Two weeks at a global public relations firm (and what I learned from it)


For the last two weeks, I have been embedded in the Tampa office of H+K (Hill + Knowlton) Strategies, one of the largest public relations agencies in the United States and the world.

Thanks to a Plank Center Educators Fellowship, I was able to spend two full weeks talking, one on one, to the different members of the office, including the executive vice-president and general manager, senior vice presidents, account supervisors, account executives, assistant account executives, administrative assistants, external consultants and visiting experts from other H+K offices in the United States. I also attended conference calls with clients and even a digital/social media boot camp that took place internally.

It has been a phenomenal learning experience for me to see, in action, how the PR-agency world works and to understand, in greater detail, the agency’s practice areas; the process of developing objectives, strategies and tactics for clients; the impact of digital and social media in the industry; the expertise and professionalism of the different members of the team; the balance needed between having general PR skills but also industry-specific insights; the relevance of measuring results; and even the coordination practices that have to be in place when you work for a multinational agency such as H+K Strategies, where you have to have periodic conference calls with clients in a context where the client has several persons involved in the conversation, and the agency also has a team of experts on the phone at the same time, most of them in Tampa, but others joining from different states and time zones.

Without disclosing any specific details, I will be referring to each of these aspects in coming blog posts.

I hope that these insights will be useful to other communications professors, other public relations professionals and, most of all, to strategic communications/public relations students, especially my students in the School of Communications at Elon University.

I want to finish, today, by thanking every member of the team at H+K Strategies in Tampa, especially Mr. Harry Costello, for opening the agency’s doors, for hosting me, for spending part of their busy days talking to me, for sharing so much knowledge, and for being so warm. I am very appreciative. Thank you.

Vanessa Bravo

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6 lecciones que nos deja el Tweet de @Claro_CostaRica

El trago amargo que (bien merecido) está pasando la empresa de telecomunicaciones Claro Costa Rica (@Claro_CostaRica) por su tweet machista del Domingo 27 de abril a las 8:30 p.m. nos debería dejar seis lecciones (por lo menos):

  1. Las redes sociales pueden ser muy entretenidas, pero no son asunto de juego. Son una de las herramientas más poderosas que instituciones de todo tipo (corporaciones incluidas) tienen para comunicar sus mensajes e interactuar con sus públicos. Deben ser manejadas profesionalmente.
  1. Si usted comete un error en redes sociales, arréglelo lo más pronto possible. A @Claro_CostaRica le tomó tres horas ofrecer una disculpa. Pocos años atrás, esto se hubiera considerado muy rápido. Ahora, varias horas son una eternidad. (Para leer sobre lo que pasó con este tweet, recomiendo este artículo del Tico Times, en
  1. Si se va a disculpar, hágalo bien. La primera “disculpa” de @Claro_CostaRica solo decía: “Ofrecemos una sincera disculpa por el tweet publicado a las 8:30 p.m.” Más adelante (hoooooras después) ofrecieron una disculpa más completa, más profunda, por medio de un enlace (pues el texto no cabía en un tweet), pero eso se debió haber hecho desde el primer momento.
  1. Si se equivocó, no solo responda rápido: “apechugue” con las consecuencias y afróntelas. Varios usuarios se quejaron de que las respuestas de la gente ante el tweet que originó esta crisis fueron borradas sin explicación.
  1. La sociedad costarricense está cambiando. Un chiste machista no cae nada bien, sobre todo, proveniendo de una corporación. Deberían tener lineamientos claros sobre lo que se puede (o no) comunicar en redes sociales. Si no los tienen, prepárenlos. Si sí los tienen: úsenlos.
  1. Este error podría provenir de un problema en las disposiciones de comunicación que se originan en la casa matriz en México, del equipo de comunicadores de la empresa en Costa Rica, o de algún otro origen, pero también podría tener raíces más profundas. ¿Hay equidad de género a lo interno de esta empresa, tanto en México como en sus subsidiarias? ¿Hay suficientes mujeres en puestos de autoridad? Lograr este balance podría ayudar muchísimo a crear respeto por todos los usuarios, en el futuro.

Vanessa Bravo, PhD.Tweet_Claro_CostaRica

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Communications in a global age

Communications in a global age: This is the name of one of the courses I am teaching at Elon University this semester, and the topic cannot be more relevant.

On one hand, technology adoption rates are the fastest in history. In fact, more than 50 percent of the content online is accessed through mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.).  On the other hand, local news and specialized publications are still very much needed to understand our closest environment.

In Alamance County, North Carolina, where Elon University is located, the Latino population proportion mimics the one nationally: about 16 percent of the county’s population which is, precisely, the same percentage for the U.S. population.

Interacting with some of them recently, I was able to notice that they tend to be heavy users of mobile technologies: They use their smartphones to text, to call, and, very important, to be connected to their families and friends, both in the United States and abroad, through social media such as Facebook and through apps such as WhatsApp.

At the same time, many of them pick, religiously, the “ethnic” publications that they find in restaurants, supermarkets and community centers around the town, because this hyper-local publications really reflect the issues they are concerned about: the immigration reform, the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA), the unemployment rates, etc.

These are issues that many mainstream media do not cover, or they are covered marginally, with these media industries not understanding the relevance of the issues and the rising power of this audience.

All this is happening while the Miley Cyrus desperation on the MTV VMA awards generates more buzz and coverage that the anniversary of the Martin Luther King, Jr. speech “I have a dream,” or the possible participation of the United States in the Syrian conflict.

These are, definitely, interesting times to learn and discuss about communications in a global age and about the contributions of Latinos to the United States (the other course I am teaching this semester at Elon University). I am excited.

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Maya Angelou, the best of the semester

One more semester finishes today at Elon University, in North Carolina. While some students were immersed in their books this morning, preparing themselves for their finals, others were carrying their luggage from the dorms to the parking lots, to stuff their cars or join whoever was giving them a ride, on the way to the airport to go home, or on the way to the highway, to drive to their hometowns.

Some others were relaxing in the coffee shop, while a few more were –probably unsuccessfully– trying to bargain a few extra points with their professors.

The end of the semester always brings some nostalgia. There are many good moments to remember. One of the best, for me, was attending Fall Convocation, where the guest speaker was Maya Angelou. What a woman! What a human being! What an inspiring example!

Sharp, witty, funny, and touching at times, with a brain fast as thunder, she reminded us that we have the capacity to be “rainbows in the clouds,” to be the light for somebody who, at the moment, could need that little bit of light and color in his or her life.

angelouMany other memories I cherish from this Fall 2012, but being there, in the same venue with Maya Angelou, was probably the best!

Photo: Maya Angelou at Elon. (Credit: Elon University)

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Welcome, class of 2016!

This Saturday, Aug.25, was Convocation Day at Elon University, in North Carolina. The excitement of parents and students alike was very touching.

This is just a short post just to share some highlights of President Leo Lambert’s speech, a very moving and relevant message to all incoming students.

President Lambert’s speech highlights

It was a very lovely ceremony. So, welcome, class of 2016, and carpe diem!
Photo: This is me during Convocation at Elon University. (Credit: Elon University)

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NBC’s coverage of the Olympics opening ceremony: simply dissapointing

Last Friday, July 27, I watched the (delayed) NBC’s coverage of the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games. I watched in my apartment in North Carolina. I would like to briefly comment not on the ceremony itself, but on the coverage that NBC made of this opening ceremony.
The anchors/journalists in charge were Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, and I definitely expected much more from them. When you, as a journalist, are in charge of commenting –live– an event as important as this, your first task is to be prepared to do a decent job. Lauer and Vieira, after all, have all the support of NBC: researchers, producers, other journalists in their team, etc., so it is unacceptable to hear the things we –poor viewers– had to suffer through.

For example, if you don’t know who Tim Berners-Lee is, that is fine, but you need to find out beforehand to be able to tell your viewers.

If his presence was part of the Olympics’ opening ceremony surprises, you –Meredith Vieira– still have a crowd of supporting personnel who can find the information for you and give you a couple of paragraphs so that you can talk a little bit about Berners-Lee. You cannot just say, “If you haven’t heard of him, we hadn’t either. Google it!” That is sad.

Also, if on-the-spot humor is not your thing, don’t try it. To say, “Those kids don’t look sick to me” during the sketch about the social security system in Great Britain was not funny. If anything, it could have been offensive.

So, if you are not funny, don’t try to be… not during such an important live coverage (which, by the way, was a delayed transmission in the United States, so even if you were commenting live, there were things that could have been edited later on. Or, if you were actually commenting four or five hours after the ceremony, then, even worse: You should have been prepared, as you had all the information well in advance!).

Finally, don’t show off your ignorance. I don’t know who said this, if Vieira, Lauer or someone else, but one of the NBC commentators said, when the delegation from African nation Djibouti was walking: “This country could win the Gold medal for funny names” (!!????). Why? Just because you have never heard about Djibouti???????

I have worked as a journalist for more than a decade, so I know this job is not an easy one, especially in the case of live coverage. But, precisely because it is such an important occasion, and precisely because you work for NBC, your preparation should have been much better. You cannot get away with something like this just because you are famous, Meredith Vieira.

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My First Graduation at Elon University

Today, Saturday May 19, 2012, is the 122nd commencement ceremony for Elon University, in North Carolina, but it is the first for me… No, not as a student, but as an assistant professor in the School of Communications. As any “newbie,” I am very excited about today, so I woke up extra early in the morning and here I am, with one hour in my hands before the ceremony actually begins.

There is something magical about commencement day. It moves me, for some reason.

It is emotional to see the students arriving to campus, followed by their proud parents or friends. Today, at Elon, there is movement everywhere. Students are wearing their maroon gowns hours in advance, family members and friends arrived as early as possible to get good seats (and hopefully a decent parking spot), and you can see how impressed they are with the beauty of Elon’s campus.

“Ahhh, now I understand why they call this place ‘under the oaks,”‘ said a grandmother while realizing that, in beautiful North Carolina, graduation ceremonies can actually happen under the oaks, in the open, with the cool breeze and the birds singing all around you.

For me, this is my first commencement at Elon. I started working here in the Fall of 2011, so this is the first time I will see students graduate in this institution. I have to say that I also feel proud to be wearing my regalia (Ph.D. gown, hood and hat) with the colors of my alma mater: the University of Florida.

So… Go Gators!!! and Go Elon!!! Congratulations, Grads 2012!

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