The Art of Branding

by: Mackenzie Dankle

Jim ThebeauWhat is a brand? On September 25th, Jim Thebeau, CEO of the Iowa Advertising firm HenryRussellBruce, gives an insightful presentation to the Iowa PRSSA chapter members on “The Art of Branding,” and why it is fundamental to both company and personal success.

Thebeau describes a brand as “a gut feeling you have about a product, service, or organization.”  Essentially, a brand represents an image or perception that a person has of a company. Thebeau goes on to say that, most importantly, a brand represents “the level of trust, the emotional connection that a customer has with a product.” What makes consumers choose Nikon over the many other camera brands? Thebeau would say it is the level of trust and familiarity that customers have with Nikon–customers base their decisions on previously established reliability.

So, why is branding important? Thebeau explains that in today’s society, there are “too many choices, too little time.” Consumers need persuasion when it comes to choosing a product, and branding is a strategy that, if successful, will “get more people to buy for more years at a higher price.” Branding helps companies build not only trust, but also profits.

Not only do consumers have a wide range of options to choose from, but “most offerings have similar qualities/features.” Theabeau stresses the most important factor in differentiating your brand–FOCUS. The “Focus Test” involves three questions to consider:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why does it matter?

Companies and professionals who devote themselves to enhancing their brand to serve the customer will ultimately find success.

Thebeau concludes with three steps to successful branding:

  1. Find out what differentiates you
  2. Make that a promise to customers
  3.  Keep that promise!

“We’re hardwired to notice only what’s different,” said Thebeau. What makes you different?

Public Relations in Times of Crisis

By: Tom Donda

April has been a month of tragedy for many living in the United States and around the world. Crisis situations like those of the Boston Marathon bombing, fertilizer plant explosion in Waco, Texas, and earthquake in the Sichaun province of China are typically followed by a social media frenzy, as citizens take to the Internet for answers in a time of confusion.

Social media can be a blessing in times of crisis by providing a constant stream of news updates, photos, and videos. However, social media leads to rumors. Recently, an online witch hunt on Reddit, a popular user-generated content site, lead to the misidentification of an innocent Brown University student as the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing.  Leaked information included a photo of the student, his name, and age. These rumors, especially in crisis situations, can have detrimental consequences on innocent people who can be wrongfully accused of atrocious actions. Individuals, and especially brands, have a responsibility to use credible and objective information during a crisis to prevent rumors from disseminating through social media.

Scott Monty, social media chief at Ford, tweeted similar advice stating, “If you manage social media for a brand, this would be a good time to suspend any additional posts for the day.” However, some companies took to Twitter to pay respect to the victims. Men’s Health Magazine tweeted, “Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone at the #Boston Marathon right now. #PrayForBoston.” These conflicting strategies for crisis management make responding ethically and effectively difficult for public relations professionals.

Gil Rudawsky, senior director of communications at GroundFloor Media in Denver, offers eight guidelines PR professionals should keep during a crisis:

  1. A PR professional’s initial response should be for the victims and their families in a time of crisis. It is important to always know your audience, especially in times of tragedy.
  2. Acknowledge social media as a source of news. However, it is up to the PR professional to decipher credible information from unreliable content.
  3. Maintain professionalism while dealing with the media and the community, but don’t be hesitant to show emotions at times when compassion is needed.
  4. Keep in mind that the news coverage will cease, however, the mourning of victims and their families will continue for years.
  5. Work closely with law enforcement. In times of legal uncertainty it is best to use a consistent voice from the top of the hierarchical pyramid.
  6. Prevent leakage in sources. This will help the news media use consistent confidants.
  7. Don’t hesitate to say ‘we don’t know.’ Giving false information to stay relevant and up-to-date is not worth jeopardizing journalistic integrity and the investigation at hand.
  8. Provide a strict briefing schedule. This will keep information consistent, building confidence in one’s brand.

Social media can be a PR professional’s main tool in the earliest stages of a crisis, disseminating information to consumers as quickly as possible.  However, social media has been found to spread inaccurate information, leading news media to report false information about the Boston Bombing suspects.  It’s clear how these tools can further complicate times of crisis. The key is to stay objective while disseminating relevant information to the public in a sensible and respectful manner. It will be interesting to see how future crises impact the role of social media in the PR sector and whether a strict
industry protocol is needed for online etiquette during such times.

Quick Connect: A Speed Networking Event

By Eden Youngberg

Dressed in professional attire, business cards in hand and ready to network at the blow of a whistle, journalism students and an assortment of local professionals gathered in the Adler Journalism Building Rotunda for what looked like speed dating.

Although snow flurries and extreme winds were working against the success of the event, turnout was the largest since the event launched in October 2010.

SpeedNetworking1As the professionals stood in the center of the circle, the students stood around them, delivering their elevator pitches and sturdiest handshakes. Each student had exactly 3 minutes with roughly 15 professionals for the first 45 minutes of the event. At the blow of a whistle by Paul Jensen, internship and job placement coordinator at the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the students knew their 3 minutes were up and it was time to move on to the next professional. During the last 45 minutes, students were able to approach the professionals they had not talked to in the first part, or someone they had researched and were interested in pursuing.

Professionals such as Mike Wagner from KCRG, Zack Kucharski from the Gazette, Morgan Hawk with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, Jilian Petrus from Frank N. Magid Associates, and many others traveled to Adler to offer students insight and possible job or internship opportunities.

Annie Korkowski, a sophomore journalism major hoping to enter the public relations industry, was very pleased with the event. “The networking event was a great experience, providing a wonderful network of professionals and lasting conversations,” Korkowski said.

From the perspective of the event planner, I was nervous when the day of the event arrived and a handful of professionals dropped out due to weather, illness, or family emergencies. As I was searching my brain for replacements, I realized I had originally recruited extra professionals, in case of incidents like these. Willing professors such as David Dowling and Jane Singer were ready to step in to promote their classes and offer their previous industry experience . In the end, the Adler rotunda was filled with eager students and professionals, cheerful, conversations and lasting connections, regardless of the minor setback.


Some professionals were ready to grab up an intern from the pool of participants, as soon as they were willing.  Anna Patty from Four Oaks was looking for an intern as soon as possible: any student who was willing to work with a non-profit in the PR industry. David Gamradt and Nicholas Tomlonovic were working together to gather a team of students who could help them expand UITV to The Hawkeye Network.

Other professionals were there simply for their valuable insight and experience such as Beth Marsoun, News Director at KWQC Channel 6 and Aaron Bahls, Senior Recruiter at RuffaloCODY.

Although not every professional had jobs or internships to hand out to students, students were able to take advantage of the fact that they were building their network. After all, it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.

Entertainment PR– Lessons from Hollywood

By: Alyssa Schaefer

I know a lot of young professionals attempting to break into public relations are eager to get their foot into the entertainment industry door.

Who can blame them? We live in a modern society that is fiercely driven by pop culture. The entertainment industry seems to possess a mysterious power to become disturbingly addicting. Consumers can’t get enough, and producers seem to be finding endless dynamics to formulate the next break-out sensation.

However, it is important not to be fooled by the shimmering streets of Hollywood. Behind this industry is a whole army of people working against impossible standards in order to ensure the success of their childhood dreams.

You may find it helpful to get some background knowledge of the industry, and what sort of world you would be dealing with if you choose to pursue a career in entertainment PR, or just the field of entertainment in general.

This article is based on knowledge I’ve gained from my internship this summer at a talent agency – and also knowledge that I’ve picked up through the clients at the agency (since we all know that listening to the customer is the #1 rule these days).

  • It is important to have a good background or understanding of the talent you choose to represent. This could be closely identified with “product knowledge.” Knowledge of the product you’re selling is vital in any business scenario; the same is true in the entertainment industry. One should be able to recognize “good” talent when he or she sees it. The clients you represent want to know that you know what you’re talking about. Experience is key; build trust with your client by showing consideration for the product you both will be selling.
  • A talent agent will spend a good amount of time networking with directors, photographers, choreographers, and other clients. It is absolutely essential that a talent agent possess great communication skills. Both the client and the talent agent will benefit from being extremely organized. The entertainment industry waits for no one. At times, auditions come up with little to no prior indication. It is of utmost importance that the talent agent stays on top of his or her “game” 100 percent of the time.
  • Branding. Classifying one’s projected market is of course imperative in the success of the agency, and therefore the client. “How does this particular client want to be branded in the market he or she is aiming for?” Breakdowns – a list of requirements that casting is looking for – usually specify characteristics they desire in a talent. Knowing which characteristics are associated with each client allows you to pull the most equipped clientele for each specific audition. Every single client is unique, we must remember that we are dealing with the “public”; no one client will ever be the same. By branding your clientele, it not only shows great transparency and personal attention, it ensures a clear and projective path to success.

There are obviously many more qualities vital to success in the industry. These are simply the core values and ideas that I’ve taken away from my summer in the land of the rich and famous. I personally enjoy this fast-paced, “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” environment. However, those who are looking for a nurturing, routine-based work life should perhaps be advised to explore some different options!

Touring Flynn Wright

The public relations team of Flynn Wright shares their knowledge with PRSSA

By: Alexandria Cimino 

Upon entering the office of Flynn Wright in Des Moines, it became quickly apparent how creative and innovative their work environment is.  With a variety of open seating areas in the middle of the room, a ceiling of color-changing LED lights, and a spectacular view of the sculpture garden and downtown scenery across the way, the space looked like more of a contemporary hang-out than an office.

The modern atmosphere of the office made this visit memorable, but the bubbly and dynamic personalities of their public relations team made it unforgettable.  Kiersten Maertens, Andrea Breen, and Mara White began by giving us a tour of the office and explaining a little about what they do.  Flynn Wright integrates public relations, advertising, brand management, and research and thus offers a full-service approach to marketing.  Some of their best-known clients include Mediacom, Dahl’s, and Josephs Jewelers.

Flynn Wright believes that it is crucial to operate in a collaborative work environment, and prides itself on its teamwork.  With open desks and office space, along with areas for spontaneous team meetings, employees are able to easily peak over the shoulders of others and see what they’re working on.  This dynamic work environment allows ideas to be thrown around and creativity to thrive.

Once we finished touring the office, the PR team discussed more about the company’s work and what they have learned throughout their time in the industry.  Research plays a huge role at Flynn Wright, and the team explained to us how crucial strategy and planning are before execution can even be thought of.  The company works with the Des Moines Harvest Research Center, a state-of-the-art research facility that uses well-established quantitative and qualitative methods. White also explained that every person in the company is part of the pieces that build the team.  She said that their company is a true mix of what each person brings to the table, and that individual strengths get noticed and depended on.

The ladies of the PR team gave us some helpful, and humorous, advice for seeking a job or an internship in the future.  White stressed the importance of having a polished resume, and that grammatical errors were never acceptable.  She even graciously offered to look over our resumes and give feedback if we wished.

Before we left, White summed up her take on this line of work in just one sentence.

“It is important to know a little bit about a lot of things, rather than to know a lot about only one thing.”

Touring Two Rivers Marketing

The Two Rivers Marketing Office

The Two Rivers Marketing office is a converted warehouse, providing a unique flavor to their workspace.

By: Erica Sturwold

Walking into Two Rivers Marketing I couldn’t deny my level of surprise—pleasant surprise. I had a general idea of the type of clients they represent (mainly those of industrial, manufacturing nature) but was not expecting to walk into a beautifully modernized office-warehouse, full of young 20-somethings, both male, and female, all of whom are trained to represent welding, electric and industrial equipment companies.

Even more surprising? The grassroots-tactics these young professionals were utilizing to represent and reinforce their clients’ brands.

One of our presenters, Erica Turner, a public relations associate for the company, mainly manages their Bobcat and Miller Electric clients. For these clients, Turner described how she strengthened brands by targeting thought leaders in the industry; learning, and training others on how to use the client’s products (i.e. welding equipment, construction machinery). It seems Turner also  shoots video for online content, to of course, inspire the company’s DIY audiences, and creates positive content and conversation on social media daily.

Though strongly invested in creating online content, Turner did mention something more expansive and encouraging about the marketing approaches Two Rivers is implementing, , “Social media is just one strategy of many, if you’re going to use it, it need to be goal-oriented,” she said.

This belief shows that while the company is trying out new online-promotion tactics, they recognize there are still many other marketing channels worth utilizing, such as video, direct mail, earned-media, corporate partnerships, etc.

But something Turner, and our other presenters never thought they’d be fielding, is questions from their clients’ customers on how to properly use power tools; they found it’s somewhat of a necessity when it comes to properly connecting with their audiences. Although, just as all our presenters felt, you’d never imagine a 25-year-old-blonde-girl is on the receiving end of the Bobcat Facebook page.

It appears Two Rivers is keeping up with marketing research trends. They described some of their work creating competitive analyses’ and tracking online impressions for clients, which also added an appealing dynamic to the company.

Overall, I think our chapter was, as said, pleasantly surprised by this industrial-marketing company; it is obvious they are staying up-to-date in their branding techniques and I was pleased to see it wasn’t at all an office full of men, practicing conservative advertising techniques for leaders in the Ag and construction industries; definitely not, Two Rivers is too progressive and grass-roots-savvy for that.

A Digital Landscape

By: Rob Johnson

“Eventually it won’t be called social media; it’ll just be media.”
-Anthony de Rosa, Social Media Editor, Reuters

Writer, Rob JohnsonThe growth of social media has forced public relations agencies to expand their digital capabilities and rethink traditional channels. Customers are able to directly communicate with brands and companies to share their experiences – the good and the bad. Traditional public relations tactics, such as press releases and promotions may not be effective if a negative sentiment has been created online.

Consumers now share their opinions on review websites, tweet about brands or even add Facebook status updates about an experience with your brand or a product they bought from your website.

With the expansion of Facebook for Business, the growth of mobile and tablet devices, and the proliferation of apps, any company, no matter the industry or size, can promote and enhance their brand. A 2010 study found that four out of five companies are now active on at least one social media platform and 25% of those firms are on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a blog. ­

Young professionals are finding that many of the jobs available for graduates with a back ground in journalism and communications now involve using social media and digital applications. To be competitive in this industry, it is no longer enough to just be active on social media and manage a personal account. While a familiarity with online networks is an advantage that young adults have over older generations, an understanding of the marketing and public relations components is just as important.

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication has expanded its courses to include Applied Digital and Social Media and Social Media Today. These classes are designed to teach students the tools needed to manage social media communities and generate engaging content.

Internships can be an invaluable opportunity to learn digital practices in a controlled environment and give students a foot in the door for employment after graduation. Professional organizations such as PRSSA and Students in Advertising can provide resources through alumni networks and connect students to employers. Locally, firms such as Sculpt and Brand Driven Digital provide internships for budding digital practitioners.

Many businesses in Iowa City do not have the resources or capabilities to effectively maintain their digital presence. This provides young professionals the opportunity to manage their social media accounts to develop their skills and learn outside an academic setting. Additional resources such as Mashable, ClickZ, and Facebook Marketing can provide insight and industry news that can further develop ones skills.

The Problem with Retweeting

By: Mark Hollander

Writer, Mark HollanderNew media has advanced the world of journalism immensely, and social media has made the spread of information far more efficient.

Mainstream news outlets have established large followings on sites like Twitter or Facebook, and even journalists themselves have amassed thousands of followers.

While social media makes disseminating the news easier, it can also create problems. One sticky spot for journalists is the practice of retweeting current events as a way of informing their followers of the news. Retweeting on Twitter is when a user forwards the tweet of someone they follow, so that his or her followers can read what another account has previously posted.

While this makes “spreading the word” very easy, it can sometimes be misinterpreted as an action of endorsement rather than one of neutrality.

For instance, in the recent election, if a candidate were to have said something along the lines of, “I will lower taxes for the middle class” and a journalist retweeted this statement, Twitter followers may have assumed the journalist supports that candidate, when in reality they may just have intended on informing Americans. This confusion could potentially result in people thinking that a journalist is expressing biased news to the public, when that may not be his or her intention.

As many bloggers have suggested, adding a disclaimer to a Twitter bio is a popular solution, yet this isn’t enough to solve this dilemma. Often, Twitter users don’t check journalists’ bios, nor does a disclaimer clarify if the journalist endorses the particular statement or not. So how can journalists address this problem while still being able to take advantage of Twitter’s features?

Rather than shying away from retweeting altogether, journalists should either solely retweet neutral posts or add their own opinions to each one by editing a retweeted post before sharing it. Sticking with the previous example, if a given journalist wanted to share the candidate’s post about lowering taxes, he or she could say something like, “I don’t think this will work”, or “This is a great policy”, and then continue with the retweeted statement. Furthermore, an edited retweet will be presented with the profile picture of the person who retweeted the statement, whereas a simple retweet is the original Twitter account’s picture – this fact could complicate things as well, so editing retweets can be beneficial in this way additionally.

The important idea to take away from this problem is that journalists should never shy away from spreading important news to their followers. While many times people may misconstrue a retweet and assume that someone is endorsing a statement, there are ways of preventing this. In addition, we can all learn from the mistakes of others and be sure to give the benefit of the doubt to people on our own Twitter feeds as well.

Now Available: FOCUS Fall 2012

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FOCUS Fall 2012, Click to Download

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After an entire semester of writing, editing and designing, PRSSA’s James F. Fox Chapter is ready to release its semiannual newsletter for Fall 2012.  Inside, you will find useful information about the public relations industry, career advice, PR tips and tricks, and much more.

Much of the content that makes up this issue of FOCUS has never been released before.  We hope you will find it entertaining, instructive and captivating.  It has been our pleasure to prepare this issue and help develop the next generation of public relations professionals.

Ricky Brandt, FOCUS Editor

Special Thanks to our FOCUS Writers and Editors:

Erica Sturwold
Mark Hollander
Rachel Hewitt
Regina Volk
Adam Gromotka
Rob Johnson
Kristie Chipera
Alyssa Schaefer

Alexandria Cimino
Megan Yoder
Emily Messerly (Promotions)
Ricky Brandt (FOCUS Editor)
Peyta Eckler (Editor, Advisor)
Barb Kamer (Editor, Advisor)

The Power of Storytelling

By Rick Brandt, FOCUS Editor
Follow @RickBrandt18 on Twitter

Brian’s daughter, Brianna, was diagnosed with cancer at a young age.  Today, Brianna is cancer free and attending middle school, thanks to research funded by the American Cancer Society.  Her story is one of many providing hope in the struggle against cancer, but soon it will serve to help thousands more.

Later this year, Kathy Holdefer of the American Cancer Society will share Brianna’s story on the counter of every location of a major gas station chain in the Midwest using one of the public relations industry’s most powerful tactics – storytelling.

At a University of Iowa Public Relations Student Society of America meeting on January 30, Holdefer explained the importance of this gas station signing on to the American Cancer Society’s Charity of Choice campaign.

“If they said yes to us, we might be their charity of choice for a whole quarter and they usually have people donate between $115,000 to $180,000 during one of these promotions,” said Holdefer.  “We would like to have that money to continue to do the great work that we can do… we needed to knock their socks off.”

Representatives of the American Cancer Society proposed their storytelling campaign to 15 employees of this gas station chain.  Two variations of donation boxes would be placed in stores, each with a photograph and a quote representing the story of the person on the box.

Each variation of the box corresponds to a different component of the American Cancer Society’s boilerplate: “We save lives and create more birthdays by helping you stay well, helping you get well, finding cures, and by fighting back.”

Brianna’s story is all about finding cures.

While such a campaign can surely tug at the emotions of many potential donors, I asked Holdefer how she hopes to convey the full story of Brian’s daughter in just a few words and a picture.  What I didn’t realize was that telling the whole story was never the goal.

Holdefer explained that by framing the theme of each box around one relatable person, the campaign let people fill in what’s missing with their own experiences.

In other words, it does not matter if the audience knows the specifics of a subject’s story.  What matters is that each box reminds them that the American Cancer Society still has work to be done and these donations can help save countless lives.

Of course, when non-profit organizations such as the American Cancer Society engage in promotional work such as this, the Corporate Charity of Choice campaign does more than just raise money, it advertises their services.

“We consider the stories that will be on the donation buckets as ‘advertisements’ that let people know what we do, and then they can either support us or ask us to support them,” Holdefer said.

When customers see the story, they also see the call to action encouraging the audience to call their National Cancer Information Center or visit their website to make donations or get information.

The donation box for Steve, who received a routine colonoscopy, best exemplifies the effects that storytelling can have on a group of people.

When the American Cancer Society’s message influenced Steve to go through with his colonoscopy, doctors removed three polyps and a section of his colon to protect him from cancer.  Three of his friends followed his example and were also saved from cancer’s grasp.

“Here’s a story about a guy who hears a message from the American Cancer Society, gets his screening, and shares his story,” said Holdefer. “Look at all the lives saved, look at all the cancers that were avoided.”

And ultimately, that’s the goal of each campaign Holdefer works on ­­ ­– to save lives.