Over Thanksiving dinner, talk inevitably turned to Tiger Woods‘ mysterious car accident and his decision to not discuss the situation with the media or police. Everyone had an opinion, and one of my aunts even knew what actually happened! Throughout the weekend and as of today, it seems everyone’s got an opinion on this topic and my in-box has been flooded with notes from PR experts available for comment on Tiger Woods. The over-riding opinion from these PR experts is that Tiger should not be silent. It’s bad for his reputation, his brand, his endorsements. It is a “Fill in the Blank Moment” for PR: insert name of high-profile person who refuses to comment on a crisis and tell the world why this is either right or wrong (usually wrong). While there’s no harm in putting your name out there for comment on a top news story and musing about bad PR strategy, I put forth that there’s also nothing right with it. Unless you have something new and insightful to say about Tiger (and we don’t really have the facts on this case yet), let’s focus on more strategic PR issues and not use a TMZ/Drudge Report-like moment to promote our PR expertise. Tiger’s spokespeople aren’t listening to us anyway. As the headline on Golf.com aptly notes: “With statement and refusal to talk to police, Tiger Woods makes himself perfectly clear.”
I don’t watch the Oprah show nor do I run out to buy her book of the club picks or her magazine. But I am a great admirer of this woman who has built a media and entertainment empire from scratch. And my admiration for her has risen a few notches now that she has decided to end her show while she was ahead, telling the media that she felt in her gut it was the right time. How many executives step down while they’re ahead — and give two years’ notice. It’s almost unheard of. She is on to her second act, and has orchestrated this announcement just as she has managed her personal brand — with grace, eloquence and anticipation. She is her own spokesperson and whoever her media trainers are or her publicists, they are most likely learning from her rather than teaching her.
Back in the day, when Oprah was a co-host of People are Talking show in my hometown of Baltimore and I was a grade schooler, she stood behind me and my mother at the supermarket, a local celebrity thumbing through the tabloids to kill time. She made small talk with us and upon leaving the store, my mother giddily whispered to me: “Do you know who that was?”
Business schools should teach an Oprah course. Not on how to interview celebrities or flavor-of-the-day newsmakers. But on how to manage a “clean” business with very little negative press, how to not jump on every opportunity just because you can. And how to move on when you’re ahead. Granted, Oprah is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of nineteen gazillion dollars, but still — her timing is priceless.
PS: Who else do you know that resigned/moved on/quit while they were ahead?
Should it really come as a surprise that the New Oxford American Dictionary has christened “unfriend” as the new word of the year? It’s been a rough year, so we need a rough word as a crowning achievement of 2009. If there were a publicist for the year 2009, she might have pushed for “funemployed” as a better spin on this year’s rough ride. “Unfriend” beat other new words like deleb (dead celebrity), intexticated, and choice mom, which were also added to the new edition of the dictionary. BTW, Unfriend, as a verb, is to remove someone as a friend on Facebook. Soon, it will become common lexicon and we will admit to unfriending real-world friends. These are people we actually had lunch with, traveled with, roomed with, met in person. We will stop returning their calls, remove them from the holiday card list, etc. But for now, “unfriend” is a social media term that most of us have experienced on one side or the other. I have been unfriended (it hurt!), and I have unfriended a few people. On Facebook’s neighbor, Twitter, I have stopped following a half dozen people who overshared their minute by minute activities (“going for a cup of coffee now”) and realizations (“it’s morning now”). Could next year’s new word of the year be “unfollow”? Hopefully it’ll be a better year for our economy, we will make smart choices on who to friend and follow, and the top word will be “employed.”
Yesterday, I began my brief series sharing with you a mistake I made that day and what I learned from it. All in the spirit of “mistakes make us stronger” — even as communicators. Today’s entry is about not speaking up. The story starts with the book “American Psycho” and ends with a headache. On the train ride home from Manhattan, a young man decided to listen to his ipod and allow all of us around him to hear it too. No earphones. Just the ipod music blaring out on his lap (you’ve been “here” too, right?). I happened to be sitting right next to him. This is where “American Psycho” comes in, as this guy was also reading that book. Having seen the movie and being disgusted by the main character, I (wrongly) felt it imprudent to ask this guy to put on his earphones. So for a half hour, I and 10 other train riders got acquainted with his musical choices, staring at each other in dismay, bonding over our communication cues, but not one of us asking him kindly to turn off the music. My decision to not openly communicate my request to the “American Pyscho” reader was, in the end, a mistake. I shouldn’t have judged him by the book he was reading (after all, I saw the movie.) Surely, he’ll do this again and give another group of commuters a Tylenol moment. I apologize in advance.
We just went through an interviewing process in my group for a new employee, and it’s amazing how many job candidates never make mistakes. “Interviewing 101″ tells you that you should expect to reel off a few mistakes and lessons learned during an interview. Candidate after candidate couldn’t communicate one thing they failed at. A few good men and women did share lessons learned from a failure and they all made our short list of candidates.
It’s the failures, or mistakes, that make you better at your job, as much if not more so than your achievements. James Joyce once said: “Mistakes are the portals of discovery” and, for what it’s worth — he’s right. Public Relations employs the art and the science of communicating the best of a worst situation and making improvements/adjustments based on lessons gleaned. In this blog, for the next 11 days, I am going to share with you ONE COMMUNICATIONS MISTAKE I MADE in the past 24 hours. I hope you’ll do the same and on this Blog, share your mistake of the day (something with a PR/communications twist).
Here’s my first one: Dealing with a finicky executive in one of the groups I oversee at Access Intelligence, I emailed him a few times to address an important question he had. I knew he hated email as a communications mode, preferring instead the old-fashioned telephone (possibly with the chord attached to the wall). Yet it was easier for ME to email him rather than call him. Three emails later (without a reply), I called him. He had received my emails but was waiting for the phone call from me. Communicate with your constituencies how THEY want to be communicated with. Not heeding that mantra was my mistake. Ten more to come…..
It’s rare that an online ad catches my eye, much less causes me to click through to the web site. But the leave09behind.org campaign caught my attention and then sucked me into the fray as I watched user-generated videos of people petitioning to end the year and get on with 2010 — early. You can sign a petition to push for this change in the calendar because you believe that the year 2009 needs a pink slip, needs to be put behind us. The site, a viral campaign from the marketing/ad agency dieste, is surely clever and will create buzz for dieste. But it got me thinking about what a great year it’s been for PR. Our PR News award winners across our various programs were forced (or enticed) to think differently, to do more with less, to break through the clutter with more meaningful messaging. Despite the economy and massive layoffs across all industries, some of the most creative and impactful work is being done now — in 2009. And as we know, some of the best brands have sprung from a recession or depression. So use the time wisely — tap into partners who heretofore were unwilling to work with you, test more messages through social media, collaborate with your marketing and advertising departments, and take some time off in December. Before you know it, it’ll be 2010.
In the meantime, share with this blog your biggest PR achievement of 2009.