Monday, February 27, 2006

The Power of Citizen Journalism

Do you want more evidence of the power of the citizen-generated media?

Nick Anthis, a 2005 graduate of Texas A&M and currently a Rhodes Scholar doing postgraduate work in biochemistry at Oxford University, started his blog, The Scientific Advocate just last month. A few weeks ago, he broke the story that George Deutsch — the NASA public affairs aide at the heart of the Bush administration's efforts to prevent NASA scientists from speaking out on global warming — had lied about having a college degree. The revelation led to the 24-year-old presidential appointee's resignation on February 7.

Anthis's sleuthing was validated when the mainstream media — including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post ... even BBC Radio — ultimately covered the story.

It's a triumph of truth over truthiness!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Crisis Management Test: The VP Fails

The media firestorm ignited by Dick Cheney's failure to address the American public following the accidental shooting of his friend, 78-year-old lawyer Harry Whittington, seems to be burning itself out ... but not before being covered by just about every pundit in the media universe, from John Tierney of The New York Times to Fox's Bill O'Reilly. And, needless to say, the blogosphere has swarmed all over the story. According to Technorati, here is the number of posts that contain Cheney Shooting per day for the last 30 days:
Technorati Chart

I have my own three cents to add.

In my firm's work with corporate clients, we have identified four key tried-and-tested rules for managing a crisis; and the Vice President has violated all of them:

  1. Tell the Truth. The VP never gave a rundown to the press of what happened; he never apologized or showed any remorse toward the victim or his family, although he obviously regarded him as a friend.

  2. Tell It Fast. More than a day passed before we heard any news.

  3. Tell it from the Top with Support from Others. The "top" (the VP) never confessed, and only after a day passed did we hear from one of the members of the hunting party. Worse yet, the victim apologized to the VP because of the press outcry Cheney had to weather.

  4. Tell Steps You Are Taking to Rectify the Situation So It Won't Happen Again. Quoting various consumer and state regulatory groups, the press ran precautions that should have been taken to prevent such accidents, but there was no such advice from the VP.
Although this is a political rather than a corporate crisis situation, the same credibility factor is at stake. Concealing relevant facts always taints credibility. The guy at the top — and/or the one who had the experience — is the person the public wants to hear from. Cover-ups almost always are uncovered and they raise a question about most other statements the individual makes in the future.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Valentine Principle

Today is Valentine's Day and the newspapers are filled with stories about romance, relationships and the secrets of the happily married.

But why not extend the Valentine's concept into the workplace? Yes, "love" in the workplace is often one of the keys to success. No, I'm definitely not talking about dating or sexual relationships. Rather, I'm talking about warm feelings toward your associates, your boss and your subordinates. Call it "Valentine's Week" -- and make it a week to celebrate each other at work (through various activities); show thanks and appreciation that you feel, but may not always be apparent.

Everyone recognizes that you need to "love what you do" in order to stay at it and become successful. But we also need to celebrate those we work with in order for teamwork to thrive. Call it loyalty, dedication, compassion or whatever. It exists in the most successful enterprises. And it extends to the way you feel about your clients or customers, as well.

A line in the Makovsky Credo says "We are all each other's client." It is a principle we must think about daily. The Valentine Principle.

Monday, February 13, 2006


Everything is changing ... almost faster than we can take it in. More than six years ago, at an address at the annual conference of the Belgian PR Centre in Brussels, I predicted the "atomization" of the media ... the fragmentation of traditional and emerging online media into increasingly focused, special interest channels to ever smaller special interest groups.

But my prophetic gifts have fallen far short of reality. In 1999, I never envisioned blogs ... or that the mainstream media would begin making content available for downloads to iPods. I didn't even imagine iPods! I never imagined that Royal Philips Electronics would introduce cellphone TV chips to the U.S., thus creating a new mobile broadcast network in 2006. And I never would have believed Proctor & Gamble – admittedly a brilliant marketer – would become a marketing consultant. P&G’s Tremor is a marketing service that develops teen word-of-mouth marketing programs. The company's "Tremor Crew," made up of over a quarter of a million influential teens from across the U.S., is the advance guard of breakthrough viral campaigns for many P&G brands ... and several external clients as well.

What doe all this mean? Where is it all going? It's too soon to tell. But I can tell you this: I'm keeping my eyes and ears open!

Monday, February 06, 2006


As usual, on the commute to work the other morning, I read The New York Times. Suddenly, a leitmotif — a recurrent theme — began to emerge. The theme of the news was ... "truthiness."

Named the "word of the year" for 2005 by the American Dialect Society, "truthiness" was coined by Stephen Colbert, host of the Colbert Report, a satirical news show on Comedy Central. "Truthiness" refers to the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wants to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.

Last Monday's edition of the Times provided ample proof that truthiness has replaced facts as the currency of public discourse.

First, there's the Enron trial. Kenneth Lay will probably claim that he didn't understand the most dubious of the financial arrangements made by Fastow and his associates. I guess he feels it's better to be perceived as incompetent, disengaged and overpaid than admit he made a mistake. Then last Thursday, The New York Times headline summarized the first witness's testimony, an investor relations executive, as "Ex-executive says Enron Fudged Data to Try to Please Wall St."

Then, there’s the recent collapse of Refco, the futures broker. Refco raised $583 million in an IPO and, two months later, announced that a company that owed it $430 million was controlled by its CEO. When it became clear that its financial statements were no longer reliable, Refco went bankrupt.

... And finally, there's the James Frey affair. The author who essentially fabricated his life story in his purported autobiography, A Million Little Pieces, was pilloried by Oprah Winfrey, on her live TV show last week.

When did truth become truthiness? Has the tidal wave of celebrity disinformation, corporate scandals and political corruption finally swamped those old-fashioned American values: "honesty," "truth" and "trust"?

People are playing fast and loose with the facts in an attempt to sound credible but, in reality, the most credible position is always the truth. Tell the truth! Take the facts and present them to the advantage of the organization you represent. But don't play with the facts and craft something that's not the truth ... just something you wish were true.

Truthiness. It's not a good thing.