Saturday, December 8, 2007

Retrospective Blog/Last Blog

Public relations blogs can help promote specific firms and their successful case studies. If a firm wants its effective public relations campaigns publicized, a blog could be a great way to announce its achievement to the public. However, the firm must be clear that it is the author of the blog. Otherwise, the firm could be accused of pretending to be an outside evaluator. Wal-Mart and FEMA both faced this problem in the past. Public relations practitioners behind Wal-Mart created blogs without clarifying the stories’ origins. A secret blog is the equivalent to a fake news release, which is what FEMA staged in the midst of the California wild fires in October (see earlier blog on FEMA). Public relations blogs are only beneficial if the authors are upfront about their identities.

I will not be continuing my blog. I created it solely for the purpose of developing my research, thesis, and understanding of my topic. Now that my research paper is complete, I do not need to continue blogging. However, I found the blog helpful in terms of the mental organization necessary for writing research papers. My blog forced me to question my topic and challenge my ideas by analyzing case studies and research. Ultimately, my blog contributed to my research paper because it made me look outside the box. I utilized and discovered the public’s perspective on public relations through viewing videos related to the keywords “public relations.” This led me to validate public relations, which was a key theme in arguing that public relations is a valuable management tactic in business.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Corporate Success vs. PR Success

One of the articles that I found for the literature review has proven to be an extremely useful source for my paper. The article, entitled “Navigating a Path to Smart Growth” found in the Spring 2007 MIT Sloan Management review, discusses corporate growth and explains the importance of balancing a company’s inherent need to grow with the management’s ability to handle the growth. The article cites Wal-Mart as a prime example of a company that has “grown smart.” It provides statistical information, including the corporation’s net worth, and associates that as success. The article, however, ignores all the highly public problems that Wal-Mart has experienced. As I stated in my paper, this article depicts a dangerously selfish measurement of corporate success, which often leads corporations into the much-needed hands of public relations professionals. As my research has clearly indicated, the definition of success differs significantly whether you seek out a business journal or a public relations book.

This article has helped to define my thesis, which is that public relations techniques should be inherently incorporated within business models. Because public relations takes community, social responsibility, and image so seriously, the inclusion of these ideals within corporate management would help to prevent crises. Currently, the majority of major corporations seek out public relations assistance once a crisis has already surfaced. I believe that the intertwining of business plans with “management by objective,” a public relations program plan, can greatly benefit businesses, in terms of profit and reputation.

The goals of public relations plans and businesses are very similar. Hence, their definitions of success should be similar as well. In order for this to happen, I submit that strategic public relations should be an inherent part of corporations’ managements.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ethical Public Relations

A newly added link on this blog is entitled Public Relations Society of America, which is “the world's largest organization for public relations professionals.” Based in New York City, the society is comprised of more than 28,000 members, both professional and student. Its members represent clients in all areas, including “business and industry, technology, counseling firms, government, associations, hospitals, schools, professional services firms and nonprofit organizations.” The mission of the society, according to the Web site is to “unify, strengthen and advance the profession of public relations,” in addition to establishing itself as the “pre-eminent organization that builds value, demand and global understanding for public relations.”

The goal of my research paper mirrors the mission statement of PRSA, in that I aim to show the importance and magnitude of public relations in today’s communication-obsessed world. In my last blog, I illustrated the interconnected worlds of public relations and journalism. Public relations people aim to notify the public of new brands, new business ventures and events. In order to do so, they must utilize the media. For example, public relations professionals ensured that you knew when, where and how to purchase the new iPhone through news releases and loads of publicity.

Despite its scope and prevalence, many people cannot define public relations. provides an excellent foundation for the understanding of public relations, its ethical guidelines, its purposes and its goals as a profession.

During my oral presentation, a comment regarding crisis communications came up. The comment insinuated that public relations firms must lie or hide the truth in order to save a company’s image. As a public relations major, this assumption is upsetting, specifically because the practice of public relations is grounded in strict ethical and moral codes of professionalism. Just as a journalist is expected and trusted to report truthfully and responsibly, public relations people follow a code of ethics that shapes the profession.

Multiple articles regarding ethics in public relations can be found here:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Public Relations and Journalism

According to my public relations class’ textbook, Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques by Dennis L. Wilcox, “journalists depend on public relations sources for receiving most of their information” (304). At the same time, public relations practitioners depend on journalists for mass dispersion of their information. Media relations is “the core activity in many public relations jobs.” In fact, a survey of 539 large companies found that “media relations was the #1 job responsibility of their public relations staffs” (304).

While many assume that journalists seek out all of their stories, this supposition is incorrect. Wilcox explains that the reality of modern mass communications is that “reporters and editors spend most of their time processing information, not gathering it” (305). Furthermore, while many journalists might deny this fact, “most of the information that appears in the mass media comes from public relations sources that provide a constant stream of news releases, features, planned events, and tips to the media” (305).

Even Gary Putka, the Boston bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal acknowledges that “a good 50 percent” of the stories in the newspaper come from public relations people (305). In newspaper articles, journalists often refer to public relations people as “spokesman” or “spokeswoman.” The term’s use in publications has increased 81 percent since 1995. This rise shows the growing significance and usage of public relations in journalism and hence, the world.

Although their work intertwines regularly, there are areas of tension between public relations practitioners and journalists. Journalists resent the fact that stories are being fed to them and that public relations people assume they would be interested or willing to cover whatever they are pitching. Peter Himler, the executive vice president of Burson-Marsteller, summarizes that “overt commercialism, hyperbole, artificiality and manipulation are the best ways to turn off a reporter and, in so doing, damage the fragile, but vital relationship between [the] two professions” (307).

To see the magnitude of public relations practitioners’ influence over the press, look at any fashion or lifestyle magazine. The November edition of 944 Magazine is a perfect example. Page 22 is dedicated to the James Perse Boutique, which the magazine has called “944’s Choice.” The boutique was covered in the magazine because the public relations people behind the store sent a successful press release to the magazine, not because the magazine discovered the new boutique on its own.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Public Relations does not equate to Propaganda

When the words "public relations" are typed into youtube's search option, the following video is the first link to appear:

The video presents an unfortunately popular and widespread opinion that many people have regarding public relations. Public relations as an entity is characterized as propaganda, which undermines the magnitude and reality of the practice.

Public relations is not propaganda. Propaganda aims to influence a public’s behavior and opinion through emotionally loaded messages, often filled with purposefully inaccurate or altered facts. According to the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, public relations is “a management function which tabulates public attitudes, defines the policies, procedures and interest of an organization followed by executing a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance." Public relations plans aim to educate, interest, and thus influence. Propaganda hides behind an agenda to influence.

The negative connotations associated with public relations not only lead the public to look down upon the practice, but they also lead businesses to overlook the importance of public relations. Some corporations, like Wal-Mart, do not seek out public relations until a major crisis erupts. The magnitude of public relations is so grand, however, that corporations should regard positive, constant public relations as part of corporate success.

To illustrate the significance and misinterpretation of public relations, a national survey of journalists by a New York public relations firm indicated that “two-thirds of the journalists surveyed said they don’t trust public relations people…” In truth, however, public relations serves as an unparalleled method of communicating with the public. In fact, 81 percent of the journalists surveyed above say “they need [public relations] people anyway.” The aforementioned information comes from Dennis L. Wilcox’s textbook entitled Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques.

The scope of public relations practitioners is broad. Just as journalists need public relations practitioners for story ideas, corporations need public relations even before a crisis hits the company. Continual corporate public relations can prevent crises from occurring and can perpetuate a positive company image. In the end, a corporation is only as successful as the public determines its image to be.

Monday, November 5, 2007

An Example of a Public Relations Crisis...

On October 26th, 2007, the Federal Emergency Management Committee (FEMA) held a news conference in regards to the recent wildfires in Southern California. The conference, however, was fixed: the “reporters” present at the conference were actually FEMA employees. Real journalists were only given fifteen minutes notice of the conference, which essentially disabled and prevented them from attending. While they were allowed to call into the agency’s conference, they were only allowed to listen and were not allowed to ask any questions.

Instead, FEMA employees posing as journalists tossed “soft-ball” questions at FEMA’s deputy administrator, Harvey Johnson. According to the New York Times, the questions were “decidedly friendly.” The following questions were asked, which all conveniently enabled Johnson’s answers to shine a positive light on FEMA:

“Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?”
“What lessons learned from Katrina have been applied?”

Has FEMA not learned its moral lesson in public relations? The staged conference only draws more negative attention to the federal agency, which has been under intense public and media scrutiny since its failure in properly dealing with Hurricane Katrina.

FEMA was criticized during its Katrina response when instead of helping with search and rescue, agency firefighters deployed to the affected areas were evidently “undergoing training on community relations, watching videos, and attending seminars on sexual harassment in a hotel, waiting days, in some cases, to be deployed in a secretarial or public relations position” (
The most recent FEMA public relations disaster is every group's nightmare, whether it be professional, governmental, or in entertainment. Not only did the fake news conference further taint FEMA’s fragile reputation, but it also infuriated journalists, whose professions were irreversibly disrespected. A huge part of public relations is maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship with the media. FEMA’s fake news conference compromised this essential relationship, which will be difficult to repair.
The following video is a clip from Keith Olbermann’s response to the fake conference. In it, he and a guest mention public relations.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My Research Paper Topic

Due to an interest in the magnitude of public relations, my research paper will explore the function and impact of public relations in the corporate world. By delving into the interdisciplinary world of business and public relations, I will compare how large companies within the same realm, like Nike versus Adidas or Wal-Mart versus Target, create, perpetuate, and protect their corporate images. I will also research each company’s crisis communication history, and how public relations factored into handling corporate disasters. Once I research and discover existing corporate predicaments related to one sector of the aforementioned companies, I will analyze which company’s public relations program was the most effective. I will consider the company’s current image and business revenue compared to before a scandal, if one existed.

In 2005, for example, Wal-Mart faced a number of problems related to employee and workforce relations, including accusations of inadequate employee healthcare, low wages, and unacceptable working conditions. Additionally, numerous groups, ranging from environmental to religious, publicly criticized Wal-Mart for negatively impacting local businesses. This uproar prompted the company to hire Edelman Public Relations to combat and respond to negative media attention.

When I research, I will look for public relations materials created specifically in response to commercial crises, just like that which Wal-Mart experienced. I will also analyze the company’s current press kit, which I can find on their Web site. Public relations materials might include fact sheets, news releases, a biography on the company’s owner, feature stories focusing on increasing employee satisfaction, and a background on the history of the company itself. Edelman’s public relations effort in response to the challenges that Wal-Mart faced will illustrate the role of public relations in business.
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