Top 10 PR Rants for 2011

Since it’s top 10 (or 7, or 5) list season, I thought I’d offer my own numbered thoughts/rants on PR  in 2011. One of the lowlights in the media world for me this year was the death of 60 Minutes curmudgeon Andy Rooney (some people around the office think I’m becoming quite the curmudgeon myself). As a tribute to this talented commentator/complainer, I’ll ask that you channel his distinctive voice as you read the following:

1. Why does every crisis have to be a “PR disaster”?

2. Why are the Barcelona Principles such a big deal?

3. After the lights went out at Candlestick Park during a Monday Night Football game, was power company PG&E kidding when it announced that “only one customer was affected”? I truly hope so.

4. Am I the only one who prefers to read a news article, and not have to watch a video—and the commercial before it—instead? (That’s you, CNN.com.)

5. With all of the content creation going on in 2011, do communicators really need to “think like a journalist”? Being one of them, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

6. Will we ever see the day when PR and marketing will be truly integrated, so I can stop using the word “integrated”?

7. Is it just me, or does anyone else notice the apathy around Google+?

8. Did Anthony Weiner actually come up with the reply “I can’t say with certitude” himself when asked if nude photos on Twitter were of him? If he did, “media trainer” is his true calling.

9. When out on their yachts on Friday afternoons, what do CEOs really say about CSR? I’d like to be a fly on the gunwhale.

10. Is there anyone who takes year-end PR top 10 lists seriously?

I didn’t think so. Happy New Year, everyone!

—Scott Van Camp

7 Ways to Make Time for Google+

Google+ may have 400 million users by the end of 2012, Bloomberg reported on Dec. 28. Sign-ups for Google’s new social networking platform accelerated in December 2011, perhaps as a result of the popularity of Google’s Android mobile system, which makes it easy to join it, Bloomberg’s Nick Turner writes.

You know what that means—somehow, some way, you’re going to have to get serious about Google+ in 2012. You’ll have to assume that every person you see with an Android device has a Google+ account.

But where is the time supposed to come from? As a communicator, you’re already flitting between Facebook and Twitter, with occasional stops along the way on LinkedIn. And then there’s everything else you need to be doing—remember that stuff?

To ease your acceptance of the permanence (at least through 2012) of Google+, I offer you these time-stealing tips:

1. Visit your Facebook three times a day, tops. Penalty for breaking this rule: You must avoid FB entirely the next day.

2. Impose a 30-word limit on all emails you write.

3. Pretend Twitter has a 75-character limit. That’s 65 keystrokes saved that you can apply to Google+.

4. In those rare events that your phone actually rings (and you answer it), limit the conversation to 30 seconds. Your caller will be grateful, considering he or she was hoping you wouldn’t answer anyway.

5. Instead of checking your email during meetings, post to your Google+ page.

6. Never, ever visit Web sites, except in emergencies. You’re getting all the news you can handle from your Twitter account anyway.

7. Always skip the last item in a “Top” list. All those saved moments add up to more time you can spend on G+.

—Steve Goldstein 

Fans Get Fascinating Yet Cringe-Worthy Look Inside the NHL

Given all the stories in the media about concussions in the NHL, we now have HBO’s  24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic. For the most part, this four-episode behind-the-scenes look at the two teams that will face off on Jan. 2  in Citizen’s Bank Park in Philly is a well-made, fascinating look at the usually closed world of professional sports. But to me, the show is not doing the league much good in terms of softening the concussion issue. Right now, several NHL players are being held out of games due to concussion symptoms, including superstar Sidney Crosby, who sat out much of last season because of one.

This, coupled with the curious off-season deaths of three NHL enforcers, has the league reeling from a reputation point of view. But in the first episode we see two opposing players ready to fight before they even enter the game—then going at each others’ heads with a fervor. Then, it’s announced that Chris Pronger, the Flyers captain, will miss the rest of the season due to a concussion, while the team’s star center, Claude Giroux, is recovering from one (he has returned to play, hopefully for the rest of the season).

On the one hand, you have to admire the NHL for letting fans in on a no-holds-barred (well, as no-holds as you can get) look at the sport, and I still heartily recommend the show, though it’s not for small kids. But every time a player goes down on the ice and has to be taken into the locker room for testing, I cringe—probably like a lot of other viewers. This can’t be good the NHL and hockey.

—Scott Van Camp

Happy Days Are Here Again—Maybe

AP reported on Dec. 21 that the U.S. economy is ending the year “on a roll.” Consumer spending is up, and employers have added at least 100,000 jobs five months in a row, which hasn’t happened since 2006.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the economy stays on a roll through the first quarter of 2012. Employers keep hiring, consumers keep buying and housing prices start to make a recovery. This scenario would lead to a cultural shift—anger from the so-called 99% would abate, political pundits would lose some of their bite and a new optimism would emerge.

We’ve lived in a kind of darkness for so long: For some it began in fall 2008, for others with the invasion of Iraq and for some the starting point was 9/11. A sustained period of economic growth would be a shock to the system, and for communicators that means they would be dealing with a different culture entirely. Engagement with a public that has real hope for a better future would demand different sorts of messages—those that transmit optimism instead of caution and commiseration.

It’s a subtle thing, this change in cultural tone, but we’ve all lived through it. Many of us can recall the rabid enthusiasm of the dot-com era. That was a different world, but it was really not so long ago.

In 2012, let’s imagine—and prepare for—an economy and culture that truly is on a roll.

—Steve Goldstein

Wanted: Reputation Management Skills

Here is a study finding that is apropos to PR as we move into 2012: a PRSA/MWW Group survey conducted in fall 2011 finds that nearly all (98%) of more than 200 business leaders polled believe that in the future, it will be important for executives to have working knowledge of building and protecting a company’s credibility.

This insight puts PR squarely in the business conversation as, obviously, negative reputation issues are something a company truly wants to avoid. How they are handled is critical in the business world. Laura Kane, VP of corporate communications at Aflac, discussed just how important effective handling of reputational/crisis issues are during a PR News Advisory Board roundtable discussion, published in the 12/19/2011 issue. “Taking into account that the European economic troubles and the Japan earthquake and tsunami affected us at Aflac, from the corporate perspective, I think that all the talk in the media about how these crises were handled from a PR perspective made 2011 a good year for us,” she said.

In that same PRSA survey, 98% of the corporate leaders polled also felt that business schools should incorporate instruction on corporate communications and reputation management strategy into MBA curricula. Which is why the PRSA is working with Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communications at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business (and another PR News Advisory Board member), on developing an MBA program that will make strategic communication a key element of MBA curricula. This is a big step in the right direction—one that will give PR the business boost that it truly needs.

—Scott Van Camp

Victoria’s Secret’s Dirty Laundry

A Dec. 15 Bloomberg Markets Magazine report revealed that some cotton fiber suppliers for Victoria’s Secret in Burkina Faso rely on child labor. A spokesperson for Victoria’s Secret parent company Limited Brands Inc. told Bloomberg Markets that the company’s standards “specifically prohibit child labor…We are vigorously engaging with stakeholders to fully investigate this matter.”

Do you hear that sound? It’s the slowing swoosh of revolving doors at Victoria’s Secret stores. A lot of Victoria’s Secret gift buyers this holiday season will be going to plan B, starting Dec. 16.

We’ve heard about the death of true investigative journalism, as newspapers stumble toward seeming oblivion. The unexplained resignation of New York Times CEO Janet Robinson today will serve to only darken this gloomy picture. Yet even in this environment, journalists still find ways to embarrass companies and powerful politicians.

Large brands with a lot to lose should not be lulled into complacency and assume the news media has been entirely reduced to a henhouse of well-paid, squawking pundits with talking points and post-collegiate aggregators. There will always be smart, tough journalists looking to give the high and mighty the hotfoot treatment.

Content marketing experts often say that all organizations are publishers now. If that’s truly the case, big brands should develop some in-house investigative journalists to look closely at their own supply chains. Better to discover your own dirty laundry than to have it aired by outsiders.

—Steve Goldstein

Mobile Passes Print Media in Time Spent

The once unthinkable has happened: According to an eMarketer study, U.S. adults now spend more time on their mobile devices than they do with print media. Well, unthinkable isn’t the right word. You know what’s going on when in the subway more and more people are staring at their iPhones and Androids rather than struggling with more bulky daily print newspapers.

According to eMarketer, time spent with the Internet and mobile phones was up from 2010—by 7.7% and 30%, respectively—and that 30% jump helped propel mobile past the 1-hour-per-day mark, compared to just 44 minutes with print magazines and newspapers combined. In addition, the study finds that the average adult consumer has spent 4 hours and 34 minutes each day watching TV and video on a traditional television set this year, up 10 minutes from 2010. Being an avid couch potato, that’s one stat I’m proud to say I’ve contributed to.

What does all this mean for PR pros? Those that prepare content specifically for mobile platforms will be the most successful in getting that content read. It also means that more people are consuming content on the go, lending more credence to the use of location-based campaigns. As PR News maps out content for 2012, you can be sure that we’ll be covering these important mobile trends.

—Scott Van Camp

Corporate Social Responsibility: Not a Passing Fancy

In the past two years as editor of PR News, I’ve gotten mixed signals about the value of corporate social responsibility. Research has run the gamut—from executives really caring about CSR initiatives to putting them toward the bottom of their to-do lists.  However, CSR appears to be top-of-mind with consumers, as a recent global Cone/Echo CR Opportunity Study found 81% of consumers worldwide say companies have a responsibility to address key social and environmental issues—beyond their local communities.

But will that really sway organizations on the CSR fence? Hard to say, but maybe this fact will: The investment community (shareholders and analysts) is beginning to understand the bottom-line value of ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors. The number of unique Bloomberg users of ESG data is up 50% this year, says Tara Greco, senior VP of APCO Worldwide’s corporate responsibility practice. If that stat doesn’t get the attention of leadership, nothing will.

Judging from the growing popularity of our  CSR Awards program, it’s clear that CSR is not going away. For an in-depth CSR recap of 2011 and trends for 2012, check out the 12/12/2011 issue of PR News.

—Scott Van Camp

Can You Spell Great PR? Alec Baldwin’s Flighty Promo of Words with Friends

Clearly, it was a slow news day this morning when the media was going wild with coverage of Alec Baldwin being kicked off an American Airlines flight on Tuesday in Los Angeles for refusing to stop playing Words with Friends on his iPad and was reportedly rude and disruptive to the pilot and flight attendants (doesn’t the pilot have other concerns prior to take-off?). Baldwin was put on a later AA flight and, in case you’re curious, no one was injured.  In fact, congrats to Zynga, creator of Words with Friends, for wonderful earned media coverage. And in light of AA’s just-announced bankruptcy filing, this incident puts them in the news for something other than rumors of its demise.  And for Baldwin, who’s been toying with running for public office and whose show 30 Rock will be back on the air soon, this incident keeps him top of mind among his various publics—particularly those of us who hate sitting on the tarmac for 30 minutes to an hour without access to our electronic devices.

Such a small incident unleashes so much PR opportunity for the three players involved and provides the media with so many story angles. To wit, this morning, Fox News interviewed an aviation expert about the Baldwin/AA incident and spoke about how many flight attendants are on food stamps. So that’s why we shouldn’t use our iPads when the aircraft doors are closed? I love slow news days.

Diane Schwartz  

E-Mail Ban Story Teases, Yet is Misleading

Earlier this week, a big deal was made by the media about IT company Atos, which is banning employees from sending e-mails under the company’s new “zero e-mail” policy.” Sounds pretty bold, and pretty sweet if you’re a person who is up to their neck in e-mails.

I know as a journalist, I spend way more time than I should wading through and answering e-mails daily. Maybe it would be a good thing to get back to good old-fashioned phone calls and face-to-face communications. But then look at the fine print of this story: Atos’ CEO Thierry Breton says the move is for internal e-mails only, among the company’s 74,000 employees. And the alternatives to the internal emails aren’t old-fashioned at all—instant messaging and a Facebook-style interface.

Instant messaging? It’s my opinion that IM is worse than e-mails in terms of taking up time. With an e-mail, at least people on the sending end don’t expect you to answer right away. With IM, people feel you should answer immediately. And when you’re in the middle of an IM conversation, if something comes up and you have to stop typing, people on the other end feel slighted.

Breton says he hasn’t sent an e-mail in the three years he’s been in charge of the company. As a CEO and big-picture thinker, that might be easier for him to do than a more mid-level employee. I’ll be waiting for the announcement that Atos has also banned internal IM communications, too.

—Scott Van Camp

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