Recession Relations: Let ’em know you’re thinking of ’em

March 17, 2009

Wow, it’s been a long time, but I’ve got something important to share. Do you know someone who has lost their job recently–a friend, family member, acquaintance or even mere stranger? Please consider checking in and seeing how they’re doing. Maybe you know someone they can talk to, or maybe you are exactly the person they need to talk to. It’s rough out there, but we got each other, right? Pass it along 🙂

A PR Plan We Can Believe In

January 28, 2009

As the economic crisis accelerates this new year, several economists believe a fundamental lack of trust is also at fault.

“While trust is fundamental to all trade and investment, it is particularly important in financial markets, where people depart with their money in exchange for promises,” the economists write. “Promises that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on if there is no trust.”

As political, financial and corporate leaders struggle to come to grips with responding to a problem that at this point does not have a clear solution, it seems to me responsible communications professionals are needed now more than at any recent time in our history. Not to spread lies, confusion or propaganda, as some cynics might allege, but instead to build trust and confidence through well-crafted, informed and transparent messaging.

What we have right now is an event that appears to be of the historical magnitude of a world war, Great Depression or 9/11. Unlike those times in our history, however, news is not brought to us via just the newspaper, radio or even cable news. Conversations travel unfiltered and uncontrolled across the globe in mere minutes. Simultaneously, we have lost a great many journalists, the ones whose job it was to be Gatekeepers. Their outlets shut down, shrinking advertising venues. While economists for 70 years have considered why our economy tanked and then stagnated for 10 years in the 1930s, as a communications professional I wonder how different history might have been if those poignant, amazing newspaper photos of the Dust Bowl or unemployment lines were transmitted instantly via blogs, Twitter and Facebook, instead.

Thing is, I have no idea. And it sort of scares me.

It seems most economists believe responding to the global economic depression we’re currently embroiled in is tied to many different factors. Any plan that is devised is likely to be messy. It’s likely not to work some of the time. It’s likely to cause contraversy. It’s likely to be massive.

So where is the comprehensive communications plan that tells people why we need to do this, how we’re going to do this and how we’re doing when we do it? This economic stimulus plan needs a brand and it needs a philosophy people can get behind, like “Change we can believe in.” It needs to be the Nike of job creation. It needs to take the economic concept of “zero lower bound” and translate it to, “Don’t freak out. Go ahead a spend a little extra this month in Target.” It can’t be bullshit. It needs to have strong, current, truthful, transparent and positive messaging. It needs to embrace old media and new media.

What is shaping up right now is one of the largest public policy initiatives of all time, yet it is being communicated and advocated in the old style, via press conferences, behind-the-scenes meetings and stops at Meet The Press–all of which are very important, but very old fashioned. So far, I have been impressed with President Obama and his progressive takes on transparency and public relations, but for I think $819 billion dollars is going to demand more than weekly YouTube vlogs.

Making Hope

January 15, 2009

Do you remember this video? Debuted a couple months before the election, this was the first time that I thought Barack Obama had a very good chance of winning the election. The campaign had an astounding grasp of imagery and presentation, using words, art and music to stir emotions–most often focusing on “hope,” a cornerstone of Obama’s message.

But now that we have entered the dark days of a recession/depression, I wonder what happened to that hope? What happened to the energy that pulsed through real and digital communities, pushing people to hit the streets and canvas their neighborhoods? We need that positive excitement now more than ever, and I don’t mean just volunteering to help folks who need it but just during our everyday lives–at work, at the store, at a basketball game, on a walk.

While economists and politicians focus on fine-tuning financial bailouts and beefing up economic stimulus, the one area no one is talking about is attitude. I believe that advertising and PR should be an integral part of our recovery. With the inauguration of a new president, we should be embrace a new “brand,” and what better message is there right now than “hope?”

The future of news

January 12, 2009

Where do you think the news business is going? Newspapers are in danger of closing all over the country. TV stations are cutting their staffs. The media play as important a role as ever in the our world’s ongoing discussions about the events shaping our existence.

But what does the future hold? This a question I have pondered with my friends from near the first day I started writing for a newspaper and I saw that a blood letting was ahead. Before long I’d enter the world of PR, but with my close ties to the media remaining professionally and personally through friendships, the future of news has always been top of mind.

I’ve seen some interesting ideas recently, including creating an iTunes for newspapers. Jack Shafer at Slate analyzes the idea, as first proposed by David Carr at the NY Times. Another fascinating idea comes from Detroit where the News and Free Press have announced they will soon stop home delivery of their print newspapers and will focus online. Some have called this “madness.”

But in a world where advertising is shrinking and changing, what is a publisher or editor to do?

LinkedIn: What’s the point?

February 27, 2008

I have to be honest, I’ve had a hard time understanding the point of LinkedIn, the professional social-networking site. I think I came across the site for the first time several years ago as a reporter working on a story about social-networking sites for “grown-ups,” (i.e., those with actual jobs). I signed up, dutifully entering my work experience (1 year as a reporter, 5 years “deli associate”) and…. let it sit for several years. I didn’t know what to do with it…

Occasionally since then I’ve been brought back to it by requests from my “early adopter” friends, then co-workers. However, recently as news articles cropped up about the service and more people I work with have joined it and discussed it, I’ve been rethinking my knee-jerk opinion. Maybe there is some value. The pivotal change of heart probably came recently when a good friend called to tell me he was called by a recruiter looking to fill a job and he had been found through another friend on LinkedIn. Wow, that’s like networking without the “working!”

So, what else is LinkedIn good for–you tell me!

Getting it Pitch Perfect (hehe, I love cheesy headlines)

February 12, 2008

I read an interesting post from Bruce Sterling of Wired today about how public relations people annoy him, especially with regard to his blog. He illustrates a specific example of a post he made recently about Internet connectivity going down around the world and a pitch he received because of it. He posts the e-mail, verbatim, including contact information. 

If you are not familiar with public relations pitching, the basic concept is conveying to a journalists, blogger, etc., news from your company or client in the hope that he or she will write about it. If you follow these sorts of things, you may remember the waves Wired’s editor Chris Anderson made in October when he publicly blacklisted the e-mail domain names of certain companies and PR agencies he said were spamming him with unsolicited pitches. The ensuing uproar flooded onto his comments section and other blogs, showing that it’s clear this is a big problem. 

This topic interests me because it shows how social media have changed the way we communicate. In 1985, you might mail press kits, fax news releases and call journalists to follow up on company news you sent.

You might say, “Hello, Bruce, I just wanted to tell you about some developments…” 

“Say no more, I’m on deadline. I’m not interested.” Bruce hangs up phone, turns to the guy across the room. “Man, you wouldn’t believe…”

Today, however, if a pitch is sufficiently infuriating or off-topic, a PR person might get the kind of promotion he or she has no interest in getting: Posted to Bad Pitch Blog. It’s not just PR people who have something to fear from making a mistake, though. Imagine being the TV reporter who got attacked by a cat. Journalists also face pitfalls when covering breaking news. Take the Virginia Tech shootings where media outside the area turned to social networking sites and blogs for sources. What if the source you talk with isn’t who he or she says she is? Or what if you look insensitive amidst tragedy? 

The only solution is to do your research. Know the tools people use to communicate. Know the people you’re trying to communicate with. In the social media world, connections are created not by pitches but by reaching out and creating conversation. Rather than flying by and dropping pitches (or requests for sources!) from 10,000 feet, dig deeper. It’s not always the case, but if you’re going to pitch a blogger like Bruce Sterling once, you’ll probably need to pitch him again another time, so why not start out with an introduction? Why not ask him about what his interests are and what really annoys him?

In the end, though, there’s probably always the risk of a misstep. Last year I looked hard for a Christmas present for my sister. I found a book I thought she’d enjoy. Well, Christmas came and I decided to hold onto it for later. Late last year I dug the book up to give to her, but when I read through it I was shocked to realize she would hate it. So, rather than give her a bummer gift, I bought her a record from a band she had been raving about for weeks. 

$4 billion buses

February 10, 2008

One the drivers of getting me back in the blogging state of mind was the wonderful story in today’s Plain Dealer about the Euclid Corridor Project by architecture critic Steven Litt. This story recaps some of the exciting things happening on Euclid Avenue, thanks in large part to this rapid-transit/road/sidewalk infrastructure improvement.

As Litt mentions in his article, this project has been called a gigantic waste of time and money by a number of critics. In a way, it’s hard not to blame the casual commuter who sees a big pile of dirt and immediately gets annoyed. A Dick Feagler column even ran with the headline: “Euclid Corridor signifies nothing, and no one will use it,” which I found humorous only for its sheer bluntness. The rest of it irritated me.

If you read Mr. Litt’s article, however, you’ll learn about the investments taking place all the way down the avenue, including some really exciting plans for downtown. All told, $4 billion has been invested, including new museum additions in University Circle, business development in midtown and mixed-use downtown. As work on this project winds down this year, I invite everyone to experience it for themselves, from the pedestrian level, where all great cities must be experienced. Pick a nice day, and walk from the Theater District down to Cleveland State. Notice that with a new road and new sidewalks and cross walks, things seem more systematic now, more sane. While construction has been a nuisance, the changes are like night and day. A new community now grows

What is this?

February 10, 2008

You may or may not remember previous iterations of clevelandada. I have created and destroyed them like sandcastles on a beach in the dog days of July. The blog was devoted mostly to the development and advocacy of urbanism, culture and art in Cleveland. The problem was, I didn’t have the time to catalog everything with the veracity and thoroughness that I had hoped I could. Blogging is hard work, and it seems to me a blog can only be successful when you let readers clearly know the rules: What you will be discussing; how often you will be posting, etc. Unfortunately, I set a blistering pace of multiple posts a day and I couldn’t sustain it. So, I stopped.

I have decided to try again because I think blogs are incredibly important in creating conversations and in sharing ideas. This time, the topics of discussion will be a little more broad, touching upon Cleveland, of course, as well as art, culture and technology. I’d also like to touch upon public relations and marketing because that’s what I do for a job, and I have plenty of opinions on that. I’ll also be posting less frequently: Once a week, I hope. This will enable me to touch on topics I think are most interesting, as well as free up time for me to do other stuff. I’ll write about that here, too!

So, thanks for checking this blog out again! Please consider subscribing. It’ll be easier for you to follow when new content is updated. Also, please comment! It’ll help me know who is reading and what they are interested in as we develop this conversation.