Posts Tagged ‘Media Relations’

Verdict on American Airlines’ Bankruptcy Comms – Good So Far

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Courtesy AA.comDuring my putative lunch today (29 Nov) the erstwhile Roula Amire of asked if I’d write a quick post on the bankruptcy communications coming out of AMR Corp., the parent company of American Airlines.  At first I said no, too busy, but as my home office was still captive to contractors, I quickly reconsidered and wrote something (thank you, Panera wi-fi!).

Bop over to read my piece. I’ll tell you this much — given the requirements of lawyers and the, I don’t know, 12 different constituencies they needed to satisfy, I think they did a good job.  I like the Facebook video from AMR’s CEO, and the customer service Twitter stream pointing people to FAQs.

This is another case of “Dirt-sandwich-and-everybody-has-to-take-a-bite.” There’s not much we can do but smile and chew.




Herman Cain as Crisis Lesson

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Others have already written on this topic, so I’ll offer just a few things to consider when discussing Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain.  Foremost is the distinction between legal advice and public relations advice: they’re not the same thing.

There are four women who’ve claimed that Cain offered unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances during the 1990’s, when Cain led the National Restaurant Association. All four were employees of the NRA, though one was no longer an employee when she claimed the harassment occurred. Two filed complaints and received cash settlements. To others did not file complaints. Legally, payment of settlements is not proof of guilt. PR-wise, most people would say they are.

Legal-beagles are no doubt telling Cain to deny these incidents occurred. No one can prove otherwise, legally.  Sexual harassment seldom occurs with witnesses present. Ask President Clinton about his experience with these matters. His alleged behavior while governor of Arkansas was orders of magnitude more egregious — state troopers acting as spotters? Dropping trou to Paula Jones? And then there’s Monica Lewinsky — hmm, leader of the free world and white house intern?

Under the law, sexual harassment has two potential proof points — hostile work environment or quid pro quo. Pattern of harassment that creates the hostile environment or swapping sex for employment. Under the law, being a boor isn’t a crime.

So for an attorney, there’s no evidence of sexual harassment. For a PR counsel, that simply doesn’t matter. Who here believes that these four women made all this up, especially the two who filed complaints and received cash?  One publicity-seeking money-hound is one thing. Four is another.

Meanwhile, Cain denies, and the story is hot every day. What if Cain’s news conference had featured this statement:

My fellow Americans, as much as it pains me to say it, there was a time in my life when I behaved less than admirably regarding my relationships with women, and the allegations you have seen and read lately stem from that dark period some 15 years ago. By the grace of God and the support of my family, I was able to recognize that though my actions did not fit the legal definition of sexual harassment, they were still inappropriate and wrong. I deeply regret my actions and have sought support and guidance from my family and my faith to become a better man, a better Christian.

We could wordsmith this to death, of course, but where does the media go after hearing this? Cain could have taken questions, and to each that asked for details, reply that there’s no point in rehashing the incidents, and that he is very sorry for the pain he caused to the recipients of his unwanted attentions.

Of course, the whole thing flares up again if there are additional allegations from after the NRA, particularly Godfather’s Pizza, where he was CEO. The other thing to keep in mind is that the case against President Clinton was more substantive on par — more people, the Troopergate material, and a continuing pattern.

Chances are, Cain won’t get the nomination anyway — but I don’t think it’s the end of his campaign.



Collaboration – 3rd “C” Toward Integration

Thursday, August 11th, 2011
Copyright, Creative Commons

The essence of collaboration

We think of integration as logical for organizational communication. But there’s resistance to integration as well, from budget jealousy to outright turf wars preventing even the low-hanging fruit from being plucked.   As I wrote earlier, we can realize a lot of the benefits of integration by adopting a step-by-step process, starting with communication, proceeding to coordination and finally to collaboration. These are the 3 C’s.

Collaboration is working jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor (adapted from Merriam-Webster). The key difference between coordination and collaboration in our context is discrete effort: when we collaborate, we decide to combine our efforts toward completion of an activity. Here are two examples from my own history.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company operates a decentralized communication team, with the geographic business units in Asia, Europe/Middle East/Africa, Latin America and North America each operating its own communication team.  The heads of comms for each have a dotted line back to the chief communication officer, but budgets and functional reporting is to the business unit, usually to the unit president.

Goodyear moved along the 3 C’s spectrum slowly. It used to be that sharing strategy and plans was strictly ad-hoc; some units would forward a couple of pages to the CCO, some would give only the broadest outline. That made it very difficult to represent for the function with any sort of context, let alone establish common processes.  Best practices among units didn’t circulate well, and even budget visibility was limited.

By establishing an HQ position dedicated to increasing both communication and coordination, Goodyear was eventually able to establish a common planning process, combination bottom-up and top down.  With the intranet circulating best practices (often just a short story detailing what PR event had occurred and the results), in short order teams within units began to collaborate, borrowing event strategies and communication content from one another and working on cross-functional projects. Members of the corporate communication team were even invited to speak at regional communication meetings.

At National City Corporation following a determined effort to increase communication and collaboration across the communication function (see my posts Use 3 C’s to Work Together and The 3 C’s Toward Integration: Coordination), Marketing reached out to the retail communication group for assistance with a new campaign.

Corporate Communications worked with other units on materials development, retail asked for Corporate Comm help for a retail investing project, and Corporate Communications, Legal and Investor Relations formed a cross-functional team to work on financial PR releases. Even the measurement program benefited from collaboration, with marketing asking Corporate Communications to research the impact of news media coverage on a direct mail campaign, and corporate comms working with marketing to include unpaid media in its regular brand research (See “Measuring Company A”), and the Risk group asking for Corporate Comms help in understanding the impact of media on reputation.

Both of these cases marched steadily from communication to collaboration.  At both companies, there also were situations where they got stuck — a business process optimization team struggled to get past the communication stage, for example, and never made it to collaboration. But even in that case, the visibility of budget spend and the decision to coordinate several business unit and function-specific process improvements still demonstrated value.

It’s hard to truly integrate departments for a lot of reasons — the desire of executives to control their expense profiles top-to-bottom, among them.  The financial folks will want to add a fourth C — consolidation — which often seems like a synonym for integration. No leader wants to give up either headcount or budget willingly, regardless of the benefits — alignment, consistency and efficiency among the most frequently noted.

However, if we apply the 3 C’s effectively, we can gain all the benefits of integration except the financial ones.  For a lot of organizations, that’ll work just fine.






Bloggers – Got Paid? It’s Commercial Speech

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Earlier this year, I did some research on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission guidelines on endorsements and testimonials for a class. As I dug into it, I wrote a post promising to share the paper, so here it is. I thought I’d share the results in hopes that anyone in social media would understand that pay means business, and that means disclosure.  The style is academic, which means there are a lot of endnotes and a sizable bibliography, but it shouldn’t kill you.

The short version: If you get stuff from a company to write about (even if they don’t demand it be positive), you are expected to tell your readers. If what you say is deceptive or misleading, you could be blogging from the Hotel GrayBar — or at least be a little lighter in the cash department.

But wait a second, what about free speech?  Journalists don’t need to disclose if they get free stuff!  Well, let’s just say that the Government — and the Courts — have ruled that your free speech is secondary to the rights of consumers.

I don’t think I can argue. But you can — just read the paper first.


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.



Lies, Damn Lies, & Stinking Loads of …

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Courtesy CBS Interactive & Star Trek

Remember that Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk is stuck on some barren planet with a 9-foot Godzilla-like lizard, and the two of them are supposed to fight rather than their respective armies? The big lizard hisses, “I grow weary of the chase. Wait for me — I will make it quick, and painless(sssss). That’s how I’m feeling about measuring social media right now.

It would be so easy to just give in.

I’ve been pondering how to measure influence, in particular, after a spirited discussion on both Justin Goldsborough’s and Shonali Burke’s blogs. That led to a bunch of posts on how we might use the structure of measuring relationships (Hon/Grunig).   This is heady stuff for peanut-brains like me.  The high-forehead types who make their living in the academe are used to thinking in these terms, but all of this stuff is pretty new for me. I’m just some guy, trying to puzzle out how to make sense of the concepts of influence in the social age, and apply the both new and hoary theories in the process. If I have to explain this stuff, I better have some ideas.

But there’s a lot more traction in just inventing a method and telling people it’s the standard, never revealing the contents of the magic box.  From Altimeter to Syncapse, to Vitrue to Klout, we learn that more-social companies have higher revenue than less-social (correlation is NOT causation); Facebook fans of a brand buy more stuff than non-fans (but which drives which?); Facebook fans are worth $3.60 (no, $136, no…), and that the “standard for influence” has something to do with Facebook and Twitter, but we’re not sure what because the formulas are secret.

H-E-double hockey sticks! I want to fight them all!

But, jeepers, why not just join them?  I came up with an idea last year to evaluate political material — know at a glance whether an article is left-or-right wing, moderate, or a combination of both.  I cooked up how it would work (programmed like automated sentiment), selected someone to write the code and even chose a name.

But it would have been a stinking load of … crap! I wasn’t basing it on any kind of research, just my own desire to make money, preferably by selling the company quickly to someone with deeper pockets, poor analytical skills and a short attention span.  Why go to all the trouble of vetting it, ensuring it actually does what it intends? That hasn’t stopped the flow of snake oil!

The class I teach at Kent State meets Wednesday nights, and on 9 March, the estimable Chuck Hemann, SVP for Ogilvy, joined us by Skype to talk to the class. He’s SUCH a smart dude (and he’s humble, claiming that I taught HIM stuff…) What my takeaway was: There are no easy answers to the social media measurement questions, and the snake oil is still gushing in the space. It takes some primary research, some actual analytical work, to figure this out. No shortcuts, no one-size-fits-all formula.

Here, I thought I’d missed the boat and should be hawking the Oil of Genius.  It’d be a lot easier than fighting the good fight, for sure. But I’m glad I’m still on the ramparts, exalting the troops to victory.

Even if I do, occasionally, “weary of the chase.”


Measuring Influence: 4 Learnings

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Measurement isn't just bells and whistles

Measurement for its own sake is a waste of everyone’s time and money. It’s got to be in service of a strategy.

You might say that the foregoing statement is a canard; no one is beating down our doors asking us to just measure something, anything.  But there remain a feisty few, particularly on the social media side of the equation, who keep offering up horsepuckey in the guise of gold bullion.

Witness “4 Ways to Measure Social Media…,” a well-intentioned piece from last summer on Social Media Examiner. Author Nichole Kelly subheads the article with “exposure,” “engagement,” “influence” and “lead generation” — the “4 ways.”  Kelly’s on firm ground about exposure, pointing out the difficulty of a) getting good data and b) ensuring you’re counting only once, though equating reach to awareness is a colossal mistake.  Engagement,  too, is solid (if output-based), covering @replies, DMs, links clicked, comments and subscriptions. Good stuff.

Influence is listed third and lead generation fourth, showing exposure, engagement and influence as the top of the funnel leading to conversion.

The section on influence is underdone, and erroneously says tone (positive, negative, neutral) IS influence.  In fact, according to Yahoo!’s Duncan Watts, Winter Mason, and Jake Hofman, and the University of Michgan’s Etyan Bakshy, influence can’t be credibly determined from content analysis. Read all about it.

I heard Watts speak on this topic during the snowy last week of January at a meeting of the Institute for PR Commission on research, measurement and evaluation, of which I’m a member. Influence is a huge question, and Watts,’s work made me recall the somewhat hoary idea that understanding your specific audience (whether final audience or intermediary) is a lot more important than trying to calculate the exact number of impressions represented by friends of friends and retweet followers.

I pick on influence because it’s the biggest question in social media.  In fact, it’s been a big question in communication in general since the days of Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet and the two-step flow. Who are the “opinion leaders” and how do we calculate their effectiveness?

Here are four questions that hold promise when considering how to measure influence:

  1. Does the opinion leader “play” in the right sandbox for our intended audience/stakeholder?  Chris Brogan and Brian Solis have lots of followers, tribes that hang on their every tweet. Are their tribes our tribes?  They’ve got awesome scale by sheer numbers, but it’s anyone’s guess how involved they are or whether their followers in turn reach people we care about. We could get Brogan or Solis to talk about our service, product, leader or whatever, but to what end if their followers aren’t the right fit for us?
  2. Can we create a solid chain of links from the opinion leader’s actions to our desired actions?  If we’re working on building corporate reputation, retweets, Facebook “likes” and blog comments should have a relationship to opinions voiced by our final target audience. Simply passing along a leader’s statement (tweet, post, comment, etc.) shouldn’t be construed as adoption! Here’s where content analysis shows promise, especially in blogs and perhaps during Twitter chats. The opinion leader’s output should have some effect if he/she is truly influencing others. Note that this is a qualitative effort and suffers from lack of scale.
  3. Are we mistaking popularity for influence?  Celebrities routinely land atop the Twitter rankings, and there are brands on Facebook with upteen hundreds of thousands of “friends.” But having a lot of friends/followers just makes you popular. See #2 above.  We’ve long wondered about how to judge the effectiveness of influence in conventional relationships, but I don’t think many of us think the most popular student in high school was necessarily the most influential.
  4. Are we inappropriately drawing general conclusions from narrow findings?  Influence is personal and specific.  We make assumptions about readers of newspapers, TV viewers, etc., and have a body of research to back those assumptions up.  In social media, the appearance of influence may be mere output, or outtake at best. Outcomes outside of e-commerce are tough to come by, though clear objectives can solve this problem quickly.

The best measurement starts with research up front, which informs our strategy and objective-setting, followed by more research to determine effectiveness and progress toward objectives.  It’s not just tactical measurement designed to cover our butts or justify our budgets, especially when it’s trying to measure influence.


Planes, Trains, Cabs, Buses. Waiting.

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

This is what 15 inches of snow in less than 24 hours looks like.

With the winter that the northeast US has suffered, I shouldn’t have been surprised that this week’s snowfall put a serious crimp in my little one-night jaunt to the City That Never Sleeps for an IPR Measurement Commission meeting.  Thank heavens for Jeremy and Alice, who welcomed me into their home for an extra night solo, and even fed me granola this morning.

Wednesday dawned to a wicked wind and big snowflakes. By 11 a.m., my 4:10 Continental Airlines flight home was canceled, rebooked to 7:30 p.m. But this snowstorm was a two-part invention in pain, and the second movement hit (sleet and freezing rain) just as the evening commute was starting. Colleagues on United and others got the axe, and I decided I’d rather spend another evening on Jeremy and Alice’s guest bed than run the risk of being marooned for the night in the comfort and luxury of LaGuardia Airport.

So, I rebooked for 10 a.m. Thursday, well after the snowmaggedon was due to end and with plenty of time to negotiate Manhattan’s buses, streets and subways.

Au Contraire, mon frere. We got about 15 inches in Central Park.

At 7 a.m., my 10 was canceled, Continental wasn’t answering its phones, the Web site offered no alternatives and I was sweating bullets. I Tweeted to @Continental pleading for help (followed them) and a  little later, they DM’d me asking for confirm and deets. In the meantime, I hied myself off to Penn Station, where Continental maintains a ticket office, by subway.  The office was closed, probably because the 15 inch snowfall on the island was about the same as the other boroughs and immediate vicinity. I boarded a New York Airport bus van (a private company) at Penn Station, went to Grand Central, got on a larger bus, waited for 40 minutes or so, then made a fairly easy jaunt to the airport.

At LaGuardia, the Continental staff solved my problem, crowbarring me into a seat on a 6 p.m. flight. Of course, it was barely 1 p.m. at the time, meaning I faced a long afternoon. Fortunately, the President’s Club has good wi-fi. I’m writing this from a cozy carrel.

So how did Continental do?  What could they do? As talented an airline as they are (thank you for maintaining a hub in Cleveland!), they can’t change the laws of physics and conjure up airplanes on the spot. They have to come from other places, and with basically a full day flights to re-jigger, they did what they could. It helped, I’m sure, to present myself here at the airport and talk to a real person (who was very nice and helpful.)

I wish that when they cancelled my Thursday morning flight, they’d rebooked me immediately, as they did on Wednesday afternoon. I wish they could have had enough telephone operators on hand that I could have learned my fate earlier in the day. But all in all, Continental confirmed why they are my airline of choice. I got treated with respect, the Twitter operator tried to help me out, and in the end, I’m on the way home.

I hope the new United does as well.


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.”