Category Archives: PR Education

Eliot Spitzer: Some final thoughts

Admit it. Don’t you long for the days when Britney Spears and Paris Hilton dominated the news? I wasn’t going to write any more about Eliot Spitzer. Might as well wait until his book comes out. But as I was running this morning I thought that maybe this affair does provide a teachable moment in a few areas: media, history and writing. So here goes.

First media. Interesting story in The New York Times this morning by Susan Dominus, “Emperor’s Club Sold an Oxymoron: High-Class Prostitution.” Good perspective on sales — and marketing. And then there is the TV promo for Inside Editionkristen75.jpg promising the scoop on “Kristen” the woman who brought down the governor. Oh really. Wonder how many times she called him?

images.jpegNext history.  Given all the recent resignations and allegations about senior elected officials isn’t it time that we took another look at the legacy of Richard Nixon? I’m not sure that Nixon is getting the credit he deserves for the actions that led to his resignation. After all, Tricky Dick tried to screw all of us.

Finally writing. Anyone who has taken media writing at Kent State knows this only too well. Much better to be caught frolicking with a hooker than dangling a modifier. Or misplacing an apostrophe. OK. What is it? Emperors Club? Emperor’s Club? Or Emperors’ Club? Even The Times can’t seem to decide. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want my canceled check to show up on e-Bay with a punctuation error.

So it goes.

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Public relations and hiding the truth

My friend and colleague at Kent State, Jeanette Drake, has an excellent op-ed article in the Akron Beacon Journal this morning. (Most likely only available free online for a few days.) She is writing about an issue that honestly I wasn’t aware of, but it’s important and should concern all of us.

 

Most basically, it’s about whether “consumers have a right to know what’s in food, where it comes from and how it was produced.” That’s important, certainly.

 

But equally important, from a public relations standpoint, it provides another example of just how shameless some organizations and companies can be when it comes to dealing openly and honestly with the public.

 

Jeanette combines a strong educational background with substantial professional experience. That says a lot about her and her commitment to public relations and public relations education. I also believe it says something about the overall quality of the public relations program at Kent State. Yeah, I’m an unapologetic booster. But her article reflects the kind of perspective on public relations that our students get in class every day.

And I really believe that ethical conduct is the foundation for effective public relations. Reading Jeanette’s article suggests that in many cases we still have a long way to go.

Here’s what students want

I wrote a week or so ago about what I’ve learned about teaching since I joined the faculty at Kent State five years ago.  Many of the points were aimed at friends and former business associates who take delight in telling me that they are thinking about teaching after they retire. Good. I hope they are successful. We need more outstanding teachers. But it isn’t all that easy.

Among the excellent comments to that essay was one from Brittany Thoma. Brittany is a student this semester in my PR Tactics class, and I met her previously but I don’t know her at this point in the semester very well. And I asked her if it was OK to use her name in this post. She said yes. So here goes.

Here’s her comment:

Rob, I agree with your comment of “Many teachers should talk less and listen more.” And because you are an educator, you can offer insight to a burning question of mine: What’s with the power trips? I realize we’re students and professors have all the big, bad degrees but why do some make it a priority to make us feel two inches tall? What’s in the joy of scaring students?”

My reply to Brittany is in the previous post – and I would certainly welcome any other comments on this. I’m sure Brittany is sincere in this – and I give her credit for posting the comment. That’s the way it should be – open communication – certainly in education and elsewhere as well. I don’t know many teachers from personal experience who appear to take delight from scaring students. But it has been more than a few decades since I sat in a classroom facing a teacher. Sometimes you lose perspective on these matters.

So while running I thought about this: What do students want from teachers?

During the five years I’ve been at Kent State full time, I’ve had an amazing opportunity. I get to spend time with students who work with me at Flash Communications, a student-run public relations firm on campus. And I get to – or at least try to –apply in class many of the things the Flash Communications students tell me are important to them.

Here’s the short list:

  • They say they want teachers to be organized and to outline clearly the expectations for the course overall and for individual projects. Most are not afraid to ask questions. But it’s interesting to me how many times I hear them saying: “I’m not sure what he/she wants.”
  • They want teachers to be fair and consistent with their grading. Students are OK with teachers having high standards. But they want to know what is expected of them. That takes some communication skills — sometimes on both sides.
  • They want timely, honest and constructive feedback. That’s part of how they learn. But I hear students say that they have received a certain grade and really don’t know why. Try that in business some day during a performance review. For students, grades are important. Many won’t ask about the grade. Giving good feedback is a skill and it’s just as important in the classroom as it is in the workplace.
  • Students like schedules. They are busy with a host of other commitments – most likely including work. The highly motivated students in particular take the class syllabus and on the first day plug the key dates into their calendar. They aren’t pleased when teachers change the dates for major projects or exams – unless it really is for an emergency or something that can’t be avoided.
  • And mostly they want to be treated like adults, with a sense of fairness and kindness. Most really do want to learn. And what they are looking for are teachers who are willing to help them succeed.

The teachers I’ve met at Kent State – certainly those in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication – really do work hard and spend an enormous amount of time helping students in the classroom and outside. But maybe from time to time it’s important for someone like Brittany Thoma to remind us that how we relate to students — even the way we talk to them — really does make an impression – and a difference.

With the Flash Communications students I get to be a mentor as well as a teacher. I’m still trying to improve as a classroom instructor – and it sure helps listening to students talk about what is important to them.  And for anyone thinking about moving from the business world to education, spend some time now learning how to be a good mentor. You’ll be glad you did.

And Brittany, if I do anything to scare you this semester, please let me know.

Podcasting and garbage trucks

Sorry, couldn’t think of a good headline for this post. But this was what I was thinking about during my run this morning: podcasting.

I have an iPod, but I don’t use it much. I never run and listen to music. I figure that the chances of me getting hit by a garbage truck at 5 a.m. while running in the dark most days is pretty good. And if I’m going to check out of the Hotel Ohio, I would prefer not to do it while humming along to Gretchen Wilson singing Politically Uncorrect.


Actually, I got the iPod with the idea that I would listen to podcasts while driving to Kent State. But even on a bad day I’m only in the car for about 45 minutes. Some of the podcasts on public relations and communication topics are just getting warmed up by then. At best, most are just recordings of talking heads – but unlike TV, you can’t even see the heads.

Saying that, I’m not being critical of those who are producing podcasts. Someone needs to be out front on this; I’m obviously not the one.

And maybe it’s just me. So I asked the students in my PR Tactics class how many of them listened to audio podcasts (as opposed to episodes of Lost, etc.). Nary a hand shot up in the affirmative. Did they download and listen to music? Yep. But listening to 90 (OK, maybe 60) minutes worth of crisis communications strategies doesn’t appear to be high on the charts as yet.

At that point I figured that podcasts were pretty much like AM radio: Good to have when you can’t get any other reception but not much value otherwise.

Then yesterday I read an article on AdAge.com, Marketers and Content Providers Tune in to Podcasting’s Potential. The article raises a number of excellent points about advertising and reaching new audiences, but it also focuses on content.

And content here – as elsewhere – is king.

I’m not an expert on Web 2.0 (or most anything else for that matter). But I know enough to recognize that even with all the new technology people – listeners, readers, friends sitting talking at a local bar – still want interesting, engaging and informative content. And they aren’t going to invest a minute’s worth of time – let alone an hour’s – if that expectation isn’t met.

I didn’t originate this saying, but I use it a lot in class: What’s in it for me? From the standpoint of strategically using podcasts as an effective public relations tactic, I don’t believe we have answered that question as yet. Maybe we will.

But it’s going to rely on content that is professionally produced. Anyone remember the early days of industrial video? I do. After a while just showing a poor-quality video in a dimly lit lunchroom wasn’t good enough. Today there are media outlets – such as NPR – that are producing excellent podcasts: interesting, engaging and professionally done. Something tells me most organizations don’t have the resources to match this kind of professionalism. And I would swallow hard if I had to approve the cost of producing a professionally done podcast – without knowing how effective it is going to be.

At some point we’re going to have to take a critical look at podcasting – and blogging? – and ask if the results warrant the time, effort and expense. I still don’t see a lot of discussion of this topic of how to evaluate the effectiveness of the so-called new media. I expect that will happen as clients/organizations are encouraged to spend more money on these tactics.

Still for everyone out there pushing Web 2.0 without considering effectiveness and results, I’m sure what I said was not politically correct. Gretchen Wilson anyone?

PR education – here’s what I’ve learned

Well, classes resume today at Kent State. I expect I’ll share some of my thoughts and experiences with you as the semester goes on. So I wanted to give you a little background.

First, I started at Kent State as a student in 1967. Then after graduating in 1970 (and spending years at night getting my master’s degree in 1979) I spent 30 some years in business. Then I had the opportunity to come back to Kent in 2003, teaching full time in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and working with students in a really unique student-run PR agency, Flash Communications.

The last five years have been a delight. I’m part of – OK, here comes an unapologetic plug – what I believe is one of the best public relations programs in the country. My public relations colleagues and friends, Bill Sledzik, Michele Ewing and Jeanette Drake, combine extensive professional background with the ability to teach. I’m not so sure that everyone in the academy can say that. And they share a very personal desire to help our students succeed. And most do.

Kent State offers a professional public relations program, part of a strong journalism sequence that is housed in a newly opened state-of-the-art facility, Franklin Hall. And for our public relations students we are working hard to prepare them for careers by focusing on writing skills, traditional public relations strategy and tactics and ethical conduct, and a growing emphasis on digital media and online communication. Bill Sledzik in his ToughSledding blog made this part easy for me by writing about the Public Relations Online course.

Here’s where I am going with all this. Every year during the holidays I see friends and former business associates who ask if I am still teaching at Kent State. When I say yes, they reply: “When I retire I’m thinking about teaching.” Well, uhh, OK. For anyone actually thinking about entering the classroom from the business world, particularly at the end of a career and not the beginning, here’s what I’ve learned.

  • You can’t fake it. You have to know the subject – and you have to be prepared each and every class. The stories of your great successes and career challenges don’t go very far. Trust me. And if you are going to do it right, teaching really is work. If you are thinking about retiring on the job, this isn’t the right place.
  • You better be prepared to give students honest feedback. They deserve that. Grades are important to them. And that’s one way they learn. Most managers conduct performance reviews, ready or not. Unfortunately, many aren’t very good at it. And it helps here if you view yourself as a mentor not as a boss. Not everyone gets that. There is a difference.
  • You’re pretty much on your own, both in the classroom and with administrative support. If you are used to having things done for you – scheduling meetings, filing, completing expense reports, etc. – well forget it. A few tips: learn how to use a copying machine and learn to type much better than I can. You’ll soon learn that the telephone is obsolete, but e-mail comes at you day, night and weekends.
  • And be prepared for the fact that not all students share your passion for the subject matter in: fill in the blank here.

But also be prepared for those moments when you see students learn a new skill, gain enthusiasm for something that really is important and then move on to begin a successful career. Yeah, maybe you did help a little bit. Sometimes you get nice notes. Sometimes a former student adds you as a friend on Facebook – and you know that you really are friends and professional associates. That probably doesn’t happen all that often in the business world.

Looking forward to another semester.