Archive for January, 2011

How TV News Can Break Groundhog Day Weather Coverage

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Here in the Great Lakes region, weather forecasters are calling for a “big” snowstorm to hit on February 2nd. Yes, appropriately enough, on Groundhog Day.

I’m hearing from a lot of people I know that TV news looks like a Hollywood parody of itself as it reports on the impending “doom.” While many seem to complain, one thing is true – local TV ratings go up on days where severe weather is being forecast or reported. As a broadcasting veteran told me early in my career, “weather is the only story that affects everyone, every day.”

Broadcasters are often accused of hyperbole on days like this and sometimes, it’s deserved. I actually witnessed a TV news director, when I was a producer, order an on-air meteorologist to “sell” a storm that he didn’t think was actually coming. But, there’s no question that no matter where you live, when it snows enough to make travel difficult, it throws off your life, if only temporarily. School closures are enough to cause family stress on multiple levels. If it really does snow a foot, even here in a cold climate, that’s enough to virtually shut down a community of nearly 5 million people, at least for a while.

Think about it, what is the most common topic on your Social Media feeds every day? Yes, people complaining about or bragging about the weather where they live. It has become as cliche as cheering Friday or whining about Monday. As boring as it is, it’s what we call “the lowest common denominator.”

So we know you’re going to watch TV when bad weather approaches, but what would help? Actually, how about two fundamentals of public relations? In PR, we talk about keeping the message simple and being accurate. It’s time for media (and, based on public opinion, TV stations in particular) to keep it simple and get it right. If they can’t do that, news consumers will continue their migration to their other screens – their computer and their smartphones – to get the facts without the feel of hype.

Laying A Proper Foundation for Social Media

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

As Matt indicated in his blog last night, I also had the privilege of speaking at Automation Alley’s Accelerate 2011 Event. My session focused on new ways to utilize and think about social media, including laying a foundation for a successful strategy. A few highlights:

  • Your social media strategy should never be an island unto itself nor should it be created in a vacuum; rather, it should fit your overall communications strategy as well as your business objectives and be true to your company’s brand.
  • Developing a brand to communicate entails defining and effectively communicating a “value proposition” – that which makes your company or services different, unique, better.
  • When looking to reinforce your brand via e-communications, it is important to keep in mind that a brand is not just a name or a logo – its is your company’s DNA – including how you operate and treat your customers.
  • At its core and at its best, social media is people having conversations online but it is expecially important to “listen” – including through analytics – to what resonates most with your preferred audiences.
  • An integrated approach to social media (and don’t forget blogging!) can leverage each platform to its fullest potential; providing the best opportunities for your audience to get to know you and vice versa.

If you’re interested in more, look for the entire presentation, available on SlideShare courtesy of the Alley, in the coming days.

Think Differently In A Down Economy – Your Last Chance

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

I had the privilege of speaking at Automation Alley’s Accelerate 2011 event, here in Southeast Michigan today – an event designed to help businesspeople think differently heading into what could be a different year for many of us. I was asked by organizers to speak to an engaged, motivated group about how to think differently in this “down economy” when it comes to business communications.

As part of a panel that included a sales trainer and a business attorney, I let the audience know that the number one mistake made by too many companies when the economy started to worsen was to end or cut marketing and/or communications programs. I predict that many of those that decided to “stay under the radar” or become a “well kept secret” will not survive in the long run. That illogical decision-making will simply prove to be bad for business. Think about this – how many “under the radar companies” are you considering doing business with now?

For the rest of the companies that are still trying to find their way, this is really their last chance to start thinking differently and approach communications in new ways, as we frequently discuss on this blog. It’s past time to stop marketing to your executives and your dinner table focus groups and time to communicate squarely to your targets, through the channels that reach them best. The decision to let business needs, rather than spreadsheets, determine your communications and marketing budgets is long overdue.

What does your company do? How it is different? How are you communicating that? How are you marketing to support sales, rather than just asking salespeople to sell? If you have trouble answering those questions, you need some help. And it’s time to get it, before the best communicators in your industry are able to take advantage of the improving economy (whenever that happens). This is your last chance to communicate differently. Otherwise, “under the radar” likely will mean “under red ink.”

Vetting The Social Media “Experts”

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

It was not that long ago, in the early days of the web, that we would often hear someone we were suggesting a website to say, ‘My kid has a friend who can put one together for me.’ With Web 2.0 and beyond bringing greater sophistication and technical know-how, thankfully that is largely a thing of the past. Today, though, it seems, everyone is billing themselves as a social media expert. Are all created equally?

We would argue vehemently that that is hardly the case. But don’t take our word for it. Considering enlisting counsel for yourself or your company? We suggest vetting your candidates carefully through the following due diligence:

  • Are case studies available that demonstrate tangible results generated from a particular strategic campaign?
  • Has this entity been quoted in the media on social media and/or been published on the subject? Ask to see or seek out clips.
  • Have they ever been asked to formally present to a business group on the topic? Where, when and for whom?
  • Be sure to conduct a thorough Google search on this company  or individual in order to thoroughly research their social media pedigree and experience.

Just as what you communicate through social media should be honest, ethical and of value to your constituents, you want your strategic partner to truly provide those same dynamics. Doing your homework will help you identify the good while avoiding the bad and the ugly.

Is American Idol Still Relevant 10 Years Later?

Monday, January 17th, 2011

As one of the most successful television shows ever prepares to kick off – can you believe it – its 10th season, many are asking, is the show still relevant? After all, who needs a talent showcase like American Idol to find fame and fortune when it can perhaps more easily be found by merely posting yourself singing on YouTube (hello, Justin Bieber).

Whether you like the show or not (I stopped watching years ago), I would argue instead that “American Idol” still means something special with the show representing both the American dream and the American work ethic.

American Idol contestants get a shot at stardom not through chance or a lucky break but by hard work and true talent. Thousand upon thousands of ‘wanna-bes’ stand in line in ever city around the country. Only a very, very elite few make it and, even those that do are not guaranteed lasting fame beyond the Idol Stage. Where are Justin Guarini and Ruben Stoddard today, for example?

And why have Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson and Chris Daughtry, on the other hand, stood the test of time over an Adam Lambert or a Fantasia Barrino? By continuing to exhibit all-American values and serve as role models, both on-stage and off.  Further, their talents have translated well from TV to radio, records and even the Silver Screen.

Finally (and I’ve said it before but it bears repeating), no other show continues to serve such a mass media audience. “Idol” is the Ed Sullivan Show of this century. Whole families sit down together to take it all in and, later, enjoy the recorded music and concerts. That’s a pop culture phenomenon that is sure to continue – most likely for as long as the show continues to hit the airwaves.

iPhone Wars Prove The Power of Reputation

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

“Perception is reality.” “Reputation is everything.” You hear those phrases all the time. But, in order to understand how much they really mean, it’s important to pay attention to real life examples.

There’s one right in front of us right now. Last Tuesday, if you were “plugged in” to any social media platform, you undoubtedly heard from news sources, as well as overjoyed contacts, that Verizon was going to, in fact, add Apple’s iPhone to its line of service, after years of rumor and speculation. Based on the reaction, it seems to Verizon’s customers are more like fans. For many online, it seemed that Verizon’s winning the iPhone was like winning a championship of some sort. That cheerleading also made its way into traditional media coverage, which instantly enhanced the already strong iPhone and Verizon brands.

That’s because Verizon has won the war of wireless reputation. Widely held public perception, fed by Verizon’s consistent and broad advertising campaign, is that Verizon has the “best network,” “most reliable” and “best service.” AT&T’s reputation has been build around product availability (namely the iPhone) but an inferior network. Apparently, there is third party data to back this up, but I’ve never seen it cited. Really, it doesn’t need to be cited because it is widely accepted as fact.

In the past four years, I have owned “smartphones” on both networks. My opinion is that, when it comes to the networks, it depends a lot on where you live. I happen to live near a Verizon “black hole,” which was extremely frustrating. AT&T’s network is much better near where I live. My AT&T phone drops calls, but in different places than my Verizon phone did. When I traveled with my Verizon phone, in some cities it worked better than others. The same is true with my current AT&T phone.

But, really, in the court of public opinion, none of this matters. Verizon should be commended for working hard, across multiple platforms, to earn its superior reputation. Looking at its business results, it has paid off. Perception really is reality and reputation really is everything.

The White House Gets It Right: In Times Of Crisis, Leaders Should Lead

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Unfortunately, given the climate in which we live, I must begin this with some disclaimers. This blog entry isn’t a political statement, in any way. This blog entry isn’t an evaluation of whether President Obama said the right things in the right ways in his speech in Tucson last night.

Now that we have that out of the way, it’s important to note the Public Relations lesson in last night’s speech. In some ways, political PR couldn’t be any more different from business PR. But, businesses should take a cue from White House strategists when it comes to leadership in crisis.

Multiple Presidential Administrations, from both parties, have set an expectation in America that in times of crisis or adversity, the President plays a role in speaking to the country to set a tone of reassurance, unity and hope. In the modern era, the ability to communicate those anticipated messages is part of a President’s job description. Really, it should also be for the leader of any organization, whether that CEO is elected, hired by a board of directors, a founder of the company or represents the latest generation in a family operation.

Too often, in times when business leadership is needed, those at the top communicate through memos, emails, lawyers or they don’t communicate at all. One thing they should learn from last night is that constituents, including employees, customers, suppliers and neighbors, expect leaders to lead in times when leadership is needed.

In-house communicators who try to “protect” their bosses, agencies that try to “protect” their contracts and lawyers who try to “protect” someone by advising that saying nothing prevents “saying the wrong thing” are doing a severe disservice to companies in crisis. It’s about saying the right thing to the people that want to hear it and leading the way past the adversity into a new period in time.

Golden Voiced Homeless Man’s Life A Lesson For Us All

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

By now you’ve probably heard about the homeless man with the golden voice discovered on a freeway off-ramp by Columbus Dispatch journalist/web producer Doral Chenoweth. Chenoweth regularly covers homeless issues for the paper and, after filming and posting online a piece on vagrant Ted Williams, a viral media star was born.

Actually, reborn. After 20 years of drugs, crime and time spent in and out of jail, Williams’ image and voice have been literally everywhere – from the Today Show to Dr. Phil (where he candidly discussed his mistakes and regrets in life)– fueled initially by millions upon millions of hits on YouTube.

What sets this story apart? Start with Williams himself. The contrast, in appearance to voice, is shocking. When was the last time you saw someone holding a sign asking for work, with wild hair and tattered cloths who, when he spoke, sounded like a smoother, made for radio version of James Earl Jones? I’m guessing never. Further, in interview after interview Williams has consistently demonstrated great humility and thankfulness. His eyes and words convey true soul.  As such, he is someone to root for.

It is also about the times we are living in. Ever hear the phrase: “If but for the grace of God, go I”? There are millions of Ted Williamses down on their luck with nowhere to live all across this country. We all are well aware of where a job loss or wrong turn in life can take us. Thus, the story and its images resonate deeply.

Including with corporate America. Quicken Loans has hired Williams as the P.A. announcer for the Cleveland Cavaliers. His voice will also be heard on a charitable giving-themed Kraft Foods ad during the Super Bowl and Oprah Winfrey is recruiting his god-given voice talents for her TV network.

Ted Williams’ story, when all is said and done, is a story about life. It’s about mistakes, charity, second chances, redemption and, in the end, taking responsibility for both the past and what is to come. It also underscores, once again, the power of the media to tell such a tale (and a traditional medium utilizing a newer platform to boot) – a good news story in the end – to the masses.

The RichRod Rush Is Good For Business

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

As I’ve written before, you know you have a PR problem when journalists consistently use the word “embattled” as part of your title. So, it’s only fitting to write that Embattled Former Michigan Football Coach Rich Rodriguez was fired today. As I write, that’s a fact. But, as of yesterday, it may not have been. Or maybe it was. It depends on which news reports you chose to believe.

The past few days we have seen numerous exhibits of the kind of news reporting that seems to have a shelf life of minutes. As a meeting between the Embattled Coach and his boss, one TV station reported him as “fired,” citing a source not identified in any way. About an hour later, another news organization reported that he “will be fired” citing unnamed sources. Several hours later, the University of Michigan issued a statement saying all reports about a firing were “media speculation” and that there was no decision. So who did you believe? Especially when Athletic Director David Brandon announced today that he made his decision today.

Concurrently, there has been a similar barrage of reports with unnamed sources along with opinions disguised as news about the future of Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh, a former Michigan quarterback. It seems everyone has an opinion on where he’ll go and if a journalist hears any opinion from anyone deemed “close to Harbaugh,” it can get reported.

With 24-hour sports TV, smart phone access to sports headlines, Twitter, sports talk radio and other platforms that serve the sports fan, we see this every time there is a major personnel move in sports. Why?

To answer that question, I think back to my early years in PR. One of my first clients, after I left the news business, was a daily newspaper. I helped them put together community roundtable meetings so top editors could discuss the paper directly with readers. One reader in one meeting criticized the paper for its crime coverage saying, “but I know that sells newspapers.” To that, a senior editor responded, “Crime doesn’t sell newspapers. Sports does.”

Sports fans are voracious consumers of information and exchangers of opinion. The most clicked-on stories every day at many large local news websites are sports stories. Each of us pays more for ESPN as part of our cable or satellite bill than any other individual channel. In many large markets, sports radio stations are among the highest rated. The bottom line – sports makes the big media companies a lot of money.

That explains, in sports reporting, why the rush to report, even with flimsy information that too often doesn’t meet accepted journalistic standards, can make it to the public. Simply put, in the modern era of media, it gets clicks. It attracts eyeballs. It gets reader comments. It gets retweeted. Most importantly, it helps media outlets sell numbers to advertisers.

The lowering of standards in the name of making money in a down economy? The media business is no different from so many others.

Avoid “Digital Denial” In 2011

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

As we enter this New Year, it’s time to address an affliction that is holding too many communicators back. I call it “Digital Denial.”

It’s a clinging to the past and a refusal to grasp just how much things have changed in the past few years. It may be hard to believe just how different the ways in which information is communicated and shared have changed in the past five years, but it must be believed.

If you still think “the Internet is taking over,” “young people really seem to enjoy social networks,” “smart phones are the wave of the future” and other head-in-the-sand quotes we hear on a regular basis, it’s time to get out of “Digital Denial” and face the facts.

In just the past few weeks, the facts have presented themselves. Here’s a story that shows, among other things, that time spent on the Web is up 121 percent in just the past five years. 35 percent of all Americans use social networking sites, more than double the number from just three years ago.

Another study finds that Americans spend as much time looking at their mobile devices (many of them Web enabled cell phones) – 50 minutes per day – as they do reading newspapers and magazines combined. Communicating via cell as “more than a phone” isn’t the future – it’s happening now.

Traditional media content is still being consumed, just in new ways – on screens of various sizes. The Internet isn’t “taking them over,” as deniers like to believe. The Internet is how you are gaining access to that content. Traditional media brands still get the clicks (now if they could only profit from that…).

So in this New Year, as you consider communications strategies, think about how your publics will consume the content you want them to think about. Don’t just think of how you used to get your information or even how you get it today. Get out of “Digital Denial” and put yourself in your target’s technology frame of mind or find someone who can do that for you.