Tag Archives: Public Relations

Sponsored journalism – always dishonest and lacking in integrity?

In Sweden, and I guess elsewhere as well, there’s an ongoing discussion about sponsored journalism and that it’s dishonest to the readers. But is it? Can it even be that it is more honest?

We all know it – good journalism cost. It’s that simple, and more and more we’re getting used to “free” journalism, so it’s harder for the traditional outlets to finance their business. I put free between brackets because there is no such thing as free, sooner or later someone must pay. But I’m more discussing integrity here. Because there is a sense that sponsored journalism lacks integrity and only exist as a kind of infotainment. This time around it was a piece on the Swedish radio about one major Swedish newspaper that had started a co-operation with an auction house and thanks to that was able to offer high-quality articles on the art market. The sponsored journalists did not hide under which circumstances the articles have been produced. In other words it was clear that the content is produced in collaboration with this auction house. The radio journalists approached the subject under the assumption that sponsored journalism is dishonest and lacking integrity, and that “their” type of journalism is so much better. But “their” journalism is state sponsored through taxes, so how free is that? It is perceived so because we don’t see the direct relationship between the funds and the result, but is not only a perception? Can’t it be that sponsored content is much more honest and show higher integrity because the sender is (or at least should be) clearly identified and I as a reader know this? If I know that an article on pain management is written by pharma company producing a certain pain remedy I take that into account when I read the text. When I read a text by a journalist specialised in pharma I can’t be sure of the sources, and as a PR with a fair few years of competence in working with the press under my belt, I know for a fact that “sponsored” content i.e. successful pitch, is not unusual.

Can it be that openly sponsored journalism has higher integrity than we give it credit for? What say you?

Google’s Tribulations – Déjà-vu all over again…

By now it hasn’t escaped many that Google’s UK boss Matt Brittin didn’t know his own pay when asked in the cross party hearing about Google’s UK tax polices. While it must be a nice problem to have, that’s not my gripe. Nor am I discussing the tax deal whether it was fair or not. But I wonder about why Google seemingly doesn’t seem to see the PR snafu in this story. If I headed up a company and a senior company representative floundered like this at a question and was called “evil” on camera I’d definitely consider that as something of a [minor] PR disaster.

The whole thing reminds me painfully about the SOPA hearings, the same thing there – the IT industry at large sent one lawyer that like the Lone Rider faced a committee of hostile Senators and even more hostile pro-SOPA representatives. And if companies like Google hadn’t shut the Internet down for a day, SOPA would have been introduced there and then.

I so surprised every time I see this happening. One of the biggest companies in the world and they behave worse than a start-up managed by a 20-year old from Mother’s walk-in closet. It’s like Google don’t care about their reputation. Or does Google think that their reputation is so good that they are impossible to harm? Or that because they of their size and market position have nothing to worry about? I find their arrogance amazing. And what more I find their attitude to me as a customer demeaning. Look at the situation – Prime time TV and one of the main star actors doesn’t know his lines. One can argue that Mr Brittins salary wasn’t the subject of the hearing, but he should have been prepared. I feel a little bit insulted on behalf of my métier, weren’t we (and I speak about PR and Communications practitioners) involved in the preparations? Or did Google didn’t feel it was necessary?Where we involved, but not listened to? Did Goole think that this was purely a fiscal question? And that once the deal with the UK government was closed, that was it? No repercussions? No questions asked? And what more, why seemingly no preparations, foresight or strategy from Google’s side?

As said, Google’s tribulations and floundering – déjà-vu all over again…

Perception is all…

Am sitting at home and in general feeling like the weather here in Zurich today i.e. grey and dreary. At least yesterday it was a thunderstorm where at least one has the impression of something happening not just muddles along. I have lost my voice, which soon will pass, I look for a new position which a process hopefully soon is accomplished, I’m nursing a herniated disk – but life has that quality that you CAN lift yourself in the shoestrings, pick yourself up and start again…

So in times like these I do like I always do, muse about the little things around me and isn’t it interesting how perception is all? I mean we are aware that it’s the case but somehow it doesn’t strike home all the time. I just pressed two oranges, I know that I will get the same amount of fibres, vitamins and juice by eating them but somehow they taste better as juice. Molten butter on toast tastes far better than molten butter on un-toasted bread. Molten cheese tastes far better as fondue (after all I live in Switzerland) or as cheese chips than molten cheese that has been left out on the kitchen counter. How come? And then there is the matter of semantics, my favourite – as those of you who knows me privately will know – is umbrella, it can just as easy be a parasol can’t it? At least in Northern Europe, we’d much more prefer to use a parasol because it’s connotations than an umbrella. Right?

But what makes it so difficult to change these perceptions? Sometimes when I go on about the umbrella/parasol twist the person in front of me stares at me as if I was Chewbacca’s country cousin just landed from a Galaxy far far away. Is it because change is difficult? Is it because turning our old truths upside up or down is hard to manage? Is it because someone shedding new lights on something we thought we knew how to makes us feel uncertain?

PR’s and journalists – are we really that unprofessional?

Our level of professionalism is something I query every now and then. In particular when it comes to what is called “press contacts” in my line of business.

Let me explain with an example:

I am at interview (always there it happens) and the prospective employer asks me: Whom do you know at FT/the Economist/Computer World… (just pick your favourite news outlet).

The thinking being that as long as you know a journalist at these outlets your news will get printed. Seriously? Are we that unprofessional? Are journalists? Personally I am convinced that if a piece of news is of interest for that outlet, or rather its readers, it will get printed whether I know that journalist or not. OK, I understand that from a purely human angle it is easier to speak with, and listen too, someone you know – at least in a professional capacity – than a complete stranger. After all we’re only human, but evaluating if content are news worthy or not, surely that’s independent of personal ties?

It is my job as PR/Communications to explain to the eager person on my side of the fence that Yes, this is a completely new product it is of interest. No, bug fix number 1055 is not of interest even if it took you six months to fix it.

And I remain strong in my belief that if I indeed get to “know” the journalist, the outlet and its readers i.e. understand what triggers them and what they find interesting in what I might provide them with they will listen. Maybe not publish, I get that, but at least listen.

I must say that I find the approach above deplorable and unprofessional both concerning us as PR/Communicators and concerning journalists.

Or am I naïve?

“The wrong people shared it” a tale of a Social Media campaign gone awry

One of the downsides with having a mother tongue spoken by 10 million people is exactly that. But I wanted to give this a try anyway because it is such a good example of Social Media and an organisation that maybe has a wee bit left to go…

It started on November 11 with a letter from the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, it’s the largest Swedish Union and very powerful Union at that and solidly leftist. No surprises there. And let it be know that I have no problems with Unions, on the contrary I have almost always been a card-carrying member. Not so much maybe in a left-wing Union, but in a Union representing me. I feel that as an employee we sometimes are the underdogs and we may need support. It’s akin to having a home insurance, you don’t need it on a daily basis but once something happens its good to have.

The Swedish Trade Union Confederation in west Sweden is vying for more members. Nothing strange with that, all organisations wants to grow. They are using their Facebook page, nothing strange there either. It’s more the way they are doing it and how they address their future members. It is an accusing text in the form of a letter saying that “Your back will never hurt. You’ve been riding on others’ all your life” after which it goes on to list the Union successes e.g. 8 hour working day, holiday etc…

However, when the letter took a national viral spin it was taken down from the Facebook page. Admittedly it was shared for the “wrong” reasons, no one agreed with the accusing approach in the text something that seemed to surprise the local Union and it was taken down because “It was shared by the Tory side” i.e. by the wrong people having the wrong political views.

And this is the crux with Social Media, we can’t control the response, what we can do is our best to use the channels we are comfortable with but we don’t know if the “wrong side” will pick it up and share it. What we also can do is to do our homework first and see to that we have all the answers for come what may. It’s called a communication strategy and it’s not sexy but it’s what makes campaigns work.

So the next time before you publish something, ask yourself “What if” your life as [Social Media] communicator will be so much easier.

You’ll find the link to the text here: http://www.dn.se/nyheter/sverige/facket-du-har-ju-ridit-pa-andras-ryggar-i-hela-ditt-liv/

Expelling the fear in communications

In her excellent piece on IT change communications, Theresa Stinson, lists “Expel the fear” as one integral part in any change communication roll-out. And how right she is, getting to test e.g. the new software is an important step to overcome any reticence to change in the organisation.

But this advice is equally valid for other types of IT related communications, I’m thinking about when the “customers” are the IT specialists. Before I move on I’d like to state one thing: I love working with engineers. They are solution minded and are often very enthusiastic. True they more often than not display this enthusiasm by speaking to you in four or five letter acronyms, but the enthusiasm is there and I can take their engineering speak and turn it into something non-engineers understand. And this is where the (expelling) fear come in. Very often I get the reaction from the “IT guys” that the text I have prepared is too high level. At occasion I have been accused of treating the target groups as idiots, and more often than not I have been told that the text is not “techie” enough.

So, what do I do? It should come as no surprise when the answer is: it depends on the audience. One thing I rarely do however, is to rewrite the text so it becomes “techier.” Of course I correct errors, but that’s it.

And, why don’t I listen to the wishes of the customer? Isn’t a fundamental quality in any customer facing job? It isn’t arrogance, trust me, I normally work with colleagues that will forget more about their subject matters than I will learn, I don’t in any way doubt their technical knowledge. But when it comes to communications I’m the specialist. And I also base my advice on many years of pitching journalists whom all have one thing in common, they are pressed for time and need to quickly identify if there is something newsworthy in the material I provide.

I remember in particular one customer that got so incensed I actually made a bet with him. It was regarding a newsletter I had produced and it is true it was high-level but I was convinced ,this was the way forward. I had taken 50 pages Rational Rose schematics and turned them into 1,5 A4 document and I attached the technical specifications. The bet went along the lines: if the stakeholders are upset its my fault, if they are good with this, it’s your sunshine. The result? An astounding success, and for the first time in the life of the programme the developers got much-needed feedback from the stakeholders. In all honesty the doubting programme manager did acknowledge that my way forward was the good way forward. The crux of the matter was the attachment. While many of the stakeholders were very senior managers and only read the short text, they for the first time ever knew whom to forward the technical specifications to.

So yes, expelling the fear is a large part of our job as communicators and sometimes an attachment is what’s needed to move ahead.

Martin Schulz, European elections and Social Media

I found this excellent blog post ”What Happened During Schulz’s #AskMartin Chat 0n Social Media” that discusses certain aspects about Martin Schulz’ chat #AskMartin. The chat took place May 19 and is a part of Mr Schulz bid to the post as President of the European Commission. Actually this is a post nor he nor his competing candidates actually will be elected to by the EU citizens since the Commission, including its President, is agreed by the European Parliament. So in itself it’s a strange situation.

As much of this election campaign this event was rather discreet, in fact the chat was a complete surprise, I only noticed it when RTs started to appear in my feed, and I concur with the critics that the answers were few, far in between and bland. Fine, he got 1 700 tweets during the hour allotted to the Twitter chat, it goes without saying that no one can answer that many answers at least not over the course of an hour. Still the answers that were given could have been more poignant.

But as Mr Ricorda rightly points out in his post, there are technical limitations to how many answers you can provide. But what communications strategy doesn’t take that into account? I must say from my angle it seems like Mr Schulz team had a brain wave:

We must do something with Social Media! Twitter! He should Tweet. That will make him stand out as a cool politician. And German (German since EP elections still are national) twitters is a really interesting demographic group. And properly managed we’ll get a really good reach.

I can hear the applause.

More than any other tool in the communications mix, technology is a factor in any Social Media strategy and if not managed properly you will end up like Mr Schulz, kind and well-meaning, but a bit lost in [Social Media] space. Technology has to be taken into account and managed. Questions like:

  • Can others in his entourage answer tweets while keeping the authenticity?
  • Can we continue to answer questions even after the chat is closed?
  • Can we create a pop-up page on the campaign website and answer the questions by grouping them in themes?

There are many other questions to be asked and answered. But as long as there is a sense of no one even thinking about the basics before organising an [on-line] event like this it will only be considered as a well-meant measure that got botched.