Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Media Missed the Point… Again

By: Miriam Fry

There are many opinions in the world about what PR really is, and what PR professionals do on a daily basis. While PR professionals are not evasive about their job duties and generally do not leave room for interpretation, mainstream media outlets are known to cast stones and write PR off as a pointless field. Many newspapers, broadcast news stations and other sectors of the media do not seem to value PR’s real contributions to society.

Keith Trivitt, author of the blog PRBreakfastClub, illustrates this point beautifully with his post “The Media is Missing the Real Story of PR.” Trivitt references a New York Times article that ran Sunday titled “When Publicists Say ‘Shh!’” Before even delving into it, the title alone is enough to make PR practitioners cringe.

First, the Times article concerns celebrity PR which, in actuality, is only a small portion of the industry. Second, the article describes celebrities, namely Charlie Sheen and R&B singer Chris Brown, who do not seem to trust or value their publicists’ advice. Both celebrities have had episodes of rage and violence that put them in a negative light. The article reports that many celebrities’ press agents have tried to silence their clients in an attempt to rehabilitate their images . . . but why should the PR industry as a whole be bashed because a few publicists have celebrity clients who can’t control their images?

For what it’s worth, PR is about putting your best foot forward. But if your client is always putting his foot in his mouth, what is a publicist to do?

The New York Times reporter missed the point on what PR is. Trivitt’s blog notes some positive PR facts that deserve more media coverage, the most important one being the positive role that PR plays in cities’ economic recoveries.

“New York City alone is home to more than 1,000 PR firms that contribute well north of $1 billion annually to the city’s economy,” Trivitt wrote. That is refreshing to hear in a time when economists say that the U.S. is in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Trivitt also notes, in spite of a faltering economy, annual spending in the PR industry is on the rise.

Trivitt’s blog does a great job of pointing out what the mainstream media is missing when it reports on PR. Although inevitable articles about outraged celebrities won’t do the PR industry justice, one can only hope that the mainstream media will start to get the point. After all, we can help them put their best foot forward.

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A Royal PR Opportunity

By Amanda Coppock

Once upon a time there was a beautiful brunette commoner who went to St. Andrew’s University and caught the eye of a prince. After a long courtship the prince finally proposed to the beautiful commoner and the wedding preparation commenced. It’s a story little girls dream of their whole lives, and for the public relations practitioner, it has become a story that can be used to their advantage.

A royal wedding is always an event to capture the public’s eye, but this wedding has done so even more than in the past. The last royal wedding happened in July of 1981. There were no iPhone apps, no Internet, no DVRs and even VCRs were relatively new. To watch The Royal Wedding of 1981, everyone had to wake up early in the morning to view it. Thirty years later, we can DVR it or even watch it live on the YouTube channel—no T.V. required.

Television was the primary medium for the commoners who wanted to follow the details of Charles and Diana’s Royal Wedding. Today, we have many media channels to follow the story of William and Kate. The official website of the Royal Wedding is complete with a videos from the Royal Channel on YouTube, social media feeds and a blog of recent news. In the iPhone app store there are nearly 60 apps pertaining to the Royal Wedding. If Charles and Diana felt that they were very much in the public eye, William and Kate must feel that their lives are completely transparent.

Like all media today, an integral part of The Royal Wedding is consumer interactivity. No longer is media just television coverage. The Royal Wedding YouTube channel invites us to upload video messages to Kate and William and to sign the digital guestbook. In addition to traditional media buzz around the day, like TLC’s Royal Wedding Week and the Lifetime movie William and Kate, many brands have also taken advantage of The Royal Wedding.

Within a day of the engagement announcement, UK’s The Guardian published an article titled, “The royal wedding PR goldrush,” that discusses how PR folks were already using The Royal Wedding to create excitement. Sealy created a special Crown Jewel bed, VisitBritain created a royal wedding itinerary and everything Kate wears sells out. Positioning items and services around an event as prominent as The Royal Wedding automatically gives the PR professional’s client newsworthiness.

Something about a royal wedding captures our attention and gives us the desire to want to be a part of the big day. With the products that have been positioned around the wedding and the interactivity that technology allows today, even the most common of commoners can become involved. Just as media is no longer something to be consumed passively, the Royal Wedding is no longer an event to simply be watched. It is amazing what 30 years can change for the monarchy and how easy it is for Americans to become a part of their nuptials.

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A Hole In Southwest’s Image?

By Marissa Stabler

I boarded the plane for my last trip to Dallas before my big post-graduation move (road-trip style) next month. Two energetic flight attendants made colorful remarks over the PA system. I took to my iPhone and tweeted how I would miss Southwest’s friendly customer service.

As the airplane ascended, I calmly read April’s issue of Spirit Magazine  (by the way, I never realized what an impact eggs have had on cultures), blissfully unaware that a Southwest jet had made an emergency landing less than an hour earlier  in Yuma, Ariz.

On April 1, a gaping 5-foot hole ruptured in the roof of Southwest Airlines Flight 812 sucking out breathable oxygen, when the plane suffered an explosive decompression at 34,000 feet. The pilots made a rapid descent to a lower altitude with breathable air, and eventually made a safe landing. There were no reported customer injuries. A flight attendant, however, suffered a minor injury.

Southwest responded by grounding 79 Boeing 737-300 airplanes (like Flight 812) for inspection within seven hours of the incident.

“I was not going to fly those airplanes until we understood better why that happened or did an inspection to assure ourselves we didn’t have other airplanes with that [problem],” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said. “My main concern was safety and customer service.”

Southwest issued a public statement within an hour after the plane landed in Yuma, and communicated with passengers via email and text messages, informing them whether their flights had been canceled over the weekend due to the groundings. The airline also kept customers informed through its Facebook page, Twitter and corporate blog several times a day as new information became available.

So, the question is, will the “hole incident” cause lasting harm to Southwest Airlines’ image?

Probably not.

Just like the hole in the roof of its aircraft, any damage to Southwest’s image will likely be repaired quickly on account of the airline’s swift handling of the situation and its favorable reputation.

“There was nothing Southwest failed to do or did improperly,” said Robert Mann Jr., an aviation consultant in Port Washington, N.Y. “This was something no one had seen before.”

Industry analysts say the airline has a solid overall maintenance program, and Southwest has maintained an outstanding safety record with no in-flight fatalities.

Above all, Southwest’s image will survive the incident because it has built a reputation as an airline that cares. The carrier is well-known for its low fares and warm customer service. Where else are you going to get endless Diet Cokes and salted peanuts, and have information serenaded to you in-flight — all for one of the cheapest air fares available?

Customer care is absolute in Southwest’s mission: dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.

This customer service has even flown into the realm of social media. Last month, TIME picked the 140 Best Twitter Feeds. Southwest (@southwestair) was deemed as “one of the few airlines getting it right on Twitter” (JetBlue also made the cut) for its interactive tweets that do an “admirable job helping road warriors do everything from rebook a flight to locate their frequent-flyer rewards.”

“Unless something else happens, [the incident] will be forgotten pretty quickly,” aviation consultant Michael Boyd said. “Southwest has too much of a reputation as an airline that takes care of people.”

Boyd appears to be right. Less than a month after Flight 812 made its emergency landing, Southwest customers took to the carrier’s Facebook page and expressed their gratitude for being an airline that goes the extra mile.

Without a word of complaint — Southwest, you go and top yourself — sending out a LUV voucher just cause we were stuck on the tarmac for a bit of time … and not because of anything you really did — just the silly storm. That’s what I call customer service. Thanks!!!

I ♥ you guys. I had my first Southwest experience this week and it was fantastic. Never did I think I could come to love an airline. Keep it up!

Southwest has the best customer service ever. We were three hours delayed out of LAX yesterday and wouldn’t make it back home because we’d miss our connecting flight. We’d have to spend the time at the Houston Airport (me and my two youngest daughters). William O. at the desk at LAX worked with me and routed me through St. Louis, where… we could stay with family overnight. He worked magic to get us on a full direct flight leaving in 30 minutes and then got us out of a direct flight out of St. Louis. We even got to have dinner with my parents last night. Yeah SW. It could have been a disaster, but it was a nice “extra” vacation day instead.

When I boarded my Southwest flight four days after the hole, I was just as calm as I was when I read “Which Came First?” (the chicken or the egg), partially because of the completed safety inspections, and partially because of the stand-up comedian/peanut provider/flight attendant manning the PA system.

Also published on PROpenMic.

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BP’s Perfect Storm, One Year Later

By: Miriam Fry

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which has been recorded as the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The scope of damage from this spill surpassed even the Exxon-Valdez spill of 1989. The minute Transocean’s oil rig exploded, BP had a PR challenge on hand. Has BP conquered it?

If having an estimated 172 million gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf with your company’s name on it isn’t enough of a PR blunder to overcome, BP had an increasingly difficult time capping the well, and 11 employees, who were working on the rig, died when it exploded. Each of these events serves as a substantial PR challenge, but when all three are combined, the situation becomes a perfect storm of PR challenges.

From July to August 2010, BP tripled its advertising budget to $93 million in an attempt to recover its ruined reputation. Investing in PR was a major financial decision for BP, but did it work?

Well, it will take more than a year to tell, but overall, BP appears to be committed to letting Gulf Coast residents know that the company takes full responsibility for what happened, along with government mandates … what more can BP be expected to do?

The PR campaign consists of traditional news releases, a new website tab titled “Gulf of Mexico Restoration” and financial statements. Perhaps the most direct tactic was the hiring of unemployed residents from Baldwin and Mobile counties in south Alabama to help with the cleanup process.

In addition, the company utilized traditional social media with Twitter, Facebook and a YouTube Channel, all of which increased transparency. The YouTube videos address the situation from the residents’ points of view and are titled “Voices from the Gulf.” The most recent video features Bryan and Brook Zar, owners of Restaurant des Families in Crown Point, La.

Bryan Zar notes that “[BP] stuck by the region, and kept our communities working.” The video points out that the Zars were not compensated for their appearance, ensuring that there is no speculation that BP paid actors to imitate Gulf Coast residents. BP was able to catch candid accounts of what residents thought, which is invaluable to its PR efforts.

As today’s anniversary approached, BP released a video titled “A Year of Change” to illustrate what the company has been doing for the residents of the Gulf Coast. The video begins with an apology from Bob Dudley, the new CEO of BP, in which he says BP “is committed to earning your trust back.” The video details what happened on April 20, 2010, when the rig exploded, as well as every effort to cap it for the three months that followed. The cleanup process is also featured with a tug-on-heart strings as we see pelicans being bathed to rid them of oil.

The video is seemingly transparent, detailed and honest — three words that all PR practitioners value in their work.

The $93 million dollar investment in BP’s PR was just the beginning of its reputation makeover. It has made its message known, and it has opened itself up to not only residents of the Gulf Coast, but the entire country.

What do you think of BP’s PR tactics?

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Please Don’t Go: Fans and Team Relocation

By Wesley Vaughn

Professional sports teams can unite a city. They can bring sadness or jubilation, and they can represent a city in their style of play. They can even pleasantly distract a city from its own harsh realities.

But, they can also move. In effect, teams can divorce cities to move in with a prettier, more financially accommodating city.

Across the country, fans have shared the heartbreak of team relocation. It first began when the Baltimore Colts infamously packed up and left the city during the night for Indianapolis. The footage of their Mayflower moving trucks remains synonymous with relocation.

Short of lying down in front of those trucks, fans can do little to prevent the inevitable agony. However, diehard fans have organized to demonstrate their passion for their team. They have adopted – knowingly or unknowingly – public relations tactics in their efforts.

In 2008, the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and renamed to become the Thunder. The long legal process of relocation provided the time for Sonic fans to create Save Our Sonics, an organization dedicated to keeping the team in Seattle. Probably the most effective response to team relocation, Save Our Sonics became the advocacy group for disgruntled Seattle fans.

There have been many relocations in professional sports, but none drew the same prolonged ire as the one in Seattle. Not only was the city losing a team it had been the home of since 1967, it was the victim of corporate greed. The betrayal began when hometown Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sold the team to an Oklahoma City-based investment group in 2006.

Save Our Sonics had one objective: prevent the team from leaving. It set forth strategies and tactics that included the following:
•    Talk with local and state politicians
•    Seek support from local businesses
•    Ensure fan support remains high
•    Reach out to media in the region
•    Request assistance from non-fans
•    Communicate with the NBA Board of Governors

Though the group ultimately failed, it indirectly targeted NBA owners who may move their teams in the future.

Save Our Sonics was grassroots public relations at its finest and was a refreshing reminder that public relations does not always consist of a large corporation promoting itself with some charity event or big announcement. It was the embodiment of a city’s support for a team that it did not want to lose.

Currently, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings are in the process of moving to nearby Anaheim. Sacramento fans organized Here We Stay last fall to prevent just that. Although it has not been as organized as Save Our Sonics, it modeled itself after the Seattle effort.

Brian Robinson, co-founder of Save Our Sonics, even gave advice to the group in a video for The Sacramento Bee. He especially stressed the importance of building a strong coalition of local businesses to support the construction of a new arena.

In the age of online connectedness, these movements are easier to organize and grow. Both professional sports team owners and fans must recognize the opportunity for such groups to form and the effect they can have. Public relations practitioners must recognize that passion is just as important as a well-written press release.

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Making a Pointe

By: Katherine Baker

In the recent film “Black Swan,” Natalie Portman stars as the ballerina in a production of “Swan Lake.” Portman won the Oscar for best actress for her performance, in which she did most of the dancing.

Recently though, Sarah Lane, Portman’s dance double, made claims that Portman only danced in 5 percent of the shots on screen and that she danced for 95 percent of the dance scenes.

However, Entertainment Weekly published a statement from the film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, defending Portman, which stated that she danced in about 80 percent of the shots, or 90 percent of the movie if you factor in duration.

“There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 80 [percent] Natalie Portman,” Aronofsky said.

In public relations, a practitioner represents his company much like a director represents his movie. As PR people, if a problem comes our way, it is crucial to take initiative and be the one that tackles the problem.

Aronofsky assumed the role of a great PR practitioner.

He went directly to the source, Entertainment Weekly, and set the record straight. No if, ands or buts. I don’t think there will be much more questioning about how many scenes Portman danced.

When a reliable source, such as a director or PR professional, cuts to the chase and sets the public straight, it is very powerful and can change the public’s opinion for the better.

Mila Kunis, Portman’s co-star in “Black Swan,” is quoted in another Entertainment Weekly article stating that Portman is honest about how much footwork she was and was not able to do.

“Natalie danced her a–- off,” Kunis said. “I think it’s unfortunate that this is coming out and taking attention away from [the praise] Natalie deserved and got.”

Having other people in your cast, or on your PR team, back you up when a crisis occurs is also a great and effective way to clear up any confusion.

The director and cast members of “Black Swan” know how to take care of business not only in the ballet world, but in the PR world as well.

In his closing remarks, Aronofsky told Entertainment Weekly, “And to be clear Natalie did dance on pointe in pointe shoes. If you look at the final shot of the opening prologue, which lasts 85 seconds, and was danced completely by Natalie, she exits the scene on pointe. That is completely her without any digital magic.

“I am responding to this to put this to rest and to defend my actor. Natalie sweated long and hard to deliver a great physical and emotional performance. And I don’t want anyone to think that’s not her they are watching. It is.”

Way to make a “pointe” of setting the story straight, Aronofsky.

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Does Calvin Klein know PR? Part Two

By Aman Judge

Calvin Klein officially kicked off its CK One campaign on March 1, but has it really utilized the campaign to its full advantage?

CK One is a campaign meant to attract the younger consumer to the Calvin Klein brand. Although there has been an increase in sales, Calvin Klein has yet to really engage its public to build a better relationship with the consumer.

As noted in my previous blog post, CK One is trying to engage its consumers by interacting with them through different social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and the company’s website. This engagement allows for Calvin Klein to create more of a two-way communication with consumers, especially those of the younger generation.

Calvin Klein set its goals high. With a campaign such as CK One, social media does play a big role, but how you utilize social media plays an even bigger role. #CKOne is Calvin Klein’s source of feedback for the CK One brand on Twitter. CK One also has its own page on Facebook, but it’s hosted through the Calvin Klein page. On both sites Calvin Klein doesn’t take full advantage of this use of social media.

Setting up these accounts is one thing, but utilizing them correctly is another. On the Twitter feed for #CKOne, Calvin Klein has its own CK One models promoting the brand. Although there is reaction from the public, it is usually comments on the brand itself. There are no probing questions that allow for consumers to reply with tweets, nor are there really any ways for its staff to engage with consumers. Rather, the CKOne hashtag consists of people talking about the campaign and prompting consumers to visit the website without real engagement between consumer and company. There is a lack of two-way communication.

The Facebook page is even worse. The Calvin Klein Facebook page has all of the posts for the CK One brand. I wasn’t sure if this was on purpose because Calvin Klein is still the parent brand, and CK One is a new, but separate, brand. The CK One Facebook app page has posts on it, but they are posted sparingly, so sparingly that there are only five posts.

One form of engagement between the consumer and CK One is through the CK One website. CK One posts statuses on Facebook and Twitter that direct you back to the website. For example, one post prompts younger consumers to post a video telling about their secret crush.

This seems too regulatory, but it is still engaging with the consumer. There are two drawbacks to this. 1.) You must sign in to post or view videos and 2.) There is no real feedback. While providing a way for consumers to engage, the website doesn’t offer two-way communication with the brand itself.

If you go through the effort of utilizing social media platforms, remember to be strategic. CK One’s failure to establish two-way communication serves as a lesson to PR practitioners.

*Edited version of a blog orginally posted on PROpenMic.

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