A: Does it have to be a light bulb?
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A: Does it have to be a light bulb?
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Despite hopes and assumptions of public health activists, research shows that including calorie counts on restaurant menus doesn’t deter Americans from ordering cheeseburgers, pizza and other high-calorie comforts.
Whenever a scandal like Weinergate hits the news, experts chime in with the platitude about apologizing being the most immediate strategy.
New York publicist Jessica Kleinman echoed the position:
"The best way to deal with a crisis and do damage control is to face it head on and come clean. Not a lot of people like a cheater — but no one likes a bold-faced liar. We all make mistakes but admitting to them is the first step in repairing a tarnished reputation."
But this one-size-fits-all approach is dangerously simplistic in responding to complex, escalating situations.
Telling a high-profile person to rush out and apologize is suggesting they make themselves legally vulnerable in ways that often go far beyond the scale or impact of their personal screw-up. Their apology could generate false allegations from people wanting to exploit the spotlight. It could cost shareholders and employees who had nothing to do with it. It will drag innocent people – too often families and children -- into the public meat-grinder.
Also remember that the celebrity, politician or CEO under fire has already lied by pretending to be someone who wouldn't do what he or she did. That makes any apology terribly sensitive. A guy who screws around and then says how he's sorry for hurting his family earns mass cynicism, not forgiveness.
Then there's the biggest elephant in the room: the other pictures, girlfriends, video clips, texts and babies that we don't know about - yet. There's a good chance that the person ready to apologize for what he got caught doing isn't telling you everything. Shocking but true: Liars lie to their PR people.
Lying in the face of facts stems from all sorts of personality disorders. Many powerful scandal-mongers think they hold such public esteem that their denial will be the end of the matter. They're serious when they ask, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"
Sometimes they're just delusional, or trying to convince themselves they can make it go away. Some are insulated from reality by swarms of expensive yes men and tookus smootchers.
But many high-profile types lie because they're trapped, not because they're unaware of the consequences. The problem is that they find themselves in a corner that wasn't covered in media training – caught doing something horrible, something that requires a yes or no to a direct question. They lie because they don't know how to handle what's under the tip of the iceberg, the stuff that's about to make their situation much worse.
You can't frame a public apology without understanding why the people involved first denied what they did, or why they might be lying about revealing everything there is to know. You have to know everything there is to know. Everything.
Only then will influential people caught up in self-created scandal be in the right frame of mind to listen to advice from their true friends, lawyers and PR handlers.
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For all that the Internet has changed the world, the big dogs in technology media are still very much the same as they were years before that Y2K bug thing.
A new poll from PRSourceCode finds that PR people of today mostly aim their tech-related flackery at the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, Forbes, BusinessWeek, Information Week, Network World, CIO, Wired, EE Times, CNET, IDG, PC Magazine and Info World.
Extra credit if you can remember which one said that DOS would never die.
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Most CEOs and top executives are very good communicators. They're articulate, focused and command the room with their presence.
But get them in front of a reporter and many of these same high-achievers try too hard to be a perfectly packaged persona. When they see video of themselves being interviewed, they're shocked at how artificial they look and sound.
I often reiterate five media interview methods to help them project their real selves:
Speak, don't pronounce. | With reporters, keep the tone and tenor to that of having a conversation. Many executives have a wonderfully gracious, polished style, but they'll overdo it in media settings and come across like they're running for vice president. Experienced reporters are hyper-sensitive to business people who speechify or drip with techniques they obviously got from media training. It can have quite a negative influence on the interview.
Don't try to make every swing a home run. | The best way to sound like you were water-boarded by your PR department is to force every talking point into every answer. Instead, integrate what you want to get across in context to the conversation, just like you do in real life. And make sure you're PR people help you prioritize you're the three key messages for each interview out of the gazillion that might be in your communications strategy.
Slow down. | Everyone tends to speed on in interviews and presentations, either because their nervous or animated in their intensity. Whatever the reason, try to remember to take a literal breath between passages. It will feel weird at first but it will help.
Tell stories. | Many executives have a natural gift for telling stories, but in an interview they'll often make passing reference to an anecdote or not finish a story. Part of this is a matter of just going too fast, and part is not having all those great stories embedded into your personal style of narrative. This is something you and your PR people should work on constantly.
Keep to a problem-solution orientation. | Try to spell out specific problems or issues that your organization is solving. Reporters who have not worked outside the newsroom often don't grasp the full dynamic of a corporation or organization. Talking in terms of problems and solutions will help them understand the value you create for the people who matter most to your bottom line.
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If you’re a mid-sized national company based in a second-tier market, that might be your reaction to hearing how Denver’s Frontier Airlines has hired New York-based MWW Group, one of the world’s largest independent PR agencies.
It’s a fair question.
Frontier, the Colorado Tourism Office and other Denver-based brands “go national” figuring they’ll get more value exploiting the critical mass in media relationships and other resources of a large agency versus being the biggest client for a local PR firm. Brands in smaller cities all over the country make the same decision all the time.
Sometimes this is the best approach. But not always. There’s a reason that the best marketing PR agencies in smaller cities like Denver do so well. They’re typically less expensive, especially in the junior to mid-level account executive range where the work is more commodity communications than capitalizing on personal connections. Many of their senior people have big-company, big-city experience. They’re smart. They get results. And they’re close enough to be called on your carpet if they don’t.
One thing is for sure. When local companies like Frontier Airlines hire a big-city PR agency, it puts the professional services community and all of their major clients on notice.
That’s good for everyone’s business.
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… A PR rep pitched a local college’s new MBA program but said it was against school policy to reveal how many students were enrolled.
… A PR agency sent a press release announcing that its client won a huge new contract without naming the customer. They instead argued that there were still many other "interesting angles to cover."
“What the hell is wrong with these people?” he asked.
It’s a question I’ve heard more in the last five years than in my whole career. Journalists tell me about all sorts of amazing PR stories:
… Press releases that arrive as Word documents, then shows the client’s notes and revisions when the reporter clicks “track changes.”
… A drug company sued by shareholders because its PR agency issued a "media advisory" promising historic news at a press conference, which turns out to be nothing. The PR agency argues that the release it sent over BusinessWire wasn't meant to be seen by the general public.
… A reporter tells an account executive that the press releases they keep sending him are useless. “We don’t cover product announcements,” he says. “That’s obvious by just reading our magazine, isn’t it?” The PR pro pauses and says, “No. But can you send me one?”
… Media outlets get a newsworthy press release regarding a large local company, then get calls 30 minutes later from the PR agency demanding they not cover the story because they "didn't mean to send it out."
People get paid for this.
There are many smart and talented PR people. But in the last decade there has evolved a subculture of publicists who seem to revel in their obliviousness about how news media works. This is the crowd that journalists, editors and producers can’t stand to deal with. Most good PR people can't stand them either.
It's the oblivious flacks who keep alive the silly, sophmoric notion that PR and media are opponents in some great battle for truth.
No, we just got some clueless people in our ranks.
It’s not hard to understand how most of them got here. These are people who grew up not reading newspapers, who didn't watch CNN, who didn’t open Time or Newsweek unless they had to for a school paper. They learned about current events from snippets on their Yahoo home page, by watching Comedy Central and reality TV, by picking up references to news injected in the celebrity gossip banter of their favorite drive-time radio stations. They know everything about pop culture but can’t name the last five presidents or explain the difference between a CEO and a COO.
Maybe they majored in public relations or communications, but they’ve never worked in a newsroom, much less published anything. And now they’re called media relations specialists.
The good news is that companies and clients that employ the facile flacks are getting the idea. There are now more ex-journalists in public relations – albeit with mixed results, as some reporters make terrible spokespeople. In other areas, you’re seeing more investment in training and in hiring real pros – young and old – who have a lifelong relationship with news content. And many bad media relations people have moved on to social media, where they happily don’t have to write long paragraphs or use the telephone.
Still, stupid press flackery gets plenty of attention on the Internet, from insiders like Bad Pitch Blog, Denver PR Blog and PR Daily, to mainstream media like The Huffington Post to the New York Times.
Sure. Some of it is terribly overstated.
But anything that chases PR people who don’t read newspapers to full-time gigs as Twitter Tweeters is good for business.
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Just got word that the New York Times is shutting down its Denver bureau this week. National correspondent and former bureau chief Kirk Johnson tells us that “working from home is the new order of the day.”
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Writing for ColoradoBiz magazine, marketing advisor Lida Citroen notes the difference between a company’s graphic image and its marketable reputation:
“Those of us in corporate brand development hear it all the time: clients looking to reinvent themselves, reissue their value and create more market knowledge attack the challenge by trying on a new logo.
“Your brand is a promise of an experience you send to a specific target audience [and] an understanding of their needs (functional and emotional) in order to build relevance and loyalty. We create marketing identity and build tools like logos, websites, social media sites, collateral materials, etc. to communicate those values and build engagement with target audiences based on their needs.
“Marketing pieces reinforce your value statements and your brand promise. They are extensions and expressions of your brand, not your brand itself.”
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