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?

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?