VR in PR?

By: Donald Smith

Wake up! There is a new technology on the market that might spark another revolution in the public relations industry. It is called virtual reality, or VR. Now, VR is not a new phenomenon. It has been talked about in movies, anime, television shows and other forms of pop culture, but as of late companies such as Sony and Samsung have been able to get the technology out to the mass public. Also, the public is adopting it.

Man wearing Sony VR headseat,” by Sony

Nielsen conducted a study to see if the general public was interested in VR. Nielsen brought in 150 people to try a VR headset. The study resulted in 68 percent of respondents showing interest in buying/using VR.

VR is special because it creates a much more personal experience than other forms of communication. It does this by transporting and immersing the user into a new world with their sight and hearing in a first-person perspective. With this experience we can create a personal relationship with our publics.

However, I am not the first to realize the revolutionary potential of VR in PR. The Public Relations Society of America has an article on 6 ways VR could revolutionize PR. (Alaimo, 2016)

  • Revolutionizing story telling: As PR professionals we are storytellers for our brands. It is our goal to create engagement and build relationships with our publics. And having the ability to bring them into the worlds of our brands would be the greatest way to achieve this.
  • Putting publics in others’ shoes: VR is not only for corporations, it also gives opportunities to nonprofits. Because nonprofits rely heavily on powerful, personal stories of those affected by their causes to have others feel empathy and cause them to take action.
  • Delivering captive publics: VR will be the only messages to experience no outside noise from other messages. This is because the publics’ sight and hearing are completely engaged with the single message in front of them.
  • Changing how we pitch to reporters: Instead of emails, media advisories, press releases, etc. we will begin sending VR footage to give pitches more impact.
  • Meeting spaces: Video calling and real-life meetings could become obsolete. VR would connect us to colleagues and clients in spaces with a physical presence so body language is not lost in translation.
  • Positioning of brands: VR has not seen much exposure in the PR realm, but it could help position brands as accessible to younger and more tech-savvy publics. Also, it could help brands be positioned as forward thinking.

Some examples are North Face with their VR campaign putting people on a climb in Yosemite National Park; Birchbox teleporting people to riding waves and helicopters over mountains; and Marriot Hotels taking people to the beaches of Hawaii and downtown London.

So, let us hop on the train before it leaves.


Sincerity is the best policy

.By: Donald Smith

This week in class we spoke on the art of apologizing, and how it is an important crisis communication strategy.

Huffington Post, “I’m Sorry”

First, why is it important to apologize? It is important because when someone admits they have done wrong it shows they respect and empathize with those who were wronged by their actions. Also, the apology acts as a bridge, allowing for relationships to be built again (Engel, 2002). This way both parties will begin interactions, and feel comfortable with one another again.

Now, apologies are crucial to public relations’ crisis communication because of what was stated above, maintaining relationships. The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as, “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” (Yann, 2016) However, when a company commits a wrong the balance is disturbed. Therefore, PR comes in to restore the balance through crisis communication strategies with apologies leading the way.

Although apologies are a great way to rebuild relationships, they can also destroy any hope of rebuilding relationships if executed poorly. The “make-it-or-break-it” point of an apology is the sincerity of it. A sincere apology lets publics know companies feel awful about what has occurred. Also, it has them focus on a company’s values rather than the mistakes. (Scott, 2016)

A classic example of a successful apology, because it followed this line of thinking, is Johnson and Johnson with the Tylenol poisonings of 1982. The company alerted and apologized to the mass public as well as removing all products from the shelves. Johnson and Johnson was sincere in its apology by showing more concern for the public health than its profits.

Now, an example of a failed apology, because it was not sincere, is BP and the oil spill of 2010. The CEO, Tony Hayward, stated: “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.” Talk about having zero sincerity in an apology. This statement caused massive backlash and burnt many relationships BP had at the time.

So, when a company makes a mistake let them know to at least be sincere in their apology.

Also, here are some other resources on how to and not to construct an apology.

Direct engagement is new-ish?

By: Donald Smith

I am a Social Media and Blogging intern for an organization. I understand with that job title most of my time would be spent covering the organization’s social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to name a few. However, I am a surprised I do not make press releases, fact sheets or any materials I have been learning to make these past 2 years. Instead, communication is concentrating on pure public engagement.

“Social Media,” by Jackson State University


I knew social media engagement was an important part of public relations, but not how important. Therefore, I researched it, and found that back in 2008 PR was beginning to switch gears. Frank Oviatt wrote an article about Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, speaking on how communication strategies needed to be reassessed due to the increasing size of mainstream and new media such as social media.

Edelman stated, “As we move from public relations to public engagement, we will deal no longer with the pyramid of influence but with a sphere of cross influence.”

It was shocking to read a whole industry was having to revamp itself because of new media platforms that allowed direct communication with one another over the internet. I was under the impression PR had always been about building relationships with the public directly. The Public Relations Institute of Australia even defines PR as engagement, and engagement ‘as an arrangement or commitment between two parties on a shared journey over time’ (Purnama, 2014) Meaning PR is a two-way communication system between recipients. Although, without social media it was more difficult to reach a large audience directly.

There was another surprise I had in my research. I found a journal from 2007 written by James L. Horton speaking on how companies needed to be engaging publics directly on the internet. In his journal he included a model for engagement, but only the “engaged” audience was involved in two-way communication. The engaged audience is defined as those who communicate about direct experience with a brand or issue (Horton, 2007).

Thus, I am left with the question, “Should one engage all publics, or only publics who are engaged?” Personally I say all publics because an individual could move from not engaged to engaged because of the engagement.

Strange Disparity in PR Workforce

By: Donald Smith

In my public relations communication class this week my professor told the class there are scientific studies showing no one is great at multitasking. However, it is proven women are slightly better than men at multitasking. British Broadcasting Corporation released a study in 2013 that found men responded 77 percent slower when given several tasks in rapid succession while women responded 69 percent slower (Morgan, 2013) . So, I started wondering if men were at a disadvantage in the public relations field.

“Sad Woman,” by George Hodan

I wondered this because multitasking is a skill listed as a necessity in the public relations field. And if not a skill it would be listed as a quality, ability, trait and etc. So, if men lacked this skill then it would mean that women would be leading most, if not all, PR agencies. However, this is not the case.

Aarti Shah from Holmes Report wrote an article on this issue. In the article she reports 70 percent of the PR workforce is comprised of women, but they hold only 30 percent of company leadership positions (Shah, 2015). This means men hold 70 percent of company leadership positions while comprising 30 percent of the PR workforce.

This disparity between the majority of the workforce being the minority of the leadership brings forth the question, “Is there sexism in the PR agency?” Sexism is the unfair treatment or discrimination toward someone based on their sex. It could be the answer why men, who struggle more at multitasking, are leading a field, in which they have the disadvantage. Shah goes on to give examples of sexism in her article. One example was Ellen Pao’s lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for discriminating and retaliating against her. She had complained to the company they were using different standards to judge women and men up for promotions. After her complaints she was let go by the company. The lawsuit started the discussion of gender imbalance.

Hopefully as more diversity integrates into the workforce we will see the disparity diminish, and create an equal opportunity workplace with no discrimination.

By: Donald Smith

Lately I have been asking myself, “Where is the balance?” The reason I ask this question is because whenever there are articles written about public relations the words “manipulative” or “liars” are attached. This leaves me confused because in all of my classes I have been taught to always be ethical, and that truth is the pinnacle.

“Unidentified Man,” Nollau


There is a code of ethics for PR practitioners from the Public Relations Society of America. In it PRSA lists advocacy and honesty as its first two core values (PRSA, 2016). So, then I am left with the question, “How do we have a reputation for being manipulative and liars when we live by core values that oppose those notions?”

Understandably there are a few bad apples in every bunch. However, can a few bad apples ruin a whole profession’s integrity? So, there must be something larger going on. This brings me back to my junior year of college when I was taught that we must know how much information to give. This lesson I understood because in PR crises happen constantly, and statements are expected almost instantaneously. If someone were to give out everything they knew without confirmation from other sources it could lead to greater turmoil.

I think this is where it gets tricky, and why PR gets a bad reputation. When we withhold information people think we are being dishonest and manipulative in what the public gets to see and/or hear. Of course there will be some who withhold information for negative reasons, as seen in Bowen’s article where she talks to some practitioners at a conference who bluntly admit to lying (Bowen, 2015). As for those who do not withhold, where is the median? Where is the middle ground between staying honest and being an advocate to the public, but also doing your job of promoting your organization? What are we supposed to do if our organization’s goals and values hurt the public?

These questions almost lead me to believe that the problem resides in the code of ethics, mainly the core value of “loyalty.” The code states that we must be loyal to whom we represent, while maintaining our advocacy to the public (PRSA, 2016). I have learned the hard way that you cannot always play both sides of the coin. By us doing this we have appeared to be dishonest and manipulative. An example of this would be PR agency Edleman and the EPA Chief McCarthy. Edleman was trying to stay loyal to the coal industry while being an advocate to the public. However, in this article they were caught withholding information from the public and lying to the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the future of the coal industry. Others have noticed this problem, including Fellow PRSA Gerard F Corbett, who in his article confronts these notions. He states that PRSA needs to be more vigilant in calling out fellow practitioners when they commit these wrongs to regain integrity (Corbett, 2015). If we decide to keep playing both sides how do we make the coin land on its side to appease both organizations and the public? As of right now I do not see an answer, but it is important to start the discussion.



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