Thought Leadership

Conference Recap: Reaching Rural Americans; Preventing Social Media Crises; Using the PESO Model

Here are some highlights from three professional development sessions at the PRSA 2017 International Conference in Boston on Oct. 8–10:


Breaking Misconceptions About Communicating With Rural Americans

When PR professionals target people in poor, rural communities, relying on stereotypes and misconceptions often hinders their campaigns, said Deana Rachelle Haworth, M.A., APR, senior vice president of the Indianapolis-based PR firm Hirons, who led a PD session on Oct. 10, titled “Rural Reach: Strategic Communication With Rural and Low Income Audiences.”

For example, there’s an assumption that the internet or social media are not the best tools for reaching low-income Americans. However, according to Pew Research Center, 65 percent of people who earn less than $30,000 are Facebook users.

“If you’re not paying for your social media campaigns, then no one is seeing them,” said Haworth, who recalled her childhood in small-town Indiana as one of eating “government cheese” from food banks and spending the Christmas season with her parents who couldn’t afford presents.

To be more successful at reaching rural America, Haworth offered a few pieces of advice for PR professionals when building their campaigns:

    1. Do market research. Communicators need to learn more about the work and entertainment habits of rural Americans. For instance, while these individuals watch a lot of TV, it may be at odd hours because they often don’t often have 9-to-5 jobs. Commercials and TV messaging, therefore, need to be made available at unconventional times. “Market research is vital to understanding how target audiences consume info,” said Haworth.
    2. Meet people where they are. She also believes that one of the best ways to reach rural Americans is in their community. Haworth recommends attending town gatherings and interacting with local elected officials, regardless of their political beliefs. “Take the politics out of it,” she said. “Once they’re elected, they’re one of our key stakeholders.”
    3. Don’t confuse urban and rural poverty. During her presentation, Haworth shared case studies pertaining to everything from prescription drug abuse to HIV awareness during the 2015 outbreak in Indiana’s Scott County. In discussing these situations, she contextualized how those in Middle America often face problems that coastal PR professionals may not have experience with. Therefore, they need special approaches to find the right message. The urban poor is not the rural poor, said Haworth.

3 Ways to Maintain Control of Your Corporate Social Media

The speed and accessibility of social media means that brands are always teetering on the edge of a crisis. Because it only takes one post to destroy a reputation, companies need to be wary of who has the power to create and share content.

“Don’t fire an employee and then leave them in control of the Twitter account,” said Regina Luttrell, Ph.D. (pictured above), during an Oct. 9 PD session titled “Going #Rogue: Losing Control of Your Social Media.”

During the presentation, Luttrell, an assistant professor at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Jamie Ward, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Eastern Michigan University, and Susan Emerick, a marketing strategist at IBM, discussed the best ways for brands to remain at the helm of their social media accounts and also limit the damage in the event that someone creates an “alt” channel or hijacks their handle.

    • Prepare in advance. According to the presenters, only one-third of employees have been trained by their companies on official social media policies. Corporate leaders need to guide their workers on how they should (and should not) represent their brand their online.
    • Listen and monitor. If the content is consistent, then it’s easier to spot when something is off or when someone breaches your account. “You won’t know those things are happening unless you’re listening,” said Luttrell.
    • Mobilize. Companies should have strong pre-crisis and crisis plans in place. This type of planning includes making sure that your team is communicating well internally, too. “If something is a problem internally, then it could explode externally,” said Emerick.


The PESO Model and a Data-Driven Approach to Communications

During the Oct. 9 PD session “Convergence + Conversion: How to Integrate and Measure Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned,” panelists discussed how the pressure to be data-driven has influenced the content they’re focusing on.

Unsurprisingly, the importance of shared media (which refers, in part, to social media and online interactions among consumers) was a topic on all of their minds.

“Social media was cute and fun — going out and starting conversations with people,” said Karen Raskopf, chief communications officer at Dunkin’ Brands. “Now, there’s a very strategic approach we take.”

Raskopf spoke on the panel with Will Briganti, director of corporate communications at Nasdaq; Ben Deutsch, vice president of corporate communications at the Coca-Cola Company; and Mike Schaffer, senior vice president of digital corporate reputation at Edelman.

For Deutsch and his team, this “strategic approach” included growing their owned media channels through 2012’s Coca-Cola Journey rebrand. Because shrinking newsrooms forced the corporation to move away from its reliance on news outlets for consistent earned media, they decided to publish their own content in the form of a digital magazine to ensure that there would always be a bevy of stories and information to share on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

In addition, more content for social media meant more opportunities to measure the strength of Coca-Cola’s messaging. “The beauty of social is it gives you hard metrics,” said Deutsch.

Raskopf says social media has inspired Dunkin’ Brands to incorporate popular internet trends into their campaigns. Earlier this year, a video from “America’s Got Talent” — which Dunkin’ Donuts sponsors — featuring a man in a pumpkin mask dancing to Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” racked up nearly 3 million YouTube views.

Dunkin’ decided to use “Dancing Pumpkin Man” in a commercial rolling out their fall products, turning a viral moment into a piece of paid media. “In corporate America, what gets measured gets funded,” said Raskopf, referring to the 3 million hits on the video.

In the end, the panelists also agreed that social media functions as a barometer for whether the message behind a PR campaign is reaching consumers.

“You can put paid and owned media behind [your message] but, if you don’t have the story, [then it doesn’t matter],” said Schaffer.


Dean Essner is the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications. 

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