Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Looking Towards the Future: Goals in PR

The other day I read this packet written by Tom Gable, who is one of the most prominent figures in the PR realm (CEO of the Gable Group and Chairman of Public Relations Society of America), that was distributed at a national public relations workshop put on by the PRSA and attended by thousands of PR professionals. The packet was entitled “Five Major PR Issues for the Next Decade,” and outlined just that.

Surprisingly, the problems did not revolve around the horrible economy and issues such as consolidation, mergers, globalization, etc. The problems focused on the core values facing PR professionals in today’s market, which I found to be interesting after writing about crisis management and story spinning in the past few weeks.

The best thing is that the document was written in 2002, and I thought that now, it being 2008 and more than halfway through the decade he was writing about, it would be fun to look at the problems and make sort of a very informal and unknowledgeable progress report, if you will.

PROBLEM 1: COMMUNICATION. Communication with the media is at an all time low with local news holes shrinking, and publications slowly disappearing as many turn to the web for their information. As a result, PR professionals need to change and reinvent the way that we package and pitch our ideas – we are now catering to a different style of publication and towards crowds that think differently. Communication is quite obviously the key to being in the world of public relations, and the way we communicate with each other, our clients, our media outlets, and the public must be constantly re-examined and re-defined.
GRADE: B+. Many companies have moved towards hiring internet or web technology experts to have on staff and help to develop plans and pitches for online media. Website such as Brandweek and PR Newswire help us all to get our press releases out into the public and share opinions on how to better our internet communication. I personally feel that PR agencies and consultants better understand the importance of the internet and the necessity to cultivate plans specifically for online media than six years ago in 2002.

PROBLEM 2: COMPETITION WITH OTHER CONSULTANTS. Gable describes how lawyers, accountants, and management consultants are out for PR business. Many of these professionals demean and trivialize public relations as a field, saying that we are only good at media relations and event planning. However, we are much more than that: we are positioning, brand building, crisis management planning, long term marketing, and managing reputations. We will not let them take our business and ignore our growing importance that transcends over so many markets.
GRADE: C. I think that this is still a major challenge for people in the public relations field. PR as a field does not get the credit it deserves for all of the strategizing and building of brands that it does, nor the extensive crisis management work involved. Even in just doing internships, I have found people treating me like I am interested in working in a “fluff” industry when in reality we do very concrete things critical to every client’s reputation. I think that continuing in this decade, PR professionals must become more business saavy and focusing on bringing attention to their firms about the things we do for our clients that aren’t just media relations or planning a party.

PROBLEM 3: CREDIBILITY. This is a huge one, and one I have discussed previously in my blog. Gable states: “Are we the profession of spin, or the profession of strategic communications and reputations management?” Public relations professionals are put in ethical dilemmas constantly, and as a result must heavily focus on their standards of business. We need to make sure that we are the forefront of truth and integrity so that we can continue to gain credibility not only as PR individuals or firms/agencies, but more importantly to gain credibility as an industry (relating back to problem #2). Right now PR still competes with those I mentioned above plus the advertising industry to have the responsibility to launch brands and build images – we need our credibility to be steadfast to continue to run this race.
GRADE: A-. I believe that the PR industry is doing a lot to improve their credibility and standards. In the past five years there has been an increase in situations where the philosophy is to tell the truth, get it out there, and then deal with the consequences. One of the reasons for this is our improvement and development of crisis management as a serious and legitimate function of a public relations firm or agency. Maybe an A- is just wishful thinking, but I absolutely think the industry is moving in the correct direction here.

PROBLEM 4: DEFINING PR. Gable here explores the questions of how do agencies demonstrate their relevance to potential clients? How do we explain our importance and legitimacy? Most importantly, how do we measure the impact of our work to report it? PR professionals are working hard to create a true definition for public relations for potential clients, but it is difficult when we market values not products.
GRADE: B. From my amateur point of view, I think that businesses across the nation are recognizing their increasing need for help from public relations. Multiple industries from healthcare to tourism to technology now count on the help of public relations to launch new products or produce a positive image in the public. I think that public relations is becoming much more legitimized in the business area and we are moving in the right direction.

PROBLEM 5: STAFFING. Many workers in the public relations field feel that not enough is done in recruiting for PR, and that not enough action is taken to promote the positive nature of the business and make it attractive to college students and young adults. There is always the fear that the industry can’t recruit the types of people it needs to continue on the upward slope.
GRADE: N/A. I can’t really answer this one because I have no idea what it is like to staff a company, but I will say that they can hire me in a year, so don’t worry :)

Overall, this was a really fun and interesting way to take a look at some of the pressures and issues facing public relations as a field. If you would like to read the document by Gable, click here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Matt Leinart: You Humiliate Me.

Matt Leinart learned a very good lesson about bad PR last week when several scandalous pictures surfaced on the internet of him partying at his Phoenix residence with several Arizona State University females (who were NOT of drinking age). One picture even displayed Leinart holding a beer bong for one of the underage girls as she greedily (cough, trashily) slurped up alcohol on her knees. Others showed Leinart surrounded by the giddy, intoxicated girls in his hot tub.

Appropriate Matt. Really fucking appropriate.

You idiot.

After the pictures were initially released on a college gossip site,, the media caught wind and the pictures wound up in the hands of media giants and Obviously, word spread to even larger media outlets such as Fox Sports and, and Leinart was instantly roasted by journalists, television commentators, bloggers, and fans.

Leinart, who has had a generally well-liked and well-mannered relationship with the public, really destroyed his good-boy image with this incident. Journalists and other media sources, in conflict with the opinion of the public (round of applause for the USC PR team for keeping his true image at bay), have often reported Leinart difficult to work with and, well, an asshole. Now the public have a reason to agree.

A very select few sports commentators, namely ESPN Pardon the Interruption’s Michael Wilbon, have taken the opposing point of view, declaring Leinart’s actions the actions of a “normal college boy,” or the actions of the “all American quarterback enjoying his benefits.”

Um, pardon THIS interruption. NO!

Leinart, you are NOT in college anymore. These “frat boy” antics are TOTALLY repulsive and completely irresponsible. I don’t feel bad for you crying that you can’t just live a normal life and have underage chicks drinking in your hot tub! News flash: you don’t have a normal life! Part of being an athlete, and in turn an entertainment celebrity, is understanding that while you reap incredible benefits, you also make several sacrifices. When you play on a team, you represent that organization. When you signed your contract, you signed a document bonding you to other members of that team and that organization, and accepted the fact that now when you are in the public eye, it is your responsibility to make your behavior an accurate reflection of that organization.

GROW UP LEINART. Not only did you just totally destroy your credibility as a professional athlete (because you know, everyone wants to trade and pay money for the frat boy gone wrong from Southern California), you alienated your fan base (have fun with your endorsement deals, maybe Coors Light has a spot available), pissed off your coach, and made the Arizona Cardinals look completely stupid and incapable of controlling the behavior of their players. And then had the nerve to cry about it. Do you know how many little boys wear your jersey around?? Do you think they should have to look at you feeding a beer bong to a chick?? Should the sweet old 85 year old USC alumni who plan their year around USC football games have to have their pride in their school destroyed by your childish antics? You should be embarrassed of yourself.

Outside of ranting about Leinart’s incapability to join the rest of the adult world, there is something good to point out in this situation. Building off of my last post when I explored the concept and ethical ties of crisis management, this is the perfect example of a crisis management situation handled flawlessly.
Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt (clearly following the orders of the public relations team) released a statement shortly after the pictures surfaced that said he was “disappointed” in the quarterback, and “reiterated to him [Leinart] the type of behavior we expect at all times from our players.” Whisenhunt continued on to say: “He understands those expectations as well as the level of scrutiny that he’s under because of who he is. It’s being handled internally.” You can read other comments by Coach Whisenhunt here.

This statement was PERFECTION. It completely embodies spinning the story to make the player apologetic and in a nearly positive light, while not telling any lies. Not only does the statement begin with the fact that the organization is upset with his behavior, which protects the image of the Cardinals, but it goes on to show that Leinart has been reprimanded and any other repercussions will be handled behind closed doors. It also shows Leinart to be apologetic, sincere, and understanding of the situation (whether he actually is or not). It gives the media just enough information to dispel rumors, leave little room for questions, and show strength and unity in the organization, while not airing out the Cardinals’ or Leinhart’s dirty laundry in a way that could damage the image of either.

A job well done, a crisis well managed – the press got over it after about a week and are now onto the next thing. Had there been no press release or one that was too vague, the media would still be eating this up with a spoon.

Now maybe Matt will think twice about raging girls that still use fake ID’s. If not, there’s always us PR people to clean up his messes.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spinning Stories in PR: Unethical or Necessary??

“Spin” is a term used in public relations to describe purposely portraying events or actions heavily in your or your client’s favor. For example, if the Lakers lost a big game, their PR director might pitch a few pieces on what this has done for their motivation or camaraderie, in effect “spinning” the bad events favorably in the media for the organization.

A “spin doctor” is a term used, mostly in the UK, to describe a professional who has essentially become an expert or a specialist in the art of spinning situations. This is generally not a favorable term; it is generally thought of to be the same thing as calling a journalist a “hack.”

Spinning events or stories is often seen as unethical. Many feel that it is the job of PR professionals to report the whole truth to the public. I would argue that it is not the job of PR professionals, but the job of the journalists and the media to report such truth. It would be completely out of the question to ask public relations professionals to not spin stories in favor of their clients, firms, teams, or political candidates. We are supposed to be biased! We would be doing our clients a disservice if we were not biased towards them! Moreover, our job description is not to accurately provide information to the public – it is our first responsibility to protect our clients.

A huge part of a PR professional’s job is something called “crisis management.” This means that if something unfavorable happens to your client, it is your job to figure out how to fix it. This could be applied to a range of things: on a broad scale, if Dell is getting absolutely killed by HP and their sales are slipping, they would hire a crisis management team to pitch a new PR campaign to improve their brand in the public eye and bring back up their revenue and reputation. On a smaller scale, in the jobs of publicists or in house PR teams, everyday can be a crisis management situation; maybe your star player says a racist comment in the media, or your politician inadvertently insults the culture they are currently visiting. It is now essentially your job to clean up the mess.

How do you begin? Well, one way, and usually the first way, to start is to brainstorm ways to spin the event so that it either puts your client in a positive light, an ignorant/made a mistake light, or at the very least an “even ground” light. This obviously often involves bending the truth.

This is a bold statement, but the in the field of public relations, bending the truth is a professional necessity. Every single day in PR you are faced with an ethical dilemma about how much truth to tell the public. And honestly, some days the answer to that question is not very much truth. And I don’t believe that is wrong. It is our job to keep our client’s positive image in the public – we can’t just sit by and watch that go down the drain without doing damage control – which sometimes means telling lies or lying by omission to cover up what happened.

I’m not advocating completely lying to the media in every bad situation – this can be just as damaging. The media is smart – lots of times, if you make up a lie, they are going to be able to tell, or at least tell that something deeper is going on. Also, in a world of connections and leaks, often the media already knows the truth; and if you are caught lying, get ready for a whole additional crisis management board brainstorming session, because you are about to get skewered. If you chose to lie to the media following a situation or event, you put not only your professional credibility at risk, but also the credibility of your firm, client or organization.
In fact, a recent public relations issue has been brought to my attention by fellow bloggers Privileged Indifference, Politiosauras Rex, and Of Ignorance in their discussion about the new cover of Vogue featuring African-American NBA superstar LeBron James and Brazilian supermodel Giselle. While some point to Vogue as being criticized for depicting their cover as "racist," others wonder if Vogue planted the controversy themselves, with the "no press is bad press" mentality. This is a perfect crisis management situation - the Vogue PR team must now decide how they want to spin the story to the public. They have already milked plenty of attention, negative and positive, which did allow them to accomplish their goal: selling magazines. However, now they are faced with the task of reestablishing their bond with their readers and fixing those who they may have alienated. It will be interesting to see what they come up with!

I personally believe that the key to maintaining your ethics while balancing your job of protecting and promoting your client lies both within experience in the field and finding a moral balance inside yourself. Experience is nature’s best teacher. If you don’t spin something one time and it toasts your client’s reputation, you will probably work harder next time to find alternatives. If you tell a blatant lie to the media and get called out, you’ll probably answer “no comment” next time.

It is always OK to answer “no comment” to the media, or, even better, use phrases such as “we are still investigating this matter internally,” or “we are discussing/solving this matter internally.” You don’t owe the media answers, but at the same time, you better give them some or they will make them up and roast you in the papers no matter what. Do you have a little bit more respect now as to what we go through day to day?

All in all, before going into public relations, you have to know your personal ethical limits, and be ready to have those limits pushed, tested, strengthened, and molded. You have to go into that industry understanding that each day you will be tested with dilemmas: the media v. your bosses, the organization v. the fans, etc. PR people work a lot harder to provide the media with ethically correct information that also benefits their clients than they get credit for.

Next time you read a news/entertainment/sports story, I would encourage you to read about the same event from a different media outlet – it is especially beneficial to try to find a media source v. the statement from the PR team. Try to pick out the differences between the stories and see how the PR teams attempt to put positive spins on sticky situations – you might be surprised as to what you find!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Product Placement: Nothing is Coincidence!

Have you ever noticed that Carrie from Sex and the City always dreamily writes her next journalist masterpiece from an Apple laptop?

Why Jack Bauer ALWAYS seem to leap into a Ford to save the world?

Does Dr. McDreamy ever drink anything besides Diet Coke?
Waaaaiiiitttt…does Shaq REALLY only have Muscle Milk and Vitamin Water in his fridge like we saw on Cribs?

As you may have guessed – these instances are no coincidence. They are perfect examples of a PR and marketing/advertising tool called product placement. Product placement describes a method in which branded goods or services (Apple laptops, Vitamin water, Gucci handbags) are placed in the public eye, generally in TV shows or motion pictures and recently also computer and video games, as a result of an economic exchange. Product placement occurs when the specific brand’s product or logo appears in a shot, or is mentioned by a character. The tricky thing, and effective thing, about product placement is that this process is obviously done without disclosure and is made (or attempted to made) to seem like a natural part of the scene or setting.

Basically, some big shot at Chanel calls up another big shot producer of Cashmere Mafia and says “We will pay you x amount to have Caitlin say ‘I LOVE my Chanel bag, you have to get one.” Then the terms would be negotiated, such as how many times the product would have to be mentioned or flashed on the screen in exchange for however much money is deemed appropriate.

When products are incorporated into the actual plot of a motion picture or a TV show, it is called brand integration. You better believe that costs the big bucks. For example, during one episode of Sex and the City, one of the main girls worked on an ad campaign for Absolut Vodka.

Earlier in this blog, I described how a comm professor of mine once likened the effects of the media on the average person to a fish in water: the images slide over to us and sink into us, without us really noticing. Product placement is a huge example of this – try watching your favorite TV show or movie, and see how many times you notice product placement.

Nothing is a coincidence!

Everything is paid for. Every beer your favorite bro orders, every cute top your favorite heroine buys, the speedy car your action hero chooses are all predetermined. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton CONSTANTLY criticizes Lindsey Lohan for suspiciously always happening to carry around Activa, a stop-smoking aid. (Yep, also not a coincidence.)
Fellow Blogger Politiosauras Rex even pointed out the public likening of 2008 Presidential Candidate Barack Obama to a Mac computer in an article in the NY Times, showing perhaps an innocent beneficiary in Apple.

Product placement has found controversy over the years, especially with activist group Commercial Alert, whose motto is “Protecting communities from commercialism.” (Yeah, right.) Commercial Alert released a press release stating that they believe product placement is an “affront to basic honesty” because they are inherently deceptive to the average American. Commercial Alert has placed special emphasis on protecting children’s shows such as Hannah Montana and Mackenzie Blue, because they strongly advocate that children are more suseptible to the effects of product placement.

Really though?

Fighting product placement is a lost cause. Not only is it an absolute PR and marketing necessity in order to develop an established brand, it is also a big moneymaker for both parties involved. I really don’t see Jack Daniels taking the stance that they will stop being the drink of choice for the AMC show “Mad Men” because it “isn’t fair” to some ambiguous group of Americans.

What do you think?

Does product placement make you disgusted with the “Americanism” that flows through our media?

Or does it not bother you when you go to the grocery store that you probably chose Corona over Budwieser because you saw the characters on Heroes drinking it?

It’s alllll One. Big. Game.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Damn Shame You Can't Impeach an Owner

Let’s not sugarcoat it. James Dolan became owner of the Knicks because of his father, cable TV pioneer Charles Dolan’s fortune. Totally unqualified, unreasonable, tempestuous, moody and saddled with a past full of drug and alcohol abuse, Dolan paints no better picture than a spoiled kid who one day got tossed the keys to the most prized property in US sports.

In the world of sports PR, the chief concern of a PR professional is to maintain good relationships with the media. The point of creating lasting relationships with media members is to get them to write positive pieces about your team which will build you a positive, fan-friendly reputation.

PR 101.

James Dolan must have been hung over that day.

Think of the worst possible way to handle your PR. Now place that scenario in one of the most active journalist cities in the nation. You have now entered the nightmare of James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden media policy, known on the “inside” as “Tell Those Bastards Nothing,” bastards being the media, of course.

Dolan implemented the new media policy in 2001 – coincidentally, or…not, the Knicks’ last winning season. Dolan’s new institutional paranoia-fueled policy requires a PR staff member to take notes on every conversation that occurs between a player or coach and a member of the media, compile these notes into an email, and email the notes up the chain of command. Player and coach interviews are only done collectively and supervised by a PR professional. Essentially, the players and coaches are not allowed to speak with the media unless a PR representative is present at all times, which is unheard of in the sports world. Phone taps not out of the question.

Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post put it best during one Knicks game earlier this season:
“We have three people here tonight. “That’s 16 inches of copy and 16 inches of free space for the Knicks to sell their product, for better or for worse. To make those three stories as difficult as possible to write seems counterproductive to me.”

The Knicks treat the media “like shit” as an article in the New York Observer entitled “Life in Knicks Hell” put it. The beat writers, almost 16 total in New York versus 1 or 2 in most cities, moan and groan with tales of systematic repression – no access to the players, eavesdropping PR reps slithering in the shadows, lack of resources for game time, a media lounge with no couches or food.

Frank Isola is the beat writer for the Daily News and authors a blog entitled Knicks Knation. Isola claims that due to his harsh coverage of the Knicks he has been excluded from the media mailing list (press releases, game time, media appointments, etc.), had his phone calls and emails purposely ignored, and even believes Dolan has hired a security guard to follow him around MSG at all times. Excuse Isola for calling you out on being the worst owner of all time (Dolan was indeed elected Anti-Sportsman of the Year by the Daily News). Which you are. Every public relations professional knows that one of the main expectations in dealing with the media is that they are not there to be your cheerleader – they are there to report objectively what they see to the public.

James Dolan has forced the Knick organization to view the media as the enemy. And guess what Dolan? If you view the media as the enemy, you’re probably NOT GOING TO GET VERY GOOD PRESS. In fact, Sports Illustrated profiled Dolan’s personality last year – and the resulting article was pretty much about as anti-good press as you can get.

Dolan has taken this marquee franchise and in a matter of about ten years completely stripped the organization of any dignity whatsoever, in both the eyes of the media and the eyes of the public.

Being a PR representative often leaves you with the short end of the stick. Any credit goes to someone else. Anything goes wrong, you’re to blame. You are the slave to upper management. The public often thinks that the PR Director for sports teams is the ultimate authority, which is far from the truth. In reality, the PR representative is often forced to act like more of a mouthpiece for the management than he or she would care to – but that is part of the job description.

For example, Sports Illustrated writer Chris Mannix declares the VP of public relations for the Knicks, Jon Supranowitz is widely recognized to be a friendly helpful guy, as well as Nick Brown, the media relations director. Unfortunately, as Mannix affirms, these two talented PR experts do not have the final say, and therefore are slave to the regime of Dolan’s temper tantrums.

How are the PR employees supposed to promote the Knicks brand? What approach do you even take as a PR representative for the Knicks in attempting to pitch a story? Or plan a public interest event? Dolan has basically undermined every function of a PR employee, leaving them to be nothing more than his minions trying to protect the Knicks from the evil media.

Dolan is a fucking dictator, in every sense of the word, and his gross violation of every concept sacred to the PR world has gotten him exactly what he deserves: everyone hating his and his organization’s guts.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Obama : Youth :: Crack : Addict

He has notorious celebrity blogger Perez Hilton constantly “creaming his manties.” His Facebook support groups outnumber the population in Russia. Usher gives him free concert tickets, just hoping that he’ll show up. His college groupies follow him around state to state.

No, it’s not Kobe Bryant.

It’s the man himself – Barack Obama, 2008 Presidential candidate and certified charmer. OK, that may be taking things a bit far. But seriously, Obama has tapped into an unparalleled youth support for his campaign. He’s struck gold. Young, impressionable, 18-25 year old gold.

As everyone oohs and ahhs about youth involvement in this election, people fail to understand that it’s not the politics our youth is so energized about – it’s Obama. Obama swiftly captured the heart and soul of America’s youth with his scintillating, yet extremely vague and empty of content, proclamation of change and progression, as proven in his overwhelming youth vote support in the state caucuses, most notably Iowa, and most recently Missouri .

Obama’s PR team has now elevated the concept of political branding to a new level. Gone are the days when candidates were forced to be tied to ideologies, numbers, and sets of policies. This just in: HOT – appealing to the raw emotion of voters with your personality. NOT – focusing on the “boring” stuff – aka - the actual politics behind your message of change.

In fact, I can confidently say that Obama’s PR team took a deep breath and gave traditional campaign techniques the nice big middle finger. Until now, nobody has been willing to give into what really sells to the youth: sex. excitement. change. charisma. fun. Obama’s camp is the first to get out there and just admit “Yep, that’s right. I’m not going to bore you to death with the details of my healthcare plans or my environmental views. I’m going to make you love me, and we can discuss the details at a later date.”

What other age group is going to go crazy over that then the Hollywood obsessed, party going, active and innovative, just entering the “real” world 18-25yr olds? We just moved out! We want to form opinions! We want to be part of groups! We want to be in with the “in crowd!” Suddenly the “cool” thing to do is be part of the campaign, and we all want in.

The 18-25yr old age group, the most diverse and the most tolerant generation in history, came of age in a politically disillusioned time period. We lived through the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Our first election we really understood was the unforgivable nightmare of 2000. Our major political events were 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. We haven’t believed in change. We’ve consistently lost hope in the American dream exponentially with each word Bush can’t pronounce.

Until, that is, our superhero of a presidential candidate breaks through the brick wall, booming and brimming with this “message.” This “message,” so invigorating, so inspiring, so trustworthy, with very little content behind it at all, has pushed our disillusioned generation to again believe that we have a shot at changing the world, like in the good old days.

Obama’s cool. He’s fresh. He’s somebody the boys want to go kick it with at the bar down the street. He’s the guy all the chicks think has that George Clooney “old guy” sex appeal.

Is it embarrassing when you call him out like that? Is it embarrassing to be the “sexy” candidate – the “young” candidate relying on your image and charm and not on the actual practice of bringing about this change? Sure, it’s not the most political thing ever. And sure, it sort of undermines our whole political realm, for the first time combining it with a mild Hollywood air. But luckily, it’s not a completely vapid crap shoot, not all the “kids” are out there tossing their bras at Obama – they have really stepped it up and shown their organization and skills like never before in an election.

Campuses all over the nation have thrown themselves into activism, creating rallies and informational sessions that kids aren’t just coming to for the free pizza. Interactive, social networking websites started by young Obama fans such as, and the Facebook organizations that have reached an unparalleled growth are all inspiring college students and young adults to join in the movement. For the first time in our generation, we have a movement to be a part of!

Obama has made America’s young adults feel like he created the coolest fraternity in the country…and we’re all allowed to join (without any nasty hazing pranks).

Truthfully, the youth vote probably won’t be the deciding push to get Obama to the top. But Obama needs all the youth support and grassroots organization he can get – the prize is not in the actual votes of the youth, but the development to his charismatic brand. Eventually that hysterical excitement will push its way up into the age groups, maturing its way where it needs to, each age group bridging the way to the next. Obama needs to continue to campaign “young”, but organize “old,” with the ultimate objective being the older voters.

It’s all part of his master plan (or his brilliant PR director’s, I suppose).

The message and the details will come. But for once, a candidate has put his BRAND first.

And it’s working.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Oxycontin Killed My Friend

Don't do drugs. Don't drink too much. Don't allow yourself to slip into addictive habits. Don't let yourself get into peer pressure situations. Don't give into the college partying atmosphere. We trust you. We know we raised you right.

And then off you go, to college, no rules, no restrictions, no parents. And all they can do is hope for the best.

All of us have heard this advice, some starting from elementary or high school, and nearly all of us when entering college (and sure to be continued forever). How many times have we brushed off the "drugs and alcohol" and the "peer pressure" talks? How many times have you rolled your eyes when your mom explains that drugs ruin your life? How many DARE week assemblies did you skip out on in high school to hit the beach instead?

It just has to happen to you, someone you know, someone you used to know, and then you'll get it.

One of my close friends from high school, Kurt Allen Baker tragically died of an accidental drug overdose in San Diego at his fraternity house early last Sunday morning. Went to a party, got super wasted, and did some Oxycontin with his friends just to top off the night. Topped off the night all right. When his frat bros went into his room the next morning he was surrounded in black blood and vomit. They tried to resuscitate him, and he was transported to the nearby hospital, but died. From a combo of Oxycontin and vodka.

He literally partied to death.

Kurt's death hit us hard and fast. Shocked and dismayed. Confused and angry. Helpless and devastated. Just wondering what happened to the quiet but fun, good looking, girl catching, basketball playing, country loving kid that used to play basketball with me on Sundays and fight with me over the Kings and the Lakers.

His death has really got me thinking about drugs. I personally have truly never done a drug, mostly because I majorly feared my parents in high school, so it's really hard for me to understand why someone would want to alter their body in that way. So I decided to do some research on addictive habits, oxycontin, etc. I want to tell people about oxycontin so that they can share this information with other people, because apparently it is becoming a more and more common street drug, and I don't want anyone to go through what Kurt's family and friends are going through right now, much less what Kurt went through.

Oxycontin is a prescription pain reliever used to treat moderate to severe pain when around-the-clock analgesic is needed for an extended period of time. Abusers use it by taking off the coating that causes it to be time released which give them a sense of euphoria that is apparently similar to that of heroin (only you don't have to shoot it into your veins). When abused, oxycontin is proven to be highly addictive, increases drug tolerance (meaning you need more each time to result in the same effect on your body), and also has terrible withdrawal symptoms, probably discouraging a lot of kids to quit.

The statistics I found were absolutely shocking to me (since I don’t do drugs, I didn’t realize just how popular Oxycontin was becoming). The National Household Survey of Drug Abuse reported that over 1 million US residents over the age of 12 used Oxycontin for a non-medical purpose more than one time per year. The worst thing to read about was how Oxycontin is affecting the high school population. An article on reported that approximately 1 in every 12 US high school seniors now acknowledge at least having tried Oxycontin. In its annual survey of teen drug use, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that Oxycontin use by high school seniors is up 40 percent nationwide in just three years. Five times as many seniors report using Oxycontin than report using meth. The most telling thing I read was that prescription drugs are the second most used drugs among teens behind weed.

The prescription drug epidemic happening in America has got to be put to a stop. Prescription drugs, especially Oxycontin, are expensive on the street, and high school and college kids are using them as a “status symbol.” Although I have read a few different things on street prices, reports that Oxycontin is $80-$100 PER PILL. Stories of kids stealing from their parents and selling their possessions were rampant on the addiction website that I looked at, and the stories about the rich kids whose parents wrote them blank checks without question were more horrifying. The article I read quoted a teenager who switched from a public to a private school halfway through high school and noticeably saw the change in drug abuse: “ ‘All the popular kids -- that was the cool thing to do,’ Mike says. ‘It seemed like it was cool because it was so expensive, this big rich drug. And a lot of rich kids were doing it because the poor kids couldn't afford it.’ ”

With this prescription drug phenom on the rise around our age group, I just beg you guys that if you abuse prescription drugs or have friends that do to stop. I know you don’t want to hear it from me, you don’t want to be preached to, whatever your reason is…but it will kill you. It killed Kurt. It’s not a joke, and it’s not a game. It truly ruins lives. Just ask my ex boyfriend and best friend of Kurt, or Kurt’s little brother, or dad. Save yourself. Don’t be next. Don’t make your family and friends bury you.

Stop. Help somebody stop.

Read more about Kurt: - 40k

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