I’m Sorry

30 09 2011

Apologies have been a discussion in PR and crisis communication for years. When do you apologize? How do you apologize? Through what communication medium do you apologize?

Recent news has brought this topic into mainstream discussion once again. One example is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and how he is trying to muddle through the thousands of complaints Netflix customers have about its newest business operations. A recent Washington Post article, The Science Behind Saying Sorry, discussed how Hastings’ effort to address his angry customers is following a familiar script.

In the past individuals have reacted differently to  apologies. Some are effective and some crash and burn. Is there a specific formula for the perfect apology? How do you repent while managing the fact that you are confirming blame? Personally, I would appreciate a sincere apology; one that doesn’t utilize scapegoats. According to a leadership text-book when leaders fail and lose credibility the 6 “As” of leadership accountability should be utilized. Accept responsibility, admit mistakes, apologize, take immediate remedial action, make amends or reparation and pay close attention to the reactions of your followers. This is where Hastings’ apology failed. Although he did say I’m sorry. He was apologizing for not explaining his recent business decision to charge Netflix customers more, but customers were mad that he did not make any remedial action to solve the problem. He did not pay close attention to the reactions of his followers.

Another recent example includes College of Charleston Student Body President, Ross Kressel. Kressel faced impeachment from office for tweeting offensive comments about gays, women  and some of his colleagues. After surviving impeachment he issued an apology via email to the student body. Below is the email sent.


This letter is an apology from my heart for the actions you may have recently read about.  As Student Body President I acted inappropriately and for that I apologize.  I apologize for whatever embarrassment, pain, or suffering I may have caused any of you in my capacity, because that is obviously not why you elected me your Student Body President.  I pledge to continue to work for you, represent you, and create the College environment you desire.  I as well as my colleagues in the Student Government Association welcome your call or email in the future to let us know how we can better serve you.  In the coming days, I will contact you to inform you of some of the major issues that will be addressed during the school year. 


Ross Kressel, President of the Student Body


After receiving this apology by email I began to question if this medium was the most effective means to deliver an apology for such an offensive act. How should apologies be delivered to their publics? Does delivery medium have an effect on the perceived effectiveness of the apology? I would argue that the medium does have an effect of the perceived effectiveness of the apology. As a communication master’s student I can’t help but apply a media theory to this example. According to media richness theory, individuals should match the communication channel to the content of the information. The second major consideration of this theory is the nature of the message that needs to be sent. The scholars that created this theory centered the nature of the message on ambiguity – the possibility of multiple interpretations or confusion. Therefore, the more ambiguous and sensitive the message the richer the medium that should be utilized (with face-to-face being the richest medium). I would argue that Hastings and Kressel should have used a richer form of media to communicate their apology. Would their apologies have been perceived differently if a richer medium were chosen? Do you think email and social media sites are effective mediums to deliver apologies? Does if depend on the situation?

Social Media Exile

15 09 2010

Borrowed from Twitter.com

While listening to NPR on Monday morning I heard a story that really grabbed my attention being the young, social media savvy PR student that I am.  This week Provost Eric Darr of Harrisburg University in Pennsylvania has declared a black out of all social media sites on campus.  That means no Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging programs, Youtube, ect.  on campus grounds.  At the end of the week students will write reflective essays about their week in “social media exile.”  The Provost claims that this is an academic exercise.  Often students are not even aware of of social media habits (ex: how many times we log on Facebook a day, the amount of communication that we do online instead of face-to-face, or how much we are addicted to the sites that we love so much).

After hearing this story and then further researching it, I began to analyze my own social media habits.  Do I rely too much on these tools that I love so dearly?  My personal answer is yes.  Often times I waste so much time on these sites when I could be doing more productive things or instead of calling a friend I Facebook them.  However, some people may argue that these tools are necessities and I would agree to an extent.  For example, our PR class will be using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to market campaigns we create for our class client.   In this sense social media is aiding in our education.

Overall, I think the Provost’s decision to block social media for a week is an excellent idea.  I believe it will provide eyeopening results to both the University and all the students who are participating in this exercise.  I am very curious to see the students responses at the end of the week.

I would encourage everyone to participate in their own “social media exile” or at least reflect on how much we spend our time on these sites and how dependent (or addicted if you will) we are to them.  Please let me know what you think about this exercise and whether it would be a good idea for other universities to participate.

Creating Movements for Social Change

8 09 2010

I recently posted a blurb about Brains On Fire and the PR campaign movement they created called Rage Against the Haze.

A recent blog post by Brains on Fire, Movements Move People to Believe, further discusses the notion of movements and what makes a movement so special.  A movement must be generated by the organization or group of people who support it.  They must believe in the organization and believe in themselves.  This post had me think of our class project involving Safe Harbor, a shelter for abused women and children.  Safe Harbor and domestic violence as a whole needs a movement, not just a marketing campaign.  In order to initiate lasting social change:

  1. People need to receive clear and consistent messages from domestic violence shelters like Safe Harbor
  2. People need to be educated about domestic violence and be shown that there is a better way to live
  3. Safe Harbor needs to encourage people to share their healthy lifestyles or healing stories with others so that they too can believe that they can get help and make a change

The post states that: “any brand can ignite a movement with its customers, so long as the brand can move people to believe in the company, to believe in a better way, and to believe in themselves.”  I think that this advice would be very beneficial to any nonprofit organization who is hoping not only to initiate a PR/marketing campaign, but wants to create SOCIAL CHANGE…A movement.

Graduation Time

22 04 2009

graduation-capGraduation is in about 2 weeks for most college students. I cam across this post on the Creative Career titled: Graduation is approaching – Still looking for a job? I found this post very useful not only for graduates, but for all college students.

One thing that the post talks about is the power of networking. The post says to give the online job sites a rest and get to know real professionals. Get on twitter, comment on other blogs, go out to coffee, go to networking opportunities and set up informational interviews. This advice is useful for all students and is something that Clemson PRSSA and Dr. V have stressed here at Clemson University. Myles Golden, a career strategist, was a guest speaker in my negotiation class and he said that 85% of jobs are found through networking. This is so true. you need to be more than just a piece of paper. Meet professionals and give them a face to put with a name.

Another useful tip for all students, not just graduates is to pump up your digital knowledge. Many employees expect younger generations to know the latest technologies and want us to teach them. Sharpen your skills and familiarize yourself with a variety of online sites like blogs, microblogging sites, and other social media sites. Delve into it and teach yourself.

I definitely recommend this post to anyone wanting to know how to better market themselves in today’s job market.

Good luck to all the 2009 graduates!

Feature Writing 101

20 04 2009

In earlier post I introduced feature writing as a beneficial skill for PR practitioners to know. Often the news about clients can be considered as feature, therefore it is essential to know how to write one. This week in Dr. V’s class (@prprof_mv) we will be editing features and putting together the Clemson Communication Studies Department Newsletter.

I interviewed Stephanie Harvin, features editor of The Post and Courier, to get some tips on writing features. The interview is as follows:

Q: What makes a good feature story?

A: A good feature story is just like a news story, it contains elements of news, but is generally an expanded version giving more about what the news means. For instance, a news story about recycling will tell you the hottest tip on recycling, but a feature story will incorporate more people, more facts, and more context for the story. It will also have more photos and graphics attached to it to give it a reader-friendly approach.

Q: What is the most important thing that all feature stories should have?

A: An element of surprise. Features don’t have to be read by anybody, so the language and the idea should engage the reader’s emotions or interests quickly and reward them for reading.

Q: How do you come up for ideas for stories?

A: They come from all kinds of sources, but they should be about something that is happening in your community. They should go from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Q: Some people say that you should never put yourself in your stories. Is this always true? What is your policy at The Post and Courier on first person features?

A: No. With the impact of social media on print, we are relaxing some of the first-person rules to be more reader-friendly. More readers want to engage with a person they recognize rather than an impersonal and remote reporter. But you still have to tell the story from a balanced perspective.

Q: What is the best way to structure a feature?

A: The structure comes from the way you decide to tell the story. Some stories are narratives, some straight news structure, some intros plus bullets or Q&A’s. There are also good charticles – articles done in a chart – that make good features. There is no one structure that fits feature stories so you have to master a number of them.

Q: Do you believe subheadings make for a good feature structure?

A: Subheadings are just one of the tools we use to break up masses of gray type. They should add to the value of the story, though. Again, these should follow the structure, and not be a worry by themselves.

Q: Some people like to insert bullets and other punctuation devices to make their stories “scannable” at times? What is your policy on this?

A: The more you break up a long story into boxes, briefs, bullet points and easy to scan points, the better it will be. The main thing is to have different information in all these various forms, and not repeat the main story in them. You should choose one of these devices per story, though, so you don’t confuse the reader.

Q: What makes or breaks a feature story?

A: A good feature story should engage the reader from the first word, and a good one uses a strong theme and clean writing to make its point. It should never vary from its task, although the path can meander a bit. What breaks a feature story is a lack of clarity on the writer’s part. If the writer doesn’t really know why they are writing the story, it doesn’t matter how much they write or interview, it will still be a mess.

Are these tips useful? Why do you think feature writing is an important skill for PR practitioners to have?

Applying for PR Jobs and Internships out of College

6 04 2009


Recently I have been applying to a lot of internships. I came across a post from CareeRealism about what not to do when writing cover letters and resumes and think that it is very helpful.

Cover letters and resumes are the most important thing when applying for jobs or internships. They help you get your foot in the door. If you don’t have a well written cover letter or resume, you may not even have the chance to meet the internship coordinator or job seeker in person. CareeRealism discuses 3 don’ts when it comes to cover letters and resumes.

  1. Don’t send out cover letters or resumes with typos or formatting errors. Have someone else proofread for you.
  2. Don’t be self-absorbed or pretentious in your cover letter. The cover letter should be about the company. Show how your experience relates to them.
  3. Don’t use a multi-page resume right out of college. You just don’t have that much experience. Keep it short and simple and only put the relevant experiences on it.

I think these tips are very useful and will help when applying for jobs and internships. Remember that your cover letter and resume are your foot in the door. They are the first step.

From my personal experience with resumes and cover letters and speaking with PR professionals I have added a few Do’s to CareeRealism’s list of Don’ts.

  1. Make your resume scanable. Use headings to divide your resume into sections. Companies will get thousands of resumes for job and internship postings. Most likely they will only spend a few seconds reading your resume. Therefore, make sure it is easy to read.
  2. Don’t use fancy fonts or formats when writing cover letters and resumes. Make them as easy to read as possible. The more professional they look the better.
  3. Before writing your cover letter, research the company you are applying to. In your letter comment on their clients or perhaps a campaign they worked on and comment on this. As CareeRealism stated relate yourself to THEM.
  4. If you are submitting a paper copy of your resume or cover letter, print it on a quality paper. Some people recommend an off-white paper, but as long as its a resume paper you should be fine.

I hope these hints help you when applying for jobs and internships. Good luck!

A Really Bad Pitch!

24 03 2009

While catching up on my Google Reader I came across a post on the Bad Pitch Blog. The blog post described the worst pitch I have ever read in my life. I couldn’t believe this really happened. Basically the NY Post newspaper received an email promoting a particular dermatologist and their news peg was the death of a real estate reporter at the NY Post. The email even stated that the reporter ignored signs of melanoma and could have prevented his death if he would have seen a dermatologist! I couldn’t believe that this particular PR person used DEATH AS A NEWS PEG! As if this wasn’t bad enough, the pitch email was sent only a few hours after the news paper staff returned from their colleague’s funeral. This was a huge PR mistake and the pitch obviously failed miserably. Note to PR practitioners: Death is too risky of a subject to use as a news peg. I encourage you all to read the post and the pitch letter.

Comment on Social Media: Time-Wasted or Time- Saver

24 03 2009

One of my classmates, Brittany Beran, wrote a post that I found very interesting about social media saving or wasting time. After reflecting on my own social media experience, I came to the conclusion that social media is definitely not a waste of time. If used correctly social media is a way to build lasting relationships with people. Personally, I use social media as a learning tool. I use social media to build connections and relationships with PR students, professors and professionals.

I have learned a lot from social media and I believe that anything you can learn from is not a waste of time. However, I do think that social media can consume a lot of time. I have to be very conscious of the time I spend reading blogs and surfing various social media sites. Social media is just like any other relationship in this sense. Relationships take time to form and maintain.

There are many sites that can help you manage social media. I personally love Google Reader. Google Reader saves me a lot of time and effort. What are your favorite bookmarking or time-saving sites?

Comment on “Skittles…This is what I want you to do!”

10 03 2009

After talking in class about the skittles social media buzz, I cam across this blog post by Geno Church on the Brains on Fire blog.  Geno talks about the skittles stunt being an example of Buzz marketing.  However he poses the question, do buzz only tactics defeat the ability to build conversations that will create loyalty?  I think that people need more than buzz tactics to create loyalty and trust.  I encourage you to read this posts and the comments posted on it, including mine.

Pitch Letters

1 03 2009

In our PR class we discussed pitch letters and how to pitch to journalists and bloggers. I came across a post on the Bad Pitch Blog called Five Crucial Tips for the Perfect Pitch Letter. This blog post refers to pitch letters as the holy grail. They are the one of the best tools that PR practitioners have in their tool box, but most often, they are used ineffectively. The following 5 tips were given:

  1. Hit it with your best shot: have a very good angle for your story and say something to get the reader’s interest.
  2. Make it personal: make sure it relates to the journalist’s beat.
  3. It’s all about the method: email pitch letters and snail mail pitch letters are very different. Email pitch letters have less space; make it quick and to the point. Snail mail pitches give you a whole page if you can keep the journalist interested enough to make it to the end of your letter.
  4. Don’t rush the letter: make all your points clearly and keep it interesting.
  5. Proofread! This is the most important tip. Don’t make yourself look like an idiot. Get someone to edit your letter critically.

I really encourage my classmates and other PR professionals to read this post. It is very helpful!