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Economy slows, PR grows

April 4, 2009

It’s been a trying week for General Motors employees who once relied on their stable GM jobs to support their families.

Let me rephrase that.  It’s been a trying few months.

GM Lordstown Plant

I grew up approximately 25 minutes away from the GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and a large percentage of my high school classmates had one or more parents working at the plant.  So when GM began announcing layoffs and shift cuts over the past few months, my heart broke for those families facing uncertain futures.  The situation became stickier this week as President Obama announced plans to restructure GM and Chrysler, leading to the resignation of Richard Wagoner, GM chairman and chief executive.

I always imagined I’d move home after college and pursue a career in corporate public relations, but as the major corporations in the Mahoning Valley face uncertain economic futures, my dreams are facing an adaptation process.

However, hope is never lost!  I picked a recession-proof career when I chose to major in public relations.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects PR jobs to grow 18 percent between 2006-2016, which is faster than the national average.  Here’s some reasons why PR won’t fade away in a lagging economy:

The Growth of Social Media

Coca-ColaPublic relations professionals have recognized the importance of social media communications for quite some time, but upper management and the general public are finally catching on.  Coca-Cola announced the launch of its office of digital and social media this week in hopes of connecting individuals to the company and its brands.  Large corporations are starting to recognize the importance of social media to reach their audiences in an effective manner.  Kudos to Coca-Cola for taking this initiative; I hope other corporations will follow.

Birmingham City University announced it will offer a master’s degree to teach students how to use Facebook, Twitter and Bebo.  Many critics say the degree is a waste of university resources, as many social media tools can be self-taught.  However, I respect the university’s efforts to train students to grasp social media’s potential.

Crisis Communications

Unfortunately, someone has to be the bearer of bad news.  As America’s economy navigates through a recession, it seems as though the pool of bad news has been much deeper than the pool of good news.  Executives need the expertise of public relations practitioners to guide communications through the tough times of layoffs, job cuts, administrative changes  and bankruptcies.

On the brighter side: Businesses will also need PR to announce the good news when the economy strengthens.

A Global Marketplace

Global communications has been a hot topic among several guest speakers at recent PRSSA Kent meetings.  We live in a global marketplace, and many companies are expanding their global efforts to remain viable in a shaky American economy.  These companies need solid global communications to adapt to each culture and society they reach.  PR practitioners willing to travel regularly and/or move overseas will see many career opportunities in their futures.

What other factors do you think will contribute to the growth of public relations in the present and future?  Which changes and paths are you willing to take to ensure a lasting career in PR?

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Mastering the E-mail Pitch

March 28, 2009

For many Kent State students, spring break is an opportunity to escape Ohio’s bipolar weather and the stress of the semester by heading to the southern states.

Isle of Palms, SC

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dig out my flip flops and bask in the sunshine on a trip to sunny South Carolina.  Instead of flocking to the beaches during this spring break, I found myself at work, drinking coffee while glaring at my computer screen.  (Note: I am not complaining.  I love my internship, and I love my cubicle!  But I have to admit: Looking at the dreary Akron sky made me long for some precious beach time.)

One of my internship assignments this week was to interview sources for a Mother’s Day story and create a pitch letter to target local newspapers.  Although I was excited for an opportunity to pitch to a reporter, I knew I had to do my homework.

As I chomped on my spinach salad and browsed my Google Reader during a lunch break, I started to wonder how I should create the pitch letter.

I wondered: How do journalists really want to be pitched these days?  Is the formal, snail-mail letter dead?  Do journalists actually read e-mail pitches, or will my hard work be thrown down the drain?

I knew the last thing I wanted was to end up like an example on BadPitchBlog, so I did some research on e-mail pitches.

Believe it or not, the days of journalists calling PR specialists for stories and sources are coming to an end.  According to PR Daily, Free Web services, including Peter Shankman’s Help a Reporter Out (HARO), connect reporters will access to more than 50,000 PR pros at one time.  Journalists can post e-mail inquiries on HARO and wait for PR reps to offer their information and experts.  Therefore, the PR pro needs to pitch his or her information and/or client as the best option for the reporter.

As Rob Jewell said in his post “Life After Newspapers,” the newspaper industry is changing. As journalists adapt to changes in the industry, public relations professionals will have to change the way they interact with each journalist to ensure lasting, quality relationships.

Business Wired offers the following tips for creating e-mail pitches:

  • Think like a reporter.

Know how to work on the deadline.  Scope out the sources you need.  Be sensitive to newsworthy topics in industry.

  • Use eye-catching, concise subject lines.

When I open my full e-mail box in the morning, my mouse gravitates toward an eye-catching subject.  It’s the same for journalists, too.  Make your subject clear!

  • Develop a relationship before pitching.

If you’re pitching a specific reporter, read some of his or her work before pitching.  Find out his or her niches and interests.  Connect the reporter with other stories he or she may enjoy reading.

  • Don’t call a reporter to ask if he/she received your email.

I was actually surprised by this advice, but it makes sense.  E-mail could be overlooked, sent to the spam box or deleted automatically, so feel free to send a follow-up e-mail a few days later.

  • Contact the correct reporter.

This one’s pretty common sense, but it’s easy to overlook.  Newspaper staffs are shrinking, and turnover can be high.  It’s important to make sure you’re contacting the correct reporter.

  • Get to the point.

Don’t bury your story!  Get your point across in the first few sentences of your pitch.

I’ll be keeping these points in consideration as I prepare to write my pitch letter.  It looks like I’ll have to do some homework on my reporter and establish a relationship with him or her before I pitch the story.  Do you have any stories about e-mail pitches gone marvelously good or terribly bad?  If so, please share!

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Facebook and social media positives, negatives

March 17, 2009

I’m on a Facebook fast.

My decision to refrain from typing my e-mail and password into that chunky blue box led to an uproar of confusion filling my wall and text message inbox Sunday night.  Fellow bloggers Amanda and Shantae don’t believe I have the self-restraint necessary to make it a few days without my favorite social network.  It’s okay: I doubt myself, too.

No Facebook

So why did I decide to give up Facebook, anyway?  It all started as an innocent choice to log in and view what my 12-year-old cousin posted on my wall.  I justified my decision as a means to take a quick break while studying for a midterm.  That “break” quickly turned into a 45-minute affair of reminiscing over my 2006 senior high school prom pictures while watching two of my friends host a wall-to-wall discussion over where to eat dinner Monday night.  Before I knew it, my brain was circling in tangents over how classy my prom dress was when it should have been focusing on the difference between SEO and SEM.

In simpler terms: Facebook wastes time.  And like many college students, I’ve learned time is a precious commodity.

Although Facebook has proven to waste time in my day-to-day life, I like what PRKent graduate Alexia Harris said in a tweet:

You definitely must be an expert at multitasking when participating in the s-media community. It’s easy to lose track of time.

She’s right.  Social media can serve its purpose if you’re willing to manage your time effectively.  And according to Shel Holtz, social media can be a blessing for PR professionals who are crunched for time by allowing quick monitoring, a means to bypass and/or reach the press and access to research through blog polls and RSS feeds.

However, I think Jason Falls brings up a great point each PR student and professional must remember: Social media isn’t everything.  In his post, Falls reminds PR professionals that the type of social networking that opens doors is face-to-face communication.  We’ve all heard examples of people getting jobs through Twitter or Linked In, but it’s usually those budding relationships within social networks that lead to worthwhile F2F moments.Prom Picture

What’s the lesson in all of this? Social media plays a hip, “happening” role in public relations, but PR students and professionals can’t afford to lose sight of the most important relationships: face-to-face.

And for those of you who have been thinking about my classy prom dress ever since I mentioned it in the third graf, here’s a snapshot!

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Making your digital footprints worthwhile

March 5, 2009

Facebook.com Screen Shot

Facebook’s Terms of Service sparked several heated conversations throughout the blogosphere and social media networks over the past week.  The Consumerist translated the lengthy ToS as Facebook’s way of saying it has the right to do as it pleases with each user’s data, even after he or she deletes the profile.

The law and ethics involved in Facebook’s ToS is another discussion for another day.  However, the controversy reminded me that each picture, wall comment, link, status, etc we post leaves a “digital footprint” in the sands of the World Wide Web.  The only difference is that digital footprints are far more permanent than the ones you leave at the beach.

As Brian Solis says, Facebook profiles are yet another way for public relations students and professionals to brand themselves.  I know many of my fellow PRKent students are gearing up for the summer internship search, and many PRKent seniors are preparing to transition into entry-level positions.

As employers and internship coordinators scope social media sites for juicy gossip on the perfect (or not-so-perfect) candidates, don’t you want to ensure your profile reflects an accurate “snapshot” of who you are?

We all know the first step to Facebook purity is to untag and/or remove unflattering pictures from drunken escapades, but what else can you do to protect your Web brand and identity?  I’ve mixed my ideas with the advice of pros to offer the following tips:

  • Follow the “Seven Seconds” rule.

My human communication professor and high school speech teacher both preached the seven second rule, which states that a person solidifies his or her overall impression of an individual within the first seven seconds of face-to-face contact.

Although Facebook isn’t a F2F medium, it does tell a story.  How do you want to tell yours?  Your profile should reflect your personal and professional personality.

  • Consistency is key.

I wouldn’t expect a profile to accurately reflect each rule of the AP Stylebook, but basic grammar rules should not be ignored.  Be consistent in format, and watch your grammar.  Try to use it’s/its, to/too/two and their/there/they’re in proper form throughout your profile and wall posts.

  • Untag quickly and wisely.

Believe me: Your best friend will eventually forgive you for the inappropriate pictures you untagged from her 21st birthday bash.  Tagged photos can show up in other’s news feeds hours after you untag them.  It’s hard to completely erase your photo footprints, but untagging is the first step.

  • Watch your language.

Alright, alright… so maybe this is just a personal pet peeve.  The “f” bomb doesn’t look flattering in print.  Please save the bombs for personal conversations.

  • Make your statuses worthwhile.

Try to mix up your Facebook statuses on occasion.  Consistent statuses that complain about your classes, your hectic work schedule and your boyfriend’s lack of judgment may not reflect positively on your reputation.

  • Edit your privacy settings.

Although your digital footprints cannot be completely protected, Facebook does offer some ways to keep your content from landing in everyone’s hands.  Check out this guide to privacy settings.

What advice do you have for protecting your “brand” on the Web?  Better yet, do you have any horror stories of people who let their Facebook profiles reflect negatively on their image?

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PR students and professional organizations

March 1, 2009

I can still vividly recall sitting in Michele Ewing’s Fall 2007 Principles of Public Relations class as she lectured on the importance of involvement in professional organizations such as the Public Relations Student Society of America.

Although the PRSSA meetings and events Professor Ewing spoke about seemed interesting, I couldn’t help but wonder:

“Is it really beneficial to join professional public relations organizations?”

I don’t know about you, but half the clubs and organizations at my high school were the types you joined to beef up your college applications.  (I’ll admit: I paid my dues and joined Spanish Club in high school as an excuse to get out of class one day per year and eat lunch at a Mexican restaurant.)  Therefore, you can’t blame me for wondering if my experience with PRSSA would be similar.

I broke down and joined PRSSA Kent Chapter in Fall 2008, and my experiences with the organization have positively affected my college experience and future career in more ways than one.  If you’re interested in public relations but are not currently involved in a professional PR organization, here are a few reasons why you should consider joining:

  • Learn everything your professors didn’t tell you.

Although our professors are wonderful, it’s great to hear about public relations from those who are working in the field.  PRSSA meetings give students the opportunity to interact with professionals on a one-on-one basis.  Professionals can share personal experiences on hard-to-handle clients, the truth about working in a corporate setting and other details that may help you decide which path you’d like to take in your future internship or job.

  • Network, network, network.

I cannot stress the importance of networking enough.  Not only does PRSSA give you the opportunity to network with students within your chapter, but it also gives you the chance to network with students, professors and professionals across the country.

I was able to attend the 2008 PRSSA National Conference in Detroit, and I interacted with a variety of students and learned from their experiences.  I met the president of  Virginia Tech’s PRSSA chapter during a social event, and we had a great discussion about how her university handled communications during the VT shootings. I also met many future professionals from universities in states such as Hawaii, West Virginia and Michigan.  Who knows: One of the relationships I cultivated through networking may lead to a job opportunity in the future!

PRSSA Kent members network during the 2008 PRSSA National Conference.

PRSSA Kent members network during the 2008 PRSSA National Conference.

PRSSA also hosts special events for networking.  If you’re looking for an internship, you can learn from the pros at The Communications Connection Wednesday, March 11 in Franklin Hall.

If you’re looking for an internship or job, PRSSA has an online JobCenter to connect members with resources in their geographic area.  Cool, huh?

  • Scholarship opportunities abound.

Local and national PRSSA chapters offer a range of scholarships for members.  Many PRSA chapters, including PRSA Akron Chapter, offer scholarships for PRSSA members.  Other great communications organizations, including The International Association of Business Communicators, offer scholarships to students.

  • Take advantage of “extra” opportunities.

College: RockIt!My PRSSA membership gave me the chance to be a part of PRSSA Kent’s 2009 Bateman team.  Four teammates and I researched, created and implemented a public relations campaign for a real-world client in six weeks with a $300 budget.  The College: RockIt! campaign is the most challenging and rewarding experience of my college years thus far.  I cannot wait to meet with professionals during upcoming PRSSA events and tell them the lessons I learned through this campaign.

You can learn more about PRSSA Kent Chapter at the blog.  I’m glad I was able to share my professional organization experiences with you, but now I’d like to hear about yours.

If you’re a member of a professional PR organization, how has membership benefited you?  If you aren’t part of an organization, what’s stopping you?

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A “twang” to my “tweeps”: Why PR professionals should develop a Twitter presence

February 13, 2009

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I was initially skeptical of Twitter.

Twitter Screen Shot

I feel guilty when I update my Facebook status more than two times a day, so the thought of sending consistent updates to the world was overwhelming.  I wondered what I could “tweet” to reach out to friends, classmates, acquaintances and strangers in a meaningful way.

It didn’t take long to realize Twitter is about so much more than 140 characters.  It’s more than what you’re having for breakfast, who you’re meeting for an afternoon cup of coffee or why you’re upset with the service you received at the car dealership.

As public relations practitioners turn to social media strategies to reach client objectives, it is important to recognize Twitter as an effective way for individuals to brand themselves.  As a student or professional, developing a presence on Twitter can open windows of opportunities both personally and professionally.

I’m nowhere near “Twitter guru” status, but I am slowly learning to appreciate the doors it can open.

Here’s my list of the reasons why any aspiring public relations professional should join Twitter:

  • Twitter allows you to network with friends, family, faculty, coworkers and sources you may never connect with otherwise.

Twitter gives you the ability to expand your social network  by following individuals and organizations with similar interests.  Be sure to fill out the “bio” section of your Twitter home page to ensure that users can find you through key terms.  The Public Relations Matters blog shares strategy on choosing whom to follow.

  • Twitter serves as a resource.

Sure, Twitter gives you the ability to share information with the masses through your tweets.  Why not learn a thing or two yourself while you’re at it?  I never knew I’d get breaking news about the Southwest Flight 273 emergency landing from the Zappos.com CEO, but I did.  You’ll be surprised by what you can learn.Zappos

  • You have the ability to promote your passion.

Twitter allows you to “brand” yourself by letting your personality shine through your posts.  You’d be surprised how much you can learn about a person in 140 characters!  It’s also a great way to promote student groups, professional development organizations or other groups you may be affiliated with.  The Public Relations Student Society of America Kent Chapter is on Twitter, and many of the executive board members promote meetings and the blog through their pages.

  • It teaches you to write “tight.”

Each of my professors in Kent State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication teaches students to write concisely.  If you can make your point in one sentence, don’t try to drag it on for three sentences.  Twitter doesn’t give you a choice; you only have 140 characters to get your point across.  Practice makes perfect, right?

  • Twitter allows you to “cross pollinate” your social media elements.

We’re all about convergence at Kent State, and Twitter is a great way to “cross pollinate” your messages.  You can link your Twitter page to your blog or Facebook page, or you can even use your Twitter account as a tool to direct audiences to your social networking sites.

  • Twitter gives you an excuse to incorporate cheesy slang into your daily vocabulary.

If I didn’t have a Twitter account, I wouldn’t be able to use words such as “twang,” (a tweet from someone in the South) or “tweep” (a Twitter friend.)  My vocabulary would obviously be bland if I didn’t log on to Twitter every day.

So what are you waiting for?  If you don’t have a Twitter account, create one now.  If you have an account, muster up every ounce of bravery and write a tweet.  If you need some direction on what to write, I’d recommend Angela’s 70:20:10 formula.

Don’t forget to become my tweep while you’re at it!