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.
by Amanda Plachte
After almost two years of legal disputing, the Beastie Boys and Monster Energy have settled their copyright infringement case with $1.7 million awarded to the former. Following Monster Energy’s 2012 release of its promotional video for the annual snowboarding competition, Ruckus in the Rockies, the Beastie Boys discovered the unauthorized use of some of their songs. Not only did the two surviving members of the New York-native trio, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, consider this stealing but they feel that the video also implied an endorsement for the energy drink brand on the band’s behalf. Formed in 1981, the Beastie Boys agreed long ago to never permit the commercial use of their work.
As mentioned in this Chicago Tribune article, Monster Energy’s attorney, Reid Kahn, acknowledged his client’s erroneous infringement but claims that the error falls upon an individual employee whom mistakenly believed to have obtained the permission. In response to the allegations of an implied third-party endorsement, Kahn says the claims are “contrary to common sense” and the band is spinning a “tale of an insidious corporate conspiracy”.
Representing the Beastie Boys, attorney Kevin Puvalowski says of Monster, “They didn’t care if their employees were stealing.”
Because you can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop
…Defending your good name, that is. In many ways, situations like this just become a giant mess of “he said, she said,” So, what can an organization such as Monster do when its name gets associated with a crisis?
Author Dennis Bailey believes the key to handling a crisis is with a dark website. In his October 2012, post, Why a Dark Website Should be in Your Crisis Management Plan, Bailey explains that it is a web page or a website that is prepared well in advance of any crisis. It sits on the company’s server invisible to the public; however, should a crisis hit, the dark website is quickly modified and published, providing all the latest information concerning the crisis. Basically, it is a powerful PR trick up your sleeve.
The dark site should contain:
- All the available facts about the crisis – what happened and what specific steps the company is taking to respond.
- Special instructions telling those affected by the crisis what they must or must not do.
- Background information and an FAQ about the company and any relevant information that promotes a better understanding of what the company does and how the crisis occurred.
- Contact information and email addresses for the news media.
- Statements from the top company officials.
- Contact information for members of the public affected by the crisis (a 24-hour toll-free line is best, along with a Twitter feed and hash tag).
- Regular and timely updates.
When a crisis occurs, the company website is one of the first places that people will look for information. If there is no current information regarding the crisis, or worse, the website has a “business as usual” feel and it can make the company look bad. In the face of a crisis, an organization must make every attempt to stay on top of the situation. Having information readily available for the public is just one of the ways to do just that.
Not to pick on Monster, but Bailey uses them as a case-and-point example. After the deaths of several people were associated with the consumption of the highly caffeinated energy drinks, Monster’s website was still full of athletes, race cars and the signature “Monster Girls.” Although the company had released a statement defending its brand, Monster did nothing to provide up-to-date information on its website. This can only cause people to get their news elsewhere.
It’s not how you play the game; it’s how you win it
Unfortunately, no website, regardless of how much information is provided, is going to save an organization in the courtroom. A dark website would not have affected Monster’s court case with the Beastie Boys; however, in the PR world, we know that the court of public opinion can have a much stronger impact on the image of a company. Efforts such as a strong crisis management plan can be the saving grace in a situation like this. Maybe next time, Monster.
by Sadie Hicks
On Monday Burger King’s official twitter site was hacked. The hackers played a terrible joke on the company by changing the avatar to the signature golden arches logo and the background to a McFish Bites promotional ad. The hackers also changed the profile description by saying McDonalds now owns the Burger King franchise.
Burger King received criticism for the slew of offensive messages that went out under Burger King’s account name. One wouldn’t think things could get much worse for a company that just got busted for using horse meat in their burgers two weeks prior.
Surprisingly, this PR fiasco was not all bad for Burger King. Its Twitter followers grew by 5,000 within the first 30 minutes of the account being hacked. Only two days after the Twitter hijack the page received a whopping 30,000 new followers. Not to mention, this scandal conveniently outshines the whole horse meat issue.
On Tuesday, Jeep’s official twitter account was also hijacked by the same Burger King hackers. The adjustments to their page were similar to the Burger King/ McDonalds edits. Jeep’s Twitter followers also increased by nearly 5,000 from the hacking crisis.
It was important for both Burger King and Jeep to quickly recover the accounts and manage the hacking crisis before it got out of hand. If either company were to let this get out of control the impact could have been much more negative from the public… especially with the offensive images and messages being tweeted. Letting the hijacking last too long could have caused backlash towards Burger King and Jeep for being negligent and insensitive to potential consumers.
After both companies regained control of their accounts, they seem to be in good spirits. And why shouldn’t they be? What could have been a PR disaster turned into an increase in followers and not too much flak from the media about the offensive tweets. MTV attempted to fake hack its Twitter account in hopes to gain some of the same publicity that Jeep and Burger King received. They have gotten a lot of backlash for the attempt. That is why it is never a good idea to create your own PR stunt.