Employees Will Drive Your Recovery

Internal communications is an art and science.  You can do monthly polls gauging employee satisfaction. You can hold birthday and anniversary celebrations. You can publish a company newsletter, a Facebook fan page and have an employee of the month program.  But one thing you can’t do is tell your employees that they are going to be alright, that they have job security, that they should go ahead and buy that new house or car because a year from now, they’ll have had their salary increase (and their job).  You can’t even tell yourself that.  The feeling of job security and satisfaction comes from the everyday respect, recognition and empowerment that employees feel.  And the feeling that they are helping their company dig out of the economic hole so many organizations find themselves in.  So it was very satisfying to hear a CEO talk about employee communications during a keynote address at the SIIA conference in New York this week. Michael Hansen, head of Elsevier Health Sciences, has a healthy respect for internal communications and intellectual capital.  He advised attendees to make sure they are laying the foundation to succeed in the recovery.  Look no further than your employees and best customers.  Your recovery, says Hansen, “will depend on the loyalty of customers and employees and how you treat them in down times.” He continued with advice on being bold and creating innovative products.  All of which takes a workforce that feels they are treated like drivers in the recovery.

- Diane Schwartz

Facebook Frenzy?

As you may have noticed, we cover social media comprehensively in PR News. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help feeling the excitement that flows from hearing about  a great integrated campaign with a successful social media result—the Aflac Facebook effort that I wrote about in the Jan. 25th issue that garnered $1.2 million for charity, for instance. I even peppered the article with great stats on Facebook: 350 million active users! Then, an article in Monday’s New York Post (because I get all my “real” news from the Post) brought me down to earth. With the lead, “Facebook ‘friending’ may fry your brain,” the story went on to say that a study finds there is no way the human mind can handle 5,000 friends—it’s more like 150 tops. Sure, 150 friends is still a pretty big number, but not near the Facebook numbers we’ve been accustomed to hearing about. Which got me thinking, am I too jazzed up over Facebook? Are people within Facebook really conversing—and comprehending—in such great numbers? Have we gone slightly overboard with enthusiasm for this tool?

What’s your take?

–Scott Van Camp

How Can PR Help the People of Haiti?

As I read about the death and destruction in Haiti, like many people around the world, I’m wondering what I can do to help. On that end, there a many options, but one is Wyclef Jean’s Web site, Yele.org, which is devoted to helping the people of Haiti. A text message “YELE” to 501501 will automatically donate $5.00 to the relief fund.

But I’m also wondering about another relief front: PR’s role in helping Haiti. We recently posted the list of our 2009 CSR Award nominees on our site, and it’s filled with impressive campaigns and achievements.  The dire situation in Haiti calls for similar efforts, but multiplied in scope and actions.

As word spreads (by PR) about large corporate donations for the relief, what  can PR executives do to give meaningful help to the people of Haiti? We welcome your ideas.

–Scott Van Camp

Apology Accepted?

I grew up in the Bay Area and as a kid attended many Oakland A’s games featuring the Bash Brothers—Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. My, were they physical specimens! Those Popeye arms and gargantuan legs really stood out, and we’ve known the reason why for  quite some time. The Bashes eventually went their separate ways, and chose to handle their secrets in different ways. Canseco wrote a tell-all book about steroids in baseball that made him extremely unpopular with fellow players and much of the general public. McGwire chose to remain silent, even under questioning in front of a Congressional committee five years ago—until this week.

McGwire apologized on Monday, but the apology rings extremely hollow to me. He waited years to come clean, as the rumors kept building and building—and only after he wanted to get back into baseball as a hitting coach.  That makes his sobbing statement hard to take.  The content of the apology also rings disingenuous. True, the “I used drugs to help me recover from injuries” excuse worked for Andy Pettitte, but not for a guy who hit 70 home runs in 1998! In post-apology interviews, McGwire said he could have done just as well without taking drugs. Now that’s believable! Much has been said in public relations of the importance of an apology, but this one was flawed. Who is giving McGwire advice?

What do you think of Mark McGwire’s apology?

-Scott Van Camp

‘Talk Forever and Say Nothing’: Is This The Best Advice?

High-profile celebrities, athletes and public officials usually start out their careers saying stupid things to reporters.  It’s a given. Then they get an agent, a publicist, a PR firm to represent them, other aptly titled assistants, like a swagger coach (case in point: teen sensation Justin Bieber) and to top it off, a subscription to PR News (just kidding on the latter). So it’s no surprise that Tiger Woods, in his early 20s back in 1997, would give interviews that made  a reporter chomp at the bit. As we’ll read in the latest issue of Vanity Fair and as reported in the NY Daily News today (Jan 5):  “Woods joked about lesbian sex and the endowments of black athletes – the kind of gaffe he never repeated once he signed with super agent Mark Steinberg.”  For those in PR who are media-training their key executives or even themselves, this next thought will either make you wince or nod in agreement.  Joe Logan, a golf blogger, in the same article, said: “Tiger learned very well to talk forever and say nothing.”  Is that what we are training our clients to do? To say nothing and say it often?  Or to say practically nothing, as NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams noted about TV host Steve Allen, “the worst interview” he ever conducted. Williams told Time magazine that Allen might have been having a bad day at the time of the interview, when he gave Williams only one-word answers to his questions.  Noted Williams: “The interview felt like about a week and a half and I think it took 20 minutes.”  When it comes to speaking to the media and upholding a certain image, it should never be an all-or-nothing game plan: say nothing or reveal everything? It’s beholden on PR counselors to identify a compelling story line and teach their clients or key execs how to tell those stories and how to bridge messages so they, not the reporter, is in control of the interview. Storytelling is a lost art which, unfortunately, has never been considered part of the science of communications.  It’s time to get back to the basics, the science of PR, and give the media true, compelling and quote-worthy stories and prove one of the many values of public relations counsel.

- Diane Schwartz

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