Monday, February 28, 2011

The Leslie Knope School of Media Training

The February 17 episode of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” entitled “Media Blitz,” featured a storyline about a local media tour by Pawnee Deputy Parks Director Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) and state budget expert Ben Wyatt (played by Adam Scott).

A little background – the recession has left Pawnee nearly bankrupt, and Ben and his boss (played by Rob Lowe) are in town to see if they can slash budgets and save the town from bankruptcy. Leslie decides to resurrect an old town tradition – the Harvest Festival – to raise enough money to keep the Parks Department operating. Complicating matters is that Ben was elected mayor of his home town in Minnesota at 18, but bankrupted the town with a failed construction project called the Ice Palace.

Anyway, Leslie and Ben talk to local TV and radio stations to promote the Harvest Festival. But all anyone – including Perd Hapley, host of “Ya Heard with Perd” – wants to talk about is Ben’s history of fiscal mismanagement.

The resulting interviews are hilarious, but also instructive for those of us charged with preparing clients for interviews. I present to you the top three lessons from the Leslie Knope School of Media Training.

1. You set the conditions of the interview. Ben’s first experience is with two morning “shock jocks.” Maybe not the best fit for a budget-cutting, good-government type.

2. Preparation prevents poor performance. Ben finally shuts down the questions with a message approach that explains he was way too young to be mayor and that everybody made mistakes at 18. A little preparation could have surfaced a better message in time to avoid (hilarious) disaster.

3. Effective communicators are made, not born. Even number-crunching Ben Wyatt became an effective spokesperson for the Harvest Festival. If he can do it, anyone can.

I have no idea whether anyone on the “Parks and Rec” writing team spent anytime as a journalist or in PR. But Ben Wyatt’s experience in “Media Blitz” rang true to me.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Social Media More Controversial than Congress

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at the Utility Communicators International winter seminar meeting in Austin, Texas.  My topic for the conference was an overview of the energy debate for this congressional session.

As you can see from the picture on this page, we had a little fun with it. Because of the often controversial nature of Congress, I assumed that my session would include the most debatable topics discussed during the two-day meeting, but I was wrong.

It turns out that social media policies for utilities can illicit even greater debate among communicators than any old energy policy overview ever could.

During the seminar, Senior Corporate Communications Manager Jeremy Rawitch presented his view on social media policies as someone who just completed development of a policy for Southern California Edison. He noted that utilities have unique challenges because they are subject to public service commission oversight and involved in close relationships with customers who do not easily separate employees personal and professional personas.  

Perhaps the the most controversial part of the presentation was the company's policy that suggests the use of employee disclaimers when posting on social media sites. For example:

“I work for Utility X and this is my personal opinion.”

The disclaimer idea was widely challenged by the communications crowd at the conference. Many objected that disclaimers interfere with the free flow of opinions on social media channels. Rawitch acknowledged the challenge, but from the company’s perspective it is important to protect employees  and the utility in every way possible.

It’s amazing how contentious a little thing like disclaimers can become when they are applied to social media, which was created to allow unfettered discussion. The partisan battles in Washington now seem tame by comparison.

To find out more about UCI click here.

To find out more about Southern California Edison join them on Twitter  @socaledison

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vocus Meet-up

As PCG Project Coordinators, Sarah, Julie & I are very familiar with Vocus PR software, but rarely connect with Vocus staff beyond just asking for support. Last week, we had the opportunity to meet the pros of Vocus at their D.C. “MeetUp”.

Media management and research software like Vocus is a must for PCG to meet our clients’ nationwide earned-media placement needs. One day we are pitching television media in New York and the next it’s a local newspaper in Montana. In addition, the increasing need for comprehensive social media monitoring continues to make a deep investment in technology like this a must for forward leaning firms. From building media lists to compiling clip reports, many hours are dedicated to familiarizing ourselves with the software and learning how to maximize its capabilities to best meet the needs of our clients.

During the event, we had a chance to mingle with Vocus staff, including Cori Pearce (pictured with Julie and Sarah), a marketing manager at Vocus. Cori said the purpose of the happy hour was for Vocus clients and staff to connect, network, and ultimately build a stronger Vocus community.

This event actually was the first of many, as the Vocus team also is planning a happy hour for their Atlanta-based clients. They plan to make their way around the country in an effort to get to know their clients better.

As far as client representation at the event, we were surprised to find out that we were the only ones from a public relations company. The majority were from government organizations or foundations.

Regarding Vocus support questions, we had plenty in our back pocket, but decided to give the staff a break and enjoy the social atmosphere. Cheers to Vocus!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Alternative Recommendations for Dan Snyder

If you live in the Washington area and read the news, chances are you’ve heard about a lawsuit that Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder recently filed against the local alternative daily, Washington City Paper, and one its reporters.

The lawsuit is in regards to a story published in mid-November that made less than flattering claims about the Redskins owner. Initially, the media was reporting that lawyers for Snyder were asking the paper to print a correction and fire the reporter that wrote the story. Within 48 hours, a lawsuit had been filed claiming the story included lies and half-truths and asking for $2 million in damages.

Since this began last week the story has dominated local headlines. The Washington Post has run dozens of articles and blog posts mentioning the story including one from humor columnist Gene Weingarten and local news stations have led with this as their top news story. In addition, the media circus surrounding the lawsuit has caused such a dramatic rise in readership at the Washington City Paper that people trying to access the story crashed its news site.

As a PR professional, I’ve tried to figure out, why Snyder would make this move. Libel lawsuits are known for being extremely hard to win and, by filing this lawsuit, he’s dramatically increased the attention the story received in the first place.

PCG may not be an expert in sports media, but dealing with unflattering and potentially false claims in the media is nothing new to any PR expert. So I asked around the office, if you were advising Dan Snyder on how to deal with this article, what would be your recommended path? Below are a few alternative ideas from PCGers:

-- If there are truly false statements in the article, then ask the paper for an opportunity to write an op-ed and try to set the record straight. If the statements are just unflattering, then leave that part alone and write an Op-ed about how you are going to change the organization for the following year.

-- The best communications approach in this situation is simply to say that you understand why people think the team is a mess, but that there are some good pieces in place (they did beat the Eagles and Cowboys, after all) and that you're working to make it better.

-- Forget the paper! It is an alternative daily and likely not many people saw the original story. Instead, host a video chat on to talk about lessons learned from the past seasons and how the organization is going to do in the off-season to prepare for a better next year.

-- Do nothing! The story is a couple months old and it is Super Bowl week. No one wants to think about the Redskins.

Helping Young Readers in Washington

For our holiday open house every December, we ask guests to bring children's books that we then donate to a local organization that can benefit from them. This year we received enough books to make two donations - one set to the Sasha Bruce Youthwork, and one set to Huckleberry Cheesecake Child Development.

This tradition was started by my late partner, Ellen Lepper. We proudly continue it every year in her name.

Here is a photo of Traci Sonenberg and Gina Sy, who accepted the books for Huckleberry. Thanks to all our clients and friends whose generosity makes this gift possible.

- Potomac Communications Group