Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ready for some football? Apparently not.

Even in the off-season, the NFL's Buffalo Bills -- perennial pro football also-rans -- can't manage their operations.

Buffalo Jills, Rich Stadium
(c) David Kassnoff, 2012
Last week, five cheerleaders for the Buffalo Jills sued the Buffalo Bills organization, claiming they were under-compensated for their work on and off the field. And, they may have been sexually harassed in connection with their jobs. Their management company promptly cancelled the sideline entertainers'  2014-15 schedule.

(Update: read this:

I'm not a sports columnist. But this isn't about athletic success. This is about the damage to an organization's brand and reputation. The Bills are in trouble -- maybe more than any PR pro could fix.

Besides the Jills fiasco, the Bills recently agreed to pay $5 million for sending too many promo messages to fans. Their head coach had a private cancer scare -- disclosed on the team's web site -- that resulted in screaming headlines. And, at the end of March, the Bills' longtime owner, Ralph Wilson, died. This touched off a frenzy of media speculation on the team's potential new owners.

Taken together, can the Buffalo Bills organization be in any worse shape?

As athletes, the team has rarely been competitive. As a business enterprise, recent missteps suggest a real chasm in front-office leadership. Whether critics lay the problems on the desk of Russ Brandon, its president, or point fingers at employees who've made poor calls, this many costly errors doesn't make a public relations executive reach for anything. Except Maalox.

Is there a PR solution? No public relations strategy could fix pay inequity, e-commerce violations, or astonishingly bad management of the team's website. No, this is about reputation, accountability, and ethics. And right now, the Bills' reputation is swimming in one of those urine troughs in their stadium.

Let's get serious. Pay inequity is the worst issue, especially when male employees pull down seven-figure salaries for mediocre on-the-field performance. The Jills knew the business they were in: adding a little PG-rated sex to an otherwise testosterone-fueled gladiator fest. The Jills are (were?) fun to watch. And as entertainers in an often-icy Ralph Wilson Stadium, they should have been fairly compensated.

PR solution? No, the answer is a management solution: find and dismiss the dolt who underpaid the Jills.

But, the biggest issue facing the Bills is leadership. The team hasn't had an authentic on-field leader since Jim Kelly retired, and its top executives are unable to run a business responsibly. No redesigned uniforms or family-friendly seating sections can whitewash these costly business blunders.

Wilson's death means the team will be sold, and soon. While everyone from megalomaniac Donald Trump to an ailing Jim Kelly have been mentioned as potential buyers, I'm hoping billionaire Tom Golisano (founder of Paychex) buys the organization. And cleans out the front office.

Golisano's all about accountability, and he has a mile-wide ego. He knows how to run a successful business, appoint smart lieutenants, and turn a profit. He knows that even part-time employees must be paid minimum wage. And he'd surely discharge the e-marketing hack who sent out too many messages -- and cost the team $5 million.

In short: Golisano (former owner of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres) knows how to lead. That's something the Bills organization lacks on and off the field.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hearing the light from the window

A Monkee has taught me plenty about Facebook. And how we're viewing the social media juggernaut all wrong.

We use it for product publicity. Or as an online chronicle of our everyday musings. And, we're missing the point. Facebook isn't a journal. It's not about news. It's about sifting information about you and selling it to Purveyors of Other Stuff.

In exchange for allowing us to post recipes or fuzzy smartphone photos, Facebook sifts and parses our comments for clues about us. As we share our opinions or lunch menus, Facebook neatly packages that information and re-sells it to marketers.

Maybe Facebook is a useful mechanism for public relations professionals who want their clients' views and products shared. On its own, Facebook isn't an all-inclusive PR strategy. Those "which rock musician are you" quizzes tend to muck up the sharing process. Your posts are arbitrarily ranked by Facebook's software, meaning they may not show up in your friends' feeds.

Michael Nesmith, Bufffalo, NY.
 Photo: (c) David Kassnoff, 2012.
I'm a fan of people who've figured this out. Especially entertainment legends who've invented new media, and then moved on to do other things.

Take Michael Nesmith, the 70-something year-old musician, entrepreneur, and filmmaker whom you might recall as a member of the Monkees. Mr. Nesmith invented MTV. He is also on Facebook. But you need to look quickly, because he's never there for very long.

Nesmith occasionally posts about his experiences on the road, touring as a solo act or as 1/3 of the remaining Monkees. When he posts, he delves into a topic and chews it thoroughly. A Nesmith post reads like a letter from a friend, not a short text or e-mail. They are a great read.

And, about 24 hours later, they're gone. He takes them down. So I can't share a link to one.

Nesmith gets it. He knows that anything he leaves on Facebook isn't ephemeral. It's there to be mined, dissected, analyzed, and re-sold to a marketer looking for data. And while he's a skilled communicator, he doesn't wish to "share" more than is necessary.

Nesmith's example may be worth following. Content I posted in 2009 is, frankly, a bit stale.

Should you house-clean your Facebook account? That's a personal decision. At minimum, you'd be wise to review your previous week's posts with fresh eyes, and purge anything that discloses more information than you'd like a marketer to possess.

Meanwhile, here's one of my favorite Nesmith compositions. (Listen closely, and you'll find the inspiration for the title of this blog post.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Remembering the mini-skirt

We laugh or moan when we see people barely wearing their clothing. Jeans at or below one's derrière. Ultra short shorts. Or, in my region, teens wearing shorts and Chuck Taylors in 15-degree weather.

By Ed Uthman from Houston, TX, USA (Rhodes
1970s D05.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-2.0
 via Wikimedia Commons
Mini-skirts, however, would send a very different message. In the 1970s, women wore them daily. But if I talked about mini-skirts today, you might think of me as a sexist pig.

You'd be mistaken.

When I think of the mini-skirt (which isn't often), it reminds me of some great writing advice. A former managing editor of the Olean (NY) Times-Herald taught a writing course at St. Bonaventure University. And his best writing adage used the mini-skirt as a metaphor. 

"How long should a news story be?" a student asked.

Prof. Stinger's response: "It should be as long as a woman's dress. Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting."

That's great advice today, without the sexist undertone. Writing a blog post? Shorter is better. A news release? One page should be your goal. Web content? Readers don't like to scroll. A script for a CEO's presentation? Think bullet points, not Washington's farewell address.

Another PR Rule (No. 11): Audiences always have a shorter attention span than you think. You can't hear web visitors jingling their keys or scrolling on their smartphones. We've become multi-taskers and parallel processors, and lengthy content doesn't win in a TLDR* world.

So, remember the mini-skirt -- as a metaphor for concise writing, rather than a fashion choice.

*Too Long, Didn't Read

Rule Number One: Do Not Lie to the Media

Like Gibbs on TV's NCIS, I have a few rules. They do not involve serving as a Marine sniper, but they'll work in most public relations circumstances. Here's my top ten:

Rule No. 1: Don't lie to the media. 

Rules 2-10: Don't lie to the media. 

Journalists have access to a printing press. A broadcast signal. A website. Social media. And, when wronged, reporters will not hesitate a moment to use them. Especially if reporters are lied to.

Nothing says this better than the article at the following link, courtesy of PR entrepreneur Peter Shankman:

Lesson: if you're a PR person and your client asks you to lie, hand him/her your phone. Ask the client to do the fibbing. Maybe his reputation can handle it. Yours can't.