Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Bullies Never Garner Loyalty

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

0301Every day, our firm generates, reviews and strategizes on developing and implementing effective communications initiatives. And while those communiqués can take many forms and be delivered through a range of platforms, the end goal is typically the same: Compel audiences to act in a way that positively affects business objectives. Call it relationship building. Call it generating brand loyalty. Call it gaining consensus. But never call it bullying.

Donald Trump wants loyalty from his “team” yet doesn’t seem to even vaguely understand the old adage of: “There is no “I” in “Team.” Instead, he continues to use social media as his cyber-bullying medium of choice. Yesterday, the Director of the FBI, today his Attorney General, tomorrow, who knows. Perhaps most maddening and misdirected was his irrational dialogue this week in front of the Boy Scouts; an impressionable youth in need of mentoring, not hate mongering. As many in Washington have been saying in recent days, Jeff Sessions swore an oath of loyalty to the Constitution, not to the whims of Donald Trump.

Adding more insult to injury, Trump today made the decision – to the shock of a Congressional oversight committee who was studying the matter – to ban transgender individuals from entering the military. Most discovered his decision via Twitter. A bully singles out certain individuals and then carries out words and actions designed to dehumanize them and “keep them down.” The similarities in his modus operandi here and elsewhere are striking.

And so it is both sad and inspiring that the individual with the presence and sense of mind to communicate this week what our country needs from its leaders came from a man returning from surgery and suffering from a serious form of brain cancer: Senator John McCain. He spoke emotionally about the need for his fellow elected officials to put differences aside and work to find common ground and areas for compromise. To get things done while acting in the best interests of the American people. This message was one of unity and selflessness.

We follow leaders who inspire. Who build bridges. Who think before they act and speak. Those who say and do what is right for all of us (or at least the majority of us). Those are the leaders who gain our admiration, our backing, our loyalty. That is earned. And that is what, unfortunately, a bully will never learn.

Trump’s “Truth” and Consequences

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 6.36.47 PMIn recent days I’ve been watching, listening and reading about the latest trials and travails regarding Russia and the Trump administration; simultaneously biting my tongue on commenting and chomping at the bit to weigh in. So without bringing politics into it (if that is at all possible, really), let’s take a look at what has happened from a crisis communications standpoint. I’ll refrain from calling it “adversity management” as no adversity has been at all managed to date.

For context and precedent I would highly suggest picking up a copy of American University political historian Alan Lichtman’s new book, “The Case for Impeachment.” In it, Lichtman reviews past impeachment hearings and proceedings (Andrew Johnson; Richard Nixon; Bill Clinton) while examining scenarios where Donald Trump might face impeachment during his presidency. The work is fascinating in that it shines a spotlight on how Trump has run his business endeavors over the years and why, despite thousands of lawsuits and lies, he has come off relatively unscathed. Today, not so much.

Donald Trump, Lichtman describes, is an egotistical, narcissistic bully who will go to no end to put his own interests above those of anyone else, bend if not make up the truth and throw others under the bus in his wake. And, he has had the money and power to threaten careers and, when forced, to pay off or buyout those he wants silenced. As for the truth, it is forever a moving target.

Many argue it takes a businessman to run the business of the federal government. The problem is, it is not a private business. There are rules and regulations and potential conflicts of interest – scores of which (the world over) Trump has not recused himself from. Rather, in the Oval Office today, it is all smoke and mirrors. Son-in-law Jared Kushner has now modified his security clearance forms three times for failing to disclose meetings with Russian officials. Donald, Jr., has also now been caught in a series of lies including at least one meeting with Russians to discuss possible Hillary Clinton dirt.

Where crisis communications is concerned, the only way to manage a potentially damaged reputation is credibility and transparency. Not the “transparency” (as the administration called it) of Junior’s putting out emails once uncovered and about to be printed by the New York Times. Instead, Trump continues to operate under the misguided assumption that if you say the same things over and over, they will be believed. The CIA was incorrect about Russian interference in our election process. James Comey wrongly handled the Russian investigation and needed to go. This is all ‘fake news.’ Donald Jr.’s actions were ‘transparent.’ This is a ‘witch hunt.’ And on it goes.

Lying, “forgetting” and political naiveté just don’t cut it anymore. Rather, they have destroyed any and all credibility for Donald Trump. Such an M.O. might work in business (and has for him for decades) but it will not work here. Not when you are elected to represent the people. Not when a planet and billions of people are at stake. Rather, nothing short of the truth will do – and, unfortunately, Donald Trump knows all too well that the truth would hurt. To be sure, to finally do so would surely be his undoing.

After Stunt, Will Journalists Keep Going Back To Calley?

Monday, June 5th, 2017

UnknownFor five weeks leading up to the Mackinac Policy Conference, Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor, Brian Calley, had journalists thinking he would announce his candidacy for Governor on May 30th, on the first day of the Conference.

All over social media, the Calley camp bought ads teasing “5.30.17.” In this interview with WJR’s Frank Beckmann on April 24th, Calley did nothing to refute the idea that that indeed would be the day he would announce.

Upon arriving in the island, Conference attendees were greeted, literally every few feet, by college-age barkers handing out invitations to the “major announcement” event, giving the island’s main drag a Las Vegas Strip feel. Multiple journalists arrived on the island early to be in place for what they expected to be the official beginning of the 2018 campaign. Instead, they were victims of a bait and switch stunt, burning them, along with other attendees who delayed registration for the Conference to file into a restaurant, expecting news to be made before their eyes.

Instead of announcing his candidacy, Calley, surrounded by the paid college-age staff, called for a plan to make Michigan’s Legislature part-time. With scripted chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and “Clean It Up!” amid cries against “The Establishment” (the 7-year Lieutenant Governor previously served as a legislator, full-time), Calley held an event apparently only a political ringmaster could appreciate. Several journalists and attendees called it everything from “weird” to “a waste of time.”

This is yet another example of the difference between business and political PR. If a business hyped an announcement for five weeks, then switched it to appeal to a niche constituency rally, it wouldn’t get a second chance. But, in politics, some Roger Ailes wannabe is probably doing self back patting for getting a bunch of news coverage in one day to “help name recognition” and “fire up the base” while “creating a show.” Sooner or later, they are going to have to make the announcement the assembled media thought it was getting last week.

Begrudgingly, journalists will still cover the Calley announcement, whenever and wherever it happens. But will they forget about what happened on Mackinac? To quote the great PR analyst L.L. Cool J – I don’t think so.

How “The Trump Factor” Affects Your PR

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

pie-chart1It was going to be tough enough to try to get media attention in 2017. The news workforce is smaller, yet again, than it was last year. A new administration in The White House always takes its share of news coverage in every level, as change is explored widely. But this year, if you work in or with PR, consider how “The Trump Factor” means a smaller piece of a shrinking pie for everyone else.

Almost no matter what type of PR you work in, it’s more of a challenge than ever to get coverage without a “Trump angle,” or at least a government/politics angle. It’s the pervasive conversation in our country and in our current events discourse now and for the foreseeable future. Also, news consumers are eating it up. Don’t listen to those who say they’re sick of it and staying away. From everything we hear from those who monitor analytics inside news organizations, the bump in news content consumption that started during the election season has not waned. The most successful pitch efforts many days will include at least a nugget to get the politically hungry something to chew on.

Depending on your point of view, the current President is either an insatiable seeker of attention in the world’s most high-profile job or an intriguing personality making waves by affecting change. Even if you’re somewhere in between, you can’t deny that he has attracted more attention (or diverted it) in ways never seen before. The fact is there will be less attention for whatever your organization thinks it deserves.

If you work in PR, you should be having an honest conversation with your clients or your bosses about the news realities, which have changed even more in the last few weeks. What you thought may have been news in your 2017 planning may not be news anymore, or at least maybe not in the same way. It may be time to think about other ways of reaching your audiences with your messages. Or it may be time to determine your organization’s government/politics angle, based on how proposed or enacted policies affect you (it doesn’t have to mean taking sides, but it could).

What you can’t do is pretend this isn’t happening. Sure, there are morning TV slow slots for in-studio features. There’s still the sports section. There are exceptions. But, by and large, unless you have journalists assigned to covering your business or your industry who are separate from those who cover government and policy, for now, at least, this is likely your reality.

The Leaky Workplace Reflects Culture

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

leaky-bucket-thumb-400x427-536For those who try to read news stories closely, trying to figure how and why they come together, the past few weeks have been a case study in leaks. So much news coverage of The White House, not political analysis or opinion, but the actual reporting by those on the beat, has been driven by anonymous sources from the inside. Leaks have long been the stock-in-trade of political reporting, and business reporting for that matter. But the quantity of leaks, the consistency of them and the fact that there seem to be so many, so early, has led questions to come our way wondering what it all means.

We can’t pretend to psychoanalyze people we don’t know in an environment we have never worked. But, from first-hand experience, we have learned that deliberate leaks to journalists can be a reflection of workplace culture. In times of anxiety, we see leaks. But we especially see them when employees feel like they no longer have a voice and that leads to resentment toward top management.

A case in point is a client I worked with in the late ’90s. One of the underlying issues that ultimately resulted in monumental PR challenges for that company was serious tension between top corporate leadership and the company’s workforce. When the company had a phone conference – a single phone conference – to discuss whether to begin what would have been a lengthy process of due diligence that may have led to merger talks with a competitor, a leak made it news. Just days later, AOL and Time Warner announced a merger that had been kept a complete secret before its official announcement. The difference was as simple as cultures.

We have seen many other examples over the years, as texts and social media have enabled and empowered leakers. I once received a text from a reporter asking about something that had been tipped to him via text from a participant in a meeting, among people who weren’t getting along, that was still going on. Another client CEO who fostered dysfunction, whose emails were routinely published in news stories, asked “Don’t they know those are internal communications?” There’s no such thing when your direct-reports who feel alienated have access to the “forward” button.

A few years ago, an organization hired us to design a communications schematic to prevent leaks from occurring, as a piece of news needed to be communicated with precision. That foresight allowed the news to be broken on the organization’s preferred terms. That’s something every organization should consider in times of sensitivity.

If you’re concerned about leaks where you work, don’t blame reporters who are trying to do their job. Think about how to build trust on the inside. That will prevent those who have access to information from trying to turn to the outside.

Trump Needs a Filter -or- Speak No Evil

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-01-22 at 10.00.22 PMCan Donald Trump ever become presidential? Can he ever overcome his egotistic, misogynistic, separatist, nationalistic demeanor, posturing and dialogue? If his first few days in office are any indication he has a long, long way to go – if in fact it is at all possible. Trump needs a filter.  In that way, as a communications counselor, how would I be advising Donald Trump, moving forward? That’s a very, very good question.

First of all, he has proven that he does not take direction well from insiders. During his campaign he went through a host of campaign managers, often finding himself vocally and publicly in disagreement with those that lasted for any length of time.  Our team worked directly with some of his staffers when he came to Detroit last year to speak.  Inexperienced and indifferent to anyone and anything other than what their boss wanted, these were clearly “yes” men and women; those in no position to put forth ideas nor advice.

And that is what Donald Trump is used to. It’s how he operates. I recall interacting once with a business associate who acted similarly.  He put forth too many of his opinions and directions as though they were gospel, often with no regard for potential ramifications, often through aggressive diatribes and usually with disastrous results.  I suggested to him once, “You really should think before you speak.” He smugly looked back at me and indicated he did not care what I thought as he had been successful throughout his career using this modus operandi. The similarities with Trump are unmistakable.  He deludes himself into thinking that how he thinks, what he says and how he acts are right.  And, if you disagree with him? Well, then there’s something wrong with you.  There’s no room for discussion nor discourse and absolutely no latitude for a difference of opinion. Believe me.

How he handled the women’s rights gatherings this weekend is just one more example of how he needs to adjust his approach.  After initially saying nothing nor acknowledging the worldwide protests he finally took to his favorite pulpit, Twitter, to initially mock perhaps a million people worldwide.  He later changed his tune, writing something at least approaching professional when he talked about why gatherings of this sort were what make America special.  Too late. Damage already done.

So how would I be advising Trump? Let’s be serious – it would never happen. But if I were in a position to do so, even for just a moment, I would advise him to always consider the big picture while looking at both sides of any issue.  Get all of the facts, consider them closely and then act.  Don’t agree with others are saying? Acknowledge where appropriate but don’t disparage.  Be professional, show class, don’t engage if you’re going to enrage. After all, he is no longer a businessman acting in his own best interests.  He is not a reality TV (star?). He is President of the United States, representing we the people,  both here at home and across the globe.  Act responsibly, Donald. We’re counting on you.

White House Diatribe Worse For PR Than It Is For Media

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

Sean_Spicer_White_House_(unofficial_press_meeting_2017)It’s impossible to do PR analysis of brand new Presidential spokesman Sean Spicer’s Saturday evening press briefing. That’s because it wasn’t PR. It was a diatribe that reeked of fascist-style propaganda, in tone and in content. Watch it here, unfiltered, to see for yourself.

As a media and PR fan, I have avidly watched and listened to press briefings for more than 25 years, when early versions of cable news showed them during the Gulf War. I have been particularly curious about how White House and other high-profile government spokespeople conduct themselves in front of the public, via the media. It is an extremely difficult job that requires preparation on an incredibly wide range of issues and daily updates. It is different from corporate communications work, but nonetheless interesting. Lest you accuse me of some sort of political bias (it happened just last week), on the Republican side, I learned a few things from watching and listening to Ari Fleischer and even paid to see Karen Hughes speak. On the Democratic side, I sat with Mike McCurry at dinner one night during a communications conference, impressed with his skill and smarts, and have listened to Josh Earnest’s briefings on satellite radio, appreciating his calm demeanor. That’s just to name a few on “both sides.”

All that means I think I write with some authority when I write that Sean Spicer and, during the campaign, Kellyanne Conway do not represent the PR business in this country. They represent Donald Trump, as Spicer would have said last night, “Period.” But their behavior and pattern of untruths – far beyond the typical (and often historically reprehensible) political “spin” and purported contempt for journalists hurts PR professionals who are expected to follow a code of ethics, widely, and that’s troubling.

What they do is as close to day-to-day PR as “Miami Vice” is to your local suburban police department. But, this is the only form PR that most Americans, even educated business people, see publicly. We are a business that, unfortunately, has worked very hard to deserve a reputation of sleaze. The marketplace doesn’t trust us to be fair our fees, after generations of gouging, and, too often, doesn’t think it needs our services because potential clients think they can communicate better themselves than the “spin doctors” of the world. What happened Saturday night makes this worse.

President Trump, via Spicer, apparently wanted to fire a salvo in his self-described “war” against the media. A consequence of that action is to hurt those of us who are just trying to sell communications services and counsel to businesses and organizations who have the potential to be more successful working with us, in order to make an honest living in this country.

Mayor Jim Fouts in Crisis: If He Did It, He Should Admit It

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

img This morning I appeared on Fox-2′s “Let it Rip” with Charlie Langton to discuss Warren Mayor Jim Fouts’ supposed egregious comments about the mentally and physically disabled. Not one to beat around the bush, Langton opened the 30-minute segment by asking me point blank if Fouts should resign. “Yes.” I said – if he did in fact say those outrageous things. Yet, it will never happen and here’s why.

In the world of communications, politicians are often held to a different standard – and that’s sad. But the fact is, we have become largely immune to the “out of line” things that politicians say and do. Just look at our President Elect and his crazy campaign. Politicians attack other politicians all the time. And when they do or say something improper, it is much different than a CEO of a public or private company saying or doing those things. You can’t fire them; you can’t sue them; and you can’t boycott their product. We can handle Fouts attacking Mark Hackel, yet, this time, he may have crossed the line.

Despite a history of bizarre behavior, Mayor Fouts is a popular mayor whose constituents reelected him most recently by 85%.  That also can give someone more of a “pass” in “bad times.”   Consider L. Brooks Patterson as another example of someone who is incredibly successful at what he does on behalf of the residents of Oakland County. He also has a history of making un-PC comments. This is akin to the dynamic in sports, where athletes who excel at the game and are of value to their team are much less likely to be suspended or cut than a backup or also-ran. Again, sad – but true.

On the other hand, politicians, as with any public figure, are constantly in the spotlight and a target of scrutiny; even more so today with smart phones that record audio and video and post anything to social media in seconds. We don’t know where or when Mayor Fouts said these things (if he did) but a public figure should know better. Some would argue this was locker room talk, ala Trump talking to Billy Bush. Yet, once again, who came out seemingly unscathed and who lost their job? Lauren Podell at WDIV-TV Channel 4 reportedly made improper comments in the newsroom. No audio. No video. She resigned, reportedly under pressure. Back to that double standard.

At the very, very least, I indicated on Fox-2, Mayor Fouts should apologize if that is, in fact, him on the audio tape. Honesty, transparency and taking responsibility, even though painful and embarrassing, are truly the best policies.  Instead, Fouts, never shy about approaching the media to fit his agenda, has instead avoided traditional media; instead taking to Facebook to deny and further attack Mark Hackel with conspiracy theories. As with Bill Cosby, who has consistently and sheepishly issued denials over his past behavior, it just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Mayor Fouts should be concerned with his legacy. If he did it, he should admit it. He should apologize and do something exceptional to benefit the mentally and physically challenged in his jurisdiction. If he didn’t do it, an independent party should be hired to analyze the tape with voice recognition software. Bottom line: He should do the right thing and live to fight another day on behalf of those he should be most concerned with: the citizens of the City of Warren.

Election Talk Doesn’t Have To Be Boring

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

boring-content1This past week, there was actually a radio show that analyzed the third Presidential Debate without screaming, name-calling or, maybe best yet, no recitation of campaign talking points from predictable voices.

The show was Detroit Today on public WDET-FM and you can listen via this link to hear what it sounded like. It was a privilege to be a part of an independent on-air panel and the audience seemed to appreciate hearing far more than what it has come to expect from guests who represent the major parties, typically armed with the party lines and purely political perspectives.

Therein lies the problem as a consumer of media during this election. So much of it has been so predictable. From this vantage point, that has long been a characteristic of political talk, where predictable can turn, in an instant, to boring.

“Hmmmm… what’s Rush Limbaugh going to say today? Oh that’s right, Republicans are good. Democrats are bad. Got it.” “What’s Rachel Maddow talking about tonight? Oh ya, Liberals are correct, Conservatives are wrong. OK.” While there’s a proven business model behind the always-take-one-side content approach, for those of us looking some cognitive challenge this time of the year, it can be hard to find.

That extends across all platforms. By now, each of us on social media has figured out where our contacts stand. Their posts have become flat boring. But nothing seems more predictable and boring than some of CNN’s punditry. In the name of “balance,” they are paying political types who have essentially become actors to recite campaign talking points on their set. It’s an quick-grab of the remote every time Jeffrey Lord, for example, is called upon to deliver his rehearsed and well-compensated lines.

I’m hearing what you are from those who know that they are “sick” of the election and “can’t wait for it to be over.” But media consumption levels are telling a different story. Ratings for news are up, clicks online are up and the election is The Story. So here are a few suggestions of places where you can get your election fix, give your brain a workout, and avoid boring content and paid acting:

-Sirius-XM POTUS Channel (124) – This is a political talk channel without a political agenda. If we didn’t have it, we’d want someone to invent it. I have been avidly listening since just before the Conventions this summer, after being an occasional button pusher the past few years. Particularly recommended are Tim Farley’s “Morning Briefing” in the early morning and Michael Smerconish’s show in the late morning (his trademark theme song is the ’70s Stealers Wheel one hit wonder “Stuck In The Middle”).

-The Axe Files – The podcast from former Democratic strategist David Axelrod is civil, insightful, multi-partisan interview and conversation. It’s simply worth your time.

-NPR – It’s often lumped into the “liberal media” category, probably more because of its audience than anything else. But take it from someone with a discriminating ear who spends a lot of time in the car, thorough political conversation has been paramount this year. Even the daily campaign news is put into context through on-site reporting. Locally in Michigan, the aforementioned “Detroit Today” and Michigan Radio’s “Stateside” talk shows are fair and, most importantly, interesting. NPR credits the election for a ratings bump.

If you’re interested in echo chambers that just tell you over and over again what you want to hear, I can’t help you. But there are a few options for those seeking something different for the coming weeks.

Debate Analysis Has A Conflict Problem

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

hqdefaultThe tens of millions of American households who keep the TV on after the Presidential Debate or go online for analysis will be a part of something that is otherwise not allowed in journalism or PR. Consumers looking for perspective will receive it from individuals who are walking conflicts of interest.

It’s one thing for a campaign strategist whose livelihood depends on one party or the other to provide insight as part of news coverage to explain why a campaign or a candidate does one thing or another, as part of a strategy. But when it comes to analysis of debate or speech performance – how a candidate delivers a message and connects with an audience – those one-side-or-the-other political types are asked their opinions even though they fit the definition of a conflict of interest.

It’s so predictable. After every debate, the “Democratic Strategists” say that the Democrat “won” and the “Republican Strategists” say that the Republican “won.” The analysts gets to keep their business with campaigns from their selected party and the news organizations can pat themselves on the back for “balance.” But did the audience get to take away anything interesting, valuable or even credible?

It is past time for news organizations to add objective, apolitical analysis into the most-consumed coverage. One suggestion is independent PR professionals, who spend their days counseling clients on message delivery and audience connection, but don’t have a business imperative to favor one party over another.

That is how it works when that type of analysis is needed otherwise by news organizations. During the General Motors Ignition Switch scandal in 2014, for example, I had the privilege of serving as the go-to analyst for multiple news organizations, including on the day when the company’s CEO was in front of Congress. I was asked by each newsroom if I did any kind of business with GM. Only because the answer was “no,” I was able to provide independent commentary. Nor was I paid for my time by any of the news organizations, unlike many of the post-debate analysis Americans see in 2016, many of whom are hired to provide particular partisan points of view (sometimes, with a non-disparagement agreement in hand about a candidate they are supposed to be analyzing).

The other exception to the rule made for debates is “The Spin Room.” It is perhaps the only time that journalists are encouraged by their bosses to seek B.S. rather than avoid it. They know they are being fed lines of bull and they eat it up. Day-to-day, they are encouraged and look forward to finding independent sources of credible analysis. But after a debate, the herd mentality leads them to a place where those they interview are required to talk glowingly, deserved or not, about whomever they represent.

As consumers, we accept a double standard. For many, it seems, they just want to hear someone of perceived authority speak well of their “team” and ill of the other. But for the growing segment of independent voters, it’s past time for more independent voices, not on anyone’s payroll, to provide some much-needed rational perspective.