I Got My STAR-t in Denton Campaign Posters

All things PR, Design Work

I designed the following posters as part of a public relations campaign for one of my capstone classes and the City of Denton. The focus of this PR campaign was to brand E. Hickory between Locust and Bell streets in downtown Denton as the destination for unique and varied arts, entertainment and culture.

Of the many tactics in my team’s extensive communications plan, the “I got my STAR-t in Denton” campaign celebrates the successful artists and musicians who started their careers in Denton. The awareness and engagement tactic provides a cohesive and unified message for the area and our other tactics by educating the public and encouraging pride for Denton as a cultural hub.

Norah Jones poster for the "I Got My STAR-t in Denton" campaign.

Norah Jones poster for the “I Got My STAR-t in Denton” campaign.

Brave Combo poster for the "I Got My STAR-t in Denton" campaign.

Brave Combo poster for the “I Got My STAR-t in Denton” campaign.


  • The Norah Jones photo comes from Corbis Images.
  • The Brave Combo picture belongs to the Denton Record Chronicle.
  • The “I Got My STAR-t in Denton” logo and Denton Arts Corridor map were created by Tanner Burnes (tanburn@gmail.com).

What is Public Relations? PRSA Defines the Practice and Profession

All things PR, Personal Writing, Social Media

When I told my parents I wanted to pursue a degree from the Mayborn School of Journalism, they worried I was choosing a career as a poor or unemployed writer. But when I told my parents that my future career would be in public relations, they blankly stared back at me because they had no idea what work PR practitioners do.

The “What People Think I Do – PR Consultant” meme demonstrates the confusion people have about the public relations profession.

As I discussed in a previous post, the PR industry has struggled with removing the stigma against the profession. Part of the problem was the definition for the industry. Assigned in 1982, the official definition according to the Public Relations Society of America read:

“Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

In the past 10 years, PRSA tried twice unsuccessfully to change the definition. After a PR Defined campaign that PRSA started in November and concluded with a public vote in early 2012, the official definition of public relations reads:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

With the rise of corporate media in today’s highly technological world, brand journalism is an increasingly popular term used to describe a major part of what PR practitioners do today: “corporate storytelling through compelling and relevant content.” The term isn’t popular with everyone and widely accepted though. Tom Foremski, creator and full-time journalist blogger of Silicon Valley Watcher, poses this potential introduction as an example of why he thinks the term is ridiculous:

“Hi, I’m a journalist from the Wall Street Journal.” vs. “Hi, I’m a journalist from Hugo Boss.”

Whether or not brand journalism is an inflated term describing public relations, PR Daily contributor Dorothy Crenshaw points out that the term’s practice is not contentious. She offers some guidelines for all communicators to be better storytellers:

  • Storytelling for the long haul – build the brand with high-quality content instead of things that result in only a “quick hit.”
  • Quality content from credibility from expertise – using legitimate and relevant experts results in credibility, which is an indispensible quality of quality content.
  • Show and tell, heavy on the show – to quote Nike, “Just Do It.”
  • Highly polished doesn’t equal high quality – jargon and a lack of sincerity are hallmarks of bad storytelling.
  • We Want YOU, inspired into action – this is what truly compelling and well targeted content does.

PR Newswire joined the conversation during the 2012 PRSA International Conference in October 2012 and posed this question to its Twitter and Facebook followers: “How do YOU define modern PR?” Using the hash tag #PRis, the newswire service company received a lot of insight from the responses it received and compiled 100 of those responses in a fun infographic.

PR: People React, People Respond, People Reach Out

All things PR, Personal Writing

People react, people respond, people reach out. That is what PR should stand for according to Scott Stratten, President of UnMarketing.com and author of “The Book of Business Awesome/The Book of Business UnAwesome.”

In our highly connected society today where professional communicators are no longer the gatekeepers of information and stories, Stratten’s summary of what the public relations profession should be doing is completely on point. “PR professionals need to be the catalyst for communications,” he said.

Stratten was the luncheon keynote speaker at the PRSA Dallas 2012 Communications Summit today. The conference’s focus was on the importance of building and maintaining relationships, and that means more than just those relationships with big influencers. The overarching message that came from the various speakers of the conference was that communicators need to proactively invest in relationships with sincerity and then maintain those relationships by providing open channels of communication and actively participating in those conversations.

With the prevalence of social media and the Internet, everyone now has a voice and this is something that professionals need to understand and embrace in order to thrive and achieve their goals (or their organization’s goals). Listening to what people are saying, or not saying, about your brand or company and then joining their conversations is essential for all businesses. Whether you’re trying to humanize healthcare or you’re advocating women’s rights, listening is key to understanding how to tailor your message so that it can create the greatest impact for your organization or cause.

So you’ve done your research, you’re listening to your audiences and you’re establishing a communicative relationship with them. What next? As a public relations professional, you’re either going to be getting your key messages out or putting out fires.

In the event that your oil rig explodes and dumps nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the ocean, your company’s less than ethical competitive tactics are leaked to the public, or a spokesperson for your organization accidentally sends out a highly offensive tweet from the company Twitter account, you need to already have a working crisis contingency plan in order.

Since it is impossible to respond to everyone and everything, it is important that you decide who your priority audiences are and focus your communication toward them. Conversing with others humanizes your company and could potentially squash a potential crisis. But once that crisis has occurred, which it will on some level at some point for every organization, your crisis management team needs to be speedy, nimble and human according to Melissa Flynn, APR. Flynn, the senior leader of brand management and public relations at The Richards Group, advises that PR pros need to convey what their response is to a particular situation and what they’re doing because people want to know.

According to Alison Freeman, Strategic Communications Consultant and Trainer at WRTN Associates LP, “a success measurement of crisis PR is how much a story doesn’t have legs.”

Going back to conversations and social media, when you’re not squashing stories and situations that are potentially damaging to your organization or client’s reputation, you’re working to get your messages to key audiences and stakeholders. There are many avenues through traditional and social media that allow you to accomplish this objective, particularly with the two-way communications nature of social media.

In regards to being a catalyst for communications, Scott Stratten warns “don’t try to have a presence without being present.” If organizations fail to get involved, their communication will not be perceived as genuine and sincere. This is especially true with Twitter. According to Stratten, “Twitter is a conversation, not a dictation…75 percent of tweets should be @replies.”

To achieve active participation, especially when there is market competition, PR professionals need to humanize their organization. Amy George, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Cooper Aerobics, advises people to own and embody their stories and tell those stories in a diverse and creative manner. Some of the best and most effective types of stories an organization can release are ones that highlight other people rather than corporate topics. Tell your story through other people. George suggests that you try to explain how someone’s story has or can impact, effect and change another’s life. But remember, you don’t want to minimize another person or group’s story. Case in point: the World Wildlife Fund’s ad campaign “Tsunami.”

“These are real people grappling with real issues, trying to find solutions,” George said.



Sources cited

Wentz, Laurel. “9/11 Ad for WWF Causes Tsunami of a Crisis for DDB Brasil.” Ad Age. Crain Communications, 02 Sept. 2009. Web. 11 Oct. 2012. <http://adage.com/article/global-news/9-11-ad-wwf-tsunami-a-crisis-ddb-brasil/138775/>.

All other quotes and information are from speeches at the PRSA Dallas 2012 Communications Summit.

Ethics in public relations and communications

All things PR, Ethics, Personal Writing

Think about your set of ethics. Would you say that you always know what to do when confronted with right-versus-wrong scenarios? When dealing with the right thing to do, there should be one clear theory which you can apply to all situations, right? Well, that is not always the case because not everyone’s views of ethics are the same.

As a part of my final undergraduate semester at the Mayborn School of Journalism, I am studying media ethics, diversity and law in one of my capstone classes. I have learned of many different ethical theories that I, and other public relations professionals, can use to guide my decisions when I find myself in a clashing values situation. There are also two models I can use to help me make decisions when I’m in a questionably ethical situation: Ralph Potter’s Potter Box and the Navran Model.

Created by Ralph Potter of the Harvard Divinity School, the Potter Box forces the practitioner to prioritize the values and relationships of their organization in a particular situation. This decision-making model includes four steps:

  1. Define the situation
  2. Identify the values
  3. Select principles
  4. Choose loyalties

The Navran Model consists of a six-step plan that ensures that the practitioner considers a wider scope of ethical components in the decision-making process. These steps include:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Identify available alternatives
  3. Evaluate the alternatives
  4. Make the decision
  5. Implement the decision
  6. Evaluate the decision

Additionally with the Navran Model, the practitioner must apply four filters to steps 1, 3 and 6 to the process of making ethical decisions.  These are called “PLUS” filters and they call for considerations to:

  • (P) Policies – is the decision consistent with your organizational guidelines?
  • (L) Law – is it within the scope of the law?
  • (U) Universal – is it aligned with my organization’s values?
  • (S) Self – does it conform to your personal ethics and beliefs?

As I learned all this, I wondered how other public relations practitioners handled ethical situations and if their situations would have turned out differently if they had (or hadn’t) applied one of the two decision-making models mentioned above. Or are these models useless in the real world? The public relations profession has long had a stigma of unethical practices, especially since many professionals’ jobs are to manage their organization’s image and relationships and to do damage control when needed. Most PR professionals are just trying to do their job, yet the perception of spinning the truth and being liars still plagues the industry. So, what can PR professionals do to shed the reputation?

According to Mickie Kennedy, founder of the affordable press release company eReleases, the first step is for public relations professionals to personally maintain a high level of ethics.

“If the honest PR pros continue to uphold their ethics while denouncing PR pros that cross the line, then the industry can eventually shed its bad reputation,” Kennedy wrote.

On the other hand, Lord Tim Bell, head of the U.K.-based PR firm Bell Pottinger, asserts that the PR is a “lightning rod of mistrust” and that there is no solution to the industry’s challenges.

Shel Holtz, an accredited business profession and founder of Holtz Communications + Technology, calls for a public relations certification or licensing, like how public accountants must be certified, to create legal accountability for PR and communications professionals. According to Holtz, an accreditation is not enough for the reputation of industry professionals because it is not a requirement in the profession.

“Accreditation is great—I’m an Accredited Business Communicator and damn proud of it—but accreditation does not establish a legally defensible standard for an entire profession,” Holtz said.

I must agree with Mr. Holtz on this topic. Standards of ethics can become very subjective and do not enforce a high standard of ethics and behavior. Since the public relations and communications industries are still viewed as untrustworthy and biased, a certification or licensing requirement of all practitioners seems like the best step toward changing the current professional image into a positive one that all practitioners can be proud of and the public can trust.

The Essential Toolbox for Communications Professionals

All things PR, Personal Writing

Since it is my last semester of my undergraduate degree, I’ve received a lot of questions about what I want to do job-wise after I’m done. I know I want a paying job for starters, but if unpaid internships are the road to a salary position then so be it. I plan on working in smaller agencies and corporate firms, but I’ve semi-seriously considered opening my own “boutique” public relations agency as a long-term goal.

I’m not sure if I would be happier working at a company or being my own boss, but I do know that I want to have a successful career. With graduation around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to attain that success. I know I will need a lot of experience, the type that can’t be learned from a book: real world experience.

This is exactly what Mendi Paschal, Director of Global PR at Siemens PLM Software, explained to my Integrated Strategic Communications class this past Tuesday.

“There is a learning curve for everyone,” Ms. Paschal said.

She stressed to my class that the key is that you step out willing to learn, sense others and anticipate their actions. However, if you don’t fit the culture or aren’t interested or invested, chances are that it won’t end well. Aside from working your butt off and having passion about what you do, Ms. Paschal emphasized the need to have intuition. According to her, communications pros must be like herd dogs in having that natural instinct.

In her speech to my class, she also outlined the essential, yet mostly figurative, tools we all need in our communications toolbox as aspiring public relations professionals. In summary, we need to be cognitive, instinctual communicators who answer the client’s questions before they’re even asked, and we need to constantly measure our processes and ensure that they align with the organization’s goals. If you can’t prove how your work furthers the client’s goals, they won’t see it either. You can check out Ms. Paschal’s complete communications toolbox at the end of this article.

Ms. Paschal isn’t the only one talking about alignment with goals. David Gallagher, CEO for Ketchum in Europe, discussed the frustrations of today’s communications departments and obstacles to the professionalization of public relation on the Ketchum blog. In his article, Mr. Gallagher frames his discussion around the results of a recent survey conducted by the European Communications Monitor (EMC) of more than 2,000 communications professionals in 42 countries.

According to the study, one of the greatest perceived obstacles facing PR professionals is how to align their communication processes with the business’ goals and objectives. Also difficult is proving the impact of those processes on the organizational goals.

I have heard plenty of speeches from industry professionals stressing this necessity for alignment, rightly so. You can use all the different communication tactics in the world, but if they aren’t cohesive with the organization’s goals then it will cost you in the end, or limit your success at the very least.

So armed with my toolbox and new job or internship, what next? Stay tuned.

The Communications Toolbox
(According to Mendi Paschal, MBA)

  1. Flathead screwdriver
    A very basic tool: your basic knowledge on PR and communications, such as how to create factsheets, news releases, or your basic writing skills.
  2. Phillips head screwdriver
    This tool represents your knowledge and strategic use of social media.
  3. Hammer
    This embodies things like byliners, and is the hard-hitting facts and information about your organization, client or events.
  4. Wrench
    You use this tool in the way you connect the marketing department’s words with the business objectives so that your message is acceptable without containing puffery.
  5. Screws and nails
    These are the tactics and processes you use to connect and align your PR strategy to your business goals and objectives.
  6. Measuring tape
    For measuring your strategies and tactics, because you, and especially your clients, want to know the effectiveness of your processes.
  7. Duct tape
    This is the silence duct tape, and Ms. Paschal recommends communication professionals to use this keep themselves in line.
    She stresses the importance of knowing what you’re talking about and to know when to stop talking.
  8. Stud finer
    Your awareness of your surroundings embodies this tool. Ms. Paschal advises that professionals be cognitive of who your allies and enemies are.
  9. Level and ruler
    Always ask yourself, “Is this meeting the business goals and objectives?”
    Because if it isn’t, it’ll affect your client and you down the line, either through loss of profit and market share or the loss of your job.
  10. Pencil and paper
    Always write down what you hear, and PAY ATTENTION. Be engaged and present, because you never know when you’re going to have a “brain fart” and forget some facts or quotes.
  11. Goggles and gloves
    These tools are your protection from the mudslinging, because it is prevalent in the professional world, according to Ms. Paschal. You have to know how to remain calm and cool, while still remembering to protect yourself, your work and reputation from the high-competitive and sometimes cutthroat peer that you work with.

PR Prominence: The Unavoidable Need to Strategically Engage Your Customers

All things PR, Personal Writing

As a public relations student with a minor in marketing and Spanish, I constantly judge a business or organization’s PR quality everywhere I go. This is even easier with the prevalence of technology and social media at the swipe of my fingers; if I ever need to find news immediately or look up a fact or reviews, I immediately pull up Twitter or a search engine on my cell phone.

I doubt there are any companies, marketers and brand managers in today’s wired world who can afford to forgo their own social media presence. Social media usage extends beyond products as organizations are increasing their focus on their reputation and maintaining relationships with and engaging customers. Thus enters the role of public relations firms. PRMarketing.com created an interesting and visually appealing infographic based on market research about online public relations, noting that online PR averages a 275 percent return on interest (ROI) for businesses. Click on the picture to the right or check the end of the post for the infographic.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Unger, Assistant Professor and Director of Urban Programs at Wagner College, notes that President Obama was not the first candidate to use social media technology to leverage his campaign and ideals. However, President Obama most successfully applied the strategic use of social media to form a campaign platform that’s reach extended beyond traditional political networks.

According to social media news blog Mashable, the all politics in the 2012 presidential campaign is social. For an interesting infographic about social media in the race for the White House, check the end of the post.

Fast Company calls him “America’s first truly social president” as his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention broke political Twitter records by averaging 52,000 tweets per minute throughout its entirety. This is not surprising to me after seeing that Twitter’s vice president of international strategy quoted the company’s total registered accounts at 200 million.

One of my favorite websites is Ad Age, which is where I found this interesting section of stories, mainly for marketers but relevant to everyone, that discuss the importance of public relations firms to a business’s integrated marketing communications plan and its effects on the marketing industry.

According to Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, the firm that works with Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox gaming system, their campaigns to engage bloggers and fans begins 10 months before the ads even launch.

“Our job is no longer doing a press conference to break the ads—we are building engagement with enthusiasts to create a runway of credibility for a new brand or campaign,” Edelman said.

This is very true; companies cannot afford to not personify their brands to consumers because those voices carry so much influence in today’s digital word. According to Rob Flaherty, president of Ketchum, the consumers, not the press, are the real owners of media in today’s highly connected landscape. Word-of-mouth, especially when it is negative, travels further and sometimes faster than any other form of marketing. Research has shown that dissatisfied customers and negative experiences are likely to generate online conversation, and who hasn’t taken to their Facebook or Twitter to gripe about poor management or lackluster customer service?

Case in point: my one night stay at an Econolodge in Kingsville, Texas resulted in the tweet pictured.

I received an email from Choice Hotels, the parent company of Econolodge, that attempted to address my bad experience and improve from it, but it was too late. My attitude of the chain’s quality is set, despite their apologies and effort to make contact with me, and unfortunately for some companies it’s just unavoidable.

One of my coworkers also told me of a prime example of lackluster PR and marketing at IKEA, a privately-held Swedish self-assemble furniture company with a reputation for the non-literal help center and employees who never help customers. During this visit to IKEA, he noticed that all the temp employees wore shirts saying,

“Temporary Team Member…Please do not ask me any hard questions.”

As a marketing manager, his mind was as boggled as mine was after hearing this story. Especially coming from a teller job at one of the U.S.’s biggest financial institutions, it has been deeply ingrained in my beliefs that in-store employees are the figurative and literal “face” of a company. These types of employees, whether they’re an IKEA sales rep. or a banker, have direct contact with the company’s most important constituencies and whose interactions can greatly impact the reputation and relationship with these customers.

Perhaps this concept is lost on Leontyne Green, CMO of IKEA North America, or maybe anti-IKEA tweets need to reach 52,000 hits before it’s worth making a change.

PRMarketing.com’s Online PR Infographic:

Mashable’s Politics via Social Media Infographic: