Farewell, Don DraPeR

mad men logo“Mad Men”, the landmark AMC series which ran for seven award-filled seasons, is coming to an end. Like Walter White, the central character of my other favorite drama, “Breaking Bad“, Don Draper was “Mad Men’s” sympathetic bad boy, though we could never consider either as a role model. I loved the show for its complex characters, compelling stories and quintessential attention to detail as it recreated the 1960s’ style, language and social perspectives. I also enjoyed its setting — a Madison Avenue advertising agency — and experiencing Don and his partners pitch traditional, media-based ad campaigns.

While watching, I would sometimes think about the operation of ad agencies versus PR agencies. In practice, the business model is similar; both advertising and public relations professionals seek out potential clients and compete with other agencies for the opportunity to work for them. However, once a client signs on, what PR and ad agencies do and the results they can achieve are adevertising vs PRsignificantly different, as the chart illustrates.

But social media has changed some aspects of the chart. For example, it notes advertising has “complete creative control” while in public relations, “media controls final version.” This is no longer true in the world of online communication. PR people DO control the creative content in their clients’ blogs, web sites, social media platforms, online video, and photography. And as the chart notes, public relations — especially in the new media age– can have far more impact than traditional advertising. And that’s the point: the agencies of yesterday have been forced to accept change or become irrelevant.

The same goes for traditional media. After a great run in the second half of the 20th century, print journalism, AM and FM radio, and broadcast television have seen shrinking audiences due to tremendous shifts in how we consume news and entertainment. There’s no way to accurately predict how they’ll ultimately survive.

Like the agency in which he worked, Don Draper has ended his run. He’d never recognize today’s ad and PR agencies. Fortunately, most advertising and PR professionals have been adapting to the changes. They’ve had to. Your thoughts?



My PRoductive semester

PRSSA in NYC last  October

PRSSA in NYC last October

It’s the end of another semester and I hope my students–and everyone reading this blog–had a productive 15 weeks filled with learning. I sure did.

This semester I learned that the new Museum of Public Relations, housed in the Baruch College library, is an important stop for everyone who’s a part of our profession. Anchored by the life and work of the “Father of Modern PR” Edward Bernays, museum founder Shellie Spector has filled the space with publications, academic papers, historic video and interviews, and artifacts illustrating the history of media and the people who shaped PR in the 20th century and today.

While it was important to rediscover PR’s past, our students heard from professionals at various events who reinforced what to expect for PR’s future. We learned how integrated marketing–bringing together elements of public relations, marketing and advertising in a communication synergy–has become fundamental to a successful client campaign. We also heard that more than ever, stronger ethics and transparency are transforming public perception of our industry.

I saw students with bachelor’s degrees and little previous exposure to PR become public relations graduates with tremendous career potential. The first graduating class of our graduate program in public relations will walk next Sunday, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Some of the most productive moments this semester were initiated by members of PRSSA, Hofstra’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. These enthusiastic young women and men staged an extremely well-attended networking dinner, a fully realized day-long professional conference, visits to Manhattan PR agencies and the national PRSSA conference, an alumni networking social, and several outstanding professional development programs. Their unstoppable energy and desire to learn is infectious, and through their eyes I experience something new every day.

So congratulations and good luck to the Class of 2015. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of what you’ve experienced. And for the students looking to the next productive semester, I’d love to hear how you felt about this one, and what we might do together to enhance the next. Your thoughts?



ExPeRt advice

The PRSSA gang at their 2015 conference

The PRSSA gang at their 2015 conference

At the Hofstra Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) annual conference yesterday, there was no shortage of expert perspectives from presenters. Approximately 75 students heard from 16 professionals, delivering their valuable experience and wisdom through six workshops and a networking luncheon.

Here are just some samples of the sound advice from our students’ guests. Their expertise speaks for itself:

Jake Mendlinger of Zimmerman/Edelson“I like to read resumes from the bottom, up. I want to know you can do the job, and that you’ll be able to do more jobs later. I want to see where you were at the beginning and how you came up to where you are now.”

Hilary Topper of HJMT Public Relations“Use free tools such as Google Alerts! I want to know what people are saying about my clients–and about me.”

Professor Peter Goodman, formerly of Newsday, now at Hofstra “Make sure the reporter has the beat for the story you are pitching and that you’re pitching to the right person.”

David North of WALK-FM“You need to answer the five W’s and the H. But also ask yourself and answer the W.C. and the S.W.: Who cares, and so what?”

Allison Nichols of Examiner.com“From a reporter’s point of view, the worst thing a PR person can do is promise something and not follow through.”

David Chauvin of Zimmerman/Edelson“Never stop being a student. Technology changes and there are new platforms all the time. You have to stay on top of it.”

Lisa Jablon of Hunter PR“You always have to be on your toes about the world around you. You should be consuming news on a daily basis.”

Kerstyn Dioulo of Glow Connection“People are always watching you and what you do. I pride myself on hard work and putting the clients first.”

If I could add a thousand words, I’d still be unable to include all the terrific advice from the PR and journalism experts at the conference. It’s always worth the time–even on a sunny Saturday–to listen and learn from smart, experienced people. Your thoughts?

Connections + knowledge = PoweR

tin-can-telephone“It’s not what you know but who you know.”

How often has this been said? It’s a cynical question, based on the belief that professional success is primarily due to connections rather than knowledge. But is it true? There’s no question millions of people can point to who they knew as the reason they have a particular job. Case in point: I’ve held 10 full-time positions since my junior year in college and was led to nine of them through people I knew, not through a “help wanted” ad (the one exception being my current job at Hofstra). Making connections through professional networking and personal friendships create an exponential increase in potential opportunities.

“Knowledge is power.”

There can be little argument with that quote. Gaining knowledge through a formal education is essential in our society, but learning beyond the classroom is just as–and is often more–important. When a person brings ideas, problem-solving skills, and sensible approaches to a job, he or she becomes very valuable. And the learning never stops; it’s why nearly every trade and professional group offers conferences, workshops and seminars designed to enhance members’ skills and knowledge.

The point is that both maxims are true. Clearly, knowing people who can help you, advise you and maybe even hire you is key. But you can’t be led to a job without having the smarts to do the job. Conversely, the most intelligent people among us face a lifetime of challenges if they don’t find ways to make connections with people in a position to support them.

It’s why I repeatedly make the case for students to experience PR outside the classroom. The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) is one platform from which students can begin networking with professionals while learning more about the public relations industry. Hofstra PRSSA’s annual conference, to be held next week on Saturday, May 2, will include a half-dozen presentations in the morning and a networking lunch in the afternoon. It’s an essential opportunity for students to enhance both who they know–and what they know. Your thoughts?



PoP’s fiRst “bad boy”

A couple of weeks ago, Comedy Central telecast its celebrity roast of Justin Bieber. Pop music’s young icon was lambasted for his numerous dust-ups with the paparazzi, neighbors, fans, and the law. And while Bieber’s bad behavior has sealed his reputation as one of this generation’s “bad boys,” he’s got nothing on Frank Sinatra. The difference–besides buckets of actual talent–is that despite his own “bad boy” image, Sinatra was beloved by most and remains a giant in pop culture history.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra

As the anniversary of Sinatra’s 100th birthday approaches, New York’s Lincoln Center is featuring Sinatra: An American Icon, showcasing 100 years of Sinatra’s life and legacy. Although I know relatively little about the man and his music and movie career, I had the pleasure of seeing this superb event.

Before visiting the exhibit, I watched a four-hour HBO documentary titled “Sinatra: All or Nothing At All“, where I both learned and confirmed what I do know about Frank Sinatra– or at least about his public image. This was an Grammy- and Oscar-winning entertainer who, through dogged determination, worked his way from his hardscrabble upbringing as the only child of immigrant parents to become one of the biggest superstars of the 20th century.

Frank Sinatra was hard drinking and hard partying, had numerous brushes with the law and the paparazzi, was close friends with presidents and mobsters, was married four times, and had multiple affairs. Yet despite his very publicized bad behavior, during his lifetime Sinatra also championed racial equality, supported hospitals and scholarships, gave to disadvantaged and physically challenged children, and was extremely generous to his friends and family.

Although he was relatively modest about his countless acts of kindness, perhaps it was this good PR that helped enhance Sinatra’s image and kept this “bad boy” in the public’s good graces. By nearly every measure, Justin Bieber doesn’t compare to Sinatra, and my guess is Bieber and other bad boys and girls in today’s pop culture won’t be remembered with an exhibit at Lincoln Center a century after their birth. Your thoughts?


A dePaRted mentor

Brad O'Hearn (1942-2015)

Brad O’Hearn (1942-2015)

Bradford O’Hearn passed away this week at 74. Brad was a mentor to me and was at least partially responsible for my time in government PR. He was both a great journalist and public relations man, with solid ethics and lots of common sense.

Brad made the transition from journalism to PR look natural and easy; he was successful because he understood the roles of both professions, and also knew that by nurturing relationships and contacts, he’d get his stories written and his clients written about.

My links to Brad were many. While he was a Newsday reporter, I’d pitch him regularly. When he left Newsday after 20 years to serve as Suffolk County Executive Patrick Halpin’s press secretary, he recruited me to work in a similar role for the Town of Babylon. Later, I consulted for the Deer Park School District to help pass its budget, which had been rejected by voters for 10 straight years. My efforts were successful, and I eventually gave up the client and recommended the work to Brad. Deer Park’s budget has never failed to pass since we took it on.

As a PR man, Brad had numerous clients who counted on him to get their stories into the media. He also had an affinity and expertise on the subject of ethics, both in journalism and PR. He delivered presentations on ethics to members of the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island (PRPLI) and other groups, and frequently lectured on college campuses. His hypothetically-based case studies and participatory style became my template for teaching ethics years later; I’ve since emulated and implemented Brad’s approach.

Journalists like Brad O’Hearn often make very good PR people. Their ability to know a good story, put it into compelling words, and create an interesting experience for their audiences is what PR people are doing more and more in our “create your own content” and “be your own media” digital age. Brad’s move from reporter to public relations practitioner was a lesson on how to do it well. Rest in peace, old friend. Your thoughts?

The PRice of shame

While most current undergraduates were pre-schoolers when Bill Clinton’s affair with a White House intern dominated the headlines, they know Monica Lewinsky. As the president was being impeached, Lewinsky hid from the public, suffering shame, humiliation and abuse from people she never met.

Now, 17 years later, Monica Lewinsky has re-emerged. Ted, the renowned nonprofit “devoted to spreading ideas…in the form of short, powerful talks,” recently posted her presentation, “The Price of Shame.” In it, Lewinsky reminds us that her scandal was unique, noting, “It was the first time the traditional news was usurped by the Internet for a major news story, a click that reverberated around the world.” She laments the ease in which the new media can be used to ruin reputations.

Poised, well-spoken and convincing, Lewinsky was the perfect spokesperson on the dangers of online name-calling. “When this happened to me 17 years ago, there was no name for it. Now we call it cyberbullying and online harassment.

“Cruelty to others is nothing new, but online, technologically-enhanced shaming is amplified, uncontained, and permanently accessible,” she said. “Millions of people, often anonymously, can stab you with their words…and there are no perimeters around how many people can publicly observe you and put you in a public stockade…We have slowly been sowing the seeds of shame and public humiliation in our cultural soil, both on- and offline. Gossip websites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers all traffic in shame.”

Lewinsky was point-perfect in her conclusion. “We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression. The Internet is the superhighway for the id, but online, showing empathy to others benefits us all and helps create a safer and better world. We need to communicate online with compassion, consume news with compassion, and click with compassion.”

Has the Internet, indeed, created a “culture of humiliation?” What should we be doing about it? And is Monica Lewinsky the right spokesperson for this issue? Your thoughts?

NOTE: Let me suggest you watch Ms. Lewinsky’s talk before sharing your comments here. You may find it instructive. — JM

PReserving our history

Hofstra students and their protective gloves at the Museum of PR

Hofstra students wore protective gloves as they handled artifacts at the Museum of PR

Edwards Bernays is often referred to as the “father of modern public relations” with good reason. A nephew of the father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, Bernays was also an observer of human behavior. He understood early on that words and images could be used to persuade attitudes, publishing landmark books on PR including “Crystallizing Public Opinion” in 1923 and “Propaganda” in 1928. In 1923 at New York University, Bernays taught the very first public relations course. He planned and staged numerous events and campaigns on behalf of a wide variety of clients, and worked with several 20th century presidents from Calvin Coolidge to Ronald Reagan.

A chance meeting became a 10-year friendship between Edward Bernays and Shelley Zuckerman Spector, an award-winning public relations executive and faculty member at Baruch College. Professor Spector documented Bernays’ career through a series of videotaped interviews she conducted at his home. When Bernays died in 1995 at age 103, she gathered and preserved many of his books and artifacts. Her devotion to PR history led to the creation of the Museum of Public Relations in 1997, which found a new home just six months ago at the Baruch College library in Manhattan. The museum contains historical items from Bernays and the PR field’s most important pioneers and campaigns.

Shellie Spector

Shellie Spector and me with an early Edison light bulb

Twenty Hofstra students and I experienced the Museum of Public Relations last Friday and I urge all students and practitioners of PR to visit. Hearing and seeing Bernays talk about his life, touching artifacts from communication history (newspapers from the early 19th century, a telegraph, an Edison phonograph cylinder, a turn-of the century telephone and typewriter, books by PR trailblazer Ivy Lee, and much more) made PR’s past come alive for these 21st century students. Oohs, ahhs and wows filled the room as students touched and felt history in their hands.

Kudos to Shelley Spector for her labor of love. She’s preserving a one-of-a-kind time capsule that will ensure PR’s history endures. See the PR museum when you can. Learning history is the best way to learn about the future. Your thoughts?

Pitched stoRies

I gave a class assignment this week: Find an article which most likely originated from a public relations “pitch.” By some estimates, most pitched stories are not hard news but more likely run the gamete of tales of personal challenges and achievements, announcements of new products and services, profiles of companies and individuals, et cetera.

Though they may resist acknowledging this, journalists use press releases and PR pitches as significant source material. They often rely on PR professionals to lead them to stories. A 2014 survey by TEKGROUP backs this up; 74% of 171 news consumers and creators said they make use of press releases when following, sharing, or posting news and information.

Roosevelt Field's new "Dining District"

Roosevelt Field’s new “Dining District”

Pitched stories are everywhere. Open any print or online magazine, for example, and most of the copy was the result of a PR professional’s efforts. Agencies spend a lot of time and energy getting their clients into the “free” media, both traditional and new. I was reminded of this as I was reading a lengthy article in Newsday last week featuring the opening of the “dining district” in Roosevelt Field Mall. The mall, among the top ten largest in the United States, is undergoing major renovations including adding a Neiman Marcus, and has done away with its crowded court. The new eatery choices–and the additional seating and tables–made for a solid local story.

The mall article and future stories about the mall’s upgrade was and will be pitched by Farmingdale, Long Island-based agency Ryan & Ryan Public Relations. Having represented Roosevelt Field and other Simon malls for many years, the staff at Ryan & Ryan has its media contacts in place and will be pitching them whenever there’s something new to announce. Reporters will often use these story ideas because their Long Island audiences want to know what’s going on at their popular local mall.

As journalism and media evolve, PR people will be relied upon more and more for ideas and content. It will become our elevated responsibility to find interesting information and compelling stories to reach our targeted audiences. Your thoughts?


Staying PoweR

Ever have a teacher say something that becomes planted in your brain forever? Yes, teachers do aspire to inspire their students; I often hope I’m speaking words that will push my students to proofread their work, or clean up their Facebook, or read a newspaper, or keep their PR career options open. While teachers may not always be profound, sometimes their words have staying power.

I’ve been thinking back to some of what my teachers said–ideas and phrases which have stayed with me–and have sometimes inspired me.

I remember in high school Mr. Horstmann told us never to use the word “they” as in “They say it’ll rain tonight.” He’d ask us, “Just who is this ‘they,’ anyway? You’ve got to be specific and define your terms.”

Dr. Adrienne O'Brien

Dr. Adrienne O’Brien

My biology teacher Mr. Kalina advised us not to ever risk thinking we know everything. “When you know what you don’t know, then you’re on your way,” he’d say. He also once told us, “Wherever you go, that’s where you are.” I have no idea why I remember that silly line; maybe it’s because it was so perfectly logical.

I remember Professor John Hanc (now my dear friend and mentor) defining journalism as “The truth, well told,” a phrase I’ve since used to also describe public relations. It turns out “Truth well told” was also a credo adopted by the McCann ad agency in 1912. It stuck with me.

Dr. Matthew Schure, a professor, college president and my former boss, introduced me to the often-used maxim, “The best predictor of future performance is past performance.” As I’ve grown older I’ve found this life lesson to be extremely accurate.

And then there was Dr. Adrienne O’Brien, another of my wonderful grad school professors, who gave on-target professional advice: “Whatever your public relations skills, when changing jobs the only thing you really bring with you is your reputation.”

I wonder which teachers of yours said something that has had staying power over the years. Maybe after you share them they’ll stick to our brains, too. Your thoughts?



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