I admit I’ve struggled to find a topic to write about this week. It’s not due to a lack of topics or subject matter—I could pick any number of recent events or trends for you to comment on—rather, it’s due to the fact that I’m seeking something with deeper meaning. Something to challenge our perspectives and help us further break down this thing we call public relations.
I’ll get back to you on that.
In the meantime, I keep returning to these questions: What happens when your campaign isn’t succeeding? What happens when your audience doesn’t engage or respond and you feel like you’re missing the mark? Even with strategic planning, research, and creative ideas, sometimes things don’t go the way we hope. So what do we do? You may not have a direct response to those questions for this post, but think about them and let’s talk about this in class.
Today, I want to hear from you. Here we are, more than halfway through the semester. What do you want to learn about campaigns or writing for public relations that we have not yet covered? What questions do you have for me? What should we discuss next?
Storytelling. Creative writing instructor and creator of the Story Seminar Robert McKee says, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.” In many of your responses to recent posts, capturing emotion by telling stories—through words or images—is a common theme. We often hear storytelling is important, that stories carry more weight and help individuals better connect to brands, organizations, and even products. So how do we approach storytelling in public relations?
Public relations is about informing the public, and yes, you’ve heard me reinforce the message of getting to the point quickly and making facts clear. That provides the foundation for learning how to write a strong news release. Now, how do we build on that knowledge to take writing for public relations to the next level? How do we tell stories on behalf of our organizations and clients? In anticipation of this week’s guest speaker who will discuss amplifying our releases and stories online, I wanted to share the following example, or “story,” if you will forgive the repetition. But first, take a moment to consider what comes to mind when you think of the Starbucks brand? What images and words do you connect with what Starbucks is about and why?
Now, read this article: “Why a Washington Post Editor Left to Work with Starbucks” Does this resonate with the existing story and brand of Starbucks? Why or why not? How does this approach to storytelling further amplify their mission and brand? Can you think of any other organizations or brands doing something similar to connect with their audience and amplify their story?
One of my favorite campaigns from this past year was NASA’s “A Year in Space” which followed the journey of astronauts Scott Kelly (USA) and Mikhail Kornienko (Russia) for a year on board the International Space Station.
The campaign used a perfect blend of traditional and new media, including news coverage and social media—as well as Google+ Educator hangouts and resources—and culminating in a fascinating (in my humble opinion) hour-long PBS special. Whether you followed posts on Instagram or Twitter, gathered educational resources from Google+, read or viewed stories in the media, or watched on PBS, each piece reinforced NASA’s goals for the mission and for public awareness. Take a look at the links included above, and check out #YearInSpace on social. What do you think those goals were? Did you happen to see or follow any of the campaign this past year and if so, what stood out to you? Have you seen any other similar campaigns that successfully blended new and traditional media?
Writing. The foundation of our class. To begin to practice good public relations writing skills, you have to first master a few foundational writing skills. I’ve compiled several articles that offer tips and resources to help as you tackle your assignments this semester. Remember, the more you write and read, the stronger your writing will become!
Check out these tips on recognizing and avoiding passive voice. UNC also offers a more in-depth look at understanding passive voice.
What writing questions do you have for me? Are you running into challenges with the assignments completed thus far this semester? Let me know. We’ll work through them together. And remember—APU’s Writing Center is available to help as well. Take advantage of your campus resources!
I mentioned this article in class on Wednesday, “We’re the Only Plane in the Sky” (Political Magazine, September 9, 2016), which powerfully captures how 9/11/01 unfolded for the team and journalists who were with President Bush that fateful day. Taken from 40+ hours of interviews, this article walks through the day using these firsthand accounts, revealing the emotions and thoughts experienced by those working with and covering the president. It’s a long read, but well worth time time. It also captures thoughts and strategies from a public relations and crisis communication perspective in a way that we don’t often get to hear.
For me, this post brought back so many memories from that day as I recalled where I was and what I was doing as each moment unfolded. Just two weeks into my first media relations role at APU, this is the event that introduced me to the world of crisis communication. I highly recommend you read it, and would love to hear your thoughts and reflections on this piece.
Strategic public relations campaigns are frequently used by nonprofits and others seeking to bring awareness and inspire action around a cause. Locally, KPCC reported yesterday on a 100-day challenge by the L.A. Homeless Services Authority to house homeless youth. To motivate increased water conservation across California, Golden State Water recently ran an #H2OMakeover contest via social media and email submissions. This summer, APU’s own Ride for Water team sought support through publicity and social media engagement. Around the world, nonprofits dedicated to providing clean, safe water are uniting around #SBG6 this week as part of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development initiative.
If you were part of the public relations teams for any of these causes, what tactic might you recommend to help further get the word out? Are there any other cause-related campaigns that have inspired you to take action? What motivated you to get involved or help spread the word?
If you followed the Olympics this summer—or any year—it’s clear that brands have a high stake in the Games and the stories told throughout. Simply Measured identified “7 Brands Winning Social Media” during the Rio Olympics. Which brand campaigns or individual stories stood out to you in the Summer Games? What captured your attention, and why? Did you notice any trends or themes among this year’s top campaigns?
I am thrilled that we are finally launching the new public relations major (and minor) at APU this year. (It’s about time!) A new major brings with it the opportunity for new courses, and I have the privilege of shaping one of those courses after six years of teaching Introduction to Public Relations. Our course this semester—Writing 3: Public Relations Campaigns—will be an opportunity to learn together, to see what works, and ultimately, to practice and fine tune the art of writing for public relations. Throughout this class, we’ll look at public relations campaigns past and present, examining what makes a campaign successful, and how writing plays a part in each one. I look forward to hearing from you, the first class of students to walk through this course with me, and see where the next 14 weeks take us!