Monday, June 29, 2015

Do you know who I am?

The county's PR guy had a county-owned car, which he and his wife drove to a wedding in a neighboring county. Alcohol was served. The wife was charged with DWI. The county PR guy -- who tried to strong-arm the traffic stop by playing the "do you know who I am?" card --  got a seven-day suspension, and can't touch his fleet car for 30 days.

Not the actual DWI stop.
By Highway Patrol Images (BN 201 VE SS
 traffic stop), via Wikimedia Commons
It's fair to say things didn't end well.

That's all we really know about Justin, his wife, and the unnamed third person in the car at the time of the arrest. The Monroe County Executive -- herself a former TV journalist -- has labeled this a personnel matter, and sealed the details from voters. So much for transparency.

But it's not about the county executive, who's ending her term-limited stint in the job. It's about the PR guy, and what should pass for judgment when your paycheck comes from local taxpayer's wallets.

Full disclosure: about 20 years ago, I worked for a different Monroe County Executive in the very same job. My "perks" consisted of a parking spot next to the county office building. Where I could park my five-year-old Ford, because no one offered me a county-owned vehicle.

I never thought to ask for a county car. I wasn't a law officer, nor was I directly engaged in emergency preparedness. My role was to offer strategy and counsel, write speeches and news releases, photograph events, pitch story ideas, and respond to reporters' questions.

Today's county PR guy pretty much has the same responsibilities. None of which require a county-owned car. Which the rules say shouldn't be driven outside the county.

Speaking of rules: the county PR guy has more of a legislative/political science background than deep public relations experience. So he might want to consider adopting the following:
  • Nothing positive ever comes of telling any police officer, "Do you know who I am?" Ever. Especially when you're far from the county where someone really knows who you are. 
  • The 24/7 media circus never stops, even when you're off-the-clock. So managing your personal brand is a more than a full-time job.
  • Don't do anything to tarnish your boss' legacy. Because she may be headed for higher office, and now it's less likely she'll ask you to tag along.
  • Don't drink and drive. Or allow someone who's had one less than you to drive. Especially when neither of you own the damned car.
Happy Motoring.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Visual storytelling? Forget your smartphone

Our local PRSA chapter held its award ceremony last week. Many great public relations campaigns, agencies, and practitioners were recognized. And deservedly so.

My Canon camera. By Mohylek (Own work),
 via Wikimedia Commons
I'd share photos, except I wasn't there. And most of the photos posted on social media by the event's attendees were uniformly awful. Poorly lit, under-exposed snapshots -- the incriminating fingerprint of a smartphone camera that uses a tiny sensor and fires a tiny LED to produce a feeble flash. Or has no flash at all.

(I'd link to their pictures, but it's unfair to show colleagues in less than flattering photos.)

Footnote: this isn't specific to the Rochester, NY PRSA chapter. I've now seen shots from the Buffalo PRSA Excalibur awards event; they aren't any better, and in some cases, look no better than any after-party selfies you've seen.

Listen, I get it. People don't want to carry two devices. A stand-alone digital camera has to be charged, and adds weight to a pocket or purse. It's one more thing to bring along. And a smartphone allows you to upload photos to Facebook immediately. (Without editing. Bleh.)

As a literate culture, we are increasingly dependent on telling stories visually. PR people know this, because every winning PR strategy relies on YouTube, Vimeo, or another way to share still or moving images. Audiences expect visuals, and often skim past content with visual content.

And poor visuals really stink. They tell the viewer: "We didn't care enough about this story to include a picture."

So, for events and occasions that demand visuals, organizations need to hire a photographer with a camera designed for low-light photography. Or enlist an experienced volunteer with comparable equipment to help document the events. (In a town like Rochester, NY -- home to a university with a very strong photography school -- this should be simple.)

Most days, I carry a four-year-old compact Canon digital camera in my briefcase. It isn't the latest, and doesn't pack 20 megapixels. But it does an infinitely better job of visual storytelling when used correctly. In the right hands.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pay attention to canal tourism

Our canal boat. (c) DKassnoff, 2012.
A couple of years ago, I rented a boat and cruised for a few days on the Erie Canal. Some of the communities we saw on our voyage were charming. Others offered all the allure of a miniature Rust Belt refinery.

There's more to the Erie Canal than most people realize. Communities like Fairport and Brockport in upstate New York have built substantial attractions around the canal. Others have more modest setups: a small park or a boat launch.

But if your community has invested anything in its waterfront in hopes of drawing tourism, you'd be wise to tell someone about it.

Here's an example:

This is what has to say about things to do in Newark, New York:

Even at full size, it doesn't say much. There was a movie theatre, but it apparently closed in 2014. And nothing else.

When I visited on my voyage, however, here's what I found:

A comfortable, clean canalside park with moorings, free WiFi, and a laundry facility. Short walking distance to a few cozy restaurants, a charming public library with a remarkable museum devoted to clocks, and another museum run by the local historical society. Friendly people.

It was a relaxing place to spend a couple of days on the water. My son, an emerging filmmaker, shot a film parodying scenes from Apocalypse Now, and we had fun.

Newark's not everyone's idea of a getaway destination. But you wouldn't need to expend many hours of energy to post information about the town's charms on TripAdvisor or other travel and tourism web sites. Portions of Wayne County's tourism website haven't been updated since 2014. A little basic public relations effort would go a long way.

And overlooking websites like TripAdvisor is a big missed opportunity.

Monday, June 8, 2015

My chosen people are a little too choosy

It's just me, I suppose. Or maybe not.

I am Jewish, and I'm a little disappointed just now with our cultural tendency to talk about inclusion while failing to practice it. As a culture, you'd think we'd know better.

The other day, I received an e-mail blast (with a few details obscured) -- and was asked to help spread the word of an event:

By Fast Forward Event Productions,
via Wikimedia Commons
Dear Library Moms,

Please join us at “Moms Make It, Take It, Over Chocolate and Wine” on Thursday, June 11, 2015 at Temple Beth Zion from 7 – 8:30 PM. The event includes making Jewish summer activities, a presentation on turning regular moments into Jewish ones, and lots of good wine and chocolate!

What’s wrong with this message?

I'm a Jewish dad. And I'm not invited.

The message assumes that Jewish households in our community rely on moms alone to ensure a heritage-rich upbringing. It infers that the fathers have a diminished role in providing a Jewish life. Or that there’s no father figure involved.

Or maybe they just want the wine and chocolate for themselves.

Why does this trouble me? I was very engaged in my children’s religious lives. Together with my non-Jewish wife, we made sure the kids experienced many Jewish and non-Jewish activities. I drove my kids to Hebrew school on Sunday mornings, even when no one wanted to go. My wife was very involved, to be certain. But I’m the Jewish parent, and I took it as my responsibility.

The organizers of the “Moms Make It” party seem to disregard fathers like me. Would it ruin this event to open it to parents of both genders? (Or explain, for that matter, exactly what they're making and taking?)

It's a confusing message, at best: "Moms, come indulge on chocolate and wine. We'll talk about Jewish activities. Don't bring dads."

If the event’s organizers exclude dads, they risk alienating dedicated parents. Or they’re simply not thinking of their broader constituencies. Either way, it’s no way for a non-profit organization to build support for their program.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Make your news ready to read

As a kid, I loved Alpha-Bits, the cold ready-to-read cereal consisting of all 26 alphabet letters. (That's not a typo. I think it helped develop my love of reading and writing.)

So when I read this news release:

Modernizing Medicine and Miraca Life Sciences Debut EMA Urology EMR System | Business Wire

-- I had a flashback to my Alpha-Bits days.

There are four acronyms in the lead paragraph. And they're easily confused by a business desk editor. Especially if it's Monday morning.

"EMR," for example, is the stock symbol for Emerson Electric Co., as well as Electronic Medical Records. In addition to the company's use of EMA for "electronic medical assistant," it's also widely used as an acronym for European Medicines Agency, the Environmental Media Association, a significant ad agency based in Syracuse, NY., and MTV's European Music Awards. Also, MLS abbrevates the Multiple Listings Service used in real estate.

News flash: people don't talk this way. Unless they want to confuse their audiences.

Acronyms can help an editor or reader wade through long, technobabble-filled releases. In moderation. If you want to lose an editor, however, just keep tossing EMRs, EMAs, and MLSs around as if he or she speaks in the same internal jargon you use in your office.

My point: back off on the acronym hailstorm, friends. You're asking editors and readers to work too hard. Whether it's Monday or any other day.