Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas Your @$$

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Worst Christmas Song Evah!

Over at Days in Eden, a Cincinnati urban blog, the management unwittingly and foolishly has issued a challenge. This hubris cannot go unpunished. I have no choice but to unleash the terrible beauty of the Yuletide badness that is:

May Nat have mercy on us all.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Bonus Beat

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Deep Thought

If you looked only at the current first page of this blog, you'd think me a terrible scold.

And this of a guy who just yesterday inadvertently told a dirty joke to a room full of Procter & Gamble's big-time professional marketers.

Thanks, again, David.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

CSR: Corporations Don't Go to Heaven

Everybody -- well most people -- wants to do the best-right thing. But we all make compromises everyday and corporate social responsibility is no exception. If an economic enterprise doesn't gain some tangible advantage from its good works, it violates the laws of nature for it to spend any resources pursuing them.

If that sounds cynical, it's not. But yeah, it does sound cynical.

This message brought to you by a child's vocabulary list from not long ago. I was asked if philanthropy meant "doing good works for the benefit of others."

"No," I said. "That's charity. Philanthropy is when you pay to have things named after yourself."

This is not a criticism of CSR or public philanthropy. It was simply inspired by this.

Are you gettin' it?

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When Philosphy Rhetoric Becomes Principle

When I worked in government that epoch ago, there was a big movement to let the business leaders in town tell the city and county how best to manage their resources. Naturally, being contrarian by nature, I thought that was so much BS. In fact I remember saying at the time that makes about as much sense as saying, "Well, GM had a bad quarter, so let's send in some politicians to fix it."

It's really amazing how all those people who told us "Government is sooo inefficient! We have to run it like a business!" get all up in the vapors when the opposite is suggested.

Of course the opposite is just as true.

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A Professional Challenge

Whatever you call what you do – PR, advertising, marketing, corporate communications, social media, interactive, design – really doesn’t matter right now. What does matter is that your profession is under assault.

In your typical cyclical downturn, people get put on the street. Often companies use this as an opportunity to cut fat, weed out the undesirables, unload those who are qualified but just playing out of position. After a predictable (give or take) interim, most of these folks find a situation that’s better aligned with their talents, interests and abilities.

This is not your typical downturn.

This downturn is not cyclical and many good women and men are on the street through no fault of their own. Many more probably will join them in the New Year. Sadly, a fair number will be “freelancing” or “consulting” for an uncomfortably long time.

This matters if you care about your profession. Good people leaving it doesn’t help anybody.

Here’s the challenge:

Yeah we all get requests for “informational interviews” and networking meetings and all that.

Take an extra one.

Pass along a lead.

Offer a new business idea.

Share a contact.

Share a lead.

Take a lunch.

Offer a word of encouragement.

Tell a contact that someone good is looking.

Refer a client you can’t take to somebody you respect.

Got more?

We’re all in this together.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Rule: Don't Make Your Opponent's Case for Him

Awhile back, I mentioned the clever guys at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity’s “Clean Coal” campaign. With the caveat that so-called clean coal is not a product but a term d’art for a collection of technologies, I admired the campaign for its simplicity and appeal to the self interests of the audience.

Now comes The Reality Coalition with a response campaign. This is the spot currently burning up my cable news shout-fests:

It’s very clever and very well done. And it won’t change a single mind.

First, it uses the coal industry’s own language to make its point. How many times does the script repeat the phrase “clean coal?”

But what’s worse is the inside language and imagery. There’s the desert landscape, one assumes an allusion to a globally warmed future, but a good percentage of the presumed audience (including your humble correspondent) sees not the Great Plains of Al Gore’s nightmares, but a desert ecosystem that might just be under threat, too.

Finally, the coalition itself. It calls itself the Reality Coalition. Reality is a magical word for those with a certain shared political philosophy. The word Reality is a dog whistle.

Problem is, the ones who hear that particular whistle don’t really need the message.

Oh, yeah: they also don't let you embed the vid from their Web site.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I Never Said I Invented the DNT ...

... so here's another take on it:

"We associate truth with convenience, with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem."

--- J.K. Galbraith, The Affluent Society 1958

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cause and Effect in Public Relations

[N.B.: I wanted title this differently. But then I’d just get a lot of nastygrams from people who want to explain the google machine to me.]

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

It’s a Latin phrase loosely … okay literally translated as “After this therefore because of this.”

It’s one of the classic logical fallacies.

It’s also a part of the Dominant Narrative Hall of Fame.

Narratives are linear. Some stuff happens, leading to some more stuff, and finally the end. Really good narratives have more drama than that, a few complications &c., but it all plays out the same way. The stuff at the beginning leads to the stuff in the middle, which results in the big reveal, the result, whatever.

It’s how stories work. It’s how our brains work. But it’s not always how the world works.

This rant is brought to you buy the roundheads on my teevee machine who keep telling me that “current economic crisis was caused by allowing Lehman Bros. to fail.”

That and my house was once valued at three times what any reasonable person would pay for it and some people lost a lot of money and their money is gone forever.

Real life has a less predictable narrator than most well conceived novels. But if you want to use the Dominant Narrative Theory to your advantage, you’d be wise to consider that any event that immediately precedes any bad thing reliably can be blamed for the bad thing.

Conversely, if you opened a new shoe store mere months before that out-of-town developer decided to build a new condo project down the block, for the love of all that is PR, TAKE CREDIT.

Rule #2: Use Everything.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

GM, Ford & Chrysler: A Faux PR Faux Pas

[There’s a headline that gets the google love, eh?]

The twittering class is all abuzz about the heads of the Big Three – you remember them, right? the 2nd, 4th and 12th largest automotive manufacturers in the world? – taking private jets to Washington to beg Congress for guaranteed loans.

This is a really smart play by opponents of the automakers: it plays into the Dominant Narrative of profligate executives squandering shareholder money on unnecessary luxury.

As the kids say, FTW!

But let’s unpack this shall we? Are the "Big Three" sending the wrong message?

Many celebrities and other rich guys (high net-worth individuals if you like) take advantage of private aviation for fun, sport, privacy &c. Let’s face it: if you’re, say, Derek Jeter do you really want to hear about two-strike-hitting strategy from some bank auditor who’s racked up enough Skymiles to sit next to you in First Class?

I didn't think so.

So we stipulate that a private jet is a luxury.

Now, imagine you’re a stockholder of one of the big 2nd, 4th or 12th. Theoretically at least, the CEO elected by your board of directors is there because he or she is best suited to look out for your financial interests. As the leader of a great big industrial company, these folks – directly or indirectly – control the fates of hundreds of thousands of people … employees, shareholders again, suppliers, suppliers-to-suppliers …

As a shareholder in one of the big #2, 4 & 12, do you really want the most valuable individual in the organization hanging out with the likes of, say, ME or even YOU in Terminal B?

Do you want him or her cooling heels in the Crown Room sucking on free coffee and wifi when he (or she) could be working analysts and I-bankers?

Do you want your financial future in the hands of somebody vulnerable to whichever disgruntled employee, former employee, former vendor and so on happens to wander into the Cinnabon at the same time?

If your best argument is that gas-guzzling luxury jets “send the wrong message,” I suggest that you have run out of arguments.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Motrin Update

David Armano has a Deep Thought on the topic.

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Motrin Has a Pain in the ...

Companies and their agencies have been making mistakes – really BIG and, in hindsight, avoidable mistakes – since the beginning of agencies and companies. That’s not new. (NEW1!)

What is new is speed and documentation.

If Motrin made this ad ...

... in 1998, a time when baby-wearers and slings and whatnot were already in play, the reaction would have been the same. Ten years ago if you were offended by a commercial message, you probably would still tell people at the grocery, the office, the saloon, the lunch counter, whatever. Information moved more slowly, but the basic pattern was the same.

The big difference in this instance is that all of those conversations about Motrin – the ones taking place on the magic Intertoobs – are happening in public. We know who’s talking about the ads and what they’re saying.

If you’re scoring at home (and even if you’re all alone) there’s your newness. Miss this point and you're in for a long 21st Century.

There’s still some credit to the Motrin team. As I write this – and it may be a google swamping but perhaps a strategic decision – the offending site is no longer available. If somebody made that decision and especially if that somebody didn’t have permission to make that decision, good on ye’.

If this ad had run in 1998 instead of 2008, all the same conversations would have taken place. They would have been less public and less well documented. And we wouldn’t know about them yet.

And neither would Motrin.

They wouldn’t have had the option to stop p!$$!ng people off.

Somebody really should ask about the makeup of Motrin’s corporate and agency teams. Do they have mothers on the team? Did they Burke the ad? What research messages inspired it and what kind of feedback have they gotten that hasn’t been tweeted yet?

But we should listen to the answers.

Image Cred: Armano

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Preaching to the Choir

It’s one of those expressions I picked up in an earlier epoch and have never shaken. It’s shorthand for wasting your time and resources trying to persuade those who already agree with you. On a long car ride or at cocktail party (where exactly are all these cocktails parties everybody talks about?) it is annoying.

But if you want to start a movement (or a Tribe) or establish a brand or popularize an idea, don’t neglect the converted.

[Now that it’s safe(er) to talk about politics I can use some more accessible examples.]

Pols have known this for years: mobilize the base. GOTV. Whatnot. Marketers have known it, too. Your real estate agent may sincerely hope you’re happy in the new digs, but do you really believe he or she cares enough to send you all those holiday cards and football schedules?

Thought not.

They do all this – al this preaching to the choir – because they understand that each singer makes a choice every week. There’s lots of choir lofts. What are you doing to make sure they keep showing up in yours on Sunday morning?

(Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images Europe)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Fear Narrative

At a gathering shortly after my oldest child was born, a very well meaning lady handed me a newspaper article.

The headline was right to the point:

Top 10 Early Childhood Choking Hazards

Things a healthy house can do without

The Top 10 List is one of the staples of publicity, so I had to respect the execution. Still, the whole fear thing always rubs me the wrong way.

But, I was a new parent and was particularly susceptible to the whole DANGER-DANGER-DANGER narrative. In this case, though, there was something that tingled my spidey cynical contrarian consultant sense when I got to the list.

I cannot remember all of the items and tips on the list, but a few are burned into my memory:

* Assorted brands of building toys with small parts.
* Grapes (always cut them in half)
* Hot dogs (always cut them in half lengthwise)

You get the idea.

As families line up this week to have their Halloween candy x-rayed, keep in mind that there always will be a Top 10. If you can get in on the danger narrative to advance your client’s cause this Halloween, have at.

That’s what we do.

Just don’t get all freaked out by it.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Crisis Planning

Economic reports are loaded with worst-case scenarios. For a little weekend fun, what's your ultimate fall-back position?

In a quick email exchange on 401(k) values today, I stumbled on my own. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

Figure I can always grow potatoes in the backyard. My people lived that for 200 years.

And they didn’t know how to make vodka. Neither do I, mind you, but I have Wikipedia.

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Strange Bedfellows

Really strange.

Yeah, this is pretty much your average Friday night at the Lally compound.

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The Arch Narrative of Random Violence

A couple of days ago I promised to get back to the dominant narrative of random violence. There’s an important point here: The Dominant Narrative doesn’t have to be factual to affect the way people think and act. It only has to be true – that is, some significant group of people has to believe it.

Random violence is a very rare fact of life in any society in any time.

Read that sentence again.

At least two members of my own family have been victims of such crimes over the last two generations and all the statistical analysis in the world will not ease their (or my) suffering for it.

Still, that doesn’t make it a common occurrence, just one that gets reported: through the news media, anecdotes told at neighborhood gatherings, emails forwarded to “EVERYBODY YOU KNOW!”

Yet, we all believe it. I say “we” because I include myself in that statement. It’s part of who we are. That’s an arch dominant narrative.

Recently a friend who works in the justice system confirmed my suspicions regarding so-called home invasions. “Twenty years,” she said, “never seen one where they didn’t know each other.”

So why do these myths of random violence persist? Part of it has to do with legal restrictions. When a guy gets shot on his front porch or is found dead in a parking lot outside a night club, the cops may know he was a drug dealer, but it’s a bit awkward to say that about a recently deceased 19-year-old.

Or 15-year-old.

They’re coming for your women

Several weeks ago I received an email from a friend – insisting that I pass it along to my wife for her own safety – about a new gang initiation rite. It seems that “gang members” were being ordered to break into cars and minivans – at random – in the parking lots of local discount stores and then lay in wait to rape white women. Recipients were advised to avoid certain parking lots, park in well lighted areas, and check the back seats and cargo areas of their vehicles.

Good advice. Bad narrative.

Who were these gangs that want to harm white women? If they specifically target Caucasians, they must be something … other. Who are you afraid of?

Who is THEM?

What other arch narrative are we following?

Rule: Check Snopes before you believe anything.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Places Have Dominant Narratives

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get, ya know, shot or something?”

One of my neighbors asked me that after learning that I drive (forgive me Ed Begley Jr.!) 26 miles every day to the central business district. In my particular case, that’s downtown Cincinnati.

Cincinnati has had a rough couple of years. Just as the city began to reclaim the close-in community of Over-the-Rhine, a – ahem – misunderstanding between some neighborhood residents and the local constabulary kicked off a series of shootings that pretty much solidified my neighbor’s perception of the inner city.

“No,” I said. “Wanna know why? ‘Cause I’m not gonna rip off my dealer.”

More on the Dominant Narrative of random crime later.

People who love OTR are trying hard to take it back. They’re taking a big step in that direction with the return of the Saengerfest to Memorial Hall this Sunday. This tradition, brought over from the old country by the German immigrants who built Over-the-Rhine (and, obviously, named it) brings an entire community together to sing traditional and patriotic songs. And, of course, eat reallyreally well.

If you’re near the Queen City this Sunday, hope to see you there. It’s sponsored by the Memorial Hall Foundation in honor of the Centennial of Memorial Hall. (see picture) The hall was commissioned by the Grand Army of the Republic to celebrate the sacrifices of veterans from the American Civil War and the Spanish-American (-Cuban-Filipino) War. This is from their release – and no, I am not being paid for this announcement, though I wish I'd thought of it.

Through the World Wars and Korean Conflict, it remained an important part of home-front activities and veterans gatherings. Since a significant refurbishment in the late 1980s, the hall has been used for music and theater performances as well as for large-scale meetings and rallies.

Activities begin at 11:00 a.m. and include:
• Musical presentations in the Washington Park Gazebo
• Civil War Re-enactors in Washington Park
• Informational presentations in the Memorial Hall Theater and lobby
• Saengerfest and Rededication presented by Queen City Concert Band at 4:00 p.m.
• 1940s-era USO Dance presented by Green Hills American Legion Band 5:30-7:30 p.m.

All activities are free and open to the public except a $10 “cover charge” for the USO-style dance. Souvenir programs also will be available for $5.
Memorial Hall is Hamilton County’s monument to the service and sacrifice of its war veterans. The hall, at 1225 Elm Street just south of Music Hall, is a building of national significance for its architecture and its cultural heritage. Designed by Samuel Hannaford & Sons, the military statues below the pediment were created by Clement Barnhorn. The spectacular mural in the auditorium was executed by Francis Pedretti.

Learn more about Memorial Hall at

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Vacuum Part the Second

The below is a warning that you -- your brand, your client &c. -- allow a vacuum to remain at your peril.

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Narrative in a Vacuum

The Super Bowl is 60 minutes long including huddles and whatnot. The game itself lasts about four hours.

The pregame show lasts five hours. That’s just on the network broadcasting the game. ESPN starts its coverage on – like – Thursday.

That is a whole lot of narrative about something when nothing is happening.

Principle: In a vacuum, people will create their own narratives.

Observation: News media are run by people.

Think about that as you watch the pundicrats manage (and create) expectations leading up to the debates.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

401(k) Looking Like a 201(k)?

And ONLY because SHEWHOMUSTBEOBEYED called it, we Friday Freak 1970-something-style

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Die Hards

It’s always interesting that many people can hold completely contradictory ideas in their heads at the same time. This usually is not hypocrisy. Often it’s just a matter of dominant narratives holding their influence despite all facts to the contrary.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to Steve Driehaus, who’s running for Congress in Ohio’s First District. At one point the topic of debates came up and he had a very enlightened perspective: Debates are not about issues, they’re about connecting with the audience.


Driehaus happens to be running against a 14-year incumbent. The issues are clearly on Driehaus’s side in this decidedly purple district. He’s also got the advantage of being scary smart. But what he’s running against isn’t so much an agenda as a habit. For most of two decades, voters in his district have been thinking of the incumbent (who never invited me to a meet-up and therefore shall remain nameless) as a nice guy, if ineffectual. It’s hard to overcome that narrative.

(Aside: my friend Marsie says I don’t handle rejection well. Go figure.)

In my local government class in college I had an instructor who pointed out that a challenger campaign faces two obstacles. This is important because it’s true for challenger brands, too: You are asking the voter NOT to vote for the guy they know. Then you still have to move them to vote FOR your candidate.

Dominant Narratives die hard.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Blackout You'll Never Hear About

The Midwest Blackout of 2008 probably will never earn a Wikipedia entry. Although millions of people were (and as of this writing are) without power, it was far too spread out to focus the attention of the national news media – let alone a disinterested general public preoccupied with Galveston, presidential elections &c.

For my own part, I lost some stuff. (Including the roof of my house, sections of fence) We lost power for two or so days. Generally it was an inconvenience rather than a problem. For the folks who actually have to deal with the issue, whether they’re spending their evenings in darkness or light, it really is a problem.

That’s not to discount the challenges of people who reallyreally need the electricity. But there’s an occupational hazard being a PR guy in that we can’t help looking at these situations through the lens of our profession.

Okay, just my take two days in. Please keep in mind I may have missed something.

As far as big-time public emergencies go, this one has gone rather well. The major service providers – Duke Energy, Time-Warner Cable [disclosure: a client but not for this], Cincinnati Bell, and the various and sundry water districts in SWOH have done a remarkable job of telling the truth, explaining the situation and managing expectations.

I have been snarking about my lack of cable in another forum, but only because I LOVES MY TEEVEE. Not proud of that, just the way it is.

Big props to the team at Duke, who went to air on the radio early and often, understanding that if your lights are out chances are you’re not watching … well, you know. One quibble: please don’t direct me to a Web site that I need electricity to reach. I wonder if all utilities should start publicizing .mobi sites and asking their audiences to bookmark them on their phones &c. Right NOW.

Just sayin’ …

Of course there were some cheesy moments (I probably missed several with my lack of access to television) and some cheap shots like cell phone companies with minor market share bragging about how few of their customers were without service. Seriously, guys: We should all switch to your service because THIS storm knocked the other guy’s towers down? Classy.

A tip of the hat to, as well. Part of my role here is to complain about the media, but when the power’s out and the Blackberry’s all you’ve got, you go to where you know you’re getting the latest. They’ve done a tremendous job of organizing their site so people (remember them?) could find the information they need before our neighbors’ demands on the bandwidth knocked us back into [acquiring …] mode.

Finally, well played by Home City Ice. If you’re counseling this company and can take credit for this, please step forward. For you out-of-towners, Home City Ice is one of the largest commercial ice producers in North America. They have taken some hits recently for some … let’s say bad choices. Two good things about it: they owned up to it and then they came back with keeping their ice factory [yes!] going 24/7 to keep food and medicines from going all icky in the refrigeration-free zone in which we find ourselves.

Well done.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Image Really Is Everything

Science seems to support it.

People get an image in their brains and – try as they might – it influences everything that comes after. The “zombie” language in this article by Carl Zimmer is a little sensational, but there’s a genuine truth beyond the scientific facts presented.

There’s a term for that … umm … let’s just call it the Dominant Narrative.

As individuals, we need to be aware of how perceptions shape our decision-making. As communication professionals … well, you know.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Unexcused Absence

Yes, I have been quiet lately. Lotsa ideas. So little time. Meanwhile, yeah, it's been that kinda week.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday Freakin' -- Famine Music edition

It's a Christy Moore Twofer!

And if you don't know Christy Moore, well ... you should.

And this one goes out to MaryCG. The first girl who shared her bathtub with me (heh):

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Deep Tweet

9.6 percent of the people following me on Twitter are fictional characters.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Deep Thought

As they evacuate coastal areas along the gulf, is there a special southbound lane for local weather forecasters from around the country who want to report "live and firsthand"?

Friday, August 29, 2008

End of Summer Freak

Filed under "Lines You Could Never Get On-Air Today:

Have a drink, have a drive
Go out and see what what you can find.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Deep Thought

Assuming that all bloggers are somehow "the same" is like lumping Larry Flynt together with the Gideons. After all they both work in, you know, printing.

Inspired by this. Ups to Geoff Livingston

h/t prblog

I Don't Get It

Do you get it?

Sure you do. But do you truly get it?

Do you get it in a fundamental way?

Do you totally get it?

I don’t.

When it comes to PR 2.0 or interactive PR or the whole nexus of marketing and social media, it seems the world is being divided neatly into two camps: those who get it, and them that don’t.

I hereby declare my allegiance to the camp that don’t.

I don’t get it.

As Phil Gomes pointed out in January of last year, it’s become shorthand for dismissing alternative points of view. If the whole “Gets It” thing wasn’t obnoxious enough, it’s become an excuse for people to pretend they know something no one else does. Or can.

Gnosticism is the first heresy in any belief system. If you believe the premise, you must believe in the secrets. The secrets are things that you can’t know but must believe and only a select few can know because they have the Gift. They Get It. Otherwise, you’re out of the club. You just have to trust them on these things because they – and they alone – could explain them to you. Of course it would make your head explode if they did.

Or something.

Thankfully, this time around there are no actual wars being fought over Social Media/Web 2.0 orthodoxy. But there is a bunch of money being made.

Don't GET me wrong: I love teh social media. I Link In. I tweet. I facebook. I just don’t GET it. I don't want to sit at the Kewel Kidz Table. Social media change technology, not people.

I imagine there was similar buzz for the fax machine and the telegraph. [You’ll be able to send a simple text message INSTANTANEOUSLY to anybody who’s wired! Here’s an etching of me with Samuel Morse at DotDashCom VII! You've got to do telegraph marketing or you just don't ...]

My beef is not so much with people who DO, you know ... whatever. It's with the "Web 2.0 changes everything" crowd who seem to be putting tactics above strategy in pursuit of something they call the “NEW! marketing." That and somebody said of one of my colleagues that he "totally gets it in a fundamental way," which of course led me to wonder if there could be different manners of or degrees to (yes!) getting it. But I’m over that now. Really.

All of these NEW! media absolutely give professional communicators new ways to open a dialogue with their audiences – the public, remember them? But none of it is a substitute for what we have been doing forever. They add new tools, but you throw away the "old" toolbox at your peril.

For example, any J-school student can tell you that a storyhas specific elements:


Sound familiar?

All the technology in the world changes at most two of those elements. Most important is that Who, What and Why are constant. Technology changes but the constants are what clients and employers have needed since marcom or PR or advertising was invented.

Public Relations-ers do need to understand new technologies and where the natural crowds are forming. If it used to be the state fair or the homecoming parade, it now might be Twitter or FaceBook or your proprietary online community. Now you can build or find a community online. But you still have to involve and motivate people when you get there.


In the heady spring of 2000, I was having lunch with a strategist from Whitman-Hart/MarchFirst/WhitmanHart. Between forkfulls of pasta, she shared her vision of the 'Net.

"Why should I have to leave my house for anything when I can it from the 'Net?"

[She kept saying 'Net.]

"It all bricks-to-clicks. If you're building stores it's over for you. We'll be able to get everything we want online."

"What about all this?" I asked, gesturing around at the we're-not-really-a-chain-but-yes-we-are ambiance of the restaurant. "Can you get this this online?"

She didn't hesitate, "Sure. This is just overhead. In a few years if I want a nice meal I'll be able to go to my computer, log on and it will know if I like it spicy and everything will be delivered to my apartment."

"Cool," I said. "Do you think that would work with pizza and Chinese food, too?"

"You don't get it."

No, I don't.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sending the Wrong Message

Deep Thought:

When your opponent accuses you of sending the wrong message, chances are he's running out of arguments.

Just sayin' ...

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

When Nothing Becomes the Dominant Narrative

Extensive coverage of non-stories was a topic of discussion yesterday at my regular hangout, and one of the smartest guys I know reminded me of the pre-cyberchaser coverage of the Falklands Island War in the early 1980s.

For weeks, as the British fleet made its way toward its brief but telegenic encounter with Argentina, newspapers around the world frontpaged the presumed location of the armada in the Atlantic. There was no new story and no confirmation of anything. Most coverage centered on a Map of the Atlantic Ocean with a series of dots that crept closer to South America each day.

Every Bloody Day

Now that it’s over (for now) there will be plenty of post mortems on the Obama veep announcement. Over at Desirable Roasted Coffee, Allan Jenkins breaks down ABC’s breathless coverage of the build-up, asking a very important question about the qualifications for modern copyediting.

One of the concerns for us PR-types is whether allowing the actual announcement to play out into the weekend news cycle will prove to be a wise decision. But the announcement itself is the least important part of the narrative.

The risk, of course, was that some of the rumors and speculation would raise expectations among key constituencies. In the absence of verifiable information, the public never fails to create its own. That includes the 500 members of the public who make up the DC punditocracy. But for the past two weeks, speculation on the identity of the mystery running mate has been in the top of every national newscast, above the fold in every paper and right next to the cell-phone ad on every news Web site. Forget the text-messaging (clever, btw). The campaign already owned the week.

Sometimes nothin’ …

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Freakin" -- We Need Some Rockin' Edition

This is the bestest music video ever.

Wait ... EVAH!!!

It's how music videos ought to be.

Also how music ought to be.

But that's just me.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A DNT Parable With a Punch Line -- Part Due

First, the lesson:

You … your brand, your company, your own self … have a preferred narrative. Marketers call this positioning. It’s what you wish and hope your audiences will think and believe about you. Usually we think of audiences as customers. But they also can be neighbors, legislators, bosses, spouses ... enough.

All the messaging, branding, advertising and – yes! – PR in the world will not override the experience people have with you every day. And if it’s not an everyday experience, then every encounter or Interface counts even more.

That experience forms a competing narrative. If you're not careful, it becomes the dominant narrative.

The parable:

A young woman joined a convent. The mother superior was very specific.

“If you join us,” she explained, “you will spend your life in prayer, song and manual labor. Other than prayer and song, you will be permitted to speak only two words each year. Do you understand?”

“I do,” said the young woman.

The novice went directly to the fields, where she toiled from dawn to dusk for a full a year. On the anniversary of her admittance, the mother superior invited her to the chapel.

“You have served our community well,” the older woman said. “As I explained, you may now speak. But you are limited to two words.”

The younger woman swallowed hard. “Cold room,” she said.

“You are absolutely correct,” mother superior replied. “We long have had trouble with the fuel supply. I am taking you from the fields and sending you to assist your sisters in chopping wood. Do you accept this assignment?”

The younger woman nodded her assent and went to the woods to chop wood.

After two years, again mother superior summoned the young sister to the chapel.

“You have served our community well,” the older woman said. “As I explained, you may now speak. But you are limited to two words.”

The younger woman swallowed hard. “Bad food,” she said.

“You have worked without fail and performed better than sisters with twice your experience. I am promoting you to the kitchen. Do you accept this assignment?”

The young woman nodded her assent and went off to the kitchen.

After three years of toiling in the fields, chopping wood and cooking for the other sisters, the mother superior again summoned the young sister to the chapel.

“You have served our community well,” the older woman said. “The food in our convent has never been so delicious. As I explained, you may now speak. But you are limited to two words.”

The young woman swallowed hard and spoke.

“I quit.”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” mother superior said. “You’ve done nothing but bitch since you got here.”

Image Cred

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A DNT Parable – With a punch line

I spend a lot of time yammering on about what a Dominant Narrative is and how it comes to be. This is about what it is not:

It is not about you repeating your accomplishments, achievements, brand positioning, tagline &c. It is about what people already believe. What incidents, events, perceptions, experience and whatnot shape your audiences’ opinions about you and/or your brand. You can change those perceptions, but not with a new logo or slogan.

Old Joke A Parable:

An old man sits forlornly at the end of the bar. Finally, the bartender asks, “Why the sad face, old man?”

The old man fixes his teary gaze on the barkeep and tells his tale:

“Look out that window. Do you see that dam? I worked on that dam as a youth. I built it with my bare hands. Do they call me ‘Ivan the dam-builder’?


“See beyond the dam. Do you see that bridge? It spans the gorge. I designed that bridge. Do they call me ‘Ivan the engineer’?


“Look down the river. Do you see that skyscraper? I designed that skyscraper. Do they call me ‘Ivan the architect’?


He continues:

“But you [take advantage of] one goat … ”

Image Cred: londuck at ManualFocus

Friday, August 8, 2008

Garbage Day!

If you have any bad news to get out, today – more than almost any other Friday in the year – is your day to do it.

We have on the menu:

The Olympics with a the biggest opening event evah

A Brand New War is the Caucasus and frankly their opening event could have been stronger

A Rich, Powerful, Good-looking Guy had Sex or something (who knew?)

Now, what’s that about your product performance again?

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Think About Your Troubles, or ...

Friday Freakin' Let's-Just-Can-the-Self-Pity Edition:

Can’t tell you how people over the years told me this video never existed. If you find yourself in the market for music that young kids and parents alike can sing along to in the car, you can do a heckuva lot worse than Nilsson’s The Point.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Site Effects

Toward the end of this week’s PRWeek Blog Competition I issued not ONE but TWO concession statements and then went to bed. The DNT blog was down two points and I didn’t know anybody else to ask for votes.

Some very preliminary thoughts:

While I appreciate PRWeek and its editors recognizing the whole Intertubes thing, it might have been more fun with categories. I’m grateful for the win. But the pairings seemed random and “public relations” is kind of a broad topic.

Brian Solis writes about PR 2.0 – the nexus of relationship building on the participatory Internet. I write about the Dominant Narrative Theory, which is the study of paradigms, biases and opinions that influence the decisions people make.

Both are public relations topics. Still: apples and oranges. Or at least oranges and Clementines.

The great part of this is that public relations bloggers/thinkers/doers are getting a broader audience. If that’s all that comes from this, then it’s all to the good.

Meanwhile (because I still expect to be humiliated eliminated on a technicality by whomever I face in the next round), it’s important to thank some folks who helped spread the word.

In stream-of-consciousness order:

The Triiibe people (they actually do rock)

The LinkedIn crowd

The Cincinnati Enquirer (gotta love that Eckberg Bounce)

Kevin Dugan and Richard Laermer (for endorsing this site)

All of Richard Laermer’s books (which I have found very useful except for, you know … this one)

All of Kevin Dugan’s books

The Alumni and Friends of St. Xavier High School (2nd best is still good!)

The Alumni and Friends of Elder High School (now you know)

And mostly my friends, colleagues, employers, clients &c at Powers Agency. I usually work very hard to keep this site separate from my Clark Kent life, but Mrs. Graf and the team always have been very supportive and patient with my extracurricular activities. I am pretty sure I garnered at least 52 percent of their vote.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

By Popular Demand ...

... we accede to the will of the people (at least the readers of PR Week's Web site) and introduce PR 2.0 to the roll of better sites than this one.

With a little less than four hours to go, and having already exhausted the Eckberg Bounce, it appears the die is cast. It was close for several hours today. Alas, in the end, Brian loosed his army of Silicon Valley flying monkeys had more support in online PR community.

I have to admit that I was surprised -- shocked would be a better word -- to be included in the competition and I wish PR 2.0 and the others well.

Most important, please look around. If you like it, consider a bookmark. Got a problem with something? We like a good lively discussion, too.

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Vote For Me*

If you clicked something thinking you were voting for ... anything ... you actually need to go here and click on Pit Bulls and Labradors. The text will become bold and then you'll know that your vote has been counted.

Or something.

*Best campaign speech evah. Was that The Brady Bunch?

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

PR 2.0 Hates America!

Not really. It’s actually a really cool blog. But that seems to be what I’m supposed to say in the middle of PRWeek’s new tournament-style find-the-best-PR-blog competition.

First, I am grateful (and very surprised) to be included in the competition at all. It’s not the what, but the how that makes me queasy.

Not to mention Brian is going to crush me in the first round, but I digress …

Brian’s blog is all about HOW, and there’s a big need for that in the google-driven future we’re living in. But the DNT blog is – I hope – about the why and the what. We’re talking less about technology and more about the things that don’t change: how people think and make decisions, what information moves the needle in which direction.


Thanks to PRWeek for the love. Thanks to PR 2.0 (among others) for making a forum like this possible.

Congratulations to all the first-round winners.

The Political DNT Parable: The Final Part or …

we finally get to The Moral of the Story.

What happened to George H. W. Bush and Al Gore in the previous posts is an example of Cokie’s Law, named for the D.C. pundicrat Cokie Roberts. It states that it really doesn’t matter if a story is true, as long as people believe it, it will be incorporated into the narrative as if it were. Journalists and everybody else will incorporate it in their consideration of everything that comes after.

In these two cases, even though the anecdotes were distorted – either intentionally or by misunderstanding – they fit into dominant narratives about politics. More important, they fit into dominant narratives about politicians.

The truth – perhaps not fact but who cares? – is that politicians will lie, will exaggerate, are out of touch and have no idea what the rest of us go through on a regular basis. Both of these campaigns failed to realize that they had stepped into a torrent. It may have been only an inch deep, but it was a mile wide and moving fast.

It took them, and their candidate’s careers, with it.

The lesson is that most people will believe what already aligns with their previously held opinions. If it fits with what they think they know, it gets added to the library of “truth.” If it conflicts with what they already "know," most people tend to reject it without much consideration.

Both of these campaigns failed to pre-empt. Brands, particularly those owned (whatever that means anymore) by big corporations, need to understand the relevant dominant narratives and decide which ones they want to fit into.

And which ones they don’t.

In these cases, the brand managers failed to respond. They never even attempted to neutralize the rumors until they had become the fodder of Letterman monologues.

That’s too late.

You don’t have to fight fire with fire. There’s no need to hold a presser every time your brand – or your candidate – is maligned. But you absolutely MUST correct the record. Reach out to the journo. Post a note on your blog. Find surrogates to go after the veracity of the accusation. Get your truth on the record.

Unless you’re veryvery lucky, it will not go away.

Short version: No matter what business you’re in, there’s a version of that Letterman monologue. It may be Mr. Letterman, himself. It may be floor talk at the trade show. It may be the bar around the corner from your biggest client’s office. Or gossip in the break room.

What are you doing to drive your preferred narrative in that conversation?

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

SiteMeter ...

... was harshing IE's buzz so we asked him to chill for a while. He'll be back when he's pulled himself together.

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Election Year DNT Parable - Facts are The Enemy of Truth

The Penultimate Part (we think - there is a weekend coming)

So what do our two parables have in common?

- They both involve former vice presidents running for president.

- They both involve embarrassments that happened in front of lots of people with access to the tools of mass communication.

- They both are based on …

… wait for it …

… lies.

In our first parable, Bush’s fascination was not with the existence of barcode scanners but with a software product that was able to read UPC codes even when torn or partially obscured. Judging by the performance I see in the self-scan aisle of my local mega-low-mart, this technology remains intriguing. I swear, a single drop of condensation on the frozen peas and, well, you know.

In our second, it seems that Erich Segal had NOT based his character on Al Gore. What?

But he had told him he had. That is actually what Gore said to the folks on the plane: That Segal had TOLD him he had based the character on him.

In fact, Segal told anyone else who would listen that the Ryan O’Neill character (for you movie fans) was a composite of Gore and his college roommate. Some guy named Tommy Lee Jones.

Tommy Lee Jones as a roommate still doesn’t punch your “cool” ticket? I give up.

But what about Gore’s claim that he invented the Internet?

Well – surprise! – as it turns out he didn’t.

I mean he didn't claim that he did.

What he actually claimed was to have “taken the initiative” to create the Internet. That claim, by the way, was supported by no less than who most people say is the guy who actually did invent the Internet.

What Gore was probably talking about was his authorship of the legislation that made it all possible.


How could so many people be so wrong?

Next … How to Avoid (Maybe) Falling into the Wrong Dominant Narrative

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Election Year DNT Parable -- The 2nd Part

In 2000, Al Gore was running for election as president. As a sitting vice president, he too lacked the luxury of running against the current administration. In Al Gore’s years in Washington he had been many things: a VP, a senator, a congressman, the son of a prominent senator … and a killjoy. Tennessee-bred and Harvard-educated Albert Gore Jr. had a well established (and earned) reputation as a policy wonk. A nerd. A worry ward. I could go on.

Cut to: A casual conversation with reporters on a campaign plane. Gore mentions that the novelist Erich Segal – a professor at Harvard during Gore’s college years – based his character of the male lead in the screenplay-cum-novel-cum-screenplay Love Story on … Albert Gore Jr.

Obviously, in a desperate attempt to make himself less of a square, Gore had latched onto a pop culture icon from his youth in an attempt to make himself seem less of a nerd. The pressure of the election had made him a fabulist.

Cut to: An impromptu speech Gore gives to some supporters in which, asked about the “information superhighway” (remember that?) he says he invented the Internet.

Torrents of laughter. He’s a politician for pete’s sake! A nominal lawyer, but inventing the Internet?


A combination of Clinton fatigue and the lack of any overriding national issues (plus some well-placed social referenda and a few shenanigans in ballot-counting) would cost Gore that election. But the image of Al Gore, Fabulist played a large part. Even after an Academy Award (screw ‘em, I’m not putting the trademark on it) and a Nobel Prize, it dogs Gore’s reputation to this day.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An Election-Year Dominant Narrative Parable ...

... in Four (or so) Parts

Part The 1st

In 1992, George H. W. Bush was running for re-election as president. During his years in Washington, Bush had been many things: a president, VP, congressman, DCI, the son of a prominent senator, chairman of the RNC. He also had a well established (and earned) reputation as a stick-in-the-mud fuddy-duddy. In primary debates eight 12 years earlier, Bush, himself, had called the supply-side economics of Ronald Reagan “voodoo.” His strategy – and that of his party – was to tell the people, and therefore the voters, that the corner had been turned. Kind of like “prosperity is just around the corner” but without the emotional commitment. The knock on Bush was that he was out of touch. This scion of New England aristocrats and darling of the Texas oilmen simply didn’t understand the life of common people.

Cut to: The grocer’s convention. At a display of the latest technology, dutifully videotaped and broadcast by the networks that evening, the sitting president of the United States seemed mystified by a simple barcode scanner. Now anybody who had been in a supermarket in the ten years prior knew how a barcode scanner worked. Clearly this guy was just as out of touch as his opponents said, right?

Then, to a mantra of “It’s the Economy, Stupid” the out-of-touch tag would send Bush into retirement four years earlier than he had planned.

Image Cred

Next: Does the Show Fit the Other Foot?

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