Tag Archives: public relations

A Message for the Future Me

As I start writing this, it’s March 13th, 2015. Tomorrow night I’ll turn 24 years old. At the moment, my college trajectory has me graduating in the Spring of 2016. After years of roller coaster schooling, I’ve finally landed upon what it is I’d like to do; public relations. I’ve gone through two different dreams –music and then psychology– to arrive here. Well, three if you count advertising, but that was a very brief stint. If it seems like I’ve been a little flaky with my fields of study, you wouldn’t be wrong. This time it’s different. The field of communications as a whole lets me dabble in a number of areas relating to my love for connecting with others and the visual arts. You could say I’ve found that elusive niche that we’re all searching for at one point or another. The remedy for that age-old question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” 

This is an open letter to my future self. As soon as I’m done writing this, I’m going to use a site called FutureMe.org to send a link to this post to the me of several years from now. It’ll be an experiment. I want to see if the reasons I decided to go into public relations are the same reasons I’m either still trying to get into the thick of it or doing everything I can to stay in it.

Public relations fascinates me for a few reasons. One of the main reasons I decided to pursue it was because I felt like I was already practicing it. My three years at Apple have taught me a lot about relating with the public. No other retail store I’ve ever been to emphasizes the human connection between a company and its clientele like they do. Granted, my function there is on a personal scale and not regional or global, but I still have the immense responsibility of being the face for that company. One person could relay a bad experience to a few of their friends, and the snowball begins to grow. In PR, the snowball is instead a torrent of icy disdain on a large scale, but Apple has successfully taught me how to be precise and courteous in my dealings with others.

Strategy is one of the main cogs that makes public relations function. I’m personally excited by challenging situations. From what it sounds like, PR is a frenzy of pitches, strategizing, and image meltdowns. Whether things are flowing smoothly or falling apart in front of me, I’m excited to be able to figure out the steps from chaos to harmony. Owning the process of rebuilding a tarnished brand or helping to build a brand to begin with sounds fun to me. I’m ready for both the sparkle in the eye of a client when things go well, or the yelling that ensues if things go poorly. Both give me a chance to refine, to throw away, and to start fresh.

I’m sure my future self would have a few things to say to this. I could say that above all else the human element of public relations is what makes it so alluring. My future self would probably warn me of this client or this reporter, shaking his head and wishing for a do-over. Or for me to bite the bullet and decide to go back to psychology. I’m optimistic that despite how crazy things will probably be starting out, that I’ll end up loving it. So future me, don’t shake your head too much while reading this. I’m at the start of a long road with no sense of what’s truly to come, and the map can only be read in reverse.

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One More Reason to Polish That News Release

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The stronghold of the Google machine.

According to an article on PR Daily, Google is now allowing company news releases to rise amongst the search listings on Google News. Before this unsettling change, the results were exclusively for hard news from certain curated news outlets.

I’ll be completely honest and say I hadn’t used this Google product before reading this news, but I will assert that this isn’t exactly positive. I always to my best to now let my PR aspirations color my view of things. So long as humans gathering the news and not sentient drones, news will always be subject to at least a bit of spin. It’s the human condition. However, journalism is still held up to a standard of objectivity by the industry and consumers of news, even if this standard is eroding.

At the same time, news releases are ideally supposed to be free of self-aggrandizing promotion, though this goal also seems to be forgotten. Since news releases are put out either by the company the release is about or the firm they’ve hired to write their stuff, these cannot be trusted to be as objective as something put out by a journalist. There’s nothing wrong with news releases and they serve a legitimate purpose.

Google should either nip this practice in the bud or label these “stories” appropriately. The legitimacy of content on the internet is already difficult for the average layperson to figure out at times, and this only makes things more confusing.

#SpeakCreepy

Smelly soap and shampoo company Dove is known for sappy advertisements and public relations endeavors designed to make women feel better about their outer appearance (with a little help from Dove products, of course). Whether this widespread crisis of looks is true or not, giving women a reason to feel good about themselves is typically a positive.

However, Dove’s recent #SpeakBeautiful campaign borders on being a little weird. Using what must be some kind of low self-esteem radar, Dove has recently been using its Twitter account to personally assure female users that they are in fact having a good hair day or that they are beautiful. Dove has been replying directly to Twitter users who complain about how they look with tweets aimed at boosting their confidence. On the surface this seems innocuous enough, but when you really think about it, it’s a bit bizarre.

As of late, it seems Dove has held back with directing unsolicited good vibes to random strangers. Before this change though, what Dove was doing was strange. These are not exclusively people who have mentioned their SpeakBeautiful hashtag. A robot of some kind on Dove’s end was scouring Twitter for those complaining about their looks. Though publicly posting any information on the internet should never be considered to be in any way private, this takes that notion too far.

Public relations is often about promoting your client’s product without bluntly promoting it. Much of advertising as shifted the same way. Dove is trying way too hard with this stunt, and being way too obvious. They’re a beauty company after all. The conflict of interest here is painfully clear. Taking advantage of women who are feeling aesthetically vulnerable in order to make them think of Dove when they’re making their shampoo purchase is wrong.

Making women feel beautiful doesn’t happen as a result of a Twitter robot calling out negative remarks about appearances. It comes from brothers, boyfriends, fathers, husbands, and friends making the women in our lives feel beautiful. Tell them they look wonderful, and you’ll do more good than Dove will ever be able to.

Adobe Wore the Dress Best

Since the dawn of the internet there have been feuds of ideologies online; republican versus democrat, this football team versus that, Ford versus Chevy. These sides all have entrenched followers and apologists, ready to strike whenever their views happen to be challenged. However, there is no battle of wits that comes close to the ocular warfare surrounding a picture of some dumb dress that circled the internet a few weeks ago. Everyone from CNN to the Wall Street Journal found the controversy worthy enough to cover. Relationships were ended and the world reeled with the mystery behind the dress.

As the trend seems to be in the world of Twitter-keeping, many brands jumped on the controversy with the usual drab jokes and puns, my personal least favorite being Olive Garden’s awful attempt at bringing people together by way of breadsticks:

Despite my personal feeling that this type of tweeting cringe-worthy more often than not, one company’s product is so beautifully appropriate in this discussion it made happy to see them comment on it. One of Adobe’s many followers, Hope Taylor, used the Adobe Color app to figure out what colors were actually in the dress.

Adobe’s tweet saw almost 18,000 retweets and about 10,000 favorites. For a company whose audience is as busy as they are specialized, this is great success. Their tweet is also successful because their response to the dress controversy is directly relevant to their audience. Many who use Adobe’s collection of software may not be aware of their surprisingly useful Adobe Color app (which picks out color palettes from whatever you point your phone camera toward). Additionally, they didn’t just woefully spew out the first lame pun that came to their mind. They took the time to engage with an actual consumer of their product, celebrating their use of the app to solve the mystery. Beyond that, being that the mystery was based solely on a debate of hues, Adobe’s expertise in the area was totally relevant to the controversy.

When a company picks up on trends and do it well, the result can be entertaining for us and impact them positively. However, not all trends and viral happenings need to be piggybacked, especially if the topic isn’t relevant to the product or service you’re promoting. It comes across as disingenuous and lame, not to mention painfully awkward if it’s really bad. Trends should be sifted through with a fine-toothed comb. Adobe did just that. They entertained their existing fans, and rose very successfully above the noise.

5 Reasons Evernote Should Be in Your Life Right Now

If you were to search the Apple App Store with the word “notebook,” you would be staring down about 773 results. Sure, these apps make a genuine attempt to make your life more organized, yet all but one has left me wishing for more. I would suggest to you, kind reader, that the only one worth bothering with is Evernote. Being able to manage my notes effectively is important to me, and nobody makes it easier or more intuitive. Not only am I going to make such a claim, I’m also going to give you five reasons why I think so.

It’s free (and a few bucks extra makes it even better)

That’s right, free! All of the wonderful benefits of using Evernote I’m about to spell out come at no cost. It doesn’t matter how many devices you use it on. This is great for college students looking for a digital way to organize their notes, someone in business to better organize their projects, or the chef of the family to keep track of their recipes.

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Five bucks a month adds several more useful features. My personal favorite is the ability to mark up PDFs using highlighting, text annotations, handwriting, and more. Evernote Premium also gives you the ability to open the app with a passcode or fingerprint (iOS), download all of your notes for offline use, and gives a total of 5GB of online storage for your notes.

It works on just about anything with a screen

Some are very brand loyal when it comes to their technological life, so when an app as useful as Evernote is available no matter what you’re using, it’s certainly refreshing. I can easily make changes to my notes on my iPhone, add some more information on my Mac, share a notebook with a friend who uses an Android phone, and pull up Evernote on the web on a clunky PC. This support for all things electronic comes in handy for the next reason.

The collaboration tools make teamwork a happy time. 

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Because of Evernote’s ability to cut across platform lines, collaborating using the service is extremely easy. Simply invite someone to a notebook you have, and the other person is now able to make changes to whatever you’re working on. There’s even a built in chat feature which allows you to work with someone without having to give out your number.

It’s an organizational juggernaut

Without even lifting a finger, Evernote helps you to organize. One of the first things that dazzled me about the app is its use of where you’re at on your calendar and where you’re located (using GPS) to title your note. For example, if I’m at school in my PR class and I create a new note, it will automatically title it “Note from Middletown at PR Methods.” This feature prevents you from ending up with a bunch of nameless notes to sift through.

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Evernote also lets your organize your notes into notebooks, and even to put those notebooks into different stacks. This gives you tons of latitude to organize your notes and notebooks just the way you’d like it.

Additionally, Evernote excels at note taking. It allows you to easily create outline-style notes, highlight, record audio, add pictures, tags, and other formatting. This makes Evernote extremely powerful for students as well as professionals in business, journalism, public relations, and other areas.

Evernote is part of a very organized family of apps and accessories

On its own, Evernote is exceptionally powerful. For added functionality, Evernote has several sister apps that allow you to do even more. Scannable allows you to scan documents using your phones camera or a physical scanner you can purchase from them. Scanned documents can then be sent directly to your Evernote notebooks. Penultimate for the iPad allows you to take hand-written notes. Skitch is a quirky but useful app which allows you to take a picture and annotate it with scribbles and text. Since Evernote owns all of these apps, integration is swift and foolproof.

Evernote is an app I’m constantly recommending to others. I’ve been using it for years, and I don’t see myself switching to anything else. If you have any uses for Evernote that I missed or any questions about it, feel free to comment!

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So This Is a Thing: Meet Alejandro Cao de Benós, North Korea’s PR Guy

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Alejandro Cao de Benós holding a commemorative pin, a symbol of his commitment to putting a band-aid on atrocious violations of human rights.

When the name North Korea is dropped, inevitably this invokes thoughts of ridiculous hacking threats, “mass games,” and unnerving military exercises. When it comes to preserving the communist country’s ironclad public image, truth truly is stranger than fiction. From 1990 to the present, Alejandro Cao de Benós has been the brains behind North Korea’s public relations initiatives. His official title is “Special Delegate of North Korea’s Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries,” and works in IT during his six-month off season. While on the job, he works closely with the higher-ups in the regime to convince the western world that nobody really starves under Kim Jon-un’s cuddly dictatorship. (Really, they don’t!)

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Nobody lives on the street or are unemployed. All North Korean citizens have their vital needs covered, which include also the Leisure and entertainment, it is also free to practice sports or learn foreign languages. – Alejandro Cao de Benós

Seeing through the messages of prosperity and an abundance of comfort isn’t difficult for the discerning human being. Amnesty International, known for their relentless fight for human rights around the world, talks about the millions of residents who “have experienced the worst hunger in a decade” with North Korea discontinuing all foreign food aid in 2009. Given the gravity of these blatant violations of human rights, I would have to conclude that our friend Alejandro is a psychotic mess. Perhaps his visits are sheltered, the people he meets cherry-picked, when he arrives at the capitol as are the visits of many westerners. Perhaps the same feverish cloaking of the true conditions faced by the people of this country are cloaked just the same for Alejandro.

There's nothing North Korea does better than training their people in the art of fake happiness.

There’s nothing North Korea does better than training their people in the art of fake happiness.

This is a client which transcends the idea of a “PR nightmare.” Airbnb’s shift to using a logo that resembled female genitalia seemed nightmarish enough to a public relations student like me. The very idea that there is someone working behind the scenes to make the North Korean regime more palatable to western tastes is excruciating to fathom, and is made even more unbelievable by the fact that their publicist is Spanish. As implied before, Alejandro spends half a year working within a country that is sharply contrasted with North Korea in terms of basic human dignity. It’s hard to understand how this man doesn’t see the atrocities of the country he has sworn to represent in the public arena.

A colonial prison in Phyongsong, which appears to still be in use.

A colonial prison in Phyongsong, which appears to still be in use.

This is a lesson in picking your clients wisely. There is no need to sacrifice your own ethical principles for a paycheck. It seems as though Alejandro’s ethical compass is broken or nonexistent. Perspective is key here, and anyone outside the borders of North Korea should have a clear understanding of what’s really going on inside this country. Mending North Korea’s image around the world begins with them admitting what they’ve done, and treating their citizens with basic decency. Putting a western face at the helm of beautifying North Korea’s image is disingenuous at best. As it stands now, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea seems content in their endless loop of denial, and the cycle seems far from being broken.

Does it Matter? Yik Yak

The production of a social medium that makes people bite seems like a happy accident at best. Yik Yak is one of those networks with a purpose I have yet to fully grasp. The concept of a digital bulletin board is interesting. Anonymity is sometimes hard to come by in an always connected world of consumption, so break from the attention couldn’t be a bad thing. Yik Yak’s function is easy enough to figure out. Users are able to upload anonymous posts visible to others within a certain radius. It’s an interesting concept.

The posts I’ve seen range from the practical to the oddly sexual, and reading what people are saying can be haphazard but oddly entertaining. Interaction is done through up or down votes and the ability to leave comments. Users can also “Peek” into other areas, giving them the ability to see posts but not to add to the conversation.

Despite being a bit of an oddball on the surface, I don’t think Yik Yak should be dismissed on its face. In terms of gauging reaction to, for example, a public PR event, it offers an interesting distinction from a service like Twitter. Yik Yak only allows posts within a certain radius. This could help to filter out the noise from outside observers and allow a practitioner to focus on those within the event. It’s anonymity provides a unique motivator for honesty. The flip side to that is the need to take what’s said with a grain of salt.

Anonymity of course has undesirable consequences in the digital world at times, but from a cursory glance at the service, I believe it should be paid attention to. As its use grows, Yik Yak could easily become another effective tool at reading public sentiment.