Reading the tea leaves of the MSM

Students groan when I hound them to follow the business headlines. It’s boring to most — but I felt the same way at age 21. I mean, how does a story about oil futures compete with the Anna Nicole saga or with American Idol?

Simple: Anna Nicole’s baby and Sanjaya‘s fate don’t affect my life or my paycheck one bit. On the other hand, the price of oil, and most everything else on the business page, will. Business news also affects the organizations we represent. So, boring or not, we gotta pay attention.

Here are some of the business stories I dragged into class this past week and why I bothered to talk about them.

vacations.jpgBusiness travel with the family. This AP story extols the benefits of having family members join you on business trips. Turns out more and more folks are doing it, and more and more companies are supporting it. It makes sense, when you consider what it costs to replace and train productive staff. Why not do what you can to keep your present employees happy?

What’s this story mean to you? It depends. Could be it signals a trend that’ll affect your company’s HR practices in the coming years? Maybe it’s simply an idea your company could use to boost morale? Maybe it’s the lynchpin in next year’s employee relations program.

Second Life and corporate marketers. If you didn’t know that hundreds of companies are exploring the potential of secondlife.jpgSecond Life, you do now. The Associated Press is all over the story.

More and more companies are promoting their wares in this and other virtual worlds. Few of my students understand the public’s fascination with SL, and neither do I. But I don’t want my clients to miss an opportunity because I wasn’t paying attention. So I read about SL, online and on the business page.

Health, wellness, and community. Just up the road from me, the city of Solon, Ohio, has hooked up with Medical Mutual on a program to make the whole town more healthy. If you live or work in Solon, you can be part of a plan that offers free medical screenings for anyone who lives or works there. Medical Mutual will be collecting data from these screenings for the next 3 years with an eye toward expanding the program to a much broader group.

Who cares? Any company that pays premiums for health insurance should. Wellness programs like the one in Solon can lead to healthier lifestyles and lower healthcare costs. At least that’s the theory. Is this a trend you and your employer should be tracking? Or is it something your city should be considering now?

Environmental scanning has long been part of the job description of the best PR professionals. It starts with paying close attention to the MSM and asking the question: What does this story mean to my company or client? If you track key issues in the MSM — and the blogophere — you’ll turn up dozens of ideas that just might make you a hero.

If you don’t pay attention, trust me, someone else will.

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