Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tough Times 

Here is one reason why it is harder for PR practitioners to place business news stories. There are fewer business journalists and the number will continue to decline. Business news reporting is going back to the future. For those with long memories, there was a time when business news was confined to a page after the sports section and usually consisted of wire service reports and stock tables. The growth in business journalism occurred since the 1980s.

The current decline is not healthy, especially since industry will need to pull the US from the recession and the concerns of business need airing. Unfortunately, online sources have not taken up the slack -- not yet, anyway. Major media like The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek have poured resources into their web sites but others have not. There is even one major newspaper that fails to cover the earnings of public companies in its circulation area. (We've tried repeatedly to get it to pay attention to one of our clients without success.) PR practitioners need to adjust to a shrinking news hole and sharpen their messages even more.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Taking two weeks off from the internet, newspapers, magazines, TV and radio is an interesting exercise. The consequent gap in knowledge is not large but the urge to get back into the news stream is compelling. I spent the weekend reading newspapers and magazines to get a feel for what I missed. It doesn't seem like much.

The benefit of isolation is that it teaches one how much of life goes on without a constant stream of information to distract one. It also is a reminder that most people live this way. They have the necessary chores of life that take away the time they might spend with news reading. They are aware of major news headlines but not much else, and they do well in self-imposed isolation. The PR challenge in communicating to them is large. It has always been this way and will always be.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Time Off 

I'm taking time off from blogging for the next two weeks.

Internal Challenge 

Here is an internal challenge for PR. How do you change an insular culture in a large company? Change at the top is a start but hardly sufficient. New ways of thinking and operating have to percolate through management ranks to the shop floor. That takes years even with an accelerated effort. General Motors doesn't have years given the national and international competition in the car business. It might succeed as a much smaller company with tight control from the CEO on down, but it doesn't look like it is going that way.

How can PR help? Through transparency and constant communication that urges new approaches, celebrates successes and spotlights problems. It might be unrewarding labor, but it needs to be done. GM's PR department might need to think less about car promotion and more about town halls and intranets.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Too Many Interests 

Government frequently has to adjudicate among competing interests with the understanding that some will win and some lose. Here is a typical example related to the increase of national broadband service in the US. Government will decide how to spend $7.2 billion in stimulus package funds but it is already clear that no matter what decisions it makes, there will be winners and losers and come crying foul.

Public Relations for the government in this instance is to detail reasons for action in order to cover itself sufficiently when losing interest groups try to stop it, which they will. There are Congessmen and Senators watching the process who will jump in if their pet projects are not met. There may be lawsuits if a party is left out. The irony is that the money should have been doled out by now to create jobs and pull the economy out of recession. It looks like it will be months yet before dollars start flowing. Meanwhile, lobbyists from all sides will continue to push for their views. Nothing is easy in government.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

PR Challenge 

Here is a PR challenge. How do you persuade people to take care of themselves, to eat vegetables and to exercise? It would seem easy enough to do. It is in an individual's best interest to protect his health, but it isn't happening. This is one more proof of the irrationality of behavior. Logic isn't good or powerful enough to make the case. Emotional appeals thus far haven't worked. What's left? Society can't force its citizens into better nutrition and to walk a mile a day. This would be a good experiment for PR to tackle. It would be a test bed of appeals and actions needed to make a message effective.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Nearly Impossible 

This has been a topic in this blog before but the latest numbers on airline losses raise the question again. How do you do PR for an industry that is so sick? Especially when key players are mistreating their passengers even more by squeezing extra seats into small spaces. The public face of the airline industry today is not much better than a Third World bus line -- pack 'em in and get 'em there more or less on time. About the only thing missing are pigs and chickens. Pilots, stewards and stewardesses, gate personnel, ground crews are constantly worried about their jobs, which doesn't help their attitude toward passengers. Crowded conditions make for ruder passengers and wearying flights. One asks how long this can go on, but it does year after year without a glimmer of an end. The only promise airlines can make to the public anymore is transportation without amenities. That is minimum PR at best.

Monday, June 08, 2009

It Starts 

One of the largest PR campaigns outside of an election is well underway and will build intensity throughout the summer. That is the effort to reform healthcare in the US. Everything related to healthcare is controversial. The grassroots effort is an attempt to build support that out-shouts the opposition and stiffens the backbones of Congressmen who are not leaning toward spending more money on the system. Who can blame them? The country is already mired in debt that will take generations to repay. However, the president is calling for a system that essentially pays for itself with cuts in the cost of healthcare delivery. That sparks the opposition of an industry that is not sure how to get this done and certainly is not going to pay for the systems needed to cut the costs of paperwork. It's going to be a battle to watch. Sit back and enjoy.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Positive Trend 

This article cites a positive trend for PR. Multimedia journalists who are no longer working at shrinking newspapers are entering the PR field. They are bringing their visual and story telling skills to help organizations send their messages. Most are photographers and videographers rather than writers and that in itself is important. PR has been too word-oriented in its history as it is. We should welcome their presence as a valuable addition of needed skills rather than competition for scarce jobs. It would be good if in time they find employment at established agencies and in corporate communications departments.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Political And PR Power 

It is hard to believe the amount of political and PR power that US auto dealers have. They can get to Senators and spark a hearing when they are threatened, and they have been the agents for state laws protecting them against the auto manufacturers. Auto dealers built their power over decades through steady contributions to candidates and through coordinated action. They provide a textbook case of minding their business well in the public arena. No other franchisee organization can claim the same power. If McDonalds were to close restaurants in the US, you wouldn't observe the same protective action. It is only the power of bankruptcy that is allowing Chrysler and General Motors to rationalize their dealer systems and even that is difficult.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Not For PR 

This article on the strategies and results of lying is interesting. It is nothing PR practitioners should do for one reason. We are expected to lie. Therefore, we shouldn't -- ever. The strongest strategy we have in building relationships with the media and publics is telling facts as they are and providing context to interpret them. People may not always be happy about what we say but eventually they trust us. For those who are cynical about PR, truth-telling is confounding and provides leverage for persuasion. One shouldn't expect cynics to be converted, however. They are forever looking for hidden explanations that limn the worst of humanity. Truth-telling neutralizes them for a time, but that may be good enough.

Make no mistake. It is not easy to stick with facts, especially when they are unfavorable to a client, but PR should play for the long term and not momentary advantage. The image of the PR practitioner in "Thank You for Smoking" should be exactly wrong. It is regrettable that it isn't.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Future Is Here 

These numbers tell the story of the US newspaper industry. An ugly story indeed. Everyone talks about finding a new economic model but the time to do that is now. Unfortunately, the newspaper industry isn't ready and may never be.

PR practitioners cannot wait. We must go where news is conveyed to the public. There is little doubt that news holes, even in the largest newspapers, have shrunk. Even the New York Times is thin. It is not always easy to find a new outlet for client news, however. Sure, we approach blogs and ask permission to send material, but for the most part, we're turned down. Facebook and MySpace are not appropriate for the stories we offer. Traditional media like magazines have shrunk more than newspapers. TV is limited. Radio makes little sense. Overall, it is harder to practice media relations, and it will not get better for years to come. Whether we like it or not, we're still tied to traditional media, and we're searching like everyone else.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Be Careful 

The President's brief sojourn in New York to take his wife to dinner and theater is not something that he dare do often. The media are already totaling the costs of the venture, and it makes a CEO with a private jet seem like a miser. This president is aware of image, so he knew what was going to be said when he flew with planes loaded with reporters north from Washington DC. He also was well aware that one of the America's largest corporations was about to declare bankruptcy. Given his popularity, it is likely that he didn't hurt perceptions of himself that much, but the public has limited tolerance in difficult times. It wasn't the best public relations move of his young administration, and he is going to hear about it from opponents. It is unlikely he will do it again.

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