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?


OPtics matteR

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Optics. It’s the current PR buzzword for “how it looks.” This week, when the president shared warm smiles and handshakes with world leaders, it was good optics. When the vice president, while visiting NASA, placed his hand on equipment clearly marked “Do Not Touch,” that was bad optics.

But New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gets the Bad Optics of the Week award. As he and the state legislature failed to agree on a budget, more than 50 state parks, historic sites and recreational areas had to close as vacationers from New Jersey and beyond were planning their extended Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Yet, on July 2, there was Christie and his family enjoying an empty state-owned beach. The governor was dressed in shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt, plopped in a beach chair and staring up at the helicopter from which pictures were taken by a New Jersey Star-Ledger photographer. Photos of Chris Christie with the beach all to himself wound up all over social and traditional media. Bad optics.

Steve Sack – Star Tribune

Christie’s family had spent part of the day on Island Beach State Park, where there’s a state-owned governor’s residence, while thousands of his constituents were shut out. “On Saturday, the governor had defended using a state park that is closed to the rest of the state’s residents due to the budget impasse,” reported NPR. “Christie told reporters that his family doesn’t use any state services while there, and emphasized that his residence is separate from the park. With his trademark brusqueness, Christie told state residents how they could enjoy the beach. ‘Run for governor, and you can have a residence there,’ he said.”

It’s an understatement to say that New Jerseyans were displeased.

I’ve often referred to a favorite publication of mine about public relations mistakes, Steve Adubato’s 2009 book, What Were They Thinking? Crisis Communication: The Good, the Bad, and the Totally Clueless. Professional communicators are constantly amazed at how important people continue to make such obvious, avoidable PR gaffes. Maybe Chris Christie didn’t think there’d be photographers around. Or maybe he just doesn’t care about optics. Your thoughts?


An apPRehensive 4th

If July 4th weekend is the time to celebrate America, then why, according to recent polls, is our nation so anxious? Perhaps it’s the behavior of the president that’s making many of us deeply apprehensive.

MSNBC co-anchors and real-life couple Joe Scarborough and Mika Brezinski were finishing their morning show Thursday when the president tweeted, “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore)…Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”

“I think the American people elected somebody who’s tough, who’s smart, and who’s a fighter,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defending Trump’s latest misogynist tweet. She portrayed him as the victim of “media bullies” who criticize him every day.

Political strategist Ana Navarro tweeted, “As a woman, as an American and as a Republican, I am mad as hell at Donald Trump’s vile tweets and attacks on women.” “This is about common decency and what’s expected of the president of the United States,” remarked veteran newsman Dan Rather on CNN. Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara tweeted, “Much of the issue with Trump is not about party, policy or ideology, but lack of decency, honesty, character, temperament, adulthood, shame.”

In response to this week’s controversy, many GOP leaders begged Trump to stop tweeting. But as all PR people know, when dealing with potentially negative public opinions there’s nothing more frustrating than a leader who won’t listen to advice. The president continued his nasty Twitter tirade against Scarborough and Brezinski, as well as MSNBC, CNN and other media, throughout the next few days. Clouded by his thin skin and an insatiable hunger for praise, the president doesn’t see the damage his behavior is doing to our country’s psyche. His crude, childish diatribes against the media and his critics derail both his agenda and America’s place in the world.

Our president should reflect what’s best about America. This president clearly does not. Sad.

Your thoughts?

Potential deal bReakers

When it comes to making decisions, there’s often a “deal breaker,” that one situation that’ll stop us from moving ahead. If we’re choosing a college, nasty-looking dorms or a sarcastic recruiter might be deal breakers. When we’re car shopping, a mediocre sound system or a pushy salesperson might make us look elsewhere. Even small decisions such which movie to see could be affected by a negative word from a relative or friend.

Playwright Mike Vogel observes that when it comes to romance, a deal breaker might not be whether the guy smokes or the woman hates football. “Now, four little words are being asked earlier and earlier in a relationship: “Do you like Trump?”

Vogel’s recent op-ed piece, “Trump Isn’t Making America Date Again,” highlights a study by Wakefield Research which reveals that 24 percent of Americans who are married or dating (and 42 percent of millennials in that category) say, “Since President Trump was elected, they and their partner have disagreed or argued about politics more than ever, according to the Washington Examiner.” Vogel adds, Among those who didn’t vote for Trump, 33 percent would consider divorce if they discovered their spouse voted for the president, according to Wakefield. That number rises to 43 percent of millennials with a spouse or partner they discover voted for him.”

It’s important to understand whether you’re talking about Trump or Toyotas, most decision-making is emotional, not logical. We may believe couples can get along despite their political positions, either through mutual respect for differing viewpoints, by choosing their words carefully, or simply not discussing certain topics. But this is usually tough to manage, since most of us act–and react–emotionally. And just the mere words we use can often be deal breakers.

The lesson for public relations practitioners is to always pay attention to potential deal breakers, those words or situations that could create negative emotions and turn people away from buying your product, using your service, supporting your cause, etc. You can’t satisfy everyone, but try to avoid stuff which might turn people off. Choose words and actions carefully, and become your organization’s adviser and conscience. Your thoughts?

Lots of exPeRience

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Occasionally, I like to use this space to share career advice from seasoned public relations professionals with lots of experience. In the May 2017 edition of Public Relations Tactics, the monthly newspaper published by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), 15 PR pros offered some truly sound counseling to students and young PR practitioners. Here’s a sampling:

James L. Anderson

“Join and network with organizations that will connect you to (the PR) profession. I’m a big believer in intellectual curiosity…you can never know too much.” — James L. Anderson, senior VP of communications, Turner Broadcasting

“Be flexible. Be willing to do new and different things and, above all, take risks…Know what’s happening in your community and around the globe.” — Terri Hines, VP of global PR and communications, Converse, Inc.

“You cannot do this job well if you don’t love to read and you cannot write well.” — Andrew McCaskill, senior VP, Weber Shandwick

“Expect change and embrace it. Don’t take yourself too seriously.” — Marlow Daniel, director of PR and communications, Francis Ford Coppola Presents

“Develop your skills in social media and design. Write. Get published. Collaborate. Volunteer. Document and quantify your accomplishments.” — Bonnie Riechert, Ph.D., chair of the department of public relations, Belmont University

Vivian Kobeh

“Don’t see public relations only as organizing media events or talking to journalists, but as a critical role within your organization. Be quick to respond to crisis.” — Vivian Kobeh, communication director, BlackBerry Latin America

“Be willing to start at the bottom; just get in there and do some work. Learn and look for opportunities that present themselves where you can grow.” — Karen Hamilton, director of communications, Lagunitas Brewing Company 

“Write as much as you can. Write for work. Write for pleasure…the more you do it, the better you become.” — Gene King, director of corporate communications, H&R Block

“The best PR practitioners are those who can immerse themselves in knowing the ins and outs of the industry, not because they have to but because they want to.” — Keith Nowak, director of communications, Travelocity

Indeed, these are very wise words and advice worth heeding. Which of them resonated for you? Your thoughts?

PuRpose-filled emojis

Adria Marlowe, MA ’17

The use of emojis is exploding, but to what end? Do these adorable little illustrations serve any purpose at all? According to May 2017 Hofstra graduate Adria Marlowe, they sure do.

PR Nation is featuring graduate students’ capstone projects, a requirement to earn a master’s degrees in public relations at Hofstra. Adria’s paper, “Symbolic Images and Lasting Impressions: Can emojis influence millennials’ brand perception and affinity?” analyzed “the evolution of emojis into a mainstream form of communication” and looked for “examples of brands that have employed emojis in their communication strategies.”

The use of emojis is relatively new. Since 2010, “there are now 1,851 Unicode emoji,” according to Adria, “and every year the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit corporation devoted to developing, maintaining, and promoting software internationalization standards and data, reviews proposals for and decides which new emojis will be released.”

I found Adria’s comparison of emojis to ancient symbols fascinating. “Some linguists consider emoji symbols to be an evolution of early pictographic language…by making the correlation between emojis and 40,000-year-old cave paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphics that told stories using pictures and other images.”

“Brands have taken notice of emojis’ popularity and are finding that incorporating them into communication strategies can produce positive outcomes,” Adria wrote. “A study by Appboy found that emoji-enabled ads generated click-through rates that were 20 times higher than the industry standard.”

Adria’s own survey found that a strong number of respondents agreed that brand messages which include emojis seem more personal, stand out, convey more emotion, are more positive, humanize the brand, and make interacting with the brand more enjoyable/fun. “With a staggering amount of content and information coming across mobile screens and a decreasing consumer attention span, communications professionals must find ways to grab their audiences’ attention and connect with individuals in a matter of seconds…(Emojis) are effective tools for brands seeking to communicate with millennials via mobile platforms.”

“Public relations practitioners should seek to understand the platforms and tools their audiences are using, and look ahead towards trends and new ideas. Emojis are a phenomenon worth studying,” Adria concluded. Your thoughts?