|December 26, 2009|
|Review of 2009|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|The Tiger Woods fiasco was by far the biggest PR story of 2009 partly because almost no PR was practiced.|
Instead of immediate truth-telling and press conferences, PR's usual advice, we got lies and evasions from the start. This included the initial statement that a "minor car accident" had taken place and Tiger was "treated and released in good condition." How "minor" is an accident where the driver ends up unconscious on the roadway and has to be intubated in a hospital? Timid, politicized police were of little help.
This was a catastrophic failure of one of PR's main missions—intelligence gathering. Nike, Accenture, Gatorade, Tag Heuer, etc. look pretty dumb. Why didn't these oh-so-smart companies know what was common knowledge years ago in certain bars, nightclubs and discos?
Because their "PR" folk don't hang out in such places. They're locked away in a company drawer somewhere. PR people used to dish with reporters but now head for home and family at 5 p.m. They don't even see reporters during the day. Stiff, heavily-scripted PR behavior is out of sync with the way reporters knock around a topic, considering any and all speculation, skinny and scuttlebutt.
We agree with Frank Rich of the New York Times that "Tiger" is the real "Person of the Year," because he epitomizes the bamboozling of the public by the banks, White House, Enron, Citigroup, Fannie Mae, etc. This was the "decade of the flimflam."
PR pros are not presenting their case in a strong enough way vs. lawyers, financiers and marketers. They're not getting any help from lawyer-dominated PR Society of America.
The media, and particularly TV sports programs that made so much money out of Tiger, are being accused of a massive cover-up. The New York Post claimed that the National Enquirer had evidence of a Tiger tryst in 2007 but traded it for a cover story in sister publication Men's Fitness. Publisher American Media denied it. Murdoch's Wall Street Journal reiterated the charges in a lengthy 12/18 story.
The Journal reported that sister paper News of the World, a tabloid of London, has dibs on the story and quoted its spokesperson as saying that such news "comes at a price" (to the woman involved). In other words, the people with the most money have the most access to truth. NYP sports columnist Phil Mushnick claimed many knew Tiger's image "was baloney from Day One."
Pew Research found that only 29% of Americans say media report accurately, down from 55% who said this in 1985. More people get their news from the internet than newspapers.
[Note: Several links in this story require a subscription to odwyerpr.com]
Sports Illustrated disappointed us with a headline that called Tiger's mess "The Sadness." Rage was a more appropriate emotion considering all those who had been shafted including the entire sport of golf. SI said the "prying tabloids" (oh, it's our fault) will soon find another scandal to replace Tiger's. SI also rapped the "tawdry tabloid feeding frenzy" and said months of "marital groveling" may save him.
Continued attempts to minimize Tiger's philandering (Nike's Phil Knight saying it will only be a "minor blip" on Tiger's career) are wishful thinking. Dow Jones media measurement tools show skyrocketing mentions which track coverage of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal that went on for years.
This was a story made for the web. Fed up with major media that insisted on covering other stories, those wanting the truth about Tiger glued themselves to the websites of Us Magazine, National Enquirer, etc.
Social media carried endless comments on the Tiger saga as PR service companies and PR trade groups offered an endless series of webinars and seminars on how to turn such media into a sales tool. WPP CEO Martin Sorrell has warned that social media are like a "dinner party" and introducing commercials can be fatal.
The NYT declared war on Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal in a Dec. 14 attack that accused the WSJ of becoming more "pro-business and anti-government" since Murdoch's News Corp. purchased it two years ago. News Corp. responded that NYT is worried about a New York City edition of the WSJ that will debut next spring. News Corp.'s revenues of $30.1B dwarf those of the NYT's $2.54B. WSJ circ. is 2M, up 0.6%, while NYT fell 7.3% to 927,851 (9/30 figures).
We would like both the NYT and WSJ to cover PR (or the lack of it) which has an immense impact on the flow of news and information (see Tiger Woods story above). It's not an easy subject because of congenital secrecy but we have lots of materials for either publication.
Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter said a few hundred bankers committed what "may well turn out to be the greatest nonviolent crime against humanity in history, driving an estimated 200 million people worldwide into poverty." He found no apologies were coming from the bankers.
NYT columnist Floyd Norris said CPAs let the nation down by allowing banks and others to hide bad investments in off-book cubbyholes. "Politics" in the accounting field is blocking reforms, he said. The NYT's Paul Krugman on Dec. 14 blamed bankers who dismantled regulations set up in the 1930s after the Depression, resulting in the $300 billion S&L debacle for starters.
The U.S. public got drunk on euphemisms like "home equity loans" (i.e., second mortgages) and "subprime" mortgages ("predatory loans" or "liar loans") that were quickly off-loaded to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc.
The American Assn. of Advertising Agencies, a name in use since 1917, became the "4A's" because of the negative image of advertising. 4A's president Nancy Hill (pictured), who succeeded longtime head Burtch Drake (all attempts to have lunch with him failed), said, "The common perception of our business continues to be so negative to so many people."
Journalist Richard Sine said those who go to J-school might as well study "blacksmithing" or "bloodletting" since there are so few J-jobs. Nevertheless, 1,057 tried to enroll in the Columbia J-school and 412 were accepted. Tab: $72,182.
Recession hit the PR/ad trade press. PR Quarterly died in its 50th year. Editor & Publisher ditto in its 125th year. PR Week/U.S. became a monthly. PR News editor Courtney Barnes to MH (Mark Hass) Group. Jonah Bloom, executive editor, Ad Age, to Breaking Media blog network. Adweek was sold to venture capitalists.
PRQ was an outlet for PR pros and academics. Its articles were the second most copied by the PR Society for its info pack service (after O'Dwyer articles). The PRS service was closed in 1995 after we disclosed that permission was not sought from many copied authors.
IR vet Ted Pincus, noting that 51 PR firms opted to drop out of the 2008 O'Dwyer rankings apparently because of lower revenues, said the bedrock principle of financial reporting is consistency—reporting both good and bad. The ten biggest firms reporting 2008 fees were either up or even, led by Edelman's 12% growth to $449M.
This year was the 20th anniversary of Michael Moore's shocking "Roger and Me" documentary in which he chased after General Motors CEO Roger Smith. Dominant image of the film was Moore in the GM lobby trying to get past guards and PR staffers. GM's employment plunged from a high of 880,000 to an expected 38,000 in the revamped company. GM's PR was integrated with marketing in 1990.
PR counselor John Budd advised PR Seminar to skip this year's meeting at the elegant Ritz Carlton at Laguna Niguel, Calif., or hold it in a big city like Chicago or Washington, D.C. Seminar met as usual but only 127 PR pros attended, down from the usual 160. Twenty of the 30 board members of Arthur W. Page Society are Seminarians.
Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who had a career in private business, said government PR people are far better informed about and active in policy than those in business. "You should be with your CEO in every meeting," he told Page Society members.
In a switch, two movies showed reporters as public-spirited citizens—"State of Play" with Russell Crowe who unearthed a conspiracy, and "The Soloist" which showed Robert Downey Jr. helping a homeless musician.
PR grads who wrote to us after we gave about 60 of them our O'Dwyer's Directory of PR Firms said employers didn't care what they majored in, only whether they had PR internships. Two internships were mandatory and three even better.
Newspaper analyst John Morton said 70% of the nation's 1,422 dailies are solidly profitable and in no danger of collapse. He notes there are a few "high profile shutdowns."
PR grad Joseph Burke, traveling and researching in China, wrote an essay for us about the importance of "guanxi" in that country. This means building personal relationships before any business can be transacted. This was once the approach of U.S. PR people to reporters. Reporter now chase PR pros.
Although PR Society chair Mike Cherenson believes journalists can't join because they could not abide by the PRS code that demands "safeguarding confidences," PRS is nevertheless promoting a "PR Boot Camp" for members ($595) and non-members ($695) including journalists who may be "transitioning."
Cherenson told "For Immediate Release" blog that only "two or three" people wanted the transcript of the 2008 Assembly and that PRS had obeyed all state and federal laws as well as Robert's Rules in not providing it to them.
PRS leaders spent most of the year on bylaws re-write. However, most major changes were rejected by the Assembly which continues to evade its duty of setting policy for the PRS board. Ignored are the governance practices of the ABA, AMA, AICPA, etc.
Jeff Julin, 2008 PRS chair, repeatedly defined PR as "building relationships" apparently with customers, potential customers, employees, stockholders, and other "stakeholders" in an organization. He did not mention building relationships with reporters, once the goal of PR pros.
Cherenson said "We can't have 20% of the members (the APRs) telling the other 80% how we're going to govern this organization." But the APRs will never allow a democratic election because they would be immediately voted out by the 80%+ of members who are non-APR.
The Universal Accreditation Board announced the paltry results for the first six full years of its multiple-choice exam: 863 new APRs including 713 from the PR Society or an average of 119 new PRS APRs yearly. About 16,000 PRS members are eligible to take the exam.
PRS bylaws chair Dave Rickey was the dominant force in PRS in 2009, with chair Mike Cherenson taking a back seat.
Chair-elect Gary McCormick announced plans for a 2009 strategic planning committee with African-Americans, journalists and non-members. He couldn't find any such people who would join the committee.
The one chance PRS had to integrate the board was the candidacy of Ofield Dukes for at-large director. Picked over him was Barbara Whitman of Hawaii, known as a close friend of 2009 nomcom chair Rhoda Weiss who was often in Hawaii for client St. Francis Hospice.
Dec. 17 was the tenth anniversary of Omnicom's stock price high--$53.50 in 1999. Since then, there have been 58 changes in OMC stock recommendations by analysts. Only two advised "sell." Current price is around $36.
OMC CEO John Wren, who has been paid at least $100 million in the past seven years (Forbes), got one million stock options in late 2008 with a strike price of $25.48. Average compensation for six year to 2007 was $15.73M.
CEO pay continued as a scandal and one reason so few CEOs are available for interviews. CEO pay rose 512% in 20 years to $10.9 million while pay increases for workers barely kept pace with inflation, said a Nov. 22 article in the NYP.
Longtime PR critic John Stauber left as executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, publisher of prwatch.org. Working with the organization was drug industry critic Wendell Potter, formerly of Cigna.
The three-month 2009 summer course in "Global Communications" taught by PR Society's 2010 chair-elect Rosanna Fiske at Florida Int'l University covered: "Diversity of news and mass communications; emerging trends in global business communications and media; advances in technology; global sources and systems of communications; cultural contexts; theories of symbolic interaction, saturation, convergence, world-system and electronic colonialism; ethical and legal issues, and the role and impact of advertising and PR in the global marketplace." Students were told that Fiske preferred contact by e-mail or through discussion boards.
We wouldn't mind 2% and 1% "low fat" milk if regular milk were labeled 3%. Most people think they're only getting 1% or 2% of regular fat content. It's another instance of bamboozling the public.
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