Friday, July 29

How wrong can you be..?

I've been expanding my horizons lately.

It used to be exclusively executive-level media training and interview coaching, but lately I've added a level of "PR sensitivity" for those in an organization who will never be a spokesperson.

In that training, we talk about how to evaluate a potential public relations nightmare, and how to report it up the chain before it becomes to big to deflect.

I can guarantee that after the first hour, everyone who comes out of my training will have enough foresight to avoid something as stupid as this: 'Ghetto Talent Show,' Watermelon Eating Contest Outrages Community (Yahoo! News)
Miami city leaders are apologizing for a news release that invited summer campers to a ''Ghetto Style Talent Show'' and ''Watermelon Eating Contest.''

The release said that children participating in the summer camp who "know the meaning of ghetto style" would have a chance to "prove just how ghetto they are.''
It's okay to try to get attention with your news release. This isn't what we had in mind, though...
Members of the black community expressed outrage at the wording of the invitation to the talent show.
...and for some reason, those in the city offices didn't seem to be aware. (Maybe they have been taking race-relations lessons from el Presidente Vicente Fox.)
After being criticized by residents of the nearby Model City neighborhood and community leaders, Miami Parks Director Ernest Burkeen, who is black, released a formal apology and announced the renaming of the talent show.
Well, that ought to heal some of the wounds...
The show will now be called the "Funky Talent Show," according to Burkeen's written statement. The watermelon contest will still be part of the event.
...just in time to pour in the salt.

I wasn't sure whether to classify this as a planning bungle, and execution bungle, or a damage-control disaster. Instead, we'll call it an object lesson in what not to do.

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Wednesday, July 27

Hacks vs. Flacks

The Office of Corporate Counsel holds a lot of sway in many businesses, but isn't immune to big PR blunders.

Many times, the office lawyer nixes promotional ideas for potential liability, and even parses your media communications for trivial little changes. That level of internal authority can give the J.D. a bulletproof mentality, especially when it comes to ignoring the expertise of the PR practitioner. Face it... when was the last time the boss told counsel to "hold off" while the public relations department pondered the action?

Well... it should have happened in Baltimore. A Greyhound bus crash injured 34 people there on Monday. While the victims were still hospitalized, Greyhound lawyers combed the hospital looking for people to sign a liability waiver -- offering at least one person "medical expenses plus $2,500."

I'm sure the corporate suits saw this as a no-brainer, and a way to avoid some costly suits. But the strategy did not sit well with passenger Chris Childs:
"I thought it was tacky. It basically matched how I feel about the company," said Childs, 36, who has retained a lawyer. "I never figured somebody would offer you money on the day of the accident."
Now, the company will spend an undetermined sum (in time and cash) to re-build a positive image. The bus crash is an accident, and can be forgiven. Sending the sharks into the E.R. is willful, and hard to forget.

In typical fashion, Greyhound's PR representative had to clean up a mess long after the roads had re-opened:
When asked about Childs' account, Greyhound spokeswoman Kim Plaskett said that any passengers who want to complain about customer service should call the customer-assistance line at 214-849-8966.

"I can't confirm what happened in the emergency room," said Plaskett.

"I can say Greyhound representatives did go to the hospital to make sure they were taken care of."
...and in typical fashion, the Office of Corporate Counsel gagged her. Hey lawyer-types, when it comes to protecting corporate image, "leave the driving to us."

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Sour times for a sweet treat

Krispy Kreme, formerly the King of cheap publicity, is not so "HOT NOW."

The doughnut franchise posted incredible growth as it went public in 2000. It was a darling of the Motley Fool guys, and investors just couldn't resist the slow march out of the South.

Neither could television stations. I was still in the news business then, and Krispy Kreme had a knack for making grand openings in new cities an "event." Every station that could go live in the early mornings did, just to be a part of those mad lines for the first Krispy Kremes to roll off the racks.

How the mighty have fallen... as Krispy Kreme is struggling to avoid bankruptcy. Stephen Cooper (the post-fraud Enron guy) is doing the restructuring, and now he's got another hurdle. Some franchises are going to court to keep the doughnut mix and supplies rolling in -- even though they can't pay for them. Franchisees with restructuring plans of their own allege they can't meet other obligations if they pay Krispy Kreme. (They also allege that Krispy Kreme has overcharged them over the years, keeping the filings from being tossed out of court.)

Some place the blame on accounting idiocy, others on growing too fast. Me? I think Krispy Kreme got KO'ed by Karb Konsciousness.

In any respect, the company's growth was built NOT around memorable advertising, but instead around good PR. Alas, rebuilding will not be. You're only new once, and it's becoming more difficult to sell questionable nutrition. I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that turning doughnuts to dollars won't be the sweet proposition it once was.

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Tuesday, July 26

A Grand Old Controversy...

...is just what the marketing department ordered.

Rockstar Games is reaping the benefits of being the Bad Boys on the block, after pretending to have its pants down on "Hot Coffee" grounds.

The makers of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" are laughing all the way to the bank, and are not in any peril regarding the game. (The GTA series is the best-selling ever, with more than 21-million units.) The PR jockeying now is among the retailers.

Rockstar has "pulled" the game off the shelf, while preparing to churn out a version that lacks the hidden sex games that apparently are the only difference between an "M" rating and an "AO" rating. (Literally, the difference between "Recommended for ages 17+" and "Adults Only, 18+") [For more on the silliness and subjectivity of the rating, go check out Maddox.]

In the interim, EBGames (Electronic Boutique) is slapping AO stickers over the top and trotting the units right back onto the shelf. Circuit City and Target have announced they'll wait for the (ahem) acceptable version, and Wal-Mart and Best Buy will look at the new version before making a decision.

EBGames is being fairly straightforward in approach. The PR folks at Circuit City and Target need to prepare for the onslaught of questions about whether they agree with the ratings, and the apparent bias against sex in favor of violence. And the flacks at Best Buy (and their newly-minted counterparts in Bentonville) will have to defend their decisions... even though no one in either company is qualified to crunch source code to see if there are other hidden treasures. Every strategy carries a risk. Do you want to stake your corporate reputation on the "promise" of a video game company that burned you once?

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Thursday, July 21

London aftershocks

The early afternoon explosions in London - three in the Underground and one on a bus --are eerily similar to the transit bombings from two weeks ago. Someone is obviously sending a message, even to mimic the North-South-East-West pattern. But this time, it was just detonators. A few broken windows, no serious injuries.

The message was clear, but to whom?

An attack at 1:30 in the afternoon isn't exactly hitting the rush hour. But it is catching the morning news shows in the United States.

Hmmmmmmmm......

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Monday, July 18

You gotta know when to hold 'em...

...and know when to fold 'em.

Especially when your name is Kenny Rogers. He's the pitcher for the Texas Rangers who is fighting a 20-game suspension for assaulting a cameraman *before* pregame warmups. This guy is a walking, talking advertisement for the benefits of media training.

Rogers was booked on the 18th on his midemeanor assault charges, and what did he do?

Surely, he didn't accost the photographer getting video of his booking. I mean, surely, right?

No.

Rogers stared at the guy for several seconds, then said "I bet you're real proud of yourself now, don't you?" The videographer said "I'm just doing my job, Kenny."

I know the Texas fans love it, but the booing on the road will be the worst punishment. Robbie Alomar had to deal with that for years after spitting on an ump.

Somebody had better get in soon to teach Kenny how to play well with others, before another poor soul finds himself defenseless in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

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Friday, July 8

I'll be down for awhile...

...entertaining my new best friend, Dennis.

My day job with the American Red Cross will overshadow my PR musings for a little while. Please keep all of us in the path of the storm in your thoughts and prayers.

And it might not be a bad time to support the Disaster Relief Fund, which pays for all the the pre-and-post landfall activities, from sheltering to recovery.

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Thursday, July 7

Maximum Impact!

Timing is everything, and you have to applaud the guys at NASA... when it comes to public relations, these guys are real rocket scientists!

With the Deep Impact mission, not only did they perform the equivalent of hitting a moving bullet with a BB at a range of 1000 miles, they also timed it beautifully. Making the actual collision between the probe and the comet occur on a holiday weekend ensured that

Having worked in news for 16 years, I came to know the calendar very well. There are just certain weeks and extended weekends where there is little news to cover. When you've got the time to think and plan, you can take advantage of slow news days to extend the value of the coverage you get. The week between Christmas and New Year's Day is among the worst. So is the weekend after Thanksgiving, which is why merchants and retailers want to focus the world on shopping. (By the way -- the day after Thanksgiving is not the biggest shopping day of the year... but a lot of people still buy into that hype.)

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Friday, July 1

Happy Birthday, America!

Have a safe Fourth... back next week.

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