Lying to the Media is Never OK, Never Was, Never Will Be

A recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, “Who is Hope Hicks, and What’d she do?” by Virginia Heffernan has struck a chord among PR pros.

Newly appointed Hicks, 29, is the third director of communications for the current White House, and the youngest in history to hold that position.

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Hope Hicks followed by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Photo credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times

While news of her relationship with former Trump Staff Secretary Rob Porter was not the subject of Heffernan’s editorial, the author’s portal of Hick’s job as a “flack” is what’s sending shockwaves throughout the public relations industry.

For those unaware, a flack is a pejorative term sometimes used by journalists to label less-than-scrupulous public relations people, not to be confused with a “hack,” which connotes a security breach or taxi driver, and is a term occasionally used to label a “sloppy” journalist. Both have negative connotations.

According to Heffernan, Hicks was born into a “family of high-level flacks, whitewashing the unsavory practices or grave misdeeds of Texaco, the NFL, Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump,” a reference to her family’s work as crisis communications counselors, and now as the White House communications chief, potentially deceiving the public regarding an obstruction of justice charge.

Right, wrong or indifferent, op-eds are opinion pieces. And the author of this one certainly got it wrong when she wrote, “lying to the media is traditionally called PR.”

No, it’s not. It never was and never will be.

Ironically, the PR industry at times may grapple with its own image problem. However, references to spin doctors and flacks only perpetuate a stereotype.

PR pros are essentially spokespeople, not always necessarily quoted in stories, working in the background, assisting reporters to help them do their jobs. Whether representing a brand, association or publicly traded company, PR practitioners are usually the first point of contact between reporters and clients. Building meaningful relationships with journalists based on trust is paramount to effective media relations, and to the livelihoods and careers of many public relations executives.

Although the percentage has slipped from 2016 to 2017, PR practitioners are still the third most important sources of information for journalists, behind subject experts and industry professionals, according to the 2017 Global Social Journalism Study.

One can agree that it takes a certain skill to effectively navigate any crisis communications situation, especially in a hostile media environment. Reporter deadlines coupled with mounting pressure only adds to the stress of providing timely, accurate, and credible information. But that is what makes the PR industry so specialized.

Every profession can have bad actors, or those on occasion that make mistakes, but the PR industry abides by a code of ethics, values vital to the integrity of the profession as a whole. It’s not fair, nor appropriate, to single out one instance to characterize an entire industry.

Lying to media only gets PR practitioners shunned as ineffective communicators, which often leads to loss of clients, loss of jobs, and the end to careers.

– George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

 

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

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

Is LinkedIn the New Facebook?

LinkedIn these days seems to be less about posting “business” content and more around publishing selfies, memes and math puzzles.

Ironically, these Facebook-like posts generally get more traction. But all engagement is not always good engagement, just like all publicity is not always good publicity.

Interestingly enough, the Pew Research Center found that more workers ages 18-49 have discovered information on social media that lowered their professional opinion of a colleague, compared to those who garnered an improved estimation of a co-worker from online platforms. So, be careful what you post.

LinkedIn prides itself on “connecting the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” What’s happened, however, is the line between “work” and “consumer” content has been blurred, causing LinkedIn professionals to lambast what they see as irrelevant posts, stating: “This is not Facebook!”

A recent post on LinkedIn.

A graphic that accompanied a post on LinkedIn.

The reality is that LinkedIn is competing with Facebook. Late last year, Mark Zuckerberg’s social network announced it was testing a feature that would let page administrators create job postings and receive applications from candidates. This undoubtedly will put pressure on LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions business, which comprised 65 percent of the company’s 3Q 2016 revenues.

With 467 million members in over 200 countries and territories, LinkedIn, now owned by Microsoft, is growing at a rate of more than two new members per second. This quails in comparison to Facebook’s 1.79 billion monthly active users, but the company’s growth shows more professionals see value in the platform.

So what does the future look like for LinkedIn? Consider the following:

  • LinkedIn will become an even more valuable business networking tool among business professionals, surpassing Pew’s estimate of the 14 percent of professionals who use the online platform for work-related purposes.
  • “Irrelevant” posts will continue, at least in the short term, but will have an adverse effect on those who publish non-related content.
  • Thoughtful, engaging and pertinent posts that resonate with key audiences will generate positive engagement.
  • Business organizations and individuals will learn how to leverage this network beyond recruitment and job searches.

Much can be said by the old adage “all work and no play …,” so it’s refreshing to see some brevity in our daily work lives. But these matters may be best suited for Facebook and not LinkedIn.

– George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com