Unblocking Writer’s Block

I enjoy blogging…really I do.  But sometimes, like now, I get writer’s block and can’t think of anything meaningful to say.  It’s frustrating, to say the least, but even worse when I’m staring at a blank screen trying to find the perfect opening sentence for an annual report shareholder letter, press release or earnings conference call script, especially when a client is awaiting my draft.Writer's Block 3

For someone who spends the majority of her day writing, writer’s block is like the kiss of death.  So it got me thinking about the best ways to unclog the brain.  A few ideas follow, but I’d love to hear your best advice in the comments section below.

  • Go for a walk, or just step away from your screen for a few minutes.  Focusing your mind on something other than putting pen to paper could free your mind and spur creativity.
  • Look at examples of work similar to what you need to write.  Sometimes seeing what someone else has done is enough to get that first word on a blank sheet of paper.
  • Brainstorm with colleagues.  Someone not as close to the task might come up with some good content to set you back on course.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Get that first draft going and worry about fine tuning it later.  Even those who have won writing awards don’t get it perfectly right the first time.  You’re in good company.
  • Try to understand why you’re blocked.  Purdue University recommends several “cures” for different types of writer’s block, including utilizing an outline to organize your thoughts.
  • In the words of John Steinbeck, as told by George Plimpton, “Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother, or someone that you like.”  This may help take away the pressure you’re putting on yourself.

Well, twenty minutes later and my writer’s block appears to be gone.  All it took was following the advice of Barbara Kingsolver, a popular author who is slated to receive the Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award in October.  “Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.”

– Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com

PondelWilkinson in Los Angeles Business Journal

PondelWilkinson was recently featured in a Los Angeles Business Journal article on public companies engaging in social media and the implications for disclosure.  Click here to read the article in its entirety.  Following are takeaways:

  • Consider setting up a social media policy that permits official corporate communication to be conveyed through specified social media accounts, not personal accounts;
  • Ensure that social media communications are consistent with other public statements;
  • Determine whether disclaimers are necessary, such as forward-looking statements;
  • Identify someone who will monitor social media communications;
  • When you implement a social media policy, stick with it.

Crisis Case Study: Baiting the Media in the Court of Public Opinion

Last Sunday’s overtime win against the San Diego Chargers gave the Washington Redskins a reason to celebrate, at least temporarily, as the storied franchise continues to make headlines both on and off the field.
 
The team’s losing season is only part of the problem.  A new report by the Pew Research Center revealed that 76 news outlets have publicly announced their opposition to the name “Redskins” or have banned or restricted its use in editorial coverage. 2013-09-11-WashingtonRedskinsLogo
 
Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and anti-defamation groups reignited the decades-old issue earlier this year calling for the removal of the name, saying it is a racial slur and offensive toward Native Americans.
 
Owner Dan Snyder for years has been adamant about not changing the team’s name.  He made headlines last month after sending a letter to fans defending his reasons against a name change.  He’s not alone either.  A Washington Post poll found that a majority of D.C. residents (66 percent) are against a name change.  Other published polls also show support for the name, even among Native Americans.
 
While the 76 news outlets that came out in opposition to the name are only a small portion of the media landscape, they certainly pack a punch.  Several high profile journalists have created national news themselves by opining their reasons for the Redskins name to go.
 
Whether a reporter “becoming” the story is bad for an outlet’s credibility will continue to be debated.  Most journalists try not to get involved in their own stories, although that is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s highly fragmented, 24-hour media landscape.  Either way, it makes for good television and sells newspapers.
 
The fact is the Washington Redskins are in crisis, a battle with the courts of both legal and public opinions.  And there aren’t any signs of it tapering off, although published reports indicate that the NFL has been meeting with Snyder and the Oneida Indian Nation to address the controversy.
 
Even though the owner, team and fans like the name the way it is, the current reality is creating too much controversy around the brand, which equates to lost dollars and can impact future revenues.  That’s a recipe that can’t work in today’s NFL as pro football teams look to sell products, licenses, and TV and radio rights outside their respective locales.
 
All this makes for an interesting public relations case study for today’s business organizations.  First off, executives always must be mindful of sending correspondence, whether it’s targeting consumers, customers or even shareholders.  Most times these communications will be leaked to media or appear across social media platforms, as in the case of Dan Snyder’s recent letter to fans.
 
This case is unusual because many of the fans and ethnic groups that may be affected don’t mind the Redskins name.  However, the issue has created a broader movement among media and anti-defamation groups, which appear to have their own agenda under the guise of eradicating racism.
 
The reality is Snyder is in a difficult situation: succumb to public pressure or stick to his proverbial guns.  This instance may be reminiscent of a business executive passionate about a company function or an unrelated personal issue.  There is no easy solution in these circumstances, especially if the executive has a legitimate position.  It’s also extremely difficult to win in the court of public opinion, let alone going toe-to-toe with national media.
 
CEOs and business executives can learn from the Redskins’ current communications crunch.  For Snyder, the strategy now is to manage the PR crisis, probably taking a reactive approach, rather than a proactive one, which may only continue to fan the flames — a strategy worth remembering when dealing with the next corporate communications crisis.
 
— George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

The Tango of Business, Politics and Journalism

It came to no surprise among media pundits that Time Magazine’s Managing Editor Richard Stengel will be taking a job as a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department.  His new title, under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, will have Stengel leading communications outreach for the department across many issues, ranging from cultural programs to terrorism.

Time Magazine is no stranger to the Obama Administration.  Former Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief Jay Carney joined the president’s staff as White House press secretary in January 2011 after serving as Vice President Joe Biden’s communications director.

English: Jay Carney giving a press briefing.

English: Jay Carney giving a press briefing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Journalists historically have transitioned from hack to flack, probably more so in recent times as traditional news outlets struggle to survive in today’s Internet-based media landscape. It’s happening in the corporate world as well, and has for decades, with financial reporters taking jobs at public relations firms, including ours, as well as within internal corporate communications departments to focus on media and investor relations.
On one hand, it’s hard to deny these moves don’t affect the credibility of journalism or at least each reporter’s former news outlet.  Reporters accepting positions at organizations they once covered can create an allure of collusion within an industry that prides itself as being vigorously independent, unbiased and objective.

The pendulum swings both ways, however.  Scores of business executives and political officials   have transitioned to various media gigs, including talk show hosts and media contributors.

Business, politics and journalism always have had incestuous relationships. Some good, others not so good.  With New York City’s primary elections over, and Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer losing their bids for mayor and comptroller, respectively, all eyes will be on which politician may be the next media pundit.  Perhaps both.

— George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

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Q&A with L.A. Business Journal Reporter

Business reporters play an important role in helping investors identify opportunities. PondelWilkinson caught up with James Rufus Koren, staff reporter of the Los Angeles Business Journal, to shed light on factors that influence his coverage of the banking and finance world.

 

James Rufus Koren, reporter with L.A. Business Journal

James Rufus Koren, reporter with L.A. Business Journal

1. How are social media influencing your coverage of companies?

 

I don’t know that it has changed the game that terribly much because of the type of niche business publication we are. We don’t do a lot of breaking news. We are looking for the analysis story; the exclusive deep read on what’s going on.  I also don’t find social media the best way to get information about banks. The three sentences at the bottom of a 10K are usually much more insightful. That said, if we are looking for a lead, I will search through Twitter to see if anyone is tweeting about a company or I’ll read blogs to see if anyone is talking about a company.

 

2. What characteristics make for a compelling story in the Los Angeles Business Journal?

 

Growth, change and new strategies that speak to the local economy are interesting to me. Big names are also interesting. For example, if Charlie Munger is doing something, we will probably be more interested than if Evan Pondel is doing something (laughter). But often times, what interests me may not interest another reporter. I like to explore parts of the banking and finance world that are not well understood. I look for things that I don’t understand and then try to take a crack at it.

 

3. How would you define an ideal source?

 

An ideal source is someone who is deeply in the know not just about their company or their particular corner of the world but also has a broader knowledge base and a big Rolodex. It’s very helpful when someone can say, ‘hey there is something interesting going on here that you should look at,’ such as a particular sector of the economy. An ideal source is someone who will give you information without the expectation that it will result in something immediate, or something positive for them.

 

4. How do you like to be approached about prospective stories?

 

In general, email is the easiest, but the ideal approach is developing a relationship with me. If you have been helpful in arranging interviews, I am more likely to follow up on story ideas. Sending gifts does not ensure a good story. A number of interesting things come into this office. Thankfully, no one has sent me a fish wrapped in a newspaper.

 

5. Where do you foresee the future of business journalism going?

 

I actually see business journalism continuing to connect with people in more real ways than other kinds of journalism. Many people have a hard time seeing the direct impact of stories about state and local politics, but people who read business stories want information so they can make wise decisions about their money.

 

6. How do you react when a call is not returned?

 

It depends on the information I left in a message. In general, I interpret it as the person has nothing to say for themselves, or that I have things pegged well enough in a story and the person cannot benefit from getting in touch with me. Also, as a business journalist, I understand the limitations of public companies and that certain things cannot be disclosed.

 

— Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

 

Waking Up Out of Context

 

My wife, Rose, recently appeared on a Good Morning America segment about fertility and women waiting later in life to have children. Rose is a fertility lawyer, specializing in surrogacy, sperm and egg donation, adoption and a burgeoning array of other legal intricacies involved with fertility treatments.
 
The producers said she was an ideal fit to respond to an article in The Atlantic that essentially rationalizes why it’s OK to have children later life. Another aspect of Rose’s appeal: She is 33 years old and more than eight months pregnant.
 
Before saying yes to the producers, we considered the implications of Rose going on national TV to serve as a counterpoint to The Atlantic article. Rose meets myriad women on a daily basis who have waited until their late 30s and 40s to have children and subsequently endure months, if not years, of unsuccessful fertility treatments. In addition to the tremendous emotional toll of such treatments, there is also a significant financial burden.
 
Rose felt she could provide some context to the story by encouraging women to seek advice from their doctors earlier in life before age-related infertility becomes an issue. As her doting public relations specialist/husband, a spot on GMA also seemed like a good way to drum up some awareness about her practice.
 
So, she agreed to participate, and a day later GMA was staging our house for the interview. The camera folks took the requisite pregnant-lady-in-nursery b-roll, and the reporter asked copious questions about Rose’s practice, scenarios she encounters and why women shouldn’t wait until later in life to think about pregnancy. All in all, Rose was satisfied with the whole experience, and we stayed home to watch the segment the next morning.
 
After three teasers of Rose staring goo-goo eyed at onesies, GMA finally aired the segment. They opened with an interview with The Atlantic writer discussing why the decline in fertility over the course of a woman’s 30s has been overblown.
 
And then came Rose’s 15 seconds of inglorious fame.
 
Basically, GMA identified Rose as a pregnant woman who didn’t wait until her 40s to get pregnant, and that was it. There was no mention of her law practice. No mention of her experience working with women who struggle with infertility. No mention of our own infertility scare. Instead, Rose was reduced to some random pregnant woman waiting for a baby.
 
It is difficult for me to opine on this subject without my protective daddy-to-be instincts kicking in. But as a former reporter and communications executive, several pieces of advice come to mind for all future GMA subjects:
 

  • Make sure producers fully understand how to identify you on camera;
     

  • Ask questions about how you will be portrayed in the context of the story;
     

  • If you are misrepresented or quotes are taken out of context, follow up with the reporter and producer to ensure clarification is made on-air and online;
     

  • Write a blog post articulating why you were misrepresented and share the post across social media channels, including the media outlet’s Twitter handle;
     

  • And perhaps most of all, try to ensure your PR executive husband, wife, partner or professional is not out of town (as I was) on the day of your interview!

 

Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com
 
 

Print Media’s Comeback?

President Obama gave kudos to print media this past Saturday evening during his speech at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, singling out the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings.

 

The president closed his comedic-style remarks on a somber note saying “we have seen humanity shine at its brightest,” referencing how first responders to everyday citizens came together as a country to assist with the recent tragedies in Boston, Texas and the Midwest.

 

“We also saw journalists at their best who took the time to wade up stream through the torrent of digital rumors and chase down facts,” said the president in a packed room at the Washington Hilton Hotel.  “If anyone wonders whether newspapers are a thing of the past, all you needed to do was to pick up or log on to papers like the Boston Globe.  When their communities needed them most, they were there making sense … that’s what great journalism is and that’s what great journalists do.”

 

No doubt the president was playing nice with the media.  It’s also important to keep in mind that Saturday’s event was organized by the White House Correspondents’ Association, an organization of journalists who cover the president.

 

Whether or not the president was continuing his charm offensive remains unclear.  There is truth to his comments, however.  More stringent editorial protocols exist for print outlets than many self-publishing online media even though newspaper staffs have been heavily downsized.

 

In fact, the newspaper industry dropped 30 percent of its newsroom staff since 2000 and hit below 40,000 full-time professional employees for the first time since 1978, according to the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2013.

 

There is an upside however.  Pew reported that newspaper circulation revenue, both for weekday and Sunday editions, has remained relatively steady over the past two decades.  Moreover, decline in total print ad revenue seems to have leveled off somewhat, although online ad growth has been minimal at best.

 

Several factors have contributed to the small glimmer of good news within the newspaper industry including a surge in pay wall subscriptions, which coincidently the Boston Globe recently halted in the aftermath of the Boston bombings.

 

Newspapers are not out of the woods yet.  These outlets have created strong brand awareness cultivated over decades by providing local news to communities. The trick is leveraging this attribute while reorganizing their business models to successfully compete in today’s online media landscape.

 

Late night TV talk show host Conan O’Brien who headlined the correspondents’ dinner may have said it best, “… many people are saying print media is dying, but I don’t believe it, and neither does my blacksmith.”

 

George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

The Downside of Social Media

While social media usage continues to grow here in the U.S. and globally, so do opportunities to reach key audiences on the Web, creating an oversaturation of content, we know all too well.

World Wide Web (Photo Credit: wikipedia.com)

 
Countless efficiency studies have been released on managing content, mirrored by just as many reports on tapping key audiences in a cluttered marketplace.  For instance, standing up in a packed movie theater yelling “Fire!” will certainly grab attention, but it’s probably not the kind of exposure that is sustainable over the long term.
 
Facebook and Google’s ad strategy of creating more personalized content based on user preferences may be the future of marketing.  The fact remains, however, that people turn off when the proverbial information flow goes on overload.
 
Walking a delicate balance is the right strategy.  Consider the following five tips when engaging
online audiences:
 

  1. Whether corporate, investor or marketing-related, make your message relevant. Know your audience’s wants and needs and develop messaging that resonates on a deeper level.  For example, time-strapped CEOs may be more inclined to listen to a vendor that understands the pressures of a “bottom line.”
     

  2. Don’t try to speak to the entire world. While having a video or tweet go viral is rare, most times less is more.  Try having more personalized online conversations and work on building deeper relationships with audiences.
     

  3. Start off slow. Don’t bombard your audiences with too many messages at once. Keep it simple. Start a conversation and then slowly move into other topic areas with time.
     

  4. Add value. Make sure you provide your audience with something they can’t get elsewhere. This is paramount.
     

  5. Try the post office.  May sound corny, but a nice follow up letter using old fashioned snail mail with an actual signed signature goes a long way in today’s fast-paced, digitized world. Think about how many personalized letters you receive these days.
     

  6. And finally, remember the old adage of selling the sizzle, not the steak. Keep in mind that there are millions of conversation threads each day. Why should anyone join yours?

 

George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com
 
 

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

So many forms of corporate communications have been impacted by social media; even the classic letter of resignation has been threatened.

Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer and CEO of Groupon Andrew Mason at a plenary at the E-G8 Forum in Paris.

Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer and CEO of Groupon Andrew Mason at a plenary at the E-G8 Forum in Paris. (Photo Credit: wikipedia.com)

 
Why bother with a bloated and often disingenuous letter, when you can cram your message into 140 words or less? That’s what founder of Groupon Andrew Mason did last week after he was shown the door. In his departure tweet, Mason had the good humor to dust off a standard corporate cliché to set up his punch line:  “After four and a half intense and wonderful years as C.E.O. of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding — I was fired today.”
 
In 2010, Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz got the ball rolling on this trend, tweeting “Today’s my last day at Sun. I’ll miss it. Seems only fitting to end on a #haiku. Financial crisis/Stalled too many customers/C.E.O. no more.”
 
It’s a fascinating twist on messaging when executives – and employees for that matter – are given the boot. How this might become a powder keg was on display in an episode of Netflix’s critically acclaimed original series “House of Cards.” The scene involves editor Tom Hammerschmidt, who, at the behest of his publisher, begrudgingly offers the White House correspondent job to a young, ambitious, rising star reporter named Zoe Barnes. When Barnes turns the job down, he calls her an “ungrateful, self-entitled little (expletive)” and fires her. While the confrontation has Tom steaming, Zoe calmly pulls out her smartphone in front of him and tweets to her legion of followers what he’s said and done. The end result is that Tom is forced to step down and Zoe lands a new job at a political blog.
 
How will this all play out in the future?  For good or bad, it’s possible that more and more corporate
goodbyes will trend toward bluntness and, gulp, honesty.

 

Ron Neal, rneal@pondel.com

Restoring the Faith in Messaging

The announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation just before the start of Lent season comes as a shocking surprise to the world.  Depending on how “resignation” is defined and how the Holy See’s records are interpreted, as few as four and as many as 10 popes have renounced the Papacy.

ALTERNATIVE TEXT

Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo Credit: wikipedia.com)

 
The last pope that resigned was Pope Gregory XII in the early 1400s, and like his predecessors, Pope Benedict’s resignation is sprinkled with controversy. So, how does the Vatican respond to such unprecedented news?
 
The Vatican’s semi-official daily newspaper is L’Osservatore Romano, and so far it is gearing its coverage toward restoring readers’ faith in the Church by emphasizing that the Pope’s resignation is conquerable and recoverable.
 
The newspaper’s coverage hammers three central points: the Pope’s resignation is a difficult and regretful decision but made for the greater good; the Pope’s character is that of courage and humility to admit his
inability to stay in his position; and the Church will recover from all of this.
 
Rather than focusing on the fact that the Pope is leaving his position, L’Osservatore Romano draws
attention to the Pope’s character, calling him courageous and humble for being so honest.  And despite the social lashing the Catholic Church has received in the media, the Vatican’s messaging isn’t defensive, but supportive and positive.
 
Consistency is key in the Vatican’s messaging, particularly at a time when a lot of people are looking to the Holy See for a resolution and a way to restore order.  In fact, the messaging has been so consistent and effective that it is positioning the Pope’s resignation as an opportunity for change and a restoration of faith in the Church.
 
The Vatican’s approach serves as a good example that it is not enough to communicate what will be done to fix a situation, but rather it is how a message is communicated that determines whether the message can restore people’s faith.

 

Joanne Sibug, jsibug@pondel.com