Dec 15

The best possible preparation for a career in PR? Being a Mets and Jets fan

A Tip o' RepMan's cap to Sir Edward Moed for this idea.

 Forget about four years of undergraduate study at Syracuse, Northeastern or The College of  Charleston. And, don't stress about landing world-class internships at say, Ketchum, Coyne or Airfoil. If you really want to succeed at public relations, just adopt the New York Mets and Jets as your teams of choice.

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Here's why: rooting for the Mets and Jets perfectly parallels a career in PR. Both the Mets and Jets were built to disappoint their fans. Cheering for them toughens one up, opens one's mind to the harsh realities of the world in which we live and teaches one to bounce back from the most devastating of failures.

Think about it. PR is rife with ups and downs. And, like the 1969 World Series and Super Bowl victories by the Mets and Jets, respectively, the highs in PR can rival a long hit of crystal meth (that's anecdotal evidence, BTW). But, the unexplained client firings, the unwarranted editorial 'thumbs down' from PR Week's Keith O'Brian in 2006 and the countless serial prospects who pick your mind clean of ideas and then leave you hanging, can transform a Charlie Chuckle to a Debbie Downer in a heartbeat. And, those heartbreaks beautifully mirror the average Mets and Jets' seasons.

Rooting for the Mets and Jets is superb training for PR. I do not exaggerate when I say the resiliency that comes along with being a long-suffering Mets/Jets fan has made me a better public relations executive. I'm able to maintain a steady keel when others tend to panic. I treat small wins for what they are and don't allow myself to hop on the roller coaster ride that is the average day, week, month or year in PR.

I thank the Mets and Jets for toughening me up. That thick skin has served me well for years of 100 percent growth and 20 percent decline. It's also made me increasingly philosophical as I watched an over-achieving 2010 Mets team peak this past June before plummeting in July. And, it's been an invaluable asset as I've winced in pain as the once high-riding, trash-talking 2010 Jets have crash landed in a particularly ugly way.

So, do you want to succeed in PR? Switch your team allegiances now. You'll hate the decades of losing, but you'll thank me one day for the lessons in stoicism you've learned along the way.


Oct 28

Six Other Reasons PR Firms Get Fired

Lucy Siegel of Bridge Global Strategies recently authored a blog entitled, 'Six Reasons PR firms Get  Fired.'  As someone who's been a journalist, a corporate communications manager and a PR agency manager, Lucy knows her stuff.

I agree with each and every one of her points. But, I'd add six other reasons PR firms get fired:
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1) There's a new sheriff in town. We've won business when a former client becomes the new top dog at an organization and brings us along. We've also been shown the door when a new head of corporate communications wants her own PR firm. It happens all the time.
2) The client falls in love with someone else. The CEO of one large agency is absolutely nonpareil in his ability to wine and dine other agency's clients. He's taken a big one away from us in the past and has quite the reputation for doing the same thing to just about everyone else.
3) Bait-and-switch. Big agencies still front load their new business pitches with superstars from the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations who promise to open doors. Then, when the prospect hires the agency, a bunch of 23-year-old junior account executives show up.
4) Account staff turnover. Every agency loses people, but some (such as the one run by the wine-and-dine guy mentioned above) are revolving doors. Clients hate having to re-train new account managers and fire agencies as a result.
5) Different offices or practice groups fighting over who owns the client relationship. This is another reason big agencies lose clients. I remember witnessing first-hand a major power struggle within Hill & Knowlton between my boss and the head of another practice to see who would own the new P&G client. P&G hated the internecine warfare and fired us.
6) Agencies become newsmakers. Clients do not like seeing their agencies making negative news. So, when H&K was raked over the coals in the early 1990s for manufacturing news for the government of Kuwait, there was a wholesale client defection. Ketchum and Edelman have also taken very public bruising for past misdeeds. And, McGarryBowen was just identified as one of the sources of leaks that enabled environmental activist groups to hijack client Chevron's 'We agree' campaign. That cannot be sitting well at Chevron HQs right now.

What have Ms Siegel and I missed? Why else do PR firms get fired? Do blogs about getting fired cause firings? I sure hope not.

Sep 09

A Wigotsky in every agency

I must commend PR Week's 2010 career guide. It's chock full of information that's as useful to an  undergrad as it is to an agency principal.

Careerguidecover_117145_117858_117859 Stories include a roundtable discussion on the importance of a master's degree in PR (color me skeptical) and a fascinating profile of Harold Burson and his legacy to the agency that bears his name.

Burson produced a plethora of industry leaders over the years, including Ketchum's Rob Flaherty, CA's Bill Hughes and PulsePoint Group's Bob Feldman. The latter said his training at Burson began the day he joined the firm from Utica College in 1978. Feldman recalls a training program that mandated ALL writing done for clients was to be first reviewed by a former newspaper editor on staff. Feldman says the procedure made a great statement about the firm's commitment to quality.

I agree. I had the exact same experience as a young junior account executive at Hill & Knowlton. We, too, had a former editor check each and every piece of copy before it went to a client. My editor's name was Victor Wigotsky and he made a big impression on me.

Victor was a very demanding editor. Before he'd even give you his edits, he'd ask you what the story angle was and why it mattered. He'd then ask you what primary or secondary research supported the angle. Only when you'd provided the correct answers would Vic deign to review your copy. And, boy oh boy, was he ever meticulous in his edits. I cannot tell you how many times he'd send me scurrying back to my office because I'd buried a lead, hadn't nailed the 5Ws in the lead graph or neglected to correctly attribute a quote.

Victor was never mean, but he was strict. And we learned as a result. I'll never forget how happy I was when one of my initial press releases finally earned a 'VWW.' Those were Victor's initials and secretaries (yes, we all had secretaries back then) were under orders not to mail (yes, snail mail only) releases or bylined articles unless they saw the VWW stamp of approval.

I wish today's PR agency model had the time and financial wherewithal to mandate at least one Wigotsky in every firm. Unfortunately, between the 24×7 demand for constant content and the worst economic downturn in memory, there are few, if any, firms who insist ALL copy be reviewed by a Wigotsky-type first. As a result, I continually hear or read about poor writing when I attend events or scan our trades.

It's too bad that Wigotsky (and his Burson counterpart) are gone with the wind. I think everyone's writing would benefit from a VWW every now and then. Mine included.

Jul 07

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Two recent blogs on the subject of the ad industry awards event at Cannes both missed the
2010 Cannes Logo mark for different reasons.

The first, authored by Paul Taaffe, chairman and CEO of Hill and Knowlton (my alma mater) is a cautionary tale. In it, he laments the PR industry's poor showing in the recent competition. Taaffe worries that, if PR doesn't do a better job of putting our collective best foot forward, we'll lose future opportunities to the more creative and dramatic advertising types.
That's a flawed POV for a number of reasons. First, Paul forgets that ALL ad agency creative directors are frustrated Steven Spielberg wannabes. They create campaigns to win awards, not to sell products (which is one of the reasons why advertising finds itself in such a sorry state, BTW). Second, advertising has been operating in a 'video' medium for years so, naturally, their submissions would run rings around the typical three-ring binder we enter in a Silver Anvil competition. Third, who cares who wins the most awards? Clients want firms who can solve business problems, not win awards.

Paul Holmes weighed in on the Cannes competition as well but, predictably, had a different suggestion. Rather than sweat how many awards we don't win, Holmes suggests the PR industry needs yet another awards program (one that, presumably, would match the glitz and rock star quality of Cannes).

What we don't need right now is yet another awards program, especially when a double dip might be in the offing. Nor does PR need to prove itself the equal of advertising. We've already won that battle.

Instead, organizers of awards programs should focus on making them more equitable. Right now, every competition charges a fixed entry fee. That's wrong. It immediately skews the competition. It enables large agencies with big marketing budgets to submit scores and scores of entries. I recently judged a single category that contained 70 entries. No fewer than 20 were from Weber Shandwick. When I complained, I was asked to excuse myself from the judging.

Instead of fretting about besting our advertising brethren or convening yet another high-profile, high cost awards shindig we should, instead, be leveling the playing field. I'd like to see the two Pauls and their peers at the largest agencies and PR media properties put their heads together and figure out a tiered pricing solution for awards programs. Sure, Ketchum may not win another 117 Silver Anvils (which it proudly proclaims is more than any other PR firm in an ad), but wouldn't it be great to see lots more entries from small, emerging contenders?

It's high time our industry's power brokers paid attention to a real inequity. As Paul Holmes asks at the end of his blog, "If not us, who? If not now, when?”

May 05

What did they know and when did they know it?

PR Weeks’ annual agency business report provides a nice dive into the country’s top 47 firms. It’sMarkpenn_2
polished, professional and to the point. But, curiously, it leads with a questionable selection and an even more questionable word choice.

Each of the top agencies in the section, you see, is defined by a word selected by the PR Week staff. Weber Shandwick is called ‘the heavyweight.’ No argument there. Ketchum is given ‘the linchpin’ moniker. Ah, ok, if you say so. And, Fleishman is proudly proclaimed ‘the titan,’ which sounds like something straight out of Jason and the Argonauts.

But, and here’s where I wonder what the PR Week folks were thinking, they lead off their entire list with Mark Penn and Burson-Marsteller, proclaiming both as ‘the counselor.’ Ouch. Talk about bad timing.

Why lead with Penn, when he’s just been pilloried because of improper connections with Hillary (hey, that rhymes!)? A John Budd letter to the editor earlier in the very same edition takes Penn to task for his obvious conflict of interest mistake. And, yet, a few pages later, there he is in all his glory.

All of which leads me to wonder if PR Week’s left and right hands were not communicating. Or, did someone decide, ‘Hey, what the heck? It’s a nice photo of Mark and he is a counselor, a counselor whose credibility and ethics have been seriously called into question, but so what? Let’s go ahead and lead our special section with him anyway.’ Or, worse, did someone not connect the dots?

It’s all very puzzling, and leads me to ask the age-old journalism question of our lead trade journal: What did they know and when did they know it?