Archive for March, 2017

Before Sears Disappears, Catalog Your PR

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Sears_1969_logoNews this past week that Sears may have trouble staying in business beyond the immediate future shouldn’t make you think of just retail. It should also get you thinking about your business.

If when you heard the news about Sears you thought “Sears? Are they still around?,” you weren’t alone. And if you have anything to say about the communications and marketing where you work, you should consider that question the worst case scenario for your business, whether it’s a professional services firm, a nonprofit organization, a manufacturer, a health care entity or even a media company. Examples on a weekly basis prove that the key to business success is relevance.

PR strategy conversations with clients have changed significantly over the last decade. It used to be “How can we get you media attention?” Now, it’s “How can we help you stay in front of your audiences?” Sometimes, that includes news coverage, if situations warrant. But, always, it’s about communicating to audiences proactively about who you are, what you do and how you’re different, in a variety of ways, across multiple platforms. Think about what you’re doing. If it’s like Sears, just being there at the end of the mall hoping customers would come in while resting on the historical value of your brand, that’s just not going to work.

Business challenges don’t develop overnight. Don’t believe those who tell you that Amazon alone is forcing Sears out of business. Sears has been in this spiral for decades. Personally, I haven’t set foot in one of their stores in more than 20 years, after an all-time customer service debacle about which nobody from the company seemed to care. When we walk into organizations suffering reputation challenges, it’s rarely just “one thing” that causes a situation. Often, brands are the victims of collective negligence. When merely surviving becomes a top priority, things like service and PR just don’t get done and cause the company increasing levels of harm.

“I didn’t know you were still in business” is something you never want your audiences to say. Communicate to them, engage with them and that’s something you’ll never have to hear.

Emphasis on ‘New’ in The New York Times

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

UnknownNo one will be shocked by the front page headline of the latest issue of Wired magazine titled: “The News in Crisis.” Equally ‘yawn-able’ infographics in the accompanying article inside show (a) the decline in news jobs for all media (10% in the past 10 years) and a generation gap where only 5% of 18-29 years olds get their news from print newspapers.  Tell us something we don’t know, right?  Yet, a sister article by writer Gabriel Snyder shines a light on how the venerable The New York Times is humping like never before to remain relevant.

Working in favor of the Times and other legitimate news outlets are the very times we are living in.  As, while ‘fake news’ is a ridiculous term coined by the current administration to describe anything it does not agree with, social platforms all too often cater to scribes and sources who put forth opinions and conjecture that is not fact checked and certainly not news. Most rationale individuals want real journalism from credible news sources..  In the wake of the recent presidential election, in fact, the Times reported that subscriptions had surged to 10 times its usual numbers.

To remain viable, however, the Times knows it has to continue to build upon its digital platforms. In 2000, print advertising accounted for 70% of revenues, with digital just 1%.  There was no digital news content at that time. In 2015, both digital and digital news encompassed 12% of revenues (24% total), with print advertising down to 28%.  Since that time, the “paper” has continued to build upon its digital platforms to offer a wide range of multi-media programming.  The centerpiece, or, starting point, is the print subscription. Readers are offered a small bit of ‘free’ content each month but then incentivized to pay for more news, information and fun. This includes a suite of apps, blogs and verticals on a range of topics with original content, akin to a Netflix or Hulu. There is Cooking and Crossword and, soon, Real Estate. Live streaming and text messaging are also utilized regularly for news and sports, and, the Times is also running virtual reality films. Regarding the latter, one early example has Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ben Solomon ‘embedding’ viewers with Iraqi soldiers battling Isis.

Is it working? Early returns are promising as more than 1.5 million people now pay more than $200 million for yearly subscriptions. Overall digital revenue is nearly $500 million.  Perhaps as impressive as the Times on-going informational experimentation to raise readership and revenue, reports Snyder, is management’s willingness to ruffle the feathers of tradition and ‘prim and proper.’ The time-worn mantra: ‘The Times wouldn’t do that’ is headed the way of the Dodo Bird.  And it has to.  The new rallying cry? Evolve or die.  It is a call that should be watched closely and imitated widely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Think Differently When Bad News Hits A Nonprofit

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

crisis-006Generally speaking, those who don’t work in PR or media aren’t particularly interested in what we do, with one notable exception. When something goes wrong, they become very curious.

It’s always interesting to take questions when speaking about crisis communications, whether it’s to a college class, an Optimist Club, a PR conference or a business group. Recently, I had the chance to present to a group of nonprofit leaders convened by the Plante Moran accounting firm on the campus of Lawrence Technological University. Several dozen attended but, reverting to the mentality of their college lecture days, all but very few sat in the back rows of the big auditorium.

When bad news strikes a nonprofit organization, the priorities are often different. Never was this more clear than a situation I helped with a few years ago when a prominent religious organization fired a longtime member of its clergy. The Board Chair’s husband, a corporate executive, had a relationship with a PR firm that worked primarily with manufacturing companies. The Chair and the firm drafted and then sent a letter to members and, despite the fact that this was a deeply emotional situation, it had the level of charm and compassion that only an employment lawyer could embrace. To say the communication fell flat would be an understatement. It helped create misunderstanding and discord that escalated to crisis.

When Board members came to see us for a “second opinion,” we offered a much different approach. Without getting into the complex details (it was a doozy, to say the least), we ended up taking a path, that was ultimately successful, including candor, listening and respect for the organization’s mission. The takeaway here is that for a nonprofit organization to survive “bad news,” the situation must be managed through a different lens than with a corporation or certainly a political scenario. There’s much more to this than can be covered in a blog post and thanks to Plante Moran and Lawrence Tech, you can watch the entire presentation (less than 30 minutes) and the one hour of live Q&A that followed (it was a really good group).

To watch the presentation in its entirety, click here. Spoiler Alert: I don’t rhetorically ask “Right?” after attempting to make a bold point, even once. Thank you for taking a look.

Moonlight Shines a Light

Monday, March 13th, 2017

imgresIn a supposed land of equality there are all too many of us who, from the cocoon of our comfortable lives, all too often ask questions such as:  What is wrong with our society? Why are our prisons filled to capacity? Why can’t everyone just follow the right path and take advantage of the opportunities that exist for us all?  Watch the Oscar-winning “Moonlight” and you may feel differently.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the story centers around three phases in the life of an African American youth (“Little”) living in a rough neighborhood in Miami.  Without the role models, without the guidance, without the proper day-to-day guardianship, he is rudderless and largely helpless.  He truly never stands a chance.  How does one communicate your hopes, your fears without anyone to communicate them to? As for goals and aspirations – what are those?

I have not seen “La La Land” but by all indications, it appears to be a wonderful film. Perhaps fittingly it is the polar opposite of “Moonlight”; a throwback fantasy far flung from reality.  And while I know I might appreciate the performances in the former, I associated deeply with the school bullying sequences in the latter – a life experience that made me stronger and helped shape my life for the better but that I will never forget.

“Moonlight’ will shock, sadden and disturb but should move you to introspection. As my mom used to say to me as we walked by someone less fortunate, “If there but for the Grace of God go I.”  We will never and should never tolerate drugs nor crime but this movie works to force each and every one of us to contemplate the ‘why’ of it all.  “Moonlight’ does not provide answers but does ask us to consider compassion and, eventually, redemption.

 

 

Fake News: It’s Not A Real Epidemic

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

unnamedWe got an email this week from a respected college professor putting together a PR conference. The question was simple, “Do you know of anybody willing to talk about being bitten by fake news?”

The answer, from our end, was also simple. We don’t. That is because there is no “epidemic of fake news” in the day-to-day world of PR.

To explain, let us please agree on the definition of “fake news.” What we are talking about in this post is the disguising of fictional content, using familiar people’s names, on websites that look like news sights but are created just to spread this fiction. It what, before the ease of sharing websites via social media, were called “hoaxes” or “urban legends.” We used to see this kind of stuff in the grocery store checkout lines in tabloids (the Weekly World News often featured front page “stories” about politicians and aliens) or, from our friends (who could talk to us even before Facebook), like when those of us of a certain age heard that Mikey from the Life cereal commercials died after mixing Pop Rocks candy with some sort of carbonated beverage.

What we are not talking about here is news coverage from a bona fide, commercially viable, familiarly-named outlet that does not paint the sitting President of the United States in a favorable light, in his opinion. We are also not talking about news coverage that includes errors in reporting.

Now that we have that straight, you can begin to understand the answer we gave the professor. The “fake news epidemic” has been limited to national politics. That has been the focal point of news consumption since last year and that is what is driving clicks online. That is where there is money to be made and attention to be had by the fraudsters online. This is not a phenomenon that is seriously impacting day-to-day business in the rest of the country. That is not to suggest that some sort of fabricated item that looks like news couldn’t show up online about the place where you work or a company with which you do business. The potential is there but the reality is not.

This is similar to the “supermarket tabloid” heyday. There was much more of a chance of a “fake” story about Carol Burnett getting drunk and getting into a verbal altercation with Henry Kissinger in The National Enquirer (that happened, resulting in a lawsuit) than anything about anyone not a celebrity. The reason is simple – celebrities (and diet tips) have always moved paper in grocery store lines, the way stories about the President and politics drive clicks now.

In every community in the country at certainly at the national level, both the news and PR businesses are facing some serious issues and challenges. But, for the vast majority of us, today, this just is not one of them.