Archive for January, 2005

January 24, 2005: 4:20 pm: Big Blunders

Armstrong Williams has caught a lot of flak — but what about the “flacks” that hired him. (Not the Department of Education, but the middleman in this affair.)

Well, Ketchum PR is now “ketching” it for not stepping forward with a mea culpa. Elizabeth Albrycht says their initial silence became deafening in her CorporatePR blog.

Six days after the scandal broke, Ketchum CEO Ray Kotcher (pictured left) published this letter in PR Week.

“For our part, Ketchum has begun a thorough review of all existing federal contracts and is retaining an outside firm to conduct a complete process that will surely yield recommendations to improve transparency as it relates to government contracts.”

January 22, 2005: 12:06 am: Uncategorized

“Now drop, and give me a 20 second sound bite, you maggot!”

Okay, so the training probably isn’t that intense, but Editor and Publisher is reporting that U.S. soldiers bound for Iraq are now getting mandatory media training as part of their deployment preparations, since October. (The Marines apparently have required it for years.)

The training consists of one or two hours of briefings by public-affairs specialists (which is a little shorter than the typical Positive Position seminar, by the way.) Once in the field, soldiers are given “talking points” cards, which might be updated as often as once a week. Some highlights:

• The Marine Corps is trained, resourced, and ready to accomplish its missions. We are committed to the cause and will remain in Iraq as long as we are needed.

• The fight in Iraq is tough, but we will remain steadfast and not lose heart.

• We are moving forward together with the Iraqi government as partners in building a future for the sons and daughters of Iraq.

• Coalition forces will help our Iraqi partners as they build their new and independent country and take their rightful place in the world community.

• Our troopers and their families are our greatest and most treasured resource.

• The Corps is a national institution — it has never failed to do the will of the American people.

I’m not sure about whether the cards have been in use in Iraq since the beginning. My gut tells me that if they were that prevalent, at least one of the embedded reporters would have broken the story earlier.

January 17, 2005: 5:00 pm: Big Blunders, Helpful Hints

Edit: Welcome to all of the TOTALFark visitors… glad to have you here.
(So tell me, exactly what sort of link to this blog is bringing you all here, anyway?)

You’ve seen this guy. You’ve heard this guy. Later, you’ll probably agree that he had one of the most memorable lines in the entire Star Wars saga: “Stay on target… stay on target!”

Well, he has a name. Graham Ashley. And that role as X-wing pilot “Gold Five” will live forever.

Maybe it’s because that line has become a mantra for crisis communications. “Stay on target… stay on target!”

Conservative pundit Armstrong Williams is exercising that muscle right now, in an attempt to control the damage as previously outlined. Williams was on the talk-show circuit, where columnist David Corn observed the following:

“He was quick with his main talking point: “It was bad judgment, Dave. Bad judgment.” His phone rang. He answered it, said hello, and then told the person on the other end, “It was bad judgment. You know, just bad judgment.” I was reminded that in addition to being a pundit, Williams, a leading African-American conservative and Clarence Thomas protégé, is a PR specialist with his own firm. Not too long ago, Michael Jackson called him for advice. Now he had himself for a client, and, heeding conventional crisis-management strategy, he was practicing strict message discipline: bad judgment, bad judgment, bad judgment.”

Unfortunately for Williams, he let’s his guard down. Corn continues:

“And then Williams violated a PR rule: he got off-point. “This happens all the time,” he told me. “There are others.” Really? I said. Other conservative commentators accept money from the Bush administration? I asked Williams for names. “I’m not going to defend myself that way,” he said. The issue right now, he explained, was his own mistake. Well, I said, what if I call you up in a few weeks, after this blows over, and then ask you? No, he said.”

There comes a point where you need to shut up.

Just as Jek Porkins. Porkins, one of the most famous unknowns in the Star Wars universe, got to say a lot more than Gold Five did. He had such lines as “Red Six standing by” and “I’m right with you Red Three.”

Speaking more can hurt you, as Porkins soon found out.
“I’ve got a problem here.”
“I can hold it.”
“No I’m alright, I’m alright aaaarrrrrggghhhhh…. “

January 14, 2005: 7:27 pm: Uncategorized

Update time…

It appears that most of the local Salvation Army “Kettle Drives” were more than successful.

Just Googling around, there are many areas that showed a great increase over last year, even without the projected losses from being kicked out of Target Store parking lots.

Meanwhile, Target is reporting that same-store sales were up 11.3% over last year.

Like I predicted. No losers.

January 13, 2005: 6:16 pm: Uncategorized

After years of sitting back, taking it on the chin from competitors and protestors, and growing like kudzu, Wal-Mart is firing back to clear its image.

I guess all of the complaints about overseas trade imbalances, lower pay for women, union-busting, benefit-shaving, inferior products, shutting down Mom-and-Pops, invading trendy neighborhoods, driving truckers to exhaustion, and pagan animal rituals finally got to the brass. (Okay, I made the last one up.) But the point here is that the others, whether substantiated or not, had been repeated so vociferously and so often that the substance entered the general consciousness as truth.

CEO H. Lee Scott took out full page ads in more than 100 papers. He says he’s not worried about how the tactic appears, as long as Wal-Mart tells the truth. “There are a lot of urban legends going round these days about Wal-Mart,” said Lee Scott, chief executive. “For too long, others have had free rein to say things about our company that just aren’t true. Our associates [employees] are tired of it and we’ve decided it’s time to draw our own line in the sand.” (Now that he’s thrown down that gauntlet, he’d better well stick to it.)

January 7, 2005: 3:22 pm: Big Blunders, External PR

Conservative commentator and talk show host Armstrong Williams got his hand caught in the cookie jar.

USA Today broke the story Friday morning, detailing how Williams’ company got a $240,000 contract from the US Department of Education to highlight the advantages of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The contract, detailed in documents obtained by USA TODAY through a Freedom of Information Act request, also shows that the Education Department, through the Ketchum public relations firm, arranged with Williams to use contacts with America’s Black Forum, a group of black broadcast journalists, “to encourage the producers to periodically address” NCLB. He persuaded radio and TV personality Steve Harvey to invite Paige onto his show twice.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said he couldn’t comment because the White House is not involved in departments’ contracts. Education Department spokesman John Gibbons said the contract followed standard government procedures. Gibbons said there are no plans to continue with “similar outreach.”

Williams’ contract was part of a $1 million deal with Ketchum that produced “video news releases” designed to look like news reports. The Bush administration used similar releases last year to promote its Medicare prescription drug plan, prompting a scolding from the Government Accountability Office, which called them an illegal use of taxpayers’ dollars.

Forget the ethical problems involved here. This is precisely the kind of trouble you can expect to get into when you aren’t careful about the multiple hats you wear. Williams deserves to be scolded, if for no other reason than for being stupid about how things will look under public scrutiny.