Forget the jersey, let’s talk about a FedEx Holiday

17 02 2009

As you probably know, I love highlighting unique cases of public relations where public interest and opinion clash with corporate agenda.

I found one such example browsing sports news this morning. In an unprecedented display of love for a Fortune 500 company, Memphis opted out of flying the corporate colors of FedEx on a special FedEx appreciation night. Apparently, the jersey (pictured below), would cause a local and national enrage about capitalism gone awry…

Well, I say, what’s worse? Displaying the corporate colors or dedicating an night to “appreciate FedEx”? I mean, isn’t it bad enough that FedEx has now become a verb for sending package (even when we plan on sending it via UPS)? Why aren’t we talking about turning a non-commercial basketball exhibition into a corporate-endorsed activity? Euro jerseys don corporate emblems, and NASCAR drivers are ad incarnates for their sponsors. I guess if you consider this is an NCAA-no-corporate-endorsements-allowed event, then you can say otherwise…

But at issue here, says I, is why aren’t we questioning FedEx Appreciation night? Maybe it’s a matter of diverting attention with this about-face on using the corporate colors on the jersey. You may disagree with me, but backing off on using the corporate colors sure looks like they’re diverting attention, and it seems like the type of stuff that gets PR practitioners derided rather than praised…


PR as Education

21 07 2008

In May, I won the Plank Award for Graduate Student Research at the International Communication Association conference in Montreal for a paper I did on PR as education. O.C. Tanner, a global employee recognition firm, focuses its communication efforts on educating organizations about the merits of employee recognition.

That was my first research paper I produced as a doctoral student, and I’ve always been intrigued by other examples of organizations/individuals emphasizing education in public relations efforts. Why? Because teaching is an important interactive experience, where one individual edifies the other. It represents one of the noblest efforts. I think that’s why it is so effective. I can think of no better way to build a relationship than when someone reveals the tricks of the trade, the secrets of success…which is why I like this video, below, of Barenaked Ladies’ front man Ed Roberts teaching viewers how to play one of the band’s popular songs. I think there’s also an evident level of Grunig-ian Two-Way Symmetrical communication here too…

One other thing I like about this is bands seem so loathe to share their music. Anyone who has gone to a music store to purchase a book on playing a song on guitar, piano, etc., knows the frustration I have felt so often…the notes usually reflect what the singer sings, not what he or she plays.

Anyway, good public relations, kudos to BNL.

Afraid of Transparency?

15 06 2008

David Stern

I’ve blogged on this topic before, but since I’m an avid NBA fan, I can’t help but touch on the ongoing NBA controversy. David Stern seems adamant on toeing the line on his stance on officiating in NBA games: Rule number 1) the Referees may be human, but they are always right 2) If any doubt arises, refer to rule number 1. It’s almost as if the Commisar (I like that title for Stern better than Commish) is putting everything on the integrity of his refs. And for a sport that is SO influenced by officiating (Curt Schilling in his blog of Game 2 of the finals said refs determine the game more than any other sport), this may make sense…or does it?

Tim Donaghy, the referee who reportedly bet on NBA games he officiated, came out this week claiming other NBA games were fixed…Stern’s reaction? Donaghy’s just a convicted felon taking everyone he can down with him to save himself. It’s almost as if Stern is afraid of being open and upfront with his most important public: the NBA fan. As more and more allegations come out reinforcing suspicions by NBA fans, Stern continues to toe the line. Maybe it’s time for the NBA to open up to the fans and not only allow NBA scrutiny, but openly discuss the league’s own scrutiny of its refs. If nothing else has been learned about communication technology in 21st century business–the most important lesson is this: The public WILL be informed whether you like it or not, it’s up to you to decide who’s going to inform them. And in a transparency focused society, that informant had better be you, or you’re going to be staring down the barrel of a public relations disaster.

Instant Academic

31 05 2008

You may or may not know, but I’m launching into my Summer of Horror…in September, I’ll be taking my comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. program in Communication/PR. So, that means I’ll be reading like a mad man all Summer long, taking notes, burying myself in my office, growing a beard…ok, maybe not that last one.

In commemoration of this “joyous” time, I’ll be posting regularly…Yeah I know, shocking. But hear me out…

I’ll making regular weekly posts on the subjects that I’m studying, particularly: Public Relations, Marketing, Branding, Qualitative Research, Global Public Relations, and New Media. In the Academic world, we live and die by endless “literature reviews” that comprise far too many pages, and are usually quite boring to read…I’ll be posting these mini-lit reviews on this blog…

Rest assured, they’ll be “Cliff’s Notes” of my Ph.D. program…read it, enjoy it, and have fun studying for my comps with me!

The NBA: Where PR happens

20 03 2008


By now, you probably know that I’m a huge NBA fanatic…

Reading some headlines, I came across a bit of news that’s a good example of how PR is more than just working with the media to get a press release out.

The New Orleans Hornets recently launched a new website to promote their star PG, Chris Paul, as the MVP this year. I don’t think he has a chance, frankly…Kobe is the MVP this year (and yes, I know I’m biased). But I like the PR implications here. First, you have to ask yourself, who is the public here? The fans don’t vote for the MVP, the NBA writers do, and the last few years, the choice certainly hasn’t been influenced by public opinion (Steve Nash 2 years in a row and then Dirk Nowitzki were anything but consensus public picks.) So the “public” here isn’t the traditional public you’d think of…but the NBA writers.  Second, you have to love the creativity here. Promoting someone within the organization (albeit a superstar NBA player) through an online campaign that’s sure to get some buzz (oops, I think I already did that).

But we don’t stop there, folks. The fan may not be the main audience here, but they’re certainly “activating” the fan…inviting them to post videos explaining why Paul should be the MVP. Viral video is emerging as one of PR’s biggest “weapons,” and this is yet another example.

So, you kill 2 birds with one stone here…you try to influence a particular strategic public (the NBA writers) AND you get another key public (the fan) involved as well.

My hat goes off to the Hornets here….even if Paul doesn’t win the MVP (that honor will go to Kobe).

(de)Humanizing an Organization

27 02 2008

I’ve been intrigued by the recent crisis facing American Airlines. By now, this is probably old news, but, in a flight this past week from Port-au-Prince to JFK Int’l, Carine Desir died, because, according to family members, flight attendants would not provide necessary medical attention, including providing her air when she said she could not breathe. American Airlines denies the family’s account, but beyond what may or may not have happened, I find it intriguing how AA is handling this.

Frankly, I wonder how, from a PR perspective, the organization’s response could possibly fair well in the end. Sure, the organization claims that it is not at fault and that all procedures were maintained in their strictest standards, but what the organization is not saying is what could doom this whole situation.

Let’s say that after an investigation, it is discovered that organization took all the necessary precautions, and something still went wrong, but was no fault of the organization. Who will the public blame? The organization. At the very least, you’d think that the public relations arm of the organization would encourage spokespeople to buy the company a little time before coming out and absolving all fault in this. Knee-jerk reactions never fair well in the end, even if you aren’t at fault.

Furthermore, there’s one other thing that the airline isn’t saying: I’m Sorry. Maybe I’ve missed it, but AA has decided to ignore offering any type of condolences to the family. This is a traumatic time for the family, and you’d think the least AA would do is try to act…I don’t know…maybe a little…HUMAN.

This is the way it usually goes:

Big Organiztaion = Insensitive/Uncaring Entity

And AA is only reinforcing that image. I offered this up to my undergraduate classes in Public Relations I teach, asking them what they would do. After 5 minutes of discussions, here’s what they came up with: Say I’m sorry and assure the public that, though it is not at fault, it would be conducting extensive research into what exactly went wrong.

It seems to me, if 18-20 year old college students can figure this out, why can’t AA?

Subliminal Communication

19 09 2007

I was introduced to this video in the context of innovation, and where ideas come from, but I think it has even more significant meaning in the context of marketing communications.

The obvious lesson here is that the power of suggestion is real, and the easy take-away is that people will remember what they see. But underlying the obvious is the backbone to word of mouth. It’s easier to recall information that is repeatedly in front of you. It’s readily available to your cognitive process and comes out, even when you may not even mean for it to. We often sew such messages into applicable conversations and experiences. Buzz marketing operates on this principle, though on a deeper level. At the surface, buzz marketing focuses on building recognition through positive word of mouth, which is a conscious activity. However, how much of buzz marketing really operates on the deeper subconscious level? In other words, we’re so used to seeing certain images in a certain context that we unknowingly associate the two, and the act accordingly (which would entail bringing up the product or service in casual conversation).

Sounds simple enough for marketing, but what does this mean for public relations? I am one who follows a more relationship-based public relations approach, that the practitioner is the mediator between the organization and the public, and through a symmetrical relationship provides both the org and the public a basis on which to build a positive and mutually beneficial relationship. However, the advent of integrated marketing communication almost 2 decades ago brought new meaning to public relations and marketing, as both functions work synergistically and harmoniously to create a consistent meaning for an organization. IMC is problematic for public relations because even the hint of marketing persuasion stands to damage the credibility of public relations efforts, which are supposed to be free from marketing and selling messages.

So the question that is worth tossing around is, what does this mean for public relations? As more and more companies integrated all communication efforts, public relations practitioners will undoubtedly run into marketing focused concepts, and may even have to operate underneath that context. Is this problematic for you as a consumer? What value does a company’s public relations efforts hold for you and does the integration of PR and marketing damage those expectations?