So What Did You Learn at Conversations 2013?

A few weeks back I had the chance to volunteer at the CPRS National Conference. I made sure to listen, learn and take note of everything I could especially during all the insightful workshops and conferences I was able to attend. Throughout Conversations 2013, the conference doctrine was the need to add new dimensions and change PR by being smarter, better, and constantly ahead of the game in order to be able to critically assess and solve issues. The conference was planned to bring together and recognize industry people and their hard work. A sense of unity and hope was prevalent during the conference, as I listened attentively to each story.

The conference also re-enforced the need to overcome the age-old PR stereotype of labelling individuals as “spin doctors*”. This stereotype often forces young PR professionals to constantly defend their actions and deflect negative publicity and feedback. The creeping fear had created a common cause and enemy during the conference, whereas the only apparent solution was to develop new skills at an unreasonable pace. These unrealistic goals of workers trying to please everyone will, I suspect, lead to overexertion. I was both amazed and terrified by this common fear that created a feeling of camaraderie amongst the group. Instead of becoming robots, I propose we admit that we are human and aim for rational and attainable objectives. This push forward from our past to being truth-tellers is important. We must be open rather than complacent and teach others about our past experiences to grow in the future. Truth-be-told, I admit to having learned more about the spin doctor criticism during Conversations 2013 than in my actual classes. We can shake the spin doc image by owning up to our past and promoting our roles in the workplace.

In my opinion, after attending Conversations 2013, below are a few solutions to solidify our presence in the workplace:

1. Honesty – it’s not about promises, it is about delivery. If you are not genuine, it does not matter how smart you are – you won’t win anyone over. If you can’t handle your workload, don’t promise to “do more or be more”. It is better to be realistic.

2. Consideration and perception of the people you work with (co-workers or clients alike) add to the honesty factor.

3. Keep up with the spirit of good will and unity. It can’t just come and go at a conference. Continuous support makes things exciting on all fronts.

4. Create and implement a universal code of ethics for PR professionals. Teach it to students alike in our Media Ethic’s classes. Proper training leads to proper etiquette and even better performance.

5. If you want something you’ve never had before, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done before. CPRS achieved this through their insightful Mental Health Panel discussion.

6. Stress the need to monitor the content we post. One downfall from the conference I found was that it was more on social media itself than programs in measuring the value we give to companies.

7. Keep students interested. Whenever I use uOPRA as a channel to reach out to professionals, I keep tabs on the ones who raise the dialogue with me, and the companies that have a great work culture. As I’m sure most professionals do with potential employees, I flip the scripts and keep my options open. In a few years when we graduate, we’ll be attracted to the companies who are doing well and who we can challenge ourselves professionally with. The quality of our work is a reflection of not only of ourselves, but of our leaders. By helping us develop a sense of consciousness and deep understanding of the industry, our own roles as students or interns we remain interested.

At the end of the day, to me, Public Relations is a method to facilitate conversation, to spark or promote an idea, a company or an individual. CPRS was successful in delivering this in a conference jam-packed with great food and even better conversation. It was essential that I learned what stage we are in our industry, and even more important, to critically think for myself what options there are to move forward and defend my future career. I applaud the planning team for the seamless event, as it was a great introduction into the PR world. Overall I enjoyed the volunteering and the knowledge I’ve retained. I’m excited for the upcoming year!

Written by: Sharon Cheung

* Note: The term spin doctor is often used to describe public relations experts as well as political or corporate representatives whose job it is to put a “positive spin” on events or situations. If someone controls the spin, or direction, of an object, he is showing the sides of it that he wants to show while not shedding light on the rest. This is an old stereotype that most PR experts are not fond of. (http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-a-spin-doctor.htm)

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Calypso Waterpark: A Waterslide to Peril?

Summer is a time to embrace the short-lived warmth, have fun, and generally relax with friends and family. There are many outdoor activities that summer has to offer; ranging from food festivals, city tours, concerts, and etc., the list goes on. But when it gets too sweltering and an ice-cream cone does not cut it, luckily for Ottawa folk, Canada’s “biggest and best theme park”1 is a short commute away. Calypso Waterpark is best known for its hours of family friendly entertainment, on-site restaurants, and cool water activities. All fun and games aside, Calypso has recently been on the radar for safety issues, the first was a serious injury of a patron. The park is facing 20 charges since 2012 regarding not following protocol when patrons are injured, not having properly trained staff, and not having equipment up to safety standards.

As a result of the lawsuit, summer day camps and other programs have been put to a halt. The Technical Standards and Safety Authorities (TSSA), has finally cracked down on the theme park after a yearlong investigation. The TSSA has decided to fine the company with a substantial $1 million per charge laid. Calypso’s legal representative, Lawrence Greenspon, claimed the TSSA’s charges are “a surprising abuse of power”2 in their press release dated July 16th. Owner and operator, Guy Drouin, has a similar stance in regard to the many charges laid against the waterpark. Drouin claims that since the parks opening in 2010, they have worked closely with TSSA and Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU). The TSSA’s main task is to oversee operations in regards to the waterslides, whereas EOHU is more involved with managing pools, basins, water quality, restaurants, and lifeguards. According to the owner, the park has undergone several on-site inspections and would not have been able to remain licensed and open unless they were following rigorous safety guidelines and procedures. Calypso appears to be defensive about the situation and attempting to justify the problem by reminding patrons if it weren’t safe, they would not be open.

This is a classic example of crisis management. Every company, big or small, at one point will face an issue that gets them into trouble. There are a few techniques that are well known in the Public Relations world in handling crises. First in crisis management, the number one factor to consider is time. Time is not always on your side. At the onset of a company disaster, the first thing to do is to release information to the public to ensure their general safety. By doing so, a company will help to deter any rumors that may degrade their reputation further; which in turn will help to address the issue, help to reduce the amount of lost revenue, and most importantly restore its reputation. In crisis management, there is no precise structure to handling a disaster, but there are a few guidelines.

Since trouble is unpredictable, it is up to an organization to be prepared and expect one. The first step in crisis management is establishing a crisis management team in the “pre-crisis phase.” During this phase, organizations should seek to minimize factors that could lead to a crisis. This involves a PR team that is able to prepare a plan and put it into action if necessary. The main duties of a crisis management team are to:
1. Prepare a crisis management plan and update it yearly
2. Establish a skilled team to deal with crises
3. Train the members of the team and conduct exercises to test their skills and to ensure they are up to date
4. Draft pre-approved messages from legal personnel as a template in case of the rise of a crisis
This first phase is crucial as it prepares organizations for unexpected disasters. At this time, an organization is able to test their templates and perfect it in case an emergency arises.

Next, the “crisis response” mode is the time for a management team to put their plans into use. At this particular stage an organisation must follow these crucial steps in order to maintain public safety, target its main stakeholders, and to save face.
1. Notifying internal sources as well as the public
2. Monitoring systems
During this phase, an organization is expected to make a public statement about the issue on various platforms. Throughout the crisis, the company must ensure that any facts being distributed are true. There are a few well-known tactics to dealing with these factors. Due to the fact Calypso’s issue is still new; they are currently in this phase. As mentioned earlier, one of the most important parts of crisis management is maintaining a good reputation. The following chart showcases some effective strategies organizations use to uphold their credibility when crisis strikes.

Technique: Attack Accuser
Explanation: Confronts the person or groups claiming there is a problem with the organization

Technique: Denial
Explanation: Crisis manager assures there is no problem

Technique: Scapegoat
Explanation: Blames a person or group outside the organization for the problem

Technique: Excuse
Explanation: Minimizes organizational responsibility by denying intent to harm or claiming inability to prevent events that initiated the problem
• Crisis was a response to someone’s actions
• Lack on information on events leading to onset of crisis
• Lack of control of events leading to crisis
• Had good intentions

Technique: Justification
Justification: Minimizing the perceived damage

Technique: Reminder
Justification: Reiterates to stakeholders the good work organization has done in the past

Technique: Ingratiation
Justification: Praises stakeholders for their actions

Technique: Compensation
Justification: Offers money or gifts to victims

Technique: Apology
Justification: Indication the organization takes full responsibility for the crisis and asks forgiveness

This is essential because during this phase, the press and the public can easily be misinformed and facts can easily be misconstrued. It is vital that an organization have a central message and attempt to remove any false information to ensure credibility.

Once the crisis has blown over, the final stages of crisis management are:
1. Assessing the situation
2. Finalizing and adapting key messages
3. Analysis, this is seen as a learning period.
Since Calypso is still in the midst of their fiasco, we are unable to determine if they have learned their lesson as of yet. On the bright side, Calypso was able to respond to the charges in a reasonable amount of time. They were able to come up with a press release one day following the publication of their unsafe practices. To me it seemed they were a bit defensive in their press release. Reminding me of how much fun Calypso is does not excuse the fact that they have received 20 charges against them, however if it were just one or two violations I might feel differently.

For a more in-depth look at crisis management, check out these websites:

1. http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com/articles/10-steps-of-crisis-communications.html
2. http://www.instituteforpr.org/topics/crisis-management-and-communications/

Footnotes:

1. http://www.calypsopark.com/files/8613/7416/7579/E13-Calypso_ResponseTSSA-AN.pdf
2. http://www.calypsopark.com/files/5413/7416/6892/E13-Calypso_Statement-AN.pdf

– Nani Moleko

SPOTLIGHT: Canadian Public Relations Society

In the Public Relations industry, networking is crucial for a successful career. Founded in 1948, Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) is an organization that strengthens networks for those in PR. The society is composed of men and women who practice Public Relations in Canada and abroad. CPRS has fourteen societies based in Canada’s major cities including Ottawa. CPRS strives to connect public relations professionals together to foster their interests as well as regulate the practice for the benefit and protection of the public interest. The society, governed by an elected board of twelve individuals who are selected annually from the previous board, is the perfect way to meet others in the PR field both in Ottawa and on a national or global scale.

In addition to aiding PR professionals, CPRS can be very beneficial for students looking to enter the field. Each society across Canada holds professional development events, seminars and networking opportunities that are open to students and professionals alike. These events not only educate on what is happening in CPRS but also in the profession as a whole. With numerous events being held, students are given the opportunity to get their foot in the door and gain experience while meeting new people.

One former Public Relations student who has benefited from the CPRS is Lea Werthman. Lea joined CPRS as a student member while studying Public Relations at Algonquin College back in 1985. Today, she is President-Elect of the board – meaning next year she will be President. She decided to join the board of members because she liked the idea of doing “PR for PR”, and became very involved in planning the national conference which was held here in Ottawa this past June.

When asked to comment on her favourite event, Lea raved about her experiences at the national conference (though she admits she may be a little biased based on her involvement this year). She’s been to five of the conferences now and relates them to a “summer camp” experience. Specific to the Ottawa society, her favourite event is “PR in the Pub” which happens every fall. It is essentially like speed dating where PR professionals and communications students have the chance to mingle and discuss what they do and why they love PR. Lea says the event makes her “infected with the energy and enthusiasm of a bunch of young PR pros who share my passion. It’s a great event!” Other events this year included seminars on social media in Government communications, strategic internal communications and a PR boot camp to name a few.

Though there is an annual fee to join the society, there is a discounted price for full time and part time students enrolled in a Public Relations program. Becoming a member gives you access to all of the exclusive events, awards, and volunteer opportunities. The society is also looking into creating a new mentoring program where students and professionals will be able to learn from each other. While teaching at Algonquin College over the years Lea saw students make connections through CPRS – which translated into co-op placements and job offers. She has also offered to act as a reference to any of the student volunteers who helped with the national conference this year. CPRS is an excellent way to gain experience, meet new people, and build your resume.

If you aren’t ready to make the financial commitment to join CPRS, you can still go out to one of their events and get to know the members. When asked about going to networking events Lea responded “I have a little secret for you: we love to talk about ourselves. So never be intimidated about striking up a conversation with one of us at the next event you attend – just ask us what we love about PR, and our relationship will bloom from there”. To find out more on CPRS or if you’re interested in becoming a member, you can email info@cprsotttawa.com or visit http://www.cprs.ca.

– Amber Gillan

SPOTLIGHT: iABC Ottawa

YOU should get involved this semester. I’ll explain why.

The International Association of Business Communicators (iABC) Ottawa Chapter, is an international not for profit organization, founded in 1970, bringing together communications professionals throughout Ottawa. Built up of both professionals and students, iABC Ottawa assists communications and marketing professionals to expand on their careers through various hosted workshops and events.

Volunteers and members are essential in running all iABC events and general operations. Volunteers and members have the chance to work in groups and under board members, depending on their abilities and availability, assisting with various iABC tasks, workshops and events. This is a great way for students to develop skills, expand their portfolios, gain experience, learn from those within the industry, and meet potential future employers.

Every year iABC hosts 1215 various workshops and events, all revolving around communications and marketing. Events may involve meet ups and discussions with other industry professionals, as well as workshops hosted by professional speakers on topics such as important communications and social media developments. On March 6th 2013, iABC Ottawa hosted a FREE event for students titled What To Do When You Graduate. The workshop featured an expert panel, and was set up to help communications and marketing students develop an idea of what opportunities would be available for them post-graduation.

Tara Lapointe, is currently entering her second year as an iABC board member, as the head of marketing communications. Having been a member of iABC throughout her 17 year career Tara claims that “[iABC is] always trying to provide added value to our members and to be as relevant and cutting edge in the changing Communications landscape.” Kaleigh Maclaren, a past uOttawa graduate has also gained from her membership with iABC, greatly expanding her network, and now sitting as secretary on the board.

iABC is a great way for current students to get a head start within the communications and marketing industry of Ottawa, before even graduating. Students who are interested in volunteering, or signing up for a membership, which is only $49.00 in comparison to the $314.00 professional fee.  are strongly encouraged to visit the following link: http://ottawa.iabc.com/membership/membership-types/student-membership/

Written by: Jocelyn Courneya

Public Relations: A Bigger, Brighter Future

Why did you choose PR?

Recently, I’ve been contemplating reasons of why students should love public relations. It’s not that it’s a hard question; more so, the PR industry has an unlimited list of what it has to offer. As I sit here thinking about my first year at university and what I have learned, I gather 5 main reasons to why I enjoy PR.

#1. Common sense

Although it seems as though common sense is, well, common sense – you would be surprised to know that it is something to be acquired. Communication is by far the most important thing you’ll ever need to learn, as Virgina Satir once said, “Communication is to a relationship what breathing is to maintaining life”. In other words, it is impossible to not communicate, but, if you do not know how to communicate properly you could run into some serious troubles. Relationships can deteriorate, there is potential for employment risks, and common sense will have become limbo. Building relationships is key to PR, so by taking communication classes, which just so happens to be 100% mandatory while specializing in public relations at uOttawa, you’ll be able to learn common sense, making you one of the most i-n-t-e-l-l-i-g-e-n-t people on earth. Kudos!

#2. Krēāˈtivitē

A lot of careers don’t allow you any room for creativity, but I can’t say the same about PR. In fact, the public prefers creativity over bland, and PR is all about relating to the public, hence, public relations.

#3. Stick-to-itivness

PR has taught me to be aggressive, be-e, aggressive! Not in the cursing and yelling at your neighbours kind of aggressive, more of the getting things done aggressive. Being a PR student is hard and can at some points be frustrating, but let’s face it, this is the main reason you joined the program. This fortune cookie says, ‘when you are faced with a challenge you are determined to see it to completion’.

#4. What do Lady Gaga, Stephen Harper and Oprah all have in common?

They all have PR specialists to help promote their careers. Maybe we haven’t reached that point in our careers to work alongside politicians or important entertainment figures but if you stay in PR with PR always on your mind, you’ll build important relationships that may help you later on in your career. Opportunities can arise and you might get the chance to meet amazing people whether it’s on the red carpet with popular celebrities or here in Ottawa. Start out by volunteering for local organizations like the iABC and CPRS and you’ll stay connected while adding a face to a name.

#5. Variety

Are you a good writer? Maybe you’re good at public speaking? Or creating presentations? Wait! I know, you’re into fashion! No other career is as versatile as Public Relations is. There are industries within the PR industry and with this profession you have the opportunity to work in a job you love and find a place where you best fit in. Hey, maybe all of it is best for you. You are one versatile person!

So there you have it. These are all the things I love about PR and this is just what I’ve learned in the first year of university! The only negative that I can find is its upbringing. 50 years ago public relations started at the bottom, and I mean way low only because people couldn’t categorize it – it was an ongoing identity crisis. What was PR? Was it human resources? Was it communications? Was it an art? But the scariest question ever, was it propaganda? Propaganda has a pretty obvious definition but Harold Laswell, famous communications theorist, put it perfectly,
“Propaganda is the control of opinion by significant symbols, or, so to speak, more concretely and less accurately by stories, rumours, reports, pictures, and other forms of social communication. There is a need for a word which means the making of a deliberately one-sided statement to a mass audience. Let us choose ‘propaganda’ as such a word.”

OK, so it may be true that public relations is still to this day having an identity ‘issue’ but it is safe to say that it is no longer a ‘crisis’. There are many different definitions everywhere you look but they all have similarity, the CPRS defines Public Relations as: “the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest” (Flynn, Gregory & Valin, 2008). This is the common definition everyone knows, just worded differently. Immediately you can tell that propaganda is nothing like public relations. In fact, public relations experts are working hard to create audience participation workings such as the Web 2.0, where working with mass audience is the goal. There are no “one-sided statements”, PR professionals work hard to get everyone’s side and everyone’s opinions. Part of the job is getting to know the public, not getting the public to know PR.

Speaking of not getting the public to know PR, I believe that in 5 years from now this will not be the case, public relations will be one of the most top rated careers with a solid definition. While PR specialists work best behind the scenes, I still think we’re soon going to be greatly recognized and praised as one of the world’s top career choices. Students should enroll in a Public Relations program in university or college because it’s still a growing industry with plenty of job opportunities. They should study PR to add to the growing definitions of the profession. The world of public relations is moving towards a bigger and brighter future. Come join it!

Written by: Channelle Labelle-Viens
Edited by: Sharon Cheung