Wednesday, March 25, 2015

7 PR Lessons from O’Reillygate

(This post originally appeared on CommPro.Biz:

The recent credibility scandals of Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly are shocking and fascinating. But for PR and marketing professionals, there’s a lot that can be instructive.
  • There’s no statute of limitations when it comes to the truth. Both scandals stem from incidents that took place between 12 and 33 years ago — long enough ago that it might seem the truth is no longer relevant. It matters if only because both Williams and O’Reilly retold their embellished Iraq and Falkland war stories several times within recent few years.
    • PR pros should keep in mind that a crisis could originate years before an executive joined an organization.
  • There at least two ways to handle a scandal: 1) Issue an apology, conduct an investigation, and hold someone accountable or 2) Conduct a scorched-earth approach of attacking your critics and their character. NBC followed the first approach, O’Reilly and Fox, the second. Both can claim the victory of a post-scandal ratings boost.
    • Since no laws were broken, for PR professionals, the right approach depends, to some extent, on your brand and your audience. NBC suspended Williams to hold him accountable and protect its credibility — whereas had he apologized, O’Reilly would have greatly harmed his brand and his connection to his audience. In fact, keeping the controversy alive may actually strengthen the O’Reilly brand, ratings and value.
  • If you decide to fight the scandal and your critics, don’t wait for the facts to start making your argument.  O’Reilly started attacking his critics well before he had time to assemble his facts. By doing so, he was able to frame the narrative to focus on the credibility of Mother Jonesand the other reporters who subsequently came forward in support of Mother Jones — instead of his own credibility — while keeping others off-balanced through intimidation and threats.
    • This is a case of “don’t try this at home, kids.” His scorched-earth approach is working for O’Reilly but he has a nightly bully pulpit, and you don’t. That said, framing the narrative is an important element of crisis communications, and can be done without resorting to oppositional research.
  • By commenting on his show and in other outlets, O’Reilly is able to keep the attention where he wants it: on him aggressively attacking his critics. During a crisis, most organizations try to avoid speaking to the media. Not O’Reilly. He’s not hiding. He’s arguing his case on his program and many other outlets, providing new statements almost daily since the Mother Jones article hit. The resulting coverage has focused on O’Reilly’s eagerness to attack, which is a win for O’Reilly because it deflects attention (from questions regarding the credibility of his reporting) while showcasing O’Reilly brand’s combativeness.
    • Most organizations should not follow the O’Reilly playbook of attacking and intimidating reporters. But it can be a mistake to go silent, too, which lets the media spend endless cycle time speculating. For example, the NFL went silent during most of the intensive Deflategate speculation, and lost control of the narrative, which hurt its credibility.
  • There is a distinction being made between journalist and pundit.The line between fact and opinion can be very blurry – but in the case of Williams and O’Reilly, the demarcation is widely recognized, and O’Reilly benefits from lowered expectations for pundits. (What’s being overlooked is that the questions about his accuracy stem from when O’Reilly was a reporter.)
    • This blurred line between fact and opinion is important to keep in mind when your client or CEO asks you to respond to an inaccurate opinion article. It’s almost impossible to get an opinion writer to apologize.
  • Despite the media’s tendency to attach the word “gate” to every scandal, the media this time is not referring to it as “Williamsgate,” “O’Reillygate” or even “Truthgate.”This is far from the most important element but it speaks to the fact that some crises follow a certain pattern while others will go in a different direction from the crisis plan you assembled.
    • Good plans address likely scenarios and then also figure a way to address unlikely crises that may still occur.
  • Truth is not always quantifiable and what’s at stake depends on your value system. Just as some people see that dress as black and blue while others insist it’s white and gold, there are two camps when here: Those who say the truth matters (and invariably cite a spinning-in-his-grave Walter Cronkite) and those who believe freedom of speech is more important. Where you fall has quickly become another political polarizing question.
    • For PR pros, it’s important to understand which stakeholders are important and what their perspective is – is an important element in determining the path you should take.
Despite all the acrimony from both side, there is one thing both O’Reilly and his detractors probably agree on — these lessons are irrelevant to them. But understanding them — like starting the vetting process to cover years before an executive joined the organization — may enable a PR function to better weather a future crisis.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Positive Power of Robotics

There are a number of movies hitting the silver screen (does anyone really use that term anymore? I guess I do) this year that involve robots and artificial intelligence.

Some stories have appeared wondering about the power robots will have, and they think about some doomsday scenario in which robots subjugate mankind.

I don't see that happening, and not because I don't think robots are getting more powerful.

I see that robots have power -- to help raise us up to be better people.

Here's an example of the positive power that robots and robotics can have, courtesy of our non-profit client, FIRST, a terrific organization that holds an annual robotics competition for kids in the US and around the world. I have been to two regional competitions (one in a professional capacity, the second as a parent of a competitor), and the spirit, enthusiasm and positive energy is infectious and inspiring.

That's part of the power of robots.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Wall St. Journal Validates Another of Our Predictions: Getting Away Means Disconnecting

Back in 2012, we said:
  • The desire to be connected 24/7 may change in 2012. You almost never have downtime anymore, and people are beginning to notice that’s not all good. Sure, if you are waiting in line at the post office or bank (something today’s kindergartners won’t do by the time they hit college), you’ll be able to check email, play an app, text your friend, or make a call. But this lack of downtime may negatively impact our ability to concentrate and avoid distractions at work and at home. The recognition that we actually need to disconnect, that we need downtime, is likely to generate coverage this year. Already a handful of companies have limited email, both during the day and after hours – and we think more will join those ranks. We also think the concept of going on vacation without access to email or cell will become more of a status symbol because it now takes a lot of money to disconnect yourself from your regular workday.
In our list of ongoing trends that we update annually, we've mentioned the ongoing need to disconnect. That need may be more pronounced than ever as younger-and-younger kids own their own devices -- and as more-and-more parents can't get their kids off their screens.

Screen use and children, including how they socialize, how they interact with peers and grownups, how they experience their environments, will be a growing area of tension for parents -- at least when they look up from their own devices. (And we're all guilty of that.)

We even once said that where it was once only the wealthy who could stay connected wherever they traveled, that soon, it would be a luxury to travel and not be connected. That's borne out but an article in today's Wall St. Journal: "Resorts Promise Families the Perfect Getaway—From Electronics: Looking for a technology detox, more parents book vacations at family resorts touting limited Wi-Fi."  Check it out.