Archive for June, 2015

In The News? Ignore The Comments Online.

Monday, June 29th, 2015

comments-icon-1Over the past few days, in unrelated situations, it has become clear that the worst part of any piece of news coverage is the comments section attached to it. Maybe it’s time for news organizations to consider whether the extra page views are worth it?

Last week, I worked around the clock for a client that knew an adverse situation was coming. The goal was to work to ensure that its message was included to help balance negative news stories. In reviewing the coverage, it was clear that the objective was achieved until someone on the client side decided to delve into what has become the seedy underbelly of online journalism – the comments section.

Later that day, a member of my family was the subject of news coverage. The news stories themselves reflected very positively and served as a source of pride for all of us. That is until I ignored the advice I typically give clients and looked at the comments on Facebook, where one of the articles was posted.

Two days later, a journalist I know and respect used his time on an opinion-driven TV show to let his audience know, for the first time, that he is gay. In a subsequent article, he referred to the online comments about his bold commentary as “vulgar.”

Since the advent of online news, reader comment forums have been a gathering place for the negative, disgusting, ignorant and attention-starved. Most journalists I know are embarrassed by them. An effort in recent years to move away from anonymous posting and a use of real names (via Facebook accounts) has not helped these sections attain a higher level of civility. Rather than being representative of a dialogue that furthers an issue, they are typically outlets for society’s fringes.

Too many subjects of stories look to the comments section for some sort of analysis of public reaction. That must stop. The vast majority (an educated guess would be 98%, if talk radio is a guide) of regular readers will never post a comment.

If you or your organization is the subject of a news story, don’t read the comments. Resist temptation. Don’t give into the urge. All it will do is disturb you. But if you can’t help yourself, don’t let them cause you any stress. They are simply not representative of anything, other than a subset of a subset of readers.

It’s Time To Talk Honestly About Measuring PR

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

tape_measureThere’s a struggle going on that nobody in PR really likes to talk about. In our business, it’s really hard, and sometimes virtually impossible, to “measure” what we do in the traditional sense. But the CFO and MBA types demand it, driving us nuts. Too often, what we give them to essentially justify our existence in their budgets is flat-out nuts.

Reputation is the most important aspect of business that you can’t see clearly in an Excel document. Unless you spend big money on reliable, scientific market research, you can’t see it clearly on a graph or in a Powerpoint “deck.” It takes a certain amount of “feel” and honest conversation to evaluate, something that the pace and hierarchy of business often doesn’t allow. A PR campaign is virtually impossible to fully evaluate using the common “scorecard,” “dashboard” and management-by-objective systems used to answer the corporate question cliche “What does success look like?”

So we try, often in vain, to fit into the rigor of the same tools used to evaluate objective business factors, such as revenue. Many PR programs spend significant portions of their budgets on entry-level firm or company employees just to manage “reporting” (that is, essentially, what junior employees at big agencies do all day). This ends up adding to the cost of a program that executives worry might be “too costly.” Some examples include:

-”The ad value of PR” – This is the business equivalent of believing in the Tooth Fairy. It’s an attempt to show PR’s cost effectiveness by using a formula to show how much news coverage “earned” through PR would cost if the equivalent time or space was purchased through advertising. It’s amazing that something so full of BS has continued in practice.

-”Potential impressions” – This is adding up the circulation or estimated audience for each media placement to boast about how many total audience members could have potentially seen the coverage. The rise in Internet news coverage and lack of reliable third-party data on website news consumption, not to mention the fact that not every audience member ever consumes every piece of content, have made this a very shaky approach.

-”Total number of placements” – Every PR campaign should absolutely track its tangible outcomes. But sometimes an obsession with tracking leads to trouble. When you “score” every placement the same, you lose context. For example, a newswire release picked up on the back end of a news website should ideally not count the same as a story that runs on the home page of a site that squarely targets your audience. Not all “hits” have equal impact.

-Quotas – Years ago, I worked with a client executive who demanded, from his relatively large, but previously sleepy, PR department, “1,000 Tier One News Placements” in a year. “Tier One” was defined clearly, but the department lost focus on communicating messages and just became obsessed with the quota. I have never seen so many bad, desperate pitches that I believe damaged the organization’s reputation inside newsrooms. The executive soon moved onto a job that had no PR oversight, with another company.

Social media has compounded this situation. The social networks now all allow us access to their “metrics,” which we try to convince our clients and/or executives are relevant to our strategy, even if they are not. The networks define for us what “engagement” means and then we try to sell that to financial decision-makers, hoping they let survive programs we know will ultimately be effective over time. Numbers should be a part of an evaluation, not the evaluation. We make charts and graphs but we rarely have the candid conversations about “Is this helping, gradually, to do what we wanted it to do?”

Ideally, that’s the answer. Put aside the grids and graphs for a meeting or two. Have and build trust. And this is the toughest part of all for the many, many organizations that live quarter-to-quarter – look at reputation, image and brand building over the long-term. Look at how it impacts other aspects of the organization, not alone in its own “silo.”

Pie in the sky? Probably. We are likely stuck with a measurement obsession shoved down our throats. In each situation, while gasping for air, it’s up to us to suggest some new ways of thinking that benefit the organization and won’t drive us nuts.

Radio Legend Alan Almond Signs Off for Last Time

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.39.48 PMHe was a pioneering figure in radio that courted fame and fortune yet demanded a personal life. To be sure, for more than 25 years in Metro Detroit, millions went to bed with him each night yet virtually no one ever saw his face. Everyone, however, knew his voice.  Alan Almond, king of the nighttime and best known for his “Pillow Talk” program on WNIC, passed away this week at 67.  He was truly one of a kind.

His career started in the 1970s and would continue into the 90s, largely with WNIC but also with stops at a pre-WCSX WMJC, WOMC, WMXD, WXYT-AM and WJZZ.  His dulcet-toned delivery was ideal for nights and a love-song format, which he conceptualized and implemented to incredible success.  Where today radio after-dark is dominated by teenyboppers and programming aimed at that demographic, Almond generated #1 ratings via an adult, mostly female audience who eagerly consumed a steady diet of love songs, dedications and ruminations on life and love.

And his voice.  Like audio from God himself reverberating from the ether, slowly, deliberately and, to his audience, sensually. If radio is at its best as theater of the mind, Almond was a Tony-worthy actor, affecting for his listeners a radiowave landscape of dinner by candlelight and walks along the beach.

So key to his success, of course, was the mystique surrounding what Alan Almond actually looked like.  While desirous of out-of-studio privacy, Almond was also a master marketer and brand imager – understanding the value of never showing his face to ensure his fans forever maintained their own mental and emotional image and perception of who and what he was.  One of a kind, yet a man of a million faces, his voice and legacy will live on as we remember and treasure.





“No Offense, But Most Press Releases Are Bullsh*t.”

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

images-1If I have to sit next to someone at a wedding who I don’t know, it may as well be a voracious news consumer. At least we have something in common.

That was the case this weekend when the man sitting next to me was a former Wall Street banker who sold his firm and now concentrates on private investments. It sounds like a nice gig if you can get it. He asked me what news sources I rely upon to follow trends in business and he was surprised to learn my opinion that the traditional nameplates really, most often, still do serve best. He said, though, in today’s media environment, it’s a challenge to find the real “meat” of mergers and acquisitions news because, as he put it, “No offense, but most press releases are bullish*t.”

None taken, Buddy. None taken whatsoever. Nowhere is stereotypical corporate PR BS on display bigger and bolder than when it comes to announcing “M&A” deals. Here are a few gems from just a quick search of recent releases:

-”We are thrilled about the unique opportunities this merger will create for our
 consumers worldwide, as well as our employees and business partners.”

-”Today’s announcement is a transformative step in our objective to become the industry leader…”

-”This acquisition supports our strategy to provide a…connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience.”

As is so often the case, releases and their quotes are written primarily for the executives who made the deal, with not enough thought given to the audiences that may be able to rely on the releases for information. Rarely do these announcements spell out the “why” of a deal, beyond buzzwords and platitudes. Usually, that’s for business journalists to find out and there are fewer and fewer of them each year.

So, if my wedding reception neighbor doesn’t trust press releases and the stories that result from them to get the information he needs, where does he turn? He says he frustratingly has to “dig” on this own to find the story behind the story, importantly, details on funding sources being used.

I’m not asking for sympathy for the “private investor” who has to track down information on this own time. But, it would seem companies coming together are doing it, among other reasons, to attract new investment. Their cliche driven press releases not only make our eyes roll, they may turn off one of the audiences they’re trying to interest. That’s something that should be considered in “The C Suites.”