Archive for January, 2013

The Numbers Tell The Story of Why Media Relations Must Change

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

There are some new numbers that illustrate some facts we have known for years, while some remain in denial. Instead of heeding change, some PR firms are still charging indefinite monthly retainer fees exclusively for media relations for clients now too small to be covered consistently, as if it was still 1998. Some in the PR business are still blasting out press releases to large untargeted media lists, which has never worked and certainly won’t work now. We also know that some clients and firms still think what was a news story in 2003 will still always be a news story today. But, the statistics starkly demonstrate that the trends and new ways of doing business should go hand-in-hand.

The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the Information Sector, which includes journalists of all types, lost one million jobs since 2001, the year these jobs had been at their peak since 1990. 2001 was probably the last great year of employment for newspapers, magazines TV and radio while fledgling online outlets were also relatively well-staffed. The forecast for the future shows a corps of journalists continuing to shrink, albeit at a lower rate. The Bureau expects a 7.5 percent job loss for reporters and editors specifically, by 2020.

All of this should force new thinking in cases where it’s overdue. PR needs to save news pitches for the types of news that remaining outlets and journalists still actually cover. Everything else that must be communicated to an audience should be saved for other platforms. PR pros need to help the remaining journalists do their jobs in the ways they now have to do them, not necessarily in the ways that used to benefit the PR people. Those in PR who are among the million who left the “Information Sector” need to remind clients of the fundamentals that apply from their days in the newsroom, blended with advice on the modern realities of the media.

These numbers bring to life the tough times endured by news outlets and journalists themselves. As professionals who work with journalists for at least part of our jobs, we must all show respect for the “new normal” in news.

Can Anyone Counsel Kilpatrick?

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

We have written previously regarding the audacity and dastardly deeds of Kwame Kilpatrick, the latest of which have once again landed him in Wayne County jail for more (14) parole violations.  In an effort to bring new perspective into this vicious cycle of bad behavior, I spoke over the weekend with client and friend, Michael Komorn, a longtime Metro Detroit criminal defense attorney.  We’ve suggested in the past how we, as PR professionals, would counsel Kilpatrick on what to do and say when continuing to face adversity but what about legal counsel?

As for how he would be advising Kilpatrick, Komorn was adamant: “Parole is a privilege. When you are in such a position, you must do everything you possibly can to comply with the court ,” he said. “And, if you find you can’t, it is your responsibility to proactively go to the court, tell them, and attempt to make other arrangements.” Instead, Komorn notes, Kilpatrick once again “showed a complete disregard for court orders” – the requirements for staying out of prison. As such, he doesn’t buy the contention of some that the ex-mayor is being treated unfairly. “He’s already been sent to prison before for not complying with court. There are rules everyone has to follow.”

Komorn also noted it has been his experience that problems typically arise in restitution cases when destitution and poverty are involved. In other words, those who are being required to make payments toward something have absolutely no means to do so. In the case of Kilpatrick, says Komorn, “From the uncovering of wire transfers and money orders to the way Kilpatrick looks each day (dressed to the ‘nines’), it certainly appears he has money.” And yet he continues to attempt to hide it and/or suggest otherwise.

As for whether someone like Kilpatrick would even be counsel-able, Komorn concedes that he is most likely a very difficult client. But rather than just defiance and arrogance at work, Komorn suggests a different possible dynamic: survival. “Who knows the psychology of what’s going on in his head? Faced with the prospect of many years in prison and being unable to provide for his family during that time, he may well feel it is worth the risk to continue to hide income”, in turn shirking his responsibility to ‘play by the rules’ and pay back the City of Detroit.

Bottom line to it all though, says Komorn, is very similar to what we, as PR professionals feel: Actions speak louder than words. And Kwame Kilpatrick’s actions continue to serve him terribly.

Multi-Media Assault on Gun Proponents Continues

Friday, January 25th, 2013

As the debate over gun control continues, legislators are employing a range of communication avenues to engage, inform and, it is hoped by many, affect change. Those for the enactment of new measures – such as universal background checks and a renewal of a one-time ban on assault weapons – face a formidable battle.

Vice President Joe Biden has been front and center not only with continuing in-person meetings with key decision makers and stakeholders but also online, including his hosting of an e-”fireside hangout’  public chat, hosted on Google +.  He also continues his multi-media vocal appeal to all citizens to write, email, post, tweet and/or call their legislators in Washington to voice concerns and opinions through all platforms possible.

This week on Capital Hill, Senator Dianne Feinstein provided perhaps the most impressive display of communications firepower (pun intended) speaking on the issue before a backdrop that included pegboard panels mounted with scores of assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons her new bill proposes to ban. Perhaps even more striking was her being flanked by numerous police officers who firmly support her position. Enlisting law enforcement – those who put their lives on the line daily and know first hand the devastation such guns can cause  - is vital and heretofore not been utilized to the fullest. If anyone possesses the credibility the control movement needs, it is them.

As for signs some may be listening to the voices of reason, in the midst of reform measures being put forth in New York state (with others now being considered in 10 states),  Reed Exhibitions announced this week they were postponing a planned 9-day Eastern Sport and Outdoor Show, than had been scheduled to begin on February 2nd. Unsurprisingly, the NRA withdrew its support for the show and the decision by organizers to ban modern sporting rifles from the exhibition.

They say timing is everything. Perhaps this time, the tide is changing – due in no small part to tragic circumstance but also no doubt to a meeting of the masses through media.

Te’o Saga Continues, With Questionable PR Advice

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Manti Te’o has been the beneficiary of the counsel of an agent and multiple high-priced attorneys and PR advisors. Whether it’s a case of “too many cooks,” or the following of a political playbook or people looking out for their own interest over his or maybe just a stubborn client, it really doesn’t matter because this legion of so-called experts is failing him.

The sole objective of this retinue should be to maximize Te’o's position in the April NFL Draft and a career in pro football. To do that, they should be putting him in position to most powerfully and credibly tell his story, while he still stands a chance at succeeding in the court of public opinion. They should be helping him quickly move on to the point where he can start focusing on tackling people for a living. Instead, the outcome of all of that advice is continuing skepticism.

Notre Dame’s Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick teed up Te’o's story for him on Wednesday night. All Te’o needed to do was fill in the holes that Swarbrick couldn’t answer. But, he waited more than 48 hours, to have his restricted off-camera interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap. During that time, friends, relatives, columnists and everyone else who could garner and audience spoke instead of Te’o and likely didn’t tell the story that way he would have. Now, there’s word he’ll appear on TV with his parents on Katie Couric’s daytime show. Immediately, journalists took to Twitter to accuse him of PR cowardice for only doing an off-camera interview and one with a perceived “lightweight” in the week after the hoax story broke online. Also, the fact that Couric is represented by the same agency of Te’o fuels additional doubt about whether he’ll have to really answer the toughest questions.

In order to have any chance of convincing the public that he was played along with them, the public needs to see him answer questions and gauge his answers and body language without the filter of a reporter (even a proven one like Jeremy Schaap). In order for the public to have confidence in the answers to the questions in a story as bizarre as this one, the questions the public wants answered need to be answered (perception is that Couric can’t or won’t do that).

After four years of playing at Notre Dame, Manti Te’o has been interviewed by media in every possible way. He has been at the podium for press conferences and had cameras in his face in locker rooms after games. He spoke about life and death in well-lit TV interviews and across the table from magazine reporters. This isn’t like a media spectacle coming out of nowhere. If anyone was prepared for a “tell all” one-on-one TV interview or a press conference like Swarbrick’s, it would have been Te’o.

But instead of doing what would have been best for him from a PR and a business perspective, the game continues. He won’t be on TV until Thursday, 8 days after the story broke. In the meantime, journalists will be interviewing anyone connected to Te’o or the alleged hoax perpetrators. He won’t speak for himself, so others will gladly speak for him.

A Journalism Upset Proves The Game Has Changed

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Not long ago, the website deadspin.com was just a place for sports geeks, by the thousands, to read snarky commentary or rip on the “old guys” in sports media. Today, it’s the site that broke a bona fide investigative report that will permeate sports and become a major national story.

Late this afternoon, this story broke about Notre Dame star linebacker Mantei Te’o, whose story of overcoming adversity made him as close to a household name as there has been in college sports in many years. Deadspin reports, in classic old media investigative fashion using new media tools, that the story of Te’o's girlfriend’s death, extensively reported by sports journalism stalwarts like Sports Illustrated, ESPN and a legion of Notre Dame beat reporters, was a hoax.

The PR takeaways on this will become more clear in the coming hours and days. But here are two right away:

1) Notre Dame, having been contacted by Deadspin for comment, knew what was coming. The University issued a statement saying that Te’o was actually the victim of the hoax (although without detail). That is a complicated message to deliver in a statement – as well as hard to believe – and not the way that a crisis like this should typically be addressed, when facts and reassurance are paramount.

2) For PR professionals, don’t believe this “journalism is dead” garbage. Journalism, at times, feels like it can appear just about everywhere. Take an investigation by a blogger as seriously as you would a “big brand” news organization. This story proves that when the fundamentals are followed and an audience is in place, news can be made by the underdogs, and very quickly.

Ending a Vicious Cycle of Deceit

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Today, disgraced former Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong moved his posterior from bike seat to television couch as he sat down with Oprah Winfrey to discuss his fall from grace. The broadcast will air Thursday night, 9pm eastern, on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Why Oprah? Why now? And, what will he say? Let’s take a closer look.

Oprah could use Lance as much as Lance needs Oprah. When making an admission of guilt via a public forum, it is important to pick the media outlet wisely, choosing a medium that will provide the best opportunity to tell your story, as sympathetically and completely as possible, amid as friendly of fire as possible. And while a respected sports journalist such as Bob Costas might seem to some to be a logical place to go, he most likely would be too unforgiving and frank in his questioning.  And, while Oprah can be tough, she is most likely to help Armstrong come across in a more human way. Plus, as she still struggles with ratings for her fledgling network, she may well have agreed to questioning and editing ground rules in exchange for the blockbuster interview ‘first’.

Why the change of heart by Armstrong? Why, after years of accusations and denials, does he appear poised to shed light on his illegal drug use and blood transfusions? Perhaps Oprah will ask that very question. The bottom line, though, is that Armstrong has definitely reached ‘bottom’ with nowhere to go but ‘up’ provided he finally comes clean. Just compare and contrast how differently former New York Yankee pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte handled accusations of steroid use. Clemens the denier is still reviled. Pettitte the contrite continued to pitch in the big leagues after the scandal.

As for what Armstrong will say exactly, AP and CNN are reporting this evening that he does admit using performance enhancing drugs. We are sure to hear many ‘snippets’ and soundbites between now and Thursday as OWN will certainly be teasing the full broadcast like they’ve never promoted anything before. His battle with cancer is sure to come up; and while it is doubtful he will use his illness as an excuse, it will make us stop and think – and consider.

Like we have written here before,  in the realm of adversity management, we are a forgiving society, IF mistakes are admitted and responsibility taken for particular egregious actions. Only then can redemption be attempted and a life/career rebuilt. Lance Armstrong has obviously taken a good long look in the mirror and doesn’t like what he sees. What he does next will reflect significantly on both his future and his legacy.

NRA = No Real Answers

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

The National Rifle Association just doesn’t get it.  After appearing today before a White House Task Force on gun violence, the NRA was back to communicating the “same old, same old”; namely, that any gun control measures attack the Second Amendment and the right of all Americans to bear arms.

In a post meeting statement the NRA said the following: “While claiming that no policy proposals would be ‘prejudged,’ this Task Force spent most of its time on proposed restrictions on lawful firearms owners — honest, taxpaying, hardworking Americans. It is unfortunate that this administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems. We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen.” This, in response to what appears to be a desire by Washington and gun control advocates to put in place a better system of checks and balances, including more intense and universal background checks, encompassing gun shows and for private sales. Also being looked at closely by the Task Force: a possible ban on assault rifles and high capacity magazines. And what says the NRA to this? They remind us that such weapons are not often used in the commission of violent crimes and that handguns are much more common. Yet, as we all know, such weapons in the wrong hands, do the most damage and are often the weapon of choice in mass death tragedies.

The main problem I have with the NRA is that they appear simply unwilling to consider or discuss any solutions that would take any guns off the street or owners/potential owners more responsible and accountable. In the wake of the Connecticut school massacre, the NRA initially said nothing for days before eventually suggesting a plan to install armed officers at every school in the country. More guns to curb gun violence? Does that make any sense to you? Could an entity be more obvious of a commitment to its constituency over the public good?

If I were advising the NRA, I would strongly recommend they stop hiding behind the Second Amendment and start doing the right thing – namely, take off the blinders and work toward true solutions that protect law abiding gun owners and sellers yet make it harder if not impossible for those with the greatest potential to do harm to secure weaponry. I would also remind the NRA that two can play at the game of quoting the words of our forefathers. After all, one need look no further than the Declaration of Independence for these unalienable rights: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. In this, our country continues to fail all victims of gun violence.

When A Media Outlet Needs PR

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Analyzing PR strategies has long been something of a parlor game inside newsrooms. Reporters and editors often do have keen insight into what’s working and what isn’t. But, when their bosses have to enter an adversity communications management situation, they often struggle.

The latest evidence of this is seen now with the Journal News in suburban Westchester County, New York – the newspaper that ignited a national controversy by publishing the names of registered gun owners in its circulation area. While the information was previously public, controversy reigns about its newsworthiness of it, along with privacy concerns and charges of gun demonization, putting the paper at the top of the list of other news outlets politicians, interest groups and ill-intentioned citizens.

In recent days, we have seen reports that journalists have received suspicious packages containing white power and the newspaper itself, along with the homes of both its publisher and its editor, are being protected with armed security. Personal information has been posted online about where journalists live, some have reportedly received threats and bloggers have reportedly encouraged readers to steal journalists’ credit card information.

From a PR perspective, the paper is reiterating its message, which stands by its story. The reporter who wrote the story that accompanied the map told the New York Times, “The people have as much of a right to know who owns guns in their communities as gun owners have to own weapons.” But, I haven’t found anything else that the paper is doing, like convening discussion about the issues or trying to take control of the dialogue in the community it serves.

There is more to PR than media relations and media outlets need to understand this. I once helped a daily newspaper convene twice-monthly community roundtables, for two years after a divisive strike. That type of tactic would help here, especially with the newspaper business in such peril. Newspapers can’t afford to be passive during a time when business preservation is paramount.

Other forms of media often have trouble when the PR is their own. Years ago, a TV station that grabbed ratings by skewering companies that wouldn’t go on camera with them after ambushes had a news reporter accused of using homophobic and racist slurs to a man on a street while out on a story, leading to a criminal charge. When asked by a print reporter about the incident, the station’s general manager ironically responded, “We have no comment, and it’s a company policy not to comment until the investigation is complete.”

Like any other business, the media business can have PR needs. Top management, like that in any other industry, should seek counsel or, at the very least, stop by the newsroom for advice.