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: April Wood
I hate to begin a blog post by talking about how COVID-19 has changed the communication industry, but to write a blog about “normal times” feels disingenuous. Public relations and other communication departments are rapidly adapting to communicating at a time of uncertainty and illness. A particularly challenging aspect of public relations during the pandemic has become apparent to me in the last few months: event planning. All of the relevant skills remain, and a new set of often unintuitive skills is becoming necessary for many event planners.
As Important as Ever
- Writing and Design – The tone of writing you use and the style of design you implement depends on your audience. These are foundations of public relations. Writing and design will always be necessary skills in this field, even and especially in event planning. If you do not communicate your event and its intentions well, no one will participate.
- Contingency Planning and Being Flexible – It is inevitable that something will go wrong the day of your event. Take time BEFORE the event to create a list of things that might possibly go awry and devise a contingency plan for each of them. If and when something doesn’t go as expected, you have a solid plan for how to handle it that can be tailored to fit the issue perfectly. A crisis that could spiral out of control is stopped with minimal damages.
- Organization – Planning for a virtual event still requires careful organization using traditional event-planning measures. Guest lists need to be compiled, invitations sent out, registration organized, plans established and executed, and so much more. Do not assume that you can just hop in on a call and your event will go off without a hitch. That would be like assuming that if you give everyone a time and place to meet that the event will just happen naturally. “Planning” that way will only lead to disaster.
- Event Scripting – I’ll admit that this one is more of a grey area. It is an old skill applied in a new way. Usually, you would have an itinerary in the program you hand out at the event that outlines the order of events, in addition to a more in-depth one that lays out the timeframe of each section of the event. When live video enters the mix, however, it gets a bit more complicated. Depending on the type of event, you may want to play a number of videos, present a PowerPoint, and also have some live content. Your files need to be clearly named and ordered and a script should be developed to tell you exactly what order they are played and at what times. Delays in getting videos or presentations started will delay your whole event and throw off the schedule for the night.
Skills of Emerging Necessity
- An In-depth Knowledge of Your Broadcasting Program of Choice – The program you choose to host your meeting is a critical component of the event-planning process. It is like selecting your venue and support staff for an in-person event. Choose one that you are familiar with, has a good reputation, and is user-friendly. If you are not particularly adept at technology, take an online course on the program or try it out in advance to experiment and get comfortable with its use. Take the time to learn the program and host a dry-run with your fellow planners to locate any potential problems and resolve them before the event.
- Troubleshooting – Be prepared to handle technical difficulties if they arise the day of the event. These problems will likely be both on the host’s side and on the virtual attendees’ side. This means doing research beforehand on possible technical issues and their solutions as well as having someone available on event day to monitor the chat, email, and social media pages for attendees who may report issues. They can only be swiftly resolved if they are swiftly identified. When it comes to event planning, today’s public relations professionals must learn how to provide technical support in addition to their usual skills.
This is clearly not a comprehensive list – I’ll leave that for the academics -, but it serves to give you a realistic picture of what you can expect to undertake in order to get your event off the ground.
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: Rebeka Dickerson
Public relations is often confused by the general public with many other industries, but specifically marketing and advertising. The three are so similar that they are even commonly integrated these days. And then there is journalism which is frequently mentioned in the PR world as well. So, to help provide a better understanding of these four important communication mediums, I am providing some information below about what makes each unique.
Public relations is all about awareness and reputation. Awareness and reputation can in turn help a company sell products or become successful. PR deals with the long game; keeping customers coming back and obtaining new loyal customers.
An example of PR is the #IceBucketChallenge. The 2014 viral campaign raised awareness for ALS by inspiring people to post videos of themselves being drenched by a bucket of ice water and/or donating for ALS research. Many celebrities participated and over $115 million dollars was raised for the ALS Association.
Marketing is a technique for stimulating a demand for a specific product or service. The main goals are to make a product or service widely known and to increase sales. The transaction of something in the moment matters more than what will happen with the company in two or three years. Professionals in this industry often refer to product, price, place, and promotion as the four Ps of marketing needed to sell goods or services.
An example of marketing is Spotify and how it is is marketed differently than other music applications. Spotify assists users in finding music they have never heard before. Users can click any category of music and explore a multitude of artists. Spotify also sorts music options by music someone may want to workout to, sleep to, or even play video games to.
Advertising is a paid message. It is a part of marketing (promotion). It can also be part of a public relations campaign. An advertisement could be a television commercial, but it could also be a print ad, digital ad, radio ad, billboard, and so on.
Examples of companies that are known to continuously use ads to their advantage are Geico, Ford, and Nike.
While public relations has a target audience, journalism does (or should) not. Journalism’s purpose is to simply inform the general public in an objective way. A PR professional’s job is to advocate for a specific company or individual, while a journalist is traditionally meant to remain unbiased.
Examples of Journalism can vary. The many types include broadcast, investigative, opinion, entertainment, political, and sports.
A Couple Examples of Integration
As part of its brand awareness strategy, Coca-Cola has combined PR and journalism by utilizing storytelling on its website (https://www.coca-colacompany.com/). This is also known as brand journalism. Stories on the website detail how the company supports the community, how they promote diversity and inclusion, and how they help the environment.
The brand Always has an ongoing PR campaign #LikeAGirl, which encourages people to change the meaning of the phrase and how society views girls and women. A popular Super Bowl advertisement was created to promote the campaign in 2015 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_Ep0O5fWN4).
So although similar, all four of these industries definitely have their own place. They each have their own distinct objectives. Yet they all work with the public in mind, and any of them can be combined strategically to create even greater success.
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.