The Misadventures of a Nice Boy from Long Island

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I was in fourth grade. Mr. Herman had stepped outside and Mevan (names will be changed to protect the innocent) was about to repeat some information that I apparently made the mistake of telling him in confidence.

“I know who loves Seather…I know who loves Seather… (again, names changed…) I know who loves Seather.”

“Play it cool,” I remember saying to myself. Seather might not know; I mean I am a smooth dude (did we say ‘dude’ back in fourth grade? Not important, focus on the story). Just let it go and everything will be fine.

“I know who loves Seather…I know who loves Seather… I know who loves Seather.”

Really?!? Mevan, be quiet! And where the heck is Mr. Herman?

“I know who loves Seather…I know who loves Seather… I know who loves Seather.”

Seather isn’t happy. Who can blame her? Note to self, no more ‘in-confidence’ conversations with Mevan. Everyone is looking at Seather. She looks uncomfortable… I have to do something…

“I DON’T LOVE SEATHER, I JUST LIKE HER,” I exclaimed as I emphatically stood up from my desk.

***

I never was what you would call a lady’s man. I tended to act more from my heart than my mind. Just didn’t really serve me well.

Also in fourth grade, Mevan and I decided we would see if any of the girls in our class liked us. I know what you are thinking. Why, would I still be hanging in with Mevan after the Seather debacle? Who knows, it was fourth grade and I guess I was loyal.

My note to Telly was fine-crafted and well-thought out.

“Do you like me?”

Box – Yes

Box – No

Please check one – Andy

Carefully, folded with ‘Telly’ written on the front.

I finally mustered the nerve to pass the note which made its way to Telly.

She opened it. Looked at me. Raised her hand, asked Mr. Herman if she could go to the bathroom and motioned for me to come outside.

Excellent! This is good! If she’s asking me to go outside, that means she’s not going to the bathroom to throw up. I’d say progress.

I asked Mr. Herman if I could go to the bathroom and made my way outside. In my mind, Telly would grab me a give me a peck on the cheek and say, “that is my answer.”

The reality was, Telly did grab me, threw me against the wall and said, “If you write anything like this again, I will kill you.”

***

My prowess with the opposite sex continued throughout middle school, high school and college. While in college, I was on – what I thought to be – a very nice date with Folly. At the end of the date, Folly said – – “Andy, I think you are great, but you know why we can’t go out.”

“I do,” I said.

No clue. To this day, clueless.

After college, I was working at a boutique agency in New York and was about to go out on a first date at the Met. I knew the girl (I don’t have to make up a name because I don’t recall her name) I was going with was a fan of the art world, so I wanted to prepare myself. A friend of mine from work prepped me, and I was confident I could speak intelligently about some of the exhibits.

When we walked into the Met, I was ready. “Wow, look at that piece over there. I love how the branches flow outward, asking to be touched.”

“Um, Andy – that’s the headset station to pick up headphones and recorders so you can follow along with the tour of the artwork.”

No second date.

***

Then there was the time when I was working at a different agency in New York where we used to reach out to reporters, producers and talk show hosts to promote authors. A colleague of mine suggested I contact a radio producer in Dallas for my first phone call. She might not take my pitch, but she’ll take your call and listen to you.

In September that radio producer and I will be married 19 years.

Mic. Drop.

 

 

The Who, What, When and How to Communicate in a Crisis

Crisis

No matter where you stand on the new Texas law allowing college students to carry guns on campus, one thing is evident: those colleges allowing students with concealed carry licenses to bring their guns onto campus are updating existing crisis communication plans.

Planning for a crisis may sound like an oxymoron to some – – much like a little pregnant, good grief and larger half. However, proactively identifying and preparing for probable negative situations before they occur is critical and will better help with the overall management and communication of the problem if/when it occurs.

When a crisis does hit, you don’t want to spend your time on developing foundational elements that should’ve been planned and addressed before the crisis.

Now, there has been much written about crisis communication plans. Simply Google crisis communication plans and you will see a litany of entries from an array of reputable sources. What I’d like to do is provide some thoughts on certain aspects near and dear to me: the who, what, when and how of communicating during a crisis.

The Who

Generally speaking, there are many factors that will impact the breadth of the crisis communication plan and the number of spokespeople needed: company size, industry, office locations, public or private., external audiences (vendors, partners, etc.). You get the idea…

The number of spokespeople should be limited, but only you know the necessary amount to best represent the company by quickly and effectively communicating the appropriate messages to your target audiences.

One thing that can’t be allowed to impact the plan is the CEO’s/management’s lack of willingness to communicate. Meaning, I don’t care if the executives don’t typically see the value and benefit of regularly communicating, in a crisis it is imperative. In most crisis situations a company’s reputation is at stake. Could be safety. Livelihood.

No matter the company, a crisis communications team should be established ahead of time, made up of – among others – heads from all of the company divisions (financial, sales, procurement, HR, customer service, etc.). Most likely these will be key leaders/executives/C-suite members.

These individuals should be the company’s only spokespeople.

Let me be clear, a spokesperson is not just someone relegated to talking to media. A spokesperson is anyone who will be communicating key messages to target audiences – – employees, analysts, vendors, customers, etc.

Each spokesperson should go through rigorous training – not just “media” training – ahead of time on how to answer questions and how to get your messages across. When communicating, the spokespeople need to be using the same key messages (the same “base” or primary key messages; there will be key messages specific for each audience).

One of the major hiccups I see with crisis communications is when “unauthorized” individuals talk on behalf of the company. Not just to media. Tweeting his/her thoughts. Responding to a Facebook post or a question from someone. Most often the individual is trying to be helpful, but is responding with outdated or wrong information.

To best combat this, policies should be established – with consequences – and made part of employee handbooks. For media inquiries, employees should say they cannot speak on behalf of the company and direct the reporter to the appropriate person. For social media and general situations, employees shouldn’t respond, but forward the post/Tweet to the appropriate established in-house person (could be social media department or boss).

The What

Understanding each crisis will have its own set of messages, there needs to be a willingness to be as upfront as possible: explaining what is happening and what is being done. That said, there will be instances where you can’t/shouldn’t provide all of the information.

It could be that the company is involved in a police matter and there are certain details that could impact the investigation; security concerns could put employees at risk; or talking about union negotiations may sway those very negotiations one way or the other. The key is to honestly explain why you are not able to provide all of the information and not create false crutches so you don’t have to be forthright.

The When

When a crisis occurs and the team meets to ascertain and gather facts, establish roles, review the plan and develop messaging for the appropriate audiences, you’ll want to establish regularly scheduled checkpoints, based on the specific incident. During these checkpoints, you’ll provide/learn updates, tweak the plan accordingly, revise messaging and determine which groups/audiences are contacted first.

Be sure you are comfortable with whatever you send making its way to a greater/larger audience and be sure to avoid inappropriate language or slang. No matter best intentions and For Employee Use Only, “private” information can and will find itself on Twitter, Facebook and/or the local newscast.

The How

Use all available means/technology that is appropriate. Employee town hall meetings. Webcasts. Podcasts. Emails. Conference calls. The media. Twitter. Facebook.

It comes down to knowing how your different target audiences are receiving information, which method(s) will most effectively tell your story, and which will best receive your message. What is the crisis? What do we want to say? What is the best way to communicate that will be easily understood by target audiences?

Perhaps, for example, the VP of Procurement sends an email to a top vendor with a general note from the CEO and additional, vendor-specific messages.

Or, in responding to a media request, you determine you don’t have anything positive to say so you issue a statement explaining what occurred and what you are doing.

Remember

At best, a crisis is something you can prepare for ahead of time that has minimal ramifications; at worst, well at worst, an unforeseen crisis occurs where there are lives lost. Knowing ahead of time who possible spokespeople are and having them properly trained will help as you determine what messages need to be said to which audiences.

What Does ‘Outstanding Citizenship with Suitable Academic Merit’ Really Mean?

Dictionary

As the Presidential Election enters prime time, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of words. Not just how one word can change the context of a speech – – inciting some while motivating others – – but how pundits, mavens and the self-proclaimed well-informed, describe the political candidates.

Even if you subscribe to the “sticks and stones” theory, it is safe to say we have all been mesmerized, engulfed, exasperated and dumbfounded by the power of words.

For me, words have had always had an impact in my life. As an example, let me take you back to my sixth grade graduation…

I know where it is. Florida. Parent’s bookshelf. One of hundreds.

I’m not sure if I questioned it immediately or not. Either way, it made an impact.

During my sixth grade graduation, I was “awarded” a dictionary. In it, the following was written – – “Awarded to Andrew Shane for outstanding citizenship with suitable academic merit.”

Suitable?

Really?

Now, if I received this in high school or college, I wouldn’t have much of an issue, but in sixth grade I’m pretty sure I was rockin’ some more than suitable grades. Even if I wasn’t recording stellar grades, don’t you think we could have come up with a better word than suitable? If only, the person who wrote this had some resource that could be used to come up with a better word…

Speaking of the person who wrote this, I’ve pondered trying to reach out to him or her (I know…). Ask what were they thinking. Was this the first award they ever presented? Did they scar others?

Couple of foreseeable roadblocks: Good chance the person who wrote it is either dead or has absolutely no recollection. Asking my parents to get the dictionary and tell me the name of the person would end up as an Abbott and Costello routine.

Me: Can you get the dictionary I got during my sixth grade graduation?

Dad: Why?

Mom: What? (hearing is not a strength these days)

Me: I want to see who wrote the inscription.

Dad: Why?

Mom: What?

I actually thought this could be the basis of a movie. Not saying a good movie necessarily, but a movie where our hero (hey, I’m a hero) realizes what he has, what is important and who he is, as he tries to track down who wrote (and why) “with suitable academic merit.”

***

In high school, I ended up managing the wrestling team. I had always wanted to wrestle – – my older brother was an outstanding wrestler (don’t know about his academic merit) and I tried to follow in his footsteps. I wrestled in junior high and was actually captain of my eighth grade team. Not because I was the best wrestler, but because I wrestled the right way – – always trying my best and being an excellent teammate.

In tenth grade, just prior to the start of the season, I dislocated my knee screwing around with friends. My coach wasn’t happy, but when I asked if I could manage the team instead, he agreed. Once my knee heeled, I would work out with the team and – if I do say so myself – could’ve beaten most of the managers on the other teams (okay, truth be told, many of them were girls, but I still could’ve taken them…most of them…).

I ended up managing the team throughout high school and my coach, who also coached the football team, asked if I would manage football as well. During the different end of season banquets, coach awarded me with several plaques for my efforts and attitude – – something I’m sure he didn’t present to other managers.

No mention of academic merit; just good guy. Good heart.

***

So, what’s really wrong with the word ‘suitable’ anyway? According to Webster (the dictionary, not the little kid from the 80s TV show), the definition of suitable is, “having the qualities that are right, needed, or appropriate for something.”

Not awful. Have I been making too much of this? Webster lists synonyms as able, capable, equal, fit, good, qualified, competent.

Outstanding citizenship with competent academic merit… No, still doesn’t feel right.

***

Odds are, whoever wrote the words didn’t think twice about it. It’s just that suitable isn’t an everyday word. Probably not one you would associate with an award or achievement.

  • Most Suitable Player.
  • Academy Award for Suitable Actress is a Supporting Role.
  • Grammy for Suitable New Artist.

Just doesn’t have the same ring to it. But am I falling into the trap of the “woosification of America” where every kiddo gets a participation ribbon?

Don’t think so. Like I said, words are powerful. And for some reason, suitable just doesn’t feel like the right word. Feels like a dig of sorts. Great kid. Not super smart. Here’s a dictionary.

***

What is my point?

A. Think before you speak or post? Sure…

B. There’s a difference between free speech and well-thought-out speech? Yes, just look at social sites, candidate speeches, etc.…

C. Words matter? You bet…

D. I haven’t written anything in a while and just wanted to do a little free-flow writing?

E. All of the Above

And the answer is: E – All of the Above. Thanks for reading.

Facebook Waits to See if New ‘Trending Topics Look’ Trends Positive

Facebook Trending
New Facebook Trending Topics Look

Astute Facebook users (and who amongst us isn’t an astute Facebook user) may have noticed something over to the right of the page design. According to The Huffington Post (and my own eyes), “Facebook is apparently testing a new version of its controversial “Trending” module that removes editorialized blurbs written by staffers of the social network.”

HPost (is that an authorized nickname) goes onto say, “In this version of the Trending module, topics are sorted in a simple list with a number indicating how many people are talking about them. Previously, each of those lines would have been accompanied by a short description written by a Facebook employee ― and no numbers indicating how popular each topic is.”

Not sure why the trending module was ever controversial, but it looks like Facebook is following the Twitter model – – providing the number of Tweets associated with a trending # topic. On Facebook, you can still scroll over the trending term to get a preview/associated video of the story.

Let the outrage, name calling and general disdain begin…  

Brent Coralli’s Goal Scores With Me

By Andy Shane

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When I first met with Brent Coralli, I didn’t know what he was about or what to expect. My kids play soccer, but certainly wasn’t a fan of the sport, hadn’t heard anything about Sting Soccer and didn’t quite understand the passion surrounding the sport.

The thing is (there is always a thing), Brent Coralli isn’t about soccer. Sure, as CEO of Sting Soccer, Brent represents Sting – – the oldest, and arguably, the most decorated girls club soccer group in the United States. However, Brent Coralli is less about X’s and O’s on the field and more about showing young girls that it is okay to take care of themselves, to be confident and leaders off the field.

And that is something I both understand and am passionate about.

My “assignment” was/is to promote Brent Coralli and Sting Soccer.  When we first spoke, he told me one of the main reasons he got involved with Sting is to encourage young girls to believe in and love themselves and; that it’s okay to be strong and not have to rely on men.

As the father of two daughters (and a son) it was important that his daughters’ embrace that they can do anything they want to if they set their mind to it. At Sting, they believe in ‘The Education of Life Through Soccer’ and teach their girls the importance of Pride, Tradition, Character, Commitment and Leadership. These attributes can be seen on and off the field.

Sting girls have a rigorous schedule – – whether it is practicing two to three times a week, traveling to games throughout the country, keeping up their grades and participating in community service – – they are still netting real results. This year alone, Sting girls received scholarships – – many of them full-rides – – to colleges like Notre Dame, Kentucky, A&M and many, many others.

I recently pitched the “Bossy Girls” idea to media here in Dallas. For those uninitiated – – earlier this year, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, grabbed headlines with her ‘Ban Boss’ Campaign. According to Sandberg: When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood.

The campaign generated positive interest and – as so often happens when national attention is given to a particular topic – its share of detractors.

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The local Dallas CBS-TV affiliate bit, and KTVT-TV – aired a story in which they spoke with Brent. His feelings made sense to me – – “We don’t have time for name calling or labels. Honestly, we really don’t put much thought to it. I’m very proud and humbled to say our girls do the right thing on and off the field and have the confidence and self-awareness within themselves to embrace and love who they are – – we know we cannot control what others say or do toward us,” Brent said (now this didn’t make it on air, but that is a story for another day).

If you still doubt or question the method behind Brent Coralli’s madness, check out Brent Coralli’s Sting Soccer Highlight Reel.  It’s long so start at the 11:22 mark – Sting Lifers – and tell me Brent isn’t making a huge, positive impact on the lives of many young girls.

For me, Brent Coralli is an MVP to hundreds of young women. Every day, he shoots and scores.

Phil Robertson, Justine Sacco and Steve Martin Walk Into a Bar…

In the last few weeks we have seen three public examples of “open mouth, insert foot” that have provided different levels of shame, misguidedness and opportunities to right real and perceived wrongs.

The first example, and most widely seen and reported was perpetrated by Duck Dynasty patriarch, Phil Robertson. In an interview with GQ Magazine (anyone else see some strains of irony here), Robertson got himself in some hot water. According to Fox News – “Robertson was suspended indefinitely by A&E after saying that ‘everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong… Sin becomes fine … Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.’

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“In response to A&E’s sanction, the Robertsons have reportedly considered pulling the plug on the popular program. Politicians, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have leapt to the family’s defense, decrying what they see as an attack on free speech and Christian values.”

Cracker Barrel initially took a stance by pulling Duck Dynasty merchandise of off the shelves, only to place the merchandise back on the shelves when perceived public perception (read dollar signs) seemed to fall on the side of the Duck Dynasty clan.

For his part, Robertson stands by his comments which he says are taken from scripture and individuals and companies like Sarah Palin, FOX News and others back him, citing free speech.

Every day is something new. Reports are saying he’s back on the show and according to the Chicago Tribune, in a recent announcement, Jesse Jackson Sr. compared Robertson’s recent comments about African-Americans, gay people and women to comments made by the driver of Rosa Parks’ bus.

Our second recent gaffe occurred when, according to CNN, Justine Sacco, a former PR executive sparked a firestorm of controversy on Twitter for the following tweet:

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Sacco’s employer – media company IAC – fired Sacco after her tweet went viral. IAC issued the following statement: “The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question.”

In a written statement. Sacco apologized “for being insensitive to this crisis — which does not discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation, but which terrifies us all uniformly — and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed.”

She added that she is a native of South Africa and was upset that she had hurt so many people there.

The last recent example, also occurred on Twitter, this time with comedic legend, Steve Martin. Per ABC News, the actor asked his Twitter followers to “submit your grammar here,” and when one user asked, “Is this how you spell lasonia?” Martin responded, “It depends. Are you in an African-American neighborhood or at an Italian restaurant?”

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After receiving some negative feedback, Martin took responsibility, apologized on Twitter for the “offensive thing I’ve done” and posted on his website “I am very upset that a tweet I sent out last week has been interpreted by some to be insulting to African Americans … To those who were offended, again, I offer a deep, sincere, and humble apology without reservation.”

But Martin further explained that his “grammar” session with fans is something he’s done on other occasions, like “For example, a person might write ‘What’s the difference between ‘then’ and ‘than?’ I would say, ‘then’ is a conjunctive preposition, and ‘than’ is a misspelling of ‘thank.’”

Martin continued, “I was going along fine when someone wrote, “How do you spell ‘lasonia?’ I wrote: ‘It depends if you are in an African American neighborhood or an Italian restaurant.’ I knew of the name Lasonia. I did not make it up, nor do I find it funny. So to me the answer was either Lasonia (with a capital), or Lasagna, depending on what you meant.”

“That they sounded alike in this rare and particular context struck me as funny. That was the joke. When the tweet went out, I saw some negative comments and immediately deleted the tweet and apologized. I gathered the perception was that I was making fun of African American names. Later, thinking it over, I realized the tweet was irresponsible, and made a fuller apology on Twitter,” he added.

Martin added that he was cited incorrectly by some media outlets, who have yet to correct their misquoting of his tweet. But in the end, he again took responsibility for the blunder.

Phil Robertson, Justine Sacco and Steve Martin. Three widely different public figures who faced fast public scrutiny and outcry for things they said/did. My thoughts:

  •  Phil Robertson does have the “right” to believe what he believes. We all do. What is unfortunate is we are at a point where thoughts – right or wrong; left or right – are amplified and exasperated. Individuals and groups seem more concerned with furthering agendas instead of getting to the heart of the matter.
  • Should we be taking everything written in scripture verbatim?  Would it be helpful/healing to open real conversations where we can better understand why…who…when?
  • Like it or not, we are all public figures. As a PR-person, Justine Sacco has to know better. Heck, she is a native of South Africa. Twelve words that will change her life. What she said was stupid, wrong, hurtful, naïve, etc. That said, I haven’t seen or heard the outcries of “free speech” that I’ve seen from Sarah Palin and others. Maybe, Sacco isn’t public enough…
  • From a PR and social perspective, Steve Martin handled things great. He apologized. Took all the blame and explained the “backstory” of what he did. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, “news outlets” distorted his tweet to make a better (and less accurate) story.

Bottom line, this isn’t the last we will see of situations like these. As long as we continue to care about “public figures” and the definition of “public figure” continues to expand; and as long as groups and individuals wanting to push forward agendas and personas are opportunistic; and as long as businesses have a stake in things; and as long as we all like being social and consider it social to hit someone when they are down; well, you get the idea.

Strategy of Answering Question’s Big Finish: Building Your Spokesperson’s Messages and 11 Keys to Remember

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For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about The Strategy of Answering Questions; specifically:

But as you may recall from these different posts, we never developed the specific messages. We had several bullet points, but no real messaging surrounding the launch of our sample product or service:

  • Last several years developing, testing and refining new technology
  • Enables consumers to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently
  • Target audience are men and women 35-54 years old; educated; high disposable income
  • Vastly improves existing technology

To get from bullet points to actual compelling messages, review your bullet points. Are these the points you want to make in the interview? These are not the answers to questions you may be asked. These are the points you want to make, the reasons why you agreed to the interview; the points you want your real audience to hear/read/see.

Prepare a mini-speech for each bullet; a headline followed by an example. The headline is your message stated in the strongest possible language. The example is the way to prove your headline.

There are four types of examples you can use:

  1. personal experience
  2. experiences of others
  3. facts/statistics
  4. analogies

Whenever possible, have several examples that support and reinforce your headline. Doing so allows you to repeat your headline without going back to your only proof point. The person you are meeting with may not remember all of your specific examples, but the headline becomes memorable. I don’t recall one “light” or “bridge” but I sure do remember “A thousand points of light” and “building bridges.”

As you think about all things spokesperson training, remember:

  • Think of the questions a  reporter might ask you during an interview.
  • Decide on the best possible response to each question (short and sweet) and then determine whether you can bridge from that answer to one of your objectives. (Use the three-column technique.)
  • If you can bridge, state your message in the form of your prepared mini-speech. If you can’t, state your answer and wait for the next question or say,” I don’t know.”
  • Avoid over-answering the question. Give a direct response to each question in as few words as possible and then bridge, if you can.
  • There is no such thing as “off the record.” Don’t care how good your relationship is with the media or how clever you think you are – – the media will either not honor it, or find another source to verify it.
  • Nodding. People often nod inadvertently to show they understand the question. They’ve heard the question before, and/or they’re ready to answer the question. Unfortunately, nodding also suggests agreement with statements, and that may give a false impression.
  • Labeling the question. Refrain from such expressions as “That’s a good question,” or “I’m glad you asked that.” Those phrases buy time, but they can be irritating.
  • Competitive questions. Be especially careful about questions involving proprietary topics. You can discuss the issues but you don’t have to discuss your strategies.
  • Avoid jargon. Think in terms of simple language understandable to a larger audience.
  • Pick your battles. Stick to your prepared messages. Don’t go off message. Going off message can easily lead to complaints of being taken out of context.
  • Go back to your messages. Often the last question is “Do you have anything to add?” Use this question as the opportunity to reemphasize your message points.

Well, that’s it for Strategy of Answering Questions and it is it for me for a little bit. Need to re-charge the blog-battery so I can take a fresh look at the PR industry. Thank you for taking the time to read. In the immortal words of Chuckles the Clown (circa the greatness of The Mary Tyler Moore Show) – – “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”