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The road back to Happy Valley

by Meghan Rodriguez

On Saturday, November 12, the Penn State Nittany Lions faced the Nebraska Cornhuskers as millions across the nation watched on ESPN. This wasn’t just another football game. It was Senior Day and the first in-conference game against Nebraska since it joined the Big 10 Conference this season.

Most noticeably, it was also the first game since 1946 that head coach Joe Paterno wasn’t present on the sidelines or in the coach’s box. Three days prior to the game, Paterno was fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees. Paterno failed to report his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky to police after allegations had been made that he had molested several young boys over the course of 15 years.

What happened not only rocked State College, Penn., but the nation. Paterno was known in the college football world for running a clean football program built on hard work. Penn State has one of the highest graduation rates among its players. And unlike several other big name programs in recent years, Penn State manages to operate within the rules set by the NCAA.

As news of Paterno’s firing quickly made its way across campus, student protests turned into violent riots. Images of destroyed property joined by chants of “Hell no we want Joe,” were broadcast by major news stations across the country.

I sat and watched with disbelief thinking to myself: “Do these kids even know what they’re protesting? Do they realize why Paterno was fired?” Although only a fraction of Penn State’s 45,000 students were involved in these riots, the images were still disturbing and did not send a good message to those watching.

ESPN began its broadcast of Saturday’s game 15 minutes early to show the seniors being introduced one by one on the field and a moment of silence for victims of sexual abuse. However, the most powerful moment of the broadcast was when the teams met midfield and knelt in prayer, led by a Nebraska assistant coach. The moment was unexpected and gave me chills.

During the week, I heard numerous television reporters repeat the line, “Penn State is bigger than Joe Paterno. It is bigger than football,” but in that moment, it was football that played a major part in the healing process.

The image Penn State projected on Saturday was a stark contrast from what it displayed Wednesday night. After a week of being the focus of media attention, those tied to the Penn State family and those directly affected by the scandal used Saturday as a form of therapy.

Students distributed blue ribbons outside the stadium and fans were asked to wear blue in honor of sexual abuse victims. As the cameras closely focused in on individual players, fans, cheerleaders and other attendees, it was clear that many of them were fighting back tears. It had been an emotionally draining week for all those with ties to the university.

Penn State prides itself on the motto, “We are Penn State.” In September, I had the opportunity to attend a Penn State football game and was impressed with the class and school pride that the students exhibited. Despite the team’s loss, Beaver Stadium still erupted in cheers and chants, especially when Paterno was shown on the JumboTron.

To many, Joe Paterno WAS Penn State. To those he coached, he was a teacher and a father figure. To the students, he was a legend and the face of not only the football program, but also the entire university.

In order for Penn State to take the steps toward rebuilding its image and football program, it had to start with a clean slate and remove everyone who had knowledge of the scandal. This had to begin at the top with the president and eventually make its way to members of the coaching staff.

It’s going to take time for Penn State to get used to the fact that Joe Paterno is no longer its coach. He was a great football coach, but his morality and ethics will forever be questioned because of what he didn’t do when he had the chance.

Penn State’s image may be tarnished at the moment, but it has taken the first step toward recovery and healing. Other universities have faced crises and major trauma and bounced back, and Penn State will do the same.

It is a great university that is defined by its rich tradition, student body, alumni and community and in time will return back to the nickname it has been given, Happy Valley.

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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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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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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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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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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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