Friday, July 9, 2010

Age of Action

We’ve entered the age of action. No longer will ads, PR and spin be a savior to swoop down and rescue a fallen hero, sports figure, CEO or brand.

In a bygone era, advertising could clean up almost any mess.

But today, all the PR kings and all the advertising hucksters couldn’t put BP together again.

Today (like every other day) the camera doesn’t lie. But what’s changed today is — everyone has a camera. Everyone is a potential reporter, ad exec and PR pro.

In the last decade, we’ve seen the downshift from advertising’s Balkanized, post-apocalyptic Diaspora, transformed in a new millennia by thousands of media mavens ready to post their perspicacious POVs.

Ten years ago, not long after the dot-com bubble burst and names like Pets.com vaporized into the ethereal pet cemetery netherworld of bygone brands, the efficacy of advertising was deemed as doomed to go with them.

Even the great Al Ries, marketing guru, author of several brilliant books and the man who coined the term “positioning,” eulogized advertising in his 2002 “The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR.” He wrote, “Publicity provides the credentials that create the credibility in the advertising.”

In other words, until a brand has some cred, no one’s going to pay it any mind. If you get a phone call from a Jewish organization you never heard of, no matter how worthy their cause, are you going to write them a check? Buy their product? Most likely, you’ll hang up, turn the page, hit delete.

Fast-forward to today, when news is no longer generated down a one-way street, when citizens are armed with camera phones and text is a verb, where their scoop is posted in a nanosecond; we’re seeing a further erosion — the fall of PR and the rise of real action (docu-action).

Three recent examples demonstrate the point:

• Zionism 2.0 — Israel’s boarding on the flotilla was shot and posted all over the Internet for the world to see, moments after the raid took place. Had it not been for the lightning speed of streaming video, the gruesome images of beatings, stabbings and a soldier tossed over a railing, no one would have believed it. Even with the video, Israel had its skeptics (as it always does). But without it, our side would have been helpless. The lesson: Being armed with a camera is more powerful than any weapon.

• The Face That Launched A Thousand Hits — Had it not been for Rabbi David Nesenoff’s penetrating lens, Helen Thomas would still be planted in the front row of the White House press room. His stark video clip was able to see into her heart of darkness, piercing the hardened 89-year-old exterior, and expose her for what she truly was — an ugly anti-Semite.

• Slick Ads Are No Match For An Oil Slick — Most typically, one of the first tools of crisis communications is to combat negative press with a counter-punch by leveraging the stature of a CEO in ads and in front of news media. BP spent millions to lift its image, with full-page ads in major newspapers and TV commercials. But the public wasn’t buying it. They didn’t want ads. They wanted action and BP CEO Tony Hayward’s words were KO’d by the perpetual, live-action footage emanating from under the sea.

It’s not enough to say you’re going to be open and transparent, as BP has done. Because if you’re not doing everything in your power to be truthful, even before you say a word, you’ll be dead in the water.

Abe Novick writes monthly for the Baltimore Jewish Times.