PR ramblings: The consequences of free speech

November 23, 2008

Last week, two of my Facebook friends joined “cause” groups on the social-networking site. One signed up for “DEFEAT Proposition 8,” the other enlisted with, “Stop Abortion!” I have a diverse group of online pals.

While the Internet is a great place for self expression, how often do you consider the consequences of flashing your politics in public? After all, people judge us by the company we keep — in the office, in the community and online.

cooperarmsIt was Dan Cooper who got me thinking about the consequences of free speech. Until a few weeks ago Dan was president and CEO of Cooper Firearms of Montana, a manufacturer of high-end rifles used by discerning sportsmen. But Dan also was a supporter of Barack Obama, and he said so publicly. I suspect many of you did the same. Read the rest of this entry »

Transparency and PRSA

November 19, 2008
Jack O'Dwyer

Jack O'Dwyer

Journalist Jack O’Dwyer loves to criticize the Public Relations Society of America. In fact, he’s been so tough on them in recent times that PRSA forbids staff and national officers from talking with him. A letter to members (pdf) presents PRSA’s position on this media relations nightmare.

The standoff with O’Dwyer means little to the average PR person, but it’s important because Jack is the only high-profile critic PRSA has. Sometimes he gets it right, and yesterday’s editorial is one of those times.

The latest bruhaha

Point: O’Dwyer’s opinion piece of 11/18 (see complete text, bottom of this post) calls out PRSA for withholding the picture-1transcripts of its National Assembly meeting held last month in Detroit. O’Dwyer believes the document should be posted for review by PRSA members and made available to news media. Since the Assembly serves as official governing body of PRSA, publishing the proceedings would seem the “transparent” thing to do, and as it turns out, the laws of New York state appear to call for it as well. (Details in the editorial) Read the rest of this entry »

Some positive spin on a nasty recession

November 13, 2008

Rather than mourning the demise of my 401K, I’ve decided to put some positive spin on the economic collapse. I am a PR pro, after all. And a PR pro can always find a positive story if he turns over enough rocks. In my case, I simply looked in the mirror and counted my blessings.

5 positives I found in this recession.

poorguyMy job is relatively safe. No job is totally secure in these times, but according to this story from MyEdu, education is rated the #1 employment category likely to endure these hard times. And there’s a bonus in it for me, since the #2 category is accounting, my wife’s vocation. This is such welcome news I’m thinking of buying a Hummer and extending my sabbatical until next June.

My university is in better shape than Harvard. Because Kent State’s endowment is under $100 million, we stand to lose a whole lot less than Harvard as the market tanks. Havard’s endowment is/was at $37 billion, and administrators there depend heavily on endowment income for operating expenses. Kent State does not. Read the rest of this entry »

A laggard returns to Twitter

October 30, 2008

It’s funny, but my friends think I’m a digital wizard. After all, I maintain 3 blogs and have a life in 6 social networks (not all are on FriendFeed). For a 55-year-old geezer, some think I am seriously connected. Now I add one more network.

After bailing out of Twitter more than a year ago, I have returned for a look around. And I like what I see.

This isn’t a post to extol the virtues of Twitter. I’m still learning my way around the application and observing the culture. Nor is this a mea culpa for my occasional criticism of “twits” over the past 15 months.

But I will say this: Twitter is more useful and interesting than it was in the summer of 2007, when I sampled it then dropped out. I didn’t get it then, but I am no earlier adopter. Today, I find on Twitter has a critical mass of interesting people I can learn with and learn from. It makes an old professor smile. Read the rest of this entry »

What defines the ethical organization?

October 26, 2008

I’ve been studying public relations ethics for more than 20 years and leading seminars on the topic for 15.

My favorite seminar exercise asks participants to identify organizations they consider “ethical” and those they consider — well — less than ethical. I won’t be naming the bad guys in this post, but I’ll describe the exercise and some of the conclusions I’ve drawn since 1993.

I call this exercise the “Ethical Organization.” Participants break into teams of 5-6 and spend 20 minutes identifying organizations the consider “ethical” and those they consider “unethical.” Teams establish their own criteria for labeling the organizations. We don’t define ethics in advance.

Each group nominates an organization in each category, “ethical” and “unethical,” and they list reasons to support their nominations. A spokesperson from each group then presents its nominees. As moderator, I post the names and the reasons on the whiteboard.

Over the years, the Ethical Organization exercise has produced a list of “usual suspects” on both sides of the discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

Redneck and proud of it! What’s wrong with this picture?

October 23, 2008

Unlike many of my left-leaning colleagues, I like to keep politics out of the classroom. Ditto for those thorny social issues. We don’t discuss abortion or gay marriage in my classes unless it’s somehow in the context of the day’s lesson.

Well, it’s a good thing I’m on sabbatical this fall. Were I in the classroom today, campaign strategy and communications would certainly have been dragged into the discussion. And I would almost certainly have been ranting about this…

Yesterday, at a political rally in nearby Greene, Ohio, Gretchen Wilson sang her hit song, “Redneck Woman,” after which she introduced VP candidate Sarah Palin as someone with that “same maverick attitude.”

I applaud the “maverick” label for the McCain campaign, as it helps to separate the ticket from W’s administration. And McCain has earned the badge. But “maverick” and “redneck” just ain’t the same thing, dadgumit.

To the gathering of her faithful here in Ohio, Palin opened by saying: “Someone called me a redneck once and I said, ‘Why, thank you.'” Read the rest of this entry »

Reputation grows from behavior, not PR campaigns

October 22, 2008

Surprise Update 10/27/08: Stevens Found Guilty (Duh!)


What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

While reading this AP account of the Ted Stevens trial, I was reminded again that actions speak louder than words. The 84-year-old Stevens, longtime U.S. Senator from Alaska, is accused of accepting gifts from those who reaped the government contracts he engineered. Stevens said they weren’t gifts at all, and that the prosecutor has it all wrong.

From the AP:

But prosecutors say he had a history of accepting gifts — including an expensive massage chair in his Washington, D.C., home — and omitting them from financial disclosure forms. Stevens has insisted repeatedly that the chair was a loan from a friend, although it has been in his house for seven years.

”How is that not a gift?” Prosecutor Brenda Morris asked.

”He bought that chair as a gift, but I refused it as a gift,” Stevens said. ”He put it there and said it was my chair. I told him I would not accept it as a gift. We have lots of things in our house that don’t belong to us.”

Yikes! Is it possible that an elected official can be this arrogant? OK, dumb question. But really, has Stevens maybe been growing and consuming some of that wacky weed allowable under Alaskan law? Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating a Classic Case Study: ‘Building the New Lodge’

October 2, 2008

No one popped champagne corks in Lansing to celebrate it. And had I not contacted Jack Pyle, the 20th anniversary of the “New Lodge” might have passed without note. This classic public relations case deserves a retrospective. So here you go.

This isn’t the lodge where you gather after a day on the slopes. It’s the John C. Lodge Freeway (M-10), a major artery that connects downtown Detroit with its northwest suburbs. In the mid-1980s, the Lodge was a real mess, in need of regrading, resurfacing and new drainage. But when the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) proposed closing alternate sides of the highway over two years, many protested.

Closing completely the 9-mile stretch of highway would displace 120,000 motorists daily, forcing them onto surface streets or alternate highways. It happens all the time where you live, right? But thanks MDOT’s campaign called “Lodge-ability,” your highway department and mine have learned the value of public relations to support major road projects. Read the rest of this entry »

Symmetrical PR meets the ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’

September 25, 2008

Every serious student of social media must read the Cluetrain Manifesto. If you haven’t, it’s available free online. Many consider Cluetrain the seminal work about social media as they relate to business.

For a good many 30something PR and marketing bloggers, Cluetrain was the great “aha!” It described a new open system of communication that shifts the locus of commerce from persuasion and selling to relationships and conversations.

True believers in social media have worshiped at the Cluetrain altar for almost a decade now. Most books on SM marketing and PR that followed  took their direction from Cluetrain authors Weinberger, Searles, Locke and Levine. The book has stood the test of time, whether or not you agree with its premise.

Have social media altered the communication landscape? Of course. But while Cluetrain broke new ground in describing business-consumer relationships in a digital world, it wasn’t all that “new” — at least not for the more serious students of public relations. (I won’t speak for the marketing types, as PR and marketing are distinct disciplines.)

If you’ve kicked around the PR world as long as I have — as practitioner and educator — the central concepts of the Cluetrian Manifesto don’t surprise you. Fact is, PR began focusing on a “two-way symmetrical model” (2WS) more than 50 years ago — long before scholars Jim Grunig and Todd Hunt defined 2WS in 1983, and way, way before the Cluetrain arrived. Read the rest of this entry »

Death of my hard drive is, well, it’s serendipity

August 15, 2008

Update 8/29/08: Back in Kent for a few days — enough time to do laundry and hit the road again for 3 more weeks. Tech Help called to say my MacBook has a new hard drive and is ready to go. I’m pretending I didn’t get the message. By the time I return, I’ll be itchin’ to get all digital again. Or not.

I promise to get that last segment of PR 101 up when I return. And I’ll tell you about the ‘business” part of my trip, which includes F2F discussions with some leaders in social media. Oh yeah — let’s not forget the Friday afternoon beerfest in the bleachers at Wrigley. Gives new meaning to “road trip.” I swear Belushi was there! He had to be.


I’ll be on the road for the next month, or most of it. And thanks to the timely crash of my MacBook yesterday, I’ll be disconnected much of that time. I’m relieved, to be honest, and I’m not seeking a replacement laptop. I consider the crash to be serendipitous.

Regular readers know of my angst over being “too connected” and too wrapped up in the distractions of the online universe. Being computerless for 30 days might be the ideal remedy. Hell, I may even talk to some people face to face.

Oh, I’ll hit a public library here and there to check email and Facebook, and I’ll steal some Internet time from friends I see along my route. But instead of jumping online to browse blogs or check the feeder, I’ll be picking up a newspaper and testing my skills against the New York Times crossword puzzle — the paper version. Bring it on, Will Shortz. Give me your best Saturday punch. (Note: This photo comes from a great piece about Will that appeared in Reader’s Digest last year — classic old media!)

Because of my travels:

  • The 4th and final segment of my “PR 101” series — “Symmetrical PR meets the Cluetrain Manifesto,” will have to wait a few weeks, as you can’t compose a blog post on a paper notepad.
  • Comment approvals may be a little slow. I’ll check this site once a day until August 30. After that, I may not see it at all until Sept. 17.

I could tell you where I’m going, but it’s a secret mission tied to my one-semester professional leave. Yeah, I won’t be in the classroom poisoning young minds until January.

Was that a cheer I heard coming from Kent, Ohio?