PR Struggle: Internships and Diversity

According to a recent report, PR professionals are among the worst offenders for exploiting interns. In our field, it is not uncommon for unpaid interns to perform job functions that could be performed by paid staff, meaning that they could be entitled to at least minimum wage.

Interns Wanted

For organizations offering unpaid internships, this functions as a double-edged sword: yes, short-term bottom lines benefit by the assistance that interns can provide for free, but the organizations could also be limiting the pool of talent to only include those able to work without financial compensation, potentially cutting out many qualified and talented individuals – after all, most students have college loans and monthly utility bills to worry about.

The catch-22 of the situation, of course, is that it’s hard to imagine a college graduate trying to break into the highly competitive field of Public Relations without completing a minimum of one or two internships. Soon to be enter the job market myself, I am all too familiar with the expectations and pressure that go along with being in this line of work. It isn’t uncommon to hear that a PR student’s GPA is not as significant as his or her experience, or that a decent portfolio is mandatory when walking into an interview.

The effects of this dynamic can be dangerous to the field as a whole. In fact, just this evening, a major question raised at the Rochester PRSA event was why the industry wasn’t becoming more diverse at a pace similar to that of society as a whole. According to David Grome, there were “several comments about the event’s location (Brooks Landing) being “difficult to find” or “near some sketchy areas,” which might be part of the challenge to unite people behind the issue of diversity. We tend not to go, literally and figuratively, where we’re not familiar.”

Is it too far a stretch to correlate the low amount of diversity in PR to the frequently unpaid internships that are all but a necessity to those trying to join the field?

Though I think there is definitely merit to that question and that it deserves to be discussed, I don’t necessarily think that all internships should be paid.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have completed five internships during my undergraduate career. Of them, two have been unpaid and three have been paid – giving me a unique perspective on this issue.

I learned an insane amount during one of my unpaid internships and built a relationship with one of the best PR professionals in the area – someone I am still lucky enough to consider a mentor today. Looking back, the experience proved to be worth every dollar of financial sacrifice that was associated with it. To those who would argue that they can’t afford to work for free despite the potential value in the experience, I would challenge them to reconsider.

The fact of the matter is that most unpaid internships are part-time (mine was only about 12 hours per week) and during normal business office hours, meaning that there is still plenty of time to have a part-time, paid job during nights and weekends. Not only that, but I also know that it is very possible to excel academically during a semester including both paid jobs and unpaid internships.

Unpaid internships are not limited to financially stable individuals. They are limited to individuals with professional priorities and excellent time-management skills.

I wonder what Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson would think.

The Internship

King Arthur Flour Utilizes Digital Gatekeepers for SEO

I’m going to reveal a bit about myself to all of you today: I am not very good at cooking. Or even baking, for that matter. I think it takes too long, there is too much room for error, and requires too much clean-up for my tastes. I tend to blame all of this on my Italian roots and my mother who, as my childhood friends will remember, loved making food at all times during the day.

King Arthur FlourNevertheless, I recently learned about King Arthur Flour. That’s weird, I know, since the preparation of frozen pizza and macaroni and cheese does not require flour. So I’ll admit, I haven’t actually purchased any products from the Norwich, Vermont based company. Nor do I intend to, to be honest. I heard about the company as a result of its annual Blog & Bake program, and it inspired me to write this post on the topic of gatekeepers, and how important they are in the field of public relations.

We work at great companies who make great products and do great things. It’s simply our job to make sure as many great people are aware of them as possible. But it’s hard to tell that many people, so we go about it in different ways. That’s where traditional media relations came in: we tell a few well-respected journalists at widely-read publications about our greatness, and he or she passes the information along to a lot of other people.

Journalists are many things – like employees, writers and story-tellers. Most importantly, though – they’re gatekeepers. They act as a filter, separating the bad from the good and the great. Each one represents a much larger population – if we can just tell the right journalist about how great we are, he can tell everyone else!

In the digital age, though, the landscape is changing as fewer individuals read print newspapers and magazines, and essentially anyone with an Internet connection has the ability to produce and share content on a personal blog like the one you’re all reading right now. Especially in less mainstream niches, like baking, different people are the truly influential ones.

King Arthur Flour fully utilizes gatekeepers through its Blog & Bake program. Each year, a dozen of the most influential baking-bloggers are invited for an all-expenses paid weekend in Vermont, learning new baking techniques and baking new foods. The coverage rate after the event is incredibly high, with at least 11 of 12 writers in 2013 writing at least one post on their blogs this year.

This kind of coverage of an event has a number of effects:

  • Basic communication of King Arthur Flour’s great product to a huge but very targeted population.
  • Individuals who read baking blogs are, obviously, passionate about baking and look up to the writers of the blogs as role models. If their baking-heroes are using King Arthur Flour, why wouldn’t they follow suit?
  • Each blog post is loaded with a ton of high-resolution images from the weekend-long event. King Arthur Flour is seen as a tourist attraction among those that care about baking, and this kind of coverage can persuade people to visit the Vermont campus in addition to simply buying the flour.
  • Last but not least – this event has King Arthur Flour buzzing. It’s referenced countless times in each blog post. It’s linked to in each blog post. It’s even in the majority of the posts’ titles! Can we recognize the search-engine-optimization results that this event is responsible for?

I know it’s hard to quantify and attribute SEO results to any individual act of promotion, but you would have to think Blog & Bake has helped King Arthur Flour rise to the top of Google. Currently, Googling “blog bake” yields King Arthur Flour’s blog on page one. Furthermore, Googling “flour bake” yields King Arthur Flour as the top two results.

King Arthur Flour - Google Search

As less people receive solutions to their problems by reading newspapers and Google plays a more prevalent role, SEO becomes significantly more important and that changes who the gatekeepers are.

On the off chance that I one day decide to begin baking (and care about my cakes & cookies enough to buy premium flour), can anyone guess where I’ll be ordering from?

Starbucks and Crown Royal face America’s issues head-on

Today at work, I was lucky enough to notice two eye-catching stories on Twitter. Both involve a national brand using some outstide-the-box marketing strategies.

And, both campaigns make me love the brands even more.

Starbucks July 4 Indivisible Coffee

Starbucks is giving away free coffee on July 4 to unite the nation.

Crown Royal - Safe Rides Home

Crown Royal sponsors a program called Safe Rides Home

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LinkedIn side-steps a crisis situation

Would anyone be surprised to know that LinkedIn is the third most popular social networking site in the world? That’s right – only behind Facebook & Twitter. You don’t hear about LinkedIn nearly as much as some other, smaller sites like Pinterest and Instagram, and yet, according to the site’s blog, it reached the 100 million-member mark last March. Furthermore, I discovered today that LinkedIn accounts for over 50% of web referral traffic at a company that I work for. That’s a lot.

And so, when more than 6.5 million user passwords are leaked, and the site is hacked into, it’s somewhat of an issue. In fact, that scenario has crisis written all over it. And that’s exactly what transpired today!

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LPGA is getting social in Pittsford, NY

For the first time, LPGA players will display their Twitter handles on prime real estate:

their caddies. 

Best of all, this is happening in Pittsford, NY, not far from home for me!

Once again I will say it: the Social Revolution is upon us!

What do you think? Is this a good idea for the LPGA?

Pacquiao sucker punched by the media

I absolutely love Trending Topics on Twitter. Obviously, they let people see what has the most buzz surrounding it at any given point. What I don’t like, however, is when I see an intriguing trending topic, but can’t figure out what has actually occurred by reading the tweets associated with the topic.

For example, this afternoon I saw that  “Manny Pacquiao” was trending. Now, as much as I am not a fan of boxing, it caught my eye and I was wondering what the athlete did to generate so much conversation. From the massive list of tweets I was confronted with, I was unable to figure out exactly what that was. So, I went ahead and did the work that I usually look for someone else to have already done.

I investigated.

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College organizations compete for sidewalk real estate

Chalk isn't only a children's toy.

As a college student, I’ve been exposed to an interesting communication tactic while at Brockport. Many clubs and on-campus organizations use sidewalk chalk to get the word out about their events and causes. But is the tactic effective?

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Inspired, Integrated Ideas are Only the Beginning

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to take a tour of Dixon Schwabl with about 8 of my classmates. The full-service advertising, public relations and digital media agency is well known in the Rochester area for its extensive, wide variety of clients and projects.

Dixon is also well known for its consistent place on lists of best places to work in America. After spending some time inside the agency’s walls, it’s not hard to see why.

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Westboro Baptist Church: Expert Newsjackers

This semester, I am taking Freedom of Expression at Brockport. The class takes a look at the way that the Supreme Court of the United States has interpreted our rights throughout history. Needless to say, class-wide arguments and disagreements happen pretty often.

Last week, we debated a relatively recent case that most of us are probably familiar with. In Snyder v. Phelps et al., the Supreme Court deemed the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church acceptable. If you don’t recognize the name, this is the group that protests the funerals of fallen US soldiers with incredibly bold, at times unthinkable messages. Click this link if you would like to (most likely) be offended and learn more about Westboro Baptist Church.

Before I get too far into this, please understand that I do not agree with the messages that the Westboro Baptist Church proliferates, nor do I condone its actions. However, from a strictly PR perspective, these people are bordering not only on insanity, but also on genius.

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#WNYCMC12: Merging Media

Yesterday, I attended the Western New York College Media Convention at The College at Brockport, an event that I had a hand in planning and promoting, and that I had looked forward to for a long time. With the theme of “Merging Media,” there were speakers and sessions throughout the day focusing on different types of Communications professions, including radio & television broadcast, journalism and Public Relations.

Although the sessions and presenters were very diverse, I began to discover an emerging, over-riding message throughout the day: To be successful, be authentic in your interactions and use some common sense.

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