Media Aesthetic Archive

Don’t Get Trumped by False Media Narratives

May 18th, 2011

In the past we’ve written about the PR tactic of riding the media coattails of major scheduled events.  It’s hard enough to drum up publicity from scratch, so when possible, your business should leverage existing high-profile news to your advantage.  For example, accounting firms can get PR mileage around April 15, the same with gyms around national health observances, and so forth.

But in public relations there’s always an exception, and that applies to media narratives.  Just because some item or matter is getting buzz doesn’t mean it’s best to cinch your horse to it.  And the biggest hype-fest of the moment is Donald Trump’s flirting to run for the US presidency.

Had Trump ultimately launched a formal presidential campaign, it might have presented other colorful CEO-types nationwide an opening to extol the virtues of brash business practices, in an attempt to get on the media map.  In fact, numerous talking heads and commentators were absolutely certain Trump would seek high office.

This is the point where smart PR counselors would advise their clients about the highly scientific, intellectually rigorous evaluation process known as the “smell test”…  If at a minimum one is a student of history, then a quick gloss would reveal that every president since 1961 has held a prior political title – and the one right before that had quite a bit of legitimate global stature.

So beware the lure of questionable media narratives, particularly ones based on absolutely outlandish and farcical premises.

Blog Aesthetic Memory Lane!

May 11th, 2011

Revisiting some of our favorite blog posts:

• foursquare’s online apology — crisis PR done the right way:

• How Microsoft re-booted its crisis PR strategy on the XBox:

• Will Verizon need a crisis PR plan for the iPhone?

• Five types of PR agencies to avoid:

Happy reading!

Is Vogue Taking Crisis PR Lessons From Asad Regime?

May 11th, 2011

In a recent post we offered Vogue Magazine a four-step crisis management plan to dig the publication out of its ongoing PR crisis.  As many media watchers know, Vogue published a spectacularly ill-timed, fawning profile of Syrian First Lady Asma Asad, whose husband’s regime continues to lead a violent and murderous campaign to crush popular dissent in his country.  To date, the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria estimates that nearly 800 people have been killed in the crackdown, and 9,000 are in detention.

Vogue’s leadership apparently has taken a very patient wait-and-see approach to managing the PR fallout from glamorously featuring a family with the blood of thousands of citizens on its hands.  That was until yesterday, when Vogue executed the mother of all careless crisis public relations tactics.

Vogue deleted the Asma story from its website.

Yes, Vogue Magazine “disappeared” the article, much like Syria’s government “disappears” citizens who protest the Asad regime.  Instead of smart crisis management, Vogue’s literal “nothing to see here” approach feeds precariously into an all-too-easy-to-script media narrative.

The elementary failure of Vogue’s PR strategy is that the Syria story simply will not go away, and not for a long time.  As long as the Arab Spring continues, as long as Syrian forces use violence to counter protests, as long as Syrian secret police get caught on camera beating and torturing citizens in full public view, Vogue will not escape this crisis PR nightmare of its own making.

There Went Your Big PR Announcement – Now What?

May 4th, 2011

Wait… you’re reading this blog today?!  And therein lies an important PR lesson.  When something so monumental and historic suddenly happens, you can bet it will supplant every other major story in the news.

In this case, Osama’s killing quickly silenced numerous media storylines.  Goodbye (for the moment, anyway) Syria, Libya, tsunamis and nuclear power plants, tornados, Sony data leaks, celebrity crime waves, sports playoffs, and so much more.

Strategic public relations is all about planning, planning, planning, and then pulling the trigger.  In other words, you want to line up talking points, fact sheets, media training, media targets, and other elements before launching your PR campaign.  That way you maximize the likelihood of publicity and positive press.  Now, if you’re smart and plan this way, usually a target date is selected to start the publicity blitz.  Think grand opening, product launch, major announcement – these are not accidental events.  They are major milestones that happen only once, so they need to be squeezed for every possible PR opportunity.

But what happens when something like Obama vs. Osama suddenly happens?  Say you’re a CEO who’s spent months planning a new product launch, put millions of dollars into the next-big-thing, only to have a major event out of your control take place.  Gone is all the media attention you worked so hard for and deserve…. or maybe not.  Three things to consider:

First, you did plan for these contingencies… right?  Every major PR blitz must be viewed as a chess game, and that includes a big happening that can steal your prime position.  You must anticipate political events, stock market crashes, a competitor beating you to the punch, and more.

Second, if you don’t have a Plan B in place, you might get away with delaying your announcement.  Still, this is rarely ideal, as PR campaigns often tease media about the big announcement ahead of time, and you don’t want to leave interested audiences hanging without a strong explanation (FYI – such non-eyebrow rolling explanations rarely exist).

Third – and most importantly – if a delay is out of the question, at least know that the major event will lose media attention over time.  That means your prior planning needs to consider how to get multiple bites at the media apple.  Simple one-offs never make a good PR strategy; you have to think about the long-term and how to leverage a single announcement into an enticing media opportunity for weeks and months to come.

How Vogue Magazine Can Apologize for the Syria Issue

April 27th, 2011

As the time this post goes online, Syria’s brutal crackdown on citizen protestors continues.  President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have massacred an estimated 350 people since Syrians began popular uprisings several weeks ago.  Sadly, Assad’s reign of terror follows in his father’s footsteps, who ruled Syria with an iron grip and himself committed genocide against his own people, killing 10,000 of them in one episode.

Syria’s regime is notorious for torture, plotting assassinations, consorting with terrorist regimes… seriously, one gets breathless taking inventory of the Assad family’s legacy of murder and tyranny that has spanned decades.

So, as this blog comments routinely on media aesthetic, we (along with countless others) were perplexed and repulsed to see Vogue Magazine give a fawning profile of Asma al-Assad, Syria’s first lady, in its March issue.  Enough has been said about this insulting and disgusting feature in Vogue, so this post isn’t about heaping more (richly deserved) scorn on the magazine’s editors.  Rather, we’re here, in the interest of professionalism, to offer advice to Vogue on how it can right this epic wrong.

Stop defending the story.  Chris Knutsen, the story’s editor, stood by the story even though it ignored the Assad family’s atrocities.  The first step in crisis PR is for the client to acknowledge publicly that something bad or questionable has happened.  That Vogue insists on standing by its tragically timed profile flies in the face of this basic tenet of crisis management.

Stop being absurd.  Seriously, Mr. Knutsen?  The editor even went so far as to not rule out doing a similar profile of North Korea’s dictator!  (Thankfully, as The Atlantic points out, Kim Jong-Il is not believed to be married.)

Apologize immediately.  Smart crisis PR counsels the client’s leadership to get out in front of the issue (no pun intended) to avoid further damage.  In this case, notoriously frigid Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour can film a brief but sincerely apologetic statement on the matter and post that online; it’s only a small gesture but shows that the Vogue brand realizes how hurtful this issue was.

Profile the heroes, not the murderers.  If fashion is about new trends, what bigger trend dominates the news – and culture, society, global interaction – at the moment than the Arab SpringVogue could do itself a huge favor, and celebrate democracy, by profiling the brave and courageous leaders of the Middle East’s freedom movement.

Just like that, four simple tips that any fashion authority can – and should – embrace.

The Publishing Industry’s Lame Crisis Management Playbook

April 20th, 2011

Greg Mortenson – author of now-in-question memoir “Three Cups of Tea” – is giving the public a real-time crisis PR train wreck situation to watch.  This past week, both 60 Minutes and venerable adventure author Jon Krakauer questioned the veracity of Mortenson’s best-selling account of building schools in Pakistan.  It ain’t pretty – Krakauer’s blistering critique is titled “Three Cups of Deceit.”

Many angry voices are joining this debate about the latest high-profile memoir scandal; after all, the media narrative has strong legs given the tremendous fallout from James Frey’s fabricated (and also best-selling) memoir “A Million Little Pieces.” Mortenson’s attempt at damage control is riddled with double-speak and thinly veiled “oops” which do no favors for his cause.

But we’re not here to talk about the fabricated content; rather, as crisis management observers, we’re interested in how Mortenson’s publisher, Penguin/Viking Press, responds to the public outcry.  Anyone can rightfully heap scorn on Viking for having first made a ton of cash and now examining Mortenson’s book for inaccuracy(s).  So, Viking’s claim that it will “carefully review the materials” is extremely flat-footed on the crisis PR front.

How about a stronger condemnation, discussing next steps specifically and improvements in the internal review process, and communicating grave concern about the damage this does to future memoirists?  Why isn’t this Viking’s standard crisis management plan?

Ideally big publishers will be careful with checking the accuracy of future memoirs, that is if they want to preserve any sort of credibility with this medium.  But even if they do review manuscripts for truth vs. fiction beforehand, what is the crisis PR plan they have in place when – not if – the next great memoir is revealed as a total flight of fancy?

Corporate and Litigation PR Must Sing in Tune

April 8th, 2011

Anyone who doubts high-stakes lawsuits require smart litigation PR should ready our post today, where we (continue to) deconstruct the awful media narrative of the music industry self-immolating on its tried and true, counter-productive PR strategy.

Mashable has a great post today about the music industry’s looming trial against LimeWire, the file distribution service they accuse of illegally distributing digital music.  When you have a lawsuit with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, it’s no longer a matter of “if” but “when” the proceedings will get heavy media attention.

We’ve written here and here about how tone deaf the music industry’s PR strategy is.  Not only do the heavy-handed statements alienate consumers, they also show incredible contempt for technological advancement, a trend the music industry has famously ignored at its own collective peril.

But, even if the music industry understood the power of positive and persuasive PR, can we assume that their publicists are coordinating messaging with their legal teams?  Probably not, as the Mashable article shows.  The plaintiffs’ prime argument basically amounts to “technology is evil.”  The best comment to the article so far is this:

Corporate titans and captains of industry, know this – if your media team and legal team aren’t coordinating, and litigation PR doesn’t have a special place in your set of business priorities, you’re only hurting your bottom-line.

Big Record Labels Ready to Rain on Amazon’s Cloud

March 30th, 2011

Once again, technology has improved consumer options for music listening.  And, once again, sadly, the music industry is predictably blowing the dust off its “Obtuse PR Tactics” textbook.

Litigation PR plays a big role in the school of obtuse PR, and offers perspective in understanding what’s about to unfold.  When major corporate entities file lawsuits, smart public statements help advance the case in the court of public opinion.  Not-so-smart public statements, conversely, can hamper public attitudes.

We’ve written before about how record labels are, ahem, tone deaf to consumer sentiment and public perception of mindless business practices.  And they’re about to step in it all over again.

Background: Amazon has stolen the fickle tech spotlight by announcing its new cloud drive music service.  Basically, people can now store digital music on an account and stream songs to integrated devices.  This allows potentially limitless music storage, compared to the hard drive confines of a computer or portable music player.

In truth, Amazon’s move isn’t revolutionary technology; rather, it’s a smart assessment of consumer preferences and leverage of wireless bandwidth.  We’d argue that the shift from cassettes to CDs was way more important, as that transition represented a dramatic boost in enjoying audio quality.

Regardless, the music industry seems ready to fight tooth and nail against advancements and technological trends.  Here are choice music executive quotes on Amazon’s cloud:

“Keeping legal options open.”

“The locker service that Amazon is proposing is unlicensed by Sony Music.”

“It sounds like legalized murder to me.” (Seriously?!?)

In other words, the record labels seem ready to bellow: “We will sue Amazon, as scorched-earth litigation PR is in our collective genome.”  Instead of such statements, what if the RIAA, on behalf of the record labels, simply said:

“Cloud music is an interesting technology development.  We’ll keep our eye on it.”

See that?  Framing the industry’s official position as passively interested in no way compromises litigation potential.  Such a statement certainly helps avoid negative headlines and mistaken context as the cloud music media narrative gains momentum.  Better to be a bit mysterious and noncommittal in this case, as opposed to playing the oppressive tactic of “let’s sue ‘em into oblivion.”

The Fractal Theory of Crisis Management and Public Relations

March 25th, 2011

Besides being fun for hippies to stare at, fractals offer enormous intuitive and guidance value.  Definitely one of the cooler mathematical models, fractals predict patterns in nature.  Fractal theory has enormously advanced many fields, including ecology, medicine, even special effects.

Of course, one might hope fractals can predict patterns in media coverage.  Wishful thinking… right?  Maybe not.

• Four years ago, Oprah Winfrey fielded allegations that the school she funded in South Africa was physically abusing students.  Oprah apologized and promised reforms.

• One year ago, Wyclef Jean fielded allegations that his Haiti charity had questionable accounting practices.  Wyclef (sort of) apologized and promised reforms.

• And the latest – Madonna is fielding allegations that the school she funded in Malawi is now defunct due to unethical management and cost overruns.  Madonna (you guessed it) quasi-apologized and (sort of) promised reforms.

If you’re a celebrity and wish to start your own overseas charity, how do you break this miserable crisis PR failure pattern?  Certainly not an easy thing to do, but one thing is clear: before you get started, have a respected third party – who’s a trusted authority on legal and ethical charity practices – validate and support your charity before you launch your operation.  Now that’s a PR tactic worth repeating.  Just sayin’…

For Parent Companies, Some Kids Just Can’t Leave the House

March 24th, 2011

MySpace’s downward spiral has definitely had its share of train-wreck watchers, but few things could have been more surprising than TechCrunch’s post yesterday about just how rapidly the site’s decline is accelerating.

We’ve written before about what MySpace might have done to save itself, at least with aggressive PR steps.  But, if the site’s numbers are dropping this quickly, all that’s left is what PR playbook News Corporation must run as MySpace’s parent company.

For starters, it’s unlikely News Corp will get caught up publicly on the cost issue.  Yes, $580 million – what News Corp paid for MySpace – could have bought lots of tickets to recent Fox film studio turkeys.  But for a company whose quarterly profits recently doubled to $254 million, it certainly can absorb the loss over time.

So if the numbers aren’t the biggest sting, then maybe the stigma associated with MySpace’s awful and cheesy reputation is what hurts most… right?  Nope, wrong on that account too.  News Corp’s red-headed stepchild Fox certainly isn’t shy about promoting the lowest of low-brown content.  Just look at how Fox Cable Networks’ 75% ownership of the National Geographic Channel has polluted that otherwise globally respected brand.

And of course, c’mon News Corp – calling MySpace the “premier lifestyle and social-networking site” – really??  Ditch this language, please.

Maybe all that’s left is for News Corp simply to own up that the entire transaction was a debacle, revel in the absurdity of the whole thing and move on – such an admission might humanize a notoriously unhumanizable CEO.  And that’s the winning PR strategy.