The Pork Industry’s Beef with Swine Flu

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The swine flu cannot be avoided. Whether you’re watching the evening news, following The New York Times’ tweets, or delaying your trip to Mexico, the swine flu has inadvertently become part of your life.

With national crises come many misconceptions– some of which can hurt an entire public or industry. Without warning, the pork industry has taken a big hit from the misconception that pork products carry the swine flu. According to a New York Times article by Andrew Martin, the use of the word “swine” has produced global hesitation over eating pork. Martin says that several nations closed their borders to the importation of pork, which has caused extreme frustration within the pork industry. Not only have pork product sales declined, but the industry has also been unexpectedly hit with a bad reputation.

So, how does the pork industry take back its name?

First, the major organizations within the pork industry need to stake their claim in the media. Using credible twitter_logomedical sources, the industry needs to make it clear that pork products do not carry the swine flu, and furthermore, that they are safe to eat. This has been done, but not on every medium. The pork industry has not tapped into social media as much as it could. The industry needs to provide its PR staff with two or three key messages that should be repeated and tweeted wherever possible.

Second, the pork industry needs to communicate and emphasize the effectiveness of its disease monitoring programs. According to a blog post on food safety, in order to comfort its customers, Tyson Foods simply released a statement saying, “Our pork products are safe.” This is not enough to relieve the American public, especially in a crisis situation where people are actively attempting to protect themselves from the pandemic. If Tyson Foods released concrete evidence of the monthly testing or capabilities of its disease monitoring technology, it would put much of its public at ease. The organizations that speak up about the reality of the crisis will instill more trust in their customers and the swine-flu panicked public.

Third, focus on the front-line customers: the buyers at the grocery store’s meat counter. According to a Forbes.com article, this is where the “pork-is-safe campaign” begins. If the big supermarket chains don’t reinforce that pork is safe to their customers, the swine flu consumer perception will not change. The pork industry needs to be hitting every side of pork distribution (e.g. butchers, supermarkets, restaurant chains).

This may be a crisis, but this crisis is not the first of its kind. In the past few years we’ve dealt with peanut, tomato and beef scares (just to name a few). According to Forbes.com, this is a crisis of perception rather than reality. The pork industry needs to communicate quickly and take action.

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How to Prep for the “Big Show”

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Event planning is often considered a laid-back, fun job for an upper-class socialite. In fact, many people don’t even think of it as a job, but more as an extra-curricular activity. Well, I am here to tell you, event planning is a job!

In the last nine months, I have been prepping for what I like to call “The Big Show” or in other words, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Mike Bellotti Dinner Auction and Golf Classic. Yes, nine months is a long preparing period, but here is the catch with event mainpic01planning: It doesn’t matter how much you “prep” for the eight months before; the big explosion of stress will still hit about a month out from the event, and that explosion will only get bigger. Due to the nature of spontaneity, event planning can turn a laid-back person into an uptight worrywart. According to a blog post titled “Event Management High Jinx” by Paull Young, the planning and scheduling for an event is an important piece to the puzzle, but things will always change. Young says, “When working an event you need to be able to think on your feet and respond to situations as they come out.” In my case, this will be the 16th annual MDA Mike Bellotti event; however, every year, things change and adapt with the evolution of media, technology and the economy (or in this year’s case, the de-evolution of the economy). Although this event occurs every year, it still presents many challenges for the event planners.

One challenge may be the client. For an event to run smoothly, full attention and cooperation from the client is necessary. An event planner cannot do his or her job if the client doesn’t provide the necessary materials or information to do so. In my case, a major challenge has been dealing with last-minute additions, or “maybe” additions to the live auction. I understand this has to do with the involvement of the donating businesses, but it also has to do with a lack of communication with the client. According to a blog post from Kent State’s PRSSA Chapter, it is imperative that you, as the event planner, always check and double check the details of the event as it gets closer. Lately, I have found myself calling my client’s office daily to check in on auction items or sponsor changes. Communication is key in event planning. to-do-list-pad

Another challenge may be the event itself. As I said before, you can do all the planning in the world, and surprise will still ensue on the day of the event. Whether it’s something minor, like a missing tablecloth; or major, like a $3,000 missing auction item, these missteps will occur. As the event planner, you are the go-to person to fix these missteps. It is important to give yourself extra time on the day of an event to fix any mistakes or cover up a blunder.

With less than a week until the MDA Mike Bellotti Dinner Auction and Golf Classic, I am feeling the heat from the event planning stress. Although everything seems to be in place, I am not accustomed to last-minute decisions or tasks; something I have learned is inevitable in this industry. I guess that’s just the worry-wart life of an event planner!

Wish me luck as I dive headfirst into the event planning pool!

Oh! And for the Oregon readers, be sure to buy your morning latte at Dutch Bros. on May 8, 2009, as all net proceeds will be donated to MDA!dutchbroscup

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Do Your Research

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Recently, a group of PR students and I were asked to conduct five focus groups and distribute a survey for our client. Easy enough, right? Not so much. Our client wanted us to reach five separate target audiences, including adults age 40 and up, comic book fans, college students, high school students, and parents of high school students. Being non-native Eugenians, my team struggled to find people to participate in the focus groups. After exhausting every avenue, we finally got people to show up and successfully conducted the groups.

This is a perfect example of why companies don’t do research before launching a PR or Ad campaign: It takes too much survey-_customertime. We had three weeks to get the people we needed, write a discussion guide and conduct the focus groups; however, that didn’t include the analyzing of all the data findings and the writing of the research report. It is a long process yet an extremely necessary one. Many successful PR case studies have a history of detailed research behind them. In a recent blog post by Todd Defren of Shift Communications, the secrets to his business’ PR success and the process behind it are revealed. Defren says that it is a process, much of which is research. Defren says the key is, “Working your way backward from ‘what customers really want’ rather than plunging forward with a message about what you think they need to know.” There are many assumptions made in PR about the target audiences of a message, most of which are completely wrong; however, the PR agency or practitioner would never know that unless they did research prior to launching a campaign or product.

Looking back on the offensive Motrin Mom advertisement, you have to wonder if there was any research done before this ad campaign was launched, and if so, what kind? Motrin could have completely sidestepped this PR blunder if it had conducted research with its largest target audience: moms. However, the research was most likely eliminated or poorly done, and Motrin severely suffered from it.

Although research may take some extra time, it is absolutely essential to a PR agency or Ad agency. There may be hunches about how a product or advertisement is going to be received by the public, but is a hunch worth losing the positive reputation of your company?

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Twitter’s Big Bang

twitter_logoFor those of us who have had Twitter accounts for a year or more, it’s hard not to notice the sudden explosion of the once “exclusive” social media Web site. So, what’s the reason for this rapid increase of the Twitterverse? One word: media.

I can’t count how many times within the last week that I heard celebrities promoting their Twitter accounts on T.V. Everyone from P. Diddy to Larry King are asking their viewers to “follow them” on Twitter. According to an article on CNN.com, the recent surge of celebrity twitterers has pushed the early,tech-savvy innovators to the side. The article says the face of Twitter has completely changed from the original, due to the influence of celebrity endorsements in American society.Winfrey Twitter

In the last two weeks, there have been two large A-list celebrity endorsements of Twitter. The first being Ashton Kutcher’s pledge to donate $100,000 to aid the fight against malaria if he reached one million followers before CNN.com did. The second endorsement being Oprah’s on-air interview with Twitter CEO Evan Williams and Ashton Kutcher on April 17, 2009. Oprah sent her first “tweet” live, on-air from her computer.

Twitter is a perfect example of the effectiveness of celebrity endorsements. The media has picked Twitter up and run with it.

Last night I caught an episode of “The Soup” on E! A section of this particular episode demonstrates the current explosion of Twitter in the media. Here is a YouTube video of the excerpt:

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To the class of 2009…

It’s the beginning of an end, folks: Graduation is rearing its ugly yet alleviating head.

Currently, there are fewer than two months until many undergraduate students and I take the plunge from the economy_2preparatory world into the work world. It’s not a secret that the class of 2009 graduates in one of the worst economic times in U.S. history; what is a secret is how to achieve success with the anchor of the economy weighing us down.

In a recent New York Times column, Career Couch, tips to freeing ourselves from that anchor are revealed. Moreover, the article instills some hope for the struggling soon-to-be college graduates. The article, titled “All is Not Lost for the Class of 2009,”answered four key questions at the top of every undergrad’s mind.

Here are some job searching tips from Career Couch:

  • Look for jobs outside the typical “key words” or positions that your degree carries. For example, if you are graduating with a public relations degree, don’t specifically look for public relations agencies or positions. Instead, look for communications and public affairs positions within companies. Also, think outside the box with the companies you apply for; there are public relations positions in many work fields, from construction companies to animal hospitals.
  • The rest of your life will not be determined by your first job. With that, don’t expect to get your dream job right out of college, especially in an economy like today’s.
  • Use online job search engines; however, use those that are specific to your field and experience level. Collegerecruiter.com and Indeed.com are helpful in specifying geographical location and providing jobs for entry-level applicants.
  • If you are planning to use Facebook or Twitter to market yourself to companies, make sure your profile is professional and free of inappropriate content. After you’ve accomplished that, use Twitter to follow companies 218750141_8cfcbf167fyou would like to work for and follow their tweets to see if they have any job openings.
  • If all else fails, don’t be afraid to serve food or make lattes for a year; whatever will pay the bills while the economy gets back on its feet!

To narrow this to a public relations perspective, it may be necessary for soon-to-be PR graduates to open up the playing field and dive into positions in the marketing, advertising or human resources industries.

Also, think of applying in industries that will stay afloat regardless of the economy. For example, the health care or government work fields are usually resilient in an economic downturn.

in_the_airIt’s not going to be easy. 2009 graduates are faced with an enormous hurdle to jump; however, if the effort and wiggle room in the job search is there, we won’t just be jumping that hurdle, we will be leaping over it.

So, as we turn our tassels from right to left, remember: There is hope for the class of 2009!

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Royal Caribbean Cruises its way into a Social Media Mess

As promised, I am finally blogging about travel, tourism and beautiful paradise cruises. However, there’s a catch. With the beautiful paradise cruise, comes a big crash: a social media marketing crash.

35290307_9f3f57df99A few months ago, Royal Caribbean Cruises hit an iceberg with its online audiences through a deceiving social media campaign. Using online bulletin boards, Royal Caribbean spread the word about trip packages and information about the company. There’s no problem there, right? Right. But Royal Caribbean went a step farther. With the success of the message boards, the company decided to create a program titled “Royal Champions” that enlisted Royal Caribbean fans and frequent message board posters. These “frequent posters” just so happened to be the fans who strictly wrote about Royal Caribbean in a positive light.

And then, the cruise line went another step farther. The “Royal Champions” were awarded with an all expenses paid trip to the pre-inaugural sailing of the newest Royal Caribbean ship “Liberty of the Seas.”According to a blog post by Customer Insight Group Inc., message board posts by the “Royal Champions” were monitored both before and after the event to ensure that the posts remained positive and frequent. 52379224keyboard

Although some customers have responded well to this on various travel Web sites, like Cruise Critic, there are still many online travelers who are wary of Royal Caribbean’s motives. According to an article on MSNBC.com, Royal Caribbean did not disclose information about the “Royal Champions” online or elsewhere. The company also used software to detect the most positive and frequent responses from message board posters to select the “Royal Champions” group.

Through keeping this “fan” group a secret, Royal Caribbean made a huge mistake. I cannot stress this enough: Transparency is essential to social media marketing. If there is something going on behind closed doors, bloggers and social media participants will find it. When the information has to be found, instead of willingly shared, it puts the company in a deceptive light — whether the original intention was good or bad.

However, hiding the creation of the “Royal Champions” doesn’t even scratch the surface of transparency issues. Royal Caribbean essentially participated in “astrotrufing,” also called “fake grassroots.” The company clearly had an agenda when seeking the message board posters, or Royal Caribbean “fans,” through specialized software. There was also a clear agenda when they sent these positive posters on an all-expenses-paid vacation. In reality, Royal Caribbean was paying these online posters to continue to write positive things about the company, without revealing they were doing so.

Royal Caribbean has responded on a few different aspects of this social media marketing mess. Most of which have stated the “Royal Champions” are strictly a focus group for the company to test and pitch new ideas to. Since when is a successful focus group composed strictly of people who are self-proposed “Royal Caribbean Fanatics”? Not only does that completely dissolute the company’s research results, it also makes for a bad excuse. According to an article on Tripso.com, when the associate vice president of marketing at Royal Caribbean International was asked if he thought “Royal Champions” should identify themselves in posts for the campaign to be transparent, he said that Royal Caribbean did not address that issue, and added, “We left that up to the Royal Champions and individual board owners.” Bad answer. That is exactly what needs to be addressed. If the “Royal Champion” posters were identified on the boards, there would be some sort of evidence of transparency within the company and the marketing campaign.

Some time has passed and Royal Caribbean continues to use the help of the “Royal Champions” to its benefit. Royal Caribbean now runs the risk of being seen through a jaded-view when authentic, whole-hearted positive reviews show up online. The question will now be, “Is this a real review or one they bought?”

With the communication channels changing, the rules are also changing. In attempts to better the bottom line through this new social media wave, some businesses are instead misusing this potential means for profit.

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This is for the Nonbelievers…

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I admit it: When I first heard that companies were using social media to market their organizations or products, I laughed. The first thought that came to mind was a grimy telemarketer pushing a product, except it wouldn’t be over the phone but more annoyingly, via Facebook or Twitter; the two sites for socializing with my friends and definitely not being bothered by those I don’t know. When I put it this way, you probably would have joined me in this social media skepticism.

HOWEVER (and that is an enormously notable “however”), I will fully admit it: I was wrong.

Months later, I now see two huge problems with my initial thought about social media marketing. The first being the social-media-peoplepurpose of social media marketing and how it is used. Seeing this type of online communication as pushing a product or business in an “in-your-face” manner is not effective, and shouldn’t happen. The organizations who correctly use social media to further recognition or promotion of a product don’t throw it in your face; rather they use it as a form of direct communication with their audience. Through using social media, a business can create a two-way dialogue with its audience, thus “humanizing” the company and giving its audience the feeling that the business is directly concerned with their feedback and thoughts. A blog post by Aedhmar Hynes titled Put Skeptics to Rest: Social Media Impacts the Bottom Line explains the importance of a corporation, or any organization for that matter to engage its audience through direct conversation. Social media gives these organizations an easy, fast opportunity to make this engagement possible.

My second false assumption was that social media sites are solely used for social interaction, posting pictures, or keeping in touch with friends. This assumption runs rampant among college-age students. When Facebook and MySpace originated, the initial use was for social interaction; however, since its inception, social media has come a long way. A blog post by Corrinne Weisgerber, P.h.D, titled, Social Media Success: A Matter of Framing, explains the common misconception that college-age students know the ins and outs of social media. The fact is that social media can be, and is, used for various reasons. Not only can it help organizations reach their target audiences with direct communication, but it can also serve as a fast, reliable outlet for mass communication of important messages. Never before have we had the ease of putting together an event by posting a Facebook event page and gaining 300 confirmed guests within two hours. Goodbye, snail mail, hello, social media.

2945559128_53078d246bThe possibilities are endless. With the birth of social media marketing, a business now has the ability to completely re-brand its company and better its bottom line with simple 140-character Twitter updates and a Facebook “Fan Page.” The public now has the opportunity to mass communicate with a targeted audience to promote an event or spread breaking news.

It’s revolutionary. And it’s only the beginning…

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