Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Getting the Right Headline

Getting a catchy name for a campaign or the right headline for a media release can be tough but does it have to be this difficult?

Check out this US Congressional Committee struggling to find the right name. (Video per courtesy of www.ragan.com).

PR of World Youth Day

We know good PR when we see it ... so we take our hats off to the team organising World Youth Day.

The event management was superb ... hundreds of thousands of young people (often a tough audience) attending multiple mega-events over seven days. Things apparently running smoothly, no-one getting lost and activities synching in on time. And the most important indicator: people leaving events enthused by their involvement.
Event Management: A+ rating.

Media coverage was huge ...we know that sometimes these types of events gather a natural momentum and just take off. But you could detect someone's guiding hand (or was it divine intervention?) in the media relations planning ...every day a batch of freshly cooked stories, young and articulate clerics on hand as spokespersons and colour, sound and drama in abundance for the cameras and photographers.

Media Monitors reports 42,277 media items reporting the Pope's time in Sydney:

14,581 TV items
14,592 Radio items
11,301 Internet items
1803 Newspaper stories

Media relations for the visit: A+ rating.

And issues management ... well this one scores a C. The subject of sexual abuse by clergy was always going to be a key issue. Yet throughout the week while the Catholic hierarchy expressed regret for past transgressions, the apologies seemed wooden and at times unconvincing. Certainly aggrieved families and individuals who talked to the media regarded these efforts as less than genuine.

Without trivializing the deeply serious issue of sexual abuse and the Church, the rather average management of this issue marred a week of very good PR practice.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Governments and Social Media

Having previously blogged on climate change, we noted with interest the current TV advertising for the Australian Government's new Climate Change website.

No doubt the site will become an important destination for Australians looking for information on our changing global environment and what we can do about it.

The website is rich in content and offers detailed explanation of the environmental threats facing the country and options for action. What is disappointing is that it is disturbingly short on community interaction. Aside from attending public meetings in major cities or reaching decision makers through traditional email, postal or telephone channels, there is little opportunity for the public to seek information or contribute to the national discussion through the site.

Perhaps we should be making greater use of social media technologies to reach out and engage people. So it would be a leap forward if this site allowed people to share their thoughts, concerns and issues with others.

We acknowledge that you always need mediation when you allow on-line public commentary. That's to stop the slander, bad language, vilification and other inappropriate conversations degrading the discussion. But this gate keeping is easily achievable - without censoring comments either because they are unpopular or show ideological bias.

The Canadian Government recently commissioned a study into using social media in government communications. It is well worth a read. If the Canadian research is any guide, people are open to the idea of using social media to access government information and to having their say on public policy.

And a 2007 IBM report showed that blogging is increasingly being used in the US by Congress, state legislatures and city officials to reach out and engage citizens.

Climate change is important, so if we want to engage Australians, perhaps it's time we began using the complete range of communications tools to involve them and generate action.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Communicating in Different Spaces

Here's some articles worth a quick read:

A recent study on using social media to keep up with not for profits.

The art and craft of choosing the right words for your media release - or how toxic is your shower curtain?

And a Pentagon General says “… when you get the call in the middle of the night and everything is going the wrong way, blogging could in fact inform decision makers in real time with real information to make decisions much quicker than a phone conference.”

Navigating the Social Media Frontier

Social media is the buzz word in PR and marketing circles these days. You can feel awfully left out and lonely if you're not talking blogs, Facebook, wikkis, RSS, Twitter and all the other new digital applications.

In our workshops we always recommend organisations seriously consider using social media to reach their audiences. But then we add three common sense caveats:
  • The people you need to reach must use that media .... using social media just to be cool will waste a lot of communications effort.
  • You must be prepared to engage in, not control, the conversation with your audience. And organisations locked into top down, command and control communications suddenly start to sweat when they realise the new media is about a philosophy of participation as much as it is about technology.
  • And finally when in Rome do what the Romans do. You need to communicate like others folks in the social media zone ... and they don't use corporate speak and words like vision, mission statement and outcomes. When you bring organisational language into a social media conversation you look like the man wearing a suit and tie on a summer beach. Uncomfortable and silly.
At this stage social media is new and no-one knows where it is heading. But sticking to some common sense principles will help most of us navigate this pioneer territory.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Telling the Climate Change Story

The environmental alarm clock just went off and it's five minutes to midnight.

On Friday 4 July Professor Ross Garnaut released his 537 page report about global climate change and its impact on Australia. It pulls no punches. Early economic modeling shows that unless we take action now, by 2100:
  • Around 4.8 per cent will be wiped off Australia’s projected GDP.
  • Projected household consumption will drop by 5.4 per cent.
  • Real wages will decline by 7.8 per cent.
If we sit on our hands now the quality of life for our kids, grandkids and other Australians will be considerably worse than our current lifestyles.

The report poses special challenges for Australia's communicators. As the nation's story tellers, from this point onwards, more of us are likely to be called upon to use our communications skills to:
  • Help the man and woman in the street make sense of the claims and counter claims on what should be done in the next few years and beyond.
  • Help people understand their role in finding solutions. (This year's Earth Hour is a good example of telling people how they can become involved).
  • Explain simply the complexities of the tough measures Australia must take to mitigate against the effects of climate change.
  • Accurately communicate the impacts of these measures on whole industries, whole communities right down to individuals.
If the tobacco industry is an example, some in the PR community may be called upon by clients and others to fight rearguard actions to preserve sectional interests. They may be asked to sow doubt and confusion by communicating that change is unnecessary or the adjustment is too harsh. Mnay more may be tasked to green wash their organisations ie to promote token changes done more for good PR than sustainable posterity.

As a group I hope Australia's communicators put the global and national interest ahead of client and organisational self interest.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

When Saying 'Sorry' can be the Best Communications

The media coverage of Federal MP Belinda Neal has been intense in recent weeks.

You'll recall Labor Parliamentarian Ms Neal and her partner, former NSW Minister John Della Bosca had a run-in with staff at a Central Coast nightspot. Heated words were exchanged and Ms Neal and her partner were subsequently accused of overbearing and bullying conduct.

The matter has turned into a mini-media storm putting both the Prime Minister and the NSW Premier on the defensive over the behaviour of their colleagues. Both Neal and her partner have gone to ground - maybe on party orders - and are saying nothing.

In the very early days of the affair the two may have been better advised to follow the crisis communications mantra of "fess up and dress up". If so the the story may have ended in two days rather than drag on for two weeks.

When public figures find themselves in an unfavourable public spotlight -and they have done the wrong thing - often the best course of action is to admit the lapse in judgement, tell the community how they will rectify the situation and move on quickly. In this case perhaps an early apology from Ms Neal to the staff involved was in order.

In these situations saying nothing or trying to stonewall leads to continuing public and media speculation and, when you don't talk others will fill the communications void for you.

The guidelines in this video for dealing with the media in a crisis, could have saved a lot of angst for all parties in the past two weeks.