Wednesday, February 28, 2007

PR's bright future

Mike Driehorst says he's seen the future of PR, and he wants to know what the rest of us see. I'm in a pretty good position to answer that because every day I see what Josh Hallett calls the new boss: those budding practitioners we faculty affectionately call "graduating seniors."

I'm optimistic.

Several of the students in my PR Campaigns class have been writing about starting off their careers, and what they say should give us all hope. One of them talked about the importance of writing. Another looked at vlogging as a tool to reach the deaf community. Two others described their internships, one with a fashion magazine and the other with a nonprofit and a corporation, and what they learned about PR and media relations from the experience. Still another had a bad customer service experience and stopped to consider what that taught her. Last, a student reflected on PR's bad reputation and the ethical responsibility we all have in correcting it.

Mike, I can't promise they all know affect from effect, but I'm pretty sure they won't end up on the Bad Pitch Blog. :-)

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Monday, February 26, 2007

The state of the Atlanta market

Joel Babbit, president of GCI Group (PR) and head of Grey Worldwide's Atlanta office (advertising), appeared on Georgia's Business yesterday, addressing changes in ad/PR and the Atlanta market generally.

In an interview by Richard Warner, Babbit said there's no longer a clear distinction between ad and PR, that it's "melded into one huge marketing pot," specifically mentioning YouTube and MySpace. "It's a new game, really." Babbit also described Miller Brewing, one of their accounts, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing: traditionally on cable and broadcast, but now40% of its total marketing budget is Internet-related.

He spent a few minutes on the Georgia Aquarium and Brand Atlanta campaigns and talked about new business acquisition.

Watch online here.


Friday, February 23, 2007

PR student internship experience

A large corporation that recruits our majors recently suggested that Grady PR students have less internship experience than some of the other places they recruit or, perhaps, than our students used to have.

Troubled by this, I e-mailed my campaigns class listserv and asked the 29 students to let me know how many internships they'll each have on their resume when they graduate (all the undergraduates are finishing up in May; two grad students also responded). In 24 hours I've heard back from 18, and here are the results:

The students are averaging about two internships each. One had no internship, six have 1, seven have 2, three have 3, and one has 4.

In addition, many said, "...and I'm also the PR director for X (insert club, event, or nonprofit group)"; or "...and they kept me for two semesters"; or "...I also was elected to/selected for X (prestigious position on campus)."

Two internships plus campus activities seems like enough to me, especially because some also study abroad and take advantage of other learning opportunities. Do they really need more?

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Bateman experience

For the third time, I'm advising UGA's Bateman team. The client this year is Family Caregiving 101, which is basically a Web site for caregivers, a corporate social responsibility initiative for a pharmaceutical company. The primary goals given to us were promoting the site and getting helpful information out to caregivers. I selected the team following a competitive application and interview process.

PRSSA designates February as the "event" month--all events have to take place by the 28th. We've been silent in the finest PR tradition of guarding our campaign secrets. But with only a week to go, we figure it's safe to start talking.

What I truly love about this group is that they're stretching themselves to learn on behalf of their client and their team. Nikki, who knew nothing about Web design, created a new Web site for the local campaign. Molly, selected primarily for her media relations expertise, is asking herself tough questions about measuring PR success. Kaitlyn, who's not a big fan of graphic design, did most of the work on layouts for flyers, bus cards and other items. But she's wondering about blogging as a tool for caregivers. Anna, queen of marketing and PR research, turns out to have a crafty bent (FC101 magnets, anyone?). Janna, who set out to be "the glue that holds the team together," is not only keeping the team organized but also has shown a creative flair in coming up with the team's slogan/rallying cry.

Each time I've advised a team, I've told them that trying to win the competition is only part of their task. This group has taken that message to heart: they're educating people about an important issue, and they're developing important skills, not the least of which is teamwork.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Variations on a theme: PR and service

Evidently my students are getting the message about the importance of service to society, as several of them (Nikki, Kristina, and Chad) have blogged about it lately.

Either that, or they read my blog and are just trying to suck up to the professor. ...Nah!

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Dancing for dollars

This morning my daughter and I paid a quick visit to UGA's Dance Marathon, a 24-hour round-the-clock fundraiser for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. I snapped a few pictures which didn't turn out because of the lighting (here, the color-coded teams are parading in), but you can watch the activities live here until tomorrow morning. A former student, Leigh Tenewitz, was this year's Executive Director. According to the Web site, more than 900 UGA students registered this year, and they hope to raise around $250,000.

By the way, potential employers-- Leigh is graduating in May. I can provide an excellent reference.
Addition: The students raised $302,000 compared to last year's $249,000. Our local paper's story (registration required) includes the following:
"The student-run charity used a few new strategies to boost its fundraising total by more than 20 percent this year, said Leigh Tenewitz, a UGA senior from Cairo who is the event's executive director.
"The more than 900 students who participated this year focused more of their fundraising activities in Atlanta, where most UGA students are from, she said.
"The students also pursued corporate sponsors with some success, Tenewitz said. The Billi Marcus Foundation and Waffle House each chipped in $5,000, for example."

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Public Relations in Service to Society

Since I started monitoring blogs a little over a year ago, I’ve been surprised and disappointed at the level of criticism aimed at public relations education. I was well aware of the public beating PR as a profession takes, but I didn’t understand the degree to which practitioners feel our students are unprepared for, or even incapable of, participation in the work world. This realization has forced me to reconsider what I do, and why.

In evaluating this criticism, I have come to realize that it is often based on a false premise, one most obvious in Bill Huey's recent attack on PR education but apparent in other places, too. I do not share these critics' assumption that public relations research and education should work solely in service to the profession.

I approach public relations education with the idea that while in school and after graduation, my students should first serve society. Whether they go to work at an agency, corporation, nonprofit, or government agency, whether they go to law school or graduate school, whether they never "work" a day in their lives, my goal is to teach them to think critically, being mindful of their impact on society. I’m not the only one who feels this way. One of my colleagues, Betty Jones, tells her students that they’re public servants.

The concept of service plays out in a number of ways in PR education. The most obvious is service learning. In many of our classes, students are asked to work for actual clients, putting their talents and skills to use for the benefit of an organization. Over the past few years, I have learned to choose clients, especially for the Campaigns class, with great care. I began this semester’s Campaigns class with a lecture on corporate social responsibility and how its aims can be applied to all clients--even the volunteer organization (see this post on responsible advocacy). Again, I’m not the only Grady PR faculty member who uses this approach. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru's students have done wonderful things for our campus and community, especially relating to diversity, but encompassing even an anti-littering campaign for football fans. Lynne Sallot wanted to promote university energy conservation last semester so she found the right department to help launch a campaign, and another of her classes helped to develop Partners for a Prosperous Athens, a volunteer organization that has identified major poverty-related issues and is now working on solutions. Essentially, rather than serving clients, she’s creating clients to fit the needs she sees in our community. (Update--April 30, 2007: here's a story on Lynne's energy conservation project.)

I don’t mean to suggest that we don’t have any obligation to the profession. Several Grady PR faculty members regularly conduct research that advances public relations practice. Bryan Reber’s work on practitioners’ influence and activism within organizations stands as a model of how research can benefit the practice. Jeff Springston is part of a research team that’s working to overcome barriers that prevent people from getting the medical help they need--it's not an exaggeration to say that his work has saved lives. Ruthann Lariscy’s research on political advertising and Kaye Trammell’s on political blogs can inform political candidates as well as creating a deeper understanding of the democratic process.

But PR research is not and should not be based solely on advancing the profession. Our scholarship serves the academy by contributing to theory buildin--about how public opinion is constructed, for example, or why people don’t seek medical attention--and we also have an obligation to look at public relations practice with a critical eye. I did research on the history of tobacco industry, for example, not to help today’s manufacturers figure out better ways to manage their PR, but to analyze its impact on society. (Watching the recent battle among scientists regarding global warming is in many ways like seeing a rerun of the fight over tobacco in the 1950s.) Practitioners can learn from this research, too, but its primary purpose is to serve the academy and society, not to help PR people do their jobs better.

At Grady, and presumably many other schools, we teach that good public relations serves society in the firm belief that doing so benefits our students, other scholars, and the public... as well as potential employers.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Aqua Teen: the college students' take

Several of my students have blogged about Turner's Aqua Teen Hunger Force guerrilla marketing snafu (or genius, depending on how you look at it): Steph, Anna, and John. Overall, they were more forgiving of the hoax than I would've been.

My take: location, location, location.

Update: Not sure how the Cartoon Network will fare, but so far Boston is taking the worst of this situation.

Monday, February 05, 2007

PR blogging assignment: update

After a couple of weeks only about half my Campaigns students have started their blogs (or at least have let me know it), so I sent them a gentle reminder today with a list of links to topics I thought might interest them-- Super Bowl ads, fashion PR, job search tips, etc.

So far Kelly has shown the most initiative. Here's hoping someone will comment on her blog as a reward for her efforts. :-)

Update: Thanks, Kaye!

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"More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given" --Bertrand Russell

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