Online Strategies for Political Advertising are Defined by Age, Not Party Affiliation

CommPro.biz News AlertA Commpro News Alert

Throughout the 2016 election cycle, online advertisers spent over $1B, with political professionals employing digital specialists with varying levels of expertise.

According to research age (not your party) is the best indicator for understanding the impact of advertising in the digital space. Research was conducted by Spot-On, the leading online ad firm serving the political marketplace.

“With online political ad spending expected to exceed $1 billion during the 2016 cycle, digital advertising familiarity and proficiency aligned with generational attributes, not party affiliation,” says Chris Nolan, CEO and founder of Spot-On.

For the two months that led up to the election, they surveyed political ad buyers, campaign managers and media consultants from both parties. What emerged is a portrait of a market still adjusting to the use of digital and online technology, with younger political professionals ahead of older colleagues in their fluency and understanding of digital media.  

Key findings from Spot-On’s research include:

  • Digital Spend is Growing.  Regardless, of their level of comfort with digital campaigning, 60 percent of persons surveyed said that they maintained or increased their spending online in 2016. One in five said they were increasing budgets by 25 percent or more.
  • Young professionals use digital space better. An overwhelming number – 93 percent – of consultants and campaign managers over 45 years of age described themselves as knowing “enough to be dangerous” or “novices.” For younger professionals, 76% considered themselves as “dangerous” or “expert” in their use of digital technology. In both cases, age, not party affiliation triumphed in understanding the online world.
  • Consultants use of media based on experience, not effectiveness. The use of technology also differed by age. The majority of younger respondents said digital advertising was better than TV or traditional media when it came to targeting voters. Older consultants were less inclined to rely on digital for reaching voters calling online efforts “an emerging channel.”
  • ROI and targeting remain elusive: There was no difference across the political parties when it came to the use or deployment of digital advertising. Regardless of affiliation, those polled shared the same primary concerns about measuring the effectiveness of online campaigns. At the same time, these professionals struggle to understand the variety offerings available and how best to use them.

“Spot-On’s research shows that the online political marketplace has grown but it’s at a crossroads,” said Nolan. “As 2016 ends, political professionals see digital’s potential for building lists, targeting voters and persuading specific demographics, but they need help understanding the range of online products, the best ways to pinpoint voters and effective metrics to evaluate online’s effectiveness.”

“Money and opportunity is wasted because consultants don’t ask the right questions or seek advice about their options,” Nolan says. “They may know enough but they’re still dangerous.”




A Potpourri Of PR Lessons Learned From the 2020 Political Scene That Can Apply To Agency Situations

(Author’s Note: This is the eighth in a series of occasional political columns that I’ll be writing for CommPRO.biz until Inauguration Day, January 20. Previously, I wrote 17 political columns leading up to Election Day. FYI – My first public relations job was with a political firm, where I worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. In this column, I write on how PR people can learn tactics from the political scenes that were not taught in communications school classes.)

Arthur Solomon

My first job in public relations was with a political agency, where I worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. There were many lessons from my campaign days that I have been using on none political accounts ever since. Today, because of the continuous coverage of political news on cable TV, those lessons are available to anyone who pays attention, and I have always told people who reported to me that valuable PR lessons can be learned from the political scenes.

As in the past, the 2020 political scene offered a master class in do’s and don’ts that can be applied to agency life. As we approach the inauguration of a new president, here are some of the most important lessons from the campaign (and a few from previous campaigns) that elected Joe Biden. 

  • For years, President Trump disparaged the U.S. intelligence services and NATO. But during his speech explaining why he ordered the killing of Iran General Qasem Soleimani the president said he based the attack on intelligence reports and also asked NATO to help in the mid-East. Lesson to Remember: Ours is a business where individuals vie for the same promotions and jealousies regarding others advancements are not uncommon. Nevertheless, never bad mouth your competitors. As the Trump speech showed, you never now when you will need their help.
  • For the media trainers reading this, a suggestion: Use President Trump’s prepared statements and q and a sessions with the media as examples of what a client should not do in press sessions. Because of his record of lying, immediately after the president has concluded his remarks, reporters point out his latest falsehoods. Lesson to Remember: No matter how significant a client’s title, lies will be called out. And in the future, whatever is said will be greeted by the media with skepticism.
  • Client relationships are the most important aspect of account handling. An important lesson used by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, during her standoff with GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell, about when to deliver the impeachment charges to the Senate, is easily transferred to every type of account. If a client suggests doing something that you believe is wrong, don’t automatically agree with the suggestion. Tell the client why you feel it is wrong. Of course, if the client insists you have no choice but to comply, as long as it is not illegal and will not destroy your reputation with the media by disseminating false information. Lesson to Remember: When disagreeing with a client’s suggestion, always do so with alternative suggestions that meets the client’s wants.
  • The New York Times, in its January 6 edition, printed a tweet from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, saying, “While Democrats are trying to remove President Trump from office, the President is focused on removing terrorists from the face of the earth.” The Democrats responded by saying the matters were not related and that the impeachment process could continue during a debate on Trump’s foreign policy. Lesson to Remember: If you are defending a client with a PR crisis, always expect negative tweets. The savvy PR practitioner should have crafted a series of responses as soon as the crisis developed that can be used as a retort.
  • Be flexible. Despite saying that an impeachment must have bipartisan support, Democrats said the situation had changed and went ahead with their inquiries. Lesson to Remember: Even approved client programs should always be considered an interim draft. If situations change, tactics and elements of the program should be revised.
  • After saying he was too busy to watch the impeachment hearings, President Trump continuously tweeted and commented about them. Lesson to Remember: Contradictory changing of positions makes the media not to believe what is said.
  • During the impeachment hearings, Congressmen would yield their speaking time to others who could better deliver the message, Lesson to Remember: During a press conference always make sure that there is more than once person to answer questions.
  • During the impeachment hearings, the Democrats used constitutional experts to make their case for impeachment. Lesson to Remember: When planning a media tour, or during press conference, third party experts have more credibility than company spokespeople.
  • During the impeachment hearings, every Republican kept repeating the same message points. Lesson to Remember: Message points must be stressed during every media opportunity. A story or TV interview without message points is worthless to the client.
  • When questioned during the impeachment hearings, some members of the committees replied, “I don’t have that information. I’ll get back to you.” Lesson to Remember: A person being interviewed should never wing it. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I’ll provide the information after checking.” 
  • During the impeachment hearings, the Democrats displayed a savvy command of how to gain continuous positive media coverage by staggering the release of transcripts instead of releasing them all at once. Lesson to Remember: Copy that tactic whenever possible when releasing positive important news. If the news is negative to your client, release it all at once. Positive news should be spaced to gain coverage over a long period of time.
  • When representing a client with a PR problem, consider House Speaker Pelosi’s strategy of delaying delivering the impeachment papers to the Senate. Lesson to Remember: Do not rush to immediately answer media questions after a PR crisis occurs. Information helpful to your client might emerge by waiting for a couple of days. A statement like, “We’re investigating the situation and will provide more details as we learn them,” is my go-to media response immediately after a crisis happens. 
  • The way House Speaker Pelosi handled the press conference, on January 15, after announcing the impeachment managers who will act as prosecutors in Trump’s Senate trial, should be a template that PR people should follow during their press conferences. Instead of answering every question herself she deferred to others who were more involved in the specifics of the questions. Lesson to Remember: Providing specific answers, rather than generalizations, makes for a successful press conference. Don’t let one speaker act as a Renaissance person.
  • It’s impossible to derail the coverage of bad news by announcing a new initiative. On January 15, 2020, shortly after House Speaker Pelosi’s press conference announcing the managers who will prosecute Trump in his Senate trial, the president held his own presser regarding a trade deal with China, obviously timed to upstage Pelosi’s announcement. Of course, what he hoped for  didn’t occur. (That tactic hasn’t worked for decades, if ever.) After the president’s announcement concluded, the big news on TV reverted to the impeachment. The three major cable networks, even Trump ally Fox, provided live converge of the House vote to approve the impeachment resolutions and send them to the Senate. That coverage continued throughout the day. The lead story on the following days was also about the impeachment of the president. Lesson to Remember: PR people should remember there is enough media to cover more than one story as a time.
  • When selecting celebrity spokespeople, make certain that they are squeaky clean or their past might become part of any news stories or interviews you arrange, as happened when lawyers Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz were named part of President Trump’s defense team for his Senate impeachment trial. Radio, TV and print media mentioned that both lawyers were involved with negotiating lenient plea deals for sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and that Dershowitz was accused of having sex with an under age girl, which he denied. Stories also mentioned a list of seedy clients that Dershowitz defended. A New York Times story said that Starr was pushed out as the Baylor University president because of his handling of sexual misconduct by the football team. Lesson to Remember: The news reporting prior to the beginning of the clash between prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Senate chamber once again confirmed what I’ve said for decades: Once an entity or individual has been involved with a PR crisis, it becomes embedded in its DNA and can be revived anytime. That’s what happened to Starr and Dershowitz. 
  • Nancy Pelosi gave a lesson that all PR practitioners should remember when having a press conference: Despite being the leader of the Democrats, once the Senate trial began she deferred to those involved in the trial to hold press briefings. Too often during press conferences, the ceo, president or other high corporate executives are featured, instead of individuals who really know the details of the subject being discussed. Lesson to Remember: That leads to an unhappy press and sometime disgruntled reporters who says the PR people wasted their time. (Not good for cementing relations with journalists.)
  • For the better part of a year, maybe longer, Ari Melber (MSNBC) and Brian Stelter (CNN) lionized Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti (who was convicted for financial extortion) without doing their due diligence, before promoting him as the greatest thing since the invention of the light bulb. Lesson to Remember: Before you engage any spokesperson, make certain that complete due diligence is conducted Never accept the assurances of an agent.
  • Joe Biden achieved his Super Tuesday success with minimal advertising support or a break-the-bank PR budget. Nevertheless, he blanketed the country with earned media. That’s what everyone in our business should remember: A savvy publicity program without marketing support can achieve as much, and often greater, media coverage than a program supported by millions of dollars. Lesson to Remember: The size of a budget will not determine whether a story will be used (with the exception of marketing and trade book writers.) What’s important is the uniqueness and newsworthiness of your program and pitch. That will determine whether it results in earned media.
  • The biggest PR blunder since seven Southern states seceded from the union in 1860-61 occurred on February28, 2020, when during a campaign speech President Trump said that the criticism by Democrats over his handling of the coronavirus was “their new hoax.” Even though he did not call the coronavirus itself a “hoax,” his remarks were reconstructed and were brought up during the campaign as if he called the coronavirus a “hoax.” 
  • Lesson to Remember: When preparing remarks, PR people should never use words that can be reworked by opponents.)
  • As the tobacco industry, BP and the National Football League learned years ago, and Boeing, Wells Fargo and President Trump learned more recently, it’s almost impossible to lie during a PR crisis and not be proved a liar by investigative journalists. During the coronavirus epidemic, the Wall Street Journal, a friendly Trump paper, published a lengthy article in the March 13 edition detailing Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus crises. The story also cited instances in which both Trump and Vice-President Pence lied to the public about the situation. And on March 18, the New York Times ran an article detailing day-by-day all the untruths that the president said about the virus. Lesson to Remember: Reporters, whistle blowers and government agencies are watching. Don’t lie during to the media; especially be extra careful of remarks made during a PR crisis.
  • The lesson of President Trump should be required teaching in every PR 101 class: Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, fact checkers tallied around 16,000 lies by Trump since he took office, (which is now estimated at more than 22,000).  He continued lying during the early days of the coronavirus epidemic in the U.S .and has not discussed it with reporters for weeks. As a result, even when he spoke truthfully, what he said was not accepted at face value by many people in and out of the media, His remarks regarding the coronavirus were immediately fact checked. Lesson to Remember: Once you’re caught lying to the media (and in all aspects of life), even when you speak the truth it’s difficult and sometime impossible, to regain trust.
  • For decades I’ve advised clients that announcing bad news on a Friday night or holiday weekend will not prevent the news from receiving major coverage. Obviously, those who advise President Trump don’t agree with me. In an attempt to hide news that they think will receive negative coverage the White House announces it on Friday nights. Not only does that not lessen news coverage but journalists have coined the name “Friday Night Massacres.” Lesson to Remember: Attempting to hide bad news on a Friday night or holiday weekend doesn’t work. What it does is get journalists to investigate and report on the reason behind the timing of the news.
  • For months President Trump made statements regarding to Joe Biden’s supposed memory lapses. But beginning with Biden’s Democratic Convention speech and continuing thereafter, Biden showed that he had not lost a step and said he was in better physical condition than Trump (who is clinically medically obese.) Lesson to Remember: PR people should always remind clients never to make a statement that can be refuted.
  • Let’s face it. CEO’s think they are always the smartest persons in the room. Many, including President Trump, believe they can convince others to agree to their positions. Not so, as Bob Woodward’s book exposing Trump’s hiding the truth about the coronavirus from the public, because the president didn’t want to “cause a panic,” which was the president’s defense, is a valuable lesson learned teaching tool. ” Lesson to Remember: One of the most important jobs of a PR person is to attempt to convince a CEO from engaging in media matters that might have a downside. Use the Trump/Woodward example as a template.
  • A very important lesson from the political goings-on that should be remembered is how easy it is for a client or PR person to lose the respect of the media. Rudy Giuliani is the template for this situation. For years he was known as “Americas’ Mayor,” for demonstrating skillful leadership after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that collapsed New York City’s Twin Towers. But while he was slowly losing respect because of his lying statements in defense of President Trump since 2016, he lost what was remaining of his reputation because of his complete fabrications of why Trump lost the 2020 election. Lesson to Remember: Always be truthful when engaging with the press. It’s difficult for PR people to be trusted and get a good reputation with the media; easy to lose it.

Ever since my political PR days (my first PR job was with a political firm, where I worked on local, state and presidential; campaigns), I have been advising PR practitioners to closely watch the workings of political campaigns, because, I believe, many tactics used in those campaigns can be transferred to non-political agency clients. The 2020 presidential campaign again confirmed to me that I am right to do so. So pay attention to the political scene in 2021.There will be new lessons that can transfer to your agency clients.


The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.

 




How to Stop Negative Political Ads

 

Dr. David Hagenbuch, Ethicist and Professor of Marketing, Messiah University, Author of Honorable Influence, Founder of MindfulMarketing.org 

In thousands of ads each day, companies consistently focus on themselves, rarely mentioning competitors, let alone firing a direct shot at one.  So, why do political ads routinely take aim at their opponents?  As a battleground state resident, I’ve already witnessed an unprecedented barrage of such attacks from both sides of the political spectrum:

  • The PAC America First Action sent a direct mail piece to our home featuring a photo of Joe Biden on an old-west wanted poster with the text, “WANTED for attempting to kill 600,000 Pennsylvania jobs!”  The other side of the piece blames Biden for wrecking families’ finances and cozying up to China.
  • The Lincoln Project PAC has discredited Donald Trump through a one-minute video, “Mourning in America.” Against a backdrop of barren cities and towns, narration explains, “Today, more then 60,000 Americans have died from the deadly virus Donald Trump ignored,” and “Under the leadership of Donald Trump, our country is weaker, and sicker, and poorer.”

Neither of these ads even mention the candidate they endorse; rather, their aim is to undermine the adversary—a strategy that contradicts the research of Sorin Patilinet, global consumer marketing insights director for Mars, Inc.  In analyzing over 700 ads, Patilinet’s team found that negative emotions often backfire on the firms that employ them.

Given the tenuous nature of negative ads and their infrequent use by businesses, why do political campaigns regularly resort to antagonism?  It must be that negative ads work for politicians; if they didn’t, PACs and others wouldn’t spend millions of dollars making them.

But, what makes negative advertising effective for those seeking a senate seat or the presidency but not for businesses building their brands?

Not every type of advertising fits every industry.  For instance, humor is hard for financial planners and funeral homes to pull off since their customers expect seriousness.  Politics is a very unusual ‘industry’ for advertising, as the following seven distinctions summarize:

  1. Fear appeal:  Playing on people’s fears isn’t a viable way to promote most products, but it does work well for some, like home security systems, and political candidates.  In fact, some ads, like the two described above, effectively use fear to position political opponents as threats to citizens’ ‘home’ towns, states, and countries.
  2. Lower consumer expectations:  Gallup’s annual survey about the ethics of 20 different occupations supports that people hold politicians, and likely their ads, to a lower standard:  Members of Congress consistently bring up the bottom of Gallup’s list, suggesting little esteem for them and other elected officials.
  3. Familiar fighting:  If there are too many “serious” Super Bowl commercials, people complain, mainly because they’re used to seeing funny ones.  Whether we like them or not, we often expect political ads to be negative. 
  4. Rationalized outcomes:  Political ads also get a pass because of the importance of governance.  As a result, we place political advertising in a different category, accepting its enmity because ‘the ends justify the means.’
  5. The lesser of two evils:  Unlike the overwhelming number of good product options consumers usually enjoy, elections often entail a choice between just two candidates who many find equally unappealing.  As a result, one ends up on top as the ‘candidate of least compromise.’
  6. Negativity bias:  I recently conducted a study of advertising humor that suggested that people remember unpleasant experiences more than pleasant ones.  The same phenomenon explains, in part, why negative political ads work—their animosity stands out and sticks with people.
  7. Fight over flight:  One reason businesses don’t want to brawl is there’s no telling how long a battle could last.  Politicians, however, have finite promotional timelines that end after election, allowing them to engage in all-out warfare without the worry of a never-ending war.

 

 

These seven reasons help explain the success of negative political advertising and its heavy spending, but they don’t justify its use.  Instead, they lead further into the logic trap that ethics aims to avoid:  reasoning from ‘is’ to ‘ought.

Just because advertisers can do something doesn’t mean they should.  There are at least three reasons there shouldn’t be caustic political advertising:

  • Polarization:  To say that the U.S. is increasingly a nation divided is a severe understatement.  Negative political advertising ads fuel the acrimony.  Ultimately, one candidate wins, but because of the extreme public belittling, he/she enters office having already earned the enmity of a large portion of the population.  Negative ads help set up elected officials to fail.
  • Opportunity Cost:  There’s limited space in a 30-second radio spot and on a 9” x 12” mail piece.  If a PAC makes smearing an opponent its priority, there’s little or no room to address real issues.  As a result, voters end up knowing all the reasons they shouldn’t select someone but few of the reasons they should elect another.  Insight into truly important concerns is the casualty.
  • Moral Compromise:  Public service is an important calling and citizens should understand significant weaknesses of candidates, but it’s not right to recklessly vilify a person.  Most negative political ads sacrifice objectivity and civility.  Endorsing disrespect and exemplifying disparagement unmoors society’s moral anchor.

Amid unprecedented campaign-spending and unrestrained animosity, is there a way forward?

Exiting the downward spiral seems like trying to end a nuclear arms race:  The urge is to add armaments, not abandon them.  No nation or politician wants to risk their existence by being the first to disarm.

It’s unlikely, therefore, that political candidates or PACs will self-censor and curb their own negative advertising.  Instead, resolution seems to rest on one of three approaches:

  1. Advertiser Pressure:  Media that run negative political ads can conceivably refuse them, which could cause introspection and perhaps ad alterations.  It’s unlikely, though, that many media will take a moral stand; rather, they’ll find the revenue too hard to resist and rationalize that campaigns will just “place their ads elsewhere, if not with us.”
  2. Government Regulation:  Law is an effective form of advertising behavior modification.  If the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) decides a Super Bowl commercial is too risqué, it doesn’t run.  However, the policies needed to reform political advertising require the support of legislators who worry they’ll need such ads for their next election, which makes regulation improbable.
  3. A Social Movement:  Over recent years, we’ve seen the power that social media gives people to speak out against injustices.  The #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have shown that real change can occur when enough committed citizens actively embrace a cause.

These and other movements have demonstrated that socially-driven change depends first on the realization that a real problem exists.  People must perceive negative political advertising as more than periodic unpleasantry and recognize that these ads tear at our national fabric by feeding political polarization and eroding respect for anyone whose political opinions differ from our own.

Boycotting advertising that fuels hate is a start, but America needs an even broader uprising against acrimonious ads, perhaps encouraged by #EndNegativeAds or #PositivePromotion.  To avoid becoming a country consumed by anger, our nation needs to get angry at these ads that contribute to domestic division.  We need to vote against such “Single-Minded Marketing.”


About the Author: Dr. David Hagenbuch is a Professor of Marketing at Messiah University, the author of Honorable Influence, and the founder MindfulMarketing.org, which aims to encourage ethical marketing.




Richard Levick — The Age of Transparent Political Donations Is Upon Us

 

Richard Levick, Esq., Chairman & CEO, LEVICK

On July 27th in 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommended that Richard M. Nixon be impeached and removed from office. By January of 1975, there were 93 new members of Congress, including 49 seats in the House and Senate which had flipped Republican to Democrat.

In the mid to late 1960s, when I was in elementary school, I would play with Chase Church, whose house was just a quick shortcut through the woods from our elementary school. Too young to think much of the fact that his father was the United States Senator, Frank Church, I would just hang out at his house after school, say hello to his mom and, on the rare occasion, hear his father’s sonorous voice. A few years later, while in high school, I couldn’t avoid the recognition as Senator Church would become one of the “Watergate Babies” ushering in remarkable transparency reforms – Sunshine laws – that would become part of the national fabric, though increasingly whittled away over the decades.

The Great Experiment – the American system of democratic rule – is only fully appreciated when viewed through the lens of the 18th century. Authority was the exclusive domain of royalty and self-rule was utterly inconceivable. For all its limitations, American democracy largely self-corrects through Hegelian transitions, like a pendulum in a slow moving Grandfather clock that takes years to go from side to side. Watergate led to Sunshine laws. So too – if our democratic process still works – will the current environment lead to reforms. Companies engaged in the political process need to prepare for it now.

In light of the recent unrest, many companies have been calling for diversity, equity and inclusion but are unsure of how to lead and what to do. There is a dawning realization that corporate responsibility is not just to the shareholders but the stakeholders as well.

We have been suggesting that this is a complex wave of change, not healed through symbolic efforts, and that every component, from recruitment to advertising, public affairs to Corporate Social Responsibility, sustainability to investments, and more, need to be reexamined through fresh eyes. Corporate political donations play an out-sized role. Already, many companies have been embarrassed after being lauded days earlier for powerful and righteous tweets and statements only to be revealed to have been financially supporting opposite actions.

On Friday, I interviewed Bruce Freed, co-founder of the Center for Public Integrity, on our daily podcast In House Warrior, for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal, who has just released a new report entitled Conflicted Consequences which follows corporate donations to “527” organizations (527 is the IRS designation). Among the advantages that 527s provide over traditional political spending is that they are opaque. If companies and individuals want to fund someone or something, how much better to do it than in the dark, without accountability? Or so the thinking went for years.

The Center provides maps of which companies spend how much through 527s to fund campaigns and candidates that fuel racial gerrymandering, attack the Affordable Care Act (20 million Americans still rely on it for their health insurance), fight climate change reform, oppose LGBTQ and more. In other words, if you are a company that wants to do the right thing and tweets, advertises or speaks on #BLM, climate change, LGBTQ, DEI or other social issues, now is the time to get your house in order. Companies need to review their entire political spend, not just donations made through PACs and other more transparent methods, but the entire legislative agenda. Support whatever you think is in the company’s interest, just make sure you know it will see the sunshine. A note about the Center. They work with companies. Imagine when others figure out how to trail the breadcrumbs?

During the financial crisis of 2008-2009, AIG brought in an outside expert to review and remake their entire public affairs division. That in itself is a fascinating story, but for today, just a short circuit to the conclusion. AIG recognized it was a new day, with new priorities and, for them, blinding transparency because the whole world was watching. They remade their entire department, leaving few idols standing. For companies wanting and proclaiming to do the right thing, now is exactly the time to put your house in order because, as Abraham Lincoln said at his party’s acceptance speech for United States Senate in Springfield, Illinois, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” He lost that election in 1858 to Stephen A. Douglas, but, of course, won a bigger office two years later. This transparency change is coming. Time to take the lead.

Listen to the podcast




2020 Election Advertising: Get Ready for a Wild Ride!

Tiffany Coletti Kaiser, EVP Marketing, Digital Remedy

If previous election cycles are any indication, the upcoming political advertising scene is about to get wild. With political ad spending expected to hit an all-time high of nearly $10 billion ($3.6 billion more than the 2016 election) it is safe to say we’re in for a multi-channel assault.

And, with some relatively new channels in the mix, along with new restrictions at stalwarts like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, 2020 will likely be one of the most interesting—and potentially challenging—years for advertisers, both political, and non-political.

Here are a few of the main story lines we can look for in the coming year:

  • Increased scrutiny on fact-checking. The hangover effect from the Russian election interference of 2016, new regulations on social platforms, and the decision to cut ads entirely on Twitter will create much greater scrutiny on the validity of claims. And, as Facebook seemingly moves toward eliminating micro-targeting, it could help to curb the false propaganda machines.
  • Greater demand for transparency. Along with the fact-checking scrutiny, we’ll see greater interest in the digital paper trail. Audiences will want to know who’s paying for the ads and more about their position and agenda. Publishers and platforms will need to implement systems that do a better job of tracking this source attribution in order to demonstrate transparency to audiences.
  • Coverage of antics will drive more programmatic spend. I suspect it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy: as the major publishing and news entities spend a majority of their time analyzing the legitimacy of campaign tactics, that in turn will drive an increase in programmatic spend based on that contextual relevance. For example, if a publisher is covering Facebook’s handling of the president’s reelection campaign, more political ad traffic that relates to that coverage will be seen. Publishers will have to be careful not to inadvertently send themselves down a partisan rabbit hole.
  • OTT will become highly relevant for local races. While OTT was relatively nascent in 2016, moving into 2020, we’ll see a shift toward the ability to target locally, even down to city council and mayoral races. The OTT market is small and accessible enough for local candidates to take advantage of, and we’ll see it play a major role as even more voters have cut the cord since the last election cycle. In fact, Tru Optik estimates OTT/CTV platforms will see $500 million to $720 million in political ads for 2020, with an additional ~$90 million for streaming audio.
  • Mobile will be key to grassroots event promotions.Mobile will continue to be a valuable play for retargeting, but we’ll see it play an even bigger role in promoting events and locations—meet-and-greets, rallys, town halls, voter registration locations, and of course, polling sites. Taking a page from the David Axelrod grassroots strategy of the Obama campaign, mobile will be used increasingly to drive traffic to the polls and campaign rallies.
  • More precise retargeting with richer content. Targeting technology has accelerated dramatically, allowing skilled media buyers to identify voters much more precisely based on mobile ID, IP address, and ZIP code. With sophisticated multi-channel data capture, it’s much easier for campaigns to deliver targeted in-banner and mobile content. As 5G coverage grows, this will enable richer messaging experiences based on that precision targeting.
  • Democratization. With digital ad tech so much more accessible and easier to implement, we’ll even see small-town politicians running for local, county, and regional elections getting in on the game. They know as well as the big billion-dollar campaigns do, that mobile, digital, and OTT is where they have to be to reach the majority of voters.
  • Brand advocacy for causes. Associating with candidates or causes, even inadvertently, can be a minefield. In fact, we’re aware of a car manufacturer that has delayed a campaign until January, which is unheard of to miss the holiday opportunity, because they don’t want to share voice with the impeachment proceedings. But we’ll see many make advocacy a strong part of their brand this year as taking a stand becomes a strong differentiator. For example, Microsoft and many other tech firms stepped-up to fight against the DACA repeal, and when Trump announced the reduction in national park territories a few years ago, brands like Patagonia kicked-off campaigns to reverse that policy to protect those lands, and even sued the president. Such a move reinforces the brand message for some, where others are more hesitant to be so overt.

Without a doubt we are living in unprecedented political times, approaching an election year on the heels of impeachment proceedings amid arguably the most highly legalized presidency in our history. For both candidates and brands, it’s truly uncharted territory, and we’ll see a lot of testing, experimentation, some extreme caution, and throwing caution to the wind. The spectrum of advertising strategies will be as broad as the range of opinions among voters.

For those of us in the industry, it’s certain to be a fascinating, eye-opening, and maybe even cringe-worthy year to watch.


2020 Election Advertising: Get Ready for a Wild Ride!About the Author: Tiffany has been conceiving and launching platform-agnostic, idea-centric marketing communications programs, platforms, and products since her teens at global communications networks like Grey Worldwide, McCann Worldgroup and ambitious independent shops like Eleven Inc. and Translation. She’s partnered with brands, independent agencies and holding companies to create new operational strategies, business development plans, digital team connectivity, and creative infiltration of traditional systems. As EVP of Marketing at Digital Remedy, she is responsible for global positioning, client acquisition, business development strategy, and marketing execution. Additionally, she partners with clients to ensure digital sales strategy success to meet desired business outcomes. Having partnered with brands across many industries including auto, beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), CPG, finance, gaming, not-for-profit, retail, sports, travel, and technology, Tiffany has a knack for building future-facing operational structures and strategic positioning of internal teams to deliver on business opportunities. These achievements earned her the distinction of AdAge “Woman to Watch” and the “Outstanding Achievement in Business” recognition by The Lab School, Washington, D.C., a merit she shared with Dannel Malloy, former Governor of Connecticut. Tiffany is an avid supporter of education, sitting on the board of the Haan Foundation for Children and is a founding board member of Literate Nation. In addition, she maintains the title of Demoiselle of Grace with the Venerable Order of St. John, Knights Hospitaller, a global organization focused on community outreach and support of children and their families in need during times of poverty or illness. She resides in New York.




How the Current Political Environment is Affecting the Practice of Public Relations (On-Demand Video)

 

Produced by 

Event Overview

It would be a challenge even for the most learned of historians to recall a time in our history when the political parties in the U.S. have been more polarized. It also would not be considered as hyperbolic to say that the image of the media as a reliable source of information, seekers of the truth and a critical check on the actions of our lawmakers in Washington as being under attack and as such the victims of an erosion in the esteem in which the best of them — think Walter Cronkite — were once held. Given these hard facts, what impact has this erosion in the confidence of the public’s perception of the media had on the practice of public relations?

Guests

Lanny J. Davis
Co-founder and Partner
Trident DMG |  Davis Goldberg & Galper PLLC

Lanny is a lawyer, crisis manager, consultant, author, and television commentator providing strategic counsel to clients under scrutiny on crisis management and legal issues by combining legal, media, and political strategies. He develops and manages communications programs around litigation and crises to protect brands and reputations. He is often called to serve as an on-camera spokesperson on behalf of an individual or corporation.

Lanny represents individuals, countries, and companies in high-stakes global crises, litigation, government investigations, and crisis management. He has conceived, created, and led media strategies for clients that have included CEOs, sports celebrities, political leaders, world leaders, and both U.S. and international companies. He has handled the cases of public figures from Martha Stewart to Dan Snyder, companies from Whole Foods to Starbucks, and political figures from President Bill Clinton to Representative Charlie Rangel.

Although a Democrat, Lanny has friends on both sides of the aisle. During the Clinton administration, Lanny served as Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. In 2005 President George W. Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act.

For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as Special Counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts, and False Claims Act litigator (representing both defendants and plaintiffs). He has also argued numerous appellate cases and has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations, and congressional, state attorney general, and regulatory investigations. Throughout his career, he has found that using integrated legal/media/lobbying approaches can frequently lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his colleagues to defend themselves successfully against “short and distort” attacks and other market manipulations.

Lanny has participated in national, state, and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

Lanny has lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues and has authored several books, including “Scandal: How “Gotcha” Politics Is Destroying America,” and “Truth To Tell: Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself: Notes from My White House Education,” “Crisis Tales – Five Rules for Handling Scandal in Business, Politics and Life.” His most recent book is “The Unmaking of the President 2016.”

Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale College, he served as chairman of theYale Daily News. Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, and network TV news programs, and has published numerous opinion and analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other national publications. His “Purple Nation” column appears regularly in The HillThe Huffington Post, FoxNews.com, The Daily Caller, and Newsmax. He can be followed on Twitter @LannyDavis

 

Richard Levick - When We All Vote: A Chance To Do Something Truly AmericanRichard S. Levick, Esq.
Chairman & CEO
LEVICK

Under his leadership, LEVICK has set new standards in global communications and brand protection for corporations, countries, and major institutions. Mr. Levick is one of the communications industry’s most important spokespersons and thought leaders.

A powerful advocate for the strategic initiatives that companies must pursue in today’s perilous environment, he regularly addresses corporate boards as well as industry and government leaders around the world, providing guidance on their most complex communications and reputation management challenges. He is featured in, and authors, countless articles, and is a frequent guest on prime time national and international television programs.

Mr. Levick is a much-sought after keynote and graduation speaker and is a columnist for the top business blogs including Forbes.

Mr. Levick has co-authored five books including, The Communicators: Leadership in the Age of Crisis; Stop the Presses; The Crisis and Litigation PR Desk Reference365 Marketing Meditations; and Lessons for Absent Children. He can be followed on Twitter @richardlevick 

 

KayAnn Schoeneman
Head of Washington D.C. Marketplace and Public Affairs
Ketchum

KayAnn Schoeneman is a veteran corporate communications professional with nearly 20 years of experience in public affairs, public policy, grassroots campaigns, market research and consumer advocacy. She currently serves as senior vice president and practice director of Ketchum’s public and corporate affairs team and is based in Washington D.C. Schoeneman creates innovative, data-driven campaigns for global clients including Fortune 100 companies, governments and leading trade associations. 

Prior to Ketchum, Schoeneman spent more than a decade in the political and public policy arena with experience in global, federal, state and local public affairs. She served as public affairs director for a top grassroots firm and was director of research for a boutique state and local procurement firm.  She also served as vice president of communications for the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, promoting the positive business climate and working with various stakeholders in the region. Schoeneman served as a campaign field analyst for the National Republican Congressional Committee’s $50M issue advocacy effort during the historic 2002 midterm election cycle, only the third time in the last 100 years that the president’s party gained House seats in a midterm election.  

Schoeneman was an adjunct professor at The Johns Hopkins University for the Master of Arts in communication program. She is a graduate of The George Washington University with a degree in international affairs and political communications.  She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and son.  She can be followed on Twitter @KSchoeneman

 

Hosts

Art Stevens
Managing Partner
The Stevens Group

Art Stevens literally knows the PR industry at every level and in every aspect, from the inside out and from foundation to pinnacle. Art knows what makes a PR business successful, profitable and valuable. A prolific writer as well as a dynamic executive, Art is subtle, observant and quietly creative, yet not opposed to a good measure of “brandstanding” when appropriate.

He has been valuing agencies, brokering mergers and acquisitions, and providing strategic advice for ten years. Art is a former owner and CEO of LobsenzStevens, a Top-20 independent PR agency, which Publicis Groupe acquired.  He can be followed on Twitter @ArtS1735

 

Rich Jachetti
Senior Partner
The Stevens Group

Rich joined the firm as Senior Associate in January 2015 and in October of the same year was named Senior Partner. Rich owned his own public relations agency for eight years and in 1987 merged his firm with LobsenzStevens. For nearly a decade, Jachetti served as an executive vice president and group manager of LobsenzStevens where he worked side-by-side with agency founder and CEO Art Stevens on, among other things, the selection and due diligence of L-S’s subsequent multiple PR agency acquisitions.Before joining TSG, Rich founded emotionmapping, LLC, an integrated marketing communications company based in Westchester, New York that specialized in providing advertising, PR, sales promotion and digital marketing consultation and services.

In 1996, he joined one of the country’s leading, and award-winning sales promotion agencies, DVC Worldwide, and served for eight years as part of that agency’s team of senior executives responsible for new business development and the expansion of business among the firm’s existing client base.

In his career, Rich has helped companies in multiple industry categories become wealthy, famous, respected winners. Advertising, promotional marketing and public relations campaigns he has developed over the past 40+ years have helped convince customers/stakeholders to choose, trust, try, recommend, respond, read, write, stop smoking, start exercising, contribute, vote, take their medicine, travel, merge, hire and buy depending on the clients’ business objectives. He can be followed on Twitter @ArtS1735

 




Bridgerton – Recoloring History

 

Dr. David Hagenbuch, Ethicist and Professor of Marketing, Messiah University, Author of Honorable Influence, Founder of MindfulMarketing.org 

February’s Black History Month was an important reminder of the impactful roles people of color have played in our world.  History should be about what actually happened; however, some entertainment has actors playing roles that were really performed by people of other races.  Now a media icon’s popular streaming series is shining a light on such controversial casting.

In online entertainment, where content is king, Netflix’s original series Bridgerton, about the lives of Regency-era nobles, has risen above the populace to become a royal success.  Other period pieces like Game of Thrones and The Crown also have shown viewers’ appetites for aristocracy, but Bridgerton is different in one very visible way.

Playing the roles of English nobles and others, people of color are many of the series’ leading actors, for instance:  Regé-Jean Page, Ruby Barker, Jason Barnett, Martins Imhangbe, Sandra Teles, Anand Desai-Barochia, and Golda Rosheuvel.  In fact, Rosheuvel plays one of the show’s highest-ranking royals, Queen Charlotte.

Although some believe that the real Queen Charlotte “descended from a Portuguese branch of nobility with African ancestry,” even a casual royal-watcher knows that the bloodlines of  English nobles are rather consistently Caucasian.  So, to see persons of color playing the parts of dukes and duchesses is at least surprising, and some might say ‘historically inaccurate.’  Either way, Bridgerton begs the question:

Should an actor of one race portray a person of another?

First, it’s important to recognize that Bridgerton is not exactly breaking new ground.  A few months before COVID closed the curtain on live performances, my wife and I had the privilege of visiting Philadelphia and seeing one of the best examples of diverse casting: Hamilton.  The musical mega-hit features many people of color portraying individuals who in reality were white, e.g., George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr.

However, actors were crossing racial lines long before Hamilton hit Broadway in 2015.  In fact, it’s easy to find such film examples over the past century, and it’s worth noting that in most cases the roles were reversed, i.e., white actors played either real or fictitious people of color, for example:

  1. Angelina Joline as Mariane Pearl in A Might Heart
  2. Ben Affleck as Antonio J. Mendez in Argo
  3. Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson in Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon
  4. Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  5. Laurence Olivier as Othello in Othello
  6. Natalie Wood as Maria in West Side Story
  7. Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger
  8. Katharine Hepburn as Jade in Dragon Seed
  9. Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in Cleopatra
  10. John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror

So, what issues are really at stake when it comes to actors’ racial representations?

The most obvious seems to be historical accuracy.  Participants’ personal identities (racial, ethnic, gender, etc.) are important for understanding past events and how they impact us today.  For instance, it would be dishonest to depict WW II’s Tuskegee Airmen as Asian, Hispanic, or white, when almost all the squadron’s aviators were Black.  Doing so also may steal a sense of pride from African Americans today.

However, does that same need for ‘identity accuracy’ apply to entertainment?  Not necessarily.  When we watch a television series, a feature film, or a Broadway show, we know that the actors are not the actual people—it’s a morally-acceptable accommodation that Alec Hill calls “mutual deceits.”  Play-goers understand that Lin-Manuel Miranda is not actually Alexander Hamilton.  They know that he’s just pretending to be him for a few hours.

The same logical likely applies to Bridgerton.  Even though some of the show’s characters were real people, like Queen Charlotte, it’s okay for people of other races to portray them, because it’s a largely fictional series that viewers know is taking creative liberties and not purporting to be very factual.

However, that artistic license shouldn’t be wielded with impunity.  There still need to be standards, particularly related to portraying people in ways that reasonably represent who they are or were.

If an actor ever played me in a movie, which will certainly never happen, I’d be less concerned that the actor looked like me and more concerned that he acted like me.  No one alive or deceased deserves to have their character defamed, which is an issue I’ve written about on several other occasions:

Accuracy consistent with the nature of the artistic creation (e.g., comedy vs. drama) is certainly important, but two other race-related factors also deserve consideration:

  • Opportunities:  While it’s convenient to conclude that white actors can portray people of color and vice versa, that generalization fails to account for centuries of discrimination that have often kept from racial minorities opportunities afforded others, including work in acting.  To help overcome that historical disparity, a case can be made that persons of color should receive added consideration for acting roles.
  • Representation:  Similarly, it’s encouraging for people of any race, ethnicity, or gender to see themselves represented in desirable occupations.  Acting is such a profession for many, but even more, actors paint pictures of career possibilities with each profession they portray, from A–accountants to Z–zookeepers.

Realizing that my own background and identity influence my thoughts on this issue, I asked an astute student of mine, Mikayla Broome, who is a person of color, to share her perspective.  Not surprising, she offered insights that hadn’t occurred to me.

Mikayla first disclaimed that while Bridgerton seemed intriguing, her impressions of the show came mainly from seeing its trailer.  She hadn’t watched any episodes because of their graphic sexual content—a good call that may be reason for future Mindful Marketing analysis.

In addition, she suggested that although she understood others’ affection for the show’s racial diversity, the setting in Regency-era England made the series seem “unrealistic” to her.  In keeping with that sentiment, she would “have no problem with white actors depicting the characters.”  She emphasized that was her personal opinion and she respected those whose attitudes differed.

Each of these reflections were instructive to me, but it was something else Mikayla shared that I found especially enlightening:

“I would be much more interested in a show depicting the lives of people of color in their own culture . . . like the royalty in Benin, Nigeria, the Tang dynasty in China, the Gupta dynasty in India, or Arsinoe the princess of Egypt.  People of color love to see themselves represented on the big screen with cultural accuracy. We have such rich histories that I see no need to insert us into stories that are not ours.”

Again, Mikayla emphasized that her personal opinion didn’t negate the potential value of diverse casting like that described above.  However, she rightly suggested that the bar should be set higher.In the category of fiction, Disney has taken significant diversity strides with feature films like MulanMoana, and Coco.  However, there also are so many inspiring stories to tell of real-life heroes from underrepresented people groups, such as those shared in Hidden FiguresThe Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, and a Ballerina’s Tale—a documentary about Misty Copeland, the first black female principal dancer of a major international ballet company.

One might think that films featuring real-life diversity are kind-hearted charity works that do good socially but not well financially.  According to research by UCLA’s Center for Scholars & Storytellers, that characterization is not the case.  In analyzing 100 films released from 2016 to 2019, the study found that “films with diverse characters and authentic stories actually make more money at the box office.”

Interestingly, Mikayla is double-major in Dance and Business Administration.  Perhaps her future will in some way involve bringing to light real-life stories of underrepresented people.

Lives are stories that intertwine to create a rich tapestry of tales that marketers and others need to tell well.  At the same time, they should seek opportunities to share more real-life stories born from backgrounds of diversity. In entertainment, it’s sometimes okay to recolor history, but it’s even better to depict individuals and events just as they were.  Regardless how one might classify Bridgerton, true stories told accurately are more often “Mindful Marketing.


About the Author: Dr. David Hagenbuch, Ethicist and Professor of Marketing, Messiah University, Author of Honorable Influence, Founder of MindfulMarketing.org 




My Take Your Child To Work Dream

Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant

Maybe because April 23 is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day in United States, I had a dream about doing so last night.

In the dream, I took my children to the PR office that has been my home away from home for many years. As we walked the halls, here’s what they witnessed.

In the reception room: They saw a sign reading, “There’s no such thing as a despicable client (as long as they pay).

In the H.R. office: They witnessed training on how to convince employees that anything told to them would not be reported to management (even though in reality it is reported to management).

In the product PR corridor: They witnessed account people being threatened and berated by supervisors, who couldn’t do any better than those they were terrorizing.

In the crisis PR department: They witnessed self-proclaimed crises specialists trying to convince clients that tenets written many years ago still are relevant and work.

In the new business sector: They saw management trying to decide which employees could best convince potential clients that they have the answers to problems.

In the media training department: They saw trainers using methods that seldom work – like “getting ahead of the story” and “turning a negative question into a positive.”

In the sports marketing PR area: They saw account handlers being trained on how to convince a client that exposure is more important than the sales that failed to emerge after being involved in international mega sporting events that cost a fortune.

In the measurement room: They saw account handlers try to convince a client that a 700 word story, devoid of client talking points, with the only mention of the client saying, “Joe or Jane is a product manger at the XYZ company,” was worth the $5,200 in agency billing time. 

In the medical PR department: They witnessed attorneys looking for loopholes in Federal Trade Commission and  Food and Drug Administration regulations that would allow account people to make misleading statements about a product without fear of breaking the law.

In the make over department: They heard various tactics about how to make a despicable individual or company look good.

In the financial PR department: They saw a list of statements, using different words that said, “Despite this temporary setback, we expect robust growth in the future.”

In the executive wing: They observed discussions regarding how to convince employees that larger offices without salary increases are better than money.

In the political department: They heard account handlers and political operatives figuring our how to clean up politicians’ verbal flip flops with backtracking statements. Classes were conducted by members of Congress, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who used his own flip flops as teaching tools.  

In the disclaimer room: They witnessed lessons on how best a client can deny making a statement, even if it was said before thousands of people and recordings and tapes of the remarks were made. President Trump led the session. 

Then we took the elevator to our parent company, an advertising agency. Here’s what the children observed:

In the disclaimer room: They saw account executives with stop watches timing how fast an actor can read a disclaimer so a person couldn’t understand what was said. In another corner of the room, font technicians were experimenting how to make disclaimer statements so small that they were impossible to read.

In the account exec department: They saw account execs trying to convince clients that spending millions on a mega event is a better strategy than more targeted advertising; also ad execs pleading with clients to give a campaign a little more time, saying that the results will come.

In the creative department: They previewed TV commercials showing an eye candy beauty in a bikini, accompanied by misleading copy suggesting that if you try this diet (or exercise routine) you could look like “number 10.”

In the financial advertising department: They witnessed a crash course in how to say “things will improve in the next quarter,” even when it was obvious a company was in deep trouble.

In the medical advertising department: They witnessed attorneys looking for loopholes in Federal Trade Commission and  Food and Drug Administration regulations that would allow account people to make misleading statements about a product without fear of breaking the law.

In the political advertising sector: They monitored a lesson on how to take comments out of context to use in a negative campaign ad.

There were areas in both the PR and advertising agency floors that were off-limit, except to “cleared” individuals. They were the “makeover rooms.” 

In the advertising agency, the makeover room was where secret discussions were held to find a way to convince consumers that Product A was really superior to Product B, when only the packaging was changed.

Then we entered a room with an American flag on the door. This was the we support and honor room. There they heard discussions on how to make a company appear that they truly honor servicemen and first defenders (even though they do nothing to help them). 

But there was one room, the winning is everything one, where the deceitful work done by individuals was considered a badge of honor. That was the room where creative people worked on political campaigns. Their assignments were to destroy the reputations of upright, caring candidates by using anything goes distortions of reality. Promotions to account handlers were awarded based on the quality of the lies they created. (In my opinion, that’s much more prevalent today than during my first job in PR, which was with a political agency that would not engage in tactics that included falsehoods or destroying reputations. After a few political campaigns I moved on to corporate and marketing PR, both of which has its own problems with truthfulness.) 

There was also a don’t blame me room. It was where high ranking execs and account supervisors hold meetings to discuss how best to blame innocents A.E.s for mistakes made by the brass. 

And there was a room known as the swamp. A picture of Donald Trump was on the wall, with an inscription reading “lie like a pro.” A.E.’s assigned to accounts being discussed were limited to graduates of Trump University. It was where strategy was discussed, my children were told, how to make dreadful entities look like caring 

corporations and disgraceful individuals look like empathetic citizens. (“Everyone deserves a defense,” was often the phrase used during these sessions, even though we are not lawyers, merely propagandists.) Because my Master’s from Yale and my PhD from Harvard were scoffed at, and I didn’t have a degree from Trump University, I was always viewed suspiciously by account handlers assigned to those tasks. 

Probably the most sought after job in the agency was to be an instructor in the celebrity salesroom. That was where actors and athletes were recruited and taught how to appear to have expertise about products they knew nothing about, when hawking them on TV commercials. When my children asked an athlete for an autograph, they were told, “I usually sign my name at autograph shows for $25 a pop. But I’ll make an exception. I’ll sign for you for $10.00.”

Then we looked into the coronavirus room, where masked creative types were tossing out “feeling” lines for advertisers to use on TV and radio commercials. “During these difficult times we are there for you,” and “We’ll get through this together,” were scribbled on the chalk board. Two copy chiefs were arguing about should it be, “During these times” or “In these times.” “Do you think President Clinton will let us use his “I feel your pain” remark, asked a novice copy writer. “Too political,” said someone else. “What about, ‘In these times there is no such thing as a Democrat or Republican,” someone said. “Great,” the copy chiefs said, and again started to argue if it should be, “During,” or “In.”

But the most closely guarded area was where promotions were made because of loyalty to agency brass instead of a person’s ability. This area was cynically known by employees as the no office politics in our company room.

On the way out of the building, we passed a door with a SRO sign affixed to it. It was the hypocrite’s room, a place for account handlers to cleanse their minds after promoting clients’ actions and messaging that they personally despise or disagree with. When my children asked why they couldn’t go into the room, I said. “It’s so crowded, you have to make a reservation.”

In the dream, one of my children asks me, “Daddy, does PR and advertising ever mislead people?” My other child asks, “What does caveat emptor mean?” Luckily the alarm clock woke me up before I had to answer.

Both the public relations floor and advertising floor had a skeptic’s room. They were the most comfortable rooms in the building. Urns of coffee, a free bar, and platters filled with fruits and cakes were continually replenished, when necessary, because that was where clients talked it over when deciding to approve or reject a program 

Then reality set in. In these terrible coronavirus days, with so many people having to work from home, take our children to work day is not limited to April 23; it’s every day.


The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.




Public Affairs Trends for 2020

 

Public Affairs Trends for 2020 - Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR

Public affairs is crucial to inform the general public directly on all kinds of issues, including laws, policies, public health, local ordinances and public administration. The core purpose of a public affairs campaign is to effectively disseminate information, build public consensus and prevent disinformation from gathering pace on social media platforms. At the same time, public affairs can work in the other direction and aim to influence public policy, build strong reputations for key players in a public issue, and find common ground with all stakeholders. That messaging tends to be less commercial and instead focuses on drawing attention to long-term issues. 

This doesn’t mean, however, that the world of public affairs is a stagnant one compared to her sister industry, public relations. In fact, between a U.S. election, escalating political tensions in Europe and the ongoing coronavirus, 2020 is set to be a pivotal year for public affairs. 

Here are three public affairs trends to look out for in 2020: 

1) Keeping It Local

When it comes to guiding public opinion and influencing public policy, local news will reign supreme in 2020. From local television and radio stations, to local influencers online, public affairs communicators will be looking at a smaller scale in order to have the biggest large-scale impact. 

Often, public affairs communicators are pushing out a campaign against competing interests. In an election, for example, advertising spending from several candidates typically competes for the same bandwidth. In traditional media, this is a zero sum game: more political advertising for one candidate means less for another, and even less for communicators on a separate campaign altogether. 

As a result, public affairs professionals must focus on securing the best impact for money, while ensuring they are truly hitting home with target audiences. Curating, launching and managing campaigns on a local level, then, will prove a public affairs priority in 2020. 

2) Taking on Fake News

The fake news phenomenon is only young, but it has already had a devastating impact on a range of public affairs deliverables. The ease with which an inaccurate, or even deliberately misleading, comment, infographic or video can be shared across social media has a greater impact than harmless pranks. When it comes to public health, the effects can be deadly. 

Amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, public affairs professionals have their work cut out for them like never before. Fake news and conspiracies surrounding the virus are prolific: coronavirus is a lab-made bioweapon, the streets of Wuhan are littered with dead bodies, domestic animals are carriers to be feared. That is what the people creating this disinformation want the public to believe. 

As such, governments are launching their own anti-fake news campaigns to tackle disinformation. Concerted and coordinated efforts from authorities and social media firms alike will evolve and streamline throughout the year. 

3) Public affairs influencers

Influencer marketing has long been a fixture of the digital PR industry, but now they are moving into more political waters. The #FridaysForFuture movement is a rapidly evolving machine with young leaders taking charge of the climate change debate. For the best grasp of what public affairs means in 2020, watch this space.

 

 

.




5WPR CEO With PR Lessons from Facebook’s Misinformation Crisis

Facebook is once again dominating the news cycle, this time with a widely-criticized public speech by Mark Zuckerberg adding fuel to the flames of his testimony before Congress. If that weren’t enough, Facebook has unveiled a series of new policies supposedly intended to curb hostile actors and foreign governments from weaponizing the platform ahead of the 2020 presidential elections. Media reaction to Zuckerberg’s recent moves has been less than forgiving. 

For brands with their own PR crisis on their hands, here are three main takeaways from Facebook’s ongoing saga. 

5WPR CEO With PR Lessons from Facebook’s Misinformation Crisis1.   Transparency without truth is an empty gesture

“Mark Zuckerberg is on a transparency tour,” wrote one commentator at the outset of Zuckerberg’s counter-campaign this month, “[but] Mark Zuckerberg said a lot of nothing in his big speech…does it matter if you’re being transparent if you aren’t really saying anything?” 

Modern audiences are more cynical than ever, and hailing transparency for transparency’s sake simply won’t cut it any more. If audiences find no substance or consistency in a brand’s public declarations, not only are they sure to be unconvinced but more unimpressed than ever before. Zuckerberg’s failure to recognize this could be a fatal mistake, and proof of just how out of touch he really is. 

“If Zuckerberg’s relentless optimism is simply a canny PR strategy, then perhaps a new combination of incentives- a regulatory tweak here, a mass boycott there—would be enough to make him change course,” writes Andre Marantz of The New Yorker, “The more alarming scenario is that Zuckerberg is actually high on his own supply.” 

2.   Focus on bad behavior, not bad content

If Zuckerberg’s current claim to optimism is, after all, just a Public Relations strategy, it seems even Facebook has realized it isn’t enough. 

In a quick turnaround from comments by Zuckerberg that Facebook would not ban political advertising, the social media platform announced a set of measures intended  “to help protect the democratic process and [provide] an update on initiatives already underway.” 

The policies outline a three-pronged effort to combat foreign interference, increase transparency, and reduce misinformation. In doing so, Facebook has declared war on bad actors and their behavior, not their content. 

3.   Show, don’t just tell

As part of its declarations toward transparency, Facebook has also announced a tangible change to their Pages platform. 

“We’re adding more information about who is behind a Page, including a new ‘Organizations That Manage This Page’ tab that will feature the Page’s ‘Confirmed Page Owner,” Facebook announced. 

Announcing such a step has been a critical move in assuaging fears that Facebook’s response to misinformation concerns will be a whole lot of hot air. The announced changes are tangible, and specific, and have already done wonders for the platform’s case against critics. 

For communications experts, let Facebook’s current saga be a lesson: audience distrust is as rife as ever, and transparency without action is a waste of time. Plan a brand’s crisis response accordingly.


Ronn Torossian - How PR Firms Can Lead by Example with Diversity and InclusionAbout the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR.




The Day TV Journalism Died

The Day TV Journalism Died

 

Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant

We soon will be approaching June 1, the birthday of the death of TV journalism. And Americans who care about truthful, factual, accurate news should still be in mourning.

People who grew up during the age of cable news might not know that once upon a time, TV journalism was not only well respected but also served as a watchdog, uncovering excesses of government officials and illegal actions by businesses. Today, political coverage on TV resembles parasitic zombies, the undead, whose life blood is rehashing news largely uncovered by major print pubs, notably from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.

The most famous of the TV journalists – in the era when TV news reporters actually covered and investigated the news – were Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, both of who helped shape American history and both of who were on the CBS TV network.

On his March 9th,1954, “See it Now” program, Murrow, who was already famous for his radio broadcasting from London describing the Nazi blitz, brought to the American public the  ruthlessness and lies that for several years made Sen. Joe McCarthy one of the most feared politicians in Washington. It was Murrow’s expose of McCarthy’s tactics on national TV that was the beginning of the end for the senator.

On CBS, Walter Cronkite changed the way many Americans thought about the Vietnam War, when, after retuning from a trip to the war zone, he told what he witnessed during a one-hour special, “Report from Vietnam: Who, What, When, Where, Why?” that aired on February 27, 1968. (Revisionist historians now claim that Cronkite, who for years was hawkish regarding Viet Name, advised the American army to admit defeat. He did not. He told his viewers that the stalemate could only be broken through negotiations.) After the telecast aired, President Johnson supposedly said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America” and a few weeks later he said he would not run for a second term as president.

Morley Safer, another CBS TV newsman, is credited with changing the way war is covered on TV, when in 1965 during his reporting from Vietnam he reported about U.S. marines torching Cam Ne, a village occupied by old men and women and young women with babies during a search and destroy mission. Most TV viewers know Safer for his long tenure on the “60 Minutes” news magazine program, unaware of his ground-breaking Vietnam War coverage.

Of course, there have been many other moments that TV journalists served the pubic by bringing the truth that governments and businesses wanted to keep secret. But none, in my opinion, changed American history as much as Murrow. Cronkite and Safer did.

 

Great television news reporting lived until the networks curbed the independence of the news division and thought of them as profit centers. (For a fictionalized, but largely accurate, version of how TV news divisions became subservient to the entertainment executives see Paddy Chayefsky’s famous movie, “Network,” which was redirected into a London and Broadway play .During an interview in the November 25 New York Times, Bryan Cranston, star of the London and 2018 Broadway productions, said, “If you’re not skeptical, you’re naïve. If you believe everything that you see on CNN or Fox or MSNBC, you are gullible. You can’t just go to one source. Because now the news is a news-entertainment program.”) And how right he is.

The death of reliable TV news began when CNN went live on June 1, 1980. In 1996, MSNBC (on July 15), and Fox News (on October 7) hammered the final nails into the legitimate TV news coffin. It wasn’t too long after that the network news shows, while still having much larger audiences than their illegitimate cable off-spring, lost their clout to the cables and their 24/7 flawed newscasts, featuring talk show hosts, who express opinions regardless of facts, pundits, who disguise personal opinions as true analysis of situations, reporters who repeat whatever politicians tell them verbatim, as if it was “Breaking News” without knowing details of a situation, or even if the comments are fictional,, and producers who rely on the morning newspapers – mostly the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post – for story lines. (An example of cable talent not knowing details about what they’re reporting occurred during the Florida recount of the 2018 election. A CNN anchor said, “What a mess.” It took a person who actually is a political expert and knows the election law to correct the host by saying, “That’s the law in Florida.”) In my opinion, the mess is when cable political personalities don’t know what they are talking about.

Ever since the advent of cable TV political coverage the American public has been entertained by performers, including members of Congress and the media, whose acts deserve to be covered by minor theatrical critics, rather than by knowledgeable political journalists (which most cable reporters are not).

In many instances the leading actors are the two Jim’s, Jordon, the tough talking GOP Congressman from Ohio, who thinks that acting like another Jim (Cagney), during his tough talking gangster movies, intimidates witnesses called to committee hearings, and Acosta, who should share at least half his paycheck with President Trump, since they both gained from their seemingly scripted encounters during White House press briefings.

But the Jordan, Acosta, and Trump acts can at least be cancelled by voters in the next election or by TV viewers by not tuning in. However, the aggregate damage that cable political coverage has done to American politics and news reporting will be more difficult to repair.

Perhaps the damage that will be most difficult to, if not impossible, to overcome is cables willingness to turn every ant hill into the Rocky Mountains. In order to feed the 24/7 beast that is cable TV, any government individual willing to comment is given an opportunity to preen before the cameras, whether what the say is “news,” or not, makes sense or not, or, most important, is true or not. And the comments go largely unchallenged by TV camera reporters running down the hall after a member of Congress because the reporters don’t know enough details to call out the politician’s untruths.

The heart of cable political programming is the anything goes monologues by left and right-leaning talkers, who excuse themselves by adapting  Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” theory of communications by saying, “We are not reporters,” meaning we can lie as often as we want to. The result is that too many people tune in to the programs that agree with their political beliefs and tune out the

serious reporting from papers like the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and other respected pubs. It’s as if the extreme far right commentators resort to The Big Lie propaganda technique used so successfully by Adolf Hitler, which was that the bigger the lie the more people would believe it. (Not that I’m saying any of the far-right propagandists are Nazis, only that their lies are so outlandish that many people believe that they must be true.) Unfortunately, The Big Lie technique is also used by many of our politicians, “stolen elections,” “illegal voters,” “fake news,” “President Obama not being born in the U.S.” and other statements that have been proven to be Big Lies, the chief practitioner of which is President Trump. (Students of history know that The Big Lie propaganda technique was invented by Hitler, who wrote in “Mein Kampf” about telling lies that are so outrageous that people will assume they are the truth.)

Cable TV political reporting has opened Pandora’s Box on both its viewers and the political scene. The evils emanating from it include inaccurate information, citizens who assume everything the media says is a lie, biased and flawed reports, a political scene devoid of serious discussions, reporters instead of uncovering news just talking about news uncovered by print pubs, and still often getting the facts wrong, failing to correct inaccurate information (as print pubs do every day), providing unlimited access to hateful propagandists, an unlimited number of pundits who contribute nothing but their own opinions disguising it as analysis, the use of what in reality are long sound bites camouflaged as reporting a story, the on-going race among cable reporters to be the first to get it wrong, reporting and commentary that sounds as if it’s on a recording loop, and, perhaps, the most evil aspect of how CNN, MSNBC and Fox has damaged good TV journalism, — the preponderance use of female and male “eye candy” talent, and shutting the door on reporters who might have provided great journalism, but don’t get the opportunity to do so because they don’t look as if they came from central casting.

The little credibility that cable political reporting has is a result of cannibalizing stories from respected print pubs like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post and having the papers’ journalists provide intelligent insight about the articles they wrote. It’s what I call parasitic journalism, with the cable stations being the parasites. MSNBC seems to be the biggest duplicitous parasite on TV with their, “We can now confirm the story in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal,” etc. shtick to give the impression that they’re actually breaking news instead of co-opting it. (In a way, it’s less honest than the talk hosts on Fox, who, at least, don’t pretend they are journalists.) 

One of the many problems with cable TV political reporting is that it’s headline driven. It’s like reading a print headline and not reading the text of a story for details. That’s because, as a magazine investigative reporter, who broke many major stories, said while being interviewed on TV during the 2016 election, cable reporters often don’t know what they are talking about and resort to words like, “looks bad,” bad optics,” “wave election,” and other weasel words to camouflage the fact that they don’t know specifics.

But even when the specifics are obvious cable TV “news people” can’t stop from dramatizing or misstating a situation.

A few examples:

  • An appalling example occurred on December 4, when President George Herbert Walker Bush was lying in state at the Capitol. Leading into an interview with Tom Ridge, the first Homeland Security Secretary and a Bush associate, John Berman on CNN’s “New Day” program said, “All night, all morning long people have been filing past the president’s casket,” oblivious to the reality that “Today” showed that no one was filing past the casket and that a reporter from WCBS-Radio, New York, at the scene said a minute before that now’s the time for people to        pay respect who don’t want to wait on line.  It’s empty now.
  • The shallowness of all TV news reporting (since the days of Murrow and Cronkite) was exemplified during the mourning period for President Bush, when network and cable reporters tripped over themselves trying to be the first to point out the bipartisanship shown because Democrat and Republicans were civil to each other during the funeral services. This bipartisanship lasted less than 24 hours after the burial of the president, when Republican and Democrats differed on the testimony of former FBI director’s James Comey before the House Judiciary Committee. The reporters either forgot, but probably purposely ignored, the history of bipartisanship during the services when Sen. McCain died, which transformed into partisan bickering almost immediately after the senator was buried. But referring to that would have interfered with their script. (That’s the trouble with cable political news. It doesn’t believe in straight reporting. Hence, “he said, she said” guests and pundits whose opinions are as valid as my all-know-it- relatives at a Thanksgiving dinner)
  • Remember how for months the cable pundits said that the payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal wouldn’t amount to anything because “it’s just a campaign finance violation that happens all the time.” I’m still waiting for their corrections now that the federal prosecutors ruled otherwise.
  • An egregious error was made by veteran political reporter Andrea Mitchell on her December 19 “Mitchell Reports” program. During a discussion on the dissolution of Trump’s charity for illegalities,Mitchell twice said that the then New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who headed up the investigation, is an elected Democrat, before Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold, who won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the matter, said that Underwood was not elected, but appointed to the position. (If an old TV political hand like Andrea doesn’t get it straight, what can we expect from the “eye candy” newcomers?)
  • One would expect that at least the NBC and MSNBC political guru would get his facts correct, but Chuck Todd proved otherwise. On his October 20 MTP Daily program, while discussing the resignation of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Todd, the lead NBC political star, compared Mattis’ resignation to that of General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.  Two mistakes in one sentence: The comparison was faulty; MacArthur was not a cabinet member. But even more important for people who like to get their history straight, MacArthur did not resign his command. As the New York Times reported on April 11, 1951, President Truman fired the general because he had concluded that the Far Eastern commander “is unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the United States Government and of the United Nations in matters pertaining to his official duties.”

In addition to factual errors, cable news is also guilty of flawed analysis and not knowing what they’re talking about. Two prime examples: 

  • The Trump-John Kelly-Chief of Staff Affair. For many months, cable news reporters reported their sources said that that Kelly will resign. He eventually did, proving that if you repeat the same thing continuously even on cable news you might someday be correct.
  • On the same day, a second fable spun by cable TV reporters exposed how little they know of what they report “Cableists” (as I crowned them) confidentially reported almost every day for many weeks that Michael Cohen was fully cooperating with Southern District of New York prosecutors. But the feds court filing said Cohen didn’t fully cooperate and asked for considerable jail time. (It was only then that Cohen began to fully offer more cooperation.)

And if I had a dime for every time a cable reporter said that they learned that the Mueller investigation will be issued by (you fill in the date) and that General Flynn will walk out of the courtroom without prison time because of his cooperation, I’d be wearing a Rolex instead of a Timex. Only space limitations prevent more examples.

As someone who has worked on local, state and presidential campaigns at a political PR firm before joining Burson-Marsteller, and traveled the world a as media advisor to high government officials, I find that a major  problem with many of cable’s political reporters (including anchors) is their inability to properly analyze occurrences. On December 14, after a Federal judge ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, some cable reporters said it was a victory for President Trump. Actually, it was a victory for Democrats, who won control of the House in 2018 by campaigning largely on health care. The judge’s ruling keeps the health issue in play for the foreseeable future, and you can bet a few Lincolns that the Democrats will again make heath care a prominent campaign issue during 2019 and 2020.

In my opinion, the best TV political news interviewer is Chris Wallace of Fox News. His questioning of politicians from both parties are incisive and tough, unlike other TV interviewers on network and cable programs who seem afraid to ask questions that might result in politicians refusing to appear on the programs.

In his November 25, 2018 New York Times column, Nicholas Kristoff wrote that cable television believes that as long as the topic is President Trump, revenue follows. He also says more effective fact checking is necessary to call out lies without compounding them.

During the 2016 presidential election, Leslie Moonves, then CEO of CBS said of Trump’s campaign tactics,” It my not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”And he was right on both accounts: TV ratings and political advertising increased, and it is still not good for the U.S.  Both Kristof and Moonves.are correct.

In his December 15-16, 2018, Wall Street Journal column, Jason Gay wrote: “Everyone on cable news acts like their pants are on fire. And yet, minutes later, I can’t remember a single thing I watched.” While I certainly agree with Mr. Gay about his reaction to cable news, I must add a qualification: Except those who watch Fox News; they seem to believe anything.

Russell Baker, the great, late New York Times columnist, once said in a memoir that as a young reporter he had to wait for senators to come out of a closed meeting and lie to him. That’s what cable TV political reporters do today, but their producers accept it as great reporting.

In his An Essay on Criticism,” Alexander Pope, the 18th century English poet, wrote “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” He could have been writing about TV cable political reporters.For people addicted to getting news only from television, there is a way of knowing what their representatives truly feel about issues. Tune in C-Span. There member of Congress make speeches, mostly for their constituents, without it being interpreted by the media. There you can learn how members of Congress really feel about matters.

As we approach June 1 and reflect on the passing of great TV political reporters, we should all say, ‘Rest in Peace. If you could see what passes for political reporting on TV today, you’d be turning over in your graves.”


The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com and artsolomon4pr (at) optimum.net.

 




Record Local Cable Ad Spending in Battleground State Senate Elections

CommPro.biz News AlertA Commpro News Update

Viamedia has found that one common pattern amongst the victorious senate candidates in many of the battleground states was their use of local cable advertising.

This conclusion comes after data was received regarding political advertising purchased on more than 60 multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) of various sizes in more than 70 markets served by Viamedia throughout the country.  

2016 political ad sales in certain “battleground” states won by Republican senators show that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s successful re-election campaign outspent that of his opponent with 86% of all cable ad dollars spent by Ohio’s two Senate candidates from the Portman campaign.  In Florida, Sen. Rubio’s victorious campaign outspent that of his Democratic rival, Rep. Patrick Murphy, 59% to 41%.   In Pennsylvania, Sen. Pat Toomey’s successful campaign outspent that of his Democratic opponent 94% to 6%. Almost 100% of all cable advertising in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race was spent by Sen. Richard Burr’s successful re-election effort in Viamedia markets.

In other states, won by Democrat senators, Viamedia’s political ad sales indicate that Catherine Cortez Masto outspent Joe Heck on cable TV 72% to 28% in her successful race in Nevada, while Michael Bennet in Colorado, Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut, Brian Schatz in Hawaii and Charles Schumer in New York each accounted for nearly all of the total cable ad spending in their respective victories.  

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in geo-targeted TV ad spending from ‘down-ballot’ candidates, PACs and issues advertisers,” said Mark Lieberman, Viamedia president & CEO.  “Successful political advertisers during this unprecedented election cycle have embraced the uniqueness of the data and geo-targeting capability of local cable to reach the right voters effectively.”

According to the 2016 ad buys, 47% of all cable TV political ad spending came from issues advertisers — PACs and other organizations; 38% has come from down-ballot campaigns, primarily for the Senate and House; 9% has come from the presidential campaigns; and 6% reflected spending by PACs on behalf of presidential campaigns.

By comparison, in the same Viamedia markets in 2012, 45% of all cable TV political ad spending came from issues advertisers and PACs – including PAC spending on behalf of the presidential campaigns; 44% came from down-ballot campaigns; and 11% was from the presidential campaigns.

“While the Clinton presidential campaign and pro-Clinton PACs outspent Trump significantly on local cable advertising by 9-to-1 across the country in our markets, this just wasn’t enough to overcome the earned (free) media strategy adopted by the populist Trump campaign,” added Lieberman.

The 2016 election season proved robust for cable TV advertising overall. 




Programmatic Ad Buying Plays Expanding Role in Shaping Elections

Elad Gershoni - featuredBy Elad Gershoni,Vice President of Business Development, Brightcom

The upcoming 2016 elections in both the U.S. and UK are fast approaching, and advertisers know that delivering the right message to the right user at the right time can make a real difference in how people vote. Even more than in previous elections, today’s digitally interconnected world means programmatic ad buying plays a vital role in determining the overall outcome by strengthening the impact of your message.  After all, every single vote counts.

Changing the Face of Political Advertising

Today’s voters consume media faster and more continuously than ever before. Prior to the advent of programmatic, political parties would pay for campaign ads to appear in print, on radio, online and on TV. But these messages were often too general for the specific audience they landed upon.

However, in today’s programmatic ecosystem, political advertising is no longer hit or miss. Advertisers now have the opportunity to target their audiences based on demographics or geography with relevant, data-driven messages in different high-impact formats, across channels. What does this mean?

Inventory that Makes a Difference

“Attention” is evolving to be one of the most important KPIs in the upcoming U.S. and UK elections when it comes to digital strategies, measuring how successful you are in delivering a cross-platform campaign.

Recent studies show that over 50% of TV viewers are distracted when watching television by simultaneously browsing their PCs, mobile and tablet devices. Therefore, providing a cross-platform 360-degree experience for users will increase the likelihood of your messages getting to the voters.

Utilizing high-impact ad formats, from Video pre-roll to static display special executions, offers a unique and increasingly effective viewing experience. Additional options that also offer distinctive user experiences range from large video units that include a customizable video player with tailor-made content to Out-Stream ad format, which generates additional video inventories and enables content monetization with video ads.

This variety of ad formats is advantageous in the political arena, where ad cycles for political campaigns are often hyper targeted, time sensitive and region-specific.
The size of scale offered is also an important consideration for advertisers, especially for political campaigns. Buyers invested in the U.S. election will benefit from being offered a sizeable amount of unique impressions on a daily basis from Americans in all states and demographics.

Added Value

Unlike in decades past, today with programmatic, advertisers now have near-instant performance analysis. Party campaigners can look at stats of whether display or video ads have been viewed or not and adjust their targeting granularity from the site level through state or designated market areas all the way to device type, supporting the most granular campaign strategies.

During intense election campaigns, fast turnarounds and 24/7 support are crucial for buyer success. Round-the-clock support is vital for any required change in buying strategies.

Two Demographics That Will Tip the Scale

Millennials (those aged 18-35) will tip the scale in the U.S. and UK elections. In fact, this will be the first U.S. presidential election where Millennials will equal – some sources even say surpass – Baby Boomers as the largest segment of eligible U.S. voters. As a whole, Millennials are characterized as being more liberal than older generations, and that they tend to vote Democratic. In fact, in the last three U.S. presidential elections, most voters who were between 18 to 29 years old supported the Democratic candidate, according to the Pew Research Center. As a defining feature of this generation is their open-mindedness, the more reach you will have for this demographic, the more likely your message will speak to them and sway their opinions. This will influence the final voter outcome.

For the U.S. election, Hispanics are a similarly important demographic, especially given that the Latino electorate has leaned toward the left in presidential elections for decades. What’s more, U.S. Hispanic Millennials will reportedly make up 44% of the 27.3 million eligible Hispanic voters expected to turn out for the upcoming election. This is a segment surpassing any other racial or ethnic group of U.S. voters, according to Bloomberg, citing Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau data.  

Brightcom is specializing in both of these valuable demographics through its owned and operated assets:

  • Millennials – Through its partner group Literally Media, it delivers more than 20 million unique users, the majority of which are Millennials, who are responsible for more than 155 million quality page views.
  • Hispanics – It delivers 20 of the largest and busiest Latin American news portals, 100% owned and operated, and a consolidation of the media entities catering to the U.S. Hispanic and Latin American markets. This asset boasts close to 8 million U.S. Hispanic unique users per month, which translate to 120 million page views.

Programmatic Role in Shaping Elections

Successfully delivering your targeted message to the right voters across the right platforms is the essence of programmatic during election seasons.  Successfully targeting Millennials and Hispanics during the upcoming elections will add real value to advertisers this election cycle.  Overall, the variety of inventory offered – and the technology and dedicated people behind it – all contribute to the growing role that programmatic ad buying plays in helping to determine who will be the next leaders in the U.S. and the UK.   

About the Author: Elad Gershoni joined Brightcom in 2009 as part of the campaign management team, he soon moved to leading that same team. Within the organization he continued to climb ranks and later on becoming the Director of Ad Operations. He went on to become the head of the media team which eventually led him to his current position within the company. Elad now heads up the U.S. development. 

 




Voters Most Influenced by Debates and TV/Print News Reporting

Negative AdsBy Dottie Enrico, Director of Content Development,  4A’s

Do negative political ads affect how voters view the whole advertising industry? A new survey fielded exclusively for the 4A’s by research firm SSRS in late January found the debates are neck and neck with television and radio reporting as the two most influential factors on voting decisions. Newspapers/print media and social media follow. Despite all of the buzz about social media, it still lags behind print media as a decision-shaper, though not by a huge margin. When asked what the most influential form of media is, they survey found that debates are more influential among Millennials (41 percent) while television (one-third) and radio reporting (one-quarter) are more influential among Baby Boomers and those older. Predictably, social media has more influence over younger people (19 percent).

Political Advertising SurveyFewer than 10 percent of the 1,000 voting age adults surveyed believe political ads influence how they vote. But that’s not to say ads don’t help voters shape opinions of candidates and competitors during a presidential battle. Further, two in ten feel that political ads are too negative and 15 percent believe they mostly present false messages.

The venues that most influence voters also differ along party lines. Democrats put more stock in newspaper/print coverage (23 percent) than Republicans (11 percent). Members of both parties are heavily influenced by the debates, while Republicans tend to be more influenced by TV or radio news coverage (36 percent) compared to Democrats (24 percent) and Independents (23 percent). Independents (16 percent) rely more heavily on social media compared to Republicans (7 percent) or Democrats (12 percent).

When it comes to how political advertising affects people’s perception of the ad industry in general: close to half (45 percent) of respondents think less of advertising in general because of political ad content. And only 25 percent of respondents say their opinion of mainstream consumer ads is lowered as a result of political ads.

This differential in how consumers perceive political versus product ads may be due, in part, to the fact only 19 percent of people believe political ads are held to the same regulatory standards as product ads. Four in ten respondents believe there are different agencies producing advertising for political and product-related purposes. Compared to younger respondents (Millennials at 12 percent, Gen X at 18 percent), older respondents are more likely to say they don’t know if the same advertising agencies that create political ads also create product-related ads (Baby Boomers at 31 percent).

“It’s encouraging to see voters understand that ads for products and services are held to a different standard than political advertising,” said Nancy Hill, president and CEO of the 4A’s. “It’s also good to see so many people are savvy enough to know the agencies who create most consumer advertising are not the same agencies creating political ads.”

About the Author: Dottie Enrico is the director of content development for the 4A’s. Previously she covered the advertising industry for 15+ years for Adweek, USA Today, Newsday and TV Guide. 




It’s Time For A “Sports History Hall Of Shame”

Baseball Hall of FameArthur Solomon

An abridged ceremony, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, was held in Cooperstown, N.Y. on September 8, when baseball players Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and players’ labor leader Marvin Miller were inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. 

As usual, the ceremony received major positive coverage, as do induction ceremonies for all sports Hall of Fames. In recent years, more than an athlete’s statistics have been considered for inclusion into the Halls. But that was not always so.

Sports Halls of Fame are filled with athletes whose status as heroes are, at best, dubious because of their off-the-field actions. 

Conduct that would affect the careers of nonathletes, like me and most of my former sports writing and sports marketing PR colleagues, are excused by the sports moguls as long as the athlete can help a team.

The distressing aspect about the Halls of Fame is that they would be meaningless structures without the cooperation of many sports journalists, who unlike the great majority of none sports businesses and political journalists act as cheer leaders for the multi-billion dollars sports business.

Halls of Fames are a growth business in the United States. If they were listed on the New York Stock Exchange they would get continuous “buy” recommendations from financial advisors because they are always getting new inventory popular with sports fanatics and massive free positive publicity from the media.

But unlike the Shakespeare’s quote that, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones,” the entrance to the Halls of Fames should be inscribed with, “The good stats that men do lives after them; the evil is oft interred with their bones.”  Of course in the case of sports Halls of Fame inductees, the deciders of “good” are individuals whose livelihoods are dependent on sports.  That often means the warts of inductees that would disqualify individuals from receiving honors in the civilian world are often overlooked in the sports universe.

There are numerous sports Halls of Fames. What’s messing is a “Sports History Hall of Shame.” Past and current happenings show that there are many candidates for inclusion, some now in the sanctioned official Halls. The inscription on the entrance to the  “Sports History Hall of Shame.” should be, with apologies to Cole Porter, “Most Anything Goes.”

The “Sports History Hall of Shame.”  would be divided into various corridors:

The Foul Play Corridor

This would feature the athletes from all sports who have been caught breaking the rules of their sport. A few examples, pitchers who have “doctored” baseballs; batters who have used illegal bats; football coaches who secretly taped other teams practices; quarterbacks who used under inflated footballs, and performers of all sports who have been caught using PEDs of various sorts (that are probably used by the great majority of athletes). Also included would be examples of “gamesmanship,” which Meriam-Webster defines as, “the art or practice of winning games by questionable expedients without actually violating the rules, or the use of ethically dubious methods to gain an objective.”

The Hypocrite Wing

Over the entrance to this chamber would be, in solid gold, an engraving saying, “We honor owners of National Football League, and Major League Baseball teams who have had run-ins with the law, along with other moguls of sports who allow health-adverse products on team telecasts that are welcomed by the television networks on whose broadcasts these harmful products are promoted regardless of the age of the viewing audience. 

Of course, the following corridor would be the largest of the “Sports History Hall of Shame” with five chambers.

1 – The Con Artist Hall

This would feature all the quotes from the owners of teams and league commissioners, who over the decades tried, and still try, to camouflage their businesses as just a sport; also all the athletes who act like they’re really knowledgeable about the products they endorse. And the hypocrisy of the international sports moguls who, with money provided by their  “proud sponsors” accomplices, promote Olympic and other sporting events to be played in any country that comes up with enough money, and even more shamefully awards them to totalitarian countries that are devoid of human rights. Prime Examples: Russia, China, Nazi Germany.

2 – The Extortion Corridor

You don’t have to be a fan of mob movies to witness shakedowns. Just read the sports pages, and based on history you’ll learn how the owners of major sport franchises use shakedowns that are within the law: (Gamesmanship at its zenith?) “Build us a new stadium or we’ll move; give us tax abatements or we’ll move; give us whatever we want or we’ll move.” Perhaps the most famous shakedown occurred in 1958, when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants dug up their roots and transplanted them in California. The impetus for the move was when New York parks commissioner Robert Moses refused Dodger owner Walter O’Malley’s “take it or we’ll leave” ultimatum to build a new stadium in downtown Brooklyn, which would have also cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Once the Dodgers decided to move, the Giants followed. (Personally, I think it was a conspiracy.) An analysis by Bloomberg, in 2012, revealed that 22 National Football League teams were playing in tax-exempt debt and 64 baseball, basketball and hockey teams played in arenas that were built using the bonds. The most recent research on the subject that I was able to find was that the Chicago Cubs, in 2013, threatened to move after being refused tax dollars for a ballpark renovation. Of course, there have been more recent relocations. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “extortion” as, “The practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats.” Hmm.

3 – The Totalitarian Hall

This sector would be devoted to members of the International Olympic Committee who continuously degrade the world’s most important sporting event by awarding the games to totalitarian countries devoid of human rights and other freedoms. Sharing a prominent place in this corridor would be FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, and other international sports federations, along with photos of dictators who use the games as a PR tool.

4 – The Cover-Up Sector

This corridor would include both on-the-field personnel and front office executives. A special “dishonorable actions” display would be devoted to the National Football League that for year’s tried to cover-up that the fact that the celebratory “hard hits” caused brain damage, death and other life-altering events to players, as well as trying to smear the reputation of prestigious scientists whose research confirmed the dangers of football. Adjacent to the NFL display, would be one regarding how for many years Major League Baseball officials tried to cover-up the use of PEDs and when it was exposed threw the players under the bus. 

5 – The Gambling Corridor

This would include four sections: One for athletes, like the Chicago White Sox players who were accused of purposely losing the 1919 World Series, and another for more modern day baseball, basketball and football players accused of betting. The NBA betting scandals of the 2000s would be featured along with numerous college basketball scandals. The third section would be devoted to the NFL commissioner and team owners who said for years that they wouldn’t permit a franchise in Las Vegas, until they got an offer they couldn’t refuse. Also, the leagues and team owners who have invested in TV sports gambling businesses. The most up-to-date display, in a sector with a Las Vegas-like theme with glitzy lighting, will be named the 

“How To Lose Your Money While At Home.” It is devoted to the latest gambling innovations, which will permit fans to wager on individual happenings – like whether a quarterback will pass or hand-off or if a batter will get a hit or strike out. The combinations of different happenings are countless, and TV viewers are able to bet in real time while guzzling alcoholic beverages that sponsor the teams. 

Of course, to be complete, any “Sports History Hall of Shame.” must contain a wing for the sports media, without  whose help sports could not continue to be the opioid of so many people. Thus…

The Press Box

This corridor is shared by four types of reporters: 1 – the ones that act as PR people for teams, especially during baseball’s spring training or football’s college draft by heralding unproven newcomers the next coming of Babe Ruth or Joe Montana and by reporting statements by players, managers, and team owners as if what they were saying was actually newsworthy.  2- Reporters who for generations covered up the transgressions of ball players. 3 – The relatively new practice of sports journalists acting as fans and openly rooting for teams they cover instead of providing objective reporting and 4 – Reporters who have, and still do, turn a blind eye to the evils of sports – like concussions of football, the abusive treatment of thoroughbred horses, the National Hockey League’s refusing to admit that playing the “game” is dangerous, to name a few.

Sports Marketing Brands and PR People

Adjacent to The Press Box corridor will be one detailing the many U.S. brands that have financed international sporting events in despotic countries; that have positioned athletes as hawkers of products despite the athletes lack of knowledge about them, along with league, team and sports marketing PR people, who like sheep follow the scripts handed to them by those who pay their salaries. 

The Blame Game

Too big to house all in one corridor, The Blame Game will be located in a stand-a-alone annex the size of the Library of Congress. It is devoted to all the team owners and their general managers who, because of their ineptness in securing winning talent, blame managers and coaches for losing seasons. (The idea for “The Blame Game” annex was suggested by a committee composed  of high-ranking none sports PR executives and account agency supervisors, who have for generations been blaming innocent low level employees for accounts going sour, when the fault lies with the lack of ability of their supervisors to provide the necessary help.)

But, perhaps, the most shameful of all the corridors in the “Sports History Hall of Shame” would be shared by league and team executives, advertising execs and the TV networks and local stations that permit TV commercials promoting gambling and drinking during telecasts of games during the hours when many are watched by impressionable youngsters. The entrance to this corridor would have a huge fluorescent sign reading “Bet and Drink Responsibly,” companioned by a smaller sign in agate size font saying “We Don’t Mean It.” (Listening to some baseball sports programming makes me wonder if betting odds have replaced batting averages and earned runs as the most important stats. But the soon to begin football, basketball and hockey seasons will offer wagering opportunities conducive to those sports.)

The Still To Come Corridor

For the time being, this corridor would remain empty while waiting the arrival of hypocritical and criminal actions by the sports community that are so disturbing that we can’t imagine what they will be until they occur.

Full Disclosure

As might be evident from this column, I’m a bit jaundiced about the actual Halls of Fames, which in reality are nothing more than publicity gimmicks for sports leagues, and more recently for individual teams that have created their own Halls of Fame. 

Sports writers, and others associated with the sports family, can nominate athletes to be enshrined even though they never saw them hit a curve ball or sink a last second three-pointer. Many vote from reading record books or hearing handed-down tales and fables, even though the games have dramatically changed over the years, as has the tools of the trade like fielder’s gloves, the distances to hit a home run, the length of the seasons, protective football and hockey equipment,  tennis rackets, the size of the athletes, and the nutrition and the scientific training that modern day athletes receive and that are still being improved upon as I write this.

Also, to say that only what happens on the playing fields should be considered during Hall of Fames voting permits athletes who have committed unsportsmanlike acts to be venerated as heroes. There are too many people in Halls that should not be considered for any museum that celebrates heroes.

As New York Mets announcers Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez said on an  August 29 telecast, it doesn’t hurt having friends on the committees that vote on players to be enshrined in MLB’s Hall.

In my opinion, a special section in all Halls of Fame should be reserved for individuals who made a substantial contribution to sports; everything else is just hype for the various sports. And in baseball’s case, the only individuals that I can think of that fit that description are Babe Ruth, whose feats made fans put the Chicago White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series  on the back burners and who contributed mightily to the popularity of baseball, former center fielder Curt Flood, whose refusal to be traded was instrumental in changing baseball’s free agency practice, Marvin Miller, the labor leader, under whose leadership the way teams negotiated with players in all professional sports was changed, and Jackie Robinson, who made what is the greatest contribution, opening the sport to ballplayer’s of all colors and nationalities. 

To believe that the Hall voters should only choose on the athlete’s athletic accomplishments and not on their character is similar to someone saying, “Winning triumphs everything.”

Presidents of the United States don’t get a pass for their misbehaver; neither do CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies (or Jeopardy game show hosts) or Jane and Joe Worker. But if you can pass that football, sink a three pointer, hit a moon shot home run, athletes’ transgressions receives many passes. It’s as if they’re in a protective bubble that in my opinion should have been burst decades ago.


The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and nonsports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net

 




Love is Having to Say You’re Sorry

The greatest love stories are not those in which love is
only spoken, but those in which love is acted upon.”

– Dr. Steve Maraboli

When I was in college, the 1970 movie Love Story was still all the rage. For us young, impressionable teenagers, it seemed to hold the keys for mature love and relationships. The famous – or more accurately – infamous line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was used several times throughout the film, passing for Hollywood’s version of wisdom. It was, after all, the pre-Yoda days.

Even at that age it struck me as at best, trite. The most important thing we learn in any loving relationship is the power of apology and how it turns a potential last transaction into a moment of endearment and a foundation for the future.

In those heady days, I was sure I wanted to devote my life to political activity and started my career as a non-profit lobbyist and community organizer. I read everything I could on political history and organizing. I subscribed to over 20 magazines from the long-defunct In These Times and WIN to Mother Jones and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Of the hundreds of books and articles I devoured, the three I remember as the most transformative were Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and John Motl’s hand-drawn and mimeographed 16-page pamphlet on community organizing.

John was a veteran of what the media used to call “Nader’s Raiders” – one of the original Ralph Nader protégés. It was important to John that all the organizers he taught understood the commandments of the craft.

“Always respect the action,” for example, taught us – with the precision of a campaign advance professional – that no detail was too small to escape attention. My favorite was, “All tactics are neutral.” We tend to politicize our tactics – assuming that what works for the left cannot work for the right and vice versa. However, if we strip away the politics, we realize that in the successful execution of tactics lies the path to success. In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement was built on Black Churches. The Praise The Lord and conservative Christian movement a decade later realized they could use a similar foundation. Ditto mass demonstrations. Richard Viguerie built a conservative empire on direct mail forty years ago and the non-profits on the left realized they too could profit by emulating his scientific approach. The left never could build radio to match Rush Limbaugh, but they could build political comedy television in Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher and others that the right couldn’t touch. The right has Fox, the left MSNBC. All tactics are neutral.

Nearly 25 years ago, when I first started this firm, our clients were the major defense law firms – Howrey & Simon, Womble Carlyle, then-Kilpatrick & Cody (now Kilpatrick Townsend) – and many dozens of others. In time, we would work for and with over 300 of the world’s largest law firms, including most of the AmLaw 100 and nearly half of the Global 100. Along the way, we represented a number of the great plaintiff firms. I’ve always argued that the plaintiffs’ firms are a full Internet generation ahead of the defense firms. For the defense firms, Internet marketing and websites are a cost. For the plaintiff bar, it is their full employment act. Plaintiff law firm websites tend to be far better optimized than the defense bar, though that difference has been slowly evaporating. Tactics are neutral.

This past week, I interviewed Scott Hardy on In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal. Scott is a 30-year veteran of the tech industry who was first introduced to the wonders of computers as a teenager by an uncle who brought over a modem one night. Before the end of the evening, Scott had the realization that this new technology – not yet called the “World Wide Web” – must be like the experience of those first Mercury astronauts looking out the space capsule window back at Earth. The world had just gotten a lot smaller.

Scott would become one of the Internet legal pioneers, building what has become a class action and mass tort stock exchange called Top Class Actions. It is a website that now gets millions of visitors a year and has hundreds of thousands of followers on its social content. It has increased claim levels from the single digits to as much as 50%. It works.

He imagined, before anyone else did, that plaintiffs needed a place to easily find out if they were eligible for a class action or mass tort award. In time, he also realized that the plaintiff bar needed a place to identify potential class members. His other epiphany was that the companies who were defendants – largely Consumer Packaged Goods companies – could use this as the last line of defense to effectively communicate with currently disgruntled customers.

This opportunity seems obvious, but CPG companies and other defendants are still reluctant to use the platform as they see it as plaintiff’s territory. Companies spend billions of dollars on advertising in the hopes of motivating people to become customers, and in time – through great products and services – that these customers will graduate to become product evangelists. Yet, today, when something goes wrong, what do an increasing number of companies do with unhappy customers? We can no longer change the battery on our phone or smart watch, easily unsubscribe from an app or call customer service and reach a human being. For some companies and their customers, it’s as if we are returning to the days of caveat emptor.

Through Top Class Actions, CPG and other companies can powerfully and effectively communicate with temporarily dissatisfied customers and say “We know you had a bad experience, but our commitment to you is so strong that even when you had to join a class to get satisfaction, we want you to receive your just recompense. Please come back when you are ready.” Brand loyalty is like love. Forgiveness and a return to loyalty are possible when there is an apology and a sacrifice – in these cases, a small check to the litigant. Why not wrap it in a bow?

It seems that all companies and their litigation counsel should be including Top Class Actions as part of their litigation communications strategy. After all, it’s free and a chance to win back a little of that hard-earned loyalty.

All tactics are neutral.

Love is having to say you’re sorry.

Enjoy the listen.

Richard Levick

Listen to the podcast




What is a Man’s Magazine in 2021?

Esquire’s Editor In Chief, Michael Sebastian To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “When It Comes To Creating That Print Magazine, I Want Something That Is Going To Really Lean Into The Printy-ness Of It.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

“I think the print experience should be its own experience. The website, the YouTube channel, the Instagram page; these things and the print magazine should all talk to each other. They should all be part of the same Esquire universe.” Michael Sebastian…

 

Listening to the reader, an amazing part of the media publishing process. For without your reader, your user, your viewer, your audience, you have nothing to publish. Esquire magazine has been around for over 85 years, definitely a legacy brand that knows a thing or two about thee fine art of publishing. Its editor in chief in its current form today is Michael Sebastian, who knows a thing or two about listening to his audience.

Michael was named editor in chief of Esquire in June 2019 and he oversees print and digital content, strategy and operations. He comes to the job as the former digital director of Esquire since 2017 where, during his tenure, he expanded Esquire’s digital content to include more in-depth feature reporting and writing, exclusive interviews, ambitious political coverage and a new fashion vertical. He spearheaded the launch of the “Politics With Charles P. Pierce” membership program, and says it’s one of the most successful membership programs at Hearst Magazines.

I spoke with Michael recently and we talked about the rejuvenation that has been going on at Esquire under his careful eye. The new front of the book look and new franchises within. Keeping it fresh and current is important to Michael and when it comes to listening to the audience, Michael believes it’s crucial to do just that. In fact, not long ago he received an email from Seasons Hospice Foundation, reaching out on behalf of a longtime Esquire reader, Scott LaPointe. Scott loves Esquire and had a few thoughts on personal style, ideas he wanted to leave his son as a legacy.

Not only  did Michael read Scott’s email, he personally called and spoke with him about his thoughts and his own personal style and how important Scott felt it was. And Michael decided that there should be a section in the upcoming issue of Esquire dedicated to personal style. And so there was.

Now I’m not saying that Michael has time to personally call every reader who writes into him, but he does read the emails and he does listen. And I feel sure that for Scott LaPointe, that’s what Esquire is all about and why he reads it. And that’s what it’s about for its editor in chief too: listening to your audience and giving them what they want.

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Sebastian, editor in chief, Esquire.

But first the sound-bites:

On how listening to his audience impacts his decisions as editor in chief of a major brand like Esquire: Obviously we’re listening to readers on the website just by the data that we have from them all of the time, there’s no question about that. And I think to some extent that informs the print magazine. But from the perspective of what we’re putting in the print magazine, that is still guided pretty strictly by editors and by what we think is important for our readers.

On whether he feels his audience is platform specific or there is a cross-platform taking place: Well, both. And I know that’s not a very satisfying answer, but I think that we have readers who only bump into us on certain platforms. There are people who only read us in print; there are people who only read us online; there are casual readers who follow us on Twitter and read a story every once and a while from us. But then we have the super-users and those are the people who subscribe to the magazine, they read us online, they follow us on social media and they watch our videos on YouTube.

On how he is handling as editor in chief the social awakening of diversity, inclusion and equity in the nation: If you go back to things that I said, interviews that I had done, as soon as I was named editor in chief, one of my main priorities was to diversify who is an Esquire man, who is an Esquire writer, and who is an Esquire photographer. And I don’t just mean diversify racially, although I did. I meant in terms of age, geographic diversity, the life experience people bring to the table.

On how he would define Esquire with a new tagline for the men of today: It’s a very good question because it’s an existential question about the brand. And it’s one that we talk about internally every day. I think that there is still room for, in the media landscape, a magazine that is essentially about what it means to be a modern man nowadays. That’s not the tagline by the way. But that’s what Esquire is: what it means to be a modern man today.

On why the magazine is only sold every other month: There are now monthly magazines that are piling up on my bedside table. It goes back to the idea that there is so much media out there, and we have a contact point with our reader on a daily, practically minute-by-minute, basis already, so I’m not worried about them losing sight of us because we publish a dozen good stories a day. So, I think the every other month is a really good cadence for our reader.

On where he sees Esquire in 2022: I think that we want to make sure that if I’m talking to you in one year this voice of the new Esquire is synthesized in a way where it’s unmistakable. I do think that’s something that we’re still in the process of honing. It’s really about zeroing in on what that voice is. I want to make sure that it’s unmistakable.

On the major challenge he’s faced: When I came into the job, the thing that I said, and I would say this to advertising clients, to people at  Hearst, is that it was an evolution, not a revolution. I didn’t want to come in and do that and suddenly you have a brand that nobody recognizes. I wanted to evolve the brand so that it felt very current and very fresh, but not leave traditional readers behind, I wanted to bring them along with us. And I think a challenge has been when to slow down the pace of that evolution and then when to hit the gas on it. I’m still figuring that out.

On Esquire’s cover of the band BTS: The other thing we publish is era-defining covers and stories and I would put BTS in that category. To be honest, when this was first pitched to me, I was like I don’t know about that. But the more that I thought about it and the more I talked to people, I realized that this is the biggest band in the world. They’re huge. And the fact that we would get to put them on our cover and tell their story and relate them to our reader was great. I also love their message around masculinity too, the way that they were challenging the  norms of masculinity and things like that. I thought it was a really good message to send.

On anything he’d like to add: We’re on this path right now to really redefine who the Esquire man is. And it’s not going to happen overnight, but I think that we’re making really good progress when it comes to that. From a business perspective, I’d love to get across that the membership program that we’ve introduced has been more successful than we had anticipated. And that is so heartening to know. That after years of putting our content out online for free, people want to pay us for it. And that feels really encouraging.

On what makes him tick and click: My answer to that is the promise of what we’re going to be able to do that day. And what I mean by that is that when I wake up in the morning, it kind of goes back to my referendum on relevance. When I wake up in the morning it’s a clean slate. And I’m thinking about all of the cool things that I can do with my job. So, all of the fun stories that I’m going to get to edit, the great people I’m going to be able to talk to, the awesome photographs I’m going to get to look at and help edit. It’s the potential of being able to do that every day that gets me out of bed. I’m still excited about my job.

On how he unwinds in the evenings: A little bourbon or wine, maybe reading a book, but really the things is I have two daughters, a five-year-old and a two-year-old, and when I go into the office, which is about once a week, they’re literally waiting at the front door for me when I come home.

On what keeps him up at night: Probably going back to what we’ve talked about, I’m at the helm of an 88-year-old brand. An iconic, American brand. One of the most iconic media brands that still exists. And the people who have sat in the seat before me paid into the equity of that brand during their time. So that when I got here we’ve had a lot of brand equity. And I want to make sure that I’m paying back into that so that whoever comes after me can reap the fruits of our labor. And this amazing brand can live on for another 88 years. And that keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Sebastian, editor in chief, Esquire. 

Samir Husni: I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of letters from the editor over the years in magazines, but I have never seen anything as personal as what you wrote in the March issue introducing a new section in the magazine, based on a letter you received from one reader. Tell me more about how listening to your audience is impacting your decisions as editor in chief of a major brand like Esquire.

Michael Sebastian: I’m so glad you brought up that letter from the editor because getting that note about Scott (Scott LaPointe, a reader diagnosed with ALS, who is now in home hospice care) and then talking to him on the phone was one of the most affecting experiences I’ve ever had. I don’t know if it was the weight of this pandemic; we’re doing so much figuring out right now. How do we make a magazine when we’re all remote? What do our readers want? And then to be reminded of the impact that we make in our readers’ lives. It’s not just entertainment or service, it’s formative and it’s something that this guy was wanting to hand off to his son. And that was so important.

Interesting, I’ve gotten a lot of notes about that editor’s letter including from my own staff, which essentially said “I needed that.” I needed that to remind me of the importance of what we do.

But to your question, obviously we’re listening to readers on the website just by the data that we have from them all of the time, there’s no question about that. And I think to some extent that informs the print magazine. But from the perspective of what we’re putting in the print magazine, that is still guided pretty strictly by editors and by what we think is important for our readers.

And to me, that cracks open a bigger question, which I’ve thought a lot about. I was the digital director at Esquire prior to becoming the editor in chief. And during my time there the audience basically exploded, we grew the audience by three or four times across multiple platforms. And we even brought the age down, which was also interesting to see the age of the reader, at least online.

So when I got into the editor in chief’s seat, I thought that what we could do was create a print magazine that was going to really appeal to that readership that we had attracted online. And so there were some decisions that we made and I’ll point you to a very specific one which was we redesigned the front of the book.

I wanted the front of the book experience to kind of mimic or mirror the experience that people had when they were scrolling on their phones, scrolling on Instagram. And by that I mean we created a fairly broad rubric called the short stories and within that rubric you would have fashion, culture, food & drink, politics; the whole thing. Because to me it wasn’t very jarring for a reader who’s used to scrolling through Instagram and seeing a post from The New York Times or a post from wherever. And so we basically did that for a year.

And we would have a lot of internal conversations about it, because there was one faction of people who were like no, that’s all wrong, we shouldn’t be doing that. And there was another faction of people who said right on, you’re making the right decision. And I have to say that after a year of doing that, I’m now eating crow on that decision, because I think it was the wrong one.

And so we’re pivoting from that, because I think the print experience should be its own experience. The website, the YouTube channel, the Instagram page; these things and the print magazine should all talk to each other. They should all be part of the same Esquire universe. There’s no question about that. But when it comes to creating that print magazine, I want something that is going to really lean into the printy-ness of it. By that I mean a certain curation that makes sense to the print reader.

Scott certainly inspired it, but the broader impetus behind doing that was essentially saying let’s create a front of book experience and a middle of book experience that is really leaning into that print magazine experience.

We have a YouTube channel and the growth of that is really off the charts right now and that’s because for a time we thought we could adapt digital stories, print stories into kind of YouTube videos. And they failed miserably. Then we realized that if we lean into what YouTube viewers want we’ll have better success and that’s what we did. And that’s what has led to the growth there.

And I think the same thing can be said about print. We’re not going to take lessons from YouTube and put them into print; we’re going to do what print does best essentially and hope and know that is going to appeal to our readers.

Samir Husni: Being platform agnostic now, do you feel your readers, users, viewers and listeners are platform specific or there’s a cross-platform taking place?

Michael Sebastian: Well, both. And I know that’s not a very satisfying answer, but I think that we have readers who only bump into us on certain platforms. There are people who only read us in print; there are people who only read us online; there are casual readers who follow us on Twitter and read a story every once and a while from us. But then we have the super-users and those are the people who subscribe to the magazine, they read us online, they follow us on social media and they watch our videos on YouTube.

We’ve actually created a membership program that is tailored to all of the things that I talked about. It’s called “Esquire Select.” We’ve had an interesting journey with asking people to pay for our content, particularly online. In 2018, we introduced a membership program specific to our politics columnist Charles. P. Pierce. It basically said we were going to put a metered paywall in front of him and we’re going to ask you to pay if you’re going to read more than three articles.

And I was really nervous about that when we introduced it in 2018, because for years people could read him for free. And as soon as we introduced that, we got this outpouring of people who said take my money, I’ll happily pay for Charlie. And I have to tell you that was such a relief. I was up nights thinking about that because I was afraid we would fall on our face. But it was very successful.

Then last year we introduced what we call “Esquire Select” and it’s similar to what you see with a lot of other media companies. Essentially, we give people options. For $40 you can get the whole thing. And the whole thing is the print magazine, access to almost 90 years of archives, Esquire every day without having to worry about a pay meter, exclusive deals from friends of the brand; you get newsletters, access to Charlie, just the whole thing.

Or maybe you just want the print magazine, you can subscribe for that. Or maybe you just want Charlie, you can do that. Or just the website. It’s basically giving readers a menu to choose from. We’re about three or four months into this experiment and so far, knock on wood, it’s one of the most successful membership programs at Hearst Magazines.

 

Samir Husni: You’re background is in journalism, you started as a newspaper reporter. After the killing of George Floyd, there was a big awakening about social injustice throughout the country, in newspapers and magazines as well. And the politics, the diversity and the inclusion topics also appeared in Esquire more than ever. As an editor, how are you dealing with this new social awakening? Are you moving too far to the left, to the right? What are you doing with your audience who may or may not agree with you?

Michael Sebastian: That’s a great question. If you go back to things that I said, interviews that I had done, as soon as I was named editor in chief, one of my main priorities was to diversify who is an Esquire man, who is an Esquire writer, and who is an Esquire photographer. And I don’t just mean diversify racially, although I did. I meant in terms of age, geographic diversity, the life experience people bring to the table.

We published a story in our last summer issue from a transgender person about their difficulty in the transitioning process. And I don’t think anything like that has ever run in Esquire before. So we’ve had a commitment since day one to this.

To your question when it comes to politics, I have a very strong point of view when it comes to my politics and the way that I feel about the topics that you brought up. And I’m not going to shy away from that in service of this soft, both-side dualism that we’ve seen. I think that there are readers who probably agree with me and want to go along for that ride. And I think there are readers who are open to a broad swath of ideas and who also want to see what we’re doing when it comes to that. And then there are probably readers who don’t like what we’re doing there and there are other magazines for them, is what I would say.

We’re at a time right now where I don’t want to be muddy about this. Again, I don’t want to be in that squishy middle ground. The point of view that we have is very progressive, but that also doesn’t mean that we’re not going to put voices in the magazine or the website, which we do frequently, that might not necessarily agree with my own personal politics. And I think that’s really important, because I do want to hear from people who have different perspectives as well.

Samir Husni: From Esquire’s beginning in the 1930s, it has been the man’s magazine. And after Playboy came it was still the man’s magazine, but a little bit more on the modest side. What would you tell men today that Esquire is? There is no tagline under it anymore; if you were to tagline the magazine for men today, what would you tell them?

Michael Sebastian: You bring up a big question here, asking for a tagline, which by the way we talk about a lot. A new tagline for Esquire. It’s not ready for primetime yet, but a good question though. (Laughs)

It’s a very good question because it’s an existential question about the brand. And it’s one that we talk about internally every day. I think that there is still room for, in the media landscape, a magazine that is essentially about what it means to be a modern man nowadays. That’s not the tagline by the way. But that’s what Esquire is: what it means to be a modern man today.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve thought about this a lot. And one of the reasons is, I guess by nature of the pandemic, I have spent a lot of time talking to male friends of mine who are not in media and don’t live in New York City, some do, but the majority do not. And finding out what they want when they have time to consume media. And I have gotten some very clear takeaways from them.

First of all, they have limited time. Obviously, that goes for everyone, but what I would say is that they have jobs and familial responsibilities. And Netflix that they want to watch, sports that they want to watch. So, when we have their attention, we can’t bore them. So we need to create a magazine that is never boring; it’s always going to be entertaining. Because once they look at us, we need to prove to them why they’re giving us their time.

The other thing too is we need to talk to men on this eye-to-eye level, like if you pulled up a barstool next to them or something. There are a lot of places that are talking to men right now. And I think a lot of those conversations are toxic, or at least don’t point them in the right direction.

So that’s very much what we want to do, but we also don’t want to go to the other side and preach to them, because I don’t think anyone wants to be preached to either. It’s basically having a conversation between you and I about what does it mean to be a modern man right now.

I can give you an example of a middle of the book franchise that we’re introducing starting in our next issue, April/May, which is called “How Did I Get Here?” And it dispatches from the new middle age. I’m basing this partly on my own experience, but then also experience of men that I’ve spoken with, which is that yesterday it felt like I was 27 and today I woke up and I’m 40-years-old with two kids. It’s like how did I get here? And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I don’t mean that I’m going to go buy a Corvette and grow a ponytail and leave my family behind. (Laughs) I just mean that these are things that we need to reckon with.

So, we’re introducing this two-page franchise and the aim is to have writers from different perspectives weigh in each time. That way we get a really broad swath of writers so that it can be people from all kinds of backgrounds. My dream is to have a dozen of these under our belt and then have a book out. So when you’re browsing through the bookstore or on Amazon, then you see a book from Esquire that’s tackling the new middle age.

And I’m very intent on talking direct to this reader and saying look, there’s a lot going on in your life and you can come to us and be entertained and informed, and there’s a lot of great stuff like fashion, how you can dress, but there’s also a lot of things that relates to where you are in your life.

Samir Husni: These conversations are evident in the magazine, you’ve even changed the table of contents. Instead of reading Table of Contents, it reads Welcome to Esquire, Mr. Holland Will See You In. There is an invite for that conversation to start. So why am I having to wait two months now to get this invite? Why did you go bimonthly? 

Michael Sebastian: I like the bimonthly cadence. The joke before used to be that issues of The New Yorker would pile up on your bedside table. And now I read The New Yorker on The New Yorker app, I don’t get the magazine anymore. It’s a great magazine and they publish great stuff every week, but that’s how I like to experience it.

And there are now monthly magazines that are piling up on my bedside table. It goes back to the idea that there is so much media out there, and we have a contact point with our reader on a daily, practically minute-by-minute, basis already, so I’m not worried about them losing sight of us because we publish a dozen good stories a day. So, I think the every other month is a really good cadence for our reader.

The idea is that we have the lasting power of a coffee table book with the urgency of a magazine that really seeks to meet you right now. So there’s a little bit of both in there. The term coffee table book is actually kind of thrown around a lot in the magazine world. I have a lot of coffee table books and I never look at them. And that’s the thing about coffee table books, they’re set pieces that are meant to decorate your house.

That’s not what I want Esquire to be. I don’t want it to be something that you put on your coffee table and never look at. I do want it to be on your coffee table and I want you every time you put your feet up, look down and grab it to read.

Samir Husni: Hopefully, beyond the pandemic, where do you see Esquire in 2022?

Michael Sebastian: I think that we want to make sure that if I’m talking to you in one year this voice of the new Esquire is synthesized in a way where it’s unmistakable. I do think that’s something that we’re still in the process of honing. It’s really about zeroing in on what that voice is. I want to make sure that it’s unmistakable.

As we come out of the pandemic and we’re allowed to do things that we haven’t been able to do in a year, I think that you’re going to hopefully see an explosion in different touchpoints of Esquire. With the various touchpoints, what I mean is we are a media brand first and foremost. We publish stories that are meant to have impact, but at the same time we’re talking about different ways that we can license the brand in really smart ways, in partnerships with brands that we love.

I’ll give you an example, one that we just did. Our creative director, Nick Sullivan, who is a legend in the fashion world, worked with the brand Anderson & Sheppard to design a field jacket that we are selling on the side and they’re selling in the store. It’s these sort of smart brand extensions that I think you’ll see in 2022.

And again, it all revolves around that print magazine and the content that we publish, in these stories that we publish, in the celebrities that we put on the cover and so on, but ultimately it branches out in all of these different smart ways.

Samir Husni: What has been the major challenge you’ve faced with the changes to Esquire and how did you overcome it?

Michael Sebastian: When I came into the job, the thing that I said, and I would say this to advertising clients, to people at Hearst, is that it was an evolution, not a revolution. I didn’t want to come in and do that and suddenly you have a brand that nobody recognizes. I wanted to evolve the brand so that it felt very current and very fresh, but not leave traditional readers behind, I wanted to bring them along with us. And I think a challenge has been when to slow down the pace of that evolution and then when to hit the gas on it. I’m still figuring that out.

There have been times when you’ve probably seen a great leap forward with a redesign of the print magazine and so on, and then other times when we’ve been a little slower to progress. So controlling the pace of that is a challenge. There are people who have read us for decades that are coming along for the ride and new readers who are coming onboard as we continue to evolve.

There is something that I think about a lot, which is Esquire has this almost 90-year legacy. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote for us,  Ernest Hemingway wrote for us; how would I get out of bed in the morning if I woke up thinking well. Hemingway was writing for us, so what can we do to match that? I don’t want to think about that too much because it would just be too overwhelming.

But at the same time, the thing about Esquire is that people loved to point to Esquire in the sixties. Of course, the stuff that they were doing was legendary, no question about that. But that wasn’t the magazine’s only Golden Era. There have been multiple golden eras throughout the years.

And the inspiration that I take from those golden eras of the brand is that those editors were never looking backward. The editors of the sixties weren’t looking at the editors of the thirties for inspiration, they were looking at right now. They were trying to meet the moment right now with this urgency that all great media brands have. The same could be said of the eighties or any other great period in Esquire’s history.

And that’s the inspiration that I want to take from it, the idea that we are meeting the moment with an urgency that’s undeniable. And I think my experience as a digital director actually helps with that because my mantra to myself and my staff and to my bosses, from the moment I became a digital director, was that every day on the Internet is a referendum on your relevance.

So when you wake up in the morning, you have to fight for that relevance. You have to be publishing stories that people are going to be talking about. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail; the terrible part about this is that it never ends. And it’s exhausting because every day you’re fighting for people’s attention.

The good news about it though is if we fail today, we wake up tomorrow and we get to go at it again. And I think that’s true of the website, true of the magazine; it’s true of all extensions of the brand right now.

Samir Husni: How many letters have you received form people after you put BTS on the cover asking who are they? (Laughs)

Michael Sebastian: (Laughs too) I’m glad you brought up the BTS cover, I think of the well, the Esquire well and the well doesn’t just exist in print, it’s also the feature stories we publish online. So you have stories that make a social impact and the public service stories. We just published a story last week from Scott Raab as a matter of fact about the sexual abuse scandal at Ohio State. It’s a really powerful story and if you haven’t read it, you should. It’s incredible. We published a story last year about teen suicide and there has been an unfortunate uptick in that. Those are very important to the mix.

We also publish what I call adventure stories and I’m very keen on publishing them. I don’t just mean guy-climbs-a-mountain-almost-dies-but-doesn’t, I mean like these pulse-quickening reads that are tailor-made for Hollywood. And from the first issue I edited until the most recent one we had; we’ve had stories of heist and stories of prison breaks and stories about feuds in weird small communities.

And the other thing we publish is era-defining covers and stories and I would put BTS in that category. To be honest, when this was first pitched to me, I was like I don’t know about that. But the more that I thought about it and the more I talked to people, I realized that this is the biggest band in the world. They’re huge. And the fact that we would get to put them on our cover and tell their story and relate them to our reader was great. I also love their message around masculinity too, the way that they were challenging the  norms of masculinity and things like that. I thought it was a really good message to send.

I did get a couple of letters asking who they were, but the amount of fan mail on all platforms that we received was overwhelming. And I would do it all over again.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Michael Sebastian: We’re on this path right now to really redefine who the Esquire man is. And it’s not going to happen overnight, but I think that we’re making really good progress when it comes to that. From a business perspective, I’d love to get across that the membership program that we’ve introduced has been more successful than we had anticipated. And that is so heartening to know. That after years of putting our content out online for free, people want to pay us for it. And that feels really encouraging.

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click and motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Michael Sebastian: My answer to that is the promise of what we’re going to be able to do that day. And what I mean by that is that when I wake up in the morning, it kind of goes back to my referendum on relevance. When I wake up in the morning it’s a clean slate. And I’m thinking about all of the cool things that I can do with my job. So, all of the fun stories that I’m going to get to edit, the great people I’m going to be able to talk to, the awesome photographs I’m going to get to look at and help edit. It’s the potential of being able to do that every day that gets me out of bed. I’m still excited about my job.

Of course, by the end of the day I’m exhausted because there are a number of things that have gotten in the way. Administrative stuff, bureaucratic stuff, emails, all of that. By the end of the day I may have lost a little momentum. But when I wake up in the morning I’m full of it.

Samir Husni: How do you unwind then in the evenings?

Michael Sebastian: A little bourbon or wine, maybe reading a book, but really the things is I have two daughters, a five-year-old and a two-year-old, and when I go into the office, which is about once a week, they’re literally waiting at the front door for me when I come home.

And when I’m here working from home, I’m upstairs and they’re downstairs and I walk down the stairs and they’re at the bottom of the stairs yelling daddy. And that is the thing that I close my computer, leave my phone in the other room and I spend as much time as I can talking and playing with them. It’s amazing how all the stress from the day can just melt away at that point.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Michael Sebastian: Probably going back to what we’ve talked about, I’m at the helm of an 88-year-old brand. An iconic, American brand. One of the most iconic media brands that still exists. And the people who have sat in the seat before me paid into the equity of that brand during their time. So that when I got here we’ve had a lot of brand equity. And I want to make sure that I’m paying back into that so that whoever comes after me can reap the fruits of our labor. And this amazing brand can live on for another 88 years. And that keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you. 




Play Ball??? 2020 Changed How Sports Was Played. Should It Change Sports Marketing Public Relations Programs In 2021 And After?

Arthur Solomon

For baseball fans, “wait ‘till next year” will begin on April 1 (no fooling), when the first Major League game is scheduled to be played. For basketball fans, “wait ‘till next year” began on December 22, 2020, when the National Basketball Association began its current (2020-2021) season. For National Football League fans, 2020 did not end, no matter what the calendar says, until after the February 7, 2021 Super Bowl was history and “wait ‘till next year” will begin on September 9, when the first NFL game of 2021-2022 season is contested. For National Hockey League fans, “wait ‘till next year” began on January 13, 2021. For countless other professional and collegiate sports, the beginning of “wait ‘till next year” will rely on their schedules, not the Gregorian calendar most people use.

Of course, because Covid-19 will still be spreading havoc in 2021, betting the farm that all of the above start dates are set in stone is as ridiculous as thinking that your friendly financial advisor can really predict the future of a stock. 

But one thing is certain. The dreadful year 2020 has changed the life of sports and nonsports fans. Their lives will never be the same and neither will sports.

Sports in 2020 will be remembered as the year of change – for players, leagues, and how the rules of games were altered because of the coronavirus. But will it also change sports marketing approaches? In my opinion, it should.

For most people, there were three major stories that involved sports in the year of Covid-19.

  • The coronavirus pandemic, and
  • The presidential election, and 
  • The on-going protests spurred by the killing of Black men by police gone wrong.

    1 Covid-19 demonstrated that sports moguls only gave lip service to the health of their athletes. Despite professional and college games being shifted to other venues, canceled or postponed, and despite athletes falling ill with the disease, the owners and their TV network counterparts continued to push for a “complete” season. Only the International Olympic Committee, after insisting that Tokyo 2020, their summer games, would be held as scheduled, gave in to reality and postponed the games to this summer after some countries said that they would not send a team to Tokyo in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

    2 Viewership of sports on TV declined. Industry pundits said it was because of the interest in the presidential election. (If that’s true that’s good for America.)

    3 Along with the machinations of an autocratic, pathological, presidential liar, racial justice protests made following sports to many people seem insignificant.

    The year 2020 also produced a quote that New York Mets fans loved and raised the eyebrows of cynics. It was when Steve Cohen, one of whose hedge funds pleaded guilty to securities fraud charges in 2013, purchased the team for a reported $2.4 billion, and said he’s doing it for the fans.

    Even though surveys show that for most Americans what happens in the sports world is of minor interest or no concern, for a certain segment of our society what happens in the sports world is paramount. For them the list above is incomplete. Sports fanatics, sports marketers, TV network brass, pro and college football fans, workers who make their living because of sports-associated businesses, and the various leagues that set the rules for their sports might think the most important story of the year was the work stoppage by pro athletes, who sat out games to protest racial injustice and police brutality. That happening also might have attracted the attention of people who don’t know the difference between a dunk and a wide receiver. But will it translate into new fans? I wouldn’t bet a plug nickel that it will. 

    Events in 2020  have convinced me more than ever that my decades of saying using current  athletes as brand spokespeople is not a good idea because their actions can upset consumers, current and potential, and drag unwilling companies into the political scene.

    It’s not that I think that athletes don’t have the right to speak out. I believe they do.

    It’s not that I disagree with their taking a stand by refusing to play as a protest against police brutality against Black men. 

    It not that I think what the players did was absolutely wrong. Everyone has a right to protest peacefully or go on strike, as these athletes did. In fact, I admire those who did. (But President Trump, as expected, didn’t approve the right of peaceful protests and condemned the players for their actions, the leagues for permitting the work-stoppage without punishing the players, and team owners, in some instances, for vocally supporting the players.) 

    People who don’t live or die by the sports scene might think that Black athletes speaking out about racial injustice is relatively new, beginning when Colin Kaepernick took a knee on a football field in 2016. 

    Nothing could be further than the truth. Some examples:

    • In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB when he was promoted to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Years later, he admitted that he didn’t sing the national anthem.
    • In 1968, American track stars John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in what they said was a protest against racism and injustice on the medal stand of the Olympics in Mexico City. They were banned from Olympic participation and vilified by newspaper columnist Brent Musburger, who called them “black-skinned storm troopers.” Today, the two track stars are considered civil rights heroes.
    • In 1969, St. Louis Cardinals’ all-star centerfielder Curt Flood initiated the path that now gives baseball players free agency, instead of being forced to play for one team indefinitely.
    • But perhaps, it was Cassius Clay, who in 1964 provided the loudest Black athlete voice against racial injustice (at that  time) by changing his name to Muhammad Ali, saying his former name was his “slave name.,” 
    • In 2016, the “modern” day athlete’s racial protests movement was ignited by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, when he knelt during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.

    Robinson’s, Ali’s and Kaepernick’s actions will always be remembered and written about. Indeed, they are mentioned more than the Carlos, Smith, and Flood’s protests. But in 2020, a relatively unheralded basketball player, except to followers of the NBA, George Hill of the Milwaukee Bucks, convinced teammates to protest racial injustice by not playing a game, leading to boycotts and rescheduling of games that permeated across the sports world.

    Because of Robinson’s joining the then Brooklyn Dodgers, baseball was changed for ever. Because of Hill’s action, all sports were changed forever.

    (I always thought that Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color line was the most important action by an athlete in professional sports. Now Hill’s action is as least as paramount.)

    Before the 2020 games’ boycotts, protests by athletes were relatively quiet and coverage of their actions didn’t’ have a long shelve life. In fact, the majority of younger sports fans today, and even many, if not most, professional athletes probably don’t know much about them except that they end up in the occasional sports column, the exception being Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day, celebrated annually.

    Also, those protests occurred in an era when few athletes spoke publicly about racial injustice. Not now. It’s not unusual to hear an athlete speak about racial and political issues. But the protests of 2020 were truly unique. Instead of a few individual players making a stand, the protests became a movement encompassing hundreds of athletes from various sports refusing to play in an already coronavirus truncated season.

    And during the National Football League season, protests against racial injustice by the players were ubiquitous. Shamefully, in its September 10 season opening telecast between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs, NBC did not show that the Texans were not on the field during the National Anthem, as a news organization should, even though Cris Collinsworth, a former Cincinnati Bengals player who was one of the announcers said, “I feel like I have to start off by saying I stand behind these players 100%, 100%. What they’re trying to do is bring positive change in this country that frankly is long, long overdue. Let’s just get that out of the way and go call a football game,” he said. (For those readers not familiar with pro football, Collinsworth is not Black.)

    In contrast to NBC’s’ censoring  of the Houston team not being on the field during the Star Spangled Banner, ESPN EVP Stephanie Druley said, “We will cover social justice movements, actions, as they happen.”

    It was not a surprise that players from the National Basketball Association, Women’s National Basketball Association and the National Football League would support the walkout: Their rosters are dominated by Black athletes. What probably shocked sports marketers and MLB officials were that many teams in the league joined the movement even though less than 10% of the players are African-Americans. 

    And a Washington Post poll, published on the opening day of the NFL season, said that 56 percent of Americans approve of athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality; only 42 percent say it is not appropriate. The poll also showed that despite the anti-athlete protest stands of President Trump and conservative politicians and pundits, a 62 percent majority say professional athletes should use their platforms to express their views on national issues, including over 8 in 10 Black Americans and 7 in 10 adults under age 50.

    That presents a problem for sport marketers that want to keep their brands from being caught up in the politics of the situation, fearful that joining the protests or keeping quiet about them, will alienate consumers, pro or con.

    But even prior to the players’ short work-stoppage, many current star athletes were speaking out about racial injustice and getting involved in politics. Basketball star LeBron James and other athletes formed “More Than A Vote,” an organization to promote and protect African-American voting rights. Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors star, appeared in a video supporting Joe Biden at the Democratic Convention.  The entire Women’s National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Dream team, and others in the league, endorsed the opponent of then GOP Senator Kelly Loeffler, an owner of the Atlanta team who was defeated for r-election, because of her remarks criticizing Black Lives Matter, and the entire league had to shut down when teams refused to play. Also, many players and coaches from teams of different sports spoke out publicly against the racial inequalities and police brutality. When historians write about sports during the pandemic year of 2020, the big sports story will not be about which teams won or lost or which athlete was the best performer. They’ll write about the uprising by athletes of all sports that will change how sports are looked at forever. 

    Aside from losing revenue from a few games, a worrisome concern of the protests to owners of teams is that the work stoppage also might be the forefront of a more aggressive approach by athletes in dealings with management. It demonstrated that when the players are united that they hold the decisive hand. The athlete protests of 2020 vindicates what I have been preaching for many years to sports marketers: using a current athlete as a brand publicity hawker can be dangerous. Here’s why:

    • Prowess on the sports fields cannot prevent past or present misbehavior from being reported on.
    • Why chance having a company or its product represented by athletes who have misbehaved when there are so many other options.
    • Some athletes represent so many products that consumers and the media don’t take their endorsements seriously.
    • During interviews, reporters will concentrate on the athlete’s achievements, often not even mentioning the product being hawked. (Example: I would never suggest an athlete like LeBron James, because an interview most certainly would be dominated by his racial activism; or Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca, because an interview would probably be centered on his famous pitch to Bobby Thomson that won the pennant for the New York Giants in 1951  or any athlete who is renowned for one famous occurrence)
    • Most of the time after an athlete is interviewed, a story will say something like, “So and So is a spokesperson for the XYZ Company,” and then delve into things sports. Some PR people think that’s a good placement. I don’t. Unless the story contains some client talking points, I consider it a strike out.
    • Unlike the past, when sports stars weren’t making so much money, it was easy to make certain that they would not say anything controversial. Today, it’s impossible to keep athletes from expressing opinions and/or becoming activists in cultural and political causes, occasionally dragging their unhappy sponsoring brands into the story.
    • Current athletes probably have been written about many times regarding their play on the field, making it highly unlikely that a journalist for general news outlets would do a story just because of a product endorsement deal.  These types of stories usually end up in trade pubs.

    As a PR practitioner who has used many athletes as publicity spokespersons, I believe that in certain circumstances using an athlete makes sense, as long as they are not current ones.

    So here’s some alternative thinking about using athletes for public relations purposes, one that sportswriters said I was instrumental in popularizing as a  publicity tool for national sports marketing campaigns, while at Burson-Marsteller in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, when managing the media  thrust for Gillette’s sponsorship of the All-Star Game fan baseball election for eight years. 

    Despite raised eyebrows from some colleagues and the client (who told me, “If you want to take this route we’ll give you enough rope to hang yourself”) I decided to build the publicity around ballplayers whose playing days had past, the rule being that they had All-Star Games credentials.

    Some of the athletes urging fans to vote in the All-Star Game elections were: Lefty Gomez, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Sparky Anderson, Ernie Banks and Ralph Kiner. I used many retired Olympians for Olympic-related programs, but Bob Mathias, was my go to guy – easy to work with, well-liked by the media and reliable.

    My decision to use these athletes was based on my newspapering day’s experience, before I transitioned to PR, my discussions with reporters and assignment editors/producers and by my knowledge as a former journalist of what the media expected from a PR practitioner.

    My thought process went as follows:

    Current star athletes are interviewed by reporters frequently, so let’s give the media something different to encourage the client plug; let’s also make certain the athlete is a natural fit for the program; talking points should make the Gillette message fundamental to the  All-Star Game fan election; ask media contacts about the newsworthiness/interest of spokesperson candidates prior to using them; immediately eliminated from consideration were athletes who were not media-friendly or were “bad” interviews. Also, let’s factor in the business desk as an integral facet of the publicity campaign for Gillette executives and, when possible, previous advertising campaigns.

    While personally I support and admire athletes who are not afraid to speak about racial injustice, police brutality and other political matters, as a PR practitioner my allegiance is to protect the client on any account I agree to work on. (That doesn’t mean working on accounts whose motives you disagree with. During my career I have refused certain assignments because they went against my beliefs.) 

    For many clients that means keeping them clear of controversial situations by selecting athletes who were silent about non-sports issues. However, for the bold client, aligning itself with athletes who speak out certainly makes sense from a moral perspective. And it certainly would result in on-going publicity.

    But for client’s that want to stay clear of current athletes talking politics, my advice is to use athletes away from the front line of the daily media an consider retired athletes, or better still look for other ways to promote products, because as certain as morning follows night, sports and politics are now forever entwined.

    Grantland Rice, a great sports writer wrote, “For when the One Great Scorer comes, To mark against your name, He writes – not that you won or lost But HOW you played the Game.” 

    In 2020 the rules of the game changed. In my opinion for the better. And so should the rules regarding sports marketing. It might not happen this year, but if players keep taking political stands, it certainly will in future years.


    The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.

     




    (SPECIAL) PR Masters Series Podcast, Episode #41 – Joe Lockhart

    Special Episode

    Joe Lockhart knows the White House through and through.  His responses to my questions during our recent PR Masters Series podcast reflects that.  Joe described to our listeners how an effective and experienced White House press secretary prepares for a press briefing and maintains trust, integrity and transparency. 

    Judging from my interview with Joe, it’s clear to me that President Clinton was well served during Joe’s tenure as White House press secretary.  Being a White House press secretary isn’t for sissies.  It’s a difficult job being in front of an information ravishing group of reporters.  If you’re not good at your job you will be torn to shreds by the media.  And if you engage in half-truths, innuendo, gossip, rumors and fake news, you’ll be overwhelmed. 

    Joe Lockhart is the epitome of what a White House press secretary ought to be.  In fact, I would urge him to tutor all future White House press secretaries wanna be’s.  If so, the American public would be served up with the truth, which is good for our country.

    About the Podcast

    The Stevens Group has been presenting the PR Masters Series Podcast for almost two years now.  This series is part of the ongoing partnership between The Stevens Group and CommPRO to bring to PR, digital/interactive and marketing communications agencies the wisdom of those who have reached the top of the PR profession.

    About Our Guest

    Joe Lockhart, White House Press Secretary under President Bill Clinton

    Joe Lockhart is perhaps best known for his service as White House Press Secretary under President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2000, during which time he managed daily press briefings, provided senior counsel to the President, and managed communications through the President’s impeachment proceedings. Long-time White House correspondent Helen Thomas called him “a straight shooter,” and “one of the best it’s been my honor to work with;” Susan Page at USA Today found Lockhart “direct, well-informed and trusted;” and former CBS White House correspondent Peter Maer said “if Joe Lockhart knows anything, it’s how to control a narrative.”

    Lockhart developed his knack for steering the conversation during his early career as an award-winning journalist, political strategist and public-relations consultant. Lockhart held posts as Assignment Editor at ABC News, Deputy Assignment Manager for CNN, and foreign producer reporting on the Gulf War for Skye News. He served as a press secretary for the presidential campaigns of Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, an aide to Senator Paul Simon, a senior advisor to the John Kerry campaign, and an Executive Vice President at Bozell Sawyer Miller, where he advised a range of high-profile corporations and institutions on media relations and political strategy.

    Lockhart is the founding partner and managing director of the Glover Park Group (GPG), a Washington, D.C. communications strategy firm. Under Lockhart’s leadership, GPG earned a reputation for providing its wide range of corporate and non-profit clients (including Microsoft, Visa and the National Football League) with agile crisis management, astute public affairs, policy, advertising and marketing counsel, and cutting-edge opinion research.

    In 2011 Lockhart was named Vice President of Global Communications at Facebook, just as the rapidly-expanding enterprise was preparing to go public. Lockhart helped the company mitigate initial public backlash to its IPO, take ownership of its story, and refortify its brand.

    In 2013, Lockhart returned to GPG, where that vision payed immediate dividends, in the form of a major expansion and move to a new headquarters. At GPG, he spearheaded the National Football League’s response to a series of public challenges. In 2016 the NFL named Lockhart Executive Vice President overseeing Communications, Government Affairs, Social Responsibility and Philanthropy. A graduate of Georgetown University, Joe is a native of New York City, New York. Follow Joe on Twitter: @joelockhart

    About Our Host

    Art Stevens, Managing Partner, The Stevens Group

    Art Stevens literally knows the PR industry at every level and in every aspect, from the inside out and from foundation to pinnacle. Art knows what makes a PR business successful, profitable and valuable. A prolific writer as well as a dynamic executive, Art is subtle, observant and quietly creative, yet not opposed to a good measure of “brandstanding” when appropriate.

    He has been valuing agencies, brokering mergers and acquisitions, and providing strategic advice for ten years. Art is a former owner and CEO of LobsenzStevens, a Top-20 independent PR agency, which Publicis Groupe acquired.

    Follow Art on Twitter: @ArtS1735




    Lessons That Sports Marketers, And Everyone, Should Have Learned From The 2020 Super Bowl As We Approach The 2021 Game

    Arthur Solomon

    As usual, there are many lessons for sports marketers and their communications arms to consider after a Super Bowl — the National Football League’s really big overly-hyped, overly-expensive advertising and publicity gimmick and overly-hyped football game. But the 2020 game added a new tutorial that I call the “Robert Burns Effect.”

    Burns, as I’m sure everyone in the communications business knows, because they all majored in English, instead of easy PR, marketing or advertising courses, (sarcasm intended), is the legendary Scottish poet famous for his “To a Mouse,” which contains the lines, “The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley.” (All you PR majors who never took a lit course know what the translation to English is because it’s famous. Right?)

    Several days prior to last year’s Super Bowl, the tragic death of Kobe Bryant provided important lessons that sports marketers, ad agencies and PR practitioners should always remember: Like the mouse in the Burns poem that failed to find shelter from the December winds, one unexpected event can cause disarray among sports marketing plans. 

    Feared of being labeled insensitive because of Bryant’s death, some marketers hurriedly announced changes to their Super Bowl promotions. Ad Age reported that some Super Bowl advertisers paused their marketing efforts in the wake of Bryant’s 

    death. Several brands, including Procter & Gamble’s Olay held back making public its Super Bowl creative. Planters, whose Super Bowl campaign centered on the death of its spokescharacter Mr. Peanut, also said it was pausing all campaign activities following the news, reported. Jeanine Poggi, Ad Age’s senior editor, on January 27 (2020). In addition, on January 30, Nat Ives reported in his CMO TODAY Wall Street Journal column that marketers had to make cuts and edits in their commercials.

    Another lesson deals with using sports stars as endorsers. After the initial shock of Bryant’s tragic death, and stories portraying him as the greatest thing since the National Football League was founded, (yes, I know he was a basketball player but this is a football column) the media delved into Bryant’s past, and revived facts about him that basketball junkies and sports marketers would rather not read – his attitude toward others and, more important, a sexual assault charge, even though he seemed to be a changed person, giving back, as he aged.

    The Bryant coverage was not unusual. It is now standard practice of most print journalists to tell the entire story about a sports star and not cover up their blemishes, as was the practice years ago when I was a sports writer. But, alas, coming clean about an athlete’s unsportsmanlike conduct is likely not to be heard from game day TV or radio commentators, especially game analysts who knew or played with the tarnished athletes. As Michael Powell wrote in his January 28, (2020) New York Times column, referring to Bryant being accused of sexually assaulting a young women in 2003, “Relatively few in the news media or basketball did themselves proud, and you are left to wonder if Bryant would have survived in a #MeToo age of awareness.” And a January 30 Wall Street Journal article said, “Bryant’s case never went to trial, but ended with him apologizing to his accuser “for my behavior that night.” Bryant had said the encounter was consensual, but his apology and subsequent silence about the details of the case left lingering questions about what happened. (The criminal case was dropped in 2005, when he settled with the woman.)

    In his CMO TODAY Wall Street Journal column on January 29, Nat Ives led with, “Good morning. Americans are not looking forward to the presidential campaign ads coming to the Super Bowl on Sunday. President Trump and Michael Bloomberg are each planning minute-long commercials during the game, but 63% of Americans call the Super Bowl an inappropriate platform for political ads, according to a poll by Morning Consult for CMO Today. It’s not a partisan issue, either: Republicans aren’t interested in seeing the president’s ad during the game, and Democrats would rather not see Mr. Bloomberg’s. They may be a good idea anyway, given the extra attention that viewers pay to Super Bowl ads, marketing professor Aimee Drolet told me. Even if folks are annoyed at the time, their memory will be enhanced and they are more likely to retrieve the arguments these ads make, she said. The irritation fades quicker than their memory.”

    If there was any doubt which of the two political commercials would receive greater news coverage it was decided a few days prior to the game, when it was announced that the Bloomberg ad would take on gun control.

    Prior to the 2020 game, Ad Age reported on several aspects regarding the efficacy of Super Bowl commercials that marketers should consider. The most important one was to have an after-the-game program, meaning that the cost of a $5.6-million 30 second commercial, not including production and talent fees, which can add several additional millions to the price, is not enough to do its job, and even after the additional spending it might not bring the results marketers wanted.

    Disproving That Any Publicity Is Good Publicity

    There were four “big hit” articles about the Super Bowl, to use a term loved by TV football game announcers, that I saw prior to the coin toss of the 2020 game, two in the January 31 New York Times; another in its February 2 edition; the other in the February 1 Wall Street Journal:

    The Times: One, in the business section, was headlined “These Brands have Better Uses for Money Than a Super Bowl Ad.” A few key points: Commercials messages lost in the clutter of other ads; the exposure gained by advertising during the game is not worth the cost, and marketers can learn a lot more information about consumers who click on online ads than by those who watch them on TV. 

    The second story was a full page article titled, “It’s Flawed. It’s Ugly. It’s Beautiful.” It had three of the Times’ culture journalists opining why 100 million people still watch the game. Early in the print discussion, it was pointed out that people watch the game despite its ugly side – brain diseases caused by repeated head hits, not only by concussions, which the NFL tried to cover up, the domestic abuse problems by some players and racial aspects associated with the NFL.

    The third Times’ article was a continuation of its “football’s hold on America” series. It chronicled how three Miami Dolphin players from their undefeated1972 team – Earl Morrall, Bob Kuechenberg and Bill Stanfill had chronic traumatic encephalopathy. (C.T. E.), the degenerative brain disease associated with repeated head trauma. It said that another Dolphin star, Nick Buoniconti, who died in July, 2019, and suffered from dementia, wanted his brain donated to Boston University’s C.T.E. center, the leading research facility into chronic traumatic encephalopathy degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head. The article also told how other members of the team developed other health problems at a younger age than the general population, according to a 2011 study published in the American Neurological Association‘s Annals of Neurology.

    Wall Street Journal: The Journal article, under the headline,The Cloud Hanging Over the Super Bowl,” said, “Amid all the escapism, it will be interesting to see how much reality seeps into the proceedings. There’s plenty of it. The Chiefs have faced domestic violence issues the past couple years, including a case involving one of their most crucial stars, receiver Tyreek Hill. And of course, the last time the 49ers were in the Super Bowl, in 2013, Colin Kaepernick was the quarterback. A good bet would be an over/under on how many times he is mentioned on Sunday. I’ll take the under. (That marketers continue to shrug off stories like these that are published by the hundreds each year underscores their true nature – as long as their product sells, or they think it sells from sports associations, anything goes. Some of these same marketers are “proud sponsors” of international sporting events, like the Olympics, that are awarded to totalitarian governments and used as propaganda tools.) 

    Also, The New York Times, which year-round publishes articles regarding the negative health aspects from playing tackle football, with most of the articles in the paper appearing as the Super Bowl becomes closer, didn’t wait that long in 2020. On February 15, a lengthy column by Michael Powell told the story of a young college football player who killed himself because he feared he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), which scientists who examined his brain confirmed. After looking up the symptoms of C.T.E. the 21-yeatr-old shot himself.

    And a full page article on August 26, detailed that former Black players sued the NFL for discriminating against them when deciding the amount of money an individual receives from the 2013concussion settlement case.

    A lengthy Washington Post Magazine article on September 20, 2020, by Patrick Hruby said, “Scientists believe that repetitive brain trauma — not just concussions, but also less severe subconcussive blows like the hits football linemen absorb on every snap — is a precondition for CTE. Last year, Boston University researchers found that for football players, both the risk of developing the disease and its severity increase with the number of years playing the sport; athletes whose youth-to-pro careers lasted more than 14.5 years were 10 times as likely to have CTE as those who played fewer.” The article also reported that the NFL, which now admits damage to brains can occur from hits to the head, for many years denied that it was so.

    As the date of the 2021 Super Bowl drew closer, so did the news articles regarding the health dangers to players.

    A New York Times story on January 19, chronicled the story of two NFL quarterbacks knocked out of their divisional playoff games with concussion-like symptoms, with one broadcast analyst asking why are the rules against head-to-head contact not being enforced in the playoff games. The article also said, “Many concussions, though, go unreported, either because doctors and neurologists at the game failed to spot them or because the players masked their symptoms.”

    The NFL has forever attempted to put a good face on its problems, ranging from originally denying that hits to the head would cause brain damage to finding reasons to excuse players for their anti-social behavior and breaking Covid-19 rules. There’s a Yiddish word “chutzpah,” one of whose meanings is gall, and that’s what I think of the NFL inviting Covid-19 workers as guests to the 2021 Super Bowl, given its history of denying the health hazards of the game. Question: Could the fact that only a limited number of paying fans will be permitted to attend the game have anything to do with the NFL’s decision?(Reminds me of the joke about the youngster that kills his parents and then pleads for mercy because he is an orphan.)

    Circumventing The Big Price Tag

    Mega events – sports and none sports – are an easy target for cleaver ambush marketers and on, January 31, Ad Age reported that, “PETA seems to be up to its old tricks again. The organization was trending earlier today after it posted a tweet saying Fox banned its ad featuring animals taking a knee while the National Anthem plays to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. It’s a move PETA has made countless times around the Super Bowl: the organization creates an ad that has no chance of being shown on broadcast TV and then getting irate when it gets rejected.” 

    More Important Than The Winning Team

    The most important part of a Super Bowl to the publics that really matter, the advertising community, TV networks and sport marketers (without whom the Big Game would be just another Small Game), is the reaction to the commercials by ad industry pundits; definitely more important than the game’s winner.

    Jeanine Poggi, Ad Age’s senior editor, said, “This year (2020) failed to produce very many commercial standouts. The desire to not provoke controversy and steer clear of anything divisive, resulted in bland ads that utilized recycled material and quite literally borrowed from each other.” (Personal Observation: Bland Super Bowl ads are the norm rather than the exception.)

    No review of the Super Bowl would be complete without opining on the reaction of the sports/marketing/advertising writers, because without their pre-game hype journalism, the Super Bowl wouldn’t be super. 

    Instead of just writing about their own impressions of the commercials, the ad/marketing writers reported the public’s reaction to individual 2020 ads. Ridiculous. The game was watched by more than 102-million viewers, so any report on viewers’ reactions reminds me of the 2016 polling that assured everyone of a Hillary Clinton victory.

    But anyway, the following is what the self-anointed ad connoisseurs said about the popularity and effectiveness of the TV commercials: Ad Meter said the most popular ad was the Jeep commercial; You Tube said it was the Amazon ad; Twitter’s Brand Bowl crowned Google’s ad as the most popular; Salesforce said that President Trump’s commercial received 75.6 percent positive reactions, but Ad Meter voters ranked the same ad last. Ipsos said the Doritos commercials had the most emotional effect, based on measuring the reactions of 40 people out of an audience of more than 102-million viewers; however, a similar measurement by Unruly said the most effective ad was one by Google. (Is a puzzlement?as Yul Brynner said in Broadway’s “The King and I”)

    Alexandra Barasch an assistant professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, said, “…with so little agreement over how to measure effectiveness and impact, every one can find someway to claim success and advance their own interests.” Other marketing pros have often said that the results from a Super Bowl ad did not justify the cost of a commercial.

    Writer’s Note: — The information in the above two paragraphs was taken from a February 6, 2020, New York Times article by Tiffany Hsu. 

    The N.F.L. Hype Allies

    The sports writing community in 2020 did what too many of their craft still do. While covering up for athletes’ misdeeds are mostly a thing of the past, hero-worshiping stories are still too common, as is pack journalism. The sameness of the torrent of after the game stories could have been predicted before the first writer punched in a letter on a keyboard: “A new dynasty is born;” “Patrick Mahomes is the new face of the NFL;”and “Nice Guy Andy Reid finally wins a Super Bowl.” The PR staffs of the NFL and teams couldn’t have written them better. (The gods of journalism must be thankful for the New York Times’ coverage of the N.F.L., whose reports include the warts of the game.) Coincidentally, the same day the above stories appeared the Times published the obituary of Willie Woods, the Hall of Fame defensive back with the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s, who died the day after the Super Bowl. The article mentioned that he was diagnosed with dementia in 2006 and had undergone four major football-related operations.

    Extra Points

    The 2020 half-time show, featuring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, was most likely an anathema to the person who did the most to insert politics into sports, the twice impeached former President Trump. Its creative included symbolisms that only a liberal could like: Two Latin super stars featured in America’s game, young backup singers performing behind metal bars that suggested the plight of the Dreamers, or maybe the children held in cages at the Southern border, and Lopez draped in an American flag costume that reversed to a Puerto Rican flag. As usual, more viewers –103-million – watched the halftime performance than the game. Not even Mahomes’ thrilling fourth quarter performance that catapulted Kansas City to a victory could match the moves of Shakira and J.Lo.

    So now that the NFL has allowed a team to relocate in Las Vegas (after decades of saying the city is off limits), and has permitted some team owners to invest in betting companies, cynics might say that the league’s new motto should be, “Flexibility is our name.” Or maybe the league should dish its shield and replace it with $$$ symbols, adorned with gold lettering saying, “Bet Responsibly, But Bet And Don’t Forget To Drink.” Because in its February 10-18, 2020, issue, the SportsBusiness Journal reported that the NFL is searching for a candidate for the new position of “vice president of sports betting.” (Suggestion: Limit the search to senior executives at Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Ameritrade, etc.) On January 28, 2021, it reported, “The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates that 26 million Americans will bet on Super Bowl LIV, up 15% from last year…, while about 5 million will place a bet on an online or mobile platform. The rest of the 26 million will bet with a bookie, in a pool or casually with family and friends.” And on February 2, The New York Times reported, “Online gambling sites are offering can’t-lose propositions, giving away easy money to attract new customers to a nascent multibillion-dollar industry. These come-ons should reach a peak just ahead of the Super Bowl.”

    At one time sports was positioned as bringing out the best in the American character and its performers, and the league commissioner’s as protectors of that ideal, which was always a fairy tale promoted with the help of sports writers as everyone associated with the business of sports knows (as are the Halls of Fame). But because of relaxed betting rules, sports has contributed to a fast corrosion of American culture in a way that is now damaging to the well-being of people who don’t know a linebacker from a balk.

    If there was one major take-a-way that sports marketers should learn from the 2020 Super Bowl, it’s that participating in it is as likely to result in negative publicity as it is to gain positive coverage. But it doesn’t matter. Because, unlike people associated with the advertising and PR agencies, the networks and the NFL, the game and the $5-million plus commercials will be forgotten in a few days by people who have a life to live, and the marketers will have to devise other strategies to get consumers to care.

    Of course, there were other important takeaways during 2020 directly related to the Big Game that marketers should have considered before automatically writing a check to advertise on the upcoming 2021 Super Bowl. They include the public’s reactions to the unhealthy aspects of the game, the politics that are now ingrained in the game’s DNA because of President Trump using it as a political football and most important, how the public will react to “fun” or “solemn” commercials, because by the time the game is played this year on February 7 nearly 500,000 Americans will have died in the U.S. from the coronavirius. Because of these and perhaps economic concerns, some past Super Bowl advertisers are sitting out this year’s game. They include SodaStream, Sabra, and Avocados from Mexico, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Hyundai, to mention a few that have decided to take a pass. 

    Budweiser, instead of running a drink and have fun commercial, in an attempt to be considered a “good corporate citizen,” will provide the funds to help raise awareness of the benefits of getting the coronavirus vaccine. But don’t be fooled. 

    They’ll still be advertising their other products, including one for Bud Light and Michelob Ultra. A January 26 Wall Street Journal article about the decision included the following “The corporate spot, a first for Anheuser-Busch during the Super Bowl, will include Budweiser and other company brands. We cannot talk about AB without Budweiser, said Marcel Marcondes, U.S. chief marketing officer at Anheuser-Busch, adding that the spot may even include Clydesdales.” (Sort of like, what are you going to believe, what we want you to believe or what you see?)

    Obviously, the Bud announcement was an attempt to obtain good publicity from a crisis that has thus far killed nearly 500,000 Americans. Unlike, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Dolly Parton, who didn’t make a big deal about their contributions to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, Bud decided to toast itself publicly for its decision. Joining Bud in this obvious crass publicity ploy was the NFL,(no surprise there), which all of a sudden discovered poetry by inviting Amanda Gorman, the young poet who gained sudden fame at President Joe Biden’s inauguration with her reading of “The Hill We Climb.” At the over-hyped football game, Miss Gorman will recite a new poem before the official coin toss recognizing an educator, a nurse, and a veteran for helping their communities during the coronavirus pandemic.  Obviously, Bud and the NFL don’t agree with another poet, Alexander Pope who wrote Do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame.” in his An Essay on Man.”

    Several days before the game, another Wall Street Journal advertising story, on January 27, mentioned that some companies are resorting to ambush marketing to create a Super Bowl tie-in, rather than spend the increasingly higher costs of nationally advertising on the game telecast. Two companies that were mentioned were GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Boston Beer. (Despite the complaints of “official sponsors” of all mega sports events, ambush marketing efforts often receive the most free media coverage because of their cleverness. Ambush marketing has been around for a long time and is increasingly being used to circumvent the sky-high costs of becoming “official.”)

    Unlike the missing brands sponsorships, one issue that will remain will be the political affects on the NFL that were super glued on the league by the former president. Even though he is gone from office, ex President Trump and NFL football are still joined at the hip. In his closing days of office, the twice impeached president sought to gain some favorable publicity but was thwarted when New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick announced that he is declining the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

    While the winner of the February 7 game and the efficacies of the commercials are not known as of this writing, one thing is certain: 

    People will be watching for racial justice protests by athletes in the upcoming Super Bowl and in future NFL games. And not even the NFL shield can prevent those protests from receiving major media coverage. Example: A Sports of The Times column on page one of the January 25 New York Times urged fans and football players not to forget Colin Kaepernick’s willingness to destroy his career by protesting  racism by keeling during the national anthem., This season, many teams stayed off-the field during the playing of the anthem.

    As I write this on February 2, thus far in my two “must reads,” The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and on TV newscasts, there has been less Super Bowl coverage than in the past. That’s good, in my opinion. A sporting event should not dominate news coverage, especially this one that is a vehicle for TV commercials, even though I’m looking forward to seeing Dolly Parton make her Super Bowl debut in one. 

    Oh, before I forget. There was a football game last year. Kansas City defeated Miami, as if that matters to the marketers, the networks and the NFL. The score is unimportant, unless you bet the spread.

    And there is also a game scheduled be played on February 7 this year between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    The winner might be important to fans not associated with the marketing of the Big Game.


    The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.