Honesty in PR: #admitwhenYoumakemistakes

by Sarah Shea, editor

Nearly every conversation about public relations ethics comes back to one crucial idea. For insider trading scandals—honesty is crucial. For crisis communications—honesty is crucial. And for reputation management? Honesty.

The Penn State scandal came with several opportunities for honesty in communication. While the university itself arguably took a little too long to disseminate information, the entire crisis presented opportunities for PR.

In situations like this, social media often rears its head. Reactions to Joe Paterno’s dismissal went viral. Avid tweeters quickly tweeted their responses when the news broke.

For the average user, hastily typed tweets are inconsequential and soon forgotten. But for celebrities, a single thoughtless tweet can spur harsh commentary from the cyber world.

Just minutes after Paterno’s firing was announced on Nov. 9, Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk), tweeted, “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.”

Clearly, Kutcher hadn’t gotten the full story explaining why Paterno was fired. The tweet, which has since been deleted, immediately erupted when it showed up on the timelines of more than 8.2 million of Kutcher’s followers.

His Twitter handle, aplusk, was completely managed by the actor himself at the time. I was astounded by Kutcher’s response to his follwers’ outrage. He was bombarded by a multitude of hateful replies, including:

“Who is more ignorant? @Aplusk, or the EIGHT MILLION idiots who follow him?”

aplusk=IDIOT!”
“@aplusk with 8 million followers, you MAY want to reserve your opinions until you know the whole story.”
“@aplusk superrrrFAIL.”

And how did Kutcher respond? He replied, tweeted and retweeted nearly immediately. He did the honest thing — admitted fault. Even for the harshest of tweets, Kutcher replied “agreed” and “had no idea.”

He followed up and fully exposed his blunder, tweeting, “Heard Joe was fired, fully recant previous tweet! Didn’t have full story. #admitwhenYoumakemistakes.”

Even his brutal honesty couldn’t undo the crisis. So Kutcher moved forward. In a Nov. 10 blog post, he wrote a detailed account of his side of the story.

The actor said, “I quickly retracted and deleted my previous post; however, that didn’t seem enough to satisfy people’s outrage at my misinformed post. I am truly sorry. And moreover [I] am going to take action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Through this post, Kutcher formally announced that his production company, Katalyst Media, would now manage his account.

Though Kutcher’s response has been widely criticized, I’d argue for him — and not just because he’s my middle school heartthrob.

I’d say most humans can relate to the pain of speaking before they think. Whether it comes out in a brash remark, a misinformed opinion or a tweet at large, most of us have experienced some sort of regret over a few cursory words.

For me, Kutcher’s Twitter blunder seems honest. It seems human.

Furthermore, the ability to admit mistakes gives even one of the most followed faces of Twitter a friendly touch.

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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 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 three Rs according to Soledad

by Amber Parker

“Ratings, Revenue and Reputation . . . [are] ingredients for a bottom line franchise,” said Soledad O’Brien in her discussion on diversity with University of Alabama students Nov. 9. Because much of the internationally known journalist’s recognition comes from CNN’s “In America” documentary series, I wonder: How much do people care about topics surrounding minority groups? How have they impacted CNN? How have they impacted O’Brien? And most of all, how have they impacted the “bottom line”?

Ratings

The “In America” Series started in 2008 with Black in America. The two-part documentary focused on exposing disparities in education, the prison system and single parenthood, as well as the toll that HIV/AIDs has had on communities. In July of the same year, the documentary garnered approximately 2.6 million viewers. Black in America 2 aired in the summer of 2009 with a less impressive 1.4 million viewers, yet it still managed to outperform other cable documentaries from all other networks that year. It is safe to say that the “In America” series started off strong, piquing national interest in areas that had received limited coverage prior to these exposés.

However, the ratings really began to drop when “Latino in America” aired in 2010. According to a Huffington Post article, it “drew an average of 1,007,000 total viewers and 293,000 A25-54 viewers. That’s down 45% in total viewers from the debut episode of July’s ‘Black in America’.” Based on these numbers, one has to wonder if stories like these have fleeting appeal.

Revenue

It is unclear how much money CNN makes from O’Brien’s documentaries or how much money she generates personally. But it is clear that high ratings do correlate with the amount of revenue amassed by the network and, in turn, the individual.

The following is a list of O’Brien’s most recent work: “Don’t Fail Me: Education in America,” “The Women Who Would be Queen,” “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door,” “Pictures Don’t Lie,” “Almighty Debt,” “Rescued” and “Gary and Tony Have a Baby.” Each of these relates to concerns of minority groups, with topics ranging from homosexuality to religious acceptance. Since 9/11, O’Brien has provided in-depth coverage of a wide range of underrepresented groups, ultimately earning the respect of her peers and even her critics.

Reputation

“For me it’s about the story, it’s about telling the stories of amazing people all across this great country and the world,” O’Brien said.

This journalist has used stories to catapult herself as a trustworthy source in the sphere of journalism. In early 2012, she will return to CNN’s “American Mornings” as an anchor. After years of rotating hosts for the morning talk show due to poor ratings, the producers decided to take a shot with O’Brien. I am sure CNNhopes her reputation will help to turn the show around and eventually bring both ratings and revenue to CNN.

During a reception prior to her speech, she expressed her excitement about returning to daily news. She hopes that she can bring new perspective to the show by continuing to tell the stories of the world’s underrepresented people every day.

If CNN’s producers are right this time, O’Brien’s return will prove that of the three Rs, reputation is the most important.

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Throwback throwaways

by Jaley Cranford

As I punched the button for a familiar soda choice, I awaited a familiar purple can. But the purple marketing blunder that I grabbed was a far cry from the Grapico can of my childhood.

Though the packaging bears no influence on the familiar taste of the grape soda, I was incapable of enjoying it. This horrific rebranding begged the question: what guy at Grapico fell asleep at the wheel and sent this idea forward?

Grapico has long been packaged in a purple can with a diagonal text logo.

The rebranding shows a grape that I expect to dance at any moment accompanied by a new tagline: A Southern Tradition.

Conflicting ideas? Anyone who is drawn to the clipart-esque cartoon of a grape is probably more interested in when Dora the Explorer airs than the idea of Southern tradition. More than the obvious discrepancy . . . and tagline . . . and art, this product looks like an off-brand soda. When I first saw this can, I paid no mind and assumed that someone had brought a can of Walmart grape soda from home. Is that the way Buffalo Rock wants to market Grapico?

Maybe the soda market is a breeding ground for bad rebranding ideas. Mountain Dew, Mellow Yellow and Grapico have all done a round of throwback cans recently. But apparently Mountain Dew and Pepsi throwbacks are here to stay.

Bevreview.com reported Buffalo Rock announced both Pepsi and Mountain Dew would be available in a throwback can or bottle for the indefinite future. Due to overwhelming positive responses from fans, the soda company kept this

Who are these adoring fans? Who are the millions in love with these cartoon relics that are a mockery of design? Apparently some such fans are running Grapico.

According to an article on al.com, Buffalo Rock execs said, “This ‘new retro’ look brings together the nostalgic best of Grapico’s proud history and the ever-growing popularity of the same grape great taste.”

The article continued with a quote from another proud figurehead. “We really wanted to splice something old with something new to create a new look for Grapico and Diet Grapico,” said Buffalo Rock Chairman/CEOJames C. Lee III.

New? I’m still searching. Maybe it’s the clipart grape . . . that was new . . . in 1998. I’m not against throwback packaging. But this Grapico has turned into a big purple mess.

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Storytelling: the core of PR

by Bailey Carpenter

Public relations students like myself tend to share certain traits: we’re decent writers suffering from a Twitter addiction, we utterly despise math and we tend to get too excited in the grocery store when we see good rebranding. We have also chosen to study and practice public relations because we are drawn to a field that is constantly updating and changing — offering us something new every day.

Both PR practitioners and students are continuously asking What’s the next big thing? What’s in store for the future of PR? As graduation approaches, my classmates and I become more and more obsessed with what the future of PR may hold and how keeping up with the future might give us an edge in the job market.

This year, the annual PRSA International Conference was themed “Envisioning the future of public relations.” The conference, held Oct. 15-18 in Orlando, Fla., featured presentations from more than 150 PR professionals. According to the PRSA website, these sessions aimed to help the conference attendees “learn the latest strategies in communications from the visionaries who imagine and create the most innovative techniques in the business.”

However, with all the hype about the future and “the next big thing,” it’s now more important than ever to remember the basic foundation of PR: creating messages aimed at target audiences that are conveyed after establishing relationships with those publics.

Johna Burke, senior vice president of marketing at Burrelles_Luce_, led a session at this year’s PRSA conference on the importance of storytelling in a world focused on digital communication.

In an Oct. 27 blog post Tressa Robbins summarized Burke’s session. “Burke began by stressing that storytelling is the core competency in the public relations profession, next to great writing,” Robbins said. “No more is it just local library readings, storytelling festivals and other analog channels.”

“Storytelling” may seem like a term that supports the idea that PR is “spin,” but in reality, PR practitioners do tell stories. They create messages and must find the right ways to relay these messages so that their publics will pay attention to them in a world bombarded with hundreds of media forms and constantly updating channels.

According to Robbins, Burke said the most important things to consider when conveying a key message are to reach your audience using the appropriate media, understand your publics and use the resources your organization provides in an economical way.

“Public relations professionals must leverage the art form — make your story compelling, make it stand out,” Robbins said. “Blasting your message out to the masses is not the way to reach everyone.”

Because the conference was in Orlando, Burke chose to use Walt Disney as an example of a great storyteller. “He knew that kids were his primary market, yet he recognized his secondary market was the parents… he also didn’t forget there’s always a tertiary market—audiences we may not have originally anticipated,” Robbins said.

It’s easy to lose sight of the message’s importance and the story behind it when you’re concentrating on getting that message across every possible medium.

“[Burke] warns us to beware of the desire to be the newest, coolest — using the ‘all sizzle, no steak’ analogy. People see through this, and will not support long-time relationships, which is what you need,” Robbins said.

While we need to remain focused on the future and adapt to the “digital age,” we also need to know when to take a step back and remember that those in public relations should always do just that — relate.

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Safe landing with good customer service

by Sarah Shea

For many, travel is a necessary evil. Business people travel several times a week, normally going through the motions like zombies. While I love to travel, I find myself loathing the “getting there” part.

I’d rather not spend $10 on a sub-par sandwich or banter with grumpy airline attendees. However, the destination is usually worth it.

As my obsession with ABC’s new show, “Pan Am,” grows, so does my envy of its display of travel. I crave the glamour of 1960s travel each and every time I watch it.

In a Los Angeles Times review, Robert Lloyd said, “The show says, yes this is as good as it looks, and it looks very good — though anyone who has flown anywhere in the last, oh, 30 years, may find it difficult to believe, or to remember, that air travel ever was this gracious, customer-friendly, or fun.”

Now, with the pain of airport security and countless cancelations, I can hardly believe that flying was ever as enjoyable as the show makes it seem.

But what if it was?

If airlines placed a little more emphasis on building these types of relationships, the pay-off would be worth it.

Having flown continentally and abroad, I’ve had a wide variety of travel experiences. I’ve flown on airlines like RyanAir, paying less than $10 for a ticket and more than $200 in overweight baggage fees. Conversely, I have traveled with airlines that have been more than willing to find extra space for my behemoth of a backpack.

Regardless, I have never gotten off a plane wishing I could spend a little more time with the crew. Sure, I’ve had good experiences, but never anything to write home about.

If airlines go back to the premise of customer service in their business, maybe I would. If nothing else, the air around airports would be lifted.

Maybe airlines have something to learn from TV.

 

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