How to Get A Job: Part II

A couple of weeks ago, I posted “How to Find a Job in Public Relations,” a piece that grew out of concern for graduating seniors at my university who are hitting the job market this month. Many of you kindly commented with great advice.

Tomorrow I’m going to be addressing a women’s leadership class through the Mankato YWCA around a slightly different topic: “How to Use Social Media to Get a Job.” Any job, really.

Now, I’m no expert at social media. The last time I posted an image of “the new social media prism,” Benidt quipped that it looked like a turkey on steroids. And it’s true: it does.

But it seems to me that one of the ways you can get through the loss of a position or even prepare yourself for the worst of times is to reach out now to others in your industry or profession, to long-lost colleagues and best friends, to new people who share your interests. Put together a safety net, so to speak, so if you fall you might have a softer landing spot.

Look. You already participate in the social media set. That’s why you’re reading this blog. (And we at the SRC thank you.) But if you actually comment on the posts, you become a public part of the social media landscape and we get to “know” you.

Actually, what we at the SRC don’t want to tell you is how easy it is to set up your own blog. Just go to or and if you can follow three steps, you’ll be blogging. Write about your field, your profession, your passion. (Let us know where you are and we’ll send you some “link love.”)

Do you twitter? Why not? In 140 characters or fewer, you can carry on mini-conversations with others around the world about industry openings, helpful articles, best practices in any profession (try #journchat on Monday evenings for great discussions among journalists, public relations people, students and nerdy professors.) WARNING: twitter may be addicting.

Are you on LinkedIn? Think of it as a grown-up version of MySpace. Or, how about MySpace or Facebook? Those are certainly ways to build contacts. Just remember: what you put on the Web lives forever.

What other ideas do you have for helping each other out during these uncertain economic times?

purchase orders nice

Are You Part of the Social Media Prism?

Had a wonderful lunch today with a great local writer, John Gaterud. He’s an even greater friend I first got to know in the early 80s when he, Benidt and I molded young minds at then-Mankato State University. I tell you, those young minds have not been the same since.

(A recommendation: For those not familiar with John’s work, I’d invite you to check out the beautiful Stardust and Fate, a collection edited and published last year by John and his daughter Abbey. If you value words, stories and typography you’ll value this book.)

John and I were laughing about the brave new world of social media we aging hipsters are tip-toeing into these days..blogs, twitter, facebook, LinkedIn. And it reminded me of a posting by Brian Solis, who some say is the guru of social media networking. Solis believes we’re all going to have to learn how to navigate our way around and through this social media prism unless we want to become extinct in the 21st century. (Not really. I’m making that last part up.)

Take a look at this prism. Like your secret crush in 8th grade who didn’t know you were alive, it’s both pretty and intimidating. It’s pretty intimidating.


Wow. Staring at this social media prism intently, as if for the first time, I wonder… If I take it just one little bit at a time, could I do it? Could this 35-year-plus baby-boomer, who’s quickly losing her short term memory, possibly learn and then keep up with it all? Let’s see. There’s pownce. ning. Twiki. flickr. Zimbra. Furl. Bacn.


Did I tell you I had a wonderful lunch today…

tax preparer nice

Minnesota’s Blog Scene Gets NYT Coverage

The New York Times has an interesting look at the impact it believes Minnesota’s bloggers are having on our State’s political landscape. The article focuses mostly on the role Minnesota Democrats Exposed is playing in the Senate race, but also mentions True North, Truth vs. The Machine, MNPublius and the Minnesota Campaign Report.

– Austin free printable invoices fine

Who’s Judging the Media Judges?

Why do reporters need to be at the center of political debates? To expose the truth, say many.

Well, during last week’s presidential debate, CNNs John King took on that role with self-righteous zeal: “Tonight, Senator Obama, you’ve talked about more transparency. You also at one point criticized earmarks. And yet, a recent report came out that identified you — lower on the list in terms how much money senators seek and sneak into the budget for these pork-barrel spending projects, but it still said you were responsible for $91 million in earmarks. And you have refused to say where the money went, what it’s for. Why?”

Dang. Zinger, right? Refused to disclose. Hypocrisy! Given that Senator Clinton’s xerox line flopped, this was perhaps the hardest hit Obama took all night.

Well, actually it turns out Senator Obama did disclose his earmarks. In fact, he disclosed in about the most up-front manner imaginable, via a news release beamed to the news media and posted on his official website titled “Obama Announces FY08 Federal Funding Requests.”

Why not let candidates debate each other instead of giving reporters a platform for making themselves the story?

– Loveland

e-marketing kind

Real-Time Teachable Moment From American Airlines

For those of you who are or aspire to be better crisis communicators, there’s a situation unfolding at American Airlines that will bear following. According to news reports that are effectively everywhere, a woman on an American Airlines flight last Friday died after being denied oxygen – twice – and discovering that two oxygen tanks on board – plus the defibrillator – were malfunctioning.

Here are some initial discussion points:

Is the story accurate? As you’ll see, much of the coverage is actually pick up of a single AP story and while there’s no immediate reason to discount the accuracy of the story, it’s worth noting that the reporting depends on information provided by the deceased’s brother and cousin.

Was AP justified in writing up the story the way it did, based on the accounts of two people who are anything but objective observers?

How should American be responding even while it’s investigating this situation? American’s position in these stories is almost non-existent (a longer statement is referred to in a package done by WABC).

Should the airline be more visible in the story and – if so – how?

What’s coming next? I think it’s safe to assume that newsrooms all over the country (the world) are trying to figure out how to advance this story – interviews with the family, tracking down other passengers on the plane, investigating American’s inspect procedures, etc. You can expect lawsuits to be filed shortly as well.

How does American get back in front of this issue (assuming you think they should and it’s possible)?

What should other airlines be doing, if anything, on this story. How about responding to media inquiries wanting to know their rules regarding medical emergencies on board?

Who should be speaking for the airline? Should there be a statement only (that seems to be American’s current approach) or should spokespeople be available? On camera?

Those are just the starting points. As Keanu Reeves said in Speed:

“Pop quiz…”

– Austin government loans kind

Happiness is…Expectation Management

Public relations professionals continually hound their clients and employers about managing expectations. That is, we work to ensure that the expectations of a target audience don’t get so unrealistically optimistic that the audience becomes disappointed with the client/employer when an outcome inevitably doesn’t match unrealistic expectations.

For instance, if key stakeholders believe a company is certain to report that earnings have increased by 25 percent, the PR staffer may work overtime to convince the stakeholders that such an expectation is unrealistic, so the stakeholders don’t judge the company a failure if earnings have increased by “only” 10 percent.

The need to manage expectations effectively makes PR people into their organization’s Chief Wet-blanket Officer (CWO). We have to continually tell people, “let’s not state that quite so optimistically…”

Well, a recent CBS 60 Minutes story about Denmark indicates that expectation management is perhaps much more than just a tool for business and politics. Perhaps it is something much more profound — the elusive Key to Happiness.

Excerpts from the story:

Happiness is that quirky, elusive emotion that the Declaration of Independence maintains we have every right to pursue. And we do pursue it: we are suckers for an endless stream of self-help books that promise a carefree existence for a mere $24.95; and television hucksters of every kind claim they have the key to Nirvana. So the happiness business, at least, is one big smiley face.

As for the rest of us, the main scientific survey of international happiness carried out by Leicester University in England ranks the U.S. a distant 23rd, well behind Canada and Costa Rica. But you’ll be pleased to know we beat Iraq and Pakistan.

Over the past 30 years, in survey after survey, this nation (Denmark) of five and a half million people…consistently beat the rest of the world in the happiness stakes. It’s hard to figure: the weather is only so-so, they are heavy drinkers and smokers, their neighbors, the Norwegians, are richer, and their other neighbors, the Swedes, are healthier.

…after careful study, Christensen (Professor Kaare Christensen at the University of Southern Denmark) thinks he isolated the key to Danish anti-depression. “What we basically figured out that although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations they were pretty modest,” he says.

By having low expectations, one is rarely disappointed.

Christensen’s study was called “Why Danes Are Smug,” and essentially his answer was it’s because they’re so glum and get happy when things turn out not quite as badly as they expected. “And I was thinking about, What if it was opposite? That Denmark made the worst, number 20, and another country was number one. I’m pretty sure the Danish television would have said, ‘Well, number 20’s not too bad. You know it’s still in the top 25, that’s not so bad,'” he says.

History may also play a role in the country’s culture of low expectations. If you go to the government’s own Web site, it proudly proclaims “the present configuration of the country is the result of 400 years of forced relinquishments of land, surrenders and lost battles.”

Could it be that the true secret of happiness is a swift kick in the pants, or a large dose of humiliation?

Just some food for thought. Have a non-catatstrophic day!

– Loveland

tax filing kind

Dumb Freakin’ Label (DFL)

Increasingly, the language of brand management is being adopted by political communicators. Well, if Minnesota’s left-leaning political hacks are serious about practicing good brand management, they should start by reconsidering the whole “Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party” thing.

Minnesotans’ insistence on applying the “farmer labor” appendage is odd. To begin with, if you are insecure, it causes you to wonder why your employment group isn’t precious enough to be represented in the name. “What, consultants are chopped liver?”

An affiliate should have a darn good reason for brand secession, and the DFL has no such reason. Are Minnesota Democrats really THAT different from the rest of the national party that they need their own sub-brand?

No. Minnesota doesn’t have more “farmers” and “laborers” than other states. In fact, only about 8% of Minnesotans work in agricultural production. Many large square states have a higher proportion of farmers than we do. Moreover, I believe that number is on the decline, and that farmers aren’t overwhelmingly devout Democratic supporters anymore.

As for “labor,” only about 16% of Minnesotans are members of labor unions. By my count, eight states have a higher proportion of union members than us.

I’m neither anti-labor nor anti-farmer, but there is no good reason why Minnesota should be the only state in the nation to specifically call out “labor” and “farmer” in its name, to the exclusion of the 84% Minnesotans who do not carry a union card and the 92% who don’t own a single seed cap.

Dedicated number cruncher that I am, I set out to add 8% (farmers) and 16% (laborererers). After applying quad-gonzo squared regression analysis, I determined that 24% of Minnesotans are specifically represented in the DFL brand name. Then I consulted historical election returns, and learned that, get this, 24% is not enough to win elections. For an organization whose mission is to win elections, this might just be relevant data.

Mr. Melendez, tear down those four syllables!

By the way, such de-branding would not be unprecedented. A few years back the Minnesota party formerly known as the Independent Republican (IR) Party was wise enough to drop its first four syllables. Perhaps the party’s increased fealty to special interest litmus tests subjected it to truth-in-labeling legal exposure if it continued to use “independent?”

Yes, I am fully aware of the glorious history behind the DFL name. Well, kind of aware anyway. As I understand it, once upon a time — over six decades ago actually – Hubert Horatio Humphrey The First and his merry band of party founders struck a sweet deal to merge two competing parties, the Minnesota Democratic Party and the Farmer-Labor Party. To seal the deal, Hubert Horatio apparently gave both parties naming rights, and presumably lots of awesome pork barrel and patronage jobs.

You heard me right. I said “six decades ago.” In America, we never feel bound to keep agreements that are six years old, much less six decades! I’m sure the three remaining Farmer-Labor Party groupies will get over it when we de-brand.

Let’s do this thing, people. Let’s eradicate those oppressive four syllables!

And if you don’t, I swear I’m not voting for your candidates until you amend “consultant” onto the name.

— Loveland

standby letter of credit kind

“Sometimes You Just Have to Stand Up There and Lie”

A post on Gawker left me speechless for a few minutes today. If this is an accurate representation of what was actually said at a media training session, it violates everything I know about the practice of communications:

“I’m a high-level advertising and marketing executive who’s hired – and used- some of the top PR firms in the nation.

As part of their ‘media training’ they commonly tell you lying is fine.

From a direct quote within an Edelman (the nation’s largest independent PR firm) session, training our entire senior management team:

‘Sometimes, you just have to stand up there and lie. Make the audience or the reporter believe that everything is OK. How many times have you heard a CEO stand up and say, ‘No, I’m not leaving the company’ and then – days later – he’s gone. Reporters understand that you ‘had’ to do it and they won’t hold it against you in your next job when you deal with them again.'”

Utter bullshit IMHO.

If other PR practitioners have a different point of view, let’s hear it, but from my perspective we’re only as good as our personal reputation for candor and truthfulness. Lose those and you may as well look for a shepherding gig.

And, in truth, it’s a pretty underwhelming PR person who thinks the only way to answer a question is with a lie. There are an infinite number of ways to answer a question that go back to what is at the core of most media training: blocking and bridging?

To use the example cited herein:

“Jon, what do you have to say about the rumors we’re hearing about the CEO’s imminent departure?”
“What I always say, Michael: ‘We don’t comment on rumors and speculation; when there’s something to announce, regardless of the topic, we’ll get the word out.'”
“So, are you denying that your CEO plans to leave?”
“I’m saying that we don’t comment on rumors and speculation.”
“Is it possible that he’s contemplating leaving?”
“Hypothetical questions are just like rumors and speculation; I’m not going to get into a game of what-if.”

And on and on…

Now, it is possible to have an honest disagreement about whether blocking and bridging is a valid technique; I absolutely think it is but reporters, I suspect, would like all PR people to be compelled to answer in ways that make their job easier:

“Jon, what do you have to say about the rumors we’re hearing about the CEO’s imminent departure?”
“Those rumor have a basis in fact, Michael; our CEO is currently interviewing for a new position.”
“What are the details of this situation?”
“Our CEO is being offered a substantial financial incentive to go to work for Amalgamated Schmeer and is interested in the opportunity because of the size of the financial incentive and also because he feels somewhat burnt out by his current job.”
“Is anything else I should know about?”
“Why yes, Michael. You probably would be interested in knowing that two other senior managers are currently contemplating leaving, that the board has offered the CEO additional financial incentives to stay and that the legal department is currently conducting a routine internal audit of the CEO’s expense account. Also, last week we experienced a non-reportable spill of 75 gallons of propylene in our Tulsa facility that in all likelihood entered the watershed.”

That approach would certainly make reporters’ jobs a lot easier but it would be unfaithful to our other obligations as advocates for our clients or companies. I make a big distinction between being an advocate and being a public information officer. Advocates have a point of view, we promote an agenda, we work toward a specific outcome. What makes our jobs hard – and interesting – is advocating while also upholding our obligation to be truthful and honest (which again, I don’t equate with “making a reporter happy”).

Again, if others have a different point of view on the validity of blocking and bridging, belly up to the bar and let’s hear ’em.

Here’s a challenge to you all: come up with a question where the only possible choices are admitting to an inconvenient truth or lying and post it here. I bet all comers that such a question doesn’t exist. Beat me at my game and I’ll award the winner a genuine “think BLUE” wristband suitable for all Democratically inclined wrists.

– Austin

First Choice for Third Parties?

He said. She said. Expert said.

That’s the formula most news reporters seem to use these days. Two opposing groups or individuals express their viewpoints, and the expert effectively breaks the tie with their “independent” opinion. In this formula, the expert witness wields a lot of influence with readers/viewers/listeners.

Which raises the stakes on this question: what type of expert should reporters be using? Consider the pros and cons of their options:

Continue reading “First Choice for Third Parties?”

Going to war…on spam

Most of this post is a little off topic from our general “communications” theme. Tough. But, for those of you who might feel shortchanged, I promise to close it with a legitimate communications question.

Last week I declared war on spam. The early results are encouraging.

My attack was not a rash decision and no one can say I wasn’t provoked. I think what did it was the 17th message of the day promising penis enhancement (or in the language of spammers, “Make ur D’ ick 3 INches Lnger and ur LoVeR 3X happy”). Of course, it could have been the 9th message telling me that my Target/Wal-Mart/JCPenney/Dell/Amazon gift card was ready for pick up or maybe one of the endless succession of offers to send me an entire drug store through the mail. All I really remember is saying, “I’m not going to take this any more.”

Chances are you feel the same way. Chances are everyone feels the same way. According to the Radacti Group (which purports to study e-mail usage and trends), there are about 1.2 billion of us sending and receiving e-mails. And, according to another research firm called Ipswitch, those boxes fill up with as many as 180 billion e-mails every day and about 95 percent of it spam.

For those of us who work for large organizations with IT departments, this issue may not be as much in your face as it is for me. Your corporate nerds are probably doing a pretty good job in filtering spam out of your in-box like the nice folks at Fleishman Hillard (with which I still work on various projects and thus still have an e-mail address there). About the only thing that gets through their filters, for some reason, is spam from the Falun Gong.

If, on the other hand, you’re an independent or use your home computer for e-mail (which I do for my JAA work and have a third address that’s purely for personal stuff), you probably know what I’m talking about. If you’re like me, you’re probably spending an hour or so every day managing your e-mail inbox (there’s a productivity boost!). Do the math and that means we’re spending weeks out of every year doing nothing but dealing with spam.

Screw that.

Like any good military strategist, having resolved to fight back, I started by gathering intelligence on the enemy, in this case by really looking at the crap in my in-box. What I quickly realized is that I’d created a fair chunk of the problem myself in the form of e-mail lists I’d signed up for and no longer needed or wanted (or ever wanted). After spending about four days clicking on the “Unsubscribe” links, I noticed a significant decrease in traffic of this sort.

One word of warning on this point: Make sure the lists you’re unsubscribing from are legitimate ones; some spammers include fake “unsubscribe” links as a way to verify a legitimate e-mail address. This can actually lead to more spam.

But…what about all the other penis ads I didn’t sign up for?

For those, I went looking for an easy-to-use, low-cost version of the corporate spam blockers. There are several out there to look at – including some integrated into applications that provide other security services like virus protection – but I settled on a solution called Cloudmark that interfaces smoothly with Outlook and uses a database – compiled by the experiences of users everywhere – to detect and block spam (today’s stats claim that have blocked over a billion pieces of spam). This process happens invisibly and has proven to be extremely effective on cutting my daily e-mail traffic by about 90 percent. Cloudmark is a subscription service that goes for $40 a year and appears to be some of the best money I’ve spent recently.

Short of tearing up the Internet and starting over, there doesn’t seem to be a systemic way to rid the world of spam. I did read, though, that about 80 percent of spam is generated by 200 people so getting our hands – virtually, of course – around their throats would be a good start. Which brings me to the communications closer: If a spammer needed PR representation for what is a legal but highly annoying activity, should they get it? Would you do it? Why or why not?

– Austin

PS – Along the lines of this rant about spam, I also plan to write another screed on “cords…I hate ’em.” Prepare yourself. hr outsourcing kind

Jockey Journalism

The complaint about journalism covering elections has been that it’s all about covering the horserace — who’s ahead, who’s coming up fast around the second turn — rather than covering issues or character or records.

Given the monster role spin is playing in the current election — “We thought we were going to lose,” “We’re the underdog,” “My dog ate my ballots” — and how much time journalists give to each campaign’s spinners, election journalism has now sunk one step lower, interviewing the jockeys about the race.

Next we’ll be interviewing the people cleaning out the Augean Stables — but at least then it might be more clear what’s being scooped.

— Benidt business expense spreadsheet kind

I Demand a Better Headline

An old friend of mine, and fellow Shandwick alum, Rob Zeiger, is a PR Corp Comm type who has never been able to get the newsroom out of his blood. He regularly emails around a real but goofy headline under “I demand a better headline” and communications folks — some of us old headline writers, some readers also of this blog — chip in with punny headlines to amuse one another and avoid doing real work.

I asked Rob if we could occasionally steal his stuff, he said yes, and so we will on occasion — like this one.

Rob spots a problem in the Saginaw, Michigan, News: “Newspaper Puts Horse Ad Under ‘Good Things To Eat.'”

Seems an ad from a woman selling a three-year-old mare, Foxy, was mistakenly run the the News’s “Good Things to Eat” ad section. The horse owner said she was outraged, and so were readers.

So here are some headlines Rob’s friends have come up with — jump in and add your own.

Horse Owner Becomes Unglued Over Ad

Filly Beef in Cheese-y Ad Placement

Horse — The Thoroughbred White Meat

Ad Nags Horse Lovers

Whoa: KFC Pulls Reins On Commemorative ‘Barbaro BBQ Bucket’

Arby’s Adopts ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Policy Over Horsey Sauce Row

And your tasteless contribution?…

— Benidt small business loan kind

Obama, Are You Experienced? Have You Ever Been Experienced? And on Re-electing Clinton

Barack Obama — and the media — have given Hillary Clinton a pass on the issue of experience. Hillary talks about being ready on day one to be president — especially important in a time of terrorism when a new president will be tested, she says.

Clinton is a second-term senator. Obama is a first-term senator. Yet Obama is the one about whom it’s always asked, “Does he have enough experience to be president?” As if Hillary, ipso facto, does have.  

Obama has done a lousy job of showing how his experience — as a community organizer, a law-school teacher of constitutional law, a state legislator — prepares him for the presidency. He could be saying he’s had great experience being close to real people’s lives, knowing what they struggle with, learning how to move people and help them help themselves. But he hasn’t challenged Hillary on the experience issue.

And the press — my god, what a single-celled organism. Nobody — not Russert, not Matthews, not Wolfie — is challenging Clinton on her experience. She’s talking as if she’s this seasoned leader who’s made all these tough decisions and has all this executive background — and nobody challenges her on it. Yes, I’m an Obama supporter, because he can, in my view, not only win the White House but move the country. But come on, people, let’s ask some tough questions.

Which brings us to the other Clinton.

Remember the great bumper sticker from 2004 — “Re-elect Al Gore”?

Bill Clinton is liking the sound of “re-elect Bill Clinton.” He had a good time in the White House, and he wants to get back. And he’s kind of losing his mind. He’s getting pissed off, and he’s defensive and he’s unattractive. He’s mischaracterizing what Obama says and slamming him for what he didn’t say. Bill is running again.

Peggy Noonan, on Meet the Press today, said the way Hillary is allowing Bill to run around and get angry and red-faced on her behalf (or is it on her behalf?) is like a woman sending her husband out to tell the neighbors to be quiet. If she’s running for president, Noonan asked, why is she having him go out and do the tough stuff? And if Bill is doing this on his own, Tim Russert’s panel asked, and Hillary can’t control him, what chance does she have of controlling him in the White House? And there we are, back at the start of this little rant. Bill Clinton wants to be re-elected.

Or, to hear Hillary’s story, Bill want to be president for the first time. Succeeding her previous two terms running the country.

— Bruce Benidt payroll calculator free kind

McCain Delivers a Stunner — Worst Speech Ever

I’ve never seen commentators and news readers laugh at a speech the way the people of MSNBC laughed at John McCain’s victory speech last night. Laughter, outright prolonged laughter at how abominably lame the speech was and how poorly McCain delivered it. Chris Matthews said that every advisor McCain has ever known got a line or two in that speech. Tom Brokaw said, with his half grin, that the people who voted for McCain Tuesday night “deeply regret it after that speech, and the makers of Nyquil are in deep despair.” (Nyquil is an MSNBC sponsor, nice plug Tom.)

The speech started OK, but then wandered off into reciting every dull cliche that any politician has ever said through all of American history. You gotta see it. I dare you to figure out what he’s talking about — or to make it to the end. Somebody needed the shepherd’s crook to pull the poor guy off the stage. Speechwriters, take this as a lesson — a speech is not an Old Country Buffet. And speakers — good lord, don’t read speeches, or at least don’t read them for the first time with the cameras rolling.

Dave Barry, in the Miami Herald, had the best McCain line today — among the questions still to be answered in the coming weeks is this one, Barry writes: “Is John McCain, at 117, too old and cranky to be president? Like, during the White House Easter Egg Roll, would he come outside in his bathrobe and yell, ‘You kids get off my lawn?'”

Seriously, for those of us who wonder what brought so many New Hampshire women voters to Hillary when Obama won with women in Iowa, Maureen Dowd’s take on Hillary’s tears and victimhood is deeply perceptive. Hillary’s tears, Dowd says, were for Hillary.

After two primaries and seeing all the candidates, scripted and unscripted, I remain convinced that the only way any Republican can win in November is if the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton. My wife, Lisa, assures me this won’t happen. And Lisa acknowledged that she fell down on the job last night, and she takes personal responsibility. I believe she had a tear in her eye.

–Bruce Benidt hotel internet marketing kind

Huh, Hillary IS a Human, and Humans are OK

When will candidates learn to fire their advisors and be themselves?

Here’s Hillary Clinton today being a human being. Listen and watch — she’s showing us what she cares about. If she’d been this way before today she might not be so far behind Obama, who, at his best, shows himself to be a human being pretty regularly.

Rudy Giuliani was a dreadful public speaker until a man named Elliot Cuker got to him, according to an August 20, 2007, New Yorker profile. Cuker is a member of the Actors Studio, and told Giuliani, “Just talk to the people. Connect to the people.” And Giuliani now, at his best, is a pretty engaging speaker.

Bob Dole, who ran a dreadful campaign, was fabulous on The Tonight Show after he lost his run for president. If that Bob Dole had been the guy running for president, he’d have had a better chance.

Be yourself. It’s the only person most of us are any good at being. And talk about what matters to you, and tell us why you care. Then we can see inside.

-Bruce Benidt free payroll calculator kind

Happy New Year

From all of us at the Same Rowdy Crowd to you and yours, our very best wishes for a safe and joyous 2008.  There’s lots of interesting things to talk about in 2008 and one of my resolutions for the new year is to be a more frequent contributor to this forum.  I understand the primary benefit of this resolution will be to provide a source of unintentional humor, but we all have roles to play.

Enjoy the day.

– Austin

Polls Shed No Light On Oprah Effect

Few things in the persuasion business are more misused than polls. Today’s example from the political world: the Zogby polling purporting to show that Oprah Winfrey’s support for presidential candidate Barack Obama is making no difference.

I have no idea how Winfrey impacts Obama. But I do know asking people a “less likely/more likely” poll question sheds absolutely no light on the matter.

Here’s why. People don’t like to admit that they are heavily influenced by outside forces, particularly forces regarded as superficial in society, such as celebrities. They don’t admit it to pollsters, because they don’t admit it to themselves. They wear Nike because they made their own considered choice, not because they want to be like Nike endorsers.

If you ask people whether they are more or less likely to buy a product after seeing an ad, people will vehemently deny the ad influences them. I’ve seen it on issue-after-issue and product-after-product. To do otherwise would be to admit that you are a shallow, powerless automaton.

But, the soda, beer and cigarette companies that advertise the most, sell the most. Not a coincidence.

Understand, it’s not that we are lying to pollsters. It’s that we don’t understand how outside influences shape our thinking in the backs of our brains. Just like people don’t see a Coke ad and immediately say “oh my gosh, that ad will make me purchase Coke,” people don’t see Oprah promoting Obama and immediately say “that endorsement will make me vote for Obama.” To do so would be to admit powerlessness, something we all are reluctant to do. And to do so would be to exhibit more self awareness than we possess.

But the information from the Coke ads gets filed away in the brain and bounces around in ways we don’t understand, while week-after-week we find ourselves quite unconsciously reaching for Coke on the shelf instead of the lightly advertised champion of blind taste tests, RC Cola.

Likewise the endorsement of Obama by one of the most popular and admired people in the world is bouncing around in Americans heads in ways we don’t really understand. I don’t know how Americans are going to process that information. But my point is that asking a more likely/less likely question in a poll is about the most superficial way to gauge that that I can imagine.

Full Disclosure: I support Obama, and for reasons I don’t fully understand, wear the same teddy bear print Karen Neuberger pajamas that Oprah does.

– Loveland

Jesus is Huckabee’s (Political) Savior

We Rowdies had a good snicker a few weeks back over an outrageous piece of video in which a politician being grilled by a reporter refused to answer questions about his record and instead responded, seven times in one short interview, “Do you know Jesus loves you?”

Outrageous, right? Just an oddball backwater politician, right? An anomaly, right?

Wrong. The hottest presidential candidate in the country is using the same dodge masterfully as we blog.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is presently running ads in Iowa questioning former Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee about a series of “soft on crime” moves Huckabee allegedly made as Governor of Arkansas. Romney’s charges are demagogic, but he is raising the kind of issues that conservative activists care deeply about, so they might actually slow down the Iowa Huckaboom if they got traction.

With the stakes sky high and the Presidential nomination hanging in the balance, Huckabee’s response to the questioning is: “…what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ…”

That’s it. That’s the gist of the TV ad Huckabee put up in the wake of Romney’s questions.

In this spat, Romney will be portrayed as the crass Scrooge for daring to raise policy issues seventeen days before an election. I can hear the Grinch satire song now: “You’re a mean one, Mr. Mitt!”

But Romney is at least raising a policy issue that Presidents really do struggle with, criminal law and pardons. Citizens always say they want politicians to talk about “the issues” rather than empty platitudes, and that’s what Romney is doing. But, gross rating point-by-gross rating point, Huckabee clings to platitudes, behind the protective robe of Jesus, to avoid talking about his record as Governor.

“…what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ…”

“…what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ…”

“…what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ…”

It’s a savvy move to solidify his religious base and attract campaign weary, Christmas lovin’ Iowans. It very effectively sells him as a likeable guy. Therefore, Reverend Huckster will be lauded in the annals of political advertising history for his Silent Night strumming savoir faire. And it probably will help him win Iowa.

But it’s also every bit as slippery a response as the “do you know Jesus loves you” guy.

– Loveland

Who’s Your Daddy?

Want to understand how Republicans frame themselves with voters to win elections in the post-9/11 environment? Well, come to papa.

Linguist George Lakoff explains that Republicans are very disciplined about framing themselves as “strict fathers” of the national family, the kind of figure you want to protect you in a dangerous neighborhood and stop the children from getting soft and dependent. “Wait until your father comes home!”

Meanwhile the Democrats frame themselves as the nurturing mommies. Voters like that the mama Dems have big hearts and mean well, but worry they overindulge the national family and are too soft to protect us from the cold, cruel world.

Yesterday on Meet the Press, there was an interesting example of how disciplined Republicans are about maintaining this tough guy framing. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was being grilled by host Tim Russert about the hypocrisy of cracking down on undocumented workers while employing such workers to do landscaping around, as the Boston Globe put it, “his pink colonial house.”

Naturally, Romney sprung into action to defend his honor. And what was the first thing out of his mouth? A spirited recitation of his 9-point immigration plan? A description of his work as Governor to deal with the problem? An explanation about how difficult it is in the current environment to determine which workers are “legal?”

No, the strict father sat up tall, pulled his shoulders back and responded, “I have to clear up the most egregious error in that article. It said my house was pink. I would not have a pink house, I assure you.”

Oh daddy!

– Loveland

At the Intersection of Journalism and Greatness

I attended the national convention of the Society of Professional Journalists in Washington, D.C., in October. It was an outstanding event, including sessions on the electronic revolutions reshaping journalism, remembrances of Presidential press secretaries, the frustrations of current White House reporters, and watching Helen Thomas interview Leila Fadel, the brave 26-year-old Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy News, on how she dodges the dangers of reporting from Iraq.

The greatest moments at the conference were these, when I sat and listened to the giants of journalism talk about the importance of their profession. Journalists take a real beating these days from many quarters; it’s hard to remember sometime why you even were attracted to the profession in the first place. It certainly isn’t for the pay. Ask any reporter/editor from a weekly who’s accustomed to earning 30 hours’ pay for an 80-hour week.

But when you hear from some of the best, as I did, you’re reminded that a free press is one of the last bastions of a free people at any time in history. It might sound corny to say but it’s true.

Imagine a panel with Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee recalling the reporting of Watergate..a story that involved some 37 criminal offenses yet still manages to look tame compared to some of the constitutional chicanery we’ve endured since. Imagine Scott Armstrong from the Senate impeachment proceedings and Daniel Schoor from CBS sitting on the same stage, with Bob Schieffer as moderator. Imagine them remembering the late publisher Katherine Graham who, even when threatened economically with the loss of five television station licenses by the Nixonites, never once considered asking Woodward and Bernstein to back off of the story.

These are journalists, not Bill O’Reilley windbags or “Access Hollywood” wanna-bes.

What Woodward, Bernstein, Bradlee, Armstrong, Schieffer, Graham, Schoor, Thomas and now Fadel remind us is this: in a free and open society, journalism matters.

And great journalism matters greatly.

Ellen M Mrja

An award-winning link from across the pond

SRC blogger and friend Kris Morrill sent this link suggestion from England for an hot site called the nthposition:

I found a great discussion there surrounding publication of a book of poems written by Gitmo detainees — poems that are said to contain metaphors, imagery and words. The words proved especially problematic, it seems, because the Privilege Review Board of the Pentagon had to make certain the Arabic-English translators handling these words were themselves trustworthy. And so translators, too, had to go through security clearances. Military strategists were ultimately able to refuse some poems for publication with no reason given. So does this make them censors or editors?

Is it a stupid act of treachery to publish poetry (POETRY?!) written by “terrorists” (the saw is: ‘If they weren’t terrorists when they went in, they’ll be terrorists when they get out’)? Criticism is out there against the University of Iowa Press for even printing this collection of propaganda/poetry. Or is this, as others hypothesize, a new public relations opportunity for the government, one that proves to the world we allow even our enemy combatants freedom of expression?

Or, maybe these are just poems made up of just words.

Conversations by the Fire – The Pictures

As the previous posts indicate, Benidt and I went north yesterday to Princeton, MN. When I get caught up with the rest of my life, I’ll try to write something about the experience, but I first wanted to post some pictures from the afternoon. This would have taken my kids about 30 seconds to figure out. A couple are posted below.

Unfortunately, unless I’m missing something, posting lots of pictures in WordPress is a pretty big pain in the ass so I’m not going to post all 40 of them here. Instead, I created a profile on Flickr where the whole roll is posted.

Participants are welcome to visit the site, add their own captions, comments, etc.

More later, as they used to say.

– Austin

Fun with glazes


Getting to know each other

Can PR get Blackwater out of hot water?

Whether you view Blackwater USA as a private security firm employed to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq or an armed militia that follows no rules of engagement save for the rule of the jungle, “Kill or be killed,” it’s striking how Blackwater co-founder Erik Prince has suddenly become available to all of the media outlets.

Oh, sure, following the Sept. 16 shooting “incident” by Blackwater guards that left 13 Iraqis dead, Prince did have to appear before a congressional committee and answer some of his peskier critics. But by and large, the handsome and engaging Prince (surely that’s an apt description, both figurative and literal) handled the situation well. He reminded me of another great American who had once whipped the boys in Congress, Ollie North.

On Sunday, Prince was featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” where he said he welcomed an FBI investigation into the shootings — even though most bystanders in Baghdad and even Iraqi authorities say the shootings were excessive and unwarranted. “I’m glad they (the FBI) can be a neutral party,” Prince said. “And if there’s further investigation or prosecution even needed, if someone really did wrong and meant badly, I’m all supportive.”

Putting aside Prince’s tortured English (Do you think he believes he, too, is a Decider?), his talking points are being broadcast up and down the eastern seaboard. He was also set up appear on CNN’s Wolf Blitzer program last night, was on “The Today Show” this morning, has been interviewed by Newsweek and is supposedly on board for an appearance tonight on PBS’ “Charlie Rose Show”.

How will Prince get through this media and congressional hammering?  Through the skilled services and professional counsel of Burson-Marsteller, perhaps? Although a spokesman for B-M told the AP that its involvement with Blackwater was only “temporary” having ended with the Oct. 2 hearing, I ask how do we, as citizens, know that?

B-M, like all good PR agencies, does its work behind the scenes. And, as Blackwater’s Prince tried to tell Congress, since Blackwater is a “private” company, it does not have to report its earnings, either.

Woa, partner. The government’s estimate is that Blackwater has received some $1 billion worth of federal contracts through the years, at the clip of $473 million annually. And who is the federal government? Well, that would be me. And you. And every other taxpayer in America.

There is a federal law against using taxpayer money for public relations consulting. Honest. Look it up. But when you swim in the murky waters of Blackwater and B-M, well..there’s a way around that troublesome law, too.


“Is that any way to fight a war?”

“Am I mad that not one of the top three Democratic runners will commit to a complete pullout (from Iraq) by 2013.”

So started a fiery set of remarks by the legendary Helen Thomas, now 90 years old but still holding government officials and bureaucrats accountable for their actions. Speaking to the national convention of the Society of Professional Journalists, Thomas, who now reports for the Washington bureau of Hearst Newspapers, exuded an urgency when she spoke of the need for young journalists to question why we are in Iraq as this has now become the war they will inherit.

Thomas believes the administration is reporting the war stateside as an abstract numbers game — so many killed in an IED explosion or so many troops might be recalled following a surge of so many numbers of others. Thus, when she calls the Pentagon and ask for the number of Americans dead, the brass will give Thomas that figure. And when she asks for the number of soldiers wounded, they reluctantly give her those figures.

But when she asks for the number of Iraqi dead, she is told, “We don’t track them. They don’t count.” When Thomas asks for a rationale as to why they don’t count, and refuses to accept that as a reasonable answer, she is instructed to phone back.

Two hours later, Thomas reaches the same Pentagon spokesman. What, she repeats, is the rationale for not releasing the number of Iraqi dead? “Our policy is not to kill,” she’s told. “But if they resist, they don’t count.”

“Is that any way to fight a war?” she asks.

Speak The Word — Courage or Hypocrisy?

The power of a word. Genocide.

A US House committee calls the Ottoman Empire’s last gasp in killing perhaps 1.5 million Armenians in the early 20th Century “genocide,” and now our troops in Iraq may be put at greater risk because of Turkey’s angry reaction.

Commenting on events halfway around the world, while ignoring your own problems at home, used to be called “Afghanistanism.”  The US House, which hasn’t been able to find the cojones to challenge, or even look squarely at, the Bush administration’s atrocities, decides it’s time to right a 90-year-old wrong an ocean and a sea away. Brilliant.

Turkey, an admirable ally in the current endless war, jails journalists who call the killings genocide. As I.F. Stone said about the South Vietnamese government we were propping up in our last endless war, “our allies are a pretty stinking bunch.”

But we are global hypocrites ourselves when we throw stones from our glass house. This country systematically killed millions of black slaves and Native Americans (the last US Army massacre of Indians, at Wounded Knee, took place only 25 years before the slaughter of Armenians started), and we are this minute killing Iraqi civilians in this wrong war in the wrong place.

Often, speaking powerful words takes courage. That’s not something Congress displays very often. Nor in this case.

— Bruce Benidt

Scanners Beware

The importance of the headline writer was on display once again yesterday in coverage about Minnesotans’ attitudes about gas taxes.

The Star Tribune’s original headline read: “Minnesota Poll: No tax and no rush on bridge, public says.” However, the relative few who bothered to actually read the article learned that the public is basically evenly split on the issue: “The poll found 50 percent of respondents opposed raising the gas tax, while 46 percent supported it. The gap is within the poll’s margin of sampling error — 4 percentage points, plus or minus.”

Therefore a headline of “Poll: Public Split on Gas Tax” would have been more characteristic of a) the findings and b) the article.

However, once a headline is written and the Associated Press picks up the story, things get out of control. KXMB-TV, KXMC-TV, WKBT-TV, Duluth News Tribune, Fargo Forum, West Central Tribune and all went with the misleading headline AP used: “Poll shows lack of support for tobacco tax.”

There’s room for debate about the proper characterization, but I would hope we could agree that 46 to 50 percent of the public hardly constitutes a “lack of support.”

Given how many citizens skim headlines only these days, and how many broadcast news outlets “rip and read” AP headlines and ledes only, headlines are supremely important. Therefore, increasingly overburdened newspaper editors should focus more on headline accuracy.

– Loveland