Who is shaping the new journalism?

Interesting question and interesting answers in this discussion on new journalism.

Find out who people in Britain believe are setting the agenda for how we will get our information in the future.

Make sure you focus on solving the real problem–Coke in India

Some of the best thinking and information around about crisis management and crisis communications comes from Jonathan Bernstein’s “Crisis Manager” email newsletter. The issue I just received is no exception. An excellent article by Dr. Ram Baliga (Wake Forest University) and Rick Amme of Amme and Associates. It talks about the attacks on Coke and Pepsi in India by India’s Centre for Science and Environment. The Centre said the products were unsafe–laced with pesticide. Sales plummeted and one region banned the products. Coke and Pepsi responded by trying to convince everyone that their drinks were safe. As the authors point out, they missed the point. This is about politics. It was a political attack on government reform and attempting to place blame for the pain of reform on foreign companies.

How do you fight back in such a situation? You need to subscribe to the newsletter to read it.

The underlying point is that if you don’t understand the culture, and you don’t understand the underpinnings of the attack, you can’t effectively respond. I believe the same is true of Shell’s megaproject on Sakahlin island which is now being attacked by Russia’s environment regulatory department. It’s a very tough and very expensive spot to be in. But to try to defend the project as meeting environmental regulations is probably pointless. President Putin has made it clear he wants oil and energy revenues to be controlled by him and his administration–and he’s willing to brave the accusations of the free world to make that happen. He did it to Yukos. Why not Shell? It is a horrible situation to be in, but the crisis will not be changed by convincing the world of environmental responsibility. It will be by bringing world attention to the dictatorial instincts of this government. Not sure Shell is in the best position to do this.

What's Wal-Mart's Problem and What Should They Do?

I’ve commented about Wal-Mart’s blogging issues related to Edelman and also commented (via Business Week) about their overall crisis situation. Consequently, I’ve gotten some email messages from those involved in criticizing the company–including those hosting online critic sites. So I thought I might add to the Wal-Mart debate my own thoughts about their situation. So here in no particular order are a few things I’d say about it.

– I think Edelman is one of the very best PR agencies out there, a true leader in adapting to the online communication environment. I think the “flog” problem was one of not properly communicating ethical standards throughout the entire organization. I may be wrong, but unlike other critics, I don’t think the senior management made that decision to surreptitiously support the Wal-Mart blog.

– Wal-Mart is in crisis. Deep crisis. Here’s why. In the US the public sentiment is such that communities in various parts of the country have successfully adopted highly specific ordinances aimed at keeping them out–just happened again in my home town. Secondly, the real crisis is that they have become politicized. The public is starting to see those opposed to the company aligned on the Democratic side and those supporting on the Republican side. No company in their right mind wants to be so associated, thereby kissing goodbye approximately half of the market. Especially one who aims to be American’s retailer.

– I am neither for nor against Wal-Mart personally. I go there very infrequently and usually with some sense of guilt–but I don’t refuse to go. I think it is a remarkable success story one that illustrates both the best and worst of the American spirit of free enterprise.

– Their overpowering competitive advantages have hurt countless small business owners, some of whom I know personally. At the same time, their low prices have benefited many more countless families–particularly low income families who have had their meager income stretched by the quite remarkable cost savings offered by Wal-Mart.

– Wal-Mart pays its people way too little. And yet, they employ an awful lot of people who otherwise may not be employable. I am always struck at the Wal-Mart employees who are on the front line of a company that is a world leader in efficient operation because, frankly, many a considerable number of people do not strike me as the most efficient and employable people in the world, let alone our community.

So, what would I do if I was advising Wal-Mart:

1) Take a close look at the harsh criticism and start paying attention to what is real in it. Some examples: Get to be too dominating and mean in your purchasing and you are bound to tick off enough people often enough so that you will be hated. Sure, the suppliers you push around are not the general public. But continue to play a “I win, you lose” game and before long everyone will hate you. No one likes a bully–and Wal-Mart, you are a huge bully. Another: health benefits. You are pushing health care costs onto all the rest of us. The states and hospitals who are forced by regulations to provide charity care for the uninsured are paying for what you refuse to in the name of hyper-efficiency. Well, we are sick of it. Pay your share or face the consequences of our anger.

2) Tell your story better. Once you get past fixing the things you really need to fix, you’ve got a long ways to go to earn our trust and respect. Don’t just tell us your charities. Tell us how what you have learned in becoming a dominant giant can help all of us in business. Tell us the battle you are in with the unions and why it is important that companies have the right to offer employment to non-union employees. Tell us why what you do is good for free enterprise and for protecting the market system. Defend yourself, defend your practices–particularly when they line up with the values we hold precious. You’ve got to engage with your critics, with your supporters and the public. There’s a big conversation going on. We don’t want just the happy face on everything. We’d like to see that you are struggling with these things and dealing with them. We want to know you are listening, and that it matters to you not just that enough people keep buying your deals, but that you respect what is important to us. In other words, engage, listen, respond, change, and convince us that you are good and right for our nation and our communities.

And if you can’t do those things, you run the risk of losing the public franchise, the public license to operate. And you will be in a slow and painful decline that one senses you have already begun.

Are the mainstream media's methods turning counter productive?

Interesting article in Bulldog Reporter on criticism about the mainstream media’s addiction to reporting violence and using shock value to build and hold audiences. As anyone who has heard me speak or read my books or this blog for long knows that a central tenet of my position is that organizational communicators today have a particularly difficult time because of what I call “infotainment.” That is, their organizations simply become a tool to be used by media outlets to tell gripping stories in dramatic fashion, normally using the melodrama formula. Where an executive thinks he or she may be going into a media interview to provide “the facts” they don’t realize that the reporter and camera crew have a very different job. They are simply there to gather the material they need to fill out the “white hats” vs “black hats” story that they have already firmly in mind. You just need to cooperate by giving them the admissions, denials, or uncomfortable looks that they desire.

Sure, that is simplification, but to make an important point. And that is that after “60 Minutes” invaded prime time with “news”, journalism got to be a lot more about entertainment. Now, the lines between news, and “reality” and entertainment are completely blurred. It’s in this environment that companies under public scrutiny are trying to protect and enhance their reputations. Very challenging.

The same issue of Bulldog Reporter reports on the growing prominence of blogs. Altogether, an interestisng contrast.

What does the blog world look like?

Technorati has been tracking the growth and changes in the blog world for over four years. They just issued their new report and it is fascinating.

For those who want to skim the highlights (don’t because you’ll miss lots of cool graphics):

  • 57 million blogs now
  • number doubles every 236 days, although the growth rate is slowing
  • 55% are active (posted  at least once in past 3 months)
  • 100,000 were created EACH DAY in Oct, 2006
  • 1.3 million postings per day
  • There is a fascinating correlation between events of major public interest and the number of postings
  • Blogs are the long tail of media (but surprising how far up the tail some go now) with MSM representing the short tail
  • Languages: English 39%, Japanese 33%, Chinese 10%, Spanish 3%

(By the way, via my CustomScoop trial subscription, I just found out that Sacha Baron Cohen shares one thing with my sons and daughter: Their dads’ names–almost.) Here’s the story.

"Borat" to test validity of signed releases

Once we get over laughing and rolling our eyes at Borat, those of us in communications are going to be wondering what happens with those lawsuits regarding signed releases. More and more of the “participants” in this film are unhappy with their participation and are seeking legal remedies. (Story from newsvine.) Two frat boys say they were juiced into signing the release in a bar and that they were told that the movie would be shown only outside the US. (I suppose it never occurred to them that saying stupid and disgusting things is just as bad outside the US as in the US).

The legal challenges will help determine the validity of signed releases. Having a passing familiarity with reality tv through my son who is engaged in this business, these releases are pretty serious documents. They have been tested and tried and tried again. But Borat’s production company seems to have pressed the limit of how these can be presented and under what circumstances. At least that is what the complainants are saying.

I’ve been saying here for some time that video is going to be an increasingly vital means of communications for companies, organizations, PR folks and the like. My PR firm, my marketing company and AudienceCentral are active users of video. And clients I am working with are very involved in developing policies for use and/or misuse of YouTube as a video distribution channel. That’s why this is going to be interesting.

Remember, if you start shooting video, you better start thinking like a production company. Get releases. Get good solid ones. And don’t do like Borat apparently did and mislead others in the intended use.

It's Everybody's Business: The New World of Stakeholder Engagement

I returned from a trip to LA where my wife and I “endured” record breaking heat while back home folks were more worried about their homes being washed away in record breaking wind and rain. Very enjoyable seminar with the Rogers Group–what a fantastic group of people they are–and some excellent conversations about the topic of instant news and crisis communications. I really enjoyed having at least one blog reader join us at the seminar. We will be planning some webinars and additional seminars in the new year so let me know if you want to make sure you are invited to any of these events.

The title of this blog post is the proposed title of a new book I have begun working on. Like Naked Conversations, I’d like this blog to be a collaborative place where readers can share ideas around the topic I propose to address. And I promise this: if you make a real contribution in thought or criticism, I will include you in the credits of this new book (if and when it ever comes out).

Here’s the basic idea. There used to be the public sphere and the private world. Business was part of the private world. My business was my business. My choices were pretty much my own. How I ran it was up to me. If someone outside of my private world questioned or challenged me, the response was most likely: It’s none of your business.

That world is gone. If you operate a business or organization that touches people outside the organization (and I have a hard time thinking of exceptions) then those outside your organization now believe they have a full right to express themselves on any topic related to your business. Not only to express themselves, but to be heard, to be responded to, and ultimately even to have veto power. This is remarkable. I was explaining what I was thinking of writing to a young woman in our office and she said, “of course I have a right to say what a business is doing.” She said, that is what she was taught in school, in home, in society. But, I pointed out, most businesses and organizations are run more by people in my generation (I’m 55) and so we didn’t have those expectations when we were young. Despite being in university during the late 60s and 70s, that cultural revolution didn’t immediately translate into a completely emboldened stakeholder attitude. That has only developed in the last 20 years or so.

In the world of PR and corporate communications, this issue takes the form of “transparency.” But there is far more to this idea that “your business is my business” than mere transparency. Stakeholders are not satisfied that you are being forthcoming and are not engaging in fraudulent practices or any coverup of any kind. They want, expect, and demand a higher level of involvement and control over what you do. Ultimately it is about power, and with a reference to those glorious 60s, it is about power to the people.

Respect for business seems lower than it ever has. Particularly large business, and particularly global giants who do not even have national loyalties. There is a simple equation at play: business=power=evil. That equation has great significance for leaders who operate these businesses. And it has great implications for how those leaders interact and engage with stakeholders. In short, there is a clash. One side feels even if it does not say: “It’s none of your business.” And the other side feels, even if it does not say, “What you think yours is really mine.”

That’s the idea. So, what do you think? Is there something here? Something work trying to develop into a full length work? Does it matter? Will anyone listen? Will it make a difference if they do?

How do apologize after a groin kick?

I missed the big Seahawks-Raiders game because I was in LA, but I did manage to catch on replay the kick to the groin of Jeramy Stevens administered by Raider DE Tyler Brayton. My interest is not in the act or what may have provoked it, but in how he apologized. Here’s the take on it by the News Tribune.

Not sure what you think but this seemed an impressive performance by Mr. Brayton and some important lessons learned for companies, celebrities or others who may find themselves needing to publicly apologize. First, he offered no excuses. He accepted full responsibility. He didn’t say, “I’m sorry, but he made me do it…” Sure, he hinted there was provocation, but no one can say he didn’t take responsibility for his action.

What is more impressive is the reporter kept trying to get him to make that mistake. Look at the questions. “Were you provoked?” And when he didn’t fall for that, the reporter made another run at getting him to try and blame Stevens: “Did Stevens try to strike you first?”

The reporter tried other ways to get Brayton to be defensive, blame someone else, or diminish his apology.

The other thing that was impressive was talking about his grandparents at the game. This showed more than anything that he was personally and deeply embarrassed and sorry for what he did. Hey, the thought of that being the last time his grandparents see him play and that’s the way they remember him playing. Who couldn’t hurt for the guy?

I have said it here before but it bears repeating. People are amazingly willing to forgive and forget. But only when they are convinced that someone is really sorry. An honest apology without reservations, without the “yeah, but..” without excuses, goes a long, long way. And don’t expect reporters to make it easy on you to do that. Especially if the reporter is pulling for the other team.

What to do about rude and inappropriate commenters

A comment on this blog received today reminded me of one my very first posts. It was about angry bloggers and it linked to a great article by Alan Jacobs about angry bloggers.”Pancho Villa” commented on my Brian Atene post and pointed out an error I made. Thank you, Pancho. I will always appreciate corrections. But the swearing and name calling are not appropriate. A blog is a conversation but one in which certain rules of respect and etiquette can and ought to be required and enforced. So I am now doing that for crisisblogger. Please, correct me or others who comment. Say what you have to say. And say it with passion and strength. But if you have to resort to name calling, to disrespect, to abusive language, you are not welcome here. Pancho, like everyone else who visits and joins the conversations, you are welcome to respond. But if you can’t respect the rules, I’ll use the wordpress tools to make certain you cannot comment here again.

SEC Chief Cox suggestion about blogging: tipping point for corporate blogging?

SEC Chief Christopher Cox, according to this AP story, thinks blogging would be a good form for corporations to discuss financial matters. Although the movement of companies and executives is becoming almost a flood, this kind of announcement may very well take corporate blogging to the next level.

Earlier today, I was on Shel Holtz’s blog “A Shel of my Former Self,” and read this sadly humorous account of a speaker at a conference touting the benefits of company podcasting. It demonstrates that those entering this world need to “get it” if they are not to embarrass their organizations or clients. Part of “getting it” is understanding that the blog world has an exceptionally high standard for authenticity.

Clara Potes, who commented earlier today on this blog, also makes a strong point for authenticity re the Wal-mart “flog” controversy on her blog: clarapotes.blogspot.com/.

So, when it comes to corporate commenting about financial matters in a way that satisfies SEC rules and the blog world, it will be an interesting show. The language has to be that of the casual blogger, commenting about the world while drinking coffee in his pjs, while the information has to be unassailable and fully legal. Seems the two worlds will have a hard time fitting together. But it will be interesting to watch.