PR/Media Week in Review 05-24-2009

weekreview2Twitter scams are proliferating like wildfire on the Net- 100FOLLOWERS A DAY! they promise – and this one, TwitterTrafficMachine, a couple of bozos who say they invented a system to automatically increase your Twitter followers. mytweetfollowers.com is another one that automatically controls your Twitter with re-tweets to their site – @Stock_Tweets is having a hard time turning off those malicious auto-Tweets.

All this supports the false notion that hundreds or thousands of Twitter followers lends you credibility, popularity and the power to influence others. Twitter is easily manipulated and tends to gravitate toward the fleeting inane comment generated by obsessive compulsive Twits whose only purpose is to generate more followers, no matter who they are.

On the other hand – the media is really taking to Twitter and it is proving to be a viable alternative wire service.  Some journalists troll for sources through Twitter: APRealEstateLooking to interview someone who bought or sold a home in the Dallas metro area in April or May. Email asainz@ap.org. Some journalists, who have a conversational style and an underlying mission, manage to convey a real personality in 140 characters or less. My favorite is Nicholas Kristof:

profile imageNYTimesKristof @Kholmpartiet Poverty of spirit: people who express themselves not by personality but by displaying the latest i-Pod. 18:15 PM 19th May | NYTimesKristof It’s odd to return to the U.S. from African villages. So much wealth here, yet often accompanied by a poverty of spirit. 16:18 PM 19th May.

Twitter is also proving to be a resource for what journalists are thinking and doing: mattbish Had editorial lunch with JP Morgan ceo Jamie Dimon who was surprisingly upbeat (Matthew Bishop, The Economist). As one client astutely observed- journalists are now openly offering opinions trough social media.

The exploding popularity of Twitter and its usefulness as another information stream is forcing companies to hire in-house or freelance Twitterers. See NYTimes “Tweeting Your Way to a Job“. Wells Fargo is the latest to launch a customer service Twitter stream, complete with several real-life Twitter personalities who answer basic banking questions. Others in the banking business have jumped on the bandwagon: See USA Today story about customer service and banking on Twitter

JournalistTweets is the the first (claims Cision) Twitter journo aggregator. You can follow tweeting journalists according to segments - Business | Entertainment | Health | Technology

Follow me on Twitter: @markrose

More and more, my conversations with journalists includes a survey of the PR job market (can’t be worse than journalism!?). This week, editorialists and bloggers debated the blurring lines between public relations and journalism. See Reason magazine column arguing that PR could become the next investigative journalism| And there’s The 21st Century Journalist: PR by Day, Reporter by Night? by Renay San Miguel.

 NYPost: Portfolio.com taken over by American City Business Journals | Worth magazine re-launches June 1. See story here.

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Wells Fargo Launches Breakthrough Twitter Stream

New Wells Fargo Twitter pageOn March 26 Wells Fargo carefully and judiciously launched an ‘active’ Twitter account. By ‘active’ I mean it is actually monitored by a person who is available weekdays, 9-5, to answer basic banking questions. This is a bold move that the bank did not undertake lightly. For months, the bank held an inactive Twitter account, saying it was monitoring the Twitosphere before it would become involved. Usually tweets are one way broadcasts – a company or individual telling its followers a snippet of information. By going a step further – engaging its audience – Wells Fargo is once again proving it is a social media pioneer in financial services.

Leading financial services into social media. Wells Fargo has been blogging for over three years; the company has several blogs in product areas and its own dedicated YouTube channel.  Ed Terpening, VP of Social Media for Wells Fargo, is the kind of buttoned down visionary that financial services neeeds to show how social media can be used for PR advantage. In the top Vator.tv video in the right column of PRBlogNews, Ed talks about how Wells Fargo used a blog to quell a potential crisis.  “We want to use all channels available to get our story out,” says Ed. That means sometimes publishing comments that are harsh and negative- as long as they comply with  strict posting guidelines.  Acknowledging prevailing sentiment to a particular event is often more constructive than ignoring or denying it. By having its blogs set up and running, with thousands of subscribers, Wells Fargo is able to respond quickly to a broad audience.

Social media for mergers.Wells Fargo launched a blog to manage communications for its merger with Wachovia (see bottom Vator.tv video on the right). The objective was to humanize the company, tell Wachovia customers what to expect, and reach a vast audience of constituents with news about the combined company. “Wachovia customers love their bank,” says Ed; there was strong brand allegiance to Wachovia.  Combined with Wachovia, Wells Fargo now has approximately 250,000 employees and millions of customers. A single blog can reach employees, customers, mainstream media, other bloggers and the general public. A blog is an incredibly efficient information distribution channel.

Social media as PR asset for financial services.  Financial services companies are heavily regulated, highly scrutinized and understandably reluctant to delve into the uncontrolled world of social media. Note the disclaimer on the Wells Fargo Twitter page. As Ed Terpening says, blogs, Twitters and videos are usually the last stop for company information to be disseminated, after it has been thoroughly scrubbed and approved by compliance officers, lawyers or regulators.  In essence, Wells Fargo is simply pushing out public information through added channels that have become available via the Internet and mobile devices.

The economy dominates news these days. Money is an emotional issue. We need to feel good about the company, and the people who manage or advise us about our assets.  Social media helps humanize an institution and offers the comfort that real people are listening to our concerns, offering feedback when appropriate, and are consistent in their approach. Wells Fargo has bloggers, an editor and programmer on staff, and now  Twitter ‘responders.’ Not every financial services company can devote that level of resources to social media. But most could benefit from following Wells Fargo’s lead in exploring the PR advantage derived from deploying a social media program.

Taliban Rapid Response PR Keeps U.S. on Defensive

Taliban fighterThe U.S. just replaced its commander in Afghanistan because the war on the Taliban is going badly. There is another front, though not mortally deadly, that is just as important – the ruthless PR war.  We’re not talking live combat, unless you consider public relations a blood sport (as some do), but it could determine the outcome of this protracted and critical battle. 

There is a lesson here, learned by skilled PR people, successful politicians, guerrilla fighters and chess players: he who strikes first has the advantage. The Taliban, unencumbered by bureaucracy or scruples, are usually first to condemn U.S. air strikes and frame the story for journalists and their constituents.  That leaves U.S. spokespeople to deny or condemn initial reports, sounding defensive or evasive.

Winning the “hearts and minds” of the people has always been an important element of war – bomb them, then console them, tear the country up, then be a hero by re-building it. Precise messaging is not enough, especially in the digital age. Speed of execution is key, using technology wisely, developing a strategy beforean event – this all helps, although it does not assure success. Bottom line – foreign forces never know a country as well as locals and will always be seen as demons telling lies for their own benefit.  I wonder if the Taliban have invaded Twitter yet?

The official spokesperson of the Taliban Movement is Mula “Ma’soum Afghani” – no photos of him are available.

Key tactic: be first to comment.Homayoun Shuaid, a journalist based in Kandahar, says that when he called Qazi Yusuf Ahmadi, the militants’ southern spokesman, to get a reaction on the US claims, they were dismissed as a “bunch of lies and propaganda.”

“It’s usually the other way around,” with the US rejecting Taliban reports, says Mr. Shuaid.

After an attack or errant US airstrike, Taliban representatives usually text message or e-mail reports to him “within minutes,” giving their version of what happened, Shuaid continues.

Their claims are almost always exaggerated, he says. But because they arrive first, he says, they take on the currency of truth among a populace that receives most of its information via radio or word of mouth. US fights Taliban on another front: public relationsChristian Science Monitor

Chevron’s Aggressive PR Challenge – ‘buying’ bloggers?

Chevron logoChevron is throwing down the gauntlet – conducting a bare knuckle PR campaign the likes of which we have rarely seen. At stake is a $27 billion judgement in an Ecuadorian court that, if leveled (a decision is expected this year), and if it sticks (it is not clear if an Ecuadorian court can extract payment from an American company with no current operations in its country), would be the largest environmental lawsuit in history.

Such a judgement could severely hamper Chevron and impact its stock. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is demanding a full accounting from Chevron (the state, through pension funds, is a shareholder). Dozens of blogs and web sites are devoted to slamming the company and generating a consistent stream of negative news -  including accusing the company of buying off bloggers. Chevron is aggressively fighting back.

Anybody who does not believe that high-profile civil cases are fought as much through PR as they are in the courtroom should study the Chevron case.

The latest flame-up in this story was the May 3, 2009, ’60 Minutes’ segment titled Amazon Crude. Silvia M. Garrigo, Manager, Global Issues and Policy for Chevron, was in the unenviable position of facing the 60 Minutes grilling from Scott Pelley. Garrigo’s performance on ’60 Minutes’ was ridiculed by many anti-Chevron groups although, from my perspective, she is a strong and credible advocate for her client.

Chevron responded to 60 Minutes by hiring former CNN correspondent  Gene Randall to narrate a ‘News” report that tells the story from its Darryl Hannah in Ecuador to highlight damage from environmental disasterperspective. The video, Chevron Texaco Ecuador Lawsuit – Behind the Scenes, is on YouTube and a company web site devoted to the case.

Smack in the middle is a blogger called Zennie62, who, ChevronToxicoclaims, is a paid shill for Chevron. ChevronToxico offers no proof and Zennie Abraham, the blogger, does not confirm or deny payments in his blog posts. He posts prodigiously about the case and seems to have a wealth of information that would only be available to an insider. His blog posts and YouTube videos rank high in Google searches on keywords Chevron, Texaco (acquired by Chevron), and Ecuador.  Daryl Hannah, right, visiting environmental disaster site in Ecuador.

In 2008, Amazon Watch disclosed that Bay Area blogger Pat Murphy was a paid to post pro-Chevron comments on the Ecuador case in his small online newspaper.  Murphy has publicly acknowledged he accepted fees for control of editorial content, according to Amazon Watch.

Chevron’s Garrigo has acknowledged that this is a PR battle. The company claims that it cannot get a fair trial in Ecuador and they seek to sway public opinion in the U.S. if the case is brought here. This is not a ‘cut and dry’ case, despite the entrenched certainty of the opposing forces. There is plenty of villainy to go around. The Ecuadorian government has an atrocious environmental record – the big U.S. oil company is an easy target that reaps enormous political benefit, even if they don’t realize a dime from the lawsuit.

 “Paying so-called independent bloggers to post is just one part of a wide-ranging fraud designed by Chevron to cover up the company’s enormous exposure in Ecuador,” said Prieto. Prieto said Samson, Chevron’s public relations director, has built an “empire” of consultants in the U.S. and Ecuador to put out misleading information about the case.  Chevron’s environmental problems in Ecuador have become the company’s largest worldwide public relations problem. Samson has retained the New York office of the global public relations behemoth Hill & Knowlton — the same firm that represented the tobacco industry for decades– to manage Chevron’s image problems stemming from the Ecuador case. Chevron P.R. Director Donald Samson Behind Secret Payments to Bloggers to Hide Ecuador Liability

A-Rod Set to Return to Yanks Amidst PR Blitz

arodbookWhen you have a $250 million property, you go to great lengths to protect it.

Alex Rodriguez, who many admit is the best player in baseball, has a battery of lawyers, agents, and flacks who seek to protect and further the image and career that A-Rod himself assiduously seeks to diminish. The New York Yankees, the most successful and drama-laden sports franchise, occasionally spawn tell-all/shock books like Sparky Lyle’s Bronx Zoo, and Joe Torre’s Yankee Years, along with endless news stories, sports columns and blog posts.

When you’re A-Rod, secretly cavorting with Madonna, or Joe DiMaggio, marrying Marilyn Monroe, the stories spill from the sports section to gossip and celebrity – every word is dissected and analyzed, even silence becomes a statement.

A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez by Selena Roberts was released recently. It is the catalyst for the latest A-Rod mania, following his admission of steroid use (a story that Roberts broke). Selena Roberts is obsessed with Alex Rodriguez and she is no fan. As a sports reporter for The New York Times before she jumped to Sports Illustrated, she wrote probing, elegant, albeit negative pieces insinuating that the Yankees would be better off without A-Rod, the preening, self-aggrandizing, over paid diva. These days you can become a pseudo celebrity just by writing about A-Rod.

Yankee manager Joe Girardi lashed out against the A-Rod book  with an aw-shucks if you can’t say something good about somebody, why say anything at all attitude, thereby cementing his legacy as the anti-Billy Martin. Other sports bloggers have come to A-Rod’s defense: Why I’m skeptical of Selena Roberts’ new book, from SysterBall |  Selena Roberts’ Poison Pen, from the Yankees Republic | In defense of Public Enemy No. 1 , from Sports-Illustrated writer Jim Caple | Roberts’ book on A-Rod should be questioned, from KansasCity.com.

All this falls in the ’any publicity is good publicity’ category as A-Rod returns to the team this week, maybe as early as Friday.  The Yankees are slumping along without him.  Can he lift the team by way of his awesome talent and unfortunate personality? Nothing like the heated glare of the avaricious New York media to pump some life into a listless sports franchise – or drive it further down.

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