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Evaluation: sometimes forgotten but always necessary

I have been doing research for a PR ethics case study. After my research, I realized how important evaluation is in a communication plan. Although the assignment was to analyze ethical issues surrounding the case; I kept thinking about how different the results would have been if they had just analyzed the evaluation of their communication efforts. I feel like evaluation is a step often downplayed until things go really wrong or have adverse effects.

For my case study I chose to research Carnival Cruise Lines and if you don’t know already, they have not done well thus far during a crisis. When the first crisis occurred off the shores in Italy, where the Costa Concordia partially sank resulting in deaths, Carnival had very little communication with outside publics about the situation at hand.

Nearly one year later, another ship the Triumph was left stranded in the middle of the ocean for four days. Passengers were forced from their rooms due to the heat and the fact that raw sewage was overflowing out into the hallways. They were reduced to using biohazard bags instead of the bathrooms and eat a lame excuse for a sandwiches consisting of mustard and tiny pieces of ham.

The PR team responded very fast this time with a web page, Facebook page and Twitter responses dedicated to the crisis. Like in Concordia’s case they also offered compensation, but people were still outraged. After passengers were returned safely, Carnival quit responding and closed communication. Their communication efforts during the crisis were almost meaningless at this point.

It goes to show you that even when you follow a PR crisis communication plan you can still receive backlash. It also shows you to evaluate and re-evaluate your communication plan. Carnival didn’t think about what to do after people were returned. The crisis turned from getting the people back safely to making them happy after going through a “cruise from hell.”

It’s hard to please 3,000 people, but Carnival could at the very least communicate with the media or through their own media their reasoning for their actions. Everyone was left with questions where the only answer they were given was that Carnival offered more than what they were legally obligated. As you can imagine this left a bitter taste in their mouths and it wasn’t the raw sewage they lived in for four days.

After evaluation of their crisis communication effort I realized that Carnival basically cut their efforts short. They should have carried out the plan until all questions and problems were resolved. From first glance Carnival appears to be doing the right things, but in reality they dropped the ball in the end and lost the game.

Though the cruise line suffered minimally it caused other people to doubt not just the safety of Carnival Cruise Liners but cruise liners everywhere. If they would have evaluated their effort immediately they would have been able to fix the problem before the crisis became an even bigger crisis. Instead they fueled the crisis monster by shutting off communication and referring them to a lawyer.

Bottom line: Evaluation always matters, even when efforts are successful. In life a crisis is impossible to predict and every scenario will be different. However, you are obviously not evaluating your efforts if a similar crisis continues to occur. Things don’t always go right the first time. In fact I would bet money that they rarely do. 

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Procrastinators Beware: The PR industry will eat you alive

Due to the combination of classes and my job I have to budget my time accordingly. Shamefully I don’t always do so. However, working while being in school fulltime I have come to realize and appreciate that it’s just preparing me for a job in PR.

Arik Hanson wrote a great article in the PR Daily about some of the stereotypes in PR. Just for fun, the one I found most interesting/surprising was that not all PR people are super outgoing. In fact, some of the best are introverts. Who knew? However, just as I suspected the stereotype that “PR pros are hyper-organized” is true (prdaily.com).

It’s not surprising that PR pros must be organized because deadlines and timing for those deadlines can make or break communication opportunities. For example, an event announcement news release needs to be sent out and hopefully published in a certain time frame as defined in the communication plan. If the news release misses that deadline, well obviously communication efforts would be unsuccessful but if it’s submitted too early the same results would occur.

Likewise, deadlines are directly related to time management skills. Time-management is more than keeping a detailed calendar. Time-management means actually following through with deadlines and meeting goals. That last step is one that people (procrastinators) tend to forget. However, unlike other professions, deadlines for PR can be multiplied by ten as far as difficulty.

Time-management skills must be finely tuned and ready for surprise situations to arise at any moment. Situations can occur in a split second with today’s technology and PR pros sometimes only have a matter of hours to submit a statement, such as the case of American Airlines vs. Alec Baldwin. I applaud American Airlines for their quick response on Twitter to Alec Baldwin’s tweets.

Good timing made all of the difference for American Airlines unlike Netflix’s price hike fiasco. Netflix waited two months to respond, which is outrageous during this age of 24-hour news cycles.

On the other hand, this pressure to produce with such a short deadline is the reason I enjoy PR. It’s an adrenaline rush and definitely keeps you on your toes. Not everyone can handle the pressure and would cave. Your client’s reputation and basically life is in your hands.

Personally, I enjoy the challenge and maybe even control. Maybe that’s why the ratio of women to men in the PR industry is somewhere around 4 to 1 (prdaily.com). Well whatever the reason it doesn’t matter. What does is that you overcome procrastination and embrace the pressure.

“Never put off till tomorrow what can be done today”- Thomas Jefferson

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People Want to Talk to People

When businesses use social media they must remember to be personal. People don’t want generic responses or posts. They want to talk to real people and get a real response. It’s similar to when you were a child and writing letters to Santa. Personally I was heartbroken when I read the return letter that felt generic and didn’t answer anything I had asked. Even at 5 years old I knew when I wasn’t talking to the REAL Santa. People need to talk to the “real” Santa.

Matthew Peneycad from PR Daily News suggests initiating dialogue. He also suggests talking to your consumers or audience on their preferred social media site. This way a company can to get to know their consumers and understand their needs and wants.

Likewise a communication plan should always include the particular social media site used and why. Not everyone uses Twitter and not everyone uses Facebook. How do you find out which to use? Simple, we learned this the first day of class (or so) ANALYTICS.

DigitalSurgeon.com:

  • 18-25 year olds make up the largest age group on Facebook with a 29% share of users
  • 26-34 year olds make up the largest age group on Twitter with a 30% share of users

Another tip would be to include pictures of real people for the profile picture. Maybe of the person that actually responds to the audience. It’s all about humanizing the profile and company. Social media allows the small guy to be heard. When in the past email or even letters could be lost or ignored. Social media can’t be ignored. Face it.

For Public Relations professionals, social media allows them to reach audiences they wouldn’t be able to reach before. During a crisis they can react in a timely fashion. So use it. Respond to complaints, compliments and questions. No one can be ignored.

However, Nichole Kelly a writer for Social Media Explorer writes, “Social media can essentially take a PR issue and basically feed it steroids.” This means a company must keep up with their social media sites at all costs. No comment, question or concern can be left behind. Just a response puts people more at ease during a crisis.

Bottom Line: Keep it real. People should be able to rely on social media to get their voice heard in a large company. Use social media as an opportunity not a giant cliff you are determining to bungee jump off of.

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Social Media Opened the Floodgates in PR Crisis Management Planning

After the Jimmy Kimmel/ Kanye West Twitter feud I began thinking about how social media has changed the way we handle a crisis. Jimmy Kimmel was able to respond to Kanye’s tweets when Kanye bashed Kimmel over a comedy skit. Kimmel was able to almost instantaneously respond to his tweets before things got out of hand.

Look at it this way:

  • Half of Americans own a smartphone.          
  • The New York Times’ iphone app alone has been downloaded over 14.9 million times as of 2012.
  • Twitter has over 500 million active users!
  • 77 % of Fortune 500 companies are active users of Twitter.

Obviously people have access to news and social media 24/7. A crisis can happen at any time of the day and Twitter never sleeps. Once something is uploaded to Twitter or any social media network it can go viral in seconds.  In fact, some of the biggest news stories have been broken on Twitter. This instantaneous communication characteristic of social media opened a flood gate of “what ifs” to PR crisis management planning. People less than 10 years ago weren’t concerned about social media even being an issue in crisis management and now it’s everywhere. Tablets and smartphones blew that market up and users of social media skyrocketed.

What better way to combat social media and instantaneous communication than to join it? People cannot deny that social media or a web presence is necessary for the success of a business and definitely large corporations.

How do you plan for a social media crisis? Well you really can’t other than be proactive. Being tech savvy and knowing the ends and outs of different social media networks is a valuable job skill today. In a time of crisis you must be able to defend your reputation and do it effectively and efficiently.

Here are some tips for PR Crisis Management Planning that I felt were the most valuable:

  • Being a social media addict is not a bad thing in this case. Keep updated with social media by being a frequent user and engaging with consumers and stakeholders.
  • Monitor not only the reputation of your company and clients but competitors as well. Use tools that will scan your social media account, alerting you to a potential crisis or spam. Also, by monitoring your competitors you might learn a thing or two from watching how other people respond during a social media crisis.
  • If a crisis should develop on a particular social media network, stick with that particular network to address the issue. If the crisis is on a multiple platforms, address the issue on each one.
  • Own your brand on social media before someone else does. Customer complaint tweets, blogs or posts should not be the first thing people find when they are researching your company.
  • ·Twitter is just another place to post a 140 character news release. Get your message out there. Journalist use Twitter for story ideas a lot. In fact, Twitter is the news for many.
  • Find a way to make your social media account more human. No one likes talking to a computer and neither do your consumers. Make personalized responses. Maybe change the profile picture to someone within the company or whoever actually makes posts and maintains the media site.
  •  Every employee should be trained to use social media and given guidelines when using social media for the company.

Bottom line: A crisis is impossible to predict. Be proficient with social media and use it to your advantage. Defend your brand.

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Social Media Makes PR Just Make Sense

    Public Relations is hard to define to other people outside of the industry. I find it hard myself to describe to friends and family when they ask what I am studying in school. There is a misconception that PR is just advertising mixed with marketing but it’s not as simple as that. Though that may be somewhat true, I found that social media is what set PR apart from journalism, advertising and marketing. The way PR uses social media now just makes the entire industry just make more sense.

            Social media promotes direct communication with customers allowing issues to be resolved faster and more efficiently. I was naïve about how impactful social media was till I read THIS. Some feel social media exposes too much personal information about our lives yet it is for this reason it is a great tool for PR professionals. It’s personal and cuts out the “middle men”.

            Again I will get on my soap box about exploiting the system. As PR professionals (or aspiring professions in my case) we should refrain from using social media to gain publicity through unethical means. Cough Cough Miley Cyrus Cough Cough.

            However, publicity stunts are not necessarily bad. Social media allows for companies to reach a great number of people at a faster rate than traditional methods. In fact, Snickers used Twitter to propel their campaign, “You’re not you when you’re hungry” in the UK. They hijacked a celebrity’s Twitter and discussed issues that were off color for the particular celebrity linking viewers to Snicker’s Twitter page. Genius! They were able to reach 1.5 million of the celebrity’s fans simultaneously.

            In conclusion: Social media propelled the PR industry and set us apart from the rest. Ah how I love technology.

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