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Do journalists matter

Media strategy: Do journalists matter?

Do journalists matter in this age of social media? President Trump seems to relish a public bust up and you could argue it is not doing his popularity ratings any harm.

Trump relishes a public bust-up

Indeed, amongst his supporters, it seems to actually enhance his popularity.  And there appears to be no end to his willingness to let his frustrations show as illustrated by his ongoing feuds with CNN, the New York Times, the BBC and the list goes on….

There is an argument that with the rise in influence of social media, mainstream journalists are now almost irrelevant to a successful media strategy? Some even argue mainstream media is dead.

Media strategy: Corbyn gave priority to social media

In the UK, the recent election also provides evidence that the mainstream media have lost their influence. Since he became leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn faced hostility, even derision, from much of the traditional media. Whether by choice or necessity he placed his faith in the power of social media.

And that faith paid off – with a much better result in the election than virtually anyone predicted. (Though still winning more than 50 seats fewer than the Conservative Party.) All a long way from The Sun newspaper’s gloating headline after the 1992 election: “It’s the Sun wot won it”.

Can you now drop traditional media from your PR strategy?

So does it matter if companies and organisations antagonise journalists they don’t like?

I would argue that that would be a risky strategy.

Firstly, a recent study by Reuters concluded that mainstream media stories are the lifeblood of topical social media conversations in the UK. Social media amplifies mainstream media even if it sometimes eclipses it.

Secondly, politics is a very different environment to the corporate/business world. Trump and Corbyn have built their personas on being outsiders – there to challenge the system.  There are very few companies or organisations who can pull this off successfully over years and years.

And that is the key difference between business and politics: the need to build – and maintain – a much longer-term reputation. Warren Buffet has frequently warned employees: “lose money for the firm and I will be understanding. Lose a shred of reputation for the firm and I will be ruthless.”

Do journalists matter

Warren Buffett has always stressed company reputation takes years to build and moments to destroy.

Here are two contrasting examples which show the positive advantage of “playing the game” with journalists and the perils of not doing so:

Richard Branson has for years had a good relationship with journalists and has made himself available for interviews, both on his businesses and as an industry expert. And his companies’ reputations have emerged relatively unscathed despite being caught up in crises such as the price-fixing scandal with BA and the West Coast Train crash in 2007.

In the world of sport, as a result of what Tiger Woods felt was an unfavourable interview early in his career, he virtually shunned all contact with journalists, apart from what he was contractually obligated to do at tournaments. And for much of his career he was untouchable, based on his performances on the course. However, when the scandals hit, journalists took great pleasure in settling scores and indulging in a large slice of schadenfreude.

Do journalists matter

Tiger Woods avoided talking to journalists wherever possible. Some say, when things went wrong, he paid a heavy price for denying them earlier access.

Building relationships with journalists takes time. It never guarantees you will be immune from criticism but it does mean you have ‘credit in the bank’ and will get a hearing when things go wrong.

Other people’s thoughts on this:

A TechCrunch blog from February this year

The Guardian’s take

The Guardian again after the Manchester terror attack

And for the long read here are two Reuters reports on disruption of mainstream media by social media. They seem to suggest more of a coming together with social media amplifying stories from the mainstream at least in the UK.

  1. Mainstream media and the distribution of news in the age of social discovery
  2. Mainstream media and the distribution of news in the age of social discovery
Twitter and PR

Twitter and PR: Crisis, Trump and Trolls

Twitter and PR are now, in my view, inseparable. Preparing material on Crisis Comms for a major international organisation in the last week, I was struck by how my thoughts turned immediately to social media, and in particular, Twitter.

If you are in the public eye and something goes wrong, or you are criticised by a person or organisation that matters, our advice at The Media Coach is that the first thing you should do is assign someone to monitor Twitter.

Twitter and PR

In a crisis it is now essential that someone monitors Twitter

Twitter and PR: In a crisis it must be monitored

Twitter has many faults but it is searchable and it will pretty instantly give you a range of views that tell you how the public is reacting, and also how other organisations and players are reacting. This picture will start to emerge in a couple of hours or in some cases minutes. 

Equally important, it will be the first port of call for the mainstream media; journalists follow Twitter the way they used to follow the news agency wires. I haven’t done an audit but Twitter seems to be mentioned in almost every news bulletin these days. For journalists there is no need to ring someone up to get a comment on an interesting development, just look on Twitter.

Of course, if you have a good Crisis Comms strategy, you will also be using Twitter and other social media to put your point of view across. But the idea that you would not consider checking Twitter before putting out your first statement is now frankly crazy.

Twitter and PR: Donald Trump continues to astound

And while on the subject, I cannot but mention President-elect Donald Trump. He did once say he would give up his Twitter account when he moved into the White House. We shall see. But meanwhile he continues to use it to rage at, provoke, criticise and some would say bully whoever he happens to be annoyed with today.

The Tweets pouring scorn on North Korea’s nuclear ability are such a departure from all diplomatic norms that they are astonishing, but I find Trump’s Twitter criticism of the US motor industry much more fascinating.

Twitter and PR Donald Trump tweet

According to two stories in Forbes and Fortune magazines (among others), Trump’s ‘industrial policy by Tweet’ has already saved jobs in the US from going over the border to Mexico.  The idea is that ‘naming and shaming’ CEOs in 140 characters or less persuades them to reverse decisions to invest in Mexico and instead keep US jobs that would otherwise be at risk. Well maybe. I am no fan of Trump but I do find this new use of Twitter absolutely fascinating, if a little scary.

Twitter is now part of the mainstream. It is how we tell the world anything we want to get out there, and how we understand what other people are thinking about … well, anything at all. But it is not all good news. Trolling is widespread and for some, highly damaging. Worse, extreme political groups propagating hatred do effective and uncensored advertising on Twitter.

Twitter and PR: It is not all good

There have been a couple of articles in the last week or so showing former aficionados falling out of love with Twitter.

Lindy West – an American feminist writer – wrote a piece for the Guardian entitled “I’ve left Twitter. It is unusable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators.”  And a response in Politico from former Hillary Clinton Foreign Policy wonk Emily Parker explained why she thinks Twitter cannot be fixed because it is simply reflecting human nature with all its flaws.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in Crisis Communications training or bespoke Social Media training for your organisation, please do get in touch. You can call the office on 020 7099 2212 or you can Twitter direct message me @themediacoach.

Twitter and PR

Articles about Twitter and Crisis Comms:

One from MTI Network, a specialist agency; Twitters Growing Importance in Crisis Communications.

Here is an LSE blog with some useful tips for searching twitter: Twitter and crisis communication: an overview of tools for handling social media in real time.

A short introduction, rather simplistic, from the writer of Twitter Marketing for Dummies: How to Use Twitter to Communicate in a Crisis.

A very interesting article written two years ago but still relevant. Using Twitter in Times of Crisis.

EU Referendum; Reflections on the campaign

Brexit referendum: reflections on the campaign

The Brexit referendum campaign will be studied for decades to come for what it tells us about political campaigning in the social media age. There are so many themes and lessons worth exploring from the Brexit referendum that it is a bit overwhelming. The establishment versus the radicals, the young versus the old, the use of language, the missuses of facts and numbers, the lack of positive vision from either side…I could go on. The one that rises to the top today for me is a phenomenon that has been dubbed the ‘post-truth era.

Brexit referendum: post-truth era

In many ways I am a spin-doctor. I help people make clear, understandable, convincing arguments. And I believe in a complicated world, when often the experts in corporations and organisations have lost the ability to speak in plain English, mine is a useful role. But one of the absolute tenets is ‘don’t lie’. (Another is, by the way, don’t personally attack your opponents, stick to the argument.)

What I saw in the referendum was one side putting time and money and thought into clear reasoned honest arguments and the other dismissing every reasoned argument with a flourish. Nick Cohen in the Guardian wrote this weekend a scathing piece about the attitude to truth of the two ex-journalists who led the Brexit campaign, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. I have in the past been impressed with Boris Johnson as a communicator but my admiration waned after he was called before the Treasury select committee in March this year and so much of what he had said during the Brexit campaign was revealed as half-truths by the ‘dry as dust’ chairman Andrew Tyrie.

Brexit referendum: the lies

One lie that stands at the centre of the Brexit campaign was that £350m a week was being sent to the EU. It was disproved repeatedly but it was still being used right up to the end.

The bigger lie, the one that will define the next few years in British politics, is the one about immigration. The Brexit campaign has been fuelled by the public’s desire to ‘take back control of our borders’ and this Newsnight interview with MEP Daniel Hannan shows just how unlikely the ‘leave’ voting public are to get what they think they voted for.

 

The Remain side have been accused of lying too, particularly about their warnings of the economic consequences of ‘what could happen’. I did not agree with everything they said but I can’t find one outright lie that I can point to.

However, perhaps the most sinister exchange of the whole campaign came in a Michael Gove interview with Faisal Islam on Sky News. It was put to Gove that “the leaders of the US, India, China, Australia, every single one of our allies, the Bank of England, the IFS, IMF, the CBI, five former NATO secretary generals and the chief executive of the NHS” were all against Britain’s exit. The response was: “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts”.

Encouraged by such talk, we now have a large proportion of the population who feel they are lied to all the time and are therefore disinclined to believe anything the establishment or mainstream politicians tell them.

Add to this the power of social media where any piece of information that strikes a chord will be repeated and recycled. To quote Jim Murphy in the New Statesman last year ‘in these emotion-fuelled insurgencies, peer-to-peer social media is increasingly the broadcaster of choice’.

And this is the nightmare vision of the post-truth era – outlined in a 2004 book by Ralph Keyes: The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life. The summary states: ‘post truthfulness builds a fragile social edifice based on wariness, it erodes the foundation of trust that underlies any healthy civilization.’ Keyes wrote in 2004 ‘We are perilously close to the point’. I think we can safely say in the UK, in 2016, that point arrived.

 

 

social media risks nah shah

Social Media risks exposed again

We were reminded again last week of Social Media risks of old posts coming back to wreck the present.  This time, a post from two years back has cost Labour MP Naz Shah a prominent role as aid to the Shadow Chancellor and has led to her having the Labour whip withdrawn. It is a story that will make many of us sit up and reassess our exposure to Social Media risks and a reminder to business that all employees that tweet or post in a professional capacity need to be given clear social media guidelines.

social media risks naz shah

Naz Shah has been suspended from the Labour Party because of Facebook posts from two years back

Social Media risks from Facebook sharing

Naz Shah’s crime was that in a Facebook post in 2014 before she became MP for Bradford West, she ‘shared’ a graphic. It showed an image of Israel’s outline superimposed onto a map of the US, under the headline “Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict – Relocate Israel into United States”.  Shah added the comment “problem solved”. For the un-initiated sharing is not the same as originating the material yourself, you are just passing on something someone else has posted, in this case with a two-word comment. There was another post that likened the Israeli policies to those of Hitler.

It is for others to comment on the offence itself but the dangers for all or any of us are clear. A moment of misjudgement or high spirits or indiscretion can come back to haunt you months or years later and turn your life upside down. Naz Shah is not alone.

In 2013 at age 17, The Kent youth PCC Paris Brown, lost her £15,000 a year job just a few days after being appointed because of tweets she had posted some time earlier. These were things she had said between the age of 14 and 16 which, it was judged, were considered racist and anti-gay. For the record, Paris Brown denied being racist or homophobic but said she had ‘fallen into the trap of behaving with bravado on social networking sites’.

To be clear we, of course, do not approve of social media being used for racist, anti-Semitic or anti-gay trolling. But we do see that this is an area of risk that is not yet fully understood and a whole minefield for businesses that are increasingly embracing social media for PR.

So what are the learning points:

Social Media risks: management for individuals

  • Personal and business social media accounts need to be separated but they are still linked unless an individual clearly states that the opinions given are their own and not the views of the company.
  • Before applying for a job, particularly one in the public domain, do an audit of your social media. Go back over years worth of posts and delete any that are ill-advised. Be aware that they can still exist if they have been shared or made into an untraceable image.
  • If you have been an early adopter and it would be an impossible process to go back and clean up your social media trail make a note of any you regret and be prepared to answer any questions that are raised.
  • Think twice before posting anything. Ask the question if my bosses read this will I still have a job or even a basic principle “will my mum be proud”?

Social Media risks: management for business

  • Provide clear guidelines to anyone who uses social media about what is personal and what is business and how they are only separate if an individual clearly states that they are not representing the company.
  • Provide clear guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not.
  • Have in place a recovery plan and system that can swing into action if an ill-advised post or tweet is out there. Usually, this involves withdrawing the offensive post and posting an appropriate apology.

People in public life have always been held to account for earlier misjudgements. The difference today is that everyone online is in the spotlight and it’s so much easier to check a social media profile.

Social Media risks

Other examples of people caught out:

  • Justine Sacco the PR officer who lost her job after tweeting an insensitive message about AIDS in Africa.
  • Connor Riley inadvisedly tweeted “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”
  • Scott Bartosiewicz was a social media strategist working with Chrysler. Thinking he was signed into his own account, he accidentally tweeted a negative comment from Chrysler’s account about Detroit drivers.

Picture credit: CC by SA, Alchetron 2016

important of traditional media interviews

4 reasons traditional media interviews should still be part of your PR strategy

In the digital age, should PRs still bother putting their spokespeople up for interviews with journalists from the traditional media?

As Lindsay has blogged previously, you don’t have to look too far to find statistics that confirm how the proliferation of new media is eroding the business model and audience share of more traditional rivals. And, it’s also not hard to see why many organisations use social media to bypass journalists, particularly if an issue is contentious or they simply want to put a message out directly to the public.

That said, here are four reasons why talking to traditional journalists on the record should still have a place in your communications strategy.

1. Third party credibility

With trust in corporations and politicians (and to be fair, some of the media) very low, the fact that a spokesperson is prepared to put themselves up for a two-way grilling shows a willingness (or appearance of willingness) to take questions publicly. This is enormously valuable for credibility, as it shows the exchange is not self generated corporate or sponsored puff masquerading as objective news.  There’s a reason it’s called earned media..

2. Catharsis

Likewise, in a crisis, companies who put their CEO’s up for a mea culpa interview often do a much better job limiting damage to their brand, provided the CEO plays by the rules i.e. appears to be genuinely empathetic, follows the crisis messaging formula and doesn’t say anything stupid that will wreck the share price.

3. Audiences – bigger and more specialist

There may be more information outlets out there but many traditional journalists and news organisations also have big social media followings, meaning that if they tweet quotes or clips of their interview with your spokesperson, there’s an increased chance of it being shared and seen more widely. This is very helpful, not least because many organisations don’t have big or active enough digital communities to multiply a message effectively through their own social media channels. We also shouldn’t forget that we’re in a transition phase – many people, particularly older consumers or elite audiences still get their news and information predominantly through more traditional or niche outlets.

RCJ - YouTube

4. Profile building

An interesting recent analysis by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism showed that the relationship between social and traditional media is complex and symbiotic. Stories frequently begin life on social media or sharing sites such as Reddit but it often takes the pick up and ‘coronation’ by traditional journalists for a story to really make it into the mainstream. Likewise, social media pundits with big digital followings get a huge visibility boost once they get noticed by what is often still perceived as the Premier League of traditional media. And of course, the great thing about the social media/media interplay is that it’s measurable in terms of click-throughs and numbers of impressions related to an article.

My guess is that traditional media relations (particularly radio and TV) will continue to play a substantial, if not quite as important role in most PR’s communications strategies for a while yet.

What’s your strategy as a PR? Is the traditional media still important for you or are you focusing more on digital?

eu commissioner hearings scorecard

EU Commissioner Hearings Scorecard

In Brussels over the coming week, the new EU Commissioners (technically Commissioner-designates) are presenting themselves to the European Parliament. I’m working with other communications consultants in Belgium to ‘live blog’ the hearings and assess how each of them does.

We decided to do this project partly because the EU’s standing is at an all time low and partly because President Juncker has promised to make his Commissioners more accessible to the media and ordinary Europeans. So this is our first chance to see just how much of the common touch they really have.

Of course, we will be looking at the usual stuff as well – i.e. knowledge of the brief, EU affairs, credibility etc. But this is the Brussels Bubble’s bread and butter (try saying that after a few drinks) and we want to measure the candidates’ impact (or potential impact) outside this sphere. So we will also be ranking them for energy, enthusiasm, vision and basic likeability.

If you would like to follow the assessments click here.