Last week, Public Relations Nation focused on PR’s history as expressed in the new timeline produced by the Museum of Public Relations and Hofstra University. PR history is being written all the time, especially chapters focused on crisis communication. Each time a company, individual or institution gets into trouble, another case study develops for PR students and, later, historians to analyze. Dozens of publications and textbooks examine crisis PR, among them Eric Dezenhall’s “Damage Control” and Steve Adubato’s “What Were They Thinking?”
So indeed, what were they thinking at Volkswagen when its leadership made a deliberate decision to deceive consumers and regulators all over the world? In this week’s New York Times, “Explaining Volkswagen’s Emissions Scandal” tells us how “Volkswagen has admitted that 11 million of its vehicles were equipped with software that was used to cheat on emissions tests. The company is now contending with the fallout.” The article goes on to describe that “Volkswagen has recently reported record losses, as the company’s value has plummeted since the scandal broke…Internally, the company has shaken up its leadership. Its chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, as well as the head of its American operations have stepped down, and the company suspended several high-ranking executives. Volkswagen has also been facing mounting legal battles (and) regulators across the globe have been conducting their own investigations.”
VW began its damage control with apologies, running an ad last November saying, “We’re working to make things right.” Executive Herbert Diess wrote in January, “We disappointed our customers and the American people, for which I am truly sorry…We at Volkswagen are disappointed that this could happen within the company we love. I assure you we are doing everything we can to make things right.” CEO Matthias Müller told the press last week that he “personally apologize(d) to President Obama for our behavior.”
It’s fascinating to see VW struggle to fix its cars, its company and its image as this scandal unfolds. It’s another chapter for the PR history books and it’s being written as we watch. Apologies aside, what should Volkswagen do next? Your thoughts?
What do Confucius and Edward Bernays have in common? Can you find a link between historical villains Genghis Khan and Joseph Goebbels? How were cave paintings, the printing press, and social media fundamental to public relations? The answers can be found in a timeline just launched by the Museum of Public Relations and sponsored by Hofstra University.
“Public Relations Through the Ages: A Timeline of Social Movements, Technology Milestones and the Rise of the Profession” uses 36 beautifully-designed slides and text to illustrate the evolution of our profession and its relationship to the development of human communication. According to the museum’s web site, “This timeline highlights the significant people, events and inventions which have connected messages and messengers through the ages.”
The timeline is the brainchild of Shelley Spector, the executive director and founder of the Museum of Public Relations, the only PR museum in the world. Shelley correctly observes that the history of PR is fundamentally tied to the evolution of communication. For thousands of years, religion, politics and essentially all human interaction have public relations skills and strategies at their foundation.
For example, within the timeline you’ll learn that ancient Greek thinker-philosophers known as “sophists” taught nobleman seeking public office the art of persuasion; Saint Patrick of Ireland helped spread Christianity by using the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity; the word propaganda, the Latin word for plant and animal reproduction, was later used as a method for spreading information, most heinously by the Nazis; the Boston Tea Party was an early example of a “pseudo event” for publicity’s sake; and that many of today’s large PR agencies are run by international holding companies.
Designed by Shelley’s husband Barry Spector with input from yours truly, the timeline will serve as a superb jumping off point for students, educators and researchers alike to learn from and form a broader perspective on the practice of public relations. A narrated version will go on the road and be available for viewing soon. Please click here to take a look at the timeline and comment. Your thoughts?
If you believe polls, Tuesday’s New York presidential primary this Tuesday will see Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump emerge as winners. Both New York residents will have what is typical of most primaries: victories in their home state.
New Yorkers can only cast a vote for a candidate in the party in which they are registered. Republicans will decide if they support the controversial GOP front-runner Trump or one of his remaining rivals. Registered Democrats must choose between Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the former New Yorker who has surprised pundits by giving Hillary a run for her money.
Sometimes the decision on who to vote for isn’t based on a “favorite” candidate; rather, it’s a pragmatic determination. If you’re a Democrat, you might consider who has the best chance of beating Trump or whomever the GOP nominates at its convention. If you’re a Republican, you may reflect on whether you’re happy with Trump as our potential president, or whether you should support Ted Cruz or John Kasich if they have the better shot at beating the Democrat.
You also could base your decision on who most closely reflects your own political views, or the candidate who you simply find more likable. Trump and Sanders supporters seem to favor their candidates’ tendency toward blunt talk and how they often avoid “political correctness.” In Trump’s case there’s no such thing as political correctness, and a lot of people find this appealing. Many find it appalling, not only because much of what he says is outrageous on many levels, but because he is a public relations nightmare. One can only imagine how his lack of a PR filter would be perceived and interpreted on an international stage.
Despite public relations debacles that would have sidelined any other candidate, Donald Trump is leading his primary battle. But blunt, unfiltered words are likely to become damaging to national policy and politics. I’ll base my vote on whose words and positions–and whose PR filter–will effectively lead us for the next four years. It’s a choice not to to be taken lightly. Your thoughts?
Have you considered joining the Association for Astrological Networking? How about the World Association of Detectives? The International Association of Youth Hypnotists, perhaps? Or the American Association of Candy Technologists?
These organizations are real and draw their membership from very specific groups of professionals. They’re known as trade associations and each one of them share a similar mission: to bring professional development, educational and networking opportunities to people with similar careers and interests.
There’s tremendous value in belonging to such organizations and public relations practitioners are no exception. There are countless international, national and local PR associations providing a myriad of services and programs for their members. These groups provide connections to job opportunities and mentoring, and offer resources for professionals to keep up with changes in their industries. As PR people know, few industries are changing as quickly as public relations.
Of course, the largest trade organization for PR professionals is the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Its members number more than 22,000 public relations and communications professionals and more than 10,000 students through the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Although annual membership fees are a bit pricey (but much less for PRSSA members transitioning from college), the access its members have to information, advice and networking is invaluable.
As you seek the benefits of a PR trade group, you should also look locally. You can find dozens of such associations listed, for example, at odwyerpr.com. Wherever you are there’s likely to be a PR or communication-related organization you can join, including the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island (PRPLI), a group with which I’ve been involved since 1990. The huge advantage to local organizations is they’re filled with people who work where you work and can connect you with nearby opportunities you’ll likely use. Through relationships I made with fellow PRPLI members I’ve gotten jobs, consulting work, enhanced my skills, and made lifelong friends.
Whether you’re a student graduating or a professional in search of connections, do yourself and your career a big favor — join a PR trade association. Will you? The benefits can be profound. Your thoughts?
More to come: Another important professional group: AEJMC’s PR Division
Why do misused apostrophes and other poor punctuation drive me so crazy? Why does bad grammar–at least in written form–make me batty? As I noted in a blog post about three years ago and repeatedly since then, I’m a stickler for writing right, partially because employers demand it.
Well, maybe most employers demand it, but apparently someone in charge at American Eagle Outfitters’ corporate office does not, or worse, doesn’t know the difference. During my spring break vacation this week, I spotted yet another of the so many incorrect apostrophes which seem to be plaguing signage and ads everywhere (see the photo, left).
Grammar mistakes abound as well. We generally can forgive poor grammar when we’re having a casual conversation, but when we see it in signs (see photo, right), papers or even resumes, the results can be comical and often costly.
It’s a point well made in a 2012 article 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…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. Sloppy is as sloppy does.”
Weins’ point could not be more important to anyone working in public relations or any communication-related field. Proper grammar and punctuation are essential, and mistakes can cost you your job–or prevent you from getting a job in the first place. If you’re not good with grammar and punctuation, become good. If you’re good, get better. For a PR practitioner, it’s essential. Your thoughts?
Last week I asked Hofstra PRSSA Regional Conference attendees to discuss their “light bulb” moment, an instance when a PR professional may have said something inspirational. Among their responses were clear resolutions to initiate opportunities and channel professional goals into action. Here’s a sample of their comments:
“Never judge on a person based on the person’s position at that point in time-because they may turn out to be someone important. I like the part about not letting failure drag you down.”
“We should take into account that information comes from ALL kinds of sources and that if something is not on the Internet, this does not mean it doesn’t exist or has value to us.”
“A specific light bulb moment for me was when one of the panelists stated that a person shouldn’t really go to the media unless they have something to talk about or promote. Once they have something to speak about, the relationship between the media and that particular organization can grow.”
“It definitely proved to me that it is possible to have a ‘dream job’ freshly out of school, but also to wait a little bit for the right one to come along if you are really passionate about a specific part of the industry.”
“When (a panelist) told us to not be afraid of failing and provided several extremely credible examples about individuals failing, it really hit hard. The next time I’m thinking about taking a chance, I will now be less fearful and remember her comments.”
“My light bulb moment was when (panelist) Denice Pigott said, ‘Tell everyone what your goals are; you never know who can help you.’ Sometimes we forget that the relationships we foster with our colleagues can present opportunities in the future.”
“I think I’ve finally realized and accepted that I have the capability to create my own future and I truly can do what I want–-regardless of what others say or what I convince myself I can or can’t do.”
These are profound, life-changing words. So what action will you take now to reach your professional goals? Your thoughts?
From time to time Public Relations Nation posts a guest blog written by a Hofstra student. Danielle Kent is a senior majoring in public relations at the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University. The observations expressed here belong to the writer:
Donald Trump. The man whose notoriety once stemmed from firing contestants on “The Apprentice” has since been making waves as a political front runner. Reports of an anti-Trump Super PAC within the GOP have many wondering how a man whose party so openly criticizes him has garnered such impressive national support. Trump has beat competitors in most GOP primaries–taking Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and others out of the race– and has gained voter support across most demographics.
Though liberals tend to knock the GOP for having an unclear stance on issues currently plaguing the U.S., Trump is certainly not ambiguous and Americans love it. Trump is transparent about his intentions to halt immigration by building physical borders and mass deporting illegal aliens. He also intends to overturn Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a once controversial act that has reduced the number of uninsured Americans by millions.
Trump certainly lacks originality; his ideas, though extreme, are not revolutionary. He also lacks a strong conservative backing. His platform is conservative-leaning, but surprisingly moderate. So why do some keep voting for him?
Oddly enough, Trump shares a lot of similarities with his liberal opponent, Bernie Sanders. Less concerned with their goals as politicians, Americans sense authenticity in Trump and Sanders that many politicians lack. Trump may make polarizing statements that offend entire groups of people, but he does so honestly without fear of criticism.
Most Americans are skeptical of the government and in light of the many political scandals that have emerged in years past (Watergate, anyone?), this skepticism is not in vain. Both candidates share a similar “buck stops here” attitude, rejecting traditional political practices. They are loud, vulnerable, and unapologetic. Say what you want about Trump’s political views, but he certainly knows his target. The working class loves a success story and Trump positions himself as such.
Regardless of whether or not Trump gets elected, one thing has become painfully obvious: Americans are fed up with the precedents set by politicians of the past and they want real change. Is Donald Trump their answer?
As I sat in on eight panel discussions during the regional conference “Start Spreading the News,” hosted by Hofstra’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter this weekend, I thought back to the valuable advice I received during my quarter-century as a PR practitioner. I also thought about how lucky our students are to have learned from more than two dozen professionals this weekend, each generously sharing words of wisdom. I wondered which words created “light bulb moments” for the 150 student participants. What resonated with them as they listened?
Good advice has stuck with me through the years. One example: When I was just 29, I became the head of communications for the Town of Babylon and spokesman for Supervisor Arthur Pitts, the top elected official in a town of 220,000 residents. I was young and pretty naive, and whenever we’d talk about strategy I’d find myself thinking in terms of how we could quickly and effectively achieve our immediate goals. However, I’d sometimes neglect to regard the motivation, attitudes and concerns of those who would be affected by our actions. Supervisor Pitts, who was just a few years older but was far wiser, advised me to carefully consider others’ motivations, concerns and perceptions, and ultimately how our actions will be perceived and reacted to before decisions are made. Of course, this was a fundamentally sound public relations approach, but it was a light bulb moment for me.
Fraser Seitel, the PR guru who authored “The Practice of Public Relations” advises PR students to “plan from the outside in.” It was my former boss’s approach re-stated: Always begin your PR strategies by examining how your publics may react and respond.
There’s no question that lasting advice can come from anyone. Putting yourself in places where you can meet practitioners and really listen to their experiences and life lessons, creates a huge advantage for your own professional development. Sometimes just a few wise words can stay with you, influencing and informing your entire career.
If you were there, what was your “light bulb moment” at the PRSSA conference this weekend? Your thoughts?
Sometimes the sighs and the eye rolling are palpable. It happens on the first day of class as I review the syllabus and reveal that my students will be required to attend a full-day conference–and on a Saturday! Heavens!
However, when we return to class after the conference, there’s usually praise for the experience and a “thank you” from students grateful that they were “forced” to go.
Our profession’s leading trade organization, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), was founded in 1947 to “provide professional development, set standards of excellence and uphold principles of ethics for its members.” In addition to representing 22,000 members, PRSA has 10,000 student members through the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Each year, PRSSA selects just nine chapters to host regional conferences, and this year the Hofstra University chapter of PRSSA was chosen.
The conference, titled “Start Spreading the News,” will focus on the professional advantages Hofstra students have because of the campus’ proximity to New York City, the media and PR capital of the world. On March 18-19, students from Hofstra and other schools in the region will join three dozen PR specialists, communicators, journalists, and educators who will serve as moderators and panelists in eight different workshops. Workshops will be comprised of New York-based professionals in industries including entertainment, travel, nonprofit, technology, international relations, fashion, corporate, and journalism. They’ll also have the chance to meet and network with these practitioners throughout the event.
The conference begins this Friday with a tour of the Museum of Public Relations at Baruch College in Manhattan and a networking reception with working professionals–most whom are Hofstra alumni–at the Heartland Brewery in the Empire State Building . The workshops all take place on campus on Saturday and includes a keynote address from Ashley Trager Chauvin of Edelman, one of the world’s largest PR firms, plus resume reviews, professional head shots, lunch, and more networking.
Students can register online or visit the Hofstra PRSSA table in the Student Center atrium. And on March 20, I believe the excitement, growth and learning from the experience will be palpable. Your thoughts?
“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” — Sen. Lloyd Bensten (1988)
I long for the days when the quote above was the nastiest personal insult ever hurled at a candidate during a televised national debate. Senator Dan Quayle was running for vice president against Senator Lloyd Bentsen and was stating he wasn’t too young for the job. “I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency,” said Quayle, which was followed by Bentsen’s hard-hitting put-down.
Bensten’s put-down doesn’t come close to the insults hurled by the Republican candidates for president in 2016. This campaign has sunk so deeply into schoolboy bullying it’s truly horrifying. Up until now, our modern presidential campaigns have been reasonably civil and focused on avoiding potential public relations pitfalls.
However, this isn’t the first-ever nasty presidential campaign. In 1928, Republicans started a rumor that candidate Al Smith, a Catholic, was planning a secret tunnel from Manhattan to the Vatican, and the Pope would have say in all matters should Smith be elected president. Before Donald Trump called his opponent “Little Mario” there was “Little Giant,” Abe Lincoln’s reference to his 1860 rival Stephen Douglas’ height. At 5’4″, others called Douglas “about five feet nothing in height and about the same in diameter.” Douglas struck back, calling Lincoln a “horrid-looking wretch, sooty and scoundrelly in aspect,” and “the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs and arms and hatchet face ever strung on a single frame.”
In 1828, opposition Federalists called Andrew Jackson’s previously divorced wife–a major taboo back then– a “dirty black wench,” a “convicted adulteress” and said she was prone to “open and notorious lewdness.” And in America’s second-ever presidential election, candidate Thomas Jefferson hired a writer to smear President John Adams, who was referred to as “a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
We shouldn’t take comfort in these examples. The current candidates’ presidential vitriol goes beyond anything before it. Decorum, class, and attention to thoughtful communication strategy is, sadly, missing from the GOP primaries. Let’s hope it doesn’t continue. Your thoughts?