May 08

Sunday Coffee Contemplations: Election Commercials Killed Creativity

Image of businessman hand holding election symbol with number 2016

Brace yourself: it’s election season, and advertisers are beginning to demonstrate an absolute lack of imagination by trotting out election-themed commercials, led by Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken. As if the real politicians aren’t off-putting enough, we’re now forced to endure fake election debates over the merits of food that many of us don’t eat at all. Why?

Creativity, where on earth have you gone? Why did you leave us in a commercial land littered with creepy mascots, pharmaceutical commercials for conditions normally not discussed outside of bathrooms or doctors’ exam rooms (opiod constipation, anyone?), and spots that run so frequently they can forever ruin even the best song. I always cringe when I hear a favorite song being used for a commercial, and I go into instant avoidance mode. When Pharrell’s “Happy” was the hot hit of the day, I refused to listen to it for weeks. Every time I heard the opening notes, I either changed the channel or muted the TV. Not what the advertisers had in mind, I’m sure. Now it appears to be Comcast’s turn. Not even their nod to the obnoxiousness of their X1 Entertainment Operating System commercials can save it. It’s enough to send me fleeing to online streaming services.

The online world has its own commercial problems, with ads that persist in popping up and refuse to obey the desperate clicking on the X button in whatever distant corner it’s hiding in. Would that we could do the same with these election-themed commercials.

Apr 24

Return’d So Soon! And Other Sunday Coffee Contemplations

So I’m back. It’s been a while – well over a year – since a new post appeared on this blog. Hell, it’s been almost a

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

year since this blog was even visible. Life – and hackers – happened, and since I’m totally reliant on my husband’s good graces and computer abilities and persistence to finally rescue this blog, I’ve spent a long time away.

Instead of writing about writing and PR, I’ve been spending my time teaching it. I’ve found that teaching writing is so much more difficult than actually doing it. It’s much more fun to critique others than to do the heavy lifting of writing yourself. And especially after the break of more than a year. So I’ve been sitting here for well over an hour, hiding behind my oversized mug of coffee and trying to avoid the moment when fingers meet keys.

The hardest part of blogging is thinking of something to write about. It’s not for lack of ideas, rather the opposite. How to pick just one of the things that pop into my head on a constant basis? I spend a lot of time staring at a blank screen, usually muttering things under my breath that my mother wouldn’t approve of. So in honor of the rebirth of this blog, procrastinating writers everywhere, and to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, here’s a couple of classic insults from the god of English writing to use the next time you’re stuck for inspiration:

“I am sick when I do look on thee.” From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene I

“Thou art a boil, a plague sore.” From King Lear, Act II, Scene II

“Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive rooting hog!” From Richard III, Act I, Scene III

Stalling and insults only work for so long, though. Getting back in the writing habit is going to be tough. Not that I don’t write normally, but that’s work writing. Writing for me, writing for the sheer pleasure of it, now that’s going to take a bit of effort to get back into the habit. So it’ s going to take baby steps to redevelop the habit. So for now, it’s enough to say, “I’m back!” Or, as the Bard himself said so much better in a different Comedy of Errors,

“Return’d so soon! Rather approached too late: the capron burns, the pig falls from the spit, the clock hath strucken twelve upon the bell; my mistress made it one upon my cheek: she is hot because the meat is cold; the meat is cold because you have no stomach, you have no stomach, having broke your fast; but we, that know what ’tis to fast and pray, are pentent for your default today.”


Aug 22

AMEC’s PR Measurement Week in New York a Rare Opportunity

The International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) is joining with PR heavyweights Cision and Vocus to staging Measurement Week in New York September 15th to 19th, with the goal of Monitoring cyclebridging the gap between understanding the value of PR measurement and actual practice. The event will feature more than 16 speakers who are experts in measurement and analytics across PR and communications, representing industries such as media, higher education, healthcare, technology and more. It’s featuring some of the biggest names in PR measurement, including Heidi Sullivan, Shonali Burke, Allyson Hugley, Mark Schaeffer, Chris Penn, and many others.

The need for PR measurement is something I’ve harped on for years, and I am insanely envious that I can’t attend this event, falling as it does right at the middle of the college term. Especially since it’s FREE – and if you’ve ever paid to attend some of the other premier PR events, you can appreciate what it means to have access to a whole week’s worth of these presentations.

This major event has the potential to be a positive development for the PR profession, IF….

  • If people in this profession take advantage of this opportunity to hear firsthand from the biggest names in the field of PR measurement.
  • If those who attend start insisting on the use of valid measurement tools, and ditch such misleading pseudo tools as advertising value equivalency.
  • If PR people wake up and realize that measurement, research and evaluation is NOT optional anymore.
  • If those who organized this event remember that not everyone can afford to pay thousands of dollars in fees for the big PR vendors, and incorporate practical measurement tools for the lower budget programs.

My one concern about this event is that AMEC is an organization made up of the heavy hitters in the profession, and I doubt that measurement will really take hold until we sell it at the grass roots level – with smaller organizations, individual practitioners, and at the collegiate level, with academics and adjunct faculty taking at least a share of the lead on this issue. But this is a good opportunity, and I encourage you to take advantage of it if you can. IF you get to go, come back and let us know how it goes. I’m hoping for a repeat next summer (hint, hint) in Chicago.

Registration is required and is now open at Cision’s website.


Aug 14

Edelman’s Bad Public Relations In Robin Williams Blog Post

We all have one of those family members. You know, the one who has absolutely no social skills? They tell inappropriate stories, butt into the middle of other people’s conversations, or have to always redirect the conversation to themselves? Those people exist in the business world as well, and all too often it’s PR execs who are guilty. In this case, it’s Edelman Public Relations’ New York office and a poorly timed blog post:

 “As we mourn the loss of Robin Williams to depression, we must recognize it as an opportunity to engage in a national conversation,”  wrote Lisa Koviz, executive vice president of Edelman. “His death yesterday created a carpe diem moment for mental health professionals and those people who have suffered with depression and want to make a point about the condition and the system that treats it. There’s a very careful line they need to walk so as to not seem exploitive of a terrible situation but at the same time, it is a national teachable moment that shouldn’t be ignored. (We too are balancing that line with this post.) “

It’s hard to find something newsworthy about your clients all the time, even in this seemingly endless world of media everywhere. You have to be constantly alert for appropriate opportunities where the clients and products/services you rep can contribute useful information that promotes them effectively. But if there’s one ironclad rule in the PR world, it’s don’t try to make money off of someone’s tragedy. Unfortunately, in the wake of Robin Williams’ passing, Edelman forgot to check with its own crisis PR team before publishing the blog post in question, and the response has been all too predictable. Gawker called Edelman a “soulless PR conglomerate.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with what Kovitz wrote, even if how it reads made me cringe. PR firms across the country are telling their clients exactly the same thing. If you are in the field of mental health services, or Parkinson’s, you absolutely have information and expertise that can help people trying to learn more about this tragedy, and you might need help getting that information to those who need it. What Kovitz did wrong is that in the rush to get relevant information out on this blog post, she didn’t stop to consider her audience, and how they would react. She raced right past that” line” she mentions without ever slowing down:

At Edelman, we are in the business of helping our clients create or join public conversations. We know that appropriate organizations can elevate a public conversation to help those in need. We and our clients can learn from this situation.

True? Yes. Tactless? Yes. Salesy? Definitely, and not appropriately phrased. People are grieving Robin Williams’ death in a way not normally seen for a public figure. All you have to do is scroll through Facebook, or search the Internet on Williams’ name to see that. The death of anyone is not the time for a sales pitch for your business. Period. Not even if you are a funeral home. And as a PR firm, Edelman should know that. This blog post would have been better utilized in direct message to the firm’s clients, and down the road, it could have been used in a blog post once people have had the chance to grieve. But not now, when people’s emotions are still raw.

Using someone’s death as an opportunity to instruct clients on how to position themselves in the best way to benefit from the public “conversation’ is callous and tactless. Kovitz acknowledged to that this post was originally an internal memo, that they “believed it was worth surfacing more broadly given how the news cycle was progressing”

Making matters worse is that Kovitz didn’t even have the manners to express condolences to the Williams family, not even in the apology that was belatedly tacked on to the original post and distributed via Twitter:

 Edelman Tweet

Seriously? Do you really think anyone believes this? If you didn’t intend to capitalize on Williams’ death, then why are you advising clients how to use it to gain attention? “At Edelman, we are in the business of helping our clients create or join public conversations.”

As commentator Erin Blaskie (@ErinBlaskie) said in an AdWeek article: “This isn’t a PR opportunity. This is someone’s life lost.” At a time like this, companies should be trying to help people, not sell people. You’ll gain a lot more respect and goodwill – and future clients – that way.

Jul 02

Just a Public Relations Move

It happened today. Someone I have known closely over 20 years, and who is VERY familiar with what I do for a living and what public relations is, actually said the evil words: “They just did it as a PR move,” when referring to a cosmetic action made by his employer to avoid making a substantial operational move that was badly needed.

That he said it was bad enough. That he said it to ME is worse. That he said it automatically, without thought, is horrible. When I called him on it, he dug himself deeper by saying, “you know what I meant.” Yes, I did know what he meant. I knew EXACTLY what he meant. And I seethed for quite a while afterward. I stewed over how to communicate just how much that hurt, coming as it did from one person I would trust completely. Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 22

Putting a Foundation Under a Writing Dream

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
― Henry David ThoreauWalden

Anyone who knows me has heard me vent about the quality of writing in many of the public relations students I teach, and the issues I have with the textbook we use in class. I have spent the past several years collecting articles to supplement the perceived gaps in the textbook, and writing handouts about specific elements when I couldn’t find anything that explained issues or techniques to my satisfaction. But despite all this, I’m still not satisfied. And since I’ve always detested people who sit there and bitch about something, yet won’t lift a finger to improve the situation, I’ve decided to write my own book on PR writing. So there.

Now it’s no longer just a writing dream – or maybe that’s a nightmare? Now it’s down in black and white, posted out there for the entire world to see: I. Am. Writing. A. Book.

Now I don’t have a choice. And to make it even more definite, I’m setting a goal of finishing the first draft by Labor Day. So check back periodically and I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going. And if any of my PR or marketing colleagues have suggestions or pet peeves they’d like to see covered, feel free to submit them, and I’ll see if I can work them into the book – with proper credit, of course!

Now on to the writing!

Jun 01

The Pain of Words: #YesAllWomen and David Ortiz

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will never hurt me

Except when they do.

When someone hurls cruel words at another person, the intent of the insult is to hurt, to taunt, to degrade and inflict pain on the targeted person. Take yesterday’s brawl between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. The fight was triggered by David Ortiz being hit by a pitch from Tampa’s David Price. Normally I don’t pay attention; bench-clearing brawls are a dime a dozen in professional sports. But in venting to the media afterward, Ortiz hurled an insult Price’s way that caught my attention: “You can’t be acting like a little girl out there. You aren’t going to win all of the time. When you give it up, that is an experience for the next time. If you are going to be acting like a little b—- every time you give it up and put your teammates in jeopardy, that is going to cost you.”

Normally I would just let this slide. I’ve heard all things female used as a metaphor for all things nasty and ineffectual my entire life, so that I no longer notice it. However, Ortiz saying this in the aftermath of the shooting at the University of California-Santa Barbara and the growth of the #YesAllWomen conversation online really caught my attention.

You want to know why there’s a persistent problem with domestic violence in this country? Just look at Ortiz’s words, and consider the unspoken message: that women are bad. That to be “like a girl” is to the worst thing you can be, especially in a masculine world of professional sports. The effects of these insults on the rest of us aren’t taken into consideration by the one doing the insulting. Of course, we don’t want to become so thin-skinned we can’t bear to hear the most minor complaint, no matter how justified…. but there are still people who think that nasty, ill-intentioned words denigrating women and girls aren’t a big deal. In reality, they are, especially given the recent events in Santa Barbara. Read the rest of this entry »

May 26

Don’t Talk Yourself Out of a PR Career

Young woman sticking her tongue outI recently read a blog post from someone I know who’s hunting for a job. It was posted on Facebook and, I’m assuming, other social media sites as well, which is bad, because in it he makes a strong case against ever being hired in the PR profession.

I’ve observed this person, and even made attempts to provide contacts, tips, and professional development opportunities, to no avail. Since I can’t seem to help this person individually (and I’m not going to name him publicly), I’m going to explain in general terms what he’s doing wrong, in the hopes that others might avoid these same mistakes…and yes, I’ll be venting a little, because it’s incredibly frustrating to watch someone self-destruct professionally and alienate the very people he needs on his side in his job search. He’s working hard at never working professionally again, and is close to succeeding. He’s certainly succeeded in making me stop attempting to help. My first reaction after reading his blog post was distinctly unprofessional, I’ll admit. After taking some time to cool off and do some unprofessional venting of my own to the sympathetic ears of my spouse and dogs, I decided to try to help in a more general, professional way. Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 15

Old Dogs Already Know the New Tricks: Ageism in Hiring

Man Looking At Job Ads“Buy low and sell high.” That’s how you make money. You buy your stocks or your raw materials at one price, then sell the stocks, your services or your finished product at a higher price that pays your expenses and salaries, and leaves a profit left over. It’s simple, right?

So why is it that when it comes to stocks and employees, we seem to be incapable of understanding and acting on this very simple premise? We rush to buy stocks when they’re “hot” and prices are at their highest, then sell when they fail to reach even higher heights and perform as we expect them to. Big surprise.

The same faulty thinking applies to hiring, particularly in the PR field. The recession created an incredible pool of experienced talent available at a bargain price, but what do we do? We keep chasing the same pool of inexperienced employees that need a significant investment in training and education before they can be a fully functional member of your team.

Studies cited by AARP highlight the myths held by HR and hiring managers, including that older applicants were more likely to be burned-out, resistant to new technologies, absent due to illness, poor at working with younger supervisors and reluctant to travel, are less creative, less productive, slower mentally and more expensive to employ.

“But Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of business and coauthor (with former AARP CEO Bill Novelli) of the 2010 book Managing the Older Worker, has looked more closely at these stereotypes, pulling together research from fields like economics, demography and psychology. What he determined: Virtually none of them holds up.

When it comes to actual job performance, Cappelli says, older employees soundly thrash their younger colleagues. “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age,” he declares. ‘I thought the picture might be more mixed, but it isn’t. The juxtaposition between the superior performance of older workers and the discrimination against them in the workplace just really makes no sense.’”

But many employers are uncomfortable with the professional skills of younger workers.

“A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.”

Our stereotypes and prejudices are preventing us from finding the best, most qualified employee because we stop looking at many candidates for reasons that have absolutely no connection with how they do their job. How do we “know” that a new college graduate can’t function effectively solve problems? Did you ask them for an example of when they’ve been faced with a problem they were responsible for solving? How do we “know” that a 50+ worker doesn’t know technology or social media?

Here’s one opinion from a Millennial who decided to insert herself into a LinkedIn group discussion on ageism in the PR profession. The name has been withheld to protect the guilty:

Though I do believe that older employees due hold more reliability and comfort to the company in which they work for. However, the face of media is rapidly changing as technology is taking over or at least being implicated into business plans. Because of this fact, I think that younger professionals have more of an advantage because we grew up in an environment where we were able to watch and participate in many social networking sites. We know how it works and understand how to use it. I am not saying that an older professional could not figure how to utilize these strategies to benefit the company, I’ve personally found that many of those who have been in the industry for a while unwilling and still are unable to see the value that technology provides. I think the only solution is to mix the new with the old, then we would be able to use the expertise of our senior executives while still providing insight as to the benefits of technology.

Acceptance of technology is key–after all, our generation is integrating into the PR field and your resistance and bitterness isn’t going to stop it. We all have value in this profession and if we work together, imagine how successful we would be. @John: I’m sorry if you don’t agree with my quick response via iPhone (technology at its finest), but maybe you should focus your energy on how to effectively communicate with others and stop taking your bitterness out on younger generations.

I kid you not. She does have a valid point, once you restrain your twitching fingers from reaching for your red pen. She also demonstrates a significant bit of cluelessness as the young (and some not-so-young) so often do in her post. She chose to insert herself into a social media group of mostly 45 and up professionals sharing our personal experiences with age discrimination to tell us we don’t understand/aren’t willing to learn how to use social media, and essentially said it’s our own fault that we’re discriminated against. And when the inevitable blowback occurred, she resorted to the Millennial version of the-dog-ate-my-homework excuse: “It’s the phone’s fault.” MmmHmmm. Sure. Good way to persuade persuade people.

The whole point of my argument was actually summed up very well (and more diplomatically) by another Millennial who participated in the same discussion, Ashlee Espegnell:

I think this kind of a hiring trend hurts everyone in the long run. I worry that if companies stop having experienced PR/comm people on staff to mentor new employees, they’re going to end up with a workforce full of people who know the tech but not the important aspects of the business (clients, past successes/failures, etc). I personally would prefer to learn the practical application of skills from someone who’s had experience doing it; not from a company’s social media strategy document! It’s also not particularly encouraging for new people in the industry to think that there may not be long-term job prospects out there. Here’s hoping – for all of us! – that this trend doesn’t continue.

So how do we fix this? How do we persuade employers and HR departments that age is irrelevant, that it’s attitude and ability that matters most? I’m open to ideas.


Dec 12

Apologies and Leaders: It’s Simple, Really

Does saying “I’m sorry” help? As with most things in life, the answer is: it depends. For an apology to work, it needs to be real. It needs to be unequivocal and sincere. You can’t tap dance around the issue with phrases so beloved of corporate offenders such as, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by [insert the sin du jour].

No you’re not. You’re sorry someone is offended, not that you committed the offense. You’re sorry you got caught, and you’re trying to get away with the barest amount of public remorse so you can go back to doing whatever you shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. Too many company leaders try to wiggle out of actually being sorry with backdoor escapes like this. It’s no wonder people are cynical about corporate executives and politicians these days, with what passes for apologies out there. Read the rest of this entry »

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