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Social Media and #MeToo

By: Matthew Medlin

Editor: Divya Thirunagari

#MeToo

With two simple words, Alyssa Milano started an avalanche of social activity. Within 24 hours, those words had been shared a half a million times.

The hashtag “Me Too” is intended to provide those who have been sexually assaulted with a method of speaking out, without having to go into explicit detail. Just looking through my feed on Facebook, I was immediately struck with just how many people have experienced something so horrific. As were all the articles I read about the movement. The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN…the list of news outlets goes on. Everyone was surprised, outraged and shocked.

On the one hand, this was phenomenal. People were given a way to speak out against the mind-blowingly awful atrocity that is sexual assault. Drawing attention to it could be a great way to galvanize people to act. And maybe others will begin to feel ever so slightly more comfortable with coming forward.

But with these good and powerful things in mind…there’s a problem. It’s not with the movement, the people, the message, or the cause itself. It’s the platform. See, social media is an insatiable beast.

It lives.

Breathes.

It reacts to the world around it, just like us. It constantly needs.

And we feed it. With our problems, with our triumphs, with our silly little videos…we consistently check in on it, make sure it’s ok, and give it some nourishment. And there’s always something that’s stirring up a viral storm. It could be a twitter tirade by Donald Trump. An outrage over a racist advertisement. Or even a shooting. Whatever it is, the process is always the same.

People get angry. They write comments on Facebook. Offer thoughts and prayers. Make touching statements. Come up with clever hashtags. They donate a couple bucks, smile and feel better about themselves. Just like that, the event that was so scary and dark and terrible and depressing and harrowing fades into the background, dwarfed by the sheer deluge of information constantly spinning off our social feeds into our eyeballs.

But I’m going to burst a lot of bubbles here. That is NOT enough.

If we want change to happen, and I mean real change, it’s going to take a whole heck of a lot more work than just writing about your outrage from the safety and comfort of your laptop. Or sending thoughts and prayers. Or hoping for things to be different, forgetting about it and going back to curating your favorite Spotify playlist.

No.

There is a way to change things. More than anything else, change takes work. Not to mention compromise, because not everyone is going to agree. So, you need to get through to them.

It takes campaigning. Rallying in person. Starting petitions. Giving presentations. Talking it out peacefully, and starting a meaningful conversation that can benefit us all.

If we can manage to do that, then change will come. But until then, this critically important issue will fade out of the limelight. And we cannot let that keep happening.

Not this time. Not again.

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Racial Stereotypes in PR Campaigns

By: Lindsay Mann

Editor: Divya Thirunagari

Dove apologises for ad showing black woman into white one

This isn’t the first time Dove rolled out a racist ad

Dove’s ‘racist’ soap ad turns into a major disaster for Unilever brand

These are just a few of the headlines that surfaced earlier this month after Dove posted on social media a three second video, where an African American woman peels off her brown shirt and turns into a white woman. Dove immediately released an apology statement, but it was too late. The internet had already delved into a frenzy of anger, disbelief, and disappointment.

The campaign brought up an interesting question: who let this happen? Dove is a large company, and surely their marketing team is huge. This ad must’ve been approved by dozens of people, and it’s astonishing that no one along the approval process found the campaign to be offensive or insensitive.

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Dove is not the only (and certainly not the first) brand to create racist advertisements. As explained in an Atlantic article, McDonald’s ran an advertisement campaign in the 1970s that specifically featured and targeted African Americans. The ads from this campaign employed the use of “g-dropping”, a term typically used in slang. Meanwhile, all McDonald’s ads that featured and were geared towards Caucasians used only proper grammar.

And then, there are campaigns that still embrace racism, but tend to focus more on white privilege. Who could forget the recent Pepsi advertisement fiasco where Kendall Jenner attends a Black Lives Matter protest, and ends up being the peacemaker by handing a police officer a Pepsi. The ad completely diminished the hard work of people in the streets protesting for a cause they believed in, and capitalized on a civil rights movement in order to sell a product.

It’s a fine line using racial stereotypes to be thought-provoking and offensive. For example, Proctor & Gamble recently came up with “The Talk”, a video that touches on conversations many African American parents have with their children about racial bias in the world we live in.

While the ad received a majority of positive reviews, there was also significant backlash. Jamilah Lemieux, Vice President of Digital at i-One Digital, shares,

I guess I’m struggling to find the intended audience for this commercial. If it is in fact African-Americans then one can say you’re preaching to the choir…[if it] is targeted toward white Americans… then I have to say this is pretty commendable.

– Jamilah Lemieux, Vice President of Digital at i-One Digital

So how can PR professionals and companies make sure their messages don’t contain underlying racial messages?

There is no clear answer.

But there are steps we can take as professionals to make a difference. But here are the beginning steps: think about and visualize how your campaign might be perceived by others, have someone on your team who specializes in ethnic studies or a similar field, and read up on case studies of the media portrayals of various racial groups to understand the stereotypes they’ve been given in the media. Understanding your audience also means understanding their history.

When Advertising “Misses the Mark”

By: Cali Magdaleno

Editor: Divya Thirunagari

At this point in time, it’s pretty hard to deny that the media we consume can potentially affect our viewpoints and the culture we live in.  The presence of media in our lives has increased substantially in recent years, so it’s no shock that, not only is there a higher emphasis on public relations, there is also greater public criticism if something is not executed properly.

Cultural sensitivity is one factor that should be taken seriously when putting something into the public sphere.  Sometimes it seems ridiculous that we have to be constantly reminded that that is important because it should just be something we know and act on without a second thought.  There are some people, however, who think it’s “beating a dead horse” to reinforce such ideals.  But that can’t quite be the case when controversies continue to arise — the most notable of this year being the Pepsi commercial that essentially trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement.

While the Pepsi commercial gained considerable notoriety, it’s not the only one of that nature we have seen this year and, unfortunately, it was not the last.  A few weeks ago, Dove came out with an ad that, in their words, had “missed the mark” — a phrase too often used that just barely takes any responsibility.  

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The ad was for body wash and showed a black woman in a dark shirt, who then removes her shirt, only to reveal a white woman in a light shirt underneath.  It’s hard to know exactly what Dove was trying to get across with this ad, but that doesn’t necessarily matter because the outcome outweighs the intention. Naiveté can’t be an excuse anymore when the goal of public relations is to gain as much attention from the maximum amount of publics.

According to Dove, they did not intend to misrepresent women of color, but that is what ended up happening.  And not only that, this was a mistake they also made in 2011 with a similar ad.  However, this clearly isn’t something that can change in the industry overnight.  It’s something that we have to continue to be reminded of, and work towards, because even those who consider themselves socially conscious can often be found doing the exact same thing.

Rebranding a Legacy

By: Isel Longoria

Editor: Divya Thirunagari

On October 31, 2017, the New York Stock Exchange will say goodbye to Coach Incorporated’s stock ticker symbol (COH) and will say hello to TPR, for Tapestry Incorporated. The company announced the corporate rebranding last week.

For more than 70 years, Coach Inc. has been one of the top companies in the nation. New York-based, it’s best known as a leather and handbag goods corporation with a revenue of approximately 4.24 billion dollars. After the news broke about the rebranding, there were a broad range of reactions in regards to the change and much of it was on social media.

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For example, several individuals were confused about which name was going to be changed, with some people believing that the Coach brand would now be called Tapestry and their bags would be branded as such.

In an Reuters article, Chief Executive Officer of Coach Inc., Victor Luis, quickly attempted to rectify the situation.

The social media reaction is misplaced because people think we are changing the name of the Coach brand, which we are not doing. It’s really about creating a new corporate identity for Coach as a house of brands.

– Victor Luis, CEO of Coach Inc.

The corporation also addressed the confusion on social media:

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The company received negative feedback, not only on social media but also in the stock market. According to CNBC, shares of Coach decreased two percent in trading. Many people felt that the rebranding was destroying the iconic brand that had been successful for decades.

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So, what does this mean for the Coach brand now?

Was the sudden rebranding a good idea?

The reality is that Coach Incorporated is expanding and shaping its brand image to be more global and diverse. In 2015, Coach purchased Stuart Weitzman, a shoe brand, for 574 million dollars. Earlier this year, they acquired the Kate Spade brand for 2.4 billion dollars.

The purchase of these two high end brands was the core reason behind the sudden name change. There’s a big difference between being a brand focused on handbags and buying various companies with a range of products, so they tried to bridge the gap by trying a different approach to their corporate image. In spite of their intentions, the name ‘Tapestry’ doesn’t feel like it aligns with the company’s new approach.

Many posts on social media also expressed the same opinion:

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It’s extremely difficult for a well-established company like Coach Inc. to rebrand and move in a different direction after maintaining a strong brand image for decades. Luis mentioned the reason behind rebranding the corporate name was to reinvent Coach as an official house of brands.

This rebrand would have transitioned more smoothly if Coach Inc. had chosen a word that had a personal connection to the official brand that also could connect with Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman. Only time will tell whether the greater audience will relate Tapestry to the Coach housing brand. For now, Tapestry just sounds like what it means.

Letting Small Businesses Grow Up

By: Arielle Dubowe

Editor: Hannah Avdalovic

I buy my ground coffee from Trader Joe’s. There’s nothing special about it. The blend is called “Breakfast Blend” and it goes nicely with my fried eggs and toast. Most coffee purists would be horrified at my choice, a choice that might seem thoughtless and disrespectful to them. Just like how most of them were horrified at James Freeman’s choice to let Nestlé buy out his coffee company, Blue Bottle.

Recently, Nestlé—the largest food company in the world—has invested a 68% stake in Blue Bottle, a 29-store chain dedicated to artisanal coffee. Founder James Freeman opened his first coffee shop 15 years ago in a potting shed in Oakland, California. Now his roasting hobby has turned into a successful business that practices the masterful art of brewing coffee. According to a New York Times article1, Freeman feels his partnership with Nestlé validates his lifelong project of bringing the perfect, sustainable cup of coffee to the masses. However, as mentioned in the article, many devoted Blue Bottle customers do not agree with Freeman’s decision.

So this got me thinking—why do people react negatively to corporations buying out small businesses? Small businesses are the darling of our economy, especially today with the increased interest in local, artisanal products. Small

businesses have owners people can get to know. They have wholesome products made by real people. Therefore, it makes sense how people react when discovering their favorite ice cream company, health food store—or coffee shop in this case—gets taken over by a cold, money-oriented corporation.

People often distrust corporations and for good reason—there’s always news about scandals, exploitation or environmental destruction caused by these unethical giants. Indeed, people were understandably upset about the Nestlé-Blue Bottle partnership due to Nestlé’s history of abusing local water sources for their water products.

But are all corporate takeovers of small businesses corrupt? Just because Nestlé now owns 68% of Blue Bottle doesn’t mean their coffee will be poisoned. It also doesn’t mean Freeman is now involved with Nestlé’s questionable water practices. Instead, this partnership means Freeman and his company can focus on educating their customers on the practice of making pure coffee by expanding their stores.

With this kind of news, it’s important for people to know all the facts. While Nestlé does now own the majority of Blue Bottle, Blue Bottle will still act as a stand-alone entity according to Nestlé’s website.2 This means Blue Bottle’s original mission and business model will still be guided by Freeman and remain untouched by Nestlé.

In fact, instead of this corporation taking advantage of a small business, it’s the other way around. Blue Bottle will reap far more benefits than Nestlé as

Freeman and his company will have access to Nestlé’s massive customer base and global influence. Nestlé simply just wants front-row seats to one of the hottest food trends around, which Freeman can easily provide.

Brands and social media

By: Monique Geisen

From Charmin making toilet jokes to Old Spice starting arguments with brands all over Twitter, sassy social media branding is one of the biggest current digital marketing trends.

In April, Wendy’s went viral when they challenged a customer to get 18 million likes on a tweet in order to get free chicken nuggets for a year. The tweet by Carter Wilkerson requesting retweets for nuggets garnered the largest number of retweets in history at 3.7 million and started a hashtag campaign “#nuggsforcarter”.

But what makes these risky social media moves so popular? The answer is tricky to figure out. A study by Sprout Social showed that 72 percent of consumers like when brands are humorous on social media, however only 33 percent of consumers want brands to be snarky. This means brands must walk a fine line between finding the consumer’s funny bone without striking a sour note.

A big part of finding sassy social success is a brand’s established image. Silly social media posts tend to work well for brands that already have a playful reputation, like Wendy’s and its casual image, or Old Spice and its over-the-top commercials already are expected to crack jokes in public. That’s why when Wendy’s tweets,

Everyone has a good laugh. But when the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) account tweets:

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Many people were upset. FAFSA is a serious brand that people rely on to help them through a tough time in their lives, so by posting a meme disrespecting their audience, they alienated their followers.

In addition, much like a real social interaction, proper understanding of the right time and place is critical. Certain social trends are a great time for brands to show their silly side, but tweeting at the wrong time can destroy a brand’s social following.

For example, when Cinnabon tweeted this insensitive tribute to Carrie Fisher,Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 6.56.07 PM.png

The post received a massive backlash and the company was forced to delete the tweet and issue an apology.

Social media offers the best and most obvious opportunity to show off a little brand personality, but also offers the most risk. Once a comment is posted on the internet, the entire world will see it and even deleting the post won’t erase it from the internet completely.

And maybe the payoff isn’t worth the risk in the first place, Sprout Social found that only 36 percent of consumers will actually purchase from a brand that they think is funny. This means that although a spontaneous clever tweet may land you in the most popular tweets of all time, that internet fame may not actually drive revenue for your business in the long run. Leaving you to ask yourself: Is the risk worth it?

Beauty brands bring diverse ads to the mainstream

By: Elise Barsch

Beauty brands Fenty and Glossier have made headlines this month with their ad campaigns featuring women of color and diverse body types, and Insecure’s Issa Rae was named the latest face of Covergirl.

Fenty Beauty, Rihanna’s new makeup line, offers 40 different shades of foundation, and its ads include a different model wearing each shade.

“I wanted things that I love. Then I also wanted things that girls of all skin tones could fall in love with,” Rihanna told Refinery29. “There’s red undertones, green undertones, blue undertones, pink undertones, yellow undertones — you never know, so you want people to appreciate the product and not feel like: ‘Oh that’s cute, but it only looks good on her.”

Also this month, makeup staple Glossier unveiled a series of ads for its new body care line Body Hero, featuring five models with various skin colors and body types.

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A post shared by Glossier (@glossier) on

 

The brand’s ads and social media posts don’t expand on the diversity of their models, compared to other campaigns explicitly recognizing their inclusion of body diversity, such as Vogue’s Ashley Graham cover earlier this year and Aerie’s ongoing Real campaign.

However, Fenty’s forthright foray into shade inclusivity is actively infiltrating social media conversation. An albino woman’s Instagram post describing her experience using Fenty foundation has gone viral, even attracting the attention of Rihanna herself.

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Responses like these are testament to the ads’ success in accurately representing women’s bodies. “With the Body Positive Movement, [brands] have jumped on it so much because they see that it’s a moneymaker and it’s a hot buzzword and it can get them attention and a pat on the back. But people can tell when it’s not genuine,” body positive model and activist Tess Holliday told AdWeek this week. “Even if brands mess up, it’s important to say, ‘We messed up and we want to do better’ and ask their actual consumers what they want to see.”

 

“Of course you’re going to get some people that just say garbage,” she says. “But I feel like the majority of people want to see people who look like them, whether that’s people who aren’t able bodied, fat people, trans people, people of color.”

As PR professionals, we have the opportunity to highlight the voices of consumers and give visibility to their best interests. Let’s look to brands like Fenty and Glossier on how to do so in a genuine and empowering way.

NFL Meets PR

By: Andi DiMatteo

Reparations. Immigration. Affirmative Action. These are terms in the United States that tend to elicit strong responses and opinions. Football, on the other hand? Traditionally, it’s not a very polarizing word. However in the past week, comments made by President Trump have created a painful divide in an arguably quintessential part of America’s culture. He targeted the National Football League (NFL) at a campaign rally with a reference to Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, alleging Kaepernick should be fired for disrespecting the flag. Kaepernick made headlines last year for kneeling rather than standing during the national anthem to protest oppression and brutality against people of color in the U.S.

Trump’s comments created a public relations crisis within the NFL brand, because the range of stakeholders is so diverse. Between extensive media coverage of games, celebrity status of players and now comments from Donald Trump, it’s hard to escape the pervasiveness of the sport in American society. The NFL could not have stayed silent and ignored this issue, especially when it stemmed from the highest office in the nation. However, determining a plan of action was sure to be difficult because it could be easy to seem unpatriotic by disagreeing with the president’s defense of the flag.

Ultimately, the traditionally conservative NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) decided to side with the rights of their individual players, giving them a space to freely express their opinions without threat of punishment. “No man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement.

This statement led to more demonstrations across games this week, with players kneeling during the national anthem or, in the case of the majority of players for the Pittsburgh Steelers, even opting to stay in their locker room until the song was over. Even individuals who were previously alligned with Trump made statements of dissent in regard to his actions. Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots who has had a close relationship with the president over the past year said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made.”

The #TakeaKnee protests were popularized on social media and drew even non-football fans into the conversation surrounding the national controversy. However, the constitutional first amendment argument and justification by the NFL is not enough to ease the tension between players, the league must issue a more concise statement outlining its sentiments not only solidify the brand, but help to smooth over the controversy. It’s not enough to acknowledge that their players have the right to free speech, the NFL should encourage it.

By prioritizing and creating a cohesive public relations strategy to follow in times of crisis such as this, the NFL will be able to be a stronger and more proactive brand, engaging and maintaining relationships with stakeholders across the country.

PR in the News: Uber’s response to Trump’s immigration ban

By: Allie Schwartz, Shelby Dewberry and Roya Forooghi

Uber, a popular worldwide transportation network, has been experiencing backlash after President Trump’s implementation of a ban of immigrants/green card/visa holders from Iran, Libya, Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Syria, including refugees. The company suspended surge pricing after New York City taxi drivers abandoned their posts in order to protest the ban. This suspension was negatively received by a section of the public that oppose the ban, and as a result many people have deleted their Uber accounts and switched to Lyft, who announced a million dollar donation to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over the next four years.

As a response to this, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick tweeted on January 29th that Trump’s travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries is “against everything Uber stands for.” He said that the ban affects thousands of Uber drivers, and as a result of this, Kalanick said that Uber would “compensate drivers for lost earnings if they are unable to work because of the ban.” As Kalanick is an adviser on the president’s economic council, he stated that he would urge Trump to “stand up for what is right.”

Uber is also using public relations to show the world what the company values. Kalanick said, “Ever since Uber’s founding we’ve had to work with governments and politicians of all political persuasions across hundreds of cities and dozens of countries.”  Through this statement and throughout the entire letter Kalanick wrote, it is clear that for Uber business and politics intersect frequently.  Uber prioritizes their employees. The CEO is making this known by using PR and working in the political sphere to make a difference where he can.

 

FullSizeRender 3The fact that the Uber CEOs have expressed their political views is rubbing a lot of people the wrong way, seeing as #deleteUber is trending all over the internet. Individuals are claiming that the CEOs have publicly stated that they are for Trump’s Muslim ban and they are advocating for people to delete the app to show their distaste for their support of Trump’s policies; however, after looking into the issue further, it became clear that the issue was blown out of proportion by social media users.

 

Upon Trump’s election, Uber CEO’s publicly stated that they supported Trump and would work with him to promote their mission of furthering global travel and ensuring that their consumers have the best experience possible, yet they never stated support for the recent Muslim ban.

To combat the negative press coming from the issue, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick came out with a more neutral statement on the issue informing the public that they will be helping out their employees who have been negatively affected by the ban pro-bono; however it is unclear how successful this will be after seeing how quickly and fervently the internet took to #deleteUber.

This whole PR disaster with Uber gave us some insight about PR that we can apply to our own campaign with PR day. First, this shows us how truly important PR is in every industry. If Uber had a better crisis communications plan, or if they had dealt with their CEOs’ comments about supporting Trump earlier before it had become a crisis, this whole situation could have gone a lot differently.

Additionally, this shows the power of PR and how it can help repair broken bridges as Uber is offering to help their drivers who have been negatively impacted by the ban pro-bono for the next 90 days.

Finally, this shows how truly powerful PR is in every industry. Lack of good PR and communication about an off hand comment lead to #deleteUber to be trending all over the internet; now the company is trying to use better PR practices to repair their relationships and image through letters from the CEO and efforts on social media.

Public Relations really cannot be put on the back burner of any company, for if it is PR disasters such as this one can tarnish a company’s image and ruin their relationships with consumers beyond repair.

Communication Strategies in Civil War – Offensive ISIS Militants Flee to Syria

By Heather Fissel and Jaime Creager

Here are some takeaways from this CNN article, which reports that hundreds of ISIS fighters are fleeing Mosul in Iraq and crossing into neighboring Syria.

  • To help the refugees, the UN has set up five camps outside of Mosul. All are equipped to house 45,000 people. It’s important for people to be aware of these camps even though the UN’s plan it to keep their locations secret from possible terror threats, but still let innocent people know they exist.
  • Twitter is a good way to report transparency because for the most part, people are reporting on what is happening in real time. Since people can control the conversation on Twitter, reports of what is happening will be unbiased, compared to a news source that may have reason to skew the truth.
  • A sulfur factory was set on fire by ISIS militants 30 kilometers south of Mosul. As a result, plumes of toxic smoke are polluting the air. The toxic air is effecting Camp Swift and Qayyarah West Airfield, both US controlled, which have been advised to wear gas masks.  Publicity is important when these types of events occur. It ensures that constituents will be knowledgeable, especially in times of crisis – regardless if it’s an act of terrorism or online attention for a college Graphic Communication department.  
  • In terms of the Graphic Communication Department, we are looking to broaden the reach. Newspapers published in the Middle East are one of the public’s only source for news, so it reminded us to broaden our spread and still include print media. In dire situations like that of the sulfur factory fire, reaching constituents is very important for safety, no matter what the platform is.