Olivia Pope in Scandal, ad men in Mad Men, lobbyists in Thank You for Smoking–familiar portrayals in the media tend to emphasize public relations professionals “fixing” or “spinning” (or lying!) in order to fight negative perceptions of their clients. Last Thursday, the CLASS Scholars were introduced to a somewhat different perspective on PR by Belmont Public Relations Professor Richard Rush and several current PR majors.
Dr. Rush showed the Scholars some examples of successful recent public relations campaigns like Coca-Cola’s “Happy Project,” in which coke machines on college campuses were specially fitted to provide vendees not only with soft drinks, but also bouquets of flowers, pizzas, and even a 6-foot submarine sandwich! The Scholars also got a look at the Blue Angels 360 project, which uses a number of camera angles to put people virtually into the cockpits of these incredibly skilled stunt flyers. Projects like these and others are more about creating a positive image for organizations and cultivating productive relationships than fixing problematic ones.
Examples of how public controversies over Cam Newton’s post-Super Bowl press conference and Adele’s Grammy performance were handled led into Dr. Rush’s discussion of the definition established by the Public Relations Society of America: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” It involves a strategic communication process involving research, planning, implementation, and evaluation. It also requires a great deal of flexibility and “learning on the fly,” according to Dr. Rush. He discussed his own experiences working in two different athletic departments, expanding his skills bases in photography and web design when those became necessary.
Current Belmont PR students then told their stories of how they came to study a subject most of them had not heard of–and certainly didn’t aspire to–when they were the Scholars’ age. Alex Murphy, for example, didn’t grow up wanting to be in Public Relations, but combined his love of the music business with skills in writing and now interns for All Eyes Media doing PR for artists including Jason Isbell. Haley Hall, Executive Director of Tower Creative Consultants (a PR firm run by students), wanted to do music, but discovered there were other things that she was good at and actually enjoyed doing more. She combined her interests in has worked at the Grand Ole Opry, among other places. Lindsey Barchent actually did know she wanted to do PR coming in because of a mentorship she got to do as a high school junior. She is currently one of a select group of students entered in the national Bateman Competition, working on a campaign raising awareness about the Student Veterans of America. Finally, Victoria Lewis dreamed of being on Broadway, but after learning about PR, she “got a new dream.” Through being a PR major, she has been able to travel around the country and ultimately has been elected as the National Vice President of Advocacy on the board of the Public Relations Student Society of America. She has also had the opportunity to work with clients like Amazon.
The Scholars had many questions for the presenters, including what kinds of minors they had and what they planned to do after graduation. The seminar closed with a discussion of whether, considering the public perception Dr. Rush mentioned at the beginning of the evening, PR itself has a PR problem. As it turns out, this is the very reason there is such an emphasis on ethics in PR programs and in the national society, as well as ongoing discussions in the profession of what constitutes “good” PR.