Monthly Archives: September 2011

Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

by: Meghan Rodriguez

If you happened to be on Facebook or Twitter the night of September 5, you most likely saw status updates and tweets referring to Maryland football. But the posts had nothing to do with touchdowns or sacks, and everything to do with the University of Maryland’s uniforms. In its season opener against the Miami Hurricanes, the Terps debuted new Under Armour uniforms and helmets, featuring a never-before-seen design scheme inspired by the Maryland state flag.

Maryland defeated the Hurricanes that night in a surprising 34-24 win, but the team also won off the field. That night, and in the days after, everybody was talking about the hideousness of the uniforms; so much that the topic began trending on Twitter. The uniforms catapulted Maryland athletics into the national spotlight, a place it hadn’t been since its basketball team won the national championship in 2002.

The next day on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, hosts Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser devoted a majority of the show to the uniform discussion.

“There’s no other story; Maryland’s winning doesn’t matter jack to people outside where we live,” Wilbon said. “These uniforms are so ugly, they’re brilliantly ugly, because this is going to set the agenda for what every school in America is going to do with their uniforms. They’re hideous, brilliantly hideous.”

Even CNN, which usually doesn’t cover college football, was stirring up conversation when it interviewed Monte Durham, fashion director, stylist and host of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress. Durham, who normally wouldn’t have any commentary on sports, was actually impressed by the uniforms and commented on their fashionable design elements: “I think while this is totally out of the box, it is fun to see it’s happening in a sports arena.”

The uniforms were in fact hideous, but all the buzz circulating around them and the Maryland football program raised the question: is there such a thing as bad publicity?

Maryland isn’t the first team to wear nontraditional uniforms on the football field. Every Saturday, college football fans tune in to see which of its more than 500 uniform combinations The University of Oregon Ducks will run out of the tunnel wearing. Perhaps that’s what Maryland is attempting with its athletics program.

Just a few years ago, Oregon was irrelevant in the world of college football. Competing in the Pac-10 conference against a prominent University of Southern California team, Oregon needed a way to create its own identity.

The athletic department looked to Phil Knight, CEO of Nike — who just so happens to be an Oregon alum — to re-brand the team’s image. The result was unconventional uniforms featuring unique patterns and duck feathers on the shoulders. People began to take notice and Oregon’s fan base grew. The Oregon duck mascot was even featured in an ESPN Sportscenter commercial. The team started playing better, eventually winning a Pac-10 Championship and competing against Auburn in the 2010 BCS National Championship.

So it seems in the end, everybody’s happy. In a September 7th New York Post article, Lenn Robbins wrote that the uniforms were “exactly what the marketing folks at Under Armour were hoping would happen. They created something really repulsive and let the media provide billions of dollars in free advertising.”

Maryland certainly was happy. Not only did they win the game, but they made news headlines from coast to coast.

Will crazy, unconventional uniforms have the same effect for Maryland as they did for Oregon? The Terps can only hope.

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The New and Improved PR Practitioner

by: Alex Reichenbach

PR practitioners have always been expected to have impressive writing and communication skills to show on their résumés. Although these skills are important, they are only the beginning of what is expected of PR practitioners during these technologically savvy days.

Recent changes in the World Wide Web have forced a new professional standard — healthy online presence. For some of you, the first thing that comes to mind is social media. While social media has become an essential component in creating online presence, it is a very small part.

There are certain criteria PR practitioners should follow that go beyond the simplicity of creating a Facebook or Twitter page. Following these steps will ultimately change you from the average PR practitioner to a professional who has mastered the new standards of public relations.

LinkedIn: Claiming Your Professional Name

LinkedIn can be considered the professional spin off from Facebook. Instead of using this social media outlet to converse with friends and family, LinkedIn is used to establish connections with thousands of companies and to find potential clients or jobs.

In the article, “The Anti-Social Enterprise” by Gary Steele, CEO of Proofpoint, provider of cloud-based security software, the rising popularity of LinkedIn is proven through statistics:

Sixty-nine percent of Fortune 100 companies have company profiles on LinkedIn, compared to 54 percent with Facebook fan pages and 65 percent with Twitter accounts.

Many believe Twitter serves as a great way to become familiar with various PR practitioners, but this statistic shows that the rise of LinkedIn may make it more essential in the professional world. Although Twitter is still used, LinkedIn gives PR practitioners more opportunities than simply following other professionals; it establishes your professional status through a detailed explanation of your experiences, as well as a brief professional summary about yourself.

Taking advantage of this professional database as a PR practitioner is a vital part of becoming involved in the online “networking” that is ultimately finding thousands of people jobs.

Electronic Résumé: Show Off

A few years ago, simply having a written résumé was enough to qualify for a job. With the recent boom of technology, however, the résumé qualifications have changed. PR practitioners need to upload their résumés online to allow easy access to their credentials. This may seem like a fairly minor task, but the results are huge.

According to the article “The Top Ten Things You Need To Know About E-resumes and Posting Your Resume Online,” 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies post jobs on their websites and expect potential employees to respond electronically. This statistic alone reveals the benefits that come from this simple download.

Your résumé is your chance to show off your skills and qualifications. What better way to do this than having it online for thousands of professionals to see?  This simple uploading process can be done through a résumé builder such as Résumé Improved or through a process offered at job sites like Monster.

Blogging: Voice Your Opinion

There are a variety of ways PR practitioners can become involved in the blogging aspect of personal online presence. The most effective way is for PR practitioners to express their own opinions through their personal blogs.

Peter Shankman, social media entrepreneur, has utilized this form of communication to effectively voice his opinion on a wide range of issues. PR practitioners worldwide refer to his blog, “P.S. Peter Shankman” to keep up with the current trends in public relations.

If the idea of creating a personal blog does not seem appealing, your online presence can improve simply by following and commenting on other PR practitioners’ blogs. Blogs were created to establish an informal two-way conversation between individuals. Therefore, anyone can publish a comment on a blog at any time they choose, according to the article, “Website Traffic Series Part 3: Leaving Comments on Other Blogs.”

PR practitioners need to take advantage of this free publishing to voice their opinions on current public relations issues. This is what sets blogging apart from the other criteria for online presence. Unlike LinkedIn and online résumés where professional status is key, blogging is a PR practitioner’s chance to express how they feel.

Wrap up: Establishing Your Official Online Title

PR practitioners who have successfully completed the above criteria have achieved the new standard of online presence. But there is one last step for those who wish to go above and beyond to set themselves apart from others – create an online portfolio.

Take all that you have accomplished and turn it into an online personal showcase that includes previous work collateral, blogs and professional experience.

By creating this portfolio alongside your LinkedIn profile and personal blog, you are showing the world that you are ahead in the PR field, and that you can make a difference.

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UFC Knocks out Competition with Social Media

by: Maria Sanders

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the world’s largest promoter for the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA). UFC, with its parent company Zuffa LLC, employs more than 350 fighters, both male and female. With such a large talent base, maintaining effective employee relations is a top priority for the organization.

For the last three years the UFC has hosted a fighter summit at its headquarters in Las Vegas, which is similar to the NFL’s rookie camps. In May 2011, nearly all UFC fighters gathered for a two-day summit.

Over the course of the two days, fighters attended workshops on topics such as social media, proper ways to cut weight, the signs of a head injury, paying taxes, UFC’s new accident insurance policy and managing personal finances.

The sport of MMA is costly. In his article, “The Economics of MMA: How Much Does It Cost To Be A Fighter”, Jonathon Snowden lays out the average expenses for a fighter. A few of the annual costs are as follows:

• High-level coaches- $15,000
• Dietician- $7,500
• Additional training partners- $3,500
• Supplements- $2,000
• Housing- $10,000

These numbers don’t even reflect the cost of living for a fighter’s family or those he may be supporting financially.

Most UFC fighters have one to two fights a year. The paydays can be big for those who have their hands raised at the end. And UFC offers generous bonuses for fighters on all of their main cards. At UFC 135, on September 24, the UFC handed out a total of $300,000 in bonuses for “Fight of the Night,” “Knockout of the Night” and “Submission of the Night.”

However, many of the UFC fighters aren’t making $225,000 a year, the average income Snowden cited in his article. For this reason, the UFC was adamant about educating its fighters at this year’s summit on how to manage their own finances.

“You’d be surprised at how much the fighter actually walks away with at the end of the day. But in a lot of cases, the fighter thinks he has $20 million and he spends like he has $20 million,” UFC President Dana White said. “But then, the next year, he gets a tax bill for $10 million and he says, ‘Now how in the [expletive] do I owe $10 million in taxes?’”

White explained, “We want to educate these guys on a lot of things that maybe they don’t know about or don’t think about. They can always pick up the phone and call us, but by doing a summit like this, we can have the experts here for them and make it easy for them in a day, day and a half, to get a lot of very useful information.”

While training can be costly, injuries sustained during training can be even more so. The UFC previously only covered the injuries fighters acquired while training for a fight officially under contract. However, all medical costs from injuries occurring during general training and non-MMA related incidents fell to the fighter.

At the summit, fighters were informed of the new accident insurance policy the UFC was instituting. This policy covers any injury to a fighter whether he is training for a fight or not. This new policy is a first for the sport, and could help sway new talent to sign with the UFC over another promotion.

“Zuffa’s new insurance policy may change the way in which prospects think about their future, specifically the loved ones they may be helping support or their own well-being,” Leland Rolling said.

Dana White once said of MMA, “It’s not your father’s boxing.”

And, after the fighter summit session on social media, it’s safe to say MMA, and specifically the UFC brand ofMMA, isn’t like any of your father’s sports.

For example, the NFL has a new social media policy in place to guide and regulate its athletes.

In the NFL, players face hefty fines for updating their social media accounts within 90 minutes before and after a game, and certainly any such activity is prohibited during a game. Patriots’ wide receiver Chad Ochocinco announced he would be deleting his Twitter account after being reprimanded for tweeting during a game. The NFL’s policy is mainly to protect its TV contracts.

With most of the UFC’s events being pay-per-view only, it has embraced the use of social media by its fighters as a way of promotion. The UFC’s social media policy seems to be simply this: Tweet often, and do it well.

When UFC fighter Ryan Bader posted tweets during his most recent fight with Tito Ortiz, there was no punishment sent from the higher ups. His only loss that night was when Ortiz submitted him with a guillotine choke with less than two minutes to go in the first round.

Digital Royalty founder Amy Martin and UFC VP of New Media Edward Muncey led the social media session at the summit. Martin and Muncey gave fighters strategies and techniques for developing their online presence and helping build their careers through social media.

Fighters were encouraged to tweet during the summit, and the event even became a trending topic. The UFC also announced it would begin awarding several $5,000 bonuses every three months to fighters who show a high level of social networking activity.

“It made that feel worth it,” fighter Charlie Brenneman said about the information given during the social media session. “That stuff’s not easy to do. It’s time consuming, it takes energy, but it just really made me feel like alright I’m on the right path and this is great.”

The UFC, under the leadership of Dana White, does a great job of showing fighters their needs and concerns are important to the organization. The fighters are the face of the UFC, and the organization’s leaders seem to have recognized for the UFC to be successful their fighters need to be successful — inside and outside the octagon. The fighter summit is a great example of the UFC’s commitment to its fighters, and of successful employee relations.

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Fashion Meets Public Relations: How Blogs Boost Fashion’s PR

by: Dorothy Griffith

Dying to know who designed the clothes from your favorite television show? Looking for a lower cost alternative to that knockout dress from last week’s episode?

You can find just about all the information you want on your favorite outfits from various fashion and pop culture blogs online. These blogs feature clothes from popular shows, where they can be purchased, and often, lower cost alternatives.

One such blog “for the fashionably compulsive” is possessionista.com. Dana Weiss, the brains behind this fashion forward blog, said in an email interview that her site was “really a resource, so the people who are coming to visit Possessionista are looking for these pieces.”

Her blog is not the only one that provides this service, however. A simple Google search of “clothes from Pretty Little Liars,” for example, yields 1,790,000 results of pages similar to Weiss’, which focus on fashion trends in popular television and pinpoint where to purchase them.

Weiss said she generally gets very positive comments about the clothes that she features on her blog. The biggest complaint she gets, though, is about the prices of many of the high-fashion pieces that appear on many shows. Because of this feedback, she features less expensive options on her blog that are similar, but never exact copies.

“There are shows like Gossip Girl that I always offer looks for less, but I’m careful to choose items that are inspired, but never replicas,” she said. “I think it’s important to respect the creativity of designers, and knockoffs are just stealing someone else’s originality.”

But how does the work of Weiss and others like her affect the fashion industry? Weiss said that these sites and blogs serve as a means of free positive public relations for many of the shows and fashion designers.

Simply by being featured on a show, a brand is given exposure that they might not have previously had. “I think that these brands have target audiences, and through television you have a captive audience,” Weiss said. “Unlike a paid advertisement, these clothes have been handpicked by a stylist, giving a sort of seal of approval.”

With the increasing popularity of blogs and websites such as these, the average TV watcher can become a style icon with just the click of a button. What’s more fashionable than that?

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Perception is NOT Reality

by: Amber Parker

In America, the land of opportunity, a young scholar can go off to college and become whatever he or she desires. So what draws a college student to public relations? Why do some students change majors after only taking a few courses?

Thousands of undergraduates at hundreds of colleges across the country enroll in public relations classes each semester with no idea what they’re getting into. There is a disparity between their expectations and what jobs in PR are really like.

The Assumptions

To develop an interest in any field, you must have some exposure to it. In the case of PR, the type of exposure the media offers is rarely an authentic presentation of the multi-dimensional field.

Some assume public relations is a glamour-filled industry centered around celebrities and event planning. Others consider themselves “people persons” and intend to work face to face with the public all the time.

Then there are those students who decide to study PR because they presume it will be an “easy” degree to acquire. Some students blindly enter PR programs without researching the skills needed to attain a worthwhile job in the industry.

But is it fair to blame only the students for their skewed perceptions of what PR is really like?

I also blame television for providing a one-dimensional portrayal of PR professionals. Reality shows like “The Spin Crowd” on E! and MTV’s “The Hills” portray practitioners as high profile individuals, with fast-paced lifestyles who constantly deal with pressure situations.

The Reality

The truth is that public relations professionals work in many different capacities, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to agencies and nonprofit organizations. Entertainment PR (http://www.platformmagazine.com/index.cfm/2008/12/10/PR-The-Truth-about-Event-Planning) and event planning are possible career options. However, the major difference between TV-PR and real life is that on TV they rarely show the typical office day of preparing a strategic plan, making pitch calls and updating databases. Most jobs in PR require that you sit in front of a computer most of the day with very little physical interaction with anyone besides your cubical buddy.

Television needs ratings so I understand why networks show practitioners in high-pressure moments, but it concerns me that people enter public relations with TV as their only frame of reference.

What will my generation do when there is an overflow of celebrity managers and sports agents? What will they do when they discover that a PR education requires journalistic writing, graphic design, research, law and campaign courses? How many will stand the test of time?

Students who are genuinely interested in learning the ropes, at some point, will have to put down the remote and pick up some real world experience.

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The X’s and O’s of Crisis Management

by Megan Reichenbach

As we all know, mistakes happen. And sometimes these mistakes lead to detrimental circumstances. Miriam Fry’s article on Platform Magazine, “You’ve got 60 Minutes,” describes a situation where PR practitioners “take the position of the quarterback” when it comes to cleaning up the mess of a controversial situation. But let’s ask ourselves: are the PR practitioners the only ones doing the clean up?

Peter Federico, senior vice president and chief risk officer of American Capitol Agency Management, seems to think otherwise. “Every person in the vicinity of the controversial situation needs to take a stance in rectifying the problem,“ Federico said. “And every person needs to take this stance early in the game.”

From saying the wrong thing during a press conference to a federal takeover of a business, those in the finance and investment markets need to think outside their comfort zones and more like a PR professional. Federico lends a breakdown of what financial and investment companies need to do in order to get back on their feet.

For those of us who are prone to procrastinating, Crisis Management 101 may have to be added to your to-do list. Crisis planning requires steps to be written down beforehand: “it’s basic, but crisis businesses need to follow a play book; otherwise, things will be missed,” Federico said. This preparation goes hand in hand with the tips suggested on the PR Coach website, which asserts “the time to plan, of course, is when there is no crisis.”

The Pre-Crisis: Prologue to the Crisis Playbook 101

Businesses should develop BCP, or business continuity planning. In public relations “layman” terms, this would be the time that all external factors are identified and potential threats are determined.

Everyone in the business, not just those public relations quarterbacks, must come up with actions to take for every type of crisis. Even though we can’t predict every kind of crisis, we all might as well do as much as we can to ready ourselves for whatever comes our way.

“Who is in charge?”
Before the crisis occurs, a company needs to find out who is going to be accountable for whom, and for what controversial situations.

“Who is going to talk to whom?”
This question centers the main responsibility of a PR person: communication. Throughout the hierarchy of a business, every person needs to create relationships and a communication plan with other members in the business. According to Federico, this simple task of relationship building will save a company from becoming defeated by the crisis.

Businesses can’t forget to create a funding plan. Managing a crisis without a hold on the finances of the company would be nearly impossible, wouldn’t you think?

In a tragic situation where a company’s facility has been affected or ruined, a pre-conceived plan for an alternative location to keep business running is fundamental.

Pre-crisis planning also calls for a written list of constituents, including suppliers, investors, regulators, board members, customers, etc. A simple list of names and phone numbers can be the difference between success and failure.

The Crisis

Identify the crisis
During the crisis, the steps listed in the Prologue of Crisis 101 are put to the test.

Believe it or not, the steps taken during the crisis itself are more easily executed than expected, thanks to pre-crisis planning. Once the specific BCP is chosen for the crisis at hand, follow these tips given by Peter Federico:

• Look back at those relationships that were built and come into contact with whoever is in authority.
• Establish the ultimate decision maker.
• Identify the essential employees in the business and designate appropriate responsibilities.
• Ensure that critical systems are operable. Are the phone lines down? Are the computers still functioning?
• Prioritize all decisions that need to be made, and decide at which point these should be executed during the clean up.
• Ensure that all finances are in check. Does the company have the liquidity to maintain all critical operations?
• Develop the internal and external communication plans—so critical. This is the point in which those individuals in the finance and business industry need show off those PR skills.
• Establish a timeline for damage control.
• Establish meetings to be held in the morning, in the afternoon and at night. Communicating the situation at hand to the public is key to saving the reputation of the company.

It all sounds pretty basic, but most businesses take planning for granted.

Communication is key in a crisis. Acting like a PR professional, and taking on the role of relationship building, can make a world of a difference for those companies involved in a crisis. For companies in the financial or investment industry, there are steps taken by individuals who do not, in fact, have a “PR” position in the business. Whether a controversial situation in a PR firm or financial company, all of those individuals working for the organization need to get a handle on Crisis 101.

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Seeing Red: Christian Louboutin’s Trademark Battle

by Jaley Cranford

Whether they are strategically placed in a new movie or inspiring a rap song, Christian Louboutin’s signature red-bottomed shoes have found their way into the American mainstream. But these French imports wound up in a heated court case opposite designer Yves St. Laurent as the fall 2011 fashion season began.

Vogue documented the court proceedings, which began on April 10, 2011, with Louboutin filing against YSL for trademark infringement to the tune of $1 million in damages.

Four months later, Louboutin began fighting for Pantone-18 Chinese Red. Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of YSL. Forbes listed many parts of Marrero’s 30-page decision, where most of his decision centered on the broadness of the trademark. Marrero said, “Louboutin’s claim would cast a red cloud over the whole industry, cramping what other designers could do, while allowing Louboutin to paint with a full palette.” Marrero also said that the red-bottomed wonders do not carry secondary meaning.

Unless you happen to have some background in trademark, you may be asking yourself what secondary meaning is. When you see a swoosh . . . what do you think? Nike. When you see golden arches . . . what do you think? McDonald’s. Those two visual identities are perfect examples of secondary meaning. Millions of people, including myself, see red-bottomed shoes and automatically identify Christian Louboutin. Maybe Mr. Marrero isn’t as fashion forward as those millions.

Some colors seem more worthy of trademarks than others. Though the trademark of Chinese Red allegedly steals opportunities from artists, Pantone 1837 apparently does not. Tiffany Blue (AKA Pantone 1837) is a trademarked color. What is the difference between the two? I have no idea. Maybe it’s an obvious sign that the federal court system is going to protect fewer and fewer copyrights. Regardless, Louboutin finds himself in an interesting situation.

So how does a company rally after a very public incident and still come out a victor in the court of public opinion? Welcome to the world of a little known sector of public relations: litigation PR.

Many companies find themselves with a crisis management issue when a court case begins. Taco Bell’s online defense of its seasoned beef claims is a recent example of how an organization can employ public relations when dealing with a court case. In an article on Mashable, writer Patrick Kerley says that by emulating some of the PR strategies Taco Bell used to move forward can help organizations like Louboutin. Some of the helpful hints include:

•    Using peacetime wisely
Plan out strategies for when things get heated before the issues arise.
•    Dominating search engines
Flood sites like Google, Ask.com and Yahoo! with your side of the story.
•    Enlisting fans, followers and friends
Facebook, Twitter and social media can help turn the tide of public opinion for you. Friends listen to other friends.

Though these strategies helped Taco Bell during a trial, Kenley says that remembering that every situation is unique is crucial. “Perhaps the most important lesson to arise from Taco Bell’s digital response is that every company’s situation is unique and each of the tactics cited above must be carefully considered and cleared with counsel before moving forward,” Kenley said.

As Louboutin said in a New Yorker interview , “The shiny red color of the soles has no function other than to identify to the public that they are mine. I selected the color because it is engaging, flirtatious, memorable and the color of passion.” Maybe the “Mad Hatter” of French shoe design has something else up his sleeve.

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