A PR site for curious minds.

Building Credibility

Trust is a must in public relations writing. If people don’t believe what you’re telling them, they have no reason listen to you. And they won’t want to change their behavior.

After reading “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath, a must-read for anyone trying to improve their writing skills, I decided to analyze a few public service announcements and determine what makes them credible.

The American Red Cross is credible source. Right? They are a well-known, highly respected operation. But besides their reputation, what do they do to make their own messages credible?

On their website you will find a long list of PSAs. The list includes PSAs for television, radio, print and script. One of their favorite tactics is to use a celebrity endorsement. Current celebrity endorsements include Tim McGraw, George Foreman, and Wyclef Jean.

The Red Cross also uses the “antiauthority” tactic. This is an idea presented in “Made to Stick”. It means that you use an individual as a spokesperson to give credibility through their experience, but that individual is no one special. They are not a celebrity or an expert. They are a member of the public who is simply sharing their own story for the benefit of others, (your customers)!

Chip and Dan wrote over 60 pages dedicated to the importance of building credibility and how to do it. I have only mentioned a couple of those ways here, but for further suggestions, I hope you will read their book. I cannot do this topic justice in one, or even several, blog posts.


May 29, 2008 Posted by | writing | Leave a comment

What’s So Hard About Concrete?

I’m a flirty, vivacious, enthusiastic student. I love to study, attend lecture and pass my time at the library. In my free time I work and participate in extra curriculars. I’m a great student!

Compare that paragraph with the following.

In four years of college, I have taken 36 classes and only recieved one grade that wasn’t an A. I spend 20 hours each week at the library where I read, research, write papers and do other assigned homework. When I’m not in lecture or at the library I mentor children through the Boys & Girls Club as well as volunteering at the Food for Lane County, four days each week.

After reading the first paragraph, did you believe that I was a good student? Maybe you took my word for it. After reading the second paragraph, how did you feel about me? You probably believed beyond a doubt that I am a good student. The difference? Concrete language and details.

This is a tool that I learned from Made to Stick, a book by Chip and Dan Heath. I have been studying this book in order to advance my writing skills. So far it has proven extremely valuable. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve their writing.  

May 27, 2008 Posted by | writing | | Leave a comment

Unexpected things surprise us unexpectedly


Ding-dong! Your doorbell rings. “That must be my pizza delivery!” You grab your wallet and run excitedly to the door. A tall, attractive blonde is standing there smiling. She opens the hot bag, your mouth watering in anticipation. Suddenly, you stare wide-eyed at the end of a revolver. The girl smiles. “Give me your wallet.” She speaks calmly. And why not, she’s the one holding the gun. For a moment you can’t move. The shock of having your delivery turn hostile is still seeping into your brain. Slowly you extend her your wallet.

This event is far out of the every day. It is unexpected. Because most delivery drivers don’t go around robbing their customers, you would most likely be shocked if this were to happen to you. You would likely be surprised, shocked, maybe a bit scared. These are all feelings caused by the unexpectedness of the situation.

Just like this incident causes you to be surprised and alert, good writing causes us to be surprised and attentive. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick, encourage the use of unexpectedness in our writing to help make our message “sticky”.

“Stickiness” is a concept they use as their main theme in Made to Stick. It is the essence of getting our message to reside in people’s thought. It is how we get our reader’s attention and then keep that attention, while hopefully getting them to remember it after they’ve read it. I’ll admit, doing all that is not an easy task, but with the useful ideas in their book, Chip and Dan give us the necessary tools.

May 26, 2008 Posted by | writing | | Leave a comment

The Curse of Knowledge

Bob dials his phone with an index finger. Sue still owns a VCR. Bert listens to audio cassettes because he doesn’t “get” those new CD players. Have you ever faced the task of teaching someone like these people how to use the Internet? If you have, you’ve probably encountered the Curse of Knowledge.

The Curse of Knowledge is a concept defined by authors of Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath. “Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.” Said the brothers. “Our knowledge has ‘cursed’ us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.”

In other words, when I attempt to teach someone like Bob how to use the Internet, I need to remember what it was like for me to learn it, back before I knew what it was.

For people like us, in today’s technological existence, being adept with the Internet is a must. We feel as if we were born with this ability and can’t recall life before electricity. So how do we enlighten someone from the Dark Ages?

We start by forgetting what we know. This is what the Heath brothers teach us in Made to Stick. In this book, the brothers teach us how to transform our ideas in order to beat the Curse of Knowledge and communicate in an understandable way.

Now when you sit down to teach Bob how to use the Internet, you just might have to start by telling him what a mouse is – in the sense of the clicky thing that accompanies most computers nowadays.

May 26, 2008 Posted by | writing | | Leave a comment

Dealing With Criticism

Everyone hates being criticized. Most of us can deal it out, but hearing about our own faults is a different story.

Just like most people, I don’t like being criticized. It doesn’t matter who it’s from – family, friends, co-workers, classmates, teachers or employers.

Life, it seems, is full of critiques and lessons to be learned. During the early years of our lives we are in a structured learning environment: school. We tend to think that once we’re finished with school, we will be free from the oppression of learning. As I near the end of my college experience, I am realizing that is a false hope.

The truth is, we never stop learning. Opportunities to grow and be challenged will continue to confront us our whole lives. This is what life is all about, learning and growing so that we might help others. I have come to the conclusion that the sooner we learn to deal with criticism in a healthy manner, the better off we will be.

Two ways of dealing with criticism that I have learned include listening with humility, and not taking it personally. Pride can obstruct our ability to remain open to new ideas, especially when they involve our ego. Not taking things personally involves our self-esteem. Both of these options require practice and effort.

Are there any tips to handling criticism that you have learned?

May 19, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Speak now, write later

I jist niver did thunk I kid fale a interview b-kause I could’na talk raight.

That is probably the most confusing sentence you have read in a while. But it’s true. Just last week I had a job interview with Progressive Insurance. On monday someone called to give me my results.

“Your interviewers didn’t think you would be right for the job,” the lady on the phone told me. “They said you had some problems with your ‘diction’.” Of course I properly thanked her while I was on the phone, and told her I appreciated being considered for the job even though I wasn’t hired. Then I hung up the phone, completely dazed and confused. The longer I thought about it, the more it surprised me that it had never crossed my mind before.

Here in the Journalism School at the University of Oregon, students are taught to write. We practice and practice until our fingers fall off and our brains go numb. But when do we practice how to speak? Well, I naturally assumed that because I can write, that I can also speak. Not true! According to my interviewers, I “have problems with my diction.”

What should I do? I am afraid to open my mouth to speak anymore, lest I display my ignorance of the spoken word. Of all the reasons not to be hired, this was the one I least expected. In fact, I didn’t expect it at all. Are there any professionals, or students, out there with advice for me?

May 13, 2008 Posted by | social networking | , , | 3 Comments

What is writer’s block?

How many of us have sat down to write and couldn’t think of a thing to say? This happens to me all the time. Like today when I knew that I had three blog posts to catch up on.

My theory is that writer’s block is what happens in our brains as a result of chaos overload. What I mean by that I can explain with a small example. Whenever I really start to stress out – when I have too much homework, family problems, roommate disputes, etcetera – I start losing things. I misplace my car keys, I can’t find my wallet, and oh where is my favorite sweatshirt?!!!

I think writer’s block is a similar phenomenon. When our minds are cluttered with other thoughts, or running a list of unfinished tasks, our brains do not have enough RAM left to process anything else, like writing.

So what do we do? I find that the best way to conquer writer’s block is to clear off your workspace. Anything that is going on in your brain is taking away from your focus. I suggest making a list of things you need to get done, and give yourself a timeline too so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the list. I think you will find that by organizing your thoughts in this way, you are essentially optimizing your brain’s processing speed.

As a result, you will be able to focus more attention on the task at hand – writing. And, voila, no more writer’s block. Try it out and let me know if this works for you.

May 11, 2008 Posted by | daily issues | | 5 Comments

Customer Service: The Cornerstone of PR

So often in this crazed, time-and money-driven world, the most important thing is often overlooked; customer service. As someone who has worked in the customer service industry for seven years I can recognize good service when I see it. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more rare these days.

I can tell whether an individual has ever worked in customer service or not. Chances are, if they have, they are good tippers, they are respectful, and they know how to treat others in a kindly way. From a business perspective customer service is everything. Why then are employees on the “front line”, so to speak, allowed to treat customers with complete disrespect and utter disregard for their value.

Even the lowest man on the employee totem pole should understand the value of meeting the customer’s desires. If the customer isn’t happy, the customer will buy from someone else. If customers are taking their business elsewhere, your company will start losing money. If your company loses money, management starts cracking down on the employees, and in turn, the employees will become even more unhappy with their jobs. In the end, they will treat the customers – who they view as the cause of all their problems – with even less respect than before.

Today, I was pondering the value of the repeat customer and how simple it can be to cause someone to return to your business. Here are a few simple things that any employee can do to help. Treat each customer with the same respect that you would want to be treated. Allow the customer to express their frustration, but don’t take it personally. This will keep you from reacting in a negative way. Instead, listen attentively and offer help and sympathy. Sympathy is perhaps the most important quality to have in customer service. Customers don’t want to be treated like objects. They want you to understand their problem and make it better. If you can do that, you will win a customer for life.

Customer service is the basis for good public relations. It is the most basic level of learning to communicate and appreciating the customer – your livelihood. In my opinion, everyone should at some stage in their life, work in customer service. People would have so much more respect for each other, and everyone would be happier.

May 3, 2008 Posted by | customer service | 1 Comment

Roller Derby

Over the weekend, two friends and I dared to explore the exciting world of roller derby. Before the show, I had no idea what a roller derby was. I had heard an advertisement on the radio and thought that it sounded fun. So I rounded up a few friends and down we went.

The event was outrageous. I had never before seen anything like it. All of the women, in this girls-only sport, were dressed up in bright colors and skimpy outfits. Before the show they paraded around, engaging the audience, and selling their t-shirts and other paraphernalia.

The audience was just as entertaining to watch as the roller girls. I think every lesbian couple in Eugene must have been in attendance. Girls in the audience were wearing outfits mimicking the original style of the roller girls, and kids were running everywhere.

As I sat in the bleachers I heard the announcer say that the event was sold-out with 2,000 screaming fans. As I sat there looking around, I thought about how this event drew a very particular crowd. I wondered who marketed it. (I thought about how I had heard it on the radio.) Then I started – as I tend to do – to consider how I would have organized this event if I was the PR person in charge.

I liked how the roller derby girls engaged the audience, skated among the fans, and allowed people to take their pictures. What I didn’t like about the event was the speaker system. There were two announcers, and I couldn’t understand a word they said. There was loud music blaring during the entire, five-hour event, and I couldn’t hear the announcers’ voices over the music.

After the first quarter of the event I made an expedition to the one and only bathroom nearby. And boy was I glad I didn’t have an emergency! First, I had to stand in line for about 10 minutes, and that was just to get in the door. I thought that if I were planning this event, I would bring in some port-a-potties and have them set up outside.

Finally, my greatest critique of the event came during half-time. I don’t know whose idea it was to bring in four of the weakest break-dancers that I have ever seen. All I know is that almost any performers would have been more entertaining than they were.

As I continue to study public relations I find myself making observations like these everywhere I go. I hope that it’s a good thing. I like to think that I am exhibiting a natural tendency, or special talent, in public relations. Is anyone else in my class experiencing similar situations? Are you finding that you can’t stop thinking like a public relations professional? If you are, then I say, “Good for you! You are probably in the right field.”

April 30, 2008 Posted by | events | , | 1 Comment

How Much is Too Much?

Do you ever feel that as the world invents more and more ways to “stay in-touch” virtually that you are spending less and less time with people literally?

I asked myself this question after reading a blog post by Ben Benson. In his post Benson shared his experience using Twitter – yet another virtual network. After reading his blog post I counted all the ways that I “stay connected”: PR Open Mic, Facebook, MySpace, e-mail, blogging, text messaging. And now that almost everyone today owns a cell phone, never a second goes by that I don’t stay “connected”.

Stephanie McCulley made a great point in a recent blog about the addictive properties of virtual social networks. Not only do they allow us to keep up-to-the-second on gossip and social circles, but they provide us with a way to escape from our daily lives.

At what point does “staying connected” in a virtual sense detract from our ability, or desire, to stay connected in “real” life? Are we trying to avoid actual physical interaction with others, or do we truly prefer to use technology which may be pushing us further apart?

April 24, 2008 Posted by | social networking | 4 Comments