Saturday, December 31, 2011

Light Rays on Saturdays: Obama v Romney... Study Their Time At Harvard Grad Schools

After all the histrionics, debates and fabricated hoo-hah, the match-up for the presidency in 2012 will be precisely what everyone has expected all along: President Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney. If you want to truly understand the nature of these two men, study the one thing they have in common: Harvard University graduate schools. These New York Times’ features – one from January 2007 exploring Obama’s time at Harvard Law and the other from December 2011 assessing Romney at Harvard Business – provide tremendous insights into the personalities and characters of the candidates.

By now, you have had your fill of the “look back,” “look ahead,” “best of,” “top 10” and “what to watch for” stories that inundate us at the end and start of every year, in every medium and media. There’s no evidence that many people pay attention to the vast majority of these stories. It’s breezy filler designed to fill space between ads and give editors and reporters well-deserved time off during the holidays. That’s why it was nice to see Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank review the accuracy of his predictions for 2011. The annual churn of year-end content would be significantly more interesting if all media held themselves publicly accountable in such fashion.

You’ll hear a lot about the Iowa presidential caucuses this coming week. Political junkies swear the caucuses are important – as a winnowing exercise, as a springboard to voting primaries in other states, as a place for candidates to drop resume bombs on each other, and as a test of retail political skills. Yet the winner in Iowa is seldom their party’s nominee. For a different perspective on the importance of Iowa, read these pieces published in the past week in The Washington Post and The New York Times. Each offers important context about the state that will dominate political news this week.

As we head into a new year, I want to thank everyone for reading Bending Light. Somehow, it manages to get about 150 to 200 page views per post, and I’m very grateful to know that you're out there. By far, the two most popular posts since Bending Light launched two months ago have been on Jerry Sandusky’s decision to interview with Bob Costas and the five things reporters and PR people have in common. The “Light Rays” compilations on Saturdays also seem pretty well-read. Thanks again for making Bending Light a choice in your online buffet. 

I wish Happy New Year to you all! See you in 2012.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Daily Detente: Five Things The Media And Public Relations Have In Common

When was the last time you saw a front page story in the Washington Post (or any other top tier media outlet) in which press secretaries and spokespeople complained about the tactics, attitude and/or work habits of the reporters they deal with every day?

Just about as often as Newt Gingrich admits mistakes, I would imagine – as in, never.
Another Day At The Office For Jay Carney

No, you won’t often see national stories casting reporters in a negative light. But at least on an annual basis, you will see stories like the December 22 Post piece about White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and his staff, headlined, “Journalists complain the White House press office has become overly combative.”

It was a classic inside-baseball, warning shot across Carney’s bow – a lump of coal as he headed into what will probably be his last holiday break before the 2012 campaign makes life a round-the-clock nightmare. Given that Carney and his staff manage the flow of information to and from thousands of reporters around the world each day, it’s amusing when the complaints of “some reporters” trigger 1,400 words that can be summed up as:  A few of us don’t like the tone by which we are being held accountable for the stories we are producing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why This Blog Is Called 'Bending Light'

In the past few weeks, many readers have asked why this blog is called "Bending Light." Looking back at the readership data, I realized that only a handful of people saw the very first post. So, to answer the question (and to buy some time for holiday shopping), here's a reprint from October 24...

What light shows us (or what the absence of light hides from us) is not the present; it is the past.
When you see the sun, you are seeing it as it was eight minutes ago.  Moonlight isn’t really moonlight; it’s actually sunlight reflecting the moon as it was two seconds ago. When you marvel at the night sky, your mind is processing an image that no longer exists at the source. What you see is a scatter of light that began travelling toward your eyes anywhere from thousands to millions of years ago.
Distance is not the only distorting influence; the stuff through which light passes also alters what you see.  This is called refraction, and it magnifies objects under water; creates rainbows; makes it appear as if stars twinkle. The sky is blue because of the way gas molecules in our atmosphere interact with light from the sun.
Optics (the study of light) is an excellent analogy for communications. It follows many of the same principles. Successful strategic communications – communications that moves people toward a specific goal – relies on three core ingredients:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Three Key Next Steps For Massachusetts's Newest Industry: Legalized Gambling

Massachusetts launched a new industry yesterday – the biggest start-up in the Commonwealth’s history – and while most start-ups don’t need intensive strategic communications until later in their evolution, reputation management will be critical to the success of this new venture from day one.

The new industry is legalized gambling, a multi-billion-dollar enterprise that many believe will eventually take its place among Massachusetts’ traditional economic engines – tech, life sciences, healthcare, higher education, financial services, etc. In this business model, the state is the chief executive officer and chief ethics officer; every taxpayer is a shareholder; and, every community is a stakeholder, directly or indirectly, for better or worse.  

As a quasi-public enterprise overseeing privately run subsidiaries, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) will act as a hybrid board of directors and regulator, responsible for fulfilling the promises of the business but also acting as the eyes and ears of the citizens. The communications challenges it faces are immense and serious.

Here are three important steps for a successful launch of this new venture in the first quarter of 2012:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Light Rays on Saturdays: Occupy, FOX News and Content Creation

The Occupy movement never seemed very strategic, as discussed here previously.  Correcting economic unfairness is an admirable goal, but how exactly does squatting on public land suggest a solution?  Occupy’s lone success (thus far) was to generate a national discussion in October and early November among virtually every opinion leader and editorialist in the nation. Beyond that, a lot of people were left camping out, waiting for orders that never came. It will be interesting to see if the “movement” can define and push a specific action plan in time for the 2012 elections.

What’s left to say about FOX News? Today’s New York Times adds to the legend, discussing in detail the channel’s behavior around the Iowa caucuses. Here’s what people need to understand: Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes have built a network that doesn’t bother compete for viewers like others do. FOX owns its audience’s hearts and minds. It engages them on an emotional, sociological and/or ideological basis. FOX’s brand loyalty comes from being an utterly consistent reaffirmation of “the truth” for millions of people who feel the world is out of control. They don’t see their values reflected elsewhere, so they turn to FOX News for succor. You don't have to like it; just don't ignore it.

There’s no shame in putting “content creation” on your resume. It may drive a particular demographic of reporters nuts, but welcome to the modern news and information buffet that has empowered consumers with unlimited and unfiltered choices. Another example of the dynamic occurred this week when former Digitas CEO Laura Lang was named to run the media holdings at Time, Inc. David Carr, the New York Times media reporter, explained it exceptionally well. Still don’t get it? Read this piece by Dow Jones reporter Damian Ghigliotty.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Boston Globe Reporters Predict The Future: Their Gamble Could Be Your Opportunity

God bless Boston Globe Sunday Business Editor Robert Gavin. About a year ago, as the Globe’s economic reporter, Gavin pulled the story assignment that most major beat reporters confront every December: Predict the future. 
Art by Leo Acadia for Jan. 2, 2011 Money & Careers section.

This is the month when industry reporters “look ahead” to next year, talking to sources and using their expertise to offer audiences a sense of what to expect, trends, potential newsmakers, etc., in the year to come. Some reporters also produce “look back” stories, recapping the past year on their beat and, hopefully, offering some analysis.

Reporters and editors are people too, with families and friends. They want time off at the holidays like everyone else. These look back/look ahead pieces can be written and laid out well in advance, allowing the media to fill pages with staff content while giving reporters a year-end break.

For business and enterprises, these stories represent an opportunity to pitch experts and analysts who can comment on what lies ahead for an industry or segment. The pitches rarely work if they are self-promoting. Don’t expect a profile of you or your organization. Instead, be satisfied to position yourself as a thought leader and perhaps become a source for future stories.

What was unusual about the Globe’s effort to forecast 2011 was the lack of experts cited in the spread of stories penned by Gavin and his colleagues – Jennifer B. McKim, Robert Weisman, Scott Kirsner, D.C. Denison and Casey Ross. That’s gutsy.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mitt Romney In The Media Sun: Can GOP Voters Like Him If They Don't Trust Him?

It’s a big weekend for Mitt Romney – the weekend he finally lets voters see him as a person, a human being, a father with a family, a husband with quirks, a guy with an IPod and a big appetite for cereal.
In fact, you now have four excellent opportunities – Mitt Moments – to understand the former Massachusetts Governor from four very different but equally insightful perspectives:
Mitt Moment 1: “A Mitt Romney You Haven’t Seen” is the topic of a big spread in Parade magazine this weekend. It’s online here. Fresh from his boy’s weekend in Italy with George Clooney, venerable presidential consultant David Gergen says he “still wondered what made Romney tick.” To his credit, Gergen confronts Romney’s Mormon faith, which many see as a hidden concern for GOP voters.
The Parade profile is a must read for every voter.  But don’t stop there. Read what Gergen himself has to say about the interview in a separate Parade piece and in an online column on CNN. It speaks volumes that the nation’s most influential political consultant-analyst-author-commentator “still wondered what made Romney tick.” Romney ran four years ago and it’s only a month before the start of the GOP primaries, but Gergen concludes: “We can’t tell yet what kind of president Mitt Romney would be.” Ouch.
Mitt Moment 2: “Why Don’t They Like Me” is the subject of a five-page Time magazine cover story dated December 12 (available online if you subscribe.) Authored by none other than Joe Klein, the five-page piece examines the familiar litany of potential misgivings that bedevil Romney – flip-flops, Mormonism, technocratic, etc.
Klein has openly complained that he did not get the same access to Romney, his family and his campaign that Gergen was granted. His resentment may have seeped into his writing, giving the piece a negative slant. Reportedly, the Time article says of Romney: "The question always remains: Who is he really? Do we have any clues as to what he actually believes?" Sounds familiar.

Mitt Moment 3: "Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot" is the unflattering headline of today's New York Times Magazine cover story, a comprehensive assessment of Romney's strategic choice to be portrayed as "a fixer" rather than a regular guy.
"Mitt Romney’s campaign has decided upon a rather novel approach to winning the presidency. It has taken a smart and highly qualified but largely colorless candidate and made him exquisitely one-dimensional: All-Business Man, the world’s most boring superhero," says author Robert Draper, who describes Romney as a man "puzzling his way to victory."

Mitt Moment 4: “Focus Group Weighs in on Campaign 2012” is a CSPAN question-and-answer session with suburban Republican voters in northern Virginia recorded Thursday, December 1. Less convenient than either the Parade or Time spreads, this focus group – facilitated by the legendary pollster Peter Hart – is a must-see for political junkies. It’s uncut and a great demonstration how focus groups should work.