’re trying to sell to the parents of those students then, yes, direct mail is the way to do it. But rather than focus all of your energies on accessing students at home, utilize e-mail and social networking websites through which the college generation is available almost 24 hours a day.”

Try making accounts on social media websites, and personally reach out to students instead of using sidebar advertisements. Honestly, college students are used to being marketed to and appreciate a more personal approach.

Lastly, Ryan Bladzik, the owner and principal at Great Lakes Creative Marketing and Communications, suggested on LinkedIn the best approach for reaching out to college students is not to blanket them as just “college students,” but to reach out specifically to different groups within that audience. Students in college acquire specialized interests and do specific extracurricular activities.

Bladzik said, “Student groups have been mentioned as good ways to zero-in your messages to a small, attentive group and make them very relevant and effective. Your student affairs office should be willing to work with you to be in better touch with Greek Life organizations, honor societies, and major/field related organizations; the types of groups that would be most interested in career services.”

For a PR professional, college students can be a great resource to widen the visibility for your client or message. Just keep in mind what it takes to connect with them! Remember, this is not your average audience.

What are some of the methods you’ve used in the past to market to college students?

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Successful Social Media: It’s All About the Basics

By Megan Cotton

If social media is a free way to communicate with your public, why doesn’t every company have a successful Facebook fan page with thousands of fans or an established Twitter with tweets that make followers feel personally connected? If every company and brand have the same access to free media and people, what is the difference that pulls one or two campaigns out of the crowd?

Rich Sullivan, president and executive creative director of Red Square Agency, said grabbing the attention of an audience is all about sticking with campaign basics: you need to have a solid concept that connects with people.

“People think just because it’s free media you can just produce something and it will go viral,” Sullivan said. “It is free, but the time it takes is pretty steep and very intricate.”

Sullivan and Red Square Agency are responsible for the first re-branding of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama in 20 years. The concept behind the “Be You” campaign is that when your health is taken care of, you are free to be yourself. It is a fresher take on an old campaign that focused on telling the story of the customer.

Since storytelling is still the center of the concept, the company established a social sharing website that gives customers a chance to interact with Blue Cross Blue Shield more than just through Facebook or Twitter.

“The challenge was that we’ve been stuck in a one-way communication with traditional media,” Sullivan said. “With a brand that is based on storytelling, it was essential that we gave people a platform. Social media is essentially a way for people to tell their story, so for a brand that is all about storytelling, integrating it made sense.”

Another strategy is allowing brands to “go there” and take that extra step to be entertaining. The new, re-branded Mr. Peanut is all about two-way communication. The Planters Nuts spokes-peanut is a regular user of Facebook and is always talking with his fans. When one fan showed his appreciation by shaving a picture of Mr. Peanut on the back of his head, Mr. Peanut responded with a picture of the fan shaved on the back of his head.

These campaigns work because they each focused first on finding great concepts for their re-branding initiatives — simple ideas that would work across all media. Then, they found the forms of two-way communication that work best for their key publics. So while any company can create a Twitter or Facebook page, there is no guaranteed success. Success requires a solid foundation, hard work and an in-depth understanding of the key audience.

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