August 12, 2005: 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” CNet.com. 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 Google.com 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 News.com 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.]

August 2, 2005: 12:02 pm: Uncategorized

“No comment” is supposed to be a cardinal sin in public relations. But that doesn’t mean that you spill your guts, and talk yourself into a worse position.

Case in point — The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office.

A mother is angry that her 8-year-old son was charged with an “act of lewdness with a minor.” That other “minor” was his 14-year-old babysitter!

The sitter and the boy were playing “Truth or Dare,” and she dared him to touch her breasts. So he did. And he told mom about it later. (I don’t remember seeing that game in the Babysitter’s Handbook.)

When mom went to the cops, they charged her son, saying the boy was an “equal and willing participant.”

Needless to say, mom got mad and went to the media.

The DA’s office fielded the call about as well as you can. It confirmed the charge, and the dropping of the charge, and declined further comment. Nothing on the record in quotes. It’s not the same as “no comment,” but it prevents further liability.

Why the silent treatment in this instance? For one, there is virtually no potential for a repeat down the line, and no future for this case. The story has a short, shocking shelf life, and it’s gone. Second, there is a liability involved if the DA says too much, and winds up hanging an employee out to dry. The erroneous charge is clearly a case of “no harm, no foul,” and you can bet it won’t happen again. Why jeopardize a career by passing an invisible buck? Additional statements would not have added any clarity or understanding — and would have risked stoking the fire further.

August 1, 2005: 1:38 pm: Uncategorized

“Damage control” is even harder when dealing with someone else’s damage.

That is precisely the difficulty many Muslim groups now face. American Muslim organizations are recognizing the problem of denouncing terrorism, and those who practice it:

“Islam is not like the Catholic Church, there is no central authority who can give you one quote. Therefore it is impossible for all Muslims to speak in one voice, just as it is impossible for all Americans to speak in one voice,” said Muqtedar Khan, a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, who studies international politics.

Some Muslim groups are frustrated with the task that public relations experts refer to as “reputation management.”

Mike Paul, a veteran public relations professional in New York City, says that religious communities should present a consistent message that offers concrete historical examples to back up their statements.

People aren’t going to believe you if you just say, ‘These people don’t represent our faith,’” Paul said, “They’re going to say, ‘Show me the truth.’

To that extent, “show don’t tell” means actually doing something to replace the ideology of extremism and violence. The Muslim American Society is launching a slate of seven action steps — a “Declaration of Support and Action Against Terrorism.”

It will take time for this movement to show results, if any at all. Previous silence on the issue has been interpreted as acceptance. A London Telegraph survey showed that nearly 1/4 of British Muslims “have some sympathy with the feelings and motives of those who carried out” the London bombings.

That vacuum of silence has some (like conservative talk-show host Michael Graham) calling Islam itself a “terror organization.” That comment got him suspended, and CAIR is lobbying to get him fired, too, even as CAIR sponsors its own fatwa against terror.

July 29, 2005: 4:16 pm: Uncategorized

I’ve been expanding my horizons lately.

It used to be exclusively executive-level media training and interview coaching, but lately I’ve added a level of “PR sensitivity” for those in an organization who will never be a spokesperson.

In that training, we talk about how to evaluate a potential public relations nightmare, and how to report it up the chain before it becomes to big to deflect.

I can guarantee that after the first hour, everyone who comes out of my training will have enough foresight to avoid something as stupid as this: ‘Ghetto Talent Show,’ Watermelon Eating Contest Outrages Community (Yahoo! News)

Miami city leaders are apologizing for a news release that invited summer campers to a ”Ghetto Style Talent Show” and ”Watermelon Eating Contest.”

The release said that children participating in the summer camp who “know the meaning of ghetto style” would have a chance to “prove just how ghetto they are.”

It’s okay to try to get attention with your news release. This isn’t what we had in mind, though…

Members of the black community expressed outrage at the wording of the invitation to the talent show.

…and for some reason, those in the city offices didn’t seem to be aware. (Maybe they have been taking race-relations lessons from el Presidente Vicente Fox.)

After being criticized by residents of the nearby Model City neighborhood and community leaders, Miami Parks Director Ernest Burkeen, who is black, released a formal apology and announced the renaming of the talent show.

Well, that ought to heal some of the wounds…

The show will now be called the “Funky Talent Show,” according to Burkeen’s written statement. The watermelon contest will still be part of the event.

…just in time to pour in the salt.

I wasn’t sure whether to classify this as a planning bungle, and execution bungle, or a damage-control disaster. Instead, we’ll call it an object lesson in what not to do.

July 27, 2005: 12:08 am: Uncategorized

Krispy Kreme, formerly the King of cheap publicity, is not so “HOT NOW.”

The doughnut franchise posted incredible growth as it went public in 2000. It was a darling of the Motley Fool guys, and investors just couldn’t resist the slow march out of the South.

Neither could television stations. I was still in the news business then, and Krispy Kreme had a knack for making grand openings in new cities an “event.” Every station that could go live in the early mornings did, just to be a part of those mad lines for the first Krispy Kremes to roll off the racks.

How the mighty have fallen… as Krispy Kreme is struggling to avoid bankruptcy. Stephen Cooper (the post-fraud Enron guy) is doing the restructuring, and now he’s got another hurdle. Some franchises are going to court to keep the doughnut mix and supplies rolling in — even though they can’t pay for them. Franchisees with restructuring plans of their own allege they can’t meet other obligations if they pay Krispy Kreme. (They also allege that Krispy Kreme has overcharged them over the years, keeping the filings from being tossed out of court.)

Some place the blame on accounting idiocy, others on growing too fast. Me? I think Krispy Kreme got KO’ed by Karb Konsciousness.

In any respect, the company’s growth was built NOT around memorable advertising, but instead around good PR. Alas, rebuilding will not be. You’re only new once, and it’s becoming more difficult to sell questionable nutrition. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that turning doughnuts to dollars won’t be the sweet proposition it once was.

July 26, 2005: 5:01 am: Uncategorized

…is just what the marketing department ordered.

Rockstar Games is reaping the benefits of being the Bad Boys on the block, after pretending to have its pants down on “Hot Coffee” grounds.

The makers of “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” are laughing all the way to the bank, and are not in any peril regarding the game. (The GTA series is the best-selling ever, with more than 21-million units.) The PR jockeying now is among the retailers.

Rockstar has “pulled” the game off the shelf, while preparing to churn out a version that lacks the hidden sex games that apparently are the only difference between an “M” rating and an “AO” rating. (Literally, the difference between “Recommended for ages 17+” and “Adults Only, 18+”) [For more on the silliness and subjectivity of the rating, go check out Maddox.]

In the interim, EBGames (Electronic Boutique) is slapping AO stickers over the top and trotting the units right back onto the shelf. Circuit City and Target have announced they’ll wait for the (ahem) acceptable version, and Wal-Mart and Best Buy will look at the new version before making a decision.

EBGames is being fairly straightforward in approach. The PR folks at Circuit City and Target need to prepare for the onslaught of questions about whether they agree with the ratings, and the apparent bias against sex in favor of violence. And the flacks at Best Buy (and their newly-minted counterparts in Bentonville) will have to defend their decisions… even though no one in either company is qualified to crunch source code to see if there are other hidden treasures. Every strategy carries a risk. Do you want to stake your corporate reputation on the “promise” of a video game company that burned you once?

July 21, 2005: 8:38 am: Uncategorized

The early afternoon explosions in London – three in the Underground and one on a bus –are eerily similar to the transit bombings from two weeks ago. Someone is obviously sending a message, even to mimic the North-South-East-West pattern. But this time, it was just detonators. A few broken windows, no serious injuries.

The message was clear, but to whom?

An attack at 1:30 in the afternoon isn’t exactly hitting the rush hour. But it is catching the morning news shows in the United States.


July 8, 2005: 8:08 pm: Uncategorized

…entertaining my new best friend, Dennis.

My day job with the American Red Cross will overshadow my PR musings for a little while. Please keep all of us in the path of the storm in your thoughts and prayers.

And it might not be a bad time to support the Disaster Relief Fund, which pays for all the the pre-and-post landfall activities, from sheltering to recovery.

July 7, 2005: 9:04 am: Uncategorized

Timing is everything, and you have to applaud the guys at NASA… when it comes to public relations, these guys are real rocket scientists!

With the Deep Impact mission, not only did they perform the equivalent of hitting a moving bullet with a BB at a range of 1000 miles, they also timed it beautifully. Making the actual collision between the probe and the comet occur on a holiday weekend ensured that

Having worked in news for 16 years, I came to know the calendar very well. There are just certain weeks and extended weekends where there is little news to cover. When you’ve got the time to think and plan, you can take advantage of slow news days to extend the value of the coverage you get. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is among the worst. So is the weekend after Thanksgiving, which is why merchants and retailers want to focus the world on shopping. (By the way — the day after Thanksgiving is not the biggest shopping day of the year… but a lot of people still buy into that hype.)

July 1, 2005: 5:34 pm: Uncategorized

Have a safe Fourth… back next week.

Next Page »