I can’t believe it’s already Labor Day weekend. Where did the summer go? Labor Day conjures up mixed emotions with me, and I would guess, many others. On the one hand it’s a time to pause and reflect on the achievements of the American worker. These days, because of the number of people out of work, that reflection runs deeper. On the other hand there’s a feeling of foreboding, as you know summer fun is over, the kids are back in school and casual summer Friday has ended.
But between feelings of reflection and foreboding, for the sports fan in me, Labor Day weekend means the opening of the college football season. Major college football has seen its share of crises and controversy over the years, but none so intense as the debacle at Penn State. On Saturday, Sept. 1, the Nittany Lions will face Ohio in its first game since NCAA sanctions took affect in light of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal.
While it’s been a PR nightmare for the university’s administration, the scandal also hit the players hard. Some think the football program should have been given the death penalty by the NCAA. But a ban from bowl games and the opportunity to win a Big Ten title for the next four years is tough on players who expected to be in the national spotlight. Yet despite those sanctions, only nine players left the team to play elsewhere, although one was their top rusher, Silas Redd. Also gone, of course, is the late Joe Paterno, replaced by new head coach Bill O’Brien.
Because of the upheaval, many sports pundits don’t give the team much of a chance to have a successful season. Even if the team plays hard and wins some games, the affect will be bittersweet: those critical of Penn State’s handling of the crisis will pooh-pooh the achievement, while others just might anoint the team as the feel-good sports story of the year.
In any case, Saturday marks the beginning of a new reality for the Penn State players. They will be under a microscope not of their choosing for the rest of their college careers. But if they distinguish themselves well on the field, they just might be the most effective PR practitioners at Penn State.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01
Yes, an organization can withstand a PR hit when a crisis happens. Just ask the people at LiveStrong.
Since 1997, LiveStrong has been working to improve the lives of those affected by cancer and has become the largest athlete charity in the world.
In the wake of company founder Lance Armstrong being banned for life by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on August 24, the foundation has avoided a negative backlash. In fact, it’s kicked into high gear, according to a report by USA Today, with donations increasing from a $3,200 daily average to a reported $80,000 on the day the Armstrong news broke.
What was clearly negative news for Armstrong personally, has surprisingly turned into an opportunity for LiveStrong to gain more national attention, avoid a PR hit and use it to its advantage.
In a situation where you have a popular figure like Armstrong take a downfall, LiveStrong simply chose to stand by its brand and behind Armstrong. For the past 15 years, Armstrong has been a tireless advocate for cancer fundraising and research, and as a survivor himself, his commitment to the cause keeps his popularity intact, which undoubtedly helped LiveStrong maintain its credibility in the midst of Armstrong’s personal crisis.
“Although traditional media is making the USADA-Armstrong doping issue seem like the Lance Armstrong Foundation has a PR crisis on their hands, we’d argue that they do not have a crisis at all,” says Kimling Lam, director, marketing communications, the Meltwater Group. “In fact, they may even have an opportunity to reach key audiences who would support the foundation.”
Not only has LiveStrong avoided any kind of PR hit, it appears that the business support for Armstrong individually has not wavered either. ESPN’s sports business reporter Darren Rovell reports that many endorsers including Nike, Oakley and Anheuser-Busch are standing in support of Armstrong. While Armstrong has not lost any current deals, any endorsements in the works may be put on hold.
By relying on a wealth of goodwill built over the years, sticking by its leader, responding in support on its own Web site and social media outlets, LiveStrong showed that, in what is perceived as a crisis, organizations can survive and come out even stronger than before.
Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson
On Wednesday, August 22, Dr. Graham Spanier, former president of Penn State University, and his lawyers went all attack-dog on former FBI director Louis Freeh and his report that blasted Spanier for failing to stop Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse on campus. Spanier used a variety of platforms Wednesday to vent against Freeh and the report—holding a press conference, appearing on ABC’s Nightline and giving an interview with The New Yorker magazine.
Going on the PR offensive is a tried and true tactic, and Spanier made the most of it, telling Nightline: “Never in my time as president of Penn State did I ever — ever once — receive a report from anyone that suggested that Jerry Sandusky was involved in any child abuse, in any sexual abuse, in any criminal act.”
But this is where his offensive stalls. He went on to say that he only knew that Sandusky had been engaging in “horseplay” in a campus shower with a boy in 2001. Horseplay, to Spanier, meant “throwing water around, snapping towels,” he told Nightline. For a moment, except Spanier’s argument as the truth, but pretend you’re a president of a major university and someone tells you an assistant football coach is engaging in “horseplay” in a shower with a boy. I don’t know about you, but that’s a red flag for me.
Interviewer Josh Elliott then asked Spanier about the e-mail he wrote in which he agreed with administrators that the Sandusky incident should stay in-house, but that he was worried that Sandusky’s horseplay could leave Penn State “vulnerable.” If it was just snapping towels, why did Spanier even use the word “vulnerable” in the e-mail? His subsequent explanation to Elliott on his meaning of “vulnerable” was so nonsensical, I can’t explain it.
As Spanier was trying to defend his actions, his lawyers were launching an all-out attack on Louis Freeh and the report, with one saying the report was “a flat-out distortion of facts so infused with bias and innuendo that it is, quite simply, unworthy of the confidence that has been placed in it.” Remember that Penn State hired Freeh to investigate the school’s actions and write the report in the first place. And also remember that Freeh carries quite a bit of credibility as a former top G-man.
Writing about Spanier’s media blitz, Tom Harvey of the New York Daily News said Spanier’s statements could pose the ex-PSU president big problems—and could even help the government in a possible criminal indictment. That’s the kind of outcome Spanier and his team weren’t looking for.
That is why it’s wise to think things over carefully before going on an all-out offensive, and have some plausible answers ready for the media. Otherwise, you’re just being offensive.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01
One of my favorite childhood memories is of the annual shopping excursion for school supplies, with the coveted “list” in hand and my finagling extra items to buy, such as scented Magic Markers or a locker mirror (Mom: “Are they on your list?” Me: “They should be.”). So much promise is stuffed into the backpack – the coming school year would be the year of getting all A’s, making new friends, excelling at one sport. Fresh supplies, fresh outlook.
Fast-forward decades later, and while your backpack has been replaced with an electronic device, a soft leather briefcase and a brain full of too-much-information, you’ve never stopped learning….right? As a Communicator, what do you need to have a “Straight A Year”? Some suggested “supplies”:
- Calculator: as a PR pro, it comes down to some sort of bottom line and it’s often financial. So get familiar with your numbers and your boss’s boss’s goals and make sure what you’re doing adds up.
- Mentor: find someone you can brainstorm with fairly regularly, and who can help you advance in your career.
- A life: having a life outside of work is essential to business success.
- A voice on social media: Contribute to the online conversation with interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking content that has your personality stamp on it.
- Pen and paper: write a thank-you note to a colleague/peer/partner at least once a month, and (imagine this) send it in the mail.
- A specialty: you can’t be the Varsity soccer team captain, but you can be the go-to measurement person in your organization or the crisis expert or the social media leader. Pick a specialty and pursue it.
- Smile: takes less muscle strength and improves your public image.
- Travel budget: get out of the office to visit with peers, attend events and score new ideas.
- Training budget: take a class, attend a webinar or conference, make it a priority to learn something new.
- Plan B: Create a back-up plan for any PR initiative and, of course, be familiar with your crisis management plan.
- Make new friends: create a list of at least 3 people/month you want to develop a relationship with (reporters, analysts, CMOs, CEOs, entrepreneurs, service providers), set up a call or in-person meeting with each of them, and figure out what you have to offer in the friendship. Nurture these relationships, don’t talk behind their backs and play well in the sandbox. Just like in school.
What would you add to the list of supplies? Please chime in. At the very least you’ll get an A for participation.
- Diane Schwartz
On Twitter: @dianeschwartz
We’ve all said some pretty outrageous things that have no basis in fact or in any kind of reasoned analysis. Most of what college sophomores say, if I remember correctly, falls into that category. And when you think about it, the rhetoric during a heated political campaign season sounds a lot like the late-night rantings of dorm creatures with stacks of unread books. Like college sophomores, politicians exaggerate, make wild assumptions and get worked up over subjects they only dimly understand.
Maybe Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican from Missouri who’s running for U.S. Senate, was sleep-deprived and running on NoDoz when he said on an Aug. 19 broadcast of KTVI-St. Louis’ “Jaco Report” that “if it’s a legitimate rape the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Judging from the way Akin delivered that pronouncement on the show, he believed at the time that what he was saying was a true, medical fact, based on what he “understands from doctors.” The congressman was riffing on his beliefs, but this was no dorm room.
Party leaders were soon calling on Akin to pull out of the election and, to save himself, Akin turned to the most misused, abused and vague form of public apology: he said that he “misspoke.”
Hiding behind “misspoke” is not a Republican tactic—Democrats use it, athletes use it, CEOs use it. To the reader or listener, “misspoke” connotes the inability to be held accountable for one’s actions and the unwillingness to apologize for saying something dumb, hurtful or both.
Inevitably, Akin gave a real apology, saying that his comments were “ill-conceived” and “wrong,” and that he just wants “to apologize to those that I’ve hurt.”
We’re all susceptible to thoughtless riffs, but our apologies need to be seriously considered and meaningful, even if our sketchy opinions are the opposite.
Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI
Now that the London Olympics are just a memory, I never thought I’d write this: I’m going to miss them. Not just the athletes and their performances that often gave me goosebumps—like “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius, British heptathlete hero Jessica Ennis and swimming sensations Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin.
No, I’m also going to miss #nbcfail too. You see, these were the “Social Games,” where millions of people around the world could join in conversations about their favorite athletes—or air their biggest gripes. But in all of the hype over social media, let’s not forget traditional media coverage of the Olympics. This week I received some data from Dow Jones (generated by their measurement company Factiva) on how the main Olympic sponsors fared via traditional outlets.
Not too surprisingly, McDonald’s earned the most share of voice. But it also garnered some of the most unfavorable media coverage—24% of the total coverage was negative due to the relentless mockery by the British press of the idea of a fast-food chain sponsoring the ultra-healthy Olympics, and outrage at the company’s efforts to block other food vendors at the Olympics from selling the “chips” part of the traditional English staple, fish and chips.
Coca-Cola (18% negative coverage) was in a similar boat, criticized for its unhealthy traits during a decidedly healthy games. Both Coke and Visa (which saw 17% of its mentions unfavorable) had to deal with criticism of their receiving large allotments of tickets when it became apparent that the seats at many events were going unused. Visa also had to contend with the backlash to their policy of ensuring only Visa cards and Visa-only cash machines could be used at Olympic venues.
Suffice to say, there were some big crises generated via social media during the Games, much of it centering around NBC’s coverage and ill-timed tweets by athletes. Still, much of the negativity around the Olympics was generated the old-fashioned way, meaning traditional media still packs a punch and shouldn’t be ignored in favor of social platforms.
—Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01
Just went you thought there weren’t enough social media platforms for communicators to pitch stories to, here comes yet another option.
On Monday, August 13, The Huffington Post unveiled HuffPostLive, a video streaming network with expectations of leveraging its online community and social platforms by having the option of engaging in an online conversation via webcam.
According to the report, HuffPostLive will have eight hours of live programming from New York and four from Los Angeles every weekday. Reporters, editors and bloggers from The Huffington Post will make regular appearances.
In a statement, Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington said: “We have reached a moment where – thanks to technology – millions of people have a seat at the table and can join what has become a global conversation.”
Engagement. Engagement. Engagement.
As social media continues to become a main priority for communicators, organizations are realizing that the online conversation is of the utmost importance to the success or failure of their brand.
With the audience of the Huffington Post, the potential for ads and visibility for marketers could be limitless. The social-centric plan of HuffPostLive would not only open the door for discussion about the various topics on the show, but potential sponsors could have space to showcase their brands.
It’s another outlet for PR pros to promote their clients and another sign that social media is the way to go for organizations.
Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson
With Chick-fil-A’s same-sex marriage controversy nearly played out, the one thing about that crisis that made PR pros pause was the tragic death by heart attack of the restaurant chain’s longtime head of PR, Don Perry. While we don’t know if the controversy and the stress associated it had some bearing on what happened to Perry, it does bring up the pressures that PR pros face while on the job.
In fact, PR executives ranked No. 7 in an infamous list of Top 10 Most Stressful Jobs released in January. While working on a story about PR and stress for our 8/13/12 issue, I solicited some interesting insights from PR leaders on the subject. It’s a sensitive topic, and some requested anonymity in exchange for their comments.
Suffice to say, PR is not neurosurgery, but being responsible for critical business outcomes results in a lot of stress. What causes the most stress? Not surprisingly, a crisis was high on the lists of my sources, as well as handling staff layoffs, placing stories in top-tier publications and delivering bad results to the C-suite. From an agency perspective, dealing with demanding clients was on the top of the list.
For more insights on PR and stress—and tips on how to deal with the pressure—you’ll have to read the article. But I’d be interested to learn what causes you the most stress on the job.
After all, identifying the cause is the first step in dealing with the problem.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01
By Jamar Hudson, PR News
Writing about the Olympics has been pretty much unavoidable the last two weeks. It’s been one of those events in which every day there seems to be an opportunity to take a look at the London games and find some sort of PR angle to examine.
And this post is no different.
Most notably, every time you go to check the medal count, you find complaints about NBC’s decision to air the events on tape delay. It will go down as a footnote to these Olympic games, as, with social media, the anticipation of viewing the events in primetime has been diminished because the results have already been revealed to fans around the world.
The outrage reached a boiling point on August 5 when the International Olympic Committee had to weigh in following the delayed airing of the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s win in the 100-meter dash, perhaps the most anticipated event of the entire games. The twitter hastag #NBCFail has become a trending topic for those unhappy with the broadcast schedule.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams tried to deflect the negative attention from NBC, which has exclusive broadcast rights to the games, saying ”it’s certainly not for us to tell them how to reach their audience,” Adams said, adding that NBC live-streamed the race for online viewers. “If you wanted live, you could get it live.”
But despite NBC’s communications team being constantly bombarded with negative press, the results are suggesting not that viewers are dissatisfied, but tuning in more than ever before.
In an AdAge Media News report, the first five nights of the games averaged 35.6 million viewers, the most for any Summer Olympics outside the U.S. since Montreal in 1976.
So not only has NBC experienced a much-needed ratings spike, but the brand has successfully weathered the storm of consumer complaints to produce a successful, viewership-wise, Olympics.
Complaints will happen from time to time for organizations. For brands like NBC, it’s best to acknowledge that you hear what your consumers are saying, but still stick with the plan and hope it works out for the best.
For NBC, it’s worked.
Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson
So here goes: I personally despise, at the end of the day, when people drop the ball, because, at this moment in time, it is what it is. Just sayin.
In that paragraph above I include what I and countless others find to be among the most annoying sayings shared by the English-speaking world and uttered by all of us at some point, though rarely in one sentence (thankfully). It’s easy to use these phrases because they allow us to bridge our thoughts or label our feelings with familiar phrases. But let’s face it: it does not make us better communicators. It’s okay to utter: “It is what it is” when the waitress brings over a Merlot instead of Malbec or you didn’t go to the gym today because you “personally despise” the treadmill. But it is not acceptable as communicators to fall back on mundane and grammatically inaccurate phrases in a profession where language speaks volumes and can be the difference between scoring an account and losing it, between garnering respect and squandering it, between capturing an audience’s attention or putting them to sleep.
How many times have you heard an executive say “At the end of the day, we are going to….” Or, “I personally feel that this is the way forward.” You can’t “impersonally feel” something unless you’re clinically insane. And, “at the end of the day” really means: I don’t know how to start this sentence but what I want to say is…
Am I being nit-picky? Perhaps, if I weren’t writing this to an audience of communicators. But we are judged not only by our actions but by what we say and how we say it, what we write and the flair with which we write it.
To this list of phrases better left unused, I submit a few more that will get you nowhere fast. Please add yours to this list so at the end of the day (literally, today!) we have more words to ban from the workday:
* From an agency exec to a client: “Of course, we can do all of that!” (sounds fishy, I don’t believe you; be specific on what you can do and what you might not be able to do. )
* From a client to an agency rep: “I need a dashboard” (can you be more specific? Everyone’s asking for a dashboard and there are Mercedes dashboards and Pinto dashboards – which do you want?)
* From an employee to her employer: “Where is my career going here?” (you should know, bring a plan to get there; don’t let your employer tell you who you should be)
* From a boss to his employee: “You need to be more passionate.” (you can’t make people feel passionate)
* From one PR person to another: “We need to own social media.” (Um, the public owns social media. What you really mean is you need to tie your social media efforts to a bottom line, be it financial, social good, reputation. That’s #winning)
* From a CEO to his PR team: “Get us some good press.” And the PR exec’s response: “Consider it done.”
The latter phrase sounds straight out of a movie script (perhaps a documentary). In the real world, we know “get us some good press” is a loaded request and “consider it done” is dripping with confidence and enthusiasm. But more meaningful conversations without niceties and catch-phrases will elevate the PR profession and set more realistic expectations for your organization. Just sayin.
(Please add to the list.)
- Diane Schwartz
On twitter: @dianeschwartz