Jul 18

Making the best out of a bad situation

060715_2In a story that is just now bubbling to the surface, The Denver Post  reported last week that Pete Coors, vice chairman of Coors Brewing Company, was arrested in May for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. Acceding to the Post, Coors was pulled over after running a stop sign, and was arrested after registering a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.08.

Boy, oh boy. It doesn’t get much worse for a beer company then having your top dog get nailed for drunk driving. Ouch! What’s next? Smith & Wesson’s CEO being wounded by one of his own handguns?

To his credit, Coors issued a written apology, saying, "I should have planned ahead for the ride. For years, I’ve advocated the responsible use of our company’s products. That’s still my message, and our company’s message. I am sorry that I didn’t follow it myself."

As might be expected, the Coors Company isn’t saying anything about the incident. While there’s tons of information, advice and statements on the Company website about responsible drinking, there’s nary a dram of info about Pete.

Which is too bad. Because I think there’s an opportunity to turn this little image nightmare around.

Rather than sweeping the incident under the rug, I think Coors should "step up to the bar" and initiate an exponentially more hard-hitting corporate social responsibility (CSR) program than the one currently in place. The initiative I have in mind would actually call attention to Pete’s not having "walked the walk" when it comes to responsible driving, and would feature the photogenic Mr. Coors in a lead role.

I’d call the CSR campaign "Pete’s Promise," and would have him leading lectures, roundtables, web chats, podcasts, etc., on the need for responsible driving. We could even reach out and create a co-branded partnership with Jaguar, the car that Mr. Coors was driving when the incident occurred, and host a series of responsible driving clinics at Jaguar dealerships.

Pete, though, needs to be the guy behind the wheel, the guy driving the campaign. Because, in my mind, the best spokespeople are those who have "lived" the experience. After the drunk driving arrest, Pete’s truly walked the walk, and can speak from the heart about the dangers of driving under the influence. From an image and credibility standpoint, I honestly think it would resonate with consumers (assuming, that is, that Pete Coors has seen the light and no longer gets behind the wheel when he’s half gassed).

Sadly, though, my "Pete’s Promise" CSR program will probably never happen. For one thing, Pete’s probably embarrassed beyond belief. For another, the corporation most likely wants to move on to much bigger and better things in a hurry (faster even than Pete’s Jag can do zero to 60).

Do me one favor, though, before you sweep this little imbroglio under the rug, Mr. Coors? Can you let us know if you got sloshed on your own brew?

Jul 17

The ‘S’ in U.S. should stand for ‘sue’

So, now it’s come to this. An Illinois woman is suing her parents for negligence, claiming her broken ankle, suffered on a slippery driveway, was their fault. Carriel Louah wants $75k in damages and, get this, U.S. District Court Judge John Shabaz (wonder if he’s any relation to Malcolm X?) refused to dismiss the lawsuit and said a jury should decide if the parents, were, in fact, negligent.

We’ve clearly reached new lows when children are suing their parents. But, who’s to blame? Is it the get-rich-quick daughter? The get-rich-quick lawyers? The "it’s not my problem" judge who won’t throw this nonsensical claim out of court? Or, are all of us at fault for letting it get this bad?

What does it say about our country, and what does it do to our image, when this sort of crap is allowed to happen? And, what does it to do to our global competitiveness when so much time and so many dollars are being wasted prosecuting frivolous cases like this?

It seems to me it all comes down to a pervasive lack of accountability in our society. It’s always "…somebody else’s fault" if I fail or if something bad happens to me.

Somehow, somewhere along the line, Americans stopped taking responsibility for their actions and started blamed society instead. So, we see McDonald’s customers blame the Golden Arches for their obesity, thugs blame their upbringing for endless crime sprees and Ms. Louah sue her parents for an icy driveway (and an opportunity to pocket a quick 75 large). Hell, for all we know, Louah’s parents may be in on it, and they’ll all be splitting the Benjamins when the dust settles.

It’s enough to make me sigh in disgust. But, then again, maybe it’s also an opportunity? Maybe I can still sue the Ridgefield Park Little League for the broken cheek bone I suffered running into a leftfield fence in 1966? After all, it destroyed my optic nerve and caused lifelong 20-250 vision in one eye. That might be worth a cool million. Or, maybe I should go after more recent transgressors. First Corporate Limo Service has left me stranded time and again, late at night. Seems to me my mental anguish should be worth at least $25k per incident. Or how about the NY Jets? Their horrific performance last season may, in fact, have been a direct cause of my suddenly borderline blood pressure. I’ll bet a sympathetic judge and jury would see fit to award me six figures for my emotional distress.

Where and when does it end? Will Congress ever step up? Or, will we have to continue to depend on a few sane judges and juries to keep the madness from getting too far out of hand?

Hat tip to Trish Taylor for this idea.

Jul 17

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R) is the latest in a long line of political leaders who, through their mangling of the English language, have managed to get themselves in deep water. Stevens’ inept and incomprehensible remarks about the Internet join such other personal "Hall of Shame" favorites as W’s post 9/11 "We’ll smoke ’em out" threat, Howard Dean’s victory scream and Westchester County Executive Jeanine Pirro’s 28 seconds of deafening silence as she announced her Senate candidacy (but couldn’t find her prepared remarks).

In these particular instances, the pols in question either overstepped the boundaries of their knowledge (Stevens), said the wrong thing at the wrong time ("43" and Dean) or just froze like a deer in the headlights (Pirro).

Malaprops, mangled words and phrases and just plain bad mistakes are not limited to the political spectrum. The business world, for example, is full of them. And, much as I hate to admit it, I see and hear quite a few in the course of the average work week (both internally and externally).

The best way to avoid a public gaffe is, of course, to review what you’re going to say or write before the camera’s red light is on or one’s finger touches the "send" key.

Cases in point: If Stevens had had a media script to follow, he’d have been fine. If Pirro had rehearsed a few key messages, she’d have been prepared when her speech suddenly went missing. As for W, well, there’s not much any adviser or consultant can do to mitigate someone’s saying the absolute wrong thing at the wrong time.

All of which reminds me of one of the legendary tales from the annals of Peppercom media training.

My business partner, Ed, had done his usual crackerjack job of media training a top executive with a Fortune 15 company prior to his interview with a Midwestern business publication. All had gone well during the interview as the exec touted the firm’s expertise in a given area. The interview concluded, handshakes were exchanged and the reporter headed to the elevator banks. Along the way, he complimented the client exec on the handsome office space. The exec, not realizing that anything he said to the reporter could, and would, be used against him even after an interview ended, proceeded to volunteer that the company was about to move to much larger and more luxurious digs in the near future.

So, what happened? The reporter filed a story about the client’s real estate aspirations (never bothering to mention the key points we wanted conveyed) and the client exec was banished to the organization’s version of Siberia.

Careers can be made or unmade by what an individual says (a certain Vermont governor comes to mind here). So, it never ceases to amaze me when a smart, polished leader like Stevens makes a complete fool of himself. One thing’s for sure, though. I’ll bet Senator Stevens has taken a crash course on what the Internet is and does and will be ready the next time he’s asked to explain it. But, from an image and reputation standpoint, it’ll be too little too late.

Hat tip to Laura Mills for this idea.

Jul 14

Thank you master. Hit me again. Thank you master. Hit me again…

Why do so many leading figures of the day allow themselves to be skewered on satire talk shows likeColbert_c_large the Colbert Report?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of Colbert, whose show parodies "The O’Reilly Report." But, I couldn’t get over what happened on last night’s episode in which Washington State Congressman Rick Larsen and, later, Daily News Publisher Mort Zuckerman get royally raked over the Colbert coals. And, what I saw wasn’t pretty from an image and reputation standpoint.

Congressman Larsen took a merciless beating (scroll down to see video clip) from Colbert, who is amazingly adept at coming across as an authority figure while asking the most inane questions. Larsen was clearly in deep water, and had no idea how to handle the increasingly brutal questions being fired at him. It made me wince to see Larsen emulating the stereotypical deer caught in the headlights as Colbert followed a tough body blow of a question with a series of savage head shots to the beleaguered pol. It became the talk show equivalent of Mike Tyson’s first round knockout of Michael Sphinks way back when.

Zuckerman fared better, but still took a pounding as Colbert nailed him time and again on his political stance, wealth and publications.

So, what’s up with these "Daniels" who venture into the Colbert "lion’s den"? Don’t they know he’s going to rip anyone with a right-of-center agenda to absolute shreds? Is the conventional wisdom here that any publicity is good publicity?

Other guests, like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., whose politics more closely align with Colbert’s, have fared better, but, who’s advising the Larsen’s and Zuckerman’s of the world?

If these guys were my clients, I’d tell them to send Colbert’s producer a polite note saying, "Thanks, but no thanks." Otherwise, they should just sit there and, as Colbert readies yet another savage right cross from hell, be prepared to say, "Thank you master. Hit me again."

Hat tip to Chris “Repman Jr” Cody for this idea.

Jul 13

RepChatter Show #20 posted

Ted and I discuss the new Reader’s Digest Poll that rates New York as the most courteous city. What does this mean for the image of New York? With input from some true Midwesterner’s, we debate the reputation of NYC compared to other major cities in the U.S. that may need a reputation revamp.


Jul 11

Caveat publicist

There are oh so many positives to the digital marketing revolution. But, there’s also a darker side that will occasionally rise up and bite the unresponsive companies, the non-believing medical supply executives and, most troubling of all, the unsuspecting publicists.

We’ll bypass the corporations who continue to ignore the irate complaints of bloggers about their company, product or service. And, we’ll raise the white flag of surrender in terms of ever convincing the naysaying surgical gloves sales guy that blogging/podcasting are more than passing fads. But, the PR industry needs to wake up and do a quick intervention before more individual careers and client/agency relationships are destroyed by young and inexperienced publicists who can’t write, don’t understand "digital" media relations and are being "outed" more and more often by the media.

Gawker, for example, has already pilloried a poor Fleishman-Hillard publicist for a brutally-wordedBw1_2   KFC pitch. And, now BusinessWeek, the Holy Grail of BtoB publicity, has entered the fray by beating the bejesus out of a well-intentioned, but poorly trained, Newman Communications publicist (article pictured). In the UK, a PR agency hired by Rupert Lowe, the embattled chairman of Southampton Football Club, was caught posting comments of support on a fanzine’s web forum for Lowe ahead of an important board meeting. The forum’s host got suspicious, investigated the IP addresses called the local paper and the move backfired. Lowe has subsequently resigned.

Public relations has always had its share of grammatically-challenged publicists (and executives). But, the current crop seems to have reached new lows (Lowes?). Some recent college grads not only can’t write, they have no idea how to properly research or pitch a reporter. And, as a result, their ill-conceived, poorly crafted pitches are ridiculed by the media.

In the wake of such a public flogging, the client suffers, the agency suffers and, sadly, the publicist, Dave Overton, suffers.

I’m not sure if this is a Council of PR Firms issue, a PRSA challenge or something that each individual agency and corporate communications department needs to address. But, this is an industry problem. A small, but growing, problem that, left unchecked, will do a major job on our image.

The media are right to ridicule our horrific pitches. Now, it’s up to us to do something about it.

Jul 10

Industry pundits are missing the real reasons for PR’s rising popularity

Ad Age’s Jonah Bloom has awakened to the rise of PR in the marketing hierarchy and devoted his weekly editorial to it.

That said, he credits the dynamic Miami ad agency Crispin Porter Bogusky and its "subservient chicken" kind of non-traditional advertising approaches focused at consumers and journalists as the main reason why PR is gaining in importance. There’s no doubt the high-flying Crispin, which recently appeared on the cover of BusinessWeek, is re-writing all the staid rules of the oh-so-staid advertising business. But, Bloom is missing the larger, digital part of the equation in his analysis.

Instead of exploring how well-equipped PR is to lead the digital revolution, how people like Steve Rubel are doing just that, and how digital, in turn, is helping to re-write all of the basic marketing rules, Bloom chose instead to go down a different road. He interviewed my good friend and fellow Mets fan, Julia Hood of PR Week, and asked why PR has become so "hot."

Julia responded by saying certain sectors like health care and tech are helping fuel PR’s growth and, get this, that the growth is coming from the mega integrated marketing agencies who are sending more and more referrals to the PR brethren within their holding company ranks. Oh brother.

Not only do they fail to mention the digital trend, but they cite big agency/holding company referrals as a key reason why PR is doing so well.

The real innovation in PR that is driving our industry’s growth and dramatic move up the food chain is coming from the non-holding company world (just check out what Edelman is up to these days). To ascribe our growth and rising prestige to a Y&R throwing a few more bones to a Burson or an Omnicom ad agency inviting a Porter, Fleishman or Ketchum to help pitch an integrated account is both disingenuous and disturbing.

If you want to find the Crispin Porter Bogusky of the PR world (and the catalyst fueling our industry’s upward movement), I don’t suggest looking within any holding company. There’s way too much turf-fighting and focus on pleasing the REAL clients (the Sir Martin’s and John Wren’s), then there is in redefining and reshaping public relations.

Jul 10

Advertising taglines: part two

As noted in a previous post, it’s one thing to slap a meaningless tagline like Toyota’s "moving forward" on some print or broadcast ad. It’s quite another to use a tagline that sends an unintentional (and totally unintended) message.

Such is the case with the U.S. Navy tagline that accompanies its newest broadcast commercial. As might be expected, the Navy spot depicts the very cool and cutting-edge activities the enlistedNav1  ranks can enjoy. You see them sailing the seven seas, flying the newest fighter jets and interacting with the latest, greatest technology. All of which is well and fine. But, the ad ends with this tagline: "Join the Navy and accelerate your life."

Knowing that more and more Navy personnel are "on the ground" and dealing with the nightmare that is the war in Iraq, my mind immediately went to the unintended double meaning of the Navy tagline. While their marketing folks obviously wanted to convey how a Navy career can move a young person’s career forward, the news headlines tell a different story. So, when I saw the "accelerate your life" tagline flash across the screen, I didn’t think about career growth but, instead, the thousands of young people who served their country well but, sadly, returned home in body bags.

While this tagline worked in terms of getting my attention, I have to believe the obvious double entendre isn’t the kind of message the Navy wants to send. Let’s hope they change it soon.

Jul 07

New poll shows corporate communicators are out to lunch when it comes to blogging

How scary are the results of the new IABC survey on blogging? When asked how best to deal with hostile bloggers, some 300 corporate communicators were split right down the middle as to whether it should be their responsibility or pushed to customer service. Customer service? Talk about one of the great oxymorons in business.

Another significant number of respondents said they just ignore hostile bloggers. Oh brother. Both findings are a recipe for disaster.

As discussed in previous posts, blogging should be the responsibility of corporate communications, since it involves a dialogue with constituents and impacts an organization’s image and reputation (plus, I’d like to think that we are best equipped at establishing a "conversation" between an organization and its constituents).

Passing the buck to a customer service representative is tantamount to dereliction of duty in my book. And, those corporate communicators who choose not to respond at all to hostile bloggers should be locked up in the blogosphere’s version of Gitmo.

When will the PR profession wake up and begin taking digital communications seriously? Too few agencies have blogs and too many corporate communications professionals allow their brethren in marketing or, gulp, customer service, to "own" blogging.

The sooner our ilk "get" that digital communications is here to stay and that engaging in dialogues and establishing relationships with friendly, indifferent or even hostile bloggers is critical to the overall corporate communications program, the sooner we’ll see America’s corporations begin building new and different relationships with current and future customers.

Someone needs to send a big, digital wake-up call to the "pros" who responded to the IABC survey. The job they save may be their own.

Jul 06

Let Lay lie

Klay1 The news of Enron Founder Ken Lay’s sudden death at 64 of a massive heart attack is a very sad close to a very sad chapter in American business.

I, for one, felt really bad for Lay as the trial unfolded and his fate was sealed.

There’s no doubt that Ken Lay was guilty and, along with his cohort, Jeff Skilling, perpetrated a monstrous scheme that violated laws, destroyed a corporation and ruined many peoples’ lives. And, yet, Lay always struck me as kind of a sweet, unassuming figurehead (physically, he always reminded me of Bob Newhart). I’m sure he was a tough, no-nonsense businessman, but I guarantee he died a thousand deaths before his heart finally gave out last night.

Think about it. Here’s a guy who built Enron from nothing to a corporation that, at one point, was the absolute darling of Wall Street (and the focus of countless cover stories). Sure, he wheeled and dealed, and sure he turned his back as Skilling, Fastow, et al, became more and more creative with their bookkeeping.

But, when the trial began, I saw a defeated man. I saw someone whose image and reputation had taken a massive beating. I saw a man who had based his very existence on his work, only to see that work not only crumble, but become the watchword for an entire generation of corporate excess and greed.

So, when I hear some people say of Lay’s death…"Good. He got what was coming to him" and others exclaim, "I feel cheated," I have to disagree. The man suffered incredible public disgrace, watched everything he built fall apart and was facing decades in prison and financial ruin.

Although Ken Lay’s heart gave out long before he could begin re-paying his debt to society, I guarantee his psyche has been "doing hard time" for the past few years.

Key lay will forever be linked to the Enron disaster. But, I think we should give the guy (and his family) the benefit of the doubt re: his supposed "cheating" the hangman. Lay died many, many times before his heart stopped beating for the last time last night.