Showing posts with label spin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spin. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 26

Advertising Respect: Adweek and JWT


According to a study released yesterday by Adweek and J. Walter Thompson (JWT), only 14 percent of those surveyed say they respect ad people.

Gasp! Sometimes, I am ad people. That’s me! (Well, sometimes anyway.) So maybe I need public relations help. Or perhaps some journalists might weigh in. Oh right, never mind.

With Mad Men on AMC capturing positive reviews and ad guys coming out of the woodwork to join some playful Ad Legends cameos, is it any wonder?

Maybe it’s because as niche sub-consultants who wear many hats, we don’t always see all the glam slam that is associated with the industry. I guess I’m still stuck on a concept my creative director knocked into my head years ago … “great advertising isn’t always about being clever, it’s hard work.”

I laughed at him then, but it didn’t take too long to find out he was right. Maybe not at the big firms, but certainly everybody I’ve worked with (including a couple of big firms). Take a ton of research, apply strategic communication, and just before you become so left brained you’ll never have a creative idea again, you push your thinking to the right and come up with something that conveys the right message to the right audience while being exciting enough to get noticed.

Here’s a reality check. The survey only accounts for 966 Americans in a random online survey. That’s not only a pretty slim number, but it was also conducted in an environment that is largely predisposed against advertising. And the real irony, the survey was conducted by an advertising agency.

What the survey does do is provide meaningful discussion points.

• 84 percent agree (strongly/somewhat), “Too many things are over-hyped now."

Just yesterday, I said buzz was not a measure. Maybe consumers agree.

• 74 percent agree, “The Internet helps me make better product choices."

This finding has social media pundits in a tizzy claiming consumers want authentic engagement. (As if social media was devoid of hype; as if pretending to be someone’s “friend” to sell them is somehow better than selling them something.)

• 72 percent agree, “I get tired of people trying to grab my attention and sell me stuff.”

Which is a tremendous irony in consumer behavior considering Harris Interactive research that suggests 100 percent the opposite.

• 52 percent agree, “There’s too much advertising — I would support stricter limits.”

These folks obviously need a trip here.

• 47 percent regard “Advertising as background noise.”

Bad advertising is background noise, you bet. Only about 10-20 percent of advertising is any good, and I’m being generous. Most ads, ironically, are company-dictated because, well, companies don’t trust ad people either.

And the list goes on. And on.

“The study significantly uncovers a basic disconnect between the ad industry’s ‘world view’ and that of its audience,” JWT reports. And that is probably the most truthful statement in the entire report.

As for the rest, even if we were to consider the sampling size to be valid, here’s the real rub in this report. Ad people might have only scored 14 percent as a repected profession, but they still beat national politicians and car salesmen. Lawyers only scored 19 percent and journalists (truth tellers) a dismal 26 percent. The ONLY two other professions even asked about were teachers and doctors, and they barely broke into the 70s.

Funny. Maybe advertisers are not the only ones using hype these days. That Adweek hyperbole headline really drew me in for a minute.

Hmmm ... maybe consumers are just not all that trusting anymore. Sometimes, I don’t blame them. (Hat tip: Recruiting Animal.)

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Thursday, August 30

Going For Backlash: Humane Society & PETA

As covered by The New York Times, The Humane Society and PETA have taken an interesting position on global warming: Hummers are good; hamburgers are bad.

"Environmentalists are still pointing their fingers at Hummers and S.U.V.’s when they should be pointing at the dinner plate,” said Matt A. Prescott, manager of vegan campaigns for PETA, who said PETA is outfitting a Hummer with a driver in a chicken suit and a vinyl banner proclaiming meat as the top cause of global warming.

While the Humane Society is placing its faith in a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report that claimed the livestock business generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined, we might point out one obvious flaw — it's not the eaten animals that are contributing to greenhouse gases.

There are others. Disrupting the habitats of animals to drill for oil might qualify as hypocrisy. Alienating increasingly environmentally-conscious consumers by stating they “cannot be a meat-eating environmentalist” seems counterproductive. And promoting the concept of choosing the lesser of two evils seems, well, off the ranch.

While the ad might work in achieving some media buzz for its B-grade shock value, it has no strategic merit. If anything, all it really does is reinforce what critics has been saying for years: they don't care about doing right as much as being right. (In the article, Prescott all but said they are counting on critics to make this ad an issue.)

And that's too bad. Given that 87 percent of those surveyed in one recent study said they are seriously concerned about the environment (though not necessarily ready to give up meat and SUVs), the timing couldn't be worse. Why? Because crackpot creative might get some publicity, but it's often at the expense of credibility.

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Friday, August 24

Needing Redemption: Glenn Renwick, Progressive

“At Progressive, we have a stated set of Core Values that we use to guide our decision making and actions,” says Glenn Renwick, president and CEO of Progressive. “One of these Values is the Golden Rule — treat others as you would like to be treated.”

Given this quote is pulled directly from an ill-advised statement after the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution broke a story about how private investigators working for Progressive tape recorded church sessions, it's hard to believe.

Why were investigators recording church members who confessed about abortions, sexual orientation issues, drug addictions and other dark secrets? It seems the company was hoping to discredit a couple who were in an ongoing lawsuit over a traffic accident. The couple has now filed a lawsuit that charges invasion of privacy, breach of confidentiality, emotional distress, fraud, and other issues.

“For the past 70 years, we've built our business by building trust,” Renwick continues. “Trust that we will do the right thing on behalf of our customers — every day, every time.”

Coincidentally, trust seems be the buzzword behind Progressive’s TripSense, which allows Minnesota drivers to get discounts if they can “prove” that they drive less. Given that simply asking for an odometer reading might work just as effectively, one has to wonder just how "progressive" the definition of trust has become.

“We make sure we always fall well within the law," said James Purgason Jr. and Paige Weeks of Merlin Investigations, the investigators who were contracted by Wisconson-based Progressive Northern Insurance Co. "How it's interpreted from there isn't up to us."

But not all private investigators feel that way. When reporter D.L. Bennett asked Glenn Christian of Coastal Investigations in Savannah, who serves as president of the Georgia Association of Private Investigators, what he thought, Christian said that some companies would never do that. He said there is a fine line between what might be legal and what is moral.

To be fair, it seems Renwick was personally unaware of what Wisconson-based Progressive Northern Insurance Co. was attempting to do to win its case and there seems little to be little doubt that he is appalled. However, he was clearly aware of the statement that now decorates the Progressive Web site. And frankly, he should be appalled that he signed off on it.

There is only one statement that may have not turned into what Collateral Damage calls one of the more obvious definitions of a public relations nightmare. It would have been the one that skips the messages about trust and company history and cuts right to the chase. Something like this...

Upon learning that Progressive Northern Insurance Co. and contracted investigators, Merlin Investigations, breached our company’s values two years ago, Progressive will be settling this case as quickly as possible. (Um, insert a line about restitution for the couple, the church, AND all those other people who were there). As a company, we are appalled and apologize to all those impacted.

To ensure this never happens again and to send a clear message to all of our divisions, we will be releasing all parties who were aware that this investigation was grossly overreaching for evidence. I only wish that the incident would have been brought to my attention two years ago so we could have acted promptly then and protected this couple from tactics that clearly cross the line of ethical and moral decency.


The end. No gratuitous 3-paragraph company cut line required.

Sure, it isn’t perfect, but even this 3-second solution reads as more genuine than the original. Or, in other words, one can only hope Progressive covers “communication ignorance” because this statement reads like a pileup. Once again, it's never the incident as much as the aftermath that gets companies in trouble.

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Monday, August 13

Stranding Passengers: US Airways

You can always tell the true quality of a company by how it handles a crisis, big or small. I learned a lot about US Airways, which became the fifth largest carrier in the United States after merging with America West this year, while I was stranded in Philadelphia on my way to New Haven, Conn. last Thursday.

At least 20 flights were cancelled for “weather” and US Airways in Philadelphia quickly buckled under the strain of wayward passengers. It didn’t help that the customer service line was staffed by only two or three people to assist a line that spanned several city blocks.

Adding to the confusion was one US Airways passenger service agent who, instead of assisting passengers, attempted to convince them to get out of line and rebook their own flights by calling a 1-800 number.

“I’m not telling you what to do,” he crowed, attempting to relieve himself of any and all accountability. “I’m telling you what I would do.”

But then he would return every few minutes, berating those passengers who took down the 1-800 number in desperation or politeness but were still unwilling to relinquish their position. (Some didn’t leave the line, simply because the agent lacked credibility.)

For me, there was only one reason to stay. While leaving Las Vegas, the Transportation Security Administration agents had mishandled the tray that contained all of my personal electronics. While my laptop and camera survived, my cell phone was less fortunate — split at the seam, with all audio functions rendered inoperable. Text messaging my way out of being stranded proved futile beyond notifying those expecting me that I might not make it.

As it turned out, staying in line for more than 4 and a half hours proved to be the wiser decision anyway. I was given a new boarding pass, allowing me to enter or leave the airport (other passengers were less fortunate the next morning). And, while waiting in line, the airlines had booked me on what they said was the next available flight to New Haven (about 9:30 a.m. the next morning), arranging for my baggage to be checked through on the same flight.

I also to learned that all the airport hotels were booked full, making it futile to do as the agent suggested. So rather than spending the night at the very accommodating Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale as planned, I would be semi-sleeping in Terminal F at the Philadelphia International Airport.

“If I were you, I would give up on alternative flights and make plans to stay in Philadelphia,” the customer service agent had said. “Get out of line, get your bags at baggage claim, and find a hotel. You’re not going anywhere tonight and there are no guarantees that you’ll be getting out tomorrow either.”

There was another benefit to not listening to him or several other customer service agents who may have had the fa├žade of knowing what to do, but proved just as confused as the passengers.

The 1-800 number they handed out was overloaded with calls and frequently disconnected. If you did get through, there was a possibility you would override your status on the next available flight. And, there was another 4-hour mass of people attempting to retrieve their bags in baggage claim, ranging from parents who ran out of formula to seniors who packed enough medication for a delay but not enough for what could be a day or two.

Even more perplexing was the sheer lack of empathy for passengers. Some service agents taunted them with looks of amusement, noting to each other that they would be headed home in an hour or thank goodness they had to check in departing flights that were apparently unhindered by “weather.”

Given that 34.14 percent of all America West dba US Airways flights were delayed and 2.29 percent were cancelled in 1997 (39.07 percent delayed and 3.08 percent in Philadelphia), weather is often the explanation for the airline, but seldom the cause. More likely, US Airways has adopted the America West approach to air travel, which means it lands and takes off at the airport as “space is available.”

In fact, the US Airways crew was so used to delays and cancelled flights, they handed a pre-written letter to passengers after the first three hours. While it might have read “Once again, we wish to extend you our sincere apology, and trust that you will consider the unforeseen nature of the cause of this travel interruption and understand our team will work as quickly as possible to assist you with your new travel plans,” the real message was the medium: it was a fifth generation photocopy with a 1-800 number written in by hand. It also said, though not in writing, don’t expect credit, hotel accommodations, or meal per diem tonight.

I did not, but what I did expect was some semblance of customer service. And since US Airways seems incapable of mapping out an appropriate plan of action when such instances occur almost 40 percent of the time, I’ll post what they could have done tomorrow as well as how I, as a passenger stranded overnight in an airport, managed to avoid succumbing to the chaos and growing negativity caused by not the passengers as much as US Airways personnel.

Yes, I managed to maintain a smile even when my luggage wasn't waiting at the New Haven baggage claim as promised. My cousin's wedding, the only reason to be in New Haven after everything other reason had to be cancelled, was now only six hours away.

Digg!

Tuesday, July 24

Protecting Consumers: King County


Some people misunderstood me when I suggested local governments might have better things to do than require quick service restaurants like Burger King, McDonald's, and Wendy's to post calorie counts on their menu boards.

The King County Board of Health can be counted among them. Although the New York City case hasn’t had its day in court, new labeling requirements in King County, Washington, now call for all chain restaurants, those with at least 10 branches nationwide, to list calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates, and sodium in each regular food item they serve.

"The Board of Health is responsible for passing laws to protect the health of the public, and to promote healthy behaviors that improve health and prevent illness," Board of Health Chairwoman Julia Patterson said. "There is no better example of our commitment to residents' health than the legislation passed today that protects us from dangerous trans fats and promotes consumer education and informed choices by labeling menus."

May I offer another suggestion? Do what they do in the United Kingdom (as illustrated above) and force these restaurants to say what you mean: “eating large quantities of food may lead to obesity.”

Before you think I am only being sarcastic, CPSI and Public Citizen say almost exactly that in the subhead of their release, which touts who has joined them in “support of rule to combat obesity epidemic,” after they filed a friend of the court brief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York supporting New York City’s Board of Health against a lawsuit filed in June by the New York State Restaurant Association.

“The stakes in this lawsuit are high,” said Deepak Gupta, a lawyer at Public Citizen who wrote the brief, according to the release. “A victory for New York City’s law could help clear the way for similar laws throughout the country.”

But will it really solve the so-called obesity epidemic? As James Vesely points out in his humorous (or maybe tragic) column in the Seattle Times, “Yoder, whose place is popular with knowledgeable diners and serves as many calories as the next guy, is exempt from the calorie count on his menus — it depends on how many eateries you operate. So Anthony'sHomePort is not exempt, but along Shilshole's watering spots, Ray's Boathouse next door is exempt. Same calories, different menus. A menu at Denny's will be draped with calorie numbers; the one at Metropolitan Grill will not.”

Vesely then says that the new, calorie-clad menus are not going to be popular, or particularly useful. I agree. Despite all the money spent on lawsuits (money that could be applied to consumer education about a healthy diet), consumers are likely to tune them out.

Sometimes we tune them out for good reason (besides the occasional chuckle): Sainsbury’s peanuts warns us that they contain nuts; an American Sears hairdryer warns us it is not to be used while sleeping; and, one of my personal favorites, found on a blanket: not to be used as protection from a tornado.

So please forgive me if I do not feel any safer knowing that 20 states, cities, and counties are considering legislation or regulations that would require fast food and other chain restaurants to provide calories and other nutrition information on menus and menu boards.

The most obvious truth is, when you get past all the spin on an issue like this, the snack, cookie, and soda aisles at our local grocery stores take up the most space for a reason. They're yummy.

Digg!

Friday, June 29

Guessing Intentions: Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's


As reported by the Associated Press, Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's are all balking at New York City's new rule that will require them to post calories on menus. Taco Bell and KFC won't talk.

"They are afraid that when people see these eye-popping calorie numbers, they might switch to a smaller size," Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group, told the AP. "They feel it is going to hurt sales."

Jacobson's answer likely comes from a question I usually advise our clients not to play along with. While the wording might be off, it's a good guess the AP reporter asked "Why do you think Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's are afraid to post the calories?"

Speculation can be a dangerous game, even if you are an advocate of the new rule that covers some 2,000 New York City eateries. More likely, the only reason three chains are taking a harder stand is because the New York State Restaurant Association challenged the rule in court, the city said it won't fine anyone until October, and the "calorie counts" are required to be the same size as the price.

While this story appeared on SpinThicket as a PR Nightmare, I'm wondering if it isn't just good old-fashioned spin and not on the part of the quick service industry (that's the PC term for fast food. Ha!).

True, quick service is not the most nutritional choice for lunch (neither is what most of our children are served for school lunch). But also true is that, sometimes, elected officials overreach in creating regulations that are meant to "protect us from ourselves" because, frankly, it looks bad to serve a term in office without making something up. I think this might apply.

What New York City has going for it is perception: hamburgers are somehow evil. What it has going against it is reality: adults don't need to feel guilty about their choices.

Besides, most of this information is available anyway. As Denny Lynch, spokesman for Wendy's, told the AP, Wendy's has made this information available for 30 years. Indeed, it's been a unique selling point on more than one occasion.

Hmmm ... sometimes business has a tendency to set industry standards without an assist from government. So if Subway, KFC, and Wendy's haven't been able to cut into competitor sales on the selling point they have lower calorie choices by now, then I doubt very much city government regulations will either.

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Tuesday, June 26

Falling Skies: Daily Mail

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! And the culprits bringing it down are anyone who happens to use the Internet, especially youth.

At least that is what A.N. Wilson with the Daily Mail would have us believe with this article, entitled "The internet is destroying the world as we know it."

It was brought to my attention yesterday, being cited as a discussion point by the collective Amanda Chapel, this time at myRagan.com.

"Your child is next door on the computer, destroying the world as we know it and wrecking two of the most fundamental values that underpin society..." leads Wilson.

Yep. Ten-year-olds are the new villains of modern society, responsible for destroying the record industry, the publishing industry, newspapers, and cinema; while amazingly enough, still finding time to become addicts of gambling, pornography, and insidious forms of self-deception.

Fortunately, my son is still two years shy of this now infamous age group when he will be formally indoctrinated into the new axis of evil that is the Internet. Or maybe, something much simpler will prevent him from taking the plunge. What's that? Parental guidance.

So at the risk of sounding like overly cautious parents, we created a hot list of sites that he can visit and put up parental blocks on those he cannot. (And never mind what I think about most shows on Cartoon Network, which he no longer watches.)

To be fair, Wilson starts by thinking through some questions about online privacy (though sadly, no one seems to care). But then, it turns toward good old fashioned doomsday op-eding. You know the kind; the same stuff that sold millions of Y2K books.

For example, Wilson warns us that the Internet is filling our children's heads with blatant propaganda by drawing a comparison between Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica online, but never gets to the real reason Wikipedia is better read (online, at least).

It seems to me that the so-called seductive power of Wikipedia is not the reason it ranks higher than the Encyclopedia Britannica on the Web. It's much simpler than that: Wikipedia is free, void of excessive advertising, easier to navigate, and enjoys the benefit of major consumer marketing. (Despite this, I too caution people against considering Wikipedia the most reliable source on the planet.)

So where does this leave us? Are we to bar our children from all things Internet, starving their development to make independent judgements?

Hardly. Our responsibility lies in guiding our youth (our own children, specifically) who sometimes place too much faith in a single source of information (like television commercials with irresistible toys or Wilson's article for that matter). And, we can educate them so they know that history is being rewritten as we speak, every day, and has been for all of, well, history. Among other things.

Then again, maybe Wison and the collective Strumpette aren't really to blame for this point of view that puts our children at risk. Perhaps it is because they too, it seems, bought a questionable bill of goods. The argument they are forwarding is not original; it comes from author Andrew Keen, who claims to "have invented the model of integrating commerce, community, and content." He's also a F**ked Company Hall of Famer.

Ironically, Keen employs the same tool he chastizes for creating a "grand utopian movement" similar to "communist society" that "worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer," preferring, I imagine, a fascist, snobbish world where an elite class of overmen might dictate who makes the cut into the professional talent pool.

Never mind that almost all of our greatest writers, artists, poets, and filmmakers once belonged to the ranks of this lowly amateur class. (No, Keen, not everybody starts as a child television star, not that there is anything wrong with that; some of us start by mowing lawns and drawing pictures of the neighbor's dog.)

So therein lies the rub. Just because something has a cover doesn't make it any more truthful, credible, or accurate than something you might find online (and vice versa). To find the truth, you have to dig deeper, look at multiple sources, ask the right questions and, if you are able, conduct your own research beyond giving in to citing other people (including polar opposites, which is the trend nowadays).

I think social media is as much the same today as it was when I likened it to the Force a few months ago. How one uses it will make all the difference. How we teach our children to use it will also make all the difference.

There are Sith, Jedi, and everybody in between. But the Internet is largely just a public space that can be used to further a business strategy, for individual or collective good, for entertainment, and, as some people know, to peddle "fear" and polarizing viewpoints as if the world were black and white.

Fortunately, the world is not black and white. The sky is not falling. And our children (though you might want to check up on them) are not ushering forth a world of unparalleled evil because of the Internet. On the contrary, they might just use the Internet to prevent it.

Digg!

Sunday, June 3

Firing Punchlines: Wal-Mart

If Julie Roehm thinks she has a wrongful termination suit after, er, allegedly breaching ethics policies, then David Noordewier, a former Wal-Mart cashier in Michigan, might get in line. He was fired for joking on his MySpace page that "the average IQ would increase if a bomb were dropped on the company's stores."

According to The Flint Journal, his bosses at the Shelby Township Wal-Mart store in Michigan weren't laughing. Noordewier said he was called into the office as soon as he arrived at work. Officials had him sign an acknowledgment that he was fired for "gross misconduct - integrity issue," which the company described as "theft, violent act, dishonesty or misappropriation of company assets," none of which Noordewier believes fits his situation.

The story says Wal-Mart spokesperson Kory Lundberg would not discuss the incident except to confirm he no longer works for Wal-Mart. Noordewier had a near-perfect attendance and exemplary customer service record, which included customer compliments. Unemployment officials now say Noordewier did not qualify for benefits because he had made a threat.

It seems to me that corporate might consider stepping in on this erroneous local decision. Firing employees for a single MySpace joke (though it might be ill-advised to use the word "bomb" and "employer" in the same sentence nowadays) is a blatant overreaction. The Shelby Township Wal-Mart store manager would have been better off talking to Noordewier rather than taking action.

Besides, this comes at the worst possible time while Wal-Mart is still attempting to perform damage control on its apparent appetite for snooping on, well, everybody. Its heavy-handed surveillance tactics were brought to light during the ongoing battle with Roehm.

Lately, it seems the only good public relations news for Wal-Mart is that Minnesota businessman Irwin Jacobs is suing Roehm. Jacobs, who owns a company that supplies Wal-Mart, says former Wal-Mart executive Roehm defamed him when she published statements about the relationship between his company and her former employer.

The new lawsuit comes after Roehm's ill-advised attempt to exonerate herself of ethical breaches by accusing other executives at the #1 retailer of ignoring company ethics policy too. Now that's a punchline.

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Friday, May 25

Spinning 2.x: Julie Roehm

If the art of spin is part of Julie Roehm's marketing 2.x concept, she's certainly trying to employ it in court. Roehm's defense tactic against Wal-Mart is to exonerate herself by accusing executives at the #1 retailer of ignoring company ethics policy.

She says they accepted trips and gifts from clients and benefited from preferential prices on jewelry and yachts, implying that maybe that makes it okay that she broke the company's ethics policy by accepting gifts from agencies pitching the Wal-Mart account last November and having what seems to have been a heated affair with a subordinate.

According to The New York Times, the filing says "While Wal-Mart asserts that it has policies which prohibit conflicts of interest and the misuse of Wal-Mart assets and opportunities, those policies do not seem to prevent its executives from using both to personal advantage.”

The story is also generating buzz at The Wall Street Journal and CNN Money. Each publisher has a slightly different take on the story, ranging from outlining Roehm's claims in some detail to brushing them off as a weak defense.

It's difficult to tell what the court might think, given this tactic seems to play more to the media than her case. On the quick, it reminds me of a defense similar to one my then 7-year-old son cooked up about a year ago. "Why were you throwing rocks at that house?" I asked. So-and-so "threw rocks at the house first" was his defense. Ho hum.

Since her termination last December, Roehm has fared the worst of the three most cited in this case study. Other than landing a gig at Sports Illustrated, most businesses have given her a lukewarm reception since she filed the wrongful termination case against Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, DraftFCB won K-mart and Wal-Mart stocks are up on the market.
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Wednesday, May 16

Shifting For Social Media: PR Newswire

One of the most significant changes in news reporting and public relations was somewhat missed by the general public. PR Newswire, the global leader in news and information distribution services for professional communicators, did what most public relations professionals seemed unwilling to do just a few months ago: embrace social media.

Releases sent over this popular wire service have been employing social media elements inspired by SHIFT Communications (just a bit more streamlined), include RSS feeds, Technorati and Digg links. The benefit is this news distribution model makes it even easier for social media to select stories that interest them, just as mainstream media outlets have done for years.

There is still some room for improvement — the "blogs discussing this news release" is linked to a headline search instead of combined keywords — but these are minor issues that will eventually be modified. The change is admirable and a badly needed first step that levels the playing field (even if it is somewhat responsive to some bloggers suggesting they can create online public relations distribution platforms too).

There also seem to be a few side effects that are becoming more noticeable and pervasive: the quality of the news releases from a journalistic perspective are being buried with colorful leads, non-news, and increased puffery. It's the kind of stuff some bloggers might grab up because they don't have to rewrite it.

But for a journalist, it can be a bit maddening at times to look for buried news while trying to beat the deadline and field calls from public relations specialists asking if the release they sent was received. Here are a few random leads from releases distributed by PR Newswire today:

"Hiring an ad agency can be a scary thought. I mean who wants to deal with those egos? Or even scarier, who wants to see that agency invoice?"

"To a room filled with close to 200 advertisers and media, the 2007 GolTV Upfront got off to a great start."

"Canada, the world's second largest country and number one "foreign" destination for Americans, is tired of hearing that it's too nice, too pretty, too pristine and too safe, let alone too similar to the U.S.A."

I'm not saying any of these leads are "good" or "bad" as much as I'm saying this is what is — new releases are trending to be much more editorialized and I'm not so sure that's a good thing. Worse, in some cases, companies might even be tempted to release padded news, knowing that citizen journalists (some mainstream journalists too) are a bit lax on fact checking.

Personally, I think a crisp news release is still the better communication tool. It's more credible and can be picked up just as easily by members of the social or mainstream media. It also makes me wonder what the future might look like if more and more companies turn toward editorial releases instead of solid news. Hmmm... the word wacky comes to mind.

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Tuesday, April 24

Educating Companies: Idea Grove

Idea Grove, led by Scott Baradell, which also owns the very popular spin-shaming site Spin Thicket, believes in educating the industry. As a former Fortune 1000 media company executive and award-winning journalist, Baradell understands media relations from both sides of the fence.

Yesterday, he shared an obvious public relations tip that he learned, much like I did, from working a dual career path: Don't ask someone to take down a blog post.

"We just had a call from someone from a company that did not like what we said about them in an earlier post. The company representative was very gracious in acknowledging our criticism, even offering a service discount as a way of making amends.
Then ..... HE ASKED IF WE WOULD TAKE DOWN OUR BLOG POST," wrote Baradell.

Call me crazy, but I think there is a word for this ... um, yep, it's called bribery. A bribe is something, such as money or a favor or service discount, offered to someone in a position of trust to induce he or she to act dishonestly. Of course, I am not sure the service discount was contingent on taking down the blog post. Maybe it only seems that way because a few hours later an anonymous commentator posted: "Why would you mess with a company who could possibly help you in the future. Smart move."

Baradell is not the only one to experience such blogfoolery. I've had my share of interesting e-mails and phone calls.

Two of them provide an interesting contrast. I'll take a page from Baradell's post and skip the names this time.

One CEO, who I opined about on this blog, called me months after a post, but not to ask that the post be removed. Instead, he complimented me on the greater work that seems to be going on here. He said he learned a few things and has become a fan. Who knows? One day we might even work together, but there won't be any conditions to take any posts down. Why? It's called mutual respect.

In complete contrast, after another company smoothed over its public relations practitioner's error and subsequent mishandling of an incident, their public relations person (who is accredited of all things) took time out to write: "Good of you to take a minute to contact me a second time before blasting away. Totally professional approach." And a few other choice quips that I won't repeat here.

For the record, I had contacted him a second time. However, as I noted in my e-mail back then, the burden is not on media,
social or otherwise. It was his responsibility to follow up, not me or his client as he claimed in his e-mail.

While there were no bribes, both provide a pretty clear picture of how to handle bloggers with journalistic backgrounds. In the first instance, I have nothing but good feelings about the company and CEO. In the next instance, I have nothing but bad feelings about the public relations firm.

The fact is that I could have posted the public relations guy's e-mails and commented. Instead, I think I did something more damaging. Despite seeing the potential to write good things about his client (because they do have a few good things going on), I've decided to never write about them again. Hmmm ... maybe no ink is worse than a little you don't like.

So where does this "sense" of social media ethics come from for people like me and Baradell? I cannot speak for him, but I would guess it comes from working as a journalist. You quickly learn some things just aren't done when you work in the media: good public relations practitioners don't ask for story retractions, never mention that they buy (or could buy) advertising in the publication, and appreciate that lavish gifts and extravagant lunches come across as bribes. Why? Because as a journalist, it's irritating to be asked to taint the truth and insulting when someone thinks you'll taint it for favors.

Sure, there are some bloggers who will take down posts upon request (and maybe some who can be bribed), but only because they haven't learned some hard lessons working as a journalist. In time, those bloggers will find that ethics is not for sale.

As for the public relations practitioners who prescribe bribery, huffery, and blackmail, one day they will learn that's no way to manage a practice when asking for a post correction or clarification might just be enough. As for those who won't learn until they learn the hard way, well, you know … thank goodness it's their career and not mine.

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Wednesday, March 28

Spinning Silly: Julie Roehm

The Wall Street Journal has published a statement (for subscribers) from Julie Roehm. Here's the opening of the 520-word story:

"When I look back over the whirlwind of the last 15 months of my life, here's what I see: I left a successful career in Detroit, uprooted my family to move to Arkansas, and took on a demanding job at Wal-Mart as part of its shift in marketing strategy. I threw myself into the job, traveling constantly and working tirelessly to master several components at the same time. ..."

Apparently, Roehm has decided to put on her best spin until the very end. Here's what I see: someone who regrets a whole bunch of choices she made because it didn't work out as expected, despite saying she has no regrets. From this opening line, it is difficult to buy into a message that ties in the very family she recklessly gave up for what she thought was an marketing upgrade.

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