Pepper Spray PR: 9 Media Relations Tactics to Snuff Out Today


Unless you were hiding under a rock this past Thanksgiving (which for some, is an understandable move), you heard about the woman who used pepper spray in a Walmart in Los Angeles so she could ensure her take of good deals. Add that to the police officers who pepper sprayed student protesters at UC-Davis.  The awareness of pepper spray is at an all-time high. In the spirit of “stretch PR” in which a communicator takes a newsworthy item and finds a dubious connection that the press might latch on to, (ie – pitching a story about your locksmith company in light of the NBA lockout),  I hereby present 9 media relations tactics you might want to metaphorically pepper spray to oblivion:

1.  Using the following words or phrases in your press release: “the leader in,”  “solutions provider,” “the best” and  “ground-breaking” (not true)
2. Leaving a reporter a voice mail message without stating the reason for the call (as good as nothing)
3. Worse than above, calling to make sure a press release was received (desperate)
4. Contacting a journalist for the first time – during a crisis or product launch (ineffective)
5. Sitting in on a CEO interview and clarifying statements or points to be, er, helpful (annoying)
6. Friending a reporter on Facebook and worse yet, liking and commenting on his/her postings multiple times a week (creepy)
7. Not having a drink with the journalist – having lots of drinks (inappropriate)
8. Having an online press room without a real person listed as a contact – ie  “info@” emails  (useless)
9. Pitching a story idea to a reporter and expecting coverage.  (If only it were that easy)

What other media relations tactics would you pepper spray?

- Diane Schwartz

7 Reasons to Be Thankful

I wish it weren’t so, but I take too many good things in life for granted. So now’s the time to get it all down, when everybody has left the office for several days and friends and family have flown the coop and burrowed themselves into mounds of food and submitted to mega-blasts of football. So by the time everybody returns this post should be lost in the digital shuffle—which is probably as it should be.

My reasons to be thankful:

1. Co-workers who demand excellence from themselves and are tolerant of the foibles of others.

2. PR News‘ patient IT genius, Jon Iverson.

3. A subway system that gets me where I need to go at any time of day or night, in rain and usually snow, and the passengers who are far more respectful and considerate than they’re ever given credit for.

4. Turner Classic Movies and the Film Forum.

5. Tom Waits.

6. The New York Times.

7. My family.

—Steve Goldstein

Public Down on CEOs, So What’s the PR Alternative?

As cities around the nation experience protests over the power of big business (see the Water Cooler on New York’s latest actions around Occupy Wall Street), a study of 1,800 American adults by the Public Affairs Council shows that the public is rather ambivalent about business. On the one hand, most respondents have a favorable opinion of major companies; on the other hand, the public is not fond at all of the people who run them. Just 6% believe CEOs have high ethical standards, and 48% believe top execs have low standards for honesty. Moreover, the public ranks CEOs’ honesty and ethics just behind those of public officials in Washington and just ahead of those of state and local government officials. All three categories receive extremely low scores. The highest scores for ethics are given to small business owners.

This data presents a major challenge for communications professionals, who are already up against negative pubic opinion in the financial space, and who look to their CEOs as the company figurehead and main spokesperson. Is it time for corporate communicators to pull back on their CEO’s visibility? What are some alternative strategies for corporate brand building that PR can fall back on to keep a brand front and center? Would love to hear your answers. And be sure to read what some industry experts think in an upcoming issue of PR News.

—Scott Van Camp

Twitter Gets Free PR From Salman Rushdie

Author Salman Rushdie waged a brief battle with Facebook on Nov. 14 when the social network disputed his identity, shut down his account and then changed his profile name to Ahmed Rushdie, the name on his passport, according to the New York Times.

Rushdie vented on Twitter, which is not as finicky about authentic identities, and Facebook eventually caved in and allowed him to use the name Salman Rushdie again.

This is not as big a story at the moment, perhaps, as a nighttime police raid on a certain Downtown New York protesters’ encampment, but the question of online identity is only going to get trickier as Facebook and Twitter square off for dominance, and brands try to determine where to invest their resources. Facebook is betting its business on authentic identities, which enables individuals and brands to have some modicum of control over their messages, and offers advertisers and Facebook’s partners some real-world user data.

Facebook’s insistence on real identities could tilt everything in Twitter’s favor, especially if the Occupy movement escalates and begins to have cultural effects beyond its adherents. This growing, homegrown political movement will be focusing more and more on Twitter, which allows for the use of pseudonyms. It’s looking like Twitter will be shedding its news feed patina, and will become in the coming election year the kind of open town hall that Facebook will only be able to envy.

And where the people go, the brands follow.

—Steve Goldstein

The Paterno Statement We Didn’t Get

Joe Paterno got fired last night (Nov. 9) by the Penn State board of trustees. According to a recent grand jury report, in 2002 the legendary college football coach had been notified of sexual activity in a Penn State locker room between former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and a boy estimated to be 10 years old, and Paterno in turn notified Penn State’s athletic director, but not the police. Sandusky would not be arrested on multiple sexual abuse charges until Nov. 5, 2011.

There was no way Penn State could have allowed Paterno to step onto the field this Saturday as coach of the football team. To do so would have sent a message that Penn State was merely taking the next step in a pattern of inaction and delay, and that football continues to be more important than the victimization and abuse of children.

So this was not a brave decision by the board of trustees—it was the only option.

Actually, there was one other option—convincing Paterno to quit. Did the board of trustees try to get him to step aside and make a statement that his thoughts are with Sandusky’s victims and not with his players and therefore he is not able to continue as coach? Perhaps.

Whether or not the trustees made such an appeal, if Paterno had taken it upon himself to make such a statement the clear message sent would have been that what matters most right now is the victims and correcting the institutional lapses that allowed Sandusky to prey on the innocent. The students of Penn State would have understood.

—Steve Goldstein


Cloistered Penn State Program Causes Crisis

It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say that Penn State University has a monumental crisis on its hands. The revelations of alleged sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno’s defensive coordinator for 22 years until he retired at age 55 in 1999, has now put the university in a defensive position. That’s readily apparent: Paterno’s weekly press conference scheduled for today has been canceled, not to be rescheduled. But the university and Paterno will have to face the media sooner or later.

While this crisis is indeed extreme in nature—if these allegations are true one could only imagine what the victims and their families have gone through—there is one communications lesson to be learned from this: instilling institutional transparency is critical to preventing and mitigating crises. Fifteen years ago, when people started to take notice of Sandusky’s actions, Joe Paterno was PSU, and he wielded just as much power (or more) as a university president did. It has been all about winning football games and maintaining the program’s status quo. And there was a lot of pressure to do so. It’s clear that no one—including the graduate assistant who said he saw Sandusky in a shower sexually assaulting a young boy—and the higher ups that he told about the incident, were willing to go directly to the police to have Sandusky arrested. That’s what happens in such a closed organization, where one person is king. People lose a healthy perspective of their actions, or in this case, inaction.

–Scott Van Camp

13 Things on Your Desk You Need to Throw Out Today (or Tomorrow)

I do not agree with the saying that a “cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind” because, guess what -I can see very clearly that my desk is not so neat.  Which isn’t to say my desk couldn’t benefit from a clean-up, not for aesthetic purposes but because the activity itself can re-set work priorities and crystallize strategy (really!).  If you’re in denial, there are always places online to find people worse off than you (check out these messy desks).  A cathartic activity, desk-cleaning should be done at least every week (I’ve heard Mondays and Fridays are ideal days, but you might want to plan it around those village-sized conference calls in which you are just “listening in” and have a spare hand).  If you’re like me and schedule your desk cleanings around the change of seasons then you might be looking at a desk that includes at least these 13 things that need to emigrate to the garbage can:

* A half-written thank-you note to Kyle (whoever he is)

* Random almonds

* A legal pad filled with “VIN” – very important notes (from 2008)

* A brochure for an event (in 2010) that you forgot to attend

* Random tic tacs

* Business cards of long-lost strangers you met at a conference

* The spinning schedule at the gym (who are you kidding?)

* The laminated crisis phone tree from last year

* A sticky note that says “check out MySpace”

* The PR formula for ad value equivalencies (who are you kidding?)

* Torn-out magazine and newspaper articles (Hello, Internet!)

* Random Tylenol tablets

* A goodbye card for Delilah (that’s where it was!)

As you discard these items and tidy up your workspace, you’ll also find a lot of stuff worth keeping, re-reading, referencing and relaying to others.  You’ll be giving back to the environment, your peers and yourself – and you will have been the most productive attendee on the 15-person conference call.

- Diane Schwartz




The World Belongs to the Human, Geeky Start-Ups

Priya Ramesh, director of social media strategy for CRT/tanaka, recently told PR News that from a PR perspective, she sees little value in Google+. Right now, in this interim before the launch of brand pages, Google+ is “PR and marketing people talking to each other.” And she doesn’t expect the launch of brand pages on Google+ to slow down Facebook’s expansion.

“Facebook wants to be the platform that says ‘you come to me, you share information and then you’re buying things from me,’” said Ramesh, who predicts that the social network will eventually become the social e-commerce platform your mom, your customer and you will be using. “Facebook is going to be Google+, Amazon and eBay all combined,” she said.

At the recent PRSA conference, blogger and author Chris Brogan took the opposite tack. Brogan is convinced that Google+ will be the next big thing. “Google+ is the only social network indexed by the number one search engine in the world,” Brogan said. “Search matters and findability matters.”

The decisive factor, for me and for some of my colleagues, is time. Where is the time for Google+ supposed to come from? Facebook itself keeps changing—it’s enough just to keep pace with that. Mark Zuckerberg definitely learned a thing or two from Steve Jobs—a steady pace of interesting and controversial revisions and new products is in itself a method of turning heads away from one’s rivals. As long as Zuckerberg is in charge of Facebook, that’s where most of us are going to be spending our screen time.

That, and Twitter. Like Facebook, Twitter is a tech giant that has a human, geeky start-up feel. This town ain’t big enough for all three.

—Steve Goldstein

Herman Cain’s Problem: He Could Have Used Eli Gold

Surprise: a scandal of a sexual nature has hit a major political campaign. The accusation of sexual misconduct in the 1990s by Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain has caused a media firestorm, with every response from Cain being dissected, analyzed and criticized. When I first heard about this, my reaction was “this is life imitating art.” I’m a big fan of The Good Wife, and in last Sunday’s episode, law firm Lockhart/Gardner’s PR-crisis man Eli Gold (played to the hilt by Alan Cumming) found himself—as a favor—ordering the vetting of his ex-wife, who was interested in running for political office.

Back to reality, veteran political strategist Ed Rollins chalked Cain’s troubles up to a lack of experienced campaign staff, and a lack of vetting on Cain’s past. Knowing things like that beforehand, said Rollins, is critical. Back to art: In the case of Eli Gold’s ex-wife, she was discovered to have slept with a member of the Bin Laden family (while still married to Gold). There’s no doubt Cain’s backers would hope their candidate’s transgressions fail to reach that scale, but the scandal appears to be just getting started.

—Scott Van Camp

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