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.


August 21, 2009

To Borrow Tom Ridge’s Words, “For that?”

Posted in Political Punditry at 10:17 am by R

Let me start off by saying that I’ve known Tom Ridge since I was a little girl. He and my mother worked together on the Erie Historical Society and did a number of projects together surrounding Veteran’s Affairs. Long story short…I’m a little biased.

That being said….

A press release from Mr. Ridge’s publisher  on his new book “The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege … and How We Can Be Safe Again” notes that:

Ridge says he objected to raising the security level despite the urgings of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft…

An MSNBC article discusses the content of the book, addressing the political motivations for raising or not raising the Terror Level. Naturally, Mr. Ridge’s publicist indicates that his client is unavailable to give interviews until his book is release September 1.

Ok, here’s my issue: Why would you release text from the book as part of pre-promotion that has people coming out of the wood-works to contest the validity, honesty and credibility of the author!?

Case in point: Michelle Malkin is attributing this tactic to Ridge himself calling him a “weasel” for this type of pre-promo…and the commentary left under her post on the topic is less than glowing.

Some people believe that any press is good press. I’m not in that camp.

It is my position that as a publicist — or even a publisher — your job is to present your client in a positive light. I get it, controversy sells books. But there must be more in this book!

How can we be safe again? The title leads me to believe that Mr. Ridge has some solutions. Why not offer a few of those as part of pre-promotion? Be part of the solution, not party to beating a dead horse.

I worry that this book will be cast off as just-another-former-administration-expose because of this type of launch.

This book — from what the title implies — is an examination of the utterly changed world we live in from the perspective of a man charged with the nearly impossible job of adapting to that change on a federal level.

So, I have to question the strategy on this. For the publisher to issue a release and come out of the gate with controversial language from the book seems to draw attention to the wrong message. Let book reviewers draw attention to (and form their own opinions on) the content.

Stay positive I always say. And with such a great character to shine a spotlight on, that should have been really easy. One only need say, “What must it have been like to undertake the task of protecting our homeland in the wake of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil…Tom Ridge knows.”

Publicists for authors, I’d love your opinions on this one. Was this a smart publicity move? Would you recommend this to a high-profile political client? Would you launch a book in the press this way?

I admit though that the end goal was achieved: I know about the book and I plan to read it.


January 20, 2009

A New Media Inauguration

Posted in In the news, Political Punditry, Social Media at 12:13 pm by R

Barack Obama broke ground during the election with his use of social media.

Continuing on that trend, Obama’s inauguration today made history in the way it was viewed and even participated in. According to

The stats released, as of noon ET:

1. There were 200,000+ status updates through the Facebook integration on

2. at that time, 3,000 people commented on the Facebook CNN feed per minute

3. Obama’s Facebook Fan Page has more than 4 million fans and in excess of 500,000 wall posts

As of 11.45am, CNN:

-had served 13.9 million live video streams globally since 6am

-had broken its all time total daily streaming record (from Election Day) of 5.3 million live streams.

Um. Wow!

That’s the power of social media.


January 16, 2009

Bring Back the Presidential Hat

Posted in Political Punditry, Projects at 8:52 am by SD

Fashionistas around the country are speculating about Michelle Obama’s Inauguration outfit. Personally, I am more concerned with what our President-elect will be wearing. It’s old news that he plans to wear a Hart Schaffner Marx tuxedo.

The big question is, will he be wearing a hat?

The inaugural hat used to be a staple for every president from Truman to Johnson to Kennedy, the list goes on. A new hat was a must have for the new President-Elect to wear on Inauguration Day. However, in recent years, this time-honored tradition has faded.

The time has come to bring back the hat!

Follow Josh Shayne at as he journeys to Washington, D.C. to hand-deliver a hat to the President Elect.

Stetson, the American icon, will donate a portion of the sale of every Stetson Presidential Hat sold through this website up to $50,000 to Hats Off For Cancer . Hats Off For Cancer provides hats for children who have lost their hair as a result of cancer treatment.

You can learn more about the mission by watching this video

Let’s bring back the hat.


December 11, 2008

Community Media Biting the Dust

Posted in A walk on the "dark side", In the news, Media, Political Punditry at 4:41 pm by R

My mom called and left me a message this morning at o’dark thirty with the major Roswell Daily Record headlines.

KRQE TV in Albuquerque is closing down the KBIM TV station effective TOMORROW.

KBIM offers Roswell’s only local newscast. What’s more, this Southeastern New Mexico CBS station really served the whole SE corner of the state, which includes places you may or may not have heard of like Artesia, Carlsbad, Hobbs, Clovis and Portales.

In my still groggy state, my response was: “So what.”

But as I started to wake up and smell the repercussions of KBIM going off-line questions popped into my head like:

  • Where will the community news come from?
  • Can an Albuquerque-based station adequately cover the news SE New Mexicans have relied on from the talented Kim Stecklein for years?
  • How many other major-media-owned community stations are going to go the way of the dinosaur?

So what are Roswell’s options?

Well demographics-wise, the place skews old. Technology-wise, I was well out of high-school before Cable Internet took hold. News wise, well people want their news. Roswell citizens are really connected to their community. They still need and deserve local news. So how do they get it?

Given all of this, I think there are some options (mom, listen up):

  • The New Mexico Military Institute’s students could fill the news needs with a Vlog. Perhaps a news writing class is in order. (Yes, I will be a guest speaker, no you may not call me ‘Roberta’ in front of the class — that .50 a piece deal still holds up right?)
  • Community News Blog sponsored by KRQE — since they had to axe the broadcast, why not follow the lead of CNN and have an iReport function for news contributed by Roswell’s people? Accessible anytime on the Web, these stories can be used on TV to fill time during the 5:30 & 10:00 holes that have recently been created.
  • Record TV — the paper could become a multi-media by offering a newscast on their website.

I suspect this same scenario will be playing out all across the country as news conglomerates aim to shore up budgets by making strategic cutbacks. And I also suspect that the future of community news all news will be on line. Like it or not.

This will be a conundrum for the “media Goliaths” as fiercely local, grassroots “media Davids” crop up to fill the footprints the Belo’s, Meridith’s and Argyle holding companies leave behind. Where do you suspect the loyalty (read: advertising $$$) will go?

In the words of Jack Welsh: “Change before you have to.”


October 30, 2008

Why Polls Matter

Posted in In the news, Political Punditry tagged at 1:29 pm by R

There’s been a lot of speculation in the past few weeks over what election polls are accurate, why they matter and what, if anything, they actually tell us.

It’s my personal belief that the only poll that really matters is the one calculating actual votes on election day. BUT, polls leading up to November 4th do matter, because they are a persuasive form of PR.

My father-in-law (the king of one-liners and other comments that will make you laugh hysterically) has a saying:

“I only root for the winner.”

People feel more motivated than ever to put their civic stake in the ground and say they contributed to the course of America. Citizens are voting in record numbers and in a more passionate way than they have in decades. But ultimately, people want to vote for the guy who wins, be part of the reason why the “right guy” got into office.

And if not, well, there’s always the “Don’t-blame-me-I-voted-for-the-other-one” bumper stickers.

Polls contribute to this process as influencers. When we see a candidate pulling ahead or leading in repeated polls, it leaves an impression. It’s a “Get-on-the-bandwagon” effect. Polls affirm people who are leaning toward the leader and cause people to question about the candidate coming from behind.

In an election where people on the fence about their vote are of critical importance, so are the polls that influence those still-undecided voters.

What do you think?


October 15, 2008

Someone Please Media Train the McCain Campaign

Posted in In the news, Media, Political Punditry tagged at 8:53 pm by R

I’m watching the debates right now and one thing keeps driving me nuts. It’s the same thing that’s been driving me crazy every time I see a McCain adviser, spokesperson or family member speaking to the media on his behalf.

Evidently no one media trained John McCain and crew.

Rolling of the eyes, general angry look, interrupting, flip remarks, etc. all fall under the category of unacceptable for me. I don’t care who you are what office you’re running for, what candidate you represent — it’s. not. ok.

Politics aside, this campaign just isn’t well behaved with the media. I have seen them behave in ways I would NEVER allow my clients to behave on air, not even on the tiniest local TV station.

The top three rules:

  1. Don’t interrupt — your mom told you not to and most PR pros will reiterate it.  It’s rude, it’s unprofessional, it makes you look bad. Just DON’T.
  2. Keep your emotions off your face — this takes some mastering (which is why we do media training). When you show your anger/upset you lose your power in the conversation. Practice, practice, practice not getting flustered by hair-raising questions. Note: this trick may help with blood pressure as well.
  3. Sweet speech — Never respond with too much emotion either. Again, you lose your power when you lose your cool. And you only get three-or-so minutes, so don’t waste any time. Chances are you’ve got a stronger message than anger/upset anyhow.

I watch TV, especially in election season, with a critical eye. I expect that politicians their spokespeople will be highly trained to handle media interviews. I’ve been disappointed by the McCain campaign’s showing in this regard.


September 5, 2008

Politics + Co-Workers(or clients) + Watercooler = Debacle

Posted in In the news, Personally..., Political Punditry tagged at 10:37 pm by R

It’s the touchy season that arrives every four years, the presidential election. People are talking politics everywhere, in meetings, at the coffee shop, over dinner and, of course, in the office.

But how to handle all of those inevitable political discussions appropriately? Do you engage in the conversation at all? If you do, how much do you reveal about your political self and beliefs?

I believe those conversations are important to have. Sometimes the best political pundit, is your book keeper or IT person. Every voters’ opinions have value and insight…but only if you allow them too.

I have two simple rules for weathering the next 60-some days:

  1. Respect Everyone’s Opinion – McCain supporter*, Obama supporter*, Paul supporter*, whatever the party line or candidate, do your best to respect and be open to the opinions your fellow Americans have.
  2. Listen Before Speaking – Don’t stir the pot with some snide Donkey or Elephant joke. Make sure you know the tone of the conversation before piping up with your position. You could just end up with an earful and some awkwardness if you’re not careful.

Basically, just be respectful and know when to zip it.

Other tips for navigating the political mind field:

  • If your client is a raging Right Wing Nut, don’t diss Alaska
  • If your colleague is The Angry Left, don’t diss community organizers
  • If your boss is a McCain supporter, don’t blare Wyclef’s “Yes We Can” in your office
  • If your regular barista is an Obama supporter, don’t hum Big & Rich’s “Rasin’ McCain” or else…

Your personal political positions send a message about who you are as a person. Be strategic about the messages you send in the workplace by being professional and deliberately respectful.

Nod your head in thoughtful contemplation as a client says, “McCain is the only way this country can run.” Even if you’re thinking, “Press bashing, senile, warmonger.”

Smile considerately when your colleague says, “Obama is the great hope for our country.” Even if you want to respond with, “Marxist, no experience, media-made celebutante!”

No matter how hard the moment is, remember you can immediately go rant to your Right Wing Nut/The Angry Left friends after exiting the conversation.

Your personal (professional) PR  is far more important than expressing views in a political tantrum. Plus, you may have to live it down November 5…


*For purposes of political fairness, candidates were listed alphabetically, all future party references were assigned in order of the original candidate’s alphabetical placement in the first reference.

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.


Next page