Garbage Behavior Gives PR Firms A Bad Rep

October 6th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

imagesPR firms, collectively, are PR-challenged. We are often seen as scheming, secretive, greedy hucksters of “spin.”

That makes potential clients, even those who could really benefit from our actual services, think twice about hiring one of us. Unfortunately, this reputation is hard-earned because of the garbage pulled by some firms, quite often the biggest ones, like what journalists in Washington brought to light this week.

Just read this piece in The Washington Post. It explains how a mega-firm used taxpayer money to try to covertly get information out of reporters, without revealing their client and even offering a reward for information. Worst of all, they did this over email.

If it’s portrayed as sleazy by The Post, that’s because it is. Never mind the firm was probably using very junior people to do the dirty work while charging DC premium rates.

Often, when we start with a new client, it is helpful to know what journalists think about covering that client. It helps us understand what we’re walking into and how we can do a better job of working with the client to get the journalists what they need, when they need it. But it always happens with full disclosure. And it happens over the phone, to increase the level of candor and quality and efficiency of conversation. Sometimes, if more dialogue is needed, we’ll meet in person. This business is about relationships and mutually-beneficial relationships aren’t based on hiding information while asking for advice.

From exorbitant fees to overstaffing accounts to pulling this garbage, these firms make us all look like frauds We won’t get them to stop their behavior but it’s time unsuspecting clients get wise and stop rewarding it.

UAW Forced to Face Fiat and Facebook

October 1st, 2015 by Don Tanner

detroit-social-media-uawAs UAW talks with Fiat Chrysler continue one thing is evident: While negotiations between the union and automakers are traditionally fraught with tension, social media can make them even more contentious and complicated.  Detroit News reporter Michael Martinez examined this very dynamic in his piece, “Social Media Tool for UAW Members to Vent Anger,” published today.

Whether negotiating contracts or trying to keep any type of news or information under wraps until it is ready to be communicated to a larger population, today’s world of instant communications and social media make confidentiality incredibly complicated. Leaks, rumors, innuendo – all can be put forth by virtually anyone at any time and shared with the masses.  To that end, it has never been more difficult for any organization to control and disseminate information that is accurate, on message and well timed.

Martinez called me for perspectives for his article, asking a couple of key questions: In the wake of scores of negative posts and tweets on social media regarding the proposed contract, how should the UAW respond?  And, could they have done anything differently?

As I said in the paper, the very nature of social media can quickly spawn an electronic mob mentality, leading to pseudo e-protests and rallies, especially when volatile issues are involved.  What the UAW should be doing now and moving forward is focusing on communicating accurate information and their rationale to their constituents early and often. That includes not only social media but all communications avenues.  The UAW can’t necessarily manage the masses but they can manage the message.  And while it does not represent another person at the bargaining table Facebook, Twitter and the rest do represent for the union a challenge that is formidable.


A Real Life Warning For PR and TV News People

October 1st, 2015 by Matt Friedman

imagesIs there anything more cheesy in PR than the oversized check presentation? That can zap the authenticity out of any good deed.

That’s why we have always recommended, whenever possible, if someone is doing something generous in front of cameras. to use the real check, if a check is needed. Now, maybe a handshake has to do, after a story we just heard about one of our clients.

Let this be a warning to PR and TV news people alike. Showing a real check on TV can lead to fraud. Really.

Recently, one of our clients had an opportunity to help a charity that had been stiffed out of funds that would have payed for a community program that parents and kids were counting on. After seeing a story about this on TV, an executive at the client company contacted us to say they wanted to help. By the end of that day, this good corporate citizen had cut a check and the TV station that had done the story wanted to do a follow-up with the company presenting the check to the charity on camera. Good PR, right? We thought so.

We learned that at least two viewers were able to get information from the close-up of the check from TV and used it to try to pay their bills. The client tells us someone tried to pay a DirecTV bill and someone tried to pay an American Express bill with their bank routing number. A quick-thinking employee and the executive whose idea it was to do the right thing figured out quickly that this was fraud based on the TV story and worked things out with the bank.

To PR types: your clients’ good intentions could cost them. It’s time to think about alternatives to both the oversized check and the real one. To news types: maybe just show the checks in wider shots?

Can “Bullied Mom” Set Precedent For More Positive News Stories?

September 27th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 7.50.48 PMHow often do you watch, listen to or read the news and say to yourself regarding a particular story or stories: “That’s news?” A friend of mine recently asked me that very question after watching a Channel 7 story on a woman from Fort Gratiot, Michigan who was bullied by two other women in a coffee shop and then proceeded to do the unexpected: she paid for the women’s coffee.

The story caught the attention of ABC World News Tonight out of New York, while Channel 7 did a more “local” take.  Soon, the story had become a Facebook and internet sensation. News? Absolutely and a welcome and refreshing change of pace from the types of stories that typically dominate the headlines.  In fact, I sometimes quip that the news should be called the “bad news” as, all too often, we are exposed to our society’s lowest common denominator. A car jacking. A shooting. A rape. A murder. A robbery. If one didn’t know better you would think it was unsafe to leave your home for fear of being a victim.  More often that not in our society, people are good and good things happen.  The news does cover them; I would just argue not often enough.

That is why the tale of the Michigan mom is special and deserved attention.  Bullying continues to be a real problem in our society albeit typically involving school kids. And here, rather than the protagonist lashing out against her antagonists, perhaps with verbal or physical violence that is also all too common today, this special women “killed them with kindness” – paying for their coffee and walking away.

Good for her, good for Channel 7 and good for ABC News.  They all proved in recent days that most people are inherently good and that those people deserve to be recognized more often for their example-setting behavior. Hopefully it will help set a trend for positive news coverage that’s also good for business. After all, positive stories get shared as often if not more so than negative ones on social media. That means more clicks, share of audience and, one would hope in the end, a spotlight on more “good guys” and less on bad.

One Week Fantasy Sports: Ad Blitz Now, PR Issues Later?

September 21st, 2015 by Matt Friedman

football-moneyIf you even casually watch or follow sports, especially America’s most popular TV sports, football, there is no doubt you have felt saturated by TV commercials, radio host endorsements, web banners and social media ads for two websites competing in a new gaming platform called “one week fantasy sports.”

Fans and journalists alike are taking to social media to voice opinions about being inundated with ads for Fan Duel and Draft Kings. Without the backing of PAC money weeks before an election, it’s hard to imagine more frequency for any other ad barrage.

Some reports estimate the total ad spend in recent weeks at nearly $30 million. But it sure seems like more than that, especially when you factor in the local in-stadium advertising that is new for this football season. There’s no doubt that level of attention has piqued fan curiosity and led to sign-ups and sampling. These two sites and their fledging business models are now part of the consciousness of their target audiences. But at what price?

These two companies must now be prepared to be in the PR crosshairs. They need to be ready for for a flurry negative media attention, as fans inevitably lose money via those sites. They need to be ready to be attacked by politicians, as the companies toe the line between gambling and entertainment. They must be prepared to deal with direct complaints via social media in a timely and professional manner.

There’s no doubt they have their talking points ready to go in their defense. But is there anything they have planned to be proactive? One of them could start poking a little good natured fun at themselves and join the chorus talking about the sheer volume of ads to avoid being cast quickly a “big, bad” image. Or one could follow the lead of casinos, which have largely rid themselves of stigma in the last generation by aggressively positioning themselves as good corporate citizens. Or will one of them start using PR tools to highlight their winners in their local markets?

From a PR standpoint, buying the quantity of advertising is the equivalent of placing a gigantic target on the back of your company in the battle for attention. While their efforts have so far been driven by marketing tactics, PR needs to have the proverbial “seat at the table” in order for these companies to grow successful businesses.

Media Relations: Not Rocket Science But There is a Science to It

September 20th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 7.12.20 PMMedia coverage.  More often than not, our firm is employed to secure print, broadcast and online stories with local, regional and national – even international – media outlets.  And, while our success record is incredibly high, certain realities ensure the journey from idea to coverage is often challenging and always interesting but rarely a sure thing.  Thinking about hiring a PR firm for this? Read on.

There is a method to the “madness” that should be followed and understood.  Relationships, first of all, are vital.  These are built over time and on a core foundation of trust and mutual respect. With producers, assignment desks, news directors, reporters, columnists and writers.  As important is having a story that is truly newsworthy.  It’s our job to possess those alliances and from there to package stories in the right way for the right media at the right time. And if it is not a news story? It’s our responsibility to tell you that too.

It is also our job to know media beats and areas of focus, especially in our own backyard. In auto-centric Detroit, the New York Times bureau covers automotive. So too the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.  The Associated Press here, meanwhile, watches auto closely while also having a reporter focused on other statewide news and happenings. Want a non-auto story from those outlets? We know to look outside the marketplace as well as to other news holes inside that might work.

Timing, further, can be everything, in particular in the resource-challenged world of today’s news media.  You can have the greatest story in the world along with the best media relationships. Yet, if the resources aren’t there (i.e. reporters handling multiple beats with the inability to get to your story at that particular time) or, more likely, there is breaking news, your idea might not find a home at that moment. It’s not fatalism, its reality.  It is also why you must be flexible. Perhaps a media outlet doesn’t have time to come to you.  You must be willing also to come to them, including in-studio or on-set.

Forever proactive, appropriately aggressive with respect earned, our firm always strives for results and doing what’s right and best as we collaborate with our clients. That includes a tremendous expertise in how today’s media works and thinks, culled from decades working with and within that machine (and it’s evolving daily).  Ultimately, it is essential that those who work with us understand this dynamic, trust us, respect us and our work and let us do our job.  We’re not going to tell a banker, an attorney, an automotive engineer how to do theirs. Acceptable? Make sense? Need a PR firm? Let’s talk. We look forward to it.

When Bosses Make Too Many PR Mistakes, Audiences Will “Hook ‘Em”

September 15th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

635779106099234597-USATSI-7657137In a high-profile position, bad PR can cost your job.

We have seen it again in college athletics, where respect for emotionally-connected audiences has proven to be paramount. The Athletic Director at the University of Texas, one of the biggest and most visible college sports operations in the country, Stave Patterson, was fired by the school’s President after a two-year series of PR mistakes reportedly led to anger, in particular, among influential donors.

Here’s how the Associated Press reports it: “One of his first missteps was an awkward public push to have the city of Austin help finance a new basketball arena after having not ‘invested a nickel’ in the current Erwin Center over the previous 30 years. Those comments caught city officials off guard and forced the school to backtrack.”

Other issues with Patterson included:

-One report says he “alienated” audiences “with his management style and failure to communicate.”
-Firing a Sports Information Director known to have exemplary media relationships
-Raising football ticket prices after a losing season, including charging for parking.

As the local newspaper in Austin reports, it got so bad for the former pro sports executive, “Eventually, public perception so turned against Patterson, he was getting blamed for things he didn’t even do. An Internet-based report indicated Patterson was charging Texas Tech band members for tickets to the game. Two days later — eons in the social media world — UT officials released a statement saying that wasn’t true.”

This is another example of why executives who fail to include PR-influeced thinking in making decisions can be doomed. While change may be needed (in this case, the Athletic Department incurred a financial loss for the first time in more than a decade), change is made easier through careful communication. When PR is involved on the front end of situations to prevent messes, not just asked to clean up after messes are made, that’s good for all.

For organizations that still receive media coverage in the age of consolidation and cutbacks, particularly where customers are fans, the margin of error for missteps has never been lower.

Assisted Living Industry: Meet Social Media

September 14th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 6.49.04 PMEarlier today, I was honored to speak at the invitation of the Health Care Association of Michigan (HCAM) and the Michigan Center for Assisted Living.  Their multi-day, annual state conference is being held this week at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit – part of continuing education and important discourse regarding the industry, attended by assisted living owners, administrators, healthcare practitioners and marketers.  The topic: Social media.

It is a medium still not widely adopted in the field but one that is growing in importance.  Just consider current industry dynamics: With an aging population, both greater competition and opportunity are emerging. And while those making up the senior community (which makes up roughly 50% of the decision makers in assisted living), are not typically social media consumers, the other half (comprised of the children of those elderly potential residents) are.

To be sure, at a time of constricting traditional media sources, for owners and administrators of senior living communities, social media can be an ideal platform for telling their own stories – making sure their news and information is pushed out to a targeted ‘opt-in’ audience of followers.  That could (and should) include blogs demonstrating forward-thinking vision and YouTube, the ideal repository for video content that can be produced affordably and posted for incredible searchability. Hey, it’s one more tool in the marketing toolbox.

Adapt, evolve or die.  Words to live by for any industry including this one. Kudos to HCAM/MCAL for shining a spotlight for its members on the importance of addressing and considering a medium to help its members remain viable in the short- and long-term.  As I said to the group today early and often: don’t utilize social media personally or professionally? Remember it’s not about you but whom you want to reach and motivate to action.

They Say Crisis Brings Opportunity… But For Whom?

September 7th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

UnknownIn crisis communications, they often say “a crisis brings opportunity.” or “a good crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” But in recent weeks, we have seen two examples of too much opportunity being handed to firms that have apparently decided not to waste them by just focusing on something relatively insignificant, like the best interests of their clients.

We found out about this case from Washington, DC, where the transit authority spent $250,000 on two firms to help it recover from a crisis. The fees were so astronomical that the authority had to collect on an insurance policy just to pay them.

While the journalist who wrote the story on this work doesn’t believe that value was provided, from our perspective it’s hard to say. But fees of a quarter million dollars, collectively, tell us that work was not done efficiently or in a focused way. It seems these firms used this crisis as a big billing opportunity. Time sheets show nine staffers at just one of the firms putting in time on this project. It’s hard to imagine what would take that much people power, especially at what appears to be a well-staffed client. Quite simply, it doesn’t have take $250,000 to help any client rebound successfully from a crisis, when being cost and time efficient should be among the priorities.

Our network has also brought to our attention a disturbing recent example of a PR agency that has actually seized the attention its own client in crisis. The client, a longtime community organization, is in the news because of alleged criminal activity by one of its employees in the workplace. Since the charges became public, the only communication from the client to the public has been a series written statements attributed to the owner of the PR firm.

It’s one thing if an organization hires a firm to work with the media or even be interviewed on the record. We have done that many times. There can be short-term advantages to having a round-the-clock professional spokesperson working with media during a crisis, so leadership can work directly on tasks that need to get done immediately otherwise. But these have simply been written statements (common in situations with sensitive legal implications), over several weeks, that credibly could have been attributed to anyone. There is only one real reason why they would be attributed to a PR agency owner and that is for the agency to steal as much notoriety from its client as possible. The agency is attracting attention to itself while keep its own client publicly silent. Yes, it’s sleazy.

Many of the crisis communications projects of which we are most proud or those where nobody but us and the client knew we were involved. The client was “better off” after the project than before, paying us simply for our time that is most needed and appreciating the work. It’s about helping clients when they need it the most.

Marketplace Moves New Music Tuesdays

September 7th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 3.50.43 PMIn recent weeks, the official release day for all music worldwide almost quietly moved from Tuesday in the U.S. to Friday everywhere.  Previously, new music also debuted Fridays in Australia and Mondays in the U.K.  The reason, as recently reported by Brian Mansfield in the USA Today, is fairly simple: With music being consumed differently today via streaming and online sources, the old “bricks and mortar” methodology has largely become obsolete. The only real wonder is why this change did not happen sooner.

Previously, retailers could sell through initial demand early in the week and still have time to gauge continuing interest and order more in time for the weekend.  The new model, however, is necessitating these same retailers anticipating that demand in advance and pre-ordering in appropriate numbers accordingly.

Another dynamic, reports Mansfield, is how bands touring worldwide will overcome the challenge of a uniform release date when, previously, according to Keith Caulfield of Billboard, “they could appear in Australia, then Europe, then the U.S. to maximize their visibility throughout the week, as the album was released” via a staggered schedule.

On the positive side, says Tom Becci of Universal Music in the USA Today piece, when a new song leaked on a Thursday or Friday before a Tuesday U.S. release, weekend pirating ramped up dramatically.  A universal Friday debut date, he feels, will lead to more legal downloads and, in turn, less demand for illegal fare.

Like anything else, time will tell and an evolving marketplace will continue dictate what changes and what stays the same – a bit akin to the movie industry where the hottest new movies, forever released on Fridays afternoon/evenings, are now more often unveiled 12-13 hours earlier at midnight, in order to maximize buzz and weekend box office takes. Like anything else in marketing, its all about adapting to demand and to the wants and needs of your audience.