Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category
One of the things that social media offers EVERYONE is the chance to present important work to the world in engaging ways. Proof? Just look at a map from the James McGregor Stewart society in Nova Scotia. I think if you read this post, you’ll see that even the most underresourced organization can use online tools to do good work and spread it.
The James McGregor Stewart Society, a small voluntary group with a single summer intern, has managed to pull off in a month what the Disabled Persons Commission of NS (annual budget: $600,000) and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission ($2.1 million) have not achieved in the decades of their existence.
It has surveyed the accessibility of MLAs offices throughout the province. The results will not be a source of pride for Nova Scotia or its legislators.
So, the back story:
The James McGregor Stewart Society’s prime mover, a guy named Gus Reed, got a question from his intern. She wanted to find out how easy is it for people with disabilities to meet with their elected representatives? So, simplicity itself. She phoned each of the 52 MLAs’ constitutency offices and asked them some very simple questions about accessibility. Here’s what they asked:
- Does your office have parking? If so, is it paved? Does it have designated accessible spots?
- Is there a power door button?
- Is your entrance accessible (level, ramped, and / or elevator?)? Does it have a portable or other questionable ramp? Does it have a step or stairs?
- Is the washroom large enough for a wheelchair? Are there grab bars and/or a wheel-under sink?
- Is your office on an accessible transit route?
With this, they assigned points so that MLAs could score between -1 and 6.
Here are the results:
The mean score was 3. Keep in mind, you could get a 3 by having a disabled parking space at your office and having a door at street level. If you had an accessible washroom you’d get a 5. So a mean score of 3 is not exactly inspiring.
I spent a little time trying to get a handle on the Nova Scotia government’s accessibility policy. As best as I can understand it, buildings constructed since the 1990s, or buildings that have changed their purpose (from a house to a retail store, for example) are required to conform to the provincial building code, which mandates a number of measures to ensure disabled people can get access. (The building code regulations are here, and the province’s 1986 Building Access act is here.) Unfortunately, calls and emails to the province’s Human Rights Commission and Disabled Persons Commission resulted in little useful information. However, a cheerful fellow at the provincial department of Labour and Advanced Education (which is responsible for the building code) walked me through the regulations so that I got a cursory understanding of them.
The shameful level of accessibility is one thing. But I’m not an accessibility blogger – I’m a PR and social media blogger. So I’m gonna take on that aspect of this.
What really caught my eye in Parker Donham’s post was that nobody else had done this sort of survey before. Certainly, it’s not a technical challenge; simply pick up the phone 52 times and you’re done.
But what social media now offers is the opportunity to disseminate these findings in a graphically-rich way quickly, easily, and widely. No wire service needed, no fancy-dan graphic designers. Just Google Maps, Blogger, and email.
I spoke with Gus Reed on Skype on June 6, and he told me they weren’t sure what would happen with this survey. With no staff, the James McGregor Stewart Society has no “machine” to churn out a mass of followup documents. And this story may not make a dent in the media or in Nova Scotia government policy.
I want to draw out some public relations and social media lessons for both activist groups and for those who are their likely targets — large corporations, organizations, or government.
- Do solid work — like calling all 52 constituency offices, and tell your story well. Don’t focus only on media attention. A well-told story, like “people in wheelchairs can’t participate in basic democracy” is going to make people stop and read. If your work is shoddy or bloggers or media get burned, though, good luck getting someone to listen a second time.
- Use the resources you have at your disposal. In this case, the society has a blog on Blogger. Sure, they could get more fancy. But they haven’t. They used Google Maps to visualize and annotate their data. Gus Reed used Skype to give me more information.
- Have a plan. Even if you’re not going to push hard on the media front, doing the work requires followup. What will your next steps be? Once you do them, what’s next? Even for voluntary organizations with no staff, this stuff isn’t a closed circle, it’s lather, rinse, repeat. (Hint: there are lots of municipalities in Nova Scotia to look at, Mr Reed. Hint 2: There are 12 other legislatures that groups could survey in exactly the same way.)
- Do not look at this as a threat. Look at it as an opportunity. Even if it’s critical. And especially if, deep down, you know the criticism is well-founded.
- Do not ignore small organizations as powerless. The “amplification effect” may leave you chasing down a forest fire.
- Respond. Promptly and substantively.
Not so long ago, my friend Dennis posted an infographic about the misuse (accidential or wilful) of data in infographics. In a handy infographic format. I’m going to take the opportunity to embed it below. It’s worth keeping.
But Dennis’s nifty graphic only tells us about one place where we can be led into temptation — the infographic.
I happened upon a newsletter today that made me think of how easy it is to make marketing and communication decisions or take action based on information that should be questioned.
Mobile Commerce Daily reported on May 29 that “44pc of shoppers will never return to sites that are not mobile friendly: report.” The story is based entirely on a survey carried out by US software company Kentico, which makes content management systems. Kentico issued a news release about the survey on May 28, but it could be that the newsletter had an embargoed copy of the release.
The information is interesting. For example, it says that nearly 9 in 10 people with smartphones use them to compare products to competitors. And 45% do it right in the store, underlining the practice of “showrooming.”
But… in the newsletter story, there’s no information at all about the survey data. Even more frustrating is the lack of a link to the source data. I tracked down Kentico, then hit their press centre, where the news release about the survey sits. If you go to the Kentico site, you discover that the data-gathering part of this survey consisted of “More than 300 US residents 18 years old and over participated in the Kentico Mobile Experience Survey, conducted online during the month of April, 2013.”
Now, a survey sample is neither good nor bad. The point is to understand that sample. Was it a random sample? Did the participants selfselect? I couldn’t tell anything more than what I just said, because Kentico didn’t link to the survey itself or a more detailed report of its findings.
I contacted Kentico’s PR company, and Chris Blake of MSR Communications was prompt, open and detailed in his responses to my questions. He gave me demographic information that SurveyMonkey, the tool they used to do the research, provided, and a copy of the questionnaire. After a brief perusal of some USA census data, I learned that their sample of 300 people skewed only slightly more male, somewhat older, and way more educated than the US general population, for one thing. And the data provided on their sample gives me a sense of the potential sampling error rate (while Chris Blake suggests a ±5% margin of error, I’m thinking more like ±10%).
I don’t think there’s ANYTHING bogus about the survey results here. But I needed to take a fair amount of time to convince myself of that. And there are many occasions on which I find the data or survey results so problematic that I forget about using them.
There’s a flood of survey results and other materials that get published by the originators of the information, by newsletters, and by people like me every minute of every day. It’s easy to take everything at face value. But think twice. As a teacher of social media, I’m constantly looking for good data to share with students. As a consultant, I’m looking for information that I can use to help clients make sound decisions. But it is dangerous to see a newsletter article and use it to tell students or clients to base their actions on the data it contains.
Back in the days when ink and paper cost money, I understand the need for brevity and concision. But these newsletters are electronic. Pixels don’t cost anything but the time to write. And if you’re not going to disclose proprietary or competitive information, why not make as much information as you can readily available?
The more easily people like me can peruse your research, the more likely we’ll be to accept its conclusions. The more difficulty we have understanding the process behind the numbers, the more skeptical we become (or at least the more skeptical we SHOULD become).
And if you’re in business and trying to grapple with the challenges of communicating using social media, either desktop-style or mobile, make sure to ask questions EVERY time you see statistics and survey results. You don’t want to have to explain to your boss why you made a bad marketing or sales decision based on data you found in a press release and didn’t vet.
It’s too generous to assume that just because someone writes a newsletter, they’re doing your due diligence for you.
Here’s Dennis’s great graphic:
I was asked by the organizers of next week’s Social Capital Conference to join organizer Lara Wellman on the local CTV morning show to talk about the conference, keying in on a tart little infographic they published recently: 10 Ways to Suck at Social Media (I’ve put the infographic at the end of the post, if you want to check it out).
The interview, done with cohost Jeff Hopper, reminded me that live TV interviews are a unique experience for even experienced interviewees. Cameras (in this case, one robotic and one human-operated), lights, a computer monitor behind us — distraction is easy and time is short. In this case, I think (THINK – always hard to KNOW) the interview went well, in great part because Jeff Hopper was already knowledgeable about social media, and because he had an obvious personal interest in the topic.
So here’s my tip for today. When you’re doing a live interview, either on TV or radio, KEEP TALKING. The host will find his or her way into your chatter to ask questions, get clarification, or take the interview in a new direction. What lies behind the dictum KEEP TALKING means you should be conversant enough with your topic to theoretically deliver a monologue for the length of the interview.
The easy way to KEEP TALKING is to have a set of key messages in your head and ceaselessly repeat them. This is not ideal. People know “key messages” when they hear them, thanks to politicians who seem to think we won’t notice them robotically repeating them. Here’s probably the most egregious example ever, courtesy of ex-Member of Parliament Peter Penashue:
The key here is to balance out your ability to KEEP TALKING with your ability to be a gracious part of a conversation. It’s a skill that takes practice to develop.
I won’t be talking about media training at Social Capital, but I’m happy to talk to you about it, or to meet you at the Social Capital conference, where I’ll be doing a talk on “Why You Are Stupid.” (pssst: The “You” in my title also includes me.) It’s not too late to register and hear from some truly un-dumb people, including Gini Dietrich (Chicago-based owner of Arment Dietrich and co-author of Marketing in the Round), and Danny Brown (cofounder of ARCompany and author of the hot off the press book Influence Marketing) (affiliate links).
And if this is something you need heavy-duty help with, you might want to check out Brad Phillips, a New York-based media trainer, and his Mr. Media Training blog. He has tons of great tips, techniques and case studies that he updates pretty much daily on his site.
UPDATE: Here’s the interview, as uploaded by CTV Ottawa Morning Live.
And here’s the infographic:
Before I get into the blog post proper, a quick note: my heart goes out to all those suffering in Boston. If you would like to help those affected by the bombings, I might suggest The One Fund, which has been established by the Mayor of Boston and the Governor of Massachusetts.
All right. On to a crisis of a much less dire nature.
Last fall, Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty held a media event at a bike shop here in Ottawa. Joe Mamma is a funky shop here in town, specializing in hipster fixies and cool cruiser bikes. In the event, Flaherty talked about some of the measures contained in his government’s 2012 budget, highlighting a small business tax credit and the government’s decision to hold the line on new taxes. The 2012 budget also elminated duties on miports of athletic equipment. Good news for an indie bike shop owner.
Fast-forward a few months: Same bike shop. Different MP from an opposition party. Different message.
In the 2013 budget, the government announced a number of new tariffs (which, they told media nad opposition, aren’t taxes at all), some of which affected … you guessed it… bicycles. Now looks like those bikes that Jose Bray sells at Joe Mamma are going to be MORE expensive. So the NDP, Canada’s official opposition party, held a news conference at Joe Mamma to criticize the 2013 budget.
I’m not going to get into the politics of this — beyond saying I like lower prices for bikes because I’m a cyclist.
But if you’re doing any sort of public or media event, you may want to think about that event setting. I’m sure Flaherty’s staff thought Joe Mamma was an ideal setting for an event. But they missed the contingency that budget changes that were likely being discussed as they held that event could irritate the owner to such an extent that he would hold another event to criticize them.
If you’re the “backdrop” for an event, it might be a good idea to be very clear with the event organizer about that’s happening. In one story talking about the duelling photo ops, shop owner Jose Bray talked about about not being aware of what was actually being announced by Flaherty, and then feeling blindsided by the new tariffs. Even if it’s a cabinet minister, you have the right to ask exactly what they’re announcing. They may tell you to pound sand and find another location. But that’s the way things go sometimes.
And kudos to the NDP’s staff, for making the opportunity happen by reaching out to him.
A bad event is like taking a photo in the middle of Times Square. A good event is like taking a studio portrait of someone. Your goal, whether you’re the organizer or the “backdrop”, is to control as many factors as possible to allow your messages to get out. The studio’s lighting, props, and makeup are the same thing as the event’s backdrop, spokespeople, and schedule. Make sure that you’re making decisions that are designed to benefit you or your organization to the greatest extent possible.
There’s a big story today in Ontario, with the banner headline:
Here’s the story in a nutshell, from a timeline of events published by CBC online.
On June 23, 2012, a shopping mall parking deck collapses in the northern Ontario town of Elliott Lake. By early the next morning, a search and rescue team is on site and beginning to stabilize the rubble to search for survivors.
On June 25, the Ontario Ministry of Labour orders a stop to rescue work, saying it’s too dangerous and unstable to continue. In an intense series of events, the rescue efforts are restarted and crowds of angry bystanders are critical of
On June 27, 2012, two bodies are removed from the rubble.
The news today is that the government of Ontario had prepared a statement supporting the suspension of rescue efforts.
Sorry to say, I think this story is not a story at all. Why?
- This was a disaster, and a communications crisis. It is beyond naive to think that governments would not have statements prepared in the event of suspending the rescue operations.
- The government was relying on its search and rescue experts to inform the discussion and to prepare for action. Is that wrong?
- This sort of activity is a standard part of contingency planning. For example, when Apollo 11 went to the moon, there was a chance that the astronauts would be lost. The US government prepared a presidential speech in the event that Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins were killed during the mission. Is this terrible? It may seem hardhearted. But for communicators in crisis mode, it’s necessary.
- I particularly enjoy the story’s subhed: “Emails sent by premier’s staff reveal shifting views.” My gosh, as a situation evolved at a rapid pace, the staff were assimilating input from experts, gauging public opinion, and working on a communications strategy that would serve the most people in the best way? Wow. Would ironclad unvarying views have been a better position for the Premier’s staff to choose?
When bad things happen, difficult choices have to be made, and worst-case scenarios must be addressed. I don’t see anything telling me that this news story is anything more than the portrayal of a fast-moving crisis and disaster management scenario playing out. Shame that it’s being played as it is by the CBC.
I wrote a bit about the conference earlier. But here’s an edited version of my presentation from PAB, which was an attempt to argue that bloggers and content creators could steal a technique and a principle or two from more traditional forms of content creation (like… journalism). Hope you like it. And feel free to argue with me.
It seems like just a year or so ago that Netflix found itself in the New York Times apologizing for hiring actors to pretend to be excited about the company entering the Canadian market. And didn’t the US Federal Emergency Management agency have to apologize for pretending that its own employees were journalists, when it faked a news conference? Oh yeah, they did!
But hey, those guys are amateurs. They are certainly not “Canada’s home for hard news and straight talk”, a network that is “unwavering in their commitment to uncover the real stories impacting the lives of everyday working people and their families“.
So when Sun News wants to cover a citizenship ceremony, what ends up happening? The minister’s office sends down the orders to put together a ceremony at the Sun studios (not where Elvis and Jerry Lee hung out, sadly), and when they have trouble putting together enough warm bodies to make the ceremony look legit… the ceremony gets faked, with public servants posing as new Canadians. Here’s the video, in all its cringeworthy glory. Keep in mind as you watch it, that six of these people are not “new Canadians.” They are federal employees.
I’m guessing the two small people on the end aren’t the public servants. They appear to be children, although in this topsy-turvy world who can tell? Here’s the story as reported in the Globe and Mail, obtained through Access to Information requests by the Canadian Press.
The story’s money quote:
When a bureaucrat sent Sun News a list of possible citizenship ceremonies to cover in Ontario, a network employee suggested another scenario. “Let’s do it. We can fake the Oath,” reads an email from a sunmedia.ca email address, the name blacked out of the document.
I suppose I should draw the lessons, although I can’t imagine I have to:
- Journalists shouldn’t create pseudo events or cover them as real events.
- Public servants should have more integrity.
- Hard news and straight talk don’t mix well with “Fake the Oath.”
Let’s all be a bit better than this.
The political appointee Candice Malcom appeared on Sun News today to apologize for the event. Sun News host Pat Bolland claimed that they knew nothing of the fakery. For what it’s worth, I never would have suggested the strategy followed in the wake of this muffup. Here’s the video:
UPDATE 2: Sun News Network’s David Akin weighs in with his take on the event.
Get enough public relations professionals together, and you’ll inevitably hear the conversation. The one I’m thinking of starts around war stories, then moves to why the corner office folks (or the C-suite, if you’re more modern than I am) don’t listen to us, don’t take us seriously.
You know why? Because we cheapen ourselves. We do things that we shouldn’t, and we suffer the consequences.
Case. In. Point.
In California, water is a big deal. The water 18 million people in southern California use to drink, wash, and take care of their sewage arrives in their houses via a 240-mile pipeline all the way from the Colorado River. So I’d figure that the topic of water there is discussed a bit more than it is here in my city of Ottawa, where a mighty river brings all the water we need to our figurative doorstep.
The Los Angeles Times ran a story yesterday about one of the authorities which manage the water supply for 2 million folks living south of LA, the Central Basin Municipal Water District. The CBMWD apparently signed a $12,000/month contract with a consulting firm to write and place stories about them on a news site called “News Hawks Review.” The documents around this were obtained by the Times:
The selling point? That this would be indexed by Google News as a news outlet. Well, that door’s slammed shut — as of this morning, Google News has de-indexed News Hawks Review. In discussions with the LA Times, Coghlan claimed to have no editorial role with the News Hawks site. However, he was a frequent contributor to the site and was listed as a “reporter” with an affiliated “newshx.com” e-mail address.
Before I start opining, a caveat. I attempted yesterday to contact News Hawks Review, Coghlan (the company seems to not have a web site, which is curious for someone working in social media), and the CBMWD for comment and to ensure that the LA Times coverage was not inaccurate. None of those people responded to phone calls or emails. So if I’m extrapolating from incorrect information, be aware that I tried to verify the facts as reported.
There are two issues here, to my mind. The first is that what was done is, in my opinion, unethical. This was an attempt to create a simulacrum of news coverage without disclosing the financial interests.
I asked PRSA for a comment about this, and here’s what Prof. Deborah Silverman, the chair of their Ethics Board, told me by email:
“This practice is contrary to the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics, which espouses honesty and accuracy in communication, the free flow of information, and disclosure of information. The Central Basin Municipal Water District’s use of a communications firm to create “news” disguised as media coverage is a serious breach of ethical standards, and the district is operating in a manner that does little to aid the public’s decision-making process.” I’m sad to say that I also e-mailed my professional association, the International Association of Business Communicators, and nobody responded.
Did CBMWD know their communications person or people were engaged in unethical behaviour? Did they endorse it? I don’t know.
Second, this is a ridiculously ineffective use of thousands of dollars. What is the measure of success here? What opinion was changed by these innocuous stories? A youtube video accompanying the story has a whopping 101 views:
Meanwhile the documents posted by the LA Times show the communications folks for CBMWD referring to this as a “unique and innovative utilization of an internet news service to distribute actual news.”
If we as PR professionals can do no better than to use the tools at our disposal in unethical and deceptive and ineffective ways, then why SHOULD the C-suite listen to us? And if the boss thinks this is what we do, why would he or she think of us as anything other than unethical shills?
UPDATE: Thanks to the PRbuilder blog, I discovered two things. First, Ragan’s PR Daily covered this issue, and second, that the LA PRSA chapter has sent a letter to the Times calling this an “egregious breach.” I don’t think the letter’s been published in the Times yet, but the Ragan story has it.
Rob Ford is the mayor of Canada’s largest city. The dedicated Flacklife reader may note that I’ve covered Mayor Ford a couple of times here. The most notable post was the one in which I included audio of his interview (to use the term loosely) with CBC Radio’s national show “As It Happens” — an pre-booked interview which was 210 seconds of intense awkwardness.
That was October. This is August. And Rob Ford has worked hard on his media relations skills.
Today, he met with the Premier of Ontario, and afterward, met the Toronto media for a scrum. But this was a scrum with a difference. Listen and learn:
This is taking the Donald Rumsfeld school of media relations to an entirely new plateau. News conferences are far more pleasant when in two minutes you can tell the gathered reporeters what they would be asking, answer those questions, and leave.
I don’t know whether to rejoice at the innovation or… jump off a bridge.
Audio from the National Post’s Youtube channel.
I grew up in Cape Breton, where there’s been a long — and far from uniformly successful — history of government agencies trying to support and grow the island’s economy. Back in the late 1980s, when I had gone from an aborted decision to go to graduate school to being a freelance journalist, there were full page ads being taken out in the New York Times offering “Free Money in Cape Breton.” Those ads were successful in bringing in many entrepreneurs, some of whom built legitimate businesses, and others who were less scrupulous.
Currently, economic development is led by a Crown corporation called Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, which works with another entity called the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. ECBC’s CEO is a man named John Lynn, who formerly worked with grocery retailing giant Sobeys. And he appeared on CBC Cape Breton’s Information Morning program as part of their annual “year-in-review” series of interviews. Former co-toiler in the trenches of freelancing Parker Donham pointed to the 15-minute conversation on his blog Contrarian. Here it is :
I don’t know the details of the issues Lynn and Sutherland discuss. And I don’t know John Lynn at all. But I have to agree with Parker on his general assessment of Lynn’s media performance. Don’t criticize the media as he did while you’re on the air; you come off as peevish, irritable, and defensive.
Let’s compare and contrast with Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, who did NOT want to answer questions from the Today Show’s Matt Lauer about a rumoured takeover of his company by Google (I saw this via Brad Phillips, a/k/a Mr. Media Training):
So you can be cranky, irascible, and somewhat confrontational, or you can be quirky and a little bit off the wall.Which interview came off better?