Like other organizations, colleges and universities depend upon good public relations and marketing campaigns to build and maintain positive images. A primary goal of such campaigns is to recruit new students, essential to the existence of every academic institution. As every college student and high school junior knows, colleges spend a lot of money on printed materials, web sites and social media, plus ubiquitous open house events at which visitors see the campus and hear “the spiel.”
My PR pal and adjunct professor at Hofstra University, Bert Cunningham, likes to bring PR stories to my attention. This week Professor Cunningham shared an article in the Wall Street Journal by Marek Fuchs titled, “Oh, No, Not Another College Tour!” which focuses on (from his perspective) the mistakes colleges and universities typically make during spring’s “open house” season. He believes institutions miss opportunities to answer real questions and concerns, because group tours tend to focus on showcasing the school’s superficial positives such as ample library hours, dining options, the landscaping, and environmental consciousness while being conducted by well-rehearsed, well-scrubbed student guides.
But is this such a bad thing? If the purpose of an open house is to convince potential students and their parents or guardians of the school’s virtues, then why not put their best foot forward and highlight all things positive? Fuchs, a writing professor at Sarah Lawrence College, said, “But it does seem that with so much depending on the outcome of their pitch, colleges should put more original effort into the standard-issue, plain (fat-free) vanilla tour.” He suggests separate tours for parents and students to create a more free exchange of ideas and questions, night tours since so much campus life goes on after hours, anonymous questions so no one holds anything back, and untrained random student tour guides (which is a terrible idea!).
I believe most institutions already encourage the kinds of exchanges Fuchs is recommending. And parents and potential students should gravitate to those schools which create a comfortable environment for asking questions. That’s just good PR. Your thoughts?
In an Edelman PR blog a year ago, Arun Mahtani wrote about how video has emerged as a profoundly important tool for public relations professionals. “In public relations, we’ve always put storytelling front and center. It’s been key to winning media coverage for our clients.”
“In the world of YouTube,” he continued, “it’s real stories about real people that reign supreme. The site is flooded with users documenting their lives and thoughts. Brands and companies have leveraged this trend… In this new reality, our talents as public relations professionals are in demand. We just need to understand how video has changed. And be bolder about our abilities.”
It used to be that video was something someone else produced for the purpose of promotion, usually to advertise a product. PR practitioners would only flirt with video production, occasionally working on public service announcements for nonprofits, or sometimes producing a video news release. Today, according to a number of sources, using video in blogs, on websites, and on YouTube channels boosts search engine optimization (SEO) so much so that a client is 50 times more likely to appear on page one of a Google search.
What does this mean for public relations professionals? It means we all better get more comfortable and knowledgeable about video production, and learn basic scripting, lighting, shooting, and editing.
The good news is it has become relatively easy to produce good video; in fact. some of my students’ PSA projects are shot with an Iphone and edited in Imovie, and come out looking nearly professional. Video, desktop publishing, photography and other tools have become such a part of PR that we’re thinking about developing an advance course in public relations tools, building on the fundamental tools class we require of Hofstra’s PR majors.
“Authenticity is another factor that plays to our skill-set,” wrote Mahtani. “Like journalists, we are experts in showing people the way the world is, rather than constructing an alternate reality.” Which means we all better get good at using video to tell our stories. Your thoughts?
NOTE FROM JEFF MOROSOFF: Each semester, my public relations students in Hofstra University’s Honors College are required to contribute posts to my blog. The following guest post was written by sophomore Nyala Stagger:
In January, Arik Hanson, principal at digital communications consultancy ACH Communications, wrote an article about the hit television show, Scandal, and its representation of the PR industry. In this article he questioned other public relations professionals from top firms of the country and got their opinion of the show and its relation to PR.
When I initially saw the title, “Does Scandal’s Olivia Pope represent the PR industry well?” I automatically answered, “Of course!” being a proud gladiator (as fans and followers of Pope are called). She represents some of what I hope to be as a PR professional: passionate, savvy, quick-witted, strategic, and most importantly effective.
As I continued to read, however, I had to admit to myself that, like any other television show, Scandal is a fictionalization of the real world, and thus, some of Olivia Pope’s work as a crisis management consultant and campaign aide are very far from the truth. Obviously the task of covering up a murder committed by a top politician wouldn’t be a part of my day-to-day life in the PR industry.
Despite the campaign rigging, crime scene clean ups, and an affair with the president of the United States, nevertheless, Olivia Pope still exhibits some PR skills that are great examples for a public relations student, like me, including improving her clients’ public image, producing relationships with her clients and the public via the media, understanding the basic needs of people, and being tactful and strategic with decisions about her clients to satisfy those needs. As Anuli Akanegbu of Edelman said in Arik Hanson’s article, Olivia Pope “is a problem-solver that thinks quickly, strategically and creatively as any good PR practitioner should.”
How well do you think Scandal blurs the lines of fiction and reality? Do you think it gives people the wrong impression of an already hard-to-define profession or should she still be applauded for the great public relations skills she exhibits?
In a cool take on “Bring Your Child to Work Day,” Manhattan-based Hunter PR celebrated its 25th anniversary with “Bring Your Parents to Work Day” this week. Being a parent of a Hunter child, I qualified to attend.
Before the event I was emailed a questionnaire to find out how much I knew about public relations. A couple of weeks later I found myself on Madison Avenue meeting my daughter Deanna in the lobby and heading into an event which drew nearly 200 people.
Hunter PR was founded in 1989 by Barbara Hunter, who, we were informed by Managing Partner Grace Leong, was the first woman in the United States to run a public relations agency back in the Mad Men-era. Today, Hunter is a $20 million company with a wide variety of clients including legacy names like Scotch Tape, Jello, Kool-Aid, Monopoly, Arm & Hammer, Tabasco, and more. The parents were invited there, I was told, to gain a better understanding of what their offspring did at work, especially given the general lack of understanding about what PR people do. And the partners and the staff did exactly that through a series of workshops, office tours and networking.
One of the firm’s partners confided that when he heard Deanna’s dad was a PR professor at Hofstra, he wondered what they could teach a teacher. I told him we can all learn from each other, and I was being sincere. Teachers are sometimes accused of losing touch with the “real world,” often focusing on theory and not the practical aspects of the subject. While I haven’t been at the front of the classroom long enough to have lost touch with what PR people do, I was thrilled to have this fun and unique opportunity to see the inside of a major PR agency run by seasoned and young professionals full of energy and ideas. It truly was a learning experience for me, not to mention how proud I am of Deanna, my own rising PR star. Your thoughts?
I’m a stickler for writing right, partially because employers demand it. It’s a point made in an article written in 2012 by iFixit CEO Kyle Weins, titled “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.” Weins gives a mandatory grammar test to every applicant. “On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair,” he wrote. “After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?” He goes on to say, “I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts. I hire people who care about those details. Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren’t important. And I guarantee that even if other companies aren’t issuing grammar tests, they pay attention to sloppy mistakes on resumes. After all, sloppy is as sloppy does.”
I rather enjoyed Matthew Schwartz’s column in PR News last week titled, “What Makes a Great PR Employee: Let Us Count the Ways.” Schwartz solicited responses to that question via PR News’ Facebook and Twitter and the feedback was interesting, revealing, and accurate. Here are some of the Twitter responses:
A great employee…
- Always shows passion.
- Is an opportunist, and goes above and beyond expectations.
- Is calm, cool, and collected.
- Understands their role in the success of their employer.
- Is open to criticism.
- Is willing to see an issue from other viewpoints.
- Is always proactive, considers his customer’s problem as his own problem, (and) always reacts before the crisis shows up.
- Always puts the needs of their clients above their own.
- Always provide best, honest advice to clients.
- Goes for it and sticks with it and challenges the conventional.
So, after reading this, what would you add to the list? What other characteristics make a great PR employee? Which do you possess–or need? Your thoughts?
A PR blog I recently read featured an article from Cheryl Conner in Forbes titled, “Why Toughest Bosses Are Best.” She wrote that bosses who set high expectations, never give unearned praise, and articulate clear goals and milestones are most desirable. She posted Jill Geisler’s “Seven Deadly Sins of the Too-Nice Boss,” which lists how softies-in-charge get little accomplished. I began reflecting on my own bosses during my 31 years working and teaching in public relations.
Not counting agency work, I had 15 different bosses in that time period, from college presidents to politicians to heads of nonprofits. Only a handful were “tough,” and the others were somewhere between wishy-washy and downright silly. The silly bosses were self-absorbed and unfocused, and were most concerned about their next promotion or job. The wishy-washy bosses were either competent professionals who rarely took a stand; or they were too nice, allowing for staff complacency and incompetence. This only resulted in frustration for those who worked hard to pick up the slack.
I think my least favorite boss was the person who wanted my suggestions but never empowered me to take action. That individual would endorse my plans one day and nix them the next without explaining why.
My tough bosses could be very tough. One of them never praised, or said “thank you;” his autocratic style sometimes scared me. But he set the bar high and expected his staff to reach it, which made me try to look at my work through his eyes. My favorite tough bosses were very smart and would respect the work done by my colleagues and me, taking the time to explain the rationale behind their decisions.
Extremely high on my boss list was the person who gave me my first PR job. She was a true professional and a mentor. Like a good teacher, she allowed me to make decisions and mistakes, encouraged me to be self-reliant, and always took the time to explain. I’ll always be indebted to her, one of my kindest–and toughest–bosses. Your thoughts?
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two! This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld
If my students’ reaction to a public speaking assignment is any indication, my fellow Massapequan Jerry Seinfeld is right. Nothing seems to instill more dread than giving a speech in front of 20 fellow classmates. So can you imagine the fear when you have to make a presentation to 50 or 100 or even a thousand people? What happens when the day comes when you’ll need to express your ideas to your boss or the management of your company? If you’re in PR, you’ll be giving media presentations, tours, emceeing events, and acting as a spokesperson for your clients to the media.
Texts and experts provide us with helpful hints on making a good speech: Stand up straight. Anchor your body. Don’t read. Lead with a story or joke. Keep it short and simple. Slow down. Use your hands. Make eye contact. End with a strong conclusion. It’s an awful lot to remember, especially if you’re nervous.
When I worked in radio, speaking on the public airwaves was easy for me because I never saw my audience. And although I’ve since made hundreds of presentations and have taught hundreds of students, I can still have moments of nervousness before I begin. I’ve found the best antidote for the fear of expressing myself in front of an audience is plenty of preparation. This is true whether I’m about to teach a class or make a presentation or a speech. The more I’ve familiarized myself with the material and the more I’ve actually practiced out loud, the more calm and comfortable I am.
Expressing yourself on a piece of paper is challenging enough. Expressing yourself to a group can be frightening. Just ask Jerry Seinfeld. He does it all the time, and with plenty of preparation and rehearsal. Your thoughts?
Every year, 40 million Americans and I spend three hours in front of the TV watching celebrities collect their Oscar. They talk about the sacrifice, the skill, the risks, and the importance of their craft, and we share the joy and disappointment our favorite actors feel win they win or lose the Academy Award. We do the same when watching the Emmys, Grammys, Tonys, and countless other awards shows.
A month ago, 111 million (!) people watched a terrible football game because it was the Super Bowl. There were millions of gatherings centered around this yearly television ritual, with parties and office pools and catering and multi-million dollar commercials supporting the spectacle.
Countless hours and pages and tweets of commentary, analysis and predictions surround these annual events. There are few other landmark moments in U.S. pop culture that receive this amount of attention and hype.
Meanwhile, CNN’s “Heroes Awards,” a program celebrating the top 10 real-life heroes of the year, earns about 250,000 viewers when it airs, barely a sliver of the Oscars’ and the Super Bowls’ audience. Yet most of us would agree that the actions and achievements for which these people are recognized have far more impact–and are often far more amazing–than those of any actor or athlete.
And what of the AMA or the Lasker Awards, which celebrate achievements in medicine? Or the AACR and the Breakthrough Awards, recognizing accomplishments in the field of science? And then there are countless awards for teaching and other important professions. Who’s watching their TV shows? And are these awards even televised?
We pay more money and attention to our stars and athletes than anyone else in this country, while people in nobler roles and professions struggle for funding, income, and recognition. No public relations campaign in the world could motivate millions of Americans to watch an awards show for them. Perhaps we should pause to think about where our societal priorities lie, or at least ponder the question of why we give so much greater value to our celebrities and their achievements than to anyone else. Your thoughts?