musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life, by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
Reich Communications, Inc. is a boutique public relations agency in New York City offering full service in a variety of areas, with specializations in business-to-business; advertising, marketing and media firms; transportation safety; non-profits, and select consumer products and services.
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New York State yesterday approved a bill that outlines various forms of lobbying and requires firms that engage in those activities to report their actions.
I don't yet know what the reporting procedures are, but a troubling clause in that bill includes PR agencies' contact with editorial boards of newspapers.
The 10-page bill lists various activities that are excluded, including "normal" dealings with reporters on news and feature stories. But if I were to arrange a background session for a client with an editorial board or the opinion editor at a newspaper, it seems like I'd be obligated to report on that activity somehow. I don't yet know what and how much paperwork would be involved or if fines could be levied for failure to report.
The idea is a bad one, a clear overreaction to recent corruption cases up in Albany. It flies in the face of free speech.
Over the years, I've arranged meetings between clients and editorial boards. One example was for NHTSA, to encourage editorials urging readers to buckle up when driving, or not to drink and drive. Clearly, those are messages in the public interest, but I would now have to report on such sessions.
Traditional lobbying is another story, and I feel there should be much tighter restrictions on what lobbyists can do and how money they can distribute to public officials.
I've seen firsthand how lobbying works. Several years ago a client wanted to get Congress to pass stricter laws on a public safety issue. I helped them find a reputable lobbying firm. They began by identifying legislators who were on committees that impacted that issue. The lobbyist knew most of them. I helped them prepare position papers outlining the what and why of my client's objectives, and then they had meetings with the legislators themselves or key aides.
But here's where it got dicey. The lobbyist strongly advised my client to attend various events sponsored or supported by some of those targeted legislators. Some were fundraisers for nonpolitical organizations favored by the legislators. But in several cases, my client was encouraged to attend small-group luncheons or meetings, where the price tag was often $5,000 and up to sit across the table with a dozen or so people and the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer.
All perfectly legal, but how fair is it, really? How many of us can afford to spend big bucks for such direct access? And you have to wonder, when really big bucks -- millions -- are spent, does a public official then feel obligated? Look at big spenders like the gun lobby and big pharma and think about the lack of action on some issues those industries face.
That's where attention needs to be focused. When I or another PR firm sits with a client to inform or try to influence an editorial writer, there are some big differences from lobbying public officials. Meeting with editorial boards, we make our best effort to explain our position on an issue. But the ultimate decision of if and what gets published is in the hands and heart of the editor, a journalist who tries to weigh facts before taking a position. And that choice is not impacted by money.
It's a big difference. So New York, especially in light of all the corruption that's finally being prosecuted in Albany, should focus on traditional lobbying and not dilute those efforts by trying to regulate normal media relations efforts.
Catching up on the news is a Sunday morning ritual. For me and millions of others, that means enjoying a cup (or 2 or 3) of coffee while reading the fat Sunday edition of The NY Times and watching CBS Sunday Morning. Charles Osgood has been hosting that show for more than 20 years.
His calm demeanor always lends a feeling of "we'll get through this" when he reports bad news, and his dry sense of humor, his poetic interludes and his courage to play piano and sing as seasonally appropriate makes you think of him as a wise, erudite uncle. He's someone whose visits you look forward to.
Osgood had big shoes to fill when he took over the spot from Charles Kuralt, but he's done it well.
The Daily News today has a story saying Osgood plans to retire this year. At age 83, he's certainly earned it. Hopefully, we'll still see him doing occasional reports or think pieces.
And hopefully, when a new host takes over (Jane Pauley is seen as a front-runner), the program will stick with its perfect mix of hard news and features on happenings in the news, the arts and sciences, personalities and the occasional oddities.
I've met Osgood a few times, when he's been an honoree or a presenter at the annual Christopher Awards that my firm publicizes, and he is as charming and classy in person as he is on camera.
His presence on Sunday Morning will be missed. Sundays won't quite be the same.
I was a bit surprised when I saw an item Monday on CBS This Morning about the supposed controversy brewing over Starbucks' plans to have a simple red cup this Christmas season, replacing cups decorated with snowflakes and reindeer from years past. Some Starbucks fans evidently voiced their displeasure on social media and the media picked up on it. Even the New York Times had a story about it in Monday's editions.
The Times even quoted one wacko from his Facebook page... “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus,” Joshua Feuerstein, who described himself as an evangelist, Internet and social media personality, wrote."
Sure, Starbucks hates Jesus. Oh Jesus, c'mon!
The Times went on to wonder.. "Perhaps it was part of the company’s intent to generate a little buzz, however negative and extreme some of the instant reviews sounded." Ya' think?
And the media fell for it.
Sure, such a silly story is a nice break from all the heavy news we're dealing with these days. But still... is this really news? I guess because it's on social media, the real media think it's real news.
Or, maybe it's just been a slow news day. Somehow, though, I don't think that's the case.
Here's a lesson for us PR folks... We don't and can't control the press. It's their job to dig and ask questions. It's our job to be prepared or to prepare our clients for those questions, but not to avoid them or chastise those reporters.
This is what veteran NY reporter Gabe Pressman wrote, after a local reporter from Channel 2 here had a dust-up with NY's mayor over a question she asked him at a news conference. It might be no coincidence that the mayor has a very low favorability rating from the public -- around 33%. Also no coincidence that the New York media have been writing about his low polling numbers. You get what you give.
A friend, Eric Berlin, producer at Channel 2 News here, posted Pressman's item on Facebook, and I'm reprinting it below.
(The trial Pressman talks about, with John Peter Zenger, took place in my hometown of Mount Vernon, which is why our city father's call it "The Birthplace of the Bill of Rights.")
THE MAYOR WHO WANTS TO TELL REPORTERS WHAT QUESTIONS HE’LL PERMIT THEM TO ASK .. by Gabe Pressman
New York's Mayor DeBlasio has tangled with a reporter, WCBS-TV's Marcia Kramer, over whether she had a right to ask him a question.
The Mayor who promised to run a “transparent” administration has done the opposite. He insists on setting the agenda for his press conferences. He gives us the topic and then assesses each question. If it’s something he doesn’t want to discuss, he admonishes the reporter to stay “on topic.”
I’ve been covering press conferences at City Hall for 60 years---and never has a Mayor had the temerity to enforce an agenda on journalists.
This Mayor who proclaims he is a “progressive” is anything but. The word “retrogressive” might be a better fit.
He needs a lesson in the history of freedom of the press in New York. John Peter Zenger went to jail for criticizing the English governor of New York. That happened 300 years ago and, if it were not for Zenger, the principle of freedom of the press might never have been embedded in our constitution.
Zenger, a half-literate German-born printer, was a true progressive. He would not let himself be bullied by the top government official in New York. And, thanks to a brilliant lawyer and a courageous jury, he was acquitted of wrongdoing.
Any question is fair game for every mayor. Indeed that principle has suited presidents and governors as well. For a reporter to be guided by any other code would be unprofessional and a betrayal of his obligation to the people.
Journalists being manipulated by political candidates and elected officials is nothing new. The term "pack journalism," in fact, goes way back to the early 1970s when Timothy Crouse published "The Boys on the Bus" in 1973, detailing the reporters covering the most recent Presidential campaign. Hunter S. Thompson touched on it the year before in his "Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail."
I've come to expect the tabloids and the "Access Hollywood"-type gossip shows to pander the to the exploits of crazy wannabe politicians. Look at all the coverage Sarah Palin got a few years ago. As unqualified as she may have been for the VP job, she at least had some experience as a governor. But Trump... come on.
I was disappointed to see his planned visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas as one of the lead stories on today's CBS This Morning, the one morning news show that touts "real news." This is just another campaign stop for a loud-mouthed candidate, but even CBS News is giving it coverage (and thus credibility) over what so many of the other candidates are doing and saying.
It's truly a shame that the media are letting one kooky candidate hijack the campaigns and important discussions of real issues by other real candidates.
Even conservative Rupert Murdoch has said he doesn't like Trump's style and self-aggrandizement. But he's not above using his name and antics to sell papers and get ratings on his TV stations.
I thought some of the other major media were above that, but hysterics get eyeballs on the page and on the screen... and that translates to money.
If I were advising any of the other candidates, I'd say to simply ignore the ranting and taunting of the crazy rich New Yorker and stick to the issues and platforms that you've identified as important. Don't get drawn into the fray, because it only validates and brings more exposure to the crazy one.
Nancy Silberkleit, a friend who is Co-CEO of Archie Comics, is a firm believer that comic books, or graphic novels as they are sometimes called, can teach and inspire.
The iconic Archie series is often about teenage puppy love and the angst of growing up.
But Nancy has used the Archie platform, as well as the comic book medium in general, to help young readers deal with issues like bullying and self confidence. She even formed a foundation called Rise Above Social Issues to help kids deal with the issue, and she is a frequent speaker through out the U.S. and as far abroad as India and Africa.
Nancy also believes comics can inspire positive action. She recently added a teacher's guide to an Archie story titled "Get Drastic with Plastic," where Archie's pals Betty and Veronica, after hearing a speaker at school talk about the environmental impact of plastic, got their school and the community to do more to recycle. Nancy made the lesson plan available at no charge to teachers.
Hats off to Nancy Silberkleit for showing how a medium many see as simply light entertainment can be used to inspire and promote responsible action.
When it comes to preferences in music, movies and media, different age groups don't agree on much. But a recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials do agree on which news sources they feel they can least trust.
All age groups say sources they trust least for accurate reporting are Buzzfeed and three widely-syndicated conservative radio shows hosted by Glenn beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.
Although many listen to the opinionated radio shows, they may tune in more for the entertainment value than for trustworthy news reporting.
The Pew study found more of a discrepancy by age groups when asked which news sources they can trust. Millennials (ages 19-34) say they rely on two faux-news shows, The Daily Show and the recently-ended Colbert Report. Almost as scary is that this group also lists Al Jazeera America as one its most-trusted sources of news. Boomers and Gen Xers, maybe with wisdom that comes with age, said they don't rely on any of those programs for reliable information. They say they get much of their news from local TV.
Troubling, to me at least, is that newspapers didn't figure into the picture for reliable news. (And where do you think local TV gets many of its story leads? The morning paper.)
For 24 years, Bob Schieffer has helped make sense out of what too often seems like a senseless place -- Washington DC. As host of CBS' Face the Nation every Sunday morning, he'd ask tough questions of those we pay to represent us.
In his closing broadcast today, he said he's enjoyed every bit of the 58 years he's spent as a reporter.
Good luck, Bob, and thanks for your probing and your insights.
In a few weeks, longtime ad columnist Stuart Elliott will pen his last column for The Times. He announced on his Facebook page this morning that he will be taking "the very generous buyout" the paper's been offering to longtime reporters and editors, as it tries to reduce its newsroom headcount by 100.
Others who will be leaving by year-end include bylines we've been reading for some time, like Bill Carter on the TV industry.
But Stuart's departure will leave a real gap in The Times business section. He's written beautifully over the years about new campaigns, agency mergers and buyouts, marketing and advertising trends and, often after long holiday weekends, the 10 or 20 humorous questions he raises, always capped with the self-deprecating final statement "for a guy from Brooklyn, you ask a lot of questions."
I've always looked forward to reading Stuart's columns, in the paper and also online. And I'm pleased to say, while we're not close friends, I've had a cordial professional relationship with him. I've always tried to respect him by only pitching him story ideas that I honestly felt were on target, often telling a client "sorry, that's just not for Stuart." And he's treated me with respect, always repsonding to my calls or emails, even if, sometimes, to patiently explain why an idea just isn't for him.
He's been the longest-running ad columnist at The Times, going back to 1991. In terms of longevity, he beat out legendary ad columnist Phil Dougherty, who preceded him, by a year.
Actually, I go back with Stuart to 1990, when he was the ad writer at USA Today. I had just started my own PR business, and an early client was agency Geer DuBois -- a name, like so many others, now just a memory for us oldtimers. He did a nice piece on a new campaign by Geer client YooHoo chocolate drink.
I recall meetings with him and clients like media guru Gene DeWitt in the cafeteria at the old Times building on West 43rd, or more recently at his breakfast haunt at the Royalton on West 44th St.
I'm sorry to see him go, but I know there are many opportunities waiting for him, if he chooses. Or who knows... maybe there's a book in the offing.
Whatever he chooses to do, I know I'm among many who wish him the best and thank him for his good work over the years.
We keep hearing how print is dying, but it looks like that doesn't apply to magazines.
Data from a media research firm that tracks some 200 magazines, reported recently in Media Daily News, shows print magazines had a combined increase in audience of 1.1 percent -- up some 20 million readers from a year ago. The combined print audience is now 1.19 billion.
Total audience of digital-only magazine readership went up 37 percent to 23.2 million. Digital-only is still a small piece of the total audience pie for magazines, but it's growing.
Some of the biggest gainers are familiar names: The Atlantic, up 42 percent; Esquire, up 29.5 percent; Harpers Bazaar, 25.2 percent; Fitness, 21.6 percent; Forbes, 20.5 percent; Travel & Leisure, 19.3 percent; and yes, The New Yorker, up 18 percent.
Magazines in print are still alive. That's good news.