Musings of a PR Professional

Chapter 10: Capitalizing on the Power of Partnerships

Lifetime Television Network, better known as simply Lifetime, hasn’t always been “Television for Women,” a fact that I was completely unaware of until reading this chapter. In fact, Lifetime was originally a medical channel that featured shows on “fitness, personal and family health, science, and medicine.” It wasn’t until 1995 when Lifetime was rebranded that it became the television network geared exclusively toward women.

Lifetime not only boasts award winning programming, but is also a great example of the way nonprofits can collaborate with television in order to gain support for their cause. Lifetime currently supports four different causes:

  • Empowering women
  • Increasing women’s involvement in politics
  • Breast cancer awareness
  • Heart health awareness

While all great examples of the power of collaboration for nonprofits, I think that Lifetime’s breast cancer awareness initiative is the best example of this. Formally called Stop Breast Cancer for Life, the network is partnered with the most prominent breast cancer advocacy groups in the country such as the American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Action, The Breast Cancer Research Foundation,, the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC), and more.

Lifetime works with these organizations to create advocacy campaigns using things such as PSA’s, online discussion forums, events, among other efforts. The network also creates original programming that reflects the issues that they advocate.

They are even dedicated to changing American legislation, a goal of most nonprofits. For 13 years, they have worked to get Congress to pass the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act which would mandate that women are allotted at least 48 hours of hospital stay time after a mastectomy.  Additionally, each October Lifetime puts on campaign activities in order to bring more attention and honor to Breast Cancer Awareness. You can read more about each of these campaigns here.

So what does this mean for nonprofits? It means that no organization is too small, no issue too miniscule to be recognized nationally through television. I really liked that the text included this example in this chapter because I think it imparts a lot of hope to readers. With the right partnerships, it is possible to reach unbelievably large audiences, impact legislation, and really make a difference via the cause the nonprofit works to promote.

Chapter 9: Selecting and Training Spokespeople

One line really struck me while reading this chapter: “Today as never before, the press tries to ‘put a face’ on issues.”

The first thing that came to my mind when I read this line was the media coverage of the BP oil spill this past summer. Currently, I am working on a study that examines the influence of BP press releases on media coverage of the oil spill in The New York Times and The Guardian. One thing that I have come across in my analysis of news articles is that the media found the people in the issue. Specifically, they found BP CEO Tony Hayward.

During this public relations crisis, Tony Hayward took on the role of spokesperson. He is featured extensively in BP’s press releases as the only person quoted. In this respect, BP did a good job of limiting the number of people that they put in front of the media. While this was an effective technique to keep information about the Gulf spill consistent and not misconstrued. However, after several PR gaffes (you can read about them here and here), Hayward inadvertently became BP’s media scapegoat.

Clearly, this example speaks to the importance of making sure that an organization’s spokesperson should always have good media training. If the president of an internationally recognized oil company can screw up in front of the media, then it is likely that spokespeople of lesser-known and lesser-endowed nonprofits will too.

For nonprofits on the other hand, this concept of putting a face on your issue is a little different, but not much. Rather than seeking out someone for which to blame, the media likes to find the people who have been affected by a nonprofit’s cause and in turn, show how that nonprofit has hopefully helped or effected them. This makes a cause much easier to relate to for the public, so nonprofits should try to take advantage of this media tendency.

Refresh Safe Harbor, please!

For those of you who don’t know, or aren’t aware of the specifics, PepsiCo. has started an initiative called the Pepsi Refresh Project. Essentially what it is, is each month Pepsi gives away up to a total of $16,500,000 to the top 32 ideas that plan to do something positive for society. The ideas can come from any individual or any organization, but in order to win, the idea has to get the most votes. Anyone can vote, so the contest is really about who can promote their idea the best.

Our plan is to win $25,000 for Safe Harbor so that they can buy 30 new mattresses, re-do their kitchen, and stock it with food for almost one year.

There is A LOT of money up for grabs to do something great with- and we’re going to win. We’re a PR class full of smart and talented women. We got this!

More than anything, this is a social media competition. Whoever has the biggest, most dedicated social network made up of people who are (willing to be) active online will be the winners. So, a large part of our job will be to mobilize the troops. Of course personal relationships will help us, but we can’t simply rest on the hope that our friends and family like us enough to commit themselves to voting regularly.

So, we will not just throw together an application and pump it out to our friends on Facebook and Twitter. We are going to put time and effort into this campaign so that we are sure to win. We want people we know and people we’ve never met before to feel compelled to vote for our cause. As such, our class has chosen to wait until next month to submit our idea. So, over the next few weeks we are going to work hard to come up with compelling descriptions, stories, pictures, videos, slogans, and more to get our cause out there.

I personally think that pictures and videos will be the way to win votes. I firmly believe that the old adage is true, A picture is worth a thousand words. I believe that if we can show voters the women and children that they will be helping as well as the current, rather dire conditions of Safe Harbor’s kitchen and mattresses, we will be very persuasive.

But that’s my opinion. What’s yours? What do you think will help us win the most votes so that Safe Harbor can win funding?

Believe me- we would love to hear from you! We want to be successful and win this money for Safe Harbor and the people they serve.

Chapter 5: Navigating a Changing Industry

What we have been talking about in my journalism classes since my freshman year is the focus of this chapter- the news industry is going down. And fast. But this fact has different implications in a public relations course than a journalism one.

For example, in journalism we talked about the concept of convergence as something that we would have to tackle and master as journalists. Like the example given at the beginning of this chapter, each of us (if we wanted to pursue a career in journalism as it stands today) would need to be a Lynn Sweet. We would need to be able to write, shoot pictures and video, edit, record audio, and more, all for different media platforms.

On the other hand, in PR, I think the book sums it up best when it states, “The basic tools for media outreach remain the same in key ways, but the long-term trend is to combine them in a single package for all media.” We’ve discussed media kits in my previous public relations courses which should contain everything from a news release to a podcast. Because the way journalists are reporting is changing, so do PR professionals. We need to give them the information we want them to have in the form that they want. It sounds simple, but the way the Internet has changed the game has made this anything but.

It is no secret that the Internet has shaken up the public relations field. However, I think that being a PR student right now puts me at an advantage for one big reason: social media. I get it. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flikr, and more. I understand that these platforms are based on two-way communication and relationships and I think I know how to navigate and utilize these sites pretty well. I’m not an expert by any means, but I’m in the best possible position I could be in to learn. I’ve grown up with the Internet, these things integrate into my life almost seamlessly.

Not that it’s all about the Internet. The text says it itself, it’s still a huge accomplishment to get your nonprofit’s spokesperson a TV interview, or an event your organization is putting on news coverage in a magazine. These media are still important and despite the current emphasis on social media, it is important to remember that the Internet may be the future- but it’s not the only source of PR right now.

Chapter 4: Framing and Developing Messages

This chapter’s discussion of framing messages is particularly relevant to me at this time because we have been discussing the process of framing in my Mass Communication class. Framing is a two-part process. First, certain aspects of an issue are emphasized over others in a news story. Second, those aspects that are emphasized tap into our pre-existing cognitive schema which categorize things we come in contact with in order to help us understand the world. The ultimate result of framing is that those people who read the story about your issue are lead to interpret or understand that issue in the way that your frame suggests to them.

As we discussed in my Mass Communication class, people are cognitive misers. This means that people generally rely on a small amount of information to make judgments and decisions about things. Cognitive schema help us to do so. Therefore, the best frames will be those that tap into your target audiences’ widely shared beliefs and values (their schema) and as a result invite them to interpret your issue in a way that is meaningful and more relevant to them.

As PR professionals, I think that we must realize that letting a message, issue, or whatever speak for itself is simply not enough most of the time. Developing values-based messages by framing them in such a way that they really tap into your target audiences’ core values is essential if you would like people to respond to your issue in the way that you would like them to. The book lists seven primary values that messages should speak to:

  • Responsibility to care for one’s family
  • responsibility to care for oneself
  • Personal liberty
  • Work
  • Spirituality
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Fairness and equality

These values are widely held and so dear to us that they tend to trump other lesser held values and beliefs and can really connect with people on a deep level, according to the text. So, it is imperative than when you are developing the message(s) for your cause that at least one of these values is incorporated in some way. It will make your message much more resonating. In fact, it doesn’t take a genius to think of a great values based mission, as the book notes, it just takes a little brainstorming among the people who know a lot about your issue and what you are trying to achieve.

What are some of the best values-based messages that you have heard recently?

Chapter 3: Conducting Research and Targeting Audiences

Once again the importance of research rears its head in a PR text. But, that is no problem because it should come up. A lot. Because research is the corner stone on which good public relations practices should rest.

 Since this text in particular deals with communicating for nonprofits, it is especially relevant to understand where your target audiences stand in relation to the issues that you are fighting for. And how do you find that out? By researching. You won’t know how to reach an audience unless you first know who they are, what they believe in and value, among other important information that you can gain through research. It is also essential to know how and what about your issue has been covered in the news already so that you know  how to respond to the media, what aspects of your issue need attention,  how to frame your issue, and much more.

Both researching the people you are trying to reach and the way your issue is presented in the media will give you a more comprehensive view of how you should go about creating and disseminating your message. For example, we talked about each of the projects we will be working on for Safe Harbor and what they will entail in class. The first thing that came up across all three is the need for research. While each will need a different message, mindset, and action to execute, we will all begin in the same place by researching because research will let us know what we should do next.

In conclusion: You can’t catch a fish without a worm, so why would you try to reach your target audience without knowing what will hook them?

The Beginning: Working to improve Safe Harbor’s communication

Safe Harbor is a domestic violence shelter that serves Greenville, Anderson, Pickens, and Oconee counties. In addition to their shelters, Safe Harbor has a 24 hour crisis line and provides counseling, legal advocacy and transitional living arrangements for women starting a new life. And all of these resources are free.

This semester our public relations class is teaming up with Safe Harbor to help improve their communication strategies. In order to get a better understanding of Safe Harbor and what we would be able to help them with, Samantha Tucker, Director of Development and Julie Meredith, Director of Volunteers and Communication came and spoke with our class.

If asked, I’m sure people would overwhelmingly support the cause to end domestic violence and offer shelter to those who have fallen victim to it. However, after listening to Samantha and Julie, it is clear that the social stigma surrounding domestic violence is a huge obstacle that Safe Harbor faces every day. It is hard to rally the public around an issue that is rooted in shame, so they need help raising awareness and raising funds for their organization (and clearly these two needs go hand in hand).

So, keeping these goals in mind we were given the opportunity to ask Samantha and Julie questions about Safe Harbor, their communication strategies now, and how they could be improved. After this discussion and armed with information, our class has come up with 3 ways that we will be able to help Safe Harbor increase awareness about domestic violence and their organization and raise funds. These three projects are:

  • Two videos. One will have the goal of raising awareness about Safe Harbor and will target potential clients of the shelter. The other will have the goal of fundraising for the organization and will target potential donors.
  • A plan for improving their social media practices and Safe Harbor’s website.
  • A PR/marketing plan for how to spread the word about a charitable fashion show being help for Safe Harbor in February. Designing useable marketing materials, such as fliers and invitations, will also be included in this project.

I, with two other women, will be working on the video project. It is my sincerest hope and intention to give Safe Harbor, at the end of this semester, a meaningful, well thought out, and professional quality video. I think it will be challenging, but if working to prevent domestic violence isn’t a challenge worth facing, I don’t know what is.

Chapter 2: Elements of a Strategic Communication Plan

As you may have gathered from my previous blog post, last week we were asked to think of a communication strategy that has been used to create social change and when we got to class yesterday, the first thing we did was each share our example. While no one missed the mark, it became clear to me that defining and really understanding what  social change is is a lot more difficult than I had thought. It’s not just a charity fighting the good fight, nor is it getting one story about your cause published and patting yourself on the back. It’s about sustainability and the mobilization of people.

To prove this point further, we ended class by discussing Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally in Washington this past Saturday. We explored his invitation for the event and his website and then talked about what change we thought. Long story short: he failed. Not for lack of turnout or donation to the event’s sponsoring charity, but because his goals, outcomes, and mission were not clearly stated. As the text notes at the beginning of the chapter, determining your desired goals, outcomes, and mission are the core of a successful communication plan and the very first thing you consider when creating one. Without them your efforts will be without purpose or unity and ultimately unsuccessful.

This rally example leads me to why I liked reading the last 7 pages of this chapter so much- it gave a clear-cut, real-life example of a communication strategy that inspired tangible social change. The text systematically broke down the strategic communication plan of The Fairness Initiative on Low Wage Work and related it back to the previous section in which it described the elements of a good strategic communication plan. In the wake of hurricane Katrina, the Initiative sought to change the perceptions of the “working poor” and ultimately create a better economy to foster better lives for these people. There are three things that I think this example demonstrated very well:

  • The importance of research.

The Initiative did extensive research throughout the entire process of implementing their plan which helped them to effectively craft and distribute their messages regarding low-income work. In my opinion, PR’s number one rule is research before you do anything and let that research guide everything you do and this plan clearly demonstrated the benefits of it.

  • The importance of sustainability.

Sustainability was one of their main objectives, so the Initiative “trained key personnel to implement strategies on their own” after the initial momentum of the plan died down. I think sustainability is so important because social change doesn’t happen overnight, it’s an ongoing process that needs ongoing fuel in order to occur and it is good that the Fairness Initiative realized that.

  • The importance of measurable goals.

The Initiative crafted their goals in such a way that they would be able to determined whether or not their efforts were successful on their terms. After conducting another study, they were able to determine that they were successful in achieving their goals- so successful even that “the federal minimum wage has been increased for the first time in ten years, and new legislation has been introduced to provide paid sick days as a minimum standard for many workers. Clearly, their strategic communication plan was successful in implementing social change, and I think it is one that PR students and professionals alike can learn a lot from.