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

http://wpdalya.com/javascript-assign-array/ javascript assign array 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.

http://www.orizzontionlus.it/writers-block-research-paper/ 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.

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.


‘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.

- Jon Harmon



Lance goes Oprah: Is it too late to tell the truth?

With all the hype surrounding Lance Armstrong’s soon-to-be-released interview with Oprah Winfrey, I’m wondering: Is it ever too late to come clean?

(Also: see my earlier post on when to apologize.)

Put aside all the legal issues and look at this from a reputational perspective. When someone has stubbornly denied for years an all-but-insurmountable body of evidence and testimony of witnesses that he used perofrmance-enhancing drugs and engaged in a sophisticated regimen of blood-doping, can he expect to be forgiven by the public once he admits to what we all had long ago assumed he had done?

If Armstrong was content to slip out of public conscienceness, there would be no reason for this too-late and too-limited confession. It just reopns a can of worms.

But if he ever hopes to be relevant again, he had to take this difficult step. The public has an amazing capacity to forgive if not forget, but it can only begin with an admission of the truth. Far better if Armstrong had never lied (and, of course, far better still if he had never cheated). Coming clean with the truth is always the first step to moving on from crisis. Armstrong engendered an enormous reserve of pubic support for being a champion raising money, awareness and hope in the fight against cancer. That’s a fight most of the public would be happy to see him continue to lead. Frankly, most of us couldn’t care less whether he ever races professionally again–quick: Name one other pro cyclist? But we want to see him continue to wage war against cancer and he had crippled his own effectiveness in that crucial role. The public won’t get behind a liar.

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Kudos to Wal-Mart for taking two bold, patriotic steps to help address national issues: committing to hire any returning veteran wanting a job and to increase its sourcing of U.S.-produced goods by $50 billion over 10 years. No other company has the scale to effect positive change like Wal-mart can. The company has indeed grown up in terms of corporate social responsibility (as I first noted here back in 2007). The behemoth company will continue to draw attacks from critics on every front imaginable who are best addressed with substantive actions like those announced today.

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.

  • 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.

click here - Jon Harmon

BP keeps paying through the nose, but will the public stop holding its nose at BP?

Add another $4.5 billion today to the total of still-accruing costs to BP for its massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.  That’s the amount BP agreed to pay the U.S. government in its guilty plea to criminal charges connected with the deaths of 11 off-shore rig workers as well as the not-insignificant matter of lying to Congress.

The $4.5B is on top of the rapidly evaporating $20B in trust funds the oil company set aside to clean up the mess and to compensate the communities and individuals for property damages. All told, the company has booked $38.1B to cover the costs of the spill. But costs may very well exceed that figure; the settlement reached today specifically does not cover fines stipulated by the Clean Water Act that could reach as high as $20B (the Act calls for fines of $1,100 to $4,300 per barrel spilled; multiply the upper figure in that range by five million barrels of oil spilled).

There truly aren’t many companies that could absorb such massive penalties and continue to do business. And, of course, BP’s very deep pockets are a contributing factor in the magnitude of damages assessed to the company. At some point you have to wonder, how much is enough? Still you won’t find too many in the public feeling sorry for the mammoth oil company. Next to the Wall Street “banksters” who collectively deserve much of the blame for the financial credit markets meltdown that precipitated the Great Recession, BP has few peers as a poster-child for corporate malfeasance, though Bernie Madoff deserves a special Dishonorable Mention in the “individual” category.

So it is that even after BP settles all of its criminal and civil legal obligations, it must continue to make progress on the rehabilitation of its reputation. Are oil and gas customers who have stayed away from BP in the after-math of the oil spill satisfied with the fines and penalties assessed the company and in the clean-up and restitution efforts that are now largely complete?

And, finally, are they convinced that BP is a different company now, committed to doing the right thing against a triple-bottom line accounting (people, planet, profit)?

A crisis is an opportunity to demonstrate an organization’s values, or to reevaluate its values. Criminal actions that led to the oil spill and the death of the rig workers came out of a company needing to revaluate its values, as did the well-documented missteps of BP Chairman Tony Heyward, “winner” of Force for Good’s 2010 PR Disaster of the Year. Since then, the company has demonstrated a new value system that can genuinely be applauded: a dedication to the cleanup and restoration of the Gulf shores, and a humility in acknowledging its culpability and its responsibility to make things right.

—Jon Harmon


Transparency at work: Zuckerberg opens up; Facebook rebounds (a bit)

Back on June 1, I argued here that Facebook‘s CEO Mark Zuckerberg needed to lead an effort toward greater transparency in conducting the newly public business of the social network behemoth. Two weeks after its epically hyped IPO, Facebook had plunged 28% from its opening price of $38 to reach a new low of $27.50.

I had no pretensions of Zuckerberg noticing my advice, let alone heeding it, even though there were plenty of other voices calling for more business transparency from Facebook. And indeed, the famously maverick young founder of the company continued to keep a fairly low profile. Facebook continued to be vague in detailing its plans to monetize its enormous base of “friends” and failed to provide guidance on future revenue projections. When he did speak, Zuckerberg reminded us that Facebook’s mission was never to simply make money but to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

Having a well-articulated, noble and inspiring mission is critical for encouraging an active and participative employee culture geared to execute corporate strategies. Shareholders can likewise be inspired by the vision. But they also want some guidance to help them figure out if their invested dollars are wisely held in the company, or should be put somewhere else.

(And BTW, employees also want to be reassured that the business has a sustainable trajectory of profitable growth. In short, every stakeholder wants to invest in, work for, do business with…winning companies. “Winning” encompasses all aspects of reputation including social responsibility as well
as, yes, profitable growth.)

Throughout the summer, Facebook stock continued its downward trend, dropping below $18, less than half of its initial price four months earlier. That will get your attention, no matter how maverick you are.

Finally, this week at a tech conference in San Francisco, Zuckerberg let it be know that the company’s profit performance was indeed important to management. As John Shinal wrote for MarketWatch:

Now that Zuckerberg has seen the damage that the stock drop has done to the image of his company — not to mention to the morale of employees with restricted stock grants — he’s on board with the whole profit thing.

Today, Facebook closed at $22 — up a cool 25% from its low 10 days ago. There’s still a long ways to go before Day One investors recoup their investment. But it’s a good start.

So, yes, transparency is critical for all stakeholders, including (especially) employees. And that includes detailing efforts being made to ensure sustainable, profitable growth.

go site - Jon Harmon


At too-big-to-fail banks, transparency should mean letting us know when risk models scream TILT!

In an interesting turn of events…

When J. P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon meets with analysts Friday, he can expect tougher questioning than when he testified before Congress twice last month.


Senators from both sides of the aisle tip-toed around Dimon in June, incredibly deferential in their questioning. The “fawning” from the members of the Senate banking commitee greatly disappointed critics apalled that ”too-big-to-fail” banks have jumped back into risky investments so soon after being bailed out by U.S. taxpayers. Dimon had been called on the Congressional carpet after JPM announced that it had lost at least $2 billion in bets on derivative investments tied to a single trader with a made-for-tabloids nickname, the “London Whale.”

Some analysts expect those trading losses to be much higher than $2 billion. First order of business for Dimon Friday is to provide an accurate–and hopefully final–accounting of the losses. Then he needs to detail how JPM will improve its risk managment. Analysts certainly will have some tough questions about how JPM judged the riskiness of the trades and controls the bank has since put in place.

A key issue for analysts, investors and, ultimately, the SEC: How JPM and other big banks have kept their investors in the dark about how they calculate trading risks. Investment banks evaluate risk with proprietary “value-at-risk” (VaR) formulas that are kept closely guarded. JPM, for example, did not disclose to investors or regulators even when their VaR calculations showed that risk assumptions had changed. According to a recent Bloomberg report:

Wall Street firms routinely give only broad outlines of how their mathematicians calculate VaR, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and almost nothing about changes in statistical assumptions or the prices they choose to feed into their models.

Dimon should come to the analyst meeting Friday prepared to detail improvements in transparency, while protecting what is rightfully proprietary. Even though Congress has to this date been easy on him, Dimon cannot expect to be able to continue to keep JPM’s investors in the dark.

- Jon Harmon



Goldman won’t regain public trust with Wall of Secrecy

What do companies need to do and say to win back pubic trust?

Jordan Kimmel of Trust Across America posed that question to me this week on his radio program on Voice America. Here’s the link to listen to the interview.

Jordan asked me about winning back trust after a crisis and about my experience in the Ford-Firestone mess that is the basis for my book, FEEDING FRENZY. And we talked about the turmoil inside Goldman Sachs after former executive Greg Smith took quite a public parting shot in the form of an op-ed in the New York Times. (Smith’s piece has since led to a global torrent of negative press and opinion against Goldman and its brand of “pirate capitalism.”)

Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein

I pointed out that the heart of Smith’s accusations against Goldman’s corporate culture is the violation of customer trust, of putting profit ahead of customer interest. But even worse, I noted, is a bigger cloud hanging over Goldman, the violation of public trust. It’s now clear that Goldman played a key role in the financial crisis that precipitated the global Great Recession, especially in regard to the clever packaging of derivatives built around shaky subprime mortgage disguised as AAA-rated investments.

The American public is incredibly forgiving when the leaders of an organization express remorse and a sincere commitment to change behavior for the better. But contriteness is not the message coming out of Goldman.

Furthermore, in today’s world, transparency is an essential element of corporate social responsibility. Goldman’s corporate culture is built on impenetrable secrecy. And there’s little reason to expect the curtain to be lifted any time soon.

It’s only March, but put Goldman Sachs down as an early contender for Force for Good’s 2012 PR Disaster of the Year.

- Jon Harmon