Six Ways for Ad Agencies PR to Counter Media Bias

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When I started my PR career in the mid-80s, I believed that most reporters tried to be fair and objective, in spite of their personal feelings. I can no longer say that’s the case.

While media bias has always been an issue that plagued politicians, business leaders, clergy and others, the problem seems to have gotten exponentially worse—to the point where much of the national media in particular have become advocates for a particular worldview, focusing their efforts on shaping news rather than reporting it.

Not surprisingly, a recent Gallup survey found that distrust in the media has hit a new high, “with 60% saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.”

And no wonder—the bias is hard to miss. Rush Limbaugh has frequently played sound bites from one independent media outlet after another repeating the same word or phrase when discussing a person or event, making it embarrassingly clear that there was discussion among these reporters about how to slant their coverage.

There was a time when editors could be shamed into taking corrective action when a reporter’s bias became too obvious, but generating shame is getting harder and harder to do. Many of today’s national reporters and editors have an agenda, and promoting that agenda is far more important to them than practicing integrity in their craft.

The bias in this year’s election campaign has been the worst I’ve ever seen. One of numerous examples I could site was a Republican debate in which George Stefanolopous, out of the blue, raised the issue with Mitt Romney of denying women contraceptives. Romney appeared to be caught off guard and simply indicted that he was not advocating that at all—it hadn’t even been discussed. It was, in fact, a “when did you stop beating your wife” set-up question from the start.

The spin was became “Romney was talking about banning contraceptives,” and the next thing you know there’s a ridiculous and absolutely phony charge of a Republican “War on Women.” But in the world of politics and PR, once you’re on the defensive with such a volatile issue it’s hard to recover quickly. It’s a good example of how fundamentally deceptive and dishonest the news media can be, knowingly framing an issue in a manner that has no grounding in reality.

Another less obvious bias is in choosing what to report and emphasize, and what to downplay or ignore altogether. But that’s a topic for another post.

Conservative blogs, The Wall Street Journal and talk radio help balance the liberal bias of national print outlets and networks. In my opinion, FOX is the most fair and even-handed TV network in terms of presenting both sides impartially. Sure, FOX has plenty of conservative commentators, along with quite a few liberal commentators, and viewers  know where they’re coming from. But when it’s time to report news rather than comment on it, FOX does a pretty good job overall. Not perfect, mind you, but it’s the only national TV news I trust.

Media bias can be just as big a problem for ad agencies and their clients, as well as for businesses of all sizes. So how should a PR person representing an agency or business navigate in this environment, especially when representing an issue or cause that runs counter to the philosophy of the dominant media?

There are no easy answers to dealing with media bias, but here are six suggestions that I’ve found helpful:

First, understand the reality of the situation. If you are a conservative, you’re not going to get a fair shake among much of the national media. If you’re a liberal, certain national talk radio hosts will interrupt you repeatedly and not give you much time to make your case. Knowing what you’re up against is important to get you prepared and keep you from being caught off guard.

Second, avoid dealing with the worst offenders. I don’t care who it is, or how big a name or reputation the media person has, if he or she is blatantly dishonest and hostile, or won’t give you a fair opportunity to make your point, why allow yourself (or your boss) to be interviewed by that person? You know going in that the entire interview is going to be about trying to make you look bad. Contrary to what P.T. Barnum believed, in most cases no publicity is better than bad publicity. There are plenty of other ways to get a message out today.

Third, don’t be afraid to be a little feisty and turn the tables when appropriate. Newt Gingrich is masterful at this, and a lot of liberals fear him because they know he’s not afraid to mix it up with them on the issues, and that he’ll call them out publicly when they lie or distort the truth. Gingrich also knows how to get his point across and not allow the interviewer to constantly interrupt or cut him off before he’s finished. At the same time, you never want to lose your cool no matter how provocative a question or statement you get hit with. Controlled indignation can be very powerful.

Fourth, recognize that complex issues are going to get reduced to a sound bite or two. That’s unfortunate, but it’s reality. Learn how to play the game and get your point across quickly, clearly and in a way that’s memorable.

Fifth, if you become the victim of a media hit, get the truth out quickly. Press release distribution services, the Internet, advertising and interviews with fair-minded reporters can help get corrective information out to counter lies and misrepresentations. But you must not wait too long and let the message spread too far unchallenged; otherwise, you’ll be playing on defense for some time to come.

Sixth, if you make a mistake, or say something you regret, don’t wait to apologize and correct yourself; do so immediately. We all say things we wish we had phrased differently or not said at all. The worst thing to do is defend something like that and then later, after much damage has been done, come back and apologize. It’s far better to acknowledge the error up front and move on.

And keep in mind that if you’re a conservative, any misstatement or error you make is going to be magnified and repeated by the media much more than if you are a liberal. It’s the way things are.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.

photo credit: via photopincc

WSJ Asks “How Much Is Free Publicity Worth?”

Trying to assign a value to publicity is a little bit like trying to nail jell-o to a wall. Still, clients want to have some idea of the return they’re getting for money spent to generate publicity, so over the years there have been a number of attempts to rate an article or broadcast interview on various factors and come up with a dollar value.

Carl Bialik, “The Numbers Guy” for The Wall Street Journal, raises this long-debated question again in his column, citing news media coverage of various events and asking what this coverage is really worth.

It’s a fair question, but one that’s very difficult to answer.

Max Markson, a publicist in Australia, gave it shot. According to Mr. Bialik, when a reporter asked him the value of a particular photo that received worldwide coverage, Mr. Markson replied it was worth $10.5 million.

He later admitted that he “pulled the figure out of the air” because the reporter was on deadline. And we wonder why people sometimes question PR’s credibility . . .

Rather than pulling numbers out of the air that have no apparent basis in reality, Ketchum Public Relations has a one-page “scorecard” to help simplify the media measurement process. As I previously mentioned awhile back in my blog, the Ketchum scorecard is a grid that rates coverage on a point scale based on the following:

  • Prominence of client mentioned
  • Prominence of position
  • Source of item (i.e. did it come from the company’s PR efforts or elsewhere)
  • Quality of primary messages
  • Quality of secondary messages
  • Format of presentation (a feature story with photos vs. a mention of the company)
  • Exposure index (how much exposure a story gets in a given media vehicle)
  • Favorability index
  • Audience reach

Of course, the Ketchum scorecard isn’t the only method of measuring publicity, nor is it a perfect system. But you can be sure it’s a whole lot better than Mr. Markson’s method.

I don’t know how much the photo Mr. Markson valued at $10.5 million is really worth, but I do know the value of credibility and integrity: priceless.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.


Increase in Web Advertising Has Implications for Ad Agency PR

It was bound to happen: Web advertising revenue in the U.S.has surpassed that of newspaper advertising revenue.

An April 14 article in The Wall Street Journal cites a PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP report for the Interactive Advertising Bureau that shows a rebound for Web advertising after a modest decline in 2009.

The IAB estimates that Internet-ad revenue in 2010, which rose 15% to $26 billion, surpassed that of newspapers, which amounted to $22.8 billion, as well as $22.5 billion from cable TV networks, $17.6 billion from broadcast TV networks and $15.3 billion from radio.

Given the growth of the Web and the decline in newspaper readership, this changing of the guard was inevitable. Still, it is amazing to think about the relative speed with which all this has happened.

The prominence of the Internet as an advertising vehicle also has implications for ad agency PR. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., as well as free and paid Internet news release distribution services, are important ways to get news out to key audiences beyond traditional print and broadcast outlets.

While social media plays a vital role in generating awareness for public relations initiatives, some are still not up to speed on its potential.

Commenting on the gap that exists between the percentage of time consumers spend using digital media and the percentage of spending that marketers allocate to the Web, John Suhler, founding partner with private equity and media forecasting firm Verohnis Suhler Stevenson, noted: “Dollars always follow eyeballs.”

More and more, eyeballs are turning to the Internet for news and information, and that trend likely will continue growing in the years to come.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.

Ad Agencies: Don’t Underestimate Your Competition

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Nick Brien, CEO of McCann Worldgroup, said that the ad agency giant’s biggest competition is media companies like Meredith Corp.

 It turns out that Meredith, which does direct marketing and social media for Chrysler, beat out McCann for part of the auto maker’s business.

 “If you don’t recognize who you competition is, you will underestimate them,” Brien told The Journal.

 And in times as intensively competitive as these, you really don’t want to do that.

 Ad agencies aren’t the only ones feeling the heat.  Now PR firms either are – or should be – looking increasing their expertise in social media.

Earlier this month the Dallas Business Journal ran a story by Web Reporter Kerri Panchuk about how the PR landscape has been changed by social media advertising/marketing, and how local PR agencies are responding.

  •  “In our business-to-consumer group, social media is getting to be at least 25 percent of our business,” says Michael Burns, CEO of public relations firm Michael A. Burns & Associates Inc.  “We are diversifying our services based on what our clients want from a PR agency.”
  • James Hering, a principal at The Richards Group, tells the Dallas Business Journal that many of his clients allocate about 70 percent of their marketing budgets to digital and online initiatives.
  • As further confirmation, Michael Crawford, president of a M/C/C, an advertising and PR firm, estimates that 60 percent to 70 percent of his revenue now comes from digital work.

I suspect these Dallas agencies are pretty representative of what’s happening nationally and internationally. 

If your ad agency isn’t getting on board the social-media train, consider these parting words from The Winterberry Group,  a consulting firm that helps advertising and marketing companies grow shareholder value:

“Spending in the online marketing segment is expected to increase to $8 billion by 2012.”

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.

A Team Approach For Ad Agency Principals Who Want to Write A Book

A team approach can result in an excellent book that tells your agency’s story in a fresh yet authentic way.

Last month my client  Jim Patton and I finished writing the manuscript for his book, Life in the Turn Lane: A Story of Personal and Corporate Turnarounds and the Principles that Make Them Happen, which chronicles what he has learned personally and professionally throughout his career.

Jim Patton is a true American success story. He started out as a heating and air conditioning repairman, learned how to do mergers and acquisitions by reading The Wall Street Journal, and today he runs a firm that buys, fixes and sells distressed manufacturing companies throughout the world. One business publication has dubbed him the “billion-dollar repairman.”

Writing the book was a year-long process, and next week it will finally be released, so we’re both pretty excited to see the final product reach the marketplace.

Recently I was asked how someone else can write (or co-write) a person’s book–as opposed to just providing editing assistance–while retaining authenticity. It’s a good question.

Most ad agency principals have very busy schedules, and the thought of taking time to write a book can be a bit overwhelming. Plus, some people have a great deal of knowledge about a particular topic but don’t like to write and/or are not very good at it.

A good ghostwriter brings new thinking and perspective to a book. He or she should be able to pull information out of the executive, as well as work off of written documents (notes, presentations, articles, etc.) the executive may have about the subject matter.

The writer also should learn as much as possible about how the person thinks and speaks, and try to capture his or her personality on paper. It’s vital that the writer and executive work well together and have good chemistry.

The first step in the process is to jointly develop clear objectives for the book and create an outline of chapters. Once that’s completed, my approach is to supplement existing material with input from the executive through notes he or she puts together on each chapter. We then sit down together to flesh out details, fill in gaps and clarify or expand on a particular point.

With that information in hand, I’m ready to write a chapter draft. The executive edits the draft, and we go back and forth a few times to fine tune it. Then the process starts all over again with the next chapter.

You may also be interested in reading my article: Why Ad Agency Principals Should Consider Writing a Book

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.


Should the Government Bailout Failing Journalists?

I’m still shaking my head in amazement over Lee Bollinger’s Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, which was titled “Journalism Needs Government Help.”

Today Bill King, president and CEO of American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio, chimed in with a Wall Street Journal letter to the editor supporting Mr. Bollinger. Mr. King writes, “Lee Bollinger makes a compelling case for increased government funding of journalism in America.”

Are these people for real?

Mr. Bollinger is president of Columbia University, and his plea for government to rescue journalism shows just how far off the cliff much of the “mainstream” news media have fallen. His op-ed also is an enlightening contrast between the way the academic and business communities view free markets and competition.

Mr. Bollinger blames the Internet for journalism’s decline and laments that because of its success, Americans may become deprived of the essential information they need. His solution? “More public funding for news gathering is the answer.”

Isn’t more public funding the same argument we’ve heard for decades as the cure-all for our failing educational system and a panoply of well-intentioned but ill-conceived social programs?

But the bigger issue is that we already are routinely deprived of essential information by a host of journalists more intent on advocacy and slanting the news to their liking than simply reporting the facts.

One recent example is the way in which most of the national news media ignored the DOJ’s dismissal of the New Black Panthers’ voter intimidation case, despite compelling video evidence. Another is the widespread misrepresentation of Arizona’s immigration law.

“Enhanced public funding for journalism,” as Mr. Bollinger so charmingly calls it, will in reality do nothing more than enhance the fawning relationship liberal journalists have with the Left and bring us closer to government control of news.

The First Amendment prohibits Congress from abridging freedom of speech or of the press, but no where does it suggest the government should establish, regulate or underwrite the press.

Instead of blaming technology, what Mr. Bollinger and his colleagues ought to be asking themselves is why people are abandoning many print and broadcast media giants in droves, while a handful of national media outlets have found ways to succeed and leave their competition in the dust.

The real problem is that a growing number of people simply don’t trust what they hear and read from most journalists these days. Siphoning off public dollars to reward failure and give us more of the same is not going to change that.

Money can buy a lot of things, but integrity isn’t one of them.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.

Writing a Book Has Many Advantages for Ad Agency Principals

Having recently completed the manuscript for one of my clients, whose book is about his life story, I was again reminded of the many advantages to being a published author.

My client is a true American success story and I believe his book, Life in the Turn Lane, will inspire and motive many individuals who are discouraged and ready to give up, as well as provide practical advice to young executives seeking to advance in their careers.

But Life in the Turn Lane also highlights his expertise in the world of mergers and acquisitions, and how he got where he is today.

My client started out as a heating and air conditioning repairman, and he learned how to do mergers and acquisitions by reading The Wall Street Journal. No kidding.

After losing everything in his first major deal, he recovered and today is the founder of an international private investment firm that buys distressed manufacturing companies, turns them around and then sells them. Dubbed the “billion-dollar repairman” by one business publication, his never-give-up entrepreneurial spirit has paid off in a highly successful business career and financial independence.

Clients aren’t the only ones with interesting stories to tell. Last year I wrote a guest blog post titled “Why Ad Agency Principals Should Consider Writing a Book.”

At one time or another, I suspect just about every agency principal has toyed with the idea of writing a book. And with good reason.

Ad agency principals know a lot and have plenty of valuable insights worth sharing.

Those who dislike writing should not let that discourage them from pursuing a book, because there are some very talented ghost writers around to help. A good ghost writer will ask probing questions, serve as an objective sounding board and distill the essence of your thinking into clear, lively copy that keeps readers engaged.

Writing a book allows you to clarify your thoughts, get to the core of your message and discover the best way to convey important information.

It positions you as an expert, increases your visibility and helps market your agency. It also gives you material to use for your agency’s blog posts, Ezine articles and e-newsletters.

Finally, imagine how impressive it would be to conclude a new business presentation by giving prospects a signed copy of your new book.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.