Showing posts with label Forbes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Forbes. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 23

Catering To Labels: PR Executives

Most public relations executives, especially those looking for a position, would be happy being featured as the lead in an interview for a Forbes article. Not Judith Lederman.

The 50-year-old divorcee who lives in Scarsdale, N.Y. who has yet to replace her former $120,000 salary as a publicity manager at Lord & Taylor took exception to the way the article portrayed her. Calling the reporter out on her blog, she wrote "Instead of painting me as someone seeking an appropriate salary so she could support herself, it portrays me as someone who is torn between the prospect of being employed and being eligible for tax breaks, college scholarships and other incentives."

Except, as Steven Spenser, principal of Praxis Communication in Seattle, commented in response to her post: "I must have read a different article, because I didn't find any text that indicated you want entitlements or handouts." Spenser is right. The perception Lederman had about the story is not the perception that most people will draw from the story. And that's too bad.

Given her uncomfortable position, I don't want to berate Lederman. Rather, I want to focus on the lesson to be learned for new public relations practitioners, especially those who are entering an era where publicly responding to the media is all too easy to do. And based on the lead in to the post, Lederman knew it too.

"I'm going to go out on a limb here - because I know that in the business of public relations, which is my business - and has been for many years - calling a journalist on the carpet for misrepresenting your point of view, can cost a PR person valuable contacts," she began before sharing an e-mail to the reporter to express her post-interview, pre-article sentiments.

What Went Wrong?

The e-mail she wrote (and posted) to the reporter seems to provide a glimpse. Lederman finished the interview and concluded that she was pretty far off from her personal message in a story — one that questions a tax structure which provides incentive for underperformance and disincentives for working harder — she would have preferred not to be featured. It happens. At one point, she even says that she told the reporter to find another person to profile.

It doesn't work that way. While reporters sometimes consider post-interview jitters correspondence, especially in feature pieces, there is considerable risk in writing them out of desperation. In this case, if anything, Janet Novack seems to have listened to Lederman's pleas and restructured the story so that it sticks to the facts. And the facts are the facts.

Regardless of how Lederman feels about the conclusions being drawn, Novack is right. Not finding a job or taking a job for half the salary might be the better bet for Lederman and her daughter. That doesn't mean Lederman, who is inclined to work harder for less of everything in order to feel self-sufficient, wants handouts. It only means that the country's current direction caps success because once someone reaches a certain financial step, they may make less than they did at the step before and, sometimes, two or three steps before.

So, unfortunately, in the Forbes piece, Lederman is a champion against a flawed system. In her post, she presents the very image she wanted to avoid. She comes across as a victim.

Perception Is Powerful.

PRNewser framed up the conversation asking whether Lederman made the prudent move to correct the reporter, if her protest will raise doubts about her abilities, and whether she should have accepted the interview given the context. Lederman addresses some of these questions in the comments that follow, but the initial questions seemed like the wrong ones.

Ergo, while there is nothing wrong with correcting a reporter who misrepresents facts, there is something wrong with being overly concerned about how journalists "present" us beyond the facts, especially when the concern seems to be confined to labels. Most people don't read labels — hard-working professionals looking for comparable work even if it means sacrificing benefits for her daughter's education vs. a whiney 50-year-old single mom looking to cheat the system (as Lederman framed it up) — as much as they saw Lederman, or in this case, a metaphor for dozens of middle-class families.

Sure, there were some commenters who scoffed at her former salary, but most of those could be dismissed for ignorance. When you consider the cost of living is significantly higher in New York compared to other areas, $120,000 suddenly becomes a low-to-mid middle income with a position that probably meant long hours and family sacrifice. Besides, she doesn't make that now and her home is a risk so what does it matter?

Aside from the mistaken follow-ups with the reporter, the real miss here wasn't the story as much as it was a post-story opportunity. Lederman could be grateful for being included because it might had led to job offers. She could have pointed to the article, which sums her resume up nicely enough. And, she could have expounded on her personal views about this subject in a positive manner, picking up on any details that she felt were important but left out. All of this could have been done for a net gain.

Instead, the lessons to be learned here are threefold: manage the message or the message will manage you; measure the facts and not necessarily mistaken inferences made by anonymous commenters; never place too much emphasis on labels, especially those that no one will remember.

Had she left it alone or expounded with the positive, all anyone would remember is that she was featured in Forbes. Instead, all they will remember is ... well ... ho hum.

Friday, July 31

Avoiding Business Traps: Harvard Business Publishing

The author of one cool site: blogging tips recently re-asked a question that many people have been asking: is mainstream media losing significance?

Under the current business model most traditional publications operate under, you bet. But it doesn't mean they'll go away. Publishers will eventually evolve and develop different business models. Long term, it is anyone's guess what these business models will look like, and chances are many of them will be different.

Some might evolve in networks like Michael Milken recently invested in. Milken is banking on the idea that Bizmore might be the better business model. The potential success of the site will likely hinge on how good the advice is. For example, one executive asked "How often should we change advertising campaigns?" And another executive answered "I'd recommend testing new/alternative campaigns continuously, via smaller campaigns in different magazines, geographies, outlets or via paid search online."

In that case, it's the wrong advice, prompted by the wrong question. And, unfortunately, this is the wrong post to cover it. Bum advice aside, the concept might be sound. It seems fewer executives are satisfied with the research culled by traditional publications these days; they need to know what it means and what to do with it.

Another emerging model (that some research firms have already adopted), which I offered up to Jay Ehret for his open letter to the Waco Tribune Herald, is to keep the summary information free and charge for the deeper research. The only burden that remains is proving content that has value.

To illustrate, I purchased an article on Harvard Business Review this morning. It's an older article (circa 1998), but meets the criteria: it's purchased content and provides some answers that newspaper people, who do not always operate as businessmen, might consider. (I skew my summaries for newspapers, but the traps apply to all business.)

The Hidden Traps In Decision Making

• Anchoring Traps. Business leaders have been struggling with this all the time. The most common problem is placing too much emphasis on past performance without considering other factors.

Newspapers certainly fell into this trap. As subscriptions shrank, they increased their direct mail programs and trial discount offers. It worked before, but now all it did was reduce the non-existent profit margin on subscriptions even more.

• The Status Quo Trap. The article points to newspapers as an example, as the majority of the “electronic newspapers” that first appeared on the Internet were modeled after their print precursors. They didn't need to be, but nobody really considered that they could be anything else.

Status quo suggested they be the same, as if people who looked for content online would be looking for the same content they found offline. Unfortunately, the status quo thinking trapped papers into offering virtually the same product for free.

• The Sunk-Cost Trap. The article uses the example of being given a stock or having a stock that we refuse to sell, even if it is for a loss, and thereby miss out on more attractive investments.

Fundamentally, this where many newspapers are now. They are desperately trying to "save" their old business model despite the fact that the business model no longer works.

• The Confirming-Evidence Trap. While the authors could have never guessed it at the time, the confirming evidence trap is trending up in popularity. In February, I called it validating opinion, but it's much the same.

Not only are publishers demonstrating an increasing propensity to validate reader opinions, but many are attempting to build future business models based on finding examples that may support their vision. Nowadays, it's easy to do.

• The Framing Trap. The framing trap refers to one of the most common mistakes made in business. People ask the wrong questions. In fact, it's the very reason the Q&A advice on Bizmore was flawed. It was the wrong question. It's also one I've answered before.

Some newspapers are asking the wrong questions too. They keep asking how many journalists do we need to let go because online advertising revenue is only a fraction of our print revenue? It's the wrong question. Instead, they might ask which assets have a demonstrated value that people might actually pay for or advertisers might want to be associated with.

• Estimating and Forecasting Traps. The article explains this trap as problematic because most of our minds are not calibrated for making estimates in the face of uncertainty. There seems to be some truth to that given the number of companies that inexplicably opted to try and wait out the economic downturn (as if).

The article breaks it down further into terms I learned from philosophy rather than business. People who get into accidents the most tend to be overly cautious or overly confident. For business, it's the same. The article goes a step further by suggesting even people in the middle are at risk if they always assume the past can accurately help us forecast the future. It cannot.

Of the above mentioned traps, I'm not sure if this one applies to newspapers as much as some of the new models that are being tested by people like Milken. Case in point: Milken's past success combined with the past success of similar Q&A networks that have seemed successful on Linkedin would convince some to conclude Bizmore will be successful. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Bizmore's success will be based on an entirely different equation that has little to do with Milken or similar formats.

Bizmore Q&A aside, they do seem to have some editorial content right for them. Shorter, punchier articles play well online, and today's daily download comes from Apple.

Currently, Bizmore's traffic appears to be about the same as a multi-author average blog, with significant distance to travel before catching up with Forbes or Businessweek. But, so far, it still represents a viable next step in how content providers might evolve.

Of course, there is one last point to touch on today. Of all the sources mentioned in this post, only Harvard Business Publishing generated revenue from me. They can from you too. You can purchase this classic article by Ralph L. Keeney, Howard Raiffa, and John S. Hammond right here. Have a nice weekend.

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