Some positive spin on a nasty recession

November 13, 2008

Rather than mourning the demise of my 401K, I’ve decided to put some positive spin on the economic collapse. I am a PR pro, after all. And a PR pro can always find a positive story if he turns over enough rocks. In my case, I simply looked in the mirror and counted my blessings.

5 positives I found in this recession.

poorguyMy job is relatively safe. No job is totally secure in these times, but according to this story from MyEdu, education is rated the #1 employment category likely to endure these hard times. And there’s a bonus in it for me, since the #2 category is accounting, my wife’s vocation. This is such welcome news I’m thinking of buying a Hummer and extending my sabbatical until next June.

My university is in better shape than Harvard. Because Kent State’s endowment is under $100 million, we stand to lose a whole lot less than Harvard as the market tanks. Havard’s endowment is/was at $37 billion, and administrators there depend heavily on endowment income for operating expenses. Kent State does not. Read the rest of this entry »

Hanging out on Twitter for Election 2008

November 5, 2008

Like most Americans, I spent last evening watching the election returns. CNN was my network of choice for national news. I watched the local ABC affiliate for state & local races.

To add a little spice, I opened the laptop and bottle of Cabernet, then I joined the conversation on Twitter. It was a nationwide chat, worldwide at times. But most of all, it was a fun way to exchange information and impressions on the most historic election of our lifetimes.

I began tweeting at about 10 a.m., foreshadowing the Obama victory in Ohio based on 70-degree temperatures and “blue” skies. I would post 36 tweets over the next 15 hours, many of them reacting to others on the network and some just goofy random thoughts like this one:


Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating a Classic Case Study: ‘Building the New Lodge’

October 2, 2008

No one popped champagne corks in Lansing to celebrate it. And had I not contacted Jack Pyle, the 20th anniversary of the “New Lodge” might have passed without note. This classic public relations case deserves a retrospective. So here you go.

This isn’t the lodge where you gather after a day on the slopes. It’s the John C. Lodge Freeway (M-10), a major artery that connects downtown Detroit with its northwest suburbs. In the mid-1980s, the Lodge was a real mess, in need of regrading, resurfacing and new drainage. But when the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) proposed closing alternate sides of the highway over two years, many protested.

Closing completely the 9-mile stretch of highway would displace 120,000 motorists daily, forcing them onto surface streets or alternate highways. It happens all the time where you live, right? But thanks MDOT’s campaign called “Lodge-ability,” your highway department and mine have learned the value of public relations to support major road projects. Read the rest of this entry »

Symmetrical PR meets the ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’

September 25, 2008

Every serious student of social media must read the Cluetrain Manifesto. If you haven’t, it’s available free online. Many consider Cluetrain the seminal work about social media as they relate to business.

For a good many 30something PR and marketing bloggers, Cluetrain was the great “aha!” It described a new open system of communication that shifts the locus of commerce from persuasion and selling to relationships and conversations.

True believers in social media have worshiped at the Cluetrain altar for almost a decade now. Most books on SM marketing and PR that followed  took their direction from Cluetrain authors Weinberger, Searles, Locke and Levine. The book has stood the test of time, whether or not you agree with its premise.

Have social media altered the communication landscape? Of course. But while Cluetrain broke new ground in describing business-consumer relationships in a digital world, it wasn’t all that “new” — at least not for the more serious students of public relations. (I won’t speak for the marketing types, as PR and marketing are distinct disciplines.)

If you’ve kicked around the PR world as long as I have — as practitioner and educator — the central concepts of the Cluetrian Manifesto don’t surprise you. Fact is, PR began focusing on a “two-way symmetrical model” (2WS) more than 50 years ago — long before scholars Jim Grunig and Todd Hunt defined 2WS in 1983, and way, way before the Cluetrain arrived. Read the rest of this entry »

Death of my hard drive is, well, it’s serendipity

August 15, 2008

Update 8/29/08: Back in Kent for a few days — enough time to do laundry and hit the road again for 3 more weeks. Tech Help called to say my MacBook has a new hard drive and is ready to go. I’m pretending I didn’t get the message. By the time I return, I’ll be itchin’ to get all digital again. Or not.

I promise to get that last segment of PR 101 up when I return. And I’ll tell you about the ‘business” part of my trip, which includes F2F discussions with some leaders in social media. Oh yeah — let’s not forget the Friday afternoon beerfest in the bleachers at Wrigley. Gives new meaning to “road trip.” I swear Belushi was there! He had to be.


I’ll be on the road for the next month, or most of it. And thanks to the timely crash of my MacBook yesterday, I’ll be disconnected much of that time. I’m relieved, to be honest, and I’m not seeking a replacement laptop. I consider the crash to be serendipitous.

Regular readers know of my angst over being “too connected” and too wrapped up in the distractions of the online universe. Being computerless for 30 days might be the ideal remedy. Hell, I may even talk to some people face to face.

Oh, I’ll hit a public library here and there to check email and Facebook, and I’ll steal some Internet time from friends I see along my route. But instead of jumping online to browse blogs or check the feeder, I’ll be picking up a newspaper and testing my skills against the New York Times crossword puzzle — the paper version. Bring it on, Will Shortz. Give me your best Saturday punch. (Note: This photo comes from a great piece about Will that appeared in Reader’s Digest last year — classic old media!)

Because of my travels:

  • The 4th and final segment of my “PR 101” series — “Symmetrical PR meets the Cluetrain Manifesto,” will have to wait a few weeks, as you can’t compose a blog post on a paper notepad.
  • Comment approvals may be a little slow. I’ll check this site once a day until August 30. After that, I may not see it at all until Sept. 17.

I could tell you where I’m going, but it’s a secret mission tied to my one-semester professional leave. Yeah, I won’t be in the classroom poisoning young minds until January.

Was that a cheer I heard coming from Kent, Ohio?

The ‘4 Models’ of public relations practice: How far have you evolved?

August 10, 2008

While preparing to teach my first PR class back in ’85, I happened upon “Managing Public Relations,” by Jim Grunig and Todd Hunt. Though I lost track of my copy long ago (never loan textbooks to students — never), one element of that book influenced how I taught and practiced PR for the past 23 years.

Grunig & Hunt’s “4 Models” of public relations practice went on to became the most talked-about theory in the discipline. The “4 Models” describe distinct approaches to public relations in the context of a 130-year timeline that shows how public relations has evolved. In the process, Grunig & Hunt identify an “ideal” approach to public relations — something they call the 2-way symmetrical model — and place it at the top of the evolutionary pyramid.

For me, the 4 Models became more than a teaching tool. When Grunig & Hunt published their theory, I was a full-time PR practitioner working for marketers who saw PR as promotion and publicity, period, and with no ethics component. The 4 Models helped me see the potential of public relations and, in part, inspired me to open my own shop so I could get beyond marketing and do some serious PR.

Here’s a summary of the models. If you’re like most of us, you’ve spent a little time in each of them. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Relations 101: A primer for my friends/adversaries in marketing

July 15, 2008

Almost since my first post here at ToughSledding, I’ve debated with readers who define “public relations” differently than I. Never once have I said they “don’t get it,” though a number have said or implied it about me. Most with whom I spar define themselves as marketers, and as such tend to view PR as a tool of the marketing craft, i.e., another way to support the sale.

My exchanges with our “evil twins” in marketing have been cordial most of the time and only occasionally combative. And while I’ve enjoyed every one of the debates — and even the blow-ups — I’m troubled by them as well. You see, I’ve actually taken the time to learn about marketing and what it does. It doesn’t seem the marketers have done the same when it comes to PR — especially the many bloggers who use the terms interchangeably. So I’ll see if I can’t fix that. Read the rest of this entry »

Girls, Girls, Girls. Examining the “chick factor” in PR

May 8, 2008

Watch for details in this space…

When I finish grading projects and proctoring exams in a few days, I plan to publish at least two posts about the gender imbalance in public relations — along with some ideas on how to fix it. I’ll tell you what the women in my Case Studies class learned about the problem, and I’ll share some of their strategies for attracting men to the PR biz.

Regular readers will recall my raising the gender issue back in January in a post that drew 47 comments and went on for two weeks.

If you haven’t noticed the gender shift while attending PRSA or IABC meetings, come to my classroom sometime. At Kent State, nearly 90% of PR majors are women. This year, for the first time in history, EVERY student in our gateway PR Case Studies class was female.

But PR’s gender diversity problem isn’t unique to Kent State. It’s a worldwide phenomenon that lots of folks talk about but few act upon. Maybe you don’t agree that it’s a problem at all. I think it is.

What will it take to attract men to the PR biz? Watch this space next week.

Until then, I’ll be knee deep in final projects and exams. It’s tough sledding I tell ya.

Replacing Kent State’s Jewell? It’ll take a gem!

May 5, 2008

When the boss asked me to chair a search committee to replace my soon-to-be-semi-retired colleague Rob Jewell, I just chuckled.

Let’s see. Where will I find a PR professional with 35 years of experience who has counseled Fortune 500 executives from a cushy, but often very hot seat on mahogany row? And where will I find a master strategist who also has proven himself as a teacher in sophomore-level courses and one with the patience to mentor kids who sometimes struggle with misplaced modifiers?

And if we do find this person, how do I convince him or her to work for less than $50K a year?

Rob Jewell, teacher and mentor extraordinaire, will exit the not-so-ivy-covered walls of Kent State at the end of this week. He’s spent 5 years on the PR faculty here and earned teaching evaluations that, well — that I haven’t seen in a decade. But more importantly, Rob took the concept of a student PR firm and made it happen — so much so that CASE recognized Rob and Flash Communications with one if its highest awards.

In 2005-06, Kent State honored Rob with its Outstanding Teaching Award — our highest honor for classroom performance. Inside or outside the classroom, this guy has some serious creds.

Many academic PR programs have student firms — but not like Flash. Most student firms operate from PRSSA chapters and are staffed by volunteers. Most student firms work with small companies and nonprofits.

Flash Communications, operates as an integral part of Kent State’s University Communications & Marketing. Paid staffers (about 10 per semester) work on public relations projects that are essential to the goals and objectives of the institution. They write articles, develop brochure and Web copy, plan events and pitch the media. And they’re effective thanks to the mentoring of Rob Jewell, who has spent half his time overseeing the Flash operation.

Rob isn’t a control freak, nor is is a heavy-handed editor. He lets the students do their work, helping them find the right path but never leading them down one. He allows them to make mistakes, and they learn in the process. He recruits from the full roster of PR majors, not just the stars — and quite a few average performers later became stars, in part as a result of Rob’s policy.

Before joining Kent State, Rob spent a few years as a PR consultant after spending nearly 30 years with the BFGoodrich Company — once one of Akron’s “Big Four” tiremakers. He rose form entry-level grunt to VP of Corporate Communications. But when BFG was sold in the late 90s, Rob decided forgo a transfer south and become a young retiree.

A few years later he retired from his consulting business to take this full-time job at Kent State. Now he’s retiring from Kent State to join the Washington, D.C. foundation, Corporate Voices for Working Families, where he’ll be working from his home and commuting to D.C. as needed.

Do you get the idea he doesn’t understand the concept of retirement?

For an old dog (he’s 5 years my senior), Rob learned a lot of new tricks while at Kent State. Walk in his office today and you’re likely to find him Twittering on his Blackberry or posting to his blog, PR On the Run. Rob writes on a range of PR topics, most of which occur to him during his daily 5 a.m., 5-mile runs.

Nope. This guy’s not getting old at all, though I won’t speak for his hamstrings.

There’s no easy way to sum up this post. We’re gonna miss Rob Jewell a lot. While he leaves the proverbial “big shoes” to fill, he also leaves a solid foundation for his successor to build upon. He is leaving Kent State a better place than it was when he arrived. Not everyone can say that.

Join the PRKent faithful at Ray’s Place this Friday, May 9, at 5:30. We’ll all raise a glass to Rob as he retires one more time.

When trust is absent, Part II: Why management needs PR people at the table — especially here!

April 15, 2008

Last week I told you how the absence of trust has me leery of the folks who run my university. So I’ve decided to write about this case a bit more, and to focus on the PR lessons it presents.

To recap, I was suspicious last week of an offer from the KSU administration to extend the faculty contract for one year. In exchange for the postponement, we get a 3% raise, a freeze in healthcare costs and the long-waited “domestic partner benefits” provision. Despite early skepticism, I went to my AAUP Council meeting Friday ready to endorse the offer. While I don’t trust the source, the offer seems reasonable to me.

My colleagues on the union council weren’t so willing. In fact, most have become so distrustful of our boss and his lieutenants that the contract extension never got much of a hearing. We did vote to send the proposal to a membership vote, but only with a strong recommendation that members reject it.

I listened as the debate played out, and came to understand the widespread enmity for the current administration. It’s a textbook case of management’s failure to tend to the relationships that matter most in an organization — the relationships with employees. We teach that in PR 101. Read the rest of this entry »