Sullivan & LeShane Public Relations, Inc. Garners Six 2020 PRSA-CT Mercury Awards, Including Four Gold

As we always say at Sullivan & LeShane: winning awards is nice, but it doesn’t compare with accomplishing our clients’ goals.

The Greater Connecticut Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA-CT) announced the winners of its 2020 Mercury Awards this week and Sullivan & LeShane Public Relations, Inc. took home six honors, including four Gold Mercury Awards, spotlighting work that we have done for our clients over the past year.

The Mercury Awards celebrate the best work in public relations in Connecticut and represent the highest honors in our industry. Sullivan & LeShane Public Relations’ work was recognized in the following categories this year:

Gold: Campaigns – Community Relations
Gold: Campaigns – Events & Observances Less Than Seven Days
Gold: Tactics – Executive Communications
Gold: Tactics – Collateral
Bronze: Campaigns – Reputation/Brand Management
Bronze: Campaigns – Events & Observances Less Than Seven Days

Sullivan & LeShane Public Relations, Inc. has now collected 20 Mercury Awards in the last four years, including CEO Paddi LeShane’s 2017 Practitioner of the Year Award. We congratulate the other honorees and thank the PRSA-CT for this recognition and its hard work in pulling off an awards program during such a challenging year.

Most importantly, we thank our clients for allowing us to do good work on their behalf in 2020.

On to 2021!

Reporters on the Record: Covering the Capitol During COVID (Part II)

READ: Reporters on the Record: Covering the Capitol During COVID (Part I)

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has made a profound mark on the way journalists cover the governor and state legislature. In this second installment—posted as the General Assembly wraps up its second special session of the COVID-19 era—we focus on what it’s like for the members of the State Capitol Press Corps to cover the legislature—which prematurely ended the 2020 legislative session in March and decamped the Capitol.

The legislature has returned twice for limited special sessions. In July, in the midst of a national awakening over racial injustice, the legislature narrowly passed a very controversial police reform law, and passed bills altering the state’s voting procedures, insurance coverage for tele-health, and insulin cost control.

This week—triggered by the response of the state’s two largest electric utility companies to the widespread power outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in August—the legislature passed new performance standards and storm-response requirements for electric, gas and water utilities. Other bills on the docket included changes to how absentee ballots are counted, some judicial nominations, a school construction bonding package and changes to a law regulating the sale of contaminated properties.

Under the traditional legislative process, bills are introduced, have public hearings, are voted on in committee and then make it to final action on the House and Senate floor. Health concerns prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, drastically altered the ways lawmakers operated.

In general, Connecticut’s state legislators are an open, chatty lot, providing fairly open access to the journalists who cover them. The State Capitol Press Corps has its own room overlooking the Capitol’s fourth floor, and reporters have desks reserved for them in the House and Senate chambers.

But when the 151-member House met in July and on September 30th, only a handful of lawmakers were in the chamber, the media’s desks were inaccessible and most of the House members were forced to watch the session and cast their votes from their offices in the Legislative Office Building (LOB). If they wanted to speak, they had to notify the Speaker of the House remotely and make the 10-minute walk from their LOB offices to the House floor.

The 36-member Senate had its own COVID-19 debate procedures, switching out name plates and sanitized microphones at a few designated desks where Senators took their turns speaking. They voted in small groups from their own desks in the Senate Chamber.

What was it like to cover the House and Senate in a Capitol normally full of energetic lawmakers, their staffs, lobbyists, other advocates and the public? Once again, we thank the three journalists who shared their insights on covering the Capitol during COVID-19:

  • Jodi Latina has spent time as a reporter, an elected official, a legislative staffer and chief of staff to New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart. She is currently in her second stint at News 8. As their Political Correspondent, Jodi covers policy and political stories coming out of the State Capitol, including major state and federal elections.
  • Christine Stuart has been editor of CTNewsJunkie.com since 2006, after nearly four years as a reporter at the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. Prior to that, she covered education and transportation issues at the State Capitol for the Hartford Advocate. In April 2020, Stuart joined NBC Connecticut as a political reporter, and appears on the station’s Face the Facts Sunday news program.
  • Christopher Keating has been the Hartford Courant’s Capitol Bureau Chief for 21 of the past 23 years, covering the past five governors from Lowell Weicker to Ned Lamont. After graduating from Fordham and Columbia, he worked for the Greenwich Time, covering politics and polo. He was named four times on The Washington Post’s list of top Connecticut political reporters.

With the Capitol and Legislative Office Building closed to the public, and House members voting from their offices in the LOB, what was it like to cover the police reform bill—one of the most provocative and closely followed pieces of legislation in recent years?

Keating: “It was a little weird. The July session started with a 10 a.m. ‘Back the Blue’ rally with hundreds of law enforcement members and supporters, rolling into 21 hours of debate in the House and 18 hours in the Senate the following day. And while the debate was passionate, it felt a bit antiseptic. The hurly-burly of Connecticut’s lawmaking process was gone. The typically crowded hallways were empty, and a House chamber that seats 151 members only held about 10 at a time.”

Latina: “Normally, there are many people from staffers to lobbyists and advocates trying to get their lawmaker or group in front of journalists to tell their story.

“This was not as ‘in your face.’ The leaders of the party caucuses and chairs of the relevant committees were available, and the press directors were on speed dial, and there were very few uncontrolled ‘gaggles’ where camera people and reporters jockeyed for position.

Therefore, Latina said, it was “extremely important” to cover the rally and the opposing demonstrators.

“We often talk about putting a face on a story to help viewers understand very complex issues. The protests around were full of diverse views and emotion that truly told the story.

Stuart: “It wasn’t difficult for the media to cover the debate, but it was difficult for lawmakers to be sequestered to their offices watching it on TV. The sense of comradery was missing.”

Transparency suffered, as well, Stuart noted.

“The lawmaking process is, by nature, interactive and features the give-and-take of persuasion and negotiation that often takes place in the public eye. The ability to sway votes was not transparent and it was hard for lobbyists to communicate with lawmakers. Most likely all of that happened through electronic communication.”

Do you think these new procedures will linger into the January 2021 convening of the next regular legislative session?

Latina: “Absolutely. However, debating in both chambers was very orchestrated. Several House lawmakers confided in me that they wanted the choice to go into the chamber to vote in the traditional sense, but were told to stay in their offices.

“This could be the course of action until the pandemic is ‘under control,’ whatever shape that takes. If I was a member of the public, or a lobbyist I might feel shut out of the process. Public listening sessions over Zoom and emailing testimony are not the same as an in person face-to-face conversation.”

Stuart: “The 2021 regular legislative session is around the corner. They really need to figure out how to return safely to the building or fully function remotely. Other legislatures have figured it out.

“Connecticut has been really slow to legislate anything during the pandemic, beyond special sessions, video forums that substitute for public hearings and other ways of enacting laws that will prove difficult to scale up in a regular session.”

Keating: “Legislative leaders should be careful not to institute an artificial layer between lawmakers and the press. We all use the legislature’s online tools to access bills and amendments, but until COVID, every time the P.A. system announced a House or Senate roll call vote, I knew I could find members filing in and out of the chambers to talk to. That’s where you get the story behind the story, and it just doesn’t happen when it’s done like this.”

If you could make one change to the way that COVID-19 has altered your coverage of state government, what would it be?

Stuart: “As I mentioned before, journalists figured out how to get information in new and different ways, and we’ve adjusted how we gather the news. I think the hardest thing about COVID is trying to find how to adjust our work and home balance. How do you educate your child while asking the governor a question and sending a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Health all at the same time?”

Latina: “I can say it three letters: C.T.N.—the Connecticut Network. CT-N had its funding cut a few years back—but it has been a Godsend to both news outlets and the public. CT-N is essential and should be properly funded. Many times when we can’t have a camera at an event, CT-N is there and we are able to tap into their footage. They have become a major public service resource that is priceless in covering government during these strange times.”

Keating: “I’d love to have everyone back here as soon as it’s safe to do so. I’m not a huge fan of the way the special sessions were held, but we all understand the valid health reasons not to do so right now. We just get better information in person. But you play the game with the cards you’re dealt. When you have 47 cards, you play with 47 cards, and that’s what we’ll have to do.”

Facebook is No Longer Limiting Text on Your Ad Images – Chris Zaccaro

I’m giving a thumbs up to Facebook for finally doing away with its infamous, long-in-the-tooth 20% rule.

Until now, Facebook discouraged its advertisers from using images with more than 20% text, either by limiting an ad’s reach or by flat out rejecting the ad altogether. Their public justification was that images with less text performed better—they also implied that it would keep news feeds cleaner and less overwhelming.

However, as many marketers will testify, image text captures your audience’s attention and it allows you to share extra information or calls to action that may not work within the copy of an ad. And I think we can all agree that Facebook is WAY past the point of being overwhelming these days. A text heavy ad may just leave you “whelmed.”

This move by Facebook has been an oddly quiet one, with no real, public announcement being made by the social media behemoth. But news of the 20% rule’s demise has been circulating in the blogosphere—including Social Media Today, who credits social media expert Matt Navarra with the official confirmation.

So go forth designers! Make that call to action larger or add that extra line of text. No one is stopping you now!

How to Spot Unreliable News

With the fourth quarter about to begin, 2020 has been a tough year for everybody—from the COVID-19 pandemic to social justice issues, peaceful and violent protests, economic difficulties and extreme—some would even say dangerous—partisanship at the national level.

The news media has had its hands full with an abundance of content to share with their audiences over the past nine months, and while the relationship between Americans and the news media continues to be complex, the public has given the media high marks on their coverage of COVID-19 and the protests following the killing of George Floyd.

So, what’s next 2020?
As if producing a show, conducting an interview or submitting an article by deadline during normal circumstances wasn’t hard enough, the coming three months should pose more tests for media members, who have already been through the trying experience of adapting their jobs to social distancing, while still providing us the news of the day.

With hurricane season, wildfires in the west, the dramatic final leg of the race for the White House, and its political aftermath, an open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, a long-rumored “second spike” in COVID-19 cases, continued protests and calls for social justice reform, the fate of students and teachers in school and on college campuses, the NFL and college football kicking off during a pandemic and–of course–the return of pumpkin spice, there’s going to be a lot going on, with many still at home to watch it all play out.

Stay informed, be smart
Staying informed is important, and there are many platforms to help you do so. However, in an era where breaking news is widely distributed as quickly as possible, bots and trolls roam wild on social media and biases are regularly injected into coverage, it’s critical to know how to identify reliable news sources. Here are some tips on how to do so:

Consider the Source: Seek information from a news source with a long and reputable track record. These days the internet is littered with conspiracy websites, social media pages and personal blogs that will try to frame their content and opinion as fact.

When reviewing content from an unfamiliar source, try to detect if there is a motive or bias behind their reporting. If you’re online, take a look at the writing or layout of the website. If there are odd misspellings, poor grammar or the layout is difficult to read, that should raise your suspicion. Most reputable media outlets ensure their online content is edited and well-attended to.

Identify the Author: A reputable reporter stands behind their work and is accountable for what they publish. If you come across an outlet or platform that does not list its authors or reporters, you should consider that content questionable.

Vet the Source or Author: There are easy ways to figure out if a questionable source is reputable. Do they have a verification badge on social media? Do they have a small or odd following on social media? What does a Google search on the source provide? Are they labeling news as “important” or “breaking” when no other outlets are? Be cautious— just like you would with a spoof website or suspicious email. You wouldn’t trust your personal information to someone suspicious, so why trust a suspicious source with shaping how you’re informed?

Understand Fact vs. Opinion: It’s important to know the difference between opinion and reporting. With reporting, you’re supposed to get the “who, what, where, when and why.” Real news should contain facts and insights. Columns, editorials and op-ed pieces are made for opinion. If a purported news story strays from the facts and renders opinion, start asking yourself who would present this information and why.

Follow the Money: There are two types of media companies—nonprofit and commercial. Nonprofits rely on funding from contributions, sponsorships and grants—which they regularly acknowledge. Commercial media raises revenue through advertising or subscription. If you’re unable to see where a news source gets its money, then consider the outlet’s purpose and who or what it may be serving.

Don’t Believe EVERYTHING You See: A picture is worth a thousand words, but that doesn’t mean those words are true—at least on the internet. Very often, especially on conspiracy sites and social media, photographs and videos are recycled or altered in an attempt to deceive. Beware of videos that are heavily edited and/or showing remarkable things that you’ve never seen or heard about elsewhere. If a photo seems suspicious, perform a reverse image search through Google Image. That will help you see where else the photo has been used on the internet.

If the first half of 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to prepare for a potentially rocky second half. These tips should help you to identify legitimate news that will keep you informed and—hopefully—a little safer. If you ever want to investigate peculiar news or statements you’ve come across, check out factcheck.org, a nonprofit consumer advocate that monitors the factual accuracy in the U.S.

Reporters on the Record: Covering the Capitol During COVID (Part I)


by Brian Flaherty
Sullivan & LeShane Public Relations

It’s one thing to have a story worth telling. It’s another to have that story told—and heard—in the echo chamber that surrounds the Connecticut State Capitol.

The relationship between Connecticut’s state government and news media predates the formation of our nation. The Fundamental Orders established Connecticut as a self-ruled colony in 1639, and a century and a quarter later, in 1764, the Connecticut Courant started its run as the oldest continuously published newspaper in the United States.

Today, the Fundamental Orders reside on Hartford’s Capitol Avenue in the building that houses the State Library and Museum and serves as the seat of the Connecticut Supreme Court. Across the street you’ll find the Governor and the General Assembly in the State Capitol, along with the men and women of the State Capitol Press Corps.

On any given day you can expect to see the reporters roaming the Capitol corridors talking with the governor or lieutenant governor, other constitutional officers, legislators and their staff. Until now.

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has made a profound mark on the way journalists cover the governor and state legislature. The legislature adjourned in March, empowering Gov. Ned Lamont to steer the ship of state by executive order. He has issued roughly 70 to date. The State Capitol and Legislative Office Building (LOB) are closed to the public and Gov. Lamont has entirely changed the manner of his interaction with the press corps.

We are profoundly grateful that three veteran journalists who cover the Capitol shared their insights with us on doing their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jodi Latina has spent time as a reporter, an elected official, a legislative staffer and chief of staff to New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart. She is currently in her second stint at News 8. As their Political Correspondent, Jodi covers policy and political stories coming out of the State Capitol, including major state and federal elections.

Christine Stuart has been editor of CTNewsJunkie.com since 2006, after nearly four years as a reporter at the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. Prior to that, she covered education and transportation issues at the State Capitol for the Hartford Advocate. In April 2020, Stuart joined NBC Connecticut as a political reporter, and appears on the station’s Face the Facts Sunday news program.

Christopher Keating has been the Hartford Courant’s Capitol Bureau Chief for 21 of the past 23 years, covering the past five governors from Lowell Weicker to Ned Lamont. After graduating from Fordham and Columbia, he worked for the Greenwich Time, covering politics and polo. He was named to The Washington Post’s list of top Connecticut political reporters four times.

A governor in a pandemic

As we’ve noted before, Connecticut is used to getting it straight from our governors, especially when the chips are down—from Ella Grasso during the Blizzard of ’78, all of her successors have seen us through weather events and tragedies, often at the state’s Emergency Operations Center located in the State Armory in the Capitol complex.

That is where Gov. Lamont began briefing Connecticut in February. By March, after needing more elbow room for safe social distancing and a way to provide a more consistent feed for the American Sign Language interpreter, his team established the practice of holding daily briefings in the State Capitol’s Old Appropriations Room, with the media in attendance—remotely.

Rather than filling the room with their pads and microphones, reporters ask their questions via telephone after having their names called off a list by Max Reiss, Gov. Lamont’s communications director (and a former Capitol reporter). To veteran Capitol-watchers, it’s a bizarre new world.

Q: What challenges did this new format present in covering the administration?

Latina described a bracing moment when it became clear to her things had changed.

“Let’s go back to March. All of the Capitol Press Corps was lined up facing a podium where the governor would give his briefing, there were no masks, no social distancing and the state epidemiologist said, ‘If you live in Fairfield County and you have a cough and a fever, you should assume you have COVID-19.’

“Operations quickly pivoted,” Latina explained. “Daily calls, texts and zooms filled the void of in-person interviews. I covered the day-to-day story and we had a night-side reporter cover the governor’s 4 p.m. daily briefings.”

Stuart pointed to a remark by The New York Times’ Peter Baker in a recent POLITICO article as emblematic of most reporters following public officials and politicians: “We’re all watching from the outside.”

“There is less access to the administration,” Stuart said. “Interview requests have been denied and information has not been forthcoming because the relationships are frayed and everyone seems to be on edge. [This is] all understandable, but less access to information is not something that’s welcomed by the media.”

Keating: “At the beginning, they really didn’t know what to do,” said Keating. “They held some briefings at the Emergency Response Center, then outside at the Governor’s Residence, and within about a month they settled into the remote routine where we call in and wait to be called.

“We practiced it multiple times with the Governor’s staff,” Keating added. “And while the briefings go relatively smoothly now, you really need to be on your toes. First, you don’t know when you’re going to be called, and if someone has already asked your question, you need to have backups ready.”

“Follow-up questions can be tough, too. When you’re in person, the governor can generally tell if you’ve got another question. Also, sometimes we reporters will quietly signal each other if we’re onto a hot topic and need a little more time to finish. You can’t do either of those things on the phone.”

Stuart agreed: “Instead of being able to shout out a question or follow up on a question asked by another reporter you have to wait to be called upon. So they are less organic and it’s harder to build on a narrative that usually emerges when we are collectively able to ask questions at will.”

Q: What opportunities did this new format present?

Latina: “A never-ending spigot of information during a pandemic. The story from the time the sun rose to the time the sun set would evolve 10 times. There would be news from the ground that a certain sector of the safety net was shredding. Next, there were hundreds of non-profits unable to get personal protective gear, no direction on how to handle COVID-19-positive patients in group home settings, people lost their jobs and schools shut down.

“But there the governor and his staff were, lined up to answer questions and sometimes raise an eyebrow to a new situation that now they had to investigate. Communication is key and in a crisis of this magnitude. I truly believe the administration was learning as much as journalists were in real time.”

Keating: “We maintained pretty good access to the governor and his people. [Former] Gov. Malloy typically wanted to be the one to deliver the news, but Lamont relies more on his people. As a consequence, you’re generally able to get your questions answered.”

Stuart: “I think COVID has proved the value of the news media and the jobs we do getting information. We’ve had to figure out how to get information in new and different ways, but we’ve adjusted.”

Q: Do you think this trend will continue?

All three agreed that this routine of gubernatorial news briefings would generally continue for COVID, with modifications.

Latina: “The pattern, I believe, will remain. The trend has continued but at a much slower speed. The administration’s briefings have settled into a Monday, Thursday 4 p.m. staged briefing pattern with on-the-road events Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

The information on health metrics is extremely important to staying on top of the pandemic. If the metrics climb again, as is anticipated with flu season around the corner, we may see the road show stop and the daily 4 p.m. briefing come back.

Stuart said she believed that beyond the new way of interacting with the media, the method of governing by executive order would continue, as well.

“I don’t believe things will change. They will simply get harder and harder. The governor just extended his emergency order, which expires in September, to February which would be bad for democracy.

“This week’s challenge by legislative Republicans to a blanket extension of the emergency order was the first sign of stirring in the legislative branch, which has generally been happy to sit on the sideline in an election year as the administration takes the heat.”

Next up: Covering the legislature

Speaking of the legislative branch, in our next installment, Latina, Stuart and Keating weigh in on the General Assembly. The state Senate and House of Representatives returned to the Capitol in July for one-day sessions in each chamber, operating under an extraordinarily changed process characterized by social distance, restricted attendance and House members voting remotely from their offices in the LOB.

What was it like to cover an especially unique special session?

Stay tuned!

Americans trust health orgs, but still turn to the news on social media – by Chris Zaccaro

Back in April we reported that the Pew Research Center discovered Americans had been far more trusting of the World Health Organization (WHO) than the media when it came to reliable information about COVID-19. But recent research from Pew shows American Facebook users have been FAR more likely to share coronavirus information from a news agency than a health agency like the WHO.

This comes after Global Web Index’s April 2020 Report on Media Consumption and Sport stated only 37% of Americans believed TV news channels were a trustworthy source.

In March, when the pandemic was at its scariest point, 75% of coronavirus-related Facebook posts with a link were linking back to news organizations. Just a measly 1% of shared posts linked to health care websites—such as the WHO, CDC or other state and federal health agencies.

You were also far more likely to see higher engagement on a news organization’s post than that of a health or science agency. More than likely this is because there are probably more news outlets to follow on Facebook than anything else—and outlets and journalists are extremely active with their social outreach.

Even though much criticism has been thrown at Facebook this year and many are bearish on its future popularity, data shows the platform still remains the undisputed king of social media. Over the course of the lockdown the social network experienced record usage and had many eyes on its news feeds.

This helps demonstrate that, even though overall trust in the news and social media is down, people still turn to them to get their information. *Not only that, it’s what they’re sharing with people they care about too.

We recently cited a number of examples of local industry leaders who, in the middle of the crisis, shared positive stories by working with the media. Based on this recent report, their efforts were well worth it. It all goes to show that a media appearance is still one of the most successful avenues for positioning yourself as a subject matter expert or effectively sharing your story.

*You should always verify your sources of information before sharing it with others—especially on serious matters like the coronavirus. Facebook, like many other social media platforms, is a forum where misinformation spreads easily and often.

The Big Picture: Adobe Photoshop Camera Review – by Chris Zaccaro

“(You’re) picture-perfect, you don’t need no filter.” – Justin Bieber

Aw, thanks Biebs. The capability of today’s smartphone cameras is pretty incredible, but the reality is often times you still don’t get the final quality you’re looking for in a photo. And whether you’re distributing a press release, creating a social media post, designing a PowerPoint or developing marketing materials, including high quality images can make all the difference in capturing your audience’s attention.

So here’s some good news designed to make those photos pop. Photoshop Camera, from Adobe, is an impressive and useful new smartphone app that was released just last week. It’s now available for download in Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store.

Photoshop Camera allows you to use lenses and apply filters to photos either in your camera roll or to photos you capture using the app itself. It uses AI technology to recognize the type of photo you’re taking—selfie, portrait, landscape, food, etc.—and provides you recommended filters and fixes to boost the overall quality of the image. This is a plus if you haven’t yet booked your post-quarantine hair appointment.

Other apps provide similar services, but Photoshop Camera wins with its balance of strong features, ease of use and notable speed—providing users an affordable and portable alternative to professional cameras or high-end photo editing software (like its namesake, Photoshop).

If you’re away from your PC, live-tweeting at an event or rushing to post an online article, this app can allow you to capture and edit your photos fast, providing quick turnaround while maintaining high quality. After all, it’s as much the image as the headline—if not more so—that grabs your audience’s attention.

When it comes time to download your final image, the app provides one-click cropping options—so you have the exact dimensions you need for the platforms or space you’re using (square, Instagram 4:5 or 5:4, 16:9, 3:4 and a couple others). It makes sharing easy too. You can post directly to your social from the app or send to a friend or colleague over messenger platforms and email.

If you’re constantly taking and sharing photos from your phone, then you should definitely give it a try. It could make the difference in your next project or post being “picture-perfect.”

Here are some before and after examples to give you a better picture—each of these were enhanced in under 60 seconds.

 


 


 


 


The Value of Working with the Media in a Time of Crisis – by Dan Tapper

Many years ago I worked as a daily newspaper reporter, and was writing a story about a beloved restaurant in the Greater Hartford community that was celebrating a milestone anniversary. While figuring out how to tell the story in a memorable way, I happened to upon a couple who was celebrating the restaurant’s anniversary—and their own. They volunteered that they had been married at that very location on the very day it opened.

Bam! What a great story!

I thanked this charming couple and asked: why had they had never told this great story through the media before.

Their response? “Nobody ever asked us.”

Just four words, but they spoke volumes: How will the media know a good story exists if no one offers to share it with them?

That blast from the past has come to mind quite a bit during these months of disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic. Where telling memorable, positive stories through the media has not been a luxury, but a necessity.

Why? People know about the bad news. They want to see responsiveness and engagement from those in charge—political leaders, business leaders, community leaders. They want to be reassured and they need to be kept informed.

Good examples abound. Banks and credit unions engaged with the media right away, reassuring people that their money was safe and that their personal mortgages would not be in jeopardy. Senior care communities found ways to keep people in touch with their parents despite visitation restrictions. Nonprofits and community organizations worked tirelessly to reach people in need and large companies delivered lunches to overworked health workers. Medical professionals showed their patients how to switch to telemedicine. These examples set a steady drumbeat of actionable information through challenging times—and through positive news stories.

For 30 years I have worked with the Connecticut media, both as a reporter and a public relations professional, and I’ve seen newsroom staffs steadily decrease over that time. But those lower numbers create opportunities. The media often welcomes help in finding those stories, because the staffing levels simply don’t provide much time to seek them out. The key is to get there first—the ability to pitch and package an interesting story in a way that allows for quick turnaround becomes currency, and being nimble when pitching stories is as important a trait as any.

This is particularly true of positive news stories; sadly, we have faced more than our share of negative, tragic stories, but the media also wants to tell stories that inspire as they inform. It’s our job to get those stories into their hands—community success stories, local champions, informational articles, inspiring photo opportunities and more.

These are stories that need to be told and can greatly help the public. But if we don’t engage with the media, we’ll wind up like that couple I met all those years ago—having a great story to tell, but no one asking to hear it.

Telework 101: Keep Your Passwords Strong and Accounts Safe – by Chris Zaccaro

“You know what, Toby, when the son of the deposed king of Nigeria emails you directly, asking for help, you help! His father ran the country! OK?”

With those words, Dunder Mifflin’s inimitable Michael Scott, proved that even a successful eight-time Dundie Award Winner is not immune to all the traps on the internet.

The “stay home, stay safe,” way of life ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic has made us more reliant on technology than ever before. According to the Pew Research Center over half of the U.S. population says the internet has been “essential” during the pandemic. It has allowed employees to keep working, students to keep learning and adults to keep shopping and paying bills.

But the internet has also made us more susceptible to bad actors, malware and online scams—and there are countless ways that someone can cause lasting damage to your financials, data, files and reputation. So while you are taking the steps to protect your personal safety, and that of your employees, customers and/or clients, don’t overlook the security of your online accounts.

With that in mind, here are some important tips to protect yourself and your company.

Ensure your personal and professional passwords are both strong and secure. Google’s Password Checkup (passwords.google.com) can help manage your passwords in Chrome and Android. This service notifies you if your accounts are already compromised or potentially vulnerable, allowing you to make changes to your credentials—hopefully—before any damage is done.

Never share passwords online. If a co-worker needs a password, provide the information over the phone. Also, avoid using your passwords on any shared devices. If you need to use your password on a shared device, be sure to log out afterward—then double-check by revisiting the login page to make sure you’re logged out and that your credentials were not saved.

Don’t use the same password—or something close to it—on multiple accounts. According to a Google survey from last year, “52% of people use the same password for multiple (but not all) accounts.” Don’t give someone a 50/50 shot at accessing another account by using the same password. Make sure passwords for each of your online accounts are different and be sure change them at least every quarter.

Here are some other useful cybersecurity tips that can help keep you and your company protected as this teleworking era continues…

• Avoid opening emails that seem suspicious—and definitely do not click on any links or attachments from people you do not know. Even what appears to be a harmless sales pitch could be a ploy.

• If you receive a suspicious or oddly worded email from someone you do know, either from them directly or through a third-party, play it safe and follow up with them in a separate email. It’s possible they may have been compromised and you’re the next target.

• Never download anything from a website you’re not familiar with. Take a few minutes, perform some Google searches, ask your IT Department and find out if the source is reputable and safe. If you can’t find information on them, take a pass and find a different option.

• Create a point of contact within your company where employees can report suspicious emails or other cyber threats. If one employee received something suspicious, it’s very likely another will too. The point of contact should communicate to your team what’s going on and provide guidance so that everyone is aware, prepared and on the same page.

• Reduce where payment information is stored. The fewer places it lives, the harder it will be to find. If you do not need to store payment information on a certain website, don’t!

This way, when you get an email from the former crown prince of any nation, you’ll be a little better equipped than Michael Scott!

COVID-19 has changed our media habits – by Chris Zaccaro

A ton has changed since COVID-19 reached our shores and most of us were sent home to wait it all out—especially the volume of content we’ve been consuming to both inform and entertain ourselves.

With nowhere to be and no one to see, people have been predictably relying on their at-home televisions, smartphones and devices. Nearly 90% of Americans say they are consuming more content than before the pandemic, with most turning to broadcast television, online videos and online TV.

On the other side of the coin, consumers have been turning away from other mediums such as podcasts as they leave their daily commutes, visits to the gym and other regular outside-the-home activities behind.

Podcast consumption, which was up an impressive 31% from the beginning of the year, has been slowly dipping since March, dropping around 10% over the last few weeks (according to Podtrac, which reports on podcast trends). This is not surprising, and it’s probably safe to expect podcast and radio listening to increase once people are back to commuting to work, getting their workouts in, hosting parties and lounging at the pool or beach. So, keep that impressive pre-pandemic podcast growth rate in mind if you are thinking about developing a series of your own.

What are people looking for?

According to the Global Web Index’s April 2020 Report on Media Consumption and Sport, the largest amount of online activity (68% of consumers) has been searches for coronavirus information—and that applies across all demographics and generations, except for 16-23 year olds who are more likely to be searching for music, naturally.

While the numbers clearly show a continued demand for updates on the pandemic and recovery rates, many people are ready to start seeing positive and local stories again. We have seen Connecticut news stations focusing on positive news in recent weeks, which I think we can all agree is welcome during this challenging time. This is something brands and organizations should now be thinking about and considering, as the curve begins to flatten and the “stay safe, stay home” way of life begins to ease.

Who are consumers turning to?

When it comes to trustworthy sources for COVID-19 information, twice as many Americans trust the World Health Organization (WHO) more than news websites (30%). Sadly, TV news channels are not doing much better (37%). Think about that statistic for a moment: only 37% of Americans think news channels have trustworthy information about the coronavirus in the midst of a global emergency.

Interestingly, the communications firm Edelman published a special edition of its annual Trust Barometer Report, which reveals that employers are considered to be the most credible sources of information related to coronavirus. According to Edleman, “Employees want to be informed beyond the effect on the company, including advice on travel and what can be done to stop the spread of the virus. They want to get the information via email or newsletter (48%), posts on the company website (33%) and phone/video conferences (23%).

Many are turning to online and streaming entertainment, with people reporting they are more likely to pay a subscription for an entertainment service, like Netflix or Disney+, than a trustworthy news source. That may be partially due to the lack of trust noted in the Global Web Index Report, but more likely it’s the need for escapism during this challenging time and the plethora of free news on the internet—which as we know, is not all trustworthy.

It’s also not new news. As we reported last year in our State of the Media Market, only 15% of adults here in the Hartford area actually pay for local news.

What’s happening on social?

Overall and unsurprisingly, social media usage is up—but people aren’t just talking about Tiger King, dancing to Tik Tok and crying about Tom Brady and Gronk. Who the Giants beat twice in the Super Bowl I might add.

LinkedIn has seen a sharp increase in its professional development courses since the stay at home orders were put in place. As per LinkedIn, “In the first week of April, people watched 1.7 million hours of learning content on LinkedIn Learning vs. 560,000 hours in the first week of January – a 3X increase in time spent learning.”

This means people are sharpening their skills as they’re working at home or seeking a new job, signaling that now is the time to leverage LinkedIn to highlight your industry knowledge or your organization’s capabilities.

Watch the trends, and plan ahead

Everyone hopes that this time will pass and we can restore a sense of relative normalcy to our daily lives sooner than later. These trends may be temporary or they may repeat themselves in the fall/winter months if COVID-19 levels climb again, as the CDC has warned us. We will be watching and keeping you informed as we all look ahead to the future.  

As we pointed out last week, now is the time to plan. The businesses that will endure beyond this pandemic are busy preparing and planning to innovate and renovate their business plans, product lines and services right now, so when they emerge from these challenging times they are ready to renew and rebuild.

Please remember you can find a trove of information on COVID-19, with resources from the state and federal government at ct.gov/Coronavirus.

Stay safe, everyone.