The New Case for Publicity Stunts

19 05 2010

I think many of us have been conditioned to believe that publicity stunts are cheap parlor tricks, something superficial meant to get a surface-level response that fails to build a true mutually beneficial relationship with an organization’s stakeholders. Publicity stunts may get a bad rep because they’re a hallmark of the dreaded Press Agentry model of public relations (in which the media is used to unfairly push an organization’s agenda on the public).

And while this may be true–planning an event just to get media coverage and the consequential attention it garners is a superficial strategy–new media opens up a new realm of value for publicity-engendering activities. Take this reenactment of Ghostbusters at the New York Public Library.

This charade has publicity stunt all over it…but it arguably has more sincerity and true entertainment value than traditional publicity stunts. New media technology has created a new, original venue for entertainment. The diverse array of entertainment opportunities has created not only more opportunities for attention, but arguably more opportunities for org-public relationship-building. A “stunt” like this stands to build an emotional connection between the public and the NYPL, through a recognition of the library’s significance in cinema. In this way, the NYPL and publics who watch (or experience first hand) this reenactment share a connection built around entertainment, further engendering a relational connection.

New media’s influence on public relations, and in this case, it’s opportunities it provides for building relationships around entertainment, should be welcomed, rather than written off as cheap parlor tricks.

Now, for a follow-up, I’d like to see the Library employ symmetrical book stacking “Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947″…because no human being would stack books like this.


Integrating Communication: Engaging Your Audience

6 10 2009

Too many people think that integrated marketing communications (IMC) is only about making all your messages match. At its most basic, some see IMC as branding: using the same logo, colors, and tagline in every communication piece. But in reality, IMC has little to do with making everything look the same, at least for successful IMC. No, IMC is about engaging individuals and groups across your stakeholder spectrum, through synergy and appealing to their hearts and minds.

For Example: Queensland, Australia’s “Best Job in the World” Campaign:

This campaign embodies IMC. It’s about building relationships and engaging stakeholders, through an innovative message that is carried and translated across multiple media channels.

oh…and in case you want to know which video application won?


A successful IMC campaign should have continuity, and a sense of permanence to it. Of course, this was fully built into the Queensland campaign:

Becoming Quirky? PR enters the blogging world

12 08 2008

This last week I was at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Chicago, and presented my research on bloggers and public relations. Kaye Sweetser at Univ. of Georgia surprised me when she said she would be videoing it and posting it on her site. Here’s the video…and THANKS Kaye!

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.

Guerrilla PR? Bledcom 2008

9 07 2008

I spent the weekend in Slovenia, speaking at the Bledcom 2008 Conference where the theme was Integrated Marketing Communication, exploring the relationship between Marketing and PR in Integrated Marketing Communication. I was lucky enough to be a part of one of the more controversial panels.

IMC Panel at Bledcom in Slovenia: L-R: Dejan Vercic, Me, Paul Willis and Ralph Trench

Quick background: There is an established discontent between Marketing and PR…and this clash is amplified in the Academic World. Many scholars are concerned that Marketing will threaten the credibility of PR and sorely limit what PR is to merely publicity and promotion.

So, I have to admit, I’m not surprised that the panel I was on was so controversial.

I spoke on PR in marketing mix modeling, and how organizations are evaluating PR activities against sales…often considered a no-no, because PR’s value transcends superficial sales figures (a point I agree with to some extent, though I don’t agree with scholars who think you can’t connect relationships with revenue).

Two other presentations on the same panel were even more intriguing (read: controversial).

Dejan Vercic and his wife Ana Vercic set out to prove that an Editorial has more impact on consumers than an Ad…only to find that the difference is negligible. (I was actually shocked by this…in an age when Advertising is supposed to be dead, you’d think editorials would carry serious credibility…)

But perhaps the most heated debate came from a presentation by Ralph Trench and Paul Willis from Leeds, UK…on public relations’ inclusion in guerrilla marketing.  Ethics in PR is a huge deal…as it should be, but the word “ethics” in PR often gets translated into transparency. When Trench and Willis discussed some successful PR campaigns where a leading alcohol manufacturer created a new brand and used guerrilla PR techniques to get the word out (i.e. not being up front about the parent company), some in the audience were more than a little upset. One raised her hand and said she would teach her PR students to ignore such tactics (I guess she’s never heard of P&G, who don’t put their name prominently on ANY of their products).

Now…I do believe in ethical  PR. I believe in transparency, too. But teaching students to ignore such tactics only makes the problem worse…because when they get into the work force, they’ll be under-skilled (PR is quite often used behind the scenes in a “guerrilla” fashion to create hip and trendy brands) and, students won’t have a clue how to manage viable communications tactics like Guerrilla Marketing.

What is PR and Why on Earth does it Matter?

11 06 2008

About a year ago, I was having a conversation with someone about my current academic endeavor. After telling this individual that I was currently working on my Ph.D., the following brief interaction took place:

Him: So, what are you getting your Ph.D. in?

Me: Public Relations

Him: Wow, you can get a Ph.D. in that now?

Needless to say, the conversation was short, but it made me think. I ignored his apparent ignorance on the value of a Ph.D. in PR (it’s one of the fastest growing needs at universities and organizations increasingly need research-proven individuals to help them manage this complex environment of public-organization interaction). Frankly, I’m used to responses like this (which is why I commonly say my Ph.D. is in Communication, which it is…), but the whole interaction has got me thinking…what does PR mean to everyone else. I’ve come up with 4 categorizations, two from the general public perspective, two from a business perspective…first the public

1. Public Relations is Spin. I can’t say how annoying it is to read this somewhere. It’s out-dated, it’s antiquated, and it’s usually something someone who has no idea what PR is says. In fact, such a person would call it PR and not public relations, as in, “that’s just PR”. At the same time, this is probably still a valid opinion…because some PR practitioner out there still thinks his or her job is about spinning stories in the company’s favor.

2. Public Relations is lip service. Seemingly related to point number one, this one has a point of departure, and that is in the way organizations actually RESPOND to the general pub’s concerns. On some level, yes, organizations use PR to pay lip service to what people want to hear, but on a slightly higher level, PR is, to the general public, the body that carries out socially responsible endeavors for the community.

Now…the business perspective…

3. Public Relations is Promotion: This perspective seems like the most common. Public relations is a disguised form of marketing, and comprises everything that the company does that is not paid for as or by advertising. For example, sponsoring an event, giving away some free product, or reaching out to blogs to sponsor contests. In other words, PR is marketing that seems like it’s more than just marketing.

4. Public Relations is Strategic Management: On higher business levels, PR is about strategic management of corporate image and reputation. It’s more than just branding, it’s working out the organization’s existence–and the legitimacy for its existence–in the global community. This part comprises everything from gathering reputation issues, listening to customers and activist groups alike, and then advocating the interests of the public to the organization, and that of the organization to the public. At this level, PR is total communication management, from issues management to crisis response to whatever fits in between.

And…now…one bonus point for good measure

5. Public Relations is building relationships with stakeholders, or people who affect or are affected by an organization’s decisions. This one is by far the most intriguing, because up until this point, this seems like a very academic (read: unaccessible) definition of public relations. For those of us in the Ivy Towers, this makes sense. Yes, PR is for building relationships…there you have it! But practically speaking, what does it entail? What does it preclude? Can you really hire someone and say, “Welcome to the PR position…now, go build relationships with people who affect or are affected by our decisions!”? Not really. Now, there are plenty of studies revealing what goes into building relationships, but as of yet, it seems like there is no set of practical guidelines or instructions for a new PR person to jump in and start working (at least, in the same way that “PR practitioner as news provider and press release writer” has).

Now, my rambling is done…but, when all is said and done, I think PR Research has to go further than just saying, “It’s about building relationships” we have to establish standard operating procedures.

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!