The current controversy around the leaking of secret documents about the war in Afghanistan at first glance seems like a replay of every other national security leak story that dogged past administrations.
However, this one is different.
Not because of the scale of the leak (92,000 documents in total) but because it demonstrated the mainstream media’s evolving role in our lives. We don’t rely on the MSM as much for the leaks themselves (a website called WikiLeaks gets the credit/blame for that), but their continued role in providing context is now more important than ever.
Since 2007, WikiLeaks has been publishing classified military documents from the U.S. military and other sources. For the most part, these leaks did not get a lot of attention and seep into the American public discourse. Indeed, as recently as last week most people had never heard of WikiLeaks.
Here’s what makes the latest round of leaks different: Wikileaks jointly published them with the New York Times, London Guardian and German Der Spiegel.
The three newspapers are taking some heat from, among others, the White House for being “irresponsible” by providing information about the U.S. war efforts. But as Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz points out, WikiLeaks was going to post the secret documents with or without them. That is, it’s hard to blame the newspapers for “uncovering” information that was already made public by WikiLeaks.
By being part of the leaks, the newspapers certainly helped provide the magnitude needed to make it a big story but more importantly they helped provide context to help us understand it.
This fits true to form with what we are seeing across the entire media landscape right now. Most of us get a large percentage of our news from across our social networks (our friends and family on Facebook, for instance), but that doesn’t make Facebook a news organization.
Instead, Facebook provides the mechanism for learning what news our friends and family have curated for us — and in fact most of the shared links take us to mainstream media sites.
The lesson here is that we need both the MSM and independent websites for information just as we need social networks to help us share news and stay connected.
After 20 years of working in the creative industry, I’ve learned that the interaction between client or account team and designer can hugely impact the outcome of a project. For both parties, the collaborative process of developing design can be an exhilarating, creative experience. However, the process can be filled with miscommunication, frustration and disappointment.
So how can you increase your chances for success? As the client, the type of information provided to your designer —and the way in which it’s given—can make a huge difference in the creativity and overall success of the final product.
The type of information you give (and don’t give) to your creative team can determine a project’s success. Here are some tips to making the most of your next creative project:
• Tell your designers who you are. It’s important that your creative team has as much information as possible about who you are as an organization. This goes beyond what can be learned from your website. Give them a feel of your organization’s personality, your people and structure, your decision-makers and stakeholders, your culture, your accomplishments and your big-picture goals. The more we know about you, the better we can design for you. And it’s important to provide a clear understanding of any relevant brand guidelines that will impact the particular project.
• Who is your audience? It’s critical that you articulate who your audience is for a specific project. Your audience might be very specific, or it might be very broad. In either case, as much as we can identify and prioritize your key audiences, the more likely our design will be on target to communicate your messages effectively.
• Make your objectives clear, but not how to achieve them. I think it’s a huge mistake for clients to offer too many specifics on what they want their project to look like. In other words, clients should not be art directing (after all, that’s why they’ve hired designers). Instead of telling your designer how you want something to look, tell them what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s a designer’s job to come up with visual solutions to achieve those objectives. A good designer should be fluent in translating concepts and messages into a visual solution. Don’t limit the creative process by trying to translate for them.
• It’s ok to tell (and show) your designer what you like. Sharing other comparable pieces that have an overall look that aligns with your aesthetic can open the lines of communication regarding what would or would not work for your project. In addition, it is a way to make sure that everyone’s thinking is aligned as we move into design development.
• A creative brief will put everyone on the same page. Getting key information down on paper is a great start to avoiding miscommunication during the design process. The creative brief should contain information on audience and objectives, key elements to include, timing and any other information pertinent to the specific assignment.
In the trendy world of design, styles will come and go. But smart design transcends the latest typeface, media format or color. Good design boils down to old fashioned, clear communication that leads to a winning outcome.
Working on-site with a client can offer significant advantages, such as tightly integrated work teams and well-coordinated communications and decision-making. In an article for PR Week, I wrote about the value of working on-site for “creating greater efficiency and quality in communications.”
Conversations with former colleagues – newspaper reporters and editors – have revealed that the path forward for news is being shaped, and even dictated, by the audience.
News organizations are seeking to serve a variety of news consumers on multiple platforms and tailoring content to those vehicles. In doing so, journalists are grappling with a strategy – audience segmentation – that is essential to successful communications campaigns and achieving business goals. But this has not been a traditional focus of “news” people (they have generally left such matters to “the business side”).
A core shift is underway as journalists recognize the need to consider the bottom line in their day-to-day endeavors. Understanding, engaging and developing distinct audiences is central to the preservation of a news organization’s business model — it’s not just about producing quality journalism anymore.
Indeed, a newspaper editor told me: “We are all accountable for building an audience.”
Some journalists are leading the way by leveraging a connection with their niche audiences. Consider the success of Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post and Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times — they are platform agnostic and grow their audience through their newspaper articles, blog posts, e-newsletters, television appearances, Facebook and Twitter. They are shaping their brands.
This sharp focus on the audience is not all about business, though. Jack Fuller, who won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing and was editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, contends that it also underpins the very ideals of journalism. In a piece for Nieman Reports, a publication of Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, he writes: “The audience will determine the future of news. Serious journalists must understand to the very essence the minds that make up this audience in order to know how to persuade people to assimilate the significant and demand the accurate. Anything less is the neglect of our most important social responsibility.”
With more than $500 billion spent each year by the federal government on private sector contracts, it is no surprise to find companies trying to reach decision-makers with advertising. As the Washington Post discussed last month, military hardware ads often market themselves like they are pushing “soft drinks and cell phones.”
Our experience is that to be successful in the federal sector, advertising is only one part of a comprehensive strategy. Make sure you’re also thinking about these elements:
1. Create a presence in Washington: Business in the nation’s capital is personal — make certain your business has a face and a hand to shake in Washington. Build a relationship with your customer for the long-term.
2. Turn members of Congress into advocates: Educate members of Congress and their staff about the potential impact of the contract on jobs, businesses and the economy in their districts.
3. Get to know key media: Provide briefings with key Washington journalists who can influence decision-makers. Be prepared to counter negative accusations from competitors and critics.
4. Establish coalitions and partnerships: Identify companies, groups and individuals who will share in the success of your contract bid. Leverage their reputations and communication networks to increase the reach of your proposal.
5. Go digital: Integrate social media into your communications plan in order to engage grassroots support for your contract bid among employees, partners, vendors and civic leaders. Political will is important and individual voices matter. Share your story directly through blogs, video testimonials and be creative in delivering your message through targeted social media channels.
There’s no doubt that the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) left a lasting impact on West Virginia and the U.S. Senate. However, the congressional appropriations process, with which the senator had become synonymous, may change drastically.
A recent article in The Hill by Kevin Bogardus notes that Byrd is but one of the “forceful defenders of the congressional ‘power of the purse’” who will no longer serve on the House and Senate Appropriations committees. The death of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), Rep. David Obey’s (D-Wis.) retirement and Sen. Arlen Specter’s (D-Pa.) loss are but three examples of the changes in committee membership in store for the 112th Congress.
As Bogardus points out, it is more than just new faces — it is a change in climate that could make the days of earmarks and pork barrel projects a thing of the past. The global financial crisis and ballooning national debt have voters questioning a process that provides billions to projects “back home” as well as government spending itself. This has government contractors, state and local governments and their lobbyists facing a very uncertain future.
It is hard to say if it really is the end of an era. But just in case, those seeking to influence the fiscal year 2012 appropriations process might want to start thinking now about new ways to do so.
Edited on Aug. 2, 2010
Verbal gaffes, thoughtless indiscretions and live microphone moments of CEOs and other public figures can exact terrible tolls on careers and organizations. While the rest of the world either laughs or winces, there is usually a PR person somewhere who dies a little with every blunder, knowing the boss is his or her own worst enemy.
Under admittedly tough circumstances, BP CEO Tony Hayward has not helped his company respond to the environmental tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. When he needed to be seen as an empathic, competent and confident leader, he gaffed his way into a laughingstock.
In the waning days of the recent British general election, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown created a firestorm by trashing a supporter while wearing a live microphone. In California, Senate candidate Carly Fiorina was recently caught making an unkind comment about her political opponent’s hairstyle — while sitting in a TV news studio.
Public figures are people too, and they make mistakes for the same reasons the rest of us do: occasional lack of preparation and lack of discipline.
More than ever, PR professionals have to be vigilant in protecting their principals from going off-message or being careless in their public role. This is especially so in an increasingly digital world. When it seems every phone is both a camera and a video recorder, there are endless opportunities for public figures to be caught in unguarded moments, and to misjudge the public for the private.
Although it might be tempting for some of our corporate and political leaders to become media-phobic shut-ins, it is their proper role to be available to the public, to say things to gain attention and to be engaging communicators.
Even the most experienced spokesperson needs to practice his or her key messages, and the gentle — and sometimes not so gentle — reminder to zip it until the microphone is off. Occasional PR coaching can help every public person be a better steward of their own reputation and safeguard the organizations and brands they represent more effectively.
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