Archive for the ‘public relations’ Category

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.

New Business To-Do List Item May Have To Be Taking A Stand

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

Once upon a time, say, a few weeks ago, a business could take its time decidingA road sign with the word Choose and arrows pointing left and right whether or not it made sense to take a public stand, internally and/or externally, on a political or social issue. But events of recent weeks prove that you need to be ready now, in case a sensitive issue develops quickly.

In the wake of a White House Executive Order and the subsequent reaction, I had the privilege of representing my Tanner Friedman colleagues talking about these complex and emerging business communications trends with interviews in both the Associated Press and CBS News in recent days, both of which resulted in stories that appeared from coast-to-coast and across the Internet.

Your business now needs to be prepared by having a deeper understanding of your customers than ever before and how they think, feel and react when it comes to your brand and the issues that are in the news. One of our clients recently researched 1300 consumers to get to know their customer better. But even if you can’t spare that type of expense, you should still feel an imperative to know their attitudes about your company, the role it plays in their lives and why they choose your brand. If it comes time to communicate a stance on a politically-charged issue, you and they will know if you’re acting for them in mind.

When it comes to the issue of immigration, Uber, by removing its CEO from a Presidential advisory committee, took into consideration that its customer is younger and more urban than most of America. That affects how the company is viewed in light of that issue. A company targeting rural, older consumers may have made a different decision, based on what is known about public opinion on that and other issues.

The other group to consider is your workforce. Several tech companies, which operate across borders and employ immigrants on work visas, spoke out early against the Order. Other companies less affected first-hand chose the same course after making a decision based on values. Many companies, of course, have chosen to stay quiet, not wanting to get into this mix and upset anyone.

Regardless of the decision a company chooses, events of recent weeks have proven that these decisions may have to be made quickly, without the luxury of long deliberation between executives, PR counsel, government affairs and lawyers. Regardless of the size of your business, it’s something every company should be thinking about now. How do looming government decisions affect our company and our workforce?

If you’re worried about taking a risk, one way or the other, think of the companies that risked ridicule from the President of the United States. Think of your customers and employees. Do they expect you to take a side? As I told the AP in another story this week, “No company has gone out of business putting their customers and employees first.”

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.

It’s Time To Rethink Media Training

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

3326693-woman-presenter-holding-a-microphone-in-handMedia Training, once a staple of PR service, particularly from those of us who once worked as journalists, had become, as we put it in this 2013 post, “Kona coffee in a 7-11 world.”

Clients didn’t want to pay for special sessions to be prepared for media interviews, viewed the service as a luxury item and didn’t see it as necessary, as the chances of being interviewed by a journalist seemed reduced on a regular basis. At Tanner Friedman, though, the trend seems to be shifting.

Last week, we were flown to New York by a global brand that wanted to prepare for a new product launch. More than anything, the client wanted its spokespeople to be as effective at possible in using every interview opportunity as a chance to draw audience to its product.

We had a chance to talk to the senior communications executive from the client company after the sessions and were informed that, if not for the company’s relationship with Tanner Friedman, they probably wouldn’t have done this training. Leaving spokespeople unprepared was a real option. That’s because the PR agency community had essentially priced projects like theirs out of the market. The going rate in New York, we were told, is a budget-busting figure, twice what our session had cost, including travel expenses.

Therein lies the problem with Media Training, as an agency service. It’s not just that clients don’t see it as essential anymore, agencies have made mistakes. First, for too long, it has been too expensive. Firms realized clients would pay a premium for it, then they got greedy with astronomical, fixed “half day” or “full day” rates. Second, firms tried to capitalize on fear, particularly in the ’90s and early 2000s, when “Ambush TV” filled the airwaves. Media Training was marketed as a way to “help your executives sleep better at night,” when companies were worried about camera crews showing up in their lobby (a rare event then, that’s even more rare now). It too rarely has had anything to do with real-life preparation.

Yes, there are fewer reporters and fewer opportunities to tell your stories in traditional media. But when you have news, it makes sense to find the right “outside” professional communications firm to help whoever is going to be interviewed get the practice needed to be successful. The fact is a media interview is unlike any other conversation you’ll have. Finding the right firm is a matter of finding someone who will provide Media Training with actual news experience, at a reasonable cost, customized to your needs. It can be done.

When News Organizations Make Cuts, Others Have To Speak For Them

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

1462736-hand-with-scissors-cutting-out-an-article-from-newspaperOne of the first things I learned in the PR business was “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you.”

Companies that have nothing to say in times of bad news will have the comment vacuum filled quickly. It was true then and even more obvious now as social media can empower just about anyone to be a de facto company spokesperson.

We’re finding, in this time of multiple crises for media organizations, that their lack of PR acumen is biting them once again. As we have written about in recent weeks, around the country, the end of the year is meaning more cuts in newsrooms that can ill afford them. But plunging revenues, changing audience habits and other factors are leading to job eliminations across the industry. In one case, privately-owned business news outlet Crain’s Detroit Business, the outlet outlined its changes for its customers in this story placed on its website. But in most cases, especially corporate-owned entities, the news organizations are, ironically, leaving the storytelling to others.

As we have written, both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are in the process of making cuts. At a client meeting the other day, I heard that situation spoken of as “what the Free Press and News announced.” Actually, they didn’t announce anything. Other outlets got their hands on internal memos. The news organizations themselves have said nothing to customers. Word about who is accepting buyouts is coming out in drips on journalists’ personal social media pages.

Contrast this with when news organizations are on the other side. When companies they cover make changes, journalists demand detailed information on behalf of the communities they cover. I remember one time when a client closed a facility, and didn’t yet know how many exactly jobs would be affected because of a combination of retirements, layoffs and open jobs not being filled, several reports accused the company of “hiding information.”

This is even happening at the national level. Word leaked Friday night via the New York Post that CBS Radio News would push several well-known anchors into retirement. The company did not comment. The next morning though, one of the company’s journalists, Steven Portnoy, did. The company lucked out that a thoughtful, respectful employee was the one to step forward and fill the void. Here is an excerpt:

“You may have read the news that we’ve been wishing some of our very best friends and colleagues at CBS well as they enter retirement with a bit of corporate encouragement. A word on that —

The people we’ve hailed are, frankly, irreplaceable. They represent a big chunk of the institutional memory of our newsroom and their departures leave us feeling quite sad.

It’s important for radio fans to understand why this is happening. It is NOT because fewer people are listening. In fact, just the opposite is true! Nielsen and Edison Research tell us that radio now reaches more people than any other medium, including the social one you’re reading right now. Many of our stations are at the very top of the ratings in their markets. Tens of millions of Americans of all ages learn about our world from network radio news — don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, we’ve got the data that proves it’s just not true.

The trouble is, marketers — the companies that buy advertising, in the hopes that you’ll buy the things they sell — are always looking for the newest, most cost-efficient way to reach people in a crowded media universe. They’re spending less money on advertising generally and are trying to figure out whether that will work for them. The jury is still out, but network radio in particular has taken a pretty tough hit from the shifting dollars. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the idea that fewer people are listening isn’t one of them.

It’s with this backdrop that CBS has, however, been forced to make tough, careful decisions about our staffing. My understanding is that no more cuts are planned.

What’s important for you, a fan of radio news, to know is this — each hour, 24 times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days each year, the that proudly introduces our newscast will continue to signal the very best in broadcast journalism.

The people of CBS News are as committed as ever to living up to a legacy that began with Robert Trout and Ed Murrow, evolved with Douglas Edwards, Dallas Townsend and Christopher Glenn, and continues today with Frank Settipani, Steve Kathan, Dave Barrett, Pam Coulter and countless others who have made it their life’s work to bring the most up-to-date news to you, a member of one of the largest audiences any media entity in America can claim…

…Thanks for keeping our colleagues and what we do in your thoughts, and thanks for listening.”

If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you. Others won’t get as lucky as CBS and will continue to suffer via public opinion.

How News Cuts Affect Anyone Who Thinks They Have News

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

bundleWPFor anyone who cares about journalism, the news came in like two punches to the gut.

First, Crain’s Detroit Business reported that the Detroit News, just one year after buying out many of its most seasoned reporters and editors, is offering buyouts to its entire editorial staff. Then later in the week, Crain’s reported that the Detroit Free Press, just one year after buying out many of its trusted veterans, seeks to eliminate more than a dozen newsroom positions. Speculation continues that at least one of those news outlets will have to fold. All of this follows a decade of steady downsizing.

Neither of the newspapers (or online news sources, depending on how you want to look at them) reported their own news or said anything publicly to inform the community of facts or provide reassurance. That’s another topic for another blog post. And if you think this phenomenon is just happening in Detroit, then you don’t pay attention to the media scene nationally. Even the Wall Street Journal is offering buyouts this holiday season. And if you think the “mainstream media” doesn’t matter anymore, then please click off this post and read some fake news on Facebook linked to a website you’ve never heard of and won’t see again.

Many of us got into the PR business because we love news and this is an opportunity to work with news in a different way. When news shrinks, it can hurt us. It absolutely challenges us, especially those of us who entered the field when it felt like there was a beat reporter at a daily newspaper for just about everything resembling news.

We have been heeding this call for nearly 10 years: If you’re a customer of the PR firm business, work in-house at communications for a company or just think you have a story, it’s long past time for you to approach things differently. There simply isn’t as much news being reported with now far fewer journalists to report it. Chances are what was a news story ten years ago, five years ago, a year ago, maybe even six months ago, is no longer a news story. You can’t clutter reporter and editor in-boxes with press releases as if it was still 1996. You can’t expect the same volume of coverage you once received.

We believe we are adding value to clients’ communications strategies by counseling them about what will or won’t be a news item before even writing a release or advisory, let along sending it to anyone. We remind them that the world has changed and it keeps changing. We do not want to represent them or us poorly by throwing crap against the wall to see what sticks, soiling our important and sometimes fleeting relationships with journalists along the way. If a “good story,” isn’t news, it’s up to us to counsel clients on the other viable, compelling and credible ways to get it front of their audiences. The best clients let us do that and trust us when we tell them things have changed dramatically. But it’s time, now, for everyone connected to the business of news to finally get it.

Nobody Needs PR Now Like News Organizations

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

imagesThe “Divided Nation” seems more united over one perception than any other – news outlets failed them during the 2016 Election Cycle.

Did national news organizations based in Manhattan fail to see the country as it is? Did TV networks, by providing him with unprecedented, unfiltered air time carry Donald Trump from celebrity reality star to conspiracy theorist to bona fide candidate in the name of ratings (in the words of CBS head Les Moonves “It (Trump’s candidacy) may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”)? Did news organizations of virtually all types focus too much on the “horse race” and not enough on the issues? Did journalists focus more overall on Trump’s foibles than on Hillary Clinton’s because, if nothing else, they were easier (and cheaper) to cover? Did media’s, particularly cable news’, constant debate and confrontation genre create an atmosphere where it was probably safe for the candidates to not hold regular question and answer sessions with journalists? The answer to those and other questions is “yes.”

But, media consumption was exceptionally high during this cycle. Maligned CNN had its highest-rated election night ever. Clicks and ratings were up across the board. But disdain for the news media is also extremely high, even by those who don’t just want to hear news about their favorite “team.” Add to the equation that the media business is still in turmoil, with more cuts and downsizing by margin-hungry corporate owners looming around every corner. This is, by any definition, a PR crisis.

PR, when done well, connects companies with audiences. It informs, even enlightens. Internally, it reminds companies of who they are, what they do and how they’re different. The media business needs this now at, essentially, a time of crisis, when audiences need direct reassurance and attention to concerns.

For example, the New York Times should be communicating with its audiences about its daily “scoreboard,” which showed the “chances of winning” for each candidate, often in recent weeks showing Clinton with upwards of 90+%, updated frequently based on highly-flawed polling. Should that continue, in any form? How does it create value? Outlets of all sizes should be talking to audiences about the tradition of trying to predict, rather than report on, outcomes by “calling” elections using exit polling. The Detroit Free Press “called” Michigan for Clinton, which turned out to be incorrect, causing embarrassment. The paper apologized but, in a competitive environment, should constantly communicate its value to its customers. There are myriad examples that could be provided for cable TV.

Commercial media should take a cue from public television. Trust is paramount to a mission. For 13 years in a row, public television is rated the most trusted institution in America in public opinion surveys. This year’s election coverage showed why. If you watched the NewsHour or Frontline you understand.

Full disclosure: Detroit Public TV is a longtime client. But that should tell you something. Communicating with audiences is a priority of the organization, which is not the case even with commercial news outlets that have “publicity shops.”

Please take less than 4 minutes and watch this exchange on public television between Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press and respected news anchor Devin Scillian of WDIV-TV, who speaks with great candor about the state of political media this year. Scillian shares a lesson from journalism school that I remember too. We were taught how to make important stories interesting. Too often now, they struggle to make interesting stories important.

Ratings and clicks will always come first to commercial news owners. But trust must be in the same breath or the entire enterprise is at risk. Now is the time for news organizations to reflect as they plan for the future. They need to regain confidence to meet basic audience expectations. Just like other companies in crisis, PR tools can lead the way.

2016 PRSA International Conference Delivers

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-10-23 at 4.49.49 PMAs the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) 2016 International Conference carries on in Indianapolis through Tuesday, I have just returned home after four days and 32 hours of conference and travel time over its first couple of days.  And despite what you might think of PRSA National, it was time very, very well spent.  Allow me to elaborate.

An organization’s defining of and delivering on its value proposition is crucial – to delivering on its promise and mission and in retaining members.  And, it is no secret that the governing body at PRSA National has been called out in recent years on exactly that. What do our dues go toward? How are we, as PR practitioners and as Chapters, Sections and Districts benefiting from the affiliation?

Jay Starr, who is National’s head of Membership, was loudly called out on this dynamic during the conference Leadership Rally on Friday. To his credit, he kept his cool, explained that new tools and resources were coming and then delivered on this promise during Saturday’s General Assembly.  Announced were new online tools and templates for easily and cost-effectively creating new websites, award programs and direct mail and e-mail campaigns; a new, responsive, intuitive and informational website (with accompanying app); and a new e-portal (MyPRSA) which allows members the ability to share and discuss news, information, challenges and best practices. All look outstanding.

In addition to learning what is here and what is become, the conference serves as an ideal connector for PR leadership from across the country, as I spent time with numerous Chapter heads from everywhere from New York and Chicago to Atlanta and Silicon Valley.  I was also provided with a greater awareness of and connection point for the wide range of “Sections” that allow for staying in-touch with others in specific areas of focus throughout the year and from across the country.

In 2016, I am happy to say, my time both out of the office during the week and throughout the weekend in Indianapolis was very well spent; as an organization I and other members often had our doubts about listened, stepped up at the highest levels and actually did what they said they were going to do. And, what needed to be done – for this profession and for those who are carrying it forward.

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.

Special Delivery: PR Advice After A Miserable Failure

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

UnknownAs a business-owner, you don’t put yourself in too many opportunities to use the #sundayfunday tag on social media. We’re not the type to spend Sundays amid mimosas and half-day meals. Sunday is often a day to be with the laptop, catching up from the previous week and trying to eek ahead of the next one.

While, I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to buy food for my family each week, the practical reality is that a weekly grocery shopping is a time-sucking exercise. Let’s face it – the system that was setup for “Mad Men” era housewives who theoretically had all day to shop for their families endures today. You walk a big store, picking what you want, put it in a cart and then wait in line to pay for it.

The closest grocery store to my house is a Meijer, a regional chain of 24-hour “superstores.” While the private, Michigan-based charity has proven to be a good corporate citizen, it’s frustrating that it usually takes 60+ minutes to shop for a family of four. On Sundays, the deli counter alone, buying school lunch ingredients average about 20 minutes and checkout averages about a half-hour. Shopping there is the enemy of productivity.

So imagine my glee when on September 1st, Meijer announced a partnership with a tech company called Shipt for online grocery home delivery. The company staged an enviable PR blitz with a release embargoed for that morning, followed by a large advertising campaign. They captured the Detroit market’s attention, built “buzz” and motivated use of the new service starting September 15th. There was just one problem: Meijer over promised and under delivered. They, along with Shipt, now can’t meet the demand that they created. I know because I tried to order delivery this morning, to save myself an hour or more, and was told, online, no delivery windows were available.

I went to Shipt’s online customer service chat and was told this by “Jasmine”:
“Unfortunately, there are no delivery windows in your area at this time, I sincerely apologize for that. We are experiencing a much higher demand these first couples of days after the launch and we are actively hiring shoppers to keep up with this demand. I know it is frustrating and we really want to make things right for you. I do apologize for the inconvenience, but we ask if you could please bear with us these first couples of days as we hire and add more shoppers as quickly as we can. Again, I’m so sorry about this.”

That is an admission of guilt.

So when do I try again? Next week? Next month? Never (and ask for a refund of the annual fee)?

At Tanner Friedman, we have extensive experience in communicating new product launches. One of the pieces of advice we always give clients is not to communicate widely until a concept becomes a product for real. If you’re going to create demand for a product, it had better be available to meet expectations. If not, roll it out gradually with “soft launches” to ensure 100% that it’s “Ready For Prime Time.”

When it comes to timing PR right on the concept/product continuum, Meijer failed. That’s the takeaway for any business: it is better to wait to do something right than rush to wear the “first to market” tag and alienate customers by not meeting expectations.

So what did I do? I went out of my way to Meijer’s arch rival Kroger, where I dropped three figures as well as lost, with drive-time included, nearly 90 minutes of my day. But at least I now have groceries at home.