Monthly Archives: February 2009

PRKent and Obama’s Education Goals

Chased the treadmill again this morning. And not because of the temperature. It’s mild in NE Ohio: around 50 at 5 a.m. But the wind is gusting at around 40 mph — and don’t we always run into the wind? Oh, well. It gave me the chance to catch up on the news. And one of the big stories is Obama’s budget — and his plans for education.

And there is a relationship between Obama’s goals for education and a public relations campaign currently under way by students at Kent State. Give me a paragraph or two and I’ll get back to the PRKent story.

First, I have no clue as to whether Obama is taking the correct path to fixing our economy or getting us ready for an era of green jobs and so on. But I know this. He is absolutely correct about the critical need to improve education — and improve it so young people can succeed in today’s competitive world economy and rapidly changing workplace.

By the time it takes me to write and post these comments — about an hour — around 300 children in the United States will have made the decision to drop out of high school. That’s an average of 7,000 a day — more than a million a year. That’s a crisis — and Obama and many others know it.

He also knows that even a high school education is not enough these days — not as we continue the march (ready or not, right or not) from an industrial-based to a knowledge-based economy. Here’s what the Prez told Congress earlier this week:

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

This is an ambitious goal; it’s a complex problem and challenge that stretches from the classroom to the living room of just about everyone in this country. And federal money will help — but it won’t be the final answer.

OK. Here is where PRKent comes in. Middle school and high school students need to be engaged — they need role models — they need mentors — they need advice — they need some assurance that a commitment to education will eventually help them succeed — and with costs of a college education escalating, they need some realistic plan and idea about paying for it. And importantly, they need this insight, information and perspective as soon as possible.

The Kent public relations students have designed and are implementing a program aimed at this type of engagement. Admittedly, it’s limited in scope — but like many activities under way thoughout our country now,  it could serve as a model if successful. And small model programs replicated throughout the country — such as Year-Up and STRIVE — get big results.

Five Kent State public relations students have planned and are currently implementing College: RockIt! — a grassroots campaign designed to raise awareness of the importance of early college preparation and the value of a degree among middle school students and parents.

Rebecca Odell, one of the students involved in the campaign, says: “In today’s economy, a college education is more important than ever. We want middle school students and their parents to realize the value of a college degree and early college preparation and the range of available financial resources.”

And here’s from a news release, College: Rockit! Campaign Blasts Off:

College: Rockit! is part of the Bateman competition, a national contest encouraging groups of public relations students to research, plan and implement a PR campaign for a real-world client.  Bateman is sponsored by the Public Relations Student Society of America, and the 2009 client is the Consumer Bankers Association. The project focuses on promoting the CBA’s educational outreach program, College Bound Aid.

More specifics about College: RockIt! are available at www.collegerockit.wordpress.com.

OK. Here’s the full disclosure. I was until the end of the last school year a member of the public relations faculty at Kent State. I know the five students involved in this project — and attended a meeting with them early in the semester when they were beginning to plan the campaign. And I hope they win the Bateman competition. I have no idea what other PR programs do with something like this. But it strikes me that Kent’s campaign has both solid strategy and implementation going for it.

More importantly, I know these kind of small, personal programs work if they engage the right audiences with the right messages. And many times middle school and high school teachers just don’t have the time or resources to do this. Many national organizations now are working to help businesses and others engage more effectively with educators and policy makers.

So I hope you will take a minute and visit the College: RockIt! site. I’m sure the students would welcome your comments about the campaign.

And the next time I get an e-mail from Barack, I’ll reply and let him know that helping middle and high school students succeed will involve some big thinking and some big bucks. But it will also involve some role models, mentoring and personal engagement on the part of a whole lot of people in this country. Maybe he will want to take a look at what PRKent is doing.

Diets and Fat Tuesday

Almost like spring in NE Ohio this morning. Hit the concrete at 5 a.m. with temps near 45 — and with the garbage trucks on the prowl. Life is good. And I’ve been doing this now for almost 30 years.

Still, like many (most?) people, I battle to maintain my weight. And it ain’t easy — despite the fact that I run more than a 1,000 miles a year, every year. So I was intrigued by the print and broadcast stories this week that highlighted the results of four types of diets. Yeah. Health issues related to being overweight are a big problem, and health-care expenses in this country are getting bigger. And diets and dieting advice are big businesses and getting bigger. This also is an example of PR media relations strategy. What better time to release a study about diets than during the week of Fat Tuesday, when millions of people have stuffed their cheeks with paczki and other sugar-laden, artery clogging goodies?

Here’s from the article in USA Today:

When all is said and done, it comes down to calories.

A landmark study shows that people can lose weight on a variety of diets — including low-fat plans and low-carb ones — as long as they consume fewer calories.

Yes, it does seem like common sense, but weight loss has become a big business. Diet programs and best-selling books offer a banquet of different approaches, including cutting fats or cutting carbohydrates.

To get to the heart of the matter, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health financed a two-year study of hundreds of overweight people. The research was conducted by experts at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, part of the Louisiana State University system.

OK. On the surface, simple enough. Eat less — or at least eat better. Exercise more. Well, not quite that simple. And advice about dieting and exercise, even when well intentioned, is not sufficient.

I believe in exercise. It benefits the mind and the body. But even running more than 1,000 miles a year I can still gain weight. And my diet ain’t that bad. Trust me.

The problems?

  1. Very difficult to count calories. And who knows for sure what the right level is for your body? And when. I know people who have trained for a marathon, increased their running significantly, and still gained weight. Why? They may have developed more muscle. Most likely they are eating more — and if at all like me — tend to be too tired to do much else other than run.
  2. Your body adapts over time to exercise. Consequently, you have to work harder to get the same results. I only run and lift weights moderately. My body has adapted to that level of exercise. So I probably should do other things — bike, climb steps and so on. Nah. That looks like work.
  3. As you get older, your metabolism tends to slow down. I had that discussion with my doctor again last week. So you either increase the amount of exercise and exertion — or decrease calories — or both. Good luck at any age. I’m in my early 60s.
  4. It could be your thyroid. I’ve written about this previously — and it’s disappointing to me that the many stories on diets don’t at least mention this. It’s an easy blood test, but many (most?) doctors overlook it. And the result of an under-active thyroid: weight gain, fatigue, problems sleeping and mood swings that often lead to an unwarranted treatment for depression.

The reason I was talking to my doctor last week is that she is still trying to adjust my meds to get the thyroid operating properly and I guess keep me alive long enough to make good on my threat to run another marathon. And this is after a year of blood tests and constant monitoring. So please folks, ask your doctor. It’s not just about the right diet. If it were only that simple.

And by the way, I passed on the paczki.

Obama and “Oh God”

OK. Things are looking up. I ran outside this morning. At 5 a.m. in NE Ohio clear sky, temp in low 20s, light breeze. Perfect. And I read online before hitting the concrete that Tiger Woods returns to the golf tour tomorrow in Arizona. Hey, we’re back on the upswing. Groan.

And I even managed to stay awake through most of Obama’s talk to Congress last night. Glad I did. Obama is Communicator in Chief — and, at least in my opinion, he struck the correct balance last night between candid, realistic and truthful disclosure and remarks designed to provide reassurance, confidence and, yes, some hope.

We are not quitters.”

I think that says it all. We’re not. Not as individuals. Not as a nation.

Now continues the hard part. As those of us living in the land of public relations and related venues know only too well words don’t change reality — actions do. The actions under way now as part of the stimulus package and other measures that are being implemented by federal, state and local governments will take time.

And businesses — big and small — at some point are going to have to jump in and display some hope and confidence as well. People need work and jobs. And hiring in substantial numbers is the only thing that will ultimately turn this economic meltdown around.

For instance, there is an incentive tax credit in the economic stimulus package. The idea is to give businesses more of an incentive to hire disconnected young people and give them the opportunity to succeed. I’m familiar with this tax incentive because of the work I am doing these days with Corporate Voices for Working Families. So we’ll see. Actions matter now.

And then full disclosure. I was well into the land of sweet dreams before Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jinal gave the Republican response — and was greeted, apparently, on MSNBC, with the intro: “Oh God.” (Actually, thought those words would be reserved for what you would think at some point would be the inevitable Sarah Palin Playboy pictorial. I digress.)

So I can’t opine on Jindal’s remarks. And as we all know, whether you agree or disagree with the speaker before the talk makes a world of difference about how you feel at the end. And with all due respect to Bobby Kennedy, nobody named Bobby is ever going to be elected president in this country. As I mentioned previously, there are too many Roberts, like me, who have fought a lifelong jihad against being called Bob or Bobby. Good grief.

And while talking about Louisiana, here’s a story I’m going to keep a close eye on.

Porn star Stormy Daniels is considering a run in 2010 against Republican Senator David Vitter. Vitter, you may recall, is one of the family-values guys who managed to get hooked up in a D.C. prostitution scandal while admitting to “a very serious sin.”

Hope this doesn’t screw up the Sarah Palin thing.

Obama: I Hope We Can

Wow. My “wealth creation adviser” at Merrill Lynch must have been watching the Oscars Sunday night. When I talked to him yesterday about the latest Wall Street meltdown, he appeared to have abandoned his career-long role as Pollyanna to embrace the Dark Knight. Ah, Mr. Adviser I queried: Market coming back? To wit: Hope so.

Say what? Actually it was worse. He opined that if the stock market declined another 10 percent I should start moving to cash. Since the Dow is cratering at about 2 percent a day, that’s about a week from now. And if the big dogs at Merrill and elsewhere are giving this advice now — and actually going to follow it — look out below and brace for impact. Of course, my adviser is just a well-intentioned doofus like most who are frozen now and who can never outperform the markets heading North or South. And if his Merrill Lynch retirement is riding on Bank of America stock — now on life-support — then here is someone who is worse off than most of us.

So I’ve decided to reject that turn-it-to-cash-and-hide-it-under-the-mattress advice. And I’ll gleefully ride this sucker down — like Major Kong at the end of Dr. Strangelove.

And I guess I’ll stay the course because I actually believe that Obama and team, given some time, can turn the economy around. But here’s the rub. We need a president who talks straight and tells the truth. We’re in this mess to some extent because the qualities of honesty, trust and confidence all but disappeared from the Oval Office and Washington in general during the past eight years.

But while telling the truth and letting all of us know that tough times are ahead, Obama has to be careful not to paint too dark a picture. Remember Jimmy Carter walking around the White House like Lady Macbeth?

Yes We Can. That still has the right ring to it. IMO.

And that’s the communication challenge facing Obama as he talks to Congress and to the American people tonight. Realistic, candid, truthful disclosure — without turning everyone’s underpants brown. And note to President O and the talking-head commentators. Could we lighten up on the D word.  That ain’t helpful. And it ain’t true — at least not today.

Then, to make things even more interesting, tonight marks the formal beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign. Following the Prez will be Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, giving the Republican response. (How about this: No we can’t. Just kidding.) OK. Game on. And Jindal at this early stage should make an attractive candidate. Unfortunately, I don’t like or trust anyone named Bobby. I base that on a lifetime of fighting against being called Bob, Bobby and so on. What asshole decreed that Robert had to turn into Bob? I digress.

And one more thing. I stopped by the see my tax guy yesterday. I figured that since the federal government is giving trillions to bankers and other members of the criminally incompetent class, I better hurry up and send in the balance of what I’m sure I will owe.

In passing, I mentioned that if (when?) I get nominated for a cabinet position in the Obama administration I fully expected that no tax issues will emerge during the confirmation hearings.

His retort: “We can only hope.”

So it goes.

News, Perception and Public Money

Well, still tethered to the treadmill this morning. And it’s not the cold here in NE Ohio. It’s the snow and ice on the roads. Yet I’m optimistic that spring will get here — eventually.

Not quite as optimistic that we are going to find out anytime soon what is going on with Goodyear and the 5,000 some job cuts that it announced essentially to the financial community late last week. The company declined to disclose where or when the job cuts would take place. And even with some 3,000 Goodyear employees still working in Akron, the Akron Beacon Journal doesn’t appear to be looking into the story any further.

Since the announcement and front-page headline last week, as best I can tell there has only been one additional mention of the job cuts in the ABJ. That came this morning as a brief mention in an op-ed article by E.J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post. Dionne was in Akron last week to speak at the Akron Roundtable. So here is the update from Dionne:

But such partisan games seem beside the point when headlines on local papers are typified by Thursday’s banner in the Akron Beacon Journal shouting: ”Goodyear to cut jobs.” It was not clear how many of them would come out of this city, once popularly seen as the rubber industry’s capital, but the company envisions a loss of nearly 5,000 jobs.

OK. Here’s reality. The Akron community at large doesn’t care about the Goodyear jobs or the people who will eventually lose their jobs here — if any. Jobs come. Jobs go. And it only matters if it’s personal — affecting you, a family member, neighbor or friend.

But here’s the rub. Goodyear — with I expect some city and state money and other assistance — still has on the drawing board a major community project that involves building a new headquarters and some other related development activities. When Goodyear made the announcement last week, it was quick to assure everyone that the headquarters project was not at risk. And Akron’s mayor, Don Plusquellic, said the project was delayed due to private developers having difficulty with financing but still a go. Here’s from the ABJ story:

This latest round of cost-cutting will not affect the company’s, and Akron’s, plans to build a new, local corporate headquarters, a company spokesman said.

Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic said he was told the headquarters project is still on but has been delayed because the private developers have not been able to get financing related to the global credit crunch. The city government is still proceeding with the public investment portion of the new Goodyear headquarters project, including possible federal stimulus money, he said.

If true, shouldn’t someone be interested in whether or not there will still be 3,000 some people employed by Goodyear in Akron? Particularly if public money is involved. Hey, we’re closing schools here folks.

When the city announced the headquarters project in 2007, here’s what it said:

The existing Goodyear buildings, totaling approximately 800,000 usable square feet, would be converted to a mixed use complex of office, commercial and retail space by IRG. It is estimated by IRG that the mixed use development will create an additional 2,000 jobs with an approximate payroll of $80 million. The new campus of buildings would retain the more than 3,000 jobs at Goodyear totaling an estimated $350 million in payroll.

Let’s see. “Retain the more than 3,000 jobs at Goodyear totaling an estimated $350 million in payroll.”

Still true? My perception is maybe not — and that will be unfortunate for the individual Goodyear employees involved, for the city and for taxpayers.

This is why we need a strong, independent and aggressive news media. In Akron — that means the Akron Beacon Journal. And this isn’t a criticism of the reporters there. We all know that staff cutbacks and other cost-cutting moves have crippled the newspaper. It used to be an excellent regional newspaper. Still, this seems to me to be a story that journalists would want to pursue.

So is someone saying no? Don’t ask. Don’t write.

Is the Goodyear headquarters project still viable in Akron with or without local job cuts?

Gee. I’m forming perceptions that may be totally unfair and inaccurate. But without the information that used to come from reporters, it seems like we are doing that more and more these days. And that’s not a good thing, particularly when public policy, public money and jobs are involved.

Goodyear, Job Cuts and PR

I’ll admit that it’s troubling to get up almost every day now and read about more job losses. And even more troubling — and scary — when the news comes from a major employer in your own community. Goodyear stepped up to the job-cutting plate again yesterday, announcing that some 5,000 more jobs would evaporate this year.

Yet it’s also troubling that the dead-tree edition of the Akron Beacon Journal didn’t — or perhaps more accurately, couldn’t — share much more information about the job losses other than the numbers involved. Here’s the key paragraph:

Goodyear did not say where, or when, it will cut jobs this year.

Yikes. Jim Mackinnon wrote the story; he is an excellent reporter. I’m sure he asked about the effect on Akron jobs and Goodyear employees who still work here. So what’s the story? Either Goodyear management doesn’t know the answer — or it won’t say. Why?

Well, this is my opinion obviously, with no inside information. But it’s based on my experiences with similar announcements involving BFGoodrich — which until the mid-80s was a competitor of Goodyear in the tire and rubber industry. Anyway, Goodyear management — and PR team — wanted this to be a business story. Not a people story. And they were successful.

The Beacon Journal story conveys most of the Goodyear business story: sales down, industry in shambles, thoughtful management stepping up to take drastic but necessary action and so on. And it’s all true. And even Goodyear stock jumped a little yesterday, closing at six bucks and change. (But, according to the ABJ, still off 76 percent from a year ago.)

But what about the people involved? The 5,000 who are going to lose their jobs sometime this year? It seems to me that Goodyear management has created an environment of uncertainty — one that will hurt financial performance in the weeks and months to come and one that could undercut the trust and confidence in management for years to come. Hard to be all that enthusiastic about the task at hand if you think it’s the Goodyear office in the morning and the unemployment office in the afternoon.

Now saying all that, there may be union agreements, severance packages, special retirement plans and other considerations that are still being worked out. And if Jim Mackinnon can’t squeeze any more specifics out of Goodyear, then we will just have to wait for the company to be more forthcoming on its own. For the many employees involved and for their families, I hope that happens soon.

In the meantime,  if anyone wants my advice, here’s what I would tell Goodyear management:

  • Let the people who are losing their jobs know as soon as possible. It’s agony coming to work every day not knowing. That’s true for the employees who eventually get the tap on the shoulder and for the coworkers who are left to pick up the pieces. And a job loss is devastating whether your collar is white or blue. But for employees represented by the union there is some structure for severance, benefits and so on. And some hope, I would expect, that you might eventually be able to get your job back. In most cases, layoff doesn’t apply to a salaried job.
  • Treat people with some sensitivity and humanity. Please — don’t pull one of those stunts where people have to call an 800 number and get the news good or bad by recorded phone message. Hey. It happens. (And note to those making the announcement: You may be next. Think about it.)
  • Give those losing their jobs the opportunity to exit gracefully. It’s shameful when people are forced out of a building within an hour or so of getting the news and carrying a box with all their personal belongings.
  • Take the time to explain severance and health benefits. And make sure everyone understands how to take advantage of the provision in the economic stimulus package that applies to COBRA. People who are losing their jobs only want to know what this all means to them. They don’t give a rat’s ass about declining sales or earnings projections.
  • Do the right thing and offer everyone some outplacement counseling. It doesn’t cost all that much.
  • Focus on those who remain. Make sure they understand what happened and why. They are also the ones who are now the most vulnerable to further cuts. And they are the ones who will never forgive or forget if they believe their coworkers were treated unfairly.

Oh, and from a PR perspective: In the end this really is a people story, not a business story. And better you get the numbers and the full story out quickly. Otherwise, there will be at least one reporter out there somewhere with enough interest to call once a week and ask for update for the job cuts. At that point — it resembles a war story. Trust me.

And, full disclosure here. I own a modest number of Goodyear shares. Although fortunately (for me) I sold most of my shares when the stock was still in the $30-a-share range. But that means I get the company’s annual report and proxy. The company said yesterday that in addition to the job cuts it was going to freeze salaries. It will be interesting to see the compensation — salary, bonus (if any), stock awards and so on — that CEO Robert Keegan and the other top execs got last year.

At that point it will be a business story.

American Idol and Sweet Dreams

OK. I’ll admit it. I love American Idol. This is without question the best TV show to nap through — ever. To paraphrase Lee Iacocca, who stood tall during the previous Chrysler meltdown — “If you can find a better cure for insomnia, watch it.” Last night, like most when the show is broadcast, I slept fairly soundly from beginning fanfare to ending credits.

And I had some sweet dreams. For instance, I dreamed that:

  • America — and American workers — still made and sold products that mattered. You know: steel, cars, tires and so on. And thinking about the good old USA still meant Mom, and Chevy and apple pie — not toxic bond derivatives.
  • All of our elected officials were like Mr. Smith — the idealistic, naive do-gooder who goes to Washington and can’t be bought — or sold.
  • I was sitting in the left field bleachers at Forbes Field (now defunct) watching the Pirates play on a hot summer afternoon at a time when sports heroes abused only two drugs: alcohol and tobacco. Gee, compared to the today’s Monsters of the Midway, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Duke Snider and so on kind of resemble ordinary kids playing ball. Guess their asses weren’t dotted with needle marks. I digress.

Then I went to bed at 10 and woke up as usual at 3 a.m. (another thyroid test on tap this Friday) and checked the daily journals online before hitting the concrete for my daily five-miler at 5 a.m. And say what?

Oh well. Back to reality.

And speaking of reality, aren’t you kind of getting weary of Randy Jackson’s routine. Full disclosure: the constant twittering sound from my computer startles me awake often enough that I manage to catch glimpses of the show. OK, back to Jackson. He opines to every singer: “Yo, dog. That didn’t make it for me. It was a little pitchy. And the wrong song for you. It’s Aretha’s song. And you’re not Aretha.” (Note: Other judges aren’t any better. And yo. What’s up with the new one?)

Well clearly the performer — he/she — is not Aretha. Otherwise he/she would be wearing a hat that could eclipe the Lincoln Memorial.

Sweet dreams.