Friday, October 31, 2008

Sometimes Gimicks Still Work to Generate Media Coverage

We've been working on a corporate social responsibility initiative for several weeks, and have generated some decent coverage. The client asked us to get morning show coverage, and we worked up a number of different approaches. But before we could pitch the angles to morning show producers, the client used a gimmick that communicated a simple key message during the talk-to-the-crowd segment on "The Today Show."

It was a far shorter message than we were looking to get by pitching a segment on this CSR initiative -- but the gimmick got the job done.

Sometimes we overthink things when trying develop killer story angles. The gimmick was not rocket science or ground breaking. It wouldn't be appropriate for every client, but it was basic, easy to manage (in other words, it did not involve significant cost or other complicating features), and it worked.

Congratulations to the client. And here's to a reminder that not every solution to a PR goal is complicated or needs to be Web 2.0ified.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New York Times Magazine Article Looks at McCain's Campaign: The Making (and Remaking and Remaking) of the Candidate -- fascinating

Our agency's slogan is "Why the Story Matters," and has been for eight years because we think our clients' stories important -- important as a part of their brand, important as a component to their messaging and positioning, important to generate interest among reporters. We spend a lot of time upfront and at regular intervals to refine clients' stories.

I bring this up because there's a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine about the McCain Campaign: "The Making (and Remaking) of McCain" by Robert Draper. The premise of the article, supported by quotes from senior McCain advisers and anecdotes, is that a big challenge that McCain campaign has had is in developing the right narrative to use in describing McCain and the reason to elect McCain as president.

This article is not a look at his personality, experience, political record, ideology, fund raising, etc. Instead, the article could almost be a look at a troubled marketing campaign.

Which is why I think it's instructive to PR and marketing pros.

Here are some relevant lessons:
  • Develop a story that defines the candidate/company/product, but also gives you room to adapt. With the McCain campaign, they kept picking messages that didn't necessarily connect to the previous messages; claiming the surge is working in Iraq did not connect to the message that Barack Obama is the world's biggest celebrity but isn't ready to lead.
  • Changing the story line makes it difficult to develop traction in the minds of voters/consumers/shareholders.
  • You need a story and messages that give people a reason to buy your product/company -- not just a reason to not buy the competing product/company.
  • The story has to make sense to key stakeholders. With the addition of Palin to the ticket, the McCain campaign changed its message from readiness to change. The selection of Palin certainly meant change, but voters may be feeling that McCain's been in Washington, for too long to represent change. (One might make the case that in selecting Joe Biden that Obama was picking the status quo and was not making the case for change. I'm surprised the McCain campaign did not make more of that.)
  • Brands live or die by their integrity -- or in the case of the McCain campaign, but the character of the candidate. Savvy marketing organizations, like Procter & Gamble, spend a great deal of effort on brand management, making sure that their brands stands for something, and that all consumer touch points reinforce the values and personality of the brand. The article makes the case that the McCain campaign was desperate enough to score points, that it decided to launch negative ads -- even though McCain had renounced negative ads after his failed 2000 campaign had been beaten by the negative campaign ran by George W. Bush (and Karl Rove). If a brand is to have meaning, it needs to consistently reinforce the brand value; launching negative ads undercut the meaning of McCain's brand.
A lot of good lessons for brand managers, marketers and PR professionals.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Christian Science Monitor to Cease Publishing Print Edition, and the Latest in Bad News for Newspapers

The Christian Science Monitor, founded 100 years ago by church founder Mary Baker Eddy, has announced that it will be the first national newspaper to cease publishing a print edition. The last printed regular paper will be published in 2009.

Some of the coverage, including the AP's "Christian Science Monitor to end daily publication," read like obituaries. I kept expecting to learn that survivors include the Christian Science Church and a diminished newspaper sector.

Meanwhile, the Audit Bureau of Circulation announced the latest circulation figures for U.S. newspapers -- and the figures are not good for the country's top 10 papers by circulation.

Only USA Today and Wall St. Journal boosted circulation -- by 0.01%.
  • The New York Times: -3.58%
  • Los Angeles Times: -5.20%
  • New York Daily News: -7.16
  • New York Post: -6.25%
  • Washington Post: -1.94
  • Chicago Tribune: -7.25
  • Houston Chronicle: -11.66
  • Newsday: -2.58
The Audit Bureau looked at 507 newspapers, and the average circulation drop was 4.6%.

Sunday circulation dropped faster than weekday circulation -- which is unusual.

So the question is: when will other papers stop publishing print editions? And if they stop printing hardcopy versions, should we stop calling them papers?

In today's Times (which I read after initially writing this post), David Carr's article, "Mourning Old Media’s Decline," makes an important point:

The paradox of all these announcements is that newspapers and magazines do not have an audience problem — newspaper Web sites are a vital source of news, and growing — but they do have a consumer problem.

Stop and think about where you are reading this column. If you are one of the million or so people who are reading it in a newspaper that landed on your doorstop or that you picked up at the corner, you are in the minority. This same information is available to many more millions on this paper’s Web site, in RSS feeds, on hand-held devices, linked and summarized all over the Web.

“The auto industry and the print industry have essentially the same problem,” said Clay Shirky, the author of “Here Comes Everybody.” “The older customers like the older products and the new customers like the new ones.”
In other words, there's still a need for newspapers -- but the delivery mechanism is outdated. Unfortunately, so to is the business model, which depends on print advertising. But there's no doubt that more papers will join the Christian Science Monitor and will stop printing hardcopy issues. I still think there'll be a demand for print editions for another five years; after that, who knows? But I do believe we still need branded journalism -- at least online.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NY Times' Stuart Elliott Writes Follow-up Article on Advertising & Hollywood -- mentions two movies mentioned here

In his email to me following his New York Times article about the number of movies or TV shows set in the glamorous world of advertising, advertising columnist Stuart Elliott said he might write another column about the movies and TV shows he left out of the original column. (See, For 60 Years, the Ad Game Has Been Fodder for Scripts -- Why not PR?)

In today's Times, "A Cultural Affinity for Madison Avenue," Elliott wrote his follow-up article that mentioned two of the films I suggested, "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" and “Good Neighbor Sam.”

Meanwhile, I am still looking for other movies or TV shows involving a PR executive. In the NBC sitcom, "Mad About You," Helen Hunt's character was a PR exec., but her job was not a sustained focus of the show.

Let me know if you know of other PR-inspired movies or TV shows.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Leverage Media Placements

There's a lot of advice on how to generate media coverage, but a surprising lack of information on how to leverage the coverage once you've generated it.

The process doesn't end with the clip itself. There are ways to make your media coverage continue to payoff.

Here are some ideas to expand the impact of your media coverage.
  • Update your website to include the list of coverage. The coverage can showcase expertise and depth of experience, which may be important to clients and prospective clients, partners and employees. Another reason to post links to your website is that people may miss the article when it was originally published; this way, it’s available long afterwards.A growing list of coverage can help raise your website rankings because search engine algorithms like links. Please note: due to copyright issues, it's best to provide a link to the original URL where the story appeared rather than posting the article directly to your website; you should also check with the copyright holder to find out its reprint policies.
  • Consider reprinting articles, and including them in your printed marketing materials. Article reprints can be good tools to include as part of any direct mail campaigns or leave-behinds at speeches or meetings. Some organizations, especially community organizations or nonprofits, may consider highlighting their name and post the articles on community bulletin boards in libraries, supermarkets, etc. However, please note: if you are reprinting articles, you should check with the copyright holder (typically the media outlet that published the article) to find out its policies, costs, etc.)
  • Frame your great media coverage for others to see. This is another way to enable prospective clients, partners and employees to see the coverage. Seeing these articles on the walls of your offices may help impress visitors.
  • Mention recent coverage to others. When talking to prospective clients, you can mention that you were just quoted in the media about a relevant topic. The next time you’re speaking at an event, ask the group’s presenter to mention the article, or work it into the speech if it's on the same topic.
  • Include “As Seen In…” Signature lines on emails, brochures, newsletters, cover letters, etc. can include a list of recent coverage cited “As seen in…”
  • Mention in advertising. If you do any advertising, consider mentioning your coverage. This might be easier to do in print advertising, where you might be able to reprint headlines in the background. But it also may make sense for online advertising as well.
For additional ideas, check out "7 Ways to Milk Your Media Coverage Get the most out of your publicity, long after you've left the spotlight," published in Entrepreneur Magazine.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Andrew Sullivan Blogs: Interesting Article in The Atlantic

Andrew Sullivan wrote an interesting long article about blogging. "Why I Blog" is worth checking out.

How to Create a Media Log -- and Why

Deborah Zanke, a freelance consultant specializing in the nonprofit social services industry, wrote a useful blog article about how to create a media log -- a tool that can help track who you've talked to, how often you talk to the reporter, and the results of your contact.

Her article, How do you track your media coverage? is useful, especially for organizations that are looking to establish themselves.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Surveys Can Help Generate Coverage -- Tips on How to Develop Interesting Surveys

Surveys can be very valuable communication tools because they can validate an organization’s expertise and provide an opportunity to contact the media. For the media, surveys are very popular because they can validate a trend or provide perspective on a timely issue.

By providing fresh content, surveys can be valuable even without securing media coverage – just as there are occasions when media coverage is not the end goal for a press release. For example, when a company signs new customers, media coverage might not be as important as demonstrating that the company is gaining wider acceptance for its products or services.

However, numerous surveys are conducted each day by for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations, and the media that are expected to generate coverage. This is especially true during the current U.S. presidential campaign.

Given this deluge, the challenge for companies is to identify survey topics that will interest its customers and the media.

We ask 10 questions to get at what’s newsworthy, starting with determining the goals for media coverage.

Questions include:

  • Are there seasonal trends we can play off of?

  • What’s the conventional wisdom on an issue?

  • Who will care about the survey results?

  • What are three key messages the company wants to deliver through this survey?

For other tips for improving, check out: "Improving a Questionnaire" by Alex Hiam.

Monday, October 20, 2008

NY Times' Ombudsman Column Focuses on Biases -- But It's Not What You Think

There's heightened sensitivity about media bias because of the presidential election, especially about the usual suspects like the New York Times, Wall St. Journal and Fox News.

The Times' Ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, wrote an article, "Keeping Their Opinions to Themselves,"
about readers' reactions to Times political coverage, making a couple of interesting points:
  1. "There is an entire body of scholarship devoted to what social scientists call the 'hostile media' syndrome, the belief of people with strong feelings about an issue -- any issue that the news media are hostile to their side."
  2. Speaking at a group in Montclair, NJ, Hoyt asked how many felt Times' coverage is biased, and more than half the hands went up. One audience member complained that the Times "always plays up scandals involving Republicans and buries scandals involving Democrats." Hoyt pointed out that the Times broke the Spitzer scandal and published extensive reports on Rep. Charles Rangel. The audience member's response: "I'd call that good journalism."
  3. Journalists "do have personal biases, and a long line of studies has shown that they tend to be more socially and politically liberal than the population at large...." but Hoyt cited a study that said "a link between reporters' political beliefs and news coverage has never been convincingly established." Just ask Democrats who work for Fox News.
What's most interesting, I think, is that Hoyt acknowledges that journalists do have biases -- but it's not the kind most would consider, though it is important for PR departments to be aware of them. "Journalists are biased:
  1. Toward conflict.
  2. Toward bad news because it is more exciting than good news, and, obviously,
  3. Toward what is new.
Now conflict and bad news are things most organizations want to avoid in their day-to-day operations as well as in their media coverage. The challenge is to come up with something news -- not just for the company. That's an important criteria all of us in PR need to work harder to define and achieve.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Free Download Available of Seth Godin's New Book, "Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us "

Author and marketing guru Seth Godin's latest book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, is available for free audio download. Check it out here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How to Market in a Down Economy -- Interesting Entrepreneur Article Has Suggestions

Many companies think about cutting back marketing during a downturn.

According to "Turn It Around: When the economy takes a tumble, don't let your marketing go down with it. Stay standing by retuning your message," companies "can successfully market your way through an economic downturn by implementing a recession-minded strategy. It's essential to adapt and retool to find the smartest routes to increasing market share and ROI."

Among the best suggestions is to better understand customer behavior and market to current customers.

Check out the article for some good ideas.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How is Broadcast News Covering the Economic Crisis?

The election is helping to boost ratings of late night comedy shows like the Daily Show and Colbert Report as well as SNL, Leno, Letterman and O'Brien (That's Conan O'Brien, in case anyone forgotten.)

But one question is this: is the economic crisis generating stronger viewership for broadcast news?

I've written before that I think broadcast news could do a better job in covering the crisis (rather than using dominoes to demonstrate the problem, as CBS recently did).

Check out BusinessWeek's article about Fox Business News: "The Uphill Battle at Fox Business Network: The economic crisis may give Murdoch's year-old business channel a lift in its battle with CNBC." Seems the crisis is helping bring in bigger numbers -- more than 100,000 viewers at a time -- but that may not be enough to compete with CNBC.

Monday, October 13, 2008

When Google News' Search is Too Good -- Part II

The New York Times' Noam Cohen wrote an article that takes a deeper look to an issue this blog identified in Septmber, When Google News' Search is Too Good. Check out "Spinning a Web of Lies at Digital Speed.

The article looks at, CNN's user-generated site, which has posted some wrong information that nevertheless got picked up as true. Some for Digg.

Jay Adelson, Digg's chief executive, told the Times, "There is almost a short-seller mentaility in the blogosphere. We allow anyone to submit on a level playing field. We allow the digital democracy to be the fact checkers. There is definitely some risk to that."

Citizen journalism has its risks. It will be a challenge to PR functions to approach these sites to defend negative news -- just as it will be a challenge to use them effectively to promote positive news without being seen as too self-serving. Transparency may address the situation in part, but will not eliminate it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Daily Show Follows the PRBackTalk on Looking at How the Broadcast Media Has Been Covering the Economic Crisis

On Wed., Oct. 8, I posted an article, "How did Broadcast Business News Cover the Financial Crisis?

The answer: Not well, overall.

On Thurs., Oct. 9, The Daily Show took it's own look at the same topic.

Jon Stewart's version was funnier. I'm okay with that.

But I'm pleased that we covered the topic before he did.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How did Broadcast Business News Cover the Financial Crisis?

Not well, overall.

Yes, the situation itself was confusing.

But the reporting was confusing, too, especially broadcast news.

One reason is that stories typically run 110 seconds or as much as 3-5 minutes, so it's difficult to encapsulate a complicated story in a short time.

Another reason, Dean Starkman, managing editor of the Audit, the business-press section of the Columbia Journalism Review, told the Boston Globe is that TV business news coverage isn't really about business -- "They basically cover the stock market. One is a subset of the other. But to equate the two" is wrong.

Too many times clients ask us to pursue broadcast outlets without realizing Starkman's essential truth: broadcast outlets, especially local affiliates, generally cover stock market news and large companies. That's not to say they don't cover smaller companies -- just that you need to be more creative about it.

In future postings, I will look at some ways to tell a business story for broadcast media. Meanwhile check out this Globe article that also discussed how the business media handled the financial crisis: "Is frantic TV coverage giving us the business?"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Free Sarah Palin" or How the Blogosphere is Influencing Mainstream Media

The blogosphere tends to be self-congratulating. But I think there's one way the blogosphere is impacting mainstream media, particularly broadcast: because anchors can now provide useful perspective and draw conclusions.

CNN anchor Campbell Brown provides the latest example when she recently launched a rant that the McCain campaign should "Free Sarah Palin." Brown's point is that by limiting Palin's access to journalists who are going about the usual process of vetting a candidate for national office, the McCain campaign is showing itself to be sexist because:
By treating Sarah Palin different from the other candidates in this race, you are not showing her the respect she deserves. Free Sarah Palin. Free her from the chauvinistic chain you are binding her with. Sexism in this campaign must come to an end. Sarah Palin has just as much a right to be a real candidate in this race as the men do. So let her act like one.”
Check out a post-rant profile in the New York Times: "Weighing In: An Anchor Tacks Toward Commentary."

My point here isn't about Palin, actually. It's about whether news should be balanced. "Ms. Brown, 40, does concede that the kind of journalism she is now doing at CNN is less traditional than that taught at journalism schools," according to the Times.

“As journalists, and certainly for me over the last few years, we’ve gotten overly obsessed with parity, especially when we’re covering politics,” Ms. Brown said. “We kept making sure each candidate got equal time — to the point that it got ridiculous in a way.”

“So when you have Candidate A saying the sky is blue, and Candidate B saying it’s a cloudy day, I look outside and I see, well, it’s a cloudy day,” she said. “I should be able to tell my viewers, ‘Candidate A is wrong, Candidate B is right.’ And not have to say, ‘Well, you decide.’ Then it would be like I’m an idiot. And I’d be treating the audience like idiots.”

The other way bloggers and the Internet have impacted mainstream media is that rise is articles that seek to fact check the campaigns' ads and statements. I don't think the level of lies about an opponent's record or policies is much different from previous election years, but I do think there's much more of this kind of fact checking, again, as the result of the Internet.

For PR executives, but here's the point: until now, it's fallen to pundits or columnists to draw actual conclusions -- or reporters being interviewed by other media/outlets (recently I heard a great interview with the Times' Gretchen Morgenson, who provided much more insight into the financial crisis during her NPR interview than her balanced article in that morning's Times). But I think we will see continued blurring of the line between reporting and analysis/perspective, especially tech trade reporters.

I'm not sure if it's a good or bad step.

But PR functions need to be aware of it, and adjust their media programs accordingly.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Backward-Looking Complaint in Wall St. Journal is Itself Backward-Looking

Readers of this blog know I don't go political, but I will look at how the media handles politics if it is instructive for PR professionals.

This may be an exception. But please note, the point I do want to make is not about politics but about the final product, an opinion column in one of the best newspapers in the world.

Today's Wall St. Journal ran an opinion piece,"No, Iraq Wasn't a 'Distraction': What if FDR had stuck to fighting the Japanese in the Pacific?" by David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, Washington, DC lawyers who served in the DOJ under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and advise John McCain's presidential campaign.

Here's the first sentence of the second paragraph, which sets the argument: "As Mrs. Palin pointed out, when it comes to foreign policy, the Obama-Biden team is backward looking. It continues to view international issues through the prism of opposition to George W. Bush."

Here's the fifth paragraph in its entirety: "This is exactly what President Franklin Roosevelt did in World War II when he chose to dedicate initially the bulk of American resources to the European theater, believing that destroying Hitler's Reich was the most urgent task and that Imperial Japan could be dealt with in turn; history proved him right. Yet, under the Obama-Biden playbook, FDR blundered by getting distracted from the 'real' war -- in the Pacific, where America had been attacked.

So, if you're paying attention, the Obama-Biden team is guilty of having a backwards-looking foreign policy. And how did the authors, two McCain campaign advisers, make the point that Obama-Biden's policy is dangerous? By citing U.S. strategy used to fight World War II, an example from more than 60 years ago.

I'm not trying to raise the issue of politics here (or whether Iraq is Hitler's Germany to bin Laden's Japan, according to Rivken & Casey's analogy), but of copyediting. Here, in part, is the summary of the article: "Our opponent has a backwards-looking foreign policy, and here's an example from more than 60 years ago that proves that a backwards-looking policy could be disastrous."

I've been told by a generally reliable source that the Journal's editorial staff has been reduced from seven to three staffers. So I'm wondering if the smaller staff and greater demands prevent the Journal's editors from carefully reading this piece before it was published? I've published op-eds before, and I know that editors used to not only fact check articles but also make sure the internal logic was consistent.

In this case, it appears the Journal did not.

No One Covers the Travails of the Wealthy Like The NYT or Wall St. Journal? Last in a Long Series on This Blog

As readers of this blog know by now, both the New York Times and Wall St. Journal spend a lot of resources and ink on covering the super rich.

The latest examples:
So here's the deal: if you are working in marketing or PR, here's the lesson: Look for story angles or proof points that show something counter-intuitive about the super rich. It doesn't even have to be so counter-intuitive. For example: "The turmoil on Wall Street has not only taken down once-solid companies, it has cut into the wealth of some Americans whose fortunes were tied to those companies. So the wealthy — and many still are that, by most measures — are postponing big purchases."

Meanwhile, because the point has been made by now, I will stop counting Times or Journal articles that document how the downturn is impacting the super rich. I think we get it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Guy Kawasaki & 10-20-30 Presentation Rule

Tech evangelist Guy Kawasaki has a lot of good advice for giving speeches.

One is to not read your slides -- your audience can read faster than you can speak it, and they will think you do not know the material.

Check out: "11 Public-Speaking Pointers A successful speech should always end with a standing ovation--here's how to get yours. "

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Forbes Peter Huber Agrees with PRBackTalk: The Web Lets People Disconnect

In Aug., I posted an article that argued that social networks don't actually bring people closer together. (Check out: Do Social Networks & Video-sharing Sites Bring People Closer Together?.)

In the Sept. 29th issue of Forbes, Peter Huber, a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute and coauthor of The Bottomless Well, wrote an interesting article that validates my article: "Cronkite vs. the Web."

In the article, Huber wrote, "The Web's real power lies as much in its ability to separate, divide and take apart markets and people...The Web doesn't bridge divisions; it multiplies and sharpens them. It doesn't build consensus or national coalitions; it grows factions. Truth be told, the Web doesn't network people at all--it lets them network themselves, which is quite different. The Web is the place where people can roll their own, and given that freedom, people tend to coalesce in relatively small, insular groups...The real genius of the Web, in short, is that it lets people disconnect. That's why it has obliterated the old media. During the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." Nobody would ever say that about anything posted on a or a CronkiteTube. There are too many celebrity sites, scattered all over the digital landscape, and they're all saying different things."

Very interesting.