New Line in the Sand for Vanity Fair

A change in leadership can be a defining moment for any brand. When that brand is a popular international news and culture publication, a shift in leadership can open up the opportunity for a new vision or a chance for the new leader to reinforce the brand’s current message. And, sometimes, the new leader is caught in the middle between ownership that wants a little – or a lot – of both.

When Radhika Jones took over as editor of Vanity Fair, she entered a situation in which the magazine’s ownership is engaged in a stark and wide-reaching cost-cutting program. Positions are being eliminated and some media properties are being off-loaded, even as Jones begins her tenure.

In an interview with CNN about the new challenges she faces, Jones was positive and upbeat, saying it’s a “vital time” to be in the media business. A veteran of both hard news and popular media, Jones brings a strong sense of media culture and a recognition of the tectonic shifts happening in the industry, largely driven by populist and consumer trends.

And Jones’ message? She knows what her audience wants: “Audiences are hungry for new faces and new voices… My goal is to reflect the culture as I see it…” And, culture as she sees it appears to be young, diverse, and groundbreaking. In recent months, Vanity Fair has put Michelle Williams, Felicity Jones, Michael B. Jordan, and Kendrick Lamar on the cover.

Some of her editorial choices have surprised loyal Vanity Fair readers, and Jones said this is a good thing. “It’s been heartening to me to hear that people are surprised by our cover choices…”

One of the biggest challenges put to the new editor was the future of the publication, specifically in print. Jones said she fully expects Vanity Fair to still be available in print in a decade, maybe longer. She said, despite many reports to the contrary, media consumption is not a “zero sum game.” People are consuming both print and digital, so she’s not going to give up on print any time soon.

That’s not to say Jones won’t look toward expanding on Vanity Fair’s online and social footprint. Those efforts, apparently, are partly to entice more subscribers, rather than trying to depend entirely on advertising efforts. This is a tough tightrope to walk for any media editor. Advertising has been a longstanding moneymaker for media, but that market is redefining itself almost by the day. Media companies continue to look for both short- and long-term solutions.

That’s not to say Jones is stepping away from the brand’s successful backstory. “You want to learn what the traditions are, (those) that are worth keeping and that are valuable… Then you want to learn which habits that maybe could be broken… The truth is, Vanity Fair has this fantastic formula, back from when Tina Brown reinvented it in the 1980’s. It’s about a mix of high and low. We cover these certain areas: politics and technology and finance and course Hollywood and celebrity culture. And those things are really the same. We’re doing those stories.”

zimbabwe public relations

Zimbabwe Bond Notes Create PR Nightmare

Back in 2016, The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe began using $10 million worth of “bond” notes as a replacement for traditional money, in an attempt to ease the problems, the country currently has with liquidity. Not only where the bond notes met with uncertainty when the country first began to introduce them, but they could pose a serious problem with PR nearly two years later, as they’re harming the area’s ability to attract international investors.

According to financial analysts from South Africa’s Rand Merchant Bank, Neville Mandimika announced that while the local feeling towards the bond notes has softened over the last two years, there’s still a lot of problems for the country to overcome. For instance, many people stare still confused about the bond notes and how they can coordinate with existing financial policies.

Problems for the Zimbabwe Brand

It’s often easy to forget that countries and locations, like businesses, can come with their own brand and reputation. In a time when Zimbabwe is desperate for the attention of the right investors, the country could be facing some serious troubles with this bond note issue. Particularly, investors have no idea what the bond notes are going to mean to the company in the grand scheme of things. Will the bond notes still be in place fifteen years from now, or is it just a part-time policy?

If they want to improve their chances of investment, the PR organizations responsible for boosting Zimbabwe’s identity will need to implement a plan to improve confidence about the future of the country’s currencies. On the international scene, the very concept of bond notes can be enough to conjure up dangerous images with fixed-income investments. One particularly important thing to remember is that the term “bond notes” in Zimbabwe is likely to mean something very different to the phrase used in the US.

For most investors looking to drive their money towards Zimbabwe, the concept of the bond notes is something that’s not easily understood or articulated right now. PR exercises need to be put in place to improve understanding about what the bond notes mean, and how they’ll affect investments in the long-term.

What Zimbabwe Needs to Do Next

During a conversation about Zimbabwe’s reputational standing, Mandimika suggested that the country needs to start taking advantage of the changing international sentiments around the space and look for ways to strengthen their policies. To some extent, prospects for Zimbabwe are looking much better today because many people no longer think that the area is going to be struggling from financial woes for the next four or five years.

As the conversation begins to change, there are opportunities for investment out there, but there are policies to clarify, positions to address, and plans to set in motion before anything significant can happen. Sentiment is on Zimbabwe’s side right now, but the country needs to make sure that the policy proposals going forward are as clear as possible – particularly after the elections take place.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian – founder of 5W Public Relations.

First, Ask: “Is it Worth it?”

When the manager of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia decided to ask White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave before her party had a meal, Stephanie Wilkinson knew there would be consequences… But were those consequences worth the momentary feelings of justification that prompted the ouster?

That’s a question that will continue to be answered in the coming weeks and months as customers decide to cast their votes with their wallets. Already, though, lines have been drawn and decisions have been made as a result of the “you’re not welcome” that turned into national news.

By all accounts, the ladies, Wilkinson and Sanders, were polite during the brief interaction. No one tried to cause a scene or create a photo op. Sanders and her group quietly left, and Wilkinson returned her attention to her other guests. But that was far from the end of it. By the next morning, the incident was national news, and consumers across the country, as well as in Lexington, were taking sides.

Whatever happens next, the operative question is, “Will it be worth it?” Wilkinson has already chosen to resign her position as executive director of Lexington’s Main Street business alliance. The position is pivotal to the success of multiple downtown businesses, and protesters were threatening consequences for Main Street if the organization continued to support Wilkinson.

And that is only the beginning. Like it or not, Wilkinson has become a talking point and a figure to hold up, either to laud or berate. Wilkinson, for her part, is sticking by her reasons, telling the Washington Post she made the call because, she believes, Sanders works for an “inhumane and unethical” administration.

Those qualifiers are certainly not going to endear her to Trump voters, who are likely to have already scratched Red Hen off their dinner possibilities list. This choice was supported by the President who, in his characteristic way, unleashed on Wilkinson via Twitter, calling the exterior of the restaurant “filthy,” and declaring, “if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”

Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Virginia began circulating a boycott petition. And those were just the obvious potential consequences of Wilkinson’s decision. There are cascading unintended consequences as well. Red Hen restaurants across the country are taking hits on social media and on Yelp reviews. At least 10 different Red Hen restaurants not affiliated, at all, with Wilkinson’s restaurant, have come out and asked people to stop trolling them, calling them, or leaving harsh Google or Yelp reviews.

For these business owners, they are now forced to respond to the PR crisis version of guilt by association… even though they are not actually associated. And that’s one of the biggest consequences to consider if you plan to spark consumer rage about a social issue. Understand that rage has to be directed somewhere… and that mobs, in public or online, are difficult to predict.

nba pr

Rough Ratings Signal PR Problem for the NBA

What’s the matter with the NBA… and, when they figure it out, how can the league solve it? Opinions vary. Some say it’s the lack of star power. Others point to a serious dearth of parity, to a league of haves and have nots.

That’s not to say there isn’t interest in the Finals. Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals, which pitted the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors, drew huge ratings for ABC. But, while those games were watched by a good number of fans, they also illustrated what’s wrong with the NBA, and why viewership is down across the board.

The Cavs came in, once again, the Beast in the East. In fact, they have made it to the Finals four straight years… And they faced the Golden State Warriors. No other NBA team has come close to vying for a championship in years, and the best in the east can’t even win a game against the best in the west.

Sports leagues fare best when there’s a chance another team could win. Parity brings drama, and drama creates interesting narratives for commentators and fans to share.

Sharing narratives – from arguing about games and players to talking about them the day after – are a huge part of spectator sports. For more than a few years, now, the biggest storyline in the NBA is “what’s LeBron’s legacy?” Fans who are not diehard James fans are long-since tired of that.

Even young fans who were not alive to remember the glory days of the Lakes, Celtics, Pistons, and Bulls — when NBA drama dominated this time of year with “fantastic” action and suspense — are talking about the Great Ones: Magic, Bird, Jordan, Thomas, and Kareem. Others pine for Kobe and Shaq and Duncan. When fans are tweeting and talking about whether Jordan is better than Kobe while LeBron is on the court, that’s bad for the NBA. And it’s a narrative the league can’t seem to shake.

Coming out of yet another Golden State victory – they swept the Cavs this year – the “big story” in the NBA is if and when James will leave in free agency. Teams considered top contenders: San Antonio and Houston. If these or any other Western Conference team gets James, the NBA will have another serious problem to content with. When the best player and the best teams are all in one conference, the good rivalries die, and the good stories fade.

A trade might not happen, but if it does, the League will enter PR crisis mode. Hardcore basketball fans will tune in, but casual fans will drift away, leaving the league wondering how to manage having both the best player and the best team in at least a decade… and a fan base that’s just not interested in watching. And, even if it doesn’t, the League is still in a tough spot, trying to keep the interest of fans who believe the end is inevitable.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian is the founder of 5W Public Relations.

Facebook Faces Another Round of Consumer Rage

Facebook may have to go back to D.C. for yet another grilling in front of the Senate Commerce Committee. Just weeks after an obviously uncomfortable confrontation between elected officials and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO is being tasked with responding to reports of user date being shared with “at least 60 device manufacturers” according to Reuters. Again, this is not that long after Zuckerberg promised his company would change many of the business practices that angered users and caused some people to leave the social network altogether.

The problem then, was Cambridge Analytica gaining access to the data of millions of users. That enraged Facebook users, who demanded changes that resulted in Zuckerberg appearing before congress. Now, according to reports in the NY Times, as well as messages from ranking Senators on the Committee, Facebook has given access to other businesses, companies that, according to the report, were “able to access friend’s date even after the friends denied permission to share” such information.

The message from the Senators tacitly invited Zuckerberg to “revise” his testimony that he offered back in April. There was also mention that Zuckerberg’s team has yet to answer hundreds of questions the company said it would address. But Facebook is not the only brand that could face consumer PR backlash over this revelation. Other companies accused of using the data include Apple, Amazon, Blackberry, UTC, Samsung, and Microsoft.

Given the trust issues many Facebook users already had, when they learn the issue was much more widespread than just one political company, and that Facebook knew this, there could be yet another wave of people leaving the social network or taking a break from their daily routine of scrolling timelines. Meanwhile, the companies being accused of taking user data without permission could be seen as complicit in what is becoming one of the largest consumer PR scandals in recent memory.

While it’s true that many Facebook users are nonplussed by the previous revelations, that may change when people begin hearing just how common and widespread the “friends” data “sharing” activities were.

The latest reports excoriate Facebook for allowing “deep access” to user accounts and data, including the data of friends who had set stricter privacy protections. This happened, according to the reports, after Facebook said the company would no longer share such information with outside companies. At present, the story is developing, and the investigation is ongoing. But one thing is certain, consumer trust for Facebook will not be bolstered by these revelations, any attempts to repair that breach by the company will be met with distrust.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations.

charity ronn torossian foundation

Advice for Leaders: How to Future-Proof Your Charity

What’s the difference between a for-profit company, and a charity organisation? Beyond the fact that a charity builds money for a cause, and a business creates profit for shareholders, there isn’t much separating the two entities. At the end of the day, both charities and companies need to present an idea or set of values to a customer base, in the hope that their audience will respond with financial support and loyalty.

Future-proofing a charity means finding an idea that continues to generate support for years to come. Just like trying to build a sustainable business, you’ll need to have a strong strategy in place if you want to convince your target audience that your non-profit is worth not only their money, but their advocacy too.

Understanding Why Your Organisation Exists

For any group to be sustainable, it must have a purpose. The purpose of a hospitality company, for instance might be to provide people with delicious food in an inspiring restaurant setting. On the other hand, the purpose of your charity might be to ensure that people in troubled countries have access to clean food and drinking water.

One of the biggest mistakes that charity leaders make, is that they fail to establish a distinct purpose for their organization from the very beginning. While it’s tempting to build a community that strives to help everyone, the truth is that you need a clear vision if you want to speak to people in a way that inspires sustainable loyalty.

Ask yourself, what does your group do, why do they do it, and why should people care?

Testing New Ideas

A company doesn’t become successful by lingering in the shadows and hoping for the best. If you want to connect with your audience on an emotional level, then you need to measure your impact and test new ideas to figure out what steps you should be taking to interact with the right people at the right time. If you’re currently using a combination of PR and social media to reach out to your audience, then make sure that you have metrics in place to test how effective your campaigns are.

Remember, while testing your current activities is important, you also need to try out new ideas too. Inaction can take hold too easily when charities start to see a little bit of support for their campaigns. Just because your non-profit is successful now, doesn’t mean that it’s as profitable as it could be. A culture of constant evolution is critical to a future-proofed charity.

Collaborate

Charities are about helping others – but do you ever consider how others might be able to help you? When funding for your organisation is scarce, it makes sense to reach out and collaborate with other teams who might be relevant to your organisation. Look into your local community for businesses and people that you might be able to connect with to improve brand reach, you might be surprised at how far a little extra help can take you.

Many non-profit organisations have astronomical goals, and this means that they can rarely achieve their ambitions alone. If you really want to future-proof your charity, then you need to be willing to ask for help from more than just donators and regular contributors.

How have you made sure that your nonprofit is ready for the future?

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations and the founder of the Ronn Torossian Foundation.