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.

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.”

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)

If You Build It

By: Regina Volk

Tadros at his office in Chicago

“If you don’t love what you’re doing, you are wasting your time.” This was the message of founder and CEO Phillip Tadros of DoeJo Design and Consulting Firm to all PRSSA members at their chapter meeting on October 24, 2012.

Tadros is a successful entrepreneur, CEO, and recipient of the 2012 Moxie award for best digital agency in the Chicago area. DoeJo does anything from brand development to sales and marketing to social media campaigns to video and photography and much more for all their clients.

While in college, Tadros realized that a degree wouldn’t get him where he wanted in life, so at age 19 he dropped out. He knew his vision was to open a bar or club, but being under the age of  21 made that impossible. Instead, Tadros opened up a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. Though the business didn’t ever turn much of a profit, he said he had a blast running it and was eventually able to sell it for a profit.

Tadros really pushed the idea to PRSSA members that opening up your own PR agency isn’t only possible, but should be aimed for as an ultimate goal. He asked PRSSA members to raise their hands if they wanted to open their own firm someday and only one person raised her hand.

“I had never really thought about opening up my own public relations agency someday until he made it sound like that should be our ultimate goal. He made it sound so easy. It may be something I’ll consider in the future,” senior Sarah Larson said.

After opening a music venue, Tadros started working in web design—and it began from there. Tadros has never had to advertise his business; it has always gained clients by word of mouth. DoeJo has had many successful clients such as New World Ventures, Groupon, Sandbox Agencies, Umbra and many more. They have also had 12 bumps on Adult Swim Network; all clients who went and found his business.

They never had to hire anybody special for media or public relations because they found that the trick is to document everything that they did, and the work will speak for itself. “We are really good at media and public relations. It isn’t something we just learned how to do, it was how we documented things and how to maintain relationships we have built,” said Tadros.

He also voiced his opinion on all sorts of clients that well have to work with throughout our  professional lives . He spoke on the importance of client-business relationships.  He spoke of having clients that you either mesh with or you don’t. He said that you can’t force a relationship, and sometimes as a business owner, he has had to ‘fire’ a client. This is something that business owners should never worry about doing.  Tadros explained that some things just don’t work and sometimes when you let something go, something even better will come along. It’s all about balancing what works and what doesn’t.

As CEO of Chicago’s digital media agency of the year, what kind of advice did Phillip Tadros leave us with?

“Figure out where you want to work. Got it? Go there and get a job. It’s as simple as that.”

Spotlight: Inspire’s Regina Volk

By: Ellen Havey

With a knack for persuasion and great communication skills, Regina Volk is meant for public relations.

While working 25 hours a week driving a Cambus and participating in the University Dance Club, Volk is also the account executive for two Inspire Public Relations accounts.

Volk is currently the account executive for SureSteps and the Cambus 40 Year Reunion. She says the hardest part of being on two accounts is dividing up the time equally during meetings. The diversity between the two accounts provides challenges as well.

“SureSteps is raising PR for a new company and getting it off the ground, while the Cambus 40 year reunion is completely new and entails a lot of brainstorming and research,” Volk said.

Despite Volk’s dedication to her PR work, she didn’t always have a passion for the profession.

“I had an Internet marketing internship prior to college, but once I got here I realized I didn’t have a connection with the business school. I decided to focus on a strength I already had – communication,” she said.

Volk continues to grow her experience in PR outside of Inspire as well.  Her dad is running for the Iowa State Senate, and she is serving as the Communications Director and Public Relations Specialist for his campaign.

Volk has been a PRSSA member since August of 2011 and is currently a junior studying Communication Studies with a minor in English. She enjoys the hands-on practice she receives from PRSSA and Inspire.

Volk also stressed the importance of getting involved to gain real experience. She encouraged students to be ambitious and to jump into any activity possible in the PR field.

“It’s all about getting the experience that helps you jump up the ladder of publics relations,” she said.

Volk’s advice for other students pursuing PR is to get over the fear of meeting new people. If you feel comfortable, so will your client.

Selling Summer Movies

By Sarah Larson

Superheroes and irreverent comedies seem to be dominating the multiplex this summer. Every weekend a major film is released with hopes of box office success. As a cinema major interested in public relations, I wondered what these films do to stand out against the competition. Here is what I found…

Films are marketed by what are known as distribution companies. These companies distribute the film to theaters and also dispense marketing materials to advertise the film.

A big part of a firm’s marketing occurs when the company identifies the genre. This genre will determine how the film is packaged when appealing to various audiences. You wouldn’t want to go see The Expendables 2 expecting a romantic comedy and likewise this would not be a profitable tool for the company. This is not to say that some films don’t play on this notion of genre for comedic gains. The restricted trailer for Ted, an upcoming comedy about a foul-mouthed teddy bear, began by making fun of romantic comedies.

In a season full of sequels and long running franchises, it can be hard to make a new film stand out. The Avengers owes a lot of its success to the origin story films of some of its main characters. Likewise The Dark Knight Rises is a highly anticipated film and the end to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. So how does a movie stand out against all these superhero juggernauts?

Great trailers. Trailers are the reasons people decide to go to a particular film over another. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had an amazing trailer that Hollywood buzzed about and likewise grossed close to $233 million worldwide according to

Here are two films I’m looking forward to seeing this summer because of stand out trailers. Note the different devices companies use to differentiate between genres. For example, the science fiction film Prometheus uses dramatic music and quick cuts of alien planets to draw viewers while the That’s My Boy comedy shows quick clips of partying and funny scenes.

As you can see, when trying to sell a product that costs millions to make, every detail of its marketing plan is going to be thought out. This is the case for films in an extremely high stakes industry.

Readability: Deliver a Clearer Message


Readability Statistics for this Post

By Ricky Brandt

In the public relations industry, we’re always trying to target our message—which necessarily implies that some messages will be written with complex wording, while others will have a very laid back feel.  Sometimes our writing requires the use of sophisticated vocabulary, while others should be as simple as possible.  In 1948, Rudolph Flesch developed the Flesch Reading Ease Scale, which made it possible for writers to take an objective look at their writing and judge its complexity.  The U.S. Navy has been using it since 1975 to deliver clearer written commands.  Further research created the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Scale, which allows writers to see the grade level that corresponds with their Reading Ease score.  Today, these scales have even been integrated into Microsoft Word, which is why I am only focusing on these measures as opposed to other readability tests.  These measurement systems can be invaluable to PR professionals, but, like all things, they have their flaws.


The Math Behind Readability

While we could brainstorm a number of objective measures related to words or sentence structure, when it comes to readability, less is more.  Instead of laboriously calculating a number of statistics, Flesch only measures the average sentence length (ASL) and average number of syllables per word (ASW).  The formula will give you a score from 0 to 100.  One hundred is considered to be very easy, while zero is very complex.  Anything from 60-70 is written in “plain English.”  Most college students are expected to read below 40.


Making Readability Work For You

Measuring readability is not a replacement for abiding to important writing conventions.  Therefore, you should only use it in combination with your other proof reading tactics, for feedback, and to track your progress.  For example, the Flesch scale can be a great way to measure if your writing is getting way over the head of your intended audience, or is coming off more simplistic than you intended.  Imagine writing a business letter that scored 26, or a Facebook description that scored an 83!  No one would take you seriously because your writing would not be appropriate to the medium.  Facebook posts should be easier to understand than business letters, because they are read differently.  Additionally, using readability scores to measure your writing will show your improvement over time and give you the confidence you need in order to write.   

The Pitfalls of Readability


At its core, readability measurements are exactly what they sound like: measures of how readable your content is.  It cannot tell you anything about your content.  For example, the sentence “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” will score the exact same as the sentence “the dog brown lazy jumped fox over the quick“.  Further, you could score an easy 80, which would be understood by an average 11 year-old, while your paper discusses the intricacies of nuclear physics- it just depends on the words you used. In short, readability is not a replacement for proofreading. Like most things in life, the system can be beaten. But despite these shortcomings, readability tests can still improve the effectiveness of your writing. 


 Follow Ricky Brandt on Twitter- @RickBrandt18

7 Reasons a Journalism Major Will Make You Successful in PR

By Colleen Kennedy

When I started college, I knew journalism was the major for me – I wanted to work at a newspaper. However, after taking one of the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s public relations courses, I quickly changed my career path.

Since then, I’ve often debated the pros and cons of being a journalism major with students who attend universities that offer a public relations major. When they talked about their various PR courses, I was jealous. But now, four years later, I’m happy for the solid foundation my journalism major gave me as I embark on my post-grad internship at a public relations agency.

Here are 7 ways being a journalist has benefited me as a young PR professional:

Writing concisely and factually—When reporters read media pitches, they want the facts written in an interesting, yet factual way. A background in journalism teaches you how to place important and compelling information in your lead. Additionally, people’s attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter—and they don’t want to read lengthy pieces.

Learning how to edit copy and use AP Style—Employers constantly discuss how many candidates’ resumes are not given a second look due to typos or grammatical errors. The same is true for public relations writing: Why would a customer trust your company or brand when your writing has errors? Also, being familiar with AP Style will help you write press releases that reporters want to use.

•  Knowing the importance of accuracy and ethics—During my reporting classes, we learned the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics. With public relations scandals hitting the news frequently, defining the ethics of PR is an important issue facing the industry. Thanks to a familiarity with journalism ethics and media law, you will be one step ahead of your peers.

Being observant and knowing what makes a good story—Good journalists know the elements of a compelling story. This skill will help in public relations, because your media pitches and your news releases must be compelling. Being observant and able to gather facts to make a good story will help you write on topics that will interest reporters.

Learning how the media operates and what reporters’ needs are—After taking several journalism classes, I decided to spend a summer working at a newspaper, The Daily Iowan. While working in the newsroom, I learned the process of generating story ideas, and what information reporters need before agreeing to write a story. Now, as a PR professional, I can use my understanding of the reporting process to pitch to reporters effectively. I know that reporters need sources and are looking for different, creative stories.

Gaining the habit of reading global, national and local news—In my first SJMC class, Reporting and Writing, we had weekly quizzes on the New York Times and our local newspaper, The Daily Iowan. After the quizzes, I quickly got into the habit of reading both news outlets, as well as The Wall Street Journal. If you work in public relations, knowing what news is happening – and how you can use the news to help your client or company – is essential.

Writing in different formats and styles—In public relations, you can go from pitching media to writing a white paper to creating a media kit. Your writing must be adaptable.  First semester of my senior year, I took a course about blogging. I’ve also taken classes on reporting, writing for PR, and many others. The variety has helped strengthen my writing and made it adaptable – a skill that will help me greatly when I write for different clients at a PR agency.

Follow Colleen on Twitter @colleenrkennedy

Brand Yourself

By Alex Zaprudsky, Education Director

I don’t disagree with the person who coined the saying, “it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, but what’s on the inside.”  Believe me, I’m not condoning that being superficial is a good thing, but in the case of branding, looks play an essential role of packaging yourself. From your résumé to business card, to the cover photo on your Facebook, you are promoting yourself.  Make sure you would be impressed with what you are promoting yourself with.

Here are my tips on how to build your own personal brand.

Consistency is key!

When you send out your employment promotional package (i.e., cover letter, résumé, writing samples and reference sheet), make sure they all share the same header and font families. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to make this work, but make sure that they all are consistent.  I get mixed reviews about how I package my résumé.  I have a very graphic header with fancy fonts and it is left aligned.  Some folks love it, but my friends at the career center think I should be more traditional.  I think it’s up to you.  I have landed my dream internships at The American Youth Circus Organization and Circus Smirkus with my current package… Looks are not everything…but they certainly helped me to stand out in the crowd.

Show your wild side!

According to Under 30 CEO, creativity is one of the top-ten most important traits an employer wants to see in a future employee.  STAND OUT when you first meet someone through your creativity.  I have round business cards, and I am pictured as a clown on them. That’s unique.  If you have some basic design skills in InDesign or Photoshop, you can create striking business cards for about 25 bucks.  STAND OUT.  Use a fancy shape (the company I use has circles, squares, ovals, leaf shapes, and traditional 3.5 x 2 cards).  If you don’t want to have a circular card, design your business card so it is vertical.  Do something to make your card stand out when it is in a pile of 20 or 30 other cards. If you want to be more conservative, make your business card a different color like red or blue, so it will contrast from the pile of stark white cards.

Zaprudsky's nontraditional and unique business card.

Be true to yourself

The most important thing to remember when branding something — yourself, a company, or a product — is that you must stay true to the brand’s core values.  In this case, we’re branding ourselves. You need to be genuine and true to yourself. So when you are writing your résumé or creating your business card, remember the 8.5 x 11 sheet or 3-inch circle is a billboard promoting YOU.  Make sure they express who you are and what you stand for.

Follow Alex Zaprudsky on Twitter @AlexZaprudsky