By: Ashleigh Horn
Research is the key to all successful public relations strategy. It is the defining factor in how we choose to tell our client’s story and helps us identify how our target audiences will react—long before they are ever exposed to any messaging.
But why is research crucial? How can it single-handedly define the effectiveness of our PR efforts? Isn’t research a little bit…old school?
No! Before I continue any further, I would like to emphasize that research is not old school. Call me a nerd for thinking it’s cool, but you actually need it to be successful in this industry. Here is why:
Beyond identifying an objective, research is the first step in defining what steps should be taken to solve a problem. A need may be increasing brand awareness, avoiding a crisis, or launching a campaign. The list is endless. However, used strategically, research can be conducted to meet needs, elevate your client’s brand and create lasting mutually beneficial relationships.
On the other hand, failure to conduct research may lead to indecision, inaction or financial loss. It may also make identifying key publics and their needs difficult. In many cases, actions taken without sufficient knowledge about who or what they will impact can even lead to tarnishing your brand’s overall image.
One brand whose reputation was tarnished because of its failure to conduct any research was Digorno. In 2014, the frozen pizza brand received major backlash for inappropriately using a trending Twitter hashtag to advertise its product. The company’s Tweet, “#WhyIStayed You had pizza” was ill-received by Twitter users who were disgusted that the company would poke fun at domestic violence to encourage pizza sales.
The company could have avoided the situation altogether by researching the nature of the hashtag before Tweeting. While research may frontload your efforts, it helps prevent mistakes later on. Doing so allows you to preserve your brand and may even save you money.
I will be the first to admit that research is not always sexy. In fact, anyone who has taken University of Central Missouri’s PR 3605: Survey of PR Research & Theory with Dr. Tricia Hansen-Horn knows that research can be tedious and seemingly mundane at times. However, it can also be exciting and provide key insights that will make decision making easier down the road.
Research allows us to strategically gauge information about our key publics. It helps us identify possible reactions and outcomes of our efforts and avoid unnecessary costs. It also equips us with the tools to measure the impact of our efforts from the get-go. At the end of the day, it takes out the guesswork and lays a solid foundation from which you can build—without fear of total failure.
You may be thinking, “Gee, that sounds great. However, I have no experience conducting research. I would never know where to begin.”
But you do!
May I ask if you have ever had a friend tell you that they have begun to develop feelings for someone? If you are like me, this small piece of information often triggers Sherlock-Holmes mode. Within the next hour you have scoured up a list of their hobbies, identified their grandmother’s name, and searched through all of the accounts they follow on Instagram.
Does this activity sound familiar? Don’t lie, I know you have done it too.
Curiosity is in our nature and whether we recognize it or not, we conduct research every day. We care about our friend and use research to ensure that the one who has them so smitten is actually right for them.
But where should you start?
Certainly there are methods to help guide how we research. However, there is no set protocol for how it should be conducted, especially in PR as we deal with all things human. I advise formulating one single question and allowing your curiosity to fuel any questions and quests for answers that follow.
You may think research is boring. It’s not! It is a vital element in the daily life of a PR pro. Ask questions, find the answers, then ask more questions that lead you to solid strategy and valuable decision-making.
By : Emily Schaper
When it comes to opening new doors and opportunities, networking should be a top priority. It’s not just about trading information, but establishing long-term relationships with mutual benefits. Networking, however, may not be at the top of everyone’s to-do list. People may find it time-consuming, awkward, or out of their comfort zone. This can be understandable if you already have a lot on your plate and the last thing you want to do is make small talk with strangers. Although, if you don’t take the time to prioritize networking throughout your career, you may miss out on some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
Now, you may be wondering how to become an effective networker. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be expanding your professional network in no time!
Find Your Networking Style
Now, you may be wondering how to become an effective networker. First, you need to determine what style works best for you. If you are energized by being around people, for example, you could network at a large social gathering instead of just one-on-one. Be aware, however, Covid-19 may alter these plans. Organizations are utilizing Zoom, so if you happen to enjoy engaging with others online, this could potentially help a lot.
Network Outside the Box
Second, don’t be afraid to network outside the box. Think of events and organizations to attend that you otherwise wouldn’t consider. Sometimes, being able to volunteer around people of similar interests is enough to advance your career. It’ll show you really value helping others and have a passion to learn new skills/abilities.
Do Your Research
Don’t forget to do your research before you connect with someone. It’ll help the conversation flow better if there’s a base understanding of their interests, education, work history, and more. Plus, it’ll show you genuinely care and respect the other person. They’ll remember that about you later on.
Don’t Forget to Follow Up
Next, always follow up. The time you invest in speaking with someone won’t benefit your personal and professional development if you fail to follow up afterward. This can easily be done by utilizing social media platforms, such as LinkedIn. Just sending short, personalized messages helps differentiate you from other individuals. According to Deena Baikowitz, chief networking officer and co-founder of Fireball Network, “The worst networking mistake you can make is not trying at all.”
Pass It On
Last, but certainly not least, don’t be afraid to pass it on. If you have the opportunity to help someone who has taken time to reach out to you, act upon it. Your referral has a lot of power and can help them land a job. You were once in their shoes and what goes around comes around.
Utilizing these tips will set you apart from others in the long run. Remember, if you’re not stepping out of your comfort zone, then you’re not growing. Now’s the time to reach out and stay connected.
By Ashleigh Horn
There’s no denying that each generation is different. Baby Boomers, Generation X, Xennials, Millennials, Generation Z, I’m sure as you read each of these titles, you may have recalled your own thoughts toward each group. During a time where as many as five different generations are working together in the workplace, it’s important to understand how they all function and what each brings to the table.
Though I could certainly cover all five of these and the impacts they have in the workplace, I want to instead provide first-hand insight into a generation that is seemingly misunderstood by its predecessors. This is a generation with a desire to create change; a generation that I have nearly 21 years of experience being part of.
Who are we?
Although the lines defining the age range of my generation are a bit blurry, the Pew Research Center identifies this group as having been born after 1996 (Parker & Igielnik, 2020). Today, some Gen Z-ers walk the halls of middle schools, whereas others are hunched over books in their dorm rooms, working full-time agency jobs or even preparing to vote in the upcoming presidential election. There’s no doubt we’re all at different stages in our lives; however, somehow, some way, there are a few common desires and passions we all seem to share.
How is this generation different?
Generation Z is the largest generation to date. We also have access to more technology, media and quite honestly, each other, than any generation before us. It may be our sheer size, or it quite simply may be the comfort we feel in sharing our thoughts and ideas through Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, that compels us to reach for our dreams and to stand up for what we believe in. Politics, social injustice, sustainability, ideas for new products or businesses, we Gen Z-ers are a researched, opinionated, innovative, change-making group.
The Target Incubator
A few years back, the Target retail chain set out to better connect with this next generation of consumers. One way they did so, was through directly engaging with young Gen Z entrepreneurs in what they called the “Target Incubator.” Inspired by these young adults’ big ideas about “better for people” and “better for the planet” products, the company selected eight business pitches, created by students, to help become a reality.
You may be asking, “Why would the company do this, and what was their reward?”
Generation Z is often referred to as the “Changemaker” generation. Target recognized that many of its Gen Z consumers have big plans to change the world and sought to help make their dreams become reality. The students’ ideas ranged from producing compostable single-use products to using juice pulp waste to create healthy snacks. These eight businesses were not only unique—they did not simply provide innovative products or services—rather, they were all created as solutions to a number of the social and environmental issues we face in the 21st century.
I think James Sancto, founder of We Make Change, hit the nail on the head when he described Generation Z’s passion as “not willing to accept the world as it is, [who] believes [it] can address the challenges the world faces today, and [who] will do whatever [it] can to make the change [it wants] to see” (Sancto, 2019). The product of the Target Incubator is a testament to Gen Z’s eagerness and willingness to ensure the changes we wish to happen are made.
Gen Z’s not so breakthrough solution to creating change is to have a purpose. Whether you’re a business, college institution, or just someone we pass on the street, Gen Z-ers want to know what you’re all about.
What are your goals?
Who or what do you stand for?
Does your vision align with what we believe?
Generation Z prioritizes purpose and “[looks] to engage with brands and organizations that have a higher purpose that goes well beyond a simple transaction” (Beal, 2019). Unlike generations before us, we don’t simply purchase a product or rep a brand because we like it or it’s “convenient.” Rather, we use the power of reviews and our access to technology to compare prices, product availability, to research a company’s CSR practices and what it values, in order to make educated purchases (Salesfloor, n.d.).
Google, Netflix, Spotify and the Walt Disney Company are all examples of some of the most loved brands by Gen Z consumers. It’s no coincidence that all of these same companies placed in the Digital Marketing Institutes (2020) list of the “Top 16 Brands doing Corporate Social Responsibility Correctly.” Generation Z values these brands because they do more than provide their specific products and services; these companies use their platforms to create change on issues important to their employees and to each company as a whole.
As I mentioned earlier, Gen Z-ers look for ways to impact our own corners of the world. In fact, we often make decisions with long-term consequences in mind. We’ve been called lazy, self-involved, tech-dependent, and more (The NPD Group, 2020). Yes, some of these monikers may be partly true. But, we are also a passionate generation focused on standing up for only those issues or movements that align with our interests. Our passions drive our actions. We just might change the world.
As each new year has passed onto the next, Generation Z, or the “Changemaker” generation, has become older and older. With this age has come new responsibilities, both in our own lives and in contributing to the world around us. We are growing up, entering the workforce and making an impact in our own generationally-unique way. Slowly but surely, we are revealing who we are, what we value, what our goals are, and are debunking the generational stereotypes that have defined us since we were babies. In turn, we are using these differences to provide new perspectives in both the workplace and in society, and are doing all in our power to create change.
By: Rebeka Dickerson
Public relations is a fairly new profession compared to other jobs, first being established in the 1920s. However, it is more important now than ever. Why is that? The issues of this world are on full display and people are paying attention to every step organizations and individuals make. Additionally, cancel culture is especially prevalent.
A term we are hearing more frequently in the PR world, cancel culture, is “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.”
With social media, it is much easier for anything someone does “wrong” to be scrutinized on a worldwide scale. This is why organizations must understand their audiences and the topics/issues they care about. Organizations must find a way to incorporate those topics in a way that will not backfire, which can be easier said than done.
There are countless examples of attempts that were made to resonate with an audience that ended up backfiring. One of the most well-known ones, though, was when Pepsi and Kendall Jenner teamed up to create a commercial meant to promote peace and unity, but that came off completely tone deaf (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/pepsi-ad-kendall-jenner-echoes-black-lives-matter-sparks-anger-n742811) . More recently, Nike sold out of Kobe Bryant merchandise, frustrating people who thought they did not honor him, but instead attempted to profit off of his death (https://www.silverscreenandroll.com/2020/8/24/21399059/nike-kobe-bryant-shoes-limited-snkrs-drop-lakers-resellers-jerseys-mamba-day/comment/530751649).
Clearly, citing these examples, it is crucial for plans to be made and extreme care to be put into everything that is placed online and offline. Even something that is meant to come across as a positive statement or message can be completely misconstrued, and your organization could be put in a position no organization wants to be in.
So, to have a trained professional involved in every part of the public relations process certainly cannot hurt. Organizations need someone with a keen eye who will speak up when even the smallest of details seems off. Any concerns the public has should be responded to as soon as possible, and in an empathetic manner. Lying or attempting to hide a mistake will not be accepted.
Although public relations may not be one of the most effortless jobs in our current times, it is a job that is needed in today’s environment. Once one person is distressed about something your company did or put out, you should be prepared for many more to follow. People are smart and they have high expectations. It is now the company/individual and PR professional’s job to meet those expectations.
By: Shayna Polly
The Edelman Trust Barometer is the largest global survey on trust in the media, government, NGOs, and business. This year’s shows that trust is at an all-time low across the board. How do we get people to trust us? There is no exact formula, but here are a few tips that should help.
Whenever speaking or releasing any kind of content, a PR professional should always be sure that what is being communicated is accurate. Misinterpretation is inevitable, but it is best to be sure the speech is clear with as little room for speculation as possible. Your message should be consistent throughout the corporation. The last thing you want is to seem condescending to your audience. While usually unintentional, the use of jargon can seem intimidating to many people. When addressing mass numbers of people, the plainer you speak the better. This does not mean that speech or writing cannot be eloquent or well- worded. This simply means to avoid language your audience won’t understand.. How is one supposed to communicate effectively if the audience does not understand half of the words they are using?
Everything you do should have meaning and sincerity. This should be thought out through several strategic planning methods. These plans are flexible as things do arise but should still cohere to one solitary message or meaning. For example, an apology is a typical course of action after a problem arises – but consumers can tell when an apology is not sincere. Even if viewers cannot credit this feeling to a specific action or sentence, they identify a gut feeling when a talking head is being insensitive. Being that there is already a trust gap between corporations and the public, consumers are already looking for instances to confirm what they already believe. This is what’s called confirmation bias. The same way that someone who believes the earth is flat will seek out facts to confirm this and ignore facts that dispute.
INSTILL ORGANIZATIONAL VALUES.
Customers become very frustrated when a business breaks a promise. If it is said that customers will be reimbursed; reimburse them. It is unfortunate that this has to be said, but this is a common trend among corporations, especially big ones. This also says a lot about a company’s values. These values should be communicated from the time an employee is hired; throughout the entire time they are with an organization. For example, and airline passenger’s flight is canceled and in order to accommodate the airline offers another flight free of charge. The passenger thinks to themselves “awesome, I’ll just use the free flight to fly home for the holidays.” When the consumer goes to redeem this offer, however, they are informed that the offer was only redeemable for 30 days after the canceled flight. While this might have been mentioned before, a lot of time it is in small subtext and may not be verbally mentioned at all. This sends the message that the airline is simply trying to get out of losing more money. It is understandable that the airline needs to make money, but this should not come at the expense of its customers, especially loyal ones.
This is pretty self-explanatory. Of course, this does not mean that every aspect of business needs to be disclosed, but it is best to uphold as much transparency as possible. Public relations is all about the information. Consumers are much more at ease when they have and understand as much information as you can possibly give.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PUBLIC.
Do everything in your power to ensure the comfort and happiness of customers. “The customer is always right” is a very popular saying, and while it may not always be true, customer service should forever be doing their best to make the consumer comfortable. This includes employee training and should be instilled in everyone associated with the company. A good organization should make sure that every employee, no matter how little, gets consistent training on both customer service and the overall messaging of the company. Don’t forget, your employees are your first, most important public. They need to be happy as they reflect the values of the organization. For example, if the company donates to an advocate for wheelchair accessibility, but an employee is seen being less than accommodating to a customer in a wheelchair, that could be a very bad story being shared all over the press and social media, and these days, things like that take flight quickly. After all, that is where all the revenue comes from. Happy customers = $$$.
By Armani Shumpert
The impact that social media has had on the PR industry is clear. It created new opportunities and new challenges for brands. It allows brands and consumers to connect in real-time on severalplatforms. Today, PR practitioners are no longer able to escape this effect.
There are several ways that PR professionals use social media. I wanted to address some of the ways that social media has influenced the PR industry, and why all professional communicators need to get involved.
1. The 24/7 news cycle.
The advent of social media has resulted in a 24/7 news cycle. Brands can now share good content at any moment, and they know that everyone is listening and ready to respond. Social media platforms also provide an opportunity as part of an emergency response plan to allow notifications to be play-by-play as things go south. This offers the opportunity for PR practitioners to participate in the conversation in a way that makes them an active participant in brand communication.
However, the 24/7 news cycle can become a vortex as false content travels across social media channels, creating a PR crisis that makes healing, regeneration, and regulation more difficult.
2. Enhanced journalists’ access.
Another way that social media integrates with public relations is that it allows greater access to reporters than ever before. Having the opportunity to connect with journalists on different social media sites, PR practitioners can learn the tone of voice of a writer, perspectives on specific subjects, and recent research.
Resources such as Muck Rack will help you find publications and journalists that suit your needs and connect to their latest social media tweets and profiles right away.
Caution: While social media can be a wonderful way for journalists to study and communicate, it is not in your best interest to tweet or steer your pitch message directly to a writer unless their profile specifically says it does.
3. Control of real-time crisis.
Public relations professionals also can put an end to online crises that could potentially lead to a negative brand reputation. Social networking channels allow PR professionals to respond to situations and/or interactions with the audience in real-time. This has been very beneficial as it now enables PR teams to take advantage of social media to resolve problems and preserve the brand’s positive online image.
PR professionals must be able to use this complicated but amazing tool which is social media to be successful. In the public relations market, social media is no longer a secondary thought — it is an integral part of the industry.
By: Emma Honn
As a senior in the public relations program at the University of Central Missouri, I am often asked “What is public relations?” I get the question at family functions, social gatherings and different events around campus. Sometimes, I get tired of the question and think to myself “How do they not understand?” I have realized that people do not know what public relations is because PR professionals have been doing PR for their clients, and not for the profession itself.
Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” To a public relations professional, this makes sense. However, to someone who knows nothing about the industry, it may not. Here are a few things you need to know about public relations.
We are strategic storytellers. We use narrative to build our brand and relationships with our intended audiences. It can be through social media, brand specific communications or the media. We tend to try and humanize a brand, meaning we add a human element to a story or brand to help our audiences relate. For example, instead of saying “buy this product,” we say, “this is important because…” We do this to build trust between our company and our audiences.
We work with the media. Read that correctly: we are not the media, we work with the media. The goal here is to earn media placements. We build a story with a human element, and earn media coverage on the subject. This gets our brand in front of our audiences for something that may not necessarily be our products. Although there is no guarantee of media placement, when we do earn a spot, there is a third party validation of our brand, our products and our story.
We write press releases and speeches, and plan and execute events. A press release is typically written by a public relations professional with the goal of it being picked up by a media outlet. These, however, are written with much thought, newsworthiness and human element. If you are ever listening to a speech, chances are, the script was written by a public relations professional. The basis of speech writing is solid writing skills. PR professionals have an eye for detail and design, two things that are essential to a great speech. Public Relations departments typically handle the planning and execution of events meant for public outreach and media relations. If you are ever at a large event, it was probably handled by someone who works in PR.
We manage social media and handle crises whenever they arise. Social media is a tricky subject. Since it is a relatively new thing in public relations, we have had to learn how to adapt and work with ever-changing platforms. We handle crises that may come up for organizations. For example, think of Volkswagen’s emissions scandal. Every statement given by VW, press conference held, you name it, was planned and handled by a PR team. Crises can range in severity, but whatever the crisis may be, a solid PR professional can handle it.
We are strategic storytellers, work with the media, write press releases and speeches, plan and execute events manage social media and handle crises. These topics are all under the public relations umbrella, but this just scratches the surface. Now, the next time someone says “I work in public relations,” or “I am a public relations major,” you will know a little bit about what they do.
Authenticity is first and foremost, one of the most important practices a public relations professional should be undertaking. Publics have proven that their trust in the media and online information is at an all-time low, so having to weave through press releases and information coming from specific companies themselves is a daunting task in and of itself when one already feels as though a strong bias is present. It is important to be sincere in your messaging and ensure your information is both credible and with no ill intent. It is a good idea to always present sources, data, and strategies behind a statement you are making to ensure the reader is able to check if your statement is valid.
2.) Utilize Social Media
Social media is arguably one of the most important elements a business can have. It allows a company to have a voice and write their own story instead of allowing others to write one for them. One bad Yelp review can spiral into a large mess for any business if they are not there to give background a mediate the situation. For example, if a local= sushi restaurant relies on word of mouth consumers and one customer feels as though they have a negative experience and decide to put a review online, that may be the first thing anyone sees when they look up “nearest sushi restaurant” on their phone. People are likely to not go somewhere with a bad review and no way to see good reviews or see that everyone else in the area loves to eat there. If this business had a personal website, that would likely be the first thing to pop up in a google search and could allow you to have a voice in sharing positive testimonials and photos capturing happiness of customers. This could make or break new customers visiting your location. Social media also allows others to interact with your business in personal ways and spread the word. A good example of a business using social media to help their brand is Wendy’s. (http://twitter.com/wendys ) They are able to perfectly advertise their menu items and deals, while also providing a comical element that many young adults and teenagers engage with.
3.) Video Content
Video content is said to be one of the most important elements of utilizing your company’s online footprint. People are more likely than ever to engage with creative videos rather than reading articles or releases or any other form of written content. It allows users to stay engaged and interested rather than be distracted or overwhelmed, and when used correctly, could allow you to impact a large audience. For some great ideas on how to better utilize video content, refer to this article https://www.singlegrain.com/video-marketing/10-useful-types-of-video- content-viewers love/ .
4.) Humanize Your Brand
Consumers do not want to feel as though their favorite brand is ran by robots. Try to avoid sounding canned or emotionless when producing content for the public to see. Use emotion, provoke thought, allow empathy to be a frontrunning emotion in your mind when speaking to the public. Nike is an example of a brand that does this extremely well. Whether or not one agrees with their stances or messaging, it is inarguable to state that no matter what emotion it is, you are feeling something after one of their campaigns is ran. There are ways to do this without eliciting controversy, but keep in mind that people want to WANT to connect to you. They must feel as though there is a two-way communication rather than simply a computer speaking to them.
By Shelby Bueneman
Podcasts have become increasingly popular. You can listen to them on Spotify, on the app itself and on Apple music. With such a wide variety of podcasts it can be difficult to find the right one that will benefit you. For public relations professionals there are five basic podcasts to listen to that will help them grow their skills and their business. Listening to these podcasts will help them stay on top of trends, revamp their creativity, find ways to be a better leader, keep up with the actual PR industry and benefit from writing tips.
Stay on Top of Trends
Public relations professionals need to keep up to date on what is trending within their business area, nationwide, and globally. Keeping up with different trends allows PR professionals to see how their target audiences are affected and how they react to the trends. They can use this to their advantage to reach their publics more efficiently. For news podcasts I ,recommend NPR News Now by NPR and Global News Podcast by BBC. Both of these podcasts are updated daily and are fact based with some occasional humor.
Having a creative mind is important for PR professionals. It’s how campaigns and other communication strategies are created. PR professionals should keep their mind flowing with these different podcasts. The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry is a great podcast that showcases different speakers, artists and thought leaders. In this podcast Henry points out different ways to be happy, healthy, and creative, not only at work but in life.
Find Ways to be a Better Leader
I previously attended a conference where it was noted that leadership does not only come from those with higher up positions. Leaders are found throughout the whole company. This sentiment is shared through different podcasts such as Leadership and Loyalty by Dov Baron and This Is Your Life by Michael Hyatt. Baron talks about leadership by using honesty and emotional intelligence. This provides a more insightful way to connect with those you oversee or those with whom you work closely. Hyatt’s podcast is more about helping those with fast-paced lives lead with confidence.
Keeping up with the PR industry
While it is important to stay on top of current trends, it is also important to stay on top of what is currently happening in the PR world. With so many new ways to keep track of everything it is helpful to have much of you need to know wrapped up in an episode. You can follow The Spin Sucks Podcast by Gini Dietrich and Inside PR podcasts to keep up with the PR world. Both of these podcasts follow the inner workings of the PR world and talk about current trends within it.
PR professionals are constantly writing and there is always room for improvement. While professionals usually use AP style, these podcasts can provide a bit more of a fresh narrative. Check out Writing Tips by Brian M. Taylor and Copy that Pops by Laura Peterson, M.A.E.D. for inspiration. Both of these podcasts has some humor to them so you won’t snooze on your way to the office.
With the PR world always changing, listening to podcasts is one of the easiest ways to stay in touch. They are great to listen to on your commute to work or even when you are unwinding from a long day in the office. Happy listening!