Griffin Strategies Blog

Michael Jackson's Specter Only Part of the Spectacle

Allison Griffin - Thursday, July 09, 2009
I’m sure you’ve seen it by now. The You Tube footage of Larry King Live from Neverland Ranch. Somehow, my 9-year-old son heard that Michael Jackson’s ghost was in the background of a shot of Michael’s old bedroom at The Ranch. Like more than 8 million other people, my son and I drained the battery on my iPhone as we watched the shadowy specter of Michael Jackson again and again on You Tube.

You Tube, in fact, was dominated by all things Michael Jackson, with at least 11 of today’s top 15 favorite videos related to the King of Pop’s life … or death. And that was just for people who weren’t already getting enough through the wall-to-wall coverage by the cable news channels, live network broadcasts and Yahoo! News.

Forgive my insensitivity, but what happened to the real news? You know, news about sweeping new food safety regulations announced this week by the FDA? Stories about the unfortunate plunge in new home sales? Updates about Iran’s leader crushing his detractors?

Though those real news items received coverage, it was scant compared to the media’s attention to the Michael Jackson spectacle. According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Michael Jackson dominated 17% of the overall news hole, with the economy ranking second at 10%. Interestingly, Michael Jackson was mentioned in the news about three times more often than President Barack Obama between June 29 and July 5.

As a PR professional who’s made a career out of working with the media, it raises some troubling questions. Do you have to create a spectacle to garner the media’s attention? Does real news warrant attention anymore? In spite of the jump in 24-hour television and online coverage, I’ve discovered in the past few years that it is becoming increasingly difficult to pitch news stories. Newspapers have let go of longtime beat reporters who had spent years developing their expertise and sources to get good stories. Fewer and fewer radio stations have locally-based news teams and talk show hosts. Television stations seem to spend far more time on crime blotter reports and stories about the quasi-celebrities on their network’s reality show, than they do on issues people care about. Or that people ought to care about.

That’s really what it boils down to.

Media have changed, but are they to blame? Or are we, as the consumers of information, at fault? Given the nearly 4 million You Tube views of ABC News’ Michael Jackson Memorial Service coverage, I think the answer is clear.

Celebrities, whether living or dead, are far more interesting than real news.

I suppose that next time one of my clients wants to make a major policy or business announcement, I can hire Britney Spears or Chastity Bono to be our spokesmodel. Can’t be sure either would stay on message, but at least the spectacle would bring out the media, as I quietly mourn the specter of real news.

Social Media Sites: Get Connected, Linked and Followed

Allison Griffin - Monday, June 22, 2009

Do you Tweet?  Are you Linked In with everyone you've ever met?  Do you have 200 BFFs on Facebook?

If you are like a rapidly-increasing number of Americans, your answer is probably yes.

According to a new nationwide survey* I read about last week, some 43% of online households use social media sites, including Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter (listed in order of popularity).  This is up from 27% just a year ago.  That's a staggering 60% jump in only 12 months' time!
And they tend to be regular users, with more than half logging in every day and usually several times a day.  Though we might assume that the vast majority of social networkers are under 35, the number of networkers over age 55 has tripled in the past year to 19%.  Yes, I've actually started receiving Facebook invitations from my parents' friends.
Besides using the social media sites to connect with old friends and classmates, the survey respondents said they would like more access and interaction with favorite companies and service providers through their social networks.
Yes, you heard that right.  Social networkers WANT to interact with favorite companies and service providers.
Which is why Griffin Strategies, Inc. is ramping up the use of social media tactics as part of a broader marketing or grassroots communications plan for our clients.  If handled right, social media provide an extremely valuable and cost-effective avenue for getting out your message to a wider audience.   If you haven't yet explored social media, now is the time to get connected, linked and followed! 

*The survey of 10,000 U.S.households was conducted by The Conference Board, a global membership and research association, in partnership with TNS, a global market insight and information group. 

Crash Course in International Trade Law

Allison Griffin - Thursday, May 21, 2009
This week, I began a three week crash course in global commerce and international trade law.

Not as a student, but as the teacher.

As a fourth-year Junior Achievement volunteer, I’ve been privileged to teach basic economic principles to kids from Kindergarten to third grade. It’s fun. And relatively simple.

But when they asked me to step up and teach sixth graders – many of whom are taller than I am – about international matters, I felt stress. Even a little queasiness.

The lessons and materials provided by Junior Achievement were terrific. We did a “treasure hunt” throughout the classroom to find out the countries of origin for many of the products the kids use every day. It was a great teaching opportunity for a business-minded public relations professional.

But when the discussion moved to international trade and the laws that govern it, I saw an even greater opportunity. The opportunity to relate these concepts to some of today’s real-life trade policy debates.

As we discussed some of the glossary words – tariffs, quotas, standards, sanctions and embargoes – I couldn’t help but seize the opportunity to point to recent headlines to help these kids understand that protectionist trade barriers generally cause more harm than good – even for those they are purportedly protecting.

As an example, I discussed the recent move by Congress to ban Mexico trucks from entering the U.S., even though cross-border transportation was part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiated among the U.S., Mexico and Canada some 15 years ago when I worked in media relations on Capitol Hill.

“Why did our government do it?” I asked the students. I explained to them that some groups in our country had complained Mexican trucks were unsafe and that government leaders felt compelled to do something to address those complaints. (I resisted the urge to tell them the whole story that: a) those complaining were labor unions, who view Mexican truckers as a threat to their jobs and used their political influence with Congressional Democrats to compel bad policy; and b) some studies that compared short-haul Mexican trucks to short-haul U.S. trucks actually found the Mexican trucks to be safer.)

“What do you think happened after that?" I asked next.

“I’ll bet Mexico was mad and used a trade barrier to get back at us,” responded one wise girl. Yes, even the 12-year-olds recognize that every action has a reaction – usually more punitive than the initial one. I explained to them that in response to what they viewed as a violation of our mutual free trade agreement, Mexican leaders did in fact impose steep tariffs on some 90 products the U.S. exports to Mexico, including all kinds of produce grown by farmers across the nation and grapes grown mostly in California. (Again, I resisted the temptation to point out to these innocent young minds that Mexico’s tariffs on grapes and wine were a clear shot at Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who hails from California.)

“So do you think the trade barrier that our nation imposed on Mexico did more to help our country, or hurt it?” I asked.

“Hurt it!” was the overwhelming response from students, who understand that one protectionist act to shelter one special interest group can lead to a retaliatory protectionist reaction that winds up hurting a lot more people.

Hmm. Maybe it’s time to send some workbooks and stickers to Capitol Hill so our elected officials can get their own crash course on how global commerce and international trade really works.