College Flunks Trust, Reputation Test

While the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer doesn’t include the academic world in its rankings, it would be a good bet that people have a decent amount of trust in institutions of higher learning. After all, colleges and universities are imparting strong values as well as knowledge to students, aren’t they?

Certainly not at Claremont McKenna College, a small liberal arts school in the Southern California city of Claremont. The school has admitted that for  the last six years the school had been exaggerating the collective SAT scores of incoming freshman for the last six years, which probably played a part in boosting the college’s rankings like the one in U.S. News & World Report.

The school’s president, Pamela B. Gann, said in a memo that “As an institution of higher education with a deep and consistent commitment to the integrity of all our academic activities, and particularly our reporting of institutional data, we take this situation very seriously.” She went on to state that a senior official in the admissions office had admitted doing the deed and resigned. End of story? Not by a long-shot. Now that the cat’s out of the bag at little Claremont, schools across the nation will be under the media microscope. And simply throwing an administrator under the bus won’t call off the media hounds.

This is an all-too-familiar case of a communications disconnect within an organization—and I don’t mean that in a PR sense. Three things are possible:

A few weeks ago Phil Burton, consultant at product marketing firm 208 Group, said something to me pertaining to the NetFlix pricing fiasco that is appropriate in this case: “PR can’t be like the people who follow the elephant and clean up the mess,” he said. Meaning, there needs to be a system in place deep within an organization that can nip these situations in the bud, or else some day academia will end up with a trust score as low as financial institutions.

–Scott Van Camp

What to Do When You’ve Pitched the Wrong Journalist (at the Wrong Time)

At PR News conferences we often have a journalists’ panel that enables PR pros to hear what the media really thinks of them without having to take it personally—it’s the other folks in the room that get on their nerves.

Always at the top of the list of complaints from journalists is receiving phone calls and e-mails pitching a particular story that has nothing whatsoever to do with their current beat. Getting a phone or e-mail pitch about a new athletic shoe when your current beat is cable TV advertising—especially when it’s been a trying day—confirms a journalist’s knee-jerk impression that all PR pros do is mechanically run down contact lists and spin news.

I’ve gotten a couple of these types of calls this week—people asking me if I’ve had a chance to look at press releases that pertain to a beat I last covered several years ago. A simple Google search may have revealed that I was no longer an appropriate target, but I understand how these things happen. Perhaps a junior person was given a list and a short time frame and was under a lot of pressure to just send out the e-mails and make the calls.

This may cause some slight embarrassment on the PR pro’s end, who then thinks that’s the end of it. Just delete the name from the list. But that’s not the end of it. Blindly reaching out to media pros you haven’t first researched plays right into their predisposition to be skeptical about the PR function. One such mistake has a ripple effect.

There is an easy way to deal with these situations when they arise and put all PR pros in a better light. If you contact a journalist with a completely inappropriate pitch (and the journalist lets you know about it), ask what they’re covering now. Simple as that. Just saying “sorry” and quickly getting off the phone is a missed opportunity. If you ask what the journalist is covering now, first, you’re showing some interest in the journalist as a person instead of just a name on a list and, second, maybe a colleague of yours might find the information useful. It’s just simple human relations.

—Steve Goldstein

Join me on Twitter at SGoldsteinAI

How to Lift Your Personal Brand Sky High

Late last week we were entertained by the downright bizarre story of Kim Dotcom, the larger-than-life founder of the now shuttered file sharing site Megaupload. Dotcom is now in jail in New Zealand, awaiting extradition to the U.S.  to face charges of conspiring to commit racketeering, conspiring to commit money laundering, copyright infringement, and aiding and abetting copyright infringement.

Check out this Wired article to get the full, entertaining lowdown on Dotcom. But in the meantime, I wanted to fill you in on a little secret: “Dotcom” is not Dotcom’s original last name. Nope, I kid you not. It was actually “Schmitz.”

But herein lies Dotcom’s personal branding genius—whether he may be a criminal or not. Schmitz changed his last name to fit his online persona. “Dotcom” defines him. This got me thinking that a last-name change could could really benefit those PR pros looking to get more visibility for their personal brands. For instance, PR News defines who I am. So from now on I’ll be Scott Makefridaydeadline. Other notables who could benefit from this move include:

It’s true that athletes are big on the name change—Chad Johnson to Ochocinco for example. But his jersey number really didn’t define who he was. Mr. Dotcom is clear evidence that this move will work. After all, the FBI reports that in 2010 he was making more than $100,000 per day from his online properties. Before he was put in the slammer, Dotcom was living in a $24 million spread in New Zealand. Riches can be ours.

I’m on right now going through the process. Please join me.

–Scott Makefridaydeadline

It’s Time for a PR Industry Debate; Here are the Topics

Let’s assume for a second that PR professionals do not agree on all issues. And let’s assume we have the opportunity to stage a PR Industry Debate, in the same “interesting” fashion as this year’s Republican debates.  Broadcast live and nationally, moderated by John King or the editor of Le Huffington Post. And let’s assume we can select five PR leaders to debate the most important issues facing Public Relations.

What would this debate look and feel like? Who would be the five debaters? Would there be nasty words flying across the podiums or would everyone make nice? Would the debaters, presumably leading PR executives, be able to articulate their points? Would they be on message? Those PRSA APR pins – would they all wear them on their lapels? And most importantly, which topics would they debate?

Given the opportunity to lay out our industry’s issues on the table, what would we choose to shine an international spotlight on?

Some (debatable) ideas:

* Will there ever be a measurement standard and how would it be rolled out?

* How can PR get a permanent invite to discussions about corporate strategy?

* Who leads social media: PR or Marketing?

* When should the PR professional serve as the spokesperson – always, never, sometimes?

* Is the press release dead or should it just be called something else?

* How can we earn the media’s respect?

* Agency/client relations – a marriage made in heaven?

* Are college PR students being properly trained to handle on-the-job challenges?

* And can they write well and tell a good story?

* How can we break down the silos between PR, Marketing, HR, IR and other key departments?

What would you add to this list or remove from it? And who would you put up on the national stage to represent our industry? Let’s get the Party started.

- Diane Schwartz

Join me on Twitter at dianeschwartz



Top 10 Most Reputable Companies-With a Twist

For nearly two years now, PRIME Research, led by its CEO Mark Weiner, has been providing PR News with illuminating data relating to media coverage of top companies.

Analyzing the content of corporate coverage by leading traditional print, TV and online media outlets in the U.S., PRIME researchers were able to tell us media share of voice as well as article sentiment for a variety of corporate attributes, including Products, Strategy & Vision, Management, Financial Performance, Positioning and CSR. Great stuff.

For the 1/23/2012 issue of PR News out Monday, PRIME has outdone itself, creating the Top 10 Companies With the Best Reputations list as defined by media coverage. It seems like corporate reputation is most often defined by consumer studies, but this list takes a fresh and important angle. “While media coverage is only one element in corporate reputation, journalistic content uniquely reflects both current public opinion while helping to shape future perceptions,” says Weiner of the list.

I won’t give it away, so you’ll have to wait until Monday to see who the top dogs are. OK, I’ll give you a hint: the list is tech-heavy. Care to guess who No. 1 is?

–Scott Van Camp

Paula Deen and the Odor of Inauthenticity

Food Network star and cookbook author Paula Deen chose to keep her diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes a secret for three years, while she continued to promote recipes heavy in fat, sugar and salt—recipes that if followed faithfully and frequently can contribute to the onset of diabetes.

Her announcement of her diagnosis this week coincided with the launch of her endorsement of Novo Nordisk’s diabetes medication, Victoza. She told the New York Times that she delayed announcing her diagnosis because she wanted to wait until she “had something to bring to the table.”

This led to heavy criticism of Deen, who has been accused of holding back information that could affect the lifestyle habits of her fans in order to keep the gravy train rolling, and of speaking up only because Novo Nordisk presented her with a new source of income.

Did either Deen or Novo Nordisk expect this backlash? I admit this is a trick question. If they hadn’t expected it, that means they were naive and perhaps even dismissive of the public’s ability to put two and two together. If they had expected the backlash, that means they were cynical and calculated that Deen’s celebrity endorsement would be such a boost to sales of the drug that it would counteract the effect of accusations of hypocrisy.

If I had to guess, I would say that Novo Nordisk is regretting this deal. All celebrity spokespeople bring with them a whiff of inauthenticity—everyone knows they’re being paid to say Acme Ointment is the best thing since sliced bread. But this particular celebrity spokesperson is giving off a powerful odor—and it’s going to last for a while.

—Steve Goldstein

Cruise Ship Crisis: What the PR Industry Should Be Talking About

After the partial-sinking of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia last Friday off the Tuscany coast resulting in at least 11 deaths and dozens still missing, the media coverage has been a balance of soft stories (one couple took the cruise instead of marriage counseling) and scandalous (the captain reportedly was at the bar drinking and flirting with a guest as the ship was sinking; another outlet reported that he steered too close to the mainland so he could impress a friend).

By now, those wearing a business hat and watching the story unfold know that Carnival Cruise Lines is the parent company of this cruise ship – and its stock has already taken a hit on international exchanges, and this being peak booking season the cruise industry as a whole will be temporarily battered.  Those at the dinner table with friends and family might be exchanging “what-if-it-were us” and “what-a-shames”. My daughter noted – darkly, as teenagers do – that this incident will help ticket sales for the re-release of Titanic this Spring (she might be right).

From a PR perspective, there could be a tendency to proclaim that the cruise line should apologize often, focus on the victims and their families, and be prudent about its commercial promotions for a while, at least. To that, I say: of course – this is PR 101 and 201.

The more interesting challenge is timing – how long, how deep and how wide? Should Carnival distance itself from the subsidiary Costa Concordia? Should it take a different communications posture with consumers vs the media and investors? Should Carnival remove its Google adword campaign promoting special deals, at least for a few days? Strategy comes before tactics, so it will be interesting to watch their communications strategy unfold over the coming days. (What do you think? Please respond below!)

During crises like these, PR departments and agency partners at most companies will gather to take a look at their crisis preparedness plans and make sure they’re air tight. But the existing challenge is not the crisis communications plan itself, but how does PR get a seat at the important table where it can have an effect on performance – from CEOs to GMs to coaches and captains of ships? How can PR be pro-active rather than re-active to the potential crises of our times? This, I submit, is a question we should be asking of the essential PR discipline as companies continue to steer their own ships in uncertain waters.

- Diane Schwartz




Six Indicators That a Journalist Just Doesn’t Like You

Is it important for the media to like their PR contacts? I’m not talking about getting invited to their wedding or ski house in Vermont (though that is one indicator). I’m talking about genuine “like” – as in, I can trust that person and I don’t mind having dinner with her.  So I submit that Yes, it is important for a journalist to like you.  We (as sober humans) gravitate to kindness, humor, intelligence, trustworthiness. While a journalist may have no choice but to “deal with you,” it certainly makes for more pleasant and effective media relations when the journalist feels you’re the real deal. That you’re not just calling on him in times of (desperate) need. How do you know if a journalist doesn’t like you? Here are six key indicators:

1.  The reporter returns your call – but after you’ve gone home, to ask you to take him off your media list.

2. You email the reporter a story idea and she emails you back: um, who are you?

3. The reporter refuses to have you present during an interview with your senior executive .

4.  She tweets a negative comment about you – not your company.

5. The reporter calls you a flack.

6. You invite the reporter to your Vermont ski house, all expenses paid for him and his wife, to be used at anytime, and he declines, every time you ask.

Think about your relationship with your media contacts and ask yourself, am I someone they wouldn’t mind being in the same room with? Not all journalists are welcoming and/or forgiving, but if you’re sensing of trend of being dismissed, then it’s time to make time for relationship-building.

Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz



A Few Things About San Francisco

At PR News we’re pretty excited about our Feb. 16 Digital PR/Social Media Summit.

Yes, we know we’ve got a great lineup of presenters: Ashley Dillon of Southwest Airlines, Stacy Green of Mashable, Sally Falkow of Meritus Media, Joshua Nafman of PepsiCo, Jim Newcomb of Boeing, Edelman’s Monte Lutz, Burson-Marsteller’s Dallas Lawrence…the list goes on. And, sure, they’ll be sharing the latest and best PR tactics in using Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and more.

But what has us jazzed almost as much (emphasis on almost) is the location of the conference—San Francisco.

We were there for our Facebook Conference this past August and I, as a former resident, made the most of it. One memorable night, I left the Westin on 3rd St. (site of the August 2011 Facebook Conference and the February 2012 Digital PR Summit), scoffed at the rubes waiting in vain for one of the pitifully few taxis in San Francisco and headed north on Kearny by foot. That’s the best way to travel in San Francisco.

At California St. I hopped on a cable car, heading west. Contrary to popular belief, some San Francisco residents actually take cable cars. I did, when I lived there. A monthly Fast Pass covered the cost of a cable car ride, and I lived atop Russian Hill, one block from the Hyde St. line. It was a quick route downtown, and helped me avoid the nightmare of the 30 Stockton bus.

Back to that night in August: I rode that cable car through the fog, up Nob Hill, past the Fairmont, to the end of the line—Van Ness Ave. I walked north on Van Ness to Pacific Ave. and pushed through the doors of Harris’ steakhouse, and settled in at the bar for a martini, while I awaited the arrival of some of my old cronies. After dinner I walked to Chinatown and all the way back for a safe landing at the Westin.

Walking is, after all, the best way to see San Francisco. Maybe I’ll see you in the fog, or at the Westin, or at the House of Prime Rib—my chosen rendezvous point with my cronies for this trip. You know what that guy said about his heart and the place where he left it.

—Steve Goldstein

Be a Star-Maker and Settle Into Your Seat at the Table

One of our PR Insiders columnists, Gordon G. Andrew of Highlander Consulting, wrote a heartfelt article for PR News recently about the struggles of PR to secure a place at the table with senior management. It’s a subject we deal with frequently in PR News and in our conferences, webinars and guidebooks.

The subject often stirs up conflicting opinions. For instance, in a recent PR News article, Larry Parnell, associate professor of strategic PR at George Washington University, suggested that “CSR is the best route for PR pros to get the proverbial seat at the table.” Others, such as PepsiCo’s Bonin Bough, say that taking the lead in digital strategy is essential to proving the business case for a robust PR team.

Another way is to become a star-maker within your organization—to be the person who, Svengali-like, molds a top executive into an approachable, visible presence on multiple platforms. Much is made now of giving a human face to organizations (this is not a reference to Mitt Romney’s comment that “corporations are people”), and some chief executives excel at this (Tony Hsieh of Zappos and Richard Branson of Virgin spring to mind).

PR practitioners can apply all their media training skills and social media savvy to helping their organization’s top exec get out from behind a desk and out of the boardroom and engage with their audience and customers. It’s simple human nature—if you feel you know a chief exec as a person, assuming that person is not completely obnoxious, you feel more connected to the brand.

The New Yorker just ran a Talk of the Town piece about Richard Branson, and I involuntarily made a mental note to fly Virgin America. Branson comes off as somewhat out of touch when it comes to the day-to-day lives of the non-kazillionaires out there, but he still sounds like a pretty decent, interesting guy.

Now, you may not have a natural showman to work with at your organization, but that’s where your skills come in. Develop his or her human touch, and grab yourself a nice, comfy seat.

—Steve Goldstein



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