Tebow Time Out

ESPN is devoting what seems like the entire 60 minutes of Sports Center each night to the legend of Denver’s new darling. Sports Illustrated says Tim Tebow has transcended sports and is now “in the same stratosphere as Lady Gaga.” The Denver Post said that business management styles will change because bosses will realize they should be kinder and more respectful, like Tebow.

Enough. Uncle. I need a Tebow time out. All this wholesome pep rally talk is giving me the creeps. What happened to jocks getting caught with hookers or pot? I am nostalgic for the days when we could talk about athletes shooting themselves in bars or testing positive for steroids. Stop the bandwagon, I’m jumping off.

A Tale of Two Crises

From a crisis communications perspective, the Penn State and Herman Cain scandals have a lot in common. Both are about something that happened long ago. And both have been badly handled, allowing the damage to get worse and worse with each passing day.

The curious case of Herman Cain is certainly one that crisis communicators will use in presentations for years to come. His mistakes are classic. He ignored the opportunity to confirm, deny or discuss Politico’s story before they went public. He has demonstrated a stunning lack of sensitivity and compassion toward his accusers and a condescending attitude toward women in general. He seems unaware that sexual harassment is a serious charge.

Can’t anybody here play this game?

In 1962 the New York Mets were born as a new National League expansion franchise. The team was assembled from players other teams left unprotected in the league’s expansion draft, so the first Mets were a combination of no name rookies, washed up bums and broken down former New York stars from the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants.

Casey Stengel was the team’s first manager. He was a legendary character and baseball man who won 10 pennants in 12 years, including five straight world championships as manager of the Yankees. Known as the Old Perfessor for his comical, home spun humor, he famously asked after watching the team stumble through their first spring training, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Hope Floats

It’s hard to be optimistic these days. A do nothing Congress. Millions of people are unemployed while corporate profits and CEO salaries skyrocket. Global warming, famine in Africa, earthquakes, tsunamis, never ending wars and an economic crisis in Europe. Shoot me now.

Denver public relations pros are keenly aware that the more anxious and jittery people are, the less likely they are to invest in their companies or hire more employees. The economy sputters because we are worried and we are worried because the economy is sputtering. Everyone is standing on the sidelines. It’s a hard cycle to break.

So if you are dying for a hopeful sign that things can improve, let me tell you about Will and Zak. They are recent Colorado College graduates who left this week on a four month Source to Sea kayak trip down the Colorado River.  They are part of the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project student research team that is studying the impact of climate change and water usage in the seven-state Colorado River Basin.

As Will says, “floating down the river is one of the most awe inspiring, raw, soul cleansing experiences imaginable.” But these guys are no fools. They are armed with an array of digital tools that will let them send back video and written blog updates as they document the state of the river from Wyoming down to Mexico.  

Did you know that there is so much regional demand for water that the Colorado River actually dries up before it reaches the sea in Mexico? Or that even though we already use every drop available, states continue to demand more supply and refuse to implement common sense conservation methods?   

According to University of Wyoming law professor Lawrence MacDonnell, who spoke this week at Colorado College, it would be smart to place legal limits on how much water new projects can allocate and decrease water use by the Lower Colorado River Basin.
“All these are easily doable by existing laws of the river and some new laws,” MacDonnell said. The problem, of course, is politics. “My guess is we’ll wait until the crisis happens, when reservoirs are empty. We tend to put off unpleasant tasks.”
Talk about throwing cold water in your face. This scenario should be a wake up call to all of us. Luckily, Will and Zak and the State of the Rockies Project students are sounding the alarm.  And that’s what gives me hope.
I’m optimistic that they will inspire more young people to get involved. It may seem frivolous to spend four months floating down the river, but not to their generation. Their story and the way they choose to communicate it resonates clearly with people their age. They get the message.
I’m optimistic that these students understand that life is about doing, leading and making a difference. It’s about communicating in a language that your audience understands. It’s about crafting messages and using technology to tell a story that motivates people to change their behaviors. It’s an important story and these are powerful storytellers.
For the next four months, hope floats down the Colorado River. You can follow along here: http://www2.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/  
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Sage advice

A panel of Denver public relations agency leaders spoke recently at a PRSA Colorado luncheon about the outlook for the PR business and what changes Denver PR pros can expect as we look ahead. The sage panel included Gwin Johnston from Johnston Wells, Sharon Linhart from Linhart PR, former national PRSA chair Jeff Julin from MGA, Laura Love-Aden from Ground Floor Media, Larry Holdren from Pure and Pete Webb from Webb PR. Denver PR Blog founder Jeremy Story was the moderator.

The discussion ranged from the economy to social media, and from ethics to how we can best measure the impact of what we do. Here are a few takeaways.

The economy is no doubt causing some hesitation on the part of clients and how they determine when and where to allocate their communications budget. The problem is that budget decisions are based on confidence. If we are running scared, we lay low. If we are feeling good, we plunge ahead. As PR pros, we have an important role to play in how the public and the business community feel about things. If we can help them accentuate the positive and eliminate, or at least keep the negative in perspective, we can promote a healthier economic environment. We can help people lose the blues and sing a happier tune.

We all have our own management style and leadership philosophy. But we have an obligation to create an ethical culture that is ingrained in every team member. Whether we spell out the PRSA Code of Ethics in agreements or simply provide a forum for team members to discuss how to make good ethical decisions, we need to make sure that our teams understand it, live it and breath it. We need to communicate to our clients and the public that our profession places a high priority on ethics. That is the only way to overcome the negative “spin doctor” stereotype public relations carries.

We all know that measurement and accountability are important, but there is no standard formula for measuring our results. What we do and how we measure it depends on each client’s business objectives. So we first need to understand those objectives, and be able to provide a range of counseling and services that achieves them. Our results should be based on what the client needs, not measured by a standard formula.

The main qualities agency leaders look for in a young professional are smarts, business savvy and the ability to read. If you are smart, it doesn’t matter what your degree is in. You must read at least one newspaper or news website every day. If you don’t know what’s going on in the world you can’t help your clients. And hopefully you took some business classes along the way. You have to know how to speak the language to earn a seat at the table. 

As successful as these Denver public relations leaders have been, their wisdom lies in understanding that there is a lot we still need to learn. The technologies we use are constantly changing. The boundaries between PR, marketing and advertising are blurring. How our clients engage with their target audiences is constantly shifting.

Leadership depends on our willingness to keep learning, and to encourage everyone on our team to do the same. Wisdom is the ability to learn from our experience, appreciate the present and see all the possibilities that the future offers. Hopefully, some of the wisdom we heard rubbed off, and we can carry it with us as we tackle our next challenge.    

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Image is Everything

Now that the NFL owners and players have finally decided how to split up the billions of dollars the league generates every year, sports fans can turn their scorn toward the NBA players and owners, who are trying to set a new standard for sloth and indolence.

Although it is still too early to call a winner, so far it looks like the NBA players are clearly losing the battle of public perception. According to Dave D'Alessandro, who covers the NBA for the New Jersey Star Ledger, this is due to the failure of the players to clearly define their brand.

D’Alessandro writes that “The players have concluded that they’re best served by curling up in a fetal position and playing defense like the Knicks, or by essentially keeping their mouths shut until they are force-fed their inscrutable fate.” He points out that while many NBA players make significant contributions to their community, they are not doing a good job of getting that message out. Instead we see them being arrested, selling products, and hanging out with celebrities.  

Carmelo Anthony was on “Law & Order.” Amar’e Stoudemire flew to China to sell more shoes made by Indonesian hut people earning $1.25 a day. Kris Humphries was married to someone who is famous for literally doing nothing relevant.”

D’Alessandro suggests that instead of whining about how they are going to survive the lockout minus their multi-million dollar salaries (a message that 9 million unemployed Americans find hard to swallow), they should be developing community based programs that tell a more positive story about who they are and what they stand for. 

“Send each guy back to his neighborhoods once a week. Pick a day and give free clinics in every city in the U.S. Refurbish playgrounds. Look into the cameras and say, ‘As long we have all this free time, we want to help.’ Build the player equity. Demand that the union wise up and enhance the brand.

Sometimes brands need to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself. The NBA players have a chance to redefine their brand, to change the perception that they are spoiled brats and create a new brand that says we are grateful for the chance to help the world be a better place. 

If your brand is suffering from a lack of clarity or an unfavorable perception, take the time to examine that brand and determine how to better tell your story. Don’t let others determine how people see you. Make sure you tell your story before someone else tells it for you.     

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5 reasons to stop using numbers in blog titles

Every morning I get an email with a long list of blog articles about PR.  And every article starts with a number in the title, like 10 things you should know about using numbers in blog titles.

The reason people do this is because search engines like numbers and some social media genius told them it would boost their SEO. But seriously, have we not gone completely overboard with this maddening trend? Can we all just agree to stop it now?    
As a public service to help bloggers begin the healing process, here are 5 reasons to stop using numbers in your blog titles:

Using numbers in blog titles to boost your SEO is just a cheap trick. You’re better than that. You are good enough, you are smart enough, and doggone it, people like you. 

  • It’s boring. It’s a rip off of Letterman’s top 10 list and everyone does it. Dare to be different and make your point without using numbers. 
  • I know you think you are being helpful but you’re not.  Most of those tips you are telling me I already know. Tell me something I don’t know.
  • It’s phony. It sounds like you are delivering a lecture. How about delivering some wisdom instead?   
  • The next time you post an article that starts with 5 things or 10 reasons or 6 sins or 12 steps, a large, scary looking guy named Cheech will come to your house and threaten to kick the crap out of you.

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Well, that was a bit awkward but it feels good to get it off my chest. I feel better already.  As Woody Allen said in Annie Hall, now we can digest our food. 

Ghost Story

I was watching TV with my dog the other night. She likes to watch. The movement fascinates her and she can actually tell what’s happening on the screen. Her favorites are sports, movies and of course, commercials with barking dogs.

It was a dark and stormy night. Thunder shook the clouds. A yellow moon peeked through a purple sky.  Suddenly, there on the screen walked a pale, ghostly character in a white t-shirt, stumbling along a railroad track, mumbling to himself. My dog went nuts. She stood on her hind legs and barked fiercely at this apparition. She was scared crazy and she wanted to send this ghost back where he came from.

After I stopped laughing I realized how startled and frightened she must have been. Even though she forgot about it quickly, I thought about what could make me scared enough to scream bloody murder. And why it is that humans find it much harder to deal with their fear than dogs do.

Humans are scared of almost everything. We are scared of failure or success, of being alone or being loved. We are scared of being embarrassed or being praised, scared of too much pressure or not enough direction. Scared of being ignored and scared of being yelled at. Scared of being bossed around and scared of being too bossy. Scared of terrorists and scared of the law, scared of change and scared to change, scared of heights, scared of clowns, scared of life and scared to death.

As The Band sang, some people get stage fright, some are scared of the spotlight and some are scared with all their might. Woody Guthrie said that some people rob you with a six gun and some with a fountain pen. If Woody was around today he might include the Internet, because that’s where the fear really flies.

We’ve got governments fighting cyber wars and media hacking cell phones. We’ve got people carrying on affairs and posting the most intimate details of their personal lives for anyone to see. We’ve got brands being tarred and feathered with unsubstantiated rumor and innuendo and politicians spreading negative noise about their opponents that sticks whether it’s true or not. 

Which finally brings me to my point, which is that I like crisis communications.  Crisis communicators put out fires and calm frazzled nerves by gathering the facts and delivering them with honest transparency and compassion.  It is our job to keep our cool and remind our clients to keep theirs too. We need to temper our passion with precision and face our fear with the fierceness of our convictions.

Like my dog, it is the job of a good crisis communicator to help their clients learn to look fear in the face when they feel threatened or attacked. When we find ourselves stuck in a ghost story, how do we want it to end? Like my dog, can we make that ghost disappear? Can we make that spirit fly? 

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Happy Anniversary to Us

In Colorado, 14 is a big number. Some people spend years attempting to climb every 14,000-foot peak in the state, which we affectionately call 14ers.

On July 1, Pushkin Public Relations will mark 14 years since we were founded in 1997. I’m extremely proud of how far we’ve come during that time, but I think a celebration can wait for a more significant milestone like our 15th anniversary next year.

For now, I am satisfied to pause and appreciate the clients, partners and team members who made the past 14 years so rewarding. From my first office in our spare bedroom at home, to South Gaylord, the Tech Center and now Larimer Square, every step along the way has been an opportunity to learn. We’ve grown from a solo practice to a virtual agency, but I’m proud to say that our work has been consistently driven by integrity and that our success is still based on hard work and commitment.   

To our current and former clients, thanks for allowing us to get to know you and help you communicate. To our strategic partners, thanks for the chance to create and collaborate.  To the talented team of contractors I am lucky to work with, thanks for letting me learn from you and for making me a better PR pro. It’s been more rewarding than I can say.  

Milestones are important reminders of where we’ve been and measures of where we hope to go. I’m appreciative of the chance to look back, and excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. 


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No Bull

Sometimes a break from the office is just what you need to change your perspective. I decided to get away. Far away. So I spent a few days on the Zapata Ranch, a working ranch in Southern Colorado near the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The Nature Conservancy runs it, and the people who work there really know how to live.

We spent a lot of time riding but also working. One day we rode the range for a few hours until we found a herd of bulls. Then we drove them back to the coral where they could do what they do best, which is impregnate the cows. Like any good cowpoke can tell you, you do a lot of thinking on a horse. Somewhere along the way I realized that those bulls were teaching me some valuable lessons. For example…

The Herd Mentality
There is something to be said for the herd mentality. It’s certainly a no brainer. Just follow the dude in front of you and do what he does. Don’t think and don’t ask questions. Once in a while a young bull would break from the herd and blaze his own trail. Lo and behold, the one that took the road less traveled often ended up in front of the herd. Lesson #1: The ability to see a problem from a different perspective is a characteristic of a good leader.

Seize the Day
Let’s face it, being a bull has its drawbacks. Basically, they get one really happy day when they get to fulfill their macho destiny, and then they end up in a tin can on a shelf at Safeway. As the bulls trudged off to their doom, we came upon a pasture filled with cows. Those boys sure perked up. They were totally focused on the moment. Lesson #2: Don’t stress out about things that are out of your control. Enjoy the moment and focus on the present.

The Dude Abides
The herd follows the dude with the most attitude. The chicks dig him and his peers respect him. Lesson #3: Good leaders display self-confidence.

Determined or Bull Headed?
Some bulls can be pretty stubborn. They know what you are up to and they don’t like it one bit. They are not moving, no way. Lesson #4: Determination is a strength. Being stubborn is just annoying.

Down and Dirty
Dirt rules on the cattle trail. To quote one of my favorite songwriters, Utah Phillips, “If dirt were a kingdom you’d be the king.” We’ve become a society that does not like to get our hands dirty. We farm out our dirty work. We outsource it to the people who mow our lawns and put food on our table and a roof over our head. Then we treat those people as though they are beneath us. Lesson # 5: Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Hard work is good for you. And never, ever disrespect the people who work so hard to make sure you don’t have to.

I learned a lot on the ranch. I learned to appreciate what you have and not worry about what you are missing. I remembered how nice peace and quiet is. I enjoyed the wide open spaces, good food and honest hard work. Hopefully, those lessons will stay with me far beyond the dusty trail.   



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Memorial Day

In a more innocent time, Memorial Day meant something special. For my father, a World War II veteran, it was a time to honor the soldiers who lost their lives defending our country. It was a time to fly the flag and pause to reflect.

My father’s generation understood why they went to war. They never questioned it. They never doubted. They knew what America stood for and they did what they had to do, even if it killed them. Then they came home and worked their butts off raising their families.

On Memorial Day we still honor those who fought and died but now we are less certain. More conflicted and less united. More divided, more cynical and less patriotic. Today it’s about long weekends and kicking off the summer. Big box sales and parties. Baseball and barbeques.

My father passed away on Memorial Day in 1991. So on this weekend I think about him and salute the sacrifices he and his generation made for their country. His America was different than mine but it still holds the same promise. The brand is a little more tarnished and the answers are not as clear, but when you peel back the politics and turn down the volume that stokes the fear, the values are still the same. Justice. Equality. Compassion. Strength. Courage.

Here’s to you Dad. I will remember. I will stand up. I won’t forget.  

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Straighten up and fly right

I admit it. I’m still into comic books. I’m nuts about Superman, Batman, Spiderman and lots of other justice seeking superheroes. For what seems like forever, I’ve been waiting for Clark Kent to put on the costume and fly on Smallville.  Kal El has one more chance to fulfill his Kryptonian destiny and become Superman tonight in the series finale.

Superheroes always talk about destiny. They understand that there are two kinds of people in the world. Some of us wait for things to happen and some of us make things happen. Some of us are followers and some are leaders. Some of us like certainty and others are comfortable taking risks.

I’m not so sure I believe in destiny. I don’t think I was destined to own a Denver PR firm. I don’t know that I was destined to move to Denver or be a musician or work for a baseball team or run my own business. Those are all decisions I made along the way that determined the course of my life. I think I just made those things happen, instead of waiting for things to happen to me.

We make decisions and take the path that feels right for us when we get to the fork in the road. Some of it is planned and some of it is just dumb luck. The trick is figuring out if you prefer to follow someone else or pave the way. Do you take the path that your parents or your boss lays out for you or do you try to find your own way?

As PR pros, we often talk to clients about their objectives. What do they want to accomplish? What do they want to say? What story do they want to tell? It’s surprising how often the answers are not clear. They don’t know, or maybe they have never even considered the questions. They are waiting for things to happen to them instead of making things happen for them.

You and your business and your staff and your team all deserve the opportunity to determine their own destiny. To decide what kind of brand they want to represent or leader they want to be. It is important to create a culture that allows everyone in the organization the freedom to grow and improve and change and blossom. A culture where everyone is free to fulfill their destiny.   

As Spiderman says, with great power comes great responsibility.  Like Superman, we must use that power wisely to lead the kind of life and leave the kind of legacy we choose to create.    

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Culture shock

Anyone who has been to a bluegrass festival has probably heard this joke. The band asks “Do we have any Texans in the audience?” After a lot of hooting and hollering, the band says, “Welcome to the United States.” Which reminds me of a story.

When I was a young musician I got a call from a guitar player in Texas. He needed a rhythm guitarist and singer for a Texas Swing band he was putting together. He had a six-month tour booked in the Southwest. Six months of steady gigs is hard to pass up for any musician, so when my West Coast tour was done I loaded up the van and drove from Oregon to North Texas.

We quickly threw the band together and started doing gigs in Texas honkey tonks. Picture that scene from the Blues Brothers with the chicken wire in front of the stage to block the beer bottles hurled by the unruly crowd. Like in the movie, we decided that when the drunk with a gun asks you for a request, you say ‘Yes Sir,’ even if you don’t know the song. You may not sound just like Merle Haggard, but if you are good enough, eventually they will start paying attention.

Until the real gigs started, I slept in the van while the rest of the band crashed in the guitar player’s parent’s house, who seemed to subsist on bacon and Dr. Pepper. The closest bar was miles away. It was hot and humid. I learned that in Texas, Rednecks are role models and guys are named Joe Bob. It was big time culture shock for a nice Jewish boy from New Jersey. It got worse when our six-month contract was cancelled after the first month. I couldn’t wait for my chance to escape back to the cool blue North.

I think about that when I hear about the “culture wars” going on in America. Tempers flare over budgets. Southerners seem to glorify the Civil War. Arguments rage over immigration, abortion, education and unions. Our failure to understand another group’s culture makes it impossible to see the good in them. It’s hard to hear what someone is saying above all the shouting. We become exclusive instead of inclusive. It makes us narrow minded and dumb.

The truth is that when I look back on my time in Texas I remember that the band was actually good. I met some great musicians and some good people. They liked our music. I saw a world I never knew existed and explored thousands of miles of the American Southwest.   

As Denver PR pros, our job is help our clients understand that it is important to respect the people they want to communicate with. If you don’t try and understand another’s culture, how can you know if what you are saying to them is relevant? How can you grow your business if you are running in place? How can you lead when you don’t understand the people you ask to follow you? 

In life or in business, if we are too rigid to understand another point of view we can’t learn or evolve. We can just stay stuck, surrounded by people who are just like us.

You don’t have to sound exactly like Merle Haggard to be a good country singer. You just have to feel what Merle feels. If only culture shock led to a deeper understanding of other cultures instead of an urge to run away. Maybe we just need to temper our experience with some perspective.    

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Tripped up

So let’s say your client is a sponsor of a local professional sports team, the one that just won a championship. Let’s call them the Vapids. And let’s say that your client and the Vapids entered a multi-year agreement just a year ago. The agreement was based on the understanding that your client was the official “marketing partner” in their category. That’s when the Vapids used words like “partner” and “partnership” and “long-term relationship.”

Then they won a championship and the team replaced its marketing department with a new group of slick talking suits. That’s when things changed. Instead of “partnership,” the slick talking suits began using words like “it’s just business” to explain that they went behind your back to a competitor and signed the competitor to a bigger deal without having the courtesy to let you know about it first.

The ethical approach would have been to call you and say, “We’ve been approached by one of your competitors, how do you feel about that?” Instead, they informed you after the fact in an email because they didn’t have the decency to discuss it with you face to face.

Now I am far from naïve. I’ve worked for professional sports teams. I know that the business of sports is not always ethical. But the lack of ethics demonstrated by the Vapids was so galling because the foundation of my client’s business is based on one simple value: integrity. It is the essence of their brand and the strength of their relationships. It may sound old fashioned, but things like your word and your handshake are still important to my client. They understand that empty promises are bad for business and that trust is as important as profits.

Slick sales talk may impress some people, but it takes substance and character to sustain a strong reputation. Once people look behind the curtain you better have something they can count on. Otherwise you are just a fake wizard in a nice suit, as worthless and phony as a ponzi scheme.    

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Red Rubber Ball

I got my dogs a red rubber ball. It glows in the dark so we can play at night. My dogs are Labs, and they love to retrieve. They think this ball is the best thing ever. They are really focused and they know what they want. It doesn’t take much to make them happy.

Watching them play is the best example I know of something that is straight, honest and true.  It’s pure joy. You don’t need to wonder about their motive, or if they are trying to sell you a bill of goods you don’t really need.

I thought about this after a rather unpleasant experience with a high profile Denver plumbing company. This company prides itself on customer service and goes above and beyond what other companies might do in that area. They email you nice profiles about their “master plumbers” and they are courteous and professional when they show up.

The problems started when they began to put the pressure on (no pun intended) to convince me to do a very expensive repair I didn’t think we needed. They implied, if not threatened, that if we didn’t do this in the next few days we’d be swimming in sewage. Not a pretty picture. So sign here and pay up or else.  

As I said, this company wants to be perceived as a reputable business. But ethics are more than just courtesy and a nice website. You can’t just say you are ethical. You actually have to live it and believe it and deliver it. I understand the sales process, but you can’t turn a new customer into a loyal customer by literally scaring the crap out of them.

Turns out things have been just fine since I decided to get a few other opinions. It wasn’t quite as urgent as it sounded. So I will never call that company again or refer them to anyone else.

Business ethics are simple. It’s not complicated. There is a right way and a wrong way to treat people and you just need to decide which way you want to go. Then you need to base your business decisions on that ethical direction. Your reputation will follow.

My dogs are not confused about ethics. They know what is right and what they want. They know what is pure and they can smell a phony line of crap a mile away. We can all learn a valuable lesson from watching them play. We all have to choose what sort of reputation we want. As Dylan said, we need to know our song well before we start singing.   

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One man’s ceiling

As Paul Simon sang, one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. In other words, people look at things differently depending on their perspective.

That’s obvious in politics, where a positive term like investment becomes something negative to someone else. Or where an end of life conversation with your doctor becomes a death panel and educating people about a serious problem like childhood obesity becomes something sinister.

This failure to communicate also happens in relationships. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, right? The fact is, if you don’t trust someone you are going to be skeptical about their motives. Which brings me to my point.

A friend who works for another PR firm was telling me about a frustrating client that consistently challenged him. The client questioned everything my friend did, demanded constant changes and revisions, and made simple projects difficult because the client was certain that my friend didn’t know what he was doing and that the client could do it better. There are two things happening here that make this relationship complicated. One is that this is a typical example of a high maintenance client. Like in When Harry Met Sally, the worst kind of high maintenance client is one that doesn’t know it is high maintenance. The other thing happening here is a serious lack of trust.

The client hired you because of your expertise but now doubts your judgment. Is this an insecure client or are you not working hard enough to earn their trust? Are you not meeting the client’s expectations or are the client’s expectations not realistic? Perhaps it is a little of both, but is this a problem that can be solved? And are you willing to put in the effort to make it possible?

Effective communication takes patience and trust. Both sides need to be willing to see things from the other’s perspective. Both need to acknowledge that there is a problem and agree to work together to find a solution. Both need to be open to compromise.

Reasonable people can make reasonable decisions when there is a good reason. For my friend, the reason has to start with the fact that this is an important client that the firm wants to keep. For the client, it needs to start with remembering why it hired the PR firm in the first place, because it had the talent, experience and track record to help the client succeed.    

It may be that the firm and the client would be better off parting ways. Some things just are not meant to be. But if the relationship is important enough they will take the necessary steps to cross the bridge dividing them and meet each other half way.

Are you willing to look at things differently, or is the effort not worth the trouble? One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. Or as Dylan said, I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours. 

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As Leigh Rubin, the artist behind Rubes Cartoons expressed in a humorous cartoon revision of Newton’s Law,  “What goes up must come down, except for health insurance premiums.”

That essential law of gravity is very apparent during a crisis. Just ask the owners of the New York Mets, who are facing a $1 billion lawsuit that claims they illegally profited from Bernie Madoff’s investments just two years after New York celebrated them for opening the Mets new stadium, Citi Field.  Or as Hosni Mubarak might say, “don’t ask.” Anytime you are being burned in effigy you have a major problem on your hands.

To everything there is a season and you never know when the tide will turn. Crises come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. They can be serious and drawn out, like the BP oil spill. Or they can be less serious and shorter-term like a negative TV story. It can make you look bad but it usually doesn’t make you lose you shirt or your life.

The most important thing you can do to manage a crisis is to prepare for it ahead of time. That means having a plan in place that anticipates what could happen and how you would deal with it if it does. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t plan ahead. They wait until the investigative reporter ambushes them in the parking lot before they contact a PR firm to put out the fire. That may ultimately save the building but not your prized possessions.

It may not be possible to manage a crisis without damage to your reputation, but you can minimize the impact and the recovery process by planning ahead and taking the following steps:
  • Gather your team and determine what kinds of potential situations can harm your reputation. Identify everything from a tornado to a disgruntled employee going to the press, to workplace domestic violence, to an angry customer talking about you on Facebook.
  • Talk about how you would handle each situation. What resources would you need? Who would be your spokesperson? What stakeholder groups would you need to contact? How would your team communicate both internally and externally?
  • Draft a plan that outlines these scenarios, assigns responsibilities and designates the steps you would take in each situation.
  • Make sure that top management signs off on the plan and buys into it. It is critical that they take it seriously.  
  • Organize drills to help you practice these steps so that if a real crisis happens you will feel prepared and ready to handle it.

Don’t wait until the hounds are at your door to call for reinforcements.  Plan ahead so when the ball comes down you’ll be ready to catch it. Like the Boy Scouts, always be prepared. You may not always escape injury but you will surely improve your odds of survival.
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One Big Thing

One big thing. That’s the secret of life, according to Jack Palance, who shared the secret with Billy Crystal in City SlickersBut you don’t have to go on a cattle drive to see how that concept could be relevant to understanding your brand and how to communicate it.

The challenge is boiling it down. Understanding the essence of your brand requires an organization to turn the spotlight on itself, which is not always easy. We don’t always like what we see and we often uncover some areas of conflict or disagreement that we’d just as soon avoid. But the process is healthy for any business. So here are some steps to help you get started.

Just the facts
Start by listing the basic facts about the organization. Where are you located? What type of company? How many employees? When were you founded? How are you funded? Do you serve customers or clients?

Brand attributes
What are some words that you use to describe your organization? Words such as innovative, compassionate, accountable, collaborative, flexible… These are the terms you would use to describe your brand personality. If you were describing a friend you might say, funny, charming, friendly, smart. Now how would you describe your business?

What do you do?
We (name of your organization) are ____. Now finish the sentence. 

Boil it down
Next, go back to everything you’ve listed and eliminate anything that sounds too generic or too phony. You are looking for things that differentiate you from your competitors, not things that they would be able to claim as well. For example, a lot of organizations would say they take pride in customer service. What makes you different?

Stake out your turf
Once you boil everything down you should be able to identify the one big thing that clearly identifies your brand. This is what you stand for. It is your brand promise. Now you need to make sure you deliver it every day, every time.  

We’ve led clients through this process many times, and they are almost always amazed at what a difference it makes for their organizations. For example, AORN learned that the one big thing about operating room nurses is that they make surgery safe. The 9Health Fair learned that what they really do is encourage people to “own your health.”  Susan G. Komen Denver realized that the biggest thing they do is save lives by raising awareness about breast cancer.

I am a firm believer in Cowboy PR. Get to the heart of the matter without a lot of bull. The process of understanding your brand’s one big thing is something every organization can benefit from. You can do it yourself or find a PR firm or independent consultant to help you. The important thing is to get started. That’s the secret. No bull. 

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