Archive for July, 2017

Bullies Never Garner Loyalty

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

0301Every day, our firm generates, reviews and strategizes on developing and implementing effective communications initiatives. And while those communiqués can take many forms and be delivered through a range of platforms, the end goal is typically the same: Compel audiences to act in a way that positively affects business objectives. Call it relationship building. Call it generating brand loyalty. Call it gaining consensus. But never call it bullying.

Donald Trump wants loyalty from his “team” yet doesn’t seem to even vaguely understand the old adage of: “There is no “I” in “Team.” Instead, he continues to use social media as his cyber-bullying medium of choice. Yesterday, the Director of the FBI, today his Attorney General, tomorrow, who knows. Perhaps most maddening and misdirected was his irrational dialogue this week in front of the Boy Scouts; an impressionable youth in need of mentoring, not hate mongering. As many in Washington have been saying in recent days, Jeff Sessions swore an oath of loyalty to the Constitution, not to the whims of Donald Trump.

Adding more insult to injury, Trump today made the decision – to the shock of a Congressional oversight committee who was studying the matter – to ban transgender individuals from entering the military. Most discovered his decision via Twitter. A bully singles out certain individuals and then carries out words and actions designed to dehumanize them and “keep them down.” The similarities in his modus operandi here and elsewhere are striking.

And so it is both sad and inspiring that the individual with the presence and sense of mind to communicate this week what our country needs from its leaders came from a man returning from surgery and suffering from a serious form of brain cancer: Senator John McCain. He spoke emotionally about the need for his fellow elected officials to put differences aside and work to find common ground and areas for compromise. To get things done while acting in the best interests of the American people. This message was one of unity and selflessness.

We follow leaders who inspire. Who build bridges. Who think before they act and speak. Those who say and do what is right for all of us (or at least the majority of us). Those are the leaders who gain our admiration, our backing, our loyalty. That is earned. And that is what, unfortunately, a bully will never learn.

Sports Coverage Without Clickbait Or Autoplay Videos. Sounds Great. But Will You Pay?

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

CpEohaobA journalist for a local newspaper told me recently that everyone in the newsroom should thank the sports department “for keeping us in business.” At many of them, sports drives web traffic and as news organizations have had to cut deeply to endure the transition from the dollars that classified and print advertising brought in to the pennies that online advertising generates, they need all the pennies they can get.

The business of funding local news organizations impacts consumers more than they realize. Because so much is given to readers at no cost, which they have now largely come to expect, revenue has to come from pop-up ads, auto-play videos and other ad devices that consumers say they don’t like. Because of the imperative to drive web traffic and boost page-view numbers, the slightest sports item that resembles news turns into a clickable story or, worse yet, a carpal tunnel-inducing photo gallery.

A new start-up option for fans, with a new business model, is making its way across North America. The Athletic, a Silicon Valley-born, venture capital funded online platform, is now in expansion mode, adding Detroit and the Bay Area in recent weeks. Craig Custance, the Detroit Editor-In-Chief and a Metro Detroit native, told me last week that he chose The Athletic job after working as ESPN’s national hockey writer for the past six years. The Athletic has “a new business model that I had become convinced was going to work and…a solution to what’s been an issue in journalism and that’s making money digitally.”

The Athletic is subscription-only. Right now, you can subscribe under a special for a year for $40. In return, you get access to their app and to read their stories online, without any advertising on the page. “The product looks different…Really clean. That’s the background of the guys who started the company. They’re tech guys,” Custance said. “The reader now basically has some control over the content because they’re the ones paying the freight…if it’s not different enough, if they’re not learning something, if it’s not unique to what’s being done in the market for free, then people won’t subscribe. There’s a higher standard to what we have to do.”

Custance is now recruiting beat writers to cover Detroit’s teams, including Katie Strang, another ESPN veteran. He says interest among sports journalists is very strong as local reporting jobs are tougher than ever. They now have to tweet, shoot and post photos and video, cover practices, games and press conferences and, by the way, write stories, filing around the clock. There just isn’t as much time for long-form analysis, in-depth reporting or the telling of stories-behind-the-stories anymore, on top of the uncertainty of local “papers” in the online world. It’s the same “more with less” reality we see across media. Custance is telling applicants, “They have to have some sort of unique voice or skill set that makes them stand out, that makes people want to read their work.” The Athletic plans a bricks-and-mortar office in Downtown Detroit.

In recent weeks, Fox Sports, a behemoth in the sports media world, rid its website of sports writing focused only on video, repurposed from TV. But Custance says The Athletic is not deterred because it’s not for everyone. “The beauty of this is we’re not trying to get every single sports fan…Not everybody is going to subscribe to this model…We’re finding there’s a large group of people who say ‘we still want to read quality, well-written work and we’re willing to pay for it because if we don’t, it might not exist at some point.’”

As a sports fan who wants to know more than what I get from just watching the games, I signed up for a subscription. I’m interested to see if enough fellow enthusiasts will make the same decision to keep The Athletic growing.

Media Companies Mess Up PR… And It Matters

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

IMG_0205Unveiling a new logo ranks high among communications challenges. Logos for established businesses contain emotion, which, upon a change, can spill into reaction, especially online in the era of social media outrage.

We have worked with clients in these situations to minimize controversy and maximize explanation and context. Even then, we have prepared clients for rough waters in at least the short-term in an environment where change stirs emotion and everyone feels empowered to take a turn as an art critic.

In a fragile business like media, a logo change should be handled strategically, ensuring that the organization making the change can speak for itself, carefully and deliberately to its audiences about why the change is necessary.

Gannett, owner of the Detroit Free Press and hundreds of newspapers and news websites across the country, took a different approach, at least in Detroit, among other markets nationally. The company changed the iconic Free Press logo to one mirroring its flagship, but non-local, USA Today branding, at least online. In the Detroit market, this is a jarring change, as the Olde English style, shared by the Tigers baseball team, is considered part of the regional identity.

Rather than execute what we would call a “change communications strategy,” which borrows from the fundamentals of crisis communications, corporate overlords sent a morning email to staff (just days after making a change in the executive editor’s office) and ordered the mandated move to go into effect online. In what should have been anticipated as a worst case scenario, it was brought to the public’s attention via social media posts by journalists at competing outlets, as chronicled by this item by Poynter, the nonprofit journalism educational institution.

Notably, there has been no communication from the company to the Free Press’ audience about the change. As we have written here many times before, including when Gannett ordered layoffs late last year, reducing the Free Press’ newsgathering resources without even making an effort to reassure its audiences, the corporations that run media ironically don’t practice the most core principles of PR.

Was this change the right decision? Will Gannett be able to grow revenue by piggybacking off the USA Today brand in a parochial market like Detroit? Does USA Today have stronger identity than a local brand that dates back to 1831? The future of an institution rests on the answers to those questions. This is a decision more than about font and color. It’s part of the future of a resource this community, and every community, needs, whether it’s in print, online or whatever is next. A group in a conference room in Virginia messed up the communications rollout. So often, that’s a symptom of bigger reasons for concern.

Trump’s “Truth” and Consequences

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 6.36.47 PMIn recent days I’ve been watching, listening and reading about the latest trials and travails regarding Russia and the Trump administration; simultaneously biting my tongue on commenting and chomping at the bit to weigh in. So without bringing politics into it (if that is at all possible, really), let’s take a look at what has happened from a crisis communications standpoint. I’ll refrain from calling it “adversity management” as no adversity has been at all managed to date.

For context and precedent I would highly suggest picking up a copy of American University political historian Alan Lichtman’s new book, “The Case for Impeachment.” In it, Lichtman reviews past impeachment hearings and proceedings (Andrew Johnson; Richard Nixon; Bill Clinton) while examining scenarios where Donald Trump might face impeachment during his presidency. The work is fascinating in that it shines a spotlight on how Trump has run his business endeavors over the years and why, despite thousands of lawsuits and lies, he has come off relatively unscathed. Today, not so much.

Donald Trump, Lichtman describes, is an egotistical, narcissistic bully who will go to no end to put his own interests above those of anyone else, bend if not make up the truth and throw others under the bus in his wake. And, he has had the money and power to threaten careers and, when forced, to pay off or buyout those he wants silenced. As for the truth, it is forever a moving target.

Many argue it takes a businessman to run the business of the federal government. The problem is, it is not a private business. There are rules and regulations and potential conflicts of interest – scores of which (the world over) Trump has not recused himself from. Rather, in the Oval Office today, it is all smoke and mirrors. Son-in-law Jared Kushner has now modified his security clearance forms three times for failing to disclose meetings with Russian officials. Donald, Jr., has also now been caught in a series of lies including at least one meeting with Russians to discuss possible Hillary Clinton dirt.

Where crisis communications is concerned, the only way to manage a potentially damaged reputation is credibility and transparency. Not the “transparency” (as the administration called it) of Junior’s putting out emails once uncovered and about to be printed by the New York Times. Instead, Trump continues to operate under the misguided assumption that if you say the same things over and over, they will be believed. The CIA was incorrect about Russian interference in our election process. James Comey wrongly handled the Russian investigation and needed to go. This is all ‘fake news.’ Donald Jr.’s actions were ‘transparent.’ This is a ‘witch hunt.’ And on it goes.

Lying, “forgetting” and political naiveté just don’t cut it anymore. Rather, they have destroyed any and all credibility for Donald Trump. Such an M.O. might work in business (and has for him for decades) but it will not work here. Not when you are elected to represent the people. Not when a planet and billions of people are at stake. Rather, nothing short of the truth will do – and, unfortunately, Donald Trump knows all too well that the truth would hurt. To be sure, to finally do so would surely be his undoing.

What, Me Worry? Radio Remains Relevant, Reach Strong.

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

imagesWhen examining mediums to tout and those to pan, digital continues to be held up as the golden child, while radio seems forever (for lack of a better term) the step-child – seemingly on the verge of inconsequential and the brink of demise. And while turmoil regularly and publicly embroils radio giants iHeart and Cumulus, what does the research say on the industry overall? What do the numbers show? In recent days, Nielsen’s quarterly “State of the Media: Audio Today” was released and featured prominently in Tom Taylor’s “Now” report. The findings may surprise you. Certainly they are enlightening.

Comparing radio to other mediums, Audio Today shows radio “reaching more Americans each week than any other platform.” That reach for all adults is 93%, with television coming in second at 89%. The smartphone is now at 83% and PC at 50%. “TV-connected devices” reach 44% of all adults weekly, the tablet 37%

A look at the next generation (18-34), of great concern and focus for all mediums (especially radio), shows that radio is still quite strong (and maybe surprising to many) – reaching 92% of all persons in that demographic each and every week. Considering how millennials consume visual content, not as surprising are numbers that show TV reach has fallen to 79% (smartphone reach, by contrast, is 91%).

Nielsen’s deep dive into radio also examined “America’s top formats” for all listeners age 12+ in all markets from Spring 2016. Top 5 rankings showed: #1 Country (13.6%); News-Talk (11.1%) (does not include All-News); Hit Radio (7.9%) and Adult Contemporary (7.8%) tied for third; with Classic Rock (6.0%) and Classic Hits (5.9%) tied after that. A fairly close race overall and no matter how you slice and dice it.

Moreover, as podcasts gain momentum and popularity, Nielsen examined this medium and listener preferences by genre. Here, comedy leads the way with 48% of podcasting users consuming it. Next comes educational at 40% followed by sports (27%); politics (22% and, one would assume, growing); gaming (18%); and tech/sci-fi at 16% each.

Overall, there is no doubt that radio continues to exert tremendous impact and accomplish cross-demographical reach. To be sure, Nielsen’s numbers in the 90+percentiles are far from new but, rather, have remained consistent for years. Someday they will hopefully and finally serve as a wake-up call to its naysayers. Still, savvy radio programmers understand the need to constantly adapt to ever-evolving consumption preferences and technology. That said, the formula for success remains constant: The need for live, local, relevant and interactive. Take a closer look at the radio stations that still subscribe to this approach. They are thriving. They will survive.

Pick Your Mantra, Then Answer Journalists

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Sometimes, journalists just can’t help themselves. Even when not in an interview, they ask questions that get you thinking.

Last week, one of our clients hosted journalist, author and educator John U. Bacon as a keynote speaker at a charity fundraising event. In conversation before his speech, Bacon asked me a terrific question. When it comes to crisis communication, what is my top piece of advice? He told me his first. After covering and writing about PR crises and speaking to companies across the country, he’s partial to the mantra of former University of Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham: “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story.” Sound advice indeed.

I told him that in a crisis engagement, I typically start with, “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you.”

answer-hiBoth pieces of advice were relevant in a recent week when two separate clients received inquiries from journalists and, remarkably, top executives had the same reaction, “Don’t respond.” To protect client confidentiality, I can’t write about the details of each case. But in both instances, the counsel back to them was the same. There is no upside whatsoever in not getting back to the reporters with, at least, something to say. In both cases, the client executives listened to counsel and allowed for responses that, with the benefit of hindsight, likely protected them against small crises. In one case, the journalist was able to be equipped with facts that prevented, or at least delayed, a story from being written. In the other case, the client’s message made it into the story to provide valuable context (it spoke for itself, so others wouldn’t be given the opportunity).

Was the instinct shared by two senior executives at two different organizations in two different parts of the country the reflection of any kind of trend, such as the anti-media rhetoric coming out of The White House? From the inside of both situations, it seems more coincidental than anything else. One executive was trained as a lawyer and many in that profession believe that not returning a media inquiry is a way to guarantee that you won’t say anything that will get held against you (even though it invites many other repercussions).

But as we start the second half of the year, it’s an opportunity to remember why there are multiple good reasons to make sure you don’t ignore inquiries from journalists. Take your pick – “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story” or “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you” or any other adage you think applies other than “Don’t respond.”