• The Pepper Shaker

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2013 in Review

I got this today:

“The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 640 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 11 trips to carry that many people.”

 

I guess being silent can be good!

Bringing Romney to Australia

I was recently asked by a former professor at the University of Sydney to join in writing for her new independent online news forum: MegaphoneOZ. So far it has been a wonderful opportunity for me to harp on my hobbies of press writing and social media,  not to mention to keep close ties with the incredible people of Australia.

Mitt Romney at a rally in Paradise Valley Arizona in December 2011 – Photo: Gage Skidmore

My colleague and editor, Pam Walker, began her online community just in the last few months. With unpaid journalists, her innovative media outlet provides a place for honest lovers of the written word to submit news stories from downtown Sydney across the world to Phoenix.

As the US Contributor, I have been asked to write my first piece on Romney, his LDS faith, and what it means for Mormon voters. Being a Mormon myself, it was exciting to write about all the media discussion surrounding the LDS Church, especially for a country who knows less about it. US journalists are calling it “the Mormon Moment” and with Mitt Romney running for US president, that momentum goes far beyond our country’s borders. I think the placement of my article suggests just that.

To catch a glance at the article, just click on the image of Romney in this post. I’ve also been added to the list of contributors on the MegaphoneOZ “About Us” page, here.

TNT’s Emotion Explosion

The tell-tale signs of great public relations activities are shown when companies have the ability to connect with their audiences. Keeping true to what good PR is all about – sincere interactions with audiences that really deliver it’s brand promise – TNT has really come through recently.

The first video below produced for the Turner Network Television (TNT) is apparently to promote the release of its network in a small town in Belgium. Clearly, though, it’s promotion expands much further than just that one geographical area. Social media has enabled the network to take its message further; the message that no matter how simple and routine your life may be, TNT is going to be there to bring some drama into your life.

I thought that was an excellent example of letting audiences participate in what your brand is all about. Those innocent town people lived their lives simply until they found that button. The TV network hit the PR nail on the head by creating the dramatic emotion they desire their brand to represent.

Even when it comes to basketball – people young or old, from East or West – this other TNT commercial harps tenderly on even the toughest basketball lovers’ hearts.

Again, TNT created an emotion of which basketball fans are keen to dream about: the All-Star Greats from times past and today, playing together and competing in fantasy games. That love for basketball is what brings it home. Magic Johnson’s no-look pass to Kobe? Jordan fist-bumping with Derrick Rose? Only in your dreams…or TNT.

My Prezime

I recently discovered and fell in love with prezi.com. It’s an innovative online tool for creating presentations that allows you to zoom around frames and pictures instead of tediously clicking slide after slide.

Taking advantage of this, I created my first visual resume! It literally follows my path in public relations in what I hope is a creative way to show a future employer what makes me the best candidate for the job. Take a look.

+ Hi. I’m Todd. Resume 2.0

I would have liked to embed the link, but the Web site is still working out a few features, like making Prezi compatible with WordPress. Anyway, thanks for checking it out!

Compassion vs. Sensationalism

Only a week after arriving in Australia to commence my studies at the University of Sydney, the country’s “sister” nation of New Zealand was devastated by a powerful 6.3 earthquake. Even though I had only just arrived, I knew those around me would be affected by the events in Christchurch. They would perhaps have family, close friends, colleagues, or other loved ones complicated by or suffering from the incident.

As I watched the news reports roll out over the following days, I began to notice a trend in the style of news coverage that I was not accustomed to seeing. Footage of limp bodies being pulled from rubble, older folk walking by the screen with blood on their shirt, another woman holding a bloody cloth to her head as she cried. I was taken aback by the real-life video of these people obviously in pain, and realized that I would likely have never seen such intense video if I was back home.

Human Nature: A Constant Battle

Many people undoubtedly share the same feelings of empathy and sadness after disasters like the Christchurch earthquake. According to communications scholars who studied the effects of the media, those feelings of empathy that naturally occur should be a guideline in professional media matters. “The sacredness of life, evident in the natural being, grounds a responsibility that is global in scope and self-evident regardless of cultures and competing ideologies” (Ward 2010). This is to say that caring and empathetic feelings should create in media professionals a safeguard from overexposing the distress and grim reality of events out of respect for those who suffered.

However, as Immanuel Kant indicated, there are “particular attributes of human nature” that lead us to wrongful acts. In order to help prevent these actions, we should only act if at the same time we would will it to be a universal law, meaning that one’s judgment and following action could be applied to everyone, including one’s self. (Abbot 1909, p. 38).  Such thinking requires one to place him or herself into the shoes who are receivers of the action. In the Christchurch earthquake case, it would require reporters and photojournalists and their editors to put themselves in the shoes of those affected before publishing their work.

Codes for Compassion

It is this type of noble work that many journalists’ codes of ethics encourage. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), an international organisation, states the following rule in part of their code for ethical journalist behaviour: “Journalists should show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage” (Code of Ethics 2011). The compassion journalists should have in their work again echoes the principle that media workers should not publish or otherwise exploit the distressed. Instead, they should offer honorable news stories that respect individuals’ privacy and be sensitive to feelings, as they would want had positions been reversed.

The guideline to report the news with respect and compassion to those who are affected seems to be a globally-held guideline for journalists. A discrepancy, though, lies in where the line of decency should be maintained. Rightfully so, too. Compassion is like other virtuous traits and has a broad range of expression. Some people may have little to offer while other have much to give. This presents some problems in maintaining a concrete guideline that protects the private moments of distress of individuals and broadcast decent news.

Decency Throughout the World

Another important observation is that this guideline fluctuates between countries around the world. If this guideline is so widely believed and obeyed, then news workers throughout the world should be consistent in their reporting. But it is not. A closer look on how the Christchurch earthquake was broadcast throughout the world indicates this point.

To evaluate how the line of decency changes throughout the world, I reviewed three television news broadcast reports of the Christchurch earthquake immediately following the event. One was a news video broadcast from The Los Angeles Times in the US, another from an international Latin American news broadcast, and a third television broadcast from a major news station in New Zealand.

The video broadcast from the US displayed film of people conversing in streets, reports by government officials, destroyed buildings, and a short clip showing bleeding (Deadly Quake 2011).

http://www.latimes.com/videobeta/84623c89-21a2-4856-a8fe-d8a3747e1aad/News/Deadly-quake-rocks-New-Zealand.

The television report from New Zealand pictured clips of people scurrying to escape falling buildings, conversing in streets, some official reports and longer segments of blood and distress (Christchurch Earthquake 2011).

The Latin American television news broadcast presented constant clips of distress, a limp body, rescue efforts and rubble, with much less presentation of official reports by a governing officer (Primer Impacto 2011).

Clearly, the line of what is decent to air varies widely between these three regions.

It is observable that the reports relay a similar use of exported B-roll film, likely recorded by local news organizations. It is interesting to review which clips each news organisation choose to use and if they added to it more exclusive footage. The reasons for this variation may have to do with the cultural expectations of the news media, a reflection of cultural values, or knowledge and adherence to professional journalistic guidelines. Compassion, by definition provided SPJ Code of Ethics, appears to vary for some reason or another.

Sensational Journalism

The most difficult problem may be caused by the marketing power of sensationalism. According to research, sensationalism is vague by definition, even in academic circles (Grabe, 2001). It indicates that topics that are often sensationalized for attention are stories about crime, accidents, disaster, and scandal. Interestingly, all of these points call for sensitivity from journalists reporting the news. The main effects of sensational journalism are threefold: it displaces socially significant stories, violates notions of human decency, and is seen as a marketing ploy that debases the purpose of news. (Grabe, 2001).

If compassion is the guideline to which media professionals maintain news decency, then sensationalism is its nemesis. Future industry workers should maintain the more virtuous part, if not for compassion alone, then at least for the sake of honest journalism and honorable behaviour.

Peppercorn #6: Google +

In my daily life, my thoughts hardly seem prophetic. But I got to hand it to myself…I think I got something right. On my post about the future of Facebook on December 15, 2010, I made the following conclusion:

“Finally, many many years from now, a revolution will occur. A new social media platform will begin, and what will start as a few will end up in a mass migration to the new platform just for something different.”

Just to prove it, here’s the link: “Facebook: The World Within”

Two weeks ago, Google released a trial version of Google +, basically it’s own social media platform. It presents itself a bit different than Facebook, though, and these differences will either be loved or hated.

1. The first difference is the idea that Facebook feels like a giant party where your posts are proclaimed to everyone in the room. Google+, on the other hand, feels more like a dinner party. You share your comments only within the circles that you desire. You can place people in any number of circles to make sure you get the word out to right people.

2. Google+ is interoperable across many other Google related tools, including Gmail, Blogger, Wave, and Picasa. It’s pretty neat to see how they all work together.

3. It’s new, and it is fairly clean and nice to look at. No ads (yet), no extra frills, no Farmville or any other thing to confuse you. It’s straight and to the point. The layout and pictures are crisp and work well together.

4. It’s fun to start over. There’s just something refreshing about it.

 

Does this mean Facebook is doomed? I doubt it. I think that most people, especially older folks, will stay put on Facebook. Younger users will continue to check their friends’ statuses and post albums. It would take a lot more and many years to bring over 500 million people from Facebook over to Google+. I don’t see it happening very quickly. In the meantime, Google+ will be used by early adopting social media lovers and techies who get excited about this kind of thing. Are you one of them?

 

The Beating Heart of PR

What makes it go? What makes it tick? What is public relations at its very core, its very center?

If you considered public relations to be an art (which it is), I am pretty sure I’ve discovered the painter’s brush. It’s very fine-tipped and hard to use, but if done correctly you would be able to capture the beauty of business. It came to me in my studies at the University of Sydney.  So far it is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve had so I thought I would share.

The New Public, Leon Mayhew

The insight comes from public relations academic Leon Mayhew, in his book, The New Public. The entire work itself is long. His language is much too verbose for me, but he presents key concepts into public relations that has really opened my vision. The main takeaway of The New Public teaches that most lines of media have been increasingly taken over by communicators and less by the general public. This persuades general opinion towards what communicators are saying, because that is what they see, and then that is what they believe. Hence, the public’s pure opinion is not fairly voiced, and only the opinion of communicators take the lead and create a “new public.”

But that isn’t the best bit.

The most valuable thing I learned pertains to just one part of the book. To my best recollection, the idea is  that the public, your stakeholders, must be able to redeem rhetorical tokens in order for your business to succeed.

Deep, I know! What this means, though, is that everything that public relations and marketing teams put out about their brand must be true and delivered. All of the rhetoric used in the messaging- the emotion, the appeal, the expectations- must actually be delivered when the public responds. If not, your brand becomes a fraud.

Let’s take Disney, for example. What are the things that Disney says about itself? The brand takes you into a fairytale, right? It promises to leave reality behind. It’s brand gives you a feeling of wholesomeness, goodness, and morals. Disney characters are lovable and friendly. The theme parks are magical and tells you it is “the happiest place on Earth.” This is the rhetoric.

People want all those things Disney promises. The public likes those things. They want those things. As they go to Disneyland, they are seeking to redeem those emotional feelings that Disney told them their brand was made of. They want “happiness”, “wholesomeness”, “magic” and “a fairytale.”

The moment guests arrive into the park and see a fairytale castle, the moment they watch Peter Pan characters fighting on pirate ship, or when they take a whirl on a ride is the very moment those rhetorical tokens are redeemed. They got what they were looking for. Disney delivered.

So you can imagine the implications when a company attempts to brand itself as one thing and have customers experience something it is not makes the whole communication the company had with customers false. Imagine expecting an Iphone, in all it’s sleek, chic techno-glory, and when you finally open the box it looks like a piece of frail plastic that crashes whenever you try to use it.

That right there is art of PR. It is being able to create a perfect cycle where PR pros emotionally engage with you, and those emotions are real and sincere when the public responds. Pretty fascinating, I think.

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