Which PR Campaign Hooked Us in 2014?

There are many companies that are stepping up their game when it comes to reputation management and public relations. That being said, it was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that really rocked our internet feeds this year.

The challenge was a viral hit – individuals would dump buckets of ice/ice water on his/her heads, post a video to social media and tag three friends. The individual would then make a donation to the ALS Association. That’s all it took.

A record-breaking $115 million in donations was recorded for the society, many made by new donors who had not previously donated to ALS. The Ice Bucket Challenge also got celebrities involved – famous stars including One Direction, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kate Upton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Henry Cavill, and many others also participated.

So why was this campaign so wildly successful? It was a viral movement that involved something somewhat extreme (dumping ice over your head) and making your friends do it, too. It didn’t take promotion from the ALS Association – the campaign drove itself. It cost practically nothing to the ALS Association, and gave us all a warm feeling about doing our part for the community.

It was big, it was for a good cause and it was selfless. The Challenge was covered in the news, and was a trend among youth and teens. Combined with the fact that you could laugh at your friends and replay a video unlimited times, the Challenge brought in 500% more donations than the ALS Association has seen the previous year.

Just like any good campaign, however, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge had a few critics. Some called out individuals who were posting videos but not actually donating. Others complained that the campaign encouraged us to waste water. Others were injured in the process of making their videos. However, the good significantly outweighed the bad.

Fundraisers like this are changing the way that companies do business. Following the lead of the Ice Bucket Challenge, other nonprofits tried the same model to prompte their causes. Most notably was the “Feelin’ Nuts” campaign trying to encourage men to check themselves for testicular cancer. The campaign showed photos and videos of celebrities grabbing their crotches in public, hashtagged #feelingnuts and uploaded their media to the Feelin’ Nuts official site. However, this did not take off as well as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Why was this similar campaign not as successful? For starters, it was only geared toward men. The ALS campaign included all participants, making it easy to share. Also, participants were not worried about sharing the hashtag “feelingnuts” so that their grandmothers on Facebook could see them. It excluded a large percentage of Internet users. It was clever, yes – but just having a clever slogan does not make a PR campaign.

ALS was fortunate to have the Internet on their side. With the help of humor and celebrities, the campaign raised a remarkable amount of money for the foundation. Sometimes, the best PR campaigns are the ones we don’t push – we let the consumers run with the idea.

What Exactly Do PR People Do?

If you’re not working at a big PR firm, are you even a PR pro?

We hear all about PR professionals getting positions in big PR firms, and most of the examples in our textbooks refer to pros who are working with large organizations in big cities making big waves. However, this is just not realistic for every student – there are simply not enough large PR firms to make it happen.

When I first began studying PR, I did feel this way. I thought that gaining a position with a large firm would be much more prestigious than working in another location. I think this, like I mentioned above, has a lot to do with the examples and work that we are exposed to while studying PR in university. If we tour firms, we tour large firms. If we hear about PR on the news, it’s usually about a large firm working on a large problem.

So what are the other options?

Something that we often overlook is the concept of working in a small, boutique PR firm – just as much a PR firm as one that would supports hundreds of clients. Especially in the South, there are hundreds of boutique PR firms that house 10-15 employees. Some are even smaller. When I interned with a boutique PR firm, Gray PR consisted of two hardworking employees. This is a great option. And, if PR is certainly what the chosen career path, a student could start their own PR firm.

Many organizations have some sort of PR representative, as well. This lessens the cost to the group if a crisis occurs. This would be another viable choice for a student working in PR. There are hundreds of thousands of organizations that would be looking to hire a Communication professional. The term ‘Communication Professional’ is key, here. Sometimes, the job you’re looking for does not come in the neat package of PR professional. It could have a different title. A student would be limiting themselves if they stuck only to jobs that contained “Public Relations” in the title.

Another option for a student studying PR would be working with an NGO or non-profit. Again, these titles might be slightly different than what you were hoping for. However, these organizations need a strong PR professional to lead the charge, as well. This may extend to media relations or other areas of communication; however, having experience in multiple communication areas will only increase your worth to the organization.

Currently, I am hoping to apply the knowledge I have learned in PR to a career in magazine editing. Although these two have seemingly little in common, having the PR background to understand campaigns, writing skills, advertising and crisis control would be only beneficial to an amateur editor.

As I mentioned, it’s getting over the title of PR professional that would be key to growth within a student’s career. Although large PR firms would be a great experience and likely a solid career, the other options cannot be discounted.

Review: How To End Your Internship The Right Way

Note: These article reviews are being completed for my PR Campaigns class; however, I feel as though these PR articles are too interesting not to share. I hope you learn as much from them as I did! Links to the articles are provided below.

Quilty, A. (2014, Aug. 29). “How to end your internship the right way.” PR Daily. Retrieved 1 Sept. 2014 from http://www.prdaily.com/mediarelations/Articles/17177.aspx

As a student who just completed a summer internship, the PR Daily article of “How to end your internship the right way” caught my eye. Looking at the list, I realized that I still needed to wrap some elements up.

The author, Allison Quilty, gives five tips on how to end your internship the right way. First of all, she states that the student should pursue some type of feedback. We’ve heard for years that the best way to learn is to accept constructive criticism, right? Pursuing your intern coordinator or employer for helpful feedback may give you the ability to address a weakness or capitalize on a strong suit. Understanding your work from a third party perspective could increase your value when you market yourself for a salaried career.

The second suggestion is essential for any communication student hoping to make it in the industry – stay connected! I shook many hands this summer, many of these belonging to people much more important in the business than I, who will most likely forget my name. As a matter of fact, one of the CEOs only knows me as “the intern with purple tights.” These connections are invaluable, and networking opportunities seem to fall hand in hand with internships. Don’t lose these relationships once your time ends; the article suggests collecting business cards or connecting on LinkedIn is a great way to stay in touch.

Quilty’s third recommendation is one that I faced myself – tie up loose ends. It’s the last week of your internship, your intern hours are well over their requirement, and you’re still working on something important for your boss. What do you do? I suggest, and Quilty seems to agree, that you complete your part in whatever task you’ve been given. Although it may be inconvenient for you, this will be what sets you apart in the employer’s mind. If you go the extra mile, you will be the one who takes the position. If it’s a large project, detail the process for the next person who will be taking it on. Making that transition easier for a coworker will show that you are a team player.

The fourth proposition Quilty makes is to ask for a recommendation. In reading this article, I realized that this was one thing I did not do. If you’ve worked closely with someone for an internship and feel as though you’ve contributed valuable work, take that next step and ask if he or she would be willing to put in a good word for you. Now, LinkedIn makes this easier for an employer, as he or she can write a small paragraph about how spectacular you are that anyone can see on your profile. It’s as simple as asking in a polite email. Having this “proof” from your supervisor shows your value or asset to the company, and looks good to the next boss.

Finally, Quilty’s fifth piece of advice is to say thank you. Just as we are learning and as our textbook states, PR is about building relationships. Beyond making a new networking connection on LinkedIn, show that you are grateful for the internship opportunity by thanking those who took the time to help, teach, and guide you in your venture. A thank you can be a handwritten card, or an email – but these are the things that people will remember in the future.

In retrospect, all of these tips that Quilty shares are ones we may think of as common sense; however, I know that I forgot to specifically address a few of these elements among the overwhelming amount of material that came with my internship. As I mentioned previously, I think the two most important aspects of this article are maintaining the networking contacts and building relationships. Paralleling the “rationalist management” orientation of public relations, creating and cultivating relationships in the early stages of a career, i.e. in the internship phase, will only benefit you in the future.

Review: 7 Media Relations Rules You Might Want To Break

Note: These article reviews are being completed for my PR Campaigns class; however, I feel as though these PR articles are too interesting not to share. I hope you learn as much from them as I did! Links to the articles are provided below.

Crenshaw, D. (2014, May 09). “7 media relations rules you might want to break.” PR Daily. Retrieved 27 Aug. 2014 from http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/16527.aspx

The title of this article caught my eye. As PR students, we are taught these structured sets of do’s and don’t’s that we hope will bring success to our PR endeavors in the future. This article, however, addresses the gray areas of PR – and the idea that some of the rules should be bent or broken in order to create a more effective campaign or impression.

Dorothy Crenshaw’s first rule-to-be-broken is that you should forbid your client from saying, “No comment.” If a company spokesperson is uninformed about an issue and does not have the chance to understand all of the facts of the matter, it would be unproductive and perhaps even hurtful for the company to give false information to the press. In this regard, it’s appropriate to refrain on a response to the media.

Her following rule is to leave journalists alone unless you have a newsworthy issue to bring to their attention. Although this generally is the case, utilizing other news that may not be your own (newsjacking) in conjunction with your client’s perspective could provide an interesting point of view to the article. In this case, you could bother the journalist with a twist to a current story, if it is in the best interest of your client.

Crenshaw’s third rule-to-be-broken addresses the idea that a story, product or service must be special or notable to be considered valuable in the media world. This is not so much the case in our current society – few ideas are completely original. She addresses the concept that although you may not have something that stands on its own, a combination of two products or ideas could be considered a broader category that interests your public.

This summer, I worked at a PR firm where much of the focus was on tailoring the message specifically to the individual to which it pertained. Crenshaw’s fourth rule-to-break is that your story should be thrown out widely to as many people as will listen. This is something I have been specifically taught against during my time at Austin Peay. We learn that PR should be targeted and intentional. Using software like Vocus allows a PR professional to look specifically at whom he or she would like to reach, as well as the beat of reporters or subject area of editors. If the net is cast widely, chances are the story will be disregarded by many of the recipients. You also could end up with the negative effect of having an interesting story that is disregarded by the right people, because they’ve been bombarded with irrelevant messages from you in the past.

Crenshaw’s fifth rule to break is one that I believe should have more emphasis in the world of PR. This states that by training your company spokesperson, you are guaranteed to get the message across. Unfortunately, there are times that a speaker is not meant to be in front of the media. A PR pro does not want their company spokesperson to sound insincere, overly commercial, or fake in their responses. This would definitely take a toll on the effectiveness of the message, and could even hurt them or their reputation as the public could deem a hesitant speaker as dishonest.

The sixth rule-to-break is one I also had some experience with this summer; Crenshaw writes that the PR person should be making it happen in the background. I worked with a very “upfront” PR professional. She believed her presence was necessary at every city commissioner meeting, ribbon cutting, and company event. In having her presence at the forefront of company events, she built a much more successful relationship with the company’s executives, and they felt confident that she knew what she was talking about. In providing that level of support – in essence, the feeling that if something happened, she would be ready – my boss increased her own value to the company. Isn’t that what it’s about?

Finally, Crenshaw’s seventh rule-to-break is that whenever you are in doubt about the media’s perception of your event, issue or story – hold a press conference. This is unrealistic for many companies, as a press conference may not achieve the desired result. Press conferences have the ability to be successful, but often times they cost the client much more than they are worth. Instead of automatically leaning on the idea that journalists will be attracted to a press briefing, Crenshaw suggests that a company pursues a strategic media approach – where the message can be tailored and intentional.

This article was very interesting because it somewhat goes against what we are taught as students. As our class focuses on the strategic elements of PR campaigns, I’m sure that we will take more time to examine how different plans of action will be relevant in various circumstances; there is not a cookie-cutter answer to fit all companies’ problems. I believe that there is no absolute right answer as to how to approach a client’s issue, and it will take some adjustment of these PR “rules” to come up with an individualized, effective plan to bring success to your client.

Review: 5 PR Lessons From Fantasy Football

Note: These article reviews are being completed for my PR Campaigns class; however, I feel as though these PR articles are too interesting not to share. I hope you learn as much from them as I did! Links to the articles are provided below.

Manocchio, A. (2014, Aug. 26). “5 PR lessons from fantasy football.” PR Daily. Retrieved 27 Aug. 2014 from http://www.prdaily.com/mediarelations/Articles/17144.aspx

In honor of the ever popular Fantasy Football season, I chose my article review to be based on Alexa Manocchio’s “5 PR Lessons From Fantasy Football.”

This article wittily compares PR to the lessons learned from fantasy football using sporty terms and team analogies. First of all, she states that it is important for a PR person to “know his/her stats.” Just like in football, there are people that are incredibly skilled in certain areas of their work and others who may be better doing another task. In understanding the people with whom you work, you can be effective in your message by doing your research. This can apply to both people and publications.

Targeting your message to a specific beat reporter will most likely be much more successful than giving a generalized release to a wide variety of people. Along the same lines, be intentional in your publication choice. What will be the most beneficial to your client? What has worked in the past? In understanding the “stats” of those with whom you’re dealing, your PR strategies will be much more effective.

Manocchio’s second fantasy football lesson is that you could “lose on any given Sunday.” This addresses the idea that in PR, you can have an upset/incident regardless of how prepared you are. Things will occasionally happen. If something unforeseen occurs, your energy needs to be refocused into learning from the mistake and addressing the issue in the future.

The third lesson the author gives is one that is especially relevant to our communication strategies today – “stay up to the minute.” There are constantly things happening in the world of communications – be it mergers, events, crises, or huge stories. If you do not stay engaged, or on top of what is going on in the world around you, you (and your client) may miss out on the chance to be included. Staying current with what is happening in the industry will not only benefit your clients and their best interests, but also will allow you to be more effective in your public relations – making you a much more valuable asset.

The fourth fantasy football lesson that we’re given is based on the importance of interactivity. People do not want to feel as though they are bystanders to the action. A great (and unintentional) example of the importance of interactivity can be seen with the recent spike in donations to ALSA via the ice bucket challenge. People want to have the chance to take part in something where they feel as though they are needed, they are valued, and they make a difference. PR campaigns that engage the public are generally much more successful than those with a side-lined audience. With the introduction of interactivity, the PR effort is much more targeted and intentional, allowing the company to better engage customers.

Finally, Manocchio’s fifth fantasy football lesson is that “collaboration leads to wins.” This plays somewhat into the first lesson, as understanding the strengths and weaknesses of those with whom you work will make your end result much more successful. Collaboration brings fresh ideas, thorough plans, and new perspectives that may be otherwise overlooked. This also could be collaboration with your client; understanding the company’s goals and desires for the campaign will give insight on how to address it strategically. When each of these individual elements are given attention, the communication is directed toward the end goal.

I thought that this article made a lot of great points. It is important to address that much of PR is based in thoughtful, well-researched, calculated and strategic decisions rather than rash choices. Staying current is especially crucial, as there are constant decisions and opportunities that affect the choices you would need to make for a client. In conjunction with staying in-the-know comes the concept of interactivity. A good PR person would see the effects/success of an interactive PR campaign (because they did their up-to-the-minute research!) as compared to one that did not engage the audience; he or she could choose a course of action from this point. In this way, all of these elements are interwoven when considering how to build a successful PR campaign.

You’re Only As Awkward As You Think You Are

What have I learned as a PR intern? You’re only as awkward as you think you are.

If you know me, you’ll know that I am a self-proclaimed awkwardite who creates somewhat awkward situations unintentionally and often holds eye contact for that extra second where it becomes awkward.

As a communication student, however, it’s very important to have a certain degree of communication skills (literally, it’s a degree in communication) to be successful in your career. Here are a few tidbits of unconvential advice I’ve scraped together in my summer internship.

1. When you shake someone’s hand, especially the CEO of a company, don’t pull a wet noodle.

This has caught me off guard before. When you’re not mentally prepared for a handshake, you end up either putting your thumb in the wrong place – which gets REALLY weird – or you end up limply shaking their hand. Neither are positive things that demonstrate you’re a serious professional.

So, if you think about the handshake before diving in, it won’t catch you by surprise. Eye contact, firm (but not Hulk Hogan), and brief. Don’t force it; let it be a natural part of your communication. By the end of the summer, I finally had a good handshake. It takes time.

2. “See ya!” is not an appropriate way to say farewell at a work function, even if they’re around your age.

Boy was this a painful one for me. I thought about that “see ya” for weeks after it happened, cringing at the fact that I chose those words to leave a (not-so) lasting impression on communication professionals. I thought, why do I have to be so awkward? And, I exaggerated that scenario in my mind so much so that I pretty much concluded I should never speak again. You’re only as awkward as you think you are.

This is where the second chance comes in! I hope that you, also, will receive a second chance at the “see ya” nightmare. When I saw this same person again at a different meeting, I made sure that I left them with a pleasant, “Nice to see you again!” I’d also avoid the “Have a great life!” and “Catch ya on the flip side!” scenarios.

3. Even when you don’t think you’ll need an intern notebook, you’ll need an intern notebook.

I carried around a lined notebook for the first month and a half of my internship, and never cracked it open. Well, I think I may have doodled on the front cover at one point, but I never actually took notes. One day, I was heading to a meeting and thought, “Nah. I’ve never used that notebook before, and I’ll probably never need it again.” And, guess what was the first thing I was told? “Abbi, can you take some notes?”

I put myself in the awkward situation of having to say, “I don’t have any paper.” I didn’t even – the shame! – have a writing utensil because it was still attached to my notebook. Do not be the intern without paper! In addition, do not take notes on your cellphone. It looks like you’re texting, which in turn gives the impression that you’re not paying attention to what’s going on and not taking your job seriously.

4. Find the balance of introducing yourself to networking connections but not being an overbearing, desperate student.

This is a tough one. I’ve attended various meetings this summer with many people whose salaries are probably worth more than my life. I’ve met a few in passing, and some even remember who I am. “Aren’t you the girl that wore the purple tights?”

Once you’ve met someone, what is the appropriate relationship to have with them? I’ve spent my fair share of meetings waiting on the side for something to happen, someone to communicate with. And, in retrospect, this isn’t how it should work.

Obviously, I wouldn’t suggest waltzing up to the company President and asking him questions about his life while he’s in the middle of an interview. However, it’s okay for you to show interest. Ask how long she’s worked with the company, what he loves most about his job, or if he has any advice for an intern trying to make an impression. Generally, people want to be engaged in conversation instead of awkwardly standing around. I wish I would have figured this one out a little sooner in my internship.

5. Remember the name.

When you’re introduced, make an actual effort to remember to whom you are speaking. It will save you hours of unsuccessful internet searching. I met this woman at one of the meetings I attended who works in traffic engineering. She seemed genuinely interested in me and my work (and as an intern, you take what you can get!) and also happened to have a great professional fashion sense.

I met this woman probably on three separate occasions, and each time she remembered my name and reminded me of hers.

(Side bar: DO NOT ever act disinterested when someone is talking to you, even unintentionally. If they’re taking time to talk to an intern, you take that opportunity and you RUN WITH IT. WHOLEHEARTEDLY.)

Anyways, so I thought about this particular connection one night and realized I still had no idea what her name was – even though it had been spoken to me about four times in conversation. And, I very well couldn’t demonstrate to my supervisor that I had been irresponsible in my name-remembering! So, I did what any good 21st century communication student would do and googled everything I could remember about this woman.

Apparently the Google odds were not in my favor that evening, because I found absolutely nothing as to who she may be. Plus, it’s very difficult to find someone without their name to go on. Finally, I gave up.

Again, praise the Lord for second chances! I saw this same woman at a meeting I attended last night, and (without specifically addressing her by name of course) made some small talk. Then, miracle of miracles, I heard her introduce herself to someone else. You better believe I will NEVER forget that woman’s name.

Make it easy on yourself and just remember their name the first time. Don’t tune out that little section of the conversation, because it will bite you in the tushy later. I could’ve saved myself many an awkward, “I’m Amy, remember? We’ve met at the past three meetings?” if I just had taken the time to remember her name.

Aside from your own personal embarrassment, remembering someone’s name demonstrates that you are assigning value to who they are. If you care enough to make that connection, you need to care enough to remember the most basic information about who a person is.

These are five small things that have made a huge impact on my perception of communication in practice. If you are confident in who you are, and the skills you have to offer, you will be much more pleasant as an intern (and, a professional!). Don’t wait on the sidelines for the communication to come your way – pursue it yourself. After all, isn’t that what sets us apart?

PR in Sports: Lebron’s Letter in Sports Illustrated

As someone who doesn’t usually follow professional basketball, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do this post justice. However, one thing in which I am confident is how public relations is used to effectively market individuals and businesses. NBA superstar and international sports icon Lebron James recently wrote an eloquent letter about his choice to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers that had PR professionals shaking their heads in awe.

In 2010, Lebron announced he’d be leaving Cleveland after seven seasons with the Cavs in a highly publicized ESPN interview. His major decision – which infuriated many – was broadcasted through an incredibly effective, trusted sports outlet. Everyone knew about the choice. I wasn’t even in the country at this point, much less a basketball fan, and I knew that Lebron was joining the Miami Heat.

Last Friday, James announced that he was coming back to Cleveland through a very personal, professional letter he released as told to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins. In the letter, he addressed his heart for Ohio, his decision in originally choosing Miami, as well as his choice to return to the Cavs. The letter is straight-to-the-point, low-key, and tells the audience exactly what they need to hear.

And, this letter was released through one of the most trusted print media sources for sports’ news. This reminds us: when you have crucial information to distribute -particularly when it affects numerous stakeholders – you should head towards packing a wallop with an incredibly reliable source.

This method of releasing information is very unlike the PR strategies of today. The letter is starkly different from James’ announcement in 2010 – no millions watching, no bombardment of questions, no chaotic circus of media frenzy.

Lebron’s letter was probably the smartest PR choice for his announcement. His letter addresses that he takes the move seriously, and plans to work hard in his new position. “I’m not having a press conference or a party,” the letter says. “After this, it’s time to get to work.”

The letter also demonstrates the athlete’s willingness to be transparent in the communication of his decision. He anticipated the arguments that his departure was based on tension with teammates, to which he responds: “I’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted. I don’t want anyone thinking: He and Erik Spoelstra didn’t get along. … He and Riles didn’t get along. … The Heat couldn’t put the right team together. That’s absolutely not true.”

Finally, James grabs us with pathos. According to the letter, his return to the Cavaliers goes beyond his desire to play basketball. Instead, the choice focuses on what he calls his “responsibility to lead” – his desire to help shape the community into what he believes the future may hold.

Lebron combines factual information with an emotionally charged appeal. His choice to submit his decision via letter not only boosted the traffic to the Sports Illustrated site, but also allowed him to shape his words and opinions without the pressure of a media circus.

The lessons?

1. Give your audience what they want.

2. Be practical.

3. Be transparent.

4. Be strategic in your message.

Perhaps you too will garner over 35,000 Facebook shares.