Public Relations Tactics

COMM 283

Disaster drills: How to practice for a crisis without having one

As public relations professionals our job is more than just to think about the unthinkable, but to be prepared to handle it from an organizational standpoint. The key to crisis management is not reaction, but rather preparation. That is why Harding University conducts a yearly disaster drill to mimic a school crisis.

This year’s event was a multi-vehicle accident out of state. As an athlete who travels in buses and vans out of state myself, this drill was a little close to home, but very plausible. Since this is a situation a distance from the school’s campus, the on scene action would be out of our control as public relations professionals. However, our reaction, specifically its timeliness, is in our control.

Upon hearing the news of the disaster a one hour timer is started, in which the communications team has about 60 minutes to collect information and formulate a response to the public. In this time scripts will also need to be created for any school office that has a telephone reachable by the public.

This script, like the press release the public relations team will be creating, must address the situation and declare the action to be taken while also expressing concern and maintaining the identity of the organization.

It is essential during this time not to give out information that has not already been released by the police. This includes to parents. This is crucial when it comes to accidents that include fatalities. We never want to be the first one to release those names. Especially not over the phone. The families must all be personally informed by the police face to face.

Also important in a crisis is determining who needs to address the public. The greater the crisis the higher the person needs to be in the organization. It’s also important not to use important figures, such as the president of the university, when it is a small scale disaster because it could over-hype the situation.

Overall, Harding’s disaster drill made me realize the importance of being prepared for the worst. It also made me hug my best friends and my teammates a little tighter. What makes a crisis so scary is that even when you’re prepared, you never know if or when it’s going to happen.


From broken guitars to broken passengers: United Airline’s battle with publicity

United Airlines is known for its public relations, but in the worst possible way. In 2008 they became famous as the airline that broke Dave Carroll’s guitar. He and his band, Sons of Maxwell, wrote a rather humorous three song series titled “United Breaks Guitars” to give their opinion on the way United handled their claim. Now in 2017, United has come into the public eye once again for its mistreatment of a customer.

April 9, a passenger was forcibly removed from a United flight after refusing to give up his seat. The initial problem began here. United overbooked its flight, forgetting to include United employees in the count for seats. Compensation was offered to volunteers, but refused, so passengers were randomly selected and asked to leave. This is legal; however, legality doesn’t protect you from public scorn.

If you type “United Airline’s passenger removal” into Google, you generate about six million hits. Of the first 15 pages not a single article is from United’s page. This in and of itself is concerning. When a company’s name is searched in Google its website ought to come up first. You want to give the facts about the problem yourself.

Another misstep came from United CEO, Oscar Munoz. His response to the event came quickly, within a day of the event; however, it did not directly address why this event occurred or how it was going to be prevented from happening again. Both of which, he was mercilessly criticized for by the public.

His second response, a short letter, included an emotional appeal, an apology and a promise for change with a date of when a report would be released. Had this response come first, it might have been better received, however, people felt this letter was backtracking for his first less emotional response.

United has since offered compensation to passengers on the flight, changed to their policy on overbooking, and the fired members of their PR team. However, these changes have come too little too late for many United customers, as can been seen through the plummet in its stocks.

Time is of the essence in public relations, but so are words. The genuineness of a response and call to action are just as important as the speed a message must be communicated. I don’t think United will be getting another song from this incident, but they will certainly be getting more flack, and possibly a lawsuit or two.



Track Meet: the ultimate event

As a member of the track team I go to a lot of big events. Granted, the rest of the world refers to such proceedings as track meets.  I call them events because they take the same amount of planning as any large scale event would.

A track meet requires gathering together anywhere from 3-30 or more teams of athletes together to compete. On top of the sheer number of athletes, there are numerous events at every track meet. Every race is different and requires varying levels of preparation. Certain events need hurdles set up, others need bib numbers or have different starting lines.

There is also a seemingly infinite need for man power. Officials must run the clock and start the races. There must be onsite trainers in case of injury. Someone must check athletes in before the race. Someone must put athletes into lanes at the start of the race. Others must help move athletes off the track after the race.

There are also non-athletes who must be considered. Every meet garners fans who come to watch the athletes compete. These people must be accommodated spatially, as well as physically.  There must be room for them to park their cars and sit to watch races. There must be food and often swag for purchase. Effective meets make money.

As an athlete is very clear when a meet is run well and when it is not. The last meet I went to had its positives and negatives. Like any good event there was a time schedule and they did a very good job of sticking to it. Keeping on schedule is essential in a track meet because athletes are reliant upon that schedule to know when they must warm up for their race. They also had a lot of officials and volunteers that helped to keep everything running smoothly.

However, there were also some huge negatives. Resources became a problem. There were only two restrooms with three stalls each for about 200-300 people. They also repeatedly ran out of water for athletes who had just finished races. Their track was built on a huge hill and parking was very far from the track itself. These are all common problems.

Track meets are huge events that are often taken on lightly, but like any event they take a lot of time and effort.


How I became a public relations blogger

My name is Raianne Mason. I’m a junior public relations major with a minor in management from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. I’m a member of the track and field team and run the hurdles. I work as a Residential Assistant in a freshman dorm on campus, which basically means I fill the position of “mom” to 26 freshman girls.

I mention these three things in particular because they are very central to who I am. I love to run, I love being able to encourage my girls and the more I get into the public relations field, I’m loving it too.

In fact, there’s a lot of things that I love. For example, I’m a huge fan of goldfish crackers, Jesus, the oxford comma, and hot tea with cream and sugar. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m also a big fan of laughter. I love to laugh. I love to smile. I love to read and write and encourage others. It’s this love for people and their stories that has led me to the realm of public relations.

This blog is one I’ve started with my public relations tactics class, and it’s given me a taste of what it’s like to write and publish a real blog. Upon receiving my first blog assignment, I thought to myself, “piece of cake, I love writing.” The problem was my first assignment was to write about a Bronze Anvil winner. Not only did I have no idea who had won one of those, I also had no idea what the award was even for.

However, public relations is all about information: who has it, who gets it first, and what happens with it once it’s known. Keeping that in mind, I began to research, and I began to learn and to write. Blogging is a learning process. I don’t panic when I get prompts anymore. I actually get a little excited.

If you’re looking for a good blog to follow or want to learn what a Bronze Anvil is, or if public relations piques your interest, feel free to check out my blog!

How to search engine optimize: wooing Google

From a young age we have been taught that words have power. They can build up or destroy. They can help or hurt. Now, with search engines like Google, words take on a whole new type of power. Keywords can make or break a search. They can also make or break a site.

Search engine optimization (SEO), maximizing the number of visitors to a site through the use of various techniques, is a relatively new idea, but it is an important one. It begins with words and a little bit of love. According to Haley Burkhead, founder of Market Beautifully, a company that teaches marketing techniques, the key to SEO is “making Google fall in love with you.”

This can be done a variety of different ways. One way to rack up what she referred to as “brownie points” is to optimize keywords in the site’s permalink. Adding keywords into the unique URL of a website increases the likelihood that the site will come up first when those keywords are typed into a search engine.

Another way to woo Google is to increase the speed of the site. The faster the site loads the more partial to it Google will be. The ideal load speed is about two seconds, although anything faster than four will get you some brownie points. She suggested using sites such as Google Analytics, which have site speed tools that determine the load speed of a site and give tips for increasing the speed.

A third and final way to effectively use SEO is by having quality content. Google, much like a teenage girl, thoroughly stalks its potential love interests online. It sends its “Google bots” to prospective websites to assess their quality and thus determine the site’s ranking in a search.  To have quality content a site must use key words throughout the website and have a detailed content.

Words have power. In search engine optimization they have the power to woo Google into ranking a website high. However, when misused, words can also send a website to the recesses of a Google search like an old ex-boyfriend.

Rest in peace press release

Press releases are thought to be a staple in the public relations industry. It’s our main tool for attaining press coverage on events, stories and products. However, after talking in one of my classes about a series of highly unfortunate and ineffective press releases, the thought that there might be a better tool was circling through my head. Then I read an article that proposed public relations professionals ought to kill the press release.

Although seemingly dramatic, the concept of killing the press release isn’t a far-fetched idea. Tom Foremski proposes in his 2006 article, “Die Press release! Die! Die! Die!” that press releases are useless and outdated. He instead suggests that industry leaders change the layout of the news piece.

Instead of a one page promotion for whatever event or piece of information we felt was newsworthy, he proposed we create an interactive news packet. In this way journalists would be provided with quotes, statistics, tags and links to sources. It would allow for faster coverage of events and stories. It would enable journalists to focus less on pulling together information, and more on the spin of their stories.

Interesting, one of his points, the inclusion of links in press releases has become a common practice. This is especially true in social media news releases. As the internet and the use of social media has evolved so has the use of online press releases.

These modernized versions of traditional press releases retain the same purpose: to inform people of a newsworthy happening. However, they are more individualized and contain infinitely more information. Social media press releases often include hyperlinks, photos, audio clippings and videos.  They also are made to be shared.

Information is broken down into sections to make it easily tweetable and shareable. This chunking is exactly what Foremski proposed we do. Sections are tagged to be found with the search of a hashtag, and everything a journalist needs to know is a mere click away.

Traditional press releases haven’t died yet, although I think we might’ve killed a few editors with how poorly some of them are still written. However, the tides are changing in our internet-loving world. The push for social media news releases is increasing, and maybe someday soon Foremski will be able to rest in peace as we lay the traditional press release down to sleep.

It matters: the importance of word choice

Sometimes I don’t realize the importance of words. Not necessarily that I forget the power words hold, but rather the importance of using the right word in the right context. Today in my public relations tactics class we talked about how important the letter “L” is in the word “public.” Using the wrong word can not only reflect poorly on your editing abilities but can be detrimental to your reputation.

This is why the AP Stylebook is constantly updating and redefining words. In the 2016 edition of the Stylebook, the entry “accident/crash” was added to differentiate between the two terms. Often these words are used interchangeably; however, that can no longer be the case.

When negligence is claimed by one of the parties or is proven in an investigation, the term accident should not be used. Instead, “crash” or “collision” should be used. It should also be noted that even the word collision has specific usage (Collision can be used only when there are two moving vehicles.). The reasoning behind the addition of these terms is that “accident” can be read as absolving a party of responsibility.

This isn’t something that I would have thought to consider when writing a story on a crash. However, now that I’ve read the entry I can understand the importance of distinguishing the two. There is a very distinct difference between an accident and negligence.

When it is put into the context of someone being killed in an automobile collision, the word “accident” gives the implication that neither party is at fault. Example: The man was killed in the car accident. However, when negligence is claimed or proven, there is a specific party at fault. Example: The man was killed in the crash. Someone being killed in an accident is a different story than someone killed due to negligence behind the wheel.

In public relations these slight differences in words can make a huge difference in the story being told. Knowing that, I must choose words with care. Public relations is about telling the story clearly and accurately. And accuracy in a story may boil down to one word: crash or accident, public relations professional or something a little less pleasant.

What makes an effective blog: Akron Children’s hospital knows

As a native Ohioan, state pride runs deep in my blood. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that when I opened the list of 2016 Bronze Anvil winners, one immediately stuck out to me. Akron Children’s hospital, located in Akron, Ohio, won a Bronze Anvil for its blog,  Inside Children’s.

Upon visiting the blog, I immediately took note of its use of photographs. Every blog post on the homepage was linked with a smiling face. Right off the bat it was making a statement: Akron Children’s hospital is a positive place. Including pictures of actual patients and doctors not only increased the likelihood of people reading the pieces, but also gave the hospital a human voice.

The blog features several categorized pages of posts accessible from a drop down menu. These include health and parenting, patient experiences, staff and construction updates on the hospital. The homepage cycles through posts from all five sections.

The blog also has a photo series called “In the Moment” that features pictures of patients and events from the hospital. Each picture is captioned and linked to an accompanying story. The homepage includes links to all three of the hospital’s social media platforms, a place to sign up for a personalized newsletter, and an invitation for readers to send in their own stories.

I feel this blog was successful because it did more than give facts about Akron Children’s hospital, it gave a look Inside Children’s. I feel it was successful in creating a positive blog that pandered perfectly to its desired audience: parents.

There was a sense of cohesion to the entire blog. The main goal was to create trust in Akron Children’s hospital. This began with the color scheme. The use of blue throughout created a sense of calm and increased trust in readers. Every post was upbeat, included hyperlinks to the hospital’s main page and ended with a photo strip of suggested stories.

I felt the blog also effectively combined various types of media. Readers are drawn to the photographs, and upon reading the summary in the caption, are directed to where they can read more on the subject. I felt it was also effective to include a variety of different topics to generate interest from a more diverse group.


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