Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category

What’s The Buzz – Tell Me What’s Happening

Friday, April 21st, 2017

whatsgoingonBill O’Reilly. The Facebook murderer. Media and society.  All were hot topics and the center of conversation last night on Fox-2′s “Let it Rip” with Huel Perkins.  As we helped weigh in as part of a distinguished panel something apparent became even more disturbingly clear: something is wrong in Denmark, on many fronts. And, tying in to the blog’s title (which comes from the 70s musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”) what is going on out there?

In the wake of Fox’s firing of Bill O’Reilly, one of the panelists, an attorney, suggested that the TV giant and his former boss may well have been targets because of their money and fame.  As I posited on-air, if I was being accused of something of this nature and I did not do it, I’d be fighting back tooth-and-nail rather than hiding behind millions of dollars in payouts and “hush money.”  I’d use that money instead to sue these women for defamation.  Instead, denials reign and questions remain as Fox tries to repair a corporate culture and image from the top down.

Of greater concern, of course, is Facebook and its “Live” video component that is growing in popularity and usage among the media giant’s 2 billion users. No other media allows anyone, at any time, to post whatever they want, whenever they want.  TV and radio employ time delays. Print media, of course, has editors.  Now, more than ever Mark Zuckerberg and his team must come up with a solution that more widely, comprehensively and effectively monitors and vets what is posted. Call it “Big Brother.” Call it censorship. I call it making sure the majority of our society is protected from those who are disturbed and looking for a forum to be heard.

And what of society in general? Have we become desensitized to brutal images of gang beat downs and bad behavior and their being posted and displayed on-air and online? Is the media to blame? Cue the sociologists but we all bear responsibility – from home and parents to churches and counselors to video game manufacturers and news outlets. Ultimately, it is about respect for humanity and human life and providing our young people with the mental and intellectual tools, support and guidance they so desperately need and is altogether lacking. Because when we fail our kids, we all suffer the consequences.

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.

Mylan Backtracks While Kaeperick Sits

Monday, August 29th, 2016

WjI5dlphVEV0YzNSdmNtVXVkMkZzYldGeWRDNWpZUzlwYldGblpYTXZUR0Z5WjJVdk1EUTBMekpmTVM4eU5qQTBOREpmTVM1cWNHYz0yeGxjM1ZqYTNNThis past week saw not one but two high-profile crisis communications stories – one in the area of sports and the other in pharmaceuticals.  The latter is alarming while the former is thought-provoking.  Both have sparked great reaction and underscore the importance of thinking before acting and considering the potential ramifications of your actions, both for your constituents and yourself.

Fledgling San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, first of all, created a firestorm of controversy for himself over his defiant demonstration of one, choosing to sit rather than stand during a preseason game singing of the National Anthem. He was protesting, he said, this country’s oppressive behaviors and attitudes against people of color.  His actions blew up social and traditional media, with, interestingly enough, a fairly even split between those for and against his stance. Did Kaepernick consider his actions ahead of time? Probably. Did he consider the possible ramifications for himself – including his fight for the starting quarterback position and future sponsorship/endorsement deals? Or, was he instead more interested in making an important high-profile statement that he felt passionately about at any and all costs? After all, while some now view him as unpatriotic others now see a man often referred to in the past as brash, selfish and immature instead as an individual filled with conviction and conscience.

Of more importance to consider is drug giant Mylan’s announcement that they planned to raise the price of their lifesaving EpiPen by 400% as CEO and executive board compensation also rose to – by many estimates – obscene amounts.  In the wake of  the firestorm that followed, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch initially went on the defensive blaming a ‘broken healthcare system’ for the unavoidable price hikes. The next moment, however, 50% off coupons were being made available while the company also announced it would soon begin offering patients a much more affordable generic brand option.

Mylan’s actions tell me one of three things related to communications counsel. Either communications was not at the boardroom table when the price increases were being discussed; communications input against such action was discounted; or whomever is handling PR for Mylan didn’t have the balls to speak up. I’m guessing it was (1) or (2). The company’s initial actions, as such, reeked of stupidity and greed, in particular for a produce for which there is virtually no competition. Their response, in turn, to the public uproar was almost as pathetic, demonstrating they should never have gone down the path of price increases some were calling criminal in the first place.

The motto of these stories? Think before you act and don’t act before you think because there will be consequences one way or the other. The trick is careful considering ahead of time of what those consequences might be and then, if necessary, taking the path best traveled for ensure future credibility and reputation.

The 12 Days of Business: Holiday Hopes for 2016

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

partridge_in_a_pear_tree_s1With apologies to those who observe Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or variations, a few hopes for the holiday season and beyond – for business and life – to the tune of a Christmas classic:

 

On the first day of Business

I’d really like to see

a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the second day of Business

I’d really like to see

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the third day of Business

I’d really like to see

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the fourth day of Business

I’d really like to see

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the fifth day of Business

I’d really like to see

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the sixth day of Business

I’d really like to see

6 pence and more to charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the seventh day of Business

I’d really like to see

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more to charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the eight day of Business

I’d really like to see

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more to charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the ninth day of Business

I’d really like to see

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the tenth day of Business

I’d really like to see

Ten commandment tenets respected

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the eleventh day of Business

I’d really like to see

11 and louder mindshare

10 commandment tenets respected

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the twelfth day of Business

I’d really like to see

12 months of health and prosperity

11 and louder mindshare

10 commandment tenets respected

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued…

…and a fulfilling year for you and me.

 

“Passion” No Excuse For Bad Business Behavior

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

burning-passionThe highlight of this past week was a long breakfast catch-up with one of my favorite colleagues from a job I had nearly 20 years ago. It had been two years since we had the chance to catch up in person and this time, with no agenda, the conversation was wide-ranging. Along the way, stories about two of the most despicable individuals I’ve encountered in business were told to illustrate points about values and perseverance, two themes that came up a few times during the extended dialogue.

In the car, leaving the restaurant where we had met, I hated that I had to think of this pair. More moments with the two dastardly characters who came up over breakfast flashed into my head. I realized those two antagonists led to significant professional changes. And remarkably, both of them used the same line in an effort to cover up reprehensible behavior.

The first example was a TV news director who didn’t like that I disagreed with her in a meeting. Instead of inviting me into her office for a “teaching moment” or otherwise providing guidance (I was only about 25 years old, after all), she verbally tore into me in the middle of the newsroom. While berating me publicly, she yelled “You need to go back to Producing 101.” It was a moment of humiliation like I had never felt before, or since.

At the end of that day, instead of apologizing privately or publicly, she walked by my desk and said, “What happened this afternoon was just two passionate people expressing their feelings.” That was it.

Fast-forward nearly 18 years to the second example – the new Vice President of a client organization who verbally abused one of my colleagues via phone the week before. I reported that unacceptable behavior to the CEO, who arranged a meeting between the VP and me. In that meeting, when I described behavior that led to my serious concern, the VP tore into me, in front of his boss, in a bombastic and acidic tone, even including an ethnic slur (Pro tip: saying “I’m not The Gestapo” to a guy named Friedman isn’t the best metaphor move).

When I responded by saying, “If you’re going to talk to me like that, we’re not going to be able to work together,” his response was, “Well, I’m just a passionate person.”

Professional passion isn’t about screaming or insulting. In fact, it’s the anthesis. Passion is about caring so much, that you go out of your way for other people to get the job done. It’s about giving maximum effort in every respect. Passion is about anticipation for the day to come when you get out of bed in the morning. It’s about putting the mission or the purpose of the work as the priority, even ahead of your own ego. Passion is admitting you are wrong, for the good of the organization. It’s about deriving true satisfaction out of the work.

“Passion” does not rationalize bad business behavior. Passion should actually prevent it from happening.

So what became of the relationships with these individuals? The first was no longer my boss just a few months later, because I resigned to make big changes in my career motivated, in part, by encounters like that. The second is no longer our client because the CEO refused to make any changes even after witnessing that exchange. Condoning bad behavior is bad as exhibiting it, if not worse. So we decided to end an 8-year relationship which, while financially painful, was the right decision because we have passion – actual passion – for our values as a firm.

Garbage Behavior Gives PR Firms A Bad Rep

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

imagesPR firms, collectively, are PR-challenged. We are often seen as scheming, secretive, greedy hucksters of “spin.”

That makes potential clients, even those who could really benefit from our actual services, think twice about hiring one of us. Unfortunately, this reputation is hard-earned because of the garbage pulled by some firms, quite often the biggest ones, like what journalists in Washington brought to light this week.

Just read this piece in The Washington Post. It explains how a mega-firm used taxpayer money to try to covertly get information out of reporters, without revealing their client and even offering a reward for information. Worst of all, they did this over email.

If it’s portrayed as sleazy by The Post, that’s because it is. Never mind the firm was probably using very junior people to do the dirty work while charging DC premium rates.

Often, when we start with a new client, it is helpful to know what journalists think about covering that client. It helps us understand what we’re walking into and how we can do a better job of working with the client to get the journalists what they need, when they need it. But it always happens with full disclosure. And it happens over the phone, to increase the level of candor and quality and efficiency of conversation. Sometimes, if more dialogue is needed, we’ll meet in person. This business is about relationships and mutually-beneficial relationships aren’t based on hiding information while asking for advice.

From exorbitant fees to overstaffing accounts to pulling this garbage, these firms make us all look like frauds We won’t get them to stop their behavior but it’s time unsuspecting clients get wise and stop rewarding it.

They Say Crisis Brings Opportunity… But For Whom?

Monday, September 7th, 2015

UnknownIn crisis communications, they often say “a crisis brings opportunity.” or “a good crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” But in recent weeks, we have seen two examples of too much opportunity being handed to firms that have apparently decided not to waste them by just focusing on something relatively insignificant, like the best interests of their clients.

We found out about this case from Washington, DC, where the transit authority spent $250,000 on two firms to help it recover from a crisis. The fees were so astronomical that the authority had to collect on an insurance policy just to pay them.

While the journalist who wrote the story on this work doesn’t believe that value was provided, from our perspective it’s hard to say. But fees of a quarter million dollars, collectively, tell us that work was not done efficiently or in a focused way. It seems these firms used this crisis as a big billing opportunity. Time sheets show nine staffers at just one of the firms putting in time on this project. It’s hard to imagine what would take that much people power, especially at what appears to be a well-staffed client. Quite simply, it doesn’t have take $250,000 to help any client rebound successfully from a crisis, when being cost and time efficient should be among the priorities.

Our network has also brought to our attention a disturbing recent example of a PR agency that has actually seized the attention its own client in crisis. The client, a longtime community organization, is in the news because of alleged criminal activity by one of its employees in the workplace. Since the charges became public, the only communication from the client to the public has been a series written statements attributed to the owner of the PR firm.

It’s one thing if an organization hires a firm to work with the media or even be interviewed on the record. We have done that many times. There can be short-term advantages to having a round-the-clock professional spokesperson working with media during a crisis, so leadership can work directly on tasks that need to get done immediately otherwise. But these have simply been written statements (common in situations with sensitive legal implications), over several weeks, that credibly could have been attributed to anyone. There is only one real reason why they would be attributed to a PR agency owner and that is for the agency to steal as much notoriety from its client as possible. The agency is attracting attention to itself while keep its own client publicly silent. Yes, it’s sleazy.

Many of the crisis communications projects of which we are most proud or those where nobody but us and the client knew we were involved. The client was “better off” after the project than before, paying us simply for our time that is most needed and appreciating the work. It’s about helping clients when they need it the most.

Chicken S*** Nation Is Bad For Business

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Dont-be-a-chicken-shitChances are you’re part of a dubious club. Just about everyone is. In fact, we’re seeing more and more of your ilk all the time.

Chances are you’re like the client we had to fire last year. When I went out to her office to see her, and have a very difficult 45 minute conversation about why the relationship had to end, she asked “Why didn’t you just call me and tell me I wasn’t paying you enough to make it worth it?” For one, that wasn’t true. For another, as a human being, she deserved better. But she just couldn’t get over the fact that I wouldn’t take the easy way out.

Chances are you’ve done something like the PR agency rep who called last month on behalf of a potential client. She was looking for a Detroit-area firm to support the opening of a new location of her client’s chain. I explained that on one hand, we are very qualified as we often work with local or regional operations of national companies and we work daily with clients in fast-growing Downtown Detroit, where this business will be located. On the other hand, I explained that we don’t have much experience in her client’s industry, per se. Intrigued by our relevant experience, she asked for a proposal and needed it “tomorrow.” I cleared a big chunk of my next day to write the proposal. A month later and days away from opening, I still have not received any kind of acknowledgment or response. The referral source even followed up and received no apology from this rep, who took the easy way out.

This growing club – Chicken S*** Nation – avoids difficult business conversations at all costs. It’s like all of the rules of dating have extended to doing business. “I’m just not into them” means unanswered emails and calls. I guess we’re supposed to get the message that it’s time to move on? In a technology-enabled culture where couples break up via text and employees get fired via email, it’s no surprise that Chicken S*** Nation is growing in ranks.

It’s not just in relationships’ beginnings or ends. There’s almost a new adage in business that if your customer likes your work, he’ll tell you. If he doesn’t, he’ll probably not say anything and will start thinking about options behind your back.

Business can be fun. It can be rewarding. But it can also be hard. One of the hardest parts used to be having difficult conversations. It’s so tempting to make your challenging work life easier by just zooming by the tough stuff. But think about the people on the other end. Mutual respect dictates the same honesty and level of communications you would expect. You owe it to them to suck it up, talk about it the right way and give up your membership in Chicken S*** Nation.

How Do You Respond To A Crazy Email?

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

yellow_guy_crazy_hg_whtA couple of weeks ago on this blog, I detailed how an egomaniac ad agency owner committed the ultimate act of cowardice against a client, who happened to be my wife. After nearly a year of broken promises, long lulls in communication and growing frustration, she told him she was no longer interested in his company’s completion of a new website for her online business, promised due seven months earlier. So, he sued her for breach of contract. It’s all detailed here.

A reasonable businessperson would think that my business relationship with this guy would be history after he dropped multiple nuclear bombs – 1) taking on a project his firm either didn’t have the capabilities to commit or considered “small potatoes” 2) treating a customer (with whom I live) poorly, stringing her along for a year and 3) filing the lawsuit. Now that the case has been settled in binding mediation, a reasonable person would expect that I would be done with him. Instead, last week, I received this email:

“Hi Matt, sorry things didn’t work out the way your wife wanted. We really tried to make her happy. I am sure this entire thing put you in a very odd place. Please understand that I am not angry or think that this was your fault. I recently recommended you for another assignment will continue to do so. Hope to catch up with you soon.”

Really? Really? Yes.

Emotional thoughts raced through my mind. This is crazy. Completely nuts. “Didn’t work out the way your wife wanted.” That’s the understatement of the year. “Tried to make her happy.” Bull****. This could have been my fault? My fault? “Hope to catch up with you soon.” Ya, how about half past never? There’s only one word to describe it and it’s a Yiddish one. This is chutzpah.

Didn’t this guy understand the money he cost my household in legal fees and for an expensive website that was never built? Didn’t he understand the pain he caused by forcing us to talk about this situation every night for a year instead of other more pleasant things? Didn’t he understand how he took time away from my clients to deal with this?

After fuming for a while, I decided to take a deep breath and take the advice I would give a client. Put it aside. Calm down. Detach. Give it a couple of days.

A few days later, I was ready to respond. I realized, in his world, suing people and pocketing cash is just part of the “game” of business. The way he sees it, it seems, he won this round but wants to play some more. But, just like I can’t relate to his world, he probably can’t relate to mine. So, taking the advice I would give a client in this situation, here’s how I responded:

“It is apparent that you are oblivious to my perspective on what happened, so I will keep this simple.

Please do not contact me again.

Matt”

So far, so good.

Sometimes You Must Just Say No To New Business

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

thumbnail.aspToo often in business, ego and greed go head-to-head with common sense and prevail, causing damage in their wake. Too often, those forces lead companies to say “yes” to new business when they should just say “no.” This is a post about two of those instances wrapped up into one story.

At the end of 2012, the owner of a small online-only business realized her company was overdue for a new website and it quickly became a strategic imperative. We had referred her to an ad agency (that had also referred us business) the year before for some online advertising. They had done a pretty good job, so she gave them an opportunity to propose a new site. The owner of the agency pulled out all the stops in a hard sell, but admitted that his company typically handles such projects for much larger companies and that this would be their smallest project. When she expressed concern about that, he reassured her by telling her he had an an “expert” on staff in her e-commerce platform. He just couldn’t say “no.” In January of 2013, she signed a contract for a new site – the largest purchase in the history of her company.

The agency estimated a four-month “conservative” completion time for the new site. Six months later, it still wasn’t finished. When she wondered why nobody from the agency had contacted her in many weeks, she discovered, via a LinkedIn search, that her account representative had left the agency weeks before. It took the owner several days to get back to her and promised her a quick completion. To make a long story short, when the site still wasn’t completed after nearly a year since signing the contract, she suggested the two companies work out an arrangement that would allow both of them to move on. She obviously wasn’t getting the new site she needed. Her project obviously was either too small and/or too far afield for the agency to complete. Instead of working out a deal to part ways, the arrogant, gutless agency owner committed an act of cowardice – he filed a breach of contract suit against her.

After a counter-suit and much money spent on lawyers, the two sides ultimately agreed to binding mediation. A professional mediator, a former judge, was to hear both sides, and, after two hours, if an agreement could not be reached with his assistance, he would rule on a binding settlement. This mediator typically deals with much bigger cases and much longer mediations, but would not say “no” to taking the case.

To say the mediator mailed this one in would imply a little effort. It was more like he did this one from the couch with a bag of chips in one hand and a remote control in the other. The session started late and ended early. At least for the online business’ side, he barely asked any questions and refused to look at evidence. He mentioned multiple times that he had somewhere else to be and did not issue a decision that day. In fact, his decision came two days later and was just a number – one that benefitted the ad agency and virtually ignored the side of the business owner.

That business owner happens to be my wife. The ad agency is a former collaborator, with an owner who chose to napalm his relationship with our firm. The mediator is one I used to respect, before seeing him in “action.” Cutting through the emotions of the situation, I remember a pledge Don and I made when we started our firm. We don’t know everything. We won’t do everything. Sometimes, when it’s really best for a potential client, we will say “no.” If only that had happened in either case in this story, it could have prevented a lot of pain and a lot of money lost.