Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Black Friday injustice

Today's guest commentary comes from Mariya Ryaskova, who is an avid retail shopper turned avid champion of retail workers.

In the past few years, most merchandisers have opened up for sales in the earliest hours of the Friday after Thanksgiving. This year, though, some major retailers changed their opening times. Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Toys ‘R’ Us opened up for sale between 9PM and 10PM on the evening of Thanksgiving.

Of course, for some consumers, this was great news. However, a number of people are outraged with these “greedy” retailers as workers had much less time to spend with their families during one of the most sacred holidays in the US. Is this fair? Absolutely not! In fact, 200,000 people recently signed a viral petition to Target on change.org protesting the earlier opening times, claiming that a full Thanksgiving holiday is not only for the “elite of this nation.”

Personally speaking, I’m a girly girl who loves shopping, and sales are an essential part of my existence. Yet, I still support the consumers who found these opening hours inappropriate. Consider the “Occupy Wall Street” protests, which indicate just how fed up Americans actually are with corporate greed.

Maybe some retailers decided to open up earlier because they want to stay competitive. But they must not forget the strength of the voice of average Americans, who weren’t heard until the “Occupy” protests took a very influential turn. Today, this voice is stronger than ever and can easily turn against retailers who ignored it. Banks are learning their lesson now. Are retailers next?

Mariya Ryaskova was born in Kazakhstan, grew up in Russia, and has lived in the UK for the past 8 years. She is following her dream of becoming a true PR specialist with the help of NYU.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Step away from the computer

Students from my NYU writing class continue to Occupy Brandsinger. Today's guest blogger, Malorie Ginsberg, writes of her struggle with an overabundance of digital friends.

Have you ever wanted to take your computer and your cell-phone and throw it out the window? I do. I do all the time. It's as if these small inanimate objects are a jail cell keeping me locked up without any hope of freedom. I am not one of those people who have their fingers glued to a keyboard at all times. But, I am a person who is kept on a tight leash by their electronics.

In many ways, cell-phones and social media have made us more accessible, more exposed and more alone. Is it normal that I have six hundred fifty friends on Facebook? Yes, I am a product of the digital age. Everyone is who is anyone is on Facebook and I NEED to be friends with every person I have ever given a head nod to in passing in order to fill my popularity quota in social networking.

In truth, it is not normal that six hundred and fifty of my “closest” friends have access to my pictures, thoughts and comments. Social media is a great tool for business. However, I feel it is making us less social and more stalker-like. Is it really necessary for me to know that you checked in on Facebook at John's House, Applebee's and the movies? I mean I guess it is if I'm planning on robbing your house. I know you're not home.

I am not preaching for everyone to retreat into an Amish way of life, but I am asking you to reflect on how technology dictates and manipulates you. For those of you who text message, you can probably sympathize with the anxiety I feel thirty seconds after I hit send. It usually is something along the lines of why haven't they responded yet? Maybe I shouldn't have said that? Sometimes we all need to take a chill pill.

Cinderella didn't text message Prince Charming
wanting to know his every move. So, a word to the wise: put your cell-phone down, walk away from your computer and disconnect for at least an hour every day. You'll be surprised by how liberated you will feel.

Malorie Ginsberg is a Brooklyn native with a passion for music and the arts. Currently, she is pursuing her Masters in Public Relations and Corporate Communication at NYU.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Limitations of the Reframe

Today's guest blogger—Carol Richardson—demonstrates a savvy understanding of how an apparently ordinary story changes meaning when it is told in a changed context.

Herman Cain is out of luck. He can’t compete for media attention with a man who, until recently, few of us had even heard of. In the past few weeks the alleged acts of former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, have tarnished the reputation of brands and individuals—Penn State, Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, and Mike McQueary to name a few. Their crime: choosing to put football ahead of children.

But who is the real Sandusky? A 1987 NBC interview of Jerry Sandusky, which resurfaced recently, highlights the power of framing a story.

Back in 1987 Sandusky was cast as the “hero” who set up a charity to help troubled children. Within the context of this narrative the interview showed an affable man, dedicated to helping children.

Fast-forward 24 years and we interpret the same interview with the same man very differently. In light of the allegations against Sandusky, his role in the narrative has changed; he has been recast as the “villain.” Suddenly we notice the menacing smile and his reluctance to look at the camera. Phrases like “frustrated playground director” and “I just have a good time with them” take on a new meaning.

So what was Sandusky (or his lawyer) thinking when he agreed to a telephone interview with Bob Costas? Did he seriously expect to reframe his own story? Despite denying full sexual contact, Sandusky’s hesitant response to the question, “Are you sexually attracted to young boys, to under age boys?” sealed his role in the narrative—at least in the court of public opinion.

Carol Richardson grew up across the pond and has lived and worked in several countries. She loves travel, adventure, and meeting new people—and still prefers rugby over any other kind of "football"—English or American.

Club Quarters: The language of marketing cues

I was to stay one night in Washington last week, and my client offered me a choice of hotels. One was a brand known to me as fancy and expensive (not The Four Seasons but something equally ritzy sounding—like the Rolex Suites or the Lamborghini Lodge). Nah. Not appropriate to spend that kind of dough for this trip.

The other option was a hotel called Club Quarters—which I had never heard of. What was that one like?

I clicked into the Club Quarters website and there was a phrase that stuck out like a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake. This hotel was "for the sensible traveler." Hoo-boy! What an ominously communicative word: "sensible."

A hotel for the "sensible traveler" would have no pillow mint, terry-cloth robe or mini-bar. It's a hotel where you check in using an ATM-like machine—and where you wake yourself up in the morning. No continental breakfast... You walk upstairs to your 10th-floor room. The gym is a rubber ball you squeeze. And heat? Just wear your flannel shirt to bed. After all, you're probably from Maine—the legendary hub of sensible folks.

I stayed there, and it was not spartan, as you can see from the picture. It was just fine—even better: Without the gratuitous and excessive indicators of extreme coddling found in many hotels, I felt... I felt that I was... I was being... well, sensi... no, I was being deprived!

Just kidding. "Sensible" I was. Great word. Apt signal of value delivered.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

United Colors of Benetton’s “Unhate”

Today's guest blogger played hockey as a child in Canada and probably knows a thing or two about bashing lips. Question: Is authenticity really a prerequisite for public relations campaigns? Let's find out from Heena Chavda...

My jaw dropped when a tweet crossed my screen, “Obama kisses Chavez.” Intrigued, I clicked on the link to see my screen fill with a striking (yet obviously photoshopped) image of Pres. Obama in a lip-locked kiss with Pres. Hugo Chavez.

The image is courtesy of the UnHate Foundation, established by the United Colors of Benetton. With its mandate to “contribute to the creation of a new culture of tolerance” the ad campaign sees the likes of world leaders including the Pope, Sheikh al-Tayeb, and Pres. Hu Jintao in simple, yet provocative kisses. The only thing that crossed my mind was “WOW! Benetton has got guts!”

As many companies these days, Benetton launched the campaign over social media, and there was an immediate flurry of activity. Mostly, people were shocked by the images, but the “Unhate” message seemed to resonate. Of course, some religious rights groups immediately called for the image of the Pope be removed, and as the weeks go on, I’m sure other groups will be outraged and call for the campaign to end.

As public relations practitioners, we know the number one obligation in our industry is to be authentic. While the underlying sentiments of the Unhate campaign—tolerance and love through the universal sign for love, the kiss—are authentic, showing world leaders in these provocative, entirely out-of-context positions is not. A campaign depicting “real” people of different races, colors, and religions in a lip-locked embrace may lack the shock value of the current campaign, but it would have gotten closer to the authenticity of those ideas the campaign is intended to communicate.

Hate it or love it, this bold campaign has definitely sparked conversations all over the world.

Heena Chavda grew up in the northern city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is a student, an explorer, a cook, a wannabe photographer, and an avid hockey fan (GO Oilers!).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Keep Me Where The Light Is

Tonight's essay—a meditation, really—comes from guest blogger Courtney Couch, who urges us to take away the right lessons from today's news.

In a time when the media is oversaturated with the foolishness of Herman Cain, the publicity stunts of Kim K and the repugnant Penn State skullduggery, there seems to be no light in the midst of all of society’s darkness.

Moral responsibility seems to be at an all time low as people witness the sexual abuse of children and do nothing. Marriage is being made into a mockery as celebrities turn the sacred institution into a cash cow, while millions of American’s support and feed into all the corruption. Sheesh, is the end really near?

Monday night as I cringed through Bob Costas’ interview of Jerry Sandusky incriminating himself on NBC, I was DVR’ing a “20/20” special that I had no idea would be so sublime.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s recovery segment by Diane Sawyer was a breath of fresh air and inspiration that isn’t often provided in the media nowadays. In the midst of disheartening headlines, political distrust, and an economic crisis, this special served as a timely remainder of hope and courage.

Gabby’s miraculous survival and speedy recovery gave me goose bumps (meaning I really cried like a baby) and encouraged me beyond words. As ABC has reported, The Special Edition of “20/20” with Diane Sawyer reporting “Gabby and Mark: Courage and Hope” averaged 13.4 million viewers. At the 10 o’clock hour, the special ranked as the most-watched TV show overall and ranked #1 across all key women demographics. I hope the 13.4 million viewers accepted and shared the message they took from the segment. May they inspire their peers just as Gabby inspired me to be steadfast in my beliefs and always push forward no matter what.

As Diane concluded, sometimes life is about “finding the courage you need when the life you live is not the life you planned and learning that there has to be many definitions of a beautiful day.” May we all seek to be individual beacons of light, and have the courage to always do what’s right.

Courtney Couch is a UNC alumna who loves lyrics, laughter, food and a good debate. She's seeking her master's in corporate communication and PR at NYU all while staying loyal to her Tar Heels!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Consider keeping your opinions to yourself (the author included)

Tonight's guest blog comes from a student who prefers to stay anonymous, given her observations. Take it away...

Our CEO recently told us he wanted a blog. We said no.

As corporate communicators at a large professional services company, we know the pitfalls and challenges of starting a blog—resources, content, commitment. We also knew the CEO wasn’t fully invested in the project, which would likely die a very public death.

We are not Google, IBM, GE or the like. Our CEO thought he needed to boost his web presence simply because the “other guys” are online—clearly the wrong reason to take on the massive task of a blog.

In the digital age, I see this mistake repeated whenever a friend launches a new travel/literary/mom blog. Just because social media tools—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube—allow you to tell the world how you feel, doesn’t mean you should. I am all in favor of the open marketplace of ideas, but we should first consider whether we have anything truly insightful to share.

Take the news from Penn State. Logging on to Facebook the morning after coach Paterno was fired, my news feed showed an overwhelming number of opinions about child assault, mixed with baby pictures and “Had an awesome weekend!” posts. No one would argue that Penn State’s behavior wasn’t abhorrent, but none of the sentiment was new or intelligent. Facebook seemed like the wrong medium for this type of rant, which only served to fuel people’s anger.

NPR recently ran a story about using caution in your online communications because you don’t know your audience or how it will interpret your message [Your Friends Are Not Your Audience: A Disturbing Internet Lesson in Perspective]. When online, the traditional filters—editors, directors, agents—don’t exist. The aspiring artist or thought leader must create his or her own standards or face serious criticism. In our case, the CEO backed down from his quest for a blog. He instead agreed to test his wings on Twitter. Like him, would-be bloggers should think twice before assuming their ideas will genuinely contribute to the larger discussion.

—Unless you plan to write about food. The world always needs more food blogs.

Our author describes herself as "a corporate communicator at a major professional services organization. A news and trivia junkie, she loves her Green Bay Packers and a good Oregon Pinot noir."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Making Commercials Scene

Today's guest blogger studies PR at NYU—while somehow managing to keep up with her TV—uh, study of mass media. The combo yields these insights from Chloe Licht:

DVR and TiVo have completely transformed the way I (and I bet most of you) watch TV. As I sit here staring absently at the TV, I count 24 shows set up to record weekly. (You might think this number would embarrass me, but in reality compared to others it is relatively low).

When I was younger, I only followed one or two shows religiously because I had to physically be there to watch them live (oh, the horror!). On average, in a 30-minute program only 18 minutes were spent on content, while the other 12 were commercials. While I secretly loved and memorized the old Kit Kat jingles and Pepsi songs, today I am able to maximize my time spent watching TV. Thanks to the wonderful FF button, I no longer have to waste my time watching commercials.

How can commercials be effective if we are constantly fast-forwarding through them?

Audi has come up with a creative strategy to combat this issue. It has teamed up with the FX Network to create a series of 8 short 2-minute films. The campaign is named “Untitled Jersey City Project.” This film series is based solely on the premise of product placement. However, the company name is never explicitly referred to within the films. Instead, they feature enticing footage of Audis driving through dramatic scenes. The episodes are shown in movie theaters before the previews. And as you probably already realized, you can’t fast forward at the movies!

After seeing the initial episode in the theater, I was both curious and confused. I had no idea I was watching an ad. At the end of the film, viewers were urged to visit the website http://www.fxnetworks.com/untitledjerseycityproject/ to view more.

I was surprised and impressed when I realized the entire production was an advertising campaign. Clearly, there is still a way to get us to watch and engage in commercials. In this case, the key was thinking outside the box…Literally.

Chloe Licht grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. She loves to bust a move and has a passion for spicy food (especially Sriracha). She is pursuing her Masters in Public Relations & Corporate Communication at NYU.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gen-Xer with attitude

Another in our new series—guest posts from my students in the NYU masters program in public relations: This defiant declaration comes from a typically "skeptical," "realistic," "ironic," "distrustful," and "creative" gen-Xer, Susan Rucci.


Twenty years ago Nirvana released “Nevermind.” Kurt Cobain’s raw lyrics reverberated among Generation X who used the album as a rallying cry for their disenchantment with the political and economic times.

I’m one of them—an X’er in age and attitude. Kurt Cobain was speaking for me. 46 million of us were born between the mid 1960s to late 1970s. We often feel like the overlooked middle child, sandwiched in between Baby Boomers and the Millennials.

In noting the “Nevermind” anniversary, I realized had Kurt Cobain lived, he would now be a middle-aged man. So, who are we today? For one thing, we’re older. Generation X started turning 40 a few years ago. Unlike baby boomers who crave a parade for every milestone, X’ers did this one quietly. Perhaps we did it too quietly. It’s as though businesses and marketers have forgotten all about us. But ‘You Oughta Know” about us, to borrow loosely from singer and fellow X’er, Alanis Morissette.

We have money. We also have parents who have money. The Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy estimates a $71 trillion intergenerational wealth transfer from 1998 to 2052. Generation X will be on the receiving end of much of that. We may be the last generation, for the foreseeable future, to inherit substantial estates from their parents. With Social Security and Medicare teetering on the brink of extinction, we’ll need that money too. We’ll be relying on the private sector for more of our needs as we age.

If you want our business, then understand who we are: Educated. Independent. Technologically adept. Realistic. Practical. Cautious. Ambivalent. Skeptical. Ironic. Distrustful. Creative.

Don’t call us slackers. It’s not true. We’ve worked harder for less money, less benefits and less job security. All the rules keep changing on us. Yet, we survive and thrive. Reinvention.

Here’s who we are: Jon Stewart, Michelle Obama, Jay-Z, Julia Roberts, Ben Stiller, Anderson Cooper, Jennifer Lopez, Eminem, Jennifer Aniston and, you betcha, Sarah Palin too.

The refrain from Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” sums us up really well. Cobain raged, “Here we are now, entertain us!” Yep, and if you do it right, we might just buy what you’re selling too.

Susan Rucci went through a brief but meaningful “flannel shirt” phase in the early 1990s. She is reinventing herself as she pursues a Master’s degree in Public Relations from NYU. For 20 years, Susan worked as a network news producer at CBS News and Good Morning America. @susanrucci loves Twitter too.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Smoking—the perfect way to drive a message home

Today we kick-off a new series: guest blogs by students in my PR WRITING class at NYU. Be ready for knock-your-socks-off opinions from a dozen young professional communicators who have verve, insights and a POV.

Smoking—the perfect way to drive a message home

by Alicia Hart

In a political blunder, Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain faced some backlash over his campaign ad that went viral. In the ad, Cain’s chief of staff praises him, saying, “America has never seen a candidate like Herman Cain.” It ends when his chief of staff takes a drag on a cigarette. I found the smoking bit quite funny; I laughed and quickly forgot about Herman Cain being the “right” man for the job.

Cain appeared on Face the Nation and tried to rationalize why his team decided to include the bit at the end. When asked by Bob Schieffer whether it was meant to be funny, Cain said it was meant to be informative. Once Cain revealed he was a cancer survivor, his argument lost all merit. Cain stumbled over his answers, and he was trying to divert attention back to his campaign message. It seemed to me that at the end of their talk, Schieffer almost forced Cain to say smoking was not cool and that young people shouldn’t do it. Well then why did you include it in the ad Cain?!

So my question is, was it a publicity stunt just to get Cain’s name out there? And maybe implant his name in the minds of those who may have no knowledge of who he is?

Do campaign ads really work? In my opinion, they are the platform to completely bash either your opponent in the same party, or the current person in the office you’re trying to attain. They don’t sway my vote, but then again I consume most of my news online, and the only time I watch a campaign ad is when it stirs the controversy pot and goes viral. Hmmmm… so maybe that was his plan all along. Kudos Mr. Cain—you got my attention when I otherwise would have devoted a blog post to a candidate I actually support.

Alicia Hart grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, loves a good book recommendation, and is a candidate for a Masters in Public Relations and Corporate Communication at NYU.