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?


Father’s Day PRaise for Howard

(Standing, l. to r.) Glenn Goldberg, Don Miller, Laurie Bloom, Ken Young, Jeff Morosoff, Wendy O'Neill, (seated, l. to r.) Louise Cassano, Rich Torrenzano, Howard Blankman, Bert Cunningham, and Gary Lewi.

(Standing, l. to r.) Glenn Goldberg, Don Miller, Laurie Bloom, Ken Young, me, Wendy O’Neill, (seated, l. to r.) Louise Cassano, Rich Torrenzano, Howard Blankman, Bert Cunningham, and Gary Lewi.

There we were: 10 public relations practitioners with about 400 years of experience among us, celebrating the life of Howard Blankman, the consummate PR professional. Glenn Goldberg of Parallel Communications Group, freelancer Don Miller, Astoria Bank’s Wendy O’Neill, Louise Cassano of LuCas Communications, Rich Torrenzano of The Torrenzano Group, consultant Bert Cunningham, Gary Lewi of Rubenstein PR, plus Rivkin Radler’s Laurie Bloom and Ken Young of Molloy College (both adjunct Hofstra PR professors) and I paid tribute to the man on his 90th birthday. We shared stories, some very humorous and some poignant, about how much this one individual helped us become PR professionals, too.

Like most PR veterans, Howard took a serpentine route to a public relations career. A Jewish kid who grew up in Amish country, he was a young bandleader, a playwright, and later became a “Tonight Show” writer. He worked on Broadway, wrote and produced plays, and eventually opened a PR firm. Howard shared wonderful stories with fond detail about his fascinating career.

And how appropriate for this event to happen just before Father’s Day, Bert Cunningham noted. “In many respects, Howard has been the career father to a number of PR pros on Long Island,” Bert said. “He also fathered, in 1968, the concept of an independent, full-service PR firm that also used advertising and marketing techniques to support PR. At that time the vast majority of PR was done in-house. The independent outside PR consultant was a fairly new service on Long Island.”

Two decades ago, Howard Blankman was presented with Public Relations Professionals of Long Island‘s Lifetime Achievement Award. Notably, it was Howard who stepped up and fathered PRPLI after the Public Relations Society of America’s Long Island chapter had folded. Gary, Don, Bert, and I would later receive that same award because of Howard’s vision of an organization where Long Island PR pros could network and learn.

Always active, still writing, ever mentoring, still dispensing fatherly advice, Howard Blankman continues to be a vital and admired PR guy. Joining with my mentors and colleagues to celebrate his life was truly a privilege. Your thoughts?

PondeRing Big Data

Big Data. It’s the term Americans are using a lot to describe the age in which we now live.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics

David Dhanpat of Hofstra’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication visited with my students this week and demonstrated Google Analytics, the free program which attaches to a web site or blog. The amount of information Google Analytics yield is astounding. Link it to your site and discover how many people have visited over a specified period of time. From that number you’ll learn how many are repeat visitors and how many are “unique,” or first-time visitors. Then you can learn whether they came to your site directly, through a search engine, or a referring site (a link from elsewhere). Want to know how many web pages the average visitors sees per visit? Would you like to find out how minutes and seconds the average user stays on each page? How many are on your site right now?  How does this moment compare with the exact moment a year ago? From which country are they viewing the site? Which server or cable provider do they use? If they’re on their smart phone, what is the operating system? The depth and detail of the data is almost frightening.

When the World Wide Web was young, many pondered, “How is anyone gonna make any money off this thing?” There were few mechanisms for purchasing and there was no way to effectively advertise. Its PR use wasn’t considered much. Amazon, eBay and others came along and answered the purchasing question. Increasingly, advertising found its way into every blog, platform and web site. But nothing has served marketing departments more than the ability to collect vast amounts of data through various analytics programs, and no one is doing it better than Google.

Why this thirst for data? Many believe it’s not all about the government watching you. It’s more about how, where and to whom companies and organizations can sell products, services and ideas. Big Data is not all about spying; it’s about marketing, advertising and PR. Either way, it’s a brave new world. Your thoughts?

Public stoRytelling

“Seinfeld’s” George (Jason Alexander) and Susan (Heidi Swedberg)

In a week filled with sex scandals (Dennis Hastert, Josh Duggar) and sex change (Caitlyn Jenner), a bit of public storytelling by a former “Seinfeld” star was just a blip on the radar, but it resonated strongly with “Seinfeld” fans. Jason Alexander, a.k.a. George Costanza on the ’90s’ number one sitcom, may have gotten too comfortable during a live radio interview with Howard Stern.

If you’ve watched “Seinfeld,” you know that the George character was reluctantly engaged to Susan, played by Heidi Swedberg. As the wedding approached, George bought the cheapest wedding invitations he could find, so cheap that Susan became ill and died after licking the toxic glue on the envelopes.

Alexander told Stern that cast member Julia Louis Dreyfus and others had difficulty acting with Swedberg. “And Julia actually said, ‘I know it’s, just, don’t you just want to kill her?’ ” Alexander said. “And (Seinfeld co-creator) Larry (David) went, ‘Kabang! Now we’ve got to kill her.'”

Social media exploded with this fascinating slice of “Seinfeld” backstage trivia. While her acting career never took off much past “Seinfeld,” Heidi Swedberg had a dozen or so roles since and is a working musician and ukulele teacher today. Alexander’s comment could have bordered on slander.

Jason Alexander quickly regretted what he said and apologized. “She was generous and gracious, and I am so mad at myself for retelling this story in any way that would diminish her,” he wrote on Twitter. He also tweeted that the decision to kill off Susan was only because Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld wanted an inventive way to keep George Costanza from getting married.

My mother used to tell me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I would add, “…or else you’ll create a public relations problem.” This is especially true when you’re in a position where millions can hear or read what you’ve said. Any public forum is a place where your words can potentially hurt others–and yourself. So be nice when telling stories, or maybe don’t tell them at all. Your thoughts?

NonPRofits “do” PR

It was fun being back on the air!

At the invitation of Ron Gold, president of Marketing Works and host of LI News Radio’s weekly program, “The Nonprofit Voice,” I sat in the interviewer’s chair this past Saturday. I’ve studied nonprofits for the past several years, having conducted three surveys which confirmed that nonprofit organizations have few resources to handle public relations activities.

On the air with Glenn Vickers II of the East Hampton YMCA

On the air with Glenn Vickers II of the East Hampton YMCA

The show’s first guest, Glenn Vickers II, executive director of the East Hampton YMCA, noted that while his facility’s communication efforts are supported by the larger YMCA infrastructure, he’s enlisted volunteers, members and supporters to “talk” about his Y on social media. Given his organization’s location, its mix of seasonal and year-round clientele, and its diverse membership, traditional media and advertising don’t provide the targeted outreach the East Hampton YMCA can achieve through the Internet. Vickers believes it’s word-of-mouth and individual testimonials which bring the most credibility and connection to the programs the Y offers.

This point was shared by my second guest, founder and director of the Museum of Public Relations, Shelley Zuckerman Spector. Until her collection of PR memorabilia, media artifacts, video, literature, and research found a home at the Baruch College library in Manhattan, the museum was virtual. Spector uses the museum’s website as a repository for historical information, and takes to social media for publicity and PR. And with the public relations industry experiencing unprecedented growth worldwide, outreach has become international, with more than half of the museum’s Facebook followers coming from outside the United States. On Twitter, tweets are sent in English, French, Spanish, and German, written by interns who speak the languages. With no real resources for a larger communications effort, social media is a godsend to the museum because of its low cost and relative ease of use.

Through the Internet, nonprofits become their own media and can creatively use its platforms for self-promotion. Now, only the Museum of Public Relations and PR veterans like me can answer the question, “How did nonprofits ‘do’ PR before the Internet?” Your thoughts?

Our unique PRofession

I’ve been asked to reflect on PR as a profession these last few weeks. First, a half-dozen students–four from Hofstra and two from other schools–interviewed me about my career in public relations as part of their class projects. Each one of them asked the usual “what do you like best about PR?” question, but some wanted more introspection about why I shifted from broadcasting to a field I knew little about.

I moved from radio to public relations early on because I relished the idea of a job where I could write, and use extensive communication tools. What I enjoy best about public relations, I told the student interviewers, is how PR know-how can be applied to any field. As if to prove this point, just these past few days I’ve witnessed our newest graduates land PR jobs in very diverse organizations; they’re already working in PR agencies, record companies, entertainment conglomerates, fashion houses, and nonprofits, to name a few.

Receiving PRPLI's Lifetime Acheivement Award from Bert Cunningham (l.)

Receiving PRPLI’s Lifetime Achievement Award from Bert Cunningham in early May

Also, I was recently honored by my colleagues in the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island (PRPLI), a regional trade organization. The group gave me a Lifetime Achievement Award as “an industry leader who has helped shape the public relations landscape on Long Island.” It meant the world to me to receive the award, and it also compelled me to reflect again on public relations as a career choice.

I told the audience at the PRPLI awards dinner that the breadth of the necessary skills makes PR challenging and exciting. “We need to be bloggers, tweeters, and podcasters; photographers, videographers, script writers and producers,” I said. “We have to be event planners, fundraisers, promoters and publicists; and highest on the skill set list: we have to be ethical and effective writers and storytellers, using well-constructed language and appropriate images. There are few professions as diverse, and interesting, and challenging as ours.”

Our unique profession can provide wonderful opportunities, unique life experiences, and great colleagues and friends. While PR isn’t a possible career for everyone, I highly recommend it. Your thoughts?

Farewell, Don DraPeR

mad men logo“Mad Men”, the landmark AMC series which ran for seven award-filled seasons, is coming to an end. Like Walter White, the central character of my other favorite drama, “Breaking Bad“, Don Draper was “Mad Men’s” sympathetic bad boy, though we could never consider either as a role model. I loved the show for its complex characters, compelling stories and quintessential attention to detail as it recreated the 1960s’ style, language and social perspectives. I also enjoyed its setting — a Madison Avenue advertising agency — and experiencing Don and his partners pitch traditional, media-based ad campaigns.

While watching, I would sometimes think about the operation of ad agencies versus PR agencies. In practice, the business model is similar; both advertising and public relations professionals seek out potential clients and compete with other agencies for the opportunity to work for them. However, once a client signs on, what PR and ad agencies do and the results they can achieve are adevertising vs PRsignificantly different, as the chart illustrates.

But social media has changed some aspects of the chart. For example, it notes advertising has “complete creative control” while in public relations, “media controls final version.” This is no longer true in the world of online communication. PR people DO control the creative content in their clients’ blogs, web sites, social media platforms, online video, and photography. And as the chart notes, public relations — especially in the new media age– can have far more impact than traditional advertising. And that’s the point: the agencies of yesterday have been forced to accept change or become irrelevant.

The same goes for traditional media. After a great run in the second half of the 20th century, print journalism, AM and FM radio, and broadcast television have seen shrinking audiences due to tremendous shifts in how we consume news and entertainment. There’s no way to accurately predict how they’ll ultimately survive.

Like the agency in which he worked, Don Draper has ended his run. He’d never recognize today’s ad and PR agencies. Fortunately, most advertising and PR professionals have been adapting to the changes. They’ve had to. Your thoughts?



My PRoductive semester

PRSSA in NYC last  October

PRSSA in NYC last October

It’s the end of another semester and I hope my students–and everyone reading this blog–had a productive 15 weeks filled with learning. I sure did.

This semester I learned that the new Museum of Public Relations, housed in the Baruch College library, is an important stop for everyone who’s a part of our profession. Anchored by the life and work of the “Father of Modern PR” Edward Bernays, museum founder Shellie Spector has filled the space with publications, academic papers, historic video and interviews, and artifacts illustrating the history of media and the people who shaped PR in the 20th century and today.

While it was important to rediscover PR’s past, our students heard from professionals at various events who reinforced what to expect for PR’s future. We learned how integrated marketing–bringing together elements of public relations, marketing and advertising in a communication synergy–has become fundamental to a successful client campaign. We also heard that more than ever, stronger ethics and transparency are transforming public perception of our industry.

I saw students with bachelor’s degrees and little previous exposure to PR become public relations graduates with tremendous career potential. The first graduating class of our graduate program in public relations will walk next Sunday, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Some of the most productive moments this semester were initiated by members of PRSSA, Hofstra’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. These enthusiastic young women and men staged an extremely well-attended networking dinner, a fully realized day-long professional conference, visits to Manhattan PR agencies and the national PRSSA conference, an alumni networking social, and several outstanding professional development programs. Their unstoppable energy and desire to learn is infectious, and through their eyes I experience something new every day.

So congratulations and good luck to the Class of 2015. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of what you’ve experienced. And for the students looking to the next productive semester, I’d love to hear how you felt about this one, and what we might do together to enhance the next. Your thoughts?



ExPeRt advice

The PRSSA gang at their 2015 conference

The PRSSA gang at their 2015 conference

At the Hofstra Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) annual conference yesterday, there was no shortage of expert perspectives from presenters. Approximately 75 students heard from 16 professionals, delivering their valuable experience and wisdom through six workshops and a networking luncheon.

Here are just some samples of the sound advice from our students’ guests. Their expertise speaks for itself:

Jake Mendlinger of Zimmerman/Edelson“I like to read resumes from the bottom, up. I want to know you can do the job, and that you’ll be able to do more jobs later. I want to see where you were at the beginning and how you came up to where you are now.”

Hilary Topper of HJMT Public Relations“Use free tools such as Google Alerts! I want to know what people are saying about my clients–and about me.”

Professor Peter Goodman, formerly of Newsday, now at Hofstra “Make sure the reporter has the beat for the story you are pitching and that you’re pitching to the right person.”

David North of WALK-FM“You need to answer the five W’s and the H. But also ask yourself and answer the W.C. and the S.W.: Who cares, and so what?”

Allison Nichols of Examiner.com“From a reporter’s point of view, the worst thing a PR person can do is promise something and not follow through.”

David Chauvin of Zimmerman/Edelson“Never stop being a student. Technology changes and there are new platforms all the time. You have to stay on top of it.”

Lisa Jablon of Hunter PR“You always have to be on your toes about the world around you. You should be consuming news on a daily basis.”

Kerstyn Dioulo of Glow Connection“People are always watching you and what you do. I pride myself on hard work and putting the clients first.”

If I could add a thousand words, I’d still be unable to include all the terrific advice from the PR and journalism experts at the conference. It’s always worth the time–even on a sunny Saturday–to listen and learn from smart, experienced people. Your thoughts?

Connections + knowledge = PoweR

tin-can-telephone“It’s not what you know but who you know.”

How often has this been said? It’s a cynical question, based on the belief that professional success is primarily due to connections rather than knowledge. But is it true? There’s no question millions of people can point to who they knew as the reason they have a particular job. Case in point: I’ve held 10 full-time positions since my junior year in college and was led to nine of them through people I knew, not through a “help wanted” ad (the one exception being my current job at Hofstra). Making connections through professional networking and personal friendships create an exponential increase in potential opportunities.

“Knowledge is power.”

There can be little argument with that quote. Gaining knowledge through a formal education is essential in our society, but learning beyond the classroom is just as–and is often more–important. When a person brings ideas, problem-solving skills, and sensible approaches to a job, he or she becomes very valuable. And the learning never stops; it’s why nearly every trade and professional group offers conferences, workshops and seminars designed to enhance members’ skills and knowledge.

The point is that both maxims are true. Clearly, knowing people who can help you, advise you and maybe even hire you is key. But you can’t be led to a job without having the smarts to do the job. Conversely, the most intelligent people among us face a lifetime of challenges if they don’t find ways to make connections with people in a position to support them.

It’s why I repeatedly make the case for students to experience PR outside the classroom. The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) is one platform from which students can begin networking with professionals while learning more about the public relations industry. Hofstra PRSSA’s annual conference, to be held next week on Saturday, May 2, will include a half-dozen presentations in the morning and a networking lunch in the afternoon. It’s an essential opportunity for students to enhance both who they know–and what they know. Your thoughts?




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