While Insider Trading Probe Brews, Goldman’s Blankfein Faces the Media

Was it a coincidence this week that earlier this week Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein gave his first interviews to the media in two years—while in California the SEC was investigating a senior Goldman employee for insider trading?

If the Goldman Sachs PR machine is worth its salt, they would be connected, since it sounds like the California case—in which San Francisco-based managing director Matthew Korenberg is accused of giving Galleon hedge-fund traders advance notice of pending healthcare deals—sounds pretty serious and could possibly implicate other Goldman Sachs senior employees. So perhaps that’s one of the reasons Blankfein went before the media this week.

The CEO was downright humble when appearing CNBC and Bloomberg TV. On Goldman’s tainted public persona, Blankfein said, “we haven’t gotten everything right in how we deal with the public.” When asked about now-former employee Greg Smith’s famous op-ed article in The New York Times, Blankfein said he was caught off guard, but “we’ve gotten used to surprises and we’d knew we’d have to grapple with this.” And despite the numerous fires that Blankfein has had to deal with while on his watch, the man actually loves his job and wants to stay (or so he says): “My plan is, this is a terrific job, it’s interesting, you get to be in a lot of different industries… I get to hang around with some of the smartest people, and deal with great clients around significant problems that have a lot of consequence for the world,” Blankfein told CNBC.

From what I’ve learned in interviewing top crisis experts for PR News, there are two ways to go when navigating a potential PR firestorm: circle the wagons and let your spokesperson do as little talking as possible, or have your leadership get out among the people and let them know that despite the current challenges, it’s business as usual. That seems to be Goldman Sachs’ tack, at least for the moment.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Crazy 8: Things to Never Say During a Meeting

If you’ve never sat through a meeting and wondered what would happen if you said ______________ (fill in the blank), then you are truly not reaching your full potential. Surely you can’t always be 100% concentrating on the meeting discussion.  But you can behave yourself and here’s how. I’ve discovered, not always first hand but by observation, that there are just some things better left unsaid. Here are 8; please add your own to this list:

1. “With all due respect.”  This is like saying: “You’re an idiot, so hear me out.” You don’t really have respect for that person when you start a line that way.

2. “This is going to be a quick meeting.”  Quick to you may mean “one hour” but to the woman next to you it may mean ten minutes.  And for the meeting junkie, you have just disappointed him.

3. “So, what did everyone do this weekend? Let’s go around the room.” Remind yourself that you are not a kindergarten teacher.

4. “I have to leave early because I have a very important call.” That might make others feel a bit inadequate.  If you knew about the call in advance, reschedule it or don’t come to the meeting at all.

5. “Wow! That’s amazing.” This is something you might blurt out accidentally as you are scrolling your favorite web sites during the meeting.

6. “That’s above my pay grade.” Either you’re under-paid and need to talk to your manager or you are not competent enough to take on the task.

7. “What’s the ROI on the RFP? The CRO needs a baseline number ASAP.” Impress by speaking in real words with limited acronym use.

8. “Honestly…” This word should never preference a remark. Trust me.

What would you add to this list?

- Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz



Listening Campaigns: Don’t Take the Bait

At an industry conference last week, a well-respected communications exec was sharing with me that she is on a “listening campaign” this month and it has been quite fantastic the things she’s learning about her brand, customers and competitors.  As she was telling me this, she was looking over my shoulder for the next person to talk to.  We all have been the victim of the “over the shoulder” networker, the person who is looking for the next, better conversation after getting bored by you. Heck, we might even be guilty of that action every now and then. The irony, of course, is that this “listening campaigner” wasn’t listening to our current conversation.  Which brings me to one of the “actions du jour”:  listening campaigns.

At first I thought this was a brilliant concept – that you go on the road (virtually or figuratively) and just listen to what’s being said about your company, or your industry, or a particular person.  Talk less, listen more. Don’t judge. Don’t budge from pricking your ear and taking it all in.  Thousands of people are doing “listening campaigns” as you read this blog post.  Are listening campaigns actually hurting our ability to listen all the time? To know when to let others rule the conversation and to be a fly on the wall? To be in the moment and concentrate on your audience? The original intent of listening campaigns is a good one, but our inability to concentrate, our excellent multitasking skills and our innate fear of missing out make listening campaigns (emphasis on “campaigns”) a potentially useless exercise.

Why segregate this activity? Shouldn’t you always be listening, monitoring and learning in your markets? By being so deliberate are you avoiding important conversations taking place right in front of you? So, back to this person who wasn’t listening to me, and because I was just short enough she could longingly peer over my shoulders:  I had approached her because I wanted to give her a business card of someone who wanted her counsel.  If she had only made me part of her listening campaign she would have gotten some new business.  Maybe she still will – holding a grudge is as ugly as not listening.

(What’s your take on listening campaigns? Would love to hear your viewpoint.)

- Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz


Inspiration and Metrics: A Good PR Mix

In Washington, D.C., PR News held its CSR Awards luncheon and PR Measurement Conference back-to-back on April 17-18. You can read about the CSR winners and the happenings at the Measurement Conference on our site, but I thought I might provide some commentary on what I observed at both events.

On Tuesday we hosted 150 people from agencies, nonprofits, government and corporate organizations, all vying for awards in 30 different CSR categories. Three things stood out for me at this gathering: the pride and commitment that communications pros have in their sustainability and community programs; their emphasis on the importance of employee involvement; and the acceptance speech on behalf of Hyundai’s Zafar Brooks—one of our CSR Professionals of the Year— by 14-year-old Brianna Commerford, a 2010-2011 Hyundai Hope on Wheels National Youth Ambassador. The poised teen really put CSR programs in perspective, saying Brooks “works so much for others and is so humble about it.”

Then, on Wednesday at the PR Measurement Conference—with the audience abuzz about the space shuttle Discovery’s D.C. flyover—I got the sense that measurement is still very much a vexing proposition for most of the 250 PR pros in attendance. Mark Weiner of PRIME Research and Johna Burke of BurrellesLuce set the PR measurement table pretty well to kick things off. Weiner emphasized that measuring doesn’t have to be expensive (as many PR pros think it is). “The simplest approach is to set an objective and strive quantitatively to meet or beat it,” said Weiner. The objective must be measurable, meaningful and reasonable, particularly to C-suite executives, he added.

Objectives also can’t be vague, added Burke, who believes in the SMART strategy of specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely objectives.

Yet as the day went on, it was clear that while some measurement techniques can be relatively simple, linking PR with sales is a tough task. The Barcelona Principles, helpful as they are from an objectives standpoint, won’t help you much there. But for PR pros hesitant about measurement, Weiner had some sage advice: It’s better to be approximately right than to be totally in the dark.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Hilary Rosen: Communicator Overboard

Hilary Rosen, a managing director for strategic communications firm SKDKnickerbocker, pundit for CNN and, according to The Nation, a Democratic lobbyist, got a little too enthusiastic in her election year trash talk when she said on CNN on April 11, “Guess what—[Mitt Romney's] wife has actually never worked a day in her life.”

We can all agree that this was a dumb thing to say. The useful question for communicators to ask is: How did a professional communicator arrive at that point where that particular question was asked?

It’s fairly obvious that both the Democratic and Republican party hand out talking points to their spokespeople, who include members of Congress, members of the professional media, paid consultants and who knows who else. Was Rosen’s comment a failed talking point or did she just go overboard in her effort to advance a political point of view?

My guess is she went overboard in making the point that Ann Romney is not an expert on working (as in “job holding”) women’s economic issues and thoughtlessly lapsed into a common misconception that women who don’t have salaried jobs and stay home to raise children don’t really work.

She went overboard on behalf of a political party and said something dumb. We see this on the Republican side, too. By laying it on too thick, she became the story and lost credibility as a spokesperson.

The lessons here: As an advocate or spokesperson, don’t oversell, don’t pander, don’t exaggerate. Leave that to the candidates (or CEOs) themselves.

—Steve Goldstein

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI 


A Look at 3 Winning CSR Trends

At PR News we’re getting ready for the CSR Awards luncheon in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, April 17, so we’ve been steeped in successful green, sustainability and community outreach campaigns. The work organizations and agencies are doing in these areas is good stuff, and always leads to a common question: How do these campaigns impact the bottom line and affect brand loyalty?

Recent public opinion research on “green” is mixed at best. In late March Cone released data showing that reported that 8 in 10 Americans don’t believe companies are addressing all of their environmental impacts, and just 44% trust companies’ green claims (PRN 4/2/2012 issue). Then on April 5, a Gfk MRI study found that while 65% of Americans agree with the statement that “preserving the environment is very important,” just 31% of adults purchased green household products in the last 12 months. So while U.S. consumers may think and talk green, they do not necessarily walk the green walk.

Yet organizations keep plugging away with innovative CSR campaigns—backed by extensive communications efforts—secure in the belief that in the long run (and when the economy swings back) they will pay off with brand loyalty from consumers. In looking at our CSR Awards finalists, I find some common CSR trends and threads:

Transparency: Most brands believe honesty is the best CSR policy. Paper company Domtar, for example, developed a tool that gives stakeholders the environmental skinny on each of its products, allowing potential customers to see the exact green impact of purchases.
Employee volunteerism: More and more, organizations are linking internal communications with CSR efforts. Take health insurer Wellpoint, which rallied 4,000 employee volunteers on April 30, 2011, to build gardens, paint classrooms and sort thousands of pounds of food and medical supplies for shipment overseas.
More CSR partnerships: Companies are realizing they can’t do CSR programs on their own. In 2011 Toys “R” Us teamed up with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to fight childhood cancer, and there are many more corporate partnerships with nonprofits, NGOs and community groups where that came from.

Bottom line: I’ve got CSR on the brain, and so does corporate America. However difficult it may be to win trust from consumers, the positive effect CSR programs are having on the environment and in communities is indisputable.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Dear Wireless Carrier: So Nice to Hear From You

I’ve been thinking of switching wireless carriers lately. It’s not that I’m unhappy with my current carrier—it’s more a matter of consolidating some family bills. As if on cue, a large yellow envelope appeared in the tiny mailbox in my apartment building’s lobby. It wasn’t easy to pull it out without tearing it.

The piece of mail was from my wireless carrier. Something about it told me it wasn’t just the usual junk mail. Maybe it was the color and texture of the envelope. Inside was a form letter from the company’s president of external affairs in New York. She makes a point in the letter of saying that this was a new role for her in the company and that she was a lifelong New Yorker. She writes, “No matter who your wireless carrier may be, when you think of our company, different things may come to mind…we’d like to add one more iconic image: the New York skyline. Over the past 12 months, we’ve taken great strides to become a true New York company.”

She briefly lists some of the company’s community and arts sponsorships, and then writes: “I don’t expect you to take me at my word on this. That’s why I’m enclosing recent editorials from the Daily News, the Queens Tribune and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that talk about the work we’ve done across the greatest city in the world.”

It’s a brief letter, with a nice font and plenty of leading between the lines. It was a pleasure to read.

Also in the envelope were four unstapled pages: three reprints of articles from the newspapers she mentioned, with old-fashioned highlighting of certain passages; fourth was a New York City map with the header “We Support NYC” that indicated the locations of the arts and community programs the company supports. The map itself is ingenious: While it purports to showcase the good works of the wireless carrier, it also cleverly raises awareness of the arts and community organizations themselves.

The whole package was so simple and so human. I got a sense of who the external affairs is as a person—only a New Yorker would be savvy enough to think in terms of distinct boroughs. I wasn’t burdened with too much information and too many pages. She made it easy for me to learn some new things about my wireless carrier. I would have instantly deleted an e-mail transmitting the same information.

Maybe this old-fashioned snail mail outreach worked for me because of the struggle I had pulling it out of my mailbox—I wanted some kind of payoff for my efforts. The bigger factor, I think, is that the wireless carrier took some time to think about who its New York customers really are.

And no, I haven’t made the switch in carriers—yet.

—Steve Goldstein

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI



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