Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Friday, June 02, 2006

See the Funny Side: When you make a public relations faux pas like this one, the best thing to do is laugh at yourself. Unfortunately, that’s not something the folks at Greenpeace are capable of.

The group mistakenly sent out a fact sheet that was still waiting for some vital information: “In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world’s worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE].”

Confronted with the error, the Greenpeace spokesman who issued the memo sputtered that “given the seriousness of the issue at hand, I don't even think it's funny.”

Come on… it is just a little bit funny.
Giving Voice to Values: Todd Stitzer, chief executive of Cadbury Schweppes, uses the op-ed page of the Financial Times to make an eloquent case that “business must loudly proclaim what it stands for.”

“Business bashing has become a sport,” Stitzer laments, admitting that “we only have ourselves to blame,” though “not because we have actually committed evil, but because we have allowed others to characterise our actions and our motives, while we have been focused on doing business.”

I’m not quite as comfortable as Stitzer is dismissing Enron and the like as exceptions. I happen to think they were simply extreme examples, an inevitable consequence of a culture that values profits—short-term quarterly profits, at that—above all.

But I do agree with him when he argues: “We must declare that values have a central role in business and that if you are passionate about human rights or you care about the environment then business is a good place to be. We must start by defining and articulating the values of our businesses. Then we must live these values, auditing our performance against them and changing where necessary. Finally, we must loudly and proudly communicate our values and what we stand for.”

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

More on Astroturf: The InOpinion blog (innovative opinion for newspapers) takes on the Astroturf issue and demolishes the arguments in favor of deceptive practices far more effectively than I did.

The site makes short work of a claim on the Focus on the Family website, that “it is not unethical or “plagiarism” for you to assemble and submit a letter using this tool. We offer this information to help you put into words your thoughts on this important subject.”

That’s “simply a bald-faced lie,” InOpinion says. “These astroturfers offer canned letters to be copied. They are not “helping.” Helping would be editing already written letters or providing some research or some links. What Focus on the Family and others do is provide complete letters to the editor with minimal involvement from the person who will claim to be the letter’s author. The results are for all to see on Google – the EXACT same language running in newspaper after newspaper.”

The site also makes the point that even with permission, plagiarism is not a victimless crime: "Plagiarism is not a copyright violation, there are three parties involved: The original writer, the plagiarist and the new reader. The new reader is being deceived – that they are reading an original work."

There's plenty more on the astroturf phenomenon, too.
Astroturf Follies: I’ve written columns in the past about the foolishness of “Astroturf” letter-writing campaigns, the kind that involve letters written by an association or interest group and made available—usually via the Internet—for supporters to put their names to and send on to their congressmen or their local newspapers.

But are such campaigns—as a letter to the Seattle Times suggests—actually unethical.

The individual who signs the letter might not have written it, but he or she presumably agrees with the sentiments expressed and supports the cause in question. And if it fits the definition of plagiarism, it’s plagiarism with the approval—the encouragement, in fact—of the plagiarized.

On the other hand, the intent is clearly to deceive—to create the impression of original effort on behalf of the letter-writer, to suggest that he or she cared enough to compose a thoughtful piece of correspondence.

But whether it’s ethical or not, it’s not especially smart. The Internet makes it almost inevitable that an Astroturf campaign will be found out and letters like this one exposing the deception undermine the author’s intent.
Home Alone?: What has happened to Home Depot, a company that under Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank was a model of stakeholder responsiveness?

In the wonderful Corporate Culture and Performance, John Kotter argues that the best companies try to balance the needs of three key stakeholder groups (shareholders, customers, employees). Jim Collins and Jerry Porras expand on this concept in Built to Last, talking about companies that understand “the genius of the ‘and’” (the ability to find win-win solutions) rather than accepting “the tyranny of the ‘or’” (trading off one group’s interests against another’s.

Kotter goes on to say that some companies respond to only a single stakeholder—usually, the shareholder. They survive, but they do not tend to perform as well as a multi-stakeholder company.

And then there are those that don’t respond to any stakeholder at all, that are run entirely for the benefit of the people running them. Home Depot now appears to fall into this category.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Naked Podcast: Ernie Landante has a podcast of his interview with Naked Conversations co-author Shel Israel.
On the Move: Leslie Gaines-Ross, who recently made the move from Burson-Marsteller to become chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick, has launched a new blog there. Reputationxchange bears a strong resemblance to her old blog, with a focus on CEO reputation issues: "An Exchange (like the New York Stock Exchange or London Stock Exchange) is a market where securities, options, futures or commodities can be bought and sold. In my world, reputation is its own form of currency. An organization, leader, company or country trades its reputation on the open market for the best talent, partners and investors that it can attract. The entity also uses its reputation to bolster its standing and win support in times of crisis or uncertainty."
The Evil Empire Strikes Out: Apple’s attempt to force journalists in California to identify their sources for a new item about an upcoming product release has been slapped down by the courts.

Apple claimed the reporters in question did not deserve protection under the state’s shield laws because their work was not published on dead trees. The Sixth District Court of Appeals disagreed, and rather resoundingly: “Beyond casting aspersions on the legitimacy of petitioners’ enterprise,” (they were bloggers) “Apple offers no cogent reason to conclude that they fall outside the shield law’s protection.”

One issue still be resolved: why do so many techies—including bloggers—continue to buy into the myth of Apple as some kind of rebellious alternative to Microsoft. Compared to the totalitarian Steve Jobs, Bill Gates looks like Robin Hood.
Industry vs. Industry: Robert Reich, who as far as I know is the only former cabinet member with his own blog, makes an interesting point about big political issues, usually framed by the media as conservative vs. liberal or activist vs. business. In reality, he says “the most bruising fights in Washington occur between two different industries.”

He points to the debate over drilling for natural gas in the continental shelf, which was covered primarily as a debate between industry and environmentalists. “That wasn't it at all. It was the tourist industry versus oil and natural gas. Dems and Republicans were on boths sides of the issue depending on whether they were from coastal states or inland.”
Chief Blogger: Blogging4Business draws attention to what might be a first: a police blog. Los Angeles police chief William Bratton has started his own blog. In his welcome message, Bratton explains that “by using this Blog, the LAPD hopes to maintain an open dialogue with the communities we serve and those who have an interest in the men and women of this organization.” In the near future, he says, the LAPD wants to extend blogging capabilities to all 19 area stations. Right now the content’s a little bland, and it will be interesting to see whether the spirit of candor can survive a major public relations crisis, but my initial reaction is “kudos.”
How Much Is Your CEO Really Worth?: In the New Yorker, the always entertaining Malcolm Gladwell reviews The Wages of Wins, a book that seems to do for basketball what Michael Lewis and Moneyball did for baseball—which is to say, it measures performance using hard data rather than subjective opinion. (I’m not nearly as big a hoops fan as I am a baseball fan, but even I can appreciate the “discovery” that Allen Iverson is, by objective measures, a seriously mediocre player.)

“The problem for basketball experts is that, in a situation with many variables, it’s difficult to know how much weight to assign to each variable,” says Gladwell, before making an intriguing, and not necessarily intuitive, leap to another field of endeavor in which the contribution of an individual is not easily measured, but in which some individuals are rewarded with astronomical contracts.

“It’s hard not to wonder, after reading The Wages of Wins, about the other instances in which we defer to the evaluations of experts. Boards of directors vote to pay CEOs tens of millions of dollars, ostensibly because they believe—on the basis of what they have learned over the years by watching other CEOs—that they are worth it.”

Given the amounts involved, you would think someone might have come up with a viable objective measure of CEO performance.