Boy Scouts Gay Policy Reversal-Read the Fine Print

The announcement this week by the Boy Scouts of America that it was considering reversing its policy of not allowing gays to join its ranks was front-page news. After all, the organization has fought tooth and nail—going all the way to the Supreme Court in 2000—to keep gays out.

Now, with the announcement that it’s reconsidering, the Boy Scouts can now move forward without controversy and leave the bad will that the policy created behind.

Not so fast. If you read the fine print on what the organization is proposing, it’s not a national policy change. Like the federal government does sometimes with states, the Boy Scouts intends to leave it up to individual chartering organizations as to whether to allow gays as scouts and scout leaders.

Troops are sponsored by churches, civic groups and schools. Thus BSA’s national policy reversal would put the onus on these local scouting groups—most administered by churches, civic groups and schools—to make uncomfortable decisions regarding its membership.

So while the Boy Scouts may be getting positive press now, it’s likely it will be more of the same controversy going forward, this time at the local level.

Bottom line: the Boy Scouts of America isn’t dealing with its crisis as much as it’s passing the crisis along. That’s not only bad crisis management, it’s just plain bad.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Another Opportunity to Meld Tactical PR with Strategic Communications

A couple of PR-related studies released earlier this month underscore two major challenges that PR pros now face, one that is tactical in nature and the other that is in a more strategic vein.

The first study is another reminder that, in a digital age, every company is a media company and PR pros must now add “quasi network programming executive” to their job description.

The study, which was conducted by PR agency Weber Shandwick, found that the percentage of CEOs using online video to promote their company narratives grew to 40% in 2012, compared with just 18% in 2010.

Growth in video is nearly evenly divided between CEOs appearing in videos on company websites and on corporate YouTube channels, according to the study, which is based on publicly visible activities of CEOs in the world’s largest 50 companies

Indeed, as a growing number of  CEOs get ready for their close-up the onus is on communications execs to create and/or produce the kind of online-video programming that will put their boss in the best possible light.

Does the CEO manage by walking the floor? Produce an online-video that shows how he or she interacts with employees and focus on the sense of camaraderie that the CEO strives on. Maybe your CEO tells great anecdotes about your company’s products and services? Pick a cozy, inviting setting for the CEO to tell a story, and splice the video with some B-roll of customer testimonials.

The creative in producing online videos is wide open (depending on how much budget you can commit). But that should be the easy part once you get buy-in from the CEO. The more salient  question is whether PR pros can seize the momentum within online video while simultaneously building on their relationships with C-level execs.

The other study presents more nettlesome challenges for PR pros: how to make their companies more trustworthy and transparent. According to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, which was released last week, business leaders are trusted by less than 50% in 16 of 26 markets, while government leaders are trusted by less than half in 21 of 26 markets.

The online survey sampled 26,000 general population respondents with an oversample of 5,800 informed publics ages 25-64 across 26 countries.

“We’re clearly experiencing a crisis in leadership,” said Richard Edelman, president-CEO, Edelman, in a statement. “Business and governmental leaders must change their management approach and become more inclusive by seeking the input of employees, consumers, activists and experts such as academics, and adapting to their feedback. They must also pass the test of radical transparency.”

“Radical transparency” is something that PR pros need to aspire to; they’re in a position to develop and execute the communications strategy among all of the people (management, employees, customers and prospects) who have a stake in making sure their companies are more transparent and trustworthy.

PR pros can find many different routes to convince the public that they’re in the business of doing the right thing. Heck, one vehicle  could be an online video featuring your CEO explaining what your company is doing to be more transparent. Talk about the perfect PR marriage of the tactical and the strategic.

Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1

Restaurant Chains Lead CSR Charge

The news this week that McDonald’s will use only Alaskan Pollack—sustainably fished in the wild—in its Filet-O-Fish and Fish McBites products, proves the point that corporate social responsibility is taking the business world by storm.

And these days the restaurant industry appears to be leading the CSR charge. The Los Angeles Times reported this week that McDonald’s, Burger King and IHOP have all launched food sourcing initiatives.

Burger King announced that it was cutting ties with a farm whose meat had horse DNA in it, while IHOP and Applebee’s owner Dine Equity pledged to eliminate gestation crates from its pork supply chain (joining Carl’s Jr. in a similar initiative announced last summer).

These chains join In-N-Out Burger (a particular favorite of this author), which cut ties last summer with a meat supplier accused of animal abuse.

In addition, McDonald’s—one of the largest buyers of fish in the U.S.—will pay the Marine Stewardship Council for the right put the group’s label on its product packaging, joining Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Walgreens, which already carry products that bear the MSC moniker.

Research has show that these types of sustainability initiatives resonate with the public, and no doubt these restaurant brands are looking to counter the national issue of obesity. Whatever the reasoning, all of these initiatives have one simple message in common: “We’re doing the right thing,” perhaps the most effective message a brand can have.

Now that McDonald’s has addressed its fish, I’m waiting for fair trade tartar sauce.

Help us celebrate the best in CSR by attending PR News CSR Awards luncheon, set for Feb. 11 in Washington, D.C.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

FOMO: Don’t Let It Sting You

Is your Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) flaring up? Are you anxious because all your friends are hanging out and you are at home scarfing down the last spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s? Or perhaps you have FOMO because you haven’t tweeted in three hours or haven’t posted on Facebook in two days.

While not an actual condition, FOMO is a byproduct of the Social Media Age and anyone who spends anytime on social media has encountered FOMO at least once. It’s certainly not healthy, and for communicators who believe social media is a tactic not a platform, then your FOMO level is probably pretty high.  Spending too much time on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc, means you’re spending less time interacting face to face with your colleagues, talking to your customers; less time reading, thinking, strategizing, measuring. “Too much time” is a relative term, and for some brands and people, posting every hour or so is acceptable.

But you know intrinsically when it’s getting out of hand, so recognize FOMO and manage it. You are not missing anything. You will not get fired and you will not lose friends. You will not miss a big news item and you will not lose a sale.  Absence does make the heart grow fonder, so instead of fearing you’re missing out, try fearing that you’re too deep in social media.  Combat FOMO in small steps: consider NOT sharing a link to a news story you didn’t read; consider NOT posting a photo of the enchilada that’s shaped like the state of Florida; consider leaving your device in your pocket or purse when interacting with another human.

It’s easier said than done. And app developers who understand the human psyche are coming up with creative ways to deal with people’s FOMO. Take, for example, a new app called CouchCachet which allows you to check in via Foursquare to bars, parties, restaurants, hangouts, etc, even though you are not actually there. On its home page, the app is described as “a social application that will lie and say you are already doing those things while you sit at home in your pajamas.”

In  a profile of CouchCachet in the New York Times, the app co-founder Harlie Levine explains: “It will live the lifestyle that you need to project to others. You can finally be who you want people to think you are. They don’t know you’re sitting at home, getting caught up on ‘Downton Abbey’.” Conceding that the app can mean no one’s really out partying but rather they’re pretending to be doing so and using CouchCachet to enable this, Brian Fountain, the co-founder of CouchCachet noted: “This is robots talking to robots. This is the future.”

I truly hope this is not the future. It’s up to us humans to stop the madness.

- Diane Schwartz



The Armstrong Interview: What He Didn’t Say

It was with a heavy dose of predictability that the country waited to hear Oprah interview Lance Armstrong on Thursday night. We knew he was going to admit that he was doping. He prepared the world for this weeks ago, though there was speculation that he might reveal more.  When asked by Oprah variations on the theme of whether he took banned substances, Armstrong answered with the one word that didn’t cycle through his vocabulary over the years: “Yes”.

The most entertaining part of the interview was when Armstrong told Oprah that he had looked up the word “cheat” in the dictionary and was pleased to see he didn’t fit the definition of “gaining an advantage on a rival or foe” since everyone was doping at the time.

The interview was everything everyone said it would be: an admission of guilt and a marketing and PR coup for Oprah’s OWN network, which hasn’t gotten this much attention since never. Maybe in the second part of the interview Friday night, Armstrong will apologize directly to his fans, family, friends, sponsors and business associates. The word “sorry” was buried in the interview when he said:  “I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times. I’m sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I’m sorry for that.”  “I’m sorry for the that” is different than “I’m sorry.”  These are words that defy the accused; they are curiously hard to utter when the spotlight shines on them. And they are words that have more mileage than any Tour de France.

Armstrong should have led the conversation with those two words.

Diane Schwartz



‘Dunbar’s Number’ may Change the Math of PR

With data an increasingly important element of marketing communications, PR folks may feel like they’re starting to drown in numbers. So one more shouldn’t hurt.

But this number is likely to have a much bigger impact on the ability of communications pros to do their job better, as opposed to the numbers they constantly track on a daily basis (Google Analytics, et al.) and which sometimes get lost in the ether.

It’s called ‘Dunbar’s Number,’ or roughly 150—the ceiling for the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuine social relationship.

Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist and professor at the University of Oxford, developed Dunbar’s Number. It’s been floating around for more than 20 years, ever since Dunbar wrote a 1992 article in which he used the correlation observed for non-human primates to predict a social group size for humans.

But now that social media is all the rage, Dunbar is “enjoying a newfound popularity” among Silicon Valley programmers, according to a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek.

The article, which gets into the nitty-gritty of Dunbar’s Number, should be required reading for PR pros who want to make better sense of their social networks—and maybe even generate more solid returns.

“In the same way that human beings can’t breathe under water or run the 100-meter dash in 2.5 seconds or see microwaves with the naked eye, most cannot maintain many more than 150 meaningful relationships. Cognitively, we’re just not built for it,” reads the article.

As PR pros face growing pressure to enhance their outreach programs and cultivate more relationships via social media, Dunbar’s Number should give communications execs serious pause about the effectiveness of their social media strategy.

Even better, it should once and for all put an end to the “spray and play” practice that remains a crutch among PR pros. While there are all sorts of granular details surrounding Dunbar’s Number, the figure is a highfalutin term for the old adage, “less is more.”

With Dunbar’s Number in mind, PR folks may be throwing good money after bad or, at the very least, incurring a lot of waste in their communication efforts.

As social channels have proliferated, PR execs have been conditioned to thinking that an unknown stream of contacts is just a few clicks away. But Dunbar’s Number should provide a clearer understanding of the inherent limitations in trying to befriend 400 people on Facebook or get in the good graces of 200 journalists and/or media influencers.

Social media is a great PR vehicle. But it’s got only so much gas when stacked up against our brain capacity to build effective relationships. PR pros still need to aim high, of course, but Dunbar’s Number makes a convincing case that they need to take selectivity online a lot more seriously.

Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1


The Digital/Social War Room Gains Steam

Who can forget the photo of President Obama and prominent members of his administration anxiously watching monitors while the assault on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan went on in real-time.

Now it seems that brands are having their own “Zero Dark Thirty” moments, in terms of monitoring digital and social campaigns. Okay, maybe the Bin Laden reference is pushing it, but we’re definitely noticing more media “war rooms” being set up that monitor all types of outreach.

Case in point: Yesterday HP and NASCAR announced the creation a NASCAR Fan and Media Engagement Center (FMEC), which will be based at NASCAR’s headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. The center will have all the latest tech bells and whistles, courtesy of HP, including state-of-the-art servers and digital displays.

According to a news release, the Media Engagement Center will “help NASCAR analyze fan sentiment, identify emerging issues and discover topic trends for instantly actionable insights.” Media analysis plays heavily into this: HP’s Autonomy software applications will analyze all forms of media, and give NASCAR the ability to combine those metrics for a full media relations/fan engagement picture.

The FMEC reminds me of PepsiCo’s “Mission Control” war room that was set up in 2011 to track social media for its Gatorade brand, which at the time was introducing a new line of sports drink products.

There’s another angle to the HP/NASCAR announcement that’s worth noting. Both organizations are struggling to get back to prior greatness. HP recently made a list it doesn’t want to be on—the 10 Most Hated Companies in America, with blatant mismanagement cited as its downfall, while NASCAR has struggled to fill up the grandstands at its racing venues in recent years, thanks mostly to the bad economy.

This collaboration will give NASCAR a much-needed deep dive into its customer base and HP a platform for proving that it hasn’t lost a step in terms of technology.

Definitely a win-win.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Flu Epidemic Highlights Messaging Mojo of CDC

Flu season is upon us, and in a big way. Today the story broke that flu-related deaths have now reached the “epidemic” level. With two small kids, that’s a worry to me.

Then I began reading what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to say on their regular morning conference call to reporters, and I began to feel a bit better.

Why? In talking to CDC communicators for stories in PR News, their high level of messaging expertise really shines. What distinguishes the CDC’s PR know-how from the rest? CDC officials are ready to counter bad news with at least some glimmer of positive. Here’s a few examples from this morning’s press conference:

The Bad News: Flu-related deaths have reach epidemic proportions.
The Counter: There are early signs that flu cases have peaked in certain parts of the country, as the number of doctor’s visits have dropped.

The Bad News: The flu shots that the CDC urged Americans to get are not infallible–this year’s vaccine has been rated 62% effective, which is “moderately” effective.
The Counter: A quote from CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden, who said while the vaccine “is far from perfect, it’s by far the best tool we have to prevent influenza.”

You get the picture. CDC briefings are often full of bad news, but communicators are able to pepper it with some good news as well, and all of it is backed by research and expertise that the public trusts. While a worried public may not like what the CDC has to say, it’s how it’s said that should resonate with PR pros.

Earlier this year I spoke with Llelwyn Grant of the news media branch at the CDC, and Lola Russell, CDC’s senior press officer, about communications around the West Nile virus outbreak. They offered up five crisis PR lessons for our readers, which I’ll paraphrase here:

1: Preparation is the key to ensuring that messages are coordinated across all stakeholders
2: Explain the situation in plain language, not “science-speak”
3: Use the level of media interest to gauge media strategy and tactics. The higher the level, the more outreach
4: Be aware of message frequency, particularly in fast-evolving stories
5: Offer solutions. In the CDCs case, it’s what the audience can do to protect themselves

Certainly not all these lessons pertain to every crisis, but I think it’s enlightening to study the CDC’s messaging. At the very least, it will make for healthier communications.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

For PR Pros, More Stress Means Added Responsibilities

A new survey was released earlier this week saying that PR is the fifth most stressful career path, up from seventh in 2012.

To anyone remotely patched into the PR field, this is not exactly earth-shattering news and should be welcomed rather than frowned upon.

In the last several years the PR discipline has inexorably moved from the margins of marketing communications (producing written materials and cultivating relationships with editors and reporters) to just a concentric circle or two away from the core of corporate strategy and branding.

With the erosion in traditional media channels and the ongoing rise of social marketing—in which storytelling is paramount—PR has been elevated to a higher level on the organizational chart for both enterprise companies and SMBs.

As C-level execs put the squeeze on communications execs to better align their efforts with the top and bottom lines, PR pros no doubt are grappling with additional stress. But with the additional stress comes additional responsibilities—something that PR pros have been pining for since time immemorial.

But rather than channel Frank Costanza and practice the “Serenity Now” method of de-stressing, here a few things that PR pros can do to manage and/or alleviate the stress they incur:



Are we missing anything? Let us know what you’re thinking about reducing stress in the PR world.

—Matthew Schwartz



13 for ’13: A Baker’s Dozen of PR To-Do’s

Now that your personal New Year’s Resolutions are sealed, it’s time to think about what sort of impact you plan to make this year for your company, your stakeholders and, just as importantly, for yourself. To help, I’ve compiled 13 action items, in the hope that a few of these will resonate with you. I recently read that it takes 66 days for a habit to form to the point it becomes subconscious, so when you try these ideas below, give it until mid-March to assess if you’ve been successful.  That’s assuming you’ll start on this list now….

  1. Learn your company’s business mission and make sure your PR is aligned with that mission and the 2013 goals; your communications efforts are less meaningful  if they have only a marginal impact on your organization.
  2. If you can accomplish the item above, then it’s time to fight for a bigger PR budget.
  3. Talk to a journalist at least once a day – either in person or by phone to get in the rhythm of always developing and improving media relationships.
  4. Understand the Barcelona Principles. They are important to your communications measurement efforts and will elevate Public Relations in the business sphere.
  5. Befriend your IT department since your online content is dependent on the back-end systems working.
  6. Always be learning:  take time at least once a month to listen to a Webinar, attend a conference, read a business book.
  7. Become financially savvy: whether it’s for your clients or for your department, understand a P/L (profit/loss) statement and be comfortable speaking about revenues, profit and margins.
  8. Give time: mentor someone and/or volunteer your time to a cause you care about and don’t look for credit and applause for your efforts.
  9. Hone your business writing skills every day and read other good writers for ideas on how best to articulate your internal or external messages.
  10. Avoid eating lunch at your desk at least twice a week – remove yourself from your office to refresh your thinking, connect with colleagues, de-stress. Consider taking the IT guy to lunch (see item #5).
  11. Spend at least 15 minutes every day on social media – if you don’t tweet, post something on Facebook; if you don’t  share a story on LinkedIn, pin a photo on Pinterest; if you don’t write a blog, comment on someone else’s. Or conduct a listening campaign, soaking in the social media conversation around you. Fifteen minutes is not a lot of time to flex your social media muscles.
  12. Collaborate with Marketing – this could be the year to break down the silos between PR and Marketing, so plan a meeting to discuss integrated communications ideas.
  13. Shorten your daily task list – give yourself a break and accomplish a few things each day that matter rather than a lot of things that don’t.

What would you add to this list? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

- Diane Schwartz


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