Author Archives: Phoebe Bowe

Storytelling and Holiday Commercials

Christmas-Present-2November has come and gone and we are deep in the thick of the holiday season. Maybe you’ve been listening to holiday music for weeks or maybe you held out until after Thanksgiving. Maybe you’re eagerly stalking weather websites for signs of flurries or maybe you are dreading the impending snow. Whether you’re ready or not, the holidays are here.

It’s the most wonderful time of year when companies and brands competitively vie for your gift-buying dollars. Holiday season means present buying season and every year companies try harder and harder to stand out from the crowd with catchy, memorable, and effective holiday commercials. Some holiday ads succeed. They are praised as pieces of advertising genius and are enjoyed over and over again on YouTube. Others become old after a few views and are quickly forgotten. What is it about some holiday commercials that place them in the advertisement hall of fame while others flop? It’s all in the storytelling.

This year’s (or any year’s) John Lewis Christmas commercial is an excellent example of a great story. The focus isn’t on buying presents or on John Lewis’ products. The only mention of the brand name is at the very end of the commercial but the ad itself is immediately associated with John Lewis because the company has built a legacy of amazing Christmas commercials. Viewers are so focused on the relationship between a little boy and his pet penguin that they almost forget that they are watching an advertisement – it’s that good of a story.

Apple’s 2013 holiday commercial is another example of great storytelling that puts the focus on the holiday and not on the company’s products. It feels more like watching a home movie than an advertisement. Not only does the ad tug at viewer’s heartstrings, it also shows customers how they can use Apple products to capture family moments and create their own stories. It is a story about storytelling – it doesn’t get more straightforward than that

Sure people like to hear how much they can save on holiday gifts and they respond well to portrayals of a cherub-faced, white-haired gentleman in a red suit and the sound of jingle bells – but merely combining these elements does not make for a memorable holiday commercial. The generic holiday ad that boasts layaway plans, discounts and deals, and a variety of gifts is forgotten as soon as the next ad starts. This kind of ad fades into the background noise of the crowded holiday gift market. If brands want to create an iconic holiday ad, they should stop reminding us how many gifts we have to buy and stop trying to tell us what our six-year-old niece wants for Christmas. Instead, they should tell us a story – that’s what customers really want for the holidays.


Weekly Meeting Recap: Advice from the CEO of Golin


Last Thursday, BUPRSSA welcomed Fred Cook, CEO of Golin, the award-winning global PR firm, to our weekly meeting. Cook gave an engaging and inspiring talk as he discussed his circuitous route into the public relations industry and shared advice from his book Improvise: Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO. In case you missed the meeting, here are a few key points from Cook’s speech.

Being able to improvise is a necessary survival skill in the business world. Things are constantly changing – clients have new demands, campaigns shift focus, and crises hit without warning. Being able to improvise will help you adapt to these changes, tackle challenges, and will prove to be an invaluable skill at every step of your career.

You limit yourself by limiting your experiences. Expose yourself to new ideas every chance you get. The more experiences you have, the more ideas you have and the more prepared you will be to face dynamic challenges. Every other PR student looking for a job has the same degree and has the same words written on their resumes. What sets you apart and what will make you a valuable asset to a company are your unique experiences and the fresh perspectives you can bring to a situation.

Don’t be afraid to run with your ideas and don’t be afraid of to fail. Not every idea you have is going to be a winner but if you never act, you’ll never know which one might become your success story. Did one of your ideas not work out like you thought it would? Don’t be discouraged. Failure is not the end of the world, it’s an opportunity to learn and build courage.

My First Week as an Account Supervisor

public-relations 2This semester I am ecstatic to be an account supervisor for Boston University PRLab, the nation’s oldest student-run public relations agency. I couldn’t be happier to have an amazing client, be part of an awesome e-board, and be working with a great team of account executives. The past few weeks have been both exciting and a little scary. My initial enthusiasm did not make me impervious to self-doubt. Uncertainty began to settle in. What if I mess up? What if the client doesn’t like me? What if my team thinks I’m incompetent? For any other students who are also feeling nervous for an internship or leadership role, I have these few pieces of advice to offer.

Trust your capabilities. They picked you for a reason. 

When I first got the position of account supervisor, my first thought was “Yay!” My second thought was, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Don’t sell yourself short. If it is the first day at an internship or job, trust that you know what you’re dong (or at least that someone else trusts that you know what you’re doing). Whether you were hired by an agency for an internship or selected by an advisor for your position, someone picked you for the job. They think that you can do it which means you probably can (with a lot of hard work and a little help).

Use your support network and ask questions.

I am extremely lucky to be working with a team of awesome agency leadership, a stellar faculty advisor with years of experience, and friendly and enthusiastic fellow account supervisors. If you have a question or doubt at your internship or job, ask someone. He or she would much prefer to answer a redundant email than have you do something wrong.

Organization is essential.

Create a to-do list that you update frequently and a calendar that you stick to. Seeing tasks written down on paper (or typed into a smartphone app) makes them seem more manageable. A calendar will help you think ahead, which means you won’t be taken by surprise when deadlines approach.

I still feel a little nervous about being an account supervisor, but I’m looking forward to what the semester has in store. Don’t let new challenges intimidate you, if you manage your time and use your resources wisely, you can tackle anything your job or internship throws at you.

Doing Good Means Good Business

corporate_social_responsibilitySeptember is ethics month for PRSA and fittingly BUPRSSA’s first speaker of the year presented on corporate social responsibility. Last Thursday, September 18, 2014, BUPRSSA welcomed Simon Bowers, senior account supervisor at CONE Communications. Bowers gave an engaging presentation on the history of CSR in America. He explains how CSR has its beginnings in the environmental movement of the 1960s and has evolved into an important part of ethical business practices and a specialized division of the communication industry.

People want to feel good about the companies with which they do business. It’s up to businesses to implement practices that people want to support and often times it is up to communication professionals to convince businesses of the importance of CSR. From a traditional business perspective, corporate social responsibility isn’t just about pleasing customers and helping society. CSR also contributes to a company’s bottom line. Bowers referenced a study that found that people are not only more likely to trust and view positively a company that has good CSR but they are also more likely to buy from a company with good CSR. Ethical business practices not only enhance a company’s reputation but also help attract more customers.

It is up to communication professionals to help companies see the importance of building CSR into the brand and mission of a company from the beginning. It is too late to respond to a crisis after it happens and a company’s image can be tarnished forever by one incident. It will be many years before a consumer can think of BP Oil without thinking of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Images of collapsed factories in Bangladesh and injured employees are seared into consumers’ minds. Companies need to be proactive and implement sustainable, ethical practices on every level of operation to avoid crises and negative attention. Corporate social responsibility is essential to all areas of a business. CSR means transparency from management, fair wages for employees, healthy working conditions for factory workers halfway around the world and ensuring that products are safe not only for consumers but also for the environment.

The importance of CSR in today’s marketplace cannot be overestimated. Today, consumers and society itself hold businesses to a higher standard than ever before. It is time for corporations to embrace this change and take full advantage of the opportunity to do good while doing good business.


What I Learned during My Summer Internship

summer_intern_670pxThis summer I had the opportunity to intern with the marketing department of Grounds For Sculpture, a nonprofit sculpture park and museum. The park is located in my hometown and I have visited it several times over the years. I was very excited to experience the park from a different perspective.

In addition to memorizing my boss’s coffee and bagel order, I worked on several summer-long projects as well as day-to-day tasks. This was my first internship and I learned a lot about nonprofit communication. I also got a look at what media relations for a nonprofit entails as the park garnered a lot of media attention for a special exhibition. Here are a few things I learned this summer that might help other interns.

Get to know the difference between in-house and agency communication. My previous public relations experience was in an agency setting. This summer I got a firsthand look at how in-house communication differs. Interning in-house emphasized how essential communication is for every level of an organization. In an agency, a public relations professional may have contact with a few point people while an in-house professional has more direct contact with all departments of an organization. It is too soon to tell which path I prefer, but knowing the differences between in-house and agency will definitely help me plan for my next internship.

Bring all your skills to the table (even the unconventional ones). I’ve never studied photography formally but I’ve been a hobby photographer for years. I mentioned this in passing to my boss and she saw a way to apply this to a project she had wanted to do for a while. If you think you have a hidden or unconventional skill that you could apply to your internship, mention it. Your boss might have a use for it.

Learn how to juggle multiple things at once. This summer put my multitasking and time management skills to the test. I had several projects that I was expected to make progress on throughout the summer as well as manage tasks that popped up periodically. I proved that I could handle several responsibilities at once, collecting interviews, entering event listings and editing press releases. While a polished finished product is essential, a project isn’t just about the outcome but also about how efficiently you complete it. Being able to manage time well is essential for a successful internship.

I was fortunate to spend my summer with a group of very nice people in a rather unconventional workplace. Not many interns had a chance to explore artwork in a beautiful setting and see peacocks while driving into work. I’ve always had a passion for art and I couldn’t be happier to have found an internship that combined this passion with practical communication experience.