Opinionated Media?

27 06 2007

What’s more valuable:  news or commentary? As we dive further into this era of web interactivity, citizen journalism, and blog fanatacism, the question posed to professionals is where does media go from here? In fact, this was recently discussed at Edelman’s New Media Summit 2007, held earlier this month in New York.

A few notable insights:

  • According to Gordon Crovitz, publisher of The Wall Street Journalrecent readership surveys have revealed that ZERO percent of readers want more news–rather, they want more analysis. Overwhelmed by the flood of news, they prefer interpretation of the last day’s worth of news, and, in response, the WSJ is training their journalists to write 2nd day stories on the day of.
  • Noting that opinion predates reporting by centuries, Nicholas Lemann, Dean of Columbia University’s Grad School of Journalism, said that while reporting is still the focus at the school, opinion classes are now offered. He explained that opinion writing takes quite a bit of social license and adept skills to pull off. (No doubt Columbia would like to be ahead of the evolution of today’s journalism).  

What does this mean for communication? In my opinion, we’re going down the road of opinion. In my earliest days of news and reporting training, objectivity and attribution were Journalism 101. You never mixed opinion with news, unless it was appropriately labeled “Commentary,” “Editorial,” or attributed to someone else as a quote. Anything else wouldn’t be “proper reporting.”

I think things are shifting now. Call it the intrusion of post-modernism in mainstream society or simply the Internet’s amplification of the public voice, but there’s no doubt that news objectivity is on it’s way out, and subjectivity (ergo admitting your bias) is in. People want opinion. And with the expanding role of blogging and citizen journalism, they no longer have to wait for major media organizations to give it to them.

The question here, though, is where does mainstream media have to go to retain their readerbase? In Edelman’s opening session, Crovitz and Lemann shed light on that question. It’s a matter of trust: new media and opinion-based reporting has to be augmented with trust and transparence. And trust is just another way to say that the media needs to build a new relationship with its readership: one not only based on trusting the accuracy of the news, but trusting the opinions and analysis. Readers will not only ask the question: Were they accurate? But they’ll ask: Were they right? and How does this relate to me? In other words, mainstream media needs to do better at making the connections for its readers–an issue Crovitz pointed out.

That’s probably why Lemann argued that opinion writing is more expensive…it means you have to know A LOT more about your public than where they live, how much they make, and what ethnicity and gender they are.

In the extreme…this is probably one reason why “fake” news sources like Comedy Central’s The Daly Show and The Onion are so popular: mixing humor with current events, their satire provides deeper messages that the public resonates with, like the example below, one of my personal favorites on traffic problems:


This is just PR. (All Access Media II)

21 06 2007

In an earlier post I posed the question: How should PR respond to consumers’ newfound voice in the media? Having just shown the wrong answer , here’s the right answer:

Think this isn’t PR? Tell me the first description of Ketchum that comes to mind after watching that video:
Creative? Innovative? Fun? Exciting? Different?
All Ketchum brand traits…delivered to you in a YouTube PR campaign, no less.

Social media calls for strictly innovative communication that doesn’t overtly sell to the public, but invites the public to find out what the company stands for.

The Difference between PR and Blog Buzz-Marketing

21 06 2007

I was just about to write part II to the All Access Media post when I came across an interesting reflection of the state of PR practice today. Listing 10 Reasons Your Blog-Exploiting Buzz Campaign Will Fail, FlagrantDisregard.com’s blogger, John, goes on an insightful rant against PR professionals exploiting Bloggers to get cheap PR (read: marketing, not PR) from the next generation of journalists.

First: an apology to John. No, this isn’t what us self-respecting PR professionals do. It’s what marketers disguised as PR people do.

Second: A soap-box rant. Too many PR practitioners operate from this out-dated mindset that all you need is to get the word out there and the public will follow. This is the P.T. Barnum mentality, where “a sucker is born every minute” and will eventually give in if giv-en enough stimuli.

In a media environment in which the citizen journalist is more and more validated as the preferred news source, you’d think that PR professionals would do a better job of maintaining relationships with their “key publics”…No self-respecting editor or journalist would put up with the kind of marketing-disguised-as-PR job that John denounced on his blog, so why dumb down the industry just because new players have entered the market?

It’s only one more reason why I’ll always stick to my contention that Public Relations is not about messages but about behavior–the relationship you build with people who affect and are affected by your organization’s decisions. PR is not about flooding media with messages about a company’s product or service, that’s marketing.

How to avoid being the Weakest Link

15 06 2007

Whatever happened to the Weakest Link? It seemed like one second it was the most popular TV show in the world, and the next it had gone the way of MC Hammer.


Could it be that the American Public has a short attention span? I think so. With such an explosion in media, we’re witnessing massive cultural ADD. These days, life is about what’s next: What can I put on my Ipod? What new video has been posted on Youtube?

What is staying power these days? Is there a common link among cultural icons that have real staying power these days? From a short list of media stalwarts, a few common featuers stand out:

They’re Innovative. Example: Seinfeld. Seinfeld did something no one had EVER done before: ditch the traditional sit-com structure (situation-problem-solution) and made a show about nothing. The real effect of innovation is that it provides a refreshing change from the common.

They Re-invent themselves. Example: They Might Be Giants. The two misfit rockers from Brooklyn started with a few hit songs, and could’ve been a one-hit wonder like half the other 80s bands. But they have one of the strongest Indie followings, and their forthcoming CD The Else instantly rose to #1 on the Itunes chart when it was released. How did TMBG reinvent themselves? They followed their fans. Now that their fan base has come of age and is most likely now raising their own kids, TMBG has started producing children’s music that’s hip enough for their older fans to enjoy.

Yet…they never forget who they are. Example: Disney. Ok, so some of their recent moves have been questionable, and Eisner’s questionable legacy remains a rough topic, but they’ve always stuck to what they are: The leading provider of family entertainment. Their current marketing campaign at their theme parks “The Year of a Million Dreams” follows that, by emphasizing the timeless memories that families can enjoy.

Obviously, these are only a few of the Staying Power Variables, perhaps you have a few examples of your own and would like to share them….

0000008211_20060920151328.jpgOr, perhaps you’re like me, and wonder how long before Howie Mandell’s Deal or No Deal joins the Weakest Link in syndication on the Game Network.0000008211_20060920151328.jpg

Issues Management 101

13 06 2007

In an interesting turn of events, former CBS news anchor Dan Rather bashed his former CBS news show for “dumbing down” the news and “tarting it up” with the Today Show ethos. CBS’s mind-numbing response: Dan Rather’s sexist. Nice way to sweep the issue under the rug, CBS.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Dan Rather, nor am I a frequent viewer of the CBS News, but I can’t help but think that CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves pulled a card out of the “deeper issues that can be force-fit into any situation” deck rather than address the real issue at hand: the loss of hard-hitting reporting. In the midst of a newsweek that saw Paris Hilton overshadow more worthy headlines, I don’t think Dan Rather’s accusation is that far off.

Perhaps a more disturbing revelation from this quabble: Throwing around serious issues (like Sexism) willy-nilly to escape accountability. Re-reading Rather’s statement reveals that his complaint was against the direction of the news, not Katie Couric, and Moonves’ skirting the issue by playing the “sexism” card is a pitiable strategy for issues management–especially since calling an accuser sexist doesn’t change the fact that the issue still exists. 

Sweeping issues under the proverbial rug is not a legitimate issues management strategy.  In issues that affect the image of an organization, sometimes transparence is the best policy, even if that means owning up to a  legitimate marketing strategy to woo over younger viewers.

All-Access Media: Who’s in?

12 06 2007


I was watching the movie With Honors the other day–you know that movie with Brendan Fraser and Joe Pesci that followed other Gen X-ers like Reality Bites in depicting up and coming young adults who “take it to the man” and rebel against administration en route to finding their own satisfying meaning in life. Come to think of it, how many movies don’t show people taking it to the man in one way or another? Either way, it’s a thought-provoking movie and worth the 95 cents to rent it at your neighborhood video store that specializes in out-dated movies (you know, the one that still has the Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace – Coming Soon poster still prominently displayed in its sun-faded glory in the window?) . 

Anyway, it had been nearly 12 years since I saw With Honors in the theater, and was surprised by a revelation at the end of the movie. Monte (played by Fraser) had been studying government at Harvard and was seeking to produce a noteworthy thesis on the pitfalls of domocracy and the problems of staking a country’s wellfare on the fallibility of mass public opinion…until a well-read homeless man (Pesci) shows him the light of human experience. Following a series of paradox shifting experiences, Monte revises his thesis, much to the chagrin of his advisor, and restructures it around the argument that technological advancements in communication would expand public access to media and would improve democracy.  In the movie, Monte’s advisor frowns on the idea, but passes the thesis without honors, setting up a gloomy outlook for such a far-fetched notion as the public dictating government and societal issues. 

Fast forwad to 2007 and With Honors got it spot on. The “Information Superhighway” has become the a megaphone for anyone who can sign up for a free blog account (bonus points for those who fork out $8 to buy a domain name and start an online message board).  Increasingly, the public is yanking society’s microphone away from traditional media, often beating news outlets to the punch on reporting news as it happens.  What’s more, Average Joes and Janes are using the Internet as a soapbox to decry their latest injustice at the hands of big business–and this is anything but a silent majority.

Sure, I may be overstating things here–a simple blog couldn’t really make an impact on business decisions could it? Well, Consider the following:

  • Top PR agencies like Ketchum track blog posts to evaluate the reach and impact of companies’ public relations programs (Even TnP got attention for last week’s Scott Post)
  • Consumer opinion message board sites dedicated to trashing companies (like BankofAmericaSux.com)  get major hits–AND the attention of large organizations. 
  • With the help of YouTube, an ever-increasing group of “backpack journalists” armed with a camera phone or a digital camera post their videos online, thereby supplying more and more video to corporate news stations than full-time videographers employed by the news stations.
  • Americans don’t just watch the news anymore to find out what’s happening, they go to blogs to get the commentary–and wise reporters, writers, professionals have started their own blogs to add insight to everyday events.

No, I don’t have specific statistics to back these claims..yet…but it’s hard to deny them. The very fact that every major news organization provides an online  “feedback/discussion” link at the end of each newstory to stimulate conversation about the news piece (and, keep internet surfing readers from going elsewhere for their news experience) is just one example of the reality of this new age of All Access Media.

Companies now have to deal with an empowered reader-base who decides what news is important and contextualizes business decisions. It’s a troubling lack of control for companies that they have arguably never before seen. 

This raises two questions: How far will companies give in and let the rising public voice, maginified by the Internet, dictate business image? And, as this trend weakens traditional marketing and media-generated press releases, how will companies respond.  The answer to come.

Crazed Manager or PR Genius?

6 06 2007

We’ve all enjoyed the common baseball manager rants against umpire gaffes. Miffed at a call, baseball managers will go to great lengths to show their dissatisfaction, even humiliating themselves in the process, as they kick dirt on the mound, stand toe-to-toe with umpires, and throw fits reminiscent of a two year old. Recently, however, a minor league AA baseball manager took it to a new art form…and earned himself Internet fame in the process.

As seen in this clip, Phillip Wellman, the miffed manager of the Mississippi Braves took a tour of the baseball diamond, wreaking havoc on everything in his path, even the pitcher’s Rosin Bag. After covering home plate with dirt, he made an artful recreation of the base the dirt. He then trotted to third base and second base, relocating them into the outfield. His finest moment came when he mimicked a military crawl to the pitcher’s mound, grabbed the Rosin Bag, and tossed it like a hand grenade towards homeplate. He finished his rant by throwing the ump out, and bowing to the crowd.

On the surface, it would be easy to call this a manager tirade gone awry, but here at TnP, the surface isn’t good enough for us. Whether he planned it or not (and we’re leaning toward the former) this discontent manager earned himself and local minor league club worldwide acclaim. The video of his tirade has been viewed by literally thousands of people, and news stations across the country have aired the video.

Companies strategize for hours on end to get this kind of exposure that associates the company with a relevant and lasting image in people’s minds. And yet they often fall short. The fact is, it’s difficult to make your brand “cool” or “popular” and Wellman’s on-field antics did just that: they made minor league baseball cool.

Think of the implications for minor league baseball after Wellman’s antics: Despite a perceived lack of talent (after all, there’s a reason it’s called “the minor league”), minor league baseball can be exciting. While the tried-and-true baseball fan will come to a game regardless, the casual game-goer looking only for something to do, now has a reason to choose the minor league game over other excursions. Like the hockey-game attendee who only goes to see the fights, consumers previously apathetic to minor league baseball may now go to games just with expectations of deeper entertainment value. Even if for a moment, Wegman gave character to the lesser alternative to major league baseball.

The take-away: good public relations is often about creating exposure or publicity, great public relations creates a recognizable image for your company, and carves out a memorable place for your brand in the minds of consumers. Too many companies count clips and evaluate their efforts based on their level of exposure, but such an approach says nothing about what your public may be thinking about you…or if they’ll even remember you at all. Creating relevance for your brand (as opposed to merely creating awareness) begins with choosing the images you want the public to associate with your company. Do you want to be seen as fun? Cutting-edge? Reliable? Controversial? Edgy? This step always entails research: how does the public see you now? How do your employees see you? Your clients? How do they want to see you? Once you’ve found a character that works for your organization, you can then strategize your communication efforts to match that image

…and even if it doesn’t mean making a fool out of yourself in a minor league baseball game, creating relevance for your brand over awareness will inevitably make your brand memorable.