Public Relations’ Brave New World

Posted November 23rd, 2016 in Public Relations by Jeff Bentoff

Welcome to the brave new world of public relations. Issue a news release, get on TV and in the newspaper, and all done — right?

social-media-overload

Uh, wrong. If that was ever a good strategy, it’s more wrong now than ever.

Why? We all know how the media has gone from a few outlets controlled by gatekeepers, to an infinite number of bully pulpits. With various social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and more), news sources on the web (traditional media outlets, web-only sources like Huffington Post and more), podcasts and easy availability of video and its widespread use — how should you get your message out?

With all the changes in communication, public relations really is about those two words — “public” and “relations” — more than ever. It’s about relating to the public. Not talking at the public or the media. It’s about talking — and — listening. About conversing. Going to where your audience is — and they’re doing more than watching the evening news or reading the morning paper, if even that, these days.

That’s the bad news — the challenge of a new environment.

The good news? More ways to get your message out. More accessible ways. And less expensive ways.

This new world of PR is constantly changing. But it’s exciting. And it can be very effective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obama and the media

Posted April 1st, 2013 in Government, Media Relations, Politics by Jeff Bentoff

This interesting article says President Barack Obama is managing the media in unprecedented ways. Do you agree? Or is it pretty common, maybe the new normal in the current era of self-publishing via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, blogs, you name it?

 

 

 

Campaign reporters allowing quote vetos

Posted July 21st, 2012 in Campaigns, Government, Media Relations, Television by Jeff Bentoff

The New York Times this week revealed an open secret in D.C. — national campaign reporters are now allowing political sources to approve or edit their interview quotes before potential publication. This is a new practice in political reporting that wasn’t widely known about until this article.

As a former print reporter and government spokesman, I’ve never seen media in Milwaukee agree to such ground rules. It’s always been a matter of sources speaking carefully or suffering the consequences.

No such post-interview editing agreement for TV news interviews takes place that I’m aware of. By definition, it wouldn’t even be possible for live interviews. Gaffs and out-of-context usage comes out of TV interviews routinely. But political operatives want power over interview quotes where they can get it to avoid an inadvertent word or sentence throwing their campaigns off message. And national print reporters must be agreeing because of a desperate need for the interviews. (Despite Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Reuters and The Times consenting to such approvals, AP doesn’t allow this practice, and The Times is reviewing its adherence.)

A second Times story this week points to an irony: While journalists don’t like having to allow sources to veto quotes, journalists also would prefer to veto their own TV soundbites appearing in political ads. In the last week, talking head pundits commenting on Mitt Romney’s tax non-disclosures found their televised opinions almost instantly appearing in political TV ads by both sides. Even retired NBC anchor Tom Brokaw hates finding himself in political ads. And there’s nothing he can do about it.

Trying to control an interview is an age-old game. At least for this campaign season, political sources and campaigns have the advantage.

How to get on page one of The New York Times

Posted June 11th, 2012 in Media Relations, Public Relations by Jeff Bentoff

This article explains.

 

Itching for a TV fight

Posted March 12th, 2012 in Communications, Government, Media Relations, Public Relations, Television by Jeff Bentoff

Milwaukee media consumers, especially local TV news viewers, may be more familiar with “instigative journalism” than “investigative journalism.”

As I wrote in a prior post, instigative journalism is the clever term comedian Jon Stewart coined for reporters prodding an official with someone else’s trash talk, hoping to gin up a fight.

Sure, Milwaukee sees its share of excellent investigative pieces. But like everywhere else, we sure have a lot of instigative pieces.

I was involved on the receiving side on many an instigative story over the last year when I served as Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s deputy chief of staff and handled his media relations. That’s because of Sheriff David Clarke Jr.’s incessant verbal attacks on Abele — and the media’s passion to try to get the two to verbally duke it out.

President Obama, like many a seasoned political pro, tends not to take this type of bait. Similarly Abele, a political newbie, didn’t either. What’s intriguing and amusing was how Abele’s non-combative responses were characterized — or mischaracterized.

Not to pick on a single station or report, because the practice of trying to goad officials into a fight is common locally and nationally, but here’s one example. You’ll see that Clarke takes a pile of verbal potshots at Abele. Abele calmly responds to a reporter, but with nothing even close to a personal return attack. Nonetheless, the piece leads off with the anchor declaring that Abele “fires back” and describes a “heated exchange.” Yet in reality, no fire, no heat. Unless you count the reporter adjectives.

Obviously media likes a juicy story, not a boring one. A fight between two big-name officials brings viewers and readers.

 

“Instigative” journalism

Posted March 8th, 2012 in Communications, Government, Media Relations, Public Relations, Television by Jeff Bentoff

We’ve all seen it, especially those of us in the media relations or politics fields. Now Jon Stewart has put a name to it: “Instigative journalism.”

As Steward explained the term in a piece this week on The Daily Show: “It’s like investigative journalism. Instead of investigating, they instigate. They prod the person at the podium with someone else’s trash talk to see if they gin up a fight.”

His segment, “A View to a Grill,” showed reporter after reporter at a news conference this week throwing charges from political opponents at President Obama and asking for his response — clearly hoping for a fight. Stewart suggested that reporters cap their questions with: “You gonna take that s***?” to ensure proper provocation.

This demonstrates just how much TV news loves conflict. Read about local “instigative journalism” here in Milwaukee in a future post.

Bentoff Communications Update

Posted January 29th, 2012 in Uncategorized by Jeff Bentoff

Bentoff Communications is returning from a temporary hiatus while owner Jeff Bentoff worked as deputy chief of staff for Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. With Abele’s re-election almost certain (no candidates chose to run against him), Jeff recently announced that he is leaving that position and returning to consult for businesses and non-profits through Bentoff Communications.

“Jeff provided invaluable leadership and skills that enabled me and my new administration to successfully communicate our goals to the public and begin to implement major reforms in Milwaukee County government,” Abele said.

Here in our blog, Jeff will be sharing some of his recent communications experiences and insights, so stay tuned.

What Osama bin Laden’s death means in the PR world today

Posted May 2nd, 2011 in Uncategorized by Jeff Bentoff

Here’s an instructive column I came across today explaining how the news of Osama bin Laden’s killing will affect PR projects in the short term. Hint: If you have a story you’re pitching today — or this week — good luck.

It’s a good explanation of how planned PR initiatives take a back seat when big news, even news less monumental than this, breaks out. Kinda obvious to those of us in the business, but worth reading.

The killing of the world’s top terrorist of course trumps any other issue today, as it should, and makes considerations of PR strategies seem trivial. Our admiration and thanks goes out to the brave military who accomplished the mission in Pakistan yesterday and our leaders who directed the operation. We hope this action make the world a safer place.

 

 

Wisconsin senators in Illinois and Gov. Walker fight for TV time

In urging the 14 Wisconsin Democratic state senators to return from Illinois to the Badger State capitol, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has said repeatedly they have to be “in the arena.” Whether the Wisconsin Dems in Illinois are in the Wisconsin political arena is a point of debate.

But are they staying in the Wisconsin media arena from outside the state border?

The Dems clearly have a structural disadvantage in staying in the local media eye, particularly in the all-important TV eye: They’re not in Madison as usual, where Wisconsin TV can easily cover them.

How’s the war for TV going?

For anyone not aware, the 14 Senate Democrats left Wisconsin one week ago to prevent a vote on Walker’s budget repair bill, which cuts state worker pay and benefits and eliminates most collective bargaining rights for most employees. The Senate Republican majority needs at least one Democrat to attend a floor session reach the quorum needed to allow a vote. By staying out of state, the Dems are stopping the Senate Republicans, who are in the majority, from passing the bill.

Republican Walker has taken full advantage of the Dems’ absence and his stature as governor, becoming a common face on TV and print in Wisconsin and nationally. He’s held numerous news conferences. He’s conducted many local and national one-on-one interviews, including a live session on ABC’s “Good Morning” with host George Stephanopoulus.

To keep his messages in the media, he held a live “Fireside Chat” (though without a lit fireplace) this week that pre-empted local evening news, receiving uninterrupted, unedited coverage without reporter questions on seemingly all Wisconsin news channels. Throughout his continuing media blitz, he’s appeared very comfortable on camera and stayed on message.

Highlighting the Dems’ distance from the capitol, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald this week held a conference call meeting with two of the absent senators. Media attended. The two senators’ name tags were visible at Fitzgerald’s table, but their seats were visibly empty. Their voices were heard on a speaker phone, but the visual of their voices through a speaker didn’t help them.

So how are the Dems doing, away from the Wisconsin media machine?

The Senate Dems put together an immediate live response to Walker’s fireside chat that was aired on TV (with some media Q&A) from their undisclosed location. In terms purely of the visuals, the Dems’ broadcast looked less polished, which is understandable given their location was the basement of a hotel. But they were on TV when they needed to be.

Sen. Mark Miller televised respone to Gov. Walker "fireside chat"

The media seems a bit fascinated by the Dems absence, which benefits the senators. Sure, the media uses words like “fled,” “skipped town,” “are on the lam” and similar jocular terms in describing the Dems’ relocation.

But the absent Dems have been interviewed by phone, with comments appearing on air and in print. They’ve allowed some TV and photographers into their “undisclosed location” – apparently an Illinois hotel – with footage and interviews showing up on air in places such as on Milwaukee’s ABC news affiliate (WISN) and on the CBC Evening News.

The coverage often makes them look under siege and thus creates sympathy. Today’s New York Times ran a front-page story entitled “Life on the run for Democrats in union fights” about them and Indiana state reps in a similar situation.

And despite their situation, they’ve managed to appear remotely on national TV — for example, Sen. Jon Erpenbach made satellite appearances on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” and on the Colbert Report. The Colbert Report segment is an hilarious, must-see.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Wisco Inferno – Jon Erpenbach
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

A main reason this story is a national story is the great visuals of large numbers of protesters. The protesters are colorful, articulate, passionate and carry clever signs. They return in huge numbers day after day after day. And these sorts of protests in the U.S. are, at least in this era, unique. (Early prediction – between the demonstrations in Cairo and Madison, Time Magazine will name “The Protester” as person of the year.)

I am a little surprised that, in this era of YouTube, the Dems haven’t compensated for their physical absence with easily accessible and effective online video tools. Web cams, Flip cameras, YouTube postings, Skype interviews – these are all part of how everyone from teenagers to national anchors communicates with each other these days. They would have allowed the Dems to provide video to  TV and directly to constituents via the web.

In media interviews, the Dems said they left for Illinois hastily, not even packing changes of clothes. So grabbing the webcam was probably far from their minds, assuming they use webcams.

Critics see another kind of lack of planning, this one by national unions, that cannot be explained by a need for a hasty exit from Wisconsin. Forbes contributor Rick Ungar, in a piece, “Public Employee Unions Failing Badly At Public Relations,” argues that unions nationally “had to know this was coming – and yet, they were completely unprepared.”

“In an era where the public is all too ready to blame state employees for what they perceive as feeding at the public trough – while those in the private sector are left to suffer the ravages of a deep recession – the union PR machine has been anything but effective,” Ungar wrote of the national labor movement.

Since the Wisconsin protests began, labor has been running TV and prints ads, keeping toe to toe with the ads supporting Walker. But could labor have avoided the situation in the first place by building a better case for unions over the last few years, as Ungar writes? What do you think?

Too cute by three

Posted February 9th, 2011 in Communications, Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media, Twitter, Uncategorized by Jeff Bentoff

PR and ad pitches tied to current events can be very effective, as can using humor — when it makes sense and is done with care. But people – please, please, please be sensitive.

Critics have understandably savaged three recent corporate PR and ad efforts for insensitivity, ridiculousness or both. Perhaps the companies simply wanted good press and they goofed big time. Or perhaps, as a few have suggested, they purposely flirted with controversy, hoping for attention, even negative attention. If so, they got it.

Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3M to lose customers who previously loved them.

Three recent PR / Ad Hall of Shame nominations…

First, commentators have almost universally trashed Groupon’s Super Bowl ad, which insensitively morphed from talking about the Tibetan crises to getting a deal at a Tibetan restaurant. Watch:

The interwebs are full of criticisms about this, plus you can read Groupon’s unsuccessful attempt at explaining why they did what they did. One tweet during the Super Bowl said it all: “Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3M to lose customers who previously loved them.”

Second, a similar example of trying to find humor in exploiting tragedy comes from fashion maven Kenneth Cole. Cole himself allegedly sent this tweet, which a company store in San Francisco apparently liked so much it turned it into a window display:

In addition to bringing tons of angry commentary, Cole’s tweet prompted an angry critic to create a mock Twitter account (@kennethcolepr) that is faux tweeting as the company with sarcastic little ditties such as: “Jeffrey Dahmer would have eaten up our spring collection.”

Finally, Allstate Corp. last week issued “a tongue-in-cheek press release correlating zodiac signs to accident rates, but nobody got the joke,” according to a CNNMoney story. Allstate was forced to retract its release, saying that it “led to some confusion around whether astrological signs are part of the underwriting process. Astrological signs have absolutely no role in how we base coverage and set rates.”

What’s amazing about all three efforts is that weren’t necessary because of external pressure. Someone simply dreamed them up and thought they were good ideas. Someone approved them — probably a lot of people, including lawyers. Yet somehow no one saw the train wrecks they were creating.

The lesson here: Before communicating, think about your goal. Think about your audience. Think from every angle about how your communication will be perceived.

And don’t joke about human rights violations or civil unrest.