Never Say Never

June 2, 2017

by Roger Pynn

We can all hope that British Airways never again has an IT failure like the one that stranded thousands of passengers over the weekend, and while it may be a laudable objective, saying you plan to never let something terrible happen again is an all-in bet you might not want to make.

“Once the disruption is over, we will carry out an exhaustive investigation into what caused this incident, and take measures to ensure it never happens again,” BA CEO Alex Cruz said.

Those advising Cruz on messaging should have known better and that in an industry that has been taking so many hits, erring on the side of caution is the best rule.  Just as you can’t be sure you won’t have an unruly passenger or turbulent weather, you can’t promise technology won’t fail.

So what makes sense in a case like this when the pressure is on?  Perhaps you advise your executive to acknowledge that “in today’s technology dependent world we all know the potential for glitches, but it behooves us to investigate this situation exhaustively and do everything in our power to find solutions and redundant protection for the future.  We truly apologize and appreciate the patience of all those who were inconvenienced.”


It is Still “WIFM?”

May 10, 2017

by Roger Pynn

Kudos to McKay Advertising’s Christian Bayne for this post titled Brand Marketing is BS.

I’ve written before about my disdain for the term “branding.”  Branding is only a verb if you are a cow, and yet people are still hanging on like rodeo cowboys to the claim that what they do is branding.

Bayne writes “Today, people are not loyal to brands, they are loyal to their needs.”

That is absolutely true.  Companies (brands) trying to earn consumer loyalty need to stay attuned and true to customer needs.

The urge to put your brand on every message is understandable, but if you “brand” everything you’re missing the point.  Once you have the ear of your customers, focus on them, not yourself.  They want to know what’s in it for them.


Citizen Journalists Are Always Ready – Are You?

May 5, 2017

by Dan Ward

In the aftermath of the United Airlines “re-accommodating” incident, we’ve seen more headlines about airlines acting badly, usually accompanied by grainy cellphone video shot by concerned passengers.

There’s blood in the water, and “citizen journalists” at airports around the country are at the ready to report on any misstep.

What happens when they leave the airport and point their cameras at your company?

Many organizations “media train” their corporate spokespersons and C-Suite executives (we prefer to call it message training, because the process works beyond the traditional media interview).  But how many are training their front-line staff, the people who interact with customers on a daily basis, and whose comments and actions will be recorded by citizen journalists as soon as anything goes wrong?

Front-line staff need to know that they work in an environment in which every action they take may be recorded and reported.  They need to understand how to communicate the company’s key message with every customer they meet, in the knowledge that their interactions may be published on a blog or podcast.  They need to understand that their actions and comments could mean the difference between a happy customer and a viral video that will cost revenue and jobs.

Are your employees ready?


This is Not a PR Gaffe.

April 13, 2017

by Roger Pynn

I knew I’d see the headline sooner or later:

6 other PR Nightmares:  United fiasco among worst corporate gaffes

 The Bloomberg story in the Orlando Sentinel said:

“When it comes to bad public relations, it’s pretty tough to top the sight of a United Airlines passenger being dragged, bloodied and screaming, from a flight.”

It went on to say:

“But the fiasco is hardly the first self-inflicted corporate blunder. Munoz can take comfort that it’s happened to others, and in many cases the bosses didn’t lose their jobs, as our PR Tales From Hell illustrate.”

Here’s the problem.  This isn’t a PR problem.  It is a management problem that caused public relations problems.  And it is a classic example of management failing to empower smart decision-making on the front lines.  When the people who engage with the public have to make decisions because of what the operations manual says instead of being empowered to make common sense decisions in the face of trouble, disaster is around the corner.

There were so many options … if only the gate staff had been trained to think for themselves.  I’m sure the folks in United’s public relations organizations would tell you the same thing.


Should Fact Checks Have Expiration Dates?

April 6, 2017

by Dan Ward

I’ve written often about my concerns about the “fact check” genre.  When journalists review statements and assign grades such as “Pants on Fire” and “Four Pinocchios,” it’s hard to view their rulings as anything other than opinion.

Determining a level of truthfulness requires judgment, which is colored by a journalist’s own beliefs and biases.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s opinion journalism, and should be labeled as such.

Now comes the news that, in light of the latest chemical attack in Syria, PolitiFact has decided to pull a 2014 Fact Check in which it rated as “Mostly True” a claim by former Secretary of State John Kerry that “we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.”

The rating was based largely on the reports of international “experts” with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the same experts who later reported that Syria used chemical munitions in 2014 and 2015, and which reported in 2016 that Syria had failed to live up to its promises on the removal of chemical weapons.

PolitiFact now states that “conclusive evidence was not available at the time of the original fact check. One of our principles is that we rate statements based on what is known at the time.”

I didn’t realize that fact checks came with an expiration date.  How can PolitiFact claim to offer an objective rating of a supposed statement of fact while also recognizing that information changes over time?  They should change their ratings to “Likely True” or “Likely False” and make it clear that their ratings represent the best subjective judgment of their reporters.

I don’t mean to be a media scold on this issue.  The reporters who work in the fact check realm are doing difficult work, and just like the writers for newspaper opinion pages, their judgments can provide very useful information.  My concern is that their readers, and the consumers of media who re-publish their rulings, view them as objective arbiters of truth, when instead they are offering their best opinion based on what they know at the time.


The Trust Crisis

March 23, 2017

by Roger Pynn

When I first read this article about research conducted by the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, I wanted someone to slap me awake.  “Could this really require research?” I asked.

The study concludes that Americans who find “news” online, it is not the organization that creates the news, but who shares it via social media that determines how much they trust the information.  In other words, if your beloved Aunt Jane (the one the family calls “Saint Jane”) shares an article on Facebook, you are far more likely to believe it because she shared it than whether it came from a highly recognized news organization like, for instance, the Associated Press.

As I read the story a second time, my attitude changed to “isn’t it a darned shame that news outlets lost sight of the basics of human trust?”

I’m like everyone else … concerned over the unraveling of American news media (I’ll not worry about media in Russia).  It goes way beyond the shrinking number of classically trained journalists, the shuttering of some fine papers and magazines, and certainly, the striking lack of editing or adherence to basic principles that used to restrict opinion creep.  I’m worried about the apparent inability of most people to recognize the difference between news and commentary – and that includes a lot of people who claim to be journalists.

This single comment left me reeling:

“All of this suggests that a news organization’s credibility both as a brand and for individual stories is significantly affected by what kinds of people are sharing it on social media sites such as Facebook. The sharers act as unofficial ambassadors for the brand, and the sharers’ credibility can influence readers’ opinions about the reporting source.”

Of course!  For Pete’s sake, are you going to accept something your most trusted friend tells you?  Even if it is published by some outlet you’ve never heard of?  You’ve probably never heard of the American Press Institute before, but if you’re reading our blog it is most likely because we have a relationship and you’re therefore likely to believe I wouldn’t share something with you if it was not reliable information.

All this boils down to the colossal failure of media organizations to earn trust.  It isn’t just because the President of the United States is cutting them up like paper dolls.  He’s simply capitalizing on their failure to create a relationship.  Facebook gets you to like someone.  Do you ever wonder whether your newspaper cares if you like them?


Will Automation Put the Fact in Fact-Check?

February 15, 2017

by Dan Ward

Automated fact-checking may be the wave of the future, according to this Poynter Institute story, and that could be a good thing if it begins to add objectivity to what is currently opinion journalism.

Instead of checking facts and declaring them correct or false, many “fact checkers” today deal in degrees of accuracy, judging stories according to a scale of truthfulness.  Human judgment is required to determine whether a story is true, mostly true or half true, and that judgment requires a subjective review that inevitably is influenced by journalists’ feelings about a topic.  So instead of getting a verdict on whether a statement is true or false, we get an opinion that factors in bias, assumptions and context.

From the story about the goal of automation: “The state of technology and the maturity of fact-checking organizations today make it possible to take the first steps toward that goal.”

In a nascent industry that issues rulings like “Pants on Fire” and “Four Pinocchios,” the term “maturity” rates a Half True at best.

But of course, that’s just my opinion.


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