February 8, 2017

by Vianka McConville

If you’re looking for whistleblowers in the era of email hacking, why not list a phone number?

The New York Times has a system to receive confidential news tips which includes messaging apps, encrypted emails and snail mail, but omits a phone number.  Unless the line was bugged, I would think a phone call would be the safest way to share confidential information.

As someone who has tried to call reporters at the Times, I assume direct phone numbers are nowhere to be found due to the volume of calls the publication receives on a daily basis.  The phone system is a fortress.  But that can be a blessing and a curse; reporters may avoid the world’s worst story ideas, but also could miss out on the next big tip.

Is it an attempt to thwart a deluge of unrelated calls or have people become too comfortable behind screens and encrypted messages to actually talk to folks?

Who Will Run the Last Story?

November 3, 2016

by Roger Pynn

As I read this article from The New York Times about the malaise of the newspaper industry, I had to wonder which paper will run the final article … the one that says, “This is the end of the road for an institution once so powerful that what they thought drove what the most powerful did?”

I’ve written many times about my affection for daily newspapers, having started my career there and relied on pulp far more than airwaves or bandwidth to deliver news all my life.  My paper is a good friend.  My paper and my morning cup of coffee have a lot of shared memories.

But this quote in particular stood out:

“More and more publishers are coming to the recognition that there’s a new normal,” said Alan D. Mutter, who teaches media economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and writes about the media on the blog Reflections of a Newsosaur. “And the new normal is not nearly as nice as the old normal was.”

I’ll adjust and I’ll surely get used to consuming news on one of my devices, but I won’t like it.  And I don’t think I (or anyone else) will ever see those who deliver information to my digital door as institutions of power, objectivity or authority.  The model they’ve crafted makes them click chasers who erased the invisible line between newsrooms and the revenue-driven front office.

To people in our business, perhaps it is a good thing.  The door is wide open for us and our clients to become much more important sources of news and information to our stakeholders.

“Blessing and Curse”

March 18, 2016

by Dan Ward

Bernie Sanders fans are up in arms over “stealth edits” made to a New York Times story detailing Sanders’ legislative history.  According to the Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, readers have every reason to be upset.

The original article described in fairly positive tones the legislative victories Sanders won in Congress despite his political independence.  After several hours – and lots of online discussion – editors made significant changes that, in Sullivan’s words, turned the story “from almost glowing to somewhat disparaging.”

Sullivan’s take is that the Times editors should have included an explanation behind such substantive changes, and that it is questionable why a feature story that likely took much time to develop couldn’t have been edited before it was published online.

Political beliefs aside, there is a lesson here for PR pros … online stories often change, sometimes significantly, and those changes can impact substance and tone.  When we secure online “hits” for clients, we need to capture those stories immediately and monitor for additional edits that may change the tone of those stories and their impact on our clients’ businesses.  We may find ourselves now clipping two or three versions of the same story, and we have a responsibility to call attention to changes with which we may disagree.

The article’s immediate editor, Michael Tackett, was correct in referring to “the blessing and the curse” of real-time publishing.  It’s a blessing and curse for us as well.

Just One Bite.

September 4, 2015

by Roger Pynn

No.  This isn’t a diet tip.

It just struck me today while scanning one of the many sources I read for thoughts on communication, business and leadership that hardly a day goes by that I don’t get at least one bite from the magazines, newspapers, aggregators and blogs I follow … and that single morsel makes the investment of time worthwhile.

The folks who work in our firm – and most others like us, I imagine – probably often feel the pressure to “be billable” … to make sure they are doing productive client work.  And, yes, we want them to do that both because our clients expect it and that is how we remain profitable.

But they are also more valuable to our clients and to us as they grow from experience and from the accumulation of knowledge.  A Harvard Business Review item passed on by the Public Relations Society of America caught my eye with the headline “6 Ways to Reduce the Stress of Presenting.”  I found my bite for the day in four-time New York Times best-selling author Joseph Grenny’s  second step:  “Rehearse, but don’t obsess.”

I present a lot these days and I’ve found myself over-rehearsing instead of, as he suggests, rehearsing just three times:  once when he finishes preparing the talk, then the day before he is scheduled and, finally, a few hours before going “on.”  I like that cadence.

We live in an age of lifelong learning and thankfully technology surrounds us with a classroom without walls.  You don’t need to be a full-time, Web-surfing student at the expense of achieving your assigned responsibilities, but your boss will benefit when you take time to look for an intellectual snack each day.

What’s Your Brand Worth?

August 20, 2015

by Kacie Boniberger

Would you change your brand for $20 million?  That’s the question facing upstate New York’s Paul Smith’s College.  According to The New York Times, a generous gift from 20-year board of trustees member and benefactor, Joan Weill, would help reverse Paul Smith’s College’s financial troubles – but only if the school changes its name to Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College.

The board of trustees is behind the change, and by the looks of Paul Smith’s home page, already planning how to spend the $20 million:

Paul Smith

Considering the overall impact of changing brand elements like a name or tagline, however, Weill’s gift might not be worth the price.  Paul Smith was founded under a family name synonymous with the best of the Adirondacks – a family known for humble beginnings and a pioneering spirit.  In contrast, Joan Weill and her late husband are known for transforming financial services and being billionaire philanthropists.  Two totally different ideals.  And, combining them would force the college to assume a new identity to accommodate both.

A court decision yesterday was supposed to determine whether the school would officially accept its new name, but the judge deferred ruling until more information could be presented.  At the hearing were about 15 people in opposition; they are joined by more than 3,000 alumni and community members in this Facebook group, and by more than 3,200 who have signed a Change.org petition.

I can’t lie … I would agree to change my name in a second if it meant a few million dollars in my bank account.  Although, in this case, rebranding should be an alternative, not “Option A.”  By acquiescing to Weill’s demand, not only is the board of trustees alienating thousands of alumni who have publicly voiced their opposition online, but it’s ignoring a responsibility to maintain the college’s integrity.

Plus, isn’t the meaning of philanthropy to show altruistic concern?  If Weill’s sincere motive is to help Paul Smith’s College maintain a brand promise to its students, alumni and community, her gift should come with much different stipulations – especially considering two buildings on campus already have her name.

A rebranding initiative shouldn’t be the result of a paycheck.  Special care should be taken to evaluate the effectiveness of your current brand elements, the opinions of your key stakeholders and the potential positive and negative impacts of a change.

What do you think?  Is $20 million worth sacrificing your brand?

Give Peas a Chance

July 6, 2015

by Dan Ward

The New York Times earned tons of online ridicule with its suggestion Wednesday that readers should add peas to their guacamole.  The President himself weighed in to say he was “not buying” it, and a #NYTrecipes hashtag quickly saw such gems as “Put Thousand Island dressing in your milk” and “Try antifreeze in your sweet tea.”

Picking on the Times for its odd suggestion was all in good fun, but imagine what a boring world this would be if we didn’t put peas in our guacamole from time to time.

We don’t grow as people or professionals, and don’t offer anything new of substance to our bosses and clients, if we don’t sometimes try crazy ideas.

Next time you’re brainstorming a new project, or experiencing writer’s block, throw some peas in your guacamole.  Try something outlandish and new.


When Your Statement Becomes the Story

June 4, 2015

by Vianka McConville

A longtime New York Times TV sports and business reporter was looking for a bit more feeling from sponsors of the World Cup in statements relating to the resignation of FIFA’s former president, Sepp Blatter.  When he didn’t get it, the story became ‘weak PR statements.’

To the reporter, the words from Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Adidas and Visa were lukewarm in condemnation for Blatter and FIFA’s actions, and he surmised the same PR pro could have written them all.

He went on to quote a CEO for a company that sponsored the Olympics during the scandal in bidding for the 2002 Salt Lake winter games, who was rather outspoken during that time.  His insight was “… you have to remember that most corporate bigwigs are cowards.”


If I represented one of these companies, would I be OK with the fact that my statement contributed to my CEO being grouped in with others in less than favorable light?  No.  But, was it the best outcome I could hope for?  I can’t imagine that there wasn’t another option.  The situation with FIFA is big enough that it seems to have called for it.

What do you think?


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