Freedom of the Press

Arguably the second most difficult position in the federal government is the position of  White House Press Secretary, or spokesperson, for the President of the United States. Currently Jay Carney holds this position and as a former journalist, he is particularly knowledgeable about freedom of the press. That’s why the recent revelation of the phone record seizures of the Associated Press news outlet in Washington D.C. should cause him  pause. Naturally, as an administration spokesperson, he has expressed a very cautious response to the controversy such as saying he “cannot comment on the ongoing investigation.” In light of the recent revelation that the IRS inappropriately singled out conservative groups for investigation, not to mention the congressional review of the tragedy of the  deaths of American diplomats in Benghazi, the White House, President Obama and many leaders in the current administration are under extra scrutiny from the American public. It’s a perfect storm that has leaders scrambling for cover and trying to find an effective response that is prompt, truthful and devoid of politics. Is it possible that our government leaders will be able to admit wrongdoing, take responsibility and then announce changes to prevent a reoccurrence? You be the judge.

Jay Carney

Viral Sensations

A horrifying tale made headlines this week after three women, held captive for decades, were abruptly freed in an escape aided by a neighbor. What we know about the event is that a concerned neighbor, hearing the cries of one young woman and suspecting domestic abuse, kicked in a door to free her. Her subsequent 9-1-1 call and rescue of her and her companions by police made national headlines. The story is still unfolding. The man, Charles Ramsey, is a colorful personality who seems to have a knack for creative sound bytes in news interviews. Even fast-food chain McDonald’s, prominently mentioned as the food of choice by the local hero, restrained itself in turning it into a publicity opportunity–likely out of respect for the families and their privacy. Internet sensations like these seem to pop up regularly and oftentimes a company must decide whether to jump on the publicity bandwagon or to pass up the opportunity in the interest of courtesy or human dignity. As we watch this play out in national media, let’s see who takes the high road.

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P.S. In a recent update, McDonald’s confirmed it will offer him free burgers for a year. (Sensitively handled very well by their PR team.)

Columbia River Crossing: A Bridge to Far

It’s not the Bridge over the River Kwai, but is has generated nearly as much controversy.

The lift bridge over the mighty Columbia River on Interstate 5 between Portland, Ore. and Vancouver, Wash. is reaching the end of it’s useful life. As an important interstate corridor along the west coast, the federal government considers it an essential component of interstate commerce and part of an important transportation segment connecting Canada to the north and Mexico to the south.

This is where common agreement ends.

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A multi-year, multi-million dollar study sponsored by the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) and the Oregon and Washington Department’s of Transportation has led to more controversy and emotional disputes. The federal government has mandated a light rail component or refuses to contribute funding. Voters in Clark County Washington have (disappointedly) repeatedly voted down this option. In addition, the proposed bridge height has been a source of contention after it was revealed that the U.S. Coast Guard has not approved it and that several major employers upriver who depend on a tall bridge for commercial shipping of their products were not consulted. This could force their relocation or closure and the potential loss of many jobs–a knife in the heart of the southwest Washington economy. Just last week Jaimie Herrera-Buetler, a member of the House of Representatives from Vancouver issued a letter to Nancy Boyd, project director for the CRC questioning the budgeting of unrelated transportation projects that have somehow been attached to this project–like pork barrel projects adding unnecessary fat to an already overbudget planning process. Read it here. The story gets more interesting as you read an expose about the behind-the-scenes efforts of Patricia McCaig, consultant and confidant to Oregon Governor Kitzaber. Read it here. For the CRC side of the story, click here for the website: www.crc.org. For another perspective, read more here: www.crcfacts.info. No matter whose side you are on, clearly there is need for more public dialogue, straight talk and more information. There are other news articles in the Oregonian and a little history from the Columbian. After reading more about it, how do you feel about it?

Social Media and Pink Slime

Just finished reading an interesting article about the controversy surrounding pink slime. Click here.

Once the term was used, perhaps quite innocently, the word entered the mainstream and went viral on social media. Today, there is a lawsuit from Beef Products Inc. against ABC News when Diana Sawyer, the news correspondent, first coined the term in a news story. The outcome could have a broad effect on social media tactics in use today. What do you think is a company’s best response to this type of social media attack?

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Twitter Value Rockets to $10 Billion

Imagine that you’re the PR Director for a small, private company that is preparing for its Initial Public Stock Offering and hoping to secure the attention of institutional investors. What would constitute a home run is a glowing, front page article in the Wall Street Journal touting the numbers and the euphoria surrounding the next most anticipated Wall St. debut since Facebook. Today, it happened. Twitter, the latest social media darling received a glowing endorsement from corporate news editor Dennis Berman. The numbers appear to add up and seem rather convincing if you believe his analysis. Certainly some investors don’t share this enthusiasm, particularly after the miserable stock performance of Facebook following its own IPO. However, the significance of this positive news article in arguably one of the nation’s most respected business newspapers can’t be overlooked. What do you think is the value of this single article?

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Measuring Success in PR

Actions that get results is one way to measure a successful PR campaign. Since media outreach is a foundational principle of any campaign, consider the actions and results of a recent news announcement. The American Humane Association takes advantage of the collective public interest in the annual Academy Awards by issuing its own news release of pet Oscar(r) winners who win “Pawscars.” The creative news release, complete with video links appeared yesterday, distributed via PRNewswire.

The result? A news article and link in today’s issue of USAToday.

Pawscars

And that is just the beginning of the media coverage. It will likely be featured on numerous TV outlets and news media websites across the globe.

The power of PR to influence the media is real!

Rats in Manhattan: “Peoples nightmares are a good day for us.”

Hurricane Sandy brought out the rats. According to this CNN story, the floodwaters in New York subways drove these underground residents out of their homes and into the city: http://www.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_t2#/video/us/2013/02/20/tsr-rats-invade-ny-post-sandy.cnn

The county health department, city officials, residents, local business owners and pest departments all have something different to say. For pest control companies, one owner put it this way: “Peoples nightmares are a good day for us.”

This was a PR opportunity for entrepreneurial companies who want to get featured in the news. Business is booming and one way to take advantage of the news cycle is to promote your services when the opportunity presents itself.

Rodents in Manhattan
Rodents in Manhattan

Another example is when the maker of Oreo cookies tweeted a response to the temporary power blackout at the recent Superbowl, “you can still dunk in the dark,” and almost immediately tens of thousands of followers retweeted the message earning instant media attention.

Oreo

Can you think of any other recent examples of businesses taking advantage of current events?

Twitter Your Career Away

The power of words used on a social media platform have proven to be a destructive force for one journalist. According to Nir Rosen, a liberal freelance journalist who recently wrote about the Egyptian government overthrow, a series of unfortunate comments he made regarding Lara Logan, the American CBS correspondent who was sexually assaulted in Cairo resulted in him losing his job at New York University. In an article for Salon magazine http://www.salon.com/news/egyptian_protests/index.html?story=/mwt/feature/2011/02/17/nir_rosen_explains_twitter_controversy, he defended his reasoning and offered an apology. Ultimately, the irony is that the same people who read his questionable Twitter posts are not likely the same people who read the Salon magazine article. Another version of this news is rather shamelessly described in a very different opinion piece written for American Thinker magazine here: http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/02/risky_business_lara_logan_and.html. In my opinion, there is little doubt that Twitter has the same power to incite a mob mentality. At a minimum, such short “tweets” can cause both misunderstanding and misbehavior on the part of the reader or the writer. In America, the freedom of the press allows both of these written articles to exist without government censorship or recrimination, however, public opinion via the Internet certainly appears to be more abrupt and career limiting.

Lara Logan, CBS Journalist

Inflammatory News Stories or Journalism

Why do dead birds fall from the sky? Should you care? Seems like the news media likes to find connections in odd occurrences that continue to plague our country. The media it seems, loves a crisis or at least stories of animals dying en masse. Why is this news? It is certainly odd, one of the criteria for newsworthiness and it seems like there are an abundance of these events happening. This commentary on the recent avian news http://wp.me/pmsUw-1G suggests that this might be a case of human lemmings pushing each other over a cliff. View this video and then add your comments: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7211633n

Publicity, P.T. Barnum and KFC

In P.R., the father of publicity stunts, P.T. Barnum made a name for himself while promoting the circus. Whenever the American Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Baily circus came to town, it was usually preceded or accompanied by a publicity stunt. These stunts included parading an elephant through the town square, acrobats or trapeze artists performing feats of strength or skill to encourage public attention and get the media to promote the event. It’s no different from the stunts created by companies today to promote new products. Some of these stunts are intentional, others are not. For example CEO Steve Jobs of Apple periodically responds with rather blunt, condescending e-mails to customers who complain or question him. (see here: http://gawker.com/5641211/steve-jobs-in-email-pissing-match-with-college-journalism-student?skyline=true&s=i

Enter Kentucky Fried Chicken. More recently known as KFC, home of Colonel Sanders if you remember the iconic founder, the company has embarked on a new strategy to attract customers using the behinds of college co-eds. It’s crass and irrelevant. See the story here: http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2010-09-22-kfc22_ST_N.htm

College students market KFC product on their rears

The bottom line (pun intended) is exactly what one brand expert suggested: Clean up the stores and make a better product. Bunless chicken sandwiches?