Watch What You Read

Photo credit: Getty

Shopper with Lord & Taylor bag. Photo credit: Getty

Perhaps it was trumped (pun intended) by bigger news, but the Federal Trade Commission recently announced its first-ever enforcement action involving a subject near and dear to the hearts of professionals in the investor and public relations business—the unfortunate, increasingly blurred lines between real and paid-for news.

The FTC action received almost no media coverage, which was too bad. The case involved retailer Lord & Taylor, which ultimately settled, over what appeared to be a legit story about the company’s clothes, published on the fashion website Nylon. But it was really an ad.

With print publications, such trickery is rarely an issue. We all have seen that smallish line saying, “Paid Advertisement.”  Online, however, that’s not often the case.

While there is nothing wrong with online advertising, readers should be made aware that the content is sponsored.

In a press release, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, “Lord & Taylor needs to be straight with consumers in its online marketing campaigns. Consumers have the right to know when they’re looking at paid advertising.”

So shame on Lord & Taylor, and perhaps even a bigger shame on Nylon. The real message resulting from the enforcement action is: Readers, watch what you read these days, particularly online, because it is becoming more difficult to tell the difference between ads and articles.

— Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

 

Is Being Too Polished a Public Speaker Bad?

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (3rd from left) during a GOP debate last year. Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty published in The New Yorker.

Some are born with it. Others practice a lot. Establishing a visceral connection with an intended audience is paramount to the success of any public speaker.

Watching the 2016 presidential debates can be good lessons learned when it comes to public speaking in corporate life. A schmorgesborg of styles are hitting the TV airwaves among the candidates of both parties. Some are slow talkers, others quick, and some are just loud.

So what about being too polished? Could that be a bad thing? We train corporate spokespeople to take command of the issues and the stage. In other words, teach them to come across poised, and yes, polished too. Apparently that is a bad thing, at least when it comes to politics.

It was a surprise to many PR folks that GOP candidate Sen. Marco Rubio was criticized for being too eloquent of a speaker. Some likely voters used the word “robotic” to describe the Florida junior senator. Even the New York Times acknowledged this trait in a recent op-ed titled, “Marco Rubio Is Robotic, but Not Out of It.” Many other media outlets reported on Rubio’s mechanical demeanor as well.

It’s easy to understand that not having a “connection” with an audience can be detrimental. One example of a flawless presenter is Joel Osteen. Watching the pastor deliver a sermon to the thousands in attendance of his Texas-based Lakewood Church is quite amazing.

It really boils down to authenticity, or in other words, being real. Mostly all communications, especially via social media and video, is about delivering a message that directly speaks to is intended audience. That’s the key to success for so many viral videos and posts.

Effective public speaking—to customers, investors and other corporate audiences—certainly can help business careers. A Harris survey on behalf of cloud-based presentation platform company Prezi reported that 70 percent of employed Americans who give presentations agree that presentation skills are critical to their success at work. Coincidentally, 75% of the presenters surveyed indicated that they would like to improve their presentation skills.

The work never ends, and we all agree that practice makes perfect. For Marco Rubio, he has acknowledged his machinelike nature and plans on being more “real” among likely voters. Ironically, this level of skill may require less rehearsing and more speaking “off the cuff,” which may present its own set of problems.

— George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

 

 

For The Love of Polling

think it aboutMedia love polls. Data  helps identify trends that can be turned into stories or support or debunk a particular story narrative.

Polls have become instrumental in helping shape politics. Consider the GOP debates for the 2016 presidential election. Approval ratings are determining what candidate gets national camera time and who doesn’t.

Americans love polls too, unless they are asked, “Would you like to take a brief survey?” We get to find out what is the best-tasting ice cream or coffee, what is America’s favorite color (blue by the way), and that four out of five dentists recommend Trident to their patients who chew gum.

Polling in the U.S. pretty much started in the early 19th century during Andrew Jackson’s second presidential bid when supporters conducted polls at rallies. Much has changed since then, partly because in 1932, George Gallup through a new methodology accurately predicted that his mother-in-law would win a local Iowa election for secretary of state. The rest is history.

Today we have all kinds of polls, and not just political ones. There are straw polls, opinion polls, tracking polls, exit polls, and surveys of all kinds. But can polling really influence decisions? If the majority of Americans say they would vote for a particular candidate, would that sway someone’s decisions one way or another? Many political pundits say that President Clinton was notorious for using polls, but did that comprise a desire for popularity from doing what he believed was right? Whatever the reason, he certainly was one of America’s more popular presidents as the country experienced considerable economic growth and expansion during his tenure.

Polling helps keep the media business alive, and as many PR pros can attest, helps define business stories and trends that are so vital to reporters.

There is much debate on polling in America, some even calling for banning them. General consensus, however, believe otherwise, and say that polls serve a greater good. Another important question is how accurate are polls? Most experts agree that, when done right, they are accurate, which is corroborated by modern history, including Gallup’s 1932 prediction.

One organization that is surveying the attitudes and trends shaping America and the world is the Pew Research Center. Did you know that 51 percent of people across 40 countries including the U.S. believe they already are being harmed by climate change? That number drops to 41 percent among Americans. No doubt these numbers can impact policy making decisions whatever side the climate change debate you sit on.

So, it’s probably safe to say polls are good, unless the next poll shows that they aren’t.

– George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

Turn Off Your Ringtone

Preparing clients for media interviews and press conferences are part of what we do every day. As always, one of the first things to remember is turn off your ringtone. It might sound simple enough, but there are countless examples of people forgetting to do so.

Following is a quick selection of my favorites:

Yesterday during a White House press briefing, Siri, Apple’s virtual personal assistant, responded to a reporter’s question on the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Seemed like a fitting answer.

Following is one of Bill Clinton with George Bush being interrupted at a scholarship announcement.

Now that was funny.

And finally, sometimes you just have to “Let it Go!”

Apparently, Sen. Pat Roberts is a fan of Disney’s “Frozen.”

So don’t forget the basics. Before you go on, remember to turn the ringtone off.

— Matt Sheldon, msheldon@pondel.com

And the Award Goes To…

5 seconds of summerAustralian boy band Five Seconds of Summer recently won an award for “Best Fan Army” at the iHeart Music Awards. The award was not associated with any one of their songs, albums, concerts or music videos.  Instead, it was an award based on the group’s online social media engagement.

As I watched the band accept the award and thank their fans (with their Twitter moniker “@5sosFam” flashing across the screen), all I could think of was that somewhere out there was a PR pro doing a happy dance because they just helped the band win a music award.

A recent study conducted by Networked Insights found that a single tweet expressing the desire to see a film translated to the equivalent of $1,100 to $4,420 in additional box office revenue, depending upon how many weeks before the movie’s release the tweet is made.

Strategic PR employs a variety of tools to extend and expand awareness of a brand, product or person – from news releases to social media to media relations, but when was the last time you heard of a Golden Globe being awarded to an actor or director for the best original tweets or a J.D. Power award for best branded Facebook page for a car?

Social media and PR are not mutually exclusive. Engaging social media is a form of PR, and the more effective the social media engagement, the more personal and direct connection between the audience/consumer and the product idea or concept. While most older PR tools are unidirectional in promoting an idea or association with a brand, product or person, social media invites the intended audience to become an active participant in the dialogue, resulting in a multi-directional effort that can be self-perpetuating (for better or for worse). At its core, social media turns each of us into a PR powerhouse – through what we talk and post about on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media outlets.

As the Networked Insights study demonstrates, this can translate to real, measurable dollar value, and the possibility that sometime in the future, the Oscars could include an award for “Best Movie Fan Following.”

— E.E. Wang, ewang@pondel.com

Up ‘Periscope’

Periscope_033015Twitter’s launch of Periscope, which allows anybody to live stream video from a smartphone to anyone in the world with a simple click of a button, has profound implications for the communications world, creating millions of “on-the-scene reporters” and another medium to engage for the investor relations and public relations industry.  Fittingly, in the announcement of the app, Twitter said, “A picture may be worth a thousand words, but live video can take you someplace and show you around.”

With the ability to instantly notify followers that you’re live, Periscope adds an element that’s been missing with the use of video in IR and PR worlds: immediacy.  Live streaming provides for immediate action in a crisis, while also allowing for greater transparency by going beyond the 140-word character limit of Twitter.  Everything from an earnings conference call to a product announcement can now be broadcast live.

At the same time, it opens up a whole set of risks, including as PR News discusses, a “new chapter for the hot-mic problem,” not to mention a bevy of disclosure issues. Of course, it will take several years before live streaming becomes more commonplace. In the meantime, it makes sense to ponder the possibilities of how it could make your story more compelling.

— Matt Sheldon, msheldon@pondel.com

Tweet TV: Social Media is Making Television Fun Again

EllenNearly 37 million people watched the 87th Annual Academy Awards, down from 44 million last year.  Many reasons may have contributed to the viewership drop, everything ranging from the show’s host performance, to the celebrity of the actors themselves, to the types of films that were nominated.

For many pundits that offered critiques of this year’s Oscars, reviews bordered on ho-hum and boring.  But what may have been seen as a lackluster TV event, much of the action was happening on social media, more so on Facebook than on Twitter.

It’s hard not to watch a live TV event these days without being asked to tweet this or hashtag that.  This year’s Academy Awards were no exception.  While Twitter generated far less interaction than last year, 6 million tweets were posted about the 2015 #Oscars, still a fairly significant number of impressions.

Remember last year’s Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie that actually “broke” Twitter for 20 minutes?  The talk-show host’s photo was retweeted 3.3 million times and seen by 37 million people.  Experts valued the exposure to Samsung (a sponsor of The Oscars and the type of smartphone that was used to snap the photo) in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  While having several of Hollywood’s top A-list celebs in the photo certainly helped it go viral, the tweet nonetheless was a successful integration of TV and social media.

Facebook this year received more engagement, where 21 million people generated 58 million posts, likes or comments about the Oscars, up from 11.1 million users in 2014 generating 25 million interactions.  The social network this year also introduced its Trending Oscars experience that allowed fans to connect in real time about the show, which may have led to the huge engagement.

Clearly, the social experience between Twitter and Facebook is much different, although one thing is abundantly clear for both: engagement.  Today’s social platforms enable two-way communication in real time like never before.  And because tweets and posts are searchable and have a long life span – which may not always be a good thing – the value of engagement is much greater.

For the naysayers about social media, and there are those still out there, new media platforms are extending brands way beyond the TV set and onto the Internet, where discussions continue on for days and even months.

For TV in particular, social media may be giving it a sorely needed boost, especially since fewer people than ever are watching television.   Good content doesn’t hurt either.    Either way, social media is here to stay and actually making TV fun again.

— George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

What Gates Learned from Buffet

After helping hundreds of companies with investor relations strategy and tactics over the past 20-plus years, I’m always excited to learn something new.  In fact, I try to learn something new every single day.  And, at the family dinner table, amongst the questions we ask one another every night is, “Did you learn anything new today or did anything surprise you today?”  So, when I came across this Business Insider article of a post Bill Gates made on LinkedIn about three things he learned from Warren Buffet I was intrigued.  After all, what could a genius in his own right learn from another?

  1. It’s not just about investing. Gates explains that although most people ask Buffet about how he thinks about investing, not nearly enough ask him about how he thinks about business. Rather than just being a brilliant stock picker, Buffet says it’s important to look at an entire business, inside and out and then deciding what it is worth. He says you have to be, “willing to ignore the market rather than follow it, because you want to take advantage of the market’s mistakes.” Outside of business and the stock market, this sounds like a pretty good life lesson. Don’t make decisions in a vacuum.
  2. Use your platform. Buffet often uses his annual report shareholder letter to deliver his messages. In these letters he speaks frankly and is not afraid to criticize those things he doesn’t believe in. Gates says that, “Warren inspired me to start writing my own annual letter about the foundation’s work. I still have a ways to go before mine is as good as Warren’s, but it’s been helpful to sit down once a year and explain the results we’re seeing, both good and bad.” Life lesson number two: Remain true to who you are.
  3. Know how valuable your time is. “No matter how much money you have, you can’t buy more time,” says Gates. Truer words were never spoken. Buffet only takes meetings that provide value to all participants and makes sure he’s also available and accessible to “the people he trusts.” Lesson number three: Make every minute count.

None of these lessons is earth shattering, but it’s very interesting to see that even Bill Gates finds worth in them and that he’s not afraid to say that he learned them from Warren Buffet.  No matter how intelligent you are (or think you are), take some time to listen to those around you and open your mind.  You might just learn something that helps shape your business future.

— Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com

Glassdoor: Half Full or Half Empty?

glassdoorDuring the last couple of years, a website called “Glassdoor” has steadily garnered more credibility as a Yelp-like resource for job seekers, as well as a recruiting arm for employers. The former is what really drives attention to the site because you can easily search for information about average salaries, benefits, and CEO approval ratings at almost any company you can imagine.  The information is supplied by current and former employees and can be quite illuminating when formulating an opinion about a particular company.

For example, Walmart has been reviewed more than 8,700 times on Glassdoor, with 44 percent of reviewers recommending the retail giant as an employer, 47 percent approving of the CEO, and 31 percent having a positive business outlook about the company. Walmart’s overall rating: 2.8 stars out of five.

And then there is Facebook, which has an overall rating of 4.5 stars, with 89 percent of reviewers recommending the company as an employer, and a staggering CEO approval rating of 96 percent. Not sure about you, but if I had to pick one of these employers simply based on Glassdoor reviews, I’d go with Walmart. Not.

The point is, Glassdoor has become a powerful force in shaping a company’s online reputation, and it is not only job seekers who are leveraging the information – try customers, potential business partners, and, yes, investors. Think about the implications of a publicly traded company growing like gangbusters and then a former or even existing employee posts some sort of harrowing tale about the sausage being made.  So now what?

You call PondelWilkinson. OK, maybe that sounds too self-serving.  Yes, we can help put together a communications strategy on how best to deal with errant Glassdoor reviews, but more importantly, companies cannot ignore Glassdoor.  For good or for worse, it is shaping reputations faster than a viral video of a laughing snowy owl.  And it is not going away.  As of last month, Glassdoor had more than 6.5 million company reviews.

Quick tips for dealing with Glassdoor:

  • For starters, take a look at what people are saying about your company. Some of the information may be constructive and some of it, complete rubbish. Glassdoor apparently reviews all content before it is posted, but if something looks completely off, you should contact the site immediately.
  • Consider engaging in the conversation. Companies are able to respond to what is being said about them, but be forewarned, this could be a slippery slope once a precedent is set that you will actually engage with folks.
  • If you feel positive about your company and you know others do, too, post away and drive your company’s ratings up.

Interestingly, Glassdoor does profile itself on the site. The company has an overall rating of 4.7 stars, and CEO Robert Hohman’s approval rating is 98 percent.

Guess Mark Zuckerberg has some competition.

— Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Ad Tech’s Implications for PR and IR

1101110321_400Los Angeles is an epicenter for all things trendy, so it should come as no surprise that the City of Angels is also a hotbed for “Ad Tech” or advertising technology companies. Ad Tech has surfaced as a formidable force in the marketing world, enabling advertisers to slice and dice data to prognosticate trigger points for consumers.

Indeed, advertising and technology have long been consummate bedfellows, but does the rise of the ad tech industry have implications for PR and, perhaps even, IR worlds?

The metrics used in ad tech seem relatively objective, while the variables that factor into the success of PR and IR are often subjective. And yet, PR and IR firms are consistently asked to measure success. It is a conundrum that will likely continue to thwart PR and IR firms with greater frequency, as metrics from contiguous industries, such as ad tech, dominate the collective consciousness of the marketing world.

There are certain variables that PR and IR folks use to gauge success, including media coverage, the number of new analysts covering a company, and attracting new followers on Twitter and LinkedIn. But again, in the ad tech world there is usually a direct correlation between a successful advertising campaign and sales. This isn’t necessarily true for PR and IR.

What is true is that setting realistic expectations apply to all industries, and if you can present a program with achievable goals, it shouldn’t matter what the data say, as long as they support the expectations set forth at the beginning of an engagement.

–  Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com