Jul
03

The Media Shakeout Over SCOTUS And The ACA: What It May Mean To You

Bob Brody

Here, for organizations interested in the future of U.S. healthcare, is a little multiple-choice quiz. According to recent media coverage, last Thursday’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act is either:

A)   The biggest boon to mankind since the invention of the wheel.

B)   A sure sign that the apocalypse is in the immediate offing.

C)   A highly nuanced ruling whose implications remain largely uncertain and will be parsed for months to come.

D)   Shocking.

E)   All of the above.

     If you chose “E,” congratulations, you’re correct. All of the above it most certainly is. To study the media coverage of the SCOTUS ruling on the ACA, after all, is to recognize all too readily that the reports, analysis and opinion available about its meaning, significance and outlook ran the gamut.

     For example, the hospital industry will come away the big winner, it is declared. That’s because so many newly insured patients will now be granted admission through the front door rather than through the emergency room. Then again, it’s also stated, hospitals are doomed to be the biggest losers in the whole equation. That’s because with Medicaid expansion left to states – and doubt about which ones will opt in or opt out – reimbursement dollars are at risk of plummeting by the billions.

     In short, up is down and, with all due respect to Justice Roberts, right is left and left right. So it can go with the media, whether mainstream or its tributaries. Plus, some outlets tripped over themselves, and each other, rushing to deliver the goods first. One minute comes word that the law is found unconstitutional, the next we do a 180. Whoops.

     So how should you respond to media requests for comment? Here – whether you’re an insurer, a health system, a trade association, a consultancy, a medical device maker, a pharmaceutical firm, a government agency, an advocacy group or a think tank – are some basics for engaging.

   1.    Vet the request. Ask the reporter for an idea of the kinds of questions likely to be asked of your C-suite spokesperson, even the specific questions themselves. Then vet it all again. Check what the reporter has written before. Establish a      baseline understanding with said reporter about the overall message. Even try – diplomatically, of course – to get something in writing.

   2.    Consider the context of the interview. In keeping with point “1,” find out the thrust of the article or the trend angle at play (Obamacare as Trotskyite conspiracy), the hypotheses to be tested (President as proof of a messiah), the other            experts to be interviewed (federal officials, Tea Party activists). Some reporters may play coy (“Well, you know, it’s just the usual stuff.”) Insist, albeit politely.

   3.    Look to influence the editorial process before, during and after. Prep your spokesperson via a rigorous mock interview, even if he or she has shown up on “Squawk Box” 14 times in the last 24 hours and is high in self-esteem. Host the        interview to hear the questions asked and the answers given. Follow up with the interviewer, if need be, to offer comment on potential key takeaways.

     Now make no mistake: top-tier media coverage of the SCOTUS ACA news has proven largely solid. The most self-respecting reporters aim to play it straight down the middle, staying factual, apolitical, public-service-oriented. They realize a judicial decision, like life, can be 50 shades of grey.

     Still, we live in partisan times, a truth no less self-evident in the increasingly ideological media than in the halls of Congress. Right now, courtesy of the ruling, healthcare reform is better defined. But, with the initial hysteria settling down and so much of the law’s implementation yet ahead, it’s still to be figured out, still even somewhat definable.

     So if you’re eager to join the conversation – to share your perspective, to raise your visibility, to build your brand equity -- here’s the bottom line. Engage. By all means engage. But watch your step.

Jun
29

Sustainability & The Role of Marketing

Paul Massey

The Canadian Marketing Association recently released a paper, as part of its Leadership Series, called Sustainability: Why Marketing Needs to be Firmly Rooted in the Movement. My colleague François Taschereau and I are pleased to have contributed to the paper on behalf of Weber Shandwick. My commentary about the series follows below. 

The idea of sustainability has become a driver of profitability, shared value and long-term success. Companies that fully embrace and integrate sustainability realize business gains and deeper relationships with a broader base of customers — but only if they are committed to real, meaningful action and only if they communicate their commitment effectively.

In its business context, sustainability has come to represent the way a company manages what is known as the triple bottom line – profits, people and the planet. From a marketing and communications standpoint, sustainability embodies how a company sources, promotes, sells and distributes its products or services in the most responsible way possible and in a way that embeds, integrates and engages all of the important communities with which it interacts.

Jun
28

Communications Implications as a Result of Today’s Supreme Court Ruling

Peter Carson

This morning, the Supreme Court issued its much anticipated ruling regarding the constitutionality of certain provisions within the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s healthcare reform, which was signed into law on March 23, 2010.  In a nutshell, it upheld the constitutionality of the ACA, most significantly the individual mandate.

With today’s Court’s ruling – and given the highly contentious nature of the law and the high level of media inquiries around the ruling - we wanted to provide an analysis of what we believe will play out in the months ahead, and offer topline communications implications.

The Court ruled that the ACA’s individual mandate requiring virtually all Americans to obtain health insurance was constitutional under the power to “lay and collect taxes.” Therefore, the Federal Government has the authority to impose a tax on anyone who chooses not to buy health insurance. 

The Court ruled that requiring states to participate in Medicaid expansion, or suffer a penalty, is unconstitutional.  States have a right to decide not to participate in Medicaid expansion.  If they do not participate, they will still receive funding for existing Medicaid programs.  But, if states do decide to participate, they will have to meet all the criteria for expansion.

While the Court’s ruling creates clear resolution regarding ACA’s constitutionality, the communications and policy battles over healthcare are far from settled.  The question of the appropriate role of government in healthcare delivery, and the allocation of funding for healthcare by the federal government and states is a long-term journey, not likely to be settled any time in the near future. Congress will try but not succeed in repealing the law.  While there may be changes, the law will be around for the foreseeable future. In the short term, the Court’s ruling determines with greater precision the battle lines of what will continue to be blistering, no-holds-barred partisan rancor over healthcare policy. Expect that both political parties will continue to wage heated battles over the issue heading into the November election and beyond.

As was the case during the course of the healthcare reform debate, there will be pressure from both political parties for companies in the healthcare sector to pick a side. Companies should avoid getting pulled into political arguments.

Regardless of who wins the White House, fiscal realities will force both political parties and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to revisit healthcare policy. Rising healthcare costs and pressure to address the annual budget deficits and the national debt will force policy makers – both in Washington and in state capitals - to deal with financing healthcare coverage.  More than 20 percent of the federal budget - $769 billion - is devoted to health care with two thirds of that amount paying for Medicare.  Any serious effort to address budget deficits has to address these rising expenditures.

Look for opportunities to begin shaping the next chapter of healthcare debate in 2013 as attention focuses on cost containment, and depending on the outcome of elections, renewed efforts at repeal.  Additionally, there are technical fixes that need to be made to the law and policy issues that will emerge from implementation.  There may be policy solutions where visible engagement could enhance your brand and leadership, and bipartisan efforts could well emerge to improve the law.

It is worth a reminder that the political rhetoric of both parties on the healthcare reform subject falls well short of an accurate picture of either the state of healthcare in America or the content of the ACA.  By its own admission the Obama Administration has struggled to explain and convince the public of the value of the ACA despite the presence of popular provisions of the law, such as eliminating the donut hole for seniors; allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until 26; and, prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history.

Recent polling indicates that only 18% of the public say they feel they understand what’s in the law very well. Regardless of the reasons for the communication shortcomings, the Supreme Court ruling will again challenge the Administration to articulate the law’s benefits.

As was true with enactment of ACA, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will be less interested in reasonable dialogue and explanation, and more focused on scoring political points prior to the elections in November. Take care to articulate and communicate the ACA’s impact relevant to your company’s stakeholders.

Jun
08

How Healthcare Professionals Can Better Leverage Social Media To Benefit Patients: Part 2

Bob Brody

When it comes to its role in healthcare, the term “social media” is a glaring misnomer. I mean, come on. So-called social media, as applied to the physician-patient relationship – to cite just one example – has little or nothing to do with the networking usually done online among friends, family and job-seekers alike.

So agreed several forward-looking experts representing pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and hospitals at a recent New York University forum about social media in healthcare. Indeed, just about everyone engaged in healthcare social media is still figuring out what works best. 

No wonder. Most healthcare professionals remain reluctant to network with patients for medical care. Only about 20 percent of U.S. hospitals have a social media presence. 

This hesitancy is understandable and justifiable, given prevailing legal, regulatory and ethical concerns. Questions about some of the elephants in the room – reimbursement protocols, malpractice liability, privacy and security safeguards – remain largely unanswered. 

Still, the move among healthcare providers into social media is likely inevitable. The Affordable Care Act – and more specifically, Meaningful Use regulations, the Medicare Shared Savings Program and the push toward accountable care – are driving healthcare professionals in that direction.

Here are some other telling insights from the NYU panel discussion about healthcare social media:

• “Adopt the right voice,” said Brian Mulligan, Assistant Vice President of Public Relations, North Shore-LIJ Health System. “Social media is all about what people want to hear rather than what you want to tell. Listening to what patients are saying about you is easier than ever before. We avoid being overly promotional. We try almost to be anti-PR, anti-marketing.”

• “’What’s in it for me?’ That’s the question physicians still ask about social media,” said Brian McGowan, Ph.D., columnist, author and technology consultant. “We need to research that. We need to identify the incentives that will motivate MDs to cooperate and collaborate rather than compete. But it’s learned behavior, and also a Catch-22. How can you convince a doctor – or anyone, for that matter – to do something for the first time without any case studies demonstrating ROI?”

• Healthcare is 24/7, going well beyond a stay in the hospital,” said Charlotte McKines, Global Vice President for Marketing Communications & Channel Strategy at Merck & Co., Inc. “It’s an ongoing experience, and patients and professionals have to get real-time intelligence. And while the pharma industry waits for the FDA’s guidance about social media, we should do our own recommendations.”

More broadly, physicians should follow certain guiding principles about adopting social media. 

• Understand the environment. Educate yourself about current practices and ask questions of your peers.

• Drop your prejudice against social media as a potential tool for advancing medical care. Just as patients go online to find treatment advice, so, too, should you consider the value of delivering services directly to your target audience.

• Take a role in defining the future of social media in healthcare. Engage with stakeholders as well as communications experts. Only then can you truly learn exactly what you need to know.
 

Jun
07

How Healthcare Professionals Can Better Leverage Social Media To Benefit Patients

Bob Brody

About three years ago, physicians diagnosed Charlotte McKines with breast cancer. As global vice president at Merck & Co., Inc. – and thus probably savvier as a patient than most – Charlotte immediately went online. She clicked onto breastcancer.org and posted that she needed help.

Within an hour she had received responses from 50 people, all ready with answers to her questions. “That’s the beauty of social media for patients,” McKines said at a recent educational event in New York City. “It’s all about having an ongoing dialogue.”

Linda Bruenner, appearing in the forum at New York University’s Business Development Institute, has likewise witnessed firsthand the favorable influence of social media on patients. A vice president of web operations management for Siemens Healthcare, Linda she told how Siemens launched an online breast cancer awareness campaign called “Turn Your City Pink,” with a YouTube video featured front and center. The goal was to create a “global pink ribbon” with 10,000 participants.

As it turned out, Siemens enlisted 10,000 supporters within 14 days, with no fewer than 94 countries joining in building a “ribbon of hope.” “We had to stretch our boundaries for this initiative,” Bruenner said. “But as a result, our video – and the ribbon itself – went literally around the world.” 

And yet healthcare professionals and organizations alike – particularly physicians – are doing nowhere enough to take advantage of social media for the sake of helping patients.
At least so claimed Brian McGowan, Ph.D., a columnist, author and technology consultant who is currently researching a book about how social media can help “fix” healthcare. In the most provocative presentation at the HCP Healthcare Social Communications Leadership Forum, McGowan revealed research he has conducted showing, for example, that physicians deploy social media much less frequently for medical practice than previous reports have suggested. 

Even though more than 50 percent of physicians say they believe social media can improve the quality of care, McGowan said, only 4 percent turn to Facebook for professional purposes, and only 2 percent to Twitter. Moreover, 26 percent of physicians he surveyed said they will “never” use Facebook in medical practice, with 33 percent saying the same about Twitter and 22 percent about blogs.

“I apply to social media the same definition we apply to electronic health records,” McGowan said. “Do we see meaningful use? Does social media, in fact, enhance the practice of medicine? Does it, in fact, promote public health – the learning and sharing of information and knowledge? My hypothesis is that not only can social media benefit patients, it can also improve medical practice.” 

Consider this case in point. A few years ago, a patient with a health problem went to the emergency room at North Shore-LIJ Health System and waited for service. And waited. And finally tweeted about waiting. And within minutes, a staffer at the hospital, assigned to monitor social media – including the twittersphere – spotted the tweet voicing the grievance and dispatched a colleague to the ER.


“Wow!” the patient said. “Your hospital is really following us!”

May
04

So You Want to Start a Social Media Analysis Program

John Scott

Flickr creative common photo by HigherSight

A nagging question in the mind of communications professionals these days is “What’s the best way to tackle social media analysis?”

In short, it depends.

There isn’t one universal solution for taking advantage of the vast treasure trove of information about your company or organization on social media channels.

Like so many things in life, getting informative social media data isn’t easy. When launching an analytics program, here are three points to consider:

Are people talking about you?

“Nobody is talking about us,” is the No. 1 reason companies don’t start a social media analysis program. If your audience isn’t talking about you, what are they talking about? What makes them tick? Learning everything you can about your audience will help you connect with them both on and offline.

For example, a paper company with low brand recognition may not have much buzz on social media channels. In that scenario, it should consider looking for people mentioning the things their customers use paper for (writing letters, art projects, paper airplanes) or problems they are having with paper (paper cuts, printer paper jams). Information gleaned from this content may hold immense value for how the company markets its product and may have insights for perfecting its business processes.

Do key staff members and stakeholders support the need to start a social media analysis program?

Mining social media for valuable insights and data can be great for understanding your audience and improving how you do business, but you can’t do it without getting input from other business areas. First and foremost, you’ll need to understand the needs of your colleagues — what information do they wish they had? Beyond that, your social media data won’t be useful until you can sync it up with data from other departments. This will enable you formulate smart metrics to help gauge the success of your organization’s efforts.

If you work for a nonprofit, you may be able to easily track mentions of your issue as a gauge of overall awareness, but it will be difficult to provide actionable analysis without more information from your colleagues. Did a spike correspond with an unusually high number of interactions with potential donors?

In other words, unless you know why something happened, why your colleagues should care and how to best present them with your information in a compelling way, you likely won’t have much support to continue your social media analysis work.

Do you have the time and resources to commit to making sense of the data you collect?

Monitoring social media channels for valuable information does not have to make a big dent in your budget. It does, however, take time. Creating smart tools and dashboards to collect data and monitor conversations is a great first step to harnessing social media to your advantage. Identifying how you plan to staff your measurement program is vital to ensuring that you can sustain it, and that it can provide you with real value.

Those are just a few questions to before you start a social media analysis program. There are of course many more.

What is holding you back from starting a program for your organization?


 

May
01

Engaging Congress Before It Is Too Late

Greg McCarthy

Mackenzie Eaglen, the well-respected defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, recently expressed concern to The Hill newspaper that defense companies aren’t making a bigger push with Members of Congress to protect their products and services from potential cuts under sequestration. Eaglen stated, “The groundwork has to be laid now for any decisions made and votes taken in a lame-duck session.”

She’s right. After the President announced his budget recommendations in February I was amazed that many defense contractors whose programs were not on the list took a passive “wait-and-see” attitude to Congressional action on defense spending. They failed to recognize that competition for limited funding increases the likelihood that Congress may have its own plans for how money is allocated. The recent resurrection of Global Hawk by the House Armed Services Committee is an example.

Defense contractors should be working to educate Members of Congress of the value of their products and services. Here are some cost-effective ways to do this:

Illustrate Value through Real Life Examples: Monitor the media to collect news stories, photographs and third-party observations that illustrate the value of the product or service. Send these directly to key Members of Congress and staff. Create or use existing Facebook fan page or websites to promote the stories.

Create Compelling Shareable Content: Develop short compelling videos or infographics that explain the benefits of a program and that can be easily shared and used by supplier partners, Members of Congress, and your customer through social media platforms.

Engage the Media: Implement a coordinated and sustained campaign to explain the benefits of the program to defense, Congressional and regional media. The strategic, tactical, political and economic benefits messages of the program and the consequences of its eliminations should be developed for each set of media based on their interests.

Support the Customer: While an industry’s military customer can make the case for the benefits of the program to the warfighter, they are often limited to contact with Members with specific oversight authority. Companies can provide support by using multiple communications and media channels to explain to a wide group of influential Members of Congress the technological, strategic and tactical advantages of the products and services.

Active Grassroots: Remind Members of Congress that the economic benefits of the program reach far beyond the manufacturing plant. Manufacturing and supply partners around the country who contribute parts and services to the program may be detrimentally impacted by its elimination. Activate – through channels locally and in Washington – those manufacturing and supply partners to educate their Members of Congress on the importance of the program to the economy of their district.

Greg McCarthy served as communications advisor to U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees. He leads Powell Tate’s Defense and Military Affairs practice in Washington, and oversees the agency’s work with some of the nation’s top prime contractors and suppliers. Follow defense industry news from Powell Tate on Twitter: @ptdefense

Apr
09

Why image really does mean everything

Bob Brody

Cecil W. Stoughton, White House Press Office (WHPO)

You’ve seen the photo. Everyone has seen the photo. It shows Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as president of the United States just hours after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. You remember the photo. Everyone does. That’s because it’s unforgettable.

There’s Johnson, already technically the new head of the free world, but nevertheless with right hand raised, left hand placed on a bible, taking the oath of office. There, too, is Jacqueline Kennedy, former first lady, now a widow, her fresh grief writ large. There as well, squeezed into a stateroom on Air Force One that measured all of 16 square feet, was everyone else, the judge who presided over the ceremony along with White House aides, reporters and secretaries alike, 25 others all told.

But what I never knew until now was that the photo was largely staged. And that the individual chiefly responsible for the choreography involved was President Johnson himself.

It was Johnson who insisted that Mrs. Kennedy be present, and then recruited her to be at his side. It was, in fact, he who enlisted all the other third parties to be on hand, too, believing the more the better. And who made sure the event was photographed, even consulting with the photographer about where everyone should stand and then directing the attendees accordingly.

And the reason LBJ masterminded it all was simple. He intended to send a message to the nation and to the world. He wished to show witnesses to the transfer of power taking place. The photo would make the statement that the U.S. government was still functioning and demonstrate that continuity and stability prevailed.

All this is recounted in a riveting article by the justly renowned Johnson biographer Robert Caro, in the latest edition of the New Yorker.

My point here? LBJ understood, above all, the value of symbolism. As do we. In strategic communications, stagecraft counts.

Indeed, as we advocate for causes – whether to introduce a bill or argue for a change in regulations or simply to spread awareness, and whether we do so on behalf of a federal agency, a foundation, a trade association or a financial institution – a sense of the theatrical comes in handy to make our points. Images matter.

In the long run, we do well to appreciate a certain reality – that all of us, to one degree or another, are collaborating every day in the making of history.

Apr
02

Don’t Act Like A Supreme Court Justice

Lance Morgan

 

 

 

 

 

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Dennis Hill

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act last week, the New York Times had an interesting analysis about the justice’s questioning, which provides some food for thought for people in our line of work.

The Times cited studies confirming that justices “tend to ask more questions of the lawyers whose positions they oppose.” The prevailing wisdom seems to be that the justices like to poke holes in the arguments of the lawyers with whom they philosophically disagree.

I’d prefer to believe that intelligent, inquisitive jurists might be open-minded enough to ask those tough questions to test their pre-conceptions and change their minds if the respondents provide clever or unique answers. But who am I to question the Times, the studies or the justices.

Still, if that’s their attitude, I think it’s exactly the wrong one for people in our business. We bring greater value to our clients by asking them at least as many questions as we’d pose to their adversaries, and make them at least as tough, if not tougher.

To be sure, we want our clients’ public policy opponents to face tough questions from the media, or congressional panels or whoever is responsible for asking them. But we serve our clients best by making sure we prepare them for the kind of inquiries that they’ll get from the other side of the political aisle or argument.

The goal is not to poke holes in our clients’ positions. But to find them and fill them with facts and rebuttals that will stand up to the kind of scrutiny they will face in the public arena. In media training sessions, or mock congressional hearings, I want our clients to be grilled as hard as possible so they are as well prepared as possible for the real deal.

By all means, we should be polite during the grilling (unless, of course, we’re role playing someone for a reputation for contentious behavior). But we’re not doing our clients any favors by tossing them softballs and applauding as they get hit out of the park.

Since none of us has the lifetime appointment of a Supreme Court justice, there’s no reason to act like one. When you get the chance, don’t hold back with our clients. They’ll be better off for it.

Mar
28

Televising the Supreme Court would not hurt decorum

Brian Wommack

I hold Lance Morgan in the deepest affection. He's an amazing strategist, counselor, friend, mentor and boss. I also think he's flat out wrong in his concern over bringing TV cameras into the Supreme Court.

Consider Lance’s thoughtful Washington Post op-ed on restoring civility and worth to presidential debates. He called for a structured process in which candidates would actually engage on the issues rather than talk at and around each other. And he rightly observed that “television is a hot medium that benefits the cool personality.” Exactly.

The civil and lofty tone Lance is calling for in presidential debates exists right now at the Supreme Court, but few pay attention to it. If you've never seen it in person, you've missed one of the treasures of our way of government. I don't think inviting more people to observe these good manners, well-framed questions and responses, and respect for people and differing positions would be a bad thing for society. Nor do I believe the tradition, norms and culture of the Court and Bar is so fragile as to be corrupted by allowing some sun to shine on the proceedings. As long as the Court keeps its arguments hidden, there will be those who think that there’s something embarrassing or untoward happening.

(It’s not unlike what we constantly tell our clients. If you say nothing at all in response to a lawsuit or charge filed against you, folks will assume you are guilty.) The fact is, the debates in that big marble building could be a great teacher to the rest of us.

Lance is no doubt right that televising the Supreme Court risks changing it, in a media version of the observer effect. But the bottom line for oral advocates before the Court will be the same as ever: they want to win for their clients. (Don’t we all?)

Anyone who tries to get too cute and plays to the cameras would suffer the worst form of punishment available to someone who makes her living talking to ladies and gentlemen in long black robes – being brought down a notch in credibility. And I think there’s a greater risk to the legitimacy of an institution made up of lifetime appointees by remaining cloaked in secrecy as the rest of the world becomes ever more transparent.

Finally, while I’d also prefer 1987’s Senate roster to today’s, let’s not kid ourselves that the pre-television Congress was some sort of civility paradise lost. After all, one of the most violent days in the Senate occurred more than fifty years before Philo T. Farnsworth was even born. On May 22, 1856, Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) beat Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.) unconscious with a cane on the Senate floor after a particularly intemperate Sumner speech entitled “Crime Against Kansas” – all without C-SPAN’s cameras there to document it.

Mar
27

Supreme Court’s TV ban helps reasonable discourse

Lance Morgan

 

 

 

 

 

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by dbking

I have enormous respect and affection for Brian Wommack as a person and a professional. But as far as his views on televising the Supreme Court are concerned, he is — to quote a very wise man — wrong, wrong, wrong.

Many barrels of ink have been spilled and innumerable millions of pixels wasted debating whether or not the Supreme Court should have televised the oral arguments on the health care bill this week. A few more won’t hurt.

As a firm subscriber to the Kikuyu theory that cameras may steal your soul (relax, I’m only half serious), I thought it was a lousy idea when Congress started televising floor “debates.” Before arguing with me on that one, hold a roster of the Senate in 1987 in one hand and a roster of the Senate in 2012 in the other and compare quality.

Televising the Supreme Court doesn’t seem like a good idea either. Before you send me threatening emails, please go to C-Span.org and listen to the oral arguments. You will hear things that will astonish you: temperate discussion, calm questioning and reasonable discourse from both sides of the bench and the political aisle.

Then ask yourself this simple question: If cameras were on, would the tone be the same, the demeanor as professional, the discussion as thoughtful? Or would any (all?) of the participants have been compelled -- by virtue of the all-seeing eye – to be just a little cuter, pithier or more telegenic than they would have been without the cameras?

There is much good about the visual world we are increasingly inhabiting. And something important to be said for not letting everything be televised.

Mar
26

Demanding transparency from the Supreme Court

Brian Wommack

Today, the Supreme Court began six hours of oral arguments over three days to review the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. You have to go back to the mid-1960s to find oral arguments that lengthy. 

Perhaps as an informed citizen you’d like to watch some of the proceedings. Simple, right? Surely something as critical to our government, our economy, our politics, our very lives (to hear folks on both sides of the arguments tell it) is on television. Maybe CourtTV? Or C-SPAN? Or at least major excerpts will be available on news broadcasts?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. 

If you want to observe any of the proceedings yourself, you needed to get in line (or hire a professional line-sitter — don’t get me started on that) last week. That’s right. Real-time access is available for a price, or to those who braved the rain and the elements and lived on First Street over the weekend. 

To its great credit, the Senate Judiciary Committee has tried to get the Supreme Court to open up, but legislation to require it obviously has separation-of-powers implications. In 2007, I wrote a piece for the Legal Times arguing that the Supreme Court should “Let the People See Justice.” More than four years later, a media and technology revolution has made us all into citizen journalists and repressive regimes everywhere fear the new transparency. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that a branch of our own government would remain one of the most closed in the world.

In a major concession, the court will release same-day audio of the arguments. (Usually, these recordings come out at the end of each week of argument.) But as Americans rightly demand more transparency from all institutions, the notion that we should be shut out of watching such historic arguments in real time seems deeply anachronistic.

Whatever one thinks of Justice Roberts’ jurisprudence, he is a reasonable man. He is himself a product of the media age, and the youngest chief in more than 200 years. From my work with him on behalf of a common client when he was still in legal practice, I would say that he has some understanding of and appreciation for the role of the media. I have to believe that deep down, he realizes he missed a historic opportunity to invite Americans to watch proceedings that promise to profoundly impact their lives. 

The revolution will be televised, but at least for now the Supreme Court will not be.

Mar
26

Boston College’s CSR Conference

Victoria Baxter

I am excited to be attending the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship Conference today and tomorrow in Phoenix. The event draws over 600 corporate CSR professionals and opinion leaders together for conversation, presentations and thoughtful reflections on the many dimensions, challenges and rewards to corporate citizenship programs.

I’m facilitating a panel tomorrow on how companies can pursue strategies that link reputation and citizenship activities. The panelists are Jennifer Silberman, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility, Hilton Worldwide and Nicole Rustad, Corporate Citizenship Program Director, The Walt Disney Company. It promises to be an excellent discussion.

As I’m sure the panelists will speak to, citizenship building efforts can be enormously helpful to strengthening reputation and enhancing brand equity. Yet, it’s also not without its challenges in managing stakeholders and driving internal engagement and support. We’ll talk about how their corporations – both large and iconic brands – approach CSR and citizenship strategies.

I’ll be asking a number of questions of the panelists. Are there any topics you’d like us to cover?

Mar
20

KONY2012. African Perspectives.

Deanna Petersen

Joseph Kony is a monster – that fundamental truth is plain and simple. But that is where the simplicity stops. To gauge the African perspective of the KONY2012 film, I called Uganda and spoke to communication experts across the country. They shared perspectives that are emerging from Kampala, Gulu and points far beyond. While people in Northern Uganda hurled rocks at the screen during a recent screening, here is how my colleagues articulated their frustrations with the film:

It is an oversimplification of a complex issue. The terror waged in Northern Uganda saw atrocities on all sides. There were clear examples where the government failed to protect its people and according to many were at least complicit in the slaughter of its people. The roots of this problem are deep and according to one expert, “will not be solved by a tweet from Rihanna or Bono.”

It obscures what’s really needed. Before Joseph Kony there was another warlord in Northern Uganda. According to Uganda’s Daily Monitor, “The LRA is a raggedy bunch of a few hundreds at most, poorly equipped, poorly armed and poorly trained.” A military solution will stop one villain, but leave a hole for the next monster if we don’t address the health, education and development needs of the people.

• It doesn’t reflect the realities of the people. Kony hasn’t been in Northern Uganda for six years. In that time the people have been rebuilding. While Invisible Children has assisted in that effort, its film ignores the fact that today in Northern Uganda people are planting crops, touring game reserves and exhaling after years of fear. This film carelessly threatens a burgeoning tourism industry and economy beginning to find its feet in Uganda.

• It smacks of a tired narrative. The white man (albeit accompanied by his adorable child) saving Africans. It’s been done before and while a broader global consciousness is important, we need to find a new way to tell this story that isn’t so, well…patronizing.

My African colleagues share important lessons for all those who will take a page from the KONY2012 playbook:

• Create collaboratively. The video is powerful, but imagine how much more powerful it would have been if the rocks had been thrown during a test screening.
• A simple rallying cry is important; just make sure it’s the right one. Action is urgent and necessary, but let’s ensure we find the right goal. 

Mar
20

Wild West

Lance Morgan

Google the phrase “auto manufacturers 1912” and the first citation will take you to a wikipedia entry that lists hundreds of American car companies that existed 100 years ago. Today, three remain.

My guess is that a century from now, when our grandchildren Google -- or activate their neuro-cranial mnemonic devices to view -- the term “online news organizations,” the ratio between the defunct and existing outfits might be somewhat comparable.

The profusion of news sites and the confusion they have wrought about what journalism means, and what it means to be a journalist, will undoubtedly continue. The barriers to entry are very low. Anyone with access to the Internet and three nanograms of brain matter (or less), can start acting as if the world cannot wait for their latest pronouncement on the human condition. 

But eventually, both truth and quality will win out. The Wild West media environment that Howard Fineman talked about in our media panel discussion last week will be tamed. The gunslingers will move on, retire or die off because there will be no market for their product. New ones will take their place and the cycle will continue, of course, but the only ones that thrive will be the ones that offer real value.

In a week when another “journalist” was outted for fabricating a story (see Mike Daisey and “This American Life” on Chinese workers and Apple), we got some positive news about the news media from the 2012 “State of the News Media” report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The report notes that the explosion of mobile devices is being accompanied by a rise in people’s news consumption that is “strengthening the lure of traditional news brands and providing a boost to long-form journalism.” It turns out, it seems, that having easier access to news throughout the day is impelling people to use that access.

For the first time in a decade, news audiences grew (4.5%) at the three traditional broadcast networks. Local broadcast audiences grew in both morning and late evening time slots for the first time in five years. Cable outlets grew in 2011 after a down year in 2010. CNN’s audience grew by 16% in median prime-time viewership, compared to a 3% increase for MSNBC and a decline at Fox, which still has by far the largest audience of the three dominant cable news providers.

Of course, not everything is rosy in media land. The report noted that in the last five years, an average of 15 newspapers – about 1% of the industry – has gone out of business. As a result, a growing number of executives predict that in five years many newspapers will offer a print home-delivered newspaper only on Sunday, and perhaps one or two other days a week that account for most print ad revenue. Despite this downturn, Pew said that mobile devices increased traffic on major newspaper websites by an average of 9%.

Social media are increasingly important, the report says, “but not overwhelming drivers of news, at least not yet.” No more than 10% of digital news consumers “very often” follow news recommendations from Facebook or Twitter, the survey said, and almost all who do are still using other ways to go directly to news websites or apps.

The mechanism by which people get their news is less important than the quality of the product they are receiving. In this regard, the Pew report continues to point to hopefulness in our news consumption (at least to me).

Some years ago, it was reported that despite the online media explosion, the vast majority of people got their news from major media like The New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, etc. This still seems to be the case. Gresham’s Law, in which the bad of a commodity drives out the good, is being held at bay – at least for the past 12 months and, hopefully, for a long time to come. 

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