Big Blunders

August 7, 2006: 8:08 am: Big Blunders

It can get you in trouble, especially when the cards are stacked against you to begin with.

Floyd Landis — who claims to not know how one of his eight Tour de France doping tests came back fishy — now thinks his immediate scramble for an explanation has done more harm than good.

In more desperate straits than when everyone counted him out of the Tour before Stage 17, Landis has been fired by his Phonak team and the Tour de France no longer considers him its champion. Landis said his biggest mistake has been offering daily excuses for his positive test.

“I’ve been catching a lot of grief in the press: ‘Floyd has a new excuse, a new reason for what happened,’ ” he said. “This is a situation where I’m forced to defend myself in the media. It would never have happened if UCI and WADA had followed their own rules.”

His own team has fired him, so it would seem he’s on his own with regards to finding and funding someone to help him navigate future public statements.

June 8, 2006: 12:36 am: Big Blunders, Rants

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? (And how much further would you have gone with a little “help”?)

Baseball is in big, big trouble. While everyone has been patiently waiting to boo Barry Bonds on his drawn-out quest to hit his first clean 40 homers in eight years, America’s pasttime is about to come crashing down. Not at the hands of a titan, nor a fallen hero. Just a journeyman named Jason Grimsley.

Fans have been forgiving for far too long. As embarrassing as last year was for Mark McGuire and Rafael Palmiero and Jason Giambi, at least there was no “smoking gun.” Rampant rumors were not accompanied by reams of positive drug tests stacked on Bud Selig’s table. Any excuse was enough to make season-ticket holders and a syncophant press wink before looking the other way.

Party’s over. A no-name known as Jason Grimsley has not only been raided and questioned over illegal procurement of HGH, but he’s turned state’s evidence by supplying names of other players to investigators. Turns out there is no good test for HGH abuse, even though doping it is against the rules.

Once this floodgate opens, there is no plausible deniability. There is no savior on the horizon — like Cal Ripken salving the wounds of a season-killing strike, or Sosa and McGuire whipping up a home run frenzy in 1998. Oh yeah. That’s a lie too.

This may go down as one of the greatest “reputation management” jobs of all time. Years of promises and spin about maintaining a clean sport are ready to fall on baseball’s noggin, like too many secrets stashed on the top shelf of a crowded closet. It’s too big now to pin on individual players.

To make matters worse, the very nature of the American love affair with baseball is at stake: those geeky statistics that supposedly stand the test of time are now in jeopardy. (Stock tip: find the company that manufactures asterisks and invest now!)

So, let me hear from you:

  1. Can baseball be saved?
  2. How do you handle it?
  3. Does anyone really care anymore?

May 30, 2006: 11:06 am: Big Blunders

Of all of the reasons not to do an on-camera interview, Jiffy Lube execs have found one that is the most honest and most transparent — even if it is wrong.

A hidden-camera expose by KNBC recently nailed several Southern California Jiffy Lube shops caught charging for repairs that were never made. It’s a well-done and well-documented piece, and the stores are absolutely nailed. Worst of all is the “district manager” who lies about not being a manager, and claims to be a customer instead.

At the end of the piece, Jiffy Lube promises to make a number of changes, including the installation of cameras in 31 stores that will allow customers to watch the crew at work. Six employees (and the district manager) have been fired, and several stores closed for internal employee training.

However, one thing you won’t see is a Jiffy Lube executive or spokesman issuing an apology. The reason, according to reporter Joel Grover:

“They will not speak to us on camera — they say it wasn’t to their benefit.”

Instead, all the viewers saw was a full-screen graphic from a written statement, which amounts to a clip-and-paste of PR/spin cliches:

“We take KNBC’s allegations seriously… will investigate this matter thoroughly and take appropriate actions… to prevent further occurrences.”

Will the public buy it? Very doubtful.

For apologies to work, you have to appeal to the consumer in an emotional way. You have to make a connection for real contrition, and that means communicating with all of your tools: body language, posture, voice tone, facial expression. Most of communication is non-verbal, and it’s damned near impossible to “sell sincerity” unless you open yourself up to be seen.

For Jiffy Lube to take a stand that an on-camera reaction would be of no “benefit” speaks volumes about a complete lack of understanding about communication. To get stung this way for the third year in a row speaks volumes about not really caring to begin with.

May 17, 2006: 12:53 pm: Big Blunders

The GOP-appointed GPO better start answering PDQ.

No doubt discovered by reporters looking for a fresh immigration and citizenship angle, what might have been an oversight is being spun into a whole lot more.

The Government Printing Office produced a set of flash cards for aspiring citizens. No doubt a lot of native-born Americans might have some troubles with the questions. But there is a glaring omission on one of the cards:

Simple First Amendment question

Something's missing...?

Something is missing — like the Freedom of the Press.

Already, a number of blogs are picking this up, some commenters calling it an intentional policy of the Bush Administration:

“Yep, that’s your GOP, eliminating freedom–one civil right at a time!!!!”

“The right is inalienable, (In the US at least) and to delete the reference foreshadows the mindset of this administration and all its efforts.”

This has yet to hit Google News and such, so it will be interesting to find out how quickly GPO can react, explain, or spin if necessary. If they don’t answer, the conspiracy meme will further entrench.

Oh… and I have e-mailed the press office to see what they might have to say about this matter. The clock is ticking.

May 15, 2006: 8:35 am: Big Blunders

I’m a little biased. I used to wear contact lenses, and now I don’t. It wasn’t a medical issue, nor one of cost. I just got tired of the cleaning routine.

Now mind you, I was pretty good. I was able to wear a single pair of contacts for nearly two years (pre-disposables). I was religious in my hygeine and upkeep, and it showed. I used Bausch and Lomb products.

I also knew from talking with my opthalmologist that far too many people aren’t as diligent as I was. I understood that many guidelines and recommendations came from the knowledge that most people didn’t follow the directions — and you had to account for that.

B&L this morning announced the total withdrawal of ReNu with MoistureLoc MultiPurpose Solution from the market. It’s been off the shelves for weeks, and will not come back in any way. Research showed that too many fungal eye infections were attributed to users who didn’t follow directions.

From a PR perspective, it’s never good news when you blame the customer. B&L has relied heavily on the Centers for Disease Control to mete out the bad news, which it ought to do.

Speaking of bad news, it’s also not good when you put a statement at the top of your website — and users click through to a forbidden link!

As of 10:30 EDT, the link is still down. If you want to know what B&L CEO Ron Zarrella has to say, you have to get it off of news websites. And there’s no guarantee he’s getting his best messages across through those filters.

How long till someone notices?

Update: The link now opens, with a RealPlayer video message. The text is available as a .pdf, and includes:

After thousands of tests, there is no evidence of MoistureLoc contamination, tampering or counterfeiting. That leads us to conclude that there may be some aspect of the MoistureLoc formula, when combined with certain environmental factors, lens wear and care practices, and other factors, that might increase the risk of Fusarium infection in rare circumstances.

“lens wear and care practices”. In other words, “operator error.”

But, much like the Audi 5000 and “sudden acceleration syndrome,” the truth doesn’t play as well as the myth. So you de-emphasize the blame element, put your company in a more tort-resistant position, and you move on.

March 27, 2006: 3:04 pm: Big Blunders, Birmingham, Helpful Hints

Today, we get an object lesson that cuts both ways. Literally an “up” and a “down” in the same breath.

Alabama’s amusement park, VisionLand, is getting a new name. The name was coined by then Fairfield Mayor Larry Langford, whose grand(iose) vision was a local destination for kids, and an economic engine for western Jefferson County. The name “VisionLand” was appropriate for the task of selling several municipalities on the project. (Say what you will — no one else could have pushed it through with sheer force of rhetoric and will.)

After a few seasons of missed projections and bad luck, the park authority found a buyer. The California-based Southland Entertainment Group bought the park three years ago, and becomes of the focus of today’s “lesson.”

First of all, a name change is a good idea. The park is in need of a fresh look from potential visitors, and this is a great platform from which to launch a campaign. The park will now be known as Alabama Adventure.

At a news conference, the company stated that it wanted to change the park first, and then the name. This makes sense — don’t just sell us on an image or a slogan; give us a new and compelling reason to come, then hit us with the campaign. Southland claims to have invested $20-million in improvements since taking over, including a steel rollercoaster, a wave pool, and other attractions.

Lesson one: Don’t just play semantics. Give us a real change, and let the name be an extension. Good move.

However, there’s absolutely nothing (as of my posting) on the VisionLand website indicating a name change. Zero. Zip. Nada. Worse, I tried in my browser, I Googled for it… and nothing. Not exactly the complete rollout one would want.

Lesson two: If you’re building a campaign around changes and fresh buzz, then make it easy for people who want to find out more.

And like a roller coaster, that’s the kind of up and down that will make you sick…

Update: the website now reflects the new name, and the address forwards to the site as well. (I’d like to take credit, so… thank you!!)

March 24, 2006: 4:03 pm: Big Blunders, Rants

Transparency. It’s as simple as acting the same way in private that you would in public. It’s living in the glass house, warts and all. And it’s a pretty good guiding principle for building trust.

Check out this article from Grade the News. It looks at transparency in television newsgathering, and includes some rather candid comments from those in the business about how economics and cutbacks have forced some changes in the way it’s all played.

Selfish pitch: I preach about the need for media training, if for no other reason than I know there are fewer journalists trying to do more work. Some get lazy, some get sloppy, some just get overwhelmed. The more you can make their job easier, the better your encounter is going to be.

I don’t advocate doing their jobs for them — because it can come back to bite you if the news-entity has not been transparent.

Speaking of “transparency,” our friend “Larry Pamper” from is trying to perpetuate the idea that he is not connected to the Birmingham Steeldogs.

Bottom line:

  • Be Yourself
  • Tell the Truth
  • Be Transparent

March 21, 2006: 11:13 pm: Big Blunders, External PR

The San Francisco 49ers offensive line didn’t protect the quarterbacks well last season, but the biggest sack came in the team’s PR office.

With all the trouble athletes can cause their employers and fans, more organizations are turning to media training. (Remember, the 49ers used to have Terrell Owens.)

However, the in-house media training video backfired big time. The humor of the “How Not To” approach was completely lost on the diverse Bay audience, which did not warm up to stereotypical portrayals of gays and Asians in a sensitivity video. All humor was lost when it was discovered that top brass sat on the tape for months, and didn’t press for heads to roll.

Public relations director Kirk Reynolds was cannedresigned the moment word of the tape eventually leaked. Now, just a scant nine months and three weeks later, the San Francisco Chronicle has obtained the video for everyone who wants to be offended in the privacy of their own cubicles.

For those of you who don’t feel like updating your Quicktime again, the action is captioned for you:

Segment 2 of 8:
On a sidewalk in Chinatown, Reynolds-as-mayor asks a man walking past him (played by former 49ers trainer George Chung) to help him read an Asian language newspaper. Note: clip contains racial stereotyping and suggestive language.

Segment 3 of 8:
In a sendup of same-sex marriages, Reynolds presides over a mock wedding between two women staged inside the Mitchell Brothers theater on O’Farrell Street in San Francisco. [Nudity has been deliberately blurred by Chronicle staff]

Segment 4 of 8:
Back out on the street, Reynolds tells a beggar (played by Julian Peterson) to “get a job.” At SBC Park, the ersatz mayor emphasizes the importance of giving interviews to the local media, then throws out the first pitch. Afterward, the catcher thanks him for supporting “hookers and booze.”

: 4:04 pm: Big Blunders, Birmingham

Viral marketing is spreading like a bad disease, and sometimes those with “guerilla marketing fever” just aren’t immune to the temptation to lie.

We’ll find out soon enough if the Birmingham SteelDogs are barking down the path to the dark side.

A few days ago, billboards started popping up around Birmingham, stirring support to shut down figure skating. The billboards linked to a companion website:

Support those who offer wholesome alternatives to figure skating. In Birmingham, Alabama, an arena football team is making a difference. By building their field on top of the largest ice rink in the state, they have assured there will be absolutely NO figure skating on these dates. There will only be exciting football games with plenty of fun for the kids. Even though the Birmingham Steeldogs have not returned any of our calls, we have included a link to their website because we want to support their obvious anti-figure-skating stance. Buy your tickets now and STRIKE A BLOW AGAINST THIS PSUEDO-SPORT!!!

Now, with all the talk about transparency, you’d think the Steeldogs would own up to it when asked. Instead, the statement from managing partner Scott Myers feigns total ignorance:

“The Birmingham Steeldogs are in no way opposed to figure skating,” Myers said. “In fact, I have really enjoyed watching the ‘Skating With Celebrities’ television program that airs before ‘24′ on Fox 6.”

“We are in full agreement, however, that the Steeldogs are a great family entertainment value,” Myers added. “We believe that all sports fans, regardless of what their favorite sport is, should come out and enjoy arena football this season.”

(Myers ought to be a skating fan — he’s the former General Manager of the Birmingham Bulls ECHL franchise, which rode a bear market out of town years ago.)

The thinly-veiled disguise of Larry Pamper was used to kick off the whole buzz on the Steeldogs’ message boards. Apparently, “Pamper” is such a big fan that this is hiis one and only post.

In light of all the recent gnashing of teeth about transparency in public relations, will the SteelDogs go to the doghouse over this? Probably not. When it comes to minor-league sports, the only real controversy you ever face is if you bungle the selection of a mascot.

(No, John, I’m not talking about Houston soccer. Vince McMahon’s XFL came very close to dubbing its Birmingham franchise the “Blast,” a great alliterative name that just doesn’t set to well in a town known for a fatal church bombing.)

March 20, 2006: 3:34 pm: Big Blunders, Helpful Hints

A few tornados, no hurricanes, no earthquakes or ice storms to speak of. Dallas has not been linked to many disasters, but the clock is ticking now that T.O. is in town.

This guy is just a bomb waiting to go off. He’s self-destructive and contagious.

Warning to the Dallas Cowboys’ PR staff: Digg up anything and everything you can on this guy. Here’s a good starting point. Use these events now to draft template news releases:

  • apology to Coach Parcells
  • apology to team
  • apology to fans
  • apology to Metroplex Community
  • apology to sponsors
  • apology to NFL
  • apology to Paul Tagliabue
  • apology to Drew BledsoeWhoever T.O. cons Parcells into signing
  • apology to Hall of Fame
  • apology to Hall of Famer that T.O. disses
  • apology to broadcast teams
  • apology to Jerry Jones
  • apology from Jerry Jones, to all of the above

Warning #2 to the Cowboys’ PR staff: Start prepping your guys to be total Boy Scouts. Anything and everything that goes on in that locker room is fair game once T.O. takes his ball and goes home.

UPDATE: Scott over at Media Orchard says T.O. is spreading his goodness with a ‘cheesy’ rap.

March 15, 2006: 1:39 pm: Big Blunders, Rants

Apparently, the fake news item about Will Ferrell’s non-existent death has finally snapped Google News awake.

After determining that just about anyone can submit and distribute information through i-Newswire, Google has cut the source out of its news mix.

Just before the plug was pulled, a 15-year-old boy “made news” by announcing that he’d been hired by Google.

At least the kid has apologized.

March 14, 2006: 5:01 pm: Big Blunders

“Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated.” Apparently, so were reports that Will Ferrell died in a paragliding accident.

i-Newswire took that bait. It’s since been quickly debunked, and they’ve taken out the erroneous information.

Stay tuned to their explanation for this one…

March 3, 2006: 8:45 am: Big Blunders, Helpful Hints

PR would be an easy business, if only we could get rid of all of the non-trained people who make our jobs difficult.

(Of course, then no real work would get done…)

Your corporate reputation is in the hands of every person who draws from your payroll. And we know how many employees don’t wash their hands.

Here’s a case where the employees can do just about every thing you could want, and still get you in trouble. An AMC theater in Florida is now treading lightly after kicking out a developmentally-challenged boy who laughed too much during a movie. The 19-year-old has a little-known condition called Angelman syndrome, which limits his functions to that of a two-year-old.

“Here’s a child that was laughing at a comedy,” Susan Brown said Monday. “His way of expressing delight and joy at this movie was laughing, but because his communication technique got in the way of someone else’s space, he had to leave.”

The family has been to the theater a number of times, but this is the first where there had been a complaint. The staff tried offering replacement tickets to another screening, but to no avail:

“That (the ticket) wasn’t the point,” said Brown, a stay-at-home mom. “Nobody apologized. Nobody looked at Matt in the eye. It was like he didn’t exist.”

About 20 minutes later, Brown said she went in to get her younger son. Once back in the theater, she paused to give the audience a piece of her mind.

“I guess it’s not appropriate to laugh at a children’s comedy and if you have a disability you don’t need to laugh too loud,” she told the crowd. “Have a nice evening.”

This is a tough one… the ADA does give discretion when one person’s condition affects many others. But that typically has been defined as a violence or safety issue… not a disruption caused by laughter.

According to a statement issued by AMC spokeswoman Melanie Bell, “AMC Theatres has great respect for our guests with special needs and we work very hard to provide everyone the opportunity to attend our theatres comfortably.

“In this particular instance, several members of the theater audience complained that the guest’s outbursts were disruptive,” the company said.

The family is petitioning the ACLU to pursue a case, which only serves to keep AMC in the headlines. And it’s hard to beat a sympathetic kid, even when the law appears to be on your side.

March 2, 2006: 6:45 am: Big Blunders, Birmingham

Everyone could use a little media training, even if they never stand before a camera. You’ll never know when an appearance before the wrong lens will end your career. Even if your “career” is fraud.

Wesley Warren of Walker County, Alabama, has pleaded guilty to two counts of FEMA/Hurricane fraud. Each count carries a five-year/$250,000 maximum penalty. Warren passed himself off as a New Orleans evacuee, when in fact he’s really from Jasper.

That’s Jasper, as in Walker County. The same county where he filed his claims.

So, exactly how did this criminal mastermind trip himself up?

The Walker County native gained local notoriety after being featured in a Daily Mountain Eagle article under the alias Wesley Wood. An article published on Sept. 11, in the Eagle’s Lifestyles section featured several accounts of individuals who had fled their homes to escape the destruction of the massive hurricane. Among them, Warren, posing as Wood, related a dramatic story that, according to prosecutors, never happened. Warren’s picture also ran with the story.

Emphasis mine. He allowed his picture to be taken by his hometown paper.

Kidding aside, fraud has been a simmering issue in the relief community. The Red Cross and other groups were faced with a choice: fraud-proof the system, or get the help out the door. They opted for the latter. The difficulty comes when the “bad news big fraud” stories get front page play, and all of the individual convictions and prosecutions get leaked out over time. It’s hard to get reporters and editors interested in a trickle of good evidence, even if it outweighs the bad.

That’s life. Deal with it.

March 1, 2006: 3:43 pm: Big Blunders, Rants

(A tip of the ole fedora to Scott over at Media Orchard.)

Journalists were quick to jump on James Frey for shattering his credibility into a million little pieces, and didn’t cut Oprah much slack for not smacking him around quickly enough.

Journalists talk tough when it comes to credibility… at least when they think no one is listening.

CNN legal guru Nancy Grace is now in the hot-seat, after what appears to be a case of perjury in the court of public opinion. Grace has been very open about her drives, ambitions, and influences in the past. Now those statements are coming back to haunt her.

We’ll let others deal with the fallout and the outcry. I wanted to peel back the skull of the collective journalistic consciousness, and let you see how they perceive this. A sample reaction:

Clever Login Name: When does an embellishment become a lie? I’ve never watched NG, so I have no opinion of her work … but this evokes kind of an ‘eh’ from me. That said, you’d think people in her position would be more careful about the wording of their resumes and profiles.

WARNING: This is a broadcast journalism message board. There is no guarantee that the people you see making posts are actually in the business, but most of them are. Read at your own peril.

Next Page »