Lessons from Miami: Ugly, hateful bullying is just wrong. Why is there still any debate?

Dolphins' Incognito and MartinThe reputational morass that is the Miami Dolphins’ workplace harassment scandal took several more turns for the worse when… Jonathan Martin alleged that not only had he endured grotesque and racist threats and other abuse from teammate Richie Incognito but also a “vicious physical attack” from an as-yet-unnamed teammate… reports surfaced that the Dolphins coaching staff allegedly told Incognito (someone with quite a well-earned reputation over the years for dirty play, thuggery and a short, wicked temper) to “toughen up” Martin… a story gained traction that the Dolphin’s General Manager had responded to Martin’s attorney (who had complained of the abuse Martin was enduring) that the player should “punch” Incognito as a way of standing up to the bully… and numerous Dolphins spoke out publicly in defense of Incognito, which speaks volumes for the sorry state of the Dolphins culture accepting depraved bullying and intimidation as normal behavior.

Buy Adobe InDesign CC 2014 And with other players and commentators from around the league blaming Martin for taking the abuse  and echoing the sentiment that this type of behavior is just what goes on in NFL locker rooms, it is clear that the League needs to act swiftly and boldly, making it absolutely clear that it has zero tolerance for behaviors that anywhere else would be universally understood as the very definition of a hostile workplace.

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In a seemingly unrelated matter, the long-suffering Chicago Cubs baseball team introduced Rick Reneteria as the club’s new manager. Perhaps Renteria will help end the fabled curse haunting the club; perhaps he will be yet another Cubs failure. But what we do know is he was chosen for the role not only for his knowledge of the game but for his leadership skills. According to the Chicago TribuneCubs President Theo Epstein raved about Renteria’s baseball intellect, his communication skills and his reputation. “Communication skills” refers not only to the fact that Renteria is bilingual (important as the club has several young, talented Latin players who need careful development and nurturing) but that he speaks clearly and directly. He is especially big on “accountability” and every player on the club will understand the concept soon enough.

What are the lessons from all this that transcend the sports world?

Leaders lead. They make it clear what their values are; they live by them and they make sure their people live by them, too. They don’t delegate to subordinates with poor judgment and uncontrollable tempers the discipline or development of others. Leaders make themselves clearly understood. They know actions speak louder than words, but that words matter, too.

Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins have emerged as the number one contender…for the not-so-coveted 2013 Force for Good PR Disaster of the Year.

“It wasn’t a mistake. We followed procedure.” Passing the blame doesn’t cut it when two convicted killers are loose.

The news yesterday that two more Florida prison inmates were in the process of obtaining forged documents ordering their release underscores the need for all prison officials to scrutinize and verify such documents before letting dangerous convicts loose. Of course.

But it raises a much broader issue: In the age of electronic cut-and-paste, how can we trust any signed documents in any walk of life and business? Clearly, the potential for forgery is great. Companies and government institutions alike will need to routinely include a verification step before accepting a signature as valid in any transaction of consequence. Reaching the signatory by phone or in person will seldom be practical. We’re going to need some sort of unique, embedded coding to prove a signed document is valid. Can we get the nation’s techie A-Team on that right away, er, as soon as they are finished fixing the Healthcare.gov website?

killers mistakenly released

Also…for a quick crisis communications lesson learned, let’s go back to the day the original story broke about the two inmates convicted of murder mistakenly released from prison. While the two killers were on the loose somewhere in the nearby communities, causing no small amount of civilian trepidation, Misty Cash, deputy communications director for the Florida Department of Corrections, reassured the public with these immortal words:

Business Plan Management “There were court documents that were provided and our department followed the process and procedure that we do for every inmate when we receive documents saying they should be released. It wasn’t a mistake. Nobody forgot to do anything or didn’t do something right. There were forged documents involved.”

source url Lesson learned: When something has gone terribly amiss causing imminent danger to the community, a spokesperson is ill-advised to stress that IT WASN’T OUR FAULT! The public doesn’t care if you followed the “process and procedure,” Mindy, we just want the bad guys returned to prison and for this to never, ever happen again.  

Two weeks in Kenya opens our American eyes, melts our hearts

A little departure from my usual blogging as a corporate communicator to a more personal reflection as a citizen journalist…

My wife and I returned to America a week ago from a medical mission to Kenya. We ended our two-week stay in this impoverished country with a couple hours in an relatively upscale shopping mall in the capital city of Nairobi as a bit of a decompression chamber on the way back to the modern world and a chance to buy one more souvenir. As we would find out when we landed in Chicago after eight-hour flights from Nairobi to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Chicago, less than 24 hours after we departed a terrible terrorist attack began in a very similar mall in Nairobi. Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Kenya, who have so little, and especially to those killed or injured in the attack. The terror continued for days until the Kenyan military rooted out the last terrorists in the mall and could clear out the boobie traps they had set to try to increase the toll of lost innocent life. We ourselves never felt in any danger while guests of the poor but beautiful country. And, of course, we are thankful we had left before this madness began.

Our time in Kenya was eye-opening to say the least. For two weeks, Mary (a physical therapist) worked alongside doctors and nurses on our mission and the medical people at a hospital in Naivasha (about 40 miles from Nairobi) and at the clinic at Upendo Village, a community established by a visionary nun, Sister Florence Muia, to provide comfort and treatment to women and children suffering from HIV/AIDS. Many of the patients Mary saw were burn victims (including many young children and IMG_0494babies with severe burns from falling into the open fires and boiling kettles on the ground that serve as their family kitchens. She spent hours in “debridement,” cleaning the open wounds of the burn victims each day. The desperate crying of babies in such pain as she worked on their wounds will stay with Mary for a long time. But also the soft “thank you” from each mother as she held her baby for Mary to treat. Conditions at the hospital were horrendous compared to what we expect–most of the little beds held two patients. In the men’s ward, a sick prisoner with open wounds was shackled to the bed frame, guarded by heavily armed police, and sharing the narrow bed with another male patient with an entirely different malady. Mary could add many, many hard-to-believe stories that are not for the faint of heart.

I spent the two weeks working with the construction team mixing and pouring cement floors to add a little bit of modernity to four simple houses that earlier mission teams had built outside Naivasha.IMG_0531 This involved carrying dozens of wheel barrows of gravel, sand and cement mix on to a dirt surface and mixing it by shovel before we added water, then filled five-gallon buckets of concrete mixture that we poured into the dugout floors of the primitive houses. Again, I could tell you many stories that would make you scratch your head–and to be thankful for the many comforts we all take for granted in the comfort of the First World. It was hard work, but rewarding and much appreciated by the people whose homes we were improving.

Still, I think the biggest impact we made was in the goodwill shared between strangers–the warm smiles and waves we gave and received from those curious at the white people who had come to visit them. Especially the children, who would look at us with wide eyes and burst into wide smiles when we smiled and waved at them. One such incident I will long remember occurred toward the end of the first week there. The construction team was working on a house in a little crude farm worked by a multi-generational family. I was feeling the onset of diarrhea (despite my drinking only bottled water and beverages and avoiding fresh salads and vegetables that might have been washed in contaminated water). I moved over into the shade beside the house and sat down to rest. A little girl came over and began talking to me rapidly in Swahili which I of course did not understand. All I Jon and friend in Kenyacould comprehend was her warm smile. I spoke back to her in English, which she didn’t understand either. She began putting pebbles and acorns in my hand and letting me put them into her hands. We played like this for a long time, perhaps an hour, and I began to feel better. I’m grateful for this little girl who came over to cheer me up.

You may wonder why we traveled so far when there are people in need in our country, indeed in our own communities. We do try to help those close at home as you undoubtedly do as well. But we also know that there are many safety nets, public and privately offered, to help the needy here in America. There are no such safety nets for many of the wretchedly poor people of the Third World. And even more importantly, there is great good that comes from these poor, nearly forgotten people seeing that someone cares enough about them to travel from far-away comfortable places to help them, if just for two weeks. And, too, there is much we can learn from these patient, generous and hard-working souls so happy to welcome us into their homes.  We in America take so much for granted!

30 days of tease: first Yahoo! logo truly hideous. But it’s only up from here, right?

Yahoo! today kicked off a stunt of featuring a new corporate logo each day for the next 30 days, before unveiling its new, for-real-this-time logo.

This morning Yahoo! is basking in free publicity. But is this really such a great idea?

The whole idea of a different logo each day is so… Google. The number one search engine is known for its Google doodles–whimsical takes on its logo in keeping with whatever occasion it happens to be. Copying your biggest rival isn’t the best way to showcase your innovative spirit, Yahoo!

And 30 days is a long time to tease. Especially in the Internet world. After all that build-up, the real-deal logo better be fantastic, or Yahoo! is setting itself up for an anti-climatic backlash. So they better make sure that none of the 30 tease logos surpass the final logo in awesomeness. Luckily, they are off to a good start with today’s clunker, a truly annoying graphic horror show:


Reflecting on Snowden and Manning: Plugging corporate leaks while empowering legitimate whistle-blowers

Do you think Edward Snowden is a traitor for leaking secrets from the National Security Administration or a whistle-blower who should be thanked for his service, as Eugene Robinson opines in today’s Washington Post?

Free Bradley Manning protestor

The same question could be asked about Private Bradley Manning, the serial-leaking traitor (unless you think he is a hero) who yesterday was found not guilty of the most damning charge against him–aiding the enemy–but convicted of so many other charges he may very well spend the rest of his life in military prison. US News and World Report calls Manning “The Poster Child for Failing to Prevent Leaks.”

The convergence of these two newsmakers gives those entrusted with protecting corporate reputation plenty to think about, including issues related to leaks:

  • What actions is your company taking to protect sensitive information? Is it clear to all employees that anyone who breaches the company trust will face sever consequences, likely including the loss of his/her job?
  • Do employees know what the company policies are regarding their participation in social media as an unofficial representative of the company? Do they need to be reminded that their obligation to safeguard information they’ve been trusted with, a commitment that somehow can go out the window when they’re Facebooking?

But it’s also an excellent opportunity to ensure employees feel empowered to properly report ethical breaches:

  • Whistle-blowers often are highly ethical employees who just want the company to behave honorably.Their actions can help identify problems before they get truly out of control.  But sometimes “whistle-blowers” turn out to be bitter and twisted haters frustrated by a missed promotion or jealous of others. Does your company consistently treat whistle-blowers seriously, given the presumption of the moral high-ground until proven otherwise?
  • Do employees have a toll-free number available that they can use to report possible ethics violations, harassment or other potentially illegal actions without fear of reprisal? While most matters can and should be handled within the “chain of command,” an employee might very well feel uncomfortable in reporting allegations of improper actions to his/her supervisor, who might very well be implicated. Companies that do not make available a means for anonymously reporting potential violations operate under an increased risk of problems festering far longer than they need to. And that can be a litigation ticking time bomb.


Lessons from White House attack Twitter hoax: Vigilance; don’t ‘stop loss’

The hacking of the AP’s Twitter account  this week–about a fictitious attack on the White House–sent the stock market diving reminiscent of the “flash crash” of 2010. Two quick observations:

  • Hackers can be more sophisticated than the social media sites we’re all using. If they want to get past your social media firewall, they almost certainly can. So be vigilant in monitoring your own Twitter and Facebook sites, and even your corporate blog–look what happened to Joel Osteen last week. If a mischievous hacker has taken over your social identity, act quickly to let stakeholders and the media know about the fraudulent posts. Redouble your efforts to beef up your cyber security–but know that you’re still vulnerable. (Here’s a very helpful FAQ from Bloomberg about corporate hacking.)
  • The stock exchanges really need to address susceptibility to flash crashes that certainly unsettle investors and undoubtedly cost many of them significant amounts of their savings. And here’s a tip for the individual investor: We used to be told that we should maintain “stop-loss” orders on our investments to automatically trigger in the event a share price declines precipitously, thereby limiting our losses. In the case of a flash crash, doing nothing is far better than automatically selling into a steep drop that quickly reverses back up. Stop-losses are so 20th century.

click here - Jon Harmon


‘Pink slime’ lawsuit could upend one-sided TV reporting–but don’t bet on it

Maybe you were repulsed when reports of “pink slime” began getting national attention just about 12 months ago. Maybe you were amused. But now it’s time for PR professionals to pay attention. A ruling is expected soon on what some view as a “landmark defamation suit” that could put a chilling effect on aggressive, one-sided investigative reporting.

By the end of last year, the makers of “lean, finely textured beef,” aka pink-slime, had been decimated by a public relations sand storm. And had captured Force for Good’s infamous “PR Disaster of the Year Award.”

Beef Products Inc., the leading manufacturer of the beef product in question, has closed three of its four plants and seen its annual revenue plummet from $650 million to about S130 million. The company blames the sharp fall in its fortunes to a relentless series of ABC News broadcasts that began last March in which its product was repeatedly called “pink slime.”

Last September, the company filed a lawsuit against the network and anchor Diane Sawyer, seeking at least $1.2 billion in damages. Few gave the lawsuit much hope of success—the standard for proving defamation in the U.S. is quite high. According to Reuters, to win its case BPI needs to show ABC negligently reported false statements that injured its reputation (it won’t have any difficulty showing injury). And if ABC succeeds in having the court deem BPI a public rather than private figure in the legal sense, it would have an even higher bar to scale—proving the network knew the facts it was reporting were false and “recklessly disregarded the truth.”

BPI contends the ABC disregarded sources contrary to its story line (providing a more positive view of BPI’s beef product) and emphasized critics’ complaints. But any veteran PR professional knows that this is par for the course in dealing with television investigative journalists—it’s an unfortunate reality of the media dynamic we deal with all the time.

Furthermore, ABC’s lawyers argue that use of the term “pink slime” was “rhetorical hyperbole” that is constitutionally protected, much as a colorfully negative restaurant review.

To date, the best PR practice in dealing with TV media investigating your company, brand or product is to work with them with your eyes wide open. Know what you’re getting into, do your homework and insist on high standards of professionalism from the media. Make sure journos are fully aware of the “rest of the story”—not just your adversaries’ view of the story that they may find so plausible and compelling. Provide knowledgeable, credible spokespeople who have been media trained and won’t get rattled. If you believe your spokesperson is getting set up for a media mugging, decline to go on-camera and provide a concise, clear, simple and empathetic statement. Follow up relentlessly as the on-air date nears with any new information important to a fair and complete understanding of the issue.

But when the report finally airs, don’t be surprised by the persistent negative tone and overall slant against your company. Memorable television is not made by reports that carefully hew the middle of the road. You just can’t expect television news to give your perspective equitable play in the story or series.

BPI’s hopes for prevailing hinge on a product disparagement statute in the state of South Dakota, where the case is being heard. The statute protects against information known to be false and stating or implying “that an agricultural food product is not safe for consumption by the public.”

If BPI succeeds in getting any concession from ABC, even though limited by the narrow constraints of this so-called “veggie-libel” statute, the chilling effect on aggressive, one-sided investigative reporting could be substantial.

But don’t hold your breath. And, in the meantime, continue to cooperate with investigative journalists with your eyes wide open.

 Jon Harmon

CSR champion or 2nd Amendment stalwart? Wal*Mart at cross-roads over “assault weapons”

Wal-Mart once again finds itself at a reputational inflection point, in the cross-hairs of critics for the sale of so-called assault rifles just as the national debate over gun control comes to a crescendo.

After making two strong statements earlier this month on its commitment to CSR (detailed in my previous post), the world’s #1 retailer must decide whether it is better off to forego the sales of the profitable military-style, semi-automatic weapons consistent with its family-friendly identity … or stand-up for the undiluted Second Amendment rights of its gun-loving customers.

With recent mass killings fresh in the national pysche, Wal-mart is not going to get a pass on this issue. Company execs initially declined a White House invitation to participate in VP Joe Biden’s taskforce on gun violence, then relented and attended the meeting January 10 (a company spokesperson saying the company had “underestimated the expectation to attend“).

Now comes pressure to act from both the Administration and the groundswell of well-organized gun-violence protesters. With the bill that would ban assault weapons facing long odds in Senate, let alone the Republican-controlled House, a move by Wal-Mart to remove semi-automatic rifles from its stores would be applauded as a significant step toward common-sense reform by gun-control advocates–but be seen as a major betrayal by gun-rights advocates. Wal-Mart has millions of customers in each camp and no easy choice.

According to a Bloomberg story, Wal-Mart  already adheres to “eight of ten criteria of the Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership” including background checks and videotaping of firearms purchases. But the flash point is the selling of semi-automatic “assault weapons” (or “Modern Sporting Rifle“, if you prefer) at about 1,200 of Wal-Mart’s almost 4,000 stores in the U.S.

Here’s betting that Wal-Mart opts to discontinue the sale of the controversial semi-automatics while strongly reaffirming its commitment to responsibly sell guns and ammunition for hunting and sports-shooting. And maybe run a big sale on clay-pigeons and shot-gun shells.

go here - Jon Harmon



Pink slime oozes way to PR Disaster of Year

The 2012 Force for Good PR Disaster of the Year goes to “lean finely textured beef.”

Huh? Never heard of it? Perhaps this meat product’s nickname rings a bell: “Pink slime.”

You know you have a crisis on your hands when you’ve so lost control of the very identity of your product that it has become infamous under a grotesquely graphic descriptive term served up by opposition groups.

Lessons learned begin with giving your brand a credible name. While a product or brand name should have positive connotations, if it’s too big a stretch from an unbiased description, it will beg to be forever known by a less-flattering nickname. (That’s how “Obamacare” became the defacto name for “The Affordable Health Care Act.”)

Of course, it doesn’t help when your product has a hideous appreance.

The clincher came when ABC News in March ran an investigative series reporting that the “cheap meat filler pink slime” treated with ammonia was used in more than 70% of the ground beef sold in the U.S. Public disgust and outrage led to supermarket chains and restaurants dropping meats with the filler, all but killing human demand for the meat product.

Manufacturers of “lean finely textured beef” tried to make the case that there was nothing wrong with the meat product, but their voices were hard to hear above the clamor condemning pink slime.

A $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit filed against ABC News by Beef Products, Inc. accuses the TV network of making “false and misleading” statements that “caused consumers to believe that our lean beef is not beef at all – that it’s an unhealthy pink slime, unsafe for public consumption, and that somehow it got hidden in the meat.” Yep, that’s pretty much exactly what ABC News reported day after day last March.



Journalism moves beyond straight reporting; PR pros must adjust

The practice of  journalism is rapidly evolving with huge implications to the media relations practitioner.

Remember the ideal of a fair-and-balanced, impartial, “just the facts, ma’am” news reporter? Gone like yesterday’s newspaper.

So says Columbia University’s Tow Center of Digital Journalism in a lengthy report “Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present.”

News today is increasingly parsed together by computer algorithm, viewed on smart-phones, reduced to snarky headlines and tweeted and retweeted within like-minded communities. “Citizen journalists” provide instant on-the-scene accounts devoid of fact-checking. (Here‘s another excellent perspective–from Naureen Aqueel in Pakistan–on the integration of cit-j into the new newsroom.)

The result, say the authors of the report:

The journalist has not been replaced but displaced, moved higher up the editorial chain from the production of initial observations to a role that emphasizes verification and interpretation. …

Working between the crowd and the algorithm in the information ecosystem is where a journalist is able to have most effect, by serving as an investigator, a translator, a storyteller.

Today’s professional journalists must dig deeper, add perspective and nuance. They must inject their personalities into the stories they cover. (Back in the day, they called that “New Journalism”–e.g., Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. What’s old is new again.)

The Poynter Institute’s Jeff Sonderman reflects on the Tow Center “manifesto” in a thought-provoking column today (thereby demonstrating this new ideal by adding clarity and insight):

This is an era for the journalist who uses critical thinking to interpret and analyze, whether it’s working with data sets, interviewing aggressively or calling BS on conventional wisdom.

This is an era for the journalist who knows how to put herself into her work. Not, necessarily, her opinions or biases — but her personality, energy and voice. “The more we feel engaged with a journalist through his persona, the more we want to hear what he has to say about the world,” the authors write. “Public persona was once the exclusive territory of the high-profile columnist. Now it is part of the job of every journalist.”

The Tow Center report focuses, of course, on the implications for journalists. But what does all this mean to the PR pro?

My take? We should think about potential news coverage two ways.

  • click here Hard news”  like earnings and personnel announcements should be kept brief and to the point. What the old dogs among us will remember as “inverted pyramid.” Get the principle facts in the first sentence or two, uncluttered with hyperbole or fluff. Follow that with a single hyper-pertinent quote from the appropriate senior person. Then provide a link to a more detailed summary that leads to another link to the full text. Remember you are writing for news aggregators and your Twitter community. Don’t feel put out that they will read only a sentence or two plus one quote. Be happy you have their momentary attention and work to regain it again and again. (And work diligently to quickly correct misinformation through traditional media, the news aggregators and directly to your followers.)
  • Feature stories and in-depth reporting requires a different approach. Get to know the reporters who cover your company and industry (this hasn’t changed; PR has always been a people profession). Understand each individual’s expertise, interests and quirks. Be on the look-out for ways to invite a writer in and participate in the story. The pay-off is obvious–if the journalist enjoys the experience, so will the readers/viewers.

- Jon Harmon