Dec 05

Reports of PR’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

If I had a dollar for every time I’m asked if PR is dead, I’d be richer than the Koch brothers.

The answer is NO; not by a long shot.

Here’s why: The world changed after Donald Trump became president, Fake News infiltrated everyone’s in-box and mega societal events began happening on a daily basis.

All of a sudden, digital advertising or a new website or a customer experience audit or data crunching didn’t quite seem so urgent.

Companies found themselves front and center having to deal with either a positive or negative POTUS tweet, a policy decision such as curtailing immigration from Middle Eastern countries, mass shootings, white supremacist torch light parades, NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem and so on and so forth.

Employees expected their CEOs to address the issues and explain the company’s position. GlassDoor conducted a fascinating survey this past spring of hundreds of American workers. The results showed that staying quiet in the midst of, or in the immediate aftermath, was no longer acceptable to them. They wanted their CEOs to speak up. And they, too, wanted permission to publish their views on their private channels.

Suddenly the CCO and her top PR counselors rose to the very top of every CEO’s list.

The stakes were enormous: say the wrong thing and the company stock price might plummet. Remain neutral and sales could dip. Even saying the right thing would inevitably alienate some percentage of the company’s audience.

The very best CCOs immediately rose to the challenge and began scenario planning, evaluating their vulnerabilities as well as anticipating what their CEO’s response should be. They also took the lead in deciding which “channel” was the most appropriate venue to air their POV. Many chose Twitter. Others went to trusted beat reporters to correct erroneous charges.

The CCO also became THE steward of the C-Suite, making sure that immediate post-crisis messaging was aligned with their peers in HR, sales, investor relations and other disciplines. And they worked diligently with their in-house counsel to create “generic” responses to multiple potential vulnerabilities and had them approved in advance. That enabled the CCO to immediately craft the CEO’s statement and not worry about the legal implications.

I have enormous respect for our marketing peers and, with the walls crashing down all around us, fully embrace integrated marketing communications.

But, when split-second commentary needs to be crafted after, say, a Charlottesville incident, the other disciplines are simply lost at sea.

PR has long served as the moral and ethical compass of the organization. The function has also taken the lead in crafting an organization’s corporate purpose. That, in turn, has become the North Star in terms of saying exactly the right thing in the right tone and through the right channel.

Is PR dead? To quote Mark Twain who, after hearing that newspapers were printing his obituary said, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

The same holds true for PR.

Nov 29

We have met the enemy and he is us

It goes without saying that almost every single marketing communications crisis rule no longer applies in our Post-Trump/Fake News era.

CCOs and CMOS everywhere are scrambling to figure out if, and when, to respond to an angry @POTUS Tweet, a barrage of fake news damaging the brand, the cascade of sexual harassment suits that not only destroy the careers of Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose and countless others, but have a HUGE negative impact on the organizations for whom they work (and on and on and on).

As it turns out, we have no one to blame for the 24×7 tumult but ourselves. To put it bluntly: We’re a nation of dullards.

Timothy Egan penned an amazing opinion piece in The New York Times that said, among other things:

  • Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a SINGLE branch of government
  • 97 percent of immigrants who take the U.S. citizenship test pass it. But, one in three American citizens FAIL the test.

And, make no mistake, the dullards are not attempting to join MENSA. Instead, they’re unable to answer such rudimentary questions as:

  • What major event happened on 9/11?
  • What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States?

Even worse, by a 48 to 38 percentage, Americans think states’ rights and not slavery caused the Civil War. Holy utter ignorance, Batman!

In his essay, Egan places the blame squarely on our public school system which, as most would agree, is in shambles. I agree, but I’d also blame the lackadaisical adults who have raised so many citizens who know so little about their country.

This is beyond scary because it not only fans the flames of the uniformed believing fake news, it augers very, very poorly for the future global competitiveness of our nation.

Egan’s optimistic since a dozen states now require high school students to pass the immigrant citizenship test. But, hey, that still leaves 38 others that are graduating students who have not read and don’t understand our Constitution, Declaration of Independence and basic historical facts about the past.

I wish I had an answer, but I think the long-ago cartoon character Pogo said it best when he opined, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Nov 14

Why Corporate Leaders Must Join the National Conversation

Today’s guest blog was authored by Lauren Parker of Peppercomm…

“Where is the corporate Kapernick?”

Ariel Investments CEO Melody Hobson posed this question to a room full of CEOs during her presentation about diversity and inclusion in the board room. It’s one example reflective of our evolving cultural landscape and the impact it’s having on corporate America.

Politics divide Americans on issues from gun control to tax reform. Women are standing up against systemic misogyny. The topic of racial inequality has moved out of the shadows and onto our national football fields. Every morning, we awake to new headlines that amplify these important national conversations.

Technology has changed the way we consume and amplify news and opinion. It’s given people the opportunity to shout their points of view and it’s led to the expectation that everyone should have an opinion to share – including corporate leaders. Social media has provided a direct line of access to those executives.

People want to know where corporate leadership stands on issues most important to them because people want to buy from, work for, and invest in companies that align with their values. In fact, 47% of millennials believe corporate CEOs have a responsibility to speak up about important social issues, and 51% are more likely to buy from a company led by an activist CEO (KRC Research). Moreover, 62% of employees of all ages expect their employer to take a stand on major issues of the day (Glassdoor).

CEOs can no longer hide in their corner office. They are expected to be the face of their corporate values. For some, this is a natural role to play. Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, is one of the few corporate executives standing up to President Trump and the GOP tax plan. At the recent New York Times DealBook Conference, Schultz said, “I don’t believe that corporate America needs a 20% tax cut. The tax cut is not going to create a level playing field and more compassionate society.” Schultz took a dissenting position compared to many of his peers, but successfully connected his stance to the company’s core values, which resonates with many coffee-loving consumers.

Other executives have struggled in the spotlight. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has taken heat after sending conflicting messages about his support for Trump and subsequent decision to leave the president’s manufacturing council. The brand took another hit when it initially came out in full support of the NFL players, then deleted the tweet and replaced it with a more generic statement. Brand spokespeople including Misty Copeland and Steph Curry publically denounced the brand claiming it “stands for nothing.”

Companies have had to respond to fake news about their business; backlash over ad buys on controversial programs; and even direct confrontation from our president. Brands can no longer attempt to be all things to all people. At the same time, they can’t afford to simply stay silent. So how can companies navigate this new set of challenges and keep its reputation intact?

  • Define Your Mission and Values: Have a clear definition of your company’s mission and values and communicate them clearly and regularly across its communication channels (not just in times of crisis). Use these as your North Star when determining when and how to speak out a challenging issue.
  • Check the Company You Keep: Recognize the importance of building a supply chain with partners who have similar corporate values. If their reputation slips, you’ll want to avoid being dragged down with them.
  • Know Who You Serve: Deeply understand your target audiences and what motivates them. Use that knowledge to connect on issues of shared importance.
  • Dust off Your Crisis Playbook: A basic crisis communications plan will no longer cut it. You need a sophisticated protocol for assessing potential reputational threats and getting the right message to the right people at the right time.
  • Speak to Your Values: You don’t have to take a formal stand any time a new issue hits the national zeitgeist. Speak authentically on the issues that directly connect to your core values and allow you to reinforce your company’s purpose.

In today’s polarized environment, it’s impossible to appease everyone but it’s even riskier to stay on the sidelines. Are you prepared to stand for something?

***

Find Lauren on Twitter at @ImLaurenParker.

Nov 07

The clock is ticking

Check out this fascinating Advertising Age interview of Facebook marketing guru Andrew Keller. While Keller expounds on any number of topics in the piece, he hones in specifically on the rise of the term “six seconds” in advertising.

While the Facebook executive, and his fellow advertisers, are fixated on six seconds, research shows the average human actually has an attention span of eight whole seconds. That’s one second less than a goldfish.

But, the six (or eight) second discussion should extend far beyond Keller’s focus on digital advertising and videos.

Split second responses are table stakes in ALL forms of communications today.

In the new normal of Trump Tweets, fake news and Kevin Spacey/Harvey Weinstein-type transgressions, individuals and organizations have about eight seconds to gather their thoughts and determine:

  • What will they say?
  • Will they say anything at all?
  • What criteria determine whether a response is warranted?
  • Who should make the statement?
  • What channel would make the most sense?

Here are two very quick cases in point. One is a worst practice; the other a best:

  • UnderArmour completely blew the NFL player-kneeling controversy by first Tweeting the firm’s commitment to diversity & inclusiveness. Then, when right-wing customers expressed their disapproval, UnderArmour Tweeted a revised comment that included “..and show respect for our flag.” In doing so, UnderArmour created a whole new news cycle that, ironically, unified outraged right and left-wing followers who agreed on one thing: the brand was speaking out of both sides of its mouth.
  • @POTUS recently attacked General Motors in one of his 3am Tweets. Rather than respond with a Tweet correcting the president’s erroneous charges, Ray Dey, GM’s CCO decided, instead, to share the facts with trusted beat reporters who routinely covered the car company. Once their articles were published, Trump didn’t have a leg to stand on and quickly moved on to attack someone else.

The point is this: While no brand should be expected to respond in eight seconds or less, every organization should prepare now for what cannot be anticipated, and create new protocols for the new normal.

Getting back to digital advertising and marketing content of all types and forms, I completely agree with Keller. Organizations have six (or eight, depending upon the target audience’s attention span) seconds to engage, connect and begin the process of consideration. The day of long-form storytelling is dead.

Split second communications is the currency of the realm, now and for the future.

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?