Tag Archives: #PRfirms

What Type of Marketing Cry-Baby are You?

conflict-resolutionWhen a client complained to me recently about the difficulty of competing against larger companies, I had a flashback to when my kids were in grade school. Often, when they complained a whiny manner (with or without tears), I’d start singing one particular verse of the well-known kids’ song, “The Wheels on the Bus.”

As my kids started to whine, I would sing:

“The babies on the bus go wah, wah, wah

Wah, wah, wah…wah, wah, wah

The babies on the bus go wah, wah, wah

All through the town.”

As my kids whined louder, I would sing louder. And they would eventually storm away, totally frustrated. Over time, my kids got the message that I had zero tolerance for Cry-Babies. Eventually, I would only have to sing an extended warm-up note of the song (“The…..”), before they would stop whining and walk away.

As an abusive but somewhat responsible parent, I usually tried to have an “adult conversation” with the offending Cry-Baby to resolve the underlying problem, but only after the whining had stopped.

Over the course of my business career, I’ve run into several grown-up “Marketing Cry-Babies.” Whenever they start to whine about marketing-related challenges, I’m always tempted to begin singing the “babies on the bus” verse, but career risk and loss of client revenue serves to made me think twice.

Here are the 3 most common types of behavior exhibited by Marketing Cry-Babies. See if you fit into any one (or all) of these categories:

The “I want it NOW!” Cry-Baby: This marketer demands instant gratification. To him, marketing is a casino, complete with slot machines, craps tables and roulette wheels. With money to spend, he jumps from game to game – feeding the slots, placing chips on spaces – hoping to hit the jackpot. He doesn’t remain very long at any game, and believes that if he plays them all, he’s entitled to win something. When he runs out of money or grows tired of not winning big, this Cry-Baby will leave the casino angry or disappointed that his marketing “investment” has failed to pay off.

“I want it NOW!” Cry-Babies don’t understand that long-term strategy and tactical consistency are the most critical aspects of marketing success. My adult conversation with them goes like this: None of the “games” in the marketing toolkit – publicity, advertising, social media, videos, conferences, newsletters, blogging, direct mail, etc. – either individually or collectively will ever deliver an immediate jackpot. To be a consistent winner in the marketing casino, you need to really understand the risks and potential rewards of all the games; only play those games with odds that are in your favor; commit to playing those games long enough to win; and be willing to change how you’re playing the game – rather than walking away – if you are not winning.

The “It’s All About ME.” Cry-Baby: This marketer believes clients and prospects have a genuine interest in her company’s ideas, experience, success, etc. So the firm’s public-facing materials and “thought leadership” are promotional and self-serving. White papers and editorial content are poorly disguised sales pitches, and offer no helpful information or insights. Lots of time is devoted to winning industry recognition; far less time is invested in managing the customer experience or supporting the sales force.  This Cry-Baby can’t understand why all her marketing activity doesn’t improve revenue or client retention.

“It’s All about ME.” Cry-Babies don’t appreciate that clients and prospects aremost interested in how you can help with their particular problem or opportunity. My brief adult conversation with them goes like this: Clients and prospects don’t really give a hoot about your white papers, industry awards or client list. You need to learn what they need, how they think, and why they’re frustrated or optimistic. That effort demands two-way conversations, and direct market engagement. Based on those insights (which can change with great frequency) you’ll need to (re)direct all of your marketing efforts to resonate in their world, and not yours.

The “That’s Just Not Fair!” Cry-Baby: This marketer is convinced that the cards are stacked against him. There’s never enough money in the budget. The competition can’t be beaten.  Management doesn’t understand marketplace dynamics. Sales reps don’t know how to convert their leads. This Cry-Baby always has a reason for marketing’s lack of success, and lots of excuses not to try harder (or at all.)

“That’s Just Not Fair!” Cry-Babies are either afraid to fail, or afraid to succeed. Either way, they are hard-wired to whine, and often not worth having an adult conversation with. But here goes anyway: Having money to throw at marketing does not ensure success. Larger competitors can have greater bureaucracy that slows marketing momentum, and too many chefs in the marketing kitchen that dilute strategies and tactics. Big firms can get complacent, and be afraid to try new solutions. Regardless of budget or existing brand recognition, smaller firms can always gain competitive advantage through creativity, tenacity and a burning desire to steal the lunch from competitors, regardless of their size or reputation. Being the underdog can be a marketing asset; but you need to give people some good reasons to root for you.

There is some recourse, however, for all types of Marketing Cry-Babies who insist on whining. They simply need to spend more time on the golf course, where that behavior is always appropriate, and where you’re encouraged to attach a “crying towel” to your bag. Fore!

Leave a comment

Filed under B2B Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Uncategorized

PR Playbook: Earning Your Seat at the Senior Management Table

While waiting for the PR profession-at-large to earn a place at the senior management table, current practitioners should develop their own company-specific strategies that will enable them to rub shoulders on an equal basis with their counterparts in finance, legal, marketing, operations or technology. The timeworn adage, “Think globally, act locally,” applies very well here.

Here are a few tactics to consider for your personal campaign to gain a seat:

  • Clarify PR’s Role – The most pragmatic answer to “What is PR?” may be: “Whatever your employer (or client) needs it to be.” Exploration of how the PR profession can be applied to achieve tangible benefits for your organization begins with frank and perhaps eye-opening conversations with senior managers to gain a first-hand understanding of their current perceptions and expectations of PR. You may be surprised at the depth of misunderstanding that exists within your organization regarding your activity and its value. This is an opportunity to clarify what PR does or can do for them, to identify their needs and establish expectations.
  • Get Quantitative – The nature of PR tactics can make it difficult to demonstrate a direct correlation between that activity and tangible business outcomes. Most senior executives accept that reality, and do not expect PR to be a profit center. However, PR practitioners who understand the bottom-line orientation of the business world make it a priority to connect the dots internally, by explaining and highlighting what role PR has played in helping to produce results – whether those outcomes are measured in lead generation, search engine page rankings, revenue growth, employee satisfaction or customer experience.
  • Speak Their Language – It’s not necessary to understand all the technicalities, issues or nuances related to various corporate functions, but you need to know what’s important. For example, your CFO does not expect you to be up-to-date on Dodd-Frank compliance, but does expect you to be well-versed regarding the company’s business model (how it makes and spends money), its competitive landscape, key legislation and enterprise priorities such as market share, acquisition or going public. Speaking your company’s language has less to do with knowing balance sheet terminology, and more to do with being tuned into what’s on the priority list of its senior team and your ability to adapt PR strategies to support those goals.
  • Get Strategic – As a staff function, PR is often viewed as corporate overhead, and expendable when times get tough. Making PR an essential element in line function strategies can build internal support as well as career longevity. To make PR indispensible within your organization, focus on activities that are valued by senior management. These are typically tactics that make the phones ring, or move the revenue needle. For example, drive a successful effort to get your company’s whiz-bang technology included in a respected industry benchmark such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant (ideally, without paying Gartner’s hefty subscription fee), and watch the PR department’s stature rise internally.
  • Act Like an Agency – Outside PR firms live or die by the level of service and results they deliver to clients. An agency’s motivation and enthusiasm are driven by an appreciation that if they fail to meet expectations or add value, they will likely be replaced. Corporate PR practitioners who adopt an agency mindset – treating each operational function as an outside PR agency might manage a client – can build internal support across the organization. From a practical standpoint, this means understanding what your internal clients need, developing tailored plans of action, being accountable for agreed-upon deliverables and maintaining a sense of urgency.
  • Be Fearless – You must serve as the PR function’s ambassador within your company. Keep the pom-poms in the file cabinet, but don’t be shy about discussing what’s working, as well as what’s not and why. If you don’t point out PR’s contribution to the top or bottom lines, no one else will. Conversely, if you don’t put shortcomings out on the table, someone else is likely to do that for you. And if you’re in an environment where honest conversations regarding success and failure are not fostered, then it may not be a management table where you want to be seated.
  • Get a Life – A PR practitioner’s internal reputation and stature are also shaped by professional involvement outside of the company. Your public relations skills can be of great value to civic, charitable and cause-related organizations, and regardless of the motivation for contributing your time, these affiliations represent 3rd party validation of your expertise. This experience also broadens your career horizons, sharpens your professional capabilities and can be personally rewarding and fun.

Best practices established by individual PR professionals – not PRSA lobbying, or PR courses in MBA curricula – represent the profession’s most valuable resource in its effort to move public relations from the management farm team to the big leagues. Over time, as more practitioners gain seats, including PR in the corporate decision-making process is likely to become standard practice, rather than the exception.

Bill Gates learned the “by invitation only” lesson the hard way when he was denied admission to the prestigious August National Golf Club, because he publicly expressed an interest in becoming a member. Similarly, if you want a seat at your company’s senior management table, you won’t get there by asking for it; so take the steps necessary to earn yourself an invitation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Peter Drucker on “The Four Roles of the CFO”

Dr. Peter F. Drucker, Management Thought Leader

In the early 1990s, Highlander Consulting was engaged by Phibro Energy to help introduce energy derivatives to Chief Financial Officers at corporations with substantial exposure to fluctuations in oil, gasoline and jet fuel prices.

As part of an integrated marketing strategy, management legend Dr. Peter F. Drucker, then serving as a professor at Claremont Graduate School, was engaged to serve as keynote speaker at the Phibro Energy Risk Management Forum, held at The Metropolitan Club in New York City.

Dr. Drucker, who passed away at age 95 in 2005, chose to speak on what he called, “The Four Roles of the CFO.” His remarks before more than 200 CFOs appear to be as relevant now as when he spoke to them nearly 25 years ago.

Here are some highlights from Peter Drucker’s presentation, which can not be found in any one of his 39 books:

The CFO as Information Officer:

“The original role of the CFO was to be the information officer of the business…Accounting, which is information, is changing today more than it has changed in the last hundred years…CFOs will have to make an important decision for their companies not very far down the line, on how to get rid of the pernicious rift between information that is concept-focused, which is accounting, and information that is transaction-focused, which is computerized information…

“The notion that you should split these two universes of information between the Chief Financial Officer, who is responsible for financial information, and the Chief Information Officer, who is responsible for non-financial information is not a good idea…

“The only reliable information we have available to us basically is “inside” information, mostly in our accounting systems. And yet, the events that really determine the success of business do not happen on the inside…So CFOs have a big job ahead: bringing together information channels, and learning an accounting system that’s going to be very different. It will require an ability to get “inside” information by manipulating figures quickly, and combining it with “outside” information, which is largely anecdotal today.”

The CFO as Financial Advisor:

“The Chief Financial Officer must think about the financial consequences of projected policies and actions, not only in terms of costs but in terms of the allocation of scarce resources…So the chief financial adviser’s job is to think about opportunity costs, and most CFOs don’t do this…As a CFO, you must think about what a policy or project is likely to return. Also think about the consequences if it doesn’t work…So the chief financial adviser basically is a conscience, a financial conscience.”

The CFO as Productivity Manager:

“There is a third CFO function, which is managing money for the business. I’m not talking of the treasury function; that is only a small part of it. The biggest part of this involves managing the productivity of capital…It’s my view that you can increase the productivity of capital in any organization three percent a year compounded, by just plain hard work, provided it’s allocated properly. And this is a function which is not, bluntly, on your professional agenda today…

“Top management doesn’t think financially. They think in terms of next quarter’s dividend, and that’s not thinking financially. They don’t think in terms of the financial impact of business decisions and the business impact of financial decisions. And that, I think, is your biggest educational job ahead.”

The CFO as Asset Protector:

“The fourth dimension of the CFO’s role is the preservation and protection of assets. This is a duty of a company that benefits not only the shareholders, but also society…The stupidest thing you can do is attempt to predict the future. Brilliant people have seen that those who predict eventually come to grief. Truly brilliant people understand that they must make external fluctuations irrelevant to their business…

“The protection of assets involves making sure that the risks over which you have no control are managed, and do not interfere with the conduct of the business. Losses based on fluctuations of commodities are no longer permissible, any more than it is permitted to have a factory burn down without insurance coverage. These are manageable risks.”

If you’d like to receive a copy of Peter Drucker’s complete remarks at the Phibro Energy Risk Management Forum in 1991, just shoot me a note.

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Should PRSA Sanction Public Relations Practitioners?

In his bi-weekly column on customer service, “The Haggler,” New York Times writer David Segal addressed a long-standing and well-founded gripe that many journalists have against public relations practitioners who send out press releases and other solicitations in wholesale fashion; regardless of the content’s relevance or likely interest to the journalists they’re pitching. According to Segal, hundreds of thousands of these unsolicited pitches – or “P.R. Spam,” as he calls it – “belly flop into the email systems of journalists every day.”

The relationship between journalists and PR professionals has always been contentious. Reporters claim PR people block their access to sources, and sometimes to the truth. PR counters that journalists often don’t care about facts, or twist them to suit their editorial agenda. But because the press can deliver exposure and credibility that PR craves, journalists have always been in a more powerful position. As a result, effective public relations involves pushing a company’s or client’s agenda (or products and services) without being a pest, and ideally, by being helpful to reporters who are in a position to reciprocate with media coverage. It’s a dance that both sides understand.

Over the past decade, three developments have upset the already rocky relationship between PR and the press:

  • Email, and “blast email” in particular, has become PR’s most frequently used communication device. Standard PR procedure at most firms and agencies is based on “shotgun” tactics designed to reach as many media sources as possible, relevance or interest notwithstanding.
  • Database companies, notably Cision and Vocus, empower PR people to create enormous lists of journalists in a matter of minutes. What was once a painstaking research process now involves a few keystrokes.
  • The internet and a fundamental shift in how news is reported have greatly reduced the number of journalists. Conversely, more schools are pumping out graduates with PR degrees. So there are now significantly more PR people chasing a much smaller number of journalists. And many newly minted PR people have not been taught the unwritten rules of effective media relations.

Why should serious PR practitioners care about the behavior of the growing number of people within their profession who display no regard for fundamental media relations protocol?

In his column, New York Times’ David Segal reports that he has removed his contact information from the 5 leading media database companies. Calling on other reporters who also seek fewer unsolicited intrusions in their mailboxes, Segal provides detailed instructions on how they can delete their listings from those databases.

But it matters very little whether Segal is the canary in the coal mine for this issue, foreshadowing mass defections of journalists from online databases; thereby making those tools useless. In fact, PR may also be better served without them.

What does matter is that this sloppy, lazy, abusive practice of media harassment by so many PR people increasingly harms the stature of the profession, and makes it even more difficult for serious practitioners to work effectively with the press.

Public relations has fought for decades to be recognized as a bona fide profession, similar to medicine, law or accounting. But until the profession is in a position to self-regulate – to reprimand or sanction, in transparent fashion, individual practitioners or organizations that harm the reputation and effectiveness of the discipline – PR can never be considered a legitimate profession. It will remain a business function, nothing more.

If the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), in its role as the industry’s trade association, has serious interest in protecting the reputation and collective interests of the nation’s public relations franchise, the issue highlighted by David Segal provides an opportunity to demonstrate true leadership by reversing a troubling trend. An online “complaint box” for journalists to identify abuse, combined with a “Wall of Shame” to call out repeat offenders – both featured on the PRSA website – might be an effective first step in changing industry behavior.

Any other ideas?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Five Life Lessons from Doc Martin

Entertainment Craftsmanship: What Missing from American Television

Entertainment Craftsmanship: What’s Missing from American Television

Although a similar-sounding name brings footwear to mind for most Americans, “Doc Martin” is a British television series that follows the fictional life of Dr. Martin Ellingham, a brilliant but extremely grumpy (dog-hating) vascular surgeon whose medical career is sidelined after he develops a fear of blood. This unfortunate turn of events takes him to the (fictional) Cornwall seaside village of Portwenn where, as a general practitioner, his gruff, short-tempered manner conflicts with the laid-back, folksy manner of the villagers.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, you’re missing several things that American television has long been lacking, including great scriptwriting and acting, sophisticated humor and genuinely interesting characters. Doc Martin is pure television craftsmanship and well worth your time to watch all of the episodes from the past 5 seasons on Netflix.

Worldwide followers of the series eagerly await Season 6, set to begin this fall, which is purportedly its last. Addicted fans are preparing themselves for withdrawal, as the show’s creators understand that it’s always better to leave fans hungry for more, than it is to jump the shark with sloppy scriptwriting and worn-out or ridiculous plot lines.

Because Doc Martin offers viewers simple but enduring life lessons, the show’s legacy is secure. Here are a few things this blogger will always remember:

It’s OK to say “No!”  There’s rarely any doubt regarding where Doc Martin stands on an issue. No long explanations regarding the motivation or feelings behind his decisions. No sugar-coating. The downside of this approach is that people can be put off by the lack of diplomacy. The upside is that when you do say “Yes!” people understand that your decision is genuine, and not simply intended to make them feel good.

Know Your Stuff.  Even people whose personalities clash with Doc Martin appreciate (eventually) that he’s a skilled practitioner who has their best interests at heart.  He has the observational skills of Sherlock Holmes, and encyclopedic knowledge of every disease and malady known to mankind. Importantly, despite his lowbrow patients (compared with his London practice) he continues to study his craft and works to improve it. People will forgive personality shortcomings if you can add value to their lives in meaningful ways.

Overcome Obstacles. Development of a mid-career blood phobia would have ended the professional life of most physicians, but Doc Martin simply shifted gears – moving from surgery to general practice. When he’s confronted with blood in his new role, Doc Martin pukes in a paper bag and addresses the medical crisis at hand without skipping a beat. Doc Martin is a dauntless spirit whose determination was shaped by a mother who did not want him and a father who had no time for him. “When life gives you lemons…make lemonade” is a cliché, but its underlying lesson helps to maintain one’s sanity in a world we often can’t control.

Set Clear Expectations. Although Doc Martin is not always effective in enforcement of his own rules, there’s never any question about what he expects from people. His receptionists (three of them, so far) understand what behavior he’s seeking and what will not be tolerated, which includes not serving hot tea to patients in the waiting room. Whether you’re managing an office staff, raising children (or lining up your putt on the 16th hole), it’s important to have a clear vision of the outcome you’re seeking, and to be very specific with people regarding how they can help you achieve it.

Find an Meaningful Outlet. Doc Martin is wound as tight as a clock, so perhaps the show’s creators intend for his hobby of clock repair to serve as a metaphor for self-examination.  Either way, it’s important to have an outlet for relaxation, expression or personal satisfaction; whether that activity be physical or intellectual, which is increasingly difficult in a world consisting of so many passive distractions…such as watching Doc Martin re-runs.

In advance of Season 6’s final 8 episodes, diehard Doc Martin fans can follow the latest series-related news and gossip on its official website / blog www.docmartinfan.com . In the meantime, readers of this blog post are invited to share a life lesson or two that they’ve learned from Doc Martin.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

5 Ways to Merchandise the “Masthead Value” of Publicity

Not to be confused with "The Wall Street Transcript"

Not to be confused with “The Wall Street Transcript”

Many companies will invest considerable effort seeking positive publicity in influential media sources, and then fail to benefit from the masthead value of that exposure.

Originally a seafaring term relating to the brass plate attached to a ship’s mainmast that memorialized its owners and builders, a publication’s masthead lists the members of its current editorial and production staff. The industry term “masthead value” can be defined broadly as the level of stature, credibility and influence associated with a specific media source. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has high masthead value; the Wall Street Transcript…not so much.

Masthead value can be relative. A respected trade or professional publication in a particular industry may have greater masthead value – in terms of its influence with a particular audience – than well known publications such as the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. For example, physicians are likely to assign the New England Journal of Medicine greater masthead value than the Journal or Times on topics relating to clinical care of patients.

Masthead value should drive your publicity strategy. A placement from a single highly respected source can be far more valuable, in terms of influence, than a dozen hits with low masthead value. Because gaining inherent 3rd party endorsement is the end goal, in the publicity game quality always trumps quantity.

Here are 5 ways to leverage media placements with strong masthead value:

  • Put high value placements directly in front of your target audiences – Even if your coverage appears on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or makes the cover of Fortune magazine, don’t assume it will be read by clients, prospects, referral sources…or even by your employees. There’s simply too much offline and online noise to ensure that any media exposure on its own will gain the attention you’re seeking. If you’ve developed an internal CRM-driven discipline to communicate directly and regularly with target audiences, then you’re well prepared to apply that distribution capability to increase the chances that decision makers will notice, remember, and respond to your high value exposure. (Lacking that discipline, your time may be best spent building an effective distribution capability, in advance of seeking additional publicity.)
  • Avoid “Hey, look at me!” self-promotion – Pickup in a media source with high masthead value provides some reason for high-fives internally, but it should not serve as a platform for self-promotion. Extreme examples of this error include companies that issue a press release, or generate Twitter and Facebook postings to announce, for example, that their CEO has been profiled in Inc. magazine. This type of over-reaction to high value publicity suggests to target audiences that you were surprised to receive the media endorsement, and therefore may not have really deserved it. The key is to showcase the media exposure in a relevant context (you may need to create this), to make the media placement secondary to the underlying content (such as the reasons why your CEO was profiled in Inc.) and to pull off these tasks with a matter-of-fact level of self-confidence.
  • Rank graphics over content, in terms of impact – Most people are surface readers. Online visitors are more likely to scan images, heads, subheads and captions, than they are to read body copy. (Long blocks of copy on websites that require scrolling are rarely read.) If you’ve earned a placement with high masthead value, you can increase the likelihood of your company being associated with the “endorsing” publication by displaying its logo with the capsule description and link to the placement. To be clear: the critical element is the logo. If your placement is from the New York Times, for example, you should replicate the logo – as it appears on the front page of that publication. Based on how people gather information, simply typing, “from The New York Times,” or a similar attribution, is about 75% less effective than actually depicting the New York Times logo.
  • Prominently showcase high value placements – If you’ve invested and succeeded in generating media placements with high masthead value, why make it difficult for target audiences to find them on your website? Rather than burying influential publicity in an obscure “In the News” section that requires multiple clicks for visitors to locate, you can amortize your investment in publicity (and perhaps improve your website’s bounce rate in the process) if you create a location for these high value items on your home page. This can be accomplished by applying a design format in which the content either remains fixed or is refreshed regularly. For formats that supply current information, extend the shelf-life of each placement by not including its publication date.
  • Cite a relevant endorsement on your home page – One of the most effective  ways to  merchandise high-value media exposure is to select a very brief, relevant phrase from the coverage, for placement in a prominent position on your home page. Here’s a hypothetical example:

“…a recognized authority in Big Data technology.”

                                                       –Wired Magazine

By limiting your publicity efforts to media placements with high masthead value, and by ensuring that those placements are effectively merchandised through direct communication, social media tools and proper website visibility, PR practitioners will spend far less time worry about the ROI of public relations. The fruits of their labors will be self-evident in tangible business metrics, ranging from lead generation to high search engine page rankings.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tennyson Delivers Skyfall’s British Bulldog Moment

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

In her 7th and final role playing “M” in Skyfall – the latest in a series of 23 James Bond movies produced over the past 50 years – Dame Judi Dench appears before Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee to defend her record as head of MI6 – the government agency which supplies Her Majesty’s Government with foreign intelligence.

Under pressure to explain breaches in MI6’s internal security, the 007 matriarch waxes poetic, quoting a few lines from one of her late husband’s favorite poems:

“…We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Students of the late Professor Arthur R. Reil, Jr.’s English Lit course at Fairfield University – having memorized all 70 lines of that particular poem (as well as several odes and sonnets) – recognized Dench’s reading immediately as Ulysses, written by Lord Alfred Tennyson in 1833.

Some Cliff Notes for Biology majors: Ulysses is the ancient warrior hero of Homer’s Odyssey. British poet Tennyson envisions Ulysses speaking this narrative after having returned from the Trojan War to Ithaca, the kingdom he rules. Before he leaves Ithaca to embark on his final voyage, Ulysses describes his boredom with domestic life and fear of old age, longing for a return to his lifelong quest for adventure and knowledge.

Lord Tennyson was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria’s reign and remains one of Great Britain’s most popular poets. But when Tennyson wrote Ulysses, he was living in cramped quarters with his mother and nine of his ten siblings, with little income and in failing health. The poem was written shortly after, and influenced by the death of his close friend, the poet Arthur Henry Hallam (1811–1833), who was engaged to Tennyson’s sister Emily. The parallels between the plight of Ulysses and Tennyson’s personal circumstances continue to be the focus of countless, thoroughly boring Ph.D. dissertations.

Although it has been the subject of sniping since the film’s release, the Skyfall screenwriters’ rationale to interrupt their action movie with a brief poetry reading was very clear, and in my view, displayed noteworthy cinematic craftsmanship by providing the “British Bulldog Moment” that’s an essential element in every James Bond installment.  (For movie-goers who miss the point of the poem, Skyfall’s screenwriters provide a Union-Jacketed, Royal Doulton ceramic bulldog that “M” bequeaths to 007.)

What’s far less clear – some 40 years after Professor Reil forced me to memorize Ulysses – is how I can still remember and recite verbatim at least the first 10 lines of that epic poem (and up to 15 lines, after downing 3 Guinness stouts)…but I can never remember a new name or phone number for more than 30 seconds unless I write it down.

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

PR / Media Pros Should Stand Firm on Requiring Quote Approvals

Quote Approvals Lower the Risk of Media Burn

The practice of requiring journalists to submit on-the-record quotes for approval by a source in advance of publication has long been a sore point between the media and the PR profession. A new spotlight has been cast on the issue, with writer Michael Lewis’ acknowledgment that he’d agreed to quote approval for his Vanity Fair profile on Barack Obama, and the new policy issued by the New York Times, which forbids their reporters from agreeing to “after-the-fact quote approval by sources and their press aides.”

Notwithstanding the New York Times’ effort to protect the integrity of the Fourth Estate, there are at least 3 reasons why it makes good sense for companies and organizations to stand firm on stipulating that reporters obtain quote approval as a pre-condition for granting an interview:

  1. Reporters Are Human. They often don’t bring the depth of knowledge that’s required to cover the assignments they’re handed…so they will make mistakes. They also bring their own points of view…so they will be selective in how they quote sources. And sometimes, they don’t always play by the rules. This blogger was told by a New York Times reporter that if I pressed for a correction to an error he had made regarding one of my clients, that he would never feature any of my clients in his column.
  2. The Spoken Word and Written Word are Very Different. A comment or offhand remark that’s expressed during an interview can cast a false or unfair impression when taken out of context, and when it is read rather than heard. Very few individuals have the ability to envision…as they are speaking…how their spoken words will look in print and to know what message those words will convey. Mark Twain recognized that “talk in print” results in “confusion to the reader, not instruction.”
  3. Journalism Is a Cat and Mouse Game. Reporters are frequently looking for a “gotcha” quote that can juice up their coverage, or support a point they’re seeking to make. Their questions can be contrived, or their approach designed to wear down a source. This blogger learned that lesson the hard way, when a Chicago Tribune reporter twisted a fact-based comment in a very long conversation that enabled him to write a story entitled, “Amex Official Admits CBOE Superiority.”

If you’re willing to participate in media interviews without the safety net of quote approval….here are some guidelines that will lower your risk of being burned:

  • You Can Never Be “Media Trained” – Regardless of whatever training, practice sessions or actual interviews you’ve had, believing that you are “media trained” provides a dangerous and false sense of security. Every reporter is different, every interview is a unique opportunity, and you need to be properly prepared every time.
  • Don’t Lead Lambs to Slaughter – For a host of reasons, and regardless of their org chart position or years of experience, some people are media disasters. If your senior manager or client has a track record of interviews that did not go well, avoid putting them in harm’s way. If a heart-to-heart conversation regarding their poor interviewing skills is not an option, at least ensure that they are equipped for interviews with tightly scripted talking points.
  • Tape Record all Interviews – When there’s a recorded version of an interview, a reporter is likely to be more careful in quoting a source, and you have something more credible than written notes, if there is any controversy. It’s good form to let the reporter know upfront that you will be tape recording an interview. If the reporter objects, and you still agree to conduct the interview, then your organization deserves whatever misquotes or misrepresentation may occur.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Harvard Cheating Scandal: Do Administrators Need “Public Relations 101”?

Harvard University announced last week that the school is investigating 125 students for possibly cheating on a take-home final exam for “Government 1310: Introduction to Congress.” After reviewing more than 250 take-home exams turned in last Spring, the Harvard College Administrative Board has opened cases involving nearly half the 279 students enrolled in the class. The school has contacted every student whose work is under review, who now face sanctions that include suspension for up to a year.

In considering whether Harvard may have caused significant long-term damage to its own reputation unnecessarily, let’s ignore some fuzzy facts and conjecture:

  • The course, as measured by the professor’s own words and behavior, did not reflect a level of academic rigor one might associate with a prestigious university.
  • Take home exams, by their very nature, are generally considered a joke by most students.
  • Apparent confusion over at least one of the exam’s questions was exacerbated by the unavailability of the professor during the exam period, causing students to seek clarification from fellow classmates.
  • It’s unlikely that such a large proportion of the class would purposely cheat on what appears to be a gut course.

In examining whether Harvard may have caused significant long-term damage to its own reputation by acting in a hasty and imprudent manner, let’s speculate on a few likely catalysts:

  • After discovering similarities in the exams, and in advance of sending out letters to the 125 students suspected of cheating, Harvard failed to consider the high likelihood that this issue would quickly become a news item. If the school had acknowledged that risk, Harvard would (or should) have announced the scandal in advance of sending out letters to students.
  • Harvard likely became aware of the possibility of negative media coverage either after a call from a reporter, or in reaction to a threat from a student (or their lawyer) to make this a public issue.
  • Regardless of when and how Harvard began to think about negative media exposure, the most significant catalyst that caused administrators to blow the whistle on the affair was a post-Penn State fear that Harvard might be accused of hiding or covering up an incident related to institutional integrity.

If this speculation is correct: that Harvard overlooked the potential media impact of its cheating inquiry, and then blew the whistle on itself mainly as a knee-jerk defensive strategy….here are two fundamental PR lessons from this brand debacle:

  1. Assume the press will always learn about a problem, and plan an offensive strategy (well ahead of time) to minimize the damage. Because Harvard has long enjoyed a pristine reputation, it’s likely that their PR professional was not involved in this issue from the outset, or they had little input.
  2. If the press is on your damaging story, or is likely to be very soon, sometimes it’s better to keep your powder dry if you haven’t planned ahead. Harvard would have been better served if the school had completed its inquiry of the 125 “cheaters” in advance of its public announcement. Even with the media pounding on its doors, Harvard would have provided those 125 students and the school’s reputation with greater justice by responding publicly that “the issue is under investigation and a public statement will be issued only after all the facts and opinions are considered.”

Ham-fisted, panic motivated PR – even when it’s disguised as a self-righteous effort to maintain academic integrity – is not behavior you’d expect from one of the nation’s smartest institutions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Augusta National Throws Women a Bone. Should Condi and Darla Return the Favor?

Darla and Condi Have No Reason to Celebrate

Augusta National Golf Club, long revered by the golfing world as the Sistine Chapel of their sport, announced with great pride (a “joyous occasion,” according to Augusta Chairman Billy Payne) that it had invited bureaucrat Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore to join the club as its first female members.

For decades, Augusta National has defiantly withstood public criticism and pressure to admit female members on the basis that as a private institution the club is under no obligation to accept anyone – regardless of sex, race, religion or sexual preference – who does not pass muster with the boys who hold the keys to the front door.

Ever since golfing legend and bona fide Southern gentleman Bobby Jones co-founded Augusta National some 80 years ago, the club has served as the stage for the Masters Tournament, considered by many as golf’s most important international competition, perhaps with exception of the Ryder Cup. And it’s Augusta National’s association with the history and tradition of the Masters that provides the club with a level of prestige (and arrogance) that exceeds St. Andrews and Pebble Beach combined.

During his days as Microsoft’s CEO, Bill Gates faced Augusta National’s arrogance first-hand when denied club membership for publicly stating that he wanted to be a member. As punishment, Augusta forced Gates to eat crow for several years before he was allowed to wear a member’s green jacket.

But Augusta National’s bullying isn’t limited to their admission process. A little known fact is that once admitted to the club, a member is not assured of continued membership and may be dropped at any time for any reason with no explanation. In fact, the only way Augusta National members know if they are still members is by the arrival of their annual dues invoice in Spring. No invoice means your invitation has been withdrawn.

Augusta National is not about golf; it’s about power. It features a golf course that’s closed for a good part of the year to protect the pristine fairways and sacred greens that its well-heeled members rarely play on.  Augusta National is not about golf; it’s about prestige. The club bestows membership to America’s corporate royalty the same way the Queen of England awards knighthoods and MBE titles…but with far less intelligence and transparency than the British monarchy.

The sad truth is that women have nothing to cheer over the “joyous occasion” at Augusta. This publicity stunt does not represent a meaningful change in the club’s policy of exclusion, and provides Augusta National with convenient and high profile validation that it will continue to exercise its right, as a private club, to do whatever it wants whenever it wants.

If Condi and Darla are serious about playing golf, there are scores of world-class private clubs that have been accepting women as members for many decades. And if Condi and Darla are serious about advancing the cause of women’s rights, they should decline Augusta National’s invitation. And they should make a lot of noise in the process.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized