Fresh Start

It’s been another long year. We’ve seen a bitter election fight, an economy struggling to recover in stops and starts, and a series of horrific mass murders committed by unbalanced people with easy access to assault weapons. In 2012, to quote Jack Kerouac, “smart went crazy.” Was it a tipping point? We can only hope.

We heard a lot of talk about uncertainty in 2012. It was uncertainty about the election, uncertainty about health reform, uncertainty about the economy. All of it used as a rationale to sit on the sidelines waiting to see how things turned out. Now the election is over, health reform is here to stay, and the economy is beginning to recover. We even survived the Mayan apocalypse. But still nobody is moving.

Now we have a new reason to hesitate. The fiscal cliff is looming. We can’t plan, we can’t hire, we can’t move. The children in Congress remain in their corner pouting and once more, uncertainty keeps us frozen in place.

Enough! No more excuses! It’s time we realized that the only thing keeping us from innovating and hiring again is the lame excuse that we have no idea what the future will bring. When did we become so afraid of risk? Financial institutions are sitting on huge piles of cash waiting for clarity. If they want clarity, let them try lending again. Let businesses try growing their companies and workforce again. Let educational institutions, nonprofits and local governments try investing in their communities again.

Denver public relations pros have a responsibility to encourage our clients, employers, colleagues and elected officials to get over their fear of uncertainty and take advantage of the fresh start that the New Year represents. Let’s resolve to look forward, not back. To stay positive and seize opportunities. To remember what is important in life and not worry about what we can’t control. To conduct our business ethically. To never stop learning. To add new clients, develop new strategic partnerships and continue to grow our business.

Here’s to a bright, happy, healthy and prosperous 2013.

Election Reflections

Now that the election is behind us, can business owners finally look ahead? Health reform is here to stay. Will Congress embrace bipartisanship? Will certainty return to the markets? Will companies begin to hire and invest in their business again as the recovery continues and consumer confidence gains strength?

For Denver public relations pros, these steps would represent a welcome trend. In PR and in business, uncertainty leads to confusion, confusion leads to indecision, indecision leads to mixed messages, and mixed messages leads to poor communication. And there is nothing we hate more than poor communication.

Regardless of whether the election results in more certainty, it certainly taught us some valuable lessons about the importance of public relations.

Strategy matters: The Obama campaign knew exactly what it needed to accomplish and how to get there. The strategy was designed to deliver exactly the number of votes they needed from every county in every state. Nothing was left to chance.

Organization counts: Team Obama’s ground game will be studied and copied for years to come. They had offices where they needed them and a sophisticated get out the vote plan. They knew exactly how many times a volunteer needed to contact a prospective voter to make sure that every vote was counted. No gut feelings here. Everything down to the last detail was planned.

Facts don’t lie: There has been a lot of post-election analysis about why Nate Silver’s predictions were so accurate and why conservative media predictions were so far off. It’s simple really. One was based on scientific research and the other was based on wishful thinking. A good example to bring up the next time a client asks why do we need that research budget.

PR beats advertising: A combined $6 billion was spent on political ads in this campaign, but the outcome was determined by the Obama campaign’s relentless ground game. Grassroots tactics such as phone calls and knocking on doors proved to be the key to winning. Which proves what we’ve been saying for years: PR is more cost effective and more credible than paid advertising.

Get real: To undecided voters, Obama seemed more authentic than Romney. He seemed more able to understand and have compassion for the needs and concerns of ordinary Americans. This was especially true for women and minorities.

The important takeaway for public relations pros is that successful campaigns depend on the ability to educate and motivate target audiences. Our messages should ring true, sound authentic and be culturally relevant to the audiences we need to reach. Advertising is sexy but PR is build to last. Advertising is great for reaching a mass audience, but convincing them to trust you takes more than spending huge piles of money. It takes a well-organized, research-driven, strategic communications program. It takes solid grass-roots outreach. You can’t buy credibility. You have to earn it.

Rise and Shine

As a young musician, I was lucky enough to discover the Denver Folklore Center, where I studied the tools of my trade from established performers who were kind enough to share their wisdom. I learned how to put together a set list, how to work the mic, how to keep the audience engaged while you tune up or change a string, and how to book a tour.

A few years later I was performing at a club in Bethlehem, PA, called Godfrey Daniels. After the gig we sat around swapping songs until early the next morning with a talented wannabe songwriter who seemed eager to soak up whatever he could from everyone who came through the club. That songwriter turned out to be John Gorka, who went on to a very successful career of his own.

My next stop was the Denver Zephyrs, a minor league baseball team where I learned how to fill a stadium with no marketing budget, gleaned lessons in life from baseball legends, and understood that no matter how good you are there is always someone just as good or better.

As a nonprofit PR director I was inspired by committed, driven leaders who taught me that healthy communities thrive when everyone pitches in. And I never would have gained the chutzpah to start Pushkin Public Relations 15 years ago without the guidance and support of PRSA colleagues who had already taken the entrepreneurial leap.

I can think of no better way to honor our 15th anniversary than setting up a fund to help young Denver public relations professionals get started in their careers. By helping these young pros attend PRSA Colorado programs and become active chapter members, I hope that they will be able to speed their professional development by learning the tools of their trade from talented, experienced mentors.

It helps to be smart, but achieving success in your career does not require you to be a rocket scientist. It just means being eager to learn, determined to improve, and willing to listen. Rise and shine people. Your future is calling.


Quiet is truly amazing. It’s the absence of noise. It’s serene, simple, and certainly hard to find in the big city. It’s beautiful and profound.

When is the last time you heard the sound of one hand clapping? Quiet bowled me over last weekend at Zapata Ranch, a 100,000 acres of working bison ranch owned by the Nature Conservancy near the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. Don’t fence me in. 

Life is stressful enough without being constantly bombarded by the never-ending noise in an election year filled with constant bickering, anger, fear and mud slinging. Combined with daily traffic jams, work deadlines, non-stop email and mindless social media chatter that seems to always demand our attention, our noisy universe is enough to make even the most patient, easy-going person among us stand out on the street and yell “Quiet!!!!!” In the immortal words of Popeye, “I’ve had all I can stands and I can’t stands no more.”

Whether we find it at the beach or in the mountains or in our own backyard, we all need some wide-open spaces. We all need some place we can unplug, detach, unwind and recharge. For me, it was being on a horse surrounded by wildlife far away from houses, cars, people and TV. It was, as the kids say, awesome.

Many Jews will experience that same feeling of awe in synagogues around the world tomorrow as we observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It’s a day of fasting, prayer and reflection when we detach for 24-hours from the things that are not really that important in our lives. It’s a day of renewal. It’s a day filled with the sound of silence.

As a Denver public relations pro, my job is to help my clients find that ability to renew and recharge when things grow stale. To be able to realize that sometimes it’s good to step aside or step away in order to move ahead. That sometimes you need to pause and take a deep breath before you try and take another step forward.  That’s not an easy task, but it’s something I now understand we can all accomplish.

L’shana tova (to a good year). May it be a time of peace, health, happiness, contentment and renewal for you and for those you love.  

Team Spirit

This month I teamed up with Eric Elkins from the social media consulting firm,, on a webinar for the Community First Foundation. The topic was Using Social Media to Get the Most Out of Colorado Gives Day, an annual campaign the foundation supports to help Colorado nonprofits raise badly needed revenue.

At Pushkin PR, collaborating with teams of talented specialists is a great way to share ideas and expand the range of services we can customize for our clients. In this case, Eric is a brilliant social media strategist, so it was rewarding to see that the way he approaches social media campaigns for clients is similar to ours.

At the same time, we bring different perspectives to the topic, so we were able to compliment each other and cover a lot of ground. With 300 nonprofit champions participating in the webinar, it was important to provide a comprehensive strategic overview with enough specifics to help them get the most of Colorado Gives Day this year.

Community First Foundation is all about collaboration.  All nonprofits that participate in Colorado Gives day get a huge array of tools and resources to help them connect with potential donors through the Internet, social media and traditional media. Like the Checkoff Colorado campaign that Pushkin PR manages, if everyone does well, Colorado Gives Day is successful.  A rising tide lifts all boats.

In life, sports and business, winning teams play well together. They work in sync, with a common goal in mind and with the knowledge that the best players make everyone on the team better.
Collaboration allows us to learn, grow and be better at whatever we do.

If you find it hard to manage every aspect of your business on your own, but you don’t have the resources to add additional staff, look for opportunities to collaborate. Join an association, team up on an RFP, find partners who are good at things you are not. It’s a winning formula that pay off now and in the future.  

Loyal to a fault

Loyalty is a great quality in life and in business. It’s something we talk about a lot in public relations because it communicates a core value that brands work hard to establish with their stakeholders. But over the past several decades, loyalty has become less common and less valued.

Employees no longer work 30 years for one company and retire. Most of us have several career changes over the course of a lifetime. Employers promise pensions and healthcare benefits to loyal employees but dump them in a heartbeat when times get tough. With rare exceptions, pro athletes don’t spend a career with one team anymore; they take the money and run to the highest bidder. 

Which is why the Colorado Rockies management style is so unusual. The organization places a high priority on loyalty. Ownership is loyal to the GM. The GM is loyal to the manager. The manager is loyal to his coaches. The coaches are loyal to the players, especially home grown stars like Todd Helton who’s shown his loyalty to the team and the fans by playing his entire career in Denver. 

It’s easy to admire this sense of loyalty because we don’t see it very often. But lately it’s become an albatross preventing the team from finding solutions for a myriad of problems that have begun to anger the Rockies’ supremely loyal, optimistic and almost impossible to upset fan base. The irony is that this crack in the always rose colored glasses of the endlessly patient Rockies fans comes during the Rockies Year of the Fan campaign, celebrating the team’s 20th anniversary.

While it’s true that most Rockies fans come to Coors Field because it’s a nice night, the stadium is fun, or the other team is pretty good, a few fans have started noticing that the Rockies really suck. No longer placated with free t-shirts and silly scoreboard promotions, the fans and media are starting to demand some accountability.

What is loyalty without accountability? The Rockies management style, of course.  Nobody ever gets fired, they just get reassigned.  The GM and manager have lifetime contracts on a handshake. No matter how bad the team plays or how many bad deals the GM makes, they still have the owner’s loyalty. Because the owner belives that the fans will always keep coming regardless of the play on the field. No empty seats, no bags on their heads, no reason to be accountable to anyone.

Loyalty is a virtue that deserves our respect and admiration. Blind loyalty is a fault that deserves our criticism. When the cheers turn to boos, that message will finally sink in. Then we might see more accountability and a shift in the way the Rockies communicate with their fans. And that will be a valuable lesson in public relations that you don’t have to be a PR pro to appreciate.    

15 lessons from 15 years

This year Pushkin PR celebrates 15 years in business. It seems like yesterday that my wife led me by the hand into the deep end of the pool and gave me the encouragement I needed to leave the world of steady paychecks. I’m proud of how much I’ve accomplished and how much Pushkin PR has grown.

I’ve learned a lot more than 15 lessons in that time. But for the purpose of this blog, here are 15 lessons that really stand out.

Collaboration is cool.
Like a lot of independent practitioners, I started in a home office. Flying solo is nice but I enjoy working in teams. I found that collaborating with creative people to deliver quality work is extremely rewarding. It allowed me to be a full-service firm without having to hire employees. Perfect.

Partnerships are profitable.
It doesn’t have to be formal but partnering with talented specialists that I can rely on, learn from and trust helped me provide clients with an array of services such as video production, web design and graphic design that I could not offer on my own.

Keep it in perspective.
Someone told me when I first started that after five years I would learn to stop panicking if I lost a client. That’s bull. I still freak out. But at least now I know that I will find a new client or clients to replace the lost business and things may turn out better in the long run. Sometimes things happen for a reason.

Results matter.
If you are not producing results for your clients it won’t matter how great your team is or how cool your office is. It still comes down to delivering what you promise and meeting client expectations.

Respect goes both ways.
From day one I wanted clients I could work for with respect. I need to know that they are ethical people doing ethical business. What I’ve learned is that it’s just as important for the client to respect my accomplishments and trust my judgment. Without mutual respect the relationship is doomed.

Winning feels good.
You won’t find me spiking the ball or gloating, but I will admit that competing for a client’s business and winning the account feels good. Damn good.

Losing sucks.
There is a reason why most of us hate RFPs. They are a lot of work and when you lose it feels bad. Really bad.

Nice office.
It’s important to like where you work. I enjoyed my home office and the two offices I shared with a colleague. But I love my current office because it communicates what I hope Pushkin PR represents. It’s solid. It’s got some history. It’s unpretentious. It’s acoustic, not electric.

Reputation means everything.
Nothing is more important to the health of your business than your reputation. That’s a lesson that guides every decision I make every day.

Relationships are meant to last.
Whether it’s with our clients, our team, our partners or the media, public relations depends on long-term relationships. Make sure they are built to last. Base them on honesty, trust, and a solid ethical foundation.

Take time out.
Sometimes you need to put the closed sign on the door. Leave the office behind and enjoy some down time. Unwinding is good, especially for PR pros. We have a tendency to get a little wound up.

It’s OK to say no.
As a former working musician, I still have a hard time passing up a gig. But learning to say no when your plate is too full is OK. And if the client relationship is not working, walk away. Firing a client is better than the alternative.

It’s OK to say yes.
Just because your plate is full does not mean you are off the hook if a worthy cause really needs your help. The public relations profession has a responsibility to further the public good. Sometimes we might even have to work pro bono.

This is not something you do at a convention. It means trusting your teammates. Make the extra pass. Even if you are the star player you don’t have to take every shot.

Be grateful.
I have so much to be grateful for. Ethical clients. A talented team. A cool office. A supportive wife. A solid reputation in the Denver public relations community.

I took a leap of faith 15 years ago filled with excitement and trepidation. That’s still how I feel about my business today. I’m excited about the future but a little nervous about the uncertainty. Like a musician that hits the stage not knowing how the crowd will respond, running a business is like washing down a shot of stage fright with a pint of adrenaline. Sometimes it’s hard to swallow but I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.


The Romans, who literally stuck huge blocks of stone in the road to measure distances, were the first to use milestones. The Romans were also fond of raping and pillaging, so they are not my favorite role models when it comes to historic achievements.

Nevertheless, the end of May and the beginning of June mark some important personal and business milestones for Pushkin PR and me. In June, I will celebrate 15 years since I started Pushkin Public Relations in the spare room of my home on South High Street. On a personal level, my wife and I are moving out of that High Street home after 15 years into a new home in another old Denver neighborhood. 

Coincidentally, our moving day is May 31, the day my father passed away 21 years ago in 1991. And this Memorial Day weekend, the Denver Folklore Center celebrates its 50th anniversary. For me and many other transplanted folk singers, the DFC was my first Denver home, my first Denver family, and a major influence on my life.

Each of these milestones brings back a lot of memories and brings up a lot of emotions.  Deciding how to recognize them and putting their meaning in perspective is not easy. Should I be celebrating? Reflecting? Choosing a meaningful way to honor the occasion? Or do I just sit back and say wow?

Like other Denver public relations pros, Pushkin PR helps clients recognize milestones all the time. Groundbreakings. Ribbon cuttings. Grand openings. Anniversaries. New leadership.  Retirements. Mergers. Major achievements.  We mark these events with stones in the road, then we document them through social media, traditional media, video and written word to communicate why they are significant to the audiences our clients want to reach.  Deciding how to recognize these moments for our own business is another story. How should Pushkin PR celebrate 15 years in business? Should we throw a party? Donate services to a nonprofit? Just sit back and say wow?

I find myself struggling with those questions as well as with the personal milestones coming at me all at once this month. I’m looking for clear answers but I’m not easily finding them.

Last week my sister told me that my nephew was getting engaged. Just what I need, another milestone to reflect on.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for him. I’m also thinking about how happy my parents would be at this news and wondering how so much time went by so fast. 

Whether we are facing business or personal milestones, the way we choose to recognize them says a lot about our individual culture and values. We should make those decisions in a thoughtful way so that their true meaning will be apparent to all who pass our stones in the road.  

The kids are all right

At a recent eTown show in Boulder it was evident that I may have been a little too quick to judge the next generation. It’s easy to look at young people walking down the street with their headphones, texting, unaware that they are about to crash into me and get the idea that they are completely oblivious to the world’s problems. It’s easy to see them texting while driving and get the idea that they are just a little self-absorbed.

Every spring, like most Denver public relations firms, I get a barrage of emails from people looking for internships or jobs. Some are recent college grads and some are still in school. Many of them blast out a generic cover letter addressed to some impersonal target like Dear Hiring Manager, accompanied by a typo filled resume with no relevant experience for the position they are seeking. They want to move to Denver and they need a job. They are dying to work for a firm like mine but it’s obvious from their email that they just inserted Pushkin PR at that point in the sentence where they deleted the name of the last firm they sent the very same email. C’mon man! A little homework would be nice.

So the eTown show the other night was refreshing. Inspirational even. As eTown’s host, Nick Forester told the audience, maybe you came here tonight a little stressed out, a little discouraged, a little worried about what’s going on in the world today. Well we can relax now, because the kids are all right.  The show featured the Infamous Stringdusters and Zak Heckendorf, amazingly talented young musicians with some serious chops playing innovative, creative, original acoustic music with conviction, passion and a social consciousness that is as much a part of their music and the flurry of notes they were playing.

On the same show, Nick also interviewed Zak Podmore and Will Stauffer-Norris, two recent Colorado College grads who spent four months paddling down the entire length of the Colorado River to document the dire situation facing millions of people in seven states if we don’t do something to reverse the major damage our towns and cities are doing to the river. Their passion and conviction inspired the audience as well as the musicians they shared the stage with.

At the end of the show I told Nick that he’s right. I felt bad when I walked in the door but now I feel much better. Everyone in the next generation is not shallow and oblivious, just the ones sending me their resumes. There is hope for the future. We’re okay. We can take a deep breath and relax. The kids are all right.  

Spring Training

While my Denver public relations colleagues were spending time at the PRSA Western District Conference last weekend, I spent a few days in Florida taking in some Spring Training games with two of my favorite cousins.

Spring Training is a time for hope. Everyone is in a good mood. Everyone gets a fresh start. Managers are smiling, players are signing autographs and obscure Minor Leaguers are convinced they have a shot at making a big impression. Even Yankee and Red Sox fans are nice to each other. It’s warm, you’re near the beach, and you’re on vacation. What’s not to like?

Seems like everyone deserves a little Spring Training. We all need a break from the bad news and a little dose of sunshine. But sometimes life gets in the way. Mets fans, for example, are not too excited about Spring Training. For them, Florida is an endless month of back pain, twisted ankles, sore shoulders and mysterious diseases nobody else seems to come down with.  There’s the daily drama of the players they can no longer afford and the team owners facing a massive Madoff lawsuit. As the Mets get ready to celebrate their 50th anniversary, they are preparing to field their worst team in 50 years.  

Communities can use some Spring Training too. Take Ybor City, for instance, a Tampa area historic district where you can find a mixture of Cuban and Italian culture, vintage cigar factories and a lot of New Orleans flavor. In Ybor City, everything is a blend of different flavors. Cigar bars. Coffee bars. Pizza joints serving Cuban sandwiches.

Unfortunately, Ybor City has seen better days. Empty storefronts, empty restaurants, and a pervasive sense of resignation tell a less than hopeful story about a once thriving business and tourist district. The city fathers could sure use some good PR. They might start with a nice little spot at the end of the block called The Bricks of Ybor, where you can find strong coffee, good music, a friendly staff and a great happy hour.

Bricks is Ybor City in a nutshell. It’s young, hip, quirky, laid back, a little wild but not too full of itself, and it already has a well-established sense of the importance of tradition. It’s solid, like its name. You can hang out and use the free WiFi or come back later for movie night. It’s just what the area needs to bring in new life and new energy to a long neglected business district.    

Bricks represents the breath of fresh air that we all need to find in our lives and our work. Sometimes we go looking for it and sometimes we just stumble upon it. We all need a spark, the sort of excitement and hope that Spring Training brings baseball fans each season. Where we find it and how long we can hold on to it is up to us. 


After an exhausting, year long effort that included canvassing every professional in every corner of the planet, PRSA finally came up with a new way to explain to all those skeptics what the heck PR people actually do for a living.

It’s the first update since 1982 to the generally accepted industry definition of public relations. A lot has changed in those 30 years but not our profession’s inability to do for us what every Denver public relations pro tries to do for our clients: come up with simple, clear, concise and consistent messages that communicate who we are, what we do and what we stand for. And why someone else should care.

Members of PRSA and other professional organizations were asked to submit their definitions. Out of 927 submissions, three finalists were selected:

“Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.”

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

“Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.”

And the winner is, number 2. No one should be surprised that a profession that lives safely in the middle of the road chose the middle definition. It is, however, disappointing that PRSA picked such a textbook, bland and unexciting way to describe what we do.

When clients ask what PR is, I tell them public relations helps you uncover your story, decide who you want to tell it to, and figure out the best way to deliver your story to those audiences in a compelling way. If I have to explain to them that it’s a management function, I’m in trouble before I start. If I need to resort to industry jargon like calling an audience a public, I’m just not a very effective communicator.

I felt the same way about the social sciences when I majored in history. I felt that calling things like history and sociology a social science was phony nonsense from a discipline with a real inferiority complex. I didn’t want to be a scientist. That’s why I majored in history. Now I’m a communicator. I don’t want to be a bureaucrat. I just want to help my clients communicate.

So once again PRSA, you have failed to solve our biggest problem. It’s not about a definition. It’s about a brand. Maybe in another 30 years you’ll figure that out.

Here’s looking at you Kid

Gary Carter died yesterday. The Hall of Fame catcher was the heart and soul of the New York Mets 1986 World Champions, the unquestioned team leader on the field and in the clubhouse.

Carter died from brain cancer, a disease I know very well since my father died from it 20 years ago. In those 20 years, not much has changed in how they treat people with aggressive tumors like Carter’s. First they tell you the bad news. Then they give you some hope that there are treatment options. Then you learn that the treatment options just extend your life a few months before the tumors start growing again. Then you start facing reality.

Carter was the kind of player you want on your team. He never gave up, never stopped believing. He was known as Kid, because he was always smiling and always enthusiastic about the game, like we all were when we were kids. For that he was mocked, taunted and criticized by everyone except his teammates, who understood what kind of man he was.

In the first game Gary Carter ever played for the Mets he hit the game winning, walk off home run in the 10th inning. In Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, the Mets were down three games to two, and down two runs in the bottom of the 10th. There were two outs and nobody on when Carter came up, and most of his teammates were already in the clubhouse realizing they just lost the Series. With two strikes on him, Carter got a hit. When he got to first base, he told the coach there was no way he was going to make the last out of the World Series.

Here's what I learned from Gary Carter:

Be real, be yourself
Carter was the Kid. Always smiling and always fired up. He always played hard. He was a vocal leader who got in your face if you screwed up. While the rest of the Mets were partying and cheating on their wives, Carter was getting his rest and working on his swing. A lot of players and fans thought that was an act. They thought he was a self-promoting jerk. They thought he was phony but he was just being himself and he was comfortable with who he was.

Never quit
With two outs in the bottom of the 10th in Game 6, Keith Hernandez was in the club house having a smoke. He was thinking about getting drunk that night. That’s when Carter got the hit that started the winning rally. Some players just know how to seize the moment.

The lasting image of Gary Carter for many fans is one with him laughing. He always had fun on the field. It was always a kid’s game for the Kid. It was always full of pure joy.  

You can’t win them all
There are some battles you are just not going to win. Like brain cancer. It will kick your butt no matter how strong or how positive or how tough you are. Sometimes you just have to accept the inevitable.

If I were the Mets PR counsel, I would be planning a ceremony to retire Carter’s number. It’s no secret the Mets could use some good PR. Met fans don't have much to cheer about these days but seeing number 8 on the outfield wall at Citi Field would be a constant reminder that beyond all the money and greed there is still a lot of good in baseball. And a lot of fun.

Here’s looking at you Kid.   

Listen up!

One month into 2012 and I’m already singing the blues. Like that Harry Nilsson song from Midnight Cowboy, “Everybody’s talking at me. I don’t hear a word they say.” Or as Dylan said, “You go your way and I’ll go mine.” 

This may be good news for therapists and mediators, but for Denver public relations pros, this is a bad trend. Public relations is about listening, which is becoming more of a lost art every day. 

Communication is a two-way street. We can’t develop a strategic communications plan without feedback. But how can we understand the feedback we’re getting unless we are willing to listen? If it just sounds like a lot of noise it won’t make any sense.  

In January a Republican congressman from Colorado Springs boycotted the State of the Union Address because he was certain he would not like what he thought the President was about to say. He stopped listening even before anyone said anything. But instead of being ridiculed, he’s considered the new normal by many.

Does anyone expect anything will get accomplished in Washington or in many state legislatures this year? Nothing happened last year, nothing will happen this year and maybe nothing will happen next year. Like boxers, we’ve gone to our separate corners. We only listen to our chosen channels. We only hear the voices of people who think exactly like us. We walk through the valley of nonstop election cycles with our blinders and our headphones to comfort us.

The decibel level is only getting worse. Negative campaign ads dominate the airwaves. Accusations are hurled without regard to truth or consequences. The only ones happy about this are fact checkers and advertising sales people. Talk about job security.

Four years ago, PRSA came out with a statement calling for civility and fairness in election campaigns. Nobody listened. Even so, our job as PR pros is to take that same stand again. Our counsel needs to always be on the side of reason, compassion, respect, tolerance and understanding. Our job is to convince our clients, employers and colleagues that they cannot be successful without a healthy dose of those values. We can disagree as long as we do it respectfully. We can be sure of ourselves only after we consider another opinion. 

Listen up people! The best musicians are the ones who never stop practicing. The smartest people are the ones who never stop learning. The most admired individuals are the ones who treat others with respect. Let’s lower the volume and not be too afraid to listen. Even if we don’t like what we hear.  


A new year always begins with promise, hope and opportunity. It’s a fresh start, but that optimism is hard to imagine for a lot of people.

Like the homeless guy named Larry who lives a block from my office near the Cherry Creek bike path downtown. He’s a self-sufficient guy who keeps all his belongings in a little cart he hitches up to his bike and covers with plastic bags. I see him there when I walk my dogs by the creek. He was always with his companion, a big furry husky. My dogs like to greet his dog and that gives me a chance to slip Larry a $10.

Just before the holidays, Larry said the police had taken his dog away and euthanized him. It may be a new year but things are not really looking up for Larry. They are also not looking up for the woman who called my office last week looking for the Homeless Prevention Fund, which is part of Checkoff Colorado. She was desperate for rental assistance and you could hear the fear in her voice. Heartbreaking. 

These kinds of stories really get to me. Like Woody Allen said in Annie Hall, " I can't enjoy anything unless everybody is. If one guy is starving someplace, that puts a crimp in my evening."

Which leads me to the point of this article.  For a change, this article is not about public relations. It’s about inspiration. When I need something to believe in, when I hope for a fresh start, I think of the talented, creative, almost famous troubadours who make music because the music is reward enough. They are the lifers.

Toward the end of The Last Waltz, Robbie Robertson explains why The Band is breaking up. He says the road eventually catches up with everyone and he does not want to keep testing the odds. He says the road caught up with Hendrix, Joplin, Hank Williams, Elvis, and so many others, and he does not want to join that list. At some point in my life I completely understood what Robbie meant. I lost my endurance and got off the road too. Every musician I know understands this, but the special ones have the passion to be undaunted and unafraid.  

That’s why the lifers are my heroes. Ramblin’ Jack. Tim O’Brien. Mark Diamond. Mary Flower, Pete Wernick, Barry Mitterhof, Harry Tuft, and so many others I’m lucky to call friends. They inspire me to believe that anything is possible.

So to all the cats who ever played bad gigs in crummy bars for loud drunks who never listen, here’s lookin’ at you, kids. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, safe and prosperous 2012.  
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