Scripted apologies don’t ring true, no matter how many lawyers and PR people write them

Ryan Braun

Tiger Woods. Lance Armstrong. Ryan Braun. We know what they have in common: scripted apologies to the public.

Ryan Braun issued his last week and Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal brilliantly dissected it. “Almost all of these “apologies” are terrible, seemingly lawyered to the limit, muddied with vague language and half-truths,” Gay wrote.

Gay identified the seven elements of the athlete apology; they apply to all transgressors thrust into the spotlight, whether they be rogue securities traders or convicted CEOs:

  1. Admit you are “not perfect,” and have “made mistakes.”
  2. Be murky with details about the transgression.
  3. Act like this all happened 2,000 years ago.
  4. Say it’s been hard for you, too.
  5. Find a co-signer who says you are doing the right thing.
  6. Act like it’s weird anyone would be upset.
  7. Declare it over!

The right steps, the ones that can truly rehabilitate an image, maybe even the individual, were identified in another Journal article, this one by John Kador, author of the business book “Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust.” He critiqued Lance Armstrong’s apology on Oprah’s show.

  1. Recognition: State the specific offenses for which you are apologizing.
  2. Responsibility: Accept full responsibility for the offenses. No excuses.
  3. Remorse: Use the words “I apologize” or “I’m sorry.”
  4. Restitution: Identify concrete steps you will take to reverse some of the damage inflicted.
  5. Repetition: Reassure victims that you will not repeat the offending behavior.

We could delve into Tiger Woods, but the staging speaks for itself. He addressed 40 friends and family members in person, with no questions from the news media. Time summarized the speech: “Woods issued a carefully worded apology that admits nothing, only his regret that he ‘let [his] family down.’ Indeed, most of the statement is devoted to excoriating the media for creating the firestorm that now surrounds him and his family.”

That’s right, when the truth is incontrovertible, blame the media.

CEO as newscaster, talking directly to target audiences: PR-Prof

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and CFO Ken Goldman

Do companies still need to be on the 6 o’clock news?

Two tech firms are delving further into the news business, creating an opportunity for any corporation to reach its audience.

On July 16, Yahoo! released its earnings over the Web from a news studio at company headquarters.

On July 22, Netflix’s CEO and CFO logged in for a video chat on second-quarter earnings.

In the old, old media model,  analysts and reporters gathered in a room to listen to the numbers and ask questions of corporate executives. They migrated to conference calls that, after regulators insisted, were opened to the public. Business news networks joined the game, which has now moved to the Web.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Yahoo! broadcast was well-received. Forbes was more enthusiastic, with contributor Mark Rogowsky writing, “So let’s give Yahoo! credit for livestreaming its earnings conference call. It’s new and fresh and it brought a chance to see the expressions on the faces of CEO Marissa Mayer and CFO Ken Goldman. That adds color the typical call lacks and should provide some fodder for analysts and investors in the months ahead.”

Netflix generates revenue by streaming content, so it is seems appropriate that it does the rest of its business there.

Technology is cool, but what does this mean for a company’s public relations? There are a number of benefits:

  1. Direct, unfiltered communication with investors, customers, suppliers and employees. No more talking heads getting in the way of a CEO’s message.
  2. No jockeying for air time on news networks. Earnings might be announced before or after the bell, but not when a network says it can seat the CEO in its studio.
  3. Direct interaction with a broad audience. A CNBC newscaster and a financial analyst moderated the Nextflix video chat; they prepared questions from the public.
  4. The ability to reach a younger audience that is accustomed to digesting information via the Web.

For companies interested in gaining attention and having more control over how their information is disseminated, this is an excellent opportunity. Studios can be rented and the technology to live stream is inexpensive.

Can something go wrong? Of course. Just as it can on any live, aired event, whether it be in a TV newsroom or a conference call.

What’s the next step? Talk to a public relations person who understands how to use online technology. And start practicing in front of a camera. TV isn’t as easy as it looks.

Spokesperson responses you can use: an occasional PR-Prof series

Spokespersons play an important role in communicating with news media. They distribute official statements and deliver answers to reporter queries. Sometimes they don’t talk, usually at the direction of their bosses or their bosses’ bosses.

As a public service to PR people, we will publish the better non-responses. Spokespersons should feel free to appropriate the words as needed; there’s no copyright on “no comment.”

The news story: Hackers infiltrate New York Times computer system and over three months install 45 pieces of custom malware. The Symantec antivirus software that the Times uses detects and quarantines the malware only once.

The response: “A Symantec spokesman said that, as a matter of policy, the company does not comment on its customers.” — New York Times, Jan. 30, 2013.

The news story: Yahoo cancels its work-at-home policy, in essence ordering all employees to work in offfices. The memo is quoted from and its author identified by name.

The response: A Yahoo spokeswoman, Sara Gorman, declined to comment, saying only that the company did not publicly discuss internal matters.  — New York Times, Feb. 25, 2013

The news story: Moody’s Investors Service privately settles a federal lawsuit brought by 14 plaintiffs. They had claimed the the rating company misled them by inflating credit ratings on money-losing investments.

The response: A Moody’s spokesman said: “This settlement allows us to put the significant legal defense and related costs, as well as the distraction, of these very protracted litigations behind us. We are satisfied that it is in the best interests of our company and shareholders.” — Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2013

Viewership intensity: Separating casual from loyal TV fans

AT&T U-Verse

Jeff Weber

Content distributors and advertisers are using data that measure viewership intensity to determine who is watching TV programs, when, how and just how much those viewers care about the programming. That could change the way advertising is purchased.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about rights fees for TV sports programming described viewership intensity as a way for cable providers to evaluate whether they were paying the right amount to carry a cable channel.

What is viewership intensity? Cubs and Red Sox fans have remained faithful TV watchers, despite decades of heartbreaks. Nebraskans tune into Cornhusker football games everywhere, even through  mall PA systems. Miami Heat fans flocked to Fox Sports Florida, giving some games during the 2012-2013 season higher local ratings than network TV shows.

AT&T uses set-top box data to measure just how long and how often people watch shows. At the Nomura Global Media Summit, Jeff Weber, president of content and advertising sales for AT&T, said that his company measures a channel’s value based on viewership intensity.

“It gives us much greater insight in terms of the value of a particular channel or piece of content, and we’ve been able to get real clarity on whether we should pay that rate, whether we should ask for a lower rate, whether it’s something that we have to carry — it works both ways,” Weber was quoted as saying by MediaPost. “It’s been very beneficial for us in terms of the decisions we’ve made.”

The same logic applies for advertisers. If viewership intensity is low, then ad dollars are wasted based on the number of channel subscribers or ratings. Likewise, if intensity is high, then the buy is a good value, even if the price is above-market based on traditional measures.


The new rules of audience engagement for TV sports

tv sports public relationsTucked into an excellent article in today’s Wall Street Journal about rights fees for TV sports programming were a few paragraphs about new ways to measure viewer interest. The change in metrics has great implications for public relations professionals and their clients.

The traditional view of sports is ratings. ESPN and ESPN2 are kings, and they receive about $5.71 a month per subscriber, according to SNL Kagan, a media research firm.  When the Houston Astros and Rockets formed a sports network in October, they asked cable and satellite TV networks for $3.40 a month.

AT&T and DirecTV balked. AT&T based its response on data from set-top boxes that tracks when customers tune into home games, against which opponents, and for how long people watch. The NSA has nothing on that company.

The data are crunched to measure what AT&T calls an “engagement level.” The company won’t reveal the recipe, but Jeff Weber, president of content and advertising sales, told the Journal: “You start to think about not just viewership, but a broader phrase — viewership intensity.”

What increases engagement? Advertising falls short; it’s best at branding, top-of-mind awareness, and getting people to try a new or repositioned product or service. Heavy advertising can boost TV ratings, but it cannot sustain them.

Public relations is much better suited to the task. An ad can introduce a player to fans, but engagement happens in person or online. With 9.1 million followers, LeBron James can reach more fans with one Tweet than through an ad on a South Florida TV sports channel.

Public relations generates engagement through social media, in-person events, and many-to-many communication. Think fan fairs, online chats, and social TV. Programming revenue becomes based not on how many households are hooked up but on how they interact with a team. An old media model dies and a newone is born — again.

Next: What’s viewership intensity and how does it translate into revenue?



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