You can learn a lot from a throwback — really!

My students think I’m a throwback. In part it’s because of the offbeat contemporary references I bring to class. You see, blogpor.jpgI stay up on events thanks to a secret source my students seldom tap: the morning newspaper. It’s not a habit most 20somethings have acquired yet.

While the morning headlines fuel conversations, they also offer lessons in public relations. Just yesterday I read with highlighter in hand, marking passages I could use in class, and in this post. So here ya go.

Lesson #1: Use 2-way communication to build relationships.

bib_x.jpgThis comes from a story about Michelin North America, top competitor to Ohio’s favorite son, Goodyear. Michelin signed a contract with the Steel Workers last summer. Goodyear and the USW are in the throes of a acrimonious strike. From the ABJ:

Michelin’s top North American executive said the company succeeded in getting a contract in part because the tire maker’s U.S-based executives talked at length with union leadership about industry issues prior to formal talks commencing.

“We spent a lot of time with them in pre-negotiations to make sure they understood the economic issues facing the company,” said Jim Micali, chairman and president of Michelin North America.”

Later in the story…

Communication is key to making it all work, he said.

“I spend more time than ever communicating internally to our people, to explain to them what the challenges are out there in the marketplace,” Micali said. He does plant visits and a ‘local town hall’ meeting once a month at the Greenville headquarters.

Other forms of communication include “video, Internet, letters to the home. In these days, you just cannot over-communicate,” he said. Employees need to know what the challenges are, what the company is doing about it, and how they are going to get there, he said.

Lesson #2: Pitch stories that impact people’s lives.

A headline yesterday about the declining incidence of breast cancer was welcome news to millions. Any wonder it’s page-one around the world? Most of our clients don’t have such high-impact stories to tell, so we often find ourselves contriving news to build the clip files. If you want to make headlines, first find out how your client is changing people’s lives then focus on it. Think like a reporter, not a flack.

Lesson #3: Triggering events mold public opinion.

This one surfaced yesterday with the news that Angel Diaz required two doses of toxic cocktail before he finally croaked in Florida’s death chamber. The story became a rallying cry for those who oppose capital punishment. And it has me wondering (again) why a so-called “civilized nation” still does barbaric things. Guess you know where I stand on that issue, eh? From the AP wire:

Prison officials promised to investigate but insisted Diaz felt no pain and that it was not unexpected a second dose would be required, because liver disease had affected his ability to metabolize the drugs. They offered no explanation for the grimace or why officials did not adjust the dosage from the start.

Foes of capital punishment seized on the execution to argue that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, just as they did after two inmates’ heads caught fire in Florida’s electric chair in 1990 and 1997 and a condemned man suffered a severe nosebleed in 2000 during his electrocution.

Those cases led Florida to get rid of the electric chair and switch to lethal injection, which was portrayed as more humane and more reliable.

Lesson #4: The next crisis is just around the corner.

iceberg.jpgSo be ready. This lesson comes courtesy of growing evidence that the Taco Bell poisonings last week may have been caused by lettuce, not onions. No big deal to us, but it is to California’s lettuce growers, worried about what happens if grocers pull iceberg heads off the shelf. Safety of our food supply has become an everyday story and certainly has PR pros in that industry hopping. From the AP wire:

The growers said federal authorities were too quick to assign blame and needlessly jeopardized their produce sales by saying lettuce was the likely culprit.

“They should do their research before they start smearing products,” said Tom Russell, president of Salinas, Calif.-based grower Pacific International Marketing. “Each time they do it, they drive prices down.”

Dave Daigle, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Federal officials said Wednesday the most likely source of the outbreak was lettuce. The statement came several days after investigators failed to confirm Taco Bell’s previous suspicion that green onions were behind the problem.

Lesson #5: Follow news about pop culture, watch for trends.

bcellphones0404.jpgHere I’ll refer to local columnist David Giffels who wrote a great piece about a proposed cell phone ban in Akron Public Schools. Cell phone limits are cropping up all over, and it’s gonna become more frequent thanks to all the folks who use them irresponsibly. These bans could cut into phone usage big time. Now, imagine yourself sitting the offices at AT&T trying to come up with reasons that teenagers need cell phone access during biology class. Anybody wanna pitch that strategy? From the ABJ’s David Giffels:

They (cell phones) have introduced a new kind of rudeness to a society that didn’t need any more of it. They have created a new sort of antisocial tic — that glancing-at-the-menu-scanning-with-the-thumb thing that people do when they should be looking you in the eye. And they make people drive dangerously.

Listen to the guy in the produce aisle with one of those ear implant thingies and you’ll hear what I mean. (It’s not eavesdropping. He chose to make his private conversation public.)

The Akron school board this week debated what to do about in-school cell phone use. Currently, there is no uniform district policy. Teachers and administrators not only want to keep students from chatting or otherwise playing with their phones during class, but they also want to keep them from using their phones to snap digital photos of test papers to help their friends cheat.

Now do you see why it pays to get up at 6 a.m. and trudge to the mailbox?

I need some coffee.


One Response to You can learn a lot from a throwback — really!

  1. Andy Curran says:

    The beauty of the newspaper is that everything is contained in one neat bundle. No clicking headline links. You can find evrything from local/state/national/international news, weather, sports, business, lifestyle, tech, and of course, the comics!

    You can get that stuff in an up-to-the-minute fashion online, but there is nothing like thumbing through the paper to get a good birds-eye view of the world around us. I believe that you are more likely to miss stories if you only surf the web. Plus, the paper just goes better with the morning coffee or the afternoon/early evening beer. Cincinnati is one of the few cities left that have more than one daily paper: Gannett’s Enquirer (morning) and Scripps-Howard’s flagship Post (afternoon). The Post might not be long for this world though.

    I know that my PR stint was in a different era (1980-82), but when I did my stint at UAB (University of Alabama-Birmingham), our boss budgeted for each of us to get a copy of the Birmingham News and told us to start the day by looking through it slowly. The idea was to look for national and international stories that we could pitch with a local angle. For instance, if someone in Europe invented a new surgical procedure for heart bypasses, our medical writer would track down a UAB heart surgeon and see if he/she would be willing to give comments to the local media. As soon as a willing source was found, the person responsible would work the phones and pitch it. And many times, someone in print, radio, or TV would do the story.

    The Birmingham media really liked us when we did this because we weren’t just pitching some administrator’s pet project (although we did plenty of those as well!), but something substantive that was more than grabbing a story off the AP/UPI wires.

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