Tag Archives: Public Relations

Heading West: Follow Me To ColoROBo

Well, I’m actually doing something that I’ve talked about for years. I’m relocating this week to a small town in the mountains in Colorado, Woodland Park. I hope you’ll follow me on the journey and as I post on my new blog, ColoROBo, about life in Colorado, matters of interest in the media, and my efforts to more fully embrace a writer’s life by publishing a novel.

I started this blog, PR On The Run, nearly five years ago, while I was teaching classes in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State in media ethics, public relations and writing — and working with the most outstanding group of young people anywhere: students in Flash Communications. I figured that if I was going to stand in front of a class and opine about changes shaping public relations and journalism, I better at least make an attempt to understand blogs and blogging and how to write for readers online rather than in print.

I’ve had a blast, even though I’ve never gained that big of an audience or made a penny from these daily digital brain droppings. But it forced me to keep current on events — and to keep writing.  And hey. For someone obsessive enough to get up nearly every day for more than 30 years before 4 a.m. to hit the concrete or treadmill for a five-mile run, spending an hour or so cobbling together a few hundred words isn’t all that tough. Mostly, I appreciate those who took the time to read these posts and to add their perspective through thoughtful comments.

Even without the move to Colorado, it would have been a good time to bring an end to PR On The Run.

I’ve discovered that I really don’t have anything new or important to add to the discussion of public relations. I’ll always believe that ethical, honest and timely communications form the heart of a successful public relations program. But the field now seems to be dominated by tactical discussions about the use — and many times misuse — of social media: Facebook, Twitter and so on. That’s not necessarily bad. It’s just something I don’t understand — and quite honestly, don’t really care about.

And I’ve become extremely cynical about the ability of our elected leaders in Washington and elsewhere to take any action that benefits the public, rather than their own re-elections or vested interests. Better not to comment than to be negative about just about everything in the public arena these days. And I’m liberal on some issues, conservative on others. That makes for some pretty tepid opinions in a venue that encourages writers to hurl lightning bolts and take no prisoners.

And more and more I’ve become interested in issues involving the sorry state of public education in the country — and the growing attack on teachers that will do nothing but make a bad situation worse. Unlike beach volleyball, these apparently aren’t issues of widespread interest or concern. Too bad.

So I don’t have a final post for PR On The Run.

No need.

I’m not retiring from blogging or anything else I find interesting and enjoyable, including running and drinking Jameson. I’m going to keep writing in a different forum, ColoROBo, and from a different perspective as I begin the next stage in my life living above the clouds.

I’ll be back in early September.

In Colorado.

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Komen Foundation: Racing for a Credible Response

Looks like the Susan G. Komen Foundation has stepped in some big time doo-doo while racing to distance itself from Planned Parenthood. And I question whether the organization really knows what sparked the shitstorm.

Here’s why.

I’m far from an expert on this, but I’ve been dabbling in the world of nonprofit advocacy groups for the past several years now. As a generalization, my view is that they don’t place a particularly high value on communications, especially from the perspective of strategic planning. And many believe they can “spin” anything to their advantage, since clearly in their little world their work is important and always on the side of the angels.

Consider those points in the context of this NYT article, “Uproar as Komen Foundation Cuts Money to Planned Parenthood“:

Pink ribbons have for decades been a symbol of resolve and compassion in the face of the deadly disease of breast cancer. Now, that nearly ubiquitous icon has many women seeing red.

When the nation’s largest breast cancer advocacy organization considered in October cutting off most of its financial support to the nation’s largest abortion provider, the breast cancer group was hoping for a quiet end to an increasingly controversial partnership.

[Wonder who offered the advice that this wouldn’t attract much attention? My guess (and hope) is that professional communications/PR counsel was ignored.]

Instead, the organization, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, is now engulfed in a controversy that threatens to undermine one of the most successful advocacy campaigns. The foundation’s decision to eliminate most of its grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening caused a cascade of criticism from prominent women’s groups, politicians and public health advocates and a similarly strong outpouring of support from conservative women and religious groups that oppose abortion.

Now, leaders of both the Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood are accusing each other of bad faith and actions that undermine women. And two organizations dedicated to detecting and curing breast cancer have found themselves on opposite sides of the nation’s divisive debate over abortion.

John D. Raffaelli, a Komen board member and Washington lobbyist, said Wednesday that the decision to cut off money to 17 of the 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates it had supported was made because of the fear that an investigation of Planned Parenthood by Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, would damage Komen’s credibility with donors.

The organization’s longtime support of Planned Parenthood had already cost it some support from anti-abortion forces, Mr. Raffaelli said. But the board feared that charges that Komen supported organizations under federal investigation for financial improprieties could take a further and unacceptable toll on donations, he said. “People don’t understand that a Congressional investigation doesn’t necessarily mean a problem of substance,” Mr. Raffaelli said. “When people read about it in places like Texarkana, Tex., where I’m from, it sounds really bad.”

[Ah, the old “it won’t play in Texarkana” defense.]

So the Komen board voted that all of its vendors and grantees must certify that they are not under investigation by federal, state or local authorities. But for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, being the target of partisan investigations is part of doing business. So Komen’s new rule effectively ended their long partnership and seemed to the health services provider an unacceptable betrayal of their common mission to save women’s lives.

[Good internal rationale for the Komen board members and staff. But it won’t play even in Texarkana. Bullshit index way too high; credibility way too low. Note to Komen board members: You made the decision. Don’t try to spin it. The perception is — right or wrong — that you caved to those who oppose abortion.]

Dawn Laguens, an executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that Komen’s money had over the years underwritten breast cancer screenings for 170,000 women, some of whose lives were saved as a result. She said she had no sympathy for Komen’s attempt to mollify donors by ending its relationship with a controversial provider of women’s health services. Only a small percentage of Planned Parenthood’s expenditures go toward abortion services.

“I’m going to reserve my empathy for the women left on the side of the road by somebody who has given into bullying,” Ms. Laguens said. “I think it’s particularly curious that they wanted to quietly put this decision out there.”

Planned Parenthood now has the high moral and communications ground. And I expect this will help their fund raising in the long run.

Good.

Truthful and credible communication matters.

Getting Fired: A Lesson in Truthful Public Relations

Oh, boy. Carol Bartz, the recently canned CEO at Yahoo, got the news via a telephone call: “You’re fired.” Wow. You would have thunk that the board member in charge of that kind of firing at an Internet technology company could have at least sent a pithy e-mail or text message. But that’s not the real story here.

The real story from a public relations perspective is what Bartz did. She quickly tapped out an e-mail to all Yahoo employees saying: “I’ve just been fired.”

What? No resigning to pursue other professional opportunities. Or spend more time with family.

Hey, during my stint in the corporate gulag at Goodrich I wrote many of those dishonest — yet face-saving for the company and the executive involved — announcements. Mr. or Ms. X has decided to vacate his/her corner office and forfeit millions in compensation and perks to spend more time with his/her family. LOL

But amazingly enough, I never had a journalist ask me for the real reason for the departure. Also, when a news media executive or editor is pushed to the curb you see the same type of public relations dribble in print and online. Maybe it’s just accepted practice. Sigh.

So I give Bartz points for candor and honesty — but that’s not a view shared by everyone.

Here’s from a NYT article, “Blunt E-Mail Raises Issues Over Firing at Yahoo“:

“I’ve just been fired.”

With those four words, Yahoo’s chief executive, Carol A. Bartz, did something Tuesday afternoon that dismissed managers almost never do: She told the truth.

In the upper echelons of corporate America, executives are forever leaving to pursue urgent opportunities, develop important new ventures or, that old standby, spend more time with their long-neglected families. Hardly anyone ever admits to being sacked. Even in cases where the executive has all but been bodily ejected from his executive suite — Rick Wagoner of prebankruptcy General Motors or Tony Hayward of post-oil-spill BP — the most they say is that they have been asked to step aside.

Ms. Bartz’s blunt statement, sent in an e-mail blast to Yahoo’s 13,400 employees, immediately ignited a debate: Was she a pioneer trying to provide more transparency and authenticity at the top ranks of prominent companies, or was her salvo an unprofessional tirade that was a personal and professional mistake?

Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Stanford professor who is an expert in organizational behavior, is in the first group. “The truth helps you improve,” he said. “When people lose their jobs and there’s no acknowledgement, the potential for learning is lost.” Ms. Bartz’s comments also served her own cause, the professor said. “She’s acting as if this is not her fault. She’s not embarrassed. She’s controlling the story.”

But Jennifer Chatman, a professor and chair of the Haas Management of Organizations Group at the University of California, Berkeley, said Ms. Bartz’s angry words could help sink the struggling search portal. Now the directors who ejected Ms. Bartz are under attack at the moment employees need them to save Yahoo.

“A chief executive who was thinking first about the long-term interests of her company would not have done this,” Ms. Chatman said, adding that there are problems of perception in this case as well: “She’s one of a handful of top female business leaders. It would be easy to attach this to a stereotype of women leaders as not in control of their emotions.”

Whatever the effect on Yahoo, unvarnished comments like Ms. Bartz’s are likely to become more common. Chief executives are increasingly conscious of their personal brand and how it can diverge from the corporate brand.

“I would say this is going to become much more of a trend,” said Homa Bahrami, a senior lecturer at Berkeley and an adviser to several Silicon Valley start-ups. “I see it already in private companies when there is a change in management. The chief executive picks up the phone and tells the investors exactly what happened. The younger generation appreciates this honesty. You’re authentic and you’re vulnerable.”

Authenticity, though, can backfire, and vulnerability is not always something to be desired. Executives who are not on their way out are learning that broadcasting their feelings can have unintended consequences.

I understand very well the sensitivities involved on the part of the person being fired and those doing the firing. Still, it’s refreshing to see someone tell the truth and not hide behind disclosures that are misleading at best and dishonest at worst.

And I know I should be using this space today to opine on Obama’s jobs speech tonight. But truth be told — see how easy it is — if the U.S. Open tennis matches don’t get rained out again today I’ll be watching tennis and not the Prez.

Just sayin’.

 

Steve Jobs: A Lesson in Communication

There are plenty of excellent articles and blog posts today about the career achievements and legacy of Steve Jobs.  Jobs announced last night that he was resigning as Apple’s CEO. What strikes me about the announcement is not the commentaries written about him by others, but by his own resignation letter.

Here’s his resignation letter as printed in the NYT:

To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s C.E.O., I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as C.E.O. of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as C.E.O. of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

Steve

Clear. Concise. Classy.

Not many CEOs, certainly few if any with the stature and reputation of Steve Jobs, would be content to leave center stage with so little fanfare and without the spotlight focused directly on his/her accomplishments.

There is a lesson in communication and public relations here — and perhaps what Jobs said and how he said it in his letter of resignation provides some insight into why he was so successful in developing, designing and marketing products that really have influenced our economy and the lives of people around the world.

Weiner and Sarah: Apology?

OK. I said last week that I wasn’t going to touch the Weiner story. But the story that paints the New York congressman as an ethically challenged social media guru — someone expert in both digital photography and texting — is too rich to pass up this early a.m. And it’s one of two stories dominating the news cycle. The other. The midnight ride of Sarah Palin.

In the PR biz, the standard advice in crisis management is to take responsibility — and apologize. Congressman Weiner was a little late in taking responsibility, or even admitting any involvement in sending photos of himself to woman around the country. But he sure knows how to apologize.

Here’s from Dana Milbank, opining in WaPo, “Anthony Weiner’s apology-fest“:

Have you received an apology yet from Anthony Weiner? If not, you haven’t been listening.

He apologized to his wife: “I am deeply sorry for the pain this has caused my wife, Huma.”

He apologized to the young woman he sent the lewd photo to on Twitter: “We exchanged some text messages, mostly for me to express my abject apologies for how she got dragged into this.”

He even apologized to his main tormenter, the conservative publisher of BigGovernment.com: “I apologize to Andrew Breitbart.”

Anybody left out? “Everyone that I misled — everyone in the media, my staff, the people that I — that I lied to about this — they all deserve an apology. . . All of you who were misled, the people who I lied to, I have an apology for all of them.”

In all, Weiner spoke of an apology or apologizing or being apologetic 19 times in his news conference during which he finally came clean — or partially clean — about his rude behavior with women in social media. He offered up the word “sorry” 11 times, expressed “regret” 18 times, spoke of his responsibility 14 times, and used various and sundry other expressions of shame and remorse.

Regrets were offered to “my constituents, my friends, supporters and staff,” to “the many people that put so much faith and confidence in me,” to “the people I care about most.”

Wow. And to think I used to make big bucks advising people to do that. I digress. Well, if nothing else, it looks like Weiner knows how to apologize.

Then there is Sarah. And the great thing about her is that she never says she’s sorry.

The latest flap. She kinda put a new spin on the old story about Paul Revere while she was visiting Boston during her non-candidate bus tour. And not only is she not apologizing, she says she is correct and her supporters are rewriting history.

Here’s from WaPo — and for you believe in media conspiracies to undercut Sarah get this, the writer is Rachel Weiner — “Fight brews over Sarah Palin on Paul Revere Wikipedia page“:

Supporters of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin have taken to Wikipedia, where they have been trying all weekend to revise the page on Paul Revere to reflect her recent comments.

In her trip to Massachusetts last week, Palin flubbed the history of Revere’s ride, saying that he rode through Boston ringing bells to warn the British that the revolutionaries were armed and ready to fight. Revere actually rode quietly, to warn the revolutionaries that British troops were headed their way.

As first noticed by the blog Little Green Footballs, Palin fans have been attempting to add her version of the story to Revere’s Wikipedia page — a source of research information for more than half of college students. Other users have been deleting the changes as they appear, arguing that what Palin said in the past week should be kept separate from a page about an event that happened hundreds of years ago.

Palin is hardly alone among politicians for getting American history wrong. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) made a similar gaffe on a trip to New Hampshire earlier this year, placing the battles of Lexington and Concord in that state.

Where Palin is unique is in her — and her fans — defiant attitude. Bachmann admitted on Facebook that “it was my mistake” and turned it into a joking jab at Massachusetts. Palin, on the other hand, went on “Fox News Sunday” this weekend and defended her version of events.

“I didn’t mess up,” Palin said. “I answered candidly and I know my American history … Part of his ride was to warn the British that we’re already there.”

Defending Palin, some commentators have pointed out that Revere did tell the British about armed colonial militiamen — after he was captured and held at gunpoint. According to “Paul Revere’s Ride” by David Hackett Fischer, Revere was trying to lead his captors away from Lexington (where Sam Adams and John Hancock were hidden) by saying that danger awaited them there.

And for those who delight in advancing the “Sarah is stupid” mantra, here’s a story on NPR with host Melissa Block that quotes Professor Robert Allison, Chairman of the History Department at Suffolk University, as saying that, ah, Sarah basically got the Paul Revere story right.

BLOCK: So Paul Revere was ringing those bells? He was a silversmith, right?

Prof. ALLISON: Well, he was – he also was a bell ringer. That is, he rang the bells at Old North Church as a boy. But he personally is not getting off his horse and going to ring bells. He’s telling other people – and this is their system before Facebook, before Twitter, before NPR, this was the way you get a message out is by having people ring church bells and everyone knows there is an emergency.

And by this time, of course, the various town Committees of Safety, militia knew what the signals were, so they knew something was afoot. So this is no longer a secret operation for the British.

Revere isn’t trying to alert the British, but he is trying to warn them. And in April of 1775, no one was talking about independence. We’re still part of the British Empire. We’re trying to save it. So this is a warning to the British Empire what will happen if you provoke Americans.

BLOCK: And Sarah Palin also was saying there that Paul Revere’s message to the British in his warning was: you’re not going to take American arms. You know, basically a Second Amendment argument, even though the Second Amendment didn’t exist then.

Prof. ALLISON: Yeah. She was making a Second Amendment case. But, in fact, the British were going out to Concord to seize colonists’ arms, the weapons that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was stockpiling there.

So, yeah, she is right in that. I mean, and she may be pushing it too far to say this is a Second Amendment case. Of course, neither the Second Amendment nor the Constitution was in anyone’s mind at the time. But the British objective was to get the arms that were stockpiled in Concord.

BLOCK: So you think basically, on the whole, Sarah Palin got her history right.

Prof. ALLISON: Well, yeah, she did. And remember, she is a politician. She’s not an historian. And God help us when historians start acting like politicians, and I suppose when politicians start writing history.

I’m just reporting the news.

Sorry about that.

Tiger Woods: Too Big to Fail?

I guess it really is mid-December in NE Ohio. Had a great early a.m. run Saturday when it was cold, clear and amazingly silent. Then Sunday morning I fretted about what to do as I listened to the pitter-patter of freezing rain at 5 a.m. So I ended up chasing the belt on the treadmill. And I couldn’t avoid watching the recycled news shows with stories and commentary about Tiger Woods and his liaisons, hiatus from the pro golf tour and falling out with sponsors and, it appears, the world writ large.

Whew. Who’d a thunk it? Not me. For dead-tree scribblers, TV Talking Heads, pajama-clad citizen journalists and people everywhere, this story is the content gift that just keeps giving. And there is no end in sight.

So some random thoughts as we wait for the next disclosure and development:

  • When this story first surfaced and began to spread, the PR and crisis management gurus advised Tiger to spill his guts, tell all — and quickly. Would that have ended the story? No. One affair, maybe. But too many women involved — each, apparently, with a story to tell. To give advice — legal, PR, whatever — you really need all the facts — and there needs to be a two-way relationship of trust. Clearly none of that applied initially. And may not apply now with Woods and his advisers.
  • When I worked at Goodrich until a decade ago, we faced some tough and negative stories. The objective from a media and management standpoint was to make sure that the story never lasted for more than one day — at that time, realistically, that was the news cycle. That’s no longer true — and a story can go on indefinitely, no matter what you say or do. Just too many organizations and people out there now with megaphones and the ability to shout at or with an audience.
  • Why are we so fascinated with Tiger Woods? And why is there a sense that at some level he has deceived us, let down the public? At the most basic level he has hurt his wife and family. It’s interesting to me that we hold Woods, a sports figure, to a higher standard than we hold elected officials. And that’s a theme that I have opined on previously. There is a strong emotional bond with sports teams at all levels — and with athletes. But sure looks like there is a cautionary tale here with advertisers.
  • Is Tiger Woods too big to fail? Estimates put his endorsement income in the range of $100 million a year. But that doesn’t speak to the millions that he generates in sales for sponsors or the money he generates for charities. And how much in TV ratings (and income) and prize money at tour events is riding on Woods? I don’t know. But when you add it up, Woods might just be too big to let fail. Hey. We saved Government Motors. Why not Tiger?
  • And in the frenzy over the Woods story — which really does have it all: sex, sports, betrayal and money — does anyone else think it is ironic that there is a new member of the journalism fraternity. It’s Ashley Dupre, of Eliot Spitzer fame, who has a new gig writing a sex column for The New York Post. Woods appears to enjoy posting on his Web site. Maybe there is a career opportunity lurking here as well. Woot.

Oh well. This is what happens to small minds like mine when the pro football season is over — and you sit in front of the TV all afternoon wishing and hoping for just one goal so Akron would win the NCAA soccer title. Certainly a disappointing loss. But congrats to the Akron players and coaches for a great season.

And pretty soon the weekends will be filled with telecasts of golf tournaments.

Wonder if Tiger will be allowed out to play?

Tiger Woods: Par for the PR Course?

OK, let’s think about it for a minute. This morning — like many these days — I headed to the wellness center (formerly called gym) at about 5 a.m., first backing my Jeep out of the garage and driveway in the dark. Suppose I rammed the fire hydrant that stands almost directly across the street? Would my wife immediately come charging out of the house wielding a golf club with the intent of extricating me from the tangled steel and plastic?

Doubtful.

And that’s one of the problems Tiger Woods has with the story — and news coverage — of his late-night car accident and his wife’s seemingly heroic rescue. Even a novice conspiracy theorist can find some questions lurking in this account. So what?

Is Tiger Woods obligated to bare his soul and everything else at this point as though he were about to go through security at the Orlando airport?

No. From what I’ve read he is not required to talk to the police about the incident. Yet just about everyone else is clamoring for him to do so — especially the public relations crisis communication/management experts. Here — thanks to my friend Bill Sledzik via Twitter — is one of what I am sure are many similar articles: “Local PR pros advise Tiger Woods to open up.”

Many times full and timely disclosure is the best, most effective — and possibly only — response. But not always — despite what the PR gurus and agency folks who command big bucks to give this advice say. What if you say nothing — opine as Woods has that this is a private matter — and then just let the story go away, as it will eventually?

Here’s why this may be the best strategy for Woods to follow at this point.

First, no matter what, Woods doesn’t want this to evolve into a story about domestic violence. There are no facts to support that now. And here’s a situation where it is possible that legal counsel and PR advice don’t mesh — with the legal folks getting the better of the argument.

Second, Woods is a public figure — but at the same time he has a valid claim to personal privacy. He’s not an elected public official — and I don’t see any public right to know here about his marriage, family, or even as the National Enquirer reports, a relationship with another woman. This isn’t a Mark Sanford situation — even if Woods has been hiking the Appalachian Trail, which he denies. If Woods opens the door to his private life, he is letting everyone in. Why? Or at least, why now?

Third, if there is such a thing as a Tiger Woods brand, it’s based on his position as the world’s best golfer. It’s not like he is manufacturing a car that has been subject to a recall here. Good grief. Is this a hit to his reputation and how some may view him personally? Yes. Does it knock him, his career or his endorsements out of bounds? No.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. And it gives our collective national minds and attention spans some time off from considering other issues: health care, jobs, the economy, Afghanistan and so on.

And get this. While I was finishing my stint on the elliptical trainer this morning, the TV Talking Heads on Fox News described the woman involved in the story, Rachel Uchitel, as being in PR — since she is (as they reported) a hostess at a NYC nightclub.

Go figure.