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Following my Heart, Sharing My Philosophy

Today I formally accepted a full-time instructor position at the University of Oregon in the School of Journalism and Communication. What, you say? You thought I already did that? Not quite. For the last six years, I’ve been an adjunct instructor. Full time, yes, but not permanent.

Tactically, the position won’t be much different. Philosophically, it’s a world away. But accepting this position is really putting a stake in the ground – this is who I am and where my priorities lie. I will still do consulting and speaking and Verve lives on. But this position marks an important milestone for me and one that I’m pretty excited about.

Thanks to many, many people who have supported me, trusted me, pushed me, challenged me and helped me get here.

As part of the application process, I revised and updated my teaching philosophy (thank you, The Professor is In for all your feedback!). I thought I’d share it with you here. I’d love to hear what you think! If you’re an educator, what is your philosophy? If you’re a student (or former student), what do you expect from your teachers?


I didn’t plan on being an educator. I had a whole world to save, and those world-saving-type jobs wanted a job candidate with an advanced degree. So, I applied to the SOJC’s graduate program and began Fall 2002 with a schedule full of classes and a GTF in J202: Information Gathering.

The teaching bug bit quickly, and it bit hard. I relished the time I spent in the discussion sections with the students helping them navigate the labor-intensive requirements of the course. I was honored and a bit terrified when Dr. Van Leuven and Dr. Steeves sat down with me after my master’s defense to tell me that the school wanted me to start teaching the very next month.

Some of what fuels my philosophy and my approach comes naturally. My personality is well suited to be part educator, part therapist and part cheerleader. But ultimately, the desire to create capable, talented, strategic young professionals drives my course content and the work the students do to fulfill course objectives.

I’m quite serious about this work and my mission. Today’s students must be better and know more than previous cohorts. The rules are changing, and it will be their job to stay on the cutting edge of communications. I push them hard; I have high expectations. I know what they are capable of (even though at times they don’t), and I stretch them to reach their potential.

Whether it’s navigating the chaos of twitter and learning how to manage it for the sake of creating conversations or wrapping their heads around an international crisis communications issue and creating a strategic plan, I am committed to finding new ways to engage students in my classroom. I love to try new things. I work to understand my students and my clear vision of course objectives enables me to try innovative approaches to find the best path.

I have seven “be-attitudes” that I share with every student on the first day of every class that encapsulate my philosophy and what I hope every student will take away from my classes.

  1. Be Curious: Read, ask questions, find out everything you can about your chosen profession. In public relations that means reading the industry blogs, paying attention to industry news, talking to local professionals in your community and being an avid consumer of media.
  2. Be Engaged: Beyond curiosity, engage your mind. What are the greater implications of what you’re reading, listening to or talking about?
  3. Be Empathetic: To succeed in public relations, you must be able to put yourself in another’s shoes. Practice now! How did your teammate come to that conclusion? If you were a member of a particular target audience, how would a company or organization reach you? As a client, how often would you want a report and what information would be important?
  4. Be Active: Active involvement in pre-professional organizations is an excellent way to be involved on your campus and in your community and make connections for your future at the same time. At the University of Oregon, public relations students are involved in PRSSA and Allen Hall Public Relations, the student-run public relations agency. Start your own blog, make connections via social networks like Facebook or Twitter. Find a new site like Google +,, LinkedIn or Instagram.
  5. Be Responsible: Your actions, your education and, yes, your grade are your responsibility. Your instructors (hopefully) provide the direction and the tools. But if you’re serious about your education and your future career, personal responsibility is essential. If you need help, get it. If you have a question, ask.
  6. Be Confident: As you mature into a young professional, trust your instincts and your ability to find a great internship, offer counsel to your brother’s friend’s start-up company and generally do good work. The balance, of course, is to be confident and humble. Know when you are in over your head and get help.
  7. Be Passionate!: The beautiful thing about choosing a career in public relations is that you can find the industry that makes you passionate about communicating. Maybe it’s performing arts? Or high-tech? For me, it’s nonprofit work and social change. Find your passion and shout it from the rooftops!

I might not be ridding the world of evil, but my reward is seeing students develop into thoughtful, ethical, engaged and empathetic professionals. Education has given me a way to contribute a better world through empowering my students.

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My Pick, News,

#UOregon at SXSW (with your vote!)

Not one, not two, not even three… but FOUR great panels are up for your vote on the South by Southwest Interactive Panel Picker for the 2012 festival. Click on the “vote for my idea” button at the end of each description to vote. You’ll have to register on the SXSW site, but it takes just a minute. Thanks!

1. Just Because It’s Legal, Doesn’t Make it Right

Me, along with Kami Huyse, Todd Defren, Joe Chernov and Arik Hansen.

You never know who you are dealing with online. Agencies, evangelists and free agents are everywhere you turn, but sometimes you have no idea that a person has been paid in money or perks to represent a brand. The FTC stepped in to make some rules, but there is still plenty of gray area. Is it okay to skirt full transparency? Is full transparency even possible with Facebook Likes, Google +1s and new platforms like Quora? As a marketer, how far is too far? This panel will explore the ins and outs of online promotion and what we are required to do, as well as the ethics around the gray zones

Vote for My SXSW Idea!


2. Change Demands Acts of Courage

Deb Morrison with Edward Boches, Colleen DeCourcy, Scott Bedbury and UO President Richard Lariviere (so cool).

What must we do to flourish during times of change and upheaval? Simply said, we must act with courage. Our mission: bring compelling leadership from education, innovation, technology and brand thinking together for a discussion on courageous acts committed in the name of transformation. Let’s talk about the economy, about realities in education and business, about remaining optimistic and visionary during wicked times. Not your normal motivational chat. And not your normal panel: four amazing thinkers prepared to deliver the roadmap for where we must go and how we act along the way.

Vote for My SXSW Idea!



3. Where Goes the Neighborhood: Local Meets Global

Kim Sheehan with Daniel Greene, Jeremiah McPherson and Luke Kintigh

The Future of Interactive Marketing is Near: in 2011, 40% of marketers have increased geographically targeted advertising. For small businesses this investment has stronger returns and higher response rates than other marketing channels due to mobile migration. In the next four years, an estimated 70% of mobile ads will be local. The democratization of the digital landscape allows the local business an opportunity to compete with global brands. However, many local marketers have yet to capitalize on digital tactics (especially mobile marketing) to build brand awareness. Local businesses find coupon and daily-deal programs unprofitable. They have problems converting check-ins to long-term success. And, global brands ignore the local market, missing opportunities to create brand loyalists at a grassroots level. This session will explore what Local and Global can learn from each other to better engage with their ‘ambassadors’ using digital media. We will focus on bringing successful global tactics to the local level. AND, we will challenge global marketers to think local as a means to better connect with target audiences at a neighborhood level.

Vote for My SXSW Idea!



4. Communicating Across Lines of Difference

Rita Radostitz with Mia Tuan

As the world around us becomes increasingly diverse, the ability to communication across salient social identities (i.e., race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) becomes critical. In this session, Dr. Mia Tuan, a sociologist and Rita Radostitz, a communications director, will talk about how they strive to successfully communicate with audiences that may or may not share their social identities. The session will discuss why it is an essential skill today to be an effective multicultural communicator, and the role that diversity plays in developing critical thinking. We will also talk about the ways we have successfully navigated building trust with diverse colleagues and audiences as well as the costs of successfully doing so.

Vote for My SXSW Idea!



I know we all hope you’ll take a minute to vote for us! And if you have a panel you’d like us to know about, leave it in the comments. See you in Austin!











Assignments, My Pick,

Why & How My Students Blog

In Strategic Public Relations Communications (J452/552), I require that my students blog. Over the course of 8 weeks, they will post 15 different posts and comment at least once a week on other people’s blogs. Having kept my own blog for nearly five years and also managing client blogs for about three, I know that just a handful of posts does not give you a sense of scope or scale for what it takes. Yes, twice a week is a lot, I know. We’re about mid-way through the term now. If you want to see this term’s student blogs, take a look here.

This is (more or less) my assignment description that I share with students. I always love feedback!


Objective: To become familiar with blogging for personal and professional purposes, including linking, images, commenting and trackbacks; to begin to build a dialogue and connections with communication (PR, Marketing) bloggers.

More than just an online diary, blogging is a powerful way to build dialogue in your industry and establish your expertise.

Your blog should focus on your “theme,” but not exclusively so. You’re welcome to explore other ideas and may find some additionally interesting topics via each week’s prompts. I hope your “theme” will provide some focus and consistency, but it shouldn’t be limiting.


  1. (week 2) Set up a personal blog using Blogger or WordPress. Select a name, register for a blog, set-up template, profile, blogroll and widgets.
    1. You must have a blogroll with a minimum of 10 blogs
  2. (week 2) Write an introductory post that provides an overview of your blog including: purpose, topic, interests and experience (a sort of cover letter for blogging). Write an “about me” section/page.
  3. (week 3 – 10) Write two posts per week for 14 posts total.
    1. one post should be in response to a prompt from Kelli. See: for example prompts. Linky loves will (ideally) expose you to new voices and new ideas and require that you think about trends and issues.
    2. one post is on a topic of your choice
  4. (week 4) Add a code of ethics to your blog
  5. (week 4 – 10) Leave one comment on a PR, marketing or advertising blog of your choice per week. You may comment on classmates’ blogs, but you must have 5 comments on outside blogs.

Additional Requirements:

  • Each post much include at least one link and an image.
  • Response posts much reference the writer of the original post (ex: in a recent post, so-and-so said…) and have an “in-text” link.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The blogosphere is a conversation. When you link to, or mention, people in your blog, they will know.
  • Keep the conversation civil and be professional.
  • Professional doesn’t mean boring or without perspective; it does mean that you don’t attack or belittle someone’s opinion.
  • You cannot blog anonymously.
All-Time Favorites, Just For Fun, My Pick,

Smile More: And Other Life Lessons Purple Hair has Taught Me

Earlier this week I was walking through the middle of campus with a scowl on my face. Not an I’m-in-a-bad-mood scowl, but a zoned-out/mind-is-elsewhere glare off into the distance. In fact, my eyes must have been cast downward because, in my peripheral vision, I see a man jogging toward me. He was clearly on a mission to get somewhere. As he approached, probably 10 feet from me, I looked up suddenly and made eye contact.

“Great hair!” he said with a big grin. I didn’t even have time to respond, but smiled quickly in acknowledgement of the compliment.

In that moment it struck me that as that man jogged toward me, I likely did not look very welcoming or approachable. And that moment was identical to millions of moments in my life. Except, now I have purple hair. So that man, the woman at the bank, the hygienist at the dentist’s office, the fellow concert-goer, my barista at Starbucks… interact with me and seem to remember me much differently than when I had plain brown hair. There’s a distinct lack of anonymity.

So, sure, purple hair is an obvious flashpoint/conversation starter/set-yourself-apart kind of thing. But truly, it’s not for everyone. So how can you set yourself apart in your day-to-day life? I’m not talking about in a physical sense… let’s use purple hair as a metaphor, shall we?

Be approachableBe conscientious of your body language, facial expressions and demeanor. No, you shouldn’t care what everyone thinks about you, that’s not the point. But if you non-verbal says, “I’m approachable,” you may be surprised at who you’ll meet or what conversations you might strike up.

Take interest in people – Be genuine, though. Don’t be obnoxious (there’s a certain coffee stand chain in Oregon that rhymes with Hutch Druthers that has the most obnoxious baristas who want to chatter non-stop and ask way too many questions about what you’re doing… don’t do that).

Smile & make eye-contact – I get stopped on the street (literally) and complimented on my purple noggin. No, I’m not always in the mood to smile and say “thank you.” But I do it anyway. People take a risk when they talk to a stranger – even if it’s to pay a compliment. The least you can do is show respect by acknowledging with a genuine response. Or if you’re the one taking a risk, then do so with a smile and eye contact. You’ll find both are usually reciprocated. And if they aren’t, it’s probably not about you.

People don’t always remember what you said, but they always remember how you made them feel.

Don’t take yourself too seriously – I have purple hair for crying out loud. Have fun, and the rest will follow.

I’d love to hear what you think.

My Pick, Professional Advice,

Not Afraid to Fail

The real world doesn’t have very many rules. There’s a lot of stuff you have to figure out all on your own and you have to love (or learn to love) jumping… and falling.

Glenn Cole of 72 and Sunny gave the commencement address this year for the School of Journalism and Communication and this idea was his main point. Not being afraid of failure will allow you to stretch yourself far beyond you ever thought was possible.

It’s not comfortable. In fact sometimes it downright sucks. Because you will fail and sometimes you’ll fail spectacularly. But overcoming that failure is really the only way to know, and appreciate, success.

Learn to learn from failure because everything will not go smoothly.

  • Chill out! You can’t learn without making mistakes. And making mistakes doesn’t mean you’re not smart, talented, creative, etc. In fact, quite the opposite.
  • Build a good relationship with your manager, your client, etc. Being allowed to fail, and learning from it, takes a team and takes support.
  • Be honest about your failure. Conduct a post-mortem of the project or situation and figure out what went right and what went wrong.

Being an entrepreneur has been meant that I’ve learned many, many lessons through trial by fire. What tips would you give? What lessons have you learned? Leave your comments.

Media Relations, My Pick,

Warning: Spinmeisters are Trying to Control Your News!

Stuff like this irks me.

According to a study of Australian newspapers, more than 50 percent of the content was “driven by some sort of public relations.” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard stats like this, and it’s not even the largest percent I’ve seen.

What irks me is the tone. Oh dear God… PR might have an influence on media coverage? Oh the humanity! Those PR people are evil! I am shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

Let’s be real. Without public relations people most organizations, nonprofits, government agencies (even little ones like parks and recreation, human right commissions or your public library), entrepreneurs, start-up companies, etc. would not have a voice in the marketplace of ideas. They wouldn’t be able to tell their stories. If it weren’t for PR people, how would that work?

So, yeah, sometimes that takes a press release or a pitch. And sometimes those releases and pitches pique the interest of the editor, reporter or producer on the other end. Sure, there’s plenty of fluff, plenty of overworked media folks with too much news hole to fill and plenty of PR people who will pitch crap and hope it sticks.

But if you wade through all that, the relationship can be a win-win. We (PR people) understand the media’s job and if we’re good at OUR job, then we make it easier and more efficient and ultimately allow the reporters, editors and producers to tell a better story.

No, I don’t want my paper full of stories driven by PR. But I do expect for organizations to be able to have a presence and a voice…and it takes PR to do that.

photo by CarbonNYC via Flickr
bart simpson writing i am sorry on the blackboard
Crisis Communications, My Pick,

What Makes a “Good” Apology?

“I’m sorry.”

Apologies seem to be a dime-a-dozen lately. Kanye, Serena, LaGarrette, Coach Kelly, LaGarrette again, Rep. Joe “You Lie!” Wilson (R-S. Carolina), Letterman…In fact, do a Google News search for “apologize” and get more than 13,000 results just from the last week.

We all make mistakes, bad decisions and yes, sometimes we even simply change our minds. Celebrities, athletes, politicians and business leaders are no different. But when it happens to people in the public eye, the apology can be a very important part of the public relations and communications effort required to move forward.

I do not talk about apologies as PR to minimize their importance and suggest that apologies are in any way “spin” or crafted in a way to only appear sincere. In fact, just the opposite. It’s hard to apologize and do so in a way that communicates your sincerity and intent. PR can help the individual (or organization) get their words and actions in line – and sometimes that means helping said individual or organization change their actions.

But what makes a good apology? In crisis communications, the mantra is to “tell it first, tell it fast, tell them what you’re going to do about it.” Because apologies are often given in the aftermath of a crisis, this advice holds true.

A Web site called The Perfect Apology gives a formula for crafting, well, the perfect apology. I think the formula works really well.

An effective apology should:

  • Include a specific reference to the situation you’re apologizing for. This may seem simple, but situations can get conflated and issues confused.
  • Acknowledge the hurt or damage done.
  • Take responsibility and recognize your role in the situation.
  • State your regret. Tell your audience how you feel about what’s happened.
  • Include what you’re going to do about it. What are your next steps to make sure this situation won’t occur again?

Kanye got many of these points right with his apology on Leno and (to me) seemed very sincere.

“I’m just ashamed that [I] caused someone else’s hurt…And I don’t try to justify it because I was just in the wrong…Period. But I need to, after this, take some time off and just analyze how I’m going to make it through the rest of this life, how I’m going to improve.”

Serena’s specific acknowledgment of her role model status was an important (and effective) part of her eventual apology:

I need to make it clear to all young people that I handled myself inappropriately and it’s not the way to act — win or lose, good call or bad call in any sport, in any manner. I like to lead by example. We all learn from experiences both good and bad, I will learn and grow from this, and be a better person as a result.”

For an apology to stick, you must follow-through. When actions contradict what words – any goodwill you have will evaporate and can compound the damage done.

George Schroeder had a terrific opinion piece in the Register-Guard about Chip Kelly’s decision to (maybe) allow LaGarrette Blount play again this season. In it he talks about the apparent conflict between Kelly’s words and actions. Actions, my friends, always speak louder than words. An excerpt (emphasis in bold is mine):

Since that night in Boise, [Kelly]’s been praised for his decision on Blount, for refunding expenses to a disgruntled fan, for sticking with a faltering quarterback, and also for leading a resurgence on the field.

This unravels much of that.

Never mind what Kelly says, people don’t see a kid who needs a goal. They see a football coach who wants a star tailback in the lineup. They think Nebraska, and Lawrence Phillips, no matter how strained the comparison.

Suspicious minds will figure Kelly had at least an inkling — even as he said there was no way Blount would play again for Oregon — that Blount would play again for Oregon.

Discussing with students some of the events of the summer, it was amazing how many examples that came up involved an apology… and even more telling that when I asked if the apologies seemed sincere, almost universally, the answer was no (or more accurately, the answer was groans of “yeah, right.”).

What do you think? What makes an apology “sincere”? Who has done a good job of apologizing recently?

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