Archive for February, 2006

February 28, 2006: 1:32 pm: Big Blunders, Helpful Hints

Managing reputations in a vacuum is easy. But life is messy — and like sanitation engineers, our job is to make the work environment a little more livable for our execs, stakeholders, and stockholders.

Sometimes all it takes is one wrong click of the mouse. Eric Govan got bounced out of the Golden State Warriors PR department for sending an inappropriate e-mail to a rather large list. Since this happened in the same market as last year’s 49er training video debacle, the effect is somewhat magnified.

Sometimes, the ball bounces in your favor. At the Sundance premeire of “Thank You For Smoking,” Katie Holmes’ anticipated sex scene was nowhere to be found. The explanation is that the projectionist screwed up:

Jason Reitman isn’t mad at the projectionist he said accidentally eliminated Katie Holmes’ sex scene from a screening of “Thank You For Smoking.”

In fact, he joked that he deserves a raise.

Reitman said the mysterious disappearance during the Sundance Film Festival has been great publicity for the movie. He also understands why some people prefer to think Tom Cruise ordered him to cut the scene. Reitman said the problem with the term “projection error is that it’s the truth but it sounds like a lie.”

As it stands, that little bit of publicity may pique some needed curiousity. It’s not like Katie has millions of people thinking she’s been brainwashed by Tom’s Scientology buddies or anything.

: 11:43 am: Housekeeping, Personal

I’m willing to ditch this if there are enough complaints… but you may notice that I’ve added a string to the front of the title.

I’m told that an increasing number of people use aggregators and are melding their own feeds. Those who run their own blogs understand the source of the content, but many many more are inclined to think it’s all original to the aggregator (Yahoo or anyone else.)

At least for now, AtP2: ought to be a reminder that a post comes from “Accentuate the Positive, 2.0.”

February 27, 2006: 12:15 pm: Helpful Hints

There are a lot of ways you can go about cashing in on a trend. This latest deal between Pontiac and Google has me scratching my head.

Maybe I just don’t get it. I don’t pay enough attention to ads, but the flashy graphic told me to “Google ‘Pontiac’” to find out more.

If you’re making an internet search your “action step” for a potential buyer, why send them to an undetermined destination? What’s going to stop a bunch of kids from Google-bombing the results page? Further, what will stop an underhanded rep from paying kids to Google-bomb?

Now — is Google giving Pontiac some type of guarantee that it can be made bomb-proof? And is that the sort of guarantee that only comes with a (wink wink nudge nudge) co-branding effort?

February 26, 2006: 1:03 am: Housekeeping, Personal

Remember this little snarky comment at the end of my last post?

“(When is someone going to develop the AJAX blog template layout, letting you drag and drop to design?)”

Well, it’s here. It’s called Logahead.

It still is in Beta, and has some issues.

Call me psychic. The thing went live on the 25th — more than a full day after I called for it.

No, I am not ready to switch to Logahead. But I am interested to see how it does, and who installs it.

February 23, 2006: 4:10 am: Housekeeping

Too many new tools and gizmos… and I am a sucker for trying them out.

At least I have hacked my sidebar so I can keep some things hidden.

Tips of the “tech hat” to Scott and Kami for hitting me with a double-barrelled wakeup call. Maybe I’ve been in Texas too long.

You’ll notice that the last menu item on the right is “Recent Faves.” That has links to the three most recent posts on my Technorati Favorites list, followed by my last five comments on others’ blogs.

Thank goodness these things are automating themselves now. (When is someone going to develop the AJAX blog template layout, letting you drag and drop to design?)

February 22, 2006: 1:40 am: Rants

When I left teevee news, you could have heard a pin drop in newsrooms across town. Some of my coworkers thought I’d be the last guy to leave. Big-J Journalism, through and through.

As I started my fledgling steps in the world of public relations, I was quite fortunate to do it in a market where I had worked for seven-and-a-half years. I knew the reporters and the gatekeepers, and they knew me. Some questioned why I would go over to “the dark side.” For the most part, I knew they were kidding.

Apparently, some aren’t kidding when they make comments like that.

Again — having been shielded — I never stopped to think about the source of this antipathy. (At least not in a deep, philosophical way.)

Others have written about this in the past, so I’m not going to rehash with a war story. (And a tip of the hat to Scott at Media Orchard.) I instead offer an allegory:

A great wall divides two camps. On one side, you’ll find a scattering of wells, mines, and other resources. On the other side, you’ll find all of the roads that go to market, and the keys to the fence.

The first tribe knows it must befriend the second tribe if they want to get the most exposure in the market. The second tribe knows they can forage for themselves on the other side, but they can find what they want more quickly if the first tribe guides them in.

It’s a somewhat symbiotic relationship that still appears to favor the tribe with the keys. (If you are urging me to use the word “parasitic” instead, you might be too close to the situation!) I say “appear” because there is a final dynamic at play: competition.

The “keymasters” ought to be living on easy street, but there are too many of them to act as a bloc. As much as they want to exploit the guide-tribe, they know they’ll lose in quantity and quality if they go it alone. If they are the last to market with the wool/water/gold/firewood, they lose.

That’s how competition balances the relationship — but that same competition sours it when misplaced. Journalists are predatory in nature. They seek. They stalk. They hunt. And they do so in an environment where they are competing with several other news-related outlets. And they also compete in-house with the very people that ought to be helping them. When you see nothing but competition in your own editorial meeting, and nothing but competition coming from the other shops in town, and nothing but competition for the ever-fickle consumer… it’s easy to see how that competitive drive ends up aimed at the PR practitioner.

The attitude of many journalists is that they are out for a “higher calling.” That the PR people have “sold out.” The PR people have something to hide — and (here’s the competition) the game to reveal “the truth” is on. “The truth,” of course, fitting their template.

The real irony at play is that the “Big-J” journalists like to adhere to the old line about “giving hope to the helpless and voice to the voiceless.” In other words, providing a platform for those who would not otherwise be heard. But if that “voiceless” person happens to own a business or be somewhat successful — well, all bets are off. There’s no need to “represent” these people fairly, or help them communicate their point of view.

Tribe #2 had better get its collective (cooperative) act together… the tools are changing, and those of us on the PR side are getting less-and-less reliant on their precious keys and gates…

February 21, 2006: 11:55 am: Helpful Hints, Personal

Good spokespeople can be born… but the best ones are made.

That’s not just a self-serving statement on my part. I am living it.

As I write this, I am in the Birmingham airport waiting for a ride to Dallas. The American Red Cross is training communicators this week.

Now, I was in broadcast journalism for 16 years, and I very well understand what reporters and editors want and how to give it to them. My media training business is built on the idea that “civilians” can overcome a lot of fear and poor press by knowing how the sausage is made. If you can take the trepidation out through advance training, you can enhance the message and be confident that your point will at least be heard.

However, the Red Cross program I am entering is a specialized breed. When a major disaster strikes a community, the local Red Cross spokespeople are usually running beyond full capacity just getting vital information to the public. You can easily fill 16-hour days just fielding calls from local reporters, monitoring local news, and pushing important updates to local media. (I was doing 18-hour days during Katrina.) Simply put, you don’t have the luxury to deal with Good Morning America, CNN, the New York Times, and Newsweek.

That’s where this training comes in. Rapid Response Communicators take on-call shifts, and are ready to zip into a disaster area. By shielding the local volunteers from national media, it allows the important services and information to flow uniterrupted. It also ensures that the national media will get consistent information and Red Cross messaging.

Major disasters already have enough confusion and chaos — the flow of assistance doesn’t need to be choked off by poor communication. Particularly when you have hundreds of thousands of volunteers, any one of which can create national embarrassment with a stray or ill-informed comment.

I’ll share what I can through the week.

February 19, 2006: 12:27 pm: Helpful Hints

Know your audience — and know your media.

It’s not just the rules that are changing ever faster… it’s the evolution and revolution of the game.

I still run across “old-schoolers” who beat the same mantra they memorized out of the old PR texts. That includes the old “sneak the bad news out on a Friday” canard.

Several of major things have changed:

  • The news cycle is now constant, so there’s no benefit in dropping bad news on Fridays. Even traditional print publications are seeing the value in updating websites between issues.
  • The news is now niche-oriented, which means that specific outlets will run you down regardless of the time.
  • Reporters and editors have learned, and have evolved new habits. Particularly the financial reporters.

The two keys are knowing your audience and cultivating your relationships with media gatekeepers. Yes, that is starting to include bloggers, who are the nichiest of the bunch, are the least beholden to news cycles, and appreciate your time and attention more than most.

And don’t forget about placing stories on Friday. From my experience, Friday was one of the more difficult days to nail good stories. A couple of quick calls in the morning will let you know if the reporters and editors in your area are already budgeted for the day, or if they are in need of what you are pitching. (The greater their need, the greater your control, and the more prominent the placement.)

In my market, most of the civic meetings that draw media attention are on Tuesdays. I do my best to avoid scheduling events or releases for Tuesdays, moreso than Fridays. Your mileage may vary.

February 16, 2006: 11:18 am: Helpful Hints

Hey Pandora — no need to fix that lock. The technology is out, and we can’t close that box if we tried.

I apologize in advance for using a basketball reference, but most people understand the concept of the “full court press.” That’s where a team doesn’t concede an inch of the court, and pressures the ball at every moment, trying to force a steal or a turnover.

For teams not used to seeing “organized chaos” in action, it can be devastating. When the players executing the defense are that much faster and quicker to the ball, opposing coaches sometimes cheat in practice. I remember doing drills on my team where we moved the ball up the court against seven defenders. When game time came around, handling five was a snap.

What if the other team wasn’t just bringing five, but five-hundred? Five-thousand? A sea of humanity, on the playing field? Let’s just say controlling the ball gets nearly impossible.

When it comes to protecting institutional reputation, the rules have changed by orders of magnitude. This is still a business of relationships, and knowing key people can give you the edge in getting your message across. The problem today is that the genie is out of the bottle. There are no real “gate-keepers” anymore, and to be honest, there haven’t been for quite some time.

The “tipping point” emerged a few years ago, when tabloids started getting information that “panned out.” Emboldened by the truth, it was nigh impossible to shut them down, because they didn’t care about whether you liked them or not. Consequently, the “publicity culture” adapted, and used the new rules to create celebrities that were famous for being famous, and nothing else.

The genie boldly left the bottle about the time I started blogging. (I’m not taking all the credit — I just happen to be part of the Blog Boomer generation.) Now, little tidbits about anything can eventually hit critical mass, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

It might be a slow-burning misunderstanding about a well-vetted idea. It could be an innocent mistake that gets trumpted worldwide before you even know about it. It could be the break-up rumor that just won’t go away. Or, it could be any of the political blogs that get traction after a couple of days.

Welcome to the brave new world of image management. Pass the popcorn. We’re all a part of the full-court press.

February 14, 2006: 11:53 am: External PR, Helpful Hints

If you can’t beat ‘em, beat ‘em to the punchline. That’s the tack White House spokesman Scott McClellan is taking to mitigate “Hunting-gate.”

McClellan took it on the chin Monday, no doubt. The White House press corp savaged him soundly, trying to construct a “what-did-he-know and when-did-he-know-it” timeline regarding the Vice-President’s hunting mishap. McClellan wasn’t exactly getting forthcoming information from Cheney’s staff, and had to suffer the slings and arrows alone. (Good thing Cheney isn’t a bowhunter.)

Anyway, as you can imagine, Monday was a watershed night for the Daily Show, Leno, and Letterman.

What’s not so funny is the slow response from Cheney’s people. A simple appearance from Cheney to field the questions would have done a world of good. But instead, we’re treated to another day or so of mountains out of molehills (that are of the administration’s own making.)

McClellan is doing his best to take the steam out of it all, though. He delivered a pitch-perfect punchline of his own, using a topical peg: the White House visit by the National Champion Texas Longhorns:

“The orange that they’re wearing is not because they’re concerned that the vice president may be there,” joked White House press secretary Scott McClellan, following the lead of late-night television comedians. “That’s why I’m wearing it.”

Well-crafted, timely, and in a self-effacing way, somewhat humble.

Considering it was a lack of forth-rightness and humility that got them into this mess to begin with, it’s a good start. Best case scenario, the story starts to fade, to be replaced by a recurrent punchline.

(I wonder if the left will stop complaining about Justice Antonin Scalia’s hunting trips with Cheney, and start urging more of them instead.)

February 13, 2006: 10:38 am: Big Blunders, External PR

Dick Cheney is the first Vice-President to shoot a man since Aaron Burr popped a cap in Alexander Hamilton. However, the real duel is being waged now in the media.

The first volley, much like the bird shot that hit Harry Whittington, is coming from the comedians. After all, this is fair game for comedy.

What may be more problematic is the response from anti-gun advocates James and Sarah Brady:

“Now I understand why Dick Cheney keeps asking me to go hunting with him,” said Jim Brady. “I had a friend once who accidentally shot pellets into his dog – and I thought he was an idiot.”

“I’ve thought Cheney was scary for a long time,” Sarah Brady said. “Now I know I was right to be nervous.”

There are times to use news pegs to plant your take in the media, but are these comments from the Bradys even on target?

Jim Brady, in consecutive sentences, appears to say that Cheney wants to shoot him in the woods. Then, he equates an accidental shooting with idiocy.

Which is it? Is Cheney a deliberate danger? Or is it really an accident?

Sarah’s comment also seems out of place. She thought he was dangerous, as though he had ever invited her hunting?

It’s also not as if Cheney was using a controversial automatic assault rifle, or even a handgun, which was at the center of the Brady cause and mission for so long:

The Brady Campaign, the Million Mom March and the Brady Center believe that a safer America can be achieved without banning all guns.

If you’re not going to ban all guns, then which ones do you leave in society? Hunting rifles and shotguns are too big to be concealed, and too specialized for criminal work. Cheney’s bird gun is the type of weapon that usually attracts the least concern and political heat (unless you’re from PeTA.)

That’s why the Bradys’ comment on this situation seems a little forced, smacks of partisanship, and could dilute their future impact. It plays to choir, and doesn’t appeal to the middle.

February 11, 2006: 11:51 am: Housekeeping, Personal

I don’t do memes here, normally. But it’s Saturday.

Four jobs I’ve had

  • Television Reporter
  • PR Guy
  • Director
  • Inventory Control

Four movies I can watch over and over

  • Shawshank Redemption
  • Office Space
  • Best in Show
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Four TV shows I love to watch

  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • Lost
  • Boston Legal
  • Earl/The Office

Four places I’ve been on vacation

  • Alaska
  • Gatlinburg
  • Jackson Hole
  • DisneyWorld

Four favorite dishes

  • Cantonese Chicken
  • Taco Casa Sanchos
  • Poppy seed Chicken Casserole
  • Prime Rib

Four places I’d rather be

  • In the mountains
  • Practicing Kung Fu
  • Writing my screenplay
  • Working on my legal project

Four bloggers I am tagging

Four websites I visit everyday

February 10, 2006: 11:35 am: Helpful Hints, Personal

Everyone likes to wax on about how the speed of the media and public perception has changed the way PR folks and their clients need to revamp the old rules. But the same technology that vaults us to light-speed video-game-twitch reactions also forces us to look to the past if we are to succeed.

RSS. Podcasts. Citizen journalists. High-tech IPOs. Search engine optimization. Guerilla marketing. Blogs, blogs, blogs, blogs…

…not to mention 24-hour news cycles, and an endless need to respond.

Entire industries and technologies have sprung up to make sure corporations and businesses can know what’s being said about them, and the focus is on how to quickly react.

When you monitor the “now,” don’t forget to monitor the “when.” In many cases, you can find articles, opinions, and blogposts lingering on the net that slipped past that first-day search. Ask Francisco Oaxaca. I wrote about his performance during an extended interview with PrimeTime Live on ABC. My take hit the web on December 2nd — and you’ll notice the very recent comment from Mr. Oaxaca.

I can understand how my piece might have flown under the radar. It was my first substantive post since relaunching my blog — post-Katrina, post-address-change, post-WordPress conversion.

It’s part of our culture to honor speed and efficiency, but don’t forget to look back. Search engines have 20/20 hindsight and freeze moments in time, where we can see them from all the angles and dissect them with impunity.

In a future post, I’ll talk about my experience with “Deja New.”

February 9, 2006: 11:17 pm: External PR

What one word best describes the state of PR today?
Would you believe… Alaska?
(sorry. bad pun.)

Apparently, the ham-fisted pork-barrel antics of Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens has left the state with a reputation for being a little… piggish?

An extended tip of the ten-gallon to Tex over at Watching Washington, for keeping up with all of the links:

Governor Frank Murkowski (R-AK) wants to change America’s image of Alaska.

He’s afraid the lower 49 think of Alaska as a “freeloading frontier.” Why would we have that opinion — after the infamous “bridge to nowhere” and billions more in pork from the recent highway bill?

So the Governor has suggested the state hire a public relations firm to change Alaska’s image.

It’s nothing new to see government spending money on image and positioning. It’s especially vital in the competition for landing new industry and bolstering cash-cows like tourism.

Gov. Frank Murkowski says it is time for an image makeover. He wants the state to hire a public relations firm to change the perception of Alaska and its people as greedy for federal dollars and all too willing to plunder the environment for profit.

Ultimately, he wants to sway public opinion in favor of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Most Alaska politicians favor drilling in the refuge, which would fill the state’s coffers like the trans-Alaska oil pipeline has done for decades. But environmentalists have fought back for a quarter-century, and in December the state was thwarted again in Congress.

Would this fly as a legit expense? You have to examine both the source of the funding and the desired target of the campaign — and that’s one thing I love about Terry’s work at Watching Washington.

Wonder how long until Alaska’s Congressional delegation pay for it with federal dollars?

Alaska already got federal money for a PR film on the state’s roads and bridges. And more federal dollars to paint an airliner to promote the state’s salmon industry.

Trust me. He’s got it all documented.

Even if the PR practitioners hold to recognized professional ethical standards, there is no hard and fast rule about what passes the “taxpayer smell test.”

Taking public money to sway public opinion about the fact that you do more than just take public money… well, that’s really bringing home the bacon.

February 7, 2006: 5:12 pm: Birmingham, Scrushy

We’re told that ignorance is no defense… except when the law is so poorly defined that it “really is.”

Case in point: Richard Scrushy, the ousted founder of HealthSouth.

During his fraud trial, some pundits wondered whether he could put away the ego and admit to “not being in charge of the ship.” It was his only real defense, as five former CFOs took the stand to implicate him.

Some would go down swinging, especially those who are so concerned about their reputations and public personae.

The dynamic that played out here was a quirk of the new Sarbanes-Oxley law: it required “proof of knowledge.” One had to knowingly violate it — and science-fiction aside, there is no way short of a paper trail of proving what is going on in someone’s head.

So the state couldn’t make a case, Scrushy was acquitted, and now he’s touring state pulpits as a reformed man. He recently appeared on Hannity and Colmes, painting himself as a cockolded spouse:

“I think the buck stops with the people that are guilty,” Scrushy said. “In any situation you can be deceived. Take, for example, a husband and wife, live together for many, many years. The wife finds out the husband was having an affair. They sleep in the same bed every night. They brush their teeth in the same bathroom. They eat together every day for years. So, if you’re deceived, if something is concealed and not shown to you or if no one tells you about it, you shouldn’t be held responsible for something you had nothing to do with.”

Scrushy said a company as large as HealthSouth makes it more difficult to monitor what everyone is doing.

“I do know that when you have big corporations and you have a lot of people – the CEO – there is no way that he can know everything,” he said.

The folks over at took a different read, calling it the “Sergeant Shultz defense:

Last night, Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes made Larry King look like Edward R. Murrow. I’m referring to Hannity and Colmes’s cartoonish interview of Richard Scrushy on FOX.

Scrushy didn’t need to break a sweat in reprising his ”Sergeant Schultz” defense — that he ”knew nothing” while his rogue underlings, including five former chief financial officers, committed a $2.7 billion fraud at HealthSouth.

The pathetic bipartisan duo allowed Scrushy to say things like “the buck stops with people who were guilty,” to compare his innocence to the person who is unaware of their spouse’s transgressions even though they share a bed, and to assert that the government didn’t spend that much time investigating his case.

Why the fuss? The Scrushys still aren’t out of the woods yet, with civil suits (and a lower burden of proof) still looming. Expect the positioning to continue.