Oct 26

Talk about a wunderkind

Note to readers: This is the second, and final, blog reviewing Harold Burson’s new book, “The Business of Persuasion” (available through Rosetta Books)….

But, after reading what Burson-Marsteller Founder Harold Burson had achieved at the same age, I must say I was beyond humbled (a unique experience to be sure).

Consider the following (taken directly from his autobiography):

  •  He became a stringer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal as a sophomore in high school.
  •  He filed reports on University of Mississippi football for the Commercial Appeal while a college sophomore.
  •  While still in college, he provided public relations counsel to D.H. Ferguson, which was helping to build the atomic bomb.
  •  After WW II began, he filed nightly written reports for all U.S. officers serving in Europe.
  •  At the age of 24, he covered the Nuremberg trials for the American News Network.

His accomplishments are mind-numbing to say the least, but Burson provides key advice for any high school or college student hoping to achieve at least a modicum of his success:

First, he proffers these tips for succeeding in PR:

  •  Content is still king. Train yourself to be a good writer, avail yourself of writing labs and tutors, seek feedback on your writing and your future will be assured.
  • As the volume of texting grows, the quality of writing declines. Do yourself a favor and take as many writing courses as you can cram into your schedule.

He next provides advice for succeeding early in life:

  • Volunteer to do the jobs no one else wants to, and to the extent possible, inform people of the importance of your service to the company.
  • Take calculated risks early in your career, risks that will hasten your trek to the objective you have set for yourself.
  • Suggest new ways of approaching problems as ideas come to you. Just because more experienced people reject them outright does not mean they are bad ideas. They may be ahead of their time or lead to alternative and timelier ideas.

Finally, Burson’s takeaways from his career in the military include:

  •  Those who have the willingness and the discipline to do the grunt work will work their way up in business.
  •  Prepare yourself to adapt to ever-changing situations such as different bosses, unusual assignments or difficult colleagues.
  •  Some assignments call for a high degree of integrity. What you say and do will either earn you the trust of others or lose it.

Stay tuned for part three tomorrow and, oh, btw Mr. Burson: Where were you when I was 24?

Oct 25

Sports as a Part of our Society: Chat with Dr. Baseball (Part 2)

Game 1 of the World Series is in the books, and Dr. Baseball’s prediction is already looking bleak! Check out Part 2 of our conversation with Dr. Wayne McDonnell, Academic Chair of Sports Management at NYU – where we talk about diversity issues in baseball and sports amid the backdrop of the NFL National Anthem controversy. Plus we talk MLB in South Beach, hitting against the defensive shift, and of course, Steve has to find a way to drop in a Mets question…

Oct 24

Sports as a Part of our Society: Chat with Dr. Baseball (Part 1)

Nothing uplifts a town like their local sports team performing well on the field. We’re seeing that with MLB’s Houston Astros as they face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. How can this help the city heal after suffering a devastating hurricane this past summer? Dr. Wayne McDonnell, Academic Chair of Sports Management at NYU is back in the house and drops knowledge on how sports is woven into the fabric of our society, as well as how data is playing a much larger role in the game today.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of our conversation!

Oct 23

Do you know the names of your industry’s founding fathers?

Could you imagine anyone who works in aviation not knowing the pioneering roles of Orville and Wilbur Wright? Same question holds true for the oil & gas sector. Could anyone not know the name and accomplishments of John D. Rockefeller?

But, when I’ve guest lectured at countless college and university PR classes over the years and asked about our field’s pioneers, the average student is hard pressed to name anyone aside from Edward Bernays.

That’s a shame since the invaluable contributions of pioneers ranging from Ivy Lee and Arthur W. Page to John W. Hill and Al Golin have gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated by the current and future generation of practitioners.

Happily, one of our founding fathers is very much alive and well and, at the robust age of 96, still shows up for work every day at his eponymous agency.

I’m speaking about Harold Burson, who has just published his autobiography: “The Business of Persuasion.”

Mr. Burson’s magnus opus is published by RosettaBooks. You can contact production@rosettabooks.com to order a copy(ies).

I’m not in the business of promoting books written by competitive agency owners, but The Business of Persuasion is not merely the tale of a true visionary, but an insider’s guidebook that comes replete with invaluable takeaways at the end of each chapter.

I intend to write two other blogs about the book this week. The first will summarize how the young Harold Burson created his own “brand” while still in high school and continually leap-frogged far older, more experienced professionals to achieve remarkable success at the tender age of 24.

The second blog will address the man’s vision and accomplishments over the decades, and explain in greater detail why PR Week described Harold Burson as, “….The 20th century’s most influential PR figure.”

Now that you know who he is, I urge you to buy the book and analyze Mr. Burson’s journey to greatness. I can’t think of a more relevant guide for Millennials and Generation Z types struggling to figure out how to differentiate themselves and create their own paths to success.

Oct 17

Rudderless in a perfect storm

Much has already been written about Harvey Weinstein’s decision to retain the service of Sitrick and Company, one of the best-known crisis firms in the country.

Most of the rhetoric has either excoriated Sitrick for defending such a heinous client who continues to see one starlet after another come forward with new accusations of rape. Others defend Sitrick arguing that, as is the case in our jurisprudence system, any defendant is innocent until proven guilty and deserving of counsel.

Few, if any, have weighed in on what I have to believe are the toxic effects of Sitrick’s decision on the average Sitrick employee.

It’s one thing to advocate on behalf of such controversial clients as Big Tobacco and quasi-dictatorships, but the Weinstein crisis strikes at the very root of our nation’s latest flashpoint: sexual harassment. I wonder how female employees of Sitrick explain to their family and friends how they can work for an organization that is defending such an alleged serial predator. That can’t be a fun discussion.

And while Sitrick has a long-standing record of defending controversial clients, this could prove to be their Waterloo. Just look at what happened to Bell Pottinger, a leading U.K. public relations consultancy. They found out the hard way that defending the wrong client at the wrong time can not only destroy employee morale, but actually put the firm out of business.

I believe Sitrick chose to defend Weinstein because the firm lacks a clear purpose (Note: a purpose may be defined as why an organization exists, why its employees show up to work every day and what higher purpose does the company serve). In other words, the firm is rudderless.

I recently co-authored a blog with Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W. Page Society in which we said: “An overwhelming number of employed adults expect their organizations to speak up in times of crisis. But doing so should be guided by the corporate character (or purpose, if you will). A purpose should serve as a company’s ethical and moral company, and guide a CEO’s decisions and actions.”

Lacking purpose, Sitrick chose profits over people (and principles) and, I believe, will pay a very heavy price.

After word: I did some quick sleuthing to see if some of the best PR firms in the business do, in fact, have a clear purpose. They do. Two of the best came from:

  • Edelman: “….We drive powerful connections between companies and the greater good. In other words, we help marry profits and purpose…”
  • Weber-Shandwick: “….We’re energized by the ways our diverse global network of employees apply their passion and ideas in partnership with clients around the world to contribute to a brighter future.”

I’d like to believe that neither Richard Edelman nor Andy Polansky, CEOs of Edelman and Weber, respectively, would even entertain the notion of representing Harvey Weinstein since their purpose would guide them to do the exact opposite.

Oct 16

No More Cattle Calls Please!

Today’s Repman guest blog is authored by Deb Brown.

It appears that our industry is rapidly becoming a microcosm of society as a whole. In particular, I’m speaking about civility, or the lack thereof. Case in point: cattle calls.

When we receive a Request for Proposal from an organization, we always vet it, part of which includes how many agencies are in the mix. If the number is more than five, we usually bow out since the chance of winning the account starts to diminish. I’m always surprised when organizations reach out to many agencies. Not only is it unfair to the agencies to have a slim chance of winning, but it has to be tedious for the prospect to read through many proposals and/or sit through many presentations.

Sometimes, we cannot find out the number of agencies in advance. This happened recently when we were invited to participate in an RFP and had to attend an in-person session to ask questions. We found ourselves being one out of 15 agencies in the room. While the opportunity was a good one for us, putting hours of our time into the proposal with a slim chance of winning didn’t make sense.

Prospects should do their due diligence and choose no more than five agencies. Or, if they want to start with a larger pool, conduct a 30-minute call with each agency and then, based on the conversations, whittle it down to no more than five. It shows respect to the agencies and it makes it more manageable for the prospect. Having a “cattle call” frustrates agencies and, ironically, the agencies that may be best suited for the account may drop out.

A cattle call happens to be just one example of lack of respect for an agency’s time and hard work. Another is never responding to the agency after the agency submits a proposal. Four years ago, we submitted a very thoughtful and strategic proposal to a company looking for a communications partner. We are still waiting to hear. And, sadly, that company is not the only one that hasn’t responded over the years. A “Dear Agency” letter is another demonstration of lack of respect for an agency’s hard work. Personalizing a letter and providing feedback on why an agency wasn’t chosen would be very much appreciated.

These issues are very easy to fix, but sadly continue. Perhaps “business civility” should be taught in schools of communications and MBA programs. If future executives don’t learn the ropes there, where (and when) will they ever grasp the adverse impact on their own image and reputation if they continue to treat agencies like cattle?

Oct 10

Have lecture, will travel

I’ve had the unique privilege to address two classes of public relations students/executives in the past week. The initial victims attend George Washington University. The second group participates in a master’s program in communications management at the University of Toronto.

In each instance, I found the students/executives hungry for information about CEO advocacy in particular, and best practices for dealing with an unexpected attack from the West Wing.

Happily, and courtesy of The Institute for Public Relations and the Arthur W. Page Society, I was well-equipped to field each, and every question, and cite both proprietary primary research as well as highly relevant secondary research to support my arguments.

I suggested that public relations in general, and the CCO in particular, has never been better positioned to provide counsel to the CEO in the new normal of fake news, hate-mongering and personal attacks. Indeed. I firmly believe the CCO should be carefully advising her CEO in terms of when to advocate and how best to communicate it.  As my colleague, Roger Bolton, president of the Page Society mentioned in our recent PRSA-sponsored webinar, an organization should follow its corporate purpose, mission and values statement in positing  a POV on everything from Charlottesville and DACA to climate change and women’s rights. And the CCO should always be serving as his organization’s ethical and moral compass.

I recently interviewed Colleen Penhall of Lowes, who  provided a best practices roadmap for the path her organization took in determining a corporate purpose that has profoundly impacted every aspect of her organization and equipped the CEO with guidelines should he choose to speak out on an issue of the day. Other CCO’s who have yet to determine their organization’s purpose would be well-advised to follow Colleen’s lead.

CEO advocacy will only become more important in the days, weeks and months to come. The wisest orgazanitons are those who have already taken time to anticipate what cannot be anticipated, and created various responses that have been approved, in advance, by the entire C-Suite.

We live in interesting times. And, neither digital gurus nor advertising copywriters have a clue as to how best to navigate TrumpWorld. These are heady times for the public relations profession, and I’m more convinced than ever that we will rise in stature as employees and stakeholder audiences look for a CEO to provide a voice of reason in a time of turbulence.

Oct 04

The Power of Vulnerability

It’s always been my opinion the strongest leaders are the ones who aren’t afraid to display their emotions, vulnerability and humanity in times of stress. Vulnerability is, in fact, one of the key lessons we instill in our troops as they undergo stand-up comedy training (a de facto part of our management development for the past decade).

There are a few terrific examples of CEOs who “get it”, but I’ve rarely seen a late night talk show host display his emotions and vulnerability to the degree Jimmy Kimmel did in the aftermath of the Las Vegas tragedy.  Regardless of your political views, watch the entire segment.

The single best advice I could provide any CEO addressing stakeholders in a time of crisis is to emulate Kimmel’s authenticity. It’s riveting (and incredibly effective).