Archive for April, 2006

April 26, 2006: 12:14 pm: Helpful Hints

The best way to maintain a good reputation is to live up the your promises. No amount of spin or communications arts will serve you better than performing magic at clutch time.

Case in point? David Copperfield, whose pretty-boy looks and flashy big-ticket made-for-TV act has lost steam to the gritty, youthful, and urban edge of David Blaine.

Copperfield and two female assistants were returning from a late dinner after wrapping up a six night stand in West Palm Beach, Florida. Four teens, two of them with guns, held the Copperfield posse at gunpoint.

One ordered [assistant Cathy] Daly to “give me what you have.” Daly handed over $400 from her pockets. Riley, meanwhile, allegedly stuck a gun in [assistant Mia] Volmut’s face and asked for her purse, and she, too, gave it up. In it were 200 euros, $100, her passport, plane tickets and a Razr cellphone.

When Copperfield’s turn came, [accused suspect Dwayne] Riley was bamboozled.

Copperfield told Page Two he pulled out all of his pockets for Riley to see he had nothing, even though he had a cellphone, passport and wallet stuffed in them.

“Call it reverse pickpocketing,” Copperfield said.

Had he not been ready for his real-life test of sleight-of-hand, his reputation would have taken its biggest hit since Claudia Schieffer left him.

The easiest way to ensure that your words match your deeds to to choose your words wisely, and practice what you preach.

April 21, 2006: 1:51 pm: Rants

Lest you think Public Relations is gaining any momentum for “transparency” and committments to ethical principles… a lot of people still think we are slimeballs and snake-oil salespeople.

Attorneys for the players claim “Dancer #2″ from the Duke Lacrosse Indictment Party apparently contacted a PR firm in New York:

They say she has changed her story to gain favorable treatment in a criminal case against her. They note she also e-mailed a New York public relations firm, asking in her letter for advice on “how to spin this to my advantage.”

The notion being spun by the attorneys (paragons of trust and virtue) is that anyone who needs public relations help must be guilty of something.

Sadly, it will probably work as a smear, because PR needs better PR.

April 17, 2006: 11:32 am: Retail Detail

The second verse is apparently NOT the same as the first.

After years of ignoring public relations and the media (and, to their credit, growing like crazy), Wal-Mart changed directions last year. Tired of being on the short end of every comparison with media-friendly Target, the Arkansas retail giant hosted a “get-to-know-us” camp at headquarters last year.

The media that did get that access treated it with a healthy dose of skepticism, and Wal-Mart came away no worse than it was going in.

This time around, the “PR for the PR machine” is already spinning a new line — that reporters will drive the sessions. Wal-Mart is pledging to spend more time “listening” to find out what journalists want and need, and a better way of delivering it.

Expect to see some coverage of the Wal-Mart detractors, who have built a healthy cottage industry of their own. And expect Wal-Mart to get better at this PR thing as it goes. Baby steps, baby.

April 14, 2006: 10:13 am: External PR, Helpful Hints

Some cows are so sacred, you have to go out of your way not to touch them. And if you accidentally do, you have to be careful about washing your hands.

I’ve got a beef with what I call “bumper sticker” politics. Typically, they make for great key messages, but miss a lot of substance beneath. And the right “rallying cry” can be almost impossible to stop. Case in point: say “for the children” after just about any proposal, and you put an unfair burden on the other said.

Same goes for the phrase “For the Troops.”

The Hilton Hotel group has found itself grinding the spin into overdrive, after a viral e-mail campaign accused them of goring a sacred cow. Fran O’Brien’s, a DC steakhouse, has been giving free steak dinners to veterans recovering up the road at the VA hospital. Many of the vets are amputees, and the Friday dinners have been a sight to behold.

Only now, Hilton is evicting the restaurant, and wants to do something else with that property.

The rumor mill states that Hilton is worried about rising insurance premiums, and doesn’t want the liability of having all those disabled people around. Yeah, it even sounds fishy, but the “for the troops” bandwagon makes for a compelling story — and as such, the meme gets passed along.

Hilton is responding quickly to the rumor, pointing out that this is strictly an issue of a lease coming due, and how it has nothing to do with veterans, the disabled, or insurance matters. Hilton is also trying to find a new home for the dinners at one of the other restaurants on the property.

The PR folks at Hilton have an uphill battle here. Patriotism and outrage are intense emotions, and a lot of the anger and bitterness is channeling through blogs and websites. Kudos to the PR department for engaging bloggers, who have a better chance of correcting the record — but alas, there is still a lot of heat over this.

April 12, 2006: 1:53 pm: Rants

I’m a big fan of using the internet to search for answers, but I wonder sometimes how often people get suckered by phony info. And I’m not talking about whole websites about 9/11 conspiracies, or theories about Dave Chappelle.

I had to do a little research about a couple of counties in northwest Alabama, and tripped across the Wikipedia entry for Haleyville. Listed in the “history” section, we find this useful nugget:

Haleyville is the location of the first 911 call.

This is, in fact, true. It happened on February 16th, 1968. Having known this bit of trivia, I would be inclined to trust the accuracy of what follows:

There are some interesting things about Haleyville that some people do not know. Lance Armstrong is actually from Haleyville. He actually met his former wife Sheryl Crow there. Jesus Christ made a personal visit to Haleyville. He stayed there two days and then he was picked up by immigration.

Haleyville got its name because a peice of the Haley’s Comet landed and is displayed at city hall. Haleyville was named Williamsburg, WV, but after the accident they decided to rename it.

One of the biggest attractions to Haleyville is actually Phil Campbell which is semi close to Haleyville, there is also a Walmart in Haleyville.

Haleyville Highschool’s mascot is the Lions. The school colors are Red and White, and their most famous football player is Dusty Ball, but he had a sex change so her name is now…. Dusty Ball.

Famous Haleyville Laws:

It is illegal to date your sister, but legal to date step sisters. Engaging in sexual acts with goats is ok, if it is your goat and on your property. It is illegal to paint the balls on Tom Williams Bull. It is illegal and you will face criminal charges if your house burns down on Sunday. It is ok to beat your dog, if you prove that the reason called for it, it was actually your dog, and the stick was no shorter than 12 feet.

Yeah, I’m not the first to discover inaccuracies on Wikipedia. And these are patently absurd and only slightly amusing at best. My concern is for the casual user who hasn’t heard of Wiki complaints, and is liable to believe any fact that pops up on the screen — especially those more probable than Sheryl Crow coming to Haleyville.

I’m a big believer in the power of nobodies and of social networking, but when nobody is in charge, the results can be messy.

Maybe when the level of internet savvy hits critical mass, we’ll see less scamming and more responsible monitoring. But I doubt it, because nobodies draw power from both their numbers and their anonymity.

April 10, 2006: 9:31 am: From the Front, Personal

While assisting the national media in central Tennessee this past weekend, I was also paired up with a volunteer photographer from the American Red Cross.

Marty Robey is a talented guy, and it’s obvious he loves what he does.

At an aid station in a northern Nashville suburb, he found a woman with an amazing story. I spoke with her late last night, and we should have the story posted on the Red Cross News Page later today.

: 9:23 am: From the Front, Personal

I’ll be on the road in a couple of hours, headed back home after a weekend of media wrangling in Tennessee. It was a decent experience, and I got national hits on Fox News Channel, Fox News Radio, and MSNBC. During the calldowns, I did observe a factor that I’d never thought much about.

One of the advantages I bring to my job is my past experience in television news. There’s a lot to be said for knowing what the reporters, producers, and decision-makers want before they want it. Whether you are with the Red Cross or any enterprise, the gatekeepers of the media are more inclined to use what you offer if it comes in the right time, the right format, and the right content.

As I was cycling through the national media list, I sensed something other than waning interest in the relief effort in Tennessee. It was more of a hesitance, or a reluctance to commit. And I think it firmly had to do with the weekend.

For all of the talk of the 24-hour news cycle being “dead,” there certainly remains a strong 7-day cycle. A lot of old-school PR advice was centered around the notion of when to release the bad news for the minimum impact. As I’ve noted before, some specialized beats are too savvy for this practice, and it ought to be re-examined.

Don’t let that wipe out the distinction between weekdays and weekends, and I’m not talking about the consumer level. If you are a journalist, you work and struggle to get a shift with more normal hours. In television, the young up-and-comers would still want the weeknights for “facetime,” but the older established ones wanted “dayside” so they could see their kids. (The few who had families, anyway.)

The same is true for editors, assigment managers, and producers. The ones working the weekend shifts don’t have the seniority and the status as their weekday counterparts. And here is where human psychology comes in:

  • You are a weekend manager.
  • Sources and contacts are calling in, pitching stories.
  • It’s Sunday.
  • There are a few good leads out there, but nothing that is a total no-brainer.
  • Tomorrow, you will see your weekday counterpart who has an agenda lined up.

Now, are you the least bit intimidated that your decision to keep a crew on scene might be second-guessed? Are you at all worried about making the justification for continuing coverage? Are the “Monday morning quarterbacks” a territorial bunch, who resent not having all their resources ready and able to deploy?

Don’t assume that the weekend managers have their own discrete resources to draw from. Correspondents and field producers don’t necessarily clock in the same shift every week, and their schedules run the gamut.

I build toward this point: All things being equal, do you stand a better chance pitching for more coverage on a Wednesday than on a Sunday? I say the answer is yes.

There are a whole host of insights you can have into the news business, and those thoughts can greatly enhance your ability to promote your message through the media. But first, you have to buy into the notion that “the media” are really just people first, and susceptible to the same emotions, foibles, and irrational impulses that the rest of us are.

April 8, 2006: 10:20 am: From the Front, Personal

It’s been a while since we’ve done news “From the Front.”

The Birmingham area was spared most of the bad damage, but there was significant trauma and casualties as the storm hit north of Nashville.

I’m being deployed to just north of Nashville, around the Gallatin, Tennessee area. I’ll be assisting the national media that is assembling, and probably fulfill a lot of interview requests. I’m packing now, and ought to be on the road just after lunch.

This will likely knock me off the blogging trail until about Wednesday or so. I’ll add as I have the time and web access.

If you are inclined to be the praying sort, remember me, but moreso remember those who lost loved ones or will be starting completely from scratch.

If you want to help financially, the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund is a good place to start.

April 7, 2006: 5:11 am: Helpful Hints, Personal

Here at Positive Position Media Consulting, let me unequivocally state that NOBODY! does better public relations. NOBODY!

I truly mean that — and let me explain.

In the last couple of years since making the jump from television news to public relations and media training, I’m glad to say that I’ve learned a lot from some people who blog about their business. Many are in the blogrolls to the right, some of them comment here, and a few of them have been mentors whether they knew it or not.

The common theme, especially lately, has been transparency. PR takes its shots from journalists and the public at large as being some type of sleazy enterprise. The reputation is one of spin, hidden agendas, manpulation, and massaging the messaging. The clarion call for “transparency” is the removal of any practice that is under the table or sneaky. Here are several posts that follow that theme.

For a moment though let’s look at the other aspect of “transparency,” from the perspective of the client. There are a lot of really clever ads that run in the Super Bowl every year, where you laugh your butt off but can’t remember the sponsor. The medium overpowers the message, to the point that you congratulate the cleverness of the creator and ignore the product.

Good PR is “transparent” to the point where you don’t realize there was any PR involved. You are literally hiding in plain sight. No one complains about your slick manipulations, because they are all too busy feeling good about your client. And if someone asks, there’s the entire record on the record about your involvement.

So you see — NOBODY! does better PR than I do.

This notion started swimming around my head when I got caught up in the brou-ha-ha started by David Murray in the Journal of Employee Communication Management:

There’s this guy named Allan Jenkins. Chances are, you’ve never heard of him.

Well, he’s a communication consultant with a blog. (Which is like saying he’s a dog with a tail.)

One day I was reading his stupidly-named blog, “Desirable Roasted Coffee.” I read his blog a lot, despite the fact that Jenkins is pretty much a nobody in the communication business.

Well, if Allan is a NOBODY! in this profession, then how can I not aspire to the same level?

Fortunately, I got in on the ground floor of a movement. A bunch of public relations NOBODIES are organizing and proud. We have our own platform for change. We have a merchandising/charity arm. We have plans for a podcast. We have a bunch of silly hats, and a logo that speaks volumes. “IAN” – the International Association of Nobodies. (It also would stand for “I Am Nobody” on the individual level, if any of us stood out enough to count.)

If being a NOBODY! means:

  • My clients come first
  • My results are more important than my popularity
  • I remain approachable and grounded
  • I still write with the same passion for dozens that I did for digits
  • I can continue to afford my bandwidth

…then sign me up.

Oh wait, they did!

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I’m going out into the world to be a NOBODY! today!

April 6, 2006: 5:41 am: Personal

A guy can dream, can’t he?

Media Training for Dummies

Enjoy my handiwork, or make you own.

(Note to self: get off your butt, and get the seminars on tape and into the online store.)

April 5, 2006: 12:23 pm: Helpful Hints

There are a number of coming-of-age moments that have meaning for people, and if you ask what those milestones are, you’ll likely get a lot of different answers. I’d have to say a fairly universal one is the realization that most of the “offenses” committed by eight-and-nine-year-old kids are not of cosmic import.

I was one of those control-freak kids, and wasn’t really a threat to get into a lot of trouble anyway. But I may have been the last kid in my class to be actually intimidated with a standard educational threat:

“Young man, do you want something like that on your permanent record?”

Okay, so maybe I did worry a little too much about what would be on my mythical “permanent record.”

Having been out of public schools for a couple of decades, I’m not sure how prevalent or effective such a tactic might be. Based on the explosive growth of MySpace and other sites that promote sharing of personal information, I’m not sure kids are receptive to those ideas anyway. Steven Silvers had an excellent take on what he calls the Transparent Generation.

I turns out that many adults who grew out of the fear of the “permanent record” ought to revisit the notion. Most people have never taken the time to Google themselves to see what is out there. The search engines will find just about anything you’ve ever attached your name to publicly. More importantly, they’ll find things you never knew were written about you:

“In meat space this would be like me putting up a negative billboard right next to your location and you not noticing it for months.”

You can’t control what other people write. But you can control the things you write — and one day might regret.

My caution goes out to those occasional writers (and bloggers) who have a stake in maintaining credibility. It’s so easy to let your biases be exposed, especially in a politically partisan climate. If you’ve got a message that deserves heeding, off-handed comments can cut your audience in half instantly. Surfers have the option of tuning you out in an instant, and reduce your effectiveness and reach forever.

I’ve got a fellow blogger that I correspond with from time to time, and I occasionally have to remind this individual that bias creeps in. It’s not a political blog, yet politically-charged opinions can leak through. This person is making a concerted effort to weed out the statements that threaten to overshadow the intended message. In most cases, these are sentences or adjectives that weren’t even necessary to the primary point.

Maybe I take for granted my training as a journalist, and my ability to self-screen and maintain an editorial objectivity. But in an age of Google cache and the Wayback Machine, you now have a permanent record, kiddo. Act like it.

April 4, 2006: 4:26 pm: Birmingham, Personal

I’ve been quiet for a few days, working on a number of projects. Let’s just say that it stands to be a busy summer.

I might as well unveil the curtain on a project I’ve now ushered into public use.

It’s a custom-branded RSS reader, which comes pre-loaded with links to our local Community Alert pages for the American Red Cross in Birmingham and the local EMA.

Since the vast majority of internet users know how about aggregators or how to manually add feeds, this installer package has a great potential for our Red Cross chapter. In fact, the whole thing is designed to be seamless enough that the average user might still not understand what RSS is.

We’ve rolled it out locally, and I am tracking the number of downloads through various venues. It’s primarily targeted for the media, and will be a great asset the next time we have a huge disaster response. But since all of the information is public, we’re also pushing it to local municipalities, our board, and anyone else who has a vested interest in knowing about pending emergencies.

In order to make this work, we had to find the right piece of software — and being a non-profit, we had to make it affordable. Our RSS reader had to have some key features:

  • Free to use and distribute
  • Included a “pop-up” notification
  • Customizable with our logo and branding
  • Adware and spyware free
  • Short refresh cycle

Check out Newsplorer! We were lucky to find just such a program, called Newsplorer. The developer was very kind to set us up with some technical assistance and a customized installer package.

That pop-up notifier was so critical. In a newsroom environment, you can’t expect people to manually refresh their feedlist (assuming they had one.) Otherwise, you could just ask them to manually refresh the old-fashioned newsroom page. With the system-tray pop, and an option to check the feed every minute, we now had a system capable of generating dozens of alerts per day, if events and emergencies warrant it.

Download it and give it a whirl. If you don’t see anything for awhile, that means that nothing bad is happening!

April 1, 2006: 5:50 am: Blogiversaries, Personal

A Happy 1st Blogiversary to Peter Himler, who brought “The Flack” online a year ago today.

Peter’s got that good mix of old-school PR street smarts and new-wave communications theory. He gets it.

He was also one of the first “real grownups” to notice my humble little blog, back in the old blogspot days. Without Peter, my readership might still be in the single digits, instead of firmly entrenched in the couple-dozen range.