Monday, November 30, 2009

Hope for the Media Pros. Opportunity for the Masses.

Is journalism really dying? What is to become of journalism as the digital age marches forward? According to News Cycle, there have been 14,662 newspaper jobs lost in 2009. Circulation figures are falling. Editorial staff levels are being cut to the bone, and just recently AP laid off 90 newsroom employees. Online subscription models are unpopular and digital ad sales unpredictable.

It may be that journalism isn’t dying, but just migrating to the Blogosphere as it did with television and radio before that. Google CEO Eric Schmidt sees a need to differentiate between “bloggers” and those in traditional news that also blog. There’s no bright line, to be sure. But there is a sense that the distinction runs far deeper than the technology.

In Zachary Seward’s recent piece on Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Schmidt said he thinks blogs from legitimate organizations will be “treated differently than an individual blogger who’s using his or her right of free expression to say whatever he thinks.” He cites the presence of an editor, as an example. “You know, an editor that’s not your mom,” he said.

It may not be an official distinction, but it does show that many of us are still willing to hold real journalism aloft and differentiate it from hobbyists who just express opinions, as opposed to gathering information. That said, some amateurs are taking advantage of the opportunities created by the technology, and taking it rather seriously.

The Washington Post is mining this newfound trove of bloggers to find America’s Next Great Pundit. The contest puts 10 entrants through their pundit-paces with a 750-word column challenge, testing their blogging skills (write tight and bright, switch gears and respond to a reader comment), and taking live questions from readers.

The Prize? The lucky winner has the opportunity to join the Post’s Pulitzer-winning stable of opinion contributors in the print and online editions.

Much remains to be seen where technology will ultimately take the news business. But one thing is certain. Journalism is far from dead. Whether it’s mortally wounded or rapidly evolving may be one of the most important questions of our time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'Tis the season for thanks and giving

Our long-time client, Amy Robinson of the Direct Selling Association, appeared live on the NBC “Today” show Monday to kick off the 16th annual Holiday Toy and Gift Drive. She presented more than $15.7 million dollars in products and cash donated by 25 DSA member companies to help needy children and families across the US. What a great way to spend a morning. But more importantly, what a difference a day makes.

These companies donated a host of items ranging from cosmetics and children’s clothing to backpacks and jewelry. For so many children and adults across the country, gifts presented by groups like DSA are the only ones they'll receive this holiday season. And at a time when so many people are in need but few organizations are in a position to give, the kindness and generosity extended by DSA's member companies means so much.

Over the last six years, DSA member companies have donated more than $52 million in products, services and cash to the TODAY Holiday Toy and Gift Drive. The following DSA member companies donated this year: 4Life, Amway, Arbonne, Avon, Blessings Unlimited, Creative Memories, CUTCO, DeTech, Essential BodyWear, Jafra, L'Bel Paris, Lia Sophia, Mary Kay, Oxyfresh, PartyLite, RealKidz Clothing, Rodan & Fields, Shaklee, Stampin' Up!, TARRAH Cosmetics, Team National, The Pampered Chef, Thirty One Gifts, USANA, Vantel Pearls

Nine companies will be featured individually on TODAY over the holidays to present their donations.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Media Panel Cites Importance of Digital Communications in Crisis Situations

Last week at the American Nuclear Society (ANS) Winter Meeting, I organized and moderated a panel composed of four of the best energy journalists around: George Lobsenz, Executive Editor of The Energy Daily; Angie Pointer of Dow-Jones; Jim VanNostrand, Web Editor of McClatchy Newspapers; and Matt Wald of The New York Times. Attendees said it was one of the best sessions at the conference, which, of course, was completely due to the insights of the panel members.

One of the first questions was about reaching the media in an emergency situation. Matt Wald gave an answer that every communicator should pay attention to: any company dealing with the media and the public only via phone and fax during a crisis is asking for trouble. It takes Web-based communication, with its instant accessibility, to be timely and relevant. This doesn’t make the news release obsolete, but it does mean that it needs to be pushed electronically, posted on Web sites and constantly updated. And it should be augmented by other Web-based communications that push information to media and the public.

All the journalists agreed that scientists and engineers are great sources of technical information, but they need to present it in English rather than acronyms and “tech-speak.” Views on bloggers as sources of information were mixed, with all agreeing that they choose their information sources with great care

How to interest a journalist in covering your story? According to these panelists, ask yourself, “why should they care?” as you’re formulating your pitch. Editors like stories about people, counterintuitive facts and surprising anecdotes. That’s why The New York Times placed on Page One a story about a worker who walks through crucial areas of a nuclear plant every hour as part of its fire protection protocol, but put a story on a production record set by a nuclear power plant at the back of the far-less-read science section. The first offered more human interest.

Dan Yurman, a well-regarded blogger on nuclear energy, did a great job in covering this panel as well as another interesting session at the conference, sponsored by AREVA and attended by PCG’s Laura Hermann and Conor Bernstein, on blogging and other social media. The irony of mainstream media representatives being covered by new media makes me smile – and may have made some of them a little uncomfortable. Here is a link to Dan’s coverage and an ongoing conversation among his readers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bringing Meetings to the Members

We’ve been working for the National Fenestration Rating Council (think windows) for more than a decade. Recently, they asked us to find a way to inform members who can’t attend their meetings about what goes on there.

Our solution? A “live meeting update” in the form of a blog. We call it NFRC News Now, and we produce it live from the meeting site in real time. Just minutes after a committee wraps up its work, we post a summary on the blog for everyone to review.

We’re just back from NFRC’s fall meeting in San Antonio, where the blog really came into its own. We had close to 500 visits from 14 countries, some as far away as Australia and South Africa. At one point, we surveyed the room and close to half the attendees had the blog up on their laptops, even as they participated in the actual meeting! And here’s the best part: the fenestration trade media now cover the meetings from the blog.

Member relations and media outreach wrapped into one, through the magic of social media. It’s a solution that every trade association and professional society should consider.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holiday Travel Tips: No Longer as Simple as Over the River and Through the Woods

I’ve learned holiday travel tips the hard way — by missing flights, enduring extremely long delays and fighting back fears (and sometimes tears) that I won’t make it back to my family! Since I have yet to experience a smooth trip home for the holidays, I thought I’d share with you some of this new found wisdom. In my experience, reaching your holiday destination can be an adventure and exercise of one’s charm and wit!

Always remember that a relaxing holiday is aided by careful planning and a positive attitude. This is especially important if you will be flying to see your loved ones during the crowded travel season. Holiday air travel is expected to be even more difficult this year than in the past as many airlines have cut flights and raised fares, due to the current state of the economy.

Annie’s Top Five Travel Tips:

1. Book your flight early and try to make flight arrangements during the week. Airlines often raise rates on the weekends because that’s when most people want to fly. Try to avoid peak travel days as much as possible—several of the largest U.S. airlines have increased surcharges for travel on the busiest days to $20 each way, up from $10. If you have any travel questions, the Washington Post Travel Section recently added a live chat and Q & A section.

2. Choose non-stop flights if you can. The worst, most brutal delays occur in connecting airports, where you have no home, friends or family for support. I almost spent last Christmas in an Arizona airport, due to an unexpected West Coast white-out. Special “Annie” Tip: If you miss your flight and don’t make it for Christmas, send your mom the prettiest flowers you can find! I actually had to do this and my mom placed the flowers at my place setting at the dinner table. Above all else, guilt from my mother has made me a smarter and more careful traveler.

3. Delays are far less likely for morning flights and at the beginning of the holiday weekend, with each successive day getting a little busier, more difficult and more expensive. For the Thanksgiving holiday, the Air Transport Association of America said the holiday's busiest travel days are expected to be on November 20, 25, 29 and 30. What’s the bottom line? Travel off-peak whenever possible.

4. Be prepared for anything! This year, Google is offering free Holiday Wi-Fi at 47 airports to help ease the frustration of holiday travel. Be sure to give your cell phone a full charge the night before. Creating a special soundtrack for your trip can help to keep your mind on the excitement of the holiday. Mine always includes Simon & Garfunkel's “Homeward Bound” and John Denver’s “Country Roads.” And, last but never least, pack a sweet, seasonal treat, like snicker doodles, candy canes or sugar cookies to maintain the holiday spirit (even if you run into travel mishap)!

5. If you get stuck in an airport, don’t hide behind a book. Talk to people. Every traveler has a story to share. Remember: your destination is not always a place, but a new way of seeing things.

Holiday “Clause”: If you’re living in Manhattan and flying home the day before a major holiday, it would be far easier to scavenge your way through the Macy’s Day Parade than battle the crowds trying to get to the airports!

My first trip home after moving to Manhattan was over Thanksgiving. I arrived at my Delta departure gate 2.5 hours early—I’ve always been a planner—but still missed my flight! There were so many people and so many flights departing from the same gate that the commotion and confusion was just too overwhelming!

Many others missed that same flight, including my fellow “estranged travelers” in this picture. We bonded after realizing we could not get on a later flight for two days. A college professor, marketing coordinator, Rutgers student and Sarah Lawrence student made a split-second decision to rent a car and drive 7.5 hours to Pittsburgh. We took turns driving, getting to know one another and telling stories for the duration of the “surprise” road trip. We shared a deep appreciation that the same force was driving each of us—doing whatever it took to celebrate with our friends and family. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

Wishing you the blessings of warmth and good cheer this Holiday Season as you embark on your journey! Good luck!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blog from the ANS Meeting

Here at the biggest meeting of the American Nuclear Society in years, PCG VP Laura Hermann and I are mixing and mingling with more than 1,600 nuclear engineers, scientists and energy experts. The mood is upbeat about the future of nuclear electric power.

The plenary session held yesterday morning set the tone of optimism. Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy Pete Miller announced that he expects the federal first loan guarantees for nuclear power plants to be granted by year-end. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Jim Webb (D-VA) unveiled their bill to jumpstart the nuclear energy renaissance. Its provisions include $100 billion for clean energy projects, with $37 billion devoted to nuclear energy as well as money for small and medium-sized reactors, increasing the efficiency and lifetimes of existing nuclear power plants, augmenting the workforce and setting up five mini-Manhattan projects to advance the development of nuclear fuel recycling, clean coal, advanced biofuels, solar power and advanced batteries.

The session attracted more than 20 print and broadcast journalists, and the media scrum after the session was crowded and enthusiastic. It yielded plenty of media coverage. And there’s more to come. Today, I’m moderating a panel of great journalists – The New York Times’ Matt Wald, McClatchy’s Jim Van Nostrand, Energy Daily Executive Editor George Lobsenz and Dow Jones’ Angie Pointer. We’ll attract a big crowd, and ANS members will learn a lot about why journalists cover nuclear energy the way they do. More later this week …

Friday, November 13, 2009

Who Will We Pitch When The Reporters Are Gone

(An Ode to Change)

Who will we pitch, when the newsroom is shuttered,

When the hardened old vets are replaced with blog clutter,

Will E-bay create a journalism site,

With a buy-it-now option, just for spite,

In this brave new world, aren’t we all reporters,

Should we pitch ourselves and demolish the borders,

There’s the Huffington, the Drudge, in which pundits opine,

Our story hasn’t landed and we’re running out of time,

It’s time for a pitch and a top-flight post,

We’ll Facebook, and Twitter until some lucky host,

Decides that his blog, needs our brand of chatter,

The content we send may make his site matter,

Success, oh how sweet, we go to our clients,

And proudly beam like PR Giants,

We landed a spot on a Technorati leader,

Please go viral to millions of readers,

As we celebrate in the waning  hours,

We wonder, has journalism turned sour,

I guess it’s the way of things, to change from old to new

Who will we pitch, you ask,

If you have a moment, it could be you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Electricity and the Theatre

You don’t often think of electric utilities and the theatre industry as sharing a common goal. However, during a recent D.C. theatre showcase, the desire to educate children, their parents and teachers about renewable energy and the realities of climate change brought the two together. As a former teacher, I was excited to learn that PCG landed the opportunity to work on a project that would mix my past classroom experience with the work I do now.

Last month, two acting troupes from the National Theatre for Children (NTC) descended upon 18 Washington, D.C., and Maryland elementary and middle schools to teach these important lessons. The week-long event was sponsored by Pepco in support of Gov. Martin O'Malley's “EmPOWER Maryland” initiative, an effort to reduce Maryland’s energy consumption 15 percent by the year 2015.

From identifying schools early on, to securing media coverage and organizing a cocktail event, we had a hand in bringing it all together.

The reactions of the nearly 6,000 students that experienced the performances were priceless. Roaring chants like “go green, keep energy clean” and laughing students made for a fun-filled educational experience.

D.C. and Maryland state officials, education and energy leaders, Pepco employees, and a host of others got their own opportunity to view the performance about climate change during an executive reception hosted by Pepco President Thomas Graham at the Renaissance Washington Hotel. Several kids were there too, and they got a chance to be a part of the evening’s sketches. It was amazing to see their faces light up and to watch them absorb some pretty complicated information that the actors made interesting and entertaining.

It was a great experience. We had an amazing turnout at the cocktail event, and we secured coverage on WJLA-TV - Washington’s ABC affiliate, News Channel 8 and in the Maryland Gazette papers. But most importantly, we helped to inspire young minds and to encourage them to be good stewards of our environment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Non-Runner’s Guide to Running; or Why I Hate Myself

The funny thing about running is you have to beat your body into accepting it. Even people who love running will tell you the first couple miles are the most difficult to finish. It’s almost like you have to have a pep talk with yourself beforehand.

“Body, listen: you’re not going to like this, but we’re going running this morning.”
“Please, no.”
“Has to happen, sorry. Our increasingly-fatter self cannot continue to sit and do nothing.”

Eventually, the body gives in. “Sigh…OK, OK, OK. I’ll go.” Once I got to that point, where my body effectively submitted and accepted running, I no longer hated waking up in the morning before work to run.

Here’s why that’s important: I ran my first half-marathon the day after Halloween. Here’s why THAT’S important: my official position on running prior to the start of my training schedule in August was “No, thanks. I’d rather kick myself in the face.”

So there it is.

On Nov. 1, 2009, in Raleigh, N.C., I toed the starting line at 7 a.m. in steady rain and temperatures in the mid-50s and ran 13.1 miles. Before I started training, the longest I’d ever run with any regularity was between two and three miles.

Obviously, you’re asking, “Brian, WHY did you do that if you didn’t like running?” To which I say, “That’s a good question. Obviously, I have strong feelings of dislike toward myself.” No, here’s the deal. I’m a competitive person. I have three friends who’ve each run in similar races. I would go to support them, and I increasingly felt extraordinarily lame waiting for them at the finish line.

So I essentially dared myself not to do it. Which, of course, meant I had to do it.

And on that cold, rainy day in Raleigh, I actually did it. The training guides say not to set at time goal for your first half-marathon. Finishing should be a good enough goal. But I knew I’d be disappointed if I couldn’t finish in two and a half hours, so that was my goal. And I did it. I crossed the finish line with an official time of 2:19:51 – more than 10 minutes faster than my goal.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but this was not my last half-marathon. What a rush.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When Trust Is Low, Women Make the Best Spokespeople

When we lead risk communication training, we emphasize the “gender gap” that heavily favors women as company spokespeople when concern is high and trust is low among audiences you are trying to reach. Research shows that most Americans view women as naturally more caring, honest and dedicated than their male counterparts.

So for organizations in emotionally fraught high-concern, low-trust situations, whenever possible, and all other things being equal, choose a woman as your spokesperson. And if you must send a man, make sure he gets a chance to talk about his family, charitable activities, and anything else that will show him to be a caring, honest and dedicated person.

Of course, female spokespeople can still get into trouble – but they can also recover more quickly. A great example is a recent interview conducted by 60 Minutes about a massive coal ash spill in Kingston, Tenn.

Anda Ray, an environmental expert at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was asked if she would be willing to swim in the river that was polluted by the spill. She thought for a moment, and then said yes. Unfortunately, she later remembered that her company had advised people against swimming in the river. Oops.

It was a faux pas, but she clarified the mistake later and all in all got through a tough situation. Check it out for yourself:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Magic Johnson

When I was told I was going to be a part of the team securing D.C. media coverage for Magic Johnson, I just about fell out of my chair. We do a lot of media outreach at PCG, but this was different. Magic Johnson is an American icon, a boyhood idol for many and, as I would soon find out, one terrific public speaker.

Magic, in a partnership with Best Buy, came to Washington to talk to students at Bell Multicultural High School about entrepreneurship and the importance of education.

His visit was a huge hit. He captivated the 800 students in the Bell auditorium from the moment he took the stage. His celebrity helped, but it was his honesty that really won them over. He made it clear to his audience that he was one of them. He had grown up poor in Lansing, Mich., had struggled in school, and he knew first hand how difficult it can be to get ahead.

He spoke to the students and took questions from them for more than an hour and a half. They asked him about basketball-related subjects like Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. They also had pointed questions about living with HIV and how to get scholarships for college.

The opportunity to work in a school and experience the kids’ excitement was fantastic. We placed coverage of the event in The Washington Post, The Washington Examiner, several local blogs and on every local network affiliate as well as Comcast SportsNet. Check out Magic in action for yourself. Below is FOX 5’s coverage of the event.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Beltway Boo’s!

My kids are lucky enough to attend one of the D.C. area schools selected to participate in the White House Trick or Treat celebration (see Press Secretary Robert Gibbs briefing transcript from Friday, Oct. 30). My eight year old twins, Colin and Clare, go to Antietam Elementary School in Woodbridge, Va. They were two of only 175 kids and parents who received tickets.

Along with our neighbors, we set off Saturday afternoon for the Pentagon City Metro to avoid parking hassles downtown – all in time to make our appointed 5:30 p.m. entrance time.

Entertainment on the grounds was to be Chicago’s Redmoon Theater. Some of their past performances got me excited to see what they might do for the First Family on Halloween!

Well, it was fantastic! Due to the threat of rain, we were prepared and dressed warmly. The kids were impressed, but getting treats from the President and First Lady was such fun for all of us. And the entertainment did not disappoint!

After 20 years in the D.C. area, and countless strolls down Pennsylvania Avenue, this was the first time any of us had been on the White House grounds themselves. What fun! I know there was some small controversy over which kids and schools should be invited, but we were thrilled to have an opportunity to be a part of it all!

Covering the Coverage (Episode 1)

“Thus the stakes are greater than when we began to chronicle this story four years ago, for another failure almost certainly will lead to greater public disgust and political turmoil.”

That’s the final sentence of the forward to the paperback edition of The System: The Way of American Politics at the Breaking Point, written in January 1997, by two of Washington’s savviest political journalists, Haynes Johnson and David Broder. The book tells, in great detail, the story of the epic failure of Bill Clinton’s attempt to pass health care reform in 1993 and 1994.

We’ve been rereading the book in light of Barack Obama’s attempt to finish the job, and we highly recommend it.

We’re a non-partisan bunch at PCG. So, rather than dwell on the details of health care policy, this seems like a good time to take a look at the first draft of history that’s still being written on the subject.

With Johnson’s and Broder’s “chronicle” still fresh in our minds, we present the first in a regular series looking at political journalism through our PR lens. Here are our five favorite links from the health-care battles of the summer and early fall, each using a different public relations approach (from personal connections to the flash-mob style of the Tea Partiers):

The summer what was - The Town Halls of August

When the political is personal - “How American Health Care Killed My Father”

Sound analysis of both the policies and politics in play – “The Treatment” blog at The New Republic

What do the CBO’s numbers really mean? – “…those numbers are just numbers”

A recent look at how an actual bill might pass both houses – “End Game”