Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Fake News: It’s Not A Real Epidemic

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

unnamedWe got an email this week from a respected college professor putting together a PR conference. The question was simple, “Do you know of anybody willing to talk about being bitten by fake news?”

The answer, from our end, was also simple. We don’t. That is because there is no “epidemic of fake news” in the day-to-day world of PR.

To explain, let us please agree on the definition of “fake news.” What we are talking about in this post is the disguising of fictional content, using familiar people’s names, on websites that look like news sights but are created just to spread this fiction. It what, before the ease of sharing websites via social media, were called “hoaxes” or “urban legends.” We used to see this kind of stuff in the grocery store checkout lines in tabloids (the Weekly World News often featured front page “stories” about politicians and aliens) or, from our friends (who could talk to us even before Facebook), like when those of us of a certain age heard that Mikey from the Life cereal commercials died after mixing Pop Rocks candy with some sort of carbonated beverage.

What we are not talking about here is news coverage from a bona fide, commercially viable, familiarly-named outlet that does not paint the sitting President of the United States in a favorable light, in his opinion. We are also not talking about news coverage that includes errors in reporting.

Now that we have that straight, you can begin to understand the answer we gave the professor. The “fake news epidemic” has been limited to national politics. That has been the focal point of news consumption since last year and that is what is driving clicks online. That is where there is money to be made and attention to be had by the fraudsters online. This is not a phenomenon that is seriously impacting day-to-day business in the rest of the country. That is not to suggest that some sort of fabricated item that looks like news couldn’t show up online about the place where you work or a company with which you do business. The potential is there but the reality is not.

This is similar to the “supermarket tabloid” heyday. There was much more of a chance of a “fake” story about Carol Burnett getting drunk and getting into a verbal altercation with Henry Kissinger in The National Enquirer (that happened, resulting in a lawsuit) than anything about anyone not a celebrity. The reason is simple – celebrities (and diet tips) have always moved paper in grocery store lines, the way stories about the President and politics drive clicks now.

In every community in the country at certainly at the national level, both the news and PR businesses are facing some serious issues and challenges. But, for the vast majority of us, today, this just is not one of them.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

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“Legends of Tomorrow” More Watchable Than Ever Today

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 6.32.19 PMIn case you hadn’t noticed, television is currently being invaded by a league of superheroes who are conquering their respective program competitors and paving the way for more costumed champions.  Unsurprisingly, this movement began and continues to be largely fueled by cable channels apart from the network “Big Three” where more chances are typically taken and programming is allowed greater latitude in “taking hold.”

The CW continues to lead the charge with “Arrow”, which just completed its second season and spinoff “The Flash” which just aired its first season finale.  And, coming next season, fans will see a brand new series begotten of both the scarlet speedster and the emerald archer, “Legends of Tomorrow,” with the Atom, Firestorm and (like the Atom last year), the upcoming debut of a DC Comics character never before seen in live action: Hawkgirl.  If you’re an admitted comic book geek like me, that’s a big deal.

So why now? Why such a proliferation of funny paper foes and heroic foils on the boob tube than perhaps ever before?  First, if anyone was going to do it, you knew it was going to be DC and the CW, whose “Smallville” ran from 2001-2011 to great fanfare for both its writing and character development.  Today’s CW is just as well written and even better acted; the former with continuing nods to comicdom history and lore.  Perhaps as importantly, add in superior technology and production values, which have trickled down from the movies with greater affordability and accessibility, allowing Flash to time travel and Arrow to scour the streets of Starling City with a look and feel heretofore only experienced on the big screen.  Netflix’s “Daredevil” is also generating rave reviews for its film noir grit and cinematic scope.

I would also add acceptability to the reasons why superheroes are so popular on television today.  Put simply: comics are cool to a larger segment of society including coveted millennials.  Graphic novels have helped lay that groundwork (including masterpieces from the likes of Frank Miller, who penned “300″, “Sin City” and “The Dark Knight Returns,” from which the upcoming “Superman v Batman” borrows extensively).  The wildly popular “Walking Dead” on TNT also paved the way. And have you been to a comic con lately? They are equal parts nostalgia fests and pop culture celebrations for “kids” of all ages.  Finally, even the top show on television today, CBS’ “Big Bang Theory” (which will welcome “Supergirl to the network in the Fall), pays consistent homage to the art form – a medium whose time has come, across multiple universes and timeslots.

 

 

 

 

The Best and Worst of CVS’ Big News

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Unknown-1This morning, the giant CVS drugstore chain made big news by announcing it would no longer sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in its stores, effective later this year.

The company broke through with a national news splash and re-shaped the news day before it began in earnest. Here are a couple of initial observations, with the full disclosure that I worked on PR for CVS’ entrance into the Michigan market in 1999:

They exceptionally orchestrated this announcement, with a 7 a.m. embargo that was honored by every news organization that had the story ahead of time, ready to go. As far as degree or difficulty goes in PR, this is about a “9.” They also set up their CEO for a round of interviews and had a website online with their messaging, in various forms. The strategy and execution of this announcement is a positive case study waiting to happen.

However, what keeps this from being a flawless announcement (if there is such a thing) is that in its messaging, the company does not talk directly to its customers. It seems to talk around them. The CEO’s language is filled with healthcare-ease and corporate-ease, in between powerful lines like “tobacco products have no place in a setting where healthcare is being delivered.” For example, he talks a lot about “outcomes” (a term popular in healthcare circles that consumers don’t use) and an upcoming smoking cessation program that is promised to be “robust” (another favorite in corporate communications that rings hollow for the public). He told CBS, in a quote that ran on the radio World News Roundup, “(this decision) positions us for future growth and the opportunity to play a bigger role in our evolving health care system.” Huh?

It’s important, when making news, to communicate directly to your key audience. In mainstream media, for a retail company, that is customers. Conversational language and a second-person tone using “you” and “your” would have taken this announcement from “really good” to “great.”

Detroit: Autopsy or Right Place to Be?

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 7.47.37 PMOver the course of the past two years, Detroit has become, perhaps like at no other time, an American curiosity – a microcosm of this country’s economic decay and fight for renewal.  It is quite apropos, then, that two books should appear in recent weeks, both of which examine the city’s histories, trials and tribulations, including what could have been and what might still be: Mark Binelli’s “Detroit City is the Place to Be” and Charlie LeDuff’s “Detroit: An American Autopsy.”

While both are extremely well-written and interweave Detroit’s history (dating back to its founding in the 1700s) with today’s headlines, the similarities largely end there.  LeDuff, the Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist, former Detroit News writer and current Fox-2 reporter takes a bleak, gritty, autobiographical approach.  By its very name, “Autopsy” unsurprisingly but sometimes shockingly is rife with dead bodies (literally) including an overflowing city morgue, corpses in abandoned buildings and his own family’s fatal failings fueled by alcohol and poverty on the city’s southwest side.

Binelli, on the other hand, while exposing the underbelly of desolate neighborhoods, corrupt politicians and failed policies, gives equal time to the many visionaries and opportunities that exist and are being enacted in a town seeking to reinvent and rejuvenate. Ala Time magazine, which embedded journalists to report on Detroit’s “good” and “bad”, Binelli, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, returns to his hometown to live and write near Eastern Market, breathing in and reporting on in its sights, smells and especially its people.

Despite the differing approaches, both books are well worth reading.  While more dark than not, LeDuff is often a crusader against injustice – whether exposing police and fire department inefficiencies in the wake of a firefighter’s death, or writing a Detroit News piece that helps raise money for a grandmother too poor to bury her young granddaughter in the aftermath of a senseless shooting. Binelli, by contrast, takes a more ‘everyman’ approach with observations and assertions that allow us to form our own opinions – or at least contemplate what they should or could be.

I finished ‘Autopsy’ in a weekend (last) and am halfway through “Detroit City”. I strongly recommend reading them back-to-back as have I.  They are up-to-date, insightful and the ideal complement to each other and to Detroit’s current backdrop of emergency financial manager infighting and downtown business and residential living resurgence.  Perhaps, you may well think upon completing especially Binelli’s edition, Detroit City really is the place to be.