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Week 5 Meltdown

Be still my beating heart… (Courtesy of

It’s Week 5 for students – and for me.
(In a 10-week term that translates to mayhem.)

Luckily, we don’t do midterms very often in the journalism school, but still, the midpoint of the quarter still feels bananas.

So, I’m going to take a step back and refocus on the prize:

  • This week, I asked students for feedback and overwhelmingly they wanted more practice and coaching on AP Style. This sounds like a Kathryn fantasy. But it’s for real.
  • Students are excited as they feel their way through their first blog posts. They’re asking good questions. They’re discovering their voice.
  • They’re starting to see more clearly the connection between their personal social media plan, their blog and their professional development.

On that last note, here’s insPiRation for next week:

Twitter Advising All 330 Million Users To Change Passwords After Bug Exposed Them In Plain Text (The Verge)
This is the first I’m hearing of it, and I’m on Twitter 8,735 times a day. As a PR pro, assess Twitter’s performance in communicating this to its users. What could it have done better? How do other current social media privacy public debates heighten the stakes for Twitter – and how should that affect its response?

Tech… Coffee..
Coffunity Makes Anyone a Coffee Expert (Yes, Even You) (The Spoon)
How is social media changing coffee culture? What are the audiences for Coffunity? What trends (sustainability, local food, artisanal) does this connect with? Why are “democratization and accessibility” values of the craft coffee community – and how can apps help spread them?

Health Care…
How Hospitals And Health Care Are Getting A Holistic Makeover (well+good)
How might hospitals involved with Urban Zen or other holistic health initiatives communicate that to patients? How might doctor-patient communication improve if hospitals and doctors were more open to holistic health care?

Read More…


CSR and more

I can’t wait to read students’ corporate social responsibility memos (due soon). Each time I assign this I am surprised by the strategic CSR programs students propose for a company in the same industry as their blog topic.

Students propose their ideas after debating how two companies – Johnson & Johnson and CVS – balanced people, planet and profits when faced with CSR challenges several years ago. Interestingly, I just saw online a great discussion about corporate social responsibility from Ragan that includes insight from communication officers for Johnson & Johnson, a company that navigated how to eliminate formaldehyde from its baby shampoo in response to customer demand.

The highlights from the article: rebuild trust through truth, taking a stand is hard but necessary, advocacy must be authentic and timing is everything.

Although this assignment will be finished shortly, I hope students will continue to consider these ideas throughout the term and their careers. Those same touch points – ethics, trust, advocacy, authenticity and timing – play out in all areas of public relations.

To get you thinking about that, here is your insPiRation for the week:

The Plus Factor: Why A New Generation of Fitness Pros Is Going Free-Agent — And Big-Time (well+good)
Discuss how social media is changing self-promotion for fitness instructors. What do you think of Talent Hack, the “LinkedIn of fitness”? Of Aaptiv? Beyond social media, what trends are forcing studios to adapt to their relationship with their instructors? Who are the audiences demanding/fueling these changes? As a yoga teacher, I was surprised by this because yoga teachers have always been free agents. So what can cardio-based instructors learn from yoga teachers, especially the social media stars?

The Biggest Influencer of All? (The New York Times)
“In today’s influencer culture, when an individual’s ability to ignite far-reaching trends simply by dint of her own appeal is more effective than any advertising campaign, and a photo can carry a message round the world more powerfully than any words, it is beginning to seem as if Ms. Markle could be the most influential of all. Even though she has deleted all of her social media accounts.” How can fashion brands adjust their PR strategies if influencers are more powerful than ads? Why has Markle deleted her own social media accounts? How is Markle using her “soft power” through her fashion choices? What audiences is she trying to reach?
Read More…

Eternal Spring State of Mind

When my J452 students hear they have to blog about an industry or topic they choose and its relation to PR some of them freak out. It’s daunting to decide on one topic to explore for 10 weeks, especially when the blog is supposed to help you establish a personal, professional online brand. The choice seems fraught with significance and possible peril. What if they don’t really want to go into sports PR after all ?

I feel their pain. It took me until about three years ago (nearly 20 years post college) to really decide what I wanted to do with my life. Even though I was a diligent, conscientious and strong student, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college. Things I tried at first didn’t take me far. Even being a journalist, for which I went to grad school, ultimately was unfulfilling and frustrating. And then I got downsized.


The years afterward when I transitioned to a PR professional – and got downsized again – and studied to be a yoga therapist (sort of) and then moved cross-country so my husband could follow his dreams challenged my sense of purpose and self. It took becoming a university instructor in a roundabout way, pitching an idea for a class about the thing I found lacking in journalism and working in the SOJC‘s “yes” culture with supportive colleagues to imbue me with professional purpose.

In other words, while some people know at age 5 they want to become veterinarians and actually do that many of us need life to teach us what we’re meant to be.

Of course, students have to blog now, not 20 years from now. I want them to know nothing is wasted in our professional journey. If I hadn’t become a journalist (and a dissatisfied journalist) and a yoga teacher or moved cross-country for my husband’s path, I never could have become a journalism teacher or a leader in teaching solutions journalism.

Whatever they blog about this term, isn’t necessarily the end-all, be-all. As my Fall term student Quinn Blackwoolf told this term’s class, even though she wasn’t sure she wanted to go into food PR blogging about it helped her develop as a PR professional and build her portfolio.

So #j452kt students, whatever your blog topic, learn from it. It will help you someday, even if you don’t know how now.

With that, here’s your first dose of insPiRation:

In an Era of Empowerment, More Trips for Women (The New York Times)
Do you think tacking #MeToo on to tourism will come across as empowering or pandering? In other words, will women see it as authentic? What does the “What She Said” campaign results in the Middle East tell PR practitioners about cross-cultural communication? How is social media, such as the #SheGoes campaign, changing travel PR?

Travel… Equine…
The Palio di Siena: A Survivor’s Tale (The New York Times)
Who are the audiences for the Palio di Siena? Do you think Millennials would feel differently about this event than its traditional audiences – and if so, why? Is equine tourism still a thing?

Travel… Food & Beverage…Sustainability…
Armenia’s Ancient Motal Cheese Makes Its Way Into The Modern Age (NPR)
How are the trends toward artisanal food and ecotourism changing food and travel? What did you learn as an emerging PR professional from this case study (of sorts) about how to conduct PR for a small, niche product and market?

Food & Beverage… Wine… Sustainability…
Why Women Are Leading the Growing Natural Wine Movement (Fast Company)
Do you agree that “consumers expect purchases to reflect their values”? Will people pay more for sustainable wine? Thoughts about the connection between women as producers of and consumers of organic wine? Beyond making wine and marketing the organic nature to women, should female winemakers pitch their gender as a selling point for female customers? Why or why not? How might highlighting the female winemakers connect with other social trends right now, such as #MeToo and female empowerment?

Food & Beverage… Sustainability…
One Fine Dining Chef, Cutting Food Waste Saves the Planet and the Bottom Line (NPR)
How does cutting food waste help fine dining restauranteurs build better relationships with their staff and their customers? If you were in PR for one of these chefs, how would you reach external publics to trumpet the restaurant’s commitment to cutting food waste? What channels might be good for people who care about that issue?

In North Carolina, Hog Waste is Becoming a Streamlined Fuel Source (NPR)
As a PR professional, how might you help Duke or other partners in this project create demand for natural gas create by repurposed hog waste? In 1996, The Raleigh News & Observer won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the ecological dangers of hog waste. How might you help change audiences’ minds about hog waste and its benefits?

Food & Beverage… Plant-Based…
E.Coli Outbreak Warning Expands to All Kinds of Romaine Lettuce (The Washington Post)
What are creative ways the CDC can reach out to people (beyond sending press releases to journalists) to let them know to stop buying lettuce? If your client was a large lettuce farmer how would you manage this crisis for them? More generally, how can advocates for plant-based living promote their ideas in the face of increasing plant-based food-borne illness publicity?

Read More…

Week Now

For the first time since starting to teach Strategic Public Communication in 2014 I don’t have a single student blogging about fashion.

What’s up with that?

You would think as we near term’s end I’d stop noodling about this and give my mind over to more critical things. But no.

All the PR faculty who teach J452 take note about how many students blog about fashion and PR. It just never fails that at least three to four students a class choose that topic.

And truth be told, I love showing students through my weekly insPiRation how fashion relates to PR, something I honestly hadn’t given much thought to until I started teaching this class. If I had a fashion blogger right now, I’d share this story I saw today about how model Hanne Gaby Odiele came out as intersex and is using her celebrity to advocate for people who are intersex.

But that’s the funny (and great) thing about teaching. I’m constantly surprised by my students. For example, this term I have a student blogging about education and PR and another about PR and theatre and performing arts. Those are new pairings for me as this course’s instructor, and I’m loving it. It pushes me to see new PR connections as I search each week for for insPiRation for students’ response posts.

typewriter dress

Courtesy of Google Images

Speaking of insPiRation, here’s the last (sob) round of the term:

Theatre & Performing Arts…Nonprofits…
Adam Driver’s Nonprofit Seeks Soldiers For The Stage (The New York Times)
There’s been a lot of focus on helping veterans experiencing PTSD. Here’s a new approach. What does this announcement mean for the theatre community and its connection to the veteran audience? Why does this effort from Adam Driver feel so authentic compared with some other social outreach by actors? How can celebrity nonprofits drive conversation about important social issues, such as veterans and healing from PTSD?

80% of Nonprofits in N.Y., D.C., and Philadelphia to Hire in 2018 (The Chronicle of Philanthropy)
How would you encourage nonprofits to reach out to candidates to fill the jobs gap in the sector? The second-most common reason for the sector’s upcoming hiring spree is marketing and communications needs. How would you encourage young PR professionals to put themselves in position for these jobs?

Penn State Student Given 18 Drinks in 82 Minutes Before Hazing Death, Prosecutors Say (NPR)
Sadly, hazing by fraternities is not a new story. How should Penn State respond from a PR standpoint? (It’s taken some policy steps, but how should it publicize them and seek to limit damage to the university’s image?) How can the national Beta Theta Pi respond, especially given that the local chapter members lied to police? More generally, how can universities and national Greek Life organizations take this issue on proactively?

Read More…

Data Viz

When I think about drawing I feel like I need to jump out of my skin. Or I want to cry or stomp and run away.

But while not every PR professional likes drawing, every one should be able to develop concise messages in a visual format.

Luckily, infographics don’t require you to be good at art. They require you to do the same things you always do in PR: think of your audience, develop messages, find information that supports your message and organize it logically – all in an ethical framework.

Okay, so it does require you to know some design. And while I admit to never knowing how to decorate my house, basic design principles are pretty straightforward.


For the next two weeks in class my students will be working on creating their own infographics on behalf of a hypothetical client, aligned in some way with their blog and personal social media theme for the term. Since they’re all young adults, I thought they might be interested in infographics on what Millennials value and stats about Gen Z’s feelings about digital and tech.

The difference between these infographics and what they’ll produce is that those infographics just share information. My students need to (also) persuade.

In two weeks, they’ll share their efforts on their blogs so you can see how they fared.

For now, here’s your insPiRation:

Tourism & Travel…
Hotels That Help You Say Hola or Bonjour (And More) (The New York Times)
What do you make of this new trend? What audiences are hotels trying to reach? The serious language learner or someone else?



United Airlines Final 747 Boeing 747 Flight Is Today (USA Today)
From a PR standpoint, what do you think about United and other airlines’ “final flight” events? What are the strategic goals and messages? Talk about earned, owned and social media.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden Request Answers for UO’s Handling of Basketball Player’s Rape Allegations, Title XI Violations (The Daily Emerald)
What do you think of the UO communication department’s response to the fallout from the article in Sports Illustrated by SOJC student Kenny Jacoby? How do privacy issues around sexual assault (and sexual assault allegations) and student limit how schools can respond to the media? Even with limits, did UO handle its media response appropriately in your opinion?

Read More…

Making the Most of College

I was a really “good” college student – or so I thought. I was studious to a fault, earning top grades and spending lots of time in my own library carrel working on my honors thesis.

I was also “well-rounded,” playing rugby, including stints at captain and coach, and managing the campus bar.

But I never really challenged myself. I thought college courses were easy (in part, because I avoided any non-humanities courses and never challenged myself to try something I might not be good at). In junior year, I finally went to office hours, but only to listen passively as important historians told war stories about influencing presidential administrations. I was too chicken to write for the student newspaper (except for two epic-ly bad, partial rugby game recaps), even though secretly I wanted to be a journalist.

Most of my students at SOJC are nothing like me. They know what they want career-wise (jobs in journalism and PR) or view their major as the stepping stone to another writing/production field. They are willing to accept constructive criticism of their writing. They’re often involved in communication extracurriculars or internships.

But, still. There is more to making the most of your college experience. And with today’s tuition prices it’s more important than ever to be self-directed during your undergraduate years. I hope every student reads College Advice I Wish I’d Taken, a recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times. It took me years to backtrack to find the career I wanted. I wish I had realized that academics were about more than grades.

So read the article, and then come talk to me. And let’s discuss how you might start taking some of that advice.

Here’s your other insPiRation for the week:

Nonprofits… Theatre & Performing Arts…
Nonprofits to Help Boston Globe Pay Classical Music Critic (The New York Times)
Why is it a savvy PR move for classical music nonprofits to pay for earned media (even if the earned media might be critical)? (Think back to J352.) Will the outcry about possible lack of journalistic independence hurt these nonprofits? On a related note, how might you respond to that complaint if you were a part of The Boston Globe’s PR department?

Delta Has a New Reality Show About Becoming a Flight Attendant (Travel+Leisure)
What is your take on this innovative owned media tactic? Who are the audiences?

Airbnb’s Head of China is Calling It Quits After Just 4 Months (Mashable)
What are the PR challenges – if any – for Airbnb when it can’t keep someone in the head of China role? How does cross-cultural competence and knowledge of national market conditions relate to PR skills and competencies? What can Airbnb in China do to differentiate itself from the local competition?

Hospitality… TV…
The Best Hostess Gift? A Pound of Butter Says Amy Sedaris (NPR)
What audiences is Amy Sedaris trying to reach? How have hospitality and cooking shows changed with changing audiences?


Typewriter at ASU’s Walter Conkrite School of Journalism and Mass Communication (Kathryn Thier)

Latest Bill O’Reilly Case Is ‘Jaw-Dropping,’ Megyn Kelly Says (The New York Times)
How do you think Kelly’s discussion of O’Reilly and Fox will be perceived? There are pros and cons for her brand. What are they? Which audiences is she playing to?

British Star Falls In Hole In Stage, Posts Perfect Instagram Reaction (Mashable)
How has social media changed how TV personalities interact with fans? Why did Gemma Collins’ Instagram post “work”?

McKayla Maroney Says, ‘Me Too. What Happens Next? (The New York Times)
Olympic Gymnast McKayla Maroney Says She Too Was Molested by Team Doctor (The New York Times)
Why do you think gymnasts are now able to criticize the sport without hurting their image (as the first article suggests)? How can USA Gymnastics attempt to repair its image? Do you agree with Raisman’s idea? Maroney spoke out following the Weinstein allegations. How should sports organizations and teams prepare for PR crises that evolve in other industries?

Sports… NBA…
TNT Covered Gordon Hayward’s Injury With Utmost Professionalism (The Boston Globe)
Do you think this will have any impact on TNT’s brand, especially since viewers don’t get to choose which company broadcasts any given game? How might it have an impact?

Sports… NFL…
Colin Kapernick Lands Million-Dollar Book Deal (Page Six)
Why is this a good PR move for the former NFL player? How should the NFL prepare its own PR response?

Barton F. Graf Asks Industry To Join Healthcare Coalition (Ad Age)
What are the PR benefits to the advertising industry taking on the issue of lack of advertising about Affordable Care Act choices? Is it risky? Why might it not be risky?

Healthcare… Education…
HBCUs: Are Black Colleges a Potential Partner In Fight Against AIDS?
(Journalist’s Resource)
This synopsis of recent research suggest that HBCUs might be a partner in HIV/AIDS education geared toward black audiences. How might HBCUs create such partnerships? How does it align with their missions? What strengths do HBCUs bring to this potential partnership?

Leonardo DiCaprio Becomes Beyond Meat Investor (well+good)
Will Leonardo’s move actually encourage anyone to become vegetarian? Does this align with DiCaprio’s brand or is it just a publicity stunt? What do vegetarians want from food companies – or is this a move toward potential vegetarians?

Food & Restaurants… CSR…
Burger King’s Anti-Bullying PSA Elicits Strong Responses (Ragan)
Why is this PSA effective even though bullying and fast food aren’t usually associated? What sticky messaging principles are employed in the PSA?

Tesla Deploys Powerpack and Powerball Batteries in Puerto Rico (Mashable)
Why is this a smart CSR move by Tesla?

Kelly Clarkson Is Nobody’s Puppet (The New York Times)
What do you make of the analysis in the article of how different pop stars, such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson, brand themselves and establish their image? Why is Clarkson’s approach something that helps provide her staying power? At the same time, what about the paradox between her supposed authenticity and and the fact that she’s just now making the music she wants? Does her “American Idol” experience create a different PR playbook for her?


Keeping It Fresh

Students first week of “real” blogging is behind them. Now they’re in the refinement phase for the rest of the term.

How can they keep improving? Here are 7 Steps to Ace Your Next Blog Post and 20 Writing Tips to Avoid Boring Your Readers, both from Ragan, a  PR resource I consult often. (We’ll discuss how the associated infographics fare when we cover infographics in a few weeks.) Also from Ragan, here are 13 Outstanding Blogs and Websites For PR Pros. (Can you tell I really dig Ragan?) Even once your blogroll is set up it’s a good idea to update it periodically as you discover new sources of insPiRation.

Speaking of… below is your insPiRation for the week!

“A Women’s March Leader Was Kicked Off An American Airlines Flight (refinery29)
Pilot Boots New York Activist From American Airlines Flight (NY Daily News)
The facts aren’t all in yet. But for now, is American Airlines handling this PR crisis appropriately? If not, what else should the company do? Which audiences might be particularly offended by this incident? How do previous similar incidents change how AA might respond?

Tourism & Travel & Hospitality…
Cruise Ship Company Offers Same-Sex Wedding Ceremonies At Sea (Mashable)
Is this a good PR move for this company? If some audiences complain, how should the company respond? How can values and PR intertwine? Do you think audience segmentation by identity is a growing trend?

Health Care…
A 2-Year-Old’s Kidney Transplant Was Put on Hold After His Donor Father’s Probation Violation (The Washington Post)
This seems like a PR disaster created by Emory Healthcare. Assuming it is, how might you have argued against its creation if you worked in PR for Emory Healthcare? What would you have pointed out to higher ups? If there is a legitimate reason for the delay that cannot be legally disclosed what would you have said differently if you were Emory’s spokesperson?
Read More…

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…

Week 7

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

This is my last blog of the quarter – and the last insPiRation (see below) I’ll give this group of Strategic Public Relations Communication students. That means next week students are writing their last blog posts of the term.

I wonder what they’re feeling? My guess based on previous classes: relief twinged with sadness with a side of pride. The twice-weekly blogging assignment is typically daunting at first. But then as students find their voices and delve into their theme they typically find it’s not as scary as they feared. They also find that the things they thought they’d blog about they typically don’t. Blogging requires planning, but it also requires flexibility. They realize they can immerse themselves in their passions and PR at the same time, and that in fact PR is hiding (or not) in most issues of the day and industries of the moment.

The main thing students realize is that writing consistently makes you a better writer. No one I know ever continues their blog from this class, despite some grand plans. But what I do hope will continue is the discipline of writing weekly and applying a critical PR lens to what’s going on in the world. I also hope students hold onto the idea that hard work and engagement with learning engenders confidence and that adhering to that cycle can help them be successful after college. And that’s my real final inspiration of the term.

Food…Ad & PR…Entertainment…
Paul Newman Who? Salad Dressing Company Adjusts to Reach Millennials (The New York Times)
What do you think about the new strategy by Newman’s Own to reach millennials? How did Paul Newman set the original standard for celebrity do-gooder projects – and how is it different than such projects by today’s celebrities? Will Millennial foodies flock to Newman’s Own once they know more about it?

Entertainment… Music…
“I Would’ve Voted For Trump.” And With That, Kanye West Begins His 2020 Campaign for President (
What do you make of Kanye’s comments – serious political beliefs or publicity stunt? How could this affect his relationship with his fans? Will fans who hold different political beliefs respect him for speaking his mind or not? Will fans be confused by these comments which seem contradictory to other comments he’s made about political figures?

Musician Blasts Racism in Speech, After Receiving ‘Brown People’ Award (Mashable)
How do you think Aaradhna’s reaction to receiving this award will affect (positively or negatively) her relationship with fans and potential fans? Should the NZ Music Awards do some damage control?
Read More…

Week 6

It happens every quarter. Students really hit their stride (whatever hitting their stride means for them).

Right now, they’re finishing up infographics and revising their first round of their corporate internal memos about Samsung’s massive Note7 recall. (Speaking of, what do you think of Tim Cook’s memo to Apple employees following this week’s divisive presidential election?)

At the same time, things get cray cray around Week 9 in a 10-week term.

So J452, as you finish up finish strong. Here’s some more fire for your personal social media efforts, which you’ll need to wrap up and report on soon.

And here’s a fascinating read on the future of internal communications about using Snapchat to engage employees. You will be the ones to develop new strategies like this and change PR, starting in just a few months.

But here’s some short-term insPiRation for your blog’s next week:

Foreign policy…
Weeks After Defeated Deal, Colombia and FARC Rebels Reach A New Peace (NPR)
How should Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos, this year’s Nobel peace prize winner, sell this new deal to the Colombian people? Even if this one is not subject to a referendum, how can he secure legitimacy for this new plan? What should his messages be and which audiences are most critical?

Typesetting machine at Oregon State University's Orange Media Network offices - Kathryn Thier

Typesetting machine at Oregon State University’s Orange Media Network offices – Kathryn Thier

VW, Audi Confirm Investigation Into Carbon Dioxide Levels in Some Cares (The Wall Street Journal)
How should VW’s PR team handle this new crisis?

10 Nonprofit Twitter Accounts Doing It Right (HubSpot)
Although the organizations profiled are very different (and one isn’t even a nonprofit), what are the commonalities here? In other words, what can other nonprofits learn (big picture) from these ones about engaging their audiences and spreading their messages?
Read More…


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