Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Scopes Monkey Trial. . .or how to bring publicity to a small town

I didn't realize until recently, when I read "Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions" by Rachel Held Evans, that the Scopes Trial was just a publicity stunt for the small town of Dayton, Tenn.

john scopes trial
Held Evans, who lives in Dayton, summarizes the situation best in her book on pages 51 to 53:
Some say it was Moses' fault for not asking for more details when God told him about creating the heavens and the earth. Others say it was Darwin's fault for writing The Origin of the Species. Some blame the media, others blame the legal system, but most folks in Dayton, Tennessee, have pretty well settled on the fault that it was George Rappleyea's fault that our city will forever be known as Monkey Town.

The whole thing started back in May of 1925, when Rappleyea rushed into Robinson's Drugstore with a plan to 'put Dayton on the map.' A New York native with a thick Yankee accent, horn-rimmed glasses, and a head full of modern ideas, Rappleyea was a bit of an alien in this tiny conservative town in East Tennessee, but most folks liked him.

That fateful morning, he managed to capture the attention of some of the town's most influential citizens, who, in the days of Prohibition, liked to gather around the soda fountain at Robinson's to discuss business. 'Mr. Robinson, you and John Godfrey are always looking for something that will get Dayton a little publicity,' Rappleyea reportedly said. 'I wonder if you have seen the morning paper?' Rappleyea, who managed the struggling coal-mining business in the area, had discovered an advertisement in the Chattanooga Times from the American Civil Liberties Union offering to support any Tennessee schoolteacher willing to challenge the state's new antievolution laws, which forbade the teaching of evolution in public schools.

The evolution-creationism debate had taken center stage in recent years, and it didn't take long for Rappleyea to convince Mr. Robinson and the rest of the drugstore regulars that hosting such a controversial test trial would reap economic benefits for the town of Dayton.

The group decided to call in local schoolteacher John T. Scopes, who they hoped would volunteer as the defendant in the case. Scopes, a quiet and unassuming man, admitted that he may have taught evolution in a biology class at the local high school and, more for idealistic reasons than capitalistic ones, agreed to serve as the defendant in the trial. Local attorney Sue Hicks, a man named after his late mother, agreed to coordinate the prosecution with the assistance of his brother, Herbert. (If this part of the story sounds familiar, it's because Sue Hicks served as the inspiration for Johnny Cash's 'A Boy Named Sue.') With prosecutors and a defendant in place, the Robinson's Drugstore gang had pieced together the publicity stunt they were looking for.

Luckily for them, the trial attracted some bigger names than the Boy Named Sue.
scopes monkey trial
Clarence Darrow, a famous criminal defense lawyer and an outspoken agnostic, volunteered his services for the defense, and William Jennings Bryan, a fundamentalist politician and 'the Great Commoner,' volunteered his services for the prosecution. With these two ideological heavyweights in the ring, the Scopes trial was billed as a showdown between science and religion, 'the trial of the century.'

More than two hundred reporters, from as far away as London, descended on Dayton during that hot summer of 1925. For the first time in history, a radio station broadcast the court proceedings live. Pictures of grinning monkeys sipping soda and holding medicine jars adorned billboards and shop windows across town, and Robinson's Drugstore proudly displayed a banner proclaiming 'Where It All Started.'

Protestors, activists, and preachers made pilgrimages to Dayton, so residents erected a giant platform on the courthouse lawn to accommodate any impromptu lectures or debates. (It was rumored that George Rappleyea actually staged a fistfight there.) People could pay to get their picture made with a live chimpanzee, and the town constable even put a sign on his motorcycle that read 'Monkeyville Police.' A New York Times reporter wrote that 'whatever the deep significance of the trial, if it has any, there is no doubt that it has attracted some of the world's champion freaks.'
So many spectators and press attended the trial that it eventually had to be moved to the courthouse lawn. Dayton eventually faded into obscurity, though. Today the town has a population of approximately 7,200, and the largest manufacturing employer is La-Z-Boy.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Meet the media: Josh Rosenthal, content producer at KSTP-TV

Josh Rosenthal started his job as a content producer at KSTP News Channel 5 in May. Skogrand PR
minneapolis minnesota news
Josh Rosenthal, KSTP-TV Content Producer
Solutions Blog connected with him to learn about his journalistic style, how public relations professionals can work with him, and more.

1. Tell us a bit about your background.

I’m originally from Maryland, about 20 minutes outside of D.C. I wanted to become a journalist and went to the University of Maryland to major in journalism. I have been on air at stations in Gainesville, Fla., and Little Rock, Ark., before coming to the Twin Cities this year.

2. How have you adjusted to Minnesota weather?

So far, so good. I’ve actually lived here since January, so I feel that I already have experienced Minnesota weather. It’s cold -- I’m not going to lie. I feel that all of the great things about the Twin Cities outweigh the cold weather. I really love the Twin Cities.

3. How would you describe your approach to TV storytelling?

Well, it’s important for people to remember that TV is a visual medium. I look for good, informative stories that our viewers want to learn about. It’s important to find visual stories. It’s important to find things within those stories for viewers to see.

4. Your stories almost have a bit of a theatrical element to them. How do you come up with ideas to demonstrate your stories?

It’s a case-by-case thing. The day of the hail storm recently, I and the photographer tossed some ideas around. It’s a storm damage story. Our morning reporter was working on covering a lot of trees down. We thought that covering hail damage would be good. Spotting downed trees is relatively easy, but finding hail damage is harder.

We decided to go to an auto body shop because we figured there would be people with hail damage there, and it was lines all day long.  

We had our story, and we wanted to do something in the live shot rather than me just standing there. We asked the guy if he had any spare parts that were too far damaged to be salvaged. He had some car hoods. We then went to a sporting goods store, and bought some golf balls. I threw them against a car hood to demonstrate the damage that different size hail can do.

5. How has TV news changed during your career?

When I started a few years ago, social media was not nearly as large of a part of what we do. I can remember one of the first stories that I did in Gainesville, Fla. It was about a guy whose car was stolen and the police couldn’t find it, and he posted on Facebook that his car was stolen. That wouldn’t be a story today, because people post things like that all the time. 

The story got better though, because one of his Facebook friends found the car. That wouldn’t be a story today.

6. What do you see as the future of producing content across various platforms?

I’m not really sure where we’re going. There’s much more of an emphasis on hitting all platforms available to us. Now we’re looking at how to tell the story on social media sites plus the KSTP-TV website.

7. What are some of your favorite stories that you have covered in Minnesota?

I did really like the hail story. 

graphic design
Artist Phil Hansen of Chanhassen
I produced a story a few months ago about an artist in Chanhassen who made his phone number public to everyone on the Internet. He asked people to call him about limitations or challenges that they faced. Maybe they got in an accident or had a rough time with their parents. He wrote the stories on a paper and then put it up on canvas. The way that he put the words from the stories on canvas resulted in one big picture. It was really interesting.  

Any time you can tell a really visual story that makes people say, “Huh,” and think about something, those are my favorites.

8. What are some of your favorite stories that you have covered in your career?

I have few notable ones. Severe weather stories tend to stick out. When I first got to Arkansas, it was
chanhassen minnesota
a record year for flooding and tornadoes. That can be taxing too, though. It really wears on you as a person.  

On a more fun note, in Gainesville, I interviewed Busta Rhymes and The Wiggles later on in the same day. That was interesting.

9. How can public relations professionals help you in your job? What are you looking for from them?

The toughest part of my job is coming to the table with stories for the newscast. I like to hear from public relations professionals. It helps when they have an understanding of what we do. 

It also helps when there’s a relationship there – when people develop a relationship ahead of time so I know my source. I love pitches with good stories and the visual component. Getting to know people can be very helpful – I appreciate calls from PR professionals.

Follow Rosenthal on Twitter:  @JRosenthal13.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Behind the scenes at the Minnesota State Fair

The two questions that Brienna Schuette, marketing and communications manager at the Minnesota State Fair, always gets asked when people learn where she works are, "Is that your real job?" and "What do you do in the off season?"

For Schuette, one of 70 year-round full-time employees of the State Fair, her job is very real and has come with numerous public relations challenges. Take, for instance, the year 2007. That year a tornado hit the fairgrounds, tearing the roof off of the Grandstand and downing numerous trees. Also that year was the "runaway bull incident," when a bull got loose at 9 a.m., headbutted a fire hydrant and dropped dead. "I kind of thought it was a joke at first," said Schuette. Or the 35W bridge collapse.

In 2008, Schuette told a group of attendees at a recent Minnesota Public Relations Society of America event, the Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul overlapped with the State Fair. That turned out to be a boon to the State Fair media coverage, though, because the RNC started on the last day of the State Fair -- and many national and international media were in the Twin Cities already. Many media did "slice of life" stories about the Twin Cities, and the State Fair was a part of that coverage.

mn state fair foodThe State Fair had the first outbreak of the H1N1 virus in 2009, and the Communications team reacted by proactively communicating the importance of hand washing. Last year's public relations challenge for Schuette was the Stratosphere, a "200-foot, one-of-a-kind PR nightmare," according to Schuette. The ride, totally run by computers, was almost too safe -- it regularly stopped midair if there was too much wind. As one could expect, the Stratosphere will not be back for this year's State Fair.

Schuette presented alongside Lara Hughes, State Fair communications supervisor, and Christine Noonan, State Fair marketing and communications specialist.

Hughes noted that "It takes an entire year to prepare for these 12 days." She mentioned some new media resources for 2013, including: a media relations hotline staffed from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., a protected Twitter account just for the media, and a public information officer for State Fair police.

As the State Fair is "The Great Minnesota Get-Together," social media has proven an excellent opportunity to "get together" with Minnesotans online. While the State Fair has a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, Noonan said that "Facebook is the workhorse."

The Communications team uses social media to: get a pulse quickly and inexpensively, check reactions, reflect the State Fair's personality and voice, and stay engaged with people year-round. The team has used Pinterest to take on misperceptions, hence the addition of the "Healthy at the Fair" board.

As you go to the State Fair this year feeling inspired by the bacon-wrapped grilled shrimp on-a-stick, remember that an event this big requires a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes to make an enjoyable experience for Minnesotans.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

PRSA Midwest District defines the expanding role of public relations

Thanks to Sue MacGregor for her contributions to this blog post. -- Brant Skogrand

The scene was set July 25 in Omaha, Neb., where more than 150 public relations professionals and nearly 30 presenters spent two days at the Embassy Suites in the Old Market area for the second annual PRSA Midwest District Conference.

The conference started out with a lively presentation by Mickey Nall, APR, Fellow PRSA and managing partner of Ogilvy Public Relations in Atlanta. Mickey’s focus was “Storytelling, Media Relations and Reputation.” 

Key takeaways included that brands are personal and that storytelling is akin to “truth telling.” Mickey shared the following “four big opportunities”: focus on your reputation; create your own content; become a storyteller; and employees become advocates.

“We are not just tactical people,” said Nall. “PR is constantly building reputation equity.”

Nall said that we need to become our own media companies. He added that brands need to build direct relationships with their customers, and are doing so around their Facebook pages and other social networks. The currency of that relationship is content, according to Nall.

Today’s public demands: transparency, brevity and a voice. #prsamdc

For the rest of the morning attendees got to choose from four different breakout sessions:
  1. Wanted: Public Relations Professors, Panel Discussion
  2. The Essentials of SEO
  3. 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming – Creating Media Partnerships to Stretch Marketing Dollars
  4. Creating PR Campaigns in the Mobile Age
At the lunch general session attendees learned about the importance of thought leadership from Katie Sands and Melissa Dohmen with Swanson Russell. This “Thought Leadership Case Study” positioned the president of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) as a thought leader on energy issues. Key to their success was using multi-channels to create an expert worthy digital footprint (social media, blog, speaking engagements, op-eds, interviews with high-level media and more) for their CEO. They teamed up with larger organizations for bigger coverage and their CEO took advanced media training along with refresher sessions, especially before key interviews. The lessons learned were many:
  • Know the limits of your CEO
  • Welcome new processes
  • Talk to each other
  • Know when to ask for a helping hand
  • Be an extension of the client
Following the general session, two breakout sessions offered up plenty to choose from:
  1. Web Optimization through Content Development
  2. Stand Up and Be Heard: Promoting a Product Without a Product
  3. The Convergence of Brand Building Sales
  4. Evaluating Metrics – Measuring What Really Matters for Clients
  5. Utilizing the Award Entries as a Foundation for PR Campaign Structure
  6. Measuring the Value of Relationships
  7. The Evolution of Content: Communicating With More than Words
  8. Union Pacific – Celebrating 150 Years of Building America
The first day closed with the general session focusing on Crisis and Risk Communications. Dr. Joe Trahan, APR, Trahan and Associates built on his southern roots with, When the Stuff Hits the Gumbo Pot!”

public relations
Dr. Joe Trahan, APR, Fellow PRSA, talks passionately about crisis communications.
He reminded us all to be prepared and have a crisis and risk communication strategy ready for the worst case scenario. He shared: A-C-C-C x Two (Anticipate, Coordinate, Cooperate and Communicate x Two).

“We need to shape the message – not be shaped by it,” said Trahan. “Public relations is about relationship building and we need to use everything at our disposal to communicate.”
Using his “S A P P” model the key factors include:
  • Security  – know what you can and can’t say
  • Accuracy  – only release the facts
  • Propriety – build into your plan what you can release and when
  • Policy – do not disagree with policy on camera
Crisis leadership core principles and values noted by Trahan include being first, credible, visible, accountable and treating everyone with respect. In summary, have a crisis plan, practice and update it regularly, ensure senior leader buy-in and have only one spokesperson to ensure continuity and consistency of message.

The second day began with Andy Fletcher, CEO, Bailey Lauerman in the general session, “Sharing the Spotlight: The Increasing Value of PR in Integrated Marketing.” His approach has always been an integrated one with “PESO: Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned” or PR without boundaries. By integrating the message into the marketplace you can use a single approach with various methods.

“Every brand is launched from imagination.” -Andy Fletcher of Bailey Lauerman #prsamdc

The eight choices for the last two breakout sessions that followed offered a variety of topics for conference attendees:
  1. Once Upon a Time: Storytelling vs Stories in PR
  2. Magic Tricks, Tweets and iPads
  3. Getting Out of the Spin Cycle: Using our Skills to Elevate Public Discourse
  4. The Importance of Internal Communications to Business Performance
  5. Paid, Earned and Owned Media
  6. Teaching PR: Options for Sharing Your Expertise in the College Classroom
  7. How to Communicate Your Strategy More Effectively to Employees
  8. Beyond the Conversation: Using Research to Lead Change and Create a Civility Movement
Three Fs of effective internal corporate communications: fast, facts, face-to-face #prsamdc

The conference rounded up with the luncheon keynote focusing on “The Power of Communication: Elevating Public Relations with Senior-Most Executives.” Fred Garcia shared his insights in how best to engage the C-Suite in building a competitive advantage by showing how PR can provide strategic insight and measurable results that any CEO will appreciate. The secret? We as PR professionals need to understand our organization’s/client’s purpose and how we can help support or achieve that goal. In order to be successful we need to:

- understand our stakeholders and their world views (their values, expectations and how to move them)
- focus on the goal and intent first
- meet the executives at their level and relate it to what they care about
- demonstrate our value by showing them the link between the business goal and the stakeholder goal.

Attendees at the PRSA Midwest District Conference left with new insights and effective strategies to apply on the job. The 2014 conference has big shoes to fill and from what we’ve heard, you won’t be disappointed. Stay tuned for next year!
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