As you were waiting for the lights to go back on in New Orleans last night, were you thinking to yourself: if this were my Super Bowl, what would I be saying to my team? What would I be doing to keep my team on the winning side? And is some poor worker at the stadium in big, big trouble for turning off the light switch? Thirty four minutes of darkness and delay surely is a long time, and certainly enough time to dull the edge, to lose momentum.
And as you watched the Ravens lose 17 points in 4 minutes, 10 seconds shortly after the lights went back on in the third quarter, did you marvel at the concept of Momentum? How the 49ers snapped into shape as energy was sapped from the Ravens? Maybe you weren’t thinking about this, but surely you weren’t marveling at the mediocre commercials.
As a Baltimore native and Ravens fan, I was flabbergasted that my team might actually lose. Before our very eyes, we saw the power of Momentum, both in the way the Ravens lost it and the 49ers rallied, and in the way the Ravens held on and persevered.
As a businessperson who hosts many events and conferences, I found a certain cold comfort in knowing that one of the most choreographed events in the world could hit a major snag, such as the lights going out in half the stadium for a half hour that’s worth nearly $240 million in Super Bowl commercials. (So next time the AV isn’t working at a PR News conference, I will tap into Super Bowl 2013 Memory Bank to calm my nerves.) And from a crisis management standpoint, the power outage presents interesting post-game scenarios for the city of New Orleans and the stadium management – surely they are meeting on this topic as you read this blog. From a leadership standpoint, the power outage and new-found half hour of Waiting forced on Brothers Harbaugh and their quarterbacks the need to rally their team, keep them focused and driven while marveling at the bad or good luck just presented to them. And kudos to the cheerleaders, who kept swinging their pom-poms during the crisis.
Momentum is a powerful force. We saw it on the field last night, and we see it every day around us. Success begets more success. If you and your team are on a roll and you are feeling the momentum, you hold on to the ball and keep moving forward. You might lose sight of it for a short time, but you find it when it’s most needed. It’s just what you do! When your team has no momentum, it tends to continue on a downward slide until someone finds the right switch and the lights go on, figuratively. The power can and will go out every now and then. It may not happen in front of millions of people, and it may not be your fault. But it’s Momentum that will save the day.
- Diane Schwartz
“It’s PR’s fault!” This is what a reporter acquaintance for a daily publication recently exclaimed to me, as she was lamenting the inability to set up a meeting with a top executive at a major conference. “They didn’t get back to me, and then the head of the company was mad that we didn’t interview him. PR there sucks.”
There are a few things wrong with this story:
> First, it’s easy for reporters to place the blame on the PR department if an interview falls through or is never even set up.
> Second, the reporter refers to a PR professional as the profession itself: instead of Jane Smith or even “the PR representative,” this reporter sees the PR rep as the lump sum of Unhelpfulness. PR’s just a department.
> Third, this reporter doesn’t truly understand the role of Public Relations and possibly (don’t tell her I said this!) her role as a reporter. If you really want to interview the head of this organization, find a way to do it. Make your pitch to the PR person compelling enough that he’ll call you back. Give the PR person enough time to set things up, too.
(Turns out, the reporter contacted the company PR department two days before a major event, and most of the company was either heading to the big conference or diverted with trade-show planning.)
Interestingly, the reporter didn’t know what she was going to interview this executive about; she just needed to get the interview. With newsrooms and media departments spread thin, it is increasingly less likely that the beat reporter will be getting specific guidance from her editor about coverage and story ideas. So it’s beholden on the reporters to figure it out, and for Public Relations professionals to be one of their guides.
I asked the reporter is she had a relationship with any of the PR people at this major company. “Not really. I mean, they send me press releases, but that’s about it.” Then she remembered they had invited her to product launch parties and have reached out for interview requests with their key execs, but she usually ignored the outreach. Why did she ignore them? You know the answer: because she didn’t need them at the time.
Media Relations is a two-way street. In the past month, I had the pleasure of editing PR News’ latest Media Training Guidebook, and one of the themes was the difficulty of relationship-building in a too-much-information culture where it’s so much easier to just hide behind social media and email, and not develop substantive relationships.
And, as many of our guidebook contributors advised, if you have a good story to tell, your chances of getting covered by the media goes up exponentially. Maybe the story of my journalist friend and the PR rep would have ended better if it began with a good story. If the company was telling a new story about its brand, the reporter would be interested in learning more and would be more proactive in building a relationship with PR.
But somehow, it all got lost in translation: the reporter didn’t know what she was going to be writing about; the company didn’t have a story to tell and therefore didn’t care that much about getting coverage, and a cloud of indifference marred progress. So, unfortunately one of the stories to come out of this is a tale of media relations gone awry, told by one side.
Those in PR know this is an old story and it must be put to bed.
- Diane Schwartz
The announcement this week by the Boy Scouts of America that it was considering reversing its policy of not allowing gays to join its ranks was front-page news. After all, the organization has fought tooth and nail—going all the way to the Supreme Court in 2000—to keep gays out.
Now, with the announcement that it’s reconsidering, the Boy Scouts can now move forward without controversy and leave the bad will that the policy created behind.
Not so fast. If you read the fine print on what the organization is proposing, it’s not a national policy change. Like the federal government does sometimes with states, the Boy Scouts intends to leave it up to individual chartering organizations as to whether to allow gays as scouts and scout leaders.
Troops are sponsored by churches, civic groups and schools. Thus BSA’s national policy reversal would put the onus on these local scouting groups—most administered by churches, civic groups and schools—to make uncomfortable decisions regarding its membership.
So while the Boy Scouts may be getting positive press now, it’s likely it will be more of the same controversy going forward, this time at the local level.
Bottom line: the Boy Scouts of America isn’t dealing with its crisis as much as it’s passing the crisis along. That’s not only bad crisis management, it’s just plain bad.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01
A couple of PR-related studies released earlier this month underscore two major challenges that PR pros now face, one that is tactical in nature and the other that is in a more strategic vein.
The first study is another reminder that, in a digital age, every company is a media company and PR pros must now add “quasi network programming executive” to their job description.
The study, which was conducted by PR agency Weber Shandwick, found that the percentage of CEOs using online video to promote their company narratives grew to 40% in 2012, compared with just 18% in 2010.
Growth in video is nearly evenly divided between CEOs appearing in videos on company websites and on corporate YouTube channels, according to the study, which is based on publicly visible activities of CEOs in the world’s largest 50 companies
Indeed, as a growing number of CEOs get ready for their close-up the onus is on communications execs to create and/or produce the kind of online-video programming that will put their boss in the best possible light.
Does the CEO manage by walking the floor? Produce an online-video that shows how he or she interacts with employees and focus on the sense of camaraderie that the CEO strives on. Maybe your CEO tells great anecdotes about your company’s products and services? Pick a cozy, inviting setting for the CEO to tell a story, and splice the video with some B-roll of customer testimonials.
The creative in producing online videos is wide open (depending on how much budget you can commit). But that should be the easy part once you get buy-in from the CEO. The more salient question is whether PR pros can seize the momentum within online video while simultaneously building on their relationships with C-level execs.
The other study presents more nettlesome challenges for PR pros: how to make their companies more trustworthy and transparent. According to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, which was released last week, business leaders are trusted by less than 50% in 16 of 26 markets, while government leaders are trusted by less than half in 21 of 26 markets.
The online survey sampled 26,000 general population respondents with an oversample of 5,800 informed publics ages 25-64 across 26 countries.
“We’re clearly experiencing a crisis in leadership,” said Richard Edelman, president-CEO, Edelman, in a statement. “Business and governmental leaders must change their management approach and become more inclusive by seeking the input of employees, consumers, activists and experts such as academics, and adapting to their feedback. They must also pass the test of radical transparency.”
“Radical transparency” is something that PR pros need to aspire to; they’re in a position to develop and execute the communications strategy among all of the people (management, employees, customers and prospects) who have a stake in making sure their companies are more transparent and trustworthy.
PR pros can find many different routes to convince the public that they’re in the business of doing the right thing. Heck, one vehicle could be an online video featuring your CEO explaining what your company is doing to be more transparent. Talk about the perfect PR marriage of the tactical and the strategic.
Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1
The news this week that McDonald’s will use only Alaskan Pollack—sustainably fished in the wild—in its Filet-O-Fish and Fish McBites products, proves the point that corporate social responsibility is taking the business world by storm.
And these days the restaurant industry appears to be leading the CSR charge. The Los Angeles Times reported this week that McDonald’s, Burger King and IHOP have all launched food sourcing initiatives.
Burger King announced that it was cutting ties with a farm whose meat had horse DNA in it, while IHOP and Applebee’s owner Dine Equity pledged to eliminate gestation crates from its pork supply chain (joining Carl’s Jr. in a similar initiative announced last summer).
These chains join In-N-Out Burger (a particular favorite of this author), which cut ties last summer with a meat supplier accused of animal abuse.
In addition, McDonald’s—one of the largest buyers of fish in the U.S.—will pay the Marine Stewardship Council for the right put the group’s label on its product packaging, joining Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Walgreens, which already carry products that bear the MSC moniker.
Research has show that these types of sustainability initiatives resonate with the public, and no doubt these restaurant brands are looking to counter the national issue of obesity. Whatever the reasoning, all of these initiatives have one simple message in common: “We’re doing the right thing,” perhaps the most effective message a brand can have.
Now that McDonald’s has addressed its fish, I’m waiting for fair trade tartar sauce.
Help us celebrate the best in CSR by attending PR News CSR Awards luncheon, set for Feb. 11 in Washington, D.C.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01
Is your Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) flaring up? Are you anxious because all your friends are hanging out and you are at home scarfing down the last spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s? Or perhaps you have FOMO because you haven’t tweeted in three hours or haven’t posted on Facebook in two days.
While not an actual condition, FOMO is a byproduct of the Social Media Age and anyone who spends anytime on social media has encountered FOMO at least once. It’s certainly not healthy, and for communicators who believe social media is a tactic not a platform, then your FOMO level is probably pretty high. Spending too much time on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc, means you’re spending less time interacting face to face with your colleagues, talking to your customers; less time reading, thinking, strategizing, measuring. “Too much time” is a relative term, and for some brands and people, posting every hour or so is acceptable.
But you know intrinsically when it’s getting out of hand, so recognize FOMO and manage it. You are not missing anything. You will not get fired and you will not lose friends. You will not miss a big news item and you will not lose a sale. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, so instead of fearing you’re missing out, try fearing that you’re too deep in social media. Combat FOMO in small steps: consider NOT sharing a link to a news story you didn’t read; consider NOT posting a photo of the enchilada that’s shaped like the state of Florida; consider leaving your device in your pocket or purse when interacting with another human.
It’s easier said than done. And app developers who understand the human psyche are coming up with creative ways to deal with people’s FOMO. Take, for example, a new app called CouchCachet which allows you to check in via Foursquare to bars, parties, restaurants, hangouts, etc, even though you are not actually there. On its home page, the app is described as “a social application that will lie and say you are already doing those things while you sit at home in your pajamas.”
In a profile of CouchCachet in the New York Times, the app co-founder Harlie Levine explains: “It will live the lifestyle that you need to project to others. You can finally be who you want people to think you are. They don’t know you’re sitting at home, getting caught up on ‘Downton Abbey’.” Conceding that the app can mean no one’s really out partying but rather they’re pretending to be doing so and using CouchCachet to enable this, Brian Fountain, the co-founder of CouchCachet noted: “This is robots talking to robots. This is the future.”
I truly hope this is not the future. It’s up to us humans to stop the madness.
- Diane Schwartz
It was with a heavy dose of predictability that the country waited to hear Oprah interview Lance Armstrong on Thursday night. We knew he was going to admit that he was doping. He prepared the world for this weeks ago, though there was speculation that he might reveal more. When asked by Oprah variations on the theme of whether he took banned substances, Armstrong answered with the one word that didn’t cycle through his vocabulary over the years: “Yes”.
The most entertaining part of the interview was when Armstrong told Oprah that he had looked up the word “cheat” in the dictionary and was pleased to see he didn’t fit the definition of “gaining an advantage on a rival or foe” since everyone was doping at the time.
The interview was everything everyone said it would be: an admission of guilt and a marketing and PR coup for Oprah’s OWN network, which hasn’t gotten this much attention since never. Maybe in the second part of the interview Friday night, Armstrong will apologize directly to his fans, family, friends, sponsors and business associates. The word “sorry” was buried in the interview when he said: “I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times. I’m sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I’m sorry for that.” “I’m sorry for the that” is different than “I’m sorry.” These are words that defy the accused; they are curiously hard to utter when the spotlight shines on them. And they are words that have more mileage than any Tour de France.
Armstrong should have led the conversation with those two words.
– Diane Schwartz
With data an increasingly important element of marketing communications, PR folks may feel like they’re starting to drown in numbers. So one more shouldn’t hurt.
But this number is likely to have a much bigger impact on the ability of communications pros to do their job better, as opposed to the numbers they constantly track on a daily basis (Google Analytics, et al.) and which sometimes get lost in the ether.
It’s called ‘Dunbar’s Number,’ or roughly 150—the ceiling for the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuine social relationship.
Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist and professor at the University of Oxford, developed Dunbar’s Number. It’s been floating around for more than 20 years, ever since Dunbar wrote a 1992 article in which he used the correlation observed for non-human primates to predict a social group size for humans.
But now that social media is all the rage, Dunbar is “enjoying a newfound popularity” among Silicon Valley programmers, according to a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek.
The article, which gets into the nitty-gritty of Dunbar’s Number, should be required reading for PR pros who want to make better sense of their social networks—and maybe even generate more solid returns.
“In the same way that human beings can’t breathe under water or run the 100-meter dash in 2.5 seconds or see microwaves with the naked eye, most cannot maintain many more than 150 meaningful relationships. Cognitively, we’re just not built for it,” reads the article.
As PR pros face growing pressure to enhance their outreach programs and cultivate more relationships via social media, Dunbar’s Number should give communications execs serious pause about the effectiveness of their social media strategy.
Even better, it should once and for all put an end to the “spray and play” practice that remains a crutch among PR pros. While there are all sorts of granular details surrounding Dunbar’s Number, the figure is a highfalutin term for the old adage, “less is more.”
With Dunbar’s Number in mind, PR folks may be throwing good money after bad or, at the very least, incurring a lot of waste in their communication efforts.
As social channels have proliferated, PR execs have been conditioned to thinking that an unknown stream of contacts is just a few clicks away. But Dunbar’s Number should provide a clearer understanding of the inherent limitations in trying to befriend 400 people on Facebook or get in the good graces of 200 journalists and/or media influencers.
Social media is a great PR vehicle. But it’s got only so much gas when stacked up against our brain capacity to build effective relationships. PR pros still need to aim high, of course, but Dunbar’s Number makes a convincing case that they need to take selectivity online a lot more seriously.
Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1
Who can forget the photo of President Obama and prominent members of his administration anxiously watching monitors while the assault on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan went on in real-time.
Now it seems that brands are having their own “Zero Dark Thirty” moments, in terms of monitoring digital and social campaigns. Okay, maybe the Bin Laden reference is pushing it, but we’re definitely noticing more media “war rooms” being set up that monitor all types of outreach.
Case in point: Yesterday HP and NASCAR announced the creation a NASCAR Fan and Media Engagement Center (FMEC), which will be based at NASCAR’s headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. The center will have all the latest tech bells and whistles, courtesy of HP, including state-of-the-art servers and digital displays.
According to a news release, the Media Engagement Center will “help NASCAR analyze fan sentiment, identify emerging issues and discover topic trends for instantly actionable insights.” Media analysis plays heavily into this: HP’s Autonomy software applications will analyze all forms of media, and give NASCAR the ability to combine those metrics for a full media relations/fan engagement picture.
The FMEC reminds me of PepsiCo’s “Mission Control” war room that was set up in 2011 to track social media for its Gatorade brand, which at the time was introducing a new line of sports drink products.
There’s another angle to the HP/NASCAR announcement that’s worth noting. Both organizations are struggling to get back to prior greatness. HP recently made a list it doesn’t want to be on—the 10 Most Hated Companies in America, with blatant mismanagement cited as its downfall, while NASCAR has struggled to fill up the grandstands at its racing venues in recent years, thanks mostly to the bad economy.
This collaboration will give NASCAR a much-needed deep dive into its customer base and HP a platform for proving that it hasn’t lost a step in terms of technology.
Definitely a win-win.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01
Flu season is upon us, and in a big way. Today the story broke that flu-related deaths have now reached the “epidemic” level. With two small kids, that’s a worry to me.
Then I began reading what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to say on their regular morning conference call to reporters, and I began to feel a bit better.
Why? In talking to CDC communicators for stories in PR News, their high level of messaging expertise really shines. What distinguishes the CDC’s PR know-how from the rest? CDC officials are ready to counter bad news with at least some glimmer of positive. Here’s a few examples from this morning’s press conference:
The Bad News: Flu-related deaths have reach epidemic proportions.
The Counter: There are early signs that flu cases have peaked in certain parts of the country, as the number of doctor’s visits have dropped.
The Bad News: The flu shots that the CDC urged Americans to get are not infallible–this year’s vaccine has been rated 62% effective, which is “moderately” effective.
The Counter: A quote from CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden, who said while the vaccine “is far from perfect, it’s by far the best tool we have to prevent influenza.”
You get the picture. CDC briefings are often full of bad news, but communicators are able to pepper it with some good news as well, and all of it is backed by research and expertise that the public trusts. While a worried public may not like what the CDC has to say, it’s how it’s said that should resonate with PR pros.
Earlier this year I spoke with Llelwyn Grant of the news media branch at the CDC, and Lola Russell, CDC’s senior press officer, about communications around the West Nile virus outbreak. They offered up five crisis PR lessons for our readers, which I’ll paraphrase here:
1: Preparation is the key to ensuring that messages are coordinated across all stakeholders
2: Explain the situation in plain language, not “science-speak”
3: Use the level of media interest to gauge media strategy and tactics. The higher the level, the more outreach
4: Be aware of message frequency, particularly in fast-evolving stories
5: Offer solutions. In the CDCs case, it’s what the audience can do to protect themselves
Certainly not all these lessons pertain to every crisis, but I think it’s enlightening to study the CDC’s messaging. At the very least, it will make for healthier communications.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01