Looking Back and Forward

Looking back on where I was when I wrote my first blog, I like to think I have a little bit more a clue at this point about public relations and how it’s literally everywhere. I’m still rather suspicious of the motives behind advertising, but now I understand the purpose of public relations beyond maintaining image to consumers. PR is vast, and is intended to communicate to every possible public involved; employees, investors, consumers, potential audiences, and much, much more. Without being redundant, I’ve learned a lot about the mechanics of PR in addition to how to apply what I’ve learned.

Writing papers at Grand Valley has been generally unchallenging in my experience; I did not have to take Writing 150, but haven’t had a lower essay score than 85%, which only happened once due to a technicality in my resource section. Every paper has been written in APA format with the longest paper being 12 pages with flexibility on length, sources, and structure. This class challenged me in a completely different way than others; the structure of the Planbook assignment deviated from the typical research paper. The slightly ambiguous descriptions of the assignments made me actually have to think about the paper beyond its subject matter.

The first day of class I was slightly overwhelmed; no matter how you describe it, 50-70 pages is a lot to write in one semester for one class. Immediately I was challenged more than I had been yet in college. In spite of the heavy workload, I was ready to take on something new. The learning curve levels off after every class has the exact same rubric and requirements. Plus, the fact that we were actually creating something that could be used in real life and possibly would be used by a client provided even more incentive to learn as much as I could and write as best as I could.

The process of writing the planbook wasn’t nearly as scary as I had anticipated, but still provided new challenges. There was a lot of guesswork involved in structuring it, lots and lots of rewriting and revising, and actually coming up with ideas on my own. Traditionally, papers I had written before are completely devoid of my own personal thoughts and perspectives; objectivity and facts are valued more than creating new concepts, understandable when writing a scientific or historical paper. Of course research and facts are a crucial part of a public relations project, but for once, they were there to support my own ideas and plans, not for the entire contents of the paper.

I realize now that self-motivation as a skill in the classroom is more valued than the ability to follow orders. Figuring things out myself and not sending panicked emails to professors because I wasn’t 100% sure on what was asked for taught me that I am more than capable of achieving the quality of work that is required without someone holding my hand. The workplace will no doubt be an intensified version of this sort of challenge. I don’t want my first job to go poorly because I’m terrified to try to independently solve my problems. I think that my ability to work by myself was challenged the most in this class than ever before, and I’m a little less afraid of what is expected of me when I do get a “real” job.

Obviously, I’ve learned a lot about PR this semester, and more importantly, how to use and apply it this semester. Course work has gotten rather redundant for me after only two years at Grand Valley, and it’s been enormously refreshing to tackle something new. I’ve gotten an idea of PR history, careers, diversity, and much more. I even self-taught Excel to myself, something I’d never had to do for another class. The bottom line is that I’m glad that public relations is required for my Health Comm major, because I’m sure that no matter where I end up, what I’ve learned here will undoubtedly help me to succeed.

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Defining PR. . .again.

As stated in several of my previous blogs, public relations is a tricky thing to define, probably because there is not a universal consensus of what it is (PRSA Staff, 2012). The components of PR like advertising, marketing, and journalism are generally straight-forward, but with PR having a finger in every pie, it’s a little more complicated. To understand how the definition and PR in general has evolved and how the current PRSA definition came to be, it’s necessary to examine where American public relations began.

Contrary to PR’s portrayal as a “modern phenomenon”, it’s really only the name “public relations” that is modern. The principle of communicating with publics to create positive opinions can be applied to European monarchs greeting their citizens and making a show of kissing babies and giving grain to the poor and even earlier, but the United States can witness the events leading up to the Revolutionary War as a public relations circus (Raaz &Wehmeier, 2011). This includes the Boston Tea Party and the Declaration of Independence; these events communicated messages to multiple publics (The British Empire, U.S. colonists, British loyalists, for example) (Raaz &Wehmeier, 2011).

Obviously, since then, public relations has expanded since the 18th century from war tactics to become an industry, and with conscious actions taken by organizations, political parties, and more, there is a need for a definition of what they were doing to create and maintain image.  2012 marked the year the Public Relations Society of America decided to update its 30 year old definition: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other” (PR Daily, 2012). PR is a constantly adapting business with new media being created all the time, and of course updating what we call it is a part of the changes being made (Raaz &Wehmeier, 2011).

The PRSA hosted a campaign to vote for a new definition in 2012, with its blog “Public Relations Defined” as the center of the debate. The definition “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics” was the victor. (PRSA Staff, 2012) It beat two other definitions “Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships” and “Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals” (PR Daily, 2012).

Although there was a winning definition of the campaign, it won with a 46.4% vote, not quite half of the participants who were given the power to decide the definition (PR Daily, 2012). A quick Google search would demonstrate an obvious discrepancy in how we should define PR. To me, that points to the fact that public relations is fundamentally different varying on who is using it. If company A has different policies than company B, then of course they will define PR differently. A basic definition is of course important for people new to the field and those who have never heard of it, but having so many different ways to approach PR means that an objective definition is impractical.

References

Razz, O., & Wehmeier, S., (2011). Histories of Public Relations. Journal of Communication Management, 15, 256-275.

PR Daily. (2012, March 2). PRSA announces the final definition of ‘public relations’. Ragan’s PR Daily. Retrieved from  http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/PRSA_announces_the_final_definition_of_public_rela_10993.aspx#

PRSA Staff. (2012, April 11). Public Relations Defined: A Modern Definition For The New Era Of Public Relations. Public Relations Defined. Retrieved from  http://prdefinition.prsa.org/index.php/2012/04/11/the-modern-definition-of-public-relations

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Career Aspirations Using PR

Virtually every student has had their fears about finding work after graduating and/or getting “stuck” in a low-paying, dead-end job; there is no exception for those studying PR. Fortunately, the internet exists, so we have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips on what starting off in PR is like, and how your career can grow from there. In a nutshell, “PR pros look for opportunities to deliver appropriate messages to their audiences” (Editors, 2012). People working in this field at all levels contribute to this far-reaching task, even those of us who start from the bottom. While it may be intimidating to start off with no job experience in PR out of college, skills like team work, personability, and research that were relevant in the classroom will translate to the work environment (Hunt, 2002) (Editors, 2012).

A beginner in public relations who manages to find a job fresh out of college would likely find themselves starting as a “beginning professional”. This level of employment can entail writing, researching, and really anything that can teach basic skills to the spring chickens of the industry (Hunt, 2002). “Staff professionals” is a title given when the newcomer has a couple of years of experience under their belts, and can take on minor management roles (Hunt, 2002).   Promotions and progress happen to people who are verbally articulate, skillful with mass media, and good communicators. The only way to really learn how to do these things well is to practice them, and that will most definitely involve making mistakes and asking lots of questions in an entry-level job before you become “important” (Editors, 2012).

For those seeking a spot in the public relations world, there are three very broad areas to consider going into: publicity, communications, and training (Roos, 2007). Publicity people handle a lot of the writing and working with advertisers; press releases, interviews, and press conferences is where they shine, all with the intention to make sure the general public has a good view of the client (Roos, 2007). Communication specialists are the ones who get to deal with crises, work with marketing departments on new products, coordinate events, and more. Training professionals are in charge of teaching clients how to handle the press and how to handle themselves on social media (Roose, 2007). Obviously, these three categories contain many subcategories, but a non-profit PR department, corporate office, and a  PR firm will all have tasks that fall under the umbrella.

I’m not a Public Relations major; I didn’t know what PR even was until this semester. My area of study is Health Communications, which is one of those tricky-to-define majors that no one really knows much about, even those who are studying it. To my surprise, public relations can play a large role in the careers of Health Communications majors (which I should have realized, as it’s required to take public relations for my major). Eventually I would like to work as a community health advocate, or as a sort of  go-between for patients and doctors. However, I realize it’s unlikely that this will happen immediately out of school, and learning PR as a skill will no no doubt help me to establish myself in the Health Comm industry.

Resources

Hunt, T. (2002). Public relations, careers in. Encyclopedia of Communication and Information 3, 786-788. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE|CX3402900219&v=2.1&u=lom_gvalleysu&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=f0c0ef5b9e8fea9e62de76ca6258e87a

Editors. (2012, November 30). Career overview: Public relations. Retrieved from https://www.wetfeet.com/articles/career-overview-public-relations

Roos, D. (2007, August 28). How public relations works. Retrieved from http://money.howstuffworks.com/business-communications/how-public-relations-works6.htm

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Crisis! Crisis! Crisis!

Businesses preparing for crises is one thing. . .actually dealing with one is a whole new game. What NOT to do is as big of a factor of what the proper responses and actions should be (Blevins, 2014). Often the situation a company faces is far more complicated and problematic than what is revealed to the public; appropriate responses to employees, stockholders, consumers, distributors, and more must all be factored into how a business deals with a crisis (Satterfield & Squire, 2012). Promptly apologizing to the public and quick action following media attention are among the most important components of crisis management, but there is much, much more to a successful handling of a crisis (Ashcroft, 1997).

A helpful list of four things that all successful crisis management should follow begins with “Message”. Mapping out key points for each group (investors, customers, etc) will ensure that the PR response is concise and will shut out damaging extra information (Satterfield & Squire, 2012). Next is “Media”; anyone involved in a crisis MUST have media training on how to deal with the press and how to perfect the timing of making a statement to the media. (Satterfield & Squire, 2012). “Monitoring” comes next, which goes beyond traditional media. Monitoring involves scanning the internet, social media, even print for anything being said about the company in question during a crisis so relevant responses or rebuttals can be made (Satterfield & Squire, 2012). Last comes “Metrics”, or having a system in place that can measure the success of crisis managements at any given point. This gives insight to what still has to be done and what can be done better in the future (Satterfield & Squire, 2012).

Crisis checklists also serve as useful methods for crisis preparation. This can include a separate area to accommodate crisis management with space for T.V’s, computers and radio (Ashcroft, 1997). Senior management practicing simulations help to sharpen skills while dealing with the media. Training customer service and other employees with direct contact with consumers and others is also an essential item; they will likely be the first to receive any calls regarding a crisis (Ashcroft, 1997).

Certain mistakes companies make during a PR crisis are worse than others; a poorly handled crisis can inflame an already bad situation. Lying to the public is one of these major mistakes (Belvins, 2014). It wipes away any sense of trust that still could have remained; lying is a temporary fix for a much larger problem. Another crisis “whoops” would be hiding, or not reacting to a scandal or crisis (Blevins, 2014). This allows external sources have complete control of the situation; not responding to a crisis takes away a company’s power and voice (Ashcroft, 1997).

What I would consider one of the most major is repeating mistakes; not learning from past errors shows a blatant disregard for the consumer and other stakeholders (Blevins, 2014). A prime example is the Applebee’s social media crisis of 2013 when a waitress posted a picture of a receipt with “$0” written in the tip section, with a snarky remark on how she doesn’t deserve the money (Thompson, 2013). She was promptly fired for violating the privacy of Applebee’s customers; the situation would have blown over if the Applebee’s Facebook page hadn’t posted a receipt with a complimentary message a few weeks prior (Thompson, 2013). The page’s followers exploded in anger, with Applebee’s retaliating with posting the same responses over and over again and deleting negative posts and blocking angry customers. The whirlwind of social media insanity could have been better dealt with if Applebee’s had learned that aggressive defense and covering up negativity made Facebookers angry the first time; surely it would make them angry following (Thompson, 2013).

No one wants to get themselves involved in a crisis, or even think about the consequences and headache of dealing with one. But obviously, not having a plan or not knowing how to deal with a problem is far worse. Every organization faces potential crises, some completely unavoidable; but with preparation for the worst and smart tactics, the company can survive with only a few scratches (Satterfield & Squire, 2012).

Sources:

Blevins, D. (2014, February 17). Crisis communications: When the truth comes out—three examples of what not to do. Retrieved from https://www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog/article/thought-leaders/crisis-communications-when-the-truth-comes-out-three-examples-of-wh

Thompson, H. (2013, February 28). 6 examples of social media crises: What can we learn?. Retrieved from http://oursocialtimes.com/6-examples-of-social-media-crises-what-can-we-learn/

Satterfield, J., & Squire, J. (2012). Coming through a public relations crisis successfully. Franchising World,44(11), 70-71. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/docview/1220744477

Ashcroft, L. (1997). Crisis management – public relations.Journal of Managerial Psychology12(5), 325-332. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/docview/215863770

 

 

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More on Ethics. . .

Today I’d like to expand upon ethics in Public Relations with comparisons of how seriously certain types of PR firms approach ethical practices and policies. PR agencies have notably less presence of ethics codes on websites than other industries (Kim & Ki, 2010). The PRSA, or Public Relations Society of America, has guidelines posted on its website that include the need for all communication to be honest, not taking on clients who have values contrary to the PRSA ethics code, and to accurately represent current clients (Potter, 2013). While the rules and expectations are a nice thought, actually implementing them to a firm, especially a large one, can be problematic (Skinner, Mersham & Valin, 2003).

Huge PR companies, and really any other large organization, tend to be task-oriented; this means that one employee may be doing a seemingly meaningless job that actually contributes to violation of ethics without realizing it (Skinner, Mersham & Valin, 2003). An example of this could be creating infographics that report data skewed by unethical research practices as facts. Furthermore, low to mid level employees don’t create policy; I could be on the phone with a customer service representative asking for a refund or rebate that I know is my right to have, and the representative’s mantra would probably be “I’m sorry, ma’am, but there’s nothing I can do, it’s against policy”. While the conversation would be extraordinarily frustrating, the person on the other line can either go along with company policy and anger customers or get fired for cutting me a break (Skinner, Mersham & Valin, 2003).

Obviously, proper ethical code would be far easier to maintain in a smaller firm where each employee surely plays a more integral role than simply data entry or filing (Ki & Kim, 2010). While the PRSA’s code is important for PR people to follow, developing individual ethical guidelines for firms garners better results. It allows for more personal discussion of right and wrong when the rules in question were developed by the people implementing them (Ki & Kim, 2010). PR credibility is constantly being questioned, and the obvious solution is making ethics codes public and following those codes with enthusiasm. It’s also noteworthy that with the public’s growing cynicism about advertising since the 1980’s, the importance of ethics has grown as well (Kim & Ki, 2010). Newer firms demonstrate higher value of ethical practices than agencies established before the ’80’s, most definitely in response to the demand for ethics. (Kim & Ki, 2010).

Greater accountability for PR agencies would no doubt be the ultimate enforcer of ethical guidelines; while in the US a tarnished reputation may be the greatest harm done following a PR scandal, Brazil revokes licenses (they are required to practice PR in Brazil) from disreputable PR professionals (Potter, 2013). I hope that the Public Relations industry here in the States is moving in the right direction toward ethical practices becoming an integral component of every firm and agency out there; Brazil’s had that attitude since 1967! (Potter, 2013).

Sources:

Potter, W. (2010, November 29). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://wendellpotter.com/2010/11/must-ethical-pr-be-an-oxymoron-richard-edelman/

Ki, E., & Kim, S. (2010). Ethics statements of public relations firms: What do they say?. Journal of Business Ethics, 91(2), 223-236.

Skinner, C., Mersham, G., & Valin, J. (2003). Global protocol on ethics in public relations. Journal of Communication Management, 8(1), 13-28.

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Ethical Research is Important!

From the consumer’s viewpoint, legitimate research for a company of product is extremely important. If I am being told a statistic or fact, it better have come from an intensive research process, and not pseudo-research that surveyed, like, 30 people. I also want to know if effort was put into a campaign to find out what consumers want to see. For example, whenever I see an AARP commercial with Alex Trebek as a promotor, I can’t help but wonder if the PR team surveyed senior citizens about their opinion of him.

As a PR student, I’ve learned that making the consumer aware of the research can legitimize a campaign, even if the study was quickly done and not peer-reviewed (Boynton, Shaw & Callaghan, 2004). For me, the words “studies have shown” and “surveys indicate” are far more likely to grab my attention than “we think” or “you should”. The opinion is coming from the consumers, not the company.

Sadly, sometimes research firms can be sneaky; the drive to complete research could be in the name of publicity and not for the actual result. What matters to some companies is the promotion of the research, not if honest and scientific methods were used to reach the desired conclusion (Boynton, Shaw & Callaghan, 2004). Researchers can skew or completely fabricate data to meet their goal; a quick scan of raw data could point out suspicious numbers and falsify the conclusion (Hopper, 2014). This occurs because a PR firm may have already made up their mind what the data needs to demonstrate for a campaign; using biases and dishonest research helps achieve that (Boynton, Shaw & Callaghan, 2004).

Luckily, there is apparently a shift away from predetermined results; The Council of Public Relations Firms recently released an initiative on garnering enthusiasm about research ethics, and the PRSA recognizes September as “Ethics Month” (Bowen, 2013) . However, there is the question of whether these ethics events are genuine or just a PR scheme for the PR business (Bowen, 2013). The new interest and upswing in ethics poses the question of why ethical research wasn’t as important before (Bowen, 2013). Even if the ethical research trend has a hidden purpose, it will surely encourage honest research that will allow PR firms to more effectively (and believably) conduct honest research for clients and produce results that the public will buy into (Hopper, 2014).

Sources:

Boynton, P., Shaw, S., & Callaghan, W. (2004). How pr firms use research to sell products. British Medical Journal328(7438), 530.

Bowen, S. (2013, September 13). Explaining pr’s ‘newfound’ interest in ethics. PRWEEK US, Retrieved from http://www.prweekus.com/explaining-prs-newfound-interest-in-ethics/article/311265/

Hopper, J. (2014, January 22). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.verstaresearch.com/blog/why-you-need-your-raw-data/

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Diversifying the PR World

Public Relations and advertising face the challenge of appealing to a diverse audience; while it would be easy (and racist and sexist) to campaign based on the interests of only white males, a multitude of other demographics have to be considered. Some tactics hone down on exactly what a particular group actually wants to buy or see; for example, McDonald’s offers a wide variety of chicken or lamb entrees in Hindu-dominated India that forbids consuming beef (Wilcox, Cameron, Reber & Shin, 2013). Groups like the members of the LGBTQ community tend to demonstrate loyalty to brands that support their rights and values, thus increasing their buying power (Wilcox, Cameron, Reber & Shin, 2013). Using the 2012 presidential election as a good example, minorities and diverse groups will support institutions “where they are celebrated, not tolerated” (Hayes, 2013).

Part of taking on the daunting task of both appealing to the widest market possible and not offending consumers at the same time requires a diverse workforce that can contribute ideas and opinions from personal experience (Hon & Brunner, 2000). Racial statistics are changing; by 2020, non-whites are projected to collectively possess the spending power of over $3.5 trillion in the United States (Hayes, 2013). Excluding diverse groups from the PR world means missing out on new perspectives and ideas; hiring minorities is not only politically correct, it is a business tactic for a successful campaign (Hon & Brunner, 2000).

A problem remaining in PR agencies is a lack of commitment to actually broadening diversity (Hon & Brunner, 2000). One participant in a study on diversifying PR stated that diversity was only talked about; actually developing initiatives was a low priority (Hon & Brunner, 2000). It’s challenging to approach diversity when there are no minorities present to understand the issues at hand (Hon & Brunner, 2000). In addition, true diversity expands beyond “tokenism”, or relying on just one non-white individual for an attempt at diversity; expecting just one person to represent all races other than white is “ridiculous and insulting to the person” (Hon & Brunner, 2000).

A wider range of staff that brings multiple views can mean a more intensive process to reach a solution, but in most cases, the ending result is of higher quality; working with conflicting opinions creates a better product (Hon & Brunner, 2000) Viewing diversifying as a business model for success and not just a need to appear culturally accepting provides greater incentive for expanding beyond a white-only, male-dominated staff (Hayes, 2013). Diversity equals better business, end of story.

 

Sources:

Hon, L. C., & Brunner, B. (2000). Diversity issues and public relations. JOURNAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH12(4), 309-340.

Hayes, L. (2013, February 25). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.holmesreport.com/opinion-info/13071/Lack-Of-Diversity-Is-PR-Industrys-Dirty-Little-Secret.aspx

Wilcox, D., Cameron, G., Reber, B., & Shin, J. (2013).Think public relations. (2nd ed., pp. 206-215). New Jersey, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

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