Archive for August, 2008

Bloomberg News goof: Steve Jobs is not gone yet

August 29, 2008

Youch! It’s tough to get by with any goof these days of instant news. Just ask Bloomberg News. They were apparently updating the pre-written obituary of Apple CEO Steve Jobs when someone accidentally hit the “publish” button. Didn’t take long for someone to notice and here is the story.

Bloomberg found out about the accidental posting, took it down and ran an apology. All good enough, but reading through the pre-bituary is pretty interesting. It shows who they are planning on calling for comment if the event does occur. It plans for eventualities of the stock tanking if Jobs were to go all of a sudden. Basically it shows how today’s news organizations prepare in advance for news events before they are news so that they are not caught behind. It is the instant news world, and news organizations realize much more than the rest of us, that without thinking about things in advance, without planning and preparation and doing your homework, when the event does occur you will just be left in the dust.

Bloomberg goofed big time by this accidental publication–but they showed in the meantime they are on the ball and on the job.


National Information Officers Association conference

August 29, 2008

I just returned from Reno where I was privileged to keynote the annual National Information Officers Association conference. This was one of my most pleasant conference experiences ever. As I told the group on Tuesday, they are the nation’s trust builders. It is their job each and every day to help build trust among the public and stakeholders for the fire departments, police departments, emergency management agencies and all types of government agencies represented. It is a very impressive group, smart, dedicated and concerned about getting the information about the good things their agencies do out to the media and publics.

A few observations. Many of the themes of instant news are being very actively discussed in a group like this. There is growing awareness of the shifting sands of public information and the need to adapt. It still strikes me that most live in a media-dominated world vs a post-media world and I’m not sure how much my message there really resonated with the group. Most PIOs consider it their job to get the info about what is going on, respond to reporter phone calls, do a standup interview or a press conference if it is big enough and they have done their jobs. There is insufficient awareness in my mind that today’s stakeholders in their communities no longer consider it sufficient to get their news about the agencies activities from the media. Direct communication is getting critically important and few are preparing for this demand.

Another thing that struck me was the relatively placid acceptance of what one presenter called being on “the last mile.” The presenter was a PIO for the bridge collapse in Minneapolis and she commented that she found out about the collapse from the news media and her best information about what was going on continued to be the news media. Those managing the response were simply too busy to keep her, the PIO, informed–she was on the last leg of the information chain. This is completely and totally unacceptable and PIOs across the nation need to stand up against this.

The question that they must repeatedly ask the response managers is: who do you want to tell your story? Do you want the news media whose job it is to entertain and that frequently comes by finding someone to blame, to put the black hat on? Do you want the bloggers, eye witness observers, frequently with their own agendas and axes to grind to tell the story? Or should the information about the event and the response come from the response itself. The old fogies who make the decisions about controlling information or keeping PIOs in the dark have the outdated notion that the story is controlled by them and released at their pace. No. The pace is set by those who have information–any information true, false or indifferent. The responders have only one choice–tell it fast, tell it accurate, tell it complete–or let everyone tell the story for them.

How Circuit City went MAD and recovered–a great case study

August 22, 2008

Here is one of the best case studies of crisis management in the instant news world that I have ever seen. Published in PR News, it is not only a great example of a company mistake quickly corrected by immediate and appropriate action and communication, but the case study as presented with timeline is outstanding. Great job to all involved (except the employee named Barron–note the two “r” spelling–no relation!)

NewsCred tries to take on the issue of news credibility

August 19, 2008

When I wrote the first edition of Now Is Too Late in late 2001, my friend Tim O’Leary (no, not that Tim) told me about blogs. What’s a blog, I asked. The more I looked at it the more I became convinced that this web-based publishing was going to be significant, but it would raise a big question. I suggested that there would be something called “truth filters” or places on line where you could go to find out who was telling the truth. Snopes and other myth buster sites indeed showed up and have helped with that task. Now there is a new one called “newscred” that takes a different approach–ranking stories by the credibility of their source.

It will be interesting to watch how this develops and if it gets legs. The chart about BBC credibility is interesting. News media credibility overall is now near the bottom of everyone’s list and perhaps has to do with the internet, blogs and all. The funny thing is, everyone subscribes to the idea that you can believe a word any body says, but they read and believe it all the same.

The ground shifting underneath the feet of PR

August 13, 2008

The PR industry is firmly ensconced on sinking sand. I am more and more convinced of that. Here are a few reasons:

-the SEC just announced financial information can legitimately be distributed via company websites and blogs

– the post-media world is very much here with the rapidly growing recognition that the public, stakeholders and specific audience groups all expect to get information directly from those impacting them, and not through the media (note rapid growth of notification systems in universities and now public agencies)

– the changing way today’s journalists/bloggers want to do the research and get info. Note this post by Michael Arrington of Techcrunch, and these comments by Steve Rubel of the Micro Persuasion blog. The point is made that traditional methods of pitching stories just don’t much work any more.

The whole picture reminds me of the tragedy of massed lines of troops facing a Gatling gun in the Civil War. The whole world had changed, but old habits and ways of thinking die hard. The massacre was bloody to say the least.

I am not predicting the end of the PR profession–because I think that these changes will elevate the role of communicators who have a full and deep understanding of the role of communication in building trust for an organization. But, those who continue to think (as I am amazed so many still do) that the job of PR is to crank out press releases and wine and dine and cajole reporters to carry their stories–those people are the buggy whip makers of today.

Russian attack in Georgia and how it will impact US reputation abroad

August 12, 2008

I have been absolutely sickened by the Russian invasion of Georgia. For one thing I am reading David McCullough’s masterful biography of Truman and it is eerily reminiscent of the early days of the Cold War where the US was faced with almost unbearable choices. Second, we have clients in Tblisi–a reminder that our global village has gotten much smaller and what affects the far corners of the earth has unprecedented impacts locally.

I try to refrain from political comment but bear with me a moment so I can make my point. This appears to me to be an effort by Prime Minister/President Putin to begin to rebuild and re-establish the Soviet Union. The KGB instincts he was trained with clearly never left him. That is what truly frightens and sickens me as I watch the headlines unfold and the absolute helplessness of the US and Europe to do much to stop him destroy democracy and turn his formerly independent neighbors into wimpering lackeys. It is truly tragic and depressing for the future.

But, here is the bright spot. I have long suggested that the US’s very serious reputation problems abroad go much deeper than our current president’s failings in policy and personality. Fundamentally the problem is a totally predictable symptom of the monopoly complex. We all hate monopolies–and particularly when they do not walk humbly with their power. When a town only has one newspaper or a neighborhood one grocery story, they had better be very careful to avoid the perception that they are abusing their monopoly power. Microsoft found this in spades when they were the superpower of the computer industry. But, once Google emerged as a potentially formidable competitor, Microsoft lost its power position and the extreme negative that went with it. Now they are one of the most respected brands in the world.

Since 1989 the US has stood alone as the world’s only superpower. France, of course, has done its best to provide some counter and to get all of Europe lined up to provide some kind of competition. Only China has demonstrated any potential for creating real competition in the superpower game. Until now. Now Putin has brought back memories of the Soviet Union, its callous disregard for human life, its bullying tactics, its dishonesty and dissimulation, its bald-faced ambition for domination. The US has been accused of all of these things–some of them far too accurately for my taste. But stack up the two superpowers in a popularity contest around the world and I’m willing to bet the US walks off with the prize.

Let’s be clear. I don’t want there to be a competition for world power. I absolutely dread the thought of another Cold War–or medium or hot one. But do not fool yourself into thinking that a change of administration will solve our reputation problems abroad. At least not anywhere near as much as a bullying Russia will.

Instant news just got faster: twitter and the Toronto propane explosion

August 11, 2008

Twitter is the new face of instant news. This post talks about how twitter was used in the minutes after the Toronto propane explosion this weekend. It also shows a fascinating video posted on YouTube before the major news websites had the story. The video has had hundreds of thousands of views. You have to watch it for a minute or two to get the explosive effect.

One thing the video shows–the talking heads behind the anchor desks do a heck of a lot better job of commentary than the videographer here. Oh my god!

In case you don’t know, twitter is a text-to-web tool that is wildly popular among the texting crowd. It is a quintessential social media tool in that it is used primarily to keep friends and family informed of twitterers every move, mood and thought. Pretty exciting stuff–well it can get exciting when a propane tank blows up in your neighborhood. Twitter is one tool that more and more organizations are turning to keep a team informed of what is going on and also to communicate with the public in a fast-changing situation.

When bosses don’t get it

August 6, 2008

I was talking not long ago with a senior communication manager working for a very large corporation who is trying to get his boss to agree to acquire our communication management system. The purpose would be to have the ability to communicate instantly with a large group of employees, customers, management team members as well as the media if a major incident occurred–particularly involving a large complex with thousands of people at risk.

The manager didn’t really see the point. He was asked: if something happens here, how do you expect you will find out about it? He answered: Channel 2 news.

This is what we talk about when we say some people just don’t get it. Here’s why:

– how does he think Channel 2 and all the others will get that news to give to him? The communicators have to be able to communicate instantly with those news channels or else everything they get will come via police scanners, eyewitnesses and bloggers.

– After the fact, he will likely be one of the first in line to scream and yell: why wasn’t I informed about this directly? When it hits the fan, suddenly execs and communicators have exceptional demands from all kinds of people who have every right to think they should be on the top of the call list.

– Does he really want to trust the information about what is happening to his company and his employees to the hands of people whose overriding interest is in attracting an audience as big as they can so they can get max dollars for their ads? That’s what the media business is–no criticism intended, but if something happens at that facility, it simply becomes a way to grab a big audience–if it bleeds it leads.

As another senior communicator recently pointed out, communicators are in a tough spot. They have a devil of a time getting the resources and technology they need to get their job done. Then, when it hits the fan, they are asked why aren’t you more prepared? That’s why a lot of them lose their jobs after a big event.

I want to suggest a solution to all you communicators out there: 1) send your CEO and leadership group my book Now Is Too Late–it is my best attempt at addressing this problem of not getting it. 2) Beg, plead, cajole–do everything you can to get your bosses to run a realistic large-scale incident drill. Drilling reveals the gaps and problems better than anything except a real incident.

The high price that can be paid for “infotainment”

August 2, 2008

Crisisblogger readers and readers of my Now Is Too Late books recognize that one of my key concerns about crisis communication is the instant news and infotainment worlds we live in. The hyper competitive news environment undermines traditional journalistic integrity in the search for the bleeding headline that will lead. Good companies, good reputation, good people too often get caught in the crossfire between new and old media.

Our good friend Pat Philbin was one example. From the day the story broke about FEMA’s “fake news conference” in October, 2007, I suspected that there was more to it than the news report suggested. That’s because we knew Pat from his work with Coast Guard and believed him to be a man of great integrity and a strong commitment to honesty and transparency. After meeting with Pat in DC and hearing his story, my initial reaction was correct–that he was indeed one of those victims of the rush to judgment required to build sellable audiences. The rush to judgment exhibited by the media was exacerbated by that exhibited by his superiors–far more concerned about their own reputations than what was right for a fellow public servant.

As anyone suffering unfair reputation damage knows, these things do not go away quickly or easily. Homeland Security Today recently wrote an article, understandably based on their highly faulty, media-based understanding of the situation. Pat has responded with this article which does a better job of anything I have read that explains why these things happen today, while even conveying a sense of the pain of being caught in the middle of them. Pat will be speaking on this topic at the PRSA conference in Detroit in October. It will be worth the ticket.