Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A PR Dilemma: Should the Commissioner Attend the Game?

Everyone who follows baseball knows that Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants superstar, is on the verge of breaking one of baseball's most sacred records: the 755 home runs hit by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, formerly of the Atlanta Braves, who retired in 1976.

There has been a lot of publicity and discussion about whether Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball, should attend the game in which Bond's record-breaking hit will occur. Why? Because Bonds has been indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for his admitted — but he says "unknowing" — ingestion of steroids supplied by his trainer. Steroids artificially inflate one's physical power and speed up recovery. It is currently illegal under baseball regulations to take them. The Grand Jury investigation is still under way, while Bond's personal trainer, Greg Anderson, refusing to testify, sits in jail.

So this so-called record, many contend, is really not a record at all; Bonds might never be in a leadership position had he not taken drugs which enhanced his physical prowess. In fact, to add to the skepticism, Bond’s statistics have gotten better as he has gotten older, when most players' performances tend to decline.

And that’s the issue: by attending this "historic" game, will the Commissioner be recognizing this new record as legitimate, thereby endorsing what Bonds and other superstars allegedly did (cheat)? If he attends, will this create a long-term public relations problem for the game?

It is my position that the Commissioner should attend the game, largely because he and the rest of the leadership of Major League Baseball are the reason baseball is in this pickle. While the integrity of any professional sport requires that performance-enhancing drugs not be used, it is not until the past couple years that baseball had a drug policy. Integrity alone is not enough of a deterrent in a sport where players' livelihoods are dependent on performance.

Major League Baseball has left all records -- and statistics -- standing among those who admittedly took steroids. Thus, Bonds alone should not be any more culpable than Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire or others whose use of steroids has been alleged or admitted. There is no investigation that can ever go broadly enough to discover all baseball players in history -- and most likely many in the Hall of Fame -- who took steroids, influencing their records, either long before there was a drug policy or since the policy was established.

The reality is that it is Major League Baseball itself that is culpable, and it is time for the leadership to admit that and start afresh. There should be an "amnesty" applicable to the past, through a designated date in the future, regarding all statistics and records, so the questioning stops. Before doing this, MLB needs to make sure that they have an adequate testing program in place; without that, any policy is a sham. Thereafter, anyone caught taking steroids should be punished via established MLB policies (which should includes specific punishments for first, second and third offenses), and their "records," if any, should not be recognized.

Years ago, when Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in one season and broke Babe Ruth's record of 60, Maris did it during a season of 162 games, while Ruth created his record in a season of 154 games. Legend has it that for years the Maris record had an asterisk (*), footnoting the fact that Maris played eight more games than Ruth. It took over 40 years of pressure for MLB to remove this famous asterisk which according to The New York Times, May 27, never really existed except in the minds of fans. Nevertheless, it gained such notoriety (the idea was ignited by a sportswriter), a committee was set up to officially “remove” it.

Since the drug makers are ahead of the testers, it is time for MLB to fix what has been broken and fix it well. In other words, it is time to “remove the asterisk" and move baseball forward.

Technorati Tags: baseball, Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, Baseball Hall of Fame, Hank Aaron, Atlanta Braves, Bud Selig, steroids, Greg Anderson, Major League Baseball, Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, MLB, Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, New York Times, business, public relations, communications

Monday, May 21, 2007

When Small Talk Can Be Big Talk

Sometimes small talk can be big talk.

How do I define small talk? It is conversation about the day-to-day happenings of life — e.g., stories about our families, ourselves, sports, commuting, articles in the media — that quickly establish common ground. I also call it “fun talk.”

Small talk is what we do when we are out with friends, chatting over the phone, bumping into someone on the street, etc.

Generally, we need things in common to establish a level playing field. It happens naturally with friends, but it may not happen as naturally in business, where we often have “bigger” things to discuss. So you may have to look for an opportunity to break the ice.

To ignite a business relationship, we often have to build a bridge. Don’t you like to do business with people whom you feel a sense of connection (although, obviously, that alone is not enough)? For example, assume you meet a new recruit or the CEO or head of corporate communications of a potential client. After an initial greeting, you might discuss the weather, the pictures on his or her desk, yesterday’s baseball game if you note an autographed baseball on the desk, last night’s episode of the Sopranos, golfing, or skiing — depending on how the conversation flows. It establishes a rapport, a comfort level, thereby putting both parties at ease, and it makes it easier to segue into the purpose of the meeting.

Someone once said: “Don’t knock the weather. Nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change once in a while!” In most cases, big talk often follows small talk.

Technorati Tags: small talk, The Sopranos, business, communications, public relations

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Five Tips to Presidential Candidates on Using the Internet

Television transformed the 1960 election and, nearly half a century later, I believe that bloggers and YouTube will transform the 2008 presidential election.

In 1960, more than 75 million U.S. viewers tuned in to watch Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts and Vice President Richard Nixon in the first-ever televised presidential debate.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, in 2004 75 million Americans used the internet to get political news and information, discuss candidates and debate issues or participate directly in the political process by volunteering or making contributions to candidates. I expect the momentum to grow, and it is already happening.

Thus, here are five tips for candidates in the next presidential election about adapting themselves to the new world order (i.e., the rise of consumer-generated media):

1) Beware of the "gotcha": There are no more out-of-town runs to test speeches and make mistakes; everyone's a reporter today
2) Don't pander: If you promise one thing in one state and something else in another, you will be found out
3) Understand the medium: Don't think you can use YouTube just for political ads or as an "information dump"
4) Look for new opportunities to dialogue: For example, as a public service, YouTube is offering a YouChoose channel for candidates
5) Tone down the nasty: In this election, your words can come back to haunt you on an opposition website

Joe Trippi, head of Trippi & Associates and now in the employ of the John Edwards campaign, was recently quoted in Advertising Age saying: "When you look back at 2008, you will see the candidate who was riding high until the person with the cell phone caught them doing something or saying something and put it up on YouTube."

I couldn’t agree more.

Technorati Tags: presidential candidates, 1960 election, YouTube, 2008 presidential election, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, presidential debate, Pew Internet & American Life Project, consumer-generated media, YouChoose, Joe Trippi, Trippi & Associates, John Edwards, Advertising Age, public relations, communications, business,

Monday, May 07, 2007

When Negative = Positive

Positive thinking is the backbone of everything good that gets done -- and it is certainly the foundation of every internal and external communications program.

I believe strongly in the power of positive thinking, a concept pioneered by the late minister, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Positive thinking often produces positive results and creates positive energy in every organization bent on success. Success builds confidence and -- as Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s book, Confidence, demonstrates through surveys-- confident people are more successful than those who lack confidence.

So you can understand why I was challenged by the headline, “The Power of Negative Thinking,” in a New York Times piece on May 1 by guest columnist, Atul Gawande, a general surgeon at Harvard Medical School and staff writer for The New Yorker magazine.

Why the change in philosophy, I wondered. However, what the column demonstrates is really not a change in philosophy. Rather, it shows why thinking “negatively” in advance about what could go wrong or concurrently why things are not working out – can advance one’s cause, thereby making the individual more successful.

Mr. Gawande addresses the recent scandal at Walter Reed Hospital as his example. He distinguishes leadership thinking in two separate areas of the Hospital: patient care for those entering and after-care for those in rehabilitation and outpatient facilities. Lives were saved in “unbelievable situations” in the former; while the latter involved the cases that led to the scandal (e.g., wheelchair-bound soldiers stranded without food).

“The primary difference,” the author advises, “was whether leaders accepted the value of negative thinking.” In one area, leadership looked for failures and how to overcome them, as they tracked data on injuries and survival rates. Instead of just being proud of the soldiers they saved from blindness, for example, the doctors asked a harder, more unnerving question: why had so many injuries occurred in the first place? They discovered soldiers weren’t wearing their protective goggles and came up with a strategy to correct that. In the after-care section, there was zero effort to track how soldiers were doing in rehab, for example.

How does this translate to the public relations business and how we carry out campaigns for clients? Here is one example. Once, and only once, did a prospective client -- in a very competitive bid – ask us to give a presentation on all the things that can go wrong in a communications campaign and in an agency-client relationship – supported by real case histories. We did it, and we won! The client relationship lasted ten years, far exceeding the length of the average client-agency relationship. Further, as the campaign progressed, we continued to apply “advance negative thinking” to everything we did, and the positive results just kept rolling in!

“Negative thinking is unquestionably painful. It involves finding and exposing inadequacies,” Mr. Gawande says.

Some may call it crisis planning, which we always advise clients to do, although few pay heed. However, here we are not talking about crises, but regular operations. It may be an unhealthy way to proceed in some parts of our personal lives, the columnist advises, “but in running schools, businesses, in planning war, in caring for the sick [and, I would add, in managing communications campaigns] … negative thinking may be exactly what we need.”

Technorati Tags: Positive Thinking, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Marble Collegiate Church, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Confidence, The Power of Negative Thinking, New York Times, Atul Gawande, Harvard Medical School, The New Yorker, Walter Reed Hospital, negative thinking, communications, public relations, business,