Author Archive

December 15, 2005: 1:11 am: Birmingham, External PR, Helpful Hints

More signs that Media Relations people need to update the old models…

…with a tip of the hat to Corante‘s ‘Rebuilding Media‘.

First, a great media shift is already underway. 2005 saw the end of more than 2,000 newspaper jobs in the United States (including several folks down the street at the Birmingham Post-Herald.)

Combine that with the recent announcement that the Pulitzer committee is now accepting online content submissions, and the new president of the Society of Professional Journalists teaches online media at the University of Florida.

When the dudes with inky hands are filling out job applications, and the internet dudes are running the guild, and the dudes who hand out the hardware are changing the rules… maybe it’s time to take a hint.

B.L. Ochman’s mantra: the traditional press release is dead. It won’t happen tomorrow, but the “traditional press” is slowly heading that same direction. If you’re still promoting yourself the same way you did five years ago, you might still be okay. If you’re not looking for new ways to engage your current and future customers, you’re making a big mistake.

September 17, 2005: 1:50 pm: Retail Detail

And it’s not mine.

It’s Wal-Mart.

I’ve told you the “Beast from Bentonville” wasn’t going to sit back and take the licks any longer.

Of course, it’s not hard to look good when compared to FEMA.

September 16, 2005: 6:59 pm: Birmingham, From the Front

I could write a book.

I probably will.

I can’t wait for the chance to start thinking about some of the PR lessons I’ve culled along the way with Katrina.

Bottom line — we’ve stayed a step ahead, managed public/client expectations, and steered clear of negative publicity through good monitoring, good relationships, and good service.


And support the American Red Cross.

September 2, 2005: 10:41 pm: Birmingham, From the Front

I am tiring of 16-hour days with my former allies in the media, but they are eager to help me tell a great Red Cross story so I can’t complain.

When I get a moment to reflect on what I’ve learned (including a lesson about ambush interviews) I’ll post. (Someone ask me about our innovative use of e-mail?)

Howsabout a word of encouragement I can pass along to the Red Cross volunteers?

August 28, 2005: 12:34 am: Big Blunders, Rants

There’s something about that word that still rubs a lot of people the wrong way, yet there are those who put adverstising and marketing dollars behind it.

Ghetto Fries, it turns out, are French-fried potatoes topped with Merkt’s cheddar cheese, giardiniera, gravy, barbecue sauce and raw onions.

Apparently, the PR firm touting the fries got a little overzealous relying on the shock value of ‘ghetto’:

“GOT GHETTO? Max’s Famous Italian Beef Serves Gotta-Have Ghetto Fries,” shouted the publicist’s headline.

“Got Ghetto on the brain?” the release continued. “You’re not alone,” then went on to describe the aforementioned Ghetto Fries as a “dish that has captured the attention and appetites of Chicagoans from the North to South sides.”

August 17, 2005: 4:50 pm: Birmingham, Housekeeping

Blogging is going to get slowed down for a little while, as I prepare for a tour of duty with the United Way as a “loaned executive.” That’s basically where your company decides you’re valuable enough to help raise money, but expendable enough to do without.

There are some exciting things on the horizon, however. Seminars and personal coaching is beginning to pick back up, and there are a couple of organizations out there waiting on proposals to move forward. I’m also working on getting some of this seminar material on tape.

A lot of the information I provide to my consulting clients works within the small business environment as well. Yet these are the same businesses that don’t have the resource or budget to bring me in for a large presentation.

I’m working with some pretty heady people on a format that will be easy to follow, engage the listener, and be more cost effective for those clients “in between.” I’ll be announcing more about those products as we get closer to rolling them out.

With that in mind, I’d like a bit of feedback from you. What sorts of solutions are you seeking when it comes to better media relations and interviewing? What are the biggest pitfalls in your interoffice communication? How much would you benefit from being able to better tell “your story?”

Your input and encouragement are most welcome…


August 16, 2005: 1:29 pm: Helpful Hints, Rants

When you’re looking for help with interview coaching, you get what you pay for.

Try Googling “media relations” sometime, and see what turns up. There are a number of firms out there that put information on the internet (this one included.) What they rely on is a mistaken public notion that “if it’s in print, it must be true.”

Here’s some of the advice I recently found on the PR Zoom Newswire:

“When talking with a reporter:

• Make a note of the reporter’s name and the name of the media when the caller first offers identification. This serves two purposes: you have an accurate record so you can follow up to see how the story appears; and you can use the reporter’s name during the interview, to help you build rapport with the reporter.

Boy, does this get abused. I can’t tell you how many people I interviewed who thought that starting every other sentence with “Well, Ike” or threw in a “The problem with our widgets, Ike, is…” It actually got in the way of getting the information in a usable form, and was highly annoying. You don’t talk to your friends that way, do you?

• Provide sufficient evidence for your statements. Reporters love numbers: try to give them numbers whenever you can — particularly when it helps you sell your own agenda.

Yeah, reporters love numbers. NOT! The vast majority of reporters are actually very bad at math (just like the rest of society.) Some wear it as a badge of honor. Unless they operate on a specialized beat that requires background knowledge, you can count on a reporter to need help deciphering statistics, financial statements, polling data, economics, and just about anything else involving numbers you can’t reach with your fingers. Seriously. If you just throw a stats at them, you are just as likely to have them misreported or misrepresented out of ignorance. Give them the context, and make sure they understand them. Don’t try to obscure the truth with a flash of digits.

Reporters are, as a rule, experts at nothing. Treat them with respect, but don’t assume they know everything. There is a lot of ego invested in being a “public figure” through the media, and many reporters (the young ones especially) will be hesitant to ask a question that appears elementary, or even stupid.

Being good conversationalists, they skirt the issue of the “dumb question” in the hopes of gleaning the answer through later context. If you’ve got a delicate detail, point of law, or sticky statistic, by all means take the extra time to make sure the reporter “gets it.” You’re less likely to insult their intelligence, and more likely to cause them a sigh of relief for answering the question they wouldn’t dare ask.

(Note: Yeah, I use the internet to market myself too. The difference is that I have 16 years experience in news from which to tell you how a reporter thinks. I also have dozens of “articles” on this very blog that back up what I proclaim. Caveat Emptor.)

August 12, 2005: 2:30 pm: Big Blunders, Rants

Today, we add one more reason why smart celebrities and athletes should get media training and interview coaching (past examples here, and here, and here.):

So you can avoid becoming the next Terrell Owens. The talented wide receiver may be one of the best in the game, but he doesn’t think he’s among the best compensated.

Head Coach Andy Reid sent him home for a week for mouthing off. (Yeah Terrell, we know he yelled at you first. That’s what coaches do.) Reid told the media that he wouldn’t have any further comment on the matter — that the next conversation about it would be between himself and Owens. Fair enough.

Did Owens adopt a similar strategy? No way! With his agent by his side, Owens went on ESPN for more than eight minutes last night and blasted the team and the coach and the ownership and the media. It’s all our fault that he isn’t treated like an adult.

Had he sat there silently while agent Drew Rosenhaus did all the talking, it would have made for a better appearance. But this was more about “not getting disrespected.” Never mind that the whole thing is a turn-off for the fans who can forgive his salary if he performs on the field.

T.O. needs to G-O and find some media coaching, and fast. Especially since he was recently with the San Francisco 49ers, and we know the quality of the media training players got there.

: 1:56 pm: Uncategorized

Google almost got out of the rest of the week unscathed.

First there was the CNet blackout order
and then the lawsuit over advertising overcharges

and now it’s putting the brakes on its digital library project.

(Thank God it’s Friday.)

August 11, 2005: 4:23 pm: Uncategorized

The Donald is now The Blogger… or is he?

Fellow PR blogger Peter Himler recently noted that real-estate tycoon / pitchman / reality-show host / casino-developer / hyphen-and-slash-consuming giant Donald Trump (pictured at the right, with his personal stylist Lawrence King) was adding the title of “corporate blogger” to his resume.

He starts with the question:

“Does anyone actually believe that Donald Trump will pen his own blog?”

Ever the curious sort, I checked out Mr. Trump’s entries myself. I was particularly struck by the following passage from a post entitled Corporate Corruption: If You Have to Lie, Cheat, and Steal, You’re Just Not Doing it Right:

“If you have to lie, cheat, and steal, you’re just not doing it right. My career is a model of tough, fair dealing and fantastic success–without shortcuts, without breaking the law.” – Donald Trump

I sent in the following comment, which I cross-posted at The Flack:

Mr. Trump, welcome to the world of blogging. I’m sure you’ll find this forum an excellent model for feedback.

Regarding your statement: “My career is a model of tough, fair dealing and fantastic success–without shortcuts, without breaking the law.”

How do you reconcile a claim such as that with the Vera Coking case in Atlantic City? While it is true you have broken no laws, most people will associate your use of eminent domain as a violation of “fair dealing” and “without shortcuts.” (Especially in the political climate we are in post-Kelo v. New London.)

All comments to “Trump: the Blog” are screened, and this was really an exercise in seeing how responsive a tool this would be, as well as who is doing the screening. My comment appeared as:

Mr. Trump, welcome to the world of blogging. I’m sure you’ll find this forum an excellent model for feedback.

My guess is Donald Trump doesn’t read the raw entries to his comment page. I know this, because I checked out my site-tracker, and someone from New York City surfed Accentuate the Positive within a minute of my comment’s acceptance. I don’t think The Donald has the sort of time to look at my humble little blog personally.

I also doubt I will get an answer to what I consider to be an excellent question to a man extolling his commitment to “fair play.” From a PR perspective, such statements can quickly backfire on you. Instead, my response has been spun into an endorsement — and a relatively weak one at that, compared to what “Donny T.” wrote just an hour or so later:

“This blog is so awesome I can’t contain my fluids.”

(I wish I had thought of that.)

: 2:15 pm: Uncategorized

FedEx is not only missing a great positive opportunity, it is doing its best to turn it into a negative.

It started with a guy named Jose Avila. Moving to another city for work, he was temporarily stuck with two leases, and had no money for furniture. Being a loyal FedEx customer, he made furniture out of FedEx boxes.

“One thing I’ve always stood behind is I’m pro-FedEx. I ship stuff with FedEx all that time and I feel more comfortable shipping with FedEx because their boxes are stable and sturdy.”

Great endorsement. But now that good feeling is being put to the test.

Avila put up a website (which is intermittently up and offline) which included pictures of his creations. Back in June, it caught the attention of a Public Relations Blog specialist, who thought it would be a great “viral marketing” gimmick for FedEx, and contacted the FedEx PR department.

He didn’t hear anything back, until word got out that FedEx was suing Avila to take down his site. The legal basis was a violation of the DMCA (basically, publishing a digital picture of things with the FedEx logo.) In addition, FedEx is claiming that Avila’s use of a “.com” domain for his site was “proof” that he intended to somehow improperly profit from using the FedEx name and logo. (It has nothing to do with the fact that “.com” is the default and standard for just about anyone looking for anything on the internet.)

Well, the blogger is now trying to get FedEx to see how bad this looks to the Wired generation.

FedEx could have had it’s own version of Jared: a normal guy who believes in the product so much, he becomes his own free publicity. Instead, it’s running the risk of being the uncaring company that is suing a guy who can’t afford his own furniture.

(I seem to recall an older Saturday Night Live episode, where R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe wore a suit made of FedEx wrapping. Will they sue to block that show from reruns?)

August 10, 2005: 4:19 pm: Uncategorized

A few recent posts have alluded to my former career, and that usually sparks questions about why I got out of television news.

There were some health issues that I will not go into (I’m fine now, thanks.) But there was a significant shift in thinking that had to take place before I could even consider moving on to something else.

For the longest time, I was convinced that my reason for being in news was an uncontrollable hunger for telling stories. There’s something addictive about the medium of television, with the constantly looming deadlines and the adrenaline rush. Some are attracted to the fame — others to the promise that one day they might make something respectable in terms of a salary. (There are a very few who score big, and a lot who work for much less than you’d think.)

Along the way, though, I realized I was different. The point was driven home when my news director pulled me into the office one day to ask how I had “done it.” Apparently, I did a piece about an intense controversial issue, and both sides called him… to congratulate us for sticking it to the other side.

This just isn’t supposed to happen. In fact, there is an old saw in J-school that dictates that “you know you’ve done your job when you p— off both sides.” By that definition, I must have been one of the worst reporters ever.

Eventually, it sank in. The difference here was that I was doing something that other reporters were not doing: helping each side “tell its story” better than it could on its own. Through asking the right questions, and making the right edits, and drilling down to the core of their messages, I was able to help each side communicate with greater efficiency.

When I realized that, and felt better about my skills, the light bulb went off. It’s not “telling stories” that I enjoy, so much as “helping others tell their story.” That’s a key shift, because it opened up new directions for a career. I started doing media training sessions for local law enforcement, and also for a great friend of mine who was a school superintendent.

By teaching others how to best communicate their stories, I now help on an even larger scale. I feel better about what I do, both for the American Red Cross and for my individual clients.

That’s what gets me going every day. Now… how can I help you?

August 9, 2005: 2:57 pm: Uncategorized

Bad news + bad news = worse news.

Simple equation. Yesterday we mentioned Google’s boneheaded old-school move to “blacklist” Now, the search-engine giant is being sued for claiming excessive advertising fees.

“SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Google Inc. is being sued over accusations that it overcharged advertisers that use the Web search giant’s paid search advertising program, which accounts for the vast majority of Google’s revenue.”

Even though there is no direct link between these pieces, the public perception will likely be worse than if they were more spread out in time.

It’s fair to ask — would this headline have played as high had there been no recent negative Google-talk? Hard to say. But I can say as an ex-journalist that producers and editors can never resist the temptation to group such stories together. Which means that ones that might have glossed over the CNet ban are picking it up as a sidebar, ones that might have buried the lawsuit are giving it new prominence, or even worse — some are working on a story about “Google Losing Golden Glow.” (editors love alliteration, too.)

That’s the kind of perception that kills, and that ought to be avoided at all costs. The Shakespearean element of this PR tragedy is that one of these two incidents could have been avoided entirely. It truly is trouble of their own making.

*(I am not ruling out the possibility that the law firm bringing forth the class-action suit waited for an opportune time to “stick it” to Google. That hasn’t been alleged or proven… but a good PR move on their part, if intentional.)

August 8, 2005: 2:27 pm: Uncategorized

When you’re getting slammed by a story, don’t take your ball and go home.

That’s the kind of thing you expect from a six year-old… not from a multi-billion dollar internet search giant like Google.

Reporters at CNet published a story about all of the data Google gathers on people, and how that information could at some point be really valuable. CNet went so far as to see what had to say about Google’s CEO, Eric Schimdt.

…spending 30 minutes on the Google search engine lets one discover that Schmidt, 50, was worth an estimated $1.5 billion last year. Earlier this year, he pulled in almost $90 million from sales of Google stock and made at least another $50 million selling shares in the past two months as the stock leaped to more than $300 a share.

Google was not pleased with the way they were singled out, while similar search engines and internet portals were left relatively unquestioned.

What was the response? Well, it seem as though Google told CNet not to expect any interviews for one year.

(Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET reporters until July 2006 in response to privacy issues raised by a previous story.)

Shutting out the press over something like this is not the way to exert influence. It was a rash decision, and not a good one. Google works hard to promote a number of beneficial products, but this statement will linger with them for some time.

The tantrum of a six-year-old. We’ll see if things are any better in a month, when Google turns seven.

[Disclosure: Google owns Blogger, which allows this forum to be possible.]

: 1:42 pm: Big Blunders, Helpful Hints, Scrushy

If you’re going to deflect a reporter to a spokesperson, make sure it’s not a dead end.

The board of directors of the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club in New York is on the hot seat. A former board member (who was one of the go-to-guys in launching liberal talk network Air America) is now being investigated for redirecting more than half-a-million dollars in grant money and “investing” it in the Air America startup.

Air America has been quick to point out that it is under new ownership, and has the appearance of deniability.

The current Gloria Wise board is running into trouble, though. Hugh Hewitt at the Weekly Standard tried getting some answers:

My producer and I have spent a lot of time trying to get a member of the board on the record about the investment. The only one who agreed to talk to us referred us to Rubenstein Public Relations. An assistant to Richard Rubenstein called me to relay that he didn’t know anything about the “Gloria Wise story.” Odd.

Either there is a huge disconnect in protocol at Rubenstein (which I highly doubt,) or someone is trying to buy some time.

To make matters worse, the article didn’t mention which board member had been approached, so now this little cloud of avoidance is hanging over all of them, until it gets cleared up.

We’ve seen in the Richard Scrushy case how important your pre-trial PR posture can be. Looking like you’re ducking tough questions is not the way to get there.