Saturday, January 25, 2014

A little confrontation on Church St.

TV news websites often repurpose their on-air scripts as web copy. It's quick and inexpensive. Trouble is, it often makes the reporter and his or her subject sound foolish.

Read WHEC-TV's online account of the Mayor Warren/Reggie Hill story's finale:

Does Amanda, the reporter, sound like Thorndyke, the snarky reporter in "Die Hard?" Honestly, taxpayers aren't clamoring for Mayor Warren's comments on this tired story of a retired state trooper whose niece gave him a retirement job without first telling him: "Obey the traffic laws." (Warren apologized on a local radio station earlier in the week.)

Does the mayor's spokesperson sound annoyed and defensive? Of course. 

She started out by claiming Warren's uncle wasn't speeding as fast as officers said he was. She got into the weeds very early and likely never had all the facts. A PR strategy that most closely resembles "dodge 'em" cars at a county fair isn't going to work when your sole client is the highest elected official in Rochester. 

There's a big difference between whipping up a campaign strategy for an underdog mayoral candidate and creating a long-term communications strategy that embraces policy decisions, staffing choices, and yes, crisis communications. You need to think beyond messages and visuals.

Who ever creates Mayor Warren's PR strategy needs to establish key messages, yes. But also build out strategies and tactics that reinforce the messages. No more confrontations on the steps of City Hall on Church St. Put the topic of Hill's hiring squarely on the shoulders of the ethics board that looks at the case, and shut up 'til they share their findings.

And Amanda? Your news director needs to be told this story is dead, at least until the ethics board rules. Hill is gone. Warren's apologized. There are other stories in city government that cry for investigation, not reheated sensationalism. Look forward.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Choosing your best CES spokesperson

Yesterday, a fellow who makes a living depicting big explosions experienced one of his own. On an international stage. Film director Michael Bay, hired by tech giant Samsung to talk about next-generation ultra HD televisions, got tangled in his TelePrompTer readout, lost his place, and abruptly left the Samsung booth at CES. See it here.

Michael Bay (photo by Romina Espinosa at [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)
Bay -- whose works include Armageddon and the Transformers series -- is well-known for his work behind the camera, not in front of it, or before a live audience. So choosing him as your spokesperson at the world's largest consumer electronics orgy seems, on its surface, a gamble.

(The tie-in for Samsung was that Bay's next Transformers movie will be previewed on a Samsung UHD-TV.)

There's some alchemy involved in choosing a frontman for a trade show like CES. He or she should have some name recognition, but a comfort level with live public speaking is important, too. Any number of talented actors, including those who've appeared in Bay's films, might have handled the TelePrompter gaff with more grace and ad libbed his or her way to Samsung's key messages. LeVar Burton and Nick Cannon are among the actors taking part in CES this year.

To Bay's credit, he owned up to his flub on his blog. So his sudden departure isn't necessarily a celebrity tantrum.

CES is one of the few big trade shows that gets broad mainstream attention in news media. So it's curious that Samsung, which brought an aircraft carrier's worth of new products to show, didn't pack a standby spokesperson -- or comfortably rehearse the one they chose.

To be honest, few senior executives are comfortable before the cameras and media at these mega-events. Leadership programs don't always teach them to be public speakers. (Notable exceptions: Lee Iacocca, Michael Bloomberg, and some fellow named Trump). Ideally, you want someone with a blend of product smarts and personality. Using a corporate PR executive isn't the worst choice, either.

But getting Bay to internalize three key Samsung messages would have required an index card and less than 30 minutes of prep time. Or, at minimum, a Samsung smartphone with those talking points on its home screen. They might not have made him bulletproof before a balky prompter, but they would have kept Samsung and Bay from experiencing some embarassment.