Category Archives: Public Relations

College football, payouts and perception

Gee, nothing new from Barack or Michelle last night or this morning. Sarah Palin appears to be slow in getting her 2012 presidential campaign under way. So on another glorious fall morning here in Northeast Ohio, I’ll opine on college football.

Actually I was thinking about this Tuesday — but clearly there were bigger fish to be fried in the blogging skillet. I read in the Beacon Journal that Phillip Fulmer, the longtime coach at Tennessee, was forced to quit after this season, despite a 150-51 career record there. Kent State should be so lucky. I digress.

Tennessee isn’t doing so hot this year, with a record of 3 and 6. Bye bye Fulmer. And that’s the nature of big-time, mega-buck college football.

But here’s the point. according to the story which I can’t find online, Fulmer signed a new seven-year contract this past summer. And he was doing better than most professors (and even some executive-level administrators, I guess) — getting more than $2 million a season. Now, apparently less than six months after he and the university agreed to this new deal, Fulmer is retiring to the bleachers but with a $6 million contract buyout payable over the next four years.

Wow. I imagine that most of this cash comes from some kind of a booster club or similar organization. And you can be sure that Tennessee football — and similar programs at other universities — generate many times more than $6 million in even a single year in revenues and in exposure for the university.

But there is something wrong here. At a time when students throughout the country are facing higher tuition costs and fees — and with many now having a tough time borrowing money to pay for an education — this creates the wrong perception among many taxpayers, legislators and others. Public relations, in my view, involves honest, ethical communications — and the ability of decision-makers to make the correct decisions and do what’s right. My perception here is that the university — like most — puts football ahead of students. Unfair. Maybe. But hey.

This isn’t unique at Tennessee, of course. And you can’t blame Fulmer; he signed the contract. But everytime this happens — regardless of where — I question the values and motivation of those in charge. Yeah, I know. I’m swimming upstream here. Alumni, students and town folk don’t tailgate before a PR Tactics class. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

By the way, the Beacon Journal has had several articles over the past week or so about how Kent State and the University of Akron are absorbing increased health-care costs for employees. And unfortunately for Kent State, it comes at a time when the university is passing along credit card fees to students, as I understand it. Again, it’s a matter of perception as the Beacon Journal pointed out yesterday in an editoral.

I guess we can be thankful that Kent State stopped playing competitive football in the early 1970s when Don James took off for the University of Washington. Not many mega-buck buyouts for football coaches at KSU.


Roger Ailes and the magic bullet

Roger Ailes is right. It is all about likability. I was thinking about that this morning while running in the light rain. I watched the Palin-Biden debate last night. Did it change anything. Probably not. Even Sarah Palin can’t save John McCain at this point. But the debate did reinforce some beliefs I have about communications and presentations.

Here’s where Ailes comes him. Before Ailes gained notoriety as the head of Fox News, he worked with Mike Douglas in the early days of television and with Ronald Reagan in the last days of America’s greatness. He then wrote a really insightful book about public speaking and news media interviews, “You Are the Message: Getting What You Want by Being Who You Are.” I used the book in one of my public relations courses at Kent State. The book is brief, well-written, inexpensive and full of practical advice. In other words, the polar opposite of most college textbooks. But I digress.

Here’s the advice Ailes gives if you are making a presentation or being interviewed by a reporter: relax, smile, start strong, end stronger and most of all — be likable. In fact, he calls likablility the magic bullet. In effect, if the audience likes you — they will forgive any technical flaws or gaffs in your presentation.

Folks, that describes Sarah Palin’s “presentation” to the American public last night. And it says volumes about how we judge and elect public officials.

Then there is Joe Biden: knowledgeable, articulate, full of facts and figures. Likable? Hmm. Probably in real life but not really in the Reality TV venue — at least not until he talked about his personal experience as a single parent, following the death of his wife and daughter in a car accident.

Then there is Sarah Palin.

She walks on stage and approaches Joe: “Nice to meet you. Hey, can I call you Joe?” She smiles. She winks at the TV audience. She looks directly at Biden. It looks like she is having a good time. And whether she has anything of substance to say or not — she’s likable. The magic bullet.

Here’s from Peggy Noonan, writing in The Wall Street Journal this morning:

She killed. She had him at “Nice to meet you. Hey, can I call you Joe?” She was the star. He was the second male lead, the good-natured best friend of the leading man. She was not petrified but peppy.

[Declarations] AP

The whole debate was about Sarah Palin. She is not a person of thought but of action. Interviews are about thinking, about reflecting, marshaling data and integrating it into an answer. Debates are more active, more propelled—they are thrust and parry. They are for campaigners. She is a campaigner. Her syntax did not hold, but her magnetism did. At one point she literally winked at the nation.

As far as Mrs. Palin was concerned, Gwen Ifill was not there, and Joe Biden was not there. Sarah and the camera were there. This was classic “talk over the heads of the media straight to the people,” and it is a long time since I’ve seen it done so well, though so transparently. There were moments when she seemed to be doing an infomercial pitch for charm in politics. But it was an effective infomercial.

OK. Noonan and Ailes will never be invited to drinks with the gang at The Huffington Post. So how about Roger Simon on Politico?

Sarah Palin was supposed to fall off the stage at her vice presidential debate Thursday evening. Instead, she ended up dominating it.

She not only kept Joe Biden on the defensive for much of the debate, she not only repeatedly attacked Barack Obama, but she looked like she was enjoying herself while doing it.

She smiled. She faced the camera. She was warm. She was human. Gosh and golly, she even dropped a bunch of g’s.

“John McCain doesn’t tell one thing to one group and somethin’ else to another,” she said. “Those huge tax breaks aren’t comin’ to those huge multinational corporations.”

She went out of her way to talk in everyday terms, saying things like “I betcha” and “We have a heckuva opportunity to learn” and “Darn right we need tax relief.”

Biden was somber, serious and knowledgeable. And he seemed to think that debates were about facts. He had a ton of them.

Or how about Tom Shales? He’s with the inside-the-Beltway-elite-media crowd. He writes:

Sarah Palin looked as though she had prepared for her appearance at the vice presidential debate last night by studying Tina Fey’s impressions of her on “Saturday Night Live.” She twinkled and winked and piled on the perkiness, a “darn right” here and an “I’ll betcha” there.

The challenge to Fey, who is scheduled to play the Alaska governor and Republican candidate again on the next “SNL” broadcast, will be to out-Palin Palin, to make the parody more outrageous than the original.

Tina Fey is likable. See what I mean. Roger Ailes is right.

And Joe Biden has all the facts. The question is whether anyone cares?

Even on American Idol the best singer doesn’t always win.

Next up — Social Security

Well, here we go again. The Senate is scheduled to vote today on a financial bailout (oops, rescue) package. And if that goes well, the House Republicans get another crack at it Friday. This time around there are apparently enough tax cuts and other incentives in the package to give the members of Congress who are running for re-election some cover with the folks back home.

Crisis solved.

Well, no. Most likely not. But at least delayed until after the elections when things generally return to normal on Capitol Hill.

The bigger questions are these. How can the American public regain confidence and trust in elected leaders? And given the political maneuverings in recent days that stalled — maybe derailed — a clearly needed rescue plan, how are we ever going to solve the really big problems of Social Security and Medicare?

First, the trust and confidence issue. Those are keys to effective communication — and to gaining consensus on any issue. That true in business. If you don’t trust the company’s CEO — as an employee you are never going to believe that changes in your health-care premiums are necessary. Same in government.

Here’s from the latest online issue of Rasmussen Reports, which bills itself as an electronic publishing firm specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public polling data. (Note: I came across this from a link via The Heritage Foundation website; The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank in Washington.)

Just 26% of American adults have even a little bit of confidence that the nation’s policy makers know what they’re doing when it comes to the current problems on Wall Street.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 67% of adults are not confident that lawmakers know what they’re doing (see crosstabs).

Unaffiliated voters are less confident than Republicans and Democrats, with just 21% who say they are confident that policy makers know what to do. Just 26% of Democrats and 31% of Republicans agree.

Well, one solution would be to vote the incumbents out of office — and give a new gaggle of legislators a crack at it. Since that won’t happen, why don’t we demand that elected officials in Washington tell us the truth about what they are going to do about Social Security and Medicare? Not generalities. But specifics. And not after the November elections. Now.

Here’s why — and it comes from The Heritage Foundation — “Preventing the Biggest Bailout of All.”

The bailout parade is continuing unabated in Washington this week. On the heels of a $25 billion bailout for the automotive industry the Bush Administration agreed yesterday to a $4.3 billion bailout of Massachusetts’ out of control health care spending. Apparently when numbers like $700 billion are being thrown around, numbers like $25 billion and $4 billion begin to sound like chump change. These “crises” all share one thing in common: they all could have been avoided if our politicians made relatively small but unpopular decisions today to avert disaster in the future. This failure is all too common among our current crop of leaders and it is sending our nation straight into a crisis 60 times larger than the proposed Wall Street bailout.

Imagine a taxpayer bailout even larger than what’s proposed for Wall Street. Now imagine it recurring every year in perpetuity. That’s our fiscal future unless we fundamentally reform Medicare and Social Security. Combined, these programs expose taxpayers to $41 trillion worth of unfunded obligations over the next 75 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, absent fundamental reform of these entitlement programs we will have to either: A) double all tax rates; B) eliminate every other federal program, including defense and education; or C) run massive budget deficits that would eventually collapse the economy. Every year of delay raises the final cost of reform by trillions of dollars.

The financial world is watching. This January the international credit rating agency Moody’s said the United States is at risk of losing its top-notch triple-A credit rating. Moody’s lead analyst for the U.S., Steven Hess, told the Financial Times: “The combination of the medical programmes and social security is the most important threat to the triple-A rating over the long term. If no policy changes are made, in 10 years from now we would have to look very seriously at whether the U.S. is still a triple-A credit.”

That’s the same message that we heard from the “Fiscal Wake-up Tour” at the annual meeting of Corporate Voices for Working Families in Washington in early September.

Many — including George Bush — have raised the issue of the coming funding crisis with Social Security and Medicare. But nothing happens because of the political risks involved.

First step: got to restore trust and credibility on the part of elected officials. Maybe that process begins this Friday with a House vote on the financial plan. Regardless, it’s never going to happen unless elected leaders tell the truth about the problems facing all of us — and unless they begin to view solutions from the standpoint of what’s best for the nation and not just their own re-election.

Next step: we have to listen — and not immediately criticize and penalize those who raise tough issues and are willing to take the risk to propose solutions.

In public relations there’s something called two-way communications. And resolving conflicts by forging relationships built on honesty and trust. Gee, wonder how that really works?

The financial meltdown and management greed

Absolutely perfect morning to run: cool, clear and just a light breeze. In fact, it was such a great run that I find I’m actually fairly relaxed about the financial meltdown taking place on Wall Street and Main Street. Probably shouldn’t be — since I’m sure we’re in for more bad news before anything positive happens. And yet. Why worry? Be happy! What can you do?

Well, nothing, actually. We got ourselves into this mess because we believed that personal debt didn’t matter. And because the greed, corruption and incompetence of people throughout the financial industry was very real — and very damaging. Another reason. The men and women who are hired to manage publicly traded corporations — including what’s left now of what was once known as the financial sector — benefit financially no matter had pathetic their decisions or the results of their actions.

In other words, there ain’t no risk at the top. And until that changes — and it most likely won’t — we’re always going to find ourselves facing these types of problems. And if there is one positive in this current meltdown, it’s that the U.S. government didn’t bail out Lehman Brothers. An editorial in the Akron Beacon Journal, “Casualty count,” this morning has it absolutely right.

“Henry Paulson, the treasury secretary, made a reasoned judgment. He concluded that taxpayers cannot be expected to save everyone on Wall Street. Or put another way, the supposed financial wizards must share in paying the steep price for their colossal errors, for their arrogance and greed.”

Unfortunately, the “supposed financial wizards” have flushed a lot of good people down the drain with them — home owners who took on mortgages they couldn’t possibly manage; employees who left their offices yesterday carrying their personal belongings in boxes.

So this gets us now to a public relations question. How are we going to restore trust in the financial markets — and in the company executives who are always so reassuring right up to the time when they are grabbing hold of their golden parachutes?

For one, shareholders should demand that the captains of industry work just like everyone else — without grossly unfair and obscene severance packages. In part, corporate management argues that these packages are necessary so that they will work in the best interests of shareholders in the event of a merger, takeover, etc. And boards of directors — who should be acting on behalf of shareholders — argue that you can’t hire excellent management talent unless you match what everyone else is getting. Neither of those pigs (oops, probably wrong word) fly.

But here’s the point. If you take the risk out of decision making, then why would anyone fret over making the right decisions? They don’t.

For instance, until he was bounced from his job in October 2007 as Merrill Lynch’s CEO, Stan O’Neal certainly played a large role in the decisions that led yesterday to the company being acquired by Bank of America. But for O’Neal — so what? He walked away with a reported severance package of $160 million. Wonder if he had to carry his belongings out in a box?

Then there are Freddie and Fannie, now wards of the U.S. government. The Treasury Department had to keep them from going belly up — but amazingly enough, the guys in charge of both companies were still in line to receive multimillion-dollar severance packages. Better not spend that money just yet guys. It seems that there is actually some public outrage against this crap — even to the point where Obama and McCain jumped in to protest the payments.

Here’s from the Wall Street Journal online (by subscription only), “Regulator Plans to Bar Big Severance“:

The regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said Sunday that it won’t allow the companies to make “golden parachute” severance payments to the mortgage companies’ ousted chief executive officers.

In a statement, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said such payments wouldn’t be made to Daniel Mudd and Richard Syron, despite provisions in their contracts. Mr. Mudd served as chief executive of Fannie and Mr. Syron was chairman and CEO of Freddie until last weekend, when the regulator seized control of the companies, saying they were in danger of running out of capital.

News reports that the two executives stood to receive millions of dollars in severance payments under their contracts triggered public protests from numerous politicians and inspired political cartoons in newspapers.

Good. It’s a start toward restoring public confidence. Add some risk for the guys and gals with the responsibility for making the right decisions. Mudd’s exit package was valued at between $6 million and $8 million; Styron’s about $15 million. Pathetic.

Fox News and objectivity: the joke’s on us

I’ll admit that I haven’t seen many of the speeches at the Obama/Biden/Clinton convention. Most of the big hitters don’t make it to the plate until after I’m asleep at 10 p.m. But I do catch a lot of the cable news shows. That’s fun these days because the cable news pundits on CNN, MSNBS and Fox have finally abandoned the notion that objectivity is the standard for news reporting. Game on.

And of all the changes taking place now that are reshaping the news media — the fact that the era of “he said/she said” journalism is all but over is huge. That’s one of the reasons for the success of The Huffington Post. You see this point-of-view journalism in virtually every blog being written now by reporters and other pundits. And you have commentators — like Lou Dobbs on CNN — who have gained big audiences and ratings by not even pretending to be fair and balanced.

Then you have Jon Stewart. He’s broadcasting The Daily Show (the primary source of news for the new wave of young voters, IMO) from the convention. And he had some thoughts about the “real” news business earlier this week, as reported by Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post article, “No Joke: Jon Stewart Takes Aim At 24-Hour Cable News Beast.”

Jon Stewart ripped the cable news networks Monday as a “brutish, slow-witted beast” and castigated Fox News in particular as “an appendage of the Republican Party.”

Wearing a gray T-shirt, khaki pants and a healthy stubble, the “Daily Show” host told reporters at a University of Denver breakfast that Fox’s “fair and balanced” slogan is an insult “to people with brains” and that only “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace “saves that network from slapping on a bumper sticker. . . . Barack Obama could cure cancer and they’d figure out a way to frame it as an economic disaster.”

Ouch. But hey. Maybe Stewart knows what he is talking about. After all, The New York Times suggested that he is the most trusted man in America.

But it is a change now working its way throughout journalism — and it doesn’t just involve Fox News. If Fox is heading right — then MSNBC is racing just as hard in the opposite direction. We will see how soon The New York Times, Washington Post, et al, get into the race. My guess is pretty soon.

And one more thing about the story involving Stewart and Fox News. Kurtz asked for a comment from the news guys and gals. Here it is — and it’s pathetic, from the standpoint of public relations and journalism.

A Fox News spokesman, who was authorized to give the network’s response to Stewart’s comments but declined to be named, replied that “Jon’s clearly out of touch,” citing a Pew Research Center study showing the network has the most balanced audience in cable news, 39 percent Republicans and 33 percent Democrats. “But being out of touch with mainstream America is nothing new to Jon, as evidenced by the crash-and-burn ratings of this year’s Oscars telecast.”

The Fox News spokesman declined to be named; and Kurtz let him/her get away with it.

And you wonder why more and more people get their news from The Daily Show.


PRWeek and writers who change lives

Actually, there is no relationship between PRWeek — and writers who change lives. But I’ll touch on both topics in the next few paragraphs. What got me thinking about this during my run this morning were two things: the contest PRWeek is holding to recognize (I guess) the most popular/important PR blog and the death Sunday of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Here’s the blurb about the PRWeek contest:

As part of its 10th anniversary celebration, PRWeek is honoring one of the most important technological advancements in content distribution of the past 10 years: the blog. The celebration comes by way of a competition between 32 blogs selected by PRWeek staff and others in the industry. The tournament will take place over five weeks. To view all participants, including the current matchups, click here.

That’s neat. Some promotion for the A-list bloggers — and a way for PRWeek to reach potential readers throughout the blogosphere. We take ourselves way too seriously in public relations. So I hope this contest is a way to have some fun while giving a boost to those who take the time to write about public relations and other matters. I think sharing views and insights with each other is important, actually.

And I also think that the PRWeek contest could be an opportunity to look at the role of blogging in public relations — and its importance to journalism and communication in general. I started writing this blog with the idea that it was a way to share my views — and also to discuss topics with others. Gee. Dare I say it: a conversation. That hasn’t been the case here certainly. And I see very little of that on public relations blogs or others. Comments? Yeah. Some blogs generate more than others. But conversations. In some cases yes. For most, no. Maybe I don’t read enough of the A-list PR blogs.

Yet blogging is — IMO — basically another form of one-way communication. It gives a lot of people like me the opportunity to step up on the soapbox. But I don’t think it is really a conversation unless someone says something back to me — then me to them, on and on. That’s certainly the case on most newspaper blogs (read some on The New York Times, for example) or sites like The Huffington Post. A writer posts a story — and readers jump in with comments. But no conversation.

Here’s a link to segment on a recent “Root of all Evil” — where Lewis Black and others debated which is more evil: Ultimate Fighting or Blogging. The segment looks at what would have happened to the Declaration of Independence if it had contained a comments page. Go the the site and click on the link: Ultimate Fighters vs. Bloggers — Oswalt on Bloggers. It’s a hoot. Also true, unfortunately.

And then there is Solzhenitsyn. He changed lives. And he did it the old-fashioned way. With pen and paper. If you don’t read anything else today, or this week, read this article by Anne Applebaum in Slate: “How Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago Changed the World.”

OK. Let’s see — “As part of its 10th anniversary celebration, PRWeek is honoring one of the most important technological advancements in content distribution of the past 10 years: the blog.”

Technological advancement. Yes. Changing the world? Well, maybe one day. But you have to have something to say. And if we are selling blogging as being part of a conversation, then shouldn’t we, ah, talk?

So what did Jesse say?

As my custom late afternoon, I was enjoying a few double gin and tonics and watching CNN, the Situation Room. The big story? Rev. Jesse Jackson was beside himself with apologies for something he said about Barack Obama and was captured on a “hot microphone.” Whatever that is. Probably should ask George Allen, late of the Senate from Virginia.

After an hour or so of listening to CNN promote this — and interview experts about the political fallout real or imagined, what did Jesse say? Here’s the story, as reported on the CNN Web site.

NEW YORK (CNN) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson apologized Wednesday for “crude and hurtful” remarks he made about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama after finishing an interview with a Fox News correspondent.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson apologized to Sen. Obama's campaign Wednesday over "hurtful" remarks.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson apologized to Sen. Obama’s campaign Wednesday over “hurtful” remarks.

Jackson told CNN’s “Situation Room” that a “hot” microphone caught a part of conversation he was having with a fellow guest at the studio.

He said he made a comment about Obama “speaking down black people” followed by a crude remark.

“It was very private” he said, adding later, if “any hurt or harm has been caused to his campaign, I apologize.” Video Watch more of Jackson’s apology on CNN »

The Obama campaign had no immediate comment.

Jackson‘s apology came a few hours before Fox News planned to air the remarks.

“I feel very distressed because I’m supportive of this campaign and with the senator,” Jackson told CNN. “I was in a conversation with a fellow guest on Sunday. He asked about Barack’s speeches lately at the black churches. I said he comes down as speaking down to black people.”

He said Obama’s message to black voters must be broader and serve as more than a “moral challenge.”

The black community is faced with high levels of unemployment, home foreclosures and violence, “so we have some real serious issues — not just moral issues,” he said.

However, Jackson said after finding out about the open microphone, he immediately contacted the Obama campaign to apologize.

So what did Jesse say? I don’t know. CNN — and NBC — told me everything else except that. Guess I’ll have to wait for it to appear on YouTube.

And truthfully, I don’t give a rat’s ass what Jackson said. But why won’t the networks report it? “The public’s right to know.” He,he, he, he. I think this says a lot about what has killed journalism in this country. Lack of guts. Did he say something so offensive that it can’t be reported? Good grief. Wonder what Don Imus has to say about this?

I also think it is interesting that reporters criticize PR people for not disclosing everything, including the secret formula to Coke. Is there any group that caters to its own self-interest more than journalists? Don’t think so. They even employ “reader advocates” to spin the company line. Gee. Wonder if a PR guy could get away with the spin we see in those columns? (I’m grumpy today. After my run I had to go to the dentist. Couldn’t that be considered a modest form of waterboarding?)

OK gang. Let’s see who is going to step up and tell the truth on the Jesse Jackson story. Bet it won’t be the traditional media. Although I have some hope for Howard Kurtz and The Washington Post. And then there is always Drudge and Huffington. Are they traditional media these days? Or new media?

We’ll see.

Update: Well, I guess O’Reilly has the story on Fox News.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson apologized Wednesday for saying Barack Obama is “talking down to black people” during what he thought was a private conversation with a FOX News reporter Sunday.

Jackson was speaking at the time about Obama’s speeches in black churches and his support for faith-based charities. Jackson added, “I want to cut his nuts off.”

Uh, “cut his nuts off.” Ouch.