Except for the hurricane that is moving its way up the East Coast, one of the biggest stories of the week is Steve Jobs stepping down as CEO of Apple. A few posts ago I wrote about the image of Warren Buffett and how he manages to be fairly forthright and accessible to the media and the public at large (especially to his shareholders). Jobs’ image and relationship with the public is much more complex. Stories about his exit have generated a massive amount of comments, some with a lot of vitriol towards the man. It seems as though his business image as a tech visionary and innovator seriously clashes with another image—that he’s not a really great guy to work with. The word “arrogant” seems to come a lot in online comments negative toward Jobs.
Despite the negativity, Jobs’ accomplishments speak for themselves. The most important question for Apple, however, is whether the company will retain that “cool” aura that it has possessed since Jobs took back the reins in 1997. To many people, Jobs and Apple’s sleek products were one in the same, and people just don’t feel that way with new CEO Tim Cook. My prediction is that Apple will look to long-time executives Phil Schiller and Jonathan Ive to try to fill this void. “Try” is the key word here, as no one can come close to Steve Jobs as Master Apple Communicator.
–Scott Van Camp
OK, maybe the tremors that reached downtown Manhattan, where PR News has its offices, weren’t exactly life threatening. Our building swayed for a while, and the PR News goldfish swam in his little bowl with a few extra flutters, but otherwise it didn’t seem like a huge deal.
But a gaze outside our fifth floor windows told a different story. Masses of office workers from our neighboring building were gathered across the street. What did they know that we didn’t? Should we be racing to the stairwells? Why wasn’t our building management making some sort of announcement?
Finally, the announcement came: “News reports are saying the earthquake isn’t severe, and the subways are still running. So you probably don’t have to evacuate the building—unless you want to.”
Hmm. Did I want to evacuate the building? It sure looked nice outside.
Selfish thoughts aside, it struck me that perhaps this was a case of some lame crisis communications. There seemed to be a crisis plan in evidence at the building across the street. Not so much in our building.
A statement like this might have been more appropriate: “This is your fire safety manager. There is no need to evacuate the building. Repeat, there is no need to evacuate the building.”
Or this: “This is your fire safety manager. Please proceed to your stairwells immediately and evacuate the building.”
Or even this, if the fire safety manager was unavailable: “This is your building management. We do not have word yet from our fire safety manager, so please proceed in the meantime to the elevators and evacuate the building.”
We could have all used the fresh air—and an air of authority from somebody with access to the PA system.
I’ve got Google+ on the brain. After talking to and corresponding with a number of digital execs for a feature story on the much ballyhooed new social media platform (slated for the 8/22/11 issue), I’ve come to the conclusion that PR pros had better look into Google+, and sooner rather than later. I know what some of you are thinking: “I’m just getting used to Facebook and now I have to spend more time and money on another social network?” Well, yep. I’ve been slow at looking at it, too.
Adding to the intrigue of Google+ is the business debate about whether it will supplant Facebook as the social media destination of choice. Google+ has a long way to go before that happens. While most communications pros were optimistic about its chances to really compete with Facebook, I got an interesting take from Glenn Gaudet, president and founder of GaggleAMP, a company that helps organizations amplify their social media messages. Gaudet questions Google’s backing of Google+, citing the lack of an API (Application Programming Interface), which allows third-party developers access.
“Other social platforms have them,” says Gaudet. Google’s Android, for example, has been a huge success because Google opened it up to the developer universe. “I just have a question as to whether they’re fully committed to Google+,” he says.
Time will tell, because soon Google will begin allowing brands to post their profiles on the network. What do you think: Will Google+ beat Facebook, or will it go the way of Google Wave?
–Scott Van Camp
Billionaire Warren Buffett has been front and center in the news lately, writing an op-ed in The New York Times that suggests the government should tax him—and other wealthy people—at a higher rate, adding that as a percentage of income, he pays less in taxes than his secretary. Naysayers say that such a pronouncement is easy for an incredibly rich guy like Buffett. And he has been raked over the coals in the media for this stance. Yet this upfront take by the Berkshire Hathaway chairman got me thinking about how he—as a business leader—communicates so naturally and effortlessly to shareholders and the public at large.
So I called up Jim Lukaszewski, president of Minneapolis-based Lukaszewski Group, a crisis and leadership coaching agency, to get his take on Buffett, As luck would have it, Lukaszewski has been to some Berkshire annual meetings in Omaha, and is pretty impressed with Buffett’s accessibility and honesty during these events—which draw 30,000-40,000 people each year. “He’s very convincing, and very revered by everyone,” says Lukaszewski, who adds that he saw Buffett seven times and was able to briefly speak with him three times during one shareholder gathering.
So how does Buffett pull off this kind of Middle America folksy transparency that other leaders would give their eye teeth for? It’s not an act. “He’s a genuine person, and he has integrity,” says Lukaszewski, who adds that he doesn’t think Buffett has a lot of PR handlers giving him advice.
Despite what the public might think, there are executives like Buffett who are natural communicators, says Lukaszewski. They also have a sense of “doing the right thing.” Trouble is, leaders who do the right thing are almost expected to come forward and capitalize on their efforts. This can only lead to trouble, says Lukaszewski. That’s why he says integrity is today’s “hidden business asset.” Is there a way for communicators to capture and nurture integrity among their leadership? Lukaszewski will put forth some ideas on this in an upcoming issue of PR News.
–Scott Van Camp
Who needs to pay a cable bill anymore? I mean, really, paying for TV when you’re already paying for Web access? There’s plenty to watch for free online, and not enough time to watch a tiny fraction of what may interest you.
Bear in mind that this is not a question I’m asking of myself. I’m still pretty dedicated to shelling out the bucks each month for Turner Classic Movies and HBO and whatever else comes with the package. But the notion of paying money to a cable operator for access to time-based TV programming is sounding crazier and crazier to those just out of college—and to those who are out of work.
In the midst of this so-called cord cutting—or cord avoidance—Time Warner Cable has announced the acquisition of cable operator Insight Communications. Of course, cable operators also offer high-speed Internet service, as well digital phone service. The core, though, has been traditional basic and premium TV programming packages.
In its announcement and in media reports, Time Warner Cable stressed the attractive price for Insight and the growing importance of Internet access for cable operators. But the message the company is sending to investors and consumers is a bit confused. TWC is buying another cable operator so it can expand its footprint and build its Internet access business, yet it’s the Internet that is killing its traditional cable TV service.
This message probably reflects confusion within the company about how to proceed and grow as a viable business. This is not a criticism of Time Warner Cable—it’s just the reality for many corporate sectors that are trying to adapt to and embrace new digital realities that are simultaneously destroying their business models.
These kinds of paradoxical business moves can tie communicators and CEOs into knots, as they attempt to explain the wisdom of an acquisition to stakeholders in the age of free stuff on the Web.
As Bonin Bough, global head of digital at PepsiCo, said at PR News’ Facebook Conference in San Francisco on Aug. 9, “we’re drugged out on technology while computers are getting smarter.”
We’re increasingly hooked on social and mobile technology as computers lead us along and change the way we actually think and act.
This is not a value judgment—it’s just the way things are.
Bough’s concern is actually with the widening gap between where society is with social and mobile (addicted, strung out) and where organizations are (flatlined digital evolution). The reason for organizations’ slow adaption? Fear, according to Bough.
And being gripped by fear can be fatal for organizations. “Failure to adapt to the digital evolution is written on the balance sheets of companies,” said Bough.
I spoke to an attendee after the Facebook Conference who works at a large utility. He told me that he was asked by other attendees why his organization needed to be on Facebook at all.
“Were they at the same conference as me?” he asked me. “We have no choice but to adapt. We might have a monopoly in what we do, but there are still conversations about us on social networks, whether we’re involved or not. We have to be there. And the higher-ups are finally starting to get it. They were real resistant for a long while.”
Much of this resistance takes the form of higher-ups wanting to see a quick return on their investment in social media. That’s a legitimate request, but it’s also a stalling tactic. This is not a fad. And as Bonin Bough said, it’s up to communicators to see to it that their organizations don’t go the way of the dinosaurs—or Borders.
If you’re a sports fan in New York—and I know this is a cliché—there’s never a dull moment. Whether it’s the exploits of the Yankees’ Jeter, how the Mets have actually played above their talent level this year, or details about Rex Ryan’s new tattoo, there’s always something to keep your eyeballs on the sports pages and glued to the high-def TV. Of course, players are always getting into trouble, and not just in New York. But I’ve been numbed to the endless DUIs, assault charges, etc. racked up by pro and college athletes. However, the latest news about Alex Rodriguez and his participation in private, high-stakes poker games (with Leo and Toby, no less) has me boiling.
What is it that A-Rod doesn’t get? He was already warned a few years ago by Major League Baseball to steer clear from such games. And in between then and now, he fessed up on his use of performance enhancing drugs. Is this latest investigation the one that takes him off the list of one of the true greats? Mike Paul, The Reputation Doctor, doesn’t think so. “I don’t think this will hurt is changes later for the Hall,” says Paul. But he does add that the Yankee brass is tired of A-Rod’s off-the-field problems, and want him to focus totally on baseball now, respect the team he plays for, and “understand he is replaceable, like every team member.”
The fact the A-Rod and his agent have been mostly silent on this matter speaks volumes. But he’s innocent until proven guilty. Paul’s advice for A-Rod? “Take a page from Derek: work harder at your profession, stay away from anything negative and you will see the fruits of your labor. The older you get, the harder you have to work. Your long-term reputation is counting on it.”
–Scott Van Camp
I have the pleasure and sometimes the uncomfortable displeasure of attending a lot of conferences, trade shows and meetings. Some presenters are wonderful and others have the uncanny ability to trigger a physical reflex to either constantly check my Blackberry or take a nap. Whether you are a speaker on a panel, a keynoter at a conference or the person leading an internal meeting, you have the lofty responsibility to keep people’s attention. It’s not easy, we all know that. So if you want to strive for mediocrity on stage, here are 12 easy ways to bore or annoy your audience (who aren’t as captive as you think):
- Read every word on every slide of your 56-deck-deep Powerpoint presentation
- Ignore the audience and why they’re there
- Check your mobile device during your presentation
- Text and check emails while your co-presenters are up (see #3)
- Ignore the time limits
- Laugh, unpredictably, throughout your presentation
- Say “um” or “uh” more than 4 times during your presentation
- Promote your organization, your goods/services or yourself for more than 7 seconds
- Veer off-topic and stay there
- Race through your presentation as if you’re at a speed reading convention
- Make stuff up
Am I missing anything to this list of sure-fire ways to annoy your audience? Please add to the list, as I hope to present this at an upcoming conference if I’m invited.
(Oh – Take these 11 steps and add “Don’t” to the beginning of each sentence, and you will captivate your audience.)
- Diane Schwartz
On Twitter: @dianeschwartz
It strikes me as interesting that, as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, the 24-hour news network Al Jazeera English (AJE) has launched in New York City. Interesting in that Al Jazeera faces big PR challenges, mainly due to actions that Al Jazeera Arabic has taken during the U.S. campaign against Al Qaeda, like regularly airing videos from Osama Bin Laden and reporting on the “other side” of the war on terrorism. Of course, this resulted in the Bush Administration’s condemnation of the network, and the actual bombing of their Baghdad headquarters during the Iraq invasion.
Yet today, Al Jazeera has garnered kudos from U.S. politicians for its recent coverage of Arab Spring demonstrations–including Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi—and yes, Republican Sen. John McCain. And now that the network is one-third toward the goal of broadcasting in three major American cities, it’s clear that Al Jazeera English is hitting on most PR cylinders—including the establishment of a journalism fellowship at Columbia University.
Still, AJE has its communications work cut out for it, as there will always be the perception (rightly or wrongly) that the network is on the side of the bad guys and has no business broadcasting in the U.S.—especially in New York City. But, as someone who witnessed the attacks in New York nearly 10 years ago, I’m curious enough to watch the network and see what their reporting is all about. Will you be watching?
–Scott Van Camp