Mar 9 2011

“Your Fired”

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The following post appeared in the Capitol Communicator, March 8.

Donald Trump’s foray into reality TV has made “you’re fired” an engaging melodrama. But in real life, that’s a very challenging pronouncement.

The recent firing of Kurt Bardella, deputy communications director for the House Committee on Government Oversight, is instructive to all public relations professionals.  From the most junior practitioner to the most experienced executive, we are reminded that we can only be successful if we are credible.

And what is credibility?  At its core, credibility is trustworthiness.  Are you a believable source?  Are you timely and responsive?  Are you honest – when sharing facts and insight – and do you have approval to do so?

For Mr. Bardella, his reputation took a significant hit after Politico reported that he might have inappropriately shared correspondence with a New York Times reporter for a book project – perhaps BCC’ing the NYT contact on emails with other reporters. We will never know specifically the nature of the information, but the Congressional office investigated and concluded his conduct was inappropriate. It was also unprofessional and unethical.

Once Bardella was dismissed from his position, his reputation was permanently damaged.  While I expect that he will, in time, recover from this personal crisis, it will forever be part of his professional history – and Google search results.

Please note, that I do not wish Bardella ill will.  I believe that he will able to demonstrate to future employers that he has learned from his mistakes, which will make him a better practitioner.

What can we learn?  Here’s a refresher on establishing and maintaining credibility.

1)    Honesty is the most important principle of our practice.  Provide information that has been approved for dissemination.  If you can’t disclose facts, say so. Provide a timeline, if you can, for when such information can be made available.

2)    Relationship building isn’t a quid pro quo.  Providing confidential information or sharing information without the owner’s knowledge to curry favor with a journalist isn’t a constructive way to establish a relationship with a journalist. Take time to learn what the journalist needs and be responsive when she calls.

3)    Trustworthiness is essential to provide counsel to senior leadership.  Once you lose the trust and confidence of an executive, you will have a difficult time doing your job effectively.

4)    Follow the PRSA Code of Ethics, which includes among its values the protection of the free flow of information and privacy.

Credibility is an essential part of professional development and advancement. With it, you are a trusted advisor and source. Without it, you risk the pronouncement – “you’re fired.”



Oct 1 2010

My Newspaper

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My newspaper is rarely read in paper format anymore. The iPad is my preferred device of choice for reading the news. I like the Sunday New York Times. I get the Washington Post delivered seven days a week.  I read for the news, not the coupons or sale advertisements, but for information.  However, every time I walk the pile of news print to the recycling bin, I threaten to cancel my subscription.

I’m not alone. Newspaper circulation has been declining, sometimes at double digit percentages, for several years. It’s a trend and reality that the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) continues to deny if their latest pitch to advertisers is any gauge.

The NAA is running an advertising campaign to validate that newspapers remain a valuable advertising medium.  While I haven’t seen the print ad, I did check out the 6 minute 20 second video. This video is an example of how NOT to produce a video pitch. Here’s my critique.

* SIX MINUTES AND TWENTY SECONDS? I was bored after about a minute.  I had to force myself to watch it twice.  In today’s fast paced world, two and a half minutes (2:30) is the best practice in video length.

* Use a boom mic. While it may seem like a minor detail, reader testimonials will appear more authentic if the microphone is hidden. The lapel mic on some readers in the NAA video looked hastily connected and thus sloppy.

* If you’re talking about the value of newspapers, please show someone reading the newspaper. A newspaper doesn’t appear until about  3:25 into the video. Reading by laptop is mentioned 2:25 into the video.  In both instances, most viewers likely would have stopped watching the video.

* Should it take more than a dozen people to tell why the newspaper is an important part of their daily lives? While the producers did capture a range of ages (save teenagers), they failed on ethnic diversity.  It seems only whites and blacks care about the paper.

* If this video is targeted to advertisers, why does the “Advertising Engagement” section begin 4:30 into the video?  My estimate is that about 85% of the overall video is about why people like the editorial content and printed format of the newspaper.  An appeal to advertisers about how readers use newspaper advertising would have been more effective with statistics to support the interest in coupons for cereal.

Less the NAA feel that I’m picking on them, I was also very disappointed in the PRSA National Capital Chapter’s video to promote the annual Thoth Awards.  The annual video historically explores the value of public relations counsel — often in a humorous or satirical manner.  This year, however, the “I’m a god” rap video did nothing more than spoof the name of the award “Thoth” (pronounced tot) named after the Egyptian god of communication. The video may have been creative, but it wasn’t strategic.

After all, employing a video as part of communications strategy should be connected to business goals. Sell more advertising. Sell more tickets to an awards program.

Finally, national newspaper week is Oct 3 – 9, 2010. The theme: Newspapers – the print and online connector for today’s communities. I bet they show the video at some point during the week.



Aug 16 2010

Dog Days …

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The winter holidays and the Dog Days of August are usually good times to pitch off beat stories.  Lots of people are on vacation, yet there is still a news hole that needs filled.  Thus, it is often a great time to pitch evergreen or feature story ideas. Place an Op-Ed or bylined article. Catch up with reporters to talk trends.  However, it’s never a good time to badger reporters.

This MediaBistro story regarding a vague pitch is a an excellent illustration how PR folks can earn a negative reputation.

Does anyone really care about a media personality who’s profiled in a New Orleans magazine about Hurricane Katrina?  Even in our 140 character, text crazed world, you should still take time to explain why a story might be news worthy. Is there anniversary angle? Was an award won?  Were lives saved?

In the Dog Days of Summer … you have time to pitch better than this.  Please?

Pitch one:

Shepard Smith graces the cover of New Orleans Magazine for his Katrina coverage http://www.livingneworleans.com/?p=3988

Pitch two:

Go Shepard Smith!!! He’s on the COVER of New Orleans Living Magazine for Katrina! http://www.livingneworleans.com/?p=3988

Third time’s a charm:

Shep rocks: http://www.livingneworleans.com/?p=3988



Jul 30 2010

The Future of News

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For all the debate about the future of news, it seems to me that we are already living the future. Over the past decade, barrels of ink were spilled on how the Internet would change information consumption.  Today, mobile phones are ubiquitous – 20% of homes in the U.S. do not have a landline and the typical user has the mobile phone on 19 hours per day.

The Kindle and iPad have made digital publications tangible and, in many cases, a more enjoyable experience than holding a newspaper.

Five years ago, social media was a fad for college kids. Today, there are more than 290 social networking and media channels.

A study by the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism concludes that decline of newspapers continues at a rapid pace while trust in the Internet begins to erode. Yet, Wikileaks relied on the mainstream media to validate (or rather interpret, source and report) the more than 90,000 military documents about the war in Afghanistan.

I believe that there will always be a place and a critical need, especially in a democracy, for an informed public and professional journalists.  However, I’m not convinced there’s a need for the daily newspaper in printed format.  Local and news weeklies and special interest magazines serve a more specific purpose – news and analysis that you can take with you and read when you want.

Daily news demands immediate consumption.  The Internet, radio and TV provide more effective delivery channels. After reading the Wall Street Journal on the iPad, I canceled my print subscription.  I wish the Washington Post would create a more compelling app so I can cancel that print subscription as well.

In all this hand-wringing about the fate of journalism, what does it mean for the PR professional?

No profession remains constant in its practice. PR and journalism are in the relationship business. Thus the basics of our craft still apply. As technology continues to alter how we engage in building and maintaining those relationships, its important to remember that honesty and integrity matter. The only thing that follows you is your reputation so make sure you are managing it effectively both in your offline and online interactions with reporters.



Jul 16 2010

#Antenna_Gate: First Tweet

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#Apple #Antenna_Gate response was defensive PR. Heed the lessons of #Icarus #FanBoy is insulting http://bit.ly/9ZHb2f