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?




PReposterous circumstances

L’Aquila’s history is an essential Italian story. Located in Central Italy, the town was constructed in the first half of the 13th century and quickly became the second city of the Shoot 4 Change 2Kingdom of Naples. In the 16th century, it was taken over by the Spanish and its ancient privileges for freedom were revoked. The city was later sacked by the French in 1799 but became part of unified Italy in 1861.

Earthquakes fill L’Aquila’s past. Serious and sometimes deadly tremors were recorded in 1315, 1349, 1452, 1461, 1501, and 1646. In 1703, more than 3,000 people died and almost all the churches collapsed; an earthquake in 1786 took 6,ooo lives. There was a minor quake in 1958 and then there was April 6, 2009: Thousands of buildings were damaged, 308 people were killed and 1,500 were injured. Eight college students died when their dorm collapsed.

Shoot 4 Change 3Now, seven years later, L’Aquila is still rebuilding and its damaged buildings remain mostly vacant. Preposterous circumstances including blatant government corruption and incompetence, plus accusations of organized crime have left the city limping and abused, and little is being done to help. Last Wednesday, our 11 Hofstra “SCO in Rome” students joined Shoot4Change, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating social awareness through the power of images, and toured L’Aquila’s ravaged neighborhoods. The students shot photos and video footage of the town and interviewed Shoot4Change volunteers and one of the earthquake’s first responders. It was a visually and emotionally devastating experience that our students and I will never forget.

Shoot 4 Change 1Our four-week Italy visit has been filled so far with visits to extraordinary places, and a schedule heavy with sightseeing and experiential learning opportunities. But nothing will compare to our time with Shoot4Change in L’Aquila. Working with this dedicated group of photographers and videographers has been priceless, and our students will continue their efforts to help this organization promote and represent their mission during and after our stay.

Nonprofit organizations need assistance with their public relations efforts, especially because they too often lack resources to competently handle media relations, web sites, social media, and more. Our students have a unique opportunity in Italy and they’re truly making the most of it. Your thoughts?



Positano, Rome, and other revelations

Hofstra SCOinRome students meet with S4C's Andrea Ranelli (c., right)

Hofstra SCOinRome students meet with S4C’s Andrea Ranalli (c., right)

My first week in Italy with Hofstra’s SCOinRome program, a four-week study abroad program featuring class time and touring time, has been both wonderful and exhausting. SCOinRome is designed to enhance the participating students’ learning and life experiences, and I can honestly say it’s done both for me already.

We met with representatives of Shoot4Change, a nonprofit organization based in Rome dedicated to creating social awareness and action through the power of the image, first in our classroom and later at its headquarters in an old warehouse. This wonderful group of photographers and videographers are truly dedicated to their cause, but recognize they need help to promote and represent their mission more effectively. Our students will work with S4C to improve its web site, enhance its social media activity, improve the Italian-to-English translation for three short documentary videos, and also create new video content for its various platforms and media outlets. Next week we’ll head to L’Aquila, an earthquake-ravaged city in which students will find ways to tell the stories of how residents are managing after six years of ineffective government assistance.

If I thought all of this was exciting, getting to know Rome with its ancient history and rich religious culture has been fascinating. So far, I’ve only had five days there but I’ve already figured out how to get around the city, and I’ve learned much about the history of its ancient ruins plus where to get the best sandwich on the planet.

But there was more: This weekend was filled with new discoveries for me, visiting places I never had on my bucket list but places to where I’d like to return. Being in the city of Sorrento and its active nightlife has been a revelation. Positano is positively the most visually stunning city I’ve ever seen. And the island of Capri was — if I may be corny for a moment — absolutely magical.

There’s much more to see and to do, and we’ve got less than three weeks left to do it. It seems every coming day will bring more stunning revelations and experiences. Your thoughts?


Plans Revised


rome groupThose who follow my weekly posts for “Public Relations Nation” know that I haven’t missed a week in almost six years and I almost always post my latest “350 words or less” early Sunday mornings. This time Mother Nature herself did me in via New York, Dublin, Paris, and Rome.

Last week I mentioned my plans for July — four weeks in Rome co-leading a study abroad program for Hofstra’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication. Eleven students, colleague Randy Hillebrand and I met at JFK airport on Friday at 3:00 p.m. for a 5:30 p.m. flight, only to take off more than four hours late due to a huge storm over New York. This forced us to miss our connecting flight from Dublin to Rome, and so we wound up flying Saturday afternoon from Dublin to Paris, and then Saturday evening from Paris to Rome. We landed at 11:00 p.m. Saturday, making for a 32 hour ordeal just to get to our destination.

Our students were troopers, though, taking it all in stride. Despite not enough sleep over the last couple of days, we began our Rome adventure with a four hour walking tour of some well-known locales, which I urge you to read about in the students’ own words. They’ll be posting photos and keeping a blog diary at https://huromans4change.wordpress.com/

I’ll be adding my own impressions of the experience but for now, I apologize for posting late. I’ve got some napping to do before we head to dinner tonight and then start our class tomorrow morning. Rome seems wonderful. I’ll be able to see it better and write more about it with less bloodshot eyes.

Your thoughts?


Next stoP: Rome

“Nothing of any importance could be undertaken anywhere in Europe at the time (the Renaissance) without first travelling to see what the Italians had lately been up to and what they had recently discovered or invented.” 

Thus wrote Luigi Barzini in his famous 1964 treatise The Italians: A Full-Length Portrait Featuring Their Manners and Morals, which I’ve been reading as I prepare for my own big adventure: a month in Italy as a faculty leader in Hofstra’s “SCO in Rome” study abroad program. Hofstra University’s Randy Hillebrand and I, along with 11 students majoring in either public relations and television, will begin our travels next weekend for a unique learning experience.

shoot4change_logoWe’ll be working with Shoot4Change, a Rome-based nonprofit organization, described as “comprised of both professional and amateur photographers, designers, artists and other dreamers who share part of their time for shooting humanitarian reportages for non-government and other social organizations which connects stories and storytellers.” The group uses social networks and new visual communication tools as “weapons of mass storytelling to raise awareness on local social issues through the engagement of our community.” Shoot4Change also runs free educational programs for “those who cannot afford it (refugees, homeless, disadvantaged people, etc.) because everybody should have a chance to learn how to express himself and unleash creativity for social change.”

Our students will serve as a public relations and production agency for Shoot4Change by creating content for its website and social media, and working on special projects within fascinating locations.

Every student I’ve known who has studied abroad has come back with a much-broadened world view and a life experience that many say has changed them forever. Having never been to Italy myself, I’m expecting the same result. The opportunity to connect and work with colleagues in a different country is a thrilling prospect, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.  I’ll be tracking and blogging about our work in the coming weeks, as well our students. Like the quote in Barzini’s book, we, too, want to learn what the Italians have been up to lately. Your thoughts?

PooR choice of words

“Words matter,” often notes GOP strategist Frank Luntz, and they certainly did these recent, tragic few days.

In Orlando, following the murder of rising pop star Christina Grimmie and the heinous killing of 49 people at gay bar Pulse, was the two-year-old who wandered too close to the water at a Disney World hotel and was dragged under by an alligator. Just days before, it was reported the Pulse gunman had scoped out Disney World as a possible target. Disney’s PR people scrambled to reassure the public that its theme parks are safe.

Professional communicators and politicians scrambled for the right sympathetic tone in light of the Orlando massacre, while many used the horrific event to push their anti-terrorism and anti-gun agendas. However, the right tone was not a priority of presidential candidate Donald Trump. He used the murders to praise himself for predicting the terrorism, and then falsely warned that Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment. He later added that patrons of the club should have been armed so they could have killed the gunman, whom he referred to as a “son of a bitch” on live TV.

bill maher

Comedian Bill Maher on Real Time

Trump’s consistently poor choice of words when attacking his opponents while thrilling his supporters was the topic of Bill Maher’s remarks on his HBO show, Real Time. “Why, for so long, was there one set of rules for everyone who’s ever run for president, and then suddenly a completely new set for this Donald Trump person?” Maher showed gaffes by candidates over the years which are highly trivial by Trump standards, such as George Bush checking his watch and Al Gore repeatedly sighing during their respective debates. “I seem to remember (former Vice President) Dan Quayle being declared ‘unfit for office-dumb’ because he misspelled potato,” Maher noted.”But Trump can say ‘John McCain isn’t a war hero?’ If Hillary Clinton said that, they’d be burning pantsuits in effigy.”

Maher believes that Trump’s recent drop in national polls may be because the larger electorate doesn’t like “un-presidential” behavior from its candidates and Trump’s words are wearing thin. I wonder. Your thoughts?

Pants on fiRe!

It’s generally accepted that politicians–from your local council member to the nation’s president–occasionally bend the truth to make a point or a promise. Getting votes by telling people what they want to hear, or avoiding controversy by not telling people what they should hear, is a sad reality of political life. As in public relations, truth is a valuable commodity and those who tell it are usually rewarded with the people’s trust and support. That’s why it’s so important for voters to seek the truth about what they’re told.

pantsonfireThis couldn’t be more important than now in this toxic presidential election year. Aside from name-calling and personal attacks, we’re witnessing a massive assault on facts, with truth taking a back seat like never before. That’s why it’s helpful to look to the fact checkers among us. There are quite a few unbiased, non-political resources we can easily use to explore who’s telling the truth.

My favorite of these resources is politifact.com, a Pulitzer prize-winning website featuring a “Truth-O-Meter” with a simple rating system: “True,” “Mostly True,” “Half True,” “Mostly False,” and “Pants on Fire!” You can browse through specific candidates, elected officials, issues, and media. Not surprisingly, the site has come down especially hard on Donald Trump.

The New York Times’ Timothy Egan wrote last week, “Professional truth-seekers have never seen anything like Trump, surely the most compulsive liar to seek high office. To date, the nonpartisan PolitiFact has rated 76 percent of his statements lies — 57 percent false or mostly false, and another 19 percent ‘Pants on Fire’ fabrications. Only 2 percent — 2 percent! — of his assertions were rated true, and another 6 percent mostly true. Hillary Clinton, who is not exactly known for fealty to the facts, had a 28 percent total lie score, including a mere 1 percent Pants on Fire.”

The public relations profession is sometimes linked to “spinning” the truth, but ethical practitioners eschew such tactics. Politicians are less circumspect. That’s why we need to be aware of false statements and outright lies, and support candidates who deal in truth and facts. This election year, it’s clearly more important than ever. Your thoughts?


The PRettiest pugilist

“I’m the greatest, I’m a bad man, and I’m pretty!”

I wonder if millennials comprehend the depth of fame we came to know in Muhammed Ali. Self-proclaimed “The Greatest,” he was arguably the best known human being on the planet 40 years ago. Ali passed away on Friday at age 74, and rather than repeat the same content from the hundreds of obituaries and tributes we’ve seen, suffice to say that the popular pugilist (boxer) was as well-known as Michael Jackson was in the 1980s or Beyonce is today.


Muhammed Ali battled Parkinson’s alongside Michael J. Fox

Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about fame as it’s framed in my summer class, “Pop, Rock and Public Relations.” The course is examining how music’s biggest celebrities have used their famous faces to bring attention to a cause, fight a disease, or help the less fortunate. A shameless self-promoter who backed up his own bravado with the most successful heavyweight boxing career in history, Muhammed Ali was truly an example of how his fights in the ring allowed him to use his fame to fight for causes in which he believed. According to looktothestars.com, an outstanding website listing hundreds of celebrities and the causes they support, Ali “devoted his life to helping promote world peace, civil rights, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith relations, humanitarianism, hunger relief, and the commonality of basic human values…He has visited countless numbers of soup kitchens and hospitals, and helped organizations including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Special Olympics.”

It was a long battle with Parkinson’s disease that led to Ali’s death; it was diagnosed in 1984 at age 42. His work with fellow sufferer Michael J. Fox (watch their PSA) and others helped to establish the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.

Muhammed Ali once said, “I’ve always wanted to be more than just a boxer. More than just the three-time heavyweight champion. I wanted to use my fame, and this face that everyone knows so well, to help uplift and inspire people around the world.” For this as well as his pugilistic achievements, the world is a better place. Your thoughts?


PonDering “screenagers”

Her au pair asks, “Ready to go?” She doesn’t respond, her thumb on Instagram. A Barbara Walters meme is on the screen. She scrolls, and another meme appears. Then another meme, and she closes the app. She opens BuzzFeed. There’s a story about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, which she scrolls past to get to a story about Janet Jackson, then “28 Things You’ll Understand If You’re Both British and American.” She closes it. She opens Instagram. She opens the NBA app. She shuts the screen off. She turns it back on. She opens Spotify. Opens Fitbit. She has 7,427 steps. Opens Instagram again. Opens Snapchat. She watches a sparkly rainbow flow from her friend’s mouth. She watches a YouTube star make pouty faces at the camera. She watches a tutorial on nail art. She feels the bump of the driveway and looks up. They’re home. Twelve minutes have passed.

screenagersThus begins 13, right now, a fascinating story from Jessica Contrera in May 25’s Washington Post, focusing on one 13-year-old girl’s relationship with the Internet. Much of what she learns and experiences comes from a supercharged combination of mediated messages, entertainment content and online peer relationships.

This topic is also explored in a recent documentary titled Screenagers, about teen addiction to smart phones. “Only three percent of teens’ screen time involves creating stuff, according to Common Sense Media. The rest of it is devoted to consuming video and music content, playing games and using social media,” notes a February article in Forbes’ by Keith Wagstaff.

How our relationships with screens affects communication today in terms of marketing, advertising, public relations, news, entertainment, etc. is speedily evolving. For those in the industry, the challenge of reaching people with our messages is daunting. If this 13-year-old engaged with a half a dozen platforms and saw scores of images in just 12 minutes, how will our messages reach her and her demographic? Can we penetrate the harmonies and cacophonies of the Internet and its maddening number of entertainment and information options? What skills do PR professional now need in a communication environment of total immersion? Your thoughts?

PeRforming for causes

Lady Gaga LGBT

Lady Gaga championing LGBT rights

Which music celebrities do you admire? The talented ones? The acts that have been around for years? The artists with multiple hits? Or struggling musicians who never “sold out?”

In my summer class, “Pop, Rock and Public Relations,” our discussions include some of the celebrities I admire most including those who’ve used their fame to bring attention to a cause, fight a disease, or help the less fortunate. There are countless of current examples: Lady Gaga highlights LGBT issues, Taylor Swift fights bullying and child abuse, and Bono raises political and environmental consciousness. These are just three of the hundreds of causes and celebrities who support them. Some may accuse them of doing so just to enhance their images; I say “so what?”

Celebrity concerts including “Live Aid,” “Farm Aid,” “The Concert for 9/11,” “12-12-12 The Concert for Sandy Relief” have raised millions of dollars. But this wasn’t always the case. Musicians didn’t noticeably begin to speak out until the 1960s when they started to take very public stances on civil rights and the Vietnam war. Musicians’ activism took a different turn when former Beatle George Harrison used his mega-fame to raise money for those less fortunate. Just a year after the Fab Four’s 1970 break-up, Harrison was approached by his musical mentor Ravi Shankar who asked for his help to raise funds for millions of starving refugees in East Pakistan. He staged the “Concert for Bangladesh,” two performances at Madison Square Garden featuring music superstars ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, and other rock stars. The event raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and became a model for future fundraisers featuring music’s biggest stars.

It’s admirable when celebrities use their stardom and perform on behalf of worthy causes. They understand the power of their fame and capitalize on it to truly help people. And if they’re sometimes accused of exploiting others’ tragedy for public relations purposes, I suggest it doesn’t matter if their efforts can truly make a difference to people, creatures and a planet in need. Your thoughts?



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