Jul 16

All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be in PR

Knowing what you know now, would you choose the same career? That’s the question Adweek recently asked some industry hotshots.

Some of the answers are revealing, to say the least:20080716145203

– "I would be braver about my choices – less linear – and take jobs that would provide completely different experiences"

– "I always wanted to play lead guitar for Led Zeppelin and to be the founder of Google. So depending how far back in time we’re talking about, that would be my career arc."

– ‘"I would still choose advertising because I can’t think of any other job where you get to do so many things every day, where every day is unlike the day before."

Bingo! PR is the same way. Every day is unique.20080716145300

And, aside from playing center field for the Mets, I couldn’t imagine a better job than mine. Sure, there are some bad times, bad clients and bad people, but the positives far, far outweigh the negatives.

Too many people sell themselves short too soon. They marry, find themselves saddled with mortgage payments and settle for a job they hate. 

I’ve come to believe that fun and job satisfaction are intertwined with risk taking. The more one is willing to risk to pursue his or her passion, the happier he or she is. I’ve climbed mountains with guides who live at, or near, the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, but are high on life because they’re doing exactly what they want. In my book, they’re the truly rich people.

So, while I may not be tracking down fly balls at Shea or leading climbers up the Matterhorn, I don’t regret a moment. To paraphrase the wording on W.C. Fields’ tombstone: "All things considered, I’d rather be in PR."

Jul 15

Sorry Keith, But I Beg to Differ

PR Week Editor-in-Chief Keith O’Brien is typically spot on with his editorial POV. That said, he missed the mark with this week’s treatise on the Kekst sale to Publicis.

Keith argues that the acquisition is the first of many to come in the months and years ahead. Perhaps. But, I doubt it. Not in this economy where the multiples just don’t make any sense for most sellers. Nrd2206i2

More to the point of this blog, however, is Keith’s contention that, in combination with Cohn & Wolfe’s merger with GCI, the Kekst sale is all about global reach. He says, "There will, of course, always be room for local agencies and niche firms. But the onus is on mid-size and large firms to consider how truly ‘global’ their offerings are……. Clients and prospectives might seem more concerned with digital, CSR or green today, but the days when every client puts a global footprint at the top of its wish list are coming. Everyone needs to be prepared."

I disagree. And, I wish Keith had been covering the industry when his predecessors wrote similar tomes in the 1980s, ’90s and more recently.

The fact is global footprints rarely succeed. We’ve created one that we believe to be unique, but I’m not here to tout our approach. Rather, Keith needs to know how dissatisfied clients and "prospectives" are with existing global models. Here’s why: the holding company model may indeed have "on-the-ground" capabilities in 35 or 40 countries. But, each office has a different specialty. So, if I represent a US chemical company that needs local support in, say, Milan, I’m stuck with the holding company’s offering, which probably specializes in fashion.

Global networks of independent PR firms aren’t much better, and are really nothing more than pure geographic plays. So, while someone may have vetted the member firm at some point, do I really want to entrust my multinational client relationship to a Sao Paulo agency that happens to be a member of my network?
I think not.

Too many clients have attempted one-stop global shopping in the past, only to realize it’s far smarter, more strategic and cost effective to create a "best-in-class" solution set.

I’m sure Keith can show me examples of seamless, global solutions. But, I guarantee I can show him many more examples of smart, a la carte client programs. And, I’d be delighted to share our approach to solving a client’s need for a global footprint.

Jul 14

Is full transparency always the smartest move?

Is full transparency always the smartest move?474910328_2a788caeff

Crisis communications 101 teaches us that full disclosure of an ‘issue’ early and often is the best course for mitigating negative fallout.

The approach seems to work especially well in politics. How many politicians have short circuited such potential career disasters as drug use and infidelity by pre-empting an investigative reporter with a hastily-called press conference? The announcement is followed a feeding frenzy of short-term coverage but, usually, life goes on.

As we know, the pre-emptive, full disclosure strategy is aimed at defaming the media in particular. So, I found it fascinating last week to see a top reporter employ the very same technique in his own behalf.

The reporter was David Carr of The New York Times. His subject: the alleged ‘pit bull’ media relations strategies of Roger Ailes and his Fox Network. Sensing that his kiss-and-tell column would engender a spiteful retaliation, Carr ‘outed’ his own prior drug and alcohol abuse. Fair enough, such an admission may well have pre-empted a Fox counter offensive. But, at what personal cost?

I’ve long admired Carr and his work. Now, though, I’ll always think of him as David Carr of the Times, the recovering drug and alcohol addict. And, all future news searches will pull up the same information. Is that a good thing? 

The Web 2.0 world in which we live enables us to create and manage our personal image and reputation. So, my question is this: by disclosing his past problems in order to prevent a future Fox assault, did David Carr win the image battle, but lose the war?

Jul 11

Let the seller beware

Abby Ellin’s article in yesterday’s Times re-reminded me why I love owning an independent public relations firm.Regret

Her article, entitled “After Selling the Company, Remorse” profiles a number of entrepreneurs who, having sold their companies, rued their lives reporting to parent companies.

The public relations world is littered with the debris of acquisitions gone bad. I know many, many erstwhile entrepreneurs who tell riveting, post-acquisition horror stories.

Don’t get me wrong: the buyer isn’t always to blame. Most mergers and acquisitions fail because of culture clashes. The other obvious problem occurs when the former entrepreneur finds himself shackled to new and strange rules and regulations. And, hey, after years of being the boss, it’s tough to take orders.

I’m hard pressed to think of one truly successful acquisition in the PR world. Sure, some are still in effect, years after the transaction. But, I can’t think of a single ‘seller’ whose image and reputation has improved as a result of a parent company’s acquisition. The latter like to ‘sweeten’ the acquisition talks by enumerating the various cross-selling opportunities within the holding company structure. But, when I speak with friends who have sold to the WPPs, Omnicoms and Interpublics, I hear the exact opposite. In fact, I’ve been told that some firms within holding companies have become arch enemies.

So, while I’ve learned to never say never, I continue to resist the notion of Peppercom one day belonging to someone else. I know Pepper, wherever she is, feels the same way.

Jul 09

Media fanning the flames of a recession

Steve and Ted discuss whether or not there is a direct correlation between media and the downturn of theRepchatter_logo_2
economy.

The discussion centers on the abundance of doom an gloom stories many media outlets have been writing on the present state of the economy.

Are they fanning the flames of a recession or are they just stating the facts? Is this negative press putting citizens in a frenzy?

Jul 09

Who’s to blame when we’re all at fault?

Is there a more disgusting spectacle on television than the now-annual Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest?Hot_dog
As almost everyone knows by now, the contest’s goal is to challenge contestants to ingest as many hot dogs as possible within a given time frame. Cash awards are enormous. The competition is fierce and the media coverage has escalated into, dare I say it, a veritable feeding frenzy.

Juxtapose this truly gross spectacle against the reality of our country’s childhood and adult obesity epidemic and one is left to ponder: what’s become of corporate social responsibility and/or good old common sense?

Why are ESPN, CNN and all the major networks airing segments from the franks feast yet paying short shrift to the latest set of recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics? Alarmed at the wave of obese kids in our nation, the nation’s most influential group of pediatricians is recommending that docs start testing overweight kids for high cholesterol at the age of two!

It’s absolutely mind boggling to contemplate that some of today’s kids are already in trouble within 24 months of leaving the womb. On the other hand, it’s not so surprising at all.

Why is Nathan’s dismissing the health and well-being of our country’s kids by promoting a hot dog eating event that literally sickens contestants and viewers alike? Why are the sports channels and mainstream news networks covering the spectacle with jocular, lighthearted segments? And, why are Americans attending the event in person and watching it on TV?

You know our country’s out of control when no one takes responsibility for mitigating a disaster like this. If I were asked, I’d allow the event to continue (free speech, and all, etc.), but I’d display all sorts of warning labels, posters, and admonitions as well as have myriad spokespeople available to warn viewers, readers and listeners to avoid hot dogs if they have any hopes of leading a long and healthy life. I’d also run a few, up-close-and-personal case studies of morbidly obese Americans who’ve gorged on garbage like hot dogs and paid the ultimate price.

To paraphrase the Bard of Avon, the fault lies not in our stars, but in our stomachs. Nathan’s: stop promoting unhealthy eating. ESPN and others: stop publicizing this crap. My fellow Webizens: wise up and stay away from junk like hot dogs. We’ve got to stop the madness now.

Jul 08

Bottom rail on top now

It warms the heart of this public relations practitioner to read the June 23rd PR Week headline: ‘AnPr
unstable media landscape has journalists seeking PR positions.

Frank Washkuch’s article says that more and more journalists are leaving the newsroom to, gasp, go over to the dark side and become PR practitioners. Yes, Virginia, the handwriting is on the proverbial wall (or whiteboard, if you prefer) and the exodus has begun.

Over the years, many an erstwhile journalist has left his chosen profession to become a PR flack for the higher pay and better stability. But, says Washkuch, the recent across-the-board downsizing at all the major media outlets has turned the trickle into a torrent.

I think it’s great for the public relations profession. We benefit when we have more and more seasoned journalists to help noodle over client challenges. And, we really benefit from their built-in bullshit detectors. Journos know what constitutes a story and what doesn’t. Sadly, there are more than a few PR types who churn out ‘brochure speak" and have no nose for news.

So, give us your hungry, your poor, your huddled masses of journalists. We’ll take ’em. And, in the meantime, maybe some of you journalists should think twice about bashing public relations in your next column. The industry you skewer may one day be your own.

Jul 07

There was never any doubt for T.R.

Anxious to put the bitter taste of a losing presidential campaign behind him,Trbrazil1_3  Former President Theodore Roosevelt decided to discover a new, 1,000-foot long tributary of the Amazon River. The year was 1914 and T.R. was 54 years of age.

To put things in perspective, 54 was not the new 34 in 1914. Rather, it was very close to the end for the average male, who lived to be about 60.

But, T.R. thrived on the new and different. So, along with his son, Kermit, a few specialists and about 20 local Brazilian soldiers, he set forth on what was then called the “River of Doubt.”

Three months and 55-pounds later, T.R. emerged from the wilderness. He’d contracted malaria, re-injured an old leg that became infected and watched as one of his men drowned and another was murdered. But he emerged victorious and returned to New York as a conquering hero.

I mention the T.R. story because a) it appealed to my sense of adventure and b) it struck me that none, repeat none, of our current leaders would ever contemplate such a risky trip.

T.R. lived his life in an all-out attempt to squeeze every second from it. He never walked around an obstacle but, rather, charged through it. There was no obfuscation. No flip-flopping.

What would T.R.  do if he were alive today? Impossible to say, of course. But, based upon his image and reputation, he wouldn’t let things linger in Iraq. Nor would he allow gas prices to edge ever higher. The old trust buster wouldn’t take kindly to the endless downsizings, either.

We need a T.R. in the worst way. Sadly, the lightweights we’re stuck with couldn’t find the River of Doubt, much less navigate its treacherous path. And, the River of Doubt itself? Well, it’s now known as Rio Roosevelt in honor of the first man to chart its entire course.

Jul 02

Let’s go, on with the show!

I must admit to loving Consultant Robb High’s lengthy list of agency marketing mistakes. His latestSpeech
missive homes in on the need for strong agency ‘performers’ in new business pitches.

Robb writes, and I agree, that 90 percent of all new business decisions come down to chemistry. You either ‘connect’ with the prospect or, as Peppercom’s Deb Brown likes to say, ‘…pack up your tent and go home.’

High suggests that top agency pitch people should enroll in acting classes to improve their skills. He’s absolutely right. Having taken two Upright Citizens Brigade improvisation workshops and a week long American Comedy Institute course, I can tell you the training makes a huge, if subtle, difference.

Improv teaches one to react spontaneously to word and phrase prompts and work as a team to help one another construct a skit. Stand-up comedy trains one in pacing, eye contact, reading non-verbals and interacting with hostile or passive audiences (give me a hostile audience anytime, btw. There’s nothing worse than staring at a roomful of blank stares).

All that said, I do disagree with High’s assertion that only the ‘A’ team should attend new business pitches. Such a strategy leads to the classic big agency bait-and-switch complaint we hear so often from disgruntled prospects (i.e. ‘We were pitched by the stars, but ended up getting 22-year-old juniors working on our business.’). The far better course of action is to enroll agency fast trackers in acting, improv and comedy classes.

The deeper the talent pool, the more flexibility senior management has in selecting the best pitch team. And, who knows, maybe there’s a budding Marlon Brando or Eva Marie Saint somewhere within your agency. All they (and you) need is to recognize the enormous personal, professional and organizational benefits of acting classes. Now then, has anyone seen my make-up case?

Jul 01

Will hope once again trump experience?

I just caught a fascinating C-Span retrospective on past presidential elections that raised an interestingBarack_and_mccain question: will the upcoming national election parallel the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon epic?

The similarities are striking.

Both battles featured a Republican candidate who played the ‘experience’ card and a Democratic contender whose message was ‘hope.’

Forty-eight years ago, Richard M. Nixon had just finished two terms as Eisenhower’s vice president, briefly ‘served’ as chief commander while Ike convalesced from a heart attack and famously ‘out-bullied’ Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in the so-called kitchen debate.

Heading into the November election, John McCain can point to decades of service in the Senate, a distinguished military career and a perception of a politician who votes his beliefs as opposed to the party line.

In 1960, JFK was portrayed as an inexperienced lightweight, despite his war record and years of service in both the House and Senate.

Today, Barack Obama finds himself in a similar position, courtesy of the Hillary and McCain propaganda machines.

Nixon and McCain were the safe, experienced candidates. Kennedy and Obama offered hope, and made the case that America could do much, much better than it had in the recent past.

Kennedy won because, in face-to-face confrontations with Nixon, he projected confidence. That image, coupled with his message of hope, carried the day. Obama’s moment of truth will come in face-to-face debates with McCain this Fall.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the upcoming debates will be the most pivotal in recent history. And, it will all come down to which candidate projects the more presidential image. Will hope once again trump experience? Let the games begin. Lights! Camera! Action!