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hero

On March 31, 2011 Epsilon, a mass-marketing data provider, announced there had been a security breach in their customer database. Epsilon is a company that offers a full range of marketing services.

Epsilon says [the hack] only involves names and e-mail addresses, which even when combined do not represent personally identifiable information. So basically you might receive a lot of spam emails, and that’s about it.

Some of their clients include:

  • Kroger
  • TiVo
  • US Bank
  • JPMorgan Chase
  • Capital One
  • Citi
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Ritz-Carlton Rewards
  • Marriott Rewards
  • New York & Company
  • Brookstone
  • Walgreens
  • The College Board
  • Home Shopping Network (HSN)
  • LL Bean
  • Disney Destinations
  • Barclays Bank of Delaware
  • Target
  • 1800 Flowers
  • Ethan Allen

Most of these clients immediately sent out an apology email starting what happened, what it means for the customer and what they’re doing about it.

Like this started in the TiVO email, “We regret this has taken place and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. We take your privacy very seriously, and we will continue to work diligently to protect your personal information.”

The first press release from Epsilon was very short. On March 30th, an incident was detected where a subset of Epsilon clients’ customer data were exposed by an unauthorized entry into Epsilon’s email system. The information that was obtained was limited to email addresses and/or customer names only. A rigorous assessment determined that no other personal identifiable information associated with those names was at risk. A full investigation is currently underway.”

There is not an apology anywhere in that statement.  Epsilon, or its parent company Alliance Data Systems Corporation, failed to apologize until almost a week after the news broke. According to Ed Tagliaferri, executive vice president at DKC Public Relations in New York City, “You’re obviously sorry that a problem occurred and had a negative impact on your customers, so why not say that? It conveys that there is a human side to your company, you appreciate the trouble that has been caused and you’re taking the matter seriously.”

Taking your time to apologize only makes you seem suspicious. It’s like being in public relations and knowing to never saying “No comment,” when you don’t apologize for a mistake it makes you less credible.

Tripp Frohlichstein from PR Daily.com also writes, “An apology is so easy, and it makes a difference to people. Often, a person who has had a bad experience will say, “All I wanted was an apology.” It puts a human face on what can otherwise be perceived as a cold, heartless entity. It shows that you care that you may have had a negative effect on your customers.” Why is it so obvious to people that admitting there is a problem seems like first nature and to others it’s like they’re being tortured to confess they’re wrong or have made a mistake.

I think a quick apology from Epsilon would have been more beneficial to the companies involved in the breach. These well-known businesses have their reputation and trust at risk. Customers won’t remember Epsilon or Alliance Data Systems Corp. in a few months from now, or a even couple years. They’re just going to remember that when they signed up online at Target.com or TiVo that their email addresses starting receiving tons more spam.

making fun of human tragedy

I thought everyone had heard of Groupon. I can even remember a friend telling her 70 year old grandfather about the discount website and he replied, “Oh yeah, I have an app for that.” Granted, this grandfather is very trendy haha.

Until now, Groupon had just relied on word-of-mouth marketing with limited traditional advertising. According to Groupon’s blog they had given in and decided to do a television advertisement during the Super Bowl XLV. The company explains the reasons for restraining, “More importantly, television ads are such a huge creative statement, and so hard to do well, that we were worried it’d be near impossible to find an ad agency that could make ads we’d be confident in airing.”

The advertisements aired during the most watched television event in history with 162.9 million viewers. The ads feature two washed up celebrities telling us which cause we should care most about, then morph it into a pitch for Groupon.

There was a firestorm of blog posts and news articles written about Groupon in February about people being outraged that the ad highlighted the difficulty in Tibet. Obviously the company is regretting their decision now that Groupon’s CEO Andrew Mason is blaming the ad agency and saying he put too much trust in them.

A lot of the negativity could have been avoided if the ad explained Groupon’s charitable donation-matching that is listed on their website. It could have made viewers realize the company isn’t poking fun of the issues; they’re trying to raise money to help.

The CEO’s apology and decision to pull the ads was a chance at saving the company’s image, but I really think Groupon’s PR department from here on out needs to step up and be the center of their decision team. If the company doesn’t come out with the right crisis communication actions then it would really damage their business.

But honestly, if you have to post a lengthy explanation of your advertisements on your blog then you might need to ask yourself before releasing it if people are going to get the “joke.” Is there really a right way to make jokes about human tragedy?

crunch time

Ready, set…

Start freaking out!

There are six weeks left of school and the job search has begun. I should have probably started the hunt awhile back but I just don’t think it would have been humanly possible. I hardly have time to see my boyfriend and we live together. Between building three websites, two communications plans , an internship and working I don’t have time for much else.

So are you wondering how to find a job after graduation? Me too. I’ve done my fair share of networking and asking communicators around me for tips or recommendations on the process. A lot of them had similar answers but I still hear this phrase in my head, “it’s not about what you know or who you know. It’s about who knows you.” Simon Salt gave my class this bit of knowledge a few months ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. After all, that is pretty much exactly how I got my internship with him and myDASHH.

For the past couple of months I’ve been attending a lot of networking events and job shadowing trying to get my name out there. I’ve made a few connections and plan on working those to get my resume in front of the right people. I’m also creating a digital portfolio online to help brand myself and showcase some of my best work.

My next step is to complete this weekend is a list of prominent places to work for in DFW. I need to do a little more research on the companies I haven’t heard of and determine which I think I would fit in best. After that, I’m going to figure out which of my connections have connection at each place, haha.

I’ve already been scanning the PRSSA job bank, as well as dfwcommunicators.com, Monster and UNT Career Center. Now I really need to start sending out my resume.

If you’re a PR student and you’re graduation next semester or next May I highly recommend starting your networking and internships now. Everyone should also read this blog post by MarketingMel,  How to get a job in Public Relations: Eleven tips from a PR pro. I like this post because it has a few unique but pertinent tips.

MarketingMel points out as number eleven on the list you need to brand yourself. I’ve heard this over and over the past semester. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to solidify your social media profiles and make sure you are portraying the brand in person as well. The other tip I like is to follow journalists on Twitter, etc. I’ve heard too many PR students say that they don’t read the news. I have always been a news junkie and it’s important in our field to know news breaking information no matter which part of communications you pursue.

 

job shadowing

When I first thought about job shadowing I racked my brain to find companies that were different and remotely related to the music industry. Then I remembered I knew someone whose company has done business with Clear Channel Radio and asked if she could help me find someone there to shadow for a day (networking is everything! ha!) After a few email exchanges the date was set for me to observe Shane Williams, the National Promotions & Integrated Marketing Coordinator for Clear Channel Radio in Dallas, on Thursday, March 24.

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the Clear Channel building. Shane met me in the lobby and gave a quick tour around the different studios: 102.1 The Edge, Mix 102.9, Lone Star 92.5, 97.1 The Eagle, 1190 AM. Most of the morning shows were on-air so I just peaked in through the glass doors. Then we headed down to his office where I learned a little more about his job.

Shane is in charge of the national clients, people wanting to advertise, at the different stations. He handles them all, whether it is through traditional media or non-traditional (website and events.) He also works on the big events like Edgefest and Freakers Ball dealing with the vendors and just about anything else.  Shane started working at Clear Channel as a promotions coordinator, moved on to the integrated marketing coordinator and now deals with the national promotions as well.

An important part of Shane’s job is protecting the Clear Channel brand. He filters the potential clients to determine which ones will or will not be kosher through association. On occasion Shane will come up with a creative promotion to put on a station’s social media networks, but that is mostly left up to the promotion coordinators.

I found it very refreshing that everyone working there was so friendly and laid back. From the promotion coordinators to The Eagle’s on-air personality Cindy Scull, everyone interacted with each other like they were all equals.

The most important skill Shane uses to be successful at his job is communication. Whether it’s with the directors above him or the clients he’s working with. I found it interesting Shane said the station always makes sure to get sound clips or screen shots of advertisements to send back to the client to show their investment being executed. It’s not a requirement to do this, but everyone puts in the effort to make the client feel good about Clear Channel.

Shane also stressed it is important to manage expectations of others. “Under sell and over deliver,” he said. This too applies to the expectations of people within the company and those choosing to advertise with them. He is also constantly prioritizing and following through with things.

Before lunch I asked Shane the generic, but valuable, question I like to ask every professional: What are the most important things about how to get a job? According to Shane…

  • Have Passion
  • Know something about the company or person interviewing you
  • Do anything to get your foot in the door

Shane also threw in do NOT ask unrealistic questions or be late during an interview.

Job shadowing has been one of the most constructive experiences I’ve had. I highly recommend it to any public relations student, whether you have an internship or not. It gives you the opportunity to seek insight on different corporations to helps determine what type or what direction of your career you want to take. I could only be so lucky to have a job at such a chill, yet exciting place like Clear Channel Radio. I really appreciate Shane taking the time out of his day to show me the ropes and answer all my questions!

brands on twitter

Last week I grabbed a bite to eat at Taco Bueno on the way home from class. I had a lot of work to do and didn’t want to spend that time in the kitchen (although I love to cook.)

I don’t normally eat Taco Bueno. I’ve been a Taco Bell fan even through the “beef” lawsuit. On this particular day I choose to order the Beef Nacho Salad from Bueno. Normally I will order the cheese quesadilla. The restaurant is just a few miles from my house so I drove home to eat.

So, there I am sitting at the table, starving, waiting to devour some food… I open the styrofoam container… lo and behold, the salad is covered in refried beans!

Here’s the deal: I refuse to eat any kind of beans. I’ve tried them (all kinds) several times and I just don’t like the texture or taste. My boyfriend and I have an agreement that he won’t make me eat beans if I don’t make him eat peas. Our agreement includes that we won’t argue about it or force one another to eat our forbidden food.

I wouldn’t have got so upset about the bean cover nachos if the meal comes with beans and I asked for no beans. But the beans are not even an ingredient for the beef nacho salad! Someone working there decided I should have them and loaded them on. There’s a big difference

Naturally, I complained on Facebook and Twitter about my food mishap. I thought some friends would read it and laugh at my misery and I’d move on with my day.

Within seven minutes @Taco_Bueno replied to my tweet.

I honestly never thought I would interact with a brand on Twitter. I didn’t try to get their attention on purpose; I wasn’t looking for a resolution, free product or trying to get someone in trouble. They were just on it.

I direct messaged them but also asked a question just to make sure the ingredients in the salad haven’t changed since last time I ordered it and there really aren’t supposed to be beans. I would feel horrible if I was ranting and I was actually wrong.

I never got a response to my message, just an email.

The email was very generic, I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t conversational and didn’t make me feel like I was talking to an actual person. It seems like Taco Bueno has some a great social media team looking for people tweeting about their brand, but fail to follow through with a personal and meaningful DM or email.

Bueno’s timely response and attempt to send me a coupon still isn’t going to change my opinion on their food. Taco Bell will always be my fave.  I’ll probably give the coupons away.

There are a lot of brands that using social media well. Anyone who pays attention in the twitterverse are familiar with Southwest Airlines, Toms, Chevrolet and in response to recent events, Taco Bell. Mashable has compiled a list of 40 of the Best Twitter Brands and the People Behind Them in 2009, but I’m sure a lot has changed in two years.

Brands need to follow some of the better social media campaigns to see what is and what’s not working. A lot of companies are looking for a quick fix and use a lot of automated responses. Going in this direction isn’t going to get your company noticed or make consumers feel intrigued by your services.

UPDATE: I have received seven $5 free Taco Bueno cards in the mail. I’m a poor college student, I’ll never pass up free food so today I used two cards and got $9.93 of food… free.

Should social media practitioners have that vital journalism and communications training? Definitely, here’s why…

When trying to describe my major to friends, family and random people they are often confused by what exactly is “public relations.” Another confusing aspect for friends to grasp is I’m required to blog and tweet for class when most of these people don’t even have Twitter accounts.

I try to explain to them that Twitter is required to help me learn how to use it strategically in my “real world grown up job.” Obviously since they’re not even leisure users, they have no idea.

Hasn’t anyone wondered why Charlie Sheen just joined Twitter? My guess is because his publicist, Stan Rosenfield, probably gave him advice not to. Now that he has resigned, Charlie is obviously making a mockery of himself. Rosenfield’s communications training could have been the logic in knowing that every celebrity, brand, etc. is not suited for social media.

But for you that do understand using Twitter and other social media platforms, I hope you will agree that social media is an element of journalism.

In Erin Everhart’s article, “How is Social Media Not Journalism?” she points out a similar situation she’s been put in, “Social media has an ever-more influential position in the disseminating and the consumption of news and information, and it strikes me as odd that I get assaulted from my more mainstream journalism friends with accusations that I’m letting my journalism degree go to waste by being a digital marketer.”

I’m not sure how/if Erin was taught how to use social media strategically in college, but that is the kind of classes I’m perusing my last semester. Social Media can be a very important tactic of your overall strategic communications plan. You need to learn, whether it’s through experience or a class room setting, how to use these new elements of journalism to your clients advantage.

I’ve wondered to myself, and even had some candid friends ask, why am I getting a college degree to run someone’s Facebook and Twitter account? I believe I am a good promoter, even prior to starting college, but taking courses for five years has taught me in public relations you must plan and have a damn good plan while you’re at it.

Through guest speakers I have been able to learn how to strategically plan to use social media as a journalistic element. Announcing press releases in 140 characters has made me a better writer, more concise and direct.

I’m excited to see where this gray line of defining journalism transitions. This industry is ever evolving while people are trying to figure out ways to use the new platforms; someone is creating another one that is going to blow our minds.

 

Everhart brought up a good debate, “…at one point didn’t we think that you needed a newspaper for something to be journalism?”

so many choices

One would assume the six different public relations code of ethics would be very similar to each other.

The compared codes of ethics were:

  • Arthur Page Society
  • Council of Public Relations Firm
  • Global Alliance for Public Relations and communications Management
  • International Association of Business Communications
  • National Investor Relations Institute
  • Public Relations Society of America

After thorough research I found that some of the codes don’t have a set of standards for several core values, principles and practice guidelines.

The different codes were evaluated on the following principles:

  • Honesty
  • Advocacy/Expertise
  • Independence
  • Loyalty
  • Fairness
  • Free Flow of Information
  • Competition
  • Disclosure of Information
  • Safeguard Confidences
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Enhancing the Profession
  • Obligation to Code
  • Enforcement of Code

The Arthur Page Society has the least set of standard guidelines. They don’t have any set code for independence, fairness, free flow of information, competition, disclosure of information, safeguard confidences, conflicts of interest, obligation to the code or enforcement of the code. I suppose it’s not to say that any individual that belongs or follows their seven principles to guide actions and behavior are any less ethical than one who follows the PRSA.

The PRSA Code of Ethics supplies you with a more thorough model for professions, organizations and professionals. There is a reason why the PRSA Code of Ethics is referred to as the industry standard. They have a set clear-cut standard for each of the 13 principles. Their codes reinforce their beliefs on making sure you are representing your client fairly and always with the truth.

The Global Alliance was another code that stood out. Not only did they have few guidelines like the Arthur Page Society, their decision on honesty is to “adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interest of the clients and employers” not the public. They were the only code studied that interpreted honesty that way. The Global Alliance also doesn’t have any guideless for the free flow of information. These two points concern me that someone following this code might not be able to make the right ethical decision.

Before doing this research I was under the impression that the PRSA was the only society that enforces their code by educating members for accreditation. I think the fact the International Association of Business Communicators and the National Investor Relations Institute also participate in the implementation of code shows there are more ethical business practitioners than I thought.

After all, these codes of ethics aren’t formal laws or rules they are a set of standards that individuals decided to hold themselves to. None of them are right or wrong, they just provide different perspectives on decision making. Personally, I’m going to follow the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics. I agree with their set standards on professional values, principles of conduct and holding members to an agreement with required compliance.

Guerrilla Promotions

“It has to start somewhere
It has to start sometime
What better place than here
What better time than now”

The quote from Rage Against The Machine’s lyric seemed so fitting to this topic, mainly because I can’t ever hear the word guerrilla and not automatically start singing their song in my head. =)

In the 21st century public relation professionals, marketing managers and advertising directors are working diligently to come up with the idea that is going to get their brand noticed most by consumers. A lot of known brands are resorting to more guerrilla style promotions to achieve a competitive advantage in this tough economy. A 2010 Mashable’s article lists their top 10 Excellent Examples of Guerrilla Marketing Campaigns.

Out of the list, my favorite video example of guerrilla marketing came to a tie: Absolut Vodka and a Dutch insurance agency.

Both videos put consumers in everyday situations that they might encounter and made them fun. Who hasn’t ever thought about taking something on the luggage claim conveyer belt? No one ever does, because it’s just not right, haha. But what stops us?

And every driver can spot a scratch or dent on their car once they immediately set their eyes on it in the parking lot. After drivers got over the instant shock, they looked closer at sticker and then searched online and found out they could order scratch stickers to prank their friends, too. That leads to a lot of word of mouth awareness.

Agencies are resorting to this kind of awareness because it costs and only takes some thinking outside of the box. The campaigns are quite effective at getting consumers to notice your brand in all the clutter of traditional advertising. I personally believe guerrilla campaigns leave a longer impression on a consumer as opposed to flipping through a magazine and seeing an attention grabbing ad.

Unfortunately for us in the States we don’t experience a lot of these campaigns. This is usually because someone (government or nongovernment) always completely over reacts to anything abnormal. In 2007 Adult Swim launched a marketing campaign in Austin, Texas… and it completely backfired. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, check it out on Austinist.com

I personally, thought the Aqua Teen Hunger Force campaign was awesome! But I was part of Adult Swim’s target market (much like the rest of Austin’s 20-somethings) and was aware of the cartoon that the “bomb-like devices” resembled.

Hopefully guerrilla marketing campaigns will start to have more approval in our country. I have hope! Just recently works from the famous British street artist, Banksy, were spotted at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. He was doing a little self promotion for a documentary that features him, Exit Through The Gift Shop. If you haven’t watched the film yet, I encourage you to check it out (it’s on Netflix!) Whether you’re interested in graffiti art, marketing or pop culture it’s a must see.

Learning the philosophical bases for ethical behavior is not an easy task, that’s why there are tools to help. Tools like Harvard philosopher Ralph Potter’s Potter Box and the PRSA Board of Ethics Matrix of Ethical Dilemmas will guide your decision making process. Not that you’re actually going to pull out notes from your college ethics class in real life and draw four squares or look at a matrix to help you decide the right choice, they’re a good method to use in a class setting to help promote your thinking.

The Potter Box is “an ethical framework used to make decisions by utilizing four categories which Potter identifies as universal to all ethical dilemmas.”

The four categories are:

  1. Situation definition
  2. Values
  3. Principles
  4. Loyalties

The real benefit of the model is that it keeps the practitioner from making a quick, unethical decision. After being taught the Potter Box in college, hopefully in real life you will become accustomed to prioritizing the facts, values, loyalties and principles that are most important to your organization in any given situation.  I’m a big list maker, for everything, so even if I’m not making quadrants and instead I’m jotting down bullet points the act of writing things down will help me make a better decision.

Using the Potter Box model in groups during class to discuss a case study helped me realize when two people are analyzing the same issue, they can come up with different decisions. During our class discussion, within our group, we agreed on two different ethical philosophies that helped reason the decision for the situation. We had to go over each category several times to reach a decision and that was very tedious work, especially since we were trying to work as a group.

Overall, I believe the Potter Box theory is tactic you’ll always remember like “FOIL,” or “every good boy does fine.” Besides, you don’t have to work through the Potter Box manually anymore… there’s a website for that ethics-e-learning.com.

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