Archive for June, 2010

How to Control the General McChrystal in Your Company

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 23, 2010 by innovativemediapr

Whether you agree or disagree with the comments made by General Stanley McChrystal in his now infamous Rolling Stone interview, you have to agree that this is a public relations nightmare for him, his staff, the military chain of command and the President of the United States.  With McChrystal being called to the woodshed by President Obama in Washington D.C., reports continue to surface on whether he has already resigned or that the President will fire him.  Whatever, the case, McChrystal put himself into this situation and that is where the mistake began.

Generals have clashed before with their President.  Lincoln fired a number of Generals of the Potomac, including General McClellan, who refused orders to engage the enemy. Perhaps the most famous Presidential reaction was Truman’s recall of General Macarthur during the Korean War for refusing to adhere to Truman’s orders not to cross the 38th parallel.

What’s happening with McChrystal is something that can happen in companies across the country when executives are left to deal with media in unguarded situations.  I have never been one to put handcuffs on clients and bar them from engaging media. That said you have to properly position the client for the right media opportunities and properly prepare them.  Having the commanding General in Afghanistan talk to a reporter for the Rolling Stone, doesn’t seem like the best choice on paper and certainly has not turned out well for General McChrystal.  This is no knock on the journalist but a knock on McChrystal’s staff for putting him into a position of failure from the start.

Why give such an interview?  And, if you are going to grant such access, how can you do so and not closely monitor and protect your General?  In the case of the Rolling Stone interview, there were no controls put on the reporting. Too many loose quotes and sources in the piece are testimony to this.

It also speaks volumes to the importance of media training.  Properly conditioning executives in your company, athletes, sales teams, etc. to how to handle media questioning is paramount to an effective communications program.   

Corporate communications executives face this situation all the time and the best of them learn to navigate the waters and choose the best platform for offering access to the chief executive.  Sure there are loose cannons in every company. Identifying the weaknesses of these individuals and taking steps to educate them on reigning in their bad side when it comes to communicating to the media, is essential to maintaining their reputation and that of the company.

From a public relations front, the McChrystal situation can be a determining factor in how the country and world view President Barack Obama.  When Truman dismissed Macarthur, he dismissed a hero of World War II.   Macarthur was even allowed to address a joint session of Congress following his firing.  It was there that he uttered the famous line, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

If President Obama does not fire McChrystal or demand his resignation he will appear weak in front of the eyes of the military, country and outside world.   He now has a bully pulpit to show his leadership as Commander in Chief.

Just like a company whose representative goes astray with an interview that can cause harm to company sales, image and reputation, how the powers that be deal with such a scenario is how the public will ultimately perceive them.

General McChrystal’s staff has failed him and he has failed his boss, the President of the United States.  How the boss deals with it will ultimately decide how he is perceived in the world.  It’s definitely time for this old soldier to fade away.  Make sure the soldiers in your company are properly prepared before you have to clean up the mess they leave behind.

Tom Cosentino

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A Better Way For PR Event Follow Up Calls

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by innovativemediapr

Publicists have faced a common refrain from editors and producers over the years when it comes to following up information sent to them. “We’ll contact you if we’re interested in covering or doing a story,” is often what is heard when the call is placed. 

Recently I was working on making calls for an event in Washington D.C., working in conjunction with my long-time colleagues at Taylor.  Each member of the public relations team was tasked with specific outlets to pitch and follow up with to drive attendance to the press event.  The results were good, with multiple affiliate crews showing up, but the process is something that can be exhausting for all parties involved.  I just had my intern here at iMedia Public Relations  make follow up calls on a project.  It was an eye-opener for her.

On a daily basis a television news assignment desk is in a state of pandemonium, especially when it comes to major markets like the nation’s capital and New York City.  With so many events and so few crews to cover them all, news assignment managers must be magicians at times, trying to get to the most pressing stories of the day.  Then, when events like abandoned water coolers cause Times Square to be evacuated, the desk is thrown into full war operations.  Needless to say, a call from a publicist about their event is the last thing a desk needs to deal with.

The dearth of news crews, which has forced some markets to create LNS shared services, with one crew feeding footage to all partners, enables an event to get covered, but diminishes  the overall perspective that once was gained by having a reporter on-site to cover the event and ask pertinent questions to its participants.

Recently, I was speaking with the planning desk editor at a major Philadelphia affiliate. She began her search for my advisory on an upcoming satellite media tour by doing a key word search in her in box because at the time, she had 770 messages in the cue.

Stretched thin because of a lack of resources, news outlets cannot answer or follow up on every item sent by public relations professionals.  On the other hand, we as professionals would be doing our clients an injustice if we did not pursue coverage and ensure that their message was distributed to as many key media members as possible.

From an event public relations perspective there has to be a better way in communicating our message to electronic media. The days of sending the same advisory the assignment desk four and five times over the span of a couple of days has to end.

  Here are some of my thoughts for changing the process:

–         News affiliates should dictate that all media advisories be dated and sent to one central email destination.  Each advisory should receive a return email receipt.

–         The response, “If it’s on the AP Daybook,” we know about it should not be an excuse for an assignment manager looking to get you off the phone.  The AP Daybook is still an effective tool, but a streamlined process ensuring that an advisory is received and reviewed, will eliminate those rushed calls.  

–         A news producer at the station should review all advisories and serve as the initial filter, not an assignment manager crazed with sending a crew to a breaking news event.

–         The public relations contact for the event that makes it past the filtered stage should be notified if the event is in consideration or not. If not, they should be given a reason.

–         If for some reason, a crew is pulled, that event contact should receive notification. There’s nothing worse than holding up the start of an event because you’re expecting a confirmed crew to arrive and then find out they’ve been pulled after several calls to the desk.

–         There should be a cut-off date for sending and responding to event queries. Unless you are holding a breaking news event, like a press conference in a crisis situation, there should not be a need to have to send an advisory the morning of an event.

These suggestions are not perfect. However,  I think some changes are in order.  Needless to say, these are recommendations only for media calls regarding an event.  A feature-type story is still better-served by direct contact to the appropriate planning or news editor covering the beat, giving them enough time to determine whether a story is worthwhile and, if so, what resources need to be put in place.

Tom Cosentino