Debating PRomotional value


Hofstra University is abuzz with debate fever and awash in media this weekend. While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their fans and committed voters, conventional thinking says the vote may hinge on their performances in THIS debate. And with the first of three presidential debates happening on the campus Monday, September 26, the grounds are swarming with reporters, producers, technicians, cameras, equipment, photographers, Secret Service and other law enforcement officers, plus thousands of miles of cable.

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The debate stage under construction this weekend.

Dozens of temporary stages are being built with plywood and two-by-fours, ready to be dressed for their close-ups. All of this is in preparation for a 90-minute showdown between the two most disliked candidates in modern history, according to polls. Hundreds of Hofstra employees and students are being deployed to assist in the effort, working alongside the aforementioned media and support to make history happen on Monday. Estimated costs totaling four to five million dollars makes one wonder and debate: “Is it all worth it?”

One could argue that the time, expense and overall drain on campus resources suggest the answer is “no.” A minor but annoying controversy created by third party candidate Gary Johnson’s supporters on Facebook–calling for Hofstra not to host the debate because Johnson was not included, was unwelcome. The temporary inconvenience of shrinking numbers of parking spaces, loss of some athletic facilities, cancellation of Monday classes, and closed roads are also negatives.

I say of course it’s worth it. Most if not all of the expenses are being covered by huge donations from two Hofstra alums. If you were to estimate the value of the publicity Hofstra will receive based on what advertising would cost for an equivalent number of mentions, views, and on-camera presence both nationally and internationally, it would reach hundreds of millions of dollars. The prestige this event brings to Hofstra is immeasurable, and the opportunities this brings to our students–to work alongside New York media pros, to be involved with political discourse and discussion, and to be a part of history–is an incomparable life experience.

So, debate the debate’s value to Hofstra. Your thoughts?

 

ResPect foR opponents


There are predictions that the first 2016 presidential debate, airing on September 26 live from Hofstra University, will be one of the most-watched TV programs in television history. It’s almost certainly not because Americans want the details of Hillary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s fiscal, military or social policies. The true reason for the steroidal level of interest is our fascination with and desire to see potential fireworks between the two candidates. Will Trump resort to the nastiness he’s directed toward his opponents in past debates? Will Hillary try to take the high road or rather test Trump’s thin skin by insulting him? Will either say something that’ll significantly damage their campaign? And who will “win” the first debate?

bill-maher-new-rules

Bill Maher lamented the lack of civility and respect

In public relations we know that respect for our colleagues and our audiences are essential to successful communication. On his HBO show Real Time, comedian/political observer Bill Maher lamented the lack of respect among those in the political world. “Trump and Hillary are the first two candidates in memory NOT to call and congratulate each other when they won their respective races,” Maher noted. He pointed out that until recently, members of Congress would address each other as “my friend.” They showed mutual respect for their colleagues and opponents despite their political differences.

“If you wanna know why our country is so tense and our government doesn’t work, it’s because society functions on some basic rules of conduct and they’re all going away,” Maher said. “The infectious disease that’s threatening our election isn’t pneumonia–it’s a total lack of class.”

Skillful public relations professionals understand that good communication is knowing what to say and how to say it. Courtesy and tradition have societal and practical impact. Here’s a personal example: When a student only refers to me as”Morosoff” when addressing me, it sounds disrespectful. The convention of speaking a title before a name (Professor, Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.) is a courtesy that’s, sadly, disappearing.

“Civility is nearly dead in this country and we need to return to some basic level of bipartisan decency and respect for our opponents,” Maher lectured. Your thoughts?

ApPeaRance vs. content


kennedy-nixon

Kennedy vs. Nixon in a 1960 debate

Conventional thinking says that when then-Vice President Richard Nixon debated then-Senator John F. Kennedy, those who watched the debate on television thought Kennedy had “won” while those who listened to it on radio thought Nixon had been the victor. It’s often noted that while Kennedy looked young, vigorous, well-dressed and handsome, Nixon’s crumpled suit, recent weight loss, and perspiring face made for such a visual contrast that Kennedy appeared more presidential in people’s minds. However, if you read the transcript of the Kennedy-Nixon debates, you might be hard-pressed to discover which of the candidates was more qualified and well-prepared.

Appearance matters in public relations and visual media, and no less during presidential debates. In 1976 and 1980, 5’9 Jimmy Carter stood on a step to make him appear the same height as President Gerald Ford and Governor Ronald Reagan, who were both over six feet tall. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush was roundly criticized when the camera caught him checking his watch during a town hall-style debate against Bill Clinton. Al Gore’s constant sighing at George W. Bush’s responses hurt his performance.

While they’ll appear together when Hofstra hosts the first debate September 26th, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were interviewed separately at a “Commander in Chief Forum” on NBC last week. Trump came under fire after the program for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, and also his seemingly insensitive answer to the issue of sexual assaults in the military. Conversely, much of the criticism directed at Clinton regarded her appearance; she didn’t smile and may have came across as harsh or even angry. As a result, many pundits believed Trump “won” the forum.

In presidential campaigns and just about everything else, people too often base their opinions on style rather than substance. So here’s a challenge: Read the transcript of the “Commander in Chief Forum” and try not to visualize the candidates’ appearance or style. Review their words for content and substance:

http://time.com/4483355/commander-chief-forum-clinton-trump-intrepid/

Then, share your opinion. Who”won” the forum based on their words? Why is appearance so important and influential? Does content alone really ever matter? Your thoughts?

 

 

PaRty like it’s fall 2016


most wonderful timeOne of the coolest parts about teaching is getting those wonderful “back to school” butterflies in my stomach as September arrives. For me it’s just like that feeling of anticipation when I go to a party where I’ll know some people, but I’ll be meeting a lot of others for the first time. There always seems to be heightened importance to first impressions and new relationships.

Many reading this are seeing Public Relations Nation for the first time. I created this blog six years ago, and after more than 300 posts I’ve never missed a week and haven’t exceeded a self-imposed edict to express myself in 350 words or less. While I try not to make PR Nation a soapbox for my political perspectives, I want it to be relevant to what’s going on in the world. During this presidential campaign, for example, there’s a multitude of PR lessons to be learned, and I sometimes can’t help revealing my opinions. The idea is to get your reaction to the point being made, which is why posts always end with “Your thoughts?” I also invite my students and other readers to contribute their own thoughts by writing a guest post. Several students and professional colleagues have done so, and you’ll be seeing more of these this fall.

Public relations is a complex and ever-changing profession and it’s also very difficult to define. At a social gathering of freshmen at Hofstra’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication last week, a new student wanted to know what she’d be learning in class and asked me to describe public relations. I tossed the question back at her, suggesting that she tell me about PR as she understands it to be. I was pleasantly surprised when she gave a credible explanation…not bad for an 18-year-old who never read a PR textbook or set foot in a PR classroom. I wonder how many students, whether freshmen or otherwise, or even how many seasoned PR practitioners can easily define our profession in a sentence or two without Googling it first. Try it!

Your thoughts?

 

WeaPons of mass distRaction


gary ackerman

Former Rep. Gary Ackerman

I first heard the satiric term “weapons of mass distraction” when former New York Congressman Gary Ackerman in 2004 criticized a Congressional bill raising the fines the FCC could impose for broadcasting indecent materials. “It is a weapon of mass distraction to keep us away from the real issues at hand,” he was quoted in the Washington Post.

Of course, the term is a play on “weapons of mass destruction,” a phrase often used by the Bush Administration to justify the war in Iraq. It’s since been used as a movie title, a rock band’s name, a blog, and a headline for numerous articles.

That said, have you noticed how quickly the Associated Press report on Hillary Clinton’s meetings with Clinton Foundation donors–while she ran the State Department–disappeared from the headlines? It happened because she and Donald Trump got into a heated exchange about prejudice; Trump called Hillary a “bigot,” adding during a speech last week, “She’s going to do nothing for African Americans. She’s going to do nothing for the Hispanics.” Clinton delivered a planned response quickly, devoting a major speech to Trump’s campaign of “prejudice and paranoia” and accusing him of “taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.” Trump responded by doubling down, repeating his attacks on Clinton as a bigot with no regard for minority communities.

The GOP presidential candidate’s history of questionable racial policies in his real estate dealings, his rebuking the citizenship of America’s first black president, and his numerous verbal attacks and seemingly prejudiced comments targeting Mexicans, women and other minorities, have given the Clinton campaign good political fodder. They’ve used the issue very cleverly as a weapon of mass distraction; for the last several days Trump, the media and subsequently the public aren’t talking about the AP’s (now much-debunked) story on Hillary’s perceived conflicts of interest.

Some view “weapons of mass distraction” as a pubic relations tactic–superficial but sometimes highly effective. One has to wonder if it’s a savvy PR technique or an unethical method which PR professionals–and presidential campaigns–should avoid. Your thoughts?

Place matteRs


The value of a home is related to its place; proximity to a major city, good schools, recreation, and shopping ultimately determines its worth. Tourists flock to places which possess historic landmarks, treasured art, beautiful beaches, and ease of travel. People choose to live in place where there are employment opportunities, accessible transportation, housing choices, and lifestyle options.

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Obama golfing at Martha’s Vineyard

When it comes to public perception, place matters, too. Take flood-ravaged Louisiana for example. This week, where our top politicians chose to go–or not to go–made headlines. President Obama was criticized for playing golf instead of touring the state’s flooded region where 40,000 homes have been damaged and 13 people died. An editorial in the Advocate, Louisiana’s largest newspaper, suggested that Obama end his Martha’s Vineyard vacation early, saying the president should “pack his bags now” and “(show) his solidarity with suffering Americans.” The White House announced the president is going Tuesday.

Meanwhile, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump visited the region last Friday while Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton announced she wouldn’t go, posting on Facebook, “My heart breaks for Louisiana, and right now, the relief effort can’t afford any distractions.”

Americablog.com noted, “It is common knowledge that immediately after disasters you don’t want presidents — or anyone else with serious security needs — visiting, lest they disrupt the disaster response by sucking away resources for their political photo opp.” While many praised Trump for going and have been critical of the president’s and Secretary Clinton’s decisions, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards stated he preferred that Obama stay away. “Quite frankly, that’s not something I want to go through right now,” he said. “I would just as soon he wait a week or two.”

On the other hand, what was a PR gain for Trump last week may have been lost when he was roundly criticized for his speech addressing the problems of the African-American community. Why? Because the speech took place in a nearly all-white community and was delivered to a nearly all-white audience. As often happens, place “trumped” the message.

In life and politics, especially when you’re courting public opinion, place matters. Your thoughts?

PuRple heartless


Compare and contrast Donald Trump with Irene McPhail.

I had just begun my career a public relations practitioner when I attended a charity event with my new boss, Irene McPhail. Cablevision, the large company we worked for, sponsored many nonprofit organizations and charitable causes, which was good PR for the business and a model of corporate social responsibility. During a raffle drawing near the end of the event, Irene’s name was picked and she won several hundred dollars. She came to the podium and announced she was giving her winnings back to the organization as a donation, because its mission deserved Cablevision’s continued support.

Not only was this a terrific PR move on behalf of the company, it showed me how selflessness could be so beautifully reflected by Irene’s simple action. It was a memorable life lesson for this 23-year-old.

trump purple heartLast week during a campaign appearance, a military veteran handed his Purple Heart medal to Donald Trump. The presidential candidate responded by saying, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.” He took the man’s medal and put it in his pocket.

In spite of his daily onslaught of insults, exaggerations, fabrications, inappropriateness, narcissistic pronouncements, and downright nastiness, for me no other single act has shown Donald Trump’s true character more than this incident.

According to purpleheart.org, “The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration.” Democratic congressional candidate Sean Barney, himself a Purple Heart recipient, commented, “I can tell you, no one should ever ‘want’ to get a Purple Heart.”

A smart, empathetic leader would have handed back that medal and thanked that veteran for risking his life for his country. Trump instead reacted with pure selfishness and disrespect. He could certainly learn something about good PR–and leadership–from my PR mentor Irene McPhail. Your thoughts?

 

Avoiding PRedictions


Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington

Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Here we are in August and there’s less than three months to go before the presidential election. After a horrible couple of weeks of ongoing verbal jousting, outrageous comments and misinformed statements, Donald Trump has started to rapidly sink in the polls, with one having Hillary Clinton ahead nationally by 15 points.

I have purposely avoided making any predictions regarding this election, especially since I was among the many who believed that America would never elect a black man named Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency. Almost a year ago, I wrote an observational post about Donald Trump called, “An unPRecedented candidacy” in which I noted, “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.”

I still wonder. In another blog post during the primary season I said, “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.”

Trump not only sucked up all the air; he emerged as the Republican candidate for president of the United States. There were thoughts he would shift gears and become more “presidential” in his tone. This turned out to be wishful thinking. The opposition worried that nothing he would say or do would ignite the public’s anger and sink his candidacy.

However, the cumulative public relations effect of Trump’s racist, sexist, narcissistic comments are now doing the job. He seems incapable of acting differently, or even nearly “presidential.” I’d like to predict we’re seeing the end of Trump’s flirtation with the White House. But I’m not making any predictions. Your thoughts?

A bumPeR crop of PR


It was an odd circumstance that I was among the first Hofstra faculty to hear the university would be hosting another presidential debate. Melissa Connolly, Hofstra’s vice president of university relations, had joined our group in Rome as part of her department’s efforts to promote our study abroad programs, when she got a phone call just after we toured the Coliseum. Soon after we jumped into a cab she was able to reveal why she was rushing back to Long Island. Wright State University had backed out of its commitment to host the September 26 debate and Hofstra, which had agreed to serve as an alternate, was in. While it meant an abrupt end of Melissa’s trip, it means a bumper crop of public relations opportunities.

Hofstra students showed off their tickets to see the 2012 debate up close

Four years ago, Hofstra students showed off their tickets to see the presidential debate up close

It’s estimated the cost of hosting the debate will be approximately $5 million. It was reported yesterday that three of Hofstra’s alumni–David Mack, Peter Kalikow and Lawrence Herbert–will donate most of the funds. The university’s expenses include everything from providing work stations for a thousand journalists, to staging and technical assistance to dozens of television stations, to beefed-up traffic control and security (in addition to the Secret Service presence), et cetera, et cetera.

There will be disruptions to the campus, including road closings and class cancellations the day of the event. There are certain to be protests on and off campus, as controversies surrounding this election’s candidates are incentives for demonstrations. There will be restrictions of movement as parts of the campus will become inaccessible without security clearance.

Is it all worth it? The publicity for Hofstra will be priceless. The sheer number of mentions of Hofstra’s name throughout the world for the next two months will be worth millions. “Hofstra,” an unusual and memorable name to begin with, will be on every journalist’s lips and keyboards, and first-time public awareness of the university will be immeasurable. If previous debates are an indicator, as the prestige of the university increases applications to Hofstra will, too.

I don’t believe there’s any debate about the value of hosting this event. Your thoughts?

Our PRiceless voyage


It’s almost time to say goodbye to Italy and while I’m quite homesick, it’s still going to be tough to leave. Every day here has been filled with visual and intellectual thrills, from the incredibly preserved Roman ruins to the painting-perfect villages built on the sides and tops of so many mountains. We’ve covered a lot of ground through Hofstra‘s SCOinRome program, in no small part because of Professor Randy Hillebrand, whose love and knowledge of this country give him ample tools to craft an amazing schedule of places to be, things to do and people to meet.
20160710_111536_resizedOf course, what truly made this program special were our 11 students, a mix of public relations and television production majors, who spent half their weekdays in class and some afternoons on various sites working on behalf of our Rome-based nonprofit client, Shoot 4 Change. It was a real-world, professional experience for them–held in another part of the world. In addition, the excitement they’ve expressed as they have visited and toured famous Italian landmarks and exquisite natural landscapes has made our voyage priceless in so many ways. Not to mention that most of us climbed to the top and walked the entire circumference of Mount Vesuvius (above photo) and lived to tell the tale!

Lastly, I’ve enjoyed engaging with and working alongside several of this country’s natives. Experiencing Italy through their eyes made my vision clearer. I felt less like a tourist and more like a person who has lived here for a while.

Among its many descriptions, public relations can be defined as moving messages effectively from a source to a targeted audience. There can be no better way to understand how to do so than by living in your client’s environment. The SCOinRome program has spent almost four weeks dwelling, working and playing in Italy, and it’s been an educational experience like no other.

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

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