I’ll be back…I think.

Well as the end of the semester approaches, my blog will have to wait on the back burner for a bit. I came into this process scared to death of making a fool of myself, but have actually thoroughly enjoyed the blogging process. Hopefully I will find the time to continue this blog once finals week is over. Who knows, if it can potentially help land me a job down the road then I’m all for it! So this is goodbye for now, but don’t forget to stop back in the future. We all know the world of PR isn’t going anywhere.

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What kind of PR works when a mystery illness strikes?

wbhsfull.gifResidents of Roanoke County, Virginia are waiting for answers after a mystery illness struck in a local high school. It’s reported that since September, one teacher and six students attending William Byrd High School have come down with a set of symptoms for an unknown illness. Although the school district stated it would not release the symptoms or any medical-related information about those ill, community members have described the symptoms to the media.

“They wave. It’s convulsing. They can’t stop it,” senior Layne Gulli said in an Associated Press story. “You don’t know how to avoid it. You don’t know if you’re next, or if your friend is next, or if it’s an epidemic.”

Parents have a natural instinct to protect their children and will stop at nothingwilliambyrd.gif to protect them. William Byrd High School parents have asked the school district to disclose symptom information and close the school. School system officials have stated that no environmental causes for the illness have been found after conducting tests and that there is no need to close the school.

After the recent cause for alarm at the school, parents received letters signed by the Assistant Superintendent of Administration Allen Journell. These letters stated that due to legal requirements, specific information about the individuals involved and their symptoms could not be released. This letter obviously did not go over well with worried parents.

Parents and students then attended a meeting run by school officials, the Virginia Department of Health and the companies that conducted the environmental testing done to the school facilities. Although the meeting was open to parents and students, those running the meeting again stated what these community members already knew. And nothing more.

Although the school district is keeping parents updated with developments as they happen, there is a line drawn as to how much information is really being released. Parents do not know much about the symptoms or means of preventing the illness, if there are any.

The school district is attempting to listen to concerned parents and students, but not really taking what they are saying to heart. Parents wants the school closed until the medical problem is solved and want other schooling facilities opened to accommodate the close to 1,200 students. The school system says it’s not going to happen.

Vague letters and stand-off type town meetings are not good practices of public relations. School systems have an obligation to protect their students and keep their best interests in mind. Who better to let you know what their best interests are than the parents directly involved with their lives? I think the school system needs to take a step back and rethink the public relations strategy here.

The school district needs to put the students at ease, which will then put the parents at ease. Staying in touch with the community, running tests and releasing updated information is key to keeping these students and parents at ease. School officials have to do it with tact and understanding though. Once a member of the public has to question the motive of the school system’s decisions, then there is a big problem. Especially when the well-being of someones child is at stake.

Photos courtesy of William Byrd High School.

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Maybe Microsoft deserves some praise.

Hate them or love them, those who make up the Microsoft Corporation seem to constantly be in the media. Although the company is usually receiving criticism for what many consider having a death hold on the technology market, Microsoft has a softer side.

The company sells product upon product to consumers, but it also offers freewindowslive.jpg tools as well. The newest addition to these tools is the updated Windows Live. This version provides consumers with online tools to communicate worldwide via PC or mobile device. The set of services consists of free PC applications connected to services offered over the Internet. One download allows consumers to choose which Windows Live applications they want, while keeping these applications up to date.

“Today we take a significant step forward in helping consumers simplify their digital lives,” Chris Jones, corporate vice president of Windows Live Experience Program Management at Microsoft, said. “With over 400 million customers using the service today, we have a real opportunity to help consumers connect their online experiences, devices and networks in new and powerful ways.”

operationsmile.jpgThis is an example of some good PR for the corporation, yet it gets better. While building strong relationships with its customers, Microsoft also partnered with Operation Smile for the launch.

Operation Smile is a non-profit organization that provides services to young children who have facial deformities. Medical procedures and supplies are donated to those in less fortunate and poor countries. The organization has numerous celebrity supporters including Jessica Simpson, Billy Bush and Donald Trump Jr.

The corporation wants people to share smiles throughout the world using the Windows Live services. Consumers can upload smiling pictures using the online tools and for every picture uploaded using the software, Microsoft will donate a portion of its advertising revenue for November and December to the organization.

People can go to the Windows Live Web site to upload and share their smiles, and potentially have them featured on the Web site. People in New York and Los Angeles had the opportunity to participate in person by attending two events on Nov. 6 and 7 at the South Street Seaport in New York and the Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles.

Philanthropy always equals good public relations for any corporation and Microsoft is getting in on the action. It is managing to build and maintain relationships with its consumers, while gaining the positive media coverage any company desires.

Photos courtesy of Microsoft and Operation Smile.

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Do tobacco companies live under a rock?

I came aross a story titled “Big Tobacco Spends Record $12 Million to Deceive Oregon Voters” and my jaw dropped. As a curious PR student, I made my way to read on and could not believe what was reported about two tobacco companies.

philiplogo.jpgIt seems tobacco companies in the state of Iowa are getting desperate as election time rolls around and voters are faced with an initiative that would increase the state cigarette tax and fund children’s health care and education. rjrlogo.jpgSpending $1.1 million just this week alone, the Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds tobacco companies have raised the bar on campaigning. Philip Morris is responsible for $7 million spent on campaigning this year, while R.J. Reynolds is responsible for about $4.9 million. These companies have spent nearly four times the $3.3 million that those pushing for the initiative have spent.

I realize tobacco companies are out to make money and stay in business, just like any other company. What I don’t understand is how companies in this market can intentionally attempt to deceive consumers and voters. I mean, do they even try to look good in the media?! This is effective PR 101.

The initiative in question is titled Ballot Measure 50, the Healthy Kids Oregon initiative, which would increase the state cigarette tax by 84.5 cents per pack and fund children’s health coverage and tobacco education prevention programs.

Sure, these companies are at a disadvantage when it comes to the public because everyone knows tobacco can kill you. This fact does not give these companies the right to intentionally lie, cheat and steal in order to get to the top and make a few bucks. Media reports concerning the use of advertising by the industry have revealed many deceptive tactics. Tobacco companies are accused of sending out mass-mailings to the public, while trying to make them appear as if a first-grade teacher had sent them. Who does that?

logo.jpgThey are also accused of using false or deceptive claims in television advertising and creating a public action group called Oregonians Against the Blank Check, which rejects the Ballot Measure 50 initiative. Again, why do this when you know the truth is going to eventually be uncovered?

Companies need to realize that the all-mighty dollar should not run the country. People, especially children, need to be exposed to truthful advertising and believe that what they hear or see is the truth. Tobacco companis already have a disadvantage in the advertising and public relations worlds, but someone needs to tell them these accusations and reports do not help change those public perceptions.

Shame on you tobacco companies. Whoever told you bad PR is better than no PR is a moron.

Photos courtesy of PhilipMorrisUSA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Reject Measure 50- No Blank Check.

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Are disaster relief services ever really quick enough?

Wherever there’s an emergency, there’s emergency relief. The California wildfires have been wreaking havoc on the West Coast for five days now and show no sign of slowing down in some regions of the state. fire1.jpgCNN reports that over 9,000 firefighters from seven different counties have been working day and night to try to control the blaze. These firefighters have been dealing with 23 different fires, with 10 still not fully contained. While they are being praised for their dedication and response services, people are a little more stubborn with handing out praise to state officials who handled the crisis situation.

In any crisis situation, people are going to question whether those in charge did all that they could or if they were prepared enough for such a situation. As an elected official, you are guaranteed to face this type of scrutiny and criticism no matter what you do. No one ever claimed the job of a politician was a glamorous one. All one can do is keep good contact with the media and public, while instituting crisis management plans and tactics.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in the thick of things on location and speaking words of encouragement and motivation since the fires began. arnold.jpgResidents received reverse 911 phone calls telling them, not urging them, to evacuate their home until the fires in their area were under control. The phone calls worked well and possibly saved the lives of thousands of people. Emergency workers were on the scene quickly and volunteers aided them in their efforts.

Schwarzenegger assures anyone who’s questioning whether he asked President Bush quickly enough for military assistance that he did what needed to be done at the correct time. With the reports I’ve seen so far, I think the Governor has done a pretty good job of keeping as much order as possible. He has maintained a positive attitude and message that the state will recover and that everyone will work together to accomplish that. I honestly never thought I would be impressed by the Arnold I’m familiar with, but I must admit he’s changed my perception of him. Thumbs up Governor.

President Bush has also been receiving coverage about his response to the wildfires. Not a day goes by where the President is not being criticized for one thing or another, but he reacted quickly to this crisis. Granted, President Bush is definitely not on my list of the country’s greatest leaders, but he seems to have learned a little something from the Hurricane Katrina fiasco. He answered Schwarzenegger’s call for military assistance and has visited the state to show his support.

From a PR standpoint, Bush might be trying to redeem himself somehow to the general public. pres.jpgAlthough I could go on and on about my political views concerning the man, I have to admit that he seems to have learned some public relations skills from the Hurricane Katrina disaster. He was slow to react and provide assistance and well, the country ripped him apart for it. In the case of these wildfires though, he acted quickly and was ready and willing when called upon by Schwarzenegger. He seems to be receiving good reactions from the American public. By George, I think he’s onto something!

Politicians face public relations situations just like everyone else. Their’s may receive more coverage and scrutiny, but it only pushes them to make better decisions. Or at least attempt to.

Photos courtesy of CNN.

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Pompous sports gods or humanitarians in disguise?

Athletes nowadays are making millions of dollars thanks to outrageous contracts and deals for everything imaginable. The jobs range from endorsement deals, to appearances and to last but not least, playing the sport he or she loves. It seems in order to make a name for yourself though, you have to excel in all areas of the sports world. Whether you’re the rookie of the year, the underdog that surpassed all expectations or simply a sports god, with your new found glory comes the eye of skeptics. So the question on everyone’s mind becomes are you up for the challenge of actually making a difference in the real world?

kaseykahne.jpgWhile some superstars are better known for their run-ins with the police than their athletic gifts, there are currently numerous athletes who are doing their best to make a difference in their local communities. Some are quick to claim these actions are a mere public relations campaign and an agent’s attempt to help build up the reputation of his or her client. Sure it doesn’t hurt the image of those involved, but it’s pretty sad that all the cynics of the world seem so quick to unite and judge. More athletes than you probably even realize are truly making a difference and succeeding quite nicely.

NASCAR driver and 2004 Nextel Cup Rookie of the Year Kasey Kahne recently donated $500,000 on behalf of the Kasey Kahne Foundation to the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte. Kahne created his foundation in 2005 with the intention of helping chronically ill children and their families. The donated funds will help support the construction of a new Ronald McDonald House in Charlotte, N.C.

“Through my own experiences, I have seen first hand the impact we can all have on children who are in need,” Kahne said at the Ronald McDonald celebration event. “I encourage all of my fans, as well as the NASCAR and Charlotte community to join me and get involved in this important project.”

I don’t know about you, but I think the young superstar is genuine with his desire to help those less fortunate in his community. Oh and he’s not the only one to impress me.

jorge_posada_and_son-1.jpg New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada is also actively involved with humanitarian efforts. After his son was diagnosed with Craniosynostosis only ten days after his birth, Posada and his wife Laura established the Jorge Posada Foundation. The Foundation reaches out to families dealing with Craniosynostosis and provides emotional and financial support to them. Various events are held throughout the year, with all proceeds going directly to the families involved with the Foundation.

I couldn’t possibly write a blog post on the topic of humanitarian athletes without mentioning the efforts of Lance Armstrong. If you haven’t seen a yellow bracelet on at least one person or heard the “live strong” slogan, then you’ve either been living under a rock for a number of years or you are completely cut off from the world as we know it.

At the age of 25, Armstrong was on top of the world with an extremely successful cycling career. Then the news came that he had testicular cancer and he established the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The establishment came before he even knew if he would survive his cancer.

livestrong_1.jpgAccording to the Foundation’s Web site, over $181 million dollars has been raised for cancer survivorship programs. The Foundation sells various items on its Web site, including its powerful yellow bracelets with livestrong etched into them.

Soccer superstar Mia Hamm also has a foundation that strives to meet two goals in its efforts. The Mia Hamm Foundation raises funds and awareness for bone marrow transplant patients and also supports the continuing growth of the opportunities presented to female athletes. Even in the year 2007, female athletes are fighting for full equality and respect. Who better to lead, represent and encourage these young females than one of the women who helped bring women’s sports back into the spotlight with the 1999 victory of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Let’s face it, there are athletes who care and athletes who couldn’t care less. Skeptics may question whether these athletes are merely attempting a public relations stunt. Quick research shows how clear is it that the desire and drive to make the world a better place is there. PR stunt? I think not.

Photos courtesy of the Kasey Kahne Foundation, the Jorge Posada Foundation and the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

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So what do MySpace and MTV have to do with presidential hopefuls anyway?

choose.jpg Presidential hopefuls are showing signs of embracing the ever growing world of technology with the first ever MySpace and MTV Presidential Candidate Dialogue. The event took place September 27 in front of a live audience at the University of New Hampshire. The event marked a turning point in the world of politics, as those in the running are well aware of their younger audience’s influence.

As the 2008 election approaches, candidates are striving to differentiate themselves. While most rely heavily on mainstream media, a number of presidential hopefuls are testing the social networks of Facebook and MySpace.

MySpace and MTV joined together to present a new presidential forum aiming to reach younger demographics. johnedwards.jpgCollege students appreciate the use of technology and John Edwards may have helped his campaign tremendously by being the first candidate to take on audience questions in a town hall meeting format. SuChin Pak and Gideon Yago both acted as MTV correspondences and moderated the discussion. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post provided feedback to Edwards based on the online voting of viewers. Perhaps 2008 candidates are realizing the importance of younger generation’s votes.

The candidates fielded questions from the audience, while the discussion is streamed live over MySpace TV, MTV and MTV’s Web site. Online viewers have the option to vote on how they feel the candidates are answering the presented questions and then ask additional questions.

Social networking Web sites are not just for entertainment or fun anymore and are being put to better use. Why not do something beneficial and useful with all the resources available in today’s instant world? I bet that’s something the campaign directors were asking themselves before they signed their bosses up to take part in these discussions! It’s a perfect opportunity to get your campaign out there and answer the questions the voters are dying to know.

The town hall meeting setting for a younger audience was a huge success and received great ratings from viewers. Edwards may have been the first to take on the challenge, but he most certainly won’t be the last. MySpace and MTV stated that 12 more candidates are signed up so far to see how well they do in the candid and open discussion, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani. I guess we’ll have to wait and see who embraces the instant criticism and runs with it, and who chokes in front of thousands of young, vulnerable voters.

 

Photos courtesy of Missouri Politics and MySpace.

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