Category Archives: Public Relations



For me, life’s a dash

to the final parenthesis:

(You’re born, you grow, you ebb –

& OMG! it’s curtains.)

Hypothetically to Albert E.,

universal relativity:

spacetime’s bent, no end,

the climax ellipsis. . .

For Bohr, the quantum


mechanically uncertain:

Life’s sentence is a run-on, a splice.

Or maybe a fragment?

Maybe a fragment?

— Robert E. Brown

March  1, 2010


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Tiger’s Twisted Tale a Simple Story

Now that a dozen women have publicly announced their Me too’s, what appears to be a story about big numbers and high complexity may not be complex at all. Shorn of the billion-dollar net worth, the prancing porn stars, the Vegas angle, the pancake waitress, what it all may amount to is not something off the charts but utterly average.

Truth be told, for all its sadness, Tiger’s tale is common and banal. It only looks exotic, and why wouldn’t it? All that money, fame and pulchritude. All our surprise, curiosity and amusement.

All that flash blinds us to the real story, stripped of the strippers. It’s the tale of another unhappily married man who was looking for love in all the wrong places. Apparently having been unacquainted with Aristotle’s extremely practical distinction between pleasure and happiness, Tiger opted for the former at the expense of the latter.

Few hells are more hellish than a bad marriage, as half the U.S. population can attest. (That’s right — me, too.)

Perusing the rapidly mounting Tiger Mistress files, I was struck by the plaintiff and confused (others would say whiney and pathetic) tone of his declarations of need, if not love, for at least one of the mistresses. And while the unambiguous beauty of some of those women suggest that the tiger eye was trained on certain body parts, our prurience makes us miss the point again. Shakespeare’s king cries out, A kingdom for a horse!  Tiger was willing to sell his kingdom for an ear — a sympathetic one, and a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and yes — cynical reader! — a heart.

No, no, no! I am not exculpating him for being just another cheating heart, himself. As for his own body, we all know that he did his thinking with the wrong part — hardly a novel failing among men and, if much research on infidelity indicates, women, too.

Tiger is lost in the woods, and he won’t be out of them for quite a long purgatorial stretch.Think: The Divine Comedy. In the middle of his unhappily married life, Tiger found himself in a dark wood and confused and miserable, he descended into hell. Only unlike Dante’s journeyman, Tiger had no Beatrice – no Divine Reason — to guide him down through the increasingly piteous circles of hell. And if memory serves, lust itself was one of the least offensive sins, and lustful lovers were housed in one of hell’s upper circles as they were buffeted with the winds of lust and forever chasing each other around with no hope of capture or embrace — as opposed to the likes of the political and religious betrayers who were way down in the 9th circle.

In Dante’s Comedy, all does end well. Having descended to the depths of hell, Dante is guided upward into purgatory — where he does the Oprah and Letterman shows and cries on “Barbara Walters.”  But having paid his debt and witnessed the worst, Dante — guided by Divine Reason — ascends into heaven in the “Paradise.”

I have Tiger beginning the descent, with quite a long way to drop before he begins what I suspect — even hope– will be that blessed turnaround that begins the sweetest of gifts to the sinner.

It’s called redemption.

My advice to Mr. Woods: Dump those caddies and go looking for Beatrice. You’re going to need reason — the more divine the better.

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Chapter 16 Corporate Communication

Chapter 16                        Corporate Communications

What you’ve read in the textbook up to this point has been about how organizations think about and use the principles, strategies and tactics of public relations to accomplish specified objectives and generate positive relationships with opinion leaders and stakeholders. Many, if  not most, of those organizations are for-profit corporations: organizations in business to produce a profit for their owners or, if the corporation is public, for the shareholders.

The central question of this chapter, if not of the entire text, is this: How does corporate communications differ from other kinds of public relations – nonprofit PR, marketing PR, crisis communication, investor relations, consumer relations, media relations, advocacy PR, lobbying, international/global PR and any other kind of public  relations?

Understanding the difference between corporate communications and other kinds of public relations is no simple matter, but it’s even more difficult to understand for anyone without real-world corporate experience.

And it’s really more than a matter of understanding what a famous manufacturing or service corporation – MicroSoft, Google, Procter & Gamble, General Motors, AIG, Bank of America, Exxon/Mobil – does for its PR activities. It’s critical to understand corporate communications at a deeper, more fundamental level— the level at which we understand what value a corporation like Google or Ford or General Mills offers for sale, of course, not only to consumers but to society itself – to stakeholders including government, to philanthropies (charities), to healthcare, education, to sports and entertainment, to media, and across the board of the economic, productive sectors of society.

What would this country – any country – be without the products and services generated by  the corporations in the paragraph above? You couldn’t listen to your iPod, fill your gas tank or even have a car in the first place. Governments depend on the payment of taxes by corporations, but also largely from consumers like you and me who are taxed on the iPhones, Big Macs and Sox tickets we buy. Yes, some of the revenue isn’t in the form of direct taxes – some of it comes indirectly. But you and I would not enjoy the quality of life we do without corporations  — yes, profit-seeking corporations – producing the X-boxes and Wii’s and putting winning Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots teams on the field to attract our patronage, our dollars.

Just as “It’s a Wonderful Life” demonstrates each  Christmas that what’s bad isn’t banks or bankers – it’s liars and cheaters and thieves and heartlessness. The savings and loan association operated by the Jimmy Stewart character is the heart and soul of the community itself – the money the depositors trust the bank with is repaid to the community in terms of affordable mortgages and affordable loans that are  the  seedbed of new businesses which without money would remain only dreams.

But of course corporations are rarely adored. We may love the Whopper but hardly think about the corporation that cooks it up. Yes, we may think Apple and BMW and Zappos are cool. But how do we feel about Texaco, CitiBank and Dow Chemical? Yet we don’t want to  live – at least most of us don’t – without iPhones, Beemers and affordable shoes.

Does this seem obvious to you? Perhaps. But then ask yourself why so many, if not most corporations are loathed when the breach the surface of our consciousness via the media – newspapers, films, TV. How are corporations and CEOs portrayed on “The Simpsons,” or in feature films like “Up in the Air,” just released starring George Clooney?

So why is that? What does it say about you and me that we can love the product but despise the producer? Are we hypocrites? Self-righteous phonies? Or are we coolly able to compartmentalize our feelings and actions, thumbing our nose at Wal-Mart while benefiting from Wal-Mart’s low-priced items?

So what does this have to do with corporate communications? Why do corporations engage in “reputation management,” stage big, fancy events to demo new products, send out news releases about their contributions to the Jimmy Fund, hold press conferences when they hire a new CEO, prepare for terrible things like assassins and arsonists, require employees to attend sexual harassment training, create glitzy web sites with advertainment geared to appeal to young consumers of snack food?

Also ask yourselves whether nonprofit corporations are not also business organizations not so very different from famous brand-name companies? What kind of competition and pressure is part of the lives of the employees of Oxfam, MassPirg and other issue-advocacy nonprofits? Are these nonprofits not competing for a share of mind, a share of dollars? Are not the fundraisers at our College courting wealthy donors such as Jack Welch to pony up $1 million for a new dorm, a new dining common, a new library to replace the collapsing one?

Ask yourself whether you could live without the service provided by Visa or Master Charge or Discover Ask yourself what you want for yourself in this life – and to what extent your getting it will require you to enter into relationships with for-profit corporations.

You already know that it’s not hard to call out the deceptive mortgage company, the oil company  charging $4 for a gallon of gasoline, the  electric utility that is raising its rates – or the  College that sends you a letter informing you your fees will increase by a $100 next semester, the textbook company that charges $150 for a book you hardly crack all semester and which you are dying to sell back – to the bookstore that will  only give  you $30 for it.

It’s easy to call out thieves and frauds like Bernie Madoff.  But do you really suppose that Bernie Madoff and Countrywide Financial and AIG are representative of for-profit corporations? And if you do, ask yourself why you think so – all the while looking forward to one day owning a home, driving a spiffy car and watching your monster Mac load huge web sites in a flash.

Yes, we’re a little schizo when it comes to our perceptions and behavior in the marketplace. But is that so odd, when we look closely, look in the  mirror and examine our choices coolly and honestly?

Unless and until you really think through  these questions, you won’t be ready to  begin to understand corporate communications. And even then, I doubt you  will be able to grasp it until you have some real-world experience not merely as a consumer of corporate products but as an employee of one of those famous but faceless, stereotyped and media-washed corporations.

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The Balloon Boy Revives PR’s History

Richard Feene meet P.T. Barnum.

The Balloon Boy family — the flying, tornado-hunting, child-endangering Heenes — appeared today on a number of TV morning shows, folowing yesterday’s bizarre, riveting and suddenly suspicious flying circus. The whole boy-in-the-balloon drama just may have been a publicity stunt orchestrated by 6-year-old Falcon Heene’s father, Richard.

Publicity stunt? See P.T. Barnum, the eponymous brand name of the Barnum & Bailey circus. Barnum with his museum of freaks, his “feejee Mermaid,” bearded lady, Tom Thumb and other “curiosities” that enthralled mid-nineteenth century America. Barnum with his quotable quotes: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

What Barnum knew and what his creative descendant, Richard Heene demonstrated, is  deliciously dirty little secret: People will pay to be suckered — especially when there’s a photo op in the newspaper or CNN, “The Today Show” and “Larry King.”

Fool me once, shame on me? Not really. Fool me once and I’m all yours. You had me at “sucker.”

In the textbooks used to teach public relations, Barnum is generally credited  as the founder of PR — the industry’s archetype. He’s the guy who figured out  how to use free publicity to fill his circus tent. If he paraded one of his elephants through a flower bed in the middle of a midwestern town, the newspapers — with their new-fangled invention, the camera — would come running to scoop the story.

It was business genius. First you sucker the press. Daguerre’s invention — the photographic process — was still in its infancy when Barnum plied his trade. A front-page story about Barnum’s circus was great marketing strategy — and the cherry on top was the photo of the elephant and the grinning rube town mayor.

Why pay to run an ad when the picture was worth a thousand words and lured a hundred suckers to the circus that very evening? It  was free advertising — the era’s world wide web. Free! Brilliant! Why buy a cow when the milk is free?

Not only may Barnum have invented public relations — he may have invented the free web.

And isn’t America the Land of the Free? Didn’t Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, that apostle of free market capitalism, insist that the single most important value of political society was, in his phrase, being “free to choose?”  The gospel of free market capitalism isn’t an expression of American exceptionalism. Friedman shopped it successfully around the world — to Chile, China and elsewhere.

Not that Friedman is in the same circus as Barnum and Feene. Even an anti-capitalist like Noam Chomsky might well hesitate to proffer such a wild comparison. All these men have adored the spotlight. But Friedman was a scholar, not a hoaxer.

Dad of the Year Feeney has Barnum in his blood. Yesterday’s OMG I-can’t-look live TV news shots of the airborn weather balloon that was said to have little Falcon along as an accidental passenger: the spectacle would  have made Barnum proud.

Are we not a spectacular nation? We certainly are a nation of spectacles. It’s in our natinal DNA. We’ve always loved tall tales and the men who retailed them. Our fussy, Marxist European critics — Guy DeBord comes to mind  — have made careers ranting against the poisonous nexus of advertising and consumerism that is definitiely American. We are to blame. And how humiliating it must have been for DeBord to see literary France debauched by the illiterate American suckers with their Disneylands and Madison Avenues and Hollywoods.

We Americans love a bargain, and no bargain’s better than a free one. Never mind that the fussbudget Friedman warned us that there’s no free lunch. We know differently. Facebook, Twitter — the web itself — is not only free; it’s adamantly, fervently, passionately free.

Richard Feene gets it. That’s why one of his first phone calls was to a TV news station. His Barnum brain told him that TV news stations have helicopters — those whirlybird elephants — and that a helicopter tracking the boy-in-the-balloon would make spectacular news. It might cost a few thousand dollars an hour to loft that helicopter. But the publicity was both free and priceless.

Six-year-old Falcon Feene: The face that launched a thousand helicopters — well, maybe just a couple of helicopters, but millions of Unique Views on the web.  As Barnum knew how to play the newspaper press, Feene knows how to work the visual media. After all, the Feenes already had a history with TV. The family of risk-takers had been featured on “Wife Swap.”

As I write this, there’s no proof that Balloon Boy was a hoax. It’s just that television history, American history and the long shadow of P.T. Barnum offer up a pretty strong circumstantial case.

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PR Isn’t the Dark Side For Journalists Now

PR isn’t the “dark side” any more for journalists,according to a post in a PR consulting blog.

The post is amusing, if not exactly stop-the-presses news.
The post is from, a PR consulting web site. Modern PR — late l9th/early 20th century — was created by journalists such as Ivy L. Lee who saw the nice old funny singing philanthropic children-loving side of the most hated man in America — John D. Rockefeller. Since those days, PR has been a frequent destination for journalists who, for whatever reasons, never drank the kool-aid about the nobility of journlism/satanism of public relations.

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President of the World: Eyes on Obama’s Prize

Yes, I know. The Nobel Prize committee got it wrong.

A couple of days ago, the Nobel Prize committee once again snubbed Philip Roth, an American author whose body of work is prize-worthy. I was honored to be a student in a small class he taught on world literature more than 40 years ago at the University of Pennsylavania.  This morning, the backwards committee awarded the peace prize to a leader whose major, if not only, accomplishment was to get himself elected.

Full disclosure: I voted for him. Also full disclosure: I’m sorry the Nobel folks hung this albatross around Mr. Obama’s neck. Iran — whose ancestors invested chess –issued a statement of approval. Finally, after American invasions and torture and exceptionalism under the mean old President Bush, there’s a nice, peaceful fellow America picked as its leader.

The selection of Obama does him no or the U.S. no good. His selection, based apparently on nomination papers submitted just weeks into his presidency, appears to be for his having been elected. No kinetic energy — just potential.

In a way, it’s understandable. On one level, it’s really not about Obama the man, but Obama the symbol. The multicultural, African-American, history-making, narrative-changing, citizen of the world.

If Bill Clinton had been what Toni Morrison called ‘the first black president,’ then Obama is the first global president. (Let’s leave aside the fact that he’s commander-in-chief of the US military now waging two wars.)

Awarding the prize to Obama reminds me of that misguided self-esteem movement in education, which awarded all children A’s just for existing,rather than for accomplishment. That approach soon was recognized for the well-intended foolishness it is, and as a result we have had the 20-year pendulum swing to 24/7 testing the Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama no-child-left-untested. As usual,after a policy failure comes an over-correction.

The rightwing has won the conservative Exacta: first, the embarrassment for the Obamas that their efforts to lobby the Olympic committee for Chicago failed. And now this Peace Prize awkward moment.

Obama’s domestic enemies are chuckling. But Obama may yet get the last laugh. The very “poison” so feared by the Ronald Reagan-led conservative movement, and now echoed by the radical right (Beck, Limbaugh, Malkin and O’Reilly, Inc.): socialized medicine. The all-but-certain passage of significant healthcare reform is exactly the sort of accomplishment that prize committees generally use as a criterion. And I suspect that over this first term there may well be other significant accomplishments that could well turn out to make the obviously premature award appear not idiotic and naive but prescient.

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The Future of Advertising? It’s PR!

Not long ago, as social media hit the fans, PR firms’ early adopters let out a curiously triumphant cry: PR IS DEAD! Something appears to be dead — but the former PR types mis-identified the body.  The corpse appears to be advertising.

This is why. Everyone’s a PR person now. Influential mommies are blogging for Wal-Mart, though only if the products rate a happy emoticon. Your granddaughter has broken 100 twitter followers. Your boss is getting retweeted and recommended for Follow Friday.

Why buy a cow when the milk is free?  Advertising is the cow fewer folks care to buy. PR is free — which makes it a perfect fit for the web.

NPR’s “On Point” devoted a segment (Thursday, October 8, 2009) to a close examination of advertising’s corpse.

It would seem that reports of the death of public relations are, to cite Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated. They got the wrong body — which, I believe, was one of Twain’s plot twists.

Here’s the thing about public relations: It can’t die because it’s wired into our very beings. We hunt, we gather, we do the fight-or-flight, we opine, we seek, we want, we need — and we promote. Ourselves. Just read Erving Goffman on the subject — The Presentation of Everyday Life. (And I suspect the great sociologist disdained PR, politics and advertising, except to the extent that they provided him with the material for an extraordinary and influential career as the innovator of “dramaturgy” theory: Life is theater.)

We humans are unendingly theatrical, with our self-promotions, our apologies (“Sorry!”), our ingratiations (“Lovely scarf!”), our phatic relationship creation on the fly (“Hey — yo!”), our Linked In requests for recommendations, our Trumpian dreams, our romantic sales pitches and come-on lines, our bad-news spins (“It’s not what it looks like”), our “civil inattention” (a Goffman term for looking away from the guy with the awful limp). Humans are relentless dramatic.

So it shouldn’t be any wonder that we’re wired for PR. Only now, with the 75,000 iPhone apps and the few dozen social media “tools,” our dramaturgical theatricality — our craving for love and attention — has been (Choose One: enabled; unleashed) by the 24/7, free web.

What underlies the FREEDOM! cries of the early adopters and web innovators is surely a matter of economics. But it’s also a matter of public relations.  Not only isn’t PR dead — it’s roaming wildly across the landscape, a crazed but generally happy monster looking for love and fame and the chance to go viral. PR has become marketing’s sentinel, its lieutenant. Sometimes it’s the other way around.

Advertising? It’s a delicious and ridiculous and corny and fabulous and sometimes stylishly fashionable thing of the past. I’m a fan of “Mad Men,” whose popularity seems to me like the kind of love we have for treasures of the past — like the Orient Express or the Charleston. Only advertising isn’t coming back any time soon — that is, until some genius exhumes the body.


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