.... my 2 cents ....
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.
For more info, call us at (212) 573-6000, email to david@reichcommunications or text to 914-325-9997.
We are located at 228 East 45th Street, Suite 11-South, New York City 10017
Lucky me. Business brings me to Chicago every year. I like the Windy City. It's a great walking-around city, with good music and eats and lots see.
The downside is my trip is always in February, when it's cold -- made to feel even colder by the wind. Like today was 25, but with the wind chill, it felt like 13.
I'm here in February because that's when the Chicago Auto Show takes place. For my client The National Road Safety Foundation, I run a contest for teens in conjunction with the Auto Show called Drive Safe Chicago.
We invite teens throughout Chicagoland to submit their ideas for a TV public service message (PSA) about distracted driving -- a major problem for all drivers, but especially teens.
From the entries, we picked three finalists and sent an Emmy Award-winning director to work with the kids to professionally produce their messages. The Auto Show then posts the finalists on its Facebook page so the public can see them and vote online for their favorite. The winner gets a $2,000 prize.
Later this morning I'll announce the winner at a news conference at the show and then we'll go over to the local ABC station here, WLS-TV 7, for a live interview on the noon news.
It's fun work and it helps educate young people to the dangers of distracted driving, which is a major contributor to the fact that traffic deaths nationally have been increased by eight percent the past two years, reversing a decades-long trend of decreasing deaths.
Here's the winning video, as part of a story based on our interview today on WLS-TV ABC7 Chicago.
Last week, in the midst of all the hand-wringing in the media over the chaos in the White House, I got an email from my friend Rocco Sacci, a longtime PR pro and also for many years a professor of public relations at St. Johns University.
Here’s some of what Rocco wrote to me…
“Reading the New York Times article (Jan. 18) about their future business plan to emphasize digitalization, the term ‘legendary media’ was used. I think it's the replacement term for ‘mainstream media,’ but I am totally underwhelmed with it.
The article was, in essence, a lot of ‘mea culpa’ on how the media just have no idea where they belong in this digitized world. Liberal press has no answer for conservative right wing media, whose talk show broadcasters talk in brief headlines, bearing little truth, but easy-to-grasp concepts. Meanwhile, the liberal media delves in lengthy treatises to explain issues too time-consuming for anyone to be able to understand their concepts.”
I’m not sure the term “legendary media” is a good one. It has the feel of oldness, staleness. Yet “mainstream media” has negative connotations now, thanks to our clueless old friend Sarah Palin and reinforced by the White House.
Whatever we call the legitimate media (hey, maybe that’s a name), they certainly do have a place in today’s world – maybe more now than ever in recent memory.
We have a White House that, so far, is operating under the cloak of secrecy, with both a president and a press secretary who openly belittle and demean the media, calling their reporting fake news and lies. It’s pretty ironic when the lies, blurred by the new name “alternative facts,” come from the White House and, has been the case for many years, the man in charge himself, going back to when he was a real estate huckster and a reality TV personality. And a few days ago the White House senior strategist and white-nationalist-in-charge told the media to “shut up.”
The majority of people are horrified by this and are turning to the legitimate media increasingly to try to get the true story. This is helping media from a revenue perspective, as they are getting more viewers and more readers both in print and online.
Thankfully, the media are hunkering down for the duration, adding more reporting staff, including investigative journalists, to get the real truth and separate it from the alternative facts that are being thrown at them and at us, the American public. The Washington Post recently announced it is adding as many as 40 staffers to its reporting staff. CNN disclosed yesterday that it is beefing up its investigative reporting unit. Other major media are taking similar steps, knowing that the public wants and needs the real news and accepting that they, the media, will have to dig harder to get it for us.
To Rocco’s point about the conservative media using sound-bite friendly talking points often with little regard for facts, while the real media often go to great pains to fully explain positions which can get tiring and boring, Joe Mandese, editor of ad trade publication MediaPost, recently wrote about that same thing. It’s prompted me to start to reach out to pros in PR and advertising, to see if we collectively can find a way to help frame often complex issues in simple, easy-to-digest terms so even FOX News viewers might understand it.
I have said here many times that the free press is a crucial underpinning to our democracy – something that our Constitution provides for and protects. The media help keep the politicians, whether conservative or liberal, honest and accountable.
We need them to do their job and, finally, it seems they are doing it. And they need us to support them.
Credibility is one of the most valuable assets a business, institution or an individual can have. That's why millions and millions of dollars are invested in public relations/community relations.
It's not just about getting the word out, but about building trust in that word.
The new administration is on the road to destroying whatever credibility it may have had with the public and the media. The new President already comes into his new job with the lowest public approval rating since polls began nearly 70 years ago. Last weekend should have been a time for him to use the pomp and circumstance to build credibility and pump up those approval ratings. And we know how important high ratings are to him.
Instead, in so many ways he squandered the opportunity that should have been a slam-dunk to win over more of the public.
It began with an uninspiring and dark inauguration speech, painting a bleak picture. It followed with provocative tweets contradicting what we had just witnessed with our own eyes... claiming no rain during his speech, crowds much larger than what pictures and our eyes showed, and telling us he has always had "great respect" for the intelligence community, blaming the “dishonest” media for a false impression despite very publicly calling them liars and shameful only a week earlier.
The President's surrogates -- his PR people -- only made it worse, further destroying credibility with statements directly contradicting what we had all seen and heard and then inventing a strange new term "alternate facts."
Facts are facts. Alternate facts are lies or falsehoods or, at best, partial truths and intentionally incomplete information.
The media are now doing their job, holding the President and White House to the same tough standards they've imposed on Presidents for decades, seeking truth and questioning inconsistencies. They were met with blistering attacks and threats by the Press Secretary and the President himself -- actions that only served to make the President look petty, worrying more about the size of his audience than real issues like reaching out to all sides, especially to his opposition, to mend fences and build credibility and solidarity.
If I were his advisor, here are some things I would have told him, based on 40 years in PR and a bit of common sense...
Tell the truth -- 1
Lies and cover-ups will be discovered. Check facts before you speak and consider having them written down so you don’t mistakenly misrepresent the facts. It’s ok to refer to notes.
Tell the truth – 2
Have your spokespeople also base their comments and statements on fact. We understand “spin,” but lies are not acceptable.
Stick to the script
Avoid off-the-cuff remarks, which risk veering way off-topic. In formal presentations, you’re just not a great improvisational speaker. Stick to your strengths.
Control your anger
Don’t let it come through in your remarks and tweets. It is self-defeating and makes you look small, petty and thin-skinned.
Have a professional prepare your tweets. If you feel you must write them yourself, do not tweet late at night. Do not tweet when you are angry or frustrated. You can draft tweets as a way to vent, but hold on them for a few hours, let advisors see them and edit before hitting “Post.”
You do not have to hit back at every criticism
As President, you are now fodder for criticism, second-guessing, jokes and parodies, just like all the others who have come before you in the White House. Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of you is pretty funny, but I can understand why you don’t like it. Your lower lip doesn’t jut out quite as much as Alec plays it, but remember, that’s what a parody is. SNL teased Obama about his ears, remember? Go with it or just ignore it. You are supposed to be bigger than that. If you tweet or comment about parodies, you only put the original parody into wider public view. If 3 million people see it live on SNL, that number easily doubles or triples after you tweet about it. So just let it go.
Make it less about You
I know, you’ve built your brand on you being the biggest, smartest, richest, best respecter of women, best respecter of the intelligence community, best supporter of “the blacks.” You won, so now make it about “us” – all of us, you and the American people together. C’mon, you can do it for a few years. Once you’re a former President, you can go back to “I’ and “Me”. That’s what your presidential museum will be about and here’s an idea – have Mexico pay for it.
So, Mr. President, those are a few tips, humbly offered.
Sorry Sir, what’s that?
Oh, I’m fired. That sounds like a statement I can believe with credibility.
A study put out earlier this week by AAA, GHSA and NHTSA, authored by my friend Pam Fischer, former Governor's Highway Safety Rep for New Jersey, shows that teens are 1.6 times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash than all other drivers. The total number of fatalities caused by teen drivers has dropped in the past ten years from 8,241 to 4,689 last year, but the 2015 figure represents a ten percent jump from the previous year.
The study -- and common sense -- attributes the numbers to factors that include speeding (1/3 of all teen fatal crashes), distraction from talking on a cellphone or to other passengers, and poor scanning of the road, which is mainly due to lack of experience. Other factors involve bad decisions, like choosing to drive impaired by alcohol or drugs, or choosing to text while driving.
On behalf of my client, The National Road Safety Foundation, I work year-round, not only during this designated teen driver safety week, to call attention to this problem and help engage teens to understand and communicate safe driving messages to their peers, their families and their communities. We do it through program materials they can use in their schools and in teens groups like SADD. We also do it through teen contests we sponsor like Drive2Life, which we just launched for the 7th year with Scholastic, and regional contests we do with the big auto shows in Chicago, Los Angeles and soon for the first time in Atlanta. And we're organizing the first DRV SAFE 4 PA teen/parent event in Philadelphia this week.
This week it's about teens, but really, we ALL need to think and pay attention when we get behind the wheel. As much as many parents believe their teens don't listen to us, the reality is they do... and they also pattern their behavior after what they see us do. So when we blow through a stop sign, speed or tailgate, or text as we drive, we must realize our kids are watching and learning from us that such bad driving behavior is ok.
We need to take responsibility -- all of us -- during National Teen Driver Safety Week and every week. Or it could be one of our friends or family who becomes part of next year's growing traffic crash statistics.
A longtime friend from my college days, Barry Zusman, graduated Clarkson College (now University) a year ahead of me. We stayed in touch as he was continuing for his MBA in Public Relations at Pace University. While finishing my senior year at Clarkson, Barry and I talked and he told me what he was learning about PR. It sounded interesting so I followed his footsteps, went to Pace and earned my MBA in Public Relations.
Like me, Barry spent many years working at PR agencies in New York. Unlike me, though, Barry began teaching a PR course several years ago at LIM College here, where he's now beginning another semester.
He's been recognized by O'Dwyer's PR News columnist Fraser Seitel as one of several distinguished PR professors around the country.
Barry sent me a recent column by Seitel and it has some good pointers worth sharing with any young people considering or now studying public relations. I think these same pointers could be useful for many people already in the PR field, especially these days as we are hearing and seeing so-called "spin doctors" working for presidential candidates sometimes stretching the truth or outright lying to the media and the public.
The article cites one of Barry's fellow PR professors, Jeff Morosoff at Hofstra. Each year, Prof. Morosoff assigns students to seek out PR professionals to answer relevant questions on ethics. Here’s how one practitioner answered this year’s batch of PR ethics questions.
Why is it important to always tell the truth in PR?
All one has in public relations is his or her reputation -- credibility. Once you lie and you’re found out — and you will be found out — you lose that. And no one with whom you do business — reporter, client, potential employer, etc. — will look at you the same way after you’re caught in a lie. Truth, therefore, is paramount in public relations.
Why do some communications practitioners spin the truth instead of coming clean with the actual information?
They’re probably reluctant to reveal unpleasant or bad news about a client or the client doesn’t want them saying anything troubling. But it’s eminently preferable to say nothing than to lie. Again, once caught, no one will ever trust you or the client.
What values are the most important to do the public relations job?
A bias toward disclosing rather than withholding information.
An advocacy or belief in your employer.
A compelling desire to advise/counsel senior managers in proper action and communications.
An absolute commitment that the counsel you deliver is always ethical.
A willingness to take risks, to stick your neck out.
An always logical, but also positive, predilection.
How much of a role does PR ethics play in daily work?
Ethics, or stated another way, “doing the right thing,” must be the anchor of every decision you make in public relations.
Why are PR practitioners referred to as “spin doctors?”
They are referred to as “spin doctors” because they appear to have a mentality — or do have a mentality — of doing whatever the client tells them to do; whether right or wrong, fair or unfair, honest or dishonest. That’s a recipe not only for professional disaster but also for an unhappy practitioner.
Why does the good work of PR people often go unnoticed?
Public relations work is not as noticed because the work of PR professionals should be anonymous. If you write the CEO’s speech, and it’s a winner, it’s the CEO, correctly, who should get the credit, not you. Public relations people generally toil in anonymity. But as long as the client appreciates — and pays for — your contribution, that’s what counts.
These ethics for PR people, based around truthfulness, should really be key ethics for anyone in business, not just the PR folks. But we in PR should be the ones who try to keep the rest of the business world honest. It's a tough and often thankless task, but a good PR person will keep trying.
Back in the 1940's and 50's, most Americans got their news from daily newspapers. Most major cities and many smaller ones had more than one paper -- the morning paper with news from the previous day and early evening, and the afternoon or evening paper with news of that day.
Then along came TV, which quickly became the dominant news source for most of us. And it wasn't too long before network newscasts had to share their audience with cable news - first CNN and then several other 24-hour cable news channels. All-news radio stations in bigger markets also had - and continue to have - big audiences.
But the internet has changed the equation yet again. It's not just the more "legitimate" online news sources like the news sites of newspapers and TV stations, and other sites like Huffington Post. The somewhat startling news is that social media that has become the dominant source of news, at least for younger Americans.
A new study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism finds that 28 percent of Americans ages 18 - 24 cite social media as their primary source of news. Twenty-four percent of that same age demo say their primary source of news is TV. It's even higher among people who search for news on the smartphones -- 48%.
Facebook is the most popular social media site for young people to get their news, with 44% saying that's their top go-to place for news. YouTube comes in at 19%, Twitter at 10% and WhatsApp at 8%.
What troubles me about these numbers is how easy and commonplace it is for online readers to get misinformation that's disguised as news. It's not unusual to see Facebook and Twitter posts that refer to an article in a trusted major news source, but the facts get twisted, often intentionally. Just the other day, a friend told me about an article she saw in The Washington Post that had some troubling information about Trump's mental state. As much as I dislike Trump, the story just didn't sound right. I had my friend show me the article and it turned out to be a Facebook post that referred to the Post story. But there was no link and when I went directly to the Washington Post site, there was no such story. So someone along the way put out a false post, incorrectly citing a major news outlet as the source. And it got re-posted online countless times.
This happens a lot on social media, so if nearly a third of young people are relying on social media for news, I'd say we have a problem.
There's a group of people who work hard to keep young people .. and all of us .. safe on the road. We often take them for granted.
I am in Portland, Oregon for the annual conference of driver ed teachers held by ADTSEA, the American Driver Training & Safety Education Association. I am here on double duty, representing my client The National Road Safety Foundation and also as a member of ADTSEA's Executive Board.
Driver ed teachers are too often underappreciated. Even other educators frequently dismiss the validity of what driver ed teachers do. After all, it's not an academic subject like math, science or English.
But driver ed teachers are a dedicated group, passionate about teaching young people not only how to handle a car, but how to make sensible decisions. They teach how to make a left turn across traffic, but also how to make the decision not to text or talk on the phone while driving.
What they teach gives us more than mobility and freedom. They help us travel safely. They help us avoid needless tragedy and heartache.
So that's off to driver ed teachers. Thanks for what you do for our kids and for all of us.
2016 Teacher Excellence Award winners
(Photo by race car driver and safety educator Andy Pilgrim)
Here's the latest newsletter, which we wrote, from client The National Road Safety Foundation. It gives an idea of just some of the programs we've developed for them -- contests to engage teens in spreading the word about teen traffic safety, tie-ins with some of the nation's biggest auto shows, partnerships with youth groups like SADD and government agencies like NHTSA.
Good work that helps save lives. It's a good feeling.
For the past 20-plus years, I’ve had the privilege of handling public relations for The Christophers and their annual Christopher Awards presentation. The 67th annual event Thursday night was, as always, an inspirational and humbling evening.
The Christopher Awards recognize the creators of work in film, TV/cable and books that demonstrate the Christophers’ motto – It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. So it’s fitting that the winners aren’t necessarily the same films that are up for Oscars, or TV programs that get the highest Nielsen ratings or books that are on the New York Times best-seller list. They are selected and honored because they tell stories of individuals who, in their own way, do something to make the world a better place. A very simple concept.
Below: Award-winner, TV news vet Ernie Anastos
Every time I work the Christopher Awards, I get to meet some awesome people. Most are people whose names you wouldn’t recognize, like 2015 honoree Patrick Donohue, who started a school for kids with brain damage after his baby daughter suffered damage after being shaken by her nurse. The iHope school in New York is a model for schools in other major cities, where brain- damaged children can get an education.
And some winners are “names,” like Fred Rogers -- Mr. Rogers – with whom I had beautiful chat that touched me. Or Tim Shriver of the Kennedy clan and leader of the Special Olympics. Or Bob McGrath, star of one of my favorite shows, “Sesame Street.” Or Charles Osgood and Bob Schieffer of CBS News. And “The Voice” – James Earl Jones.
This year’s honorees are an impressive group that includes the creators of 21 books, TV shows and feature films. And a special Lifetime Achievement Award was given to someone who’s been a fixture on TV news in New York for decades – Ernie Anastos, a genuinely nice man.
I always leave the event feeling refreshed, peaceful and thankful that there are so many good people who are using their creative energy to inspire and help others. It reminds me that, despite all the craziness in our world today, there IS a lot of good. It’s a very good feeling, and it carries me through the days and weeks ahead.
Click here for a video report on the event from our friends at World Liberty TV.
We've had lots of distractions lately, especially on the political scene. Those distractions have too often been hijacking the news cycle, putting the focus on nastiness, name-calling and misogyny by some would-be national leaders.
There's another type of distraction that's also pretty bad, and many of us are guilty of it.
It kills more than 3,000 people every year, and the number is going up as more of us have and use cellphones constantly and as automakers put more gadgets and technology onto our dashboards.
Teens are especially at risk, since they're less experienced drivers and they've also grown up with cells and texting, so it's part of their DNA. That's why my client The National Road Safety Foundation had me organize an event for them at The New York Auto Show. We're calling it Teen Driver Safety Day, and we expect a few hundred teens (and parents) when it happens tomorrow, April 1st. It also marks the start of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
I just taped an interview with WCBS Newsradio, the top all-news station here in New York. The station will be airing it throughout the morning tomorrow, having me talk about distraction and our Teen Driver Safety Day.
It's an important topic, and it's one we easily overlook as we get distracted with everything else in life. So... when you're behind the wheel, stay off the phone. Even hands-free can be a serious distraction.