Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"What PR is...not"

The un-rated (i.e. edited) version:

    Ari Gold: he gets thousand dollar hair cuts while some poor kid holds his phone to his ear, he pays two grand to take his clients to Lakers’ games, he yells at whoever he wants, whenever he wants (usually getting whatever he wants), and he goes through more personal assistants than bottles of Ax body spray. More importantly, Ari, the beloved publicist of Vincent Chase in the HBO series Entourage, lies, cheats, blackmails, spins stories, and, inventively, paints the inaccurate picture that many outside of the field have of the Public Relations business.
    Although students and professionals in the Public Relations field know that fictional characters such as Ari Gold represent the extreme side of a typical stereotype of the business, it is not uncommon for friends, relatives, and the general public to believe otherwise.
    “Public Relations is not just what you see on television. It’s not all about promoting celebrities, and even for those who do, it’s a very small segment,” Professor Michelle Honald said, “Also, it’s not about being an ‘evil genius’; spinning is not a part of PR.”
    Rather than “spinning” problems, which is a mechanism used to react to a problem, Honald believes that Public Relations is about being proactive, or “stopping problems before they start”. Also, contrary to popular belief, honesty is the number one rule in PR.
    “One of the most important ideas in PR is transparency: being clear and not trying to hide things,” Honald said, “This field is not about hiding the bad, it’s about acknowledging problems.”
    Danny Brown, owner of Press Release PR* and founder of the 12for12K Challenge**, agrees that a common misconception about those in this field is that “every PR person is akin to a snake-oil salesman and will say anything to get the dollar”.
    “It's true there are some shillers in the industry, but you get that anywhere,” Brown said, “thankfully there are great people making a difference and ‘cleaning up’ the industry and its perception.”
    Another common myth is that PR is all about the “glitz and the glamour”.
    “[In actuality] there's a lot of ‘boring’ work behind the scenes such as research for press releases, contact info, and legal clearance before a story or pitch can become live,” Brown said.
    Faded ideas such as those that surround the 1800’s “press agentry” also leave “outsiders” in the dark when it comes to what kind of work a PR professional actually does.
    “Most people think that PR is all about publicity when really, there is so much more that goes into it,” Honald said, “PR involves everything from community and internal relations, to event planning and communicating messages.”
    In Public Relations, misconception is the name of the game; those not in PR often confuse the field with others, such as marketing and advertising. Brown agrees that these fields are very similar, but there are some key differences.
    “With advertising, for example, if you pay for an ad to be shown, you're guaranteed that it'll be seen by your target audience; with PR, you're hoping that it'll be seen, but a lot has to do with relevance of story, timing, and media [among other things],” Brown said.
    When it comes to marketing, the difference is found in the publics. Marketing is a “sales and distribution function whose principal publics are the customers, retailers, and distributors” while public relations practice “involves many publics besides the customers” such as the media, employees, community leaders, government regulators, activist groups, and more (Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice, 2004).
   Finally, a fallacy that Brown comes across regularly is that PR will get a business all the sales it needs: that PR is a “magic brush that will get your name in all the major newspapers and TV shows”.
    “PR represents an opportunity to tell your story, but that story needs to be worth telling in the first place, and people need to be receptive to it. Get that combination and then you've got the chance to get some major eyeballs looking at you,” Brown said, “but a lot of it is luck, combined with hard work and knowledge.”
    Oh yeah, and a little bit of honesty, too.

*Press Release PR is a boutique agency offering social media PR and marketing consultancy to both small-to-medium businesses and Fortune 500 clients. For more information visit
**The 12 for 12,000 Challenge is the combination of social media and fund-raising that aims to change the lives of millions worldwide. For more info visit

Friday, February 20, 2009

PR*ofessional: "Non-profits"

    Nonprofits: there are approximately 1.6 million in the United States, the largest, Lutheran Services in America, being a nearly $7 billion dollar network according to Matthew Sinclair of the Nonprofit Times. This, at one point, placed Lutheran Services ahead of American Online and just behind Rubbermaid on the Fortune 300 list*.
    With thousands of charities registered nationally and flourishing rapidly and successfully, how does one organization make itself known among the masses? Public Relations.
    Noticeably different from it’s counterpart, not-for-profit public relations focuses on “fulfilling an educational or charitable mission” rather than focusing on developing services and products that will “make money for its owners, as a way of financially rewarding them for their investment in the company”**.
    Alumni Sarah Irvin of Irvin Public Relations has had the chance to work with several nonprofit clients over the years.
    “Nonprofit is a lot different from for-profit, given the fundraising that has to be done,” Irvin said, “also, nonprofit organizations rely heavily on volunteers, which can get hard because people have such busy schedules theses days”.
    One of Irvin’s nonprofit clients is the Columbus affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization, which hosts “Race for the Cure”. Those who do choose to work or volunteer for nonprofit organizations such as this one often have a different goal in mind.
    “People who work and volunteer [for Susan G. Komen for the Cure] are different because they’re so passionate,” Irvin said, “we have a lot of survivors who’ve been at death’s door step and they’re very powered by [the Race] and helping others”.
    Public Relations professionals who are in the nonprofit field do more than simply plan events to make money. Ohio is 4th in the country for mortality due to breast cancer so the Susan G. Komen organization “ works to raise awareness through the year by servicing 23 counties”, according to Irvin.
    “There are so many reasons to get people to care, we just have to find the ways,” Irvin said.
    It is not uncommon in non-profit PR situations to find a “one person department” according to Kelly Nowinsky, Public Relations Manager at COSI, the number one science museum in the country (Parents Magazine).
    Nowinsky handles external communications, which includes strategic communications planning, managing all Institutional Communications, writing press releases and pitching local media, handling social media efforts, writing PR plans for exhibits and films offered by COSI, and assisting the leadership team with media interviews and speeches.
    “Every single day is different, and full of cool new challenges,” Nowinsky said, “Also, the great thing about working with non-profit PR is that you literally get to do every single job; you are exposed to many new things because you are a small department or a one person department.”
    Being single-handedly responsible for one’s own department can prove to have both positive and negative sides.
    “The [other] side is that you are spread very thing and the work has to get done because it’s just you,” Nowinsky said, “but, I highly, highly recommend it”.
    The Chamber Orchestra of Columbus is another nonprofit group that Irvin works with. Irvin deals with researching the audience and figuring out who cares about classical music, organizing programs for children, organizing outreach programs, publicizing events, and finding sponsors and donors.
    “Our main goal right now is to get the younger generation to care about classical music,” Irvin said.
    With most non-profit, the goals and objectives are different and always changing.
    “Non-profit is totally different from public because it’s not a good or service being sold,” Irvin said, “it’s a passion that people have.”

*”The 500 Largest U.S. Corporations,” Fortune, 16 April 2001, p. F11.
**Baskin, Heiman, Lattimore, Toth, & Van Leuven (2004). Public Relations in Nonprofit Organizations. Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice (p322-345). New York, NY.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Hapiness is a Warm Gun..."

    It has recently been brought to my attention that not every breathing human on the face of this earth has seen the movie Across the Universe. This is truly a tragedy. For those of you who have seen it, kudos to you (unless you've only seen it once, in which case, you should probably consider watching it again), but for those of you who haven't, here's my official (ish) take on it...

    "A musical tribute to one of Rock’s most beloved bands, The Beatles, Across the Universe pulls together an interesting mix of song, psychedelic effects, and dance. With war and the struggle for peace in the foreground of the movie’s plot, this twisted musical captures the true spirit of the 60’s era through the use of 34 Beatles compositions.
    Including songs from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, Across the Universe cleverly and creatively plays out the fab four’s greatest hits while all the while stringing together a love story that hits ever note. Through the use of metaphors, director Julie Taymor’s characters use the well-known songs to parallel everything from the Vietnam War and the draft, to a young Asian girl (T.V. Carpio) and her infatuation with someone she can never be with.
   The cast’s lovable characters, including Jude (Jim Sturgess), a Liverpool native who comes to America and falls in love with the sheltered Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood ), make it nearly impossible not to care about the characters and their many situations. Max (Joe Anderson), Lucy’s brother and Jude’s first American friend, goes through as many changes as his prim and proper turned radical sister, leaving the audience anything but bored.

   From crazy, psychedelic scenes such as “I am the Walrus”, complete with appearance by Bono, to heart-wrenching serious acts such as the war tainted “Let it Be” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, Across the Universe has everything any musical lover, Beatles fanatic, or war buff could ask for in a movie."

A few other reasons I believe you should watch this movie:

-The cast is fresh and fairly unknown. Sure we all knew who Evan Rachel Wood was, but who knew she had those pipes? And thank you Julie Taymor for discovering Jim have completed my life.

-It's the musical-hater's musical. Leave thoughts of The Sound of Music and Chicago out of your head. Besides the random, but totally necessary, bursts of dancing from time to time, the plot is cleverly played out as if no one were singing at all. In other words, the movie does not simply move song to song.

-Dana Fuchs sounds like Janis Joplin and Martin Luther plays eerily like Hendrix.

-The scene Happiness is a Warm Gun. It will change your life, I swear.

-The clever inserts of Beatles' lyrics or references in simple dialogue or in background happenings. Sadie: "Where'd she come from?", Jude: "She came in through the bathroom window". Ba-dum-chi

-Joe Cocker. We needed him back in our lives.

Friday, February 6, 2009

From the Vault: "What's your sign?"

  A picture is worth a thousand words, but for many musical artists, certain pictures are worth so much more. Recognized around the world, band logos let many proudly flaunt their favorite artists without touching the alphabet. More importantly, however, they represent the band and what it stands for through the use of colors, lines, shapes, and a little bit of imagination.
   Most recognize the familiar logos, but many do not know the stories behind the well-known works of art.
   One of the most recognized band symbols of the rock era is the “tongue and lips” logo, representing non-other than the English rock and roll rebels, the Rolling Stones. Designed by John Pasche, this symbol started in the inner sleeve of the band’s album, Sticky Fingers.
   In the words of Pasche, the “concept of the design was to represent the band’s anti-authoritarian attitude, lead singer Mick Jagger’s mouth, and the obvious sexual connotations of the band and their songs (”
   While the 70’s brought an era of increasingly surreal and extreme band artwork, Pink Floyd and it’s design team, Hipgnosis, stuck to the basics when they produced the band’s most-recognized symbol.
   Atom Heart Mother and Meddle, the two albums preceding Dark Side of the Moon, had displayed a cow and an over-sized human ear. For Dark Side, Hipgnosis presented a similarly simple design: a diagram of light passing through a prism, said to offer clues to the spirit of music within.
   Presented with five different designs, the band took less than three minutes to pick the design before going back to work in the studio.
   “The symbol represented both the diversity and cleanliness of the sound of the music,” designer Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis said, “In a more conscious way, it worked for a band with a reputation for their light show (”
   The triangle is a symbol for ambition, which was an important theme to band member, Roger Waters. It was also Waters’ idea to turn the light from the prism into a heartbeat inside of the sleeve, representing the sound that starts the music.
   Unlike the logos of Stones and Floyd, the symbols representing Led Zeppelin did not come about in such a positive manner. After the release of Led Zeppelin II, which included “harder” rock hits such as “Whole Lotta Love”, the band retreated to a cottage in the mountains of Whales, England to find a new formula for their next album. The outcome of this retreat resulted in a nearly all-acoustic album, Led Zeppelin III, which was simultaneously slammed by the press.
   After the album’s negative reviews, lead vocalist Jimmy Page decided that the next album would have no mention of the band’s name. Instead, the album would showcase four symbols, representing and devised by each member of the band to express himself.
   Robert Plant’s symbol is a feather in a circle, found in an old book called “The Sacred Symbols of Mu.” According to Page, “the ancient Mu civilization existed around 15,000 years ago as a part of a lost continent in the Pacific Ocean (en.all”
   “All sorts of philosophies have been based on the feather; it has a very interesting heritage,” Page said, “For instance, it represents courage to many Red Indian tribes. I like people to lay down the truth, that’s what the feather in the circle is all about.”
   Three ovals interlocking a circle represent band member John Paul Jones. It is thought to represent unity and family, as well as a person who is confident and competent because it is near impossible to draw accurately.
   Percussionist John Bonham’s symbol is three interlocking circles. Plant once stated that he always thought Bonham’s symbol represented man, woman, and child: the trilogy. It is also the emblem of the Ballantine Bear.
   The meaning of Page’s multi-dimensional symbol is unknown.
   Originally designed with the purpose of marking the band’s flight cases to easily identify them on tour, the Grateful Dead’s skull logo has become a strong image for the band. The logo was designed in 1969 by artist Bob Thomas, although the symbol was not used until the release of the album Steal Your Face in 1976. The logo was inspired by a 60’s poster displayed in California and balances it’s color in a “yin-yang” style (
   Dave Matthews Band fans easily recognize the band’s energetic, dancing logo, rightfully dubbed the “fire dancer.” The fire dancer logo came about when Matthews was asked to draw what he sees when he looks out at his fans.
   The meaning behind logos and symbols of bands vary as greatly as the music behind the bands. Some logos, such as Prince’s name-replacing symbol, listeners may never understand, while others, such as HIM’s heartagram, representing the balance of good and bad, are clear cut and simple. However one thing is for certain: when a symbol and a band’s name can be interchanged, a milestone has been hit.