Art vs. Politics

Posted June 3, 2008 by Beth Evans
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I vividly remember a conversation with my Chinese roommate in which he asserted that politics are the opposite of art; no one can support both. I think this is definitely not the case, especially in the U.S.; I’m a soon-to-be arts administrator who volunteered registering students to vote for the last presidential election. A couple weeks later in my Art in Society class, we had a heated discussion on all aspects of the relationship of art to government. This topic especially interests me as I prepare to work at an art gallery in China.

I’ve pulled out a couple links that I think are worth sharing about government relationship to art:

“Much Ado About W: Art Wars of Santa Barbara” – a hilarious condensed version of a documentary on a controversy over public art

“Director Accused at Russian Museum” – a New York Times article on a director who the government sues for housing shocking exhibits

“HBO Film About 2000 Recount Draws Protests from Democrats” – another New York Times article, with a pretty self-explanatory title

“‘The Magic Flute’ as Underground Opera” – an opera production updated for and performed at a new subway station in Berlin

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The Public and Private in Public Relations

Posted May 15, 2008 by Beth Evans
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I can’t believe I’ve never heard of a Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) meeting or conference session with the topic of comparing public sector with private sector public relations before last night. Last night, our Chapter Professional Adviser, John Mitchell, APR, spoke on his experience working both for a corporate hospital and for government agencies. His anecdotes were quite humorous and shed light on aspects of public relations jobs that I think most students rarely consider. His main public relations jobs have been for the U.S. Forest Service, Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) and a hospital in Springfield, Ore.

He mentioned a couple of key differences between public and private sector public relations. The first is that in the private sector, it’s much faster to implement a public relations plan, especially one involving asking your supervisors for resources. He illustrated this point by explaining that he’s overseeing a new visitors center for EWEB and it’s taken three years to begin construction. The other key difference is he works shorter, more predictable hours at EWEB than he ever did at the hospital. He worked 60 to 80 hours a week at the hospital, whereas he’s almost always out of his office by 5 p.m. at EWEB.

It seemed that in John’s case the reason for extended hours is that hospital public relations involves crisis communications almost every day. Near the beginning of that particular job, Diane Downs showed up at his hospital with her three young children wounded by gunshots. Six months of her visiting the hospital and calling a press conference every day ensued, which concluded with her arrest and conviction for murder and attempted murder of the children. She then escaped from prison. Imagine dealing with this toward the beginning of your public relations career! This story is apparently so interesting that it inspired a novel and a movie based on the same novel titled “Small Sacrifices.” Sadly, John was not mentioned in either.

My observations of internship supervisors doesn’t necessarily reflect John’s view on work and life balance between public and private sector. This could be because I’ve only interned for one corporation and as he highlighted, public relations is such a diverse field. I got the impression that Weber Shandwick‘s Washington, D.C. office’s director worked long hours; I occasionally received e-mails from her after 11 p.m., once on Sunday. However, my supervisor at the City of Eugene City Manager’s Office attended all City Council meetings, which sometimes went late into the evening. I’ve observed that the workload was about the same for public relations and marketing managers in both the publicly and privately owned arts centers I’ve interned at; however, The Hult Center for the Performing Arts, a city-owned organization, has a visibly more conservative work culture than either Seattle Theatre Group or the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts.

Walking the Green Walk

Posted May 8, 2008 by Beth Evans
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I could blog for hours about the first day of the Portland Communicators Conference; however, I’m focusing this post on the breakout session that I found the most inspiring. It was Communicating Green to Customers, presented by Helen Neville of New Seasons Market. Her presentation seemed to focus on the company’s policies in environmentalism, sustainability, local community support, and transparency, as well as how she communicates those and some of the snags New Seasons Market run up against. What inspired me most is that New Seasons Market is a for-profit company but with an incredibly strong mission. This is an excellent example of a company that walks the green walk instead of just talking it.

This company is the definition of green. Just some of its dozens of green practices are: a strong bike culture that includes bike racks inside the store for customers, a green roof on one of their stores, and recycle bins outside the stores for items not collected at curbside.

Helen brought up a great point about the company’s definition of sustainability. One of her supervisors answered the question at a presentation, “What is sustainability?” with, “I’ll tell you what sustainability is not. Sustainability is not people in Oregon going hungry.” New Seasons Markets provides excellent health benefits, which include mental health and dental, to all employees who work at least one shift a week. This draws a lot of artists and other community members who would otherwise go uninsured as employees, which New Seasons Market appreciates.

Something that goes hand-in-hand with its sustainability is its commitment to help Oregonians. They have a communications initiative to encourage customers to shop at a farmers market one weekend instead of at a grocery store. This hurts business in the short-term but proves New Seasons’ values. It also donate 10 percent of its post-tax profits to charities in Oregon.

Its transparency is remarkable. She said at least twice that New Seasons encourages customers to “vote with their dollars.” It includes colored labels on most of their produce indicating levels of “green,” such as organic or local. It carries food available at most grocery stores, such as mainstream cereal in an attempt to serve all customers in each neighborhood store. This makes sense when you realize it’s more green to walk to get Frosted Flakes than to drive across town.

So how do they communicate all these great practices to its customers? The main vehicle is through employees, who are obviously pretty loyal based on the way they’re treated. Some employees even respond to customer questions in extensive, researched emails on topics such as how to buy locally. (I think this is similar to blogging about topic’s related to your client’s industry that doesn’t directly plug it.) It also has a good Web site and use store signage. It uses primarily earned media as opposed to advertising.

Helen addressed some of New Seasons Market’s challenges with being green. One was switching its delivery vehicles’ bags from paper to plastic. This was after extensive research that proved producing plastic bags emits 40 percent less carbon pollution than producing paper ones, but you can see how some customers would object to this. It conducted excellent crisis communication when they discovered that gift cards made of corn actually were not compostable as the vendor had promised. New Seasons alerted all customers that it was sorry, but the customers would need to throw their gift cards away.

Whether you share the same values of New Seasons Market, this is an excellent lesson to all communicators that your policies’ effects on your brand and credibility needs to be taken seriously. I hope some of you are as inspired by this post as I was by her presentation.

Seven Hours

Posted May 6, 2008 by Beth Evans
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That’s how long until “Northwest Networking: Hiking Toward PR Success,” University of Oregon‘s 2008 PRSSA Regional Activity begins. This has been essentially my brainchild for the past 14 months, so I somewhat understandably view it as a test of my professional worth, even though that’s completely ridiculous.

People keep asking me how I’m doing as if they expect me to be stressed. However, my overwhelming feelings are of joy, flattery and awe. I had never even helped plan a conference before this, let alone direct one, and literally more than 100 people had to trust me in order for this event to be a success. This obviously includes the student attendees and professional participants, but some less apparent but equally importantĀ stakeholders include instructors and the Portland Communicators Conference committee. More extensive thanks are in order in a later post.

I know this post sounds really arrogant. I want to emphasize that I’m not trying to make myself seem any better or more important than anyone else in this process. Instead, I’d rather leave you with how excited I am that my vision is now a reality that about 100 people will enjoy today.

Look out for an after-post, possibly during the Communicators Conference later this week.

Celebrity endorsement of the Day of Silence

Posted May 1, 2008 by Beth Evans
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Last Friday marked the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLEN)‘s 2008 Day of Silence, an annual event where students of all ages across the country refuse to speak all day to symbolize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students who are in the closet out of fear of discrimination. This year’s Day of Silence was unusual in that was dedicated to a person, Lawrence King, an eighth grader who was shot twice in class because of his sexual orientation and gender identity.

I came across two public service announcements on The Cycle by PR Wire for the occasion, each featuring celebrity endorsements. The first was by Lance Bass of *NSYNC, a celebrity who announced within the last couple of years that he’s gay. The other celebrity I thought was a clever choice, Larry King of Larry King Live, chosen because he shares the same name as the child the day was dedicated to.

The PSAs are pretty different. One thing that struck me about Lance Bass’ is the simplicity. Larry King’s was also simple, just his reading from a script to the camera. You can view Lance Bass’ here and Larry King’s here.

In my public relations campaigns course, my group often discussed the value of celebrity endorsement. I’m not sure if it’s always effective, as it’s kind of getting old for people in my generation. However, a measurement of these PSAs success was their newsworthiness that caused journalists and bloggers to write about them.

We’re Taking Over the World! (Or Not.)

Posted April 24, 2008 by Beth Evans
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Dilbert 04/09/08The purpose of this post is to discuss two themes of public relations encompassed in the above comic: employers’ opinions of my generation and our new media knowledge’s value. This topic is popular to blog about; you can read Lindsey Durrell’s thoughts here and Kelli Matthews’ here.

One of my mentors, the general manager for a boutique public relations firm in Portland, Oregon told me, “No one wants to hire new grads right now.” She cited her negative experience with someone in a recent graduating class: she offered a graduating senior a $200-a-week part-time internship because the student only had one internship prior. The student demanded an account coordinator position and eventually ended up not working there at all.

A former internship supervisor and arts marketing manager explained that she thinks my generation is too arrogant when it comes to employment. She told one of her employees who also wants to eventually be an arts marketing manager that she needs to gain sales experience to accomplish that goal. The employee, who graduated four years before me, rejected this idea. This same mentor believes it’s too much for me to expect to start as an entry-level member of a public relations or marketing team; I should be willing to work as an administrative assistant as many members of her generation started. Other professionals I’ve talked to this school year have contested this opinion.

Many of us know that there’s also disagreement within the public relations world as to the value of new media fluency. The non-profit sector, which is what I’m interested in working for, tends to focus its public relations on traditional media relations much more than agencies and large corporations. None of my six past internship sites have published a blog either internally or externally, though some have successfully posted to Web calendars. Of course, one of the aspects of new media relations education is learning that extensive new media is not appropriate for all clients.

Due to my interest in non-profit marketing communications, I tend to hardly mention my new media experience in cover letters and interviews. However, both times I’ve shared my most up-to-date portfolio with professionals, they were more impressed by my experience creating and posting a YouTube video, which you can view here. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with playing up my new media experience, so far to no avail.

In my opinion, the core competencies of public relations practitioners are communication and planning, which will not change with technology. However, public relations practitioners should be aware of new media so that they can use their planning and communication skills to advise their clients or employers on how and if to use it. My generation should use their new media skills to add an online dimension to personal branding. A good blog and E-portfolio is an accessible way to prove that you can plan and communicate.

Hunting for Coverage on the SciFi Channel

Posted April 23, 2008 by Beth Evans
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Taken from the SciFi Channel\'s Web site without permissionSome of you may be familiar with the SciFi Channel‘s “Ghost Hunters.” An aspect of the show that’s interesting to me is that many of the requests to investigate come from public relations practitioners. Of course, this is not true in all cases, especially when “Ghost Hunters” investigates private homes or small businesses.

I discovered this media relations practice at my summer internship with the Seattle Theatre Group. My superviser was our excellent public relations manager, and one of her projects was securing a spot for the Moore Theatre on “Ghost Hunters”. The Moore is one of two venues Seattle Theatre Group operates, and the theater turned 100 two months after the episode aired. I listened to my supervisor ask staff members to volunteer their stories of seeing ghosts in the theater and arrange matters via phone with the show. The resulting footage, which you can view in two parts here and here, showed off the theater marvelously.

You can view a similar public relations aspect in the most recent episode, when the team investigated a United States Air Force base in Ohio. They kept thanking the military for allowing them into the base, and one of the staff members they interviewed had the title “Public Affairs.” You can view the episode here.

It’s important to note that I think that public relations practitioners getting their clients on “Ghost Hunters” is completely ethical, or at least it was in my experience at Seattle Theatre Group. My supervisor did not ask anyone to make anything up; she only asked people who claimed to have seen ghosts in the theater to tell their stories on camera.

I still enjoy watching the show, and by no means think it’s fake. However, now I analyze it for public relations like I do news articles, and I encourage you to do the same.