Monday, May 7

Panning Parodies: Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh has seemingly revived the Don Imus debate despite coming under fire for very different reasons.

Whereas Imus made racially insensitive statements that some consider bad humor and others call rampant radio racism, Limbaugh has been airing a parody song entitled “Barack the Magic Negro,” a piece about African-American Sen. Barack Obama’s popularity with many white voters. While Obama's campaign has dismissed the parody as dumb and not something "anyone takes this too seriously,” some Limbaugh critics are attempting to do just that.

“We take these things seriously because there’s a consistent pattern of them making their way into the mainstream media and then the mainstream consciousness,” said Karl Frisch, a spokesman for Media Matters, as told to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s important to shoot these things down.”

The parody, which began in March, is receiving more attention now primarily because of the recent Imus case as well as increased threats with racial overtones being received by Obama. Such threats have prompted a special security detail to be assigned to him on the campaign trail.

The parody seems to poke less fun at Obama than it does Rev. Al Sharpton. The comedian singing the parody imitates Sharpton, bemoaning Obama’s popularity with whites who will, the lyrics predict, “vote for him and not for me ‘cause he’s not from da hood.”

As difficult as it is to do, an objective view might find that the parody is neither funny nor racist. It seems to be insensitive (perhaps ignorant and certainly offensive to some people) in its attempt to draw attention to presumed differences between the two men (Sharpton and Obama). Obama's campaign calls it right: it is not to be taken seriously.

In fact, taking the parody seriously, as Media Matters attempts to do, seems to risk more tension than the parody might generate on its own. It also seems to add more weight to a revived "PC" argument that censorship works. It does not.

No, I've never been a fan of name calling (especially along racial, religious, and economic lines), but I am a fan of the First Amendment. As such, I am predisposed to look at such issues differently.

Although name calling and unwarranted labeling causes an emotional reaction in all of us, I also think it makes more sense to let such rants stand because the words say a lot more about the name caller than the person or people being called a name. And if we overreact to other people's mistakes, it might say even more about us.

Case in point: I like Limbaugh all right, but perhaps he lost a little credibility airing this parody for so long. I used to like Media Matters somewhat, but it is becoming more and more difficult to like them when they pay a disproportionate amount of attention to what "people they like" say vs. what "people they don't like" say. It's silly at best and hypocritical at worst.

More importantly, we best serve ourselves by not giving in to our own fears by overreacting to people who call us names or poke fun at our faith, heritage, values, politics, professions, or even the color of our skin. Anytime you experience anger over what someone says, it might be worth considering where that anger comes from. Are we afraid they might be right or that other people might think they are right? Hopefully not; but often, sadly so.

I'm not saying we should ignore name calling or hate speech, but rather suggesting that there are ways to address ignorance without labeling it as racist (unless it is on its face). That might be more effective than censorship.

You know, at the end of the day, I'll probably disagree with Obama on politics, but today I agree with his dismissal of the parody. It was smart on his part. As for his heritage, it's as irrelevant to me as President Kennedy being Catholic or President Bush being from Texas. Try as some might to prove otherwise, labels and other nonsense sidebars really don't mean that much.


Saturday, May 5

Embracing Change: Technorati

With all the buzz about social networks, I'm not surprised Technorati is embracing change. Not all the changes taking place warrant a news release like its partnership with PR Newswire (prompting public relations practitioners to take a harder look at social media). Some happen silently, seamlessly, and seemingly overnight.

One of the quieter changes taking place over at Technorati is how they organize "Favorites." Considering Technorati is the recognized authority on what's happening on the World "Live" Web by tracking 79.2 million blogs, I've always felt its Favorites List was grossly underutilized. That's likely to change in the days and weeks ahead now that Technorati has added "favored by" user icons to every blog overview page. There is also a "Favorites" widget that shows the last three posts from your favorite blogs on your blog, along with a search box limited to blogs you like.

I first noticed these changes a day or two ago when I was reorganizing my own "Favorites" list. The format was different, prompting me to notice a new "fan." So I clicked on over to our blog overview page and, well sure enough, there was an icon of "some guy" who seemed vaguely familiar to me.

Of course he looked familiar; he isn't just "some guy." He is none other than Geoff Livingston who writes the very poignant blog called The Buzz Bin. I had just added him to my Favorites the day before, shortly after learning more about his blog. But that's the way online networking works: linking to blogs you like because they have relevant content.

Technorati's improved approach to Favorites will certainly help do this too, provided bloggers avoid the temptation to participate in too many "Favorite" exchanges and link swap experiments. No, there is nothing wrong with such trades. However, if every blog becomes your Favorite, then you risk diluting the list's relevance in much the same way traffic generators damage analytics.

For example, it doesn't make sense for us to employ a traffic generator like AutoHits on this blog. Random traffic has virtually no meaning to our objectives. (We are testing AutoHits on another project, however.)

The same can be said for Favorite lists anywhere: if you add everyone just because you're hoping for higher rankings, then it really isn't a Favorite list at all. Heck, you might damage any chance of capturing measurable results beyond click-throughs. However, used wisely, you can create a great list of resources for you and your readers.

Friday, May 4

Promising Too Much: College Bound Aid

According to a news release, the Consumer Bankers Association (CBA) launched "a new financial literacy Web site to help raise awareness of the various loan and aid programs and to promote financial literacy among college bound students." The CBA, which was founded in 1919 in Arlington, Va., provides leadership, education, research and federal representation on retail banking issues such as privacy, fair lending, and consumer protection legislation/regulation.

The site, College Bound Aid, has merit and I don't want to diminish it, but the release miscommunicates the intent, in my opinion. The emphasis of the site is not financial literacy as much as it is about the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). FFELP is a public-private partnership in which private, nonprofit and state-based lenders make federally guaranteed student loans to students and parents.

Right on the site, it states that College Bound Aid is "an informational resource designed to raise awareness and promote understanding of the financial aid available to students and their families through the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). It is not a site intended to guide students to grants."

So why does the release quote CBA President Joe Belew, calling the site "a primer on the maze of programs and terminologies in this complex field," and claim to be a sound overview of how to think about the financial aspects of preparing for college? Sure, there is some of that, but even the structural organization of the site suggests that it is really about FFELP and related loans.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with launching a site that promotes FFELP (if you're looking for college aid, it might be worth consideration). However, the CBA would have been better off announcing that than convoluting its message and promising too much in the release. At best, it buries an opportunity to promote FFELP. At worst, it looks disingenuous.

The lesson here is to not overextend your organization's news by making it something bigger than it is. You never know with the media; the news you have might be just enough without any "public relations padding" needed.


Thursday, May 3

Imitating Life: The Office

Reveille and NBC Universal Television Studios' 2006 Emmy award-winning show, The Office, proved its writers know something about life, comedy, and crisis communication.

Last Thursday's episode, "Product Recall," put Michael Scott (Steve Carell), regional manager of Dunder-Mifflin in crisis after a disgruntled employee at the paper mill put an obscene watermark on one of their most popular paper products. The paper was shipped to clients, including a local high school that used it for prom invitations.

Employing "pat" crisis communication techniques, Scott assembles a crisis team with Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) in charge of a press conference. The thinking here is to always run to a crisis rather than from it. It's better to let the press know, Scott deduces, then to let them find out on their own.

Fortunately for Scott, Schrute is unsuccessful at securing CNN and other major news networks to cover the obscene paper problem. Unfortunately for him, a reporter from the Scranton Times does attend.

From here, it goes from bad to worse. Scott's idea for the press conference is to offer restitution to a major client in the form of free paper voucher (a "big" photo op check) and then spin the scandal into a "local company makes good with clients" story.

Instead, the client rejects the offer and demands Scott's resignation. Scott responds by kicking her out of the press conference and telling her to call the “Ungrateful Beeyotch Hotline.”

Realizing the Scranton Times might write a less than favorable recap, Scott makes an apology video that concludes his resignation is not an option and it would take a S.W.A.T. team to remove him from Dunder-Mifflin. (A few more minutes and the writers might have added that Scott could post the video on YouTube.)

This is really funny stuff. It might be even funnier if companies, armed with "pat" crisis communication plans, do not make similar mistakes.

In this case, Scott would have been better off being prepared for the press, but not begging for attention. (If the problem was life-threatening, it would be different.) Sometimes the best coverage of a crisis is no coverage at all.

Of course, had he not made a molehill into a mountain by hosting a press conference and inviting an unconfirmed client "ally," then there would have been no show last Thursday to make us smile.

You can find a quick recap of this misapplied Dunder-Mifflin approach to crisis communication by visiting the The Office Web site.


Wednesday, May 2

Overreacting Or Not: PC Magazine

The times … they are changing.

I didn't write about Steve Rubel's Twitter gaffe with PC Magazine when it happened. And for most, the story is over. Yet, for me, I'm still considering how it might represent some serious changes in media relations.


Rubel is senior vice president at Edelman's me2revolution practice. Edelman is the largest independent global PR firm. So when Rubel put out a random Twit — “PC Mag is another. I have a free sub but it goes in the trash” — people noticed, especially Jim Louderback, editor in chief of PC Magazine.

Louderback's answer to the Twit can be seen in a blog post (above link). He asks, among other things, "Should I instruct the staff to avoid covering Edelman's clients? Ignore their requests for meetings, reviews and news stories? Blacklist the "" email domain in our exchange servers, effectively turning their requests into spam? If we're not relevant to Edelman's employees, then how could we be relevant to their clients?"


From a pure public relations perspective, Rubel made a mistake and did the right thing by apologizing and offering clarification. (This is precisely the kind of stuff that makes me wonder how public relations practitioners might have to adjust for something like a random thought racing across Twitter.)

However, if we remove this pure public relations perspective from the equation, maybe we come up with a different answer, one that addresses Louderback's original question: "Boycott Edelman, or would that be over reacting?" (sic)

Maybe the question is best answered by the media's long-held position to not be held hostage by advertisers who threaten to pull media buys over unfavorable editorials.

Wouldn't a boycott of Edelman and its clients over an unfavorable comment about the magazine be the same thing? Should Rubel, who has since said he reads PC Magazine via RSS feeds, censor himself on critiquing publications because of his position?


I don't know. But what I do know is that Louderback might have been better off calling or e-mailing Rubel before writing the editorial … just as public relations practitioners prescribe to their clients after an unfavorable media attention. The outcome might have been more favorable for everyone.

Rubel, much like a publisher, could have then retracted, corrected, or amended his statement on his own instead of being "learned." Louderback might have even had an opportunity to find out why Rubel felt that way, enough so, apparently, to fire off the Twit.

Regardless of whether the original message was a good idea or not (it wasn't), the bigger story here, at least to me, is what this means for the relationship between public relations and the media? What does it mean?

The times … oh how they are changing.


Tuesday, May 1

Creating Connections: Blog Rolls, Favorites, Networks

Several months ago, on Christmas day, Seth Godin did something nice for a few dozen blogs. He posted them on his blog and encouraged people to visit. David Maister does something similar. He recognizes people who contribute to his blog via comments and trackbacks every month (I can't imagine how long that takes!). Scott Baradell at the Idea Grove does it from time to time too.

One of my favorite quotes from General George S. Patton is "Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way." And with that in mind, I'm inclined to follow and share some insights into the eclectic mix of blogs I visit and why (and no, they're not all on my blog roll). I'm not including everyone today to keep things manageable, but there's always a next time. Alpha order:

AgencyNext is a public relations firm that has taken a hard stand on seeing social media be taken seriously. I'm looking forward to seeing the outcome of their move from WordPress to Squarespace.

Blogversity. Amitai Givertz doesn't spend much time there these days (you're more likely to find him on Recruitomatic or RCI Recruitment Solutions. Without question, Ami puts the "T" in transparency. (He's often right to do it.)

Exceler8ion is Julian and Shannon Seery Gude's take on the world of social media and online recruitment marketing. Still one of the more visually appealing blogs I've come across with good content to boot. They test run tech too, sorting through the widgets to see what sticks.

FolioVision is a Bratislava-based international Web design and marketing company that has a lot to say about search engine optimizers, paid links, and theme sponsorship. The writing is solid and cuts right to the point.

John Cook's Venture Blog is the perfect example of how a reporter can make business reporting as exciting as it could be while embracing social media. Smart reporting in real time, all the time.

Liz Strauss is a perfect virtual manager who has the uncanny ability to write about what many of us do, except she can usually do it with fewer words. She offers skills and support to people working outside the traditional work setting.

Passion, People and Principles by David Maister is quite possibly the best blog to find a strategic management and business discussion taking place, right about now. Communicators who don't get "executives" really owe it to themselves to expand their knowledge base. Read Maister and you will.

Spin Thicket is the ultimate collection of communication and public relations critiques. There's nothing better. If you're not sure what to write about, you can always find something there. Scott Baradell's company's blog, Media Orchard by the Idea Grove, is equally well done. His buzz word index is red hot.

Recruiting Bloggers is the second home to the Recruiting Animal. He's the barn burner of the recruting world with a no-nonsense approach to just about anything. People love him, hate him, and everything in between. He's the reason I like recruiters.

Seth Godin. When Godin doesn't have something to say about the buzz in marketing, he makes it. It's about that simple, IMO. One of several blogs that I've shuffled over to Technorati favorites.

Tala Azar. I've read Tala Azar's blog for several years, even before I even started this blog, which is pretty amazing since she's 16. She's a great writer and it provides me a break from business. Her sister has a pretty nice blog too.

ToughSledding. Bill Sledzik consistently brings common sense to communication topics. He likes to point out he's not a "power blogger," but if I was a betting man ... he will be one day.

That rounds a dozen (and related) places I enjoy, all for different reasons. If you want to find even more beyond my sometimes changing blog shuffle, you can find more here, here and, very soon, here. The latter,, I'll be writing more about next week or so.

In sum, there is no obvious connection to most of my lists, except that they are all great communicators with diverse styles. It's a mixed bag to be sure, but then again, I think communication folks like me need a mixed bag. It's all too easy to get lost in an area of expertise and miss out on what's happening next door, down the street, or across town.

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