Wednesday, July 1, 2015

TVs influence on America: How pop-culture proved once again why it’s always one step ahead

By: Andie Biederman

On June 26, we all watched history being made as same-sex marriage was legalized throughout the Unites States of America. Big day. Big. Huge. The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling kicked off a weekend full of pride celebrations not only in the U.S., but also worldwide. We witnessed same-sex couples in cities across our nation say, “I do,” as social media exploded with images and videos from pride parades all over the world. Even the White House was transformed into a rainbow. I found myself feeling a very strong emotion toward this momentous occasion, because let’s be real… this was a long time coming.

This got me thinking. Would this all be happening today, right now, if it wasn’t for pop culture and the media’s influence over society? Top-rated, Emmy award-winning television shows have been featuring gay characters and couples in leading roles for decades! It seems like 90s television brought with it a platform to make same-sex relationships a topical conversation in society. A lot of the credit goes to a little 30-minute comedy that debuted in 1998, “Will & Grace,” where two of its main recurring characters were gay. While it was nearly impossible to avoid criticism, the show went on to be an enormous hit and really had a hand in “normalizing” gay characters on TV.

But who knows how well-received Will Truman and Jack McFarland would have been if “Ellen” didn’t open the door just a few years earlier. What became a groundbreaking series after Ellen DeGeneres’ character came out, the sitcom helped pave the way for shows like “Will & Grace” that followed. Not only did the fictional Ellen come out, but also Ellen DeGeneres came out in her real life at the same time. But society wasn’t quite ready for it at that stage in the evolution of sexual equality; there was virtually little to no positive or empowering conversation surrounding the topic prior to that moment. It was a new, sensitive subject that was just beginning to surface.

Fast-forward to 2009 when “Modern Family” hit the airwaves, and people’s attitudes about same-sex relationships really started to shift. We were introduced to Mitch and Cam, a lawyer and a teacher who, when we met them in the pilot, were adopting a daughter. The great thing about the show is that the writers do a phenomenal job at depicting the trials and tribulations of any long-term couple, while appropriately fusing in hiccups associated with that fact that they are gay without making it an uncomfortable, negative, awkward focus. Like when Mitch’s dad, Jay, takes issue with them officially tying the knot.

A recent article in The Atlantic stated that a 2012 Hollywood Reporter poll found that 27 percent of likely voters said that depictions of gay characters on TV made them more pro-gay marriage, and there are news accounts of people crediting their newfound sympathy toward gay people to “Modern Family”. Variety staff writer Tim Gay hit it on the nail when he said, “’Modern Family’ has become a pop-culture touchstone, an easy and safe way to expose audiences to many different relationships in a way that doesn’t feel threatening.” Since the times of “Ellen”, “Will & Grace”, and now “Modern Family”, several other shows have continued to follow suit and feature gay characters as leads like “Glee,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Orange is the New Black,” and even politically focused shows like “Scandal” and “House of Cards.”   

TV has enabled us to live alongside gay individuals and same-sex couples as they developed day after day, week after week and year after year. And through the media and its ability to weave itself into just about every aspect of our lives, we’ve watched as this once controversial topic evolved into a staple conversation in today’s society. The rise of digital media in particular made it possible for the LGBT community to really join forces and work together toward a common goal, and it clearly made a difference.

Kathy Griffin made a great point about the power of the community in Variety’s special report, which came out following the recent Supreme Court ruling, “This is a revolution that has been rapid and admirable. As a feminist, one of the reasons I admire the LGBT community so much is that this is what they do so effectively, and frankly, women should learn from it. Women have great, great strides to make. We’re not even close to equality, while the LGBT community is so good at working together, legislating, sticking together.”

She’s right. The LGBT community is really one to admire and follow when it comes to bringing other issues such as gender equality to the front lines, and using media as a platform to convey a message. If someone told us back in the 90s when same-sex couples were beginning to surface more in the media that gay marriage would be legal in the U.S. two decades from then, we would have probably laughed in their face and walked away. But in retrospect, and now having an understanding of the power of media, it’s not as shocking as we might have once thought.

As PR people, it’s even more important for us to truly understand this power, as we’re contributing to societal trends that could potentially influence future generations to the point of changing laws, as we’ve just seen with our own eyes. With a little help from pop culture and the media, same-sex marriage has been gaining support from celebrities, athletes and other influencers for decades. And at long last, we can now add the United States government to that list.    

Monday, June 29, 2015

How a tweet turned into a story

By Ashley Rodriguez

As PR pros, we often hear that reporters turn to Twitter for sources. I’ve pitched reporters via Twitter, but I’ve never had reporters come to me. (Maybe because I only tweet about my mediocre running hobby and my cat, neither of which are that interesting.)

But when I started freelance writing for Running Times magazine last year, my editor sent me an idea for a story based on a tweet she saw from a running coach. It had been five weeks since @hansonsrun had sent the tweet, but she must've kept it in her back pocket until she was ready. 

I reached out to get the story behind Hanson's tweet -- and so the article was born. In fact, my best source for the story came from another Twitter user, @msfitrunner, who replied to the original tweet to share her own experience. If you check out the story here, she's the inspiration for the illustration. Pretty cool.

If there's a moral to this story and an application in the PR world, it's probably that it's much more worthwhile for a CEO to tweet insightful nuggets than photos of his/her lunch. Execs take note.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Instagram: Keeping Us PR Folk Up-to-Speed

By: Alexis Acosta

I’ve got to give a big kudos to Instagram for feeding into the digital world’s constant FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out.” Where once we were exposed to new people in our circle of friends, we now get to see what the rest of the world is doing in real time. If you didn’t already know, the iconic photo-sharing app debuted its new search tab that highlights trending news and information in real time — which is a godsend for us PR people who spend hours out of our days trying to keep up with the newest trends.

A recent article from Wired quotes Instagram cofounder and CEO Kevin Systrom, “This is our North Star — what we’ve been shooting for all along. It’s a real-time visual pulse for what is happening in the world.”

Currently, users are only given two options to search: people or hashtags. The upgraded tool will let users look for places, as well — which will allow people to see up-to-the-minute photos of a specific location across the U.S. (for now). It’s the fusion between Snapchat’s Live Feed and Twitter’s impressive search function. The upgrade now gives U.S. users the ability to immediately pull up live current events such as the recent Texas floods or photos and video from the Nepal earthquake.

According to Tech Crunch, “What’s still missing is an easy way to explore photos and videos taken ‘Nearby.’ Trending places from far away might feel exotic, and it will be intriguing to tune into trends. But we’re inclined to forge an emotional connection with what’s close to us. Today will make Instagram a teleportation device, but it could still benefit from showing us what’s in our own backyard.”

What do you think about the new Instagram upgrade?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Things I’ve Googled this week: “Hot Hamburglar”

By: Ashley Rodriguez

Image credit: TIME
In what is certainly a sign that Millennial women have taken over McDonald’s marketing team, the brand recently introduced a new Hamburglar. A hot Hamburglar. So, add that to the list of things I never thought I’d Google: “Hot Hamburglar.”

Through this clever ambush makeover, McDonald’s has gotten women ages 18-45 to pay attention to the company again. It’s completely irrelevant that McHottie is supposed to be promoting the brand’s new Sirloin Third Pound Burger. The product has taken a backseat to the Hamburglar’s new look, but who really cares anyway?

So why, after 13 years, has the Hamburglar returned in this new form? McDonald’s VP of U.S. Marketing Joel Yashinsky told Mashable:

"We felt it was time to debut a new look for the Hamburglar after he’s been out of the public eye all these years. He’s had some time to grow up a bit and has been busy raising a family in the suburbs and his look has evolved over time."

He’s also lost a significant amount of weight (#ReverseDadBod?) and gotten some killer veneers.

Here’s to hoping every McDonald’s grand opening includes an appearance by the Hot Hamburglar.

Lines. Out. The. Door.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Thumbs Up With Periscope!

By Toby Srebnik

Every once in a while, I stumble upon a new app that fascinates me. About two weeks ago, a friend of mine invited me to an event where my wife and I would live-tweet our experience. He mentioned he was going to broadcast the on-site auction using a new app called Periscope. I was intrigued, so I asked him what does it do? He said it essentially allows you to live-stream from events via your cellphone and receive direct interaction from people who may be watching the event.

Shortly thereafter, I learned more about Periscope. They tout themselves as the best way to share and watch live video broadcasts from your mobile phone. It is presently for iPhone only but is supposed to be coming to Android soon. The whole principle the app is based around is being fascinated by the idea of discovering the world through someone else’s eyes.

I downloaded the app but didn’t really know what I would use it for initially. Then, my wife’s friend invited us to the Surfers for Autism music concert last Friday night. A Tom Petty cover band was playing and they were so good, I wanted to share their sound with my followers. I pressed a button on the app, notified my Twitter followers that I was live, and began broadcasting their version of “Running Down a Dream” to my Periscope followers.

A chat bar opens up during the broadcast where your Periscope followers can make comments and ask questions while you’re broadcasting. Followers can double-tap the screen to send hearts to show they like what they are watching.

What made an impact with me was the follower who wrote via the chat bar that her son has autism and she appreciated me sharing it because he was enjoying the music. Since then, I’ve broadcast a couple of Giancarlo Stanton and Evan Longoria at-bats from the recent Rays-Marlins series and my own son’s at-bats from Little League, which a good friend in Alabama has enjoyed seeing. Likewise, I’ve enjoyed seeing his son’s junior high basketball games through the magic of Periscope.

Sports aside, there is a behind-the-scenes aspect to Periscope that makes me believe it will be the next big thing and will have brands exploring ways to use it. Newscasters are already using it during commercial breaks to show what they do when you see or hear commercials. In addition, they are talking directly to Periscope while B-roll of a story is airing. Interviews are being conducted where the person being interviewed answers questions from the chat module in real time verbally. Reporters are live-streaming press conferences. Families are showcasing fun outdoor activities with their kids.

As a PR agency, we will look to find ways to incorporate Periscope for our own clients’ social media activities.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Making the Case for Wasting Time on the Internet

By Ashley Rodriguez

(Editor's Note: The alternative title for this post was, "Proving to My Husband That I Do Actually Work.")

Ten years ago, wasting time on the Internet was my excuse not to study for my anthropology exam. Today, I don't consider scrolling through my Facebook or Twitter feeds to be "wasting" time as much as spending valuable time seeing what's going on. 

PR can sometimes feel like you need to know a little about everything going on at all times. It's a little bit of a mind explosion. 

I'm the queen of a dozen open browser tabs and was once told by a stranger sitting behind me at a conference that he's never seen someone type and click so fast. True story. I took it as an incredible compliment. One that only someone in PR would get a little emotional about.

To the non-PR pro all those open tabs -- one for Facebook, one for Twitter, one for Google News, etc. -- look like I'm wasting a lot of time on the Internet. But it's pure organized chaos that keeps me chugging along throughout the day, making sure I stay on top of all the news I need, at the very least, to know is happening -- even if I can't have an extensive conversation about it. You never know what story is going to spark an idea for a pitch that could lead to some incredible coverage for a client.

Here's some of the Internet time-wasting I've done over the last 24 hours that actually has helped spur some good ideas.

Restaurant Industry Trends
Social Media Learnings

Career Development