February 6, 2010

When your past is brighter than your present

Posted in Branding, Current Events at 9:03 am by R

I’m currently reading Jim Collins’ Good to Great. Which is a really great read.

If you haven’t read the book, here’s the premise: Collins’ asked the question “What takes a company from being just good to great?” He proceeds to do an exhaustive study of companies examining their success over decades, identifies a point of transition followed by a period of success 15+ years (sustained success). He compares these companies to those that performed at or below market value during the same period of time.

Collins does a great job of finding parings that are remarkable in their comparisons, which makes the findings in Good to Great all that much more interesting and impactful.

But…(you saw that coming right?)…there’s a catch. Collins’ book was written well before 2008. Why is that significant? Well, all of these companies did well before the humongous crash our economy took that year. And this is exactly why Collins’ inclusion of FannieMae and Circuit City as two of the success stories is so darn interesting as I read this book today.

There’s a chapter called the “Hedgehog Concept” in the book. One of the chief objectives of the Hedgehog Concept (there are three parts) is to identify what you can be the very best at. Guess what FannieMae said…”Assessing mortgage risk.” HA!

Also in the Hedgehog Concept chapter is a section  on identifying your strategy for being most profitable. Guess what Circuit City said…” Measuring profits by region not by store.”

It’s interesting (funny) because the same thing that Collins empirically identified as making these companies successful — GREAT– is the EXACT same thing that caused them so much trouble in the recent economic tumble.

Obviously, FannieMae wasn’t as good at assessing mortgage risk as they thought they were — or at least not under a certain set of conditions. What’s worse their perceived ability to assess mortgage risk is sort of the impetus for oh so many of the issues that happened with the “Great Recession.”

Circuit City’s profit loss by region is probably an accurate indicator of how the recession impacted every area of the U.S., since their strategic profit model was not to measure by store, but by region. As household dollars shrunk and discretionary spending cutbacks eliminated purchases like TVs, computers and other large home electronics, you’d better bet Circuit City suffered losses in the exact same order that regions across the U.S went into recession.

All of this leads me to my own question:  what do you do when your past is brighter than your present? Well, in the case of  FannieMae and Circuit City, maybe don’t go tell people to read Good to Great, but the executive suite, probably ought to pick it up and read it!

Part of any recovery is going back to basics. Circle back to the beginning and re-evaluate, re-affirm what were the things that generated success, shaped your brand and put you on the path to great.

All brands ought to do this at this point in time I think. There are but few Cinderella stories coming out of the financial and economic crisis and everyone needs to take an honest look and say, “This is what we did well.” and “This is where we really fell down.”

Because the new business normal IS change, it’s even more critical for businesses to adhere to their brand promise. Customers need something they can trust when so many things are changing. Your (the business) unwavering promise to be true to your brand is something people can rally around and come back to no matter what else changes.

Unfortunately for FannieMae, the turn of events is such that I don’t know if they’ll ever recover from the fall out. Their brand trust was so damaged in all this that it may be quite a long time before the taint of this recession and their significant role in it will wash away.

Circuit City, however, was a casualty of the recession…a victim of the times. A lot of people talked about this recession having a positive effect in that it purged the economy of weak companies. I don’t believe that Circuit City falls into that category. They were, as I said about FannieMae earlier, a company whose strategy and success were not tested under these circumstances, the result being that the strategy obviously didn’t generate success under these conditions.

Anytime a company suffers a set back, be it financial, a scandal, a product recall (Toyota I’m talking to you), or some other event that jeopardizes your outlook, it’s time to reassess. Nothing is so valuable as adhering to your brand promise. No matter what has taken place — STOP REACTING! Go back and proactively assess who you are REALLY, identify how you somehow abandoned the brand promise and state exactly how you’ll avoid doing that EVER again.

Let boil it all down to one famous phrase: If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.



December 23, 2009

2009 — The only thing that’s certain is change

Posted in Current Events at 10:13 pm by R

Changes. Changes. Happening day and night. One day. Rainbows. Next day nothing’s. right. It’s scary. Shakey. Everything is strange. When nothing in certain but change.

Lyrics from the musical Annie are probably the most accurate way to sum up my feelings on this year and my reflections on a decade of sweeping change.

First this year. For me personally, 2009 brought lots of change to my life. I can say with out a doubt that I leave this year (and this decade) knowing much more about myself and what I want to do in life than recent years.

The major change in ’09 — I changed jobs! It has been such a  positive transition that has opened me up to my passions and potential. In the two months since I started the next chapter of my career as a social media strategist, I can’t shake the feeling that this is exactly what I was meant to do. Not only is the culture of my new company great, but the work is genuinely satisfying and the team I work with is profoundly talented in so many ways.

I suppose my feelings about my new position pinpoint me as Gen Y. I was looking for something meaningful, flexible and collaborative at a company that is socially responsible in more ways than one (i.e recycling bins EVERYWHERE & they have a deep moral commitment to positively impact their community)…BINGO! I’m officially a satisfied and motivated Gen Y-er. My work is gratifying and my field is fascinating, because the social media field is really brand-spankin-new!

My new position working in social media is also a unique vantage point from which to view the decade. Let me sum it up:

  • My third week at Gonzaga University — September 11, 2001
  • Facebook debuts — February 2004 (Junior year)
  • MySpace mania — 2005
  • Cut Me Some Flack launches — June 2008
  • The social media election — November 2008
  • Twitter mesmerized every newscast on TV — 2009

What is most remarkable to me is that from the VERY beginning of my post-secondary education our world started shifting and changing in a most drastic way. No doubt 9/11 will forever be a date that altered the course of our collective history. The way that single, shocking event was reported on begat the technologies and new communications, or at least a new way of looking at communication that have brought us to where we are at today.

People needed information so rapidly in the curious and terrifying moments after the first plane hit the tower. There were so many perspectives on the tragedy that needed to be expressed so we could grieve together as a nation as the awful — and sometimes heroic — story unfolded. In some ways, social media  is a direct response to the needs of that one day.

Comedian Lewis Black does a sketch about how we ADHA watching the news after 9/11, with tickers running in every direction to get us information about the most every.single.thing. It’s a funny bit, largely because of Black’s singular delivery, but also because it’s so true! There were CG’s running in every which direction, weather up top and reporter hair attached to a head talking at you from the center (I’m paraphrasing Lewis, eliminating his, er, um, choice language and very formed opinions). But boil it all down and isn’t the scroll running across the bottom of insert-your-favorite-Cable-news-network the precursor to Twitter?

Particularly in the latter half of the decade, look at how traditional media has been trounced influenced by social media. Viewers now comment on newscasts right in the middle of said broadcast! New stories are sourced via Facebook. Interviews are conducted via Twitter. Publications now live (and die) by their headlines in 140 characters or less.

The community-building and affinity that brands have access to in social media makes recording agencies like Nielsen nearly obsolete. Why go to them when you can go get it right from the horse’s mouth? Ask the viewers — Glee! fans will gladly tell you what they think of American Idol bumping the world’s best TV show off the air for three months; you guessed it I’m one of ’em — they will tell you in no uncertain terms what they want! (And I want my Glee! darnit!)

Some forms of communication are hanging on by the barest of threads. Press releases and the newspapers whose pages they filled are on life support as these pre-historic industries acclimate to the new millenium a decade too late. 35,000 journalism jobs lost are a tragedy .Television too will hit its speed bump — though it might not bottom out as badly as print — just take a look at advertising giant Pepsi yanking its annual investment in the Super Bowl in favor of a multi-million dollar social media campaign! Or on a smaller level, cities like Roswell, NM and so many like it losing local television coverage as stations attempt to consolidate.

What it all adds up to is a new world communication order. When I graduated from Gonzaga in 2005, my job title wasn’t even a twinkle in someone’s eye! And yet, four years into my communications career I’ve got the opportunity to be on the leading edge of an industry that will impact every company and ultimately every person in some fashion.

If the word of 2009 is “Twitter” the word of the decade is “Social Media.” These ten years will be summed up not by the events that shaped the time, but rather, the way in which we communicated them. It’s remarkable. It’s exciting. It’s utterly fascinating. Who isn’t hooked?

Looking forward into 2010 and beyond, we are truly altered. I think it’s safe (and totally obvious) to say that the shift will continue as social media exerts its influence into every corner of our lives. Going forth, we will know better how to measure and analyze the changes, become adept to new social media tools at a faster rate and deepen our capabilities on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and their ilk.

What tools, what metrics and what surprises lie ahead are anyone’s guess. The only thing that’s certain…is change.


September 16, 2009

Observations On An Eventful Week

Posted in Current Events at 9:34 am by R

So much has happened this week (already) that I want to comment on, so I thought I’d do it in bullet point format:

  1. Serena Williams — You should NOT have held that press conference IMMEDIATELY after your outburst and subsequent forfeiture of the semi-final match. Words got you into this mess, poorly crafted ones delivered off the cuff won’t get you out. Your next-day follow up statement was better. And you owe a big thanks to #2 for deflecting some of the attention.
  2. Kanye West — Wow, you sure are something, aren’t ya. That’s pretty much all I’ve got. Except to say that I bet you felt like a REAL horse’s pa-toot when Beyonce won video of the year. You sir are living proof of the statement, “Any press is good press.” (…and why it’s not true…) The president was right…
  3. President Obama — Actually, not so much Obama as the ABC journalist who tweeted about the President’s response to Kanye’s stunt at the VMA’s. Glad to know the Commander-in-chief was thinking the same thing I was, but boy howdy, ya think this is going to open up some to social media restriction policies around the president? I do.
  4. Beyonce — You’re talented and classy. Well played. And I think you genuinely meant every word. Double bonus for being a good human being, it’s the best kind of PR. Bravo.
  5. Recession: Game Over — According to statements from Fed Chairman Bernake, the recession is “very likely over.” Isn’t it a little dangerous to make that claim along side the fact that unemployment may still hang tough at the 26 year high? Not to mention all these fresh reports of banks swiftly moving back to risky business. The words just don’t match up to the environment. I’m an economic dunce, but even I can see the inconsistencies here. Maybe it’s a “self-fulfilling prophecy” kind of statement?
  6. Facebook launches @ — Take that Twitter! Not only has Facebook added to its capabilities, but it’s become profitable AND reached 300 million users. Twitter’s only expected to get to 18 million users by the end of the year. Your move Twitter. And make it a good one.

To see some of the coverage from this week’s PR events click here, here, here, here, here, here and just for fun, here.


September 11, 2009

Oh, I thought he said “Nice tie!”

Posted in Current Events, Political Punditry at 10:55 pm by R

Sometimes public relations is simply about how you behave in public.

The Congressman from South Carolina gave us a fine example the other night during President Obama’s health care speech.

Evidently the Congressman blurted out, “You lie!” during the president’s address. But this didn’t go into my brain properly as I watched the clip, I could have sworn Wilson said, “Nice tie!” At least that’s what my brain really wanted him to have said.

No, it didn’t particularly sound like “Nice tie!” the second time I heard it, but I remained baffled and unconvinced that any member of the House would yell out in a formal gathering of the legislature and call any president a liar. Turns out that’s what actually happened. I guess he didn’t get his copy of Robert’s Rules of Order…

Regardless of your opinion about the statements that prompted Rep. Wilson’s outburst, you have to admit that it wasn’t delivered with much class. It was bad a personal PR tactic.

Particularly for public figures — such as politicians at ALL levels of government — it’s critical to remember you are always on and someone is probably watching or listening.

In media training, I remind my clients that from the moment they are hooked up to a microphone they are to behave as though everything they say/do is on the record, even if they are waiting in the green room to be brought out to do their interview. Similarly, once you are elected to a public office…everything’s on the record. (As long as we’re addressing this… Mike Duvall.  I couldn’t have created a better example to clearly illustrate both of the above counts! I digress.)

In general, there’s simply something to be said for proper decorum. It is a guide-post for civility and a good way to brand yourself as a socially acceptable individual in darn near every situation. I for one was raised on the “Sir and Ma’am Method.” (That’s what happens when your parents are both veterans.) And in darn near every situation Sir or Ma’am has worked in my favor.

Those guide posts for acceptable behavior are all the more important when you’re a public figure or in front of the media (like the entire House and Senate were) not because you’ll be praised for being couth, but because you’ll be raked over the coals if you aren’t.

I suppose in the world of political spin, Mr. Wilson now has a “You Lie!” soap box to stand on and pontificate about certain health care reforms. But, in the world of returns on investment…Rob Miller, Rep. Wilson’s opponent in the upcoming 2010 election, has added more than one million dollars to his campaign coffers since 9/9/09. Meanwhile, Wilson himself is about $300K behind that seven digit figure.

Politics and PR aside, I did think the president’s tie was rather nice. Apparently it’s lucky too.


July 18, 2009

In Memoriam: The Original Anchorman

Posted in Current Events, In the news, Media at 2:20 pm by R

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite was known as “the most trusted man in America.” He delivered the news of the day with honest candor and pioneered the standard by which we judge all news anchors today.

I never had the benefit of watching Cronkite deliver the news. No, by the time I was around Dan Rather had filled his post. But the news anchors I grew up watching: Brokaw, Jennings and Rather were direct descendants of the Cronkite philosophy of news.

When a respected reporter goes on to the great newsroom in the sky their peers left here have just the most eloquent and wonderful things to say. The best in the business honor each other, because they know it takes all of their great work to keep telling great stories.

Some journalists I truly admire had touching words for Cronkite:

“Cronkite came to be the sort of personification of his era. He became kind of the media figure of his time. Very few people in history, except maybe political and military leaders, are the embodiment of their time, and Cronkite seemed to be.”  — PBS Correspondent Robert McNeil

“Walter was who I wanted to be when I grew up.” —  CBS “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer

“Walter Cronkite was and always will be the gold standard. His objectivity, his evenhandedness, his news judgment are all great examples.” –ABC News anchor Charles Gibson

“A giant of journalistic craft.” — Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News Anchor

Cronkite’s passion for news was evident long after he left the desk. He was a bellwether for the status of news, critiquing opinion-lead news and always calling for integrity, accurate reporting and subtle compassion.

He loved his craft and respected it. In 2001, shortly after 9/11, Cronkite spoke words, which, if it’s possible, have more meaning now than ever before with the changing face of news:

“…television, the great common denominator, has lifted our common vision as never before.”

Cronkite delivered the news during some very troubled times in our nation, his news style made him trusted among viewers as he delivered the sometimes difficult news of the day including JFK’s assassination, many reports on the Vietnam War and Watergate. He also brought viewers news of the shuttle landing on the moon.

Mr. Cronkite chronicled stories that have become integral to our history. He covered triumph. He retold tragedy. He was an excellent messenger.

And THAT’s the way it is.


July 16, 2009

Bad Times = More Media Consumption

Posted in Current Events, Media at 8:41 pm by R

A study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project  affirms the fact that knowledge is power. It appears that the recession has increased media consumption, especially through electronic means.

People are reaching out for resources that can help them deal with their present situations. (This tells us something about the kind of news we should be pitching right now and the strategy PR practitioners should be leading during these times.) Sixty-nine percent of Americans have used the Internet to help them with a problem related to the economy.

Pew studied two different types of households in this analysis, general population and ‘broadband’ households. ‘Broadband’ households seem to be those receiving larger bandwidth services like cable Internet and TV…I’m guessing, but I think I’m right.

Among those ‘broadband’ households, Internet media resources were the number one source for garnering economic knowledge, dominating over TV and print.

The general population still seems to be going to print as a primary knowledge resource, which surprises me to be honest. The caveat to this appears to be that people are utilizing more than one format of media to understand what’s going on in this wacky economic climate.

Another likely factor, which I suspect contributes to the study’s numbers, is that most younger households are probably in the ‘broadband’ category. So you have lots of Gen Y-ers, such as myself who are really experiencing their first recession and are going to their reference of choice…the Internet. Here we find that people are sharing in our experiences, offering advice and soldiering on…it inspires hope.

Also worth noting is that the amount of time American’s spend watching TV is on the rise. The likely cause of this (in my humble TV-watching opinion) is that people are staying home more and getting their entertainment from what’s on the old tube.

It’s interesting how what’s happening in our world affects how we consume news and how much of it we digest. I  confidently venture to say that a lot of people scrap their news habits entirely when the news is negative i.e. war, terror, natural disasters, etc. We are only programmed to be able to handle so much. It’s self preservation really…

BUT with this recession, we can each do something to improve or have some level of control in our own situations, so the more information we each have, the better equipped we are. Hence, the more news and information we are consuming.

Whether or not our habits will persist as the economic tidal wave subsides remains to be seen. Advertisers certainly hope so, I’ve no doubt of that.


March 31, 2009

Chicago Sun-Times in the Red

Posted in Current Events, In the news, Media at 4:13 pm by R

Sun-Times Media Group, owner of the Chicago Sun-Times and 58 other papers, has filed for Ch. 11 bankruptcy today. The Sun-Times plans to continue to run its holdings as usual while it restructures  and “stabilizes operations.” See the full CNN article here.

The hits really just keep on coming don’t they!

While the Sun-Times announcement is bothersome, I’m more worried about the fresh cuts announced at both the Washington Post and The New York Times this week. The overall picture is really bleak.

How about a tally, shall we?

  1. Washington Post – budget cuts
  2. New York Times — budget cuts
  3. L.A. Times — holding company in bankruptcy
  4. Chicago Times — holding company in bankruptcy
  5. Chicago Sun-Times — holding company in bankruptcy
  6. Seattle PI — Web only
  7. Christian Science Monitor — Web only
  8. Rocky Mountain News — ciao
  9. Miami Herald — reportedly for sale

That’s disheartening. That’s a lot of talented journalists jobs at risk.

What’s worse is that there’s still no contingency plan. We are still asking “where will journalism go?” The answer seems to be online, but how will this format sustain itself?

Until we have answers, we’ll just have to keep our eyes peeled. Keep tabs at Paper Cuts.


August 21, 2008

It’s DNC Madness. . .

Posted in Current Events, Political Punditry tagged at 8:44 pm by SD

All political affiliations aside, the Democratic National Convention is coming to Denver and it’s coming fast!

In less than five days, the Democratic National Convention will officially kick-off in Denver. Close to 70,000 delegates, elected officials, celebrities, protesters and members of the media are expected to descend on Denver. Not to mention, one of the most talked about presidential candidates ever.

You can almost feel the tension in the air as Denver residents wait to see just how Denver will withstand this Convention. 

Are we truly ready for this? Will our transportation system handle the massive influx of people? Can our police force control the protesters? Will Denver citizens still come downtown to experience the festivities? Will our economy truly see a bump as a result of hosting it?

While I can’t answer these questions yet, I can tell you a few things I’ve learned as a PR person about the DNC. Most of these things can be applied to any situation where there is a large event happening!

1. If its not DNC related, don’t pitch it. If you don’t have a breaking news item or a DNC-related story, don’t even try to call a reporter. They’re already operating with a smaller staff and they’re trying to cover a major event so resources are short and time is limited. Save your soft news pitch for September. In fact, save it for mid-September, because that is how long its going to take to recover from the madness.

2. Make yourself a resource to the media. Offer a new angle on the DNC or a new source. Reporters are under pressure to put together a DNC story so be creative while staying relevant and offer a unique news hook.

3. No matter what, your client will get involved in the DNC. Whether it’s having a party or preparing for a potential DNC-related crisis, your client will get involved. Use this opportunity to be a part of a historical event and find a way to help out with a project. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. I’ve had the opportunity to work on some pretty amazing stuff in the past couple weeks!

I’m sure I’ll learn much more as everything kicks off in the next few days. As the DNC happens in Denver, I’ll try to blog about my experiences with it. From the events I’m attending to Denver’s experience with it so stay tuned for more updates!


August 19, 2008

An Open Letter to Tom Ridge

Posted in Current Events, In the news, Political Punditry tagged at 9:16 am by R

Hi Tom. You probably don’t remember me, but we go WAAAAY back.

Remember back at the start of the Gulf War (1991-ish) you did a town hall meeting in McKean, PA’s firehouse? This was when you were still the Congressman for Erie County.

All the local media were there and lots of people asked questions because they were worried about what a war in the Middle East would mean here at home.

And then you took the time to answer my question. I was only about seven, so I was just a munchkin who had to stand on a chair to be heard and seen. My mom, Natalie Stewart-Smith (who worked with Michelle on the Erie County Historical Society and with you on a number of Veteran’s issues) tells me that I really wanted to ask you:

“What can President Bush do to stop the war?”

(Pretty good for a second-grader, right!)

At 6’4, you’re a tall guy, so you bent down in front of me while I was still standing on the chair, making us almost the same height and then you did the most amazing thing — answered my question like I was an adult. I believe that the answer was something to the effect of:

If someone went to your neighbor’s house down the street and tried to hurt them, you folks would go to help your friends, wouldn’t they?

My keen political and public relations spin detector went into high-gear as I sat back down in my mom’s lap and whispered:

He didn’t really answer my question did he mom?

Regardless of the answer, this was an important moment in my life, whether you (or I!) realized it or not. It was my first experience in PR — because let’s face it, that was an awesome photo op (big politician comes down to little girl’s level for honest foreign policy talk) — which is how I ended up where I am now. I’m sure you didn’t know it, but you pointed me on the path to my vocation.

But back to you. Your entire political career (yes, I’ve followed it closely) has been about honesty and unwavering beliefs that you consistently stand by. It’s obvious that you’re a man who is not afraid of a challenge or the hard work that comes with it. While it was an impossible task, your tenure as Secretary of Homeland Security immediately following 9/11 showcased your drive to do, not talk. It also displayed the faith your party and your peers have in you.

You’re a conundrum Tom Ridge, because I always think about what your PR strategy is when you’re with the press. But you don’t have one beyond being honest. That’s why you’re frustrating. And that’s why you’re awesome.

There’s talk of you being a candidate for Vice President alongside John McCain. You’d be a great choice. He needs someone to be his guidepost, someone firm in their beliefs and sense of self. Even if that doesn’t pan out (again — imagine how different [read:better] the world might be if it had been you instead of Cheney) I hope you keep talking, keep being honest, keep answering eight or nine year-olds’ questions in a way that makes them feel important and inspires them to be engaged in the political process. It’s the best PR strategy I’ve seen yet.


August 17, 2008


Posted in Current Events, Media, Personally... at 1:06 pm by R

There’s so much news these days and so little of it is good. Even with the uplifting news about the Olympics, disturbing news of unrest in places like Russia, Georgia and Pakistan steal the top headlines. The onslaught of such headlines is giving me PTMSD (Present Traumatic Media Stress Disorder).

I’m a confessed news and political junkie and I  just can’t help myself. I have to read the stories. I want to understand. But it’s stressing me out. So much access to information has given us insight into all the goings-on of the world…all of them.

There’s first hand reports about the terror of the Georgian refugees as they fled Russian troops. There’s tenuous reports about the fragile peace between Russia and Georgia and details of strained political relations between major international players. There’s just not a lot to smile about. But there’s plenty to be freaked out about…which is my point.

I seriously, seriously am developing a break out over the nervous energy which ensues as I digest all of the breaking news headlines.

Is it the state of the world or all the information we have about what’s going on that’s making me so anxiety ridden?

Do we have too much access to information? Is it corroding our society by making us stressed out and increasingly negative?

I’d love to insert a dissertation on peace, acceptance and global unification here, but I’m still hammering out some of the finer details (more to come), but as for the media, I have a solution: fluff stories.

I think it’s time we bring back the fluff piece in a big way. Feel-good feature stories that remind us of what is good in the world and in our communities. Frankly, we NEED this kind of media. We need happy. Because if I see one more ominous headline about Vladimr Putin…Well, I’m not sure I have enough salicylic acid to deal with the break out that will occur.

And let’s face it, there’s not a chance I’m not going to be exposed to news (although I managed to avoid a lot of it when I only watched the Disney Channel on vacation) — it’ll be on my Web home page, I’ll have to thumb the paper for client articles, I’m gonna pause on CNN on my way to Bravo — there’s no avoiding it.

And if there’s no avoiding it, can we please work together to make it joyful! USA Today, NYT and Washington Post, I beseech you, please include one genuinely happy story on your front page (preferably above the fold). Your readers need it. Our leaders need it.

An ounce of goodness goes a long way. We can work together to remind one another of the good in the world and inspire everyone that news touches to increase the happy through the media.

Only we can prevent Present Traumatic Media Stress Disorder (PTMSD).


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