Up or Down, PR Drives The Dow

Dow Jones Industrials Average graph in The New York TimesA great feat in public relations is to create a deeply penetrating brand that is accepted broadly and perpetuates unquestioned credibility for its creator.  Is there a better PR brand than the Dow Jones Industrial Average?

We are all obsessed with “The Dow” right now although few of us know what it is or why it is so important. DJIA – The Dow Jones Industrial Average is an index of 30 “Blue Chip” stocks that are supposed to be an indicator of the broader stock market (thousands of stocks). “The Dow” is broadcast across the world, transcending geography, language barriers and market highs and lows. Even rival media companies, such as The New York Times (above, left)  post “The Dow” on its home page. PR doesn’t get better than that.

May 26, 1896 Dow Jones published its first “Industrial” average, DJIA, consisting of 12 stocks closing at 40.94. DJIA is occasionally re-jiggered to reflect our changing economic landscape. Manufacturing companies in DJIA such as U.S. Steel have been replaced by tech companies such as Microsoft. Standard & Poors, Wilshire, and Russell all have stock indexes that are broader, more specific, and, many investment professionals would argue, more accurate indicators of trends in the stock market. But none are more recognized or accepted as DJIA, which has become synonymous with “the market.” That’s a big reason why Rupert Murdoch was obsessed with acquiring Dow Jones and its media properties Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and MarketWatch.

See What is the Dow Jones Industrial Average? from How Stuff Works - includes video on stocks currently in the DJIA.

PR Goes Video

Digital Citizen MediaThis is the year of the Video Web – that’s been my proclamation since the beginning of 2008 and certainly we are seeing the manifestation of that all over the Internet. Take a look at the newly revamped Wall Street Journal web site and you get a feeling for how far video has come on the web. We now get live Presidential debates on the home pages of major news sites.  These are quality real-time feeds that are working on home broadband connections.

The PR business has been slow to recognize this trend and to capitalize on its potential. We have yet to transition from pitching media to becoming the media.  Crafting a pitch, writing a press release, disseminating to the press and following up is the old way – labor intensive, perennially frustrating, expensive – for questionable result.

Developing web-based digital assets is key to any communications program that will penetrate and have legs in the digital age. Make it visual, make it immediate. Create news that media wants to cover – simultaneously create news that all constituents can access through the web. Above all, make it visual.

Business Wire has partnered with Digital Citizen Media to produce PR content that will establish and manage digital media assets, promote and track it. You look at some of the video annual reports they develop – they are engaging, clever, informative (there are always disclosure issues), and critically important in this time, you see the faces behind the numbers.  This is a time when people are enormously distrustful of corporate executives and financiers. We need to see business people and hear them to be convinced that they have constituents best interests in mind.

Embracing Chaos, Living With Uncertainty

Living with a manic depressive economy, New York Magazine coverEvery morning at 9:00 AM New York time I call the Dow for the day - down 300, up 450, or something like that. My market call is based purely on a “feeling,” like picking a horse because you like its name. Recently, it’s rare that we see the market go up two days in a row, so if it is up one day chances are it will give it all back, and then some, the following day. I find my “method” to be more accurate than most of the market prognosticators, who seem to have collectively thrown up their hands to say “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The New York magazine cover story by Kurt Andersen captures the mood of the city – fear, uncertainty, deep foreboding that as bad as it seems it is only going to get worse. I was talking to a top-tier real estate broker/appraiser in Manhattan (he appraised Madonna’s apartment) who is convinced that the bottom of the New York real estate market will drop with a sickening thud beginning January 1, 2009, when a temporary impediment to foreclosures will be eliminated. He foresees 150,000 foreclosures in New York State, with 10% of them in the city.

The economy dominates talk at parties, work, everywhere; even if it not spoken you can feel it. What else are we going to talk about? Theatre, clothes, restaurants all cost money and nobody is spending a dime they don’t have to – including our PR clients. Coverage of finance and the implications of the sour global economy dominates all media these days. If you are not directly addressing the economy, offering usable insight and advise (and what can you really say – even an unusually sedate “Mad Money” Cramer says get out of the market) then reporters won’t bother with you.

Oddly, this has been a unifying time for Americans because the pain cuts across demographic, geographic and cultural boundaries. The Presidential race almost seems like a sidebar to the main story – how do we survive this and what will life be like on the other side?

Today Wachovia reports a record-setting $23.9 billion loss for the 3rd quarter, with tens of billions expected to be written off in successive quarters. The numbers don’t compute anymore, superlatives fail. How much shock can you take until you become numb? I think we are about to find out.

So seldom do we motley millions all think and talk about the same thing at the same time—let alone two great big things, let alone intensely and continually for weeks at a time. Welcome to the extraordinary fall of 2008. As the imploded financial industry is nationalized, and we prepare to elect—can it really be?—an African-American intellectual the next president, New Yorkers are in a kind of breathless, Twittery mind meld about matters of huge historic consequence. Because Wall Street is (excuse the expression) ground zero for the present cataclysm, we are probably experiencing financial vertigo more acutely than most of our fellow Americans. – Kurt Andersen, New York magazine

Stunned beyond words

What can you say about the worldwide financial crisis? New ticker in Times Square, New York CityI have not blogged in 24 days – each time I think I can latch on to a thought or comment it is over run by the news. We are truly in a second-by-second news cycle as each tick of the Dow Jones Industrial average spiraling perpetually downward brings a heightened sense of dread. It started on my birthday, September 29, as the House defeated the initial bailout package and the bottom fell out of the market – a stunning 777 point drop. I did not feel like celebrating that day.

Yesterday, when the market skyrocketed nearly 1,000 points I felt like celebrating. The world economies banded together and found a way to stave off catastrophe, at least for the moment. How many billions is it costing? I lose track, but I am sure that the cost will exceed the financial hit we took with the Iraq war.

Can we absorb all these humongous outlays? No, of course not. In order to fix our excesses and greed we must embrace excess and regulation. According to David Brooks, columnist for the The New York Times who is uncannily right most of the time, we are headed for real hard times. It is unavoidable no matter who wins the election. See today’s Brooks column Big Government Ahead. 

What does the financial whirlwind mean to us poor PR shlubs? First comes the hiring freeze, already in effect in most large agencies. Then comes the layoffs. It has been impossible to break through to most financial/business media in the past three weeks. Clients start reviewing contracts, scrutinizing all marketing/PR outlays. It is tougher to make a living in PR today than it was three weeks ago and it will get tougher still.

The future is more uncertain because we are living in the NOW – the vagaries of the U.S. markets minute-to-minute, and the foreign markets preceding our market over night. I don’t know what to say. Thanks to Al Sutherland for long comment on 9/17 post “Is Financial Media Aiding Wall Street Collapse“.  Al still has some words to offer.