Monday, August 10, 2015

#PR Isn't About "Happy-Talking" Customers [Abbott PR]

I’m sure it’s happened to you before. You drive by a business, and, perhaps not even noticing it at first, you cringe.  

"It’s funny," you may think to yourself, "but I haven’t been in the place since last November." Maybe you can't even remember why.

One way or another, you were put off by the place, and never went back.

Then you drive by a second business, and you almost want to invent a reason to stop and go back in, even though you may have no business to transact there. 

How does that happen? And (you might be thinking) how can I make THAT happen for MY business?

Some people view public relations as the domain of glad-handing, back-slapping "yes-men" or pretty faces who tell clients whatever they want to hear. But the  truth is, this kind of PR person wouldn’t be much help to the client who cringed, above, or to that client’s business. These efforts instead could be an expensive distraction; or worse, a waste of money. Simply trying to distract customers from a bad experience doesn't fix the underlying reasons for the bad experience. And it won't change perceptions if they have new bad experiences if they return.

Changing a negative reputation into a good one, or at least a neutral one, or reinforcing a business’ already-positive image, is really what public relations is all about. 

In the negative example above, becoming aware of the company's problems - whether it's poor service, shoddy merchandise or even the bad odor of the establishment - by using customer feedback effectively, then making sure that current and past customers know you are aware of their past bad experiences and are taking steps to correct them, are the first steps to changing bad perceptions.

Perhaps a sign out front, reading, "Newly remodeled," touting a new product line, or, even better, new management, would help entice disgruntled customers back into the door. But of course, real changes will have had to have been made. Customers are savvy, and can see through the old "new paint job" or "new signage" approach, IF there aren't real changes made along with them.

An ad in the paper and a mailer to past customers trumpeting a totally new approach to customer service, may help, too, as long as that claim is then TRULY backed up with EXCELLENT service and products and a clean environment when customers begin to return. (Because, again, savvy customers can not and will not be fooled - and you should not try.)

For the business with an already good reputation, but with little repeat business, a company e-newsletter, mailed every other month to regular customers and containing special deals to reward their loyalty may help remind them why they liked the business so much on previous visits. 

A Facebook page is also a great way to interact with customers on a daily basis, posting specials, customer and employee profiles and promoting new services and products.

Special programs to reward regular customers solidify that important base, and increase word-of-mouth buzz about a company. And of course, an effective social media presence on facebook and twitter, with perhaps a video element on YouTube, also backs up a company's reputation and are channels for effective and immediate feedback.

A paid advertising campaign highlighting satisfied customers may also be necessary to let people know that they, too, can have good experiences there. Advertising - online and in print - can also reinforce the good work you've done to improve customer experiences.

All of this underlines the seriousness of the profession of public relations. It involves the art of effective communication, writing skill, and  the ability to determine a course of action that will truly be effective in widely varying situations and appealing to diverse publics.

PR isn’t just happy talk, it’s a profession that helps make companies more successful through an approach of identifying positives and negatives and creating plans to addressing them in a systematic way.

Stephen Abbott is owner and principal of Abbott Public Relations, a division of Abbott Media Group, which can be found online at

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Donald #Trump's Disastrous Announcement Speech

Donald Trump's announcement speech stands as a perfect example of why using a professional speech writer is vital to making a candidate's views coherent to voters and giving an elevated, Statesmanlike tone to a campaign, especially on the Federal level.

While managing and advising campaigns, I've found that wealthy candidates (and particularly, self-funding candidates like Trump) believe they have a "right" to simply spew forth whatever is contained in their brain at the moment. Trump's announcement speech demonstrates why this approach is horribly, disastrously wrong.

The fact that he apparently had a beautifully written, 10-minute prepared speech that he chucked at the last minute tells me he doesn't take professional advice, which speaks volumes about his character and his attitude towards taking advice from others.

How does he expect to govern if he doesn't take advice? Well, he actually tells us: He's going to bully China, bully Putin, bully Mexico, bully the CEO of Ford.

Not that we shouldn't stand up to them all, and the sad thing is that he isn't RIGHT when he says that 'free trade' deals have been detrimental to our economy, but he must bring Congress and the American people along with him. And he does that that with the proper tone and the correct political rhetoric that inspires us to come along with him.

Listening to a blowhard at a coffee shop or a bar blow off steam with irrational "bomb them all" language and simple, but wrong-headed, solutions is one thing, and can easily be excused as the ramblings of someone who hasn't studied any of these issues in depth.

But a presidential candidate isn't simply making thoughtless statements in a coffee shop, he's placing himself into history.

And that makes hearing a self-obsessed braggart make arrogant bloviations from a presidential announcement podium is historically inexcusable.

Unless Donald Trump now gives a series of serious, scripted policy speeches in the coming weeks - which is extremely unlikely - his candidacy is doomed, and it was a long shot to begin with, so he'd better start listening to people.

Monday, April 20, 2015

5 Ways to Fix America's Nightly Network "News"

Network news - news programs shown on the original Big Three networks and other, newer, upstarts - is broken. Below are five examples, and what I believe they need to do to fix their news programs to better serve the American people:

More International Focus - A "world news" program that focuses solely on domestic news is not worthy of the name. And international celebrities getting into trouble or the latest plane crash overseas doesn't count as "news." Americans who are insular and insulated from the news of the world are suddenly surprised by trends both friendly and ferocious when they hit without warning. When that happens, that's a failure of the "world news" programs we watch. Network newscasts must rededicate themselves to covering the entire world.

More International Politics - Political trends are also vital to our full and complete awareness as voters and as citizens. It may not, at first glance, seem important that a new anti-American party is rising in the polls in a nation traditionally friendly to the USA, or that a certain governor was elected in a prefecture in Japan. But if that nation  turns hostile, or if that governor is more hostile to Americans remaining in a military base there than his predecessor, then that indeed is a problem that will have regional and international repercussions. Network newscasts should commit to covering international politics, because it's relevant.

The Weather Is NOT "news" - It's snowy in the winter in the Northern half of the United States. It's a fact. It's not, however, news. It's exciting to show cars skidding off the road, rivers frozen and, in other climes, wet summers, minor hurricanes and tornadoes. But aside from an in-depth analyses of how slowly the aid got there after the storm, or how we are adapting to changing weather patterns, it's not "news." Network newscasts should stop wasting time covering routine and expected weather, and blowing storms out of all proportion.

Less "Special Kid Plays On the Team" Stories - I love the stories in which a young person - who is disabled in some way or is a terminal patient - gets to play on their favorite professional sports team or on their high school team, especially when they actually score for the team! These stories (and there are many of them) are inspirational, interesting, heart-warming, and emotional. Note that none of those words are "news," and are not newsWORTHY. They should exist in a separate show, which I'm sure would get great ratings, but they should not be taking up time in the nightly newscast, crowding out actual news. Network newscasts should leave the "feel good" stories to other shows on the network.

Fewer YouTube Videos - What's truly shocking about today's American nightly "newscast" is the inclusion of actual YouTube videos. ABC News includes these (and the aforementioned "kids play on teams" videos) in its "Index" segment near the end of the program. It literally shows YouTube videos of animals doing funny things, near-miss car accidents and other hilarity, which we can see with better justification on shows like "America's Funniest Videos" or its cable show equivalents. The YouTubization (tm) of Network news must end. 

"If it bleeds, it leads" was the old saying about the nightly news and the local paper. National Network newscasts shouldn't fear though. There is plenty of blood in the political turmoil around the world to quench their viewers' hearts. Demonstrations, corruption, trade deals, hard-fought elections, coups and uprisings, and much of it with consequences for American voters and consumers.

That's one of the reasons why I founded "World Politics News," a news aggregation service that points American readers to the news they're missing on the nightly network newscasts.

American news organizations owe it to us to bring us the world, and to show us accurately and fairly what's happening THERE before it happens HERE. And if they begin to do this again, the nightly "World News" programs will once again be true to their names.

Stephen Abbott
Abbott Media Group