Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Shining Example of Communications at Its Very Best

Last week, Norway was rocked by a double act of horrendous violence by a home-grown terrorist. It was a moment that cried out for inspired communications and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg hit it out of the ballpark.

At a memorial service in Oslo Cathedral on July 23, Stoltenberg — visibly grieving, but unbowed by the tragedy — led the nation in an affirmation of its values. You can read a transcription of the full text of the speech here, but the words that will live with me always are these:

“Amidst all this tragedy, I am proud to live in a country that has managed to hold its head up high at a critical time. I have been impressed by the dignity, compassion and resolve I have met. We are a small country, but a proud people. We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values.

“Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. But never naivety.”

Our hearts go out to the friends and families of the victims in Oslo and on Utøya and, indeed, to all the people of Norway as they deal with this terrible tragedy in the days and weeks to come.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

What I Would I Do If I Were Murdoch

For those readers who have been out of the news loop for the past few weeks, media mogul Rupert Murdoch shut down News of the World — his highly successful U.K. tabloid with a paid circulation of nearly three million — because of widespread public outrage over revelations of phone hacking, political corruption and bribery. The scandal has reached a point where it could bring down the government of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

Investigations are ongoing. Murdoch and his huge media empire are clearly in trouble. Editors and Scotland Yard leadership have resigned and/or been arrested. Murdoch claimed in his recent parliamentary testimony that he had no knowledge of the hacking. An editorial in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal was clearly intended to stop the reputational cancer by saying that the issues in London do not extend to Murdoch's other holdings.

Trust, which is the fundamental value that holds all businesses and their stakeholders together, is the central issue. The trust factor, in particular, impacts corporate governance and shareholder and public support. The violation of that trust could bring down Murdoch's entire global empire.

Murdoch has already taken certain actions: the company ran full-page ads across the U.K. saying, “We are sorry”; apologized to the family of a murdered teenager whose phone had been hacked; and stopped paying the legal fees of a former consultant who admitted hacking the phones of the royal family. (This tells you where this guy's head is at and reinforces the dishonesty in his parliamentary testimony when he said he was unaware of the hacking — his son, James, forthrightly admitted knowledge of the hacking.)

But poor timing has undermined Murdoch’s actions to date. That’s why they’ve had the impact of a feather pillow. He’s consistently been slow and reactive: he dallied on Rebekah Brooks, parting ways only when the outcry against her became deafening. He publicly apologized only when outrage had crested. He now appears to be waiting too long to deal with his son James. This all creates the image of a man moving reluctantly in response to public outrage, taking piecemeal measures, rather than acting resolutely based on a strong internal moral compass. In short, Murdoch needs to get out in front of events. One of the fundamental rules of crisis communications is act decisively and rapidly. That is the only way to begin rebuilding reputation.

So what are the actions I would advise Murdoch to take or the strategies I’d recommend he implement?

First, he should hunker down and cooperate with all authorities while initiating important changes in the way he does business. Right now, this is a firestorm in a heat wave — not unlike many others I have seen. Even though this one could take the Murdoch empire under, News Corp. may be too big to fail. In a spotty economy where jobs are at a premium, major governments are not going to want to be seen to be obliterating tens of thousands of them. Thus, if Murdoch proceeds strategically, as well as waiting out the storm, he might just pull through.

Here are some other thoughts:

• Everybody and anybody who played even a marginal role in the scandal needs to be replaced and those involved punished.. Murdoch should step aside as day-to-day leader and install a seasoned executive in his place. He can continue to exercise some control in a consulting or board position. Because of his central role in this messy corrupt enterprise, this is the time to separate his son from the family business. James, it appears, knowingly and secretly approved a $1.4 million settlement of a hacker victim's suit. Can you imagine a son not reporting this to his father … his boss?

• As head of the organization, Murdoch should take the blame for all the wrongdoings, even if he was not involved in the least. He has built an image of a "one-man" company, so how can he expect to sustain credibility if he claims to be unaware of events as critical as these? Further, he is reputed to be a micromanager and with a scandal whose roots go back several years, it is unlikely that he was unaware of the hacking or the fact that his team, the government and the police were in cahoots. As a result, virtually no one believes his protestations of innocence.

• Murdoch needs to establish a widely publicized code of ethics for all of his companies--and then have extensive training programs to make sure all employees adhere to the code. An Ethics Leader needs to be appointed to monitor the program.

• Murdoch should run new, carefully crafted apology ads in every key market where he has holdings — in all newspapers, on TV and any other relevant channels. He should also create a video message for Facebook, YouTube and all other appropriate social media platforms. What he needs right now is third-party endorsement. If he does the right things, other media and influencers may praise his actions.

• Avoid running defensive editorials in Murdoch-owned properties. Rather focus on proactive steps Murdoch is taking to resolve the situation.

• The weekend before it ceased publication, the News of the World announced that all the profits from its last edition would be donated to “good causes” and advertising space would be given to charities. It was a case of “too little, too late.” Until this thing plays out, any philanthropic or charitable endeavor by Murdoch will be viewed with skepticism.

• When things cool off a bit and, if the lawyers permit, Murdoch might sponsor an op-ed program, on the challenges faced by the media today, which may remind the public of the knowledge advantage Murdoch brings and the positive force he can be in defining and shaping future strategies for the Fourth Estate.

• Following the pie-in-the-face incident, his attractive —and protective — wife, Wendi Deng, who deflected the attack, has become something of an item. Having her accompany him at all his personal appearances may enhance his likeability factor.

All of the above may or may not save Murdoch, as there is a great deal of schadenfreude pleasure in contemplating Murdoch’s current misfortunes) out there. But as noted above, he has the power to bestow jobs in a jobless economic "recovery." And that’s a distinct, powerful and persuasive advantage to have in your corner these days.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Second Most Stressful Job?

According to, an online database of jobs in the U.S. and Canada, job-related stress is on the rise. The company fielded a survey to determine which are the most (and least) stressful jobs of 2011.

The second most stressful job (after commercial airliner pilot)? PR officer.

I was surprised! It’s hard to think of any job that isn’t stressful these days … what with the need to produce more, faster and with fewer resources in order to keep both your clients and your management happy. But virtually all human beings — including PR practitioners — are born with the power to convert bad stress to good stress.

When the brain perceives stress — whether it’s physical or psychological — it directs the release of cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine into the body. Your heart beats faster, blood pressure and blood sugar levels increase. Your senses become more acute and you have more energy.

Chronic bad stress is corrosive. It can be a factor in developing hypertension, cardiac disease and depression, among other conditions. But positive stress (also referred to as eustress) stimulates us, enabling us to perform tasks more efficiently. It can even help improve memory. Some examples of good stress include making a presentation, working out at the gym, getting a promotion or watching a scary movie.

According to Hans Selye, a pioneer in the study of stress, “Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.”

It’s all about exploring potential gains. How can I turn a bad situation into an advantage? What’s the silver lining in this cloud? As public relations professionals, we have all the analytical, intellectual and creative skills necessary to find and unleash potential opportunities in a stressful situation. We do it for our clients all the time, and we love it! Positive pressure often keeps us in the job!. We just have to get better at managing stress for ourselves!

1. Commercial airline pilot
2. PR officer
3. Corporate executive
4. Photojournalist
5. Newscaster
6. Advertising account executive
7. Architect
8. Stockbroker
9. Emergency medical technician
10. Real estate agent

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Most Reputable Companies in America

Who do people trust? Which companies in the U.S. have the best reputations?
Harris Interactive asked more than 30,000 Americans to identify the 60 most visible companies in the U.S. and rate them based on 20 different attributes, including financial performance, emotional appearance, social responsibility and leadership.

The most reputable companies were in technology. Google was ranked #1. Other notable tech companies making the top of the list were Apple (#5), Intel (#6), Amazon (#8), Sony (#14) and Microsoft (#16).

Rounding out the bottom of the list were insurance conglomerates, banks and oil companies. AIG received the worst reputation ranking. BP, the company responsible for the worst oil spill in history, had the second-worst ranking. Other companies that made the bottom tier of Harris Interactive’s list include Comcast, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ExxonMobil, General Motors, Bank of America, Chrysler, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

The good news, according to Harris: overall, and despite having plummeted to new lows as a result of “scandals, recalls and self-inflicted demonization economic crises, the American public's positive perception of the reputation of corporate America is on the rise.”

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Truthiness" on the Web

Following the death of Osama bin Laden, a Martin Luther King quote was everywhere on the internet: "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy."

Problem was: MLK never said it.

Megan McArdle, the business and economics editor for The Atlantic, uncovered the fakery … a perfect example of “truthiness” on the web! (For those of my readers unfamiliar with the term, “truthiness” — a word coined by political satirist Stephen Colbert — refers to something someone wants to believe is true, without any evidence, logic or critical examination of the facts.)

Another quote — "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure” — this one attributed to Mark Twain, also spread quickly. This too was a fake, according to Gizmodo.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. You cannot take ANYTHING you find on the Internet at face value. Just because something is repeated again and again doesn’t make it true!

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Origin of Language: New Thinking

What is the origin of language? When I was a kid, I was told that Sanskrit — which originated in India — was “the mother of all languages,” including English and most European languages.

Not any more, apparently.

Based on a recent study published in Science, all modern languages — like human beings themselves — may have originated in Africa. This means that the world's 6,000 or so modern languages may have all descended from a single ancient tongue spoken by early humans between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago.

It’s a fascinating story that I first found in Presurfer. It has also been covered by the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Boing Boing, among others.

Quentin Atkinson, an evolutionary psychologist and the author of the study, examined phonemes — distinct units of sound such as vowels, consonants and tones — as if they were genes, to determine how they changed over time and from place to place.

The finding fits well with the evidence from fossil skulls and DNA that modern humans originated in Africa. It also implies, though does not prove, that modern language originated only once, an issue of considerable controversy among linguists.

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Seven Things You Didn’t Know Had Names

Mental_Floss blogger Adrienne Crezor recently came up with a list of “Ten Things You Didn’t Know Had Names.” Here’s a selection of the top seven … plus a little something extra.

1. Petrichor — You know how it smells after it rains … that clean, greenish smell when rain lands on dry ground? That’s petrichor, from the Greek petra (stone) and ichor (the blood of Greek gods and goddesses). The term was coined by two Australian researchers in 1964.

2. Zarf — Originally, a zarf was a metal chalice to keep the heat from your coffee from burning your fingers. The name for the fancy cup-holder has morphed into the modern-day cardboard sleeve that comes wrapped around your hot coffee.

3. Scroop is the rustling, swooshy sound ball gowns make. More specifically, it’s the sound produced by the movement of silk.

4. Armsayes — If you’ve put your shirt on backwards, you have your arms in the wrong armsayes, which are the armholes.

5. Glabella -- People with expressive faces often end up with wrinkles in their glabella—the space between the eyebrows

6. Feat — You know the words “lock” and “tendril,” but did you know the similar feat? Aside from being an act requiring great strength, it describes a dangling curl of hair.

7. Roorback — Libel is one thing, but a damaging lie made publicly known for political effect is a roorback.

For the record, there’s at least one common thing, says Crezor, that doesn’t have a name: there is no medical terminology for the back of the knee!

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