BLOGS: Wag The Dog

Wednesday, November 26, 2008, 3:58 PM

The future of anonymous leaks

The days of "Deep Throat" blowing the whistle on the Watergate scandal in a dark garage may be fading. The future of anonymous leaks may look a lot like

The new website describes itself as the following:

"Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis...We aim for maximum political impact."

Creators of the site claim they have been provided 1.2 million documents from anonymous sources. While the website's stated priority is to "expose" what it considers corrupt governments, it is not turning a blind eye to corporations. Industries that find themselves subject to public ire may not want to ignore this site. After all, six out of ten Americans use social media and open source sites like this, and that number is rapidly growing. Wikileaks is yet another example of a user-driven website that could have increasing influence over public opinion in the future.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008, 4:30 PM

The intersection of video and newspapers

I found myself stuck in traffic on the capital beltway today, and tried to put the time to good use by listening to a podcast interview with Michael Rosenblum, an expert in the blurring lines between newspapers and video. Mr. Rosenblum teaches newspapers, journalists, and everyday citizens to shoot, edit, and upload their own video content to the web, thereby "democratizing" who delivers the news. His interview was fascinating and underscores the public's migration to web and video news content, the rise of citizen journalists, and the struggles of traditional newspapers to evolve in this new world. Any company that hopes to communicate effectively in the 21st century should carefully consider this phenomenon. To listen to the podcast in its entirety, click here.

Otherwise, here are few excerpts from Mr. Rosenblum's interview:

On the future of video news: "Everybody will be watching everything, but nobody will be watching something, if you understand the difference. I think we’re headed for a complete democratization of the medium, which is a very healthy thing.

"We live in a democratized world of print...We’ve lived in a world - we think we’ve lived in an information freedom. We’ve actually lived in the Soviet Union of video for the last seventy years; three channels, here’s the truth, we’ll tell you, you sit take it. Now for the first time, millions and millions of people are going to get video cameras and begin to make content that’s going to be an explosion of content. It’s going to be very, very messy and very uncertain, but geez, that’s what a free press is all about. It’s about being messy. I think it’s a terrific thing."

On newspapers: "As newspapers rush to the Web - because they have to because they have no choice - and as technology rushes to the Web on the other side, video becomes a viable means for newspapers to tell their story. After all, the job of the newspaper is not to put out a piece of paper in black and white. It’s to go into a community, find information, process it, and deliver it back again...Newspapers have a distance to go. And I think that we can find historically that when new technologies come along, there’s almost a 20 or 30 year gap between the arrival of the technology and its application."

On television: "Television was such a narrow field because of the electromagnetic spectrum. You can only have three networks. That all you could broadcast through the air, that people like Walter Cronkite became almost overnight personalities...As we go to a Web, which has infinite number of outlets and infinite places to publish in video and now as well as in text. I think that we’re going to see the disappearance of these people."

On presidents who understood the power of video: "I think Clinton was quite good at television. Reagan was fantastic television. He was a terrific actor...In the business we call it the X Factor. You know they really know how to communicate with the camera. They understand that - I guess in talking to the lens they’re just talking to one person as opposed to making a speech. And there’s kind of a personal connection that you, the viewer, feel that he’s talking to me."

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The automakers go to Washington (again)

We blogged earlier about the public relations fallout from the decision by Detroit's automakers to fly corporate jets to Washington to ask for a $25 billion taxpayer bailout. Did they learn their lesson? Find out by clicking here.

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Friday, November 21, 2008, 8:58 AM

Automakers hit a speed bump in Washington

Your words are only as good as your deeds. That's one of the lessons that emerged from Washington this week as Detroit's largest automakers testified before Congress for a $25 billion bailout. But the ensuing coverage had less to do with the proposal itself and more to do with the fact that each CEO flew a corporate jet to Washington in order ask for billions in taxpayer money. The "error in judgement" dominated internet chatter and many news reports in the 48 hours after the disclosure. Sure enough, Congress temporarily shelved the bailout deal on Thursday.

The fallout is a sorely-needed reminder that your words are only as good as your deeds. Yes, communicating effectively in a crisis is essential to emerging from tough times. But if the root of the crisis remains unaddressed (in Detroit's case, a perceived indifference to cost cutting) the public is less likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. As we have blogged before, organizations that demonstrate concern for the public welfare in a crisis generally succeed; those that appear indifferent generally do not. Despite their best efforts, the auto makers emerged from their congressional testimony appearing indifferent.

The second lesson from this incident is that influencing public opinion requires more than just good communicators. It requires planning, and too few companies adequately game plan for every curveball they can face in the race for public opinion. It's fair to guess that Detroit's Big Three game planned for how their day in Washington would be perceived. They just didn't game-plan for how their travel there would be perceived.

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Monday, November 17, 2008, 3:35 PM

Obama, Youtube, and You

It is no secret that Barack Obama utilized youtube and other new media tools unlike any other candidate in the 2008 election cycle. Whether behind the scenes or campaigning door to door, the Obama campaign wrote the rulebook for bypassing television to communicate directly through online video.

With the campaign over, the Obama transition team shows no signs of abandoning that strategy. If the following video is any indication, the Obama White House will be the first to establish a "channel" - or page - on youtube:

With this strategy, the president-elect is preserving an inexpensive mechanism for communicating with voters, minus the filtering effects of mainstream journalism.

So, what does this mean for your company? Politicians aren't the only ones who can benefit from embracing a youtube strategy. Southwest Airlines , Dell, Standard Solar and the One Campaign are just a few of the companies and non-profits that have created channels on youtube to reach a desired audience in an innovative way. Two key factors for determining whether your organization should make the leap to youtube are (1) whether your desired audience gets its information online more so than traditional news outlets, and (2) what message you seek to convey to your audience and whether you can do so through youtube. Have questions? Send us an email.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008, 3:07 PM

The "Barack Whisperer"

Today's Washington Post includes a profile of Robert Gibbs, who is expected to be named White House press secretary in the Obama Administration. The profile is an educational read for anyone interested in the tenuous relationship between journalists and communicators who perform under white hot scrutiny. Reading the profile brought back memories for me, albeit on a smaller stage, having served as press secretary to the governor of Maryland.

I recall plenty of heated discussions with reporters over their coverage of the governor, but always felt it was worthwhile when it led to more accurate reporting. I remember one instance in which a generally fair reporter wrote an article slanted heavily against the governor. The morning it appeared in the paper I printed it out, highlighted all the misleading and unfair sentences in blue, and highlighted all the accurate and fair sentences in yellow. Needless to say there was a lot of blue and very little yellow. I gave it to the reporter along with my complaints. It was clear he didn't like my approach (and I don't recommend making it a regular tactic), but it led to more accurate coverage from that reporter in the future.

There are plenty of lessons corporate communicators can take from the Gibbs profile, including the importance of addressing even the slightest inaccuracy or falsehood the moment it emerges. Reporter errors can quickly become "facts" if left unaddressed, particularly as social media and blogs become the preferred mode of communication for more and more consumers. The burden lies on us, the communicators, to nip it in the bud.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008, 9:31 AM

From The Maryland Daily Record

For those of you who missed our ten rules for communicating in a crisis, they were published in Friday's edition of The Maryland Daily Record. To read the commentary, click here.
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