Posts Tagged ‘colorado public relations’

Dropping the ball

Monday, November 7th, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

Herman CainI don’t know whether the accusations by the women accusing Herman Cain of sexual harassment are true. But I do know he dropped the ball last week with his response. Or, more accurately, responses.

Cain made at least four mistakes in responding to the accusations. He’s not alone. His mistakes are so unbelievably common by politicians and executives who find themselves in crisis situations that they’re worth noting:

Mistake #1: He wasn’t prepared. According to press reports, Cain and his staff knew 10 days before the story broke that Politico was looking into the accusations. Nevertheless, he appeared to be caught off guard and unprepared when the story finally appeared. With 10 days to get ready, there’s no excuse for that. In fact, Cain and his staff should have had a response to these accusations in their crisis preparedness files well before they heard from Politico or anyone else. Crisis preparedness means being ready to deal with stories you don’t want to see. Being unprepared for dealing with bad news is an all-too-common mistake. And, as often happens, it led to Cain’s next mistake.

Mistake #2: He stonewalled. Cain’s first reaction was to deny the story and challenge its accuracy. Then, day after day, he moved the boundary of what he said — but always limiting the information he provided to the minimum he thought necessary. Another common mistake. And it almost always leads to Cain’s next mistake.

Mistake #3: His story kept changing. The problem with telling only part of the story is that it often means changing your story as more information becomes available. This is exactly what happened to Cain. First, he denied the story was true. Then he acknowledged there were allegations but said they were false and said nothing about any settlement payments. After the payments hit the news, Cain said he didn’t know about them. Then he acknowledged knowing about them but understated the amount paid. You get the idea. Another common mistake that almost inevitably leads to Cain’s next mistake.

Mistake #4: He kept the story alive. Questionable denials and/or leaving questions unanswered is an invitation to reporters to keep digging. Actually, it’s a challenge to reporters to keep digging. Cain, like many before him and many more to come, fell into this trap. He also kept the story alive by accusing fellow candidate Rick Perry of being behind the Politico story, which Perry denies. The problem for Cain? It doesn’t matter whether Perry’s campaign was behind the story. The issue is whether Cain is guilty or innocent. Dragging Perry’s campaign into it just gave the media a hook for keeping the story alive for another news cycle. Actually, three news cycles in this case: The accusation against Perry, Perry’s denial and Cain backing off of his accusation, followed by a second accusation by Cain that Perry was responsible for the story. When dealing with bad news, your job is to shut the story down not keep it alive.

What should Cain have done? One possibility would have been preempting Politico by disclosing the full story from his point of view before Politico ran its story. If Cain chose not to do that, then he should have told the whole story, including his claim of innocence, as soon as the story broke. Still a bad story, but his best shot at getting it off the air and off the front pages as soon as possible.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Jumping the Gun

Monday, October 31st, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

Denver City and County BuildingDenver’s getting a new police chief. The announcement drew overwhelmingly positive media coverage and praise from the community, no small feat for an appointment rife with political pitfalls because of controversies surrounding the Denver Police Department and its current chief.

Based on the reaction so far, the selection of Louisville, Ky., Police Chief Robert White to become Denver’s new top cop was brilliant. He sounds like a great choice for the job.

But tucked away in all the positive reaction to the announcement was an item on a local political blog,, that should cause some concern for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock — not about the selection of White but about the way it was announced.

According to ColoradoPols, White scooped his new boss in making the announcement: The Louisville Police Department announced the appointment at a time when Hancock’s spokesperson was still saying “we’re continuing our review process and hope to have someone appointed soon.”

The result? Hancock was forced to hold a hastily arranged news conference Friday afternoon to “announce” an appointment that had already been released to the media — an announcement he apparently hadn’t planned to make that day.

White’s jumping the gun by announcing his new job before his boss did undoubtedly caused some embarrassment in both Denver and Louisville. But it won’t affect White’s ultimate success or failure in Denver. And the incident almost certainly will go largely unnoticed.

But it raises some interesting questions. Is White a loose cannon and his premature announcement a sign of things to come once he’s in Denver? Did Hancock’s office fail to do its job in coordinating the announcement with White and his staff in Louisville?

I have no idea. And don’t really care.

But there’s a good reminder here for the rest of us. Getting your message right is important. But handling the logistics of an announcement is important, too. It’s important to make sure everyone involved knows exactly who’s going to make the announcement – and when. And it’s important to know who will answer what questions – and what questions need to be referred to someone else.

Dropping the ball on these kinds of logistical issues can lead to serious mistakes.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Simplify and Repeat

Monday, October 24th, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

“Remember the . . .”

“Damn the torpedoes, full . . .”

“Ask not . . .”

“I have a . . . ”

Chances are pretty good you can complete all of the phrases listed above — even if you don’t remember who said all of them or precisely why.

Good messaging is easy to understand. It resonates with your audience. And it’s easy to remember. Your message is like the punch line of a joke. If you have to explain it, it doesn’t work.

Hearing a joke once is usually enough. It loses its punch after that. Your message is just the opposite. The more you repeat it — and the more the rest of us hear it — the more powerful it becomes.

The moral of the story? Make your message simple. Speak to the needs, fears or desires of your audience. And repeat it as often as you can. Once you’re so tired of saying it that you can’t stand listening to yourself the rest of us are beginning to hear what you’re saying.

Two books I strongly recommend if you want to add power to your message are Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s what People Hear by Dr. Frank Luntz and Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Create a moment

Monday, April 25th, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

captured momentTimid messages are ignored or quickly forgotten. If you want to be remembered, say something worth remembering.

This weekend, I came across a three-year-old article by political consultant and commentator Paul Begala offering his top 10 rules for political debates.

Number 7 on his list is the one that stands out for me: Create a moment. It works for telling your story as well as winning a debate.

“The voters who will decide the election are unlikely to be watching the debate in its entirety,” Begala said. “Instead, they will see brief clips repeated frequently. The job of the debater is to force his or her way into one of those clips by creating a moment.”

Your audience won’t remember all the “facts” you throw at them. If they remember anything at all, they’ll remember the one most compelling thing you say. The more compelling and the more memorable, the more likely they are to hear it and remember it.

Far too many companies are timid when it comes to telling their story. And they focus too much attention on little details that have nothing to do with their success in telling that story.

So, when it’s time to tell your story start by figuring out how to create a moment for your audience. Then do it. Everything else is filler.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Use headlines to make headlines

Monday, April 18th, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

Did your invitation say “plus one”? To the wedding. Kate and William. The couple getting married later this month at Westminster Abbey.

The “plus one” is a status symbol, apparently. It means you’re important enough to bring a guest — your own spouse, for example — to the big event.

I know this because it was the subject of one of the many news stories about the wedding. I don’t know yet whether I’m getting a “plus one” invitation. Mine seems to have gotten lost in the mail. Hope to get it straightened out soon. Need to know how many airline tickets to buy.

A story like the Kate Middleton-Prince William wedding tends to push other stories out of the news for a while. But these stories also offer opportunities to get your story into the news if you find a local angle or an interesting sidebar that allows you to leverage the big headline to make headlines of your own.

Whenever there’s a big story I know will be making headlines for days or weeks to come, I like to check for ways to take advantage of the bigger story to get a story into the news.

One easy example for the Kate Middleton-Prince William wedding: Wedding trends likely to be set by the upcoming royal wedding. That’s a natural for anyone involved in the weddings business. There will be many others. I love to watch as these events play out for the most imaginative examples of ways people have used the big story to tell their own story. It’s a fun past-time. It won’t cost you anything. And you might get an idea that will help you turn your story into news.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

It’s a PR stunt

Monday, April 11th, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

PR stunts. Even some PR pros turn their noses up at them.

After all, you and I would never resort to such a thing, would we? Well, I would — and do. I encourage you to do likewise.

“PR stunt” is just another way of saying you’ve done something to grab attention for your story — with the media or any other audience you’re interested in reaching with your message. Good PR stunts are powerful storytelling tools. And a good PR stunt means you’ve done something creative to grab attention for your story.

Take comedian Mark Malkoff’s PR stunt last week in which he beat a New York City bus in a one-mile “race” across a section of Manhattan. Malkoff produced a video of the event.

What Malkoff did was truly a “stunt.” But it generated great media coverage. And it’s fun. Give yourself a treat and take a couple minutes to watch the video.

Malkoff’s done other successful PR stunts in the past — living in an IKEA store for a week and posting a series of YouTube videos about it and visiting all 171 Starbucks stores in Manhattan in 24 hours — also chronicled on YouTube.

You don’t have to resort to Malkoff’s over-the-top antics to stage a successful media event, aka PR stunt. He makes his living as a comedian after all.

But if you can come up with a creative way to grab attention for your story and make your point, you have the makings of a good PR stunt.

Just make sure you don’t become the butt of the joke. You want attention. But you want attention that gets your message heard, understood and remembered in a way that accomplishes your business objective.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Self-inflicted PR damage

Monday, April 4th, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

Oil rigRemember the big oil spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico?

I’m guessing your answer is yes. And, because our collective answer to that question is yes, Transocean Ltd. created a PR problem for itself when it claimed in an SEC filing last week that 2010 was the “best year in safety performance in our company’s history” and disclosed that it has awarded big safety bonuses to its top executives.

For example, Transocean President and CEO Steven L. Newman got a $374,062 bonus plus a $200,000 raise.

Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon, the offshore rig that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico last April, killing 11 workers and triggering the biggest oil spill in history.

To be fair, Transocean’s executives only got two-thirds of their potential bonuses. But in 2009, when four of its workers were killed, Transocean skipped the bonuses altogether “to underscore the company’s commitment to safety.”

“Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico,” the company said in its SEC filing, “we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record as measured by our total recordable incident rate and total potential severity rate.” (Emphasis added)

I’ll leave it to Transocean and its shareowners to decide whether the bonuses were justified. But including language in its filing with the SEC claiming 2010 was the “best year in safety performance in our company’s history” created an unnecessary PR problem for the company.

By whatever metrics it used to justify its statement, the Transocean claim probably is true. But the statement’s just not credible, particularly when you consider the language about “potential severity” being a factor in the awarding of the bonuses.

Pay attention to the credibility of what you say. Saying something that’s “true” but not credible can be as problematic as lying.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Surprise Me

Monday, March 28th, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

Surprised boy“We all know the disappointment, and yes, sometimes even the horror.

“Looking forward to a healthy, crispy salad, you open the vegetable crisper in the fridge to discover the fresh lettuce and tomatoes purchased only days before now resemble the cast of a ’50’s science fiction thriller.”

That’s my all-time favorite lead for a news release. It’s for a product called Extra Life, a little green disc that costs about five bucks and goes into your refrigerator to keep fruits and vegetables fresh longer. That news release won coverage that included the entire food section page of the Denver Post and a feature story with picture in the Rocky Mountain News back in the days when Denver had two daily newspapers.

It’s decidedly informal, not properly “corporate” sounding at all. It uses a slang term for a kitchen appliance. And it jumps from first person to second person without any real justification.

But it works. It’s well written. It’s entertaining. It’s unexpectedly informal. (Imagine yourself as a reporter leafing through a pile of news releases all saying “xxx today announced that . . .”) And, most important of all, it’s about me. And you. We’re all included in the narrative of this news release because we’ve all experienced the scene it describes — and the problem it promises to fix.

Want the rest of us to read your news releases? Then make them about us — not about you. And make them interesting.

Here are three approaches that can help you do that:

  • Lead with an anecdote: “Joan Doe has spent the last 43 years helping others. On Tuesday, several dozen of them will be on hand for her final day at work to say thank you and tell her how she changed their lives.” Good anecdotes add personality to your story. Properly used, they are powerful storytelling tools.
  • Lead with a question: “Why are local birdwatchers putting down their binoculars and picking up protest signs?” Some purists say you should never lead with a question. My response: Why would you ignore such a powerful tool for engaging your audience?
  • Lead with your first-person experience: “The bear stared at me. I stared back. What I did next probably saved my life. And it could save yours.” Be careful if you go down this path. Properly used, first-person narratives can be interesting. But if it’s all about you, the rest of us won’t care.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Inevitable Debate

Monday, March 21st, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

Cooling TowerThe problems at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant will inevitably lead to a debate in countries throughout the world about the future of nuclear power. In fact, that debate has already begun.

How could the debate have been avoided? It couldn’t. That die was cast as soon as the Fukushima facility started experiencing problems.

While that may seem obvious, it’s worth saying again because it’s a point so many organizations forget when they find themselves in the middle of a crisis.

Two thoughts:

  • Don’t lie. Always important. But especially important in a crisis. Lying during a high-visibility crisis doesn’t do you any good. It only destroys your own credibility. The truth eventually will come out. The higher the stakes, the greater the temptation to lie or withhold information. And the greater the certainty that the truth will come out.
  • Be as transparent as you can. The whole truth is important. Withholding information the public believes is important to its health and safety will be judged as harshly as lying.

I’ve read complaints about the lack of information about what’s happening at Fukushima. But I think the information available from Fukushima has actually been pretty good. We don’t know everything that’s happening. But neither do the people working to get the problems under control.

Fukushima is being compared to Three Mile Island. The physical and environmental damage from Fukushima will far exceed Three Mile Island. But the credibility damage to the nuclear industry was far greater at Three Mile Island because the utilities at Three Mile Island were far less forthcoming with information than has been the case in Japan. One reason is there are more sources of information about what’s happening in Japan.

The Three Mile Island utilities controlled the flow of information. They withheld information from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as well as the public. And they lied. During the early stages of that crisis they portrayed the incident as far less severe than they knew it to be.

In the end, the lack of openness and honesty during the crisis at Three Mile Island was as damaging as the problems within the reactor itself. Whatever damage Fukushima does to nuclear power worldwide will be because of what happened in the reactors, not because of bad communication.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Saying the wrong thing

Monday, March 14th, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

Sometimes people who should know better get in trouble for saying things they shouldn’t.

So, it was no surprise when State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley “resigned” Sunday — just days after telling a group of students at MIT that the Obama administration’s treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the American solider accused of leaking documents to WikiLeaks, is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

It’s a free country. Crowley’s entitled to his opinion. And the First Amendment gives him the right to say what he thinks.

So, what’s the problem? As the State Department’s spokesman, Crowley was criticizing his employer. And his comments had an inevitable impact on his ability to do his job as a spokesperson for the administration.

Crowley’s not the first person to make this mistake.  And, unfortunately, he won’t be the last.

Years ago, when I was still working for the phone company, one of our executives offered up some candid comments at a conference that included many of his peers from other companies around the country. Unfortunately for him, a New York Times reporter was also in the audience.

The executive found out about the reporter when a story appeared in the Times quoting him as saying some pretty pessimistic things about the part of the business he was responsible for running.  While the comments were honest and accurate, they also landed him in the doghouse. And they almost cost him his job.

Our executive learned a tough lesson about how anything you say publicly can end up in the media — whether you intend for them to or not. That was before the days of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which increase the danger of unwanted attention to what you do or say.

Crowley shouldn’t have been surprised that his comments made headlines. And the price he paid for that was all too predictable.

You have a legal  right to speak your mind. But you can also be fired or reprimanded if what you say or do on or off the job affects your employer’s reputation. That’s worth keeping in mind before you talk to reporters — or to your friends on Facebook or Twitter.

Many companies have restrictions on who can talk to reporters on behalf of or about their company.  In an age of social media, those policies should also apply to what employees say or do that ends up on the social media.  And those policies need to be clearly communicated to employees so they know the rules before they get themselves — and the companies they work for — into trouble.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?