PR proficient: BRAC made it happen

In case you didn’t notice, that’s my giant face in an awkward position on that Youtube freeze-frame. It seems only appropriate that for the last blog post of the semester, we meet face to face. Well, kind of. More like my face to your screen. I took the first step; ball’s in your court now.

But phew, what a semester this has been.

I learned that service-learning isn’t a trap. I learned that public relations isn’t about making up promotions. I learned how to adequately write on behalf of organizations. Even though it’s basically the worst thing ever, I even learned how to put Microsoft Word in its place and do what I want it to do every now and then.

One could even venture to say I’ve become PR proficient.

I feel like we’ve touched all our bases this semester, which has made me feel confident in my ability to write in a public relations capacity. I can tell you the proper memo format off the top of my head, I can write a news release that will get picked up (proof) and I can write a speech that will cause listeners to think. Another aspect of this coursework I’m thankful for is how we’ve completed assignments for all different types of media. For example, we’ve done news releases for print, social media releases for online and public service announcements for both radio and television.

It turns out, Jensen Moore’s course learning objectives weren’t as lofty as I initially thought they were.

Let’s break them down:

  • Understand client, audience and media information and format needs. After all this, it feels like BRAC and I go waaaay back. After investigating their target audience, mission, history and running a SWOT analysis, we can’t help but feel like we know everything there is to know about the nonprofit. We’ve spent the semester stalking BRAC, so I feel like we understand it pretty well.
  • Demonstrate skills in locating, evaluating, and synthesizing research materials. Did I mention our SWOT analysis? Oh, and the SMP. I can’t tell you how many Google searches I’ve conducted about teenagers’ nasty habit of texting and driving. 
  • Understand the importance of truth, accuracy and fairness in the information gathering and distribution processes. This was something I’ll admit I didn’t see coming in this course. I thought PR was straight promotions, but it turns out it’s not. It’s about sharing the facts on your specific client. Yes, we’re trying to make them look good, but nothing is invented in the process. 
  • Demonstrate skills in writing copy on long and short deadlines and within space, time and platform requirements. News release due by the end of class? No sweat. Oh, you want it next week? Gotcha covered there too. We had a variety of deadlines, but this didn’t affect me much — I’m a newspaper editor; I live by deadlines.
  • Produce and critically analyze story ideas and materials intended for diverse audiences and media platforms. Three words: Jensen’s red pen.
  • Create and deliver professional speeches and presentations that clearly and concisely convey messages to internal and external audiences. I mentioned earlier the speech we wrote and performed for Jensen, but I neglected our end of semester presentations. These are a big deal and will be the true test of our communication skills because we’ll be in front of external audiences — not just our professor and classmates.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of Associated Press style requirements. The disc jockey played three sets from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. that featured artists Skrillex, Diplo and some other electronic performer. How’s that? RIP Oxford commas.
  • Establish and maintain positive client relationships and work as a part of a public relations team. Bengal Communications ❤ BRAC
  • Create professional communications using technologies such as InDesign, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, etc. I’m the design director. It’s my job to play on these programs!
  • Develop and refine a professional digital portfolio. Here ya go. It’s still very much under construction, but it’s here nevertheless.

 

So, in short, it’s been a very successful semester. I’ll probably take a bit of a hiatus, posting only occasionally, but I’m looking forward to picking back up where I left off and putting the skills I gained this semester to use in the fall for my campaigns capstone course.

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BRAC collaboration reminds us of importance of ethics, professionalism

Bengal Communications is on the ball. 

Our SCVNGR trek has been created and approved, and our promotional deliverables are on their way. Maybe I’m biased, but I’m just going to go ahead and say that it’s pretty awesome. Since our trek’s theme is to “Get Out of Town,” we’ve created challenges that showcase the best, coolest, most fun, most interesting things in Baton Rouge’s surrounding areas like Zachary and Baker. (I know what you’re thinking — yes, there are actually things to do in Baker.)

Image

This is where we’re taking y’all. (courtesy: http://www.martinconstructioninc.com/media/1991/locationsimage.png)

The trek should be going live soon, and we really hope everyone takes it for a test drive. After all, do you really need that much of an excuse to go the zoo or check out a “haunted” plantation

While we were creating our trek, we had to keep professionalism and ethics in mind. But these topics weren’t exclusive to this particular project — they’re something public relations professionals must adhere to and be mindful of at all times.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s that hard to be professional. I see it as having common sense, being aware of your environment and doing the right thing. Being professional can range from dressing appropriately to staying focused on work-related topics. It’s not that hard, y’all.

In our work with BRAC, we tried to be professional through having respectful communication with Julie, keeping our content appropriate and not over-sharing on social media. 

Ethics, on the other hand, is a lot harder to manage than professionalism. Ethics is a sticky subject that asks tough questions of us, many of which don’t have cut and dry “right” answers.

Public relations practitioners fall into ethical dilemmas every day. What if your boss tells you to make up a quote or fact or number? That’s not right. But if you say no, could your disobedience put your job in jeopardy? It’s tricky.

Ethical dilemmas can range from that example to the much more dramatic difficult decisions, like Sophie’s choice. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s an impossible dilemma in which the mother must decide which of her children will be killed. 

I know. Ethics is scary.

Luckily, we didn’t have any Sophie’s choices to make in this project, but we did have to keep it ethical by creating entirely original work. For example, as the design director, I had to make sure the designs I made were my own and not too similar to anything already existing. 

I think Bengal has done well so far maintaining a professional and ethical air. We’ll definitely have to keep it up in our final presentation next week!

Hasta luego.

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Follow me on Twitter at @em_herr or connect with me on LinkedIn.
Learn more about BRAC on their websiteFacebook and Twitter.

Working with BRAC creates changed view of PR

This foray into service-learning has been a roller coaster. Signing up for this type of course was something I’d skirted throughout my six semesters at LSU, and now I really don’t know why. Now I’m quietly kicking myself and wondering what kind of experiences and lessons I’ve missed out on by not taking service-learning classes earlier.

It turns out that when I signed up for the MC4001: public relations lab class, I actually had no idea what I was getting myself into. This class and service-learning itself were not what I was expecting. I expected to sit in a room dotted with 10-year-old Dell desktop computers in the Journalism Building while writing news release after news release.

How wrong was I.

Not only have we found the time to become news release-writing experts, but we’ve also written in formats I’d never even heard of before. We’ve cursed Microsoft Word, developed campaigns and dabbled in design. I had no idea this is what I signed up for.

What’s most exciting about these new skills we’ve acquired is how quickly we’re putting them into action. We’re writing news releases that are being sent out to journalists and publications. We’re not waiting until our campaigns capstone class to develop a planbook and make deliverables. We’re doing it now and for a real client.

The work we’ve done for our mini-campaign with BRAC through the SCVNGR app has opened my eyes to the type of work public relations professionals actually do. They don’t sit at their desks drafting promotional pieces and dancing around sticky questions posed by the media. In fact, this class has shown me that it’s quite the opposite.

In all of our assignments, we work hard to maintain a newsy, neutral and non-promotional tone. PR practitioners represent and communicate their products and/or services. They don’t advertise them. This is difficult to balance at times, but it’s a fine line we must walk and not cross. It’s all about the tone.

This service-learning experience with BRAC and our in-class work has shown me the importance of the communication tone. Not only does the tone have to be non-promotional, but it has to be consistent. An organization can’t sound like it’s voiced by a dozen different people. It should have one cohesive voice, tone and message.

Our agency Bengal Communications strives to maintain a distinct yet singular voice, and we work to fulfill that by sending all of our pieces of writing through our writing director, Julie Barrios. She makes sure that what we say sounds like Bengal Communications, not Emily, Caroline, David and Allie. More evidence of the importance of tone is in our agreement with Julie Laperouse from BRAC. All of our materials we make for BRAC have to go through her to ensure the messages we put out are consistent with the nonprofit’s mission, message and voice.

Another facet of PR I’ve noticed through this experience is how business-oriented it is. Public relations is a combination of both business and communication, which I didn’t fully realize before. I’m currently in a management class through the business college, and I’m noticing overlapping content left and right.

Working on our campaign planbook showed me how much research is necessary for practicing PR.

You need to know your client in and out, including internal and external forces affecting them, your audience, your environment, and so much more. I had no idea so much went into a campaign.

But now, I’m thankful that I’m in such an intensive course — and a service-learning one, at that. I would’ve had to wait much longer to learn these lessons without this experience.

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Follow me on Twitter at @em_herr or connect with me on LinkedIn.
Learn more about BRAC on their websiteFacebook and Twitter.

BRAC uses social media, SCVNGR to get you off the couch

My generation has grown up with social media. We’ve changed and developed right alongside the blossoming new technology. We started off with IMing our friends on AOL Instant Messenger as soon as school got out. We customized our buddy profiles, screen names, font colors and away messages. Then, as we got a little bit older, MySpace hit the scene. Our AIM buddy profiles soon became MySpace pages, complete with angsty blogs, bulletin surveys and Top 8 drama. I even became quite skilled in HTML coding after obsessively updating my layout.

Pretty soon Facebook got big, and from there, social networking just blew up even further.

We even stopped using real words and invented a text speak language that was friendly for multi-tap texting on our flip phones. (For those of you who don’t remember or who have blocked it out of your memory, this was before cell phones had full keyboards and you had to press the buttons multiple times to reach your desired letter. I.e., press the number 2 three times to get the letter “C.”)

Source: http://www.njlplive.jex.com.br/includes/imagem.php?id_jornal=16145&id_noticia=3

This is the language my generation is unfortunately responsible for inventing.

But somewhere amid all of this social media and social networking, the social aspect vanished. Instead of talking to our friends in person and getting out and about in the community, we became glued to our online communities, our computer screens and our chairs. Despite our online social presence, we stopped actually being social. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where experts fear that my generation is at risk of losing interpersonal social skills because of our state of being constantly plugged in.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber‘s use of the SCVNGR application is going to change all of that.

Yes, it’s a form of social media, but it forces you to get off the couch, out of your chair and into your city.

BRAC’s SCVNGR treks won’t even work if you’re sitting at home. You have to follow the trek, completing tasks and challenges around town. The treks for BRAC my classmates and I are creating can be used and enjoyed by both new and native Baton Rouge residents.

We’ll show off nightlife, arts and culture, what’s outside of BR and more.

My group in particular is focusing on the lesser known attractions in the nine-parish area surrounding BR’s capital region. We’re showing people the joys of Ascension Parish and the fun you can have in Livingston.

This is an example of social media being used in a socially responsible, engaging way. BRAC has embraced today’s new technology, but instead of falling victim to the subsequent inactivity and dormancy that it often follows, BRAC is turning it around to generate activity, exposure and to fulfill its mission of showcasing all that Baton Rouge has to offer.

Now that we’re all hooked on modern-day technology, it’s time for us to re-inject the social part.

Follow me on Twitter at @em_herr or connect with me on LinkedIn.
Learn more about BRAC on their websiteFacebook and Twitter.

A new view of service-learning: Bengal Communications meets BRAC

Service-learning. Whenever I saw this two-word designation on the course catalog, I’d immediately avoid the class and keep on scrolling. To me, service-learning was a trap. I saw it as spending significant extra time outside of class while still receiving only three credit hours for the course. Sure, it’s likely a fulfilling experience and looks nice on a résumé, but in my eyes it seemed like a rip-off.

This semester I fell into the quicksand service-learning trap. Twice, actually.

And as I’ve gotten pulled in deeper, I realize how wrong I was about service-learning.

Service-learning is more like real-world experience than volunteer work. Instead of planting trees or serving at soup kitchens, service-learning is more like professional community immersion.

My section of the public relations writing course in the Manship School of Mass Communication is designated as a service-learning course, and as a result, my classmates and I have an exclusive opportunity. Our teacher received a special grant that allows our class to work for the application SCVNGR. At its simplest, SCVNGR is a game kind of like a scavenger hunt. There are multiple treks built around town with tasks to accomplish in exchange for points and rewards.

SCVNGR is a fun way to the fuel the economy. It creates mutually beneficial relationships for all parties involved. It’s enjoyable for participants — they get acquainted with the area they live in, they have the opportunity to score rewards and completing challenges is just fun. On the other end, SCVNGR helps businesses by bringing consumers there who may have  never visited them in the first place. It also helps to develop relationships between patrons and businesses and creates loyal customers.

That’s the end of my spiel on SCVNGR, so here’s why it matters to me. In my PR writing course, we’ve been split into groups of five or six to create our own PR agency. We each have a specific job title we applied for that best matches our skill sets. My agency, Bengal Communications, is made up of myself, Allie Jarreau, Caroline Darwin, David Jones and Julie Barrios. My role is that of design director, which I’m really excited about. I love playing around with Adobe InDesign and making things look nice, so being the design director gives me the perfect excuse to do so.

Bengal Communications logo

Our public relations agency’s logo

My group, along with the rest of my class, is working to create SCVNGR treks for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. In partnership with BRAC, we’re creating a “Get Out of Town” trek for Baton Rouge SCVNGR users. We’re making the challenges. We’re making the rewards. We’re creating the promotions. This is real work. There’s absolutely no “but how will this help me in the real world?” questioning. This is the real world. And I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

As I mentioned earlier, I ended up in two service-learning classes this semester. My other service-learning class is my Spanish history of Latin America course. In this one, the service-learning component is teaching an American history course to adults either learning English as a second language, working on their GREs or working to achieve literacy in some shape or form. The classes are taught through the organization the Adult Literacy Advocates of Baton Rouge.

Once again, this example of service-learning injects us into the local community, provides real-world experience and will help my future career. I plan to teach English in a foreign country for some period of time after I graduate. This service-learning is giving me teaching experience and a strong addition to my résumé.

So, in conclusion, I’ve converted. Service-learning isn’t a scam. It’s practical experience outside of the classroom. It teaches us how to communicate and work with people who are different from us and who are not our classmates and teachers. It’s going to help me land a job.

Follow me on Twitter at @em_herr or connect with me on LinkedIn.
Learn more about BRAC on their website, Facebook and Twitter.