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20 years

Thursday, August 30, 2012

On Penwomanship

Four years ago it was Motrin-gate – the argument over whether Johnson & Johnson over-reacted when it pulled a Motrin ad campaign aimed at relieving the back pain suffered by Moms who carry their babies in a sling.

Today it's BIC's turn as it markets in the UK a pink and purple "for her" pen that is "designed to fit comfortably in a woman's hand." It has spawned an outburst of social media protest from women  -- and some men -- who call the product and its marketing sexist.

Much of the reaction has been a series of sarcastic reviews on Amazon UK ridiculing the concept and the product, such as: "Before these pens, I was nothing. I was a mere inconsequential woman, stumbling around writing nonsense with big pens that made me look ridiculous. But now... the whole world looks different. I cannot recommend this pen enough. It won't just change your handwriting. It will change your life."

BIC's response has been cautious but supportive of its product. A spokesperson issued this statement: "It is great to see people having fun with the product and we're delighted to have brought a bit of much-needed glamour to stationery cupboards everywhere."

At CommCore we remind our clients that communicating via social media – especially when marketing –  is a double-edged sword because it means giving up control of the message to the whims and fancies of bloggers and posters who share and comment. On the other hand it can yield a huge amount of free publicity. The key, we advise, is close non-stop monitoring of the social media tide, and prompt engagement by the brand as necessary.

And as they say, you hope they spell your name right. In the case of BIC, that's easy.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Getting to Yes

News of the death of Roger Fisher, one of the authors of Getting to Yes, reminds us to thank him and his co-authors William Ury and Bruce Patton for one of the best business/life books I’ve ever read.   Its message and approach to negotiations is quite simple and direct.  First the authors talk about “principled negotiations.”  Second, the approach is based on four propositions:
  • Separate the people from the problem
  • Focus on interests, not positions
  • Invent options for mutual gain
  • Insist on using objective criteria
I keep trying to find better books on the subject, but always return to this text.  We would be better off if more people in the public and private sectors subscribed to its principles. 
If you haven’t read Getting to Yes, put it on the must read list.  If you have read the book, you know it’s one of the good friends in the library.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012


A recent column in the New York Times caught our eye regarding people who communicate with integrity and authority. It was a powerful interview with James Hackett, President and CEO of global office furniture maker Steelcase. In the interview Hackett used many of the techniques and counsel CommCore offers clients.


In particular he illustrated his key points via relevant and compelling stories and analogies that stick with the audience.  He also emphasized the importance of practice, putting himself (and the company) in crisis situations so as to be prepared for challenging situations. Hackett told stories about lessons he learned from (a) watching the eyes of hotelier J. W. (Bill) Marriott, (b) listening to his father talk about his days as a fireman, and (c) his own days as a football player at the University of Michigan under the late legendary coach Bo Schembechler.

The job of a CEO, Hackett says, is "to look at the chaos and provide a point of view about what needs to be done." Doing that right, he says, requires more than being good at the craft of creating and conveying messages: it requires being believable. The CEOs he is most impressed with, Hackett concludes, are those who "do not seem packaged. [T]hey have this sense of peace, this self-awareness, that says, ‘I understand who I am.' "

At CommCore we call good communication -- to paraphrase Winston Churchill -- the "Language of Leadership." And every day we coach and train Executives, Subject Matter Experts, and Senior Officials on how to be effective speakers and listeners in a wide range of settings and situations (media, internal and external public presentations, crisis communications, legislative and regulatory testimony, etc.). But we always remind our clients that skills add up to a conclusion that a spokesperson/leader is credible and authoritative.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Just checking...

A recent CNN piece by Bush-era White House press secretary Ari Fleischer –referencing a New York Times article – suggests political journalists allowing sources to check quotes prior to publications represents a de facto capitulation by the media to entrenched political elites.

The controversial symbiotic relationship between political journalists and politicians has been exacerbated of late by reporters’ instantaneous social media “sound bites” that have nervous political operatives on edge. And reporters – anxious to protect their access to political campaigns – have been acquiescing as often as not.

We’ll leave that to discussion the political sector of the media. But as business communicators, we at CommCore believe there IS a defensible rationale for an interview subject asking a reporter to review a quote before it’s published. This is particularly valid for vertical trade publications where points by Subject Matter Experts on economics, science, pharmacology, and other very technical subjects can be easily misunderstood by a journalist, even one well-versed in a subject. And it can also apply to mainstream journalists who are increasingly face a lack of resources because of budget cuts – fewer fact-checkers if any, and fewer reporters with industry-specific expertise to begin with.

Our view:
·         In business communications it’s OK to ask a reporter to see a quote before it’s published just to make sure it presents facts correctly. That’s not the same as asking to approve the quote. And the reporter can always say, “no.”
·         If the answer is “no,” you can send an e-mail re-emphasizing the points you made during the interview as you – the interview subject – see them, and re-stating the context in which the quote was made. Just make sure you explain at the top that all you are doing is trying to make sure the facts were correctly understood.
·         Minimize the chance of a reporter misconstruing your technical points or facts by preparing in advance audience-appropriate “visual” sound bites, stories and analogies that illustrate clearly and memorably the “data” point you are trying to make. Odds are that’s the quote the journalist will use.

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Monday, August 6, 2012


The 2012 London Olympics are some of the most financially successful games for NBC and sponsors alike.  Ratings are peaking at 35 million viewers for prime time. Even archery scored 1.5 million viewers during daytime on a weekday.

Yet judging by social media, NBC is a “careless and lazy” network prone to PR miscues:
•    When facing criticism over the tape-delayed showing of the Olympics, an NBC representative blasted the public by claiming that live TV is not “an inalienable right.”
•    Then, NBC reportedly sought to delete the Twitter account of a critical British journalist who then paraded on TV with a negative story for the next days.
•    The gaffes culminated on August 2nd. First, NBC spoiled 100-meter relay by promoting its tape-delayed broadcast with an image of Missy Franklin holding a gold medal. The worst was when NBC juxtaposed African-American gymnast Gabby Douglas’ historic gold medal with an ad showing a monkey on gymnastics rings.

But why care about what Twitter thinks if you are rolling in gold nonetheless? There are a few reasons:
•    Your online and social media reputation outlives your broadcast — NBC’s reputation has been tarnished for millions of Twitter users worldwide, a concept that may be difficult for a broadcaster accustomed to one-way communication to understand.
•    Conversations on Twitter parallel the broader public discourse. When Twitter turns against you, you spend time defending yourself and apologizing rather than making the points you want the public to hear.
•    Above all, NBC’s gaffes are symptomatic of an organization that has not adjusted to the reality imposed by social media. Unlike a decade ago, viewers can talk about you in a massive echo chamber, in which the smallest mistakes can go viral and label you within minutes.

As a result, there are a few lessons worth learning from NBC’s handling of the Olympics:
•    Pay attention to detail. Mistakes live on in social media…and on, and on.
•    Do NOT try to punish journalists — that will almost inevitably backfire. Instead, engage them and any other critics in social media. You may not win their support, but engaging them quickly and transparently in conversation may temper their criticism.
•    Monitor social media 24/7 during a major news event. You can’t engage if you don’t know what’s trending.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Going Into the Lion's Den

If you want entertainment and an example of a TV shouting match that does not advance understanding of an issue,  John Lott's recent interview on Piers Morgan Tonight [ full interview here] showcases why sometimes you may not be better off not going into media lion’s den.

Lott, a staunch opponent of gun control and author of More Guns, Less Violence, went in most likely expecting a challenging, but relatively civilized discussion on the merits of various approaches to reducing violent crime in the United States. Big mistake on his part.

This show was a not about a very neutral Morgan interrupting Lott and trying to gain agreement, vs. allowing Lott to at least present his points and then countering with another question.  Morgan also invited attorney Alan Dershowitz on to provide counter arguments to Lott.  It smacked of "piling on."

As a former interviewer, I believe it's important that you develop good questions first.  You can also express a point of view and communicate that.  But it's bad form to bully or badger a guest.  The discussion degenerated to the point where basic facts could not be agreed upon.

In hindsight, unless there were set ground rules, I would have  recommended that Lott avoid this show.  Here are a few "clues" that should  make you think twice about participating in an interview:

  • The discussion revolves around a highly charged emotional issue such as violent crime
  • The interviewer is known to be biased against you or your cause
  • Your arguments appear counter intuitive to the  specific show’s audience.

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