musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life, by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
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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.
It's not November yet, but you can cast your vote now.
We're in the second year of a program I set up for client The National Road Safety Foundation with the Chicago Auto Show.
We invited teens in the Chicago area to submit their ideas for a distracted driving PSA. The three finalists have been selected and now the Auto Show is asking the public to pick the winner by voting online. I'll announce the winner in a few weeks at the Chicago Auto Show. Take a look and vote for the one you think works best.
Consumers really shouldn't believe advertising, said Suzanne Vranica, longtime advertising and marketing reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
She made the comment during an interview this morning on CBS This Morning, talking about news that artisnal chocolate maker Mast admitted it had used melted-down chocolate from other brands in its early days as a high-end chocolatier.
It's possible Suzanne may have intended to say something like you can't always believe everything in ads, or consumers should be careful and try to do their own research into claims made in ads. Live TV can do that -- catch you in a sentence that doesn't come out exactly right.
But if many people -- including one of the leading national journalists who covers the ad industry -- are skeptical of what they see and hear in ads, then maybe marketers need to look at other methods of getting the word out about their products and services. Word-of-mouth often comes up as the most trusted source of information, and it is often fueled by Public Relations.
The idea behind it is PR seeks to get exposure through media, which have an obligation to do their own vetting of claims made by marketers. So if a story in a trusted newspaper, magazine or broadcast or online outlet talks about a product in a positive way, consumers give it more credibility than a straightforward ad. Advertising, with its repetitive nature, creates awareness. Stories in the media via PR, which are tougher to gain, generally have more credibility.
That, in a longer explanation, may be what Suzanne Vranica was trying to say in a quick interview soundbite.
A good part of what we do in Public Relations is about impacting behavior. Publicity helps create and reinforce awareness to, hopefully, convince the consumer to purchase a product, buy a company’s stock, support a cause or vote a certain way.
One of the challenges I’ve been facing over the years as I’ve done work for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the non-profit National Road Safety Foundation has been to change behavior so drivers buckle up their seat belts, don’t speed and don’t drive while impaired or distracted.
Reaching teen drivers is especially challenging. They’re not big newspaper readers. Many don’t watch the news on TV and, these days, even their radio-listening doesn’t necessarily include tuning in to local radio stations. Instead, they have their own playlists or they listen online to Pandora or IHeartRadio.
For The National Road Safety Foundation, we’ve taken a different approach to teen outreach. We still use news releases and e-mailings to get our message out via traditional media as well as social media. But our most powerful tool, we have found, is the kids themselves, talking to their peers, their families and to others in the community.
We’ve teamed up with youth advocacy groups, most notably SADD, which used to be known as Students Against Drunk Driving but now goes by Students Against Destructive Decisions. We work with them on various initiatives including one where they are trained how to lobby their legislators on road safety issues.
Another way we’ve engaged young people is through contests where we invite them to help us create messages on various issues including impaired driving and now, the hot topic, distracted driving.
I just returned from Los Angeles, where we tied-in with the Los Angeles Auto Show for a contest inviting teens to submit ideas for a PSA on distracted driving. The winner was announced Sunday at the first Teen Safety Sunday at the Auto Show, an event we organized and ran. Teen leaders from southern California were invited to the auto show for a special program that included presentations by teen groups and also by victims of distracted drivers.
We did a similar contest with the Chicago Auto Show last February, and it’s being repeated in 2016.
Engagement is a key to successful marketing, especially when the message is about safe driving behavior.
Click here for a look at the winning PSA, created by the kids from the Friday Night Live California Partnership.
Tuning through the channels a few days ago, I happened to land on C-SPAN. I caught the very end of a campaign speech by Carly Fiorina. She’s a good speaker, but what she said wasn’t what caught my interest. It was what happened after her speech that was telling.
After her talk, she did what most candidates do. She came off the stage and walked into the audience to work the crowd. And this is what struck me as most interesting.
Not too long ago, she would have been shaking hands, exchanging a few words one-on-one with people, and signing autographs. But as I watched her in the crowd, which was mostly younger, only two people asked for an autograph. She shook a few hands… but only a few. It looked like she had a brief conversation with one person. But with all the others – perhaps 40 or 50 people – the only words that were exchanged seemed to come from audience members, saying something like “Would you..” and “Thank you.”
They were asking the candidate to pose with them for a selfie. And she happily complied, as each person put his or her arms around Fiorina or put their face pressing right up against hers. Kind of close-up and personal, it seemed. It was a selfie assembly line, and the candidate adeptly moved from person to person, cell phone to cell phone without missing a beat.
At first, I scoffed. But as I thought about it, I realized that the selfie actually IS much more personal than an autograph, even one written to the autograph-seeker by name. And unlike an autograph, which most of us don’t frame and put on a shelf in our living room, a selfie with a celebrity can be blown up, framed and displayed prominently.
And it’s a chance for the person to throw it out there immediately on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, et al, showing the world their brush with fame –or actually, touch with fame, smiling check-to-cheek, arm wrapped around the celebrity. It can be shared instantly with dozens or hundreds of friends and online acquaintances, which is a lot more than the than couple of dozen friends or relatives who might happen to spot it in your living room.
For the candidate, it’s a windfall, expanding the reach of her appearance to perhaps thousands more than the attendance of her live audience.
Some marketers have found ways to capitalize on “the new autograph” – putting a brand mascot or logo in places where people will take selfies and share them, for example. It’s opening up entire new ways for brands to engage with consumers and share the branded experience with all their friends.
We’ll be seeing more of it, I’m sure, as we surf our Facebook and Instagam feeds.
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.
A piece in the monthly O'Dwyer's PR magazine reports on an annual survey that ranks various careers. It says public relations is one of the most overrated careers, citing a high stress factor and tough competition for jobs.
I haven't been in the job market for years, so I can't address that end of things. But I can talk about stress in the field.
Yes, there can be stress on the job in PR. We're under pressure from clients or employers to produce results, and frequently successful results can be out of our hands and at the whim of editors and producers.
But success in media relations, which can reduce the stress, can be managed so we have the best chances. It's not just about throwing story ideas or news releases out there to see what might stick. A good PR person knows how to think like an journalist in order to craft story ideas that will have the best chance to succeed and see ink or air.
A good PR person can also reduce stress by managing the client or employer. Let the client know what's a decent story and what's not. Manage expectations and you'll help yourself as well.
PR can be a great field. In my years in PR, I've learned so much about so many different areas. The work can be as diverse as the clients you serve. Mine have let me learn about vintage posters and artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha and Colin. Or business jets. Or the differences between HDPE and LDPE plastic resins and the production benefits of each. I've learned about non-woven textiles, used to make things like tea bags. And I've seen the ins and outs of Jaguar cars, which has taken me to the Jaguar factory in Coventry, England and the paddocks at the Dayton 24-Hour race.
I've met lots of nice people, including many names you'd know. They range from tennis stars like Martina Navratilova and Virginia Wade to baseball heroes like Stan Musial and downtrodden Yankees manager Billy Martin. I've met Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch (and Jim Henson), and Disney's Snow White. I was personal friends with Ronald McDonald -- all four of them in the New York market. I chatted with popcorn maven Orville Redenbacher, while waiting with a client in the green room at the Regis and Kathy Lee studio. I had a wonderful and inspiring conversation with Mr. Rogers, and I've heard that beautiful voice of James Earl Jones in a face-to-face chat.
More recently, I've been getting great satisfaction working in the traffic safety field, currently for The National Road Safety Foundation, a non-profit. Knowing the work I do helps save lives and prevent heartbreak caused by careless driving is a good feeling.
So, yes, there's stress in PR. It may not be for everyone. But it can be a rewarding career, in so many ways that go beyond the paycheck.
At the annual Governors Highway Safety Association conference
The annual Governors Highway Safety Association meeting is wrapping up in Nashville. This year, some 700 traffic safety people from the states and the Federal government gathered in Music City to share info and ideas. I've been attending on behalf of client The National Road Safety Foundation.
One thing that comes through clearly at these meetings is that people in traffic safety are passionate about what they do. We hear people say, over and over, they love what they do and they know they are making a difference… saving lives and preventing tragedies and heartbreak. I feel that way too. It’s hard not to.
The Federal and state people in this field are the antithesis of civil servants. They go way above and beyond, no matter their pay grade.
The people here representing non-profits and advocacy groups, like SADD and NOYS (National Organizations for Youth Safety) and RADD (Recording Artists Against Drunk Driving) and many others are equally passionate about their work. There are others who use their own resources and time to travel to schools to speak about safe driving, like Tim Hollister, who lost his 17-year old son Reid in a crash. It’s a good group of people to be a part of.
Things I’m working on now for The National Road Safety Foundation are exciting, and they are helping build awareness among teens of the dangers of bad driving behavior. We’re putting together a program in conjunction with the Los Angeles Auto Show – a contest for teens inviting them to submit their ideas for a public service message on distracted driving. We’re also producing a teen safe driving day at the show, on Nov. 21.
We’re in the second year of a similar project with the Chicago Auto Show, which takes place in February. And we’re creating a teen traffic safety day at the big New York Auto Show next April. And in October we launch the sixth annual Drive2Life PSA Contest, with Scholastic Publications. You can view our winning PSA from last year, done by 17-year Julia Huuki from Michigan, by clicking here.
The object of all of this – the National Road Safety Foundation projects as well as all the programs and initiatives being done by the hundreds here at the GHSA Conference – is to drive down the number of people killed and injured on our roads and highways. In 2013, the latest year available for statistics, 32,719 people died. This year so far, it’s very troubling that we’re heading toward the first year-to-year increase in many years. Texting and cellphones are a big factor in crashes that are totally preventable. Drinking and driving remains another big factor, and drugs – especially prescription drugs like opioid painkillers – contribute significantly to the toll.
I’m leaving Nashville charged up and anxious to keep helping create positive change to make our roads safer.
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.