PR Needs Better PR

One morning as I was walking to class I noticed I was walking the same pace as a young man headed in the same direction. We smiled awkwardly and continued on. Finally he looked over my way, laughed and introduced himself. After I introduced myself to him he asked what my major is. I was not expecting what happened next.

 “Public relations? People like you are the reason the government and media are so corrupt,” he yelled. “I hope you have fun making the world a worse place someday,” and he stormed off (After throwing in a few expletives).

 The rest of the day I sat at my desk wrestling with his harsh words. Although there’s a chance he had no idea what he was talking about, he has a point. Ironically, pubic relations needs better public relations.

Why Ethics?

The reason PR is lacking a positive reputation boils down to one word: Ethics.

Ethics are capable of building up someone’s identity in a positive way or capsizing it, drowning any hopes of a successful future.  Poor ethical choices can tear away a person’s privacy and swap a tailored Armani suit for an orange jumpsuit. Even if the poor decision never comes to the surface, the guilty person or party will suffer a clouded conscience and live in fear of being found out. Misguided ethics can lead to joblessness and in some cases, infamy. There is tremendous power in choices.

PR crises are a dime a dozen and many ex-professionals (or current pros who have managed to salvage what’s left of their reputation) are victims of their own poor ethical choices. Identity is a delicate thing.

I admit…many of the real-life ethical breaches brought up in my ethics and media law class happened well before my time. I was not as familiar with some of them as I knew I should be. I decided to research more about each case. As I began, I noticed something interesting. Before the name of the company/person was fully spelled out in the Google search bar, I knew almost exactly what area of ethics had been violated.

Screen shot 2014-01-26 at 12.53.18 PMScreen shot 2014-01-26 at 12.35.27 PMScreen shot 2014-01-26 at 12.34.53 PMScreen shot 2014-01-26 at 12.33.25 PM

When an individual makes unethical choices that are brought to light, they weave new words into their identity. Personal branding is a real thing and when someone’s identity is paired with words such as “scandal,” and “plagiarism,” I think it’s safe to say that the outcome isn’t good.

Ethical practice not only helps businesses stay out of trouble, but it also allows for peace of mind that comes with a clear conscience. Pubic relations can only be properly practiced with credibility, which is reinforced by good ethics. If there’s no credibility, there’s no business.

Proceed With Caution

Although there are situations where ethics are black and white, oftentimes there’s a grey area between what is ethical and unethical.

Screen shot 2014-01-26 at 1.15.50 PM

Just because something is legal does not mean that it is ethical, and just because something is ethical does not mean it’s also credible.

The diagram to the right illustrates that what is ethical, credible and legal are connected but separate. Just because something is legal does not mean that it is ethical, and just because something is ethical does not mean it’s also credible. It is not uncommon for PR practitioners to be asked to do something questionable by persons of authority. It’s important to have a plan for these situations to ensure that the ethical, legal and credible decision will be made.  Sometimes this can involve standing up for what is right—maybe even at the expense of your job.

A decision-making model from Trust, Inc. advises the following steps when confronting an ethical dilemma:

L- Learn everything you can

  • What are the key facts and data?
  • What outcome is important?
  • Which laws/policies/codes apply? (Always keep the PRSA Code of Ethics handy)
  • What raises an ethical red flag?
  • Who are the stakeholders?

E- Evaluate your options

  • Level 1: If all stakeholders agree, move ahead
  • Level 2: When it’ s not that simple…
  • Consult a mentor for a fresh perspective
  • Identify key consequences

A-  Access your intuition

  • Can you sleep at night knowing you made a certain decision?
  • What would your mother think about said decision?
  • As my professor says, “how would you feel if your decisions today were tomorrow’s headlines?”

P- Put your decision into action

  • Time to act
  • Evaluate

No matter what decision you make, always:

  • Be honest
  • Be respectful
  • Be transparent

It’s important to be educated on ethics because a snap decision during a crisis can have negative consequences. Stay up to date on current issues and put yourself in the shoes of professionals in crisis. In addition, it’s important to be educated on the code of ethics for your company or industry to have an idea of, and prepare for, issues that could arise.

With my college graduation on the horizon, I am working hard to be prepared to face anything that might come my way during my professional career. I know PR has a long way to go when it comes to having a positive reputation in the public eye, but I fully intend to do my part in reversing the stigma. This might be a challenge, but in the end I hope I can say I’ve left a positive mark on the profession.

Advertisements

Anyone Can Be an Alchemist

I visited an agency about a year ago and met an insightful account executive who recommended Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist when I asked her for reading recommendations. I finally had time to read it during my time off from school and work during the holidays and I’m glad I did. Although it didn’t directly pertain to PR, it provided inspiration that easily applied to my career and life in general.

The Alchemist is a story of a young boy, Santiago, who embarks on a mission to find his treasure. Along the way, he falls into snares and consequences of naivety, makes immense sacrifices, finds and loses love, and learns life lessons from an infamous alchemist.

As I read The Alchemist, several major themes kept returning:

1. Find your Personal Legend

This book placed an emphasis on chasing after your dreams.  Santiago was on a mission to find his life’s purpose. As many others can relate, Santiago didn’t always know his personal legend and reason for life. If you don’t know, that’s okay. Part of the fun is discovering that one thing that makes you happy and makes you different from anyone else on earth. Are you hoping to discover your personal legend this year? The beauty of this concept is that making a decision is only the beginning of a lifelong journey that can be extraordinarily rewarding.

What are you most excited about in life?

2. Don’t fear the desert

In The Alchemist, Santiago took a journey through the Sahara Desert to go to the pyramids, where he believed the treasure was buried. This was an apprehensive time in his journey. The caravan through the desert was long and dangerous and at times Santiago was tempted to give up.

Sometimes your life’s calling will require you to take a detour. Instead of feeling inconvenienced by these perceived setbacks, see them as opportunities– even in the midst of suffering. You might be thinking, “That sounds a lot easier than it is.” Coelho cleverly wrote, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself… No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” You’re not alone in the desert and when you reach an oasis or your final destination you will be reminded of life’s blessings and be thankful for life in and of itself.

What are you most afraid of? Why?

“Immerse yourself in the desert. You don’t even have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a single grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.”

3. “Where your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” 

During Santiago’s journey, he finds a beautiful woman and falls in love. She tells Santiago to follow his heart and find his treasure, and then he can come back and they will be together. I admired this selfless aspect of love because she wanted him to pursue his dreams enough to let him go.

As Coehlo wrote, “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

How can you do a better job of loving your family, significant other or coworkers?

Life is Golden 

The alchemist book

Add this one to your booklist.

I admit… when I picked up this book I wasn’t really sure what an alchemist was, but now that I’ve finished this book I understand that life is less about a treasure hunt than transforming what you see as lead to gold.

Would you say your life is more like lead or gold?

Although life will never be perfect, it’s rewarding to follow after your personal legend even if it means you’ll have to travel through a desert for a while. You have everything you need right now to see your life as the sparkling gold it is.

“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”- Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist

Reflections on a Mason Jar of Memories

A Mason Jar of Memories from 2013

A Mason Jar of Memories from 2013

I don’t always play board games, but when I do…I typically can’t wait for someone to win so I can do something else.

Maybe I’m no fun, but something about the fact that most board games come with a million little pieces and a novel-sized book of instructions that people don’t read, but still manage to argue about the rules, makes them even less fun. I’d rather do something else, like have a conversation, bake or go outside like people used to do before televisions were invented.

On New Year’s Day I was with my boyfriend, some family and friends, and we started playing his favorite board game. I was reluctant at first, but since I was in the holiday spirit and figured it wouldn’t kill me, I went ahead and joined in. Seeing the delight on his face was something I wasn’t expecting. He was genuinely appreciative that I put aside my preferences and played his favorite game. Although it wasn’t a tremendous sacrifice on my part, it brought me joy in return and I started to think this would be a great continuation of my New Year’s resolution from last year.

Choosing Contentment

In 2013 I resolved to be more content and positive with my life the way it is. I have a perfectionist mindset, which often makes it hard to appreciate what is going right and focus on fixing what isn’t. To help me accomplish this new mindset I wrote down positive experiences and thoughts, and put them in a jar on my dresser. After ringing in the New Year, I read through all the little slips of paper. I remembered sweet conversations over mugs of coffee, thoughtful gifts I didn’t deserve from friends and family members, and the feeling of accomplishment that washed over me after seeing my work in print for the first time. Others included waking up to beautiful sunsets, volunteering at philanthropic community events and random acts of kindness.

Last year wasn’t perfect, but looking back on the positive things reminded me that everything doesn’t have to be perfect for a year to be productive in accomplishing my goals. The strange thing is, I really didn’t even make specific goals when I decided what I would focus on in 2013. In addition, I felt much more successful than I had in years before when I wrote out a ton of things I wanted to change about my life.

Redefining Resolutions

Instead of a resolution that limits your possibilities, why not choose a word instead?

As a former, overly obsessive resolutionist, I know that more resolutions are abandoned than achieved, and the most apparent reason for that is the fact that most resolutions are about the person making them. As I looked back through all of the positive moments from 2013, I was reminded that contentment, which is defined as “a state of happiness or satisfaction,” is the key to accepting what I have without longing for more or struggling to be someone else every time January rolls around. If I’m distracted by what I don’t have, I can’t see past my own failures and can’t possibly be in tune with meeting the needs of others. Contentment is an open door to freedom from greed, envy, selfishness and severe expectations. Although contentment can’t solve all of life’s problems, it’s a great place to start.

Contentment takes discipline and can be difficult in our world where we know little of actual need, but reading through each of the positive things that happened in 2013, I was reminded that the good far outweighs the bad.

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.                                    – Oprah Winfrey

Thankfulness

When contentment is achieved, thankfulness is the result. Thankfulness is a relational benefit of contentment, which is “expressive of thanks,” and “aware and appreciative of a benefit.” Oftentimes thankfulness obliges selflessness, which can lead to making sacrifices for the benefit of others. There are so many people and things to be thankful for and I sincerely hope that this year I will more effectively recognize what is lovely and worthy of gratitude (and even things that aren’t) and respond with self-sacrifice and love.

I would love to hear about the word you’ve chosen to focus on in 2014.

Wishing you a blessed New Year!

Icepocalypse 2013

It’s rarely very cold in Texas, but this winter is off to a chilly start. Last Thursday was the beginning of what UNT students called the “Icepocalypse” in Denton. I was cooped up in my apartment for several days and campus was closed for nearly a week, but the ice is finally starting to melt away.

Fortunately my power didn’t go out, but a few friends in Dallas weren’t so lucky. My old roommate and close friend, Nicole Bell, told me she was stuck in apartment without power. My roommates and I invited her over and after battling traffic and icy roads, she finally arrived with a bridesmaid dress and suitcase in tow, a little disappointed that her flight to North Carolina for her best friend’s wedding had been postponed.

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 10.34.06 PMTwo nights of movies, laughter and failed attempts to drive on the ice passed and she was finally on her way to the airport. I checked with her later that day to make sure she made it to the airport safely and she had big news. She was asked to film a video diary for ABC News! The reporter had found her on Twitter and after she filmed some of the airport madness her clip was played on Good Morning America that night! Her hashtag #NicoleStranded2013 made for some good laughs and it was cool to see one of my best friends in the world on the news! I thought this was also a great example of how being in the right place at the right time can have its perks, even if it’s a life-giving-you-lemons kind of situation.

(Side note: People’s flights were canceled so they brought in some clowns? Uhh…)

As for me, finals week was condensed into three days (That’s another story for another day) and all of my finals were on the same day. It’s good to be done for the fall and even more strange to be registered for my last semester as a college student. For now, bring on the Christmas cookies!

Is an #UNselfie mindset possible in a #selfie world?

Shouldn't every day be an #UNselfie day?

Shouldn’t every day be an #UNselfie day?

Forget chocolate. Selfies are society’s new guilty pleasure.

So what exactly is a selfie?

Oxford Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” for 2013 is defined as, “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” More than 90 million selfies have been posted across social media channels since the word was first used in an Australian forum in 2002. Since then, selfies have become widely popular among social media users, including celebrities, political figures and athletes.

It didn’t take long for technology to adapt to the trend by creating front-facing cameras and smartphones to accommodate selfie photographers. It’s no surprise that Facebook, Twitter and especially Instagram are loaded with them and that Instagram’s most used hash tag is #me.

Don’t you think it’s all a little narcissistic?

Unleashing the #UNselfie

This week was the second annual Giving Tuesday.

A number of what users are calling #UNselfie photos were posted featuring people holding signs supporting charities and advocating self-sacrifice.

This day of giving was initially launched by New York’s 92nd Street Y , the United Foundation and the Case Foundation and has since rallied thousands of nonprofits to reach out to prospective donors and share the importance of giving. The hope behind the campaign is inspiring similar fervor to that of Black Friday sales, according to Forbes.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen people camp out for days in advance and line up for blocks just to help others.

Comparison of #selfie posts and posts about giving

Comparison of #selfie posts and posts about giving

An Instagram hashtag search on Giving Tuesday pulled up more than 60 million photos tagged #selfie, but less than 600 thousand photos were tagged with the top five commonly used hashtags about giving: #giving, #givingback, #givingtuesday, #unselfie and #givingbacktothecommunity.

It’s heart-warming to see the reaction to the movement dedicated to giving through #UNselfies over social media and  I don’t want to discount the compassion behind anyone’s efforts to make a difference, but shouldn’t every day be a giving day?

In Conclusion…

Let’s face it; we’re all guilty of taking selfies and putting our wants above the needs of others at one time or another. Living in a #selfie culture makes it easy to forget that giving isn’t only something we should do during the holidays. Wouldn’t it be nice if we greeted every day with thanksgiving without a turkey dinner, gave without expecting anything in return and felt immense joy in the absence of a decorated tree or presents?

I challenge you to give this Christmas season, but to also continue giving long after the tree and lights are packed away. Do your part to make your life a walking #UNselfie. As many have said before, it’s much better to give than to receive.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we greeted every day with thanksgiving without a turkey dinner, gave without expecting anything in return and felt immense joy in the absence of a decorated tree or presents?

Why We Love & Hate Brand Mascots

Guess what day it is!

Guess what day it is!

Only one thing can cause middle school principals to ask kids to tone down the camel nonsense every Wednesday, give my boyfriend the inspiration to dress up as a “hot babe out jogging” for Halloween in a suit and a pink sweat band and replace Chuck Norris jokes with “the most interesting man in the world memes.”

Brand mascots are often effective communication tools for consumer brands. They create ripples on social media sites and spark conversation, but evidence suggests the hype is much more than just talk.

According to USA Today, brand mascots add more value to companies than celebrity endorsements. In addition, associations are so strong even toddlers can make judgments on brands based on mascots alone, according to Slate Magazine.

I grew up with the Energizer Bunny, Captain Crunch and Mickey Mouse, but as social media  has grown more and more important, many characters are now popping up on YouTube (Remember Mr. Six from the Six Flags commercials?) and Twitter, engaging with consumers and fans and generating even more direct conversation between brands and consumers.

Some of the brand mascots that have gone digital include Aflac duck, Tony the Tiger, Flo from Progressive, Mr. Clean, The Green Giant, Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome and Mayhem, of course. (Fun Fact: Mayhem has a handsome, Spanish-speaking partner in crime, Mala Suerte)

Of the most notable brand mascots, many represent insurance companies, making them more attractive to consumers and bring them to life. For example, Business Insider named Allstate’s Mayhem as “The Man Who Made Insurance Interesting,” and Aflac used a duck to skyrocket revenue. The Harvard Business Review refers to the Aflac duck as a rock star in Japan.

The idea was born when a colleague at Aflac’s creative agency pointed out that “Aflac” had a similar sound to a duck’s quack. After some experimentation and planning, the CEO fell in love with the idea and after only one year, the company’s profits shot up by 29 percent. The Aflac duck put the company on the map for insurance in the United States and Japan, its two major markets. Today, Aflac covers 25 percent of households in Japan.

It all started with a quack.

What can we learn from success of brand mascots?

All of the mascots that have taken off and changed a company’s brand recognition involved a company taking risks. Aflac’s CEO was taking a huge leap of faith when he went forward with the idea for the duck commercials as well as the other brands whose mascots are equally quirky.

If all else fails, move on to what’s next. GEICO is a good example of a brand that has evolved from mascot to mascot, creating tremendous buzz and triggering mass renditions, although not all were popular in the public eye. (Check out NBA All-Star Dirk Nowitzki’s rendition of GEICO’s hump day advertisement.)

When Brand Mascots Go Wrong

According to Business Insider, consumers only like a small percentage of brand mascots. Top reasons include creepiness, obscurity, vagueness and just plain stupidity. Many of the mascots that meet the “most hated” criteria belong to fast food brands. Although McDonald’s mascot, Ronald McDonald, has lasted for decades, he is much less loveable than mascots of other industries that have better engagement with consumers. A possible reason for Ronald McDonald’s lack of success since his 1963 debut might be that clowns are not generally seen as likeable.

What makes a good brand mascot?

  • Humanization of the brand (Or animalization in some cases.)
  • Recognition
  • Humor
  • Uniqueness

The best brand mascots make you feel something. You might hate a company’s attempt at creating a mascot, but chances are, you still recognize the brand and respond to advertisements with a positive or negative response.

What is your favorite brand mascot?

Is ‘Gray Thursday’ the New Thanksgiving?

Screen shot 2013-11-30 at 2.45.56 PMFor decades, Black Friday has been known as the official start to the holiday buying season, but this year, “Gray Thursday,” also known as Thanksgiving, has caused a lot of controversy. Eager shoppers around the nation skipped out on turkey dinners to score low prices on TVs, tablets and other goods at many chain retailers looking to boost the bottom line, such as WalMart, Kohl’s, K-Mart, Best Buy, JC Penney, Sears, Macy’s, Staples, Toys R’Us and Target.

Outrageous lines and bickering shoppers are old news, but this year’s scramble to get the best deals resulted in an outpour of user-generated videos, images and tweets hashtagged #WalMartFights. Content depicts people swarming the shelves, pushing and shoving and some even show people getting arrested. BuzzFeed catches some of the madness in this post and PRNewser called the hashtag incident a PR Nightmare for WalMart.

Screen shot 2013-11-30 at 3.37.43 PM

Forbe’s reports a record-breaking day of sales on Thanksgiving with more than 10 million cash register transactions between 6am and 10pm, a victory for the company financially, but hardly a success for the employees who missed out on family time to wrangle crowds and the shoppers who were victims of violence during the shopping event. However, WalMart’s response to the violence and chaos during Thanksgiving and Black Friday hardly assumed responsibility or even acknowledged what had happened.

I’m all about shopping and getting great deals, but when lives are put on the line for stuff that will someday be put in a landfill, I have a problem with that. One of my favorite family Thanksgiving traditions is reflecting on the first Thanksgiving and sharing what we’re thankful for. How did the first Thanksgiving transform through generations to all of this chaos and violence?

Image source: Someecards