To PR, or not to PR.

Prior to this course, I was–as they say–completely in the dark when it came to Public Relations. Obviously, I knew it had everything to do with communication, but my interest in the field was so very minimal that I didn’t care to delve any deeper. However, due to course requirements, it became essential for me to take a class outside of my primary focus (Rhetorical and Cultural Studies). By no means was I dreading the course; in fact, I was excited to learn about something new. But, I also knew that I had no desire to be involved in Public Relations in the future. Regardless, I knew I would benefit from learning about the topic. I guess you could say I knew I would get out as much as I put in.

That being said, I’ve done my best to actively engage with the course by participating in lecture and turning in assignments that are well thought out and organized. While on one hand I do think Public Relations is a very interesting field–and I definitely understand how it can be very appealing and fulfilling for some–I’m realizing it’s not quite the realm I want to take part in. Or, perhaps I should explain better–I do not want to be solely involved in Public Relations. I have no interest in working for a PR firm, and I definitely don’t want to do PR for a major corporation. It is worth mentioning though that I am open to incorporating different aspects of PR in whatever I do. For instance, I’ve already mentioned I’m interning for a nonprofit organization this year. A part of this task has been generating a communication strategy. I’ve helped with the blog and other social media platforms. But, what I find the most interesting is the grant writing I’ve been doing. I have a very strong writing background and am very passionate about it. I know that PR can be very writing intensive, so I can apply this passion if I want to, but as of now I really just don’t see myself fitting into the field. As usual, though, this opinion has plenty of potential to change.

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Blogs, Blogs Everywhere

This semester I’ve definitely become a huge fan of blogging–both as a reader and a writer. There’s several factors that contribute to this fascination. First, I love that blogs have consistent themes. I used to be under the impression that blogs are just online journals. While some people do write blogs for this purpose, that’s not to say all of them do. Blogs exist for pretty much everything. Whether you like duck-hunting or soap-carving, there’s probably a variety of blogs out there that exist for readers like you. Seriously, blogs can be as far-fetched or as acutely focused as the writer wants, but they always center around a certain theme.  If a reader keeps up with a particular blog, it’s because this blog offers information about a topic he/she enjoy hearing about on a regular basis. There’s a few blogs that I personally keep up with. theRabble, Gin and Topics, and Out & About are a few of them–all for different but specific reasons.

I also enjoy reading blogs because they’re informal. In other words, they’re very conversation-like because the content is made easy-to-read. They mimic every day talk because of this format. Also, readers can comment back and leave feedback. I think it’s important for people to be able to interact with the information they’re receiving. As a writer, there’s nothing more significant than the responses you get from your readers. (This is where that whole listening concept comes in again.) Basically, I think blogs, like everything else, can be as valuable as you want them to be. And, no matter your interests, there’s undoubtedly a blog out that there that will suit your fancy(ies).

The Acceptance Phase

…oftentimes connected to the “admitting-you-were-wrong” phase.

I realize this may seem like an over-statement, but after successfully resisting for a few years, I’m finally realizing and accepting all of the associated glories of Twitter. Before this semester, I was exceptionally hesitant to take on an additional social media persona. Facebook seemed like enough. “How many life-consuming tech-habits can one have?” I thought. However, despite my strong resistance, it suddenly became necessary to join Twitter as a class requirement (for several Comm. classes, I might add)–a requirement I initially found utterly annoying. For the most part, I maintained a mostly unconvinced mindset, but I set up my account and attempted a few tweets.

Flash forward two months as I find myself staring wide-eyed at my computer screen clicking the “Follow” button frantically. Music, entertainment, food, news, blah blah blah–the categories are endless. And as a result of the unending options, I believe it is accurate to now label myself “Officially Obsessed.” I have heard over and over again how Twitter can be a valuable communication tool once you learn how to truly utilize it. While I might have scoffed at this sermon before, the tables have finally turned. I’ve even caught myself preaching to others about how useful Twitter can be. In fact, I’ve even convinced a few non-believers to join.

In class, we’ve discussed how important Twitter is for Public Relations. I had no problem accepting Twitter as a useful communication tool for companies–it’s hard to ignore blatant evidence–but now I’m realizing how much fun it is from the public’s position. And, frankly, I felt it was an appropriate time to admit it.

Follow me! @secomeaux

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Rally on.

I’ve recently been introduced to a new social media program called Rally. Rally is a brand new program that supports organizational development by offering a next-generation online fundraising platform. Earlier this year, Students of the World (SOW) formed a partnership with Rally and is currently testing out the Beta-platform. So far,the Rally-SOW partnership has yielded a lot of positive results. For instance, in just a few short weeks, Rally helped SOW connect with supporters and raise an impressive amount of money, which was used to bring students from UT and the Cine Institute of Haiti together for a documentary on the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Rally resembles other social media sites like Facebook, but instead of a wall intended mostly for general communication,  Rally allows organizations to customize and promote donation pages. Essentially, it has made it easier for donors and potential donors to locate organizations that interest them and donate money in a quick-easy fashion. The Students of the World page has an ample amount of comments, photos, and video clips that highlight the work they’re doing. By doing this, supporters are kept up-to-date on the organization’s progress. Students of the World is a prime example of Rally’s intended purpose–providing tools for keeping supporters truly involved.

The platform is currently limited to Beta-testers but is expected to open up to everyone very soon.

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Wait, you mean I can’t go to school for forever?

I have yet to decide exactly which company or industry I want to work for/with in the future. However, I’m getting a lot closer to figuring it out. Or, I’m at least starting to understand where my true interests are–I think that’s an incredible start. Currently, I have an internship with a local Austin non-profit called Students of the World (SOW). My title is “Program Management Intern” to be exact, but I’m finding that title umbrellas a wide variety of tasks. Working with a non-profit offers an amazing opportunity for anyone who can get past the unpaid aspect of it. In reality, the fact that you’re not getting paid makes it a lot more fulfilling.

At this point, I’m helping SOW create a successful communication plan. For example, we’re trying to organize a strategic and effective way to utilize all of the different social media tactics. Also, as SOW continues to formulate plans for expansion, my duty (which I kind of appointed myself to do) is to revise the content to better align it with the next chapter. Having taken many communication and writing courses, I’m finding it much easier going about all of these tasks. Maybe easier isn’t the right word, but I at least feel a lot prouder of the work I’m producing because I’m familiar with a lot of it. In PR we’ve talked a lot about social media and how it’s important for organizations/ companies to create objectives for each tactic. I’ve definitely been applying this information when generating ideas for SOW’s strategy. As far as revising content goes, I can thank my Technical Writing professor for helping tremendously with going about that one. (Cheers to all the nit-pickers out there!)

In the future, I plan on continuing to involve myself with the non-profit sector. It’s rewarding when you locate an organization with similar values as yourself, and you’re able to help them generate as much positive influence as possible. That to me is a lot more appealing than taking on a job at an agency or corporation. For anyone else looking to get involved with non-profits, my suggestion is to hop on the internet and start searching. I used, but there are endless ways to get connected. Did you know there are more non-profits than bars and restaurants combined in Austin? And all of them are open and appreciative of any help they can get. Communication majors are extremely valuable  because non-profits have to garner a good amount of attention in order to be successful. Therefore, communication strategies are essential, and who better to help than a communication extraordinaire?

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Are you listening to me??

Imagine this scenario (chances are it’s happened to you at least a few times):

So, you’re ranting on and on to a friend about something. It might be extremely important, life-changing even, but it doesn’t really matter. You finish making your point, whatever it is, and sit back waiting for a response from your friend. However, all they have to offer is the not-so-monumental, “yeah” or the hardly-satisfying, “totally.” You stare back, jaw possibly dropped, and realize they just heard nothing you were saying. We all know how frustrating this can be. After all, it’s nice to be heard, especially when you feel like what you have to say is really worth while.

For PR pros, it’s essential to know how to listen. One of the most important components about PR is that it involves 2-way communication. It’s not enough to just monitor what’s going on. You have to be in tune with what your publics want/need and what they expect. (Click here to see more reasons why listening is important.) Feedback is essential; it helps PR pros alter and improve their strategies. Not to mention, it really builds trust between PR pros and publics when the publics feel like the PR pros genuinely care about what they have to say. Social Media sites like Twitter and Facebook are communication tools that have impacted the PR field tremendously because anyone can respond to a tweet or post. Not only can anyone provide feedback, but the conversation is quick and direct. Like I said, people like to be heard, and with sites like these, they can be. How gratifying!

As a result, relationships form and appropriate goals can be made because of these relationships. (Effective PR strategies incorporate this concept.) The tricky part is figuring out how to measure/evaluate PR strategies. “Measurement evaluates the effectiveness of messaging and provides a way to show whether or not PR actions are achieving objectives” (Learning Communication blog). It’s especially difficult when you’re audience isn’t speaking in digits. In other words, when you’re measuring qualitative data like attitudes. Here’s a link that explains how PR Pros are using Social Media to get results.

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A Message From the Enemy

(Please note that the title is a joke.)

Michael Barnes is the social columnist for The Austin American Statesman and an avid blogger. Check out his blog, Out and About. A few weeks ago, Mr. Barnes was kind enough to come and talk to another class I’m taking this semester, The Austin Equation.  Mr. Barnes is a journalist employed by “Old Media,” but he spent the entirety of the class explaining the greatness of new, social media. Basically, he described social media as a beneficial communication tool because it allows journalists to interact with their readers. With social media, everyone is required to be themselves. However, for PR pros, it’s essential to understand the appropriate ways for interacting with media, especially when trying to pitch a story.

Apparently there are a lot of professionals out there that still have no idea how to really go about utilizing social media. Essentially, when used right, social media makes it a lot easier for PR pros to successfully pitch stories to journalists. Mr. Barnes told us to remember just four words: align, goals, attune, and personalities. What does all of this mean? PR pros need to remember to align their goals with the media personality and know how to attune to different personalities. It seems so simple!

He went on to explain how in reality, treating journalists like human beings is often ignored by professionals, but it is incredibly essential. It’s important to immediately begin having an interaction with the person/personality. Here’s a good strategy he showed us: Start off with a creative tweet just to get the idea out there. Follow it up with an email that’s a little more detailed. Then, pick up the phone and make a call. Finally, top it all off with an actual face-to-face conversation. Although it may seem annoying, this type of persistence apparently works wonders. Unfortunately, we ran out of time for him to go on much further, but I found all of this information to be quite interesting and extremely helpful.

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