McDonald’s “Signs” – Misplaced Outrage

By: Cody Church

On Jan. 11, during the Golden Globes, McDonald’s set free a new ad campaign called “Signs,” which attempts to convey the idea that McDonald’s restaurants are intrinsically linked to community and American society by showing pictures of the signs outside of their restaurants during times of tragedy large and small. The text on the signs appeal to traditional American sentiments like “Thank You Veterans,” appeals to local plight with “Keep Jobs in Toledo,” and references to national tragedies such as “We Remember 9/11” and “Boston Strong.” This ad comes at a time when McDonald’s stock is a huge mess and sales are down nationally. Being a publically traded company, McDonald’s is answerable to their stockholders, and at a time like this they really couldn’t afford to take a step back and hope for the best. However, the ad created considerable blowback on social media after it aired, claiming that McDonald’s is using national tragedy to drive up their sales.

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This isn’t the first time in recent memory that a McDonald’s ad campaign prompted a social media uproar. In October, McDonald’s began running advertisements on YouTube titled “Our Food, Your Questions.” The purpose of the advertisement was to dispel popular myth about McDonald’s serving pink slime disguised as chicken nuggets and show consumers the actual origins of their food. Once again, social media wasn’t having it, and it led to an extremely funny piece on John Oliver’s show “Last Week Tonight” that I probably shouldn’t hyperlink because of the language.

If it wasn’t extremely clear by now, this latest case spells it out in extremely simple terms: McDonald’s cannot bring back consumers through a social media campaign. I understand that it is tempting considering the massive reach of social media in today’s economic environment, but McDonald’s became a giant during a time before social media and has continued to globalize and spread its reach long after. It is also worth noting that McDonald’s has done a fantastic job of changing its image to continue its appeal to Gen-X’ers and Millennials. When I was a kid, their restaurants were based around Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals. Now, most McDonald’s restaurants are designed to look like internet cafes and offer a pretty wide coffee selection for a fast food restaurant. Presently, my demographic is concerned with eating healthy meals, organic foods, and vegetarian options. In this regard, McDonald’s has failed to keep up with the times; but all of this needs to change through the menu – not by running social media campaigns attempting to convince the public that their food is healthy and their restaurants are staples of American society.

That said, it would be disingenuous to argue that no one eats at McDonald’s anymore because their menu isn’t healthy. Their profit margins may be shrinking, but they are still staggering. Fast, cheap food will always be a staple of the American diet because a lot of Americans need fast, cheap food. I recall a time when I was kid when my mother, who raised me on her own, would bring home McDonald’s one a week because it was cheap, better than nothing, and most of all because she didn’t feel inclined to cook after working and commuting for twelve hours in one day. Studies are extremely clear in this regard – low income Americans are more inclined to eat fast food because it is cheap and available. As long as there are Americans living near the poverty line, fast food will continue to exist. Personally, I don’t see this as a problem.

The majority of social media activism is created by journalists or bloggers who don’t live near the poverty line. It is easy for them to discredit McDonald’s because they have never been forced to live in a situation where fast food wasn’t just an option along the highway, but to many Americans it was a part of life. This is what the “Signs” ad attempts to convey – that through thick and thin, better and worse, McDonald’s has been there and it will always be there. The reaction to the ad is undoubtedly based on your personal views of McDonald’s. I don’t believe the ad was designed to change that, but rather to reaffirm your current opinion about the brand.

All I ask is that before you see the ad and make the assumption that this is a tactic to capitalize on tragedy to increase sales, please recognize that to so many Americans, McDonald’s is not simply a restaurant, it is a safety net – one that we appreciate and cherish, even if we don’t personally enjoy the product.

Farewell to Our Seniors

Name: Ariel Collins ariel

Major: Bachelor of Science in Public Relations with Business Foundations

Hometown: Bulverde, Texas

Fun Fact: I was named after the little mermaid because my parents thought I was going to be born with red hair.

Plans after graduation: I would like to get a job working in events and promotions for a non-profit organization.

Advice to PRSSA underclassmen: Take advantage of all of the opportunities that are available to you. Do as many internships as you can to get experience, and have fun while you are in college.

Name: Morgan Douglasmorgan

Major: Public Relations with Business Foundations

Hometown: Duncanville, Texas

Fun fact: I hate to admit this, but I am a PR major who has never watched Scandal. It is at the TOP of my post-graduation Netflix must-watch list, I swear!

Plans after graduation: I will be interning full time with Southwest Airlines in the Social Business Department analyzing and assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of the company’s communication with its customers. I’m incredibly excited to work in their new state-of-the-art media listening center to enhance the customer experience with the brand!

Advice to PRSSA underclassmen: Your time here at UT flies by quickly. Be sure to take the time to find something you are truly passionate about. For some it might be your major, student organizations, volunteer work, even friends and family. Whatever your passion may be, approach everything you do with authenticity. If you stay true to yourself throughout your time here, you will get so much more value out of everything you do.

Name: Jay Eggerjay

Major: Public Relations

Hometown: McAllen, Texas

Fun fact: I’m really into hip-hop and board games. On my old computer I had over 200GB of hip-hop music. I have all kinds of board games — I’m also down to play with someone!

Plans after graduation: I’m currently interviewing with a few places in Boston. I think it would be a good experience for me to get out of my comfort zone and learn a completely new culture. And of course I’d be getting Red Sox tickets!

Advice to PRSSA underclassmen: Nothing beats a good work ethic. When you’re in college, you’re allowed to switch jobs around and check out the field. In my opinion, it’s better to get several different internships instead of one long one. You might find that you love public affairs and you had no idea! You also might find out you hate it. More than anything, network your butt off. Meet people that you have a real connection to and don’t be afraid to ask them for advice. You’re also probably not tweeting enough! Show off your personal brand (it’s corny, but important) — you’d be surprised at how many doors being a baseball fan or an Alexander McQueen nut can open.

Name: Landon Horan, VP of Special Operations landon

Major: Public Relations; Minor in Government; Global Track Business Foundations Certificate

Hometown: Plano, Texas

Fun Fact: I haven’t eaten a hamburger/steak since I was 12.

Plans after graduation: Go full time at my internship at car2go wile looking for a social impact job.

Advice to PRSSA undergraduates: Reach out to older members and recent alumni for advice about classes and internships! Believe me- I know it seems super intimidating to make the initial contact but we’re actually really excited to share our insight and help you out.

Congratulations to our graduates. Amazing things are ahead. From Texas PRSSA, we wish you all the best of luck. Hook ‘em!

Rising Involvement in The Rise School of Austin

By: Tiffany Lin

Photo: The Rise School of Austin website

Photo: The Rise School of Austin website

Shining new facilities and a fresh curriculum, The Rise School of Austin, a school dedicated to individualized and integrated learning programs, spearheads an advancing movement for an increasingly integrated learning environment. Aimed at highlighting the individualism in their students, the school encourages them to be constructive leaders and team members in their classes. The staff reflects the passion and ambition of the institution by closely working hands-on with the students, often personalizing each student’s program to fit his or her needs. Although the school specializes in more delayed, developing children, the school seeks to expand their potential student enrollment to children of all learning levels.

Photo: The Rise School of Austin website

Photo: The Rise School of Austin website

In order to have their goals and mission expressed, the UT PRSSA Philanthropy Committee has aided in behind-the-scenes communication efforts, especially redesigning their website content. The website had plenty of difficult jargon to decipher, but in collaboration with the liaisons of the school, the committee helped produce a user-friendly website with easy-to-understand content. The new content effectively communicates the atmosphere the school is set it and concisely details an array of events hosted at their facility, which involve the community and the students.

Photo: The Rise School of Austin website

Photo: The Rise School of Austin website

One of the primary goals of the committee is to teach students realistic communication skills that will help them become effective and efficient leaders in each of their future fields. Although the committee was unable to make the deadline for the volunteer application for the school events this past semester, the committee hopes to volunteer at future events next spring in order to bring more publicity to the school and its programs.

Photo: The Rise School of Austin website

Photo: The Rise School of Austin website

3 Lessons to Help You Throughout Your Career

By: Samantha Branson

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Officers Vi and Landon with Courtney (right) before the meeting.

On Nov. 18, Courtney White, the global public relations manager for Spredfast, shared three life lessons that can help college graduates steer when entering the work force. Spredfast is a social marketing company headquartered right here in Austin, Texas. Here’s Courtney’s advice to all PR hopefuls:

Lesson 1: Be Persistent

It isn’t always the early bird that catches the worm. Sometimes it’s the bird that follows up with a company three times a week. “At the end of the day none of us have a ton of experience, so the only thing that will set you apart is persistence,” Courtney said. Additionally, remember that you most likely won’t get the first job you apply to, so don’t give up.

Lesson 2: Raise Your Hand

Whether or not you enjoyed participating in class, when it comes to the workplace, you must raise your hand when an opportunity arises because you never know where it’ll lead. Courtney once raised her hand at a meeting and it turned into her spearheading a new PR firm. “You have to be willing to say, ‘Okay, I’ll try this out.’”

Lesson 3: Be Nice

When you first meet new people, it is easy to remember to be polite, smile, and appear interested in anything they say. But after a while it becomes harder to remember the little things because you get comfortable. PR is all about who you know, and more people will want to get to know you if you are nice.

Courtney closed her talk by offering this last piece of advice: “Very rarely do you have that much to lose when you have that much to win.” So follow her three lessons to help you stand out among applicants and coworkers, and get that dream job you’ve been chasing.

Agency Highlight of the Week: GSD&M

By: Samantha Branson

In 1971, four University of Texas graduates, Roy Spence, Judy Trabulsi, Tim McClure and Steve Gurasich, decided they wanted three things: to stay together, remain in Austin, and make a difference.  An advertising agency seemed like the best idea and after switching between calling the agency Media 70 and Idea City, the founders settled on an acronym formed using their names, and thus GSD&M was born. Today, the full-service advertising agency employs over 500 Mexican food-eating, ping-pong playing, dog lovers that believe in the core values of restlessness, curiosity, and winning.

The building that houses GSD&M is located in the heart of Austin on West 6th Street. Our tour guide, HR Generalist & Intern Program Manager Lauren Kelly, started the tour in the lobby with a neon Bevo art fixture hanging over the front entrance given to the agency by Evan Boyles, the original neon artist, showing just how much UT pride the agency has. Our attention was then brought to the front desk that had been covered in cute pictures of dogs and cats. Lauren explained that before each meeting with a client, the agency gets “swagged out” in their company’s advertising. Just one way the agency welcomes its clients and makes them feel at home.

Unlike many advertising companies, GSD&M’s building was anything but boring. Throughout the building you can find art installations like the one found in the rotunda named “String Theory.” According to Lauren the “building is like a canvas.” The further into the tour, the more apparent it became that the environment at GSD&M is meant to spur creativity. Employees could bring their dogs to work and there was a game room, theatre room, and vending machines with $0.25 beer. The place seemed more like a fun house than a top-ranked advertising agency.

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Even the offices for major accounts at GSD&M are out of the ordinary. The Southwest Airlines wing has huge airplane props from previously filmed commercials and model airplanes of the famous Shamu-painted airplanes that were the result of a collaboration between two of the agency’s bigger clients: Southwest Airlines and Seaworld. The Goodyear account room features a tire swing in the middle of the room. Some other big names the agency boasts are Walgreens (which is their largest account), AT&T, and Chipotle. Throughout the account wing, inspirational phrases can be found on plagues on the wall like this one, “Ideas will be the currency of the 21st century,” reinforcing the positive, inventive atmosphere found at GSD&M.

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PRSSA members Alyssa, Samantha and Michelle posing on the Goodyear office’s tire swing on Oct. 31, 2014.

The names for the rooms even showcase the creativity of the people employed at GSD&M. Clients are given pitches from the agency in rooms named Alpha and Omega (with tons of food, of course). Other rooms found in the building are the “Cheesegrater conference room,” “Sky Box conference room,” and the “Inside Out room,” which actually isn’t a room but a balcony. The building also boasts a beautiful English-style courtyard where the agency has artists perform live music for the employees (because you can’t be housed in Austin without being connected to the live music scene). If you are more of a PR person, don’t worry. The agency also has a media section with a full house media team and a communications team.

If you wish to intern/work for GSD&M, they have an intern program for juniors and seniors. Internship experience is required and you must be able to work 20 hours a week. GSD&M is super competitive, but you do real work and the internships are paid. If you meet these requirements and this agency sounds like a fun place to work, go to www.gsdm.com to start your online profile today.image1

Edelman Austin Agency Tour Recap

edelman1By: Alyssa Neilson

Edelman is known for being the world’s largest independently owned PR firm with 65 global offices and over 5,000 employees worldwide. On October 28, our chapter got the privilege to tour Edelman’s Austin office and have a Q&A session with some of their AE’s and Senior Account Executives.

When we first got to their office, we were stunned by the amount of openness and killer interior design. It was such a creative space where all of their employees could be comfortable while working together on accounts.

Our Q&A session was led by Abby Van Uum, a proud Texas PR grad and former UT PRSSA member. “I chose to work at Edelman because it is simply the best PR firm in the world.” The Austin office has a little under 30 employees and adds about two or three more every couple of months, and just five years ago there were only about 10 people total in the office. Edelman’s Texas offices are comprised of Austin, Dallas and Houston and are seated in their southwest region. We learned about how each Edelman Texas office is different than the next and Austin is reputably the “funkiest” and the second largest of the three. Edelman Houston is smaller as it was formerly Vollmer Public Relations before Edelman purchased it in 2010 as well as its employees.

edelman3At Edelman Austin, employees are encouraged to take work breaks in the office’s lounge area (complete with a kitchen and some good books). In our Q&A with some of the youngest account executives there, we received some very good advice about pursuing a corporate PR role at Edelman. “I knew I wanted to work at Edelman right away, so I kept looking on the website for Austin openings until there was one,” Abby said. “The best way to get your foot in the door for an internship here is to have us on your radar so we can have you on ours, before you apply. Send us your resume so we have it on file, we actually go through them when we are looking to hire immediately when we pick up a new client in the office.”

Edelman only hire graduates for their internship program, and the office typically only hires one intern per semester, but interning with Edelman is bound to end in a full-time offer upon successful completion of your internship – four out of six of the AE’s we met with started as Edelman interns while UT students.

“Definitely, focus on your writing and use your writing classes to your advantage. We write more in this job than I ever thought I would,” she added.

Edelman also has lots of employee incentives that make the company so favorable for people that work there. There’s an Edelman exchange program that the AE’s said is kind of like foreign exchange in your career. In this program, Edelman lets you apply to be able to switch offices for a few months in another city or country to get a different experience. Applying is open to all employees around the world, so sometimes the Austin office hosts Edelman employees from other cities and other parts of the world. Edelman is also flexible when it comes to letting employees move offices and cities, permanently.

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The Truth Will Set You Free (from PR Disasters)

By: Cody Church

Pardon the anecdotal evidence, there won’t be much of it in this blog, but when I told my family that I planned to major in public relations their first reaction was, “Well, you’ve always been a good liar.” But the fact is, with research readily available on the Internet, PR professionals who “spin the truth” are easily debunked by media outlets; this only encourages public distrust – the exact opposite of what PR is intended to accomplish. I hope to prove that honesty is the ideal way to regain public trust after an incident, and conversely, that lying makes the issue far worse.

July 15, 2010 – news breaks that a pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico has been capped after gushing oil into the water for 83 days. When Deepwater Horizon, a rig operated by BP, exploded and sank, 210 million gallons of oil were released into the Gulf while the pipeline remained damaged. As of today, BP has been required to pay $42.2 billion to restore the Gulf, with $2.5 billion in damages to coastal fisheries, a major element of the Gulf Coast economy. In late June of 2010, a Gallup poll found that only 16 percent of Americans approved of BP’s handling of the spill. Without a doubt, BP had both an environmental and PR disaster in their hands.

BP laid low until Christmas 2011 when they unleashed a massive national PR blitz, touting the success of their restoration initiatives along the Gulf Coast. Many locals called the campaign “BP propaganda,” and one energy activist pointed out that the research done by BP was never made public and was conducted by scientists who were protected by confidentiality agreements. Three years after receiving an approval rating comparable to Sadam Hussein’s, BP’s stock is still down; thus, proving that their PR efforts have largely failed. A few final efforts by the company’s PR team are underway now in the op-ed sections of major magazines and newspapers – notably an article posted in Politico by Geoff Morrell, senior vice president of U.S. communications and external affairs for BP, titled “No, BP Didn’t Ruin The Gulf.” Another op-ed offered a different opinion on the aftermath, but the question I ask is this – why is BP trying to “spin the truth” when their public relations campaign would have been more successful if they admitted their fault in the disaster and didn’t dilute the debate with junk science? I have two examples of honesty paying off in a big way for companies.

In early 2011, sales of Domino’s Pizza were slipping. The company decided to try a new method to generate interest in their product – admit their fault and emphasize the improvements they were making. The results were clear – sales drastically improved. In addition to their TV ads, the company also launched a new section of the website where customers could upload pictures of their food. Domino’s made a promise never to digitally touch up food on their website or in their commercials to make it more appealing; instead, they told the consumers that they planned to “do better,” and make a product that actually looks as great as it does in their advertisements.

Second, you might have seen the new ads McDonald’s is running on the Internet that focus on the quality of their food. It is no secret that many people doubt the health value of a meal at McDonald’s, but their new ads don’t claim McDonald’s should be a new health craze, they simply show the viewer exactly how their food is made, all the way from the pasture to the wrapper. Once again, honesty is key.

The clear difference between BP, McDonald’s and Domino’s is that only one of them caused billions of dollars in damage to the planet. However, I would argue that the same ethical principles apply, regardless of the situation. When crisis arises, inform the public about what happened and do it truthfully.