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!
I first heard the satiric term “weapons of mass distraction” when former New York Congressman Gary Ackerman in 2004 criticized a Congressional bill raising the fines the FCC could impose for broadcasting indecent materials. “It is a weapon of mass distraction to keep us away from the real issues at hand,” he was quoted in the Washington Post.
Of course, the term is a play on “weapons of mass destruction,” a phrase often used by the Bush Administration to justify the war in Iraq. It’s since been used as a movie title, a rock band’s name, a blog, and a headline for numerous articles.
That said, have you noticed how quickly the Associated Press report on Hillary Clinton’s meetings with Clinton Foundation donors–while she ran the State Department–disappeared from the headlines? It happened because she and Donald Trump got into a heated exchange about prejudice; Trump called Hillary a “bigot,” adding during a speech last week, “She’s going to do nothing for African Americans. She’s going to do nothing for the Hispanics.” Clinton delivered a planned response quickly, devoting a major speech to Trump’s campaign of “prejudice and paranoia” and accusing him of “taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.” Trump responded by doubling down, repeating his attacks on Clinton as a bigot with no regard for minority communities.
The GOP presidential candidate’s history of questionable racial policies in his real estate dealings, his rebuking the citizenship of America’s first black president, and his numerous verbal attacks and seemingly prejudiced comments targeting Mexicans, women and other minorities, have given the Clinton campaign good political fodder. They’ve used the issue very cleverly as a weapon of mass distraction; for the last several days Trump, the media and subsequently the public aren’t talking about the AP’s (now much-debunked) story on Hillary’s perceived conflicts of interest.
Some view “weapons of mass distraction” as a pubic relations tactic–superficial but sometimes highly effective. One has to wonder if it’s a savvy PR technique or an unethical method which PR professionals–and presidential campaigns–should avoid. Your thoughts?
Here we are in August and there’s less than three months to go before the presidential election. After a horrible couple of weeks of ongoing verbal jousting, outrageous comments and misinformed statements, Donald Trump has started to rapidly sink in the polls, with one having Hillary Clinton ahead nationally by 15 points.
I have purposely avoided making any predictions regarding this election, especially since I was among the many who believed that America would never elect a black man named Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency. Almost a year ago, I wrote an observational post about Donald Trump called, “An unPRecedented candidacy” in which I noted, “There are PR lessons to be learned here, both good and bad, as the Summer of Trump is sure to be found in case studies textbooks someday. I wonder what the final chapter will look like.”
I still wonder. In another blog post during the primary season I said, “I feel badly for the other Republican candidates. I’ve blogged about the GOP’s efforts to re-brand the party and how it was reaching out to women, young people and Spanish-speaking voters. Trump has effectively undermined this agenda with his brash and careless comments. And the unprecedented 17 other Republicans running have been unable to effectively get their message out because Trump is literally sucking up all the air. He has become a ratings winner, so media programmers are devoting more time to him than all other candidates combined.”
Trump not only sucked up all the air; he emerged as the Republican candidate for president of the United States. There were thoughts he would shift gears and become more “presidential” in his tone. This turned out to be wishful thinking. The opposition worried that nothing he would say or do would ignite the public’s anger and sink his candidacy.
However, the cumulative public relations effect of Trump’s racist, sexist, narcissistic comments are now doing the job. He seems incapable of acting differently, or even nearly “presidential.” I’d like to predict we’re seeing the end of Trump’s flirtation with the White House. But I’m not making any predictions. 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.
“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?
“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.
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?
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.
Thus 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?
There’s no greater honor for a teacher than to be recognized by his or her students. So when I was named 2016 Teacher of the Year at Hofstra’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication last week, I couldn’t have felt more gratified, humbled and joyful knowing my students saw fit to give me an award.
But it’s my students who deserve the accolades. They inspire me every day. Their dedication to learning and desire to succeed fills me with the motivation to be the best I can be as an educator. As another semester ends, I say goodbye to our graduates feeling good about the work my colleagues and I do to prepare the next group of future public relations professionals.
This year I’ve been inspired by seniors and grad students including Lauren, who wrote and presented a significant research paper on #blacklivesmatter; Ashley, who thoroughly researched and reported on PR ethics; and Samantha, who studied the state of public relations agencies in Estonia where she lived for a semester. Their efforts rivaled the best of any academic work.
I’ve watched how Nathalie, whose charisma and unparalleled leadership of Hofstra’s PRSSA Chapter worked to build PRSSA into a powerhouse campus club, and helped inspire fellow students Saralynn, Kristin, Lauren, Tara, Arielle, Briana, Jasmine, and others to run dozens of programs and events. Together, they were selected to host what was a highly successful regional conference.
I’ve been inspired by international students who left their homes and moved thousands of miles to be educated in the United States. Significantly challenged by language and culture, they’ve succeeded through their determination to earn a college degree.
I’ve also been inspired by my graduate assistant Jessica and student aide Emily. They’ve handled several special PR projects this year with competence and enthusiasm.
I wish I could name every student who’s inspired me because as my sixth year at Hofstra ends, I’ve never been happier and more excited to be in a classroom. I’ll miss our graduates terribly but look forward to another year of inspiration. Your thoughts?
As I sat in on eight panel discussions during the regional conference “Start Spreading the News,” hosted by Hofstra’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter this weekend, I thought back to the valuable advice I received during my quarter-century as a PR practitioner. I also thought about how lucky our students are to have learned from more than two dozen professionals this weekend, each generously sharing words of wisdom. I wondered which words created “light bulb moments” for the 150 student participants. What resonated with them as they listened?
Good advice has stuck with me through the years. One example: When I was just 29, I became the head of communications for the Town of Babylon and spokesman for Supervisor Arthur Pitts, the top elected official in a town of 220,000 residents. I was young and pretty naive, and whenever we’d talk about strategy I’d find myself thinking in terms of how we could quickly and effectively achieve our immediate goals. However, I’d sometimes neglect to regard the motivation, attitudes and concerns of those who would be affected by our actions. Supervisor Pitts, who was just a few years older but was far wiser, advised me to carefully consider others’ motivations, concerns and perceptions, and ultimately how our actions will be perceived and reacted to before decisions are made. Of course, this was a fundamentally sound public relations approach, but it was a light bulb moment for me.
Fraser Seitel, the PR guru who authored “The Practice of Public Relations” advises PR students to “plan from the outside in.” It was my former boss’s approach re-stated: Always begin your PR strategies by examining how your publics may react and respond.
There’s no question that lasting advice can come from anyone. Putting yourself in places where you can meet practitioners and really listen to their experiences and life lessons, creates a huge advantage for your own professional development. Sometimes just a few wise words can stay with you, influencing and informing your entire career.
If you were there, what was your “light bulb moment” at the PRSSA conference this weekend? Your thoughts?