PeRsonal deception?

Facebook likeEveryone has an opinion about Facebook.  Love it, “like” it or hate it, Facebook has a billion and a quarter users, and roughly half of them use it daily.  For public relations practitioners, Facebook is an extremely useful tool for creating relationships with targeted audiences.  In fact, Facebook and other social media platforms have forever changed the practice of public relations in countless ways.

I recently heard a sociologist say that people are using Facebook to prove to their friends and themselves that they have a wonderful life.  He said users rarely share personal tragedy or misery; it’s a center for self-promotion and even Pollyanna-like personal deception.  He believes that people use Facebook to tell others (and I’m paraphrasing), “follow me, look at me, be jealous of me.”

I put this question to my Facebook friends, sharing this theory and asking for reactions. The feedback was interesting.  Here’s a sampling; I’m using first names only:

Wendy: “That perspective has been pondered as long as FB has existed. There is a growing body of research that supports social media perceptions of relationships, and depression in young people.”

Lisa: “Not always true. Our generation connects to old friends, relatives and people with whom we have lost contact. We share our lives, including sad and happy stories.”

Mindy: “I do believe that people tend to amplify their ‘great’ lives on FB and minimize their trials and tribulations. On the flip side, there are those who share every hangnail and belch.”

Alicia: “I love to share and to see how my friends are doing in this hectic selfish and dangerous world we now live in…I will take as much good news as I can get.”

Ellen: “I think Facebook is the place where you can share, catch up and keep in touch. Only silly people think it’s something other than that!”

Flo: “All I know is, my life is better than your life.”

LOL, Flo!

For PR people, using Facebook effectively often yields positive outcomes for their clients.  Are we, in fact, using the same techniques for our own personal PR?  Your thoughts?


Our Pink pRofession

When I attended my first Public Relations Society of America meeting 30 years ago, just four out of 40 attendees (including my boss) were women.  Go to a meeting similar today and the gender ratios have flipped.  When you attend Hofstra’s PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America) meetings or any PR class, it’s the same: a very high percentage of female versus male students.

Ann Friedman

Ann Friedman

This week, in a article titled, “Why Do We Treat PR Like a Pink Ghetto?” reporter Ann Friedman writes that “73 to 85 percent of PR professionals are women,” and goes on to lament, “On a New York Observer  list of fictional publicists in pop culture, every notable character since the mid-’80s is a woman — typically sharp-tongued but not supersmart.”

Friedman also notes that 80 percent of upper management PR positions are held by men. “It’s women, often young women, who are likely to be doing the grunt work of sending emails and writing tweets and cold-calling contacts,” she writes.  In her article, Friedman correctly makes other cogent points about our respective professions, and questions whether journalists are judging these young professional women fairly.

“(They do) the very work that journalists, and the rest of us, are likely to see as fluffy,” she adds, “Even when women are doing promotional work at higher levels, they still struggle for respect.”  She says in many cases, the lack of respect comes from misconceptions about the PR profession, and reporters’ resistance to the idea of promoting anyone.

Friedman writes that promotion and even the necessary self-promotion are core professional dilemmas for women publicists.  “You’d think that in the social-media era, the rest of us would be able to relate… Perhaps it’s time for us all to recognize that walking it isn’t easy,” she wisely notes.

So how do PR women–and men–earn the respect they so highly deserve?  They do it by being reliable and honest resources to journalists and colleagues.  Today’s PR profession is indeed more pink than blue, and helpfulness and transparency are the keys to building respect.  Your thoughts?

A blown Photo oppoRtunity

Gov. Perry and President Obama last week.

Governor Perry and President Obama last week

It seems President Obama got some bad PR advice this week.  Why he didn’t visit a center housing some of the more than 50,000 children who have crossed our borders in the past several months was, frankly, beyond me.

According to CNN, “Texas Governor Rick Perry and others are lashing out at President Obama’s decision not to tour border facilities overwhelmed by a flood of undocumented children, saying the U.S. leader needs to see with his own eyes what both sides agree is a humanitarian crisis.  ‘The American people expect to see their president when there is a disaster,’ Perry told CNN…citing Obama’s trip to the East Coast to tour damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.  ‘He showed up at Sandy. Why not Texas?’”

Obama later argued, “This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops, I’m interested in solving a problem.”

Rick Perry was right.  President Obama knows, as all national leaders do, that politics IS theater, and how you are seen and what you are seen doing can speak volumes.  By visiting the border or–even better–taking photos with the children–he would have given us a visual representation of how deeply he cares about their awful situation.

This is not to say that the president doesn’t care.  I truly believe that everyone from Rick Perry to Barack Obama to John Boehner want these children to ultimately be happy and safe.  And while they may disagree on solutions to the border crisis and the immediate problem of what to do with these tens of thousands of children, they all care.

Much like his predecessor George W. Bush was criticized for not visiting the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the days following the killer storm, some are angry at Obama for avoiding the border last week.  I see this as a missed opportunity.  In public relations, photo ops are not only important, they can be essential, especially during a crisis.  The president and his staff knew this–but blew a chance to communicate his concern.  Your thoughts?

Hyping PaRis

Mona Lisa's paparazzi at the Louvre

Mona Lisa’s paparazzi at the Louvre

Whenever I mentioned I was spending a week in Paris this summer, the listener’s eyes lit up, a smile would follow, and there was a trace of envy.  After all, Paris has been romanticized by so many, including the great artists and writers who lived there.  Oscar Wilde said, “When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” Songwriter Cole Porter wrote, “I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles.”  “I felt that Paris was illuminated by a splendor possessed by no other places,” wrote Isak Dinesen. And who could forget Humphrey Bogart’s immortal romantic line, “We’ll always have Paris,” in the classic film Casablanca?

Even though I had a short visit to Paris five years ago, I became curious and concerned about the hype regarding this city.  After all, we’ve all visited someplace or seen something that people rave about, only to be disappointed because our expectations were raised so high. (For me it was seeing Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, which happened to take place in Paris. Meh!).

When public relations people “hype” their clients’ accomplishments or products, the only time it can be justified is when reality meets expectations. Well, I’m back from France to say that Paris passed the “hype” test.  For me, it met or exceeded the expectations that had been raised.  From the Louvre to Notre Dame, from Montmarte to Versailles, from a boat ride on the Seine to the great food, wine, and coffee, the city is positively overwhelming in its scope, colorful history and splendid beauty.

Paris, of course, is also a crowded city with traffic and subways and crime.  But as a tourist, I appreciated and was awed by many of the wonderful experiences the city has to offer.

Hype without results or good performance is merely hype.  But just about everything I had been told about Paris turned out to be true.  Now I’ll smile and be envious the next time someone tells me they’re going to Paris.  Your thoughts?


PRius envy

My gas mileage

My gas mileage

I love my Prius.  I leased it last summer and I’ve already driven it more than 12,000 miles, averaging more than 50 miles per gallon of gas.  It’s comfortable, has a nice ride, and contains sophisticated technology which makes driving it more fun.  Plus, the dealership is state-of-the-art when it comes to customer service.

After my car developed a noise in the brakes, I brought it in. The dealership was very accommodating, lending me a nice car for as long as the Prius would be in the shop.  The service adviser and technician were pleasant, the dealership is very clean and attractive, and its new customer waiting area is wonderfully appointed with a large screen TV, computer stations, comfortable chairs, and free WiFi.

I’ve been impressed with this dealership since I first arrived for a test drive.  Since I leased the car I’ve completed satisfaction surveys, been checked on by customer service and was invited to a cocktail reception for new Prius owners/leasers.

Car dealerships are so focused on customer satisfaction these days that they have seemingly pulled out all the stops to ensure their customers keep coming back for service and for their next car.

But one weak link in a chain of customer satisfaction can effectively spoil all this hard work.  For me the weak link was the service department, which failed to keep promises to update me on the status of my repair.  Each day I’d have to call my service adviser, only to be told I’d be called back later in the day, and only to have to call again when he did not. This pattern went on repeatedly for more than a week until I got my Prius back.

Customer service is public relations.  Creating, maintaining or changing impressions and attitudes takes work, but above all, it takes consistent performance.  All the effort that went into making this dealership special were, in effect, spoiled for me by one weak link in the service department.  Good customer service requires excellent performance by everyone or it doesn’t work.  Your thoughts?

Good news from top PRos

GAP center-nameI occasionally like to focus this blog on trends in the public relations field, both in the practice of PR and the potential for jobs for new graduates and current practitioners.  There was good news for present and future public relations professionals this week, as the USC Annenberg Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center released its eighth biennial Communication and Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices (GAP VIII) Study.  Participants included 347 senior communications professionals in corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations, and was supported by the leading professional associations in the field.  Here are some encouraging results from the 50-question survey:

  • In 2014, 40% of public company respondents expected their PR/communication budgets to increase over 2013 levels.  In 2013, 60% experienced budget increases over 2012.
  • The survey noted that 40% of the respondents experiencing staff growth in 2014 over 2013 outnumbered those expecting flat or reduced staff size.  Thirty-eight percent (38%) reported staff growth in 2013 over 2012.
  • Almost 40% of respondents reported that PR/communication plays an active role in organizational strategic planning, while 15% strongly disagree and 45% are neutral.  Fifty-nine percent (59%) agree that PR/communication’s recommendations are taken seriously by senior management, while 9% strongly disagree and 32% are neutral.
  • Of the GAP VIII study respondents, 44% agree that their senior leadership believes PR/communication contributes to financial success, while 6% strongly disagree and a substantial 50% are neutral.
  • Forty-three percent (43%) have a solid reporting line to the CEO, president or chairman (collectively referred to as the C-Suite), and 43% have both a dotted line to the C-Suite and a solid line to another function, including 26% who have a solid line to marketing and a dotted line to the C-Suite.  Only 14% have no line whatsoever to the C-Suite, which is good news for PR practitioners who understand the importance of having a “seat at the table” when decisions are made.
  • According the GAP VIII, “Industries in which the majority of respondents expected staff growth in 2014 include energy, natural resources, finance, insurance, manufacturers/marketers of B-to-B products, professional services, retailing, and transportation/shipping.”

PR is not only an exciting field in which to work with a plethora of career options, it’s vital and growing and important.  And a survey this comprehensive proves it.  Your thoughts?

PooR response

Bert Cunningham

Bert Cunningham

My good friend and mentor Bert Cunningham had a distinguished public and private sector PR career spanning more than four decades. More recently, Bert taught public relations at Hofstra and occasionally contributes ideas for this blog. He’s guest-written this week’s blog and as always, Bert’s words are timely and wise:  

The outspoken part owner of California Chrome, Steve Coburn, blew the goodwill his horse earned by winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with his post-Belmont Stakes rant. Last week, he doubled down with more sour grapes. He didn’t apologize until the following day, which was too late. Other news stories took center stage by then. And, most importantly, the 20.6 million who viewed the race on TV had moved on.

Here’s the lesson: Coburn didn’t have a PR plan for a loss. He believed his own hype.

Coburn knew going to the Kentucky Derby it was possible fresh horses could be entered in the Belmont if his horse made it that far and that it was possible his horse could lose.

He convinced himself California Chrome could not lose, despite the odds against a win. In any business there is always the possibility that things can go south despite all the hard work and positive PR. That’s why it’s necessary to have a “Plan B.”

The day before the Belmont, June 6th, was the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. It was marked with moving ceremonies in France, New York, and other places around the globe. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the overall commander of the invasion, was ready with a statement in case it failed. After more than a year of planning, build-up and training, Ike was ready in case things went south.

Coburn, unfortunately, didn’t take the time to pre-plan a gracious statement just in case. Had he simply acknowledged he was disappointed with the loss, but still believed California Chrome was a champion, he would have gained a great deal of empathy. When the news came out Monday that Chrome was clipped by another horse out of the gate and ran the race injured, the horse would have gained even more sympathy for running a gritty race.

Now, Coburn is viewed as a poor loser who blew his 15 minutes of fame with hot-headed remarks that made him look foolish. He also put his sponsors and others on his team – and it is a team effort – in awkward positions.

Brands cannot survive in the long run with that kind of short-sighted PR strategy. Leaders of organizations, and chief communicators, must understand they carry a huge responsibility to protect reputations in good and bad times. It not only makes good business and PR sense, it’s a moral/ethical imperative.  Your thoughts?

PaRting with nostalgia

The ol' Steenbeck

The ol’ Steenbeck

This week my summer Public Relations Fundamentals students learned how to write a press release.  While there’s been much discussion in the profession about whether the press release is dead, I agree with many who believe that while we’re not printing them on paper and stuffing them into envelopes anymore, there’s a place for the online release.  This isn’t nostalgia talking; most of my academic and professional colleagues say it’s not yet time to abandon the press release.

It was, however, a particularly nostalgic week for me, partially because a Facebook page was created by old friends to celebrate our time together at college radio station WNYT.  A flood of photos and articles are being posted, and memories of record albums and cart machines and reel-to-reel tape recorders abound.  Coincidentally, I visited a friend this week who still works at my alma mater; he showed me WNYT, so my nostalgia meter has been running higher than usual.

To add to these events, I’ve started to think about what to do with hundreds of record albums, CDs and VHS tapes which are taking up significant space in our apartment.  I’ve already tossed most of the VHS tapes but am having trouble parting with the rest of the collection.  I also have a few antique radios on display which look nice but are dust collectors and space taker-uppers.

All this amplifies my belief that while there’s nothing wrong with memories and nostalgia, we must always keep moving with the changes technology imposes.  This is especially true in our classrooms where, on my campus and at my alma mater, we’re preparing hundreds of students each year to be professional communicators.  The reel-to-reel machines have been replaced by PCs loaded with Audition and other platforms; old Steenbeck flatbed film editors are now Avid editing suites, and press kits are uploaded to web sites and blogs.

I’m awed by the changes we’re seeing in communication and I’m excited to embrace all that’s new. The past is fun to see, but only in the rear view mirror. Your thoughts?


The blame PatteRn

Shisenski and Obama this week

Shisenski and Obama this week

I’m not qualified to say whether Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki was at fault for the scandal that has rocked the Veterans Administration.  I also don’t know how directly responsible he was for the VA staff’s misdeeds which led to his resignation last week.  I do, however, know enough about finger-pointing to understand that Shinseki had to go: politicians, the media, and subsequently the public, demanded it.

We see this pattern of blaming in matters of scandal and failure: something goes wrong and then we usually force the resignation of the person in charge. This mostly seems justified. But it’s sometimes mere window dressing, just a move made to make us believe the problem is being solved.

There’s been no shortage of such resignations in this year.  Kathleen Sibelius left her position as health secretary after the botched launch of Obamacare.  After millions of Target customers’ credit and debit card information were compromised, Gregg Steinhafel stepped down as CEO.  Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who made a contribution in 2008 to support a measure to ban gay marriage, resigned after being scorned on Twitter by his own employees and thousands of others.  Now, the union representing Malaysia Airlines employees wants the resignation of Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya as he grapples with the disappearance of Flight 370.

Clearly, Flight 370′s fate could not have been prevented by Mr. Yahya, nor can he locate the still-missing plane.  But it’s such misguided thinking which brings owners to fire a manager or coach when their team is losing (watch out, Terry Collins!), even though it’s really not their fault.  This can be a lame public relations technique and a poor fix for bad situations.

The Veterans Administration won’t be cured because General Shisenski is no longer running it.  Its internal culture must be changed for it to become fully functional and fair.

But on second thought, isn’t it the CEO’s job to set the tone and the culture of an organization? Hmmm.  Maybe I’m wrong about calling this lame PR and misguided thinking.  Your thoughts?



P.T. Rove

Karl Rove (photo: Time magazine)

Karl Rove (photo: Time magazine)

Karl Rove has been a political consultant since leaving the White House in 2007, working for the Republican Party and serving as a commentator for various media organizations.  He is often credited with engineering George W. Bush’s victories, including two elections for Texas governor and two for U.S. president.

Phineas T. Barnum was a showman (and a former politician!) best remembered for creating international hoaxes and for founding a circus.  He famously directed what public relations guru Fraser Seitel calls “pseudo events” — happenings and curiosities that sold tickets to a gullible public.

Last week, Karl Rove unleashed a firestorm of discussion among political pundits at Fox News and other media when he speculated that Hillary Clinton “may have brain damage” resulting from a 2012 concussion.  He later stood by his “concern,” telling Fox last Sunday, “I’m not questioning her health. What I’m questioning is whether or not it’s a done deal that she’s running. And she would not be human if she did not take this into consideration.”  He told the Washington Post that he believed she suffered “a serious health episode” and would “have to be forthcoming”  and “cough up her medical records” if she runs for president.

P. T. Barnum

P. T. Barnum  

Top Republicans from John McCain to Michael Bloomberg blasted Rove, calling his comments “disgusting” and “outrageous.”  But the news organizations were all over the story, and it became central to political conversations this week. Mission accomplished, Mr. Rove.

In this blog I previously compared Donald Trump with P.T. Barnum in light of Trump’s relentless media campaign regarding whether Barack Obama was born in the United States.  He honed in on people’s prejudices to help create a prolonged and silly public discussion.  Like Trump, Karl Rove is P.T. Barnum revisited.  By raising a false issue, he created a pseudo event that was and will be talked about.  And like Barnum, Rove doesn’t care what’s true, as long as doubts about Hillary’s health will be raised if and when she announces her candidacy.  Your thoughts?


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