Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What If the Media Threw a Hissy Fit and Nobody Came?

Now that we are a few days away from Senator Hillary Clinton's Great Gaffe, the question is "So What?"

Do you even remember that Clinton raised eyebrows -- MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, among a few -- over her reference to Robert Kennedy's assassination when she explained why she was staying in the Presidential race? That she may have hinted that the party could need her if the unthinkable happens to Senator Obama?

Did any of this matter? Maybe not, considering the overall attention that the matter received... which amounted to "not much."

As for Mr. Olbermann, in my view he is a canny, insightful, articulate and often passionate moderator. (Just check out this YouTube clip of his commentary on the fifth anniversary of the war inIraq.) But he really seemed to chew the scenery after Clinton's remark, seeming to be enamored of his own oratorical powers. Yes, he was correct to note other instances in which she shaded the truth or played the race card in this seemingly interminable primary campaign. But it amounted to piling on, with him being the only person in the pile. The media just didn't seem to pick this up the way he expected. An editorial here and there, polite discussion on "Meet the Press." In my home town paper of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the story landed on page 16 the next day, and I still haven't seen any reference to it on the editorial pages.

In light of all this, I do think that the Clinton campaign handled it properly by issuing a apology and then letting it die. They did not fan the flames through a series of overwrought disclaimers, and for that matter, the media let up, too. Obama's campaign said they had "moved on." So should we all. Et tu, Mr. Olbermann? Save your fire for the Scott McClellan story. Having a press secretary state that the build up to a war was "propaganda" is much more worth your prodigious powers anyhow.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Why Don't Advertisers Have Diversity Requirements?

I came across a blog and other writings from a lovely woman named Wendy Katzman. She is a physical therapist who is also spokesperson for the Dove Pro-Age campaign. Her laments in a recent posting are sadly common: Women of all ages are bombarded with images of under-25s with anorexic anatomies, making all others feel inadequate.

I thought about my own responsibilities over the years in corporations. I thought how the women I have met have helped make me more sensitive about being discriminating about age, weight, color, etc. And if I still didn't get the point, likely I would get the 2x4 across the head in the form of training and one-on-one sessions with HR people who would raise my consciousness.

But I also wondered why there aren't similar sensitivities in the commercial world. I love the Dove campaign, with its variety of women in all shapes and sizes. Why should that campaign be notable? Shouldn't we be displaying women of all types in advertisements as standard operating procedure? As my current boss points out, it may be an American phenomenon. She noted that when the two of us worked previously for a global German conglomerate, they had no problems with showing old people with wrinkles, gray hair, and dessicated bodies in their ads... in Germany. But the U.S. ads show idealized, sanitized views of elders, with preternaturally smooth skin and arthritisfree active lifestyles.

Read Ms. Katzman's blog, think about it, and then buy a bar of Dove soap. They may not be 99 and 44/100 percent pure - nobody is - but they deserve our support.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Audacity of Hype - Obama does it AGAIN!

Can you believe that Barack Obama did it again? See my May 18 post, in which I noted, with some awe and admiration, how he pushed Hillary Clinton off the news. Lat night he did it again. She trounced him in Kentucky, wiped the floor with him, yet what did we see on the news? Not HER victory speech, but HIS oratory on winning a majority of pledged delegates. That is just remarkable.

Once again, Obama teaches us in media a lesson on ways to control the stage: Make a bigger story than the one that’s out there. Also, it apparently helps to have the news media in the tank for you. See these comments from Chuck Todd of MSNBC:

"Perception vs. reality:
We’ve noted how big a role perception has played in these Democratic contests. Some recent examples: Clinton holding a double-digit margin over Obama in Pennsylvania for most of the night until Philly returns dropped it below 10 points, or Obama’s big North Carolina victory versus Clinton’s narrow one in Indiana. Now here’s the latest example: Despite Clinton’s 35-point win in a state her husband carried twice, the lead in most of the papers today is Obama's declaration of securing a majority of pledged delegates. The New York Times’ headline: “Obama Declares Bid ‘Within Reach’ After 2 Primaries.” The Washington Post: “Obama Takes Delegate Majority.” It's the story of the Clinton campaign since March 4. Despite basically running even or slightly ahead of Obama in the primaries held since March 4, she can't change the trajectory of the race.”

In retrospect, it appears that Senator Clinton lost the race early on, around the same time that Katie Couric asked her about a contingency plan in case she didn’t get the Democratic nomination. The Senator just brushed off the question, responding, “Oh, I’ll be the nominee.”

Pride goeth before a fall, anyone? Don’t go into any campaign arrogant that your message will come across. Again, a good lesson for us in communications who seek to persuade others.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Book, My Calling Card

As I gear up for my speaking career, I am working on something that I have come to believe is important: a book. My friend Courtney Ragonesi, founder of The Illustrious Group, tells me that it is my "calling card" as a speaker. Makes sense to me.

I am writing a self-help book that is relevant to our society. (Forgive me if I don't divulge the topic. I must have some privacy.) Another friend, nationally known speaker Shawn Doyle, advises me that 25,000 words is "about right." So I am spending every moment I can on it. Problem is, that's not much time. My schedule gets in the way. I try to exercise every morning due to a chronic health issue, work at my
full-time job, come home and spend time with my wife (kids are grown), and then I write. But if I must do something necessary and mundane, such as balance the checkbook or call my mother, that's more time lost. So it looks like I'll be taking an occasional Friday off this summer and going on a book bender for three days, pounding out the words. I think it's doable. I'm surprised at the number of people I meet who have books out, almost the same number of people who seem to have their own talk show. But, boy, it's tough. Still, when I get a head of steam, I can get the words flowing. (We'll see how much I've accomplished after I edit it! Or after someone else does.)

I about a quarter of the way through. I'll keep you posted. One thing I am pretty curious about is the publisher versus self-publishing route. I am leaning toward self-publishing, as that will help me control the product and keep more money. But I must admit that I could enjoy the validation and prestige of having a publisher. That could mean lunches at the finest NY restaurants, book tours, maybe a spot on Oprah.

Let me reconsider that self-publishing thing.
In the meantime, if you have any ideas, please let me know. As with all things blog-gy, I will keep you informed.

Monday, May 19, 2008

What's wrong with NSA? ... ah, actually, not much.

I spent time on Saturday with my local chapter of the National Speakers Association (Mid-Atlantic Chapter, that is). Wow, what a great group. I had always heard that these folks were supportive, that they don't see their fellow members as competitors. That is true to my eyes so far. First off all, consider that you're getting a bunch of speakers together in the same room. Theoretically, that should be the Indianapolis 500 of Oneupmanship. Gentlemen, start your egos! Instead, these folks let each other talk, offer advice, share ideas, listen to the presenters on the agenda... jeez, what's wrong with these people? Where's their competitiveness, their inner fire, their pricky-ness?

We had a good session with Sharon Bowman speaking about how to design a speech and add enough interest to keep the audience on their toes. Nice job, Sharon. However, most of the value for me came from the other members who introduced themselves, showed interest in my nascent career, and told me about their methods. Like Rich Lucia, who can print a book ON DEMAND when someone orders it. Brilliant!

I am getting traction with this blog, with my articles, and my Internet radio appearances. Still, I'm trying to get my act together to start getting paid to speak.* I'm still defining my niche and working on my book (more on that in future posts). I think NSA will help me a lot, if the members of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter have anything to do with it.

*Okay, I exaggerate a little, tiny bit in my profile about launching my professional speaking career. I just think that if you build the practice and talk about it, they will come. Eventually.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

PR TIMING: One Vote Beats 148,000

So let me get this straight. Hilary Clinton beats Barack Obama in West Virginia by 147,551 votes, and he gets the lead story in the news the next day? Brilliant! All he needed to do was announce his latest endorsement - this one by former senator John Edwards, a man who couldn't even carry his own district in the 2004 election - and the media knock Senator Clinton off her perch above the fold in their lemminglike rush toward All Things Obama.

This is classic public relations, and a lesson to be learned: When you are losing the spotlight, win it back by playing ugly. Oh, I know that the Obama team did nothing illegal, immoral or unfair. It was just so calculated. A couple of other notable examples:

  • While President Reagan was recovering from the assassination attempt on him, his staff retained a scheduled visit from a Chinese leader who was older than he was. One of the most notable images from that visit was Reagan holding his visitor's elbow as they climbed stairs, which actually made the president look more vigorous.

  • When Michael Jackson was facing myriad accusations of child molestation, he announced a multimillion dollar contribution of computers to a school district. This worked for about 48 hours. If Jacko could have controlled his bad behavior, the benefit of this tactic may have been extended.

When I worked media relations for GE turbine business in upstate New York, we were continually announcing layoffs. One day, the GE Foundation announced that several organizations were receiving matching contributions.... a few thousand here, ten thousand there. But when I added up the total number, it was very close to a million dollars. So that was our story:

GE Contributes Nearly One Million Dollars to Community

That bought us a well-needed respite.

The point here is that the Obama campaign knew how to take center stage away from Senator Clinton. It is a lesson those of us in external communication can well emulate. Just be sure you have a legitimately newsworthy story to tell, or the press is likely to recognize it for what it is - opportunism.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Improving Your Speaking, All for a Song

I just rejoined my singing group, A Cappella Pops, after a four-month hiatus. Forty people making music only with our voices, without instruments. But I have learned so much about speaking from being on stage as a singer. Some examples:
  1. THERE IS A CONNECTION BETWEEN THE EYE, EAR AND BRAIN WHEN LEARNING A SPEECH OR A SONG - I have only so much time to learn a song, so I would record our group rehearsals and play them back WHILE I was reading the sheet music. The more I did that, the more I absorbed the information in my "muscle memory." Likewise I applied this method to my speaking, which enables me to memorize my speeches more easily. (This method was validated to my by previous Toastmaster World Champ Randy Wilson.)
  2. PROJECT AIR FROM THE DIAPHRAGM - I learned a lot about the mechanics of projecting sound from learning to sing. Your back must be straight to create a column of air, and your voice becomes much more powerful and controlled.
  3. YOUR FACE AND YOUR BODY ARE PART OF THE EMOTION - I can't tell you how often Jan, our director, yelled at me, "Pat! Smile!" To which I responded, "I am smiling." And of course I wasn't. And friends and family in the audience would tell me after a performance that I looked really scared. Hm, not exactly what I was trying to convey. Additionally, my body could be off-putting and distant when I wanted it to be inviting. So I had to work to adjust my face and posture to be consistent with my message. Funny thing - when I fixed those things in my singing through practice, they also improved in my speaking.
  4. YOUR WORDS SOUND DIFFERENTLY TO YOUR AUDIENCE THAN THEY DO TO YOU - I found that my vowels had a different sound than I thought they did when I sang. For example, singing the sound of the letter "E" sounded screechy because I opened my mouth too wide. So I had to position my mouth differently. Also, the "-er" sound at the end of a word was pretty unattractive to the ear. I have a solo in a song from "The Lion King" in which I sang the word "surrender," and I gave it a piercing sound. So Jan had me change the sound to "surr- rend- AH," and that took the edge off.

    Similarly, when I reviewed recordings of my speeches, I found other words that were euphonic when I said them, so I found different ways to pronounce these words. Try it.

So if you want to improve your speaking, apply singing principles. If you don't currently sing, try to learn by taking lessons or joining a group. Regardless of the outcome, at least the singing will be fun.

BTW, learn more about A Cappella Pops, such as where we are appearing or how to buy our CDs, at

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Journal of Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue?

PR Week reports that a Project for Excellence in Journalism found that The Wall Street Journal has put less emphasis on its front-page business coverage in favor of political news during the first three months of News Corp.'s ownership, compared to the prior four months. In fact that coverage has nearly quadrupled, from five percent to 18 percent. The study showed that during the same period, the paper decreased its front-page business coverage from 30 percent to 14 percent.

Robert Christie, the VP of communications for Dow Jones & company, explained through an email that this coverage increased because of the unusually long Democratic presidential primary season. But really, hasn't TWSJ become more politicized over the last 25 years? For all the talk about "liberal media bias," I very rarely read a piece on its editorial page that is critical of a Republican point of view. While I recognize the bias among the usual suspects of the left (and believe me, I am neither a fan or an avid reader of those publications either), I know that I can pick them up and OCCASIONALLY get an opposing point of view. Not so with The Journal, which makes this evolution all the more disturbing. I want The Wall Street Journal to give me business news. But that coverage has noticeably diminished. I'm just glad that there is a study that supports my theory of the case. I wouldn't want to be accused of bias myself.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Al Gore Gets Out of the Way

Have you seen the recent PSAs for the global environment called the "WE Campaign?" They feature unlikely allies, seeming opponents, who agree that global warming needs our attention. One spot features Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican former Speaker Newt Gingrich sitting together on a sofa. Another features the Reverends Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton, whom I would define as the epitome of "strange bedfellows."

Did you know that Al Gore was the brains behind this campaign? No, neither did I. And thank goodness for that.

Brilliant move. Fairly or unfairly, Gore is viewed as so uncredible in certain circles that he may turn off many viewers. So he is out of the picture. And look at the people who are in: Conservative stalwarts, with whom one doesn't normally associate with a message of conservation.

I'm sure that it was tempting for Gore to put himself in the limelight. It's only human nature, and in that regard, the former Veep seems more human than many. But in my view, his discretion pays off. I know that I was attracted to the pairings when I saw them on the screen, and I really paid attention to the message.

You should know that public relations people love Gore's work. Last June, the Public Relations Society of America bestowed their highest honor, the Silver Anvil, to the team that promoted "An Inconvenient Truth," naming them as Public Relations Professionals of the Year.

“The simple, enormously effective message of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is a convincing call to action that global warming is a critical issue for the health, safety and survival of humankind in every corner of the world,” said PRSA Chair and CEO Rhoda Weiss. “...In addition to galvanizing individuals and groups to adopt environmentally-saving habits, the campaign addressed corporate social responsibility....”

Al Gore and others around him obviously understand that the problem is often with the messenger and not the message. So the groups supporting this messaging left him out, including in his place people who will capture the attention of many who ignore or deride the climate issue.

This is a lesson for all of us when we communicate. As often as possible, we should cite sources and choose spokespeople that will not undermine our messages. It sounds like a simple rule, but it's so simple to violate. I still remember years ago when my brother-in-law tried to convince me that eggs were not high in cholesterol with a brochure that supported this theory. I ruined his argument when I pointed out the fine print on the back, which indicated that the brochure was produced by the National Egg Council.

PS. Lest you think that the PRSA is strictly a left-wing group, consider that the 2003 Public Relations Professional of the Year was Victoria Clarke, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of Defense. She was cited for her "leading role in shaping the public’s understanding of the war on terrorism from those first moments on 9/11 to embedding journalists in military units as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lowest Common Denominators in Ethnicity

Let's look at Cinco de Mayo, the Spanish for the Fifth of May. On May 5, 1862, 4,000 brave Mexicans faced more than 6,000 French troops that were better trained and better equipped. The French wanted to make Mexico part of its empire. However, having just lost much of its land to the United States, the Mexicans would not hear of it. Despite their disadvantages, they fought off the French troops.

So how do we celebrate this cultural, epochal event? Why, join the mariachi, mix up the Margaritas, and make it a drinking holiday, of course!

Really, why do we let the charlatans of commerce trivialize our holy days and holidays? Partially due to practice, lots of it. We've abdicated Christmas long ago, and Easter has less to do with the resurrection of the center point of Christianity than it has to do with creating a springtime gift-giving season. Having exhausted European, Christian, Jewish and other religious opportunities, the Mexicans get their turn. In a terrific editorial by Yolanda Chavez Leyva, who teaches history at the University of Texas in El Paso, she notes, "Sadly, almost a century an a half later, we have all but forgotten the Zacapoaxtlan people and their courage and their sacrifices. Instead, big business has replaced those memories and erased history with promises of beer and nachos. This year, ...let's put the beer bottle down, say no to wearing a sombrero and take history back."

Let's think of this as communicators. Let's take care not to trivialize the cultures of others, or even ourselves. (As an Italian-American, I am tired of my brethren who capitalize on "mafia" jokes.) We need not be wet blankets to suggest to others that we need to put "Christ" back in Christmas. While we're at it, let's remind our audiences that courageous Mexicans did not fight on May 5, 1862, to defend our right to get plastered.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Claim Your Domain Name!

My good friend, Philadelphia photogrpaher and media philosopher Ed Wheeler, recently made a statement in a promotional mailing that struck me. It's all about the growing reality that we will need to manage our domain names as part of our identities. He's given me permission to recreate it here:

"The day will come when parents name their children based on the availability of a dot-com. Companies have been forced to become creative with their brand names. Their ultimate goal is to garner an unsullied URL. In the future, parents will have to do the same. Unless your last name is Radziejowski, Mary or Kevin will not be an option for the kids. There are 17 Ed Wheelers in the Philadelphia area alone. You do the math. If I was born in 2010, I might be Elvis Wheeler. Would you let your child grow up with a name that was owned by some guy is Pascagoula, Mississippi?

"At the start of the presidential campaign, half of the candidates did not own their domain name. was owned by a used car dealership. Now they all own their names, and you can imagine how much that cost them.

"Everyone should take a minute at [a domain name seller] to check out the availability of their name. I bought my children their domain names for Christmas. Who knows, some day they might even run for President."

Hmmm. I'm willing to bet that there weren't too many Barack Obamas out there in cyberspace, but Ed's points are well taken. Good advice for the 21st Century, Ed. Thanks a lot.

By the way, Ed's a really good photographer. Check out his work at