Alligator Attack has Forever Changed Disney’s Image

This one is hard to believe. Disney, one of the savviest PR enterprises in the world, has alligators roaming in the lagoons on its property in the vicinity of guests. Yesterday, the worst happened when a toddler was snatched by an alligator while he was playing at the edge of the Seven Seas Lagoon at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. This afternoon, the toddler’s body was recovered by searchers, but so far not the killer alligator.

This is a tragedy beyond words, and one that should never have happened. A Disney spokesperson said there were “no swimming” signs posted in the area, but the toddler wasn’t swimming. Apparently there were no “beware of alligators” signs, so a natural question is what was being done to protect guests from an attack like this?

At least five alligators were caught and euthanized in an effort to find the alligator that killed the little boy, so this was not a case of a single rogue alligator that somehow made its way onto the grounds.

A few weeks prior to this incident, another family reportedly encountered an alligator at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, which is in the same vicinity, and informed a security officer.

In an interview with the Palm Beach Post, Nick Wiley with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission said that Disney has worked “diligently” to keep visitors from being “unduly exposed,” but he added that preventing alligators from coming on to Disney property is futile.

Really? There’s no barrier or other control method to keep alligators off Disney resort property? Then how about some signs specifically warning about the presence of alligators so that visitors aren’t unduly caught off guard? And how about some extra security in the tourist areas where alligators have been spotted? These would seem like prudent measures—unless Disney was concerned that warning guests in “the happiest place on earth” would scared some of them off.

I suspect that Disney will take some additional protective actions, including adding warning signs, but it’s too late for this family. My prayers are with them.

Beyond this personal tragedy, the Disney brand has been severely tarnished. If Disney really can’t protect its guests from alligator attacks, and the company failed to warn them of the potential danger, guests will inevitably wonder what else may not be safe there and what else they’re not being warned about.

Broken trust is hard to overcome, and the horrific nature of this incident is not something that people are going to forget.

Walt Disney World will continue to provide a world-class entertainment experience for families, but this fatal alligator attack has forever altered the company’s image.

Decline in Traditional and Social Media: What’s a PR Person to Do?

The news for traditional news media outlets continues to get worse. According to U.S. Labor Department data, jobs in the newspaper sector have declined nearly 60% since 1990. That is a staggering statistic, especially when one considers how the local paper used to be a routine part of everyday life.

Magazines lost 36 percent of their jobs during the same period, with radio employment down 27%.

Internet broadcasting and publishing employment, on the other hand, has grown from about 30,000 to nearly 198,000, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

None of this is terribly surprising, given that these trends have been going on for some time now. But what’s noteworthy is that a new study involving nine countries found that people are spending less time on social media apps.

Instagram and Twitter were both down nearly 24%; Snapchat use declined by about 16%; and Facebook by 8%. In the U.S., only Facebook fared better (though slightly)—it was down only 6.7% here.

News media outlets are declining, and so is the use of social media. What are the implications for public relations? Some perspective may be helpful.

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First, people are not communicating less, but rather in different ways.

Texting, for example, likely accounts for some of the drop in social media usage. Plus, new mobile apps are constantly being created, giving users additional options for making connections in new ways.

Second, while people aren’t reading newspapers and magazines like they used to, the exponential growth in Internet broadcasting and publishing jobs demonstrates that they are still interested in news and features, it’s just that many are getting them online.

As I noted in a July 2015 post, social media has become an essential part of journalistic practice, with 94% of journalists saying they use it daily, primarily to find sources and network. That percentage is probably even higher today. So, while use of social media apps may be down among general users, it’s still an important for organizations and individuals to be “discoverable” for journalists seeking sources.

Social media will remain an important way for companies and agencies to interact with customers and prospects, even if some of the apps used to reach them evolve.

Finding new ways to communication is the new norm for PR professionals. Knowing your audiences, and how they prefer to receive information and communicate with you, is vital to PR success, as is staying on top of trends.

There will always be an audience for people with expertise in a particular niche who are willing to share helpful information and tips, regardless of the medium used. And in spite of all the changes taking place in media, getting the right message to the right person at the right time is still the best path to PR success.

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PR Stunt with Fake Military Commandos Generates Awareness but Tarnishes Brand

Sometimes a PR stunt may seem like a clever idea when it’s first being kicked around, but upon further reflection it becomes apparent that the idea should never see the light of day.

Such was the case with a French Internet company’s spark of genius in using fake military commandos near the Cannes Film Festival. This one apparently skipped the further reflection phase and went directly to implementation, followed by disaster.

I Love PR button

According to a FOX News story, a group of six men in ISIS militia-style gear approached a historic celebrity-filled hotel near the festival. One of the men reportedly stormed the stairs leading up to the resort. Panic ensued as “someone screamed and people jumped out of their chairs and started moving quickly.” Surprise, surprise. Who would ever have anticipated a reaction that like?

When the dust cleared it was disclosed that the incident was a publicity ploy to promote Oraxy, a French start-up tech company’s Internet site, which the company says is “reserved exclusively for Ultra High Net Worth Individuals.”

Did it get attention? Oh yeah.

Did it build awareness of Oraxy? Definitely. No telling how many zillions it would cost in advertising to equal the publicity garnered by using fake terrorists to scare the daylights out of wealthy hotel guests at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.

Will amused “Ultra High Net Worth Individuals” flock to Oraxy’s “global marketplace” site after this incident? I have my doubts.

Gaining attention does not necessarily gain market share, and adverse publicity like this can cause enormous long-term damage to a brand.

An Oraxy spokesperson confirmed the incident was a publicity stunt and said it was coordinated with maritime authorities. “The spokesperson said the unidentified owners feel ‘really bad’ about scaring people on the hotel property.”

Given the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, and the authentic look of these fake commandos, could anyone really think there would be any other reaction than fear? If the Oraxy folks couldn’t foresee the panic that was likely to take place, wouldn’t you think the maritime authorities would have raised a red flag and put the kibosh on this?

A little common sense and what-if questioning could have saved  a lot of grief.

For more years than I can remember, I’ve had a sign in my office that some insightful unknown person created to outline the six phases of a project (in this case a stunt):

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Panic
  4. Search for the guilty
  5. Punishment of the innocent
  6. Praise and honors for the non-participants

I suspect Oraxy followed the first five steps but will skip number six altogether, because no one will want to take credit for this fiasco.

photo credit: Cloudberry Communications via photopin cc

Citizen Journalism & What It Means for Ad Agency PR

As newsrooms continue to cut back on staff, citizen journalism continues to grow. Starting this month, Fox Television Stations has begun employing citizen journalists and is the first major media outlet to do so, according to an article in the New York Post.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a citizen journalist is someone outside of the news business who does the kind of reporting that was traditionally done by professionals. Some citizen journalists analyze, report and disseminate news through their own online outlets.

Fox has partnered with Fresco News, a crowd-sourced news startup that has signed up hundreds of citizen journalists in cities across the country. Once you sign up, Fresco says it “notifies you about nearby breaking news events when news outlets need photos and videos for their coverage. When a news outlet downloads or uses your photo or video, you get paid instantly!”

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This is quite a change from the “old days” of traditional journalism, and I believe it is a positive one. Audiences that in the past only received information increasingly have opportunities to engage and participate. While a letter to the editor used to be the primary way to agree with or challenge something written in the local paper, today articles that appear online as well as in print often give readers a chance to add comments.

There also are more ways for readers or viewers with expertise on a particular topic to be available as a source to answer questions and/or provide insight. Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is one example of a resource that connects journalists looking for sources with people who are interested in sharing expertise in exchange for publicity. (Bringing qualified leads from reporters seeking sources directly to one’s inbox is every PR person’s dream.)

But citizen contributions are different than having citizens reporting news. With social media, blogs have made such reporting possible—and empowered average people in ways that were unimaginable only a few decades ago. Now, if the news media ignore a story, one or more bloggers can cover it and create a buzz online. Sometimes they can even shame reporters into covering stories that otherwise would have gone unreported. Or, if the reporting is biased, social media can quickly get out corrective facts and documentation.

In other cases, citizen journalists can get to the scene quicker than a news crew, or add extra arms and legs to the reporting team.

“News consumers generally receive a single angle to a story, because news outlets almost always assign one camera or one reporter to any one news scene,” said John Meyer, the 21-year-old founder of Fresco. “But we’re already seeing video on TV from three or four Fresco contributors who are covering the same protest, which adds a new dimension to how stories are presented.”

One example cited in the Post article was a March 7 pre-dawn fire. “Fox 29 sent out a Fresco alert about a fire in Moorestown, Pa. — a 20-minute ride from the station. The station instantly received ‘great video of a huge fire’ . . . whereas crews dispatched by its competitors were lucky to get ‘smoking embers’ by the time they arrived.”

This naturally raises some questions:

  • Will citizen journalists be perceived to have the same level of credibility as traditional journalists?
  • With surveys showing a decrease in trust in the news media, could citizen journalists actually be seen as being more fair and objective?
  • How will busy news outlets verify the authenticity of photos and videos?
  • Who will bear the brunt of legal actions brought against a citizen journalist?
  • What will this trend mean for public relations professionals?

To this last question, for the purpose of this post, I will refine it even further to ask how the trend toward citizen journalism will impact ad agency PR.

The short answer is I believe it will broaden opportunities for agencies and their clients to become sources for stories. As newsroom staff shrink in size, being available to provide expertise and credible information to reporters who are already stretched will become increasingly valuable. Agencies also need to expand their relationships to include citizen journalists who regularly contribute content to media outlets.

Today there are more opportunities than ever to not only have your voice heard, but also to engage and even shape news coverage.

photo credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious via photopincc

 

Ad Agencies: Divide Critics into Two Groups for PR Success

Whenever your agency represents a company that has even a hint of controversy attached to it, you can be sure that critics are just around the corner waiting to pounce. Or, maybe the company is hiring your agency because critics have already declared a full-scale war, and it needs help fending off attacks.

Sometimes even a handful of vocal and motivated critics can give companies a headache, especially if they are adept at using social media and know how make themselves appear to be greater in number than they really are.

Early in my public relations career, I attended a seminar where the vice president of corporate communications for a company that routinely was the target of critics discussed how he handled his job in such an environment. He explained that he divided the company’s critics into two groups: the reasonable and the unreasonable.

“Critics are our friends, they show us our faults.”
― Benjamin Franklin

The reasonable critics are people who have legitimate concerns and make constructive criticism in an effort to bring about improvement. These are individuals an organization can and should work with whenever possible. Sometimes, reasonable critics can even be won over to become allies. They can make us better if we listen to them and work with them to find common ground and win-win solutions.

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
― Elbert Hubbard

The unreasonable critics are never going to be happy, no matter what you do.  They will be suspicious of your motives if you try to work with them, and any action you take will be found to be deficient in some way. Regardless of what they might say, they have no interest in having a dialogue about the issues and working with you. In their eyes, the company is Darth Vader in corporate form. These critics thrive on attention and the thrill of the battle.

You can waste a lot of time and energy dealing with unreasonable critics, and at the end of the day nothing will have changed. Plus, by trying to dialogue with them, you risk elevating their profile and giving them more credibility than they deserve. This is especially true in the age of social media, where critics can be relentless and exceedingly nasty online. They tie up company time and resources with endless debates and accusations, and no matter what you say or do, they’ll still hate your client or cause.

What to do with unreasonable critics? I suggest an initial response to a complaint or inquiry, especially if it is made through social media where anyone online can see what is being said. Being unresponsive makes a company look bad and uncaring, but at the same time there are advocacy groups and bloggers who relish yanking corporate chains and putting companies in a spin.

Part of the challenge of dealing with critics is not knowing whether a first-time complainer belongs in the reasonable or unreasonable camp.

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Divide critics into two groups: reasonable and unreasonable.

To be on the safe side, assume the critic is reasonable and will be satisfied with corrective facts, a valid explanation or a sincere apology if you’ve messed up. If the critic belongs in the unreasonable camp, you’ll know soon enough by the follow-up responses you get.

Once you have identified an unreasonable critic and you’ve attempted to engage the critic—without success—the best thing to do is simply ignore future criticism from that person. Not only will you save a lot of time and grief, but posting a rational response that is rebuffed by an irrational person may actually help you. Your response will satisfy the majority of rational people, give them a favorable impression of your company and help them see the unreasonable critic for what he/she really is—unreasonable.

photo credit: Fisheye + Ringflash + Pub = via photopin (license)

Ad Agency PR: Can It Guarantee Publicity for Your Agency or Client?

NewsChannel 5 Truck

One of the biggest challenges in ad agency PR is managing expectations for publicity. If you work in the PR industry long enough, there’s a good chance that sooner or later you’ll be asked if you can guarantee news media coverage of a new product, service or event.

Better yet, someone in your agency will say or imply that you can get coverage in an effort to impress a client or win a new piece of business.

Generally speaking, no one working in PR can guarantee coverage in a legitimate publication or program.

I’ve seen exceptions—such as a small newspaper, radio station or trade publication offering coverage in exchange for advertising—but the higher one goes in the news media chain, the less likely it is that such an exchange will take place. In fact, most media outlets would be downright insulted if approached that way.

What can be promised is that the PR practitioner will devote his or her best efforts to success; explore a variety of possible angles; utilize knowledge and experience (such as understanding how news media operate and what constitutes a good story from their perspective); and leverage existing relationships with reporters in a good-faith effort to generate positive coverage.

Still, there’s always the possibility of striking out. And that can sometimes be hard for advertising executives or clients to understand because they think the story idea is great and everyone should be interested in it.

Maybe it really is a great story, but the timing isn’t right because the targeted media outlet recently did a similar story; perhaps there are other earth-shattering events taking place that have crowded your story out of the running. Or, possibly, gatekeepers have made it impossible for you to reach the right people.

There are days when a career in advertising sounds pretty good compared to a career in PR with all its uncertainties. While advertising and PR should both base their strategies and messaging on research, advertising has the distinct advantage of being able to control the message, determine where it runs and when.

With publicity, you have no real control over the message—though you can influence it—and you have no control over where a story runs, when it runs or even if it runs—not to mention that the publicity may backfire by being negative.

Despite these drawbacks, PR has an advantage that no other marketing tool can replicate, and that is giving your agency or client credibility.

That’s because publicity allows an objective secondary source–the news media or bloggers–to tell your story to the people you want to reach. Best of all, publicity does so at no cost, (other than what one might be paying a PR person to do the story crafting and pitching).

It’s this high risk/high reward carrot that makes PR so energizing and addictive. Win or lose a particular publicity battle, it’s worth the challenge. I guarantee it.

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Media Training Can Improve the Effectiveness of Ad Agency PR

One of my first jobs out of college was working in Amway’s Marketing Research Department. While there I got to know the guy who headed up the Public Relations Department. At lunch one day he told me the story of picking up the phone and having Mike Wallace with “60 Minutes” on the other end, saying that “60 Minutes” was going to do a story about Amway and that he’d like the company’s cooperation.

At that point I have never heard of media training, so I was intrigued to learn how the PR director went about preparing Rich DeVos, Jay Van Andel and all the Amway distributors who were going to be made available for interviews.

Everyone who went on camera was put through media training to prepare for the types of questions they’d be asked and to work out the bugs in their responses.

When the story aired, it was a big success for Amway.

In fact, Amway actually invited Mike Wallace to attend the opening of its Grand Plaza Hotel, and he accepted. I remember Wallace saying in a radio interview how classy the people at Amway were, and he described the company as first rate. That’s a PR home run.

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I first started doing media training as part of a team at the PR firm that brought me to Nashville. Over the years, through agencies and my own consulting business, I’ve done training for people in a variety of industries and with a range of skills and experience in doing interviews.

I’ve come to believe that everyone can benefit from media training, and that it will improve their communication skills, though it will be more helpful for some than others, depending on their experience and natural abilities in dealing with reporters.

Ad agency principals who serve as spokesperson for their agency would be wise to consider media training to help them learn how to take control of an interview, handle sticky questions and get their key points across.

Here are some common challenges for inexperienced spokespeople:

  • Going off message
  • Inability to clearly articulate core messages
  • Being combative
  • Rambling
  • Fidgeting or other distracting body language
  • Freezing up when the camera light comes on
  • Giving out inaccurate or misleading information
  • Falling into interview traps

 One of the most important points I make in my training is this: When you’ve made your point, stop talking.

That’s because more times than not people make their best points in the first sentence or two they utter in response to a question. When they elaborate too much and get “off message,” it’s not uncommon for them to end up in the swamp and say something they later regret.

With some basic training, the right messaging and a little practice responding to challenging questions, your agency will be prepared to tell its story with clarity and confidence.

photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc