Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’

Employers shocked, shocked, that morale is low

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

In what can be described only as a stunning command of the obvious, a MetLife study shows that workers are growing restive as the economy rebounds from three years of struggle, and that employers are oblivious.

A story in the 28 March edition of USA Today quotes a psychologist saying that workers are stressed after watching co-workers get fired, being told to take on more work for the same pay, and longer hours. The MetLife veep is quoted (nice pop, MetLife PR!) saying that business’s understandable focus on financial matters has led to it ignoring human factors. It is pretty easy to be a “best employer” when the tide is in and Wall Street rocking.

There’s even an indirect from Towers Watson saying that companies are having a hard time “attracting employees with critical skills.”

How can any company say they’re surprised by these results? Add in a healthy dose of capitalist excess in the form of higher executive pay and you have a combustible mixture of anger and envy alongside the feeling that you need to leave to be appreciated.  During a downturn, people are OK with making less money — they indeed are just happy to have a job. After their sacrifice (which is how they see it), when the picture turns better, they expect to make up lost ground — the 3% raise isn’t enough — they didn’t get a raise for two years, so now they want 9% to pick up the slack. But Wall Street will punish any company that lets its fixed costs leap up like that!

Where’s a leader, though, who’ll redirect his or her whacking huge bonus to throw a bit more on the regular employee pile? How about a one-time 401(k) contribution? Maybe a small bonus to show the boss notices the dedication of the past few years?

If they can’t see how the tough stuff hurt loyalty and morale, they don’t deserve to be in business.



Is Blogging Commercial Speech?

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Courtesy of

Here’s a little brain-teaser for you.  Not too long ago, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission issued regulations saying that bloggers who get into product promotion have to tell us if they got compensated for doing so. How does that ruling affect the free speech rights of the bloggers?

I’m going to do some research as part of the class I’m taking — Law of Advertising and Public Relations — and after I turn in the paper (and get a grade on it) I’ll return to this topic. I found a really interesting article in the American Business Law Journal that explores this topic, mostly from the perspective of the company and its own blogs, but the discussion on what constitutes commercial speech is rich indeed. And, it offers a lot of other articles and legal opinions that will help my research immensely.

But, in the meantime, what’s your view?  Is a product review paid for by the company commercial speech, or individual speech not subject to the FTC’s rules?



Does ‘spam’ work?

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

I know I’m a bit addled lately with multiple priorities and projects, but I just wondered why I got 18 junk comments on me blog, here…? Do BS things like that actually work? Are there people who buy based on unsolicited emails, junk Tweets, nonsense comments on a blog?

For that matter, can anyone explain why the same batch of de-bunked email rumors keep staying alive?  For heaven’s sake, no one is releasing cell phone numbers to telemarketers, there’s no email that can wipe your hard drive (unless there’s a bad attachment and you…open it.) Let’s not even discuss the, ahem, male enhancement claims…

Of course, there are people who think Keith Olbermann, or Sean Hannity, or Rachel Maddow or Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or whomever are the paragons of objective journalism, but that’s a topic for another day.

Maybe they’re the ones clicking through to buy the male enhancement do not call database wipe your hard drive virus email text.


My name’s Sean and I’m a Media Junkie.

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I wrote a piece for my Theory of Mass Comm class that I thought might be interesting for you, dear reader. Especially because my Lost October gobsmacked my blogging and Tweeting, I feel guilty about this — is MINE, and I’ve (gratefully) passed the torch this 35 days.  And, I feel guilty about feeling relieved. Did I mention guilt? Please read, comment, and whine.

From the time I was 10, I’ve been a media junkie. The summer of 1968…watching the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Democratic National Convention from Chicago. Dan Rather punched by goons, Chicago PD pummeling “Yippies” and Gene McCarthy’s delegates locked out of the convention by Mayor Daley’s machine. The last of the smoky back room method of choosing a nominee.

Last week, I read my usual newspapers (in print), the blogs I frequent, Twitter, watched the NBC Nightly News for the first time in years; I also caught CNBC, The Weather Channel and watched most of two baseball games.

I read the Cleveland Plain Dealer for local and state news (especially political news, given the season), and for the quick overview of the rest of the world. The Wall Street Journal gets me caught up on international news, national politics, and news about companies and the economy in detail. A hotel visit left me with the USA Today. That paper’s a bit like white bread – it fills the belly but doesn’t amount to much nutrition.

The Nightly news happened to be on prior to a baseball game, and in moments I determined I didn’t care what Brian Williams thought was important that day — I chatted with other denizens of the restaurant about unrelated things and generally ignored what I saw as the valueless drivel the airbrushed talking heads were discussing.

The blogs gave me a few interesting perspectives on marketing and communications — from people I don’t know but whom I’ve found cogent of thought in the past (I found them on recommendation from people I know and trust).

Twitter is audience participation — forwarding and responding to what others said, making me feel connected to a wider team, something, as a sole proprietor, I miss. It’s almost conversation (the delay makes it a bit different, but with enough similarity to make it seem valuable to me.)

Why do I continue consuming these media? I remain a news junkie.

A couple of weeks ago, I was too busy to do my usual routine. There I was in two of the best newspaper markets in the U.S. (Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.), and I didn’t once read either newspaper. Sigh.

I don’t feel right not knowing. I don’t feel good being ignorant. I’ve got to have that fix.


‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ Newly Relevant

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Image via Creative Commons

Twelve years ago or so, Dr. Spencer Johnson wrote a slender volume about change and dealing with it that featured mice and “littlepeople.”  I read it somewhere around that time at the behest of my boss, discussed it with my colleagues and promptly moved it into the “management cliche” category, soon to be followed by Total Quality Management.

When I saw “Who Moved My Cheese” (and its intellectual compadre, “The One-Minute Manager“) on the syllabus for my grad class on media management, I remembered just enough of it to see where the conversation was heading. “Cheese” tells a simple little story about two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two littlepeople who ostensibly are smarter than the mice, Haw and Hem. The four live in a maze equipped with Cheese Stations and spend their days going to and fro, stuffing themselves with cheese.  The mice notice a change (less cheese at Station C) and take off to look elsewhere, whilst Hem and Haw (wait for it) dither until all the cheese in Station C is gone.

They’ve refused to change. They like Station C and expect that one day, the cheese will magically re-appear. That is, until Haw summons up the courage to face his fear of the unknown and leave Hem behind.

Haw finds new cheese, tries to convince Hem to move on, Hem refuses, and Haw goes back to the new treasure of cheese, but keeps his running shoes handy just in case he needs to move again.

Part of the books appeal is that it’s not complicated, and it seems to speak to many people in many ways.  The discussion 12 years ago was about who we saw ourselves embodying among the characters. Thus, we’re supposed to discover the wider truths of the book as it applies to us.

In the media management course, we’ve begun looking into media business models, and I see that most media organizations have been Hem — they’ve stayed with what worked in the past despite the warning signs, and are failing. A few are like Haw — they’ve realized their errors and have forged ahead, albeit slowly in some cases: “The Christian Science Monitor” dropped its paper edition; television news organizations now put “packages” together for both broadcast and Web; Slate and Salon stuck it out as online-only magazines, eschewing the temptation to put out print; “The New York Times” and “The Wall Street Journal” are planning to put most of their content behind paywalls.

But the cheese is still on the move.  The most popular online news sites are aggregators — Yahoo! News, Drudge, Google… Whither their models when the original content others are producing disappears?  What about the role of citizen journalism (or citizen curation, a la Digg, Reddit, etc.)?

The New York Times has an article today on Digg — positing that Twitter and Facebook have taken the space that Digg blocked out in 2004, and we know MySpace is hardly the force it once was.

Station C is already cheese-less, and so is Station D (the first social media station). The path to the new cheese is mighty narrow, strewn with boulders and broken glass.

Got anything to do with media at all?  Better re-read “Who Moved My Cheese.”


Some Crises Are ‘No-Win’

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

In a balanced article in the 22 August New York Times, writer Peter S. Goodman talks to a heap of PR folks about the Goldman Sachs, Toyota and BP communication nightmares. It’s a good piece, especially one graf:

“Which raises a question: Are some crises so dire that public relationship victory is simply not on the menu? And, if so, what’s an embattled company to do?”

After living through the financial crisis with a regional bank, I can tell you that we did wonder whether there was anything we could do differently to try and make our sow’s ear into a silk purse. Or even just a paper bag, anything except what we were getting.

The question of visceral hatred that we see for Goldman Sachs and BP isn’t equaled for Toyota. Of course, the corporate reputations of both Goldman and BP weren’t near as positive prior to their crises as Toyota’s. In the Goldman case, was public opinion merely scapegoating a convenient target? We didn’t much like the idea that this company was busy racking up big profits whilst the average Joe saw 401 (k) collapses, layoffs and strife. BP had held itself out as a new breed (Beyond Petroleum). Meanwhile, Toyota had become the largest auto company in the world on the strength of perceived exceptionally high quality. There was more goodwill built up around Toyota, and although they had a few bumps, they seem to be returning to their lofty status.

One expert quoted in the article said when the facts are horrible, “the best PR fix may simply be to absorb the pounding and get back to business, while eschewing the sort of foolish communication gimmicks that can make things worse.”

We see, however, how heavy the pounding can get when companies decide to stonewall or be overly parsimonious in their statements. But I agree that sometimes, the news is just so bad, so damaging, that there’s no way to win. So, the question becomes, just how much crisis medicine are you willing to take?


5 Reasons Why HR & PR Don’t Get Along

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Ask any corporate communicator who they want to report to and they’ll say, “the CEO!”  Now ask who they’d NEVER want to report to. They’ll say, “HR.”  why is that?

Our corporate cousins in Human Resources have many of the same issues that we do. They want to be seen as strategic resources, not mere tactical cogs in the wheel. They struggle to be taken seriously outside of their functional silos.  They fight for budget and resources with some difficulty, because they “don’t drive sales,” or “don’t understand the business.”  By these lights, we should be strong partners — the shared pain of the back-office services would seem to be a logical impetus for a good relationship.

My own experience demonstrates that possibility. Goodyear’s (now retired) Kathy Geier was a trusted member of then-CEO Bob Keegan’s cabinet.  She reached out to me often on all kinds of matters, and recruited me onto a task force on business process optimization. Many of her team sought me out (and I, them), and we forged a strong, positive relationship. KeyCorp’s Diane Coble and Jeff Darner (since moved on) and I enjoyed similar mutual respect and partnering. Even my brief tenure at National City Corporation included positive experiences working with HR.

But in other organizations, jealousy, turf wars, even outright stiff-necked opposition are the order of the day. Why?

Here are 5 reasons why HR and PR don’t get along.  Next week, 5 ways YOU can build a good relationship with them.

1. HR thinks they’re smarter than PR. There’s a stronger academic body of knowledge in HR, a business school connection missing from most all PR programs, which reside in Journalism.  They think their college experience was more demanding and quantitative than ours.

2. HR is hungry for budget and control.  They want more than just the functional duties of compensation, personnel, etc.This is key to their strategic aspirations; the “support services” model often puts an HR person in charge of all the support functions, elevating them to higher pay and bonus as a result of larger budgets and spans of control.

3. HR often believes that only information critical to the employee should be communicated to them — and that means comp/benefits, business conduct and training opportunities should be top of the fold in the employee newsletter and front-and-center on the intranet. They believe that they know more about communication than we do (and sometimes they’re right, but that’s another post).

4.  HR provides training in many fields, so it believes it knows better how to train managers to be communicators than we do.

5. HR likes checklists. Communicating something is an output to be checked off, not a process with a closed loop. They prefer push to pull, wanting to declare that a communication has been sent and therefore is complete. This is especially fraught when discussing how to measure the effectiveness of communication activity.

Just a reminder — these aren’t hard and fast rules, they’re examples. Your results may vary.  In fact, share your thinking here!  Do these resonate with you? Am I full of it?


Mainstream Thinks it ‘Gets’ Social Media

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Two mainstream media stories 1 June tackle social media. The Wall Street Journal ($) offers perspectives on the ultimate measurement of social media effectiveness, direct sales through social channels; Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer looks at the risks of permitting social media use at work, quoting security consulting companies, lawyers and interactive marketing expert Dominic Litten (@DJLitten).

The Plain Dealer story is fairly predictable — “corporate challenges” presented by social media, together with tales of employees fired, foolish companies and an emphasis on the need for strong policies.  The central message is “CONTROL.” This disappoints me, especially because the story dwells so much on blocking social media. Katie Herbst (@katieherbst), who manages social marketing for an insurance company, offers a good counter to the blocking argument, pointing out that time-wasting won’t necessarily be limited by the lack of social media.

The Journal piece talks about apps that can turn social media platforms into sales generators — unmentioned is the time-honored technique of pointing people to a URL.  A couple of strange notes — a marketing professor is quoted saying that businesses must advertise to make people aware of their Facebook fan page, and that large numbers of fans are needed to “sway” buyers. This is a very traditionalist approach that ignores the relationship-building that’s at the heart of social media’s appeal.

Also, the story includes the requisite warning that social media could make for customer service challenges — another professor recommends an even higher level of service to support a Facebook page than other channels.  A Houston sports retailer added a Facebook app to its Facebook Fan page in 2008, but has sold only 50 products through it. Again, a narrow view of success, because unmentioned is the impact of Facebook relationships on other sales channels.

In both of these stories, the reporting is surface-only. The frames in which they operate are very much rooted in mainstream marketing, and little in either story (apart from @DJLitten’s good perspectives on technology and productivity) reflect the reputational and relational opportunities that social media is really all about.

Of course, many marketers are guilty of similar biases — they see the “captive” audience of Facebook fans and want to broadcast to them. Learning to see these tools in their proper context is a challenge all its own.

Present company definitely included.


Big Banks Get Whipped: 2008 News Coverage

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Think back two years. The financial crisis hit its gallop around this time in 2008, when the U.S. government sold Bear Stearns to JP Morgan Chase before its wrecked hull could breach and take the global economy down to Davy Jones’ Locker.  But that was just the beginning of a wicked huge bear market brought on by inflated real estate prices, preposterous mortgage loans, complicated and unregulated investment vehicles, and a collapse in confidence by everyone from global investors to your local school custodian.

Those of us who watched from a courtside seat (and wished we were in the bleachers, one bank CEO said) remember it all too well.

That’s why I thought twice about hearing University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s David Remund, a doctoral student, present his paper, “Crisis of Confidence: News Coverage of America’s Largest Banks During the 2008 Financial Crisis” at the 13th Annual International PR Research Conference.

Remund did a content analysis of news releases and national and local newspaper coverage of the 10 largest American banks for the second half of 2008, looking for some kind of systemic understanding about how these banks used crisis communication techniques to spray some pain-killer on the daily parade of negative information marching down Main Street.

Two crisis communication theories applied: Image Restoration Theory, which holds that if you’re at fault, you admit it and share the steps you’re taking to address the situation and prevent it from recurring. Situational Crisis Communications Theory says that you need to show concern for people who’ve been hurt by your crisis. Remund’s hypotheses offered that banks that acknowledged the financial crisis and showed concern for consumers in their media relations efforts would enjoy a higher proportion of confidence-building news coverage as a results.

Whoops. Remund’s findings were the exact opposite, with neither hypothesis supported.

Instead, the media pretty much held that banks’ actions contributed to the financial crisis, and the quietest banks got the greater proportion of positive coverage.  So, what happened?

As I wrote in my own research covering one company, the crisis had so many contributing factors, was so broad and so extensive that we got to the point where facts and data simply didn’t matter. It was a mob, running headlong down the street screaming, “Run! Run!” Everybody had to run, even as they asked what what happening. Secondly, Remund’s research drew from a rather small batch of news outlets and from only the largest banks.

Finally, by the third quarter of 2008, the news media wasn’t about to trust pretty much anything that banks had to say. Washington Mutual raised capital and swore up and down that it was solvent, even as its capital dwindled away toward federal seizure. Lehman Brothers didn’t think it had any problems in the summer and was dead by September. IndyMac, Countrywide, Wachovia, National City… all positioned themselves as in good shape — but what else could they say?

We PR people are always recommending the most transparent approach — the article of crisis communication faith seems to be , “Tell it first, tell it fast and tell it all.” Aside from a recent study, all the literature calls for that type of approach.  I believe it’s far more situational — once you’re in a systemic crisis that reaches past you and your world, your ability to affect its course gets a lot more difficult. Sometimes, you just have to wait it out.

The Remund study reveals more about the limits of crisis communication, than about bank public relations in a crisis.


Driving Me Crazy: Southwest Didn’t Err

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Sometimes I really think the end of the republic is nigh.  A large man who usually buys two seats (because he is so large) wants to snag an earlier flight which has only one seat, cannot fit without discomfort to himself and his hapless row-mates, so he cries, “discrimination!” Oh, and he also has a new film coming out soon. Hmmmmm. Grrrrrr.

According to a story in the Newark Star-Ledger website, Kevin Smith fit into the middle seat with the armrests down, but the flight crew believed he was a safety risk and removed him from the aircraft. Smith activated his 1.6 million Twitter followers to take Southwest Airlines to task.

The story clips from several bloggers, including Sonny Gill, the HuffPo and a couple of others. The debate seems to be over whether airlines need to make accommodations for “persons of size.”

Southwest has a policy. If you’re big, buy two seats. Smith knew the policy and often did so, according to numerous media reports.  As a frequent traveler, I know that it’s good to get home early if you can. But if my choice is to wait a while and have my comfy two seats instead of being a human Panini, I’m waiting.

We all know that air travel today is like bus travel in 1966 (which I remember, thanks) — crowded into old, creaky seats, mashed together, with substandard sanitary facilities and somewhat, er, limited cuisine.  Southwest does a fab job, in my book, of making a rather unpleasant task bearable,  mostly with good cheer, Heineken and tasty bags of peanuts.

I don’t think they needed to apologize.

I can’t shake the idea that the esteemed Mr. Smith is subscribing to the old adage that all publicity is good. I wonder if we compare movie openings press coverage, that his clip count will be higher this time around.