Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lessons in Media Relations from Tiger Woods and the NFL

Buried deep in Sport Illustrated senior reporter Peter King's most recent edition of Monday Morning Quarterback (a must read for any fan of good journalist), he tells the tale of being a beat writer and spending two hours with Bill Parcells, visiting the notoriously cranky coach's childhood haunts.

King notes that he can't imagine any beat writer having that kind of access to a pro football coach these days. The pressures have changed on both sides of the equation.

Those pressures mean less time less time to develop the relationships that lead to that kind of access. While the shrinking outreach of the media has change some parts of how media relations, it does not mean the industry will follow the way of the Dodo. Good PR can still repair images and grow bottom lines.

For Exhibit A, let me refer you to the media barrage Tiger Woods's PR machine has stoked up ahead the Thanksgiving weekend that lead to his fall from nationwide billboards. Tiger's troubles began when it turned out that his family man image was a sham. Restoring Tiger's image as the face of American marketing starts with recreating his family guy image. In the past week, we have been subject to a round of "Tiger Woods the World's Greatest Dad" stories.

Brilliant as a strategy but ineffective as a quick look on Google finds plenty about affairs and divorces but nothing on the good dad Tiger.

Of course, returning to his ways as the most dominant player in golf would do more to reclaim his corporate image than any series of father knows best articles.

Winning drives decisions in the NFL too. In 2010, season tickets sales fell for the third straight year, and three teams that moved into spiffy new homes for the new 2010 season are on the hook for very high construction costs. Even though the television rights paid to the league have climbed faster than basic cable rates (in 1986, the networks combined to pay the league $420 annually while the current contract calls for a shade over $3 billion annually), winning puts fannies in the seats, especially the expensive comfortable ones with licensing and VIP parking.

This season two head coaches lost their jobs in mid-campaign, an unprecedented event in the NFL. Normally conservative owners prefer to clean house at the end of the year. But we live in unusual times and importance of image management is paramount. Ask Tiger's management team.

Many have discounted the power of PR, but in billion-dollar commercial enterprises PR folks have engaged in media relations programs that because they think it will drive top line success.

Over the weekend, Robert Scoble asked the reoccurring question: why do we need the tech media? If you skip down and read iSocialize's metrics of what works and what doesn't, you understand how the media recognition drives sales. Even Scoble acknowledges that Apple watches the media buzz to see what companies to promote, making PR an effective use of marketing dollars for the successful companies.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The death of media and other non-news

I read another piece on the death of news and thought really? That story has become a cottage industry of its own.

There will always be a place for unvarnished information, if only because people will pay for it. But with a wall of information out there, readers are trying to prioritize their information flow. To do that, they are relying on trusted names, who more than likely share their world view. It's always been that way. Go back to the turn of the century, not this past one but the one before it. Read a respectable news paper. You'd be surprised how strongly the publication's slant shows through. Fox News is only today's version of the Hearst Empire.

Yes, investigative journalism is dying. It's expensive and we no longer think there is a public need. The shame is that without investigative journalism, corporate malfeasance and government corruption will go undocumented as baseless claims fly unchallenged

From a PR perspective, that's not a bad thing. We realize we have the power to communicate directly with our audiences. Media provides third party validation, but the power of media to inform is being sapped by the new methods of delivering content: websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook. The media may not be happy about it, but the direct link to our users makes public relations, well easier.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Been a while, but I am back

Time moves on and people do too. Some times they come back.

In the past year, I shed the PR skin that I'd worn for 10 years and took on a new role in the learning and development community working with a company that does sales training for executives and managers at technology companies. I still have a communications role, but I also do a lot of tech work and serve a Guy Friday for special projects. Life changes and you either adapt or declare bankruptcy.

In the short time that I have stepped away from the full time grind of PR, the industry has been transformed, contracted and expanded by social media. A wild ride, and change that came a faster and bigger clip than the introduction of Web 1.0.

It's like I've gone away to college and come home after a year only to find out that my parents moved to a hipper, more sophisticated part of town. There's is no need to waste your time by detailing the changes here, there are better forums for that, might I suggest all of the good work that is coming out of #444pr.

So, now that the neighborhood has changed and I am no longer a full-time resident, what does that mean for this blog? I'm not sure. At a minimum, it will likely reflect my new emphasis on sales training, but I think it's also going to look at two other passions: social media and the changing nature of work.

The last I think is a biggie. Official unemployment hovers around 10 percent in this country, and the number of people who have given up or are underemployed is considerably higher.

Before the downturn became a meltdown, a friend said what he feared was that we would not be able to create jobs for all of the unemployed. Technology has rendered many positions obsolete. And as the cultural barriers to off-shoring recede, more and more professional jobs will be sourced through international competition.

In the next five years, what we think of work, and thus what we think of ourselves will change as much as PR has changed in the last two years. And to paraphase Bette Davis, "Fasten your seltbelt, it's going to be a bumpy road."

Surviving the next five years will require two things: shock absorbers (cash) and a map (insight).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Social Media Users Older Than Most Suppose

When most people are asked to conjure an image of a social media user, they reflexively think of teen or pre-teen posting pretty pictures on MySpace and Facebook. But that demographic mental picture is in stark contrast with reality.

According to some nifty research published by Brian Solis, it's the 35 and older set who are burning up the bits and bytes staying in touch with classmates from our younger years.

What does this mean for brands and their marketers? The social Web's audience is older, like CBS. So, maybe you can sell insurance and retirement planning via social media, instead of the latest Skecher's design.

In real life, it means there are a lot of people who are using social media to cut across geography to stay in touch. You get older and staying in touch with anyone out of you physical neighborhood gets a lot harder. The social Web lets you tackle friendships on your own time. And isn't that what it's for?


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Using the right vehicle to reach the right people

My extended family numbers greater than 100 people. We have a newsletter. I haven't seen it. Every few years, there is a family trip to Barbados, the land of my ancestors. I know nothing about the trip. Folks wanted to make sure the Burnham Family Tree is up-to-date with profiles and such. I don't contribute.

Communication is to blame. We don't share a common communication platform.

The Web and Facebook would be perfect platforms to share this information, but much of my extended family isn't online, or if they are, it's only surface deep.

Some of this is because people are old. While more and more people go online it's important to note that 30% of adults over 50 don't use the Internet, according to Pew research. (That's the baby boomer generation by the way in case you are keeping score at home.) When you get to Americans over 65, well, Internet usage falls to under 40%.

It also helps to remember that the less money you have, the less likely you are to be on the Internet. My family is not poor, but few are wealthy.

What I am saying is that a great tool for social organization will miss a great many African-Americans.

Here is why this is important: 63% of teens get their news online. If we don't have a presence online to educate the young would radicals, then what the teens are learning won't come from our mouths. The Web, which can be a great leveler for mass communication, doesn't serve the needs of the African-American community, precisely because we are not there. As of 2008, fewer than 50% of African-American were online, and that number skews toward the young.

My point? If I want to learn about my extended family, I'd better pick up the phone and find out who is in charge of the mailing list. If my family wants to reach the next generation, they are going to have to use Facebook. Which do you think is more important?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Interviewing skills

In an interesting role reversal, I recently had to interview several candidates for an open admin position. Not too long ago, I had been on the other side, acting as interviewee not interviewer.

After screening and interviewing a bunch of people, I learned a host of lessons that I probably should have known but maybe forgotten or didn't take seriously enough. In no particular order, here are those lessons and also some advice my friends who are hiring managers always pass on:

  1. If you have the interview, they mostly think you can do the job. They want to know they can work with you. Well, also they want to make sure you weren't lying on the resume. But mostly, they are looking for fit. Chris Rock once said on a date you don't what to be yourself, you want to be some one people like. I think that applies here too.
  2. Cover letters to tailored the job offering are noticed. Forms letters are too. Which do you think stands out from the pile?
  3. There is an old adage in golf, you can't win a tournament on the first day, but you can lose it. Talking to the screener is a lot like that, you can't win the job talking to the screener, but you can lose it.
  4. Saying you can do anything is not a helpful response. Employers don't need anything done; they have a specific task in mind. They want to know that you can do that thing.
  5. Thank you notes are better than nice. A well written thank you note reminds the interviewer why they plucked your name out of the pile and should remind them why they want to see more of you.
  6. Promptness counts. Given the high volume of resumes for every position out there, most people stop after they get a couple of handfuls of solid candidates. Check the job boards and Craig's List every day. Better yet, set up alerts.
  7. Neatness counts. But you knew that already.
  8. A thank you note from someone who didn't get the job or interview is a very nice touch. Not sure it helps get a job, but it's memorable and if karma counts for anything, people who write those notes should be rewarded.
  9. Research. How can you talk about how you can help a company if you don't know anything about the company? Research.
  10. White space and few important details mean more on a resume than a long list of accomplishments that are too closely packed to read.
  11. Back to the point number one, on an interview think like you are on a date with the person of your dreams. Your goal is to make the interviewer think they want to spend the rest of their life with you.
  12. Putting your salary requirements in a cover letter just isn't a good idea. You may think you are saving time and unnecessary interviews, but in reality you are cutting down the number of interviews you get. Remember, you want the interview. Heck sometimes you may be offered a different position.
  13. Practice your interview skills. Once you have the interview, make sure you shine. Work with an experienced professional to make sure you ace the interview.
  14. Practice your interview skills. It's important enough that I have to mention it twice.


As a PR person, I'd always thought that I was a good candidate and interviewer, that whole positioning thing, but in sitting on the other side of the desk, I'm not so sure anymore. I promise you though, I'll follow my own advice that next time I need it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

He has apologized, what more do you want?

Rarely has a news statement generated as much coverage as Tiger's statement on Friday. You can read good day after summary here of what worked and didn't during Tiger's time behind the podium. Or you could watch ESPN's almost non-stop coverage of the event. Judging by how much time the Worldwide Leader in Sports devoted to the story, Tiger was their lead story on Thursday AND Friday evening, I have to believe three things:

The company doesn't care about the Olympics, a made for television Lifetime channel event broadcast by another network.

They need Tiger to drive ratings in the long summer months when baseball is the only game on.

The Entire Sports Network was trying its best to displace the Golf Channel as the all Tiger Channel.

As PR people we can talk about what Woods should have done and how he should have done it, but the main point is that he needed to apologize and take clear responsibility for his actions. He did that.

Anyone listening to his awkward statement knows that he never could have made it through an interview, hostile or friendly.

From a PR standpoint a better question is what more does he need to do to put this behind him? My answer is going to make a lot of PR people unhappy: nothing, just shut up and play golf. There is nothing to be gained by continuing to apologize or answering any questions about who he slept with and when.

He merely has to start every interview with, "We are going to talk about golf." If the reporter doesn't like it, tough. You can't work in golf and not have access to Tiger. If Woods wins, smiles and returns to his family, the general public will forgive him. And those who don't forgive him now are unlikely to do so just because he takes a turn on Oprah's couch.

As his mother said, he made a mistake, but it wasn't illegal. It's time for all of us to recognize that he strayed and he has paid. Let's move on. There is nothing else to see.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tiger speaks, punishes Accenture in same breathe

Tiger's decision to make a news statement on Friday, day three of the Accenture match play championship, shows that his PR machine is not without malice.

As you may remember, Accenture was the first brand to drop Woods after his Thanksgiving surprise. Tiger is repaying the favor by making sure the golf world and the general public forget about the tournament and focus on Tiger. Clever.

Not only that, but every story about Tiger's Friday statement, and let me digress here by saying he is not holding a press conference. When the press are invited to listen and record, but not ask questions, it's not a press conference.

Anyway, when Woods does speak and the reporters write, every story will link Woods and Accenture, which in the minds of Accenture sullys the brand, again.

If Tiger is as ruthless on the course as his PR handlers are, I don't think he'll lose this year.

One question, does it matter what Woods says at the press conference?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PR’s model is outdated

Over the past year, I have seen two major trends in PR. Many, too many, good and experienced people have been laid off. We like to think experience is valued, but agencies and corporations are saying experience is too expensive. Looking at who has been laid off in PR, and not been rehired, makes you realize the industry is undergoing a transformation. Part of the transformation involves the PR industry trying stress its value a digital world.

Like it or not, the PR model that has served us for the past 10 years is broken. Thanks to Al Gore and the Internet three things have smashed the model:

  • Companies can get the word out on their products via their own Web sites;
  • There are too few media outlets to pitch;
  • Social Media makes it easy to engage directly with the consumer.

Let's face it, search and company Web sites have reduced the need for advertising. I am not telling you anything new when I say that if you want to buy a new computer, you don't run down to the magazine shop and pick up three or four magazines on computers. Instead, you'd read them online for free, visit CNET or consumer reports online, fish around Amazon, look for discounts on the computer maker's Web sites, and well, you get the picture. You can do an awful lot of research without leaving home or spending a dime on publications.

Companies need PR less if a buyer can pull information about a product when she wants it, as opposed to having information pushed at the consumer when she's just glancing at the headlines looking to find out how many schools closed early even though the predicted blizzard never materialized.

Conclusion: you don't need PR as much as you once did. I am not sure PR people understand that, or more accurately want to admit there is a problem. It's always been hard to measure PR. Now, companies are finding it hard to justify PR. The industry's recent desire for self-promotion is a way to address this conclusion. I'm not sure it will work.

To be honest, PR's image problem and its apparent need for self promotion requires a post of its own where we can explore the issue at length. Look for it on this same Bat Station.

RIP idealistic journalism

In a different professional life, my sports journalism years, a publisher said a magazine is like an envelope filled with ads. The content is only there to make people open the envelope.

Journalists believed the content supported the publication. Anyone who follows TheMediaIsDying and sees all of the publications that have shuttered due to lack of ad revenues knows it was always about the money.

Today's journalist better have a firm grasp of the bottom line or a good exit strategy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where the money goes in communications

To profit in a war, you have to be an arms provider. To profit in the communications age, you have to be a carrier.

My family spends over $400 a month on communications: cell phones, high-speed Internet, cable television and a landline. Except for the last item on that list, twenty-five years ago these technologies were not available in the available in the average American home.

So here is my question. Clearly, twenty-five years ago we were able to live without some of these technologies. If you were unemployed, what would you give up first? And what would be the last thing you held onto to secure some semblance to your former life. I watch unemployed friends make these decisions on an all too frequent basis.

It's not like food or rent, which you need. But for most of us, it's the toys that define who we are. In this case, it's the toys the define how we talk to the world. Where do you severe the lines of communication?

Just curious.

In case you are wondering, I am hanging onto the toys. But periodically, I like to take inventory of the clutter and ditch the debris.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Forbes (and me): Privacy dies by 2020

Forbes reporter Quentin Hardy recently knocked off a post on how technology will change the next decade. As I get older, I tend to disbelieve these crystal ball columns. Most of them are flat out wrong. Pundits think the future will look a lot like today because that's all we have to predict the future. But, technology moves in strange ways.

For example, ten years ago it would have been almost impossible to predict Apple cold deliver a device smartphone would put 32 gigs of computing storage in my pocket--and make international phone calls. Oh yeah, and it can manage my music collection. Search was limited to AOL. Google wasn't the new kid on the block; it was a complete unknown to most tech folks. Now, Google dominates the tech world the way Microsoft once did. But, as computing moves off the desktop and into our palms, even Google is searching for a way to control the mobile market.

The rise in Social Media has made us better connected. Facebook, now with 350 million users, a population greater than the United States, has stretched the meaning of friendship, expanding it to mean people you sort of know now and people junior high school chums you used to know real well. No one could have predicted Facebook 10 years ago or even it's current popularity five years ago.

Which brings us to the prediction Hardy has spot on: privacy is dead. Mark Zuckerberg is on a mission to kill, and he has a lot of help from us. I willing log onto Facebook and Twitter, leaving breadcrumbs about my life for anyone to see. Because the Internet makes us more connected, it also makes use more exposed.

In a way, it's a return to life before mobility was introduced, say a couple of hundred years ago when people didn't leave their towns and everyone knew everything about everyone else.
From capitalist perspective, this connectedness and lack of privacy begs the question: how is business going to capitalize on all this information? From a practical stand point, would you want your mother-in-law to follow you on Facebook?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The analyst relations carousel

Most PR people do, have done or will do some analyst relations. It's part of the influencer mix. Gartner is on a buying spree. In the past five years, Meta, AMR, Burton and Giga have been swallowed up, to name a few. Clearly, Gartner remains at the top of the must influence list. But how do you tier out firms now? Will consolidation make analyst relations easier, because there is only one firm to brief? Will consolidation weaken the influence of the analyst community?

How can you trust the independence of Gartner when the biggest clients influence the research agenda?

On thing is true, Gartner has certainly made it easier to purchase analyst research. Of course, moving all of that information under one roof means that companies really do need a Gartner analyst seat.

Let's call it influencer relations

I was looking at a marketing resume the other day and there, nestled among the traditional marketing duties, I saw "influencer relations." Apparently, those duties included working with industry analyst, traditional media and independent consultants, the latter I assume to be bloggers or other social media influencers.

Influencer relations -- I think that hits the nail squarely on the head. In the minds of many, public relations is media relations, but PR has changed so much in the past year. Even looking at traditional PR offerings, most PR shops provide analyst relations, either as an additional module or in some cases built into the PR plan.

All PR shops now include blogger relations as part of their core media relations strategy, especially as many publications run their own blogs. Much of the rest of the social media bucket seems to fall to public relations pros, although that varies depending on a company's goal.

Public relations is evolving because technology has changed the job responsibilities. Most successful working PR professionals realize it's no longer about the old PR -- media relations -- it's now about reaching the influencer. If that's the case, let's just call it influencer relations.
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