BLOGS: Wag The Dog

Thursday, August 21, 2008, 4:24 PM

On the lighter side...

With the campaign coverage at full tilt, here's a light-hearted clip from NPR's "On The Media."

It's about a columnist who spent 24 consecutive hours monitoring five TVs and two radios tuned entirely to political punditry...and he did it by choice. The columnist, who identifies himself as liberal, has fun at the expense of both the left and the right. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008, 9:28 AM

Television is king...for now

Few things are as ineffective as a scatter shot communications plan. Fortunately, a new report breaks down where consumers get their news and can help you figure out whether your communications strategy is reaching your desired audience.

Americans rely on television for their news more than any other source, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. However, online sources of news continue to surge in popularity with younger, well-educated, and affluent audiences. Newspapers continue to drop significantly as a direct source for daily news. To read the full report, click here.

The Pew report also breaks down consumers into the following groups based on their preferred sources of news.

Integrators: Those who get their news from both tradional (newspapers, network news) and non-traditional news outlets (web-based). Integrators are generally middle-aged, affluent, and make up 23% of the public.

Net-newsers: Those who predominantly get their news online. Net-newsers are well-educated, relatively young, and make up 13% of the population.

Traditionalists: Those who rely heavily on traditional media for news. Traditionalists are generally older, less affluent, and make up 46% of the population.

Disengaged: Those who generally do not get news on a typical day.

So, does your communications strategy reach your desired audience? If you depend on Traditionalists but are focusing on new media, probably not. If you depend on Integrators, you need a holistic approach that encompases print, electronic, and online sources of news. An effective organization always matches its communications plan to its audience.

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Monday, August 18, 2008, 10:59 AM

Whole Foods enters the recall crosshairs

Whole Foods' reputation as a leading provider of healthy foods met a stiff challenge this month when it recalled five weeks' worth of beef that allegedly sickened multiple customers. Compounding the problem, Whole Foods acknowledged that its tracking system failed to detect that the tainted beef originated from a source Whole Foods never approved. The company's response thus far includes three hallmarks of a good crisis communications plan.

1. Transparency: Whole Foods made information prominently available to the public on its website. Customers are able to contact the company for more information or leave comments on the Whole Foods blog.

2. Candor: The company acknowledged in an online message that its tracking system failed to flag the tainted beef. Acknowledging mistakes like this can be the toughest part of communicating in a crisis. Instinct tells us to avoid embarrassment. But the acknowledgement was necessary for three reasons: 1.) Whole Foods had to be honest with the public, 2.) honesty generally builds credibility with the press, and 3.) the public now knows that the weak link is identified and fixable.

3. Accuracy: Whole Foods sought to correct inaccurate statements in the press. Wisely, Whole Foods didn't blame the press for its problems. Doing so would only create the perception that the company had lost sight of what mattered: safe food. Rather, Whole Foods quickly identified the inaccuracies and provided the correct information to the press and the public. Disciplined messaging like this is key.

Granted, the source of the beef - Nebraska Beef Ltd. - has a long history of controversy, and therefore takes some of the flak away from Whole Foods. Nonetheless, Whole Foods commitment to transparency, candor and accuracy has thus far kept a bad news story from spinning beyond the company's control.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008, 4:48 PM

Giant Food and the value of coalitions

“Do not protect yourself by a fence, but rather by your friends.”
– Czech Proverb

Dutch-owned Giant Food gave a nod to this bit of Czech wisdom recently by announcing it would select its seafood products from environmentally sustainable sources. A worthwhile initiative to be sure, but it didn’t stop there. Giant also announced it had recruited a new partner in this initiative -- the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, a conglomerate of respected conservation groups.

The move is well timed. Environmentalists continue sharpening their rhetoric when it comes to corporate sustainability, as Nabisco, Kellogs, and General Mills know all too well.

Giant’s announcement is an excellent lesson in how coalitions can add credibility to a company’s plans and reputation. Giant could have scrapped the “friend” approach and instead built a fence, but the initiative would have lacked credibility without outside expertise. Environmental skeptics could claim that Giant’s new standards lacked independent review, or that the fox was guarding the henhouse. With Conservation Alliance on board, Giant blunted those skeptics and sent a clear message to the public and the press about its commitment to sustainable business practices.

Giant's coalition strategy prompts a question every organization should ask itself: Have we been building a fence or making friends? The answer may say a lot about your reputation.

Media Training: If there's only one thing ...

Our work this month with a high-profile client reinforces a valuable lesson every organization should remember about crisis communications: expect the unexpected. Here’s why:

Last week, in fewer than 24 hours, our client Obsidian Realty went from being an unknown realty firm to the front page of newspapers across in the United States. National media had been covering the international manhunt for the fugitive from Boston who had allegedly kidnapped his daughter. Obsidian’s staff, after recognizing the man on national television as a client looking to buy a house, contacted law enforcement who, with Obsidian’s help, set up the elaborate sting that brought him into custody (and returned the daughter safely to her mother).

Within hours, national news outlets descended on Baltimore demanding access to Obsidian’s staff, particularly the managing partner. TV cameras were at her door, reporters were on her phone. Despite being a successful realtor, our client was wholly unprepared to face the media. Recognizing the need to stage an immediate press conference, Womble Carlyle gave the client a crash course on media training: What to do, what to say, how to say it, when to say it, what to wear, where to stand.

If there’s only one thing you can do to prepare for the unexpected, it is to undergo media training. When the unexpected happens, and the media beast needs to be fed, having the confidence and ability to communicate effectively in front of the press is priceless.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008, 4:40 PM

Hospitals are put on notice by journalists

Hospitals take note: two journalism societies are shining the light on what they consider "unhealthy alliances" between hospitals and news outlets.

Arrangements in which a hospital pays media to report news content written by the hospital should be avoided, according the Association for Health Care Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists. To read their statement, click here.

The warning comes after a Maryland newspaper sold the content rights of its health section to a local hospital. The hospital drafted the content and the paper published it, without the counterveiling views readers expect in coverage. Due in part to community opposition, the arrangement was shelved after just one publication.

Newspapers aren't the only ones that risk a black eye with such arrangements. A hospital - or any other organization - may do more harm than good to its reputation if the local community finds the arrangement unsavory. In my view, deals like this should take a back seat to sustained advertising, media relations, and community outreach strategies. To learn how Womble Carlyle can help your organization's outreach efforts, click here.

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Friday, August 8, 2008, 2:23 PM

Consider Bob Newhart before your next interview

If you don't think you need interview training, check out this classic clip from the Bob Newhart Show and continue reading below.
(click to play on YouTube)

Ms. Corley's sneak attack on Mr. Newhart reinforces two time-tested rules about media relations that every serious organization must consider.

First, do your homework: If a company's CEO is to appear on television or radio, have a basic familiarity with the reporter, the format, and the line of questioning.

Second, do some training: Interview training is the most valuable exercise available to those who interact with the press, especially radio and television. Your tone, facial expressions, attire, and posture all impact how you are perceived by a viewer or listener. Womble Carlyle's strategic communications pros have made careers in front of the camera and behind the camera. They regularly coach clients through training scenarious such as press conferences and live television interviews to help them respond with poise and effectiveness to tough questions from ambitious journalists.

Still think you don't need any training? Presumably, so did Bob Newhart.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008, 10:09 AM

Strategic Communications Takes Many Forms - Rockefeller Kidnapping Case

Henry Fawell, Greg Massoni and Paul Schurick of Womble Carlyle (Wag the Dog Bloggers as well) served as media advisors to a key player in the international manhunt for alleged kidnapper Clark Rockefeller. They coordinated media activities for Julie Gochar, Managing Partner of Obsidian Realty, whose real estate agents recognized the fugitive from a photo in the news and contacted law enforcement, aiding in his arrest and the return of Rockefeller's daughter to her mother. Mrs. Gochar held her press conference at Womble Carlyle's Baltimore office, drawing national media attention.

See Baltimore Sun article for more information.

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