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One thing journalists really hate is to be told by their editors that they have “buried the lead.”
It means the point of the story is not obvious from the first few paragraphs, and that the “lead” or premise of the story is buried too far down in the story.
As always there is a lot of news right now about China. These are all important stories.
But look closely here, because none of these stories directly affects you or me:
· A strike by journalists at a newspaper to protest censorship over their stories.
· The government tightening control over the Internet and of Western media.
· The air pollution that is literally off the charts and besieging everyone in Beijing.
· The challenges facing Yum Brands, particularly in its lucrative KFC unit, in China.
· And more.
The media have buried the lead. The real story, the only one that really matters to global companies conducting business in China, is tucked inside all the coverage about Yum and the supposedly tainted chicken from one of its suppliers.
Are these stories true? It doesn’t matter. Because people spread rumors faster than the flu.
Consider this comment deep in a story by The Wall Street Journal …
“Companies everywhere have had to adapt to the Internet’s power to affect their reputations. But responding to the growing power of China’s digitally connected and increasingly quality- conscious consumers can be especially tough. Local sites and social media frequently carry allegations against companies, many of them ill-founded and outlandish – thanks in part to skepticism born of the government’s long-standing lack of transparency. Foreign companies face particular scrutiny, and guessing which rumors might mushroom into a crisis isn’t easy.”
I don’t agree with that last comment, because actually it is easy to guess which rumors might turn into a crisis. If there is a rumor, there will be a crisis. The reason is Sina Weibo.
Sina Weibo is the Chinese version of Twitter, although frankly it might be better. There are more than 400 million people on Sina Weibo. They talk about anything and everything, because they can.
That is, Sina Weibo is the one channel most people have available to them to learn what is happening in the country, and to offer comment and opinion on these events.
Inevitably, the fact that people talk on this social network about everything that they learn from this social network, spawns rumors as well.
This is precisely how news stories broke about the supposedly tainted chicken that KFC was receiving from one of its Chinese suppliers.
(Yum and KFC apologized in China, but elsewhere maintained that those food supplies are safe.)
Because there are so many people talking about so many topics on Sina Weibo, journalists scour Sina Weibo much as they do social networks here looking for discussions that can yield stories.
Sina Weibo is about to launch an English version. That means that not merely Chinese journalists or other journalists who can read Chinese will have opportunity to investigate Sina Weibo for stories. So will anyone who can read English. And that means many, many more journalists trolling for stories.
What does this mean for you?
You cannot ignore this social network.
In fact, you cannot simply monitor conversations about your company in an effort to identify potential problems. That won’t be enough to prevent or mitigate problems that erupt via Sina Weibo.
You have to participate on this network.
You have to be there, and you have to talk about trending topics on this network with others.
If you have Chinese customers and employees, they are already on Sina Weibo. Certainly they will read anything about your company. But more importantly, they will read everything from your company too. And that can keep customers and employees loyal when any rumors start about you on Sina Weibo.
If China is important to you, Sina Weibo is important to you.
I was going to talk about Nate Silver, who since he accurately called the presidential election has been all the rage. Silver, a blogger for The New York Times, correctly called the vote in all 50 states.
Media remain enthralled with Silver and his use of big data to predict the election while the pundits seemed stumped. This certainly benefits Silver – his celebrity comes just in time to promote his book, “The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail But Some Don’t.”
But it isn’t Nate Silver and big data that has captured our attention at Dix & Eaton, which while intriguing doesn’t really affect most of us. It is small data. And how the media are using small data affects all of us.
That is, the media now are working by the numbers. Look at these headlines:
10 Reasons Your Top Talent Will Leave You
8 Things You Should Shred Right Now
7 Signs You Shouldn’t Retire Right Now
5 Radical Ways to Rethink Managing the Manufacturing Line
5 Tips for Surviving the Dreaded Business Dinner
5 Ways To Improve Your Customer Visibility
5 Tech Trends You Can’t Afford to Ignore
5 Ways to Make Tele-commuting Work for You
5 Trends Driving Traditional Retail Toward Extinction
4 Powerful Words Your Employees Need to Hear
4 Crucial Things “Average Users” Should Know But Don’t
3 Stocks to Watch This Week
1 Conversational Tool That Will Make You Better at Absolutely Everything
I am paying close attention to that last one.
But think about how often you see such headlines. Take a close look at the topics in these headlines.
Check any web site – for health, investment, leadership, lifestyle, management, manufacturing, retail and more – and you will see a growing number of stories with numbers in front of them.
The reason is simple. We all use the web to research business and personal interests. This is the first place we all go for information. And the media know that fact.
So the media are working to make themselves valuable resources by attempting to provide practical advice to their audiences – and in doing so, creating loyalty and attracting advertising.
The media always have used such stories about the 10 best of this, the 10 worst of that, the 10 big events of the last year, the 10 big predictions for the next year. But those, no pun intended, were typically one-off stories. This trend toward stories by the numbers is accelerating fast.
Now this trend has taken some weird twists. With news of the sex scandal involving General David Petraeus and his resignation from the CIA, one web site ran this story: “7 tips for a top-secret affair.”
At the same time that headline betrays startlingly bad news judgment, it also demonstrates just how entrenched this trend is becoming among media.
What does this mean for you? It means you should start thinking about playing the numbers.
First, use numbers in your releases. These are making a comeback because of the ability to incorporate links, videos and other features that make releases useful to media, which traditionally disliked releases. Use numbers in releases for investors, customers, employees and other audiences – “5 Ways You Can Protect Your Supply Chain.” These releases will get greater pickup and deliver more impact.
Second, use numbers in more ways on your web site. Create more links or even micro sites that lead viewers to messages you want to get across. For example, where you have a page showing the nations around the world where you conduct business, add links like this – “3 Reasons We Are Growing in Asia.”
Third, use numbers in your presentations. Whether speaking to analysts, employees, customers or other groups, make sure you focus on numbers that are important to each group. For example, if you want to recruit and retain more top talent, use numbers in your outreach to people – “2 Reasons Why You Will Love Working With Us.”
Fourth, use numbers in your interviews and pitches. As every genre of media seeks ideas to give practical advice, create your own news with more examples that will get pickup in mainstream media, social media and popular blogs. For example, journalists delight in the idea that they are covering a story no one else has told before, so use this statement – “1 Trend That No News Media Are Talking About.”
Do you want more attention from investors, customers and employees? Take a number.
British Lord Justice Leveson has just issued proposals for regulating the media to prevent scandals or, rather better said, scandalous actions by journalists in that country. This is almost all that the media in London want to talk about and perhaps rightly so as these proposals could affect how they operate.
That sideshow, which ultimately will play out among the press and the politicians, is a little like watching a prime time soap opera whose viewers largely are just those directly affected. But there is another saga playing out that looks a lot like a Shakespearean drama. And this one offers lessons on handling a crisis.
The Leveson Report is a political response to scandals involving the BBC and News International. Neither news organization has dealt well with scandal. But it isn’t necessary to detail these scandals.
The point here is how the BBC made its own situation worse and helped create conditions in which the politicians were obliged to pursue at least some effort to reform and regulate the press. Because in how the BBC aggravated its situation, there are lessons on how to prevent a crisis from becoming a firestorm.
There are actually two scandals at the BBC. First, the news side quashed a story a year ago about accusations that a former BBC presenter had sexually abused young teen-agers for years – but then the organization never informed the police. Second, more recently the news side reported that a noted politician was a pedophile – but unbelievably the story mistakenly focused on the wrong politician.
And, there are actually two blunders in how the BBC handled media coverage of these scandals.
First, it seems that absolutely no one among current and former BBC news staff could stop talking to other news media covering these stories. Here are some of their comments, duly reported elsewhere:
· “News was a law unto themselves. It was a totally independent and separate empire, accountable to no one. There has to be accountability somewhere.”
· “There is a very pronounced cultural gap between people who make programmes and management. They need to close that.”
· “I don’t see a system issue. What I see is two pretty serious aberrations at Newsnight. We have to be very careful in tarnishing the whole of BBC News.”
· “Cuts have impacted hugely on those who make news programmes. We have a lot of output but not enough people to make the programmes. Everyone is seriously overstretched. Management hasn’t taken its share of the cuts. There is a lot of frustration because of this.”
· “It is still over-managed and the management still speak gobbledygook. Any editor, any head of a department spends their lives filling in forms, answering questions about things that are really not necessary using a language that is so arcane. It has gone bonkers at that level.”
You don’t see any comments there about the egregious mistakes and how they could have happened, what can be done to prevent them happening again, because there were almost no such comments.
You do see lots of criticisms of the organization – and what you see here is just a sampling.
It is axiomatic that in a crisis, there is always some person or organization who will attempt to use your crisis for their currency. But what could make your employees into your enemies.
That suggests a discontent so deep that BBC employees who may not have felt they were heard or valued, saw the crisis as an opportunity to articulate their anger and rage at their employer.
Second, it seems that the BBC failed to establish a regular rhythm of communications with employees. Then the BBC failed to communicate to employees how it was handling these crises. Then the BBC failed to communicate to employees its policy about who talks with other media who cover the organization. And finally the BBC failed to communicate to other media that were covering the scandals at the BBC.
What does this mean to you?
Realize that you need to talk even more with your people. Most organizations think they do a good job of communicating to employees. A few years ago, that might have been so. The truth now is that few companies really communicate to the satisfaction of their people. Why? Because everyone understands that there are no secrets anymore. The internet has made it possible for everyone to find out everything about anything. You need to communicate everything to everyone, as much as is possible, to create the level of trust that you need from employees when you really need their help in a tough situation.
Understand that you need to communicate more, and yet less, in a crisis. When your company faces a sudden crisis, you have to talk with your employees otherwise they’ll believe everything they read, hear and see from news media, social media, and other sources. When you face a crisis you need to double and then double again your ordinary cadence of communications to your people. But deliver a small, tight set of messages – again and again and again so employees understand what has happened and what is being done in response. And then when you make it clear to employees the company policy is “one voice” to others including the news media, the level of trust you have created will reduce the chance that your own people will make unseemly comments about the company and its leadership.
When I began to read the comments from current and former BBC employees that were so critical of their organization – and so far beyond the crises at hand – my first thought was that they had no inkling of the damage they were causing the BBC. But then I realized, they knew exactly what they were doing.
Someone will always use your crisis for their gain, but it shouldn’t be your own employees.
Because I often help companies when they must deal with a crisis – after all, there is no crisis that does not involve dealing with the news media – I study how others respond to a crisis.
I am fascinated by how the media deal with a crisis that befalls them. Invariably, they fail. Typically this is because they have no idea how to respond when suddenly they are identified as “the story.”
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is embroiled in a crisis because of a scandal. They are not handling either well, and even as this saga unfolds daily there already are lessons for leaders here.
There are a lot of moving parts to this story, but more details emerge every day and I will likely talk about this again so I will focus on a few that are important for what I want to talk about right now.
First, the scandal.
Jimmy Savile, who died last year at 84, was a longtime television host and national celebrity on BBC. A rival network, ITV, recently broadcast a story in which it was alleged that Savile sexually abused young girls – perhaps as many as 300 – during his decades-long career at the BBC.
Second, the crisis.
BBC knew at least a year ago of sexual-abuse allegations against Savile because the “Beeb” planned a story on the accusations for its “Newsnight” program. That story was killed. But it appears that despite clear knowledge of the accusations, the BBC did nothing further – such as an outreach to the police. In fact, it appears that the BBC did nothing about the scandal until the rival broadcast its story.
Late last week, BBC Director General George Entwistle – less than two months into that job – was reported by one British newspaper as saying:
“There are no short cuts: we have to acknowledge responsibility, apologize to victims, commit ourselves to find out what happened and cooperate as closely as possible with the police.”
Entwistle, who resigned just two days later, was exactly right. He is also at least one year too late.
The real question here is why did the BBC, which obviously knew about the allegations against Savile, not take any action or make any statement a year ago until forced to do so now?
The BBC itself has been reporting on the crisis, for example in a story that began with this sentence:
“The sex abuse by BBC presenter Jimmy Savile has done ‘terrible damage’ to the corporation’s reputation,” BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten has said.
Patten, who has resisted calls for his resignation, was entirely wrong. He is also oblivious to this error.
It is not the abuse or the accusations of abuse, as terrible as these are, that have damaged the reputation of the BBC.
It is the failure of the BBC to acknowledge and deal with the accusations a long time ago and, if true, right then issue an apology, reach out to victims, work with authorities, determine how to make sure such crimes never happen again and more.
It is this failure that has made the BBC “the story.”
What does this mean for you?
Understand that life is a reality show. If the BBC had dealt with the reality of the allegations when these first occurred – and that may have been many years before the BBC last year began but then killed a story on these allegations – the corporation would not be faced with the current and deepening crisis.
Never turn away from a problem but deal with its reality right away. Otherwise, it will eventually come back. And the reality is that it will return with a lot more questions about you that you will not like and which you will find difficult or impossible to answer. And then you become “the story.”
Accept your own responsibility in the crisis. If the BBC even at this late juncture said that it erred in not reporting out to the authorities the allegations against Savile – even if the Beeb could not itself find any evidence that these accusations were true – there would be less damage to its reputation.
Never attempt to avoid responsibility by blaming others. Certainly the sex abuse accusations against the former presenter have affected the reputation of the BBC but nothing is as damaging as the inexplicable lapse on the part of the corporation itself – and nothing is as damning as an attempt to shift blame. The BBC is not accepting responsibility for its failure to act on these allegations before forced to do so. And so not only does the BBC become “the story,” but that story simply continues to worsen.
The BBC did not commit the alleged abuses, it was an employee. People sometimes do terrible things.
But the fact is that the BBC has created its own crisis by its failure to act when it should have acted and then its inability to respond appropriately when it finally was forced to respond.
You cannot deal with a crisis when you do not even know what the crisis is …
More to come …
Tina Brown created The Daily Beast out of nothing. Then she bought Newsweek for next to nothing.
Brown is a controversial but successful journalist and executive. She has made The Daily Beast, an online publication, into one of the more profitable digital enterprises, which few thought possible.
She just announced that she is ending the print edition of Newsweek at the end of this year. She will recast that storied and nearly 80-year-old title as Newsweek Global and make it entirely digital.
I want you to remember that you read it here – Newsweek Global will be a smashing success.
There is a terrible wailing among journalists about the death of Newsweek. Journalists are really good at a lot of things, but they are not very good at others. Look at how the BBC is handling its handling of a sex scandal involving a late celebrity among its staff. Not well. But more on that issue another time.
Lincoln Steffens was one of the best-known journalists in the first half of the last century. After visiting the Soviet Union, Steffens wrote: “I have seen the future and it works.”
Journalists, it turns out, are not always very good at predictions either. And the same is true about their predictions on the decline of news and the death of print.
Right now, journalists are talking about the “Death of Newsweek” as further evidence of the decline of news. They are exactly wrong. Journalists should be celebrating because what this announcement connotes is that media owners are realizing that they cannot make a dead business model work.
I grew up reading Newsweek. In fact, it is because of Newsweek that I became a journalist. To help a friend, my father bought a subscription at the start of 1961 and the first issue I read featured a cover photo of JFK in a top hat for his inauguration. I read that magazine cover to cover, and I was hooked.
But when was the last time you read Newsweek? I can’t tell you when I last read it. And that’s the point. Newsweek was built on what has become a failed business model. Tina Brown knew that a long time ago, in fact when she bought the title. She just had to wait to prove her point.
Here is what is going to happen.
Newsweek Global, which will be accessible via pay wall, will feature more of the long-form stories to which the magazine has migrated and will add more deep analysis and commentary.
And it will also add even more of the captivating photos for which newsweeklies once were known – and now on a daily, hourly and breaking news basis. We all love photos – look at the popularity of Pinterest and Flickr – and we will stop to look at web sites such as this with phenomenal photography.
Here is what this means for you.
First, because Tina Brown and Newsweek Global will succeed, other media companies will begin to emulate her successful business model of more analysis and commentary, more big-shot photography and even more video on their digital editions.
These digital media will have need of more knowledgeable experts and executives for their analysis and commentary, and will embrace more captivating photography and video from other expert sources that will include public relations professionals at corporations and agencies.
Second, because Tina Brown and Newsweek Global will succeed, other media owners will move their titles to digital. I commented in a speech more than two years ago that general-interest print media are dead and that general-interest digital media are beginning to thrive. That prediction is coming true.
For example, because of Tina Brown and Newsweek Global, we will see more local newspapers end their print issues and move to solely digital editions. They will report more local news every hour of every day. They will be interested in stories they would not have covered before – but which consumers always have wanted – and that means opportunity for you to tell your stories through local media.
Journalists are fond of saying they can’t tell you what news is, they just know it when they see it.
Tina Brown is one journalist and executive who knows creative destruction – a phrase coined long ago by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, basically meaning, in with the new and out with the old – when she sees it, and is demonstrating how it works to everybody else in the news media.
I call this “Tina Brown Meets Joseph Schumpeter.” But I think she met him a long time ago.
Other media companies are about to make his acquaintance now, too.
It’s the sniffle season.
Sorry, I should explain.
Apologies are bursting out all over. Actually they have been for some time.
But here are some of the most notable apologies from recent weeks.
· NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologizes to football fans for having to endure replacement officials until a controversial call led to a new pact between the league and the regular officials.
· Apple CEO Tim Cook apologizes to customers for the failure of the new Apple Maps app, an effort to replace Google Maps in the newly introduced iPhone 5.
· British politician Nick Clegg apologizes after branding opponents of gay marriage as “bigots,” saying the comments were only an “early draft” for remarks that had not yet been published.
And these are just the latest. Add from recent years Jeff Bezos, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alex Rodriguez, Silvio Berlusconi, Reed Hastings, Jeff Neeleman and more.
Don’t recognize all these names? Well, they’re executives, politicians, athletes. But just Google them and what you’ll find are … their apologies for their various transgressions.
Obviously apologies are important. Are they more important now in this 24/7 news cycle, where someone is always watching and always willing to discuss your problems? No.
Even in those situations, swift action in response to a problem does not necessarily start or end with an apology. But people often make that mistake, thinking that an apology will make at least the unwanted attention disappear if not the problem itself. It won’t.
Apologies are only important if they’re really needed. But it seems we are awash in apologies. One result of it always being sniffle season is that everyone now serves as judge and jury on apologies.
Look at Tim Cook. Some people think his apology worked well for Apple, some people think it did not. But invariably people who comment on the matter compare him to Steve Jobs.
Interestingly, Cook gets high marks for the apology – because people think Jobs would never have admitted responsibility.
But the point of course is that people everywhere are grading his apology.
Apologies now are regularly and immediately dissected with commentary on what was done right, what was done wrong, whether it will end the crisis, whether it will worsen the crisis, and you get the idea.
So what does this mean for you?
First, if you are a leader and something has gone wrong on your watch, then you need to understand that your response is not about saying you’re sorry. It’s about being sorry.
And that means doing the right thing in telling the facts as you know them, taking care of people involved, and working to ensure that whatever the problem, it doesn’t happen again.
Second, if you decide that it is necessary also to apologize as part of your response to what has happened, then say what you mean and mean what you say. That is, you had better mean it.
Because if it is heartfelt, your apology really will be sincere.
That is why you apologize isn’t it, so that people know you mean it.
Some years ago, we were talking with a reporter in the Moscow bureau of a global wire service about a story we had broached on a client organization and its success in the emerging economy in Russia.
“Russia,” we said, “is the next China.” The reporter laughed, “China is the next China.” And he was right.
China has been the big story for years, yet the media continue the fascination with and focus on China.
Just this week the global media reported that the surprising slowdown in the Chinese manufacturing sector may soon abate. However, that may be unduly optimistic as recent economic reports indicate manufacturing activity actually is still contracting.
Moreover this comes soon after the global media reported on the trend involving some US companies that had moved manufacturing operations to China, to move production back because it is increasingly expensive to manufacture in China.
Obviously this is not the end of the story narrative about manufacturing and China. But what may soon occur to the global media is that there may be a different link between those two trends cited above.
That is, manufacturers may not be quitting China simply because it has become more expensive. They may also be quitting China because it has become more difficult. There is a difference.
I recently attended a reception in London heralding the launch of a book by Peter Marsh of the Financial Times, “The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production.”
One chief executive officer with whom I chatted during the reception told me that his company has manufactured in China for years but that he has found it just too difficult.
“We are designing China out,” he said. “Whatever benefits there have been to manufacturing there are not worth the difficulties in doing business there. We are designing China out of everything. We will manufacture everything we need elsewhere even if it is initially more expensive.”
This is not the first instance in which I have heard that China is just too difficult. Many manufacturing companies require “rare earth” minerals for a range of technologies but rare earth minerals are largely found in and tightly controlled by China.
Just this week, the World Trade Organization set up a panel to examine these rare-earth export policies after requests from many countries. Yet stories about the WTO action also note that despite the calls for this investigation the demand for rare earth minerals has been decreasing.
The reason may be that those companies that have depended on rare earth minerals for smart phones and other products, are “designing China out” of the process. Certainly such research is happening now.
When the media grasp the magnitude of this trend, and its underlying causes, then this shift will be just the start of the story narrative about competitiveness and China.
That is, as far as the media are concerned, China will again be the next China.
Here is what will happen.
First, when the media discover this trend, reporters will contact companies to ask if the difficulties of conducting business in China are driving companies to “design China out” of their business model.
Second, when media contact companies, it will be difficult to avoid their calls because this will be a sensational story. The media will have tough questions about the challenges of doing business in China.
Third, putative experts will seize this story for their own gain. And regardless of whether companies themselves talk, any company conducting business in China is fair game to be included in such stories.
So what does this mean for you?
Know that this storm may be brewing. Realize that the story if it breaks may affect you. Prepare your messages right now both for internal and for external audiences. And more.
If you are a business or communications executive for whom China has been – and will still be –an important market, you may already know about this trend. If so, you may not think it is particularly new or newsworthy.
Trust me, it is both. And in that observation there is a larger significance here for you as well.
In this 24/7 news world, journalists too often are focused only on what is happening right now, particularly with a slavish obsession with “real time” chatter on social media about current events.
Eventually, the media discern the outlines of the biggest stories, which usually are also the bigger stories. Then the media rush to tell these stories leaving you to wonder how and why this is news.
But there is a danger in thinking that just because it is not news to you, it won’t be news to them.
So my counsel to you?
Have your Peking ducks in a row, every single day.
Benjamin Disraeli, a British politician and twice prime minister, once observed of a political opponent, “For he had only one idea, and that was wrong.”
His piercing comment accurately describes how many news organizations currently view the revival of manufacturing in the United States and indeed in other putatively high-cost countries.
Paul Krugman of The New York Times last year observed that manufacturing was one of the few bright spots in an uneven economic recovery. He did not explain or explore the reasons for this.
Even now, almost nobody in the media has bothered to try to understand why manufacturing is still one of the few bright spots in the recovery. When the jobs report came out today, it was as expected rather lackluster. But the manufacturing sector still added 11,000 jobs last month.
Why is it that the media fail to examine the reasons behind the renaissance of manufacturing in the US? Part of the reason is that we are in an era of agenda journalism. Many news organizations and individual journalists craft stories that adhere to their view of the world.
For example, if one major media is to be believed, the return of manufacturing is largely based on the literal return home of manufacturing companies that moved operations abroad and in particular to China but have found these markets too expensive in which to continue production.
Certainly this is true. But it is not accurate.
If manufacturing companies left here for other nations where it was cheaper to manufacture but are returning here because it is too expensive to manufacture in those countries, then that can only mean such companies have determined that they can once again be competitive in manufacturing from here.
Yet almost no one in the media is even curious as to how manufacturing is once again competitive in higher-cost countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
Obviously, many in the media have only one idea, and it is the wrong idea.
But there are some who are curious enough to have examined closely the reasons behind the budding revival in manufacturing, the reasons that manufacturing in higher-cost nations is again competitive.
One of these is Peter Marsh, industries reporter for the Financial Times. He has written extensively on how changes – from mass production for example to mass specialization – are enabling manufacturers in high-cost countries to compete effectively and successfully from their home markets.
In fact, Marsh just published a book, “The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production,” that examines the tectonic shifts that are remaking the manufacturing sector.
Is he right? A lot of people think so.
There was a reception in London that was held recently to launch this book and which was attended by 200 people including scores of chief executive officers, Members of Parliament and other luminaries.
The CEO of a British manufacturer told me that night that if he had his way, he would not permit this book to be sold outside the UK. He said the premise of the book is that important to competitiveness in manufacturing. He was only half joking about the first part, not at all about the second part.
So, what does all this mean for you?
First, it means that there are still journalists who are real visionaries. That is, there are journalists who not merely limn reports or statistics as if these are all there is to a story. There are journalists who seek to understand and explain what really is happening and what it means to you.
Second, it means that whether you are a business executive or communications professional, you need to identify, follow and meet such visionary journalists. Reach out to such visionaries. Start conversations with them. Imagine what you can learn from them that can support your own understanding of what is happening and what it means to you. The best ones want such conversations with you.
Third, it means you need to understand too that journalism is like every other pursuit. That is, those who succeed eventually get copied. It is only a matter of time for example before other journalists begin to see what Marsh does – literally as the real story and figuratively as a good story. Get ready, if you are a manufacturer, because sooner or later other journalists are going to ask you if this is all true.
Benjamin Disraeli was right about bad ideas. But Victor Hugo was right about good ideas.
“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world,” wrote Hugo, the author of Les Miserables and other classics, “and that is an idea whose time has come.”
Suddenly there is concern that the marvel that is the Brazilian economy is slowing down. But then that can be said of every economy this summer, starting with ours.
I visited Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro recently to meet a raft of reporters at the outposts of the most important global media. I discovered a sense of enthusiasm and excitement about the future.
As one reporter who writes for Bloomberg, The Daily Beast, The Financial Times and other financial, energy and technology media said, “There was once the joke that Brazil was the country of the future, and it always would be. But there is a real sense of optimism that this time, the country has got it right.”
There were certain themes that emerged in conversations with journalists at BBC, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, Financial Times, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. But I will focus here just on two of them.
First, these and other global media are so convinced that Brazil “has got it right” that they are expanding operations as quickly as possible. Bloomberg for example has nearly 30 correspondents and continues to add more. And each of these global media is eager to hear from global corporations.
Second, one of the comments that I heard most often from these global media was about what they called “The Brazil Cost.” That is, the apparently high cost of doing business in the country.
“This so-called Brazil Cost,” one journalist explained, “the high taxes, high operating costs, high payroll costs, rampant bureaucracy and latent protectionism all contribute to the regulatory noise that affects business and investment decisions by global companies. But those companies still are coming here.”
There are several reasons why foreign companies keep focusing on the country, despite the Brazil Cost. Perhaps the single most important is the emergence of a large middle class that is more than 50% of the population. That is immense buying power and contributes to sustainable growth despite dips and blips. And this serves to explain why the global media think Brazil is the next big story, and will be for awhile.
As global media stockpile reporters in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, these journalists continue to look for fresh stories. And there are myriad trends and issues they are following:
· The efforts to establish quickly the transportation infrastructure, particularly in the run-up to the World Cup and Olympic Games.
· The efforts to improve quickly the education system, particularly as the experience level is so far below what many companies need to grow.
· The efforts to facilitate quickly the growth of the domestic manufacturing sector, while still attracting foreign manufacturers as these also offer good jobs.
· And more.
The only other occasion in which I have seen this much media interest – and expansion – in a country was China. Some companies masterly seized this media interest to pursue stories that enabled them to differentiate themselves from competitors – and so increase sales opportunities and attract top talent.
What does all this mean for you?
There is a similar opportunity right now to harness this media interest to support business objectives before competitors realize the magnitude of this media interest in Brazil.
Certainly these media are interested in anything that global companies do, think and say about Brazil.
So I have a different Brazil Cost.
Failure to seize this moment in time by using every weapon available to a corporation for which Brazil is important to current and future sales, including communications, that is the real Brazil Cost.
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Rupert Murdoch, Phone Hacking and The Naked Cowboy
I love New York. It is perpetually in your face, but the city is at least honest about it.
I was there once at Halloween and saw Napoleon walking down the street en route to a party. Nobody paid attention. I was there once and saw Dennis Rodman wearing a wedding dress, en route via horse-drawn carriage to a book signing of his autobiography. People did pay attention that time. Unlike the French emperor, who was hurried but minding his own business, the basketball star was in your face.
People, particularly tourists, also pay attention to the Naked Cowboy. This is a muscular young fellow whose base of operations is Times Square. He wears a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, a guitar, and briefs. And that’s it. You want your picture taken with his putative icon? Give him a little money and he’s glad to oblige. It isn’t what he says as much as what he does, but he’s in your face too.
Rupert Murdoch and the News International phone-hacking scandal are a lot like the Naked Cowboy. It isn’t what they say as much as what they do, but it appears that they’re in your face too.
If you haven’t followed this saga, some journalists employed by a Murdoch newspaper in London, News of the World, allegedly used hijacked phone conversations of royals and celebrities to create sensational news coverage. But it was really when it was discovered that the phone of a murdered schoolgirl had been hacked that the scandal mushroomed and began to involve Murdoch and his son, James.
Why would journalists apparently be willing to breach every journalistic code of ethics – and if so at the same time also break the law as well?
Generally, media have responded in one of two ways to the market forces that have whipsawed them in recent years, largely driven by the free availability online of just about everything the media used to sell.
Some media have decided to provide even more useful information than in the past, for example for insight that is compelling enough that people are willing to pay for that analysis to help make decisions.
But other media have decided to provide even more controversial coverage than in the past, stories that are salacious and scandalous but can be hard to take your eyes away from, like the scene of an accident.
Guess which one News of the World – owned by News International, a subsidiary of the Murdoch parent company News Corporation – allegedly chose. If so, it worked for awhile. News of the World was the most profitable Murdoch paper in the United Kingdom, until it was shuttered.
What does this mean for you? Well let me be a little in your face about this …
Generating news coverage now is “do-it-yourself.” Much of what companies used to communicate about themselves – that is, real news – now lands between the extremes of deep analysis and salacious copy and that means the media may take little or no notice of your company announcements.
Here are two suggestions.
First, when you get ready to announce a new product for example, don’t just talk about the product. Talk about the trends behind your development of that product. What did your customers tell you that led you to develop the product? How widespread is the challenge facing your customers? It is up to you to explain to the media why your announcement is news. That is, you have to demonstrate the news.
Second, also deliver the news directly to your audiences. Post your news on your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages – and on the social networks you’ve created for individual audiences from customers to investors to employees. You can include a link to the release. Create your own video story about how your new product solves a problem. Send it directly to your top customers, and post it on your web site. Chances are that the media then will use your news, too.
There are many examples of media that are evolving or emerging as the best and brightest around the world. And they are more vibrant and vital than ever. Look at Bloomberg and Reuters. Look at 21st Century Business Herald (China) and The National (UAE). Look at Huffington Post and Patch.com.
But as the media change, so too has the definition of news. It is now your responsibility to define the news. And that means it is also the opportunity you never had before to define your own story.