Category Archives: Formalities Darling

Political Claustrophobia

A PR pro once said, “Public Relations has cluttered our already choked channels of communication with the debris of pseudo-events and phony sound bites that confuse rather than clarify.”

"We're gonna need some Aloe Vera for that burn..."

Ouch, we’re going to need some Aloe Vera for that burn.

This is how Guth and Marsh decided to end their chapter on Political and Public Policy Communication–with a biting quote from the late public relations educator, Scott Cutlip. I don’t mean to argue with the deceased, but wasn’t this the natural progression of politics? I’m not sure if we can justly blame public relations for “choking” communication in public affairs…but maybe we can?

Truthfully, I’m torn on this matter. If political campaigns are all about presenting a positive image for a candidate, does that mean there is an inherent “spin” factor? I remember learning about propaganda techniques in high school; such as card stacking, testimonials, and glittering generalities. I can’t help but read the descriptions of these unethical means of persuasion and see some overlap in public relations.

For example, Glittering Generalities is defined as, “words that have different positive meaning for individual subjects, but are linked to highly valued concepts. When these words are used, they demand approval without thinking, simply because such an important concept is involved.” Remind you of anyone? Think Quest has a full list of techniques if you are interested in learning more.

When I think about PR and politics, I am reminded of a book I read a few years ago called Boomsday, by Christopher Buckley. In short, the book follows “a morally superior twenty-nine-year-old PR chick” and blogger (oh God, remind you of anyone?) who aids in a controversial political campaign. The story is set in the near future where the American population is struggling to support the large baby-boomer population as they enter retirement. The PR chick councils her client, a presidential hopeful, to campaign for government incentives for euthanasia of the elderly.

Say what?!

Turns out the PR chick did not actually believe euthanasia was the answer; her efforts were meant to bring attention to her client and the issue at hand. Thankfully this is a work of fiction because it is wrought with unethical behavior. The book does, however, represent the power of public relations and campaigning in politics.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the many faces involved in a political campaign—like what is the deal with lobbyists?  According to NPR, lobbyists have similar goals to PR professionals, but “lobbyists have to disclose their activities. PR professionals do not.” Now that is a loaded statement! The NPR broadcast, Under the Radar, PR’s Political Savvy, takes a direct stance on the work of PR professionals in politics. Needless to say, the broadcast is less than favorable to the profession.

The broadcast received criticism from practicing PR professionals who use the PRSA as their religion. One commenter argued, “This is incorrect, at least for the 32,000 PR professionals in the U.S. who abide by the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics.” Perhaps as a young professional, I am able to see both sides of this argument. I mean really, how does the PRSA enforce ethical practices?

I have every intention of practicing PR in a fair and just manner, but I can’t speak for others in the field. After all, there are always a few bad apples in every orchard. But does that mean you should burn the thing down? I hope that a few bad apples won’t undermine the integrity of the public relations profession.

My advice? Don’t do drugs and stay out of politics.

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Soup of the Day: America

So we’ve talked about every public known to man; businesses, consumers, media, communities, and all that jazz. But what about all the little nuances of each of those sub-groups? Take consumers for example, they are so diverse! They can’t just be clumped together in one big ball, you have to treat every one like the shining star they really are.

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"America has been called a melting pot, but I think that is in reference to more of a soup than a fondue."

In Adventures in Public Relations, my dear friends Guth an Marsh discuss cross-cultural communications. The basic jist is that you have to be aware of the differences in cultures–not just internationally, but domestically as well. America has been called a melting pot, but I think that is in reference to more of a soup than a fondue. By that I mean that you can distinguish the different parts of the whole.

Culture can be defined in many different ways, but Guth and Marsh offer an all encompassing definition:

“Culture refers to a group or community with which we share common experiences that shape the way we understand the world.”

Different ethnic groups are the most obvious example of cultural differences that may require special attention. A well-known example in the communications world happened when an America company tried to supply African citizens with their product. They offered the African people jars of baby food with a picture of a baby on the label. The people were horrified because they thought they were being served ground up babies. If the supplier had done its research, it would have known that, in Africa, the picture on the label of food is an indication of its ingredients. Yikes!

There are many case studies in which cultural and language differences between a company and its consumers led to miscommunication. It is important to do your homework before positioning a campaign–especially when targeting an unfamiliar culture. The site Kwintessential.com has a few more real life (real funny) examples.There are some valuable lessons to be learned from these PR slip-ups.

It’s not easy to communicate with a population as diverse as America’s. These things happen everyday! Ben & Jerry’s recently issued an apology after putting fortune cookie pieces in a limited time flavor, “Linsanity.” The flavor was intended to celebrate the Taiwanese born basketball star, Jeremy Lin, but it inadvertently offended some people. Ben & Jerry’s is known for their celebration of diversity and did the right thing by responding to their publics with honesty and sincerity. This just goes to show how difficult it is to predict how people will react!

To wrap this up, I thought I would share a touching and quite strategic move in cross-cultural communication. The South African burger chain, Whimpy, gained over 800,000 media impressions (and counting) when they created a campaign specifically for blind individuals. Yes, disabled individuals are a whole other culture to consider.  Trust me, I studied the American deaf culture and language for four years. It’s fascinating, complicated stuff!

Anyway, the burger chain arranged sesame seeds on burger buns to spell out words and phases in braille, such as “100% beef.” They then surprised fifteen blind individuals by asking them to feel the bun before eating it. You have to watch the video to understand the feel-good nature of the campaign! Their efforts showed that they are both culturally sensitive and creative.Image

Other companies could learn a thing or two from this campaign. Plus, it’s just plain nice. Now go watch the video and smile!

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You’re the PB to my J <3

"You are my best friend, the ying to my yang, the PB to my J--and I love you...NOW RUN MY STORY."

Dear members of the media,

You are my best friend, the ying to my yang, the PB to my J–and I love you…NOW RUN MY STORY.

I have no problem admitting; Public Relations professionals are nothing without the support of the media. If investors are the sugar daddy, then members of the media are our best friends. Before I go any further, let me clarify who exactly classifies as “media.” I’m talking about print journalists, TV news reporters, bloggers (sometimes), and publicists.

They are there in good times and in bad, whether we like it or not.  PR professionals and the media often work together, but like all friendships, it is important to have an equal sharing of support.

In Adventures in Public Relations, my boys Guth and Marsh say it best, “although reporters are not the only target public important to your organizations, they sometimes are the most important.” The best PR practitioners understand this fact and do not abuse their relationships with members of the media. One of the biggest mistakes a PR professional can make is bombarding reporters with useless information. It’s about the quality and not quantity of the pitch.

Female  activist, Martha Burk, learned this the hard way when she tried to protest the Augusta National Golf Club back in 2002. The club prohibits female membership and Martha did not like that one bit. Her campaign to news media and advertisers was moderately successful until she started grasping at straws with this little statement, “It’s appalling when women who are willing to lay down their lives for democratic ideals should be shut out of this club.” Members of the news media, and public alike, felt this argument was a distasteful ploy to gain publicity. The American Journalism Review printed a great article about the debacle and whether it deserved all of the media coverage it garnered. I know it’s long, but it offers insight from the journalists’ perspectives!

Media Relations is closely knit in the world of PR. With that in mind, the Harvard Business Journal recently printed an article, “Your PR Efforts May Be Hurting You,” warning practitioners to be careful of how they conduct their media relations. The author, former journalist Alex Goldfayn, says that PR professionals are sending out bulk emails and letting true relationships fall to the wayside. Similarly, he says (in nicer terms)  press releases today suck. Goldfayn suggests that a lack of understanding and communication within organizations can lead to poor representation of a company’s image.

**This is the part where I shamelessly plug my previous journal entry about employee relations.**

What are the best ways to ensure your message is heard through all the chatter? And how much is too much in a world buzzing with twats who tweet about the latest trends? Should the PRSA provide some kind of “newsworthy” checklist for professionals?

Let’s face it, we live in a society where relationships are nurtured through our laptops and iPads. PR professionals should never underestimate the power of a good phone call or cup of coffee among friends. When was the last time you called your media BFF and said, “OMG, you’re never going to believe what happened!”

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Shoulder to Cry on, or a Pat on the Back?

 PR Tissue Issues is a way to look back at past Public Relations blunders and either sigh or cry.

In some cases, PR pros rose to the occasion and used crisis communications as an opportunity to improve their image. Others, however, sank with the ship. I will offer my thoughts on these sad events in the PR industry and decide if they deserve a shoulder to cry on or a pat on the back.

Of course, there is no use looking at the past without considering the present. PR Tissue Issues links the mistakes of the past to crisis communications in the current PR world.

I have this unique theory that history tends to repeat itself–but that’s just me.

Happy Readings,

Ms. Pal

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