Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ringing in 2008 with a new blog at WordPress

Welcome to 2008. I greeted the New Year with a box of tissues and a sore throat. My immune system always chooses the best times to break down.

Since getting out of bed requires more energy than I have at the moment, I've spent my first two days in 2008 watching all my teams lose their bowl games, sleeping, and surfing the Internet. It's truly a thrilling life that I lead. I should have my own reality TV show. Now, that's a scary thought.

To get back on track, 2008 is here. The first thing I'm trying to accomplish this year is moving my blog over to WordPress. The link is so please check it out and change subscriptions/blogrolls/bookmarks accordingly.

Before my cold medicine wears off, I want to thank everyone who has read and interacted on my blog. I've only been blogging for two months, but I already feel like part of the online PR community. I hope I can keep writing posts that inform, entertain, and interest you so you'll keep coming back. I wish you all a very happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Globalization: How Living in Madrid Helped Me Understand the Role of PR

I spent last summer studying Spanish in Madrid. I had never traveled outside the U.S. before, and while I packed for my trip, I thought about my expectations for the summer.

I wanted to converse in Spanish over tapas and sangria at a sidewalk café in Plaza Mayor.

I wanted to bargain for a beautiful piece of local art with a street vendor in the narrow streets of Toledo.

I wanted to take Spanish-speaking tours through castles filled with history, knights' armor, and intricate architecture.

I wanted to bask in the sun on the coast of the Mediterranean in AndalucĂ­a while people-watching for countless, lazy hours.

Sitting here now, browsing through my pictures from the trip, I realize that I did all of these things. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to live in another country because I gained a little world perspective from each of these experiences.

I also see how living in Madrid benefitted my future as a PR professional. As a communicator, I realized what it means to separate yourself from your own culture and to embrace someone else's. I learned to appreciate cultural differences without losing sight of my own beliefs and traditions. I finally understood globalization, and what it means for the future of corporate America.

As our world becomes flatter, it's important to develop cultural competency. There are a lot of examples of PR campaigns and media coverage that show a prominent Western bias—and we have to be careful of this, especially those in PR. It is the responsibility of PR practitioners to provide counsel to our clients, and to know how audiences will receive certain messages. We have to think about where campaigns are being launched and understand exactly how a different culture might decipher a speech, ad, or article.

  • Will it have the same effect as it would in the U.S.?
  • How does the message translate from English to another language?
  • Will it offend anyone?
  • Will the audience understand the concept or humor?

These are important questions that should be common sense, but sometimes in our hurry to develop the next big campaign, we forget to evaluate all the possible outcomes, especially from the perspective of another culture.

There's no escaping globalization. Cultures are cross-pollinating, melding into one another while simultaneously trying to remain as distinct as possible. Being an effective communicator does not stop at the edge of the United States, but the skills we develop should allow our clients' messages to transcend borders and cultures. But that doesn't mean we should impose our own culture on anyone else—it's finding that balance that is key.

**I know how lucky I was to live abroad, and that not everyone can do it. Believe me, I never thought I would be able to do it either. Before I received this opportunity, I took several courses about international relations, foreign languages, and world history. I can't stress enough how valuable these classes were in preparing me for work in a global economy. I'm taking two more this semester if any of my peers from USF want to join me. Let me know, and I'll give you the course information.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I’ll Have 101 Media Placements, Please—Hold the Strategic Planning and Relationship Building

Can you imagine lawyers who only required payment if they won your case? Or doctors who made you pay only if they cured you? What about PR agencies that charged you solely based on media placements? These instances seem outlandish, but the latter practice is growing in popularity among small business owners.

I recently joined YoungPRPros, a list serv for those in the first 10 years of their careers, and I've been following the hot topic of pay-per-placement PR for a couple of days now as young professionals debate the issue.

The buzz started with the Wall Street Journal article "Pay for PR—But Only When It Works", which discusses the pros and cons of hiring a PR firm and paying it based on the number of media placements it acquires. While this may benefit small businesses without the resources to pay expensive retainer fees, it also demeans the PR industry.

Even as a student, I realize that PR goes beyond landing stories in the media. PR practitioners provide counsel, they develop relationships on behalf of the client, and they launch campaigns that aren't entirely media-focused. If a client is paying per placement, PR professionals will cut out these other services to focus on placing stories so they get paid well. This eliminates functions that differentiate public relations from publicists or press agents.

I understand that small businesses sometimes struggle to afford PR services, but if they were ever featured in a top-tier publication, they would be footing the bill of a hefty placement fee. A better investment would be a full-service PR firm responsible for media placements, relationship building, branding, AND strategic planning.

I don't think there is enough support for pay-per-placement PR to make it a mainstay in the industry, but it is interesting to look at the different billing options available for both clients and practitioners.

To maintain the integrity of PR as a strategic business function, I don't think I'm going to be championing for placement-billing PR anytime soon.

Are you?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Blasts from the Past: 17 Posts that Should Be Revisited

Blogging has quickly become my favorite pastime. And while I love this new hobby, I think I've found one downfall to the blogosphere. There is so much information out there that great posts get lost in the archives!

Before you doubt my common sense, let me explain myself. Yes, archives allow readers to go back in time and find previous posts about topics that interest them, but how many of us actually do that? I know I don't have enough time to browse the extensive archives of my entire blogroll.

Well, at least I didn't—but now that school's out for winter break, I have plenty of time to do the grunt work. Luckily, I'm in the Christmas spirit and feeling generous with my newfound knowledge.

Below are some of the most informative blogs I've found tucked away in some amazing bloggers' archives. They're especially great for students trying to learn more about the field or for professionals trying to brush up their skills. Read, learn, and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The 13 Questions I'm Asking Right Now - Maybe YOU Can Help

I need some help down here at the bottom of the young PR professional barrel. I just realized that I'm graduating in four months. Sixteen weeks. Four courses. The freak-out has officially begun. I'm not alone, either. Many of my peers are starting to get that throat-closing, palm sweating, head pounding anticipation of entering the real world, and we could use all the help we can get. If you are in a philanthropic mood, please take the time to answer some of these tough questions. I promise I'll share with my classmates.

  • When should students graduating in May start sending out resumes?
  • Are job finder websites like Career Builder and Monster worthwhile tools during the job search process?
  • If you want to work in a city different than the one you live in now, what is the best way to build a long-distance network?
  • What and how much should go into a portfolio? Should we anticipate leaving copies with prospective employers?
  • Are digital portfolios replacing traditional ones? Should we have both? Which is better?
  • What type of writing tests are used in job interviews?
  • What is the best outfit to wear to a job interview for both genders? Is a suit the best option?
  • How can you negotiate salaries tactfully?
  • Are e-mail thank you notes acceptable? How do you know if a standard letter will get to the company before it makes a decision?
  • Do you have to have internships with big-name companies/agencies to land a job with a prominent firm?
  • What if you don't know anyone at an agency where you are applying? Do you still have a chance?
  • If you have ever interviewed someone, what is the BEST and the WORST thing that a candidate did in an interview?
  • What other questions should we be asking?

Please feel free to answer any of the above questions in the comments section. I'll appreciate it!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Take a Break - Quotes to Stretch Your Mind

I'm a quote fiend. I might even go as far as to say I'm obsessed with great quotes. Post-it notes with sloppily scrawled one-liners litter my dorm room. I'm the nerd who has to have a piece of paper and a pen near her when she reads or watches TV. Someone says or writes something thought-provoking, you can guarantee I'm jotting it down. Because this collection is overwhelming my cardboard box of a room and I'm probably going to be tossing them out soon, I figured I'd share some of the best. Enjoy!

"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is far worse than the suffering itself, and no heart has ever suffered when it's gone in search of its dreams." - from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

"The best way is not to fight it, just go. Don't be trying all the time to fix things. What you run from only stays with you longer. When you fight something, you only make it stronger." - from Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

"It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything." - from Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

"We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result." - Edward R. Murrow

“All my life I've looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.” - Ernest Hemingway

"Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts." - Guy Pearce in Memento

“Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it's at the end of your arm, as you get older, remember you have another hand: The first is to help yourself, the second is to help others.” - Audrey Hepburn

Sunday, December 9, 2007

And You Wonder Why I’m Scared to Pitch?

I like challenges, and I like having to overcome obstacles to achieve goals. Pitching is certainly a challenge, but I'm not so sure it's one I like, especially with all the negative attention PR professionals have been getting because of it lately.

I remember the first time I had to pitch a story to a local newspaper when I was a lowly first-year intern. As I dialed the number, I rehearsed a script in my head, trying to ignore the beads of sweat gathering on my palms. I felt nervous pangs building up in my stomach, and waves of dread engulfed me when I heard a voice answer the line. Heart pounding, I forced a confident introduction and asked to speak to the journalist I was pitching, only to discover she would be out of town for the rest of the week.

Pitching is an important part of public relations, and I hoped my fears would subside with practice. I was feeling more confident talking to the media at my latest internships, but that was before I entered the blogosphere.

I've stumbled across several blogs that make me terrified to contact the media. PR people are addressed as flacks. We're black listed. We're being called names. I feel like the awkward girl in middle school who everyone makes fun for every miniscule thing she does. Okay—so that's pretty melodramatic, but let's get serious. Isn't this battle between journalists and PR practitioners getting a little ridiculous?

Because I used to be a journalism major who worked at a paper, I know the importance of press releases in the news room. They helped me come up with story ideas when I was suffering from writer's block several times. Some of the editors complained about the PR firms that sent out mass releases, but for the most part, the paper appreciated the efforts of PR professionals. The reason this relationship worked? Because it was just that—a relationship.

The deterioration of the journalist/PR relationship is the root of this battle of the professions. There are some blogs attacking PR that make valid claims. Chris Anderson was fed up with the spam-like nature of press releases he received. Nicholas Carlson received a release complete with drafting and editing marks. Maybe some PR people are getting lazy, and that's reflecting poorly on the industry as a whole, but what about the rest of us?

Throughout my PR education I've learned that pitching to the media should be based on a mutually beneficial relationship. This seems like common sense to me, but how can we form relationships when we're being silenced before we even get the chance to introduce ourselves?

Gene Weingarten's recent Washington Post article, "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You… Names" is what worries me the most. Here, a PR firm contacts Weingarten to get his opinion on the best ways to contact him. It seems like good-natured communication, but Weingarten rips the firm to shreds with sarcastic answers and a slew of insults. This is exactly why my blood pressure skyrockets every time I have to contact a journalist.

Pitching is about building relationships, but where do we PR professionals (especially students) begin making these connections? I would love to go out and grab coffee with as many journalists as possible-- and I have in the past-- but am I supposed to do this with every journalist I could potentially pitch?

I know there's no magic formula that will make me competent at pitching, but because it's such a valued skill in this industry, I'd like all the advice I can get. Students, professors, professionals, and journalists—I'll appreciate all the insight you can give me so that one of mistakes isn't floating around the blogosphere for everyone to mock.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Technology Will Change Sports Marketing

When people ask me to describe myself, I always hit them with this oxymoron: I'm the girliest tomboy you'll ever meet. New friends are always shocked when I tune them out because the Red Sox game is on, or when I'm standing on my soap box, vehemently preaching for a college football playoff system (don't even get me started on the BCS bowl selections right now).

I've grown up around the sports industry, and working in it has always appealed to me. I think it might be the challenges that women in the male-dominated industry face, or that no two days are exactly the same for practitioners in the field. They deal with crises regularly-- coaches' tirades, law suits, drug scandals, injuries, murders. But as a whole, the sports industry, especially in terms of communications, has been making immense strides in the past few months as it addresses and overcomes these challenges.

As a sports enthusiast, I usually log onto ESPN's website ten times a day. It's not that I pride myself on staying up-to-date on every minute sports statistic, but I've discovered that some of the best journalists in today's market write for ESPN. One of my favorite columnists, Bill Simmons, published a column this week called "A Letter to the Junior High Sports Guy." If you're a sports fan, I highly recommend reading this article. If you're a mass media fan, I highly recommend reading this article. It's an entertaining, informative piece that discusses how spoiled our culture has become in an age characterized by constant advancement in technology.

The fact that Simmons is a huge Red Sox fan is not the only reason why I agree with him. Getting together with a group of friends to catch the big game at a bar used to be the norm, but now people crowd around their Plasma TVs to watch expensive sports' packages that entitle them to hours of nonstop games. But, if a game is blacked out, people will whine and complain about the inefficiency of the broadcasting system. I can't lie—my friends and I are guilty of this, and I have to give Simmons a lot of kudos for calling us all out.

Another interesting point that Simmons makes is that "nobody has to leave their house to follow sports anymore." This includes actually going to a sporting event at the team's stadium. Small market teams in the NFL, like the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars, are having a difficult time filling their stadiums to a capacity that prevents television blackouts.

Is this because the fan base is waning, or because fans would rather watch the game from their own living rooms, hoping enough other fans purchase tickets? Sure, this is a long shot—going to NFL games is getting pretty expensive, which could play a huge factor in fan turnout, but you have to wonder what the effect of cable packages will be on the sports industry in the long run.

From a communications standpoint, this could prove to be a demanding challenge for those in sports PR and advertising. How will the communicators market sporting events if fans are perfectly content cheering on their favorite teams from their sofas? This is something I look forward to following in the upcoming months, but until then, I have to commend Simmons for putting this avid sports fan in her place.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kudos to NBC Universal’s Green Week

A recent post of mine revealed my skepticism about companies' commitment to social responsibility, especially those that claim to be "green." As I was perusing the PR Week website, I stumbled upon a recent article about NBC Universal's launch of Green Week, a week filled with green-themed programming that will "make NBCU the leading green media company," according to Lauren Zalaznick, coordinator of the campaign.

I read the article hoping the campaign was genuine and not a sly attempt to increase viewership. Then, I realized I was being entirely too pessimistic. Companies HAVE to make money to succeed, and if they can implement campaigns that will benefit some aspect of society, then I'm okay with it, no matter what their true intentions may be.

By incorporating all aspects of the company, NBCU capitalized on the green trend while educating both employees and viewers about the importance of sustainability and conservation. I especially liked the Green is Universal website that the company launched concurrently with the television programming.

Sure, Zalaznick admits that NBCU is trying to achieve an increase in advertising revenue and improve ratings, but I don't think that's necessarily a negative take on the Green is Universal campaign. The company seems to be actively engaged in the movement, as shown in its preliminary research that surveyed 16,000 employees on their environmental attitudes. A follow-up survey will also be conducted. This will show how effective the campaign was, and will demonstrate that NBCU improved its brand reputation and bottom line while committing to a significant cause.

So after a lot of deliberation, I decided I support the social responsibility craze that's consuming the corporate world. I hope more companies continue to advocate for these causes, as long as they remain committed long after the trend has faded from the headlines.