Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

After Stunt, Will Journalists Keep Going Back To Calley?

Monday, June 5th, 2017

UnknownFor five weeks leading up to the Mackinac Policy Conference, Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor, Brian Calley, had journalists thinking he would announce his candidacy for Governor on May 30th, on the first day of the Conference.

All over social media, the Calley camp bought ads teasing “5.30.17.” In this interview with WJR’s Frank Beckmann on April 24th, Calley did nothing to refute the idea that that indeed would be the day he would announce.

Upon arriving in the island, Conference attendees were greeted, literally every few feet, by college-age barkers handing out invitations to the “major announcement” event, giving the island’s main drag a Las Vegas Strip feel. Multiple journalists arrived on the island early to be in place for what they expected to be the official beginning of the 2018 campaign. Instead, they were victims of a bait and switch stunt, burning them, along with other attendees who delayed registration for the Conference to file into a restaurant, expecting news to be made before their eyes.

Instead of announcing his candidacy, Calley, surrounded by the paid college-age staff, called for a plan to make Michigan’s Legislature part-time. With scripted chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and “Clean It Up!” amid cries against “The Establishment” (the 7-year Lieutenant Governor previously served as a legislator, full-time), Calley held an event apparently only a political ringmaster could appreciate. Several journalists and attendees called it everything from “weird” to “a waste of time.”

This is yet another example of the difference between business and political PR. If a business hyped an announcement for five weeks, then switched it to appeal to a niche constituency rally, it wouldn’t get a second chance. But, in politics, some Roger Ailes wannabe is probably doing self back patting for getting a bunch of news coverage in one day to “help name recognition” and “fire up the base” while “creating a show.” Sooner or later, they are going to have to make the announcement the assembled media thought it was getting last week.

Begrudgingly, journalists will still cover the Calley announcement, whenever and wherever it happens. But will they forget about what happened on Mackinac? To quote the great PR analyst L.L. Cool J – I don’t think so.

How “The Trump Factor” Affects Your PR

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

pie-chart1It was going to be tough enough to try to get media attention in 2017. The news workforce is smaller, yet again, than it was last year. A new administration in The White House always takes its share of news coverage in every level, as change is explored widely. But this year, if you work in or with PR, consider how “The Trump Factor” means a smaller piece of a shrinking pie for everyone else.

Almost no matter what type of PR you work in, it’s more of a challenge than ever to get coverage without a “Trump angle,” or at least a government/politics angle. It’s the pervasive conversation in our country and in our current events discourse now and for the foreseeable future. Also, news consumers are eating it up. Don’t listen to those who say they’re sick of it and staying away. From everything we hear from those who monitor analytics inside news organizations, the bump in news content consumption that started during the election season has not waned. The most successful pitch efforts many days will include at least a nugget to get the politically hungry something to chew on.

Depending on your point of view, the current President is either an insatiable seeker of attention in the world’s most high-profile job or an intriguing personality making waves by affecting change. Even if you’re somewhere in between, you can’t deny that he has attracted more attention (or diverted it) in ways never seen before. The fact is there will be less attention for whatever your organization thinks it deserves.

If you work in PR, you should be having an honest conversation with your clients or your bosses about the news realities, which have changed even more in the last few weeks. What you thought may have been news in your 2017 planning may not be news anymore, or at least maybe not in the same way. It may be time to think about other ways of reaching your audiences with your messages. Or it may be time to determine your organization’s government/politics angle, based on how proposed or enacted policies affect you (it doesn’t have to mean taking sides, but it could).

What you can’t do is pretend this isn’t happening. Sure, there are morning TV slow slots for in-studio features. There’s still the sports section. There are exceptions. But, by and large, unless you have journalists assigned to covering your business or your industry who are separate from those who cover government and policy, for now, at least, this is likely your reality.

The Leaky Workplace Reflects Culture

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

leaky-bucket-thumb-400x427-536For those who try to read news stories closely, trying to figure how and why they come together, the past few weeks have been a case study in leaks. So much news coverage of The White House, not political analysis or opinion, but the actual reporting by those on the beat, has been driven by anonymous sources from the inside. Leaks have long been the stock-in-trade of political reporting, and business reporting for that matter. But the quantity of leaks, the consistency of them and the fact that there seem to be so many, so early, has led questions to come our way wondering what it all means.

We can’t pretend to psychoanalyze people we don’t know in an environment we have never worked. But, from first-hand experience, we have learned that deliberate leaks to journalists can be a reflection of workplace culture. In times of anxiety, we see leaks. But we especially see them when employees feel like they no longer have a voice and that leads to resentment toward top management.

A case in point is a client I worked with in the late ’90s. One of the underlying issues that ultimately resulted in monumental PR challenges for that company was serious tension between top corporate leadership and the company’s workforce. When the company had a phone conference – a single phone conference – to discuss whether to begin what would have been a lengthy process of due diligence that may have led to merger talks with a competitor, a leak made it news. Just days later, AOL and Time Warner announced a merger that had been kept a complete secret before its official announcement. The difference was as simple as cultures.

We have seen many other examples over the years, as texts and social media have enabled and empowered leakers. I once received a text from a reporter asking about something that had been tipped to him via text from a participant in a meeting, among people who weren’t getting along, that was still going on. Another client CEO who fostered dysfunction, whose emails were routinely published in news stories, asked “Don’t they know those are internal communications?” There’s no such thing when your direct-reports who feel alienated have access to the “forward” button.

A few years ago, an organization hired us to design a communications schematic to prevent leaks from occurring, as a piece of news needed to be communicated with precision. That foresight allowed the news to be broken on the organization’s preferred terms. That’s something every organization should consider in times of sensitivity.

If you’re concerned about leaks where you work, don’t blame reporters who are trying to do their job. Think about how to build trust on the inside. That will prevent those who have access to information from trying to turn to the outside.

Trump Needs a Filter -or- Speak No Evil

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-01-22 at 10.00.22 PMCan Donald Trump ever become presidential? Can he ever overcome his egotistic, misogynistic, separatist, nationalistic demeanor, posturing and dialogue? If his first few days in office are any indication he has a long, long way to go – if in fact it is at all possible. Trump needs a filter.  In that way, as a communications counselor, how would I be advising Donald Trump, moving forward? That’s a very, very good question.

First of all, he has proven that he does not take direction well from insiders. During his campaign he went through a host of campaign managers, often finding himself vocally and publicly in disagreement with those that lasted for any length of time.  Our team worked directly with some of his staffers when he came to Detroit last year to speak.  Inexperienced and indifferent to anyone and anything other than what their boss wanted, these were clearly “yes” men and women; those in no position to put forth ideas nor advice.

And that is what Donald Trump is used to. It’s how he operates. I recall interacting once with a business associate who acted similarly.  He put forth too many of his opinions and directions as though they were gospel, often with no regard for potential ramifications, often through aggressive diatribes and usually with disastrous results.  I suggested to him once, “You really should think before you speak.” He smugly looked back at me and indicated he did not care what I thought as he had been successful throughout his career using this modus operandi. The similarities with Trump are unmistakable.  He deludes himself into thinking that how he thinks, what he says and how he acts are right.  And, if you disagree with him? Well, then there’s something wrong with you.  There’s no room for discussion nor discourse and absolutely no latitude for a difference of opinion. Believe me.

How he handled the women’s rights gatherings this weekend is just one more example of how he needs to adjust his approach.  After initially saying nothing nor acknowledging the worldwide protests he finally took to his favorite pulpit, Twitter, to initially mock perhaps a million people worldwide.  He later changed his tune, writing something at least approaching professional when he talked about why gatherings of this sort were what make America special.  Too late. Damage already done.

So how would I be advising Trump? Let’s be serious – it would never happen. But if I were in a position to do so, even for just a moment, I would advise him to always consider the big picture while looking at both sides of any issue.  Get all of the facts, consider them closely and then act.  Don’t agree with others are saying? Acknowledge where appropriate but don’t disparage.  Be professional, show class, don’t engage if you’re going to enrage. After all, he is no longer a businessman acting in his own best interests.  He is not a reality TV (star?). He is President of the United States, representing we the people,  both here at home and across the globe.  Act responsibly, Donald. We’re counting on you.

White House Diatribe Worse For PR Than It Is For Media

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

Sean_Spicer_White_House_(unofficial_press_meeting_2017)It’s impossible to do PR analysis of brand new Presidential spokesman Sean Spicer’s Saturday evening press briefing. That’s because it wasn’t PR. It was a diatribe that reeked of fascist-style propaganda, in tone and in content. Watch it here, unfiltered, to see for yourself.

As a media and PR fan, I have avidly watched and listened to press briefings for more than 25 years, when early versions of cable news showed them during the Gulf War. I have been particularly curious about how White House and other high-profile government spokespeople conduct themselves in front of the public, via the media. It is an extremely difficult job that requires preparation on an incredibly wide range of issues and daily updates. It is different from corporate communications work, but nonetheless interesting. Lest you accuse me of some sort of political bias (it happened just last week), on the Republican side, I learned a few things from watching and listening to Ari Fleischer and even paid to see Karen Hughes speak. On the Democratic side, I sat with Mike McCurry at dinner one night during a communications conference, impressed with his skill and smarts, and have listened to Josh Earnest’s briefings on satellite radio, appreciating his calm demeanor. That’s just to name a few on “both sides.”

All that means I think I write with some authority when I write that Sean Spicer and, during the campaign, Kellyanne Conway do not represent the PR business in this country. They represent Donald Trump, as Spicer would have said last night, “Period.” But their behavior and pattern of untruths – far beyond the typical (and often historically reprehensible) political “spin” and purported contempt for journalists hurts PR professionals who are expected to follow a code of ethics, widely, and that’s troubling.

What they do is as close to day-to-day PR as “Miami Vice” is to your local suburban police department. But, this is the only form PR that most Americans, even educated business people, see publicly. We are a business that, unfortunately, has worked very hard to deserve a reputation of sleaze. The marketplace doesn’t trust us to be fair our fees, after generations of gouging, and, too often, doesn’t think it needs our services because potential clients think they can communicate better themselves than the “spin doctors” of the world. What happened Saturday night makes this worse.

President Trump, via Spicer, apparently wanted to fire a salvo in his self-described “war” against the media. A consequence of that action is to hurt those of us who are just trying to sell communications services and counsel to businesses and organizations who have the potential to be more successful working with us, in order to make an honest living in this country.

Mayor Jim Fouts in Crisis: If He Did It, He Should Admit It

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

img This morning I appeared on Fox-2′s “Let it Rip” with Charlie Langton to discuss Warren Mayor Jim Fouts’ supposed egregious comments about the mentally and physically disabled. Not one to beat around the bush, Langton opened the 30-minute segment by asking me point blank if Fouts should resign. “Yes.” I said – if he did in fact say those outrageous things. Yet, it will never happen and here’s why.

In the world of communications, politicians are often held to a different standard – and that’s sad. But the fact is, we have become largely immune to the “out of line” things that politicians say and do. Just look at our President Elect and his crazy campaign. Politicians attack other politicians all the time. And when they do or say something improper, it is much different than a CEO of a public or private company saying or doing those things. You can’t fire them; you can’t sue them; and you can’t boycott their product. We can handle Fouts attacking Mark Hackel, yet, this time, he may have crossed the line.

Despite a history of bizarre behavior, Mayor Fouts is a popular mayor whose constituents reelected him most recently by 85%.  That also can give someone more of a “pass” in “bad times.”   Consider L. Brooks Patterson as another example of someone who is incredibly successful at what he does on behalf of the residents of Oakland County. He also has a history of making un-PC comments. This is akin to the dynamic in sports, where athletes who excel at the game and are of value to their team are much less likely to be suspended or cut than a backup or also-ran. Again, sad – but true.

On the other hand, politicians, as with any public figure, are constantly in the spotlight and a target of scrutiny; even more so today with smart phones that record audio and video and post anything to social media in seconds. We don’t know where or when Mayor Fouts said these things (if he did) but a public figure should know better. Some would argue this was locker room talk, ala Trump talking to Billy Bush. Yet, once again, who came out seemingly unscathed and who lost their job? Lauren Podell at WDIV-TV Channel 4 reportedly made improper comments in the newsroom. No audio. No video. She resigned, reportedly under pressure. Back to that double standard.

At the very, very least, I indicated on Fox-2, Mayor Fouts should apologize if that is, in fact, him on the audio tape. Honesty, transparency and taking responsibility, even though painful and embarrassing, are truly the best policies.  Instead, Fouts, never shy about approaching the media to fit his agenda, has instead avoided traditional media; instead taking to Facebook to deny and further attack Mark Hackel with conspiracy theories. As with Bill Cosby, who has consistently and sheepishly issued denials over his past behavior, it just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Mayor Fouts should be concerned with his legacy. If he did it, he should admit it. He should apologize and do something exceptional to benefit the mentally and physically challenged in his jurisdiction. If he didn’t do it, an independent party should be hired to analyze the tape with voice recognition software. Bottom line: He should do the right thing and live to fight another day on behalf of those he should be most concerned with: the citizens of the City of Warren.

Election Talk Doesn’t Have To Be Boring

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

boring-content1This past week, there was actually a radio show that analyzed the third Presidential Debate without screaming, name-calling or, maybe best yet, no recitation of campaign talking points from predictable voices.

The show was Detroit Today on public WDET-FM and you can listen via this link to hear what it sounded like. It was a privilege to be a part of an independent on-air panel and the audience seemed to appreciate hearing far more than what it has come to expect from guests who represent the major parties, typically armed with the party lines and purely political perspectives.

Therein lies the problem as a consumer of media during this election. So much of it has been so predictable. From this vantage point, that has long been a characteristic of political talk, where predictable can turn, in an instant, to boring.

“Hmmmm… what’s Rush Limbaugh going to say today? Oh that’s right, Republicans are good. Democrats are bad. Got it.” “What’s Rachel Maddow talking about tonight? Oh ya, Liberals are correct, Conservatives are wrong. OK.” While there’s a proven business model behind the always-take-one-side content approach, for those of us looking some cognitive challenge this time of the year, it can be hard to find.

That extends across all platforms. By now, each of us on social media has figured out where our contacts stand. Their posts have become flat boring. But nothing seems more predictable and boring than some of CNN’s punditry. In the name of “balance,” they are paying political types who have essentially become actors to recite campaign talking points on their set. It’s an quick-grab of the remote every time Jeffrey Lord, for example, is called upon to deliver his rehearsed and well-compensated lines.

I’m hearing what you are from those who know that they are “sick” of the election and “can’t wait for it to be over.” But media consumption levels are telling a different story. Ratings for news are up, clicks online are up and the election is The Story. So here are a few suggestions of places where you can get your election fix, give your brain a workout, and avoid boring content and paid acting:

-Sirius-XM POTUS Channel (124) – This is a political talk channel without a political agenda. If we didn’t have it, we’d want someone to invent it. I have been avidly listening since just before the Conventions this summer, after being an occasional button pusher the past few years. Particularly recommended are Tim Farley’s “Morning Briefing” in the early morning and Michael Smerconish’s show in the late morning (his trademark theme song is the ’70s Stealers Wheel one hit wonder “Stuck In The Middle”).

-The Axe Files – The podcast from former Democratic strategist David Axelrod is civil, insightful, multi-partisan interview and conversation. It’s simply worth your time.

-NPR – It’s often lumped into the “liberal media” category, probably more because of its audience than anything else. But take it from someone with a discriminating ear who spends a lot of time in the car, thorough political conversation has been paramount this year. Even the daily campaign news is put into context through on-site reporting. Locally in Michigan, the aforementioned “Detroit Today” and Michigan Radio’s “Stateside” talk shows are fair and, most importantly, interesting. NPR credits the election for a ratings bump.

If you’re interested in echo chambers that just tell you over and over again what you want to hear, I can’t help you. But there are a few options for those seeking something different for the coming weeks.

Debate Analysis Has A Conflict Problem

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

hqdefaultThe tens of millions of American households who keep the TV on after the Presidential Debate or go online for analysis will be a part of something that is otherwise not allowed in journalism or PR. Consumers looking for perspective will receive it from individuals who are walking conflicts of interest.

It’s one thing for a campaign strategist whose livelihood depends on one party or the other to provide insight as part of news coverage to explain why a campaign or a candidate does one thing or another, as part of a strategy. But when it comes to analysis of debate or speech performance – how a candidate delivers a message and connects with an audience – those one-side-or-the-other political types are asked their opinions even though they fit the definition of a conflict of interest.

It’s so predictable. After every debate, the “Democratic Strategists” say that the Democrat “won” and the “Republican Strategists” say that the Republican “won.” The analysts gets to keep their business with campaigns from their selected party and the news organizations can pat themselves on the back for “balance.” But did the audience get to take away anything interesting, valuable or even credible?

It is past time for news organizations to add objective, apolitical analysis into the most-consumed coverage. One suggestion is independent PR professionals, who spend their days counseling clients on message delivery and audience connection, but don’t have a business imperative to favor one party over another.

That is how it works when that type of analysis is needed otherwise by news organizations. During the General Motors Ignition Switch scandal in 2014, for example, I had the privilege of serving as the go-to analyst for multiple news organizations, including on the day when the company’s CEO was in front of Congress. I was asked by each newsroom if I did any kind of business with GM. Only because the answer was “no,” I was able to provide independent commentary. Nor was I paid for my time by any of the news organizations, unlike many of the post-debate analysis Americans see in 2016, many of whom are hired to provide particular partisan points of view (sometimes, with a non-disparagement agreement in hand about a candidate they are supposed to be analyzing).

The other exception to the rule made for debates is “The Spin Room.” It is perhaps the only time that journalists are encouraged by their bosses to seek B.S. rather than avoid it. They know they are being fed lines of bull and they eat it up. Day-to-day, they are encouraged and look forward to finding independent sources of credible analysis. But after a debate, the herd mentality leads them to a place where those they interview are required to talk glowingly, deserved or not, about whomever they represent.

As consumers, we accept a double standard. For many, it seems, they just want to hear someone of perceived authority speak well of their “team” and ill of the other. But for the growing segment of independent voters, it’s past time for more independent voices, not on anyone’s payroll, to provide some much-needed rational perspective.

The CW Continues to Spread its Wings

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 10.20.54 PMWhile ABC, CBS and NBC are, of course, the best known and longest-standing American broadcast television networks, another, the CW Television Network (or ”The CW”), continues to make its mark with a growing cadre of original programming dramas and comedies – the former most notably in the superhero genre.  And its successful arsenal continues to grow.

Not yet familiar with “The CW?” Wikipedia describes the network as “a limited liability joint venture between CBS Corporation, the former owners of the United Paramount Network (UPN) and the Warner Brothers Entertainment division of Time Warner, former majority owner of the WB Television Network.” As such, the “CW” is derived from CBS and Warner Brothers. Yet, it just as easily could be referred to as the “DC” – as in, DC Comics since the launch, three and a half years ago, of a little program that could called, “Arrow.” Thanks to clever writing and a healthy adherence to comic book and fandom lore and continuity, “Arrow,” named after the Green Arrow superhero archer, has become a runaway hit.  Many, in fact, credit the show with putting the network on the map and keeping it there.  And, the CW’s super geography is expanding.

Justice League partner “The Flash” spun off a year ago, while the stage is currently being set for yet another in “Legends of Tomorrow,” which will begin airing late next month and feature villains and heroes alike (including Firestorm and The Atom) spun off from both Flash and Arrow.  In fact, in a two night, 2-part crossover this season, yet another iconic character that will star in ‘Legends’ was introduced in Hawkgirl.  And, in what the producers of both programs excel at, yet another surprise character appeared out of the ether this week in Hawkman- for the first time ever (non-animated) in TV or movies.

Where Marvel has succeeded on the silver screen, DC continues to dominate on the boob tube (and we haven’t event mentioned CBS’s “Supergirl”).  And, thus far, fans and funny paper novices alike are giving these heroes a collective thumbs up.  Hopefully it is a lesson to those who have failed so miserably in recent years with corny send-ups of Green Hornet and Lone Ranger.  In fact, Arrow and Flash have proven that super heroes can be handled with fun as well as reverence by properly understanding, respecting and marketing to the targeted viewing audience; giving them what they want and then some – up, up and away.

 

 

Sorry Powerful People, But PR Can’t Save Your Job

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

GAMRAT_0115_DSC4054-681x1024The recent tearful media confession of scandal-plagued Michigan State Representative Cindy Gamrat brings up a question we are often asked. Can a PR campaign save the job of someone in trouble? The answer is, in virtually every case, “no.”

In Gamrat’s case, after being caught in an affair with a fellow moralizing Tea Party Representative, then perhaps involved in the cover-up, a press gathering a full week after dominating the headlines, seemed to be part of a strategy to maintain her power. Her attorneys and advisors pulled out all of the traditional stops. Her husband stood melancholy by her side. She was flanked by men she identified as “veterans” and “supporters,” who could somehow empathize with her plight because of their military service. But, really, is anyone disgusted by her behavior going to say to themselves, “She’s a hypocrite and is at least guilty of bad judgment. But I want her to represent me because she cried on TV?”

Gamrat, and the other 50 percent of the affair, Rep. Todd Courser, if they were truly interested in preserving their reputations and concerned about the rest of their lives rather than their clinging to power, should have resigned at the beginning of the scandal’s reporting. Instead, they are just prolonging the crisis, digging their holes deeper and deeper.

This reminds me of a case we worked on in a recent year. A CEO-type was internally and publicly criticized because of decisions he made and a quagmire caused by people he hired. Problem-solving was a particular challenge because the CEO-type had alienated himself so much within the organization. I was asked by someone within his organization if I would help advise them on crisis management and PR. I agreed to take the assignment under one condition – there was no expectation whatsoever that I would somehow help “save” the CEO’s job through PR. Rather, my work would focus on using every communications opportunity to do the right things to re-build confidence among audiences in the organization itself. A month later, the CEO-type resigned. There had been too much self-inflicted damage for him to recover. But, now, some time later, the organization’s reputation has greatly improved.

This displays a fundamental difference between business and politics. In business, the organization is generally about much more than just one individual. In politics, the entire PR focus is typically on one individual. In neither case, though, can truly bad behavior or truly negative public sentiment be “fixed” through PR alone. Instead, in these cases, PR’s job is to rise above conventional wisdom and operate at a higher level of advice for the long-term good of everyone affected.