The Guide to a Successful Infographic for the Design-Challenged

Infographics are not my best friend.

The last time I made an infographic was over a year ago and the experience was horrible. I struggled with everything from color palettes to pie charts.

When I sat down in my PR Strategic Communication class (the class I’m writing this blog for) on the first day and read the syllabus, I found that one of the assignments was to create an infographic.

NOOOO!!!! (Insert overly dramatic crying emoji)

Infographics tap in to the biggest source of my frustration about myself: I have an image in my head but cannot create it on a page. I never could. Ever since I was young, I’ve had good ideas in my head for drawings, crafts, magazine layouts and photographs but I could never translate those visions onto paper for other people to see.

I’m a PR major, my creativity naturally comes through my writing. Why do I need to force myself to translate that creativity into an aesthetically pleasing graphic design?

Because infographics are POWERFUL. Here’s why:

  1. People like facts, messages and stories.
  2. People like visually appealing things.

It’s simple, really. Why do good ads work? They present information and are visually appealing. Infographics are a brilliant way to communicate a message in a way that is simple and easy to look at.

Truth is, infographics have everything to do with PR. They function to tell stories and communicate messages in a visually appealing way.

I decided to do my infographic on the security measures for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The security in Sochi is a huge topic of discussion that got a lot of press before and during the games.

We all know that creating an infographic isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but this experience was much smoother than my previous one. Below are my tips for a stress-free infographic creation experience for those of you that are design-challenged like me.

  1. Pick a good topic. The topic is everything. The accessibility to numbers and facts will make or break your ability to create a good infographic. It is also important to pick a topic that people are talking about. What’s hot right now? What is your target audience interested in knowing?
  2. Sketch a draft. It’s just like writing a backgrounder for the media kit you’re putting together. Gather your facts and create a draft before you sit down to polish up the real thing. Grab a pencil and draw out some ideas of what you want your infographic to look like. That way, when you sit down at the computer, InDesign or Piktochart (InDesign for the design-challenged, a.k.a. my new best friend) won’t be so daunting.
  3. Pick a color scheme. Infographics need to be uniform, so pick a few colors that complement each other and stick with them. It will make your work much more visually appealing.
  4. Stay simple. You don’t need to go crazy. Don’t spend hours thinking of the most creative way to portray that 3 out of 10 people do this or that. Maybe the best way is to just put 10 human silhouettes on the page and make 3 of them red and the rest of them black. Simple, but visually appealing.

I will happily say, that after working for two weeks, I am happy with my infographic.

J452 infographic

Any and all comments and feedback about my infographic, my tips or my experience with infographics are welcome! I’d also love to hear from you about your experience with infographics and any other tips you have.

The Addictive Power of Facebook

I remember when I created my Facebook account in seventh grade. I was overwhelmed and excited by this social media platform and the many opportunities it gave me to express myself and communicate with my friends.

Shortly after I created my Facebook account, I became addicted. Every time I would go onto the computer and pull up the web browser, my fingers would automatically type in “facebook.com” even if I had no intention of going on Facebook. I’d logged on so many times it became a habit. Muscle memory for Facebook, freaky.

Screen shot 2014-02-24 at 10.44.09 AMI began to obsess over statuses, likes and pictures. I truly couldn’t stop myself. I would log on, browse around my News Feed, see nothing of interest and log off. Two minutes later I’d log right back on and do the same thing. It was monotonous, pointless and boring.

My overprotective parents noticed my Facebook obsession when I was in eighth grade and quickly disabled my account. I wasn’t allowed on Facebook for months. That was incredibly difficult for me at first, given my obviously unhealthy attachment to the network.

Although I hated it, my parents did the right thing for me. My addiction for Facebook died away as I rediscovered other fun activities to fill my time. For instance, actually hanging out with my friends instead of stalking them on Facebook.

Unstuck posted a study that concluded that Facebook may be harmful to the mental health of frequent users. The post says that the study reported that people that spend time looking at their friends’ vacation photos and comparing the number of likes on birthday posts between themselves and other friends. These types of obsessive comparisons can lead to loneliness and depression.

This doesn’t surprise me in the least. Facebook is a black hole that sucks you right in. As a middle school girl, I should’ve been outside riding bikes in the cul de sac with my neighbors instead of browsing through my News Feed.

There is something mysterious about the fact that it is possible have hundreds, even thousands, of friends on Facebook and still feel lonely, staring at a News Feed that is full of old news.

And maybe that’s what Facebook is: old news. According to an article on Mashable, Facebook use is on the decline, but seems to be leveling off. This article links to a few other studies that seem to point to the fact that there is a decline of teen users on Facebook. I hope this is true, because teenagers don’t need another thing to draw them into the black hole of loneliness and depression.

I’m not saying Facebook is all bad. I really like Facebook. I use it as a tool to stay in touch with friends and family. But there is a fine line between Facebook as a tool to stay in touch and Facebook as a tool that advocates loneliness and depression.

Bottom line: Limit Facebook usage. A fun and interactive social media tool can quickly turn sour if you spend too much time on it.

Photo by me via my Facebook account

How to Get an A+ in Apology 101

Apologies are at the core of crisis communication. Apologies are at the core of relationships, and relationships are at the core of public relations.

PR people make mistakes, editors make mistakes, CEOs make mistakes. When someone makes a mistake in the public arena, it is good public relations practice to address the issue and apologize for it in order to mend any problems that arose because of the mistake.

But that being said, there is a right and wrong way to apologize. A half-hearted apology is almost as bad as no apology at all.

The New York Times published an article discussing the large number of half-ass apologies we hear from influencers all too regularly.

Here are my five tips for great apologies:

1. Issue the apology immediately after the incident. Late apologies are sad. They’re just sad. It’s no fun to be offended by a comment someone made and not get an apology until a week or so later. Apologies should happen in a timely fashion. Ideally, an apology should be issued a few hours or a day (at most) after the incident. People generally respond better to apologies when they occur very recently after the incident.

2. Plan the apology before it is issued. Whether you are the PR pro writing the CEO’s apology or you are the CEO yourself, be sure to know what is going to be said in the apology and communicate these tactics to the person delivering the apology. Know what to say. And more importantly, know what NOT to say. Only the worst apologies embody an “I’m sorry” like offending people more than they already were by the original comment.

3. Include a call to action in your apology. The address needs to be clear and concise with a definitive call to action. Apologies are all fine and lovely, but what is going to be done about it? Include a call to action in the apology in a clear and concise way.

4. Follow-up with your call to action. The only thing worse than not having a call to action in the apology is to not follow up with the call to action that was promised. Be sure that the call to action is related to the mistake and is feasible to achieve, because the only way to have a chance to earn consumer’s trust back is to have something to show for it.

5. Be sincere. Nothing is worse than an empty apology. Yes an apology was issued, but was it really meaningful? If the apology isn’t sincere, consumers are going to feel even more disrespected than they were by your initial mistake.

It seems like many people apologize all too often and they do it in the wrong way. Take previous LuluLemon CEO, Chip Wilson. He went against two out of five of my apology tips (he gets an D in Apology 101).

He released a video apology one week after making a comment that the brand’s pants yoga pants are see-through because they just don’t work for “some women’s bodies” (strike one).

Wilson’s apology video was far from sincere. He looked forlorn and superficially sad, as though it was an act (strike two), saying he is “really sad.” So what if you’re sad? The thousands of women you offended with your comment are sad too.

Apologies are really important in public relations and are something to take seriously. These five tips I’ve provided give some specific guidelines of what is expected for a successful apology.

Photo by Raj Taneja via Flickr

McDonald’s Transparently Reveals Truths in “Our Food. Your Questions”

It seems like nobody really knows what is actually inside a Chicken McNugget. There’s a mysterious crunchy breading and the inside is white and squishy. The inside of the McNugget sort of resembles chicken but there’s definitely something not quite right.

photoIt’s not just you and your McNugget-loving friends that are confused. Consumers around the globe have questions about everything from McDonald’s food processing to advertising.

McDonald’s launched a campaign called “Our Food. Your Questions” to truthfully address consumer concerns and questions about food quality. The company set up a website (this is Canada’s website, but there are websites specific to many countries) and YouTube account to address these concerns and inform consumers about the truths of the company.

Recently, McDonald’s has been under a lot of heat for what is really inside of the McNugget, especially after a picture of some type of pink goo was released and was said to be the ingredient inside the McNugget.

In response, McDonald’s released this video to clear up the pink goo rumors.The video goes behind the scenes in the Cargill plant in Ontario, Canada to reveal the process behind the creation of the McNugget.

Although the videos and pictures that McDonald’s publishes in response to consumer questions don’t depict the most nutritious processes, they do depict transparency.

Transparency is one of the most important qualities a company can embody.

McDonald’s will build a more trusting relationship with its consumers if the consumers can tell that the company is communicating all of its truths.

McDonald’s presents itself with 100 percent transparency through the “Our Food. Your Questions” campaign, and I must commend the company for doing so.

Through this campaign, it is easy to see that McDonald’s is striving to reach complete transparency with its consumers. This is something that all companies should strive for in order to generate consumer trust and loyalty.

Photo via McDonald’s Twitter account

What do Yoga Mats and Subway Have in Common?

Azodicarbonamide. It’s a chemical found in yoga mats and Subway sandwiches.

Subway came out with a statement announcing that it will eliminate azodicarbonamide from its sandwich bread on Feb. 6. The ingredient is USDA and FDA approved and is used to strengthen dough. The ingredient is also used in yoga mats and shoe soles to increase elasticity.

photo(1)Many other restaurants, including McDonald’s and Wendy’s, use the ingredient in its bread. Food Babe, a popular food blogger, examined the ingredients of many food companies and restaurants that use azodicarbonamide.

McDonald’s acknowledged the inclusion of azodicarbonamide in its bread ingredients but defends its use of the ingredient by saying, “A variation of Azodicarbonamide has commercial uses and is used in the production of some foamed plastics, like exercise mats. But this shouldn’t be confused with the food-grade variation of this ingredient.”

On Feb. 4, Food Babe launched an online petition to stop Subway from including azodicarbonamide in its bread. The petition has over 83,000 signatures to date.

Spokespeople such as Michelle Obama and Michael Phelps advocated the nutrition of these sandwiches without knowing about the existence of this ingredient in the bread.

Will Subway incur any reputation problems by revealing this information? It’s hard to tell at this point.

Consumers may be weary about the fact that Subway’s constant self-promotion as a healthy eating option has stayed alive through so many celebrity spokespeople, and only now is this ingredient becoming an issue.

Subway’s Twitter doesn’t seem to have a lot of traffic but the restaurant’s Facebook does have some traffic from consumers addressing the azodicarbonamde.

It will be interesting to see if Subway gets a lot of heat from consumers over social media sites and how the company handles the situation.

As I argued in my previous posts about DiGiorno’s, I believe that it is always best to come forward with information and be open, transparent and apologetic about any questionable information, and I commend Subway for doing so.

Photo via Subway’s Twitter account

To-do Lists: The Answer to Staying Sane

I tend to spread myself too thin with responsibilities. It is right around this time in the term that I find myself completely overwhelmed with my workload.

I get frustrated that on Thursdays I have class from 10 a.m.-11:20 a.m. and work from 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m., which leaves me no time to eat lunch. I get frustrated because I spend my weekends trying to catch up on last week’s homework while also trying to get ahead on next week’s homework.

When all of my responsibilities become too much to handle, I end up in tears on the phone with my mom as I wallow in how busy I am. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: I am just so sick of not even having time to eat lunch on Thursday because I run straight from class to work.

Mom: I’m sorry honey, why don’t you get up earlier and pack a lunch before you go.

Me: I’m so tired I can’t wake up any earlier! I’m trying to balance friends, family, 20 credits of classes, a job and an internship. And I also need to start looking for internships for this summer. And I need to pick my classes for next term because I register soon. Uuugh.

Mom: I understand your frustration. Maybe you need to cut back on something so that you have a little more time for yourself. Maybe cut down your work hours? Or drop one of your classes?

Me: Mom I can’t just stop doing one of my activities! All of the things I’m doing are things that I NEED to be doing. I don’t have a choice.

The truth is, at times I feel like I’m stretched too thin but I’m not willing to give up any of my commitments. They are all of equal priority.

This is where it dawns on me that the things I spend my time doing are truly very important to me and I am not willing to give any of that up. So, that means I need to find a solution to ease my stress. My solution: to-do lists.

photo-10I keep a detailed daily planner where I write everything I need to do that day, from my Spanish homework to what time I’m supposed to call Kelsey on Tuesday to talk about our spring break plans.

My daily planner/to-do list dictates my life. It keeps me sane. I live by the “work first, play later” mantra. I will not let myself to anything fun until I have everything on my list crossed off.

99U has a great post with suggestions about how to organize your to-do list.

To-do lists help to free up some brain space to focus on what really needs to get done. My list helps me visually prioritize my commitments and activities for the day. I don’t have to keep focusing on not forgetting to pay my rent next Saturday because I already wrote it down on next Saturday’s to-do list in my planner.

To-do lists also make me feel happier about my commitments and priorities. I feel at ease when I can visually see that I have a lot to manage but that I can, in fact get it all done. I feel productive. I feel like I can accomplish anything.

Just by implementing the simple step of a to-do list, my stressors turns into blessings as I realize how lucky I am to even have the opportunity to be stressed.

I get to go to the University of Oregon, I get to be a PR student in the SOJC and I get to spend my time here furthering my education and experiences through all of my activities.

Photo by: Me

Professional Language, Please

Screen shot 2014-02-06 at 6.49.42 PM

My dad used to say “foxy” and people my age say “hot.”

Most of the world says “awesome“ and students at my high school say “peaking.”

People from NorCal say “hella” and people from Texas say “ya’ll.”

Language doesn’t stay the same forever. It changes, switches, molds and transforms. It changes by city, state, country, age group and generation.

The Edmonton Times has a great article about why language transforms and where the new words of today come from.

Language is everything, but it certainly isn’t always.

Although new words are born just about as quickly as it takes to integrate the new (now old) words into our language, one thing stays the same: professional writing is professional writing.

We speak with weak verbs (any form of the verb “to be”) and our text messages are inundated with abbreviations such as “lol” and “jk,” but professional writing has not changed in the slightest.

While it’s appropriate to send a text to your mom that says “lol ok be there soon!” it is completely unacceptable to give your boss that same answer in response to his email asking where your news release is that was due 20 minutes ago. Your boss doesn’t care that “omg you totes forgot to put it on his desk!”

I continue to hear many professionals complain that office relations are becoming much too casual and personal. I think that as aspiring PR professionals it is important to remember the value in professional language, especially when we are starting out in entry-level positions.

And yes, professional language includes proper grammar. Grammar is a weak subject for many, yet it is one of the biggest markers of intelligence in writing. As a PR student, I stress over commas and verb tenses on a daily basis. In my PR Strategic Communication class, any assignment will be automatically lowered to a C (before any other grading occurs) if we make ONE basic editing error.

This rule makes assignment submission a stressful activity, but the rubric is in place for two reasons: to force us to learn correct grammar and to emphasize the importance of grammar in a professional setting.

When we connect with other professionals, words on a screen are usually the first chance we have to make an impression of ourselves whether it is via LinkedIn, email or anything in between. Although the spoken language in our social sphere is shifting, it is essential to exercise our professional language skills when communicating in a professional setting.

Photo by: COM Phoenix Web Image Repository via Flickr

Good DiGiorno, Bad DiGiorno: Part 2

Last week I gave you all the good news about DiGiorno. This week, it’s time for the bad news. Unfortunately, my favorite frozen pizza company committed a classic crime of public relations: staying silent.

In early December, a supply farm for DiGiorno pizza was accused of animal abuse after Mercy For Animals (an animal rights group) conducted an undercover investigation and caught the abuse on video (Warning: this is graphic).

Although DiGiorno usually has a great social media presence, which I examine and applaud in my previous post, DiGiorno’s complete and obvious absence from social media during this incident may inevitably hurt the company.

In PR, there is nothing worse than saying nothing. It is always best to acknowledge and apologize. If a company does not acknowledge its faults, then the company is assumed to be hiding something.

In staying silent, DiGiorno runs the risk of letting other people outside of the company tell the story in whatever way they want to present it.

Trust, or the lack thereof, is something consumers pick up on very easily. It is relatively simple to build a trusting, positive relationship with the public by engaging with them through many outlets, including social media. That being said, it is just as easy to break that trusting relationship if the company fails to communicate its faults to the public.

The animal abuse story broke on Dec. 10 and between Dec. 9 and Dec. 17 there was absolutely NO activity coming from @DiGiornoPizza.

DiGiorno jumped back into the Twitter-sphere on a pretty shaky leg after the eight-day absence. The company began tweeting again on Dec. 17 with a few tweets, but they didn’t strike me as very relevant or funny, with no mention of the animal abuse situation.

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DiGiorno’s absence from Twitter (an outlet they are usually very active and engaging on) leaves the consumers with a big fat question mark. What really happened? Does DiGiorno support animal abuse? Who is responsible for this? Was anything done to fix the situation?

In PR, it is a golden rule to always address your faults because consumers will find out what happened and they shouldn’t be left to fill in the blanks themselves.