Archive for the ‘Media Relations’ Category

InSites for the Future: 2012 Will Set A New Standard for Green/Sustainable Events

December 2011

This weekend people around the world will gather to celebrate one of the biggest events of the year, New Year’s Eve. To wrap up our InSites for the Future series, Vanguard’s event manager Scott LaLonde looks at the future of event planning.

2012 Will Set A New Standard for Green/Sustainable Events

Source: Convention Industry Council

Associations, government organizations and nonprofits that pride themselves on hosting “green” events may have an eye-opening 2012. The event industry’s first-ever guidelines for environmentally sustainable events are in the final stages of creation and will be rolled out in the new year. The guidelines, created through a partnership of the Convention Industry Council, ASTM Standards (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), Green Meeting Industry Council and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will set new standards and criteria measuring the environmental impact of event components, including venue, food and beverage, transportation, audio/visual production and accommodations. Given the potential for media and communicators to scrutinize the legitimacy of  “green” events, those who want to promote sustainable events in 2012 and beyond will need to evaluate their plans using these new standards.

– By Scott LaLonde

In Memoriam: PR Industry Loses Legend Ofield Dukes

December 2011


I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Ofield Dukes, a leading Washington, D.C.-based public relations practitioner who helped transform the industry. I met Ofield early in my career at a meeting of the Black Public Relations Society of DC — a professional chapter that he founded in 1993 — and ran into him many, many times over the years. Ofield absolutely loved the practice of PR and really believed in its impact. After even the briefest of conversations with him, I always walked away feeling energized and excited to be working in this field.

Photo Courtesy of Keith Jenkins/The Washington Post

A trailblazer, Ofield helped pave the way for more diversity within the PR industry, a goal he steadfastly embraced throughout his entire career in Washington. He organized career fairs, spoke at industry events, wrote compelling columns about diversity in the field’s trade publications and encouraged young people of color to pursue a career in PR. Ofield’s credentials were impressive; he came to Washington to work for President Johnson’s administration and was one of the few African Americans working at the White House in the 1960s. He also organized within the civil rights sphere, and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. After working for the administration, Ofield opened his own PR agency and counseled not only big civil rights names like Coretta Scott King, but also large corporate and NGO brands like Anheuser-Busch, AT&T and the National Education Association. He won numerous awards and was even called “one of the top public relations persuaders in the city.” He was the first African American to win the Gold Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America — the association’s highest honor — and is honored in several PR halls of fame.

Every January, we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. and I think we have Ofield to thank for that. He worked tirelessly, planning marches in Washington and other activities to push Congress to create this federal holiday.

As social change communicators at Vanguard, we embrace and continue to honor Ofield’s vision for our profession: valuing workplace diversity and using communications to fight for social change. Ofield was an inspirational leader. While he will be greatly missed, his legacy will continue to inspire PR professionals to step up and communicate the change they wish to see in our profession, and our world.

Trick-or-Treating in a Kimono

October 2011

My brother and I dressed up for Halloween

When I was growing up, Japanese exchange students lived with us for eight consecutive summers. I loved it; they showered my siblings and me with attention, provided an excuse to visit places like Disneyland and museums, and would always bring special and exciting gifts from their country. My favorite gift (only second to my Hello Kitty alarm clock that woke me up in Japanese) was a kimono. Even at nine, I knew it was special and important in Japanese culture and respected it by not adding it to the dress up bin. I wore it only on special occasions and, for me, that included Halloween.

This Halloween, a small student organization called STARS (Students Teaching About Racism) at Ohio University runs a campaign called “We’re a culture, not a costume” and it is making big news. While I know that this campaign would break my nine-year-old heart, I also know that this story isn’t just about Halloween.

This type of story would never have broken when I was trick-or-treating in my kimono. Thanks to the democratization of technology, a new, active online generation and the shareability of media, small student groups are able to have a big voice. Or, as author and social technology commentator Clay Shirky would put it, “Here Comes Everybody.”  Their simple message and powerful imagery facilitated the campaign’s popularity and wide reach. This also made it all the easier for media outlets to post with limited content.

I also think the explosion of this campaign reflects its timeliness. The campaign asks its viewers to use a critical eye when portraying certain racial and ethnic groups. Unlike in many other moments in our history, today this is a national dialogue we’re ready to have.

Finally, as communications practitioners, we need to remember to hold ourselves to high standards when it comes to representing minorities and marginalized populations. Stereotyping a certain population is not only objectifying, it’s offensive and one dimensional. It doesn’t speak to the complexities of our lives.

So, how do we move forward? It’s not easy, and our approaches are not nearly perfect. What we can and should do is keep talking.  We should also be grateful for individuals like the STARS members who remind us that all people deserve to be treated — and represented — with dignity and respect.

How to Bet Op Ed Success

August 2011

In Sunday’s New York Times, the third richest person in the world penned an op ed asking President Obama and Congress to raise his taxes. Since then, Warren Buffett’s op ed is appearing everywhere. Political commentators are discussing the viability of his recommendation to tax the wealthiest in the U.S., media outlets are writing stories examining his perspective and, arguably most important, everyday people are using social media to share Buffett’s recommendation that the nation “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich.” Links to Buffett’s op ed are appearing over and over again in my Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn news streams.

Medal of Freedom Ceremony

Photo courtesy of MedillDC on Flickr

What makes this op ed so special? It offers the elusive op ed trifecta: timeliness, an element of surprise and byline credibility.

  1. Buffett’s topic is timely and relevant. Many valid opinions exist about how best to address society’s ills, but only the most timely can make it into the news cycle. Buffett’s op ed comes on the heels of the debt ceiling debate and the tensions between balancing the budget and raising taxes.
  2. Buffett’s position is surprising and intriguing. What really catches readers’ attention, though, is his unlikely opinion about taxes. Buffett expresses an eager willingness to pay higher taxes to generate more government revenue, which is likely not an opinion shared by many of his fellow billionaires. Buffett, whose individual wealth could cover a significant portion of the United States’ debt, gives permission to U.S. policymakers in his op ed to tax wealthy Americans like himself at the same rate as the working public.
  3. Buffett is perceived as a credible expert. Attaching Warren Buffett’s byline to this op ed makes people want to read it and later discuss his surprising opinion with others. People know Buffett understands economics and the current financial crisis better than many, so when he goes on the record with recommendations about what the government should do to generate revenue, people will listen.

Sharing op eds and news articles now is so easy with social media, offering new opportunities to get a position out to a larger audience, as Mr. Buffett discovered. I suppose the rest of us taxpayers are so pleased by his willingness to share the tax burden, we’re sending his message to our friends and followers on social media. Buffett’s message spread via social media because his ideas validated what some Americans think about increasing taxes on the rich. Whether his plan is a good idea or not, Buffett’s op ed struck a common nerve; when your op ed is able to articulate a sentiment shared by many, you expand the number of people reading and recommending your op ed to their family, friends and colleagues with the click of a button. While people tend to also share op eds or articles they disagree with on their social media profiles, favorable positions tend to put an organization in the best light and generate positive responses from the social media community.

The increased integration of social media is raising the stakes for op ed success: Whereas the op ed trifecta used to be necessary for just getting your op ed placed, it is now essential for ensuring sharing via social media.

What Was Missing from Page One?

July 2011

I was fascinated by Page One: Inside The New York Times, a documentary on the business and reporting of The New York Times.  But the film reminded me that the outlet is profoundly lacking with its still very one dimensional reporting of the news, or, more accurately, its monolingual reporting of the news. I would hope that the NYT of the future would take some tips from EFE, a multimedia news company with a network of journalists worldwide – more than 3,000 professionals of 60 nationalities working 24 hours a day in over 181 cities in 120 countries.

From its world network of bureaus and correspondents’ offices, EFE instantaneously offers the Spanish and Latin American view of the world in Spanish, Portuguese, English, Arabic, Catalan and Galician.  After Chinese, Spanish, English and Arabic are the most popular languages in the world. I wonder, if the NYT were to take a page from EFE’s approach, would they fare better as journalists and business people by reaching the broadest possible audience?  Aside from improving their cultural competence (and relevance), it might actually enhance their long-term bottom line.

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News is Dead! Long Live News!

July 2011

If you ever get into an accident, you’d better hope that the emergency room has a great triage system so they can prioritize your wounds and treat the most serious, not just the first one that catches their eye.

newspaper & computer

Photo courtesy of susansimon on Flick

I thought of that after watching a fabulous documentary, Page One: Inside The New York Times, where some argue passionately that traditional journalism has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Why wade through process, they argue, when Twitter will inform you more quickly. And, if citizens are functioning as de facto reporters, why pay for journalists? We all want  information quicker. So when newspaper after newspaper tumbles, it’s just evolution, right?

That was when I thought of the emergency room. Because I don’t just want to be treated quickly, I want to be treated efficiently. And I don’t want all of my information quick, I want some of it weighed and prioritized.

I love Twitter, and Facebook is one of my favorite ways to keep up with old friends. But it made me steam a bit when some in the documentary seemed to cheer at toppling the venerable New York Times and all other “gray ladies” of the newspaper industry, and I don’t think it’s just because I started my career as a reporter.

The “out with the old” crowd proponents say that the news should be a free market, with the crowd determining what gets top billing, and what gets covered as news. That sounds like a fabulous argument, except many in the crowd would rather watch Casey Anthony get tried for murder or Justin Timberlake bring his sexy back than focus on things that will affect their daily life, like taxes, the environment or health care. And, speaking of health care, if we crowd-sourced that, we would focus on the quick fix of a pill or a shot to patch up symptoms because that is what people want when they go to their doctor, not the hard truth that what they need to do is make preventive lifestyle changes.

In health care the prevailing wisdom is becoming to focus on prevention to inoculate society against expensive health costs later on; I wish there was some way to offer a vaccine to prevent short-sightedness on important matters like current events. If so all the “gray ladies” could flourish.

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Living Page One

July 2011

I knew very little about Andrew Rossi’s documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times when I sat down in an E Street Cinema theater to see it with a group of my colleagues.  But I quickly discovered that Page One gives an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the Times’ legendary newsroom at a time in which the newspaper industry is experiencing incredible upheaval. Reports of once proud publications falling like dominoes were a monthly occurrence.

Photo courtesy of Travis S. on Flickr

Within minutes of  watching the film, my mind raced back three years to the summer that I left the news business. I was a broadcast journalist, not a print reporter. But those of us in TV battled the same demons that plagued the newspaper reporters with whom we rubbed shoulders every day. Thousands of  us nationwide were being let go too. Your status as a respected,  experienced or even award-winning journalist could not save you. Shrinking advertising dollars, increasing profit demands and an outdated business model eventually caught up to everyone. Unlike too many of my friends, I wasn’t laid off.  But, in a sense, I was pushed out. The demons were generating news content that I didn’t feel good about anymore. We were required to report more stories with fewer resources every day.  It seemed to me that the stories themselves were increasingly shallow, sensational and insufficient at addressing the community’s most critical issues. Even worse, advertisers were gaining a uncomfortable  influence over the way we covered the news.

Page One reminds me that even the midst of the industry’s most disturbing realities and my own disappointments about its direction,  many news organizations are still trying to be what I believe they’re supposed to be.  Talented journalists are still trying to report the important stories. They’re still trying to get the story right. They’re still trying to be thorough. They’re still trying to hold our leaders accountable. Now that my job is to convince journalists to cover the stories that truly matter to our society’s well being,  these reminders are reassuring.

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Journalism: A Degree of Distinction

July 2011

Late last week, a headline from our local “Patch” news service caught my attention – Police: Group of Teens Cause $1,500 in Damage at General’s Ridge Golf Course. I opened the story expecting to find names and ages attached to the accusation, but there were none. In fact, other than a description that the individuals were shirtless and had a dog with them, there were no other details that had been confirmed. The perpetrators haven’t yet been identified or caught. So how do we know they are teenagers? They could be 20 years old – or 40. For that matter, how do we even know the dog was a German Shepherd? Yet these details were reported as fact. Is there any danger in assigning an age label to crime suspects when they haven’t yet been caught, let alone accused? Would it have been just as acceptable to report their race or religion?

It’s been quite a few years since I matriculated from Penn State with a journalism degree, but I still remember the endless days of sitting in class picking apart real headlines and leads for any sign of bias. Not only did we look at our own work, we examined the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Sometimes it seemed impossible to find ethics issues in products from such venerated media outlets, but we dug until we did. Now I don’t have to look far at all for instances of ethical breaches and bias, and I often feel very alone in my need to pay attention to such details. Does the rest of the world just accept this new era of “anything goes” reporting?

A recent after-work viewing of Page One: Inside The New York Times cemented the nagging feeling that it’s not  just newspapers that are disappearing, it’s the care and commitment to accurate, factual reporting that they represent. From All the President’s Men to The Paper, our culture has tried to emphasize the importance of getting it right, even at the expense of getting it second. Now those films, and that sentiment, seem naive and nostalgic. I mean, we’re all reporters, right? I can post whatever I want on Facebook or Twitter, and it can be seen around the world in a matter of minutes. Of course, if we could count on each other for accurate, first-person accounts, it would mean that Natalie Portman, George Clooney and even William Hung are all dead – because Twitter said so.

This month, the practice of journalism was further rocked by allegations that NewsCorps-owned outlets invaded the voicemail accounts of several British citizens, including a young murder victim and relatives of fallen soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is plenty of outrage around the situation, but will it finally wake up the public enough to demand a return to the ethics and standards that were once a hallmark of reporting?

The irony is not lost on me that I am writing this piece as a public relations professional rather than a currently working journalist. Like so many of my wide-eyed fellow journalism graduates, my picture of traveling the world to uncover scandal and save lives was far from the reality of fast-food wages and hours spent rewriting stories on a local fight over back lit awnings. However, I’ve never set aside those basic journalism ethics in my PR work. As a communicator for social change, I often have an opportunity to pass along critical information that can help reporters investigate their own stories. I know it’s in my and my clients’ best interests for those journalists to be fair, accurate and unbiased – even if the results are not as flattering as I would like. I know that once the line is breached – whether or not it’s on behalf of my cause – it’s hard to cross back to the other side.

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Nevermind Page One, could they update the masthead on page two?

July 2011

Unlike the mythical “shot heard ‘round the world,” which began the American Revolution, the news revolution began quietly with a little thing called the Internet. The Internet has completely changed the way we consume news—and I do mean consume. We read, comment, Digg, tweet, retweet, retreat, or re-think based on what our friends have emailed to us or posted on their Facebook pages.

Page One: Inside the New York Times is a close look at how that media giant has dealt with these changes. It is a fascinating movie — and not only because I learned that reporters who I pitched stories to in days long passed now hold positions of power there. In fact, several lived in my rolodex for years. (Yeah, I wrote rolodex. Check your history books for it.)

Photo courtesy of Robert Scoble on Flickr

What apparently hasn’t changed during this media revolution are women’s roles and prominence in the newsroom. At the twice-daily editorial meetings, where the editors select what front page stories to run, I kept waiting for the camera to pan out to  show the rest of the women, besides Jill Abramson, seated at the table. Didn’t happen.

They did show several women packing their things in boxes after accepting early buy-outs during a large cutback. Bye-bye, women at the New York Times. There was also some in-depth coverage of former Times writer Judith Miller and her reporting that Saddam Hussein had weapons of  mass destruction. The stories turned out to be false, but many believe she fueled the fire for the Iraq War.

Overall, I felt the movie was great. It even made me think that paying for news content on the Internet might not be so bad after all. As it turns out, the Times is promoting Abramson to the Executive Editor position, the first female to ever hold that title. Is this the start of another chapter in the revolution?

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Can WikiLeaks Save Investigative Reporting?

July 2011

There’s a very compelling scene in the film “Page One,” where Brian Stelter is chasing a story on WikiLeaks and its impact on journalism. Stelter calls WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for comment on their latest leak, a video of a U.S. air attack in Baghdad. The conversation that ensues reveals a great deal about the evolving nature of journalism:

Photo courtesy of Adam Feuer on Flick

STELTER: There’s a traditional definition of journalism that is objective, never breaking the law to obtain content. Do you view yourself as trying to achieve that definition?

ASSANGE: Journalism is just a tool. We use a tool to get to the goal.

STELTER (interrupting): And tell me what the goal is.

ASSANGE: Broadly, our goal is justice.

This is a very important distinction. A free press is the cornerstone of a free and functioning democracy. However, WikiLeaks dances on that shrinking divide between journalism and activism. Fifty years ago,  print newspapers had the budget to hire full staffs with many well-trained investigative reporters, but with print journalism tanking, muckrakers have new standard bearers — WikiLeaks, ProPublica and blogs like Talking Points Memo. None of these websites fall in the traditional mold of investigative reporting.

WikiLeaks simply provides classified information to the public for their consumption, but offers no analysis; ProPublica is an independent, non-profit that produces investigative journalism for the public interest; and Talking Points Memo, despite its ambitious investigative reporting efforts, has a clear liberal agenda.

In “Page One” when Stelter is breaking the WikiLeaks story, his boss, the media desk editor Bruce Headlam, comments on this monumental moment, “Clearly it’s great for journalism in some ways because then it’s out there. It’s kind of this collision of two worlds — this closed, old world of expertise and classification, information and privacy, and this new world just wants to crack it all open.”

This new world is very scary for those of us, like myself, who clutch to our “gray lady” newspapers. For years, doomsayers have been predicting the death of print journalism as the end of investigative reporting. Tweets and opinion pieces are great, but lack substance, they say. While I fear the day that the Times publishes its last print issue (and I will see it in my lifetime), the success of WikiLeaks, ProPublica, and investigative blogs offer me hope that in-depth reporting can survive in this evolving media climate — investigative journalism just has to evolve, too.

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