Archive for July, 2014

Look Before You Leap. Think Before you Post.

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

LookB4YouLeapIn the lexicon of classic idioms, look before you leap is perhaps the best known and most time-tested of them all.  In today’s world of social media where many are still feeling their way, I would suggest, think before you post be also considered regularly.  That is the key message I sought to get across this week in Fox-2 reporter M.L. Elrick’s story on a city councilwoman who posted a photo to Facebook showing her posing with a convicted felon who served time in recent years for bribing former councilwoman Monica Conyers. Click here to see the complete story.

Now, make no mistake – anyone who has served time in prison deserves to live their life afterward and a second chance to walk the straight and narrow. Similarly,  everyone should be able to socialize with whom they wish.  All that said, and as I relayed in my comments in the story, at a time when the City of Detroit is still reeling and dealing with the aftermath of corruption by public officials, each and every official now in office should be focused on restoring the public trust, not raising more questions.

As for what ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor from my chat with Fox-2, that I would suggest all of us should take into account:

  • Consider the very words that make up the term “social media.” They tell us that the medium is public and not private
  • Anyone using social media should use this litmus test prior to posting: Would I be comfortable with having my post published in the newspaper or aired on TV/radio?
  • If I am a public official, I am held to an even higher standard – in terms of conduct and whom I associate with – in my public and private life

Was this particular instance a lack of judgment? A misunderstanding of the power of the medium and how it works? A sign of immaturity? Unfortunately, we don’t know as the official in question isn’t talking publicly (ironically enough).  And that is where another idiom comes to mind: Learn from your mistakes. I would suggest another: Take responsibility for your actions. Because with social media, the world is watching and judging.

U-M’s Brandon Continues As Compelling PR Study

Monday, July 28th, 2014

7575800The tenure of University of Michigan Athletic Director continues to be a fascinating PR study. As blogged about earlier this year, Brandon has courted and attracted public attention like no other athletic director in the recent boom of college sports in all types of media.

The latest chapter in this story of a college football backup turned corporate CEO turned college sports honcho centers on his most recent PR move. For months, observers have buzzed about one controversial Brandon decision after another, culminating recently when the University’s Board of Regents rejected his plan for fireworks displays at football games (receiving much public and media support). Seeking to get his message out, he did what many CEOs before him have done successfully – selected a journalist to take his message to the masses with credibility, a built-in audience and a limited filter. This verbatim Q and A with The Detroit News’ popular columnist Bob Wojnowski allowed Brandon to answer the swirling questions.

In theory, the strategy was smart. Brandon seemed well-prepared, obviously anticipating all of the questions in advance. But, along the way, he made some mistakes that show what appears to be a lack of understanding of at least some of his audiences. That, so frequently, is the root of PR problems.

First, he oversold the 2015 home football schedule, which includes non-conference (and non-power) opponents BYU, Oregon State and UNLV, saying it’s a “wow” for fans. CEOs, must always remember that customers are not stupid. To restore trust from fans, he would have been much better off saying the schedule is “improved” from 2014.

When asked if he is concerned about not continuing the University’s record streak of 100,000 at every game this season, he responded “No.” Then, he is quoted as saying “That’s why we’re marketing tickets.” That is double-speak and the audience can see right through it.

He told Wojnowski he think’s “flat-screen TVs” are the biggest competition for ticket sales in college sports. Again, customers are smarter than that. They know it’s about overall value. For memorable moments (winning programs playing rivals and quality opponents), fans still value the in-person experience. Customers know that flat-screens also exist in states where there’s still a waiting list for season tickets. Brandon went onto say that ticket sales are down “just about everywhere.” Customers know, from reading recent news reports, that isn’t the case at Michigan’s peer schools, namely Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin.

But perhaps the biggest PR error Brandon made in this interview was saying “I don’t pay attention to the social media stuff.” This comes from a CEO with more than 39,000 followers on Twitter. Does this mean, for him, it’s a one-way platform? If so, that will not meet the expectations for an employee of a public institution. While there are likely fans who post inappropriate comments to him, part of his job, in this day and age, is to differentiate between the trolls and the customers who provide thoughtful and informed opinion. That’s part of the new PR reality.

In a place like Michigan, college sports matter. That means in a job like Brandon’s, PR matters. Respect for and understanding of all audiences remains essential for wins on the field of public opinion.

Listen To Your PR Counsel When They Tell You That You Don’t Have News

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

UnknownThe client didn’t just think she might have a news story, she insisted that she had one. She was wrong.

In the first meeting, I offered simple counsel that while her event was a terrific private fundraiser for her charity, it just wasn’t news. When she brought it up in a second meeting, I let her know that when I was a news producer, I would have never assigned a TV crew to cover this event and, in all of my years in PR, I have never asked for or received coverage of an event like this. When I was out of town, she asked one of my colleagues to invite TV stations to her event. When my colleague counseled otherwise, the client told her to “shut up.” That was the beginning of the end of the relationship.

There is no reason for us to counsel a client advising that what they think is news just isn’t news other than the best interest of the client. We get paid for our time, so it certainly could not logically be argued that we somehow profit from not pitching a story idea to media, which takes less time than pitching would. It could not be argued that we’re passive if we recommend an idea not be pitched, when we are working in the midst of an proactive communications plan that we developed.

If we’re hired to help an organization build its reputation with audiences, we would harm its reputation with journalists if we agree to pitch something that we know would immediately result in a “no.” That puts at risk future potential coverage when the organization has some real news or perspective on news to share.

We understand that some firms simply tell clients what they want to hear. We also know that some firms pitch to media everything clients want, throwing it up on the wall to see what sticks. If you want a firm that does those things, hire one, even though it won’t mean long-term success. Otherwise, listen to your counsel when they say “that’s not a news story.” The only incentive for providing that advice is helping you.

Linkin Park’s “Hunting Party” Hits the Brand Bullseye

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 10.42.38 PMBack to basics.  It’s a term with many meanings but in the context of initial successes vs. subsequent lackluster results it is a concept worthy of examination. Case in point: The band Linkin Park. In 1996, the group released their debut album, Hybrid Theory to rave reviews, Diamond sales and international fame. Their formula? A unique hybrid of hard melodic rock, metal and rap.  And, while their follow-ups, including Meteora (2003) and Minutes to Midnight (2007) were well-received, the music had lost its initial edge – a seeming compromise for greater accessibility and airplay.  After the concept LP, A Thousand Suns (2010 – which I loved but most panned), 2012′s Living Things was a disaster and barely listenable. Fans were left shaking their collective heads – again.

Thankfully, with the just-released The Hunting Party, it is, you guessed it: back to basic roots for the prolific band and an obvious attempt to win back a legion of fans once gained but since lost.  The “edge” has returned on what should have been Hybrid’s follow-up.  If you have followed the group through the years, it is evident that the new record is a re-embracing of an original brand and identity that had moved right of center.

Equally interesting to look at is the rock band Red.  End of Silence (2006), Innocence & Instinct (2009) and Until We Have Faces (2011) all masterfully crafted a sound similar to Linkin Park albeit with greater consistency.  With 2013′s Release the Panic, however, Red largely removed its trademark strings and orchestrations, much to the vocal dismay of their followers. And Red listened. Several months later, the group did the virtually unprecedented: they unveiled, Release the Panic: Re-Calibrated, with several cuts from its sister record remixed to include the heretofore non-existent orchestral elements.  Give the people what they want. Seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it?

So, why does a band or a company or any entity lose its way and move away from the tried and true? In music, it is often either a lack of creativity (can you say one-hit wonder?), or a desire to be more creative (eschewing the formulaic).  For anyone, not being true to your brand is the result of losing sight of or ignoring who your audience is and what they love about you.  Evolving to remain relevant is one thing.  Being ‘too hip for the room’ is something else altogether. Remember, ultimately, it’s not about you.