As the year draws to an end, there are many lessons that young PR people should have learned from 2016 news reports that can apply to our business.
Here are a few prominent occurrences, some from the political campaign, some not.
Situation: The most important one to remember is that there is no sure thing, as the election of Donald Trump showed.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: Strategies are only as good as the people implementing them.
Situation: Trump kept his message simple.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: Don’t overthink your message. Too often PR programs are filled with creative, convoluted ideas that are difficult to implement. The best way to gain media attention is to have a program with ideas that the media feels is consumer friendly and that can easily be turned into a story. My rule: A creative idea that can’t be implemented is not creative.
Situation: Trump directed his message to a target audience.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: PR programs should be crafted to appeal to the client’s most important audience. Media pitches should be directed to specific outlets and not shot gunned. Know your target audience. My rule: "Hits" in media that clients are not interested in are in fact strikeouts.
Situation: Media reports said that Bill Clinton offered advice about the direction of the campaign but was rebuffed by Hillary Clinton’s team.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: Young account supervisors often refuse or hesitate to ask for advice because they want to demonstrate to management that they can do it all. Don’t be a know-it-all. Have an open mind. Don’t ignore advice.
Situation: Clinton won the popular vote but Trump won the election.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: One good placement in a quality print or TV outlet will impress a client more than a scrapbook full of hits in lesser publications. My rule: Strive for the big hit because less can be more important than more.
Situation: BP again received negative media coverage when the film "Deepwater Horizon" was released.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: Unlike old soldiers that fade away, PR crises live on. Six years after the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP was again defending itself when the disaster was relived through dramatization. The film assures that the disaster will be kept in front of the public for years; re-releases and TV showings are a probability. If you represent a company that has had a PR crisis, always be prepared for negative coverage to reappear.
Situation: There were many negative news stories regarding celebrities, Bill Cosby, Peyton Manning, and Ryan Lochte among them.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: Many brands achieve media coverage by using celebrity spokespersons for event appearances or promotion, but 2016 showed how risky doing so can be. Negative media coverage is always a possibility when crafting a program using a celebrity. My rule: A spokesperson should be a secondary element to a program. The program should never be built with the spokesperson as the focal point. And spokespersons should be interchangeable.
Situation: WSJ and NYT announced structural editorial changes.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: More than ever, PR programs will have to be appeal to special section editors. And as the general news budget shrinks, hard news angles will be more important than ever.
Situation: Symphony orchestras are financially strapped.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: Providing financial aid presents both local and national public relations opportunities for corporations and brands whose media targets are educated and wealthy audiences. A creatively crafted publicity program should gain media attention in cultural, educational and business sections.
Situation: Wells Fargo has been accused of terminating employees because they reported wrongdoing regarding unauthorized activities to their supervisors.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: In my experience, when things go south management tries to protect higher level employees, even if they are at fault, at the expense of lower and mid-level employees who are not at fault. That’s why I always leveled with account people whom I managed and told them that their first responsibility is not to a company but to themselves and their family.
Situation: JPMorgan Chase was fined by the feds more than $260 million because of foreign bribery, which included hiring unqualified children of Chinese leaders, as the bank attempted to get business in China.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: Nepotism, drinking buddies and loyalty often will determine who will get promoted in our business. My advice to novice PR people: When management needs you promises will be made. But remember what Niccolo Machiavelli said: “The promise given was a necessity of the past; the word broken is a necessity of the present."
Situation: NFL TV viewership has declined.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: Preferences of people (including assignment editors) are not set in concrete. When developing the creative for programs, always strive for newness. The best programs are those that can be reused for many years with just a minor change in the creative that provides journalists with new angles.
Situation: Kellogg said it would discontinue advertising on Breitbart.com.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: The food company pulled its ads, placed by media buyers, after complaints from consumers about the content on Breitbart. Regardless of the number of accounts they are responsible for, in our business, group managers should scrutinize every aspect of a program before it is presented to a client and not be concerned about being called a micro-manager.
Situation: Bank of New York Mellon Corp., one of Wall Street’s major clearing facilities, lost its ability to follow clients’ instructions when its technological system failed.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: When sending information via a messenger service, email or other method, never assume it arrived in a timely fashion. Always check if the delivery was made. Caveat: Never send confidential information via email.
Situation: Commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor received massive major media coverage.
Lesson to remember and relevance to our business: I’ve often been approached by account people who are certain that the 50th or 100th anniversary of their client’s company deserves major media coverage. It doesn’t. It might be interesting to trade books, but not always, because anniversaries of companies occur every day. Only truly important anniversaries, like the commemoration of Pearl Harbor or of other events that have special meanings to the U.S. are interesting to the broad media.
Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.