By: Katherine Masko
The romanticization and outdated narrative of public relations has created a false perception of PR in the eyes of the general public, according to Brandi Boatner, the self-titled “Beyoncé of the Business World.” In actuality, Boatner works with external influencers for IBM, a technology company.
PR has been falsely publicized in movies and television due to shows like “Emily in Paris” and “Scandal.” Often, Hollywood shows a character snapping a quick photo, posting it on social media and that creates the entire PR campaign.
This incorrect representation of PR in the real world creates a dangerous narrative for rising PR professionals. Boatner said it is a problem, and it's young people's prerogative to fix it.
Broadcast Television and Media
“Sex and the City” character, Samantha Jones, was characterized as a PR professional, but actions speak louder than words. The character was shown, more often than not, hosting extravagant parties, getting into the most popular clubs and “bar-hopping and bed-hopping” in New York City. Boatner stressed that Samantha Jones rarely spoke to a journalist.
Olivia Pope from “Scandal” was the first Black woman lead on prime-time television and her character was based on PR professional Judy Smith, who has previously spoken at ICON. Still, “Scandal” creates a cultural perception of crises happening every day and killing people to keep secrets, secret.
Cultural Perception Problems
Bar-hopping, extravagant parties and murder are not what the field of public relations is supposed to be. Strategy, influence and writing are, according to Boatner.
“It is such a good time to be in PR because you can do so many things,” Boatner said. “But, people don’t know what we do.”
Media relations come to mind for many members of the general public as a PR job requirement, but there is far more to PR than that. Internal communications, crisis communications, content marketing, influencer relationships and more all fall under PR.
Yet, What Can Be Done to Change That?
“PR people,” Boatner said. “We influence other people.”
Like the theme for ICON 2022, the power of influence comes down to reputation. As PR professionals, being strategic and mindful of PR’s online reputation can lead to heavy influence.
“If PR pros can’t manage our own reputation as an industry, why should our clients let us manage their reputation?” Boatner questioned.
“The New Narrative for PR”
Boatner suggests that relying on modern communication skills like digital intelligence, behavioral science, crisis management, influencer relations and more can create a new space for PR to grow.
She created a new narrative about the modern storyteller that she feels fits the power and influence future PR professionals should strive for.
For her, the modern storytellers should be three things: scientists, strategists and creators. Scientists uncover and analyze what drives the world, strategists find ways to connect and create action plans and creators articulate stories in creative, impactful ways.
Boatner acknowledges that this new narrative can be difficult, but there are ways to combat it.
“The best PR pros know how to strategically communicate their personal and organizational positioning to be dynamic and forward-thinking,” Boatner said.
Boatner spent the remainder of the time answering questions from students. She said one of her favorite things is to give back to students by speaking at ICON as often as possible. ICON 2022 is the 17th year she’s attended.
“PR is a pink industry,” Boatner said. “It is up to you all in this room to be the change the PR profession needs.”
By: Blake Serrano
The second day of the 2022 PRSSA ICON Conference featured two speakers from PepsiCo who shared inside secrets on their engaging advertisements and campaigns.
Garrett Shipman serves as the senior manager of digital communications at PepsiCo. Shipman said that he worked with a variety of companies before PepsiCo, but found that what set it apart from the rest was its mission of being “purpose-driven.”
Shipman also said he thinks that PepsiCo is different from its competitors because they have built an authentic, well-established relationship with its stakeholders.
“We’ve been building this reputation among our audiences that we are getting involved in the community and not forgetting our roots as a company,” Shipman says. “The three pillars that are a part of this strategy are our employment brand, corporate citizenship and consumer interests.”
Ashley Capps is the director of external communications for Frito Lay North America at PepsiCo. Capps echoed that her past experience working in agency communications enhanced her career and role at PepsiCo.
“At the beginning of your career, working at an agency is really helpful and it will let you dabble in a lot of industries,” Capps relayed. “It will ultimately help you narrow what you love, what you hate, and what you thrive at.”
Capps also mentioned some of the important day-to-day duties that have allowed her to build a great relationship with Frito-Lay and PepsiCo audiences.
“I work with all of our marketing teams to take their products or campaigns and launch them to the world,” Capps added. “So if you see a new product on the shelf or a Super Bowl advertisement, those are some of the many things that I work on.”
Shipman and Capps also made the session engaging by adding a trivia session that included Frito-Lay merchandise as prizes.
“The trivia made the session informative and fun at the same time, “ said PRSSA Kent Chapter President, Kayla Polansky. “Everyone was so determined to get the free prizes and there was definitely some light competition.”
By: Kayla Polansky
In today’s digital age, it can be easy to post mistakes with the click of a button. At the ICON PRSSA National Conference, Anne Marie Mitchell, associate professor at Columbia College of Chicago, spoke about how modern-day Youtubers handle communication crises.
Mitchell began her career as a speech writer and soon got into publications afterwards. Before beginning her research on the topic, Mitchell made sure to watch no apology videos beforehand. She said that theory relied heavily on examining the aspects of digital apology videos.
One public relations theory Mitchell closely evaluated was the Image Repair Theory proposed by William Benoit. This theory was Mitchell’s starting point in her research and has since utilized this theory in her teachings of public relations.
“This is what got me super excited about doing this research,” she said. “I was going to be able to take this theory and apply it to social media, or ultimately, the next generation.”
This theory breaks down three vital elements that must happen in order for a crisis to occur:
Research showed from Mitchell’s studies that audience members who had already followed the creator were more likely to hold forgiveness. Additionally, her research found that the majority of creators apologized for a content problem (42%) and racism (19%), and the majority of creators were male and emphasized a natural look.
While sharing some interesting information about theory, Mitchell also tied back to the basis of research to answer the simple question: Why YouTube?
According to research, YouTube already had an estimated 37 million channels in 2010 and 22,000 channels that had already reached one million subscribers. And while some may think that the platform is just for adults, it also caters to the younger audience. According to Mitchell’s research, 29% of those aged 8 through 12 aspire to become a YouTuber.
Mitchell began the first part of her research in the spring of 2020 during the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. While sitting at home and evaluating apology videos, she explained how she paid attention to key aspects, such as eye contact, lighting, video production, makeup and the overall message.
Suzanne Droese, founder of Droese Public Relations, opened her session by asking attendees what luxury meant to them. Droese worked with a variety of luxury brands, such as Gucci, Mulberry, Bumble, Valentino and Sprinkles Cupcakes.
Key Things to Remember
Luxury brands cater to small audiences. The key to any good public relations campaign is an approach tailored to the targeted audience. For luxury brands, that targeted audience is a much smaller pool and can be difficult to hit just right. Campaigns are typically tailored to customers with discretionary income.
The campaigns for luxury brands often have different objectives than most campaigns. Due to the specific niche audience it is trying to reach, the goal may not be as much to spread awareness as it is to create exclusivity. This does not apply to every luxury brand, but many create a scarcity in order to boost its exclusivity. Think a Birkin bag by Hermès or a product with very few made. “People want what they can’t have,” Droese said.
Similar to many companies, luxury brands have a distinctive voice. Overall it should sound educated, informed and concise. When a consumer is looking at the products of a luxury brand, they should feel like the brand knows who it is. “People are buying into you knowing your stuff,” Droese said.
Principles of Luxury
Providing a seamless experience: The experience audiences receive both online and offline should match. This includes experiences consumers have on social media, not just online shopping. The messaging social media teams put together should feel succinct with that of the messaging in store.
Offering convenience: Luxury consumers, like most people, value their time. When taking time out of their day to shop at a luxury store, convenience is one of the most important things they can be offered. This can range from tasks like offering coffee to gift wrapping.
Emphasizing lifestyle: The messaging of luxury brands does not always need to spell things out. Droese used the Johnny Depp Dior ad campaign as an example to explain this. The campaign consisted of actor Johnny Depp playing guitar in the desert and introducing “Sauvage elixir,” a new cologne. The underlying theme of the ad was “sexy” in Droese’s words, but that was never explicitly said.
Telling the story: This is not specific to luxury brands. All public relations campaigns should be focused on story telling. The aspect that is specific to luxury is history. Many luxurious brands (i.e. Gucci) have been around for decades. Telling the audience about its history and making it a part of its brand is one of the keys to luxury storytelling in the modern day.
Standing firm: Luxury brands must stick to their brand. Successfully communicating is required in any market, but specifically in luxury. With a niche audience, if a brand strays, it loses. “They have to know their DNA, they have to know their story and they can’t stray from it,” Droese said.
Suzanne’s Super Seven Secrets for Success
Droese ended the session with advice for attendees. This advice could be applied to the audience’s experience working in the field, as well as their day to day life.
Hosted by “Celebrity Whisperer” Rita Tateel, the 2022 PRSSA ICON session “Reaching For the Stars” focused on how public relations professionals maintain healthy relationships with high profile celebrities. This session broke down the key factors necessary on how to properly market celebrities and how to build the client’s trust.
Tateel serves as the founder and president of The Celebrity Source, an organization that’s been operating for over 30 years focused on recruiting celebrities for PR, marketing, advertising and special events. The Celebrity Source works with a large range of extremely famous celebrities, some of the most famous including Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Queen Latifah, Megan Fox and Matthew McConaughey.
Tateel’s resentation highlighted four key factors necessary to maintaining a healthy relationship with celebrity PR clients: the definition of a celebrity, the benefits of working with a celebrity, what to avoid when working with a celebrity and the psychology of a celebrity.
Definition of a Celebrity
According to Tateel, a celebrity is defined as any individual who is well known to the public eye within their field of discipline. She emphasized that their field of discipline also corresponds with their audience, strengthening a niche definition of a celebrity.
“If a person is famous within their field of discipline and their audience, they are classified as a celebrity,” Tateel said. “It is extremely important to understand who your audience is, not just any celebrity will work for every audience.”
Benefits of Working With a Celebrity
Tateel discussed the benefits of working with celebrities. She emphasized both commercial and reputational aspects along with increased preferences for specific clients.
“Studies have shown that consumers show greater recall of products that have been endorsed by celebrities,” Tateel said. “Why? Because there's a face attached to it, not just words.”
She highlighted that celebrity endorsements increase sales by astronomical amounts and that the public is easily influenced when a product is attached to a familiar face.
What to Avoid When Working With a Celebrity
Tateel’s first piece of advice for working with a celebrity is to avoid not knowing why you want to work with a specific celebrity. She advised that if the PR practitioner has a clear measurable goal, along with specific reasoning for working with a celebrity, the usage of the celebrity will be strengthened for the client.
“Avoid recruiting a celebrity solely based on their popularity,” Tateel said. “Just because someone has 40 million followers does not mean that they will be more effective as someone who has far fewer followers.”
She also assured that asking a celebrity for more time than necessary should be avoided at all costs, because it is disrespectful to them. A celebrity's time is precious and should not be wasted by PR practitioners.
Among all pieces of advice on what to avoid, Tateel placed the greatest emphasis on avoiding false hope for the client.
“Don’t make any promises that you can’t keep and keep all of the promises you make,” Tateel said. “It’s one of the reasons celebrities like to work with us … they know it’s something we stick to. If we make a promise, and something happens, and becomes difficult to keep, we will do whatever we can to make it right.”
Psychology of a Celebrity
Tateel analyzed the psychology of celebrities and what motivates them to say yes to working with specific clients. Tateel highlighted that at their core, most celebrities experience insecurity.
“Think about this: if you're a famous person, and the minute you leave your house, you're recognized and people start talking to you. You don't know as this famous person whether that person is being sincere or if they have some sort of hidden agenda with what they're saying,” Tateel said. “You don't know if they're being nice, because they really are being nice, or they have some sort of ulterior motive.”
She also said that one of the biggest complaints individuals may have when working with celebrities is that they are often perceived as demanding. She emphasized that understanding the root of insecurity is essential to understanding why they may come across as demanding or difficult to work with.
The psychology of celebrities coincides with getting celebrities to say yes. She advised to simultaneously diminish this insecurity and persuade celebrities to agree to PR deals, the practitioner must go above and beyond to build trust with the celebrity.
“When you take control of a situation, you're feeling secure, right? So keep in mind that the takeaway from here is to help celebrities and their representatives because you'll be dealing with them first,” Tateel said. “It’s important that they feel secure about working with you, that you pay attention to detail, that you are giving them all the elements, what they want to know, what they need to know and most importantly, what their celebrity is going to need to know.