Being a PaRt of change

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Raffaella Tonani

Public Relations Nation occasionally posts an article written by a guest blogger. Raffaella Tonani is a journalism major and a Hofstra Honors College student, and as my PR Fundamentals student was responsible for three guest posts this semester. This is her third. –JM

“Be the change you want to be in the world” — Mahatma Gandhi

Nonprofit (NPO) and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) need the help of two type of volunteers: on-site volunteers and donors.

I think building loyal relationships between organizations and their publics, the befitted, staff members, and the volunteers are the goals of every PR professional. When a person finds an organization with a purpose that fulfills him/her, an unbreakable bond is born. There are organizations like Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, All Hands, and many others where a person’s profession is aligned with a cause, but they have different levels of volunteering and accept volunteers without any previous experience. There are options closer to home, like community homeless shelters or individuals gathering food/cleaning supplies for people in need.

Photo: All Hands

How does Doctors Without Borders get to refugees in Yemen? How does UNICEF reach kids in Angola? How does All Hands attend natural disasters in Nepal?

Non-profits get funding from different sources. For example, massive social media and online campaigns do not require much spending and could be very effective. Another way is applying for grants; these are like scholarships for students, offered by international organizations like the UN. Huge companies like Google and Toms also help through the public relations of corporate social responsibility (CSR). This brilliant branch of PR has a huge impact on society. Besides giving funding to charities, it is a way a company involves conscience-driven employees. Some CSR programs require their employees to provide certain volunteering hours per year. But individual donations are significant. Through being a volunteer myself and part of the staff of a Peruvian organization that builds houses in extremely poor areas, I realize that every cent adds up.

Rescue gifts cost less than $60. You can fund a refugee’s education for a year, build a newborn baby a temporary shelter, or provide services for a safe birth or passage from conflict.

Photo: UNICEF

Funding is like the motor of a car and the volunteers are its gasoline. More than once I have heard, “One person cannot change the world.” If every person who thought that came together, change becomes tangible. I encourage you to become a volunteer and get hands-on experience with a cause.

There is a cause waiting for your help. However, as magical as causes are, organizations cannot work without funding. Sometimes people cannot volunteer weekly or monthly, but we can start financing causes we believe in. Take the time to make a relationship with an organization that you feel so close to, so even if you do not volunteer for a year, you feel a part of it and then, help in any way you can.

Are you or would you like to be a part of an NPO/NGO? Your thoughts?

“SuPeR Sarah!”

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders

In Superman comics, there’s a “Bizarro World” in which everything is the opposite of how it should be. In the White House, there’s “Sarah’s World.”

This week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if the president, having been accused of sexual misconduct by many women, was in a position to criticize others. “We feel strongly that the people of this country addressed that when they elected Donald Trump to be president,” Sanders responded. Yeah, but didn’t the majority vote for Trump’s opponent? She then scolded reporters for asking about the president’s health after he slurred his words during a speech. “There were a lot of questions on that — frankly, pretty ridiculous questions.” Yeah, but didn’t Trump often question Hillary Clinton’s health during the campaign? Was that not ridiculous?

Despite the constant contradictions, Sanders perpetually rails against the press’s “ridiculous bias,” for which she has her admirers. “Sarah is even better than Spicer!,” “Sarah’s an excellent role model,” and “SUPER SARAH! That girl is swift & sharp as a razor,” they tweet.

Frank Bruni recently lamented in The New York Times that, “we’ve surrendered any expectation of honesty” from the press secretary. Bruni wrote: “(Sanders) dwells without evident compunction in a gaudier fairyland of grander fictions…Her briefings are breathtaking…For some 20 minutes every afternoon, down is up, paralysis is progress, enmity is harmony, stupid is smart, villain is victim, disgrace is honor, plutocracy is populism and Hillary Clinton colluded with Russia if anyone would summon the nerve to investigate her. I watch and listen with sheer awe. With despair, too, because Sanders doesn’t draw nearly the censure or ridicule that (Sean) Spicer did, and the reason isn’t her. It’s us. More precisely, it’s what Trump and his presidency have done to us.”

In the public relations world, ethical practitioners rely on facts and transparency, avoiding spin for fear of damaging their clients’ reputations. This isn’t the case in Sarah Sanders’ Bizarro World. As she spins for “some 20 minutes every afternoon,” she’s harming all the progress we’ve made to improve and enhance our profession’s reputation. Your thoughts?

Information PRovided

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Alumnus Stephen Karaolis (r) of Kwittken PR networks with students in November

As another semester grinds to a close, I’m reflecting on the valuable information provided by both seasoned and newly-minted public relations practitioners in recent weeks. We’ve attended lectures, workshops and conferences, networked with dozens of seasoned PR professionals plus alumni just starting their careers, and one thing is certain: after a 35 years of working in and teaching public relations, I’m always learning. Here are some of the “takeaways” my students and I have absorbed these last few months:

  • Communication professions are evolving more swiftly than ever and people’s use of media is in a constant, accelerated state of change.
  • As new developments take place, PR becomes increasingly challenging. PR people are expected to master everything from integrated marketing to social and traditional media to analytics to event planning to reputation and crisis management to desktop publishing and online platforms.
  • Emphasis on owned media (social, websites, blogs, other online communication) is overshadowing more traditional earned media (print, TV and radio placements).
  • Reaching key influencers is fundamental, and content creation is crucial.
  • PR practitioners must craft stories to advocate for their clients, so good writing skills are essential. There can be no success without them.
  • The ability to find and creatively tell compelling stories will make you valuable to employers. The ability to effectively persuade, inspire and motivate audiences will make you a PR superstar.
  • “Self-starters” and “problem-solvers” are phrases often used to describe the kinds of people companies are seeking to hire.
  • Confidence in your own capabilities is a major key to success. Companies want employees who can network, have a phone conversation, write copy, and are sure of their own ethics and decision-making in any given work situation.
  • “Do what you like to do” may be an overused phrase, but it still rings true. You need to believe in and enjoy what you’re doing, who you’re working for, and why you’re doing it. Otherwise, you won’t do it well.
  • Know what’s going on around you. Be curious. Read, watch, listen, research, learn.

What have been your “takeaways” this semester? Will you be ready for this challenging, rewarding profession? Your thoughts?

The PoweR of Oz

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It’s holiday movie season, and as I again watched the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz last week, it reinforced the powerful role it has played in my thinking throughout my life. I began to wonder how many others have also been influenced by a line or image from a favorite movie.

There were quotes within Oz which informed me as a child and stayed with me. Most were uttered by the Wizard himself as he attempted to give Dorothy’s companions what they sought. “A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others,” he tells the Tin Man, wise words that have guided my own approach to friends and family. He says to the Cowardly Lion, “You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage; you’re confusing courage with wisdom.” In other words, select your fights carefully and never be afraid to avoid conflict. My favorite, unforgettable observation was provided by the Scarecrow: “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?” Yes, Scarecrow, they do.

Another wisdom-providing film was also made before I was born. In 1946’s It’s A Wonderful Life, self-sacrificing George Bailey defends his working class neighbors to the uncaring, ethically-challenged Mr. Potter. “Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this ‘rabble’ you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?” This line reinforced the profound importance of empathy and fairness. George’s guardian angel Clarence explains, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” and “Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends.” They’re essential words to lean upon whenever we’re feeling down about ourselves.

Words and images can have tremendous power and, like public relations, movies often provide us with highly impactful messages. Which have left an impression on you? Your thoughts?

Why do we study PR history?

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Raffaella Tonani

Public Relations Nation occasionally posts an article written by a guest blogger. Raffaella Tonani is a journalism major and a Hofstra Honors College student enrolled in my Fundamentals of Public Relations course. –JM

“The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it.” — Joseph Goebbels

Communication is powerful enough to persuade people to purchase a product/service, to act a certain way or to believe in ideas. Joseph Goebbels recognized that power and used it to get one of history’s most evil men elected as Germany’s leader. In effect, this may have made Goebbels may even more powerful than the leader.

Joseph Goebbels

Adolf Hitler appointed Goebbels as propaganda director for the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) in 1928. As president of the Chamber of Culture, he controlled the press, including radio and newspapers, plus art like films, books and music. Later named Reich minister of propaganda, he decided what content was appropriate for the public and banned any material that was not aligned with Nazi ideology. He was founder and editor of newspaper Der Angriff (The Assault), and he even controlled who produced messages, firing Jewish and non-Nazi editors from newspapers and magazines. Some film topics were about the greatness of Hitler and Nazi life.

Censorship limits thinking and debate in a society. Goebbels tried to shape the future generation by indoctrinating them through a program called Hitler’s Youth, which trained young boys for the military service and girls for motherhood. He ordered the sale of cheap radios called “People’s receiver,” and set up speakers on streets and cafes for people to listen to Hitler’s speeches. He also organized rallies that hosted thousands of people to spread anti-Semitic thinking. Goebbel’s propaganda encouraged thousands of people to commit inhumane acts and kill thousands of others. Anyone who defied the government could die.

According to The New York Times, Julia Litzkow, a student at a German school who visited Anne Frank’s exhibit in 2008 said, “It’s not a burden. It’s a responsibility… we have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Similar to Litzkow, other people in Germany are taught not to feel guilty but to be informed about their country’s past to prevent something similar from happening.

I have been asked “Why do we study history?” multiple times, usually from professors. However, we should know by heart it is important to learn from our past’s mistakes to avoid stepping on the same stone twice. We learn history to learn how to be more responsible with the power of communication than certain people in our past.

Your thoughts?

A study in hyPocRisy

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Senate candidate Roy Moore

“He has a public relations problem now!”

I’ve heard that phrase applied to many powerful men in recent weeks including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Al Franken, Roy Moore, and others. Some have referred to sexual abuse allegations against them as crimes–and PR crises.

Yes, these individuals’ public images have been damaged as a result of the allegations. But much like Anthony Weiner and Bill Cosby, the men currently in the news were accused of sexual abuse and have far more than PR problems; some may face lawsuits and even criminal prosecution.

A lot of the public outrage directed at the accused has become a study in hypocrisy and double-standards. When news of sexual misconduct by actors and producers began to emerge, right wing media and politicians screamed about Hollywood’s immoral elite. Then, when allegations of stalking and abusing under-aged girls were leveled against GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, the left screamed while many on the right reserved judgement or fell silent. Most hypocritical were Evangelical Christians who defended Moore’s potential crimes on religious grounds, adding cries of “fake news.” Then there’s the Hypocrite-in-Chief Donald Trump. He tweeted nothing about Roy Moore but was hyper-critical of Senator Al Franken (D-MN) whose indecent act was hardly the immoral equivalent. And at least Franken apologized sincerely. Plus–don’t forget–16 women have accused Trump of sexual assault. Pure hypocrisy.

In her new book What Happened, Hillary Clinton wrote, “Sometimes I wish every man across America understood is how much fear accompanies women throughout their lives… Many women I know have been groped, grabbed or worse…Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has written frankly about how Congressmen have leered at her and grabbed her by the waist in the congressional gym.” Gillibrand (D-NY) has co-authored a bill requiring sexual harassment awareness training and reform for members of Congress and their staffs.

Poor judgement, salacious lechery and immoral actions indeed create public relations problems. But PR is the least of the issues here. There will likely be more accusations, and such men should be examining their past and preparing to appropriately apologize–and face the consequences.

Your thoughts?

PictuRing change

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S4C Founder Antonio Amendola

Can pictures change the world?

Fifteen months ago I accompanied 11 Lawrence Herbert School of Communication students and a colleague to Italy where we took on projects on behalf of Shoot 4 Change (S4C). S4C is a dedicated network of professional and amateur photographers, journalists, painters, and others who believe they can change the world by telling visual stories about those in need. We met with S4C representatives in our classroom and at its former Rome headquarters, The House of Storytellers. The students worked to upgrade S4C’s web site, enhance its social media activity, improve Italian-to-English translation for documentary videos, and create content for its various platforms and media outlets.

We also traveled to L’Aquila, an earthquake-ravaged city, then still struggling to recover after six years of ineffective government assistance. The experience was so moving that several students vowed to continue to engage with Shoot 4 Change after returning to the United States.

Now, Shoot 4 Change New York has been formed as a chapter of the international group. Based at Hofstra University and led by recent graduate Ashley Iadanza and Professor Randy Hillebrand, S4C New York will recruit local photographers, videographers and students to tell local stories of those who otherwise might not have any exposure at all. A campus-wide awareness campaign has begun on behalf of the organization.

Building on SC4’s primary mission, Hofstra will host a major conference in April 2018. It will focus on issues of refugees and other human stories for which people can make a difference. I’ll write more about this unique event in the weeks ahead.

“We tell untold stories and we give eyes and voice to those who do not have it,” notes Shoot 4 Change Founder Antonio Amendola on the organization’s Facebook. “Step by step, photo by photos, click by click…we’ll change the way people look at the world.” Call it visual public relations if you’d like. It’s a proven, effective way to influence opinions and inspire action. “You don’t have to be a big shot professional to be part of S4C,” says Amendola. “Grab your camera, go down on the street and shoot stories.”

Your thoughts?

“13 Reasons Why” campaign PRoposal

Public Relations Nation occasionally posts a guest blog. Raffaella Tonani is a journalism major and a Hofstra Honors College student enrolled in my Fundamentals of Public Relations course. The blog exceeds my word limit because Raffaella has many excellent and important suggestions! –JM


Raffaella Tonani

The Netflix show 13 Reasons Why was controversial. This is how Netflix approached the release of the show and this is a proposal of what I would have done before, during and after the release of the show.

Netflix positioned the show on social media platforms. On Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, they posted images and quotes from the show. On Instagram some of the pictures were screenshots of the characters’ Instagram accounts, as if they would have posted the content. The show’s website linked users to crisis hotlines information and campaigns like #BeThe1to. Producers, two actors and Jay Asher (author of the book on which the show was based) hosted a panel a month before the release of the show explaining the focus of the show and its importance. The actors gave interviews explaining why they decided to be on the show. On three episodes, they had trigger warnings noting strong, graphic content. After the last episode, Netflix directed viewers to a short documentary “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons” involving the actors/actresses, writers, experts and producers in the show.

Producers wanted to educate its public on bullying, rape and suicide. Even though they wanted the series to be crude and show the ugliness of suicide, they could have done so parallel to leading and taking control of the conversations. Experts argue content was too strong to watch alone. I would have posted a disclosure of strong content at the beginning of every episode along with a recommendation of seeing it with somebody else, preferably an adult. Netflix could have analyzed shows with similar targeted audience and launched surveys to these audiences to see how many people started watching a show because people close to them were watching it, how many of them watched them with someone else, and a list of how far would they go to watch it–for example, paying more.

The series became trendy. Netflix could have engaged with audiences, while making sure younger viewers were not alone, by having viewers send a picture to Netflix in exchange for a code to start viewing the show. To make it interactive, I would have offered group chats on Facebook with a psychologist, where users could have either used their name or be anonymous so viewers feeling overwhelmed could connect with other people feeling the same way.

Netflix reached out to schools to see how the teenagers were reacting to the show. I would have done this before the premier. I would have organized focus groups with teachers, psychologists and psychiatrists and other groups with parents and their children. Both groups could have shown the possible reactions to be prepared for, and try to minimize it with external factors like social media and promotion of dialogue. I would have hosted a conference with educators to screen the show and prepare them for the multiple approaches on topics in the show. I might have suggested screening one episode every day for school.

I would have also suggested a 13 Reasons Why campaign for 13 days on social media, and maybe fund one for 13 schools (the ones with higher bullying rates in the nation), but be transparent about the campaign so other schools can apply it. I would have empowered the campaign #13ReasonsWhyYOUMatter with actors/actresses, producers and Asher, telling the public 13 reasons why they did the show. Some of these reasons would be statistics about rape, bullying and suicide so the public knows why the show is necessary and why they are consistent with their message of explicit content. They might have reached out to ATTN Videos so each character of the show could spread awareness with these statistics like Brandon Flynn (Justin) did. I would emphasize their message of raising awareness through the crude portrayal of the suicide.

To continue with the author’s and the show’s message about never knowing what someone else is going through, or the effect some “jokes” have on people, I would add Clay Jensen’s (main character) line at the end of the show, “We have to be kinder to each other” to build a bullying, rape and suicide awareness campaign. And I would have the character the episode is about available after every episode to say why he/she thought the show was important, and have them answer questions so the content could be posted on social media. In every profile or cover picture on social media, I would have contact information of crisis hotlines–not a link to the website, but the numbers available. I would work to build an alliance with organizations like The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Association of School Psychologists and would have funded at least for the first month a constant 24/7 team available for callers. I would have contact info streaming at the bottom of the screen during every episode.

The show is sensitive. Given the variety of reactions (feedback they must consider for season 2), I would not release the whole season together. I would space out the episodes throughout 13 days to contain the public from feeling overwhelmed. Let schools, parents and kids talk about it, and host focus groups (random sampling) of parents and kids, separate and together. After the release, I would spread positive initiatives like high school student Morgan Abbott’s 13 Reasons Why Not and work with her to recreate it in other high schools.

I am not in favor or against the show. I recognize 13 Reasons Why has positive and negative consequences, and that the show could achieve its goal of raising awareness by controlling external variables better. If you need help PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 En Español: 1-888-628-9454 Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889.

Your thoughts?

‘Tis the PR season

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Graphic from volacci.com

I walked into a local department store this weekend and discovered aisles of merchandise for Halloween, Thanksgiving, AND Chanukah and Christmas. Clearly American marketers have determined it’s not too early to get people thinking about and buying for the holidays ahead.

It’s also a great time for public relations practitioners to associate their organizations with people’s holiday mindset. Reporters, bloggers and producers seek holiday-related news, so there are plenty of opportunities to pitch an expert, product or service that can be tied to the season. It’s the PR person’s job to have stories ready to be placed in the appropriate target media.

Cision, the leading earned media software company, notes in its marketing materials: “Every brand wants to stand out during the holiday season. Securing placements on retail blogs and in lifestyle publications helps you reach your target shoppers and earn their trust.”

Communication agency marketingmaven.com notes, “According to a 2016 Google consumer survey, nearly seven in 10 people are undecided or considering multiple gift options during the holiday season. By having your product featured in a holiday gift guide, your brand can experience added exposure, an increase in website traffic, and a bump in sales.”

Beyond the gift guides are online and print publications, each featuring typical seasonal articles about the most popular costumes for Halloween, cooking and menu ideas for Thanksgiving, and the hottest-selling toys in December.

“Some businesses are naturally a better holiday fit than others. However, with creativity, you can find holiday themes to include into your content, no matter what your organization does,” says PR consultant Michelle Garrett. That’s true. It’s not just about costumes, gifts and decorations.

For example, Halloween offers possible stories about child safety, healthy eating, dental care, and creativity. Thanksgiving pitches could focus on family dynamics, history, travel, and football. During Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa, media people like stories on faith, charity, clothing, holiday movies, and lots more. That’s why PR people need to identify ways to link their businesses’ products and organizations’ services to the appropriate holiday, and be ready to tell unique stories to their targeted publics.

Your thoughts?

Possible PRofessions

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Within the pages of Hofstra University’s web site lives a list of “possible professions in public relations,” designed to give readers a sense of the many options they’d have after earning a PR degree. Several colleagues and I recently examined the list, agreed it was reasonably thorough, but wondered if those seeking an introduction to the field would understand what these job categories actually mean.

For example, while “reputation management” or “sports information” might be somewhat self-explanatory, “corporate social responsibility” or “investor relations” might not. I often need to describe the differences between corporate and agency PR, what a lobbyist does, and how community and government relations demand further definition than what may seem obvious.

The thing is this: You could look at the list and exclaim, “That’s what I want to do!” You might envision yourself employed in sports or entertainment PR because it would mean you’d never have to deal with boring stuff like thought leadership, or creating graphics, or monitoring social media. You couldn’t be more wrong.

The beauty and excitement of a PR career is how you often find yourself doing multiple jobs; you might plan a glamorous Fashion Week event while also working with essential government, security and safety officials– and at the same time pitching stories to reporters after you’ve crafted effective press releases. You may find yourself creating compelling online content about the people helped by your nonprofit agency, while simultaneously supporting its fundraising efforts through targeted newsletters you’ve emailed to supporters and potential donors.

The web site’s list–while not completely comprehensive–offers possible PR professions:

  • Corporate PR
  • Crisis Communication
  • Agency PR
  • Nonprofit PR
  • Reputation management
  • Community relations
  • Media relations
  • Government relations
  • Lobbying
  • Entertainment/fashion/lifestyle PR
  • Sports information
  • Investor relations
  • Environmental communication
  • Faith-based PR
  • Educational PR
  • Consumer relations
  • Business-to-business PR
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • International relations

Because all institutions need some form of PR services, opportunities are limitless. As a student, which of these appeal to you? Which raise questions for you? If you’re a PR practitioner, which of these have you done? And if PR’s not your thing, well, why not? Your thoughts?