Let’s review the story: 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed brought a home-made clock to his high school in Texas. He was proud of his accomplishment and showed it to his teachers over the course of the day. Ahmed’s English class teacher saw the clock as well, but suspected it may be a bomb because of its appearance. She contacted the school authorities who then called police. The teenager, who happens to be Muslim, was arrested, handcuffed and put in a jail cell. He was released a few hours later and no charges were filed after the police confirmed the device was, indeed, a clock and not a bomb.
The outpouring of support for Ahmed was nationwide and viral. Many called the arrest an overreaction and blamed racial profiling and anti-Muslimism. On the other hand, some–including noted liberal and political comedian Bill Maher–volleyed back. On his live HBO show Friday night, Maher suggested people “drop the political correctness and consider that maybe being cautious is a good thing.” He said there’s nothing wrong with being a little suspicious when there’s a young Muslim student with something that “looks exactly like a (expletive) bomb” and there are young Muslims “blowing (expletive) up” all over the world.
Meanwhile, Ahmed has since been enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. Hashtags #IStandWithAhmed and #EngineersForAhmed saw hundreds of thousands of posts and tweets. Ahmad was offered internships at Reddit and Twitter. Google reserved a place for him at its science fair. MIT asked him to come to campus. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg posted, “Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed.” And President Obama praised Ahmed’s love of science while inviting him to the White House.
How one sees this case comes from personal attitudes. I believe what’s still missing are apologies from the school and police. Even Bill Maher added that apologies would be appropriate. There’s no embarrassment in making a mistake on the side of caution and a sincere “we’re sorry, we were mistaken” would be good for public relations. Your thoughts?
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.
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?
It has become a public relations practitioner’s role to create content and monitor social media on behalf of their clients. We then encourage transparency by allowing our publics to comment. But it can be a hazardous policy.
I was reminded of these risks when Senator Harry Reid had an unfortunate home accident last week. Online news platforms provided a place for comments both sympathetic and downright nasty. Examples: “Anyone really believe a story of this wimp capable of breaking exercise equipment? I think the real story involves a car and a bottle of scotch,” “Maybe it knocked some sense into his liberal head,” and “There is a God.” And these were the more tame comments. Some wished the senator an early death–and worse.
After Robin Williams’ suicide a few months ago his daughter Zelda received numerous “cruel and unnecessary” comments, according to an Instagram post she published. There were also terrible Photoshopped pictures of her father’s death, leading her to shut down her social media pages. “I will be leaving this account,” she wrote, “Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me…is cruel and unnecessary.”
I recalled a 2013 episode of Bill Maher’s HBO show “Real Time” in which he editoralized (warning: R-rated content) about the culture of hate we seem to have created via the Internet. He observed how when Miss New York, Indian-American Nina Davaluri was crowned Miss America, “Twitter exploded with so much racist hate that you’d have thought President Obama had just made a reasonable remark.” He showed Twitter feeds that fired expletives to innocuous targets–even one directed at a popular restaurant: “F*** you, Cheesecake Factory.” “Who wastes their time telling Cheesecake Factory to f*** off?” Maher added. “Why has hate become the national pastime?”
We often walk the line in America between free speech and nasty, hateful language. PR people must monitor social media for their clients, but they have to tread lightly when deciding to edit or delete comments. Transparency includes allowing voices in, but I often wonder when–or if–it shouldn’t. Your thoughts?
Social media has often been compared to a cocktail party. As people move through the room they listen and participate in brief conversations, and soon find another discussion they like. But while cocktail party comments usually come and go in seconds, social media discussions never go away. Even after a comment is deleted it’s still searchable and becomes part of the Internet’s permanent memory. A single “brain fart” posted on Facebook or Twitter can cause a public firestorm–or end one’s career.
Such was the case when Elizabeth Lauten, communications director for a Tennessee congressman, criticized the Obama daughters for their bored behavior during the annual turkey pardoning event at the White House. The Facebook post ended up costing her job.
Lauten wrote: “Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class…Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless…act like being in the White House matters…Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.”
After thousands online accused her of bullying the First Daughters, Lauten apologized on Facebook, posting: “I reacted to an article and quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were…”
Presidents’ children have historically been off-limits to public criticism, although there have been similar past incidents where such boundaries were violated. However, Lauten’s politically-driven Facebook eruption forced her resignation days later.
The lesson: Think twice before you hit “send.” Too often we’ve seen tweets and posts from politicians, celebrities, athletes, and business leaders that have resulted in PR disasters. Not every thought one has should be so quickly expressed online in our immediate media. Your thoughts?
A note from Jeff Morosoff: Hofstra Honors College students in my PR fundamentals class are required to submit guest blog posts throughout the semester. The following was written by Areanna Rufrano:
Earlier this year Time magazine comprised a list of the 13 sassiest brands on Twitter. The companies that made the list excelled in creating witty interactions and clever posts thus proving that the power of social media is a big advantage for public relations professionals.
A major part of what public relations entails is communication with the general public, and the most effective way to do that today is through social media. It is a highly innovative platform that provides a direct connection to a mass audience as a means to supply information and generate buzz. If used properly, social media has the ability to enhance a public image, maintain a loyal following and establish a strong public awareness for a company.
Even though most of this area is strategically planned in public relations, especially for campaigns and announcements, there is plenty of room for spontaneous engagement. The majority of these unplanned opportunities relate to either a current event or news headline. For example, Oreo made a brilliant move by tweeting “You can still dunk in the dark” during the 2013 Super Bowl power outage, which went viral within minutes. It became a national sensation and proved to be more effective than the company’s commercial during the game. So as long as the content is relevant and noteworthy, social media can be powerful method to attract public attention.
While social media is a great asset to utilize, one must be extremely cautious of the material that is to be publicized. Many times certain comments can be taken the wrong way even though the intention was good. Public relations professionals must work closely with marketers and social media directors to send out the right message. Ultimately, the general rule of thumb for social media is to continue to follow the “Seven Principles of Public Relations Management” created decades ago by former AT&T executive and PR veteran Arthur Page. Page’s principles emphasized action, patience, listening and–most importantly–truth. Your thoughts?
A new academic year is about to begin and I can’t wait. Across the country approximately 21 million students will be enrolled in college, more than ever before, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Most members of the freshmen class will have been born in or around 1996, about 37 years after me.
These numbers represent a challenge for educators my age, especially when teaching a subject as ever-evolving as public relations. Many of us can remember when press releases were created on typewriters and mailed in envelopes using stamps we had to lick. Since those primitive tools, we’ve witnessed astounding changes, and as professionals we’ve had to keep our skills sharp and up-to-date. We former PR pros must stay ahead of the curve to teach the latest trends, techniques and tools with future public relations practitioners.
Even during the four years I’ve been teaching full-time at Hofstra University, change has come fast and furious. For example, college students now favor using Twitter and Instagram over Facebook. Online video is rapidly becoming the most effective way to move people to action, and YouTube is now the second most-used search engine, behind Google. These changes in how people are using social media have profoundly impacted the way PR people do their jobs. We don’t just pitch stories, promote clients and diffuse crises; we have to be content providers — creating words, pictures and video for online platforms and web sites in an ongoing planned effort to gain attention and inspire positive attitudes and responses. To do this, we need to be more than good writers and pitch-persons; we must manage and master the current multi-media desktop and mobile tools, and use them to tell our stories very effectively.
For the new PR students who may think the profession is about red carpet events and flashy media moments, it’s more often not. Most of what we do is to use traditional and new media tools create content to initiate, persuade and change opinions. I’m excited about what’s next…are you? Your thoughts?
If you want to seek the latest in public relations case studies, you don’t need a text book. Just watch the news.
In an pre-season NFL game last Monday, Johnny Manziel raised a middle finger as he jogged back to the Cleveland huddle near the Washington sideline after throwing an incomplete pass. The gesture was captured by ESPN’s cameras. Penalty! It became an instant public relations issue for the NFL, the Cleveland Browns and Johnny Manziel.
Ferguson, Missouri was the main focus of news coverage in recent weeks. The shooting of unarmed, 18 year-old Michael Brown by a policeman brought about storms of protest and subsequent riots as angry demonstrations and looters poured into the streets. The public relations mistakes made by the governor, the mayor and by the Ferguson Police Department are good case studies in bad PR. The worst offense came when the department released the officer’s name and simultaneously released an unrelated video of Brown allegedly robbing a store. Ouch! This horrible decision only elevated the anger.
Critics protested when President Obama played golf as crises in Missouri and the Middle East mounted. Although Obama has played more rounds of golf than any of his predecessors, he has taken one-third the vacation days of his immediate predecessor. Meanwhile, he had announced the White House reaction to the execution of journalist James Foley just minutes before starting a round. Bogie! More ammunition for the opposition and another PR snafu for the president.
On a happier note, by now you’ve either seen or participated in dumping ice cold water on someone’s head to raise money to fight ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a publicity campaign that’s been sweeping the nation. Bravo! The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a wonderful example of a campaign gone viral for a great cause. It’s easy, fun, and the campaign has already raised $63 million dollars.
PR case studies are always right under our noses. Just read a newspaper, follow Twitter, or turn on the TV, and then sit back and observe. Your thoughts?
I’m a stickler for writing right, partially because employers demand it. It’s a point made in an article written in 2012 by iFixit CEO Kyle Weins, titled “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.” Weins gives a mandatory grammar test to every applicant. “On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair,” he wrote. “After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?” He goes on to say, “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 — like stocking shelves or labeling parts. I hire people who care about those details. Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren’t important. And I guarantee that even if other companies aren’t issuing grammar tests, they pay attention to sloppy mistakes on resumes. After all, sloppy is as sloppy does.”
I rather enjoyed Matthew Schwartz’s column in PR News last week titled, “What Makes a Great PR Employee: Let Us Count the Ways.” Schwartz solicited responses to that question via PR News’ Facebook and Twitter and the feedback was interesting, revealing, and accurate. Here are some of the Twitter responses:
A great employee…
- Always shows passion.
- Is an opportunist, and goes above and beyond expectations.
- Is calm, cool, and collected.
- Understands their role in the success of their employer.
- Is open to criticism.
- Is willing to see an issue from other viewpoints.
- Is always proactive, considers his customer’s problem as his own problem, (and) always reacts before the crisis shows up.
- Always puts the needs of their clients above their own.
- Always provide best, honest advice to clients.
- Goes for it and sticks with it and challenges the conventional.
So, after reading this, what would you add to the list? What other characteristics make a great PR employee? Which do you possess–or need? Your thoughts?