Taking America’s Pulse Online

The Pew Research Center recently announced it would be conducting the majority of its U.S. polling online, much like most other public opinion surveys these days.

Until recently, phone-based surveys were the de facto standard for opinion polls. According to Pew’s own research, the number of surveys conducted over the Internet “have increased dramatically in the last 10 years,” driven by available technology and lower costs.

What shifting to online polling means for our long-term phone survey trends | Pew Research Center

The paradox is that people respond to online and phone polls differently. Pew calls this the mode effect, when responses to some of the same questions are different depending on the interview format.

For Pew, switching to online polling after years of telephone surveys will have an impact on quantifying historical data. This also may influence how media report on the center’s year-over-year trends.

Online polling methodologies may be shaping a new generation of survey taking. The good news is that trusted pollsters are transparent about these approaches.

And when it comes to the pros and cons of online vs. telephone surveys, a simple Web search will yield myriad results, including observations from Pew, as well as in Forbes.

Most polling firms and universities use a combination of online and telephone survey methods. It’s essential, however, that online surveys produce statistically accurate data, especially when the results are used by media.   

To help ensure reporting accuracy, the National Council on Public Polls published a list of 20 questions a journalist should ask about poll results. The irony is that reporters don’t have time to review questions because of today’s ultra-competitive “real-time” news environment. 

General consensus says polls serve a greater good helping define public opinion on everything from brands to policy. Media love surveys too. So much so that The Hill launched “What America’s Thinking,” a Web TV show that focuses on the latest news about public opinion.

As storytellers, we rely on accurate trends to help shape different narratives on behalf of our clients, whether that data is derived from the Web or via telephone.

— George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

Celebrating 50 Years

As our firm celebrates its 50th anniversary year, we thank our clients for the trust they have placed in us, and for allowing PondelWilkinson to help enhance value, build businesses and protect reputations.

It has been our privilege to work side-by-side with stellar management teams and boards of directors of companies big and small, established and emerging, global and regional.

When our firm was founded in 1968, it was done with a business philosophy based on four simple tenets: apply sound thinking to meet unique client challenges; attract the best talent, regardless of position; deliver quality, responsive service; and always operate in a respectful and ethical manner. That philosophy has endured.

Today, we pride ourselves on long client and staff tenure, with a collaborative, professional team that is the best in our business.  We are grateful to our referral sources for their confidence in recommending us.  And we extend deep gratitude to a vast network of wonderful people with whom we work every day on behalf of our clients, from investors and analysts, to editors and reporters, lawyers, accountants, and so many others.

Technology has transformed much of what we do, but our core competencies and the scope of our services remain highly focused, grounded in relevant experience: investor relations; strategic public relations; and crisis communications.

Aside from our day-to-day client work, in 2018 alone, we have been privileged to arrange highly successful investor days; stage business/financial media events and NDRs; develop communications for several mergers and acquisitions; and craft delicate, reputation-defining messages regarding a number of highly sensitive matters.

Tooting our own horn is not generally our style. We fully believe it is our role to be the rock, the secret sauce, the foundation behind the scenes, and have our clients shine brightly, center stage. But hitting 50 is a pretty big deal, and we know you will understand and share our exuberance.

So, to everyone we know, thanks for being there for us. We look forward to being there for you for decades to come.

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

 

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

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.

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

Memorial Day Marketing

While Memorial Day is sort of the unofficial start of summer, the holiday is a solemn one, established to honor fallen servicemen and women of the U.S. military.

It’s also a time for big summer sales … and everyone from car brands to home improvement centers are getting in on the action.09977D90-C0C4-FB0A-F09894BE0965A93A

Too many times, however, brands take exception to the true meaning of Memorial Day, putting them in the proverbial hot seat. One beer company actually tweeted: “Something to remember on #MemorialDay. It’s a LOT better and a LOT more memorable with #craftbeer!”

Scores of companies continue to miss the Memorial Day mark, with some even issuing apologies responding to their own self-induced holiday crises. Much of the trouble occurs when brands try to mix “summer fun” and Memorial Day.

Marketers need to be aware of the potential backlash of being perceived as insensitive to veterans and their families. While tagging #MemorialDay may increase engagement, it may get the kind of attention marketers don’t want, so consider these three simple tips:

  • Don’t do it. When posting about honoring military men and women, do not segue to any hint of shopping, sales, BBQs, or anything of the like.
  • Enjoy summer. It’s OK to post products or services that showcase summer fun, whether it’s a beer at a picnic, or bathing suit at the beach. Be careful, though, when it comes to hashtags: #MemorialDayWeekend vs. #MemorialDay.
  • Traffic talk. Millions of folks will be hitting the road this weekend and that can only mean one thing: traffic! Find unique, interesting and brand appropriate ways to tie into the travel aspect of the long weekend.

There’s a certain finesse when it comes to marketing Memorial Day. Good judgment and not mixing service with sale will make for holiday-appropriate content.

— George Medici, gmedici@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

 

Keeping Clients Happy

We’re in a competitive business. Not only do corporate communications and investor relations professionals have to overcome the challenges associated with building awareness for our clients, whether it’s on Main Street or Wall Street, but it’s also about keeping clients happy.

It’s never about drinking the proverbial Kool Aid. That’s just bad, and advisors should never be “yes” people; and saying no to clients at times is good, but only if tangible options are presented.

Happy-face-clip-art-smiley-face-clipart-3-clipartcowWith IPOs at historic lows, and today’s dynamics in corporate spending, sustaining or adding new business becomes an even greater challenge.

At the end of the day, it’s all about adding value. Consider these simple hints:

Know thy client. It’s essential to learn everything, from the product or service they offer, to their internal structure and competitive landscape.

Stay ahead of the game. Finding the “next big thing” or even something smaller that will impact a client’s organization before they do helps position outside agencies as insiders, a mainstay for maintaining long-standing relationships.

It’s OK to say no. Clients pay for strategic counsel. It would be a disservice if, as advisors, we only followed blindly without asking the question, “What if?” Make sure the counter argument is sound and solution-based.

Think outside the box. Although cliché and maybe risky, reaching key audiences, including customers, investors, employees and others in today’s cluttered media landscape takes bold new ideas that generate traction and results.

Demonstrate value. This has been one of the most fundamental challenges for PR and IR firms. We don’t “make” anything per se, but we do offer products and services designed to build awareness and loyalty among a client’s key audiences. Educating clients on message impact beyond earned media or stock price is paramount.

We’re in a tough and difficult business. Consider the fact that being a public relations executive is one of the top stressful jobs of 2016, according to Careercast.com.

Be that as it may, we continue to do the work which at times can seem to be a thankless vocation. The new and ever-changing paradigm shift in corporate communications and investor relations only adds to the list of client challenges. Nevertheless, staying informed and thinking like an insider will ultimately help generate real results and keep clients happy.

— George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com