Semester apPReciation

As another semester of learning ends, I’m appreciating the discoveries and lessons I’ve experienced this fall…

1) Students are amazing. I’m always impressed with my students’ energy, drive and focus. They’re part of a much-maligned generation, perceived to be coddled and entitled. But more often I see 18-22 year olds who participate in clubs and volunteer for multiple causes, and who are truly caring, accepting and appreciative individuals. Older students fill their incredibly busy lives with career and family while still finding time to enhance their knowledge and credentials. And they’re getting jobs. One example is that our last four PRSSA chapter presidents are now working in two New York City agencies: Hunter and Burson-Marstellar.

PRSSA members and me visited a NYC agency in October

PRSSA members visited a New York City PR agency in October

2) Professionals are cool. My students and I connected with so many helpful PR practitioners this semester through the PRSSA networking dinner, PRPLI’s holiday mixer, an agency visit, classroom guest speakers, the PRSSA national conference, and internships. Whether recently employed or PR veterans, these professionals provided students with priceless encouragement and advice.

3) Technology is hot. The more I teach current online and desktop public relations tools, the more I realize how much more there is to learn. Introduction of new platforms and software seem to know no end, and it’s a challenge to stay ahead of the curve. Educators have to be up to the challenge or fall behind their students’ own knowledge base.

4) Hofstra is high. We were all thrilled to learn that according to a new LinkedIn ranking system that measures career outcomes, Hofstra is the second best school in the nation for finding media jobs. This, combined with our School of Communication’s high retention rate, a growing number of students majoring in PR, and a burgeoning PR graduate program, makes Hofstra a great place to be. The Pride is high!

5) Commencement is coming. Next Sunday I’ll have the honor of serving as Graduate Marshal for the mid-year commencement ceremony. Watching students finally get their diplomas is very rewarding, and I love being part of one the most joyful days in their lives. So congratulations, graduates…you’re amazing! Your thoughts?

Public Relations Barbie

A note from Jeff Morosoff: Hofstra Honors College students in my PR fundamentals class are required to submit guest blog posts throughout the semester. The following was written by Areanna Rufrano:  

Areanna Rufrano

Areanna Rufrano

Not many feminists would say that Barbie dolls are the image of female empowerment, especially after a popular Mattel Barbie book series created some controversy regarding sexism in the workplace. In a society that is fully aware of the growing feminist movement, it is evident that the Mattel company would face a major PR crisis for this recent outrage.

The source of this offense is found in the story line of the “I Can Be” Barbie book series. Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer features the iconic doll struggling to fix her computer after it becomes corrupt with a virus. Instead of being the female empowered individual she strives to be, she has to resort to the help of two male computer engineers. One of those male characters even states, “It will go faster if Brain and I help,” which many people thought insinuated males are more skillful than women.

Even though the book was published in 2010, author Pamela Ribon recently denounced the book on her website which started the heated concerns across the Internet. As a result, Mattel pulled the book from Amazon and issued an apology, saying, “The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for.”

This is not the first time Mattel and other doll manufacturing companies have encountered this type of issue. While pulling the condemned product from stores and giving an apology are good ways to manage a PR crisis, it shouldn’t stop there. The Mattel company should take more public relations action to effectively advocate feminism and to illustrate their sincere support. Your thoughts?

PReventing brain farts

Social media has often been compared to a cocktail party. As people move through the room they listen and participate in brief conversations, and soon find another discussion they like. But while cocktail party comments usually come and go in seconds, social media discussions never go away. Even after a comment is deleted it’s still searchable and becomes part of the Internet’s permanent memory. A single “brain fart” posted on Facebook or Twitter can cause a public firestorm–or end one’s career.

obama_thanksgivingSuch was the case when Elizabeth Lauten, communications director for a Tennessee congressman, criticized the Obama daughters for their bored behavior during the annual turkey pardoning event at the White House. The Facebook post ended up costing her job.

Lauten wrote: “Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class…Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless…act like being in the White House matters…Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.”

After thousands online accused her of bullying the First Daughters, Lauten apologized on Facebook, posting: “I reacted to an article and quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were…”

Presidents’ children have historically been off-limits to public criticism, although there have been similar past incidents where such boundaries were violated. However, Lauten’s politically-driven Facebook eruption forced her resignation days later.

The lesson: Think twice before you hit “send.” Too often we’ve seen tweets and posts from politicians, celebrities, athletes, and business leaders that have resulted in PR disasters. Not every thought one has should be so quickly expressed online in our immediate media. Your thoughts?

What PuRpose?

darren wilsonThere will be many more chapters written as Americans come to terms with the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, who was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9 by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. In addition to the many ramifications of the incident and events following the grand jury’s decision, the government, law enforcement and public relations mistakes made surrounding this tragedy have been many. One of these may be a decision by Wilson to be interviewed on ABC in the midst of rioting that followed the grand jury announcement.

We often study the PR mistakes made during tragic situations. Sometimes they occur when someone in charge uses the wrong words. BP CEO Tony Hayward told a reporter, “I’d like my life back” after a 2010 rig explosion caused several workers’ deaths and the Gulf of Mexico to be overcome with crude oil. This was an example of a leader who was unprepared and inappropriate when pushed into the media spotlight.

During a hauntingly similar incident in 1989, Exxon CEO Lawrence Rawl was loudly criticized when he waited a week to react to a major oil spill in Alaska, leading The New York Times to correctly predict “…the Exxon Valdez episode will become a textbook example of what not to do when an unexpected crisis thrusts a company into the limelight.” Among its many errors, leadership waited too long to respond and blamed others for the spill and slow clean-up efforts, creating the impression that they were uncaring and callous.

Inappropriate words and poor timing can elevate a crisis. Why no one stopped Officer Wilson from being interviewed as demonstrations turned violent made little sense. His comments during the TV appearance (“The reason I have a clean conscience is that I know I did my job right”) only served to inflame the anger as did his on-air description of Brown’s last moments.

Wilson should have been advised–maybe even ordered–to stay quiet last week. What purpose was served by going public, especially as public disdain was boiling over? Was it a poor judgement? Bad PR? Your thoughts?


P.S. Just prior to this posting it was learned that Officer Darren Wilson resigned from the Ferguson Police Department.

PRofits before PR

PC Richard & Son's annual ad

P.C. Richard & Son’s Thanksgiving ad

The Great Holiday Shopping Controversy is on once again! Retailers are pushing the Black Friday envelope a little further each year, with many stores including JCPenney, BestBuy, Old Navy opening at 5:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving day. Sears, Kohl’s, Target, and others will open at 6:00 p.m. Most Walmarts will be open all day. While these companies are hoping to maximize their holiday profits, the voices protesting Thanksgiving day shopping are growing louder.

From the new Facebook group “Boycott Shopping on Thanksgiving Day” which lists stores as “naughty” and “nice,” to retailers who are very public about remaining closed, the backlash and anger against opening on Turkey Day is palpable. Christopher & Banks, a clothing store in a New Hampshire mall that will fine stores for not opening, released this defiant statement: “We have made a decision that all stores will be closed on Thanksgiving day regardless of the mall requirements.” The Capitol Mall in Olympia, Washington decided not to fine The Mac Store, an independent re-seller of Apple products, for refusing to open on the holiday. The Hartford Courant reported this week that, “Connecticut lawmakers plan to propose legislation next year to discourage stores from opening on Thanksgiving, aiming to prevent ‘Black Friday’ sales from spilling into a American holiday.” And Long Island-based electronics retailer P.C. Richard & Son runs full-page ads every year stating, “It is our opinion that retailers who choose to stay open on Thanksgiving Day show no respect to their employees and families, and are in total disrespect of the family values in the United States of America.”

Some retailers such as T.J. Maxx; Bed, Bath & Beyond; and Costco will be closed on Thanksgiving. The list of others is long and growing. From a public relations perspective, these brands have everything to gain by keeping their doors shut. The other retailers have put potential profits before PR; the question remains whether the loss of goodwill is worth the potential monetary gains from opening on the holiday. I’d opt for good PR.

Happy Thanksgiving! Your thoughts?

P.S. You can check out comedian Lewis Black’s hilarious commentary on this same topic here.

PRe-existing PRisms

Frank Luntz

Frank Luntz

Many of us have books we keep meaning to read. Mine have been “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo and “Words That Work,” by Dr. Frank Luntz. Since Hugo’s book is approximately 1,500 pages and is in French (English translation available!), I opted to finally purchase Luntz’s 267-page tome.

I’m an admirer of political and public opinion strategist Frank Luntz. I often watch his political commentaries and follow him on Twitter. Luntz’s clients are primarily Republicans, although he’s worked for various politicians and business leaders around the globe.

The subtitle of “Words That Work” is “It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” Luntz frames his philosophy nicely in the book’s introduction; it’s an approach that should guide every public relations practitioner and professional communicator. “You can have the best message in the world, but the person on the receiving end will always understand it through the prism of his or her own emotions, preconceptions, prejudices, and pre-existing beliefs,” he wrote. “The key to successful communication is to take the imaginative leap of stuffing yourself right into your listener’s shoes to know what they are thinking and feeling in the deepest recesses of their minds and hearts.”

Luntz’s quote reminds me of a bullet point PR guru Fraser Seitel used in his textbook, “The Practice of Public Relations.” In a chapter on crisis management, Seitel instructs us to “plan from the outside in,” noting that the external environment, not internal strategies, should dictate how we select our priorities when communicating. Because we have to communicate through our target audiences’ pre-existing prisms, we should try to see issues the way they will see them before we can effectively craft our messages.

With its more than a million words, the beauty and the challenge of the English language is that there are so many ways to express an idea. I’m looking forward to discovering Luntz’ success in finding the words that work for us. As PR professionals, we must be very tactical when planning how we’ll use the language to engage and motivate our audiences. Your thoughts?

Self-fulfilling PRophecy

Barack ObamaLet’s start with full disclosure: I generally support President Obama and the Democratic Party. I usually avoid politics in this blog, but there are a few public relations lessons to be learned from Election Day 2014.

It’s generally agreed that Democrats suffered significant setbacks, losing several governorships, House seats, and the Senate majority. I believe a combination of tactical errors caused their losses, while a consistent strategy propelled the Republicans. The news media also played a significant role in influencing this election’s outcome.

Let’s look at some PR maxims and how they relate:

1) Accentuate the positive — PR people promote the good stuff. But Democrats never took ownership of significant achievements. Under the party’s president and the Senate majority, the country avoided a depression, has lower unemployment and higher stock prices, millions more have health insurance, the environment is better protected, two wars are over, and Bin Laden is dead. The Dems didn’t run on their positives.

2) Be consistent — PR people understand branding. Republican candidates never strayed from their umbrella theme that President Obama is a failure and, therefore, so is anyone from his party. This relentless messaging helped propel GOP candidates to victory.

3) Support your organization’s leadership — PR folks know it’s never constructive to badmouth the boss. Democrats not only gave in to the constant focus on Obama’s lower approval rating, they ran from him and some actually denied ever supporting him.

4) Understand the media’s hunger for contests — Journalists and pundits know that drama is good for ratings. Because they were highly focused on Obama’s approval numbers and Democrats’ efforts to avoid him, the election’s outcome became a self-fulfilling prophecy. There was little discussion about issues, and few policy questions put to the politicians who have blocked Obama’s every move. Instead, a shift to the GOP was framed as a possible solution to the gridlock that was purposely created.

5) Communicate your successes — I say President Obama has been pretty inadequate at highlighting and articulating the good things he’s done. PR people know that lack of information breeds misinformation.

OK, that’s my election analysis as it relates to PR maxims. Your thoughts?

The Social ExPeRiment

A note from Jeff Morosoff: Hofstra Honors College students in my PR fundamentals class are required to submit guest blog posts throughout the semester. The following was written by Areanna Rufrano:  

Earlier this year Time magazine comprised a list of the 13 sassiest brands on Twitter. The companies that made the list excelled in creating witty interactions and clever posts thus proving that the power of social media is a big advantage for public relations professionals.

Areanna Rufrano

Areanna Rufrano

A major part of what public relations entails is communication with the general public, and the most effective way to do that today is through social media. It is a highly innovative platform that provides a direct connection to a mass audience as a means to supply information and generate buzz. If used properly, social media has the ability to enhance a public image, maintain a loyal following and establish a strong public awareness for a company.

Even though most of this area is strategically planned in public relations, especially for campaigns and announcements, there is plenty of room for spontaneous engagement. The majority of these unplanned opportunities relate to either a current event or news headline. For example, Oreo made a brilliant move by tweeting “You can still dunk in the dark” during the 2013 Super Bowl power outage, which went viral within minutes. It became a national sensation and proved to be more effective than the company’s commercial during the game. So as long as the content is relevant and noteworthy, social media can be powerful method to attract public attention.

While social media is a great asset to utilize, one must be extremely cautious of the material that is to be publicized. Many times certain comments can be taken the wrong way even though the intention was good. Public relations professionals must work closely with marketers and social media directors to send out the right message. Ultimately, the general rule of thumb for social media is to continue to follow the “Seven Principles of Public Relations Management” created decades ago by former AT&T executive and PR veteran Arthur Page. Page’s principles emphasized action, patience, listening and–most importantly–truth. Your thoughts?

PR and big data

Bert Cunningham

Bert Cunningham

My friend and PR mentor Bert Cunningham frequently suggests topics for Public Relations Nation. As I’ve done before, I asked Bert to be a guest columnist this week. I’m very happy he’s again providing us with his wise observations.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to one of Professor Morosoff’s PR classes. One of the challenges, and opportunities, discussed was that PR pros need to know how to use Big Data.

A recent New York Times article entitled “How Facebook is Changing the Way its Consumers Use Journalism” underscored the issue. The article described how Facebook’s use of algorithms to drive news to its users is “changing the way its users consume journalism.” In turn, Facebook’s algorithm-driven news feeds impact how news content providers structure their respective print, Internet and digital products, and how advertisers advertise and on what platforms.

It’s still a “bold new world” for traditional news media seeking to survive as the impact of social media and digital apps drive more of the news delivery process. What struck me was how this changes the PR pro’s role.

A cornerstone of PR is media relations. The basic tenet of media relations is to build relationships with reporters, editors and assignment desks. How will Big Data news algorithms change that equation? How does a PR pro build a relationship with an algorithm? I can imagine a Big Data-influenced call to a reporter going something like this: “Hi, Bill. It’s Bert. I have an interesting story for the XYZ non-profit’s annual fundraiser that’s truly unique.” “Really, Bert, sounds interesting. Let me see how non-profit fundraising stories are trending on Facebook’s algorithm…Sorry, way down. Call back when the algorithm is up.”

Extreme? Perhaps. But, here’s the point: The human factor is being taking out of the news business, because of the need to survive. News outlets always had to survive, but there was a wall between the news content side and the advertising side. Those lines are blurring more and more because of social media-driven news feeds. When the human factor goes out of the news business so will the ability of PR pros to build meaningful media relationships.

So what do future PR pros do? How will they cope with Big Data and news feed algorithms? Your thoughts?

Passion foR it

Can you stand another blog post filled with good advice?

DKC's Bruce Bobbins, surrounded by Hofstra PR students

DKC’s Bruce Bobbins, surrounded by Hofstra PR students

This week’s wise words came from Bruce Bobbins, executive vice president at Manhattan-based PR firm DKC. Among DKC’s 200 clients are governments, nonprofits and major corporations from Aeropostale to Yahoo with companies including Coca-Cola, Delta, Jaguar, Marvel, the Knicks, and dozens of other internationally-known brands. During a visit arranged by Hofstra PRSSA President Nathalie Retana, Bruce hosted 20 Hofstra students and me last Friday, and over pizza and soft drinks shared his personal and professional insights on what it takes to do public relations well.

Bruce said he’s enjoyed every minute of his three decades in PR. But like many senior PR people, he didn’t go to college to learn public relations. Bruce wanted to be a sportscaster, but when an internship at a PR firm turned into a job offer, he seized upon it. He found he was attracted to public relations initially because he enjoyed writing, and emphasized to the students the importance of the “3 C’s” of good writing–clarity, conciseness and creativity.

Bruce described good PR people as “three-headed monsters.” He said that effective public relations practitioners have three job descriptions: they have to be journalists and good story-tellers, they should be salespeople so they can create and maintain good client and media relationships, and they must be strategic counselors who guide their organizations through the often treacherous maze of public opinion. “You can do well in this business doing two of these three functions. But you’d do better if you can do all three.”

Bruce also spoke about empathy. “Be compassionate,” he told the students. He suggested that doing PR well also means caring about those who you can help through nonprofit organizations, and the people whose lives are improved because of social responsibility and good work your clients can do.

Finally, Bruce told his young guests that going to work every day has to be fulfilling. “Love what you do, have passion for it.”

Bruce and I are of the same generation and had very different PR careers, but I couldn’t agree more. Your thoughts?



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