Building Better Media Relationships

Media relations are an integral component to what we do at PondelWilkinson, whether a public relations or investor relations engagement.

Crises aside, generating media awareness of corporate entities, their brands, products and services, among readers, listeners and viewers is critical to the success of any communications program.

Shrinking news departments, fewer beat reporters, and an increasingly tighter news hole, however, are making it harder to get reporters’ attention.

Another caveat to these challenges is that only 36 percent of journalists prefer to get their information from PR/IR sources, press releases, and newswires, compared with 42 percent last year, according to the 2017 Global Social Journalism Studycision-global-social-journalism-study

The good news is that experts and industry contacts remain key sources of stories for U.S. journalists. For example, while a reporter may not write about a new app or the latest software version, he or she may be more inclined to interview an executive about key technology trends, such as artificial intelligence or cybersecurity.

Media relations 101, right? Maybe not. According to the same study, only 19 percent of reporters say PR professionals provide high quality content, and just 37 percent are reliable.

Learning what’s important to reporters is vital to establishing long-lasting media relationships, essentially, helping them make their jobs easier.

Follow these simple rules for building successful media contacts:

  • Do your research, learn about the reporter and his or her area of coverage.
  • Customize your pitch, conveying why it’s important to the outlet’s audience.
  • Do not blast pitches.  Just don’t do it.
  • Provide value, such as proprietary content or a unique perspective or point of view.
  • Call first, if possible, especially since reporters are constantly inundated with e-mails.
  • Be transparent to foster credibility.

There’s no easy way to building better media relationships. It takes time, effort and a good sense of news, coupled with knowing what reporters want and need.

– George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

Twitter’s Double Standard – A Case Study in Crisis Communications

The power of Twitter is unparalleled especially when the “news” is filled with high stakes and lots of drama, such as in the case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

A slew of actresses and female Hollywood A-listers recently have come out publicly corroborating Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, spurred by actress Rose McGowan, whose Twitter account had been temporarily locked after a series of posts about The Weinstein Co. founder’s sexual wrongdoings, including toward her.

Twitter’s reason for locking McGowan’s account was because one of her tweets violated the platform’s terms of service, which included a private phone number. The account was eventually unlocked and Twitter added, “We will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”

Twitter’s action against McGowan prompted much resistance, including a Vanity Fair article alluding to the platform’s hypocrisy, referencing other tweets from the U.S. president and even white supremacist groups. Twitter contends it “will not ban content that is newsworthy or has public-interest value.”

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter in 2016. Photo credit: CNBC

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter in 2016. Photo credit: CNBC

While the story is newsworthy, a technical analysis can see where Twitter may be consistent in its user policy. Needless to say, celebrities are more inclined to make news.

Take actress Alyssa Milano for example. The “Who’s the Boss?” star jumped into the Weinstein fray by initiating a “me too” campaign, tweeting, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” The tweet went viral, sparking tens of thousands of engagements, while generating traditional media coverage.

The good news is that Twitter gives anyone the opportunity to participate in the public narrative. The not so good news is that outrageousness, conflict, fortune and fame, is what cuts through the clutter, often leaving lesser known individuals and organizations the silent majority.

Twitter is in sort of a crisis, too. Stories like the Weinstein affair keep the social network relevant and included in mainstream media coverage, although it’s hard to determine if this is having a positive impact on ad revenue since the company’s stock continues to languish since its 2013 initial public offering.

Even though 500 million tweets are posted on Twitter every day from 328 million monthly active users, user growth has slowed or even halted, according to the company’s latest earnings report.

The question remains what’s next for Twitter. For starters, it does in fact need to be clearer about its policies and decisions. An effective issues management campaign might just be what the platform needs to foster more users. Getting in front of this issue is paramount to alleviate any concerns about the platform’s so-called hypocrisy.

Messaging is starting to take shape. Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey recently pledged to “take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them” to safeguard users, particularly women, and in response to a #WomenBoycottTwitter campaign.

And finally, proving Twitter’s relevance in the social narrative to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, not just high-profile individuals and organizations, may be easier said than done.

– George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

Read Any Good Books Lately?

I really enjoyed McKinsey & Company’s piece on what CEOs are reading in 2017, which is a continuation of an annual list going back several years.  Not only did it provide interesting recommendations about what to add to my Kindle library, but seeing what’s in the minds of leaders makes them a bit more relatable.  Not surprisingly, the list is overwhelmingly non-fiction, however, I’d recommend more fiction for a bit of escapism, which is likely needed given CEOs daily demands, and because there are some lessons to be learned from non-fiction storytelling.

Some of this year’s titles include:

  • Serial Innovators: Firms That Change the World by Claudio Feser
  • Sun Tzu: The Art of War for Managers: 50 Strategic Rules Updated for Today’s Business by Gerald A. Michaelson and Steven W. Michaelson
  • Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t by Jim Collins.  CEOs surveyed by Fortune named this book “the best business or management book they had ever read.”
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

I suppose I’m not alone in my interest in lists like these, as several media outlets have reported on CEO reading over the years.  Business Insider noted books like The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro as being a favorite of Jeff Bezos who once said that he “learns more from fiction than non-fiction” (I’d note here that I pointed that out earlier in this post before I even saw that Jeff Bezos said it).

Tim Cook took the non-fiction path with Competing Against Time: How Time-Based Competition is Reshaping Global Markets by George Stalk, Jr., and Thomas M. Hout, which he is said to distribute to new Apple employees and colleagues.  The Road to Character byDavid Brooks was cited by Pepsi’s CEO, Indra Nooyi, as providing an understanding that “building inner character is just as important as building a career.”

Rounding out the recommendations, Forbes recently listed Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight, Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton M. Christensen, and Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? by Louis Gerstner, Jr. as popular CEO choices.

Have you read any of these books?  Others you’d like to recommend?  Let us know in the comments section below.

– Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com

Media Are People, Too

Veteran journalist Will Bunch touched upon this topic in a recent op-ed, The Day the 'Enemies of the American People' Helped Save America. The Philadelphia Daily News reporter wrote about those media who helped rescue victims of Hurricane Harvey, while responding to repeated criticism of the press.

Veteran journalist Will Bunch touched upon this topic in a recent op-ed, The Day the ‘Enemies of the American People’ Helped Save America. The Philadelphia Daily News reporter wrote about those media who helped rescue victims of Hurricane Harvey, while responding to repeated criticism of the press.

Americans and the press always seem to have a love-hate relationship.

Despite much of the anti-media rhetoric at play within the national dialogue, a fairly good chunk of Americans (72 percent) trust the information they receive from national news organizations, according to the Pew Research Center.

The good news is more Americans are engaged. That means more eyeballs on traditional media, and social, too. In fact, Pew also reported in a recent survey that two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) say they get at least some of their news from social media.

As media experts, we know that human conflict is what makes news. And in today’s highly competitive 24/7-news environment, getting the proverbial scoop is going to be good for both the journalist and their respective outlets.

So, when Hurricane Harvey rolled around, it’s no surprise that millions watched live coverage of the category three-storm barrel through the Gulf Coast. Homes being destroyed and acts of heroism provided much needed drama that kept viewers engaged.

It’s hard to say how far a journalist will go to get a good story. Many correspondents are often confronted with ethical dilemmas of interfering with their own reporting.

Veteran journalist Will Bunch touched upon this topic in a recent op-ed, The Day the ‘Enemies of the American People’ Helped Save America. The Philadelphia Daily News reporter wrote about those media who helped rescue victims of Hurricane Harvey, while responding to repeated criticism of the press.

The fact is media are people, too. They have friends and families and experience life’s challenges just like everyone else.

One former journalist and current staffer says it best, “These days a lot of media outlets are attempting to emote and connect in a provocative way to perpetuate an echo chamber,” said Evan Pondel, president of PondelWilkinson.”

No doubt the media landscape has changed dramatically. News outlets now cater to liked-minded audiences, fueling the country’s already tumultuous divide.

Be that as it may, media are an essential part of documenting the pubic narrative. And yes, they don’t always get the story right. They’re human. But editors and fact checkers help ensure story accuracy.  Let’s also not forget the journalist’s creed, a personal affirmation of ethical standards and to “believe that the public journal is a public trust.”

Our jobs as public relations experts rely on our relationships with the press on behalf of our clients. We understand the difficulties and the pressures that go along with good reporting. We also like to think we add value to their jobs as well.

While it’s easy to complain about the press, just think about what America would be without it.

– George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

Back to the Basics: Integrated Communications

Virtually daily, we all consume news on our cell phones, televisions, on the way to work, on apps, via streaming media, at events and interviews, and the list goes on.

In a world of instantaneous breaking news in all forms of electronic and printed media, senior executives are feeling the pressure more than ever to clearly and factually communicate about their companies in a time-sensitive manner.

While traditional and mobile platforms deliver all the news unfiltered, sometimes resulting in the need to be reactive vs. proactive, one thing is for sure—regardless of how and when someone receives messages, they will be scrutinized from every possible angle to get the “real story.” For that reason, paying close attention to, and preparing for, the way in which good or bad news is communicated will undoubtedly reflect on a company’s financial health, as well as the way in which the company is perceived by multiple stakeholders.

Determining the most effective way to reach an audience can be accomplished by developing an integrated, multi-media communications plan. Doing so will help ensure that all bases are covered and maximum numbers of stakeholders are reached.

In some instances, a Tweet may be an effective way to highlight a compelling message. On the other hand, a 15-second streaming broadcast message may focus on multiple issues. Or maybe, a well-crafted news release directed to investors will do the trick.

Equally important is the need for the executives on the communications teams to work together, especially in a crisis situation. Investor Relations and public relations execs should be the “First Responders” to get the word out in a consistent manner while containing any possible rumors/fake news. Where appropriate, advertising that has been planned and paid for may have to be cancelled or shifted forward until the crisis has been averted. We’ve seen the need for this strategy in the food, pharma and airline industries time and again. On a longer-term basis, advertising is something you can directly control and use to re-build the messaging that is most important to your company’s future.

Whether it’s a quarterly earnings report, product launch, a crisis communication strategy or anything in between, with today’s myriad communications channels, an integrated communications plan is the strategic weapon of choice. It’s the best way to determine how to survive breaking news.

Mark Bilfield, markbilfield@gmail.com

Mark is a special advisor to PondelWilkinson on integrated communications strategies, including advertising.

Frothy Market Prompts Old Tactic with a Twist

wolfThe market was hot, and virtually all participants were making money.

Around the time that the movie, “The Wolf of Wolf Street” was out, folks in the IR industry were rolling their eyes a lot. The hyper, cold-calling brokerage salespeople depicted in the movie—but taken from real life—did almost anything to establish new accounts and sell penny-stocks to unsuspecting clients.

Their tactics usually began by offering shares in a well-established company, as a safe, relatively risk-free investment, helping to establish credibility. Then weeks, sometimes days later, they would call again, touting a sure-bet penny-stock that no one ever heard of, but that they knew was about to go through the roof. The purchase, of course, had to be made on the spot, prior to the stock rising, since it certainly was going to happen very soon. The brokers usually were paid by the issuer or by a stock promoter, in addition to garnering a commission from the unsuspecting mom-or-pop investor.

Another penny-stock, promoter-driven tactic during that era was the use of fancy, glossy-printed fliers, occasionally stuffed into the plastic bags of newspapers that were delivered to thousands of homes.

That was then. What about now?

The market is hot, and virtually all participants are making money.

A few months ago, I wrote about some Wolf-like cold calls I was beginning to receive, on my cell phone, no less. And just last week, stuffed into the plastic package with my still home-delivered Los Angeles Times (OK, I get the New York Times digitally), was a glossy stuffer promotion for a recent IPO, “Now Nasdaq Listed: BHF,” read the heading. Only this was not for a penny-stock.

I was mildly shocked that any stock was being promoted this way, and even further surprised to learn that the company, Brighthouse Financial, is not some sleaze-ball publicly-traded shell with no revenue or earnings, but a real company, an annuity and insurance seller, with $223 billion in assets.

Perhaps this sort of tactic again will become a trend. And in this scenario, because the company is real and not even close to penny-stock status, maybe the tactic will work.

But wait. On the first day of trading, August 7, the shares fell 4%, closing at $60.72. And digging a little further, it is interesting to note that while MetLife still owns 20% of Brighthouse, a filing said it plans to sell all of its holdings “as soon as practicable.” I wonder what they know that the rest of the investors do not. Same ole promotion resurfacing with a twist…at least the issuer has assets.

Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

Cocktail Party Talk

What do you say when you’re at a cocktail party, summer BBQ, or some other social gathering where you’re sure to meet new people who will invariably ask what you do for a living? If you’re a doctor, lawyer, accountant, musician (or one of a host of other professions) the answer is quite easy.  What do you say, however, if you’ve been practicing investor relations for more than 25 years?  Does anybody not in the business understand what that means?  If you generalize and say, “I’m in public relations,” most would probably confuse you for a publicist, with a glitzy lifestyle keeping the latest celebrity in the news and out of trouble.

At PondelWilkinson, we practice both investor relations and strategic public relations, so I asked some of my colleagues how they describe what we do (I’m always looking for ways to be more entertaining at parties). Here is a summary of their answers:

  • We offer strategic counsel to a host of clients with wide-ranging needs. We help clients with financial and general business messaging, maintain positive relationships with investors and communicate with key stakeholders to drive positive business results.
  • PondelWilkinson is a specialized public relations firm, concentrating on corporate matters, from public company issues such as investor communications, to liaison on behalf of public or private companies with the business/financial news media, to crisis communications.
  • We help people/organizations communicate with their key audiences, whether it’s other businesses, consumers or shareholders.
  • PondelWilkinson represents publicly traded companies by interfacing with shareholders, analysts and investors on behalf of clients. We pitch media, plan events and write press releases. Basically, we help companies raise their reputations and build support for the client.
  • We help companies tell their stories to key audiences, including investors, media, employees and customers.
  • We help public and private companies communicate.

Not one of my peers used the words investor relations in describing how we spend our professional time (although one did use public relations). I generally don’t either.  My usual answer is that “We are a consulting firm helping companies, both publicly traded and private, communicate with key audiences.”

How do you describe what you do? We’d love to hear from you.

– Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com

The Public Relations (and Future) of Healthcare

U.S. Senate Debates Future of Healthcare Reform

U.S. Senate Debates Future of Healthcare Reform

There was a time not so long ago when healthcare was a huge mystery, understood only by doctors and industry insiders. Today, much of that mystery has been unlocked through the Internet and a curious populace, as billions of dollars are being spent marketing drugs and services to physicians and consumers alike.

The conversation (and controversy) surrounding healthcare in the U.S. continues to evolve at both the industry and legislative levels. With a divided Congress and an influx of emerging technologies, the need for enhanced communication by healthcare companies is greater than ever.

Providers, hospitals, biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, among others, all have distinct reasons and needs for communicating, from securing funding, to FDA reporting and complying with other regulatory processes, to introducing new products or therapies to providers and patients.

Regardless of the reason, communication at the professional level plays a fundamental role in every facet of healthcare. In the last decade, the avenues available for reaching target audiences have multiplied exponentially, ranging from social media to direct communications.

As one example, when the FDA approves a new medication, the message a pharmaceutical company wants to convey to consumers will center around how the new therapy can improve patients’ lives; the message to physicians focuses on the medication’s safety and efficacy, patient indication and reimbursement.

Many factors are at play in a changing healthcare landscape, and uncertainty fosters opportunity. Our industry, whether the focus be investor relations, strategic public relations, product publicity or social media, is likely to see a bevy of communications firms launch new departments devoted to healthcare, according to a recent blog post in PR News.

Communications advisory firms and agencies that will thrive in the new healthcare landscape are those that can help create new narratives for their clients, along with messaging that resonates and facilitates the right exposure for an organization’s products or services among many stakeholders, including existing and potential customers, investors and key opinion leaders.

Change is the constant in the healthcare sector, and smart, effective communication remains paramount.

– Joanna Rice, jrice@pondel.com

Small Talk at Annual Shareholders’ Meetings

We’re nearing the end of the season with respect to annual shareholders’ meetings, and taking a constructive look at what went right or wrong is always helpful in anticipation of next year.

Perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of annual shareholders’ meetings is when investors and management teams are mingling outside of the formal meeting session. How should management navigate small talk with investors?

Following are tips to keep in mind:

  • Be mindful of selective disclosure. If you think you’ve disclosed previously undisclosed material information, consult your CEO, CFO, general counsel or IR representative.
  • Proactively engaging in conversation with investors is OK, and actually encouraged.
  • It’s fine to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Talk in plain English. Keep it simple by avoiding company or industry jargon and acronyms.
  • Respond to questions in a direct, concise manner. Try not to wander off on tangents.
  • Do not make future projections.
  • Remain courteous, even if an attendee isn’t. Of course, if a conversation escalates to an unreasonable level, engaging security or even law enforcement is always an option.
  • Do not wander outside of your area of expertise. If you’re not sure about something, refer the question to the appropriate person.
  • Collect business cards or contact information of every investor you spoke with, and pass along to your IR representative.
  • Introduce investors to IR representatives if a follow-up is appropriate.

– Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Exceptional CEOs

I’ve worked with many CEOs over the last 25 years. Some great, some good, and some who didn’t quite make the grade.  The great ones had a few traits in common…they were excellent communicators, compassionate and whip smart.  (Italicized text represents my own editorial.)

The Harvard Business Review recently outlined four essential behaviors of successful CEOs:

  • Making quick decisions with conviction. Decisive.
  • Engaging for impact. Collaborative.
  • Proactively adapting. Doer.
  • Delivering reliably. Expectation setter.

Russell Reynolds Associates, a global search and leadership advisory firm, offers the following in their thought leadership blog:

  • Willingness to take calculated risks. Gutsy.
  • Bias toward action. Doer.
  • Ability to efficiently “read” people. Insightful.
  • Forward thinking. Innovative.
  • Intrepid. Courageous.

And from CNBC reporting on a panel at SXSW which examined the traits of many successful Silicon Valley CEOs:

  • Psychopathic???

I admit, this one stumped me. Dictionary.com describes psychopathy as “a mental disorder in which an individual manifests amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc.”

Doesn’t exactly scream successful CEO to me. However, venture capitalist Bryan Stolle believes that psychopaths are common within the CEO ranks because to successfully start a company you need to be “uncompromising in your vision, which requires a hearty dose of both ego and persistence, and you have to be willing to sacrifice almost everything for success.”  Still not sure I buy it.

Dr. Igor Galynker, the associate chairman for research in the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, believes that “lacking empathy, more often than not, will help you in an environment where you have to make decisions that create negative consequences by necessity for other people.” I’ve never known or worked with a psychopathic CEO, but according to a 2016 study, 21 percent of senior professionals in the U.S. had “clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits.”  Kind of frightening for those working with these 21 percent.

While collaboration, innovation and insightfulness are clearly important CEO qualities, I suppose it is possible that a little bit of ego, tenacity and charm could also result in success.

Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com