Feb 01

A “They” by Any Other Name…

Their, they’re and there. Whom and whose. The Oxford comma. The singular “they” pronoun. To English language purists, them are fightin’ words! The Guardians of Grammar will fight to the death to protect the purity of the English language, and these are the battles at the forefront of the language wars.

The singular they has been around for centuries, as far back as the 14th century, according to Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, and I’m betting it’s been the bane of high school English teachers almost as long. It’s just so easy to use they instead of he/she, him/her or (s)he, not to mention sounding so much less awkward.

For those who insist on the proper use of the language, I have bad news: it’s not going to go away. Why? Because it solves a problem without sounding weird, and it mimics what has long been acceptable in spoken English. At this point, trying to eradicate the use of the singular they is going to be like prying smart phones out of the hands of teenagers – it can’t be done. Besides, if you’re really serious about being an English language purist, you’re living in the wrong century. You might want to consider reverting back to the language of Chaucer, as in this excerpt from The Canterbury Tales:

“Get me a staf, that I may underspore,

Whil that thou, Robyn, hevest up the dore.

He shal out of his studiyng, as I gesse.”

And to the chambre dore he gan hym dresse.

His knave was a strong carl for the nones,

And by the haspe he haaf it of atones;

Into the floor the dore fil anon.

Makes the use of they as a singular pronoun seem positively preferable, doesn’t it?


Jul 30

Guilty Pleasures

Some random thoughts on a Sunday morning: I’m sitting here, wondering how many more steps am I going to have to take to offset the fact that I indulged in a childhood craving for blueberry PopTarts™ this morning, which started me thinking about guilty pleasures – you know, those things we know we shouldn’t do, but do anyway “just this once?” Then we feel the requisite guilt and promise ourselves “never again,” except that in the case of my blueberry PopTarts, since they come in packages of four, there will be more dietary sins to come, necessitating extra exercise. But then I started thinking about my love of writing – when did that become a guilty pleasure? Continue reading


Apr 16

Jeff Varner’s Employer Votes Itself Off United’s PR Crisis Island

So, buried under all the other drama of The Week That Was came this little PR nugget that largely passed under the

collective radar of many of us who don’t feel the need to wallow in the less admirable aspects of human nature: Jeff Varner, a contestant on CBS’ reality competition show “Survivor,” gets fired from his day job from a real estate firm because (according to Varner), he was told that he is “in the middle of a news story that we don’t want anything to do with.” Collateral damage from the United Airlines debacle? Or are companies finally realizing the actual business cost of publicly being a jerk?

First, a brief recap: Varner publicly outed fellow tribe member Zeke Smith as a transgender male in a desperate bid to avoid being voted off the island and out of the running for the million-dollar grand prize. For the nonfan, on “Survivor,” a group of strangers are isolated in various exotic locations under primitive conditions, and are put through privations and “challenges” designed to make them work as a team, while simultaneously conspiring with each other to get rid of fellow team members and be the last “Survivor.” Sounds a bit like a day at some offices I’ve worked for. Continue reading


Apr 10

United, Just Stop

United Airlines, stop. Just stop. You’re only making the indefensible worse.

United Airlines once again takes over the headlines as the world’s most hated/least trusted corporation for the second time in a week. And they did that in spectacular fashion straight out of Hollywood, with company goons dragging the bloodied, hapless victim…er, passenger, down the aisle as he screams helplessly, and terrified passengers watch, fearing that they’re next. Passengers inevitably manage to get video of the incident out before the plane doors are slammed shut and they are shipped out to Louisville. The unfeeling CEO of the corporation, far removed from the downtrodden victim, trots out the usual corporate doublespeak, full of nonwords that brush off the incident with empty promises of an investigation. Goes really well with United’s stated purpose of “being the airline customers want to fly, the airline employees want to work for and the airline shareholders want to invest in.” Really? Can’t you just see the trailer from the movie now?

Continue reading


Nov 06

Welcome to the First Social Media Campaign

Congratulations, we’ve nearly survived the first social media presidential campaign. Only two more days and we can move from the sturm und drang of this campaign to picking up the pieces and returning to normal life – or can we? I’m afraid that the current climate may very well be the new “normal.”

We’ve heard it over and over from the pundits: this has been a campaign unlike any other: the historic possibilities of the first woman president, the challenger who refuses to follow “normal” campaign strategy. The active interjections – some would say meddling – into the campaign of third parties: Russia, Wikileaks, comedy shows, the FBI…and us. We the People. Because of social media, this campaign has marked the first time that everyone with a social media account has acted as a campaign surrogate. Boy have we! And that has brought a mixed bag of results. Continue reading


Oct 25

Women Leaders and Sexism in PR

There’s nothing higher on a PR writing instructor’s “things-I-don’t-want-to-do-on-my-day-off” list than write. But as I was

Standing Out from the Crowd. Available in high-resolution and several sizes to fit the needs of your project.

Women leaders and sexism in the 21st Century.

putzing around on Facebook this morning, I ran across a photo of past PRSA chairs as they welcomed the newest former chair, Mark McClellan, APR, into their ranks. All are distinguished professionals, all have sacrificed time, energy, money and sleep to lead this organization that has given so much to those of us in the profession. They are colleagues and in some cases, friends…and the thought crossed my mind as I “liked” and congratulated them was that most of them were men.

I didn’t make that comment on Facebook, because I didn’t want to take away from the moment. But I couldn’t stop wondering why there were so few women in the photo. PR as a profession is predominantly women (70-75 percent is the figure I’ve run across the most), so why have so few women ascended to the top of the profession? Counting incoming chair Jane Dvorak, APR, Fellow PRSA, in 2017 the total number of women leading PRSA will have reached the grand total of 13. Thirteen women in 69 years. And seven of those 13 – over half – have been in the past 15 years. As Heather Whaling points out in her blog post on this incident, only 40 percent of agency leaders are female.

So what’s the big deal? The organization is changing, right? Women are bound to be elected to leaders more frequently now, you say. Then why is it that, nearly two full decades into the 21st century, in a profession dominated by and increasingly led by women, are we spending the last day of the industry’s biggest conference talking about a sexist tweet, posted by an accredited PR professional. If anyone should know better, it should be him, right? Continue reading


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 BusinessInsider.com 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.