Republican convention demonstrates new and old media interplay

It’s a multi-channel world. That seems a trite and too obvious thing to say. But, as I just blogged on, it is still very clear when dealing with communication plans of major companies and government agencies, that many still do not get this.

How about the Republican National Convention–that would be an old media event, wouldn’t it? Not so much. As this Reuters article makes plain, it’s a multi-media world. Yes, TV audiences (and presumably even some newspaper) audiences are there. But much of the action, reaction, interaction is on social media. In fact, measuring that interaction is one way the old media interprets the events: Ann Romney stole the show according to many media reports, in part because her Twitter score went way up and her speech generated 6,195 tweets per minute, compared to Gov. Christie, who according to some of these reports fell on his face, only generating 6079 tweets per minute.

The point should be clear. If you are a communicator, you need to go where your audiences are. Where are they? In front of the TV, and (often simultaneously) on their mobile devices and the Internet.



Has the “audience” gone extinct?

I was intrigued by the post and discussion on James Garrows’ excellent blog The Face of the Matter about whether or not the audience has gone the way of the dodo and buggy whip. It’s not merely an academic debate, but I think a very real issue in how we think about communications today.

I’ve been busy preparing for a media training session, including on-camera media interviews, that I will be doing all day tomorrow. Haven’t done one of these in a while and it has caused me to think about what is different about the kind of media training required now vs. yesterday. That’s why I think this audience discussion is relevant.

I’ve also found it isn’t new. Here is a fascinating discussion on Jay Rosen’s Press Think about this topic under the title “The People Formerly Known as the Audience.”  This was written in June, 2006. Here’s one of many great comments and quotes: Jeff Jarvis, a former media executive, has written a law about us. “Give the people control of media, they will use it. The corollary: Don’t give the people control of media, and you will lose. Whenever citizens can exercise control, they will.”

Audience does denote passivity. The picture is of a filled theater with people waiting for the show to begin. But what do you call a theater when the “audience” does all the performing? Some might call it performance art, most would call it chaos. And for many, particularly those in the media who have become accustomed to a tame, eager and largely passive audience, chaos hardly describes it. Maybe anarchy.

But, we have reality to deal with. Tomorrow, as I train some school administrators and board members, I will try and help them better prepare if they suddenly find themselves in front of a TV camera and some difficult questions thrown their way. Because that is still the reality of communications today. But I will also tell them, that much if not most of what goes on in an event that puts them in the spotlight doesn’t really involve the traditional media. In fact, there can be conceivably no involvement at all and still have a massive problem. There could be no active participation on their part, and still have an excellent response.

Things are just not as simple as they were before. We may still find ourselves in the front of the theater packed with people. Some will sit passively, waiting for our messages. Others will jump to the stage and try to take over the show. Still others will converse quietly with their own little group, paying only occasional attention to what we are doing and saying on stage. It’s not right to say there is no audience. But there is no question that the audience has gotten far more active, engaged and rowdy. It makes crisis communication and media training even more exciting.

Richard Edelman’s plan for Penn State–video of Board presentation

How many times haven’t you wished you could be a bug on a wall or a mouse in a corner as one of the PR greats presented his or her PR plan to a client? What a learning opportunity. Well, someone just handed us the mother of all learning opportunities. This video of the August 26 Penn State Board of Trustees meeting included a presentation by Richard Edelman on the go forward public relations strategy for Penn State.

I’ve got to give a training session on crisis communication for a private school this Friday, and you can bet I am using a lot of this video for that presentation. This video has the whole meeting, which went on for a while, so to see Edelman’s presentation, jump to about two hours and nine minutes in. And if you don’t want to go through watching the video, I’ve captured what I thought were some of the most relevant points:

(some of this is my paraphrasing, so be warned)

Richard Edelman to Penn State Board of Trustees, August 26, 2012:

“What we see about building reputations has changed profoundly in the last 10 years.. the world has changed, dispersion of media, dispersion of authority, the traditional source of information, the CEOs or president of the Us are the 9th or 10th people we trust. Who are the new sources? Academics, experts and “a person like yourself.” The Facebook effect is very important…

Since 2008 it used to be companies and institutions were trusted because of their performance, because of an outstanding leader. Today, organizations that communicate frequently, openly and honestly gain trust. Transparency matters more than any other factor in achieving trust. Great products and services, and transparency.

“In today’s context, a person has to hear a message 5 to 7 times before he or she believe it. Everyone today has 8 different sources of media.”

The Plan: Research, activate, engage, amplify

Activate—We’ve identified 100 faces of Penn State (professors students, alum) We’ll put them on posters on campus, on the web, video.

Activate alumni—local focus of alumni and what they are doing

Regarding Paid media—”It is something for a year from now.. “We have to earn the right to do paid media..” [we’ll endure] More criticism of us short run if we try to advertise our way through the crisis. A BP kind of solution is not appropriate for Penn State. It’s a bad use of money relative to the impact.”

Participate in the Child Protection Conference—important to engage, but not dominate, be an active participant

Engage—new mantra:transparency. We need to show how we are doing what we do. Presidential search example. Penn State governance report—public annual report, like a Corporate Social Responsibility report. We will visit national media, stories on first anniversaries we have to shape… Stand up specific set of allies—those people always called by NYT, CNN, etc. eg Sonnefeld re governance. Then when he goes on TV he’ll say good things about Penn State.  

On social media: “the Progress site a good start. 4 ideas. 1) Reactive—challenge the negative, like Engage on specific factual issues. 2) Proactive—develop 3 or 4 issue pillars: 3) Opportunistic—take advantage of opportunities as they arise—like blue ribbons on football players, 4) easy wins—eg put the Nittany Lion on social media, a persona.

On Penn State’s Commitment to service. “Lots of service activities that have not been promoted. #Pennstateserves. Maybe even national service day. Aggregate all the good you do in one place. On website, other places.”

Conduct classic public relations. Eg, announcement of grant for nano-cancer treatment. Aggressively promote students studying sustainability in Jamaica. PR101, but have to stand up this activity.

There you have it from a master. A rich combination of PR basics along with a deep understanding of how much the world has changed. Penn State is in a very deep hole, and it will take a long time to dig out. But Mr. Edelman is so right to encourage them to avoid the tortoise shell response. They have to aggressively get out and tell a story that is much bigger than the horrible events and headlines that put them in the hole.



Online reputation management–quick fixes?

Thanks to Patrice Cloutier’s very handy delicious list of crisis comms articles, I came across this on online reputation management.  I’ve heard these ads on the radio, of all places, for companies that will fix your online reputation problems. I always thought it was a little trickier than signing on to some website or some remote service. But there seems to be a whole new industry growing aimed at throwing a bunch of good stuff at the search engines in order to bump the bad stuff that may have cropped up down the rankings a ways.

Now it looks like they are even going to subject this to algorithms or automated processes through a dashboard. The dashboard for monitoring and reviewing all the comments and reviews about you online is much needed and available from multiple vendors. This promises to go further than monitor and report. It promises to: “help our clients make sure that the positive reviews and constructive feedback shows up when our clients are searched, and that the false and inflammatory comments are suppressed in searches so no one can find them.”

I’m getting uneasy about all this. One thing that is helpful on the Internet is the ability to quickly find out what others are saying about a company. And sure, when I do that, I take it with a grain of salt knowing there are a lot of cranks out there and sooner or later the best company is going to thoroughly tick off someone. But, I have some confidence in my ability to filter through all of that and get a good general idea of the company and whether or not I should put my confidence in them. Knowing now that the bad reviews can be “suppressed” and the good reviews elevated by algorithms designed to manage the algorithms of the search engines, well, I’m getting a little queasy about the whole online reputation management thing.

What concerns me is not only that I will be able to trust the Internet less and less to tell the truth about companies, brands and reputations. But I’m also bothered by the quick fix notion that these online reputation management companies are peddling. Hey, if I provide thoroughly crappy customer service and everyone who does business with me hates me, no worries, I’ll buy one of these reputation dashboard thingies and it will fix the whole thing.

I consider myself a reputation manager for my clients to some degree. But this is not the way I would go about fixing bad reviews. I’d try to get to the source of the problem, find out what’s going on to generate those bad review, try to rectify the situation with those affected and try to make certain that the customer service or product failings that generated them are fixed.

I’m thinking that many are going to opt for the quick fix.

Answering some fundamental crisis communication questions

Todd William of Reputation Rhino is a very smart marketer. By asking a number of crisis communication experts and pseudo experts (like me) some basic questions about crisis communications, he’s getting all those who (like me) want to be included to help him build traffic to his site.

Here are my answers to Todd’s excellent questions.

But, I like the questions he asked and it will be interesting to see the differences. For example, the differences between my response and Wiley Brook’s response is instructive. We were asked what are the biggest mistakes people make in dealing with the media. Mr. Brooks answered that executives were too often not accessible enough to the media. My answer was that most crisis communicators are too media-centric. Mr. Brooks comes at this from a media training background, and I come at it much more from a digital communications background so that no doubt plays into our different perspectives.

So the knowledge you can gain from these interviews is sort of like the internet itself. Don’t believe anyone person or advice–but the cumulative advice from many coming from different perspectives just might help you out.

Great idea, Todd.


How to start nasty rumors

Don’t have time for too much comment on this intriguing story as I’m sitting in the Albuquerque airport waiting for next flight. But this one was just too good to pass up:

Suffice it to say, the perpetrators cleverly created and placed a quite believable rumor about Apple’s scheme to lock out anyone tampering with their products, and the rest is rumor management history. I haven’t looked to see if Apple has done anything to quell the rumor. But the authors, similar to Ryan Holiday of “Trust Me, I’m Lying” are trying to make a point. Their little infographic on believability increasing as distance from the source increases is interesting, but I also think frequently wrong.

As I just discussed with this group in Albuquerque, there is collective intelligence on the Internet but it is not always at play as this exercise demonstrates. But usually there are enough with access to correct information to fairly quickly and decisively correct those who are wrong. What this demonstrates to me more than anything is the importance of monitoring and rumor management at the company level. Because, unlike most rumors, in this case it is only those higher up in Apple who would have the information to contradict this story about the asymetric screw. How would anyone else know what Apple was doing? So, it gains credibility because no one with real info is responding.

That makes you think a bit doesn’t it. What are others saying about you that isn’t true but only you can correct?


Is the pain of a crisis worse because of expectations? Does the nocebo effect apply?

No doubt social media and the internet have increased the vulnerability and the potential impact of crises. Reading PR newsletters like Ragan’s PR Daily, Daily Dog and O’Dwyer’s and every issue features the crisis du jour. But sometimes I think that this frequency make crisis more of a routine thing and in a sense, less to be feared. At the same time, I think sometimes we in the crisis communication business, emphasize the terrors and risks of a crisis as part of our efforts to spur better preparation (a worthy goal in most cases).

But this fascinating article on the “nocebo” effect made me wonder about the application of this to crisis communication. The placebo effect, as you know, is when patients taking a placebo or fake medication, derive actual benefit from it based on the expectation of its benefit. A sugar pill reduces pain or blood pressure as an example, just because they expect it based on being told it is real medication with will produce results. The nocebo effect according to this New York Times article, produces a similar result but based on the fear of side effects. In other words, if you are told that the pill you are taking will make you sick, a lot of people get sick despite the fact that it may be a sugar pill with no possibility of harmful effects.

In this article, one person took 26 sugar pills after being told they were anti-depressants in a suicide attempt and did in fact experience near fatal drop in blood pressure. The mind is a powerful things. And so are expectations.

Worth thinking about as organizations consider the potential harm of major crises. No doubt major events like big oil spills and industrial accidents have significant long term impacts–particularly if not handled well. But all these social media crises, like stupid employees doing disgusting things with food and posting videos on YouTube, I doubt that they have much long term impact on a brand. Not saying they shouldn’t be handled quickly and aggressively. But I do think we in this business have to be careful about exaggerating the potential side-effects of this new age of social media-driven reputation crises.


Chevron and Alaska both taking a beating, but is it fair?

Around here Alaska Airlines is a typically much admired company. An Alaska-originated airline now hq’d in Seattle that has been growing and performing quite admirably in the often cloudy skies of the air transport economy. But lately, it’s been taking a real beating.

First, there was the story that went crazy on Facebook about how they mistreated a Parkinson’s patient, with one witness calling Alaska employees “the worst of humanity.” Then, passengers on a flight noted a piece missing from a wing, but reassuringly, there was a message next to the damage that said “We know about this.” Hmmm, not so reassuring. Then the story hits the news about a $1 million fine levied by FAA for installing the wrong rivets.

The media, in quite typical fashion, has had a bit of a hay day with all this bad stuff. But, Alaska has a very solid reputation around Seattle and that shows in this remarkably even-handed (IMHO, of course) blog on the Seattle PI.  In each case of bad news, things are not what they seemed or often reported.

The bad treatment of passenger? Turns out the man had late stage Parkinsons, couldn’t understand directions, did not respond to what he was being told. The law requires the disabled to self-identify and he didn’t, and employees (sadly) concluded he was drunk. Big lesson, but not “the worst of humanity” as the errant Facebooker reported. Wonder if the guy knows any history, like say, maybe Hitler or Stalin?

The message about the damage was to let the pilots know that the maintenance crew was on it. Not the smartest thing to do however and I’m guessing some maintenance crew training is in order.

And the fines. Turns out in the statement provided by Alaska that they installed rivets that were acceptable at the time, but after minor problems detected the FAA decided they were not OK and fined them.

That’s the problem with the way these stories are told in the media and often social media. The nuances are left out. Stories are simplified into good and bad with little in between, but we all know life is more complicated than that.

As for Chevron, they are taking a real whipping over the refinery fire near San Francisco. I won’t repeat what I commented on on except to reiterate how ugly it is out there when things go wrong. Are they being treated fairly? It’s clear they have many enemies in the community and around the nation (can’t wait to see what Rachel Maddow does to Chevron). But I keep thinking, I’m guessing these people buy gas. That’s no justification for accidents, but sometimes people seem to forget that these companies are made up of good people, just like them, trying their best to do their jobs.  The worst of humanity? Reminds me of an old story about the pot calling the kettle names.



Rachel Maddow considers crisis communicators “morally repellant”–and Shel Holtz defends us

Unlike Shel Holtz, I am not a fan of Rachel Maddow, nor any of the entertainers parading as commentators on the extreme ends of the political spectrum. So I didn’t catch her diatribe on her show on MSNBC on August 3 in which she throughly excoriated those of us in the crisis communication business. I haven’t quite got the stomach to watch the show in question so I’ll trust Shel Holtz’s summary of some her descriptions of us: ““disgusting,” “mercenary,” “open sewer,” and (my favorite) “the most morally repellant, indefensible thing out of American corporate culture,” words you used during a segment on your Aug. 3 report.”

I’m bringing this to your attention not to help Rachel gain ratings, but to encourage you to read Shel Holtz’s defense of the profession. In it, he eloquently (but with evident sadness and disappointment given his appreciation for Maddow) defends the crisis communication profession and, more importantly, gives some compelling and important examples of the high value that crisis communication can deliver when done right. Especially appreciated is the emphasis on how good crisis communication professionals can help companies take the right action in a crisis, often in contradiction to the action advised by attorneys whose sights are set on protecting the company’s legal position. Right on, Shel!

I have to tell you though, I was reading through this article on PR Daily when I unsuspectingly came across some very high praise from Shel. So much appreciated, but I was already determined to bring this article to your attention before seeing that and I almost changed my mind thinking that it would now be seen as self-serving. But, self-serving or not, here it is anyway.

As for my opinion about Rachel Maddow, that was set some time ago when I commented on her vicious treatment of ExxonMobil in the Yellowstone River spill. Certainly she plays to a specific audience, most of which I’m guessing (unlike Shel) participate in her obvious animosity toward big business. She and her ilk are what make building public trust in this media environment so difficult. Given her animosity toward business, it’s not surprising that she so dislikes those of us who try to help organizations do the right thing and help them communicate well.



Media manipulation discussion–sparks fly between Peter Shankman and Ryan Holiday

Here’s a fascinating video discussion found on Shel Holtz’s blog on media manipulation. I’m sending it your way for a couple of reasons. One, it is a recorded video using Google Hangouts which is a pretty handy way of easily creating and sharing discussions.

More important, this lively discussion features Peter Shankman and Ryan Holiday discussing the topic of media manipulation. Ryan just released a book called “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.” Peter works for Vocus who bought his operation HARO, Help a Reporter Out, which is used by journalists and sources to connect. Ryan used HARO to demonstrate how easy it was to manipulate the media. Which means that HARO was a focal point for the deception. Hence, this discussion unfortunately demonstrates some personal animus, particularly from Shankman toward Holiday.

Some light, in addition to the heat, was provided by Shel Holtz and John Jantch of Duct Tape Marketing.

Considering my post on Jonah Lehrer, I find it interesting to see this kind of discussion happening. Truth, trust and credibility are becoming rarer commodities. Personally, I am grateful that some of the dishonesty and lack of credibility in today’s media is becoming more of a headline because I believe that manipulation is much more possible and powerful with a gullible audience. And the sharp decline in trust in media is demonstrating that audience gullibility is declining.

But, it leaves the poignant question: who can we trust? Living in a group, a community, an office, a company, a nation or world without trust is not pleasant and it is far from efficient. Somehow, we have to figure out how to get it back. Unlike Shankman, while I do not appreciate Holiday’s methods, I do appreciate his efforts and I believe it will help bring these important issues forward.