Continuing the Conversation: Restored U.S./Cuban Relations and More

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Cuba, a country once referred to as the “Pearl of the Caribbean,” has a culture as vibrant as the colors of its 50s style cars and a passion as strong as its coffee. Recently, PPRA held a luncheon at Cuba Libre to discuss the restored relations between Cuba and the U.S. and what that means for both the communications and tourism industries. After devouring the delicious food made by chef Guillermo Pernot, a panel discussion was held with four speakers: Bill Lezzi, a former journalist of the Philadelphia Inquirer who has visited Cuba 65 times, Brian Said, Executive Director of Tourism, Chef Guillermo, who studied Cuban cuisine and has visited Cuba several times, and myself. Former PPRA president and Hall of Famer, Dan Circucci, served as the moderator. During the panel, a series of questions were asked involving the Castro regime, day-to-day life of Cubans, the impact of communism, food and what we believe will be the future of Cuba. It was a lively discussion followed by tasty desserts.

Although the panel discussion was insightful and in-depth, I want to dive a little deeper into the topics that were discussed. Rewind to three months ago. It was ten days after graduating from college, I found myself on plane bound for Havana, Cuba. I had no idea what to expect when I landed at the Jose Marti airport. I was accompanied by six college-aged students I barely knew. The only thing I knew about Cuba was what I learned in my 11th grade history class. I did not speak Spanish and had never eaten Cuban food. I did not know what the living conditions would be like or what I would be doing for six weeks. All I knew was that I was in for the adventure of a lifetime and, in the end, it proved to be nothing short of that.

First and foremost, Cuba is poor economically, but in every other way, it is very rich. Cubans do not have all of the luxuries that we do in America. They follow a ration system in which an individual receives 5 pounds of rice and beans and other miscellaneous food items per month. Several Cubans suffer from gastrointestinal issues due to unsafe drinking water. Prescriptions are hard to come by. Old strips of newspaper are used for toilet paper. I spent half of my time in Cuba showering with a bucket. It was a luxury to stay in a room with a flushing toilet. Yes, these living conditions are tough, but there are so many other aspects of Cuban life that exhibit a greater sense of wealth. Cuban families, friends and neighbors spend a great deal of time together. They do not go home at night and binge watch Netflix. While I lived in the town of Los Arabos, a group of guys would pick up a guitar and congos and spend the night playing music while everyone else danced. Often times, I witnessed the “abuelas” care for and cook dinner for the neighborhood kids.  At youth events, the kids did not bury their faces in iPhones. They were 100% present. Additionally, daily life is much more slow-paced than America. Cubans will sit and talk to someone after a meal for hours instead of racing to an afternoon of errands. In turn, they build genuine relationships and enjoy the moment.CUBA2Another thing to note, the internet is not accessible in many parts of the country. Up until recently, it was illegal for Cubans to have internet in their homes. Internet access could only be found at places such as universities. When I wanted to send an email to my parents while I was away, I had to find the nearest “Cuba Cell,” a communications center in which Cubans can go online or make phone calls. What seemed a simple enough plan slowly turned into an all-afternoon event. I waited in line outside of the building (in the 90 degree Cuban heat!) for over an hour only to wait in a line again to buy an internet card. This card is the key to getting online. It costs three pesos and gives the user 30 minutes of internet usage. Once my thirty minutes were up, the computer shut down, regardless of whether I was finished my conversation. This is what Cubans have to do every single time they want to check their emails or talk to family members who live abroad.

Lastly, don’t expect to see rum and cigars at American stores anytime soon. Throughout my trip, I spoke with members of Parliament who believe that it could be another two to three years until the embargo is lifted. There are still so many discussions and decisions to be made between these two countries. Not only that, but the current state of Cuba cannot support the influx of tourists expected to race into the country. There is not enough space to house everyone. More hotels and apartments need to be built first. In regards to the anticipated “American Invasion,” Cubans do not need nor do they want a Starbucks on every corner or a Rite Aid down the street.

A lot can be said about the restored relations between the U.S and Cuba. The country of Cuba and its intricate culture cannot fit into one panel discussion or this blog. So to summarize, I will leave you with this memory of mine. One day a teammate of mine asked our translator where he would live if he could chose to live anywhere in the world. His response was “If I could live anywhere in the world I would live in Cuba.”

View more photos of the event here.

Lauren Bentley is a recent graduate of Temple University with degrees in public relations and Advertising. She spent her summer doing service and mission work throughout Cuba while also enjoying the country’s beauty.  In her free time, Lauren enjoys reading on the beach, cooking, watching old episodes of Friends and doing community service.

Photo Credit: Lauren Bentley & Philip Gabriel Photography

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Preparing for the Pope: 1 million visitors, 7,000 members of the media

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This fall, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the globe will flock to our city for the World Meeting of Families. It’s estimated that over 1 million visitors will make the journey to Philadelphia for the week-long celebration. The festivities will have a powerful effect on the area; hotels are already booked, businesses will be booming and the economic impact will be huge. At the latest PPRA luncheon, PR for a Mega Event: Preparing for the Pope, some of the public relations professionals who are helping to ensure the World Meeting of Families runs smoothly spoke on what they have been doing and the excitement and challenges they’ve faced.

Representatives from the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, Visit Philadelphia, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Brian Communications and the Mayor’s Office came together to address a crowd eager to learn about the process of planning for a series of events as large as the World Meeting of Families.

Big PR Challenges for the Papal Visit 

Social media
It is anticipated that social media for the World Meeting of Families will be up and running in 10 to 20 languages. This is a huge undertaking, but the communications partners working to set it all up are well prepared. A big social media center will be working at all hours of the day working to monitor, engage and keep things going smoothly.

24/7 deadlines
This exciting series of events is drawing an international crowd, which means international press. These members of the media will be working with deadlines far outside our time zone and it is important that they are able to meet those deadlines. In order to help facilitate this, there will be a 24/7 media center running from the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Credentialing
There will be between five and seven thousand members of the media in Philadelphia for this week in September. It is realistically not possible to give every journalist, reporter and the like a credential for every event taking place. The professionals behind the media organization are hard at work to find a balance that makes everyone feel involved and keeps everyone informed. Part of this effort includes live streaming of events that can be viewed in the 24/7 media center.

Security
Pope Francis giving a public mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is just one example of an event during the week that will need some serious security measures. The Mayor’s Office is in close contact with police from all over the world, coordinating and organizing the best possible ways to keep the Pope and all the attendees safe and secure. It’s a good thing that Philadelphia is exceptional at hosting large events and will have plenty of test events to try out new security tactics.

Controlling the message
The last time the Pope visited the United States social media was not nearly as prevalent as it is in today’s society. The communications professionals teaming up for the World Meeting of Families are working hard to craft great messaging to put out to all audiences. Social media makes it difficult for the messages to be controlled. Those pushing out information on social media can, in reality, say whatever they want and create their own (potentially false, potentially negative) messaging.  The social media center, set up in the Convention Center alongside the media center, will be crucial in monitoring posts and ensuring the proper messages are being shared on all channels.

Measurement
The great debate in the realm of public relations is how to effectively measure the success of a story placement, event, campaign, etc. The World Meeting of Families team is ready to take on the task of measuring the success of individual events throughout the week and the celebration as a whole. It’s incredibly important to capture this data because it’s a once in a lifetime happening and the chance won’t come around again.

It’s clear that the folks handling the Papal visit to Philadelphia are leaving no stone unturned. Keep an eye out for more developments as the World Meeting of Families approaches and get ready for the execution of an amazing series of events.

London Faust is an Account Representative at Bellevue Communications Group, a public relations firm specializing in media relations, crisis communications and issue management. She is forever #TempleMade, class of 2014. Follow her personal ramblings on Twitter at @londonfaust or her professional doings at @BellevuePRPhl.