Bernanke is Benign–Another PR Success!

Much was made of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s April 27 press conference, the first time a Fed leader has ever faced major media in such a forum. Dire economic and geopolitical circumstances brought this on, so the press, those in finance and the general public were very interested in what Bernanke had to say about the economic recovery—or lack thereof. But although the conference lasted 50 minutes and Bernanke talked for most of it, he didn’t really say much. Another PR job well done.

I asked Andy Gilman, president and CEO of CommCore Consulting Group and an experienced media trainer, what thought of the conference and Bernanke’s performance. He says the real news was the fact that he took questions at all. “This was as much about
the perception of the Fed than it was in any breaking news,” says Gilman.  And, there wasn’t much of an effort to make news from the outset. Gilman says his opening statement was “quintessential Fed speak.” It was clear that Bernanke was well-rehearsed, but then again, Gilman says the questions were thoughtful but their tone “wasn’t too agressive.” No one got follow-up questions, either.

So, there wasn’t much chance of Bernanke making a big mistake. “If Bernanke, in fact, made a mistake that could have caused a market reaction, I’m sure the Fed communications team would have been ready for a rapid correction,” says Gilman. But no PR follow-up was needed. Bernanke was that good.

–Scott Van Camp


Phone Communications: 9 Things to Consider Before You Call

Remember when we used to use the phone for nearly all our day-to-day communications? For many, the device serves as a sticky-note holder and an occasional reminder to call Mom. For others – and I hope it includes yourself – it is still a powerful communication tool. Having just returned from a week-long vacation, I had nearly two dozen voice mail messages at work, and it got me thinking about the dying art of phone etiquette and communications.

So herein are 8 things to NOT do when using the phone and one must-do:

1. Do not leave a message asking if we received your press release (yes, PR News still gets those messages). Usually these messages are left after-hours to protect the junior account executive or intern forced to make the call.

2. Do not state in your message that it is urgent I call you back today and here’s when you’ll be around – when I don’t even know who you or anything about your company.  Every now and then I do fall for this, and it’s not a good feeling.

3. Do not read from a script when leaving a message unless you’re a really good actor.

Those are some voice mail pet peeves. Now, for the actual live conversations, I propose the following don’ts:

4.  Don’t check your emails while in a phone conversation. Give the other person the respect of full engagement.

5. Worse yet, don’t send an email to the person you’re talking to – while you are actually on the call (unless he or she is expecting that email).

6. Don’t hold a conversation while you are waiting in line at Starbucks (or anywhere) – it’s rude and it makes us thirsty.

7. Don’t use speaker phone if you are in a room of one.

8. Don’t rely on email to impart important information – be it good news or bad. Pick up the phone and have a conversation. The listening, the talking, the back and forth communication just might make your day.

9. Do:  Call someone you’ve been meaning to dial up but have resorted to an email “hi” or just months of silence.  ( I’m at 212-621-4964. )

What are your phone etiquette pet peeves?

Diane Schwartz





Time For a Millennial Revolution?

Euro RSCG is on to something: As I was reporting on the agency’s latest poll of millennials (to be covered in the 4/25/11 issue of PR News) I started to think about an interesting article on page one of today’s New York Times that features the results of a poll that shows a “darkening mood in America.” It seems that even though the numbers say our economy is recovering, Americans think otherwise. Plus, ratings for Obama and both parties in Congress have dropped precipitously. These results aren’t so surprising, given the budget clashes across the country and the recent disasters and conflicts that are occurring around the world.

Now, back to the Euro RSCG study—its findings show that when it comes to major issues, millennials prefer to take individual action rather than participate in traditional political platforms. Seven in 10 think the world will be more dangerous, less peaceful and more polluted in 20 years. However, millennials remain optimistic, with 82% believing they have the power to change the world. If you correlate the findings of the two polls, the result could be a sea change in the not-too-distant future not only of our political system, but in the way that we communicate with the public. I often wondered about the reason behind Euro RSCG’s focus on millennials. Now I see it. What do you think?

–Scott Van Camp


Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Oil Spill–One Year Later

As April 20 marks the one-year anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, plenty of media outlets are weighing in on both the environmental effects of the oil spill and the PR fallout for BP in the last 12 months. From an environmental standpoint, it appears that BP may have dodged a bullet in the crisis, as some experts report that the spill could have caused much worse damage. From a PR perspective, the commentary is mixed. BP has distributed a few billion dollars to Gulf Coast businesses hurt by the spill—yet there are several billions yet to go. The only consensus is that ex-CEO Tony Hayward was a disaster nearly equal to the spill itself.

If you were to judge the PR effort from a business performance sense, you could say that BP’s public relations effort has been a success. For a company whose stock price fell 54% several months ago, BP made a fourth-quarter profit of $5.6 billion, up 30% from the same period a year earlier. If you’re a BP executive, those numbers have to be pretty satisfying. However, if you’re a small-business owner or fisherman along the Gulf Coast who may have lost their livelihoods, the figures must be maddening. Let’s see what BP does—or doesn’t do—in the next 12 months for those most affected by the disaster. Will it get stingy with payouts? Will it stop environmental clean-up efforts? I predict yes to both of those questions. What do you think?

–Scott Van Camp

The Flip Side of Flip’s Demise: Discipline

The announcement that Cisco was shuttering the Flip video camera has the media and other industry watchers buzzing.  How could something so successful just go away?  “RIP” tweets and Facebook posts are in abundance following the April 12 announcement. Many are asking: Why didn’t Cisco at least sell the Flip to a consumer electronics company? I suppose our 2010 Webinar on how to use the Flip camera won’t get much on-demand registrations, so PR News is also affected by this news. Seriously, though, Cisco has made a very interesting move. I can’t say it cut its losses, because the product it acquired in 2009 was generating a reported $400 million in sales at a 30% margin, give or take. Cisco, which is a leader in the Internet infrastructure space, took a chance with the Flip, entering the crowded and competitive consumer electronics market and diverting its resources away from its core business, at a time when its market share there has been threatened. There hasn’t been much news or developments coming from the Flip team – the last press release was in early December 2010.

With its stock price sliding, Cisco CEO John Chambers warned last week in an internal memo that tough and bold decisions were going to be made soon. And he admitted that the company needed more “discipline.” Recognizing that more consumers were using their smart phones for video while their Flips were gathering dust in the junk drawer, Cisco seemingly made the right call to right its ship and focus on what it knows, what it does best, and what will make shareholders happy. In the memo, Chambers noted that the company needed to regain focus and employee confidence. Flipping the Flip was the first move in what appears to be Cisco sticking to its knitting.

– Diane Schwartz





PR in Afghanistan: Fruitful or Fruitless?

With all of the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, not to mention Japan’s nuclear disaster following the earthquake and tsunami, some of the attention on U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has been deflected. However, our two-part Q&A with Air Force First Lieutenant Ray Gobberg—a communications pro in Afghanistan—shines a spotlight on U.S. efforts in the region. In the interview, Gobberg is confident that some success can be achieved, but says it might take longer than the American public has patience for. What do you think about Gobberg’s efforts to help the Afghan government build trust with its people?

–Scott Van Camp



Tepco’s Nuclear Plant Disaster Plan: Disastrous

You could say I’ve been on the fence on nuclear power. In fact, my backyard fence is less than 10 miles from the Indian Point plant in Westchester, New York. But after hearing about the disaster plan of Japanese energy company Tepco, which operates the now devastated Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, I’m starting to climb down from the fence. I remember what crisis comms consultant Eric Dezenhall told me after the BP disaster (paraphrasing): PR becomes irrelevant in a major disaster—just get the problem fixed. Well, Tepco compounded the difficulty in fixing their problem with an almost laughable disaster plan that called for one stretcher, one satellite phone, 50 protective suits, one firetruck and communications via different plants by fax machine. OK, I know a 46-foot wall of water is really unthinkable, but the fact the Tepco and the Japanese government reviewed and approved this plan every year is pretty unthinkable, too.

So if I were representing the nuclear power industry here in the U.S., I’d make sure that disaster plans are updated and made readily available for public consumption. Up in Westchester, we’ve yet to receive any communications from Entergy Corp., which runs Indian Point, unless you count an Entergy official telling the press that the plant is safe. In the wake of the Japan disaster, that’s just not good enough.

–Scott Van Camp

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