Some 200 Boston University students spent an evening Oct. 3 with executives of seven major PR firms and Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of PR Firms.

Students who did an excellent job of covering the event for us said they met a lot of people and learned a lot.

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Bang at the Boston Univ. event.
Photo: Justin Soto
We found the advice of keynoter Jens Bang of Cone Communications to be particularly relevant: "You need to continue to learn new things that are going on within your industry or profession."

Nothing was said about freelancing which is the occupation that awaits many, if not most, of the grads.

They should know about mediabistro.com, New York, which lists 1,100 writers nationwide in all sorts of specialties. The detailed listings cost $21 a month or $145 a year. A sample listing is Deborah Cohen's.

A Mediabistro staffer will address the freelancers panel of the New York Financial Writers' Assn. tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Playwright's Celtic Pub, Eighth ave. and 45th st.

Another nationwide group based in New York that lists freelancers is Editorial Freelancers Assn. It has numerous booklets and pamphlets on how to start your own business including one by Ruth Thaler titled Launching Your Editorial Business.

Need for Teamwork Was Stressed

Speakers including Cripps, Bang, and Phil Nardone of PAN Communications, stressed the need for PR job candidates to see themselves as members of a team. "It's collaborative," said Nardone. "You have to be willing to work with a team," said Laura Tomasetti of 360 PR. "Creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum, it involves teamwork," said Cripps.

Not discussed were PR jobs on the institutional or corporate side where duties of the PR person are different.

A key job of institutional PR people is to make sure that no employee or supplier speaks for or about the institution without authorization.

Examples of such policies are Viacom's and PR Society of America's.

There was no charge for the CPRF career forum. The more than 200 students at the Feb. 22 career day of the Atlanta chapter of the PR Society were charged $85 each although the chapter, with $317,000 in a non-interest bearing account, is the richest of the 110 chapters. Society chair Mickey Nall spoke, his only known appearance before a chapter membership this year.

The 100+ students who attended a career day April 2 hosted by the New York chapter of the Society were charged $10 each.

Audience Was Female, White

The audience at the BU event was about 90% women, almost all of them white, according to those at the event.

This is a problem for the PR industry which feels too many qualified men are eliminating PR as a career path because it has become "women's work."

Fears that PR would become a "velvet ghetto" were voiced as far back as the 1980s and such fears have turned out to be justified.

PR Society of America is more than 70% female and the Int'l Assn. of Business Communicators is more than 80% female. Most IABC members are in internal PR.

Twenty of the 25 biggest PRSA chapters are headed by women.

Whether anything can or should be done about this remains to be seen. We don't know of any group that is addressing the issue.

Few Minorities Present

The BU gathering only had a few members of minority groups. The Foundation of the PR Society, recognizing this imbalance, has made recruiting minorities to PR its principal goal. It was a co-sponsor of the career forum at NYU.

There was no literature table at that event. Offers of free O'Dwyer's Directory of PR Firms that could be raffled off were rejected.

The BU event accepted five Directories that were placed on the reception table and raffled off at the end of the night to students who had left their names. A set of 12 O'Dwyer magazines, each one focusing on a PR specialty, was sent to Bang but they were not displayed or raffled off.

A similar offer will be made to the next "Take Flight to PR" event which will be conducted by CPRF Tuesday, Nov. 5 in San Jose.

Boches Sees Melding of Ads/PR/Editorial

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Boches touted IBM's advertorial relationship with the Huffington Post.
A sweeping overview of PR, promotion, social media, advertising, marketing and editorial was presented by Edward Boches, BU professor of advertising, in which he urged those in such areas not to be confined to their own "silos." Full PDF of the presentation is here.

He said a "new kind of communication idea is emerging…these new ideas, big and small, build trust, enhance reputation, tell stories, involve users, generate press coverage and effect change by blurring lines and breaking down walls. Or simply disregarding them."

Ford Gave Cars, Pepsi Millions to Causes

Boches described programs including a promotion for the Ford Fiesta that involved giving away 100 of the minicars to those who created websites for worthy causes. The "Pepsi Refresh" program gave $21 million for those proposing similar ideas. $1.3M was awarded monthly based on selections from the first 1,000 ideas received.

CPRF is generating audience involvement by offering $2,500 to the student who creates the best video promoting the theme "A career in PR is an opportunity for me to_____________." The winner will also get an expense-paid trip to New York and have the video premiered at the CPRF's dinner in New York Oct. 23. It will also be showcased on the Council's website.

Boches said he has seen "the lines between advertising and PR disappear entirely."  Cited was IBM's "native advertising" partnership with Huffington Post.

"IBM creates content that's actually useful and educational—a form that's more reminiscent of PR than advertising—but one that pays for a distribution channel," said Boches.

Journalists including David Carr of the New York Times have expressed concern over this development. His Sept. 16 column, titled, "Storytelling Ads May Be Journalism's New Peril," recounts criticism The Atlantic ran into in January when it allowed Scientology to create a post that looked like the magazine's editorial product. Forbes "BrandVoice" was also taken to task for melding ads and editorial. Carr feels that "publishers looking to save the village commons of journalism through innovation should be careful they don't set it on fire in the process."

Prizes Attract Buyers—Who Shop the Web

Numerous consumers were attracted to the Ford and Pepsi giveaways as described by Boches. But they rely on information obtained on the web when making purchases.

Students should be aware that Apple has knocked Coca-Cola out of its title as the "most valuable brand in the world," a story picked up by Stuart Elliott's ad column in the Sept. 29 NYT.

Five of the top ten brands, according to Interbrand, a unit of Omnicom, are in informational technology.

Google is No. 2; Microsoft No. 5; Samsung is No. 8, and Intel is No. 9.

Consumers are information-hungry. They will base purchases and other decisions on web investigations, looking for information sources that are not compromised in any way.

Interbrand rated Apple as worth $98.3 billion, up 28% from 2012, and Coca-Cola, up 2% but only worth $79.2B.

Large amounts of ad dollars are shifting to search engines like Google and Bing, the Microsoft rival to Google.

Web Worries Ad Congloms

Google's cost-per-click AdWords can cost a host $10,000 to $20,000 a day, depending on traffic.

There's not much room for creativity since the headline can only be 25 characters followed by two lines of 35 characters each. Revenues were $42.5B in 2012 and are expected to hit $50B this year. A lot of ad dollars have shifted from newspapers which had $49B in revenues in 2006 but only $23B last year.

The ad/PR conglomerates are worried about this trend. This is one reason for the planned merger of two of the biggest conglomerates—Omnicom and Publicis.

PR has a love affair with social media but marketing professor Scott Galloway of New York University said in August that an NYU study found only 3% of traffic to commercial sites was coming from SM while 33% was coming from search engines such as Google and Bing.

His remarks, carried on Bloomberg, were titled "Social Media's Diminished Impact on Business."