Your Boss Has Weighed In on Your Tweet, and He Thinks It Was ‘Idiotic’

Danny Boyle’s London Olympics opening ceremony production on July 27 played like a bombastic, funhouse mirror held up to the U.K. with the world’s citizens as sideline spectators, and inspired Aidan Burley, a Conservative member of Parliament, to tweet that it was “multicultural leftie crap.” On July 30 came the rejoinder from his boss, Prime Minister David Cameron, who told the BBC that Burley’s comments were “idiotic.”

“What he said was completely wrong,” Cameron, himself a member of the Conservative Party, said, referring to Burley’s July 27 tweets. “I think it was an idiotic thing to say.”

Cameron may have felt political pressure to dismiss Burley’s tweets. Nevertheless, being called out as an idiot publicly by your boss is the sort of thing that sticks with you as you move through your career.

Perhaps Burley is not an idiot and was merely doing his job—being an attack dog politician playing to a certain segment of the population. We see it on our side of the pond all the time. But he went too far—at least, Cameron thinks so—and now he’s been branded as an idiot.

And it’s so easy to go too far on Twitter. Its enforced brevity leaves no room for nuance, for considered opinions, for good judgment. If you’re in the business of advocacy on Twitter, it’s best to first ask yourself, “How would this tweet look if it was coming from my CEO?” Or, in the case of a British member of Parliament, “How would this tweet look if it was coming from the PM?”

—Steve Goldstein

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI 

The Death of Rory Staunton and the Power of the Press

On July 11, 2012 a heartbreaking story about a 12-year-old boy, Rory Staunton, who died on April 1 at NYU Langone Medical Center of severe septic shock, appeared in the The New York Times. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jim Dwyer, the article set off an intense debate online and within the medical community over the actions of the physicians involved in the treatment of the boy, the motivations of author Dwyer (who had met Rory and knew his uncle), and ultimately called into question the integrity of the Medical Center itself.

Rory had cut his arm diving for a basketball at his school gym in late March. The wound was not severe, but he soon began complaining about other symptoms, including fever, nausea and a pain in his leg. Initially diagnosed with a stomach bug, Rory had actually developed a serious infection and eventually went into septic shock, experienced organ failure and died. A blood test taken in the emergency room showed high levels of cells associated with bacterial infections, but the results were apparently never seen by the doctors who discharged Rory, his parents or his referring pediatrican. Dwyer’s well-researched article drew thousands of comments online, many of them from doctors who called into question how a “layperson” like Dwyer had the audacity to vilify doctors when he lacked medical training. Other people were shocked at the level of miscommunication at NYU Langone, and between the doctors there and Rory’s regular pediatrician. In the middle was Dwyer, who to his credit calmly replied to many of the comments to help clarify facts and supply further information.

Meanwhile, NYU Langone issued a statement of apology but otherwise had been quiet on the matter, no doubt on the advice of its legal team. But last week, on July 18, the hospital announced a new checklist had been established to ensure doctors and nurses have conducted “a final review of all critical lab results and patient vital signs” before a patient leaves, spokeswoman Lisa Greiner said. In the event of the patient being discharged before the test results are determined, the patient will be called and the results will be shared with the referring physician. In addition, a consortium of 55 hospitals that has developed tactics for early diagnosis of sepsis will place a greater focus on pediatric patients, said Brian Conway, a spokesman for the Greater New York Hospital Association.

These after-the-fact actions may bring some solace to Rory’s parents, who told Dwyer that their son would not want other kids to go through the same experience. Yet the story of Rory Staunton does beg this question: Would NYU Langone have taken this action if Rory’s death would not have been given front-page treatment by one of the most influential newspapers in the world? I think not.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

TJ Maxx Gets Hip, Responds to Jay-Z Lyrics

“Used to shop at TJ Maxx back in ’83. I don’t even know it was open then. I didn’t know Oprah then.”

Who would have thought that a simple line from a rap lyric would turn a corporate brand into the talk of the Internet?

When Jay-Z was reminiscing about his “hard times” before he became a multiplatinum-selling superstar, the hip-hop mogul slickly referenced the retail store’s name on a recently released record entitled “3 Kings.” It was a drop that many probably chuckled at and thought nothing more than it being another clever play of words in the rapper’s catalog.

But someone at TJ Maxx was listening, and saw it as a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the free advertising one of the world’s most recognizable stars gave the brand.

On its Twitter feed, TJ Maxx quickly reminded Jay-Z, er, @S_C_, that they were not only open in 1983, but have been in business since March 1977 and “have been keeping stylish men in designer labels for less ever since.”

It was a timely post that showed the organization was aware of what was being said about it not only by consumers, but in popular culture. TJ Maxx was paying attention and showed you can have a little fun on social media to advertise your brand.

Within hours, the tweet had been retweeted thousands of times, several blogs had picked up the story and TJ Maxx was trending.  Instant PR without a campaign strategy, budget or even having to break a sweat.

It’s important for organizations to be aware of what the public is saying about their brand. And whether it’s a complaint from a consumer or a rap lyric from a music legend, being prepared to respond will help make your brand a successful one.

Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson

A Tough Decision for Dark Knight’s Studio

It wasn’t long after the Colorado shooting during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20 that questions arose as to whether the movie would be pulled from theaters nationwide. The Wrap reported that Warner Brothers, the studio behind the movie, was considering the cancellation of all screenings.

It’s an awful business decision any way you look at it: go ahead with the screenings and rake in the profits, and risk being perceived as heartless and insensitive; or cancel all screenings and forego huge profits.

The biggest risk for Warner is the possibility of a second act of violence, should it choose to go ahead with the screenings.

Whatever course of action Warner Brothers takes now will reflect long term on the company and the movie and, short term, possibly on the safety of moviegoers. I’m guessing that the company will cancel screenings for a short time—the risk of a copycat act is too great, and the cost of one more killing would be too high a price to pay, in every sense of the word.

—Steve Goldstein

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI 

Is Greenpeace’s Shell Arctic Drilling Send-Up Going Too Far?

While it’s true that the Internet and all it has to offer has propelled marketing and communications creativity to new heights, Greenpeace and Shell’s digital dust-up this summer might beg the questions: Just how high does this creativity need to go, and at what cost?

If you haven’t heard, in a campaign against Shell’s Arctic drilling, in June Greenpeace and the Yes Lab created a fake Web site that allows supporters to create ads that mock the oil company’s drilling efforts, and encourages them to sign a petition against the drilling.

To the layperson, the site looks like it very well could be Shell’s—complete with logo, an About section, a newsroom and copy that toes the line between believability and extreme sarcasm. To understand this site, you should visit the Yes Lab’s “Museum of Fake Websites.” They are also the group behind the fake Shell party to “celebrate” the company’s Arctic drilling effort held in June at Seattle’s Space Needle. As you can imagine, mayhem ensued and the video  went viral (780,000 views and counting).

Not surprisingly, Shell is unhappy with the fake site and the mocking ads, but hasn’t yet threatened legal action against Greenpeace or Yes Lab. Perhaps that’s because all of this might fall under the heading of satire. Or maybe Shell figures it has bigger battles to wage, like ensuring it has all the permits to harvest a potential 27 billion barrels of oil from the Arctic.

As for deception of the public, Greenpeace doesn’t seem worried. “What we’re finding is that people who thought it was real and then discovered that Greenpeace and the Yes Men were behind it are overwhelmingly positive about the campaign,” said Greenpeace media officer Travis Nichols in an interview.

“Positive” is an understatement. As of Wednesday, had nearly 800,000 page views and more than 10,000 people had signed the petition. Great results indeed, but as much as I love to see creativity and cleverness on the Web, the fact that the site may be misleading some people leaves me a bit cold—kind of like in the Arctic.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Who’s Going to Push the Boy Scouts Into the 21st Century?

We pay a price when we close our eyes to what’s going on in the world beyond our daily routines. We also pay a price when we do pay attention to that larger world. In this morning’s New York Times is a picture of a wounded child in Qusayr, Syria, a victim of a bombing attack. There’s also a haunting shot of a Malian refugee trying to feed her visibly malnourished infant. You’ll also find a report that the Boy Scouts of America has reaffirmed its policy of excluding openly gay boys from membership and gay or lesbian adults from being leaders in the organization, which won’t exactly help stem the tide of bullying among youth.

It’s just painful to see and read these pictures and reports. It can leave one feeling pretty helpless and hopeless. In those moments we have to remind ourselves that we each have within us the power to help and to heal. And when individuals and organizations band together, that power is unlimited.

According to the Times report about the Boy Scouts, two members of the organization’s executive board, representing Ernst & Young and AT&T, have said that they are seeking to end the policy excluding openly gay children and adults. After the Boy Scouts reaffirmed its policy, an AT&T spokesman reissued this statement: “We don’t agree with every policy of every organization we support…change at any organization must come from within to be successful and sustainable.”

Corporate social responsibility leaders within organizations advocate for the brand loyalty that good works can inspire—this plays right into the business bottom line. But doing good has more power when there’s risk involved—when alienating some stakeholders is considered a worthwhile price to pay for taking a stand.

Yes, change must come from within an organization for it to take hold, but change from within often starts with strong, clear, sustained and courageous messages from outside the walls of a corporation, nonprofit, government agency or college campus.

—Steve Goldstein

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI 

Penn State Needed a ‘Voice of Reason’

Given the continuing, intense media coverage of the report on the Penn State scandal by former FBI director Louis Freeh, there’s no doubt that what was in that report has hit the public like a sledgehammer. Freeh called the behavior of key figures involved in the scandal, including football coach Joe Paterno, “callous and shocking.”

The story of the report has spawned other articles on what powerful football programs can learn from Penn State’s handling of the scandal. I believe, however, that not just universities with Top 25 football teams can benefit from hindsight: PR pros can learn from Penn State’s egregious mistakes as well.

In my research for an upcoming story about communicators who report directly to their CEOs, I had a conversation with Roy Vaughn, director of communications at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. Vaughn is fortunate enough to have total access to the leadership at his company—a situation that many communications pros can only dream about. Within the BlueCross BlueShield leadership there’s a lot of transparency—and honesty—making Vaughn’s job a pleasure. “I feel very fortunate to work with this company,” Vaughn told me. “When you take a job, you want to know that people across the organization are making decisions through the right ethical filter. That’s what I love about this position.”

Vaughn went on to say that his job is to be the “voice of reason” for the leaders of BCBST. “CEOs will encounter people with singular perspectives based on their functional role,” said Vaughn. In other words, people with their own interests at heart. So CEOs need to get the bigger picture, and that’s where a trusted communicator comes in.

In a way, Penn State’s walled-up decision-making process prevented anyone—let alone a PR pro—from being a voice of reason. Therefore, it was never impressed upon the leaders at Penn State of the serious ramifications of what they were doing.

That’s why PR professionals looking to move up the ladder should steer clear of any organization that has such a flawed decision-making process. And they should insist on regular access to leadership.

If someone were in that “voice of reason” position at Penn State some 14 years ago, things might have been different today.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

4 Things PR Pros Should Never Say to a Journalist, and Vice Versa

Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics in the School of Media Relations. I am reminded of this after receiving a dozen emails this week and a few phone calls from PR professionals that were (to put it nicely) off target.  Having been on both sides of the business, media and PR, I know  the relationship between the two is an important one. Even in this social media age when it’s seemingly easy to bypass the media and go straight to the customer, we know the value and saving graces of a good public relations professional.  And the mistakes go both ways.  So, below (and tinged with some sarcasm for effect) are some playbook rules for both PR pros and journalists. Please add to the list, as I know there’s more to say here:

 4 Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Journalist:

1. Did you get my email about [so and so] joining the company?

** I might have, I might not have. But if I’m interested I’ll let you know.

2. I was wondering if you got the press release [on our new product]…

** If you sent it to me, I got it and if I’m interested…(see #1)

3. Can I see the story before it runs?

** Um, no. We are journalists.

4. You might not be the right person for this pitch, but…

** Then find the right person!



4 Things a Journalist Shouldn’t Say to a PR Pro:

1. Leave me alone, I’ll get back to you if I’m interested.

** That’s just rude and unprofessional.

2. Put me in touch with your CEO and maybe I’ll write the story.

** Threats get you nowhere (legally).

3. I would prefer it if you were not present during the interview.

** There’s nothing wrong with PR being in the room (or on phone) during a call.

4. Thanks for being such a great flack.

** It’s the last word that irks. The first six are good.

The majority of journalists and PR pros understand the rules and don’t break them.  It’s the Rule Breakers we need to worry about for the good of both professions. So, what  No-No’s would you add to these lists?

- Diane Schwartz



For a Power Utility, a Heat Wave’s a Bad Time for Self-Reflection

Like many in the U.S., I’ve been doing my best to stay cool in the midst of record-breaking heat the last couple of weeks.

Living in the Washington, D.C. area, temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s have become the norm of late. In a word, it’s been unbearable.

A little over a week ago, our area was hit with a storm that lasted maybe an hour, but when it was over, the damage was astounding as thousands in the region were left without power. It couldn’t have come at a worse time as no power in a heat wave is a recipe for disaster.

As I watched the news and listened to friends, family and co-workers here at PR News talk about how their experiences, I couldn’t help but wonder how Pepco, the electric provider of D.C. and suburban Maryland, was handling this crisis from a PR standpoint.  People still without power, three and four days after the storm hit, didn’t exactly add up with what the company has said in its print and TV campaign over the past year—that it was “Ready for Everything.” With every hour without power, consumer faith in Pepco decreased as the temperature increased. As complaints poured in, there had to be a response to what was going on.

To Pepco’s credit, every day there was a press release posted on its site to keep consumers up to speed on the progress made that day and what was to be expected as time progressed. Thomas Graham, Pepco’s regional president, made the rounds on local television stations. Pepco was well aware of the unhappiness of those in the area, but that didn’t seem to matter as the complaints kept pouring in. Based on similar situations in the past, Pepco’s communications team was dealing with consumers who hadn’t forgotten the company’s poor performance in the past—most recently, when the company received a $1 million fine in December 2011 from the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Mike Rosenwald of the Washington Post spoke with Felecia Greer, director and consumer advocate for Pepco, to get her response as the voice of the customer and to gauge her feelings on how she felt her company performed.

“This was a regional event, a severe weather event,” she told Rosenwald. “We are gonna have to let the process play out. I am comfortable that we will be able to demonstrate that our performance, considering the event”—and then a slight pause—“that we performed well considering the severity of the event.”

The statement is in line with what many have complained about: Pepco is responding, but still more concerned about highlighting its own “achievements” rather than listening to what the consumers and others are complaining about.

So like many residents, Pepco has been feeling the heat, just in a different way. It seems they still have a ways to go before things cool off.

—Jamar Hudson, senior editor, PR News

Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson

Stifle the Social Network Yawns

Author Bill Zehme once asked Frank Sinatra, “What should a man never do in the presence of a woman?”

Sinatra’s reply: “Yawn.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, actually. Having someone yawn in your face just plain makes you feel bad. I had (notice the “had”) a friend who used to do this constantly, to me and to others that I knew. A recent Forbes piece, “It’s Time Brands Started Acting More Like People,” got me thinking about this old friend. Perhaps he would yawn because I kept rambling on about the same subjects, and he’d heard it all before. Maybe there wasn’t anything I said to him that wasn’t old news. Maybe I spoke in a deadly, droning monotone.

Then I remembered that he would yawn almost immediately after I would begin speaking—it didn’t matter what the subject was or how it was delivered. I saw him do it to other people as well—people who had different obsessions, interests, tones of voice and styles of delivery. The only time he wouldn’t yawn when somebody spoke, I finally remembered, was when he was asked a direct question. Then he was all ears.

Britt Peterson, in her Forbes article, makes the point that “just being in social media doesn’t make you sociable.” Brands need to be sociable in the same sense that an individual is sociable. A truly sociable individual knows people and understands his or her role in relation to those people. Any brand that is clueless about its “likes” on Facebook or followers on Twitter is not, by definition, sociable, and is ultimately floundering and wasting opportunities and time.

These brands that lack sociability are blasting out information and messages and, despite their many followers, are drawing big, fat yawns.

Imagine your likes and followers to be like my old friend (only not as rude): Unless they are asked a direct question—unless you show genuine interest in who they are, in what they like and in how they feel, and have the ability to respond to their interests—they will yawn in your face.

And that’s not the kind of engagement that leads to a lasting, fruitful relationship.

—Steve Goldstein

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI 

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