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?

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?