Monday, 19 November 2012

Hi Crystall,

I first heard about your blog while listening to a radio interview following the US election. I found your comments to be fascinating and decided to visit your blog.

I am a Canadian and although I am not as intimately familiar with US politics as you, we Canadians are bombarded with US TV stations and hence US political news.

I should mention that I am a 31 year old Caucasian man. Although I do not directly identify with any particular ethnic group myself, being from a younger generation, I see how they are shaping western countries such as the US and Canada. Not engaging these groups would be political suicide.

Take for instance the Conservative Party of Canada. Although not connected to any political party in the US, they do offer an excellent example of how to engage ethnic communities.

They are a right of center party that had spent 13 some years in opposition (we use the British Parliamentary system). Once forming government, they quickly adopted a plan to engage groups such as the East Indian community, Chinese, Ukrainian, etc. Although Canada is not home to a large black community, the principles behind engagement are similar.

The Conservatives sent questionnaires to various ethnic communities determining what was important to them, engaged ethnic leaders and advertised in ethnic neighborhoods using their mother language. Additionally the Conservatives brought community leaders into the party, and helped many of them run as candidates.

Of course this did not assure 100% of the votes from any community, the numbers of non-Caucasian/non-Canadian born supporters has risen substantially.

Take for instance the Canadian election of 2011, the Ukrainian community, a long time Liberal Party base, voted strongly Conservative. Many people in this community held strong conservative values, but never recognized the Conservative Party as a vehicle to further their cause. 

Likewise many other ethnic groups in Canada hold socially conservative values and would align their values with the party if they recognized the party as supporting their interests/views.  In my opinion many cultural groups likely don't see how some of their values are actually conservative. It is the job of conservative leaning political parties to hit the grassroots of these communities as part of a national PR campaign. Any successful party must be representative of the all the ethnic groups that make up the country. Especially the ones who will likely vote for you.

The overarching strategy for the Republican Party, in my view, should be to demonstrate the shared values between the Party and their target ethnic communities. I don't know what mechanisms are in place in the GOP, but I would think that researching your target demographic would be a good start. Find out who among them are likely to support the GOP. I would think that religious leaders in the black community, for instance, would be natural allies for the Republicans. Doing your research to find out where these potential supporters live and find out what this cross section believes to be important. This would lend itself nicely to engaging the movers and shakers in this demographic. I think that this would build a strong foundation for a national PR plan.

I am not arguing here that the GOP should only run black or Latino candidates, what I am suggesting that the GOP strategically chooses messengers (as you alluded to in your blog) that represent various voting groups. A white candidate may be what is needed to win the white vote, much like a black candidate may be needed to win the black vote.

A presidential candidate for instance may not be both black and Latino, therefore the GOP must have the mechanisms in place to engage the other communities as needed. The get out the vote (GOTV) is vital in any campaign. In Canada, the Conservatives have successfully courted ethnic leaders and have even reached out to their home countries by having prominent members of the party travel abroad.

This is just my two cents.

Targeting Target’s Audience:

In order to determine the tactics of your PR plan, you must lay the foundation of good, solid research. In order to assess what tactics I would use to reach the target audience, I would like to provide a snapshot of the Target shopper.

Target’s customer base in the United States break down as follows:

-         The median age of a Target shopper is 46 years old, younger than other major retailers.
-         43% of shoppers are college educated.
-         More than half are employed in professional or managerial positions.
-         80-90% are female.
-         38% have children at home, a figure that is higher than other major retailers.
-         The Target shopper has a median household income of $55,000.
-         Target shoppers appreciate companies who give back to their community.

These figures can be verified by visiting the following website.

This tells me that the typical customer is of a woman of higher than average socio-economic status. She is educated, is family oriented and believes in the well-being of her community.

To address this audience I would point to some research about this demographic. For instance, studies show that two-thirds of 35-54 year olds now use social media and that 86% of these users are on Facebook (See

Keeping this in mind, my tactics would be as follows:

First, I would create a Facebook page outlining cheap brand name products coming to their city. Each city would have a unique page demonstrating how the community will benefit from the Target stores set to arrive. Discussing issues job creation to community fundraisers as added benefits to having Target stores established in specific cities.

Additionally I would use other social media sites such as twitter and LinkedIn. These sites are used less than Facebook, but they do reach a unique demographic.

Second, I would run ads in local news papers where Target stores are expected to arrive. According to ComBase research, 74% of adults are readers if community newspapers. Likewise, 9 out of 10 adults are readers of either print or online community newspapers. (See This will demonstrate Target’s understanding of the local area and show support for community based newspapers.

Third, I would organize press conferences in the major markets that Target will be occupying. Although you may not be able to do a press conference in every Canadian city, perhaps breaking down the press conferences to cover Western Canada, Central Canada and the East Coast so as not to show regional preference.

Fourth, I would create an app for the grand opening. By the end of 2013, nearly 30% of Canadians will access the internet with their mobile devices (Please see  The app will be a quick educational breakdown on how target gives back to the communities in which they operate. It would provide examples and links to websites that prove the statement. It will also give people an opportunity to direct their concerns to the company should they have any questions about Target coming to Canada, they will be redirected to the Target Q and A page.

This could also lead to an ongoing app that also allows people to recommend and/or petition Target to take on certain causes. This of course will be limited by budget and legal implications.

Fifth, plant a story on several financial newspapers online and print editions, demonstrating the financial benefits of Target coming to Canada. This can either be used to attract investors or provide hard and fast proof of the benefits to increased retail competition for consumers.

Finally, use a Canadian celebrity such as Ryan Reynolds to endorse Target’s presence in Canada. He could appear at a press conference or organize a gala event with Ryan Reynolds being the guest of honour.

Using these tactics fit nicely into the RACE model. These tactics were developed based on researching the target audience, the tactics communicate a message to the target audience and the results can be evaluated. Additionally you can advise upper management that these tactics not only address the public, they also target potential customers, who are the reason why Target will be relocating to Canada in the first place.

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Devil is in the Details

Ask anyone you know and chances are that they have heard this idiom on a number of occasions. Illustrating the importance of paying attention to details is equally valid in a reputable PR campaign.

In class we have been told that as PR professionals we must be mindful of details. However every class we are reminded of how important it is to pay close attention to details. Key concepts such as understanding your audience, formulating your key messages and creating a meaningful strategy all infer a need to pay attention to the particulars.

When developing a strategy, for instance, you are deciding on the overarching plan of how you want to accomplish your goal. Within your strategy you then develop a comprehensive checklist of activities that will help you unroll your strategy. This checklist, more accurately referred to as tactics, may include such examples as organizing a press conference, writing an article in Time magazine, reaching youth through social media etc...

Considering al of this, you decide to organize a PR campaign to help raise awareness for human trafficking. This problem of modern day slavery seems to be better understood by younger Canadians and less so by seniors. You know that seniors would be equally outraged by the crime so you decide to reach out to them. Your team is very experienced in reaching youth and less so with seniors. Without going any further in this scenario, you can foresee some serious problems.

After you reuse an old strategy from a previous campaign, you reuse your old tactics. For instance you decide to reach out to seniors by:

- creating a social media campaign
- seeking a pop star celebrity endorsement
- organizing several interactive online town hall meetings

This may seem like an obvious failure from the beginning, however there are real life examples of campaigns that miss the target completely. What’s worse than your target audience would not being reached? Having them find out about your obvious blunder and losing your credibility.

Let’s look at a real life example where a PR campaign went awry. posted a PR gaffe titled Coca-Cola Passes Blame for Graffiti Campaign. Essentially Coca-cola hired an ad agency to advertise for the cola company leading up to the NCAA final four matchups in New Orleans. The ad agency stencilled ads for the Cola company on flagstone sidewalks in the French quarter of New Orleans. Unfortunately they did not seek the required approval to do so from city council, causing a national flap and bad coverage for Coca-Cola.

Although this may on the surface seem like an attractive tactic for Coca Cola, the ad agency failed to check city by-laws and cultural sensitivity. Every PR professional must understand that different cultures view advertisements differently. Before going into a French neighbourhood that is completely surrounded by English speaking Americans, you need to consider the potential reaction.

Not being privy to the inner workings of this campaign I can only speculate as to what happened. However all strategies should involve basic elements like cultural outreach and local advertising laws. This would then trickle down into the detailed tactics where team members can research the needed information.

You can find this Coca Cola incident at:

That’s all for this week, join me next week as we discuss the ‘C’ in the RACE model. If anyone has anything to add, please feel free to comment. Perhaps something related to the US federal election?

Monday, 22 October 2012

Do Your Homework!

On Target?

Research is a crucial component of any PR campaign. Research must be used to correctly identify your public or audience. There would be no worse scenario than to implement a PR campaign to address a serious issue and not even reach your target audience. For instance it would be a poor idea to confront the delayed Bomber Stadium project by addressing the people of Regina. Putting aside our rivalry with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, this would be an utter failure as a PR campaign.

Although this may seem far fetched, there are situations where a company or organization may indeed address the improper audience and not only fail to address the initial issue, but also embarrass the organization further.

Ultimately there are 2 main types of research that are conducted; qualitative and quantitative:

Qualitative research involves “soft data”, which often includes open-ended questions and is unstructured. Although the results may be valid, they are not scientifically reliable. These studies typically involve non-random samples; examples include focus groups, one-on-one interviews, role playing studies, etc.

Intercept interviews are one such example and are an inexpensive means of gathering information. You may do this by randomly interviewing shopper at a mall. Although they do not represent the entire population, this can have the effect of “having your finger on the pulse”. Picking a location where your target audience is likely to be found will provide you with better results.

Similarly, focus groups typically target a small sample size, however they provide you with an excellent means of interacting directly with your subjects. Given the duration of time spent with the test subjects, you have ample time to get a good feel about the answers you are receiving. Unlike an interview, the focus group can last for a couple of hours.

Quantitative research involves the hard data and is more scientific. The questions are closed ended, measurable and are typically directed towards a larger audience. Examples include telephone polling, mail surveys, omnibus studies, panel studies, etc.

Surveys are an example and are a common means of gathering data. Online and phone surveys can reach a large number of people and are measurable since they require multiple choice answers. Through surveys you can ascertain a person’s product preference, voting preference and even personal traits such as age, gender and income. You can also address a random sample, or a defined demographic.

Since this type of research is time consuming and expensive, some organizations opt for piggy back surveys. The organization can buy a question in a national survey conducted by Angus Reid, for example. This highly attractive option also allows PR professionals to save money while relying on the expertise of a professional polling company.

Primary and Secondary Research

Primary sources involve research that you have completed yourself. For example, the information you received is derived from the survey that you created and made conclusions based on the results.

Either qualitative or quantitative research can be categorized as primary research.

An example of primary research includes Apple setting up their own focus groups to decide how best to launch the new i5.

Secondary sources include websites, organizational materials, journals and any publication where a relevant study and its results are provided.

In this case as well, either qualitative or quantitative research can be categorized as secondary research.

Examples of secondary research include organizational data and library/online databases. Personally I find that organizational materials are an excellent means of gathering secondary research. Statistics Canada offers a wealth of information that is easily accessible at low cost. If you are looking for the demographic information on a particular area, you can find data such as the age of the residents, incomes, ethnicity, etc. Using pre-existing data assists you greatly, saves you money and prevents you from having to recreate the wheel.

Since research is ongoing in most PR campaigns, there is a continuity starting from the initial first step through to the measurement stage. Measuring success can be done in a number of ways. PR professionals may use content analysis to identify the amount of media coverage. This can be very scientific or simply achieved by counting the number of times an organization is mentioned in the media.   

Content analysis is not restricted to traditional media, since social media and the number of hits your website has received can be easily monitored by services such as Google Analytics.

Research and Strategy

In an effective PR plan, there are typically eight basic elements:

1. Situation                   3. Audience      5. Tactics         7. Budget
2. Objectives                4. Strategy        6. Calendar/timetable    8. Measurement           

These eight elements rely heavily on research! As I alluded to earlier, research is essential in addressing all elements, especially the situation. You must know what the situation was that caused the need for a PR campaign in the first place. If the problem is declining market share due to high costs to the consumer and you address how environmentally friendly your product is, you will fail.

In defining your objective, you must understand whether or not it addresses the situation, if the objective is achievable and if it’s measurable. You cannot define any of these if you have not done any research. Researching similar projects done in the past or resorting to focus groups to determine if your “publics” will respond to your message are some possible solutions.

Knowing your audience should be obvious, however some publics are harder to identify and may require research. If you are XL Foods and you need to address your public, you could rely on in-house market studies to direct the message to your most loyal customers. Likewise, it would be advisable to address legislators that you have dealt with in the past. Addressing them with an appropriate message may be crucial to ensuring that your company remain out of the cross-hairs of the government.

Once you are ready to define your strategy, you will be providing a guideline as to how you will meet the objective. You will never know how an objective can be met if you do not do the necessary research. For instance, XL food’s strategy could be to increase the level of the public’s trust of meat products by 25% by November of 2013. The current level of trust must be quantified initially so that a baseline is established. Likewise ongoing research would be necessary to judge the campaign’s effectiveness.
To implement the strategy, the PR professional must put in place a relevant check-list. Also known as tactics, a listing of what activities will be used to carry out the strategy must be in place. These activities cost money and consume time. In order to properly plan and allocate resources, your research must be impeccable. Not only to ensure that you addressed the problem effectively, but to know what tactic will cost how much and when and how it should be done. For example, it would make no sense to survey people’s support of the NFL by phone on Super Bowl Sunday.

Although 90% of what I said is common sense, it is easy to make a grievous error and cause your organization serious trouble. Although you may not be an expert in research, there are many ways of outsourcing this type of work. As a PR professional, you’re not expected to be an expert in research, but you must have an understanding of this process.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Interview With a PR Professiona

When contemplating the PR professional I wanted to speak with, I had a few ideas. Having considered the pros and cons of each, I decided that contacting a graduate of the PR program here at the U of W would be most beneficial and practical. Michael Kulasza, the Regional Public Affairs Officer for CN and former student of the PR Program at the University of Winnipeg provided some excellent insights. I spoke to him over the phone.

I had spoken to Mike once before regarding the University of Winnipeg PR program. After hearing a good review from Mike, I decided that it would be a great opportunity for professional development. Not having known much about Mike’s current position, this interview was helpful in understanding the field and the different types of work you may be doing.

Although I have some experience in the field, Mike identified several excellent points regarding this career. For instance, PR does not offer a lot of job security and it is very competitive. Having been in a PR role in politics, I saw the instability of the career but assumed that this was the nature of politics and not PR in general. Mike’s account of on and off employment led me to understand that this phenomenon is universal in the PR field. With the possibility of frequent job changes, Mike pointed out that the PR field is highly competitive, especially in small job markets such as Winnipeg.

To overcome this challenge, I asked Mike what would make a candidate stand out in an interview at CN. First, he recommended that you provide a potential employer with a portfolio with a sample of your work at the interview. His second piece of advice was to focus on industry experience. Not PR experience, which is essential, but experience in that company’s industry. In this case CN. Mike had worked for CP Rail in a non-PR role prior to applying for his current position. The mix of his industry knowledge and his education in PR made him a valuable asset for the company. He was a natural fit for the position.

This made me think about the skills and experiences that I have obtained through my past employment and education. Combining my professional skills that I have gained in politics with those that I am currently obtaining as a novice PR agent will allow me to carve out a unique and competitive niche.

Although experience is vital in this industry, Mike recommended that every PR professional keep current on issues and trends. As a regular part of his regime, he would review Ragan Communications, PR daily, read online news articles, attend PR industry events and read PR related books. As an additional step, Mike believes that besides being a member of IABC and CPRS, volunteer work is an excellent means of networking. He is planning on volunteering with IABC in the near future.

To maintain an edge in the industry while he’s between jobs, Mike will read PR novels and review them on his blog. This keeps his writing skills sharp and his name top of mind with industry professionals. Since writing is essential in the PR field, Mike believes that his education has greatly assisted him throughout his career. The ability to be succinct and clear is the single most important skill that Mike derived from the Public Relations Diploma at the University of Winnipeg.

Despite the importance of possessing strong writing skills, Mike recommended that strong oral communications is equally important. There were times when he would be expected, on short notice, to give a presentation to the executive team or speak to a group of angry residents. The ability to speak clearly and audibly is invaluable in these situations.

An additional communication skill set that has become more important is the proper use of social media. Mike noted that social media has become increasingly important over the past few years. Although almost anyone can blog or tweet, it requires a PR/Communications expert to do it properly. You need to find an interesting topic and know how to help it get the attention it deserves. Nobody wants to read a boring blog, nor do they want to read a blog riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.

No matter what question I asked Mike, he always came back to the importance of social media. Like many people, Mike believed that social media was unimportant or a fad and he did not hold it in high regard. Now he believes using it properly is a top priority in this field. The ability to reach almost anyone globally presents both opportunities and challenges. Making an error can cause embarrassment world wide, whereas a good news story can be circulated around the world instantly at the click of a mouse.

Along with the issue of social media, Mike pointed out that the PR field is a 24 hour job. Issues and events happen at any time of the day, so you need to be prepared to respond to them. Mike wishes that he had known this when he was starting out in this field.

Having listened to Mike throughout the interview I drew several conclusions, some of which I have already discussed. The most important conclusion however is that I am still interested in the field! Although there are certain aspects that are more appealing than others, I am drawn by the dynamic nature of this career.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Lie to me? The art of public relations

What is a Public Relations professional?

Spin master? Director of Propaganda?

Although these terms are certainly attributed to the field, it is not entirely representative of the occupation. Ensuring positive public perception through influencing all forms of media has long been an art for the gifted.

Beginning in its early stages, our field was sometimes referred to as propaganda, often used by tyrannical governments to ensure obedience to an ideology or leader. Today however, we have come a considerable distance in the development of this craft. Although staying on message and influencing the media are important skills to any PR professional, it involves a variety of talents, often overlapping with other fields.

Sometimes confused with marketing and sales, PR is a part of the marketing mix. As PR professionals we use many skills of the marketer, with an important distinction, we are continuously engaging in a
2-way interaction with the public/customers. This 2-way interaction is unique and what makes our field so interesting and dynamic.

After reviewing a number of definitions in class, I believe that they do not sum up the trade in a simple and easy to understand description. For the average person, the best way to describe this field, in my opinion, is that we are responsible for the two-way communication between a product (could be a brand, a company, a politician, athlete, or celebrity) in that we ensure they are viewed by followers and the public in a positive light. In doing so we are “marketing” and “selling good publicity for our product.

I feel comfortable having this opinion since I have had real life experience working in PR. I have found the first few classes to be a great refresher in some of the basics and a great way of helping actually define PR in my own mind.

This course will be especially beneficial for me since I have not had formal training in the field. I have enrolled in the course since I wanted to address a few concerns that I have experienced at work. There are a few issues that I am hoping this course will help me with:

1)      Managing the frenetic nature of the job. I was rarely able to get ahead of the curve and found myself more reactive than pro-active.

2)      Educating internal stakeholders within your organization on the abilities and limitation of what PR can do.    

3)      The ability to devise a PR and/or communications strategy. This alone would solve many problems that I have faced in the past. As more strategies are created, the easier it will be to replicate strategies to react quickly to similar situations.

4)      Additionally, PR involves writing and although I believe my writing to be strong, I would like to improve my efficiency. I have been in situations where I was asked to prepare a press release, media advisory and organize a press conference within an hour and a half. Efficiency is vital to be successful facing these tight time-frames.

Thank you for following my post this week. I hope everyone is enjoying our class and please feel free to add your thoughts to my post.