MEDIA ROUNDUP: Management experts thrive in good times and bad

While journalists seem more and more inclined to criticize business blunders, a wealth of opportunities still awaits management gurus looking to espouse their theories.

While journalists seem more and more inclined to criticize business blunders, a wealth of opportunities still awaits management gurus looking to espouse their theories.

Given the recent accounting scandals that have led to corporate meltdowns and disgraced CEOs, you might think that American business practices are in for some serious scrutiny or, at least, that executives would think twice about adopting the latest management fad. But whether it's complex management philosophies such as the Motorola-pioneered Six Sigma, or more practical advice of the kind offered by Navy captains, baseball managers, or even former New York City mayors, America's corporate elite seems to be on a bit of a self-help kick these days. The US business press, especially magazines such as Business 2.0 and Fast Company, has responded by continuing to profile executives in an effort to tease out the secrets to their management success. "Only three years ago, CEOs and the people who espoused these theories... were written up as the new heroes of society," notes Rogier Van Bakel, editor-in-chief of MBA Jungle. Van Bakel adds that even though the business climate has changed dramatically, many in the media haven't yet altered their reporting strategy. "These are stories that the media as a whole likes to tell - the heroic struggle that eventually leads to success," he says. To be fair, in recent years the journalists who cover business management issues have shown an increased willingness to criticize executives and consultants for failed strategies. One of the current management books attracting media attention, for instance, is James Hoopes' False Prophets: The Gurus Who Created Modern Management and Why Their Ideas Are Bad for Business Today. Gary Wells, managing director of the Cleveland, OH-based media relations and global communications firm Dix & Eaton, even suggests that the media pendulum may have swung too far toward negativity. "You can sum up coverage of business management among most general media as this: If it weren't for bad news, there'd be no news at all," he says. "In general, negative trends or egregious practices get more playing time - for example, reports of accounting shenanigans or compensation inequities. These are easy to write about and almost guaranteed to get a response." Managing the mainstream But even in business failure there are lessons to be learned, and the media seems to have taken the attitude that during slower economic times, business managers need more information and guidance, not less. "The only way [the recession] has impacted the coverage is that it's lessened the amount of outlets out there," says Babson College PR director Michael Chmura, whose job includes promoting books by some of its professors, including Hoopes. "The media interest remains strong because so much of the daily media news cycle is related to business," Chmura continues. "And these days, every business is trying to do more with less and every manager is trying to keep their job and make sure their company succeeds." Rodger Roeser, president/general manager of the PR and marketing firm Eisen Management Group, says this media interest extends beyond the Business 2.0 and CFO magazines of the world and into the general-interest business press, although getting there does often require a different approach. "When we pitch newspapers and the general business press, we have to change the angle and drive home what it means to consumers," he says. An example, he adds, may be how the failure to maximize distribution makes goods more expensive. Surprisingly, PR pros say the current economic uncertainty hasn't necessarily made executives any more gun-shy about touting their management theories in the press. But it has made them a bit more practical. "I like to ask my client, 'What do you really want with this story,'" says Candace Talmadge, who represents several business consultants and turnaround specialists. "If it's ego, we'll go for Fast Company or Business 2.0, but don't be surprised if they shred you to pieces. If they're looking for new business, a lot of good opportunities, especially for management consultants, are in the trade press, such as Plant Engineering magazine. The vertical trades are some of the most fruitful outlets." At almost every outlet, the reporters, most of whom don't specialize in business management, but grasp the general tenets, will insist on some kind of case study that reinforces a business management practice. "If you're going to talk about management approaches, you better have some good metrics to back it up," says Talmadge. Tricks of the trade press Van Bakel stresses that at least with his publication, the case study doesn't have to involve a traditional business. His MBA Jungle, which will be renamed simply Jungle in September to represent its appeal beyond graduate students, prides itself on a slightly irreverent, quirky tone, and that's reflected in the cases studies it chooses. "We would be very interested, for example, in a case study on the business of The Simpsons - how to sell the franchise abroad as well as in the US," explains Van Bakel. "We also have a section called Trade Secrets, which takes a look at what somebody who runs a one-person business has learned about the business world." Recently, that column has profiled professions such as bail bondsman, truck driver, and dog walker, he adds. With the sheer number of both undergraduate and graduate business management programs in the US, there are some good academic-related outlets for discussions of the latest theories in worker motivation and supply-chain management. Roeser notes that they are open to pitches, but clients run the risk that their latest management theory may be judged a failure. "If you're genuinely interested in determining whether a methodology is impactful and works, and if you have some real-world examples on which you can base a litmus test, then getting an endorsement from, say, Harvard Business Review, is tremendous," says Roeser. "But you are rolling the dice." Television offers a much narrower target for business management coverage, since most PR pros say pitching local TV isn't worth their effort. That leaves the major national financial networks, such as CNNfn, CNBC, and Bloomberg Television, which tend to be focused on the stock market, not management theory. "The best way to pitch television is to position your executive as an expert within a given field and then make sure the producer and the bookers have him or her in their Rolodex," says Roeser. "And then you continually send them situations or issues that your client can comment on...whether it's the war on Iraq and its impact on consumer demand or looking at terrorism and its potential impact on warehouse security. If you constantly throw ideas at them based on these national trends, something is bound to come along." While business radio also tends to be market-driven, Warren suggests that outlets such as Bloomberg Radio and NPR's Motley Fool and Marketplace programs can be great opportunities for business management stories, especially for authors who are willing to tie their book to a current trend. But the key to any business management-themed pitch, Warren says, is building that relationship with the journalist or producer. "You have to have contacts at those outlets, and you have to pitch on content rather than hype," she says. ----- Where to go Newspapers The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times; USA Today; The Financial Times; The Miami Herald; The Boston Globe; The Washington Post; LA Times; San Jose Mercury News Magazines MBA Jungle; Fast Company; Business 2.0; Forbes; Fortune; Inc.; Networking Times; Harvard Business Review; Strategy + Business; Selling Power; CFO; CIO; Entrepreneur; Chief Executive TV & Radio CNNfn; CNBC; Fox News Network; CNN; CBS Marketwatch; Bloomberg TV and Radio; NPR's Motley Fool and Marketplace radio programs Internet WSJ.com; CBSmarketwatch.com

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