Archive for June, 2010

iPhone 4 May Be A Hit But Don’t Take Apple’s PR Advice

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

mn_macworld_caps104Many small and medium size enterprises like to fancy themselves after big companies that they respect and that’s understandable. But, too often, I hear Apple as one of those companies. It’s important to remember that when it comes to PR, Apple is the exception, not the rule. Case in point – the iPhone 4.

Apple is calling it “the most successful launch” in its history. The company has sold nearly 2 million of the new iPhones in the first week alone, creating hype and buzz as literally only an Apple product could. The company has also withstood PR damage that only the Teflon-coated Apple seems to be able to withstand.

As documented in this item by well-respected tech blogger Mike Wendland, which is worth a read, the phone appears to have a design flaw that hurts its reception. It’s easy to agree that the company’s response is as Wendland calls it, an “arrogant” statement. If that statement came from, say, an auto company about a car design flaw (even not affecting safety), Congressional hearings would be organized immediately. With Apple, it’s like it doesn’t matter. Wendland goes onto write this post about Apple’s recommended fix, which costs customers money.

Just because Apple can respond to customer concerns with arrogance and only speak publicly about its products at its own events, while selling millions of the hottest tech products on Earth, that doesn’t mean that PR approach (or lack thereof) would work for any other company. When crafting your strategy, it should reflect your culture and your business. Don’t make the mistake of trying to emulate others who are the exception to the rule.

How Radio Ignores New Offerings By Classic Artists

Monday, June 28th, 2010

12-1023x1023While traditional, terrestrial music radio does many things right – and I am one of its biggest proponents – there continues to exist a gaping hole that I would love to see filled one day: The playing of new music by pop/art rock superstar artists and groups of the past. Let me provide a couple of examples.

From the 70s until well into the late 80s, Peter Gabriel, one of the founders of art rock legend Genesis ruled the airwaves. From rock and pop to alternative and adult contemporary songs such as “In Your Eyes” and “Digging in the Dirt” were everywhere.  Rocket ahead 20 years.  You’ll still hear his classic slower songs on female oriented A/C stations while “oldie but goodies” such as “Sledgehammer” still make the occasional appearance on rock and classic rock stations. So, what’s the problem? Read on.

Earlier this year, Gabriel released a new CD of remakes titled, “Scratch My Back.” I learned of its release and also sampled it online before making the purchase as traditional radio ignored it.  Ditto Steve Miller’s newer “Bingo” – only his first release of new tunes in some 17 years. And, I could go on and on – from Tears for Fears (who have released numerous CDs since their 80s/90s heyday to the Finn Brothers (remember Crowded House), Kansas and others (only, you’d never know it).

Somewhere down the line, radio programmers decided that the over 30 crowd doesn’t care about/consume new music – at least, evidently when it comes to particular artists.  Rock radio will play Rolling Stones old and new but totally ignore post 80s Paul McCartney.  Hey, enjoy the latest from Aerosmith but don’t bother listening to the radio for fresh material from Asia (because it simply is not played).

It is an unfortunate bias with a foundation in shortsighted elitism that deprives millions of fans from hearing new offerings from many a favorite artist from their  younger years.  And, when you can’t hear it on the radio, you’re forced instead to other (online) options – from Pandora to Last.fm to iTunes.

In town, Classic Rock station WCSX, at one time, was playing new music by such artists using the “disclaimer”: It doesn’t have to be old to be a classic. Hear, hear (and, note to radio programmers: We’d like to).

A Study In Change – Facebook Two Years Later

Monday, June 21st, 2010

facebook_logoTo marvel at how fast Facebook has zoomed into the cultural norm in America, read this article from June 12, 2008 – 24 hours before I jumped onto Facebook for the first time. On that day, Facebook and Myspace were in a dead heat for users. The article appeared only two years ago but it might as well be on a prehistoric cave dwelling the way things have changed. Today, Facebook has more than 400 million users worldwide, dwarfing Myspace.

Along the same lines, check out what I wrote on this blog on June 15, 2008:

“Also this week, I set up a Facebook account. If you are on there, please make me a “friend” and mention the blog. Being on Facebook is going to mean even more time online for me (and I feel like I’m on constantly as it is). I’m even set up on my Blackberry.

So far, in 48 hours, I have strengthened existing relationships and brought back old ones. In just two days, I have received a possible business referral, connected with a girl I took on a few dates in high school (now a mother of 3), heard from my two-year college roommate for the first time in 11 years and linked to many members of my radio alumni association from Syracuse. Some say social networking is the future of PR. For now, I say it’s fun, but I’ll keep the readers of this blog posted on how this site is changing communications.”

Aaaah, the wonders of a simpler time. It must have felt like that when discovering three black and white channels of “radio with pictures” when the first TV set arrived in homes across the country.

Today, Social Media isn’t “the future of PR” as I wrote – it’s a part of its present, every day. At least I was right about one thing, I am spending a lot more time online (aren’t we all?).

To show how must things have changed, all it takes is flipping back just two years. The noted philosopher Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I don’t think he was talking about the communications business, but looking back about 735 days, it feels like good advice.

Should Tony Hayward Get A Father’s Day Pass?

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

hayward_wilson-420x0I know, I know, it’s easy to kick someone when they are down. And can you really fault someone—anyone—for taking time off to be with their son—in particular on a Father’s Day weekend? All of that said, will wonders never cease in the BP disaster?

The latest gaffe by soon to be outgoing British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward is all over the news media this morning as, reportedly, Hayward returned home to  England over the weekend to watch is 52-foot, $700,000 yacht, “Bob” complete in JP Morgan’s (and did it have to be them?) annual race around the Isle of Wight.

In recent days the embattled head of the oil giant has continued to spew forth a series of ridiculous comments, including his desire to cap the well so that he could: “Get (his) life back.”

On-site, in-charge, focused solely on the task at-hand. For better or worse, THAT is what we want to see from our leaders in the wake of crisis.  In the Gulf, then, we expect—demand—rolled up sleeves, work boots, five o-clock shadows and sweat pouring down brows. Those in charge working side by side, tirelessly, relentlessly, with engineers and clean up crews. We want to hear dedication to resolution in actions and words.

No one should fault Tony Hayward for spending time with family or even for taking a day off—if only he and his company conducted themselves differently the other 6 days of the week as this terrible (un)natural disaster stretches into unfathomable weeks and months.

Frustrating Journalism and PR Collide In The Izzone

Monday, June 14th, 2010

tom-izzoJournalists seem to like to write a lot about the things that PR people do that drive them nuts. Now it’s time to turn briefly turn the tables, on behalf of the Athletic PR staff of Michigan State University.

This deals with a story that, as of this writing, is still ongoing and has been fueled by more speculation and incorrect information than the public deserves – the courtship of Michigan State University Head Basketball Coach (and state icon) Tom Izzo by the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. In recent days, an hour does not go by without a broadcast, Web story or Tweet with an opinion, prediction or attempt at an answer to the “Will he stay or will he go?” question.

One emblematic example of the coverage of this story is this one, written by ESPN’s Andy Katz (whose reporting is generally solid – I rely upon it regularly as a college basketball junkie). In it, Katz bases his reporting on an unnamed source who talked to someone who talked to Izzo who said he’s “leaning toward” taking the Cleveland job. This one hit ESPN’s multiple platforms within minutes and served, essentially, as the item of record on the Izzo story for more than a day.

Wait. Some editor approved an unnamed source, one stepped removed, and no real news in the same story? How could MSU possibly respond to this, other than with a basic statement? The Athletic Director would be stepping on a a slippery slope conducting an actual interview, considering the reporting that would be going on around it.

As PR professionals, we expect that journalists have sources and report facts. Sometimes, they can’t name their sources in exchange for receiving information. We get that too. But a story with both an unnamed source and no facts leaves us no choice but to throw our hands up in frustration.

Blogging For Beginners

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

url-2My colleagues and I speak quite often to a range of business, industry and chamber groups on the topic of social media.  Do we consider ourselves social media “experts?” Hardly.  In fact, I am of the opinion that there is no such thing and that individuals who bill themselves as such are misrepresenting fact.  Social media is changing and evolving daily. And while many of us adeptly utilize best practices and various tools of the trade, can anyone truly master a continually moving target?

That said, we both counsel and manage a range of social media components and campaigns on behalf of both our clients and our agency. And, whether getting new initiatives started or, again, serving as guest speakers on the topic at various gatherings, we find a few typical questions are often asked regarding blog topics and frequency.

Q: What should I blog about?

A: In order to build both a personal and a professional brand, it is advisable to blog about subjects that are both germane to your business as well as topics close to your heart.  For instance, I like to write not only about communications issues but also about pop culture and music; the latter albeit typically with a marketing slant.

Q: How often should I blog on my Web site?

A: We typically recommend at least once a week so that (a) the prospect of maintaining such a regular schedule is not too daunting and (b) you are continuing to upload new content to your site; key to attracting search engine “bots” who seek out and rate continually updated sites higher in the rankings.

Q: What if I can’t think of anything to blog about?

A: In recent days after averaging no fewer than 1-2 blogs a week for more than 3 years, I found myself both too busy and without a topic I felt passionate enough to write about. So, I took a break.  In turn, that break provided the impetus to think more about the business of blogging in general, which, in turn led to this latest edition.

So, if you haven’t already, get your bloggin’ started and stick with it.  In all likelihood you’ll already be ahead of your competition while engaging others in dialogue and thought.

Speaking Of The Mackinac Conference…

Monday, June 7th, 2010

4664545893_9ce3c3a1a2As I catch up from spending most of last week at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, I’m still absorbing some of what I saw and heard as 1,400 business, government, community and media leaders gathered on an island with no cars, five hours from Detroit. This was my tenth Mackinac Conference and, as agendas go, it was one of the best.

As strong as the agenda was, one of the barriers to success was beyond the control of organizers – the variable ability and execution of the speakers. Once again, the oldest form of public communication proved challenging for those selected to engage in it.

The opening speakers – construction company CEO John Rakolta and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich – were both strong. Rakolta outdid John McCain circa 2000 with “straight talk” laced with credibility, candor and passion. Gingrich used his hour to walk across the stage in engaging style, rather than stand behind the podium, asking the audience questions and hammering his points, naturally and conversationally. Even those who disagreed with him couldn’t help paying close attention.

Another strong speaker was Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, a former prosecutor who put on a defender’s hat to stand up for her eight years in office. She basically told the audience she had a tough job at a tough time and did the best she could, using a combination of humor, attention-grabbling visuals and old fashioned political spin. Despite a mostly business audience and abysmal approval ratings, she received a standing ovation from a crowd that momentarily cast aside her years of dubious leadership to applaud her extraordinary ability to give a speech.

Another keynote speaker, later in the Conference, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, fell far and disappointingly short of expectations. First, she did not stick to her subject, which was supposed to be explaining how federal Health Care Reform affects Michigan. Instead, with no regard for the targeted audience sitting right in front of her, she read a boring and predictable stump speech, filled with statistics, that argued the case for the legislation. Anyone who paid attention to the national debate had heard virtually all of the arguments before.

Other speakers made other mistakes, including panelists in the many Conference breakout sessions. Some chose the brutal “verbal resume” route, where the audience gets to hear their career experience, but no “takeaway” insight on the subject at hand. Others used their time for de facto commercials about their companies, without advancing the dialogue on the issue that the audience came to hear explored. You can watch many session clips here and see for yourself.

As we have said on this blog before, even with new communications platforms, the old ones are still important. The next time you are asked to give a speech – be strategic, plan ahead, know your audience and make sure fundamentals are strong to make the most of the opportunity.