Lots of exPeRience

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Occasionally, I like to use this space to share career advice from seasoned public relations professionals with lots of experience. In the May 2017 edition of Public Relations Tactics, the monthly newspaper published by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), 15 PR pros offered some truly sound counseling to students and young PR practitioners. Here’s a sampling:

James L. Anderson

“Join and network with organizations that will connect you to (the PR) profession. I’m a big believer in intellectual curiosity…you can never know too much.” — James L. Anderson, senior VP of communications, Turner Broadcasting

“Be flexible. Be willing to do new and different things and, above all, take risks…Know what’s happening in your community and around the globe.” — Terri Hines, VP of global PR and communications, Converse, Inc.

“You cannot do this job well if you don’t love to read and you cannot write well.” — Andrew McCaskill, senior VP, Weber Shandwick

“Expect change and embrace it. Don’t take yourself too seriously.” — Marlow Daniel, director of PR and communications, Francis Ford Coppola Presents

“Develop your skills in social media and design. Write. Get published. Collaborate. Volunteer. Document and quantify your accomplishments.” — Bonnie Riechert, Ph.D., chair of the department of public relations, Belmont University

Vivian Kobeh

“Don’t see public relations only as organizing media events or talking to journalists, but as a critical role within your organization. Be quick to respond to crisis.” — Vivian Kobeh, communication director, BlackBerry Latin America

“Be willing to start at the bottom; just get in there and do some work. Learn and look for opportunities that present themselves where you can grow.” — Karen Hamilton, director of communications, Lagunitas Brewing Company 

“Write as much as you can. Write for work. Write for pleasure…the more you do it, the better you become.” — Gene King, director of corporate communications, H&R Block

“The best PR practitioners are those who can immerse themselves in knowing the ins and outs of the industry, not because they have to but because they want to.” — Keith Nowak, director of communications, Travelocity

Indeed, these are very wise words and advice worth heeding. Which of them resonated for you? Your thoughts?

PuRpose-filled emojis

Adria Marlowe, MA ’17

The use of emojis is exploding, but to what end? Do these adorable little illustrations serve any purpose at all? According to May 2017 Hofstra graduate Adria Marlowe, they sure do.

PR Nation is featuring graduate students’ capstone projects, a requirement to earn a master’s degrees in public relations at Hofstra. Adria’s paper, “Symbolic Images and Lasting Impressions: Can emojis influence millennials’ brand perception and affinity?” analyzed “the evolution of emojis into a mainstream form of communication” and looked for “examples of brands that have employed emojis in their communication strategies.”

The use of emojis is relatively new. Since 2010, “there are now 1,851 Unicode emoji,” according to Adria, “and every year the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit corporation devoted to developing, maintaining, and promoting software internationalization standards and data, reviews proposals for and decides which new emojis will be released.”

I found Adria’s comparison of emojis to ancient symbols fascinating. “Some linguists consider emoji symbols to be an evolution of early pictographic language…by making the correlation between emojis and 40,000-year-old cave paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphics that told stories using pictures and other images.”

“Brands have taken notice of emojis’ popularity and are finding that incorporating them into communication strategies can produce positive outcomes,” Adria wrote. “A study by Appboy found that emoji-enabled ads generated click-through rates that were 20 times higher than the industry standard.”

Adria’s own survey found that a strong number of respondents agreed that brand messages which include emojis seem more personal, stand out, convey more emotion, are more positive, humanize the brand, and make interacting with the brand more enjoyable/fun. “With a staggering amount of content and information coming across mobile screens and a decreasing consumer attention span, communications professionals must find ways to grab their audiences’ attention and connect with individuals in a matter of seconds…(Emojis) are effective tools for brands seeking to communicate with millennials via mobile platforms.”

“Public relations practitioners should seek to understand the platforms and tools their audiences are using, and look ahead towards trends and new ideas. Emojis are a phenomenon worth studying,” Adria concluded. Your thoughts?

PRoofread before you covfefe

In another controversy-filled week which included Russia, climate change and James Comey, the nation’s attention was briefly distracted by Donald Trump’s midnight Twitter burp: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe”. Commentators struggled to interpret the word’s meaning, memes swamped the internet, and the word provided mega-material for late-night comedians. Most concluded the president probably dozed off at the keyboard, but not before hitting “tweet.”

It’s generally agreed that Mr. Trump might be a lot better off if he’d just stop tweeting. While he contends that Twitter allows him to talk directly to his constituents, his tweets have regularly led to self-inflicted controversy. Often they contain misspellings and typos, offering ammunition for mockery and credibility concerns. There were lines including “the possibility of lasting peach,” and “no challenge is to great,” plus the words “honered,” attaker” and “unpresidented.”

Of course, Trump isn’t alone in misspelling and hitting “send” before proofreading social media content. Yahoo Finance tweeted an awful mistake in January when someone typed “bigger” but used an “n” instead of a “b.” In February, the U.S. Department of Education, led by newly-confirmed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, tweeted two incorrect messages, first misspelling civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois’ name as “DeBois” and then posting, “Our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo.”

Sometimes it’s an inappropriate image that creates problems. To celebrate July 4th in 2014, American Apparel tweeted a photo of a spectacular explosion. But they mistakenly used the iconic image of the tragic explosion of space shuttle Challenger. In the wake of the Manchester, England bombing in May, Kim Kardashian posted a picture of herself partying with Ariana Grande and tweeted, “I love you,” but after getting negative feedback added a message of sympathy for the victims. And last week, comedian Kathy Griffin tearfully apologized for tweeting a tasteless image of herself holding a fake, bloodied, decapitated head of Donald Trump.

Content and context is too important when using social media, and there’s little room for sloppiness or poor taste. Proofreading is essential — especially because in public relations, it can avoid the mistake of a costly covfefe. Your thoughts?

CaPstone Research

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Last week I noted how Hofstra University graduate students had completed their master’s degrees in public relations by submitting various capstone projects filled with revealing research and insights. As promised, I’m featuring the best of them here.

Stephanie Adomavicius

First up is Putting the “Social” in Social Media: How human connection triggers engagement, authored by Stephanie Adomavicius. Stephanie wanted to “uncover what causes people to engage on social media, and identify the characteristics that make a photo and a video interesting.” Her research looked for the reasons people are compelled to share or click on certain content.

In addition to reviewing previous studies, Stephanie surveyed 110 college-educated men and women between ages 24 and 70 from the tri-state area to find her own answers. “Overwhelmingly,” she found, “83 percent of participants said the primary reason they joined social media was to interact and keep in touch with friends and family members, while only four percent said to follow news/trends or to receive recommendations (about a restaurant, book movie, hotel, etc.). The majority are either neutral or somewhat unlikely to share, like, or comment on a photo posted by an organization, yet 52 percent said they are very likely to share, like or comment on a photo that contains a friend or family member. Forty-one percent said they are very likely to share, like or comment on a video that contains a friend or family member.”

Drawing from the survey, published articles and interviews with social media professionals, Stephanie concluded: “Activities to do with friends is the most popular type of content to post about, while the number one influencer of social media engagement is the status of a friend or family member. Furthermore, the factor that makes both a photo and a video the most interesting and intriguing is people in it who you know.”

While this capstone project’s results may not be too surprising, it’s important that such studies are done to either confirm, rebuke or provide new facts and observations regarding what we think we already know. Through their research, these graduates’ work adds to our understanding of how we communicate. Your thoughts?

PRePaRed and ready

Congratulating last year’s grads

When I was asked in 2011 to guide the creation of a graduate degree in public relations, I had to first ponder, “Who really needs a master’s degree in PR?” I also needed to find out, “Does an advanced degree in public relations matter in the job market?” The honest answer is, “Yes and no.”

No, because organizations looking for entry-level public relations people don’t usually require advanced degrees. Yes, because if the student’s undergraduate degree was NOT in public relations, the advanced degree will give them the background, experience and credentials to be competitive. And yes, because if the graduate student is already a few years into a career, the master’s provides opportunity for advancement which may not have existed without it.

As they were enhancing their career opportunities, graduate students who have completed Hofstra’s Master of Arts in Public Relations did some amazing work this spring. Their capstone thesis papers were insightful and outstanding, taking on significant research topics including Symbolic Images and Lasting Impressions: Can emojis influence millennials’ brand perception and affinity?; Domestic Violence in the NFL; Social Media, Millennials and an Unpredictable Industry: Achieving brand engagement as a musician in the post-internet era; and Putting the “Social” in Social Media: How human connection triggers engagement.

Alternatively, some graduate students spent the semester creating and implementing PR campaigns for nonprofit clients, who were happy for the help. The Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Nassau-Suffolk Services for Autism, and the Long Island High School for the Arts were among those who invited and received expert enhancements to their outreach and branding efforts.

All these capstone projects are filled with insights and revealing research, and I’ll be featuring some of the best of them in the coming weeks.

With Hofstra’s spring 2017 Commencement just hours away from this writing, I’m quite confident the students who’ve earned their MA in Public Relations are well-prepared for an advanced career in a field filled with diverse opportunities. Like our undergraduates, they’re focused and prepared, and I’m proud to have played a small role in their success. Your thoughts?

Who do peoPle tRust?

Edelman’s Steve Rubel at Hofstra

Trust in institutions is apparently at an all-time low. While this probably doesn’t surprise you, it has important implications for how we should be communicating with our target audiences.

“Who do people trust?” is a question PR agency giant Edelman looks to answer each year. Edelman’s Chief Content Strategist Steve Rubel returned to Hofstra University last week to talk to educators, business leaders and graduate students about the firm’s Trust Barometer, an annual survey begun 17 years ago to measure which institutions and leaders are trusted most—and least—by the public.

Rubel, a Hofstra graduate, studies worldwide social media trends, watching and reporting on how people use information and technology. He showed us that trust in four major institutions—business, government, non-government or nonprofit organizations, and media—all declined broadly this year, a phenomenon not recorded since Edelman began tracking trust. “Further underscoring the trust crisis is the lack of credibility of leadership,” the report noted. “Only 37 percent of the general population now say CEOs are credible, and 29 percent say the same about government officials. Media declined the most and is distrusted in 82 percent of the 28 countries surveyed. As an institution, business is on the decline, too. “In 13 of 28 countries, business is distrusted,” the survey found.

Edelman looked at who’s representing these institutions and found that trust in employees ranked far above trust in CEOs, media spokespeople and senior executives. “Peers are the most credible source of information,” said Rubel. “Employees are telling stories that are strongly believable.” He then provided some sage advice for PR educators and future professionals:

  • Think about how to turn employees into storytellers;
  • Teach less corporate-style communication and more about applying journalism techniques in a brand environment;
  • Analytics are critical in today’s marketplace;
  • Talk with people, not at them…Be with the people, not for them.

Rubel added that brands can’t just rely on pitching stories to the media anymore. “Through social media,” he explained, “everyone has to tell their own stories.” He gave us all a lot to consider as we continue along this journey we call public relations. Your thoughts?

A PRoud PRofessor

With Sophia Shakola and Aislinn Murphy at the December 2016 Commencement

It’s the end of my seventh year of teaching at Hofstra and as it concludes, I am one proud professor–proud and happy for my students and their many achievements. So many undergraduates will successfully complete four years–and graduate students two years–of studies and hard work, and are now preparing to pursue their public relations careers.

Undergraduates never cease to amaze me. Their knowledge, instincts and range of experiences will serve them well as they begin their search for employment. I’m thrilled when they share their news of a job offer, which some have already received. And another diverse group of students with little previous exposure to PR earned master’s degrees and will soon embark on fulfilling their career potential.

As always, many of the most productive moments this year were initiated by members of PRSSA, Hofstra’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. These enthusiastic young women and men again staged an extremely well attended networking dinner, a fully-realized professional conference, visits to Manhattan PR agencies and the national PRSSA conference, and several outstanding professional development programs. Their energy and desire to learn is infectious, and together we enhanced our out-of-the-classroom experiences exponentially.

This was an extraordinary academic year for Hofstra, starting when we hosted the first 2016 Presidential Debate and ending with continued news of the university’s growth and prominence. The world around us was politically-charged, filled with occurrences (and future case studies) that left many of us scratching our heads. Public relations’ best practices were violated, corporate PR blunders piled up, and trust in institutions fell to an all-time low.* Students have learned that more than ever, ethics, honesty and transparency are essential for building trust with clients, brands and leadership.

Congratulations and best wishes to the Class of 2017. I always feel incredibly lucky to be part of what you’ve experienced. And for the classes of 2018, 2019 and others to come, I’m always anxious to hear your concerns, share your ideas and work for you to enhance your experiences as you, too, prepare to become public relations professionals. Your thoughts?

*Source: Edelman Trust Barometer

OpPoRtunity-filled calendars

Martin Luther did his thing 500 years ago

Much of the media was very focused last week on the first 100 days of the Trump administration. The White House alternately downplayed its significance while still touting its accomplishments; at times there seemed to be a rush to get more done before the 100-day “deadline.”

If there really was no “deadline,” why was such importance attached to this milestone? Like birthdays, people seem to love to mark dates and commemorate their importance. This common link between the calendar and major events can be very helpful to public relations people.

Take the first 100 days, for example. How did they compare with other presidencies? How many campaign promises were kept vs. broken? What typically happens next? This was an opportunity for campus historians and think tank policy wonks to share their perspectives and promote their organizations.

It was 50 years ago in June

Like all years, 2017 is filled with milestones that can provide PR practitioners with the chance to link their clients with notable events. For example, on May 25 the original Star Wars will be 40 years old, opening up opportunities for experts who can speak to the film’s lasting effect on pop culture and movie making. In just a few weeks it’ll be the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ landmark album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which many say was the most influential recording of all time. PR people representing musicians, producers, and aging baby boomers can have their clients weigh in on its significance. In August, the calendar marks 40 years since Elvis Presley died, which opens a PR door for representatives of intervention organizations to discuss prescription drug dependency’s often tragic results. Theologians will have a lot to talk about this year because October 31 represents the quincentennial of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the act that triggered the Protestant Reformation. And the medical industry can get some PR mileage out of the 50th anniversary of the first heart transplant on December 21.

Linking public relations efforts with milestone events is a tried-and-true way to tell a story to targeted audiences. PR professionals are well-advised to keep a close eye on the calendar. It’s filled with opportunities. Your thoughts?

PRotesting to PRotect our planet

“Silent Running” (1972)

In a mostly forgotten, 1972 post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie, “Silent Running,” Bruce Dern plays an astronaut/botanist who struggles to save Earth’s last remaining plant life, which was jettisoned into space as the planet’s vegetation dies. In her ’60s hit song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell laments how, “They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum,” and “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Fear of environmental disaster has been around for a long time.

Last week I strolled through Hofstra University’s campus, which is filled with natural beauty as thousands of tulips rise from the earth each spring. As I walked, I thought about this Earth Day’s March for Science, inspired by fears that shortsightedness in Washington truly threatens the future of our planet. Business interests seem to again be taking precedent over water, air and earth conservation as the president vows to shrink, if not eliminate, environmental protection budgets.

This is why it was so important that millions of people demonstrated in hundreds of cities around the world this weekend. It was a true public relations event with a simple, crucial goal: to send a strong signal to lawmakers that our planet cannot be sacrificed on the presumption of creating jobs. Among the protesters’ messages were statistics noting the green economy is actually creating more opportunities than those derived from fossil fuels. The Financial Times recently reported, “The number of jobs in the global renewable energy industry grew by five per cent last year, in stark contrast to the steep losses suffered by the oil and gas sector.” Sean Cockerham of McClatchy noted, “Far more jobs have been created in wind and solar in recent years than lost in the collapse of the coal industry, and renewable energy is poised for record growth.”

Staging a protest is among the purest forms of public relations because PR works to inform, reinforce, create, and change attitudes. The March for Science was a PR event designed to do all of the above–to convince and remind everyone to protect Hofstra’s tulips–and to save our planet. Your thoughts?

APologies & Regrets, Inc.

This meme summed up a week of PR damage.

I may open a public relations firm named Apologies & Regrets, Inc. I could have made a fortune last week if my clients were Pepsi, United Airlines and Sean Spicer. Each of them created a PR mess followed by various degrees of apologies:

Sean Spicer: The White House press secretary, commenting on Syrian President Assad’s use of chemical gas on his own people, compared Assad to Nazi Germany. “(Even) someone as despicable as Hitler…didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” he told reporters, forgetting that millions of people were gassed in death camps. “(Hitler) was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” Spicer deepened the hole by referring to a concentration camp as a “Holocaust center.” As outrage swelled, Spicer apologized repeatedly and effectively, calling his gaffe “inexcusable” and “reprehensible.”

Pepsi: After posting a commercial starring Kendall Jenner to YouTube, the beverage company soon deleted it. The New York Times reported, “Pepsi has apologized for a controversial advertisement that borrowed imagery from the Black Lives Matter movement, after a day of intense criticism from people who said it trivialized the widespread protests against the killings of black people by the police.” The appropriate statement read, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.”

United: After video of a passenger being violently dragged off a plane went viral, United CEO Oscar Munez inappropriately apologized for “having to re-accommodate…customers.” He then fueled public anger with a message to his employees, describing the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent,” adding, “employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this.” On his third try, Munoz stated, “We take full responsibility and we will work to make it right. I promise you we will do better.” Too little, too late.

Apologies & Regrets, Inc. would advise that “I’m sorrys” are almost always necessary to repair public relations damage. Spicer’s and Pepsi’s timely, sincere apologies may have calmed their controversies while Munez’s slow, inappropriate response has become another case study in “what was he thinking?” Your thoughts?