Tiger kills zookeeper because … the tiger had a set of keys?

Information wants to be free. Hamerton Zoo Park officials really fucked up the public statement.

You probably noted the story about the zookeeper killed by a tiger in England the other day. This is a tragic story in every way.

It’s also a maddening example of inept cover-your-ass PR language by the Hamerton Zoo Park’s spokespeople. By now we should all be getting used to the fact that every official agency of any sort on the planet spins us, from governments to Fortune 500s to sports agents to the local school board. If you’re frustrated by the fact that you have take a magnifying glass to every official pronouncement you come across, join the club.

This story features an unusually ham-handed example of what I’m talking about. Continue reading “Tiger kills zookeeper because … the tiger had a set of keys?”

Atheists in heaven? Vatican spin machine leaps into action

CATEGORY: ReligionRemember back in the ’80s when Ronald Reagan would ramble on in front of a crowd, saying all kinds of crazy shit? And immediately after, the reporters would turn to his handlers, who would explain that the president hadn’t said what he just said, that he had in fact said the exact opposite? That’s where the term “spin” came from, and boy, were those the days. Continue reading “Atheists in heaven? Vatican spin machine leaps into action”

SXSW “homeless hotspot” idea goes tragically (and predictably) wrong

What was BBH Labs thinking? Michael Sebastien at PR Daily is on the money in saying that “it might go down as one of the biggest PR disasters of the year.”

New York-based marketing firm BBH Labs equipped homeless people on the streets of Austin with devices that made them wireless hot spots. Internet seekers then paid what they wanted—in cash or via PayPal—to access the Web. The homeless men and women kept all of the money.

The media wasn’t amused, and now BBH Labs is licking its wounds. Continue reading “SXSW “homeless hotspot” idea goes tragically (and predictably) wrong”

As boycott pressure mounts on Limbaugh, two words come to mind: hoist, petard

I don’t know when the very first boycott of a product or company happened, but I suspect the tactic has been around in some form or another for a long time. I do remember the onset of the modern form of the practice, though. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, social conservatives began going after businesses who advertised on shows they didn’t approve of as a key part of their culture war strategy and they did so with a good deal of effectiveness. So much effectiveness, in fact, that a lot of people today (both conservatives and more progressive types like myself) routinely make purchasing decisions based on a company’s political behavior. (I miss Buy Blue, which made the process a lot simpler.)

A lot of conservatives this week seem to have conveniently forgotten their history. Continue reading “As boycott pressure mounts on Limbaugh, two words come to mind: hoist, petard”

“Apology” to Sandra Fluke shows libel threat and advertiser defections have Team Limbaugh running scared; what to do next

Rush Limbaugh has apologized to Sandra Fluke. Sort of – he uses the opportunity to reiterate everything except the actual insults. If he were concerned about sincerity, he wouldn’t have buried the apology on Saturday afternoon, he have delivered it in the same medium as he did the attack.

Here’s what the move by Limbaugh means:

  1. His lawyers told him that a libel suit had merit, and
  2. he was feeling the backlash against his advertisers.

Here’s what it doesn’t mean: Limbaugh’s opponents have won. Continue reading ““Apology” to Sandra Fluke shows libel threat and advertiser defections have Team Limbaugh running scared; what to do next”

Komen hires the wrong PR firm, missing the boat once again (and some thoughts on PR Daily’s coverage of the story)

So, the Susan Komen Foundation has hired a big-hitter PR firm. And not just any PR firm, either.

Now, Komen is assessing the damage, and it’s using a consulting firm founded by two former Democratic strategists. Penn Schoen Berland (PSB), the firm Komen hired to help determine how badly the crisis hurt its reputation, is founded by former Democratic strategists Mark Penn and Doug Schoen.

The goal here seems obvious. Komen’s recent bout of ballistic podiatry cost it massive amounts of support among people who believe that women’s health shouldn’t be held captive to a reactionary, partisan social conservative agenda. The foundation has accurately understood that this means it needs people from the center and points left in order to thrive. Or, at this point, survive. So they go out and hire … Mark Penn.

Wait, what? Continue reading “Komen hires the wrong PR firm, missing the boat once again (and some thoughts on PR Daily’s coverage of the story)”

Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy: why haven’t we heard from Komen’s corporate sponsors?

Corporate sponsorship is important for a great many of America’s non-profits, and that’s certainly true of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Of course, any time you strike an alliance with another entity, you can’t help assuming some of their risk. Your partner jumps the tracks, all of a sudden people are looking at you even though you didn’t do anything wrong.

I tend to believe that Komen’s sponsors had nothing but the best intentions in donating their time and money to supporting a worthy cause. However, I also can’t help noticing that I haven’t heard a peep out of any of them regarding the foundation’s appalling decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood, an entity that doesn’t harness its public health mission to partisan prerequisites. Continue reading “Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy: why haven’t we heard from Komen’s corporate sponsors?”

The Komen “reversal”: a crushing failure of America’s newsrooms

Yesterday I attempted to shed a little light on the PR crisis strategy behind the Komen Foundation’s sudden Planned Parenthood “backtracking.”

Contrary to what Komen’s highly-paid PR crisis hacks and gullible headline writers at newsdesks around the nation would ask you to believe, The Susan G. Komen Foundation does NOT promise to fund Planned Parenthood in the future. They promise to let PP APPLY for grants in the future. Applying and receiving are different things, as anyone who ever applied and got rejected for a job ought to know. Continue reading “The Komen “reversal”: a crushing failure of America’s newsrooms”

Komen Foundation pretends to change its mind. One corporate communications executive wonders: is the public stupid enough to buy it?

Read. The language. Closely.

Contrary to what Komen’s highly-paid PR crisis hacks and gullible headline writers at newsdesks around the nation would ask you to believe, The Susan G. Komen Foundation does NOT promise to fund Planned Parenthood in the future. They promise to let PP APPLY for grants in the future. Applying and receiving are different things, as anyone who ever applied and got rejected for a job ought to know. Continue reading “Komen Foundation pretends to change its mind. One corporate communications executive wonders: is the public stupid enough to buy it?”

Hey PR professionals – thinking of representing a distressed brand? Six important things to consider before signing that retainer

Part two of two…

On Tuesday, I offered some thoughts on the sociopathic nature of some public relations agencies. Once we learn that American firms are lipsticking brutal despots and states that support terrorism it’s legitimate to wonder if there is anyone on Earth that they wouldn’t represent. I just heard a story this morning about a flak who went so far as to take on the remnants of the Khmer Rouge. So if Syria, Libya, Bahrain and the most notorious purveyors of genocide since World War 2 aren’t out of bounds, you have to figure somebody in the industry would gladly sign up Kim Jong-Il, Hitler, Stalin and the Khan boys (Genghis and Agha) for the right amount of money. Continue reading “Hey PR professionals – thinking of representing a distressed brand? Six important things to consider before signing that retainer”

Sociopathic PR Firms and the Clients They Serve

Part one of two…

I work in the world of marketing and corporate communications, and my track record of business-related posts (here and at my biz site, Black Dog Strategic) probably demonstrates how seriously I take ethical concerns. For instance, not long ago I made clear that I think understanding the truth of a bad news story aimed at a client comes before worrying about how to respond. Back in November, I took a hard look at the eroding credibility of public relations as a profession and suggested that maybe the behavior of PR practitioners had a lot to do with our slide into lawyer, hooker and used car salesman territory. At various points along the way I’ve ventured opinions on everything and everybody from Toyota to Tiger Woods (to Augusta National), BP to LBJ, Target to Dillard’s, and Rupert Murdoch to the Denver Post, which used to be a newspaper.

Sometimes I comment on what strike me as merely bad strategies. Continue reading “Sociopathic PR Firms and the Clients They Serve”

Heard the latest PR joke? (The single most important thing to consider when TV news wants to skewer your client.)

Yesterday Ragan’s PR Daily, an excellent resource for professional communicators of all stripes, offered up a feature entitled “8 things to consider when TV news wants to skewer your client.” As is the usually the case with Ragan’s stuff, Gil Rudawsky’s article provided some useful on-point advice for the media relations practitioner, and the comment thread finds other experienced folks jumping into the discussion in helpful ways.

But – you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you? – I can’t help quibbling a little. Let’s begin with Rudawsky’s eight points: Continue reading “Heard the latest PR joke? (The single most important thing to consider when TV news wants to skewer your client.)”

Target/Minnesota Forward and Dillard’s/Heroic Media: seven principles for corporate giving (UPDATED)

Dillard’s operates 330 stores across 29 states, including nine here in Colorado. I have, in the past, been a Dillard’s customer, but am afraid they have now earned their way onto the growing list of places I will no longer be able to patronize in good conscience.

In August of 2010 I spent some time analyzing one of the more explosive corporate PR blunders of the year (and what a year it was – you might remember dust-ups involving Toyota and BP), Target’s inexplicable support for Tom Emmer, a rabid social conservative whose positions not only offend the humanist mind, but that also ran directly counter to Target’s own established community engagement policies. The upshot was a set of principles directing corporate giving in an age where partisan landmines seem to outnumber the cobblestones in a tony shopping district sidewalk. Continue reading “Target/Minnesota Forward and Dillard’s/Heroic Media: seven principles for corporate giving (UPDATED)”

Gallup poll reveals that public questions PR industry credibility: are PR practitioners to blame?

A Gallup poll released in August indicated that the advertising and PR industries aren’t viewed very favorably by the American public.

One-third of respondents voiced a positive view of the advertising/pr industry (6 percent “very,” 27 percent “somewhat”). Twenty-seven percent were “neutral.” Twenty-five percent expressed a “somewhat negative view,” while 11 percent were “very negative.” (The rest didn’t venture an opinion.)

You might argue that, on balance, the numbers are only slightly negative – total positives were 33% while total negatives were 36% – and the AdWeek story cited here certainly goes out of their way to put a chirpy spin on the results (no real surprise there, I suppose). Continue reading “Gallup poll reveals that public questions PR industry credibility: are PR practitioners to blame?”

The letter that Steve Jobs ought to write to Apple customers

Tricky Dick. Slick Willie. Toyota. Now … Apple? What the heck is so hard about the truth, especially when it’s clear that we live in a world where it gets harder and harder to lie and get away with it by the day.

I may have mentioned my friend John Cavanaugh’s biz site, The Tap Tap Tap. John is too busy to blog as much as I’d like, but for fans of quality over quantity it’s one of the best things out there, mainly because while the subjects are ostensibly business, advertising and brand related, he’s really making much broader points that apply to the non-business portions of life. Continue reading “The letter that Steve Jobs ought to write to Apple customers”

Of tigers and dogs and the howling jackals of the press: what the Woods trainwreck can teach us about public relations

In case you missed it, Eldrick Tont Woods, the world’s greatest golfer, has been up against some pressing PR issues of late. Pretty much nobody is arguing that he’s handled it well. Begin with the official record. While it’s not yet 100% clear what touched off the fateful events of November 27, 2009, everybody is denying that Elin was trying to neuter him with a long iron.

But think about the story we’re being sold: The National Enquirer pubs a story saying Tiger is stepping out on his wife. A couple nights later, at two or three in the morning, Tiger decides to leave the house for no apparent reason. While trying to back out of the driveway – stone sober, the reports insist – he manages to wrap the Escalade around a tree. With me so far? Good. Then his wife comes out and tries to “rescue” him by bashing out the windows with a club.

If none of this smells a tad overripe to you, call me. Continue reading “Of tigers and dogs and the howling jackals of the press: what the Woods trainwreck can teach us about public relations”

Michael Vick and the problem with forgiveness

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has conditionally reinstated former Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick, who was convicted of running a dogfighting ring in 2007. Vick served 23 months in federal prison, followed by two months of house arrest.

Last Thursday the Philadelphia Eagles answered the question as to which team would sign a convicted dog-killer (there were 32 possible answers to the question, and “none of the above” wasn’t one of them), and in doing so touched off a long-awaited PR war for the souls of their stunned fans. Continue reading “Michael Vick and the problem with forgiveness”

Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, part 1

Part one of a two-part series.

From Cronkite to Couric: the Kingdom of Signal is swallowed by the Empire of Noise

The recent death of Walter Cronkite spurred the predictable outpouring of tributes, each reverencing in its own way a man who was the face and voice of journalism in America for a generation or more. The irony of all these accolades is that we live in an age where “broadcast journalist” is such a cruel oxymoron, and we seem to speeding headlong into an era where the word “journalist” itself threatens to become a freestanding joke. Why, against this backdrop, would so many people who are so involved in the daily repudiation of everything that Cronkite stood for make such a show memorializing the standard by which they so abjectly fail?

As I read what people had to say about Cronkite, I realized that something I studied and wrote about over a decade ago helps explain why our contemporary media has gone so deeply, tragically wrong. Continue reading “Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, part 1”