Cruel To Be Kind

Social marketing has contributed to huge shifts in American behavior. Thanks to social marketing ads, we litter less, smoke less, drink-and-drive less, smoke in others’ faces less, and wear seat belts more.

Most of these gains have been made by making us very uncomfortable. Does anyone remember the ad with the grandpa who is missing his grandson’s first steps because of a tobacco-related death? The Native American shedding a tear about the polluted lake? The cigarette smoke ingredients linked to rat poisoning? The good time Charlie’s mangled car and shattered lives?

We disliked these ads, but we remember them. While most commercial ads are designed to please, comfort and entertain, these social marketing ads made us shift in our seats and conjure up unpleasant images long after the actual viewing. These ads pushed us out of the comfort zone that was preventing us from changing. And thanks in part to these ads, and the policy changes the ads also supported, we did change. Dramatically.

That’s the historical context in which I view this British ad focused on a relatively new societal problem, texting and driving.

As the father of a beautiful eighteen year old who texts, drives and probably occasionally combines the two, I can’t watch this the whole way through.

But I’ll never forget it. This issue just became urgent to me. I won’t go another day without talking to my daughter about this, with this ad as a powerful visual aid. And having viewed this only once, partially, I bet it will pop into my head, and her head, many times when we hear the cell phone and its siren call.

As a social marketing professional, I think this goes too far. On the positive side, it is edgy enough to make it into the social media and news media, giving it considerable free exposure. But it pushes us so hard and so far that most sponsors wouldn’t have the courage to approve it, most stations wouldn’t air it for free (or maybe even at all), and many households wouldn’t let it into their homes more than than a few seconds. Those are problems that severely limit message exposure, so are not to be taken lightly.

But this ad is on the right end of the continuum.

On the other end of the continuum are ads like the seat belt ad being aired locally. It features a teenager with tragically saggy pants that expose his underclothing. Tee hee. It ends by making a parental style joke about needing a belt and drawing a parallel to seat belts. It is cute and entertaining enough from a parents’ perspective, though probably not from the perspective of the teen target market. More importantly, it leaves the viewers completely and utterly in their comfort zones, and leaves no lasting, searing and behavior-changing image in their brain.

I’m sure focus group participants, viewers and insiders tell the sponsor that they like this ad. And because it leaves us in our comfort zone, I’m sure it motivates very little change.

In social marketing, the ultimate question is not whether the ad causes entertainment and enjoyment. The ultimate question is whether the ad causes behavior change. Cheers to these Brits for having the guts to push their viewers in the right general direction.

– Loveland

As If the Debate Weren’t Enough…

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza notes today that in almost every state, Team Obama is massively outspending Team McCain PLUS the Republican National Committee and in so doing, forcing the McCainites to make tough choices about which battleground states to contest and to spend their finite money defending their own turf.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 6, Obama spent more than $20 million on television ads in 17 states including more than $3 million in Pennsylvania and more than $2 million each in Florida, Michigan and Ohio. McCain in that same time frame spent just $7.2 million in 15 states. Even when the Republican National Committee’s independent expenditure spending in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin is factored in (a total of $5.3 million), Obama still outspent the combined GOP forces by roughly $8 million in the last week alone

Cillizza notes that the air war is not confined to battleground states; in states like Virginia and North Carolina – which have voted Red since 1964 – Obama is pouring advertising in at a prodigious rate: In North Carolina, Obama spent about $1.5 million on television commercials last week while McCain spent only $137,000. In Virginia, Obama spent $1.6 million on ads last week while McCain and the RNC together only spent $909,000. Not surprisingly, perhaps, both states are now toss-ups in many pollsters’ calculations. accounting services fine

McCain Ad Exposes Cub Scouts’ Sex Ed Agenda

The McCain ad attacking Obama for promoting a bill that allegedly promotes sex education among Kindergarteners would be startling if it weren’t, as found, “simply false.” There were only a couple of minor problems discovered with McCain’s claims: 1) it wasn’t Obama’s bill and 2) it didn’t promote sex education.

According to, what the bill did do was allow for age appropriate materials to help kids know how to avoid being sexually abused. Parents who were uncomfortable with such discussion were allowed to opt-out.

In an age when nothing in politics outrages us anymore, maybe this ad needs to outrage us.

It particularly got under my skin, because the day I saw the ad, I was helping my son with his Bobcat badge. One of the requirements for achieving Bobcatdom was to talk through several “what ifs,” such as “What if you are in a public restroom and someone tries to touch your private parts? What do you do?” The answer, the Cub Scout handbook counsels, is:

“Yell “STOP THAT” as loudly as you can and run of out of the room as quickly as possible. Tell your parent, a police officer, a security guard or other adult (such as your teacher) what happened.”

This is the type of communication McCain labels “sex education.” But this is clearly abuse avoidance education, not sex education. And attacking people who support having these kinds of conversations with kids endangers kids.

By the way, in discussing these “what ifs” I learned that my son was alarmingly trusting and deferential about adults, even adults he doesn’t know. The ensuing conversation potentially could save him from great harm. Lots of things in politics are trivial, but the stakes on this issue are high.

As a PR dude, I fully understand this is a diversionary tactic to shift the debate from McCain’s pro-Bush record and agenda to “values” issues that, even when based on a shameless lie, traditionally favor Republicans. But as a parent, I can’t help but be disgusted by this one.

– Loveland

expense ratio fine

On Pilin’ On Palin

There are so many message directions Obama could take on the whole Palin front. Troopergate. Experience. Earmark hypocrisy. Family demands. But sacrifice is the essence of strategy, so he should take a pass on all of those tempting messaging paths, so those issues don’t drown out his most compelling message — “change v. Bush 3.0.”

The Republicans need this to be a Small Election to win. Who is the biggest hero? Who has the thickest resume? Who is riskier? Who is most like you, Mr. and Ms. Swing Voter? If those are the questions on most voters’ minds on Election Day, Obama is toast. And if Obama comments on all of the issues swirling around Palin, he will be inadvertently framing up the election the way his opponents need it framed up.

The Democrats need this to be a Big Election to win. “Keep going in the same direction, or shake things up?” That’s the uber-theme that works best for them. If that is the question on voters’ minds on Election Day, Obama will win. To ensure that happens, he needs to stay away from all of the Sideshow Sarah issues, and hammer his central message repeatedly.

Though the concepting and production of this ad is as milquetoast as all of Obama’s ads have been, it is right on target strategically.

It takes a disciplined and mature leader to avoid taking the easy cheap shot in the heat of the battle. Believe me, going tit-for-tat feels mighty good. But so far Obama is remaining mostly on-message, and he needs to make sure his staff does so as well. The babies? Don’t go there. The trooper? Let the investigation do the work. Earmark hypocrisy? Not the issue that works for you. Experience? It’s a trap that will make you look patronizing, and it supports McCain’s central contention about the paramount importance of experience.

The point: It may feel good piling on Palin, but it’s self-defeating. Instead of taking the bait on those issues du jour, Obama need to keep his focus on the top of the ticket, and hammer home the “change versus more of the same” uber-theme.

— Loveland

small business loans fine

Blonde Bombshell

Do you really want to elect the black Britney Spears President? That line never appears in the copy for this ad, but the McCain campaign’s bizarre use of Spears and Paris Hilton images effectively make that the central question the ad poses.

This is an extraordinary ad. I can’t ever remember seeing a political ad that so directly accuses an opponent of being too shallow and stupid to merit election.

My reaction?

WhatEVER! I’m like, as if!! I’m so sure, they think that black Baldwin politics dude is like a total Betty? Barf me out, you gnarly betches!! Like, grody to the max. I’m like, yes we so can!!!

– Loveland

income tax attorney fine

Battle of the Bowlers

Senator Norm Coleman’s bubba bowlers are back, with a bite. This time, Norm has his acting troupe of faux Minnesontans scripted to slash his opponent, Al Franken.

With fresh news today that Franken still is tankin’, rapid response is required. Conventional political wisdom says Al Franken should change the subject back to the issues that poll best for him. I agree with that, but he should also a) candidly admit his own mistakes and b) expose the ridiculous way Norm is portraying Minnesotans. That core condescension ultimately may be the biggest vulnerability of Norm’s increasingly campy bowling series.

Maybe something along these lines would help people understand what is going on here:

Male Bowler #1: Hi, we’re not bowlers

Male Bowler #3: …but we play them on TV!

Female Bowler #2: You know, like the phoney bowler-actors scripted by Senator Norm Coleman in his cheesey little TV ads.

Male Bowler 3#. Norm and George Bush have been giving mongo tax breaks to the wealthiest citizens, so now Norm is trying to make it look like he’s in touch with Minnesotans like you.

Male Bowler #1: So I guess Norm thinks you Minnesotans talk like this (in the accent used on TV)

Female Bowler #2: …and look like this (using moronic facial expressions used in Coleman campaign).

Male Bowler #3: And only care about what is happening in the bowling alley, not what is happening in Basra. (as the other “bowlers” make more moronic faces in the background)

Female Bowler #2: Norm thinks Minnesotans only care about hockey, not the urgent issues impacting our kids and grandkids.

Bowler #1: Honestly, I gotta say, this Coleman guy of yours…must not think much of you guys.

Franken: I’m Al Franken. Look, I know my comedy isn’t for everyone. And I’ve made mistakes that I’m fixing. I’m far from perfect. But I approve this message, because I will never talk down to Minnesotans, and I will always, always shoot it to you straight.

The Frankenistas need to pull back the curtain on Coleman’s campaign. Franken is an unconventional candidate, and his only hope is to run an unconventional campaign.

– Loveland

sba fine

Product Placement in News Shows; Now There’s a Great Idea!

Just when you think we’ve plumbed the depths, we sail off another shelf into deeper waters…

According to today’s New York Times, there’s a growing trend of product placement on morning news shows at local television stations.  The report leads with the Las Vegas Fox affiliate that places McDonald’s breakfast drinks in front of its anchors during the 7:00 am – 9:00 am show:

Anybody besides me think this is a bad idea?

Yes, people shill products on news shows all the time – I’ve done it myself – and yes, most morning local shows are not practicing hard-hitting journalism, but c’mon.  Shouldn’t there at least be a disclaimer sitting next to cups reading, “This is a paid advertisement”?

And, yes, this is a gray area…radio hosts have long blurred this line with their “in-the-flow” endorsements of products and services and every time you see a cooking demonstration, product round-up, segment on “tips for…” from a subject matter expert on TV, chances are near 100% that somewhere off camera is one or more PR types hoping there’s no on-air fuck-up.

That said, most radio hosts don’t position themselves as “journalists” (that’s one reason why someone else at the station delivers the “news”) and most feature segments appear because someone in the newsroom – a producer probably – decided it represented information relevant, useful or important to their audience (part of what journalists do); that’s why you see lots of segments on “how to get your house ready for winter” and “10 quick receipes for leftovers” but not so many on stuff like “Vapidtron rebuts allegations in class action lawsuit.”

I’m filing this complaint not simply because this offends my curmedgeonly sense of right and wrong or because I think media consumers are too dumb to realize why McD’s breakfast drinks are popping up on newsdesks across America (in fact, I think just the opposite; viewers know exactly what’s happening), but because it’s a threat to my livelihood.  One of the best reasons to use public relations over other forms of marketing is that editorial content – aka the stuff in between the ads – is generally accorded higher credibility than advertising and other forms of marketing.  If the stuff between the ads becomes an ad as well, that advantage is lost.

If we’re headed down this slope, I say let’s not stop at any of the waypoints on our way to the vasty deep.  Instead, let’s just go full NASCAR and logo every surface and individual in site.

– Austin small business internet marketing fine

Puck Him

He brought hockey back. He brought hockey back. He brought hockey back.

I’m not the sharpest knife in the tree, but I think that might just be the key message being driven home by U.S. Senator Norm Coleman’s campy new campaign ad.

Oh and by the way, he brought hockey back.

Forget that the hockey episode played out ten years ago when Senator Coleman was Mayor. Forget that Governor Carlson and the State Legislature passed the financing for the hockey arena, a key precursor to bringing hockey back to St. Paul. Norm was central to the effort, and this is compelling evidence for Norm’s “I git ‘er done” campaign theme. And it’s the type of evidence that will stick with swing voters.

So what do you do if you are Al Franken or, assuming God doesn’t speed dial Governor Ventura before 5 bells today, Dean Barkley?

My vote is that they shouldn’t quibble about whether the claim is overstated. But they shouldn’t let it stand unchallenged either. My vote is that they gracefully concede the accomplishment, but put it in proper perspective. Maybe something like this:

Hi, I’m Dean Barkley. I approve this message, and I appreciate the fact that a decade ago Norm helped a lot of other people bring back professional hockey.

Seriously, that was nice work.

But unfortunately, when Senator Coleman went off to Washington, he brought back lots of other things.

Like budget deficits.

When Senator Coleman took office, he was lucky enough to inherit budget SURPLUSES. Then he and President Bush gave a huge tax cut party for people earning over $250,000 per year, and we now are running up huge budget deficits that are dragging down our economy.

And senseless wars.

Senator Coleman brought those back too. In college, he protested against the Vietnam war. But in the Senate, he teamed up with President Bush to create the worst foreign policy fiasco since Vietnam.

So, thanks again, Norm, for bringing back hockey. But budget deficits, economic misery and pointless wars?

(Tossing a puck to an unseen person off camera) Not so much.

– Loveland small business advice fine

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Edit ‘Em

What do you do when you don’t want to have a full debate on an issue where the voters oppose your position? Say, the Iraq War, which almost six out of ten Americans say was a mistake.


That’s apparently the conclusion of Republican consultants who are producing pieces like this, that attempt to win the debate in the cutting room: a) cutting tape before a candidate says “but…” (implying no qualifier followed); b) showing pregnant pauses and then cuting tape (implying no answer was given); and c) splicing a series of partial statements to change officials’ positions.

Suffice it to say, this is not exactly how Lincoln and Douglas did it.

Whatever your position on the invasion, surge and near-term pull-out, Obama’s unedited position is pretty darn clear. He opposed the invasion. Period. He continues to oppose the surge and maintain it is not achieving its primary objectives. Period. He supports a near-term pull-out. Period.

It’s one thing when John Stewart edits like this for entertainment purposes. But it’s another thing to allow predator editors to drive historic policy debates about some of the most important issues of our times. For the sake of our democracy, both sides need to knock it off.

– Loveland

business financing fine

The Importance of the Right Movie Reference

In this ad, Senator McCain refers to Senator Yes We Can as “Dr. No” for allegedly opposing, among many other things, nuclear power.

The ad from the Straight Talk Express is full of crooked claims, but the irony noted by is that McCain decided to organize an ad about nuclear power around the James Bond film “Dr. No.” Consider this exchange from the 1962 film:

Bond: It was a good idea to use atomic power. I’m glad to see you can handle it properly.

Dr. No: My work has given me a unique knowledge of radioactivity. But not without costs, as you see. [Indicating his prosthetic hands]

– Loveland

income tax lawyer fine

Garbage In, Garbage Out

I recently expressed admiration for Senator Norm Coleman’s nifty use of symbolism in a campaign television ad about the good Senator dutifully taking out the garbage.

Of course, when symbolism presents itself, a satirist could always satirize the symbolism.

Is there a satirist in the house?

Imagine a television ad with the same goofy music as the Coleman ad. But this one features Al Franken in an alley wearing an orange vest and garbage man outfit.

So. Senator Norm Coleman is taking the garbage out? Good for him! What a regular guy that Norm is! Just like the rest of us!

But look, Norm forgot a bag. I wonder, what’s in Norm Coleman’s garbage?

Hey, a Congressional Quarterly article showing Norm backed President Bush 98% of the time. It’s from the year the two of them teamed up to get us in the Iraq War. Now why would Norm be throwing THAT out? Hmmm.

And what are these? Oh me, oh my. Empty cans of red ink. Maybe these are the ones he and President Bush drained while turning the national surplus into an enormous deficit. Hmmm.

And looky here. Check receipts from the Senator’s campaign contributors. Hmmm, Big Oil, Big Oil, Big Oil. I wonder why THEY like Norm so much?

Narrator: To learn how Al Franken will clean up Washington, go to

(Al Franken on the side of the truck, but this time in a senatorial suit and tie) “I’m Al Franken, and while I don’t actually dig through people’s garbage, I do approve this message. Because man oh man, Washington REALLY needs to take out the garbage.”

This isn’t a serious suggestion. But Franken has to run a less conventional campaign than he currently is.

– Loveland

tax help online fine

Trash Talkin’ Norm

I dispute the base policy claim, but this is a pretty darn good piece of political advertising.

Humanize the candidate by showing him interacting in a loving relationship. Check.

Insulate the candidate from criticism by deploying human shield. Check.

Appeal to women voters by spotlighting unquestioning spousal submission. Check.

Appeal to men voters by highlighting the knowing ‘hey, you do what you gotta do’ eye twinkle.’ Check.

Show the candidate is a regular guy who hauls the Hefty’s just like the rest of us. Check.

A lot of people in politics act as if all undecided voters rely strictly on policy positions to make their voting decision. But many people choose people, not positions. And Norm appears to be a real, grounded, and down-to-earth person in this ad. Check.

– Loveland

tax problem fine

Extreme Makeover

Four years ago, Senator Norm Coleman led the Repbulican National Committee’s infamous “Truth Squad” that repeatedly attacked his colleague from across the aisle, John Kerry. At the time, Norm was admired by Republican partisans as one of the their fiercest attack dogs. Good boy, Normy.

But every dog has his day, and now the attack dog is batting his puppy dog eyes at his former victims. Now that conservatism is less popular, Coleman is spending millions putting out images of the attack dog expressing his puppy love for working with Democrats.

Maybe it was the acoustic guitar serenading, but I’m touched. Truly. I now must admit that attack dog Norm did in fact “reach across the aisle to get things done.” “Things” like flame-throwing news conferences. Things like perfect ZERO ratings from groups such as Defenders of the Wildlife, Public Citizen, Citizens for Tax Justice, Planned Parenthood, National School Board’s Association, American Lands Alliance, Council for a Livable World, American Public Health Association, Parkinsons Action Network, Alliance for Retired Americans, Population Institute, Disabled American Veterans, the AFL-CIO and about a dozen separate unions, among many other left leaning groups.

Now that’s “reaching across the aisle to get things done.”

I wasn’t a big fan of Paul Wellstone. He was too simplistic in his liberalism for me, and his hyperbolic rants made me squirm. But whichever way the political winds were blowing, Wellstone remained consistent and true to himself. I’d have a lot more respect for Senator Coleman if he would just say “The Democrats are wrong for these reasons, and I make no apologies for working overtime to stop them from forwarding that destructive agenda.”

That strikes me as a more effective and honorable communications strategy. Minnesotans generally have a pretty decent BS meter, and if it is functioning this cycle Coleman could have problems with this Extreme Makeover.

At any rate, I just can’t seem to get Normdawg off my liberal leg. But I respected him a bit more when he was gnawing.

– Loveland

tax lawyers fine

What If Franken Shot Straight?

What if beleaguered U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken just bought a big hunk of TV time and shot it to voters straight?

Hi, I’m Al Franken, the rookie candidate in Minnesota’s campaign for U.S. Senate.

As you probably heard, I messed up my business taxes badly. A lot of political consultants told me not to admit mistakes and not to lay out all the details like I am today. But I decided to do it my way. The straight up way. I paid for this time, because you have a right to know.

So here’s the deal. My business operates in 17 states. It’s pretty complicated, so I hired an accountant. Then I stopped paying attention. Almost entirely. That’s MY fault, not the accountants’.

So, I messed up. Big time. I made a boneheaded blunder. And I’m really sorry about it all. Paying taxes correctly is critically important, and I should have paid closer attention to it all. I embarrassed myself and my family, and I failed in the civic duty that is expected of all of us. And I’m very sorry about it all.

I can’t turn back the clock, but I’m doing what I can to fix things. In the states where my business didn’t pay enough, I’ve circled back and paid the taxes, interest and penalties. In the states where I paid way too much, I will be getting back refunds.

And now I’m taking steps to make certain I won’t have problems in the future.

Let’s just say I’ve forged a closer bond with my accountant. We’re spending lots of quality time together these days. And I’ve settled in with some light summer reading (Holds up a copy of “Taxes for Dummies”).

So, I made a $53,000 mistake. And you can bet my opponent will make my mistake part of the debate. Fair enough. It should be part of the debate, and I should be accountable for it.

But for your sake, I hope the debate is about more than just that single blunder.

The debate between me and Senator Coleman should include other blunders too. Such as Seantor Coleman’s mistake of entering a war that has cost us thousands of young American patriots’ lives, and at least $535 billion. And Senator Coleman’s mistake of turning a budget surplus into a huge budget deficit, which will result in a multi-trillion dollar debt left to our children and grandchildren. On these issues and others, Senator Coleman has not admitted any mistakes, makes no apologies and offers no changes for the future.

I’m running for Senate because I believe Senator Coleman should be accountable for THOSE multi-BILLION dollar mistakes. And I believe we need to change course. So, let’s have that debate. Your job as a voter is to sort out which mistakes hurt you, your family and our country more – mine or Senator Coleman’s.

So, if you have any more questions about my boneheaded tax blunder – and trust me, I really hope you don’t – I’m providing much more detail at The site also includes my entire tax form and a 10-minute video of me and my accountant explaining the situation in painful detail.

Thanks for hearing me out on this issue. Again, I just wanted to apologize, shoot it to you straight up, and trust you to sort it out yourself. I appreciate your time and consideration.

He could also make it a web video for those who miss it. The idea would be to disclose, apologize, self-degradate and reframe in one fell swoop. Leave out all excuses, even legitimate ones. Try to get closer to closure, and maybe even win points for honesty, accountability and not talking down to people.

Partially mitigate damage? Turn a net political liability into a net asset? Political suicide?

– Loveland

pro forma invoice fine

Tankin’ Franken?

Top ten signs Al Franken’s U.S. Senate campaign against Senator Norm Coleman is in trouble.

10. Matt Drudge’s nipples involuntarily harden every time he hears Franken’s name.
9. Minnesota DFLers actually start remembering The Hyphenated Dude’s name (i.e Franken’s DFL opponent Jack Nelson-Whatever).
8. Coleman replaces all of his staff cosmetologists with more private investigators.
7. Franken’s accountant displays a snazzy “Mission Accomplished” banner the day he files his amendments.
6. When Franken tells his mirror “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it…”, the mirror interrupts with a poll briefing.
5. The number of times Franken changes his Form 1040X exceeds the number of times Norm Coleman has changed his core principles.
4. Mrs. Molin gets out The Paddle.
3. Franken’s accountant gets fired by Franken, and hired by the Coleman campaign.
2. The number of IRS agents attending Franken rallies begins to outnumber voters.
1. Franken’s $53,000 tax blunder gets more coverage than Coleman’s $534,000,000,000 foreign policy blunder.

– Loveland

invoice maker fine

Premature E-Accusation?

We knew taxes would be an issue in the Minnesota U.S. Senate campaign. But some of us hoped to be reading stories about the tax evasion of the wealthiest 1% of Americans who were handed Bush-Coleman tax cuts, not tax evasion of the Democratic candidate.

Yes, “evasion” is too strong of a word. “F*** up” is more apt descriptor. But the problem is, this is going to sound like evasion to the drive-by voter.

Yes, the accountant probably really did make these mistakes without Franken’s knowledge. But again, that doesn’t pass the smell test with voters whose finances aren’t complex enough to blindly turn over to a trusted accountant.

And yes, it may be true that this is a case of filing in the wrong locations, rather than failure to file, since Mr. Franken apparently overpaid in some states in an amount nearly equivalent to the amount he underpaid in other states. But again, few will bother to get this deep into the weeds.

Two things astonish me about these disclosures:

First, didn’t the Franken campaign do opposition research on itself? When people talk about campaign research, most think about digging through opponents’ dirty laundry. But the fact is, savvy campaigns usually aim the lion’s share of their research work at THEMSELVES, in an effort to identify, prevent, mitigate and/or quickly respond to issues like this.

If Franken had learned of these problems a year or two ago, he could have fixed them all preemptively and disclosed them en masse, so that it was one bad story instead of a month of bad e-accusations turned media stories at a pivotal time of the campaign. Franken had plenty of resources to do this kind of “candidate research.” Why didn’t he?

Second, why have the Republicans played their tax disclosure cards now, rather than in September? If Franken is now so crippled that he is replaced by either Jack Nelson-Whatever or Mike Ciresi, the Democrats probably have a better shot than if Franken had been crippled by these kinds of stories in September.

In fact, one or both of those alternative candidates may have a better shot at beating Coleman than Franken. Democrats could still change candidates before the May 18 DFL State Convention or the September 9 Primary Election. Could this be a case of premature e-accusation?

– Loveland

printable invoices kind

The Gag Order on Debating the Sadr City Century

The Democrats continue to question Senator John McCain about his comment about potentially keeping troops in Iraq for as long as 100 years. The latest example:

And the media continues to criticize Democrats’ criticism of McCain’s comment? For instance, New York Times columnist Gail Collins recently wrote:

The story that McCain said he was prepared to stay in Iraq for 100 years is on one level unfair, although this fall Democrats will be featuring it in commercials about every six seconds.

What he meant was that he’s prepared to keep troops stationed in Iraq for 100 years as long as no one is “injured or harmed or wounded or killed” in the process.

I have never heard McCain say that he would guarantee that “no one” is injured during a long-term occupation. McCain has stated a willingness to “keep American troops in Iraq for 100 years,” and hasn’t backed off it. So where is the misstatement? Is it really the media’s job to assert what he “meant” by his statement.

As I understand it, Senator McCain says the statement is being used unfairly because his intention is that troop levels and violence will be reduced over time, as in post-war Germany and Korea. Therefore, a century in Iraq will be tolerable. Therefore, any questioning of this position is a sleazy attack.

Whoa. The New York Times story about McCain’s ties to a Washington lobbyist was unfair and poorly sourced, but this strikes me as fair game. Is it out-of-bounds to have a full and vigorous debate about whether McCain’s proposal to have a long-term troop presence is plausible and advisable in one of the most volatile, anti-American spots in the world? What will our troop commitment need to be over time, and what will that cost? Will a long-term troop presence be better or worse than a pull-out in terms of stemming terrorism and restoring the U.S. image in the Middle East? What will be the long-term domestic and military opportunity cost of a long-term stay in Iraq?

These are not only fair questions for this presidential campaign, they are absolutely essential questions. But they are being buried by the news media in a rush to label any mention of the “100 year” statement as some sort of seedy smear.

– Loveland

paychecks kind

PR for the Newspaper Industry?

A Crowd participant recently asked whether the PR industry could help save the newspaper industry?

Nope. Spin won’t change the fundamental market problems facing the newspaper business. The industry will have to save itself, and I hope to Hearst it does.

Moreover, the probability that newsrooms will ask PR people to help them tell their story is roughly equivalent to the probability that Al Franken will ask to help him explain his tax planning strategies. There is, let’s just say, natural tension there. Plus, self-pity comes more naturally to newsrooms than self-promotion.

But if the National Association of Ink Stained Wretches called for PR help, what might the PR industry suggest? Let’s see, what are some of the PR industry’s most hackneyed tactics? Jim Ragsdale on a stick at the State Fair? A Sid Hartman float in the Holidazzle parade? A Rochelle Olson bobblehead? A Winter Carnival medallion-like contest to find the dangling participle in the Sunday edition?

To take the question a little more seriously, maybe it would be enlightening to conduct and publicize an analysis of the percentage of TV, radio and online news coverage that originates as newspaper coverage. A high number, I should think. So much of what you hear on radio and TV, and read on the Internet, originated as print news content. Rip and read. So, if print publications die off, the quality of TV, radio and on-line coverage would be adversely affected as well.

Blogs too. What percentage of blog blathering is around topics born of newspaper stories? While “new media” cheerleaders love to pump themselves up as the new and improved news hounds of the Internet Age, newspaper coverage is still the fuel that drives much blogviating. So if newspapers die off, the quality of blogging will slip too, if such a thing is even possible.

Such an analysis, if it turns out as I predict, would show that newspapers are still the fuel that powers many other news and commentary outlets. Maybe that would cause people to care more about the survival of newspapers. Or maybe we try Video News Releases promoting Jon Tevlin’s new hair do?

Other ideas?

– Loveland

payroll services for small business kind

Dirty Laundering Through Blogs

In the old days if a political candidate or party official wanted to attack their opponent, they usually had to do it directly and be accountable for it. One way the proliferation of political blogs has changed campaigns is that politicos no longer have to air dirty laundry themselves. They can hand it off to supportive bloggers who then “break” the story in hyperbolic terms, and then the mainstream reporters cover the bloggers “reporting” this news.

In this way, the candidate doesn’t have to soil herself or himself with the blow-back from attacks. They don’t have to answer follow-up questions. They don’t have to be accountable for inaccuracies or exaggerations. They can focus on placing gooey ads that build up their positive images, while avoiding the negative associations with their below-the-radar sniping.

I don’t know if the researth finding that Al Franken has more tax trouble in California originated with (MDE) or with the Coleman for Senate campaign or another pro-Coleman organization. But often these kinds of blog stories are orchestrated by political organizations. MDE is very upfront about the fact that much of the information it publishes originates with Republican campaigns and conservative orgainzations. This is not reporting as we’ve known it; it is information laundering.

This is not to say that bloggers, perhaps including MDE, aren’t doing some terrific reporting on their own. A few are. And it certainly is not to say that only Republicans are engaged in blogger puppeteering. It is a game being played with vigor by folks of all political stripes.

But I’m old school. I prefer candidates having to stand up, make their case, answer follow-up questions and be held directly accountable for their actions and points-of-view. It’s a more honest, transparent and informative way for information to flow from politico to voter. But the proliferation of blog information laundering is what it is, and it has changed public affairs oriented PR dramatically.

– Loveland

paycheck calculator kind

Parker Hughes’ Reputation: Ads Giveth, Poor PR Taketh Away

Poof. In 2000, the Parker Hughes Cancer Center burst onto Minnesota’s medical scene. Millions were spent on a saturation ad campaign that assured Minnesotans that this organization none of us has ever heard of was one of the leading cancer centers in the world. Minnesotans bit hard, and the Center grew by leaps and bounds. Ah, the power of advertising!

Poof. In 2003, the Center’s leader runs into regulatory trouble followed by a Star Tribune series about alleged inflated charges, unnecessary care, kickback requests, overblown medical claims and innacurate billing.

Poof. Today, we learn from Maura Lerner at the Star Tribune that Parker Hughes no longer exists.

What happened? A PR nightmare happened.

As the Crowd has discussed before, PR people are often the Chief Wet blanket Officers (CWO) of their organizations. If they are doing their jobs, they are warning organizational leaders with PR blind spots about operational decisions that don’t pass public and regulatory smell tests. If the CWOs have wisdom and guts, they are urging their superiors to invest heavily in preventing problems that in all likelihood will never become problems.

Except when they do.

I have no idea what happened on the PR front at Parker Hughes. Maybe its leadership didn’t have PR counsel at the operational decisionmaking table, because they thought PR people were only to be summoned at the end of the parade to make any messes magically go away. Maybe the PR person they had at the decisionmaking tables was too incompetent or junior to be taken seriously. Maybe the PR person at the table didn’t have the courage to speak up. Maybe the PR people did everything right, but the leadersip ignored them. Maybe the leaders invested so much in advertising that they underinvested in PR.

Whatever Parker Hughes did, it was a calamaitous failure.

Investing in reputation disaster prevention is a lot like buying insurance. It’s wholly unsatisfying to the purchaser, because it’s very possible that you will never need it. But the Parker Hughes nightmare is just the latest example proving that the repuational insurance PR people urge their bosses and clients to buy is truly catsatrophic insurance.

– Loveland

tax accounting kind

My Ad Friends Send Me Great Links

Like this one.

In a rather unique project, someone has endeavored to purchase, prepare and photograph 100 packaged foods, comparing the product to its packaging photography. If I read the German-language  website correctly, all products were subsequently eaten.

About time we got around to food styling here. Should you wish, you may view all 100 comparisons by clicking on the thumbnails here.

— Hornseth form 2106 instructions kind

Republicans Seize Educable Moment

The Minnesota Republican Party was savvy to immediately launch a television ad blistering the transportation tax increase passed by a bipartisan super-majority in the Legislature.

It’s not a particularly good ad. It looks like a thousand other doomsday political attack ads, and its glum tone is so over-the-top that many will tune out. The Governor appears so upset with the limpness of his Taxpayer Protection Pen that his mullet is standing positively on-end, which surely will impress his suitor Senator McCain.

But as Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” And this ad is successful mostly because it shows up at the right time. The ad launch got Republicans a boatload of free news media coverage. They may get as much advantage out of the news coverage of the ad as out of the ad placement itself. (Curiously, political reporters seem to not understand or care that they are being used as pawns in this way.)

Moreover, the key message repetition that paid media delivers will cement this framing in voters’ minds during this “educable moment,” when the issue is still fresh in Minnesotans’ mind. Political parties typically dump all their TV ads on the air in the final weeks before an election when there is so much message clutter that everyone is tuning out. The Republicans are wise to frame the issue now, when the stage is less crowded.

The Republican’s preference for taxing the next generation (through bonding), rather than the current generation (through gas user taxes) is shameful. But this communications tactic serves their electoral interests well.

– Loveland

tax refund kind