Citizen Journalists: Authors of the First Rough Draft of History?

As public relations’ practitioners, we must be prepared not only present information on behalf of an organization to our stakeholders, but also for them to reply with their side of the story. Increasingly, practitioners are seeing stakeholders challenge the narrative through the publication of blogs and microblogging (e.g. Twitter). It is important to consider how these technologies impact the work of professional communicators.

The role of the citizen journalist has an important place in society, and professional practitioners would be wise to recognize this. Citizen journalism can often be the leading edge of sparking a conversation about important topics to raise awareness and possibly, bring about change.

However, the ease with which anyone can start a blog, it can be difficult to determine what is noise and what is not.

According to, there are nearly 392 million blogs which have been published, including this one! In reviewing the data on blog, that number only increases year after year. But unfortunately, for the reader not all of them have quality and/or relevant content. However, for those writers for whom have something important to say, in the ability for a single person to speak out from darkness to shine a light on key issues, there is power.

In this week’s post, we review the impact of the published writings of everyday people and how they can lead to greater awareness.

Modern: A Diary by “Gul Makai,” a BBC Blog

In 2009, a 14-year-old girl began blogging for the BBC after she and other girls were banned from schools because of their gender. She blogged under the name of Gul Makai, a pen name. For Malala Yousafzai, the blog became an outlet to the world to speak out on the Taliban limiting of a generation of girls achieving their full potential.

Her series of blog posts share in vivid detail what life was like for at the time in Swat, Pakistan. The isolation from an education she loved and her fear for an uncertain future.

“I am upset because the schools are still closed here in Swat. Our school was supposed to open today. On waking up I realised the school was still closed and that was very upsetting.” – Malala Yousafzai

Yousafzai, an international education advocate, became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17, and has since started a foundation to continue her work.

Read more of Yousafzai’s blog posts.

Retro: Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

I was in ninth grade when I read Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl. I know this because I remember being about the same age as her when she wrote in captivating detail about her life as a Jewish person hiding inside the Secret Annex during 1940s’ Amsterdam. From behind a rotating bookshelf, Frank detailed what life was like for her and seven others living in silence. Her diary was the one place she could use the full power of her voice to tell the story of how Nazi occupation affected her life. Wise beyond her years, she had much to say.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” –Anne Frank

This young woman wrote of love, hope, maturing and more through of one history’s darkest moments. She shone a light on making the world a better place, even if it is in your own little corner of the world.

Frank’s dream of becoming a book author was realized when her father published her diary in 1947, which has since been translated into more than 70 languages worldwide.

Learn more about Frank’s life.

Final Thoughts

Blogs seem to be the great equalizer—giving everyone a voice. However, the role of the citizen journalist done effectively can be a chronicler in real time of events on the ground. Oftentimes, these citizen journalists provide a perspective that a traditionally-trained journalist just can’t match: the raw emotion of a story told in first person by the one living it. The ability to share from the human condition in a raw emotion is served best by being uncensored.

Frank described it like this in her diary: “Because paper has more patience than people.”

The writings of both Yousafzai and Frank highlighted what life was like during the occupation of their respective communities. Amid the isolation of the situation, both looked to moments of normality as a sign of better days to come. Tragically, for Frank, that day never came, but her words are immortal.

Both journalists and citizen journalists have the ability and the responsibility for shaping the narrative on a given topic for generations to come. It is from these accounts that historians can add layers of color to the geo-political issues affecting the world around us.

Many journalists give former Washington Post President and Publisher Philip L. Graham credit for being the first to describe journalism as “the first rough draft of history.” – Jack Shafer,

Certainly, this is the role Yousafzai and Frank played in telling their own story.

In the March 2014 edition of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the article, Citizen Journalism: Valuable, Useless or Dangerous, points to citizen journalism as being a double-edged sword. For the awareness that citizen journalists can bring to a topic, the information presented may not be told from an objective point of view:

Citizen journalists have provided real-time descriptions of events and subcultures seldom if ever covered adequately by traditional media. However, the absence of journalistic background, editing, and quality control have often led to biased, inaccurate, low-quality pieces.

Something that can lead to more confusion for the reader is something that may lead them there in the first place: good design. According to Julia McCoy of, a highly-polished blog equates to credibility to the reader who may assume the blog has more credibility than it should.  This is may contribute to the reason people have trouble discerning fact from fake when information is presented in a blog format as compared to its more traditional news media sources.

All the more reason for professional communicators to understand this as they are preparing a strategic response.


The Purpose Behind Your Practice

For professional communicators, the challenge remains: how best can we communicate with our stakeholders? As a practitioner, I consider myself to have a strong knowledge base of incorporating social media into practice. In my office, I have a vintage Underwood typewriter and a vintage camera as reminders that if practitioners before me had less sophisticated tools and were able to produce quality content, what’s my excuse?

These two items are not mere decoration; they are a challenge to me to up my game each day.


Items in my office

The journey to locate these two items wasn’t easy, and that’s what makes the story itself worthwhile. I told a coworker that I was seeking a vintage typewriter to decorate in my new office a few years back. She and a friend went to an outdoor flea market, where the vendor had a typewriter for sale. She asked the price, thinking she’d would buy it and I would pay her back. He told her (because she was an Alabama Crimson fan) sporting her gear): the cost would be $50. Incensed, her Auburn Tigers’ fan friend (sporting her gear), asked the price and he replied $25.

The friend of a friend bought it and gave it to me.

THIS is why I say on this blog good storytelling is always in style. It helps us feel connected. In this week’s Modern Retro PR, we example the purpose behind your practice.

Modern: Facebook’s Changing Algorithm

Lately, every PR-type or blogger has been offering his or her hot take on how communications professionals can be successful in light of Facebook’s change in algorithm. This won’t be another one of those blogs offering advice, but embedded in the science of the change is the best practice of the profession.

As social creatures, we value interaction. Social media offer that, in albeit a superficial way. To address that, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a January 11, 2018 post:

 “(W)e’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

For organizations, this new direction should help practitioners refocus their work in providing content that is meaningful to the stakeholder and motivating to share. It can be done.

Understanding this, my team and I determined that a strong story would be helpful in communicating a particular message the strength of the schools in our community. In developing our communications strategy, we helped our coworkers understand their role as brand ambassadors among their friend and family circles who would value their opinion. That compelling content was shared repeatedly with colleagues, parents, and others in our community—catapulting it to high engagement numbers.

See for yourself:

CHS data.png

Numbers like these outperform our typical posts ten-fold!

According to Pew Research, more than 60 percent of Millennials gets their (political) news from Facebook, as compared to more traditional news sources, like television. This is a crucial tidbit for school systems, as the parents of our students are increasingly in the Millennial generation.

People want to feel connectivity. Social media can provide that avenue. Plus, it makes good business sense to help stakeholders understand your organization’s purpose!

Retro: The Page Principles

The origins of this work in the age of social media can be found in the work and speeches of the godfather of corporate communications and former AT&T executive Arthur Page. Although Page did not author the principles bearing his name, it is based off his life’s work and was adopted by the Arthur Page Society:

  1. Tell the truth.
    2. Prove it with action.
    3. Listen to stakeholders.
    4. Manage for tomorrow.
    5. Conduct public relations as if the whole enterprise depends on it.
    6. Realize an enterprise’s true character is expressed by its people.
    7. Remain calm, patient and good-humored.

Regardless, of the medium used with which to communicate, this is solid advice!

For the purposes of this post, let’s dig into principle six a bit more.

The strongest opinions — good or bad — about an enterprise are shaped by the words and deeds of an increasingly diverse workforce. As a result, every employee — active or retired — is involved with public relations. It is the responsibility of corporate communications to advocate for respect, diversity and inclusion in the workforce and to support each employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, knowledgeable ambassador to customers, friends, shareowners and public officials. –Arthur Page Society

In short, the responsibility of public relations doesn’t just belong to the PR pro—it belongs to each employee of an organization. Further, the organization must demonstrate a solid measure of respect for its employees by recognizing their right to know and be part of a strategic communications’ effort.

Final Thoughts

Leaders of today know and embrace this fact, by using social media. Savvy leaders ensure that it is being done. It is likely highly Facebook employees were aware of the changes in the algorithm, but what Zuckerberg did in his public post was to widen the circle to share directly with Facebook users.

Page was ahead of his time. His work recognized that the strongest asset of any organization is its people. This underscores why it is important for communications’ practitioners to incorporate this in to the strategy section of an effective plan.

Evidence of this can be found in surveys on workplace culture, too. Tolero Solutions, a human resources outfit, found that nearly half of people “say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting their work performance”. This is easy to remedy! In fact, the answer to this workplace challenge is the same that will help brands be successful in the age of the new Facebook algorithm: share the content!

Zuckerberg’s bet is the change to the social network will bring people closer together and help them feel more connected to the stories in their lives. It also seems that same practice can offer a communicator a blueprint for business.

[NOTE: Should you want to watch video we posted to social media, view it here as to not artificially inflate the video’s analytical data on Facebook.]


Out Of An Abundance of Caution

My work as a school public relations practitioner often has me trying to figure out how best to communicate exactly what it is I do. A few years ago, I started telling students, teachers, and parents alike, that I’m the one who calls your house to cancel school. That answer usually gets a few laughs and is a great icebreaker for public speaking.

Stakeholders associated with my school district claim that there are six words they long to hear when school officials determine school should be canceled due to inclement weather. Apparently, my catch phrase letting people know that the decision was made was done so “out of an abundance of caution.”

I now have my very own catchphrase mug that I plan to use in the event of inclement weather.

That phrase became so popular that I stopped saying it for about three years, fearing it was a joke. Recently a colleague gave me with my very own catchphrase decal as a gift, which another colleague placed on a coffee mug for me.

The phrase is now back in the rotation. Earlier this month, I used a mobile-first strategy to cancel school for families and employees, sending messages to their voicemail, text message, app, Facebook, Twitter and our website at the same time. In less than five minutes, I sent that message to more than 10,000 stakeholders, including members of the media.

In this week’s Modern Retro PR, we’ll examine the means of the messaging and how organizations can use it as part of a mobile-first strategy.

Modern: Predictive Dialing

In just over a decade, the number of Americans with a cellphone of some kind has increased more than 30 percent, according to Pew Research Center. That number now stands at 95 percent! Beyond that, the same survey found that almost eight in 10 use a smartphone. For communication practitioners, these are key pieces of data. This means communicators have the ability to reach audiences nearly instantaneously!

Predictive dialing is the technology behind automated phone messages.  It is the very same technology school districts around the nation use to cancel school in the event of inclement weather. Recently, there has been a rash of winter weather, which prompted many school districts to cancel school using their automated phone messaging systems.

An organization’s representative can log into web-based system, determine which people associated with the organization need which messages and the means in which the messages can be disseminated.

This (some-times annoying) technology got its start in the late 1980s.  This technology has morphed into being able publish content across multiple platforms simultaneously to specific audiences.  Additionally, communicators can use the technology to identify a geographic region in which to broadcast a particular message.

Retro: Calling Trees

As a child, I remember well what the experience was like to get the call that school was canceled. My parents, who were both schoolteachers at different schools in my hometown, would each receive a phone call from a designated coworker and then be expected to call their own small groups of coworkers. Not terribly efficient, but it could be effective as long as the message was relayed correctly.

Because branches of the phone tree can be broken (i.e. contacts leave the organization or no longer want to participate), it’s advised to test the phone tree at least once per year make sure it works effectively and to fix any broken connections.

This is about as low-tech as one could get.

But as an elementary student, I didn’t care: the message got through loud and clear that we had no school that day.

Curious how to build your own phone tree? Learn more.

Final Thoughts

In this day and age, organizations should include a mobile-first strategy in their communications efforts. There’s good reason, too: interconnectivity. Author Priya Viswanathan summed it up this way in a 2017 blog post: “The mobile user is always online and can access the Internet from wherever he or she may be.”

This level of connection allows audiences to build trust with an organization, and trust can build brand loyalty by improving the level of customer service offered. Additionally, organizations are finding that mobile-first is a “necessary means to communicate and remain competitive.”

So, why not embrace it?

The trends point to mobile-first capabilities as becoming big business to include mobile commerce. A 2016 survey by Business Insider “forecast that m-commerce will reach $284 billion, or 45% of the total U.S. e-commerce market, by 2020.”

This is a huge opportunity for business: to be in the back pocket (or pocketbook) of their consumers. These kinds of mobile-technologies offer real-time data points for businesses: likes, location, demographics and more.

Fifteen years ago, some consumers were wary of mobile technology in favor of bricks-and-mortar businesses. Today, my family and I visited the local mall where many of the storefronts and food court restaurants were empty and dark; one of the anchor stores was having a going-out-of-business sale offering upwards of 60 percent off the regular price.

Times are clearly changing. While it was once understandable that consumers were cautious about this trend, it’s time for businesses to cast the caution to the wind and fully embrace mobile first. Failure to do so could mean those businesses and industries will find themselves in their last days.


It goes without saying that mobile-first technology can be an effective strategy as part of crisis response. Just this week, I had an emergency at work that including my need to call multiple families at once to make them aware of the situation and to provide an update to the status of their children. Thankfully, all was well, but that was the most terrifying call I have ever had to make.

In that moment, our public relations department, which has a solid reputation among our stakeholders, needed to determine how we communicate this very important message and quickly. We ultimately decided to use the automated messaging system to call multiple families and text them with the basic details: their children were safe and my direct line phone number.

The parents, with whom I spoke, appreciated our communication efforts and the fact that we reached out to them through a variety of means.

Love It or Hate It: Big Data

Big data—you either love it or hate it. As a public relations practitioner, I have come to fall into the category of loving it! I have found that it just makes me that much more effective at accomplishing communication goals. In fact, I think I have carved out a niche for myself working in school public relations for using data generated by the school system to inform my decision-making. Plus, it makes it easier for me to determine whether or not I have been successful. For me, the use of data by communicators is a hallmark of a practitioner being on his or her game. Fail to use it and I want to read into what one is presenting to understand their (lack of) methodology.

Think I haven’t done it? Just Ask my #schoolPR colleagues with whom I regularly participate in a moderated Twitter chat with that can be found by searching the hashtag #k12prchat. If you could see and hear them when you asked the question about me, you’d probably get an eye roll and a collective groan.

Yes, put me in the “love it” category!

If you work for a large organization, then you know your company collects many, many pieces of data no matter what industry for which you work. It’s no different for the love industry. In this week’s Modern Retro PR, I am drawn to a case study I first learned about through a now-canceled podcast, called “Undone,” and produced by Gimlet Media in 2016.

The episode, “Operation Match,” billed itself like this:

“Before Tinder, before eHarmony, before the internet, there was Operation Match. This is the story of the roots of online dating, when, in 1965, a computer the size of a van helped people find their perfect dates.”

Click to listen to this episode of Undone here.

Modern: Online matchmaking apps and websites

At the turn of the century, online dating had a stigma—that something was “wrong” if you needed to go online and find a date. I recall two people I went to college with who used me as their cover story for meeting when they really met online. (During their process of getting to know one another, they each realized they both knew me.)

These days, no one would think twice about telling others they met their partner online. In fact, Pew Research has seen the momentum shift since they first began measuring this topic in 2005. Since that point, 13 percent fewer people would categorize “people who use online dating sites as desperate.” See table below as indicated by three separate administrations of the survey by Pew in 2005, 2013 and 2016, respectively.


Unfortunately for my friends, they met prior to Pew’s first popping the question of American adults, and hence the way they told their story of how they met.

But for all those looking for love on websites/apps like e-Harmony, Match, Tinder, Grindr and the like, endless amount of data are needed to find the perfect match. In 2017, Pew Research found that 15 percent of American adults have used online dating services. Consider that each person shares vitals like name, photographs, height, weight, age, dating preferences, vocation, etc., that is copious amounts of data!

Each keystroke or click of a mouse represents data that someone is hoping to find them “The One.”

But it hasn’t always been as easy as to swipe right or left for love.

Retro: Operation Match

In the 1960s, college students looking for love would attend a mixer and hope to meet someone. Unfortunately, there is a lot of variables at stake with a mixer. Let’s face it, it was probably not ideal for an introverted college student or for someone who lived in an area with what they felt to be limited options.

survey question

Interested to see what matchmaking looked like in 1965? Here is one question from the questionnaire developed by Harvard University students. Want to see more of the survey? Click to view

In the spring of 1965, a group of college students from Harvard University decided to create shake up the process and let a computer do the work. It all started with a 100-question survey that yielded information on a potential suitor’s background and attitudes. Those answers would be put into a computer which would generate a list of names and phone numbers of possible dates.

According to an article published in The Harvard Crimson in 1965, the number of approximately 70,000 American students who sent in “three dollars and a completed questionnaire” was cited.

Final Thoughts

Although I didn’t meet my mate online, more and more people are. In fact, the popular wedding website The Knot found that in 2017, 19 percent of brides had met their mates online. Statistically speaking, that number could easily increase.

Love is, apparently, big business. A 2017 report from IBISWorld indicated that the online dating industry is now a $3 billion a year business. That number could increase as Pew Research found in 2016 that the trend for online dating increased slightly, with 12 percent of Americans ever having used a dating site.

When considering Moore’s Law and the idea that the “power of technology hardware doubles every 18 months,” a great example can be found in the world of computer-assisted matchmaking. The number of people looking for their match has been multiplied more than 500 times as compared to the statistic cited in the Retro example in The Harvard Crimson. The rough math of the number of people using online dating help tops more than 37 million people! That number mushroomed in just more than 50 years!

At this rate, the technology has to continue improving with an uptick in the number of users—that’s with only 15 percent of the population using the services. What happens if more year for tugs of their heart strings via an app? The technology must continue to improve.

However, online matchmaking isn’t all just science, it’s art, too. Data aside, even with a computer-calculated odds of a successful match, there is one thing a computer just can’t replicate: an on-target strike of Cupid’s arrow to the heart.

Media Mania & Emerging Technology

I learned how to be a journalist in the late nineties. One of my class assignments was to use a telephone book and a curly-que-tailed phone to find and call sources. At my first job, I was expected to know how to navigate my way around the city using a large map book in the news vehicle.

Six months after graduation, the reporters in my shop were being asked to become “convergence journalists” and report on television, a regional newspaper, and the internet at the same time.

Some of my colleagues balked. “We are TV reporters,” some declared. “Why would I put my work on the internet at lunch when the news doesn’t come on until 5 p.m.?” others asked. It was no better at the regional newspaper where the print reporters would refuse to share their story on television because “nobody brought a brush” to brush their hair before going on the evening news.

Three months later, 9/11 happened.

That was nearly 17 years ago and I was on the front lines of a shift in journalism and clearly remember the panic it caused in my newsroom. Now, a reporter needs smartphone with a strong signal and a full battery.

As the world around us changed, the newspaper industry stayed the course, belatedly posting content in text-laden, visually uninteresting stories and giving away the proverbial milk for free.

I am most likely at the midpoint of my career and the traditional news industry is fighting for its life. Media companies are rethinking the way they are doing business. Nowadays, to see a print reporter on television is commonplace; in fact, many journalists have built followings by offering live updates to their reporting throughout the day via Twitter. This was unthinkable when I started my career (and to be honest, some of my colleagues would have out-right refused!).

The use of mass notification during crisis has been a topic for this blog before. In this edition of Modern Retro PR, I noted a correlation between two incidents of causing mass panic through the medium of the day.

Modern: Hawaii Ballistic Missile Push Notification Alert

This weekend, residents and visitors in Hawaii were informed through mobile push notifications that a ballistic missile was headed their way. People in Hawaii thought the world was coming to an end, sheltered in place, and told their loved ones goodbye.

People in Hawaii waited for more information from the state government through the channel that sent the first harrowing message: their cell phones. But nothing came. So they turned online to glean any information they could, only to learn that 38 minutes after the initial text message, their lives were never in jeopardy.

It turned out the push notification was sent as the result of human error—a mistake.

Error or not, it was a panic-inducing event playing out in real time, online.

Taylor, et. al, noted that during times of crisis, social media is key to offering “connectedness; both to loved ones and to the broader community, providing reassurance, support and routes to assistance” (2015).

This time the panic was caused by an accident, but something like this has happened once before—on purpose.

Retro: Orson Welles War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

On Halloween in 1938, actor/writer/producer Orson Welles did a radio adaptation in to the 19th century book, War of the Worlds. The production suggested to a nationwide CBS Radio audience that Martians had invaded America. Welles opened the program with a disclaimer and followed up with one two-thirds through the program that this was a production.

While there are reports of panic, it that has been mostly attributed to lore. Ironically, it wasn’t radio that was to blame, it was the ensuing newspaper coverage of the radio production, according to a duo of writers from



“Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted,” (Pooley & Socolow, 2013).


Interested in reading the news of the day? Click here for the 1938 New York Daily News article following the broadcast.

Final Thoughts

Incidences like these only raise skepticism among already-questioning publics. This isn’t necessarily a cause for concern for the media industry, but it should be taken as a warning signal.

Modern-day assertions that news is “fake” parallel with those of newspapers in 1930s America that radio couldn’t be trusted.

A 2016 survey from Pew Research indicated that fake news causes confusion among citizens.

Communication is key, especially during crisis.  In both cases, it is evident that “communication is one of the fundamental tools of emergency management” (Simona, Goldberg, & Adini, 2015, p. 610). Like push notifications in the modern example and radio in the retro example, both were considered newer (emerging) forms of media in their day. While it is important for the industry to embrace change to remain relevant, it is more important to embrace the responsible use of emerging technologies through the use of strategic thinking of what are the possible outcomes.

The misuse of any communication channel can erode the public trust. In both examples, the Federal Communication Commission weighed in and issued responses to a questioning public.

That is why it is crucial that those working in communications-related fields use all the tools at their disposal to find appropriate sourcing and provide corroborating evidence of the information being shared.



There is no secret to this success; the foundational skills which have served journalists well will continue to do so well into the future.


Pooley, J., & Socolow, M. J. (2013, October 28). The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic. Retrieved January 14, 2018, from

Simon, T., Goldberg, A., & Adini, B. (2015). Socializing in emergencies—A review of the use of social media in emergency situations. International Journal of Information Management, 609-619. doi:

Taylor, M., Wells, G., Howell, G., & Raphael, B. (2012). The role of social media as psychological first aid as a support to community resilience building. The Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 27(1), 20–26.

Welcome Back.

A new year always brings new opportunities and 2018 is no different. I don’t think that I am same-old Lesley I was just a year ago. I am smarter. I am wiser. I am grayer. I have a better sense of purpose and of myself. I have worked in communication-related fields for more than 15 years now, meaning most likely, I am nearing the midpoint of my career. Ironically, I am starting over though, as I have headed back to school to earn a degree in strategic communication.

Previously, when I blogged in this space, I enjoyed comparing and contrasting public relations campaigns from two different eras–one modern and one retro, like the title of this blog. I hope to continue exploring this this time around as writing about strategic and emerging media allowed me to build a knowledge set surrounding strategic communications.

I found that what I learned here I was able to put to use in my “real life,” working in school public relations. I don’t expect that to change as I write weekly in this space. I learned a lot about myself blogging here: I learned that this is a time for me to invest in myself and my professional growth. I am even more convinced that good writing is always in style.

I hope you’ll grow with me at Modern Retro PR, too.  Be sure to bookmark it at

Looking Back. Looking Ahead.

In case you hadn’t realized it, my foray into blogging was part of class assignment exploring leadership and media strategies. I have never been one to do just enough to get by and this blog hasn’t been that way either. Each week, I have taken two campaigns–one modern and one retro–and explored them. What will likely be my final post of 2016 will be no different.

Retro: 2016.

As if I didn’t have enough on my plate, I decided to go back to school. This was the year for me to challenge my thinking and my actions. I did it and came through with flying colors. The things I have learned this year have found their way into my everyday communications practice. I would consider that growth.

Modern: 2017

But I can’t rest there. With the new year brings new challenges and opportunities.  A few years ago, I resolved to stop making New Year’s resolutions. Instead, working in school public relations, I decided to tackle new school year resolutions–just a list of professional items I wanted to accomplish as students return in the fall.

In all actuality, they probably work well for life, too.

  1. Figure out how I can make a difference.
  2. Spend energy on things that matter.
  3. Just do it!
  4. Reflect on my successes (and failures) for future growth.

If those four steps seem familiar, it’s because those are the components of The Four Step Process.

  1. Through research, I can figure out how I can make a difference.
  2. By planning, I am spending my energy on things that matter–that includes time and money (budget).
  3. Nike summed up implementation best: Just Do it!
  4. The mark of a successful campaign is evaluation, and that means reflecting on my successes (and failures) for future growth.

Sound communication practices do provide us best practices for life. Although I will continue to blog, I am not sure the schedule and length of my current posts will be the same. As we conclude one year and begin another, I am reminded of a song which many of us will sing in the coming weeks: Auld Lang Syne.

“For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.”

I wish you all sweet success in 2017!

Measuring the Call to Service

By now, you have probably figured out something about me: I like learning about history. I’ve always enjoyed looking back in time to better understand the context surrounding events. The Bible states that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, New International Version). That’s true in public relations, too. For as much as we communicators believe we are doing something no one has ever seen or done before, history tells us that’s not true. We can be inspired by examples from the past! That’s why Modern Retro PR has been such a treasure to me over the first few entries.

As I think about my profession, I believe school public relations is a way for me to serve my community. There are never enough people who serve. From teachers to nurses to those in the military, many times those working to serve others have to take the time to find the next generation of public servants.

The test of the work in these instances is drawing others into service. That’s where evaluation comes in. There is a difference between outputs and outcomes, both of which can be measured. Outputs are the tactics taken to achieve a campaign’s goal, i.e. number of posters printed or clicks to a website. Outcomes should be our bread and butter as public relations practitioners–did we motivate someone to take action? In this week’s Modern Retro PR, find out why measuring your work can help you determine what’s a win.

Retro: Creel Commission

You’ve seen the “I Want YOU” poster many times in your life, but chances are, you may not know how it came to exist. Uncle Sam’s piercing blue eyes, his stern look, and pointed finger called a nation to action in a time of war.

James Montgomery Flagg's illustration

James Montgomery Flagg’s illustration Source: Library of Congress

James Montgomery Flagg’s illustration first appeared in Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly in 1916 as cover art above the caption “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?”.  A year later, it was the centerpiece of a United States Army recruitment poster–the image you’ve seen time and time again.

Flagg’s artwork, along with that of other noted artists of the day, was part of George Creel’s Commission on Public Information (CPI). The sole charge of the CPI was to gain public support for World War I, work that incorporated the use of speechmakers, known as the Four Minute Men, and an  “army of artists” (Creel, 1972, p. 134).  From a public relations standpoint, this marked an early moment in the history of the profession where the trends of the day used patriotism as part of its publicity efforts.

According to Christopher Capozzola’s Uncle Sam Wants You World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen, more than four million posters were printed (2008, p. 4). A huge output considering the era and available technologies!

Even Creel noted the success of an overall strategy featuring posters, such as the iconic one with Uncle Sam in his autobiography, How We Advertised America: “Posters were effective and we used them freely. Care was taken to phrase them tersely and simply” (1972, p. 312).

This is significant when you consider that in this era, not all people could read English. A key factor in developing an effective campaign: know your audience!

Modern: Johnson & Johnson’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a 22-page report outlining a projected shortage of nurses that would only grow in the following two decades. One line stood out:

“If not addressed, and if current trends continue, the shortage is projected to grow to 29 percent by 2020.”

Shortly afterward Johnson & Johnson, maker of first aid products like Band-Aids, launched the Campaign for Nursing’s Future. In the company’s campaign highlights, Johnson & Johnson noted its “leadership position” in addressing the issue:

The Campaign is a multi-year, $50 million national initiative designed to enhance the image of the nursing profession, recruit new nurses and nurse faculty, and help retain nurses currently in the profession.

Using a multi-faceted approach, the health and beauty aid giant implemented strategies jnjto connect with audiences largely grouped as prospective nurses, current nurses, and customers to rebrand a profession . Further, a comprehensive website was developed encouraging each of these audiences to Discover Nursing.

As the campaign evolved and new technologies emerged, the company branched out into social media. The Campaign for Nursing’s Future has a Facebook page, Twitter account,  Pinterest account and a YouTube Channel.

More than five years after this video was first uploaded to YouTube, it has racked up more than a half million views–and that doesn’t begin to count the number of times it’s aired on television.

It’s not enough to simply produce a large number of outputs, especially when clear goals have been established. Converting people to action is what was necessary here to address the deficit of nurses. With videos like this, it’s easy to see why the campaign could be successful. Johnson & Johnson claims:

“Campaign television commercials have successfully motivated more young people to think about nursing as a career option, including 24 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds (Source: 2002 Harris poll).”

Final Thoughts.

In school administration circles, there is the saying: what gets measured, gets treasured. That’s true in PR, too.  In short, how do you know if your work, worked? Rice & Atkin detailed three functions of evaluation in Public Communication Campaigns (2013):

  1. Determine expected impacts and outcomes of a program
  2. Determine why a particular program did or didn’t work
  3. Provide information for planning of future activities

Something that stood out to me as I studied for the Accreditation in Public Relations was the idea that “behavior change is usually considered the ultimate sign of public relations effectiveness” (Study Guide, 2016, p. 24).

In both cases, the behavior sought was a call to service. Regardless of the era in which a campaign was produced, the evidence of a solid and effective campaign should still be visible to this day. Those of us who work in governmental public relations understand the accountability required as part of our work. Creel detailed all of the committee’s work in the Complete report of the chairman of the Committee on public information:


As a for the outcomes of  CPI’s work? “More than 1.3 million men and more than twenty thousand women volunteered to serve in the armed forces abroad.” (Capozzola, 2008, p. 7).

That work shaped the future of America and the outcome of the war. However, the effort to draft enough nurses to care for the nation’s citizens continues today.

A campaign overview published by Johnson & Johnson highlighted the successes of the campaign’s efforts since 2002, including outputs and outcomes. Despite the 32 million pieces of recruitment/retention materials in both English and Spanish and other outputs, the company cites the American Academy of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in saying the campaign has led “more than 750,000 people into the profession.”

Ensuring the strength and the health of our nation is certainly something to treasure.


Capozzola, C. J. N. (2008). Uncle Sam wants you : World War I and the making of the modern American citizen. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Creel, G. (1972). How we advertised America (International propaganda and communications; International propaganda and communications). New York: Arno Press.

Rice, Ronald E., and Charles K. Atkin, eds. Public Communication Campaigns. 4th ed. N.p.: Sage Publications, 2013. Print.

Study Guide for the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations.  (2016).

Sounding the Alarm

Crisis planning in the middle of a crisis is not a plan. As strategic communicators, we have not only the opportunity but the obligation, to be prepared in the event of a crisis. But that’s the amazing thing about a crisis: you never know where or when it will hit and if your plan is sufficient until you need it.

In the past week, my community experienced a tornado watch. I live in a community where a deadly tornado touched down more than five years ago, but the concerns are still real for residents here, especially children, like my own.

I remember when the tornado hit in 2011, I was nine months pregnant with my second child. That afternoon, I gave instructions to my then-three-year-old that if something were to happen to us and ended up outside, to call my name loudly, instead of calling for “Mommy.”

Whew. She still remembers that (and I do too).

The experience with my child tells me that it isn’t just what you tell your audience after the crisis that counts when it comes to strategic communication, it’s the messages you communicate beforehand. While it may be tempting to examine just the crisis response, in this week’s Modern Retro PR we’ll explore systems enacted by leaders as part of their crisis communication response in the event of an emergency and why it is important.


In 1951, the United States government established (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation), known as CONELRAD. The purpose of this initiative was to warn the American public of an impending Cold War enemy attack via the nation’s radio and television stations as part of a civil defense response.


Poster telling citizens how to find information in the event of an emergency.

Upon activation of CONELRAD, all radio and television stations would cease broadcast save for two designated radio frequencies, 640 or 1240 kHz. Those two frequencies would provide instructions to citizens during the crisis. CONELRAD’s implementation requested that the broadcasts would be operated by a succession of radio stations for a set amount of time in an effort to confuse the enemy regarding the broadcast’s origin. Think of it as a radio daisy chain.

In fact, radios were manufactured with small triangles marking the location of the two frequencies on the dial.

However, the plan was not without its detractors. In a 1960 article published in Time, the author argued that “a civil-defense warning system should be capable of warning 90% of the population within 30 seconds.” That would be difficult for CONELRAD to do considering that citizens had to have their radios or televisions “on” to hear these messages.

Additionally, the article cited “weak reception” and switching delays among the stations as reasons to abandon the system (Time, 1960).

Thankfully, CONELRAD was never officially activated, only tested, before the government transitioned to the Emergency Broadcast System in 1961 and later the Emergency Alert System in 1997.

Modern: Education Organizational Use of Automated Messaging Systems

In recent years, the trend has been for schools and school systems to provide alerts via automated messaging systems which utilize phone calls, text messages, emails and social media. In its early adoption, educational organizations would use these features to communicate emergency and non-emergency information alike.

Remember that tornado I was telling you about earlier in this blog? My school system used an automatic messaging system to cancel school on that fateful day in 2011.

The evolutionary use of this technology has seen recent regulatory updates as some alleged this was a form of telemarketing, especially when people did not provide “express consent” (Federal Communications Commission, 2016). This summer, the Federal Communications Commission issued a declaratory statement indicating such automated messaging systems could be used for both emergency and non-emergency purposes.

As someone who works in educational public relations, I find this to be a good thing. In fact, just last week a series of text alerts warned students on The Ohio State University (OSU) campus of eminent danger.  The information was also communicated through social media by the university’s emergency management and fire prevention department:

During the crisis, an 18-year old student drove his car into a crowd and began to attack 11 people with a knife before being killed by authorities.

In this day and age, when school campuses can be accessed by anyone at any given time, it can be a communications challenge ensure students, parents,  and staff members have the information they need to stay safe.

According to Pew Research, 72% of adults own a smartphone; but among the demographic most frequently found on college campuses (18-35), that number is 20 points higher (2016). This statistic underscores the adoption of automated messaging system as part of a larger strategic decision to communicate crisis events at schools.

Final Thoughts.

The first of five phases of crisis identified by crisis management researchers signal detection.  It is in this phase that leaders “sense early warning signals that announce the possibility of a crisis” (Wooten & James, 2008, p. 5).

It is not enough to just sound the alarm, the key messages must be clearly communicated.

“The role of any communicator in any crisis is to provide good information accurately, and in a timely fashion,” said Neil Chapman in a British cable broadcast now available online. Chapman was BP crisis communication director during the Deepwater Horizon crisis in 2010 who has since left the company.

Both CONELRAD and automated messaging system had the same intended result: to alert people of a crisis event and provide emergency instructions. The ambiguity in the CONELRAD system could lead to confusion if one couldn’t access the information in a timely fashion. Further, the delays in the system could lead to not everyone getting the same information at the same time.

Meanwhile, in the example from OSU, all stakeholders received the same clear and specific instructions at the same time–even people far from the campus in Columbus, Ohio. A quick analysis of new coverage of this event doesn’t yield questions about the timeliness of the message from university officials, but rather many serve as a primer to explaining what “Run. Hide. Fight.” means.  The speed with which OSU communicated and their transparency play to their favor.  Because the university worked to meet stakeholder’s expectations during the crisis event, they will likely maintain trust(Kim, 2015, p. 69).

The latter is clearly more effective than the former.

Effective, ethical implementation of strategic communication systems can benefit organizations not only during the crisis event but also in the aftermath. As part of W. Timothy Coombs Situational Crisis Communication Theory, crisis managers can “benefit from understanding how crisis communication can be used to protect reputational assets during a crisis” (Kim, 2015, p. 63).  However, it should be noted that organization’s reputation is not the priority. Priority one remains those directly impacted by the crisis.

By ensuring organizations have strong, effective and redundant communication systems in times of crisis means that amid the chaos, communication professionals and crisis managers may have a better chance of message penetration.

Finally, it would be a missed opportunity for me to say as communicators we cannot just be satisfied that the crisis is over; however, we must find time in the aftermath to reflect on our actions, determine how we could have responded differently, incorporate those findings into our crisis plan and improve it.


Buzzers Mean Bombs.(National Affairs; CIVIL DEFENSE). (1960). Time, 76(20), 26.

[CIPRtv] (2011, March 3). Crisis communication in conversation with Neil Chapman. [Video file]. Retrieved from

Federal Communications Commission. (2016). Declaratory Ruling FCC 16-88.  Washington, D.C.: Marlene H. Dortch.

Kim, Y. (2015). Toward an Ethical Model of Effective Crisis Communication. Business & Society Review (00453609), 120(1).

“Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage Continues to Climb in Emerging Economies.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (February 22, 2016).

Let’s Talk Turkey!

I love Thanksgiving–always have. In fact, my husband proposed to me kneeling in a heart I drew in the sand with a stick on Thanksgiving Day long ago. It is a memory I treasure. My Thanksgiving Days have been filled with family, food, and laughter over the years–and I wouldn’t change it.

In recent years, there has been a push to start the Christmas holidays as soon as possible. Now, it seems the pendulum is swinging back.

In this week’s Modern Retro PR. we’ll talk turkey (literally!) and see how message placement for two companies is part of the overall strategy to connect with customers over Thanksgiving.

Retro: Butterball’s Turkey Talk Line (1981)
The Thanksgiving scene around family dinners across the nation can be a landmine. Let the turkey be cooked incorrectly, and you’ll become the family joke. The stress is real, especially for those first Thanksgiving dinners the new couple will host.

Enter a brilliant message placement strategy, courtesy of PR firm, Edelman. Before we get to that, the backstory is as tasty as the result.

Butterball brand managers theorized that sales were lagging because people didn’t know how to cook the turkey. Edelman’s plan sought to get to the root of the problem implemented a 1-800 number where someone could answer those frequently asked questions and inject the chef with a bit of confidence.

Six home economists armed with their expertise and a telephone bank would change the


Vintage Butterball Turkey Talk experts take phone calls.

the course of Thanksgiving Day in 1981. Eleven thousand people called in for help. Not only did it boost sales, it solidified expert-status to customers.

“This was a unique approach to building sales for Butterball. It not only raised consumer confidence in the brand, but the talk line itself got media coverage, thus heightening Butterball’s profile.”

The publication Ad Week, even noted the strength in the message placement of the turkey company:

“Butterball’s help line is also shrewd marketing, positioning the brand as the turkey experts in the minds of many home cooks, even those who may have bought a Purdue or Bell & Evans turkey.”

If you find yourself needing some tips during the months of November and December, go ahead and give them a call at 1-800-BUTTERBALL, they’d be happy to help you save your holiday meal.

Modern: Target, Home Goods, & T.J. Maxx Bring Back the Holidays Campaign (2015)
I must confess: I have only participated in one Black Friday event in my life. I didn’t particularly enjoy it but did get a TV at a great price out of the trip. But it seems that the holiday shopping season starts earlier and earlier each year.

My Facebook feed has friends declaring they will leave the dinner table at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day to go shopping. Really?!!? I. Just. Can’t.

Last year, T.J. Maxx (and its subsidiaries which include HomeGoods and Marshall’s) introduced the “Bring Back the Holidays” campaign.

Talk about message placement! The effort “focuses on people, and creates opportunities to bring them together,” according to a news release issued by the campaign. This work was predicated on the results from a 2013 Pew Research Study in which nearly 70 percent of people say they most look forward to time with family. That same study showed that nearly a third of people said they dislike the commercialization of the holiday.

As a result, the three stores will be closed on Thanksgiving Day so that employees can spend time with their own families as opposed to minding the bedlam that is door-buster deals. Consumers are taking note, with many bloggers focused family and parenting issues highlighting the campaign on their own blogs.

Additionally, the effort uses social media to extend the conversation. By using the hashtag #bringbacktheholidays, people can win prizes designed to create special moments for families. For example, 20 people won $2,000 travel gift cards to help them get home for the holidays in 2015.

While there is something to be said for corporate altruism, it is more likely, large companies read the 2014 research from the National Research Federation that highlighted the fact that “the early Black Friday launch has caused costs to rise, while last year saw an 11 percent drop in Black Friday weekend sales.”

The online push of the social media campaign is yielding results. Sentiments like these abound on Twitter:

With more people moving their shopping experience online, what’s one day?

Final Thoughts.
For retailers, a key question to answer will they highlight the value they offer to customers or will they highlight the value of family. It seems that both Butterball and the companies under the T.J. Maxx umbrella have found a way to do that that is consistent with their respective brands.

There are real costs associated with both of these business decisions. Plus, the upside is worth noting too.

“Instead of using it as a way to make money, companies are losing money…and saying that’s okay, that’s okay cause it’s going to help our image and the goodwill that customers have in their minds about us,” said Pete Fader, a marketing professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, in a podcast with Business Insider.

Additionally, the decision netted an increase in media coverage for both companies. As TV stations looked to fill content during a slow news period, they called on the experts from Butterball to offer tips and promoted the names of companies who will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. Prime placement considering the fact that many people are off during the holidays and watching a little more TV than usual.

The bet is that after you’ve had your fill of turkey (and maybe your family), you will be more inclined to patron those companies whose values mirror yours and shop on your time, not theirs.

My wish for each of my readers is to have safe and joyous holiday season! Feel free to share what you are thankful for or your favorite Thanksgiving memory in the comments below. I’ll be doing what I am always doing: eating and enjoying time with family.