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.

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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.

Should I pursue credit for my internship?

By Janessa Hageman, PRSSA member

With summer internship start dates quickly approaching, it is important to know what options are available for receiving credit for your hard work.

The University of Iowa has two forms of recognizing internships. A student can either receive class credit or choose the zero-credit option.

There are several factors to look into when trying to decide.

“At this university, most students chose zero-credit hours and transcript notation,” said Amy A’Hearn, a career advisor on campus. That, however, does not mean that it may be the right option for you, she said.

When trying to decide, you first want to ask yourself a couple of questions:

1)    What semester will your internship take place?

2)    What does your degree audit look like? Do you need credits to help you graduate on time?

3)    Does your internship require that you receive academic credit?

4)    What is your financial situation?

Benefits of academic credit for an internship:

  • You receive academic credit at the same time as gaining professional experience
  •  Receiving credit, perhaps in the summer time, can allow you a chance to take an extra class during the regular school year or help you graduate on time
  • Some internships require it for insurance reasons

How do I receive credit for an internship?

  • You need to set up a meeting with your academic advisor to get the internship approved
  • Look at the J-School’s website (http://clas.uiowa.edu/sjmc) under the Undergraduate Programs tab and click on Internships & Job Placement to learn how many credit hours you can receive for your work
  • If you are not a journalism major, make sure to check with that department’s policies
  •  Depending on your academic advisor, you may have to follow up about the experience or write a paper after you’re done with the internship

Benefits of the zero-credit option:

  •  No tuition costs for the internship
  • The internship gets listed on your transcript, just like it would if you decided to receive credit for it

How do I apply for the zero-credit option and transcript notation?

  • You need to register the internship through HireAHawk.com. If you have never used it before, you will want to contact the Career Center (319-335-1023 or http://www.careers.uiowa.edu)
  • The internship experience must be at 10 hours a week and occupy at least one academic term (fall, spring or summer)
  • The internship must last 10 weeks if during the school year or 8 weeks in the summer
  • You will have to fill out evaluations of your internship experience midway and at the end

Follow Janessa on Twitter @janessahageman

Tips to Help Land an Internship

By Colleen Kennedy, Inspire PR Co-Director

When I started looking for a public relations internship my junior year, I was completely clueless. I had taken PR classes and worked at a newspaper, so I thought it would be easy—all I had to do was send my resume to companies.

After talking to a family friend who worked in public relations, I realized some major flaws in my application process. One year and two internships later, here are some lessons I’ve learned:

• Every company should NOT be treated equally—When I first began applying, I sent the same resume and cover letter to every company. It’s easy to panic about finding an internship and start sending your resume to anyone and everyone. But the best applications are tailored to the company, and clearly demonstrate why you would be a good fit for the specific company.

• Never underestimate the power of personal contacts—As a graduating senior this year, I knew I wanted to work for a public relations agency in Chicago. To begin, I asked all my family and friends if they knew anyone in the industry. Surprisingly, I gained quite a few contacts at PR agencies this way. Reach out to your personal network to start, and you can gain connections and mentors who have experience in your desired career.

Connections on LinkedIn are your connections to a job—LinkedIn is a great job and internship searching tool because you can search for your universities’ alumni at a companies. By finding alum, you instantly have something in common from the start. Focus on companies you would love to work for, and ask alumni why they like working there, and how they got their current job.

Twitter isn’t just for posting what you ate for breakfast—When I first joined Twitter, I didn’t really see the point. Over a year later, I see the benefits of posting and following. Twitter is a great resource during your internship search. Many large companies or agencies will tweet about internship openings or upcoming deadlines. Also follow young professional networks, PRSSA and PRSA Chapters in your area, as they will also share information about internships, as well as career advice. There are many PR themed Twitter accounts that tweet job openings and relevant information and articles. Tweeting professionally is also always good to practice, you never know if the companies you are interviewing with might check your Twitter account.

Follow Colleen on Twitter: @colleenrkennedy

Seem Smarter on an Interview

By Alex Zaprdusky, PRSSA Communications Director

Ragan’s PR Daily recently posted a blog about the top ten tips for landing a dream PR job.  That list can be found here: http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/10723.aspx.  I agree with all of the items on that list, follow them.

The items Ragan’s PR Daily prescribed inspired me to create a list of: “Colloquialisms and Commonly Mispronounced Words to Avoid to Seem Smarter at an Interview!*” 

  •  Anyways: Drop the S!  “Anyways” is an incorrect Midwestern colloquialism.
  • Supposably/Supposively: Neither of those are words.  If you want to refer to something that is generally assumed, the word is supposedly (with a D).
  • Can-uh-date: If you are competing for a position you want to tell your employer that you are the best Can-da-date (candidate) for the job.
  • Ath-a-leet: If you plan to work in the sports industry, you are promoting ath-leets (athletes).
  • Off-ten: If something happens frequently, it happens “off-en” (often).

*Some of these were incorporated from: http://www.primermagazine.com/2008/learn/10-words-you-mispronounce-that-make-people-think-youre-an-idiot

Seven Things to Do Over Winter Break

In 2009, the Iowa PRSSA blog posted Seven Things to Do Over Thanksgiving Break. Here is the 2011 version, Part II (only for winter break).

  1. Start or update your LinkedIn account with your most current projects, skills, etc., that you gained throughout the fall semester
  2. Check out job/internship postings on HireaHawk/National PRSSA website
  3. Read and Write — Write a blog post for PRSSA, update your own blog/website, read a book, or do all three! Reading helps make better writers, and writing is important in PR!
  4. Catch up on current PR industry trends/hot topics
  5. Update your resume/write a cover letter
  6. Clean up your social media accounts
  7.  Take someone in your network out to coffee or reach out to someone new and take them out to coffee — They can give you new tips and tricks, and may help you out in the future!

The National PRSSA Blog created their own list of Six Ways to Get Ahead of the Game During Winter Break, and there is a lot of overlap. But there are different tips too, so check it out the link above. Take advantage of the class-free, homework-free time to work on your professional self!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from Iowa PRSSA!

Note from Editor Amy Tiffany —I promise to keep the blog more up-to-date second semester. It was a HECTIC end of the fall semester. We have a lot going on the second half of the year, so there will be something for everyone!

5 Traits Every PR Professional Should Have

By Kristina Gonzalez

Knowing the characteristics and persona of a PR expert is one of the first steps in developing yourself as a future public relations practitioner in the “real world.”

Do you have what it takes to succeed in the world of public relations and communications?  Well, after reading what seems like a million articles on this topic, here are 5 traits every PR professional should have!

  1. Be tech-savvy. Social Media. Social Media. Social Media. Use it. Learn it. Master it. A person interested in PR can use social media to their advantage not only to market himself or herself, but also to show it off as a strength to potential employers. Check out this video to see how important social media is today!  
  2. Be a strong communicator. Be able to communicate clearly in writing and verbally. Not only that, but be a good listener. With any job in PR/Communications fields, you have to always be listening to clients, your boss, co-workers, and many more. Listening (as well as research and reading) can also help you catch onto new industry trends.
  3. With that being said, one must be “the anticipator”. This means — be flexible and creative. Things can change quickly, and you will have to think fast and use your creativity at all times, especially since nothing ever goes as planned. Always bring new ideas to the table. And always remember that nothing is set in stone. If I want to be cliché… “You gotta go with the flow.”
  4. Be self-disciplined.  Someone who is self-disciplined knows how to be timely, always meets deadlines, is goal oriented, and doesn’t sit around waiting for someone to tell them what to do. They are go-getters. In the PR world, this is necessary.
  5. Be someone that values relationships.  Networking is one of the most important aspects to finding a job or internship in public relations. This includes being a “people person.” Although the Internet and social media are great tools, face-to-face is always best. “Shmooze” — it’s always helpful to have someone you can contact for connections, which may help you land that internship or job.

AP Style Quick Tips

By Katelyn McBride

As newsletter editor of PRSSA, I’ve had the opportunity to improve my own writing skills through reading and editing  many other people’s work.  Although I am not an expert in AP or English grammar, (and have the worst spelling of anyone I know), there are a few common AP errors that I’ve noticed and want to address.

The Associated Press (AP) stylebook is like my bible. Knowledge of AP style is important for journalists and PR practitioners, which is why familiarity with this guide is critical! Here are some tips:

1. Lists: Place commas between list items, but do not place a comma before the last conjunction (and, or) if the series is made up of simple items.

Simple: Was the culprit Jack, Chuck, Dan or Nate?

Complex: Please fetch me the coffee cup on the counter, my notebook on the table, and  that piece of paper on the floor.


2. Academic majors: These are NOT capitalized unless it is a language.  I am majoring in journalism and Spanish. (In general, I see a lot of overcapitalization.)

3. Titles (of people): Don’t capitalize if it stands alone or isn’t directly before a name.

Example: Talk to Megan McIntyre, the PRSSA president.

Example: Talk to PRSSA President Megan McIntyre.

4. Titles (of things): Know the name of your own institution, and anything else important. You attend The University of Iowa, not the University of Iowa.  Respect a company’s choice of how it capitalizes or punctuates its name. Check the Web site!

Fleishman Hillard (or) Fleishman-Hillard

Stuff Etc. (or) Stuff Etc

Better Homes & Gardens (or) Better Homes and Gardens

*Hint: the second choice is right for all of these!

5. Cities/States: Let’s take California for example… CA is only an abbreviation when it’s a mailing address. If you are from San Diego, in the text it should read,

Blair is originally from San Diego, Calif., but now lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.

State abbreviations are something you probably need to refer to the AP stylebook for, unless you have a really good memory. (Oh, and there are eight states that are not abbreviated in text; Iowa is one of them!)

Hopefully you learned something about AP through these few tips, but remember to keep your stylebook handy in case you ever have a doubt on how to style something.

The PAR Story

By Kelsey Thortsen – Finance Director

This summer, I am doing an internship in Paris through a program with the UI. As part of my preparation, I am enrolled in a seminar where we learn how to make the most out of our global internships. This past week, I learned a strategy that I found particularly helpful and thought I would share it with my fellow PRSSAers. It is called the PAR story: P-Problem A-Actions R-Results. Using this strategy will help you develop impressive resume bullets and interview stories.

First, you want to start out by describing a problem you were faced with in your internship or job. Next, write out the actions you took to handle this problem and the results the company or firm received from your actions. This first part should be done in paragraph format, and you want to make sure you spend the most amount of time describing the actions and results (employers are most impressed by these). Once you have written your PAR story, try to identify the skills or characteristics you demonstrated with this story (leadership, problem solving, negotiating, initiative, creativity, etc.). As you go through your internship, try to write out a PAR story for every accomplishment you make; do NOT wait until the end of the internship, because you will undoubtedly forget some of your accomplishments.

Next, pick out the PAR stories that you find resume worthy and organize them into a bullet point. Remember to start with the problem you faced, then move on to the actions you took and end with the results you created.

Lastly, dissect your PAR story by bulleting the main points in a logical order. Remember to have a balance of the P, A and R parts. This last part will help you in interviews. When an interviewer asks you to tell them about a time you demonstrated leadership, you will already have a story ready. Think back to a PAR story that you identified as demonstrating your leadership and tell the story using the bullet points you created in this last step. A lot of times, students tend to be all over the place when telling their stories; using the PAR story strategy will make your answers much more decipherable and will impress the interviewers, making you a more desirable candidate for the job.

That’s all there is to the PAR story strategy. It will help you create bullets that make your resume stand out and prepare you for difficult interview questions. If you don’t want to put the effort into doing it for all your accomplishments in an internship, at least try it out for one story. Good Luck!