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: Sebastian Szczurowski
While it seems like social media has been around for a very long time, it has actually only been popular for barely a decade now. With the steady rise of social media over the past few years many companies have been able to strengthen their position in the marketplace by using it to effectively promote their brands and products.
One of the main things that social media allows companies to do is gain faster and more widespread coverage to thousands or even millions of individuals in under the span of a few minutes. This is something that was unimaginable 15 or 20 years ago. The rise of the internet has allowed this rapid increase in media and news coverage outlets across the globe, and has enabled social media to become a powerful tool when it comes to increasing a brand’s visibility within its target market. When a company is able to establish a strong online presence it will become more visible to the public by implementing a communication strategy that helps to promote the company and gain more followers on social media in the long run.
Another well-known advantage that social media has had on the public relations industry is increased communication. Social media allows everyday people to post their thoughts about all sorts of topics with just a click of a button on their phone, laptop, or tablet. These communication channels can also be used to develop relationships with your brand’s consumers and help PR professionals create relevant content that will resonate with their target audiences.
Nowadays, most people have some form of social media account or maybe even have multiple accounts. Today’s social media platforms are designed to provide easy integration for all of their users which allows people of all ages and backgrounds to have access to some form of social media. This has made it much easier for PR professionals to increase awareness of their client’s business and the products and services that are offered.
Social media has allowed many companies worldwide to promote their brands and develop a sense of relevancy with their consumers. Social media allows PR practitioners to track results in real-time and learn more about the people who are interacting with their clients online and how often those interactions are occurring.
While social media is still in its early stages, its value in promoting client branding and as a means for conducting research, are rapidly demonstrating its importance as a strategic public relations tool that is only gaining momentum.
By: Shayna Polly
The United States Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett, the fifth woman in history to serve on the Supreme Court, on Oct. 26, 2020. The Girl Scouts, front runner in the business of girl power, tweeted to congratulate Barrett, accompanied by a photograph of all five women who have served.
The Girl Scouts make a habit of making congratulatory social media posts anytime a woman does something of note or an accomplishment celebrating girl power. They mourned Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, they congratulated Zendaya on winning an Emmy for Euphoria (the second black woman to win in 72 years) and post regularly about women in STEM fields.
As the Girl Scouts’ mission statement notes, “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”
My question is: Is the post really political or is it part of their patterned and honed “girl power” branding?
The media seem to believe it was a political statement, and so did those on social media. No time was wasted slandering the Girl Scouts for “supporting” Barrett, so much so, that the Girl Scouts account ended up deleting the tweet and apologizing for even posting it. Of course, the apology suffered backlash from Barrett supporters as well (you really can’t win).
One exmple came from actor Amber Tamblyn, who tweeted “really disappointing and won’t age well when access to safe abortion and the healthcare needs of millions of women and girls is gutted in this country because of Barrett’s addition to the court.”
Some even think the Girl Scouts “caving” to the mass is more of a political statement than their original post. TV personality Megyn Kelly tweeted, “This is pathetic. It’s not ‘partisan’ to generically congratulate the fifth woman ever to join the High Court. It’s patriotic. Taking your tweet down *is* partisan, however, and a real disappointment.”
Looking at this issue from the lens of an unbiased, apolitical observer, it appears that this tweet was not intended to be political. In today’s highly charged and highly divided political climate, however, all organizations should be careful of what they choose to post,realizing how they can be seen through different lenses. In a perfect world, people would be able to see that this tweet was in support of women in general, not to speak to this particular woman’s policy or beliefs. Unfortunately, our world is not perfect.
One must be careful given said climate, especially considering the cancel culture that has come about in the past couple years. We have seen many examples of individuals and organizations being canceled such as stars like James Charles, Johnny Depp, and now Amber Heard while some organizations include Papa Johns, KFC, and GAP. Not to say that these individuals or organizations were right or wrong, just to acknowledge that the media is cancel happy and will take any opportunity to find a big story and cancel someone/something. In this case, the Girl Scouts handled it the best way they could.
I could write about how the media, and people in general, should chill out and maybe attempt to look at things from more than just one perspective, but many (with bigger voices than I) have tried and failed. Until that can happen, my final note is: be careful out there PR pros, it’s rough.
By Ashleigh Horn
“Thank you“ can be defined as a polite expression of one’s gratitude. Though this definition seems so simple, the action of thanking others has become about as rare as some students coming to class these days.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have historically been guilty of not taking time to express my appreciation for others when they have done something for me—acts of service I often have benefitted from. However, as a student and future professional, I’m continually learning the importance and impact of taking two minutes out of my day to sit down and write a thank you note to someone who has gone out of their way to make my life better.
Saying “thank you” not only reflects graciousness, it also lets that future employer, a professor, or even your parents, know that you’re mindful and appreciative of their time. In return, it will likely encourage them to want to help you again in the future.
I understand that we live in a hectic and fast-paced world. We’re busier and more involved today than we were even 10 years ago. Between school, work, jobs, and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to find time to go out to the occasional dinner with friends. However, this fast-paced culture we’ve established is no excuse to not say “thank you.”
Unfortunately, it has become a common practice. In 2019, Jennifer Spencer, recruiter and owner of The Spencer Group, Inc., shared that no one sends thank you’s anymore. She believes that, nowadays, probably for every five people a hiring manager will interview, one person sends a thank you. That’s it!”
Managers, employers, and educators alike go to great lengths to invest in students and these two little words stand out when you say them simply because few ever do. To my fellow students, if you want them to notice you, take time to acknowledge them!
In The Power of Thank You, blogger Chris Rackliffe identifies three reasons why giving thanks is mighty. According to Rackliffe, saying thank you is not only the ultimate way to reaffirm yourself, but doing so also shows that you appreciate and respect what connects all things, as well as opens up doors of possibility.
Likewise, Spencer mentioned that sending a thank you can result in your resumé being bumped up to the top of the applicant list for that company you just interviewed with. This is a prime example of opportunity stemming from showing gratitude. Soon-to-be graduates, please take note, this could be especially important for those of you who are looking for jobs right now!
Though saying “thank you” may seem easy, it takes intentionality and effort. However, there can be great reward in carving out time to do so. We all like to be acknowledged and I believe expressing our thankfulness should become a more common practice.
Who’s one person in your life that you want to thank today?
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 Breann Roettering
Resources surround public relations students at the University of Central Missouri (UCM) everyday. I encourage the students to open their eyes and take advantage of these resources to help prepare them for their career in the future.
The PR Department has wonderful faculty who share their knowledge with the students every day inside and outside of the classroom. Get to know your professors here at UCM. Our faculty members are experienced in a wide range of Public Relations, ranging from nonprofit organizations to agency work and design.
Public Relations students have the opportunity to be involved in UCM’s Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. PRSSA conducts a number of events annually to benefit students, and to help them start making professional connections. If you haven’t checked out UCM PRSSA, I encourage you to do so. Each year the organization hosts PR Pro Day, an AP Style Workshop and a personal branding workshop that covers social media. PRSSA also gives you an opportunity to meet your peers and network at events in Kansas City such as The KC PR Summit, as well as social event in Warrensburg.
Get to know your classmates
I have already mentioned it briefly, but it is very important to get to know other students in the program. A great place to start making those connections is in the classroom. Your fellow classmates are also going to graduate and become professionals someday. Get to know them and build those connections now. They may become a great source for you in the future and will be people to collaborate with and get advice from when you start your career.
The final networking tool students have at UCM is Innovative Public Relations (IPR.) IPR is a student PR firm housed in University Relations. Every PR student is encouraged to apply for IPR. There is an application and interview process, but do not let that scare you away. Working for IPR will help you gain experience in an agency setting and also is a great place to start networking. You will get the opportunity to work alongside the University Relations staff and gain experience working for real-life clients.
At UCM, students can begin networking right away. It will benefit you to get to know your professors, fellow students and administrators. After you graduate you will already have experience working in a professional environment. Start networking on campus and build a name for yourself now. Those connections may open a door for you to that dream job you are seeking. It will also help you build your confidence as you enter the job market because you will already have experience in networking yourself.
I get excited when Thursday comes around. It’s the day when I get to meet with the entire Innovative Public Relations team. Before the meeting starts, we all grab coffee, then head to the University Relations conference room. We start off by quickly talking about something fun, maybe share a few anecdotes, and then it’s time for business.
There are two teams, each focusing on one client, and together the teams are preparing another Social Media Night. They update each other on their campaigns’ progress and talk about things they can improve on or change. Then it’s time to brainstorm. Though Social Media Night was a huge success last year, it’s important to me that this years’ team leave their mark on the event, or else they won’t get anything out of it.
That’s what Innovative PR is all about. It’s an opportunity to get outside the classroom and apply your skills in real-world situations with real clients (and maybe win some awards while you’re at it). Students take everything they’ve learned in their PR classes and use them. What comes from the experience is a payoff you can’t get from reading and taking tests. You might also gain some knowledge that will make Campaigns a little less intimidating.
As the manager, it’s a focus of mine to find what students think their strengths and weaknesses are. If they struggle with writing, I try to find opportunities to write. If they struggle with presentations, I want to find them opportunities to do presentations. If they don’t quite understand how social media works, I want to get them some experience on various social networks. No matter what the challenge is, Innovative PR students are get practice because they’re exposed to just about everything.
For some, applying to Innovative PR is intimidating. They might feel as though an easier elective is a better investment of their time, or maybe they aren’t confident enough to apply. I was certainly one of those students who was intimidated by the idea of working in a firm as a student, but again, the payoff for me was great.
Don’t feel intimidated. This is an opportunity for your skills to improve. Go to the PR Suite, grab an application, and do the case challenge. You’ll find yourself in a “course” that is challenging, yes, but pays awesome dividends. The expectations are high, but they aren’t unreachable. Do something different. Have fun working with clients. Hone your skills. Boost your marketability.
– Jonathan Haile
Innovative Public Relations Manager