Business Card Design by yours truly

In lieu of my preparations for entering the professional world and scrambling to secure a job out of college, I’ve designed a few variations of business cards.

So, I know this is a little off the topic of crisis communication which my blog is intended to convey, but it’s still relevant to the industry and professional world. As I’ve stated in previous posts, I am on the brink of graduating. I find myself attending more professional/career mixers and networking with added purpose.

I didn’t originally think business cards were necessary as a student in this day and age, but to avoid the hassle of exchanging numbers with people I meet and leave a more memorable presence with potential employers, I decided to try it out.

I encourage those of you who follow my blog to engage in giving feedback regarding which design you find most visually appealing and memorable. Keep in mind I am pursuing a career in public relations and/or creative marketing.

Design 1

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Design 2

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Design 2 (version 2)

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Design 3

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Design 4

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My intention with this card is to display my creativity and design abilities, while maintaining a sense of professionalism. Some of these drafts are more modest than others in terms of design. I want to get noticed but remain relatively subtle.

Let me know which one you like by choosing your favorite in the poll below. Any additional comment feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Top PR Fails 2013

2888102664_8a07d8d0bc_oAs I’ve stated in other posts, the key to understanding how to successfully communicate during a crisis, is to look at what others have done and learn from their mistakes.

There are countless examples of failed public relations in the world every year. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to give a list of what, in my opinion, were the top three worst PR fails of this past year.

In no particular order:

Lance Armstrong – One of the most inspiring and reputable athletes in recent history, found his image in shambles after evidence surfaced that he used steroids. This situation was doomed from the get-go, as he publicly denied doping for nearly a decade before this information came out. He found himself in an amazing little crisis. In the aftermath, he went on an highly publicized interview with Oprah, in which he seemed insincere and lacking remorse. I wonder if this was due to lack of planning, or he just wasn’t able to reflect the emotions we expected from him. Regardless, he let all of his supporters down. Luckily, the LiveStrong foundation was able to separate themselves from him and this catastrophe.

Carnival Cruise Triumph- After a fire broke out in the engine room of Carnival’s Triumph ship while afloat in the Gulf of Mexico, passengers were stranded onboard for five days in horrible conditions. Human waste, limited water, extreme heat and horrible odors burdened the ship. While passengers were stuck on board, they were constantly tweeting about how horrible the experience was and this social media use took hold in media. Carnival’s restitution to passengers, $5,000 and a ticket for a free cruise. Since I’m sure so many of those people want to take another cruise… But now several of the passengers are suing Carnival claiming they have PTSD.

Justine Sacco – The tweet heard around the world. Justine Sacco is a communications director for the internet company InterActive Corp. When traveling to Africa, she tweeted an incredibly offensive remark, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” This coming from a professional communicator? Hard to believe she would make such an arrogant mistake. And she paid for it. Despite publicly apologizing she was fired from her position at the company.

Honorable mentions include Target’s credit card information breach, JP Morgan’s twitter conversation fail and the Chick-fil A CEO’s homophobic comments.

Social networking with a purpose

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Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Networking online is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the PR industry. Well, any industry for that matter. I’ve spoken about how you present yourself on social media influences your ability to get a job, but now let’s look at how social networking sites use innovative tactics to potentially create job opportunities. Specifically LinkedIn.

As the premier professional networking site, LinkedIn aims to connect people with other professionals by interest or personal connections.

The article, How to nab a job using LinkedIn’s “Who’s viewed your profile,” gives insight into techniques the site uses to help users become better networkers. By strategically using these features, you can increase the likelihood of gaining job opportunities with organizations or people in your industry.

The “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” feature is one that if used correctly,can provide a common ground for communication between another person. Whenever someone else looks at your profile it notifies you and shows their profile. As the article explains, this is similar to knocking on someone’s door. You meet them, they meet you and then both of you have some common ground to talk about.

LinkedIn doesn’t stop there, they also provide a slew of analytics including how often people viewed your profile, who viewed it and how people have found you. This data allows the user to formulate a sort of situation analysis for your interactions on the site. It’s essentially the who, what, when, where, how of your social networking interactions.

The only part they don’t answer for you… Why. The way I see it, that’s the fun in it though. They give you a foundation of information to make educated an guess about why people seek you out. This also motivates interaction with the other person. I know at least for me, when people I don’t know view my profile, I am incredibly curious about why they sought me out and want answers.

I personally have a LinkedIn profile that I keep up-to-date with all of my experience and projects I have worked on. But, until recently I haven’t done much more with the site than endorsing skills of people I know or have done business with. The insight given in this article was particularly helpful in strengthening my understanding of how to use features like the “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” in my own personal networking strategy.

Blaming the Intern


It is likely that most people will go into the professional world as an intern, or at least have internship experience at some point. This is an inevitable fact in any profession. I myself, have held several internships throughout the years.

I can’t help but notice the undeniable presence of “blaming the intern” in crisis communication. Seemingly a go-to tactic for organizations that have controversial mishaps while communicating.

This was brought to my attention by my roommate who gave a presentation about the PR fail surrounding the Asiana Airlines flight 214 crash last July. In the aftermath of the crash, the NTSB released the names of the pilots to the KTVU news station. The problem was that they were fake names. Not only were they fake, they were offensively racist. “Sum Ting Wong,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” “Wi Tu Lo” and “Bang Ding Ow” were the names given to the media by NTSB. Remarkably KTVU, in a major failure of oversight, reported the names on live television. Long story short, the NTSB blamed the offensive “joke” on a summer intern.

This story sparked some inspiration, so I did a little research and found that it is not a rare occurrence to blame an intern when communication errors take place.

Here are some other famous instances of blaming the intern for PR faux pas:

  • During the 2008 presidential election, a website was created for “McCain Family Recipes.” Essentially supposed to be a cookbook to make the public feel “at home” with John McCain and family. Problems arose when the recipes listed were directly copied from Food Network recipes. Needless to say, goodbye intern.
  • Habitat, a furnishings retailer based out of London, blamed and fired an intern after trying to use the election protests in Iran as a promotional vehicle on twitter in 2009.
  • In May 2011, when Allure magazine sent out an emails to the blogosphere urging them to “say something nice, or don’t say anything at all” they blamed the intern for not understanding editorial policies.

Their are countless examples of interns becoming scapegoats, especially when it comes to social media.

So what is it about the intern?

I mean, they are the obvious scapegoat material – unpaid, expendable, temporary. But I can’t help but wonder if all these mishaps were actually the fault of the intern.

There are several possibilities to why this takes place. The organizations may be giving to much freedom and responsibility to under experienced employees (interns), they may be asking their interns to take part in risky communication with the knowledge that they have a scapegoat, or the intern isn’t actually involved but they divert blame in order to protect the organization as a whole.

I’m sure that the reasons behind blaming interns changes on a situational basis. In terms of the NTSB blunder, I can’t imagine a scenario that would contradict an intern being at fault. In what world would any intern do something like that though? Maybe they were disgruntled. Maybe they were under the influence. Whatever the reason, it was poor form.

The moral of the story… Tread lightly if you’re an intern.

Crisis Issue Management

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

Being as though I am a college student majoring in public relations, I have access to some of the most brightest and critical minds in the industry; my professors. So I’ll take this opportunity to share some insight that I received from Pat Curtin, who was not only the acting PR chair for the school of journalism here at UO, she also has years of experience in the industry.

She gave a lecture on crisis communication and image management during my Strategic Planning class.

While I have frequently alluded to advice given to me by colleagues, teachers or guest speakers, it is interesting to note that different people have different opinions regarding how to go about communicating during a crisis.

What is issue management?

To understand issue management you must first define what an issue is in terms of PR. An issue is a gap between an organization’s actions and its stakeholders expectations. When these are at odds, there is a potential for crisis.

Issue management is aimed at proactively closing that gap. Communicating in a way that reassures and mends the cognitive dissonance experienced by stakeholders.

I wont go into detail on her opinions about planning and preparing for crisis, as they align with others advice which I have put forth in recent posts (contingency plans, go over plans at least once a year, etc).

The most surprising piece of advice she gave; lawyers are never your friend during a crisis.

Why are lawyers not your friend? The prerogative of lawyers is to deny guilt. This is obviously to protect the organization from legal consequences. But as communicators, transparency is essential in the wake of disaster.

To successfully communicate during a crisis you must know what mistakes not to make. So here are some common mistakes to avoid during a crisis:

  • hesitation
  • obfuscation
  • retaliation
  • prevarication
  • pontification
  • confrontation
  • litigation

In other words, do not hesitate, confuse, fight back, evade, mouth off, challenge or get into legal disputes.

Driving Less with an infographic

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As the final assignment in my Strategic Public Relations Communication class, we were asked to create an infographic for a client of our choosing. As I racked my brain for an issue that I could express in infographic form, I found inspiration from the Drive Less. Save More. campaign I worked on while interning with Pac/West Communications. The campaign focused on reducing driving in Oregon.

For this infographic I chose the Oregon Department of Transportation as my client and primarily focused on data for Portland, Oregon. Portland is a city that takes pride in reducing the environmental impact of its residents to preserve the natural beauty of the Northwest. With that said, there’s always work that can be done to decrease the amount of pollution we are putting into the atmosphere from transportation.

The purpose of the infographic is to raise awareness of the impact driving has on the environment, show the benefits of alternative forms of transportation and hopefully convince people to drive less.

So why an infographic?

Infographics can be an extremely effective way to present information to people in an visually stimulating way. They are entertaining and make sometimes-complex data easily digestible for the average person.

So here are some of my tips for making a successful infographic:

  • Find data content that is interesting and supports your objective.
  • Find a way to present that information in a stimulating way.
  • Use a consistent color scheme when designing the infographic
  • Pick two fonts to use throughout – one sans serif, one serif.
  • Wire-frame your infographic before hand.
  • Position images and text in a way that emphasizes most important data.

A couple of these tips I will briefly delve into. To present your data in a stimulating way, you may take an ordinary statistic and compare it to something relatable to the average person. For example, there are 319 miles of bike paths in Portland. This statistic alone lacks imagination. You can put that number into perspective by showing that distance is enough to span the entire length of Oregon.

Specific data points can be emphasized on an infographic by noticeably positioning them, using high contrast colors and larger font size.

There you have it… Adam’s advice on making an infographic.

Moon-bound media relations

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Image courtesy of Robert Daly

As a student of PR, I keep track of the general happenings of the industry. I try to critically look at campaigns, successes and failures and the historical context of public relations, to learn from what other people/organizations have done.

With that said, for some reason I have never considered the public relations that goes into the NASA program. Minor oversight… My bad.

That was until I read the article, “How PR landed humans on the moon.” Needless to say, my mind was blown.

The article looked at the PR and communications involved in the Apollo program. Apparently NASA’s PR team was relatively small considering the scope of the organization and the event of landing on the moon. But that’s where it gets interesting, much of the PR was contracted or outsourced to the companies that worked with NASA, such as Boeing. Considering these other companies wanted word to get out of their involvement with the Apollo program, their interests aligned. This is a story of communications partnership.

This partnership worked out to the enormous benefit of NASA. They could focus on the technical, scientific components of sending a rocket to the moon for the first time ever, not get bogged down by publicizing the event.

The article goes on to explain the enormous collaborative effort that went in to creating press kits for each of the partnering companies. They had to make their press kits stand out from all the background noise. I mean, anyone and everyone was putting out materials about the lunar landing. It was a historic event of epic proportions. If, say, Boeing wanted to get proper recognition of their involvement in the program, they had to send out press kits that were better than all the rest, give information that couldn’t be found elsewhere, or suggest interesting one of a kind stories.

But at the same time every other partner or stakeholder was trying to do the same thing. The competition was fierce. Reminds me of the dog-eat-dog atmosphere of the African savannah. But really, thats what media relations is. As PR practitioners it is our job to make our clients story stand out from all the noise. There is and will always be competition for media space.

Sometimes it takes a little innovation, some creativity on our part to get noticed.

PR helps Michael Sam come out in style

Michael Sam, a potential recruit for the NFL draft this year, has recently come out publicly. Since announcing that he was in fact gay, this story has been blasted in media, creating significant buzz and bringing the issue of gay athletes to the public realm.

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It’s unfortunate that this announcement has to be such a big deal. But that’s where we’re at as a society I suppose… Which makes me respect Sam even more. Athletes don’t come out often. Brave guy if you ask me.

This is undeniably a situation that required/requires some public relations work. Howard Bragman, who has past experience with helping athletes come out, prepared Sam to make this announcement.

Reading the PRWeek article, “Five questions for Michael Sam’s Publicist,” I can’t help but feel an enormous amount of appreciation for the work that Howard Bragman is doing for Sam. There’s no doubt coming out in public has the potential to create a crisis situation. But Bragman’s planning and strategy did an amazing job of easing the tension.

So what does Bragman have to say about his plan of action? PRWeek interviewed him about it.

I won’t go over all of his answers in detail, as you can read the article for more information.

Bragman expressed that his main focus was to let Michael Sam tell his story in his own words on his own timetable. I couldn’t respect that more. This story really makes me happy with my profession and the good that can come from public relations.

He strategically selected the media outlets used to cover this announcement based on both their national influence, but also their relationship to the LGBT community. While ESPN was obviously selected because of its pervasive coverage of the world of sports, he also involved the New York Times because they have covered athletes coming out in the past. He had a specific reporter, which he had worked with in the past and knew could do this story justice. This is where media lists and relationships with reporters comes in to play. When facing a potentially damaging announcement like this, having strong relationships with influential reporters makes all the difference. Good thing to keep in mind going into a career in PR.

Bragman explained that one of his intentions with this announcement was to tell it quickly and on their timeframe. This was to avoid the story leaking and getting ahead of them. Surely this situation would have different ramifications if the story broke at the hands of someone else. That would have forced Sam to take the defensive. This is critical for avoiding public backlash and in turn having to involve crisis communication.

So how was the announcement received? According to Bragman, it was 99 percent positive. This is due to his ability to comprehensibly prepare Sam for the tough questions that ensued and also control the publicity surrounding the announcement. This made all the difference in making this announcement a historical win for gay athletes everywhere rather than a historical crisis.

Preparing for the Daunting “Media Interview”

“Let me be clear to you. If you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this fucking balcony, I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”

This is a sound bite from a recent interview with New York Representative Michael Grimm, in which he threatened the life of the journalist interviewing him. I guess thats one way to deflect difficult questions… He was under the impression that the camera was no longer rolling. Lucky for him, it was. Okay, yes I’m being facetious, but I just find this to be utterly ridiculous. How can a politician be so foolish as to make a statement like that with cameras anywhere near him? Not to mention that this wasn’t your average, everyday threat, he really went above and beyond with the descriptive language. I mean, come on guy.

This is a crisis if I ever saw one.

Public interviewing always has the potential to be unpredictable, thats why prepping spokespeople or public figures is key to mitigating the potential for crisis. Thats where PR pro’s come in. Its our job to make sure the person being interviewed is adequately prepared to answer possible questions that may be asked.

As PR practitioners, one of the expectations put on us is to be able to think strategically. This couldn’t be any more true than in the process of preparing for public interviews. We need to be able to look at the situation and identify all possible questions and scenarios that may occur during the interview. Then evaluate how to respond in a way that will generate the most favorable reaction/perception.

Ben Silverman gives several things to keep in mind when doing a media interview in his article, Public Relations Basics: Preparing for Media Interviews. While he laid out many suggestions, I will just look at a few of them I found helpful.

  1. Be Prepared – More often than not, the publicity we get isn’t about us directly, but about a general subject, trend, or preexisting news story. Some independent research ahead of time never hurts.
  2. I Don’t Know – Don’t talk about things you don’t know about. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not familiar with that.” In the end, admitting you don’t know an answer is better than going on-the-record with something that is inaccurate or poorly thought out.
  3. Take Your Time – Print media is relaxed media, taking a 10 second pause to gather your thoughts can be tremendously helpful. With TV and radio appearances, it’s essential that you do some prep work, which can be the difference between sounding like a genius and an idiot.
  4. Listen – Listen to the actual question before you answer. You may think you know what’s going to be asked, but one word can change the entire meaning of a question.
  5. Don’t Get Something Stuck in Your Head – We all go into interviews with some idea of what we want to say and how we want to say it. Don’t get to attached to specific soundbites you planned ahead of time. Understand what you want to convey and let the conversation flow naturally.

My favorite of these; don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” It seems all to often that people are to stubborn to say this during an interview. This is a sure-fire way to make you seem ignorant. Perhaps they don’t want to seem unintelligent or in any way vulnerable during an interview. Personally, when an interviewee admits they don’t know the answer to a question, I can appreciate that. As long as they do it within reason.

Planning ahead of time, strategizing potential scenarios and adequately prepping the person being interviewed will reduce the likelihood of the interview going aery and causing a PR crisis, such as what happened with Michael Grimm.

The Psychology of Persuasion

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“PR is a mix of journalism, psychology, and lawyering – it’s an ever-changing and always interesting landscape.”

Well put, Ronn Torossian. This is exactly why I want to get into public relations.

We are thinkers, strategists, influencers. As PR pro’s, reaching audiences is what we do and understanding how they think is our strategy.

A key influencer that led me to pursuing PR was one of the psychology courses I took earlier in my education.  I couldn’t get enough after that. Apart from causing me to take entirely too many social science credits, my curiosity of the mind made me realize the fundamental role that psychology plays in communications/PR.

According to psychologist Gordon Allport, social psychology is the study of how the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of other human beings.

Its purpose is to understand the intertwining factors behind social and individual behavior. Why people do what they do.

Public relations aims to influence public opinion by disseminating messages on behalf of your client. But how can you do this effectively without understanding how people think and the reasoning behind their behavior? Although it seems as though the field of PR is trying to shake the reputation that it is merely a form of persuasion, that is a big part of what we do.

Even if you haven’t been exposed to social psychology, you have used various principles without realizing it. For example, if you want your roommate to start cleaning up after himself/herself, what message will most likely motivate them to change their behavior? Maybe you confront them in a blunt and assertive manner, perhaps you sit them down and have a more serious talk about the issue, or refer to the passive aggressive. You take a mental note of their past attitudes or behaviors, and choose the best route of communicating. Whether you get through to them is directly related to your ability to calculate these psychological tendencies.

But I digress. What does cleaning apartments have to do with PR? This example is similar to public relations, except usually you are taking into account a much larger audience.

Say your client is the American Cancer Society and your objective is to craft a message that will persuade more women to get mammograms. How do you elicit this behavioral response? The way you frame the message makes all the difference. Of the following, which method would be more successful: 

  • Create a campaign focused on positive consequences of getting regular mammograms.
  • Create a campaign focused on the negative consequences of not getting regular mammograms.

According to studies, people will respond better to the latter. You see this all time time in PR campaigns for, say, drinking and driving or anti-smoking. The language and phrasing you use makes all the difference in influencing people’s behaviors and attitudes towards an issue.

But okay, framing is kind of the “go-to” psychological principle for PR. Many of you have probably learned about it at some point. While there are numerous applicable principles, here are a few off the top my head to look into: confirmation bias, pluralistic ignorance, availability heuristic, and the elaboration likelihood model.

I realize the stereotype for journalism majors; we’re creative but we don’t tend to mix well with science or math.  But social psych is a science worth the effort. I believe it’s in every PR pro’s best interest to have at least a basic understanding of these principles.