Be Careful of Charging 'Fake News'

The phrase “fake news” is thrown around loosely in political discourse, but using it to describe a story you dislike or an editorial you oppose could wind up exposing you to a libel suit as the news media begins to push back against such charges.

The phrase “fake news” is thrown around loosely in political discourse, but using it to describe a story you dislike or an editorial you oppose could wind up exposing you to a libel suit as the news media begins to push back against such charges.

It has become common to call out reporting as “fake news.” It soon may become common to face libel charges for making the claim falsely.

The publisher of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel is preparing a libel action against a Republican Colorado state senator, whom the newspaper has endorsed, for calling the local newspaper “fake news” on Twitter and Facebook.

The state senator, who represents Grand Junction and was a regional field director in the Donald Trump campaign, made the charge after the newspaper published an editorial urging him to move a bill in the committee he chairs updating Colorado’s Open Records Act.  The editorial came after the state senator cancelled a hearing on the bill, which prompted the social media posts:

“The very liberal GJ Sentinel is attempting to apply pressure for me to move a bill. They have no facts, as usual, and tried to call me out on SB 40 [known] as the CORA bill. They haven’t contacted me to get any information on why the bill has been delayed but choose to run a fake news story demanding I run the bill. You may have a barrel of ink, but it just splashed in your face.”

The publisher, who previously was a litigator, said, “What I consider actionable is the attack on the Sentinel as fake news. I can take criticism that we’re too far right, or we’re too far left, or our reporter was sloppy, or our editorial misunderstands the issue, that I can handle. What I can’t abide is an attack on the essence of what we do.”

Regardless of who is right or wrong or whether a libel action is filed or not, this story, recounted in Columbia Journalism Review, illustrates the perils of flinging around the charge of “fake news.”

There are certainly examples of fake news in the form of fabricated events or data, which can be posted on social media and gain wide circulation, including in more traditional media. Disinformation appears to be a more prominent political tactic employed in the United States, and not just by one side of the political spectrum. First Lady Melania Trump has filed a libel suit involving a factually inaccurate story about her.

Charging “fake news” has emerged as a sharper-edged shortcut for saying you disagree with a story or a point of view. But it could be a dangerous shortcut.

A standard definition of “fake news” is publication of material that is intended to fool readers deliberately to boost subscriptions, viewership or web traffic and, consequently, generate ad revenue. Credible publications correct or retract stories when material facts are wrong. On their opinion pages, they provide space in op-eds and letters to the editor for dissenting points of view to their editorials.

“This industry has taken it and taken it and taken it over the last several years,” the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel publisher says. “And now we get diminished as fake news, going to the core of what we do. And we don’t push back. Well, I’ve had it. I’m not going to take it anymore.”

The publisher may not be alone in pushing back on charges of fake news. As communications counselors, we advise clients to notify reporters and editors when their stories contain factual errors of consequence and ask for a correction. But that’s not calling out the media for publishing or broadcasting fake news.

You should be wary of using that phrase unless you really have the goods on why a story or editorial is intentionally falsified, not just a story you dislike or a position you oppose.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Social Media and Puppy Tough Love

 If you need more convincing on the value of social media engagement, Richmond's puppy tough love should do the trick.

 If you need more convincing on the value of social media engagement, Richmond's puppy tough love should do the trick.

If an organization needs a reason or an example why it should become active on social media, look no further than the Richmond Animal Care and Control Department. It has experienced the highs and lows of social media – all in the name of protecting puppies and dogs.

Like a lot of government-operated animal shelters, Richmond faced the constant prospect of euthanizing dogs and cats to make room for a new wave of abandoned or battered pets. Department Director Christie Chipps Peters decided that was untenable, so she turned to social media to effect change.

Now when more pets are rounded up, Peters goes on social media with pictures and stories about dogs ready for immediate adoption. Instead of waiting for kind souls to show up at the shelter, Richmond dispatched an open invitation to anyone paying attention online.

Peters told NPR in an interview that the shelter’s euthanasia rate has been cut by 40 percent. She says 90 percent of the dogs at the shelter leave via adoption instead of a body bag, and she gives the credit to social media.

The authenticity of the shelter’s Facebook posts make the difference. An example: “We’ve taken in 40 animals, we need to find loving homes for 40 dogs that are in house. Can you lease help?”

Of course, authenticity is a two-way street. The slater gets online blowback for the 10 percent of the animals it does put to sleep, often because the animals have bitten their owners, become unmanageable and are too dangerous to introduce to a new family. 

“In the past, animal control agencies have put a cloak over the unpleasant side of our jobs,” Peters explains in her NPR interview. "And while that is, unfortunately, a very real part of our job, the reality is if you’re able to share your story and tell the truth and allow the public to see completely your operations and how you’re doing things, and ask for help, the response has been incredible.”

Instead of a negative, Peters sees the interaction with skeptics as a positive. “It gives up an opportunity to explain the truth of the matter.”

For CEOs fearful of having their organizations engage on social media, remember that your critics are already there. The only voice missing is yours. Takes it from Peters, it is simply a fact of puppy tough love.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Survey Bears Out Growing Use of Visual Content

Visual content – photographs, video, charts, illustrations and graphics – are proven ways to get eyeballs on your message, and the use of visual content to support messaging is growing.

Visual content – photographs, video, charts, illustrations and graphics – are proven ways to get eyeballs on your message, and the use of visual content to support messaging is growing.

For anyone paying attention, the use of visual content in strategic communications and marketing has sharply increased. A survey conducted by Venngage of 300 online marketers provides statistical proof.

More than 50 percent of marketers said that nearly all of their articles and posts in 2016 included visual content. More than 80 percent indicated that the vast majority of their work included visuals.

The most prevalent visual content was stock photography and original graphics, such as infographic or illustrations. Video and presentations rendered in SlideShare also were common.

Marketers in the survey said original graphics packed the most punch, Charts, videos and presentations were the next most effective content. Stock photography, GIFs and memes performed least well.

One of the biggest complaints about using visual content is how much time it takes to create. According to the Venngage survey, more than 70 percent of marketers say they spend less than five hours a week on designing visual content. Eleven percent said they spend 15 hours or more per week.

Regardless of time, marketers said one of the biggest challenges is coming up with a consistent flow of visual content. Marketers also said they struggled to make well-designed visuals and finding ways to reach a wider audience for their visual content. Only 10 percent said it was hard to find sources of reliable and interesting data to convert into a visual format.

Looking forward, nearly 61 percent of marketers believe visual content is an absolutely essential element in their marketing strategies. Another 31 percent called visual content very important. Less than 2 percent dismissed visual content as unimportant.

Venngage helps clients “tell your stories and present your data with infographics."

'Alternative Facts' Versus Reframing an Issue

You can keep your conversation out of the ditch better by reframing an issue toward some good news instead of resorting to alternative facts that are easily disputed and prolong a bad news narrative.

You can keep your conversation out of the ditch better by reframing an issue toward some good news instead of resorting to alternative facts that are easily disputed and prolong a bad news narrative.

It is important for crisis counselors to understand the difference between alternative facts and reframing an issue. Alternative facts are attempts at spin control. Reframing an issue is a constructive way to show a different perspective.

Last weekend’s brouhaha over the size of the audience witnessing President Trump’s inauguration is the perfect example of the difference.

Trump’s surrogates disputed visual evidence that the crowd on the Washington Mall was smaller than the audience who came to the 2009 inauguration of President Obama. They blamed the news media for using distorted photography and intentionally lying about crowd size. 

In the process, Trump special adviser Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternative facts.” However, the alternative facts failed to convince very many people, but they did generate a storyline that managed to obscure what Trump actually said in his inaugural address.

The Trump team might have been wise to reframe the issue, instead of pick a fight. For example, data indicated the online audience watching the inauguration was the largest in history. This wasn’t an alternative fact, but a way to reframe the discussion to highlight that audiences are migrating to new virtual viewing stands.

Trump’s people could say, with validity, that it didn't matter where people watched. They also could have said the larger online audience suggests that younger people tuned in. Both would have been good and far less contentious messages.

If the President – or the CEO – is hung up on some issues, whether it is the size of a crowd or last month’s sales figures, lying won’t produce the desired positive press. It paradoxically is more likely to keep the bad news you tried to hide in the headlines.

Looking for a way to reframe bad news doesn’t involve lying about it. Reframing requires looking for silver linings, the good news lurking below the bad. Reframing won’t be successful if you are just making stuff up. You need to redirect attention at credible other information, trends or outcomes. You need to give your audience something worthwhile to consider amid the bad news.

Another lesson to learn is to pick your spots. While Trump may be obsessed with the size of things, most Americans could care less how big the crowd was at his inauguration. Putting that issue front and center was disproportionate to its importance and not so subtly underscored the narrative of the new president as a congenital narcissist who proclaimed a policy of “America First,” but acted like “Trump First.”

His special day and the weekend that followed could have been so much different if Trump and his team simply reframed what was significant and what was not and shifted the conversation in that direction.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Saying Nothing Often Is The Right Thing to Do

Sometimes it is smarter to look the other way when verbally attacked to avoid unleashing more criticism, prolonging a negative narrative and diverting attention from your own agenda.

Sometimes it is smarter to look the other way when verbally attacked to avoid unleashing more criticism, prolonging a negative narrative and diverting attention from your own agenda.

When should someone or an organization respond when verbally attacked? It is a classic question asked of crisis counselors. It is a question without a simple answer. My best advice: Be slow to respond and know how to use your delete key.

On a weekend political news show, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, an iconic figure in the civil and voting rights movements, questioned the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s election as president because of Russian interference.

Trump fired back in tweets that Lewis should “spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart…rather than falsely complaining about the election results.”

You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.

— Winston Churchill

Trump’s comeback sparked a tweet storm. Critics chastised him for lacking presidential restraint and criticizing Lewis on the eve of Martin Luther King Day. One tweet said, “You are decades of public service away from having the standing to say 1 word about John Lewis, a genuine civil rights hero.”

The issue here isn’t whether Lewis was right or wrong to make his claim; the issue is Trump's wisdom (or lack of wisdom) of taking the bait and responding.

In light of The Trump-Lewis confrontation, here are some thoughts to consider when faced with an attack online, in print or on air:

  • Whatever immediate visceral satisfaction you might get from firing back at a critic can be overwhelmed by the forces you unleash with your response. Trump is just days away from his inauguration. He is going to President of the United States, regardless how Lewis feels about it. Why muddy the pre-inaugural waters by getting into a public spat that only served to divert attention from the bigger issues he wants to put front and center and prolong discussion of his legitimacy.
  • John Dickerson, host of Face the Nation, asked Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Sunday why the president-elect couldn’t just let Lewis’ comment slide by. Pence said it was another case of “Trump being Trump.” But organizational leaders and people in the spotlight should realize they have larger roles to play than just being themselves. In this case, there was nothing to gain for Trump by lashing out at Lewis, only more division to sow.  Savvy leaders know when to pick their spots. Attacking a civil rights icon who marched and bled with Martin Luther King  was a no-win situation and should have been a no-brainer to avoid.
  • Even brands and people with aggressive personalities should know when it is time to play a different tune. It’s hardly a secret that the nation is deeply divided on a wide range of issues, so why use insults when you need to encourage unity. If he couldn’t resist responding, Trump might have tried a more disarming response, such as inviting Lewis to work with him on issues related to social justice. Some may have scoffed at the offer, but no one could have accused Trump of being vindictive or “just being Trump.” They might have seen it as a sign of Trump acting presidential.
  • Saying nothing when someone attacks you is hard to do, but often is the right thing to do. Lewis expressed an opinion about Trump’s election. A disciplined leader would grit his or her teeth, remain quiet and avoid turning a comment into a multi-day storyline. If Lewis had misstated a fact, such as accusing Trump of intentional collusion with Russian operatives, there would be a cause for a rebuttal, but not on Twitter and probably not directly by Trump. Experienced hands understand how the media works, including social media. They also appreciate that a finessed response can pack a punch more powerful than an actual punch.
  • Taking into account your own history is another important element in determining whether to respond and how. In this case, Trump for years challenged the legitimacy of President Obama to sit in the Oval Office based on birther allegations he was born in Kenya, not Hawaii. Trump also tweeted in 2012 that Obama’s re-election wasn't legitimate. Given that high-profile background, Trump had plenty of reasons to avoid a cage fight over this issue, with Lewis or anyone else.
  • Many voters cast ballots for Trump because of his blunt speech. But that isn’t license to engage in erratic speech. Getting elected and governing require different skills. You can still be blunt while also being intentional. Harry Truman, who hardly held back his opinions or colorful language to express them, is an example o making a point, not just enemies.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

The Role of Anger in Public Discourse

Anger has a place in the public arena when it is the appropriate emotional response to horrific events.

Anger has a place in the public arena when it is the appropriate emotional response to horrific events.

Donald Trump’s campaign speeches were often filled with fury in contrast to the muted, almost professorial pronouncements by Barack Obama. Trump vents through tweets. Obama has Luther, a comic “anger translator.”

Michael Grunwald, a senior writer for Politico Magazine, says the “cool-headed” Obama’s biggest failure during his presidency was not being angrier. The price, Grunwald suggests, was the election of the “ultimate anti-Obama” – an almost always angry Donald Trump.

Grunwald’s article lays out numerous examples of how Obama responded calmly to provocations, from ISIS beheadings to congressional obduracy to conduct a hearing on his Supreme Court nominee. The “hyper-rational” Obama,” Grunwald wrote, :is not comfortable fulminating of tweet-ranting or shaking his fists for the cameras. His rhetorical weapons of choice against Democratic critics as well as Republican opponents have been logic, dry sarcasm and persistent whining.”

And, Grunwald adds, it didn’t work.

The larger point is that emotions need to match circumstances. When dealing with a crisis, people expect an appropriate emotional response. If you a spokesperson announcing layoffs, people don’t want to see you smirk.

This suggests there can be a role in public discourse for anger. As Grunwald observes, “Trump obviously enjoys starting verbal brawls that fire up his base.” The president-elect may not be the role model others should emulate. That might fall to some of the targets of Trump’s tweets who responded vigorously and emotionally to his criticism. Their anger seemed justified and apropos.

Police chiefs often convey constrained anger when issuing statements in the wake of horrific crimes. We applaud their pledge to bring perpetrators to justice. We empathize with victims of accidents who express anger over the loss of loved ones or the belongings it took them a lifetime to accumulate. We understand the strong feelings of men or women who have been wronged through theft, deception or discrimination.

These anger points can become sparks that ignite legal, regulatory or legislative actions. They can inspire fundraising for victims or acts of kindness and care. They can raise awareness of an issue that has been hidden in the shadows and galvanize activists to pursue a solution.

Anger translates well into satirical comedy. Minority stand-up comedians have channeled the simmering anger of their core audiences by making fun of the stereotypes that make them angry.  All in the Family and the Colbert Report spoofed what angered many Americans, providing a cathartic release and a knowing eye.

Using anger constructively is not always easy.  And an angry response can misfire or backfire. Sometimes in the face of ridicule, it is best to be able the fray and turn the other cheek. But not always.

Anger has a place in public discourse. Trump has demonstrated how to cultivate public anger. Others have profited by doing the same thing. But unleashing anger can result in uncontrollable circumstances.

One lesson to take from Obama is the value of an anger translator. Keegan-Michael Key served that role for Obama. He translated the President’s typically understated defense of the free press at a DC event into a rant about the media over-hyping the Ebola outbreak and Congress ignoring climate change while throwing snowballs. For a moment, Obama broke into an angry screed. “Whoa,” Luther interjected. “Have you ever seen Obama look or sound that angry?”

Reserve your public anger for when it is the gunpowder you need to deliver your point, especially to an audience that is mad and wants to know the cause of their anger makes your blood boil, too.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Mistletoe, Jimmy Stewart and Spelling

Anybody can misspell or misuse a word, but smart people take the time to learn about the words and phrases they use, which can yield some surprising stuff  – and avoid some personal embarrassment.

Anybody can misspell or misuse a word, but smart people take the time to learn about the words and phrases they use, which can yield some surprising stuff  – and avoid some personal embarrassment.

Nothing befits the eve of a new year than a few classics like mistletoe, "It’s a Wonderful Life" and bad spelling.

You can get kissed under mistletoe, cry while watching Jimmy Stewart and wince when you look at all your misspellings in the past year. Especially since most of them had red lines under them.

Let’s be honest, anyone can misspell a word, sometimes with the overzealous help of AutoCorrect. But don’t let excuses obscure the truth – a lot of people don’t know how to spell and don’t seem to care. Big mistake.

Even if many people let misspelling slide by their eye, there are still those who don’t. Pity you if that minority includes a boss, a client, a dear friend – or a target audience.

My Waterloo moment with spelling came in the 5th grade with Ms. Schmidt. Actually spelling a word correctly wasn’t enough for her. You also had to spell the word phonetically, identify whether it was a verb or noun and give a definition. On her most wicked days, Ms. Schmidt demanded that we look up the word’s etymology. That meant you had to know your spelling words forwards and backwards. Some students hated it. I fell in love with words.

Who knew the power of words to convey meaning, to reflect history, to preserve culture. When you went inside words, you uncovered mysteries you never knew existed. You saw their ability to create a unified perception of things and thoughts. You recognized their DNA through the layers of time and conquest. You saw them as the building blocks for ideas.

You get the drift. I think words are pretty important. So when someone butchers how a word is spelled or uses the wrong word, it pains me like watching someone beat a dog.

Just this week, members of my staff confused “compliment” for “complement."  My daughter wrote a blog and used “soul” when she meant “sole.” President-elect Donald Trump tweeted “unpresidented” instead of “unprecedented” in calling out the Chinese. I routinely see names misspelled, words misused and grammar that would have earned an “F” in my grade school language arts class.

Step up, people. Language is a gift. Words bring us closer as people by revealing our reflections, big thoughts and funny jokes, not to mention everyday parts of life, such as “Hey, breakfast is ready." Have you ever thought how unfunny a stand-up comic would be without words?

I’m a hard sell on the idea that spelling doesn’t matter anymore. That’s the same as telling me the Constitution doesn’t matter anymore. If spelling doesn’t matter to you, it’s most likely because you never bothered to understand spelling. Why is a word spelled the way it is? Where did the word come from? How has its usage changed over the years? Why do words with similar meaning convey nuanced differences? How did we get so many words in the English language?

The answers to those questions are freighted with significance. Just tackle one with some curiosity and find out.

Meanwhile, think about this: Words and language are constantly evolving. The evolution of words marks seminal change in our society. Our words mirror, in many ways, who we are and who we are becoming.

So, get out of your own way, take words and spelling seriously. If you don’t know what a word means, look it up. If you aren’t sure how a word is spelled, find out. If you are curious about where a word or phrase came from, take the time to track it down.

Your curiosity will pay dividends. Your spelling almost certainly will improve. Impress your boss, avoid embarrassment and take pity on those of us who cringe when words are mangled. 

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Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Tale of Two Tweets

New Oregon Ducks football coach Willie Taggart wasted no time hitting the recruiting trail and going online to show that the Ducks plan to make recruiting as aggressive and innovative as the team’s on-field play calling.

New Oregon Ducks football coach Willie Taggart wasted no time hitting the recruiting trail and going online to show that the Ducks plan to make recruiting as aggressive and innovative as the team’s on-field play calling.

Donald Trump arguably won the presidency by tweeting and Mark Helfrich may have been fired as head coach of the Oregon Ducks football team for not tweeting. There is a lesson here.

Trump’s tweets commanded constant attention and served as an unfiltered way to talk directly to the American public. The absence of tweeting by Helfrich and his coaching assistants created a barrier from reaching young recruits where they hang out online.

The Oregonian’s Andrew Nemec offered a commentary on how the modern recruiting game passed by the Oregon Ducks under Helfrich. Nemec's premise is that the game on the field is often determined these days by how well you play online. His commentary could just as well apply to comfortable executives in a lot of organizations.

While Washington Husky Coach Chris Petersen tweets “Woof” when a new recruit pledges to his team and Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh puts pictures on social media of him climbing trees and hosting sleepovers, the Ducks coaching staff rested on its laurels. The bad news: Most Millennials don’t know how to spell laurels.

Nemec quotes a national scout who says top recruits pay attention to how many Twitter followers they get4 when a major university offers them a scholarship, which could swing their decision of what football program to join. “I’ve had kids straight-up tell me a school made a top five because they added more followers. If you aren’t doing that, you are going to find yourself on the outside looking it. You are going to get lapped.”

For many organizations, social media, especially Twitter, is a quagmire, hassle or mystery. Self-satisfied leaders tell themselves they don’t new newfangled tools to communicate with long-time customers, donors or stakeholders.

As Nemec notes, times change and anyone can be eclipsed. “For a program that celebrated and self-congratulated its own innovation,” Nemec wrote, “it’s jarring that the downfall came from failing to grasp new school recruiting tactics.” Jarring indeed.

However confounding digital media may seem, it is worth the effort to learn about it and interact with it. You may never become a tweet master like Trump, but at least you won’t be a twit without a tweet. As the Helfrich example demonstrates, learning new tricks can keep you relevant – and employed.

As if to underscore the point, Willie Taggart made his debut as new coach of the Oregon Ducks by flying off to Hawaii to recruit Tua Tagovailoa, who is ranked as the top dual-threat quarterback in the nation and attended the same high school as his idol Marcus Mariota. Tagovailoa committed to Alabama after he sensed Oregon lost interest in him. Taggart may not succeed in flipping him, but there he was on Twitter with a picture of Tagovailoa and him for all those young recruits to see.

A few days later, Darrian McNeal from Florida flipped his commitment from Arizona to Oregon. McNeal had wanted to go to Oregon all along, but his attempts to reach the former coaching staff on social media failed. “I didn’t think this day was gonna come,” he said on social media. It happened because Taggart was paying attention online.

Football games are won or lost on football fields or in public arenas. The ability to win football games – or a contest of ideas – is often determined by who has the best team. Increasingly, the best team is the one that wins online.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Recognizing Miracle Workers All Around Us

A Chinese man dedicates his weekends to saving people about to commit suicide. He serves as a reminder there are men, women and children around us doing equally powerful things to change their and our world.

A Chinese man dedicates his weekends to saving people about to commit suicide. He serves as a reminder there are men, women and children around us doing equally powerful things to change their and our world.

A number of people on LinkedIn flagged a story about a Chinese man who has dedicated his weekends to saving people from committing suicide by jumping off the Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, which is the number one suicide venue in the world. In 13 years, Chen Si has talked 321 people back from the brink.

Chen’s sacrifice should remind us that we have volunteer heroes all around us. Like Chen, they change people’s lives and ask for nothing in return. We at least should make a point of celebrating these heroic people when we learn of their feats.

Given the divisions in the nation and raw feelings after a rough-and-tumble presidential campaign, some inspiration would do all of us some good.

Recognizing good works by staff members can be a moral booster. Recognizing good works by customers or stakeholders can deepen rapport.

The recognition doesn’t have to be showy, just genuine. Some miracle-working volunteers prefer anonymity, which should be respected. But some stories are just too rich to keep covered up. TV stations, in particular, are on the lookout for inspirational or human interest stories because they have strong appeal to viewers and somewhat balance out the often gloomy news of the day.

One of the best forms of recognition is to lend meaningful and useful support to the volunteer’s cause. Maybe more hands are needed on deck. Perhaps there is a need for special equipment. Perhaps just exposure is enough to shine a light on a problem that has been too long in the shadows.

There is no better time to put out feelers on your staff or in your community asking about quiet volunteers whose works speak volumes.  When you discover these human gems, don’t try to surprise them with praise. Instead do them the honor of asking about their work and finding out what, if anything, they need to support their work.

Chen rents a 2-bedroom flat near the Yangtze River Bridge where people he saves can spend a night or two. Two-thirds of the rent is paid by donors who appreciate Chen’s commitment. He pays the rest out of his meager salary.

Publicity about his quest to prevent suicides hopefully has increased donations and perhaps inspired others to stand watch on weekdays when Chen is working. It wouldn’t hurt to share how Chen convinces people to climb down from the railing of the bridge and go on with their lives.

We should exhibit the same respect and curiosity for men, women and children in our orbit of life who see it as their personal mission to serve others, rescue animals or save the planet. What they do is a powerful message we need to hear.

Know Your Eggs in a Crisis

Comedian Jimmy Fallon does a bit where he and guests play Russian egg roulette. Losers wind up with egg on their face. Don’t be like Jimmy Fallon and manage a crisis so you get egg on your face.

Comedian Jimmy Fallon does a bit where he and guests play Russian egg roulette. Losers wind up with egg on their face. Don’t be like Jimmy Fallon and manage a crisis so you get egg on your face.

There is an old saying, “if you don’t want egg on your face, don’t crack an egg on your forehead.” That’s actually pretty good crisis communications advice.

Mistakes happen. They may be your fault or maybe you’re just the fall guy. But if it falls to you to respond, don’t crack an egg on your forehead.

Don’t try to low-key a big-deal crisis. Soft-selling a hard crisis is an invitation for trouble and a loss of trust. Before you tell people you have the crisis under control, be sure you really do have it under control. If you aren’t sure how severe or dispersed the crisis is, focus on telling people what you are doing to find out. Don’t compound a crisis by creating another one centered on your inability to manage a confidence-building crisis response.

Own the crisis.  You can own up to a crisis, even if you don’t accept full liability for causing it. You build trust by being the person that deals squarely with the crisis, regardless of fault. Pointing fingers instead of pointing to a solution can raise suspicions and erode trust.

Prioritize your response. Many crises have victims or neighbors who are impacted. Take special care to communicate with them on how you are addressing the crisis that is intruding on their lives or livelihoods. Do what you can to personalize outreach to those most directly affected. Don’t rely on media reports to do the job for you.

Step up your communications. Waiting for the media to find out about your crisis before you say anything can be the wrong approach. It also is less likely in our digital age where everyone has a cell phone and can generate news-making video with the push of a finger and a click on Facebook. Holding a press conference is no longer enough. Crisis managers use tools such as Twitter to provide real-time updates and live feeds to show work in progress to address a crisis situation. Instead of viewing social media as a threat, embrace it as a place to discover and address what you might not know in a crisis.

Don’t wing it. Crises call for quick responses, but not reckless ones. Get your facts, corroborate them and craft a message that is clear, crisp and true. Crisis spokespersons should be trained to shape and deliver a key message – and to stay on message. What you don’t say can be just as important as what you do say. The key is saying the right thing to reassure people you are top of the crisis and are addressing the concerns of those directly impacted by the crisis. The best spokespersons practice just like an actor so they deliver their lines powerfully and don’t ad lib.

Jimmy Fallon has a running gag game on the Tonight Show where he and his guests have to choose eggs and crack them on their foreheads. Some the eggs are hard-boiled. Others are fresh. It’s funny to watch grown people smash eggs on their foreheads and see yokes dripping down their face. It’s no so funny to watch crisis managers do the same thing in serious circumstances.

Know your eggs before you get in front of a microphone. You are less likely to come away with egg on your face and an even bigger crisis on your hands.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Greater Achievement Through ‘Deliberate Practice'

Michael Jordan had talent, but didn’t become arguably the best basketball player without hours of hard work, deliberately practicing the skills that made him great.

Michael Jordan had talent, but didn’t become arguably the best basketball player without hours of hard work, deliberately practicing the skills that made him great.

Experience can be overrated. Talent can be irrelevant. Mindless repetition is a waste of time. Deliberate practice Is the key to improvement and, ultimately, real achievement.

Psychologist Anders Ericsson contends anyone can improve their performance by practicing and mastering specific skills, preferably with expert coaching. He has become known worldwide for his theory that requires people to step outside their comfort zone to master new skills. Ericsson calls it the “New Science of Expertise."

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell embraced Ericsson’s concept with his 10,000 hours of practice rule.

Ericsson says there is nothing magic about 10,000 hours of practice. It’s more important, he says, to identify areas that need improvement and practice specific skills that lead to mastery. Think of a NBA player enhancing his offensive skill set by mastering a 3-point jump shot.

Deliberate practice has a wide span of applicability – from musicians to medical doctors. And, yes, to the world of public affairs, too.

An obvious application in public affairs is the use of social and digital media. Old-time practitioners still rely on their previous experience, much of which they accumulated before the advent of Facebook and Twitter. Their previous experience isn’t invalid; it just may be dated.

Social and digital media will continue to be strange, newfangled things unless public affairs practitioners get out of their own way and learn how online engagement works. Social and digital media aren’t always the solution to a public affairs challenge, but they often are a key element in a public affairs strategy.

The coaching a public affairs pro may need is not from another grizzled veteran, but from a kid – maybe a grandkid. Younger people have grown up with this technology and use it fluently, if at times fatuously.

New tricks don’t always mean new technology. In a world where people are bombarded by media, personal contact has taken on new, richer meaning. You are developing a new residential community or building a new water plant and neighbors are fearful and, in some cases, outright hostile. All the Facebook posts and gleaming fact sheets you could spin up wouldn’t make as much difference to those upset neighbors as going to their house or community center to talk with them directly.

Remote control outreach is easier and involves fewer bruises to the ego. In the long run, making direct contact may take longer, but can wind up being a lot cheaper. As people learn the facts and you make concessions to address the most pressing and legitimate concerns, fears fall away. There are fewer obstacles to moving forward. Some opponents might even become advocates.

Learning to play the violin or become a chess champion takes a modicum of talent, Ericsson concedes. But mostly it takes intentional practice. Michael Jordan had talent, but he became one of the best basketball players in history by relentlessly honing his skills. You could say Jordan worked his way to greatness.

Psychologist Anders Ericsson argues anyone can improve by deliberately practicing skills that enhance their performance.

Psychologist Anders Ericsson argues anyone can improve by deliberately practicing skills that enhance their performance.

The notion of continuous improvement connects well with Ericsson’s concept of deliberate practice. You don’t just through the motions; you break through barriers that allow you to reach a higher level of achievement. If Michael Jordan can deliberately practice his way to greatness, the rest of us can reach our own level of greatness following his example. And that includes professionals working in the public affairs space.

Clients should appreciate professionals with experience, but they may want to hire experienced professionals who are still learning their craft by deliberately practicing new skills..

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

From Campaigning to Compromising

Perpetual political campaigns make compromise and governing even more challenging. Unifying the country will take a different mindset to find common ground where compromise is possible amid partisanship.

Perpetual political campaigns make compromise and governing even more challenging. Unifying the country will take a different mindset to find common ground where compromise is possible amid partisanship.

Compromise is always challenging. It’s nearly impossible when political campaigns become perpetual.

America and Oregon face serious challenges, including a sharply divided public. In the face of that division, how can political leaders find common ground to govern?  We know it won’t be easy, but will leader resist pressures from their respective political bases to look for solutions?

We will find out soon enough.

One encouraging sign is the peaceful and so far cordial transfer of power from President Obama to President-elect Donald Trump. We may take this for granted, but comparatively to other countries and other times, it is a big deal. Obama and Trump had trade jabs, some very personal, but there they were two days after the election sitting down talking about a baton pass in the Oval Office.

Trump promised in his campaign to undo much of what Obama did, such as health care reform and immigration executive orders. Trump threatened to repudiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iran nuclear and Paris climate change agreements. Yet, the two men sat civilly in a room and talked for 90 minutes about America policy and security interests going forward.

The niceties of a White House meeting won’t negate politics, but it does serve as a reminder that we have traditions that unify us as a people that transcend political considerations.

Hillary Clinton’s concession speech carried out another important American tradition – urging unity after a hard-fought election and lending an open mind to the political winner. An open mind is akin to extending an olive branch. Winners must satisfy the voters who delivered their victory, but not at any cost or any price. There are ways to parcel victory without canceling out losers.

Trump will still appoint conservative judges, roll back regulations to address climate change and build a border wall. Agree or disagree, that’s what he campaigned on and that’s what you expect him to do in office. But he could do more selecting issues or parts of issues where compromise is possible. Infrastructure investment. College affordability. Fighting terrorism. Repealing Obamacare could be limited to repealing the individual health care mandate, letting others parts of the breakthrough reform stand and perhaps convincing all states to expand Medicaid coverage.

There is an analogue at the state level in Oregon facing Governor Brown, who won a 2-year term in Tuesday’s election. Democrats still control all the levers of power in Salem, though without supermajorities in the House and Senate to pass tax measures without Republican votes. Will Democrats push their agenda and ignore Republicans or will they look for areas that are ripe for compromise?

Oregon faces a sizable budget hole and many Democrats who supported Measure 97, which failed, will be pushing for other tax measures. Business leaders who spent more than $20 million to defeat Measure 97 may not be eager to jump into conversations about another tax-raising plan.

Brown, House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney find themselves in an interesting place where compromise may be the only viable path to a credible solution. The stakes are large. Beyond glancing at the state budget, there is a growing Public Employees Retirement System unfunded liability and a gaping hole to fund the state’s Medicaid plan, not to mention K-12 schools, higher education, transportation and public health.

Political gridlock has been less apparent in Oregon than in Washington, DC, but no place is immune to the disease that gets it infectious start from constant campaigning. As Amy Gutmann, then president of the University of Pennsylvania, and Dennis Thompson, a professor of philosophy at Harvard, wrote in The Spirit of Compromise::

“The problem of compromise in American democracy has always been challenging. It becomes harder still with the rise of the permanent campaign. The relentless pressures of campaigning, which call for an uncompromising mindset, are overtaking the demands of governing, which depend on a compromising mindset.”

So the reigning question for leaders now is whether they can set aside their uncompromising politicking mindset and embrace a compromising mindset to move forward the country and states such as Oregon?

We can only hope they do.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Stealing a Win from a Loss

Hillary Clinton maintained the long tradition of peaceful transition of power in Anerica with a gracious, unifying and hopeful concession speech. 

Hillary Clinton maintained the long tradition of peaceful transition of power in Anerica with a gracious, unifying and hopeful concession speech. 

A major-party presidential candidate will have to manage a high-profile loss on Tuesday. How well he or she handles their loss could  define their political personas and shape their political futures going forward. 

Nobody likes to lose, but it happens. It is measure of a person's maturity, self-confidence and savvy to recognize that a gracious concession to a loss earns the chance to win another day.

The path to success starts with a sincere, polite and gracious acknowledgment of defeat. The part of “gracious loser” people tend to remember the longest is “gracious.” The gracious admission of defeat is the cathartic first step toward a new winning venture.

Losing carries the stigma of failure. Legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi famously said, “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.” Knute Rockne was harsher and said good losers were failures. No question that a loss is not a victory, but that doesn't mean it is a failure. Some of the greatest successes in life come on the heels - and often as a result - of losing. As Carl Sandburg advised: “To be a good loser is to learn how to win.” 

The key to turning a loss into a success is learning. Introspection is instructive. What caused the loss and how could it have been avoided? What could you have done differently or better? Was this the right opportunity or should you look for another path?

Ego and pride can get in the way of introspection. It is too tempting to blame something – or someone – for a loss than it is to look deep inside yourself to seek the roots of the loss. That’s where maturity and self-confidence play a role. You can be assured that a genuine post-loss congratulations comes from someone who has their stuff together. They handle an unpleasant, spirit-crushing defeat with grace, with an eye to a future time when they can win.

A gracious congratulations doesn’t wipe out a loss, but it alters how others view the “loser.” It may be the only way to steal a win from a loss. A petulant response to a defeat is a prescription to turn a loss into a real loser.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Political Ad Aims at Funny Bone, Not Jugular

Instead of appealing to the baser instincts of voters, a county commissioner candidate in Texas tried humor to win laughs and maybe even a few votes.

Instead of appealing to the baser instincts of voters, a county commissioner candidate in Texas tried humor to win laughs and maybe even a few votes.

Most political advertising goes for the jugular. Very little political advertising aims at the funny bone. Maybe it should.

Gerald Daugherty, a Republican running for re-election in Democrat-thick Travis County in Texas, has produced a TV ad some critics are calling the cutest of this ugly political season. If Daugherty is successful, it could spark a refreshing trend.

Austin, the original “weird” city and home to the University of Texas, is a hard place for a Republican to get elected, let alone re-elected, especially if college-educated conservatives take a long vacation instead of voting November 8 because of a certain someone at the top of the GOP ballot.

Texas Monthly describes Daugherty’s ad as something more like an outtake from the TV show "Parks & Recreation” than a typical political ad. But it might just work to turn a candidate’s irritating quirk into an endearing quality.

"In the video,” the magazine says, "Daugherty earnestly opines about transportation issues, the commuter rail, jail overcrowding and tax rates to his wife and friends, all while everyone else tries to go about their daily lives. Meanwhile, Daugherty’s wife, Charlyn, explains that he 'doesn’t really have any hobbies' and just thinks about civic life and problem-solving all day long while he’s puttering around the house. 'Please re-elect Gerald,' she concludes. ‘Please.’”

The ad, in an ironic way, is positive. It sends a substantial message in a funny wrapper.

An Austin newspaper endorsed Daugherty’s Democratic opponent, claiming Daugherty can’t shut up or stop mucking around in minutia. That means his re-election ad is authentic. He doesn’t shut up or stop trafficking in trivia.

Yet, voters who pay attention to the ad are likely to smile rather than throw an old shoe at their TV. He may be annoying, but his ad is a badly needed tonic from the stress of all the rest of the political ads on TV.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Media Training, Crisis and Self-Confidence

Media training is more than just learning the techniques of giving a great interview. It is about gaining the self-confidence to give a great interview.

Media training is more than just learning the techniques of giving a great interview. It is about gaining the self-confidence to give a great interview.

The value of media training isn’t in memorizing what to say in advance, but achieving the confidence to say what needs to be said in an actual crisis situation.

Media training includes tips on how to craft and deliver a key message in a media interview. Trainees learn about crisp phrasing and avoiding jargon. They see themselves on video so they can self-correct distracting mannerisms and weed out excessive “ums” and “likes” in their speech. They recognize the benefits of practicing instead of winging interviews.

However, the most profound value of media training is building self-confidence. The most common comment I receive after media training is, “Now I feel confident that I can do it."

Being a spokesperson is not rocket science, but it can be nerve-racking. The best words and clearest delivery can be undone by a shaky countenance or an inappropriate facial expression – failures usually attributable to a lack of confidence.

Being a spokesperson is like being an actor. No matter how marvelous the script and staging, what counts is your performance. And great performances usually flow from actors who have meticulously prepared and go on stage with the relaxed confidence to awe an audience.

Actors spend time in front of mirrors to master how they look and practice their lines so the words fall off their tongues naturally. Spokespersons should follow suit. Media training gives them the basics. Their self-confidence carries them to the higher plateau of success.

Self-confidence can easily migrate to over-confidence. One successful interview doesn’t guarantee another. A self-confident spokesperson remembers what gave them self-confidence, even up to and including follow-up media training. You can never be too well prepared.

A key part of self-confidence is being comfortable with your role, and spokesperson roles aren’t monolithic. Giving an interview to a print reporter can be very different than giving one live to a television reporter. Appearing on a news talk show or an online forum are very different experiences and require different kinds of preparation to build confidence.

The variability of spokesperson roles is a cue to seek customized media training that offers a realistic experience like the situation you will face. We have provided media training to public officials who routinely were subjected to ambush interviews, to high-profile business leaders who speak in a wide range of settings and to nonprofit  executives appearing on talk radio shows.

While the challenges vary, one thing is always the same – you want to leave a media training session with the confidence you can be the spokesperson who does the job.

To be honest, sometimes trainees realize after the experience that they can’t do the job. That’s important to know, too. It takes a lot of self-confidence to have the courage to say you aren’t the right person to be under the hot lights. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Why Good Timing Matters

Johnny Carson was a master of timing. He knew when his jokes would generate a belly laugh and when they would fall flat. His genius was never to let any joke go unrewarded with a laugh, even if he had to die on stage to earn it.

Johnny Carson was a master of timing. He knew when his jokes would generate a belly laugh and when they would fall flat. His genius was never to let any joke go unrewarded with a laugh, even if he had to die on stage to earn it.

George Washington lost more battles than any U.S. general in history, but his seminal contribution to successful warfare was knowing how to avoid losing a war. You could say Washington understood the value of good timing.

Muhammed Ali was the inventor of rope-a-dope boxing, where you let your muscular opponent punch himself out while you danced around or fended off blows on the ropes.

The best comedians understand timing is the cornerstone of comedy. Public affairs is all about timing, too.

There is no formula for timing. It is more knack than science. Johnny Carson showed that even a bad joke could have a happy ending if you knew how to “die” on stage.

Perhaps the key to good timing is picking your spot. Move too soon and you risk utter failure. Wait too long and you miss your window of opportunity.

Timing is not the same as waiting or dithering. Sometimes the right time is sooner than later. You never know when the most propitious timing is unless you consider the options.

The secret to good timing is assessing the best timing. That means you can’t be hiding in a closet or trying to sweep an issue under a rug. You are actively trying to find your moment, then acting in the moment.

Washington came to realize that the British had to win and all he had to do was not lose.

Ali recognized that he couldn’t punch his way to victory, but he could let his opponent sucker-punch himself to defeat.

Carson understood that even a bad joke could produce a hilarious uproar if you played it right.

There are many ways to take advantage of time. The right way is the way you win, not lose. You will never know what way that is without weighing the options.

If the knack of good timing is what wins, then the science behind knocking is knowing when to pass, when to hold or when to play. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Going from Boring to Riveting with Ben Stein

Ben Stein plays roles where he is boring, but he actually is skilled at making news with strong statements such as his call over the weekend for Donald Trump and his dirty jokes to drop out of the 2016 presidential race.

Ben Stein plays roles where he is boring, but he actually is skilled at making news with strong statements such as his call over the weekend for Donald Trump and his dirty jokes to drop out of the 2016 presidential race.

Ben Stein has made a career in Hollywood acting dull. On Sunday he showed how to go from boring to riveting.

Celebrated for his droning roll call in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stein is actually an accomplished writer and speaker. He is also well known as a Republican speechwriter and apologist who in 2005 famously defended Richard Nixon for lying about the Watergate break-in so he "could stay in office and keep his agenda of peace going.”

In 2016, Stein has endorsed GOP nominee Donald Trump. That ended Sunday after disclosure of a tape in which Trump coarsely boasted about his star-status sexual advances on women. “I don’t want someone who talks like a dirty-minded eighth grader leading the greatest party on earth,” Stein said in a op-ed that aired on CBS Sunday Morning.

Stein implored Trump “to do the right thing” and drop out of the presidential race. “Take your boast and your swindles and your dirty jokes and your jet and go back home,” he said. “Let your great party try to save itself and the nation.”

“I disagreed with Trump on many things, but I stood up for him on TV and in print because he was a force for change, and he was not afraid to be non-PC,” Stein said. “But this latest is too much.”

“He now says that Bill Clinton has said much the same and worse. So what?” he continued. “I wouldn’t want Bill Clinton to be leading the Republican Party either!” As Stein himself noted, he has been a political conservative in Hollywood for 40 years “and it’s cost me plenty. No matter. Loyalty is sacred to me.”

Stein studied economics as an undergraduate, took his law degree from Yale and has practiced or taught law in areas such as poverty, consumer protection and libel. He isn’t fully out of character when he portrays the monotonous professor in movies or in TV commercials. In Dave, a movie starring Kevin Klein about two scheming presidential advisers who substitute a body double for the president when he suffers a stroke, Stein more or less played himself.

But as boring as he might be, Stein has mastered the art of putting spunk into his words. You remember what he says whether it’s about politics, patriotism or Trump. Here are three takeaways on how Stein goes from boring to riveting:

  • Stein uses simple language, familiar phrases and short sentences to make his point. He doesn’t try to overwhelm with his intellect or knowledge. He infuses power into what he says by making his point forcefully and without equivocation. He provides just enough detail to create meaningful context for his argument.
  • Stein fearlessly jumps into controversial issues. He waded into the debate over financial shenanigans that led to a global economic meltdown and the Great Recession. He defended former Senator Larry Craig after he was cited for allegedly soliciting in a men’s restroom at an airport. He teaches classes in creationism. He urged a tax increase on wealthy individuals. Not outrageous or over the top, Stein is certainly no wallflower. If he believes in something strongly or passionately, he talks about it.
  • Stein recognizes an opportunity to voice his views when an opportunity presents itself to make news. He puts himself out there in print, TV and online. He has the confidence to speak his mind and the discipline to express himself in ways that stick in people’s minds. The actor who once gave an improvised economics lecture about the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act also wrote a New York Times op-ed criticizing Wall Street for being more interested in making money than fighting terrorism.

The next time you hear Stein being boring, remember he is acting. He knows how to be riveting.

Krumm: PR Stands for Personal Relationships

Joe Krumm, who died this week, left a long legacy of people-centered public relations that emphasized personal relationships rather than spin.

Joe Krumm, who died this week, left a long legacy of people-centered public relations that emphasized personal relationships rather than spin.

PR should mean more than public relations, according to Joe Krumm. It also should stand for personal relationships. His career as the long-time and much revered director of community and government relations for the North Clackamas School District proved the wisdom of that advice.

Krumm died this week after collapsing following a music performance as a drummer at the Ash Street Saloon in Portland. He was 61 and had a history of heart disease.

Krumm's popularity directly reflects his people-centered approach to PR. “Ultimately, you have to get two-way conversations started to understand people’s real concerns,” Krumm said. “You need to ask, ‘How can we serve you better?”

His notion of PR extended beyond conversations into true engagement. Krumm was instrumental in recruiting senior citizens at Willamette View Manor to become tutors for students struggling with math and reading. He organized community focus groups, including an ongoing listening session with Hispanic parents. He prodded district officials to oblige their request for more textbooks in Spanish and at least one person in each school who spoke Spanish.

Krumm was a big believer in getting people into schools so they could see learning in progress. He also believed in the importance of targeting specific audiences with customized outreach, such as a Living History Day that attracted more than 800 veterans to Milwaukie High School.

Community connections, Krumm insisted, were critical to student success and District success at the ballot box. His outward-extending communications received credit for the passage of two large bond measures to keep pace with student enrollment growth in the North Clackamas School District. Parental approval ratings also rose and results from frequent public opinion polling allowed the District to win multiple grants.

Making PR all about personal relationships implies sustained conversation and engagement. You can’t build a relationship with a flashy one-off event. Building relationships takes time, but pays much richer dividends than slick PR campaigns that shout rather than listen.

Krumm's mastery of Personal Relationship communications should be an example for all PR professionals who need to win confidence and get things done. He had an upbeat, let’s-do-it attitude, he was generous with his time and advice and he knew how to have fun – all traits that make people want to relate to you.

Joe will be missed by his family, friends and colleagues. But he would be honored by following his PR footsteps. “He was determined to make public relations a valid, no-spin approach to getting information to people who were interested in schools,” said Rep. Lew Frederick of Krumm. “He really held that community together in ways that are going to be difficult to replicate."

Props to Chipotle for Cooking Up Real Food Safety

Chipotle took a hit for slacking food safety procedures that resulted in sick customers, but now the company has responded with food safety steps that are significant and verifiable, which should ease concerns for patrons who have stayed away.

Chipotle took a hit for slacking food safety procedures that resulted in sick customers, but now the company has responded with food safety steps that are significant and verifiable, which should ease concerns for patrons who have stayed away.

We chopped Chipotle for mishandling a food safety crisis that sickened customers. Now it's time to give the Mexican fast food chain props for taking savvy steps to rebuild its reputation for "making better food accessible to everyone.”

In full-page print ads, Chipotle Founder and Co-CEO Steve Ells owns the crisis as he lays out specific ways the company will sharply improve its food handling practices. 

“In 2015, we failed to live up to our own food safety standards, and in so doing, we let our customers down. At that time, I made a promise to all of our customers that we would elevate our food safety program.”

The ad lists eight “important advancements” that include improving supply chain food handling, employing new technology in prepping food, training farmers to meet stricter food safety requirements and improved in-store food handling procedures.

The list goes further, citing actions that crisis counselors often recommend – credible, validated third-party evaluations and inspections.

Ells says Chipotle managers and field leaders will need certification from a nationally recognized institution, which he added is a “first for any national restaurant chain.”

Restaurant inspections will “dramatically increase,” conducted by both Chipotle inspection teams and independent auditors.

Chipotle will implement an advanced electronic tracking system to monitor food sources and be able to trace supplies that should be removed or not accepted.

Chipotle will also create an advisory council comprised of industry experts charged with “continually reviewing procedures and providing insight into new food safety advancements.” An unsolicited suggestion, expand the advisory committee to include an online panel of Chipotle consumers and listen to their concerns, praise and ideas. 

It wasn’t that long ago that Chipotle’s sharpest critics suggested scrapping the brand and starting over. Instead, Ells chose the path of weathering the storm, which has included a significant drop-off in business, and emerging with a redoubled commitment to food safety. The ads are in effect the coming out party for the Chipotle brand and its new standards.

The actions Ells laid out aren’t flashy, but they respond directly to consumer questions (and fears) about the fresh food Chipotle serves. Maybe the chain should have figured out sooner that fresh fast food has higher risks than processed food. Chipotle’s response, at least as described, appears genuine and likely to be effective in reassuring wary customers to return.

With the painful lesson that fresh food demands greater vigilance now learned, Chipotle can embark on being the brand that leads the way on both. If it does, Chipotle will have converted its crisis into an opportunity to become better than before.

Holy War of Words

The gridiron success of Portland’s two largest Catholic high schools prompted an Oregonian story calling them “artificial all-star” teams that should play in their own league and triggered a smart response by Jesuit High School’s principal about how the current senior class went from a winless freshman season to state champions.

The gridiron success of Portland’s two largest Catholic high schools prompted an Oregonian story calling them “artificial all-star” teams that should play in their own league and triggered a smart response by Jesuit High School’s principal about how the current senior class went from a winless freshman season to state champions.

Jesuit High School Principal Paul Hogan picked a smart spot to respond to an Oregonian article that claimed Portland’s two largest Catholic high school football squads have become “artificial all-star teams.” Hogan's response illustrates when and how to respond to negative press.

Andrew Nemec, who describes himself as a “recruiting reporter” wrote: “Scan the rosters of both programs, and it’s startling jut how much talent has been sloshed off programs desperately in need of better athletes just to stay competitive.” He added “there’s nothing holy” about the so-called Holy War when Jesuit plays Central Catholic because “the rivalry is more artificially enhanced than baseball’s steroids era.”

Charges that Jesuit and Central Catholic poach players from other schools is hardly new. But Nemec took the charge to a new level by mentioning specific players and the high schools they would be playing for “if not for their departures to private schools.” While acknowledging private schools across the country have advantages, he singled out Jesuit as the top athletic program in the nation after winning state titles in football, girls volleyball, girls swimming, girls soccer, boys swimming, baseball, softball, boys tennis and girls track.

Interestingly, with all that talent, Jesuit is ranked second in Oregon’s big-school Class 6A football rankings. West Linn, a public high school, is number one. Nemec wrote that after losing to Jesuit in the 6A state final last year, West Linn added two all-state players from Wilsonville and a tight end from Tigard. “The arms race has begun to infect top public schools, too,” he concluded.

Hogan was among the commenters on Nemec’s article. He also shared his thoughts in a post titled "Fact Check" on the school's website. Noting his educational background as an English teacher and an editor, Hogan proceeded to shred Nemec’s thesis. The Oregonian reporter directed tweets to a handful of Jesuit football players, asking in what public high school boundary area they lived.

“In two cases, Mr. Nemec apparently did not know that the students he contacted had attended Catholic schools since preschool and had every intention of remaining in the parochial system for high school,” Hogan wrote. Another student mentioned in the article enrolled in Jesuit after his family moved to Oregon.

“Jesuit High School offers no scholarships or financial aid based on merit or talent,” Hogan said. The $2.85 million in annual financial aid is parceled out based on family financial status as determined by an out-of-state independent evaluator.

His biggest zinger was disputing Nemec’s claim that after Jesuit’s senior class suffered a winless freshman season, the school went on the recruiting trail to land the “state’s top talent.” Hogan said the current senior class is the largest in Jesuit’s history. Only three transfer students gained enrollment at Jesuit the year following the winless football season – and none were in-state football players.

Hogan cited Tim Massey, who was an assistant coach for the freshman team when the current Jesuit seniors lost all nine games of their season. “That 0-9 season, and its aftermath, is one of the most cherished memories in 33 years of coaching," Massey said. "Those guys could have given up or gotten down on themselves or simply found other things to do. Instead, they gutted out that season, hit the weight room and kept after it. And they got stronger and better.” As it turned out, a lot better. Several players have committed to play NCAA Division I football.

Hogan’s response was well played and provided a factual rebuttal to aspects of Nemec’s article. His comments won’t sway some people who dislike schools like Jesuit, but he pushed back against points that Nemec couldn’t substantiate so the online record is balanced.

He jabbed Nemec for failing to call him to check facts or get Jesuit’s side of the story, another key point to have on the record.

Responding to unfavorable stories requires strategy and savvy. The smartest place to push back is on factual errors or the lack of balance in a story. That’s what Hogan did. He was restrained and respectful, but firm. He also took the high road.

“If someone at The Oregonian wants a real story,” he said, “I suggest they write about the amazing, powerful ‘purple-out for CCA’ fundraiser that Central and Jesuit’s student body conducted at the big game last Friday night.” Then he invited to Nemec to join him at a student mass and “discover the true source of Jesuit High’s success.”