Ethical SePtembeR

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September is Ethics Month.

Each year, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) focuses its programs and publications on the six core values highlighted in its Code of Ethics while in public relations classrooms, professors and instructors reinforce the importance of truth, trust and transparency in the PR profession.

James Lukaszewski

In September’s Public Relations Tactics, PRSA’s informative monthly newsletter, PR veteran James Lukaszewski writes about how public relations practitioners must become their colleagues’ advisers and provide a strong moral voice when questionable decisions are being made. Lukaszewski suggests that first we have to define our own values: “Overlay the concept of ideal behavior and you can begin every day and every decision by asking yourself: 1) Is this ideal behavior? 2) Is this what I truly believe in? 3) Is it the truth? 4) How do we get to ideal behavior? 5) What if we can’t?” He talks about the importance of having a “personal core value approach” that’s impactful and serves to model ethical judgement for others.

Here are the code’s six core values:

Advocacy — We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.

Honesty — We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.

Expertise — We acquire and responsibly use specialized knowledge and experience. We advance the profession through continued professional development, research, and education. We build mutual understanding, credibility, and relationships among a wide array of institutions and audiences.

Independence — We provide objective counsel to those we represent. We are accountable for our actions.

Loyalty — We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.

Fairness — We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.

Take the time to learn PRSA’s Code of Ethics because to truly be successful in PR, we all need to be strategic, effective and above all, ethical. Your thoughts?

PooRly-written posts

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Donald Trump’s regular spelling and punctuation errors on Twitter have provided ongoing fodder for late-night comedians and critics. Many believe it matters when the president makes these mistakes; such blunders tend to damage both his credibility and, some say, the nation’s.

But does it matter when people like you and I make similar errors on social media? Whether caused by typos, so-so writing skills or laziness, social media is filled with sometimes incomprehensible content. For example, a beagle lovers’ Facebook group to which I belong is a regular repository for poorly-written posts and comments including these:

“Just got my Hunter back he home with us now”

“Mine shed alot when they are stressed especially when we go to the vet. They told me that is what it is when they do that when we are there”

“I couldnt Love him more”

In one of my classic car lovers’ groups, these comments were recently posted:

“Breath Taking!! Nice wheels to!!!”

“What a comotion about Fin’s/Taillight’s” 

“that car on the far left is a,49 lincoln What gives not 1945 ,sorry”

And to see lots of examples of poor writing, visit political pages on Twitter:

“You must be on drugs or drunk God help us if this one finish without being impeach.”

“its kinda sickening to see.facts are facts peeps.ehat can be wrong with your minds”

“Non of them gave a dime.”

“you have done to be an inspiration too all”

Sometimes it’s even Facebook friends–many of whom are PR people and/or teachers–who make similar mistakes. I’ve seen “your” when they meant “you’re,” “it’s” when it should’ve been “its,” and semicolons where commas should have been (and vice versa).

Should standards be different when the posts are personal? After all, public relations professionals working to reach their online audiences must be very careful to protect their clients’ credibility. But could I be more forgiving when it comes to individuals’ informal messages on social media? Or should proper grammar and punctuation be required of us every time we post as a way to maintain our own credibility? Your thoughts?

Politics oR punctuation

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Welcome back!

While PR Nation has about a thousand subscribers, I’m pretty sure my current students haven’t checked in for the last couple of months and my new students are reading it for the first time. Despite a quiet summer readership, I’ve continued to write and publish this blog every week since January 23, 2011. With a few guest posts from my students and an occasional colleague, I’m proud to say this is my 365th consecutive post.

I’ve used PR Nation as a place to express my opinions from time to time and whether I’m reflecting on politics or punctuation, I always try to include some valuable, usable information for both PR students and working PR practitioners. I require my students to comment on each blog post because when they do, we all get the opportunity to learn from each other.

In fact, whether you’re a freshman or a long-time veteran, learning public relations goes beyond the classroom or workplace. For PR people to remain current and aware of new trends and tools in this fast-evolving industry, we need to look outside our immediate worlds and gather relevant insights from a variety of sources.

Not discounting the importance of textbooks and teachers, there are ways to enhance our knowledge of this profession including trade organizations such as Public Relations Society of America; International Public Relations Association; PR CouncilHispanic Public Relations Association; National Black Public Relations Society; and others. In fact, you can find a full list of these helpful resources at the Commission on Public Relations Education site.

Additionally, there are plenty of area networking opportunities through PRSA’s New York City Chapter; Public Relations Professionals of Long Island; and the on-campus student chapters of the Public Relations Student Society of America. Hofstra’s PRSSA meets bi-weekly and hosts many networking and professional programs throughout the year.

I’ve seen this repeatedly: It’s the students who seek advice and develop relationships outside the classroom who get the good PR jobs and internships. And those professionals who network and share information are the most successful people in the industry. So let’s get started! Your thoughts?

The past is PResent

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Yes, 20-somethings…this Alice is a guy

I went to a rock concert last night.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend this show to everybody. It’s not likely to appeal to most people under 50. Deep Purple, Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter were hugely successful acts in the 1970s, and they performed an ear-splitting orgy of power chords, screaming guitars and memorable anthems. Deep Purple and Alice provided much of the soundtrack of my teens, and it was really cool (!) to see them live on stage.

Nostalgic events were a big part of my summer. Just three weeks ago I attended my 40th high school reunion and it was terrific fun playing catch-up with old classmates. A week later I attended a sold-out Billy Joel concert at Chicago’s Wrigley Field; Joel hasn’t recorded new pop music in 24 years.

Why does it happen that as we age, nostalgia becomes increasingly important? Surely a typical 20-year old has few nostalgic feelings, yet by age 30 they start to miss what they enjoyed a decade earlier.

Dr. Constantine Sedikides, a psychologist at the University of Southampton in England, published a research paper in 2015 noting that “nostalgia boost(s) self-continuity by increasing a sense of social connectedness.” “Retro-themed entertainment feeds into our tendency to reflect back on the positive events that shaped our sense of who we are now,” wrote Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne in Psychology Today. “They also reinforce our sense of identity. The late teens and early 20s are the time when we first take a serious look at forming our sense of identity. The music, movies, TV shows, books, and clothing of that time become a part of who we are. Without memory, we would have no identity.”

The past is always present in our lives. It’s important for communicators and PR practitioners to use nostalgic references in their content and storytelling to connect with target audiences. And for anyone under 50, you’ll probably know Deep Purple by their biggest hit, “Smoke on the Water,” and you’ve definitely heard Alice Cooper’s June anthem, “School’s Out.” Billy Joel? Well, nostalgia and age aside, he still draws audiences that span several generations, including 20-somethings. Your thoughts?

PRedicting this PResidency

3D image by Denys Almaral

As Donald Trump limped through what some called his worst week yet, there are pundits who are saying his presidency is effectively over. Tony Schwartz, Trump’s co-author on The Art of the Deal, even predicted the president will soon resign.

I learned never to make such predictions, especially when it comes to Trump. A review of my past blogs on his candidacy–from the communication perspective–revealed repeated questions on whether he could survive his numerous PR mistakes. For example, a month before Election Day when the Access Hollywood video was released, I wrote:

“The revelation of a 2005 conversation in which (Trump) bragged about sexual aggression and assault may doom any reasonable chance of his election to the presidency. His team took nearly 13 hours to produce an online videotaped statement in which Trump acknowledged wrong-doing, apologized, and ended with an attack on Bill and Hillary Clinton. It remains to be seen how damaging this latest bombshell will be…”

Six months earlier I thought Trump’s nastiness might do him in. “The…vitriol goes beyond anything before it. Decorum, class, and attention to thoughtful communication strategy is, sadly, missing from the GOP primaries. Let’s hope it doesn’t continue.”

Later, in August, I wrote: “There were thoughts he would shift gears and become more ‘presidential’ in his tone. This turned out to be wishful thinking. The opposition worried that nothing he would say or do would ignite the public’s anger and sink his candidacy. However, the cumulative public relations effect of Trump’s racist, sexist, narcissistic comments are now doing the job. He seems incapable of acting differently, or even nearly ‘presidential.’ I’d like to predict we’re seeing the end of Trump’s flirtation with the White House. But I’m not making any predictions.”

Thank goodness I didn’t. I still won’t. Even when toxic words didn’t sink his candidacy, messaging matters much more when you occupy the Oval Office. Mr. Trump’s insensitive tweets and public comments reveal a leader out of touch with the nation. But although he’s being abandoned by many business leaders, clergy, conservatives, independents, and Republicans, Trump’s presidency may still survive. Your thoughts?

The PRoblem with history

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(L. to r.) History panelists Denise Hill, Elon University; Shelley Spector, Museum of Public Relations; Meg Lamme, University of Alabama; me; Burton St. John, Old Dominion University; and Karen Russell, University of Georgia.

After just teaching my first class in PR history, I was honored to moderate “Public Relations History in the Classroom: Making More Time for Meaning-Making,” a roundtable discussion on August 12 with academic experts at the Association for the Education of Journalism and Mass Communication’s annual conference.

People have been practicing the art of influencing public opinion since the dawn of civilization. From cave paintings to moveable type to Twitter, the underlying skill of shaping opinions is always linked to understanding how people make decisions and take action. By studying the strategies behind the most successful movements of the past, we can learn from public relations’ history and better understand how best to build successful PR campaigns today.

The problem is–and it IS a problem–very little about PR history is understood or even known to practitioners, partly because so little PR history is taught in classrooms. Faculty charged with teaching it typically relegate their efforts to a single chapter in a textbook and a brief session within a semester. A 2016 survey conducted by Museum of Public Relations Founder Shelley Spector and Dr. Emily Kinsky of West Texas A&M University revealed that while 73 percent of college instructors in communication schools teach PR history within an introductory fundamentals course, just 13 percent of their class time is spent on the topic. That’s only three-quarters of teachers using 13 percent of class time to teach PR history within only one course!

Public relations’ techniques and practical applications have been impactful on social, religious, cultural, and political movements since the beginning of recorded history, with direct parallels to the evolution of media technologies. PR and propaganda have been used by governments, religious leaders, and influencers around the world to build public consensus and shift attitudes to support military, political, social, and economic goals. Students need to understand the role that public relations has played in influencing social movements and cultural shifts. My distinguished panel made the case that there should be a more thorough examination of the parallel development of PR, understanding of human behavior, and advancements in communication throughout human history. Your thoughts?

CorPoRate Social Responsibility

Ashley Zachariah ’17

This summer, PR Nation is featuring graduate students’ capstone projects, required to earn a master’s degree in public relations at Hofstra University.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has long been a public relations buzzword for companies doing the right thing. When a company seeks to create goodwill by “giving back” to the communities it serves, that’s good PR. But according to past research, not everyone has the same view of the value or purpose of CSR. As she completed her degree, Ashley Zachariah explored this issue in her capstone paper, “CSR: Baby Boomers vs. Millennials–Understanding Generational Viewpoints on CSR.”

“Public relations practitioners…are diligently trying to figure out how to include millennials in their CSR efforts,” Ashley wrote. “While discussions about the importance of millennials have increased, the dialogue about the baby boomer stakeholder group, particularly when creating CSR campaigns, has greatly decreased.”

Ashley’s research surveyed both millennials and baby boomers, looking at consumer purchasing decisions, employment decisions and general attitudes toward brands, corporations and CSR. Her results differed from previous research, which had shown baby boomers view CSR differently than their younger counterparts.

“Millennials have been typically described as an incredibly egocentric, technologically-obsessed generation, or…millennials have been considered the most compassionate and responsible generation,” Ashley observed. “(My) survey results proved…there is no significant difference between the way in which baby boomers and millennials view CSR. Both the baby boomer generation and the millennial generation do not think about CSR proactively. Rather, if they see a pro-social campaign, the sentiments towards the product and the brand increase positively.”

“Another interesting observation about millennials is that, compared to baby boomers, this generation is using the news to follow a company’s behavior, especially when a company makes a grave mistake or shows their caring side. Both age groups feel the same about wanting to support a company that is acting responsibly through CSR efforts,” Ashley concluded. “PR practitioners…need to pay particular attention to the millennial generation and must be careful not to generalize this group of individuals…The survey participants from both generations generally felt very strongly that companies should be acting as responsible agents in the community and should be rewarded for their efforts.”

Your thoughts?


The Case of the PaRanoiac

Ryan Lizza

It’s Media Relations 101:

  1. When telling a reporter something confidential, make sure he/she agrees it’s “off the record.”
  2. There’s no such thing as “off the record.”

Last week, referencing new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, I expressed my concern that since PR people don’t need official credentials to practice, anyone can call themselves a PR practitioner. It didn’t take long for “Mooch” to prove my point: PR isn’t a job for just anyone; you need education and experience to do it, especially in such a high level, ultra-visible position.

So let’s call this public relations case study, “The Case of the Paranoiac.”

Anthony “Mooch” Scaramucci

Just a few days after being hired, Scaramucci gave an interview to Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker in which he insulted now former Chief of Staff Reince Preibus and top Trump adviser Steve Bannon, using language unfit to print almost anywhere. “Reince is a f-ing paranoid schizophrenic, a ‘paranoiac’,” he said, which was among several profanity-laced taunts he verbalized to Lizza. The media, Democrats, Republicans, and countless others roundly criticized “Mooch’s” expletives as unprofessional and shameful while some excused his “lack of experience.” Scaramucci responded to the criticism by tweeting, “I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @realDonaldTrump‘s agenda.” He also accused Rizza of betraying him, tweeting, “I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter. It won’t happen again.”

In The Practice of Public Relations, Fraser Seitel wrote: “A reporter is never ‘off duty.’ Anything you say to a journalist is fair game to be reported. Never let down your guard, no matter how friendly you are.” He added, “A person who doesn’t want to see something in print shouldn’t say it. It’s that simple.”

And according to, “Paranoia is a mental illness in which a person has fixed and unreasonable ideas that…other people are being unfair or unfriendly to him.” Perhaps Anthony Scaramucci needs to check his own mirror. He also needs to buy Seitel’s textbook and soap to wash out his potty mouth. Your thoughts?

No exPeRience needed

Anthony Scaramucci

In my 35 years in public relations, I’ve often lamented about how, since PR people don’t need official credentials to practice, anyone can print business cards and call themselves a PR practitioner. Apparently, the same is true for the White House’s director of communication, the government’s top PR job.

Anthony Scaramucci, known to friends as “Mooch,” is a native Long Islander who earned degrees from Tufts and Harvard. A successful Wall Street financier, he has supported both Democrats and Republicans. But he has no PR or communication experience except as owner of the TV series, Wall Street Weekand appearances on Fox networks. His main qualification seems to be his love for Donald Trump. Apparently, experience is no longer needed to be in charge of White House communications.

Sean Spicer

Unlike Scaramucci, Sean Spicer had the experience to be the president’s top spokesman. He was communications director at the Republican National Committee for several years and held communication positions for the House Budget Committee, the GOP Conference of the House of Representatives, and the trade office in George W. Bush’s administration. He earned degrees from Connecticut College and the Naval War College in Rhode Island. Spicer was also a partner at a PR firm he co-founded, representing foreign governments and corporations doing business with the U.S. government.

But it was quickly obvious that Spicer was playing to an audience of one and was subsequently unable to work with the press — or the truth. His newly-acquired confrontational style belied his earlier reputation as an affable straight-shooter; he became the subject of controversy and scorn, and a target for late night comedy. When Anthony Scaramucci’s new role was announced last week, Spicer resigned as communications director and press secretary.

While Scaramucci can’t be all-bad — he’s a die-hard Mets fan and even owns about one percent of the team, there’s little doubt he’ll be expected to follow the same anti-media road map as his predecessor. Sean Spicer will likely land on his feet; he may write, become a cable news commentator, or go back to his PR firm. So, goodbye “Spicey” and hello “Mooch.”

Your thoughts?

NFL PeRceptions

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Taylor Pirone, MA ’17

This summer, Public Relations Nation is occasionally featuring research by Hofstra University graduate students. This capstone paper was authored by Taylor Pirone who earned her MA in public relations in May:

“While the majority of viewers are not allowing the negativity to keep them from watching football, the domestic violence conflicts have still shaped the perception of both the media and the public,” Tyler wrote in her paper titled, “Domestic Violence in the NFL: An Analysis of Fan Perception.” Taylor conducted 133 surveys; Hofstra student-athletes made up about two-thirds of the respondents, with the remainder divided among non-student-athletes and faculty. Three focus group interviews were also conducted, one with female athletes, a second with male athletes, and a third with non-athlete students. 

In the survey, participants rated the effectiveness of the National Football League’s policy on domestic violence on a scale of 1 to 10. The average response was just under a five. When asked to explain how the NFL’s stance on domestic violence shaped their perceptions of the league, the three most common responses were, “It does not shape my opinion,” “The league only cares about money,” and “Athletes are above the law.” Over 85% of the respondents recognized that the NFL has the highest crime rate among professional sports leagues, and 11% were in favor of a lifetime ban for players successfully convicted of domestic violence.

“The NFL has established a baseline policy for dealing with domestic violence, but they have not followed it,” Taylor noted. She concluded that the NFL continues to fall short in their handling of these incidents as well as the bad PR which follows. “From a public relations standpoint, the NFL must do a more efficient job dealing with domestic violence cases, including being more efficient in following the policies that are in place to penalize players,” she wrote. “The NFL also needs a more solid crisis communication plan to deal with the media when a domestic violence incident occurs. Additionally, the NFL must continue to support organizations that stand up against domestic violence and continue to raise awareness for domestic violence survivors.”

Your thoughts?