Public Reflections II: Definitions of the Past & Present

(Source: Max Borges Agency)

(Source: Max Borges Agency)

Looking back on my first blog post, I realize now that I may not have been entirely correct in my perception of PR.

As the overall definition of public relations has evolved, so has my own personal understanding of the field.

But first, a little history.

Public relations as a profession was born out of the need to manipulate public opinion. In the early days of public relations, various institutions that relied on public support- such as political forums and for-profit businesses- needed an advantage to compete for the limited favor of the general public.

The earliest PR practitioners may have been the Rhetoricians of Ancient Greece, whose job it was to “foster persuasive skills more than it was to determine if arguments and claims were true or false” (Lattimore et al, 2012).

Some time after the Greeks, the Roman Catholic Church created the Congregatio de Propaganda, or the Congregation for Propagating [the Faith], in the 17th century (Lattimore et al, 2012).

An important period in the development of the field of PR came about with the birth of America, founded on the cornerstone of the American Revolution. This makes sense… I mean, a new nation has a lot to prove. According to the fourth edition textbook of Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice, “the ratification of the U.S. Constitution… has been called ‘history’s finest public relations job.'” President Andrew Jackson, not particularly known for his public speaking skills or ability to sway the public to see his side of things, effectively hired the first ever presidential press secretary.

A century later, circus magnate P.T. Barnum solidified the importance of the infant PR industry with the success of his “cold calling” campaigns to local newspapers prior to his attractions arrival to various towns; this could be considered the grandfather of modern-day press releases (Lattimore et al, 2012).

With the foundation of the professional organization of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in 1947, the world became thirsty for a de facto definition: what, exactly, is public relations?

In 1982, the association adopted an “official” definition, that left much to be desired:

Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other (“PRSA’s Old Definition”).

In response to the call for a more updated definition, the PRSA opened the floor for debate in 2011; society executives asked the professionals and publics with vested interest to come up with and decide on a definition, to hopefully define public relations one and for all.

Over the course of a week, 927 potential definitions were submitted for consideration. This was narrowed down to 3 semi-finalists, which were discussed, commented, and expanded upon before voting finally commenced. The winner, with nearly 50 percent of the votes, was implemented as the current, official definition. According to the PRSA:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics (“What Is Public Relations?”).

Naturally, there were fans and critics on both sides of the fence concerning the new definition. PRSA defended the winning statement, claiming that defining public relations “is an ongoing process,” and that the new definition reflects that (Elliott, 2012).

I personally believe the definition is functional and sums up the field quite well; everything I’ve learned until his point substantiates it. We may never get even close to a universal definition for the elusive, mysterious, ever-changing enigma that is PR, but for now, it works if the majority agrees.

 

References:

Lattimore, D., Baskin, O., Heiman, S., Toth, E., and Van Leuven, J. “The History of Public Relations.” Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice. 4th ed. N.p.: McGraw-Hill Education, 2012. 25-28. McGraw-Hill Higher Education. McGraw-Hill Education. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/dl/free/0073512052/930653/Chapter_2.pdf

Elliott, Stuart. “Public Relations Defined, After an Energetic Public Discussion.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 1 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/02/business/media/public-relations-a-topic-that-is-tricky-to-define.html?_r=1&

“PRSA’s Old Definition of Public Relations.” PRSA. Public Relations Society of America, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/PublicRelationsDefined/Old%20Definition#.U0xDieZdXww

“What Is Public Relations? PRSA’s Widely Accepted Definition.” PRSA. Public Relations Society of America, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/PublicRelationsDefined/#.U0w-j-ZdXwy

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Career Aspirations Using PR

Public relations tactics are essential in today’s (business) job market.

You, yourself, are the product, the client, and the marketing firm all in one; landing that “dream job” after college nowadays requires more than just a resumé and a phone call. You must be marketable; you must have a gimmick.

Job-seeking college grads with a business or communications degree are bombarded nonstop with examples of what one article refers to as “Hire Me” Campaigns (Trikha, 2012).

 

hire

(Photo source: oohlalablog.com)

 

These are creative traditional or social media campaigns designed by job hunters to grab the attention of the employer that they seek to work for. Take, for example, the infamous Matt Epstein; his mustachio’d mug starred in a strangely entertaining (but informative) video resume hosted on GooglePleaseHire.Me (Trikha, 2012). Although he didn’t get the job, his efforts echoed the efforts of others jumping in on the “Hire Me Campaign” train.

Many APR students at Grand Valley State University may have already learned about Lindsay Blackwell from Professor Frank Blossom, who teaches Fundamentals of Advertising. Blackwell was a 22-year-old graduate who sought to fill the position of Social Media Director at the University of Michigan. Her campaign, titled, “Dear Lisa Rudgers,” went up and went viral over a single weekend; it successfully reached Lisa Rudgers, the hiring manager, solely through word of mouth. She was never contacted by Blackwell directly.

Just like Epstein, however, Blackwell did not receive the job, but both received much recognition and numerous job offers from other companies wanting their talents on the roster.

This is a trend that isn’t going away anytime soon. In such an advertising-heavy, message-cluttered, college-graduate-saturated society, those looking to get hired to need to come up with new and creative ways to break through. To be seen. This can be done through a “Hire Me Campaign,” resumé candy bar, or some idea so crazy that it hasn’t even come to fruition yet. For myself, I already have eye-catching business cards and a website set up and ready to go.

Although I don’t have any ideas for a revolutionary “get hired NOW” trick (yet), I’ve been doing enough networking these past couple years with the American Marketing Association of Grand Valley that I’ve woven myself a pretty sturdy safety net to fall back on, should an extravagant campaign fail. I’ve got contacts at Red Frog Events, Pandora Radio, even the marketing directors over at the Detroit Red Wings.

CardFront

My business card.

One gimmick of mine already is that I’ve designed my own business cards and website. That’s a decent jump-off point, compared to most students. Maybe I’ll design a blazer jacket for myself with my contact information in big, bold letters on the back, and wear it to every career fair and networking event I attend. Seriously, for now I’m going to focus on my own personal branding until I come across that dream job opportunity that would require me to come up with a gimmick or a campaign to get myself noticed. After all, you can’t build a mansion without first finishing the foundation of a house.

 

Sources:

Moran, L. (February 28, 2013). NY man is viral sensation after ‘candy bar’ resume appears on Reddit. NY Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/man-hailed-candy-bar-resume-article-1.1275798

Trikha, R. (July 16, 2012). Do creative ‘hire me’ campaigns work? CareerBliss.com. Retrieved from http://www.careerbliss.com/advice/creative-hire-me-campaigns-do-they-work/

Tung, E. T. (2012). The Best Social Media Job Application EVER: How 22 Year-Old Lindsay Blackwell Applied for a $110K Job. EricTTung.com. Retrieved from http://ericttung.com/2012/03/06/the-best-social-media-job-application-ever/

How NPOs Measure (S)ROI

Although all functioning business machines are (and very well should be) concerned about Returns on Investment (ROI), nonprofit organizations in particular are slightly more concerned with SROI, or Social Returns on Investment.

sroi

A Social Return on Investment (SROI) is anything of value outside of the financials that is reflected in the actions, attitudes, and atmosphere of the various stakeholders- publics, donors, shareholders, etc.- and social environments of an organization. Widespread publicity, a positive shift in the perceptions of the publics, and increased pledged support from donors due to rejuvenated confidence in the organization are all examples of SROI.

According to a free report from Redbird Communications, titled, “10 Powerful Strategies to Help Non-Profits Demonstrate the ROI of Their Programs,” NPOs are being increasingly pressured by corporate donors “to act and report like businesses… corporate donors want to know the value of their support and the hard facts about what their sponsorship has ‘purchased’ in terms of social or public health improvement.” Some surmise this is because of the aura of uncertainty surrounding the current economic landscape (“Demonstrating the ROI”).

Concerning strictly financial ROI, a 2011 article by Shawn Kendrick on VolunteerHub recommends that NPOs should cut costs whenever possible, because more savings equal a better ROI, which in turn equals a better bottom line. According to Kendrick, “cutting costs” can be any tactic that reduces the waste of time, money, and resources. He also recommends that opportunity costs should be considered; for example, Kendrick warns that downsizing to cut costs may lead to staff members becoming a sort of “Jack of All Trades, Master of None,” and having each of their specialty roles wasted when spread too thin (Kendrick, 2011).

But how does this affect the SROI? And how can we measure it?

Typical ROIs can usually be accounted for: numbers and dollar amounts and other numerical statistics can be collected relatively easily. So how does a NPO “collect” attitudes and perceptions?

By measuring the ROI, and finding a correlation.

Economists Garth Heutel and Richard Zeckhauser suggest in their paper, “The Invest Returns of Nonprofit Organizations: Part I, Tales from 990 Forms,” that SROI may be determined by data retrieved from IRS forms filed by NPOs.

checkJed Emerson, Executive Director of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), published a comprehensive study on SROI measurement through the investment firm with Suzi Chun, a SROI Analyst, and Jay Wachowicz, a REDF Farber intern. The study provides not only a guide to drawing conclusions from ROI, but also processes to properly collect, measure, and analyze SROI, along with concepts for a database system for aggregating ROI and SROI data to find trends (Emerson, 2000).

Following the initiation or execution of a program, a NPO needs to “take the pulse;” that is, the organization should follow up on the attitudes of stakeholders both pre- and post-execution. This can be done through measuring the differences in donations both before and after the program (did monetary support increase or decrease? Why?), measuring the perceptions of stakeholders through primary research (focus groups, questionnaires, etc.), and finally measuring whether or not the perceived benefits of the program outweighed the costs (or vice versa). It’s all very mathematical, and quite frankly, it makes my brain hurt.

The most prominent piece of advice the REDF report offers is that every non-profit organization should invest in an information system “sophisticated enough to engage in the type of analysis presented in [the] paper.” It insists that, to properly track the long-term effects of a program, a complex data system must be established to continuously “feed” information to program managers, developers, and executives. This type of feedback-peddling system would help program managers more readily “quantify the economic value of nonprofit activities,” which can then be presented to satiate the thirst of corporate donors when they come a-knockin’, looking for facts (Emerson, 2000).

 

 

References

“Demonstrating the ROI of your non-profit program to donors.” (2014). Redbird Communications. Retrieved from http://www.redbirdonline.com/blog/demonstrating-roi-your-non-profit-program-donors

Emerson, J., Chun, S., and Wachowicz, J. (2000). The Roberts Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.redf.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/REDF-Box-Set-Vol.-2-SROI-Paper-2000.pdf

Heutel, G., Zeckhauser, R. (February 21, 2013). Nonprofit Management and Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/rzeckhau/EndowmentsPaperPartI.pdf

Kendrick, S. (September 2, 2011). Volunteer Hub. Retrieved from http://www.volunteerhub.com/blog/return-on-investment-for-nonprofits/

Crisis in PR

In today’s society, it isn’t only businesses in the private sector that need to cover their butts; governments and those in authority are also expected to speak for their actions (Ashcroft, 1997).

The officials of the U.S. Customs and Border Control, often more colloquially known as “Border Patrol,” are no strangers to public relations. Their actions in patrolling the international borders of America are often controversial and met with a variety of positive and negative feedback.

This past week, a border patrol agent shot dead a man who was chucking rocks at officers. In a statement released by Border Patrol, the offending agent was excused because “[he] feared for his life and… two people in the country illegally were arrested (The Associated Press, 2014).” The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined charging the agent with a crime.

Last week, the agency came under attack for firing a female agent for having a child. In a statement, they proclaimed, “Customs and Border Protection is dedicated to the health and well-being of all of its employees and is constantly looking for programs and initiatives that positively impact their work environment (Fox News Latino, 2014).”

Back in January, images began circulating of agents teaching children to shoot guns at humanlike targets, creating an uproar in human rights groups, particularly immigrant advocate groups who lobby for more humane treatment of illegal border-crossers. What was Border Patrol’s official response to the outrage?

“This specific activity was meant to create awareness about law enforcement tools used to address some violent situations without the use of deadly force… The U.S. Border Patrol takes pride in participating in community events to help build awareness about our activities and operations (Davis, 2014).”

The biggest issue with Border Patrol’s handling of crisis is their lack of transparency and sincerity. Understandably, when certain controversies are still part of an ongoing investigation, they are limited to what they can say in an official statement; however, when the victims say or do or hear or see one thing to the publics, and then a faceless government authority like Border Patrol says something stale or unrelated in response, a gap of trust is created between the publics and the agency. This does not help the agency’s case.

If Border Patrol wants to win back the hearts and minds of the American people, they need to get their act together. According to Ashcroft, “effective management of information is vital to the operations of most organizations (1997).” If fired mother and ex-agent Sophia Cruz says she was discriminated against (Fox News Latino, 2014), and has the testimony to prove so, Border Patrol should take this into consideration before and after it reaches the media, and craft a human response that they didn’t simply regurgitate from the “Border Patrol Crisis Handbook.”

Sources:

Man shot dead after throwing large rocks at Border Patrol agent near San Diego. (February 19, 2014). The Associated Press. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/man-shot-dead-throwing-large-rocks-border-patrol-agent-san-diego-article-1.1619811

Ashcroft, L.S. (1997). Crisis management – public relations. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 12.5, 325-332. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/215863770

Davis, K. (January 31, 2014). Border Patrol pics anger activists. The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/Jan/31/border-patrol-photo-target-shoot-immigrant/

Fired Border Patrol agent claims agency fired her for trying to be a good mom. (February 13, 2014). Fox News Latino. Retrieved from http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2014/02/13/fired-border-patrol-agent-claims-agency-fired-her-for-trying-to-be-good-mom/

Public Research

Public relations might as well be called “public research.” To me, that’s what it is: research on the public.

Research is the backbone to every and any step in any and every PR campaign. Public relations without research is like spaghetti without marinara, or salad without croutons: no one likes it, and no one understands why they did such a horrible thing.

The primary reason public relations professionals conduct or consult research is to identify who they should be talking to, and how.

Imagine you’re an English-speaking, single male. If a Mandarin-speaking woman came up to you and tried to get you to attend an event on female hygienic products, you’d probably tell her to “get on [your] level.” Like, seriously. Did she even feel you out first? If she would have paid attention [conducted research- with her ears and eyeballs], she would have seen and heard that you’re not interested. You have no need or desire to attend such an event, and now your perception of the hosting organization is tarnished.

Public relations requires both preliminary and “post-liminary” research; the research itself should include both quantitative and qualitative qualities, and should utilize methods of primary and secondary research.

A 2008 study by Tom Watson published in the Journal of Communication Management put into perspective the priorities and objectives that public relations firms should undertake when conducting public relations research. The priorities are, as listed in the study:

  1. Public relations’ contribution to strategic decision-making, strategy development and realisation, and efficient operation of organisations
  2. The value that public relations creates for organisations through building social capital and managing key relationships
  3. The measurement and evaluation of public relations both offline and online
  4. Public relations as a fundamental management function
  5. Professional skills in public relations; analysis of the industry’s need for education
  6. Research into standards of performance among PR professionals; the licensing of practitioners
  7. Management of corporate reputation; management of reputation
  8. Ethics in public relations
  9. Integration of public relations with other communication functions; the scope of public relations practice; discipline boundaries
  10. Management of relationships
  11. Understanding of public relations [AN: The perceptions of clients and employers]
  12. The impact of technology on public relations practice and theory
  13. The role of public relations in community/social responsibility programmes
  14. International issues in public relations; intercultural public relations

Another purpose of the study was also to create research questions that addressed the priorities listed. It is for these above reasons, among others, that the PR industry needs research.

talk

Conducting research not only helps you target and communicate with the correct audience for a successful campaign, but it also opens new channels to get your message out to the masses. Ben Silverman, a journalist, explains in a post on PR Fuel, a weekly online newsletter:

“As a journalist, it wasn’t often that I listened to a public relations pitch. But then there were times when I was three hours from deadline and I still didn’t have a story. During one of those crunch times, I checked my voicemail and there was a new message from a public relations rep named Alyssa Shelasky, pitching me on a story that I would normally ignore. But Alyssa got me interested in a very easy way: she did her research (2009).”

The article was a huge success that mutually benefited both the PR firm and the publication.

A public relations campaign without research might go the way of Abercrombie & Fitch’s 2002 attempt to sell racist t-shirts in their stores, because, in the words of a company spokesperson: “We thought everyone would like these t-shirts” (Guillermo).

If they would have done their research, they would have known– not thought– that nobody would like their t-shirts.

 

Sources:

Guillermo, E. (April 23, 2002). Humoring Ethnic America: Abercrombie & Fitch Still Doesn’t Get It. SF Gate. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/Humoring-Ethnic-America-Abercrombie-Fitch-2847869.php

Silverman, B. (January 7, 2009). Public Relations Basics: Do Your Research. PR Fuel. Retrieved from http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/public-relations-basics-do-your-research/

Watson, T. (2008). Public relations research priorities: a Delphi study. Journal of Communication Management, 12.2, 104-123. Retrieved from ProQuest.

Diversity in PR- Or The Lack Thereof

When I think of the type of people who go into the public relations field, I think of one type and one type only. To be blunt, the image that comes to mind is: white girls. Lots and lots of white girls. White women, to be more politically correct. Caucasian women, to be the most PC here.

Are there white males? Sure, in the advertising department. Are there people of other races, ethnicities, cultures? I’m sure there are. But where are they?

My own public relations classes at GVSU usually consist of roughly 20 white girls [including myself], 5 or 6 men [usually 1 is African-American], and then maybe, maybe 2 or 3 or 4 girls of other races- Asian, Hispanic, Arabic, Black, Mixed Heritage, etc.

Being a “white girl” myself, maybe that’s what I tend to notice: the overwhelming amount of girls like me. A natural type of attraction or gravitation that human beings have to people of our same “type,” following the sense of comfort that comes from self-segregating as early as elementary school. Remember in high school when the black kids would sit on one side of the lunch room and the white kids on the other? Then they would self-segregate further; the cheerleaders together, the artsy kids together, the marching band members together… you remember? You may even notice it still on Grand Valley’s campus.

rachel

Photo courtesy of Grand Valley State University, Photographer: Mitch Ranger

In my preliminary research for writing this post, I found an overwhelming number of articles expressing discontent with the amount of racial diversity in the professional public relations field. Lee Hayes, Chief Client Officer at Lagrant Communications, blogged on The Holmes Report in February of 2013 that efforts to diversify his industry over the course of his 20-year career were severely underwhelming. In his own words, he admits that “white women and members of the LGBT community have risen to senior-level positions at some of the biggest and most prestigious advertising, marketing and PR agencies in the business. But the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at all levels of the communications industry continues to be our profession’s dirty little secret.”

A 2012 communications theses put forth by Amber H. Irizarry from Georgia State University compiled a number of statistics concerning racial and ethnic diversity in various professions. According to the BPRI Group, 79.5% of all public relations positions in the United States are held by Caucasians (p. 8). The study further purports that “minorities” [AN: I hate that word] represent a mere 3.9% of senior management positions and only 13% of non-management positions (p. 8), although according to the U.S. Census Bureau, minorities make up 36.5% of the population as a whole (Hayes, 2013).

Why the disparity? There are many theories, the most prominent of which seems to consider a mix of discrimination and lack of [diversity] education within PR firms.

The Public Relations Society of America, the national professional organization for PR practitioners, has recognized the dire need for racial diversity and has implemented means to achieve it; they created a National Diversity Committee that doubled “diverse” membership from 7% to 14% between 2005 and 2010 (Irizarry, 2012, p. 8).

A study by Anne M. McMahon published in the 2010 Journal of Diversity Management (p. 37-48) found a positive correlation between racial diversity in the workforce and long-term firm performance. The same study also found that “women and non-whites have more positive UDO [Universal-Diverse Orientation] attitudes,” meaning that these groups of people are more open to incorporating persons of different races and ethnicities other than their own into the workplace (p. 40).

A field dominated by women with UDO attitudes is ripe for the diverse picking. I recommend that PR firms take advantage of the current socio-political state and work towards incorporating persons of varying genders, familial backgrounds, races, ethnicities, nationalities, ages, marital statuses, etcetera etcetera to benefit themselves in the long run.

Sources:

Hayes, L. (2013). Lack of Diverrsity Is PR Industry’s Dirty Little Secret. The Holmes Report. Retrieved from http://holmesreport.com/opinion-info/13071/Lack-Of-Diversity-Is-PR-Industrys-Dirty-Little-Secret.aspx

Irizarry, A. H. (2012). Understanding Diversity: Top Executives’Perceptions of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Public Relations. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=communication_theses

McMahon, A. M. (2010). Does Workplace Diversity Matter? A Survey Of Empirical Studies On Diversity And Firm Performance, 2000-09. Journal of Diversity Management, 5.2, 37-48. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/506632206#

Public Reflections

“Public relations as a business is the art of cleaning up after or exploiting someone else’s mess for profit or gain (financial or otherwise).”

On a more serious note, I believe that public relations is simply the field of manipulative, strategic communication(s). As I sit here, listening to an old song I rediscovered on my old tumblr blog (circa 2011), I wonder what to type. What do I believe now about public relations? The study of it? The execution? What will I believe one week, one semester from now? What do I write here?

I’ve always seemed to solely experience PR in times of crisis. Microsoft drops the bomb on their next-gen console and pushes away a segment of their target market; Sony capitalizes on this by bringing that segment to their side with some clever statements and snide remarks. That’s PR. Someone hacks Target’s systems and steals crazy confidential credit card information. Target apologizes and rushes to recover; that’s PR. Some redneck from A&E spills the beans on his anti-marriage equality stance, and suddenly the network is scrambling to undo the “damage.” That’s PR. Two planes destroy the Twin Towers in NYC, and President Bush comes on the screen, telling me that we must declare war on terror… That’s PR.

Obviously, if I take the time to actually sit and ponder upon it, I would realize what PR actually is. Reactive press conferences just barely scratch the surface of the depths of what public relations truly is (are?). Promotional events: advertising, yes, but public relations more so. Then again, advertising and public relations must work hand-in-hand to achieve their common goal. So many of the communications between provider and consumer are the brainchild of an expert public relations team. It is often the advertising creatives that must put the concept to visuals and spread the word.

This semester I hope to expand upon my understanding of the field of public relations and the culture of the industry through both my classes and personal research. As an advertising major, it could do me a world of good to absorb the knowledge like a sponge.

The song, if anyone is curious, is Hiding Out by Sucré.