Category Archives: PR

Obama, communications and beach volleyball

Another absolutely perfect early morning to run: mild, low humidity and no wind. And as I was putting in my five miles, I thought that I should at least occasionally talk about communications on this blog. So here goes. First, I have some advice for Barack Obama.

The speculation is that Obama is going to announce his choice for VP later this week — either Evan Bayh, Joe Biden or Tim Kaine, according to an article in The New York Times. Here’s my advice. Don’t make the announcement Thursday. As a nation, we can only deal with one major story at a time.

And Thursday night — well, that’s the finals for women’s beach volleyball. USA v. China. Karri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor are going for the gold. And with all due respect to Bayh, Biden, Kaine, Clinton, et al, well, you know.

Then there is a big story emerging in Akron that will play out during the elections. Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic has proposed a big idea: leasing the Akron sewer system to a private company and using the proceeds to give scholarship money to the children of Akron residents. No big idea works its way onto the election ballot without controversy. And this is no exception. So a citizens’ group that opposes the plan will have its own initiative on the ballot. Oh, boy. A complicated ballot issue — with two competing choices.

I haven’t looked at either plan closely enough to know which — if either — actually makes sense. (And though my house is connected to the Akron sewer system, I won’t get to vote since I am not a resident of the city of Akron.) But here is my advice to the mayor. For his plan to have a chance, he is going to have to make this a debate over the economic future of Akron (more college grads, better jobs, economy, etc.) rather than helping Akron children get a college education. Why? Everyone in the area has a stake in jobs and the economy. Few these days care about education — particularly because most voters have no direct connection with the schools.

Here’s from a recent Gallup poll looking at education:

Just 29% of American adults have children in grades K-12, and of those, almost one in five don’t attend public schools, but rather attend private or parochial schools or are home-schooled. The majority of Americans therefore are not currently or directly involved in schools.

Few Americans mention education spontaneously as the top problem facing the nation today. Education, however, is an issue that has fundamental or basic importance to Americans, and it appears near the top when it is included in lists of issues to be prioritized.

Americans are much more positive when asked about the quality of education their children receive in their local communities, than when asked about the quality of education across the country.

Books such as The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman have underscored how important education can be, particularly in the sciences and engineering, but there is little data to show that Americans’ views on education have changed dramatically.

Now if I were reporting instead of just blogging, I should check with the Akron school system and see if the 29 percent figure makes sense locally. But then again, maybe reporters don’t do that kind of reporting any more either. It requires picking up the phone, or leaving the office to actually go talk to someone.

Here’s a section from a really interesting column by David Carr in The New York Times Monday, “Even Scandal Can Be News.”

Writing about the National Enquirer, Carr says:

Still, at a time when newspapers are cutting back in big whacks and chaining the remaining reporters they employ to their screens to feed all manner of deadlines and blogs, the National Enquirer puts reporters on the streets — in between tracking Kelly Ripa’s lack of body fat — and keeps them there.

“What we do harkens back to a golden age when newsrooms were full of people who would knock on doors and not take no for an answer,” Mr. Perel [National Enquirer editor] said. “A lot of organizations can’t afford to do it or seem to have lost their appetite for it.”

Yep. Given that many reporters these days are being forced to do way more with way less, here’s my last point today related to communications. PR people — when you are writing quotes for use in news releases these days, pretend that someone will actually print it. Gone are the days when we struggled over every word in a pretend quote — only to have it rejected immediately by the reporter. Now. Well, hey, it’s better than nothing and the only effort required is to hit copy and paste. So, come on — let’s try to make the quotes at least somewhat conversational and maybe even credible.

Here’s an example from a story about Myers Industries in today’s Akron Beacon Journal.

”Our objective with the initiatives announced here today is to further improve our manufacturing network and processes to minimize operating costs and maximize customer satisfaction,” John C. Orr, president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement. ”That includes rationalizing our manufacturing footprint to lower overhead and distribution costs, improve operational effectiveness and reduce working capital requirements. In doing so, we will be better positioned to serve our customers with the products they need, manufactured at the right location for the customer, and delivered when they need them.”

OMG. I know John Orr. We spent many a pleasant Saturday and Sunday afternoon standing on the sidelines watching our daughters play soccer. And actually talking about a lot of things that actually made sense. At least to me. Minimize…maximize…and footprint. Oh, my.

Beach volleyball, anyone?

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Social media, Roger Clemens and Facebook

Granted, not the most compelling headline. But it should keep me on message – as the PR pros say.

Here’s the info about social media. Kent State and Akron PRSA are hosting a conference Friday, March 7 – You, Too! Social Media Bootcamp & Leadership Summit. Bill Sledzik on his ToughSledding blog has all the information as well as specifics about registration. The only addition to Bill’s post is the confirmation that we received last night that Jenny Camper, president of Lesic-Camper Communications, will be among the panelists for the afternoon leadership summit on “packaging the presidency online.”  She is an expert in political communications.

The daylong program will be held at Franklin Hall on the Kent campus. So this also gives us an opportunity to show off the new home for our School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Seating is limited for the program. Register soon. And I’m going to be part of the morning session. Please don’t let that stop you from attending.

Then there is Roger Clemens. I’m not sure what to make of his testimony yesterday at the congressional hearing looking at the illegal use of steroids in baseball. Clearly, either Clemens or his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, is lying. And doing that under oath before members of Congress doesn’t seem like a winning bet. So I guess the jury is still out as to whether or not Clemens’ aggressive public relations strategy will pay off. It’s not surprising that these matters – like most – come down to truth. Ethics anyone?

But what was surprising was the article I read in The New York Times that said any members of the House committee who asked Clemens for an autograph may have violated federal law. Clemens visited with many members of the committee last week, much as representatives of a corporation would do in a similar situation. Wonder what’s happening in Iraq these days?

And now to Facebook. I wrote earlier this week that Facebook, according to The New York Times, was making it difficult if not impossible for people to delete their personal information from the social networking site. A spokesperson for Facebook was quoted in the original article. Then yesterday, The Times printed another article saying Facebook was taking steps to resolve complaints on this issue. Can’t ferret out what exactly happened here. But it appears Facebook management is at least listening and going to take some action. If so, good.

Still, I know that somehow that comment about Willie Nelson will come back to bite me.

Roger Clemens and public relations

Well, public relations fans, Roger Clemens heads to the mound – or I guess the hill – next Wednesday. He is going to give sworn testimony to members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He’ll be answering questions about the illegal use of steroids in major league baseball.

Clemens for the past month or so has been waging a classic public relations battle. I’ve written about his 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace and his other actions to tell his story. He has been at it pretty much like any organization – private or public – facing a crisis.

And this week Clemens took a tactic right out of the corporate crisis management playbook. He personally visited members of the house committee.

An article by John Bresnahan on the political Web site Politico.com says:

Corporations, trade associations and executive branch nominees have traditionally made the rounds of lawmakers before facing potentially hostile House or Senate panels, but they are part of the Washington establishment, where such gamesmanship is expected. For someone from outside the political world, such as Clemens, to engage in such a personal lobbying effort “is highly unusual, almost unprecedented, to say the least,” said a top House Democratic leadership aide.

Of course, now we get to the moment of truth. And truth matters here as it does in all public relations activities.

Brian McNamee, who was Clemens’s personal trainer, says he injected Clemens with steroids – and apparently – according to him – he kept some of the syringes in case he had to prove it.

Something tells me that Clemens is going to have a different view when he starts fielding the questions next week.

As I have said previously, I hope Clemens is telling the truth. And if so, you certainly have to give him and his advisers credit for an aggressive and effective public relations strategy. One that all of us can learn something from.

Yet, if for some reason Clemens strikes out – well, I guess there is always a seat available somewhere next to Pete Rose. But it won’t be in baseball’s hall of fame.

Public relations plans and reality

Today for me is the anniversary of a day I’ll never forget: Jan. 28, 1986. It was the day that The BFGoodrich Company announced it was exiting the tire business, merging its tire operations with Uniroyal’s to form the Uniroyal-Goodrich Tire Company.

Jan. 28, 1986, was also the day when the space shuttle Challenger exploded almost immediately after liftoff, killing the entire crew, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.

Certainly there is no relationship between the two in terms of importance. The space shuttle disaster was a tragedy that touched the lives of almost everyone in this country at the time. Those were the days when the launch of a space shuttle was a big deal – and televised live. And the explosion and the loss of the crew put into question the future of America’s space program.

Still, I remember the events of that day very well. We had planned the announcement about Uniroyal-Goodrich for months. All the senior executives were in New York. We held an early-morning news conference that attracted national news media: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, NBC, CBS and ABC among others.

Those were still the days when the tire industry mattered to the U.S. economy. Thousands worked throughout the country in good-paying manufacturing jobs. Labor negotiations and contracts were closely watched by the national news media and by steel and automobile companies. And Akron was still the “Rubber Capital of the World.”

We made the announcement early in the morning in New York. I remained in Akron to answer questions from reporters – and I received hundreds, literally. And then a reporter asked me if I had heard about the space shuttle? No. But soon as I had the details I called my associates in New York. By that time the news conference had ended – and remember, this was way before the days of the Internet, cell phones, BlackBerrys, etc.

I remember the start of a brief conversation with Foster Smith, then Goodrich’s vice president of corporate communications, like it was yesterday.

“Foster, the space shuttle exploded.”

“Oh my God.”

Foster, like me a few minutes earlier, was stunned by the disaster.

Then after a minute or so he hurried off to tell others; I returned to a stack of messages from reporters.

I guess one point to all this is that no matter how hard you plan unexpected events can change everything. And again, this is an insignificant comment in the context of the space shuttle tragedy, but we lost the opportunity to let a national audience know that BFGoodrich was no longer a tire company. For the better part of the next 10 years we fought that battle, mostly unsuccessfully. But that’s a story for another day.

Today is a day to remember the crew of the space shuttle Challenger. It’s certainly a day I won’t forget.

Podcasting and garbage trucks

Sorry, couldn’t think of a good headline for this post. But this was what I was thinking about during my run this morning: podcasting.

I have an iPod, but I don’t use it much. I never run and listen to music. I figure that the chances of me getting hit by a garbage truck at 5 a.m. while running in the dark most days is pretty good. And if I’m going to check out of the Hotel Ohio, I would prefer not to do it while humming along to Gretchen Wilson singing Politically Uncorrect.


Actually, I got the iPod with the idea that I would listen to podcasts while driving to Kent State. But even on a bad day I’m only in the car for about 45 minutes. Some of the podcasts on public relations and communication topics are just getting warmed up by then. At best, most are just recordings of talking heads – but unlike TV, you can’t even see the heads.

Saying that, I’m not being critical of those who are producing podcasts. Someone needs to be out front on this; I’m obviously not the one.

And maybe it’s just me. So I asked the students in my PR Tactics class how many of them listened to audio podcasts (as opposed to episodes of Lost, etc.). Nary a hand shot up in the affirmative. Did they download and listen to music? Yep. But listening to 90 (OK, maybe 60) minutes worth of crisis communications strategies doesn’t appear to be high on the charts as yet.

At that point I figured that podcasts were pretty much like AM radio: Good to have when you can’t get any other reception but not much value otherwise.

Then yesterday I read an article on AdAge.com, Marketers and Content Providers Tune in to Podcasting’s Potential. The article raises a number of excellent points about advertising and reaching new audiences, but it also focuses on content.

And content here – as elsewhere – is king.

I’m not an expert on Web 2.0 (or most anything else for that matter). But I know enough to recognize that even with all the new technology people – listeners, readers, friends sitting talking at a local bar – still want interesting, engaging and informative content. And they aren’t going to invest a minute’s worth of time – let alone an hour’s – if that expectation isn’t met.

I didn’t originate this saying, but I use it a lot in class: What’s in it for me? From the standpoint of strategically using podcasts as an effective public relations tactic, I don’t believe we have answered that question as yet. Maybe we will.

But it’s going to rely on content that is professionally produced. Anyone remember the early days of industrial video? I do. After a while just showing a poor-quality video in a dimly lit lunchroom wasn’t good enough. Today there are media outlets – such as NPR – that are producing excellent podcasts: interesting, engaging and professionally done. Something tells me most organizations don’t have the resources to match this kind of professionalism. And I would swallow hard if I had to approve the cost of producing a professionally done podcast – without knowing how effective it is going to be.

At some point we’re going to have to take a critical look at podcasting – and blogging? – and ask if the results warrant the time, effort and expense. I still don’t see a lot of discussion of this topic of how to evaluate the effectiveness of the so-called new media. I expect that will happen as clients/organizations are encouraged to spend more money on these tactics.

Still for everyone out there pushing Web 2.0 without considering effectiveness and results, I’m sure what I said was not politically correct. Gretchen Wilson anyone?

Baseball and ethics

Johnny Podres died last Sunday. That most likely doesn’t mean much, except for members of his family and friends. But it means something to me.

Johnny Podres, in October 1955, pitched the Brooklyn Dodgers to their only World Series championship. An excellent obituary in the Jan. 15 issue of The New York Times by Richard Goldstein gives the details. Podres was 23 at the time and an unlikely hero on a team that included Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Don Newcombe, Carl Furillo and a host of others. For comparison, the Brooklyn Dodgers winning the World Series was the equivalent of the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl – recognizing that at the time baseball really was the national pastime.

Reading about Johnny Podres and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers provides a striking contrast to the news these days about major league baseball and steroids. Podres, Snider, Reese, Robinson and the rest strike me as having integrity – and they became heroes to an earlier generation by playing by the rules and striving for success: honestly and fairly. I wonder what future generations will say about Roger Clemens and others who are about to make the long trek down the halls of Congress to talk about the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. I have said previously that I hope Clemens is telling the truth. But I have some doubts based on some recent press reports. See an excellent article about Clemens and reputation management in an article written by Alan Schwartz in The New York Times.

Well, here’s the point. There’s no separating personal integrity and ethics. Not in baseball. Not in public relations.

I remember the 1955 Dodgers. I came home from grade school in time to see the last out of the seventh game – in all its glory on black and white TV. That was a different era. But it’s too bad that we don’t hold our public figures to the same ethical standards today.

If you’re interested in reading an exceptional book – not just about baseball but about our nation only 50 years ago – read The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn.

As a young reporter he covered the Dodgers for the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune. Then as the Boys of Summer, the Brooklyn Dodgers of 1955, left baseball and became relatively (from my point of view) old men, Kahn visited with them and wrote about their lives as baseball heroes and after they left the spotlight. These were guys who didn’t make a lot of money. And they returned to “regular” lives and jobs after their days in baseball were over.

Interested in profiles that depict personal ethics and integrity? Take a look.

Here’s a sample from the book:

The team grew old. The Dodgers deserted Brooklyn. Wreckers swarmed into Ebbets Field and leveled the stands. Soil that had felt the spikes of Robinson and Reese was washed from the faces of mewling children. The New York Herald Tribune withered, changed its face and collapsed. I covered a team that no longer exists in a demolished ball park for a newspaper that is dead.

But the lessons of the Brooklyn Dodgers of a generation ago don’t die easily, particularly when looked at in the context of today’s news: character, integrity and ethical conduct really do matter. And playing by the rules is just as important in public relations as it is in baseball.

And for my poet friends, here’s the source for the title for the book:

I see the boys of summer in their ruin

Lay the gold tithings barren,

Setting no store by harvest, freeze the soils.

Dylan Thomas

PRSA, bloggers and customer service

For those of you who have been reading this blog and Bill Sledzik’s ToughSledding, you know that there has been some discussion about the Public Relations Society of America. Mostly, the comments centered on a news release PRSA distributed announcing the appointment of Jeff Julin as that organization’s newly named chair.

I wrote to Joseph DeRupo, PRSA’s associate director of public relations. I had a few questions about the release from the standpoint of content, distribution and evaluation. And then, I’ll admit, I was disappointed that I did not receive a reply.

Well, Mr. DeRupo called me and left a message last Friday; I returned the call and talked with him yesterday. I’m satisfied that he made an effort to respond. It could have come a little sooner, but he said he was busy with the Julin announcement and other matters. Fair enough.

I’m not going to rehash the original story and comments here. That would be unfair to Mr. DeRupo at this point. But you can easily find those postings if interested.

In any event, Mr. DeRupo said it is PRSA’s policy to reply to every blogger who is a PRSA member. But for non-PRSA members, it is on a case-by-case basis. This is an issue that I’m sure the entire public relations industry will have to give more thought and attention to – and soon. I would welcome your opinions and experiences in responding to requests from bloggers on behalf of your organization. It seems to me that this is going to be a growing issue from the standpoint of media relations.

Beyond that, I still don’t believe that most personnel announcements get the kind of media placements that make them worth the time and effort involved. But, it’s hard to say no to newly appointed executives – even though that is often the right thing to do. Mr. DeRupo said that the Julin announcement did generate substantial placements. OK.

I give him credit for calling and talking to me about it. Organizations make a mistake by ignoring their key audiences. It doesn’t take all that much to engage people openly and responsibly. Maybe that’s the premise that will start the conversation about bloggers in media relations classes — and in the office among PR professionals.