Potential Romance

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Readers: Students have told me a favorite “PR Nation” post is one written for Valentine’s Day in 2013. I’m continuing a tradition of updating and re-posting it each year. 🙂

“When a person brings flowers to a date, that’s good public relations.”

“The Bachelor” Arie Luyendyk

When finding ways to define public relations, we can agree that good PR strategies seek to accomplish one of three responses: to create opinions, to reinforce opinions, or to change opinions. Well, isn’t that what dating and romance is all about, too?

Consider matchmaking and online dating, for example. Whether it’s on Tinder, Match.com or OKCupid, people create profiles — similar to the PR profession’s backgrounders — to describe their personal and/or professional status. When one senses potential romance, he or she contacts the other, usually with a clever, enticing note — in effect, a pitch letter. If the pitch works, a first meeting takes place at a mutually agreed-upon location. These early get-togethers involve planning significant events for which schedules are coordinated, clothing is selected, and grooming is completed so the presentations (dates) go well.

As the relationship forms, networking begins, often with friends first and then with family. Each action is designed to create positive opinions among the couple’s targeted publics and influencers. The following weeks and months contain acts of caring and kindness, sharing of new experiences, and efforts to compromise when necessary. Such actions will yield results, both quantitative and qualitative. As in social media, there will be likes, shares, interaction, feedback, and analytics. This, just like PR, is done to reinforce positive attitudes.

Eventually, a crisis may occur. Someone says or does something wrong or hurtful, and then an all-out effort is made to change negative opinions. Various reputation management tools must be used if there’s any chance of success. This often includes apologies and flowers. After the crisis has passed, favorable behaviors need to be sustained because, as we know, good PR is more than just clever words or strong appearances. Maintaining consent from your publics — or your partner — must be supported by consistent, positive performance.

So as another Valentine’s Day has come and gone, remember: When your date brings you flowers or a gift, that’s good public relations. And, more importantly, if your date brings flowers for your mother, that’s exceptional PR. Your thoughts?

Trump’s PaRade

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Trump with French President Macron at Bastille Day parade

In a week filled with yet more White House scandals– the deputy chief of staff and a speechwriter resigning over spousal abuse; a high-ranking justice official suddenly quitting; former insider Amarosa Manigault-Newman describing the White House as “bad” –Donald Trump ordered the military to stage a parade, “like the one in France.”

Jake Novak of CNBC wrote: “Take a good look at the Bastille Day parade from last year, and it’s not hard to see why such an event appeals to Trump. That’s because the Bastille Day parade isn’t exactly like the Nazi or Soviet military parades of the past. The stars of the French parade aren’t the politicians or even the weapons, but the actual troops and military veterans… Polls show that America’s troops continue to be stronger supporters of this president than the public at large. U.S. military veterans are much more pro-Trump than almost any other group.”

The event would cost millions of dollars and many politicians and military officials have spoken out against the idea. USA Today reported, “House Democrats on Thursday introduced the ‘PARADE’ Act — otherwise known as the Preventing the Allocation of Resources for Absurd Defense Expenditures bill — which aims to keep taxpayers from footing the bill if President Trump’s dreams of a military parade do, indeed, come to fruition.” According to The Hill, a whopping 89 percent of Military Times readers responded to a survey by answering, “No, it’s a waste of money and troops are too busy.”

Because there are some who defend the idea and claim such a parade would help the armed forces recruit soldiers, I checked on what the military already spends to promote itself. According to foxnews.com, “A watchdog report from the Government Accountability Office found the federal government is spending upwards of $1.5 billion a year on public relations and advertising… Most ($1 million) of that money goes toward advertising. Another roughly $500 million goes toward salaries for federal public relations employees.”

Well, one and a half billion dollars buys a helluva lot of promotion, so I suspect Mr. Trump doesn’t want a parade for the purpose of recruiting. Your thoughts?

Washington, P.R.

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I had a conversation with a student this week about her post-graduation plans and she asked about public relations careers in Washington, D.C. I suggested that most PR jobs in our nation’s capital are within government and there are likely more jobs and varied opportunities in New York. But just hours after our talk I read an article on PRSA’s web site from PRUnderground, an online news release distribution service, which pointed to “explosive wage and employment growth in public relations in Washington.” The article continued, “The number of public relations jobs in Washington has increased by an astounding 325 percent in the last 17 years, compared to 58 percent on the national level.”

But what about New York? According to Transparentcareer.com, New York City and Washington D.C. together have nearly 41 thousand PR jobs, “which is 70% of PR employment held by the top five highest employing cities. This isn’t surprising though; these are the business and government capitals of the country, the two most involved sectors of public relations.”

Supporting these numbers is research from ABODO, an apartment search site which lists the top five cities with the most PR opportunities: Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. “Our data shows that if you’re looking for jobs in major cities in the public relations and communications sector…(that’s where) the most opportunities are available,” its report notes.

“The growth in public relations versus lobbying is being driven by new thinking about the most efficient ways to get the message out in D.C.,” PRUnderground owner Brian Scully told Jeff Clabaugh of WTOP Radio. “Companies and trade organizations are going straight to the public through big TV campaigns and online campaigns, versus just focusing on influencing legislators through lobbying firms.”

Taking your case directly to the public is a proven way to win support. Washington politics are very messy, so maybe the growth of PR jobs could result in enhanced communication between policy-makers and people, and maybe even–dare I suggest–a more responsive government.

Whether it’s PR or another profession, in which city would you most like to work? Why? Your thoughts?

Crock-Pot cRisis

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(Warning: This post contains spoilers about the latest episode of NBC’s “This Is Us.”)

It’s safe to say the folks at Crock-Pot never saw THIS coming…

Fans of the award-winning hit NBC series “This Is Us” have known since season one that Jack Pearson (played by Milo Ventimiglia) dies tragically; they just didn’t know how. Its audience later learned he loses his life in a fire. They now know what started it: a defective Crock-Pot.

CNN Media spelled it out: “In the the final scene of Tuesday night’s episode viewers watch him clean the kitchen after a Super Bowl celebration…but after he leaves the room the pot shorts out and sets the house on fire. The final shot is Jack’s face when the blaze reaches his bedroom… After the show, heartbroken fans on Twitter expressed their anger at the product for the death of the character.”

Milo Ventimiglia as Jack (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Many followers tweeted they were throwing out their Crock-Pots and parent company Newell Brands lost 24 percent of its stock value the day after the show’s broadcast. Crock-Pot opened a Twitter account for the first time to respond to the growing public relations crisis.

The company’s official statement read: “For nearly 50 years with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night’s episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible.” The company added in a Twitter response, “We’re heartbroken over last night’s episode, too! But don’t worry, you can still make your favorite meals in your with confidence. We want to assure all consumers we rigorously test our products for safety.”

“If the backlash doesn’t die down soon, Crock-Pot may need NBC and ‘This Is Us’ to intervene more vocally,” said Andrew Gilman, founder of crisis communications firm CommCore Consulting Group. I agree; NBC should probably show Crock-Pot some love.

PR crises often happen suddenly and can come from unlikely places. While it wasn’t the network’s intention to disparage this venerable product, it has created a real problem for the Crock-Pot brand. If you were handling PR for NBC–or Crock-Pot–how would you respond? Your thoughts?

PoRn star? “Squirrel!”

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Trump with Stormy Daniels in 2006. Credit: Washington Post

Before his election, President Jimmy Carter admitted to Playboy magazine he had “lust in his heart” for other women. Scandal. 1988’s Democratic frontrunner Senator Gary Hart was photographed with a model sitting on his lap. Scandal. President Bill Clinton lied to Congress about an affair with a White House intern. Scandal–and impeachment. President Donald Trump’s lawyers paid off porn star Stormy Daniels to keep silent about a 2006 affair. Yawn.

“The Stormy Daniels story should be a bigger deal,” wrote CNN’s Chris Cillizza. “And yet, while it’s drawn some attention… The reaction seems to be something like, ‘Sure, there’s another allegation that Trump behaved badly. What else is new?'”

Perhaps purposeful distractions are keeping the scandal from the public’s consciousness. While the Washington Post was reporting that his lawyer paid $130,000 just before the 2016 election in exchange for the porn star’s silence, Donald Trump was heard making racist remarks in the Oval Office, which consumed the media for several days. When that furor quieted down, Trump’s doctor released seemingly exaggerated results from the president’s physical. That was followed by mixed messages and flaccid negotiations which led to a government shutdown. As a result, there’s little focus on the affair and the hush money. One could argue that Trump’s often outrageous behavior and near-maniacal tweeting is cleverly diverting us from the affair which, under normal circumstances, should have become a huge political scandal. This tactic might also apply to the ongoing Russia investigation and other alarming presidential controversies.

Many PR students are shown the film “Wag The Dog”, a cautionary tale in which an imaginary war is created on a Hollywood set to sidetrack public attention from a presidential sex scandal just before Election Day. It shows a dark side of public discourse which takes form as “weapons of mass distraction,” a term used to describe constructing an issue to shift attention from another. However, when you yell “squirrel!” while a dog is eating, the dog may become excited for a while but it’ll eventually lose interest and return to its food. America’s attention may yet focus on this scandal.

Your thoughts?

Warm temPeRatures

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Hofstra in LA students (l-r) Haley Moffatt, Daphne Christidis and Danielle Tana at the “Friends” fountain

Having spent the past 10 days in California, I’ve learned something important: The weather has a distinct advantage over New York. Almost comically, whenever our students asked a professional their thoughts on the differences between working in Los Angeles and New York, the first response from every one of them was, “The weather!” It was a point on which we all could easily agree.

Seventeen Lawrence Herbert School of Communication students headed to the West Coast with me and other colleagues January 3rd to participate in the “Hofstra in L.A.” program for 10 days of networking, mentoring and learning about careers in the entertainment industry. They met with more than two dozen Hofstra alumni and other professionals working in production or promotion, visiting sites including Warner Brothers, ABC, NBC, Deutsch, Dick Clark Productions, Magical Elves, Westwood One, ICM, and PMK+BNC. Several alums came by to meet with the students at our California “home” at the Oakwood Apartments in Toluca Hills.

Clearly, the weather was just one of many reasons to work in L.A. While there are many communication jobs in New York City, they tend to skew toward news and information. The heavier action in the entertainment business–especially on the production and creative side–is on the West Coast. That said, while publicists and other public relations people are certainly part of the L.A. entertainment landscape, the professionals we met acknowledged that as an industry, PR is far stronger in New York.

One interesting note repeated throughout the visit was how public relations functions are heavily integrated into all media projects. It was noted that each new movie, TV show and other media products are essentially new businesses, with different people hired for every production. PR becomes an essential function of these projects, often handled through L.A.-based agencies or in-house publicity departments.

My takeaway: If you’re looking to work in the entertainment industry under warm temperatures and blue skies, there are many PR jobs in L.A. For greater career options in consumer, nonprofit, arts, health, services, and much more, New York City is still the PR place to be. Your thoughts?

PRoduction and PRomotion

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Zach Sang shares his wisdom with Hofstra in L.A. students

I was lucky; I left for California about 15 hours before last week’s East Coast winter storm began. I’m participating in “Hofstra in L.A.,” a program designed to expose students to production and promotion careers within the entertainment industry. Dr. Peter Gershon and I taught a class of 17 students this fall, culminating in this 10-day excursion where we’re meeting with content creators, agents, promoters, and producers. The program was arranged by Lawrence Herbert School of Communication Associate Dean Adria Marlowe.

So far we’ve met with some terrific people who’ve shared their time and mentorship. Among them were Hofstra alum Tara Sattler, now an attorney at entertainment law firm Weintraub/Tobin, who joined with her firm’s partner Stan Coleman to expose students to legal issues faced by industry professionals. Alumnus Bryan Diperstein, who started in the mailroom at ICM just days after graduating, later became the agency’s youngest agent ever; he reviewed the complicated process of getting a script made into a movie. Now 30, Bryan has a roster of 50 clients and represents scriptwriters and directors, and his philosophy of commitment and hard work was an inspiration to our students.

New Jersey native Zach Sang started an online, streaming talk program at age 13 and today is a 24-year-old radio entertainer whose syndicated youth-oriented interview show is heard on 75 Westwood One stations. “Ninety-one percent of us still listen to radio every day,” he said, telling students not to ignore radio as a possible career. “Content can live anywhere, and radio stations are hungry for content creators.”

Educators provide access to these programs to enhance the academic experience of our students and expand their intellectual and cultural experiences. They become exposed to professional options through the best conduits possible: alumni and other practitioners working in the field, happily providing advice and mentorship. I’ll share more of their wisdom next week.

Zach Sang offered some advice I found particularly insightful: “You need to work with and learn from older people because traditional approaches make things run. And they need us to show them what (content) young people need and want.” Exactly! Your thoughts?


PRocrastination Nation

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Image: Psychology Today

“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” — Benjamin Franklin (and Mom)

As we reach the new year, many of us created a list of goals and actions known as “resolutions.” We’re generally not very good at keeping them; despite good intentions, I’m a few pounds heavier this December 31 than I was a year ago. I also find myself repeating the pledge that I’m going to avoid procrastinating, which I seem to keep putting off. I’ve improved a bit, but I still tend to set tasks aside until I have only a little time left to complete them.

Since January 2011, I’ve posted to Public Relations Nation every Sunday and never missed a week. While I love to write–especially about PR–it’s sometimes challenging to determine a topic, find 350 words, and post each Sunday before breakfast. I usually find myself working late Saturday nights to finish and hit “publish” before my self-imposed deadline.

Cambridge defines procrastination as “to keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring.” Maybe so, but for some of us procrastination becomes a great motivator simply because we work better under pressure. The downside of procrastinating is mediocre output because of the time constraints we’ve created; the upside is that deadlines make us put aside distractions and focus on the task at hand. Author Adam Grant said, “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps,” and entrepreneur James Altucher noted, “Procrastination is your body telling you you need to back off a bit and think more about what you are doing.”

Image: Lisa Preston

Sometimes it’s best just to accept our shortcomings, so I’ve decided to make peace with my procrastination. It works for me. A looming deadline is my motivation and it gets my creative juices flowing. I guess a looming deadline could also be the answer to keeping that weight loss resolution.

So here’s wishing you a happy, safe and healthy New Year! I’m starting it off with a new, rhyming slogan: “Let’s Procrastinate in Two-thousand One-Eight!”

Your thoughts?

Still poPulaR

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Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher in “The Last Jedi”

As I enjoyed the latest chapter in the Star Wars film series, I wondered why it still remains popular. Watching the opening titles, “A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” still stirs emotions in me and audiences worldwide. The first Star Wars movie premiered when I was a high school senior and I saw it four times that first weekend. I was hooked.

In an article by WHYY’s Nick Field, the late Carrie Fisher explained the endurance of Star Wars: “It’s about family and that’s what’s so powerful about it.” “In the history of popular culture, there’s never been a cultural sensation quite like Star Wars,” Field wrote. “The original installment practically invented the modern blockbuster and still holds the record for most tickets sold in the post-World War II era.” According to Business Insider, the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, took in $220 million, the second-best opening weekend of all time at the domestic box office, and is the top movie of 2017. Altogether, the Star Wars franchise has grossed $7.7 billion worldwide. In addition, there have been several animated series and made-for-TV movies, hundreds of novels and comic books, dozens of video games, and more action figures and light sabers sold than one can imagine.

Thomas Willet recently wrote in The Oscar Buzz, “Many worship at the altar of Star Wars, and it’s likely that it embodies cinema better than any one movie could. It’s not just what’s in the 1977 film…but how audiences embraced it and made it a part of their everyday lives. It embodies the joy and unity of what cinema should do. It’s why the film will likely outlive humanity.”

Last week I quoted PR veteran Harold Burson who said, “Public relations is a combination of communication and behavior.” In Star Wars, the battle between good (the Force) and evil (the Dark Side) is deeply ingrained within our emotional DNA. It’s why Star Wars remains popular. The dazzling special effects and appealing, relatable characters consistently tell a story of good’s struggle, and eventual victory, over evil. That’s a powerful message. Your thoughts?

Merry Christmas to all!





“The Business of PeRsuasion”

Harold Burson

In the pantheon of 20th century public relations figures, few loom larger than Harold Burson. Now 96 years old, Burson and Bill Marsteller first joined forces in 1953 in Manhattan, and by the 1980s Burson-Marsteller was one of the largest PR firms on the planet. In 1979, the company became a part of Young & Rubicam Group, a subsidiary of WPP, a world leader in communications services. Today the company consists of 67 offices and 85 affiliate offices in 110 countries across six continents and, according to its website, “provides clients with strategic thinking and program execution across a full range of public relations, public affairs, reputation and crisis management, advertising and digital strategies.”

I had the opportunity to meet Harold Burson at a recent event hosted by the Museum of Public Relations at which he promoted his new book, The Business of Persuasion, and spoke to an audience about his beginnings as a journalist and evolution as an agency head. He was asked why journalists often become good PR people. “PR is a problem solving business,” Burson suggested. “Newspaper people are good at figuring out what the problem is. News people know what’s going on the world, which is why they become good PR people who provide solutions.”

Burson noted that during his tenure, public relations became more than just creating publicity for clients. He talked about the substantial growth of the industry in the second half of the 20th century, pointing to the tumultuous 1960s as its high point. “The ’60s was the greatest period for PR because of social awareness and change. We were the go-to place for planning for crises. And there was a major change in the psychology of the public,” he observed. “Ultimately, PR is a combination of communication and behavior.”

In discussing the industry’s future, Burson expressed concern about the smaller role PR agencies are playing in decision-making. He believes external advice is invaluable to businesses. “A lot of strategic planning is being done internally, but companies should have a lot more outside perspective than they have.”

If I owned a company, I’d sure want Harold Burson’s perspectives. Your thoughts?