Tuesday, May 31, 2005

PR & The Media: The Perfect (Ethical) Storm

Who’s to blame for the misuse of VNR’s and SMT’s? The PR agencies and the clients they produced them for, or the media, for running them without full disclosure? I’d argue that both are culpable. As a former-reporter-turned-media-trainer, I think PR and the media are co-conspirators in the fake news debacle, with the public being the real losers.

Stations take VNR’s and SMT’s because they 1) need to fill air time, 2) are of no cost to them and 3) have (hopefully) some programming value. PR people know the media’s need for infotainment and see the credibility of supposed news as a great venue for their message. In my view, there’s nothing wrong with hand-out tape as long as its source is identified.

Full disclosure: I narrate VNR’s and I train dozens of people for SMT’s every year, but I always counsel my clients to be upfront about the source of these “free” feeds. If a financial analyst can be quizzed on CNBC about the stocks he’s plugging, why shouldn’t a doc disclose that he’s being paid to be a guest expert on an SMT flogging a new drug?

But the ethical dance between PR and the media doesn’t end with just VNR’s and SMT’s. Too much discussion has focused on TV, while ethical lapses abound in print. Consider the following true cases and tell me who’s to blame. (The names have been changed to protect the ‘innocent’, but these are far from isolated examples.)

THE JUNKET: To launch a new cosmetic product, Fabco PR needs to get the attention of senior editors at the “beauty books”. A jaded bunch, these ed’s can’t be bought with a mere lunch at Le Cirque. So, Fabco charters a 757 to whisk them thousands of miles away for a long weekend of pampering, fine food and a small portion of product hype. The result: dozens of pages of gushing news coverage with ‘nary a mention to readers that these mags’ praise for the product was bought with their editors’ schmoozing.

THE AWARD: To promote awareness of their disease (let’s call it fabulosis), the Fabulosis Foundation holds an awards contest to “honor” journalists’ coverage of this affliction. Widely promoted in the news-biz trades, reporters submit articles and video clips of their coverage for the judges’ consideration. A nice plaque and a big check await the winner. But were their stories created to win the big prize, or because the disease really warrants greater public attention. Did the Foundation prime the pump, or was the well really dry?

THE AD BUY: A trade reporter interviews a marketing exec about a new product and hears a great story worthy of ink. Not satisfied, the marketer reminds the reporter that his company is buying several pages of ads in his trade, clearly implying that the product launch deserves bigger play. (This dance can also be led by the ‘reporter’ who just happens to present a rate-card to the marketer at the conclusion of the interview).

THE DEMO: The Acme Outdoor Co. wants to promote its fashionable attire, camping and active-lifestyle gear. A freelancer is pitched on a new windbreaker, says he’s interested, but really wants to check it out. A sample is sent to the reporter who writes a fair critique which is published with no mention of how the gear was obtained. And the clothing is never returned… nor was it expected to be. Was the reporter accepting a subtle bribe… or asking for one?

THE TRAVEL WRITER: They’re called “fam trips”, or “familiarization trips”, but they’re hardly the kind of travel we peons enjoy. When a travel writer visits a destination, it’s all expenses paid and often first class. Yet, the glowing reports written on the adventure never disclose that the reporter was comp’ed and that his hosts knew he was a reporter, giving him VIP treatment. (One might argue that the food critic or theater critic who accepts a free meal or tickets without disclosing it is similarly fraudulent.)

Are these examples of entrapment, or just PR and marketers exploiting the greed of so-called journalists?

We all know that most real news organizations have rules against accepting gratuities. When I was at NBC News, there was no “free lunch”. And Conde Nast Traveler makes its writers always pay their own way. But for every NBC and CNT, there’s a dozen other cable networks and wannabe travel magazines. For the PR weasel looking to buy a good story, there are always other opportunities.

Eventually, the media and marketing malfeasants will be shown for what they are. When the truth comes out, the public will vote with its wallets… the new beauty product won’t be all its hyped to be, the disease award will be just another plaque and the travel writer’s review will be understood to be transparently hyped.

Consumers aren’t stupid. But maybe we are for thinking there’s always another way of buying their attention.

JIM CAMERON has spent almost 30 years in broadcasting and PR. Following a career at NBC News where he received a George Foster Peabody award, he launched his own consultancy, Cameron Communications Inc., based in Darien CT which specializes in media training. More information about his firm can be found at www.mediatrainer.tv

Saturday, May 07, 2005

“Fear and Self-Loathing In Pharma-land”

The PRSA Health Academy Meets in DC

By Jim Cameron, Cameron Communications Inc.

(Washington DC – May 5-6, 2005): Over 200 PR professionals in healthcare began their meeting in Washington in a self-deprecating mood. Billed as “Regaining Public Confidence in the Healthcare Industry”, attendees knew what they were in for. This meeting would be akin to a meeting of nuclear engineers right after Three Mile Island almost had a meltdown.

The morning began with a high-carb feast of danish and bagels, comfort food for the afflicted. Presenter after presenter reminded the attendees that recent public opinion polls ranked Pharma only slightly higher than tobacco companies and oil barons in terms of credibility. Wanting so badly to be loved, the PR folks couldn’t understand what had gone wrong.

Why do Americans think drugs are over-priced? Why don’t they understand the $800 million cost of bringing new drugs to market? Why don’t they appreciate that all Rx drugs have some risk? How is a VNR or SMT different than a press release? Why don’t they love us anymore!!

“We must be transparent”

The word of the day was “transparency”, the current euphemism for “telling the truth”. Keynoter Dr. Bernadine Healey (former director of NIH, The American Red Cross and now a USN&WR columnist) accused Pharma of “opacity” in refusing to reveal its drug pricing policies under the guise of protecting trade secrets. She said in her recent work on an Ohio Medicaid panel she was unable to find the true cost of the top ten Rx drugs in her state. Pharma refused to reveal the pricing.

True, making drugs is expensive. But why do American patients pay most of the cost? “We should spread drug development costs across other developed nations,” she said, singling out the French as a ready target of shifting costs away from US consumers. If they paid more for Rx drugs, Americans wouldn’t have to.

As attendees dined on red meat and humble pie, she said that Pharma should stop pandering to doc’s. (Indigestion seemed imminent as we all reached for our Tums).

Working with Docs

“We need to build an alliance with doctors, not pander to them with pens, free dinners and golf.” A couple of Pharma folks looked in need of the Heimlich maneuver. But her harshest words were for doc’s sitting on review panels considering drugs in which they had a financial self-interest. Case in point, the recent cholesterol recommendations from a panel of docs all of whom, except one, had a financial interest in statins.

But Healey stunned the conference with her pronouncements on counterfeit drugs. “Canadian drugs aren’t dirty,” she said, teasing her column next week in which she promised to detail Pharma’s “dirty little secret”… that 1% of all US drugs are phony. The FDA has no authority to audit the “grey market” that distributes 10% of all Rx drugs in the US, she said. (Author Katherine Eban’s book “Dangerous Doses” also due next week, she says, will “tell all”.)

Healey said that, instead of waiting for the FDA to tell them they must, Pharma should embrace tracking technologies like RFID and get ahead of this counterfeiting crisis.

Asked by this reporter what she thought of the media’s overall coverage of healthcare, Dr. Healey tossed bouquets to her fifth-estate buddies. “I think 98% of it is wonderful! And God… I love those bloggers!”

“I love those bloggers”

In my panel I spoke of journalists’ newest tools… blogs, RSS and Google News… as they search for fresh angles and sources on stories. Most attendees knew nothing of the millions of e-opinions sloshing thru cyberspace waiting for curious reporters to find them. Nor had they thought about patient activists, or even phony bloggers, who can trash a company in anonymity and have their opinions dished up online alongside AP and Reuters clips. Mainstream media may not be dead, but it seems on life support.

In the exhibit area, the VNR production house DS Simon acknowledged that, yes, it is harder to get airtime for VNR’s since it was disclosed that the Federal government had spent $250 million on VNR production aired (willingly, I might note) by stations under the guise of “news”. (Full disclosure: I have narrated VNR’s for many clients. They say I have the ‘perfect face’ for audio work.)

Conference attendees’ tight muscles and sore backs, provoked by the angst-filled morning sessions, were eased at VoxMedica’s exhibit booth with free Swedish massages. (Yes, I had one… but no danish!)

If misery loves company, PR pro’s took consolation in the comments of Dr. Stuart Seides, past-President of the Medical Society of DC. Bemoaning the presence in the doctor’s office of invisible representatives of managed care, second guessing the docs’ every move, Dr. Seides referred to attorneys as “an internal terrorist organization that’s a worse threat to freedom than Al Quida.”

Why are they all out to get us? Are we paranoid or is this all just a bad dream?

Healthcare Ethics: Not An Oxymoron

An afternoon panel on “Healthcare Ethics & Politics” heard more confessions and self-loathings. Edward Allera of DC’s Buchanan Ingersoll PC said Pharma wasn’t being open and honest. “My (Pharma) clients get phase one results that look promising and say ‘We should run with this’, but I have to remind them that they never reported on four other trials that were duds.”

Again, transparency seemed the salve that could cure the credibility rash. Heads nodded as we dined on an afternoon coffee-break of brownies, cookies and coffee and got sugared-up for the final panels of the day.

“We’re not doing enough to explain the risk-benefit ratio to the public,” said Jessica Stollenberg of Wyeth. I asked how that could be done with package inserts in 5 point type that nobody, especially the elderly, could even read.

Playing on the theme of “transparency”; I asked the ethics panel if doctors being used by Pharma as spokespersons should be asked to reveal that they were being paid an honorarium. (Full disclosure: I media train many of those docs for Pharma clients, but always ask them that question in role playing. They always struggle with an answer).

“Reporters know that doc’s are being paid,” said Stollenberg. “I just don’t think the public understands why.” Why, indeed? “We can’t expect a cardiologist who makes a half-million to do an interview for less than $5K,” she added. I noted that when they do CME dinner-talks, docs must disclose their “consulting relationships” and that if financial analysts can be quizzed on CNBC about conflicts of interest, shouldn’t docs expect the same in interviews?

Why don’t they love us? Why are reporters so adversarial and proctological?

According to one seasoned vet, it all comes down to jealousy in our classless society.

Are Reporters Jealous?

As former Wellpoint PR-czar Ken Ferber put it on an earlier panel… reporters don’t make a lot of money. Their companies are being downsized and they’re now expected to do more work for the same, or less, pay. “They can’t write about their (media) company officers’ pay scales, so they (take it out) on us.”

They say an army marches on its stomach. This well-run, thought provoking day of discussions seemed powered by caffeine and adrenaline. But an evening reception at a trendy Potomac-side restaurant saw a mad dash to the two open bars. The food was good and I watched two complete smoked salmon get inhaled by the throngs as Day One drew to a fitting close.

Day Two’s weather matched the mood… cold and cloudy. Gone was the fresh hint of spring. It was back to the winter of our discontent.

Somebody in catering got the message that this was a healthcare conference, so the breakfast carb-fest was augmented with fresh fruit… appropriate fare, given the first panel of the day on the obesity crisis.

The Obesity Crisis

Department of H&HS PR guy Kevin Keane showed off his Ad Council campaign “Small Steps” with some extremely funny PSA’s aimed at getting people off their butts. “There’s no guilt, no attacks on foods and no diets,” he said, noting the campaign is second only to Homeland Security spots in airplay. One wonders which is the bigger threat… Osama or Oreos?

But just as it sounded like the Fed’s were finally talking about maintaining wellness, not just fighting illness, our HHS speaker made a Freudian slip. “When I lose ten pounds I feel a lot better,” said Keane. “Of course, then I put it back on.” Step away from the danish, Kevin!

Next up, the bravest panelist of the day… Terri Capatosto from McDonalds, celebrating its 50th anniversary with some stunning stats: 2.4 million customers (“guests”) a day, 13,000 US restaurants and 1.5 million employees. The average American eats four meals a month at Mickey-D’s, and now they’re eating more than McNuggets and fries.

Spun by McDonalds

Attendees were all offered samples of the newest in healthier fare… the “Fruit and Walnut Salad” with yogurt. Capatosto says it’s very popular with women who enjoy the “fruit buzz” it gives them. That sounded like a drug reference to me, but it was mighty tasty, though I didn’t need the candied walnuts which added 6 grams of carbs to my Atkins-attentive personal diet. (Full disclosure: I’ve dropped 60+ pounds on Atkins in a year and it wasn’t with any help from Ronald!)

With ‘nary a mention of the attack-documentary “Supersize Me” and only passing reference to McDonald’s recent controversial consulting deal with one-time critic, Dr. Dean Ornish (akin to GM hiring Ralph Nader to design a new car), the lady from McDonalds dished up a series of TV spots showing new role models for kids… hyperactive little 4 year olds bouncing off the walls who looked to be candidates for Ritalin as much as poster-kids for getting more exercise.

We’d been spun, and we loved it. Rather than speak of the PR challenge of overcoming years of negative PR, Capatosto had us all munching on apple slices and thinking that Ronald McDonald was looking a little less paunchy these days. I was stunned, but enjoying my “fruit buzz”.

“Motivational speaker” Mike Meyerheim was next up, sharing his story of a 14 month journey from 412 pounds to 208 as highlighted with his 15 minutes of fame on Dr. Phil. We were stunned. Who let this guy in? Here was a real person, not a flack or government weasel. And he wasn’t selling us anything. His was a great story, without a catch, and that was refreshing indeed.

Softball question of the day came from somebody who asked Capatosto; “Do you sometimes feel McDonalds is a scapegoat for Americans’ bad eating habits?” And 50 points to her for not starting her answer with “I’m glad you asked that…”

The session adjourned and we headed for the coffee break, sheepishly gobbling the muffins and fruit. No time for exercise, though.

Picking Up The Pieces

The next session was excellent… “Conversion After a Crisis”. Conversion? Religious? AC to DC? No, reputation repair. Picking up the pieces.

Larry Kamer from Manning Selvage & Lee was scary-smart, noting that the Chinese symbol for the word crisis was two thoughts: risk on top of opportunity. Favorite quote: “There are three words that, when they’re all together, really frighten me: media training doctors.” Tell me about it!

Chris Thomas of The Intrepid Group told of his work handing the family of Jessica Smart after her abduction. “Working with the media in a crisis is a lot like obedience-training a dog. You need touch, tone and training.” His seven-point plan was brilliant. Ask him for his slides.

David Henry from TeleNoticias rounded out the panel with some sage advice on the care and feeding of the broadcast media in a crisis: have B roll ready and get it blessed in advance by your lawyers in case it gets subpoenaed afterwards.

Good information. No dumb questions. And no self-loathing. What happened? Could we be ending on an up-note? Not quite.

The Media Talks Back

The luncheon panel had us back on the steady diet of self-loathing as the actual members of the media took center stage. Had their ears been burning from all we’d said about them in day one? Apparently not. While we dined on chicken, they’d obviously had their red meat as, tanked up on adrenaline, they literally bit the hand that had just fed them.

“The Pharma industry is its own worst enemy,” said John Carey of Business Week (a recipient of three different degrees in science, according to his bio). “The industry’s bad press is well-deserved, whether its generic conversion shenanigans, hyping off-label use or pricing.”

Industry cheerleader Rex Rhein from “Scrip” said his publication was mostly read by Pharma executives. I guess it’s sort of like prescription drugs. “Anybody can buy Scrip, but only Pharma exec’s can afford it.” Rex made sure we all got a free copy of the UK-based trade. I noted that annual subscriptions were $1785. I guess we won’t be reading much of Rex’s work after today.

Trying to lighten the tone of the panel, Novartis moderator Bob Laverty showed a “Simpsons” clip which poked fun at drug costs. If the truth hurts, satire stings, but we all had a good chuckle.

Not fair, cried Marilyn Serafin of The National Journal. Did the “Simpsons” satirize drug costs because of media coverage, or did the media pick up on the issue because the cartoon writers shoved it in their face? “Does the media reflect society or influence it,” she asked.

Hello!?! Isn’t the operative issue here that Rx drugs are expensive and we can’t explain why?

Unanswered Questions

Reflecting on the two day conference, I realize that question was often asked, but never answered. There were plenty of senior Pharma exec’s in attendance and loads of their PR counselors, but none of them tackled the question every American wants answered. It was as if we should all know the answer and didn’t need to ask. Or, maybe it’s because we’re afraid to ask because we know the answer. So much for transparency.

As we quaffed our umpteenth cups of Starbucks high-test, Washington Post writer Fran Kritz told us she loves her job, seeing her role really as one of being an informer. “My husband asks why I don’t go work for a Pharma company. I like being a reporter,” she said. “But I wouldn’t mind that (Pharma) pay scale.”

Gosh golly gee. Ken Ferber was right after all. These pesky reporters really are jealous. Imagine if they knew about the honoraria the docs they interview were getting. (Full disclosure: like me, the reporters all got thank-you gifts for appearing on the panel… Waterman ballpoint pens with a PRSA logo.)

Alas, I had to bail before the final sessions of the afternoon, so I didn’t get to hear the panel defending use of celebrity spokespeople or the academic who was going to address rebuilding employee morale. My morale was long gone. I was drained. I missed the end-of-day raffle for the gift certificates to SpaFinder and GNC.

This report is by no means comprehensive as I missed more panels than I attended, but I have tried to capture the mood and color of the meeting. All quotes are as accurate as possible.
I met some interesting people. The panels were good, though over-packed with speakers and, often, long-winded moderators. The topics were timely. But God it feels good that it’s over. Any more self-criticism and we’d all need therapy, not just Swedish massage.

Cameron Communications Inc.
web: www.mediatrainer.tv
e-mail: jim@mediatrainer.tv
voice: 203-655-0138

"PR's Myths About Media" - Fall 1998

“PR’s Myths About the Media”

by Jim Cameron, Cameron Communications Inc. http://www.mediatrainer.tv/

You're not just imagining it
There's always been a certain love-hate relationship between the media and the PR community. They need each other for survival, yet they often express anger and surprise that they don't understand each other better.

For 12 years since I started JFORUM - The Journalism Forum on CompuServe we have explored these "Flack vs. Hack" tensions, most recently in a message thread titled "PR's Media Myths." I invited our 40,000 members (reporters, freelance writers, editors, photographers and non-fiction authors) to share what they think are the PR community's biggest misunderstandings of how journalists operate.

The full message thread runs to 100+ postings and is still growing. I invite you to log onto CompuServe, GO JFORUM and read them all... adding your thoughts as well! What follows are some of the highlights.

Myth #1: Didja Get It?
Nothing irks reporters more than getting phone calls from PR folks asking, "did you get my fax"? One Silicon Valley-based TV reporter said "I get up to 200 faxes per day" and queries like "did you get my fax" provoke him to tell callers he will drop everything he is doing, find "their" fax and rip it to shreds on the phone.
"The US Postal Service and fax machines generally work," noted one industry observer. In other words, they got your fax! If they're not calling you, it's because they're not interested in what you're pitching. Don't make them angrier by reminding them why. "The whole routine about faxes, FedEx and calls to 'make sure you got' something you never wanted in the first place not only is unnecessary but often is counterproductive," put one reporter succinctly.

Myth #2: Misplaced Pitches
A targeted pitch of a story idea will be appreciated. But a shotgun approach generally wounds more parties than it hits head-on. Being ignorant of who you are pitching -- the format of their show, their target audience, etc. -- can really annoy reporters.
An editor for Aviation Daily recalls a pitch that started with the PR "pro" asking, "How often does your publication come out?"
If you can't look at your media guide and put yourself in the reporters' shoes when pitching your client's product/issue/expert, you're wasting your and the reporter's time. Do your homework and target your calls.

Myth #3: "We Bought An Ad"
If you think there's tension between PR and the media, try asking a reporter how he gets along with his station/publication's advertising salespeople. Reporters know that the ads pay the bills, but they ferociously resent a PR person reminding them that their client has an ad running in the same issue/show as the story they're hoping to place with them. And to suggest that an ad somehow entitles their client to better news coverage sends them into a rage.
One reporter said that "anytime a PR person mentions advertising (when pitching me) I put them on hold and switch them to the sales manager's office."
Advertising is bought and paid for and guarantees you placement. Readers know those facts and take your advertising message with a grain of salt. News coverage, on the other hand, is based on the reporter's evaluation of its importance. But being "news" is more credible to the reader/viewer. And it's free. "If flacks don't understand this," wrote one wag, "they should go into advertising."

Myth #4: Calling on Deadline
Even the best-targeted pitch can miss the mark if made at the wrong time. When reporters are under the gun to finish writing or producing just before deadline, there's little chance of getting their attention.
"In all the time I worked on daily (evening news) shows, PR people who had the temerity to call me between four and five p.m. got nowhere," said one TV producer. Or put more positively, a former staffer on PBS's "Nightly Business Report" said he always liked the calls from PR pro's that started with "Is this a good time to talk?" If it not, that pitcher would find a time that was.

Myth #5: Wrong Number
Our TV reporter friend in Silicon Valley tells of the time that some PR person's auto-dialing fax machine kept calling his voice mail rather than his fax machine. "The resulting overload shut down my voice mail overnight," perhaps missing important messages. When the reporter got to work and found what had happened, he plugged his fax into his voice line, got the fax on the umpteenth retry and called the offending sender to read her the riot act.

Myth #6: Rolodex Roulette
This was a new one on us. A high tech trade reporter says a PR firm for a major computer company passed along the name of a person she suggested he interview as a user of her client's product. But when the reporter called, the man refused to talk! Apologetic, the flack thumbed through her Rolodex and offered a second expert. Same reaction... "no comment".
As this reporter (who actually wanted to take the PR pro's pitch!) put it: "the PR agent can't merely parcel out names. I'd rather deal with the PR rep who makes sure the interviewee wants to talk to the press, then gets on the line with them to introduce the two of us and set the stage for the interview."

This is just a small sampling of opinion from the JFORUM thread. I hope you'll take the comments in the same positive spirit most of our journalist members offered them -- an attempt to help the PR and Media communities understand each other a bit better.

© 1998 Cameron Communications Inc.

"The Truth (At Last!) About Journalists - Spring 2000

“The Truth (At Last!) About Journalists”

by Jim Cameron, Cameron Communications Inc. http://www.mediatrainer.tv/

At the risk of alienating myself from my journalist friends, it’s time to come clean and share with you the truth about this profession.

Having worked as a reporter for many years, both at NBC News and in print, and having operated JFORUM - The Online Press Club since 1985, I know of what I speak. It’s my hope that, by better understanding what makes these muckrakers tick, you’ll have a better chance of pitching your story to them.

CYNICISM: In J-school you’re taught to trust no one. “If your Mama says she loves you,
check it out,” is the maxim by which reporters live. Almost anything you say to a reporter will be met with skepticism. “Prove it,” they’ll say. And when you do, they’ll ask, “So?
Why should I care?” When pitching your story, anticipate that cynicism. Come
armed with statistics, examples, anecdotes and third-party endorsements of your message. Offer your proof without being asked.

MULTI-TASKING: Reporters are often working three or four stories simultaneously. Their attention span rivals that of a three year-old. They hate getting calls from PR “flacks” asking “did you get my fax?” and similar time wasters. When talking with a reporter, get to the point. Don’t waste your time or theirs.

LAZINESS: Given their workload and attention span, they’ll often take your story verbatim if the release (see above) is well written. Rather than struggle to understand the
intricacies of your business, they’ll go for the top-line message. “Don’t bother me with the facts, I’ve got my story” is often their attitude. Present your message in catchy sound bites and bullet-points. Don’t inundate the reporter with thick press packets when a page or two will suffice.

LIBERAL: Reporters who tell you they’re not a little to the left of center are lying …
to you or to themselves. Many enter the profession because they want to “change the world” or “help people.” They see themselves as missionaries and do-gooders, though you’ll seldom find them volunteering for public service. Appeal to this sense of
public interest in your pitch. “What your readers will want to know” often grabs their attention. Don’t try to convert reporters. Instead, use them to persuade their audience.

UNDERPAID: Nobody gets into journalism for the money. There isn’t any. Recent
surveys have shown that major market print and broadcast reporters make less than $50,000. And those behind the scenes (i.e., not on the air or by-lined) make much less. This plays into their Robin Hood mentality Be careful about talking money when you’re
pitching. What you might consider affordable could be seen by the journalist (and their audience!) as a luxury. Stress your product’s benefits over its cost.

ETHICAL: At most media outlets, reporters cannot be “bought”… neither by a free lunch nor an outright bribe. Having taken the “vow of poverty,” journalists will pillory one of their own who gives even the appearance of being paid-off. Employers dictate that holiday gifts can seldom exceed $25 in value. Some reporters won’t even accept a cup of coffee. Though possibly apocryphal, the story is told of the young reporter attending his first “press party.” Feeling guilty as he gawked at the orgy of free food and drink, the reporter said to the PR host, “I feel like a prostitute.” To which the flack replied, “Sorry! It wasn’t in the budget this year.”

COMPETITIVE: They all want to be first with a story. They want to scoop their rivals and bask in the spotlight—even if it means violating their unwritten code of ethics. If they can’t squeeze a comment out of you, they may trick you into giving it. Always assume you’re “on the record”, even when it seems the interview is over. Don’t discuss confidential information or leave tempting documents on your desk when being interviewed. Reporters can read upside-down. And the casual chat as you escort a reporter to the door could lead to a headline.

INCESTUOUS: Nobody consumes more media than reporters. They’re constantly monitoring radio, TV and print competitors, playing catch-up. They hate getting beaten to a story, so try to play fair and not grant exclusives. More than any other media, print is where true journalism occurs. Radio and TV just repackage what they’ve seen in the newspapers. So get your story placed in print first, and the other coverage will follow.

© 2000 Cameron Communications, Inc.
55 Dubois Street, Darien CT 06820-5224

"Less News, More Often" - Spring 1999

“Less News, More Often”

by Jim Cameron, Cameron Communications Inc. http://www.mediatrainer.tv/

Check your local newspaper, first under the movie listings. How many different movies are
playing at your local multiplex cinema? There may be 10 screens, but chances are you'll see only 4 or 5 different films, each being offered at multiple starting times.

Now, look at your TV listings. Does your "110 channel" cable system really offer that many different, unique program sources? Or do you find multiple outlets often carrying the same shows. Since the bean counters and efficiency experts took over TV news, amortization of expenses has been the buzzword. Why air a correspondent's report from Kosovo just once on the evening news? Why not repackage it and re-air it several times in multiple

Did you miss "Dateline" the other night on NBC? Don't worry. Stone Phillips will be back with the very same program on MSNBC as "Weekend Magazine". Are you a real fan of Brian Williams? Catch his evening news at 9pm on MSNBC or replayed immediately at 10pm on CNBC. Want to watch reruns of "60 Minutes" and see Ed Bradley before he
could wear his earring on-air? Just tune in CBS's feeble attempt at a cable channel, "Eye On People".

The bottom line? The technological promise of unlimited choice and varied sources for news and information has not yet been achieved. We're still stuck with the same handful of sources, each masquerading in multiple identities. As Bruce Springsteen put it: "There's 57 channels and nothin' on."

The Incredible Shrinking News Hole

To viewers and readers these days it often seems there is only one story in the news. Be it Monica Lewinsky, Kosovo or the Littleton Massacre, more and more news time is eaten up with fewer and fewer stories.

In many cases, cable stations like MSNBC or CNN use such mega-stories as branding opportunities, hoping their extensive, near-exclusive coverage of such stories will given them a unique identity in viewers' minds. Mention Geraldo Rivera, and what comes to mind? OJ Simpson's murder trial, of course. But such wall-to-wall coverage really leaves me wondering: Is that all that's going on? As important as those stories may be, do they deserve such intense coverage to the exclusion of everything else in the world?

What dastardly deeds perpetrated by bureaucrats and CEO's go unreported? What sour earnings report, environmental impact study or product recall did we miss because Brian Williams wanted to show us footage of Columbine High School for the 99th time?

If this is frustrating to me, imagine how serious journalists feel? Toiling for days or weeks to ferret (Continued on page 2) out a great story they're told there is no air-time to tell
it. Or how about the PR pro's whose big press event, scheduled weeks in advance, suddenly vies for media attention with a school shooting or political sex scandal?

It used to be that PR professionals would avoid the "sweeps week" ratings-hyping theatrics of TV news, preferring to seek coverage on the quieter, more rational un-rated weeks. But now that wisdom seems moot as every day is a ratings race with programmers
vying for viewers however they can.

At the risk of recycling myself, let me share something I wrote a year ago on these pages:
"TV news is like soap. We all use it, but it doesn't leave much of an impression. We are all
awash in infotainment, and the transitory media... TV and radio... are here, then gone in an instant. TV has tremendous "reach", but its impact is often minimal.

In PR the bigger and more important challenge is getting your story in print. That's where the real journalism is practiced today."

‘Less News’ Demands Creative PR Tactics

So, what’s a PR pro to do? How can you best serve your clients' needs given these conditions? Here are a few ideas:

== Don't shotgun your story to all media. Chose a target audience and be laser-beam precise in delivering your message via focused publications, trade and consumer, and websites.

== Don't waste clients' money producing packaged VNR's. They'll only run verbatim in smaller markets. Instead, concentrate on creative b-roll, graphics and newsmaker soundbites. Let the station build their own story using your elements.

== Think local. A satellite media tour or telephone radio-tour can garner far more airtime and recall than 15 seconds on "Good Morning America".

== Work harder at educating your clients that these strategies are worthwhile. Help them understand the wisdom of print over TV, local over national. A guest shot on channel 5 in Boise isn't really "a placement on CBS in Boise". It's just a local station, which is fine.
Don't over-promise or imply that Dan Rather is then going to pick up your story. The local shot may not seem as sexy as the network, but it'll be far more effective... if Boise cares about your message.

== Stop hyping your results. I've seen client reports claiming tens of millions of impressions for a product as a result of VNR's, SMT's and print placements. Don't inflate viewer attention that wasn't there. Instead, track sales. Show that products moved off the shelf in markets where your PR was focused. "Eye balls" just view, but shoppers buy.

== Stay current. Read everything. Surf the web. Know how to use technology for fun and it'll be a tool in a crisis. Travel. Get out of your daily rut. See the world through others' eyes. Eat your vegetables. Take naps. Laugh. And, oh yeah, call Cameron Communications when you need help preparing your media strategies.

© 1999 Cameron Communications Inc.