CaPstone Research

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Last week I noted how Hofstra University graduate students had completed their master’s degrees in public relations by submitting various capstone projects filled with revealing research and insights. As promised, I’m featuring the best of them here.

Stephanie Adomavicius

First up is Putting the “Social” in Social Media: How human connection triggers engagement, authored by Stephanie Adomavicius. Stephanie wanted to “uncover what causes people to engage on social media, and identify the characteristics that make a photo and a video interesting.” Her research looked for the reasons people are compelled to share or click on certain content.

In addition to reviewing previous studies, Stephanie surveyed 110 college-educated men and women between ages 24 and 70 from the tri-state area to find her own answers. “Overwhelmingly,” she found, “83 percent of participants said the primary reason they joined social media was to interact and keep in touch with friends and family members, while only four percent said to follow news/trends or to receive recommendations (about a restaurant, book movie, hotel, etc.). The majority are either neutral or somewhat unlikely to share, like, or comment on a photo posted by an organization, yet 52 percent said they are very likely to share, like or comment on a photo that contains a friend or family member. Forty-one percent said they are very likely to share, like or comment on a video that contains a friend or family member.”

Drawing from the survey, published articles and interviews with social media professionals, Stephanie concluded: “Activities to do with friends is the most popular type of content to post about, while the number one influencer of social media engagement is the status of a friend or family member. Furthermore, the factor that makes both a photo and a video the most interesting and intriguing is people in it who you know.”

While this capstone project’s results may not be too surprising, it’s important that such studies are done to either confirm, rebuke or provide new facts and observations regarding what we think we already know. Through their research, these graduates’ work adds to our understanding of how we communicate. Your thoughts?

PRePaRed and ready

Congratulating last year’s grads

When I was asked in 2011 to guide the creation of a graduate degree in public relations, I had to first ponder, “Who really needs a master’s degree in PR?” I also needed to find out, “Does an advanced degree in public relations matter in the job market?” The honest answer is, “Yes and no.”

No, because organizations looking for entry-level public relations people don’t usually require advanced degrees. Yes, because if the student’s undergraduate degree was NOT in public relations, the advanced degree will give them the background, experience and credentials to be competitive. And yes, because if the graduate student is already a few years into a career, the master’s provides opportunity for advancement which may not have existed without it.

As they were enhancing their career opportunities, graduate students who have completed Hofstra’s Master of Arts in Public Relations did some amazing work this spring. Their capstone thesis papers were insightful and outstanding, taking on significant research topics including Symbolic Images and Lasting Impressions: Can emojis influence millennials’ brand perception and affinity?; Domestic Violence in the NFL; Social Media, Millennials and an Unpredictable Industry: Achieving brand engagement as a musician in the post-internet era; and Putting the “Social” in Social Media: How human connection triggers engagement.

Alternatively, some graduate students spent the semester creating and implementing PR campaigns for nonprofit clients, who were happy for the help. The Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Nassau-Suffolk Services for Autism, and the Long Island High School for the Arts were among those who invited and received expert enhancements to their outreach and branding efforts.

All these capstone projects are filled with insights and revealing research, and I’ll be featuring some of the best of them in the coming weeks.

With Hofstra’s spring 2017 Commencement just hours away from this writing, I’m quite confident the students who’ve earned their MA in Public Relations are well-prepared for an advanced career in a field filled with diverse opportunities. Like our undergraduates, they’re focused and prepared, and I’m proud to have played a small role in their success. Your thoughts?

Who do peoPle tRust?

Edelman’s Steve Rubel at Hofstra

Trust in institutions is apparently at an all-time low. While this probably doesn’t surprise you, it has important implications for how we should be communicating with our target audiences.

“Who do people trust?” is a question PR agency giant Edelman looks to answer each year. Edelman’s Chief Content Strategist Steve Rubel returned to Hofstra University last week to talk to educators, business leaders and graduate students about the firm’s Trust Barometer, an annual survey begun 17 years ago to measure which institutions and leaders are trusted most—and least—by the public.

Rubel, a Hofstra graduate, studies worldwide social media trends, watching and reporting on how people use information and technology. He showed us that trust in four major institutions—business, government, non-government or nonprofit organizations, and media—all declined broadly this year, a phenomenon not recorded since Edelman began tracking trust. “Further underscoring the trust crisis is the lack of credibility of leadership,” the report noted. “Only 37 percent of the general population now say CEOs are credible, and 29 percent say the same about government officials. Media declined the most and is distrusted in 82 percent of the 28 countries surveyed. As an institution, business is on the decline, too. “In 13 of 28 countries, business is distrusted,” the survey found.

Edelman looked at who’s representing these institutions and found that trust in employees ranked far above trust in CEOs, media spokespeople and senior executives. “Peers are the most credible source of information,” said Rubel. “Employees are telling stories that are strongly believable.” He then provided some sage advice for PR educators and future professionals:

  • Think about how to turn employees into storytellers;
  • Teach less corporate-style communication and more about applying journalism techniques in a brand environment;
  • Analytics are critical in today’s marketplace;
  • Talk with people, not at them…Be with the people, not for them.

Rubel added that brands can’t just rely on pitching stories to the media anymore. “Through social media,” he explained, “everyone has to tell their own stories.” He gave us all a lot to consider as we continue along this journey we call public relations. Your thoughts?

A PRoud PRofessor

With Sophia Shakola and Aislinn Murphy at the December 2016 Commencement

It’s the end of my seventh year of teaching at Hofstra and as it concludes, I am one proud professor–proud and happy for my students and their many achievements. So many undergraduates will successfully complete four years–and graduate students two years–of studies and hard work, and are now preparing to pursue their public relations careers.

Undergraduates never cease to amaze me. Their knowledge, instincts and range of experiences will serve them well as they begin their search for employment. I’m thrilled when they share their news of a job offer, which some have already received. And another diverse group of students with little previous exposure to PR earned master’s degrees and will soon embark on fulfilling their career potential.

As always, many of the most productive moments this year were initiated by members of PRSSA, Hofstra’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. These enthusiastic young women and men again staged an extremely well attended networking dinner, a fully-realized professional conference, visits to Manhattan PR agencies and the national PRSSA conference, and several outstanding professional development programs. Their energy and desire to learn is infectious, and together we enhanced our out-of-the-classroom experiences exponentially.

This was an extraordinary academic year for Hofstra, starting when we hosted the first 2016 Presidential Debate and ending with continued news of the university’s growth and prominence. The world around us was politically-charged, filled with occurrences (and future case studies) that left many of us scratching our heads. Public relations’ best practices were violated, corporate PR blunders piled up, and trust in institutions fell to an all-time low.* Students have learned that more than ever, ethics, honesty and transparency are essential for building trust with clients, brands and leadership.

Congratulations and best wishes to the Class of 2017. I always feel incredibly lucky to be part of what you’ve experienced. And for the classes of 2018, 2019 and others to come, I’m always anxious to hear your concerns, share your ideas and work for you to enhance your experiences as you, too, prepare to become public relations professionals. Your thoughts?

*Source: Edelman Trust Barometer

OpPoRtunity-filled calendars

Martin Luther did his thing 500 years ago

Much of the media was very focused last week on the first 100 days of the Trump administration. The White House alternately downplayed its significance while still touting its accomplishments; at times there seemed to be a rush to get more done before the 100-day “deadline.”

If there really was no “deadline,” why was such importance attached to this milestone? Like birthdays, people seem to love to mark dates and commemorate their importance. This common link between the calendar and major events can be very helpful to public relations people.

Take the first 100 days, for example. How did they compare with other presidencies? How many campaign promises were kept vs. broken? What typically happens next? This was an opportunity for campus historians and think tank policy wonks to share their perspectives and promote their organizations.

It was 50 years ago in June

Like all years, 2017 is filled with milestones that can provide PR practitioners with the chance to link their clients with notable events. For example, on May 25 the original Star Wars will be 40 years old, opening up opportunities for experts who can speak to the film’s lasting effect on pop culture and movie making. In just a few weeks it’ll be the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ landmark album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which many say was the most influential recording of all time. PR people representing musicians, producers, and aging baby boomers can have their clients weigh in on its significance. In August, the calendar marks 40 years since Elvis Presley died, which opens a PR door for representatives of intervention organizations to discuss prescription drug dependency’s often tragic results. Theologians will have a lot to talk about this year because October 31 represents the quincentennial of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the act that triggered the Protestant Reformation. And the medical industry can get some PR mileage out of the 50th anniversary of the first heart transplant on December 21.

Linking public relations efforts with milestone events is a tried-and-true way to tell a story to targeted audiences. PR professionals are well-advised to keep a close eye on the calendar. It’s filled with opportunities. Your thoughts?

PRotesting to PRotect our planet


“Silent Running” (1972)

In a mostly forgotten, 1972 post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie, “Silent Running,” Bruce Dern plays an astronaut/botanist who struggles to save Earth’s last remaining plant life, which was jettisoned into space as the planet’s vegetation dies. In her ’60s hit song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell laments how, “They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum,” and “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Fear of environmental disaster has been around for a long time.

Last week I strolled through Hofstra University’s campus, which is filled with natural beauty as thousands of tulips rise from the earth each spring. As I walked, I thought about this Earth Day’s March for Science, inspired by fears that shortsightedness in Washington truly threatens the future of our planet. Business interests seem to again be taking precedent over water, air and earth conservation as the president vows to shrink, if not eliminate, environmental protection budgets.

This is why it was so important that millions of people demonstrated in hundreds of cities around the world this weekend. It was a true public relations event with a simple, crucial goal: to send a strong signal to lawmakers that our planet cannot be sacrificed on the presumption of creating jobs. Among the protesters’ messages were statistics noting the green economy is actually creating more opportunities than those derived from fossil fuels. The Financial Times recently reported, “The number of jobs in the global renewable energy industry grew by five per cent last year, in stark contrast to the steep losses suffered by the oil and gas sector.” Sean Cockerham of McClatchy noted, “Far more jobs have been created in wind and solar in recent years than lost in the collapse of the coal industry, and renewable energy is poised for record growth.”

Staging a protest is among the purest forms of public relations because PR works to inform, reinforce, create, and change attitudes. The March for Science was a PR event designed to do all of the above–to convince and remind everyone to protect Hofstra’s tulips–and to save our planet. Your thoughts?

APologies & Regrets, Inc.

This meme summed up a week of PR damage.

I may open a public relations firm named Apologies & Regrets, Inc. I could have made a fortune last week if my clients were Pepsi, United Airlines and Sean Spicer. Each of them created a PR mess followed by various degrees of apologies:

Sean Spicer: The White House press secretary, commenting on Syrian President Assad’s use of chemical gas on his own people, compared Assad to Nazi Germany. “(Even) someone as despicable as Hitler…didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” he told reporters, forgetting that millions of people were gassed in death camps. “(Hitler) was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” Spicer deepened the hole by referring to a concentration camp as a “Holocaust center.” As outrage swelled, Spicer apologized repeatedly and effectively, calling his gaffe “inexcusable” and “reprehensible.”

Pepsi: After posting a commercial starring Kendall Jenner to YouTube, the beverage company soon deleted it. The New York Times reported, “Pepsi has apologized for a controversial advertisement that borrowed imagery from the Black Lives Matter movement, after a day of intense criticism from people who said it trivialized the widespread protests against the killings of black people by the police.” The appropriate statement read, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.”

United: After video of a passenger being violently dragged off a plane went viral, United CEO Oscar Munez inappropriately apologized for “having to re-accommodate…customers.” He then fueled public anger with a message to his employees, describing the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent,” adding, “employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this.” On his third try, Munoz stated, “We take full responsibility and we will work to make it right. I promise you we will do better.” Too little, too late.

Apologies & Regrets, Inc. would advise that “I’m sorrys” are almost always necessary to repair public relations damage. Spicer’s and Pepsi’s timely, sincere apologies may have calmed their controversies while Munez’s slow, inappropriate response has become another case study in “what was he thinking?” Your thoughts?

Don’t panic. PRepare!

It’s that time again, when college seniors go into panic mode over graduating and finding a job. Concerns about particular companies, starting salaries and limited opportunities fill them with anxiety. Some thoughts about common questions may be helpful to consider as you seek a first job–or even an internship–in public relations:

Get started now. There are very few job offers made immediately after an interview. It’s often a painfully slow process. An application today may mean an interview in a week or two, possibly followed by two or three more interviews over the course of a month, and then the wait for an offer. So now’s a good time to start looking for a job or a summer internship.

Be careful of misleading ads: Job listings under the heading of “public relations” and “marketing” are often thinly-disguised sales jobs. You probably didn’t go to college to find yourself doing cold-calls to sell extended warranties or pet insurance, so get an honest job description before you go for the interview.

Know before you go: Learn as much about the organization as possible before the interview. If you know who you’ll interview with, find out what you can about him or her. Information is power, so know as much as you can before you go through the process.

Have questions ready: I knew a very talented student who wasn’t offered a good Manhattan agency job because she didn’t ask any questions during the interview. It’s often better to be more interested than interesting, so arrive armed with good questions. They’ll be impressed that you asked.

Pause before taking the first offer: If something feels wrong, avoid taking a job just because you’re afraid you won’t be offered another. And don’t agree to a ridiculously low salary for the same reason. Understand that YOU have value. Don’t sell yourself short. Which leads me to…

Trust yourself: You’ll know when an opportunity feels right. Use your heart and your head. Trust your instincts and go with what you know. There’s no need to panic if you’re prepared. You’ll do fine.

Your thoughts?

SuPeRb advice

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Briana Cunningham, president of Hofstra’s PRSSA chapter, said it was the best speech about public relations she’s ever heard. The keynote address at PRSSA’s annual conference, delivered by Ketchum’s former global CEO Ray Kotcher to an audience of nearly 100 students and PR professionals, was the centerpiece of yesterday’s program. Mr. Kotcher’s talk was filled with superb advice and observations, and while it’s difficult to capture its full impact here, there are a few important quotes worth repeating:

Raymond L. Kotcher

“In the beats of your life, how are you going to make a positive impact on this world? As you set out, how are you going to continue to build upon your communications studies?…One needs to be a master story teller…One also needs to see all 360 degrees of the media universe…Anyone in PR should have an insatiable curiosity about the world in general.”

“Become what has been called a ‘learner for life.’ Continue to hone your hard skills such as verbal communication, writing and content development, social media, technology and computer proficiency. And your soft skills. The social ones…and other soft skills such as problem solving. And to grow in your career, develop and nurture relationships with mentors. Develop and nurture your network. Volunteer. Give back to the industry through participation in professional organizations just like this one. In so doing, you will not only help yourselves but you will help define the future and fulfill the promise of this great profession.”

“Character counts. It’s about integrity. When everyone is able to create or react with the tap of a finger, when everyone knows everything, doing our work to the highest moral standards is not just a value, it is a practical necessity. In this constantly morphing landscape, a strong sense of integrity must be the core value of our work. We must do it right – with verity, credibility, truthfulness. High standards must remain our guiding principle. For us and those to come, this is the clear path to continued, sustainable success for our great profession.”

Which of this highly-accomplished PR professional’s words of superb advice had impact for you? Your thoughts?

PRaising a life in PR

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Howard Blankman (1925-2017)

Most students probably never heard of Howard Blankman. Yet, as he passed away last week at age 91, it’s important to note and remember how much this one individual influenced so many PR “students,” particularly those, including me, who had the chance to work at his side.

I paid tribute to Howard in this blog in June 2015 after we celebrated his 90th birthday. “Like most PR veterans,” I wrote, “Howard took a serpentine route to a public relations career. A Jewish kid who grew up in Amish country, he was a young bandleader, a playwright, and later became a Tonight Show writer.” He worked in theater, writing and producing plays, and eventually opened a PR firm, The Blankman Group, in 1968, with a diverse client list including Cablevision, King Kullen and MasterCard International.

In my previous post, Howard’s dear friend Bert Cunningham noted: “In many respects, Howard has been the career father to a number of PR pros on Long Island. He also fathered the concept of an independent, full-service PR firm that also used advertising and marketing techniques to support PR. At that time the vast majority of PR was done in-house. The independent outside PR consultant was a fairly new service on Long Island.”

Howard also spent countless hours volunteering his expertise to promote the arts and economic development on Long Island. In 1997, he was presented with Public Relations Professionals of Long Island‘s (PRPLI) Lifetime Achievement Award; notably, it was Howard who was instrumental in founding PRPLI after the Public Relations Society of America’s local chapter had folded. His vision to create an organization where Long Island PR pros could network and learn resulted in scores of lifelong friendships and mentors; PRPLI still serves to enhance our PR skills through its excellent professional development programs.

To his last days, Howard was actively writing, mentoring, and starting new projects. As a fitting tribute, PRPLI will introduce the Howard Blankman Mentor Award at its annual dinner in May. Howard’s former “students” and I will celebrate his life by always striving to be better PR people, just as he did. Your thoughts?