UnPRecedented candidacy

(graphic from us-news.us)

(graphic from us-news.us)

All summer long I’ve avoided posting anything about Donald Trump. Like many, I haven’t taken his candidacy for president seriously. Ignoring him has been difficult, given how the news and entertainment media have been somewhat obsessed with every word the billionaire utters.

I feel badly for the other Republican candidates. I’ve blogged about the GOP’s efforts to re-brand the party and how it was reaching out to women, young people and Spanish-speaking voters.  Trump has effectively undermined this agenda with his brash and careless comments.  And the unprecedented 17 other Republicans running have been unable to effectively get their message out because Trump is literally sucking up all the air. He has become a ratings winner, so media programmers are devoting more time to him than all other candidates combined. Could you name most of the other 17 running? I couldn’t.

Conversely, the Donald Trump Show has worked to Hillary Clinton’s advantage. While we don’t know how serious the investigation of her email will become, without Trump, Hillary’s issues would be receiving far more attention.  It’s attention she doesn’t want; she’s still the front-runner and she’ll need far more positive coverage to stay ahead. As public relations students and practitioners understand, grabbing an audience’s attention and making positive impressions is crucial to success whether for a candidate, product or cause.

When I teach PR history, I talk about P.T. Barnum, the shameless 19th century promoter of his circus. The National Review’s John Fund recently wrote, “(Trump) is the P.T. Barnum of American politics, a brilliant self-promoter who knows exactly what he’s doing and who changes his opinions constantly to match what he thinks audiences want to hear, much as Barnum used to switch out circus acts between towns on his tour.” Now Trump is out-Barnum-ing Barnum; as a presidential candidate, his domination of the news so early in the race is unprecedented.

There are PR lessons to be learned here, both good and bad, as the Summer of Trump is sure to be found in case studies textbooks someday. I wonder what the final chapter will look like. Your thoughts?

Fighting cancer with PuRple

annik and meNo one should have to fight breast cancer. But when the victim is just 23 and one of my former students, it’s all the more upsetting.

Among the many great pleasures associated with teaching at Hofstra are the friendships I’ve developed with students outside the classroom. We work on projects and research, plan and attend events, and travel to conferences and programs together.

One such student was Annik Spencer. A New England native, Annik was a highly motivated undergraduate who was involved in clubs and campus activities, and worked at several internships while earning a high grade point average. Her strong networking skills led her to an agency job at CooperKatz in Manhattan when she graduated. Annik continued to participate in student-related events and we even shared a meal or two to catch up.

Needless to say, I was shocked when Annik called me early this summer to tell me she had breast cancer. Her mother died of breast cancer at age 36 when Annik was just four years old, so she has fought back aggressively by having a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and other treatments.

True to form, Annik has faced this crisis with a positive attitude and determination. She has tremendous support from family, friends and colleagues. She’s also using her PR skills by creating a web site, “We Fight with the Color Purple,” where she shares her fight with family, friends and followers. The homepage notes, “To show our support, we’re asking everyone to paint their nails and/or wear purple bracelets. Purple has always been a special color to Annik as it was her mother Ricanne’s favorite color.” She regularly details her treatment and her emotions, and provides visitors with a place for comments and reassurances that she’s going to be OK. There’s also a link to help to ease the financial burden on Annik’s family.

Communicating well is helping Annik get through this. Her online grace and eloquence give the readers insight to her charisma and strength. Annik’s prognosis is excellent and she’ll be a PR superstar for many, many years to come. Your thoughts?

Paying moRe attention

airplane windowOn my round trip to and from San Francisco earlier this month, I witnessed something I’ve never seen before on a flight: Nearly every passenger window in the plane was left unopened. On take-off, landing, and while we were flying over the Mississippi River, the Rocky Mountains and even the California wildfires, hardly anyone looked outside.

This seemed odd and sad to me. As a child, our vacations were taken by car and I remember how much I enjoyed sitting in the back of the station wagon, following our voyage’s progress by matching the road signs with the towns on the map I constantly held. I would try to get a sense of the differences and similarities between each state and region we passed through, observing the roadside restaurants, landscapes, cities and small towns where we stopped. When we finally did fly, I couldn’t wait to look out the window and watch the world get smaller and then bigger again, and try to figure out what I was seeing in the distant topography below.

Today, most children take a car trip while looking at seat-mounted video screens or with cell phones or i-pads a foot away from their faces. Their attention is rarely on the world through the window. And parents and other adults are doing the same. But their attention often ends in tragedy when they search or text while driving.

Here’s a familiar anecdote: The other day my neighbor nearly walked right into me as we passed on the sidewalk, her eyes fixed on her smart phone. And she wasn’t keeping a watch on her two young children walking several feet in front of her.

I love my smart phone and I may also spend too much time with it. But the fact that we’re observing the world through our apps and search engines cannot be good. We need to pay more attention to the experiences we can have in real time through our windows. It’s an important and essential way to learn. It’s better for our brains. Your thoughts?


Maximizing your PRofile

LinkedInI attended the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference in San Francisco this week, an annual gathering filled with learning, sharing and networking opportunities for a couple of thousand communication educators. As always at these events, I learned a lot.

AEJMC’s Public Relations Division sponsored an on-site visit to LinkedIn, where we heard from two experts on how professionals and students can get the most benefit from their use of the platform. LinkedIn now has 380 million members worldwide, and is surprisingly international with only about a third of its users from the U.S. The platform also has a monthly average of 97 million unique visitors and they’re not all there to find jobs. “Our shared content has become more popular than job listings,” according to Yumi Wilson, an educator and corporate communication manager at the firm. Wilson, along with Hoffman Agency CEO Lou Hoffman presented usable advice for maximizing LinkedIn profiles:

— Add your photo if it’s not there already. When you do, your profile gets 14 times the amount of views than those without one.

— Write an attention-grabbing headline instead of just using your title. Use this space strategically to promote yourself and your background.

— Profile summaries should be at least 40 words; Hoffman recommends 150-200 words.

— Write your profile summary in first person.

— Avoid cliches and stiff language.

— Adding a second position under “Experience” fills out your profile and helps SEO by adding key words.

— Include at least three letters of recommendation.

— Post your resume but don’t use it as your summary.

— Add “rich media” to your profile. Publications, presentations, photos, and video serve to create an online portfolio of your work and also enhances search engine optimization. If you have content with a URL that promotes who you are and what you can do, add it.”Show, don’t tell,” recommended Hoffman.

LinkedIn is an extraordinarily powerful tool for finding jobs and highlighting professional experience and abilities. There are ways to use it to its fullest potential, so when it comes to promoting yourself, this is one tool you want to use effectively. Your thoughts?




Hot Potato hunteR

R.I.P. Cecil

R.I.P. Cecil

The most infamous hunter in the world, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, has become a public relations hot potato.

Dr. Palmer was clearly feeling the heat after it became known to the world he had hunted and killed beloved African lion Cecil and paid $55,000 for the privilege. With social media as the conduit, the public’s outrage has been fierce, and the dentist has since gone into hiding.

After J. Austin & Associates, a Minnesota-based PR firm, was hired by Palmer it issued a statement on his behalf which included an apology: “I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.” But a couple of days later Jon Austin tweeted, “Yesterday another PR firm asked to help distribute Dr. Palmer’s statement. Having completed that task, we’ve ended our work on this issue.” Meanwhile, someone at Palmer’s office posted a sign on the door referring all related queries to Minneapolis agency Spong PR, but Spong tweeted that the dentist was not its client: “To confirm, Spong does not represent Walter Palmer. Please direct all media inquiries to Jon Austin at jon@jaustingroup.com.” With that, no one seems to know whether Palmer currently has PR representation at all.

An important maxim in the PR profession is that you have to believe in–or at least be comfortable supporting–your client. If you’re not convinced of the message’s truth or value, you shouldn’t expect others to be. Dr. Palmer may yet find another PR firm to help him repair his reputation and restore his dentistry practice. But public relations agencies and consultants would be wise to stay away so as not to be tainted by the hatred people are feeling for this killer. There’s so much toxic anger in the court of public opinion that any PR firm issuing statements on behalf of this client will be likely be vilified, boycotted and suffer consequences by its association. He’s a rotten potato who’s much too hot to handle. Your thoughts?



ExPRessing disappointment

keep-calm-and-keep-tweeting-29Last week I boarded an 8:21 train to Penn Station on an 85 degree morning. The train car had no working air conditioning. Aggravated, I expressed my disappointment on Twitter: “Thanks @LIRR for sticking us in a 30 year old car with no A/C on one of the year’s hottest days.” Moments later, the Long Island Rail Road tweeted back: “Our apologies Professor Morosoff. pls let us know the train and car # you’re in so we can report AC for repair.” Although I was surprised, most large organizations have become PR savvy and respond to tweets which could affect their reputation. This was a smart use of social media.

This week Nicki Minaj tweeted her disappointment that her hit “Anaconda” wasn’t nominated for the MTV Video Music Awards’ video of the year. “If I was a different ‘kind’ of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well,” she tweeted, adding, “When the ‘other’ girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination.” Taylor Swift then tweeted, “I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.” Minaj explained that she was only addressing a lack of recognition for minority artists, but Swift, who was nominated, took it personally. On Thursday, Swift tweeted, “I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke. I’m sorry, Nicki.”

Using social media to “warn others” was raised in the ethics column in last week’s New York Times Magazine. The writer asked if it was OK to post a photo of a car’s license plate after it was spotted driving erratically. The ethicists agreed that posting the picture could lead to “major controversy” and even a lawsuit.

That person’s posting was only satisfying him or herself and accomplishing nothing. Taylor Swift’s overreaction ultimately caused her embarrassment. I was venting my anger, too, but my posting was designed to accomplish a result that might benefit others. They’re three examples of why you should examine your true motivation before you express online disappointment. Your thoughts?


Cocktail PaRty

Cocktail-Party-ReceptionLast week, “Public Relations Nation” featured helpful advice from Edelman’s Steve Rubel at the Fair Media Council’s annual Summer Social Media Boot Camp in Bethpage, N.Y. on July 10. Rubel’s main message was that everything we pitch to media and create online should have multiple uses and impressions. He suggested communicators must look for synergy and synchronicity by finding ways to attach social media to everything we do and put order to the content so it’s truly effective.

The event featured best social media practices, tips and advice for businesses and nonprofit organizations. Other PR and social media pros joined Rubel with words of wisdom and advice about online content, many worth repeating. Here’s a sampling:

“Social media is essentially a cocktail party. The person you want to be with is engaging and interacting. Your social media content should be the attractive person at the party.”

“You only have about two seconds to get someone’s attention. So it’s about how you find ways to reach the media consumer when most are just skimming online.”

“Text is less and less effective. Images and visuals get attention and stand out.”

“Using employee or customer experiences as a way to tell your brand’s story is personal and relatable. Give your internal and external publics the tools to represent the organization on social media.”

“When you’re writing anything for the Internet, keep cutting until there’s nothing left but meat.”

One of my favorite observations that day was about the kind of content subjects people share most. The top four are:

1) animals
2) religious
3) children
4) other people

Given this list, maybe the best way to draw a crowd to your social media is by posting a photo or video of cute children playing with puppies while with their praying parents. And be sure that it’s all compelling enough to grab their attention immediately–you only have two seconds.

Clearly, how we use the Internet and social media is constantly evolving. It’s up to PR practitioners to reach our audiences by effectively and creatively using the amazing tools we have, and the advice we get. Your thoughts?


On PeRsonalization of content

Steve Rubel

Steve Rubel

Steve Rubel is an interesting guy with an interesting job. As chief content strategist for Edelman, the world’s largest privately owned public relations company, Rubel spends his days (and nights) studying how, why and when people use the Internet. His role is to watch and anticipate trends in social media and online applications, and see how humans interact with all their available technology.

Rubel, a Hofstra graduate, spoke at Fair Media Council’s annual Summer Social Media Boot Camp on July 10 which featured best practices, tips and advice for businesses and nonprofit organizations. Some of the statistics he quoted were mind-blowing. For example, 60 percent of all media consumption is now taking place on smart phones. One billion–billion!–photos are uploaded every day. People rarely go directly to web sites; they mostly use intermediaries, platforms, links, apps, and aggregate sites to get there.

Rubel’s presentation gave the audience a lot to consider. “Algorithms are the new intermediaries,” he told the group. As most of us know, algorithms are essential to the way computers process data. Each time we use our computers and smart phones, we’re shaping algorithms for the next time we use them. The result is increased personalization of the content that winds up on our screens. Rubel believes we’ll see more and more personalized information, and it’s up to professional communicators to create content to achieve this. He also suggested:

  • Communicators need to pay more attention to what happens to content after it’s posted.
  • We must look for synergy and synchronicity by finding ways to attach social media to everything we do and put order to the content so it’s truly effective. “Social media is like air now,” Rubel said. “It’s everywhere in our lives.”
  • Everything we pitch to media and create online should have multiple uses and impressions. Earned and social media must generate other opportunities.

Rubel concluded by asking us to think of the web and social media like individual stars in a dark sky. If sites, platforms and applications are stars, we need to turn them into constellations by connecting them. Your thoughts?





CorPoRations: good, bad and ugly

taylor swift and apple2Most corporations have recognized that good public relations means acting as good citizens. The often-used phrase “corporate social responsibility,” or CSR, is defined on csrwire.com as “the integration of business operations and values, whereby the interests of all stakeholders including investors, customers, employees, the community and the environment are reflected in the company’s policies and actions.” A company’s success is tied to how it’s perceived in the public’s eye.

Three large companies had public relations/CSR challenges this week; I’m calling them the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good was Apple. The world’s most valuable company faced an angry Taylor Swift, who wrote a letter to CEO Tim Cook in which she complained about the company’s decision not to pay artists during the three month free-trial period of Apple Music. Apple watched the buzz, sensed the public was with her, and change its policy hours later. It was a good PR move for Apple; they understood its interested stakeholders were on the artists’ side and there was no fight.

The bad was Whole Foods. When an investigation by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs uncovered “systematic overcharging for pre-packaged foods,” Whole Foods denied the allegations. “We disagree with the DCA’s overreaching allegations and we are vigorously defending ourselves,” read a company statement. But a few days later, Co-CEO Walter Robb said in a video, “Straight up, we made some mistakes. We want to own that and tell you what we’re doing about it.” It was a decent rebound from a bad first reaction.

The ugly was Fiat Chrysler. The automaker will soon pay huge fines for not recalling more than 11 million vehicles, which it was ordered to do by the federal government. While company leaders now say they’ll comply, their failure to quickly implement the recall may have caused deaths and injuries. This isn’t just poor CSR; some believe Chrysler’s inaction was criminal. Several victims are suing, and the company’s public image will undoubtedly suffer.

In PR, corporate social responsibility always pays dividends. Without it, you just might risk the wrath of Taylor Swift. Your thoughts?



UnexPected contRoversies

This was a busy, unpredictable week for public relations practitioners. From the upstate jailbreak to the church massacre, Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriages and Obamacare, plus Taylor Swift and Apple and more, there were incredible news events, each creating a need for professional communicators to move messages quickly and correctly.

Now, one might suggest it’s the media’s job to dispense information with speed and accuracy. But for those who still don’t understand PR, it can be noted little gets to the media without assistance from an “information broker,” a liaison between authorities and reporters. During last week’s major events, PR people coordinated news conferences, issued statements, prepped politicians and experts, gathered information, posted and tweeted, and served as reliable sources.

DylannRoofFor example, after Dylann Roof admitted murdering nine people in South Carolina, law enforcement, religious institutions, gun control advocates, the NRA, spokespersons, civil rights leaders, and many others were no doubt coached and assisted by PR people. More unpredictable events followed.

Roof’s online racist manifesto and photographs led to unexpected controversies. Seemingly inconsequential was what he wore: a Gold’s Gym t-shirt. But Twitter lit up with comments including, “Just cancelled my membership at Gold’s Gym after the recent tragedy in Charleston,” and “Gold’s Gym must be proud…worst advertising ever?” Gold’s responded by tweeting repeatedly, including, “We have no affiliation with Dylann Roof and are saddened by the tragedies in Charleston.” Gold’s Gym handled its unforeseen PR crisis well.

Meanwhile, major retailers joined state governments in denouncing and purging the Confederate flag, which surrounded Roof in the photos. Others continue to defend the symbol. One, the South Carolina Sons of the Confederacy, posted a carefully worded statement, no doubt also created by professionals. “(We extend) our heartfelt sympathy to the families who have lost loved ones in this tragedy,” but added, “There is absolutely no link between The Charleston Massacre and The Confederate Memorial Banner. Don’t try to create one.”

When news happens, PR people become the primary information brokers, sometimes dealing with most joyous or tragic of circumstances. It’s all part of this complicated and exciting profession. Your thoughts?



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