The earliest chaPteRs


mosesHeston

Moses as portrayed by Charleton Heston in “The Ten Commandments” (1955)

Once upon a time more than 5,000 years ago, God needed a good PR representative to speak on behalf of slaves in Egypt. He hired Moses, who was called up to a mountain and tasked with securing freedom for the Jews who were under Pharaoh’s grip in Egypt. Moses, being slow of tongue, enlisted his brother Aaron to be spokesperson. Using a catchy slogan (“Let my people go!”), Moses and Aaron stated God’s case. Of course, a good slogan is never enough; it took some serious plagues and miracles to change Pharaoh’s attitude, and eventually the Jews were freed. Off into the desert they went to find the Promised Land.

But the PR story doesn’t end there. As they wandered in the desert for 40 years, the people became corrupt and debauched, so God decided He needed another PR campaign to influence their attitudes. He called Moses to the top of another mountain and dictated His action plan. Moses may have understood that when he got back, words from the unseen God might not be enough; he needed to stage a dramatic event. So instead of mere verbal representation, God and Moses delivered the plan in stone, framed on lovely, arched tablets. Moses grabbed his audience’s attention by coming down from the mountain with Ten Commandments in a spectacular show of God’s power and authority.

This PR version of the story was inspired by Shelley Spector, executive director and founder of the Museum of Public Relations, who suggests Moses’s story is among the earliest chapters in our profession’s history. Shelley and I are working on a Hofstra-sponsored historical PR timeline, which will begin with cave drawings and move through Moses, ancient Greece and Rome, the spread of Christianity, the invention of the printing press, and every PR and communication milestone since. Shelley’s point is this: everything in our history from religion to politics to social and technological changes has ties to the skills and tools we practice in the field of public relations. All things are PR. Your thoughts?

Next week for Valentine’s Day: How romance is PR, too.

The PRofession threatened


Broken-PRSomething potentially terrible happened to the public relations industry this week.

As New York State’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics reviewed ethics laws, it voted to approve an advisory opinion requiring PR professionals to register as lobbyists when communicating with editorial boards and reporters.

According to PR Week, “(The opinion states) political consultants (and firms) who are paid to help sway public policy—including pitching a client’s position or insight to a reporter for editorial pieces—must disclose the interaction. They must also disclose their clients’ names, fees and additional information about the legislation behind the pitch. The opinion expands the definition of lobbying to include any media relations efforts with an editorial board or reporter.”

The opinion had a disclaimer, saying it wasn’t trying to restrict a reporter’s ability to gather information: “Rather, this is intended to generate transparency in the activities of paid media consultants.”

Under this proposal, media contact by PR people would be monitored by the government. This action has huge implications, including First Amendment rights, journalists’ ability to report the news, and PR professionals’ need to form relationships with journalists.

“This rule would have a tremendous chilling effect on our clients’ ability to communicate with the media and the public,” said Jonathan Rosen, principal of BerlinRosen. “The idea of requiring anyone to have to report to the government before they talk to the press is a very dangerous proposition,” New York Press Association Executive Director Michelle Rea told Crain’s New York Business.

Frank Washkuch wrote in PR Week on Friday: “Forcing consultants to file their interactions with reporters like expense reports will have a chilling effect on…confidentiality. Aides to public officials rely on journalists to protect their identities, or to keep some information entirely off the record. Asking them to confirm on an official document when they talked to a journalist will only turn off the spigot of information reaching the public.”

If this proposal eventually means the PR-to-media relationship becomes legislated, the flow of information from organizations to the public is threatened. And when information is controlled by government, everyone loses. Your thoughts?

 

The PaRlance of Palin


Palin and TrumpThere’s no question that effective use of language is the foundation of good journalism and storytelling. Thousands of colleges and universities around the world teach future journalists the craft of the written and spoken word.

So it’s often painful to see a reporter struggle with syntax, mispronounce words or lose their place while reading. It’s even more disconcerting when a major public figure struggles to articulate the simplest thoughts–especially when that public figure has run for national office, is a former reporter, and holds a journalism degree.

Sarah Palin worked as a TV sportscaster, albeit for a little less than two years, in Anchorage, Alaska. She recently worked as a commentator for Fox News. She was a one-time Alaska governor and ran for vice president of the United States in 2008. Palin also earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism (incidentally, attending five different colleges before graduating).

Tina Fey made comedy history with her spot-on Saturday Night Live impressions of Palin, who has famously and often mangled the language. But little can top the speech Palin gave last week to endorse Donald Trump’s candidacy for president: “How about the rest of us? Right-winging, bitter-clinging, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religion, and our Constitution,” she protested to the crowd. “Well, and then, funny, ha ha, not funny, but now, what they’re doing is wailing, ‘Well, Trump and his Trumpeters, they’re not conservative enough,’” she noted, and continued by criticizing President Obama with, “And he, who would negotiate deals, kind of with the skills of a community organizer maybe organizing a neighborhood tea, well, he deciding that, ‘No, America would apologize as part of the deal,’ as the enemy sends a message to the rest of the world that they capture and we kowtow, and we apologize, and then, we bend over and say, ‘Thank you, enemy.’”

Huh???

Palin’s parlance is almost beyond belief. How a major public figure with a journalism background and degree can communicate so awfully is mystifying. Tina Fey, of course, ran immediately back to SNL last night; Palin already wrote the script. Your thoughts?

 

The PRodigious Bowie


Bowie imagesI was shocked and upset to learn last week that David Bowie had died of cancer at 69. Bowie’s music meant so much to me, only second to the Beatles. I’ve seen him on Broadway and in live performances, and own most of his music. I’ve been bonding with the sadness profoundly felt worldwide.

The early incarnations of David Bowie didn’t touch me the way they touched others, but his transgender Ziggy Stardust persona hit a nerve with some who felt alone and different. Actress Jane Lynch had a nice take on his appeal when speaking on CBS This Morning: “I remember the first time I saw him. I was shocked, my little Midwestern self, who was this closeted gay person. And he was this man dressing up as a woman and was really working it and I went, ‘Ohhh!’ I though it was off-putting and he scared me, and then I came to love him.”

Bowie’s appearance, of course, evolved many times, moving from character to character and always keeping us interested. I remember being happy when he changed to a cool, suited, clean-cut look. Perhaps that was part of his genius and, in effect, his mastery of publicity and communication. Bowie knew how to get our attention and he always backed it up with his art: unique stage performances, diverse films, multiple collaborations, and his incredible music. Even as he was dying he created a new album and videos, released just the week before he passed. Word is he purposely timed it that way.

That’s why I loved him. He always pushed the envelope, ever-experimenting with sound and vision. He could be challenging, but more often he was a joy, constantly creating and trying new approaches to his work. I also admired his tremendous ability to separate the public David Bowie from the private David Jones (his real name); by all accounts he was a wonderful friend, a devoted husband and a terrific father.

While we’re sad David Bowie will create no more, we’re happy he shared his prodigious talents with the world for a half century. Your thoughts?

“More PopulaR than Jesus”


beatles jesusAs I’m teaching “Pop, Rock and PR,” one of my favorite episodes in pop music history began with a March 1966 interview in the London Evening Standard. The article mentioned that Beatle John Lennon was “reading extensively about religion,” and quoted him saying, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink…We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

While there was no reaction to Lennon’s observations in the U.K., things were quite different five months later when it was published in U.S. teen magazine Datebook.  Birmingham DJ Tommy Charles boycotted Beatles music; the New York Times covered the story. Dozens of radio stations followed. Some in the Deep South organized demonstrations with bonfires, imploring teenagers to burn Beatles records and memorabilia.

Beatles Manager Brian Epstein considered cancelling a U.S. tour as the furor built, but the group went ahead. At press conferences, Lennon seemed ill-prepared to respond. “If I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it,” he told reporters. “In reference to England, we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion at that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down. I was just saying it as a fact and it’s true more for England than here…I’m not saying we’re better or greater or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is. I just said what I said and it was wrong or was taken wrong and now it’s all this.” Pressed for an apology, Lennon added, “If that will make you happy, then OK, I’m sorry.”

In today’s PR environment, Lennon might have been far better prepared when responding to the controversy. Media appearances would have been controlled and public statements carefully written. The Beatles, of course, continued to prolifically create amazing, ground-breaking, timeless music–and more controversies–which ultimately added to their legacy. Your thoughts?

OpPoRtunities, 2016


Last year's SCO in Rome students

Last year’s SCO in Rome students

People see the new year as a time to resolve to make certain changes in their lives. A well-publicized survey by GoBankingRates.com showed that while “losing weight” is a top priority for many this year, it ranked number three and a related resolution, “live a healthier lifestyle,” was number two. The top resolution was “enjoy life to the fullest.”

I agree with numbers two and three. Having lost 17 pounds since Labor Day, I’m going to try harder by adding exercise. However, I’m tweaking the survey’s number one resolution to read “enjoy life to the fullest by making the most of every opportunity.”

Professionally, I’m planning to make the most of the regional conference Hofstra’s PRSSA will be staging in March, and will be seizing an opportunity to teach in Hofstra’s “SCO in Rome” study abroad program in July.

Hofstra’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter was chosen among 300 student chapters to present a two-day regional conference on careers in public relations. “Start Spreading the News” will be held March 18-19 and will focus on options in entertainment, fashion, food and hospitality, technology, nonprofit, and international PR. There will be panel discussions on Spanish-language PR and an interactive session on problem-solving. The conference will include two networking events with PR practitioners, a visit to the Museum of Public Relations plus a couple of social gatherings. It’s my goal to help our students maximize this opportunity and stage the best regional conference ever.

“SCO in Rome” will take place July 1-29, offering Hofstra School of Communication students the chance to study abroad. Students will earn three credits by working for an Italian nonprofit organization to create publicity materials and video over a four-week period. Weekends will be spent touring Rome and some of Italy’s great cities. I will be teaching and travelling with colleague Randy Hillebrand, and we’ll all be making the very most of this wonderful opportunity.

I’m looking forward to what should be a terrific year, and I hope all my students and colleagues can and will make the most of their opportunities in 2016. Your thoughts?

 

Pop, Rock and PR


Concert_For_BangladeshIn 1971, just a year after the break-up of the Beatles, George Harrison took up a cause. Having heard of the great loss of lives due to a famine in East Pakistan which followed a brutal civil war, Harrison organized two concerts at Madison Square Garden to raise international awareness and fund relief efforts for refugees. The “Concert for Bangladesh” was the first-ever benefit concert of its kind and featured multiple artists including fellow ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and the band Badfinger. In addition, Harrison’s friend and mentor Ravi Shankar performed an opening set of Indian classical music. The shows were followed by a bestselling live album and a concert documentary. It was a landmark effort which became a blueprint for what I call “concert activism” in which pop and rock stars come together for a cause. There have been countless similar events since.

One of the many pleasures I have as a college professor is the opportunity to create new courses. Once in a while we can come up with an elective that plays to our own interests and expertise. “Pop, Rock and Public Relations” is a “special topics” course–meaning it can only be offered once or twice–and will run this January as a two-week, winter session graduate-level class. Students will examine how rock and pop artists have used their fame to draw attention to public policy issues from the groundbreaking “Concert for Bangladesh” to “Live Aid,” “Farm Aid” and concerts on behalf of 9/11, Sandy relief, and many others. The course will also explore social media’s immense impact on popular artists’ approach to fame, publicity and public perception. We’ll discuss how stars including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Madonna, Justin Bieber and so many others suffered and later emerged from self-inflicted PR controversies.

“Pop, Rock and Public Relations” is open to all Hofstra University graduate students and seniors, and there’s still time to register. It’ll be an interesting and entertaining look at how PR can have significant impact when popular culture meets a cause. Your thoughts?

 

PResents under the tree


snoopy-and-charlie-brownLast week, I suggested the movie”Mary Poppins” contained lessons we can apply to public relations. Now with Christmas upon us, this nice Jewish boy from Long Island is also suggesting there are some lovely PR presents in some of his favorite holiday TV shows and movies which can also illustrate the value of PR:

  1. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” — When Charlie Brown is tasked with finding a Christmas tree, he buys the saddest looking one on the lot. He’s laughed at for his choice, forcing him to wonder what Christmas is all about. Like PR practitioners who often must serve as the conscience of their clients, Charlie Brown became the conscience of the people around him, looking beyond the commercialization of Christmas for deeper meaning.
  2. “A Christmas Carol” — There’s no better tale of redemption than this Dickens classic. Ebeneezer Scrooge learns through three spirits that caring for people is far more valuable than money. We usually don’t go into public relations to become rich, and many work in PR because our empathetic natures want to truly affect people’s lives.
  3. “It’s a Wonderful Life” — Desperate George Bailey’s life and spirit is saved when he realizes “no man is a failure who has friends.” The angel Clarence shows George how important his very existence has been to the lives of others. Like”Christmas Carol’s” lesson, PR people can touch so many others in positive ways, often with little recognition or fanfare.
  4. “Miracle on 34th Street” — Effective public relations is a theme throughout this film in which no one believes Kris Kringle is THE Santa Claus. His lawyer proves it by showing thousands of letters delivered to Santa by the U.S. Postal Service as courtroom evidence. PR people understand that objective, third-party endorsements are far more powerful than first-party claims.
  5. “Seinfeld” (the “Festivus” episode) — This silly faux holiday “for the rest of us” is a reminder to be inclusive. It’s also very funny, and we all know a sense of humor is fundamental to success and survival.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate and may you find your PR lesson under the tree. Your thoughts?

 

 

Poppins Redux


PoppinsMy wife and I are huge fans of the 2013 film “Saving Mr. Banks” in which Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks, doggedly pursues the movie rights to P.L. Travers‘ immensely popular children’s novel, “Mary Poppins”. Disney ultimately triumphs over Travers’ strong resistance by convincing her the essence of the story is not so much about a magical nanny, but rather the redemption of George Banks, the proper, stuffy father who eventually awakens to what’s most important in his life — his children.

Mary Poppins” was the first movie my mother ever took me to see. I was 5 years old. So when ABC-TV aired it this weekend, we couldn’t resist watching. I realized much of what I know about public relations is illustrated through wise words uttered by the film’s different characters. Some examples:

  1. “Sometimes, a little thing can be quite important.” In PR, whether it be the wording in a tweet or the decor in a room, attention to detail can make a massive difference in how people perceive your clients and you.
  2. “Well begun is half done.” When handling multiple priorities, it’s easy to get distracted. PR work is never singular; multitasking is required. We can’t let distractions undermine our success.
  3. “Sometimes a person we love, through no fault of their own, can’t see past the end of his nose.” When superiors, partners or co-workers make mistakes, it’s often public relations practitioners who must serve as the conscience of their organization. We do this by simultaneously serving as the voice of our clients and the voice of their publics.
  4. “They make cages in all sizes and shapes, you know.” We can easily get trapped by hesitating to think outside the box and take risks. As professionals, we can avoid this by expanding our knowledge, attempting new techniques and understanding the constant changes around us.
  5. “Neither am I a Maypole. Kindly stop spinning about me!” We all know the rules about spin, of course.

Maybe it was “Mary Poppins” who taught me PR. Well, OK, maybe the movie laid some foundations. In your own experiences, what quotes influenced you? Your thoughts?

PR success for “The Wiz Live!”


Ashley Zacharia

Ashley Zachariah

From time to time Public Relations Nation posts a guest blog by a Hofstra student. Ashley Zachariah of West Hartford, Connecticut is a public relations graduate student at the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University. Check out Ashley’s take on last week’s NBC broadcast of The Wiz Live!:
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NBC’s The Wiz Live! that aired on December 3 certainly “eased on down the road.” News outlets such as NPR are raving about the musical. According to Broadway.com, the production gathered 11.14 million viewers compared to the previous year’s 9.13 million for Peter Pan Live! The Wrap reports that the musical was the most-social live special program in Nielsen Twitter TV history, with 279,363 people sending out 1.64 million tweets, which were seen by 6.37 million people a total of 128.95 million times. Playbill.com has compiled an example of tweets that exhibit the positive Twitter reactions.

the-wizWhat made the modern take on the The Wizard of Oz such a national television sensation? Based on the various online reviews, diversity played a crucial role. The Wiz Live! is an example of how knowing your key audience can result in campaign success. An article written in the Huffington Post addresses the importance of featuring an all African American cast. While there has been Twitter backlash over casting choices, the musical’s timing is very appropriate given current racial tensions in our nation with events such as The University of Missouri scandal.

In addition to featuring a star-studded African American cast, the creators wisely chose to modernize the land of Oz with new gadgets such as an iPad. The iPad was not the only modern initiative made by NBC. The story also centered around female empowerment.

Finally, a smart change made by NBC was to try a different tactic with their casting choices. As The Washington Post writes, selecting a brand new star to play Dorothy gave the show a fresh new look with no expectations, as opposed to hiring big names such as Carrie Underwood.

One could argue that the show had its flaws from camera troubles, a missing Toto, and too many commercial breaks. However, the show hit the nail on the head with its PR strategies.

For those who missed the live taping, NBC has an online version. Take a look at the various reactions to The Wiz Live!. What are your thoughts?

 

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