Archive for April, 2013

Media, National Events This Week Make Us A Community of One

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Boston_Blast_Tuesday_P9It is often argued that there is no longer any such thing as “mass media”.  After all, it has been decades since we all watched the same programming broadcast by a mere three television networks.  Matt examines that dynamic in greater detail in his post this week. Today, we consume our news and entertainment programming from hundreds (if not thousands) of different media platforms – all vying for our attention.  In this way, formatically, we are, quite often, literally and figuratively, segregated. Until a crisis hits – and we once again become a community of one.

We saw it in the aftermath of tragic events this past week in Boston. Who wasn’t glued to TV or radio for continuing coverage as well as up-to-the-minute print and broadcast outlet updates online – each of us seeking information and a way to somehow make sense of it all.  As the manhunt for the bombing suspects heated up on Friday, many office phones were silent across the country with individuals web streaming coverage from their desks and others eschewing cell phone calls by car in favor of the latest radio reports.

A wise man once said that how we handle adversity can define us. It is at times like these that the media – mass media such as the major networks and news outlets – are at their finest. Oft maligned for being sensational, political or worse, unnecessary, it is they who we turn to for accurate information and keen perspective. More often than not, they get it right.

It is particularly heartening to think that we all worked together, perhaps like never before, toward delivering justice. As the FBI made public the pictures of the terrorist brothers, they knew that the media would beam their images to the world and that, further, we would then post and share and tweet them even further; a grass tops and grass roots collaboration. It was two-way “mass” communication both basic and complex and truly at its finest.

TV Flashback: “The Big 3″ Shined In Boston Coverage

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

UnknownWhen I tell my children that when I was their age, there were only a few channels on TV, they look at me the way I’m sure I looked at my grandfather when he told me he could buy lunch for a nickel. I’m not even sure they could rattle off “ABC, NBC and CBS” if I asked them to name the one-time “Big 3.”

But, this week, like we have seen recently in the car business in Detroit, the Big 3 showed that they can rise to the occasion. When it came to the most accurate reporting, the most solid analysis void of hyperbole or speculation, compelling storytelling from the field and tone-appropriate anchoring, the three “legacy networks” led the way on TV, every step of the way. The highlights include NBC’s Justice Correspondent Pete Williams batting 1.000 with his sourced reporting and CBS’ John Miller, who has split his career between broadcast news and law enforcement, providing measured insight into what was happening behind the scenes. Their websites were also complete, easy-to-navigate, up-to-date and straightforward. Overall, it seemed they were the most careful on what they reported via Twitter.

Meanwhile, on the “cable channels,” CNN had its widely-reported gaffes and subsequent PR issues (see the blog post on that below) and Friday night’s climactic standoff and arrest was “anchored” on Fox News Channel by slugfest host Bill O’Reilly and shock TV pioneer Geraldo Rivera and MSNBC’s coverage was “anchored” by political debater Chris Matthews.

If, as I wrote last week, “cable news” gives viewers the choice between “the conservative channel,” “the liberal channel” and “the channel that gets it wrong,” then it would seem “network news” would be the place for straight news coverage. Not so fast. The network morning shows are filled with content like celebrity gossip, domestic murder trials from around the country, missing young white women and New York City weather. CBS is experimenting with a Charlie Rose-anchored, news-focused show, but they have never really been able draw a competitive audience in the morning with any talent pairing or format. In the evening, the news broadcasts are tied to 1960s lifestyles with a 6:30pm broadcast. Prime Time generally has magazine-style shows, but fewer of those then anytime in the last 20 years.

Maybe one of the networks will realize its opportunity and replace sitcoms in Prime Time with a straight newscast for viewers who are busy during the day and want more than empty debate at night. But it’s expensive and risky and would be foreign to so many who have become accustomed to what national TV news has become.

Oh well. It was nice to have the “Big 3″ back for a few days. Hopefully, their budgets will still be in tact the next time we need them.

This Just In: CNN Has A PR Problem

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

cnnIf you were online, in front of a TV or listening to the radio mid-afternoon Eastern time today, you were exposed to some of the most frustrating moments a news consumer could have.

Multiple “big brand” news organizations, notably CNN via its correspondent John King and the Associated Press, which feeds virtually every bona fide news organization in America, reported first an “an arrest is imminent” and then “a suspect is under arrest” and then “the arrested suspect is being taken to Federal Court.” Some of the reports even included detail about how authorities identified the suspect. At the same time, other news organizations were either holding off or directly refuting the CNN and AP reports.

About an hour later, law enforcement began announcing, through their own channels, that there were no arrests. CNN’s King started backtracking, blaming bad information from his source. That source, it turns out, was a single source (which, as a standard was once not enough to even report a shred of news in a story like this), inside Boston law enforcement, which the public knows was playing a secondary role in this case.

From a PR standpoint, CNN comes out of this looking the worst because the AP is staffed by largely anonymous journalists and its service is often invisible to consumers. On the other hand, CNN is engaged in a public battle to win back the relevance it has lost over the past 20 years. In fact, on Monday of this week, hours before the Boston bombing, CNN President Jeff Zucker compared CNN to the “spare tire” you use only when you need it (breaking national news) and “the challenge for us is how to make CNN more essential, how to make it one of the four tires on the car.” Two days later, CNN faces a reputation challenge.

Compounding matters and likely contributing to the dubious reporting and generous “green lights” from management today is the inherent challenge for cable channels that typically just run cheap, easy political debates with talking heads all day to suddenly transform themselves into news reporting organizations. Most days, there’s not a lot of news on “cable news.” So when there is, they have to operate differently, which is a tough task from top to bottom.

First, it was a much-discussed error in reporting the Supreme Court’s health care law decision last year. Now, it’s this report of the arrest that wasn’t. For all of the focus on personalities and formats, credibility really does matter to the public, whether they follow the news minute-by-minute or much less often.

The TV business now operates in a perilous time, especially on cable where younger viewers are starting to think it’s not worth the money. If the choices really do become “the conservative channel,” “the liberal channel,” or “the channel that gets it wrong,” an important segment of the audience will continue to migrate from the platform.

What the World Needs Now – Is Selflessness

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

2013_Masters_Tianlang_Guan_14_Year_Old_Score_AugustaTwo stories dominated the world of sports this week: One featuring a young athlete who is still learning and the other having to do with a veteran that should know better. They are stark contrasts in sportsmanship, selflessness and taking responsibility for your actions.

In the world of golf, who wasn’t touched and heartened by the reaction of 14-year-old golf phenom Guan Tianlan after he was assessed a rarely enforced one stroke penalty for slow play at the Masters. “I respect their decision” he said of the move that almost eliminated him from the tournament. Equally refreshing were the words of his father, Han Wan who stated: “A rule is a rule.”

Moving across the country, meanwhile, to California and the sport of baseball, what are we to make of San Diego behemoth outfielder Carlos Quentin’s neanderthal rushing of Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke, a man some 50 pounds slighter, which cracked Greinke’s collarbone? Never mind that the game was 2-1 in favor of the Padres, in the sixth inning, and the that pitch came on a 3-2 count. Never mind that Quentin has been hit more than 100 times in his career.  Quentin instead cited a “history” of being hit by Greinke (two times since 2009) for his actions, which now has him on the bench, and unable to contribute, for a prolonged suspension.

In baseball, there is a time to enforce “the code” which protects one’s teammates. Quentin instead allowed a perceived personal vendetta to negatively affect his team.

If we are looking for an example to follow in sports from an athlete, thank goodness this week we had the good fortune to see how we should conduct ourselves – on the links and between the lines: selflessly. No excuses. No complaints. CSN&Y once sang: Teach your children well. Guan Tianlan, an 8th grader, reminded us that our children can teach us as well.


Tiger Woods: To Regain PR, Just Win

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

tiger05mastersIn late 2009, Don and I got to play a few rounds of high-profile PR analysis thanks to the bumbling “PR strategy” of Team Tiger Woods. At best, he was arrogant. At worst, he was insincere. But I answered every “How will he win back his fans?” question this way… “Win golf tournaments.”

Here we are, on the eve of the Masters, with Tiger Woods back among the competitors. He’s physically healthy, publicizing his relationship with an athlete who has a “Q” score (skier Lindsey Vonn) and, most importantly, he is winning golf tournaments again.

Because of his misdeeds and the way he handled (or, more accurately, mishandled) the PR surrounding their revelation, he is far from likely to regain his status as an international mega-brand that transcends sports, ages and genders. But can he once again be a force that draws viewers that advertisers crave, particularly affluent men, to golf on TV on Sunday afternoons? Absolutely.

In sports, winning is the most endearing quality. Just like in business, trump factors can emerge. For example, PR firms owned by businesspeople who don’t operate with high integrity but still get results for their clients manage to stay in business. Lawyers who are “sharks,” reviled by clients but winners in court, can be very successful even though they engender disdain. Business-to-consumer companies can overcome reputation challenges by offering convenience and low prices, like Wal-Mart for example.

Ideally, the most successful athletes would also be the best people. Just like the most successful companies would be the ones that do business the right way. But our culture sometimes picks and chooses what it thinks is important on a case-by-case basis. With Woods, this is one of those times.

Tiger Woods is getting a taste now of what it’s like to be famous in the most forgiving society on the planet. If he can keep his personal life in order and stay “in the hunt” on Sundays, he will regain much of what he has lost in the past 3 1/2 years.

Chips Off The Old Block

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

imagesOn Friday, I was honored and privileged to serve as the opening keynote speaker for the Central Michigan University PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America) PR Boot Camp – a day of learning, engagement and discussions regarding the craft and profession of public relations.  I was asked, specifically, to give a presentation to promote the field while providing lessons learned toward a successful career roadmap.

As I put my PowerPoint together in the days leading up to the event, I found I was having a hard time narrowing down and limiting some of the incredible clients and strategic communications initiatives I’ve been involved with to share over the 40 minutes (actually 30 with 10 for Q&A) I would be given to speak. I settled on a few case studies (including a major OEM product launch, a world event turnaround and an IT company we had guided to the White House) to underscore how the industry can offer opportunities to be creative, entrepreneurial and make a difference.

Of even greater importance, however, was the wisdom I tried impart on the group from the standpoint of entering and thriving in the field – including rolling up your sleeves and working hard (no one owes you anything but a chance), seeking out mentors (proactively and organically) and believing in yourself, albeit with humility (always strive to learn, improve and contribute). Most importantly, I stressed the vital importance of setting an ethical foundation, including treating all people with mutual respect.

I was greatly impressed by how this packed room of college students listened and involved themselves in the conversation, including through insightful questions and comments. It’s not surprising, considering the outstanding program offered at the school, led by professor/counselor extraordinaire Jim Wojcik. (Note: There were also two outstanding students from Ferris State who made the drive to attend). The day allowed me a rewarding opportunity to ‘give back’ and encourage the growth and success of our industry’s next generation. And if this particular group is any indication, the future looks very bright.