Archive for November, 2011

What To Do About Suh?

Friday, November 25th, 2011

First of all, let me say that I have a lot of respect for Ndamukong Suh.  Already one of the best players ever to don a Detroit Lions jersey he is as dominant as they come on the field. Off, he is intelligent, soft spoken and accessible to fans.  During training camp I saw him walk in to 24 Grille at the Westin Book Cadillac.  He was more than eager to shake my hand as I welcomed him back to town and work after the lockout as he passed by.

As the Lions continue to work on their new image and, more often than not, winning ways, it is disheartening to watch his almost weekly meltdowns, which have fueled his growing reputation (some feel deserved) as a “dirty player.”

Suh tries to explain away his fine-inducing behavior as ‘competitive’, ‘aggressive’ and ‘emotional’ – even traveling to New York to plead his case with Commissioner Goodell.  Yet, there can be no convincing explanation for Thanksgiving Day’s meltdown except being irresponsible and classless. He lost his poise. He should admit that and then correct it, moving forward.

The defensive tackle with the limitless abilities cannot continue to shift blame and responsibility for his actions. He’s a bigger man than that – literally and figuratively. He also needs to realize what a role model he is for fans and our city. On national television he embarrassed himself and, in turn, Detroit. None of us needed that.

With another fine and possibly a suspension looming, perhaps this will be a wakeup call for Number 90. If not, the team, his bank account and our city will suffer. If so, those familiar chants of “Suuuh” may well become boos.

A Fine Mess at Syracuse, A New Level of PR Scrutiny

Friday, November 18th, 2011

This is the question I have asked myself all day: Like a doctor trying to diagnose a relative, can I fairly evaluate the adversity communications management efforts of Syracuse University, the institution that helped provide me with both my career and my family?

I’m trying, as professionally as possible.

Now, a little more than 24 hours after ESPN first reported that 35-year assistant basketball coach and alumnus Bernie Fine is accused of molesting two former ballboys, I just Googled “Syracuse University.” Eight of the top ten listings under the name of this 141 year-old institution are now about this situation. Though no charges have been filed, these accusations have quickly branded the institution. Remarkably, so has something else.

Since the story first broke, much attention has been paid to how the University, and the coaching staff, has handled this from a PR standpoint. This has been much more than Twitterati “buzz.” Bona fide journalists have weighed in, almost from the moment the story first broke, as part of their reporting.

The University has received high marks and, despite my potential for bias, I have to agree. The first ESPN story included this thorough and careful statement from a University spokesperson. Then, at 7am today, the University community woke up to this letter signed by the Chancellor, in email inboxes and on social media, which was particularly effective. When we teach crisis management in media training, we tell our clients to do three things in these communications: lay out the facts, provide appropriate reassurance and express concern for people affected. The University went three for three.

As for the coaches, Fine issued this statement through his attorney. It was obviously written by the attorney, but was much more complete compared to most statements by people being investigated by police, something journalists pointed out immediately.

Longtime head coach Jim Boeheim, who since won the National Championship in 2003 has spoken to the public with unvarnished candor, has unloaded on the accusers in the most blunt of terms and supported Fine in the most glowing of terms. Writers have wondered aloud all day long whether it’s the right PR move. Boeheim is speaking his mind on his own terms and I’m sure he’s not asking for approval. Just like in business PR when we deal with “cowboys,” they have to own their words forever.

Here’s the very early lesson for crisis communicators – your work is now part of the story. Don’t waste time, don’t lose focus and stick to fundamentals. The media isn’t just watching those at the center of the story, they’re also watching you.

Steering The Next Generation In The Right Direction

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

It’s always rewarding to be asked by PR students and young professionals to provide perspectives on the industry. In recent days a junior from Eastern Michigan University contacted me for a paper she is writing seeking commentary on thoughts put forth in a speech her class was studying by public relations consultant and author Fraser Seitel.

In most cases I agreed with Mr. Seitel’s assessment of our field today, including his contention that the practice of PR has never been more valuable. In a world of 24-hour news cycles and social media where almost anyone with a cell phone and twitter account can break “news”, public scrutiny has never been more intense and reputation management more difficult or important.

It is also a time that ethics are paramount, including how a PR practitioner deals with the media, clients and the community at large. I have heard tales recently of one firm trying to butter up a particular reporter by attempting to hire that reporter’s spouse for work. In another story, a public relations agency, fired by one client, approached that client’s competitor and proceeded to share privileged informational work product.

In Seitel’s speech, he speaks about the “darker side” of public relations – an industry perception, which the behavior I have described perpetuates. It is just such actions that hurt everyone involved – beyond the immediate participants – steering potential clients away from seeking out PR counsel while giving the field in general an undeserved black eye. To be sure, at Tanner Friedman, we prefer to look at and subscribe to “the bright side.”

The collegian and I discussed just such dynamics in detail during our more than hour conversation. We chatted about the industry’s good, bad and ugly (mostly good) and how to strive for taking the field to new heights and a rewarding career. It’s a talk I’m always ready to give.

And “The Next Bob Costas” Is…

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

More than 20 years ago, when I started college at Syracuse University, I quickly realized there were dozens of young men like me, from around the country, who chose to attend the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at least in part because it’s the school that Bob Costas attended.

I chose the school for other reasons too (several friends from my hometown who studied broadcasting and journalism had gone there and had terrific experiences). But, like several of my classmates, and many hundreds more before me and after me, I believed I had a chance to be “The Next Bob Costas,” a term heard often in the halls of the Newhouse School.

When I started school, Costas was only 38 years old, but he was already a legend. He left school early for his first job (as only athletes themselves usually did), calling play-by-play of pro basketball games in St. Louis. He later donned the prestigious NBC Sports blazer and was their lead NFL studio anchor, Saturday baseball play-by-play announcer and landed every other high-profile assignment. Also, before sports radio was ubiquitous, he hosted “Costas Coast To Coast,” a weekly national sports radio interview show that was a “must listen” for sports media geeks like me.

As he proved last night with his interview of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and his attorney, Costas has a one-of-a-kind command of the English language and extraordinary ad-lib skill. He is still versatile and can be an announcer, host, commentator and, as he proved last night, an interviewer with journalistic ability on par with any newscaster.

Reading the many reaction pieces online today and hearing much reaction on the radio, even in this age of instant criticism, it appears unanimous – Costas cemented his stardom in that memorable interview.

I distinctly remember, just before classes started soon after I arrived on campus, a peer advisor telling me that “the sportscaster I’m interning for this year at Channel 5 really is ‘The Next Bob Costas.’” The name of that local sportscaster, just a few years out of school, was Mike Tirico. Today, Tirico is one of the most solid, versatile and respected sports broadcasters on the air. He may be the closest, but he’s not “The Next Bob Costas.”

Today, even in a very cluttered media world, only Bob Costas retains that title.

Penn State Has Forgotten It’s A Public (as in PR) School

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Often, in adverse situations, “good PR” can be difficult to spot. When messaging is clear and immediate and it reaches its audiences, it’s sometimes hard to notice. That’s because when it’s effective, the public can “move on.”

But “bad PR” is very easy to spot and not just for those of us in “the business.” Today, at about 11:45am, when Penn State’s President cancelled its regular football press conference (after it became obvious that the 100+ journalists who arrived early weren’t interested in the ridiculous “football questions only” mandate), social media lit up fast. From sports writers to casual fans to everyday Pennsylvanians, it was obvious that 84 year-old coaching institution Joe Paterno and his bosses were doing the wrong thing in avoiding public comment on the child abuse scandal that has disgusted the nation.

Now, the “ivory tower” mentality of academia is now on full display. The Penn State administration is proving that it lives the life of isolation and arrogance that validates every higher education stereotype.

Forgotten here is “public” part of public universities and public relations. We, the taxpayers of the United States and the taxpayers of Pennsylvania are the most important constituency of those who are now facing deserved criticism. Says who? How about the Mission Statement of the Pennsylvania State University? Click this link and look at the fifth word. Public. Joe Paterno and his President serve the public. They have an obligation to answer the public (via the media and otherwise).

But it’s clear that President Graham Spanier has no regard for the public. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have avoided the media, cancelled today’s press conference or approved this statement over the weekend, presumably written by lawyers and in-house PR counsel. In it, he gave “unconditional support” to two of his direct reports who face charges that instantly outraged the public. Unconditional? Obviously, anyone who saw it ahead of time and may have suggested that a statement like that does not address the seriousness of the charges, reeks of cronyism and essentially slaps the public in the face was ignored.

When public individuals don’t talk when facing adversity, it appears to the public like they have something to hide. Based on what I saw online today, that fact has become common knowledge in the social media age. In this case, public individuals accused of hiding something have even more of an imperative to face their real “bosses” – the public. But thanks to culture and ego, it seems like they will never learn.

“The Beat” Doesn’t Go On – It’s Now “The D”

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

If you tuned in this week to Clear Channel Radio’s 106.7 “The Beat” hoping to hear dance hits from Madonna or Katy Perry, you may have been taken aback by screaming guitars and wailing vocals of late 70s and 80s rockers AC/DC and Billy Squier. Indeed, “The Beat” is now Classic Rocker “The D”.

The radio station has been nothing if not a chameleon in recent years after auspicious beginnings. Known best for its “W-4″ moniker, WWWW was a high-ratings rocker in the 70s and 80s including with a jock by the name of Howard Stern.  The station successfully kicked out country for nearly two decades after that before becoming “Alice” in 1999 (rock); “The Drive” in 2002 (rock); “The Fox” in 2006 (country) and Rythmic Adult Contemporary “The Beat” in 2009.

So, what’s next for “The D”? According to radio industry news website “All Access” this week, the station is looking to fill the on-air studio with “well-known Detroit personalities.” Station senior management is indicating that, “some will be based here but all will have a connection with the Motor City.” With Clear Channel the inaugurator of voice tracking one has to wonder how many personalities will actually be live and local.

And despite the radio giant’s ongoing financial trials and tribulations, wouldn’t it be wonderful to once again hear one-time Detroit rock radio royalty return to their rightful roosts behind the mics – Lynne Woodison, Arthur Penhallow, Tom Ryan and Tom Force among them? And, fueled by a recipe for success mixing innovative promotion and great talent, who wouldn’t venture to the nether regions of the radio dial to partake of such delicious auditory fare? Here’s hoping Clear Channel thinks clearly on this one and does the right thing.

How The B of A PR Crisis Could Have Been Prevented

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Today, we saw a new result of a disturbing trend among big, public corporations. Relatively speaking, PR is just not that important for them these days. But maybe others will learn from this lesson.

After weeks of public backlash that show how important PR can be, especially in a digital age, Bank of America has reversed its decision to charge a monthly fee for having a debit card. The company says it based its new decision on public feedback. But, it seems that if PR had an appropriate “seat at the table” from the beginning and top executives had actually listened, they would have never made the decision in the first place.

Bank of America’s CEO made nearly $2 million last year. So $60 per year (the debit fee) probably didn’t seem like much. But, any PR pro could have told him (and maybe some tried) that for a fee fatigued public, that blames banks, at least in part, for the nation’s economic situation, it would be enough to cause a major issue.

This seems to be a symptom of the problem we wrote about three months ago. Big public companies have de-emphasized PR, putting their reputations at risk. That’s because top executives are rewarded for short-term financial performance, not corporate reputation. In this case, what if the company had been able to think about reputation as a primary concern right away, rather than an ultimate factor weeks down the road? It probably would have been much different. Crises can be prevented if corporations decide to reverse the trend and make PR a priority.