I know this question sounds dramatic, perhaps farfetched; however, the answer is yes. Allow me to take a trip down memory lane to show you the power of PR and media’s dramatic rise of influence in society.
Indeed, public relations has come a long way in the past 15 years. When I was in college, I could not wait to start my career in communications. I began freelancing for a newspaper in my senior year, and I continued being a journalist even after I landed my first job in PR. I heard a lot of “terms of endearment” from journalists and acquaintances about the field of PR, such as “flak master” and “spin doctor” (there’s even a Wikipedia definition for spin). While the comments upset me, they did not deter me from staying in the field. In fact, they made me more determined to work on campaigns that could improve lives, and – yes – even save lives.
My media journey started when I worked on the Great American Cleanup, a three-month community improvement program from nonprofit Keep America Beautiful (client) that has revitalized blighted communities and rallied people to care for their communities, generating economic development and neighborly pride. Next, I had the privilege of working on national media relations for client FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). The nonprofit has transformed hundreds of young lives, with many shifting from troubled teenagers to promising engineering majors; these powerful stories have inspired countless others to join FIRST. I’ve also worked on media stories about the American Kidney Fund’s Pair Up campaign (client). As a result of our national press release about Pair Up posted online, two people saw my contact information and called me asking for health advice. I quickly provided them with the free health hotline number for the American Kidney Fund.
Consumers are now driving the conversations about issues near and dear to them – from health issues to education reform, from social causes to transparency from businesses about corporate responsibility practices.
Consumers who are angry about Foxconn’s treatment of Chinese factory workers are taking to the social media airwaves, demanding changes in how these workers – many of them just teens – are treated and compensated. ABC News recently reignited consumer concerns about the issue after Bill Weir was finally allowed to go inside Foxconn and explore the dark side of manufacturing. I am confident that, with all of this media attention and consumer demand, working conditions will change and workers’ lives will change for the better.
In the era of social media, we’re witnessing a prolific shift in how we discover and deliver news – and how consumers will react. Case in point: #stopkony2012. The nonprofit Invisible Children launched a campaign aiming to stop terrorist warlord Joseph Kony from running a child army in Africa. The campaign launched with a disturbing, heart-wrenching video about the dictator’s cruelty and reign of terror. The video has gone viral, racking up millions of views in a matter of days. Now, mainstream media are driving the headlines from the video.
I realize there are plenty of bad things to say about the media. Sometimes reporters get the story wrong or misinterpret the facts, and often times we see sensational reports that push the envelope. However, the lesson here is, whether it’s through viral videos, tweets or headlines in The New York Times, powerful storytelling makes a world of difference in delivering important information that cam impact lives. Offering health advice or drawing attention to human rights issues via Stop Kony have the potential to change – even save lives. As long as media keep offering PR pros the chance to advance important issues, I will stay determined to chase after the stories and campaigns that deliver these life-changing headlines.
--Maureen O’Connell, Senior Account Supervisor