Thursday, September 29, 2011

The gift of grab

Allow me to pummel you with the obvious. Successful PR campaigns are built on compelling stories. Stories that your target audience has just gotta retweet.

The Berkeley College Republicans are charging "whites" more for cupcakes than "blacks"? I am furious/delighted/hungry. I need to share this.

A bald-headed millionaire begs Obama to raise his taxes? I am enraged/thrilled/happy to see another bald white guy get his moment in the sun. I have to weigh in on this debate.

This isn't new. Spinmeisters have been generating buzz with creative gimmicks and staged events for decades. But what was once a creative option is now a crucial part of any serious communications strategy. It's not enough to talk to. You need to be talked about.

If you ain't grabbing, you're just gabbing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


For a brief moment, I was able to stare into the eyes of Big Brother. Then GM took down her video.

In a bizarre attempt to calm their former OnStar customers' justifiable rage that GM spied on them and sold the resulting data, the gov't-funded car maker posted a three-minute video of Subscriber Services VP Joanne Finnorn gamely trying to convince us that tracking our moves was good for GM and good for America(ns).

Her "Ignorance Is Strength" clip was utterly fascinating. You could almost hear her whispering above the canned text, "It's my job! I have no choice. And my oss-bay is standing right behind the amera-kay."

Fortunately for her, as of this morning that video never existed. It was disappeared the moment GM announced Operation OffStar.

It's a shame, really, because you will miss some of the greatest failures in corporate spin in recent memory. For instance:

"When it comes to location and speed, uh ... we're very careful to tell our customers that we do not continuously or routinely ... um ... monitor the location or speed of their vehicle."

I'll let the true meaning of that one sink in. Next clip.

"We've not sold personalized information about our customers in the past and we really don't have any plans to do anything like that in the future."

Really? No plans yet? Keep us posted if you change your mind, hmm-k?

"When it comes to sensitive information such as location information, for example, we want to make sure that we handle that information with the utmost care and that we use the information only as required to provide the safety, security, and convenient services that our customers value."

So, you're required to "use" the location data if my airgbag deploys, or if I'm heading toward a war zone, or if one of your clients wants the info to develop a convenient service that I would value? Hmm.

Lesson: It's a brave new world. You can't fight a 21st-century communications crisis with 20th-century paternalism. It will backfire. Communication is no longer a monolithic monologue. You want to communicate, you need to connect. Everything else is just noise. (And if anyone has a copy of this video, shoot me a link. I want to add it to my collection.)

Everyday China

Hey, China Daily, if you want us to read you "everyday," you need to give us some space ... between "every" and "day." "Everyday" is just too common a mistake. Also, have your copy editor work on that subject-verb agreement.  

Friday, September 23, 2011

A crying shame

If you absolutely oppose the death penalty under any circumstances -- and you live to bring attention to this cause -- you should have been in Huntsville, TX, Wednesday night. That's where the state executed an evil man who committed a hideous crime. A man who was guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.

But you were in Jackson, GA, bringing the world's attention to another execution, this one involving a man whose guilt, many argue, was in doubt.

You did well with your media campaign. Google "Troy Davis" and "execution" and you'll get over 200 million hits. A "Lawrence Brewer" and "execution" search, on the other hand, pops up only 34,900 hits. And that's where you missed a tremendous opportunity.

The reason is obvious, but worth stating: if you are given several opportunities to take a stand on a controversial issue, take the most difficult-to-defend example. If your position is sound, the heat of that debate will forge a stronger case, generate greater media attention, and serve as prima facie evidence of your resolve. This is particularly important for defenders of free speech.

There was one notable exception to the hundreds who flocked to Jackson, GA -- Dick Gregory. The 78-year-old activist held a prayer vigil and an 18-hour hunger strike outside the Walls Unit of the state prison in Huntsville, TX. Can't really blame you if you didn't hear about it. "Dick Gregory" and "Lawrence Brewer" only turned up 390 hits. If only he had some more death-penalty opponents with him, he might have made some real news.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It wasn't your royal 60% price-hike decree.

It wasn't the fact that you executed the Netflix DVD brand in front of your 25 million (and dropping fast) subscribers.

It wasn't even the embarrassing way you practically begged the guy who already owned the Qwikster Twitter handle -- you know, the guy with the Blaze-Me Elmo icon -- to extort you for the rights to the name.

No. What really earned you the Golden Dilbert for PR malfeasance was the video.

The video.

Here's what I heard you say:

"We're making this video today to apologize in person, or at least on camera, for something that we did recetly."

"The boys at the firm say this gag works better than roses. A veritable get-out-of-jail-free card."

"When we communicated [our plan] to our subscribers -- and it involves a substantial price increase for most members -- I didn't make the communication and we didn't explain why we were doing it."

"'Substantial' in little air quotes. I mean, it's a couple of bucks. You just got your panties in a twist because I didn't tell you in person. Well, here I am!"

"If I had communicated it directly to all of our members, it wouldn't change the actual price increase."

"So what's really got you down? Is it a lady thing?"

"To wrap up, I just want to say again how sorry I am of the way that we handled the communication around these big changes."

"So wipe your eyes, sweetheart. Daddy's sorry for his tone. Now, be a doll and fix me a drink, will ya?"

Lesson: If you don't really mean it, the "I'm-in-charge-and-I'm-sorry" play will backfire.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Al G., bar the door!

Last August, a thunderstorm frightened a global-warming disciple so badly that the W. Post published his op-ed under the header: "A climate-change activist prepares for the worst."

Following is my letter that ran in response.

That August thunderstorm that so frightened Mike Tidwell that he ordered his wife to "Go to the basement now!" impressed me, too. When I saw that monster barreling in from the west, I ran to the top of the basement steps and shouted down to my daughters, "Get up here now! You're not going to believe this storm!" The three of us stood on the porch, completely drenched, watching an absolutely glorious display of nature's power.

The Earth's climate will continue to change, just as it has for four billion years. The question is how are you going to greet that change--holed up in your basement, windows barred, clutching your shotgun, as the author suggested, or out in the front yard with your kids, stomping in enormous puddles?

Lesson: Want to win hearts and minds? Don't cry "Frickin' wolves with fricken' laser beams attached to their fricken' heads!" People will tune you out.

Quoting Ozzy was a myth-take

It was pretty ballsy for the authors of "Five myths about gun control" to use an Ozzy Osbourne quote to try to prove that the adage "guns don't kill people, people kill people," is a myth. "If that's the case," they quote Ozzy, "why do we give people guns when they go to war? Why not just send the people?"

OK, Ozzy. Deep breath. Setting aside the absurdity of your argument, its corollary actually disproves your point. If a warring nation dropped weapons onto a battlefield--without also deploying soldiers--they would simply be giving the other team a timely gift. It's possible that an M16 dropped onto an enemy combatant's head might kill him. But that rifle couldn't jump out of the plane on its own. It would need a little help, proving once again that guns--by themselves--do not kill people. You need people for that.

Lesson: If you're trying to be cute, make sure you're also right.

Good Cop, Bad Kipp

One of the least vulgar Urban Dictionary definition's of "comcastic" is "something that is not merely horribly bad, but actively offensive in some universal way." Recently, Comcast Regional VP of Communications Steve Kipp was comcastic times xfinity.

The cable exec's swan dive onto the hard slab of public condemnation was prompted by a tweet that expressed appropriate (and, as it turns out, pretty much universal) disgust that the FCC Commissioner who voted to approve the $30 billion Comcast/NBC merger "is now lving FCC for A JOB AT COMCAST?!?" (sic) Much to Kipp's chagrin, the tweeter was Reel Grrls, a non-profit that teaches media production to young women, and which is funded in part by Comcast.

Tweaked by the tweet, Kipp fired off this email:
"Given the fact that Comcast has been a major supporter of Reel Grrls for several years now, I am frankly shocked that your organization is slamming us on Twitter. ... I cannot in good conscience continue to provide you with funding ... I respect your position on freedom of the press. However ... I cannot continue to ask [my bosses] to approve funding for Reel Grrls, knowing that the digital footprint your organization has created about Comcast is a negative one."

For his digital tantrum, Kipp received the global condemnation he seemed to have begged for. But he also gave us the opportunity to review a couple of basic PR commandments:

1. Don't cite the First Amendment when you're punishing someone for exercising their First Amendment rights.
2. If you're a multi-billion-dollar corporation with a reputation so compromised that your marketing slogans become popular insults, don't threaten charitable non-profits.
3. If you don't want to see it on Drudge, don't send the email.

Mangling the numbers

In his article about politicians who misquote the Founding Fathers, W. Post reporter David Fahrenthold said a search covering the last two years "turned up at least 30 instances of politicians mangling the words ... of the country's founders." Yet, eight of the nine politicians he cited were Republicans. Was there not one other Democrat whom he could cite? And if there were no other Democrats among those 30-plus instances, wouldn't a better story have been that Republicans are 30 times more likely to screw up a histpric quote than Democrats?