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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Re-usable rocket ships, space travel and, ultimately, colonizing Mars. Sounds like science fiction, but it's exactly what Elon Musk is doing through his SpaceX venture. He hopes to get to Mars -- not just for a visit, but to establish a permanent habitat for people. Part of it relies on recovering and re-using booster rockets, which now end up burning up or falling into the ocean.
Bloomberg News today writes about a side product of the rocket launches that have become a big hit online -- the live webcasts of the SpaceX launches. The webcasts serve to inform people about the various SpaceX missions, while exciting the business community and young engineers who might consider working at the company.
Our son Michael has been directing the webcasts, including the one for Friday evening's mission to launch a communications satellite, while recovering the booster rocket on a floating platform. The webcasts are hosted by young SpaceX engineers who, with infectious enthusiasm, explain what is happening and, in terms we non-engineers can comprehend, the science behind it.
In these days of short attention spans, the webcasts make a countdown informative and entertaining.
Congrats, Michael, for great work that the folks at Bloomberg recognized. I'm so proud of you.
To see the Bloomberg story, click here. And to watch the live webcast of Friday's mission, which is due to launch around 5 p.m. Eastern, go to www.spacex.com.
So here we go again, with yet another botched personnel move by TV network executives.
This time, it's the brains at Disney-ABC who made a major change in their popular syndicated "Live With Kelly and Michael" by informing the show's co-star Kelly Ripa of the change moments before making a public announcement.
Shades of NBC's botched firing of Ann Curry from the "Today Show," and that same net's handling of Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno.
They just don't learn.
ABC has blown it, again, by not letting key players in on important news in advance. When Ripa's former co-host and icon Regis Philbin announced his departure, she was told moments before the announcement was to be made to the media.
Trade media are now speculating that moving Michael Strahan to "Good Morning America" is a move to bolster that show and also a possible prelim to expanding "GMA" to a third hour, as NBC has done with "Today" in the 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. hours. "Live" is a good money-maker for ABC, but "GMA" is more profitable and adding another hour would require minimal extra outlay. So Ripa might understandably fear taking away her popular co-host is a move in that direction, putting her own show in jeopardy.
I'm not feeling bad for Ripa financially -- she's paid quite well for her job on "Live." But still, it's not the way to treat employees, especially those so prominent in the public eye. And ABC's explanations and denials are ringing hollow.
With the ongoing talk about how newspapers are dying, here's an interesting newspaper success story.
The Herald-Tribune would seem to have the odds against it, serving an aging population in Sarasota, Fla. But the paper, which last week won its second Pulitzer Prize in five years with a solid story about the area's mental healthcare system, is bucking the trend, with readership growth both online and in print.
Media Life wrote about it and says...
"The paper’s growth in readers is a remarkable achievement by any standards, but especially so for a Florida market in which 34 percent of the population is over age 65. That’s almost three times the number in most American cities.
By returning to the basics of what readers expect from a newspaper–real journalism–the Sarasota Herald Tribune has revealed a lead others might follow."
An article on the Opinion pages of Monday's Wall Street Journal is headlined "We Need Better Presidential Debates."
I couldn't agree more.
The writers, head of debate organization Intelligence Squared U.S. and an ABC News correspondent, make the case for us to use the standards of the classic Oxford-style debate, where the debaters have more time. They say this format would expose candidates who only use carefully canned responses, and it would force them to be more knowledgeable on issues.
I think I know why the current short-response format is used. Very simply... it makes for better TV.
Longer responses, which should bring more depth to what is being said, can test viewers' attention spans. So the current format, with its loose and unenforced rules, becomes a great reality TV show rather than a forum to inform and persuade voters. The Republican debates drew big audiences not so much for what was being said as for the potential spectacle of seeing candidates, particularly Trump, name-call, mug and make outrageous statements designed to be perfect attention-stealing sound bites. What have we learned, other than this one's a loser and that one's low-energy?
The WSJ article suggests the debates begin with each candidate having a 7-minute opening statement. With the initial field of seven or eight candidates, the Republican debates would have spent nearly an hour just on opening statements -- a surefire recipe for tune-outs. The networks carrying the debates sell commercial time, so they need the huge audiences in order to get good ad rates.
So 7-minute opening statements will never fly on commercial TV.
But here's a solution -- air all the debates on C-SPAN and public TV, where audiences and ad rates don't matter.
The other way to improve the debates in the future is to set ground-rules and stick by them. Candidates should be told in advance that they will have a 15-second overtime limit. When the bell signals time is up, they must know that their microphone will be turned off exactly 15 seconds later -- mid-sentence or not. And the mic should not be turned on again until it is their turn to respond. This will prevent interruptions by whoever is the loudest or rudest.
Ground-rules for behavior should also be set and enforced. No personal name-calling -- it belittles the candidates and the process. Each candidate can get one "pass" for bad behavior, but after a warning by the moderator, if a candidate violates the rules of decency and decorum, he or she should have their mic shut off and be asked to leave the stage.
Maybe then the candidates will be able to stick to a real discussion of the issues at hand, rather than forcing us to endure stupidity like a candidate calling another a loser, ugly or fat, or a mamma's boy.
Candidates can do and say whatever they like in their stump speeches and various campaign appearances. But the debates are supposed to be a chance for we, the voters, to size up the candidates, see where they stand on issues, and get an idea of their depth of knowledge and how they handle the verbal and mental challenges of a proper debate discussion.
I try to steer clear of politics here, but I can’t remain quiet after months of what has been the most degrading and disgusting early campaign season I can remember.
I’ll start by saying I am a Democrat, although I try to base my voting decisions on issues rather than party.
But what’s been happening on the Republican campaign trail has been a travesty… and I think the media has played a major role in what has been a circus sideshow that has to be making us look like fools in the eyes of the world.
I usually am a staunch defender of the media. A free and unfettered media is one of the things that allows a democracy like ours to flourish, by helping keep the public informed. But they’ve been doing a disservice in their coverage of the GOP presidential race.
Part of the problem lies with one of the candidates, who I’ve already gone on record as not liking because I consider him a pompous ass, a petulant bully who calls people names if they disagree with him and who has proven himself to be a blatant racist and misogynist. (By now, you have to know who I’m talking about. I just can’t bring myself to put his name on my 2 cents.)
Beyond his name-calling, public use of foul language not befitting a candidate and his constant reference to his TV ratings, he has said very little about how he would “make America great again.” He’s talked about walling off our southern border and having Mexico pay for it. He talks about carpet-bombing ISIS and preventing Muslims from entering this land of the free.
On just about everything else, when asked what he would do and how, he simply says “trust me.”
Why should we trust this blowhard who started out with a silver spoon and has many times used bankruptcy laws and other loopholes (legal, but not ethical) to default on loans and hurt thousands of businesses and individuals along the way.
And here’s where I fault the media. Their coverage of his antics rather than putting the focus on real news has helped elevate him and give him the credibility that comes with coverage.
I’m not saying he should be ignored. He’s been a front-runner, so media have to cover him. But if he’s not saying anything of substance, then he shouldn’t get ink or airtime. Yes, say he had three rallies in Iowa or New Hampshire. But don’t take another 30 or 60 seconds of a 30-minute newscast to run a clip of him mugging or calling Jeb Bush a loser or Carly Fiorina ugly. That is not news. His answer to unemployment -- "I'll be the best jobs president that God ever created." That's news? Strange, boastful and perhaps a bit sacriligious, but news?
If he says something about policy, then it’s news. And that’s what we need to hear or read so we can be an educated and informed electorate.
I’m amazed and distressed by how much one person with a big mouth can derail the campaign process. Other candidates should have ignored his bluster and outrageous taunts. And the media should have been taking him to task, asking him tough questions and not letting him off the hook with his non-responsive and insulting answers.
Yes, I understand there are many people who have become frustrated and disenfranchised with gridlock in D.C. – much of it created by leaders of the party that’s calling for change, ironically. But some of it is rooted in racism against our first black President. And some is based on fear of foreigners, be it terrorism or jobs that’s the real issue. But the way to fix it is not with name-calling and vapid trust-me promises.
Maybe the media and the thinking public will belatedly step up as the campaign cycle moves around the U.S. I hope so.
Bob Elliott, half of the legendary radio comedy duo Bob and Ray, died this week at 92. With his partner Ray Goulding, who died in 1990, Bob Elliott was known for his low-key groundbreaking humor, mostly on radio.
The two began their 40-year career together when they were co-workers at a Boston radio station. Elliott was the station's sportscaster and during rain delays during Red Sox games, he would fill time by riffing and improvising with Goulding, who was a DJ there. Part of their riffs included inventing wacky characters they would impersonate.
Those characters -- Biff Burns, a clueless sportscaster, nasal on-the-scene reporter Wally Ballou, and Mary Backstage, noble wife, and many more -- became regulars when the duo got a daily gig on the station. Their humor took them to New York, where the did a daily TV show on NBC, and later runs on the NBC radio network and NPR.
Way ahead of their time, Bob and Ray lampooned game shows, soap operas, politicians and commercials. Greats from Johnny Carson to David Letterman, Jay Leno and George Carlin said they were inspired and influenced by Bob and Ray.
I discovered them when I was in my teens. They weren't joke tellers; they were storytellers, using crazy characters to tell stories and put the listener in the middle.
Many of their routines can still be heard online. Even 25 or more years later, they are still funny and relevant.
Farewell to Bob Elliott. As one of his characters, Biff Burns, would say as he ended his sports report, "This is Biff Burns saying this is Biff Burns saying good night."
So-called native advertising is ad content designed to look like the editorial content it's surrounded by. We used to call it "advertorial" long before "native" became the current buzzword.
By its very nature, native advertising is deceptive, since it is intended to make the viewer think it's real news, coming from the media outlet's reporters or writers. As such, it tries to pick up the implied credibility that would come with a legitimately reported news or feature story.
Not so. Native ads are, after all, ads paid for and written by an advertiser. You shouldn't expect native ads to be fair, balanced or even, unfortunately, totally accurate.
For years, advertorials in newspapers and magazines usually were labeled as ads or paid content, although often in small lettering that could easily be missed.
Then, as media went digital, the lines became blurred or disappeared altogether. Online media, including widely-read blogs, went for the money, posting paid content without disclosing it was sponsored.
The Federal Trade Commission issued a ruling that all paid content had to be clearly identified. I'm not sure if anyone has been fined or prosecuted for breaking that rule, but most legitimate media seem to have become more careful.
Despite this and perhaps proving that more noticeable identification as an ad is needed, a new study by a university in Georgia shows the vast majority of us don't recognize native advertising as a paid ad. The study, reported in the Journal of Advertising, found that only eight percent of people surveyed identified native advertising as paid marketing messages. So 92 percent were fooled into thinking what they had seen in print or online was real news or information.
No wonder native advertising has become the hot thing.
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.
The age-old question of "who sees my ad" continues to plague advertisers.
Digital advertising now allows advertisers to get a better read on who looks at their ads and how long they spend looking, as well as lots of other information about us that we'd probably rather they not have. Ever wonder why, after you go to a site to look for information on travel to, say, Mexico, you all of a sudden start getting pop-ups and emails advertising destinations in Mexico? It's called behavioral tracking.
But as ads appear everywhere, we consumers look for ways to avoid them. It's almost like a game of cat & mouse.
With radio, simply hit the button to go to another station. Now, we have ad-free satellite radio or subscription services online like Pandora.
Back before DVRs or home video recorders, the only recourse we had to avoid ads on TV was either switch the channel (which pre-remote meant getting up to turn the dial) or leave the room to raid the refrigerator or take a quick bathroom break. Now, we simply click and the ads that marketers spent tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to put in front of us quickly zip by.
As our TV viewing habits are changing, advertisers are trying other ways to force us to watch their messages. Video on demand (VOD) from the networks usually disable the fast-forward feature on your clicker, so you have to watch TV the old-fashioned way -- ads included.
But the hot area these days for ads is online. We're close to the point where advertisers will be spending more money for online ads than for ads in traditional media. But even as this is happening, we consumers are finding ways to avoid the ads aimed at us on our computers, tablets and smart phones.
Banner ads have been shown to have limited impact on consumers. They're on our screens, but we tend to ignore them. Advertisers now use pop-ups that dominate the screen and override the content you're trying to view. Those pop-ups often have a box or circle with an "x" which you can click to have the ad go away. But advertisers are making those boxes smaller and harder to click on, especially if you're seeing them on a tablet or phone.
As a story in The New York Times recently said, it's becoming like the wack-a-mole game... trying to find the little "x."
This silly game becomes frustrating for consumers, and it hardly endears them to whatever product or service is being advertised.
One possible solution is to take a cue from pre-roll ads that pop up on some You Tube videos. There's a message, easy to see, that indicates that you can close the ad after 5 or 15 seconds ... and you see the time counting down. The viewer knows there will be an option and that he or she will just have to endure 5, 15, or 30 seconds before getting to the desired content. It's not as annoying as other pop-ups, and if the advertiser has created a compelling ad that catches you in those first 5 or 15 seconds, the consumer may opt to watch the entire ad, which could be 30 or 60 seconds, or even a lot longer.
It takes creativity. You can't simply use a regular TV ad and put it online. But if it works, it's win-win for both the advertisers and the consumer. It's a lot better than playing cat and mouse to try to avoid an ad.