Strategies for Effective Community Relations: A Case Study on Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTER

Research shows that more companies are beginning to recognize the importance of having a good corporate reputation. As one of the world’s most recognizable brands, Coca-Cola has long recognized the value and importance of corporate reputation and giving back to their consumers. With a CSR focus on women, water and well-being, in 2013 the company launched EKOCENTER – a mobile community kiosk ran by a local woman entrepreneur that provides safe water, solar power and Internet access.

Not only did I get to hear the story behind EKOCENTER when I attended the PRSA International Conference in Atlanta last month, but I also made it the focus of my final paper for my Public Relations Theory course at Newhouse.

In many ways, Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTER initiative, which is geared mostly towards developing nations, perfectly relates to my paper’s topic – Strategies for Effective Community Relations and Practicing Corporate Social Responsibility. Anyone who knows me well knows about my passion for community relations. Working on this paper gave me the opportunity to develop trends based on research and actionable steps for any organization who’s looking to use community relations as a way to improve their overall reputation.

Here are the three main trends I’ve found that make organizations successful at community relations:

  1. Personification storytelling – What always makes stories so appealing to us are the characters behind them. The same is true for organizations who want to communicate how their community relations efforts make an impact on the people they serve. In telling the story of EKOCENTER, Coca-Cola does a great job of strategically communicating the initiative’s value while capturing the moments of all the people behind the kiosks’ success through videos and photo blogs.
  2. Proper alignment with core focus – You would expect NFL teams to sponsor the Play60 initiative because athletes are great for promoting physically active lifestyles to kids. On the opposite end, Starbuck’s “Race Together” campaign fell short in part because it didn’t make business sense for a coffee shop company to encourage its customers to talk about matters of racial justice. The point is, it helps when companies do things for the community that relate back to their core purpose. Coca-Cola realizes this, as EKOCENTER uniquely ties back to each of its three main CSR focuses.
  3. Correlating positive CSR with profits – While it’s widely known that most companies do benefit from having a good corporate reputation, no company earns it overnight; whether good or bad. That’s why it’s important for organizations to establish a solid foundation for their CSR efforts so that in time it pays off in brand equity and an improved financial bottom line. While it remains to be seen if Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTERs have made a significant contribution to Coca-Cola’s profits, it does make sense for the company on a practical level to use the kiosks to sell their beverages.

If implemented effectively, positive community relations can lead to significant benefits for an organization, among them being improved brand equity which can lead to increased profits. Even without these motivations, it’s good for organizations to demonstrate care towards their community publics. While a positive relationship with publics is beneficial, having a negative or nonexistent relationship can also impact an organization just as much.

3 Reasons Why PR Pros Need the One-Percenters

When it comes to getting information and news about your interests, who do you turn to?  Is it their personality that draws you in?  Do you often find yourself modeling your opinions after theirs?  Just what is it that causes them to have such an affect on you?

Whether you know it or not, your favorite media personality, blogger or even entertainer may be a “One-Percenter” – that is, an influencer in the vast community of content creation.  According to W2O Group‘s strategists, who spoke to Newhouse students at many events this week for Social Commerce Days, the influencers make up the top 1% of your interests’ community of content.  Influencers are the ones who create the content that becomes shareable with their audience.  Their biggest fans, or their advocates, are in the 9% who repackage this content into their own.  Meanwhile, the other 90% consists of enthusiasts – average consumers of content who look to influencers and advocates to stay on top of trends.  This is the 1:9:90 framework of social content, and it’s important for PR professionals to understand this as they seek out non-traditional methods of getting their message out to target publics.

Influencers have three characteristics that make them appealing to communications professionals:

  1. Reach – Influencers get to be in the 1% of content creators because of the large audience they attract.  They have their fair share of advocates who not only repackage their content to reach more people, but they also defend their influencers from criticism.
  2. Relevance – If you let the strategists from W2O tell it, relevance is the new reputation.  Previously, communications professionals wanted to align themselves with someone with a positive reputation.  Now that attention spans are shortening, communicators have to find ways to align their content with influencers who have a stronger grip on their audiences’ attention.
  3. Resonance – Finally, it’s not just enough for professional communicators to create content – it has to actually be good, if not, exceptional.  Audiences flock to influencers because their content has a personal touch or flair to it.  Influencers brand themselves to be memorable and not just put out content that their audience won’t find useful; therefore, communicators must be sure their content fits the same criteria when pitching it to the influencers they want to work with.

At the end of the day, being in the 1% isn’t always glamorous.  Influencers have spent months, and probably years building their audience and delivering content that matters.  It’s this drive that makes influencers unique, enviable and in a position to be gatekeepers of information, similar to journalists.  Once PR professionals find and build the relationship with influencers, their clients will reap the benefits of an increased audience and another channel to reach them.

 

The Road More Traveled: Why Black PR Professionals are Creating Their Own Agencies

inspirational-quote-by-giantsqurlIt’s no secret that diversity is lacking in public relations, particularly at the executive level of agencies and corporations. Not only have Caucasian women struggled to break into executive positions, but black men and women have also found their challenges in the profession as well. I’ve talked about this issue in a previous blog post and have given my thoughts on what it’ll take to get more men of color interested in PR. In the weeks since this post, however, I was intrigued to find that the Public Relations Society of America has efforts to increase the presence of minorities in the profession through its foundation. It just so happens that my department chair, Dr. Rochelle Ford, APR, happens to be a trustee for this foundation.

Speaking of Dr. Ford, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work with her as a research assistant. The project we’re currently working on involves creating high-level messages for the National Black Public Relations Society’s upcoming annual conference. While I can’t disclose the exact findings based on their recent survey, there’s one common trend that I’ve found interesting:

More experienced black professionals are opting to start their own agencies rather than climb the corporate ladder into an executive level position.

It’s apparent to me that blacks, as well as other minorities and Caucasian women, are tired of waiting for the doors of the executive level to be opened to them. Instead of waiting for their chance, underrepresented PR professionals are taking their career destiny into their own hands by becoming employers instead of remaining employees.

This trend is in line with my thinking at times as it pertains to pursuing my career goals in PR. Even at the entry-level, I experienced the same frustrations breaking into the PR profession. In the summer of 2009, I was one of thousands of Detroit teenagers and young adults who went through the excruciating process of applying for a job through the city’s summer youth employment program. To make a long story short, I spent what nearly felt like eight hours waiting in lines to go through the bureaucratic process of potential employment only to have never been contacted regarding where to report for my job site. It was this experience that motivated me to create my own opportunities upon graduating from Northwood as I established myself as a freelance consultant two years later.

Just as I didn’t want to wait for a job opportunity in PR to present itself to me, black mid-career professionals aren’t waiting around to move into executive level positions. Life is too short to wait on the things we truly want out of it. There is nothing wrong with creating the life you want, even if it means taking risks and being uncomfortable. Perhaps by more professionals starting their own firms, corporations in need of high-level PR will take notice of the vast array of capable talent out there and begin to diversify their executive offices.

My Road Map to a Successful Career in PR

This week is my first of two weeks off from my master’s program at Syracuse University. While I don’t have a blog post that’s due for a class, I figured that I’d maintain a habit of blogging every week as I’ll be doing the same starting fall semester for my advanced writing class.

Anyway, to pick up where I left off with my last blog post, I’m definitely pleased so far with my decision to pursue a master’s degree in public relations. Perhaps what I’ve been most thankful for is my ability to use my course projects for my portfolio to share with prospective employers. Now that the summer session is over I’m turning my attention to finding internship and job opportunities, preferably with nonprofit organizations.

tumblr_l4zu1eCcMv1qa9gi9o1_400It’s really no secret why I have a special interest in nonprofits. As you know, I’ve been telling the stories of organizations in Detroit for four years prior to enrolling at Syracuse. What hasn’t always been clear though were my ultimate career goals. However, as I’ve had time to prepare and embrace what I want from my program I’ve determined four career paths which I wish to pursue:

  1. Nonprofit PR for youth-serving organizations – The work that I’ve done with organizations in Detroit the past few years have been some of my greatest accomplishments as a professional. After I’d see an organization get published for their work in the Detroit News or Detroit Free Press I’d always say to myself, “Man, I can’t wait to make a career out of this!” After all, there are few things better than showcasing youth in a positive light.
  2. Community relations for professional sports teams – This one is kind of a new interest for me. My interest in this as a career choice became clearer as I’ve thought of ways to combine my love of community and sports. Specifically, I love the work that Sam Abrams does with the Detroit Tigers as he’s constantly informing local baseball coaches of ways to get their youth involved with the team’s programs.
  3. Running my own small communications firm – With the way the economy sometimes works, it’s no wonder why people are taking control of their own futures by working for themselves. Sure, the idea of finding and maintaining clients is scary as they are your primary source of income, but it’s also just as rewarding to be your own boss and have more control over your schedule.
  4. Teaching at the college/university level – I’m really intrigued by the idea of being able educate and train the next generation of communications professionals. With time, I think it’d be cool to develop a PR program from scratch and turn it into one of prestige. Pursuing this as a career path may require some additional years of school, but at least Ph.D.’s get paid for by the university, and not the other way around!

As the fall semester starts it’ll be interesting to see where my grad school experiences lead me. One thing I’m confident of though is that now that I have an idea where I want to go I can use my connections at Syracuse to create a plan for getting there.

How I Survived Boot Camp: My First Semester of Grad School

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Team members from my press conference group project.

This week I wrap up my summer session “boot camp” for my master’s program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The program has been everything I’ve hoped for, but also hasn’t been without its surprises and disappointments. Nonetheless, everything I’ve learned so far has reaffirmed my decision to pursue a master’s degree in public relations.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

  1. A good story is a relatable story – Our biggest assignment our Writing for News and Public Relations course was to put together a media kit for a fictional event based on a partnership between a corporation, a nonprofit and a celebrity spokesperson. Each student then had to pitch their media kit idea to their class, where only two or three would be chosen to conduct a press conference. I noticed a common trend among the projects that were selected: each of their corporations had strong brand recognition. Among the corporations that were chosen were Bank of America, Disney, Build-a-Bear and the Green Bay Packers. Having a strong brand name, along with some genuinely creative event ideas, is what I believe allowed these students to garner enough votes from their classmates to be selected.
  2. Be humble – One of the reasons why I decided to enroll at Syracuse over my other top choices was my confidence in being able to land a coveted graduate or instructional associate position based on my prior work experience. These positions were particularly attractive to me because they offered tuition credits, which would limit the amount of loans I’d need to take out to cover remaining expenses. While I was granted interviews for two positions, it was disappointing to learn that I wasn’t selected for either. The rejections taught me that while I’m great at demonstrating my abilities on paper I still have room for improvement when it comes to sealing the deal in interviews. I’ve also gained a level of respect for the students that I’ll have to compete against for jobs.
  3. Wordmark largeTrust your instincts – In addition to completing my PR course, I also took a graphic design course learning how to use Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. My first assignment in the class was to design a wordmark for my resume. My professor hated my first ten drafts, but when I came up with another ten she saw some that we both really liked – even though it was in a typeface that she admittedly wouldn’t approve of for most people. As it’s pertained to completing other projects, I’ve found that I produce my best work when I’m not concerning myself too much with how my professor will judge me. The more I’ve trusted myself, the better my work has turned out to be.

It truly has been a great start to my master’s program here at Syracuse. I’m looking forward to what the fall semester holds, right after enjoying two weeks off!

Shooting for the Moon: How I Made My Decision to Pursue Graduate School

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Last Friday afternoon I took a major step towards pursuing a career in public relations by officially sending my security deposit for the Master of Science in Public Relations program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Getting to this point was a long journey that started around the beginning of September. From researching the top graduate PR programs to actually making a decision between the five schools I was accepted into, the long process has finally played itself out in order for me to come to this decision.

But, how did I get to this point to begin with? That’s an interesting story…

Continue reading “Shooting for the Moon: How I Made My Decision to Pursue Graduate School”