What to PR people even do?

As communication students it is our job to have a basic understanding of all aspects of communication. Even if your career is tailored towards one specific side of communication, you will almost inevitably have to reference other sides at some point. My area of focus is public relations. I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with Katie Monteil Vidiallet, who is the Director of Public Relations and Communications at The Gatorade Company, and she shared with me her experience in the PR field.

I contacted Mrs. Vidiallet via LinkedIn. After messaging back and forth for a couple days we were able to schedule a phone interview in which I asked her questions about her work, and advice she would have for people who are interested in public relations. The first question I ask Mrs. Vidiallet was to describe what an average work week looks like for her. She made sure to emphasize that public relations is very unpredictable and that every week is different. Some things she can always expect is that she travels a lot and that she often works from home. She is frequently talking to the media or working on a story. When I asked her how important writing is in her job she said it is very important. She does less writing now than she did when she was working an entry level position, but she still spends a significant amount of time proof reading other people’s work.

I also asked Mrs. Vidiallet about what she does to stay current in the public relations industry. Public relations is always changing, and she said some ways she keeps up with that is by always skimming newspaper and magazine articles, and by reading Twitter and news update. Another pointer she had was that she tries to separate work from pop culture. When I asked her about crisis communication she pointed out that you can’t predict a crisis. She said it’s important to be calm and not be overly reactive when dealing with crises. The last question I asked Mrs. Vidiallet was what kind of characteristics her business looks for when hiring for entry level jobs. She said that they look for people who are hungry and ready to do the grunt work. Public relations often isn’t as glamorous at first as it sounds, but people are more successful when they’re willing to do the not-so-exciting jobs first.

I felt like my interview with Mrs. Vidiallet was very informative. As someone looking to pursue a career in public relations, I think it was extremely beneficial for me to hear from someone who has been through it all.

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Maxed out and back to the drawing board

A crisis is defined as a time of intense difficulty or danger. A key characteristic of crises is that they are unpredictable. At some point in time, all businesses will experience a crisis. While there is no telling when a crisis will hit or what the impact will be, businesses can take steps to prepare for crises. Organizations can assess the likelihood and impact of different types of crises and set standards for how they will be handled.


Photo by Yiran Ding on Unsplash

The American multinational company Boeing has chosen to ground all of its 737 MAX airplanes due to having two fatal crashes in a matter of five months. The first crash took place during the Lion Air Flight 610. Despite following instructions from Boeing, the captain was unable to keep the plane from nose diving just minutes after it took off, and it resulted in the death of everyone aboard the plane. Several months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 experienced a similar situation, which resulted in another crash that killed nearly everyone on board. Boeing has decided to ground all planes of this model until they can determine what caused the crashes and how to fix it.

I think Boeing was right to ground all of their planes. It may not seem like a pressing issue if only two of the 737 MAX’s crashed but it puts everyone who flies on those planes at risk until they determine what the cause is. In addition, their CEO issued a statement apologizing for the tragedies. When lives are at stake it is important to be sensitive about the matter and towards those affected by a crisis. The CEO also made sure to note that full details would be disclosed at a later time and that the engineers at Boeing would be working in the meantime to correct the errors. Sometimes when organizations don’t have all the information, the opt for not saying anything at all instead of delivering a false message. While these intentions are good, this can come off as very passive on the part of the business. In most cases, it is good to at least acknowledge the crisis, even if it is just to say that you will deliver more information when you have it.

I think Boeing was right to ground all of their planes. It may not seem like a pressing issue if only two of the 737 MAX’s crashed but it puts everyone who flies on those planes at risk until they determine what the cause is. In addition, their CEO issued a statement apologizing for the tragedies. When lives are at stake it is important to be sensitive about the matter and towards those affected by a crisis. The CEO also made sure to note that full details would be disclosed at a later time and that the engineers at Boeing would be working in the meantime to correct the errors. Sometimes when organizations don’t have all the information, the opt for not saying anything at all instead of delivering a false message. While these intentions are good, this can come off as very passive on the part of the business. In most cases, it is good to at least acknowledge the crisis, even if it is just to say that you will deliver more information when you have it.

Wells Fargo is not so well

Many people can recall memories from the financial crisis of 2008. One company that soared above the rest, despite the hardships, was Wells Fargo. The American financial institution saw their value increase to roughly $300 billion dollars during this time. On the outside, it looked like the financial crisis was working wonders for the company, but this was not the case. The inner workings of Wells Fargo were barely being held together, which lead employees to engage in unethical behavior to meet sales quotas and keep their jobs.

Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash

It was difficult for a lot of people to keep their jobs during the financial recession, and Wells Fargo was no exception. If you couldn’t reach your sales quota, management said you weren’t being a team player, which ultimately lead to employees being fired. Employees began opening fake or unnecessary accounts under the names of people who used Wells Fargo to reach their sales goals. These actions tarnished the trust customers had with Wells Fargo. It also affected the reputation Wells Fargo had as perceived by its employees. Many employees admitted that they were ashamed of their actions, but they felt they had no other choice unless they were to be fired.

If Wells Fargo had been upfront with its customers, things might have played out differently. I think they should have been more straightforward with their employees and told them that the company couldn’t afford to keep so many people at that time. These actions might have had negative short term effects, but they might have helped them recover better in the long run. Thousands of employees and several members of the upper level management were fired after news of the fraud came out. I think a new wave of staff will be somewhat beneficial in repairing Wells Fargo’s reputation, but I don’t think people will forget ever forget what happened. In order to move forward, I think it is important that the new staff acknowledges the mistakes of the past, and specifically outlines what they are going to do differently to ensure something like that never happens again.