Career Aspirations and Public Relations

At the beginning of the school year, I felt that I had a decent idea of what I wanted to do with my life, and how PR would play a large role within my goals.  I had taken CAP 115 the semester prior, and discovered a knack for the field.  After two years of chasing after different degrees in almost every field you could imagine, I felt that I had finally found my fit.  What I really enjoyed was how much writing the careers in the field involved.  One interest of mine that has never wavered is my love for writing and the English language.  With PR, it appeared that I found an area of study that incorporates writing and critical thinking all in one, and offered a promising and vastly expanding career field along with it.  I decided to pursue it. 

This fall, I made a full commitment to the field.  I filled my schedule with pre-requisites and other introductory courses; the most crucial one being CAP 220: Introduction to Public Relations.  This class in particular helped me come to the realization that I’m not 100% sure what I would like to do with a degree in this area.  I still enjoy the subject matter-and am still very passionate about it-but the more we discussed, the less sure I have become.  I started off feeling that I was favoring the firm side of PR pretty heavily, and really aspired to do firm work post-graduation.  However, CAP 220 really made me shift my preferences.  There have been a couple of class sessions in particular that have really made me reshape-and even reconsider at some points- my aspirations in the PR field.  The classes that really made me think about what I aspired to be were the classes where we had guest speakers who worked in different branches of PR come in and discuss what they do on a daily basis.  To name a few, our class had firm workers from the Grand Rapids office of Lambert, Edwards, & Associates, health communication specialists from Spectrum Health, and corporate workers from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.  All of these visitors were very in depth and thorough with their presentations, and really gave us a good look into what goes on in a daily basis.  These presenters in particular made me really evaluate whether or not this was a field I should consider.  All of these speakers showed me that at its best, PR involves creative influence and innovation in order to garner public interest and awareness, and sometimes inform the general population.  However, once that interest is there, it seems to be a lot of the same work every day.  Maintaining consumer interest after a successful campaign appears to be a lot of the same work every day, which sort of reduced my interest in all aspects of PR for a little.

Although I am unsure exactly what I want to do with it, I am still very confident in my choice to pursue this degree.  Public relations is, at its core, a branch off of critical thinking.  PR workers must be primed for a crisis, and reacting to a crisis involves a quick and creative response that has must be well executed and well thought out.  This is the aspect that I really enjoy.  Critical thinking is something that I have always valued in myself, and something that PR courses at the university emphasize.  This is what I continuously enjoy about the field, and keeps me coming back for more.

So overall, I guess you could say I’m not entirely sure of my aspirations in the PR field.  Would I like to work in a corporate PR division or a firm?  Yes.  Would I like to work in another field that sees the value within a PR degree because the field of study nurtures creativity, promotes good writing, and builds critical thinking skills?  I think that I would enjoy that as well.

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What is PR? Reflections on past and previous definitions

                This semester, I took CAP 220, which is the first class I have taken at GVSU that focuses on my major (AD/PR) and my emphasis (PR).  Going in, I felt that I had a decent grasp on what the PR field really entailed.  After my experience in CAP 115, a course that focused on the research side of the industry, I had come to a conclusion that PR was mostly researching successful campaigns and studying the tactics that made it successful.  This is true for the most part, but as of late, I have begun to rework my definition.  A good foundational definition that I have adopted as the backbone of my own is offered by the PRSA, and states that, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics,” (PRSA Staff, 2012).

Probably my biggest shift I have taken in my own personal definition of PR is to focus more on crisis management.  With the explosion of content sharing sites such as Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, it has become easier than ever for individuals to share an issue they have had with a business.  For instance, just recently I saw a photo shared on Facebook by a woman that claims to have been fired from the Allendale, MI McDonalds after she tried reporting a safety hazard.  The photo showed what looked to be black mold in the grease pit.  This photo accumulated many shares and likes from the GVSU student body, along with others, before it was eventually taken down by the user.  It is instances like these; whether they are true or false, can tarnish a company’s image.  It is with this in mind that the definition of what PR workers do has shifted a little.  Yes, research is important in the field, but not as important as handling a micro-crisis or a full blown crisis.

I also had a few misconceptions about PR at the beginning of the year, especially regarding where the line is drawn between advertising and PR.  Robert Wynne, a contributor to Forbes Magazine, breaks down the differences simply by explaining that, “PR agencies, as opposed to advertising agencies, promote companies or individuals via editorial coverage.  This is known as “earned” or “free” media — stories appearing on websites, newspapers, magazines and TV programs — as compared to “paid media” or advertisements,” (Wynne, 2013).  Although this definition is accurate for the most part, I also feel that PR campaigns have to use paid advertisements during certain instances (ex. the BP oil spill commercials).

All in all, PR is an industry that entails a lot of work that stems from different branches of education.  It incorporates critical thinking, communication, research, and creativity.  It isn’t something that is black and white either; it changes face with the times.  Therefore, PR is not something so easily defined, nor will it ever have a concrete definition in my opinion.

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PRSA Staff. (2012). Public relations defined: A modern definition for the new era of public relations. Public Relations Defined, Retrieved from http://prdefinition.prsa.org/

Wynne, R. (2013, April 10). What does a public relations agency do?. Forbes Magazine, Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwynne/2013/04/10/what-does-a-public-relations-agency-do/

Reflections: Solo PR

In the field of PR, one thing that is often not considered by recent graduates is the ‘solo track.’  This career path allows for many great benefits, but also a few downfalls.

Cheri Brennan, a solo PR specialist in the Seattle area, cites “a desire to be independent and the realization you don’t have to part of an organization to do good work and have great clients,”(Freeman, 1999) as her reasoning behind leaving a firm.  A lot of likeminded people choose to take this route, citing the unique independence the job offers.  This ability to essentially ‘be your own boss’ in a sense, seems to be the biggest draw for the independent PR worker.  Another benefit of working on your own is the ability to pick and choose clients.  More often than not, solo PR representatives are hired quickly by smaller companies who need help cleaning up a mess, or handling a crisis.  Since the solo PR worker makes their own way, they can objectively look at the potential client objectively, and decide whether or not the workload will be worth the money, something the higher-ups in firms may fail to recognize.

However, it is not recommended to go solo without any help whatsoever.  Business connections are obviously important in the PR field, so most workers go solo after a few years in a firm.  Mary McLoughlan, a PR worker in Grand Rapids, MI claims that the reason why she was able to find success after going independent was due to her ability to “make a lot of connections in five years and because I did agency work during that time, I also had a group of clients who knew me and considered my work-valuable,” (Dewey, 2013)

I personally have worked with a company before that utilized a solo PR practitioner.  Granted, the observations I will offer about her do not speak about the solo-PR field as a whole, but more of this one individual.  With that being said, I feel that it would not be uncommon for these issues to arise due to the nature of the work.  An issue I had with our solo practitioner is that she was very hard to get to contact her.  She was very busy, and represented a lot of other small, local businesses in the area as well.  When we needed consultation in the field of PR, there wasn’t another worker or consultant we could speak to because there is no other practitioner in ‘solo’ PR.  I can reasonably infer that this would be an issue for others who work with solo PR practitioners.  Because they do not have the advantage to divvy up work between multiple parties, this puts solo PR workers at a bit of a disadvantage.

After doing additional research and considering observations made in prior work experience, I feel that solo PR is not the way I would choose to go.  The route I would be most inclined to take is working at a firm, and then maybe if I feel confident enough, starting my own.  However, I don’t think I would enjoy working solo.  I feel that idea sharing is an invaluable tool in the PR field, and neglecting it will only stifle potential.

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Freeman, P. (1999, November 05). Solo pr practitioners enjoy flexibility, autonomy. Puget Sound Business Journal, p. 27.

Dewey, C. (2013, April 15). Inside track: Mary McLaughlin; flying solo was right decision for McLaughlin’s PR firm. Grand Rapids Business Journal, p. 8.

Corporate PR vs Firm PR

Although the general purpose of both firm and corporate PR is the same, the means by which they do so uniquely differ between the two.

In-house pr has the distinct ability to be in constant communication with the company it represents, since it is part of said company.  The ability to quickly communicate makes information sharing much easier, since it can often occur at a face to face basis, instead of over the phone/email as one would do with a contracted firm.  Also, the additional fact that there is always an expert coworker that can assist the PR firm when necessary is an additional benefit.  This also ensures that information that is shared comes directly from the source to the PR workers, instead of it going from source –to third party- to PR firm, as it sometimes may.  Brian Adams from PR Daily explains that this ability is essential in handling a crisis.  “All of this ties together nicely when a crisis strikes. While agencies can be prepared for layoffs, facility closures, or changes in leadership, the in-house communications leader is uniquely positioned when disaster strikes.  If a crisis strikes quickly, it is extremely beneficial to be on-site. [. . .] I believe that the internal and external communications benefited greatly from time-saved and institutional knowledge” (Adams, 2013)

However, hiring a PR firm offers benefits that corporate or in house PR cannot provide.  When a business contracts a PR firm, they are hiring a group of talented individuals that have vast experiences in the field.  This allows for greater collaboration, and the ability to draw on past experiences to see what has worked.  For example, a fictional hospital in a large, urban area has recently come under fire after it was found that a large number of employees have been selling medications from the hospital on the streets.  The hospital’s in house PR firm would have a hefty work load in order to clear this up, and have never been presented this issue before.  With a PR firm, this may not be an issue.  The workers of a PR firm would be able to draw from their experiences and discuss how they have successfully handled similar issues, minimizing the damage.  Patrick Ward, the CEO of PR firm 104 West, said it best when describing this benefit, stating “when you hire an employee, you only get that individual’s personal experience. When you hire an agency, you get the whole team’s perspective and background,” (Ward, 2013)

Since both of these systems have pros and cons, the inevitable question arises: “which one is better?”  Bloggers, PR specialists, and business owners alike have all drawn their own conclusions based on their own standpoint.  From a small business firm point of view, it may be more cost efficient to go with in house Public Relations because of a limited budget.  However, there isn’t much that can top hiring a firm consisting of elite of Public Relations professionals.  PR firm workers are often highly trained in crisis management due to diverse experiences, making them an invaluable asset during times of trouble.

There is no objective way to really analyze the two and deem one superior over the other.  Since each has their own benefits and downfalls, one must make the decision based on their individual interests.  Also, a good compromise to get the best of both worlds (if you have the budget) is to hire both and reap the benefits.

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Adams, B. (2013, January 16). 5 major differences between agency and in-house pr. Retrieved from http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/5_major_differences_between_agency_and_inhouse_PR_13582.aspx

Ward, P. (2013, May 10). Here we go again: 5 reasons hiring a good pr firm is smart business. Retrieved from http://venturebeat.com/2013/05/10/5-reasons-why-hiring-a-good-pr-firm-is-smart-business/

The Role of Social Media in PR

In my latest blog post, I discussed my personal opinion on how I use social media and my interpreted uses within today’s society.  In this post, I am going to take the opportunity to discuss an aspect of social media that I haven’t yet covered, and that is its role in the Public Relations field.  Social media has created a new public platform for users to state their opinion of a brand or product.

The social media platform is one that has various benefits to anyone that is interested in boosting the public presence of any product, organization, or movement.  First of all, maintaining an account that promotes something at the most basic level is free of charge.  Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter offer free pages that make spreading brand related content as easy as a clicking ‘retweet’ or ‘like.’  This is very useful to organizations with a small advertising/Public Relations budget.

They also have a unique ability of garnering a very specific audience.  Other users that follow or like a brand can be easily exposed to promotions or brand related information.  Since the users have already decided to like or follow the page, they obviously have some sort of interest in what is being promoted.  This essentially means that any information that this organization puts out via social media will reach who it is intended for.

However, social media websites can often times harm an organizations image if said organization handles it wrong.  This is an easy trap to fall into because the PR field is still trying to perfect the science of PR in the new field social media.  There is no decorum that has been set in stone when it comes to handling PR related issues on the web, and everything must be well planned, or disaster may ensue.  Deirdre Breakenridge from PRNews says it best by emphasizing that, “Like anything else in PR, strategic planning is necessary to create a communication program with the required elements for success; it’s the planning process that allows you to reach your goals and objectives. Planning creates the road map for you to achieve a winning initiative,” (Breakenridge, 2013)

For instance, a recent example of poor PR planning was the Chick-Fil-A disaster that occurred in the summer of 2010.  Chick-Fil-A had then come out stating that they were a ‘family’ business that opposed the idea of gay marriage.  Needless to say, this warranted a barrage of unhappy tweets and Facebook messages; as eating a chicken sandwich had become a political statement of some sorts.  For some reason, the PR firm that managed this crisis found it to be a good idea to create Facebook profiles defending the company (granted, this is speculation — Chick-Fil-A has publicly denied using any fake profiles).  One profile was a teenage girl who seemed just a little bit too enthusiastic in her defense of Chik-Fil-A to not be affiliated with the cooperation.  As the internet has proven to us over and over again, never underestimate the power and intelligence of its users.  One user uncovered that the profile had been created a mere eight hours prior to a post defending the brand, and that her profile picture was a stock photograph.  Melissa Agnes, a digital crisis manager, had a lot to say about this issue.  On her website she states that, “Social media is based on truth and transparency, and when it comes to the Internet nothing stays buried long. When you’re caught in such an attempt – and odds are you most definitely will get caught – you will pay for your schemes ten fold” (Agnes).

Works Cited

Breakenridge, D. (2013). Social media and public relations begin with strategic planning. PRNews, Retrieved from http://www.prnewsonline.com/topics/pr-insiders/2013/08/22/social-media-and-public-relations-begin-with-strategic-planning/

Agnes, M. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.melissaagnescrisismanagement.com/5-lessons-to-learn-from-chick-fil-as-social-media-crisis/

Opinions on Social Media

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Although the Internet has been around since the mid, 1990s, it wasn’t until the mid 2000’s that social networking websites began to take a firm hold.  The term social media has essentially become ubiquitous with our generation, which has recently been dubbed ‘Generation Y.’ A recently conducted Pew study cited shows that a whopping eighty nine percent of eighteen to twenty nine year olds use some form of social media (Brenner).  At the head of this charge is the social media giant Facebook, which reports that approximately 1.15 billion users access the website monthly. Whether you choose to accept it or not, the inevitable fact is that social media is quickly engulfing the online landscape, and changing the social dynamics of communication within our culture.

At its best, social media has a variety of uses that can positively benefit society as a whole.  The main objective of any social media website is to allow users to maintain contact with other users, or allow users to meet others in order to create and maintain new connections.  This primary function of social media is very beneficial, and is how I personally choose to use social media.  However, I use social media websites differently depending on my audience.  On Facebook, my audience is predominantly fellow high school graduates as well as family.  I limit my communication on Facebook to posting statuses regarding important, personal life events and checking up on everyone.  On the other hand, I also have a twitter account that I limit to only my friends.  My followers are comprised of a few close friends from high school, as well as friends I have made at Grand Valley.  I use Twitter a lot more frequently, and post about things in my day-to-day life and issues relevant to other Grand Valley Students.  I also follow trending topics that apply to me, and through these trends I have discovered breaking news as it happened, and found tons of new music.

However, not everything about social media is beneficial.  Social media sites, such as Reddit, in particular, often fall victim to the faults of “crowdsourced information.”  Crowdsourced information is data provided by users of social media sites, and at its best, spreads beneficial news quickly and helps promote a story.  At its worst, other users can use it to turn an individuals world upside down, something I personally witnessed shortly after the tragic Boston Marathon Bombing.  Shortly after the Boston bombings, a user from the social media giant Reddit opened a thread discussing the appearance of the Boston bombing suspect #2, later revealed to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  The thread looked to users to supply information regarding the suspect, essentially creating an internet witchhunt.  The thread proved to be less than beneficial.  Instead of finding the actual suspect, users identified a man by the name of Sunil Tripathi as the boston bombing suspect #2, and compared their facial features in a side by side ‘picstitch.’  The community then used this crowdsourced information to assume that suspect #2 and Tripathi were one in the same.  This lead to police involvement as news outlets reported that suspect #2 had been positively identified. Unknown to the Reddit community, Tripathi had passed away prior to the incident and was evidently not Suspect #2.

Its instances like these that occur every day on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but to significantly less extremes.  These sites often host and promote rumors and false information.  After all, how many times have we all seen those shared Photoshop pictures that convince people to believe that something is or is not of importance?

Although there are both pros and cons to social media, it is important to keep in mind that these websites as a whole have helped the Internet advance.  To the dedicated user, a world of information is just waiting to be discovered behind the login screen.

Works Cited

Brenner, J. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/March/Pew-Internet-Social-Networking-full-detail.aspx

Bort, J. (2013, September 11). Mark zuckerberg to connect the world. Business Insider, Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerberg-to-connect-the-world-2013-9

ArtPrize: Potential for technological advancement

In one of my previous blog posts, I discussed in detail the role that technology plays in ArtPrize. In this post, I will discuss a bit more about the potential techniques that could be applied a bit more thoroughly in order to promote the not only the event as a whole, but individual artists and their creations as well.

One tactic that I would implement would be the utilization of search engines.  This tactic, often referred to as “search engine optimization,” maximizes the potential return for a specific website after searching key related terms.  For instance, a company that has optimized their search engine results will often come up first on a search in popular crawlers such as Google or Bing, and will be relevant to what the user is looking for.  Now, according to Google Trends, search interest for the term “ArtPrize” increases at a very quick rate starting in September, and then slowly decreases after October (Google, “grand rapids artprize”-interest over time). Ideally, an artist would make his or her website even more relevant during these times.  Doing so would allow an artist’s homepage to be considered a “related search” suggestion by a search engine, which would increase publicity and voter interest about an artist and his piece.

Another topic that I discussed was the absence of foursquare check in present at the event.  This seemed to be an issue that had a pretty profound effect on publicity for individual pieces of artwork.  I did a little bit of further research on this topic on foursquare’s help desk, and  I discovered how easy it truly is to create your own check in.  All an artist would have to do is activate an account, tag themselves at their artwork by creating a check in by clicking “add this place” and the check in has been created (foursquare 2012).  The simplicity and ease of use of this website would allow for the artists of ArtPrize to promote themselves with an easy and free tool.

It seems that every year, technology is incorporated more and more into ArtPrize, with this year being no exception.  However, it does still seem that social media and other technological means could be used in a more efficient manner.

Google. (Designer). (2013, October 02). “grand rapids artprize-interest over time [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/trends/explore

foursquare. (2012). How do i add/create a location?.