Tuesday, August 30, 2005

40 Markets 

Our agency is engaged in a crash program that requires targeted media lists for 40 US markets in short order. It has given us a chance to see how MediaMap can sing and dance. For the most part, it has done well, but there are flaws that madden anyone who uses the software database. I wish Bacons would get around to fixing them.

The worst feature is MediaMap's speed -- rather, the lack of it. The program crawls on a good day and is a slug every afternoon. The company apologizes, but so far speed has not approached anything acceptable. That leaves users like myself muttering when I have to watch the damn thing trundle for a minute until it shows me a reporter's name.

The second annoying feature is an interface that is anything but intuitive. One has to learn the system over time, and it isn't easy. Most of my colleagues won't touch MediaMap for that reason. I don't blame them. It shouldn't be so hard to build lists.

The third feature that needs changing are sudden interrupts. For some reason, MediaMap will start glitching and doing odd things at inconvenient times. Fortunately, we haven't had much of that in this job, but it has happened to me often enough in the past.

Even with these annoyances, I don't see how we could get this job done in the time allowed without MediaMap. And, once we got a search system down, it has moved smartly. An administrative assistant figured how to approach this job, and her solution proved to be the right one. Kudos to her. She taught me things I didn't know about MediaMap in the process of doing individual TV, radio and print lists.

My feelings about MediaMap are more positive than not, but one shouldn't acquire the system as a perfect solution. It isn't.

Where Blogging Shines 

This is where blogging shows itself to be a medium of power. I wonder how we got along in disasters before blogs.

Monday, August 29, 2005

All News Is Local 

Every newscast in the US led yesterday with hurricane Katrina and its threat to New Orleans. The BBC reported the hurricane about eight places down in its early news headlines. US TV was nearly hysterical with predictions of what would happen to New Orleans. The BBC was more concerned with the constitution in Iraq. (This, by the way, changed by the evening when the hurricane led the news on the BBC.)

All news is local whether international or regional. That's hard for PR practitioners to remember. We may think we have a good global story only to find no one cares about it elsewhere, and one can't dictate reporters' interests.

This was a fact I had to explain to a client recently on a completely different topic. The client was wondering why US reporters pay attention to stories about women directors on corporate boards but rarely write about more important corporate governance issues. They just do, and as hard as I have worked to change their focus over 10 years, I haven't succeeded yet. It may be they find corporate governance boring, and the number of women directors is an easy factoid to report. It may be they don't understand corporate governance, and they don't want to take the time. It may be their editors don't consider the subject important. Whatever the reason, or mix of reasons, they yawn when they get original data related to corporate governance.

So, while US reporters were flooding into New Orleans and Biloxi to document wind, rain and destruction, the BBC was spotlighting 500,000 revellers at the 41st Notting Hill carnival.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Reporters and editors are notorious for being grumpy with PR people but sometimes their dislike is funny because of its extremes. The following is a statement from Sam Grobart, Assistant News Editor of The Wall Street Journal that I picked up from MediaMap, the media contact database.

Grobart is an Assistant Features Editor for the Weekend Journal overseeing that section's coverage of Automotive, Shopping, Travel, Decor,Consumer Electronics and Food. In regards to PR contact, he says, "If you send me e-mails that clearly indicate you have no knowledge of where I work or what I do (for starters, I don't want to do a profile of your dermotologist client), I will promptly delete your message, add your address to our corporate spam filter and make sure you never do business with me or my firm again. I could tell you what topics I cover, but if you're reading this to find out, you're already someone I don't want to talk to."

So there.

Friday, August 26, 2005

PR Problem? 

I was listening to a reporter last night on Public Broadcasting's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. The reporter was discussing oil companies in Nigeria and difficulties they face in the corrupt country where taxes from oil money never reach the poor. He was commenting that oil companies have taken some civic action to help the destitute because the government isn't doing anything. He then said that oil companies face a choice of making changes to help the poor or just doing "public relations" moves.

I winced. Here we go again. This fellow is a sophisticated reporter, and to him, the term public relations only means perception, not real action. I could get angry with the reporter, but before I do, I should get angry with my own industry for letting standards drop. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


I read this opinion piece a few days ago, but it stayed with me. I'm not sure what to make of it. One could say this fellow was living in a dream world for much of his work career. In this dream world, money did not matter -- only information. On the other hand, the environment in which the fellow started was one of fun -- I recall it well -- and of little responsibility for the bottom line of a news organization other than reporting stories well.

What strikes me about it in the end is that newspapers have been profit-making enterprises since the beginning and someone somewhere was worried about the bottom line. Certainly the circulation wars of the 19th and 20th Centuries were about revenues and profits. The raging headlines of the Hearst and Pulitzer papers were about selling more papers on the street. Tabloid journalism is tied closely to revenue.

I'm not sure that the Founding Fathers had a Great Mission and Moral Imperative in mind for newspapers from the beginning. In any event, newspapers are a medium and not an end. Journalism can survive in any number of ways -- and will. It's the content, and not the printing press. If newspapers go away, online will still be here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

What Should PR Do? 

Richard Edelman in his blog on two occasions recently discussed what PR should be. He was unhappy with the idea that PR practitioners are merely message crafters and distributors. His view isn't new, but it did address a fundamental split between those who see PR as relationship building and those who see it as cheap advertising or publicity.

Edelman's unhappiness got me to thinking about what we do. I wrote this essay as a result. It is called, "Staying on Message: One-way Communication versus Relationships." Edelman is quoted at the beginning to set the scene.

I don't take sides, but I do highlight the difficulties of thinking about PR as a relationship business. The challenges are enormous, and PR practitioners are their own worst enemies in achieving the goal of becoming relationship builders. Just about everyone in PR comes in for criticism, but the only ones who can reform PR are from within.

Although I don't say it in the paper, I believe it is independent PR agencies like Edelman that can forge a new course for the business. None have succeeded yet. There is no guarantee they ever will because PR departments in corporations and buyers of PR services are firmly fixed in message-crafting.

I would like to see Edelman's vision come true, but it is time to stop talking about what PR should be doing and get on with changing our ways. Regrettably, it is easier to talk than to act.

Scare Tactics 

Any time there is change in the fundamental course of life, there is a temptation to react with fear, sometimes deep and unreasonable. This article points to a lack of reason surrounding the price of oil. A hard task as communicators is to maintain perspective when life altering events occur. By restraining emotion, we might warp reason, and by being too emotional, we also may go off track. It is difficult to find a North star, but we should try.

No Words 

My mother-in-law died yesterday and people have been tremendously kind in expressing their sentiments. I notice, though, that there are no words one can use for something so final. There have been extraordinary orations, most notably President Reagan's speech for astronauts who lost their lives, but for survivors, words cannot fill the canyon that death creates. Yet, death is a normal course of all life.

It is a mystery beyond communication. Perhaps that is why we fear it.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Worth Knowing 

Those who read this blog regularly know that one of the regular themes is usability -- making things easy for people to access and understand. The guru of usability is a fellow by the name of Jakob Nielsen, whom I have quoted a great deal since this blog began. Here is a recent interview with Jacob that is worth reading and understanding.

Too many web sites fail when it comes to ease of use. Web site designers and builders are busy following their own agenda rather than needs of users. This is an area where PR practitioners should be speaking out and too often we don't.

PR Opportunity 

One standard publicity technique is to propose that a reporter be a participant in an interesting activity. The Knoxville News Sentinel has opened a wonderful door for publicists by having one of its reporters do a videolog report that is posted on its web site here. The reporter's visual technique is crude at best but the authenticity of the experience -- shooting a pistol for the first time -- comes through. Think of the possibilities here and your mind begins to spin. Have a reporter do a factory visit, for example, or work in a store or film interviews with executives as part of a print story. So far, only the Knoxville News Sentinel appears to be doing this but as other newspapers catch on, the opportunities should be endless.

Friday, August 19, 2005

PR Disaster 

Whether you agree or disagree with the Israeli pullout from Gaza, from a short-term perspective, it is a PR disaster. The troops have apparently behaved well but the mission is agony.

There are some things that companies and countries must do that rupture relationships. PR doesn't mean everything is sweetness and light between publics and organizations. Sometimes you make people furious in pursuit of a goal, as Israel is doing. It takes courageous and far-sighted leaders to withstand heat and reach objectives. The US certainly ought to know that. We had something called the Civil War. But there are larger goals that one should pursue for the good of all, rather than placating the few. Peace is one. Only time will tell if Israel's leadership has taken a right course. Meanwhile, the pictures and worldwide media nearly overpower the reason for action.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Interesting Article 

When was the last time that you saw an appeal to an industry to communicate more accurately than it is doing. That is why this call for better communications among RFID manufacturers and suppliers is notable. The firm that wrote the article is an R&D firm that apparently is unhappy with conflicting claims and inaccurate information.

The one question that should be asked is, "Where are the PR people?"

The company is generous with PR practitioners, but I won't be:

We understand that marketing has an agenda and that no intelligent marketing communications or PR professional would turn their department into a mea culpa machine offering an endless stream of failed tests, shortfall pilots and lost deals. We also recognize suppliers' fiduciary responsibility to keep a significant amount of the most valuable information proprietary.

But, at the end of the day, emerging markets rely on suppliers for accurate, complete, and timely information. In the RFID market, evaluators and end users from virtually every market segment are singing from the same song sheet: We want it from the suppliers. We need it from the suppliers.

PR practitioners should be leading the way in getting out accurate data. If this article is true, they aren't.

Shame on us.

It Happens to Bloggers Too. 

PR people aren’t the only ones misquoted. It happens to bloggers too as this plaintive note reveals. The more that bloggers enter mainstream publications, the more they will deal with media who don't understand what bloggers are trying to say.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What to Do? 

Who was the first person who said that PR would be a great business but for clients? That person surely had experience in client service. There is nothing worse in PR than trying to serve clients who will not be served. By that I mean, a client does not and will not provide you with what you need to make the client successful. There are many reasons for this happening, none of them good. It makes no sense to hire and pay an agency only to let it fail. Yet, clients do this regularly because they don't know how to manage agencies. Agencies need information to work. They need responsiveness. They need to be told when a client has made changes or events have overtaken messages. Often, none of these things happen, and the client becomes furious because the agency is not doing the job. As my boss says, a client is never at fault, no matter how badly the client has abused the agency.

There is a time for an agency to get tough with recalcitrant clients and to explain to them that the client and agency will fail unless something is done. This needs to be said clearly and if need be, bluntly. But, it should not turn into a blame game. The agency should state what it needs and ask that it be delivered as soon as possible, so it can work. This can be done without embarrassing the client contact either, unless the person is the source of the blockage. Often, it is not the agency contact who is the problem but persons above the contact who have no interest in the program are or trying to kill it. One has to go around them to higher authority and get the job done. This isn't always easy to do.

No one gets paid long for standing around, even if the boss is the one who can't make up his mind.    

Monday, August 15, 2005

Blog Users 

I don't know if you saw this from last week, but there sure are a lot of us out there.

PR: The Little Things 

Customer service and public relations can be little things, but even little things are appreciated by those who put up with annoyances. That is why this story about clocks in hotel rooms is both cute and an example of great PR. Hotels have known for years that guests hate to wrestle with clock radios that are impossible to figure out and set. I gave up years ago and ring the front desk for wakeup calls.

Kudos to Hilton for designing a dumbed-down clock for weary hotel guests and for making the clocks available in all of its rooms. Good PR doesn't have to be big events and huge displays of customer service. It can be as simple as a hotel clock.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

How Much More? 

The airline industry has been in business and PR crises for several years now. One has to ask how much more can an industry take when you have incidents like this? Delta Airlines and Northwest are getting ready to file for bankruptcy. United Airlines is in bankruptcy and has dumped pensions. There doesn't seem to be an end to it until the entire industry adapts a new economic model along the lines of a Jet Blue or Southwest Airlines. The question I have is how one practices public relations in an environment where everything one does is ticking off some segment of the public?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Smart PR 

Microsoft pulled off a smart bit of PR with this announcement. All I can say is, "thank you."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I Warned You 

Two days ago, I wrote in this blog that the first job of a PR firm is to get a story accurately. I swear I wasn't aware of this story from today's USA Today when I wrote that entry.

The PR firm involved was right to apologize. It was wrong to say, "We have no reason to doubt our clients."

I feel sorry for the firm: I've been there too. But, as a matter of record, we do check our clients' facts because we know that once a story is out, if there are discrepancies, someone is likely to find them. And, when they do, the result is never pretty.

Google Maps in PR? 

If newspaper editors can use Google Maps online in news stories, shouldn't PR be doing the same in press releases that point to locations for events, etc.?

Now What? 

It's good when one can cast blame for failure on departed management, but now what does one do to lure investors back? The company is a shambles. A real PR challenge, if you ask me.

The New Activists 

This is an interesting story. We have known for years that the internet has enabled protest groups and activists to coordinate their strikes, but the difference now is that bodies that don't even like each other can form loose alliances to fight a common enemy.

That's a chilling reminder to PR practitioners. The present and future of crisis communications are more difficult, and there may be no way to isolate and cut off activists opposed to an organization. One has to learn to deal with them in other ways.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


This story interested me not because of weight loss, but because researchers have shown how to play tricks on memory.

Several scientists have shown convincingly that we dare not trust memories for much, and I find too often that people don't recall events as they were. It is an old saw in the news business that you check everything, and never trust anyone (Remember the wheeze, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."). It is no different in PR.

One of the most important tasks of a PR practitioner is state matters accurately. Put another way, we function as in-house reporters for organizations. We report the news that reporters in the news media will eventually carry. Yes, we spend a great deal of time considering how to position stories, but too often we forget that getting stories accurately is the first task. There is nothing worse than posting a correction after putting out a release. That happened to a client in the last year. The client had researched a topic but overlooked critical facts and was swiftly corrected by two corporations left out of the client's study and release. I felt like I couldn't crawl over my shoe tops the day we put the corrected release out. We looked like idiots -- and we were. We had trusted the client's data and had not cross-checked it.

When clients relate to you what they remember about an event, take notes then check and re-check their "facts." You'll find some are just plain wrong and you will have spared your client embarrassment.

Monday, August 08, 2005

PR Opportunity 

This story suggested a PR opportunity for companies in many industries. One can use a wiki to write "the book" on any number of subjects for which a company wants to be positioned as an authority. "The book" becomes a definitive statement of how much a company knows and by extension, makes it the lead spokesperson in an industry. This idea isn't new, but it hasn't been done online much, to my knowledge.

Where I have seen the idea done effectively is in Museums of Science and Industry. Over the years, I have seen wonderful exhibits in places like Chicago, Boston and the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ that were products of companies, which sponsored them. (In fact, at the Liberty Science Center now is an exhibit on movie making that is worth seeing, but hurry, the museum is about to close for two years while it is expanded and rebuilt.)

It takes courage to suggest a project this size but the payoff is tremendous, if done right. Most companies today build web sites as resources, but the sites tend to be pastiches of knowledge rather than disciplined, in-depth statements about a subject. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see a site done like a museum exhibit with interactive experiments, logical exposition and theory all wrapped together? Think of the merchandising possibilities.

Let me give an example to spark your thinking. Visualize an auto exploded into parts on a home page. Click on each part and you learn what it is for, where it is made, how it works and where it comes from. You can click on the part to make it work or slip it into its correct place in the car to see how it fits with other parts. You can bore into the part to find out where the steel or aluminum comes from and how the steel and aluminum were made. You can assemble the whole car and see how it is distributed to dealers, sold to customers and serviced over its life.

In other words, the exploded car on the home page becomes the authoritative book on auto manufacturing and marketing. This can be done for any industry or service.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

It's Not Just PR Practitioners 

I am often critical of PR practitioners' lack of skills in online media. But it's not just us.

Great Publicity Stunt 

This story is from the beginning of August but I am mentioning it here because I thought at the time that it was a great publicity stunt. I still think so. It's publicity at its best. Silicon Graphics shows off the power of its graphics platform by using it in a novel way. Someone was hugely creative in thinking of this idea, and the company reaps the reward of worldwide recognition.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Future of Media Relations 

Here is a look into the murky future of media relations with guesses for how it will change over the next five to 10 years. It appears that with traditional media transforming under the pressure of online media, there will be shifts. I have tried to describe the transformations as well as skill sets that media relations practitioners will need to bring to a different future.

As always, I look forward to your comments, especially those that disagree with what is written here.

Curious PR Decision? 

If true, this is a curious PR decision. I suppose it is possible to handle US publicity from the UK, but I wouldn't dare attempt to place UK publicity from the US. There are too many cultural differences.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

New Old Story 

I've written about this story before but I bring it up again because it is an example of how few changes there are in communications. I was a one-man film reporting band in the 1970s. So were the other eight reporters in the TV station. It was harder then because we shot and edited film, and we carried rigs that weighed close to 40 pounds.

This fellow wants to go back to the future. I agree with him, by the way. You learn more when you have control over your product and a good mentor. I was lucky to have a great mentor. Each day with every story, I knew what went wrong, and what I had to fix the next day. Over a year and a half, I learned to be a TV journalist. I was never as good as my mentor, but he was and is the best in the business.

There is no secret that I believe PR practitioners should be jacks-of-all-trades. We don't know what clients will need to communicate messages effectively, so we should prepare to do any number of things for them.

Communications skills are lifelong learning. There is never a time when one has mastered message or media. I have long been unhappy with resistance to learning among many PR practitioners. They don't want to be bothered with anything outside of what they know. As I have written here too often, I spent years trying to teach practitioners to use technology and new media. I failed. They didn't see any need for it at the time. Today, many have made progress, but they lag. And, they are not disturbed about the fact that they are behind. I don't understand that attitude: I never will.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

True Story 

This story obscures names and companies, and you will understand why. It comes from a friend of mine. He was complaining to me recently about his PR agency. He works in a global company with a brand name you would recognize readily. The firm he was complaining about is an instantly recognizable brand in PR.

Here is what my friend said. The PR agency has not been providing him good service for a long time, even though it is paid a significant sum monthly. My friend says the problem is constant rotation of juniors on his account. Once he gets a junior trained, the person is pulled off and sent elsewhere, and my friend has to start over again training another junior. He can never make headway because he is always retraining agency staff.

The firm also hasn't gotten results for him, even though he has one requirement for the account. Now, it is possible that the strategy behind the publicity campaign is wrong, but my friend said the agency never brought that up to him during annual planning. As far as my friend knew, the agency approved of the plans that were developed jointly.

Recently, my friend said the agency told him the amount of money the company was paying the agency was too small and that is why the agency can't get results. (The amount of money would make our agency happy, thank you.) Further, the agency had to move juniors onto the account to make up for budget shortfalls. In other words, the agency blamed the client for the agency's failure to perform. My friend, who is a direct individual, told the agency, "That's not my problem. It's your problem." He was seething when he said it.

As of this writing, the situation has not gotten better.

From both agency and client perspectives, this is a horror story and failure of client relationships 101. First, you don't blame a client for failure to get results unless you document clearly that the client has not delivered what is promised. Even then, you place blame carefully. Second, you don't provide excuses for inaction on your own internal dysfunction. Third, you don't ask for a budget increase from a position of weakness.

I would have thought better of the agency involved. It is a wonderful brand. But, my friend thinks the agency is falling apart because many people are leaving. Who knows what the truth is, but the agency has left a perception of incompetence. That's not good any way you look at it, especially since this fellow is in a position to make his unhappiness known to other companies looking for agencies.

It's never good to make a client angry.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Good to Know 

This story about web page complaints is worth reading, especially if you have influence over your organization's site. The biggest complaint, of course, is about pop-up ads.

It is the second biggest irritant that gained my attention -- a requirement to register and logon. More news publishers in the US are placing this barrier before viewers, and it ticks them off. (However, there is no easy way around registering since newspapers must make money from their sites. Their print circulation is declining seriously. )

The next irritant is surprising -- requiring a software download. I have gotten used to this -- especially when it comes to audio and video.

Other gripes about slow loading pages, dead links and confusing navigation are longstanding and have been around since the beginning of the web.

Check your web site and see if any of these irritants are part of it. Then, get them changed. Your motivation is the chart at the bottom that shows how many will simply stop coming to your site if you bug them.

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