Thursday, April 29, 2004

Reader's Comment 

Alice Marshall of Presto Vivace in Fairfax, VA had comments on my post about waiting for a bad story. Here is an edited version of what she had to say.

I think employees should be called in and briefed in person. I think the sales/marketing people especially should be briefed beforehand. I also think customers and suppliers should be sent an email. But remember, that email could be forwarded anywhere or wind up on a blog, so, that could be counter productive.

One more thing, if you can catch the news organization in an out-right fabrication (extremely rare, but does happen) you could put the report and the documents in question on your web site and persuade bloggers to link to them.

I agree with most of what Alice has to say. It is important to brief people beforehand to prevent panic. Sometimes, however, there is not much time to get this done. I am aware of a situation in which an investigative reporter suddenly called a company and claimed he possessed a document that stated one of its employees was guilty of a criminal act. The company did not have the document nor did it have evidence that the employee was even accused of such an act. What should a company do? You wouldn't brief anyone because the story is too hazy. Unfortunately, two days later at least three members of the news media had the same document, or one similar to it. Now what do you do? The company still could not get confirmation as to what the document was, nor could it track down who authored it. There wasn't much action the company could take. Apparently, an attorney somewhere had released the document as part of a defense of a client not related to the company. The company was caught in the backwash and its reputation imperiled.

I do like Alice's comment that one must be careful about sending e-mail because contents will find their way outside. One should never write anything in an e-mail that should not be seen elsewhere. This is true for e-mails in general.

As for posting the facts that rebut a bad story, this has been done in a few instances. Most organizations wait until the story has appeared. One or two organizations of which I am aware actually posted interviews with reporters on their Web site before the story appeared. They were concerned what the reporter might write. It takes courage to do that -- or fear.

My thanks to Alice for her comment.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Great PR 

Great public relations happens in odd places and in odd ways sometimes. This is a story about a baseball park, and it is not about the many promotions that baseball teams run throughout a season. It is about WiFi. The San Francisco Giants baseball team has outfitted its entire park with WiFi connections so businesspeople playing hooky at the game can do their e-mail on their laptop computers while watching the game. It's a fabulous idea: I wish I had thought of it myself. In addition, the Giants have provided fans with a Digital Dugout that feeds them scores and other information during the game.

It would be great to report that a PR person on the San Francisco Giants thought this up, but that isn't the case. The idea came from the Chief Information Officer who uses information strategically throughout the ballpark to benefit the players and increase interest for the fans. One feature he is installing now is neat. You can order food from your seat and have it delivered to you rather than getting up and missing half an inning while trying to buy three hotdogs and two beers.

Great PR is everywhere. It just takes creative thinking, and, as this example proves, anyone can build better relationships with the public.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Still No Work in PR 

I'm late in commenting on this story. It was reported last Friday that PR budgets and jobs are still down in the US. Here is the essence of the study:

While an advertising rebound may be under way, the public relations sector is seeing budgets and staff levels waning, according to a study released last week by the USC Annenberg Strategic Public Relations Center. According to the study, PR budgets last year among companies on Fortune's "Most Admired" list were down 5.5 percent from 2002. (In comparison, total ad budgets were up 6.1 percent in 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.) PR staffing in 2003 dropped by an average of 15 staffers within Fortune 500 companies, according to the study.

My wife has been reviewing resumes for a client who is hiring a PR manager. She was astonished by the high quality of responses she was reading for a mid-level job. There were people with qualifications that beggar mine and they were seeking work at a far lower level of income than they had been getting.

No, the job deficit is not over in PR: I am at a loss when it will end. I have written here before that we have gone back to the future. We are an industry that looks more and more in size like the early to middle 1990s before Internet madness set in. I'm not sure PR will ever return to its size during the Bubble. On the other hand, I'm not sure it won't either. It is possible through organic growth that the industry will return to its former size, but it won't be through the dramatic hiring of five years ago. It will be a slow and moderated return that will leave fine professionals on the street and searching for work outside of PR.

The Internet and Marketing Control 

This speech should be mandatory listening for every marketer and public relations counselor in America. (Scroll down to the video link) The speaker, David Weinberger, is the former senior Internet adviser to the Dean campaign and a person widely acknowledged to be an expert in Internet marketing. His talk is about the lack of control that marketers have with the Internet. Marketers no longer control messages. They no longer exclude consumers from bodies of information.

I have ranted here about the change in control the Internet has brought to public relations and corporate communications. I'm glad my views are not solely my own. Yet marketers persist in the belief that they can control messages. That comes, unfortunately, from business school training where everything is about managing and control. Listen to the whole excerpt. It's worth your while.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Waiting for the Bad Story 

There is a quiet period before a bad story appears. In that time, clients work to prevent the story from happening. (They can't). They ask an agency to tell them what to do. (The agency tries to prepare them for the worst.) Eventually the story comes and expectancy is rewarded by the force of an awful report. By then, however, the client and the agency will have feared the worst, and the story might not seem as bad as it is. But, it might be worse, and it is hard to tell until feedback comes from customers, employees and others.

I have been thinking about this because we are waiting for a bad story that will embarrass a client, and there is little the client can do. The client didn't create the problem, but the client will be hurt. That's harder to bear.

How should the client react? One thing a client shouldn't do is to hunker and hope. It should tell customers, employees and others what it expects and how to interpret what the story is likely to be. This requires care because one doesn't want to tip off a reporter or others to facts that can create further embarrassment. The client shouldn't tell the tale but say there will be bad news and the client is dealing with the situation.

This won't prevent rumors. In fact, it will spark them, but it is better than handling surprised customers and employees who are easily swayed in vulnerable periods. One shows leadership in advance of the trouble and keeps it when trouble comes rather than hiding and hoping to maintain control.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Limits of Control, Part 2 

Last week, the Pentagon learned about the limits of control it has over the Internet and imagery. I wrote then that PR should be more concerned now about responding to charges than attempting to control them before they are released. A day later I stumbled onto the following story that shows how little control there is. When a state cannot bar prisoners from the Internet, even if the prisoners are abusing it, then one has no control at all.

The story is disturbing. For every 100 prisoners that use the Internet responsibly, it takes one taunting families of murder victims to put society on guard. But, it appears there are few ways for states to stop inmates from publishing on the Internet, especially when web sites will post prisoners' surface mail.

So, if states cannot control their prison populations, what control do companies have against former employees that air dirty laundry about them? Hence, it is smarter now for PR counselors to prepare defensive responses than try to hide unseemly business.

I am familiar with a case in which a falling out between two managers resulted in a public law suit and the attorney filing the suit merchandised salacious aspects of the suit to the media. Of course, the media bit, and it showed on the Internet immediately as well. The targeted party in the suit had no time to defend himself before charges against him were available worldwide to anyone who knew which URL to use. Fortunately, in his case, few did, but enough learned about it that national media called and inquired. The only mistake the attorney made was not pursuing a more proactive Internet strategy. Had he done so, the situation would have been deeply embarrassing for the company. But, it won't take long for most attorneys to learn to do this. That means PR counselors must be ready to respond in kind. "No comment" won't work, if charges are serious and the person well known.

Say three times to yourself, "There is no message control in a crisis."

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Limits of Control 

The Pentagon is learning the hard way the limits of control in the Internet era. It has tried to prevent photos being taken of coffins bringing dead soldiers home to the US. But a contractor took some anyway and released them on the Internet where they are being passed about quickly. The Pentagon fired the contractor but that makes little difference.

It is all useless attempts at control. The Web has torn down restrictions on imagery and the barriers will never rise again. The Pentagon is learning that lesson now.

But what does that tell the public relations counselor? Don't try to stop photos from being passed about. It will happen, even with grisly and emotionally devastating pictures. What one does is to prepare for the outcome of such images showing up on the Internet. There are several responses. One is to publicly deplore the use of the photos (and risk alerting everyone to their existence.) Another is to remain silent and hope they go away without much comment. A third is to sue and to demand they be removed from Web sites (which makes a high-interest case out of the photos.) A fourth is to attempt to punish the person(s) who took the photos or those who released them (a futile effort because others will pass the photos on.)

No option works well, especially if imagery is of high public interest. It is easy to get images into the ether with few or no fingerprints that identify who placed them there. The contractor was not intelligent about this and could have avoided repercussions.

PR still thinks about controlling messages. It should be thinking more about defending against them.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Pork Barrel PR 

The governor of California (and if you don't know who he is, where have you been?) dedicated the first-ever hydrogen gas station for refueling autos yesterday. The story is here. I had to laugh as I read the story because it is hardly clear that hydrogen will ever become the fuel of the future. That is also the conclusion of a story in the May 2004 Scientific American that cast doubt on the concept.

Of course, that is not the worry of the governor. I suspect the governor cares not at all whether hydrogen goes anywhere. What the governor wants to show is PROGRESS. We're doing something about the air and fuel crisis. Hydrogen is a symbol and not a reality. In fact, the betting is that unless there is some massive technical breakthrough, hydrogen fuel cells will never be a reality.

Where is our more efficient engine going to come from? Why the same internal combustion engine that we have been using since the late 1800s or its cousin, the diesel. But that isn't sexy. It is much better to talk about fuel cells and the pie-in-sky promises of them. It's better PR.

I've seen a lot of pork barrel PR in my time, and this is one more example. California is not going to pay the tens of millions needed to make hydrogen fuel cells a reality. California doesn't have the money. Everyone will go to Washington with hat in hand and a romantic story about the future. That's the way this is done, and it is as fraudulent now as it was when it was first tried on George Washington. (Back then, it was canals that were going to change the transportation landscape of the country. George himself invested in one.)

It pays to be a cynic as a PR counselor. The old beat reporter who has seen it all is better fit to be in PR than the starry-eyed promoter who believes his own tales. But then, no one wants to hear the truth. The truth hurts: It doesn't make you free.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Blue-Sky Rhetoric 

Environmentalists have damned the Bush administration. The Bush administration defends itself lamely against accusations that it has dirtied the air and made the environment worse.

It's interesting rhetoric to watch because it is couched in belief sets that could not be more opposed. That is why I was interested to hear a CEO deeply involved in the energy industry say last week that the US will depend on oil-, gas- and coal-fired plants for at least the next 20 to 25 years and maybe longer. With the price of oil and gas rising, that will mean more coal-fired plants than either of the other two fuels. The US has thousands of years of coal in the ground and a diminishing supply of oil and gas. What this tells me is that the rhetoric of both sides needs modification. The environmentalists need to stop fighting the inevitable, and the Bush administration needs to look again at how to make coal and oil-fired plants more environmentally acceptable.

But I think I can say this won't happen soon. The two sides have no desire to accommodate, and all the public relations gestures in the world won't heal the breach. Simply put, they detest one another -- or at least, it seems that way. Many public issues result in standoffs, and they appear to be insoluble challenges to public relations counselors. The only way one can make progress is to get off the stage and to talk quietly in the background where neither side feels compelled to posture.

I knew a woman who did this years ago when the first environmental clashes arose in the 1970s. Feelings were so high that meetings were kept secret from both environmentalists and industry leaders, other than those in the room.

Not all public relations should be done in the open. There is space for backroom work, and counselors shouldn't be afraid to move silently if they can get an issue off dead center.

Public relations does not have to be public.

Monday, April 19, 2004

The Complex Story 

The San Francisco Chronicle is giving a lesson in how to explain a complex story through following the production of a single bottle of wine. A story about the series is here.

It interests me because too often in my career I have been asked to explain complex topics that resist white paper treatment or a press release. Sometimes, one needs to trace something and show its impacts in every direction, which is what the writer of the wine story is doing.

Take, for example, a topic that is almost impossible to make interesting -- network management. There are many companies that do this vital work, but what is network management? More often than not, it is the nuts and bolts of keeping a system operating like plant operators at a utility. You never question how an electric plant stays on line until lights go out. So too with network management. So, how does one make network management interesting, or least readable, and compelling from a public relations point of view? You do as the writer about the wine bottle has done. You go to the trenches and document what it means to manage a network just as the writer is documenting what it takes to make a bottle of wine.

This requires digging and both the client and the practitioner must take the time to do that. What happens often is that a client becomes impatient and wants "ink" without building the story. The result is no story -- or as a colleague puts it, a MEGO story. (My Eyes Glaze Over.)

Few stories in business are so compelling that they sell themselves. It takes work, sometimes hard work, to build public relations positioning that is credible and effective.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

30 Pages = 1329 Words 

I finished the opinion piece on Saturday afternoon and shipped it off to my colleagues for comment. Thirty pages of handwritten notes from the business conference boiled to 1320 words. It has a dour warning about the next 20 years. We are entering a period of scarce commodities and overcapacity worldwide. There won't be enough jobs for any country.

But all isn't lost. The US and Europe have faced similar circumstances before and will again. The challenge is what they do about it. The CEOs who spoke at this conference were frank about what they are doing. They are going to the lowest cost source for manufacturing and intellectual capital as long as these sources meet quality standards. And guess what? They do. Millions around the world are striving for a lifestyle that approximates what Americans, Canadians and Europeans have. They are willing to work for less if they see a way to advance for themselves and their children. As one CEO put it, how can one discriminate against people like that by keeping jobs in North America or Europe? The answer is that one shouldn't, and the CEOs won't.

What this means is that both Europe and America have a challenge to produce goods of sufficient complexity and value that other parts of the world can't readily produce them. That's not easy to do and it might require fewer people than factories of yore. So what do the unemployed do? There is no answer yet. The CEOs didn't know, and I sure don't.

Several sounded a note of caution to Americans. The US educational system is broken. The US must have more scientists and engineers to invent the future. Right now, however, it is hard to get kids out of highschool who pass standardized testing. Meanwhile, several states are rebelling against the idea that they should have to pay for such testing. It doesn't sound like the political realm is ready yet to meet the challenge.

Friday, April 16, 2004


I'm back from a conference that lasted a day and a half with 30 pages of notes that have to be turned into an opinion piece by Monday. I can't see straight about now.

I arose at 4 am to catch a plane back to New York and got to my desk around 8 am. Because I take notes in notehand, a version of shorthand, I translate them into the computer. That takes time. Because I took many of the notes in a dark room that prevented me from seeing the page well, it is a challenge. Once the notes are in, I have to find a theme that will thread through them all. Then -- and only then -- comes the writing. I figure it will be about Sunday before I'm done, but I could get lucky.

It would be much easier just to report on what everyone said, but that is not what we need for this client.

I would really like to take a nap about now, but it is time to go back to work.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Off For a Couple of Days 

I'm on the road for two days starting today, and I won't be able to blog. I'm going to a conference where distinguished speakers will discuss globalization of business and matters such as outsourcing and offshoring. It should be interesting, and I'll bet that they say, "Globalization is here. Get used to it."

Meanwhile here is a conundrum for the public relations specialist. It is a story about high-tech wine making. Wine has traditionally been positioned as a handcrafted specialty of winemakers who follow guidelines that are thousands of years old. Now we have GPS-linked tractors and wireless transmission of humidity, moisture and temperature from the vineyard. What's the world coming to?

I couldn't help but think of how the publicist might spin this. The wine your favorite robot drinks? Digital wine? Wine with a byte? It seems to me that it is a public relations challenge to keep romance in winemaking when it is more and more like a chemist's concoction. Still, it tastes good and that's all that counts.

Presidential Press Conference 

So the President is holding a press conference at 8:30 pm EDT today. Interesting. It seems to me that Presidential press conferences are leftover devices from an age without a 24-hour news cycle. Bush has a good reason to go before the media tonight. He has much to explain, and he needs to project an image of someone in control of the situation. But, for the most part, Presidential press conferences are an exercise in posturing -- the media preening before cameras and the President showing how he can knock off tough questions with evasive or non-answers. The public wasn't getting much out of them.

Another media device that has lived beyond its usefulness is the party convention. Today, they are huge rallies of the faithful talking to the faithful but convincing few anywhere else. No wonder networks stopped covering them.

Monday, April 12, 2004


This blog has an interesting discussion of candidates who take one position then another. The comment was from April 8 so you will have to scroll down. The point is that accusing another of flip-flopping is a personal attack and not a commentary on a political point or its validity.

Flip-flopping is not appreciated in any context in society. Look what happens to a company that changes earnings estimates because projections are too high. Their stock is sold down quickly and investors jump ship. Look at CEOs who make promises then don't fulfill them. They are removed from office.

It seems to me the proper public relations counsel is the careful qualification to avoid flip-flopping and accusations. "IF this happens, then I support that, but we will have to wait and see." This provides one with an out and from being trapped by critics later. Companies qualify their earnings estimates heavily with long and turgid lawyer statements at the beginning of every financial presentation, but that is not enough. It is better to be hedge during the presentation itself and when things don't work as one planned, everyone was warned. Even range estimates should be qualified. "We expect to reach X to Y cents per share IF the economy and interest rates stay where they are over the next three months." Some companies do this, but not all.

A push for certainty is a shove in the wrong direction. Nothing in life is certain and the future is the least certain of all. It is better to be conservative and outperform than ambitious and embarrassed.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Body Count 

The White House is trying to handle a devastating communication that is sabotaging every effort to get the president re-elected. That is the body count of US troops the media are keeping. Each report of a death is an announcement of another block of votes taken from the President and deposited with the challenger.

From a public relations perspective, there is nothing one can do to counter this kind of communication. The country is not united on Iraq and reports of deaths move the populace against the desires of the President. What the President is trying to do in Iraq may be right. But, that doesn't make a difference. The President has the public relations task of convincing you and you and you and you that he is right and deserves your support. By appearances, he has not done that successfully, and every attempt is met with a withering barrage calling it spin and lies.

Frankly, if I were counseling in the White House now, I would be discouraged. The US has to stop the killing first and impose a peace. Iraq needs to fall out of headlines and into the second half of newscasts or in the depths of a newspaper's first section. It has to be overtaken on Web sites with other concerns. In the last two weeks, months of work have been blown away. And now generals are determining if they should commit more troops. The Democrats are calling it a quagmire and "another Vietnam." It has similarities even though they are slim.

What this tells me is there are problems for which there are no realistic PR answers. All the "spin" in the US cannot overcome the image of a Marine with a loaded bodybag slung over his shoulder.

I don't wish to be partisan. I am interested in communications. If the White House can dig itself out of this pit and regain the confidence of the American public, my hat will be off to them for pulling off a great feat.

Friday, April 09, 2004

A Thousand Words 

The old cliche about pictures equaling a thousand words is bedevilling the White House. Photos from Iraq are stronger communications than protestations of the President and his cabinet and millions spent on TV advertising. This photomontage from leftist Michael Moore has a sharper punch than the rabid speeches Moore has been delivering.

Classical rhetoric is largely silent about the power of pictures. It was focused on speech and the persuasive delivery of words. I have been reviewing ancient Greek rhetoric for an essay and the absence of visuals is noticeable. The Greeks created powerful imagery that is among the best ever in Western art. They set a high standard for sculpture and painting. Why didn't imagery get into their discussions of persuasion? It is hard for me to believe their orators never used visual aids to make a point. Both the Romans and Greeks used imagery for political and propaganda purposes, and they understood its power well.

It's a curious absence. What also is curious is that students rarely learn rhetoric anymore. It was once one of the three most important subjects a pupil learned. Today, we scarcely pay attention beyond courses at a college level. And yet, we are living in the greatest age of communications the world has known. As powerful as images are, we cannot communicate everything by pictures alone, though some try.

The principles of ancient rhetoric are still building blocks of everything we do in public relations to turn audiences to causes. But for the absence of argumentation by image, rhetoric is worth studying. Perhaps we need an Aristotle to develop principles of multimedia rhetoric to return this knowledge to its rightful place.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Interesting Proposition 

Sometimes one has to wonder if a person is serious. This story has my head spinning. I wonder if the writer has his tongue in cheek.

The writer advocates legalization of all steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. I wouldn't normally write about an issue like this in a PR blog, but I have been working on communicating the steroid issue for a client. I cannot see how even regulated steroids will do anything but harm individuals who take them. Our firm has developed public relations tactics on the issue, but the medical aspects are the most persuasive. One risks serious damage by taking them, as well as subverting the integrity of any game the individual plays.

The writer contends that almost everything else has improved in sports from shoes to uniforms to protection gear. Why not the human body? I almost bought that argument. Perhaps I could still, if there were a magical drug that did no harm to the body except amplify strength and quickness. No such drug exists.

While I respect the writer's right to an opinion, he has made the PR campaign more difficult. I wish he had kept silent. Some will believe his cant, and those are the ones who will harm themselves. Worse, they will be young and jeopardize their lifespans.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Viral Nonsense 

I'm sure you are familiar with one of the common methods of viral marketing. Someone makes an outrageous TV ad that is never shown on the air because it is offensive or explicit. The person places the ad on the Internet, so people will pass it around and thereby, create "buzz." There are sites like this one that track such things and bring them to you, so you don't have to wait for your 30 closest friends to pass it along.

A friend of mine, Pete Shinbach, sent along this viral ad today. It is hideous. One can never imagine a company allowing such an ad to be made, if Ford Motor actually did, and one could certainly say that Ford has a cause for action against those made the ad, if they did so without Ford's permission.

One thing the makers of this ad forgot is that all buzz is not the same. The old saw that one should never care what is said about him as long as someone says something is wrong. This ad fits into "bad buzz." It gains awareness, such as this blog entry, but the awareness is condemnation.

I have told desperate clients more than once that if all they want is publicity, I would give them a nickel-plated revolver. They can go to a street corner and start shooting. They are guaranteed to get publicity, but they might not like it.

Public relations works within norms of acceptability. Using the Internet, one can push norms but not too far. Of course, because many young creatives are sex-obsessed, many of these viral ads are porn in disguise. On occasion the ads are funny. Most of the time they are regrettable. The message is lost in copulation. As my father used to say, common sense is not common.

Monday, April 05, 2004

What a Difference Demographics Make 

There is a hilarious story in The Los Angeles Times that discusses how the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is trying to change the perception of those over 50 in its magazine. It's a public relations campaign for Baby Boomers feeling their joints and walking slower. According to AARP, it is suddenly OK to talk about "sex after sixty."

AARP even changed the name of its magazine from Modern Maturity to "AARP The Magazine." It has banned the term "Senior Citizen," and it has proudly announced that "Sixty is the New Thirty."

Back in the 1970s, I tried to convince media buyers that people over 50 hadn't died yet and deserved attention. I was looked upon as a lunatic. Since then, I have watched sporadic efforts to remind marketers that people live past 35. Marketers still refuse to believe it unless they sell denture cream or Metamucil. Now, AARP tells me I'm sexy.

There is a chance with the growing number of aging people that getting old won't be as much of a penalty as it used to be, but I have yet to see that. Marketers saturate America with images of youth, vigor and sex, and we want to believe their pandering. Now, AARP is trying to do the same with those of us entering "geezerdom." We want to believe AARP too, but will anyone else in the business world accept it?

It would be interesting to see a communications campaign that tells the truth about aging, but I suspect it would fall flat. In our minds, we see ourselves 20 years younger than we are. We can't accept age and we forget quickly the annual, dreaded day when we turn another year, so we can regain our self-delusion. AARP is playing to that psychology.

Who's first? 

Today is a day when I'm going to have at least three clients all wanting action NOW. I'm nervous about it. It looks like this morning is going to be the worst period and this afternoon I might be able to work with less interruption. I don't mind this kind of pressure. I mind terribly letting clients down. I'll start work earlier and see if I can let off some of the pressure before the clients get to work. Some PR jobs are unremitting pressure like this, and I don't know how practitioners stand it. But that too makes a difference between skilled practitioners and wannabes.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

The Dull Topic 

There are companies, products and services that are so dull one is hard pressed to say anything about them.

There is the component maker who builds a commodity product that is buried in another product and is never seen or understood. There is the company that provides a service buried in another larger entity and never isolated or talked about separately. Early in my career, there was a company that provided an obscure insurance product to a niche of American business in which no one, even the company that sold the insurance, seemed to have much interest. I never could figure out what to say, and I was a failure in promoting it. From these humiliating experiences I concluded there are some products and services that should not be publicized. They just are. If you want to advertise them, fine, but don't try to get the media interested in what is a dull topic.

On the other hand, when these companies need awareness and cannot afford large advertising budgets, what is one to do? The first and best way is to dig deeper. Try to understand why this product and service exists and what would happen if it didn't. Sometimes that is enough to find an angle one can pursue. If that doesn't help, use trade shows, seminars, direct mailers -- something, anything -- to gain attention.

On the other hand, some products and services have such a small market their customer list can be counted on one hand. For example some auto component makers have at most 50 customers. Why do they need to tell the world about what they do? They are fine with unmarked plants in small towns away from media attention. In fact, some like it that way. All they need is to keep 50 customers happy.

I have had my share of dull topics. I've concluded that dull topics prove one's skill, not topics that sell themselves. I admire more the PR person who can make life insurance seem exciting than the PR person who promotes a hot sports car. The PR person with the sports car beats reporters away. The person with the insurance product creates many avenues to find one that half-works.

Let the PR person with the flashy product or service reap personal headlines. Good practitioners know the difference.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

What Now? 

When a client is dysfunctional, an agency can be left in a curious position. We had such a happening. A client asked me to write a speech and to interview a fellow with good insight into the audience to be addressed. My client contact said the speech was to be 15 to 20 minutes. When this fellow heard that, he asked me earnestly and often to condense the speech to no more than 10 minutes, seven if possible. He warned me that I would lose the audience if the speech was any longer. I reported this to my client contact and went about writing a shorter speech.

I worked at it between assignments and finished a 10-minute text that I sent to my colleagues for comment. They liked it and told me to send it to the client. I did so, and my contact liked it too. She sent it to her boss.

A little later, I got a one-line message from her boss. He wrote that he had not read the speech, but it had to be 15 minutes in length. Oops. No one said that it HAD to be 15 minutes in length. I was told that it should be 15 to 20 minutes then told to keep it to 10 minutes or less.

I have difficulty expanding something that has been written and edited. This speech was honed to a good length -- the wrong length. Now I have to develop five minutes of material I don't have while keeping the flow of the original. I felt like a naive apprentice sent to get a board stretcher when a timber is short.

I'm not going to tell the fellow who asked me to keep the speech short. I'll just let him fight it out with the boss who told me it has to be 15 minutes. Meanwhile, that speech stretcher must be around here somewhere.

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