Regional Roundtable: New York City (continued)

DEALING WITH THE MEDIA Hood (PRWeek): What is it like in New York, dealing with New York media?

DEALING WITH THE MEDIA Hood (PRWeek): What is it like in New York, dealing with New York media?

Hanlon (Giants): There's a lot of them. I've found that, especially in what I do and the NFL and the Giants, we are covered aggressively by beat media every day that one of the approaches is you go back at them just as aggressively. And one of the biggest changes over the last dozen years or so is we have an outlet to do that. We have a web site. We have a voice there. And the Giants, for instance, we produce two TV shows. So we kind of cut the media out and we go right to the people we want to talk to, which is our fans. In one our TV shows, we even incorporate the media, so they can say the stupid things they want to say and then we can attack them right then and there. But my point is that, in the past when you may have dealt with an aggressive media in a passive fashion, now I think you're not doing your job unless you're going right back at them. That creates more excitement and more interest. I like that approach. I believe in that. I don't know where the public relations people got so soft. I don't know where we conceded knowledge of what the news is to just news editors. It's in our titles - public. We're supposed to know what the public wants, whether it's trade or it's consumers. And we should try to dictate that a little bit more as opposed to wondering what they're going to want next and trying to satisfy their needs. Because otherwise you're just going to be with scandal seekers or business writers who are just witless to what damage they could really cause. [The media] don't appreciate when you tell them they may not know as much about what they're doing as they think they do. They really resent when you question their news judgment. You have no sense of what's news.

Kerins (GCI): I think, in certain cases, the industry is totally responsible. If you've ever gone to meet the media sessions and some moron stands up and says, Um, how'd you like to receive your press releases. You've got four journalists in front of you and that's what you want to ask them? Are you kidding me? It's got to stop. Because that kind of stuff, that kind of immature response to a reporter is just so stupid. By the way, you see someone stand and pitch in front of 500 people in the room, saying, I've got a client who does this. Stop. That's embarrassing. And it happens every time we go to these things. We've got to set a higher standard for ourselves. And if it's aggressiveness that gets covered, then that's what it is.

Mallozzi (Gibbs & Soell): I'll take that one step further, particularly at the height of the high-tech boom. Many agencies were looking everywhere for people and one of the results of that era, if you will, is that a lot of people were hired who were not public relations, trained with the skills, giving out call lists, here's your phone. They were telemarketers. We all read the stories being published from an editor's perspective saying, I've got people calling me, they don't know me, they don't know my publication, they don't know my readership. They're soliciting me. This industry has not helped itself, and I think we're going to suffer a little until we raise the bar.

Osgood (Osgood): Take that from many vantage points. I know in on of the large companies that are headquartered here, they don't have that problem, because beat reporters, the editors, need them as much as they need the beat reporters and editors. If you take a look at the big banks, the big financial services firms, the IBM's, the GE's, they don't have the adversarial relationship. They may have stories they don't like now and then. But, believe me, there's a close working relationship between those groups.

Kratz (Euro): Back to your question about the media, you have to acknowledge we have the cream of the crop here. We have great, smart people in the media here, and it's a striving industry. We have people whose beat is the media. There's a huge sector of the press that just covers itself. And I do think it's fairly interwoven here in New York, and I think that's very different than any other market. We all socially rub up against each other, we're all very connected. It goes back to the training and basically the messaging that they're getting from the very top. Are they demanding clippings? Are they demanding this article as part of the typical report to a client?

Hanlon (Giants): Aggressive doesn't equate to adversarial. I just want to, if we don't have a relationship with the media that we have, and we do. We're no different than you guys. We're covered by a knowledgeable, smart, savvy group that possesses one or two assholes. But if they don't trust us and respect us, then our aggression doesn't mean anything. Before you can be aggressive, you have to establish trust and respect with the media, and then you can be aggressive.

Hunt (FT): I think that there's a very fine line between having a great relationship with the reporters who are important to you or your client. And there's definitely then a dichotomy between a junior level saying, Here, look at my great new product, versus someone very senior calling a reporter whom they've known for 20 years or that they see on a regular basis, and say, This is the whisper, this is what is happening. We recently, we do a lot with the big banks and we wrote a story, and one of the senior VPs at this bank wrote back to the reporter, You're done, because he didn't like the story. And there was a whole large controversy about the tone and the response. It was basically a threat, saying, Look, what you wrote is not what I envisioned you to write. I think at the end of the day, the media is the media, and there's definitely a class system between the good, solid strong media and not. And I think you have to look at where it's coming from. The New York Times and different folks last year, in a very different type of governance way, there was a big shakedown on what are the checks and balances here. Who are your sources? I read everything that comes through. OK, you have to have four attributable sources to your story here, and, especially on a global scale, if we get a tip that something in the venue of Paris is contradicting something being said in New York, it's a very touch and go.

Osgood (Osgood): I saw the FT just this week do something that I though was fabulous. There's a reporter over in London who has a story to do, not sure, calls a buddy of his in the New York office, who happens to be wired very close to the particular industry. They had a three-way conversation off the record, which that reporter in London got far better grounding, could do a far better story as a result of that. And it triangulated, between London and New York and the industry.

Aaron (Tiffany): But I sense the press is trying harder. And part of it's been humbled over the past couple of years. Screwing up so much reporting, and I don't even mean where it was flat-out bad reporting or misleading. But I sense they are trying harder. It was about a year ago that I meant with a group of reporters when I was chairman of NIRI, and I was talking to them about all the challenges IR people are having and that companies are having in financial disclosure, and I went through this whole long list, and I saved the last point for all of them. And I said, All of your reporters should take responsibility as well for the Internet bubble that blew up, exploded, because you're the ones who turned a lot of security analysts into rock stars, did all sorts of stuff on TV and in print and all that. Not one of them disagreed.

Hood (PRWeek): Are the checks and balances there? Are they checking their stories better?

Hanlon (Giants): Oh yeah. They're checking. And reporters who in the past would've taken something off the Internet and taken for granted that it was factually accurate now will call. And what's amazing is they will be up front when they're calling, saying, Things have changed here, I know this is out there, but I still need to check it out. Listen, you appreciate that.

Hunt (FT): I think that trend was started by the newswires in larger part as well. So, 15 years ago, when you're distributing over PRNewswire or Businesswire and as soon as they take their 15 minute delay off the media, you had instant access to whatever the number du jour is on a web site and it's instant disclosure. And when the fraudulent release came out from Internetwire and I think that was the first big, OK, we have to pay attention to this because it's affecting people's stock. It's affecting their reputation and it's a reputation.

Kempner (MWW): But that's not why they did it. They did it because of their own personal liability. So it was not an issue of trying to be good for the public, so much as these rules came down as to how they're allowed to run their stories and how they're allowed to report. So I don't know how much of that was self-generated and how much of it was corporately generated from their own publication.

Hunt (FT): I don't necessarily think there was a correlation between the 15-minute rule, but I do think the checks and balances, I mean, Dow Jones, AP, Reuters all ran that Amulet story or one of them didn't. Now they're calling when they wouldn't have called before.

 Hood (PRWeek): In your transition to the New York scene, what have you observed?

Bryant (Bank of New York): Maybe this may sound too simple, but it's been interesting thinking in moving to New York, being the media capital, media relations becomes easier because you're here. If you're working for a Fortune 250 company and realizing just how competitive it is for attention in this market. Launching a new initiative for a company our size, in any other market it'd be considered newsworthy. So the market does demand greater creativity to pierce through the clutter. You have the advantage of being physically here, and the disadvantage in that there's so much competition.

Hood (PRWeek): Is it a good time to develop young people in the profession to work with the media?

Kempner (MWW): I think it's better here. The fact is you have to be better here. There are people who are superstars in other markets and they come here, and they're more cynical, more competitive, more harder to break through. If you do a good job here, you're even likelier to do a better job somewhere else. I think this is the best place of all to learn. Doesn't mean there aren't bigger places.

Hood (PRWeek): Can you get pre-occupied with the national media, and forget the regional?

Kempner (MWW): It goes back to teaching the training. Talented people and teaching them, they're going to do the job.

Osgood (Osgood): To Ray's point, they want people now that understand business and represent the issues of whatever they're talking about from a businessperson's perspective. That is a significant shift, I think. You hire the people with those skills. There's a terrific market for it. The other thing is people can continue their education here, something I've always encouraged. They can go get MBAs at night. They'll take courses. I remember back in 1978, I was the chairman of NIRI then. They were talking about integrating the IR function, the communications function. And I remember talking to some people and saying, Tell me, how many people have the ability to read balance sheets and they're, Huh? That's not my job. I said, Well, if you're going to talk to the people who are going to analyze your company, don't you think you should be able to talk to them about a balance sheet. They said, Well, what'd I do. I said, You go to your finance department. They'll teach you.

Kerins (GCI): It seems on this point we've come really full circle. Because what Peter's saying resonates with me to the points about the convergence of the practice areas within the well-run agencies. Your health-practice group is a silo to handle health-care products. It may well be there are people in your interactive media, your direct marketing departments who would be perfect. And Jolie's point on what makes a good reporter, maybe because they really understand what it's like to work at a proprietary trading desk inside a financial services company. So for that story, understanding it from the ground up would be more important than the MBA in journalism. From the service sector, we see a lot of our clients hiring that way. They're looking much more creatively. They're crisis management, they may have some lawyers, they may have some MBAs, they may have some people who've been in business. So just because you're hiring out of the box doesn't mean you're having people doing media relations that are doing cold calling and turning off trusted relations. I think the well-run service company, whether it's a law firm, a public relations firm, a management consultant firm, is looking at the skills, and is thinking about servicing the clients.

Kempner (MWW): Can I touch on that, too? The one major that kind of scares me when I see a young person is public relations because, nine times out of 10, they don't read anything, they don't write. Give me a liberal arts background and I'm very happy. If someone's well-rounded, they will understand literature, they will understand art, understands history.

Ramos (LatinVox): From a diversity perspective, I think New York's diversity is its strongest assets. One of the things that we're seeing about recruitment, what we're seeing in the Hispanic market is great corporate investment. There are a lot of Hispanic individuals performing only in the general market are becoming interested in the Hispanic market. It's really raising the bar across the board. That's great to say.

Kerins (GCI): As it relates to multiculturalism and movement, have you seen any impact of the Supreme Court's decision on the University of Michigan case as it relates to a greater societal awareness of approaching in a more open way the different initiatives, different parts of the constituency?

Ramos (LatinVox): In terms of the specific client and the specific entity and how progressive they are and how vocal they are, clients like General Motors have been very progressive about that sort of thing, supporting affirmative action. The one thing we're seeing across the board is clients realizing that if they want to sell aggressively to these markets they have to invest in communities and everything else being held equal and there are studies that support this, and these are groups that support a company that they perceive cares about them. So, again, we've invested in scholarships, in training, in always making sure that if you're selling to these individuals that are in a growth segment, you have to speak to them in Spanish, you have to have materials in Spanish. Because it's not just about doing good right now, it's good for business. With regards to multicultural, that's probably the biggest shift within the past 10 years, where, surprise, surprise, there's actually an expectation for a return on investment where perhaps, I think, there wasn't. So I think that's driving the need to be sophisticated and the process shows there needs to be a genuine commitment to that.

Hanlon (Giants): On this regional versus national, is New York a regional market? I'm being serious. It's national.

Kempner (MWW): It's also a regional market. I think that there are very important regional strategies that deal with big audiences in this market. I think, frankly, the mistake is that people view it only as a national market. It's a regional market unto itself and a national market.

Hanlon (Giants): I think that's a common complaint or beef or criticism is that sometimes we get so wrapped up in what's going on here that we think everyone else cares as much about it. My only point is that if you're going to sell your product nationally you've got to go through New York to do it. And if you're in New York, dealing with the local media, at least in three or four cases you are going national.

Kempner (MWW): I would argue that one mistake many agencies make is that they may have their national headquarters here in New York and they may be New York-based, but they're not of New York. So they may be a great national firm, but that doesn't make them a great New York firm. So the challenge is how do you do both. This is the biggest and maybe the best market, but also, by the same token, your national press is here as well.

Osgood (Osgood): I know three companies that fit that exactly, where their strengths are in other offices and not here.

Kerins (GCI): Isn't it, again, about keeping your eye on the audience? The idea of the Wal-Mart generation out in Kansas. If you're really selling consumer products, you have to be thinking not coast-coast, but middle America. It's completely different. And, frankly, again, that's really the challenge of ensuring you really know who the hell you're talking to, because over and over again you're assuming you're reaching a particular audience, and you think, Oh great we get it in the Wall Street Journal, we're going to reach consumers. Well, of course you're not going to. What is going to take to get it on the Today show? If you're trying to reach middle America, mom at home who is getting the kids ready for school, all those markets across time zones. And so, whether it be pitch or anything else, knowing that audience first, and factually knowing and not just taking a guess...It may be regional. It may not be a national campaign at all.

Osgood (Osgood): What about some of the other agencies? I'm thinking about some of the tech agencies that survived quite well during the downturn - Wagner Edstrom, Text100. And not all of them are headquartered here.

Kerins (GCI): It's definitional. I bet Wag Ed would take issue with defining them right now as a tech agency because Microsoft is a client, when a lot of that work is consumer based. Is that tech?

Osgood (Osgood): Their base of clients, as with Text100, are those companies that have technology as a differentiator, whether it's consumer, b-and-b or internal communications or messaging or positioning.

Kempner (MWW): I don't think it's a requirement you have to be in New York or New Jersey to be successful. But I think there would be an advantage to at least having a presence in New York. I think without it, it's difficult.

THE YEAR AHEAD Hood (PRWeek): In the year ahead, what's on your minds? What are your concerns about your staff, your companies, what you're seeing in PR?

Aaron (Tiffany): I'll just tell you, from the IR side, when I talk to investors, almost every meeting, the final question is, Mark, what're you worried about? What could go wrong? And, in our case, it's more macro. What if the economy does slow down? Obviously, what if the geopolitical situation were to get worse?

Hanlon (Giants): The only thing I worry about is being 4 and 12 again.

Aaron (Tiffany): On Wall Street, the Dow might keep going up, but a lot of people are asking the question of...

Kempner (MWW): I think you're right. At least the people I've talked to, I don't think there's ever been a time where people have been more concerned about the geopolitical environment. It's always been out of our control. But there's such a feeling that so much of it is out of our control that it's things are good until they get bad. It's just waiting for that shoe to drop - and that is the entire concern of the economy, and probably businesses well beyond the public relations field. Because something could happen that could change all this that's beyond anybody's control.

Mallozzi (Gibbs & Soell): It's that we've spent the last two years in this time of uncertainty. And that uncertainty has stalled a lot of initiatives. I sense here in New York that uncertainty has become almost more routine. Instead of coming to work every day and saying it's another day of uncertainty, I see the mind shift here and I see the attitudes starting to change. It's now, Maybe uncertainty is here to stay - how can it be an opportunity?

Aaron (Tiffany): Any company that's hiding behind this thing of we're not going to tell you what we think about the future because there's low visibility, well, there's always been uncertainty.

Mallozzi (Gibbs & Soell): Exactly. But I think even from an employee's standpoint, there's been a lot of uncertainty the past couple of years. And, again, as a firm that's done very well, I think we've been very fortunate, but there's a degree of uncertainty with that moving forward. Is it because the job market was so horrible? Or was it because now we have a lot of things going for us and people are staying? The test is over the next year or so. I think managing the uncertainty has become an art onto itself.

Aaron (Tiffany): I think over the next six months we've got a pretty rough presidential campaign that's going to get a lot of attention.

Lasky (Davis & Gilbert): I can move geopolitical to bread and butter. When I look at this item on the agenda, there are some things that just hit me because I hear them so often from a lot of different agencies, from small independents in New York to regional players to large agencies that are part of holding companies. I hear very substantial concern over procurement and the time-consuming nature of the RFP process. I hear a lot of concern about the number of remarkably large firms going after RFPs of relatively few dollars. I hear a lot of concerns over conflicts, big concerns over conflicts. As some of the larger agencies have gotten even larger, managing those conflicts has become a very big issue. And when you add to that the RFP process and the procurement process, it's almost like an accident waiting to happen. This is actually an opportunity for some of the medium-size and smaller firms. So that's something I continue to hear a great deal across all sides, categories and specialty. And the last thing I hear a lot about are clients asking for discharge. Now, what I don't hear is what I call the give and the get, or the carrot and the stick. I don't hear the balance, the client has asked for the 20 percent discount, but why don't you, when you put X product up for RFP, be more inclined to retain us for that one as well as you have. I don't hear the discussion being balanced. I hear each of these issues being taken in a vacuum, on the agency side as well as the client side.

Hunt (FT): I think something that has been hit enough, people are paying more attention to research and dialogue with their clients. I think it's kind of a breath of fresh air when things get tighter, where you have to be creative with your budget because you weed out the people you really didn't want to work with anyhow and I think the amount of research being conducted both internally and externally declines.

Kerins (GCI): We weathered the storm pretty damn well the last two years. In fact, in New York City, GCI jumped two or three spots on the chain as far as size. But the idea, for us, is staying true to our strategy we put in place about being smarter about our clients and their target audiences, regardless of whether the economy goes up or down. But I think we talked about the biggest one, which is talent. If this economy opens up even a little bit more, a couple percentage points, talented hiring is going to increase significantly.

Kempner (MWW): I think it's happening already.

Kerins (GCI): I agree with you. I'm just saying if it goes that one more notch, and boom. Right now, it's tough.

Kempner (MWW): That goes back to my earlier comment. A lot of average people getting above average salaries, and I believe the talent war, it'd be kind to call it a talent war. But the talent war has begun to heat up. I think most of us tend to keep our talent. There is the circular motion of the people who are average that tend to go around firms.

Osgood (Osgood): One other thing we've noticed, looking at the corporate side, is our companies are taking a look, internally, because the managements aren't really driving the budgets up for them. They're trying to figure out how they can do it better. And that's great because it's, Help us look at this thing, are we doing it right? Are we getting the greatest value for the buck we're spending? Not just with their agencies, but with their own people. Are they focusing on the right things? Are they doing the right things? Are they measuring it the right way? And I know there's this whole group out there that says, No, no way, we don't measure this business. In fact, there are people who are looking and saying, OK, maybe it's not actually a percentage number, but we have to know whether we're moving the needle or not. So I see that as a very healthy trend on the corporate side.

Aaron (Tiffany): I agree. But I hope corporate America hopefully doesn't become complacent now that Sarbanes-Oxley and investor confidence has been restored. I think we've got a long way to go. Hopefully, there's fewer and fewer scandals out there. But I hope regardless of how the economy is going that corporations on the IR side, on the PR side, continue to focus on this whole issue of integrity and continue to raise the bar and doing what is right. Because I don't think we're back to the good old days of people trusting corporations yet. I think there's a lack of trust in institutions, generally, and we've just got to keep working on it. There should never be an end to that. We should always be focusing on that as communicators.

Osgood (Osgood): I work with one of the big accounting firms, and I listen to them, and what they're concerned about is not what they're doing today, but the lingering effects that are out there from past actions and the stuff that could still come to light, and the effect that it's going to have on attitudes. Something that happened three, four, five years ago that now comes to light and, under the current judgment and morality, how is it viewed and who gets held to task. A number of CEOs at top outfits say, Look what happened at ABC yesterday. Hit on the chairman and watch the effect.

Aaron (Tiffany): And more companies issuing press releases about how they're not doing the right thing. I look at that stuff and say, Just do it. And prove it. And over time, everybody will get it if you're really behaving properly as opposed to waving a flag with press releases.

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