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The Path to 9/11” was a two part mini series that aired on ABC September 10th and 11th, 2006 that dramatized the events leading up to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the U.S. Capital. ABC got itself into trouble when it promoted the film as being heavily based on factual information found in the 9/11 Commission Report.

Controversy arose as clips came to surface before the films release. One such clip involves CIA operatives who have surrounded a house they believe Osama Bin Laden is hiding in. They contact up the chain of command and all the way to the whitehouse, where the field operative speaks with Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.

The operative asks permission to storm the house and capture or kill Bin Laden. Berger and Clinton fear political back lash if the mission results in civilian casualties and instruct the operative to stand down.

Multiple sources from all parties involved quickly came forward to assure that those events never took place. And in fact, they didn’t. Because the author later admitted that it was a complete fictionalization.

Even conservative author Richard Minter, the political enemy of the Clinton administration, couldn’t believe the outright lie that the film portrays. When interviewed by Wolf Blitzer he said, “the idea that someone had bin Laden in his sights in 1998 or any other time and Sandy Berger refused to pull the trigger, there’s zero factual basis for that.”

The same day that Minter went on CNN, ABC published a statement on the film. “The Path to 9/11 is a dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including the 9/11 commission report, other published materials and from personal interviews.”

This was a weak response to these allegations. The real issue here is that from the first pieces of marketing, this film was marketed as bieng a factual retelling of events, based on the findings of the 9/11 commission. Face it ABC, you didn’t do your research.

You agreed to produce a mini-series written by an author known to include conservative undertones in his work. Anyone who sees any of the scenes involved in the controversies could likely be confused by the authenticity of the film, and believe the events to be factual.

The real crisis started in the marketing process. Either its entirely factual, or its fiction thats based on fact. There is no such thing as fact based on fiction. If you believe even one minor event to be fictionalized, then you must make that clear from the beginning. That is your responsibility as a news source.

The crisis with the film, was just one of several reasons why the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America named ABC its third annual “Misinformer of the Year” award in 2006.

So I’ve spent the past three days reading every piece of source material I can find online about ABC’s history, corporate philosophy, and communications department. All in all, I have to admit that I am intrigued by the idea of working at a television network.

Perhaps it’s my love for acting that brings out the desire to be around show business, but I get the feeling that I would be happy in this industry. ABC seems like a good fit for me because they are focused on establishing an online presence and incorporating the web into their business plan.

I like ABC’s commitment to finding better programing and not just cycling through season one and done sitcoms. I believe that if it’s broke, fix it. If it ‘aint broke, figure out how to make it work better.

Their work with LOST during the writers strike has proven to me they have a commitment to their publics. LOST had a strong following as it was, and the ARG was not “necessary.” But they felt a responsibility to the fans of the show to provide them with anything that was within their means, given the circumstances.

I look forward to seeing what ABC does in the future, and I would certainly not mind being involved in that future in some capacity.

Much like ABC’s newsroom, their career center is fairly useless. It currently has no jobs listed and just instructs you to move on to The Walt Disney Company’s career center.

Now this is a careers page! It’s got a photo slide show, a press release declaring them to be the number one place to launch a career, and a highly customizable job openings search engine. This engine allows you to search within any of the dozens of business units of the Disney company for job postings in 50 or so different job categories. There are a lot of PR/Marketing/Advertising jobs available now if you’re not picky about where you work or which business unit it is in.

The only catch? They’re only hiring for a few entry level positions right now. I wont be linking you to those, because I think I might apply.

Another great feature of this tool is that you can put in a text version of your resume and it will analyze it and pull up ideal positions for you. I’ve never seen this kind of application on a search negine before and its pretty interesting. It appears to operate as just a keyword search, but it sifts through your headings and locates your past work experience to find jobs you are qualified for.

All in all, Disney does seem to be a great place to work, but I hear they have really strict rules about actors playing the various characters that roam the parks. Not sure I want to work with a company that will fire you for taking your hat off.

The title of this post is a bit deceptive. If you’re familiar with Forrester Research book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, then you may have already gotten a chuckle out of this post. If you haven’t its seriously well past time you got on board. The groundswell is going to happen with or without you, so its time to hop on. If you need a brief rundown of what all of this swelling ground business is all about, here’s is the guy who came up with the idea to explain it himself:

So, this is a lot of fun because in going out and finding sources for this subject – twice actually – I kept winding up back at the post I made on the subject on my own blog. So I’m just going to let that post do most of the talking. Read the following post I authored in response to ABC Entertainment’s VPs of Marketing winning the Marketing Maverick Award, and check back in with me here once you’ve made it through. ABC Was Being a Maverick, Before Mavericks Were Cool.

If you weren’t living under a rock in the first half of this decade, you probably noticed that the entertainment industry was at war with the Internet. Napster fought the RIAA, and the law won. Television networks scoured YouTube, Google Video, and the rest of the video sharing sites out there to try and limit Internet users access to their copyrighted materials.

They were within their rights, and nearly every digital piracy case went in favor of the plaintiff. But, for every site they took down, 30 more popped up, and for every peer to peer downloader they sued, tens of 1000s more peers were brazenly sharing their music, video, and software files across the globe. Slowly, the entertainment industry realized that this was not a trend.

We were in the digital age, and the entertainment industry could either join the rest of the global community, or become obsolete. Suddenly, services like iTunes, Netflix Online, GameFly, and hundreds of others started distributing their music online. Their profits were down, but at least they were selling again.

Well, in comes ABC. It decided that it was tired of being behind the curve on technology. So, it invested large amounts of money into – get this – giving away their programing for free online! they developed the first full-length episode player on a major Network’s website.

Deciding that it wasn’t enough to just offer the current episodes, they offered whole seasons of their programing  for free. the only catch was you had to sit through a few 30 second advertisements. Go to any TV network’s site and you will see that they have an episode player now. Go ahead, pick one. I’ll wait.

See what I mean? The interesting thing about ABC’s programing is that they were hitting a huge variety of demographics depending on which shows they were watching. And one thing they noticed was that their hit drama LOST had very technically savvy fans.

So they went to them. they brought their two intrests together and created whole networks and activities that appealed to both their interest in LOST and their interest in the Internet.

They “Listened” in at LOST fan sites and bulletin boards. They “Talked” with their publics through the use of fake websites, secret online puzzles, and mini-webisodes that kept the fans coming back between episodes. They “Energized” their publics through the use of the www.find815.com ARG keeping them actively engaged in the story during the writers strike. They “Supported” their fans by encouraging and enabling the development of online wikis and fan communities by providing information and exclusive content to the fans in these groups.

That just leaves “Embracing” of the strategies that Groundswell highlights. Embracing is the trickiest, beacuse it requires to you give up some of the control of your product to the customers. Its kind of like socialism for comercial enterprise.

I would argue that ABC’s entire approach to marketing LOST to its high-tier social technographic fanbase, is embracing them by bringing them much further into a TV drama than they ever have been before.

ABC’s Marketing department understands the process that Bernoff discusses at the very beginning of that video. They understand that they can’t market every show this way. Its is only because their publics are high on the technographic ladder that this technique worked. They analyzed their publics, chose the objectives the wished to achieve and then used the technology that best enabled them to reash those publics.

I’m not impressed ABC. Here I am trying to write a positive review of your newsroom, (because lets face it, I’ve liked what I’ve been seeing) and I can’t find it. Seriously. Where is it?

Oh. There’s no link to it from ABC.com? I thought the point of your newsroom was to keep all of your important news in one place, where a member of any of your publics – whether it be the media, your shareholders, or a fan who wants to keep up to date with all things ABC – can quickly get your information.

I’d been looking for nearly half an hour, and gave up. I moved on to find other information. Then, when I was searching for something else altogether, i stumble upon your newsroom. Poor form.

So I’ve found it. Now what? There’s nothing on the front page i couldn’t find on the TV guide channel. Its just your programming schedule.

Oh, here’s a link to your “Daily Press Releases”. And there’s one press release. Where’s the good stuff?

Where’s the stories about you planting trees in local parks, where’s the story about the millions of dollars you’ve donated to communities and countries near and far? I’d even take a press release explaining your side of teh story in some crisis. But you’re giving me nothing! Heck, I know you’re doing this stuff, I found a small section on the ABC homepage about community involvement.

Lets take a look at some good newsrooms, shall we?

  • Coca-Cola – Notice how they shamelessly flaunt their good will actions and their environmental sustainability initiatives. They do that because thats the stuff we want to hear about. Not what is scheduled when…
  • Apple – Do you see the URL on that link? http://www.apple.com/pr. I’m not sure they could have made that easier to find.
  • CBS – If you want to know what you should probably be doing, look to the people who are doing it better than you. Here’s where your competition is making it in the media more than you. These headlines are something a journalist/blogger could work with.

I expected better from you ABC. Maybe you should hire me and I can fix this. Please see my resume and cover letter attached.

Yes, they have won more than just Emmys. But they did win an awful lot of them last year.

And while that may not be the measure of a great company or a solid public image, clearly they are doing they’re job right. They were nominated 76 times, and won 12 awards. That was good enough for tops over all three other broadcast networks.

HBO was the only network that brought home more hardware, but they have the distinct advantage of being able to produce higher budget shows without many of the hassles of the FCC.

But seriously, they did win more than just Emmy’s this year. In June, Michael Benson and Marla Provencio, executive VPs of marketing for ABC Entertainment, were honored at the Promax/BDA 2008 conference in New York with one of four inaugural Marketing Maverick Awards. Jointly presented by TelevisionWeek and Promax/BDA, the awards recognized the top marketing minds in television during the past year.

While its not an award they were trying to win, the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America named ABC the winner of its third annual “Misinformer of the Year” award in 2006. Not only for the highly controversial miniseries “The Path to 9/11“, but for the alleged conservative pandering of ABC News director Mark Halperin and for biased claims on news programs such as “ABC World News” and “Good Morning America.”

According to ABC Medianet’s description, “ABC News’ “Nightline” is television’s most esteemed Late-Night news program… “Nightline’s” anchors, correspondents, producers, and editors have won every major award in broadcast journalism, including eleven Peabody Awards, over twelve duPont-Columbia Awards, over a dozen Overseas Press Club Awards, scores of Emmys and many others.”

ABC has some catching up to do. If this were the Boston, they started in New hampshire. ABC bought its way into the big three, and it still has some work to do. ABC tends to fight itself alot.

Think about this. In the 80’s and 90’s all three major broadcasting companies were bought out. In the cases of NBC and CBS, they were bought out by large appliance and electric corporations. ABC is bought by the Walt Disney Company.

ABC is bought out by a company that had owned its own cable network since 1981. Disney was already in the business of providing entertainment. ABC and Disney had been working together since ABC helped to finance Disneyland in 1953.

ABC had exclusive rights to Walt Disney’s material for a long time, helping them to gain ground in market share. But as had always been the problem for ABC, they didn’t have the moeny to start broadcasting in Color when the first opportunities arose. So Disney took his show to NBC and renamed it ‘Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color”.

They have always been a step behind CBS and NBC, and once again they find themselves competing with their own parent company. Its a tough spot for ABC. When ABC succeeds, Disney prospers. When Disney’s operations do well, it could go either way.

The Disney Channel and ABC Family channels both compete for the same target market. When a Disney channel show is popular, it is likely tuning sets away from ABC.

But, the infusions of cash and resources from Disney have been  a life line of sorts for ABC. The merger brought with it touchstone pictures, and they began producing ABC’s original programing. In 2007 Touchstone changed its name to ABC Studios and is now the production company for all of ABC’s biggest primetime hits.

So, what does all of this mean in terms of challenges facing ABC in the road ahead? Their biggest challenge will be overcoming NBC and CBS with programing alone. With the least HD options available, ABC has to find a way to stand out from the crowd, and the best way to do that is by offering the best shows at the best times.

Next they need to get ahead of the curve. They have begun that process already by becoming an early adopter of providing full-length episodes on the web. The ability to access content when and where the user wants it has almost become an assumption in American culture.

Finally, they must figure out a way to get out from the shadow of the Walt Disney Company. Competing with the company that pays your bills is always difficult. Disney has given ABC leaps and bounds, but how far has it set it self back?

ABC is one of the biggest, if not the biggest broadcaster in America. (ABC often spins their rankings to indicate that they are the most watched network, but I suppose they all do…) As such, they have got a very large group of publics. So, I will break them down in to very broad groups for PR communication purposes.

Certainly the most important public for any service provider, especially television, is the viewer. Marketing and Advertising people will focus on the demographics and the average impressions per quarter hour, but we need not break down this public that far.

We know that there are men and women watching, and there are certainly viewers of every age. It is more important, unless you have a very specific target public for a very specific period of time, to keep your communications with this public universal and simple. Whether its running a PSA or an important news update, just keeping it basic is the best way to go. Its best to use a wide broom when sweeping up this group.

Another very important public for ABC is an internal public. Much of the programming they air is produced through in house production companies like ABC Studios, Disney Studios, or other studios that ABC has a long standing relationship with. The infrastructure for this communication is already in place, it is just important for the chain of communication to not break down.

Having to air a re-run because there was a hiccup in the supply chain is a quick way to get fired in the pressure cooker that is the entertainment industry.

Other publics include its employees, shareholders, and the FCC, which regulates the airwaves and grants licenses to broadcasters.

It takes two to tango, but it only takes one to televise it.

Grunig & Hunt defined four different models of PR Communication, and every company falls into one of them. (Here’s a brush up on them if you’re having trouble remembering your Intro to PR days). Well, most companies will tell you that they believe they run a two-way symmetric model, but in reality, the best most companies can hope for is the two-way asymmetric model. ABC is no different.

Try as they might, there public is far too large to truly ever have symmetrical communication taking place. very few individuals can truly claim to represent the whole, and so what one member wants, there are probably thousands who don’t want it, and vice versa.

They fall under the two-way asymmetric model because while they can’t possibly listen to everyone, they do actively do research into what their customers want via focus groups and viewer data. They can determine who is watching what, and they can then determine the why. Focus groups help to more closely narrow down what is working and what is not. But ultimately what matters to ABC is which shows will get the ratings, and which shows will not. As a result, they actively listen to their viewers desires, but they often prefer to change the publics’ attitudes rather than change a multi-million dollar show.

ABC knows that the people want to see Danny Bonnaduce dance, because the ratings and the focus groups say so, but they aren’t going to change the format of the show to put him and Johnny Fairplay as partners just because a few fan emails say they’d like to see it.