December 08, 2009

Getting Past Your Worst P.R. Nightmare

Remember Michael Richards' blow-up at a comedy club several years ago when he called out black hecklers using racist slurs? It was captured on a cell phone camera and seriously hurt his reputation despite an unusual apology that came several days later. He retired from stand-up and had been out of the public eye until the recent season of Curb Your Enthusiasm that centered on a Seinfeld reunion show.

Larry David said Richards "is like a new man. He really went through something (with that incident). He used to be very angry and bitter. He's completely different now. You can see it, and he can feel it. I'm very happy for him."

To prove it, Richards bravely parodied the incident on Curb:

A comment on the Extra web piece about this show:
That Michael Richards club blowup turned me off to him (Kramer was my fav Seinfeld cast member) and you know what? This past episode had me roaring with laughter both when he answered the door and his last scene. The show addressed it head on rather than ignored it, he admitted his mistake, and I’m more mellowed towards him now. For those who are protesting the show, I’m also Black and have a more forgiving viewpoint.

December 03, 2009

Tiger's Tale

I will admit to being one of the many who have been curious about Tiger Woods' personal situation and what really went on around the recent accident; whether his wife was really chasing after him with that golf club rather than trying to rescue him. Nonetheless, I think the statement below, placed on his web site yesterday, is eloquent.

While it will not stop the speculation nor keep reporters from trying to ask him about the incident, perhaps it should. Without specificity, he indicates he did something/some things that were wrong and implies this was related to the accident. The language leads one to believe he had an affair, and the reason for being even this explicit probably has to do with revelations in US Magazine (I've always thought that name is strange, it's about THEM, not US). I expect he'll have nothing more to say on this subject unless forced to in a court of law (as Rachel Uchitel may take legal action against the National Enquirer and/or its source).

I do think it's time for the p.r. pundits to shut up. They have been all over television, mostly claiming that Woods has reacted poorly to the event from a p.r. point of view. They have been critical of his decision not to talk to the police, but he was under no obligation to, and the opportunity for his police interview to be leaked was great. While his first statement could have come a bit sooner, I think he has handled it as well as he can. Yes, maintaining his position as a great athlete and effective endorser is important, but he is a person who has had to deal with the emotional and family implications of the event along with his injuries.

The real issue for his public is that it has been clear since his return to the game that something was amiss. There have been numerous occasions of bad behavior on the course. Whether related to his personal situation or athletic frustrations, if being admired and being paid as an endorser are important to him, he needs to find a resolution to this problem.

I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family. Those feelings should be shared by us alone.

Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives. The stories in particular that physical violence played any role in the car accident were utterly false and malicious. Elin has always done more to support our family and shown more grace than anyone could possibly expect.

But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don't share my view on that. But for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one's own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions.

Whatever regrets I have about letting my family down have been shared with and felt by us alone. I have given this a lot of reflection and thought and I believe that there is a point at which I must stick to that principle even though it's difficult.

I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology.

Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post has a very different view that's worth reading.

Christine Brennan in USA Today also would not agree with me as her thoughtful piece demonstrates.

December 01, 2009

Manufacturers Selling Direct

It's been a tradition that manufacturers of products sold through the retail channel do not sell direct to consumers. Since the advent of the internet, this has changed. While many companies have not chosen to sell direct, it is past the point where the practice is controversial or likely to result in retailers refusing to carry the product as once was common.

Still, there are issues. Is it OK for the manufacturer to offer lower prices or other incentives not available to retailers? What if the product is one that is typically sold at less than suggested retail price - should the manufacturer offer it at "street price."

Since I entered publishing in 1980, I have always sold direct to consumers, but been reluctant to offer consumer incentives that would seem unfair to my dealers.

It's one thing to sell direct, but another as to how and where you promote your direct channel. A curious case appears today where Penguin Books is promoting their online store on Shelf Awareness, an email newsletter sent to people in the publishing trade (ad below).

You might say that individuals at other publishing houses, agents and publicists are good prospects for a well-loved publisher such as Penguin. And "reader/booklover" is an accepted category of subscribers, so there are definitely consumers reading the newsletter. But one of the main readerships -- the one to whom most ads on Shelf Awareness are aimed -- is booksellers. It seems to me dangerous to rub your direct sales effort in the face of your primary distribution channel, especially since Penguin is offering gift packs and personalized editions that likely are not available to retailers (though make absolute sense in a web store) and promoting staff recommendations, just as a book store does.

November 30, 2009

Does good writing matter in publicity ?

Statement from Tareq and Michaele Salahi's publicist Mahogany Jones:

The Salahis are not 'shopping' any interviews or demanding money from any media networks to tell their story. We repute these false allegations and demand that this adverse, in accurate information cease immediately. At this time, The Salahis are not making any formal comments and are not making any arrangements to speak with press/media. The Salahis are not appearing on Larry King tonight as they are not talking to any media forms at this time.

October 24, 2009

Walk Off Home Run

Wherein a Scientology spokesman leaves the set of Nightline when asked about common public perceptions of Scientology.

Why did he agree to an interview?
What was he expecting to be asked?
Why not simply refute the "misinformation"?

The interview begins at 3:40

October 06, 2009

Relationships & Targeting

Relationships & Targeting are where the new rules of publicity equal the old rules.

I was amused by this post on a book pitch gone bad. The p.r. guy is arguing to an unhappy pitch recipient that he couldn't possibly personalize his pitch because he has so many thousands of targets.

Even in my father's day's in p.r. (1950s-80s), it didn't make sense to scattershot a pitch and it was critical to have relationships with writers, editors and producers.

In my youth I helped him select recipients of press releases, cut stencils and run the mimeograph, and stuffed, sealed and stamped the envelopes. I also listened to him on the phone. So I know his release list was always selective, and that he knew to some degree many of those on the list.

Now, with so many more media outlets than there were those decades ago, you need to be more selective, not less. Tailoring your approach will bring better initial results. And now, you have a chance to get "seconds" and "thirds" as your message is retweeted and reblogged.

September 30, 2009

Who does Microsoft think they are?

Apple? Or some other company whose customers care about it?

While hundreds of millions of people use Microsoft products, and many are happy with those products, few if any relate to Microsoft as an institution they are fond of or care about, or whose products they are excited about.

Microsoft's ineptitude at garnering that kind of relationship with its users is laid out plain in the forced premise and execution of this video.

Why would anyone have a party around the launch of a new Microsoft O/S? I guess it demonstrates Microsoft's confidence that Windows 7 will actually work well out of the box. That would be something to celebrate.

September 06, 2009

To Sue or Not: A P.R. Decision?

Several major tobacco companies have filed suit to overturn new advertising limitations imposed by Congress on First Amendment grounds.

This raises the question of why they didn't sue to overturn the ban on broadcast advertising imposed in 1970. My take is that they realized it would be bad p.r., and they felt they could direct their marketing dollars to other media and not suffer any loss of impact.

So why have they filed now? I think they realize they have lost the p.r. battle anyhow, and thus fighting for their rights now won't hurt.

I'm not an attorney, but I believe the 1970 broadcast ban as well as the new ban on outdoor advertising and sports sponsorships do violate the First Amendment and big tobacco will win this case. While I think it appropriate to require warning messages on these products and their advertising, I don't see how you can by law limit the speech of someone selling a legal product.

I do not expect to see a return to broadcast advertising only because those media would face a firestorm of criticism.

August 19, 2009

Radio Waves

An article in today's Denver Post reports on the first week of Arbitron ratings based on people meters. If future results follow this week's trend, it will turn the local radio ad business on its ear as the ratings are significantly different from those collected by the traditional diary method.

The theory is that the meters are more accurate because they don't require manual entry from memory by the participant. However, there are technical challenges to capturing the data that make some question its accuracy. And if the participant ever fails to wear or carry the device, it can be less accurate than a diary.

Interestingly, in Denver and other markets, the meters show improved ratings for Spanish-language stations when it has been suspected they under-report ethnic stations. So is the reporting problem only for black audience stations?

The devices also report that people listen for shorter periods of time than previously thought, however the device turns off if a single station is played for more than an hour. Go figure!

All of this is not good news for the radio business. Despite its challenges, print media have a proven, audited method of counting circulation. Yes, they like to claim readership, which is their own made-up estimate of "pass-along," but circulation is a fair method to compare those media and their ad rates. Even online media have more reliable ways to count viewers than broadcast; but whether various forms of online advertising are promotionally effective is unproven.

What radio has done well historically, and needs to do more than ever, is sell on its qualitative benefits -- that it is an effective ad medium because its listenership is segmentable, involved, and hears and responds to advertisers' messages.

Marriott Comes to Its Own Rescue

Marriott International has convinced a franchisee's attorneys to withdraw their offensive defense in the case cited here, and offered an apology.

People Assume

Many liberals assumed Barack Obama was very progressive and would govern from the far left because they interpreted his call to "change" in their own terms. When Obama proves himself to be the pragmatic compromiser (that's what he meant by "change") his words clearly indicated he would be, they feel betrayed.

Many shoppers at Whole Foods assume that because the chain promotes organic, sustainable and local foods, and a lot of the staff looks cool, that its management is politically on the left. The fact that Whole Foods is a capitalist success story, built on aggressive competition and acquisition of every formidable foe, notwithstanding, they feel betrayed when its CEO proves to be an Ayn Rand disciple.

They assume that anyone who adopts the ethic born of the hippie era shares their world view. They are shocked that someone might believe in protecting the environment from a conservative political point of view, or might be "liberal" on one issue and "conservative" on another. Knee-jerk reactions from either end of the spectrum are typical but not helpful.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal opposing Obama's approach to health care reform has angered many of his customers, some of whom are organizing to boycott the store. The fact that he presented the piece under the company banner is either very courageous or very foolish, and it was certain to bring such as reaction, whether fairly or not.

August 13, 2009

Lawyers May Win, Client Already Lost

A woman is raped at gunpoint in the garage of the Stamford, CT Marriott hotel, in front of her children, and sues the hotel for "more than $15,000."

The hotel's response is that in effect, it's the victim's fault, and not theirs:
"(The victim) failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities."
As incendiary as that statement is, it's also possible the hotel is not at fault. The victim claims the attacker had been seen lurking around the hotel. Whether she can prove negligence is an open matter.

However, the legal response to her suit has likely caused this Marriott and the Marriott chain more in lost business than a settlement would have, both because the response will offend many customers, and it caused the unsettling incident itself to be retold in newspapers and online.

There are good reasons why Marriott might not want to settle, but from a public relations POV they should have defended only on the point that the victim can't prove negligence.

August 02, 2009

Brand Name Day

My father was a one-man public relations shop in Manhattan back when that was more common than agencies. He was the first p.r. practitioner to be president of the Advertising Club of New York.

A few times a year he would take me to the Friday Brand Name Day luncheons which he often mc'd, and I was in heaven.

By the time I was in high school, I could join conversations with his fellow members. I had a "Graduate" moments when one of them said I should go into marketing. No, I thought. I want to be a radio d.j.; I'm going to be an artíste!

Whether by birth or observation, I did get the marketing bug. I was publicity director for my college FM station and sold ads on the station that played only to dorms, and I've been a sales and marketing guy ever since.

July 16, 2009

Tone-Deaf in the Ivory Tower

I grew up in a union-friendly family. Two of my aunts were members of the ILGWU. I can still hum the "look for the union label" song. That said, I am a globalist, so have never been a strict "buy American" consumer.

I find it incredible that J.C. Penney issued a product that says "American Made" when it is not made in America. But they did. And here was their response when challenged:
You indicate that there was a shirt that depicted the slogan “American Made.” This type of slogan is referring to the actual person wearing the shirt and not to the manufacturing of the merchandise.
Sometimes, I wonder if people in the public eye are listening to themselves.

July 08, 2009

Ten Years

Today is ten years since my father, Milt Riback, died. Here is a remembrance from a long-time client who became a close friend, sent a few days after:
I've been remembering the first time he and I met in 1964 (!) when I managed to get [my company] to pay for a return visit to NY (we'd been transferred [to California] the preceding February) to get pictures of its products in use at the NY World's Fair AND to hire a PR rep. Fortunately, I'd been given Milt's name and address by my boss (no idea how he came by them), as I hadn't the vaguest idea of how to interview PR people-or where one found them. After five minutes with Milt in the office at [50 E.] 42nd Street, I knew I needn't bother searching further. It wasn't so much that he exuded professional competence, which he did, but that the professionalism couldn't hide the mentshlikhkayt that permeated his being.

June 30, 2009

Ms. Hoffman Regrets

Is all publicity good publicity?

The age-old question asked again by agent Kristin Nelson in response to an author's meltdown over a negative review.

My answer: No.

Ironically, the review wasn't that negative. It pointed out flaws in the novel and apparently gave away more of the plot than the author cared to see. The author responded with a series of Twitter blasts ("Now any idiot can be a critic...") and urged readers to write or call the reviewer with their opinions. She handily provided the reviewer's email address and telephone number.

So after this blew up in the author's face like so many Soupy Sales cream pies, she issued this apology (emphasis mine):
I feel this whole situation has been completely blown out of proportion. Of course I was dismayed by Roberta Silman’s review which gave away the plot of the novel, and in the heat of the moment I responded strongly and I wish I hadn’t. I’m sorry if I offended anyone. Reviewers are entitled to their opinions and that’s the name of the game in publishing. I hope my readers understand that I didn’t mean to hurt anyone and I’m truly sorry if I did.
Actually, it hasn't been blown out of proportion. What was out of proportion was the author's response. And the ol' "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" is so weak. Someone who was "truly sorry" would have written, "People were right to be offended by what I did."

Matthew Shaer in the Christian Science Monitor chalks it up to "Web 2.0 inexperience." That may be, but if so there is no excuse. An author is a public figure and theoretically a professional communicator. Better figure out how to use them tools before you get started.

June 27, 2009

The best new brand since Bing

I'll admit, I don't get Bing. I don't see myself ever saying that I'm going to Bing something. I often wonder at the millions spent on branding exercises and wonder what those experts know that I don't. And indeed sometimes I am surprised that a name I thought ridiculous does work.

All of that as prelude to the name of the new Russian-Nigerian energy joint venture. I'll let you read the clip yourself.

June 26, 2009

The Goold Ol' Days

It's easy to think things were better in the past. Although I am grateful for the potential unleashed by today's tools and technologies, and wouldn't choose to return to an age of false innocence, I sometimes yearn for the simplicity of earlier days.

The New York Times recently gathered a group of old-time theatrical press agents to reminisce about their exploits. Back then, with just a few newspapers and TV stations, a well-placed story or stunt could really have some impact. We weren't overwhelmed by media. And there weren't so many celebrities either, so more of them stood large in the public's mind.

Read the story here.

May 05, 2009

Press Agents Shining Hour

Today is the 46th Press Agents Shining Hour. If you're a P.R. professional, 3:15-4:15 p.m. is a time to settle back with an adult beverage and review your accomplishments.

While you're relaxing, read about PASH history... the White House demonstration, or the year we honored Baghdad Bob.