Wednesday, March 7

Taking Oaths: Kent State University

As even a part-time instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I am required by the state of Nevada to take an oath (among other things). In fact, that is what I did today after mine could not be located. It is no big deal: I've signed similar state forms and oaths before (I'm also an appointed state commissioner, among other things) and I have yet to come across any document that would give me pause.

Today's oath read like this: "I [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, protect and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States, and the constitution and government of the State of Nevada, against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign, and that I will bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the same, any ordinance, resolution or law of any state notwithstanding, and that I will well and faithfully perform all the duties of the office of [insert title] on which I am about to enter; (if an oath) so help me God; (if an affirmation) under the pains and penalties of perjury."

And as I put my thumbprint in the notary's book to confirm my signature to this oath, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, such an oath might prohibit me from contributing information (news) or opinions (specifically sympathies) to a terrorist blog (not that I would want to anyway), given most terrorists (at least the 100 plus named on Terrorist Exclusion List posted over at Kent State University) would fall under "all enemies, whether domestic or foreign."

From what I could find at a glance (I didn't look very hard), Kent State University (KSU) does not have a similar oath on file with its human resources department. However, it does have a document in accordance with section 2909.34 of the Ohio Revised Code, which asks: Have you committed an act that you know, or reasonably should have known, affords "material support or resources" to an organization on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List?

Hmmmm... I'm not sure how I feel about this given by all accounts, despite some less desirable points of view, I have been told one of the professors there is a fine teacher. Not to mention, I also believe very strongly in our Constitution (if you're unfamiliar with it, you'll notice it comes before our government, even in the oath I presented above), including and especially the First Amendment (and the Second Amendment, which is about the only way you can ensure the First).

Anyway, it used to be, in this country, that taking an oath or signing a contract was pretty important stuff. It doesn't seem so as much today. Sure, I take them seriously, which is why I have passed on high paying accounts that violated my ethical standards (The Yucca Mountain Project and B.U.M. Fights among them). But the reality is that oaths, contracts, promises, and vows are just not important to some people. Or perhaps they are, at least while it serves them, to be broken at their leisure.

All of this brings me back to the accountability equation that revolves around Dr. Pino at Kent State University. At minimum, it seems to me, Dr. Pino may have surrendered some of his rights when he went to work for the government by signing the aforementioned contract (as we all do in one form or another), including: willfully supplying written material to purported terrorist blogs, I imagine. And at the very least, KSU might remind Dr. Pino of section 2909.34 of the Ohio Revised Code or perhaps ask him to re-sign it if he can. That might even be the remedy beyond simply asking that everyone forget it.


Tuesday, March 6

Crunching Numbers: Rare Method Interactive

Rare Method Interactive, an interactive marketing firm recognized as Alberta's second fastest-growing company by Alberta Venture magazine in 2007, knows something about the media. The media loves studies, especially those that seem compelling, if not a bit askew.

On March 1, Rare Method launched Kudos, which is billed as "a fast, fun, and easy way to harness employee recognition, improve communication, enhance productivity, and foster a positive corporate culture." Sounds amazing, and so does the study that graced the lead paragraph in the release...

"Studies show that 79% of employees leave their jobs in part due to a lack of recognition. Overall, 65% of employees felt that they were not recognized at all in the past year. Further studies say that 75% of employees are not fully engaged in their jobs. Steady economic growth and an aging work force are likely to result in further labor shortages and make the task of retaining skilled workers more difficult."

That's pretty big news, I thought, relevant in communication as well as recruiting. But just to be safe, I e-mailed the release's contact, a "PR Wizard" at Synergy Marketing & PR, inquiring what study the release references and where I might see the methodology. I received a prompt reply: "I am going to get the president to respond to your inquiry as they are his references."

Given that was Friday and today is Tuesday, and a growing number of media outlets including CNW Telbec, WDBJ7/CBS, Mediacaster, HULIQ, The Seattle Times, and others, along with several bloggers, already ran the Rare Method release in its entirety, I'm thinking that the the study may be as credible as the product tagline is original "Thank Different." Um, yeah. Right.

Still, I really don't know whether or not the numbers were pulled out of the sky so I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt, for now. I'm more miffed that the media continues to run studies without asking the simplest questions, including sampling size and methodology. Next thing you know, someone will start writing something like "According to a CBS television network affiliate, studies show that 79% of employees leave their jobs in part due to a lack of recognition."

Except, we don't really know that this is true. It's a hard lesson to learn when you're looking for numbers. I became sensitive to studies and methodology years ago, primarily because of debunking several studies that our local media had run to further "best intention" agendas. Amazingly low sample sizes, erroneous questions, and logic leaps bigger than the Grand Canyon are tossed into the mix every day and the media screams for more.

Sometimes, as illustrated by Rare Method Interactive, you don't even have to cite the study to get some play out of the information. Just make it up, that's enough. Toss in an oh-so-original tagline "Got Studies?" and you're in business.

Of course I don't think it is enough. In fact, if you spend enough time looking up the studies that we do highlight, you'll see the common denominator is that they often make sense (or we question them if they do not). Er, on second thought, someone just read my blog and e-mailed me for advice ... and based on this comprehensive analysis of data (of one), I'm sending out a release tomorrow to say that we're the most influential in our field. Ha!


Monday, March 5

Pushing Ignorance: Julio "Assad" Pino

Last week, Julio "Assad" Pino, an associate professor at Kent State University (KSU), came under fire for posting on the now-defunct "Global War" blog (, a Web site purported to support al-Qaida, the Taliban, militant Palestinians, and opened "Are You Prepared for Jihad?"

Plenty of journalists and bloggers have covered the story, including: Markedmanner, which lists a collection of media and social media links related to Pino's history as well as the current story; and Bill Sledzik, an associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at KSU, on ToughSledding. Sledzik does his usual splendid job at dissecting the public relations aspects of crisis communication endured by KSU, including potential consequences such as "a handful of students will likely choose a different school next fall, and a few alumni may not send their checks this year."

At a glance, the surface story doesn't leave much left to write about. Peel back even one layer and you'll find a mountain of misconceptions and social media lessons that cannot be covered in a single post. This post, perhaps the first, specifically focuses on Pino's apparent ignorance of communication, academics, and history, one of the subjects he teaches.

Misconception 1: The First Amendment
When criticized for posting on the site, Pino claimed that "the Web site is not the issue - freedom of speech is the issue." This is not true. Although there is a petition being circulated to remove him from KSU, no one has attempted to silence or censor Pino's extreme and misguided views that I am aware of. In fact, given Pino refused interviews on CNN, Fox, and other media outlets, he seems to be his only censor.

Misconception 2: The Privacy Issue
As many executives, public figures, bloggers, and others sometimes claim, Pino attempts to use privacy as a protective shield, but only after his err in judgment is made public. Privacy in this case is invalid. Like anyone who addresses a public forum or publishes anything, Pino willfully surrendered his right to privacy the moment he took his views public. If you want to remain private, then remain private.

Misconception 3: Professor Privacy
Post-secondary education is a semi-public profession by its very definition. Unless you work exclusively within the research department or perhaps as an administrator (and even then, you have no guarantee your views will remain private), the very function of a professor is to facilitate the sharing of ideas and knowledge among a public audience (students) within the context of specific subject matter.

Misconception 4: Professor Privilege
The United States has traditionally been sympathetic to shielding those who hold extreme views within our education system, particularly in post-secondary education. However, most of these professors are sensitive to the fact that, by the very nature of their positions, their opinions carry more weight. The best professors spend more time telling their students "how to think for themselves" not "what to think." According to one account, Pino singled out and compelled a Jewish student to give the class lectures on Judaism and Zionism, which he followed up with inviting a guest speaker to refute the student's discussion.

Misconception 5: Forum Credibility
Writers, authors, and educators should always be mindful of their publishers (print or online), regardless of their story's context. While it might be appropriate to pen an opposition piece for a publication with an opposing viewpoint, it does not make sense to write ongoing supportive, or neutral "news" articles as Pino now claims, for a publication that endorses terrorism. The lesson: penning articles for a publication that encourages Jihad when supposedly you do not support Jihad (as Pino now claims) is unethical at worst and unduly increases the credibility of the publication at best, especially if you reference your credentials, which are an extension of your employer.

Misconception 6: Employer Credibility
Professors may benefit from having a greater appreciation for their employers, because, as noted, a professor's credibility is often an extension of where they teach. Pino's new claim that his views do not represent the university, after the fact, is disingenuous. On the contrary, he used his position to establish credibility on the Web site, which means he linked the school to his personal views. As an alternative analogy, one might conclude that you can be a vegetarian and work at McDonald's, but your employer does not have to retain you if you attend beef protests, especially if you represent yourself as a McDonald's employee in uniform.

Misconception 7: Misplaced Accountability
Pino has taken the position that he does not have to answer for what he wrote nor should he be held responsible or accountable for his public statements, leaving his employer, a taxpayer-funded educational institution, to bear the burden of the costs associated with crisis communication, public relations, and potential loss of credibility and revenue. He unjustly damaged not only himself and his employer, but possibly the entire faculty.

Misconception 8: Misdefining Martyrdom
Pino frequently demonstrates a severe misunderstanding of the term martyrdom, which he has professed can be attached to suicide bombers. This is grossly inaccurate. Martyrs are people who have their lives taken from them by others with an oppressive viewpoint, not someone who takes the lives of others to promote an oppressive viewpoint. The victims of terrorism (or extreme government oppression for that matter) are martyrs, not those who willfully steal the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of others. All nations and many factions have participated in such theft at one time or another, Muslim nations and non-Muslim nations alike. Few of us are proud of every aspect of our country's past, but we must remain vigilant in our quest to one day prevent mistakes and tragedies from reoccurring rather than obsess in our regret over things that were beyond our control or the national past that we inherited (I think our country's net sum is pretty darn good). Likewise, I do not believe it is wise to glorify those who target non-combatants as suicide bombers do. Americans weep for their children as much as Muslims do, Mr. Pino.

All in all, Tim Roberts' comments on ToughSledding are among the best anywhere: "The lesson learned here is when you write or say something as inflammatory as he did, you better be prepared for a reaction as strong or stronger. That is a human nature issue, not a freedom of speech issue. Pino is suffering the consequences of his own poor judgment. He is a victim of his own bravado."

Roberts is right. In addition, from my personal perspective, it seems to me that Pino would be happier pursuing another career choice, given that he has recklessly and needlessly damaged his employer's and colleagues' credibility without so much as an apology for his actions. I certainly do not advocate the threats he has received, but Pino should accept some responsibility as he has indirectly, perhaps directly, supported threats and action against others.

In sum, Pino is certainly entitled to his privacy and divergent viewpoints. However, one might wonder how long a professor may be allowed to ignite fires that he has no intention of putting out, unless of course, they threaten to burn him.

Partial kudos to the public relations team at KSU. However, I agree with several industry experts that it is wishful thinking that an employer can defend an employee with Pino's track record and not be linked to the story, especially when the employee advocates hatred toward his employer. KSU's crisis communication also comes up short in outlining any real remedy to the situation.

I submit that Sledzik may be right that most crisis communication tends to be similar to an earthquake (not his words, precisely). However, I am beginning to see more evidence to suggest the advent of social media has a greater propensity to act like a tsunami. The reality of public relations in today's world is that there is no longer a single epicenter; last week's quake could become next month's disaster several thousand miles away. And then, the shock wave may roll right back again.


Friday, March 2

Failings In Public Relations: Kent State

Although Bill Sledzik admits the early work is exploratory (conducting 938 self-selected survey participants and 54 in-depth interviews), preliminary results of a Kent State University/BurellesLuce survey are disturbing. Seventy-two percent of public relations professionals do not have a formal system for monitoring the blogosphere. Initial findings include:

• 72.3 percent of respondents say they have no formal procedure for monitoring the content of blogs that may impact their businesses (8 percent aren’t sure).
• 18.5 percent say they work for organizations that use their own blogs to facilitate communication with key stakeholders.
• Of the 18.5 percent of organizations that use blogs: 78.3 percent use blogs to connect with customers and end users; 42.8 percent to reach news media; 39.8 percent to communicate with employees.
• Of those who use blogs in their PR strategies: 63.2 percent use them to enhance branding efforts; 57.1 percent to facilitate two-way communication with key stakeholder groups; 46 percent to improve trust between those groups and the organization.
• 16.5 percent of respondents say they are aware of existing employee blogs that discuss work-related activities, but very few actually monitor those blogs.
• 10.7 percent of respondents say they have a formal policy related to employee blogging.

According to Sledzik, public relations pros do not monitor blogs because: 1) no budget for staff or services to do the job; 2) no perceived need to do the job. “It hasn’t been an issue,” one respondent said of blogs. “Right now it is not impacting our organization,” said another. Some expressed concern that blog monitoring is a complex and time-consuming process.

Given the amount of apparent social media ignorance among public relations practitioners who don't seem to have time to subscribe to "Google alerts" for their clients, among other "complex" tasks, I have to agree 100 percent with Sledzik that this thinking has "the potential to bite them in the backside."

It's doubly true when you consider that social media is becoming more influential over traditional media than so-called paid public relations practitioners. Hmmm... maybe the signs outside the some doors should read "media relations," assuming they know the difference. Then they can get back to calling reporters to pitch a lunch date in lieu of sending out another poorly written release with a clear conscious.

Sorry if I sound harsh here, but I strongly believe that companies should know: if your public relations firm is not monitoring social media, then the firm is not doing its job. We're not a public relations firm and we monitor social media for our clients (and most don't even know it). It's common sense.


Thursday, March 1

Being Almost Famous: Antonella Barba

In one of the more interesting recent public figure public relations twists in television, Antonella Barba managed to surprise American Idol viewers with mildly risque photos, gain their sympathy when a second set of pornographic photos were proven to be fakes, and then lose all likeability last night with a display of spoiled daughter syndrome. Many viewers seemed put off after she likened herself to Jennifer Hudson given Barba delivered the worst performance of any female vocalist.

Hudson, of course, went from American Idol contestant to star as Effie Melody White in the 2006 musical film Dreamgirls, for which she won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and a SAG Award. Most people look back and conclude she was voted out too early. Barba brought Hudson up after sticking her tongue out at Randy Jackson and then claiming Simon Cowell was as wrong about her as he was Hudson. Cowell said he didn't vote Hudson off, the viewers did.

Barba's mini-tantrum over the judges comments won't bode well for the 20-year-old wannabe singer, especially after Jackson, Cowell, and even Seacrest went to bat for her in USA Today. Here's a recap of USA Today sound bites...

• "Nobody's clean in the entertainment business," said Jackson.

• "[I would] absolutely let [Barba] stay on. If American Idol is a true representation of American youth, we're going to find imperfections," said Seacrest.

• "[The photos should] not affect her standing on the show, and if the public wants to keep her in, they'll keep her in," said Cowell, who also stressed the photos were not illegal, but personal (but not so personal nowadays).

After last night, their USA Today opinions read as pointless. After Barba's extremely bad performance, followed by an unwillingness to accept criticism (which traditionally prompts viewers to vote ego-oriented contestants off), it seems to me that Barba's best bet is if she carries the vote. She'd better hope so, because if last night's public relations/personality gaffe is any indication of the real Barba, then her 15 minutes of fame might be over.

From a public relations perspective, Barba would have been better off agreeing she could have done better, leaving the American viewing audience to wonder if the stress of the photos possibly impacted her performance. Instead, she came off as smug, irritated by the fact the judges didn't think she did as well as she thought, giving viewers a clear indication she's not bothered by anything other than something standing in her way to being famous, er, almost famous. I guess we'll see tonight.


Wednesday, February 28

Deciphering Interviews: Emotional Intelligence

If you have ever opened a package to find that the wrapping was better than the contents, you have all the experience you need to understand the danger of placing too much emphasis on a candidate interview. As Daniel Goleman, author of Working With Emotional Intelligence, wrote as an opening: "The rules for work are changing. We're being judged by a new yard stick: not just how smart we are, or by our training and expertise, but also how we handle ourselves and each other." Ah yes, packaging.

While I had been introduced to the concept years ago, the label "Emotional Intelligence" (EI) was relatively new to me until an associate of mine recommended Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Given my interest in behavioral psychology (I work in advertising and minored in psychology, so go figure), I enjoyed the book, pulled several gems from it, and it remains on my shelf despite the fact that Don Blohowiak, from the Lead Well Institute, suggested a better title would be ""Three Ph.D.s Cite Tons of Research to Convince Business Executives (Yet Again) that Feelings Matter to People at Work" over at

Like virtually any issue, polarizing the issue seems useless though it does raise some interesting questions. As an employer, human resources director, recruiter, or team builder, how much emphasis should we place on interviews, especially in a world where some applicants are better equipped than others. After all, I coach some people, political candidates and public relations practitioners, to withstand the pressure of an aggressive media interview and some embrace it quite nicely ... but does that mean they have any more substance than the next person? (Hopefully, I've already decided that before I work with them.)

I am reminded of an experience when our company was just a few years old, before we restructured it to be modeled a bit more like a legal or consulting firm and less like a advertising agency or manufacturer. After considerable success with a few interns, we decided to hire a full-time employee — someone who could increase our presence in the marketplace and handle some large volume writing services work.

We narrowed down the applicants to three and scheduled interviews. Since one had already accepted a position elsewhere, we were left with two candidates who brought very divergent assets and qualities to the table. One was less experienced but showed potential and had a friendly, enthusiastic, team player presentation. The other had more experience and insisted she knew everything about communication she needed to know to help us take our company to the next level (which perplexed me because I didn't know everything, and still don't).

In short, one had fewer skill sets but a high EI (l don't like labels, but let's called her the Enthusiastic Presentable Upstart for simplicity) and the other had higher skill sets but a lower EI (Experienced Unpresentable Egomaniac). After the interviews, we ultimately decided that we would be better off hiring the Enthusiastic Presentable Upstart. The other one, well, it was very, very hard to like her, especially after she outlined her need for structure in a field where there seldom is structure.

Unfortunately, our new hire only lasted three months, which was about six weeks too long by any measure. The allure of EI packaging had worn off, leaving us with an employee who struggled to write the most basic news release (come to find out, her portfolio samples had been generously edited by her former employer). It was a valuable learning lesson.

In retrospect, sometimes I think that I would have had more success polishing and humbling the Experienced Unpresentable Egomaniac than I did trying to fast track skills sets for the Enthusiastic Presentable Upstart, which leads me back to the original question: how much emphasis do you place on a candidate interview? Or, is it easier to teach EI and presentation/interview skills than round up the skill sets required for mid-level job description?

In fact, as an additional point of interest, I've noticed that I'm running into more higher EI professionals in the field who look good on paper, present well, make stellar first impressions, and ask the right questions. But then, on the first project, they completely baffle everyone with apparent ignorance in communication (asking the media for "tear sheets" to prove they ran a news release comes to mind). Sure, I frequently build teams for clients (primarily vendor teams), but would be interested to glean some additional insight from an industry that interviews people all the time.


Blog Archive

by Richard R Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template