Thursday, September 30, 2010

Don't Kill the Messenger -or- We miss you Walter Cronkite

      Talk about a love/hate relationship!  PR types LOVE the media when the stories they pitch get on the news.  I'll bet many of those same PR people HATE the media when their stories get ignored.  And these days, when it comes to hating the media, it seems that nearly everybody is doing it.  A new poll from Gallup reports that 57% of Americans have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.  And that, my friends, is an all-time record high.
     How did we ever reach this sorry (Fourth) Estate of affairs?  When I worked at CBS my mailbox was next to Walter Cronkite's.  What a thrill! (Okay, since we're talking about credibility here, Walter was long retired and I never even met him)  Anyway, Walter Cronkite was once considered the most-trusted man in America.  So what happened?
     Having spent a few years in the journalistic trenches I think I know what's going on.  Oh sure, social media is growing rapidly with anonymous people blogging anything they want- true or not.  But since most of us still get our news from television I think TV News is probably spawning the most media haters. The cable channel blowhards do a good job of polarizing our country.  Think O'Reilly vs Olbermann.  But as they say on TV: more on this story in a moment.  Here are some of the things people hate about TV News.  Trust me, people working in TV News know about this- but they can't stop themselves.

1) You watch an hour-long news program and they tease a story over and over.  Then the story comes up at the very end of the show and (don't blink) bam- it's over in 20 seconds.  The story is nothing.  No story should be shorter than the teases!  This really makes people mad.

2) Breaking News.  This just in: TV News viewers HATE it when you do Breaking News lead-ins to stories that happened hours ago.  You can always tell when you're watching faux breaking news because the report will include graphics, maps, and multiple live reporters.  It took them hours to get all this ready for air and viewers know it's not really breaking news.  If the accident wreckage is gone it is NOT breaking news.

3) Exclusive Reports.  How many times have you watched an EXCLUSIVE interview with the President on one network.  Twenty minutes later, the President is doing an interview on a different network: Yep, it's EXCLUSIVE! Please.

4) Fox News vs MSNBC: Just like the politicians, these two operations cater to their constituents.  Fox shills for conservatives.  MSNBC leans mightily to the left.  This isn't news.  It's entertainment. (see O'Reilly vs. Olbermann)  But the heat generated by all of the yelling has many Americans believing that you can't believe what anyone's saying.

5) Don't Kill The Messenger: Why some of this is YOUR FAULT.  You know when there's a big storm and the TV stations go wall-to-wall with non-stop weather coverage?

Anchor: Walt, is it still snowing there in Stormstown?

Walt: Yes, Roger, it's really coming down.  Let me get out my ruler and show you.  Three inches so far.  Let's check with my colleague, Ann WetFeet.  Ann, are you seeing snow there in Outyonder?

Ann: I lost my ruler but chief meteorologist Amy Sleetfinder tells me we have three AND a half inches in Outyonder!  Let's go back to Amy in the studio for the latest Stormchucker Radar Schtick!

Amy: Thanks Ann.  Nothing has changed in the past four hours.  But if you don't have to be out on the roads, for goodness sakes, stay home.....

      Yeah, we've all been there.
     What you don't see: In the newsroom the phones are ringing off the hoooook!  Angry viewers are calling in- demanding that we return to regular programming.  "I need Oprah NOW!!" 

      What you really don't see:  The next day we get our ratings report.  And the ratings are HUGE!- three times higher than anything Oprah can pull.  That's why it's YOUR FAULT.  If you stopped watching these endless weather reports the TV News guys would stop doing them.
     Most journalists try very hard to be objective, fair and accurate.  But in any line of work there are always some bad apples.  I was once assigned to work with a reporter who handed me a completed script before we even left the studio.  It included "responses" to interviews that hadn't taken place.  He planned to ask people to repeat what he'd written!  I killed the story and that reporter soon lost his job.  Kids, that's what really happens in journalism when you don't play by the rules.
    Believe it or not, I have never been asked to slant a story to reflect a specific viewpoint and I don't know of anyone who has.  Does it happen?  I'm sure it does.  But I certainly don't believe there's some big conspiracy.
     The media has a lot of faults- many self-inflicted.  So, how do we make people believe in the media again?  Maybe we need to ask ourselves- WWWD?  What would Walter Do?

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Goofy Things People Say -or- PR and the Politicians

     Did you hear?  A Tea Party candidate in Delaware is getting boiled in a witch's brew of bad PR.  Christine O'Donnell just won the Republican primary in the U.S. Senate race.  Suddenly, an old videotape surfaces in which O'Donnell admits she once "dabbled" in witchcraft.  I doubt very much she's a witch. But I'm sure O'Donnell is not clairvoyant.  Otherwise she would have known how the skeletons in her closet would come back to haunt her.
     I think it's fair to say that the Tea Party stands for conservative/christian values.  So getting yourself linked to the dark side is probably not very helpful.  To paraphrase Sarah Palin, "How's that touchy feely witchy stuff working for ya?"
     Just hours after the bewitching revelations O'Donnell pulled out of planned appearances on the Sunday morning Political shows.  This may have been a good idea- or a bad one.  The good: it gives O'Donnell and her advisors time to conjure up a strategy.  The bad: when you hide (as seems the case here)- it looks like you're on the run.  Worse, it can make you look "guilty".  I think it's almost always best to confront PR problems head-on.  Admit you've made a mistake- explain yourself- and move on.  Otherwise, you could be the focus of a 'witch hunt'- or a PR disaster that drags on and on and on.  Just ask the folks over at BP.  And in O'Donnell's case- I hear there may be more videos yet to be released.  You'll have to decide for yourself which PR strategy works best.
     Now to be fair, O'Donnell is not the first politician caught saying something better left unsaid.  Consider these comments:

Nixon: "I am not a crook."
Carter: "I've looked on a lot of women with lust."
Reagan: "We begin bombing in five minutes."
Clinton: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."
Clinton: "I didn't inhale."
George Bush 1 "Read my lips.  No new taxes."
George Bush 2 "Mission Accomplished."

Yes, Clinton gets two quotes- but only because he was very, very special.  The point here is that when you say something in front of a camera- you better know what you're saying.  Because an on-tape misstatement has a nuclear half-life of roughly 60,000 years.
     So to review- whether you are a politician or not- be very careful about what you say on camera.  Be careful about what you post on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else.  You can trust me on this.  Because, I am not a crook.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Putting the Cuss in Customer Service

     A few years back, Sears was the big store where everybody shopped.  Pretty much the way Wal-Mart is now.  You may have noticed that Sears has been having trouble- in fact, I believe they merged with K-Mart.  Now there's a marriage made in Retail Heaven.  One hundred years ago- you could buy anything from Sears- even a house.  No kidding.  My parents live in a Sears house.  Sears stood for Quality.
     Fast forward to the 1990's.  My clothes dryer breaks down.  I call Sears and they promise to send out a repairman.  After twiddling my thumbs through the customary "he'll be there between 1:00pm and 5:00pm" waiting period, the guy shows up.  He looks at my dryer- tells me it's shot- gives me a coupon for $25 off a new dryer- and charges me $40 for a service call.  That's $40 to walk in the door and tell me he can't do anything.
     I call a different repair guy who rushes right over.  He FIXES my clothes dryer and charges me $15 total.  I call Sears back and demand a refund.  I get nowhere.  I call the Sears corporate office and get nowhere again.  I get out my scissors and spend 20 minutes turning my Sears charge card into confetti.  And for years, I tell this story to everyone I meet.  I make it my business to trash Sears at every possible opportunity.
     And now you know why Sears went down the drain.  It was me.  Okay, probably not me alone.  But I'll bet it was the way they treated loyal customers.  They had a huge slice of the retail market.  And through greed, ignorance and lousy service- Sears plucked the golden goose.

     Fast forward to 2010.  My seven-year-old water heater explodes.  Oh yeah, it's a Kenmore.  My wife bought it before we got married.  The water inlet got corroded, and water seeped into the electronics compartment.  FZZZZTTTTTT.  So, I call Sears expecting the worse.  Instead, a very personable service technician was at my house in 45 minutes.  Imagine.  He plays with my dog, then spends five minutes poking around the burned out clothes dryer.  He calls Sears Central and orders me a new one- for free.  Now that's customer service!  And that's how you might win back a chunk of market share.  If you need me I'll be out back- trying to glue my Sears card back together.

     Postscript: Before I could even post this story there was some snafu in the Sears system.  They apparently thought I was going to pick up a 50 gallon water heater and transport it home in the trunk of my Honda.  So I called the local Sears store- one of the manager's (a young woman named Lexi) told me she didn't know anything about my problem- but promised an immediate answer.  She called back and told me the store has NO WAY to deliver a water heater.  (deliveries are made by a distant distribution center) But Lexi found a co-worker with a pick-up truck.  Lexi and Mark drove to my home and carted the new water heater down the stairs to the basement.  Lexi even did most of the heavy lifting.  Now if that isn't customer service I don't know what is.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just Think - New Adventures in Public Relations

You've probably heard about the downdraft that's hit the journalism business.  For starters, reporters have a terrible reputation.  I think it's safe to say that a lot of Americans don't trust the press.  Many people think reporters are arrogant and hellbent on promoting a liberal agenda.  So it's tough being a reporter. (full disclosure here: I worked in TV news for over 20 years as a producer, writer, assignment editor, anchor and yes, as a reporter)

But the "dislike" factor isn't why reporters find their jobs getting tougher every day.  Their industry is in trouble.  In the newspaper business they're firing people left and right.  Those who still have jobs have to pick up the slack- and there's a lot of slack.  In my local newspaper today there are 30 articles (not counting the obits).  Only 15 were written by local reporters.  Four of those stories were short police blotter reports.  And three others were provided by guest columnists.  So by my count, my local paper contained just eight local articles today.

At my last TV station they fired the entire art department and outsourced the work.  They fired everyone in master control and outsourced the work.  They fired most of the video editors- added desktop editing- and now the writers are writing AND editing the video.  My old station also has a new video sharing arrangement with another station- they only send one camera to an event and share the video.

So here's the bottom line: TV stations and newspapers are consolidating- they're preserving their resources and covering fewer stories.  What gets lost is enterprise reporting.  The TV folks are taking more video off the network feeds.  The newspaper guys are taking more stories off the big wire services.

What can PR people do about it?  That's the 64 dollar question.  I just saw an article in which a PR pro bemoans the lack of coverage on a fantastic story idea.  Maybe it was a great story- but the media is operating with limited resources.  Here's a thought: do the leg work.  

Think like a reporter: tell reporters how they can localize your story- tell them where to go and who they should talk to.
Think about having your clients shoot video and/or photos- and providing it to media outlets so they don't have to shoot it themselves.
Think about pitching stories at the network level- if the network does the story it will be fed down the line to all the affiliates!  
In short, Think how you can make covering your story easy for reporters. There must be lots of things you can Think of.  With limited resources many news operations will probably Think the best idea is to follow the path of least resistance.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Name Game

We have a new pet project ready to unveil here at Bauer Marketing.  But we're stuck for a name.  I've heard that some companies use computer algorithms to manufacture designer names- Just think Accura, Acela, and Barack Obama.  We could use a good brand name generator these days.

The right brand name can propel your product to amazing heights- think Coke, Apple, The Beatles.
The wrong brand name can be disastrous- think "New" Coke, The Flamin Groovies (yes, apparently the name of a real rock band) and the Edsel.

So what's the best way to brand your brand?  How do you stick a name on it that will captivate the public and give everyone the warm fuzzies?  Do people sit in a room and brainstorm?  Do they run a contest- Name our Thing and we'll send you to the Super Bowl?  Yes, Super Bowl is a brand name and yes it is two words- not one.

This isn't a rhetorical exercise.  We're looking for feedback here- or maybe just some Groovie Flamin Karma.  My working assumption is that you have to look at your brand's best features- and find a name that somehow describes those terrific attributes.  In this case, people who we think would like our new product want something that's beautiful, intelligent, fun-loving, and loyal.  It also has four legs and a cold furry nose.

Yes, we're struggling to name our new puppy.  We've been through all the doggie name books and doggie name web sites.  Here are some actual doggie name suggestions:

SABBATH, SALAMANDER. SAND RAT, SASHIMI, SASQUATCH, SCHWARZKOPF, SHAMU, SITTING BULL, SQUID, SYNERGY- and those are just some of the "S" names.  Did I mention that these are for DOGS?

Here's an idea- Name our puppy and we (might or might not) send you to the Super Bowl!

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Photos by Trina Bauer Photography