Arby’s No Longer Serves Police Officers

arbys_redux_logo_detailArby’s made national headlines this week, and it was not for their delicious curly fries. A Pembroke Pines (Florida) restaurant employee refused to serve a police officer at a drive through, and the Pembroke Pines Police Chief did not take kindly to that news. The chief contacted Arby’s corporate executives directly and demanded an apology. Arby’s issued a public statement and apologized for the employee’s actions, but from a public relations perspective that’s like putting a band-aid on a broken window. Arby’s needs a lesson in crisis communications, and from observing the way they handled this situation it’s clear their public relations team was blindsided by this unexpected event. The online community is threatening to boycott their brand, and the company has done very little to assure customers that the issue is being resolved.

This story has spread like wildfire on social media, and from what I’ve observed the company is being more reactive than proactive with their communications efforts. Arby’s hasn’t made a post on their Facebook page since August 29, and at the very least they could have issued a statement on social media explaining the situation, apologizing and offering ways to alleviate the situation. Was the employee fired? What is being done about it? Why should we ever eat at Arby’s again? The company is keeping the public in the dark when they should be acting as transparent and honest as possible. More proactive steps are necessary to educate and inform the public, but instead they’ve allowed the media and their own customer base to dominate the discussions that are happening across social media. Right now Arby’s is more interested in promoting their new “sliders” on all of their social media channels instead of doing some much needed damage control.

Corporations are not invincible. There comes a time when a brand will come under fire when they least expect it, and a crisis communications plan needs to be in place for trying times like this. The power of the web should not be underestimated. In less than 24 hours the entire nation caught wind of this story. A simple interaction between a fast food worker and a police officer is now threatening to tear apart a well-established brand, and the company expects this to just blow over. The internet never forgets, and with how much cops like fast food Arby’s is also in jeopardy of losing a large percentage of their customers.

“All Cops Eat Free for a Day” would be a simple campaign Arby’s could start to earn back the trust of the public. A simple statement will not cut it. A call to the police chief is not sufficient. This story has legs, and right now it’s outrunning the Arby’s brand in every possible way.

Advertisements

The State of Social Media in 2015

The social media landscape has become so saturated that communications professionals are struggling to keep up with the latest trends. Facebook sat atop the iron throne for quite some time, Twitter experienced rapid growth during its golden years and life was cozy for the few major players enjoying the view from a relatively quiet social media summit during the mid-2000s.

Fast forward to 2015, and now I have coworkers asking what “a snapchat” is and how “the vine” works. If you so much as blink, you will be swept up in this fast paced social media shit storm. In less than five years, Instagram exploded in popularity and is slowly strangling a competitive field once dominated by its owner (Facebook). YouTube is a video behemoth, and there doesn’t seem to be any website that can rival its superiority. Google owns it, and with their money, resources and creative direction it’s hard to imagine Vimeo or Hulu making any push to challenge the tube. Apps like Vine and Snapchat offer short form video storytelling, and a handful of brands have found success using these tools. From how-to videos on Vine (Lowes) to stop motion animation, it will be interesting to see how brands continue to reach younger audiences and create compelling content. Telling a story in six seconds is an art form in and of itself. I continue to be amazed at the creative process behind the amazing Vines being shared on a daily basis.

The best part is, brands will seek out influencers to create content for them! Every social media platform has its poster boys and girls, and brands are leveraging these influencers to reach new audiences looking for content that is genuine and not coming from the mouth of a money-hungry marketer.

Today’s social media lineup is so deep it feels like a new platform is sprouting up every week. Periscope is an app I’ve been keeping a close eye on. Twitter bought it in March for a cool $100 million, just like it bought out Vine in 2012. I don’t mean to stray off topic, but something tells me that Twitter is struggling to remain relevant. It is a social network that is here to stay, but the decline in the number of monthly active users is little concerning. However, no service can match Twitter in the realm of breaking news. The public controls the message, we’re empowered as our own reporters and news breaks on Twitter before traditional media outlets even have a chance to turn their cameras on. Let’s get back to Periscope. It’s a live video streaming service, and in its infancy it appears to have a lot of potential. Journalists are using it to cover live events and breaking news, politicians and other organizations are live streaming speeches and other notable talks and the general public is live streaming pay-per-view boxing matches and Game of Thrones episodes. What a time to be alive.

LinkedIn is a toss up for most brands, but if anything use it to build your personal brand. Employers want to see that you’re active on social media, and LinkedIn provides an outlet to showcase your career history and accomplishments. Flickr will always be a hub for more professional leaning photographers. It lacks in social where Instagram thrives, but Flickr is not trying to be an Instagram. It’s an image hosting site that has a traditional leaning audience, much like it’s parent company Yahoo. Times changed quickly for companies like AOL, Yahoo and Digg. They lost their competitive edge, their products became obsolete and now they’re playing catch up in a race they had no business competing in.

At the end of the day, it comes down to quality content. Satisfy a need, make someone laugh, make someone cry. Be genuine. Remain transparent, and remember that the audience always comes first. Social media is a part of our culture. It’s our generation’s printing press, and it has revolutionized the world we live in. In my own little world, I’m lucky enough to say that it’s my job.

The News Release is not Dead, but it’s Dying

It’s been over a year since my last entry, but for good reason! I’ve been working as a social media coordinator for almost two years now, building an online brand and reputation that has thrived since my humble start at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in August 2013. A job in social media may sound fun to most since it’s something we all use on a daily basis, but it takes an incredible amount of hard work, dedication, planning and strategy to manage social media for a company or organization. I’ve been fortunate enough to promote the great research being done at the institute via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Instagram, and the most rewarding part of it all is getting to learn about Florida’s natural environment and the many fascinating marine science and research projects happening around the state. I’m learning something new everyday, and the knowledge I’ve gained over the last year and a half is something I never could have never imagined when I first started in this position.

One thing I’ve come to find out while immersed in a social media career is that the media no longer relies on the traditional news release for ideas and story leads. Reporters now have the luxury of scanning social media sites for story ideas, and the PR industry has benefited by reaching the media via different channels. On the institute’s Facebook page, print reporters and local, state and national television news stations track our content on a weekly basis, and our stories have gone viral from news outlets picking them up directly from our social media channels. As our audience has grown larger, we’ve become more aware that the general public is not our only target audience. Technology and the rise of social media has transformed the PR industry for the better, and it’s given us an opportunity to foster trust and good will with not only the public but with members of the media. The news release will always be a staple in our profession, but social media gives PR pros another avenue for reaching reporters at the right time, with the right message and on the right medium.

Social media is here to stay, and public relations professionals need to begin identifying how it can be best leveraged to achieve important communications goals for a client, company or organization.

 

Publicity Does Not Define Public Relations

the oscars
Publicity and public relations do not go hand in hand. As a communications professional it’s easy to make this distinction, but to  the general public it may not be as easy to differentiate the two. The 2014 Oscars are tonight, and while it’s a great event honoring our best and brightest in film, a problem still persists that continues to plague the PR industry, which is suffering from mistaken identity.

To put it lightly, the entertainment industry has belittled the value of public relations. If an actress sleeps with her married director (cough Kristen Stewart) and her reputation is at stake, what are the first words you hear? Public relations. Need to do some damage control? Get the PR person on it, because that’s clearly all we do as PR professionals. Our profession strives for transparency, trust, and a strategic approach to communication. A word like publicity is grouped with public relations so often, that if you don’t study our trade it’s easy to assume public relations is superficial and lacking depth.

Unfortunately we have many forces working against us, with the media as one of the primary culprits. They’ve perpetuated the false idea that public relations is only newsworthy and relevant when a major crisis erupts. Crisis communications is only one of many concentrations that fall under the large umbrella of public relations. Our work is not one-dimensional, but to outsiders I can see why that common misconception is alive and well.

To fix this problem, we must do what we do best. Educate, then persuade the public to maintain a certain point of view about what we really do as communications professionals. We’ve had a difficult time branding this new era of public relations, which isn’t just about manipulating news stories and unethical practices of the early years. Our profession has matured, and it’s time to make an effort to change the negative, uninformed perceptions and attitudes associated with PR.

Changing Perceptions of a Misunderstood Profession

The negative and often misunderstood perception of public relations professionals and the entire industry has been the thorn in our profession’s paw for decades. We’re managing the reputation and image of clients we represent, but what’s being done to manage the reputation of our own industry?

The C-suite is starting to realize the value of public relations toward the overall success of an organization. If we want the respect we deserve as a profession, PR executives must be included in strategic business decisions made by top executives. The tides have slowly been changing, and it’s exciting to see the influence public relations has garnered in recent years.

It boils down to an industry’s damaging image that’s been shaped by the media, television and the ethical wrongdoings of days past. There’s a common misconception about what we do as PR professionals. For a thorough, accurate explanation of what we actually do as practitioners, this PRSA article sums it up perfectly.

If we’re hoping to improve our industry’s reputation and gain influence atop the corporate ladder, we must:

  • Prove our worth by using appropriate measurement standards to tie in PR plans and strategies to the bottom line of a company
  • Not let publicity define public relations
  • Highlight and enforce our Code of Ethics to ensure the profession continues to be positively perceived in the eyes of consumers and other professions.
  • Change the stigma of PR pros being viewed as flacks or spin doctors. Transparency and openness is crucial toward the success of our profession for the long term.
  • Practice corporate social responsibility by supporting the communities and people you serve. These good deeds humanize our industry and make it clear that philanthropy, not profit, is at the heart of what we do.

This is clearly not an extensive list, but surely a  proactive vision toward a fresh start. The work we do for clients is invaluable, and our good practices and efforts should be better recognized and appreciated.

How the Public Views Public Relations

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Tennessee found that public relations has been portrayed negatively by media outlets over the years. This can ultimately have a negative impact on the credibility of the entire profession.

Negative stereotypical themes have continually discredited everything good public relations can do for an organization. Media has been known to portray the profession as damage control specialists and slacks who are spewing lies and working with no moral backbone. The reality is quite the opposite. Without trust and transparency, public relations would not be the thriving industry it is today.

Public relations is of great value to society, and the perception of this industry has changed drastically from what it once was. Academic studies focused on 84 different articles that contained the term ‘public relations’. These articles made negative remarks about the profession and portrayed public relations as an attempt to hide or disguise the truth. Spin doctors are a thing of the past.

Studies also found that media definitions for public relations matched the standard PRSA definition only about five percent of the time, and public relations was portrayed negatively 85 percent of the time.

Candace White and Joosuk Park, University of Tennessee researchers, conducted a phone survey involving over 400 people, and found that the public’s view of public relations is not simply damage control, or that they disguise the truth. What may be the most beneficial for the practice of public relations is to focus on how organizations view the profession, and what can be done to enhance the legitimacy of the profession.

Public perceptions of public relations Original Research Article
Public Relations Review, Volume 36, Issue 4, November 2010, Pages 319-324
Candace White, Joosuk Park