Friday, August 30, 2013

Another Look At Newspapers

With the Toronto Star going behind a pay wall it’s time again to revisit the issue, not that anything much has changed from the last time I wrote about this. As a reader I understand and appreciate the Star’s need for an improved income stream in order to do investigative reporting, general reporting, cover special events and for columnists. However, it can be very counterproductive.

In my case twenty years ago I got about 70-80% of my news from newspapers and the rest from tv and magazines. Today it varies from about 1-40%, depending on the subject. The bulk of my news comes from tv, magazines, ezines, online lists like Newswise and All Aboard, press releases, blogs and websites. If the Toronto Star and most other papers were to shut down today I wouldn’t miss them as much as I would have twenty years ago.

So what to do? For starters the Star and other papers need get ads that people are actually interested in. I remember this one VERY annoying pop-up ad on the Sun Media papers websites for bridal dresses. It was totally irrelevant for me as I’m both male, very happily married and with no children. There have been other ads that were totally irrelevant to me on various newspaper sites, including the Star’s. What’s one thing that all of us need on a daily basis? FOOD! So where are the grocery store ads? I’ve yet to see one on any newspaper site. Put them on and I promise I will look at them at least once a week. The same thing for ads for other things that it shouldn’t take a genius to figure out what people might be interested in, like hardware and clothing stores.

Another thing, why, if I want to subscribe to several newspapers, do I have to go to the Toronto Star’s website and subscribe to the paper and then go to the Globe & Mail, New York Times, St. Catharines Standard and any other paper I may wish to subscribe to instead of going to just one website? It shouldn’t that hard to do. Heck I can go to a cable company and I can at least buy package deals on t.v. stations. Metrolinx has been creating one fare card for use across the GTA.

And why can’t there be two versions of a paper and several levels of access instead of just two? One version would be the full subscriber version. The other would be the free version with all the things that remain free with synopsis of non-free articles, like the investigative series the Star did on Marineland. From the shorter version of the article have a link to the full version, which would count towards the 10 or whatever free articles per month or require a subscription to. Right now my choices are 10 free articles a month or a full subscription. Why not another level that allows me to buy say 25 or 30 articles a month? For some people that might be all they need. It shouldn’t be that difficult to do this.

And please don’t do what the St. Catharines Standard did, which turned me off the paper. I quit subscribing to the physical paper as the price of the subscription kept going up and I didn’t think I was getting good value. I considered subscribing digitally, but when I investigated it found that I had to go through an American company and pay in American dollars or the Canadian equivalent. That has totally turned me off the paper.

I find it ironic that newspapers were among the first to embrace the Internet and yet are still having problems in learning how to deal with it. They remind of Kodak, who invented the digital camera and yet went bankrupt as they weren’t able to figure out what to do with it. It’s a shame because I VERY strongly that we still need newspapers, but not in their current form.

My advice to the Star, Standard and other newspapers, if you’re listening, which I doubt it, GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER, if not and you are determined to commit suicide then please do, but do it quickly and get it over with. This slow death is like watching someone kill themselves by smoking.

Friday, August 2, 2013

PR 101

Just like death and taxes, accidents are a fact of life. There’s no escaping it. So why were Edward Burckhardt and the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway seemingly so totally unprepared for the accident at Lac Megantic? It’s not like derailments are uncommon. This has become a textbook case of what not to do in a crisis.

So here’s what you should do.

Develop a plan of action well in advance of any crisis. Waiting for a crisis to happen and then trying to ad-live is no way to handle it. The action plan should include how to deal with the media, the victims and the public at large, including politicians and others businesses. The plan should also include how to handle the monetary aspects of a crisis.

Treat the media with respect and don’t lecture them. Answer questions truthfully, which doesn’t mean telling them everything you know. The media is just trying to do their job and most of their questions are predictable.

When a crisis, like the one at Lac Megantic, happens the CEO should show up within 24 hours not 4 days later as Burckhardt did. A delay in showing up signals that the CEO doesn’t care. However, the visit must be carefully managed keeping the CEO clear of the immediate disaster area so as not to interfere and must try to show genuine concern. Basically put yourself in the place of those immediately impacted by the accident and ask yourself how you would like to be treated.

Wait for the facts to present themselves before making a comment, passing judgment or admitting liability. Burckhardt first blamed the firefighters and then blamed the engineer for the accident at a time when it was too early to know exactly what happened. And what if the person or persons you blamed turn out to be truly innocent? Now you’ve got another problem on your hands. In a crisis there is lots of misinformation and speculation floating around, which the CEO and other company officials don’t need to contribute to.

Come with money. Even if you aren’t legally liable bringing at least some money shows genuine concern and will go far to help improve the imagine of your company. And pay your bills promptly.

One last thing don’t act nervous or play the poor me game. As Alan Bonner said in the Toronto Star the crisis isn’t about you.

Here’s a story I heard about how the Boy Scouts Of America handled an accident at one of their camps. One teen took an unauthorized joy ride with a friend in a motor vehicle and was killed in an accident and the other teen injured. The Boy Scouts paid for the funeral of the boy who was killed and the medical expenses of the one who was injured. They treated the families with genuine concern and respect. The result was neither family sued. That’s how to handle a crisis.

Unfortunately the Lac Megantic accident may end Burckhardt’s career or at the very least tarnish it. This is sad, as prior to this he was greatly admired in railway industry for turning around several railways in the United States and New Zealand. “Ed is a living legend,” Henry Posner, CEO of Railroad Development Corp., quoted in Business Week Business Week

The bottom line for those of you working in public relations is be prepared.