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.”

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 Attorneys and PR Counselors Should Play Nice

Clients in crisis have enough stress without enduring a squabbling attorney and PR counselor who fail to provide advice to minimize liability while preserving a reputation.

Clients in crisis have enough stress without enduring a squabbling attorney and PR counselor who fail to provide advice to minimize liability while preserving a reputation.

One of the biggest challenges in responding to a crisis is balancing lawyerly advice about courtroom liability with PR counsel about the court of public opinion.

Avoiding or minimizing legal liability can come at the expense of tarnishing or losing a reputation. For some clients, losing a reputation is more costly – and more permanent – than an adverse verdict.

Advising clients to say nothing can be a safe legal position, but a precarious reputational position. It is incumbent for attorneys and PR counselors to respect what each other does and offer clients constructive counsel that protects their full set of interests.

Wise attorneys recognize the power of words, so they carefully shape their messages. Experienced PR counselors understand the judicial process. That should form the basis for mutual respect and a healthy working relationship.

Attorneys and PR counselors are both advocates, each with a different target audience and parallel lenses to view the crisis. Judges and juries – not to mention opposing legal counsel – are a key audience. But so are the people affected by or interested in the crisis and its cause, which can include coworkers, neighbors, customers, regulators and, of course, the news media.

In law school, attorneys are taught how to parse words in cases and frame arguments. They don’t always learn the power of what is not said – or of not saying anything.

Journalists and PR professionals typically get a superficial picture in their training of how the legal system works. Most never spend time in an actual courtroom, watching a trial or diving into briefs supporting lawsuits. Few have covered a criminal or civil matter from beginning to end for a news outlet. Some have never heard of attorney-client privilege or appreciate its significance to protect clients and communications.

Clients deserve fulsome advice, even to the extent of differing views. An attorney and PR counselor may have sharply varying viewpoints on how much the client should say and when to say it. Dispensing their counsel in a respectful, professional manner gives clients a fuller view of their options and the risks and opportunities attaching to those options.

Self-confident attorneys and PR counselors serve their clients well when they collaborate and do their best to arrive proactively at a consensus that doesn’t equate to stonewalling or self-indicting confessions.

One of the most vital conversations is what can be said or done that provides reassurance to the people most impacted by a crisis. Earning trust in the heat of a crisis depends on meaningful actions and clear statements. This is as valid to consider as the ultimate liability for the crisis.

Despite coming from different universes, attorneys and PR counselors can be good teammates. And for the good of their clients, they should be.

In a crisis, clients already have enough stress. The last thing they need is a pair of squabbling advocates. However, attorneys and PR counselors don’t always play nicely together in the sand box. They have been called the “oil and water team.” Attorneys discount PR counselor understanding of the law. PR counselors think lawyers are rigid impediments to clients telling their story. Clients facing crisis shouldn’t settle for either stereotype. There are attorneys and PR counselors who know how to work together in the best interests of their collective clients.

An important part of crisis planning and preparation is to ensure your attorney and PR counselor have track records of collaboration and mutual appreciation that winning in court, but losing in the court of public opinion still equals a loss.

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 Polling, News Coverage and Accurate Results

If you want to know how the 2016 presidential election is shaping up, be wary of polling results reported by the media. They may not be wrong, but they may be newsier more than they are right.

If you want to know how the 2016 presidential election is shaping up, be wary of polling results reported by the media. They may not be wrong, but they may be newsier more than they are right.

Politicians may tout polls that cast their candidacy in its brightest light. TV stations have a tendency to report on polls they view as newsy, even if they aren’t necessarily accurate.

The Washington Post compared polling and reporting results from the 2008 presidential campaign and found TV newscasts tended to report polls that showed a tight race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, even though the average results of all polls reflected Obama was clearly ahead.

“On average,” according to the Post story, “viewers likely heard more about polls that portrayed the race as close than polls that more accurately showed Obama in the lead.”

TV news gave more air time to jumps in poll results, which gave the race that worn on for months spark of “breaking news," even if the actual poll changes were mere aberrations.

The researchers who prepared the Post report conducted an exhaustive search of all the polls that TV reporters could have cited. They found time after time polls showing Obama gaining or holding the lead were bypassed in favor of polls that showed the race as very tight.

Polling can be slippery enough in revealing the actual mindset of the electorate without any help from people trying to put their finger on the scale. Pollsters use different samples and apply different techniques. The timing of when a poll is conducted can be before or after a significant event in a campaign. How questions are framed can shade the results, too. With all that built-in variation, selecting what you might call outlier polls makes the reporting even more suspect.

As Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight.com, has said, looking at the averages of all credible polls provides a more reliable picture of where a race stands and what voters are thinking. Even the average of all the polls can be wrong, Silver admits, so the takeaway is don’t take polls too seriously, especially when they are still weeks to go before the election.

Looking at the 2016 presidential election, polls have played a large part in both the campaigns and the reporting of the race. GOP nominee Donald Trump routinely bragged about his lead in the polls during the primary season and has complained that poll results showing him trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton are media fictions. Trump’s campaign manager, who is a pollster, says Trump is actually ahead, but his secret supporters are unwilling to tell pollsters they plan to vote for him.

The media, especially TV news, gave a lot of coverage to the post-convention polling bumps that both Trump and Clinton received. And, there has been nonstop media discussion about GOP fears that a slumping Trump presidential campaign will have negative effects on down-ballot Republican candidates, especially in a handful of tight Senate races that could decide which party is in control in the next Congress. And TV networks have begun reporting on what CBS News calls a “poll of polls” to avoid cherrypicking results.

Coverage of the 2016 race has drilled down into the demographics of the race. The simplest narrative is that Trump appeals to white, older, non-college-educated men while Clinton appeals strongly to women, minorities and people with college degrees. This narrative fits neatly into the tight time frames for TV news coverage and may be this campaign season’s newsy fixation, even if it is over-simplified and nearly stereotypical.

Skepticism of political polling remains a smart move, as 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney learned when he headed into election day thinking, based on polls, he was about to be elected president. Believing in polls is a little bit like believing your own press releases. Believe at your own risk.

‘Over-Exaggerating’ the Truth

Disgraced U.S. Olympian swimmer Ryan Lochte lost three endorsements, standing as a stark example that reputations take years to earn can be tarnished in an instant, especially when you lie about being robbed at gunpoint.

Disgraced U.S. Olympian swimmer Ryan Lochte lost three endorsements, standing as a stark example that reputations take years to earn can be tarnished in an instant, especially when you lie about being robbed at gunpoint.

Need a case example of how lying can cost you dearly? Look no further than Olympic gold medal swimmer Ryan Lochte whose fabricated story about an armed robbery in Rio led to the loss of four prime endorsements by Speedo, Ralph Lauren, skin care firm Syneron-Candela and Japanese mattress maker airweave.

Lochte reportedly earned $2.3 million annually from his Olympic swimming sponsorships leading up to the 2012 Olympics in London, according to The Washington Post. One expert estimates Lochte's lifetime lost earnings from the four dropped sponsorships could be as much as $20 million.

In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Lochte took responsibility for the incident involving three other U.S. Olympians following a night of reverie that took a pit stop at a Rio gas station. Lochte admitted he was intoxicated and damaged a bathroom door. He was less definitive about other damage in the bathroom.

Lochte, who returned his hair to its normal shade of brown, also admitted “over-exaggerating” his encounter with a security guard who pulled his gun and pointed it at him. Lochte initially said he and his fellow swimmers were yanked from a cab and robbed at gunpoint. Now, he says, the guard confronted them after hearing loud noises in the bathroom and drew his weapon after Lochte acted aggressively. Lochte claims he was still drunk when he spun his robbery story.

While Lochte managed an apology to Brazil for not telling the truth, Brazilian authorities and news media are understandably not satisfied. Lochte’s untruthful tale touched a nerve in a country highly sensitive about its chronic crime rate. They correctly note Lochte only confessed to lying after surveillance camera video showed what really happened – or didn’t happen.

Intermixed in his apology, Lochte said some of the right things. But probably not enough of them. For one, he failed to say how it would make the situation right. That would require more than paying to repair the damage. It might take an act of attrition or a contribution to a cause dear to the heart of Brazilians. (Speedo said the company is donating $50,000 of Lochte’s fee to Save the Children, which will direct the money to add Brazilian children.}

Ralph Lauren removed Lochte's image from its website congratulating U.S. Olympians it sponsored. The company said Lochte’s deal was for the 2016 Olympics and wouldn’t be renewed.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has warned that punishments may lie ahead for Lochte.

At age 32, Lochte’s Olympic career is probably over anyway. His actions, which he described as “immature,” have put a serious dent in his reputation as well as his pocketbook. In the trade, he would be called “damaged goods.” Self-inflicted damaged goods.

Lochte may recover his reputation, and we sincerely hope he does take steps to do that. But his actions and prevarications are a stark reminder that reputation matters – and take only a few seconds to blow up.

Actions Speak Louder Than Reputations

When your actions, reputation and reality don’t align, you are courting trouble. Actions guided by values speak louder than reputations based on puffery and promises.

When your actions, reputation and reality don’t align, you are courting trouble. Actions guided by values speak louder than reputations based on puffery and promises.

Your reputation should shadow your reality, not precede it. When reputation gets out in front of reality, you are courting scrutiny to see whether the two match up – and scorn when they don’t.

Remember, actions speak louder than reputations. Actions guided by solid values enhance reputations.

It is all about the difference of earning a reputation versus projecting a reputation. There are tangible dimensions to an earned reputation as opposed to the airy lightness of a projected reputation.

A useful exercise is to measure the gap between your reputation and your reality. This gap analysis can affirm an earned reputation or expose a hot-air projected reputation. If the perceived gap between reputation and reality is significant, you have a credibility problem.

“Effectively managing reputational risk begins with recognizing that reputation is a matter of perception,” according to a Harvard Business Review article. “When the reputation of a company is more positive than its underlying reality, this gap poses a substantial risk. Eventually, the failure of a firm to live up to its billing will be revealed and its reputation will decline until it more closely matches the reality.”

“To bridge reputation-reality gaps, a company must either improve its ability to meet expectations or reduce expectations by promising less,” the HBR article continues. Some companies panic and resort to financial tricks, sleight of hand or outright fraud to mask the gap, which can result in an even greater fall. Think Enron.

Because your reputation is your most valuable asset, managing your reputation should be a top priority. Reputation management should be based on actions, not promises. Actions to build or defend your reputation should center on actions that align with your core values and who you want to be.

When clients ask me about how to respond to a crisis situation, I advise to start by thinking about the organization's core values and let them be the guide for action. If you say your customers come first, then act like it when responding a crisis that may put customers at risk. If you say you want to be a good neighbor, then act like a good neighbor.

A brand promise – such as healthy, locally sourced fresh food – is only as good as the actions to fulfill that promise. Chipotle discovered the hard way that a brand promise rings hollow unless you ensure that locally sourced fresh food is also healthy food.

One of the best ways to earn a reputation is by solving other people’s problems. Another reputation-burnishing effort is to undertake steps that eliminate problems down the road, as Tillamook Cheese did when it chose to eliminate use the growth hormone rBst in its dairy herds.

The 2016 presidential election has highlighted reputations and realities that are out of sync. Jeb Bush was deemed the GOP frontrunner before winning a single primary. He raised millions of dollars in campaign contributions on the basis of his reputation, but when the voting started, his reputation imploded. He became the proverbial hollow suit.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has campaigned as highly competent, but she has been tagged for her handling of classified emails on her private server as extremely careless. GOP nominee Donald Trump touts himself as a winning businessman despite a record of bankruptcies, failures and a continuing lawsuit alleging fraud by Trump University. Not surprisingly, a majority of voters view both Clinton and Trump as either untrustworthy or unfit.

The 2016 Olympics in Rio offer some sterling examples of men and women who have paid the price and earned their glory in the pool, on the track and in other venues. Some Olympic stars have to live up to their reputations, while most Olympians earn their own reputations based on their performance. Some win medals. Others compete and never get to the award podium. Still others are indelibly imprinted on our memories because of their actions.

In an instant after their legs tangled, they fell to the track and helped each other up, Abbey D'Agostino of the United States and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand earned a reputation as true Olympians. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

In an instant after their legs tangled, they fell to the track and helped each other up, Abbey D'Agostino of the United States and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand earned a reputation as true Olympians. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Abbey D’Agostino, a 24-year-old Dartmouth graduate, and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin were total strangers before running the 5,000-meter race in Rio. Twenty minutes into the race, their legs crossed and both fell to the track. Instead of worrying about their medal chances, the two women helped each other to their feet and hobbled to complete the race, finishing far behind other competitors. In an instant, they showed their true mettle by reflecting the traditional Olympic spirit of good sportsmanship.

Two days earlier, in the men’s 10,000-meter race, Mo Farah fell after his feet and got tangled with Galen Rupp’s. Perhaps sacrificing his own medal chances, Rupp slowed down to be sure Farah, his friend and long-time training partner, was okay. Farah gave him a thumbs up and went on to win his second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the event. Rupp put his values and his actions ahead of his reputation, and by doing so he ended up enhancing his reputation.

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.

Make Time Your Most Valuable Ally

In managing a complex, challenging issue, time can be your ally or your enemy. Make time your ally with disciplined anticipation, avoiding surprising and strong first impressions.

In managing a complex, challenging issue, time can be your ally or your enemy. Make time your ally with disciplined anticipation, avoiding surprising and strong first impressions.

A client recently asked what is the most important factor in effectively managing a challenging issue. Without a doubt, the answer is time.

Time can be a friend or an enemy. Time can be on your side or an advantage for your opposition.

Because timing is so crucial, these actions take on greater significance:

Anticipation

How to prepare for and respond to a crisis and handle reputation management in difficult times. Cautionary tales and words of advice from our quarter-century in the business. 

How to prepare for and respond to a crisis and handle reputation management in difficult times. Cautionary tales and words of advice from our quarter-century in the business. 

Anticipating an issue can yield valuable time to develop a response, test messages, prepare materials and make initial contacts.

Anticipation cannot be a random act. Sensing an early wind of an emerging issue requires a disciplined approach of active listening. You need to read traditional media and tune in to alternative media where your detractors may congregate. Keep an eye on the New York Times bestseller list, which is a telling guide to what people are reading and consequently talking about. The same goes for issue-oriented movies that can create a pulse of interest in an issue sparked by a Hollywood star.

Surprise

Making a surprise announcement can be a disarming tactic. It also can be a destabilizing one.

Generally speaking, catching people by surprise is not a good thing. Your supporters don’t like being surprised. Surprising skeptics can reinforce their skepticism. Opponents can turn surprise announcements into launchpads for counteroffensives.

Using time wisely means not resorting to surprise for effect. You can be more intentional, even methodical in your decision-making, message development and advance outreach. The people you want to impress will the first to know, not the last.

First Impression

First impressions are the ones that usually stick and can influence how people view an issue as it evolves. Making a great first impression – and being the first to make an impression – is the greatest reward that time can give.

Major brands work hard on new product rollouts to make a great first impression, which can affect buy decisions. The same holds true on issues management. Making the first impression is a huge advantage in ultimately persuading people to your point of view.

When you tell your story first, and do so credibly, which can mean including third-party validation, you have your best shot at winning the day. When opponents tell their story first and you must respond defensively, your chances of prevailing diminish. It’s not a lost cause, but it often is an uphill battle.

Being first and being thoughtful and convincing is only possible if you have time and steward your time well.

Time is and always has been the greatest home field advantage. Never cede it to the visiting team.

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.

Failure, Messy Innovation and Success

You can’t fail unless you try. You can’t succeed if you don’t fail. Take it from Homer Simpson who should know.

You can’t fail unless you try. You can’t succeed if you don’t fail. Take it from Homer Simpson who should know.

Trying is the first step toward failure, says Homer Simpson. In our society, failure is a four-letter word. Maybe it shouldn’t be.

The TED Radio Hour last weekend focused on failure. The show included an interview and TED Talk excerpts from entrepreneur Astro Teller who said he rewards colleagues at his moonshot factory for failing. Calling innovation “messy,” Teller said the ability to recognize and acknowledge failure allows people to stop heading in the wrong direction and start fresh looking for a productive direction.

The secret to success, Teller says, “is learning how to kill projects” so they can be reborn.

Economist Tim Harford, who wrote Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, says trial and error is a tried-and-true method to solve problems. Brilliant Eureka moments may occur sometimes, but Harford says it is better to embrace failure and constantly adapt, “to work from the bottom up rather than the top down.”

Casey Gerald, who founded MBAxAmerica, espouses the “Gospel of Doubt.” Gerald said core beliefs have let him down in life, helping him to learn that “clear-eyed doubt can sometimes be better than belief.” Innovation doesn’t start with certainty, just curiosity and resolve.

Writer Lidia Yuknavitch, who collaborated with Ken Kesey on a collective novel project at the University of Oregon, said early career failures fueled her efforts to “find worth” in herself as a writer.

The theme of the show, hosted by Guy Raz, was “failure as an option.” Far too often, failure is seen as an end point, not a launch pad; as a sign of defeat rather than a signpost to move in another direction.

Many communications projects are scrapped because they initially don’t succeed or underperform. Sponsors or the communicators themselves give up without trying to fix what is failing.

Excellent communications strategies and tactics are frequently the product of trial, error, testing and restarting. If at first you don’t succeed doesn’t mean you can’t ultimately succeed.

Twyla Tharp, one of the greatest choreographers with roots in Seattle’s ballet company, received highly critical reviews of her dance musical Movin’ Out set to the music of Bill Joel. Instead of closing it down, Tharp methodically ironed out each criticism of the show, and from there the show went on to earn 10 Tony nominations.

Tharp wrote a book called The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, in which she describes the habit of realizing you are in a rut. Ruts, Tharp says, are like false starts. The only way to get out of a rut, according to Tharp, is to admit you’re in one, climb out and look for fresh inspiration or untried approaches.

That’s good advice. Failure is not a permanent condition. It’s just the first step on a longer journey to eventual success.

The Disarming Genius of Crowdsourcing Questions

Portland Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler exemplified his engaging leadership style by crowdsourcing questions to ask finalists for the position of executive director of the Portland Development Commission. One fresh question could make all the difference.

Portland Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler exemplified his engaging leadership style by crowdsourcing questions to ask finalists for the position of executive director of the Portland Development Commission. One fresh question could make all the difference.

Portland Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler showcased his leadership style by asking his Twitter followers for questions to pose to the three finalists to become the next executive director for the Portland Development Commission.

Crowdsourcing questions for candidates for public office – or other high-profile subjects – can be a disarming tactic that ultimately helps validate the final choice. It also demonstrates an open mind and a willingness to listen to a wide range of concerns.

Wheeler asked Mayor Charlie Hales to let the next mayor select the head of the PDC, but Hales pushed ahead anyway. Then, when Wheeler won the mayor’s race outright in the May primary, Hales agreed to involve him in the decision-making process.

The field has been narrowed to three people – two with ties to the PDC and a third who manages a Detroit development group. Kicking off the conversation, Wheeler tweeted, “If you were interviewing candidates for PDC head, what questions would you ask?”

Open-ended invitations like this typically fetch a mix of serious and not-so-serious responses. But asking for questions creates a dialogue that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and it flushes out questions or concerns that might have gone unasked or unnoticed.

There is also another advantage to crowdsourcing questions: you have someone else to blame for a loaded or tough question. Some people are good at asking confrontational questions, but most of us aren’t. For a position like this, tough questions are necessary and shouldn’t be avoided because of sheer awkwardness.

When a final decision is made, those who hired him or her can say that final interviews explored questions that people wanted asked and answered. Some of those answers can be cited as the reason the person was selected.

Some leaders feel they are smart enough to frame their own questions. That can be both true and lame at the same time. Asking constituents, stakeholders or the general public for questions, comments and ideas isn’t a sign of weakness or incompetence, though. It is simply a sign of openness and a reflection of self-confidence.

Suggested questions may track exactly with what a leader had in mind anyway. Nice to know. But the possibility of discovering a line of inquiry you hadn’t thought of makes the exercise invaluable. Tapping into mass intelligence also can make you look brilliant for just asking.

Instead of thinking you are the smartest person the room, you may actually be the best informed person in the room.

#SpeakerSelfie Tells a Different Story Than He Intended

Speaker Paul Ryan’s happy selfie showing him with more than 100 white GOP interns turned into a self-inflicted wound online as one commentator said he had to don sunglasses to look at the photo. (Photo Credit: Speaker Ryan's Instagram Account)

Speaker Paul Ryan’s happy selfie showing him with more than 100 white GOP interns turned into a self-inflicted wound online as one commentator said he had to don sunglasses to look at the photo. (Photo Credit: Speaker Ryan's Instagram Account)

House Speaker Paul Ryan managed this week to turn a selfie into a self-inflicted wound when he posted a picture of himself in front of a sea of GOP interns that one commentator cracked was “so white that I had to put on sunglasses.”

To Ryan’s chagrin, his happy Instagram photo turned into a viral parody of GOP diversity. The online ridicule was widespread and intense.

Someone described Ryan’s selfie as an “unforced political error.” But that misses the point. The selfie was fine. What it depicted, not so much. One online critic accused Ryan of being “racially clueless.” Others were even less charitable: “Crayola is officially changing the name of its white crayons to Ryan Selfie."

It’s possible Ryan wanted to convey the message embedded in his selfie. More likely, it never occurred to him how a general audience might react to seeing more than 100 all-white interns in one picture. Under the hashtag #SpeakerSelfie, Ryan tweeted, “I think this sets a record for the most number of #CapitolHill interns in a single selfie.” “And the award for the least diverse selfie in history goes to @SpeakerRyan,” responded Matthew Cherry.

When you are already in the spotlight – or might soon be thrust into that position – it pays to be aware of your surroundings. You can try to excuse the fuss over a single picture, but it is hard to dismiss the more profound story the picture tells.

We lecture young people to exercise caution about what they post on social media. The same admonition applies to older adults. Think before you hit the “post” button. You might know what you want to say, but do your words, images and video convey that or something else?

In the realm of social media, mulligans don't exist. Once you post something, you are stuck with it. So think first. You may post something controversial to provoke sharp reactions. Fine. But don’t post something that boomerangs and express surprise at the response when a happy photo morphs into a hapless shot in your own foot.

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.