Friday, April 22, 2011

When TV Stations Do PR

The whole episode of the sudden departure of longtime WOOD TV 8 anchor Suzanne Geha from the air this week is interesting for several reasons. But mostly, its interesting because of the hilarious hypocrisy and bad form of a local TV station handling public relations so badly.

People forget that while they know TV 8 and other media entities as "the media" and consider them a special institution in society, they are nothing more than another business. Their product is news, or actually, a platform for advertisers to reach potential customers--news is just the hook to draw viewers to entice advertisers.

So, as in many other cases, it all boils down to the money. Geha and the off-camera managers couldn't agree on a contract, and she was sent to the curb with the recycling.

But what is most interesting is how badly WOOD TV 8 managed the public relations of what is a significant event for any business--the loss of a high profile face of the organization, a significant part of their "brand". You would think a business that trades in public communication would have been ready for this. But instead they exhibited the same type of reticent corporate behavior that the news staff at WOOD TV 8 complains about and fights against every day to bring news--First! Best! Live!--to the community.

But their own news generates only a terse and insincere statement covered by competing media, namely the Grand Rapids Press. Had this been any other business in town WOOD TV 8 would have been all over it, and Suzie herself would have intoned the details, breathlessly, at 11 pm.

Less than a month ago my wife and I and a small crowd of Spring Lake residents heard Geha speak at the local library as part of a series of speeches by prominent local women. How ironic to think back now of how she complained in her stump speech about corporate executives who try to 'manage the news' and avoid being accountable to public interest.

So now her former employer trots out the lawyers to say the public curiosity does not translate into a right to know. Get that? A TV station using a lawyer for media relations with another media outlet! If you read the comment in the Press, be sure to scroll down and see the comments. Local media consumers are not stupid people. They see the irony, hypocrisy, and the dents in the WOOD TV 8 brand.

In fact, the day the news hit the streets, I noted on Twitter that it was Geha's own Facebook page that provided her the civil farewell that WOOD TV 8 seemed incapable of doing. She had 229 new friends that day. The Press--which has a Geha desk now I think--reports that her Facebook page now has more than 3500 friends. She may use this platform to compete with EightWest.

Several years ago I went to Washington D.C. to teach a certification course to a group of people who are part of NBACA--the National Broadcast Association for Community Affairs. As I told the group, they were basically the PR staff for their respective stations. I've had several of my own PR students intern in the Community Affairs department at WOOD TV 8, something they call "Connect With Community." The station has invested lots of time and resources to getting their on-air personalities out there between broadcasts to meet people at events.

Too bad that in this case when they lose a personality who has been with the station for 30 years that they inexplicably cut that connection.

2 comments:

+++ said...
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Justin Weeks said...

I am glad you wrote about this. The whole time it was happening I thought "What are they doing?!?!, Why are they handling this so poorly?"

While I don't like local news, nor did I really like her reporting style, I recognize her standing and I felt she deserved better than that.