Friday, December 30, 2005
Thursday, December 29, 2005
At the risk of prolonging your family discussion I have to admit that I'm not sure what you're saying.
--Are you saying that PR doesn't require systems? I don't think so.
--Are you saying that PR can do more than systems to resolve life-threatening issues? I don't think so.
--Are you saying PR isn't a system in its own right? I don't think so.
--Are you saying that PR works with or for a greater truth? I don't think so.
But you imply these things in what you wrote or at least as I interpret what you wrote. Can you clarify your view?
PR uses systems and uses them well. It has to, but the PR practitioner who has been in the business for any length of time has experienced circumstances and cultural beliefs that disrupt systems he or she uses. They are events and assumptions that occur outside of the reach or mechanics of the system as happened to Union Carbide at Bhopal, for example. In this instance, the disaster was complete before anyone could react. Systems were good but insufficient. So too with the tsunami of a year ago and with the destruction of 9/11. These were events so overpowering, so swift and so complete in their outcome that a system does not comprehend their eventuality nor how to handle them when they occur. One tries to stitch the old system together to handle the aftermath or invent a new one on the fly. There are belief sets similarly opposed to systems one uses. In a capitalist society, for example, we believe consumption is good for the betterment of societies. With individuals opposed to capitalism, or at least the expression of it in Western business, unregulated consumption is evil.
While PR practitioners monitor and react to events and beliefs outside of systems, so do organizations. At the edge of every organization are individuals and events outside of it. Systems for sales, customer service, logistics, etc. are subject to constant stress that test them and sometimes, break them. For example, an unplanned strike can leave vital goods in a warehouse thousands of miles a way. Or, customers simply don't like your product or service in spite of all the consumer testing you have done (Remember New Coke of years ago?). Or, customers can sue over the use of your product even when it has performed as indicated (the pharmaceutical industry can speak about this.)
My point is that PR practitioners work where beliefs and events collide in ways that sometimes cannot be anticipated no matter how good the system. We get used to that -- or at least, we should -- because as smart as we are and as organized as we are, we cannot anticipate everything. Nor can anyone else.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
The Hagley Museum is worth a trip. It's a wonderful place. Just keep reminding yourself that its beauty today is only lately gained.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
I believe systems are never sufficient to comprehend all issues and events that impinge on them. There are disaster scenarios that are life-threatening to organizations and societies. I used two examples that seem to verify the point. The first is that no political system has yet sustained in the history of the world, and there is no guarantee that the US system will endure. Second, humans can carry contradictory notions in their brains without conflict. The primary example was the Constitutional convention in Philadelphia where the freedoms of individuals were ensured, except those of slaves. Present were abolitionists such as Franklin and Hamilton and slaveholders such as Jefferson and Washington. Everyone agreed on the need for freedom. Some didn't see any conflict with the continued existence of slavery. It took a war that nearly destroyed the US political system to settle the issue.
I believe there always will be life threatening issues. If I didn't, there wouldn't be much need for PR people. There wouldn't be much need for us to monitor and examine relationships between and among publics outside of an organization and those within.
You can accuse me of arguing out of self-interest, but I don't think that is the case. Neither law or process can handle many issues that society tangles over from immigration to abortion to euthanasia. There are groups unalterably opposed, and they will bend -- or even, break -- law and process to get their way. They come from belief sets that do not and cannot have a common ground. Further, there are those for whom morals, ethics and law are more relative than based on fixed principles. That is, for them ethics are what popular opinion at any moment perceive them to be: Others contend there are standards outside of public understanding and eternal -- e.g. killing of any kind is evil. These assumptions further endanger organizations and process.
I'm not sure my relative agreed with me. I think he as kind enough not to create a scene by too vigorous argument. I understand his belief in system, and I agree with it for the most part. In fact, law and process do work for 99 percent of issues that confront society, but there is always a 1% lurking out there somewhere.
Monday, December 26, 2005
What this shows is the power of publicity and lack of it. Original reporting of the tsunami, which filled the first weeks of the year, faded then as other disasters occurred, disappeared. In the US, we have to be reminded that there was a catastrophe. Otherwise, we focus on rebuilding -- or the lack of it -- in Biloxi and New Orleans. It would seem that the victims of the tsunami need someone to speak loudly on their behalf to the world but the voice isn't loud enough. So too, the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan haven't gained the attention they need to recover, even though tens of thousands are in jeopardy and could die this winter.
As terrible as the tragedy was in the US, it seems piddling by comparison, yet the news media spend more time on the flood here than the waves and shaking mountains over there.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Thursday, December 22, 2005
From: Stephanie Houghton [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, December 22, 2005 1:57 PM
To: Stephanie Houghton
Subject: Muhammad Ali / Behind the myth (Jan. 31, 2006)
Hope you'll consider a review or feature... Let us know if you'd like us to send you a review copy.
January 2006NEW MUHAMMAD ALI BOOK Delivers Knockout Punch To The Myth Behind The Man...
SUCKER PUNCH: The Hard Left Hook that Dazed Ali and Killed King's Dream Offers a History-Changing Look Into The Controversial Rise of An Icon
"In the years that mattered, Ali drove a wedge between the races. This may not have been evident to the cultural elite, but it was to anyone who had gone to Gary, Indiana or like places to watch Ali-Frazier I." JACK CASHILL
A new book by Emmy Award wining writer and producer Jack Cashill entitled SUCKER PUNCH: The Hard Left Hook that Dazed Ali and Killed King's Dream (Nelson Current/January 31, 2006), takes a stunningly frank look at the man behind the Muhammad Ali myth. By Ali's own lights, he made a botch of his life until about 1983. He has tried to confess, but the mythmakers have refused to listen. Now, they have no excuse. SUCKER PUNCH is the first comprehensive, pull-no-punches account of America's greatest fighter and least likely icon. Cashill's intensive research reveals many startling truths about Ali. He tells of how Elijah Muhammad seduced Ali and how that seduction spelled the betrayal of Dr. King's dream, the death of Malcolm X, the humiliation of Joe Frazier, the rise of Don King, and the tragic undoing of Mike Tyson. Cashill also explores the changing mores and racial dynamics of the sixties alongside Ali's epic battles in the ring. Some important and indisputable revelations from this oddly sympathetic book:
The anti-war left had made Ali their hero, and as they came to dominate the media, they re-wrote Ali's life history to suit their own story line, even when it no longer suited Ali.
CONTACT:Dera, Roslan & Campion Public Relations Inc.(212) 966-4600
Maybe Stephanie will read this blog and get the idea.
Does this sound like most crises? It does and it is. PR practitioners can talk all they want about preserving a company's reputation in a crisis, but it's difficult to do when evidence isn't there. It is only now, months after Hurricane Katrina, that facts behind allegations are coming out, and it turns out individuals and organizations charged with recklessness had done their jobs. Recent stories appear to indicate that many who drowned in New Orleans had offers of transportation out of the city but refused to take the offers. Further, charges that the Army Corp of Engineers had failed to build canal walls correctly were inaccurate.
So who failed and who is to blame? It will take months and maybe years to sort out, but journalists and the public are impatient. They want answers now. They want to know good guys and bad and get on with assigning blame. Crisis PR doesn't stand a chance in an environment like this. Seoul University has learned this lesson, as well as anyone in charge during the New Orleans disaster. PR practitioners should give up the notion that crises are controllable. Some are: Most aren't. It is a matter of doing the best one can under harsh circumstances.
It takes hard work to be simple and right, as PR practitioners know. And, when our personal image is at stake, even hard work is not enough.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Strikes in the US are not the same as those in Italy, for example. While we were in Rome over Thanksgiving, government workers suddenly struck on a Friday morning and shut the country's transportation down. They came back to work by noon. The wildcat strike communicated to the government that the union didn't like a proposed budget, and it was a show of force as well. Italian transit unions know they can paralyze Italy.
In New York, transit strikes are taken more seriously, and they come at the end of prolonged bargaining. There are few sudden job actions. The difference appears to be what the public will tolerate. US commuters do not take kindly to inconvenience.
A US transit strike is a last-resort act of defiance. Elected officials do not take such defiance gently, and the public appears to be on the officials' side. Put another way, transit unions appear to have lost the public relations battle. That makes possible the huge fines they are getting from an unsympathetic court. Perhaps the transit unions will learn from this that one needs public backing before walking off the job.
The editor makes the point that average citizens will check math and correct you. That's only partly true. Bad numbers do get into print, and no one says anything. PR practitioners dedicated to accuracy and transparency should never accept this when it occurs. We have a duty to correct errors, even when it is embarrassing. I have issued correction releases in the past, and I will again -- shortly. I don't like doing it. Both the client and the agency look like fools, but so be it. If we believe we are links between publics and organizations and dedicated to portraying each accurately to the other, then we practice principle -- and make damn sure it doesn't happen again.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Armstrong says he won't sue the newspaper because that is what the newspaper wants. One can read that in two ways. He won't sue because he is afraid of the evidence the newspaper has, or he won't sue because he won't give the newspaper the satisfaction of airing its contentions in a courtroom. So, he will continue to suffer the charges. Either way, he has to live with criticism from the French and effects of continuous bad publicity.
That's a tough decision. You would think one would clear his name, but he might have determined that nothing he can do will help him. If one is determined to destroy you, you cannot stop the party from pursuing. In the real world, there is no remedy. On the other hand, if Armstrong had overwhelming proof of his position, he should pursue the newspaper and destroy it in court as best he can. The problem is that one doesn't often have a smoking gun on which to base a case. It is possible that one or more of his old samples tested for a drug. Does that mean he took a drug or the testing process was flawed? It gets difficult to know and more difficult to prove.
I don't know if Armstrong is telling the truth. I can't know, but he is using an old rhetorical technique of blaming the accuser. The best defense is a good offense. There is nothing wrong with the technique, if it used ethically, but scoundrels use it too often to misdirect attention. Hence, the technique looks suspicious.
I do know that I wouldn't want to be in Armstrong's predicament.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
The newspaper had written the story, chosen the angle and was ready to put the article to bed when the editor checked the data and found an error. The newspaper editor was spooked, as he should have been. If this is wrong, what about the rest? He spiked the story and called me to ask what happened. I was chagrined. I hadn't seen the data nor had the client. We had assumed the service had gotten it right. It hadn't.
We had broken a basic rule -- always check and recheck to be sure data is accurate. We had broken a second rule: Never give data to a reporter unless you know it is right. We had broken a third rule: Explain data to a reporter to prevent confusion. In this case, there was a timing issue that was critical, but there was no explanation of the timing.
It was a cockup. I explained to the editor what happened and apologized profusely. You only get one chance before you break the fragile bond of credibility. We had tested the limit by trusting a vendor.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
That said, the Gawker entry is devastating precisely because Gawker reprinted the entire e-mail thread. On the other hand, I once called a reporter 15 times and left messages because I knew he would want to know the news I had. The reporter finally answered and yes, he did want to know the news. So, in the end, you never quite know what will keep a reporter happy or tick one off.
Unfortunately, with blogs reporters can get even when they don't like us. We need to remember that.
Monday, December 12, 2005
What does this have to do with PR? PR practitioners should expect that lesser journalism will wither in an era of online and blogs. That is, people will go where they can get content easily and quickly. Where there are substitutes for a newspaper, they will use the substitutes. The Chronicle is well aware of this, and it is apparently testing a podcast strategy. Go here to get a podcast about the Chronicle's podcasting.
The fundamental issue still remains, however. The Chronicle is a paper that was known for its quirkiness but not for its journalism. Is there room for such eccentricity?
Sunday, December 11, 2005
When I started listing blogs on the site, there weren't the millions that are out there now, and few had much impact. Of course, that has changed and the many I had crammed into one page were too diverse and difficult to navigate. So, when you go here, you now have eight choices. I make no effort to be comprehensive except for PR, but I do try to carry significant blogs in a range of areas of concern to PR practitioners. I hope the new arrangement is easier for you and of course, if there are blogs I have overlooked, let me know.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
I know, I know. There are some readers who see red when I criticize wikipedia and the concept of a community-built encyclopedia. The fact remains there are people with bad intentions who do bad things and in a work the size of wikipedia, their errors are not always caught. Hence, wikipedia has a credibility problem that will take time to solve. I've said all along that community sites need editors. You shouldn't trust people to do the right thing.
There is a streak of romanticism on the internet that believes in the essential goodness of people and of the ability of the community to correct the wayward. This has never been true and never will be true. The romantics forget the "tragedy of the commons." For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, the commons were community pastures of medieval towns. Everybody used the same pasture. Hence, everyone was supposed to take care of it. But, that wasn't what happened. Because no one owned the pasture, no one took care of it, and the commons would be over-grazed and ruined. The internet community, or commons, is the same way. Someone needs to maintain control to prevent lapses in quality and ill-intentions.
A lot of thoughts swirled through my mind when I read this. The first is that we are back to the future. In the early days of modern PR, pay-for-play was a regular feature of the business. There was a reason the publishing industry stopped it, however. Lest we forget, it destroys the credibility of the medium, the host and presenter. This apparently doesn't worry Gannett all that much. Just write that check.
The kinds of guests on the shows is interesting.
The mostly local advertisers have included local cosmetic dentists, home builders and remodelers and auto dealer groups. But more regional and national advertisers are beginning to take advantage of the shows through local unwired buys -- buys made at the corporate ownership level.
In Gannett's defense, most guests on morning shows are shilling anyway, so why not make them pay. On the other hand, pay-for-play takes away any semblance of editorial decisionmaking. But, there was little editorial decisionmaking in local shows, so why maintain the fiction?
The one good deed in all this is that shows label segments as paid sponsorship at the beginning and end. Still, news editors are uncomfortable with letting marketing and advertising invade their space -- and they should be. It is one more step on the slippery slope to destroying the credibility of news departments at local levels. Morning news has become an infomercial.
Before anyone raves again about destroying free speech in Iraq, let's talk about destroying our own. At least, there is a higher principle involved in Iraq. In the US, it's just greed.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
But, I doubt whether it is true. I don't think BellSouth is that hamhanded. I do think the firm has a problem it needs to address quickly. On the other hand, never underestimate the depths of human pettiness and self-interest. PR is supposed to help firms advance their interests through listening to and working with their key audiences. Where is the PR department here? I'd like to know.
It is disappointing that the PR firm wasn't on. I would like to hear how they justify their activity. On the other hand, lest we forget, this is how PR firms started in the modern era -- paying editors to place stories. So what the PR firm did was a throwback activity. The problem was that it was caught doing it, which destroyed the credibility of the effort both here and in Iraq. While the colonel has history on his side, his opponent in the debate, the dean of the college of communications at Boston University, noted that in the process of implanting democracy, the US is destroying it through biasing free speech.
I would like to come out and blast both the PR firm and the Pentagon for stupidity, but I can't. Wartime is different and freedoms are often curtailed as President Abraham Lincoln understood. Perhaps, the colonel was correct in saying that the Pentagon was simply doing a bad job of it. Then he took a shot at the PR firm, which is worth quoting.
Well, again, I believe that working in the media sphere is fine, but you have got to do it competently, and I'm concerned that we're just not good enough - you know, as evidenced by Karen Hughes' disastrous visit to the Middle East. We have got to get much more sophisticated at cultural understanding, and also I want to know about the Lincoln Group, the carpet-bagging contractors who planted these stories. I would have rather have things done by the military who tend to act ethically than by pirates.
So, there you have it. Those of us who work in PR are carpet-baggers and pirates.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
As General Motors is proving, no organization is too big or too entrenched not to fall. Newspapers are not guaranteed a future. They have to earn it by adapting. But then, so do we all.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Thursday, December 01, 2005
This morning, it was phone spam from my bank (when I told her it was okay to send me a brochure, she said, "please tell me what your business does." When I mentioned that my bank already knew what we did, she said, "oh, we just call people. They don't tell us that.")
RIM is in the worst PR crisis a company can have. So far, it doesn't appear to have handled it well. But, on the other hand, how could it?