Senior Vice President
Mason is a former Senior Vice President at Ogilvy PR.
Senior Vice President
Mason is a former Senior Vice President at Ogilvy PR.
Call it the Ron Burgundy effect. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press put out its most recent ratings of believability of news organizations and it’s bad. The average positive believability across 13 news organizations went from 62% in 2010 to today’s low of 56%. To give you some kind of perspective, 10 years ago the average rating for the news organizations tested was 71%. What they did is ask 1001 people to rate 13 news organizations from 1 – 4 and “a rating of 4 means someone believes ‘all or most’ of what the news organization says; a rating of 1 means someone believes ‘almost nothing’ of what they say.” So consequently, a score of 3 or 4 is “positive” for believability and a score of 1 or 2 is “negative” for believability.
So how does Ron Burgundy fit into this? Local TV (along with 60 Minutes) is on top when it comes to believability – they got a 65% positive rating and 35% negative rating – and they’ve maintained that top status for a long time. In case you’re not a fan, Ron Burgundy – played by comedian Will Farrell in the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – is a 1970’s anchorman for a fictional local San Diego TV station. While the movie facetiously portrays the 70’s as the heyday of the anchorman as local celebrity (with all the braggadocio a burgundy blazer can inspire) , Pew’s research suggest most people still look to their local anchors and reporters as the most credible sources of information in their communities.
In 2011, Pew did a similar study this time comparing the low state of believability of news organizations with other sources of information. They found that though the credibility of news organizations have been on the decline for years, others fared worse: “while the public holds news organizations in low regard, they are more trusted as a source of information than are federal, state and local governments, the Obama administration and business corporations.”
All this is to say, when developing a media strategy, think local… as in local TV news. If you want to get your message out and have it believed, then you’ll need to depend on local TV newsgathers to help you. While they have lost some of their sway and influence (and wide ties) of the 70’s, they often are the best we’ve got in a jaded and skeptical world to inspire at least a modicum of trust.
By the way, Will Ferrell is already working on Ron Burgundy’s return in Anchorman 2.
A recent article in the Texas Observer brought up the question that I hear a lot in my media trainings: will reporters share their story pre-publication with me? If you’re talking to the Texas Observer, the answer is an emphatic “no.” If you’re talking to The Washington Post, the answer is “maybe” – an answer that so galls the Texas Observer that they wrote about it.
Some background: reporters see themselves almost akin to umpires; they call ‘em as they see ‘em. Good journalists take the responsibility seriously and work hard to get it right – the first time. They also work very hard to get people to speak openly and freely. Most reporters worry that if they let a source – the people they are interviewing – review an article before it’s published, the source will see what others are saying and decide he or she needs to be more circumspect. Hence the open and free conversation the reporter was seeking becomes restrained and cautious and the source might demand unwarranted changes that will affect the tone and tenor of the story. Fact checking is different. Facts are either right or wrong, how a person comes across in a quote is up for a lot of interpretation. That is why most reporters pride themselves on being good interpreters: of politics, of science, of business, and learn to stand by what they heard.
Back to the current discussion: so a Post reporter visited the University of Texas and interviewed a bunch of administrators about their testing policy. He then wrote his story and sent it to the people there and told them, “everything here is negotiable” – before The Post published it – on the front page no less. According to public emails acquired by the Texas Observer, the school did change the original copy to softened their criticism of the current tests being used.
The Texas Observer saw this as an abrogation of a reporter’s duty to get it right the first time and to “call ‘em as he sees ‘em.” Surprisingly, The Post wrote their own article about the Texas Observer piece and headlined it with: “Should a reporter’s source get a preview of the story?” The Post stands by the article saying it still had comments in it that criticized testing. But the article admits that even though The Post allows reporters to “fact check” stories particularly in complex science stories, “it is not our policy (The Post’s) to routinely read stories or parts of stories to sources or to share copy with outsiders…”
One of our clients recently worked with The Wall Street Journal on a complicated science story and was amazed at how much they got to see of the article before the story was published. This, however, is an exception to the rule. In general, don’t expect reporters to share their article with you before they go to print. Most reporters won’t do it, and those who will do it, will be excoriated by their colleagues.
The Post advanced the story after I posted this. Their ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, didn’t like what happened and was appalled with the quote from the reporter (now that’s a switch) indicating, “everything’s negotiable” to his source. He said it was “time for some backbone,” and that “because of the changes in technology (i.e. the Internet) and relentless financial pressures, the press is weaker that it has been in many years. We look over our shoulders too much, we bow to the wises of officialdom too often, we yield too readily to ideologues.”
He seems to see it as “old school” vs. “new school” journalism. If that’s the case, my clients might be reviewing a lot more copy in the future. This gives a new dimension to the cliche, “can I quote you on that?”
My apologies to Shakespeare, but the recent The Year in News 2011 put out by The Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) is helping me answer that question. PEJ has been putting out their analysis for five years and it is an excellent tool to help us media relations professions better understand what’s hot and what’s not in news and therefore appropriately tailor our pitches. Despite the herd mentally usually ascribed to media scribes, PEJ does point to differences, albeit subtle.
Here are my takeaways:
If you got a hard news story, pitch it to CBS over NBC or ABC. Conversely, if you have a lifestyle, celebrity to sports angle, first pitch ABC, then NBC before you bug CBS with it. That goes for morning shows or their evening newscasts. ABC was particularly keen on celebrities last year.
With international stories, your best bet is the NewsHour on PBS. On average, 39% of the NewsHour show was devoted to foreign events and U.S. foreign policy, compared with 28% in the media sample generally, according to PEJ’s report. Read the rest of this entry »
I love words and growing up I loved learning and using new words – strange and different words that most people didn’t know and certainly didn’t use. It helped that I had four older brothers all attending college while I was still in grammar and middle school. Using big words – 50 cent words as neighbors would call them – impressed and made me look smart. But when honing my skills as a journalist I realized that if the goal was reaching and affecting people, big words were more often a barrier than a conduit (especially in broadcast news).
By and large, most scientists are still very much in love with the words of their profession. And why shouldn’t they be? They spent a lot of time, money and energy learning those words – the ones that precisely express what they are trying to say. Unfortunately, the rest of the public have no idea what they’re saying and therein lies the rub.
College president Barry Glassner recently wrote in USA Today that while the public does have a science literacy problem, scientists need to be more “publicly literate.” He ticks off a list of things that science has failed to communicate very well. First on that list is global warming. Sharon Begley has also written about this in Newsweek and sums it up in one declarative sentence, “scientists are lousy communicators.”
After having spent a couple of decades wrangling soundbites from some of the world’s most distinguished scientists, I now spend much of my time helping scientists speak more simply before they get in front of an audience.
Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, didn’t need much help from me when I first interviewed him for CNN more than 15 years ago and he didn’t need much help from me when I helped him put together this recent video on the NIH’s Strategic Plan on Obesity.
He uses common phrases such as “short list” and “wagging fingers at people.” He uses a different intonation when he paraphrases the critics who say, “well, you know, it’s just because people eat too much and don’t get enough exercise.” He’s not afraid to admit that clinical trial results have to be tested in the “real world” and to use every day phrases such as “heart attacks” rather than the jargon “cardiac events.” I like him because he describes things as “truly frightening!”
Having Dr. Collins at the head of NIH shows scientists everywhere the value of learning how to communication effectively – using less big words that will ultimately promote, not compromise, good science to the public.
Last week we got a group of volunteers from Ogilvy to help WAMU 88.5 Public Radio with its membership drive. Rob Mathias, our managing director, made sure we looked sharp in our Ogilvy Red T-Shirts and we were a fun and enthusiastic group. WAMU raised $20,000 over two hours and really appreciated our support. Here’s a little video to capture the event with an interview with the WAMU volunteer coordinator Anthony Washington.
Special thanks to my colleagues who made it such a great event: Maggie Carr, Sarah Ellenberger, Danae Goldberg, Heather Innella, Maria James, Paula Jones, Lauren Littleton, Jennifer Lowe, Stephanie Mui, and Matt Schoenfeld.
February is a sweeps month – that’s the time that Nielsen passes out ratings diaries and asks “Nielsen Families” to record what they watch on TV. They do it four months a year (May, July and November are the other months) and despite new, high tech ways of counting eyeballs in front of the screen on a continual basis, TV Stations still rely a lot on these ratings to set their advertising rates. And that’s why we sometimes see crazy promos of sensationalized stories during this time period. They are desperately trying to capture audience attention during these months. Local TV reporters have confessed to me that they actually start working on sweeps stories months in advance, holding particularly “juicy” stories for those most important months. All local TV news folks breathe a sign of relief when the month is over.
Well, now it’s time for local TV News to turn the camera on themselves because a couple of new studies show that when they sensationalize – people die.
I’m sorry; let me be a little more responsible. Two newly published research studies (Study: Cancer Fatalism Propagated by Broadcast News | Smart Journalism. Real Solutions. Miller-McCune) show that the way local TV news stations cover the causes of cancer leads to cancer fatalism, meaning that people end up thinking that “everything” causes cancer and there is nothing they can do about it.
It seems when local TV news outlets report about cancer research they are, “less likely to include information that would allow viewers to follow up by seeking out additional resources, guidance or advice regarding the coverage they watched,” according to the study authors.
So what’s so bad about having cancer fatalism? This is where the people die part comes in. Previous medical research shows, “Americans who hold fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention may be at greater risk of cancer because they are less likely to engage in various prevention behaviors.” (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 2007)
This wasn’t true for people who watched national newscasts and their research indicated it wasn’t just fatalistic people who happen to watch more local TV.
While ringing this alarm bell, they also issued a call to action, “researchers and public health officials might consider conducting education or training sessions with local TV journalists to report on cancer in a way that minimizes the likelihood of developing fatalistic beliefs.”
That’s where people like you and me come in – working with our clients (many of them the researchers and public health officials mentioned above) to help them discuss these issues clearly and succinctly with news outlets.
My former CNN colleague Gary Schwitzer has created a cottage industry of calling attention to the inadequacies of all health care reporting not just local TV news. He particularly rails against disease mongering on his web site healthnewsreviews.org. These studies will add wind to his sails emphasizing the importance of journalists’ getting it dead right. I encourage colleagues and clients to take a look at the site for a good evaluation of the state of health care reporting and how we can help.
The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) is another incredible resource for reporters who want to understand the nuances of science and health reporting and the effect it can have on public health. Their annual conference with some 500 reporters in attendance provides a variety of workshops for writers, producers, and editors to become more adept at reporting health risks in a more responsible context. One of them is usually led by Schwitzer. They also conduct a variety of workshops and seminars as well as produce guidebooks for journalists navigating science, health risks and public policy.
While in Aesop’s fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf , the sheep and boy lost their lives, the townsfolk also suffered. So it’s incumbent upon all of us to make sure TV News doesn’t make the same fatal mistake. Film at 11.
When you want to convince someone to change a behavior, do you appeal to their sense of reason or to their fear? A recent Public Service Announcement by the New York City Health and Mental Hygiene Department says it’s time to scare young African American and Hispanic men about HIV/AIDS. Titled It’s Never Just HIV, the video graphically depicts what the disease can do to your body and mind even though we have effective treatments to manage the fatal condition.
Dr. Monica Sweeney, the city’s assistant commissioner of HIV prevention and control, has been quoted as saying, “you need to hit hard and do something to counteract the pharmaceutical ads that say having HIV is a walk in the park.” The department says it is just building off of the success of their anti-smoking campaign that also used graphic images to get attention and drive home a point.
Larry Kramer, who is HIV positive and a long time AIDS activist (he founded Act Up nearly 25 years ago), thinks the ad hits it target and marks a shift away from the “lily-livered nicey-nicey ‘prevention’ tactics (that) have failed.”
Having lived through the AIDS crisis of the 80’s and 90’s as well as having covered the disease and its devastation for CNN for ten years, I share Kramer’s concern for the compliancy that currently surrounds the condition. It’s not news anymore despite the fact it is still claiming and destroying lives.
The Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and others have criticized the ad. They say a more positive message about condom use would be more effective in helping prevent transmission. They say there are more successful ways of promoting prevention, “than perpetuating outdated images of sickness, dying and death.”
If nothing else, the ad has started a debate about the need to educate young men about a disease that affected and continues to affect the lives and well being of millions. Since the New York Times covered it in its article Graphic HIV Ad by New York City Splits Activists – HIV prevention is back in the news.
While the jury is still out on whether it can change behavior, “fear” is definitely a better news hook than “reason.”
In Social Marketing, everything we do is important. We are changing the world after all, so why aren’t network producers clamoring to do stories on our programs?
Unfortunately, the networks have criteria that go beyond “important” when deciding what stories they will commit precious resources to cover. Knowing that criteria – which many of our programs can meet – will help us grab a producer’s attention and get valuable exposure to our good work.
During the October 15 broadcast of the NBC Nightly News, Robert Bazell, science correspondent for NBC, did a story on an Avon Foundation-funded program at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center which provides navigation and support services to low income breast cancer patients.
The program is important, of course, but the story actually offers three essential elements that make the story network quality: good soundbites, compelling audio and visuals, and new information. Pitching it during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, made it a slam dunk.
Both the cancer patient and the “navigator” at the hospital were interesting people that gave compelling quotes that would interest the average viewer. The patient is an actress who talked about the irony of losing her health insurance coverage just when she needed it. She also talks about “feeling like a number” in a big hospital and asks the question, “why can’t everybody have an advocate” like the navigator this program provides.
Compelling Audio and Visuals
My cinema professor in collage told me the opening shot in a film is the most important. This is true of TV as well. The first thing we see in this story is our patient singing in a nightclub – not your typical opening to a medical story. Throughout the piece we see her in several different scenes rehearsing, singing and working with other musicians and performers.
We see the navigator and her staff working with several different patients both inside and outside of the hospital. We hear one of them calling a patient to remind her of a doctor’s appointment. We even see her helping a patient try on wigs. Now that’s a picture that’s worth a thousand words.
While this program is not new, Bazell uses a new tidbit of information to give the story a news hook. In his “stand-up” – the part where you see and hear the reporter on camera – he refers to a statistic that makes his report timely: public hospitals have seen a 20% increase in cancer patients since the recession but not a rise in staff or facilities to handle them.
These three elements – good soundbites, compelling audio and visuals, and new information – made this program not only “important” but interesting and engaging for both network producers and the public at large. These are the elements that we should be looking for to make our “important” stories ready for prime time.
Category: Social Marketing
While it didn’t really get scribbled on a cocktail napkin, it was at a hotel bar in Crystal City that two former journalists came up with a plan to help reporters tell better and more informed health and medicine stories.
I was one of those former journalists. The other was Robert Logan, Ph.D., now a communications research scientist at the National Library of Medicine. We were both attending the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) conference at the Doubletree Hotel outside of Washington, DC. It was, in fact, at that bar when my big idea found a collaborator in Rob to make it happen – being at an AHCJ conference just sped the concept along.
I’m talking, of course, about the Journalism Fellowship program at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) in conjunction with AHCJ.
Ogilvy helped establish and launch the Fellowship at NLM last year. We were strategically positioned to help create the Fellowship since we work with many of the Institutes there and I have a ten year history of working for or with AHCJ. We understand and are sensitive to the needs of this journalistic organization and its members.
This year we passed the reins to Rob and his staff to fully execute. But Rob still invited me and my colleague, Ashley Duncan – who was integral to making the first year of the Fellowship a huge success – to the Fellows’ special dinner with the NLM Board of Regents during their four days on the National Institutes of Health Campus.
I met and chatted with them and they all said they were enjoying the Fellowship experience.
And why shouldn’t they?
While there, they learn about the incredible resources available to them at the NLM and get to meet some of the “newsmakers” at the other Institutes. In the end, the reporters return to their newsrooms with new research tools, valuable contacts, engaging story ideas and a deeper understanding of the world’s premiere medical research agency.
And while we’re not directly involved with the Fellowship anymore, I am proud that Ogilvy was able to orchestrate its creation and find another way to help journalists tell engaging, informative and perhaps behavior changing stories.
This year’s Fellows included:
KARLA GALE – medical journalist at Reuters Health, an online news service for physicians. She covers everything from neurology to orthopedics, from heart disease and cancer to well baby care. Her coverage includes clinical trial results, practice guidelines, and new scientific findings. She has worked for Reuters Health for 10 years, writing four-five news articles per day.
JAMIE KOPF HIRSH – associate health editor at Consumer Reports, Consumer Reports on Health, and most recently, ShopSmart (a newer publication of Consumer Reports launched in 2006 and geared toward a younger, primarily female audience). Among the topics Hirsh covers most frequently are mental health, drug marketing (especially direct-to-consumer drug advertising), nutrition, and fitness. She also reports regularly on Consumer Reports’ tests of health and personal-care products, including sunscreen, vitamins, anti-aging skin products, and exercise equipment, and collaborates with the Consumer Reports National Research Center on surveys of consumers’ experiences with various health-related services.
SALLY JAMES – freelance journalist writing about medicine and health for more than a decade. Her stories, mostly in magazines, include consumer-driven columns for Seattle Magazine and ParentMap, as well as longer examinations of biotechnology and immunology around cancer for Seattle Business Magazine. She was a copy editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and then became a freelancer. She has been both reporter and editor, and as a volunteer helps program science for the public events for the Seattle Public Library.
SANDRA JORDAN – health journalist for the St. Louis American. She develops positive people-oriented health stories to help increase literacy on health issues prevalent in the African American community in “Your Health Matters,” published twice monthly in the St. Louis American newspaper. She also contributes to the weekly newspaper.
HIRAN RATNAYAKE – health care reporter at The Delaware News Journal. He has been working as a journalist for 10 years and has been on the health care beat for nine years. He has a Master of Arts in health journalism from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Pennsylvania State University.
MIRIAM TUCKER - a senior writer for Elsevier’s International Medical News Group. Her reporting specialty areas are: diabetes, vaccines, infectious disease, pediatrics, geriatrics, public health, psychology, and behavioral medicine. Diabetes is both Tucker’s personal and professional passion. She lived with type 1 diabetes since 1973, and wrote her first scholarly report on the subject in 1977 at age 12. In addition to diabetes, Tucker covers a wide range of other medical topics as a senior writer for Elsevier Global Medical News/International Medical News Group. She also does occasional freelance reporting on diabetes and other health issues as well as personal essays.
At our recent Ogilvy Exchange – How Social Change Happens in the 21st Century – my friend and CNN producer Val Willingham took up the opposition to the “blame it on the media” camp. As a former CNN producer myself, I was sensitive to how the discussion was going and how a favorite Washington scapegoat – the media – was rearing its ugly head. Val reminded the panelists and guests that the media-consuming public prefers the spoon full of sugar without the medicine when they go shopping for news. News producers like her are in a constant battle to give the public what they want while providing important and valuable information that they need. She concluded with the prediction that her upcoming story on the foot health hazards of flip flops would be a big hit. It’s now out and she is absolutely right: nearly 150 comments and nearly 900 recommendations on Facebook.
PhDs, policy wonks and politicians all might fuss and fume about CNN expending resources on the banal and trivial but I think Val’s story on flip flops was engaging, interesting, and darn right informative. On this one, she hit the right balance.
Media Relations Myths