Ask a man on the street which company he despises most and he won’t mention a weapons manufacturer, human rights abuser, reckless mortgage lender or even Wal-Mart.
He will probably say Exxon Mobil.
On Thursday, the oil company posted the biggest quarterly profit in US history as the American economy showed measurable signs of recession. Gross Domestic Product shrank and more companies announced layoffs. And let's not forget it cost a week’s paycheck to fill most gas tanks last summer.
“Shameless greed,” consultant Laura Fitton wrote on Twitter. “Exxon Mobil made its highest profits ever? Nice. Especially as inflated energy prices disproportionately screw the poor.”
Is Exxon Mobil greedy? Of course it is. Exxon Mobil is a for profit company. And just like your (for profit) company, Exxon Mobil wants to earn as much money as possible.
Of course, certain executives and large shareholders are getting incredibly rich. But does anyone expect some brave (or stupid) executive to suggest the C-suite take pay cuts one quarter so people in middle America can save a few cents on their gasoline? Ha!
If those execs are sweating the public scorn then they’ll probably just cool off in their pools filled with gold coins.
I’ve never spoken with a corporate communicator at Exxon Mobil, so I can’t say what the job is like there. But I can imagine that, beyond the gold plated toilets, it’s a challenge.
Morale should be up among your employees, yet so many people despise you for doing well. How do you reconcile those competing interests? Meanwhile, PR pros are charged with going before an angry public to explain that—pop the bubbly!—despite a shrinking economy we’re doing great!
Here’s my advice, and it applies internally and externally. Declare that it’s not un-American to earn record profits. Then explain that if profits stagnated then Exxon Mobil would lay off employees, and the shareholders, many of whom are wage earners, would see their investments take a hit. What good does that do the economy?
The US election’s “October surprise”—Sarah Palin’s $150,000 closet—provided corporate communicators with a unique career path.
As reporters poured over McCain-Palin financial disclosures they discovered that one high paid campaign staffer is Amy Strozzi, a “communications consultant.” She earned $13,200 in September and $22,800 from October 1 through 15.
How does a communicator rake in more than many top staffers? She multitasks, says The Washington Post.
“Strozzi … is listed as doing ‘communications consulting’ work,” Post reporter Mary Ann Akers wrote. “But two sources close to the campaign tell [me] Strozzi is Palin's make-up artist.”
There you go. Want a raise in today’s dire economy? Start doing your boss’s makeup. Or, if you are already a makeup artist, get into communications. Apparently it's lucrative.
Ever wonder what corporate communications was in 1962? It’s not that different from today.
Just look at the season two finale of Mad Men, the critically acclaimed TV show about Madison Avenue advertising men in the early ‘60s. The show depicts jaw-dropping sexual harassment, workplace drinking and smoking (before noon!) and—yes—even corporate communications.
In this episode, the characters, who work at Sterling Cooper ad agency, endure two anxious weeks where the Cuban missile crisis—the end of world—coincides with the company’s merger with a larger British agency—the end of the employees’ worlds.
Only a select few know about the merger so when management starts auditing every department at Sterling Cooper the rank and file employees grow worried. And when they’re not worrying about their jobs, attention shifts to the imminent threat of nuclear war.
Without solid information about the missile crisis and the merger, fear goes unchecked and anxiety runs rampant. At the time, newspapers, radio and TV covered the missile crisis, but not to the dizzying extent media would today. If the Cuban missile crisis occurred now cable networks would have boats of pundits floating alongside the Russian warships.
The media landscape has changed immensely since 1962; however, at certain organizations internal communications remains largely the same.
Fast forward 40-years to another fictitious ad agency, this one in Joshua Ferris’s darkly humorous novel And Then We Came to the End. The novel details the summer of 2001 at a Chicago ad agency. Dot coms are busting, ad revenue is withering and agencies started firing employees en masse.
As in Mad Men, anxiety reaches a fever pitch thanks to the company’s non-existent internal communications.
Although Mad Men and And Then We Came to the End depict fictitious ad agencies, the story for countless employees remains the same during today’s economic crisis. They are uncertain of their jobs; management isn’t communicating; anxiety starts breeding.
Ragan.com has carried stories about companies communicating well during this financial crisis; unfortunately, there are certainly many more organizations failing to communicate.
Have you ever charged the media just to see your executive at a public event?
Seems like a silly idea, right? One that might lead to negative press coverage. Well it’s exactly what the Obama campaign is doing and so far the negative PR is minimal.
For his election night party in Chicago’s Grant Park, Barack Obama is asking media outlets to cough up at least $880 to simply view him and $935 for access to the coveted “file center,” where reporters have the best chance to find and speak with Obama officials.
Media outlets that don’t pay receive access to a “bike racked press area with standing room only,” explained a memo from the Obama campaign.
The memo added, “Please note that the General Media Area is outdoors, unassigned and may have obstructed views. General Media Area credentials do not include access to riser positions, satellite truck parking or the press filing center.”
Lynn Sweet, the longtime Chicago Sun-Times reporter covering the Obama campaign, called this move by Obama officials an outrage.
“This is an outrageous pay to play plan that caters to national elite outlets with deep pockets,” she said on her Sun-Times blog Oct. 21. “A general media area will be created where a reporter could watch for free, but the set-up is separate, unequal and clearly second class when it comes to getting top access to campaign people.”
(The Obama campaign memo is included in Sweet’s blog post.)
Reporters covering political campaigns typically pay every out-of-pocket cost: transportation, lodging, food, communication fees. At events, like party conventions, media outlets usually pay for their phone line.
The story of Obama’s election night has gained little traction in the media. An Associated Press story appeared Oct. 22, but failed to gather buzz. The AP article, basically a follow-up to Sweet’s blog and a Crain’s Chicago Business story, gave Obama spokespeople a chance to spin this potential PR problem.
“There is no fee to cover our Election Night event. News organizations will be able to cover our event without charge, with full access to our campaign advisers,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told the AP in a statement.
Greg Hinz, of Crain’s Chicago Business, gave a less cheerful assessment of “full coverage.” He wrote, “[An Obama spokesman] said that since the file tent will be located in the middle of the general media area, reporters will be able to stop and question any senior aides who are traveling to the file tent.”
Forget plumbers, seems like the Obama campaign is ignoring Joe the small town reporter. I wonder when—or if—that approach to media relations will backfire.
With markets down, good news for employee communicators
Stock markets around the world took a steep dive this morning as major corporations posted huge quarterly losses all week. If that news is grating on your nerves then rest assured there is a glimmer of hope.
“According to Watson Wyatt's study, employers are responding to the economic downturn by increasing communication on benefits and pay ...”
Employers will presumably need communicators for this task. So prepare now for the day your boss asks you to send out that HR-themed message. (Quick pitch: There are daily articles on Ragan.com on this or similar topics.)
And then take it one step further. If you're communicating benefits and pay, expand the message to help build trust between senior leaders and employees. The biggest question on employees’ minds won't be “Are my salary and benefits safe”—that's number two—but “Is my job safe?”
Convince executives to answer that question honestly. Employees will appreciate it; executives will appreciate the communicator’s advice and work.
Only one entity can bring China to its knees—and that’s Wal-Mart.
This week, top executives from Wal-Mart are in Beijing for the company’s first global supply chain summit, according to The Wall Street Journal. At the summit, Wal-Mart brass will establish energy-efficiency requirements for all Chinese suppliers and then take those requirements to all other suppliers in 2010.
Suppliers are howling in protest because the bad economy has battered China’s manufacturing sector and Wal-Mart’s mandates are reportedly a huge upfront cost. But Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer by revenue, is pushing forward.
There is something remarkably unsustainable about a chain of retail stores that sell junk—food and otherwise—bound for the dumpster. Meanwhile, its actual stores swallow enormous swaths of land and burn huge amounts of power. Its trucks crisscross the world night and day.
But based on influence, Wal-Mart is easily the world’s greenest company.
Sure you could rattle off dozens of companies with plans for zero carbon emissions, even some meeting those goals right now. But a company with 20 employees and little influence—even if that company takes sulfur and uses it to somehow restore the polar ice caps—is less effective than Wal-Mart.
By applying pressure to its countless suppliers worldwide, Wal-Mart can set the agenda for sustainability faster than any government or nonprofit. Basically, Wal-Mart has created a domino effect—one fueled by money. And that, more than any social conscious, will drive any green business revolution.
Of course, someone must shoulder the high cost of doing business that sustainability requires (at least upfront). If those costs are handed down to the consumer then we’ll see if the engine that fuels Wal-Mart—the customer—really wants its big box retailer to lead the green revolution.
And later we'll worry about the wasteful lifestyles Wal-Mart encourages and sustains.
The economy is reeling. Presidential politics grow uglier by the day. The world is—as usual—going to hell in a handbasket. But don't fret; it could be worse.
In honor of the approaching Halloween holiday take a look at these highly effective public service announcements from 1970s Great Britain. Forget the stock market, I'm never going near another creek again.
Imagine if this was your company's safety video—or, stranger still, an external marketing video.
E-mail pitches are so ubiquitous—so passé—that yet another blog has risen to popularity highlighting PR pitching gaffes. And you know something? It’s a sign. It is time to once again embrace good old post mail.
Welcome back old friend.
Consider this: reporters probably receive hundreds of e-mails daily, and maybe one or two pieces of regular mail. Under those odds the most effective way to reach a reporter is through the post, especially if you’re looking to forge a relationship.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from Ben Bradley, a general assignment reporter from the ABC-affiliate in Chicago. I interviewed him in May and he offhandedly said this:
“You know I only get one or two pieces of mail a day. So if it’s not something on a time crunch—I get less regular mail than e-mail, so I’m more inclined to see it.”
The same suggestion came about one month later in a conference session where several Chicago journalists were telling nonprofit communicators how to pitch.
A Chicago Sun-Times reporter mentioned snail mail, which drew a chorus of nods from his fellow panel members. One reporter told a university communicator, who wondered how she could get her professors-as-experts in the news, to drop a business card and short note into an envelope and mail it.
The reporter’s advice: make the note handwritten; make it short; include an e-mail address, Web site and business card. And tease the reporter. Give her a reason to seek you out.
Just avoid ostentation. “[Don’t] send a stuffed animal with balloons to the news room,” Bradley said.
Don’t get me wrong. E-mail pitches will never cease; some remain effective, especially if there’s a preexisting relationship with the reporter. Problem is there are too many e-mail pitches. So break through the clutter. Send a reporter a piece of mail.
Here’s the Ben Bradley how to pitch video from last spring. Unfortunately, at the time his snail mail comment hit the cutting room floor.
Anyone go to church yesterday and notice a strange face in the crowd? Maybe it was a “secret worshipper” paid to evaluate your church, pastor and congregation.
Yes, The Wall Street Journal reported on a new kind of communicator—the church consultant. Like mystery shoppers at department stores or mystery diners at restaurants, these unknown worshippers evaluate everything from the church’s cleanliness to the pastor’s sermon and warmth of the congregation.
In the story, WSJ featured Thomas Harrison, a former pastor, who opened his own consulting firm in 2005, Media Embassy, to help churches “polish their media and public-relations skills.”
“In an increasingly diverse and fluid religious landscape,” WSJ said, “churches competing for souls are turning to corporate marketing strategies such as focus groups, customer-satisfaction surveys and product giveaways.”
Sound familiar, kind of like your job?
Of course, the flip side, which WSJ touches upon, is what certain theologians call “spiritual consumerism.” Grading churches for superficial reasons might lead worshippers to congregations for the wrong reasons, the story said.
The story also discussed measurement. Apparently every church that’s used one of the six or so church consulting firms has seen an increase in congregants. But, really, aren’t the measurement criteria two-fold—physical and metaphysical? Sure you’re getting them in the door, but what about saving their souls?
Should a professional association really be sending this message to its members during these tough times? On Wednesday, amid gloomy financial news, this post appeared on the IABC blog:
Lots of scary news these days. Stocks are losing value, people are losing their homes, others are losing their jobs.
Time for some good news. September was membership month at IABC. We now have a record number of members–16,087. Two of our small conferences have sold out; in fact, one sold out two months ago. Our financial results are well above this year last time.
IABC is in good shape right. Be assured we are working to keep it that way.
Good to know the association is doing well, but what about its members? Isn’t that the whole reason it exists?
Another blog post from October 1st briefly—briefly—explored the role of communicators in a global recession and how they can prove their worth.
What’s on IABC’s official Web site? News that October is accreditation month.
What about the site’s press center? “IABC and Cision Present 2008 Research and Measurement Conference … ISO 26000 Standard on Social Responsibility Enters Next Significant Phase in Development …” You get the point—nothing about the financial crisis and what it means to communicators.
Why is there nothing substantive on IABC's Web sites about the financial crisis? So far IABC is blowing it. Good thing the association's president, Julie Freeman, is a smart and plucky woman. She can rise to the challenge.
Successful media relations is worth at least $160. Let me explain.
Last weekend my old roommate spent the night at my apartment. He now lives in the suburbs with his fiancé. On Sunday morning he discovered that his legally parked car had been towed--despite the absence of no parking signs. However, a check of the Internet showed the City of Chicago had towed his car.
Turns out a 5K race ran down my early street that morning, even though the race’s Web site showed my street was not part of the route.
I drove him to the impound lot where dozens of angry residents, confused about the towing, readied the $160 necessary to spring their cars from the lot. There was blood in the air at this place. I felt sorry for the employees, behind bullet proof glass, processing the money.
Later, back in my neighborhood, we discovered homemade signs taped to trees that encouraged people to call the alderman and tell him their cars were unfairly towed. We figured it was a lost cause; it’s Chicago after all.
Fearing this incident might prevent my friend from ever returning to the city I did the only thing I could: called the media. I contacted a former colleague, who now works at The Chicago Sun-Times (he was working at the time), and told him the story. I made sure I described the number of angry residents at the impound lot and framed it as city vs. resident.
He expressed interest. After the phone call, I e-mailed him all the relevant information in plainly written bullet points: facts, timeline, names, phone numbers and a Web site for the 5k race. I also included a picture. He wrote back an hour later indicating a reporter was making calls, one of them was to my friend.
And there it was Monday morning, page seven, “137 cars towed for 5K race.” The story basically pitted my friend against the city; a spokesperson for the city denied any wrongdoing and made claims that anyone who lived in the neighborhood knew were false.
Immediately Monday morning I e-mailed as many local Chicago blogs as possible (like this one). By mid-morning the Associated Press had picked it up. Once it went across the AP wire, news sites from Iowa to New York ran the story. Later Google News featured it. That evening a news crew was taking b-roll footage on my street.
On Tuesday, the Tribune did its own story and the Sun-Times had a follow up. Bloggers continued pushing the story. Comments on both blogs and the newspaper stories surged.
The negative press, online comments, and e-mails and phone calls to his office caused the local alderman to take action. In an e-mail that was picked up by blogs, the alderman not only informed residents exactly how they could appeal the tow but also attached a letter he wrote on behalf of the car owners encouraging the city to reimburse them.
All this so my friend, the suburban-ite, would continue hanging out in the city.
What are the lessons? The story benefitted from a slow(-ish) news day locally. Plus, the pre-existing relationship with a reporter helped. But the pitch, I think, was targeted and the follow up e-mail useful. It’s hard to say if bloggers would have seen and picked up the story without my e-mail, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
Reader Randy Hagan offers a great lesson for communicators based on comments he’s read to PR Junkie’s political-themed posts. Take it away Randy.
Interesting study in cognitive dissonance here. I didn't see ANYTHING about political views in the article. All I read is a piece dissecting communications strategies. But most all of the respondents here are categorizing the writers/editors/site as pro-Obama and/or anti-McCain, and reacting with their own points of view.
Which is a lesson in and of itself. No matter how sophisticated we get in crafting communications messages, when an audience perceives the stakes are high it seems we have little to no ability to really report without "bias." Whether it's intended or not.
These comments don't reflect the perceived "bias" of the writer nearly as much as the true biases of the respondents. That's why, I guess, the difference between "implied" and "inferred" has been lost.
I looked up “cognitive dissonance” to make sure I understood it. (I sort of did.) Basically, cognitive dissonance is anxiety caused by two contradictory feelings—what you already know and believe versus new information.
Your brain works to accommodate the new and the old; resistance of new ideas is often a side effect. Communicators understand this in theory, I think, but it's probably not an idea you consider every time you write a press release, blog post or e-mail. Or is it?
Barack Obama’s campaign rolled out a new Web site this weekend dedicated to John McCain’s connection to the Keating Five scandal. The site is KeatingEconomics.com; the Obama campaign created the site and sent an e-mail this morning promoting it.
The Web site features a documentary exploring McCain’s connection to the scandal, along with links to news story for more information. There is also a donations link. The 13-minute documentary is scheduled to premiere today at 12pm EST.
KeatingEconomics.com is an interesting move by the Obama campaign.
As Obama stretches his lead over McCain, the GOP has said it plans a fiercer strategy for the remaining weeks of this hard-fought campaign. Sarah Palin also stepped up her attacks of Obama’s connection to Bill Ayers, a former member of The Weather Underground; she told audiences that Obama “palled around with terrorists.”
I wonder if KeatingEconomics.com is a hastily built site meant to thwart McCain’s ramped up attacks—a kind of preemptive attack. (Now is that the Bush Doctrine?) Or did the campaign have this site in the bullpen for weeks or months and plan it to be an “October surprise”?
Either way, unearthing McCain’s past at this precise moment is a bold PR move by Obama’s communications team. The McCain campaign’s reaction will be interesting, and—in my estimation—include more Ayers and the return of Jeremiah Wright.
Less than 30 days remain until the US election and it appears there’s nothing left but mud-slinging. Funny, then, that both candidates have talked so much about change.
Setting aside the policy and stump speeches of last night’s vice presidential debates, each candidate had one humanizing moment when cynics on either side of the aisle let their guard down if only briefly.
For Palin, that moment came about two-thirds into the evening as she spoke about education and gave “a shout out” to her brother’s third grade class.
It was as natural as a “shout out” can be, preceded by a wink to her father in the audience—nice touch. Maybe the shout out and wink weren’t presidential, but it was quaint and, well, nice.
Meanwhile, Biden, the alleged “blow hard,” had the evening’s most authentic and touching moment. He choked up and paused when mentioning his dead first wife and daughter, and once critically injured sons.
Call it his Hillary moment—Clinton tearing up in a New Hampshire diner—but that reflective pause humanized Biden. I watched the debate with my mom, an unapologetic Palin fan; she turned to me and said, without a hint of cynicism or irony, “That was very touching.”
If Palin helped shore up elements of small town America with her third grade shout out, Biden pulled Palin swing voters to his side with that very touching and revealing moment.
Dubious moments in vice presidential debate history
In honor of tonight's debate between vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, here are (in)famous moments from every VP debate since they started in 1976.
1976: First ever vice presidential debate takes place between Republican Bob Dole and Democrat Walter Mondale. Sen. Dole has a major gaffe calling all the wars in the 20th century--including World Wars I and II--"Democrat Wars." And what's his problem with Detroit anyway?
1980: No vice presidential debate.
1984: The debate between George H.W. Bush and Democrat Geraldine Ferraro, the first ever female VP candidate from either major party. Joe Biden has probably watched this debate more often than Mystery, Alaska.
1988: Democrat Lloyd Bentsen takes on Republican Dan Quayle and delivers the famous, "You, sir, are no Jack Kennedy" line. How come no one mentions Quayle's boyish reaction to this slight?
1992: Ross Perot's running mate Admiral James Stockdale and his hearing aid heard 'round the world.
1996: Where did the notion that Al Gore is a robot come from? Oh yeah ...
2000: Did Cheney just describe the Bush Administration's talking points for war in Iraq?
2004: How do you know when Dick Cheney and John Edwards are lying? (Their lips are moving.)
The pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and ammo have—PR representation. Arrrrn’t you surprised?
His name is Sugule Ali. In a story Tuesday about the recent piracy incident off the coast of Somali, Tuesday, The New York Times refers to Ali as the pirates’ spokesman.
“In a 45-minute-long interview, Mr. Sugule expounded on everything from what the pirates want—‘just money’—to why they were doing this—‘to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters’—to what they have to eat on board—rice, meat, bread, spaghetti, “‘you know, normal human-being food,’” Jeffrey Gettleman wrote for the Times.
No mention of Arrrrby’s?
The Times apparently called the pirates on a satellite phone—just gave the pirates a call—and talked to several of these buccaneers, but “only Mr. Sugule was authorized to be quoted,” the story said. The paper noted that, despite looming American warships “bristling with firepower,” Mr. Sugule didn’t sound afraid.
Tell us how you manage unrealistic expectations, meet reporter needs, churn out news when there is none, deal with a client you can't stand, and what you say to people that slam PR. Or anything else that's on your mind.