A study in hyPocRisy

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Senate candidate Roy Moore

“He has a public relations problem now!”

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts?

PictuRing change

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S4C Founder Antonio Amendola

Can pictures change the world?

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts?

“13 Reasons Why” campaign PRoposal

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


Raffaella Tonani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts?

‘Tis the PR season

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Graphic from volacci.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts?

Possible PRofessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bursting with PRide

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(L. to r.) Hofstra PRSSA’s Izzy Falkovich, Daphne Christidis, Casey Lamkin, Jack Degilio, Aliyah Harwith-Bey, Chelsea Cueto, Tara Conklin, and Emily Kelly

Here’s a word you may not know: kvell. It’s a Yiddish word, derived from German, meaning to burst with pride.

I was kvelling last weekend at the Public Relations Student Society of America’s (PRSSA) National Conference in Boston, when it was announced that Hofstra’s PRSSA Chapter received the 2017 Star Chapter Award. This award recognizes PRSSA chapters which meet eight of 10 requirements including community service; ethics; participation in national or regional conferences; on- and off-campus outreach, and more. There are 355 PRSSA chapters in the U.S., and the Star Chapter Award was presented to just 47 of them at the conference.

The national conference was attended by approximately 1,400 students from 250+ universities and colleges throughout the U.S., and the majority of the chapters attending seemed to average 3-4 representatives this year. Hofstra was represented by eight public relations students (see photo) – seven undergraduates and a graduate student – the largest contingent of Hofstra students ever to participate.

I was kvelling again when PRSSA officially announced that Hofstra was among the nine chapters named to host regional conferences next year. PRSSA chapter members from throughout the northeast will be invited to Hofstra PRSSA conference, which will take place on campus April 20-21, 2018. This will be the third time in seven years Hofstra’s PRSSA has been selected as a conference site.

All this happens because a group of focused and dedicated students understand the value of participation, professional development and networking. In fact, PRSSA’s next program is its annual networking dinner which will take place on Wednesday, November 8 from 7-9:30 p.m. at Hofstra USA. At this event, more than a dozen recent alumni now working in PR will mentor approximately 100 students. With its “speed networking” format, young professionals will share their experiences about finding a job and working in various PR agencies and companies. They’ll also inform students how they can maximize their own internship and academic experiences.

Every PR student should take advantage of what PRSSA offers. Likewise, PR practitioners are always welcome to connect with PRSSA to find interns, mentees and future employees. And as students become successful PR professionals, we’ll join together in the kvelling. Your thoughts?

Screwed-up PRiorities

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If ISIS terrorists or North Koreans had booked a room at Las Vegas’s Mandalay Bay Hotel and fired on a crowd of thousands–killing 58 and wounding more than 500–millions of Americans would support going to war to defeat them. But because it was an American who purchased these guns legally, little-to-nothing will be done to stop it from happening again. Call it a double standard or whatever you like, but many would agree we have terribly screwed-up priorities.

Andy Borowitz

Last week, New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz wrote this angry, satirical piece (I slightly edited this for space):

Many Americans are tired of explaining things to idiots, particularly when the things in question are so painfully obvious, a new poll indicates… The fact that climate change will cause catastrophic habitat destruction and devastating extinctions tops the list, with a majority saying that they will no longer bother trying to explain this to cretins. Coming in a close second, statistical proof that gun control has reduced gun deaths in countries around the world is something that a significant number of those polled have given up attempting to break down for morons.

Finally, a majority said that trying to make idiots understand why a flag that symbolizes bigotry and hatred has no business flying over a state capitol only makes the person attempting to explain this want to put his or her fist through a wall… An overwhelming number of those polled said that they were considering abandoning such attempts altogether, with a broad majority agreeing with the statement, “This country is exhausting.”

I often wonder if some brilliant public relations campaign could convince lawmakers to take significant action slowing access to weapons of war. The power and the money gun lobbyists possess, in the guise of protecting the Second Amendment, have always blocked proposals for real change.

We should all be angry. One hundred people die each day in automobile accidents, and the day may come when mass shootings become as routine as car crashes in this country. The headlines will stop and we’ll go on as if this is acceptable. Your thoughts?

PeRception, the PResident and Puerto Rico

Illustration by Dave Granlund

They say perception is everything. It can sometimes be a matter of life and death. Just ask Puerto Rico.

According to CNBC, “It has been more than a week since Hurricane Maria wreaked devastation on Puerto Rico, destroying the power grid and leaving millions without access to necessities. Emergency supplies of food, water and gas have begun to arrive at ports, but trucks cannot deliver these needed supplies across the island. Many roads are wrecked or blocked off, and the island faces fuel shortages. There has been intense criticism of the Trump administration’s response to the growing humanitarian crisis.”

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration praised FEMA’s relief efforts as video and interviews streaming out of Puerto Rico showed a very different story. The Trump team’s reality disagreed with the victims’ reality.

According to vox.com, “Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke claimed that a ‘limited number of deaths that have taken place,’ and overall, Puerto Rico was ‘a good news story.’ San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz had a very different take on the disaster. ‘This is a ‘people are dying’ story,’ she told CNN.” On Friday, President Trump boasted about his fantastic record in Puerto Rico: “It’s been incredible. The results that we’ve had with respect to loss of life. People can’t believe how successful that has been, relatively speaking.” Not according to Mayor Cruz. “If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency,” she exclaimed. She later told NBC, “I’m mad as hell!” Trump followed with a storm of tweets Saturday, blaming Cruz for “poor leadership” and claiming the island’s leaders “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”

The gap between the administration’s statements and Puerto Rico’s reality was wide, and Trump’s war of words with San Juan’s mayor effectively overshadowed any opportunity to, at a minimum, create the perception of empathy. Ultimately, even if relief efforts improve, FEMA and the president are sure to be roundly denounced for providing help–and caring–too little and too late. Your thoughts?

Ethics according to SPiceR

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Emmy host Stephen Colbert with Sean Spicer

When former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made a self-mocking cameo appearance at the Emmy Awards last Sunday, I, like much of the audience, was surprised and delighted. I thought, “It’s so cool that Spicer’s able to laugh at himself, and we can laugh with him!”

Then I began reading reactions on social media and commentary from journalists on both sides of the political aisle. On Monday, retired CBS anchor Dan Rather wrote, “It is not funny that the American people were lied to. It is not funny that the press was attacked for doing its job. It is not funny that the norms of our democracy have been trampled.” Frank Bruni authored an angry column for The New York Times titled “The Shameful Embrace of Sean Spicer at the Emmys.” And Trump supporter Mark Dice, a YouTuber and self-described “media analyst exposing fake news,” labeled the former White House spokesman a “traitor” who “sold out.”

Spicer has made several public appearances recently, notably on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show. Following a clip of him telling the press that he’d never knowingly say something that wasn’t factual, Spicer explained, “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” Kimmel asked, “Can we, though, disagree with the facts?” Spicer rationalized, “It’s my job to speak on (Trump’s) behalf. So if you’re not speaking in the way that he wants, obviously he wanted to make sure he corrected that.”

Last week I wrote about ethics, listing the Public Relations Society of America’s six core values. Among them was advocacy: “Serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent.” Then there’s honesty: “Adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.” Also included is independence: “We are accountable for our actions.” Indeed.

In retrospect, Sean Spicer’s legacy is that he failed PRSA’s ethics test and hurt the reputation of our profession. Maybe if he apologizes for disparaging the press and feeding us alternative truths — it might then become OK to laugh with him. Your thoughts?

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?