The PR of “Walking Back”

When issuing publicity and marketing statements, not that long ago people “corrected” statements.  Today the PR term is “walking back.”

What does “walking back” mean?  It falls in line with the term “narrative” instead of “story.”  Or “optics” instead of “appearances.”

Our lexicon changes and when it does it catches like wildfire.  It is used over and over in the media and then finds its way into interviews, social media and in daily conversations.

This week President Trump did a major “walk back.”  When meeting with Russia’s Vladamir Putin, he said publicity that he doesn’t know why Russia “would” hack the U.S. elections.  When the firestorm hit, about four seconds later, Trump was forced to correct himself and say he misspoke.  He meant to say “wouldn’t” which became the official clarification.

The issue is can someone in the media make a correction and have it believed?  Can the President of the United States in the highest-profile meeting imaginable make a silly mistake?  If so, can we forgive him, or is it more ammunition for his adversaries?

Mistakes do happen, but as we have noted so many times in this blog, when something enters the internet, it is impossible to change it.  When a mistake is made and heard around the world, it is virtually impossible to “walk it back.”

That’s why we see heads of state speak slowly and with deliberation.  They know that every word, every nuance, is recorded and disseminated worldwide.  It is fodder for those who want to pick words apart so it is best that the president think about every word before uttering them.

The same holds true in the business world.  When giving a speech, doing an interview or writing an article, every word counts.  Words can come back to haunt you.  Not everybody has the pressure that a head of state has, but when you are conveying a message about your organization, every word counts.

Make sure your remarks are written down and that you are familiar with your message enough that you can speak naturally and not read off a piece of paper.  People know, even when hearing you on radio, when you are reading and speaking freely.  It is always better to speak freely than read.  But that takes practice and is an art.  It is also much more effective.

There is an old adage that take back spoken words is like replaced feathers in a pillow that are stewed all over the street.  It can’t be done.  Some people are natural speakers, but most are not.  It takes practice and focus.  Conveying your company’s message is the most effective PR vehicle you can convey and the key is preparation.

How LA Times Move Will Impact PR

How will the sale of the LA Times impact local PR and marketing opportunities?

As is well known, last week, the Los Angeles Times announced it has a new owner. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a surgeon, part LA Lakers owner and pharmaceutical billionaire purchased the paper for a reported $500 million. Along with the purchase, he moved the paper from its historic and iconic building downtown to El Segundo.  El Segundo is a quiet city adjacent to LA airport.  He made the move for two good reasons.  First, the prior LA Times owners sold the historic building that is right across from City Hall.  It has been there well over a hundred years and a landmark.  When they sold the building, they made the paper renters, so not a good financial move.   Second, Soon-Shiong owns a significant amount of property in El Segundo including a major office tower that is now The Times’ home.  It is rather strange that the LA Times is headquartered in a sleepy suburb and not where the action is downtown.

How does this affect PR people?  There is no impact for pitching stories.  The paper still covers the same geography.  However, when the purchase was made, the new owner noted that the paper in recent years shrunk from an editorial staff of 1200 to 400.  That is an issue.

As someone who has worked with The Times for decades, there always was stability.  Times reporters and editors worked there for decades, covering the same beats.  We knew them by name, who to pitch and what stories would interest them.  Now, so many writers have left and those who are left have switched beats, cover multiple beats and some have been dropped altogether.

We all know that news and media is moving online.  There is more advertising revenue to be made online than in print.  That is a simple fact.  But advertising online is not the same as print.  There is something about holding a newspaper or magazine in hand that makes it different.  Online, stories change repeatedly throughout the day.  As news changes, so do news sites.  What is the top news story in the morning will likely be moved to the bottom of the past by the end of the day.

The challenge for us in the PR and marketing business is we have to be fast, know what’s happening every minute and be prepared to pitch on moment’s notice.  When a story breaks, we jump in and offer a client for their perspective.  The media look for that and want that. They want experts who can shed light on breaking news.  That’s why our staff are online all day, if not writing text for a client, we require that everybody have a screen open to keep an eye on breaking news.  Often we switch gears on a moment’s notice.

The fast pace of publicity, PR and marketing makes the PR business more and more challenging.  It also keeps us on our toes.  We need to know who the media are, their political bents, what reporters/editors will be civil to our clients and who will be hostile.  We need to know what to pitch and to whom.  We will never put a client in front of a hostile reporter just to get them PR.  We don’t subscribe to the notion that there is no such thing as bad PR.  In today’s Twitter world, there is such a thing as bad PR.  Just as Roseanne Barr.

The big question is how long will the LA Times continue to print a paper before it goes entirely online?  The new owner vowed to be committed to a print version, but let’s be realistic.  He is a businessperson and a good one.  Tragically there may come a time when all media will conclude that it no longer makes sense to run the presses.  By the time a newspaper or magazine rolls off the press, it is reporting old news.

In the meantime, we continue to work hard to get exposure for our clients, whether in print or online.  Online is great in that we can easily send links and keep our clients’ story alive.  Print is always good because people like to see their stories in print.  There is something about being in print that an online link can’t match.