Can Al Jazeera News Work in America?

 Can Al Jazeera News Work in America?

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Al Jazeera America.

One of the most important developments in television news in nearly 20 years is underway in the US, but you might not even know it. Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based broadcasting giant, has been quietly building Al Jazeera America, the first major US news channel since Fox News and MSNBC launched in the mid-1990s.

Having acquired the network infrastructure with its $500 million purchase of Al Gore’s Current TV in January, Al Jazeera has hired nearly 700 employees, including CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, and is planning to open a dozen US news bureaus. Al Jazeera America, which is scheduled to launch on August 20, says it will distinguish itself by focusing on in-depth reporting of stories that many Americans say they don’t get from the current slate of news channels.

Compared to the hefty corporate investment, the PR push has been minimal. There have been press releases and meetings with top editorial boards but, overall, Al Jazeera has been conservative in promoting the new channel. This makes sense. Although the network certainly wants to attract a broad audience, there is risk associated with this venture. Most Americans first heard of Al Jazeera in 2001, when it broadcast messages from Osama bin Laden following the September 11th terrorist attacks. It’s not unrealistic to think many potential viewers will associate the name with that event. Others will worry that Al Jazeera will attempt to push certain ideological agendas. Management’s focus now should be on building a fully fledged news operation with a keen understanding of what American viewers are looking for.

THE PR VERDICT:  “B” (Good Show) for Al Jazeera, whose ambitious plans may alter the American landscape of network news.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Show, don’t tell. When something is risky or untested, let the product speak for itself.  For Al Jazeera, there is little to be gained by hyping the channel prior to launch. Doing so will inevitably invite criticism that the network can’t answer yet. Instead, Al Jazeera America should keep on keeping on: staying in the press by hiring top talent, opening news bureaus, and being selective about the interviews it does. Bring out the PR bells and whistles once the channel is up and running.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR Perfect) to Al Gore, who declined to comment following some puzzling comments from former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She recently went public with her doubts about the now infamous case of Bush v. Gore, wondering if maybe the court should never have heard the case in the first place. Gore declined to comment, saying he would stick by his decision back then to stand by the referee’s conclusion. Any comment, Gore claimed, could bring the Supreme Court “into a political squabble where the outcome would not change at all in any case.” Agreed. Tempting as it may be, this is one instance where Gore needs to let others do the talking and ignore the bait.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) for Brad Pitt. The actor may be flashing his million-dollar smile on Vanity Fair‘s cover this month, but the story inside about his new $200 million movie isn’t nearly as pretty. The feature is ostensibly about Pitt’s World War Z, which accurately describes the atmosphere on the zombie flick’s set. One producer used the word “nightmare,” not about the apocalyptic scenario but about making the movie. Features like this are a crapshoot: Who doesn’t want the cover of Vanity Fair on the eve of the release of a summer blockbuster, yet one that will focus on the massive issues that plagued the film? The good news for readers is that it won’t be the same ol’ puff piece. The bad news for Pitt is that it won’t be the same ol’ puff piece.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Washington DC Council Member David Grosso for proposing that the football team of the nation’s capitol – the Washington Redskins – change their name to the less offensive Redtails (hey, it’s close!). The team’s name, considered a racial slur against the Native American population in the US, has been hotly debated for years. Those who might actually do something about it, including lawmakers, team owners, and the National Football League, have largely avoided the issue. What a weak way for Washington to weigh in. Grosso gets points for having enough conscience to address the matter, but his proposal will go nowhere even if it passes unanimously: as a “non-binding resolution,” which is Beltwayspeak for “pointless,” it carries no force of law. If proponents of a name change really want results, they would do well to abandon the ineffectual pols and instead aim their PR arrows at the stadium box office.

 

Al Gore, Sustainable Capitalism and Thought Leadership

Al GORE Al Gore, Sustainable Capitalism and Thought Leadership

The PR Verdict: "A" for Al Gore and the launch of "Sustainable Capitalism".

Al Gore, former Vice President and environmentalist, is in the news. He hit the headlines following the launch earlier this week of a white paper and 5-point manifesto for what he calls “Sustainable Capitalism”.

The manifesto is published by the non-profit arm of a fund-management company Gore launched with an ex Goldman Sachs partner. The asset manager, Generation Investment Management, focuses on investing in firms with “sustainable” business models.

Gore in interviews discussing the manifesto, identified five practical steps towards a model of capitalism that minimises short-termism. Abolishing quarterly reporting is the most straightforward, while creating “loyalty shares” that pay out more to investors the longer they keep them, is a novel idea and sure to provoke debate.

The PR Verdict: “A” for the launch of sustainable capitalism by Al Gore and his business partners.  This was a classic and well-executed PR “thought leadership” launch.

The roadmap  for “thought leadership” launches is well established but not always easy to execute.  First, begin by framing the ideas as suggestions only.  The purpose of any white paper is to initiate discussion and not be overly prescriptive. Secondly, identify simple practical suggestions (in this case five potential reforms) and provide some surprising supporting facts (e.g. the average holding period for a share is now seven months, down from several years in the 1990s). Finally, to maximise the headlines, have someone who is authoritative in the field as your presenting front-man (or woman).

As far as textbook examples go, of how to plot a successful launch in the “thought leadership” space, this was hard to beat.

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