Monday, April 30, 2007

What is public relations?

This weekend my wife and I went to dinner with some friends. During the course of our conversation one of my friends remarked to me that she doesn't really know what PR is. Her idea of PR is, in her opinion, simply "getting your nameout there." I was quick to jump on that and explain to her that that is not what PR is. I'm slowly begin to learn that PR has, er, a PR problem. Most people either have no idea what PR is or have some serious misconceptions about it. Here's my personal list of what PR is not, or at least should not, be.

Public relations is not:

- Strictly media relations (although media relations is an important part of PR)
- Spin (although, unfortunately, some practitioners continue to do this)
- Simply making your client or organization look good
- Getting your name out there

Public relations should be concerned with building and managing reputations with a client's or organization's various publics (audiences or stakeholders). To do this, PR practitioners may need to use the media. PR practitioners only hurt themselves with they use "spin" to make their client/organization look good or to achieve more name recognition. An important part of public relations is helping your client/organization practice transparency.

I truly believe that part of my role as a "budding public relations professional" is to help spread the knowledge of what PR does and clear up the litany of misconceptions surrounding the practice. We all need to help PR clean up it's PR problem.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Wikipedia as a news source?

It seems Wikipedia has started to become more than just an online encyclopedia. According to an article in The New York Times today, Wikipedia "served as an essential news source for hundreds of thousands of people on the Internet trying to understand the shootings at Virginia Tech University."

Check out the entire article here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Social Media and Crisis Communications

It is so interesting to see the rise of social media. It is no longer simply a means of entertainment for teens and college students, it is now a vital communications tool. I check my Facebook account as often as I check my e-mail (multiple times each day). In a post on the "Force for Good" blog, Jon Harmon highlights the use of Facebook in regards to Monday's terrible massacre at Virginia Tech. Check out what he has to say.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I just read "Can PR Salvage the Imus Brand? Should It?" by Jim Sinkinson at the Bulldog Reporter.

Sinkinson states three PR questions that need to be addressed in regards to defending a client's reputation when he/she messes up:

1. "What happens to your clients' reputation when they say stupid things in public?"
2. "Can you salvage their reputation even after they say stupid things?"
3. "Should PR help criminals, racists, sexists and other miscreants salvage their reputations?"

I would like to focus on the last of these three questions.

In a recent assignment for an ethics class we were asked to interview a professional in our field. We were asked to find out what types of ethical issues they face and how they deal with them. I interviewed Chris Thomas, owner and officer at The Intrepid Group (a Salt Lake City-based PR agency). On a side note, Chris was also the spokesperson for the Elizabeth Smart family during her abduction in 2002-2003.

He talked to me about potential clients sometimes coming to him asking him for help cleaning up a mess they'd gotten themselves into. Chris said he only takes on these types of clients if they were willing to admit their wrongs and are willing to make restitution for them. If they want him to be deceitful and make them look better than they really are, he will refuse their business.

No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. One thing we can do as PR professionals is help to right wrongs as much as possible. We can facilitate the healing of those who have been injured. I believe we do have a moral responsibility to help those "repentant" individuals who have messed up. This said, however, surely there are some situations that would warrant not helping out on a PR front. Check out the Sinkinson's article for a more articulate discussion on this topic.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Entitlement and Internships

My class recently had an interesting discussion on the feeling of entitlement some students/new grads may have as they embark on internships and entry-level jobs. This really got me thinking about my attitudes in the internships I've done. I realize that I have truly had this attitude of entitlement. It has been a struggle learning that I am really just an intern. I have so much more to learn. I think I've been really well-trained in the management side of things, but I need to learn to crawl before I learn to walk.

That said, however, sometimes interns are often relegated to the position of office gopher; doing whatever is asked of them:making copies, making coffee, doing projects no one else wants to, etc. A recent article in the April 2007 PRSSA Tactics highlights some of the challenges facing current PR interns. The article was written by Kathleen S. Kelly, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA. Try as I might, I was unable to find an online version. Here are some highlights.

Dr. Kelly quotes a recent study (conducted by the Commission of Public Relations Education) which found that "many educators believe that the tasks performed by students during their internships do not provide adequate learning opportunities." While I completely understand that interns should not be doing high-level PR work, I think they should at least be exposed to it. My idea of an great internship is where the intern gets to do some of every aspect of PR in that organization (under close supervision, of course).

Dr. Kelly also discusses the issue of whether or not PR interns should be paid. Here's a couple of quotes from her article:

- "...only 36 percent of internships provide salary or stipends for student work."
- "Failure to compensate students for work is particularly troubling in the case of for-credit internships since students must pay tuition for all credit-hour work in colleges and universities"
- "'Unpaid internships are not jobs, only simulations. And fake jobs are not the best preparation for real jobs'" (quoting a New York Times op-ed piece by columnist Anya Kamenetz).

Monday, April 9, 2007


I learned about Astroturfing through the NewPR Wiki and was appalled at what I learned about this practice. defines Astroturf as "a trademark used for an artificial grasslike ground covering." Note the use of the word artificial here.

So what does Astroturf have to do with PR? The practice of "Astroturfing" is another example of unethical (or irresponsible) individuals giving public relations a bad name. Basically, Astroturfing is creating fake grassroots political organizations in order to generate support for candidates or issues. Grassroots organizations are to hard to organize, but can be extremely effective. Astroturfing "professionals" recognize this and thus, have started creating fake grassroots organizations. For an extended explanation see this post at Blog Campaigning.

Many believe PR is behind all of this, and for good reason. As reported on Blog Campaigning, the DCI Group, a Washington-based PR firm created a video slamming Al Gore's recent environmental documentary. The firm, however, wanted people to believe that a college student had created the video and put it on YouTube. The kicker? One of the firm's clients is Exxon, a company that does not want more environmental regulation. Hasn't Exxon had enough problems with PR?