CAP 220: Then & Now

Way back in January, I didn’t know a whole lot about the world of PR and what it is all about.  My first blog was a preliminary guess as to what I would be exposed to in this course and while I wasn’t totally wrong, I had just a tid-bit of the knowledge I have now.  Having muscled through this course, I have experience in putting PR practices to use though it will take more real-world experience to master them.  This blog is a deeper look into what I knew, what I didn’t and what I finally learned in CAP 220.

In my first blog of the semester, I wrote about celebrity image and how the only thing I knew about public relations is how celebrities and companies need to maintain a positive image.  But there is more to PR than just that.  It includes paving the way for a product to be brought to market, keeping customers coming back, and how to communicate effectively with a target public.  In this course, we learned a lot about goal setting and evaluation which is critical to the success of a public relations campaign.  In order to reach the overarching goal of the campaign, one needs to know what steps to take and that really came to life in the campaign book.  Through developing objectives, strategies, and tactics, I was able to see how campaign goals are reached and also how PR is a process that cannot be completed overnight.  There are many steps and processes that need to play out that sometimes take years to complete.  There are planning, execution and evaluation stages that all take place on their own time.  Sometimes they happen in one month or one year.  Putting together the Gannt chart for the campaign book taught me that timeline.  It was difficult at times to differentiate between the objectives, strategies and tactics because they all seemed so similar.  But after seeing how each one feeds into the next, it became easier to go through the process and define what exactly what we wanted to accomplish by the end of the campaign.

At the start of this class, I wasn’t sure how my business background would differ from a communications background.  It was cool to see different theories and processes that come from the school of communications and the school of business and how they are different but ultimately accomplish the same thing.  For example, there is a heavy emphasis on the research process in both areas but in my Ad/PR classes, there seems to be more concern over citation and formatting.  Wherein my business classes, there isn’t as much emphasis on using the correct citation format, rather just giving credit where credit is due.  Also, in business, there tends to be the belief that public relations practices are not a necessity.  After having this course, I realize that having good PR is critical to keeping a business profitable because ultimately, consumers pay for good products that come from companies with a good reputation.

In addition, learning the difference between marketing, advertising, journalism, and public relations was something I found very useful.  Although they are very similar, they each have distinct characteristics that make them each their own concept.  Marketing is more about the product itself and putting a company in a position to make a profit off the product.  Public relations is a broad scope that focuses on specialized publics through multiple channels and can aid marketing and advertising efforts and use them as tools for success.

Some things I find useful going further into my education, co-curricular groups, and ultimately into a career are the ability to manage crises, write a press release, and brainstorm solutions to a problem.  Learning ways to effectively handle a negative situation helped me put out fires in my student organization and put us in the best possible position to maintain our reputation.  I wrote my third blog on the crisis surrounding Chipotle when they had an outbreak of E. Coli.  Reading about what they did to save their customer base and get people to come back after such negative publicity, taught me that when you are transparent and open with our customer and they feel like they can trust you again, you can come back from almost anything.  I’m sure I will put crisis management skills to use for years to come.

In my internship with Grand Valley athletic marketing, I was responsible for planning a themed basketball game called “Kids Day.”  The skills I acquired through learning about how to write a press release helped me communicate with the outside Grand Rapids community about the event and inform the public.  Not having had that skill, I would be ill prepared to handle something of that magnitude.  That was when the classroom came to life for me.  I was actually using skills I learned in a class and applied them to something that was happening.

Although this course was a pain in my butt sometimes and it was hard to learn all about what PR is while directly applying it to a semester-long project, it taught me a whole lot.  Not just about Ad/PR but also life in general and how to deal with other people in the business world. Looking back, I didn’t know as much as I think I did about PR when this class began but now that it’s April I can take a deep breath and know that, if nothing else, I made it out alive.

Advertisements

Check Yourself

Because the art of public relations and maintaining a brand image can be such intangible concepts, it can be difficult for non-PR practitioners to see the value.  For advertising, journalism, and marketing, the impact of a campaign or story is more obvious.  It can be measured in sales quantity or dollar amount, number of views or clicks on a web ad, or number of subscribers, views, or shares of a newspaper.  Public relations isn’t easy, but it’s just as, if not more important than its related fields.

The return on investment (ROI) is a financially measured value that is defined in the PR realm as money generated from a public relations campaign less the costs of implementing that campaign (Obrien, 2013).  Also in Obrien’s article, he mentions the importance of determining the desired outcome of a public relations campaign.  If one does not know what they wish to accomplish, it’s difficult to quantify the results in the end.  In addition, looking at the company’s position before the campaign is launched as well as one year in the past helps us determine more accurately, the impact of the campaign.  What was the company culture like before the PR efforts were put into action?  What was going on one year ago that could have contributed to the position that the company now finds itself in?  These are both important questions to ask while analyzing the ROI.

It’s easy to see the ROI as simply an accounting calculation, which part of it is just that.  But, it also has to do with meeting intangible needs like social media metrics and public opinion.  CEOs and business professsionals who may not be as versed on the field of public relations tend to focus on outputs rather than outcomes (Oakley Owens, 2013).  This implies that people who are not of the PR mindset like to see numbers and actual hard data to prove that what PR activities are happening are worth it.  That is difficult to quantify because some things like public perception are difficult to gauge.  Outcomes are broader.  Big picture things like how did this campaign affect a consumers mindset, and did it lead them toward our product and away from a competitor or vice versa?  However, while PR continues to grow and become a vital area in the business world, top level executives who are infamous for belittling public relations have vouched for its importance and its impact on their bottom line (Lee & Yoon, 2009).

So PR is important but is it measured the same for everyone? No.  While it’s easy to look at survey results or media placements, that’s not the whole story, and it’s not even the same story for every entity.  Depending on the size of the business or entity, public relations practices change, and with it, ways to evaluate effectiveness.  Lee and Yoon (2009) speak on the model of the 4 levels of effectiveness.  This model looks at practices from an individual, program, organizational and societal perspective (Lee & Yoon, 2009).  This way there is an all-encompassing evaluation of the business’ efforts.  Individual focuses on the efforts of the individual practitioner and how well they perform, program level deals with the campaign itself and how well it achieved its objectives and overall goal, organizational impact looks at the ways the organization’s mission and bottom line have been affected, and finally, societal – whether the public relations practices have a positive or negative impact on equilibrium in society (Lee & Yoon, 2009).  This confirms what was mentioned in Obrien’s article about aligning all departments in a business and keeping their efforts consistent toward one goal (Obrien, 2013).  I thought the model described in Lee and Yoon’s piece was interesting because it seems to touch all the major players in PR activities; people, campaign, company, and consumer.  I think keeping this model in mind could help a practitioner efficiently evaluate exactly what impact they are making.

 


 

References

Lee, Suman, & Yoon, Youngmin. (2009) Return on investment (ROI) of international public relations: A country-level analysis. Science Direct. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0363811109001404

Oakley Owens, Yasheaka. (2013) What is Public Relations ROI? YoakleyPR. Retreived from http://yoakleypr.com/wp/public-relations/what-is-public-relations-roi/#.VwF-N_krKM8

Obrien, Archie. (2013) 10 Ways to Measure ROI of Public Relations. Everything-PR. Retreived from http://everything-pr.com/roi-public-relations/41033/

 

Being the good guy in sports…for once

Chicago White Sox designated hitter, Adam LaRoche retired from baseball last week with $13 million remaining on his 2-year, $25 million contract (Kane, 2016).  That’s not something we hear often, a professional athlete walking away from the sport they love, and a huge paycheck.  However, this case involves the human aspect of sports and the value of family.

Adam LaRoche, was preparing to play what could be the last season of his career when he was told by White Sox Executive Vice President, Ken Williams that he should limit the amount of time that his 14-year old son Drake spends in the clubhouse with the rest of the team.  LaRoche viewed Williams’ request not as an order from his boss but a choice whether to choose his career and teammates or his family.  Considering his commitment to family from a young age, his part in his family owned meat business, and love his son, his choice was not surprising (Kilgore, 2016).

This story struck me as interesting for two reasons. The amount of media coverage this story was receiving was astounding, reaching all the way to the Fox News Channel.  Deadspin, ESPN, and Fortune Magazine also featured LaRoche’s story.  But also, it was a breaking news story involving an athlete doing the right thing.  All too often, we hear of an athlete beating his girlfriend, getting arrested on gun charges, or using performance enhancing drugs.  But this story was different.  After being told to stop bringing his family by so often, LaRoche chose family over his job, which is admirable.  Whether or not you agree with his choice of retirement, his decision showed his commitment to play the game for the right reasons.

A number of MLB players including Bryce harper took to twitter to express support for the LaRoches, both big and little:

harper tweet

@Bharper3407

chipper tweet

@RealCJ10

 

I happen to agree with LaRoche’s decision, and I was implored to learn more about the position of the White Sox Vice President.  In a statement, Williams described his view regarding Drake LaRoche saying, “I don’t think he should be here 100 percent of the time – and he has been here 100 percent, every day, in the clubhouse… (Allen, 2016)”  I understand that even a baseball clubhouse is a professional working environment and that everyone should carry themselves in a professional matter.  But even LaRoche said that no one expressed discomfort over his son being in the clubhouse.  This controversy does not bode well for the White Sox.  Specifically, Ken Williams is being viewed as not appreciating the family aspect of the game, which in one of America’s most storied sports cities, is not something you want to be known as.

For LaRoche, baseball is more than a career.  Adam and his brother, Andy had been involved in the career of their Father Dave who was an accomplished pitcher in the MLB and went on to coach the White Sox when Adam was 4.  Baseball is in their blood and it’s more than a job.  It’s a family affair and something LaRoche is excited to share with his son while he still can.  LaRoche released a statement after his sudden retirement had attracted so much attention and in it he said, “of one thing I am certain: we will regret NOT spending enough time with our kids, not the other way around. (@e3laroche)”

Why this particular story got so much attention in just a couple days is not all that surprising, however.  This story struck the heartstrings of those who grew up around a sport with their parent, or those who have kids of their own and want to teach them life lessons through sports.  LaRoche’s story urges us to look at our own situations and reminds us to always stick up for what we believe is most important in this life.  A study from Marquette University looked at different types of sports stories and how they are portrayed in the media.

“Practitioners may be able to use human interest stories to influence key target publics. Intuitively, it seems possible that human interest stories will generate more word-of-mouth discussion and, in the new media environment, are more likely to be forwarded to other people or posted on a social networking site such as Facebook. (Issacson, p. 606)”

Faced with a decision that tested his values, Adam LaRoche took the admiral road and whether he returns to the diamond soon or sticks with his heart and pursues other interests with his son by his side, it’s safe to say he is one of the good guys in the world of sports.

 


 

References

Allen, Scott. (2016) The reason ex-Nat Adam LaRoche is retiring? His son isn’t as welcome in Sox clubhouse. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dc-sports-bog/wp/2016/03/16/the-reason-ex-nat-adam-laroche-is-retiring-his-son-isnt-as-welcome-in-sox-clubhouse/?tid=a_inl

Issacson, Tom. (2010) Sports Public Relations. Marquette University. Retrieved from http://epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1080&context=comm_fac

Kane, Colleen. (2016) Adam LaRoche stuns White Sox with decision to quit playing. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/whitesox/ct-adam-laroche-step-away-20160315-story.html

Kilgore, Adam. (2016) For Adam LaRoche, the decision to walk away from baseball was an easy one. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sports/wp/2016/03/17/for-adam-laroche-the-decision-to-walk-away-from-baseball-was-an-easy-one/

@Bharper3407. (2016, March 16). Good for you Roche! Nothing like father and son in the clubhouse..It’s a FAMILY game  [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Bharper3407/status/710186474663235584

@e3laroche. (2016, March 18).  Given the suddenness of my departure… [Twitter post]. Retrieved from http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1sof75p

@RealCJ10. (2016, March 16). Big ups to my boy for standing up for his beliefs. We play a GAME! Good for u brother. . [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/RealCJ10/status/710244156925419522

 

The 2015 Burrito Crisis

I admit, I jumped on the Chipotle band-wagon.  But I was an early adopter, unlike most beanie wearing, long-board riding, college students.  Mexican food has always been my personal cuisine of choice so when Qdoba and Chipotle, the quick serve Mexican kings started gaining popularity, I was all for it.  Fast forward to today where there is a Mexican restaurant on campus at Grand Valley.  The industry is moving fast as people are yearning for fresh food at a low price.  Of course, serving the freshest ingredients at an affordable price, and handling all that food responsibly is a tall order.  And a few months ago, Chipotle found that out the hard way.

The E. Coli outbreak at six Chipotle restaurants in the Pacific northwest forced the closure of forty-three stores in late 2015 (Ferdman).  The exact cause of the outbreak is unknown as the source is long gone by now, but it is thought to be related to mishandling of poultry and a sick employee in one store (Ferdman).  Ever since its inception twenty years ago, Chipotle has taken pride in serving responsibly raised ingredients without GMOs.  As our food culture changes and people look for safe food that is nutritious and delicious, the reputation of the brand is a key factor in our food choice decision.  The customer builds trust with a brand that they will be served high quality food.  Especially since Chipotle uses fresh ingredients, the difficulty to keep that promise is difficult but all the more necessary.  Moreover, it is even more difficult for Chipotle to recover from this incident because they promised that their food was so responsibly handled.

After the reports began to roll in linking Chipotle food to foodborne illnesses across the country, the response from the company was both good and bad.  The company’s Co-CEO, Steve Ells made a public apology and promise on the Today Show that they are putting a plan in place to raise safety standards and are working to make their restaurants the “safest place to eat” (Ferdman).  However, their presence on social media during the crisis was all but impressive and chose to promote their Halloween-themed “Boo-rito” over providing updates on the health scare (Jennings).  That is where their target market is, buried deep in their Twitter feeds.  Those who use social media are also those who eat their food and the ones deciding to go elsewhere for lunch because they heard some rumblings about Chipotle being infected.  The worst thing Chipotle could have done in this situation is to be silent while their company was being dragged through the mud and the front page of Google news was plastered with negative stories about their brand.  So, as the events unfolded, they could’ve done a whole lot better, but afterwards, they seemed to make good with the people.

“…openness is what customers today expect and demand from brands,” says Maggie O’Neil, the director of a public relations firm in New York City (Williams).  Customers are more willing to come back and spend money if a company is just open and honest about a situation.  That is what Chipotle did right.  The CEO even, publically apologized and explained what they are doing to ensure something like this does not happen again like sanitizing restaurants and back kitchens, hiring food safety consultants, and putting more stringent food prep policies in place (Ferdman).  People will vote with their wallets and they vote for brands they can trust and brands that care about their money, their family, and their health.  It’s as simple as that.  Chipotle did good here.

Going forward, Chipotle has a steep mountain to climb.  They’ve been trusted with millions of stomachs over the past twenty years and getting those hungry people back in their restaurants, eating their food after a setback like this will be difficult.  But they’ve proven that they are equipped to handle a crisis like this and now know what brand recovery will take.  As long as they keep the safety of the customers first and stay open about their policies, the customers will return and the lunch lines will lengthen.

This Chipotle case is one to learn from for all new companies who are trying to appease the masses.  Only so many promises can be made that can be realistically kept.  They fell short of expectations but are on their way back to being the “safest food in the world.” Now all they need to do is make guac free! But, who am I kidding, it’s worth paying for.

References

Ferdman, R. A., Bhattarai, A. (2015, December 9) There’s a crisis at Chipotle. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/09/chipotle-food-outbreak-ecoli-reputation/

Jennings, L. (2015). Experts unimpreslcsed with chipotle’s crisis management. Nation’s Restaurant News, Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/docview/1747539138?accountid=39473

Williams, G. (2015, November 4) Chipotle’s E. Coli Crisis: P.R. Experts Say It’s Handling It Right. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/geoffwilliams/2015/11/04/can-chipotle-survive-its-e-coli-crisis-pr-experts-seem-to-think-so-and-offer-advice/3/#16180a4c53b8

Do ya Research!

In public relations, knowing an audience and knowing how to communicate to that audience is the cornerstone of success.  Not knowing what a client wants or needs could prove to be fatal in the PR world.  So, why was CAP 115 the most stressful “first year” class I took at Grand Valley?  The class teaches PR students methods and practices rather than asking to memorize facts and figures.  It’s a course meant to push and meant to foster growth and the curriculum is designed to launch students into the next phase of learning in the advertising and public relations field.  It was such hard work because everything was a process.  Learning how to research, learning what to research and picking through information that may or may not be relevant to your topic are all important components in the public relations research process.

Knowing an Audience

Who exactly a company’s market is may be the most important information a firm needs to know.  Without knowing who they’re trying to impress and not upset, how could they attract and keep their business?  In addition, how on earth will they effectively communicate to that audience?  Do their customers respond to social media; are they more newspaper-readers; what do they pay attention to when doing company research on their own?  PR firms have the enormous responsibility of, in some ways predicting the future.  They’re tasked with taking information interpreting it into a form the consumer will like most of the time.  Not every consumer is the same, and neither is every method of good PR.  Research.  Do the work.  Learn about the audience you’re catering to and how to maintain a good image in their eyes.  It’s not easy, it’s definitely not cheap, but it’s necessary to be successful in any business.

Keep Moving

In Don Stacks’ Primer of Public Relations Research, he stresses that one of the responsibilities of good PR is to “identify avenues for survival and advancement” for a company, as well as to “establish communication programs or campaigns that enhance the organizations advancement, and maintain those programs against all competitors” (Stacks).  He touches on being successful and capture an audience, as well as the idea that long term practices keep a company moving and changing with the times.  Stacks describes PR research as having two components: quantitative and qualitative.  Qualitative being methods like case studies, secondary research, and observations; quantitative including samples, surveys, and experiments (Stacks).  Qualitative information represents information that can’t be obtained in a lab and that is retrieved straight from the source of either past studies or observing subjects.  Quantitative information is numbers based and focuses on trends rather than specific responses.  In PR, it’s necessary to have both because you must have concrete facts and figures but understand that people are the basis for public relations and the thoughts, feelings, and decisions of the public cannot always be interpreted from numbers.  People change as time moves on and companies must move with them to stay current stay successful.

Walk the Walk

So, in summary, what is the lesson from filing through a bunch of journals and articles with technical language about research and analysis?  Do the research and don’t screw it up.  In a blog by Natalie Bovair, a PR practitioner from Ottowa, credibility of PR research is discussed.  She talks about educational level may not be enough to mark research as tested, vetted, and true.  The researcher may have been exposed to research practice but a PhD graduate level expert will have had experience in many areas of research (Bovair).  Clearly peer reviewed research and articles or journals that come from a reputable source are best to use when doing research in any context, let alone something as current as public relations.  Maybe that’s why Wikipedia is frowned upon.

In the News

Recently, an article was posted on the Detroit Free Press’ website about Gov. Snyder hiring a new PR firm to deal with the Flint water crisis.  The firm, named Mercury has ties to Snyder’s current chief of staff.  The company was called in amid local as well as national attention created too much heat on the Snyder campaign.  I’m sure a lot of research was done on which firm would be used by Gov. Snyder and it wasn’t just a decision based on the EVP being the wife of his chief of staff.  Even in current news and events, PR and PR research is being used to shape the world around us.  These aren’t just textbook examples, these are real-life, current day happenings.  Research is happening even when we don’t realize it.

References

Stacks, D. W., & Ebooks Corporation. (2011). Primer of public relations research (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

Bovair, Natalie. “Making the Case for Solid Public Relations Research.” PR Conversations. 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2016. http://www.prconversations.com/2014/12/making-the-case-for-solid-public-relations-research/.

Egan, Paul. “Snyder Hires PR Firm with Ties to New Chief of Staff.” Detroit Free Press. Web. 24 Jan. 2016. http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/flint-water-crisis/2016/01/22/snyder-hires-pr-firm-ties-new-chief-staff/79189880/.

Hello? It’s Public Relations.

I won’t lead off with a Websters dictionary definition, nor an explanation of what the world of Public Relations entails.  Rather, I’ll start off my first blog post for CAP 220 with what I thought of when registering for this class.

Kim Kardashian, Ryan Reynolds, Donald Trump.  What do all of these people have in common?  They must keep their public image in pristine condition…some reputations are in better condition than others.  But in order to succeed in their profession, they have to keep their fans happy and not alienate too many people.  Before I knew anything about this class, the word “publicist” came to mind.  Someone who answers for celebrities to make sure all the right words are said and everyone gets an answer, even if it’s not the one they were hoping for.  The phrases “talk to my publicist,” or “…says her publicist” come to mind when I think of PR in a pop culture setting.

In some ways, a publicist is a public relations professional but the world of PR is not limited to the tasks of maintaining a celebrity image.  Businesses, non-profits, universities, and other entities have similar responsibilities when dealing with the public.  Stories come out all the time about companies doing unethical things within their business operations and deceiving customers, or other stories about athletes donating a chunk of their paycheck to a local children’s hospital.  PR can be good and bad.  The classic phrase of “any publicity is good publicity” is really a myth.  People vote with their wallets and when companies do wrong by them, they have no problem finding an different company to fulfill their need. Alternatively, consumers are usually proud to recommend and promote companies with which they have had a positive experience.

So, what do I want to learn in this class?  I want to find out specifically what public relations firms do and why they are important to companies.  I want to discover cases in which public relations helped and hurt companies or celebrities.  I want to learn more about the ethics behind public relations and where the line is between reporting the truth and protecting an image.  This class seems like it will be challenging but at the same time, informative and useful for the future.

Being a marketing major and coming from a business background, I have a slightly different view than most of my classmates, which is actually awesome!  If everyone was the same and thought the same way, no one would learn anything new.  The reason I chose to major in marketing and minor in Ad/PR was because they compliment each other and provided similar yet different viewpoints.  I’m excited to learn from my Ad/PR major classmates and hopefully share some of my own experiences.

Seeing is believing for me so I enjoy learning from the past, seeing the effects of decision and deciding how actions should be taken in the future.  I like supporting brands that are conscious about their image and uphold their social responsibilities to the consumer.  I hope this class is all I hope for it to be and more.  I’m ready for a challenge…he said a week into the new semester.

Word count: 532