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Deal of the Week
by Liana Hawes

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Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post last week was a media darling of a deal.  The waning  newspaper finally got a buyer and to everyone’s surprise  it’s Amazon.com’s  founder who paid $250M for the Pulitzer Prize winning  Daily, once valued at several billion dollars.  Bezos was there to catch the Post in what could have been a steep fall from grace if a buyer didn’t show. Bezos dealt with the Graham Family, the paper’s publishers and operating executives for four generations.

The year 1993 was the height of The Washington Post’s daily circulation which peaked at 843,332 daily subscribers (source: Alliance For Audited Media).  In March 2013, The Post’s daily circulation was 474,767 and was down 7 percent in the first half of 2013. In 2012, the paper had 640 employees. It once had 1,000.  The Washington Post Company reported that it lost $50M in revenue during the first part of the year, because of its newspaper operation.  Despite its legacy and prestige, the Washington Post is now a cash drain.

Large publicly traded companies don’t want their newspaper properties any more.  But small private investors do. Bezos, however, is not just any investor. If you look at his personal wealth, this $250M price was not a big purchase , a drop in the bucket for Bezos.   There’s six degrees of separation and, if you read between the lines, the purchase is not that surprising.

What does Jeff Bezos, a techie entrepreneur/billionaire  possibly want with a newspaper property with declining circulation and advertising?  Bezos is a media mogul who changed the book publishing industry and managed to make Amazon into a brand giant and household name –  and himself a billionaire in the process through Amazon’s various operating entities.  Who has not bought a book from Amazon or gone shopping on the site?   If Bezos hasn’t made Amazon.com consistently profitable, he has made it  valuable as a brand giant, an in-your-face always-on digital media company.

Whether we can expect that The Post, which won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking a key Watergate story in 1973, has any hope for a bright future, let’s watch and see if the sale signifies, “The beginning of a phase in which this Gilded Age’s major beneficiaries reinvest in the infrastructure of our public intelligence,” as  stated by The Atlantic editor James Fallows who’ said the deal put him in a ‘state of shock’, according to an August 5 story in The New York Times Dealbook column.

When a media or communications company invests in or acquires a content company or digital media property,  typically a subscriber base is  co-opted such that existing content and programming expands to a new audience of consumers creating revenue growth opportunities CPMs.  Media conglomerates, therefore, are one of the most heavily regulated sectors.  Their ownership of the airwaves and broadcast networks monopolized access and control of public communication to serve their own commercial interests.  Aside from broadband and cable, where are new audiences to be found?  Where will those 474,767 Post subscribers go, along with those of their sister properties?  Where will The Post’s find a new audience for its editorial content?

Look no further than behind the LDC screen of your Kindle digital reader.  What better medium to deliver and promote news product.    If you are one of the 22 millions owners of an Amazon Kindle devices, you may soon find yourself  a subscriber to The Post and its sister publishing businesses ( also included in the $250M price).  And don’t be surprised if a Post story pops-up during your online shopping experience on Amazon.com.  A digital content distribution model such would not be  rocket science especially for Bezos, who is credited  with changing  consumerism.  All speculative at this point since Bezos himself (not his company) was the purchaser.  But just how will Bezos leverage his new toy from an operations standpoint?    How much fun is there to be had with this new toy?  There could be six degrees of separation?

Now here’s another angle that was investigated by NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik, who looked at this deal from the standpoint of intellectual property and sales tax.  This report revealed Amazon to be a major vendor of cloud storage to the CIA which paid Amazon $600M to build its cloud storage system.   While it may be a large storage provider to the CIA, Amazon wants nothing to do with Wikileaks, which it booted from its web hosting service Amazon Web Services back in 2010 at the height of public interest in Wikileaks.  You might think Bezos is new to Washington but his Company had no problem following  the directive of Senator Joe Leiberman when he called for retaliatory action against Wikileaks.  Amazon Web Services stated that Wikileaks violated its terms of service because it “doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to the classified content” and that the 250 classified docs that Wikilieaks was publishing was not “redacted in such a way that they were not putting innocent people in jeopardy.”

Whatever the reasons or the way the language is written, Washington may not be such an unfamiliar ground Bezos and his purchase of the Graham enterprise is more of a power shift than a good will purchase of a curious new toy.

Don’t Be Afraid of Social PR
by Erin Elton

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At the AlwaysOn OnMedia conference in NYC yesterday, I saw a fascinating panel on Social Commerce. An interesting statistic came out of the panel discussion from Lance Neuhauser, CEO of The Echo System: 95% of Facebook wall posts from companies go unanswered while call centers for the same companies are packed with customer service reps taking phone calls. Most large companies do not have any employees focusing their time on interacting through social networks to improve their image.

Most companies have in place response strategies for the media, but what about negative comments about your business through social networks?

Based on this presentation, here are a few tips for rapid response social media PR:

1) Have someone within your company (or at the PR firm that represents you) constantly monitor your company’s FB pages, Twitter handle, YouTube channel and every other social network for any comments.

2) Respond right away to either negative or positive comments by either re-tweeting, commenting in a thread or posting how your company corrected the wrong that you were called out on.

3) If possible, directly message the person that negatively commented about your company and apologize for any inconvenience and make it right through a discount, refund, etc.

4) DO NOT try to fight back and challenge the person unless you are ready for a possible social media comment war. In some cases, this kind of publicity could be a good PR stunt but make sure you have thought through all the possibilities.

Remember: Social media is the new social interaction medium for businesses. Stay ahead of the curve by paying attention to and interacting within your social networks.

4 Holiday Pitching Tips from your Friends at Gutenberg
by Jennifer Smelyanets

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The holiday season is a time for family, friends and food. It’s a time to appreciate those around you and participate in the spirit of gift giving. But, it’s also an excellent time for us PR folk to build relationships with members of the press, clients and colleagues. From a media relations perspective, it’s also one of the best times to pitch. Below are 4 holiday pitching tips from the Gute team.

1.       Thank the Press – We’ve been reaching out to the same media people throughout the entire year and in most cases contacting them strictly via e-mail or phone. Now is the time to invite a few key press people out grab lunch, dinner or a drink to thank them for their time and get to know them a bit better as people. The holidays bring out the best in most people, so odds are if you take the time to meet with journalists during this time of year, they’ll be more open to not only you,  but also open to hearing about your client(s). If time and/or budget doesn’t permit an outing, send a ‘Thank you/Happy Holidays’ card or email. It can go a long way. You’d be surprised.

2.       Develop a 2012 Outlook Pitch Platform – Everyone is writing about the year ahead and recapping 2011. Why not hop on the bandwagon? We’re sure there’s a fit for any industry you’re in.

3.       Catch them Right before the Holidays – This is a tricky one, but if done right can bear fruit. Most offices are closed the last two weeks of the year. And if they’re not, most press folks take that time off. Odds are you should probably start outreach in Early Dec., right after Thanksgiving to catch them right on time. Unless of course we’re talking about a long lead publication.

4.        Identify those folks NOT taking holiday – News never sleeps, so there are some media that will be working straight through Christmas, Hanukah, New Years, etc. Our job is to identify those folks right away and check in with them to see what it is that they’re covering. While most media folks are on a tight deadline to get stories in before the end of the year, odds are they have a warm fuzzy feeling in their hearts from all of the holiday sweets and spirit, so they’ll be more open to your idea.

These are just a few tips for PR folks looking to gain some media traction throughout the holiday season.

We also want to wish our readers a very wonderful holiday season and happy new year!

End of an Occupation – End of a News Cycle?
by Liana Hawes

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Brookfield Properties owner and former New York City Planning Commission Chairman John E. Zuccotti has a public park named after him in the Financial District of lower Manhattan where Trinity Place, Cedar Street, Broadway and Liberty Street converge. The site itself was formerly known as Liberty Park Plaza, one block south east (or thereabouts) of the World Trade Center. If you’ve ever had a day job in the Financial District, you’ll know what an important respite this Plaza, with its trees and seats, was (is) to a weary workers on lunch break. 

Zuccotti’s real estate, and the area surrounding it, has a place in history as defending private commercial interests. While the plaza itself has been used frequently in the 20th century for public demonstrations and the staging of protests, back in the 17th century the ground was part of the Dutch Colonial settlement “New Amsterdam”, an extension of the Dutch Republic. The settlement was just outside of Fort Amsterdam (which protected the interest of the Dutch East India Company’s fur trade operations on the Hudson River) and strategically situated on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. This region, including the settlement and the Fort which was the Colony’s capital, eventually became known as New York City.  In recent history, as the Towers fell, Liberty Park Plaza was covered with debris and in the aftermath was used as a staging area for recovery efforts.

Over the past few weeks the park has again taken a place on center stage as it’s been a staging area for the OWS movement. On a recent visit to the Occupy Wall Street encampment, I was particularly struck at how impressively the OWS drum battery was staged in the Plaza. They sounded terrific and beat a call for all the tourists and onlookers who walked by in curiosity, disgust, wonder, ignorance and encouragement. 

After throngs of spectators trampled through the Park’s maze over this past weekend of assemblage, protests and camping, the Plaza was yet again strewn with debris – trash – which has since been cleared – along with the Protesters. It was empty and clean this morning and glam shots of pristine Zuccotti Park evoked the Liberty Park Plaza of yore, New York’s Financial District in all its glory where the Towers once stood strong and Liberty could be felt.  Although I’m not sure why this Park was ever dubbed “Liberty”, maybe for Liberty Street?   

Why did Mr. Zuccotti and his team at Brookfield Properties insist on a name change from Liberty Park Plaza and will he want to go down in history for his role as OWS’s landlord, tolerant of their presence yet pushing for their removal by enforcement? Will the name Zuccotti Park forever be tainted with images and stories about the health, legal, and safety threats the authorities said this particular OWS camp posed to the public at large?  This rather than the cause that actually inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement and other camps to subsequently form in cities across the U.S. in national protest?   

So far, the news media has focused on the logistics of the Camp, the occupation itself, the costs to taxpayers, law enforcement and the legal and removal strategies of the City authorities. Now that the occupation’s over, I’d like to see more stories about the core message in the protest and the rallying cry against the financial establishment, for it was strong and passionate enough to inspire similar “Occupy” protests throughout the nation. I’d like to see Mr. Zuccotti, for whom the Park is named, going head to head in a nightly news roundtable discussion with an OWS operations official. 

How did Mr. Zuccotti get private money to renovate the Park after 9/11?  What were the goals of the renovation and how was Zuccotti Park designed to function as public space? 

This was an $8M renovation by a prestigious firm which installed trees, granite sidewalks, tables and seating as well as in-ground lighting.  It seems like as good a place as any for an urban camp. While the granite is hard as a sleeping surface, it’s great for outdoor cooking and the tables are conducive to networking discussions, training, interviews, chess, dining and computing – all things that make for a successful protest.

The Occupiers will find it hard to be removed but they might be more comfortable if they can go home to a good night’s sleep and a meal and prepare properly for the days and nights of protesting ahead.  Or is the movement made stronger by the camp itself and the community it fostered among its inhabitants? Camps are powerful structures when it comes to group cohesion, defense, protection and taking a stand.

I’m following updates and Tweets on these developments from the New York Times City Room and WNYC news among others. These seem to indicate that the City and Brookfield say that while the Camp must go (and has) the protests may continue.  Now that camp’s over, perhaps the news media will no longer focus on camp logistics and we’ll get to the meat of the story with investigations now turning towards the reasons for the protest and what, if any, are the key messages behind Occupy Wall Street.

BE AFRAID: BE VERY AFRAID
by Liana Hawes

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A TRICKY CLIENT LIGHTS UP THE VILLAGE ON HALLOWEEN
As the agency of record for the New York City’s 39th  Annual Village Halloween Parade, Gutenberg Communications was privy to work with organizers of one of the world’s most famous and longstanding public events that makes Greenwich Village a top international destination on  the scariest night of the year.  Billed as “the nation’s most wildly creative public participatory event,” and “New York’s Mardi Gras,” the New York Village Halloween Parade, now in its 39th year, typically attracts approximately 2 million attendees – and that’s not counting Parade participants! Like no other public event in the world (well maybe Burning Man), the Parade constantly makes the “bucket list” of things to do before you kick.  So who actually shows ups and what sorts of public relations challenges does it present?  

WHO SHOWS UP?
About 50,000 participants including hundreds of giant puppets, artists with explosive imaginations, thousands of New Yorkers in costumes of their own creation, dancers of all styles and more than 50 bands show up to be in the Parade. Talk about photo opportunities! That’s not to mention the 450 “media” who registered online this year for a Press Pass so they could join in and cover the Parade en route from the inside.- A contingent of NYPD officers are on Parade duty that night as are big crews from NY 1 and WPIX which station their production trucks to capture a live broadcast of the Parade as it s makes its way through the Greenwich Village up Avenue of the Americans from Soho to Chelsea.

PR CHALLENGES
Pointing press to the event highlights can be incredibly difficult when your line-up includes: the Incredible Hulk, the Mad Hatter, Roving Eyeballs, decked out Mini-Coopers, Chubaka, flying snakes, giant dragons, the rock band KISS, Little Red Riding Hood, Spiderman, drag queens and kings, Pirate Bluebeard, Princess Diana, Jagermeister skeletons, the Abominable Snowman, WonderWoman, robots and thousands of witches, ghosts and ghouls – just to name of tiny few of those available for photo opportunities.  Bigfoot also showed up this year as did Obama, who appeared many times throughout the line-up violently wielding a budget ax.

PRE-EVENT PHOTO AND STORY OPPS
Each year, in keeping with tradition, the Parade is headed by an ever-changing menagerie of Giant Puppets and special costumed performances. This entourage provides the kernel of inspiration that sparks the creative energies of the other 50,000 Parade participants. We try to engage media to attend one of the scheduled workshops and locations where the Parade’s giant puppets are built and created by master puppet artists.  Media can go to the workshops to engage in this wonderful process and meet with the artists.  Technicians responsible for these puppets work throughout the summer and fall in many locations around the Greater New York City area, Upstate New York, New Jersey, Boston, Cleveland and the North East. These workshops are busy designing and fabricating new creations to fulfill the changing themes of each new Parade. Some 600 volunteers from the local communities and from New York City assist in the various stages of building, assembling and operating the puppets and costumes. 

THEME
Communicating about enterprise software, venture capital and IT services can be downright scary at times but here’s a more daunting PR challenge:  Each year the Parade has an artistic theme set by master puppet and pageantry artists Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles of Superior Concept Monsters, the Parade’s official puppeteers. The chosen theme is based on oral history, socio-political concerns, myth and tradition. The overarching, grand-view messages behind their large-scale puppet creations are not exactly easy to convey in words to journalists who have become more accustomed to sound bites and simplified bullet points.  This year’s 2011 theme, “The i of the Beholder,” explores what makes the disembodied EYE so disturbing and familiar. Tradition associates the all-seeing eye with inescapable power and authority – coldly remote, yet as near to us as the back of a dollar bill. (sounds like a few clients we know:)  As Kahn and Michalles put it, “The technology of Facebook and Flickr offers us the possibility of seeing everything, we risk seeing nothing but ourselves, eyes wide shut, in a collective feast of Narcissism. Argus, for all his vigilance, is slain by Hermes (God of Communication), and for his sacrifice, is turned into a peacock.”  For this year’s Parade, video images of a close-up eye were projected onto a “Great Eyeball high in the Parade sky, in a succession of images at once intimate and anonymous.” This was beautifully executed visually at the front of the Parade. While hard to encapsulate into a sound bite or bullet point in our preliminary press, it was great to be able to point journalist to actual visuals – moving giant puppets processing up 6th Avenue and as they were coming to life at the puppet workshops.  

PRESS CHECK-IN: OH JOY!
Over 450 “journalists” registered for media passes to the Parade this year.  Last year it was about 250. Anyone who registers at the Parade’s Online Press and Media Center as “press” must check-in on-site at the Press Table starting at the Parade starting point at 2pm on All Hallow’s Eve. We issue official NYC Parade press badge badges to anyone who took this action or. The majority of registrants are freelance photographers who have agreed to submit their photos to the Parade Photo Gallery at the Parade’s official website. This, in return for a pass to cover the Parade from an insider’s vantage point.  Many stragglers with cameras, who did not take the time to register, nor have any press credentials, still show up requesting a badge.  In addition, several credentialed media on assignment showed up and checked in. This year they hailed from outlets including Barron’s, the Associated Press, Reuters TV, the BBC, Agence France, The Daily News and others on a mission to capture and file photos and reports by deadline that night.  The credentialed are approved and their laminated NYC press badges are enough to ward off the NYPD who are empowered to promptly non-badged photographers from the lineup. But other bloggers, photographers who are neither credentialed nor took the time to register are sometimes left hanging.  It’s tough being a gatekeeper on this massive media event.

CRAZED SPOKESPEOPLE
The Parade steps off at 7 p.m. on Halloween and media typically arrive to start their reporting at approximately 6:30 p.m. at which time they ask for spokesperson interviews. Now, there are three official spokespersons including the creatives, Kahn and Michalles and our key spokesperson, the Parade’s Producing Director and national Celebration Artists Ms. Jeanne Fleming, who has a legacy with the Parade, and is  one of the most electrifying clients and dynamic spokespeople a publicist could ever hope to work with.  At the bewitching hour when most journalists want their interviews, however, all three spokespeople are crazily busy dealing with any number of things that could go wrong (and never do). Puppet artists can speak eloquently about their creations but they are so busy rigging the giant puppets and organizing teams of handlers it’s hard to find them let alone nail them down for interviews.  Ms. Fleming is on a 2-way radio with the NYPD police chiefs, head marshals, drivers, bands, crowd control specialists, sponsors and VIPs so she’s a bit hard to nail down for interviews. This whole scenario has forever changed our view how to wrangle for interviews at an event.

OCCUPY WALL STREET IS COMING?!
“A spokesperson from Occupy Wall Street said a contingent of 500 Occupiers be showing up to march in the Parade. Can you confirm that?” a reporter with a major metropolitan daily asks.  “No, but anyone is welcome to join the Parade If they are in costume.”  The tradition of the Village Halloween Parade is to invite everyone in costume to join the parade — and typically 50,000 to 60,000 people take advantage of that invitation every year!  Most of these are costumed celebrants on foot. As the nation’s most wildly creative public participatory event and the greatest City in the world, anyone and everyone in COSTUME is welcome.  Safety and enjoyment come first. Parade organizers, therefore, ask all participants (including those from Occupy Wall Street) to keep the spirit and tradition of the Village Halloween Parade alive and abide by these simple rules. So the word went out: Get Your Costume Together! 

CONTROL FREAKS BACK DOWN
Once the Parade gets underway we lose our authority, power and control as PR gatekeepers, and follow our natural inclination to keep watch beside the broadcast production trucks of NY 1 and WPIX where crews are set up and directors calling the shots, keeping the parade moving despite the many photographers who hold up the procession as masqueraders pose for their cameras.  It’s hard to distinguish between the officials from those who are costumed like them.  It’s chaos at the very hour when the world of the living and the dead can supposedly see through to the other. As the Parade processes, we resume our role as ushers and facilitators in a massive public procession that has a mind and spirit of its own. We watch the procession move with the powers that be:  Frankenstein families, pirates, dead presidents, super heroes, monsters, ghouls, ghosts, witches, Tea Parties, Budget Axes and other creatures of the night. To stand and watch: now that’s a tall order when you’re a bunch of control-freakish PR people.  The next day’s results hit national and international outlets and the stories, blogs and photos all publish in a wicked PR Brew!

An Evening of Philanthropy, Tech and Celebrities
by Tracy Rodrigues

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This month Gutenberg had the pleasure of supporting the US launch of The Cherie Blair Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business Programme. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair opened the evening with remarks on his wife’s passionate support of women across the globe. His comments were followed by a panel moderated by ABC News anchor Christiane Amanpour with Melanne Verveer, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Nikesh Arora, Senior Vice-President, Google and Aeneas Chuma, UNDP Resident Representative, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Kenya.

In addition to the dignitaries, press and potential donors, other noteworthy guests were in attendance. Mentees from emerging countries in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East came to the event and lest anyone forget, it was really their story to be told that evening.

The Foundation’s mentoring platform is powered by Google. Mentees use Gchat, Gmail and Google docs to connect with their mentors in other countries and gain practical business advice. Given the different geographic locations and time zones these partnerships span, Google’s tools are a valuable and conveniently free resource. The program is unique for its focus on emerging markets and women that have already established businesses in their communities. The Foundation is empowering women with the drive to succeed simply by giving them the resources to do so.

Also interesting is the mentors themselves. It may be the effects of attending a women’s college, but I couldn’t help notice how many of the mentors were men. This was brought up later in the panel discussion and the question was met with brutal honesty. Why men? Because they generally have more resources and are more successful. While the event highlighted the needs of other countries, the panel discussion brought home the challenges the UK and US now face.  How can we empower our own women to succeed in technology and business?

The event gained attention from CNN’s new show Erin Burnett Outfront, Entrepreneurship Magazine and Bloomberg, among others who were in attendance. Congratulations to Cherie, The Foundation and Google on a successful US program launch!

If you’re interested in learning more about The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women or becoming a mentor please visit:  www.cherieblairfoundation.org

If the PRSA is on Your Case, Maybe You Should Listen
by Hugh Burnham

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Rosanna Fiske, Chair of the PRSA, just issued a statement around Rupert Murdoch’s response to the growing crisis surrounding News Corporation, criticizing News Corp.’s CEO for trying to protect his closest lieutenants as more and more revelations surfaced of wrongdoing. The July 4 revelation that reporters working for the News of the World had in 2002 deleted messages from the voicemail of missing schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, turned the phone-hacking saga from something that interested a few lawmakers to a national scandal in the U.K.  Over the weekend, as News International CEO Rebekah Brooks was arrested and brought in for questioning, the fallout from the scandal seemed to mushroom exponentially.

Wrote Fiske:

“In unsuccessfully trying to save the careers of some of his top lieutenants, including former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch is damaging the reputation of all his media properties.” 

And indeed, according to any accepted doctrine of crisis communications, Murdoch’s approach is dead wrong.  News Corp. needs to find out exactly where the wrongdoing occurred, communicate that openly and transparently to the public, and root out and expel those responsible for the egregious practices. 

News Corp. competitor Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek itself has a huge cover story this week devoted to the culture that gave rise to such practices and an inside look at Rupert Murdoch himself.   Yet, crisis communications does not come innately to many businesspeople, particularly when it comes to those that are close to them. Brooks, according to BusinessWeek, was like a daughter to Murdoch.  Losing her from his company was a very deep wound.  And a crisis like this, by its very nature, comes up on a company with little warning. The potential impact at its outset can be difficult to gauge.  After all, these allegations against the News of the World had been around since 2007.  How was Murdoch to know that the phone hacking would mushroom into an issue capable of costing him his empire?   In fact, argue the Bloomberg BusinessWeek reporters, the very culture of News Corp. was to obfuscate and challenge whenever allegations like this were made.

The answer is that someone near Murdoch needed to make it clear to him that the very serious allegations which first surfaced in 2007 were true, and the potential outcome could be disastrous for News Corp.   Unfortunately, it may be too late to save Rupert Murdoch’s empire, even for those diligently counseling him now.  Three days ago, Murdoch visited Milly Dowling’s parents to apologize for the egregious behavior of News of the World.   But it may be too little too late.  Murdoch may or may not lose his iron grip on News Corporation, but the costs to his reputation have been steep and a break-up seems a very real possibility. 

The newspapering business is a tough one.  It seems that the very aggressive tabloid culture that sold so many newspapers and created shareholder value, has now come back to haunt Murdoch.  Let’s see how he responds to the issues ahead.

Tweetalee Dee, Tweetalee Dumb
by Joanna Leis

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It looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers are repeat offenders.  James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley sure know how to put their feet in their mouths when it comes to tweeting: Harrison called his boss an idiot for the new Pittsburgh Steelers Rule, and Woodley was non-apologetic for hitting too hard. Yes, hitting is part of the game, but as Kevin Allen of Ragan’s PR Daily says: “With the NFL going through PR hell right now, with its plague of severe head injuries and the current lockout, tweets like this are the last thing it needs.” It seems as if these players forgot that they are not only the faces of the Steelers, but they are also the faces of the NFL as well. What they say and do impacts the organization.

In my previous post, I talked about the BronxZoosCobra tweeter and how he or she successfully turned a crisis into an opportunity. The comedic tone made the BronxZoosCobra’s tweets successful. But in certain instances, humor does not work and should not be used. The tone of the situation must match the tone of the tweets. A misguided use of “humor” can cause a crisis of its own.

For example, Gilbert Gottfried, a famous comedian most recently known as the voice behind the duck of Aflac is now recognized for making a very famous mistake. He tweeted jokes about Japan’s tsunami during the midst of the crisis, stating “Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them” as well as another tweet that is just too appalling to rewrite.  Making fun of people while they are in distress isn’t nice, and it’s bad business sense. His tweets were offensive to many and as a result, he was fired from Aflac.

Another example is Kenneth Cole; his tweets on the situation in Egypt damaged his company’s reputation which was known for its professional appeal.

These attempts of humor on Twitter have caused damage to these individuals’ reputations. They may have also caused damage to the companies’ brands, but that’s something only time will tell.

When you represent an organization, you need to monitor what you say and do at all times. With social media there is no separation between company and personal time. As PR Professionals, it is our responsibility to remind our clients that everything they say, write and do is under the scrutiny of the organizations’ constituents, especially if they are the face of the company, a spokesperson or a famous football player.

With the expansion and increased use of social media PR Professionals need to provide counsel on both the corporate and private aspects of spokespeople lives. PR Professionals can work with their clients/organizations to protect their reputations by:

  • Having integrated access to all public social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • Monitoring conversations within social networks
  • Consistently advising clients on what to and most importantly what NOT to say

PR Professionals need to have a say in everything that is publicly stated, for they are the guards of corporate reputations and can only remain to be so if they have full access to all communication channels.

Do the Math
by Hugh Burnham

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In a Forbes Blog Post on Friday, (and I don’t blame Forbes, I credit the publication for having such great blog content)  the London Bureau Chief, picks on Burson-Marsteller for taking on  “unsavory clients” in the wake of the revelation that they are working on attacking privacy issues for Google.

This post left me scratching my head.  With so many similar articles out did it occur to anyone why PR firms often get hired? It is often BECAUSE their clients are in unsavory positions or they have thorny issues to tackle!!!  PR firms have been doing this kind of work since the industry was created. Only occasionally, when it’s a big (or in this case) two big high profile companies, does it become a big deal.

Burson, while it is now forced to backtrack and tell the world that this is against its ethical policies to not disclose their client, is hardly the first PR firm to have its own PR issues.   PR firms do this all the time.  When I worked at one of the world’s largest PR firms, we were booted out of the American Lung Association after a week when it was discovered that we were simultaneously representing a large tobacco manufacturer.    And Wal-Mart’s former PR firm Edelman was taken to task for having PR people pose as “bloggers” while spreading a great message of how wonderful the company was.

Amongst the “shocking” details revealed in the Forbes post is that Burson has a “reputation” for representing this kind of client.  The list included the Saudi government after 9/11, Romanian dictator Nicholae Ceausescu and the Argentinian junta after the disappearance of 35,000 civilians, amongst other things.   But this is why PR firms get hired. So they can represent these companies or governments’ best interests. 

No one would point the finger at a law firm that represented these clients, would they?  And if you looked at other large PR firms, they surely are representing clients with similar issues.   Why the finger pointing?   What is it about the media that just makes it so simple to muck rake for no reason? While it might not be 100% savory to think that companies attack other companies with widespread PR campaigns, you had better believe it happens all the time.  They just aren’t Google and Facebook, most of the time.

Snake on the Town (or How One Person Found Opportunity in a Crisssssis)!
by Joanna Leis

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Most people aren’t fond of snakes. But 238,395 tweeters love the New York City’s Bronx Zoo Cobra. The zoo temporarily lost one of its Egyptian cobras last week and an anonymous and extremely creative, astute person made the snake reappear on the popular social networking site, Twitter. The snake, which took on the name @BronxZoosCobra, was busy tweeting away its fictional NYC tour.

The snake’s hilarious updates won over fellow tweeters; so much that it garnered the attention of traditional media. This innovative idea has brought on great opportunity for the snake impersonator. The New York Times and TIME have already interviewed the person behind the snake.  And who knows what else is in store, maybe a TV interview or book deal? Or maybe even a job as a professional tweeter for the Bronx Zoo?

There is much we can learn from this impersonator. He or she was able to take a crisis and turn it into an opportunity. Clearly, all crises cannot be transcended into opportunities. One crisis does not fit all, which is why much care and forethought must be brought in when choosing to use a crisis for opportune purposes. An unsuccessful attempt, described in my colleague’s post, was made by Kenneth Cole earlier this year. In the case of Kenneth Cole, he was using the situation in Egypt to promote his spring collection. This is what put people off and turned the situation into a PR nightmare.

The crisis referenced and opportunity at hand has to align with the organization. Picking the wrong crisis can have monumental consequences that can negatively impact a corporate or individual’s reputation. PR Professionals need to first think of the business objective and see if the opportunity would help meet this end.

The BronxZoosCobra is a good case study to examine as it successfully exhibits turning a crisis into an opportunity.

When appropriate, you can also turn a crisis into an opportunity by:

  • Keeping abreast of current events and understanding your industry- Constantly review the news, social media and newest trends. Some crises happen immediately and others happen over time. As a PR Professional, you should keep yourself aware of what’s going on. That way you will know when and how to react. The snake impersonation would have never worked if it was done after the snake was caught.
  • Understanding the severity of the situation at hand- Different situations call for different things. Make sure what you do is appropriate and is right for your organization. Be sure that the tone is on point and represents the sensitivity of the situation. The BronxZoosCobra twitter account worked because the snake was only missing. If the snake had escaped and bit a child then this idea probably wouldn’t have been suitable.  If the crisis is severe it is best for a qualified organization to take on the role of a thought leader or advisor. During an overwhelming crisis organizations should use discretion and not engage in over self promotional activities.
  • Being thoughtful – Know what will work for your industry and look for opportunities to be creative. Don’t self-aggrandize but ask what will catch people’s attention? What will make you, or what your organization has to say, stand out? Think of how to communicate in a way so that will resonate in peoples’ minds. Taking on an identity of a snake online is certainly a unique and memorable way of getting your voice heard.
  • Targeting the right audience- Who are you trying to reach and why? What perspective or advice can you offer them and why would they be interested in it? What is the benefit to this audience? Once an appropriate audience has been identified, the PR Professional then has to understand where this audience gets their information. Is it traditional media: print, radio, or TV? Or is it social media: Twitter, Facebook or Linked-In? One of the fastest and easiest ways for the snake impersonator to get his or her voice heard was through social media. Twitter provided the medium to tell a funny relevant story as well as reach a broad audience.

So the next time a crisis arises, don’t only think of how to manage it but also think of how to leverage it. And pay attention! Look at your competition’s crises and see if you can use their messes to your advantage. Who knows, if done right you can end up being a local or national sensation.

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