Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Private School Scandals and Public Relations

Last week in the New York Times Magazine,www.nytimes.com/2012/06/10/magazine/the-horace-mann-schools-secret-history-of-sexual-abuse.html?_r=1  an article appeared revealing a history of sexual abuse at the prestigious private preparatory school Horace Mann www.horacemann.org in New York City occurring 30 years ago that left lasting effects on many former Horace Mann Students. Incidents like these, and others are raising a lot of questions about how private school communities, and school communities in general, are communicating with their various constituents, and how best to respond to a public both internal and external that is use to, and expects open, transparent and inclusive interaction.
Private schools for the most part, are often thought of as being elite and insular and Horace Mann is no exception. Yet, despite a culture built on rigor and competition, Horace Mann is trying to convey a sense of compassion and openness. To help, they have engaged the efforts of their public relations firm, Kekst and Company to assist them as they navigate through this difficult communications obstacle course. While the head of Horace Mann was unavailable to the NewYork Times reporter for comment, the school did submit a statement expressing their concern and assuring their community that this type of behavior would not be tolerated today. The school also sent a letter to parents and students of the current Horace Mann community as well as a letter to alumni. Both of these letters are prominently displayed on the Horace Mann website and available to anyone. While these efforts are helpful, it is clear that more is needed. Judging by the New York Times blog, communities of people are gathering together online to discuss the matter and voice their views on a situation that has certainly touched many. In addition, the Bronx District Attorney has created a hotline for Horace Mann victims. Horace Mann should not wait too long to offer their own forums for discussion and opportunities for sharing as people will come together regardless of the school's involvement. Horace Mann would be wise to facilitate some of these gatherings and demonstrate an openness that they say more closely reflects the kind of school they are today. Horace Mann should take this opportunity to take a lead position in helping empowering young people to speak out and not be afraid.

Internet Addicts

Hofstra's Week Without the Web coming up April 4th raises some interesting issues about how deeply we are impacted by the Internet. In PR 102, a public relations class devoted to research and assessment, students have conducted focus groups and participant observations to see how social media is affecting the lives of students. Results will be available soon. In the meantime, check out this hilarious clip from "South Park," about how

Monday, March 7, 2011

Imagine Life Without the Web

Last week my niece and nephews came to visit. A special occasion indeed, as we rarely see them now that they are away at college or working. It was a happy family time filled with site seeing around New York City, complete with walking over the Brooklyn Bridge and eating pizza at the world famous Grimaldi's on the Brooklyn side. Mostly, we just hung out and enjoyed our extended family. But what was perhaps most noticeable this time was the overwhelming presence of the Internet and Facebook. If we were not actually engaged in physical activity, (skating at Wolman Rink or watching a play on Broadway) then out came computers or other mobile devices of choice, and everyone retreated into themselves and quickly connected to whomever was out there in cyberland. Somehow, although we were all loving being together, nobody could resist the lure of the Internet. Often times conversations had to be cut short as everyone found it difficult to focus on each other, and not on Facebook friends and or clients.  The scenario I describe here is surely not unique to my family and raises many interesting issues about how the Internet is impacting not only our family relationships but all our relationships. Imagine how different this family visit would have been without everyone constantly checking their Facebook status. Imagine what our life would be like without the Web.

Starting the week of April 4th, this is precisely what Hofstra School of Communication students will be exploring as they begin what is the first of its kind, a "Week Without the Web." www.facebook.com/pages/Week-Without-the-Web  Aimed at prompting students and faculty to contemplate the many implications that the Internet and social media in particular are having on our society, the week will include curriculum that embraces traditional technologies, films that explore the role the Internet has played in our lives, performance art, readings, research projects and videos. The highlight of the week however, will be that everyone will attempt to disengage from the Internet. YES, you heard correctly, students and faculty will try to conduct their daily life without the use of the Web. In fact, to underscore the level of difficulty, those people who succeed will don a bracelet that reads "Unplugged," while those who are slipping will be forced to show the other side of the bracelet which reads, "Plugged." I'll be keeping close tabs on the progress so stay tuned for more on the "Week Without the Web," at Hofstra University, School of Communication.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Developing Diverse Audiences for the Arts

I recently had an article published in PRSA's Tactics publication. Here are some excerpts from that article.

Part 1-

With the country’s population expected to change dramatically within the next twenty years, arts organizations from theater to dance to opera and museums are grappling with how to prepare for the urban landscape of the 21st century.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau,www.census.gov/, by the year 2050, the racial minority population of the United States is expected to exceed 50%, making the heart and soul of the country primarily African Americans, Latinos, Asians and other diverse groups.  Arts organizations that recognize this changing mosaic understand that to be successful they must make changes in programming that reflect the cultural interests of all of their constituents and create innovative outreach campaigns that speak to the individual needs of each group. Staying relevant to changing demographics is key if arts organizations want to continue to attract audiences and continue to play a vital role in society.

 “These are difficult times for the arts, “ said Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,www.kennedy-center.org/. “Arts organizations have limited resources and are reluctant to make the long term commitment that is imperative if they are to demonstrate that the arts are relevant to everyone.”

Between dwindling budgets and increased competition for audience attention, there is no question that there are many challenges. Diversifying one’s audience and learning to embrace the changing spirit of the country may offer some solutions if the arts are to continue to have relevance as an expression of the country’s collective cultural heritage. 

Until recently, arts organizations approached diversity outreach by hosting a handful of heritage days, presenting a few well-known productions by diverse artists and producing one time festivals, all with little or no attention to targeted marketing and public relations. Today, savvy arts organizations like the Kennedy Center and many others, are realizing that extending their reach further into targeted communities with innovative performances, and strategic marketing is having a real impact on attracting new and diverse audiences.

For Queens Theatre in the Park, (QTIP), queenstheatre.org/ whose primary role is to serve the borough of Queens in New York City, the biggest challenge was reaching the Latino and African American communities.  Latinos alone represent 25% of the borough’s population yet despite over 500,000 Spanish-speaking people they really had no connection to QTIP. “If you stood right in front of our building and asked Latin people where is Queens Theatre in the Park located, they wouldn’t know,” said Jeffrey Rosenstock, Executive Director of QTIP. “It was then that we truly understood that programming must reflect the target audience and give each community what they want to see.”

As a result QTIP began a month long festival providing Latinos the opportunity to see their own artists in a serious venue for the first time. A host of Latino performers from different countries were presented including a popular salsa dance company from Columbia that sold out immediately thanks to the help of buzz generated from a community outreach group made up of Columbian radio stations, newspapers, cultural attaches and others that tapped into the Columbian community both abroad and in Queens. Ten years later tactics like these and smart programming has made the festival more popular than ever year after year.

  “Infusing the work presented by arts organization with the local cultural dynamic of the community makes for a more interesting artistic profile and presents many more opportunities for growth,” said Karen Hopkins, President of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, (BAM) www.bam.org/. At BAM, connecting to local constituents is vital.  One of the ways that BAM achieves this is by partnering with smaller culturally specific companies and showcasing them as part of the Next Wave Festival. Through the Sounds of Brooklyn Festival as well, BAM partners with local clubs and groups providing smaller organizations more exposure and resources under the larger BAM umbrella.  

 Many organizations across the country including Alvin Ailey, the Miami City Ballet and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to name only a few, have been successful in eliminating barriers and making the audience part of the artistic process. These organizations recognize that embracing diverse forms of art and incorporating them into programs that are engaging to different communities is challenging but worth the long term effort. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

New York City Ballet Seeks to Humanize Dance and Connect Better to Audiences

 In an effort to reach out beyond its traditional audience base, the New York City Ballet has just launched an innovative communications campaign intended to bring audiences closer to their dancers by projecting their human side.  Audience research conducted by the New York City ballet consisting of focus groups, surveys and individual interviews revealed that audiences want more of a relationship with arts organizations. The public today really wants to connect with the institutions they support and the people that make up those institutions. Making art more accessible today means sharing the process of creation with the public and connecting with them on a more intimate level. 
"Our research showed clearly that making a stronger connection between the audience and the artist is something that would deeply enhance the audience experience and break down the veil between the audience and the dancers," said Katherine Brown, Executive Director. The new strategy includes preshow talks with dancers coming on stage in their everyday clothes, talking about personal thoughts on the dances, humorous stories, hobbies, interests and even company insider gossip. These new informal talks are intended to make audiences feel closer to the dancers and a more significant part of the evening's event. The campaign also includes a mini Web site, nycballet.com/dancers, dedicated to each principal dancer. A print advertising campaign is also underway to complement the effort and will include ads in subways and in publications depicting the dancers in a relaxed casual manner intended to appeal to younger New Yorkers the company hope will become the patrons of the future. Critics fear that all this accessibility could lessen the mystique of the ballet but in today's world with everyone's desire to connect, it seems like the right move at the right time. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Has Social Media changed the Public Relations Profession?-- Not Really

On friday I attended a fascinating public relations conference on what's next for social media and social networking. The day consisted of panels, presentations and discussions on the trends and innovations that are re-shaping public relations and the communications industry. Speakers included Ray Jordan, Corporate Vice President Public Affairs and Communications, Johnson & Johnson, www.jnj.com, Michael Bass, Senior Vice President, National Basketball Association,nba.com, Ray Kerins, Vice President External Affiars, Pfizer Inc. pfizer.com, Bryson Thornton, Senior Manager Marketing Communications, Del Monte Foods, delmonte.com, Josh Stoffregen, Manager Global Communications, Prudential Fianancial, Susan Getgood, author of Professional Blogging for Dummies and co-founder of Blog with Integrity, Jacalyn Lee, Public Relations Director, The Knot Inc. theknot.com

Interestingly, the take away for the day was that although companies are actively engaging in social media, social media has not profoundly changed the public relations profession. The public relations profession has always been about relationships and that has fundamentally stayed the same. The only thing that has changed says Bryson Thornton from Del Monte is that the vehicles that we communicate with have changed. "Today we need to be quicker and more nimble and we need to focus on providing interesting content," says Thornton, "Naturally, we need to include social media into our communication mix, but it has not changed the fundamental core of public relations."

While social media may not have changed the whole profession, it has certainly provided companies with a wonderful opportunity to engage more directly with customers. Each presenter shared some of the ways they are utilizing social media strategies to connect and learn from their different publics. Whether it's using blogs or web shows or twitter and facebook, it all comes down to content and relationships and understanding how different people want to be communicated with. Building relationships is still at the core of public relations but now in the digital age we need to communicate more frequently and more candidly.