Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Following Virginia Shooting, Should We Question Reporters' Safety?

By: Ashley Rodriguez

Alison Parker and Adam Ward of WDBJ
were killed this morning during a live broadcast.
Two local news reporters in Roanoke, Va., were killed tragically early this morning when a former coworker at WDBJ shot them on live TV. Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27, were in the field on a live broadcast at about 6:45 a.m. when suspect Vester Lee Flanigan, also known as Bryce Williams, opened fire.

It’s tragic, terrifying and heartbreaking. It not only raises questions, once again, about gun control, but also about the safety of news crews. In the video (which, trust me, I don’t recommend you watch), Parker and Ward are seen alone during their interview with a third victim, who survived the shooting. Ward’s back is turned and Parker is fully focused on conducting her interview. Neither seemed to noticed the suspect approaching.

The fact that Parker and Ward were the only two reporters on the scene is not a rare situation. This is often the case, especially as stations have cut back on headcount over the last several years. So how will news outlets respond to ensure the safety of their reporters? Following Columbine, my school district implemented mock lockdowns to train teachers and students what to do in the event of a shooter on campus. After Virginia Tech, my university implemented an emergency text message system. And after the Boston Marathon bombing, security has been tightened at every race I've run since.

Only time will tell if today's events will have a lasting impact on safety protocols for TV stations. I hope they do.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Culture: The beating pulse of a company

By: Andie Biederman

How would you define company culture? I asked this question to some of my colleagues to see if their thoughts we similar to mine, since we’re clearly drawn to the same type of culture, and here’s an example of what they said:

a combination of a company's values, vision and beliefs”

“the vibe you get when you walk in the door and spend time with the people that work there”

“the ability to build a positive atmosphere where people feel engaged, inspired and excited to work”

“good vibes between the people you work with, which creates an environment that fuels creativity and collaboration”

The answer to my own question communicated the same message as those above (great minds think alike, right?): I think culture is the heart of a company and defines who that company is at its core. It’s an essential part of building an environment that encourages collaboration because at the end of the day, it’s a company’s employees who drive its culture… a common theme I’ve seen in the several articles I’ve read on this subject. Company culture starts at the top, but as Greg Benser, founder and CEO of CultureIQ, said in a recent article in Entrepreneur, “that doesn’t mean that the CEO is solely responsible for developing a great company culture. Instead, all employees should be encouraged to contribute to the culture on a regular basis... Employees should be empowered to take ownership of the culture and to grow and develop the culture together, so that it becomes of the people and for the people”. Giving employees a say goes a long way (I’m a poet, I know).

So why has company culture become increasingly important over the last few years? You can thank millenials for that (you’re welcome), who officially surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. labor force. Changing times have brought changing priorities when it comes to looking for the right career, and the job-seeking set seem to be wanting more than just a nice salary and good benefits. There has to be an alignment between a person’s values and those of a company, because that’s when people find meaning in the work they’re doing. I can’t speak for everyone but from my experience in the professional world the conversations I’ve had with my peers, culture and a sense of community weigh heavily on the job selection process.

Let’s face it, having a strong company culture not only drives business success, it’s what makes employees wake up and drive to work every morning with a burning desire to produce creative, inspiring and meaningful work they’re proud of. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why company culture is a clear “must-have” for the makings of a successful and spirited place of work.  So kudos to those companies, like mine (and this one), who have figured this out and continue to make company culture a top priority each and every day.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

In the News This Week: Subway and Wolfee Donuts

By: Ashley Rodriguez

OK, where do I even start with this week? Between Greece, the NYSE/WSJ/United technical issues and celebs getting in trouble, I just can't even.

First, let's talk about Subway. Nation's Restaurant News penned a story further proving the point that "it's not if a crisis will happen, it's when" is absolutely true. Jason Fogle, who has been Subway's spokesperson since I started high school (aka: for longer than my entire adult life), had his house raided this week and Subway cut ties. Ouch. If ever a crisis plan was needed, it's now.

In an interview with NRN, Jeff Fromm, marketing strategy consultant and president of FutureCast, said it was a "smart move" to part ways.

Meanwhile, Ariana Grande's "donut-licking scandal" (I can't make this stuff up) has resulted in booming business for Wolfee Donuts, reports Triple the business, to be exact. Reminding us all "no PR is bad PR" is only true if you're not the one caught licking donuts.

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?