Jun 30

The rules don’t apply to me

June 30 - ceo Power brokers think the rules don’t apply to them. That’s certainly true of sports stars, rock impresarios and politicians. It’s also true of executives. Take the latest findings released by UberCEO.com that reveal a near total use of social media tools by Fortune 100 chief executive officers.

UberCEO thinks CEOs are either distracted or too timid to engage in the blogosphere. Timidity (or fear) is a likely culprit. But, so too, is hubris. CEOs move in rarified worlds and breathe rarified air. As a result, most think the rules governing mortal men simply don’t apply to them. One needs only to think of, say, Bernie Ebbers, Bernie Madoff, Dennis Kozlowski or Jeff Skilling to prove the point.

I think CEOs think social media is for the hoi polloi. They don’t need, or want, to dirty their hands by interacting with the masses. They already have their hands full with such irritants as analyst calls, CNBC interviews or annual meetings. Who has the time or patience to write a blog, Tweet or maintain a home page on Facebook?

Sure, one needs to factor in Sarbanes-Oxley when conjecturing why CEOs avoid social media like the plague. And, yes, there remains a solid business case why the big kahuna needs to do this citizen journalist ‘nonsense.’ But, I think the average chief executive officer thinks just like the J. Walter Thompson CEO I once worked for. He felt himself above the fray and looked down his nose at lesser mortals. Let them eat cake (or hit ‘send’).

Until, and unless, we have some truly enlightened CEOs sitting in Fortune 100 corner offices, I don’t think we’ll see any blogging or podcasting. CEOs think that’s something for the ‘marketing guys’ to deal with. In the meantime, they have bigger fish to fry: Wall Street is unhappy with the stock performance, the board is questioning the latest downsizing and the charities are demanding some sort of sustainability program. Blogging? Bah humbug!

*Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea for this post.

Mar 19

“Time Out New York” Should Have Taken a Time Out

Today, senior account executive Lia LoBello has written the following special guest post.

Tuesday, media outlets were quick to report that actress Natasha Richardson had been Time_Out_Logo
critically injured in a skiing accident in Canada.  And while this story has now reached its unfortunate and sad conclusion, details over its course have remained scarce. Over the last two days, many news outlets cautiously reported the conflicting reports of Richardson’s injuries– all that is, except one. With an abandon you’d associate more closely with the New York Post’s 'Page Six' or Gawker, of all media outlets, it was "Time Out New York" that tried to break the story open mid-day Tuesday by citing one singular “source close to the family,” that the actress was “dead” and posting RIP Natasha Richardson: 1963-2009.  Within minutes, blogs such as PerezHilton.com had picked up the story, offering their condolences to the families involved.  Yet, there was one major issue– the actress had not yet died.  At that time, she was potentially brain dead– but by broad consensus, alive.

In the race to number one, such a critical and egregious error– particularly on such a serious claim– is the equivalent of falling flat on your face.  And despite posting an apology once the account was refuted– which took longer than normal to go live as the site crashed under traffic– readers raked the magazine through the coals, expressing anger at the irresponsible, opportunistic reporting. Odder still, yesterday, no link to the story appeared at all on the magazine’s home page.  Late last night, a retrospective of her work went live on the site– a piece much more reflective of "Time Out's" normal brand of journalism.

Putting aside the baffling entrance and even quicker apparent exit of "Time Out" (for non-readers, the magazine provides listings for events happening each week in the City, sprinkled with a light feature or two), into the gossip circus, the gaffe serves as a grave reminder that public goodwill is a fickle commodity– here one day, but gone the next, should a corporation stumble. In addition, in an era when information changes hands in the blink of an eye, in the handling of the scoop of a lifetime (as I have to imagine "Time Out" believed they had,) the rules of Reporting 101 must stand:  corroborate facts with several sources or make absolutely sure your singular source cannot be refuted. In not doing this, Time Out created a public relations nightmare and significantly damaged an otherwise intact reputation.  A little fact-checking– not to mention discretion– does, indeed, go a long, long way.

Mar 13

Why Should I Care?

I recently lectured to a George Washington University PR/communications class alongside a top newspaper editor. He was there to provide feedback on "pitch letters" that the students had sent him.

In explaining why some hit the mark while others didn't, he shared an anecdote. Before entering his managing editor's office to pitch his story ideas, he always made sure he had an answer to one fundamental question, "Why should I care?"

The journalist told the students they should always keep that question in mind before pitching him or any other journalist. I agree. Too many marketing types get distracted by the creativity of a story angle rather than thinking through why a media outlet's readers, viewers or listeners should care.

Advertising agencies are notorious for creating campaigns that win awards, but don't move the sales needle. Many PR pros are the same. I can't tell you how many press releases, bylined articles and case studies I've judged in various awards' competitions that, while creative, fail to explain to me why the customer or prospect would care.

I think the "care" question works equally well for business in general. Far too many organizations drink their own Kool-Aid, speak their own language and launch their own inside-out campaigns without asking the question, "Why should my customers care?"

Organizations exist to serve customer needs and wants. Not to win awards. This may seem obvious. But, too many of us are far too caught up in "owning an idea" or being "creative for the sake of creativity."

The organizations who will survive, if not thrive, in this downturn will be those who answer the "Why should I care" question.

Dec 19

Please Don’t Hurt My Embargo

Guest Post by Andrew Stein

As someone that pays my rent through my work as a so-called “PR flack,” I found Michael Arrington’s recent post on TechCrunch to be rather interesting.  In his “Death to the Embargo” statement, Arrington proclaims that TechCrunch, one of the world’s most influential tech blogs, will no longer honor any sort of embargo or NDAs. 

The blog’s new policy is, and I quote, “From now our new policy is to break every embargo.  We’ll happily agree to whatever you ask of us, and then we’ll just do whatever we feel like right after that.”TechCrunch-logo-270

I have worked with a few different clients where we offer news under embargo and the thought alone of explaining why their international product announcement date was blown by someone we OK’d makes me nauseous.  However, I don’t completely disagree with Arrington’s frustration.   I understand his sentiment that tech companies are desperate for coverage and some PR firms now offer pre-briefs as easily as the guys handing out strip club cards on Las Vegas Boulevard.   By offering a “special” embargo to every TechJoeBlog.com, it cheapens the news.  It also greatly increases the risk that TechJoeBlog.com will jump the gun in order to be first and create a name for itself.  I get that, and couldn’t agree more that we as “PR flacks” need to do our jobs intelligently and strategically.

However, the idea that TechCrunch will now agree to a NDA, all-the-while knowing they are not going to keep it, is dishonest.  And yes, shame on us for reading this post and thinking our agreement will be held. We have been warned.  But for a blog that strives to be considered a respected editorial outlet, there needs to be some level of trust.  PR firms are not going away and, while some may be irresponsible in their jobs, a large percentage of us represent our clients the right way.  Blogs such as TechCrunch need our help, even if they don’t want to admit it.

Embargos are meant to be issued as a win-win for both sides.  In my experience (can’t speak for all), we identify certain, top-tier reporters and bloggers that we deem as the major influencers, and offer them a head start on the news to provide time to set up their story and perhaps gain an inside perspective. The win for the client is improved relationships and visibility with important media outlets in hopes of placing positive coverage. 

By sticking to this policy, I believe TechCrunch will eventually be hurting itself.  Important technology companies that TechCrunch readers expect to read about will decide not to offer news in advance due to this “guarantee” of a blown NDA.  Arrington states that a major reason for this policy is that sites like Google News and TechMeme prioritize based on what site broke the news first, which has led to others jumping the gun.  However, by scaring companies away from offering pre-briefs, this is exactly what will happen.  The TechCrunch editors will obtain news at the same time its competitors are already posting their stories.

A double-edged sword?  Maybe.  I’m not in Arrington’s shoes to know how much PR spam email he gets.  Again, I agree with Arrington that some in the PR industry have acted unprofessionally and lazily in the way they perform their jobs and they deserve to be called out and blasted.    However, I do know there are PR pros that look to build relationships with influential outlets like TechCrunch (which can be a lot easier said than done) and I don’t appreciate how he blankets the entire industry due to the actions of a few.  It’s true in any industry, not just PR, that some people are just not good at their jobs, and I don’t believe insulting the whole lot is the way to go about it. When it comes to this “I lie, but I told you so” mentality, I think it’s childish and there’s got to be a better alternative.  

Sep 25

What Fresh Hell is This?

Dorothy Parker, bohemian author, raconteur and member of the fabled Algonquin Round Table was renowned for scanning the morning New York Times headline and exclaiming, "What fresh hell is this?"300_74771

I had the exact same reaction to the latest campaign machinations. At first, I thought McCain’s decision to suspend the campaign and return to DC to help fix the financial mess was pure genius. I thought it boxed Obama in the corner and made him look reactive at best. At the same time, it allowed McCain to point to his campaign slogan and say, "See, we really are putting country first."

Then, I listened to Obama’s response, suggesting that a president needed to multitask and that macro campaign issues could be discussed while he and McCain provided whatever assistance they could to the battered bastards of the Beltway.

And, then, there was Sarah’s interview with Katie Couric. Palin literally couldn’t name anything that McCain had done to warn Americans of the impending crisis or prevent Wall Street from subverting the deregulated markets. She’s such an empty suit.

And what are we, the voters, left with? A shattered economy, a divided country and two politicians who seem more intent on one-upping one another than fixing the mess of the last eight years.

As Ms. Parker would say, "What fresh hell is this?"

Sep 02

Talk About the Pot Calling the Kettle Black

I rarely watch "The O’Reilly Factor" on Fox News because:

   a) I don’t care for O’Reilly’s point of view
   b) I find his manner and personality offensive.

So, as I was lazily channel surfing on Palin Day (need I say more?), I made a quick pit stop to hear what Big Bill had to say. What I heard made me stop in my tracks. Rather than leading a reasoned discussion on why John McCain had just picked an obscure, neophyte Alaskan politician as his running mate, O’Reilly was instead lambasting MSNBC for its coverage of the announcement.Oreilly_the_finger

It seems he didn’t like the words MSNBC had streamed across the bottom of the screen as Governor Palin was being introduced to the masses. To wit: "How many houses will McCain have now?"

O’Reilly was right to suggest the rival network was editorializing instead of reporting. But, he himself went far beyond reporting on MSNBC’s non-reporting. He went absolutely ballistic. He suggested the network should be ashamed of itself, called Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams "cowards" for not speaking up and implied that MSNBC’s left-wing rhetoric was being dictated by Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, MSNBC’s parent company. Puh-leese.

I dislike blatant editorializing on either side of the equation. But, for an outspoken conservative like O’Reilly to point a finger at MSNBC for its liberal editorializing is akin to the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.

It’s sad to see how divided our country has become. The rich have never been richer. The poor have never been poorer (at least not since 1929), the red states have never been redder and the blue states never bluer. And we’re stuck with ersatz journalists like O’Reilly and ersatz news networks like MSNBC. Is it any wonder this country’s image has never been worse?

Jul 09

Media fanning the flames of a recession

Steve and Ted discuss whether or not there is a direct correlation between media and the downturn of theRepchatter_logo_2

The discussion centers on the abundance of doom an gloom stories many media outlets have been writing on the present state of the economy.

Are they fanning the flames of a recession or are they just stating the facts? Is this negative press putting citizens in a frenzy?

Jul 08

Bottom rail on top now

It warms the heart of this public relations practitioner to read the June 23rd PR Week headline: ‘AnPr
unstable media landscape has journalists seeking PR positions.

Frank Washkuch’s article says that more and more journalists are leaving the newsroom to, gasp, go over to the dark side and become PR practitioners. Yes, Virginia, the handwriting is on the proverbial wall (or whiteboard, if you prefer) and the exodus has begun.

Over the years, many an erstwhile journalist has left his chosen profession to become a PR flack for the higher pay and better stability. But, says Washkuch, the recent across-the-board downsizing at all the major media outlets has turned the trickle into a torrent.

I think it’s great for the public relations profession. We benefit when we have more and more seasoned journalists to help noodle over client challenges. And, we really benefit from their built-in bullshit detectors. Journos know what constitutes a story and what doesn’t. Sadly, there are more than a few PR types who churn out ‘brochure speak" and have no nose for news.

So, give us your hungry, your poor, your huddled masses of journalists. We’ll take ’em. And, in the meantime, maybe some of you journalists should think twice about bashing public relations in your next column. The industry you skewer may one day be your own.

May 22

What happened to objectivity?

Senator Edward M. ‘Ted’ Kennedy has been all but buried by the mainstream media. Kennedy

The senator’s unfortunate bout with brain cancer has been big news for big media. The only problem has been a rush to debate how long the ailing pol will survive. It’s become a media death pool.

I find this all-too-typical pack mentality disturbing to say the least. Sure, there have been some objective, balanced reports aimed at educating readers, viewers and listeners. Sadly, though, most members of the Fourth Estate are awash with rumor, innuendo and speculation. What happened to responsible reporting? What happened to respecting the rights and privacy of the family? And, why are there not more checks and balances to mitigate this sort of paparazzi-style reportage?

Many media are quick to point the finger when they see examples of amateurish, unprofessional behavior by public relations executives. The Kennedy death watch is just the latest example of why someone or some ‘body’ needs to shine the spotlight on irresponsible journalism.

May 14

TO: Sue Simmons FROM: Sammy Glick, publicist

Sue baby. How are ya, kiddo? Listen, forget about last night. I loved it and I know, deep down, ChuckSuesimmons
adores you for doing it live like that. So, listen hon, the apology wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. But, we’re blowing some major career-enhancing opportunities for you if we don’t act fast. In fact, we’re gonna take a page out of the Mel Gibson celebrity crisis handbook, mix in some Karl Rove dirty tricks and make you the biggest thing to hit this town since George and Ira Gershwin.

Here’s the plan of attack. Everyone and their brother will be watching you tonight at 11, right? It’s like watching a train wreck. They won’t be able to help themselves. Here’s what you do. You get really good and liquored up this time. Tell Jean Georges to send me the tab. So, anyway, you stagger on at 11, push Chuck out of the way and announce to the world that you’re taking an immediate sabbatical (I love this sabbatical thing. Came to me while I was showering this morning).  Anyway, you apologize for your behavior, admit that your alcohol abuse is way out of control and, get this, you’ll be checking yourself in immediately at some detox center for a 90-day journey of introspection and soul-searching. Am I friggin’ good, or what?

But wait, this is where it gets really, really good. While you’re in detox (we’ll find some cool place in the Hamptons for you, btw), you and me and some burnt-out writer I’ll dig up, will bang out your memoirs. I already have a working title, ‘What the F*** was I thinking?’ I’ve already got Random House interested in a cool $1 million signing deal. From there, we leak excerpts to the Post, New York Magazine, all the scandal sheets, etc. Then, get this, we book you on a three-month long college speaking tour (at schools of communications, natch). Finally, we arrange with WNBC-TV for your triumphant return on, when else, New Year’s Eve!!!! Sue: this is magic, baby. This is why you put in all those years sitting alongside sourpuss Scarborough. We’re gonna rock your world!

We’re going to the top, the absolute toppermost of the poppermost, as John Lennon used to say. So, head over to Jean Georges now. I’ll meet you there and we’ll start guzzling.