Call it iPR. Apple faced accusations the company took clever offshore steps to avoid paying billions in taxes. Apple took smart steps before and during congressional testimony to prevent the story from turning too sour.
- The Economist reported Apple released ahead of time a copy of testimony the company’s top person planned to give to a congressional subcommittee. Lesson: During a crisis, deliver at a minimum the impression of transparency.
- The Economist reported Apple pointed out it pays billions in taxes in America and may be the country’s biggest corporate taxpayer. Lesson: Show you are meeting your responsibilities, making contributions and taking steps far beyond others, suggesting the spotlight should shine elsewhere.
- We’ve heard no one assert Apple broke tax law. The New York Times reported Apple’s Timothy Cook testified the company pays “all the taxes we owe — every single dollar.” Lesson: The best approach is to sometimes address the bottom line. You played by the rules of the game.
- The Times reported some members of Congress described how they love Apple products. Lesson: Call attention to the positive impact your business provided people. Your company changed lives or made them better.
- The Times quoted Cook as saying, “The tax system handicaps American corporations in relation to our foreign competitors who don’t have such constraints on the free movement of capital.” Lesson: We confront challenges. The playing field is not always level. We are still succeeding. Our success is your success. Gain sympathy instead of scorn.
- Apple is proud to be an American company. Lesson: Emphasize ties to your country, state, city or community. We’re on the same team. Let’s be proud of that and work together on improvements.
- Apple talked about the tax system. Lesson: Refocus the conversation on the system. You are not the problem. You want to be part of the solution. Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.
Anyone reading comments from readers realizes Apple did not win over everyone. Some readers believe the company is not fulfilling its responsibility and argue businesses are often the ones hiring lobbyists that help define the rules currently in place. Some readers wrote words such as “exploit,” “greed” and “fair share” and pointed out making cool products is not the real issue at hand.
But The Times pointed out how some senators originally critical of Apple struck a more upbeat tone during the hearing. Headlines included “In Disarming Testimony, Apple Chief Eases Tax Tensions” and “Torches and Pitchforks for I.R.S. but Cheers for Apple.”
iPR can end up slicing stories differently than predicted.
Closely monitoring breaking news on a regular basis is an important way to find opportunities for you or your clients to serve as an expert for the media during timely events. But days of breaking news might also be times to delay your pitches.
For example, we are not pitching stories to the mainstream media while outlets cover the events in Oklahoma. From an emotional perspective, we personally feel uncomfortable trying to sell the virtues of our story ideas at a time when the events of much higher importance are occurring in our country. From a practical perspective, we understand the media are focusing much of their attention on Oklahoma and slots for evergreen stories that could air at later dates are few and far between. Many of the journalists I worked with were not particularly excellent during days of breaking news of filing away unrelated stories for another day.
These scenarios are not typically black-and-white. Other media including those online with a specific focus likely welcome new ideas at any time. If your story idea is tied to a scheduled event you cannot postpone, you may have no choice but to pitch the story now despite the less than ideal circumstances. And some in the media may point out that even during big days of breaking news, they seek some unrelated ideas to ensure their coverage isn’t solely focused on one topic. But in reality, my experience indicates the spots and time slots you’re fighting for are reduced dramatically. And the space and airtime your idea receives may be reduced substantially.
The bottom line is breaking news is both a barometer for when to pitch ideas and when to wait for a better day.
We were listening to the radio when a disc jockey began discussing Amy’s Baking Company, a Scottsdale restaurant that cooked up tons of attention after a very controversial TV appearance. The disc jockey explained she would interview someone from the restaurant later in the day. A caller told her on air that one of the biggest lessons people could learn from the situation is not to take criticism personally. The disc jockey responded by explaining such a task is easier said than done. She then repeated this point of view and argued not taking criticism personally is difficult when people are so harsh yet don’t even know you.
On one hand, she is correct. Most businesses can probably share stories of when their blood began to boil due to ungrateful clients. And when we have posted blogs questioning conventional wisdom, readers posted harsh comments that, among other things, unfairly attacked our education, experience, and professionalism.
Amy’s Baking Company raises numerous angles to discuss. But for the purposes of this blog, the lesson is that even if customers slap you verbally, business owners must take the high road. Explain you understand their concerns. Thank them for their feedback. Promise to get back to them with a response if you need time to think it over and cool off. Apologize when appropriate. And if a client is unreasonable on a recurring basis, fire them. But you shouldn’t respond in the same unprofessional way you may have been criticized. Otherwise, you’re asking for a recipe of trouble that will boil over into areas you never saw coming.
The political tug of war between the Obama administration and Republicans has returned to its insane level of rhetoric that we remember prior to the November elections.
Some Republicans argue the administration misled the public about Benghazi to help ensure a victory in November. Some Democrats argue Republicans are making something out of nothing to tarnish Obama and Hillary Clinton’s potential presidential run in 2016.
Republicans want to know who knew what about the IRS. The administration also criticizes the IRS but points out the president does not run the agency.
And both sides of the aisle express unhappiness with subpoenas related to the Associated Press.
Some of the media seem to be complicit in a reality game show atmosphere, working side-by-side with politicians on whom can deliver the most sensational sound bites. These “scandals” raise some important discussions, but good grief. If only some politicians would work to solve our everyday problems with the same zeal that they try to call hearings and speak craziness into microphones.
For a moment, take off your political team’s bloodied uniform and acknowledge some of what’s really happening: In general, the administration wants to downplay any links to these issues as much as possible. On the other hand, some Republicans want to make these issues seem as dreadful as possible and portray the government as a stalker peaking through your bedroom window at night. Call it high stakes marketing far beyond the traditional press release. If some of these microphone huggers really wanted the truth, they would wait for their hearings to finish fleshing out the facts before demanding justice with their scary words.
The media are already analyzing how these current issues might impact Obama’s legacy without acknowledging our tug of war may likely have moved on to something new in six months. But Obama is taking some important steps for crisis communications:
- He showed concern about the IRS issue by saying, “Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I’m angry about it.”
- He took action by accepting the resignation of the top person of the IRS.
- The White House released e-mails related to Benghazi.
- He brought back legislation to help legally protect journalists.
- He answered questions at a news conference.
- He for the most part keeps his composure.
- He asked Congress to help improve security at American embassies.
I’m not saying he’s right. I’m saying those are some of the moves you make when opponents say you’re wrong.
Of course, others might share examples pointing out the administration put itself in this PR mess in the first place. Fair enough. But these latest steps help the president reach his larger goal of refocusing attention to his agenda. He is building a dam against gushing water. But some water will always leak through. His critics also have public relations firms armed with strategies. Even if Obama registered tomorrow as a Republican and shouted “pretty please with a cherry on top,” critics know to share phrases such as:
- “We demand more information.”
- “We reject the apologies as insufficient.”
- “This is politics at its worst.”
- “He is not going far enough.”
- “We are determined to get answers.”
So the tug of war continues with almost everyone landing in the mud. Some politicians hope to score points. The media hopes to improve ratings. Too much of the public is desperate for details that prove that the opposing party is truly the scum of the Earth.
And I, of course, write a blog, tired of grown-ups who can’t solve problems or controversies without acting like the sky is falling and it’s the other guy’s entire fault.
Finding magazines in a hotel drawer that were published years earlier
Sleeping on the floor of a satellite truck
Finding someone else’s hair in the hotel’s bed sheets
Sleeping in a news vehicle because a co-worker in your room snores loudly
Realizing a small town has no good restaurants
Seeing that the same person who checked you in also cleans your room
Doing morning live shots hours after doing live shots for the night shift
Arguing in the lobby with the hotel clerk after she was rude to your wife on the phone
Not having access to a shower
Wearing a goofy hat on air because you did not shower
Sleeping in the station vehicle next to a co-worker who covers her head with a blanket because she is afraid of what lurks outside
In this picture, I’m shooting video for Crisis Response Network of Southern Arizona. One of our important responsibilities was to build an engaging video without unintentionally identifying anyone turning to the center for help due to a crisis. Businesses and organizations are full of private and proprietary information they wouldn’t want the public to see. Ask yourself these questions:
- Can viewers identify people in the background who are not part of the video?
- Can viewers read information on computer screens in the video?
- Can viewers read paperwork on desks or hanging on walls?
- Is it OK for viewers to recognize other employees in the background who are not the main focus of the video?
- Does audio of employees at their desks or on the phone include any information (names, numbers, addresses) that would identify people or organizations?
- Does any of the video show telephones that might display caller id and someone’s telephone number?
- Does the video show any license plate numbers?
- Does any “file” video inadvertently link outside organizations to this video?
- Does the video show any areas of the facility that the organization would not want the public to see?
- Did you ask someone to double check the video in case you missed any of the above concerns?