Archive for November, 2013

Giving Back To The Future

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

us-and-them-by-jeff-macnellyWhile we are all busy with the day-to-day of work and life, a few recent events underscored the importance of taking the time to stop for a moment to look both back and forward and seek out ways of playing a tangible role in furthering a chosen field.  In 1991, while still working in radio, I made my first dedicated attempt to find a job in public relations. There was at that time, you might recall, a recession going on and I experienced many, many doors slammed in my face, sometimes quite rudely.  I persevered, however, by seeking out willing mentors and ‘few and far’ between “allies”, building relationships and making the connections that helped me eventually find employment in the industry.

That initial career-change adversity helped shape a resolve to assist the next generation of PR practitioners in finding their way. It is a priority shared by my colleagues and firm.  In recent weeks, we have had the good fortune to host students from Wayne State University and Michigan State University at Tanner Friedman, walking them through what it will take to successfully prepare for and transition to a successful and rewarding career.  Similarly, we are currently taking a close look at our intern program and how it might evolve to provide even greater value to our future student colleagues. Regular job shadows are also an ongoing part of our modus operandi and DNA.

Particularly rewarding in recent days was being asked to participate in the Adcraft Club’s 2013 AdCon – a conference for students in the creative industries held last Saturday at the Center for Creative Studies. Hundreds of future PR, advertising and marketing agency professionals were provided with the wonderful opportunity to listen to industry pros discuss their career paths and respective fields.  On a PR panel of four, I had the good fortune to speak to three separate groups of students, sharing best practices and job rewards and realities.  All were greatly engaged, bright and motivated (remember, this was a Saturday)!

And finally, Thursday night the 2013 annual dinner for Detroit Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) was held at MotorCity Casino Hotel – an organization our firm joined upon our inception and one we serve proudly (including in leadership roles).  It is one more way we are giving back to an industry and the people that work within it – both today and tomorrow.  Because, in the end and ultimately, it’s not just about us (and billables and profits).  Rather, it is (with a nod to Pink Floyd) about us and them. 

Atlanta and Detroit: A Tale of Two City Brands

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

AtlantaIt’s tough to imagine two communities with more different reputations than Detroit and Atlanta. Having lived in both places, I have seen this first-hand.

Every time there’s something controversial in Detroit, it’s considered “a black eye for the city.” Every scandal, political dispute, every crime report, every odd news story has locals on edge about how the region’s national reputation will be impacted.

But, Atlanta has the most resilient brand a city could ever imagine. While Detroit has no margin for error in public perception, Atlanta’s reputation is Teflon-coated. The locals there, rather than living in fear of what the country will think, act with uncanny PR instinct. Urban-suburban squabbles, even those with racial overtones, are kept local. Sprawl is touted as attractive economic development. Problems like traffic (at Los Angeles levels, according to many reports) and smog are treated as “a price to pay” for living in a “hot city.”

This phenomenon even true in sports. The snowstorm at the Super Bowl in 1982 was a catastrophe. But the ice storm at the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 2000 was an aberration. Now, the Atlanta Braves say they are leaving a Downtown stadium built for the 1996 Olympics for a new stadium in suburban Cobb County in 2017. The story, so far, has been mostly a local one, save sports media. Here’s a link to a commentary on some of the potentially-embarassing flaws in that plan, which is certainly controversial. It’s easy to imagine that if something like this happened in Detroit, it would be much more than a sports story.

Cities have brands and live with stereotypes just like companies. Also like businesses, each city has its positive and negative attributes once you cut beneath the brand. But just like in business, culture helps shape brands, which help shape reputations. Detroit is in the midst of what could be a culture change. Now could be the beginning of the story beginning to change. But, it’s important to remember that Atlanta has been building its story consistently since Reconstruction – an effort that helps to contain controversies while others do not enjoy such a luxury.

Is There Still A Place In PR For Media Training?

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

3326693-woman-presenter-holding-a-microphone-in-handIf you’re a business executive, particularly in a privately-owned company, chances have never been lower at any point in your career that you will be interviewed by a journalist.

That’s because there are simply fewer journalists covering less news than ever before. It’s challenging enough to get the stories you want told in the media, never mind actually having to answer questions about them. At the same time, TV news investigative reporting, which used to strike fear in the minds of executives who worried about being ambushed in their driveways, has now shifted focus in many markets to public officials, whose acts of arrogance make them easy targets.

Those factors, coupled with the Great Recession-induced de-emphasis on PR by many public companies, has led to a slowdown in what was once a lucrative and consistent part of the PR business – media training. At one time, firms could charge $1000 on up, per participant, for training sessions that could last 4-8 hours. Many of them would be cookie-cutter lessons in classroom style, with little more than dusting off the playbook time and time again. Clients, acting out of fear of “bad coverage,” would eat it up and pay a premium for it, even including executives far removed from the communications function “just in case.”

But, in recent years, media training has become ground Kona coffee in a 7-11 world.

While leading a modernized media training session for a group of executives last week, it became clear that there is still value in such a session, if done the right way, with respect for the client. Here are a few of the reasons:

-For some organizations, media coverage has waned less than for others. If you are still covered by media or have news coming up, training can still be valuable to prepare for news stories that your executives would actually be a part of. That requires customized training and practice on real-life scenarios, rather than worst-case hypotheticals.

-Costs can be flexible. Firms that do training should base fees on time spent, not on how much money they think they can get away with charging.

-Media training should be message development training. It should also be mindset training. When executives can learn an appreciation for how professional communicators think and work, it can be valuable for the entire organization in its effort to build its brand.

-Learning how to deliver a message via the spoken word is a valuable skill. A good media training session should have value beyond media interviews and can teach executives and spokespeople how to tell the organization’s story via verbal communication.

Like just about everything else in PR, the fundamentals still work, it’s just a matter of how and when they are applied. Media training can still be a valuable part of some communications programs, if media realities and client realities are taken into consideration.

Whatever Happened to Customer Service? A Road-Weary Tale

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

UnknownThe story begins, appropriately enough, with a theft.  Namely, my wallet from a counter top in a sundries shop at a hotel while out of town in Las Vegas for business for a week. But the adventure really began trying to report the theft, cancel my primary personal business card and, it was my hope, secure cash from my credit card company (Citibank Visa) of more than 20 years. Turns out they were inept (and will soon not be my credit card company) and stuck on policy. And they were far from alone.

Now, you would think that being a customer in good standing for more than two decades would allow for the wiring or advancement of cash to my casino hotel. More than two hours and four “customer service specialists” later, I had run as much out of patience as I was now out of on-hand money.  Obviously concerned with fraud, I was shuttled from one person to the next (each barely more understandable than the last) as I told my tale over and over and over again.  In the end, I was informed, no cash would be forthcoming. Rather, I would be sent a replacement card to my hotel within 24-48 hours – maybe – as they were unable to commit exactly to a date and time. Las Vegas. Four days left in my business trip. No money. No I.D. No help.

My quest for green sustenance took me next to Western Union, which, I was informed, had a location in the hotel next to me. I would need I.D (also for the plane ride home), so I had my birth certificate and passport scanned and emailed. Upon arriving at Harrah’s the next day to pick up a Western Union wire from home, I was informed by the hotel that as I was not a hotel guest, they could not accommodate me. (Guess where I will never be staying).  The valet at that hotel did allow me to ride an airport shuttle to another Western Union location several miles away off the strip gratis (again, I had zero money) where the adventure continued.

At Check City, where a steady stream of characters rolled in and out, I was informed that their policy dictated that they could not accept my scanned birth certificate and passport for the dollar amount I wished to secure. Family at home had to start the process over again, allowing me to eventually secure about half the cash I originally sought. Not wanting to spend this lesser amount on a cab (with more than two more days of my trip to go), I walked the several miles back to my hotel over the next 40 minutes.  Within the next hour, I happened to call my hotel’s business and package office and was told my credit card had arrived! Funny, my hotel had not informed me; it was mere intuition that had moved me to call and discover my gift, about an hour before the office was scheduled to close.

The day ended with my desire to relieve some stress by hitting the hotel gym. I left my room at 9pm and discovered upon arrival that the gym was closed for the day (evidently open 6a-8p – barely more than doctor’s hours for a gym in a supposed 24-hour hotel casino). Upon returning to my room, I discovered, almost poetically, that I had not brought my room card. Rather, I had brought my newly arrived Citibank Visa card – forcing a walk through the casino in my workout gear to the front desk for a replacement room card.

It is ultimately sad that the honest majority is inconvenienced (sometimes seriously if not dangerously) because policies are set to protect against the dishonest minority.  These “rules” also ignore what is best for the customer (or, in the case of Harrah’s, a potential customer). They ignore decency, compassion and the consideration of individual situations and the human condition. It has been an unpleasant eye opener for me and a stark realization that “customer service” has become an almost moronic oxymoron.