Public Relations: Perception Predicament

There is no end to the irony of the situation: Public Relations has an image problem.

Negative portrayals in the media (i.e. Entourage, Spin city– no offense to Michael J. Fox, yes offense to Charlie Sheen) and misrepresentation contribute strongly to this problem. Public Relations is primarily associated with public scandals and corporate emergencies, leading to a warped perception of the field in general. According to W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay in their book “Does Society Need Public Relations?”, the 6 major themes of PR criticism are:

  1. The public is ignorant of public relations because they are ignorant of what is really going on in the world
  2. PR can never escape its “wicked roots”– think propaganda and WWII
  3. PR is to blame for the power of large companies and more sinister organizations. This comes from a rise in distrust of big corporations– i.e. tobacco companies, Enron
  4. PR is undemocratic because only rich companies can hire PR– blatantly false! Much PR is done pro bono or for non-profit organizations
  5. Society must teach people how to resist the power of PR– while I won’t argue with the benefits of teaching a basic understanding of the media, there is truly nothing to combat about PR. It promotes open discussion; it does not brainwash publics into a singular belief.
  6. PR is only publicity

I would add to these themes that many people are frightened of PR. Often used in comparison to Advertising, the simple fact that while people can actively recognize an advertisement, they cannot always recognize an act of Public Relations. This fosters an idea that PR has some nefarious master-plan to plant subliminal messages in the minds of the masses.

But perhaps more than a fear, the public simply does not understand what Public Relations is. As mentioned in the themes, most individuals assume that PR is all publicity. The press-agentry model is most often discussed in the media, conjuring up images of P.T. Barnum and his sensationalized circus. But PR is so much more than publicity and press coverage. Most people fail to understand the scope of PR.

Since my very first classes in the subjects, my professors have insisted on one particular definition of the word. Public relations is a “management function that establishes mutually beneficial relationships.” To expand upon this, PR is about promoting positive interests and feelings. It involves managing and counseling. Rather than telling the public what to think, PR encourages the free flow of information. There are no devious or underhanded attempts to exploit the naivety of a group. PR specialists believe that the public should be critical thinkers, not mindless drones. I’ve always been taught to encourage the “human component” of PR– we want to push people to think, not implant our own thoughts and opinions.

For a number reasons–the economy, interest in social networking and media– Public Relations is gaining popularity. Even in comparison to advertising, many companies and individuals have embraced the effectiveness and cost efficiency of PR. Because of this increased usage, I feel it is even more important than ever for individuals to understand what PR truly is about. I hope this article clears things up a bit, or at least makes you pause in reflection.

So what do you think? Will PR always get a bad rap?

Oh, Thank Blog!

The other day, my post on Meme’s gained some attention after being “Freshly Pressed” by WordPress. My measly 10 random views a day skyrocketed to over a thousand. Comments came pouring in, as did ‘likes’ and even subscriptions to my blog. In fact, the primary reason most of you are reading this now is probably due to my one minor success. I’m not writing this as a boast, but rather to convey my disbelief that quickly led to some over-analyzing of the splendid situation.

I started this blog for a couple of reasons:

  1. To vent to an online community of nameless readers.
  2. To keep myself updated on PR & Media related events.
  3. To get myself (and my resume) out there, even if only as a resume builder.
  4. To deliver news as well as my own opinions.

Going into this experience, reasoning number four was not necessarily leading the pack. I realized that as “just another silly blogger” my chances of actually delivering my messages to a mass audience were pretty slim. I’ve been on twitter for some while, and despite any wit or wisdom (or at least what I would consider to be the two), my followers still mostly include real-life friends and the random spammers who want me to buy prescription drugs off the black market (and I of course don’t block these individuals because, let’s face it, I like to see my number of followers as high as possible–even if they are scumbags or robots). Due to my limited success on twitter, I came into the blogosphere with similar expectations. I planned for it to be more of a personal social networking tool, rather than one with mass appeal. But after the other day’s “Freshly Pressed” occurrence, I found my blog open to whole new opportunities.

The idea of people actually reading these posts is slightly intimidating (sorry for all the grammar and spelling mistakes…), but even more frightening– it’s slightly empowering. While I know my readership isn’t exactly of epic proportions, it’s more than I would ever expect. These readers, and the supporting and informative comments they’ve made lead me to the ultimate point of this latest post: The internet and its social networking sites have truly revolutionized the power of the people in getting their voice heard.

Perhaps I was first struck by this idea when I heard that Tweets would start to be recorded for the Library of Congress (so, years from now, some extremely bored relative of mine can look up my nonsensical 140 character ramblings). This latest blog experience has added to my disbelief. The internet is such a powerful resource in getting our voices heard. PR and Marketing companies caught on to this trend from the very beginning, capitalizing on the free publicity and tools. The best examples of the public using this power comes from Presidential elections, especially this past election when the youth voters made up a great majority of Obama’s support. Our ideas and opinions can be posted for the world to see. There is not filter or gate-keeper to keep our voices from being heard. Of course, garnering enough attention to make your message worthwhile is another campaign, but there remains that ability to freely voice your opinion to the possibility of a mass audience.

I know people will be reading my posts now. This fad may only last another week, or another month, but I at least know that my voice is being heard. People value my opinion and what I have to say. Whether they agree with me or not, whether they learn something from my posts or find them to be aimless ramblings– I know that people are at least taking the time to look at these words that I’ve put effort into creating. This is a wonderful feeling.

While I wanted to (quick) post to reflect upon the powers of the internet, I also want to take the chance to thank everyone for their support. The internet is filled with faceless and nameless viewers that I may never meet, but the positive and encouraging reactions they have to my writings are humbling. Thank you so much for your support and viewership. I wish you success in your blogs, and look forward to reading what everyone else has to say. We live during a very interesting time, and it’s wonderful that we can get the full effect of events through the opinions of others.

‘Supersize Me’ director makes ‘Greatest Film’

In 2004, the world was no longer able to deny the fact that they knew was true: McDonald’s, even the healthy choices, are absolutely horrible for you. Of course we all knew this, but it was Morgan Spurlock’s fascinating, slightly nauseating documentary Super Size Me that really drove the point home. The effects of the movie, in which Spurlock vows to eat only McDonald’s for all 3 meals for a 30 day period, were momentous both in terms of the consumers and the company. The low-budget, “experimental” film went on to win the Sundance Film Festival’s top documentary director award as well as get nominated for an Oscar. More than that, this film has been treated like a precious warning for  future generations. Most impressive was McDonald’s response to the film. After news of the documentary was released, McDonald’s went into PR Crisis mode. The day before the documentary was scheduled to open, McDonald’s added the “Go Active” adult happy meals to their menu. Soon enough, even their advertisements were focusing on “healthier choices,” a trend that is still seen today. But perhaps most interesting is McDonald’s decision to remove the forever tainted option of “super-sizing” a meal from their repertoire. These were the first steps toward a gradual,long-anticipated revolution in the fast food world.

It’s nearly 7 years later and Spurlock is about to release his second documentary, also at the Sundance Festival which is currently going on. For his latest film, known as The Greatest Film Even Sold, Spurlock decided to investigate the world of product placement and brand integration. Spurlock quite literally financed this entire film, a $1.5 million venture, by contracted with 15 companies. Due to these contractual obligations, Spurlock decided to change the official name of the film to POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (anyone else really craving pomegranate juice all of a sudden?).

With a film financed entirely by brand name companies, it would be easy to assume that either Spurlock or these companies would seem like a bit of a…well, sell out. In response to a statement from EW asking Spurlock if he felt he was “risking essentially selling out [his] own movie,” Spurlock laughs in response: “I’m not selling out–I’m buying in!”

And the companies? The whole premise of the movie came from Spurlock’s distaste for the blatant, in-your-face product placements/integrations that plague television and film– wouldn’t the companies be the enemy? In the same interview, Spurlock responds: “The companies who were willing to come on board this movie wind up looking great because they had the balls to take part.” Proving, that the ability to laugh at oneself is an important key in both business (especially PR) and life.

Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, which is already receiving warm reviews, can be expected to layer on the humor while also revealing a unique look at an interesting subject. I wonder what kind of effect this film will have on the marketing world?

Find out more:

PRWeek: Sold on the greatest movie ever sold

EW interview

Wire Tap Magazine: Weighing the Impact of Supersize Me

Arthur Conan Doyle & Self-Promotion

My latest reading ventures have led me into the pages of the biography “The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle” by Russell Miller. As a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, I know just about everything about the wonderous fictional character that Conan Doyle created (including the author’s own disdain for Mr. Holmes). In more recent years, especially after reading the novel “George and Arthur” by Julian Barnes, I’ve become fascinated with the man behind the world’s greatest (and only) consulting detective.

Arthur Conan Doyle is a character in his own right, and his own life story is more than worthy of the pages of a bestseller. Reading this biography is nearly as thrilling as reading one of the Holmes and Watson stories. As I’ve been reading, I’ve learned a lot about the man as both an individual and an author. I’ve also been reminded of several things I already knew–for instance, Conan Doyle was a doctor who, after a less than successful ophthalmology practice, decided he was more passionate about writing and was rightfully convinced that he could make a living from it. And yet, even before he opened his eye doctor practice, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began his first practice outside of London with seemingly similar success–at least at first. He advertised his services as a general practitioner, but the client flow was slow, and Dr. Doyle soon turned to some interesting techniques in an attempt to draw clientele.

Reading this biography through the eyes of a PR major, I was quite impressed with Conan Doyle’s own self-promotion. The relatively poor young doctor begin by taking out a small ad in the local paper:

“…curiously in the ‘Miscellaneous Wants’ column, announcing: ‘Dr. Doyle begs to notify that he has removed to 1, Bush Villas, Elm Grove, next to the Bush Hotel.’ The wording was crafty, implying that he had transferred his practice from some other location.”
Undoubtably Dr. Doyle had a way with words in his novels and short stories, but I was surprised (and impressed) to find that his brilliance even extended as far as self-promotion. His cleverly worded “ad” would make PR practitioners of today proud. Wording is everything, and Conan Doyle clearly knew how to position his message to the proper audience. By thinking of him as an established doctor, people would be more willing to consult him.

The next little bit of publicity that impressed me took place that same year, as he worked hard to get his small practice off the ground:

“After a riding accident outside his front door in November 1882, he sent [his brother] off to the Portsmouth Evening News with a report which it obligingly published: ‘An accident, which might have led to serious consequences, occurred this afternoon in Elm-grove as Mr Robinson, of Victoria-road, was riding in front of the Bush Hotel, his stirrup leather snapped, and he was thrown to the ground, the animal rearing at the same time and falling partially upon him. He was conveyed to the house of Dr Conan Doyle, of Bush Villas, and that gentleman was able to pronounce that, though considerably shaken and bruised, there was no injury of any consequence.'”

Conan Doyle’s little story runs like a modern-day press release, while working to get him some much-needed publicity.

Of course, all through his life Conan Doyle showed a distinct ability to relate to his audience, making him a beloved and personable national treasure. These are just two examples that truly jumped off the page at me as I read about this marvelously interesting man. It just goes to show that even one of Britain’s greatest writers was not above a bit of self-promotion. I can’t wait to read on and find out more about the man, and I highly suggest that if you have any interest in either Sherlock Holmes or the man who created him, pick up a copy of Russell Miller’s “The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle,” from which I quoted in this blog.

PR Humor: “The Most Amazing Press Release Ever Written”

How would you like to read the [self-proclaimed] “Most Amazing Press Release Ever Written” ?

Well you’re in luck, because Mitch Delaplane, founder of PitchPoint Public Relations, has seen fit to bequeath upon us this most amazing release.

Delaplane clearly displays his unique approach toward the industry, but putting a twist on the classic release. This tactic is sure to garner much deserved attention for his company. So read on and enjoy, but beware contradicting the release’s title, because, as the press release concludes: “If you disagree, issue your own press release and prepare for war.”

The Most Amazing Press Release Ever Written

PR Professional Distributes Groundbreaking Press Release

CHICAGO, Jan. 11, 2011 /PRNewswire/ – Mitch Delaplane of PitchPoint Public Relations has issued the most amazing press release ever written.  While hundreds of press releases are distributed daily, Delaplane feels this particular release will go down in history as the most amazing press release that has ever been written.

“I’ve been in the business for over ten years and have to say, I’m speechless,” claims Delaplane.  ”The title alone grabs you and demands that it be read.  Then there’s this quote that completely takes things to an entirely new level.  I’m proud of this press release.  In fact, I think it is [really] amazing.”

Typically reserved for company news announcements and other public relations communications, the press release has long been the favored default for informing media about exciting, groundbreaking news.  Then this news release comes along and changes everything people thought they knew about press releases.

“I’m quoting myself again because the first quote didn’t do it justice,” says Delaplane.  ”If you’re still reading this news release, then you know what I’m talking about when I say it’s something special.  In fact, it’s 483 words of pure awesomeness.  When it crosses the wires, I believe history will have been made.”

The science behind this Earth-shattering news release lies in its simplicity – no science, just pure old press release craftsmanship.  It started with an incredible brainstorming session that asked a very simple question: “what makes a press release amazing?”  Elaborate notes from that brainstorm were then formulated into mesmerizing sentences, paragraphs and pages…all expertly designed to make you pause and reflect at the brilliance of this press release.

Every single word of this news release was track changed, stetted, then track changed again to its original draft.  Upon final approval, it was spell checked, fact checked and printed for posterity.  The result is a two-page, 1.5-spaced news release that is like no other news release in existence.

According to PitchPoint Public Relations you have just read the most amazing press release ever written.  If you agree, tell Mitch at mitch@pitchpointpr.com or follow him on Twitter at Lifeisamitch.

If you disagree, issue your own press release and prepare for war.

About PitchPoint Public Relations

PitchPoint Public Relations is a very small public relations company located in Chicago, IL.  It currently consists of Mitch Delaplane, an Apple computer and his bloodhound Sally (no overhead, just great PR).  Mitch has been doing public relations since 1999 and has worked for some of the largest public relations agencies in Chicago and many of their Fortune 500 clients/brands.  While he can do every single facet of public relations, his background is in consumer and sports marketing.  His main interests are helping companies develop creative programs and alternatives to traditional public relations tactics.

SOURCE PitchPoint Public Relations

Tostitos adopts PR campaign tactic

Tostitos brand tortilla chips are just one of a number of brands that have turned to social media and public relations to sell their product. As a division of the Frito-Lay corporation, Tostitos are a well-established product within the market– their appeal is known, and constant reminders of their taste or texture will only be so helpful in selling the product. Therefore, the company has turned to social media and PR tactics to emphasize emotional connections with the brand. The campaign, known as “Tostitos Reunite America,” stems from the Frito-Lay initiative to highlight their role in making “connections among consumers.”

To kick off the campaign, Tostitos sponsored Monday’s college football Bowl Championship title game. During halftime, Tostitos arranged for surprise reunions between some troops and their families. Such reunions are a basic foundation for their campaign which is “focused on reuniting consumers with relatives, friends, former teammates and lost romantic partners.”

Tostitos has especially taken advantage of the social networking site Facebook. By visiting the Tostitos Facebook page, consumers are greeted by the following message: “Facebook is great. Face-to-face is even better. Tell us which Facebook friend or family member you’re dying to reunite with. If you’re picked, we’ll set you up with a once-in-a-lifetime reunion.” The page includes more information about the campaign, including instructions on participating. Consumers can upload video clips explaining why they think they should win a “once-in-a-lifetime” reunion. Rather than focusing on the product itself, Tostitos is making a connection at the emotional level. Says Nancy Reyes, member of the “Tostitos Reunite America” team, “the emotional benefits drive people to be closer to the brand than the functional benefits…It’s nice to focus on the emotional part of the brand and live out its purpose.”

So what are the benefits to this PR and social media driven campaign? Well, most importantly, especially in comparison to modern-day advertising, employing social media is an effective and inexpensive way to drum up business. While the company has not released the monetary figures for the campaign, it can only be expected that, even with the cost of the reunions (an amount that has also not been as of yet released), this campaign will cost significantly less than past campaigns. Plus, the unique approach Tostitos is taking, and their initiative to embrace the social networking sites, shows forward thinking and is sure to catch attention.

 

For more information on the “Tostitos Reunite America” campaign, visit the Tostitos Facebook page, or read the New York Times write-up here.