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On the road again…


Photo by Kathryn Thier

I’m back.

That means my students are too. In J452 at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication they blog and I blog. It’s always exciting to watch students take tentative steps toward developing a personal, professional social media presence and then at term’s end see how much their confidence increased and writing improved.

At the same time, this is really just the beginning of finding out who they are professionally. I was reminded of this recently by a blog post shared on Twitter by SOJC alum Mandy Shold. I never taught Mandy, but I did sit on her senior portfolio review presentation panel. Unsurprisingly, she rocked it. As she writes in her blog post, she graduated top of her class and beat out hundreds for her dream internship at a prestigious PR firm. But as she also writes in her blog post, her career took a turn when she wasn’t kept on full-time post internship. To find out what happened read her post. But it’s not spoiling it to say over time she confronted her preconceptions about who she is and what her career was meant to be.

I’m really proud of Mandy (and not just because she’s still blogging long after the assignment ended). College is just the first step toward not just a career, but work fulfillment. My own career has taken many twists and turns, including believing I would quit my job rather than blog. But nobody told me up front that was okay.

So I’m telling you now, J452 students: Don’t expect to ever stop redefining yourself professionally. Read widely. Read to write. For me, that’s not just a strategic message on my Facebook feed; it’s a defining trait. Keep asking yourself, “Who am I, and what do I want? What can I contribute?”

And with that, here’s your first batch of insPiRation to get you started:

Aviation… Travel… Hospitality…
The 9 Healthiest Airports Around The World (well+good)
Do you think Millenials alone are driving the wellness at the airport trend? What other audiences – or business factors – might be driving it? Do any of the amenities seem ridiculous? How can small airports keep up and impress their audiences?

KLM Gave VR Headsets to Budget Airline Passengers So They’d Feel Like They’re On KLM (AdWeek)
Is this smart way to appease a slice of KLM’s audience or not? How might it backfire on KLM? Am I the only person who finds this offensive?

Read More…


Fall 2016 3

This week in class we’ll be discussing one of my favorite topics in PR, corporate social responsibility. And typically it ends up one of students’ favorites, too.

For me, it’s because there are no easy answers when it comes to corporate social responsibility. Most people can agree that doing good is a good thing, but deciding “good for whom” is much harder. Is paying workers in other countries what we’d consider to be incredibly low wages inherently “bad”? What if it helps those workers’ families afford things they never could before? If wages are raised, what if that means low-income Americans can’t buy those products?

I think students enjoy exploring these dilemmas. But also, I think it resonates because studies show Millennials expect businesses to do good. According to a recent Fortune magazine article, “Millennials are more likely than Gen X’Ers and Baby Boomers to say it matters if American businesses give back to society.” Millennials also expect to “shape the giving behavior of brands,” according to Entrepreneur, which creates all sorts of PR opportunities and challenges.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

By chance, or perhaps because corporate social responsibility issues is really everywhere, many of the insPiRation articles this week touch on it. From alleged “pink washing” by the NFL to a mom of a child with Down Syndrome pressuring OshKosh B’Gosh to make its ads reflect children with disabilities, the news is rife with stories of companies struggling to balance the new triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.

Hyperlate: Elon Musk and Tesla Delay Their Next Big Product Launch (Salon)
What effect, if any, do you think this will have on potential Tesla buyers? How do you think the  the publics (customers, investors) of a traditional car company would respond to a delayed product announcement with no real explanation? How does Elon Musk’s and Tesla’s brands buffet the company’s PR? Can other car company execs learn from Musk’s use of Twitter or would that  ring hollow?

Breast Cancer Victims Should Be Pissed at Getting More Pink Than Green From NFL (Sporting News)
This article is a great example of how tricky corporate social responsibility is. “Pink washing” is a real thing and this article accuses the NFL of it. So how might the NFL PR team respond? Do you think the NFL should change its strategy around breast cancer awareness month? Discuss the awareness-attitude-action continuum in PR and whether the NFL should react to the ongoing “October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month” or take a different tack focused on action.
Read More…

Fall 2016 2

My students’ first weekly blog posts came in the past few days, which is always one of my favorite parts of the term. When I read their posts for the first few times I get to see who they are, how they think and how they write. I sense their relief at getting these projects off and running, at realizing writing about your passions is fun.

Typewriters, Baker City, Oregon -Kathryn Thier

Typewriters, Baker City, Oregon
-Kathryn Thier


At the same time, reading their posts reminded me how hard it is to blog. Finding your voice takes time. Crystallizing the PR angle (the goal of these blogs) is challenging. Learning how long is too long – and how that changes with each post – takes a long time. But that’s why we blog so much and so often in this class. By the end of the term their writing will be transformed. Their ability to see how PR underlies so many issues in the news will skyrocket. Their voices will mature. And so the end of the term is also another one of my favorite parts. So here’s to seven more weeks!

(And yes, I do read more than Mashable, although it doesn’t seem like it based on this week’s insPiRation.)

Should You Trust The American Red Cross With Your Donation For Haiti? (The Huffington Post)
How might the American Red Cross try to repair its image in Haiti through its response to Hurricane Matthew’s destruction? Do you think the negative press the American Red Cross received was fair or not? How can nonprofits protect their reputations when they’re held to a different standard than corporations? How damaging to the Red Cross is Edwidge Danticat’s suggestion that people support Haitian organizations instead? What publics will Danticat resonate with?

Pro Sports…
In a Pioneering Moment for the W.N.B.A., Players United in Protests Over Injustices (The New York Times)
What are the PR risks and opportunities for African American athletes who take on police brutality and racial injustice? Is it different for female athletes than male athletes – and why? Does the PR calculus change when it’s across a league versus just one (like Kaepernick) or a few?

Kaiser Channels Kendrick Lamar To Talk About Depression (Mashable)
Do some research and figure out if Lamar authorized this. If he did, what opportunities and risks might there be for his reputation? If he didn’t, how should he respond to maintain his image and his brand?
Read More…

Fall 2016 1

As I told my students I initially viewed the idea of blogging with deep skepticism. (This was back in the early aughts when blogging as a journalist meant regurgitating stuff from your notebook that didn’t make it into your published story.)

But now blogging is one of my favorite things. I do it each time I teach J452: Strategic Public img_3342Relations Communication at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. Each student also blogs, picking a theme tied to an industry or facet of PR that interests them, and also builds and executes and accompanying personal social media strategy. They blog mostly twice a week: one blog post about a topic they choose related to their theme and one in response to a news item about their theme I’ve picked.

That means from fashion to foreign policy and from cosmetics to cars, the students’ themes keep me looking at the news in a new light. Yes, I’m still reading stories about politics, race, sports, celebrities, the media landscape and social issues, but I’m looking for ones that either showcase or hint at the role public relations plays in our world.

This (hopefully) makes students look at the news in a new light, to see the PR everywhere.  In this quarter’s first installment of weekly insPiRation, they’ll find stories that touch on personal brand and image management, company brand, crisis communications, corporate social responsibility, media relations and more.

Take a look:

Autos…Ad & PR…
Trying To Disrupt the Auto Industry With The Onion’s Help (The New York Times)
How are advertising and public relations being combined in service of Elio’s brand and to raise brand awareness? Is a risky strategy like this just what a three-wheeled car company needs or is it a mistake? How does it compare to the PR strategy of another industry disrupter, Tesla? (PS: Who likes regular car commercials anyway?)

Foreign policy…
Antonio Guterres To Be Next UN Secretary General (The Guardian)
Guterres is widely seen as competent and was unanimously chosen, yet his choice was a surprise to many who thought it was a woman’s turn. How can Guterres appeal within his organization and to leaders around the world who either wanted a woman or someone not so vocal about refugees? What credibility does he bring as a spokesman for “the downtrodden” and do you expect him to change public opinion around the world? Is it good or bad for the UN’s mission that secretary general candidates now have to brand themselves and make public appeals for the post?

Foreign policy… fashion…

Kate Middleton’s Tour of Canada: A Designer Scorecard (The New York Times)
How did Kate Middleton use fashion to support Britain’s foreign policy messages on this trip? In other words, what’s the connect between fashion and foreign policy PR? In today’s social media world, why is fashion more important than ever to foreign policy?
Read More…

really ahhh

I finally finished that great big writing project I mentioned last week. That included staying up until 3 a.m. Saturday night revising it and hours more today putting on the final touches.

This is what I felt like all week:

(I always have a typewriter in my blog visuals, but this is the first GIF!)

One reason it took so long was that academic writing is new to me. And I’m figuring a lot out on my own. I don’t completely understand academic writing’s underlying structure. If you can’t see the bones, writing feels laborious. But once you unlock what I call the skeleton mystery I think writing feels like play.

That’s why with my students I always try to demystify writing structures, as in my take on cover letters: 1) Here’s big picture why I’m right for the job, 2) Let me tell you a little more about why I’m right for the job, 3) Here are some details about why I’m right for the job, 4) Did I mention I’m getting/have a degree? 5) (Softly) here’s why I’m a good fit. 6) I’ll be following up.

Writing is thinking made manifest,” according to Ellen Goldberger, a professor at Mount Ida College. That has stuck in my head since I first heard it about a year ago. But to make your thinking manifest, it helps to know the order. We can think (and write) so much quicker when we’ve trained our brains how to organize our thoughts. I tell my Reporting I and Media Relations & Strategic Writing students that after I’d been a reporter for awhile I could write a 10-inch inverted pyramid story in 10 minutes if I had to. Because I’d practiced it over and over. Because I’d trained my brain to think in that structure.

Not every writing structure is as formulaic as the inverted pyramid. Blogging, which requires voice and taking a stance, is trickier. But I’m hoping students are at the point in the term where it’s starting to feel a little easier. Those first few (okay, 100) go-rounds with a new style of writing are challenging. Sometimes it feels like work. Then you get a peek at when it feels like play. And the mystery begins to unravel.

Here’s your insPiRation – keep it up!

From 2017, All new Mobile Phones in India Will Have Panic Button For Women’s Safety (Mashable)
Should Apple and Samsung do this in their other markets too? What would be the PR value? (Based on our discussion of CSR these week, what else would companies have to consider when making this decision?)

In Johnny Manziel, Failure as Entertainment (The New York Times)
What role has PR played in Manziel’s demise? What responsibilities do PR professionals have toward people in the public eye who are not their clients? How has social media changed the way image is constructed?

College sports… sports…
Officials: North Carolina Must Show Proof of Discrimination-Free Zone or Lose NCAA Tournament Games (
What does this move by the NCAA say about its audiences? Are there any PR risks for the NCAA in taking this stance when some say college sports don’t do enough to welcome and protect LGBT athletes?

Read More…


This has never happened before. Really.
I’m totally at a loss for a blog topic.
I think it’s because I’m in the midst of a different huge writing project that’s due in a week and I can’t focus on much else. But still.

I’ve thought about the news, about Prince’s sudden death, about teaching and writing… and I still can’t come up with something.  I’m going to chalk it up to this other looming writing project and pretend not to be scared that this week the well has run dry. Because there’s always looming deadlines for writing projects of all sizes. As long as you do your reporting and stay in the world by reading writer’s block is a myth. (Or so I have told myself.)

Maybe I need to go for some walks or meditate. Or stop eating potato chips.

So J452 students, I hope this doesn’t happen to you this week. Just to make sure it doesn’t, here’s your weekly insPiRation:

Event planning…
Event Planning Industry Shows Staying Power (Greenwich Time)
The growth rate for event planners is expected to grow faster than the national average for all occupations. Why? In today’s world where technology can do so many things and DIY culture thrives why do people still  seek professional event planners? How can event planners differentiate themselves?

Race and diversity…
Twitter Users React to Harriet Tubman’s New Place on the $20 Bill (PR Daily)
What do you think about the debates? Why is currency PR, literally? What audiences is the Treasury Department trying to reach?

College sports… sports… 
How Morgan Stanley is Helping Student-Athletes Plan for the Future (USA Today)
Why is this a good PR move for Morgan Stanley? How does this fit into the larger battles over student-athletes and whether they should be paid?

Ad & PR… TV & Cinema…
Disney’s Savvy Marketing of ‘The Jungle Book’ (The New York Times)
What do you think of Disney’s marketing of ‘The Jungle Book’? Is this what’s needed to push through the fog of our oversaturated media environment?

Environment… TV & Cinema….
Leonardo DiCaprio Makes a Bold Earth Day Plea for Climate Action (Mashable)
According to the article, “DiCaprio is a U.N. Messenger of Peace, and his charity foundation focuses on environmental issues, including climate change.” Does DiCaprio speaking out to politicians drive change? Is this just a calculated ploy by DiCaprio to bolster his image or do you think he cares about the Earth? What is the role of celebrity voice on social issues?

10 Ways to Be a Greener Traveler, Even if You Love to Fly (The New York Times)
How might PR practitioners in the industry you follow capitalize on these tips to attract new audiences? What messages can companies send about environmentalism that enhance their strategic purpose?

Keurig’s New K-Cup Coffee is Recyclable, But Hardly Green (The New York Times)
What do you think of Keurig’s move? How challenging is it for companies to make substantive sustainability changes? Does Keurig have a PR problem or do people just want their convenient coffee?

Wine…beverage… environment…
Study Finds Climate Change Could Be Leading to Better Wine (NPR)
While this is good news for wine drinkers in the short run, it isn’t good news for wine drinkers as Earth dwellers in the long run. Is this a PR issue for the wine industry? Is there a way wine PR pros could turn this into a PR opportunity that underscores winemakers’ care for the land?

Ad & PR… environment…
Seventh Generation Taps Maya Rudolph for its Biggest Campaign Yet (The New York Times)
Now that being green is in what are the challenges and opportunities for long-time “green” brands?

Women’s fitness… Ad & PR… fashion…
Athleta’s New Campaign Wants You To Embrace #Squadgoals (Well + Good)
and Gap Inc.’s Athlete Debuts First TV Spot (Advertising Age)
What do you think about this campaign – will it help Athlete reach its audiences? Or is it a shameless ploy? Do Athleta’s customers need this inspiration? If you identify as female, how do you feel about brands using “female empowerment” to sell workout clothes?

Ad & PR…
Yoga in the Morning? This Ad Knows You Ain’t Got Time For That (Mashable)
Why is this ad so smart? Do you think women will identify with it?

Sports… Ad & PR… Fashion…
Brand Managers Set Their Sights on NBA Jerseys (PR Daily)
Is this a good PR move for the NBA? Or will fans turn away in disgust? If other sports’ leagues do it does it make it okay – or will the NBA’s audiences react differently? As a fan, do you want to wear a jersey with a commercial on it?

ESPN Finally Grows Tired of Curt Schilling’s Barbed Language (The New York Times)
Do you agree with ESPN’s decision? Should athletes who are stars in their own right before they work for media have the right to express their own political and personal beliefs? Why did ESPN react differently to Bomani Jones wearing a “Caucasian” shirt?

HOW TO: Get Your Nonprofit Started on Snapchat (Nonprofit Tech for Good)
Great tips here. What’s your favorite and why? Take a nonprofit you know and tell us your idea for how it could use one of the tips. How is technology helping nonprofits, which often don’t have huge PR budgets, tell their stories and reach their audiences?

Girl Scouts Appoints Christine Cea as Chief Communications Executive (PR Newser)
Why do PR professionals speak about purpose? What PR challenges and opportunities face the Girl Scouts in the next 100 years (or so)?

REI Opens Disaster Relief Center in Nepal a Year After Devastating Earthquake (Mashable)
Is this a PR win for REI Adventures? Or will some people see it as exploitative? What are the PR challenges when wealth First World residents “tour” in less developed places?

From typewriters to the moon

Last weekend, for the first time I walked through the Linguistics Department at UO. A display case highlighted machines used by researchers throughout the department’s history. Of course, the one that caught my eye was a typewriter, despite the unfamiliar and inventive other options. But it wasn’t just any typewriter; it was a Yiddish typewriter. The placard said researchers carried it with them in the field to record notes. As much as I’m a typewriter fan, I can’t imagine hauling one around with me, but that is indeed what researchers and reporters did back in the day.


I snapped a photo of it with my iPhone and texted that to my aunt, who showed it to my grandmother whose parents spoke Yiddish to her as a child in Brooklyn. She’d never seen a Yiddish typewriter, which surprised me although I guess it shouldn’t have.

Since then I’ve been thinking about that Yiddish typewriter from years past and the blogs my students are creating today. It seems we’ve come so far yet someday 100 years from now some college instructor may walk (or hover) past a display case of blogs and social media and be bemused by what they saw.

Until then, here’s your weekly insPiRation:

The Rogue: Oregon’s Southernmost AVA a Hot Spot for World-Class Wine and Tourism (Oregon Wine Press)
Wine Enthusiast named the Rogue Valley and Ashland one of 2016’s Top 10 global wine destinations. How might this impact the area? Press attention is often seen as positive, but how should Oregon’s Southernmost AVA retain the characteristics that make it popular while growing in appeal? Can an area’s image withstand additional attention?

Women’s Fitness…

Walking Together for Health and Spirit (The New York Times)
Can nonprofits use PR tactics to advance women’s health and address racial health disparities? How is GirlTrek using social media to attract its audience?

Read More…


As you can tell by my blog title, I’m feeling a little frenzied.
Truth be told, I actually have had “whew” and “another whew” as my working blog title the past three weeks. This week was the first I let it stand. I probably shouldn’t be admitting this.

For some reason, this term has seemed to move at warp speed. I’m not the only one who thinks this. Nearly every student or colleague I’ve talked to agrees. The zeitgest of Spring Term 2014 is that it’s moved too quickly.

Courtesy of Lainey Powell (Flickr Creative Commons)

Courtesy of Lainey Powell (Flickr Creative Commons)

And the next few weeks will fly by even faster. Just three more classes and some portfolio reviews and the term will be over. That means this is the last time I share insPiRation this term. And my students have just one last round of blogs to write.

As I wrote in the beginning, I love finding articles to share that spark students’ interests. Finding music, travel, craft beer, cinema, food, nutrition and global health stories with PR angles forced me to read the news differently than last term. And it’s always fun to keep up with sports, fashion and social media. I loved watching students grow and improve as writers as they blogged. Each student is a stronger blogger than when he or she started.

So despite the crush of term’s end, give these last posts everything you’ve got. Slow down and show me everything you’ve learned.

Read More…

AP Style Smackdown

I’m really angry at @APStyle.
I know that’s not a sentence often written.AP2
But it’s true.

I tweeted a question @APStyle several weeks back that came up in one of my classes. The question was whether certain pairs of words, such as public relations and event planning, would require hyphenation as a compound modifier if preceding a noun. A burning question, I know. But in my Strategic PR Communication class, this actually comes up quite a bit.

I believe the answer is no. But I wanted some reinforcement and a better way to explain it to my students. So I tweeted @APStyle with little hope of reply. But a reply did come: “Great question. I shall direct you to the@AP or @APStyle for the answer.”

I would screenshot this exchange, but I’m afraid of starting a viral war a la Jay Z-Beyonce-Solange. That could happen, you know. AP aficionados are fierce. Check out this example I shared with my students.

But I digress. The reply angered me because if I knew the answer I wouldn’t have asked the question. I am the queen of figuring out where and why and how the AP Stylebook works. West Coast: capitals or not? Why, check under regions and directions, naturally.

And I approach teaching AP Style with what I hope is effective: sarcasm. (I also employ some other more pedagogical strategies to encourage knowledge creation and deep learning, but that’s for another time.) I could harangue students about how useful AP Style is and why it’s necessary for journalists and PR professionals. But instead, I recognize that it seems arcane, foreign, intimidating and silly to 20-somethings. So I do a lot of joking. And students do a lot of learning.

One PR student wrote last term that she learned more about AP Style than she ever thought possible.
When I gave a quiz that included an excerpt from The Washington Post in my Reporting I class two weeks ago , most of the class caught a style error the paper made that I never even noticed.

So what I’m trying to say is that I feel a little crushed. I’ve valiantly championed the cause of AP and all I got was this lousy tweet.

But in a few hours, once my ire subsides, I know I’ll start laughing, or at least smirking. Because the AP Style editor’s response was pretty much what I tell students when they ask me similar questions. I say:

“Who has an AP Stylebook? Let’s find the answer.”

(On a side note, I swear I read more than just The New York Times. But the Grey Lady just had too many relevant articles for this week’s insPiRation.)

Read More…

Go Forth and Design

5415696381_a300b97b3b_zTo create a successful infographic, it’s important to decide what information to include and what to leave out.
That’s the challenge my Strategic PR Communication students face as they work on the first draft of their infographics assignment this weekend.

So I was especially intrigued by this Harvard Business Review blog post Visualizing Zero: How to Show Something with Nothing. The post explores the question, “How do we make the slippery attributes of nothingness visible?” The author looks at three categories of nothingness: showing the absence of data, representing zero and utilizing emptiness. Examples include the state of the polar bear (and Russian unwillingness to release its data), how no MLB players wear #42 now that Mariano Rivera retired and the lack of cholera deaths in 1854 London at a brewery.

In addition to the added challenge of representing nothingness, in each case the infographic designer still had to make complex data easily understood.

Making infographics, especially persuasive infographics, is tricky. As in any PR exercise, it’s crucial to distill one’s information to key messages.

Here are some student examples, (shared with permission), from last term for inspiration:

And with that, here’s some more weekly insPiRation:

Read More…


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