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Monday, April 14, 2014

Up in the Air: The Future of Broadcast News

Imagine this: you’re walking down the street past a newsstand. You stop and look around. What do you see? 

If you’ve ever been to one, you’d know that there usually are a handful of local papers, maybe a collection of a dozen or so national or international papers and countless magazines covering every possible experience on our planet. 

Now imagine flipping on the television to CNN, FOX or MSNBC. Now, what do you see? 

One story rehashed and repeated until an hour of reality television takes over for the exhausted, dehydrated and mentally drained anchors on the screen. Why is this? The world is an insanely complex place with thousands of legislatures, millions of businesses and billions of people. Yet somehow there appears to be a drought of news on these networks.

In 2013, CNN had its lowest prime-time ratings in its history, with 578,000 viewers on average. Of those, less than 20 percent were under the age of 55. Cable news has become the nation’s single largest elder care provider and – only on occasion – a moonlighter in dentist waiting rooms and dive bars. But even in its prime demographic, CNN is a resounding a failure, particularly when compared to another clich├ęd favorite of the elderly: 60 minutes. This news program has over 10 million viewers. 

I don’t buy the assertion that viewers aren't interested in news stories with social, political or economic value. Cable news has chosen short-term gains over long-term dominance, seeking the path of least resistance. These networks have noticed that major disasters like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 lead to a short-term, 50 percent boost to their ratings. As a result, they focus on these singular issues and milk them for all that they are worth. Instead of seeking out new stories, they sell the headline. Of course, these headlines don’t last forever. Next, they exaggerate smaller stories with little social value.

Thankfully, some are trying to push back against this trend. Ezra Klein, the notable former Washington Post health care and public policy blogger, has joined with a network of niche news sites to create a mainstream news source, Vox,  focused on producing in-depth, yet stimulating reports on stories left uncovered or superficially reported by other outlets. Al-Jazeera America, a Qatari-government funded cable news network, now brings excellent news before its competitors. It wasn't the Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times or ABC World News that uncovered corruption in the California State Senate – it was Al-Jazeera. 

Television news, as well as radio and Vox's multimedia format, impact the consumer to a greater degree than traditional print or digital news. These outlets provide a gut reaction that brings context to information, unlike Google News, which often provides facts that are quickly forgotten. Seeing a war in action, a politician lying on camera or a child starving in a village sticks in the mind for a lifetime. Statistics do not. We must protect the dying art of audio-visual news. 

If ventures like Vox and Al-Jazeera America are successful, they will likely push the other big networks to expand their demographics and provide higher-quality news. This will benefit the public discourse and lead to a more informed electorate. 

Do your civic duty. Tell your friends about Vox. Start watching Al-Jazeera America and persuade your cable provider to add it if you don’t already receive it. Proselytize this new gospel and spread the good news! Go forth, and let your mind and your country prosper!


Monday, April 7, 2014

What The Hell Were We Thinking!

I was watching some old cigarette commercials the other day with a co-worker, and we were laughing at just how outrageous they were. Doctors recommending cigarettes by brand, film stars and even the Flintstones hawking cigarettes.

Then I wondered, “Will people look back at today’s soda commercials 40 or 50 years from now and laugh at them as well?”  Will people say, “Yes I remember when so-and-so was never seen without a soda in his hand.” Or, “Remember when so-and-so use to do their annual summer concert series sponsored by Big Soda.”  Then someone will probably ask, “Whatever happened to so-and-so?”  Chances are the answer will be they died from complications of some ailment brought on by diabetes. 

We learn from our mistakes. We once thought a river was a place people could dump all their waste and it would all just magically disappear, DDT was harmless to all but insects and cigarettes could help a cough. Today most people feel soda is just a harmless joy of life. In fact some say they have a right to drink it.  I hope some of them will still be around 40 years from now to laugh at those soda commercials and ask themselves? “What the hell were we thinking?”


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Five Things Breastfeeding Taught Me About Social Marketing

It’s one thing to study social marketing, and it’s another thing to actually be the target of a social marketing campaign.  Here at Brown∙Miller Communications we create many public health campaigns aimed at encouraging people to modify their behavior. I have a new appreciation for our approach due to my experience with breastfeeding my daughter Savannah.

Even before I got pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my children. Working in the public health arena, I’ve seen countless messages celebrating the benefits of breastfeeding over the years and the “breast is best” mantra has been burned into my brain. When preparing for the arrival of my daughter, I attended a Kaiser breastfeeding basics class, read through La Leche League’s “breastfeeding bible” and blogs documenting other moms’ experiences, and stocked up on all the supplies to make the job easier.

I had heard that breastfeeding can be difficult for some, but I figured if I educated myself enough and worked at it then there would be no reason it wouldn’t work for me. Well, to make a long story short, it didn’t.

My daughter was born with tongue and lip ties (that weren’t diagnosed until she was two months old) that make it impossible for her to get enough to eat at the breast, no matter how hard we both tried. My emotional and physical struggle taught me a lot about myself and being a parent. It also taught me a lot about social marketing – so that was a nice bonus that I can laugh about now.

So what did my experience teach me?
1.   A simple message is powerful – I can’t tell you how ingrained in me the “breast is best” message is. Why? Because it is simple, direct, concise and easy to remember. Develop a message that quickly and effectively communicates what you want your target audience to know. Don’t try to say too much at once because you’ll just lose your audience. Once you catch someone’s attention with the key message you can give them more information later.
2.   Identify your audience and tailor your message – Just because my friend and I are new moms doesn’t mean we necessarily have anything else in common. Every fact about the benefits of breastfeeding I heard had merit. While the health benefits for my little one may have motivated me, the cost savings may be what really resonated with a different mother. As social marketers, we need to really drill down as much as possible and consider all of the benefits and challenges of a particular behavior change for each audience we are working with. Put yourself in their shoes and consider what matters to them.
3.   Develop campaigns using a socioecological model – We do not live in a vacuum. The world around us – the people we spend our time with and places where we spend our time – can either make it easier or harder to change behaviors. Once you develop a message directed at the individual level, you also have to consider what changes need to be made in the world around them to support behavior change. A good social marketing campaign considers and addresses the parties that influence the individual. You can tell someone to do something, but you better have thought about the supports in place to help make that happen. In my case, I received a lot of support from my immediate circle of family and friends, but the institutional support was lacking. My partner and family were very supportive of me breastfeeding and did everything they could to give me the logistical and emotional support to keep trying. On the flip side, the lack of support can make it really hard to modify behavior even if the individual wants to. I received mixed support from the hospital staff at Kaiser after my daughter was born. We were obviously struggling from the get go, but the lactation consultant on staff wasn’t able to see us until 24 hours after my daughter was born and wasn’t very compassionate or helpful because she was spread so thin. It would have been nice to have this specialized support available right away, instead of struggling on our own. If I were given the opportunity to work with Kaiser to improve breastfeeding rates, the number and training of lactation consultants is one of the first things I would look at.
4.   Research, research, research. Talk to people, test out your messages, listen to and learn from the experiences of your target audiences before, during and after your campaign. Every individual has a lot to share, and the collection of knowledge can help social marketers refine and strengthen their campaigns. There is power in both quantitative and qualitative feedback.

5.   Not all or nothing. It’s important to celebrate the small victories and small steps that people take, especially when it comes to health improvements. You may want women to exclusively breastfeed, but if they are able to provide their baby with some breast milk every day in addition to formula, that’s still something to celebrate. A small step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction. Don’t alienate or shun people who aren’t able to get to the end goal you have in mind right away. 

~ Nicole

Thursday, February 13, 2014

First-in-Nation Legislation Calls for Safety Warning Labels on Sugary Drinks

Armed with overwhelming research linking soda and sugary drink consumption
to skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay, the nation’s first legislation requiring safety warning labels on sugary drinks sold in California was introduced today by State Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel).

“When the science is this conclusive, the State of California has a responsibility to take steps to protect consumers,” stated Senator Monning. “As with tobacco and alcohol warnings, this legislation will give Californians essential information they need to make healthier choices.”

SB 1000 would place a simple warning on the front of all beverage containers with added sweeteners that have 75 or more calories per 12 ounces. The label, developed by a national panel of nutrition and public health experts, would read: STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.
The science on the harmful impacts associated with drinking soda and other sugary drinks is clear and conclusive. An overwhelming body of research has unequivocally shown that sugary drinks are major contributors to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay,” explains Dr. Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which is cosponsoring the legislation. “When any product causes this much harm, it is time to take action.”
Sugary drinks are the biggest contributor of added calories in the American diet, responsible for 43 percent of the added calories in the American diet over the last 30 years. Drinking just one soda a day increases an adult’s likelihood of being overweight by 27 percent and a child’s by 55 percent. Research shows that a soda or two a day increases the risk of diabetes by 26 percent.
“As physicians, we’re desperate to break the cycle of diabetes and obesity we see in our offices every day,” explains Dr. Ashby Wolfe of the California Medical Association, which is also sponsoring the legislation. “Consumers have a right to know about the unique health problems associated with soda and other sugary drinks.”
Complete information on the legislation, including fact sheets on the science linking sugary beverages to diabetes, obesity and cavities, is available at:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Potential tsunami in the media world

This week’s media news heralds big changes. First, Washington Post’s wunderkind Ezra Klein ended the speculation about his future by announcing that he and several colleagues were leaving the venerable Grand Dame of the news world to remake journalism at Vox Media. Vox is a growing digital emporium that also includes SB Nation, a sports site, The Verge, a fast-growing technology site, and Curbed, Eater and Racked.

Writing in the New York Times, media critic David Carr, says, “Klein is not running away from something, he is going to something else.” He quotes Klein, who says, “We are at the beginning of how journalism should be done on the Web. We really wanted to build something from the ground up that helps people understand the news better.” 

Then eBay’s founder Pierre Omidyar released a video introducing First Look Media, a new general-interest news organization devoted to politics and foreign policy, sports and entertainment. 

Omidyar’s plans include featuring multiple digital publications, each with its own editorial voice and led by an experienced, visionary journalist. In his introductory video, he promises to “bring back to journalism what’s been lost – the critical but expensive support that’s often neglected in the digital age. In our model, teams of data analysts, fact checkers, visual designers, editors and technologists will work together with writers, reporters and producers to create powerful stories presented in compelling packages.” Omidyar didn’t say how he was going to pay for all of this other than using his own fortune. Here is a link to a video that introduces his concept:

Some legacy news organizations are attempting to reinvent themselves, too. On Monday, Audrey Cooper, managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle revealed what she was going to do with the old food section offices around the corner. Cooper told Rachel Kanigel of PBS that she was starting an off-site, startup-style incubator to retrain reporters, editors, photographers, copy editors, programmers and designers in a digital/social media boot camp. She wants the staff to rethink every aspect of the news business and their beats.

What will this mean to my ever-thinner daily newspaper? I am staying tuned.    

News wonks and readers who have been in a serious funk over the purported death of journalism may find that 2014 brings a pleasant change, just in time to report on the midyear elections.  


Monday, January 13, 2014

Three PR Resolutions for 2014

Allergies suck. I already was coping with an allergy to cow’s milk when I was diagnosed with a sensitivity to soy, wheat, oats and gluten last month, calling for a drastic diet change and the feeling that I’ve just hopped on the trendiest diet fad:  Be gluten-free!  After processing the overwhelming amount of information from my doctor, reading as many articles as I could and downloading apps on how to successfully eat gluten-free, I went to Johnny Garlic’s for one last hurrah and ordered a French dip roast beef sandwich slathered in horseradish sauce with a side of garlic fries. Needless to say, I was on my couch feeling horrible that evening, but boy, did that taste good. The following day I embraced the gluten-free lifestyle – even through the holidays – and haven’t looked back. 

My resolution to be a better me came at the end of 2013, but I thought I would add more for 2014. So here are my three PR resolutions:

Write Well. Sometimes I get too complacent when writing press releases, newsletters and reports. So I resolve to stop the cycle of fear and be more creative, focus on what the readers want, be concise and explore ideas by reading more. That should be easy enough.

Be Social. In this day and age, I need to learn more technology and social media. Between content management, social networking and the new apps being developed daily, I resolve to be more current with them and thus more social. 

Eat Well and Get Moving. I resolve to nourish my body right and exercise regularly to keep my mind sharp. Isn’t this the goal everyone has? With my new gluten-free lifestyle, I do feel 100 percent better and have ditched my daily dose of Claritin. So I think I’m off to a positive start. 

What are your resolutions for 2014?


Friday, December 13, 2013

Merry Christmas Cookies to All

It’s that wonderful time of the year when I pull out all of my old Danish cookie recipes, plus a few new non-Danish ones, stock up on a big supply of butter and other baking ingredients, don my apron and get busy baking cookies. Each year I tell myself this will be the last year . . . and each year I suit up in baker’s garb and get busy once more. Needless to say, I enjoy making these Christmas cookies. But what I love most of all is to be able to share a gift from the heart with friends and family.

 In this busy, rush-rush time of the year, it’s nice to be able to give a gift that’s homemade and not something quickly picked up at the store. I know my husband and I thoroughly enjoy the candy and cookies we receive because we know just how much work and love goes into making them.

So, just a thought at this holiday season . . . is there something you could make for your friends or family, be it your favorite granola or cranberry bread? Unless it really turns out badly, I know your homemade gift would be most gladly received, and you’d save all those frustrations of driving round and round in parking lots trying to find a spot to park and standing in those long checkout lines in the stores.

Happy Holidays!