Apr 13

Talk about not giving a damn…

It must be nice to just not give a damn about your corporate reputation. That has to be the case with Exxon Mobil, which yesterday said it had rewarded recently retired Chairman, Lee R. Raymond, with an eye-popping $398 million compensation package. Raymond

In response to cries of outrage from media and pundits alike, Exxon’s Mark Boudreau, said, "The numbers reflect the long-term nature of Mr. Raymond’s leadership at the corporation, and a long and distinguished career." Yeah, sure.

Juxtapose Mr. Raymond’s princely package with the ever-rising prices at the gasoline pumps and one has to assume Exxon Mobil simply doesn’t give a damn about how the public perceives it. Which is understandable when there aren’t any other low priced options for consumers to choose from.

So, I guess if Exxon Mobil were my client I’d advise them to keep raking in the dough and taking advantage of their unique market situation. With the Middle East situation getting shakier by the day, oil prices will probably continue to skyrocket. Which means egregious pay packages like Raymond’s will continue to be doled out while the average American gets screwed. It certainly makes one wonder if anyone in Washington is really paying attention.

Apr 07

I’m still waiting to meet a real version of “Dauri Rathbun” or “Samantha Jones”

One of my favorite cable shows is Showtime’s "Huff," starring Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt, Brewster Padgett (love her btw), Blythe Danner and a bunch of other, awesome actors.

Sharon Stone has joined the ensemble cast this season, playing, what else, but a sleazy, sexy PR Sharonstone_3 siren named Dauri Rathbun. Stone’s character has been accused of padding her invoices and over-billing her client (shades of Fleishman’s LA debacle) and has turned to Platt’s lawyer character to defend her.

While her character’s misdeed is rooted in fact, Ms. Stone’s portrayal is yet another negative and false stereotyping of our business by Hollywood. Like Kim Cattrall’s PR persona in "Sex and the City," Stone’s character is vapid, vacuous and voracious. She’s responsible for arranging "parties" and is on a first-name basis with many celebrities.

I must be moving in the wrong circles within PR because, aside from an occasional Lizzie Grubman sighting, I haven’t come close to meeting anyone who does work like this or comports herself (himself) like the Stone/Cattrall characters.

Since we can’t control Hollywood, maybe it’s time for the industry to pony up some money and fund our own production of a reality TV show or drama series. We could have lots of fun casting the lead characters considering some of the personalities we have to choose from: Richard Edelman, Harris Diamond, Ronn Torossian and Jerry Schwartz would be my initial recommendations for the leading man role. And, I could see Julia Hood, Helen Ostrowski, Patrice Tanaka and Marina Maher vying for the Scarlett O’Hara role in my PR "docudrama." There’d be supporting roles for the likes of Harold Burson, Darryl Salerno, Larry Moskowitz and Dan Klores. Mike Lasky would, of course, be cast in the role of industry consigliore.

Regardless of who we select, I guarantee we’ll come out with a more accurate portrayal of public relations than the slop that Hollywood dishes out. I’m open to suggestions for naming the new series. How about "24×7"?

Mar 30

It’s OK to be sorry…

Legislators in British Columbia proposed a law on Tuesday that would allow companies, government officials and individuals to apologize without making it an admission of liability. So if the law passes, people who make mistakes (you probably know a few) can apologize without fear that it will automatically be used against them as an admission of guilt.

That’s not to say that Canadian people or companies or government entities who commit wrongdoings out of negligence or malevolence won’t be held accountable. But for them and especially for those who genuinely just mess up or even cause danger or difficulty for others through no fault of their own, such a law would make it possible for them to do the right thing.

And doing the right thing makes all the difference to an organization’s reputation. While many organizations and executives who do admit fault and apologize for their transgressions are able to "move on," those who don’t tend to not only prolong, but exacerbate the problem. One needs only to think about Watergate and President Nixon’s inability to apologize for what he himself called a second-rate burglary to remember how important the words, "I’m sorry" can be.

Think about the times you’ve been mad at a spouse or friend, or someone in the public eye for their actions. But when they apologize, the anger pretty much passes. It’s ridiculously simple really. So why shouldn’t we allow it here for our companies, public figures and government? Truth be told, I can’t imagine our legislature or Administration contemplating such a law. Most of them consider themselves infallible, so an apology law would probably seem extraneous to them. Besides, the trial attorney lobby would go into a frenzy.

Still, I applaud the BC legislature for its practicality and common sense, and truly hope that the legislation passes. Maybe some of our nearby states will take notice and consider similar laws. Our government, public figures and corporations — along with the rest of us — can only benefit.

Hat tip to Ann Barlow for sharing this.

Mar 30

Attention Wal-Mart bashers….PR is playing an increasingly important role in managing the beleaguered retailer’s image and reputation

A New York Times article today reports that Wal-Mart is looking to hire two senior PR executives ASAP. One would hold the title of director of media relations and be responsible for overseeing crisis communications. The second gig is described as a "senior director of campaign management" who will be responsible for directing Wal-Mart’s communications staff and the "war room" from which it monitors and responds to the many, negative attacks leveled at the company.

The two new hires will also be tasked with keeping tabs on "opposition research" and "relations with bloggers," many of whom beat the living crap out of Wal-Mart on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

Wal-Mart’s investment in a sophisticated public relations capability is emblematic of the rise in respect and responsibility our field is experiencing. You don’t see the giant retailer pouring more and more moola into print advertisements or broadcast commercials that consumers are increasingly tuning out or dismissing outright. Instead, the organization is attempting to harness the power and effectiveness of public relations to create direct, honest one-on-one conversations with friend and foe alike, leveraging new and emerging technologies in the process.

I’m no fan of Wal-Mart or its practices, but I salute their recognition of the growing importance of PR in shaping, maintaining and defending an organization’s image, credibility and reputation.

Hat tip to Ed Moed for suggesting this.

Mar 07

If NYC is slamming the ad industry for its lack of diversity, can PR be far behind?

New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook has announced that he will be convening public hearings in the next three weeks to slam Madison Avenue for its near total lack of diversity. Seabrook is a man on a mission and has called the New York ad industry’s hiring practices "an embarrassment for a diverse city." In his quest, Seabrook says he intends to subpoena agencies and clients alike.

In my mind, clients are the key to solving the diversity challenge. Until they begin to mandate that agencies become more diverse, we won’t. We’ll talk the talk, undertake studies and keep our eyes open for smart, diverse candidates. But, truth be told, the average public relations firm isn’t spending a lot of its waking time figuring out how to be more diverse. Instead, we focus on staying one step ahead of our clients and competition.

We, for example, are proud of the diversity strides we’ve taken and are happy to have established relationships with traditionally black colleges and universities. But, does our workforce population reflect the greater society? Nope. Does any top public relations firm’s staff reflect the greater population? Nope.

So, before Councilman Seabrook comes gunning for the NYC PR community, here’s hoping that our clients will be a little tougher on us, and mandate that we become more diverse. Because, as we all know in our heart of hearts, diversity isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s a smart business strategy. One day soon, the McDonald’s and Coca-Cola’s are going to wake up and say to themselves, "Hey, wait a minute. Our firms are almost all white. Yet, they’re helping us market to an extremely diverse population. Maybe it’s time we found some new partners?

Oct 21

Journalism’s Evil Twin

I’m in the midst of reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, "Bait and Switch: the (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream."  As she did in her incredible "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" tome of 2001, when she went "undercover" to see what it was like to be a member of America’s working poor, Ehrenreich goes incognito in search of a new story.Int_ehrenreich_25

This one really hits close to home, as the former New York Times columnist reinvents herself as a 50-year-old unemployed public relations freelancer and event planner.  She takes the reader along as she goes job hunting for a full-time corporate PR gig.

Unlike "Nickle and Dimed," however, the story is slow and unappealing. The author spends far too much time ridiculing the various self-help job search gurus and PR executives she encounters on her sojourn. What really got my attention, though, were Ehrenreich’s constant jabs at, and put downs of, the public relations field, which she refers to as "journalism’s evil twin."

Ehrenreich reminds me of so many other "holier-than-thou" journalists who look down their collective noses at PR and refuse to admit how much they depend upon us for ideas and access.  This has obviously been an age-old problem for PR people and isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

Still, I’d love to hear or read something from a journalist that speaks objectively about PR, and recognizes what we bring to today’s 24×7 world.

Well, I can always dream. Oh, and by the way, Ms. Ehrenreich?  We’d never hire anyone with such preconceived notions and such an obvious chip on her shoulder.  Better hang onto that day job.