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Friday, February 22, 2013


We weren’t in the Carnival Cruise Line War Room last week but we have a few observations for anyone else is a similar predicament. 

For one, owner Micky Arison and CEO Gerry Cahill decided to stay shorebirds while more than 4,000 passengers endured grim conditions and a tow to Alabama on the good ship Triumph. When Arison tweeted "We are very sorry for the difficult conditions experienced by our guests" he was attending a Miami Heat basketball game. OK, he owns the Heat but it was probably bad optics to show the obligatory care and concern from courtside.

Cahill’s statement was used in the media but it’s unclear if he assuaged any feelings: "We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case."

In light of what happened a few years ago with another Carnival ship had a fire and last year’s debacle with the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy that killed 32, one of these leaders could have made a bold move of helicoptering to the dead-in-the-water ship, setting up an on board war room, and bringing with them a team of doctors, maintenance workers - even clergy - to make the arduous trip more comfortable.  We wouldn’t normally suggest such a move for the CEO, but given the line’s history something extra might be in order.

There is no question it is extremely tough to take care of more than 4,000 "guests" on a gigantic ship that has suffered an emergency. For the most part, the weary crew was given high marks by cruisers. But while the equipment may be powerless, management was not. 

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Too much salt leaves a bad taste

David Farr is CEO of Emerson Electric Company and is known for his passion, candor, and salty language.  In a recent meeting with financial analysts, he let loose another tirade.   The language by today’s standards was mild, about what you would hear after a bad shot on the golf course.  However it was totally out of place at a financial meeting.  The result was a slew of blogs, online articles, and even page B-1 of the Wall Street Journal discussing Mr. Farr’s salty tongue.  Emerson’s financial results were hardly mentioned.

At CommCore we advise our clients that there are seldom do-overs.   It’s essential to spend time rehearsing the answers to tough questions especially if you have a temper.  With proper practice you can be screaming on the inside, but look and sound calm and collected on the outside.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Web-based video job interviews pose different challenges

If you thought that just because you use Skype or conduct Google video chats regularly you are ready for a web-based video job interview, blogger and career coach Megan Broussard suggests you think again. It's one thing to hang out in your jammies and video chat with friends. It's another to be grilled on a webcam by a prospective employer who may or may not let you see them while they watch you.

The practice is increasing in popularity – in the U.S. six out of ten HR managers said in a survey last year that they use web video to screen applicants.

 Some do's and don'ts:

·        Don't look at yourself in the little box at the edge of the computer screen, or look at the image of your interviewer. Find the camera in or on your computer, and look straight into it, in effect straight at the interviewer – whether you see him/her or not – as if you were making eye contact.

·        Make sure you are well lit from the front, and do not appear as a shadow on the screen due to lights behind you.

·        If you are being interviewed from home, make the room backdrop look professional, like an office, and as plain as possible. No dog or cat or pile of clothes in the picture.

·       Conduct a test interview with a friend who can critique how you come across so you can make adjustments.

At CommCore we increasingly offer a Skype interview practice module as part of our presentation and media training programs. In a global economy the job you want may be half way around the world, and the recruiter’s only impression of you may be how you come across on their computer screen.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Got Social Media Training?

Does your firm have a social media policy in place? If so, are your employees trained on how to actually use social media?  It is one thing to have a policy and another to train your staff on how to use (and NOT use)  social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Too often we read in the news about confidential information posted on social media by employees.

A recent example is from Mercy Hospital in St. Louis. An OB-GYN posted the medical history of one of her patients on Facebook. Although she has since deleted her post, pressure is mounting that she be fired. Similarly, last year in Rhode Island at Westerly Hospital an Emergency Room physician was fired and reprimanded by the state medical board for posting information on Facebook about a trauma patient.

At CommCore when we work with clients for proactive media and reactive crisis planning and response, we advise our clients to implement a social media policy that includes training that is clear and applicable to the specific organization. An example of a great social media policy is from the GAP.

Before you post your next Facebook update or Tweet on social media – think to yourself – would you want this posted on the billboard with bright lights for the world to see when they are driving down the interstate?  If not, it’s best to not post it on social media.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Buzzwords Kill!

A self-proclaimed British "best PR agency you have never heard of," Twelve Thirty Eight in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, has published its 2013 survey of PR buzzwords journalists hate most.

Granting that it's compiled by and for Brits, we will allow for some loss in translation. But the gist of the findings hits home in the United States. I mean, how many of us have used words such as "going forward" and "issues" when trying to sound (even subconsciously) important when pitching a journalist (or a client, or anyone else for that matter?) You’ll have killed your pitch even before it's DOA!

Worst transgressions?

·         For press releases, at all costs avoid adjectives such as "dynamic" and "hotly anticipated," adverbs such as "providing solutions," and nouns such as "paradigm" and "end-user."

·         Phone pitches that start with "Hi is this xxxx? How are you? I am just giving you a quick call to see if you have a minute to listen to a story idea that I have that you might find of interest..."

·         The word "scoop."

 At CommCore we regularly teach our clients – especially very smart  technical Subject Matter Experts – to "lose the jargon" lest they lose their audience.  Talk in terms the journalist you are pitching, or an audience, can relate to. Remember that they want to know "What’s In It for Me" and not "How Smart You Are." Reduce techno-babble and hard data proofs to accessible "visual" proofs, stories and analogies that will stick with them.

But none of us is infallible. I used the word "deliverables" on a call the other day.

Sigh. I guess I need a new paradigm to connect with my end users.

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Monday, February 4, 2013

NFL Should Throw a Penalty Flag at Its Crisis Response

So, let’s get this straight: a packed New Orleans Superdome, billions watching on  TV during a 34 minute blackout and no one from the NFL either says anything to the crowd, goes on TV or does an interview with CBS?  We were all literally in the dark as to what caused the blackout at the Superdome. The gag at the gym of one of our employees this morning was, “What does NFL stand for? No F*****g Lights!”

One of the first rules of crisis communications is to show care and concern and tell us what you do know.  It would have been very easy for an NFL official to track down someone – anyone at CBS – and say:  “We’re not sure about the cause of the power outage. We’re working on it and we’ll get back to you as soon as we know more.”

As usual, when there’s a vacuum of official information (not talking about referees here), the vacuum will be filled with speculation.  CBS, without its anchors able to broadcast, finally got the sideline reporters going.

The whole scene remind me of the 1976 Presidential debate between President Gerald Ford and Governor Jimmy Carter, when power went out in the Walnut St. Theater, in Philadelphia for 27 minutes.  As the late Wally Pfister, then a producer at ABC News said:  “I had the leader of the free world and the next leader of the free world shifting nervously from one foot to the other as we tried to figure out what was going on.  I knew it was serious when the Secret Service knocked on the door of our production truck.”

I’m sure the NFL has a set of crises plans for the Super Bowl.  They need a few revisions before next year.

As a side note, the NFL was certainly trying to improve its reputation during Super Bowl XLVII with its NFLEvolution ads.  Pretty expensive way to say that we’re taking on head injuries and concussions.  But that was a PLANNED reputation  enhancement; not so good on the spontaneous response.

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Friday, February 1, 2013

Hizzoner, Ed Koch

The passing of former Mayor Ed Koch gives us a second shot this week to comment on how different public figures handled the media.

Earlier this week we discussed the skills (sic) of San Francisco 49er coach Jim Harbaugh.

Ed Koch was about as challenging as Mr. Harbaugh.

I was an NPR reporter during the Koch years in New York.  The Mayor had three different approaches when he did not like a question, i.e. he was about to be caught:

Tactic # 1:  He would answer with an obscure fact that the reporter didn’t know. This would seem to imply that he knew more and the direct answer to the question wasn’t very relevant given the new information.  He rarely took a follow up from this.

Tactic # 2:  Mayor Koch would ask the reporter a question. This move would again derail the process from original query and Hizzoner would move on to the next reporter.

Tactic #3:  Edward I. Koch would take a vote on who was right, him or the reporter who asked a question and had a couple of facts imbedded in the query. I can’t remember a single time when the press corps said, “Mr. Mayor, the reporter is right and you are wrong.”

Why did Mayor Koch get away with it so often?  First, most of these skirmishes were not on live TV or radio so they became outtakes. Second,  he satisfied most of the other things reporters need.   He was entertaining, passionate AND quotable. To answer his own legendary question to voters at subway stops, “How am I doin’?” You did just fine, your Honor.

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