Friday, January 22, 2010

Losing Control: Can Media Relations Specialists Get a Grip?

This is the first posting of 4 part series on media relations.

Media Relations specialists are losing control because of lightning speed changes that are impacting the world today. There is no doubt that the world of journalism is at major crossroads. According to a recent study commissioned by The Media Center at the American Press Institute, media futurists predict that by 2021 "citizens will produce 50% of the news." Given this, many say that the future of the media will rely less on how the media help shape the news and encourage the democratic process, but more on how well the media is able to stimulate conversation and create dialogue. These changes in turn, are creating new challenges for the media relations specialist.

The ability to guide the message and "own the story" traditionally had been the backbone of media relations. Today experts have to stay more focused to maintain their messages. Reporters are now not only getting their information from traditional sources but they are now getting ideas and even quotes from Twitter and other blogoshpere sources. Reporters are now looking for story ideas, trends and even points of view from people's blogs and tweets. Some reporters are even following customer service comments that are easily accessible online through corporate websites. From these comments, good or bad, entire stories are generated. If one is looking for a voice, thousands of people are ready to speak. Everything is ou there to be shared so no wonder the idea of controlling the story is a quaint and almost forgotten notion. That's why media relations must re-invent itself so that it can continue to be effective in a social media world.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Bumpy Start - Media Relations Mess-ups in 2010 so far

Today I was interviewed by WRHU-FM radio out of Hofstra University about some of the many media relations mistakes we have witnessed in the last month. Quite a nice start to the New Year! Amongst the issues raised were how Tiger Woods is handling his media relations debacle, how well is NBC communicating the changes to its late night line-up, and oh yeah that steroids story again and generally what should organizations do during a communications crisis.

First and foremost, during a communication crisis - silence is not golden. Reporters need information and they will find it even if you don't give it to them. Tiger Woods should have made some sort of statement and perhaps even conducted an interview within the first 48 hours. This was the time for him to take hold of the story and steer it in the direction he wanted it to go. Instead by his silence he forced reporters to dig out sources of their own and did they ever find them. If he had come forth with some honesty, but not too much, about his marital troubles then perhaps the story would have stayed focused on his marriage and he would have become the main source of information instead of pushing reporters to rely on a host of others. Now what he needs is to disappear for a bit, which seems to be what he is doing, and then come back on the scene with apologies and try to reverse his role from offender to victim. Don't be surprised if we soon begin to hear about how difficult it was for him to grow up in the public eye and with so much pressure to be number one. He never really had a chance to grow up. I feel sorry for him already.

As far as NBC is concerned, I think for whatever reasons, the economy, the recession, pressures from their parent company, lost sight of what makes their brand so strong- really good TV programming. After all they are the ones that brought us Seinfeld, Friends, ER and the the Law and Order franchise. It's odd that at a time when choice is everything and more never seems to be enough, that NBC decided to give their viewers fewer choices and only offer one offer every night at 10pm. Ok so they made a mistake but now they should be admitting the mistake and conversing openly with their viewers about it as they try to repair it. They should be saying that we lost sight of what we do best which is creating exceptional TV programs and that's why we're going back to our strength. We're the ones that brought you in the past some of your favorite shows and we're going to do it again. This is their opportunity to talk about the new shows they have in the works and get us all excited about where they are going instead of dwelling on their mistakes. They should be inviting viewers to engage in dialogues through company blogs and other social network sites and show them that they care about what their viewers think. Instead all I see our articles in business sections of traditional media outlets providing business reasons for why these decisions were made. While there is a need for these articles too, it would be nice to see NBC communicating in other ways as well. It's not all bad. They do have some good stories to tell.