Friday, February 26, 2010

Sarah Palin: going rogue again?

On his CNN Politics blog this week, Peter Hamby reported that Sarah Palin has decided not to immediately replace her media spokesperson, Meg Stapleton, who has resigned effective the end of this month to spend more time with her family.

As a professional communicator who left a challenging (OK, not quite that challenging!) corporate position so as to be able to spend more time with my own young daughter, I completely understand – and admire – Stapleton’s move.

What I don’t understand is the second part of this story: that Palin has decided not to immediately replace her media spokesperson, since, in the words of a reported “source close to the Palin family” mentioned in Hamby’s post, “the family, which takes pride in their Alaskan identity, are comfortable speaking in their own voice.”

Bad move.

The, let’s call it, “difficult” relationship between Sarah Palin and the mainstream media is no secret. She clearly feels the media are biased against her, and the media clearly enjoy exploiting every contradiction and foible she exposes.

But can she just decide to “go rogue” and refuse to play ball?

Glynnis MacNicol weighs in on

"Crafty or crazy? Palin is, obviously, one of the most talked-about women/politicians on the planet, and a lot of that talk is not nice. I suspect “responding in her own voice” actually means one of two things. Palin has decided that answering questions from actual reporters is very last decade and is either going to let a combination of her Fox analyst appearances and the take-no-prisoners Fox News PR team speak for her (one can dream). Or! She has concluded, and not without good reason, that her one-way Facebook mouthpiece is all the public access she requires. It’s worked so far. Why bother with the fourth estate at all when all you need is a catchy Facebook note to derail an entire health care bill."

Well, I think that might be an option if you only ever need to reach people who are already listening to you. Palin’s following on Fox News and Facebook is inarguably considerable – but if her agenda includes any kind of debate at the national level, she’ll soon find that you can’t make much progress increasing the size of your following when you only ever talk to the people already listening to you.

Reality check interlude: we have to remember that Palin’s camp hasn’t said she doesn’t intend to talk to the media at all – just that she’s not “immediately” replacing the spokesperson who would facilitate making that happen.

If Palin does indeed want to persuade Americans to see the world as she sees it, and to support her as she works to make changes at the highest levels of the government, she will need to gain some support from people who don’t support her now. Those people may not follow Fox News, and are unlikely following her on Facebook, unless they do for entertainment value.

Social media has indeed been the catalyst for an evolution in public relations, as it allows organizations (and political figures) to talk directly to their audiences better than ever before. But the beauty and the challenge of social media is that it requires you to have access to your audiences before you can talk to them. They have to self-identify as being interested in hearing from you, to a degree at least, or their friends have to.

If you want to reach people who don’t already agree with you, or who aren’t aware of you, you need to go where they are to reach them.

And, like it or not, Ms. Palin, many of them are consuming mainstream media.

Friday, February 12, 2010

[yellow tail]: No good deed goes unpunished

PR Daily this morning alerted me to an issue brewing for Australia’s [yellow tail] wine company, which reportedly accounts for "almost half the Australian wine purchased in the U.S."

Last week, the company announced a $100,000 donation to The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), in a campaign called “[tails] for tails”. According to [yellow tail]’s news release, “[yellow tail] will make use of social media and in-store advertising to spread the message that consumers can "pick up a bottle of [yellow tail] and help a tail-wagging friend."”

Sounds nice, right? Kudos to [yellow tail] for sharing its success and putting some of its profits back into the community, right?

Not so fast, say American meat producers and members of associated industries, who are all too familiar with HSUS’s history of undertaking campaigns to interfere with their business.

In an article called “Yellow Tail stubs its toe” this week, beef industry magazine Drovers outlines the backlash [yellow tail] has drawn in the U.S. The opposition has grown quickly online, with a Facebook group called Yellowfail already counting almost 2400 fans. A YouTube video featuring a South Dakota cattle rancher (below) has more than 5800 views, and the #yellowfail hashtag on Twitter has been buzzing.

What’s a company to do?

Frankly, it’s impossible to keep everyone happy. Every corporate donation has the potential to irritate someone – whether it’s because they disagree with the cause you’ve supported, or because they feel your support would have benefited more people elsewhere.

But a full situation analysis can help a company make the best choices:
  • it will help you understand what’s important to your customers (like, for instance, support for American farmers and all the associated industries)
  • it will help ensure you have a full appreciation for the activities of the group you’re supporting (and who their opponents are likely to be), and their impacts on your customers
Industry journal Pork re-printed [yellow tail]’s response to a request for comment from sister publication Bovine Veterinarian magazine; it includes the following:

"We’ve listened to your recent feedback and it was very helpful to us – in fact it prompted us to specifically choose the areas where we’d most like to celebrate animals. Here’s what we’ve decided: We’ll still honor our monetary commitment to the HSUS, but now we are specifically directing our $100,000 donation to HSUS’ Animal Rescue Team, which launch on-the-ground missions to rescue animals in peril. The HSUS Animal Rescue Team is a leading disaster response agency for animals, contributing millions of dollars to rebuild animal shelters destroyed in natural disasters, responding to floods, fires, and other disasters.

We may not always agree with 100 percent of what an organization represents, but rescuing animals displaced from natural disasters is a cause we support."

I’m certain [yellow tail]’s support for the HSUS was pledged with the best of intentions; as they learned, though, sometimes the best of intentions aren’t quite enough.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beaker takes on social media

When we first met the Muppets, Statler and Waldorf were their only critics.

Now, thanks to social media, everyone's a critic!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Facebook is making us the gatekeepers

In PR, we have traditionally referred to the mainstream media as "gatekeepers;" since they controlled the most credible mass media, they decided which information was communicated to mass audiences, and in what way.

Now, Brand Republic is reporting this week, Facebook may be turning the tables.

Research by Hitwise suggests that Facebook has become the fourth-largest distributor of online news content, behind Google, Yahoo! and MSN.

That means that, increasingly, we are deciding what news to read online based on what our friends recommend. Our friends -- and we, to our own followers -- are becoming the gatekeepers who determine which news outlets get the audience.

Given the competition mainstream media are facing from online sources, they need readers/listeners/viewers now more than ever; and, if Hitwise's findings suggest a trend that will keep growing, social media users will play a major role in determining which ones survive.

Feeling empowered?