Archive for April, 2011


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The BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico is one of the most notable news stories thus far in the 21st century. During the months of April-June of 2010, BP was responsible for an oil spill that dumped mass amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, reeking havoc on the marine and wildlife habitats, as well as causing extensive damage to the fishing and tourism industries in the Gulf. It was the largest oil spill in history, and was covered extensively in the media. BP took some major hits from the media, and was blamed (rightfully so) for the incident.

Looking back on the coverage of the oil spill, much of what happened can be linked to many of the things we discussed this semester in COMM 306. This incident was the first thing that came to my mind when I read Chapter 4 in Sietel’s “The Practice of Public Relations” that discussed public opinion. I don’t know if there’s ever been a company that took as big of a hit in the public eye following a mistake than BP did. After it came to light that BP was responsible for the spill, people were boycotting the company and there were hundreds of reports noting BP’s lack of safety precautions and discussion of how easily the spill could have been avoided. The negative downturn that the company took in the public eye, was exponentially increased when BP CEO, Tony Hayward, began clearly trying to downplay BP’s fault in the spill.

BP’s and Tony Hayward’s reactions and statements following the oil spill were again the first thing that came to my mind after reading Chapter 19 in the textbook, which goes over crisis communication. The oil spill for BP was a monumental crisis within the organization, and the way the company handled the reverberations is a perfect example of what not to do following a crisis. BP did everything they could to cover up for themselves, avoid blame, and twist the truth. Tony Hayward would have been much better off by coming out and saying that unfortunately BP was at fault, they feel terrible about what happened, and that they would try to do everything in their power to fix the huge mistake that they had made.

Few things in this world are truly independent from outside influences. Media relations is no different. As Sietel points out on page 171, “the importance of media to the practice of public relations cannot be denied.” Unfortunately, the relationship between the two fields is somewhat strained due to each vying for the top spot in public outreach and effectiveness. Additionally, the public is already skeptical of the intentions of the media and public relations. Though objectivity is the goal for reporters, it is a rare that they only report the facts. Herein lies the problem- public relations officials perceive the media as interrogative, dumpster-diving sneaks, while the media views public relations professionals as fake, glossy-eyed silhouettes. It is this misconception which Chapter 9 attempts to clear up with a few good habits to keep in mind when dealing with the media as a future public relations professional.

1.       “A reporter is a reporter.” They have the ugly job of digging up the truth, therefore, you are always under scrutiny. Similarly to a court proceeding, anything you say, can and will be used against you.

2.       “You are the organization.” Times have changed considerably from when the public relations official was merely just another face in the crowd. Nowadays, the public relations official is one of the more prominent images associated with an organization. Thinking before one speaks is not an option, but a necessity.

3.       “There is no standard issue reporter.” The concerned public relations official allows the reporter to do his job, just as the reporter does not impede the public relations official’s duties.

4.       “Treat journalists professionally.” In order to foster a positive relationship, both the journalist and public relations official should recognize the fundamental differences which underscore their respective professions.

5.       “Don’t sweat the skepticism.” Being cognizant of the reporter’s duty to report the “news” is the public relations official responsibility. Without this understanding, many of the questions a reporter asks can get under the PR officials nails, causing animosity and cynicism.

6.       “Don’t try to buy a journalist.” In short, bribery doesn’t work, and in the long run, may actually impede the PR – journalist relationship.

7.       “Become a trusted source.” There is no better way to strengthen a PR – journalist relationship than to help the journalist with his/her job. By being a trusted source, the PR official is helping them to do their jobs, and also, helping the organizations image at the same time.

8.       “Talk when not selling.” Keeping the communication pathways open between PR and journalist, even during downtime, can be a key facet to continued positive media coverage.

9.       “Don’t expect news agreement.” While the journalist might believe that his/her story is front page worthy, they do not get the final say; therefore, the public relations official should not be suckered into believing that the story will even be aired or covered.

10.   “Don’t cop a ‘tude.” In my opinion, this is by far one of the most important to remember. First impressions die hard, and in such a give and take relationship, the PR professional cannot afford to be sassy.

11.   “Never lie.” Need I say more?

12.   “Read the paper.” As with many things, it is important to be a student of the game rather than just a player.

Taken from Google Images

All semester long in COMM 306, Dr. McArthur has been harping to us how great of a field public relations is to go into. There’s such a wide variety of job opportunities in the public relations & strategic communications field, and so many potential directions to take your career. Chapter 20 in Sietel’s “The Practice of Public Relations” offers up some great tips for launching a career in this field. In the light of this economic downturn, I know I speak for most college students when I say I’m scared about the opportunities I’m going to have to get a job coming straight out of college. It’s certainly reassuring to know that public relations jobs these days have, for the most part, remained unharmed by the hurt economy. There is always a need for an effective communicator, and if you can do that well you might be in good shape.

Toward the end of Chapter 20, Sietel offers up 5 tips that are key to moving ahead in the field of public relations. I found these to be extremely helpful and interesting. For someone headed into the field of PR, these keys to success seem priceless. I found some of the tips more useful than others, but they all offer up good points. The first tip was to use technology to your advantage. This is something that Dr.McArthur has harped on all semester. PR is moving increasingly in an electronic direction as the Internet continues to grow in prominence and social media websites have become a must have for all organizations. A lot of old school PR professionals may not be familiar with using these tools. Chapter 20 suggests using your knowledge of technology to your advantage in the workplace. Dr. McArthur has said in class how marketable a skill this is, so why not put it to use?

Another tip that’s suggested is the importance of constant reading. We’ve discussed in class and read in the textbook how vital a skill writing is in public relations. Effective writing has remained one of the top skills to have regardless of what field you’re in, but PR especially. This tip makes a good point in saying that the key to good writing is good reading. Read as much as possible, and anything you can get your hands on. It will surely improve your writing.

A few nights ago I was up late and tuning into some late night television. While flipping through the channels, I stumbled across a few infomercials that got me thinking about how bizarre some of the things are that make it on our TVs, and how odd some of these infomercials are. Does anyone actually buy these products? I’m dying to know who these people are that actually call the number on the screen and pay for these odd and assorted products, that are marketed in the strangest ways.

Earlier in the semester, in class we took a look at the infomercial for ShamWow, which is right up their with the weirdest of all infomercials. We took at some common strategies for persuasion, and identified them in the ShamWow commercial. The ShamWow commercial is like so many other infomercials on TV that pretty much use every persuasion strategy possible, but do it in the most obvious and ineffective way.

Take a look at this infomercial above that attempts to sell the “Slap Chop”. It’s the same guy that does the ShamWow commercials, and again he hits on almost all of the strategies for persuasion, but it feels way too obvious. He uses rational arguments, emotional/motivational appeals, credibility, sequential/contrast strategies, aesthetics, and a narrative method all in the span of a three minute commercial. I actually do believe that these persuasion strategies work, but informercials, in particular, make them all way too corny and obvious.

I created my Facebook account a little over four years ago. I was a junior in high school at the time and was basically forced into creating an account by my friends who had all created their pages several months before I did. Eventually, I gave in and agreed to get a Facebook of my own. Four years later, as a junior in college, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking as to whether or not I should keep my Facebook account or not. There’s been numerous times that I’ve felt on the verge on deleting my account, as its primary purpose seems to be a way to procrastinate from starting my school work.

After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way I can delete my Facebook. Being a college student, especially, it has become essential to have a Facebook. I’ve realized that Facebook is honestly what keeps me in the loop about the goings on around campus, with my family, and various other things. My account is not only a way to connect with people, but it honestly keeps me informed. I can’t begin to list how many things (events, news stories, etc.) I’ve found out about through Facebook, that I wouldn’t have found out about otherwise. As a busy college student, I rarely have a moment to turn on the morning news or read a newspaper. I find out about a lot of things through what I see on Facebook, and I know that a lot of my friends and college peers echo the same report.

Facebook also allows me to multitask. I have three sisters that I rarely get a chance to pick up the phone and catch up with. I can have a quick 2 minute conversation with them on FB chat that allows us to get each other up to speed on what’s going on in our lives, while simultaneously doing my work for class the next day. As I begin exam week, I have a custom of deactivating my FB account for the duration of exams. A brief break from Facebook is always nice, but I’ve come to the realization that its an essential part of the way I stay in the loop, and I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be able to totally delete my account.

Reflecting on my semester in Integrated Strategic Communication (COMM 306) there’s no doubt about how much I’ve learned about the world of public relations and strategically communicating. Coming into the course in January, my knowledge on the topic was very limited. Public relations was a very vague concept; I pretty much thought that PR was synonymous with the media. Almost four months later, I realize that my prior beliefs about public relations were far too narrow. There is so much that goes under the umbrella of strategic communication.

In my first ISC Topic, I defined strategic communication as “any type of media that needs to be strategically aimed at a certain audience”. I was correct in that this a big part of strategic communication & public relations. There is so much more than goes into it than simply aiming messages at various publics. Admittedly, I even cheated a little bit when I made my first post. I had a general idea about how I might define strategic communication, but took a gander at Chapter 1 in our textbook, Sietel’s “The Practice of Public Relations”.

Almost everything we learned this semester in class contributed in some way to my learning in this subject. As I said, I had little/no previous knowledge about ISC, so almost everything we learned was new. What made this course interesting was that a lot of the things we learned about were things that I was familiar with, I just had no idea what exactly they were and how intricate they are. The topic I found most interesting was the law as it relates to public relations. I’m studying organizational communication with a concentration in pre-law, so I’ve taken a few courses that covered many of the laws we discussed. It was very interesting to look at the law and how it applies to the court of public relations. It was also eye opening to see how similar the two are, while still having such distinct differences in their goals.

As I prepare to go on my JBIP in the next coming weeks, I found this chapter in Sietel’s “The Practice of Public Relations” to be extremely interesting as it specifically mentioned a few of the countries to which I will be traveling. Though the United States is often isolated in regards to cultural exposure due to geography, it is also the bustling Mecca of cultural diversity within our own borders.  And because of the variety of cultures found in the United States, public relations professionals have to be cognizant and tactful in their approach to public communication media. But this is not just a challenge for PR in the US. As Sietel cites Marshall McLuhan, “the world is a global village.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. It is inevitable as well as completely obvious that the world is getting smaller every day. The amount of information available at our finger tips grows every second. The industrial competition for consumers is at an all time high. The companies who do the best job in PR, are the most successful, such as Pepsi, McDonalds, Nike, and BMW.

This chapter gives the breakdown of international public relations. One essential component that was explained was the necessity that “all foreign companies operating internationally must constantly reinforce the notion that they are responsible and concerned residents of local communities.” By following the “thinking global, acting local” mantra, international companies can build good public relations, and potential sidestep negative attention/press.

Public relations differ around the world, continent to continent, country to country. While the chapter detailed public relations strategies in many countries, these were the ones that I found most interesting:

Canada: the biggest rival to American public relations in regards to “its level of acceptance, respect, sophistication, and maturity.” Public relations in Canada must also be bilingual due to part of the country’s French heritage.

Latin America: In my Strategic Communications class, my proposal to expand a communications firm to Buenos Aires was approved due to the huge potential that this area has in terms of economic growth and technological prowess. As Latin American countries continue to develop, there is a huge demand for communications and public relations departments.

Japan: the hub of technology in the modern world, yet because of the traditional culture, the techniques which they employ are much different than our own. In fact, “the majority of Japanese companies shun the kind of aggressive public relations favored by American Companies.” PR officials are very aware of the best methods to reach the greatest audience, and that is via cell phone or newspaper.

The evidence is indisputable- the world is getting smaller, and therefore it is imperative that solid international public relation practices are utilized so that future growth and development is possible.

Taken from Google Images

The Shirley Sherrod case was one of the most significant cases of 2010. She was the Georgia State Director for Rural Development, and was pushed into stepping down and resigning from her position in the summer of 2010. Shirley Sherrod, an African American woman, went under fire after a blogger named Andrew Bleitbart posted some video excerpts of her making some racially degrading remarks about white farmers during a speech she gave at an NAACP event in March 2010. Following the videos being posted online, the NAACP criticized her for her remarks, and the U.S. government demanded that she step down from her position. At a later point, upon review of the full version of the video of her speech, Sherrod was apologized to and offered another full time position (which she declined). Sherrod proceeded to bring on a suit against blogger Andrew Bleitbart, accusing him of defamation.

Sherrod’s situation and eventual law suit was a monumental one in the world of strategic communication. The Shirley Sherrod case brings about issues surrounding the ever-growing world of online social media. Far too many people, including our own U.S. government, take things that they view on the Internet as bible and an absolute truth. The fact that literally ANYONE can put ANYTHING on the internet is far too often overlooked. We, as Internet users, need to take everything we see on the Internet with a grain of salt. It seems obvious that the video excerpts from Sherrod’s speech were taken completely out of context, and everyone immediately bought into these videos and comments that some random blogger posted on the internet.

This also serves as a warning for all strategic communicators. Firstly, that we need to be careful with our word choice. At any given point, one’s words can be twisted and distorted into something that wasn’t intended at all. Word choice is everything, so be careful about what you say. Secondly, and from the opposite standpoint, strategic communicators need to be careful about what you put on the internet. Truth in communication is at the forefront of importance. Don’t put anything on the Internet that could be misconstrued as distorted or twisted information, or you could end up like Andrew Bleitbart and be getting sued for defamation.

Sources: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20011249-503544.html

Seitel, F.P. (2010). The Practice of Public Relations, 11th ed., Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

The skill of management is indubitably one of the most important for any public relations professional to possess. The beginning of Chapter 5 in Sietel’s “The Practice of Public Relations” notes that the responsibilities of a PR professional are not much unlike those of the CEO of a company. Both need to be proficient at, and have knowledge about, planning, budgeting, objective setting, and how top management thinks and operates. “It has been said that the only difference between the public relations director and the CEO is that the latter gets paid more” (Sietel, 2010).

The chapter discusses how effective management in public relations focuses on results; I think Sietel says it well when he states, “… the best public relations programs can be measured in terms of achieving results in building the key relationships on which the organization depends.” (Sietel, 2010). Further, Chapter 5 lays out four questions that public relations professionals must constantly ask: What are we attempting to achieve, and where are we going in that pursuit? What is the nature of the environment in which we must operate? Who are the key audiences we must convince in the process? And how will we get to where we want to be? (Sietel, 2010).

Another extremely important skill for a PR professional to possess is the ability to lay out a clear and concise public relations plan. PR plans can vary in their purpose and aim, but in all cases the plans must be clear-cut and comprehensibly lay out the objectives to achieve the organizational goals. Sietel offers 10 basic items that a public relations plan should include.

1. Executive summary- should lay out the basic summary or outline of the plan.

2. Communication process- discuss how the plan will work, so that everyone can understand and be trained accordingly.

3. Background- discusses what has led to the plan/why it is needed.

4. Situation analysis- what are the major issues?

5. Message statement- the real meat of the plan. Should contain the major ideas & emerging themes.

6. Audiences- who is the target audience for the plan? List in order of importance what public(s) is being targeted.

7. Key audience messages- once it is clear who the plan’s key audiences are, develop short messages that are most important to be understood by them.

8. Implementation- “issues, audiences, messages, media, timing, cost, expected outcomes, and method of evaluations–all neatly spelled out.” (Sietel, p. 84). Summarize the plan as clearly as possible.

9. Budget- more or less, this portion should lay out how much the plan is going to cost.

10. Monitoring & evaluation- this final section should clearly present a method for how the plan’s success (or lack there of) can be measured and evaluated, based on a previously set standard.

(Sietel, 2010)

Tiger Woods is a good example of someone who handled crisis very poorly (image taken from Google Images)

Crises, when they occur, can make or break an organization. How the organization handles a certain crisis can have an extreme influence on how they are viewed by the public. Crises happen all the time, we hear about them happening to companies on the news all the time. I can look back and think of countless organizations that have undergone a crisis that changed their image permanently. Some companies have handled crisis amazingly, and bounced back with poise. Other’s have handled it completely wrong, and those companies have suffered greatly from their mistakes and lapses of judgment. Crises are an extremely important part of public relations, important enough there are crisis teams that specialize in crisis management and assisting companies in the preparation for a potential crisis.

It seems to me that most organizations or individuals go wrong in their methods of communicating during a crisis. What is said/not said during a crisis is everything. Traditionally, we think legally when it comes to communicating, that anything we say can and will be used against us. A lawyer would tell us just to keep our mouths shut for as long as possible, because no one can speculate about unspoken words, right? Wrong. This is not the case when it comes to crisis management in public relations. Sietel notes that 65 percent of people, when they hear the words “no comment”, automatically regard the no-commenter as guilty. “Silence angers the media and compounds the problem.” (Sietel, p. 390). The cardinal rule held by most public relations professionals for communication during a crisis, Sietel notes, is “tell it all and tell it fast”.

Communication that seems honest and up front (whether or not it really is), and is given right off the bat, puts a stop to speculation and the spreading of rumors. Attempts to cover up the truth and save face almost always end badly; just ask BP and Tiger Woods how that worked out for them. The chapter lays out three basic goals is crisis management: terminate the crisis quickly, limit the damage, and restore credibility. credibility. It may not always be an easy fix, but complete honesty always is the best policy.