Musings of a PR Professional

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.

Rock the Vote: A communicaiton strategy for social change

I think that anyone would be hard pressed to find a young  adult who does not remember the Rock the Vote campaign from the 2004 presidential election. You couldn’t turn on your TV without seeing a commercial featuring P Diddy telling young adults why they should vote or Paris Hilton wearing a little Rock the Vote graphic tee in a hip magazine ad. But what is important about the Rock the Vote campaign is that it worked, and it is memorable.

Bar the fact that Rock the Vote has been around for 20 or so years, most young people had not heard about it until 2004 when the initiative decided to up the ante and really use pop culture and mainstream and online media to connect with young people. Their goal: Get young people to the polls. Rock the Vote did a lot to empower young people politically in 2004, but what they did that I think really worked was connect with young adults on their level. They used the media channels that young people were using, held events like concerts that young adults would want to attend, got “hot” celebrities to endorse their cause, and sold merchandise. While these are not terribly innovative ideas, this strategy was new in the sense that no one had ever made politics and voting cool before. Celebrities, MTV, blogging, and more made voting the it thing to do. That’s social change if I’ve ever seen it because it WORKED. You can check out Rock the Vote’s 2004 Youth Vote Results here, but here are the highlights:

  • Among 18-24 year olds, turnout was up 11 points to 47 percent.
  • Among 18-29 year olds, turnout was up 9 points to 49 percent.
  • More than 20 million votes were cast by 18-29 year olds, and 11.6 million were cast by 18-24 year olds, both up sharply from 2000.

So what can we learn from Rock the Vote, especially during the 2004 election? The best way to reach people is by engaging them through channels and messages they like and will respond to. Because let’s be honest, I’ll look at an ad about voting a lot longer if its Kim Kardashian or Zac Efron and not some random person. Don’t fight pop culture if it can work for you- Rock the Vote used it to create social change and they were successful. Keep up the good work!


Chapter 1: The Basics of Strategic Communications

Chapter one of Strategic Communications for Nonprofits (a trade book we are using as a textbook in the latest PR class I am taking) by Kathy Bonk, Emily Tynes, Henry Griggs, and Phil Sparks did a good job of reintroducing me to the public relations field. It’s been a year since I have taken a PR course at Clemson, and although I have been practicing PR in the “real world” at my internship, I think it’s quite different to learn than to do so I am thankful for the way this book has eased me back into the field.

As the title notes, the book’s focus is on PR for nonprofits, but the introductory nature of the first chapter lends itself well to pointing out a main theme/tenet every PR professional should follow: “… have a sound, well-planned communications strategy.” It is my belief that a well thought out plan can be one of the most important and useful tools to any PR professional. A fisherman would not sail out to sea without any navigation tools, so why should a PR professional begin their relationship-building efforts without a plan for what they want their message to be and how they will get this message across. Also, a plan is especially important in crisis situations. For example, while it is true that you can never plan for the unexpected, as a PR professional, you should have a general plan for how to handle a PR crisis when one arises.  The authors note, “You need to be in control of events before events control you,” when trying to turn around bad media coverage of your nonprofit. A previously developed plan is the best way to deflect a PR crisis because you can respond in a timely and comprehensive manner.

The idea that a well-prepared communications strategy is a vital part of a nonprofit’s success would be nothing if that strategy was not rooted in the organization’s values, mission, and goals. I think this is another great and relevant point that the authors make in this chapter. A marketing seminar that I attended last week at the Clemson Area Chamber Commerce dealt with the importance of making sure that every marketing effort is focused and in accordance with an organization’s purpose. The speaker emphasized that the beliefs at the core of any type of organization, not just nonprofits, should drive every PR tactic implemented or these efforts would be futile. You are only going to see the results you want if you have clearly outlined what you are trying to achieve and how you would like to achieve it. So, it is important to have a meaningful plan that uses communication as a tool to take your nonprofit where you would like it to go.