About Me

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Edward Bernays would dig me. Seasoned public relations strategist (10+ years in the game) who has practiced PR in multiple cities: Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago & DC. I'm an observationist and a soon to be card carrying member of the Twitterati. I love comfortable silences, revel in the Seinfeldian absurdities of life and have been described as a habitual line stepper. These are my thoughts...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Introducing Your Starters….

In our profession there’s been a lot written and said about what type of PR Pro we don’t want amongst our ranks. I’ve been guilty of this too, highlighting the types of things public relations professionals do incorrectly or fail to do all together. But what of the public relations practitioners and communicators we do want in our profession, and more importantly on our team?

Since I’m still basking in a hangover from the recent NBA season, I’ll use a basketball analogy to highlight this topic.

If you could play GM and put together a starting five of PR Pros to work on your communications team for any project who would they be? How should the team be constructed?

I’ve given this some thought and here’s my ‘Fab Five’ Comm Team:

The Manager – This person not only can do what the name suggests – manage people – but this captain of the team is a visionary who can see the big picture and “draws up the play.” He/she is a good judge of talent. The Manager is receptive to creative ideas or can inspire or generate them. The Manager’s experience comes from years in the business, so there are few, if any, situations they aren’t prepared to handle. This person also is great for putting together a comprehensive PR plan of action or acting as a buffer/conduit to executive level staff. This person also can competently fill in and do the tasks of the other four members on the team if the need arises.

The News Man – This is the one person you definitely want coordinating the media relations component of any project. Not only does this Pro have a good nose for what makes a compelling news story, but he/she can go “hard in the paint” and successfully pitch a story to the media with eyes closed. The News Man is like an artist when it comes to proactive media outreach, but even more importantly this person’s zone defense, when it comes to reactive media relations and crisis communications, is second to none. The News Man has an astute understanding of how media relations fits into the greater communications plan.

The Inside Guy (Gal) – Every good communications team needs someone on the squad who can “feed it inside” when it comes to internal communications/PR. Internal communications is the forgotten step child of public relations, usually because so many organizations have shipped it over to human resources. But if you want to effectively control the message externally, you have to do it internally first. The Inside Guy is the person who handles employee communications when it comes to delicate matters as well as when there is good news to share. This person also is involved with internal town hall meetings, intranet communications, the employee newsletter, internal crisis communications, and promoting the organization or individual employees/staff (i.e. awards, spotlights, community recognition, best places to work, etc.).

The Writer – This teammate loves to set-up the rest of the team or others within the organization with the assist. He/she is in love with the written language and can bring mundane words to life. The Writer has a hand in a lot of areas and you can find evidence of their craft in press releases, op-eds, white papers, articles, bios, backgrounders and speeches. Every highly functional communications team needs someone who can write their arse off and help create an organization’s voice. The writer can even pitch-in and help the folks in marketing by drafting promotional copy or assisting with copywriting.

The Event Guy (Gal) – It’s almost a given that a busy and fast paced PR team will have to periodically get involved with planning/executing events. When it comes time to do it, this is where Event Guy shines. He/she can handle an event from “conception to conclusion” and that includes: assigning roles/responsibilities, managing the event flow and budget, hiring and managing vendors, logistics, coordination of talent and VIP guests. This might seem like a glamour position, but this person is the most vulnerable if a shabbily run event leaves attendees with a less than stellar experience. A top exec might be more forgiving for a poor turn-out than a poor execution. Event guy can also help with the double team on handling internal organizational events and celebrations (i.e. ground breakings, meetings, award ceremonies, press conferences, check presentations, etc.).

On my bench would be Social Media Guy and The Designer. These two positions would complete the team.

I know many are looking at this team I assembled and thinking first that having all of these specialized positions filled would be a luxury, and secondly, as a result of the potential overlap it may make sense to bring on a “two-way” player who can do several of these things. Well that’s what most organizations actually do when they can’t play pretend GM.

So I ask the question, which one of these teammates do you see yourself as or, what type of team would you assemble?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Full Oscar Mayer

I seriously considered entitling this post “Weiner Roast.” But despite being fun to say, that title would be a little disingenuous because I won’t necessarily be talking directly about the now disgraced congressman from New York.

No, this post is about the other person who took enemy fire and sustained injury over this scandal. And I’m not talking about Mrs. Weiner or the co-ed from Seattle. I’m referring to Congressman Weiner’s press secretary, David Arnold.

At present, many of my public relations peers are dissecting this now sad tragedy of a story from a crisis communications perspective, not unlike what many did with the Tiger Woods situation. I agree, it is definitely a cautionary tale about what to do and what not to do in a crisis situation. Good PR counsel would’ve relieved much of the public disgrace now experienced by Weiner, or at a minimum lessened the blow when the media came after him.

While there is good material to dissect on that front, I’d rather turn attention on the guy who did or should’ve provided said good PR counsel, Weiner’s press secretary. I can’t say with certitude that David Arnold instructed Weiner as to what to do when the story began to take shape (for the purposes of this post, I assume he did). But I can say without hesitation or confirmation what he risked in the process.

A strange thing happens when you go on the record and speak on the behalf of an employer or client; not only are you vouching for them (or at least, the credibility of the message), but also you are staking your professional reputation to say, "I believe in this person/company and you should too." Now I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve invested a lot in my professional equity and I’m not willing to bankrupt it for any employer.

If an employer out right asks me to lie for them, that’s simply something I cannot and won’t do. I may go right up to the line of questionable practices and look at it briefly (as in the case of “spinning” the truth), but I won’t cross it. Our better PR angels should prevail.

In the case of David Arnold and Anthony Weiner, I’d like to imagine the conversation went something like this:

Weiner: David, I think “we” have a potential problem coming.

Press Sec: Congressman, what’s the problem?

Weiner: Twitter…the damn tweet…it had a picture attached. But I deleted it.

Press Sec: What tweet? What picture? Tell me what happened.

Weiner: A tweet went out to a Twitter follower, a young woman…but it had an inappropriate picture attached. I think I’ve been hacked!

Press Sec: Congressman, I’m going to need you to tell me everything about this…exactly as it occured. If I’m going to help you, I need to know all the details of what transpired. I need to know what “our” options are.

Weiner: My account was hacked David! There was a picture of a man’s bulging crotch tweeted to a young woman! My wife is going to kill me…why did this happen?

Press Sec: Twitter accounts get hacked all the time. We’ll just explain that to the media and let them know that we’re going to get to the bottom of this. We need to get out in front of this before the story gets out.

Weiner: Didn’t you hear me say that I deleted the tweet? What benefit is it for us to tell the media about the tweet or the picture? Doing it your way we’d have to deal with this publicly. Let’s just wait to see what happens.

Press Sec: Sir, I wouldn’t advise that. If we are transparent now, and tell the truth, it won’t be as big of a story and it won’t make you look as bad as if they found out on their own. You know, just because you delete it, it doesn’t mean it disappears.

Weiner: Really? This is just awful.

Press Sec: Congressman, we really need to get out there in front of this. You don’t want to come off looking like that “Tickle Party” guy Massa, or worse, a sexual deviant like Tiger Woods?

Weiner: You’re right. Massa looked horrible trying to explain what happened. And the media crucified him.

Press Sec: Congressman…Anthony…before I go out there and start talking to the media, I’m going to need you to tell me the absolute truth. All of it. If we’re going to do this, I have to know exactly what we’re dealing with.

Weiner: I told you the truth. I think my Twitter account was hacked. I did not send that tweet to that woman.

And with that make believe conversation, the events of “Weinergate” unfolded. The esteemed congressman from the state of New York got Brietbarted and then the press feasted on the chum. In an attempt to quell the media, Weiner then sent out his press secretary/communications director like a lamb to be slaughtered.

We all know how this incident ended; Congressman Weiner eventually gave his public mea culpa by way of press conference. But what happened in the days leading may be a different kind of victimization.

Having believed his boss’ story (or totally making it up himself, only time will tell), David Arnold went on the offensive boldly proclaiming the Congressman’s innocence, shifting the blame, touting private investigations and even calling the police to remove one reporter (Marcia Kramer) from the congressman’s office in the middle of reporting.

Arnold, feeling emboldened with the alleged truth, put a lot on the line professionally. He not only jeopardized his reputation/credibility with the media that covers his industry (for lack of a better word) but he will henceforth be associated with a political cover-up (much like G. Gordon Liddy, Scooter Libby and Tricky Dick Nixon).

But was it worth it? Only time will tell how much this incident will cost him.

As usual, I’d be happy to hear other thoughts on this topic.