Thursday, October 21, 2010

Your Phone Creates and Maintains Your Image

Today, our phones are just as much a part of our image as the clothes we wear or the cars we drive. I just received the new HTC Evo as a gift, and you'd be surprised by the gasps and stares I get when I pull it out in public places. You'd think it were made of gold. It's pretty awesome, at least the features I've discovered. However, there's so much more to our phones than we clearly understand.

There are numerous articles and studies out there that report many students and other young adults are addicted to their smart phones. There was an article on today that reports we no longer prefer our computers or televisions, instead we just use our smartphones. We take them everywhere we go. We sleep with them next to our beds. We've allowed them to replace our watches, cameras, camcorders, address books, calendars, computers, televisions and more. If they have become so important to us, than it begs the question: Why do we act so stupidly with our smartphones?

If our phones create our image, what we do with them does, too. I should only have to utter two names - Brett Favre and Eddie Long - to name the latest celebrities at the heart of scandals involving their phones. Both allegedly used their phones to send pictures to their victims. Still other celebrities have received backlash for racy photographs of themselves (Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudgens) being uncovered, and raunchy and sexual text messages were a part of the Tiger Woods and Kwame Kilpatrick scandals.

We should take a hint from the celebrities. It could happen to us, too. We must learn that what we do with our smartphones isn't temporary. We must use them with care. We must use them with respect. Once we hit the send button, we loose the power to take it back.

I teach my students about controlled and uncontrolled media in my classes. Smartphones should be seen as uncontrolled mediums. Sure, we have autonomy over the creation of content, but once we tweet, post, upload or send the content, it's gone. The receivers can save it, and they can send it to others. Those receivers can send it to others, and the cycle may never end. Public images can be destroyed with just a touch of a button.

It may take years for Brett and Eddie to undo what was done at the hands of their smartphones. Don't make the same mistake. Repairing your image isn't easy. It could take months or years to do it. Be smart. Use the advice I was given when I first starting working in public affairs for the Washington, D.C. government and apply it to your smartphone. I was told, "Don't email anything you wouldn't want to appear on the front page of The Washington Post." It was a scary, but good, warning. You should live by it, too.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kanye West: Apology Accepted and Rewarded?

I just wanted to make a quick post about the power of apologies and our American culture.

As I teach my students, it's always important to acknowledge wrongdoing. If your client or organization has done something wrong, it's important to say, well, "I'm sorry." There is actually much research on Apologia. In fact, my research partner, Dr. Dionne Clemons, and I are finishing a study now looking at politicians and their political apologies.

There are many, many types of apologies, and some are more effective than others. Plus, in today's society, those in the entertainment field in need of a mea culpa don't just take to the television airwaves for the traditional press conference or release a statement to the media. Now, we see web site apologies (Jackie Chen), video apologies (Chris Brown) and well, even apologetic Tweets.

This brings me to Kanye. Last year, after snatching the microphone away from the young Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech at the Video Music Awards, Kanye was in a firestorm of controversy. Everyone from politicians to the president had something to say about Kanye, and he had something to say, too. He apologized. Americans love apologies. Some people who you'd never think could come back into the entertainment limelight (i.e., Chris Brown now has his first #1 record) can do so if they utter those two little words.

I thought it was strange Kanye West began to Tweet new apologies to Taylor a few weeks ago. "Why did he do it," thought the entertainment reporters. Well, last night made it all crystal clear. He was back at the VMA show, and he went from just a viewer in the seats to the final performer, which is a very coveted spot. And, if you ask me, he was still apologizing on stage. He could have performed his "Power" single, but instead, he performed a song about the things douch bags and other rude people do. I think we were supposed to feel sorry for him being, well, who he is. Details below.

Ultimately, I think we must learn to navigate proper behavior in our culture. We all know what is proper. It's usually what makes sense, and what your mother and kindergarten teacher taught you to do or not do. But, well, in our culture, we put entertainers on a pedestal, and it's clear that a simple apology can not only bring you back to the game, but with a little patience and persistence, you might eventually be the MVP again.

(Photo: 2010 MTV Video Music Awards website)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Making Students Have a Personal Plan

This is my first week back to work. Feels good to sit in my office again. Fits like a nice old pair of jeans. Perfect.

As I settle into my classes, I'm consistently teaching my students the importance of not just being good PR technicians, but strategic thinkers. From the moment I introduce myself to students in Introduction to Public Relations, they are taught to construct what I call Dennis Wilcox's "eight-point" plan. The components of the plan are situation, objectives, audience, strategies, tactics, calendar, budget and evaluation. This process allows students to really understand how and why they create specific tactics and exactly what each will do to help meet organization goals.

What I realize after speaking to so many students at the end of each year is they don't bother to see how creating a personal plan could benefit them. It makes perfect sense. They could create a one-year plan, four-year plan or simply a "how am I going to get a job" plan. For the latter example, the exercise of researching the industry landscape, city where they want to live and companies currently hiring is great. Possible objectives are meeting at least six recruiters over the next two months and asking for informational interviews or forming a relationship with one industry expert willing to become a mentor and facilitate an easy transition into the workforce. Even the budget aspect of the plan is very important. I have students who want to work in Hollywood. However, none know or realize they must pay their way to Los Angeles for interviews, or they haven't budgeted the costs of shipping their cars or renting apartments.

Students spend so much of their lives living semester to semester. They have short term goals of finishing this paper or that assignment and long-term goals of getting a 3.5 gpa for the semester. However, little to no students think in terms of full academic years. Do they really stop to think what they want to get out of the entire college experience, and more importantly, strategically think about and plot the ways to achieve it?

I plan to challenge my students to make a personal plan this year. One that takes them toward their personal objectives of being successful entry level PR professionals. We can talk media mogul, PR trailblazer and/or popular public intellect later. Today, I think they should focus on what they can do now to get their first jobs when they graduate in May 2011.

Friday, July 16, 2010

LeBron James Free Agency Announcement: The UItimate PR Case Study

For the first time in over two decades, I went to a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus this year. I really understood why chaotic situations are likened to three ring circuses. There's so much to see, experience and take in that it's rather overwhelming. I felt this way recently with the free agency announcement of LeBron James. In this case, the fans, media and sports analysts were dealing with what is now being called the "spectacle" of his behavior. I'm sure it will be used as a great PR case study for years to come.

So many elements of what we teach PR students are present in this situation. However, I think we have to start first with why the announcement was rare. Gregory James explains the conventional way a decision is made. Usually, the player calls his former team to announce the decision and offers a thank you to the team owner and then a press release is issued announcing the decision. In this case, "The Decision" was much more than a press release. It was a full-blown television show with hours of build up from ESPN sports analysts, blog posts and traditional media. If someone were to figure out the AQV related to LeBron's announcement, I would dare say it would be in the tens of millions.

"The Decision" is where most of the controversy hovers. Yet, you should know it wasn't LeBron's idea to make the announcement this way. It was that of respected sportscaster Jim Gray, who now is under criticism along with LeBron for the special. The question is was it too much? Everyone has an opinion, and I do mean everyone. The New York Times even asked teenagers what they thought of it, and let me tell you, these are some opinionated youth. Some even throw around the idea that it was a "publicity stunt." The special resulted in what can now only be politely described as a stain on LeBron's image, which was put there by disgruntled fans and Cleveland Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert.

Unhappy fans took to the streets throwing jerseys in trashcans and creating large and small "Lebronfires." Dan wrote an open letter to his fans. It was not a polite letter, and he even calls LeBron names. It was not a good PR move. I wonder if his PR staff tried to stop him? Did they think he would gain the respect of his fans? Was it purely personal? Was it business? Is his PR team working on a crisis comm plan now to address the angry fans who might be ready to sue him if he doesn't make good on his guarantee of a championship?

Isn't this one of the many things we teach students not to do? You never over promise your stakeholders, you never respond when you are angry and you never act without thinking of the consequences or long term effects. For Dan, the immediate consequence was a $100,000 fine from NBA Commissioner David Stern. My guess is there will be much more his PR team and he will deal with in the future.

The criticism didn't end with "The Decision." The next day there was a live event for Miami Heat fans. It was elaborate to say the least. One newscaster called it a WWE-like scene. For students and PR professionals, you have to wonder about the timeline. One look at the videos associated with the event, and you can see all of the pieces needed to put on the event. With the new slogan (Yes. We. Did.), promotions, event logistics, videos, talent booking and even alerting the adoring fans in attendance, it's hard to believe it all happened in a day. Savvy PR folks must know they either knew in advance or took a huge gamble in the planing of the event. If I were to guess if they knew in advance of the morning of "The Decision," than I'd say "Yes. They. Did."

For me, PR professionals, late night television hosts, sports analysts, jokesters and others, LeBron's announcement will leave us talking for a long, long time. Was it a brilliant idea that took King James' public image to the next level, or was it just bad behavior from a "narcissistic" and "egotistical" overpaid athlete? You decide.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Students Making Their Way in Competitive Hollywood PR Internships

Last week was great. I received three emails from students who are enjoying their summer. They weren't relaxing by the pool or hanging out with friends. Instead, they were working long hours at their internships in the entertainment industry in Hollywood, California.

For the last two years, I've spent my spring break in Los Angeles, California helping small groups of students do the impossible - catch the attention of recruiters who are responsible for hiring college students in highly competitive internships. My efforts have been successful. I can now boast students have a 50-50 chance of receiving an internship. Sounds like a gamble, but really, it's quite impressive considering the complexities of internships in Hollywood. Some of the more popular companies with internships, such as MTV and Universal Studios, have thousands of applicants and are often unpaid. Still others with great opportunities pay students, such as the Warner Bros. STARS Leadership Development Program and Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation, but are very competitive, have extension application processes and only except elite students. So, if it's so competitive, the question is how did my students get there?

I think there are five very important things to consider. First, there's a lot of groundwork done to prepare for the trip. It usually takes me about four months to get everything together from travel logistics to booking companies. There are a lot of cold calls, email pitches and just good old fashion hustling to make things happen. Second, I must find those special people who understand what I want to do and are willing to open their doors to a few dedicated students with dreams of "making it" in Hollywood. Below is a video from Doug Ellin, Creator and Executive Producer of HBO's Entourage, discussing what it means to "make it."

Despite what some might think, I've found a few of them, a ratio of about 10 solicitations to every one positive response. Representatives from Disney, Warner Bros. and Cashmere Agency are just a few who welcomed us in the past. Third, tapping into alumni is key. I've met some very enthusiastic Howard alumni in entertainment and public relations companies who want nothing more than to see other Howardites making their way in Hollywood, including Nikita Adams, Christopher Cathcart, Deirdre Dix and Tiffany Smith-Anoa'i. Four, you must take students who have "it." You know "it" is hard to define, but you know "it" when you see it. If I had to define it, I'd say "it" means those who are dedicated, passionate, responsible and have a stellar resume that rivals any of their competition. Those are the ones who find success, but it's not the only thing they need. Finally, you have to take students who have supportive parents willing to make the investment to send them to Los Angeles for their internships.

Having diverse students in Hollywood internships is important, and I'm planning another blog to really explain why. For now, it's important to say that we can only change things from the inside. We need access, and it doesn't come easy. Someone must open the door, and we must be ready, willing and able to go through it. My students are doing it and finding much success networking and finding others who are, too.

They are also following my other advice, which is "work hard and play hard." They found time to hang out at the beach, and I'm happy they did. For now, I'll wait for the next email asking for advice, telling a new tale of the famous person they met or just one saying thank you. I'll be happy to get any one.