Surprise! Students say they're too plugged in

Jeff Morosoff, Special Asst. Professor, Hofstra University

I was taken aback by the reaction I got when my students and I discussed the coming Week Without the Web at Hofstra’s School of Communication (April 4-8).  I had assumed there would be extreme resistance to the concept and the execution.  Give up the web…for a week?  Impossible!  Or so I thought.

In fact, many students complained about how plugged-in their lifestyle has become.  Several shared with us that they turn off the cell phone at certain times during their day, even if they’re reluctant to do so.  Some welcome the times when family “rules” prohibit the use of cell phones, computers, TVs, etc. at gatherings or dinnertime.  And a few students agreed that they really don’t like being so accessible all the time, and resent when friends feel slighted if they don’t get a reply within minutes of a text message.

A handful of students said they’re actually looking forward to the Week Without the Web.  They confess they may not be able to comply completely, but they’re going to, at very least, experiment.  I’m thrilled and surprised there’s a recognition of the down side to the omnipresent technology.  Maybe there’s still hope that we humans won’t lose our need to interact face-to face after all.  Your thoughts?

The Web isn't Worth Dying for

Jeff Morosoff, Special Asst. Professor, Hofstra University

As we prepare for a Week Without the Web at Hofstra, we can also celebrate how connected we are.  But when the Internet becomes deadly, we need to re-think the times and places we are too connected.

I’m referring to distracted driving.  A Consumer Reports study finds that 63 percent of drivers under 30 and 41 percent over 30 have used a handheld phone while driving in the previous month; one-third of the younger drivers texted while behind the wheel.  “Sixteen percent of all teenage drivers involved in a fatal crash have reported to have been distracted while driving,” notes the article in CR’s April issue.  More than half of us, the study says, have witnessed a dangerous situation related to a driver using a hand-held device.  I know that when I’ve passed and looked at a driver who’s traveling too slow in the left lane or drifting into my lane, it’s almost always because they’re texting or talking or surfing the Internet.

OK, I’ll admit that in the past I’ve texted while driving maybe half a dozen times.  As I found myself drifting into another lane or braking at the last second, I realized how stupid and careless this was.  So I’ve committed to putting the cell phone down for good when I’m behind the wheel.  It’s against the law and very dangerous to text while driving but it’s not stopping a lot of drivers from doing it.  Wrecking your car and your life–and maybe someone else’s–is really not worth using the web for something that can wait. 

When it comes to enjoying the web while we’re driving, it seems to me that we’re far too connected.  The Internet has to take a back seat during our Week Without the Web — and EVERY time we get behind the wheel.  Your thoughts?

(W)WWW: A (Whole) Week Without the Web?

Jeff Morosoff, Special Asst. Professor, Hofstra University

Next month, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Child will be leading what it’s calling “Screen-Free Week.” This national event is designed to get parents to turn off the TV, computer and other devices and find alternative ways for their children to play and learn.  There’s no denying that it’s going to be awfully hard to accomplish this, but maybe “Screen-Free Week” will heighten awareness of just how much time children spend in front of electronic screens.  And the numbers are astounding; a Kaiser Family Foundation study last year revealed that 8 to 18 year olds are multitasking on cell phones, computers and televisions to the tune of almost 11 hours a day.

At Hofstra, the School of Communication is leading its own related challenge: “A Week Without the Web (WWW).”  From April 4-8, students, faculty and administrators will be asked to try to go about their lives without using the Internet.  We’ll be tasked with looking at the way we live in 2011 and examining just how dependent we’ve become on the constant flow of information so accessible through our computers and hand-held devices. 

I’m planning to incorporate WWW into my PR classes but before I reveal what I have in mind, I’d like to put the question to my students: Could you manage to go a week–a day–or hours–without the web?  How might we apply this challenge to our classroom experience for a few days in April?  Your thoughts?

What's PR worth?

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Jeff Morosoff, Special Asst. Professor, Hofstra University

With the statehouse protest in Wisconsin in its third week and a national focus on union wages and benefits, I’ve been thinking about what public relations practitioners are paid.   We often see outrage over the salaries and pensions of government workers, from a handful of cops who retire with million-dollar payouts to public school superintendents making three hundred, four hundred, and sometimes close to $500,000 a year.

 There is anger because these salaries are paid for through our taxes.  But with the exception of bank executive bonuses, we rarely begrudge an entrepreneur or CEO of a major private corporation their lucrative pay and “golden parachutes.”  Whether or not it’s justified, the teachers, police, government workers, and other public service earners are the ones most often under the pay scale microscope.

Only a small percentage of PR people are public workers.  There is no labor union to speak of for PR professionals.  So what we’re paid is determined by our bosses, our clients and ourselves. 

Most of us are aware that starting salaries in PR are fairly low. A college grad with a PR or communications degree may see only $35-40,000 (sometimes more, but sometimes less) in an entry-level position.  After some years, the money can be good; I earned more than six figures for many years as a PR practitioner.  I have colleagues in both the private and public sector whose annual incomes are anywhere between $150,000 and $300,000.  Plus, many owners of big PR agencies are millionaires.

So at what point should our public relations skills be worth that kind of money?  And why are we usually paid such low starting salaries?  How do we determine what we and our services are worth?  Your thoughts?

Wanted: PR for not-for-profits

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Jeff Morosoff, Special Asst. Professor, Hofstra University

It’s astonishing and sad how so many not-for-profit organizations operate with little or no public relations programs.  This became truly evident with what one of my PR Campaigns classes and I experienced this week.

Each of my PR 107 classes is taking on two not-for-profit clients this semester.  All of the clients have made presentations to the students; the students formed teams, selected leaders and are ready to start work.  But last Monday, one of our organizations lost its funding and confirmed that we would not be creating a campaign on its behalf.

I quickly messaged my Facebook group of 65 PR professionals; some of them, in turn, contacted their colleagues about my search for an organization that would benefit from what Hofstra PR students could offer.  Within several hours I had been contacted by a dozen organizations that were hungry for a PR program–because they had none.  While every one of these groups has real PR needs, I wound up selecting the first organization that called because its projects and time frame were a good match for the class.

Not-for-profits depend almost entirely on government and private grants plus donations to survive.  In tough economic times, the pool of money becomes shallow and sometimes dries up completely.  Often what helps these groups win support is the awareness and recognition that a public relations effort can provide.   And while these organizations recognize the importance of good PR, most can’t afford it.  That’s why students and those just entering the field should consider interning and volunteering for a not-for-profit; students could use the experience–and the organizations could sure use the help.

Your thoughts?


People Power, Not PR

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Jeff Morosoff, Special Asst. Professor, Hofstra University

Not everything is public relations.

Hosni Mubarak, the man who led Egypt for three decades, stepped down this week.  This was not a “PR move” done to win favor with the world.  Revolutions have happened throughout human history, and this one could have ended very badly for this target of the people’s angst.  If he had waited much longer, Mubarak’s life and certainly the lives of many Egyptians might have met a violent end.  Instead, as revolutions go, this one was peaceful.  It was an amazing demonstration of how people succeeded toppling a ruthless government by communicating their message through their sheer numbers.

Word of the street protests were fueled at the start by social media until the government shut it down.  So the message demanding that Murarak leave was conveyed for days on end by the swelling crowds.  The Egyptian president chose to relate his messages via television, attempted to placate the nation by promising he wouldn’t run for re-election and then by transferring power to his newly-selected vice president.  One might view Mubarak’s pronouncements as crisis PR but they were, more accurately, desperate attempts to hold on to power. 

Egypt’s message of people power has resonated throughout the world.  The people got what they wanted.  Numbers mattered–huge numbers of people with the simplest of messages to their despised leader conveyed by the simplest of ways: Loud, clear voices saying, “Get out!”

Your thoughts?

Super PR

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Jeff Morosoff, Special Asst. Professor, Hofstra University

I’m not sure why I feel obligated to blog about the Super Bowl.  The amount of hype leading up to this game is astounding and nearly all of us get involved at some level, even if we don’t watch the game.  Millions celebrate at parties and many only watch the commercials (also hyped, if not only for their $3 million price tags) without caring about the outcome.  I’m writing this just before game time, so I have no idea about the outcome, and I really don’t care since my home teams aren’t there.

Is good public relations the reason for all this attention?  Yes and no.  The Super Bowl hype is really about marketing and promotion–both very close relatives of PR–but not PR in the purest sense.  But PR professionals do play a major role in all this hype.  The PR people for the teams, the NFL, the media, the stadium, the City of Dallas, the players, and so many related entities play important roles in moving messages, creating images, raising awareness, et cetera, et cetera.  PR professionals must manage the public image of all of these entities and smooth out any bumps their clients and organizations may have along the way to the big game–and after.  I’d guess there are hundreds of PR people involved in the Super Bowl–or any major event for that matter.  Which points to another, very encouraging fact for we “PR-types:” it means there are lots of PR jobs out there. 

Your thoughts?

The Other "N" Word

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Jeff Morosoff, Special Asst. Professor, Hofstra University

Nazis must need a good PR campaign.  In recent weeks and months, they’ve had their leader’s famed mustache painted on Barack Obama’s image by Tea Party members; GOP tactics have been compared to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels by Democrat Congressman Steve Cohen; and comic Joan Rivers told a talk show host that Sarah Palin is a Nazi.  A group of religious leaders slammed Glenn Beck for throwing the other “N” word around when talking about public figures; Beck and others often use the terms “Nazi propaganda” and “Hitler-like tactics” to label programs and leaders they don’t like. “Nazi” has become a word of choice for pundits, politicians and performers when they want to express anger or disgust.  They must be trying to make Nazis look bad.

But, seriously, shouldn’t they all slow down and reflect on who the Nazis really were?  National Socialism, born from the warped mind of Adolf Hitler and fashioned into a political movement, was a combination of fascism, racism, and anti-Semitism enforced by deadly tactics.  Its belief in an Aryan master race ultimately led to the Holocaust: the massacre of six million Jews, plus another 2 to 3 million Europeans, disabled persons, homosexuals, and other “undesirables.”  The Nazi regime conducted what was, undoubtedly, the most horrific era of oppression and mass murder in the history of the world.

Using provocative words to make a point is a time-honored tradition among PR professionals, the media and politicians alike.  But, noted the Examiner’s Michael Stahl, “the terms ‘Nazi’ and ‘Fascist’ have become so pervasive, and so ill-defined, that they serve no longer any real purpose other than simple pejorative sling-stones.”  So shouldn’t today’s communicators stop comparing anyone or anything to the Nazis and their heinous founder?  Throwing this particular “N” word around is careless, foul and inaccurate, to say the least.  It’s not a good way to communicate.  Your thoughts?

Public Relations Nation

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Jeff Morosoff, Special Asst. Professor, Hofstra University

It’s “Just PR”

When I was a teenager, I would listen to the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” over and over again, especially because Ian Gillan, lead singer of rock band Deep Purple, sang the part of Jesus.  In the title song there is a line, “Could Mohammed move a mountain or was that just PR?” 

Now, having nothing at that point of my life related to the profession of public relations, I took the line to equate “PR” with trickery or some level of deceit.  I learned later, of course, that the positive good coming from public relations professionals far outweighs the bad.  But we’re not perceived that way by a good percentage of the population, and as PR people we know that perception can be everything. 

You hear the phrase a lot.  It’s “just PR.”  When used, it means that someone believes words and images are being manipulated to portray an untruth.  So why, then, would anyone want to major in public relations — and then work in it — if the field is often maligned as spin and false communication?  I wonder how you would answer that question.  Because you will be asked.   Your thoughts?