Thursday, August 26, 2004
Last Post for Late Summer
This is not a political statement but one of convenience. There are already dozens of police officers spread through the length and breadth of Penn Station beneath Madison Square Garden where the convention will be held. Our railroad line is being routed away from the station for the duration, and the trek is not going to be fun. The city has suggested that those who can take off should do so.
Hey, who am I to disobey a suggestion like that in late August?
So, have fun for the final week of work before September and school starts. I'm going to hang out and start posting again after Labor Day.
And to those of you who read this blog regularly, thank you for doing so.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
The writer was sanguine about survival of good works in the mountain of paper heaped on shelves, but I'm not. Years ago, I worked part-time as a book reviewer, and some stuff sent to me wouldn't qualify for the printed page. It was wretched writing and worse plots. But, I do remember a wonderful novel that arrived on my desk one day, just one. I praised it highly and never saw it again. I'm sure it was remaindered more quickly than I can type this sentence.
Serious work does get lost in the rush to publish something, anything to see what flies or falls. Most PR books I have seen, for example, are the same tired advice repackaged in different formats. Apparently there is a market for repetition. Original work is rare. But then, PR is not a field much given to original work.
The same is true for most trade business books I see. They trumpet deep insights into how companies operate, succeed and are led. They don't say much beyond what one can get from a Management 101 text. As a result, I have given up reading them. I have shelves full of text books anyway.
I spend most of my time with history because the lives of others and past events prove more interesting and real. Who knew that stoic George Washington had a fierce temper and would take it out on young Alexander Hamilton? Who knew Jefferson, that romantic democrat, would support the horrors of the French Revolution? Who knew the Hessians at Trenton were not drunk the morning that Washington attacked but worn out from guard duty while waiting for the Americans to show up?
The past tells me much about the future. What it says is that in spite of all the books that tell one how to be successful and distinguished, life is imperfect and some of us will never be successful or great. I appreciate that.
Sorry About That
Blogger wasn't working at all last night, and I couldn't post at my normal time for the next day. (Like a newspaper writer, I write the day before.) Thus, I was caught this morning trying to write an entry on a system that barely worked. It should be fixed now.
For every economist who says the country is on an uptick, one can find an economist who says the nation is poised on the edge of a downturn. It depends on your beliefs and your politics. No wonder President Harry Truman used to say he wanted one-armed economists.
Even more difficult is that economists are plowers of statistics. Both sides have a deep pile of numbers to prove their views. And, it is likely that both sets of numbers are accurate more or less, for little is precise when one measures trillions of activities that make up a modern economy.
In one sense, lack of clarity is a boon to PR practitioners, because they can cite figures that support a point of view and ignore others. But on the other hand, all that does is obfuscate issues because the other side does the same thing. The public hears contradictory interpretations and is left in a quandary. No wonder individuals fall back to a pocketbook measurement and ask, "Am I doing better or not?" There is more certainty in one's own experience than in averaged experiences of millions. Moreover, in every economy, there are niches that advance or decline faster than averages. In the last few years, the PR business has not recovered as quickly as advertising, for example, and overall PR billings are so small that it is easy to bury the entire field in larger numbers.
Even worse than lack of clarity is seeming agreement that is a mirage. The Internet Bubble at the end of the 1990s was one such fiction that blinded most of the nation and many insiders who bought off on its permanence. When most economists agreed, we were all in the wrong.
Monday, August 23, 2004
Blogversations says it is trying to do this properly. It claims it will match topics to bloggers and if bloggers opt to write about a product, service or topic, they will get paid for doing so -- or something like that. The outfit says it doesn't want bloggers to sell out, but it misses one small point -- whenever money changes hands there is suspicion of a sell-out. Here is what Blogversations says -- missing the point:
Advantages for bloggers: Leverage your authority and audience to earn money - without losing control over what you've got to say. Turn your ideas, criticisms, opinions, and reader share into money - and not muddy up your site with clunky ads in the process. Engage your audience with thought-provoking issues and questions.
The outfit says it doesn't want advertorials but what the heck are they if you are paying the blogger to write about the topic, no matter how seriously the blogger treats it? Or, let me ask it this way, would Blogversations still pay the blogger, if the blogger says the product stinks? How long would an advertiser stay with Blogversations, if one blogger after another said the product stinks?
There are fundamentals in PR that must be preserved to keep credibility. Paying for editorial, no matter how you do it, is a breach of fundamentals. Credibility comes from impartial consideration of a topic, product or service and impartial discussion of facts and opinions about it without payment. The PR person resorts to persuasion and only persuasion to get someone to write because it is essential to preserve credibility.
In defense of Blogversations, early publicists did pay for coverage. In fact, the first publicity shop of the 20th Century used to pay newspapers to run stories on the wonders of the telephone. But, it didn't take long before other publicists realized this was not the way to operate, and these publicists stopped paying but relied on persuasion and the merits of the topic, product or service. Blogversations wants to take us back to the future.
For the sake of the PR business, I hope this idea goes away quietly. Otherwise, bloggers will have to defend themselves every time they turn around and that's a pain.
(For the record, neither this blog nor the web site -- www.online-pr.com -- take any remuneration of any kind from anyone and never have. That way, I'm free to say what I want about the field. )
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Rediscovering the Obvious
- Niche expertise. Don't speak outside the limits of your authority.
- Transparency in motives. Of course.
- Transparency in process. Providing proof is fundamental.
- Forthrightness about mistakes. What else is new?
Anyone who has passed PR 101 should know these guidelines. There is nothing new here that hasn't been known since the days of the Ancient Greeks. What this tells me is something obvious. There is not much new about blogging. The same rules for guarding and building credibility apply in blogging as they do in any other medium.
These four guidelines have been at the root of this blog since its beginning more than two years ago. Views focus on communications and PR -- areas I have worked in for more than 25 years. The point of each entry is clear -- commenting on and teaching communications principles from observing the world. Sources and proofs are listed. And more than once, I have fessed up to erring. I wasn't prescient nor insightful by doing this. I was simply and obviously following communications principles. Do bloggers know so little that a wheel has to be pointed out to them?
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Nothing Remains Hidden -- Part V
The blogger was offended by this. He shouldn't be. Using template letters is an old technique that both parties employ to gain support for issues and candidates. The blogger should have said such campaigns don't work well, and he would have been correct. Congressmen and Senators who get a barrage of the same letter over and over know an organized campaign is underway and they discount all letters as a result. The difference here is editors did not crosscheck these letters from one newspaper to another to determine if they had shown elsewhere. In defense of the editors, they don't have time to crosscheck everything they get. On the other hand, a blogger somewhere does and will do so. Hence, the secret came out.
Don't bother with stealth PR campaigns. They aren't worth it. When one is found out, the public is annoyed, and your position is worse than before.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
First of all, the communications challenges and problems at the White House are greater than those of any other organization in the US and perhaps, the world. Secondly, the need to communicate is a nonstop, high-pressure, 24-hour-a-day task that burns out those who do it in about two years, according to the two essays. Third, there are multiple constituencies that must be served at all times if one wants to survive and support the President who is the ultimate boss. Fourth, there is a need to coordinate communications constantly to prevent embarrassing or stupid errors. Fifth, your critics are sitting nearby with a clear view of the door to the oval office -- the media. They demand information for their stories on a regularly scheduled basis throughout the day. And, it goes on. Some of the best parts of the papers are quotes taken from interviews with former Press Secretaries and heads of the Office of Communication.
There is much here to think about, and I wish I known about them four years ago. If by any chance, you have not read them, take an hour and plow through. You will be glad you did. Were I still teaching, I would make them obligatory reading for my students.
And amazingly, the papers were not written by a communications professional, but a professor of Political Science.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Wal-Mart's PR executive, Mona Williams, has a tough job. She represents the largest retailer in the US and a major factor in the US economy. Wal-Mart's size makes it a target for every activist group that can find a thread of a reason for a demonstration. Wal-Mart's slip-ups in personnel matters have placed the company on the defensive and given unions a chance to organize. Wal-Mart's dedication to low prices has put it into a curious position of being a place where millions shop and complain about it at the same time because so much of Wal-Mart's goods come from China.
I'm not sure I would like to be in Ms Williams shoes. With as many stores as Wal-Mart has, someone is getting hurt every day. Something happens somewhere that causes embarrassment. Some store manager or store employee acts in an undesirable manner and turns off employees in spite of Wal-Mart's attention to customer service.
But that's the way it is with retailing. With Wal-Mart, the challenge is gigantic. I wish the article had said something about how the company structures itself for PR. I suspect the company has divisional and regional PR departments to handle local crises and the tough ones, the local PR units hand upstream to corporate.
If that is the case, Ms Williams never has a dull day.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Where Blogging Works
This story verifies that others have seen the same opportunity and are exploiting it. The news article calls them "metro blogs," but they don't have to be just that. They can be local blogs for any locale where someone has an interest to record community activities. While the story talks about advertising potential of "metro blogs," it seems to me community blogs have the same potential, although in limited fashion. Why couldn't one strike an ad deal with the local pharmacy, barber and book store?
There is even a more useful approach from a PR perspective, it seems to me. Why not have a large, local business blogging community news for the benefit of the community? Community relations is an important part of plant PR. With a blog, a factory can be a good neighbor by recording what is happening just outside the gates. The company can get its community messages across at the same time.
I'm sure someone must be doing this. If you know of anyone who is, let me know. I would like to contact that person to see how it is working.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
After leaving the lobbying firm, he went to an import-expert company, also connected to Governor McGreevey, and he didn't last there either. He then disappeared until his attorney called the governor's office and notified the governor that Cipel was intending to file a sexual harassment suit.
You can evaluate this information as you will, but it is fair to say that political ties are important to New Jersey PR. It seems the PR agencies involved acquitted themselves. Rubenstein told Cipel to get out of New Jersey government. MWW let him go when he apparently was not producing.
It could have been worse.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Suicide by Statement
The video speaks what text cannot. The governor stood before the public and destroyed his career manfully and with dignity. That is one of the hardest communications one can ever make. That McGreevey did it well raises my estimate of him higher than it was when he was in office and surrounded by individuals who were being indicted for fraudulent fundraising.
It is gallows humor that New Jersey politicians know corruption better than most. There have been several senators and congressmen indicted and jailed in the state, not to mention mayors and assorted pols. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has had a field day here.
The ugliness of the governor's resignation is the perception that it leaves about the state and its people. Who are they that tolerate such sleaziness? The resignation confirms a prejudice that many have about New Jersey that it is nothing but a sinkhole filled with chemical plants and oil refineries. Those of us who live here know better than to pay attention to such criticism, but we are aware that it takes a lot to live down an incident like this. Perception counts.
I'm not sure what one would do to conduct a public relations program to wipe away "Jersey Jokes" and other slams leveled at the state.
It would be nice if New Jersey started by cleaning up its politicians.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
The writer ranked each CEO by appearance and presentation and then appended the rise in the stock price surrounding the appearance. This is unfair, of course, because an appearance is unlikely to be the only factor in boosting stock price. But, the comments about how CEOs handled themselves were interesting and to a degree, painful. They were not always up to the stories they were presenting.
Where are the media trainers? I'll answer that question. Media trainers would love to work with CEOs, but most CEOs don't have time or interest. They make a calculation about where their time is the most valuable, and they place little worth on presentation skills. This problem starts at the beginning of a manager's business education. Business schools spend little or no time on communications. For every hour spent running spreadsheets, there is less than a minute on coaching students how to write and speak well. The feeling is that such things are "soft" stuff and not quantitative "hard" stuff like finance. Finance professors drive the curricula, and schools gain reputations on the number of calculus-laden articles printed in journals no businessperson would read.
Yet, when you interview CEOs who are successful, they will tell you that communications are one of the most important things they do. They cannot place enough emphasis on the need to let everyone know what is going on and what expectations are.
Does that strike you as contradictory? Communications are important but we don't have to know much about communicating? It is and slowly, too slowly, some CEOs and business schools are asking if that position makes sense.
I hope they find an answer before too long.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Our agency has been monitoring Web sites and bulletin boards for more than four years now and we certainly weren't the first to be doing it. Blogs are simply an extension of monitoring that PR departments should have been doing since the Internet took off in 1990s. It was a scandal that PR got started so late, but it is odd that a major newspaper is only tipping to the fact at this late date.
If by any chance, your organization is not monitoring the Web, bulletin boards and blogs, shame on you. It is no longer an option, except for the smallest or most specialized of businesses or organizations. Monitoring is so easy to do that one cannot blame the technology for failing to get the job done. There are many sites that monitor blogs, for example, and you can find some of them right here.
You know this, but I am writing it again anyway. Many trends, ideas and insights show in blogs and bulletin boards first, then make their way to mainstream media. This has been true for years. To stay ahead of mainstream media, you have to read what the mainstream media read and they are scanning bulletin boards and blogs.
Monday, August 09, 2004
What Now, Communicator?
Climatologists who compare tree rings to measure the weather of hundreds of years ago say the weather pattern of the last five years is closer to a long-term trend for the region and that the climate of the last 100 years was an aberration. If this is true, a dry region is going to to get drier and "water wars" that already plague the states of Arizona and California will become even more pitched.
Who will give way? The farmers? The suburbanites with swimming pools and nice green lawns? How can one communicate the need for long-term water conservation, or does one let the price of water rise to meet the market demand? And, will this kill the economy? How does one persuade people to stay when they are tired of water rationing? The issues go on and on and they are a lifetime of challenges for communicators in government and industry who will deal with them.
It is a challenge I would like to work on, and I hope before I retire years hence I will get the chance.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Alternate Reality PR
Perhaps the lack of PR involvement lies with a simple fact that there are few PR practitioners with any experience in this area. If so, that is a disappointment. We could at least come up with creative ideas and then contract with programmers to make them real. But, we don't appear to do much of that. It is an area that still seems beyond the capabilities of the PR business.
What could games be used for? For any kind of promotion and certainly for serious purposes, such as health education. I could see a game, for example, that teaches the importance of frequent blood-sugar monitoring for diabetics. The game would not focus on the testing, but it might give the hero diabetes and have him black out at the wrong moments if he or she has failed to test for blood sugar levels. It would add a touch of real life to a game.
Advertisers are getting involved in games and getting their messages or products into them. Why not PR?
Thursday, August 05, 2004
This is the first time of which I am aware where journalism and PR have mixed so closely. To be fair to the anchorwoman, she had begun as an anchor at the station, left to be a press secretary to a former governor, started her own firm and finally, returned to anchoring. Still, how does one handle stories about clients, or does she pretend that she doesn't know who her clients are?
The situation is dubious at best, and I wouldn't be surprised if local journalists are suspicious. They should be. There is a manifest conflict of interest that cannot be explained away except by leaving the anchor position or the PR business. It strikes at the one quality that both journalists and PR practitioners need -- credibility.
I believe PR practitioners should be close to the media. But, not that close.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
Where the Boys Are
As an online PR practitioner, I find this baffling. Women caught up with men in Internet usage years ago, but they are not using the Internet for news -- at least not mainstream news. Maybe they are getting news from their own sites, or maybe they don't consider news important by comparison with other online information sources. This mystery needs investigation, especially by PR practitioners who want to reach women through online news sites.
Another mystery has to do with viral marketing. It might be me, but I swear much of viral marketing is targeted to males and saturated with sexual themes. When I look at sites that track viral work, it seems as if more than half is spicy. Why? I thought at first that young, horny, creative males are doing it, so they make something for other young, horny males. But, that isn't, or shouldn't be, the answer to viral marketing. Viral marketing is a fertile field for PR messages, and they shouldn't have to be folded into X-rated presentations to get passed around.
Both issues need research, and we need answers to better shape online PR campaigns.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Spin In Extremis
It would be nice if the PR industry would stand and condemn "spin" then call for accuracy from both sides. But the PR industry won't do it. It's spineless, and worse, the people who do such "spin" are the ones paid the big bucks to become the lobbyists when the campaign is over. In other words, cynicism is institutionalized.
In fairness, "spin" and lying have been part of American campaigns since the beginning. The vitriol between the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians makes today's campaigning seem a cakewalk. But, it was damaging to the country then -- and now. George Washington was trapped between opposing forces and trying to keep peace. He failed. On the other hand, the country didn't collapse from such lying, so there is little reason to believe that it will fail now. Eventually facts emerge, if not the truth.
Still, I cannot bring myself to act like political carnivores. I like self-respect.
Cynicism is a constant factor in PR and a challenge to communications. Many of us are cynical about what we do, but we rarely reflect on it. The question is whether cynicism distorts communications, and the answer is that it can because it closes options. Let me know what you think.
Monday, August 02, 2004
Say It Ain't So
The practitioner whom he leaves nameless to protect the guilty not only violated his request, but he began to deluge the author with press releases all marked "URGENT." Even worse, the fellow hides his e-mail address, which is against everything we are supposed to do as PR practitioners.
It's people like this who give PR a bad name and unfortunately, we have no way to get rid of them. We are in a First Amendment business: anyone can claim to do what we do for a living.
But it makes me angry to think such bozos are wandering around the business.
If there were only a way to police PR...
I'll count to 10, but for every idiot that pulls a stunt like this, it throws the business back a few steps.
And we wonder why no one likes us...
It is important to remember that anyone, good or bad, can use publicity techniques well. Hitler and Stalin were both effective communicators. Hitler mastered the art of public speaking through unrelenting work on his delivery. Both excelled in the art of the pageant to project power. Terrorists aren't nearly as elegant, but they are just as loud.
Sunday, August 01, 2004
The communications task in a case like this is delicate. First of all, it is a material disclosure item. One has to inform shareholders the CEO is ill. The question is how and when. Second, the way one informs shareholders is ticklish. It is easy for shareholders to panic and dump the stock. (Don't be surprised if Apple's stock dives for a few days until Jobs' health is reappraised.) Third, employees can be spooked. One has to be careful how one tells them the news. Fourth, the Jobs' family cannot be ignored. An alarming turn of health is something a family has to adjust to but in this case it is being done in public under the gaze of millions.
Although I have only read the Reuters story, it appears Jobs was careful to give the news as completely as possible to forestall second-guessing and rumor. That was a smart for him to do, and he was lucky to be able to do it. There have been CEOs diagnosed with fatal conditions like brain cancer. It was a matter of time for them, and handling news like that is worse. One has to tell the fact but out of concern for the business, family, employees and customers, one doesn't want to tell the whole story -- i.e., it is only a matter of time. There is much tea leaf reading and head nodding in cases like this. The insiders know: The rest speculate.
Stay in PR long enough, and you will deal with a case of fatal or near-fatal illness in the senior executive ranks. It is no fun, but it is part of the job.