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.

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.

Lava Row Revamps Social Media

Adam Gromotka,
PRSSA Focus Writer

Lava Row is a company that shares digital and social media expertise with corporations and small businesses looking to expand their reach through today’s technology. The Des Moines based firm offers consulting, training, and education, as well as strategy planning to its clients. At the PRSSA chapter meeting on September 26, founder of Lava Row, Nathan T. Wright, stopped by to share two examples of how his company used (and is using) social media and outside-the-box thinking to promote Veridian Credit Union.

Before founding Lava Row, Wright became a global phenomenon as the man who sold his soul on eBay. The glass jar,originally a prank, drew attention from news sources around the world before selling for $46. More importantly, as Wright explained, it opened his eyes to the power of social technology and the internet to spread messages, even as early as 2002.

The first case study Wright discussed was a campaign for a new Veridian Credit Union branch in Corralville. Veridian sought to enter the marketplace with a bang.

“They wanted to enter with a big splash, and there were two strong competitors there with big footprints, and who had a lot of loyalty there as well,” said Wright. The plan was to use social media to leverage Veridian above its competition. The concept began with the introduction of the “Surprise Squad,” in Corralville. Anonymity was the name of the game, as a group of disguised Veridian branch members went around Corralville, doing good deeds for what seemed to be no reason.

“They would pay for your gas, they would sort of ‘ambush you,’ right? And do something nice for you,” said Wright. Another company had tried this, but according to Wright, did not use technology to properly document its efforts. Every Surprise Squad deed had a media component – being YouTube videos, tweets, Facebook posts or blogging, to prolong the reach of each deed. Public awareness was also made with leave-behind pamphlets and direct mailing as well.

“People just naturally come in if they’ve been surprised, and they tag themselves in their photos. That really extends the reach…the deed took place, but then it had this afterlife online,” said Wright. Within a month, the “Surprise Squad” Facebook page jumped to 3,000 fans. Wright made it clear that multi-platform campaigns really are where companies are going.

The second effort analyzed again involves Veridian Credit Union. This new campaign invokes participation from University of Northern Iowa students in a challenge based “quest” leading up to a grand prize. This campaign makes use of media outlets like Twitter and YouTube, as well as real-world touch points-requiring students to stop in to the UNI Veridian branch. The quest culminates in a massive real-life scavenger hunt around the time of the UNI homecoming game in late October.

Nathan finished his presentation by reminding students of the importance of social media, and how creative uses of such technology are a necessity to drive a business forward. It seems that the internet has the power to offer a creative mind any business venture it can imagine.

The Hunger Games: “The Whole World Will Be Watching”

By: Kristina Gonzalez

Yes, the whole world was watching. The Hunger Games’ opening weekend broke box office records, totaling to 155 million dollars. Internationally, it made a whopping 59.3 million dollars.

The Hunger Games ranked as the third best opening weekend, after The Dark Knight, and Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2. It had the fifth best opening day in history, making 68 million dollars. And of course, beating out the Twilight series completely (though there’s hope for Breaking Dawn Part 2).

While the Hunger Games book series captivated readers, the record-breaking premiere is no coincidence. Lions Gate, who acquired the movie rights in 2009, spent 45 million dollars on marketing.

The strategy was simple: engage the fans. Lions Gate used creative methods to generate a following, including:

Tumblr— Lions Gate created a tumblr,, featuring The Capitol of Panem. The blog uses interactive and enticing articles on “citizens they follow” and different fashion designers who are quirky enough to almost replicate the Capitol fashions.

Interactive websites—Lions Gate used The Official Government of Panem, to put fans into the storyline. The site allows fans to register and become an official citizen of Panem.

Public Appearances—The leading actors and actresses traveled around the country for Q&A to help market the movie.

Sneak previews—With the trilogy featuring a strong female lead, they cleverly partnered with Pretty Little Liars, a TV show with a largely female audience, ages 12 to 34. Pretty Little Liars had their big finale, which revealed a major plot twist. During the finale, the Hunger Games was featured in every commercial break, and a trailer debuted during the episode.

Lions Gate also used social networks, such as Twitter and YouTube. The Hunger Games Twitter account has almost 400,000 followers.

Traditional public relations tactics were also used. Lions Gate passed out 80,000 posters, and the movies’ actors and actresses were featured in 50 magazines, billboards, and advertisements.

The mixture of “old school” marketing tactics with a creative, social media approach worked.  Americans everywhere are saying the movies’ catchphrase: “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Sculpt and de Novo Marketing Agencies Provide Career Insight

At a recent UI PRSSA meeting on September 12, 2012, the organization welcomed speakers from two companies in the Iowa City area.  The first two guest speakers of the night, Micah Kulish and Josh Krakauer, were representatives from Sculpt Social Media Marketing Agency (, based in Iowa City.

The company focuses on managing social media accounts for clients across popular platforms in an attempt to build and enhance local branding. Sculpt gave some great information to chapter members, and also advertised internships within their agency. Members interested in the opportunity were encouraged to express their desire in a tweet using the hashtag ‘#workforsculpt’.

As a final note, the speakers conveyed the importance of responding to customers who interact with businesses online – for instance, if a consumer posts about a particular business on sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Yelp, there must be a representative available to adequately address these questions and concerns.

Following Sculpt was Heather Smith Friedman, owner of de Novo Alternative Marketing Agency (, a guerrilla marketing firm out of Cedar Rapids. Friedman touched on countless topics, beginning with job search techniques for students. Friedman explained how she almost never posts jobs online, because often times many of her respondents are either unqualified or are not genuinely interested in the opportunity.

Friedman expressed that the most appealing job applicants first thoroughly research a company, and then directly contact it, often times referring to a specific role of aspect of the company to which they believe they can contribute to.

Friedman also stressed the importance of having specific career goals as well as defining the exact expertise of one’s skills. To sum up her advice, Friedman explained to the group that they should brand themselves as possible assets to a company. In doing so, they must always be able to sufficiently fill this sentence when talking to possible future employers: “I am the                for Type of Company.” Using this formula when networking or applying for jobs will help applicants effectively tailor their approach for each company.

Since an interview usually follows a job application, Friedman also shared her best advice with the chapter for presenting themselves well in such a setting. She stated that, “It is as much of an interview for you as it is for the company.” In saying this, Friedman illustrated the importance of finding a company that suits an applicant’s desires and expectations.

Friedman also recommended always sending thank-you notes to any company that members interview with, as it leaves potential employers with a great last impression.

Students know that education is valuable, but after hearing what each of the night’s presenters had to say, one thing is clear – internships are undoubtedly the best way to enhance a student’s knowledge and experience in the field of public relations.

Mark Hollander
UI PRSSA Newsletter Writer

The Versatility of Social Media

By Ashley Levitt

This photo, from, depicts one subject’s eye movement as they browse the Virgin Mobile website. The process of observing these movements is called eye tracking.  In the graph, areas shown in red are places the subject looked at more frequently than areas shown in green or featuring no color at all. This information is important because it helps marketers determine what attracts consumers to certain stimuli, helping them to better sell their product.

This summer I am a research assistant at the Tippie College of Business within the University of Iowa, where I conduct eye tracking and heart rate analysis on participants’ reactions to various stimuli. The technical term for this research is neuromarketing, because it is used to analyze consumers’ latent, neurological motives. Essentially, if marketers know why consumers react in a positive or negative manner to their product, it is more beneficial than simply knowing how they react. Knowing why allows for repeat successes and avoidance of failures.

Currently there are not a lot of academic websites devoted to neuromarketing, which is why social media is such an important part of my assistantship. To establish an online presence for neuromarketing research, my supervisor, Assistant Professor William Hedgcock, has asked me to use WordPress to design his website. Ultimately, as with any user of social media, our goal is to become the go-to website in the field. This would establish our credibility while promoting the Tippie College of Business brand, which again ties back to marketing.

This assistantship has taught me that social media is not only useful, but it’s a necessary element in virtually any career. I feel fortunate to have gained so much insight this early on, because I know social media is a skill I will use for the rest of my life.

If you’re interested in finding out more about neuromarketing, or you simply want to keep track of what I’m working on, please visit

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

Still haven’t joined Twitter?

Hello PRSSA members. For those of you who missed our discussion on using social media, here is a great video explaining  Twitter. Many members expressed not knowing what Twitter was or how to use it. This link (which I found on Twitter) is the best explanation I’ve seen so far. So check it out and start following @iowaprssa.