BLOG ARCHIVE FOR: October, 2008


Trunk on spin

An excerpt from Penelope Trunk commenting to  my blog post about her appearance at the PRSA International Conference earlier this week, and the reaction from PRSA members.

I have to say that as a Boston Globe columnist, I’m shocked at how touchy PR professionals are about the word spin. I always thought it was the job of PR people pitching me to spin their topic to make it relevant to my own column topic. And I thought that was fine. I think it’s actually an interesting and creative act when done well.

I don’t think of spin as lying is because it wouldn’t occur to me that people would lie. I have worked with hundreds of PR professionals and, as far as I know, no one has ever lied.

I have a feeling that the issue of “do PR people lie?” is an old-school issue. I don’t think the new generation of workers has a negative view of PR and I don’t think the new generation of workers is interested in a discussion about who lies and who doesn’t. If you find someone who lies, don’t work with them again. And everyone is using the word spin all over the place. The PR world does not own it. In today’s workplace, everyone is in PR and everyone is spinning, and most people don’t lie.


I must add that some of the PR professionals who expressed outrage at Trunk’s remarks about spin also sat through a “master class” workshop on “sticky media pitches.”  And what’s a sticky media pitch?  One that tells the story to be told in a way that’s compelling and inriguing to the media and results in coverage of the client’s product, service, or company.  As Trunk says above, when done well, spinning is a creative and interesting act.


Leading with people

I don’t have a high tolerance for schmaltz.  I know some people like the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, but they’re not for me.

I read Mitch Albom’s book “Tuesdays with Morrie” only because it was a book club recommendation.  It was a sweet book and very touching, but I didn’t bother with “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” or “For One More Day.”  I get the whole live life to the fullest, tell the people you love that you love them, you don’t have anything more than this day shtick.  So when I learned that Albom was one of the keynote speakers at the PRSA conference, I thought it was a good “get” but I was more excited about hearing Bob Lutz and Penelope Trunk.

Now I know there are some of you who may find this hard to believe.  There are  only a few Disney movies that haven’t moved me to tears. I can’t listen to someone talk about their kids without a pang in my heart.  I believe the world should be a nicer place and we can all play a role in that.  I believe in fairness, decency, and respect.  And that there’s nothing more important than people.

But Albom did strike a chord with me in his closing remarks.  He advised the crowd to lead with people.  To invest time in relationships rather than achievements.  Because he said the only way you’ll achieve anything that matters is if you live on, long after you’re gone, in the hearts and memories of those you touched.

I had Girl Scouts this week.  When I’m doing the planning for a meeting, sometimes I think about the time it takes and what it takes away from other stuff – work, family, general housekeeping.  But when I’m with the girls, I realize I’m teaching them something that may be valuable some day.  And that maybe they realize I’m doing this because I care about the women they’ll someday become.  I do have a selfish motive, as my two daughters are in the troop and I’m helping them as well.  But I also want to help all the girls in my troop  become confident, optimistic women who feel they can do and be anything.

And maybe, when I’m gone, one of these girls will remember that I cared and maybe that I helped in some way.

So thanks, Mitch, for an entertaining and energizing talk and the reminder that in the end, the only thing that matters is the people who will remember how you treated them and how you made a difference in their lives.  And yes, for moving me to a few tiny, well concealed tears.


Kindness as a career strategy

Brazen Careerist Penelope Trunk was the luncheon speaker at Monday’s PRSA conference luncheon.  She raised a few eyebrows for language, but more importantly for her frequent use of the term “spin” in referring to PR people and what they do.  The PRSA response?  The organization’s president requested that Trunk use the term “effective messaging” instead of spin.  More on that later.

Trunk is a very funny writer and speaker, not afraid to mock her own failures and downplay her success.

And while her advice may be a bit polarizing (recommending job hopping and moving on when you’re no longer learning – which is embraced by those under 30 but creates unease among those with mortgage and orthodontia bills) she gave some advice that was entirely unexpected but very true.  Being nice can be a strategic career move.

She cited those who get ahead as those who get along and actively try to help others.  Trunk described this as getting your work done and going to help somebody else do their work.

Imagine, a career expert advising helping someone else as a way to get ahead.   And especially Trunk, whose advice has an “it’s all about me” theme.

The thing is, work is rarely all about you, but about someone else – shareholders, owners, your boss, the rest of your organization.  And helping your co-workers succeed helps the organization succeed, and if you’ve helped make that happen, you’ll look good.

Trunk’s presentation got a chilly response among the PRSA members I spoke with later that day and the following morning.  Most thought her view of PR as “spin” was inappropriate and some found her candor unprofessional.

My view on the “spin” debate?  We in the PR profession need to just get over it.  Most people, Trunk included, view “spin” as savvy messaging – helping an individual or organization message effectively through difficult situations.  Now some have viewed “spin” as stretching the truth or abandoning it altogether, which is just wrong.  But organizations that find a way to message effectively and be heard by their key audiences are just doing good PR, no matter what it’s called.


More from PRSA…PR in the Digital Age

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you I’ve worked with Rob Key of Converseon.  In fact Rob and his team helped us create the Opportunity Zone and its policies and approach.

I think he’s one of the thought leaders  in social media public relations, because he never loses sight of the fact that it’s all about people connecting with one another.

Key was one of several PR pros who did a panel today at the PRSA international conference on the changing PR landscape in light of social media and digital convergence.  He was joined by David Bradford of Fleischman-Hillard and Lee Oddon of Top Rank in the discussion.

Some tips they shared on succeeding in the online conversation:

  • Listen first, then engage, according to Key.  One way to do this is to “go native.” Understand the communities interested in you and your business.  Know the leaders, know the influencers, and understand the value you can bring to the conversation.
  • Oddon recommends taking the time to understand the sentiment, and then reach out and engage, giving the online community tools to express themselves.
  • Bradford suggested that companies seeking to wade into the online conversation use ideas as a starting point – engage about ideas, asking questions, and entering the conversation rather than pitching a product or service.

And perhaps the hardest of all, be engaging.  Say something interesting.  As Key says, how many companies are really ready to be provocative?


My little crush on Bob Lutz

I didn’t expect to like Bob Lutz.

But I have to admit, after hearing the GM VP speak at this morning’s PRSA opening session, I’m a fan.

Why?  The guy appreciates the beauty of good communication.

He was a strong and passionate advocate for good communication, challenging corporate communicators to actually say something.  As he put it, corporate communications have taken what could be a powerful weapon in putting out the truth into something that’s more an exercise in risk avoidance.  Lutz said most corporate communicators are so focused on not saying the wrong thing, that they say nothing at all.  He also decried writing that takes every bit of personality out.

Citing the state of writing as “deplorable and not getting better,” he also got appreciative response for pointing out such inexcusable offenses as people offering a “sneak peak” or suggesting something is a “roll model.”  To those using “sneak peak,” he responds, “tell me about this stealth mountaintop.”

Lutz urged corporate communicators to be skillful, direct, accurate, precise, and honest in all communications.  He says he writes his own blog posts for GM’s Fast Lane blog, sometimes running his posts by his corporate communications team and at others accepting suggestions for content.   Lutz says he was first excited about blogging because he wanted to fight back against media attacks, but now views the blog as a way to show the real people behind GM’s corporate facade.

His advice to other blogging CEOs?  Keep it real.  Like Lutz says, anything that sounds like corporate communications or contains a log of corporate-ese will drive away readers.  He says he and other GM execs who blog at Fast Lane strive for “genuineness” and to sound like “me talking.”


More on PRSA…

Watch Tim Penning’s GRPR blog for more updates…


Webcast of PRSA Keynote..

Hear Craig Newmark for yourself at


Day One: PRSA International Conference in Detroit

A carload of us from Amway Global (plus our good friend Melissa from IBOAI) are here in Detroit at the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) International Conference.  Some 3,000 PR people are here for a few days of top-notch speakers and the opportunity to network with others in our field.

It's been over 10 years since I've attended a PRSA national event, and the location and theme were just too tempting to pass up.  The "Point of Connection" theme is all about social media and how PR people can leverage online communities and forums to do what they do best — connect with an organization's key audiences.

The opening session on Sunday featured Craig Newmark, the quiet, unassuming founder of Craig's List.  Newmark claims Craig's List was founded on a simple premise — treat people as you want to be treated and listen to what they want and need.  Kindness as a foundational business model?  Apparently it works as Newmark was introduced as someone who's earning so much he doesn't exactly know how much he has.  Newmark wasn't a great presenter — he seemed winded at times and was very low-key — but he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

For session one I attended the "Master Class" on the "Role of Digital and Influencer Marketing in Driving PR Programs of the Future."  Hosted by Mark Hass, Global CEO of Manning, Selvage and Lee, it wasn't so much a "master class" as an overview of how digital marketing and online communities are changing PR.  He spoke of companies moving from a "monologue" scenario in which the company governed one-way communication with its audiences to a "multilogue" involving various parties that talk to each other.  Anyone who doesn't know this by now must still be carving news releases into stone tablets. 

Mark  also spoke about "purpose" campaigns that aggregate people into social networks.  These "purpose" campaigns have common elements like shared interests or ideas and create intense loyalty and levels of engagement.  And they have a common commitment level — a financial commitment of some kind, as big as giving money to a cause or campaign or giving up share of wallet by purchasing a product or service.

I left midway through this session because I felt I'd seen a lot of the content before (through just about every vendor digital or social marketing presentation of the past two years.)

Went on to Jim Luckaszewski's presentation on getting the boss to listen.  Jim's a legend in PR and once counseled Amway on a big issue.  I've also recommended Jim's essay on "PR is a Transformational Force" in this blog (don't be put off by the title, it's a good lesson for anyone.)  Jim's lesson that the role of the PR advisor is to focus on advising the boss as an individual rather than simply representing a function was a good one, although the session moved around a bit.  Jim uses one of my favorite presentation techniques — numbers and sequencing — to draw attention to content.  The way you do this is to say something like, "there are three reasons this business is unlike any other," to frame content.  People pick up their pen and start to write down these three important things.  That's a great technique, but in this presentation, Jim would start a sequence and jump to another.  So in one case I got three of the "seven disciplines of a trusted advisor," three things that are different for today's CEO, two ways to think like the CEO and three things CEOs expect.  I figure I need to buy Jim's new book to add it all up!

Day two starts with GM's Bob Lutz, offers two morning sessions and then lunch with Brazen Careerist Penelope Trunk and more workshops to follow.  If all goes well, will be Twittering and blogging from the floor of all.



Come out, come out, where ever you are!

One of the most curious things I've learned hosting this blog is that a lot of people peek in here and elsewhere in the Opportunity Zone to take a look and see what we're talking about,  but don't actually comment themselves.

In fact, the number of people who comment are well below 1 percent of the visitors to the blogs.  In some cases, there are hundreds or thousands of "viewers" but a miniscule number of people leave their mark, so to speak. 

For those of you who comment here, I'm interested in learning why you choose to share your views and engage in the conversation here.  In addition, I'd love your thoughts on where else we as a company should be engaging and sharing information beyond the Zone — traveling to other "living rooms," so to speak.  For example, I just started "twittering" so I can understand what that's all about.  Microblogging is kind of a cool concept but I'm not sure how it applies to what we do here.  But I'm trying it.

Give me your thoughts and you'll be eligible for a drawing for a copy of Stedman Graham's "Build Your Own Life Brand."


Social contracts

My third-grader came home a few weeks ago with a copy of the "social contract" she and her classmates developed as an assignment in Mrs. Golembiewski's class.

The social contract outlines ground rules for behavior and engagement created by and agreed upon by all 25 kids in the class.

Some of them are simple.  The foundation of the contract is to treat everyone with respect. Some are more specific to the social needs of eight-year-olds —  not interrupting or "stepping on someone else's words." Raising your hand to ask a question.   Hitting is not allowed.  Nor is cutting in line or calling anyone names.  

We have a kind of social contract here in the Opportunity Zone — our "civil discourse" philosophy.  It means we agree to disagree but not be disagreeable.  To respect each other as individuals and respect differences of opinion.  And in the spirit of Mrs. G's class, no name-calling.

I accidentally posted a comment today that had some mild name-calling.  I caught this within a few minutes and revised the comment with an editor's note explaining what I'd done.  Whenever we need to edit a comment to remove names, profanity or any other violation of our comments policy, we typically post an editor's note letting the reader know the content has been changed and why.  And if need be, we follow-up with the person making the comment to let them know why a change was made.

My apologies to both the victim of the comment and the person making the comment for this error.