Monday, April 26, 2010

Annual PRSA San Antonio Del Oro Awards Banquet ~ May 6, 2010

The San Antonio Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America cordially invites you to a special evening to celebrate the region’s public relations stars. Our emcee will be Monica Taylor of FOX. Join us to celebrate our El Bronce and La Plata winners (See the list of 2010 La Plata and El Bronce winners), with special recognition to our Del Oro recipients. Find out more about our winners and emcee here.

Congratulations to our individual winners:

Paige Ramsey-Palmer, APR
Tex Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award

David Gabler
Public Relations Professional of the Year

Stephen Chavez
Community Service Award

Kathrynne “Katie” Hornstrom
Horizon Award

Register by Thursday, April 29, 2010. Get details. Download the invitation (pdf).

Want to reserve a table for your friends and colleagues at this year’s Del Oro Award Banquet? Become a sponsor!

Want to help a young professional? Donate items for the Del Oro Silent Auction to benefit the Marilyn Potts Endowment Fund!

Take a good look at the must-haves in this year’s Silent Auction. We've got piano lessons, a fancy diamond necklace, dinner out at Crumpets, wine tasting, symphony tickets, a night's stay at St. Anthony Hotel, and much more. See some highlights and be ready to bid!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

PR Campaign Key to Morgan’s Wonderland Opening Success

Earlier this month, the long-awaited grand opening ceremony for Morgan’s Wonderland was carried live on Ustream It was the capstone of a year-long awareness campaign for the nations’ first theme park designed with accessibility and special needs in mind.

The park is the brainchild of San Antonio philanthropist and former builder Gordon Hartman and named for his special needs daughter Morgan. The park is a non-profit operation, so a large opening campaign so typical to theme parks was not an option, according to Bob McCullough, APR, Communications Director for Morgan’s Wonderland.

“One of the biggest challenges is communicating exactly what it is. It’s a theme park, but it’s not a theme park in certain respects,” says McCullough. “We don’t have tickets, we have reservations. There are no coupons, no promotions. Instead, because many families dealing with special needs are faced with economic challenges, we offer free admission to special-needs guests and $5 admission to those who come with them. Therefore, you have to approach things a lot differently.”

Approaching things differently was the hallmark of the park’s pre-opening campaign too. According to McCullough, the team at the Gordon Hartman Family foundation embraced social media very early, integrating a Facebook and Twitter presence with the park’s Web site. Reaching out to local social media groups like the Social Media Club of San Antonio and BMPR (Business, Media and Public Relations) was part of that plan.

Traditional media relations were important, too, says McCullough. First and foremost, educating and informing the local media was a key part of the plan. The park’s soft opening on March 3 featured great local coverage. “Then we started getting calls from Alaska and New York and everywhere in between because and the local stations kindly shared their stories with the networks” says McCullough. “We also received a tremendous boost March 8 when ‘ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer’ aired a lengthy feature story.”

In the month after the soft opening of Morgan’s Wonderland, San Antonio’s ABC affiliate KSAT TV aired a 30-minute special on the park, which led to additional coverage by “Good Morning America” two days before the grand opening. The San Antonio Express-News produced a special insert about the park that was distributed April 4.

The grand opening on Saturday, April 10, featured former San Antonio Spur David Robinson and actress Eva Longoria Parker among the celebrities. McCullough estimates that more than 10,000 attended the opening. “Even though people had to wait a little to get in the park, there were millions of smiles. It was a great evening and the weather cooperated, too. Everything went beyond our expectations.”

But the public relations campaign is not yet over. McCullough is a veteran of the theme park business. While Public Relations Director at SeaWorld San Antonio, he and his team earned a Silver Anvil for the Grand Opening Campaign for that parks’ opening activities in 1988. So he knows the exciting challenges of telling the bigger story of Morgan’s Wonderland over the coming months.

“There are lots of different story angles,” says McCullough. “This is a special-needs story, a tourism story, a high-tech story, an architecture story, a design story. It lends itself to so many different story angles.”

As well, the $32.5 million dollar park is still in the process of raising funds to pay for the build-out. McCullough will also be involved in familiarization tours with community groups to spur them on to help contribute to the capital and operating costs.
Since grand opening, the park has received media inquiries from around the U.S. and overseas.

“This has been a truly heartwarming project,” says McCullough. “We’ll keep trying to spread the word and hope we will be discovered by Oprah and many others regionally, nationally and internationally.” In the meantime, the park has been discovered by families across the USA who have been waiting for a place like Morgan’s Wonderland.

Photo of the Hartman family at the opening of Morgan's Wonderland. Courtesy r.c. french photography, copyright 2010, All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

America's Companies are NOT Hiding Social Media Efforts

In her “What’s Next blog,” BL Ochman calls out America’s top companies for hiding their social media efforts. She even lists the top ten, the chief criteria being whether or not social media places like Facebook and Twitter were listed on the company’s homepage.

She suggests three reasons why these companies aren’t engaged, although none of the companies seem to have contributed to the story. Ochman’s top three reasons were: fear, lack of internal cooperation and legal pressure.

As a public relations practitioner who has spent most of my career in corporate communications, I would like to suggest an alternate viewpoint.

First, the fact that social media is not present on the homepage of each company, in and of itself, is no reason to categorize companies as “hiding.” If, like many large companies, they are using a stakeholder model of communications, their efforts might be considered niche to a stakeholder(s) who would not necessarily be reached by the corporate homepage.

One example of this is on the landing page of the new Chevrolet Volt, which includes links to Facebook and Twitter, a Community link and numerous blog posts about the 2011 product from General Motors. It’s targeted to the audience and it’s front and center for that product.

Are America’s top companies really afraid of social media? I doubt it. What they are afraid of is failing at social media, and most large companies know that the stakes are high. Ochman cites lack of cooperation between internal channels as a cause for the top ten not engaging , but I would venture a guess that integration is a tough issue for organizations. What should you integrate? Who should be responsible for the integration? Is it part of everyone’s job? Should marketing own it? How about the Communications department? There are human resource issues as well.

Large issues are at stake here: education about social media and ethical principles of using it across diverse employee and customer populations. This takes time for larger companies to populate and includes educating legal teams too. Companies are certainly on a journey which will lead to empowerment in social media --- it’s hard work for companies and it doesn’t happen overnight.

I would not categorize America’s top companies as hiding. Rather, I would say they are struggling with ownership, integration, education and empowerment issues. Let’s give them more time to get it right. Perhaps it would lead to permanent, sustainable change.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Is Your PR Plan Helping Grow Your Brand?

Every element of your business elevates or devalues your brand. This was the message from Ed Howie, President of Brand True, who spoke last week at the PRSA San Antonio chapter monthly luncheon. He had a refreshing viewpoint with great relevance for public relations practitioners, based on his work with many consumer brands.

His hypothesis is worth considering. Are we elevating or devaluing our brand? In the heat of the moment, do you consider how a particular tactic in your plan may elevate brand perception or detract from it? It’s natural that proactive plans should elevate brand perception, but what about when we manage issues or a crisis? These are also chances to elevate brand perception, but more often than not, we are trying to neutralize or eliminate misconceptions. Missed opportunity?

The second thesis by Howie made me reconsider traditional marketing thinking. He suggests that, while developing methods to deliver your message, you should start with Who as the first question. Who do you want to reach? Most of us start with What and then figure out Who the What is intended for, right? Howie’s words are very germane because What implies traditional product marketing strategies, while Who implies the conversational nature of social media marketing.

The takeaway from Howie’s presentation? The importance of creating and maintaining emotional connections. Here’s what he had to say:

“Emotional connection is often times an underleveraged element in the equation of building a powerful connection. This truth applies to public relations, customer relations, and employee relations. Often times we get so caught up in the facts or the tasks that we forget to identify ways to connect emotionally. However, emotional connections and cues are often the things that break through the clutter of bombarding messages and information. Genuine passion and emotion can be a game-changer…and a clutter-breaker. Just remember, you have to manage it as earnestly as you do the facts. Because if not real, contrived emotional connections can do more harm than good.”

How have you created an emotional connection with your last project? With whom did you create the connection? Maybe it’s time to get out your plan, and start thinking about Who you want to make emotional connections with today.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

I REALLY Want to Take the Census

By Katie Hornstrom

I’ve been looking forward to filling out my 2010 Census since January. I count it as my civic duty and I want to represent my community, even if it’s just on sheet of paper. However, I’m finding a very large disconnect between the information being promoted at a national level and what is being communicated locally.

We have been bombarded with messages from the U.S. Census Bureau about the importance of the census through the news media, radio spots, billboards, print ads. The Census Bureau has a fantastic website with some great widgets you can download. The director writes a blog, there are interactive forms and tons of wonderfully produced materials like videos from real people.

With all that I’m sad to report, as of Census Day, I have yet to even receive my Census form.

Throughout my experiences with the 2010 Census process, I am constantly reminded of one crucial aspect of our business: if your front line staff, your people on the ground, aren’t communicating correct information then all of your efforts, and your clients money, are wasted. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on advertising, website, promotions, news stories, radio spots, etc. if the nuts and bolts information gets lost.

I have been incredibly disappointed with the entire Census process, particularly communications, as I’ve experienced it.

For example, several weeks ago the Express-News ran a story about how the Census was having a hard time filling jobs.

Yet, several friends and I applied for a part-time Census jobs in February, assured the job training would be available during non-work hours only to be called mid-March on a Wednesday informing us the training was scheduled the following Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. How much of our wasted taxpayer dollars could have been saved on at least four applications with just a little correct information? How many others were in the same situation?

My current dilemma is just trying to get a straight answer about where to get the form that never made it to my house (census forms aren’t delivered to p.o. boxes). I’ve checked online, I’ve called different offices, I’ve gotten five different answers from four different people (one woman I spoke with was just guessing and suggesting places for me to go).

I’m someone who wants to fill out my form! Can you imagine the response of somebody who is ambivalent? What if this were your organization? I certainly wouldn’t buy a product if I couldn’t find out where it’s sold!

Texas was recently singled out by Census director Robert Groves chastising us as one of the lagging states in returning their Census forms.

I take exception to his position. While I understand there are some people who just haven’t bothered, many of us might not have been properly reached. While I obviously can’t speak for the whole state, I would like to inform Mr. Groves that numerous citizens here in rural south Texas have yet to even receive their forms and are having a hard time just finding out correct information from his bureau. If you notice, the two biggest lagging states are Texas and Alaska, both with large rural populations. Maybe we’re not the problem, but how we’re being reached is.

This experience is a big reminder to me, to all of us, that maybe instead of chastising or bemoaning our target audience, we look internally to see how we could be doing better a better job getting correct information out through our fellow employees who work directly with our consumers. We can shout all day, but if our front line staff isn’t shouting the same messages, then nobody gets heard. And Mr. Groves, I’m still waiting to answer those 10 questions.

Katie Hornstrom is PRSA San Antonio's Byline Editor and Communications Representative for Medina Valley Electric Co-operative.