Category Archives: Public Relations

The Grad School Debate

For years, we’ve heard the steady drumbeat of those that say it’s imperative to get your Master’s Degree if you want to move up in the public relations or marketing field. There are also many that disagree, saying it’s not at all necessary. I disagree with both schools of thought. It’s not imperative, but it’s also wrong to say it isn’t necessary. Let me explain.

Late last month, I was accepted into Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication for its online master’s degree program. I’m beyond excited to get started and continue to better myself as a professional from a great university. My internal debate about grad school started with a simple question: “Do I WANT to go or do I NEED to go?” And that is the question you should ask yourself if you are considering the same.

The argument that it isn’t necessary, or that you shouldn’t go is silly and antiquated. This isn’t me learn-64058_640saying to you that you MUST go for your MBA, Master’s in Communication, etc. This is me telling you that it is YOUR CHOICE and not someone else’s to make.

I went back and forth for years about whether to get a higher degree. After I received my undergraduate degree from Temple University (yes, I’m #TempleMade), the thought of going back to school was not something I was keen on. However, as I got older, the idea of challenging myself to be more than what I am now became exciting.

Here’s what my thought process was:

1. Research– It’s one of the pillars of public relations, right? Well, I researched a ton of schools and spoke with a number of trusted colleagues and friends. My wife is a professor and she just attained her Ph.D. in July of 2014. So, I had plenty of good information about what direction to go in.

2. How will it help me- Look, it’s ok to be selfish here. You aren’t just going to get a higher degree because it would be great fun. You’ll work hard so that it can help YOU in the long run. Not anyone else. Do it for you. Not for what your boss thinks, your friends, or anyone else. Your name will be on the diploma.

3. Online or on campus- Since going to campus would be tough with two kids and two parents working, I sought out the highly reviewed online programs. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out what the “brick and mortar” programs offer. I will say that distance programs no longer come with the “Oh, you are doing online?” stigma. My wife earned her Ph.D from the Medical University of South Carolina’s online program , save for a yearly residency week on campus in July.

4. Time- If you can’t commit the time to put in the work, don’t go for your degree. We budget time for clients, social postings, and more. You need to do the same for that Master’s Degree. Once I was accepted, I went into planning mode and created calendar dates. The more you plan, the more time you’ll have to study and focus.

5. Believe- Can you do it? Of course you can. I’ve used this quote from Robert F. Kennedy for years. “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” From the moment I committed to applying for my Master’s Degree at Purdue, I asked “why not?” Why couldn’t I do this? Why not now? Believe in your talents, skills, and determination and you’ll succeed.

Remember, you don’t HAVE TO get a Master’s Degree, or any higher degree for that matter. What you do have to do is listen to what you WANT TO do. That’s what is most important.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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Better Social in 2015

So, we are on the verge of a new year (already?!). It’s a time to celebrate accomplishments and the good things we’ve done. It’s also a time to take a hard look at ways to improve for the year to come. I’m sure that whether you are a business or an individual, there are things you’d like to do better in 2015. Maybe it’s improving your bottom line or re-packaging your current brand.

IM2_PROLOGUE_VFX_12In December, I love to take stock of where I stand, personally and professionally. It gives me a chance to take a critical look at how I’ve served my clients and whether I’m growing. I want to be better, as a business owner, a person, and a professional. These improvements also include social media.

There’s been good social and bad, just like every other year. However, I hope that in 2015 we see social media improve. Here’s five ways to do that:

1. Be smarter with your posting– Far too often this year, we’ve seen mistakes by brands and individuals. There are more “gotcha moments” (see Franco, James) and hitting the send button before a post is really looked at closely (see U.S. Airways). Don’t rush to update your Facebook page or that Instagram photo because you want to be funny or beat another brand to the punch. Think your posts through. You’ll be better off in the long run.

2. Don’t cross-post from Facebook to Twitter- Or vice versa, for that matter. No matter how many times myself or one of my colleagues says that Facebook and Twitter are different social channels, there’s always a brand that decides they are too lazy to come up with separate posts. Cross posting from Twitter to Facebook shows you don’t really care about your audience, your message, or, frankly, your brand. People notice and they’ll eventually stop listening.
3. Don’t be so “salesy”- By now, you’ve probably seen that Facebook is going to get tough on businesses, big and small, that have posts that are heavy with sales speak. While some businesses are worried, they shouldn’t be. A smart business strategy on Facebook should involve posts that speak to fans, not sell to them. If you follow a brand on Facebook or Twitter, you probably like the product. Brands need to remember this and speak to customers as people, not numbers. And that leads me to…
4. Take the time to understand your audience, customers- This should really be a no-brainer, but, sadly, it isn’t. There are still plenty of brands that would rather treat their followers and fans as numbers, instead of as an important part of their business. Social media isn’t just a platform to get your messages out, it’s also a chance to connect with your audience and make them more of a champion for you. Don’t look at followers as numbers. View every one as a prospect!
5. Plan ahead- Remember the old saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This is absolutely true when it comes to social. A social media posting plan is something that you need to have. No questions asked. Now, when I say plan ahead, it doesn’t mean that if you schedule posts, you are in the clear. If you are a social media manager, it’s important that you keep your eyes and ears on the news and what is going on around you. Scheduled posts can come back and bite you if they don’t fit the tone of the day. The bottom line? Have a posting plan, but be ready to change at a moment’s notice.
Social media is still growing and it’s important to understand that we can all be better at posting to the large number of networks that exist today. Make 2015 that year to be better, more strategic, and more focused. Here’s to your social success!

Five Things I Learned at PRSSANC

Another year and another Public Relations Student Society of America National Conference has come and gone. This was my second year presenting and I can tell you that I had just as much fun as I did in Philly last year.

The National Committee did an outstanding job of giving PRSSA Chapters and members all the opportunities to hear and learn from some outstanding people, like Rebecca Timms of the Philadelphia 76ers and Powell Tate president Pam Jenkins. In other words, there was no reason why you couldn’t leave with some great ideas for your chapter and your career.

As much as the conference is for students, I always come away learning a ton. As pros, we should never stop learning or take the thought process of, “what can students teach me?” Last year, I was able to take things I learned in Philly and put them to use in my business. What did I learn this year?

PRSSA gift1. Make adjustments– Even the best laid plans can be thrown for a loop. While I have to stay on my toes daily, I realized that instead of just keeping my presentation the way it was, I made tweaks about an hour before my talk. I learned something very valuable after talking to Utah Valley University’s award-winning PRSSA chapter. That is…

2. Never pass up a chance to network– For the second straight year, I sat with UVU PRSSA to talk about career, life, and how to approach a job interview. Talking to these impressive future pros reminded me why I love speaking and teaching. The opportunity to pass along the wisdom you’ve learned over the years, can be very helpful. And you never do know when a former student can assist you in your career. Seeing friends from University of Delaware, Illinois State, Temple University, as well as Chris Bonelli and Adam Piccin, reminded me that social conversations can turn into real life ones.

3. Embrace Your Moment – take the opportunity to share your ideas, thoughts with those around you. I relished hearing so many great ideas from the future pros gathered in D.C. Following many members on Twitter, I saw each share knowledge from the sessions they were attending. This was their moment to share what they were learning. I love that!

4. Ask Questions – Whether you are in a large group or in a one-on-one situation, never turn down the opportunity to ask questions and get answers. During my session on “Understanding What the Media Want,” I welcomed questions in the middle and the end. I expect to have people question what I’ve talked about. Why? Because I want to make sure I’m giving you the answers you are looking for about media pitching. Don’t just settle for what you think may be a good answers. Ask questions to get answers you need, especially in our industry.

5. Don’t Forget Where You Came From – I’m a proud alum of Temple University. When I graduated back in 1997, I dove right into my career and lost touch with being an Owl. I feel blessed to have been able to reconnect with my alma mater in the last number of years, thanks to Temple’s outstanding PRSSA chapter. Now, at every opportunity, I try to meet with these great Owls and help them when they need it. They make me proud to be a Temple alum, and I’ll never forget where I came from… A Cherry and White Wonderland!

Let me leave you with one last thought. Remember, it’s never too late to have a life and it’s never too late to change one. Go with confidence in your career… And in life!

What did you learn in D.C. this year? Let me know in the comments!

The JourneyCast Podcast: Jessica Lawlor

The JourneyCast Podcast is back and I’m thrilled to welcome my friend and fellow Temple University graduate, Jessica Lawlor. It’s no surprise that Jessica has become one of the more respected pros in our industry because of her drive, honesty, and work ethic.

If that’s not enough, she’s also the driving force behind the “Get Gutsy” movement. On this edition, we’ll talk about that, as well as how she’s been able to have success so early in her career. Enjoy!

To listen to the podcast, click this link.

The NFL’s Ray Rice Problem

Sept. 8-UPDATE: Ray Rice had his contract terminated by the Ravens and was suspended indefinitely by the NFL. The NFL released the news on Twitter, however the commissioner still has not commented, which continues to speak volumes. What is written below still stands: The NFL still has a problem.

By now, you have most likely heard about the infamous tape of Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice hitting his then-fiance. It was an absolutely disgusting scene and horrendous thing to do to someone you apparently care about. The National Football League, after viewing the tape, suspended Rice for two games, which came under intense criticism from fans and activists alike. Then, on Sept. 8, TMZ Sports released another, more graphic video which showed how brutal the beating Rice put on the woman who is now his wife.

The NFL created a public relations issue by only giving Rice a two-game ban for this assault. It now has a bigger issue because it appears the league had seen the more brutal video, but denied it initially. The problem is three-fold for the league, the Ravens, and Rice.

  1. The NFL handed down a light suspension to someone who knocked a woman out.
  2. The Ravens and their owner stood in support of Rice at a May press conference.
  3. Ray Rice’s first “apology” was not very heartfelt, saying “I apologize for the situation my wife and I were in.” Hitting Ray-Rice-Court.finalyour now-wife isn’t a situation, it’s an attack. The second wasn’t much better.

Rice is not the first athlete to hit a woman and he won’t be the last, sadly. But, in this day of social media and outlets looking deeper into news, videos like the one mentioned in the first paragraph will be more prevalent. Look how quickly the Jay Z/Solange Knowles video spread like wildfire.

The NFL opened its season on Sept. 4 with the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks defeating the Green Bay Packers and then had a Sunday stacked with games. Many of them were really exciting. The league was hoping it would have the focus on the two Monday Night Football games, one featuring the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions. Those games will not be the focus. The focus is going to be on the more brutal video of Rice and what the league hasn’t done.

If the NFL wants to repair their image as one that looks lightly on domestic violence, they need to act now and suspend Rice for the season. They were tough on Ben Roethlisberger after he was accused of sexually assaulting a Georgia woman in 2010. Those charges were eventually not filed and he was suspended, ultimately, for four games.

Here’s what Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote to the Steelers’ QB after Roethlisberger was not charged:

“I recognize that the allegations in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.”

“You are held to a higher standard as an NFL player…” The Commissioner should go back and read those words again, because Ray Rice wasn’t held to a higher standard. The NFL and its leadership are faced with fans in an uproar over a lenient suspension. The next step could be sponsors pulling their money and even NFL players criticizing the league.

The NFL needs to act, for morality’s sake, and for their image.

 

Guest Post: Why Your Company Needs a Social Media Policy

[Jas’ note: I’m glad to have my friend Ben Butler provide a guest post on a very important topic]

The company handbooks given to new employees nowadays seem to be getting thicker and thicker. Unfortunately, it seems that one potentially brand-crippling area is neglected—social media.

Here’s why your company needs to add a social media policy to its employee handbook:

It Clarifies Expectations

Your company may not be on social media, but I can almost guarantee that your employees are. You should never assume that your employees will represent themselves or your company properly. In fact, it often seems that some people forget the standard rules of engagement when they’re online.

Establishing a social media policy puts all of your expectations in one, formalized place. This will help you explain what behaviors are discouraged and even what could get someone fired.

Some of the topics you may want to cover include: best practices for discussing the company, what company topics are social-policyrestricted (confidentiality concerns), venting about customers, racist comments or posting inappropriate photos.

It Helps You in Times of Crisis

Remember Justine Sacco?

The former director of corporate communications for IAC Tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get Aids. Just kidding. I’m white!” before getting on a plane. Not only did her Tweet created a personal crisis for Sacco, but it suddenly created one for IAC as well. Sacco’s rank in the company immediately attached them to the chaos.

Because they knew how to handle employee conduct in the digital realm, they were able to quickly and properly react by denouncing her comments and publicly firing her before she even landed in Africa.

It Can Enhance Your Company’s Brand

It’s difficult to control exactly how and when your employees talk about your company, but it’s wise to add a best practices section to your social media policy.

Sometimes employees want to share the news, but are unsure how to do so. Be sure to provide examples of how employees can advance your company’s brand on social media. It also probably wouldn’t hurt to include stories like Sacco’s so that employees know what happens when social media is used incorrectly.

How has your company used a social media policy?

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Ben Butler is the founder and president of Top Hat IMC, an integrated marketing communications firm in Wexford and Pittsburgh, Pa.

The JourneyCast Podcast: Michael A. Brown, Sr., Ph.D.

Over a year ago, Michael Brown, Sr. reached out to me and asked if he could use one of my blog posts in his upcoming book. It was flattering to be asked, since I’ve never been included in a book, and I agreed.  Fast forward to April 2014 and that book is now out. Michael is the co-author (along with Tracy Schario, APR) of the book, “Social Media 4EVR: Identifying, Achieving, and Nurturing Social Capital.” 

MikeBrownWebsiteIn this edition of The JourneyCast Podcast, we discuss Michael’s career, his unique skill set, and why the book is important for new and experienced pros.

The JourneyCast Podcast, episode 7- Michael A. Brown, Sr., Ph.D. 

You can find Michael on Twitter, @MichaelBrown76

Let me know your thoughts on the podcast and leave a comment below.

You can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

What I learned from Illinois State PRSSA

Me with some of my new friends at Illinois State University.

Me with some of my new friends at Illinois State University.

A few weeks ago, I was absolutely thrilled to visit the campus of Illinois State University and it’s nationally recognized PRSSA chapter. The visit was part of “March Brandness,” an extension of my CEO of You talks I’ve held via Skype and at various conferences.

This talk wasn’t something that was thrown together by ISU PRSSA, it was months in planning. It started back in December of 2013, when Hailey Lanier reached out, followed by Marrison Worthington, the chapter’s president and vice president, respectfully. After Skyping in to a chapter meeting (and getting jealous about the Jimmy John’s they were eating), I was able to see why they have been recognized as an award-winning group. When it was finally time for my visit, I was treated to, frankly, some of the more professional students and future pros I’ve ever met.

Here are three things I, ultimately, learned from my visit and being a Redbird for a day.

Proper Planning- From the moment I gave the thumbs up to visiting the campus, ISU PRSSA shared ideas on promoting the talk via email, Skype, and phone conversations. Planning is a key component of any successful event. If you haven’t planned for every possible contingency, something will go wrong. In this case, chapter leadership thought of everything. From transportation to campus visits, ISU PRSSA even gave me an itinerary of what the day would look like from the minute I landed to the day I left.

The Value of Mentors- One my first stops on campus was Fell Hall (the mecca of ISU’s Communications program). It was there I was introduced to, among others, Dr. Pete Smudde and Tom Lamonica. After talking to both gentlemen, I realized why the students held them in such high regard. They have taken a vested interest in the education and development of these students. They have helped to shape the future careers of many of the chapter members. Both also stressed the importance of the March Brandness event. Every student needs a mentor to give them support, honesty, and advice when necessary.

Show Off Your Surroundings- When I landed, I was greeted by Marrison and Hailey at the airport. Both ladies gave me the lowdown on Normal, Ill., including what businesses were based there, as well as a great understanding of the ISU campus. I was given a great tour by both ladies and then was joined by Ali Seys, who discussed the unique food truck, Two Blokes and a Bus. From there I was treated to lunch at the Pub II’s, with its outstanding cheese balls (and members of the e-board) and Sugar Mama Bakery’s delicious cupcakes. I felt as if I had been to campus and surrounding Normal before, thanks to how well the group educated me and helped me understand this great area. It also proved to me that working and living in a town or city is more than just saying, “I live in XX.” You should know as much as possible about your surroundings. It could come in very handy.

Ultimately, this trip also proved to me how outstanding PRSSA is. I’ve spoken to many chapters and students over the years; I have never, ever been disappointed in the passion, drive, and dedication each of these student show. Case in point, on April 9, it was announced that Illinois State’s PRSSA chapter was awarded a Pacersetter for the month of March 2014 from PRSSA National because of how well March Brandness went. I could not be more proud to have been part of such a great event with great people.

Big thanks also go to Ryan Smart, Melissa Fortes, Abby Brennan, Shelby Ray, and the many other great members that made this trip so memorable!

Learn more about Illinois State’s PRSSA Chapter by checking out their website.

 

 

Crisis Preparedness: Will you be ready?

[Jas’ note: I’m happy to welcome Samantha Dickson to the blog with a timely guest post.]

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A quick glance at the headlines of any newspaper will tell a company that they should always expect the unexpected. Yet still, companies fail to realize the importance of preparation. I’m referring specifically to crisis management.

As PR professionals, we recognize our role within a company. We also see the value of our position when we are prepared for a crisis before it even strikes. So what happens when this forward thinking isn’t present? Negative brand reputation, drops in stock price, and loss of investor trust, just to name a few.

With such negative impacts on a company, it’s hard to imagine that some CEOs will still assume “Oh, that will never happen.” Sadly, it can, it will and when it does, you better be prepared. This is where the public relations role, and corporate communication position is of extreme value within a company.

Outline company threats.

In order to be prepared, a company needs to begin to analyze potential areas where a threat could arise. It is extremely important to understand your industry and what could be a problem for your company or client.

Crisis Planning.

Taking the threats that you’ve outlined above, the next stage would be to strategically plan how to deal with the crisis. This might include identifying your stakeholders, potential solutions, and how to work on brand recovery once the peak of the crisis is over.

Develop pre-crisis communication material.

It is imperative to have audience messages and material ready to be disseminated. If you can identify a large threat that will impact your company or client, develop some material that can be tweaked should the crisis occur. It is better to have something prepared than nothing at all. This might be the shell of a press release, a prepared tweet if it’s social media related, or a letter from the CEO. If you have this material in advance, you’re able to act more quickly in the moment of the crisis.

The brands that are able to recover from a crisis are the ones that have a plan in place. The key takeaway is to do your research. If a crisis does occur, take the time to do a post-analysis on implementation and effectiveness. It is important to see what worked, what didn’t and ways to improve in the future.

SamDickson

 

Samantha Dickson recently graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, ON with a B.A. in Political Science. She is currently a graduate student at New York University in Public Relations and Corporate Communication. In her spare time, Samantha writes for her blog One Heel Ahead, provides freelance communication services and loves to travel.

The JourneyCast Podcast with guest Matt LaCasse

44424_4521832122001_1058374680_nMatt LaCasse and I are another example of developing a relationship from social media. I’ve (unfortunately) never met him in person, but have talked with him in every other way possible (except carrier pigeon and the string cup phone).

I’ve never been disappointed with something I retweet or share from Matt because I know he recognizes the importance of what he puts out on social networks. His only failing? Being a Chicago Cubs fan. Why do I pick on him about that? Because I’m a New York Mets fan.

In all seriousness, I’m really excited for everyone to listen to this episode with Matt because he shares some really great insight into how he started out in public relations, why he feels microvideo will dominate in 2014, and adjusting to being a parent and balancing work along with it.

The JourneyCast Podcast, Ep. 5 with Matt LaCasse

Let me know your thoughts on this episode, by leaving a comment below!

You can also subscribe to the podcast, via iTunes.