Saturday, October 15, 2016

Why post this? Don't ask me why

(c) DKassnoff, 2014.
Cranking out PR for a legendary rock musician should be pretty straightforward. I'm all but certain Billy Joel has no daily involvement in his website or the Facebook page that updates his new tour dates. Nor should he.

Someone's minding those tasks, though. And doing a mediocre job.

On Oct. 14, a headline on Billy's web site announced: Billy Joel Sells Out The New Coliseum’s Opening Show In Less Than Four Minutes. Read the details here.

A sellout sure sounds impressive, doesn't it? Maybe, if your time-travelling Delorean is tooling through 1985. Internet ticket sales today have made swift concert sellouts an everyday occurance. And, few would-be ticket buyers are happy about it. They know that concert tickets are scarfed up by ticket bots and scalpers before fans ever get through the lethargic Ticketmaster website.

The problem's so severe that several states are enacting legislation to outlaw the bots.

But the person running Billy Joel's website disregarded this, and posted the four-minute sellout story as if Billy had run a four-minute mile. (Full disclosure: I saw Billy perform at Madison Square Garden in 2014. He does an amazing show, but isn't a miler by any stretch.)

Billy's Facebook followers took exception to this terrific news, as sampled in the photo at left. (Click the image for a more-readable view.)

That's not good PR. Decision-makers at really need to reconsider the news value of a four-minute concert sellout -- and how fans know they've been shut out.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Here's your radio, kids

Public relations pros may no longer need consider certain commercial radio stations as viable media outlets.

Radio studio, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Visiting a dental hygienist on a September Saturday, I was treated to a broadcast from a station owned by the Stephens Media Group. The programming -- a purportedly kid-friendly block called "Morning Car-tunes" -- was far more painful than anything the hygienist served up.

The music wasn't bad. The in-between banter involved a young DJ and a co-host whom I'll call "Harry the Pirate." It quickly became clear no one had told them this program was actually intended for parents and kids to enjoy.

Harry spent a few minutes regaling listeners about a recent visit to a local college, where he said he told communications students that "there are no jobs in media."*

Harry, was that the most uplifting thing to tell aspiring broadcasters? Or did you think "media" didn't include the huge growth of Internet media careers? 

A few years ago, I'd seen Harry drop some questionable asides between kid songs. He reminded me of W.C. Fields, who said: "Anyone who hates children and animals can't be all bad." (To be fair, Harry runs a holiday toy drive, so there's a Jekyll-and-Hyde nature to his pirate outings.)

Harry's career-critical comments on the family-friendly air shift were followed by ads for divorce lawyers and personal injury attorneys. Very family friendly.

The capper? A recorded ad for an upcoming live show for kids, taking place next Friday, May 6.

Guys, it's September. Buy a calendar.

Most commercial radio managers know they must give listeners a compelling reason to tune in. Pandora, Spotify, and Sirius XM serve up material that -- while seldom local -- is programmed to reach specific listeners.

The Stephens radio station's "Morning Car-tunes" gave listeners no reason to stay tuned. Harry's downer outlook, the poorly timed lawyer ads, and outdated promo spots convinced me that they'd merely sold advertisers a block of programming, with not one bit of thought about their listeners.

And if they don't care, could anyone see a PR value for getting one's clients on their Saturday morning downer-fest?

I asked the hygienist to turn off the station. The sound of her whirring instruments was preferable.

*The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 221,000 people employed in radio and TV broadcasting jobs in May, 2015. That figure doesn't include Internet-related broadcasting jobs, such as Pandora and SiriusXM. Details are here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What's Spanish for "shoot yourself in the foot"?

After having written about Chipotle restaurants' PR crises several times in the past year, I pledged I wouldn'tgo back to that trough again. 

Yet, there's more negative news today about the beleaguered eatery.

So, I'll just let the New York Daily News do the talking.

This calls for more than a simple re-branding. How do you say "Leadership Change" in Spanish?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Shifting gears: sponsored content's growing pains

I'm completely aware that this article is paid for.

It touts a Rochester, NY automobile dealership, and one employee's love of an heirloom Pontiac. Which we never actually see, because the dealer sponsoring the copy sells Chevrolets.
1966 Catalina, by Tino Rossini (Flickr: Catalina)
[CC BY 2.0 ] via Wikimedia Commons

Nonetheless, I have a quibble or two with it.

Veteran PR practitioners will recognize this ode to Chevrolets as "advertorial." The new term is "sponsored content." If you want to know the price range of a new Corvette, that's about the only newsworthy aspect of the story.

Whatever we call it, I made a good living writing it for a spectrum of clients. Sponsored content, well presented, demonstrates subject matter expertise that creates a halo effect for a client and/or his/her brand.

To be fair, the Gannett Rochester operation labeled this honestly: "This story is produced and presented by our sponsor." Sponsored editorial is how many newspapers are making ends meet.

What's troubling about this? The omission of GM's recent troubles, the most notable concerning the massive ignition-switch failure and recall crisis that focused on the Chevrolet Cobalt and six other Chevy models. You wouldn't expect a PR piece to call attention to this troubling issue, but wouldn't a newspaper better serve its readers by including this in an editor's note?

2015 Corvette Z06 by Tuner tom (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Also - if you're going to run advertorial, shouldn't the images actually reflect the cars mentioned in the article? In this case, there's a beauty shot of a 1960s era Corvette, but not the 1966 Catalina or the current Z06?

The photos I've sourced and used here took exactly five minutes to locate and post, as well as credit the photographers. They're freely available via Wikimedia Commons, without a license. And their inclusion makes for a more interesting story.

Sponsored content is inescapable. But solid editorial responsibility shouldn't be cast to the side of the road.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Bromance with bullets -- and negative responses

Lethal Weapon -- a bromance?

FOX Broadcasting recently barraged Twitter users with paid Tweets to promote its TV re-boot of the 1980s “Lethal Weapon” films. You’ll need to be a superb Twitter surfer to avoid them.

PR practitioners run a risk in carpet-bombing social media audiences with overhyped promotions. They can alienate as many potential viewers as they attract.

Actor Danny Glover, not in the new Lethal Weapon TV series,
Photo credit: Georges Biard [CC BY-SA 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
In fact, FOX got dusted by Twitter users, many of whom weren’t old enough to see the 1987-1998 Danny Glover-Mel Gibson buddy pictures. The TV studio – largely bankrupt of original ideas since “Glee” – positioned the new series as a bromance. That word didn’t exist in run of the original films, which leaned heavily on gunplay, banter, and exploding toilets.

Is bromance anything more than a piece of forced marketing-speak? (Not counting the short-lived MTV reality series of 2008-09.)

No matter. Twitter users pushed back on FOX’s onslaught of Lethal Weapon photos and promoted (paid) tweets. A sampling:

  • They're making a #LethalWeapon tv show? WHY? Leave my childhood alone,it was very happy being left in the know,where it belongs!
  • Thank God for @jk_rowling or Hollywood would never have an original idea. Did we really need a #LethalWeapon tv show?
  • @LethalWeaponFOX @FOXTV this is a really bad idea. I give it 5 episodes before the plug gets pulled and that's being generous. #shittyreboot

Networks invite criticism when adapting a theatrical film for TV. CBS nearly canceled M*A*S*H early on until producers altered a few characters (making Radar more naïve and Hawkeye more compassionate). Producer Garry Marshall brought “The Odd Couple” to TV from the movies and Broadway over objections of playwright Neil Simon, who ended up loving the TV series.

FoxTV may have waited too long to resurrect “Lethal Weapon.” Eighteen years later, a younger Riggs and Murtagh may struggle to find an audience that’s seen countless gunfights and car crashes.

Do TV viewers need another bromance-and-bullets series? With over 7 million views, the cast of the defunct TV series "Scrubs" had a better appreciated approach to non-sexual male friendships. Without firearms.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Your daily firestorm -- or not

By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class
Aaron Peterson. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As communicators, words are our currency. And lately, it feels as if we've been using counterfeit currency to grab readers and viewers.

It's time for news writers and video pundits to change the way they use metaphors borrowed from authentic disasters and conflict. PR copywriters, too, although if we're at all sensitive, we won't describe a new product "exploding" across the marketplace.

I hope.

Last week, one of the presidential candidates flailed in the week's news coverage. Countless newsreaders said he had ignited a "firestorm" by lashing out at a Gold Star family that criticized him. A few days later, another story talked about a controversy "exploding" across the nation's newspapers.

Firestorm? Get serious. A real fire storm is a wild fire of great intensity. It's something to be fought, and firefighters' lives are at risk. Men and women die fighting these blazes. Here's one example:

A firestorm is not a racist political hack arguing with news pundits. It's not Congressional representatives engaging in prolonged finger pointing. Someone merely said something stupid, and got criticized for it. End of story.

Similarly, when a debate becomes heated, newswriters love to say it "exploded."

Real explosions are deadly. Lives -- not egos -- are lost. This 2015 chemical warehouse disaster in China is one example:

My point? When we write or report, words are our currency. Using them incorrectly to add sizzle to copy is more than misleading. It desensitizes us to the threats of genuine disasters.

Firestorms and explosions often kill. Debates and criticisms bruise egos, but the adversaries usually survive.

Skilled news reporters ought to have enough of a vocabulary to choose more accurate descriptions when a candidate or office holder becomes embroiled in a controversy.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Unable to catch a break

Chipotle, the Mexican-ish restaurant rocked by a series of food safety scandals, needs a life-line. Actually, several of them.

Paris Chipotle by Maxlöh (Own work)
 via Wikimedia Commons
A few days ago, its chief creative and development officer, Mark Crumpacker, was charged with drug possession and ties to a cocaine delivery service. This isn't helpful for a nationwide chain that's struggling to rebuild trust with consumers after tainted food caused the chain to close several restaurants.

Chipotle's comeback strategy seemed to be going well. The stock only dropped 0.68% when Crumpacker got his mugshot. And, to be fair, Chipotle's spokesperson handled the boss' away-message as well as any PR person I've seen.

(I wrote about Chipotle's issues in late 2015, and again in January. Three's my limit. Honest.)

To mend its reputation, the company closed all its restaurants for a day to shock-train employees on food safety and quality. It launched a loyalty-card/reward program called "Chiptopia." And it paid for a public radio underwriting campaign that called attention to its quality ingredients.

But, with its creative guru on "leave," the company needs to catch a break. And a confusing loyalty program isn't the way to go.

Screen shot,
Reward programs, in general, baffle consumers. Staples will give you credit for used ink cartridges, but only if you buy replacement ink from Staples -- at 10-15% above other retailers' prices. Panera Bread has a rewards program, but most of the offers are for selected menu items, rather than something everyone wants: coffee or tea.

Chipotle's reward offerings include food items, as well as imprinted clothing. I don't know if Chipotle's reward members really wish to become walking billboards for the restaurant chain.

My key ring's laden with loyalty tags. But they aren't building relationships if there are too many confusing rules or offers. And a little plastic tag doesn't make me trust a restaurant, clothing store, or drug retailer as much as honest behavior.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Don't be Steve: relationships in PR

Public relations is often about building relationships. Some smart PR people get this. Others don't. For example:

"I know you're the special kind of person who wants to help other people."

I'm not sure if Steve Harrison really knows that. Or knows much about public relations, beyond providing all sorts of advice on how to get the attention of TV segment booking producers. That's what he sells on his website.

What I do know about Steve Harrison: he hasn't Clue One about respecting his potential customers. The five come-on emails he sent me over a two-hour period told me all I need to know about Steve's mastery of public relations. (I signed up for a webinar, recommended by a colleague. Not spam that rivals the barrage I got from FTD around Mother's Day.)

In a five-day span: 10 emails from Steve. Each as relentless and self-promoting as the last.

A TV studio control room.
By Wing1990hk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
I follow a few rules about public relations. Near the top: respecting the beleaguered editors, producers, and bloggers whose in-boxes are in the cross-hairs of every PR person looking to promote a product, service, or website. I'm not certain Steve's ever sat on their side of the assignment desk. But given the hay bale's worth of pitches he dropped on me last Monday, I'm betting he's pure pitch, and not too considerate of the hectic newsrooms most media gatekeepers must manager.

I told him as much, in a succinct email:

"The first rule of public relations is to earn the audience's trust. I've found that editors trust me, because I respect them -- and I don't carpet-bomb their email in-boxes.

"Four email blasts within one hour (from you) shows that you don't respect my time -- and may have trouble getting a message down to one new idea.

"Please be considerate of your audiences. I'm more likely to respond positively."

When I sent him these thoughts, I received an automated response:

"Hi ... Steve Harrison here.

"Thanks for emailing me.

"Unfortunately, due to the volume of email I receive I'm unable to respond to it all. A member of my staff does read all email and will respond if necessary.

"If you are writing about a replay of a call or webinar: I generally do not offer replays of these but on the rare occasion that I do rebroadcast one, you will receive an email inviting you if you are on my mailing list.

"If you are seeking more information about me and the various programs and classes we offer, the best place to start is my website..."

Steve's an "ABP" type of guy. Always Be Pitching. The sort of PR person who has no ability to listen.

But I'm not sharing Steve's website address. You can find it with ease, but I won't expend one electron plugging the website of someone with such disregard for my time, or for building relationships. 

That's not how PR works, Steve. Perhaps you need a refresher. If you are seeking more information about me and the various programs and classes we offer, the best place to start is my university's website. Because you have much to learn about building relationships.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Your best PR conference tip: try new experiences first

Last week, I attended the Public Relations Society of America's North East chapter regional conference (PRXNE 2016, if you like acronyms) in Boston. This created an opportunity to revert to Road Warrior driving mode, visit a Samuel Adams brewery on Germania Street, and explore the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum on the University of Massachusetts campus. (Free beer. Great Kennedy stuff, with a little Hemingway, too. No collisions. End of travelogue.)

Field research at the Samuel Adams Brewery, Boston.
Photo (c) DKassnoff, 2016.
At the conference, I learned about data-driven PR, information foraging, mobile PR, and -- my favorite -- harnessing the untapped power of belonging. (Kudos to Mike McDougall of McDougall Communications for a terrific presentation.) You can watch a presentation here, if you sign in.

Professionals should attend at least one PR conference a year. The industry evolves so quickly, but it's all about telling good stories for mission-driven clients and organizations. 

One important tip, however, didn't reveal itself in a cramped meeting room. (Really, UMass -- glorified closets masquerading as breakout spaces in the Campus Center? Real meeting rooms next time, please?)

A dozen or so PR colleagues from western New York attended, too. And I was happy to catch up. But after early coffee and chit-chat, I didn't sit with them for the rest of the day. 


Any professional conference or workshop should be about new experiences. So I joined PR practitioners from New Hampshire, Toronto, and Boston at most of the other gatherings. I likely missed some hometown PR gossip, but I came away with new contacts who shared ideas I hadn't heard before.

If you attend a PRSA chapter event -- or any networking opportunity -- my advice is to write down, in advance, three goals. And, when you arrive, don't make a beeline to familiar faces. Instead, find people you don't know. Introduce yourself, and dive in to a new experience.

Care to share a great conference tip? Please use the comment box below. Thank you.

Remember tronc? I'm not the only one.

By LuckyLouie at English Wikipedia
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In a prior blog post, I decried the jargon-packed news release that introduced "tronc," the befuddled new name for Tribune Publishing.

I wasn't the only one who thought: "What are these people trying to say?" NPR ran a story about it this morning. You can hear it here. 

The tronc CEO makes a point, I guess. But it's still not a brand strategy I'd embrace if I needed to promote my editorial content.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Michael Ferro and the Worst News Release. Ever.

To:  Michael Ferro, Chairman
      Tribune Publishing, a.k.a., tronc
cc: Blog Readers
Subject: Invitation: How to Communicate

Dear Mike:

I invite you and your communications team to drop by my office at the university. 

My schedule's
Chicago Tribune Building,
By Stuart Seeger [CC BY 2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
flexible 'til late August. But act fast. Because as your company transforms to some digital communications-moneymaking internet punchline, your recent news release tells me Tribune Publishing has lost its grasp of how to communicate in English.

Your June 2 news release, Tribune Publishing Announces Corporate Rebranding, Changes Name to Tronc, sets a new low in incomprehensible jargon. Experienced PR people write releases that readers will understand. The writer who pumped out this horrid excuse for a press release has no grasp of this. 

It's perfectly fine to re-brand a company. Gannett split into a print news media company called "Gannett," and Tegna, which focuses on broadcast and digital media (and sounds like a Swedish mouthwash). 

You may be in the communications business. But, your news release isn't. It's somewhere near the Andromeda galaxy:

"tronc, Inc., a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels." 

Congratulations on completely baffling your readers. Content curation? I hope that means someone's going to write or film stories, then edit and post them. Monetization? I've flunked students for grafting "-ization" and "-ize" to nouns. Every business wants to make money, Mike. Monetization? Please, lose this befuddling excuse for a real English word.

Last time I heard this much techno-babble, I was watching an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

I'm not providing a line-by-line, buzzword-by-buzzword dissection of your news release in this space. That's unfair to readers, Mike. You remember readers, don't you? They're the ones you hope will pay for the "world-class (buzzword) content" your newspapers and media properties produce. Drop by, we'll grab a conference room, and I'll show you why this spewage* is viewed by experienced public relations professionals as top contender for the Worst News Release. Ever.

Never mind those lambasting your choice of the lower-case brand name "tronc." ("Tronic," as in electronic, might have been a wiser choice.) But, call yourself whatever you like. FerroLand. FerroNews. Be creative. 

Never mind that you've hitched your media star to a so-called digital visionary, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, whom 60 Minutes portrayed in 2014 as a billionaire entrepreneur who makes more than his share of grandiose claims. (Reminds me of a certain presidential candidate, but with less pouting.)

These are your issues to solve, Mike. Mine are different. I care about saving the English language from jargon addicted hack writers like the one who cranked out your news release. 

So, my door's open. The nearest airport for your Gulfstream is in Hinsdale, NY, 15 miles from the campus. Call ahead, I'll come pick you up.

But, do it today. Because the internet has had a week's worth of fun at the expense of your rebranding announcement. 

And I plan to use your news release as Example One of What Not to Write in the public relations courses this fall.

*I wish I'd actually coined "spewage," but others have beaten me to it

Monday, May 30, 2016

In praise of homegrown news (the survival of weekly papers)

My first full-time reporting job came from a small weekly paper on Long Island. Called Suffolk Life, the paper served as the launch pad for the careers of a number of superb journalists and scholars. And me.

No one becomes wealthy working at a weekly paper. Because he couldn't pay me very much, the publisher, the late great Dave Wilmott, Jr., allowed me to gas up from the same ancient Esso-esque pump that filled his delivery trucks.

A few years later, as a public relations practitioner, I continued my appreciation of weeklies, especially when promoting lifestyle products and how to use them. My rationale: place a story in a daily paper, and that edition will likely be discarded when the next day's paper arrives. Place the same story in a weekly, and that paper lives in readers' homes for a full week before its replacement shows up. I get seven chances to grab your attention, not just one.

Local weeklies. (c) DKassnoff, 2016.
Today, Suffolk Life is out of business. And many weekly papers, consolidated into chains that have shareholders to answer to, are little more than glorified "shopping guides" or pennysavers. (One PR placement service still insists on calling them "suburban weeklies," even if they're nothing more than classified ads and bake sales.)

In my community, a chain that owns eight weeklies and one daily did away with all the weeklies' reporters, subsisting on columns provided by local elected officials, submitted photos taken by doting parents with dubious photographic skills, and news releases from local colleges. Another local weekly runs little more than copy provided by religion-based news services, except for a rare announcement of a new clergy appointment. And let's not even discuss the dubious quality of their online versions, where concepts such as responsive design have yet to take hold.

So, are weeklies still a viable PR channel?

Yes -- as  as long as there's a modest amount of locally written editorial content. Without an article or two written by local reporters, there's little motivation for readers to read a newspaper. The locally written articles provide a cloak of authenticity that extends to stories generated by legislators and PR operatives like me.

That's why I like the Hometown News of Honeoye, N.Y. True, it publishes the generic "Supervisor's Report" from town hall and news releases from the governor's office and the local state senator. But its editorial content also includes stories penned by local writers. I may not care as they do about Baltimore orioles (the birds, not the ballplayers), local crafters, or bear sightings -- but I appreciate that neighbors in the vicinity of Honeoye Lake feel compelled to write about them.

And, I hope, other readers care enough to read those stories, too.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Customer experiences in the paper clip empire

When a U.S. federal judge in early May told Staples and Office Depot/Office Max that their proposed merger was dead, I was busy grading papers. But now, a couple of weeks later, I say: "Good on ya," Judge Emmet G. Sullivan.

By Takkk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
I'm the guy personified in an old Staples TV ad, singing "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," when back-to-school supplies go on sale in late July. I've strolled the stationery aisles of independent drugstores, looking for a hard-to-find ink refill or discontinued ballpoint. (All-time favorite: Pilot's long-gone GX300.) And, I've been an advocate of Staples, because they often have what I need.

But not this time. True, a Staples/Office Depot merger would have better competed with Amazon and Wal-Mart in the office/home-office category. But it would've doomed many smaller stationers, and perhaps crippled the buying cooperatives that educators use to obtain affordable supplies for classrooms. The little stationery and costume store in Olean, NY -- The Paper Factory -- could become a casualty of a mega-merger.

Staples, without adding Office Depot, has plenty of work to do, in terms of customer experience. For one, the last time the two office supply giants tried a merger in 1997, they urged customers to "buy now," because the merger would mean higher prices.

And, despite more than a decade as a steady (if not loyal) Staples customer, the company still doesn't have Clue One about me or my email preferences. Their email blasts arrive at least once daily, with an average twice-a-week sale on Hewlett-Packard printer ink. If Staples looked at my purchase history -- which their rewards card program enables them to do -- they'd see I haven't bought (or owned) an H-P ink cartridge or printer since before the millennium.

One thing Staples gets right: their Twitter presence. When I asked for the option of receiving promo emails once a week, not daily, I received a respectful, pleasant response from their social media manager, who said they didn't offer that choice. But she'd pass the idea along to the merchandising team at Staples' Framingham, MA offices.

By User:Yskyflyer (own work (2 feet from my computer,
On my Desk)) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
Message to Staples: you've got the data. Look at what your customers buy and want. It's easy. (Yes, I did that.)

At some level, Staples knows how to listen to its customers. But in the wake of the discontinued merger, significant improvements in the company's customer experience efforts aren't coming anytime soon.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Sports Authority's last shot

News item: Sports Authority, once a thriving sporting goods superstore, announced yesterday it's closing all 450 stores. Drowning in $1 billion in debt, the chain -- and its 14,000-plus employees -- are history.

And so is its inventory of snake shot. More on this in a moment.

By BrokenSphere (Own work) [GFDL  CC BY-SA 3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
More nimble sports merchandisers figured out how to do what Sports Authority couldn't. Dick's Sporting Goods created a somewhat upmarket experience (read: firearms and golf stores-inside-the-store) that Sports Authority couldn't match.

And, if you're a die-hard fan of a particular team, there's no limit to the number of online sellers of numbered jerseys.

No one wants to see less competition in the marketplace. Competition means pricing strategies that can benefit consumers (who may already be saving for their next pair of $200 LeBrons). But a quick visit to Sports Authority's web page shows they offered the same FitBits and Nikes sold everywhere.

Was there a compelling reason to visit Sports Authority?

For me, yes. Although its store in my town closed years ago, it served my need -- or, rather, my dad's -- about 20 years ago. He called from Florida, asking if I could buy him ammunition for his handgun. Something called "snake shot," which he needed for, well, killing snakes on his heavily wooded property.

Few local gun shops in my northeast town carried this particular ammo, but Sports Authority believed all its stores across the U.S. needed this ammo to control the snake population.

I bought boxes of the stuff, shipped it down to Florida, and delighted my dad, who ostensibly went out to dispatch many serpents to oblivion. If he were around today, dad could simply order snake shot online, rather than ask his non-shooter son to track down the odd-looking shells. But it made a good story -- especially the part where I sweated how to send ammunition through the U.S. Mail without arousing suspicion.

Thanks for the memory, Sports Authority.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Mother's Day reality ignored

There's just one so-called killer app. It's email. It's pervasive, cheap, and often relentless.

And, in late April and early May, it becomes utterly tone deaf. 

I began receiving email* promotions from marketers for Mother's Day deals a few weeks ago. They've steadily increased in frequency. And in stupidity, as in: "Mom really wants a digital SLR outfit." (Words never uttered in any household in my family. Ever.)

(Note: this isn't about the new Garry Marshall ensemble comedy, Mother's Day. I'm talking the real Mother's Day, May 8. Which is right around the corner. So get cracking.)

By Frank Mayne from London, UK
(Clara's Card) [CC BY-SA 2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
While there are women for whom I'd buy Mother's Day cards, gifts or flowers, my mother is not among them. She died in 2013. (The woman in the stock photo is not her.)

And every email pitch with "Mother's Day" in the subject line is a jagged-knife reminder of her absence. I'm likely overly sensitive to this, but I've severed ties with online retailers whose relentless, thrice-daily emails reminded me "It's not too late to buy a gift for Mom."

Yes, it is, FTD.

I refuse FTD's emails. Their thoughtless, attack-style approach to email marketing lost them a customer. Perhaps many customers. And nothing will lure me back. 

You may have another point of view. And, that's fine. You may even find promo emails from online marketers for Mother's Day beneficial. I hope you have the opportunity to celebrate the occasion with warm hugs, construction-paper greeting cards, and laughter.

Many of us cannot. And, a ceaseless barrage of Mother's Day promo emails from online marketers is an admission that they have no sensitivity in building relationships with customers.

*The Associated Press' rule is that "email" requires no hyphen.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A digital tattoo that can't be removed

We all have photos and moments from our past we'd rather forget. They show up online when we least expect them, like an un-scrubbable digital tattoo. On Facebook. On Instagram. On Twitter.

Mine aren't as bad as others. I once played John Hancock in a community theatre production of 1776. And despite my best efforts, a photo of me in that powdered wig surfaces every now and then. (It could be worse; it's not a photo of me with my own hair.)

It's a digital shadow I can't elude. But it likely won't affect my professional reputation. Unless it appears on LinkedIn.

Jian Ghomeshi photo by Canadian Film Centre from
Toronto, Canada (ideaBOOST Launch Pad
May 8, 2014) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I'm better able to move forward from that awkward powdered-wig image than Jian Ghomeshi, the former CBC radio host whose career imploded when, in 2014, multiple women accused him of harsh sexual behavior. CBC dismissed Ghomeshi from his talk program "Q" (heard on public radio stations across the U.S. and Canada). Newspapers and websites published sensational, lurid accounts of Ghomeshi's rough sex tendencies, even before the trial where the accusers would testify.

A few weeks ago, with less fanfare than Ghomeshi received when the story first broke, a judge dismissed the charges against the former broadcaster. Details of the trial decision appeared in this article.

My view: Ghomeshi's likely guilty of some abusive behavior. And, as a public figure, he should have known better. Most celebrities learn that a national microphone or stage comes with an extra dose of public scrutiny. The trial judge determined that several witnesses were deceptive in disclosing details of their relationships with Ghomeshi, and he dodged even more trouble.

But don't listen for his voice to return to your public radio station. Unlike an embarrassing photo, his digital tattoo -- heavily inked with inferences of predatory sexual behavior -- can't be scrubbed or bleached away.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ethics on an Etch-a-Sketch

There's a short list of technology companies whose products I will never buy.

This isn't a "Buy American" rant, but it has plenty to do with how tech companies manage -- or mismanage -- their reputations.

I don't buy Hewlett Packard products. Partly for the shoddy treatment bestowed on former EDS workers (with whom I'm personally acquainted) acquired when H/P bought the company. Partly because H/P's board of trustees engaged in spying on employees and each other. Partly because an H/P CEO was dismissed in 2011 for "fudging expense reports" -- corporate-codetalk for using company funds on an inappropriate relationship.

By Etcha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
or GFDL via Wikimedia Commons
None of these events means H/P makes poor technology products. To me, however, it's indicative of a company that applies its profits irresponsibly. And I don't want dime one spent in support of a company whose ethics are written on an Etch-a-Sketch.

Similarly, electronics maker Toshiba never appears on my list of preferred brands. This week, the company's eroding fortunes have forced it to sell its medical imaging business to rival Canon -- a direct fallout of its 2015 scandal, when Toshiba's leadership was accused of manipulating its books, and its CEO resigned.

Toshiba is a serial offender. As far back as the 1980s, the company engaged in duplicitous behavior, illegally selling U.S. technology to the Soviet Union.

You can often buy Toshiba's laptops and gadgets at discounts from U.S. retailers, but I'm prepared to spend a few dollars more for comparable products that don't come with a veil of scandal. And I have abundant choices.

From a public relations perspective: this has everything to do with reputation management. An unblemished reputation won't compel me to buy your product all buy itself. But it will earn you a spot on my short list of manufacturers. Which neither H/P or Toshiba now hold.

Each could behave more ethically, and tell us about their steps to mend their ways. And each has yet to convince us they're able to change their behaviors.

I'm willing to buy from companies that behave ethically, and live up to a set of values that aren't written on an Etch-a-Sketch.

(Note: this post does not reflect upon any current candidate for national office. Although checking the ethical track records of these candidates might be in the best interest of every reader.)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Let's outlaw passive voice in newswriting

News item provided by the Associated Press, repeated by a local public broadcasting affiliate: "The Russell Station power generation plant, an iconic landmark near the Lake Ontario shoreline outside Rochester, is being torn down."

Russell Station photo by RChappo2002, via
Flickr (Creative Commons License 2.0).

The "is being torn down" is Exhibit One in the case of the AP tearing down journalistic writing. Passive voice -- leaning on a wobbly "to be" verb instead of an active verb -- weakens any writing.

Marketing communications and public relations agencies will cough up the occasional passive-verb hairball in news releases. For example: a release from the Del Prado law firm relies on "has been serving" instead of "has served." This suggests that neither the agency or MyPRGenie has newswriting skill.

AP and other news organizations shouldn't fall into the same trap. It creates flabby, dull writing that makes readers ask: why should I care?

Instead of this:  The Russell Station power generation plant, an iconic landmark near the Lake Ontario shoreline outside Rochester, is being torn down. Crews have begun demolishing the facility located in the Monroe County town of Greece. 

How about this: Crews this week started demolishing the landmark Russell Station power plant near Lake Ontario, just north of Rochester, NY.

I opted for immediacy and fewer words. I also dropped the windy "iconic" descriptor. The Colosseum in Rome and the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur are iconic. The Russell Station plant looks much the same as any other smokestack coal-fired power plant from the 1940s. It's a landmark, in the sense that it's visible to passing boaters and motorists, and hard to confuse with other structures on that area of the Lake Ontario shoreline.

Come on, AP. Before you deride lame PR writing, please outlaw your dependence on passive verbs. Thank you.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Shaking the dust off an old murder case

2003 Surveillance image of Xerox Federal Credit Union
assailant, provided via Webster (NY) Police Dept. web
page at
I'm a college professor, not a reporter. But I may or may not have had something to do with getting a 13-year-old murder case back in gear.

Eight weeks ago, I dug up details of a 2003 bank robbery and murder at a Xerox credit union branch in Webster, NY. A Xerox employee, Raymond Batzel, was killed. The killer fled and was never found.

My reporting days are well behind me, but I wanted to use the case in a journalism class I teach at St. Bonaventure University. The idea was to get students to think about who they'd call to get updates on a case no one had reported on for almost a decade. (Most of the officers and others connected with the case have moved on.)

During my research, I emailed the police chief in Webster, NY, and the FBI's Buffalo office. The FBI responded first, telling me the Webster Police are the lead agency on the investigation -- and the FBI have no comment. The Webster police chief replied by phone, a few days later, confirming that the case was still "active."

This morning (March 21), the FBI held a news conference announcing a reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the robber/killer. Few substantive details were disclosed; we still don't know how much cash was taken.

This in no ways suggests that either law enforcement agency wasn't on top of the case. I have no knowledge of their investigation, and I doubt they'd tell me anything useful. News media hadn't touched the story since 2008. Remember, I'm a college professor, not a reporter.

However, I'd like to think I helped shake a little dust off a cold case, and that the investigation moves forward to apprehend a violent felon.

Celebrity Apprentice politics -- and how to beat Trump

Editors of a student publication asked me: "If you were hired to take attention and support away from (Donald) Trump in the presidential campaign, what would you do? And how would you go about doing this?"

Across my career, my engagements in political PR were minimal. Most of my corporate and not-for-profit clients had little political interest. But the editors' questions made me wonder: is taking away Trump's bluster and strong-arm tactics the best path forward?

Tom Selleck photo by Alan Light [CC BY 2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Here's what I shared with the editors:

The challenge with “taking interest away from Trump” is that it’s impossible. He spent years cultivating his personal brand through his Celebrity Apprentice TV series and phoning news-talk shows on radio and TV. So the entire country believes it “knows” Donald Trump.

In other words: Trump's campaign is not based on ideology, GOP dogma, or an electorate allegedly disenchanted by the major parties' machinations. He has no real workable ideas, or strategists who can help craft policy suitable for a global leader; traits by which most authentic leaders are judged.

Trump's only strength is his celebrity. He's a media darling who knows how to wrap news media around his (insert your favorite size euphemism here) fingers. Those over-enthusiastic attendees aren't packing Trump's rallies because of his brilliant ideas about walls or deportation. They're hoping a WWE-style fight breaks out, complete with John Cena and a guest star.

It's all about our country's preoccupation with celebrity.

Back to the GOP's case. A workable solution might be to draft a highly regarded GOP leader – House Speaker Paul Ryan, or perhaps Sen. John McCain – who have records of public service. Both are familiar to the national electorate from their past campaigns. 

Or, as a true dark horse option, enlist a GOP-affiliated actor who’s widely admired. Tom Selleck leaps to mind. He's generally well-liked, with a TV and media pedigree that pre-dates Trump's by at least a decade. Unlike Trump's resort properties, Selleck owns a ranch, like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

 And he knows how to drive a Ferrari. Sounds promising.

Properly focused, the GOP would need to concentrate its messaging and resources on persuading an uncommitted “moveable middle” segment of the GOP faithful who find the prospect of a Trump presidency unacceptable: voters unimpressed by empty threats.

I hope those voters watch Blue Bloods or repeats of Magnum, P.I.

Full disclosure: I did have a near-brush with Trump's celebrity in my corporate PR life. See below. It's pretty awful.

Monday, March 14, 2016

You're not going to like the way this looks

(The following post is 100% free of political commentary. But it does mention a few blowhards.)

When's the last time you bought a well-made suit? Not the Haggar separates some retailers sell, but a good suit that would last a few years, until fashion dictums made it obsolete?

Probably not anytime recently. Casual Fridays at many businesses extended to Casual Everydays. Which, outside of Wall Street, law firms, and TV anchor desks, usually meant fewer suits and ties. My last suit was hand-tailored with Italian silk, and cost the equivalent of a mortgage payment. I don't need to buy another suit anytime soon.

This only partially explains why Tailored Brands, the parent company of Men's Wearhouse and Joseph A. Bank, announced last week that 250 of its 1,500 stores would close this year. Not good news for a brand that had some cachet with consumers.

By Ed!(talk)(Hall of Fame) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Tailored Brands' CEO reported last week that year-over-year sales dropped by a third, in the wake of the company dropping promotions and sales that the Bank stores famously promoted. Offering three free suits if you bought one at full price sounded like a great idea. Except men wear fewer suits and sport jackets at work today, so four suits could last for years. Assuming leisure suits don't make a sudden comback.

Tailored Brands made a tough decision to scale back promotions, disregarding the painful lesson J.C. Penney learned in 2012-2013, when its CEO did away with the sales shoppers had grown to love. After the company cratered, Penney ditched its sale-free strategy and Ron Johnson, the CEO who forgot that consumers like a sale.

Even ex-Men's Wearhouse Chairman George Zimmer saw disaster lurking. He told Bloomberg Business that buying the Joe Bank stores was a bad decision: “They had a problem,” Zimmer said. “Joe Bank had really damaged their brand over a number of years by running incessant promotions so that nobody wanted to go there and pay regular price.”

Consumers want sales -- or, at minimum, the idea of getting a great deal. That's a hard habit to break. And Tailored Brands may have sold its investors on the wisdom of ditching the 3-for-1 deals, but it didn't talk or listen to consumers, whose interest in worsted wools had declined to the point where it required prodding in today's Casual Workplace world.

The rag business isn't easy. But, there's still a source of good-looking suits, offered by a would-be presidential candidate -- who, for better or worse, knows how to tell an audience what it wants to hear.

Monday, February 29, 2016

How to Create a Smart Social Media Policy

A while ago, I chided a PR and social media communications agency for the so-so quality of their promotional videos on YouTube.

But, it wasn't all bad. In the video below, Steve, one of their social media gurus, talks about how to create a social media policy. He mentions getting counsel from attorneys, minding government regulations, and taking into account the organization's HR needs. All fine, up to a point.

However, he leaves out a few essentials that most organizations need to consider when crafting a social media policy -- and the strategy that goes with it:
  • What's the goal of the organization's social media effort? Do all employees understand that the company's Twitter feed isn't a place to complain about internal policies, or a poor outing by the New York Rangers?
  • What about looking at social media policies other organizations have adopted? What's worked, and what hasn't? (Applebee's fumble with the storefront pastor in 2013 leaps to mind.) 
  •  What about listening?
Of these, listening is the single-most valuable benefit of social media. What are your customers saying?

Most effective communication strategies require two-way engagement: sharing your messages, and listening for consumers' responses. A smart organization will consider what it's heard, and adjust its outbound messaging to reflect the insights collected via the listening process. 

Or it may feed those learnings up to the marketing decision-makers, who'll determine if changes in paid or online ads -- or other practices -- need to take place. 

Either way, the two-way communications gained via a social media initiative can be instrumental in guiding the company's public persona. And that's why listening should be baked into the social media policy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Why we can't have nice things

I wish I knew why local politicians can't figure out that they're soiling their reputations -- and that of their communities -- over truly insignificant banter.

Continuum Generation in Photonic Crystal Fibre. Photo by
Jean-Christophe, Michel, Delagnes (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 4.0  via Wikimedia Commons
Ongoing disagreements between a low-level state Assemblyman and the leader of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute threaten to erode support for the much-lauded American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics in Rochester, if you listen to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The AIM Photonics Institute, funded with state and federal dollars, may bring thousands of jobs to New York's Finger Lakes Region. But, if you listen to the Governor, the squabble places the project at risk.

I want to believe that greater Rochester has the ability to rise above petty disputes over projects that might strengthen the area's choppy economy. But it took more than 10 years to secure federal funding and a real plan to build a new train station as local leaders argued over whether it should include a bus garage.

And it took several years of notorious Rochester haranguing over a combination transit center/community college/performing arts center before the project was scuttled.

Bickering. Squabbling. Pointless arguments. All working together to create an image of a town where infighting and egos prevent Rochester from growing beyond its limitations.

I don't care for churlishness, especially when it involves grown adults who promised leadership but instead argue like children in a schoolyard. I'm even more embarassed when Governor Cuomo raises attention for such silliness with editors on a statewide media call.

Ask in Albany, Buffalo, or Binghamton: what's Rochester reputation? I suspect I won't hear a positive response.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lazy news: expressway to obsolescence

Public relations people are accustomed to news outlets using only a portion of their news releases. Often, editors and producers publish only the essential facts, just enough to fill a news hole.

Paul Hermans from nl [GFDL
 or CC-BY-SA-3.0, from
Wikimedia Commons
When broadcast news producers do this, they often direct viewers and listeners to their websites for the fuller story. This saves air time or news print.

But, when there's only a truncated version of the information, it tells me I'm a victim of lazy journalism. One example: a recent news item from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, announcing $35 million in construction grants to a number of private colleges. 

One Rochester TV station's online story listed an incomplete handful of colleges receiving these funds, including Rochester Institute of Technology. Emphasize the local angle? Sure. Except several other local colleges -- among them St. John Fisher College and Nazareth College -- also got gifts from Cuomo. In all, more than two dozen colleges and universities are getting grants from the state. Not just the seven on the TV station's web page.

Here's the thing: I had to track down the full list of colleges receiving grants on the governor's website. Which took me less than 30 seconds -- and I haven't worked in a newsroom in decades.

Thirty seconds that the TV station's web producer couldn't find time to do. Or even provide a link for viewers to follow.

That's lazy journalism. No excuses. Blaming the AP, which fed the story to the local TV outlet, doesn't absolve the local producer from taking half-a-minute to find the full story, including all the colleges and the dollar amounts they received. 

Just as I did.

Look, if you want me to do my own newsgathering, that's fine. I'll stop visiting your station's website or your newspaper's pages and no longer deal with your incomplete reporting and nuisance pop-up ads. I'll use Flipboard, Google News, or Facebook's nascent news app to view news that's important to me.

If you cut corners or file an incomplete story, that's your choice. But not bothering to give your audience a complete story that requires virtually no editorial lifting is just slacking. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Dolls as more than role models (Sudafed Edition)

Mattel, amid a splashy announcement of new, more anatomically responsible Barbie dolls, introduced a Barbie doll modeled after soccer superstar Abby Wambach last week.

Abby Wambach (at  left), by Harvardton (Own work)
 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Most media in western New York -- Wambach's hometown is suburban Rochester -- gushed over the big toymaker's announcement. Picking up on Wambach's Twitter posts, reporters marveled at Mattel's recognition of her sports accomplishments by creating an Abby doll. 

Not one reporter, however, asked if Mattel's celebration of Wambach would include some corporate support of U.S. Women's Soccer, the team her heroics helped build.

It's a fair question. At least as viewed through my current Sudafed-affected head congestion. One an insightful reporter should have asked, but apparently didn't.

In fact, Mattel's corporate philanthropy track record speaks well of its support of play, both active and passive. Its philanthropy web pages, while a couple of years out of date, highlight many contributions and grants to a variety of programs and hospitals supporting the needs of children. Including $13 million in cash and $8 million in retail value of toys, in 2013.

As a two-time Olympic champion and 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, the recently retired Wambach is more than a role model for girls and young women. She's now an influencer. And getting her likeness on a Wheaties box or a Barbie doll is strong evidence of her impact on women's soccer. It also represents an opportunity to leverage attention toward the struggles of the U.S. Women's Soccer team, which now must grow its brand without Abby.

A cause marketing pledge from Mattel -- say, 15% of profits from sales of Abby Barbies going to support her former team, now locked in a labor dispute with U.S. Soccer -- would have more impact than simply marketing a doll in a white No. 20 jersey.

(Note: my nagging sinus malady is receding, and I will be back to full throttle soon. Thank you.)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Standing ready amid corporate mitosis

When Xerox' CEO announced last week that her company would split into two businesses in an attempt to save itself, local leaders leapt into PR action to reassure the community.

And achieved little.

Bob Duffy, a former Rochester mayor and former lieutenant governor, scrambled a news conference. Now head of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, he told reporters that his Chamber "stands ready" to aid Xerox and/or laid-off employees. Newly elected County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo made a similar "stand ready" promise.
Xerox sponsor decals on Ducati 999 racing motorcycle.
By StealthFX [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This metaphorical "standing ready" means: zero.

Ursula Burns, the Xerox CEO, has so far downplayed the layoffs issue. But Duffy and Dinolfo tried to reassure the community without advance knowledge of Xerox's decision. For that matter, Xerox failed to first inform its own employees before the news leaked to the media. So more than a few people were blindsided by this "divide the baby in two" news. 

Backstory: Xerox had an outsourcing business, XBS. The company bought Texas-based ACS to grow the outsourcing business, which sometimes involved placement of Xerox technology in clients' operations. The experiment didn't work, and the ACS business will be spun off. 

Many Xerox friends have been eye-witnesses to the company's struggles against nimble competitors. I hope those friends keep their jobs as Xerox attempts corporate mitosis as a survival tactic. 

What can be done to help Xerox employees whose jobs may vanish? Duffy's Chamber has a modest recruitment subsidiary, RBA Staffing, that might assist a few Xerox workers in finding new jobs. The County didn't roll out robust job placement or retraining programs when Bausch & Lomb or Kodak imploded, and they didn't imply they'd do it now. (Existing state-funded programs served those disaffected employees.)

As for "standing ready?" A nice sentiment, but not very actionable. Leaders of county and commerce should have been in dialogue with Xerox leadership months ago. So it might be wise to look at other area companies in stressful situations, and start talking with them before the next surprise announcement.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Revisiting the battle of burritos

News item: Chipotle will hold an all-employee meeting Feb. 8, closing its doors to the public while engaging executives and workers in real time on issues stemming from its recent food-borne illness crisis.

Not a bad idea. A food safety crisis crippled Chipotle's business for the fourth quarter of 2015, with mysterious outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest and New England. A month ago, I praised the upfront, take-responsibility approach of co-CEO Steve Ells, who went on network TV news shows to publicly apologize for the restaurant chain's problems.

Getting all employees on the same page, even for an hour, reflects Chipotle's commitment to following through on its promises. And the move has potential PR benefits, as the employee meetings demonstrate that the chain is taking serious steps to address its problems.

Will this persuade me to visit the Chipotle eatery in my town? I've only eaten at one Chipotle, years ago, before the chain's rapid growth. And it didn't make enough of an impression to lure me to other Chipotles afterward.

At the same time, I'm wondering if other fast-food chain restaurants might benefit by holding all-employee meetings of their own. Most organizations appreciate the value of employee engagement efforts, and face-to-face meetings are a proven tactic. 

One hurdle: you'd need to close your doors for an hour to hold all-team meetings. And do so more than once a year. Which means turning away consumers in search of hot breakfast burritos or Egg McMuffins. 

But, when I read about hourly employees coming to blows at a nearby Taco Bell, I'm thinking that closing the drive-through window for a one- or two-hour chat would be in the best interests of workers, management, the organization's brand, and consumers.

Because the fast-food business is struggling to keep health-conscious consumers as it is. And no one wants a breakfast crunchwrap prepared by an employee with an axe to grind.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Causewave: New name, new mission

Last week, my pal Dresden Engle invited me to a big reveal: the re-branding of the Ad Council of Rochester to Causewave Community Partners.

The old Ad Council organization, founded decades ago by an advertising manager at Eastman Kodak Co., orchestrated community-wide campaigns that grew awareness for water pollution, distracted driving, and other important issues. And it helped dozens of not-for-profit organizations earn visibility in regional media.

The fresh branding helps Causewave differentiate itself from other regional Advertising Councils, as well as the national Ad Council.

Now, about the organization's causes:

At the event, I met a few PR professionals who are on the high side of age 50. They had that look; they were networking, looking for contacts who might help them find job opportunities. These pros were in the minority; most of the Causewave celebrants were much younger.

As a demographic snapshot, the job seekers were older, with salt-and-pepper hair and a subtle vibe of Henry David Thoreau's quiet desperation. This mirrored my experience in 2013, when poorly veiled ageism stalled my career pursuits. I got lucky, but not after a long string of thanks-but-no-thanks rejections.

So, here's a proposal for Causewave's agenda of "collective impact" issues: Fight ageism in the workplace. Call on corporations, agencies, and marketers to seriously recruit beyond the 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings in its kickoff audience. Enlist owners and presidents of Causewave's partner organizations in an initiative to hire experienced advertising and PR pros.

Why? Because affordable health care and medical advances mean people are living longer. So the target demographic for many consumer products and services now skews older.

And smart marketing communication strategies ought to employ strategists who know the 50-plus demographic better than people half their ages.

Monday, January 11, 2016

In need of a hot shower

Photo by DO'Neil via Wikimedia Commons.
I need a shower. Right now. Maybe I can scrub away the stench of this story.

Sexual harassment is beyond shameful. It's criminal. The women who accused entertainer Bill Cosby of sexual assault are at last being taken seriously.

But we're kidding ourselves if we think such behavior is limited to realms of entertainment or politics. It's a widespread, heinous practice. 

Even in the PR industry.

Look no further than last month's imbroglio involving D.C.-based PR executive Trevor FitzGibbon, whose agency's client list included Amnesty International, Wikileaks, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Less than a month after several women voiced claims of sexual harassment or sexual assault against Mr. FitzGibbon -- including a female job applicant from whom he solicited nude photos -- FitzGibbon Media shuttered its doors

And the agency's 29 employees were left jobless a few days before Christmas, through no malfeasance of their own. One told PR Week:

"The way it has been handled is uncool, our emails were cut off immediately and there has been no severance pay for anyone. It sucks that people are out of a job just before Christmas."

To their credit, most of FitzGibbon's ex-staff crafted and signed a statement that said, in part:

"For decades, Trevor presented himself a champion of the progressive movement, claiming to support and respect women and feminist issues, from equal pay to reproductive rights, but his actions prove a hypocrisy so great that FitzGibbon Media closed its doors today, as we could no longer continue working under his leadership” ... “We lost our jobs standing up for what’s right, to ensure a safe workplace for all – and while we may have been left without jobs, benefits and long-term healthcare, we have our integrity and each other.”

We tend to overlook the collateral damage from one person's sexual misconduct. In this case, FitzGibbon's employees are also victims of one PR pro's disregard of ethics or responsibility. Those who signed the statement demonstrate a strong grasp of the importance of integrity and ethics. 

More, apparently, than their former boss.

Now, where's the soap?