Archive for April, 2007

I frequently draw on my three-and-a-half decades of experience as a practitioner (before I started teaching at Towson three years ago) to help my students understand careers in communication/PR. I think it is critically important in helping prepare students for success in their careers to help them understand the many and varied jobs they might have in communication/PR. This includes what will be expected of them on the job. Oftentimes, undergraduate students are not really aware of all that they might do with their degrees. Membership profiles from surveys by both IABC and PRSA show: about 40 percent of practitioners work in corporations of all types; about 27 percent work in PR firms, ad agencies, marketing communication firms, or as solo practitioners; about 14 percent work for associations, foundations, or educational institutions; eight percent in health care; six percent in government; and five percent in charitable, social welfare, or religious organizations.

The recent tragedy at Virginia Tech reminds us to consider what certain communication/PR jobs require in terms of job-related knowledge and skills. For communication/PR directors at colleges or universities or other educational institutions, there are so many lessons that it is difficult to decide where to start. However, one guideline will govern this discussion; we will be positive. We are not looking to find fault or to cast blame, but to treat this as a learning opportunity. There is enough blaming and second-guessing going on out there now. Instead, let’s focus on communication/PR jobs in times of crisis, share our collective knowledge, and try to learn something.

There are many positions out there for communication/PR directors at colleges and universities and all types of educational institutions. For example, in addition to colleges and universities, city public school systems, school districts, etc., often have communication/PR departments. Given the horrific events of last week at Virginia Tech, what must an effective college or university or educational institution communication/PR director be able to do? The following things come quickly to mind:

  • Be proficient in crisis communication planning and management. Educational institutions, just like other entities, must have crisis communication plans in place. Given the terrible events at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, this is a clear priority. Effective crisis communication planning should begin with assessing the organization’s vulnerabilities and the institution’s ability to handle them. While the tragedies at Columbine and Virginia Tech are extreme examples, communication/PR practitioners must anticipate all types of events in order to be prepared and handle them effectively if the time comes. Is there a crisis communication management team in place? Are spokespersons trained and ready to deal with the media? Is the president, or whatever the highest ranking executive is called, ready to meet the media? Is the communication/PR department trained, practiced, and ready to support him or her in the effort?
  • Handling communication effectively during and after the crisis. How will communication be managed and/or facilitated during and after the crisis with all key stakeholders, such as students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, the local community? Think for a moment about Virginia Tech. The communication needs of all stakeholders, especially current students and their families, are easily recognized by any practitioner. But what about every other college and university and educational institution across America? When the news of Virginia Tech broke, it is understandable that students and their parents everywhere would immediately become concerned about safety, no matter what the educational institution. If you are a communication/PR director at another college or university or educational institution and an event like the Virginia Tech incident happens, what do you do? Are there proactive measures you should take, even though the crisis is at another institution? I believe that there are. The more quickly you are proactive in communicating with your key stakeholders, the better. Lack of a quick response in a crisis, whether it is yours or that of a similar organization, creates a vacuum that will be filled with rumors, incorrect information, or speculation. For similar organizations not having the actual crisis, it is an opportunity to demonstrate concern for stakeholders and show that your organization is prepared to deal with crises.
  • Media savvy. Communication/PR professionals must know media characteristics, both positive attributes and limitations, and how to work with each medium. This includes social media. I have read reports of Virginia Tech students and other stakeholders using all forms of social media to communicate during the crisis there.
  • Reputation management. One of the best ways to help an organization get the benefit of the doubt during a crisis begins long before any crisis actually happens. Organizations, including educational institutions, must work hard to develop a good reputation. Bad news — it takes time and effort to develop a good reputation. Good news — that’s why they hire us. An organization with a good reputation before a crisis has a better chance to come through a crisis with its reputation intact. But, only if it manages crisis communication effectively.
  • Coordinating with other agencies. How will you coordinate with local, regional, and national law enforcement officials and/or their public affairs officers? Have you planned for this in advance? Do you have a working relationship with these individuals? Effective coordination helps cut redundancy and conflicting information, and subsequently, helps all key stakeholders to get accurate, up-to-date information.

This posting is meant to be a thought and discussion starter for the More With Les Learning Community. We post these initial thoughts and questions for students to consider as they prepare for their careers. Instructors must be aware of and knowledgeable about such topics, too, in order to prepare students. The task of teaching current and future practitioners falls to entities like Towson’s Mass Communication department and IABC and PRSA professional development programs. But now I ask you, given what we have seen in the last few days, what’s the complete list of job-related knowledge and skills future communication/PR practitioners (and their instructors) must have to be successful and effective?


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Virginia Tech

I have not posted anything new for days due to a physical ailment. Then, the tragedy at Virginia Tech happened. I know I must be like so many who are so deeply saddened by this event that it is difficult to talk about it.

But yet, we must talk about it. Virginia Tech has become a special place to me because of really close friends and family who have strong ties there. I was last on campus in 2006 on a beautiful October weekend to attend a Hokie-style tail gate party that was a prelude to Virginia Tech playing my undergraduate university. The Hokies won handily, but I didn’t care. I was so impressed with Virginia Tech. It is a magnificent university with a lovely campus located in a stunningly beautiful area of my beloved Virginia.

My daughter-in-law’s brother, Chris, a terrific human being and probably the most ardent Virginia Tech supporter, bet me a cap on the outcome of that football game. I lost, so I had to wear a Virginia Tech cap the rest of the weekend. I wore it happily, and now I wear it as a tribute to those who were lost and injured and to all those who love them and now suffer beyond our imagining.

I love my students. But now, I lock my classroom door, I listen more intently to everything they say, I savor every moment in the classroom with these magnificent people, and I pray for their safety and well-being.

Later, there can be lessons on subjects like crisis communication planning. But not today. Today we grieve, we remember, we support, and we contemplate. We hold in our hearts those who have been so grievously damaged by this tragedy. We search our souls for ways to build a better future for all concerned.

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Tweet This!

I recently posted a playful message about Twitter. As the statement at the right says, Uncle Lester is blogging to learn about social media. I have been hearing and reading about Twitter, so I wanted to introduce a discussion about it in More With Les. I learned most of what I know about Twitter from reading Allan Jenkins’ blog, Desirable Roasted Coffee. He has covered it in many interesting posts. Now, he has contributed to my post “BlogTwitter” with his typical humor and formidable powers of observation.

From what I understand about Twitter (which is very little really), it seems to me that just because you can, why would you? Who really cares what I am doing at 0920 today? Imagine Descartes saying, “I tweet, therefore, I am.”

But then again, Shel Holtz says in a recent post that he and colleague Neville Hobson were about to record a podcast when Neville “put out a tweet” asking anyone who might have a comment to “twitter” it. An epiphany! Looks like this is an immediate way to notify folks of things and get quick feedback.

Have I got this right? If so, then Twitter just may be really cool. I was under the apparently misguided impression that Twitter was a way folks told their pals that they were having cereal or going to class or leaving class or having a beer, hence my playful post, BlogTwitter.

So, More With Les learning community, what’s the deal with Twitter? Should it be part of a professional communicator’s toolkit?

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0952 I am sitting here in my home office writing this asinine post.

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I’ve been having an interesting discussion on the role of various forms of social media with a former ace student, Jenn. Jenn had some funny comments under my post, Bloggin’ Blues. It is a continuation of conversations we have on campus when time allows.

Jenn and I talk about social media and its characteristics for her generation and for mine. She sees nothing wrong with a professor having a Facebook account. She also thinks MySpace should be part of my social media education. But I feel funny about it.

If I have a website and a blog, do I need Facebook and MySpace? I can easily see why a twenty-something-year-old in college would use Facebook and MySpace. I have also seen a wide variety of users of MySpace for all sorts of things. But how much is too much? Is there such a thing as age-appropriate social media? Millennials and Baby Boomers – there’s quite a difference.

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