Now that the last vestiges of the first 2016 presidential debate have left Hofstra, it’s time to turn from politics to one of my favorite topics–punctuation and grammar.
Reading students’ anonymous evaluations this week on my teaching revealed observations about how “strict” I am regarding their writing. They generally seemed grateful for my approach; one student even wrote, “I needed it.”
I often tell the story about how I lost a valuable client when a colleague misspelled the CEO’s name in a draft of a press release. “One of the easiest ways to discount your business’ credibility is to fall victim to spelling errors and poor grammar,” wrote marketing professional Carly Stec. “If your content is plagued by poor grammar, it’s likely that people will think twice about the quality of your products or services.”
The same goes for one’s professional reputation. John Boitnott of Entrepreneur recently wrote, “While it may not seem like a major concern, making even the smallest of mistakes when composing written messages can have a major impact on our careers, since poor writing skills can give colleagues and customers the impression that we’re not really educated or skilled enough to do our jobs properly.”
iFixit CEO Kyle Weins also takes grammar seriously. In his article, “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why,” he said, “My zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?” He added, “I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing…I hire people who care about those details. Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other things also aren’t important.” Weins gives a grammar test to every job applicant.
Yes, I can be aggressive when it comes to punctuation and grammar, but I hope my public relations students understand when I correct their writing, it’s just tough love. After all, I’m only concerned about their future success. Your thoughts?
(photo above from Brightside)
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.
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?
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?
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?
One 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!
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.
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?
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.
Of 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.
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 Kingdom 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.
Now, 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.
Our 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?
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?
Those 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.
“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.
We’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?