Sunday, November 29, 2009

Perception is Reality II: Ole Miss is Marching On

As the heated debate over the University of Mississippi's loss of "From Dixie with Love" to end the chant "the South will rise again" continues, the school's campus found it self with less than a dozen unwelcome guests this past weekend.

Members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan protested in favor of the chant on the Saturday morning of UM's football game against Louisiana State University. But just as quickly it had began, students and fans made it clear that the 11 KKK members protesting were not wanted.

Klansmen in full red, white and black uniforms, silently waved Confederate battle flags and the KKK flag as they stood in front of the Fulton Chapel while a mostly student crowd of more than 250 people called them various insults.

At one point the crowd began chanting the phrase, "Go to hell, KKK, go to hell!"

Responses to the crowd from klansman Shane Tate, grand titan of the Mississippi White Knights, were lost to the intensity of the crowd's boos and jeering. Within the first 10 minutes of their hour-long protest, the Klan left in defeat.

As the KKK dispersed and the booing of the crowd died down, an echo resounded throughout the air as a group of more than 100 students could be heard about 30 yards away from the chapel. Organized students read over and over the university’s student creed while wearing white T-shirts that said “Turn your back on hate” and “I live by the UM Creed.”

The day was a defining moment for the University of Mississippi and its public image as well as the view of the state of Mississippi. It was an incredible display that hatred and racism are no longer tolerated ideals of our peoples and that we are making progress and changing perceptions.

The University of Mississippi has been at the forefront of progress in racial eqauality. From the couragous risks of James Meredith in 1962, to the 2008 presidential debates featuring the United States' first African-American candidate and elected president; we are changing for the better. This past weekend was a continued sign that that change is happening.

As to whether the song "From Dixie with Love" can be reinstated is still uncertain but "Ole Miss is marching on."

Additional Resources:
* The Facebook Group to save "From Dixie with Love"
* An Article from Knoxnews about the protest
* A youtube video from the protest
* Chancellor Dan Jones letter to the Ole Miss Community

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Look Back: “Wamoola Madne$$”

In my Public Relations Techniques class, we were asked to find a public relations case study to do a report and presentation on. After searching through different cases I found a campaign that took after my own heart and style from the 5th edition of Public Relations Cases (Jerry A. Hendrix, Darrell C. Hayes) called "Wamoola Madne$$: America Meets the New $20 Bill."

Following an aggressive acquisition strategy in the later 90s, Washington Mutual, a Seattle-based financial services institution, became one of the largest banks in California with virtually no brand recognition in the market. Very soon afterwards, the United States Treasury’s decision to introduce a new $20 bill provided WaMu with a major chance to increase name recognition in the new markets and highlight their personal commitment in developing affordable housing in service.

WaMu continued to research attitudes of California consumers showing a negative view of banking as being stiff and big business. A poll showed that 95% of bills requested from ATMs are $20, common bill for the common man. WaMu’s researched through Rogers & Associates PR firm found that $50 and $100 launches did not exist giving them the go to do something original and powerful. Their main focus for the event was the consumers with appealing to them the one thing everybody loves – free money given away.

And thus the institution developed “WaMoola Madness,” a special campaign event. On the new $20 release date from the Federal Reserve, Washington Mutual gave 20 consumers in seven major cities a chance to enter a wind cube filled with new $20 bills. Once inside, consumers would have 20 seconds to grab as many of the swirling bills as they could. The grand total in each city was matched by WaMu and donated to a local non-profit housing organization.

The entire idea was genius to me. It’s always better to hit two birds with one stone if you can do it successfully and with style and this was their chance.

Through this event WaMu seeked to boost Name Recognition in reaching an audience of over 45 million, raise awareness of the Washington Mutual name in new markets by 50% and achieve media coverage equivalent to advertising dollars. Additionally, WaMu would be able to help promote the new $20 bill and bring focus to the company’s commitment to affordable housing.

In the planning process WaMu went through extensive preparation to ensure that in each event, 200 of the new $20s would be available. To do this, the PR team made special cash orders and obtained clearance to pick up cash before hours at Federal Reserve offices, and in some instances, had money flown to their locations.

Semiweekly conference calls were held with local PR partners. These and other measures helped to prevent various security threats concerning the day of the event. Winners from the cash cubes were given one new $20 bill and a voucher to pick up the rest of their cash at a nearby WaMu bank.

WaMu also took huge measures in securing media coverage for the event. Media advisories were sent to key media and submitted to wire services before the event. Many follow-up calls were made to key media, stressing that the event would be on of the only opportunities to see the new bill and AP photographers were also contacted about the event. A key element to their coverage was establishing Radio partnerships in each city who acted as event emcees in each city, generating an even larger crowd. Personally, this was spectacular judgment on how to broadcast the message for the event.

Finally on Thursday, Sept. 24, 1998, the nationwide event took place. The entire event totaled approximately $235,000, including the $97,000 awarded to consumers.

In the end, WaMu exceeded all of their goals. The event goal to reach an audience of 45 million totaled 83 million, and a total of 3,500 attended the event. WaMu’s goal to increase name recognition by 50% reached 80% from 0%. That in it self is a mission accomplished. Additionally, media coverage equivalent to event cost surpassed and totaled $618,000. Of the $97,000 awarded to consumers, earmark grants for the equivalent were awarded to the regional non-profit organizations.

This was a great campaign for WaMu in more ways than one and its execution was almost flawless. Not only did they exceed their awareness goals, but they were able to show a strong sense of social responsibility in helping non-profit housing communities.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Perception is Reality: A Personal Realization

Through issue of controversy, the University of Mississippi has lost one of its game day traditions. Because of a recent incident where the Ole Miss Football student section has begun chanting the phrase “the South will rise again,” during the song “From Dixie with Love,” the UM administration has removed the Pride of the South Marching Band's performance of the song in the Grove, during the university’s pre-game and at other athletic events.

The song is a medley comprised from the tunes “Dixie” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” As a powerfully written fusion and reconciliation of two historical songs representing both the confederacy and union, “From Dixie with Love” has been a tradition at athletic events for over 30 years.

The chant “The South will rise again,” is a phenomenon yelled during the last five years at football games. A harmful phrase, referencing negative stereotypes, it has raised concern in hurting UM recruitment. The phrase is ironically chanted during the battle hymn in place of the lyrics “His truth is marching on.”

Although I have restrained my personal point of view regarding most of the dilemmas concerning this controversy, I have come to find great concern against pro-chant supporter’s arguments for their continued use of the phrase. Both pro-chant rebuttals are seemingly twisted viewpoints I take offense to as a journalist and Public Relations practitioner.

Their initial argument is the claim that the administration is impugning upon their First Amendment right. At no point has the University of Mississippi banned the use of saying “The South will rise again,” nor have they reprimanded or expelled any student for continuing to say the chant at athletic events. Just as the students chanting have the right to say what they wish, the institution reserves the right to take away what triggers the phrase.

The First Amendment ensures us the freedom to speak our minds as individuals and as a people. But with common sense, we as people must always ask ourselves whether the right to say something makes what we say right.

The pro-chant’s second argument is not far from this question. Their following point is that they do not “personally” believe the phrase is offensive. Even if this is their individual and collective viewpoint, it does not change the fact that they are the minority and that the chant does has negative connotations associated with it. This dispute clashes with two core principles of Public Relations and logic: perception is reality, which is a cornerstone of PR, and (yes, as Spock would say) the needs of the many will always out-weigh the needs of the few or the one.

Simply stated, The MAJORITY of the people perceive “the South will rise again” chant as a negative influence; therefore, it is harmful.

Beyond this infallible logic are the facts that the only groups and individuals that have aligned themselves with the phrase are racist, white supremacists such as the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, The Mississippi Council of Conservative Citizens, and Richard Barrett. There is also video footage in the UM J.D. Williams Library showing segregationists jeering James Meredith, the school’s first black student, in 1962 as they singing “Glory, glory segregation, the South will rise again.”

Whether the song can be reinstated and the chant disbanded when it returns is uncertain. Only the future will tell the outcome. But there is one constant to remember from this situation, Perception IS Reality… Always!

Additional Resources:
* The Facebook Group to save "From Dixie with Love"
* An Article from the Red Cup Rebellion blog
* Chancellor Dan Jones letter to the Ole Miss Community