Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Welcome Aboard!

Last week, one bit of excitement around the office was the addition of Julie Strack to the PCG family. She’s a terrific fit with the team and is already pitching in with our energy efficiency and trade association client work, including the National Fenestration Rating Council, the Construction Specifications Institute, the Reserve Officers Association and the Direct Selling Association.

We managed to steal Julie away from an internship with a public affairs outfit here in DC where she was working on clean energy and environmental policy research, conducting media outreach, and developing a multi-channel outreach program for Green Seal. We like not only her topical interests, but also her growing experience with social media and the fact that she’s a solid writer.

For Julie’s part, she was drawn by the particular type of work that we do.

“It was really a combination of PCG’s solid reputation, range of clients, and the people who work here,” she said when asked what sealed the deal for her. We couldn’t agree more.

Julie holds a B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley. Before coming east, she interned with The Los Angeles Times in their San Francisco office, and worked on The Daily Californian while studying at Berkeley.

Please join us in giving Julie Strack a warm PCG welcome!

- Potomac Communications Group

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Are the Caps Losing the PR Battle over Ove?

Right now, the Washington Capitols are the hottest ticket in Washington. The Caps are in first place in the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference. They have arguably the best player in the game, Alexander Ovechkin (also known as “Ove” or “The Great Eight” after his jersey number), back on the ice after a two-game suspension for a recent hit on Brian Campbell of the Chicago Blackhawks (video here), the end result of which left Campbell with a broken clavicle and broken rib.

That suspension and Ovechkin’s play overall have been the subject of much debate in D.C. and throughout the hockey world. The two sides of the argument break down to whether one thinks Ove’s a talented and enthusiastic young star who brings fresh energy to the game or an Eastern Bloc thug who pursues his opponents with malicious intent. I’m a Caps fan, so I think the former is more accurate than the latter, but I am beginning to wonder if the Caps aren’t losing the PR battle to define Ove’s career.

The first premise we teach our clients about risk communications is this:

The goal, when communicating in a stressful, emotionally charged environment (say, with sports fans who have just seen a superstar injure one of their team’s players), is to establish trust and credibility.

Right now, outside of their fan base, I don’t think many people trust the Caps when the team says that Ove is a good guy who plays hard, or that “The Great Eight” has much credibility when he expresses how sorry he was that Campbell got hurt. Just look at the coverage that Ovechkin gets in his hometown paper or in the broader sports media.

One solution might be for Ove to show up at a youth clinic for a session on how to play the right way. He could teach a couple of lessons:
  • The fundamentals of a proper check
  • A reminder that hockey’s a contact sport
  • While some consequences may be beyond a player’s control, playing the game hard and the right way is the best possible strategy
It’s a way for Ove to serve the hockey community through action, rather than just an apology.

I understand that the Caps are in the middle of a playoff chase, questing after the Cup that the team’s star (and owner Ted Leonsis) wants to win so desperately. And maybe, if that quest is successful, none of the PR bumps along the way will matter much; winning solves just about any problem in professional sports.

But I get the sense that the Caps’ organization desires more than just the fleeting thrill of a world championship. The team, from Leonsis on down, wants to be a part of the soul of Washington. To turn that aspiration into a reality, the team needs to get smarter about managing the perceptions of its best player.

- Potomac Communications Group

Friday, March 19, 2010

How To Help a Reporter Do a Tough Job

At our annual off-site planning meeting yesterday, a journalist laid out five ways that corporate communicators – and their p.r. firms – can help reporters do their jobs. Jim Van Nostrand, Web Editor of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, recommended the following:

- Be truthful – don’t blow smoke.
- Don’t play favorites in return for desirable coverage. Provide information to all interested reporters at the same time.
- Help reporters become subject matter experts, even if they are new to the beat.
- Provide your office phone number, cell phone number and e-mail address prominently on your Web site.
- Do your homework before you call a reporter to pitch a story. Make sure you know the reporter’s beat, interests and recent coverage of the subject.

Van Nostrand, who shared a Pulitzer Prize for team coverage of the Katrina hurricane at the Biloxi Sun Herald, also said that corporate Web sites can be very important to journalists. He urged that the sites make it easy to find the key information that reporters look for – including bios of management, regulatory filings, earnings reports and contact information.

The biggest change taking place in the media? He described it as a historic shift from “one-to-many” communication, to “many-to-many,” as bloggers and information “users” find more avenues for expressing their views. This shift is rapidly accelerating through handheld communications devices. “The exciting things happening in journalism today are geared to mobile devices,” he said.

- Potomac Communications Group

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Media Revolution, Cont'd: More Comment, Less Reporting

If you’re interested in keeping up with the revolution taking place in our mass media, you need to read this. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has released its annual report, The State of the News Media in 2010, and it’s the most authoritative and detailed snapshot of the changes rapidly taking place around us.

Just a few highlights:

- Audiences continue to drop dramatically for the traditional media (see chart), especially for magazines and newspapers.

- The only “old media sector” with an expanding audience is cable TV – up nearly 10%, and fueled largely by commentators expressing views, not news. Fox News audiences grew by nearly 25%.

- Analyzing over a million blogs and social media sites, PEJ found that 80% of their links to information sources go to the traditional media. That’s where nearly all the original reporting still takes place. The digital media largely grab what they like and give their “take” on it. They don’t have the manpower or budgets to do original reporting.

- The newspaper industry has lost about 30% of its basic reporting and editing capacity – some $1.6 billion worth – since 2000. The cuts will continue.

- Network news staffs have been cut by more than half, compared to the 1980s, and the major newsmagazines by nearly half.

- Two-thirds of the most popular on-line news sites are the digital arms of traditional media – newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations. Another 13% are “aggregators,” simply compiling information they collect, largely from the mainstream media. Only 14% are truly on-line news operations that do original reporting.

The report is full of information that can be helpful to anyone trying to communicate in today’s fast-moving media environment. The rise of digital is providing countless new targets of opportunity for getting information out to the public. But the original source of most information that goes out widely is still the old stand-bys, print, radio and TV.

- Potomac Communications Group

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Digital Advertising Tops Print for First Time

The great transition in media platforms is hitting a historic milestone this year: for the first time, more advertising dollars will be spent on digital media than on all print media combined.

According to Forbes, a new study about to be released reports that major advertisers plan to spend a total of $368 billion on ads this year – 32.5% on digital media and 30.3% on print.

Still, the report finds good news for the print world. Magazine ads are expected to rise by nearly 2%, to more than $9 billion. And the newest digital trend – mobile marketing, through iPhones and other handhelds – isn’t yet making a dent.

The report, due out on Monday, is the annual advertising and marketing study conducted by Outsell, a digital consulting firm. The lead researcher, Vice President Chuck Richard, says the results describe “a watershed moment.”

For all of us ink-stained wretches, it’s good to see that the print media aren’t taking this onslaught lying down. Here’s a video showing the magazine industry’s response. (But done digitally, I have to acknowledge.)

- Potomac Communications Group

Monday, March 8, 2010

Telling Stories

Last Wednesday, I had the great opportunity to go back to a place very close to my heart and hear an accomplished actor give an impassioned speech about the power of language.

At the St. Albans Centennial Alumni Meeting, Jeffrey Wright (Class of 1983) talked about his experience on the “archeological dig through the writer’s words” that is acting – the deep dive needed to “breathe life into a character.” You may know Mr. Wright most recently from his work in the revitalized James Bond films, but he has also won praise for his stage and TV career, notably in “Angels in America.”

His discussion of a love of language sparked by his grandparents’ storytelling in coastal Virginia and nurtured by the great faculty at St. Albans reminded me of my own path into writing and communications and the challenge of staying relevant in an ever-faster, more competitive media environment.

So, today I’m rededicating myself to the following:

  • Listening more – there are compelling stories all around, if we bother to pay attention to them
  • Telling those stories in a way that will touch editors and reporters (and the audiences for whom they write)
  • Writing in clear, plain English, no matter how complex the topic may be

Whether the media channel is print, TV or online, these three simple yet challenging disciplines remain at the core of effective communications.

- Potomac Communications Group

Friday, March 5, 2010

Risk Communication: The Three-Point Turn

The rash of recalls in the automobile industry are not only raising questions about how well the major manufacturers are handling quality and safety issues, but also how effectively they are communicating about risk.

General Motors appears to be the latest to join the recall ranks, which already feature Nissan, Honda and of course Toyota. But why has Toyota been the only one called to Capitol Hill to defend itself? Others have faced severe safety issues, including spontaneous acceleration. My theory (and I’m not alone) is that they veered away from three basic risk communication principles:

  • Deal with the emotion. Chalk it up to cultural differences, but like it or not, they failed to connect with Americans’ fears about their families’ safety on this issue.
  • Present information openly and honestly. The fact that so-called damning documents are ‘surfacing’ rather than being offered undermines trust and credibility.
  • Focus on the future. The top guy coming to Washington carries far less weight than would a clear set of actions to correct the problem and ensure that it does not happen again.

As Will Rogers once said, “People want to know that you care, before they care what you know.” And then, they want to know what you’re going to do about it.

Sure, you can argue that Toyota has accomplished pieces of each of these, and you’d be right. But you really have to connect the dots to be truly effective. A solid approach to risk communications can help put the brakes on a corporate crisis, get you turned around and back on the road again.

- Potomac Communications Group

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Learn How to Select, Reject and Connect

PCG specializes in helping associations achieve their communications goals, and we participate in the American Society of Association Executives - the trade association for trade associations - to help keep ourselves current with the latest trends.

Association communications professionals can do the same, and the next big opportunity will come on Thursday, March 18, when ASAE's Communication Section Council will sponsor Select, Reject, Connect: How Communication Choices Matter. The half-day, in-person seminar will take place from 9:30 to noon at ASAE headquarters (1575 I Street, NW).

The seminar will provide tutorials on how to choose the right communications tools from among the dozens available to reach members, regulators, legislators and the media. Breakout sessions on media relations, print communications, ROI in communications, social media, streaming video/podcasts, and Web sites will draw from best practices identified from the most recent Gold Circle Awards. These awards annually honor the very best association communications in more than a dozen categories.

Click here to register. And if you can't make it on the 18th, check back because presentations and notes will be made available after the conference is over.

- Potomac Communications Group

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Communicating a Clear Direction for Energy

On Monday, I attended the EnergyBiz Leadership Forum in DC. The forum focused on how today's developments —stimulus spending, new policies and groundbreaking technologies — are shaping the way will produce and use energy.

The need for a clear and open national energy policy was a major theme woven throughout this conference. Many experts believe the US can lead the global clean energy race if regulatory and legislative leaders in Washington can agree and begin to provide clear direction.

John Gilleland of TerraPower was a featured panelist in the Nuclear and Coal—Will the Next Generation Ever Get Built session, which looked at coal, nuclear and low carbon alternatives.

All of the panelists for this session supported implementing a broad energy portfolio. For me, their comments solidified the notion that “we need it all” to meet our national energy goals. Gilleland said that nature has imposed a deadline and it is imperative that we all work together.

The message that it will take all forms of energy to meet our future needs is a theme that we often hear from our clients. This is an especially important communications message for producers of traditional sources of energy like fossil fuel and nuclear power who some would suggest can completely be replaced with renewable power options.

Our role as energy communicators is now more important than ever if we hope to give the general public a “clear vision” of what is needed to address energy and environmental concerns. We must communicate the benefits of all forms of energy -- from renewable wind and solar to nuclear power and conventional oil and gas – to help Americans form educated opinions about the best mix of energy to meet the nation’s growing demand.

- Potomac Communications Group