public affairs

The Chemistry of Turning Failure into Success

Failure isn’t the opposite of success. Failure is often the guiding light to success, including in public affairs. There rarely is a straight path from A to B. There are often ditches, detours and dead-ends. It takes self-confidence to weather failure and reach success.

Failure isn’t the opposite of success. Failure is often the guiding light to success, including in public affairs. There rarely is a straight path from A to B. There are often ditches, detours and dead-ends. It takes self-confidence to weather failure and reach success.

Failure doesn’t make someone a loser, but history shows failure can lead to success. Exactly what is the chemistry that converts an ounce of failure into a pound of success?

(Reposted from March 12, 2019)

(Reposted from March 12, 2019)

The scientific method regards failed experiments as useful because they eliminate one path and invite pursuit of alternatives. Failure is less a roadblock than a detour sign. Thomas Edison summed it up, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Some failures produce unexpected success, such as the discovery of an unintended use of a substance or process. Some of the most gainful inventions were actually accidental successes. Google Post-It notes for a good example.

The attitude of people toward failure can be a huge factor. Some see failure as the end. Others view failure as the beginning. Or, as Winston Churchill noted, “success is stumbling from failure to failure.”

Stumbling from failure to failure isn’t exactly an inviting prospect, especially in a field such as public affairs. Clients expect public affairs professionals to “fix” their public issues, not fumble them. 

A large part of the chemistry to turn failure into success is mental attitude, including the self-confidence to accept failure as merely a detour on the road to success.

A large part of the chemistry to turn failure into success is mental attitude, including the self-confidence to accept failure as merely a detour on the road to success.

Failing to fix a client’s problem can be humiliating and demoralizing for public affairs professionals, who pitch clients on the prospect of victory, not consolation prizes. Good public affairs professionals win more than they lose, but everyone loses sometimes.

The image of a public affairs professional as a “fixer” isn’t useful – or usually accurate. Yes, public affairs professionals, if they are worth their fee, have relevant experience, good contacts and a huge dose of savvy. If they really know what they are doing, they will focus their attention on what they don’t know before spinning out a strategy.

In this sense, the discipline of public affairs is a lot like a scientific experiment. You need to test your hypothesis and let the results guide your actions. Testing the waters might take the form of talking with trusted sources, closely reading media coverage, consulting with legal experts or conducting research, often via one-on-one interviews. 

A client may have a clear understanding of his or her public problem. The public affairs professional’s responsibility is to develop a clear direction to address that problem. The solutions to most public affairs challenges aren’t as simple as stepping from A to B. The chance for strategic missteps or detours is high. Failure at one turn can’t be construed as total disaster. Sometimes a failure is the light post to the pathway to success.

That suggests the chemistry for converting failure to success depends a lot on mental attitude – curiosity instead of bravado, flexibility instead of rigidity, honesty instead of spin, self-confidence instead of over-confidence. The right chemistry also requires an underlying optimism that success is achievable and the resiliency to keep searching for the road to success amid failure. Albert Einstein’s well-known words are apt, “You never fail until you stop trying.”

Success for a public affairs professional is seldom a hero’s walk. More often, success involves deep questioning, a realistic objective, a strategic plan and thoughtful execution of that plan – with eyes wide open for ditches, dead-ends and detours that require a modified route. Patience is a virtue. 

The chemistry of success boils down to self-confidence in finding a way that works, regardless of how many twists and turns it might take.  Getting to success doesn’t have to be smooth, simple or pretty. You just have to keep trying to get there.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Leaning into Better Writing, One Word at a Time

Someone once asked me the secret to good writing. I told him it starts with turning obits into living stories – and spending a lifetime getting rid of bad writing habits.

Someone once asked me the secret to good writing. I told him it starts with turning obits into living stories – and spending a lifetime getting rid of bad writing habits.

Good writing is critical to effective communications, especially in public affairs. Good writing involves knowing what to write, how to write it and what to leave out. And it helps if you can write intelligently and efficiently.

Good writing rarely occurs without mastery of your subject. If you don’t know what you are talking about, it is impossible to write about your subject clearly and coherently. Do your homework before putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard.

Subject mastery leads to identifying a hook that can capture and hold the attention of your audience. Hooks serve as convenient hangers that let details of your subject naturally unfold for readers. Hooks also can be turned into crisp, catchy headlines. You can measure the sharpness of your hook options in test tweets.

Mastering a subject enables a writer to base a central argument on the most salient details while omitting interesting, but extraneous other details. Don’t tread on short attention spans by trying to tell everything you know about a subject. Readers don’t care how much you know. You need to engage them on what would be useful for them to know. They will find that much more interesting.

Concentrating on critical details provides focus for both the writer and readers. Savvy writers bond with their prospective readers by marshaling details to answer the questions readers would ask. This is especially important in persuasive writing when the main objective is winning agreement and support.

Careful attention must be paid to placing details in a logical sequence that readers can easily follow. The architecture of writing can take the form of a story, a report, a talk, a presentation, an essay or a blog. The logic train for each form varies, but the details always remain on the rails of a logic train so readers and viewers know where you are headed. 

When you reach the point of putting your thoughts on paper or a computer screen, try writing a complete draft that covers your hook, central argument and supporting details. Don’t worry if it is rough. That’s what editing is for. Editing may involve correcting typos to a full rewrite. If your first draft inspires a rewrite, that’s a good thing, not a bad omen.

When unsure whether you have hit the mark, ask trusted colleagues to give you their honest appraisal. Gentle editors can mix honesty with useful advice.

Writing fast can be a blessing or a curse. Sometimes it is both. Looming deadlines dictate when a piece of writing must be ready for prime time, but not how long it should take to get your story, presentation or blog just right. Adjust your schedule based on how well you write under pressure. If you work slow, give yourself enough time to think, research, write, edit and polish. Don’t short-change your reader with a slapdash job of writing.

The best writers are good listeners. They hear the melody of words and know how a good sentence sounds. They can replicate in writing how people speak. They employ everyday phrases and expressions.

Excellent writers understand words can paint pictures in the minds of their readers with vivid imagery, careful detail and active verbs. As the saying goes, good writing is a ship to anywhere you want to sail. This kind of writing demands constant observation. Some note-taking helps, too. 

Writers have egos, but they can’t act like spoiled princes and princesses. Great writing shines through regardless of the medium. Charles Dickens published his greatest works in monthly installments. People couldn’t wait to read each installment because of Dickens’ keen observation and authentic storytelling.

Don’t believe that barf about “born writers.” Like athletes or engineers, writers have to learn their craft through study, practice, trial and error. You don’t pole vault 17 feet or design a robot in your first outing. Good writing requires the same level of dedication, the same blood, sweat and tears. 

Writer’s block is a fiction, an excuse to give up. If you need a break to clear your head or work over a sentence in your head, take a break, don’t reach for a mental crutch. 

You can be a good writer and still work on perfecting your craft. Write letters, compose poems, volunteer to give a speech or maintain a daily journal. Keep looking for your unique voice. Think of new ways to attack the written word. Stretch your comfort zone. Whatever you do, write.

The Picasso Museum in Málaga, Spain, the great painter’s birthplace, contains 285 works that show the artist’s evolution in style and technique. What startles viewers are Picasso’s traditional paintings that formed the bulwark of his skill as an abstract genius. Picasso could never have created his cubist masterpieces without the foundation of learning how to paint a realistic garden. Great mastery isn’t an accident or a gift. It is earned. 

All of us may not have the ability or opportunity to become grand masters. But nothing stands in our way of getting better every day to the delight of our readers – and to the grudging respect of our doubters.

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Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

 

A Reimagined Version of Local Newspaper Storytelling

The New York Times  shows the way to reimagine newspaper journalism in the digital age with its eye-popping special report on how iconic Notre Dame Cathedral was saved from total collapse by the daring and savvy of Parisian firemen.

The New York Times shows the way to reimagine newspaper journalism in the digital age with its eye-popping special report on how iconic Notre Dame Cathedral was saved from total collapse by the daring and savvy of Parisian firemen.

It is common knowledge newspapers are wheezing on their deathbeds. But before you pronounce the last rites, take a gander at The New York Times special report on how the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was barely saved from a massive fire.

The special report is a combination of journalistic storytelling, eye-popping imagery and informative animation. You really forget you are viewing a “newspaper” as you scan spectacular photography of the fire and learn through animation how close the roof came to collapsing. There are even artistic scenes from a firefighter’s notebook that would make Leonardo DaVinci applaud. 

And it’s all in a newspaper.

Granted, The New York Times isn’t just a garden-variety newspaper. But it does produce daily editions in print that land on people’s doorstep, including mine, just like hundreds of other daily newspapers around the nation. The Times has grander resources than virtually any other American newspaper, but it doesn’t have a monopoly on imagination.

The digital revolution may make the printed page obsolete, but that doesn’t have to extend to the concept of newspapering. The digital page can extend the reach of a physical page and is bounded only by the limits of ingenuity.

Having worked for small daily newspapers, I understand the sense of limitation that can exist in newsrooms. But just as small dailies innovated with offset and color printing, so can newspapers of any size innovate with new digital tools. 

The Columbia River Estuary is a complex eco-system that supports fisheries, marine transportation and local economies. It would be a perfect subject for a digital storytelling project undertaken collaboratively by local newspapers from Astoria to Portland.

The Columbia River Estuary is a complex eco-system that supports fisheries, marine transportation and local economies. It would be a perfect subject for a digital storytelling project undertaken collaboratively by local newspapers from Astoria to Portland.

While working for The Daily Astorian, we covered stories about the Columbia River estuary, a sprawling and highly sensitive ecosystem that extends from the mouth of the river all the way upriver to Bonneville Dam. In retrospect, we wrote stories about the estuary in segments – fisheries, marine transportation, pollution from runoff and recreation. We presented great photography in full-page spreads, but never connected the dots. Frankly, we didn’t think about it.

If I was in my same job today as then, I would propose to the daily newspapers in Longview, Vancouver and Portland a collaborative project that would tell the complete and coordinated story of the estuary of one of America’s most important and seminal rivers. The story could live online as well as on print. It would be an ongoing story that charts changes in the river and the evolution of issues affecting the river and its constituents.

Without websites and digital tools that perform on laptop computers, telling the rich story of the Columbia River estuary would be hard to imagine. With those tools, the story could be told with a wealth of visual imagery that brings text and statistics to life – and to kitchen tables, coffee shops and school classrooms.

Newspapers are undergoing existential change as they struggle to monetize digital platforms and content. Subscribers who want local coverage will also want quality content. The Times special report on Notre Dame Cathedral points the way for presenting significant content in a compelling fashion.

To carry off this sophisticated level of presentation will require different skills than my staff and I had at The Daily Astorian in the 1970s. But many journalists today are digital natives who interact and think differently about content acquisition. Challenges that my age-cohorts would view as insurmountable may only be road-bumps for the new generation of journalists.

This form of deep-information storytelling fits well with “solutions journalism” by offering more than a superficial, fragmented and intermittent picture of serious topics. Readers/viewers will appreciate and benefit from the effort. They may not get the same small-town thrill as reading the police log to see if their neighbor was arrested as a peeping Tom. However, they will be able to engage – at their convenience – with a story with informational depth, visual reinforcement and entertainment value.

As The Times reportage demonstrates, you don’t have to know Paris, French culture or Catholic history to be enthralled with the story about how an iconic building nearly collapsed because a newly hired security guard went to the wrong building and courageous firemen took a risk to save the building and its invaluable treasures. The only thing missing was Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code.

The future for newspapers – and perhaps for public affairs – will be in telling complex stories – and perhaps some little understood common stories – with some digital flair that marries a visual world of storytelling with newspaper reporting integrity. You can’t get that reliably on social media or cable news. You could get that kind of storytelling from a reimagined version of local newspapering.

Don’t forget, the Times special report was fundamentally about a fire and the skill of firemen, which exist in every city large enough to have a newspaper.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Aloha Lessons on a Hawaiian Beach

You can learn a lot relaxing on a Hawaiian beach and reflecting on beach scenes that are parables for making better and smarter decisions.

You can learn a lot relaxing on a Hawaiian beach and reflecting on beach scenes that are parables for making better and smarter decisions.

Hanging out on Hawaiian beaches is refreshing and reflective. It offers moments to escape what you do every day – and to think about how you could do what you do even better. It provides what Hawaiians would call aloha lessons.

It turns out, beach scenes are parables. Paddle boarders who always look down to avoid falling miss the point of paddle boarding. Swimmers without suntan lotion are doomed to burn. Standing on coral rock will ruin the coral and cut your feet as a reward. 

***

 Personally, I don’t go out on paddle boards. If I did, I would want to see more than the paddle board and my feet. Based on my observations, first-time or timid paddle boarders get so focused on not falling, they forget why they are paddle boarding. They may only glimpse their scenic surroundings and totally miss an oncoming wave or a shark circling under them.

From my beachside vantage point, I reflected that fear of failure, like staring at your feet on a paddle board, can be a blinding obstacle to knowledge, friendship and success. You need to look up to learn, forge friendships and achieve success.

In public affairs, you need a heads-up attitude to spot solutions instead of always looking down at the problems that beset you. Curiosity, openness to fresh thinking and shamelessness to borrow successful ideas are heads-up behaviors that can save the day, even if you fall off your paddle board a few times.

*** 

Ignoring sound advice can burn you – on the beach and in the court of public opinion – can make you red in the face, not to mention other places. 

Sunburns are uncomfortable because of the pain and, to a greater extent, the embarrassment. Unless you are a tiny child, you know better. The sunburn, the agony and the humiliation are all avoidable. 

You can reduce your exposure to red-faced embarrassment by paying attention to credible warning signs and accepting wise counsel with courtesy and even some humility. You are never too old to learn.

While submerging yourself in the water won’t necessarily prevent sunburn, a professional style that immerses yourself in a wide range of diverse views with an open mind may prevent gaps in your thinking and flaws in your decision-making.

***

Knowing something is foolish and doing it anyway – like standing on a coral reef – is irresponsibly destructive and deserves more than a sliced-up foot. Coral reefs are underwater eco-gardens to view and protect, not trounce. 

Foolish things are often done rashly, without thinking. For snorkelers, standing on a reef can be a grandstand for viewing a brightly colored school of fish or finding “high ground” to steer clear of a moray eel. 

Anyone can by guilty of rash behavior, such as over-reacting to an unpleasant event, perceived slight or boorish insult. However, a cooler head takes the time to assess the moment and the consequences of acting. Sometimes, immediate action is appropriate and necessary; other times, it’s not. 

One of the most important lessons taught by experience is the self-confidence to weigh decisions before lurching into action. Some may call this indecision. But wading through the excitement to see the core issue involved can make the course of action much clearer. And you can avoid standing on that coral reef and cutting yourself in the foot.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Turning the Complex into Something Simple and Engaging

Opponents of projects, initiatives and ideas use “complexity” as a stiletto to undercut solid arguments. Advocates need to fight back by making the complex seem simple through techniques such as familiar forms, effective packaging and engaging visuals. A little humor helps, too.

Opponents of projects, initiatives and ideas use “complexity” as a stiletto to undercut solid arguments. Advocates need to fight back by making the complex seem simple through techniques such as familiar forms, effective packaging and engaging visuals. A little humor helps, too.

Explaining complex ideas can benefit by breaking down the subject into pieces and adding a little entertainment value. A reporter for The Guardian explained a green lifestyle with a daily schedule and some cheeky examples.

In her “24-hour guide to going green,” Georgina Lawton offers ideas for boosting your environmental cred. Her ideas span the spectrum from useful to wonky to yucky.

Useful ideas include installing an aerating shower head, biking to work, using environmentally friendly office supplies, choosing biodegradable bathroom products and microwaving food.

Wonky ideas including investing in a bamboo toothbrush, switching to an internet provider that relies 100 percent on renewable energy, buying an energy-efficient game console, avoiding products in plastic containers and sleeping on bamboo-fiber bed sheets.

Yucky ideas include borrowing your wardrobe, avoiding a flush with anything not biodegradable and feeding your dog insects.

All told, Lawton’s clever piece tells a story about climate crisis in a familiar format, with personalized details and a few touches of humor, like feeding your dog insects (she actually was recommending a dog food made from insects). The eyeball-grabber image was a bulldog with a caterpillar on its nose.

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Few people are likely to follow the regimen Lawton laid out or starting planting bamboo in their backyard, but that’s not the point. Her narrative, backed up by some relevant statistics, is intended to show how small steps can make a sustainable difference.

Actual or alleged complexity can be a project killer. Opponents wield “complexity” like a stiletto, slashing at well-conceived arguments, informative charts and third-party validation. Calling something the opposite of simple can be devastating.

One antidote to this project poison is making the complex seem simple. Lawton achieved simplicity with a daily schedule, something familiar to most people, whether they use them or not. She added a few pinches of humor to make her story go down easy.

The daily schedule was doubly advantageous because of how it packaged her information into bite-size pieces, as opposed to long, dry paragraphs of text, and tucked in statistics noticeably, but unobtrusively here and there.

Finally, she adorned her packaging with clever headlines – 8 am: feed your dog insects; 3 pm: take a guilt-free loo break; 4 pm: save some tress with your search engine.

And who can forget the Winston Churchill-lookalike bulldog, with a slanted jaw and a caterpillar resting on his nose?

Lawton’s techniques – simplicity, humor, packaging, clever phrasing, eye-grabbing images and savvy use of statistics – are transferable to public affairs campaigns charged with advocating for complex ideas, projects or legislation. These techniques are the best defense against opponents who seek to confuse decision-makers or a target audience by bemoaning “complexity,” often because they lack any real, substantive arguments.

Advocating for a complex project is a heavy lift. You can make it easier by making it simpler, engaging and easier to grasp. Your intended audience will welcome such advocacy. Your opponents will hate it. What could be better than that.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Spotting and Calling Out Big Piles of BS

Misinformation abounds and now there is a class and a Twitter feed aimed at combatting all-pervasive bullshit based on misleading statistics and data.

Misinformation abounds and now there is a class and a Twitter feed aimed at combatting all-pervasive bullshit based on misleading statistics and data.

Misinformation is everywhere. Wary citizens aren’t sure how to combat the misinformation surrounding them. Now there is a class for that.

University of Washington professors Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West have created a course titled “Calling Bullshit” that is designed to identify and call out misinformation “cloaked in data and figures.” For those unable to enroll in college, you can check out @Callin_bull account on Twitter, where you can find videos of course lectures and examples of revealed bullshit.

The core idea Bergstrom and West are pushing is critical thinking, which seems as rare at times as misinformation is abundant. They offer clues for non-mathematicians on how to detect fraudulent and misleading “information,” such as checking sources, looking for logical coherence and testing statistical relevance. The same techniques that require careful scrutiny apply to detecting fake videos.

Their college course has snagged the attention of at least 70 universities that have asked to borrow course materials. Bergstrom, who is a computational biologist, and West, a former graduate student of Bergstrom’s, are working on a public version of the course. “We wanted to show our students that you don’t need a master’s degree in statistics or computer science to call bullshit,” Bergstrom told The Washington Post.

Misinformation can tarnish reputations, slant arguments and influence public opinion. Public affairs professionals need to go to school to learn how to spot, call out and combat BS.

Misinformation can tarnish reputations, slant arguments and influence public opinion. Public affairs professionals need to go to school to learn how to spot, call out and combat BS.

Research indicates the group most likely to be fooled by and share fake news are older adults over 65 who align as political conservatives. 

Bergstrom and West honed their skills of spotting misinformation by reading professional papers and sniffing out statistical flaws and illogic. They realized misinformation – especially when propelled by social media echo chambers, created with artificial intelligence and carried on websites dedicated to conspiracy theories – is a far larger problem. Careless academic research is one thing; intentional efforts to mislead to sell products, push a political candidate or defame someone by deception is quite another.

They aren’t the first crusaders against bullshit, noted Post science writer Ben Guarino. “Journalist Darrell Huff wrote ‘How to Lie With Statistics in 1954. Astronomer Carl Sagan published “The Demon-Haunted World” in 1995, in which he offered to readers a ‘baloney detection kit.’”

In his story, Guarino includes a practical example of how an anti-BS examination works and the results it can produce. A Bates College student challenged claims that Lewiston, Maine’s second largest city with a high percentage of Somali refugees, was “dangerous.”

Using crime statistics provided by Lewiston police, the student generated graphs showing that Lewiston’s crime rate between 1985 and 2017 had actually declined. More than 20 other cities in Maine, she showed, had higher crime rates.

Her findings, which she printed on fliers that were distributed, surprised many in Lewiston, a town that saw its mayor resign after his racists text messages were leaked. Local police asked for a copy of the flier, recognizing a lower crime rate was an unacknowledged compliment for their work.

West called it a “thoughtful correction,” but also an instructive guide on how to combat misinformation, whether intentional, inadvertent, malicious or simply sloppy.

 

 

Fake Videos Are a Reality, Not Just a Threat

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a high-profile victim of altered video intended to embarrass her for slurring her speech as if drunk. The technology for doctoring photos and videos has become commonplace, but the tools and techniques to detect and defend against visual forgeries is not as widespread. It should be.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a high-profile victim of altered video intended to embarrass her for slurring her speech as if drunk. The technology for doctoring photos and videos has become commonplace, but the tools and techniques to detect and defend against visual forgeries is not as widespread. It should be.

The threat of fake or doctored videos is officially no longer a threat, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can attest. The doctored videos of her that surfaced last week weren’t the first time detractors manicured video content to embarrass her.

While the doctored videos of Pelosi were spotted and outed quickly, it is fair to say that the technical ability to create deepfake videos is far ahead of the practical ability to spot them. Experts say virtually anyone with a laptop could have doctored the Pelosi videos.

Even when fake or doctored videos are outed, they still can circulate widely on social media, in some cases with a push from influencers – or a President of the United States. The fake video of Pelosi has been viewed millions of times on Facebook. 

As we noted in an August 2017 Managing Issues blog, desktop technology exists to edit video and audio to make anyone say almost anything. In the Pelosi video, her natural speech pattern was distorted so she sounded drunk.

If fake videos were just the innocent stuff of parties or a good-natured roast, we could just sit back and laugh. Unfortunately, they aren’t just for fun. They are weapons to destroy a reputation or cut down a political opponent. In the partisan silos of today’s news media, fake videos can quickly become “fact.”

Circulation of political fake videos is calculated. Trump likes them because they share well with his aging political base. They also are red meat opportunities for Fox News personalities such as Sean Hannity, who frequently airs them. Some fake video creators defend their handiwork as “entertainment” that engages people who otherwise would shy away from politics.

High-profile individuals, corporations or politicians can’t ignore the need for 24/7 media monitoring. If there ever was a doubt, the specter of fake videos should squelch any hesitation. The task of media monitoring is no longer as simple as having someone read newspapers and clip relevant articles. Media monitoring now spans online news, social media, blogs, message boards, video channels, broadcast TV, radio and print – not just in the United States, but also internationally.  There are ample commercial choices that can provide some or all media monitoring.

Forensic tools exist to spot doctored photographs and videos. The Global Investigative Journalism Network posted this  tutorial  on techniques and tools to ferret out fake visuals, manipulated data, twisted facts and out-of-context information.

Forensic tools exist to spot doctored photographs and videos. The Global Investigative Journalism Network posted this tutorial on techniques and tools to ferret out fake visuals, manipulated data, twisted facts and out-of-context information.

Being aware of coverage that affects you isn’t enough when it comes to video content. You or someone on your behalf needs to view it forensically to ensure the video is authentic and editing is contextually accurate and fair. This can be complicated that goes far beyond detecting a jump cut in a TV interview. In anticipation of an altered video scenario, you should add a new section to your crisis plan that identifies media monitoring options, go-to resources and potential responses. 

Upon detecting a fake or doctored video, you need a capability to address it and its fallout. Unfortunately, you can’t simply raise your hand and call foul. Depending on the seriousness of the fake video content, you may need to mount an aggressive response. 

An aggressive response should include:

  • Third-party verification that a video is fake or doctored.

  • The source video that is altered.

  • Identification of the responsible party who doctored the video, if known.

  • Calling out websites or channels that are promoting the fake video.

Political figures have little protection from slander, but they can ask surrogates and supporters to out the fakery and its malign motivation. Their communications staff can request traditional and mainstream media to write editorials or accept op-eds that condemn such political tactics. In Pelosi’s case, Facebook refused to ban the fake video of her. Twitter continued to allow it to be shared. YouTube said the fake video violated its standard of ethics. A spliced video of Joe Biden’s apology about inappropriate touching of women took just 19 hours to go from its originator’s keyboard to the Trump Twitter account. 

Individuals and business leaders enjoy a little more legal protection from slander and can pursue legal remedies to have the fake video content taken down from its origin and a public statement admitting it was doctored. An apology would be nice, too.

Be aware that political or business figures willing to commission and post visual forgeries like to play rough and loose with the rules of fair play, including passing the blame on who is responsible. Responding in kind is a fool’s errand. But exposing such dirty tricks and affixing blame is perfectly fair – and smart if you have facts down cold.

Pelosi chose to shrug off the video and Trump’s reference to it. This wasn’t a strategic, not casual decision by Pelosi’s camp. She has accused Trump of self-impeachment, a coverup and in need of a staff intervention. Pelosi’s needling led Trump to call her “Crazy Nancy” based on “slurred words” in the fake video. Pelosi scored points with her political base and her fractious House Democratic caucus on both counts.

Whether a fake video response is frontal or subtle, a clear-eyed decision is required on how and when to respond. No response isn’t an option. It’s just like a trademark – you have to monitor and defend it against infringement or see your trademark devalued.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

 

Gritty Positivity Adds Social Fabric to Public Affairs Strategies

Columnist David Brooks deplores the lack of media coverage for gritty, raw and authentic stories about healing and community-building. The same is true about public affairs strategies that can be heavy on stats and ponderous on claims, but light on grit and authenticity.

Columnist David Brooks deplores the lack of media coverage for gritty, raw and authentic stories about healing and community-building. The same is true about public affairs strategies that can be heavy on stats and ponderous on claims, but light on grit and authenticity.

News media consumers don’t have to look very far for bad or frightening stories. They have a harder time finding uplifting stories about people helping other people.

“Many of our colleagues don’t define local social repair and community-building as news. It seems too goody-goody, too ‘worthy,’ too sincere. It won’t attract eyeballs,” says David Brooks in his latest column in The New York Times. Brooks thinks that’s wrong-headed.

After attending a #WeaveThePeople conference in Washington, DC, Brooks encountered what he described as “some of the most compelling people I’ve ever met.” A former prison inmate who connects community members to health care services. A Texas man who assists people with spinal cord injuries. A former Army Ranger who suffered from PTSD, but now builds communities for veterans.

“Why don’t we cover these people more?” Brooks asks. Their stories are “emotionally gripping” and demonstrate how to turn vulnerability into action. Many of the stories, Brooks admits, “was uncomfortable and searing, but the discomfort broke through barriers and moved us closer.”

The stories have substance and include “acute observations” about how to heal, build community and win trust. Brooks believes readers would devour and value such stories, if they were told.

The Weaver movement is repairing our country’s social fabric, which is badly frayed by distrust, division and exclusion. People are quietly working across America to end loneliness and isolation and weave inclusive communities. Join us in shifting our culture from hyper-individualism that is all about personal success, to relationalism that puts relationships at the center of our lives.

The Weaver movement is repairing our country’s social fabric, which is badly frayed by distrust, division and exclusion. People are quietly working across America to end loneliness and isolation and weave inclusive communities. Join us in shifting our culture from hyper-individualism that is all about personal success, to relationalism that puts relationships at the center of our lives.

“Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out that associational life is the central feature of American life,” Brooks says. “Somehow we in the media under-cover this sector. We barely cover the most important social change agents. These people are not goody-goody. They are raw, honest and sometimes rude.”

Brooks’ observation rings true in a wider circle than the news media. In public affairs, the stories that are told are more often just sterile, emotionless arguments coupled with slick slideshows. They can be true, even persuasive, but not compelling. They make a point, but don’t always talk about making a difference that matters to a community. They touch the surface, not the core.

“How did we in our business get in the spot where we spend 90 percent of our coverage on the 10 percent of our lives influenced by politics and 10 percent of our coverage on the 90 percent of our lives influenced by relationship, community and the places we live in every day?” wonders Brooks.

The same question should be asked of public affairs communications, with too much verbiage about process, too much focus on “benefits,” too much hype, too little empathy and almost no grit or social fabric. 

Communities are unmoved by statistics, predictions and promises. They would more likely be impressed by tangible actions; promises made and kept; and raw, if uncomfortable, candor.

As weavers that Brooks encountered said, “Neighbors are people we practice doing life with” and “relationships move at the speed of trust.” Public affairs strategies should increase their focus on neighbors, relationships and trust, so they can tell stories that are authentic, believable and inspiring.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

 

Saying Everything Versus Saying Something Memorable

A TV interview is not a seminar or improv theater. TV interviews demand discipline to make your main point as clearly and unmistakably as possible, preferably with words or a phrase that reporters will capture and audiences will remember.

A TV interview is not a seminar or improv theater. TV interviews demand discipline to make your main point as clearly and unmistakably as possible, preferably with words or a phrase that reporters will capture and audiences will remember.

The assignment: Deliver your key message in a TV interview. The tactic: Spill your guts or say one thing that listeners will remember?

The right answer is both obvious and elusive. Sure, you want listeners to remember your golden nugget of a thought. But, hey, don’t they need to know all this other stuff to understand why the golden nugget is, well, golden?

No, they don’t. 

What encyclopedic speakers fail to realize – or accept – is that while they have spent years, maybe decades, learning their subjects, their listeners will interact with the topic in a mere matter of seconds. Listeners are thinking about their jobs, what their kids are doing, the bills they need to pay and the lawn that needs to be mowed. Your key message for them is more big intrusion than big thought. If you want what you say to stick, you better apply some verbal glue.

In the legislative world, witnesses at public hearings are wise to abide by the axiom that the longer you talk, the fewer votes you are likely to get. Committee chairs want solid testimony. They also want testimony that sticks to core facts, avoids wandering into the weeds and wraps up in a timely way.

It is good advice in virtually every public setting, especially TV interviews, which are all about sound bites, not academic seminars. Spokespersons are like actors whose job is to perform, giving voice to rehearsed lines, not to expound or improvise.

A quote in a TV story can last 10 to 12 seconds. Your 10 to 12 seconds can sound like mush or it can be pointed and clear. Even better if it’s pointed, clear and memorable.

No question, it is much harder to craft a key message that conveys your meaning and resonates in the ear of an audience than to speak off the cuff in front of a camera. Experts who wing their comments frequently complain that reporters miss their main point. No big surprise. When you are forced to drink out of fire hose, it is hard to savor the refreshment. 

Even if spokespersons sparkle in brief, ear-worthy opening comments, they can blow it by over-answering questions instead of delivering crisp answers. Long-winded, ill-focused answers can sound pretentious, condescending and, worst of all, evasive. That’s true for most TV interviews, and certainly true for every TV interview amid a communications crisis.

If you want to excel at interviews, for TV, print or online, do yourself a favor. Spending time thinking what you want to say, polish how you say it and practice to master what you’ve crafted. Making your comments short and punchy is much harder than free-wheeling stream of consciousness. The effort is worth it when you make your point, the reporter includes it in her story and the audience hears and remembers what you said.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

The Chemistry of Turning Failure into Success

Failure isn’t the opposite of success. Failure is often the guiding light to success, including in public affairs. There rarely is a straight path from A to B. There are often ditches, detours and dead-ends. It takes self-confidence to weather failure and reach success.

Failure isn’t the opposite of success. Failure is often the guiding light to success, including in public affairs. There rarely is a straight path from A to B. There are often ditches, detours and dead-ends. It takes self-confidence to weather failure and reach success.

Failure doesn’t make someone a loser, but history shows failure can lead to success. Exactly what is the chemistry that converts an ounce of failure into a pound of success?

The scientific method regards failed experiments as useful because they eliminate one path and invite pursuit of alternatives. Failure is less a roadblock than a detour sign. Thomas Edison summed it up, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Some failures produce unexpected success, such as the discovery of an unintended use of a substance or process. Some of the most gainful inventions were actually accidental successes. Google Post-It notes for a good example.

The attitude of people toward failure can be a huge factor. Some see failure as the end. Others view failure as the beginning. Or, as Winston Churchill noted, “success is stumbling from failure to failure.”

Stumbling from failure to failure isn’t exactly an inviting prospect, especially in a field such as public affairs. Clients expect public affairs professionals to “fix” their public issues, not fumble them. 

A large part of the chemistry to turn failure into success is mental attitude, including the self-confidence to accept failure as merely a detour on the road to success.

A large part of the chemistry to turn failure into success is mental attitude, including the self-confidence to accept failure as merely a detour on the road to success.

Failing to fix a client’s problem can be humiliating and demoralizing for public affairs professionals, who pitch clients on the prospect of victory, not consolation prizes. Good public affairs professionals win more than they lose, but everyone loses sometimes.

The image of a public affairs professional as a “fixer” isn’t useful – or usually accurate. Yes, public affairs professionals, if they are worth their fee, have relevant experience, good contacts and a huge dose of savvy. If they really know what they are doing, they will focus their attention on what they don’t know before spinning out a strategy.

In this sense, the discipline of public affairs is a lot like a scientific experiment. You need to test your hypothesis and let the results guide your actions. Testing the waters might take the form of talking with trusted sources, closely reading media coverage, consulting with legal experts or conducting research, often via one-on-one interviews. 

A client may have a clear understanding of his or her public problem. The public affairs professional’s responsibility is to develop a clear direction to address that problem. The solutions to most public affairs challenges aren’t as simple as stepping from A to B. The chance for strategic missteps or detours is high. Failure at one turn can’t be construed as total disaster. Sometimes a failure is the light post to the pathway to success.

That suggests the chemistry for converting failure to success depends a lot on mental attitude – curiosity instead of bravado, flexibility instead of rigidity, honesty instead of spin, self-confidence instead of over-confidence. The right chemistry also requires an underlying optimism that success is achievable and the resiliency to keep searching for the road to success amid failure. Albert Einstein’s well-known words are apt, “You never fail until you stop trying.”

Success for a public affairs professional is seldom a hero’s walk. More often, success involves deep questioning, a realistic objective, a strategic plan and thoughtful execution of that plan – with eyes wide open for ditches, dead-ends and detours that require a modified route. Patience is a virtue. 

The chemistry of success boils down to self-confidence in finding a way that works, regardless of how many twists and turns it might take.  Getting to success doesn’t have to be smooth, simple or pretty. You just have to keep trying to get there.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

How Simplicity Teams with Creativity for Public Affairs Results

For many it is hard to accept that subtracting details can result in greater results, but that’s the reality of how simplicity teams with creativity to produce easy-to-grasp, compelling storytelling. It even works in the field of public affairs.

For many it is hard to accept that subtracting details can result in greater results, but that’s the reality of how simplicity teams with creativity to produce easy-to-grasp, compelling storytelling. It even works in the field of public affairs.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then simplicity is the father of creativity. That’s certainly true in the world of public affairs.

Creativity through simplicity in public affairs is not an exercise in dumbing down a subject. It involves the thoughtful reduction of details to reach the essence of a subject so it is instantly recognizable and compelling. The end result may be a creative argument, snappy catch-phrase, strategic plan or clever solution to a vexing problem. The result also could be as basic as unraveling the “complexity” manufactured as a smokescreen by opponents.

Representing industrial energy customers several years back, I and others lobbied for an admittedly complex measure to allow manufacturers that use large amounts of electricity to purchase energy from a non-utility provider. Utility opponents managed to scuttle the legislation by calling it too complex.

Advocacy Piece with Bills Numbers.jpg

When we brought back the bill in the next legislative session, we did two critical things – we simplified how the bill was written and we replaced our fact sheets with a flipchart. We began every meeting with a legislator by saying, “This issue is not really complex. Let us show you why.”

The flipchart walked through how electricity is distributed, explained why large industrial customers were often electricity generators and outlined the specific provisions of the bill. The debate shifted from complicated, confusing details to the merits of the legislation’s key provisions, which included investments in energy conservation and efficiency. The bill passed easily with strong bipartisan support. 

Infographics are a perfect example of simplicity and creativity working in tandem. The first infographic shows the effect of three pieces of legislation on a wine bottle label. The second debunks the idea that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. Both convey a lot of information in a small amount of visual real estate, leaving no doubt about their key messages.

Infographics are a perfect example of simplicity and creativity working in tandem. The first infographic shows the effect of three pieces of legislation on a wine bottle label. The second debunks the idea that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. Both convey a lot of information in a small amount of visual real estate, leaving no doubt about their key messages.

Conventional wisdom may reject the notion that subtraction is creative. Clients usually want ‘more’ options, more details, more justification rather than ‘less’ complication and confusion. They want to throw mud against the wall to see what sticks. They can’t conceive that simplicity is the creative key to unlock understanding.

The phrase “making ideas take shape” is uncannily on point to describe the path from simplicity to creativity. The “shape” can be an image, a chart or a well-turned phrase, but it has a readily accessible form, something familiar that human brains can digest and file away.

Infographics have earned popularity by saying a lot simply and visually. They can illustrate a key point, sequentially walk a viewer through an issue or show how something works. This “show me” approach to information-sharing is a perfect example of creative simplicity. 

People have complex mental capacities, but they absorb information in relatively simple, elemental ways. Conveying information in an elemental form improves the odds that the intended audience will receive and bank your message.

Creativity can be clever. However, just as often creativity is useful and practical. By focusing on the one thing that is most important, we uncomplicate a subject for an audience. The ability to simplify eliminates the unnecessary so the necessary has space to speak. You create clarity out of chaos.

Your best creative tool is curiosity. Do more than see what is going on around you. Observe it carefully and learn how the simplest things can convey rich meaning creatively. Making something complex seem simple takes hard work. You better get started.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Clever Phrases Woo the Ear, Stick in the Brain

‘Just Do It’ is the iconic slogan for Nike. Clever phrases are common in marketing, but less so in public affairs where they could help simplify complex issues with words that woo the ear and stick in the brain.

‘Just Do It’ is the iconic slogan for Nike. Clever phrases are common in marketing, but less so in public affairs where they could help simplify complex issues with words that woo the ear and stick in the brain.

Word JazzThe Curse of CashLord of the Flies. Each of these catchy titles evokes a mental picture by wooing the ear.

Through startling juxtaposition, clever alliteration and logical incongruity, these titles have become earworms that reinforce the resonating power of carefully crafted phrasing.

While we live in a visual world where visual communications dominate, clever phrases still have a place in earning valuable mindshare with target audiences. Nike has the swoosh, but is defined by its catchphrase, “Just Do It.” KFC says all you need to know about what it serves with its tagline “finger lickin’ good.” Taco Bell’s invitation to try something different is summed up with “Think outside the bun.” 

Brand marketers definitely appreciate the value of clever phrases, but strangely public affairs professionals have been slower to embrace them. In truth, it is no harder – or easier – to simplify a complex public issue than it is to project an image of a brand personality.

The Willamette Valley Wineries Association is asking the 2019 Oregon legislature to approve a suite of three bills that deal with wine labeling. Like most legislative issues, there are lots of details. But to capture the reputational importance of the legislation, WVWA says, “What’s on the label should match what’s in the bottle.” Simple. Direct. Unarguable.

Clean Water Services has earned awareness for its advanced water purification technologies through its clever Pure Water Brew Challenge that invites brewers to create tasty beers literally from bath water.

Clean Water Services has earned awareness for its advanced water purification technologies through its clever Pure Water Brew Challenge that invites brewers to create tasty beers literally from bath water.

Clean Water Services sponsors the Pure Water Brew Challenge to highlight its water purification technology – and remind people of the value of water re-use. The idea has caught on as water agencies in other states are staging similar bathroom-to-beer fests. 

The Oregon State Treasury wanted a name and tagline that instantly described its new state-sponsored retirement savings program for workers whose employers don’t offer a plan. Treasury’s PR team came up with “OregonSaves” and the tagline “Work hard. Save easy,” which conveys the convenience of saving for retirement through automatic payroll deductions. 

This isn’t glibness for glibness’ sake. Clever phrases do a favor for target audiences by condensing meaning to a memorable few words – an earworm that wiggles deeper into their brains. More important, an ear-worthy description of a measure is the best defense against opponents who will try to smudge up the situation.

Voice talent extraordinaire Ken Nordine, who died last week, created the phrase “Word Jazz” for his 1957 album of beat poetry and then turned it into a defining title for a radio program that lasted for 40 years. The phrase accurately described his legendary voice, which included coaching Linda Blair for “The Exorcist,” the Grateful Dead and David Bowie. Word jazz emerged as more than a title and has become an emblem for a kind of evocative speech. The phrase is too rich to die. 

The Curse of Cash” author Kenneth Rogoff used his provocative title to entice readers to consider why large-denomination bills cause more trouble than benefit. Bills larger than $100, he says, are more likely to be used in drug deals and tax evasion than everyday commerce. Rogoff’s title piggybacks on the common phrase “cash is king.”

Sometimes clever phrases pop into mind, seemingly out of nowhere. More often, they are the product of hard thinking, creative collaboration and trial and error. [Nike’s slogan grew out of a brainstorming session and was a takeoff on the last words of a convicted murderer.] Whatever the route, clever phrases can mean the difference between wowing an audience and making an audience yawn.

A clever phrase isn’t a substitute for a good idea or a worthy cause. However, a clever phrase is an effective tool to plant that good idea or worthy cause into people’s consciousness. The clever phrase can produce a shared understanding and respect for an idea or cause. The clever phrase can serve as a call to action, turning a listener into an advocate. The clever phrase, as the saying goes, can “win the day.”

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Accidents Can Be Eye-Popping Moments of Discovery

No one roots for accidents, even though they sometimes can be moments of discovery, such as when a curious engineer walked through a radar test room and noticed something made a chocolate bar melt in his pants. Public affairs professionals should be equally as open to the accidental enlightenment of a melting chocolate bar in their pants.

No one roots for accidents, even though they sometimes can be moments of discovery, such as when a curious engineer walked through a radar test room and noticed something made a chocolate bar melt in his pants. Public affairs professionals should be equally as open to the accidental enlightenment of a melting chocolate bar in their pants.

Accidents have a deservedly bad reputation. However, some accidents turn into brilliant discoveries. That’s as true in public affairs as in business.

The list of accidental discoveries is impressive – and telling. The microwave oven, super glue, Teflon, Velcro, pacemakers, X-rays and glasses for the color blind. They are the byproducts of experimentation, curiosity, observation, failure and chance. 

The inventor of the microwave oven made his serendipitous discovery in 1946 when walking through a radar test room and noticed a chocolate bar melting in his pants. Curious, he aimed a magnetron at kernels of corn that popped and an egg that cooked almost instantly. Public affairs professionals should pay attention when an event, message or spokesperson causes a chocolate bar to melt in their pants.

Competent public affairs plans rely on credible research that provides a clear window into how a target audience views a topic or project. However, even the most well-conceived plans can have gaps or encounter unanticipated circumstances. Accidents happen. When they do, spend less time freaking out and more time assessing whether the accident revealed useful information or guidance.

A big problem with public involvement efforts is the overweening desire to exercise control. As a result, they have more to do with delivering a scripted performance than discovering fresh, unnoticed perspectives. Tightly controlling public engagement may avoid accidents. It also may miss out on accidental knowledge.

Take for example a public engagement effort to explain the purpose, dimensions and timeline of a major construction project that will disrupt local businesses, create neighborhood noise and affect school bus routes. A large group meeting, no matter how well orchestrated with explanatory posters, is almost certain to draw criticism – and negative media attention.

Seeking out neighborhood leaders in advance to ask them for their ideas on how to mitigate the project’s impact could produce “accidental” ideas, such as creating a new community park as “compensation” for the disruption or maintaining safe zones for school buses and schoolchildren. Yes, ideas like that would up the cost of the project, but they also could cool down the neighborhood outcry.

The type of research used to design a public affairs plan can anticipate “accidental” findings. Telephone surveys will produce quantitatively reliable findings. Interactive online engagement, on the other hand, will produce a wider range of comments – some not-so-helpful, a few incredibly insightful and one or two with specific, actionable suggestions.

One of the most useful train wrecks in public affairs is to meet face-to-face with critics. Not only is it disarming, such personal contact with what your opposition thinks can bend your own thinking. They may have viewpoints you never considered or give as much weight as they deserved. Such “accidental” discovery early in a public affairs process gives you a distinct advantage in coming up with convincing counter-arguments or modifying your proposal to accommodate opposition concerns.

The point: Be open to accidents. They aren’t always failures. They can be eye-popping moments that lead to improved projects, happier neighbors and satisfying consensus. 

Don’t let that melting chocolate bar in your pants go to waste.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

The Time Has Come for Video Op-eds

Bill Gates explains his idea for a clean energy “moonshot” in an extended video op-ed posted online by The New York Times. Video op-eds are emerging as one of the best ways to convey an unfiltered message that people will view and share.

Bill Gates explains his idea for a clean energy “moonshot” in an extended video op-ed posted online by The New York Times. Video op-eds are emerging as one of the best ways to convey an unfiltered message that people will view and share.

Video op-eds may be an idea whose time has come.

Op-eds are a tried-and-true way to convey an unfiltered message in news columns. However, with shrinking editorial pages and newspaper readership, the op-ed has diminished in value. Getting an op-ed published is still valuable, but mostly as a source of solid content to share on social media. 

If social media is the ultimate target for an op-ed, then social media rules should apply. The number one social media rule to obey is video gains more eyeball contact than text.

For traditionalists, this trend may appear as an aggravation. It’s actually an opportunity.

Op-eds published in newspapers or other print outlets are one dimensional. There is a catchy headline and 500 words to make your point. In a video op-ed, there are many more flexible options.

In its simplest form, a video op-ed can consist of the op-ed writer voicing what he or she wrote. This allows a viewer to see the person speaking and observe their expressions and body language. It permits a speaker to establish a “face-to-face” rapport with an audience and inject appropriate emotion into his or her content.

A video op-ed can capture two or three people discussing a topic, offering a mix of perspectives or even contrary points of view. A carefully edited give-and-take can be very informative, quick-paced – and highly shareable. 

Robert Reich has become a social media mainstay with his illustrated political commentaries that feature him talking to his audience while using a sharpie in the background to show his point.

Robert Reich has become a social media mainstay with his illustrated political commentaries that feature him talking to his audience while using a sharpie in the background to show his point.

Adding presentational elements to a video op-ed can be entertaining as well as informational. Robert Reich, the former Cabinet officer-turned political commentator, uses sharpies to make drawings that punctuate his commentaries.

Specifically designed for social media, Reich talks over sped-up imagery of him creating his engaging illustrations. The sketches reinforce his words, making it more likely viewers will get – and retain – his point. 

The Washington Post employs video op-eds in a wide range of forms to discuss topics such as “Grand Juries 101,” why gerrymandering could be okay if done better, a Thanksgiving message from Teddy Roosevelt and a remembrance of columnist Charles Krauthammer. The WaPo op-eds take advantage of film clips, illustrations, charts and anything visual to grab eyeballs and stimulate thought. The video op-eds live on the publication’s online newsroom, providing evergreen content that can continuously draw clicks. 

The New York Times has created an online channel for wide-ranging video op-ed contributions. Samples include Robert Redford expressing opposition to the Keystone Pipeline, Bill Gates discussing a clean energy “moonshot” and a video essay contrasting Siri with a human assistant. The video op-eds can be as short as 90 seconds up to more than six minutes in the Gates’ contribution.

In-house video production is no longer a pipe dream. Credible high-definition video can be shot with a smartphone. Video op-eds don’t represent any greater technical challenge than explanatory or training videos. 

Previous Rules of Engagement blogs have offered tips on how to conceive and execute quality video content. Like any other type of video, video op-eds require producers to zero in on the point they want to make, then think expansively about how to show it. Drop all inhibitions and let your imagination go to work. Seek professional help, if needed, to carry out your dream plan.

Public affairs can be a stodgy, change-resistant wing of public relations. If you want to reach target audiences and be relevant, contemporary tactics are essential, including video op-eds. Experiment to get your creative sea legs, but don’t hesitate to take the plunge.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Further Thoughts on Framing, Reframing and Spin

People judge information based on their beliefs as much as the facts, which amplifies the need to frame or reframe an issue to be heard beyond your own tribe and persuade someone from another tribe to consider the issue on your turf.

People judge information based on their beliefs as much as the facts, which amplifies the need to frame or reframe an issue to be heard beyond your own tribe and persuade someone from another tribe to consider the issue on your turf.

Genetics research shows the evolution of life on earth is less like a tree and more like a virus. Evolving life doesn’t sprout new branches; it swaps genes between species.

This radical notion stuns our brains. What we thought we knew is undercut by a new way of understanding. We haven’t changed, but the frame through which we see something has changed. Instead of seeing evolution as a tree, we now see it in the shape of a web.

Frames are the mental structures that shape our view of the world, according to George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist and progressive activist. In his book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant!” Lakoff argues that our frames match our values. There also is evidence that our frames mirror our beliefs. We select events and facts for our frame that confirm what we believe.

If you think illegal immigration is a scourge, you watch Fox News for stories that confirm your belief. If you think the Trump administration is corrupt, you devour Vox online stories to prove you are right.

For issue managers, this is a brave, migraine-inducing new world. Facts aren’t necessarily facts if they don’t fit within your frame. Our training to traffic in factual material with credible validation seems outdated – or at least outgunned.

The so-called post-truth era is actually the propaganda era. You don’t win with facts; you win with spin. A key to spinning is how you frame an issue. However, framing isn’t just about spinning; framing also is an essential way to break through the fog of people’s beliefs.

George Lakoff is a cognitive linguist and considered an expert on how to frame issues to avoid being constantly on the defensive. A political progressive, Lakoff’s book, “ Don’t Think of an Elephant! ” describes how political conservatives have taken to heart the need to do the homework necessary to create persuasive issue frames.

George Lakoff is a cognitive linguist and considered an expert on how to frame issues to avoid being constantly on the defensive. A political progressive, Lakoff’s book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant!” describes how political conservatives have taken to heart the need to do the homework necessary to create persuasive issue frames.

Lakoff says how you say something is as or more important than what you say. That’s a startling statement. Lakoff’s view relies on research in the 1980s by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman that shows humans are consistently irrational, in part because of mental shortcuts that process information by sorting it according to existing frames.

This explains the frustration of rival partisans who can’t understand why their opposing counterparts don’t see things the same way as they do. They have different frames. Two people in the same house can have radically different views if one looks out the front window and the other looks out the back window.

Changing people’s minds becomes difficult because of radically different frames between the would-be persuader and his or her intended audience. We tend to argue from our moral viewpoint, which may be wholly inconsistent from the people we seek to convince.

In his book, Lakoff details how political conservatives have spent untold amounts of money over several decades to come up with powerful frames intended to solidify a political base and force opponents to debate on their turf.

Good examples are “partial-birth abortion” and “gay marriage.” Both terms were designed to shift the conversation about reproductive rights and marriage equality to frames consistent with conservative thinking. They replaced terms such as “pro-life” and “marriage is between a man and a woman.” Forcing people to defend certain kinds of abortions blocked a discussion of whether the state should overrule decisions made by women and their doctors. Employing the word “gay” before marriage was a clever way to summon up stereotypes about gay men and women.

A framing battle is warming up over the word “socialism.” Polling shows a rise among Democrats in support of socialism. Republicans scorn socialism as the opposite of capitalism. However, as Paul Krugman discusses in a series of tweets, “socialism” has become an intentional frame (or wedge) to cast suspicion on raising taxes to maintain Social Security and Medicare, or what some political conservatives call “entitlements” and Democrats refer to as the “social safety net.”

One of the better issue framers of our time is our current President. Through tweets and campaign rallies, Donald Trump creates and reinforces frames (Crooked Hillary, witch hunt, failing New York Times) that he believes give him political advantage by forcing others to rebut him. As we’ve seen, the rebuttals tend to solidify the viewpoints of his supporters. Trump’s claim that he can murder someone on the streets of New York and not lose a vote is compelling evidence he knows what he’s doing.

Those of us in the persuasion business spend time thinking how to frame issues to best advantage. We do our best work when we recognize existing frames and capitalize on them. When necessary, we try to find ways to reframe an issue so discussion can be in a more favorable mental arena.

Framing and reframing, especially on persistently contentious issues, isn’t easy or even obvious. It takes hard work. It demands understanding the moral perspective of the audience you seek to influence and creating arguments and imagery that fit within that frame.

Reframing can be as straightforward as convincing someone accustomed to looking out the front window to spend a moment looking out the back window. Same house. Same landscape. Same neighborhood. Different perspective.

Of course, it isn’t that simple. However, in the face of a bewildering public arena that stretches from backyard patios to digital clouds, simplicity can be a guiding virtue.

Keep that Tangled Tree argument of evolution in mind. People who don’t believe humans evolved from apes may be shocked into listening when you share evidence that 8 percent of human genes come from bacteria, plants and other animals and may be the key to our survival and dominance of our planet.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Digital Media’s Impact on Crisis Response

If someone asked how has digital media affected crisis response, the answer is simple: Crisis response must be immediate and center on action, not words. The only way that’s possible is to anticipate likely crisis scenarios and be prepared to respond.

If someone asked how has digital media affected crisis response, the answer is simple: Crisis response must be immediate and center on action, not words. The only way that’s possible is to anticipate likely crisis scenarios and be prepared to respond.

Digital media has disrupted traditional communications, including crisis response. The immediacy of digital media demands urgent response. The visual intimacy of digital media requires demonstrable response.

Speed and substance are the traits of an effective crisis response in the digital era. You don’t have time to dawdle and you can’t equivocate over meaningful action to address the crisis.

Before digital media, organizations had time to contemplate how to respond to a crisis, what to say and whether to engage with reporters and editors covering the crisis. Now, news of a crisis can rip across the internet before you know what to do or say or any reporter or editor writes a story. That’s why a speedy and action-centered response is imperative in the digital age.

Responding quickly is not the same as responding impulsively. Quick response is rooted in solid preparation – anticipating crisis scenarios, thinking in advance what resources would be needed in the vortex of a crisis and role-playing how you would actually respond. Good crisis plans have updated call-down lists, an identified crisis team leader and a ghost website with useful information that can be activated during a crisis.

Don’t waste time dreaming up platitudes posing as “placeholder” statements to plump up your crisis plan. Words matter much less than actions. Realistic crisis scenarios should be the foundation of a crisis plan – and, when appropriate, inspire management actions to lessen the likelihood or even prevent a crisis scenario from occurring.

As digital media has stolen the luxury of time and stripped value from words, it also has raised awareness that a crisis can befall anyone, anywhere, any time. Thanks to digital media, you may not find out about the crisis from a phone call or a dutiful coworker, but from monitoring social media after someone posts explosive video shot on a smartphone.

The evolution of digital media should send everyone scurrying to the file cabinet where their crisis plan is locked away. Pull it out, dust it off and make sure it meets the unforgiving demands of digital media. If you don’t have a crisis plan, there is no better time than now to prepare one, taking into account digital media and its implications.

For CEOs who still feel invincible and pooh-pooh crisis planning, put together a clip of corporate crises compounded by tardy and scattershot responses. That should disabuse him or her of any thought that a crisis can’t implode a reputation or sink a bottom line in the bat of an eye in digital media’s unrelenting 24/7 news cycle.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

‘Seeing with the Same Eyes in Different Heads’

Political polarization in America has reached levels not seen since the Civil War tore the country apart. Because that polarization is unlikely to dissipate any time soon, public affairs managers working on major projects, policy issues or ballot measure campaigns need to take it into account by intensifying engagement efforts with those most directly affected. [Photo Credit: Illustration/Brian Stauffer/USC Dornsife Magazine]

Political polarization in America has reached levels not seen since the Civil War tore the country apart. Because that polarization is unlikely to dissipate any time soon, public affairs managers working on major projects, policy issues or ballot measure campaigns need to take it into account by intensifying engagement efforts with those most directly affected. [Photo Credit: Illustration/Brian Stauffer/USC Dornsife Magazine]

Angry voters inhabit both sides of the political aisle, resulting in what perhaps should be the called bipolarization of the American electorate.

Pollster Frank Luntz interviewed 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats, with nearly two-thirds admitting they have stopped speaking with a friend or family member following the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump. Republican-leaning participants said it was exhausting trying to defend their vote for Trump. Democrats said they couldn’t fathom why anyone would vote for Trump.

The only unifying theme was a shared bipartisan anger at lobbyists, special interests and elected officials in Washington, DC. Even then, they didn’t agree on why they were angry.

The GOP-backed tax plan provided the perfect backdrop for exposing polarization. Republicans called it “well-deserved,” “great” and “excellent for economic growth.” Democrats called it a “lie,” “confusing” and “supporting the rich.”

Participants grew especially testy on the issue of racism. Republicans bristled at the charge they are racist or enable racism. Democrats blamed Trump for fanning the flames of “us-against-them.”

Social media has played a role in amplifying frustration, disagreement and anger. A social media strategy is critical to any effective public affairs plan.

Social media has played a role in amplifying frustration, disagreement and anger. A social media strategy is critical to any effective public affairs plan.

One of Luntz’ objectives was to see whether dialogue and consensus are still possible in our current political climate. Nearly all of the participants said it may be time to look beyond our current two-party systems to find common ground. Most also agreed to continue the Luntz-moderated conversations, even if discussion is difficult.

The tribalism reflected in the Luntz interviews isn’t limited to views about Trump, Congress and political correctness. The deep divisions his participants reflect can seep into everyday life and be a buried obstacle in the path of a major local project or consensus on a policy direction. Anger and polarization are hardly the bunkmates of consensus and compromise. Without question, many Americans are very angry, deeply frustrated and in a polarized frame of mind.

In the public affairs sphere, this reality means care should be taken to avoid letting an issue or project fall prey to political bipolarization. Complex projects have enough built-in challenges without inheriting or inviting existential ones.

There is no secret sauce to avoid polarized neighborhoods, communities or electorates. But it certainly helps if you start projects or campaigns with genuine engagement with people involved or interested in what you are proposing. Listen and respond to concerns, including on social media. Focus your comments on community benefits, and validate those benefits. Don’t let your allies become bogeymen for your opponents. Be firm in confronting misstatements and lies, but refrain from personal attacks.

One of the best lines to emerge from April as National Poetry Month is: “See through the same eyes in different heads.” A remarkable phrase that should be the North Star for public affairs efforts. Help people see a project, policy or innovation with the same eyes. Opinions can differ, but the basic facts will be clear and not in dispute. Clarity is more important than unanimity. Transparency can reduce skepticism and at least create firmament for compromise, if not consensus.

We may deplore the polarization inflicting America, but for now we need to learn to live with it.  They may mean finding new and better ways to conduct business and engage publics. They may mean conceding and respecting differences of opinion. We don’t all have to think alike to make progress.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

The Merit of Collaboration as a Winning Strategy

Collaboration is often a goal, but seldom thought of as a strategy, even though collaboration is the quintessential win-win solution that can involve alliances, partnerships, shared resources and a coordinated chorus of voices.

Collaboration is often a goal, but seldom thought of as a strategy, even though collaboration is the quintessential win-win solution that can involve alliances, partnerships, shared resources and a coordinated chorus of voices.

Collaboration is a common goal, but it also can be a compelling strategy. In fact, collaboration may one of the few strategies with an upside of achieving success.

Strategic collaboration can take the form of alliances, partnerships and shared resources to move legislation, undertake an enterprise or stretch scarce finances. They are the quintessential win-win solutions.

As appealing as collaboration sounds, it can be enormously hard to pull off in reality. Success requires a collaborative spirit, a willingness to be partners and an openness to share – attributes that aren’t always evident or even possible.

To avoid flailing around, Arizona State University’s Center for Urban Innovation has created an assessment tool to test whether ground is fertile for collaboration. The tool is aimed chiefly for government-to-government collaboration, but could be adapted to other arrangements between public agencies, nonprofits and businesses.

One example of a government-nonprofit collaboration cited by ASU’s David Swindell is a shared investment by the Nevada Humane Society and the cities of Reno and Sparks to build a new facility near the publicly owned animal shelter. The tandem facilities enable collaboration to extend public dollars by having a partner focused on finding forever homes for rescued pets, as well as offer low-cost spay and neutering services.

“This is a good example of where a county is working in collaboration with a nonprofit agency to absorb costs and share benefits in a true partnership,” says Swindell. A clear, but hard to quantify value is reduced stress on animal shelter staff who feel they are doing everything possible to prevent euthanizing unwanted animals.

In the public affairs realm, collaboration is an effective strategy to harness collective support. Collaboration might include formation of a multi-agency advisory group, a list of diverse supporters, grassroots mobilization and group lobbying.

A show of strength through collaboration can make a strong impression on policymakers and play well in media coverage. A chorus of coordinated voices can ripple through social media. A grassroots army can march the message of a campaign to constituencies and corners of a state that otherwise would be unreachable.

Like any other strategy, collaboration is only as valuable as its contributions. To continue contributing, you need to ensure the wheels of collaboration keep rolling, which requires engagement and attention to detail. Swindell says it also demands measurement to quantify movement.

Collaboration can be a testing ground for innovation in cost reduction, service delivery or constituent satisfaction. As an alternative to going-it-alone, collaboration can be a strategy to attract public support to accomplish something that otherwise appears impossible.

Collaboration is not limited by geography. It can occur on a local or global scale. One constant is the need to define the “win” for all of the collaborative partners. Organizations, like most people, act out of self-interest. Collaboration is one way to make everyone a winner.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Gold Medalist Shaun White Misses Mountainous Opportunity

Shaun White soared in the Olympic snowboard halfpipe event, winning his third Gold Medal and solidifying his legacy as one of America’s greatest Olympians. His handling of a sexual misconduct allegation was less soaring.

Shaun White soared in the Olympic snowboard halfpipe event, winning his third Gold Medal and solidifying his legacy as one of America’s greatest Olympians. His handling of a sexual misconduct allegation was less soaring.

Shaun White thrilled his countrymen, including me, with a sparkling final run to win his third Olympic gold medal in the men’s snowboard halfpipe. Unfortunately, he also disappointed many of his countrymen by failing to own responsibility for his sexual misconduct as alleged in 2016 by a female member of his band.

Few American athletes, and certainly even fewer winter Olympians, have scaled as high of a mountain of success and acclaim as White. He is credited with putting skateboarding on the athletic map and turning his particular event into a breathtaking spectacle of big air and jaw-dropping spins.

In the gleaming light of his success on the halfpipe, White shone less brightly in his post-event interview at which he dismissed the sexual misconduct allegations as “gossip.”

Still basking in the limelight, White had a mulligan to get it right the next morning when he was interviewed on NBC’s Today show by Savannah Guthrie. He didn’t get out of the rough. Guthrie gave him a wide lane by asking if he had anything further to say about the allegation. White expressed regret for his “gossip” comment, in what appeared to be a scripted moment. Guthrie pressed him ever so gently to say something about the sexual misconduct allegation itself. All White could muster was that he has changed. No mention of the woman he allegedly harassed.

White undoubtedly had been prepped by his legal counsel. He should have sought advice from a reputation counselor. White will never have a grander moment to apologize. That would have made him not only king of the hill, but also a man willing to admit his fault, even as he is celebrated for his greatness.

You could call it a mountainous missed opportunity.

Unquestionably White’s legacy as an Olympic great will remain. But his reputation as a man could have soared along with that legacy if he bucked the trend of other accused men and owned his misconduct. If White had, the issue would have faded into the shadows instead of continuing to dog him as he contemplates participating in newly authorized 2020 Summer Olympic skateboarding and possibly yet another winter Olympic try in 2022. He apparently failed to call upon any female reporters at his post-victory press conference, which will be hard to sustain going forward.

Preserving a reputation has an Olympic quality of requiring discipline and courage. If it was easy, no one would have a bad reputation, unless like Charlie Sheen you cultivated one. White passed the test of athletic discipline and courage with literally flying colors. Too bad, he crash-landed on a test of his maturity and manhood. White is great. He could have been even greater.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

What Super Bowl Ads Can Teach about Managing Issues

Instead of spending millions to air the movie trailer of  Deadpool 2  during the Super Bowl, the film’s producers launched a clever, in-character Twitterstorm mocking itself for being too cheap to run an ad during the big game. The use of Twitter is just one of the lessons that can be drawn for issue managers from this year’s Super Bowl.

Instead of spending millions to air the movie trailer of Deadpool 2 during the Super Bowl, the film’s producers launched a clever, in-character Twitterstorm mocking itself for being too cheap to run an ad during the big game. The use of Twitter is just one of the lessons that can be drawn for issue managers from this year’s Super Bowl.

Issue managers are often late to the party on how to use social media to explain a complex issue or contend with a contentious opponent. Self-acclaimed social media nerd Beki Winchel has some tips based on this year’s Super Bowl ads.

Self-acclaimed social media nerd Beki Winchel shared her communication insights on Super Bowl ads, which also apply to issue management.

Self-acclaimed social media nerd Beki Winchel shared her communication insights on Super Bowl ads, which also apply to issue management.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, listening and viewing habits have changed, especially among younger adults. Just as important, tactics have evolved to capture people’s wayward attention. In a recent blog for PR Daily, Winchel cites four clever tactics that brands used to capture eyeballs during the Super Bowl. They offer insight into how issue managers might spruce up their communications.

  1. Winchel’s first suggestion is to use Twitter. Unlike other film and TV show producers, 20th Century Fox chose to sit out the Super Bowl commercial game and instead promoted Deadpool 2 with tweets by the franchise’s main character that portrayed the studio as too cheap to buy an ad. It was basically newsjacking on steroids or, in this case, “wrist-deep in cocoa butter.”

    Most issue managers don’t have budgets for ad campaigns, but they can think creatively about filling a niche through social media, and particularly via Twitter through the use of hashtags. Depending on the audience you need to reach, Twitter or Instagram can be perfect channel choices to squeeze out a message in keeping with your brand personality or the context of an issue.

    Humor can be an effective, albeit sometimes dangerous weapon. But audiences like to be entertained, so don’t overlook how humor and wit can play a role in your narrative.
     
  2. Citing Diet Coke’s ad featuring actress Hayley Magnus, Winchel encourages the use of spontaneity. Magnus shot what was intended to be a six-second video, but her infectious dance and narration after taking a sip convinced the soda’s brand managers to convert it into a full-fledged ad. It was captured in one take with mostly impromptu comments.

    Unscripted moments aren’t always the best moments to dramatize an issue, but straight-laced, dull commentaries may not grab anyone’s attention. It never hurts to be spontaneous – or allow yourself to recognize a meaningful, useful impromptu moment. Impromptu is hard to stage, but don’t be blind when you see such a moment that can convey your story.
     
  3. Winchel says early promotion can result in a big payoff. Doritos and Amazon set up audiences for their Super Bowl commercials by providing sneak peaks on social media and even on traditional news media before the game’s first kickoff. Winchel says the “Doritos Blaze vs. Mtn Dew Ice” ad accumulated almost 29 million views before game time.

    Teasing out commercials is akin to leaking tidbits of information. The idea is to generate buzz. The default position for many issue managers is to wait as long as possible to announce a potential project or initiative. That is sound thinking, but there can be exceptions when a slow drip announcement can create interest and enthusiasm, without spilling the beans too soon.
     
  4. Winchel’s last piece of advice should be music to the ears of issue managers. Quoting Mad Men’s Don Draper, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation,” Winchel says that’s what the Tide commercial accomplished by spoofing other brand commercials. In four spots that ran in each quarter, Tide ad narrator David Harbour basically says if you saw people in other ads, they were really Tide ads because everyone’s clothes were clean.

    The Tide ads have a humorous tone and reference familiar ad memes. They naturally pulled conversation in their direction. Switching the narrative on a serious issue isn’t easy, but Winchel’s advice is a good reminder that it can be done. If issue managers don’t explore this option, they may be overlooking an avenue to pursue for proactive, positive conversation.

Super Bowl ads produced another valuable lesson – think twice before you step across a cultural boundary. Dodge and Ram trucks faced a fury of feedback from their well-intentioned, but short-sighted ad about the benefits of service. The ad is graced with a Martin Luther King voice-over excerpted, with permission, from one of his speeches. Critics questioned the appropriateness of using King’s voice, especially since in another part of his speech he condemned commercial exploitation in advertising.

This is just the latest example of stumbling into a culture war. The use of King’s voice probably was sold by an ad agency as a masterstroke. In reality, it was an unforced error. For example, there are many country music artists who have established foundations to provide disaster relief, care for foster children and housing for families with children battling cancer. Any one of them would have been inspirational and a better match for the occasion – and the demographic of who buys Ram trucks.