This weekend we celebrated Thanksgiving and (hopefully) spent some time thinking about what we’re thankful for. Family, friends, opportunities, and health top most of our lists; for me, I’m also thankful I’m a teacher.
More specifically, I’m thankful that I teach public relations because I can’t think of another subject that would allow a person to teach such a diversity of skills and career options. PR practitioners can apply their abilities to any environment in any type of business setting any place in the world.
In which other profession can a person write a speech, a blog and social media posts multiple times each day? Where else can one plan an event — selecting venues, choosing menus, hiring entertainment, finding sponsors, and notifying honorees–and when it’s done start all over again? What job allows one to write press releases, pitch reporters, create scripts, produce videos and podcasts, book interviews, and be interviewed? Where else can you lobby lawmakers, stage public hearings, create informative articles, and witness the results and benefits of your efforts? And which profession takes socializing, networking, collaboration, recognition, and celebrations to such a high level? The answer is PR.
On my side of the profession is the pride teachers feel when seeing their students succeed. Recently, a dozen PR alumni came back to campus for the Hofstra PRSSA’s Annual Networking Dinner as professionals, mentoring about 90 current students on how to find internships and begin careers in public relations. They’ve established themselves in major Manhattan and Long Island-based agencies and firms, and have each become PR superstars.
My former student and now good friend Annik Spencer just posted on CooperKatz’s corporate blog titled, “Six Things PR Professionals Are Thankful For.” Annik reflected on how winning clients, successful media placements, making connections, and working with “amazing” people has made her grateful she’s chosen this profession. I agree. After a long PR career, I can teach a thrilling diversity of topics while watching former students thrive as professionals. For this, I’m very thankful. What were you grateful for this Thanksgiving? Your thoughts?
President Franklin Roosevelt said this when the country was mired in the darkest days of the Great Depression. Inspiring the nation to remain positive, persevere and help those in need, these words became an American mantra as the Depression lingered. FDR’s skill at communicating positive messages was more than good public relations; it helped Americans through a devastating crisis.
Today’s politicians and the media seem to be doing just the opposite. In the face of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, presidential candidates, members of Congress and others have not only been pushing fear but seem to be exploiting it. Politicians scream that we’re not being protected while the news cycle keeps danger in our faces 24/7. A Newsday editorial disputes this, noting, “The United States is in a much safer position than European countries when it comes to terrorism: We have oceans between us and the Islamic States. We have fewer borders to guard. We invest much more in our security and have better security apparatuses. We have better intelligence services…despite what some believe, the United States has extremely adequate vetting processes…”
Aside from the political rhetoric–and Congressional action–including trying to stop refugees from entering the U.S., a number of schools have cancelled excursions to Paris and other European cities. On Long Island, the Connetquot School District stopped trips to New York City through November and December including Radio City Music Hall and the 9/11 Museum “in the best interests of our school children,” a statement said. NYPD Commissioner William Bratton criticized the decision, saying, “What they’re doing is exactly what the terrorists want, so that is exactly what they should not be doing.”
So why are some pushing fear? It’s true that those in power gain even more authority when people are scared. The fear is real for some, partially because the media’s coverage of terror, while essential, heightens our sense of powerlessness. Students of communication understand this and are witnessing how fear can be exploited as a means to persuade.
When we huddle and hide as a result of terrorism acts, we’ve let the terrorists win. Your thoughts?
It often takes tragedy to put life’s challenges in perspective. The horrific acts of terror in Paris this week are no exception. My wife’s family lives in Paris; in fact, one set of cousins resides just blocks away from where some of the murders took place. We were relieved to hear they’re all OK–grieving, but safe. How seemingly appropriate that this week’s Public Relations Nation features a guest post from one of my students, Aislinn Murphy, who writes about the recent Starbucks controversy over the design–or lack thereof–of its holiday cups. How silly it seems that some are so concerned that there are no longer snowflakes and snowmen on their coffee cups. Life is too short and uncertain to be protesting about such trivial nonsense, and I’m glad Starbucks is sticking to its plan by not succumbing to those who believe the red cups are an assault on Christmas. Please read Aislinn’s post and share your thoughts. — Jeff Morosoff
This month, Starbucks released its seasonal red cup. While its “regular” cups all feature the siren logo along with the drink specifications boxes, the winter seasonal cups tend to change up a bit and, within the past five years, have included snowflakes and snowmen, carolers, snow covered trees, a nutcracker, and even gold ornaments. What these cups all have in common is their simple red background. This year’s cup is just red.
To be clear, Starbucks has not been advertising these cups as “Christmas” cups or even Christmas themed. However, the company does sell “Christmas Blend” coffee and it has been featured on shelves for years; at least it has been for the three and a half years this writer has worked there and in the year since leaving.
Starbucks’ comment on all of this? “In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs,” said Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks’ vice president of design and content. “This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”
It is these stories and the images patrons have been doodling on their cups that Starbucks has taken note of recently, and has embraced in their cup choices whether paper or reusable.
Starbucks is an organization that works hard to maintain its positive image including reliable branding and product quality and participate in various corporate social responsibility initiatives. So what does this cup controversy mean for its public relations? Probably nothing major. Starbucks released a statement, not apologizing, just simply and clearly explaining their design choice, which aligns with other design initiatives it has implemented in the past. Starbucks’ holiday cups do not normally become a trending topic and do not normally gain this much attention. However, maybe in this case, any publicity is good publicity.
Honestly, I am not going to stop drinking coffee and am certainly not going to stop purchasing my coffee from Starbucks. With all that in mind, what do you think of the company’s recent publicity and will you stop purchasing Starbucks products? Your thoughts?
Aislinn is a public relations graduate student at the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University. When she isn’t in class, she is working with the Hofstra University Writing Center, doing PR for Her Campus, and working at the Hofstra University Center for Academic Excellence. Her interests range from Harry Potter and chilling on the beach to gender equality and writing pedagogy.
I usually leave professional conferences with information that helps me do my job better. Student conferences, alternately, are filled with good advice about a profession–and life.
Some advice heard at the Public Relations Student Society of America’s (PRSSA) National Conference in Atlanta came from Coca-Cola Vice President Scott Williamson, who delivered a keynote address to 1,250 students from around the country. His list, “Six Lessons Learned,” was developed from his 24 years’ experience as a public relations representative for Coke. He shared what life as a PR practitioner has taught him, and he discussion is relevant to just about everyone:
- Ignore the data (but not completely). “Don’t ignore the voice in your head and the feeling in your gut when making decisions,” Williamson told the students.
- Be simple, be clear, be awesome. Williamson challenged the students to read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address as the example of profound expression written in simple terms. “Everything you say or don’t say, and everything you do or don’t do, is communication.”
- Shine your own shoes and iron your own shirt. Williamson said he was hired at Coke because he told his future boss that this is what he did. “No job is too small to give it your best effort, because you never know who’s watching,” he said.
- Belief matters. “If you work for a brand, incorporate that brand in your life,” he suggested. Williamson said he won’t even visit a restaurant that carries Pepsi products. “Why should I support my competitors?”
- Question the impossible. “In human history, running a mile in under four minutes was considered impossible until Roger Bannister did it in 1952,” he noted, “after which, the human running speed record was broken eight times in 27 months. Ask yourself why.”
- Hold out for both marshmallows. Referencing the famous psychological study in which children were given the choice of eating a marshmallow or waiting 15 minutes to get two, Williamson suggested students should “hold out for a better outcome. If you learn to wait for the things you want, you’ll reap the rewards.”
What advice from this veteran PR guy resonates with you? Your thoughts?
It’s popular to blame “the media” for much of the world’s troubles: cultural decline, celebration of celebrity, negative news, etc. Survey after survey shows many Americans believe reporters are biased, so it’s become good politics to bash those working in media.
This was especially true after last week’s debate in which “candidates were highly critical of the CNBC crew, accusing them of being part of the ‘liberal media,’” wrote Emily Atkin of Think Progress. “At one point, Ted Cruz ripped into the moderators for asking what he called unfair and non-substantive questions. And in two instances, audience members actually booed at questions the moderators asked of Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee.” Even other media types ripped into CNBC; everyone from Anderson Cooper to Stephen Colbert criticized the debate and its seemingly poor preparation, nonsense questions and bias.
Today’s televised debates aren’t really debates by definition; they’ve become opportunities for candidates to attempt to break through the media clutter by creating potential sound bites. The sponsoring media organizations use these political showcases as ratings-getting entertainment, not true public discourse on what matters most.
I have a not-so-novel proposal for improved, more substantive debates. Say there are 10 candidates on stage. Each candidate gets to pick a topic and select any other candidate to debate. The two then have five minutes to discuss that topic with no interruptions. Then Candidate 2 picks a different candidate and does the same. This goes on until each candidate has debated someone; then there’s a round two with different candidates picking different topics and other candidates to debate. A moderator would make sure time is kept and everyone plays fair.
If the politicians are responsible for the questions, there can be no accusations of media bias. We might even hear real questions and significant answers rather than the silliness we’ve been experiencing. Yes, this proposal would have its drawbacks and the format would need to be refined, but I’m up for anything that’ll make the debates more substantive. Public relations practitioners count on transparency and clarity to influence audience attitudes. So should politicians. Your thoughts?
Let’s Go Mets!
It wasn’t supposed to happen this season. No one predicted the New York Mets would finish in first place, much less win baseball’s National League pennant. Mets fans are screaming a collective “pinch me” as their team heads to the World Series this week.
The Mets’ season is a study in how good performance yields greater success. For the last several years, average attendance at Citi Field was a little more than 26 thousand per game. This season that number jumped to 31,725. In 2014, 2,148,808 people came to see the Mets play at home. In 2015, it was 2,569,753, a huge 20 percent increase in attendance. Another measure of this renewed interest in the Amazin’ Mets is merchandise sales; according to the National League, this season’s sales of Mets “stuff” has just about doubled from last year.
The reasons for these statistics are simple. People love to see, be associated with, and get close to success. While we might emotionally support a team, a performer, a product, or a service when things aren’t going well, we will generally spend more of our time and money on them when they’re ahead. Some call this the “frontrunner” mentality, a term the Urban Dictionary defines as “people who only support sports teams that recently win championships.” This may be true for some, but I’ve been a devoted Mets fan since childhood and I confess I attended more games this year than I have in the past. For me, it’s because they were more fun to watch then in recent years–and yes, because they won more games than they lost.
It’s clear that no matter how much good marketing and PR the Mets’ front office did in recent years, game attendance remained tepid until this season. The lesson is true for any business, service or organization. Good profits and good PR follow good performance, not the other way around. There are hundreds of similar examples to which we can all point. Name one or two in your comments. Then, will you also please wish the Mets “good luck,” as you share your thoughts?
A wise person once said, “No two people see the same movie.” We experience the world through our own personal prisms; our views of people, places and things are shaped by perceptions we develop throughout our lives. In the PR profession, the ability to understand people’s personal prisms are essential to how we communicate, not only with diverse audiences, but with those who have trouble embracing diversity.
Mecca Santana was a keynote speaker at the New York State Communication Association’s 73rd Annual Conference this weekend, and she discussed prejudices in her address, “Lost in Translation: The Interplay Between Diversity, Inclusion and Communication.” Santana, former state chief diversity officer and now vice president of the Office of Diversity and Community Relations for Westchester Medical Center, told the audience that diversity issues make people very uncomfortable. “These issues evoke very emotional and not logical responses. We are closed-minded when it comes to our own closed-mindedness.”
Santana, a graduate of Hofstra Law School who began her career as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, has been working to educate people on issues of diversity, especially when biases affect their decision-making. “We all have our prejudices. You need candor when dealing with these issues.” She gave several disturbing examples, such as when some teachers grade based on race, believing black students aren’t expected to achieve at the same academic level as Asian students. “These attitudes can have devastating lifelong impacts,” she noted. “They can change the trajectory of a student’s life.”
Santana encourages anyone who’ll listen to confront their prejudices first through recognition, then reflection, and ultimately reconciliation. “A little cultural intelligence helps us to deal with our biases,” she said. “Bias will always exist within us. Your ability to understand your bias makes all the difference.”
Santana quoted the Talmud, the central text of Judaism, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” A challenge for public relations practitioners is how to break through people’s prejudices and pre-conceived notions–and perhaps recognize these biases–and craft our messages knowing they exist. Your thoughts?
As I prepared for a presentation at next week’s New York State Communication Association conference, I discovered and was thrilled by a quote about PR from Bill Gates, the nation’s wealthiest person. “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations,” Microsoft’s founder said. It seems he knows the value of good PR.
Others apparently do (and did), too. I found many wise quotes from famous folks pertaining to public relations and I thought it would be enlightening to sample a few here:
“Publicity is a great purifier because it sets in action the forces of public opinion, and in this country public opinion controls the courses of the nation.” (Charles Evans Hughes; former governor of New York State, U.S. Secretary of State, and Supreme Court Chief Justice)
“The history of PR is…a history of a battle for what is reality and how people will see and understand reality.” (Stuart Ewen, author and historian)
“PR is Performance Recognition.” (Douglas Smith, formerly of the Department of Homeland Security)
“PR is a mix of journalism, psychology, and lawyering – it’s an ever-changing and always interesting landscape.” (Ronn Torossian, founder, 5WPR)
“Without publicity there can be no public support, and without public support every nation must decay.” (Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century prime minister, United Kingdom)
“Public relations are a key component of any operation in this day of instant communications and rightly inquisitive citizens.” (Alvin Adams, 19th century founder, American Express)
“Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad.” (Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group)
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” (Rudyard Kipling; 19th century writer)
“Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.” (Bill Bernbach, founder, DDB)
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” (Warren Buffet, chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway)
Although professionals often struggle to define PR, these famous folks have/had accurate perceptions of its power to persuade and inform. Which of these quotes resonate with you? Your thoughts?
Since I blogged in December 2012 about the horrific shootings of 20 young children and six women in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been many more mass shootings in the U.S., the latest last week at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where nine people were cut down by a gunman. As a PR guy, I wondered back then how the National Rifle Association (NRA) would react to the horrific shootings. The NRA, which has successfully beaten down efforts to regulate the sale of guns by supporting pro-gun rights candidates, remained silent for a couple of days after Newtown and later accused politicians and others of “politicizing” the tragedy.
Sadly, history has repeated itself. Search “Umpqua” on the NRA web site today and there’s not a single mention of the shootings. However, Jack Levi, the NRA’s assistant deputy press relations chief, spoke out on Friday. “The NRA strongly advises against Americans discussing gun control at this time,” said Levi, suggesting that “letting emotions take over a highly emotional event” will only lead to “the further eroding of our Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.” He accused the Obama administration and the “liberal media” of having “created a sense of urgency” when it’s “not necessary.”
But what Levi said next was truly alarming. “It’s just too premature to look at 45 separate school shootings as an indication of a problem that needs solving.” And he added in his estimation, “a minimum of 30 or 40 more” school shootings would be where he’d set the threshold and even then, “you really might be overreacting.”
Thirty or 40 more, Mr. Levi? Are we and the media ever “overreacting” to these heinous mass murders?
Yet again, the gun control battle lines are drawn and, I suspect, with little end result. On the day of the Umpqua shootings, President Obama sadly stated that such events and the subsequent reaction “have become routine,” adding, “This is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.” True to form, several GOP presidential candidates and pro-gun groups have rejected the president’s “politicization” of the issue.
Last Wednesday was the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is when sinners confess their transgressions and promise to repent. Its ancient traditions are somewhat similar to crisis management in public relations.
Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned on Yom Kippur after eight years as head of the world’s largest auto manufacturer, one day after admitting that 11 million Volkswagens were built with software that falsify official emissions tests. Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed the car company had deliberately put software in diesel cars that turned emissions control systems off when the car isn’t undergoing inspections. Volkswagen now faces billions of dollars in fines and massive numbers of class-action lawsuits. And while he said he personally did not know about the software, Winterkorn declared this “manipulation” must never happen again, and promised transparency and speed in addressing the issue. Meanwhile, VW stock value has dropped from $167 to $115 a share in just the past week.
That same Wednesday, the news team WGN-TV in Chicago found itself atoning. During its 9 p.m. newscast Tuesday, they aired a story about Yom Kippur, but the graphic over the anchorman’s shoulder was a yellow Star of David with the word “Jude” imprinted on it; it was the symbol sewn onto the clothing of Jews by the Nazis in Germany. The station’s general manager and news director issued an apology, saying, “Regrettably, we failed to recognize that the artwork we chose to accompany the story contained an offensive symbol. This was an unfortunate mistake. Ignorance is not an excuse. We are extremely embarrassed and we deeply apologize…” One might conclude that some producer lacked historical perspective and didn’t know the symbol was borne from hatred. It’s why you must have good general knowledge of history, pop culture and current events when you’re creating content for audiences.
Public offenses often become PR crises, large and small. The first step to winning back trust is through acknowledgement and apology. Of course, though atonement starts with “I’m sorry,” it doesn’t work unless the offenders stop sinning. Your thoughts?