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?

 

PeaRls of wisdom


MacDonald

Maril MacDonald

There were many wise words provided by PR veterans to more than 1,000 students at last week’s conference of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) in Washington, D.C. Perhaps the most significant session was titled, “A Conversation with Living Legends,” featuring Thomas Hoog, former president and CEO of Hill+Knowlton, and Maril MacDonald, CEO and founder of Gagen MacDonald. There was also a keynote by Pam Jenkins, president of Powell Tate. I wondered which words made a lasting impression, so I took notes and thought I’d share some of their terrific pearls of wisdom here:

Hoog: “In PR, we’re all about truth. Not hype, not spin, but truth. There’s no place for spin in our profession.”

MacDonald: “Loving to learn is the number one characteristic I look for when hiring. I look for people who are engaging. They are interested and interesting.

Jenkins

Pam Jenkins

Jenkins: “Five years from now this industry will look different than it does today. Embrace disruption–and cause it.”

Hoog: “Listen, incubate, initiate.”

MacDonald: “Take the job that scares you the most and jump in!”

Jenkins: “We’re living in the Age of Engagement. When it comes to every day things, we turn to each other rather than experts.”

Hoog: “I believe in the ‘three bone’ theory of recruitment. I look for people who have a funny bone, a backbone and a wish bone.”

Hoog

Thomas Hoog

MacDonald: “Everyone is clamoring for people who are good at storytelling and making things very visual.”

Jenkins: “Most companies want to tell their stories directly to their customers. We in PR agencies need people with new skills (including) video producers, designers, creators, people who know analytics, who understand the news media, plus we need MBA’s and PhD’s.”

Hoog: “Clear, concise and credible communication is essential for PR leadership.”

There was no shortage of good advice at the PRSSA conference. Which of these pearls of wisdom resonate for you? Which will you remember? And what will inspire you to do something different on behalf of your own public relations career? Your thoughts?

Taking time to PondeR


(L. to r.) Yours turly, Jessica Braveman, Nathalie Retana and Isabela Jacobsen at the PRSSA conference

(L. to r.) Yours truly, Jessica Braveman, Nathalie Retana and Isabela Jacobsen at the PRSSA conference

My t-shirt (photo, r.) got some laughs at the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) conference in Washington, D.C. this weekend.  It was a birthday gift from my daughters, and it’s precisely what I find myself saying to my students when they seem surprised by an assignment or a class policy.  In fact, most teachers say it a lot, and in its silly way it speaks volumes about how much we all simply don’t pay enough attention.

I can tell you with some embarrassment that I’ve almost thrown out checks and credit cards, because the mail looked like junk and I was too careless to open the envelope. We allow ourselves to become so distracted that we don’t read past the cover or think things through or ponder before taking action. We multitask to our own detriment and, as a result, we wind up making mistakes and missing opportunities. Hallway conversations become quasi-meetings, and email messages become a substitute for contemplative brainstorming and conversation.

This is why I enjoy conferences as much as I do.  I relish the chance to completely focus on a presentation.  The cell phone is off, no TV is on, the dog isn’t asking to play, and no one’s dropping by the office with a quick question.  I get to listen to every word, share ideas and contemplate how they apply to my own experience.  And that is exactly the point of a conference.  It’s a chance to get away from our every day environment and do some critical thinking–without interruptions.  Then we enhance our professional lives by applying what we’ve learned.

Yes, it’s on the syllabus.  It’s in the envelope.  It’s in the classroom, at the conference, in the program.  It’s taking time to hear the words and really listen. It’s enjoying the parts of our day when we can pause, observe, and experience the moment.  Sometimes it’s just forcing ourselves to slow down, pay attention and think.  Your thoughts?


Next week: What I heard and learned at
the PRSSA conference

Mr. PopulaR


Photo: "American Masters--The Boomer List

Photo of Billy Joel from “American Masters: The Boomer List”)

He’s 65 now, short and stocky, and looks more like an everyman than a piano man.  He’s been in a mental hospital and rehab, wrecked at least three cars and a motorcycle, lost two fortunes, and has three ex-wives including a supermodel and a woman half his age.  Yet there wasn’t an empty seat at Madison Square Garden last Thursday as Billy Joel played his monthly concert. Despite a checkered life, he is, without a doubt, adored by his audiences.

We see how quickly entertainers’ careers can flounder when they have personal struggles and public controversies.  Their public images suffer (examples: Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen, Ray Rice, Lindsay Lohan), and they’re often mocked and shunned by people in their own industry.  Some recover from their issues and regain public favor; others never do.  Billy Joel has navigated the negatives in his life and has enjoyed the public’s goodwill throughout his career, especially now. Here’s why:

First, there’s his music.  His prolific catalog of hits places him among the biggest superstars.  His songs’ lyrics speak of people we know and are, events and places we’ve seen and been, and take us to the times we heard them and sang along.  And sing along we did at the Garden–more than 18 thousand people belting out “Piano Man”, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and many others.

Locally this summer, Newsday’sThat’s SO Long Island” competition saw 520,000 voters place Joel number one–ahead of 64 foods, attractions, celebrities and activities including Jones Beach!  He told Newsday, “My perspective of things all comes from a Long Island point of view.”  Joel was born, raised and still lives on Long Island, calling it his “favorite place” in a state tourism ad.  He’s raised money for Long Island Cares, Sandy Relief, and joins others cleaning a beach each year on behalf of the North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association and Friends of the Bay.

Billy Joel’s a superstar who looks and thinks like us, and he spends his time and money on our behalf, too.  This–and his wonderful music–is why the Piano Man remains Mr. Popular.  Your thoughts?

An outsider’s PeRspective


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

This past summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to work as a legal intern at NBCUniversal. The company’s corporate environment allowed me to met many extraordinary people and observe the daily work flow. Upon mingling with the other interns on my floor, I learned that the office adjacent to mine was designated to the company’s corporate social responsibility department. I was unaware at the time that this was a subdivision of public relations. Looking back at it now, I realize how attentive and involved those employees were to every single aspect of the company. My experiences with them and enrollment in this class has helped me better understand the comprehensive field of public relations.

As a television and business major, I have studied extensively the history and principles of modern-day media. However, my curricular and personal knowledge of TV has only been focused on the industry’s production process and business management. But after being introduced to the functions of a public relations department/agency, I see how important it is to a client/company’s publicity, especially in the entertainment area. In addition to this, I am now collaborating with a number of PR majors and club presidents after becoming the new social media producer for Hofstra Today. Working with them has given me a better insight to the field as well as a first hand PR experience.

Now knowing more about the public relations field, I have an outstanding sense of admiration and respect for those working in the industry. I realize that I have only been exposed to a small portion of public relations, but their efforts in other areas and businesses do not go unnoticed. The professionals in this field are true Renaissance men and women, adept in all forms of communication and many other important skills. I may have not been too familiar with the profession at first, but now I have a better perspective of what public relations actually entails.

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