Archive for August, 2015

Trump Campaign: Leading By (Bad) Example?

Monday, August 31st, 2015

5739225015_56614ec63e_mLove him or loathe him, Barack Obama is widely considered by many to be the first presidential candidate in history to truly and strategically utilize social media to his political advantage. And he did it with aplomb – putting forth carefully crafted messaging targeted to key constituents, designed to motivate and build voter base.  Enter: Donald Trump, who is turning the “politically correct” communications approach on its ear.

Again, a disclaimer: I am not endorsing nor slapping – just opining.  But when is the last time you can recall a presidential wannabe appear to not give a “rat’s ass” what he says or who he offends? To be sure, as reporter Matt Taibbi reports in the latest issue of Rolling Stone: “Donald Trumps’ antics have forced the other candidates to get crazy or go home.” That’s right.  In order to keep up with “The Donald” many of the candidates appear in a desperate race to also give sometimes outright outrageous soundbites they know will be tweeted, retweeted and debated on Twitter and other social media. Staying relevant? How about staying out of Trump’s shadow?

It’s a bit akin to the old PR myth: “Any PR is good PR.” In this case, however, several candidates seem to be subscribing to a revised version: “Any PR is better than no PR (good or bad).  As such, as Trump vows to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants, Mike Huckabee, reports Taibbi, says he will invoke the 14th and 15th amendments to end abortion (the 14th amendment, by the way, was originally written to protect the right of ex-slaves).  South Carolina Lindsay Graham, meanwhile, creates a video evoking a combination of SNL’s classic Samurai and “Bass-o-Matic” sketches, complete with a cell-phone being ginzu-knifed before blended – crazy-perfect for YouTube.

Trump’s “devil may care” approach may well wear thin as the campaign proceeds yet for now the polls clearly show him out in front. Perhaps his words resonate with an audience tired of the political status quo; a perceived man of action in a partisan world of inaction.  A candidate not beholden to special interest groups nor donors. To be sure, his politically-uncorrectness is, for some refreshing while, for others, downright offensive and scary.  After all, brash can work in business but on the world stage, one also needs to be able to exhibit diplomacy and finesse.  Only time will tell how far Trump’s unorthodox campaign will take him and how many will ultimately follow.



Corporate PR Needs Agency PR – and Vice-Versa

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

0c9cc76The majority of this blog was originally prepared for and appeared on earlier this month. is an online web resource of information for the communications professional at:

As a more than 20-year PR firm practitioner who has worked within the communications/media industry for nearly 35-years, I have witnessed many ups, downs, cycles and trends where our business is concerned.  And while industry sectors run hot and cold and media platforms move from new to old, one constant remains: corporate PR needs agency PR – in good times and in bad.

It’s not hard to recall the “salad days” of public relations, including the mid-1990s through early 2000s, where large, high-retainer corporate accounts were the norm and the smaller, non-corporate clients were “crack fillers” if you took them at all.  When that next recession hit in 2007-2008, for many the industry was flipped on its ear with corporations cutting back and running for the hills in an effort to survive while PR firms were abandoned in their wake.

Many corporations eschewed communications almost entirely at that time.  In fact, we saw a major pharmaceutical company minimized our role and that of its internal resources while a national telecommunications client discontinued utilizing all of its outside PR firms across the country.  Both companies subsequently suffered greatly in terms of customer perception and reputation management, with the latter routinely voted the worst in the country for customer service.

Over the past three years, that trend has gradually abated.  Here in Detroit in fact, even automotive OEMs and suppliers, after taking a couple of years off from outside help, have returned to the outsource fold.  It was just a matter of time and necessity.  After all, corporations need all that agency PR has to offer – and not just head count. Agency resources, relationships, creativity and experience can prove invaluable. For getting the job done with greater efficiencies and effectiveness.  For providing fresh ideas and perspectives. To serve as a sounding board and keeper of the “smell test” for set initiatives and conceptual considerations alike.

Agency professionals also greatly assist in-house communications and marketing counsel in selling key ideas and initiatives to CEOs and other corporate “higher-up”; adding third-party credibility to the decision making process.  It’s a positive we hear from our direct contacts time and time again. At the same time, corporations, as their budgets and comfort level with once again taking risks and thinking outside the box return, afford agency practitioners the perfect opportunity to see their creative ideas realized on scales otherwise impossible.

As we move through 2015, the pendulum continues to swing back in our favor as it relates to the corporate world once again opting toward utilizing our know-how and services.  That tough road back should remain smooth as long as we in this field continue to provide value and a communications road best traveled.


Speak For Yourself – Or Someone Will Speak For You

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Hugh-iconAll too often news stories are written without a key component: Input from the persons or entities being written about.  Typically, of course, these are stories with some degree of adversity attached.  A once touted development project now plagued with cost overruns and false promises.  A religious organization facing personnel issues with serious legal ramifications.  An historically successful company now announcing layoffs and cutbacks.  And while some may think it prudent to stick their heads in the sand and say nothing, the reality is: why let someone else speak for you?

There is absolutely no substitute for addressing a conflict head on – with honesty, transparency and some type of explanation. After all, if a story is being written about your company, its people or projects, why wouldn’t you at least want to provide perspective and tell your side of the story? What are your cost overruns attributable to? What is being done to correct them? How are you working with law enforcement to handle an employee’s legal issues?  When did you first learn of the behavior and how quickly did you act?  Why are you cutting staff? What is the rationale? Is it about making tough decisions in the short term in order to ensure the company is more viable in the long run?

Say nothing, and who knows? Say nothing and others are forced to speculate. Say nothing and the news media will look to industry experts to try to make some sense of it all.  Matt and I are sometimes criticized for being quoted so often in news stories on issues – especially crisis related – where we have expertise.  But what those critics need to keep in mind is that we don’t contact the media, they contact us.  Because their storyline subjects don’t return their calls.  Because those subjects choose not to communicate. What’s the old adage? You snooze, you lose?

Understandable in our litigious society is the need to be prudent in what you say and how you say it.  Sometimes, a written statement makes sense.  In crisis situations we are not fans of persons or entities standing behind a spokesperson (in particular one not directly employed by the organization). Rather, the buck should stop with the top-ranking official, such as a CEO or President.  In the end, you can and should always say something.  Say nothing and you are throwing caution to the wind; a wind that could become a tempest you can no longer  control.



Sorry Powerful People, But PR Can’t Save Your Job

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

GAMRAT_0115_DSC4054-681x1024The recent tearful media confession of scandal-plagued Michigan State Representative Cindy Gamrat brings up a question we are often asked. Can a PR campaign save the job of someone in trouble? The answer is, in virtually every case, “no.”

In Gamrat’s case, after being caught in an affair with a fellow moralizing Tea Party Representative, then perhaps involved in the cover-up, a press gathering a full week after dominating the headlines, seemed to be part of a strategy to maintain her power. Her attorneys and advisors pulled out all of the traditional stops. Her husband stood melancholy by her side. She was flanked by men she identified as “veterans” and “supporters,” who could somehow empathize with her plight because of their military service. But, really, is anyone disgusted by her behavior going to say to themselves, “She’s a hypocrite and is at least guilty of bad judgment. But I want her to represent me because she cried on TV?”

Gamrat, and the other 50 percent of the affair, Rep. Todd Courser, if they were truly interested in preserving their reputations and concerned about the rest of their lives rather than their clinging to power, should have resigned at the beginning of the scandal’s reporting. Instead, they are just prolonging the crisis, digging their holes deeper and deeper.

This reminds me of a case we worked on in a recent year. A CEO-type was internally and publicly criticized because of decisions he made and a quagmire caused by people he hired. Problem-solving was a particular challenge because the CEO-type had alienated himself so much within the organization. I was asked by someone within his organization if I would help advise them on crisis management and PR. I agreed to take the assignment under one condition – there was no expectation whatsoever that I would somehow help “save” the CEO’s job through PR. Rather, my work would focus on using every communications opportunity to do the right things to re-build confidence among audiences in the organization itself. A month later, the CEO-type resigned. There had been too much self-inflicted damage for him to recover. But, now, some time later, the organization’s reputation has greatly improved.

This displays a fundamental difference between business and politics. In business, the organization is generally about much more than just one individual. In politics, the entire PR focus is typically on one individual. In neither case, though, can truly bad behavior or truly negative public sentiment be “fixed” through PR alone. Instead, in these cases, PR’s job is to rise above conventional wisdom and operate at a higher level of advice for the long-term good of everyone affected.

Why Dave Dombrowski Is A PR All-Star

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

imagesThis isn’t another online effort to try to guess as to why Dave Dombrowski is no longer the President, CEO and General Manager of the Detroit Tigers. But the fact that the “how” of that move by the team’s owner is getting so much attention is yet another example of why, especially in this era of analysis, PR matters.

Rather, this is an effort to explain why Dombrowski should have a spot on your PR All-Star team. It’s not because of his outstanding media relationships. In fact, many sports journalists have described him as guarded or even aloof. It’s because he is the master of something, in our extensive experience in training executives to talk to the media, that is often the toughest fundamental of all. He skillfully uses the media as a conduit to his audience.

Dombrowski only has talked to the media sparingly in recent years. He seems to know that when he talks, his words most certainly will be reported, if not over magnified a la Alan Greenspan, by baseball writers and broadcasters over multiple platforms. He knows his words will reach their intended audiences relatively unfiltered because of the relative rarity of his quotes. During the Winter Meetings and other portions of “free agency season,” Dombrowki’s audience is agents the represent the players. He talks about his plans, or lack thereof, to give himself maximum leverage. During the trading season, his audience is other general managers. His carefully chosen words are designed to tilt possible trading partners in his direction. Today, when he wisely returned journalists’ calls and participated in one-on-one interviews, rather than a spectacle press conference, his audience was owners who may think about hiring him. He was careful not to disparage the Tigers and left himself wide open for consideration.

We explain to clients that the purpose of PR is to use communications to support your business objectives. There is nobody in sports who seems to naturally understand and capitalize on that than Dave Dombrowski. Other business executives should take note of how this professional uses that quality to stay on the top of his game.