Friday, November 14, 2014

The Origin of the Presidential Press Conference

One of our favorite e-mails most mornings comes from Delanceyplace, which sends a brief excerpt from a notable nonfiction book. It’s always informative, and usually fascinating.

Today’s is a particular treat for anyone interested in media relations or public affairs. It’s from “Wilson,” a biography of the former president by A. Scott Berg, and it describes the origins of the institution known as the presidential press briefing.

On March 15, 1913, Wilson invited 125 reporters into his office to talk to them as a group and even answer questions. It was unprecedented. Before that, Teddy Roosevelt and Taft, for example, would occasionally select friendly members of the press for informal discussions and sometimes even a brief Q&A session – but never an open press conference.

Wilson knew he was especially good at extemporaneous speaking, and wanted to take advantage of that talent. Sure enough, the press briefing was a big hit. The New York Times wrote: “There was something so unaffected and honest about his way of talking … that it won everybody, despite the fact that many of the men there had come prejudiced against him.”

Wilson was also the first president since John Quincy Adams to deliver the State of the Union Address in person, speaking before a joint session of Congress. He began that address – all of nine minutes long – with an explanation: he wanted to show that the President “is a person, not a mere department of the Government [but] a human being trying to cooperate with other human beings in a common service.” It sounds as if the same reasoning could be applied to the press briefing.

He was clearly satisfied with the results. In the next nine months he arranged 60 more press briefings. And an institution was born, for better or worse.

(Check out Delanceyplace. You’ll thank us.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Survey of the Changes in the Media, from a Key Insider

Here's a set of numbers that encapsulate the historic changes in the mass media we've been experiencing for the past couple of decades: As recently as the year 2000, advertising in U.S. newspapers amounted to more than $63 billion. By last year it had fallen to $23 billion. And last year the ad revenue of a single company, Google, amounted to more than $50 billion - more than twice as much as that of all U.S. newspapers combined.

What happened to the print media, and what it means for our society at large, is the subject of an insightful new Brookings Institution essay by Robert Kaiser, veteran reporter and until recently senior editor for the Washington Post. This may be familiar territory to anyone interested in mass communication, but it's fascinating to get the perspective of a major Washington journalist who's been at the center of most of the great changes. Even his alma mater, the newspaper that took on a president with its Watergate coverage, is now owned by the founder of Amazon.

Kaiser surveys the rapid transition from a world of a few relatively objective national networks and publications, with the resources to conduct groundbreaking investigative journalism, to our current environment of countless cable channels, internet sites and other news outlets that mostly serve up the superficial facts and interpretation that their audience wants: "The news media are fragmenting just as American society is fragmenting - by class, by region, by religious inclination, by generation, by ethnic identity, by politics and more."

Much of his analysis is simple nostalgia, for the time when he began his career, when major publications had a string of foreign bureaus and reporters flew first class. But he thoughtfully reviews major mistakes made by newspapers that contributed to their downfall and the impact that the media evolution is having on the country. For example, "there's no paper in the country that can offer the same coverage if its city, suburbs, and state that it provided 20 or even 10 years ago, and scores of city halls and state legislatures get virtually no coverage by any substantive news organizations." The public, he believes, is simply not being served as well as it used to be.

He tries to end on a hopeful note, but it seems half-hearted. He clearly represents the ink-in-his-veins journalist of the old school. We have to hope that there are still young journalists with pixels in their veins who will work to keep up some of the standards and instincts that Kaiser pines for.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The media discover good news

Have you noticed something new in news coverage recently? Maybe, even, something a little . . . positive?

The Columbia Journalism Review has. It has identified a new trend – the news media emphasizing upbeat, good-news stories. And it even says that they are good for business.

To me, the new attention to positive, inspiring stories has been most obvious in network news. All the national prime-time news shows now end their half-hour with an uplifting piece that can often lead to misting around the eyes. Of course, the morning shows regularly emphasize upbeat pieces, as does CBS Sunday Morning. And even 60 Minutes seems to present more profiles of role models and heroes than the investigative exposés that used to be their forte.

But CJR shows that the trend goes far beyond TV. It has evolved into its own successful brands: Huffington Post Good News, ABC Good News, websites like Positive News and the Good News Network. And just this month, the Washington Post is launching a new newsletter for its digital subscribers called The Optimist. (Here’s a sample, courtesy of CJR.)

The trend is controversial in journalism circles. Is it leading down the path away from real news and toward entertainment, like the websites that offer a steady parade of cute cats and dogs? It is attracting sponsors, and eyeballs, and making money for media outlets, but is it news?

To communicators, it raises another question: Will the discovery of good-news stories open the door for more articles that are, just, positive?

Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

PCG Managing Partner Named President of Nuclear Energy Industry Organization

At PCG, we pride ourselves on being the leading experts in industry communications, especially in technical fields like nuclear power. Rightly so, since our staff members are active participants in industry organizations like the American Nuclear Society, Utility Communicators International, International Atomic Energy Agency, Nuclear Energy Institute and others.

Now, we can also proudly share that our staff includes the president of one of the most respected nuclear energy industry organizations. Mimi Holland Limbach, our managing partner, was just inducted as president of the Pacific Nuclear Council (PNC). Mimi will serve in this role until 2016.

The PNC is an organization composed primarily of nuclear societies and associations from nations around the Pacific Rim. This organization provides best practices to those nations through its working groups, which address key industry issues and areas for improvement.

Mimi’s formal installation took place yesterday evening at the PNC’s 19th biannual international gathering, the Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference, held in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Please join us in congratulating Mimi on her new position!

Mimi taking the helm of the PNC

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Horror of the Blank Page

Here at PCG, we help clients communicate effectively through almost every form imaginable, except skywriting (so far) – from press releases to infographics, from presentations to online advertising. But no matter how the information is delivered, it all begins the same way: with words on paper, or on a screen.

So even deep into the digital age, we still emphasize the basic skill of effective writing. Get the messages clear, get the storyline clear, and then present it in a persuasive, appealing style.

The hardest part is getting started. That was the subject of an in-house tutorial led by our partner Leonard Greenberger. He was the right tutor since last year he published his own book, What To Say When Things GetTough: Business Communication Strategies for Winning People Over When They’reAngry, Worried, and Suspicious of Everything You Say (McGraw Hill Education). And he admits that the hardest part was filling up the first page.

So he began the session with two telling quotes from major writers:

When asked about the most frightening thing he had ever encountered, Ernest Hemingway – the war correspondent on the ground in both World War I and World War II – answered, “A blank sheet of paper.”

And Stephen King, the master of horror, once said, “The scariest moment is always just before you start writing.”

They reminded me of one of my own favorite quotes about writing, from the journalist and author Gene Fowler: “Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Good writing isn’t for the queasy. Maybe that’s why it’s so rare.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A few of our favorite things

If you haven't checked the 'Recommended' section of our website lately, we've added a few more of our favorite things that we love to share.

A Do-Not-Miss Site in Washington: The Newseum ( It may be the world's only museum focused on journalism, and it's a winner. It covers the history of communications media, its evolution into the electronic and digital eras and its impact on U.S. history and politics. For anyone with the least interest in communications, it's easily worth a half-day stop - and you'll probably want to come back for more.

You may think you get too many emails every morning, but we're betting that you'll add one more - the daily offering from Delanceyplace ( Every weekday it sends out a brief excerpt from a nonfiction book. It may be old or new; history, philosophy, biography, politics; from a famous book or an unknown one – but it is always interesting, and usually fascinating. Where did the term ‘white collar’ come from? Why did the American Revolution actually begin in 1763? How was Albert Einstein not just the father of nuclear energy, but also of solar power? You’ll find a tidbit like that every morning.

Restaurant: One of our favorites anywhere is Rasika (, both in Penn Quarter, just off 7th Street NW, and in the West End, on New Hampshire just off M Street NW (and way too close to our office). You may think you've had Indian food, but nothing like this. Modern, amazingly creative dishes in a sleek high-tech setting. The crispy spinach alone is worth a trip to DC. Come see us and we'll introduce you.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

PCG and IAEA Fellow Visit Energy & Environmental Resource Center

From left to right: Frank Clement, Brian Meeley, Marjorie Rochon, Jackie Carpenter, Christina Walrond, Phoebe Nkaabu and Sarah Dirndorfer. Photo by Theresa Widger.
PCG had the immense honor of hosting Phoebe Nkaabu, an IAEA Fellow from Nairobi, Kenya, during her two week visit to the United States. Phoebe works for the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board’s communications team and develops messaging and outreach in preparation for Kenya’s new nuclear energy program, anticipated to go online in 2022.

Phoebe and her team experience many of the same challenges our clients face in teaching the public about the benefits and safety of nuclear energy. We wanted to help Phoebe find some inspiration, so Vice President Brian Meeley arranged a trip to the Energy & Environmental Resource Center (EERC) in Salem, New Jersey.

EERC is an initiative of the Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) to educate community members about energy. It sits about ten miles from the Salem Nuclear Generating Station on the Delaware River and features museum-worthy exhibits explaining energy generation, usage and safety.

Many of the exhibits were furnished by the Nuclear Energy Institute and give children and adults hands-on experience with simulated reactor cores, radioactive waste storage systems and utility distribution controls.

PSEG uses the EERC to function as a deeply involved community member. School children visit regularly, boy scouts frequently come to earn their Nuclear Science merit badge, and PSEG even invites nearby organizations to use the center’s large meeting space free of charge.

Our visitors’ center trip was just one part of the two weeks we had with Phoebe to share experiences about effective communication. We are thrilled to have learned more about the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board and look forward to hearing about the country’s continued exploration of nuclear energy options for their future.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

PCG's Holiday Book Donation

Over the past three years, we’ve had the great privilege to provide pro bono communications support to Bread for the City, a local non-profit that provides D.C. residents food, clothing, medical care, and legal and social services. We’ve developed newspaper, building banner and bus shelter advertisements to support their annual fundraising campaign. 

Another important aspect to our charitable work at PCG involves collecting children’s books from staff members and guests at our annual holiday party in memory of our founding partner Ellen Lepper. For years, PCG has collected and donated hundreds of books to children’s shelters and schools in the District. 

Over the last three years, we’ve donated more than 200 books to the waiting rooms at Bread for the City medical clinics and look forward to providing continued support.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

How to Communicate a Brand

Contractor’s Compass, the magazine of the American Subcontractors Association (ASA), published an article by PCG’s own Nathan Petrillo in its February issue devoted to marketing strategies. Nathan discusses how businesses in the building industry can evaluate, improve and communicate their brands. “One of the most challenging things for many companies is how to communicate about a brand. The first step is to think about the main things – or messages – you want people to know about your company. These messages should be concise, clear and compelling,” said Nathan. You can find a copy of the article on pp.14-15 in an e-copy of the magazine: Nathan is very familiar with marketing and communications for this sector. He is a member of the Construction Writers Association, and beginning in mid-2015, he will serve a one-year term as the organization’s president.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

PCG's milestone year of 2013

It seems that this is the time of the year for compiling Top 10 lists of the year just ended. So here’s my list of PCG’s biggest milestones of 2013. There may not be 10, but they add up to one of the most momentous years in our 33-year history.

#1: New Managing Partner. For the first time since PCG was founded in 1981, we had a change of leadership – Mimi Limbach (pictured) became Managing Partner. I had the honor of heading the company since Ellen Lepper and I formed it, in the same month that Ronald Reagan was first sworn in. Over the past few years we have been transitioning to a new team of Partners: Mimi, Leonard Greenberger, Andy Hallmark, Nora Howe (running the business side) and myself. That transition culminated in Mimi becoming Managing Partner in early 2013. No one could have a better set of experience, skills and understanding of PCG and our clients than Mimi. For over a decade she was a major client herself, in her role as communications executive at Westinghouse and then Navigant Consulting. In the 15 years that she has been with us, she has led much of our energy practice and grown our general corporate practice. We are lucky, and proud, to have her at the wheel.
#2: New Partner. In the past year we also elevated another key staffer to the level of Partner, Laura Hermann. She joined us eight years ago after crafting public service campaigns and volunteer development programs for non-profit organizations. She gained her appreciation for the intersection of the public and private sectors while handling disaster preparedness communications for the American Red Cross.  She personifies one of our most important roles, combining communications expertise with a deep interest in, and understanding of, science and technology. She has managed our communications support for many of our most complex and sensitive technical clients, including the American Geophysical Union, American Physical Society, Intellectual Ventures, National Academy of Engineering and TerraPower.
#3: A New Book. Our Partner Leonard Greenberger pulled together his insights and experience from over 20 years of communications consulting into a new book: What To Say When Things Get Tough: Business Communications Strategies for Winning People Over When They’re Angry, Worried, and Suspicious of Everything You Say (McGraw Hill, New York). It’s an invaluable primer for anyone who has to face a skeptical or even hostile audience. And it has the courage to show how PowerPoint is a risky way to communicate anything very important.

#4: Growth in the Office. We had a breakthrough year last year in terms of the diversity of our clients (including a growing number in other countries), continuation and expansion of our work for clients (a key metric, since it indicates successful performance in the eyes of the client), and our overall client billing. By the end of the year we were experiencing another breakthrough: workmen were literally breaking through our walls to expand our offices into new space, to accommodate our growth. As we speak, we are interviewing for two new staff positions.
#5: Growth at Home. It was a milestone year for the PCG family at home as well. We had two new babies to celebrate: Kelly Cousineau, a Senior Program Director, gave birth to Damien, her second child; and Jackie Priestly, Vice President, gave birth to Hampton, also her second. Then just before the holidays our newest employee, Senior Project Coordinator Frank Clement, added a bride to our extended family, when he married Nhi Khoan. Finally, writer extraordinaire Peter Bernstein celebrated his 30th year with PCG.
So, a year to remember. Congratulations all!