Tag Archives | public relations

Can Brand Journalism and Ethics Co-Exist?

brand journalism ethic coexistDo ethics matter in business? Do they matter in journalism? How about brand journalism?

Let’s consider a fictional example.

“Did you use exceptional measures?”

“IF we used sarin, here’s how we used sarin.”

This is a pivotal exchange from an episode this season of Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom, which just ended its second season on HBO. Actually, the turning point is not this interview of a general who is – in the hopes of the questioning TV producer – whistleblowing on the illegal use of nerve gas during a Marine rescue in Pakistan. It’s the surreptitious editing of the clip after the interview to remove the word “if” by the mission-driven producer.

Of course, he was wrong to do that.

It’s easy to sit back in the armchair and throw darts at journalists in the heat of a story. Boo them even. Tell ourselves that yes, they are as devious and evil as we believe them to be.

Not that what the character Jerry Dantana did was right, but we CEOs, marketers, brand journalists, and PR pros all need to take a hard look at our own ethical behavior. How different are we, actually? We use influence every day to earn more revenue. And when we do, how truly honest are we in our drive to land that big contract?

For businesses, whether they are media companies, retailers, food giants or manufacturers, the line between persuasion and truth is fine indeed. But it’s important for us to hold that line. After all, we hold social contracts with our markets. Customers expect businesses to treat them well and fairly, and they should expect us to try to make the world a better place.

One thing I’ve learned from working in big corporate media companies: They are run by people, most of whom are well-intentioned. Yes, there are employees who, like Jerry Dantana, will believe that sliding the line just a little bit is okay if it helps the greater good. And I believe that many people come to work each day convinced that they are making the world a better place.

But when things go wrong – and they often do – it’s because it’s hard to see the big picture when you are just one small cog. The food industry is a good example of this phenomenon. I recently finished reading Michael Moss’s book, Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us. It would be easy for me to cast the food giants as evil, greedy corporations. After all, they’ve engineered our food to encourage us to eat more calories than we need – literally expanding their market.

But what I took away from the book is that many of the players believed they were doing good, by giving consumers what they wanted or solving the hunger crisis by making food more affordable. Over time, they held onto these beliefs even as they played a role in changing consumer behavior and shifting the problem from hunger to malnourishment (and making quite a lot of revenue and profit).

Journalists and businesspeople aren’t all that different from each other, much as we like to think they are. Both have the same goal: to persuade and influence. (No editor, producer or journalist will admit to this, of course. They’ll say that it’s the truth they’re after. But they do influence, whether intentionally or not.)

What sets journalists apart is a strong code of ethics to tell the truth for the betterment of society. Businesses might also have internal codes of ethics, and they might say that they’re doing good. But they also have a fiscal responsibility to owners, shareholders, and yes, customers. That fiscal responsibility means that brands have an inherent conflict of interest.

Their mission is to make more revenue and to do that they must sell more of their products. Objectivity plays a much smaller role. The only place you’ll find Macy’s Santa directing customers across the street to Gimbel’s is in the movies.

As brands become publishers, though, we need to reconsider the ethics of providing one-sided or incomplete information. There’s good fiscal reason to lean toward objectivity at the risk of sending customers elsewhere. People buy from brands they trust, and socially responsible companies tend to have higher revenues.

As marketing becomes more fact-based and news-driven – more focused on brand journalism – we need to recognize that it might be in our best interests not to edit the clip.

The End of the Age of Spin

Could it be possible? Are we entering the end of the age of spin?

Spin is the bane of every PR professional. It’s what everyone outside the profession – our colleagues, competitors, friends, family, the media – believe is our job.

But what is spin? The most generous view is that it’s telling the story the way the organization wants it told. But many people see it as nothing less than lying.

I believe that excellent PR pros don’t lie, at least not intentionally. We all know that misrepresentation has harsher consequences than telling the truth – and that we’ll almost always be caught. But honesty has many faces, and the truth is rarely cut and dry. There are often several shades, and they may all be true.

It all gets more complicated when you consider that we are well into the Brand Me economy. Social media and the Web have made us all more conscious of our personal reputations. This isn’t just limited to college students worried that their job prospects will be impacted by party pictures appearing on their Facebook profile, but also CEOs. What they say in defense of their corporations actions may follow them digitally the rest of their careers.

Which is why I found Jeff Hancock’s Ted Talk to be so interesting. His premise is that the digital trail is making us all more honest. Could it be then, that we’ll see the end of the age of spin in the near future?

Great Storytellers: Abraham Lincoln

We went to see the movie, Lincoln, last week. I think it has “Oscar” written all over it, but I’m no movie critic.

When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of Lincoln, and I read numerous books about him. I definitely enjoyed social studies more around President’s Day, when we created cutouts of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Washington out of black construction paper.

From a communications and influencer perspective, I have an even greater respect for the man. He quite effectively used words and stories to get his way. Stories and humor helped him deal with stress and depression, interject humor when things got dark, illuminate his meaning and make a point clearer.

Good stories work because they put abstract ideas into a concrete framework, allowing the people you need to persuade to visualize outcomes and get a sense of the emotional impact. It’s not always easy to do. Most storytellers have a well from which they draw, often using the same parables again and again (we see a lot of this on the campaign trail).

This is common among storytellers. We practice and we hone, until we have precisely the right story that can have the impact that we intended. With each telling, we refine the plot, embellish the characters, become clearer about what it all means and how it relates to the issue at hand.

The movie illustrates Lincoln’s ability to sway opinion by using stories, something that Louis P. Masur described in the New York Times several months ago:

Lincoln shrewdly used stories and parables in more complex ways as well. They would disarm opponents, or offer an easily digestible truism that seemed to support whatever position he might be taking.

What I also learned from the movie was that he was a shrewd politician, willing to compromise his own values for a larger good. In doing so, he saved a nation.

Go see Lincoln. I highly recommend.

Augmented Reality Brings Marketing to Life

Augmented reality is the next stop on the high-speed tech train. AR embeds information into images from the world around you. Focus your phone camera on a book cover, and Amazon’s Flow app will show you a description and allow you to buy it direct from Amazon.com.

Yes, I know, the book’s in front of you, so it seems silly, but imagine how you might use this for larger objects or photos of items for sale in the newspaper. Or perhaps that cute pair of shoes your friend is wearing.

Stella Artois’s Le Bar app allows you to point your phone down a city street and find all the bars serving its beer.

In this TED Talks video, Matt Mills of Aurasma demonstrates how his AR app can bring inanimate objects to life. He points out some compelling uses in education and customer service – for example, setting up your router, and for reading the newspaper. Point your camera at a sports photo and it instantly animates into the latest video coverage.

It’s easy to imagine AR’s utility in marketing and PR. A wealth of information can be attached to buildings, people, places, objects, images and more. That information can include one-click purchasing, product information, client testimonials, reviews and so much more.

It’s worth noting that much of this can be accomplished with QR codes, but AR will likely streamline the process (no need to create a QR code) and make the information more easily accessible. After all, your friend’s cute pair of shoes wouldn’t be as cute if they were stamped with a QR code.

Big, Fast Info Means Clever, Fast PR & Marketing

How much information is created every day? Zettabytes. At least. I’m not sure when we’ll reach yottabytes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened in my lifetime.

If it hasn’t happened already.

Every minute, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. So in some ways, it’s not surprising that YouTube is becoming a major platform for viewing news. A new report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that citizens are responsible for posting original videos of news events – more than one-third of the most-watched videos. Remember that YouTube is the #2 search engine. Talk about an opportunity for real-time PR.

But being fast isn’t enough. You need to be clever as well. Otherwise, how will you stand out among all this data?

If you just can’t visualize what that amount of data might look like, this infographic can help. Paris, here I come.

A Day in the Internet
Created by: MBAOnline.com

Turning Social Media Metrics into Business Metrics

How do you measure your social media program? In the number of likes or  followers? ROI? Clicks to your website?

All of these metrics have their place – just not in the C-suite. Executives and small business owners need an understanding of how their investment in social media is going to increase their bottom line. Full stop.

Most do not understand – or care to understand – that their organization has a lot of followers. The only time this does matter is when a crisis occurs and their Facebook page explodes with criticism. Reputation, they get.

In some ways, the challenges of social media measurement are the same as those of public relations measurement. You need to evaluate your programs using business metrics, and you need to communicate your results in the language of business.

I wrote an ebook about this several years ago, based on my graduate school work. I thought I’d share it here, so that you can download it (note that I wrote it while at Dow Jones, so they are the sponsor). I’ve also included a few updated tips for social media below the ebook.

Tips for Sharing Social Media Metrics with Executives

  1. Track sales. Nothing says success faster than revenue. Unlike PR, which has an indirect impact on sales, you can establish a direct connection between social media and sales. One way to do this is to use a call to action linked to a form on a landing page.
  2. Track opinion. Mine your conversations for opinions and suggestions about your products and services. This is a form of market research, and sometimes it’s even better than that, especially if customers uncover an unknown problem.
  3. Tie social media objectives to business objectives. This one is the most important. Don’t start any social media program without understanding how it supports the broader organizational objectives. Yes, everyone must be in social media today, but there are many ways to do it. Just make sure it makes sense for your business.
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Social Media as the Court of Public Opinion

Source: Causes.com

“Wow. Just wow.” Those were the leading words of Cecile Richards‘ letter to Planned Parenthood supporters about the impact of social media on her organization. This was the second example in just two weeks in which advocates using social media caused big organizations to reverse their positions.

Let’s run the numbers, shall we?

Susan G. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood:

The Entertainment Industry vs the Internet Industry (SOPA/PIPA debate):

Wow, indeed.

So what went wrong for these chastened organizations? Poor decision-making, sure. Total disregard for two-way communications? Uh-huh. Completely underestimating the wisdom of the crowd? Oh yeah.

For all people might scoff and criticize Mark Zuckerberg, this is exactly the type of open discourse that he imagines Facebook can help create. In his letter to investors, he says:

We believe building tools to help people share can bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people, more accountability for officials and better solutions to some of the biggest problems of our time.

Amazing, actually, that these three events (Komen, SOPA, Facebook IPO) happened within days of each other. I’m not sure if there is some greater god trying to tell us something or if it’s mere coincidence. Whatever it is, there are some important communications lessons here:

  • Behind-closed-doors decisions are gone forever. Transparency is essential for success in today’s marketplace. Every decision you make will be tried in the court of public opinion – and that court is much larger, and its voices much more amplified, than ever before.
  • Your stakeholders expect dialogue – before a decision is made. Communications theorists have called this two-way communications. In the days of mass media (yes, they are long gone), it was one (organization) to many (stakeholders). Now, it’s many stakeholders talking to one organization, and you’d better…
  • Listen, and I mean really listen – and don’t deny. It’s one thing to stand your ground. It’s another to be blind to reality. Komen apparently scrubbed negative comments from their Facebook wall (only in rare cases should you ever do this, and then only when it violates someone’s privacy). Organizations must take what their stakeholders say to heart and incorporate these views into the organization’s decision-making. Today, it’s the only path to success.

What leaders today need to realize: We no longer have a top-down command structure. It’s bottom up. The court of public opinion rules.

Diane Thieke is trying to reinforce her control over her kitchen. But, the dialogue isn’t going well. The three kittens are not budging from the kitchen counter. Follow her on Twitter.

How to Manage Your Social Media Crisis

One of the great fears that businesses have when they contemplate jumping into social media is that negative comments will create a social media crisis.

Fortunately, most businesses will not experience a social media crisis on the scale of the Dell laptop batteries or the Domino’s debacle. However, to paraphrase Reuters, “one woman’s crisis, is another woman’s rant.” Meaning: all things are relative.

All organizations, no matter how good, face criticism from time to time. On social networks, this criticism can easily become amplified. Knowing how to handle negative comments can help prevent things from getting out of control.

The first step is understanding who the commenter is and the nature of the comment. I recently helped a client who had a negative comment about their products posted to one of their distributors’ Facebook pages. I first asked the usual PR questions: Do you know this person? How credible and influential is she in your market? Is her statement true or does it include inaccuracies?

Clarifying incorrect information is essential, but we have to remember that opinion can’t be argued. Thus, we responded with facts, but gave the poster the opportunity to voice her opinion.

In these situations, I usually refer to the Air Force Blog Assessment tool to determine how and if to respond to negative comments. Though several years old, it’s still useful and relevant today for all social media channels. David Meerman Scott originally blogged about it, as did Jeremiah Owyang, who posted it on his Flickr account.

I always provide a copy of this tool to clients as part of their social media training, and I encourage community managers to post this on the wall by their desk for easy reference.

Diane Thieke is busy dealing with a crisis of her own: There’s no cream in the frig. It’s time to visit a satellite office where coffee and all its accoutrements are readily available. Follow her on Twitter: @thiekeds.

Announcing: Simply Talk Media

Technology is profoundly changing the way we communicate. This has not happened overnight, of course. It has happened in a series of developments over several decades.

The first wave I noticed was back in 1984, when talk of an electronic newspaper became a reality for me. I was a Dow Jones Newspaper fund editing intern visiting The Wall Street Journal campus in Princeton, N.J. Sure, the tour of the new pagination system was fascinating. But it was the little side project that caught my eye: a searchable, electronic database of The Wall Street Journal.

Ten years later, the second wave: the Internet arrives, along with groundbreaking news sites like WSJ.com. Those were fascinating times to be the competitive intelligence manager for Dow Jones Interactive, and later, Factiva.

Ten more years, and the third wave, arguably the most important: social media grabs the world’s imagination.

This shift in the way we communicate has affected not just how we talk to each other, but also how we assemble, organize, market, work, play, entertain, and much, much more. This shift is important and is just getting underway. Don’t get me started on mobile!

I forget, sometimes, how close I am to all this change, how much digital flows through my bloodstream. I’ll admit, I can get rather geeky (we geek girls, are IN, remember). I tend to think everyone is live streaming Facebook announcements.

But, I’ve learned that not everyone has time to stay ahead of the rapidly changing world of communication. Sometimes, we just want the Cliff Notes.

That’s why I’ve started Simply Talk Media, a new communications consulting firm to help small and mid-sized businesses use modern communications channels to talk to their clients, prospects, media, and community.