Bracing for a PR Season of Discontent

The summer is coming to a sad end as the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina is felt across the Gulf Coast. The headlines will, no doubt, be dominated by Katrina-related news for the next few weeks.

As public relations professionals, it’s important to understand what drives the news cycle. Natural disasters and terrorist attacks aside, the news cycle is a well-planned out affair, as editors, producers and journalists track trends and keep abreast of news beneath the surface. With the Labor Day holiday upon us in the U.S., I wanted to take a look at what I think will drive the news cycle during the remainder of the year.

John Roberts’ Confirmation Hearing: Old wounds and new wounds will be open on Tuesday, September 6, when the Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary begins John Roberts’ Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Expect the rhetoric from both sides to ratchet up and dominate the domestic headlines in tandem with the aftermath of Katrina.

Iraq: Open a newspaper or turn on the television. The problems here and abroad surrounding Iraq are enormous. Far from “mission accomplished” the White House is facing pressure from its own party, the public, and nations abroad to develop a clear mission and timetable for withdrawal.

Terrorism: With the recent bombings in London, the threat of terrorism here and abroad remains real and uncertain.

North Korea and Iran: The “Axis of Evil” countries already generate daily headlines, but evidence suggests that this is just the beginning of a long news cycle.

Energy Prices: Oil topped $70 per barrel for the first time ever on Monday as Hurricane Katrina forced the shutdown of offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Natural gas prices also reached an all-time high, and coal producers greeted the potential tightening of energy supplies with open arms. The big story in the next few months, however, will be the cost of heating oil, especially if the autumn chill hits early.

The Economy: You may soon be reading a lot of stories about the “inverted yield curve,” and if you do, this is not a good thing. The last four times the yield curve – the gap between the 2-year and 10-year U.S. Treasury note yields – inverted, the U.S. economy plunged into a recession.

Real Estate: Is the bubble about to burst? The tightening yield curve is lining up mortgage lenders for disasters, which would crimp homebuilding starts. This, in turn, will lead to slower sales of lumber, aluminum and all those other materials that go into houses. The bursting of the housing market will put an end to “condo flipping,” and the media will be quick to pounce on stories about people who got caught holding the bag. (Remember the stories about investors who lost all their money on dot-com stocks?)

Consumer Credit: Historically low interest rates have been terrible for credit card companies. Why? Homeowners have been able to refinance their homes and draw down on “easy” money. But these days are coming to an end, which means that consumers will start piling up debt on their credit cards again. It also means that we’ll see less consumer spending.

Consumer Confidence: Are you spending more money now than you did a year ago? According to the latest figures, most of us are not. High energy prices, rising interest rates, slower economic growth, inflationary pressures and continued geo-political problems could set retailers up for a disappointing holiday season.

Freight Problems: The U.S. railroad industry can’t move goods – especially commodities like coal – fast enough, and the trucking industry is facing a number of problems. Katrina’s damage to ports in the New Orleans could further exacerbate the problem.

Skilled Blue-Collar Worker Shortage: It’s a good time to be a coal miner, oil rig worker and truck driver because companies can’t find and/or retain skilled blue-collar workers fast enough. There are ample signs that a serious problem is in the making.

Alan Greenspan’s Departure: Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is slated to retire (he has no choice) early next year. Greenspan’s replacement will be big news, and the new direction of the Fed will be bigger news, impacting every aspect of the economy.

Hollywood: It’s been a disastrous year at the box office, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better. Shifts in consumer habits (surfing the web, video games, etc.) and DVDs (cheaper, faster release schedules) have taken their toll on Hollywood, and the entire movie industry, right down to your local video store. Will a new Hollywood emerge? That’s the question many in the industry are asking.

Internet Takeovers: Offline companies continue to look online for takeover targets, and online companies are once again scrambling to scale through acquisition. Industry watchers, such as myself, expect a number of ‘Net related deals in the coming months.

Telecom vs. Cable: Verizon’s acquisition of MCI, SBC Communication’s takeover of AT&T, and Sprint’s merger with Nextel have radically changed the telecom industry – and more change is in sight. The growing turf battle between the telecoms and cable operators generates headlines in the tech, media and consumer spaces. It’s not just about voice-over-Internet-protocol (“VoIP”) anymore; it’s all about the “triple-play” (voice, data, video).

Video Game Violence: A longtime friend on Capitol Hill recently told me that this will become a hot topic in the coming months. “It’s about kids, and there’s really no defense for this level of violence being thrown at us,” he told me. “This is an issue where everyone can look good by coming against the game-makers.”

Winter Olympic Games: Slated for mid-February 2006 in Turin, Italy, the Olympics will probably not begin generating significant headlines until January. It’s never too early to get in on the action though.

Baseball: Will the post-season wipe out the steroid headlines? Doubtful. If the New York Yankees don’t make the playoffs, you can expect less national interest and coverage.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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