Minimize Harm and Verify Facts

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Public relations ethics is one of those “hyphenated ethics” areas, and Michael Branigan worries this is, too often, becoming big business.  Writing in the May 29 times, the chair of ethics and moral values at College of Saint Rose writes that in his field of health care bio-ethics the high stakes can be a matter of life and death (para. 2).

“…when issues make headlines, media solicit ethicists’ comments — I was trained to deliver “talking points” when asked to comment. Hard-wired as a philosopher, I resist reducing complex issues to sound-bites”(para. 4).

Ethics should be about ‘rigorous learning, moral analysis, critical reasoning, and, self-examination’ (para. 9). Yet, for PR professionals living in a real-time social media world, how do we go about this?  Certainly not in the nearly daily examples of twitter #fails of incorrect reporting from nearly every breaking news story.

Searching google or using an alert, quickly leads us to what blogger Dhyana Ziegler called “a collision course” of ethics and social media.

“…take responsibility for our thoughts, words, and actions in our daily engagement and interaction with technology… just because we can do it, should we? How much engagement is too much? We must all answer individually and act responsibly” (para. 8).

Media ethicist Stephen Ward has it right in going beyond transparency. Responsibility includes accuracy, minimizing harm, telling the public what we need to know, and verification before sending out information.

PRSA Nebraska Ethics Minute, April 1, 2014

Ethics, Introduction, What's NewNo Comments

How do you respond to mistakes and errors? Amy Gallo (2010) notes in the Harvard Business Review that the “now what?” after a mistake, turns a potentially “permanent career mark” into  “organizational and personal learning.” Do you see mistakes as an “essential part” of “innovation” and growth? Or, are you tempted to hide them? View more >>

Writing Your Brand’s Obituary Today May Save You From Extinction

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By David Moore, Bozell Creative Director

One of the critical mantras of branding is “Question Everything.”  Think of it as a game to play every so often among an organization’s leadership.

While marketing typically “owns” the brand in most corporations, public relations helps leadership break down internal silos and communicate effectively to foster creative brainstorming and provide strategic development and direction.

Asking tough questions is the hallmark of the exercise. It’s also a highly productive way to start exploring the boundaries of what could be, no matter what the strategy and tactics you eventually employ.  Here are five of my favorite questions:

1.  If your brand were to die, how would its obituary read?  What would be the cause of death, who would mourn it?

Example: “Oldsmobile, a long-standing American automotive brand, died today after years of lingering illness.  The cause of death was believed to be a lack of differentiation and clear purpose.  Oldsmobile was once a proud and admired name, but mourners, mostly old fogies in Florida and Arizona can’t remember exactly why.”

Brand extinction can sneak up slowly or pounce rapidly; but usually the cause can be traced back to the same few sources – a lack of focus, a lack of support, or the inability to keep up with a changing environment.

2.  Where would you like to see your product category sold that it’s not sold today – and how could you get your brand there?

Example:  Apple sells iPods in hotels and airports via vending machines.

It’s not uncommon to see these machines now in airports, hotels, etc., but it probably sounded like a wacky idea at first.  But then so did selling frozen pizza in the home improvement center, but it’s working for Menard’s.

Sometimes a new market isn’t about finding new customers, it can be finding your traditional customers in new places, delivering your brand message in unexpected touchpoints. Play a short game of “What if?” and you may be surpirsed where it leads you.

3. What would happen if you raised your prices by 20 percent?  Lowered them by 10 percent?  Just exactly how price-resistant is your brand?

Okay, I know that your distribution channel might scream.  But take a few minutes to imagine the possibilities.  Sometimes, raising prices a bit can actually increase sales by inferring a higher quality on your brand.  In a service business, it can eliminate a layer of unprofitable customers.  Conversely, lowering your price a little bit may entice loyalists of your competitor to give you a try (but it’s awfully hard to raise prices again anytime soon).  Either way, think of your price as an active component of your brand’s image, not just a margin over cost.

4. Is there a universal truth about your brand communications?  Does everyone in your organization know it?

Example:  As the “ultimate driving machine,” BMW advertising never depicted a person.  Human beings are fallible, BMWs are not.  A consistent application of this truth has helped make BMW a global icon of excellence.

What’s your brand truth? Sometimes this may be expressed by what your brand will never do, rather than what it will do.  Walmart doesn’t have sales, because they have “everyday low prices.” only has one item for sale every day. Ikea relentlessly works to take costs out of their production cycle. These are their brand truths.

5.  Does your brand have a mission that makes your people want to get out of bed in the morning?  Is it something you can rally around? 

Example:  “Do no evil” from Google is pretty coolA mission like that inspires employees to become evangelists because you give them something to believe in.

Compare that to “Apply synergies to increase shareholder value while being the best place to work,” which is not exactly an inspiration to shower and get dressed.

All of these questions lead to your company’s brand mission. These are the questions you should ask – and answer — before beginning any communications project. Especially one as critical as your brand mission.

If you don’t answer these and other questions, you cannot provide creative, effective, memorable and honest communications to your employees, customers and stakeholders.

Whether your venue is public relations, marketing, advertising, digital, direct response – taking a “question everything” approach should be at the forefront of your brand thinking.

For more innovative thoughts, musings and tidbits to help connect your brand to your customers, go to or email comments on this article to   




Building Your Brand with Public Relations

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Building Your Brand with Public Relations
Lynette Von Minden
Senior Public Relations Counsel
Swanson Russell

Here’s a little exercise for you. Name some of the world’s most popular brands.

OK, which ones immediately came to mind? Maybe Coke or Apple? McDonald’s? Walmart? Google?

While these companies may make building a branding look easy, it’s not. Brands are the basis of an organization’s emotional and psychological relationship with its customers. It’s likely that hundreds of people participated in many meetings and discussions about the look, feel and overall personality each of these companies should communicate. And coming to an agreement on a brand is only the beginning. Then you have to build it and nurture it, which takes time, consistency and dedication.

If you asked most people how companies build brands, they’d probably mention the ads they see in print and online, or the commercials they hear on the radio or see on TV. A few might also mention product packaging, merchandising displays or websites. While it’s true that all those elements of the marketing mix help build a brand, public relations also has a tremendous impact upon brand perceptions.

In the past, PR—like advertising—primarily consisted of one-way messages from an organization to its customers. In other words, PR professionals told people what they wanted them to hear without offering them a way to respond or provide input. Today, customers have the power to let us—and just about everyone else in the world—know how they feel about our brand, our products and our services each and every day.

As a result, PR has had to evolve. It’s no longer just about developing relationships with the media, but also with actual customers. It’s about listening, responding appropriately and delivering on brand promises that customers find emotionally relevant. It’s about developing a reputation and a personality with which your customers can identify. That’s why PR has become so integral to the brand-building process—not just for multi-billion-dollar corporations, but for even the smallest businesses. Consider the following PR strategies and tactics that can help any organization develop and nurture its brand:

  • Become involved with relevant events and sponsorships.
  • Craft social media messages that speak to your audience’s preferences, needs and desires.
  • Train your company executives how to properly “work in” your company’s brand message during interviews and speaking engagements.
  • Develop story pitches and bylined editorial pieces that support your brand message.
  • Remember to back up your brand in both external and internal communications.

PR isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to building a brand. It’s just one tool of many in the marketing toolbox. However, when it’s done well, PR is quite possibly the most subtle, yet effective way to nurture and communicate a brand image. The key is to work a consistent brand message into all aspects of your communications mix—and back it up with your actions.

Media Relations Summit Presentations Now Available!

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The presentations from the Media Relations Summit are now available.

Thank you to our presenters:
Laurie Armstrong, director, Media Relations, US & Canada for the San Francisco Travel Association

View presentation.

Jeff Hanson, manager, Communication Strategy and Technology, Corporate Marketing and Communications at OPPD

View presentation.

MaverickPR asks Nebraska PRSA members to sponsor a YES backpack

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MaverickPR, the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s PRSSA chapter is seeking help from Nebraska PRSA to fill 100 backpacks with clothing and hygiene supplies to Youth Emergency Services (YES), a local nonprofit that serves homeless and at-risk youth.

For only $35, PRSA members or their companies can sponsor a backpack in the “Say YES: Give Back with a Pack” drive that runs throughout the month of November.

The UNO’s PRSSA chapter has purchased 100 backpacks through its own fundraising but needs more assistance to fill them with such items as packages of socks and underwear, gloves or mittens, body wash, soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, tooth brushes and first aid items. Checks should be made out to UNO-PRSSA and mailed in care of
Karen Weber, PRSSA faculty adviser at Room 140, Arts and Sciences Hall, University of Nebraska at Omaha, 6001 Dodge St., Omaha, NE 68182-0112.

For more than 35 years YES has served struggling youth, ages 12 to 21 in Omaha and Council Bluffs, by providing critically needed resources that empower them to become self-sufficient. YES served more than 800 homeless and at-risk youth in 2010-11 alone through shelter and advocacy programs.

Please contact Angela Eastep, PRSSA service director, for more information at

James W. Leuschen Fellowship Award: Developing the Professional Within.

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The PRSA Nebraska Foundation is seeking applicants for the James W. Leuschen Fellowship. The $500 award is available annually to a public relations practitioner who is working to earn an educational degree or seeking additional training or coursework in public relations and related fields. Application deadline is Nov. 1, 2013.

The Fellowship is named in memory of James W. Leuschen, APR, a long-time PRSA Nebraska member and past president, to recognize his career of excellence in the practice of public relations and for his exemplary service to his profession and to the community.

Application Process
To be considered for the Fellowship, a candidate must send a letter of application, indicating interest and that he/she meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • Pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in public relations, Communications or a related field at an accredited college or university.
  • Pursuing education full-time and temporarily not working in the public relations field. Candidates must have a strong commitment to return to public relations practice once their academic program is completed.
  • or seeking additional skills or pursuing training or academic coursework in related fields.

A candidate does not have to be enrolled in a specific academic program. Preference will be given to a practicing public relations professional who is a member of The Nebraska Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and intends to remain in the area served by the Chapter.

Letters of application may be mailed to:
Public Relations Society of America Nebraska Chapter
PRSA Nebraska Foundation
PO Box 24133
Omaha NE 68124

The Fellowship Committee, consisting of the President of the PRSA Nebraska Foundation and two Foundation Trustees, will review the application letters and make a recommendation for approval by the PRSA Nebraska Foundation Board of Trustees.

The award recipient is named at the Paper Anvil Awards Gala in December.

The PRSA Nebraska Foundation receives charitable gifts to further the profession, primarily by supporting public relations education through professional development programs and PRSSA scholarships. Members can become involved in the PRSA Nebraska Foundation through:

  • Personal or corporate gifts to the foundation.
  • Working on its behalf.
  • Discussing the foundation as part of an estate plan.

For more information, contact:
Davina Leezer, PRSA Nebraska President-Elect

UNO PRSSA Holds Tenth Annual “La Notte Italiana” Benefit Dinner

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Say arrivederci (goodbye) to a plain dinner and spice up your night with MaverickPR, the UNO chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), for the 10th annual “La Notte Italiana” (Italian Night) fundraiser.

This year’s benefit dinner takes place on Friday, Sept. 20, 6:30-8 p.m., at St. Margaret Mary’s Suneg Center, 6116 Dodge Street, across from the UNO campus. The event features authentic Italian cuisine from some of the best restaurants in Omaha as well as family recipes. In addition, the chapter will hold a silent auction featuring spa to sports packages. All proceeds help the chapter pay for student travel, competitions, campus and community service projects and special events.

The fundraiser comes just over a month before the PRSSA National Conference in Philadelphia Oct. 25-29, in which 10 members and their faculty adviser represent UNO. The team has worked year-round to prepare for the five days of professional development, competition and networking. In 2012, UNO earned Outstanding PRSSA Chapter for the second time in four years. PRSSA is a national pre-professional organization for students interested in public relations with 300 chapters nationwide.

Tickets cost $20 for adults, $12 for students with ID and $5 for children under 12. They may be purchased or reserved through Karen Weber, PRSSA faculty adviser, at (402) 554-2246 or through Thursday, Sept. 19. Tickets are also available at the door.
MaverickPR, the University of Nebraska at Omaha chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSSA), offers students interested in public relations opportunities in professional development and community and university service. One of the most active student organizations on campus, the UNO Student Organizations Leadership and Programming (SOLP) named PRSSA its Outstanding Student Organization in 2010-2011. UNO PRSSA also earned the F. H. Teahan National PRSSA Award for Outstanding Chapter in 2012 and 2009, and Outstanding University Service in 2010.

Shoo the Flu – Bailey Lauerman

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Imagine a well-known CEO on a mission to have every child in his community receive a flu shot. For free. In a matter of a month.

Now imagine the community is the populous San Francisco Bay Area, with literally hundreds of thousands of children of all socio-economic class.

So, how do you reach and influence parents to allow their children to receive a free flu shot? And how do you turn them into advocates, spreading the word, so that other parents follow suit? And how do you do it while remaining an anonymous donor?

First things first: find partners with the know-how to make it happen –one that can assist with the logistics of the program, and the other to produce creative, persuasive communication that delivers a credible argument to vaccinate in an approachable and relevant way.

For the logistics part, the donor contacted TotalWellness, a national corporate health and wellness provider, to assist with the implementation of the program. TotalWellness contacted Bailey Lauerman to help spread the word.

To make things even more interesting, Bailey Lauerman had only one week to develop, launch and promote the free flu shot program in a large metropolitan area with an equally large Spanish-speaking population. With no paid advertising and no on-the-ground support.

An area that’s already saturated with messaging in every nook and cranny.

Though it was an unusually tight deadline, Bailey Lauerman had the expertise to develop and execute a killer campaign that reached a fairly large audience through social and PR channels. One that delivered a message of education and entertainment, convincing each and every parent of the benefits of childhood flu vaccinations, while arming them with what they needed to spread the word in a non-preachy way.

In a short amount of time, our very talented and capable team developed:

  • A catchy name, Shoo the Flu, identity, flu characters, stickers and shareable social badges
  • A landing page to serve as the central hub for information that included a map of the Target Pharmacy® locations administering the shots, as well as flu myth busters and frequently asked questions –
  • Facebook and Google+ pages
  • Partnerships with key public schools and non-profits serving children
  • Information distribution channels through local and state health departments
  • Media buzz by pitching timely pieces as a national influenza story was breaking
  • Stories that caught the attention of influential bloggers, including “mommy bloggers” in both the pro- and anti-vaccine camps
  • Posters that were translated to Spanish in order to reach a wider demographic

Then, on the eve of the launch, the anonymous donor decided to be way less anonymous. We needed a communication strategy to attribute this grand community health gesture to Google CEO Larry Page and his wife, Lucy, through their Page Family Foundation. No problem.

The program launched without a hitch on December 1, 2012.

So how did it do? In the first week, Shoo The Flu was covered by some of the area’s most prominent newspapers and TV stations – San Francisco Chronicle; the local NPR affiliate, KQED-FM; Univision 14 KDTV-TV, a Hispanic-speaking television station.

It reached more than 31,000 Facebook users. Daily Shoo The Flu posts were shared on Google+ and Facebook, including one post shared by Larry Page on Google+.

In just a month, 1,500 flu shots were administered –that’s more than 20 times the normal amount of shots.

The campaign was so successful, the Pages decided to extend the free flu shots for another month.

By the end of the second month, a total of 4,865 shots were administered.

The campaign then went to exceed even more expectations by winning Best Social Media Campaign from Ragan’s 2013 PR Daily Awards, along with two honorable mentions for Best Cause-Related Campaign and Best Community Relations Campaign.

You have to admit, that’s some pretty good shooing of the flu.

PRSA Members Share Best Practices Through Networking

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By Anna Backhaus

Networking is a vital part of public relations. With social media and online platforms connecting with individuals, organizations and events it is easier than ever before. With the change of tide come new questions, new ideas and new ethical responsibilities.

Will Ackerman, PRSA Nebraska Ethics chair and communications director for the Nebraska-Western Iowa Veteran’s Administration, shared the new PRSA Ethics App that can be downloaded from the Play store on androids and the App Store on iPhones. The app features professional values, ethics quiz, posts and case studies.

Instead of the traditional speaker or panel, the format for this luncheon meeting was more interactive. Each table discussed different topics involving best practices in PR provided in a networking packet.  One topics of interest was buzz words that get over used in news releases. Kelli Wostrel, APR, PRSA Nebraska president and public relations counsel for Swanson Russell, says her company would have everyone get together say all the words they wanted to say but shouldn’t and then write a news release. Such words include leader, fastest, innovative and revolutionary.

Our group also discussed when it’s appropriate to contact reporters or editors on Twitter and other social media platforms. The majority thought that as long as the person being contacted preferred this method then it isn’t a problem. It’s always courteous to contact others by way that is most convenient to them, so never hesitate to ask.

Another ethical topic that prompted debate was whether or not to write quotations for your organization’s CEOs president or administrator. Davina Leezer, PRSA Nebraska vice president and marketing manager for Mosaic, says she has worked in her position long enough to be able to write in the voice of the person who would be quoted. She always gets the quotes approved before sending the news release. Karen Weber, UNO PRSSA faculty adviser, says, as a former news reporter, she would still prefer quotes that come directly from the source.

Nebraska PRSA also honored four PRSSA members with $500 scholarships. Winners are Kassaundra Hartley, Spalding, Neb. of Creighton University; Benjamin Preston, Omaha, of the  University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Megan Romero, Omaha, of the University of Nebraska Omaha; and Britni Waller, Lincoln, Neb., of the University of South Dakota.


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