Two thousand and seventeen is drawing to a close. What a year it has been. It has been a year that has seen some major stories with serious public relations lessons that will be applied going into 2018 and far beyond.
What were the major stories and the public relations lessons that can be learned from them?
- The #metoo movement with stories of sexual harassment and assault and how organizations respond to these allegations. From Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose to Matt Lauer and numerous other prominent men, 2017 saw their careers come to an end with sordid stories of sexual harassment and assault. For the organizations that had employed these men, the public relations challenge was, how do you address the allegations when made against an employee, how do you reassure shareholders, and how do you let the public know that no such conduct will be tolerated and if such things happened the culture of the company has changed. This calls for a public relations strategy of being proactive and getting in-front of such stories, highlighting the company culture, and navigating social media.
- United Airlines. The videos of a United Airline passenger being forcibly removed from a flight sent stock shares of the airline plummeting and made United the butt of every late night comedian and countless memes on social media. The airline was further hurt by its initial response to the situation. Social media brought this story to the forefront and fueled public outrage. It again showed the power of social media and how it drives narratives. This will only increase in 2018. In fact, social media often reports on a crisis before traditional media. Organizations need to be conscious of this fact. They must ensure that they monitor social media as they do traditional media and address social media in a consistent way with all other modes of communication employed.
- Equifax data breach. The Equifax data breach is still being felt today by consumers. Bad as the breach was, the credit reporting giant’s response to the crisis worsened the situation and caused even additional harm to the once mighty brand. The company waited weeks before reporting the breach and even when it finally admitted to the breach did not get all of the information out at one time. Rather Equifax released information in installments and allowed the media often to reveal information before the company would admit it. The lesson for any organization or individual from Equifax is to be proactive, transparent, and get everything out at one time during a crisis.
- The NFL and the take a knee movement. Donald Trump calling out NFL players who kneeled during the playing of the national anthem led to even more players taking the knee. Yet the public did not support the NFL or the players in this stand as seen by declining attendance at games and television ratings. The reason was that many fans felt that the protests went against the NFL brand and did not understand what the players were protesting. The lessons from this are – be consistent to your brand and fully explain actions that the public might not understand.
- Donald Trump. Donald Trump dominated the news in 2017 for good or bad. His policies and statements created strong passions. From this, consumers came to expect brands to take stands on political and social issues. Brands have often been reluctant to do this fearing they will alienate a sector of consumers. But today’s consumers in the age of Trump expect a brand to take a stand on the issues and brands are being forced to do so. This trend will accelerate in 2018.
Two thousand and seventeen was an eventful year. Its impact on businesses in terms of public relations will be felt far into 2018 and beyond.
The importance of a good television interview cannot be overstated. Everyone knows the power of television and that it often reaches far more people than other media forms. In addition, a television interview can be repurposed for online marketing and social media outlets. With advances in technology, more television interviews, especially on networks and affiliates in major cities are being conducted via Skype. For the television networks and stations this cuts down on production costs. For the interviewee it means more preparation for the interview.
Here are some things to consider when doing a Skype interview:
- Check Your Connection– Test your Wifi connection in advance. Make sure that it working and that signal is strong.
- Make Sure Your Video Is On – The worst thing that can happen on a Skype interview is for the video not to be working.
- Consider Your Background– Keep it simple and branded, if possible. A background with the company logo is perfect. Also blue and green backgrounds are ideal. Avoid red backgrounds.
- Avoid Bare Walls– Add visual interest, but be relevant to the topic at hand. Bookshelves are always a nice touch.
- Secure Your Location; Lock the Door– Make sure no one interrupts you during the interview.
- Wear Solid Colors– Busy patterns move and jump on camera. Dress just as you would if you were in studio.
- Look Into The Webcam– Look at the viewer; not yourself. This is critical as you want to come across to viewers as direct and as if you were in the studio.
- Create Space; Sit Back– Don’t get too close to the webcam.
- Center Yourself– Be sure you are in the center of the screen.
- Check Your Lighting– Make sure you are well-lit and not in shadow. At the same time don’t overdo it. Shut any blinds or curtains to avoid any sun glare.
- Turn Off All Notifications– You don’t want your inbox pinging you or sounds going off that will disrupt your flow and distract the audience.
- Use a Professional Skype Name– Remember this is how the television station or network will contact you. You want your name to reflect you and your brand. Avoid Skype names like Partyanimal or OnforaBuzz.
Skype interviews are the way all of television is headed. By following these simple rules you will guarantee yourself a successful interview that will reach potential customers and be able to be utilized on social media channels.
A media pitch is written to get specific media coverage from a reporter. It is written and geared in a story format. It is often tied to a news story. I recommend a two paragraph media pitch. The first paragraph should list the issue or news story, as well as, critical questions that should be asked or addressed by the reporter. The second paragraph should include your expertise in being able to address those questions, as well as, how you would answer the questions. You want the pitch written concisely, with a good soundbite in your answer. With media cutbacks, reporters and producers love pitches that are written as a news story that they can incorporate into their story and the interview with you. Media pitches generate the hard media coverage and interviews that brands, authors, and celebrities crave in a public relations campaign.
The other day, I wrote a crisis communications strategy for the Trump White House. It was the conventional crisis communications strategy that would normally apply for any Administration facing the issues that President Trump confronts. Yet in another sense, he doesn’t need a conventional crisis communications strategy and if he followed one it would actually do more harm than good.
What you say? Look at all the negative media coverage the Trump Administration is earning. It moves from one crisis to another (his press conference attacking the media was just the latest example). That is true in the conventional sense. Yet what we are forgetting is that Donald Trump’s presidency, just as his campaign is anything but conventional.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump was discounted. His attack against John McCain inferring that McCain was not a hero was supposed to doom his campaign yet his poll numbers increased. Trump’s running feud with Megyn Kelly was going to be the end of the campaign, yet it reverberated in Trump’s favor. There was no way he could win the Republican nomination with all of his verbal stumbles yet he emerged as the Republican nominee. Hillary Clinton was a sure winner against Trump, conventional wisdom held. The debates were viewed as a disaster and of course there was the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Yet rather than bow to traditional crisis management, Trump doubled down attacking his enemies and never backing down. On Election Night, he scored the greatest political upset since Harry Truman in 1948.
Trump’s success can be attributed to one thing more than anything else – his brand. The public has known the Trump brand for decades. It is flamboyant, never backs down and bucks conventional wisdom. This is what voters bought into during the 2016 election – the Trump brand. Voters believed in the brand and that Trump was not a regular politician.
For Trump now to follow a traditional crisis management response would go against that brand story that his voters bought into. Based upon polls, Trump’s base is staying with him. In many ways, Trump is like Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty who apologized if his remarks offended anyone but never backed away from his remarks and the public rallied around him because it was consistent with his brand story. For Trump to change is strategy and eschew to traditional crisis management steps would be to go against his brand story.
Brands watching Trump should realize that consumers buy into a brand’s identity during both good and bad times. During a crisis, if a brand approaches a response not consistent with its identity it runs the risk of alienating its consumers and losing its unique identity. Donald Trump understands that lesson and that is why we cannot expect to see traditional crisis management from him.
Every presidential administration just like every business needs crisis communications at some point. For the Trump Administration, the need is coming earlier than most (not even a month into the Administration). The Administration has been beset by numerous mistakes (Michael Flynn, alternative facts, the CIA visit, the Australia phone call) that have overshadowed its successes. So what should the Administration do in terms of crisis communications?
- Limit President Trump’s media exposure. One of the great powers of the presidency is the President himself. But he has been everywhere all at once. The Administration needs to limit his media exposure to one major event a day that coincides with the message of the day.
- Replace Sean Spicer as White House Press Secretary. Spicer is serving as both White House Communications Director and Press Secretary. He has become a parody in his role as White House Press Secretary through the Saturday Night Live Melissa McCarthy portrayals and has lost some credibility with the media that he works with on a daily basis. Retain him as White House Communications Director but bring in a respected person as Press Secretary to give the White House a fresh approach in its press dealings.
- Now that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has resigned, the Administration needs to replace him quickly with a well-respected individual that will command respect in the media, with the public, and policy makers.
- Stay on message. Too often the Administration has fallen off of its message and got caught in needless distractions. It needs to avoids this.
- Refocus on its campaign pledge of tax reform, infrastructure and creating jobs.
- Limit the President’s Twitter use (perhaps impossible). While reaching voters it creates needless news stories for the Administration.
- Carefully vet all facts released. Mistaken facts or alleged false facts (Bowling Green Massacre) are doing untold damage to the Administration’s credibility. The media is giving everything greater scrutiny so this means the Administration cannot make mistakes with facts.
- Have Mike Pence, Reince Preibus, and Cabinet members be the main talk show spokespersons.
- Avoid lashing out at critics be it judges or Saturday Night Live as that creates an unnecessary news story that the media latches on to with a fervor.
- Have the message of the day come through one central source, preferably the chief of staff’s office as was done in previous Administrations.
Righting course after a few difficult weeks won’t be hard for the Trump Administration. But to do so means employing a strategic crisis communications plan.