60 Minutes’ NYPD Anti-Terror Story Raises Interesting Comms Questions

Living in New York and commuting to downtown Manhattan to work, I’ve always been curious about the city’s behind-the-scenes anti-terrorism efforts. So the 60 Minutes story that ran on Sunday, 9/25/11 featuring NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly definitely piqued my interest—not only from a security perspective, but from a media relations view as well. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the communications meetings leading up to Scott Pelley’s interview with Kelly. How much of the anti-terrorist program should be revealed? What tone should Kelly take? I would also love to know the parameters set up for the interview between 60 Minutes and the city.

As for the interview itself, I asked crisis counselor and media training expert Andy Gilman of CommCore Consulting for his take on the finished product. Gilman was pretty impressed. “I saw this as a terrific piece for the NYPD and Commissioner Kelly,” he says. “Kelly comes across as thoughtful, organized and committed to public safety, and he had messages for a number, but not all, audiences.” The only trouble spot I saw with Kelly’s performance was when Pelley asked if  the NYPD had the capability to shoot down a plane. Kelly seemed hesitant in his answer (which was yes), and the day after the media would call him on that fact. Gilman doesn’t see it as a gaffe. “He was being candid and also trying not to reveal all the tactics that might be used to thwart a plot,” he says.

I agree with Gilman’s further assessment that CBS gave him a pass–at least on the edited version–on how the NYPD balances security and protection of civil liberties. Pelley also didn’t ask if $3 billion was too much of a price to pay for security. But then, as someone who takes the Metro North train, walks through Grand Central and hops on the subway down to Wall Street, I don’t think $3 billion is too much of a price to pay at all.

–Scott Van Camp

When Your Product Sucks (And What to Do About It)

Let’s say you have a product that is wonderfully mediocre in serving your customer. But you have a pretty sweet marketing budget and you need to use it or lose it this year. So you run more ads, do more on social media to promote the product, and angle for some nice publicity for your shiny product, to name a few tried and true tactics. End of the year, sales are flat – so you are doing OK. Plus, you received great media coverage on how amazingly you’ve marketed your product.

You have a party to celebrate. The product stays the same, the people behind the product get nice annual reviews and you, as the lead communications or marketing person, are content. Hopefully this doesn’t ring a bell for you personally but you have a friend….

I was thinking of mediocrity the other day while listening to Rashad Tobaccowala, chief strategy officer at global agency Vivaki (part of the Publicis Groupe), speak at the DigiDay Social conference. He was a far from mediocre speaker – in fact, he was one of the most inspiring speakers I’ve heard lately. He was funny, noting that his agency is “pathetic, but less pathetic” than his competitors so that gives his agency an edge. And he was insightful, conjuring “the people’s network” – that in the social media noise, let’s not forget we are talking to people not technology.  People – not digital/technology — are at the core, and we need to “recognize that people are analog in a digital world.”

So, back to your “friend’s” product that might technically “suck.” What does Tobaccowala recommend one do to increase sales and get more word of mouth online and offline? Improve the product! That’s right – spend time actually making the product better. Take everything you’ve heard from customers and that you know in your heart of hearts is holding this product back and make it better. Focus less on the new out-of-the-box campaign to promote your product, and direct some attention on the product itself (and then unleash some fresh marketing/communications efforts behind a brand you are now proud of). And if your team isn’t on board?  Tobaccowala spoke of two choices: You can change people’s mindsets, or you can change the people.

So what’s stopping your product from soaring? Is it the people on your team? The product itself? Both?  Don’t get fixated on the outer-lying strategy or tactics until you’ve fixed the core.

As management consultant Peter Drucker noted: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

– Diane Schwartz

Twitter: dianeschwartz


Your To-Ignore List: 9 Tasks to Shun This Week

I love to-do lists. They allow my dreams to take over reality and in a borderline masochistic matter to shatter before my very eyes every evening around 6 p.m. At least To-Do lists are predictably unrealistic. How about a To-Ignore List? Write down 5-10 things you will be sure to avoid this week. Work hard to ignore the tasks because they are on your ignore list and this time you want to feel like you’ve accomplished something.

If you’re really feeling daring, consider a To-Ignore List at Work and a Personal To-Ignore List. I’ll leave the latter to you (for me, I would ignore: “Make that dentist appointment,” “Take the clothes out of the dryer” and “Cook.”). If you are in the communications trade, here are some ideas for creating your To-Ignore List this week:

Promise to ignore (or at best “decline participation in”) the following:

1. The second voice message from the person who already left you a voice mail message and sent you an email about an important press release and needs you to call her back asap

2. The meeting that was set up to talk about future meetings and upcoming schedules

3. The call from the vendor who promises his “solution” is the best in the industry and we have to talk, how about Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET?

4. The discussion about ad value equivalencies  in public relations – because they don’t really exist anymore in PR

5. The colleague down the hall whose phone voice carries 20 feet and whose non-stop social butterfly voice grates at your very being perhaps because she’s not working and you are?

6. The request to connect with an absolutely total stranger on LinkedIn and an unknown “friend” on Facebook because you think it will make you feel good

7. The growing consensus to label something “a crisis” when it’s really just a situation that can be solved with a phone call

8.  The invitation to speak at a conference on a topic you’re not comfortable speaking about but you really like the destination and venue

9.  The client or manager who demands a 20% increase in “Likes” on Facebook, a 50% increase in your brand’s share of voice and some positive coverage with the major news outlets – by Friday.

To ignore is to get real things done sometimes. Let me know what’s on your To-Ignore List and if it works.

- Diane Schwartz

Join me on Twitter: @dianeschwartz


As Report on BP Spill Hits, Case Study to Chronicle Tourism Crisis Campaign

It’s fitting to me, at least, that the U.S. government report on the BP oil spill in the Gulf was released this week (on Sept. 14), blaming BP for the disaster but affixing some blame to other companies involved. Eleven people died in the explosion and 200 million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf before it was capped. Fitting to me because I just wrote a case study on Deveney Communication’s work during the spill for the Louisiana Office of Tourism, which earned one of our Platinum Awards this week for crisis communications. In talking to John Deveney and Jim Hutchinson of LOT about the work to encourage tourism during and after the crisis, it’s interesting to note their considerable experience with disasters in the state of Louisiana. Because of Katrina and Rita and other crises, Deveney Communication and LOT have built a disaster network of 1,100 partners, and knew just how to deploy them when negative public perception struck concerning seafood and the environment. But, this crisis was a bit different, because it didn’t want to end: it took four months to plug the leak. “Every day, we saw that oil leaking out,” said Hutchinson. “But people didn’t realize how big the Gulf is, and how our state could still be in business.”

Of course, who knows what the long-term effects of the spill will be. I just know that Deveney did some great work for LOT, and you can read about it in the Premium Content section of PR News.

–Scott Van Camp

Here Comes the Next Wave of Personal Media Brands

When AOL parted ways with tech blogger Michael Arrington, the company was left holding the bag—a bag that had cost it $30 million. Arrington had founded the TechCrunch blog that AOL bought in 2010, and when a conflict of interest arose because of an AOL-backed venture capital fund that Arrington had started, Arrington was suddenly gone from AOL.

We may never know why this played out the way it did, but what’s more interesting is the question of whether TechCrunch matters without its founder and voice.

Smart Web entrepreneurs like Nick Denton made sure that Gawker could survive an unending flow of staff defections, but we will soon see the day when that kind staff swapping doesn’t come without a major price to pay in facelessness. We are entering an era in which more and more personal media brands are going to challenge the power and influence of media organizations of all stripes, and readers are going to want the authenticity that comes with a personal voice.

A Sept. 13 New York Times article says that some bloggers are trying to avoid being too closely identified with their brands in fear that it could drive down their value as acquisition targets. For some that might be true, but it just seems inevitable that more individuals will emphasize that they are, in fact, their media brand, and we’ll see another rise in very focused, and very influential, bloggers.

The media landscape is bound to get even more fractured for PR pros, who are going to have to scramble to keep track of this new generation of bloggers. The audiences will be slivers—but within those slivers will be yet another generation of influential bloggers.

—Steve Goldstein

The Loudmouth Customer Is Not Always Right

Rude and inappropriate behavior at the U.S. Open has apparently become commonplace. Traditional audience etiquette is fraying as tennis fans and scene-makers speak loudly or cheer and jeer while a ball is in play, distracting the players. But the customer is always right, as the saying goes—especially if they’re sitting in $250,000 suites. They pay their money, they get to talk if they want to and when they want to, and it’s the U.S. Tennis Association’s job to make its elite customers feel welcome and appreciated in all cases.

This reminds me of a certain New York restaurant that is notorious for its “the customer is always wrong” attitude. If you show up with too many people in your party you’ll be shown the door. If the wait staff feels you’ve ordered too much food or ordered badly they will refuse to serve you. If you ask them not to curse in front of your child they will curse you out in front of your child.

And you know what? You can’t get into the place—it’s always jammed. The abuse of customers is part of its charm.

Professional communicators often have to play the role of appeasers, especially when it comes to customer relations. This role is getting harder to play as consumers whip themselves into frenzies on social networks and feel free to say things behind the veil of Facebook and Twitter handles that they would never say to someone face to face. Appeasement in the face of rudeness often begets more rudeness.

One can only assume that the owner of the unnamed New York restaurant reached a breaking point with one rude patron too many and turned the tables on all of his subseqent customers for good.

He has clearly gone too far in the opposite direction, but there is a lesson to be learned here. If your product is good enough you can stand on equal footing with your customers and tell them when they have broken your rules and when they have breached a line of decency. You may lose that customer, but that probably won’t dent the appeal of your product. In fact, your confident stance may increase its appeal.

So the message to the staff at Arthur Ashe Stadium—86 the loudmouths in the fancy suites.

—Steve Goldstein


Scheduling Conflicts: What it Says About Us and Them

The brouhaha over the scheduling of President Obama’s speech on Sept 7 — oops, I mean Sept 8 –  got me thinking about the countless times I’ve had trouble scheduling a meeting time, agreeing to a meeting time, heck, even making it to the meeting. Republican and House Speaker John Boehner’s insistence that the president move his televised jobs-creation speech to the joint session of Congress to a day other than Sept 7– and Obama agreeing to do so – has caused a national outrage and is now a page in the history books for being a “first”.

Couldn’t the two of them just used Tungle to schedule this meeting? Have you tried this? Truth is, it doesn’t really work because someone’s always busy on the day that everyone else can meet. But the participants think it’s cool. How many times have you been at the end of one meeting and the facilitator says, let’s get out our calendars and schedule the next meeting? Looking for consensus, we become temporarily paralyzed and agree to a date we think might conflict with another very important meeting.

And yet – doesn’t the President trump the Speaker of the House? If a PR agency’s client wants to have a meeting with the account director, you can be sure that account director will drop all calls, cancel the yoga class, and start working on an agenda. If your CEO calls a meeting, you’ll be there, right? If your child’s teacher calls a meeting to discuss Johnny’s behavior, you will be there even though you know it’s the teacher’s fault and Johnny is perfect. Which brings me to one problem in the new date of September 8 for Obama’s address – it’s the kick-off game of the NFL season. Which audience is more important – the members of Congress – or football-loving voters?

- Diane Schwartz

On Twitter @dianeschwartz


Platinum PR Awards Highlight the Best of PR

Even though this is prime vacation time with the Labor Day holiday approaching, we’ve been pretty busy here at PR News. As we prepare for our 2011 Platinum PR Awards luncheon on Sept. 14 in New York, I’ve been putting together the special issue that complements the event. Going through all 40 categories (can’t reveal the winners—you’d have to kill me first), plus chronicling our first-ever group of Hall of Fame campaigns, one really gets a sense of the hard, innovative and just plain excellent work that PR pros do. From branding and blogs to crisis and video, there is no shortage of great initiatives, including those that help move worthy causes forward. And when you add what PR is doing in the digital/social media space, the outcomes just keep getting more impressive. So as I go through these winners and honorable mentions, I do have a few favorites. Is there a campaign this year that has really impressed you?

Have an impressive holiday weekend.

–Scott Van Camp

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