Monday, December 21, 2009

Why Your Energy Organization Needs PR

International talks in Copenhagen. A boom in renewable energy and retrofitting jobs from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Serious commitments from state and local governments to save energy. Corporate America going green. These are just a few of the reasons that climate change and organizations related to it are gaining ground, increasing legitimacy and creating jobs in an economy that still has a recession fresh in its memory. And all of this means that if you are one of these organizations — you need a public relations arm.

As someone who works in the energy field, I interact almost daily with contractors, nonprofits and renewable energy companies who deal in everything from research and development of solar panels to the manufacturing of wind turbines. Some of these entities are easier to communicate with than others, though.

As the owner or CEO of a company that brands itself with energy, you might be hesitant to consider adding a public relations practitioner to your staff. You might think, “Hey, business is booming right now, so I don’t need any of that stuff. It’s just an added cost anyway.” Think again, corporate America.

People who have to get information about your business need real communicators with whom they can interact, not stuffy CEOs or uninformed sales reps. And public relations is not marketing or advertising, if done correctly. Marketing might increase sales, and advertising can raise awareness, but only PR will develop the long-lasting relationships that you want and need with your employees, stakeholders, clients and, of course, the media. (And you thought PR was only media relations, didn't you?)

There will be increasing interest in your business in the coming years as the U.S. — and the world — switches over to a green-collar workforce in a new clean energy economy. Weatherization technicians and geothermal engineers are the computer programmers of the future. Therefore, your company will grow, and you’ll need an arm of your company who can perform tasks such as outreach programs, speech coaching/writing, PR campaigns, relationship management, internal communication, crisis and issues management and environmental scanning (that’s looking for potential issues on the horizon, taking an actional legitimation stance). Of course, PR practitioners are also good for getting you involved in the social media realm — the right way — something that many organizations still struggle with today.

If people have to wait to get in touch with your vice president just to get info or a quote for a news story, or if your company doesn’t keep itself legitimate in the eyes of the public, things won’t continue to be as profitable as they are now. It’s sometimes tough for leaders to decide if they’ll see enough return on investment for communication efforts. However, it’s a myth that PR isn’t measurable, and your ROI will likely be very noticeable, especially to those folks who need to have a two-way conversation with your organization (rather than just being hit over the head with what you think they need to know).

It’s a lot easier to keep yourself out of a mess to begin with than it is to dig yourself out of a crater of an image. So give a PR practitioner a seat at the table in your organization today, and you’ll have a head start!

Still need some persuading? Check out the Business Case for Public Relations site for more information, including case studies, information for CEOs and more!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

10 Ways to Make Your Blog Work

As someone with a huge interest in public relations, I’m constantly trying to improve my own skills while observing what others are doing. Additionally, I apply the communication best practices and theories I know with the tips from top practitioners that I read each day to form my own evaluations about what I see on a daily basis. Not every organization understands the true potential of social media — or blogging in general — or how to implement it. So I’m here with some advice based on my own professional experiences and critiques of other organizations. Here are 10 tips for getting the most bang for your blogging buck:

1) Avoid overload — Don’t bog your readers down with too much content and too many updates at once. This same principal is true with tweets and Facebook updates as well. You don’t (and shouldn’t!) update with every tidbit imaginable that happens at your organization. Internet users have so much content being thrown at them already, so they are likely to unfollow you, hide you or just avoid you altogether if you make their lives difficult. Say what you need to say, then leave your audiences alone!

2) Don’t go off the radar — Again, you don’t want to bury your content by posting five blog posts a day, but you can’t abandon your social media (including the blog) efforts for days and weeks at a time and expect to pick right back up where you left off. If you don’t update for a while, chances are that your audiences will get bored with you, delete your RSS feed, stop visiting your site, etc. I could definitely improve in this area with my own personal blog, but unfortunately, my professional blogging duties take precedent. For your company, you’re being paid — it’s not a hobby maintaining the online legitimacy of your organization, so get to it!

3) Be predictable — Don’t me wrong here, you definitely want to display some creativity on your blog. What I mean by predictability is that you should format all of your content in a similar fashion so that it’s easy for your readers to navigate. Additionally, schedule posts if at all possible. If you can publish on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then maintain that regularity, and your readers will appreciate you for keeping things convenient and manageable.

4) Mix up the content — If every post is about the same topic, or if every post is line after line of boring text, you’re not going to keep audiences interested and coming back. Post a video once in awhile or include a guest blog post, for goodness’ sake! Just be sure not to post something so off-topic that you alienate your core readership.

5) Pick a target — Speaking of your readers, you need to cater to them. If you’re a wind turbine manufacturer, then your company blog probably doesn’t include a lot of stories about the latest pop artist to top the Billboard charts. Do your research! Before you start writing your organization’s first messages, find out at whom your messages are targeted. Write in a style and tone that appeals to that audience, and include references they will understand and find compelling. Too many organizations just start throwing up content and worry about how they’ll target it and market it later down the road. You’re just wasting resources by doing that.

6) Spread the word — I didn’t mention marketing your content for no reason! Develop a plan up front for how you’ll get your blog posts out to the world and noticed by your target constituencies. Why spend time and money putting together a flashy blog (or any social media effort) if you don’t have a plan to get it noticed? It’s easy for your content to be lost in the vast amount on the Internet, so you need to have a multiplatform design for spreading the word about your organization that includes traditional media, new media and good ol' word-of-mouth marketing.

7) Don’t cut off the conversation — Too many companies try too hard to regulate the conversations that happen on the Web about their image. The days of being able to control who says what and finds out what about your company whenever you want are over. Forget about it. Don’t even try it — it’ll be a futile effort that leaves your organization looking foolish and outdated. Allow comments on your blog posts, and engage audiences with friendly customer service and informed replies in your social media efforts.

8) Don’t get wordy — Keep your content short. Blog posts shouldn’t include much scrolling, and videos that go on for more than three minutes are going to leave people restless nowadays, if they even click the play button at all. Seeing how long it's going to take to watch the video is the first piece of information that many users seek.

9) Include compelling visuals — This goes along with mixing up the content. Too much of anything is not a good thing. When you don’t have videos, good photos that fit your themes are always helpful. Pages of plain text make your blog look like an industrial, corporate-sponsored, old-school forum. Staying away from being stuffy and boring doesn’t mean you have to be flashy and outlandish, but readers expect your content to look contemporary!

10) Stop being so newsy — Blogging isn’t news writing. Sure, lots of journalists are great at blogging, but that’s because they have superb writing skills that allow them to write like people talk. That’s how your blog should sound — conversational. Don’t scare anyone away with hard-news tones and posts bleeding with data and cookie-cutter quotes. Blogging should be more personal, and if it is, your readers will appreciate you for it! If you’re copying and pasting news releases or print stories as blog posts, well, no one will probably ever give your blog enough time to notice it — or you.

Joshua A. DeLung is a public relations practitioner in the Washington, D.C., area.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Personal profile updated

Just updated my personal official Web site a bit. Give it a visit if you haven't before. If you're a public relations or journalism professional looking for inspiration, maybe there's something in my portfolio that can help spark your creativity!

www.prjosh.com

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

5 Tips for Amazing Guest Blog Posts

I recently finished up a guest blog post on none other than the topic of writing guest blog posts. The post is over at Moments in Time, so check it out here!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

More Than a Grandfather: Granddad

I haven't posted a whole lot recently, as I'm a full-time working man now, so full-time blogging sort of has to be on the backburner. But don't worry, I haven't abandoned the site, it's just that I have to have (A) some time and (B) something worth blogging about before I can get a post up lately. Usually, that has to do with public relations and journalism, but there's something on my mind today that is much more worthy of a post.

Just one week ago today, I lost my grandfather to cancer. And it wasn't like I lost someone who I only saw on Christmas or who I remember from my childhood — I lost someone I grew up next door to, someone I saw daily until college and at least once a month since. I lost a great friend, mentor and an example of how to live.

I called my grandfather "Granddad," and my earliest memories of him are following him around one of his gardens, eating oatmeal cream pies together at the kitchen table and him bending down to plant a big wet kiss on my forehead, calling me his "sugarlump." As I aged, he called me "a fine young man" and "grandson," but what he called me didn't matter as much as how he treated me and everyone else he met. Granddad was a compassionate, generous man. Though some who didn't know him might have found him quite serious at times, around us he always had such a great sense of humor. I loved it when he would get to laughing because when he found something to be funny, he'd laugh so hard he couldn't stop, and he'd turn red as a beet, as the saying goes.

Speaking of vegetables, Granddad was a tremendous farmer. Our family lives on the old family farm, just across a creek from where my great grandfather's house once stood. Though we never had many animals (aside from a few chickens) while I was growing up, Granddad always maintained about three gardens and a couple small orchards. He loved gardening, and he loved sharing the results with friends and family. I'm pretty sure he was happiest on all fours, with his hands dirty, sweat on his brow, chewing tobacco in his cheek, enjoying nature — and I'm pretty sure most of the time while he was out there alone, he was just talking to God.

When I was a kid, I could run next door to Granddad and Grandmama's house any time. Sometimes I was probably trying to get out of some trouble I had gotten myself into at home, but most of the time I was going because my grandparents and I have always had a strong bond. I went because I loved Granddad's stories, and I admired his examples of hard work and living a Christian life, regardless of what came his way.

When I grew up and would visit, I always knew Granddad would have some good advice. I knew he'd have words of encouragement. And I knew he'd let me know how much he loved me. Sometimes, when I talk to older folks (though, Granddad was only 73, which seems pretty young in retrospect), I feel as though I don't have much in common with them. That was never the case with Granddad and I. We could sit on the back porch or at the kitchen table and actually have a conversation. He was just calming and fun to be around.

There were times Granddad took me fishing, and he was a pretty darn good coach. Every now and then, Dad, Granddad and I would go down to the river and set up along one of the riverbanks there for the evening. Some of us fared better than others (OK, I'll admit, I was never much of a fisherman, though I really enjoy it), but it was the three of us being together that made it memorable, not the fish. There, three generations stood, sometimes talking, sometimes with distances separating us, but never out of one another's line of sight ... never too far to send a look one another's way that said, "I'm here for you."

I'm taking everything pretty well, I suppose. It's easier knowing that Granddad was ready to die. Before going, he had told us that he was ready, that he didn't fear death. It was tough seeing him go, especially so quickly — the cancer took its toll less than a month after diagnosis. As I told my Dad, we lost a member in our trio (my dad is an only child, as am I), and now the two of us have to carry on. It will be difficult, but we care for each other just as much as we cared about Granddad. Just as much as we know he cared about his family. So all that considered, I'm going to be OK because I know he'd want me to be.

The roughest part was the other night after my Dad and I finished putting some new license plates on my car in my grandparent's garage. Dad left the garage, and I was about to follow him out. But something stopped me. I sat down in a chair and looked at Granddad's small tractor on which he used to ride around the land. I looked over at his blue chair by his desk, and I remembered all the times I had sat there, just like that, talking, watching him fix a vacuum or sharpen a pocket knife. I was filled with emotion.

That'll be the most difficult — not watching him ride around when spring comes and not being able to go through old routines like walking in the garage and plopping down to chat over some Gatorade and Beanee Weenees. Or not being able to watch deer together from the back porch, listening to the birds as they argue over who will get to reside in one of Granddad's many bird houses. There's so much I'll miss. But at the same time, having all those good memories of someone you've lost gives you plenty to think about until you meet again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

10 Tips for Finally Landing a Job

Let's face it, I am now realizing what everyone in the so-called real world always told me — you don't have much time for blogging when you get a grown-up job. OK, maybe no one actually ever used the words "blogging," but the general warning was there. And they were right. In fact, my social media and video gaming time has significantly decreased in the month since I've been working full time. Sure, I'm not spending my evenings doing homework anymore, but I also can't stay up until 3 a.m. because I don't have a class until noon.

So for all of you out there still playing video games into the wee hours of the morning, sucking down Mountain Dew and pursuing creative endeavors to your heart's content (a.k.a., the unemployed), I imagine you'd like to know how I finally landed a job in this tough market (or perhaps you just stopped reading because you realized how foolish of a plan getting a job actually is).

Well, I can't say that my methods are the only way to go or that they will even work for you, but I thought the least I could do is share some tips that I've come up with based on my own experiences. If I can help anyone else out there at all, then using my few minutes of free time to write this blog post is worth it because, in all seriousness, I know first-hand how frustrating it can be to try to find a job, especially in a recession. And while signs point to the recession being over, the job market is still expected to be in rough shape until about halfway through next year. While my field is public relations, and that's the area I try to focus on the most on this blog, I think these tips have multidisciplinary relevance.

  1. Saturate the job market, and start early— I applied for more than 200 jobs from late December 2008 through the end of summer 2009. Let's face it, you might not be qualified for every job, or perhaps there is a lot of more-experienced competition in play, especially during a time when a lot of seniority has been laid off elsewhere. Spend some serious time filling out apps, and make it your full-time job until you find one.
  2. Don't broaden your horizons — You always hear the opposite of this advice, that you should be open to jobs that aren't directly related to your degree and skills. I was very open for the duration of my job search. I even became willing to accept pay that probably wouldn't have covered the rent, and I started applying to lots of jobs outside my field or below my education and experience qualifications. However, I never heard back from places such as Barnes & Noble and Gamestop, so I guess there really is such a thing as being overqualified. I even had a Borders manager tell me outright that he only wanted to hire folks that he thought would be there long-term, and he didn't see me being one of those with my qualifications. He was right. In the end, the job I got is one that matches my background and skillset almost exactly. I'm doing public relations work for a client that has a heavy journalism focus to its tasks. Moral of the story: Don't settle. Find the job that matches what you are all about because employers will take notice when someone is a perfect fit. And it'll speed up the rate at which you get calls for interviews.
  3. Don't apply to jobs that don't really interest you — I sort of covered this in number two, but this deserves explicitly stating. If a job really isn't up your alley or isn't in a location where you can see yourself actually moving, don't bother applying. You won't try as hard to get the job, meaning you're just wasting your time applying to a job when you could spend that time applying to one for which you'll actually put some effort into the application process.
  4. Try CareerBuilder — And don't use a cover letter. Seriously, this is how I got my job. Also, it's how I got every single interview to which I was invited. I used Monster, USA Jobs, company Web sites, you name it, and CareerBuilder was where I had the most success. And no, they aren't paying me to say that. Once you have your résumé formatted just right, and once it has the proper information in the proper format, it should speak for itself, no cover letter needed. When you upload that résumé to CareerBuilder, you'll be able to apply to jobs in one click, making the number of jobs to which you can apply in one day much higher than with traditional job hunting.
  5. Be patient and flexible — My current employer posted their job early in the summer, and I applied to it at the beginning of July. I participated in several phone interviews and about three in-person interviews with the company before I got the job — in late September. Yes, it took quite a while, and it required me to make a good impression on lots of different people within the organization (and eventually on the client). The key here is balancing following up with a company with not coming off as completely desperate and annoying. It's OK to wait a few days and followup after an interview with an e-mail thanking the interviewers, which hopefully will trigger a status response without you actually having to ask if you got the job, what the next step is, etc. I thought more than once that I was the butt of some joke or that the company had moved on, but just letting them have some time and space worked out in the long run.
  6. Have an online portfolio — Several times in interviews, employers referenced the online portfolio I had sent them. Other times, when people asked for a portfolio of work samples, I was able to direct them to my Web site on the spot, which they seemed to find impressive. Whether you're a writer or you build things, it's definitely great to have a quick reference point for potential employers to visually check out your product.
  7. Be honest about your strengths, weaknesses and desires — Don't embellish your skills. You don't have to come right out and say you have a weakness during an interview (unless, of course, it's directly related to the requirements for the position), but be honest about where your strengths lie. And be sure to let potential employers know exactly what sort of work you hope to do, that you really are interested in the company and the job (some prior research definitely helps). Finally, the question everyone hates is the one about what your salary requirements are. I've read so much advice about this, and lots of people say to ask what the range is for the position and to go with a middle-of-the-road approach. However, I gave a number that I really thought would be fair, realistic and competitive, and my employer actually went a little higher when they sent me the offer letter. Of course, for a different interview at a different company, the manager told me on the spot that I couldn't expect to make that much there (even though the requirements I gave him were $12,000 annually less than what I ended up starting at with my current company). Moral of the story: Don't get ripped off. Make sure you're getting paid what you're worth. And repeat your strengths, but be truthful.
  8. Don't rely on social media — Finding leads and contacts for jobs via social media is fun, often exciting, and it is played up a lot by social media fanatics. Keep in mind, though, that most of those fanatics don't have jobs. I did get a couple good names and leads via social media, but nothing gained through Facebook or Twitter ever yielded an interview.
  9. Clean up your act, and make it consistent — Make sure your social media accounts and Web presence are clean and professional. Google yourself and make sure there's nothing that a potential employer would find that could even come close to making a negative impression. On the other hand, they shouldn't find zero results — some good, professional references to you online make a good impression. It shows that you're not a nobody. It's also a good idea to make all of your social media profiles private and to brand yourself — use the same copy and profile picture (wearing dress clothes!) on any public profiles you may have on sites such as LinkedIn and any other similar sites that potential employers can see.
  10. Take some time off — Enjoy being unemployed while you can. After a while, yeah, you're tired of it. Trust me, I've been there. But the fact is you won't have all the free time you have right now at any other time until you're retired, most likely, so spend some days actually having fun instead of grinding away applying for jobs. After all, you'll just get burned out and stop putting effort into it after so long anyway, so you'll need a day or two to refresh before you get back at it.
Have you tried anything else that works? Have questions? Feel free to discuss in the comments section, and best of luck in your job search!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Synchroblogging 4: If I Had a Superpower

My blogger buddy Kelvin over at Moments in Time hosts a synchroblogging event from time to time, where bloggers from around the blogosphere gather to publish a post on the same day about a previously agreed upon topic. (Relatively Journalizing's past synchroblogging.) Be sure to click the above link to Kelvin's site find out what approach other bloggers took to today's topic. I hear that he will compile the posts and put up a list over the next day or so.

This time around, the topic to blog about is what superpower I would want if I could have one. I should note, I've previously written about superheroes. The catch to this post is choosing only one special ability because the topic specifically says a superpower.

I'm going to perhaps be a little boring and cliché here, but I absolutely have to say that my first choice in a superpower would be highspeed flight. I think, primarily, that this power would be very helpful because I could travel from one place to another very quickly, and I could reach almost anything.

However, if you think about popular superheroes in pop culture who can fly, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with one that didn't have some combination of powers to go with flight. And that is where I think the problems with being a superhero graced with only one power inherently lie. Wouldn't it be interesting if the comic book companies created a hero whose story we see as a series of unfortunate vulnerabilities instead of a hero whose powers are complemented by other powers either of his or her own or by those of teammates?

So what if I can fly from the Rocky Mountains to Washington, D.C., in a matter of seconds? How fast would I really be able to go? Could I maximize the full potential of my supersonic flying abilities? Likely not. Let's face it, one large bird at a high enough speed, and my lack of an invincibility power or mutant-like strength means I'm dead.

After further consideration, perhaps invincibility would be a better power. But I would still choose to fly any day and just take my chances, being extra careful of course. Invincible characters are so boring anyway, and they really aren't allowed in the superhero realm. If there's no question about the outcome of an adventure, then why would we care? That's why even the Man of Steel can be brought to his knees by a little green pebble.

This all leads me to think that it's the vulnerabilities in our heroes that we really like to see play out. So a hero in a world without heroes with only one superpower would be unique, but just imagine how long that person might survive. What would the expectations of society be for that person?

I never thought that this is where this post would go when I started, and that's sort of what the synchroblogging exercise does. You take a topic and run with it, and you let your mind wander a bit without really having an outline of where you want to go. Definitely some things to think about though.

What do you think? What would your power be?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Ultimate Bubba Files: Does Walmart Have a People Problem?

If you haven't seen People of Walmart yet, it is possible that you've been living in a cave since it debuted in August of this year. But as the meme catches on within more and more circles, advertising and public relations professionals are taking notice. Is the site detrimental to Walmart's already tainted image? What should the folks in charge of strategic communication at the big-box giant do, if anything?

If you're unfamiliar with People of Walmart, you should go check it out before reading the rest of this post. The owners of the site don't have anything against Walmart, they just like to poke fun at the ridiculous people who shop there, most of which are reminiscent of our Bubba Files. The concept is simple: regular Walmart shoppers capture those other shoppers on camera who are oblivious to social norms, anything resembling class or fashion, and who might actually think that they are sexy while we find them repulsive.

So what is a little bit of poking fun going to hurt? It is, after all, likely that the people featured on the site will never figure out how to use a computer (or figure out that Walmart has only one L, even if they do get the Web browser opened), so their feelings probably aren't going to be hurt. In fact, if they grow a three-foot-long mullet and wear a mustard-stained wife beater out in public, it's safe to say they don't care what anyone thinks about how they look anyway. Fair enough. But what about Walmart's reputation as a company?

Let's face it, Walmart is similar to Microsoft in that it's no one's favorite corporation — it's just a necessity for some people that they probably wouldn't mind avoiding if they could get the same services and products elsewhere for less cost and more convenience. The arguments about why Walmart practices unfair employment and business tactics abound, so the Mecca for Beccas from 'Bama doesn't really need another PR headache.

Writer B.L. Ochman over at AdAge writes that Walmart can't stop the site, but he also says the company shouldn't try to do anything special about it either.
If Walmart tries to squash the site, they'll quickly become the laughing stock of social media. If they laugh with the site, they'll be accused of laughing at their own customers. They're better off to stay quiet and let the hoopla die down. Which it will, eventually, if Walmart doesn't get heavy-handed. It's not a site that's likely to do lasting damage to the brand, or help it. It's a joke that's gone viral. But my bet is that Walmart won't suck it up and be a good sport. Time will tell.
Walmart's spokesperson, David Tovar, said to ABC News, "It doesn't seem like it's news that there's a Web site that allows people to post photos on it.

Well, OK, Mr. Humorist. I think a better statement might have at least attempted to say something nice about Walmart's customers.

But is ignoring the site really the best strategy? Some in the media community have suggested that Walmart should flip the script by creating its own Web site with flattering pictures of its more photogenic customers. I could see this working out well (once they find the customers, which will likely be a daunting task), especially if the photos are accompanied with short blurbs about why the shoppers love Walmart instead of snarky captions about self-defecation. However, while it would look good for Walmart, I'm not sure it would be a viral success because it wouldn't be funny. And the media might turn the story about Walmart's counter site into an investigation to see if the customers are cherry-picked, considering the company doesn't have the best track record with trying to implement social media (just Google "Wal-Mart blog scandal" or click here).

I am rarely one who thinks that companies should ignore potential image damagers. I think trying to just let things blow over is generally a very poor PR strategy that often results in disaster. However, in this case, I'm not so sure. Almost any action taken by Walmart would be like them saying, "Those aren't typical customers, our customers are usually very well-dressed and well-groomed." Oops, you just called a third of your shoppers rednecks.

My thinking is that, as a discount warehouse, Walmart isn't expected to be classiest place on Earth. People shop there to get anything they need in one convenient place and to get it at a price that is less than they would pay elsewhere. I don't think People of Walmart is going to stop anyone from shopping there (aside from those who already refuse to shop there) or hurt the company's bottom line. Will People of Walmart taint the company's image? No, I don't think so, because it's not telling anyone anything that they don't already know — it just gives us a chance to relive those special Walmart moments in our own homes where we can actually laugh out loud instead of having to restrain ourselves.

Even though People of Walmart has gone viral, it's not likely to cause widespread tremors in the media now that the launch has come and gone. Similar sites have gone viral on a much larger scale, especially those affiliated with social media mogul Ben Huh, such as I Can Has Cheezburger? and FAIL Blog. Still yet, I'd guess that the general population (and an even higher percentage of those in a Walmart store at any given time) have even heard of these sites. Sure, you think for a second that I'm crazy because everyone knows about those cute kittens with their misspelled phrases, but you're reading a blog right now. You're not exactly at the bottom of the food chain in that whole diffusion of innovations theory.

All I know is I can't wait for a Women of Target site to launch.

--------

So, what do you think Walmart should do? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Toad-a Pop or Toad-al Scam? The PR Case Study Continues

Surely you've heard about the recent Diet Pepsi scandal involving a "frog or toad" found in Florida in a can of the popular soda. Found... or strategically placed?

What you might not remember are the massive hoaxes of the early 1990s involving Pepsi, when a couple in Washington state claimed to have found a syringe in their can of soda, sparking widespread claims of similar tampering elsewhere in the country. Unfounded accusations of tampering, that is. While a few cases were never fully resolved, Pepsi was never found to have done anything wrong, nor was there ever any proof of tampering at its manufacturing facilities. In fact, virtually all of the cases were found to be hoaxes.

Why this matters in terms of public relations is how Pepsi handled the whole syringe situation in 1993. While the liars looking to make some quick bucks off Pepsi were taking the trial to the media, Pepsi had to find a way to do the same thing without making the ultimate PR mistake of all — accusing the consumer. And thus the reason this became one of the greatest PR case studies ever.

Pepsi's statement then was a mirror image of its statement in light of the frog-in-the-can accusations. Paraphrased, they said that the speed at which cans move on the lines at Pepsi factories is too fast for tampering to have taken place. In order to help change the minds of the American public (while losing tons of money on lower products being sold and the marketing campaigns necessary to combat the hoaxes), Pepsi took to the media as well. Before long, the negative coverage about claims of syringes turned into broadcasts of Pepsi's video news releases and video taken by reporters invited into Pepsi plants around the country. The images of the fast-moving conveyor belts looked pretty convincing.

But perhaps the most genius part of Pepsi's PR plans involved the FDA. The company pressured the FDA to make a statement that the cases were apparently hoaxes, which they eventually did. This allowed official word to come out that it was some consumers who were at fault and not Pepsi, without Pepsi actually having to do the deed.

Fifty-three people in 20 states were arrested for filing false claims back then, and that's not even close to the number of people who actually made claims. Remember the finger in the Wendy's chili back in 2005? Think about it for a second. Can you remember how that was resolved? If you did, you're probably more media-savvy than the average consumer. Just to clarify, the woman making those claims was arrested too, and it all turned out to be a hoax. The problem organizations face in terms of PR is that the media heavily report the sensationalized stories of dangerous and exotic items being found in our favorite products, but the subsequent resolutions of these matters (almost always hoaxes) end up as briefs in the back of the newspaper or buried at the bottom of your favorite news station's links of the day on their Web site.

So am I saying that Fred DeNegri of Ormond Beach, Fla., is a liar? Well, in all likeliness, yes. Now, I'll admit it's possible that Kermit left Jim Henson's closet and trekked from L.A. to Texas before swimming across the Gulf of Mexico to Florida and making his way to Pepsi's Orlando plant. Yes, anything is possible. Oh, but wait, then Kermie freaking sneaked inside the plant, avoiding all of the workers, before finding a frog-sized ladder to climb up to the conveyor belt with the soda cans on it. Kermit had been taking notes from his buddy Frogger, you see, and he knew that he had to time his greatest scheme ever just right or he would end up splattered from Orlando to Tampa Bay. So he waited, and he waited, and then he jumped with the precisive accuracy that only an overweight, 35-year-old gamer in his mother's basement on an Atari 2600 guiding a pixelated amphibian could achieve. And, splash! Kermit had made it in the can, somehow losing his "internal organs normally found" in a frog. Orrrrr, DeNegri could be making it up. But who are we to pass judgment?

Oh, and DeNegri's original guess as to what was in the can? A mouse. Later in 1993 (after the syringe panic), a Mexican woman visiting the U.S. did indeed find a small rat in her Pepsi can, which federal investigators confirmed but did not initially release findings about for fear of creating another scare. However, Pepsi denied any responsibility in this matter. It is convenient, however, that with a little bit of Googling, DeNegri could have also learned this. I'm not saying he did it, and I'm not saying it's all a hoax. But it's almost always a hoax when something such as this has happened in the past.

In its most recent PR efforts, Pepsi's spokespersons have used the rhetoric surrounding all the previous hoaxes to their advantage, stating that "there never has been even a single instance" where these types of claims have been traced back to manufacturing issues. Other than that statement, Pepsi seems to be keeping mum on the incident, but it's likely there won't be enough idiots out there who think they can get away with fake claims to cause any sort of panic like the one that occurred in 1993. And that's the reason why the DeNegri's are either very unlucky Pepsi drinkers or very stupid people. Only time will tell, but I'd expect Pepsi to let the whole ordeal run its course, probably ending with an FDA statement if a hoax is confirmed. After all, they've been through this before.

Don't expect Pepsi's sales or reputation to suffer as much this time around as they did in 1993, either. After all, syringes brought up thoughts about AIDS and drugs, topics that were quite a bit higher in the media's priorities and in the daily repertoire of politicians at the time. We can handle swallowing frog parts as long as we don't get a disease, right? In addition, there have been a lot of these I-found-something-in-my-something-else stories and false stories via e-mail chain letters since 1993 as well. In a way, the American public is more desensitized to this than they were 16 years ago.

Feel free to discuss Pepsi's PR strategies and anything else you please in the comments section below. What theoretical applications do you see here, and would you do anything different then or now? What are your thoughts regarding the brand of Pepsi? Keep the comments and questions coming!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to grab a Diet Coke.











----

Sources/Additional Reading:

FDA says residue is frog or toad
Wendy's hopes arrest will bring back customers
Hoaxes are found in the Pepsi case
The Pepsi Product Tampering Scandal of 1993
Needle in Pepsi

Friday, September 4, 2009

Time Keeps on Ticking

Wow, can you believe it has already been more than a year since I started this blog? If you haven't followed since the beginning, then you might not know that I originally created ReJo (as I'll now refer to the site, and as it is referenced in the new logo in the new title banner above, featuring a quill pen and a sword) as a way to keep track of thoughts during my graduate internship during grad school. This will be the 285th post on the site in just a little more than one year. Not too shabby, I'd say. I know the posts probably started out a little scattered and long-winded, but I hope that I've gradually narrowed my posts (a process I'll admit I'm still working on) into shorter, more-interesting musings.

Since I started the blog, I've finished my Master's degree and am very close to landing a job in public relations, or at least a related field (that is yet to be determined). I also created my online portfolio, a tool that has been very helpful in the job-searching process, as employers in my field constantly want to see work samples. Not only do I have tons posted on there, but the site itself is a work sample! I also recently started Relatively Reviewing (likely to be shortened in most references to ReRev), and I hope that it gets off the ground and that I can get some good volunteers to take over most of the work on that as I transition into the workforce.

I thought it might be fun to take a look back at the various evolutions of ReJo thus far. Check it out below.

Stage One
The original title banner was as eclectic, messy and varied (featuring the Memorial Fountain at Marshall University, the New River Gorge Bridge, Virginia Tech's signature building, the Cascades and the Mill Mountain Star) as the first few months of the blog itself were.

Stage Two
The fall brought with it a great banner featuring fall colors (and Hokie colors), along with a classy maple leaf and me looking at myself. Why? I don't know either. But with less internship stuff to talk about came more PR and journalism topics discussed in my grad school classes and in the news. I also wrote some about fall sports and my thoughts on the historic 2008 election.

Stage Three
This spring-time adjustment brought a new banner (featuring a way-too-close awkward angle of my headshot) and a green theme. (Go Herd!) It also meant more fewer, shorter posts. I still hadn't quite found the perfect niche for the blog, but it was closer.

Stage Four
I had wanted to do a winter theme on the blog, but the fall-to-spring academic semester thinking I suppose stopped me from doing that. However, I went ahead and used a blue-and-white theme because of its visually calming appeal and created a banner that went along with it. Yeah, so the end of spring and most of the summer of 2009, this is what you've seen — my winter theme and a banner where I'm wearing a sweater. Heh. Oops. I did include keywords on the banner though that really highlighted where I want to take the blog in terms of niche. It looks like a lot, but so many of those things could be grouped together. Media encompasses journalism, PR, the Web and many other things to me. I will no longer likely write too much about education because I'm not currently in school (don't worry, I'll get that Ph.D. someday). You get the idea. Things are getting better. I might post a photo or video from time to time, or maybe I'll write a short post on a fun subject, but the blog definitely has more focus and has since I started using this theme. I'm pretty happy with where things are headed.

Stage Five — The Present
Annnd heeeree we areee. This is the new title banner you see above, and while I have only changed some minor things about the design of the site, it's simpler, cleaner and easier on the eyes now, I think. The wintry blue text is now the Web standard of black, but there are still shades of my favorite, calming color present. I decided to try a bit of branding with the ReJo, as I realize Relatively Journalizing might be a bit of a mouthful at times. I also placed some focus on those two words though by showing that the blog's title came out the words for my two areas of expertise. The logo I designed myself, with the sword beneath the quill pen, but present. I wouldn't expect a whole lot of changes from what you've seen posted on the blog since Stage Four, but I do hope that once I get a job (which I'm thinking and hoping will be very, very soon) I'll have some additional insights on strategic communication to add regularly.

Thanks for reading, and spread the word about ReJo. Send the link out on Twitter or Facebook for me, OK? Let me know as well if you'd like to guest post here or on ReRev, or if you'd like to try to take on some other role. I'm certainly open to collaboration and taking opportunities as they arise. Technorati appraises this blog's worth at about $3,000, so I likely will look to monetize soon with some Google AdSense or something. We shall see what happens. Until next time!

Wipe 'Em Clean!

Virginia Tech vs. Alabama, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 in Atlanta, Ga.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Kawasaki Kolor

My parents recently completed an 800-mile motorcycle ride through various parkways and backroads of the two Virginias. My dad took this great photo, and I decided to do a little Photoshop magic with it.

Gmail Fail!

Original post: 4:41 p.m. EST, Sept. 1, 2009
First Update: 4:53 p.m. EST, Sept. 1, 2009
Second Update: 5:16 p.m. EST, Sept. 1, 2009

Not long after Google takes the BETA tag off its popular Gmail, the service goes down. The Twitterverse and blogosphere immediately surged with thousands of posts and hashtags. Facebook friends began asking each other, "Did your Gmail fail also?"

I suppose this quick blog post will just become one of the many in the chatter that is likely to follow in the next hour. Google says it is working on the problem, and it's possible that some users have had their Gmail restored already. In fact, Google hopes to have the problem resolved within the next hour or so, unless something changes.

This quick work is great Google, but with all the money you make and talented people you employ, couldn't you have prevented the crash in the first place? I suppose this just goes to show that nothing that involves computers is every really infallible. Crashes happen, and we just have to live with them from time to time (though, as a Mac user, I'm not really accustomed to doing that).

In the tradition of Relatively Journalizing, let's get this conversation directed toward public relations though. Will this minor crash have any implications on the giant of the Web in terms of its users and their expectations and loyalties? What can we learn from the virtually instant social media impact? All these questions and more await, so hit the comments, communicators.

Update: I should note that one crash might not matter all that much, but this crash is in addition to notable failures by the service in May and February of this year, in addition to crashes in April, August and October in 2008. (Information Week has more on this and on the official times when this problem started today.)

Update: My Gmail is now working. Total outage time was about an hour for me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Choosing Sides

So, I have a decision to make. And even if you aren't a sports person, I think you'll be able to appreciate the predicament in which I find myself. You see, Sept. 12, 2009, Marshall University and Virginia Tech will face off in a college football game at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. Why is this important, you ask? Well, it's likely to be a snoozer of a game with the Hokies of VT, the defending Atlantic Coast Conference and Orange Bowl champions, demolishing the Thundering Herd of Marshall, a Conference-USA team that finished 4-8 last season and tied for last place in its division and has been dismal since the departure of stars such as Chad Pennington, Randy Moss, Byron Leftwich, Ahmad Bradshaw and coach Bobby Pruett. But for me, an alumnus of both universities, I have a tough choice to make about where my loyalties will lie.

Now, it's possible that Marshall surprises the country and pulls off a win against the Hokies, and I'm definitely not so shallow as to just say right off the bat that I want to root for the team that has the best chance of winning. And while I can say that I want both teams to do well and that I will be happy no matter the outcome, on the inside, I know that I will pull for one team at least a little more than the other in my heart.

So do I go with Marshall, the school where I did my growing up, received an amazing education, made tons of great friends and attended one and a half football games? Or do I choose Virginia Tech, where I fell in love with college football, made even more friends (though for a shorter amount of time during which to get to really know them) and began to figure out where my life might eventually lead? As you can see, I experienced a lot of positives at both schools (and some negatives, but the positives definitely outweigh them), so just going by the experience at the school makes the choice no less tough. The one thing that I do know is that Virginia Tech was a football school through and through, and at Marshall only the most hardcore fans really cared at all. However, they did make a movie about the football team while I was attending MU. (See Warner Bros.' "We Are Marshall" if you haven't.)

Now, I'm sure I'll catch a little flak from friends at either school if I don't cheer for their alma mater. And of course I've heard the arguments about how your undergraduate alma mater should be where your loyalties lie and so on and so forth. But I've come up with a plan that I think is very suitable and well-reasoned, and it involves two different situations with two different outcomes.

Situation One: Cheering for the Hokies
Virginia Tech has been touted as a possible national championship contender this season. Now, some recent injuries and questions about quarterback Tyrod Taylor's development have a lot of people doubting any such prediction. However, with a team that was very young last year, VT won their conference and a BCS bowl, so why not a national championship this year?

The determination about whether or not the Hokies are in the race for the national title will be decided in their very first game. If they lose to the Alabama Crimson Tide in Atlanta come Sept. 5, then there is very little chance of them seeing a national title game because of the way the rankings are compiled. So, if the Hokies win in Atlanta, then they will still be in the hunt during the game against Marshall, and I will cheer for the Hokies in hopes of an alma mater national title.

Situation Two: Cheering for the Herd
Now, if the Hokies lose to Alabama, then the best they can probably hope for is a repeat of last year — ACC championship and Orange Bowl. Losing to Marshall would not affect that road in any way, as Marshall is a nonconference game, and the ACC champion has an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl. So even though losing to Marshall the week after losing to Alabama might knock them out of the rankings completely, they would still have all season to look forward to and nothing would be really different as long as they run the gauntlet of their conference schedule without error.

So, if the Hokies aren't in the national championship hunt come Sept. 12, here's to hoping the Herd knock them off, as it would be a really big win for my undergraduate alma mater (without really affecting the season for my graduate alma mater), a program that really badly needs a big win right now to get back on track to the prestige it had in the '90s.

What do you think about my reasoning? Anyone else out there had this dilemma before? What did you do?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Value of an Online Portfolio

Have you ever thought about creating an online portfolio of your work? Well, don't think twice, because this could be a valuable asset during your recession (or any time) job hunt. While I have yet to land a job, I'm playing the waiting game with some potential employers where I've interviewed as I write this, and getting to the interview stage is a pretty big accomplishment in my book.

If you work in an industry such as public relations where you create visual and/or textual products, then having an online portfolio of work samples is a must. I wasn't sure if this would help me impress potential employers, but I did want to have my work readily available somewhere other than on my own hard drive. As it turns out, every employer that has contacted me so far has asked if I can show them work samples. And, they have seemed to like that I give them a quick dot-com (www.prjosh.com) where they can check out samples just by clicking on thumbnails of news releases, graphic design projects and more.

We'll see if this all becomes part of something that leads to finally getting work in the field, but it's definitely nice to have this resource to set you apart from others who might not have samples readily available. In the current job market, anything you can do to prove your work ethic and value to potential employers must be done, so stop waiting! Go create that online portfolio now!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Joss vs. J.J.

There are a few Joss Whedon vs. J.J. Abrams articles out there on the Web, but most of them seem quite hastily done and just don't seem to live up to my expectations. Therefore, I decided to look at the body of work of these two cultural icons (for us geeks anyway) to determine just which one has the edge as being the coolest creator of nerdy needs in the galaxy. Who is the true geek? Let the ultimate battle begin!

Round One — Television

Joss Whedon
Roseanne — we'll forgive him for taking part in the writing of one of the most-annoying shows in history starring one of the most-annoying women in history (she ties with Rosie O'Donnell).

Buffy the Vampire Slayer — one of the greatest shows of all time with one of the largest followings of all time.

Angel — a spinoff that met mixed reviews, but it spun off from previously mentioned great show.

Firefly — judging by DVD sales of the one-season-long series and the success of the movie that resulted from this series, the cancellation of this amazing space show with a Wild West feel might have been one of FOX's biggest mistakes ever.

Dollhouse — Whedon's new show on FOX had an exciting, amazing first season that generated a lot of buzz among action and science fiction fans, though its similarities to the first season of Abram's Alias are a bit eerie. (AND ELIZA DUSHKU!)

The Office — yeah, Joss directed some episodes of what might be the funniest comedy ever to grace NBC.

J.J. Abrams
Felicity — a girl struggles to become a woman. Yeah, not so nerd-pleasing, for the most part.

Alias — Jennifer Garner stars as the ultrahot Sydney Bristow in this double-agent thriller. However, the series completed a sort of U-turn around the fourth season that continued until the end of the final fifth season and become less of an action-oriented spy show and more of a science fiction mishap worthy of ridicule on Mystery Science Theater.

Lost — a brilliantly engaging show that leaves viewers with 10 new questions for every answer an episode provides. The characters are deep, interesting and interact in believable, engaging ways. This is the ultimate show for people who love twists and turns at every corner, mixed with plenty of action, emotion and science ficiton.

Fringe — basically The X-Files redone in Abrams' own style. The show is relatively new, so there is still time for it to develop into something better.

The Office — yep, J.J. has guest directed Michael Scott and company as well.

What About Brian, Six Degrees and Anatomy of Hope — failure, failure and what will likely be a failure.

Round One winner: Joss Whedon. Basically every TV show he touches is delicious. Abrams, on the other hand, creates decent stuff, but only Lost can truly be considered a masterpiece while plenty of his other work can be deemed garbage. It should be noted, of course, that Abrams actually doesn't do a whole lot of the writing for Lost.

Round Two — Movies

Joss Whedon
Buffy the Vampire Slayer — a movie based on a highly entertaining and largely successful show.

Toy Story — before CG cartoons became the norm, the originality and hilarity of Toy Story put it in the history books as a classic tale.

Alien Resurrection — we could probably have done without the sequels generated from this franchise.

Speed, Waterworld, Twister, X-Men — all great movies in their genre (say what you will about Waterworld, but it is a fun watch), though Whedon is not credited as the writer of these films and denies that he wrote them. The writer of Speed claims Whedon wrote the dialogue for that film, and Whedon says only a couple of his original lines for X-Men made the final cut. Just for being mentioned around these films, though, Whedon has to get some points, right?

Serenity — the film version of the Firefly TV series. This one is good as a standalone or for the die-hard fans of the show. The quirky characters and story that isn't so run-of-the-mill space battle as it might seem at first glance all make this film a must-see.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog — this one is available on Hulu right now if you haven't seen it! This neat little humorous musical starring Neil Patrick Harris will leave your sides hurting, your heart warmed and your face smiling.

Note: Whedon has been involved with a couple of smaller movie projects and upcoming titles, which we'll go ahead and skip over here for the sake of time.

J.J. Abrams
Forever Young — the all-star cast in this flick probably make it better than the cryogenic screenplay should have.

Armageddon — this is a film almost everyone has seen and loved. Made-for-TV rip-offs and even movie execs have tried to recreate the feel and basic storyline of Armageddon without ever making anything a tenth as good. Bruce Willis and Aerosmith's hit single "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" didn't hurt either.

Mission: Impossible III — like all M:I movies before it (and probably after it), it wasn't anything to write home about, but it was entertaining and action-packed. Here's to hoping Tom Cruise gets abducted by the aliens before he has a chance to star in the next one, though.

Cloverfield — for all the hype generated preceding this movie, it was highly disappointing. The overall concept had been done before a thousand times (Godzilla, anyone?), and it had been done better.

Star Trek — if taking the original Star Wars trilogy and cramming it into one movie is considered genius, then Abrams had it right here. If it's considered cheap, boring to sci-fi fans and — well, that's mostly what it was. This film was critically acclaimed and loved by many — many people who probably weren't realizing they liked the film so much because they loved Star Wars almost as much as J.J. Abrams does.

Note: Abrams has been involved with some lesser-known films and has several projects in the works.

Round Two winner: Joss Whedon, barely. Both Joss and J.J. seem to have done their best work early on in their careers when it comes to movies. However, overall, Whedon's work is more varied, original and creative.


Round Three — Other Important Work

Joss Whedon
Astonishing X-Men — this new comic series in the Marvel universe was created specifically for Whedon to begin as the writer, and it won several awards and became the best-selling X-Men title during Whedon's 24-issue reign. Among other important story arcs, Whedon brought back fan-favorite X-Man, Colossus.

J.J. Abrams
Music — Abrams worked on the theme for Alias, Lost, Felicity and Fringe. He has written music for films since age 16.

Round Three winner: Joss Whedon. Being a comic book writer is a heckuva lot cooler than being able to write music. If you don't agree, I know some mutants who would love to meet you....

Round Four — Fake Advertisements

Joss Whedon
Fruity Oaty Bar — Firefly/Serenity fans will remember this one.


J.J. Abrams
Slusho — the best thing to come out of Cloverfield?

Round Four winner: Joss Whedon. His fake commercial is just cuter and catchier, and we all know we like it when River breaks bad.

Round Five — Dorkiest Look

Joss Whedon
Balding Irish creeptastic pedophile look.

J.J. Abrams
Horn-rimmed glasses mixed with a goofy face and haircut.

Round Five winner: This one is really a tough call. Do you go for the Conan O'Brien wannabe or the guy who looks about -1/10th as cool as he looks like he thinks he does? I think we have to rule out creepy looking dorky and go with the guy who has more confidence than actual good looks (just like all of us true dorks out there). J.J. Abrams finally wins one.

Overall Winner: Joss Whedon, 4-1.

Agree? Disagree? State your claim in the comments.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

10 RSS Feeds You Need

For some, the whole idea of using really simple syndication feeds has yet to catch on. However, these feeds are a great way for you to quickly browse what new information a source has put out since the last time you visited its Web site without actually ever having to visit the site. A quick search will reveal plenty of ways for you to collect the feeds, and some people use feed readers that collect hundreds of RSS feeds. However, to avoid getting to bogged down, I get some news via Twittter, Facebook, e-mail updates, and I use RSS feeds only to check about 10 sources. This way, I diversify the ways I get information in hopes of not missing something that I might not get if I used only RSS feeds.

Now, when you are following only 10 RSS feeds as I am, I have found that the perfect way to do this is to use the "View Feed XML" link that you normally see when you click the RSS button on a Web site. Here, you can get an option to add the feed to Firefox's toolbar, which leaves me with 10 feeds in my Web browser's tool bar that I can quickly and easily drop down to check for new content. In case you are unfamiliar with RSS feeds, basically what I see when I drop down is a listing of the most recent posts on that site in headline format. Then, if I decided I actually want to read one of those stories, I can click the link and open up the actual page. Otherwise, I'm caught up on what that source has to say for now, and I know I haven't missed out on a story that might have interested me.

So if I had to narrow down to only 10 feeds to recommend you start out with in terms of RSS? I would provide the following list:
  1. Relatively Journalizing
  2. Your local newspaper. For me, it's The Roanoke Times.
  3. A friend's blog. This will help you stay updated on their life and keep in touch.
  4. A second friend's blog. You do have another friend, right? If you don't you could follow No Use For a Headline.
  5. Your favorite sports team or conference. I keep updated on the ACC and my Virginia Tech Hokies via ESPN's ACC blog's own RSS feed. Virtually everything on their site has a separate feed you can follow.
  6. If you're in college, recently graduated or just like the perspective of young creativity, I recommend Student Bloggers. Otherwise, your favorite nonprofit, political cause or professional organization is sure to have a feed.
  7. Journerdism.com
  8. The Quad (NY Times' blog), especially for college sports fans. And who isn't?
  9. 10,000 Words, where journalism and technology meet.
  10. Be flexible here. If you don't follow CNN on Twitter, maybe you want to get their RSS updates. You can even get Facebook updates via RSS. Perhaps your profession has some blogs you want to add here or put in place of the journalism ones I mentioned above. The point is, be diverse in your media intake and don't be afraid to try out something that might sound scary at first such as RSS feeds!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What I Learned: Part 8 (The Finale)

This blog post is the eighth in a series where I go through my college transcripts, class-by-class, to determine what exactly it was that I spent six years learning. Come with me on this magical journey that might lead me to the promised land of employment and the American dream! (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.)

What I Learned: The Finale — Top 10 Things College Taught Me
If you've missed the story so far, check out parts one through seven at the links above. In this final installment, I'll group the conclusions drawn from the original seven posts and expound on them here to determine exactly what I spent six years learning while earning my Bachelor's and Master's degrees.
  1. Plan ahead when you take courses and jobs as a teenager. Try your best to determine how much you will actually be able to use the related skills learned in the future. Are you potentially wasting time?
  2. Have fun, and forge a few good friendships. Don't miss out on opportunities when you are young that might not present themselves when you are older.
  3. Destiny has a sense of humor, and we can't really predict the future in terms of what to pay the most attention to now in order to prepare for the future. Take life as it comes, and realize that everything is eventually interconnected. Don't ignore any details.
  4. Take the good with the bad, persevere, adjust fire, and go on down range again.
  5. Practical, hands-on experience with specific skills are the most valuable courses one can take.
  6. Exposure to new, sometimes disturbingly unfamiliar, things can often help you reap great rewards.
  7. It make take a while to find what you are truly passionate about and good at, and it might take even longer before that's actually what you get to spend your life doing.
  8. Education is not a job guarantee, regardless of what the trumpeters of academia have society convinced of.
  9. Again, don't waste time. Ever. You can't get it back.
  10. Good research skills are the first needed attribute in just about any profession.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Bubba Files: Meteorology Fail

We haven't had a Bubba Files to write about since the feature's inception, and who could've known that the second time around would also involve a cellphone snapshot of something funny on a car? This one is coming to you off I-81 in Virginia, right before the I-66 exit.

It appears that the van in front of me was on its way to Cooperstown, N.Y., likely for some sort of sporting event for a team called the Hurricanes. Immediately, I thought about the hockey team of that name in North Carolina, but with the NHL season well over (especially for the Hurricanes), I can only surmise one of three things:
  1. This car hasn't been washed in a long time.
  2. These people clearly didn't write the game schedules down correctly.
  3. There is another, even smaller, crappier sports team in North Carolina called the Hurricanes.
However, none of this really matters in terms of what makes this hilarious and ridiculous. I doubt anyone will "Fear the Storm," especially when you can't figure out what sort of storm exactly you want them to fear. Notice the "Hurricanes" written on the window, but then take a closer look at what is actually drawn on the window. Yeah, those aren't hurricanes — they're tornadoes.

You see, a hurricane is not cylindrical, my meteorologically inept Tar Heel friends, it actually looks like this:


Note the circular shape with the eye in the middle, which looks nothing like the upside-down triangles you've so masterfully painted on your glass, Bubbas.


Now, please excuse me while I go cheer on the Tigers.


Oops.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What I Learned: Part 7

This blog post is the seventh in a series where I go through my college transcripts, class-by-class, to determine what exactly it was that I spent six years learning. Come with me on this magical journey that might lead me to the promised land of employment and the American dream! (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.)

Fall 2007 — Spring 2009: Graduate School
I've decided to lump all four semesters of grad school into one post, considering I learned the least in grad school and racked up a lot of research and thesis hours that I obviously won't cover here. Check out the previous six parts if you are out of the loop on the story so far!

COMM 5014 — Communication Theory
I had a heck of a guy for the professor teaching this class, but it was mostly an overview of the areas in which one can study at the graduate level in communication, with guest speakers each week from various disciplines. I learned that much of what scholars call theory, I just call horse sense.

COMM 5024 — Communication Research Methods
I have one course that I didn't mention when talking about Marshall because it was technically a grad class — Statistical Methods. It went on to my VT transcripts for credit, and it was a big help in preparing me for this research methods class in communication. We did a content analysis and an experiment, ran the stats and wrote two papers all in one semester for this class. I learned a lot about experimental design, writing good survey questions, etc. This is probably in the top three most valuable grad classes I had, and the nicest, most-helpful professor in the world taught it.

COMM 5614 — Rhetorical Theory & Criticism
Why this is a required course for a public relations major, I don't even know. It should be in an English department first of all, and it is in many places I'm told. I learned nothing from this class except that some Ph.D.s have no idea how to teach whatsoever, regardless of how much they might be able to publish. The professor for this course was rude, creeptastic and gave unrealistic and vague assignments. Luckily, my adviser would later be able to steer me in the right direction regarding the application of the topics within the realm of rhetoric.

COMM 5814 — Theories of Mass Media: Agenda-Setting, Framing and Priming
Let me just say — one semester focused on only three theories? What were they thinking?!?! Now, I know agenda-setting has attributes and building levels, as does framing in some sense, but still, we ended up beating the dead horse a lot in this class. After the first few weeks, we discussed the same thing every time. If nothing else, I will say I learned how to explain these three theories very, very well.

COMM 5814 — The Political Columnist
This class had its high and low points. On one hand, I wrote a good political column each week that ended up going online with Planet Blacksburg for the whole semester. On the other, we went around each week, read our columns aloud, then listened to the same story from the professor he told us the previous week but had already forgotten he had told us. Nice guy, fun to work with and chat with, but I sort of got the vibe he wasn't too keen on having us do much work or trying to teach us much. He did require a research paper at the end, for which the guidelines were — well, there were no guidelines, so I wrote about metaphor in political columns and pulled off a great paper.

PAPA 5315 — Government Administration
I don't know who named this class, but it had nothing to do with working in the government or administrating anything. It should've been called, "Personalities and Poor Professoring 101." We talked about the MBTI personality test and how managing lots of different people takes certain types of leadership decisions, etc., but it was never anything more than common sense kind of stuff. The professor had a few guest speakers come in, none of which were very good speakers. Some classes, he just showed us some random slideshow or talked for hours on end about how great he was and how much he liked red wine. The best part was when he was going to tell us how to put together a résumé (because we obviously didn't know that by the time we were in graduate school), and the slides he showed us had stuff misspelled all over the place. Rather than actually teaching anything himself, he assigned each student a chapter from the book to teach each week, though he did rudely interrupt each presenter several times to ask odd, irrelevant questions. And thus the reasons I took no more CPAP classes at VT.

COMM 5814 — Campaigns
Don't let the title of this class fool you. Had it not been for my own go-gettering, I would've done nothing related to campaigns in this class. The subject matter was supposed to be public relations, political and public health campaigns, though we spent the majority of our time on the latter. Most of this class was just one student wasting our time by enjoying conversation time with the professor like the rest of us weren't in the room. We talked about some campaigns, but we were never taught anything about campaign development, strategy, employment, etc. We just read about them in journal articles, and we delved into communication theory a lot more than should have been done for a campaigns class. This should have been a hands-on class, which is what I made it. I got permission to do my final project as a campaign development for the local government's museum project, a capital campaign, in lieu of a final research paper. My mentor and friend who was my internship boss helped me with this opportunity where I really did a lot of my own research and got into the meat of campaign development, no thanks to the actual campaigns course. Oh, and I still haven't received a grade or comments about that final project, even though I've been graduated for almost two months and out of the class for more than six.

COMM 5814 — Crisis Communication
Other than my internship, this class is the most valuable thing I did in grad school. My adviser taught the class, and she and I really are on the same wavelength as far as learning styles, I think. She uses lots of great, real-life examples and diagrams to support and explain communication theory. I learned to really thing strategically and found my love for what I really hope to do someday — be in charge of a corporation or client's long-term strategic communication plans, especially in terms of environmental scanning and employing actional legitimation. Unfortunately, most entry-level PR practitioners (and many senior ones) never get to do this sort of thing, but I can always dream.

COMM 5814 — Communication Studies Seminar in Pedagogy
The three-hour credit was actually spread in one-hour credits across the course of the first three semesters of grad school. It was usually right around lunch time, which made it sort of an annoyance, especially for those who had no other reason to be on campus that day. Most of what we did could have been done via discussion board and e-mail, and the graduate teaching assistants were the ones enrolled, and they all already had a separate required meeting each week where we rehashed the same stuff. That's not to say I didn't learn some good things about what to do and not do as a teacher, but I really didn't need three semesters to grasp that. Plus, experience is the best thing in learning about that sort of thing. I had a good professor here who was friendly and made it go smoothly, but I'm glad to hear that they've changed this to just a one-semester, optional course in the department.

COMM 5904 — Project and Report
The single most-valuable part of graduate school for me wasn't a class at all. It was this, my internship. I got to be involved at least minimistically with a very wide array of projects to get an idea of how to actually work in a public relations setting. My previous PR experience was media relations and events only, and other than that, I was all journalism. This internship helped me see advertising and PR working together, as well as more-strategic realms of PR such as helping corporate clients get themselves out of messes or project-based tasks such as creating annual reports for other clients.

COMM 5514 — Public Relations Theory & Practice
This class was pretty much Campaigns, Comm Theory and Crisis Communication all rolled into one. There was a lot of rehashing theories and very little practice. Wait, I think there was no practice.

COMM 5894 — Final Examination
I chose to do a combination of internship (with an 80-plus-page paper incorporating my experiences into theory) and final examination (comprehensive exams) in lieu of a thesis. I'm glad I did because all of those thesis-track people have a thick slab of paper that might, if they are lucky, see partial publication in a journal someday. On the other hand, I got valuable work experience and a chance to demonstrate my mastery of all of the subjects covered during my two years in grad school.

COMM 5974 — Independent Study (Research Task Force)
So I actually persuaded my adviser to let me do an independent study where I wrote nothing wholly new, but instead I did multiple revisions on papers for conference/journal submissions. I figured the submissions would be a big help if I ever want to go on for a Ph.D. I got three journal submissions out, and I have a few papers nearing completion of another revision. Perhaps once I get a job, then I'll start worrying about all of that stuff again and try some publishing in my spare time. What I learned? The peer-reviewed world of publication is harsh, and Ph.D.s who teach at research institutions must be nuts trying to get published all the time when they could just go teach somewhere (oh wait, see Rhetorical Theory & Criticism professor notes above).

So what did I learn in grad school?
  1. Exposure to new things, such as communication theory outside the realm of journalism-school curriculum, helps you think at new levels.
  2. There is no substitute for hands-on, practical experience, and today's academics just don't seem to understand that.
  3. Graduate school is a nice distraction from the real world for two more years after college, especially if you have an assistantship for funding purposes, but the M.A. won't guarantee you a job over someone who can show they've been working in the field full-time while you were learning about McCombs and Shaw.
  4. People waste a lot of time researching and writing about stuff that country boys just call common sense.
  5. I learned to become a much better researcher, which is handy when developing any sort of strategic plan.
  6. Going to a football school is a heck of a lot of fun. Going to one with some really down-to-earth, nerdy classmates just adds to the fun.