Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Documentary on Future of Advertising is Old News

A colleague shared with me this documentary called 'Transmediatic' which purports to be revelatory about the future of advertising. It is actually a summating of the present and a recap of where many have already been for some time.

Some key notions are that the "product is the message" and "clear is the new clever". These are just new clothes for the old notions of transparency, authenticity, two-way symmetrical communications, and mutually beneficial relationships that have popular by most legitimate public relations practitioners and taught by PR educators for as long as I have been one, which is since 2001. The documentary's line "the naked brand" reminded me of a book I once read. Sure enough, on my shelf is "Naked Conversations," by social media early adaptors and gurus Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. It was published in 2006, the year Twitter was launched.

We've kind of been there.

But to people who aren't in advertising or PR, the documentary is useful to give a visually rich explanation of the changes in the field, and indeed in society. Here then is a recap of what the documentary recaps for the initiated:


  • an "institutional speaker box" no longer exists
  • transparency is not a choice--does it happen to you or do you participate?
  • trust is the essence of every great brand
  • The Edelman Trust Barometer routinely points out that people don't trust executives
  • Consumer Sovereignty is an old concept made more relevant in today's media environment
  • 90% of people trust peer reviews; 20% trust advertising (see Yelp)
  • You can't create image (I always point out to students the distinction between image and reputation--one is merely communicated, the latter is earned and based on experience)
  • Related to above, companies have to shift from saying they are great to being great. (PR people have noted this for years, dating back to Arthur Page in the 1920s and the mantra of the Page Society today)
  • There are positive externalities to ads--such as information utility
  • Design thinking is where advertising needs to go (Our GVSU Ad/PR alumnus Mike Rios spoke about this on campus last semester. See this Guardian article about his and a partner's explanation of design thinking and an example of it in use to benefit society)
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a continuing trend. It dates to the 1970s in PR. See CSRWire for stories of CSR. Or see the Pepsi Refresh Project as an example of CSR that provides social branding.
  • A final note: the US is NUMBER 1 in advertising, but NUMBER 13 in R&D. More focus on good products, and the advertising can be transparent, and bette than clever. That's also fundamental PR--mutually beneficial relationships. 

Monday, February 09, 2015

Brian Williams, Journalists Lying, and The Moral Superiority of Public Relations

OK. The headline of this blog was a bit sensational and an obvious attempt at click bait. But a poor blogger has to do something to keep up with the big boys at Rock Center to grab some eyeballs. Do me a solid and read on.

Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News has taken himself off the air voluntarily for a few days because of his unfortunate episode of, to quote him directly, "misremembering" some facts related to report he did on the Iraq War.

Apparently he said he was in a helicopter in Iraq that was hit by enemy fire, and military veterans called him out on that. His statements when covering Hurricane Katrina are now also called into question, according to an article in USA Today, one of many national media stories on the subject.

Leave aside the fact that reporting should not be done from memory. Does not a journalist take notes or record when "reporting"? One wonders what else Mr. Williams may have fabricated in his recently celebrated 10 years in the anchor chair at NBC. Were he not an employee of this fabled (pun most definitely intended) network, Dateline NBC would be putting the finishing touches on a graphic for an expose called "Brian Williams: Decade of Deception."

But let's ease up on Brian Williams a little. After all, he's not the only national journalist to lie. Dan Rather over at CBS has his own wikipedia entry for his famous fabrication about George Bush's military background. Stephen Glass at the New Republic, Jayson Blair at the New York Times, and others are recounted in this Yahoo new media round up of old media journalism liars.

I have practiced both journalism and public relations. Now I teach public relations. And what I hear a lot is how public relations lacks ethics, and implied is how righteous journalists are by comparison.

So let's pause and reflect on this "teachable moment," shall we?

Any profession has good and bad practitioners. In PR, there are some who are intentionally deceptive or do other unethical deeds. But it would be unethical and intellectually dishonest to indict the entire profession. That is especially the case when a lot of research shows that unethical PR deeds are usually committed by non-PR professionals--lawyers, marketers, CEOs--or by people with no bonafide training or degree in PR. In fact, some of the largest whoppers of unethical PR are committed by former journalists (eg. Burson-Marsteller's smear campaign of Google for client Facebook). 

A lot of the criticism of PR is co-mingled with a phobic anti-corporate sentiment. But, we must keep in mind that NBC, CBS and other major national journalistic enterprises are also corporations. Big corporations. They shamelessly promote their various interests on their own programs. And they compete with each other relentlessly. They need attention, to have an audience to sell to advertisers, whom they want to charge ever more money.

There are a variety of reasons journalists may lie. Business competitive pressure. An ideological worldview contrary to the person or party they cover. Or simple ego to succeed.

The point is, they lie. We don't even know about all the times they lie. To insinuate that the institution of journalism has any moral high ground over the profession of public relations is just another lie.

Professions are neutral. It's the professionals who vary in their ethics. Brian Williams is the latest evidence of this. It's probably only a matter of time before we have more.

In the meantime, we all get to watch NBC and Mr. Williams engage in some public relations, as they seek to manage this crisis, work on image restoration and re-build the NBC brand. Now THAT should be good television.