When Company Failures Become Public (Relations) Problems

Why are “lack of public relations” scandals and failures called PR problems?

Spoiler alert: Rant ahead.

This op-ed in USA Today on the latest Penn State woes prompted this rant, in part because of headlines calling the situation and Barron’s letter “PR blunder.” Wasn’t in the room when that letter was written, but IME ‘passionate’ defenses like that may get through legal and TPTB barely listen to PR.

Or here’s Wired on YACHT’s fake scandal – and many tweeters – referring to a shameless marketing publicity stunt as “PR.” Keep reading, you’ll see the (I’ve never heard of) band’s own publicity firm disavowed the move.

Somehow this type of business culture, management’s failure to hire or listen to communications professionals is a blunder – for PR. And SMH?!

Here’s me (if you scroll down, you’ll see the comments), fighting this fight with a Forbes contributor and how I argue almost all the so-called public relations blunders are caused by marketing or company culture or management. And that they evolved into reputation, branding – and therefore PR issues – only after they became public.

Not an Afterthought

Communications is how business runs. Period.

I’ll skip the rant about how PR is so much more than marketing, sales, leads; or an unread employee relations newsletter; or likes and clicks on social media. Many a PR is not publicity post out there, as there should be.

The problem is that professional business communicators like myself don’t get to make these decisions. Our brains are picked, we’re asked to work for free instead of the value of our work.

Buried under Marketing or Human Resources department heads, corporate communications and public relations professionals aren’t on the board, don’t have a seat at the table. Communications, reputation, relationships – these are thought of only after something goes wrong.

That’s not a PR problem, it’s an organizational one.

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Expectations Miss the Mark

Some things are odd, lately Expectations top that list. Had a lot of wants and wishes, and what was planned… let’s just say, very much not how things turned out.

A Customer Goes Into the Wrong Door…

Imagine a business where the customer isn’t really there for the service or product provided by that business.

what-did-you-expect_o_751563Imagine people that take a Caribbean cruise but don’t like sun and beaches. Or they don’t like friendly passengers or open dining seating or so many things that are cruise standard. They want adult only, yet book a family cruise line, during a school break.

So they send funny cruise complaints to the unofficial blogger at Carnival, who has to answer for weather and not buying insurance and many other SOPs.

People go to doctors for a quick Rx of a wonder pill that will fix this side effect of that other pill that’s supposed to be treating some other problem. Do the work to actually get better (diet, exercise, sleep and other things healthy) and no, there’s gotta be a pill for that too.

Read through any TripAdvisor or Yelp pans and you’ll see a plethora of ridiculous ‘what were they thinking?! that’s not that kind of place’ reviews.

Think of going to a hair salon to get your taxes done. I exaggerate but it’s often how I’ve felt during my career as an business consultant. People walk in asking for one thing yet it’s something completely different they really want. [What they really need – that’s a whole other expectations vs communications battle right there.]

Always another..

Opportunities are supposed to be around every corner. I’ve pretty much handled every challenge (aka disguised opportunity) life has thrown my way on my own, even when the right decision was the hard decision of ‘giving up’ and letting go. The current challenge du jour – realigning my expectations without it feeling like lowering the bar yet again, then figuring out how to get there.

You? Any fun examples of mismatched expectations, do share.

Image credit: Memecenter


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Another New Year, Another New Me: 5 Things I Learned In 2015

Yeah, it’s a resolutions post – not on autopilot.

  1. Marketing is not me. Always known I’m not cut out for sales and the reality for most small businesses, that’s all they want. The holistic business communications I do – everything from project management to branding, social media to design, all under the umbrella of true Public Relations that serves overall business goals – has been subverted to strictly serving marketing and sales, so it’s time to do something else.
  2. All ‘this’ doesn’t matter.* The blogging, the networking, the ‘strategic’ updates with their keywords and hashtags, it’s starting to feel like it’s for the 1% of those it helps. No one is listening, the rest is vanity, only matters to those who care; see also Twitter decides to nix the share count.
    • *Except when it does. Because it’s all about WHO you know and these days, that’s your social network, online and off. So if you’re looking for better career opportunities (waives hand) or support for a campaign, that’s the first place you turn.
  3. I’m over it. Bureaucracy and red tape are b.s. and clipboards are of the devil. Pretty much all political posturing is crap, no one wants real change — unless it serves their own interests. That we allow ourselves to be divided by ‘issues’ is on us and …I will stop before I get into trouble.
  4. People are Awesome. Or at least, they can be – see below. When shit gets real, people can surprise the hell out of you with their support, compassion and generosity. This year, MIND. BLOWN.
  5. I am a total [bleeping] badass. Flip side of bad luck is the good luck that it still could have been worse. That’s me, each and every year; 2015 was a whopper – some of you know of what I type. Think I surprised a few folks, but I’ve always known that I can count on myself to get it done, keep it moving.

Pesky Resolutions: Easy to Type, Hard to Do.

After the year I’ve had more than ever, my resolution is I choose me. Priorities, I am my number 1, 3, 45, and 89th priority.

Pay it forward. Blessed I’ll find a better way to give back, do more for others, find something that’s me, that does actual good for real people.

Be less negative. This for many a BFF, including Jayme Soulati who knows of hard times and how to deal. It’s an attitude shift per Kaarina Dillabough, a change in my mindset acceptance vs expectations.

Even though I don’t have the pedigree resume and brand name client list, I could. I am that smart, that capable, that talented. I have to start believing that, own it – and help me, ‘sell’ others on it.

Find my CAN DO list. In the wise words of Jack Sparrow, excuse me, CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow, “The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do, and what a man can’t do.” I’ve got my can’t dos – I can’t sell, can’t sit in a cube farm, can’t deal with daily commutes and perfunctory 9-5 lifestyle. I can’t do my best work sitting in meetings or filing TPS reports, so it’s best I don’t.

I can and do work smart, work hard. I can be flexible, adapt, give to get. I can write, plan, think out of the box, out of the silo. I can see big pictures and little details, and I can get things done. (Now to put that into LinkedIn resume friendly terms.)

So stay tuned, another new year, another ‘new and improved’ me. You: any big reveals in 2015, grand plans for 2016? Please share.

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At the Movies: Business, Doing it Wrong

I’ll interrupt my normal content about how how communications is what drives successful business, PR more than sales and marketing, with a long overdue blog post, to rant about how Hollywood does and doesn’t get business vis a vis the movies.


Think the best OJT for business may be running a restaurant, a chef as CEO. Except when it’s Hollywood and you can bully your way into greatness without really trying. This one seemed so out of date, much like the chef at the center of the story.

About the only things it got right: 1) it takes a team, that the people doing the work are what makes – or breaks – a business and 2) competition can drive success, forcing others to up their game.

achievementdemotivator_largeSteve Jobs

I though the movie got the vision, the idea of people not knowing what they want until you make it for them. The familiar Sorkinisms zeroed in on target market, how they weren’t going after computer geeks who’d hack their own machines but rather everyone else willing to pay a premium for something that just works.

I saw how communications – interpersonal, professional, organizational – drive business. How failing to recognize contributions, how management values its employees do has consequences. Relationships matter.

My favorite part of Steve Jobs –  failure. Great marketing isn’t everything; buzz and a successful ad may drive stock prices and market value a bit, but if the product or service doesn’t make a profit, it’s still a bust. Moving on, planning ahead and failure being part of that plan, gives me hope as I’m not ‘there’ – yet.

The Intern

Infuriatingly simplistic representation of a startup that’s supposed to be a genius business model – sexist #FWP idea of buying clothes online whilst drinking wine with friends. It’s Hollywood take on what a startup would be, all renovated building open spaces, sans grey cubes, with an on staff masseuse and annoying victory bell.

Stuffed with predictable cliches and stereotypes, I can’t decide what was the most eye roll worthy – that such an innovative startup would require coders and programmers and designers to schlep to offices on-site rather than telework or that it’s fearful CEO had to micro-manage even the font and color designs of the website homepage on a daily basis.

What does this have to do with PR? Everything.

Media and critics. Investors and stockholders and board members. Service & Support and R&D. Customers and clients. Vendors, suppliers, distributors. Staff, team members, ‘talent’ or whatever employees called. These are all key players in every movie and in my world, they are AKA as stakeholders. The Publics of Relationships.

It’s work, a lot of work to accomplish something. Uniting people behind a goal of building a business or reviving a brand or managing a project, that takes effort and effective communications. See also The Martian which, while it limited “PR” to public affairs and media relations, at least that person was in the room and had some say when the big decisions were made.

Ever seen a movie or show that got your job, your business so very very wrong? Please share.

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What Magic Mike XXL Can Teach Your Brand About Business

Yeah. I’m going there, click bait headline and all. Ahem.

Fluff has its place.

Went in with mixed expectations and came out pleasantly surprised by Magic Mike XXL. Unlike its IMO over-praised predecessor, MMXXL got what a movie about male strippers was supposed to be: fun.

For all the eye candy, basking in Matthew McConaughey working at the top of his game, Magic Mike left me kinda cold. MM was this voyeuristic look into life that Hollywood so loves to frame as ‘different’ and ‘alternative.’ Only way I can describe it was that, it tried to balance the cheesy dancing with ‘real life’ spun as the ‘seedy underbelly’ of a world – gasp! – in which not everyone works a desk, M-F 9-5, almost shot threw a lens of poverty tourism. It wasn’t seedy, it wasn’t different or fringe; this one of a million ways people work and live and are .. and I’ll stop before you worry about my issues. Here, watch Screen Junkies’ Honest Trailer. Ahem.

Magic Mike XXL shrugs all that faux serious navel-gazing, instead opting for a funny buddy road trip flick. And it worked, lazy summer fluffy fun and entertainment.

Now, what can a money-grubbing Hollywood sequel teach you about business:

Know what you are. Whether it’s attractive dancers or the best grilled cheese in town, own it be it, work it. Do what you do, do it well. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Don’t pretend to be what you’re not. There were times they reached a little too hard and it felt contrived and forced. You’re not all things to all people, so stop trying. If it’s you, really you then it’s so much better than anything anyone else would put out there.

Go with what works. The dancing, the bromance, the slapstick – that’s what I found entertaining the first time, worked again for round two.

Take Risks. If what’s working is only working well enough, then you take a chance and mix it up. All you’ve risked was ‘failure,’ which wasn’t working anyway.

Enjoy the ride. Things don’t always go to plan, which is why you need other options – never forgetting to make the most of what’s going on at the time.

People matter. Connections, human interaction, old friends – no one does it alone. You have to give to get and above all, remember it’s not about logos and profiles, not status or what others think. It’s those who are there for you, those who you are there for.

I could keep typing but you get the gist: this was one time I thought Hollywood improved on its original business model. Threw out what wasn’t working, and pardon the pun, stripped down to basics. YMMV so please, tell me what you think.

Video: by Sausage Party via Entertainment Weekly ‘because the Internet.’ 
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When a Sale isn’t a Sale

BTW: this type of mini-post used to go to my G+ but as rumor has it, Google+ is not long for this world.

Value. Bang for the buck. Sale. Bargain. Business buzzwords and what customers are wanting as they make their buying decisions.

During one of their recent sales, I’ve wanted to run around Kroger and pull all the gallons of milk out of everyone’s carts. Why? Do I have some odd dislike of calcium and lactose? No. It’s because I’m all about the better deal.

Gallon milk: “on sale” for $2.99. Half gallon, 10 for $10. AKA $1. Otherwise known as HALF the price.

For reasons passing understanding – maybe they’re in government spending or corporate procurement or otherwise mathematically challenged – too many people were sticking with the full gallon option.

Happens. We get in a rut, we limit ourselves and thinking to ‘what we always do’ or the ‘one size fits all’ or whatever other mindset that blinds us to better, more flexible options.

This is the same kind of mindset I see:

  • when companies limit PR to publicity.
  • when they think of social media – hell, all communications – as merely a ‘channel’ that’s all about sales (or not).
  • when relationships are transactional, useful only when favorably calculated as ROI on a balance sheet.
  • when ‘talent’ and employee worth is defined by some b.s. job title on a resume.

We all go for the sale, fall for some kind of marketing pricing trickery once in a while. If nothing else, my years of working with small business, of doing more with less .. I’ve learned to look for and take advantage of true value whenever I can.

You: When is a sale not? How do you spot the difference?

Image credit: a clever Someecard, which explains why I’m not interested in latest, skinniest, wimpy Macbook.
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What Twitter Doesn’t Need

For all its hype and status as media darling – turn on any news and you’ll see something about ‘tweeted today’ – Twitter is really struggling to become.

More. Better. To reach. To fulfill the promise that maybe never existed in the first place.

Good ideas, everyone’s got one

Here are a few of the ‘save Twitter’ or ‘how to make Twitter suck less’ posts I’ve read and shared of late:

What Twitter Can Be. Long read, very smart by VC Chris Sacca. As always, I’m like real human people it needs to be about that.

Some people think Twitter needs Nuzzle. Filters and controls, I’ve been typing that for years.

I totally respect HBR author Alexandra Samuel for asking Buffer to remove her content from their suggestions, disappointed about How Bots took over Twitter.

1244318836blockedWhat’s not helping.

If it’s not part of the solution, you know what it is.

Celebrities reading Mean Tweets may be fun, but celebrity Twitter feuds – real or fake – don’t help. Or at least to me, aren’t going to do anything to make people want to spend more time on Twitter. Time matters.

Random changes from TBTB don’t do it any favors. Seriously, why zap wallpaper Twitter? Sharing block lists seems like something that should be automatic, not make the user’s work for it. By hand HUMAN curation via Project Lightning, I’ll believe when I see it.

Horrid, manipulative, self-involved navel-gazing first world problem tweets pretending to be inventive storytelling does not elevate Twitter into some kind of art form. (No really, I hated this. Tweet 53 made my blood boil and the non-shock and subsequent pandering of tweets 60 and beyond… bleep bleeping BLEEP. YMMV.)

Gimmicks and stunts aren’t solutions. Attacks, trolling and threats are common place, while real human conversation isn’t. Read Facebook comments on any media story covering ‘news of the Twitters’ and it’s rife with ‘still don’t get Twitter’ or ‘that’s why Twitter sucks.’

R-O-I are three of the most dangerous letters in business, social media ruined as its used solely to sell crappy products, horrible services, and holy terrors, build personal brands. Ergo people who once loved the platform are either fleeing or unfollowing en masse (but leaving all that automated link dumping behind).

I share too many links (relative to conversation), I’m muting when I should probably be unfollowing, I’m ‘using’ Twitter for myself, my career – which admittedly makes me part of the problem. The solution? If I knew, I’d put it in my cover letter.

You: Has the magic died? Are you still there out of obligation, for the social shares and occasional chat? What would make Twitter better for you, professionally and personally?

P.S. If Twitter would give me the source filters on the native, mobile apps like there are on TweetDeck, I’d be ever so grateful.

Image credit: Bluntcard, sometimes NSFW but funny.
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