Category Archives: media relations

Holiday hams and bank mergers

“I got my ham. Praise the Lord.” A man whose name I don’t recall said that on Christmas Eve two or three years ago — after leaving a HoneyBaked Ham Store in Cleveland just before closing time. The moment was recorded for history by a reporter with WEWS-TV.

It seems that the gentleman was given the assignment a few weeks prior. But, alas, as all of us in the communications business know, sometimes we just work better under the pressure of a deadline. So there he was, gripping the holiday ham and fielding questions like a PR pro: “Praise the Lord.”

Indeed. He had the ultimate sound bite: crisp and memorable. And are there any among us who ever came home from the store empty handed — or worse, with the wrong item — that couldn’t share in his glee?

I was thinking about that this morning after I made the short loop from the HoneyBaked Ham store close to where I live to my bank of 39 years, National City. Now defunct. National City now sleeps with the fishes — partly because its management wanted to swim with the sharks in the mortage-lending debacle and partly because PNC, the acquiring financial institution, is using federal bailout tax dollars to fund the acquisition.

This deal stinks. But it’s history. And I hope that when the time comes for the inevitable branch closings and employee layoffs that PNC management has as much media savvy as the gent heading home with the ham for the holidays. They are going to need it. Something tells me The Plain Dealer is going to be watching developments — and continuing some old-fashioned reporting here.

By the way, I was in the National City branch where I bank at about the time shareholders from both organizations approved the merger. I had to fill out a deposit slip — but there was no ink in the pen on the counter. Oh well. Cost cutting has to start somewhere.

On the bright side, I got to HoneyBaked Ham so early this morning that I didn’t even have to wait in the queue.

Praise the Lord.

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Phil Gramm: Going, going, uh, gone

Well, as predicted, not many read my post yesterday about public relations. Yawn. But hey. Someone must be reading this blog. How else do you explain that Phil Gramm called it quits last night as an adviser to John McCain? And that just a few days after I took him to task for whining about us being a nation of whiners.

Here’s from Jonathan Martin, writing on Politico.com:

Former Sen. Phil Gramm is stepping down from his post as national co-chair for John McCain a week after creating headaches for the campaign by calling Americans “whiners” and saying the country was only experiencing a “mental recession.”

In a statement issued tonight, after the national news broadcasts, Gramm, a former Texas senator-turned-investment banker, said he didn’t want to be a distraction.

“It is clear to me that Democrats want to attack me rather than debate Senator McCain on important economic issues facing the country,” said Gramm, who has been one of McCain’s economic advisers. “That kind of distraction hurts not only Senator McCain’s ability to present concrete programs to deal with the country’s problems, it hurts the country.”

Oh, Phil. I hate to say it but the Democrats (and just about everyone else) have bigger fish to fry than attacking you. Another statement like that — and you’re a candidate for the coveted Scotty, an award named after Scott McClellan that spotlights ineptness and nonsense (and sometimes flat-out lying) in media statements.

The Scotty: Spotlighting ineptness in media relations

It’s tough being a good spokesperson. You have to understand the story. You want to represent your organization well — without spinning. You want to be honest, accurate and open while recognizing that there are going to be times when you can’t disclose everything that a reporter may want or ask for.

Scott McClellan serves as an example of what you don’t want to be. Saying a lot without really saying anything. Misleading reporters and the public. Having misgivings about the accuracy of information but presenting it as fact anyway. So let’s give McClellan the first Scotty — an award that recognizes the reasons why reporters and others hold many (most?) public relations spokespersons in such low regard.

And since the story about McClellan and his book is pretty much history now, let’s see if we can’t find some other examples to help keep the spotlight on what should be an honest, accurate and open exchange of information that serves the organization and public. But often isn’t.

For instance, the Akron Beacon Journal printed an Associated Press story last Saturday about Mexican labor unions agreeing to lower wages in order to compete with China — “Auto paycuts head south.” The issue is that wages could be as low as $1.50 an hour. The story indicates that these lower wages — and wage concessions — were the key for Ford to add as many as 4,500 jobs to build cars at a plant in Cuautitlan, near Mexico City. Something tells me that this isn’t something that Ford is thrilled to disclose in the United States because of a workforce here that is both shrinking and worried about wages. Well, here’s from the article:

Ford spokeswoman Alejandra Acevedo said she did not know what starting wages for new hires at Cuautitlan would be, but she acknowledged that to win the jobs, the plant had to compete against other Ford facilities worldwide.

Ah, c’mon. Alejandra, I have a suggestion for you. Ask someone. I’ll bet Ford CEO Alan Mulally knows. He was in Mexico City last week. If he doesn’t know then there is an even bigger problem than moving jobs south where workers earn $1.50 an hour. Maybe. And to give you the benefit of the doubt, if there is a reason why you can’t disclose this information, then say it. “I don’t know.” Hmm.

For not asking — or not telling — here’s your Scotty. Display it proudly.

Bloggers, PR and spam

First morning of “semi-retirement.” Not bored yet. And I ran this morning at 5 a.m. in the rain. I guess habits are tough to break. Good.

But just to demonstrate that I really don’t have much to do, here I go into an area that I really know nothing about: contacting bloggers with information about stories. I won’t say “pitching.” I hate that term. But I recognize that it is an important part of the PR business — and maybe becoming even more important these days as bloggers move under the publicity tent along with so-called traditional journalists.

Anyway, I came across two interesting perspectives and conversations on bloggers, PR and spam. One is a post by Brian Solis on his PR 2.0 blog: “Making Mistakes and Amends in Blogger and Media Relations.” The other is by Todd Defren on his PR Squared blog: “Open Letter to Gina Trapani of Lifehacker.” I’ve been reading both blogs regularly based on the recommendation of Bill Sledzik and ToughSledding.

And I don’t know Gina Trapani — and I’ve never read Lifehacker.com, where she is the lead editor. For all I know Lifehacker is a site for cigarette addicts. Probably not. Apparently Gina is one of the growing number of bloggers who are influential in a host of industries. For PR people: Batter up!

So here’s the rub — as described by Todd Defren. Gina Trapani has “blocked” e-mails from a number of PR firms and individuals — because the “pitches” were, in her view, unsolicited and not relevant. And I think equally to the point, the e-mails were going to her personal e-mail address rather than the one at Lifehacker designed for news releases, etc. (Although Todd Defren in a post this morning raises some questions about that.)

I’m not sure that Brian Solis is looking at the same situation or writing about spam in general. But in any event, if you are interested in this subject take a look. Both Todd and Brian make excellent points. As does Kevin Dugan on The Bad Pitch Blog. Sledzik recommended this one as well. Is there a pattern emerging here?

I guess Gina feels– like Chris Anderson before her — that some PR people have been pitching her curveballs. Sorry, couldn’t resist that.

Now if Bill Sledzik were writing this post, I’m sure he would have some insights to share on public relations. Some lessons learned. I won’t attempt to head down that high road. But I have to chuckle because in many ways this situation strikes me as a cross between deja vu all over again (Yogi Berra knew something about bad pitches) and Jerry Seinfield’s Soup Nazi.

Here’s why. It seems to me that we are going over the same lessons that should have been learned way before Web 1.0. Know the publication. Establish — to the extent possible — a relationship with the reporter (blogger?). Send him/her only information about stories that are likely to be of interest. Have the balls, oops, to tell clients or employers that some stories are just never going to make it in print, online or anywhere else. And I guess in this new world of Web 2.0 — if he/she doesn’t want e-mail to come to a personal e-mail account, don’t send it to a personal e-mail account. Gee folks. This isn’t rocket science. But unfortunately many PR people are shameless when it comes to, ugh, pitching. They have no clue. Too bad. It’s been my experience that most are ethical, professional and hard working.

And I give Todd Defren credit. He goes out of his way to apologize and make the case that what happened was the exception not the rule. And Brian Solis provides an equally compelling explanation as well. In an era when TV talking heads are in bed with the Pentagon this doesn’t strike me as the most important media relations issue facing this nation. But then I never had to earn my income based on client or employer expectations of story placements. Thank God.

I hope we are not heading down the road to the day when bloggers or traditional journalists think that blocking contacts from PR people is the right or only way to go. That won’t work. Seems like this should be a mutually beneficial arrangement — based on mutual respect and professionalism. Gee, just like the old days. Before Al Gore invented the Internet.

And Gina — and others — c’mon. Give us a break. Do you really want to be the blogging equivalent the Soup Nazi? That didn’t turn out so well for anyone. Remember?

The news — oh, boy

I read the news today, oh, boy.

I actually thought that would be a clever opening. And maybe it is. But a Google search produced more than 300,000 hits. Oh, boy. Clearly, just like when I go to Starbucks, I never seem to be at the beginning of the line.

Yet here are a couple of items that caught my eye as I was scanning the Akron Beacon Journal this morning. All have some lessons involving news media relations.

It appears that Peter Raskind, National City Corp. chief executive, took a pay cut last year — to $3.4 million from $4.6 million in 2006. National City isn’t doing so great these days — and I guess Raskind is feeling the shareholders’ pain. In fact, the Beacon Journal said that Raskind told the Columbus Dispatch that shareholders have a right to be angry about National City’s performance and should hold him and other senior managers accountable. For $3.4 million I’d beg for their mercy and offer to come to their homes and do light cleaning. As usual, I digress. I’ve been banking at National City for 30 years or more. Go figure. (Lesson — when you’re putting $3.4 million in the bank — National City? — don’t try to score points with shareholders and employees who stand to lose a lot and can’t quite figure out how you and the other senior managers created this mess. Take a pay cut that really is significant. In this case, actions really would speak louder than words.)

And then there is Roger Clemens. This guy can’t catch a break. First his personal trainer links him to using steroids. Now “several people who asked not to be identified” said that the Rocket had a decadelong relationship with country singer Mindy McCready. Here’s the fun part:

Clemens’ lawyer, Rusty Hardin, confirmed a long-term relationship, but told the newspaper [the Daily News] it was not sexual.

“He flatly denies having had any kind of an inappropriate relationship with her,” Hardin said. “He’s considered her a close family friend…He has never had a sexual relationship with her.”

Oh, boy. Have we ever heard that before? (Lesson: Once trust and credibility are lost don’t expect people to believe you or rush to your defense.)

And how about Miley Cyrus? One day, apparently, she was happy as could be with a provocative photo of her taken by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair. But later the 15-year-old celebrity had second thoughts. According to the Beacon Journal story, Cyrus said Sunday through her publicist: “I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about.” (Lesson: Talk to your publicist before you take your clothes off.)

Oh, boy. This will be on the cable news shows for at least the next several weeks. Thankfully the presidential election is over and the troops are home from Iraq. And I tagged this post Miley Cyrus. Don’t know if that means anything. But I sure don’t want to miss out on the media frenzy.

Ah, by the way. Who is Miley Cyrus?

And I couldn’t find references to any of these stories on the Beacon Journal’s Web site. Maybe the Beacon Journal is using its pathetic Web site as a way to keep readers like me buying the printed version.

Oh, boy.

The New York Times and military pooh-bahs

The weather here in Northeast Ohio really has been great these past few days. So I’m off the treadmill and back on the concrete for my morning runs. And without a garbage truck in sight this morning I had plenty of time to think about a few things. Here goes.

The New York Times printed an extensive article Sunday that raises some important questions. Namely, are the military pundits — those distinguished talking heads — that we see regularly on TV in bed with the Pentagon and defense contractors? Howard Kurtz looked at that situation in The Washington Post Monday. And Editor & Publisher opined yesterday as well. If true, guess who is getting screwed.

The New York Times article, “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand,” is a long one. And you’ll need to read it to really understand the context for this next paragraph. But it will give you a sense for the story.

“Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used these analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.”

We spend a lot of time in my ethics class at Kent State talking about trust. If the allegations are true, then our trust in the administration and the news media takes another hit. It’s amazing that decision-makers can’t learn this lesson. Or maybe they don’t want to. And in this situation you would think that proper and timely disclosure would be all that is necessary. I’m sure I’m missing something.

But saying that — I wonder why it took The New York Times (or some other newspaper) five years to figure out that these retired military pooh-bahs might have conflicts of interest or be likely to receive special treatment by the Pentagon in return for special treatment on the airwaves? McCain’s right. This is going to be a 100-year war. Particularly if the few remaining strong media outlets — The Times, etc. — don’t have the resources or interest to question everything about this debacle in Iraq.

Then maybe The Times isn’t so strong financially anymore. An article in the New York Post yesterday focused on the rumors that The Times might be receptive to hooking up with Bloomberg LP. The article says:

“Bloomberg [New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg] aides are reportedly encouraging him to consider merging financial-information giant Bloomberg LP with the Times, which is under pressure from dissident shareholders to revive ad sales and unload assets to boost its sagging share price.”

So it goes.

The Times, China and public relations

I wrote yesterday that I don’t believe that China is dealing with a public relations “problem” during the current — and most likely continuing — debacle involving the Olympic torch and the summer games. If anything, China is dealing with a reality problem — where what government officials want people to believe doesn’t match the truth.

But The New York Times in an editorial — The Torch and Freedom — printed April 9 says it a lot better than I can. And beyond the much more important issues involved in this situation, The Times editorial does provide some perspective on what public relations is — and isn’t. And what public relations can do — and can’t. Here’s the editorial.

After facing major protests in London and Paris as the Olympic torch made stops on its journey to Beijing, the Chinese government is said to be looking for a public relations firm to patch up China’s image before the 2008 Games in August. In the spirit of the Olympic ideals, we are prepared to help China — free of charge.

Here’s what you do: Stop arresting dissidents. Stop spreading lies about the Dalai Lama, and start talking to him about greater religious and cultural freedoms for Tibet. Stop being an enabler to Sudan in its genocide in Darfur. In other words, start delivering on the pledge you made to the International Olympic Committee to respect human rights — which, by the way, include the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly.

It is sadly typical of authoritarian regimes to presume that huge protests of the sort that have accompanied the Olympic torch are provocations instigated by devious foreign foes. It was the same when the United States and several other Western countries boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Since the Kremlin suppressed all dissent, it was beyond the ken of Soviet leaders to imagine that their actions could actually infuriate people and that they would then act on their outrage.

Just so, the Communist authorities in China have been fanning nationalist resentments among their citizens with claims that protests against their repressive policies are staged by hostile foreign forces bent on ruining China’s grand Olympic party. The popular anger then makes it easier for the regime to arrest dissidents, stifle the news media and blame a “Dalai Lama clique” abroad for the troubles in Tibet.

Since the Chinese government does not hesitate to whip up “spontaneous demonstrations” in favor of its policies, it’s not a stretch for it to presume that foreign “enemies” are doing the same along the route of the torch. Thus, the pathetic presumption that a P.R. firm can make the protesters go away. It can’t and won’t.

Nobody expected China to democratize overnight, and, given the country’s mighty economic power, nobody really wants to antagonize Beijing. But a nation that applies to host the Olympic Games also must demonstrate that it is worthy of the honor. China has only itself to blame for messing up its coming-out party.

Certainly nothing more I can add at this point.