The Abera’s are On the Move

Quite literally!

We have moved into our first home together and boy, has it been a whirlwind. After a long year and a half of toil, hard work, attending meeting after meeting, saving thousands of dollars, searching and combing through real estate sites; we finally closed on our house at the end of September. Praise God for that blessing!

My husband suggested that we purchase a home through a non-profit advocacy group called NACA (Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America). NACA

is an advocacy group that helps individuals own their own home regardless of credit, ethnicity or profession in order to build strong and stable neighborhoods. By becoming a member and working through their program we were able to obtain a mortgage/home without paying closing costs or fees and were able to receive a below-market interest rate. To purchase a home through NACA you also don’t have to have perfect credit or a down payment. You can see people from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds in the office on a daily basis trying to achieve a small slice of the “American Dream.”

However, we had a terrible time working with our first mortgage counselor (she now no longer works in the Atlanta office) which ended up setting us back eight months. We were furious that we could have had our home a long time ago. They repeatedly lost paperwork, were unorganized, understaffed, overworked and had poor time management. Many of these things are not uncommon for many non-profits and even some larger for-profit organizations. We were very close to quitting the program and trying our luck with a conventional loan. We ultimately decided that the good heavily outweighed the negative parts of NACA and asked to switch to another counselor. This final action ultimately sped up our qualification process and allowed us to purchase our dream home.

I am proud of how far we have come as a young, still newlywed couple. Buying a home could have driven us apart, but we chose to let it drive us together. My husband and I relied on each other’s strengths and worked to accomplish a shared goal. We argued, fought and listened to each others desires and frustrations throughout the process. Together we have made sound decisions, worked hard to save more than enough money to buy down our interest rate to well below 2.5% (almost unheard of in a conventional loan), and researched markets and neighborhoods that would be a great return on our investment. Once we toured the final house on our list, I knew we had found what we both were happy with in a home.

Reflecting on this process I can’t help but laugh at how stressed and anxious we felt. Many times we had to pause and remind ourselves that no matter what happens, God was going to give what he knew we needed in his own time. His time is always the right time and we couldn’t have agreed more.

I encourage you to take a look at the NACA site if you are interested in purchasing a home. There is literally no better time than right now.

With Love,
Mrs. Abera

This is our lovely new home. We are having fun making her our own.

This is our lovely new home. We are definitely having fun making her our own. Pictures to follow soon.

A PR Campaign in Review – The Cheerios Heart Healthy Campaign

A Brief Summary 

Earlier this summer Cheerios released a new ad as part of their Heart Healthy Campaign.  The advertisement shown on television and uploaded to YouTube featured a married couple with a mom, a dad and their young daughter. The ad contained the same Heart Healthy Campaign messaging as many Cheerio ads have contained; that eating Cheerios can reduce the risk of heart disease. However, what set this ad apart from the others used before was a biracial family that was featured.  The mom was white, the dad was black and the daughter was a blend of the two.

Those who identify themselves as being biracial or multiracial have increased from 2000 – 2010 by 28% according to the 2010 Census.  Also, biracial families have grown to 9 million strong over the past decade.  The Heart Healthy Campaign is targeted towards families and individuals emphasizing that eating Cheerios as part of a heart healthy diet creates a happier, healthier you which benefits you and the overall well-being of the whole family.  The campaign has in the past used mixed generation families, families of one ethnicity and even single parent homes to convey their message.  However, they have never included a mixed race family before this ad was released.  The decision to include a mixed race family within the campaign was not only a decision to showcase the changing face of the American family, but also to symbolize the inclusion of all familial dynamics. 

Although many Americans supported the use of a biracial family in the campaign, other individuals expressed hateful and racists comments towards the ad and General Mills in the news and online forums.  The ad on YouTube attracted so much attention, both negative and positive, that General Mills felt it necessary to block all users from posting any comments on this video.  General Mills took this action mainly to avoid individuals from posting racist and derogatory comments about the ad.  Their decision to block all comments, however, drew more attention and criticism to the campaign.

A PR Perspective

This campaign provided an example of crisis and dialogic (two-way) communication. 

General Mills executed these steps before, during and after the crisis:

  • Anticipated Crises
  • Identified the Crisis Communications Team
  • Identified and Trained Spokespersons
  • Established Notification and Monitoring Systems
  • Identified and Knew Stakeholders
  • Assessed the Situation
  • Finalized and Adapted Key Messages

Instead of shying away from the issue, General Mills stood on its position of using a biracial family.  It chose to confront the issue and engaged in an educated conversation about their decision to include a biracial family in their campaign ads.  General Mills spoke on behalf of themselves as a corporation instead of relying on an outside PR representative.  While using an outside representative may not hinder the support of an organization, by speaking on behalf of themselves, this further solidified and gained trust with their audience.  This also provided a stronger positive image with their targeted audience of a company that cares for the nurturing of every family.   

Strengths

The Cheerios Heart Healthy Campaign contains many strengths. The campaign seeks to understand and to know their growing audience.  The ads featured in this campaign are inclusive, not exclusive.  Unlike many corporations, General Mills was not intimidated by using a biracial family and stood firm in their decisions. During this crisis, General Mills were quick to speak out against those who opposed their message and instead attempted to focus on the positive aspects of the biracial ad for the campaign.

Areas of Opportunity

This campaign also had its weaknesses.  Although General Mills was quick to address the negative feedback, they might not have fully understood the still tense race relations within this country.  By stepping out of the “safe” advertising mold, they inserted themselves into a complex debate on racial issues.  And although they engaged with the media about their seemingly controversial decision, they should have continued to keep the dialogue open.  Instead of blocking the thoughts and speech that they hated, they could have created a safe place on their site to engage the public.  To capitalize on the dialogue, they needed to create a learning and informational environment where people can learn about the growing dynamics of a biracial community, issues that they may face, etc.

Suggestions for Improvement

This campaign can improve in a few ways.  General Mills should feel encouraged by the support of using the biracial family and the dialogue that followed about their decision. Continuing to use more diverse families within their strategic development of their tactics will increase their demographic audience and increase sales.  They should also continue to strengthen their focus on heart health.  Do not let racial issue distract from the overall goal of persuading the audience of Cheerios keeping a family happy and healthy. 

Final Thoughts

As biracial families and individuals begin to increase, companies have the option to include these changing dynamics within their messaging or choose to ignore their growing demographic.  What can we do as PR professionals to encourage organizations to break the mold and to take a risk by communicating with this demographic? How can we as practitioners prepare them for the conversation that will ultimately follow such a decision? Maybe we should be listening to these kids. They seem to have all the answers for how we should handle such situations.

 

Public Relations: An Evolving Field – Interview with Terri Thorton

Recently I had the opportunity and pleasure to interview a professional public relations practitioner, the founder and CEO of Thornton Communications, Terri Thornton.

For the past 15 years, Thornton has worked in her own public relations (p.r.) agency serving clients in law, accounting, energy, real estate, agribusiness & finance field.  Before changing career directions,  Thornton has also had years of experience working in broadcast news and journalism under her belt.  After years of working in journalism, she felt that it was time to branch out and as some journalists referred to p.r., she switched to “the dark side.” She began her career in p.r. working as an hourly employee.  When she realized that she could be doing the same work, but on her own she began her own p.r. agency.

Thornton’s first client was Kennesaw State University’s, Coles College of Business. What most people didn’t realize about the school was that they were very savvy in their communication outreach.  Despite the schools outreach efforts, Thornton realized that convincing local reporters that the school was worth writing about proved to be a challenge.  However, Thornton used her journalism background to help drive attention to the college.  She first realized that the school would be able to generate more media coverage from nationally based newspapers versus locally known news sources, establishing a faster response time and communication clearly. She attracted further media coverage by seeking to answer reporter’s complicated questions on corporate governance and family business.  Thornton wanted the school to be seen as the subject matter expert for reporters to actively seek accurate information on those topics.

Throughout her years in the profession, Thorton has seen how technology has shaped and redefined communications, specifically public relations and marketing.  Marketing and p.r., though different in their definitions, are also continuously evolving and overlapping in their outreach to an audience.  Technology has allowed organizations and individuals to become more engaged with one another.  The development of social media is not only increasing engagement, but also forcing us to become more aware.  It was thought that traditional media would fade out with the introduction of social media.  Thornton argued that although readership has declined, traditional media has not faded out because it has also adopted social media.  This new technology and platforms have also created new jobs such as social media specialists or content marketers.  Thornton stressed that we must be constantly changing with the technology, flexible and continuously researching new ways to interact with the intended audience.

Through Thorton’s research on digital media and firsthand experience with clients, she witnessed the change that social media has caused in the workplace and society.  Some clients can be afraid of using social media because they don’t want to make mistakes or simply don’t know how they can use social media.  “Social media can be customized as part of a strategy and it depends on the platform as well,” said Thorton.  By educating the clients, you are preparing them to engage with their audience and teaching them to use social media as a tool to communicate directly.

For budding p.r. professionals, Thorton gave some solid advice that we can all live by.

  1. Always keep learning especially with social media.  Be aware and learn as many skills as you can.
  2. Network: Reach out and don’t be shy. Introduce yourself. Find a group that speaks to you and you’ll find you all have something in common.  Remember, everyone is seeking to learn and grow.
  3. Find your niche. Once you’ve found it, learn it well.

As Thorton professionally grew, she realized that public relations had broadened her view of the world.  The world as seen through journalism and broadcast news is often negative and can make you question your faith in humanity. Her move to public relations helped her to see the possibility of making a positive impact on the world. What she was not expecting, in the beginning, was the low pay that she received working in a small p.r. office.  Thorton took a leap of faith and eventually started her own business.  It was difficult at times, but saw the many possibilities especially in social media.  She knew it was time to branch out when she kept asking herself, “Wonder if anyone has thought of this?”

As a global communicator, I hold myself to an expectation that I must be able to communicate with everyone which as times seems incredibly daunting.  Thorton concluded our interview with this final piece of advice that it is possible to communicate globally.  Look at the conversation that people are having and play to that.  Try to find the niche area of your audience, do your homework, research, and be persistent.

Terri Thorton “It’s [social media] not really a numbers game. It’s all relative. Are you reaching your target audience is the goal.”

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Multi-cultural Communication Spans Boundaries

We are beginning to learn more each day about other people, their culture and how they communicate. Culture is fluid, not static; it creates shared meanings and can serve as a roadmap of how a group functions.  As communicators working in public relations, marketing or advertising it is important to understand how we can effectively communicate across cultures.  This form of communication can be called cross-cultural communication, multicultural communication or intercultural communication.  Now that the world has become globalized, it consequently will force us to expand our knowledge of how we communicate with the world.  Jen Holladay further discusses multicultural communication in the modern world in her TedxTalk.

A Little Bit of Theory

No one size fits all theory can be applicable for intercultural communication in a global context.  Effective communication based on shared patterns of experience and interaction requires both general and specific knowledge of the cultural interactions.  However, by using a combination of these two theories, practitioners may be able to find a common ground.

Hofstede (1997) – Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions are five cultural variables that influence how we communicate and define relationships with other people. It can help explain the often challenging dynamics of international relations and communication

  • Power Distance (PDI)
  • Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV)
  • Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS)
  • Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI)
  • Long term v. short term orientation (LTO)

Pearson (1989) – Dialogic Communication Model suggests that practitioners become the mediator between an organization and its audience never putting ones needs before the others while listening and communicating to both sides.

The Creme of the Crop

In this category there is not just one, but three nonprofit organizations who have successfully used Hofstede’s and Pearson’s theories in their daily multicultural communication practices.  Organizations such as United Nations of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and World Health Organization (WHO) incorporate multicultural approaches when developing and implementing communication materials for their outreach programs.  These organizations work with individuals and groups in developing countries to mainly aid in the enhancement of health initiatives around the world.

In order for vital health information to be understood by the intended audience, each organization has done extensive research on the cultural norms and best practices for communicating.  Communicating about often taboo subjects such as HIV/AIDS, family planning, domestic abuse or vaccinations in many West African, Indian or Southeastern Asian countries had in the past made the educational process difficult.  They learned that in many West African countries that through using street theatre they could effectively communicate the information through a dramatic narration. These organizations would use volunteers, staff personnel or even hand puppets to assist in the story telling of the taboo subject.  This alleviated the pressure of singling out individuals, allowed the group to feel comfortable with the information and effectively disseminated the information to the audience.  Their understanding of cross-cultural communication has continued to show signs of effectiveness within the communities where they had been.

To Conclude

The old way of doing PR won’t get a practitioner very far in an interconnected world.  Multicultural communication is about seeking to understand cultural differences and can be aided by stepping out of your own culture and into another.  This will help a professional to not only see how another group functions, but also will help them to see their own culture and how they are perceived by others in the world.

One Final Thought

How can we as communication professionals improve our multi-cultural communication skills?  Are we doing enough to becoming more culturally aware?

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Red, Yellow, Black and White: Diversity in Public Relations

Diversify, Diversify, Diversify.

The first thing that may come to your mind when you read “Diversify” is your 401K or stock market portfolio.  However, the term “Diversify” may also be linked to corporations or educational institutions when referring to their employees, student demographic body or even the type of clients they serve.

So what does to diversify or diversity mean?  Diversity means to include things of varying elements or forms whether that be comprised of people from different ethnicities, cultures, educational or work history in an environment.

Glenn Eden from Weber Shandwick will help to explain diversity in the workplace.

You Got a Problem?

Diversity in the work place and especially in public relations is critical to achieving an effective communication.  By having a wide range of individuals who speak other languages, understand cultural norms or are aware of sensitivities within a group will provide greater insight into creating a stronger message for a public.

This may seem odd to be discussing the importance of diversity in the 21st Century, but there are still organizations and individuals that either lack will power to diversify or simply do not know how to be inclusive within their company.  In an ever expanding world and with the growth of social and digital media, many organizations are left behind by not actively seeking to diversify themselves.

Dr. Elizabeth Toth from the University of Maryland discusses the advantages of including a diversified strategy into a public relations firm’s business model. She argued that as p.r. professionals we are required to be effective in generate and delivering the right message to the right audience.  How could a practitioner accomplish such a goal without fully understanding its audience?  This would undoubtedly require a deeper understanding of the audience.

She also argued that diversity within the work place will help to retain and attract value-adding employees, will help to foster an engaging dialogue in the organization and may even help to improve the company’s reputation with its public.

The Best of the Best

To focus in on an organization that has shown exemplary status in diversifying its work place is Weber Shandwick!  Just this past October they received an award from the Council of Public Relations Firms for the Best Diversity & Inclusion Program.  The Council of Public Relations Firms and PRAwards partner together during PRWeek to deliver the awards.  Awards are given to organizations that hold a high standard in encouraging an environment where promoting diversity in educational and ethnic backgrounds is a positive aspect.

These five awards are given out each year:

  • Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative – Firm Revenue of $10 million or less
  • Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative – Firm Revenue of $10 million or more
  • Diversity Champion
  • Best Community Initiative by a PR Firm
  • Best Community Initiative by a Corporate/Non-profit organization

Weber Shandwick was awarded this top honor due to its strong values and dedication to recruiting individuals with varying types of talents and educational backgrounds.  They also provided training to their employees about the positive impacts of working and collaborating in an inclusive work environment.  They also have been accountable and demonstrated their firm’s dedication and expansion efforts over an extended period of time.

Weber Shandwick is a globally engaged company with offices located in the Americas, Middle East, Europe , Africa and Asia Pacific.  There is even an office here in Atlanta, Georgia.  They focus on creativity and have a high sense of commitment and expertise for their clients.  They practice and specialize in many areas varying from business and consumer marketing, research, crisis communication/management, digital media, social impact and multicultural communication.

Bottom Line

To understand your public, you must also be your public.

Do you think that diversifying public relations will serve as a tool to understand an audience?

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Change in Direction

As you may remember, I recently traveled to Ethiopia this summer for an internship.  While there I shared many experiences with people from different cultures and backgrounds tat will remain with me until I shall remember no longer.

One thing that has always stood out to me during my travels is the need for diversity and inclusion within an organization.  This may range from nonprofits to for profit organizations, government agencies or educational institutions.   Diversity, in my opinion, make everything better.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be focused on race or ethnic groups, but also economic status, where someone lives, gender, sexual orientation, language, educational background or work history.  These personal aspects help to define who we are as a group of people and sets us apart as an individual.

For the next several weeks I will be devoting this blog space to Diversity in Public Relations.  I will discuss some major themes, issues or theories within this realm of p.r. and also highlight an outstanding organization that “fights the good fight” for an inclusive environment.

Shall we begin?

Diversity is Within Us.