Monthly Archives: March 2008

Flash mobs and public relations

I’ll admit it. I don’t know anything about flash mobs. But I guess I’ll find out Wednesday at Kent State. Here’s the story.

t9905794409_9342.jpgOne of the great things about teaching is to see students take an idea in the classroom and then make it come alive. And that’s what’s happening with an independent study class of public relations majors who are participating in the Do It Now College Challenge, a campaign sponsored by Donate Life Ohio. The goal of the campaign is to recruit 400,000 new organ donors in Ohio.

The college challenge is a statewide competition involving 14 colleges and universities. And the Kent State Do It Now team is organizing a flash mob Wednesday afternoon at 2:15 on the Kent campus in the Risman Plaza between the Student Center and Library. The idea is to present information about organ donations — and give students and others the opportunity to register to become organ donors. And while I’m certain Kent’s public relations students will win this competition — it won’t hurt to give them a little support and help. Right?

If you’re on campus. Stop by. Here’s an example of what you’ll see.

And at Kent State we work hard to give students the opportunity to gain professional experience while still in the classroom. Here’s a story about the Do It Now College Challenge written by Jillana Gall, an English major working this semester with Flash Communications, our student-run public relations agency. So if you’re not on campus, this gives you more background and ways to support Kent’s public relations team.

The “Do It Now” College Challenge
Save a Life. Be a Donor.

Jillana Gall

Kent State public relations students are hard at work promoting an important issue and competing with students at other Ohio universities as part of the “Do It Now” College Challenge.

In Ohio today there are nearly 2,500 people waiting for an organ transplant, and one Ohioan will die every other day because not enough organs are available. And Donate Life Ohio, a statewide division of Donate Life America, is helping to meet a national goal of increasing registered organ donors from 60 million to 100 million by teaming up with college campuses across Ohio for the “Do It Now” College Challenge.

Kent State’s campaign to increase organ donors was developed in the fall 2007 Public Relations Campaigns class and is now being implemented by seven junior public relations students who are participating in an independent study created by Assistant Professor of Public Relations Michele Ewing. The students on the campaign team are Julie McKinney, Deborah Pritchard, Lyndsay Elliott, Brittany Thoma, Jackie Lloyd, Katelyn Luysterborg and Brandi Neloms. There are 14 Ohio universities participating in the campaign and it is financed by The Second Chance Trust Fund and Ohio’s organ procurement agencies.

The challenge to the student teams competing at 14 Ohio universities is to register as many new donors as possible by May. Each university has its own predetermined registration goal, based on its surrounding population. The goal for Kent State is set at 14,571, and there have been 7,429 donors registered as of late March.

Kent’s PR students are using a variety of tactics to increase donor registration, but one of the innovative ways they are increasing awareness for this campaign is through the social networking site Facebook. Students have created a Facebook page to inform other students and peers about the campaign.

The page provides general information about the campaign, as well as links to the Donate Life Ohio and Do It Now Web sites. There is also a discussion board where members are invited to talk about what influenced their decisions to become organ donors. This is an open group, so any Facebook member is eligible to join. If you are interested in viewing this page, visit http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=8182077415.

The Kent State Donate Life Ohio team look forward to a busy month in April, which is National Donate Life Month. They will be holding registration drives on campus, attending Kent State events to increase awareness for the campaign and implementing other online tactics to drive people to the registration site.

The Kent team will present its plan and results May 14 to the DLO Advisory Council. An overall winner will be selected among the 14 universities and awarded a donation of $5,000 to a campus student organization. If the Kent State DLO team wins, the money will go to the Public Relations Student Society of America. Other awards include a $250 donation to the best plan and most creative tactic implementation. Individual students on the winning teams will get the opportunity to have an interview for an internship at select Ohio marketing and public relations firms or with regional organ procurement organizations. Team members also receive reference letters from Donate Life Ohio.

If you are interested in becoming an organ donor, you can register by completing a paper enrollment at one of the Kent State DLO events or visiting http://www.doitnowohio.org/kent/. You can access additional information about “Do It Now” College Challenge at this site. The DLO Kent team needs volunteers to assist at events. If interested, visit the Kent DLO Facebook page.

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Football and conspiracy theories

This one comes with a tip of the helmet to Bill Sledzik. And I know I should be focusing on something really important — like the pros and cons of the social media news release. But what the hell. It’s Friday afternoon. And as Alan Jackson so correctly observes: “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

Now what about football? Seems like the NFL owners at their annual meeting next week will consider a proposal to “ban players  from having hair flow from their helmets below their names on the back of their jerseys.” Not sure I know exactly what hair flow means. But I guess we get the picture.

images1.jpegCall it the Troy Polamalu rule. Good grief. Couldn’t they just make the helmets bigger?
I guess you could argue that this is a safety issue. Yet when I see 350-pound linemen plowing into each other at full speed it seems like safety isn’t the NFL’s top concern.

And I’m not much for conspiracy theories. Although I still have reservations that Oswald could even hit the side of a building if he were standing right next to it.

So doesn’t it seem strange that when we last even thought about the NFL a few months ago Senator Arlen Specter was threatening to hold congressional hearings concerning the Patriots and their fondness for video taping games and practices?

What ever happened to that?  Could it be that this idea to shear Polamalu is really only a ruse to coverup the video scandal? Remember Nixon and Watergate. Stranger things have happened.

And remember that this proposal comes only a short time after the death of one of the leaders of the Steeler Nation: Myron Cope. 

Hmm.

Public relations and management

I wonder if the University of Akron has a department of management. If so, it might want to send someone — during normal office hours, please — to visit with Ronald Levant, dean of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. Seems the dean is in some administrative doo-doo.

As Channel 19 in Cleveland would say — Bill Sledzik had this story exclusively in this area last week on his ToughSledding blog. I won’t go into the details. Bill does that, as usual, very well.

But the story basically is this. Howard Ducharme, a tenured UA professor and now former chair of the philosophy department, claims he was fired from that position by Levant for not being in his office every weekday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Almost too funny to be true. But that’s the story, and Ducharme is sticking to it.

Last week, Carol Biliczky wrote an article in the Akron Beacon Journal about this: “Professor says he lost chair job for lacking chair time.” (I’m not going to provide a link. They disappear from the Beacon Journal’s Web site faster than Joe Biden in a presidential primary.)

But here’s one part of the story:

“Levant declined to disclose why he relieved Ducharme of his duties, but said the issue of office hours ‘”was not the driver of that decision.”‘

So that statement gave Bob Dyer, a Beacon Journal columnist, the opportunity to join in the fun this morning. He writes:

“Dean Ronald Levant apparently believes his people should be chained to their desks.”

“Levant denies it. [Removing Ducharme as department chair for not being in his office 8 to 5.] He told the Beacon Journal’s Carol Biliczky that Ducharme’s office hours  were ‘”not the driver of (the) decision,'” but declined to identify the driver.”

“Autopilot, perhaps?”

Ouch.

A national story in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Bill Sledzik’s blog. Two stories in the Akron Beacon Journal.

Who says the University of Akron can’t generate media coverage? Of course, this makes Levant and the university look ridiculous. And here’s my point. From a public relations perspective, why let this happen?

If Ducharme’s allegations are true — then best to say nothing. And I’m not an advocate of a “no comment.” But the fact is that a management decision has been made that can’t be explained with any credibility. Why try? But if there is more to the story from Levant’s perspective, then why not be specific? Or if the situation involves personnel issues that can’t be discussed publicly, then say so. If true, that’s at least a credible response. As it stands now, Levant is giving what former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee called the “nondenial denial. ”

And when I first read about this on Bill’s blog I thought Professor Ducharme would be philosophical about this. Apparently not. And since UA apparently has no communications strategy here, stay tuned.

And talking about management, just another quick thought. The NCAA tournament continues tonight and by now my picks are mostly sitting at home watching TV. But I was thinking about this while running this morning.

Doesn’t it seem like the person who organizes and conducts the office pool is the same person who doesn’t seem to have anything to do the rest of the year? Well, if nothing else, I hope he/she at the University of Akron is doing it 8 to 5.

China and public relations

Too bad Ed Bernays, the so-called father of PR, didn’t spend some time writing a definition of public relations. Instead he gained his reputation, at least in part, by planning publicity stunts like the one that encouraged generations of women to begin committing suicide by cigarette — as Vonnegut said, referring to his own addiction. And gee. Was Bernays in this instance practicing public relations at all?

Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure I can define public relations. But I have a number of views about it. Here’s one. Advertising and marketing can alter your view of reality. After all, Pepsi is only colored sugar water and a dream. And Starbucks isn’t about coffee. It’s about creating a community of dilettantes willing to stand in the queue for an unlimited time to buy an over-priced honey latte. But I digress. Public relations, if done ethically, can only in the long run reflect reality. It can’t save Bear Stearns from pathetic mismanagement. And it can’t enhance a country’s (or an organization’s) reputation unless it’s justified — and true.

Here’s what got me thinking about this. As I was running on the treadmill this morning, the talking head on TV opined that China was heading for a public relations disaster. Oh, my. It appears that the Olympic Torch didn’t advance from square one in Greece yesterday before protesters jumped up to criticize China’s current actions in Tibet. Something tells me it’s going to be a long road to Beijing and the Summer Games.

Is this really a public relations problem? Or is it a problem involving the Chinese government and people who don’t really believe that China is as open and free as officials would like the rest of the world to believe? The Beijing Olympics, after all, were intended to showcase China to the world. Well here come protests — government restrictions — and dare I say it: reality. Good luck to the PR guys and gals.

So now, if you are a corporate sponsor of the Olympics, what would you do? Anne Applebaum has an interesting article in Slate that looks at this issue and others: Boycott Beijing: The Olympics are the perfect place for a protest.

The article says in part:

“We believe the Olympic Games are not the place for demonstrations and we hope that all people attending the games recognize the importance of this.”

That, according to the article, is the view of Samsung Electronics, one of 12 corporate sponsors. And I agree. Much better to protest at every store in the world selling Samsung products. But, again, I digress. And the sponsors knew what they were getting in to. Did they think they could change reality?

And another aspect of the so-called public relations problem. China, according to an article in The New York Times, has told broadcast officials that it will bar live television shots from Tiananmen Square during the Summer Games. Ouch. NBC , according the The Times article, paid $2.3 billion for rights to broadcast the Olympics in Athens, Turin and Beijing.

The marathon starts in Tiananmen Square. This should be interesting.

NBC declined to comment.

Three press officers with the Olympic organizing committee declined to comment.

Wonder what happens if someone has to clear a body or two from the track before the start of the 4×4 relay?

So China has a public relations problem? Nah. How about a reality problem.

Where’s Ed Bernays when we need him?

Poets and public relations

This is going to be a stretch — linking poets and public relations. But here goes. Last week I wrote about the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war and said that we didn’t always in the country view wars with such apathy and acceptance. And I mentioned to my daughter that maybe it was time to alert the poets.

Then over the weekend I was in Washington.  And guess what? Poets were leading a demonstration at the White House protesting the war. Who says a blog like this can’t shape public opinion? Well, OK. I won’t take any credit. Bill Sledzik apparently has the power to paralyze Northeast Ohio with a blizzard with a mere mention on Facebook. But then his Technorati rating is about 1,000 times higher than mine.

But the poets were heading to the White House — and back in the game. Here’s an article — Averse to War — in The Washington Post. It says in part:

The poets are in town. Dozens — no, hundreds. Hundreds of poets. Can you imagine? They are everywhere.

And more:

Also, to mark the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, they are ready to march on the White House.

Who isn’t right?

But poets?

Well, I don’t know about you but I’m encouraged. Maybe the poets can help us get out of this mess. Doesn’t appear that anyone else — or any other group — has the interest or ability to shape public opinion against a war these days. Maybe when American Idol is over for the season.

And sorry. Guess I couldn’t figure out a way to link poetry to public relations after all.

PR, the war and Country Joe

Today is the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. And I’m somewhat hesitant even to write this. This war has touched the lives of thousands of people directly and indirectly. We owe them our gratitude — and realistically, they are the only ones who have any credibility on this mess at this point. The rest of us are just sitting on the sidelines hoping for the best.

But there are some continuing lessons here in public relations and media. Last week in my ethics class at Kent State we looked at the video Toxic Sludge is Good for You. For those of you who haven’t seen it or read the book by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton it’s a critical look at the public relations industry — to say the least. I’ve seen the video several times, but one section really jumped out at me last week. It’s the view that unethical and deceptive public relations practices essentially got us into the first confrontation with Iraq and the Gulf War during the administration of Bush Senior.

I really wonder if history hasn’t repeated itself. Even knowing and believing to be true what happened years ago, I trusted the Bush administration — and Colin Powell with his nifty presentation at the United Nations — again this time around. That, for me, ain’t likely to happen again. And the national news media didn’t from what I recall raise any red flags. So we are where we are five years later.

When I am thinking about these things while running I always manage to recall that scene from Animal House. You know, the one where the guy in the fraternity grabs the baton and leads the marching band down the one-way alley smack into the wall. I guess we can only hope that whoever grabs the baton in November can figure a way out. Doesn’t it seem like it is starting to get a little crowded in the alley?

And I am totally opposed to a military draft. Yet at some point someone is going to run that up the flagpole to see who salutes it. Particularly if John McCain is correct and we are going to be in Iraq for the next 100 years, give or take a decade or two. And maybe, ironically, a military draft would be a way out. Something tells me that would get a lot of us off the sidelines and back into the game. For those of you too young (or in my case sometimes too old) to remember, here’s a reminder that there was a time in this country when wars weren’t accepted quite as easily as they are today.

PR and why management matters

Bill Sledzik suggested to me several weeks ago that I take a look at Jim Horton’s blog Online Public Relations Thoughts. I’m glad I did. Jim has excellent insights about public relations, and he provides good links to other blogs and information. He also apparently posts a lot around 4:30 a.m. or so. Good. I view 7:30 or 8 a.m. as midday.

I was going to add a comment to Jim’s posting yesterday about Bear Stearns “The Cost of Incredulity.” But either he doesn’t allow comments or I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Doesn’t matter.

He focused on themes that I believe get right to the heart of public relations: trust, character and credibility.

And in the context of other remarks about the Bear Stearns situation, he writes:

“How much could public relations have done to save Bear Stearns? Little, it turns out. The bank tried to calm investors, but fear and greed ruled. The bank did not have enough friends to stand by it in the end.”

I’ll take that a step further. I don’t believe there was anything public relations could have done. Bear Stearns went belly up because of pathetically inept and arrogant management that apparently made one bad decision after another. If the management group had stepped aside last week, maybe effective public relations could have helped. If the bank had any credibility left at that point — which I doubt. And as I mentioned in my post yesterday, I still think that something smells about the announcements Bear Stearns made last week. But I’ll let that go. Clearly there are bigger fish to be fried at this point.

Anyway, this is why management and leadership matter. I get so tired of hearing people (and reporters) say that (fill in the blank here with the name of any organization) has a public relations problem. Ah, no. Once you hear or read that you can be assured that the organization has a management problem.

And ask the 14,000 Bear Stearns employees what they think today. Here’s from an article written by Associated Press reporters Dan Seymour and Eileen Aj Connelly:

“Employees own about a third of Bear Stearns, which means the company’s plight has bled its roughly 14,000 workers’ portfolios by $3 billion this month alone and more than $5 billion this year.”

I’ll bet that if you asked those employees most would still think highly of Bear Stearns — but not the management team that caused this debacle.

Trust. Character. Credibility. Jim, you’re right. And in every organization it has to start at the top.