Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Looking Towards the Future: Goals in PR

The other day I read this packet written by Tom Gable, who is one of the most prominent figures in the PR realm (CEO of the Gable Group and Chairman of Public Relations Society of America), that was distributed at a national public relations workshop put on by the PRSA and attended by thousands of PR professionals. The packet was entitled “Five Major PR Issues for the Next Decade,” and outlined just that.

Surprisingly, the problems did not revolve around the horrible economy and issues such as consolidation, mergers, globalization, etc. The problems focused on the core values facing PR professionals in today’s market, which I found to be interesting after writing about crisis management and story spinning in the past few weeks.

The best thing is that the document was written in 2002, and I thought that now, it being 2008 and more than halfway through the decade he was writing about, it would be fun to look at the problems and make sort of a very informal and unknowledgeable progress report, if you will.

PROBLEM 1: COMMUNICATION. Communication with the media is at an all time low with local news holes shrinking, and publications slowly disappearing as many turn to the web for their information. As a result, PR professionals need to change and reinvent the way that we package and pitch our ideas – we are now catering to a different style of publication and towards crowds that think differently. Communication is quite obviously the key to being in the world of public relations, and the way we communicate with each other, our clients, our media outlets, and the public must be constantly re-examined and re-defined.
GRADE: B+. Many companies have moved towards hiring internet or web technology experts to have on staff and help to develop plans and pitches for online media. Website such as Brandweek and PR Newswire help us all to get our press releases out into the public and share opinions on how to better our internet communication. I personally feel that PR agencies and consultants better understand the importance of the internet and the necessity to cultivate plans specifically for online media than six years ago in 2002.

PROBLEM 2: COMPETITION WITH OTHER CONSULTANTS. Gable describes how lawyers, accountants, and management consultants are out for PR business. Many of these professionals demean and trivialize public relations as a field, saying that we are only good at media relations and event planning. However, we are much more than that: we are positioning, brand building, crisis management planning, long term marketing, and managing reputations. We will not let them take our business and ignore our growing importance that transcends over so many markets.
GRADE: C. I think that this is still a major challenge for people in the public relations field. PR as a field does not get the credit it deserves for all of the strategizing and building of brands that it does, nor the extensive crisis management work involved. Even in just doing internships, I have found people treating me like I am interested in working in a “fluff” industry when in reality we do very concrete things critical to every client’s reputation. I think that continuing in this decade, PR professionals must become more business saavy and focusing on bringing attention to their firms about the things we do for our clients that aren’t just media relations or planning a party.

PROBLEM 3: CREDIBILITY. This is a huge one, and one I have discussed previously in my blog. Gable states: “Are we the profession of spin, or the profession of strategic communications and reputations management?” Public relations professionals are put in ethical dilemmas constantly, and as a result must heavily focus on their standards of business. We need to make sure that we are the forefront of truth and integrity so that we can continue to gain credibility not only as PR individuals or firms/agencies, but more importantly to gain credibility as an industry (relating back to problem #2). Right now PR still competes with those I mentioned above plus the advertising industry to have the responsibility to launch brands and build images – we need our credibility to be steadfast to continue to run this race.
GRADE: A-. I believe that the PR industry is doing a lot to improve their credibility and standards. In the past five years there has been an increase in situations where the philosophy is to tell the truth, get it out there, and then deal with the consequences. One of the reasons for this is our improvement and development of crisis management as a serious and legitimate function of a public relations firm or agency. Maybe an A- is just wishful thinking, but I absolutely think the industry is moving in the correct direction here.

PROBLEM 4: DEFINING PR. Gable here explores the questions of how do agencies demonstrate their relevance to potential clients? How do we explain our importance and legitimacy? Most importantly, how do we measure the impact of our work to report it? PR professionals are working hard to create a true definition for public relations for potential clients, but it is difficult when we market values not products.
GRADE: B. From my amateur point of view, I think that businesses across the nation are recognizing their increasing need for help from public relations. Multiple industries from healthcare to tourism to technology now count on the help of public relations to launch new products or produce a positive image in the public. I think that public relations is becoming much more legitimized in the business area and we are moving in the right direction.

PROBLEM 5: STAFFING. Many workers in the public relations field feel that not enough is done in recruiting for PR, and that not enough action is taken to promote the positive nature of the business and make it attractive to college students and young adults. There is always the fear that the industry can’t recruit the types of people it needs to continue on the upward slope.
GRADE: N/A. I can’t really answer this one because I have no idea what it is like to staff a company, but I will say that they can hire me in a year, so don’t worry :)

Overall, this was a really fun and interesting way to take a look at some of the pressures and issues facing public relations as a field. If you would like to read the document by Gable, click here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Matt Leinart: You Humiliate Me.

Matt Leinart learned a very good lesson about bad PR last week when several scandalous pictures surfaced on the internet of him partying at his Phoenix residence with several Arizona State University females (who were NOT of drinking age). One picture even displayed Leinart holding a beer bong for one of the underage girls as she greedily (cough, trashily) slurped up alcohol on her knees. Others showed Leinart surrounded by the giddy, intoxicated girls in his hot tub.

Appropriate Matt. Really fucking appropriate.

You idiot.

After the pictures were initially released on a college gossip site,, the media caught wind and the pictures wound up in the hands of media giants and Obviously, word spread to even larger media outlets such as Fox Sports and, and Leinart was instantly roasted by journalists, television commentators, bloggers, and fans.

Leinart, who has had a generally well-liked and well-mannered relationship with the public, really destroyed his good-boy image with this incident. Journalists and other media sources, in conflict with the opinion of the public (round of applause for the USC PR team for keeping his true image at bay), have often reported Leinart difficult to work with and, well, an asshole. Now the public have a reason to agree.

A very select few sports commentators, namely ESPN Pardon the Interruption’s Michael Wilbon, have taken the opposing point of view, declaring Leinart’s actions the actions of a “normal college boy,” or the actions of the “all American quarterback enjoying his benefits.”

Um, pardon THIS interruption. NO!

Leinart, you are NOT in college anymore. These “frat boy” antics are TOTALLY repulsive and completely irresponsible. I don’t feel bad for you crying that you can’t just live a normal life and have underage chicks drinking in your hot tub! News flash: you don’t have a normal life! Part of being an athlete, and in turn an entertainment celebrity, is understanding that while you reap incredible benefits, you also make several sacrifices. When you play on a team, you represent that organization. When you signed your contract, you signed a document bonding you to other members of that team and that organization, and accepted the fact that now when you are in the public eye, it is your responsibility to make your behavior an accurate reflection of that organization.

GROW UP LEINART. Not only did you just totally destroy your credibility as a professional athlete (because you know, everyone wants to trade and pay money for the frat boy gone wrong from Southern California), you alienated your fan base (have fun with your endorsement deals, maybe Coors Light has a spot available), pissed off your coach, and made the Arizona Cardinals look completely stupid and incapable of controlling the behavior of their players. And then had the nerve to cry about it. Do you know how many little boys wear your jersey around?? Do you think they should have to look at you feeding a beer bong to a chick?? Should the sweet old 85 year old USC alumni who plan their year around USC football games have to have their pride in their school destroyed by your childish antics? You should be embarrassed of yourself.

Outside of ranting about Leinart’s incapability to join the rest of the adult world, there is something good to point out in this situation. Building off of my last post when I explored the concept and ethical ties of crisis management, this is the perfect example of a crisis management situation handled flawlessly.
Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt (clearly following the orders of the public relations team) released a statement shortly after the pictures surfaced that said he was “disappointed” in the quarterback, and “reiterated to him [Leinart] the type of behavior we expect at all times from our players.” Whisenhunt continued on to say: “He understands those expectations as well as the level of scrutiny that he’s under because of who he is. It’s being handled internally.” You can read other comments by Coach Whisenhunt here.

This statement was PERFECTION. It completely embodies spinning the story to make the player apologetic and in a nearly positive light, while not telling any lies. Not only does the statement begin with the fact that the organization is upset with his behavior, which protects the image of the Cardinals, but it goes on to show that Leinart has been reprimanded and any other repercussions will be handled behind closed doors. It also shows Leinart to be apologetic, sincere, and understanding of the situation (whether he actually is or not). It gives the media just enough information to dispel rumors, leave little room for questions, and show strength and unity in the organization, while not airing out the Cardinals’ or Leinhart’s dirty laundry in a way that could damage the image of either.

A job well done, a crisis well managed – the press got over it after about a week and are now onto the next thing. Had there been no press release or one that was too vague, the media would still be eating this up with a spoon.

Now maybe Matt will think twice about raging girls that still use fake ID’s. If not, there’s always us PR people to clean up his messes.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spinning Stories in PR: Unethical or Necessary??

“Spin” is a term used in public relations to describe purposely portraying events or actions heavily in your or your client’s favor. For example, if the Lakers lost a big game, their PR director might pitch a few pieces on what this has done for their motivation or camaraderie, in effect “spinning” the bad events favorably in the media for the organization.

A “spin doctor” is a term used, mostly in the UK, to describe a professional who has essentially become an expert or a specialist in the art of spinning situations. This is generally not a favorable term; it is generally thought of to be the same thing as calling a journalist a “hack.”

Spinning events or stories is often seen as unethical. Many feel that it is the job of PR professionals to report the whole truth to the public. I would argue that it is not the job of PR professionals, but the job of the journalists and the media to report such truth. It would be completely out of the question to ask public relations professionals to not spin stories in favor of their clients, firms, teams, or political candidates. We are supposed to be biased! We would be doing our clients a disservice if we were not biased towards them! Moreover, our job description is not to accurately provide information to the public – it is our first responsibility to protect our clients.

A huge part of a PR professional’s job is something called “crisis management.” This means that if something unfavorable happens to your client, it is your job to figure out how to fix it. This could be applied to a range of things: on a broad scale, if Dell is getting absolutely killed by HP and their sales are slipping, they would hire a crisis management team to pitch a new PR campaign to improve their brand in the public eye and bring back up their revenue and reputation. On a smaller scale, in the jobs of publicists or in house PR teams, everyday can be a crisis management situation; maybe your star player says a racist comment in the media, or your politician inadvertently insults the culture they are currently visiting. It is now essentially your job to clean up the mess.

How do you begin? Well, one way, and usually the first way, to start is to brainstorm ways to spin the event so that it either puts your client in a positive light, an ignorant/made a mistake light, or at the very least an “even ground” light. This obviously often involves bending the truth.

This is a bold statement, but the in the field of public relations, bending the truth is a professional necessity. Every single day in PR you are faced with an ethical dilemma about how much truth to tell the public. And honestly, some days the answer to that question is not very much truth. And I don’t believe that is wrong. It is our job to keep our client’s positive image in the public – we can’t just sit by and watch that go down the drain without doing damage control – which sometimes means telling lies or lying by omission to cover up what happened.

I’m not advocating completely lying to the media in every bad situation – this can be just as damaging. The media is smart – lots of times, if you make up a lie, they are going to be able to tell, or at least tell that something deeper is going on. Also, in a world of connections and leaks, often the media already knows the truth; and if you are caught lying, get ready for a whole additional crisis management board brainstorming session, because you are about to get skewered. If you chose to lie to the media following a situation or event, you put not only your professional credibility at risk, but also the credibility of your firm, client or organization.
In fact, a recent public relations issue has been brought to my attention by fellow bloggers Privileged Indifference, Politiosauras Rex, and Of Ignorance in their discussion about the new cover of Vogue featuring African-American NBA superstar LeBron James and Brazilian supermodel Giselle. While some point to Vogue as being criticized for depicting their cover as "racist," others wonder if Vogue planted the controversy themselves, with the "no press is bad press" mentality. This is a perfect crisis management situation - the Vogue PR team must now decide how they want to spin the story to the public. They have already milked plenty of attention, negative and positive, which did allow them to accomplish their goal: selling magazines. However, now they are faced with the task of reestablishing their bond with their readers and fixing those who they may have alienated. It will be interesting to see what they come up with!

I personally believe that the key to maintaining your ethics while balancing your job of protecting and promoting your client lies both within experience in the field and finding a moral balance inside yourself. Experience is nature’s best teacher. If you don’t spin something one time and it toasts your client’s reputation, you will probably work harder next time to find alternatives. If you tell a blatant lie to the media and get called out, you’ll probably answer “no comment” next time.

It is always OK to answer “no comment” to the media, or, even better, use phrases such as “we are still investigating this matter internally,” or “we are discussing/solving this matter internally.” You don’t owe the media answers, but at the same time, you better give them some or they will make them up and roast you in the papers no matter what. Do you have a little bit more respect now as to what we go through day to day?

All in all, before going into public relations, you have to know your personal ethical limits, and be ready to have those limits pushed, tested, strengthened, and molded. You have to go into that industry understanding that each day you will be tested with dilemmas: the media v. your bosses, the organization v. the fans, etc. PR people work a lot harder to provide the media with ethically correct information that also benefits their clients than they get credit for.

Next time you read a news/entertainment/sports story, I would encourage you to read about the same event from a different media outlet – it is especially beneficial to try to find a media source v. the statement from the PR team. Try to pick out the differences between the stories and see how the PR teams attempt to put positive spins on sticky situations – you might be surprised as to what you find!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Product Placement: Nothing is Coincidence!

Have you ever noticed that Carrie from Sex and the City always dreamily writes her next journalist masterpiece from an Apple laptop?

Why Jack Bauer ALWAYS seem to leap into a Ford to save the world?

Does Dr. McDreamy ever drink anything besides Diet Coke?
Waaaaiiiitttt…does Shaq REALLY only have Muscle Milk and Vitamin Water in his fridge like we saw on Cribs?

As you may have guessed – these instances are no coincidence. They are perfect examples of a PR and marketing/advertising tool called product placement. Product placement describes a method in which branded goods or services (Apple laptops, Vitamin water, Gucci handbags) are placed in the public eye, generally in TV shows or motion pictures and recently also computer and video games, as a result of an economic exchange. Product placement occurs when the specific brand’s product or logo appears in a shot, or is mentioned by a character. The tricky thing, and effective thing, about product placement is that this process is obviously done without disclosure and is made (or attempted to made) to seem like a natural part of the scene or setting.

Basically, some big shot at Chanel calls up another big shot producer of Cashmere Mafia and says “We will pay you x amount to have Caitlin say ‘I LOVE my Chanel bag, you have to get one.” Then the terms would be negotiated, such as how many times the product would have to be mentioned or flashed on the screen in exchange for however much money is deemed appropriate.

When products are incorporated into the actual plot of a motion picture or a TV show, it is called brand integration. You better believe that costs the big bucks. For example, during one episode of Sex and the City, one of the main girls worked on an ad campaign for Absolut Vodka.

Earlier in this blog, I described how a comm professor of mine once likened the effects of the media on the average person to a fish in water: the images slide over to us and sink into us, without us really noticing. Product placement is a huge example of this – try watching your favorite TV show or movie, and see how many times you notice product placement.

Nothing is a coincidence!

Everything is paid for. Every beer your favorite bro orders, every cute top your favorite heroine buys, the speedy car your action hero chooses are all predetermined. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton CONSTANTLY criticizes Lindsey Lohan for suspiciously always happening to carry around Activa, a stop-smoking aid. (Yep, also not a coincidence.)
Fellow Blogger Politiosauras Rex even pointed out the public likening of 2008 Presidential Candidate Barack Obama to a Mac computer in an article in the NY Times, showing perhaps an innocent beneficiary in Apple.

Product placement has found controversy over the years, especially with activist group Commercial Alert, whose motto is “Protecting communities from commercialism.” (Yeah, right.) Commercial Alert released a press release stating that they believe product placement is an “affront to basic honesty” because they are inherently deceptive to the average American. Commercial Alert has placed special emphasis on protecting children’s shows such as Hannah Montana and Mackenzie Blue, because they strongly advocate that children are more suseptible to the effects of product placement.

Really though?

Fighting product placement is a lost cause. Not only is it an absolute PR and marketing necessity in order to develop an established brand, it is also a big moneymaker for both parties involved. I really don’t see Jack Daniels taking the stance that they will stop being the drink of choice for the AMC show “Mad Men” because it “isn’t fair” to some ambiguous group of Americans.

What do you think?

Does product placement make you disgusted with the “Americanism” that flows through our media?

Or does it not bother you when you go to the grocery store that you probably chose Corona over Budwieser because you saw the characters on Heroes drinking it?

It’s alllll One. Big. Game.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Damn Shame You Can't Impeach an Owner

Let’s not sugarcoat it. James Dolan became owner of the Knicks because of his father, cable TV pioneer Charles Dolan’s fortune. Totally unqualified, unreasonable, tempestuous, moody and saddled with a past full of drug and alcohol abuse, Dolan paints no better picture than a spoiled kid who one day got tossed the keys to the most prized property in US sports.

In the world of sports PR, the chief concern of a PR professional is to maintain good relationships with the media. The point of creating lasting relationships with media members is to get them to write positive pieces about your team which will build you a positive, fan-friendly reputation.

PR 101.

James Dolan must have been hung over that day.

Think of the worst possible way to handle your PR. Now place that scenario in one of the most active journalist cities in the nation. You have now entered the nightmare of James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden media policy, known on the “inside” as “Tell Those Bastards Nothing,” bastards being the media, of course.

Dolan implemented the new media policy in 2001 – coincidentally, or…not, the Knicks’ last winning season. Dolan’s new institutional paranoia-fueled policy requires a PR staff member to take notes on every conversation that occurs between a player or coach and a member of the media, compile these notes into an email, and email the notes up the chain of command. Player and coach interviews are only done collectively and supervised by a PR professional. Essentially, the players and coaches are not allowed to speak with the media unless a PR representative is present at all times, which is unheard of in the sports world. Phone taps not out of the question.

Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post put it best during one Knicks game earlier this season:
“We have three people here tonight. “That’s 16 inches of copy and 16 inches of free space for the Knicks to sell their product, for better or for worse. To make those three stories as difficult as possible to write seems counterproductive to me.”

The Knicks treat the media “like shit” as an article in the New York Observer entitled “Life in Knicks Hell” put it. The beat writers, almost 16 total in New York versus 1 or 2 in most cities, moan and groan with tales of systematic repression – no access to the players, eavesdropping PR reps slithering in the shadows, lack of resources for game time, a media lounge with no couches or food.

Frank Isola is the beat writer for the Daily News and authors a blog entitled Knicks Knation. Isola claims that due to his harsh coverage of the Knicks he has been excluded from the media mailing list (press releases, game time, media appointments, etc.), had his phone calls and emails purposely ignored, and even believes Dolan has hired a security guard to follow him around MSG at all times. Excuse Isola for calling you out on being the worst owner of all time (Dolan was indeed elected Anti-Sportsman of the Year by the Daily News). Which you are. Every public relations professional knows that one of the main expectations in dealing with the media is that they are not there to be your cheerleader – they are there to report objectively what they see to the public.

James Dolan has forced the Knick organization to view the media as the enemy. And guess what Dolan? If you view the media as the enemy, you’re probably NOT GOING TO GET VERY GOOD PRESS. In fact, Sports Illustrated profiled Dolan’s personality last year – and the resulting article was pretty much about as anti-good press as you can get.

Dolan has taken this marquee franchise and in a matter of about ten years completely stripped the organization of any dignity whatsoever, in both the eyes of the media and the eyes of the public.

Being a PR representative often leaves you with the short end of the stick. Any credit goes to someone else. Anything goes wrong, you’re to blame. You are the slave to upper management. The public often thinks that the PR Director for sports teams is the ultimate authority, which is far from the truth. In reality, the PR representative is often forced to act like more of a mouthpiece for the management than he or she would care to – but that is part of the job description.

For example, Sports Illustrated writer Chris Mannix declares the VP of public relations for the Knicks, Jon Supranowitz is widely recognized to be a friendly helpful guy, as well as Nick Brown, the media relations director. Unfortunately, as Mannix affirms, these two talented PR experts do not have the final say, and therefore are slave to the regime of Dolan’s temper tantrums.

How are the PR employees supposed to promote the Knicks brand? What approach do you even take as a PR representative for the Knicks in attempting to pitch a story? Or plan a public interest event? Dolan has basically undermined every function of a PR employee, leaving them to be nothing more than his minions trying to protect the Knicks from the evil media.

Dolan is a fucking dictator, in every sense of the word, and his gross violation of every concept sacred to the PR world has gotten him exactly what he deserves: everyone hating his and his organization’s guts.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Obama : Youth :: Crack : Addict

He has notorious celebrity blogger Perez Hilton constantly “creaming his manties.” His Facebook support groups outnumber the population in Russia. Usher gives him free concert tickets, just hoping that he’ll show up. His college groupies follow him around state to state.

No, it’s not Kobe Bryant.

It’s the man himself – Barack Obama, 2008 Presidential candidate and certified charmer. OK, that may be taking things a bit far. But seriously, Obama has tapped into an unparalleled youth support for his campaign. He’s struck gold. Young, impressionable, 18-25 year old gold.

As everyone oohs and ahhs about youth involvement in this election, people fail to understand that it’s not the politics our youth is so energized about – it’s Obama. Obama swiftly captured the heart and soul of America’s youth with his scintillating, yet extremely vague and empty of content, proclamation of change and progression, as proven in his overwhelming youth vote support in the state caucuses, most notably Iowa, and most recently Missouri .

Obama’s PR team has now elevated the concept of political branding to a new level. Gone are the days when candidates were forced to be tied to ideologies, numbers, and sets of policies. This just in: HOT – appealing to the raw emotion of voters with your personality. NOT – focusing on the “boring” stuff – aka - the actual politics behind your message of change.

In fact, I can confidently say that Obama’s PR team took a deep breath and gave traditional campaign techniques the nice big middle finger. Until now, nobody has been willing to give into what really sells to the youth: sex. excitement. change. charisma. fun. Obama’s camp is the first to get out there and just admit “Yep, that’s right. I’m not going to bore you to death with the details of my healthcare plans or my environmental views. I’m going to make you love me, and we can discuss the details at a later date.”

What other age group is going to go crazy over that then the Hollywood obsessed, party going, active and innovative, just entering the “real” world 18-25yr olds? We just moved out! We want to form opinions! We want to be part of groups! We want to be in with the “in crowd!” Suddenly the “cool” thing to do is be part of the campaign, and we all want in.

The 18-25yr old age group, the most diverse and the most tolerant generation in history, came of age in a politically disillusioned time period. We lived through the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Our first election we really understood was the unforgivable nightmare of 2000. Our major political events were 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. We haven’t believed in change. We’ve consistently lost hope in the American dream exponentially with each word Bush can’t pronounce.

Until, that is, our superhero of a presidential candidate breaks through the brick wall, booming and brimming with this “message.” This “message,” so invigorating, so inspiring, so trustworthy, with very little content behind it at all, has pushed our disillusioned generation to again believe that we have a shot at changing the world, like in the good old days.

Obama’s cool. He’s fresh. He’s somebody the boys want to go kick it with at the bar down the street. He’s the guy all the chicks think has that George Clooney “old guy” sex appeal.

Is it embarrassing when you call him out like that? Is it embarrassing to be the “sexy” candidate – the “young” candidate relying on your image and charm and not on the actual practice of bringing about this change? Sure, it’s not the most political thing ever. And sure, it sort of undermines our whole political realm, for the first time combining it with a mild Hollywood air. But luckily, it’s not a completely vapid crap shoot, not all the “kids” are out there tossing their bras at Obama – they have really stepped it up and shown their organization and skills like never before in an election.

Campuses all over the nation have thrown themselves into activism, creating rallies and informational sessions that kids aren’t just coming to for the free pizza. Interactive, social networking websites started by young Obama fans such as, and the Facebook organizations that have reached an unparalleled growth are all inspiring college students and young adults to join in the movement. For the first time in our generation, we have a movement to be a part of!

Obama has made America’s young adults feel like he created the coolest fraternity in the country…and we’re all allowed to join (without any nasty hazing pranks).

Truthfully, the youth vote probably won’t be the deciding push to get Obama to the top. But Obama needs all the youth support and grassroots organization he can get – the prize is not in the actual votes of the youth, but the development to his charismatic brand. Eventually that hysterical excitement will push its way up into the age groups, maturing its way where it needs to, each age group bridging the way to the next. Obama needs to continue to campaign “young”, but organize “old,” with the ultimate objective being the older voters.

It’s all part of his master plan (or his brilliant PR director’s, I suppose).

The message and the details will come. But for once, a candidate has put his BRAND first.

And it’s working.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Oxycontin Killed My Friend

Don't do drugs. Don't drink too much. Don't allow yourself to slip into addictive habits. Don't let yourself get into peer pressure situations. Don't give into the college partying atmosphere. We trust you. We know we raised you right.

And then off you go, to college, no rules, no restrictions, no parents. And all they can do is hope for the best.

All of us have heard this advice, some starting from elementary or high school, and nearly all of us when entering college (and sure to be continued forever). How many times have we brushed off the "drugs and alcohol" and the "peer pressure" talks? How many times have you rolled your eyes when your mom explains that drugs ruin your life? How many DARE week assemblies did you skip out on in high school to hit the beach instead?

It just has to happen to you, someone you know, someone you used to know, and then you'll get it.

One of my close friends from high school, Kurt Allen Baker tragically died of an accidental drug overdose in San Diego at his fraternity house early last Sunday morning. Went to a party, got super wasted, and did some Oxycontin with his friends just to top off the night. Topped off the night all right. When his frat bros went into his room the next morning he was surrounded in black blood and vomit. They tried to resuscitate him, and he was transported to the nearby hospital, but died. From a combo of Oxycontin and vodka.

He literally partied to death.

Kurt's death hit us hard and fast. Shocked and dismayed. Confused and angry. Helpless and devastated. Just wondering what happened to the quiet but fun, good looking, girl catching, basketball playing, country loving kid that used to play basketball with me on Sundays and fight with me over the Kings and the Lakers.

His death has really got me thinking about drugs. I personally have truly never done a drug, mostly because I majorly feared my parents in high school, so it's really hard for me to understand why someone would want to alter their body in that way. So I decided to do some research on addictive habits, oxycontin, etc. I want to tell people about oxycontin so that they can share this information with other people, because apparently it is becoming a more and more common street drug, and I don't want anyone to go through what Kurt's family and friends are going through right now, much less what Kurt went through.

Oxycontin is a prescription pain reliever used to treat moderate to severe pain when around-the-clock analgesic is needed for an extended period of time. Abusers use it by taking off the coating that causes it to be time released which give them a sense of euphoria that is apparently similar to that of heroin (only you don't have to shoot it into your veins). When abused, oxycontin is proven to be highly addictive, increases drug tolerance (meaning you need more each time to result in the same effect on your body), and also has terrible withdrawal symptoms, probably discouraging a lot of kids to quit.

The statistics I found were absolutely shocking to me (since I don’t do drugs, I didn’t realize just how popular Oxycontin was becoming). The National Household Survey of Drug Abuse reported that over 1 million US residents over the age of 12 used Oxycontin for a non-medical purpose more than one time per year. The worst thing to read about was how Oxycontin is affecting the high school population. An article on reported that approximately 1 in every 12 US high school seniors now acknowledge at least having tried Oxycontin. In its annual survey of teen drug use, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that Oxycontin use by high school seniors is up 40 percent nationwide in just three years. Five times as many seniors report using Oxycontin than report using meth. The most telling thing I read was that prescription drugs are the second most used drugs among teens behind weed.

The prescription drug epidemic happening in America has got to be put to a stop. Prescription drugs, especially Oxycontin, are expensive on the street, and high school and college kids are using them as a “status symbol.” Although I have read a few different things on street prices, reports that Oxycontin is $80-$100 PER PILL. Stories of kids stealing from their parents and selling their possessions were rampant on the addiction website that I looked at, and the stories about the rich kids whose parents wrote them blank checks without question were more horrifying. The article I read quoted a teenager who switched from a public to a private school halfway through high school and noticeably saw the change in drug abuse: “ ‘All the popular kids -- that was the cool thing to do,’ Mike says. ‘It seemed like it was cool because it was so expensive, this big rich drug. And a lot of rich kids were doing it because the poor kids couldn't afford it.’ ”

With this prescription drug phenom on the rise around our age group, I just beg you guys that if you abuse prescription drugs or have friends that do to stop. I know you don’t want to hear it from me, you don’t want to be preached to, whatever your reason is…but it will kill you. It killed Kurt. It’s not a joke, and it’s not a game. It truly ruins lives. Just ask my ex boyfriend and best friend of Kurt, or Kurt’s little brother, or dad. Save yourself. Don’t be next. Don’t make your family and friends bury you.

Stop. Help somebody stop.

Read more about Kurt: - 40k

Read more about Oxycontin, its affects and abuse:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Richard Posner - You're Joking.

Richard Posner needs his head checked.

Posner, an acclaimed legal theorist, published a book entitled Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. Throughout this piece of work, Posner draws heavily upon empirical research and findings according to the exposure of different public individuals. In Stephan Mack’s essay “The Decline of Public Intellectuals?” he describes the particular review of Posner’s book by William Dean, who raises the appalling fact that Posner’s methodology of ridding the system of the defects is essentially attempting to exclude the arts and humanities – public intellectuals who discuss public philosophies and attitudes from the realm of public intellectuals.

HOW can you even consider excluding those who are experts in those disciplines and pour their knowledge and passion into those topics from being public intellectuals? Sure, maybe when you are discussing philosophy, ethics, or religion there isn’t very much empirical evidence, and your arguments will often not be rooted in fact, but rather in theory and belief. Guess what?

THAT’S OK. There’s no need to get all hysterical if you don’t have your precious spreadsheet to back up every sentence that comes out of your mouth. I can’t stand people that are so rooted in needing factual evidence for everything that they undermine the importance, complexity, and difficulty of discussing and engaging in the humanities. I completely disagree with those who believe that theories and topics of discussion not empirically or factually determined (as in religion, culture, etc) have less importance to the public than disciplines such as science.

Actually, I would argue quite the opposite. While I will admit that political disciplines have great public influence and also can be empirically based, I believe that the disciplines such as philosophy actually have MORE influence over the public than the research based disciplines such as science and medicine. I would argue that the average American citizen is much more willing to read and engage in topics such as ethics and culture over reading extensive research about skin cancer cells or Siamese twins.

What would this world be like today without philosophical theorists? What would our society have for a framework without people to debate and guide us through moral and ethical issues? Perhaps on a more trivial level but still important, what would American culture, and the “American experience” be like without the credibility of those who research and present on art, dance, and theater?

Our arts and humanities theorists make up a massive and critical part of American ideology – they expose the American public to issues that matter in their everyday lives. Our society and culture would be empty without these scholars, and they absolutely deserve every bit of the title of a public intellectual. The have developed our society and continually step outside the box to push us to the next level, and have been doing it for years – to think that we would shun them from any sort of respectable title is grossly appalling to me.

The Elusive Public Intellectual - Nailing Down a Framework of Understanding

The term “public intellectual” is met with controversy, scrutiny, admiration, and confusion, depending on who you are talking to. “Public intellectual” has been defined differently by numerous scholars (perhaps public intellectuals themselves?), yet the people of America still wait in darkness for a clean-cut version of who the heck this ambiguous public intellectual could be. No real guidelines exist for who could be a public intellectual, leaving people, myself included, confused and alone on how to determine one when we see one, or how to measure their influence over public opinion. The public intellectual realm is vast and intriguing, but before we can delve in on some of the issues that make public intellectuals tick, we need to find out WHO they are and WHAT exactly it is they do. Sound good?

Remember when we all started reading and you came to a reallllly hard compound word, and you didn’t know what it meant? Like hotdog, or grandfather. What did you do to better understand this word? You broke it down into pieces. Let’s apply this elementary technique to tackle something that is just as confusing as those damn compound words in kindergarten, although this is more of a compound term, I suppose.

First word. Public. What does public mean in this context? How far do you have to go into the public realm to be considered a public intellectual versus just an academic intellectual? Does the public have to receive you well in order to be considered a public intellectual? Is there an empirical way of determining the breadth of a person’s knowledge? Does a person have to get published a certain number of times before being considered a public intellectual?

Second word. Intellectual. Are certain disciplines considered more intellectual than others? Should arts and humanities be excluded from the public intellectual realm as cynic and empirically obsessed Richard Posner suggests? What sorts of issues and different realms need to be discussed, and what level of expertise must you obtain to be considered intellectual?

Tackling these questions is both challenging and thought provoking. And totally arbitrary, which is why it’s so hard in the first place.

One thing I would like to take a minute to examine, while we are on the topic of the extreme arbitrary nature in defining the makeup of a public intellectual, is the influence of your personality in determining your own definition of public intellectual. I personally am an extremely emotional and subjective person. I do PR. This is how I act, and how I deal with situations. My father, a lawyer and real estate mogul, is extremely objective and has about five emotional gestures on record since 1998. That is how he deals with situations and views the world. I define public intellectual very broadly, with few guidelines and little need for empirical and concrete support. Objective minded people like my father, those who just neeeed a definition, see things more narrowly, often citing empirical evidence and imposing exact guidelines. Personality heavily influences who you see as a public intellectual. Now I’m not just talking about how you might agree or disagree with specific people being labeled public intellectuals – that does obviously have to do with personality, but more with personal opinion. I’m talking about the way in which you think - without thinking about it. When discussing who should be public intellectuals, my mind instantly floats to the fact that some people get left out and maybe that’s not fair, because I am emotional and subjective. My father might instantly cross somebody off if their published work has not sold more than x number of copies. Your personality causes you to make decisions that are ingrained in your daily behavior. Leave it to me, the PR obsessed chick, to start talking about how your personality traits shape definitions. Human behavior is such a complex, amazing thing to examine. Often the people who think they know most, are so close minded that they truly know the least. Richard Posner is somebody who I would say is the quintessential empirically obsessed, objective person I described my father as, and is a perfect example of that, and we will later discuss his desire to exclude arts and humanities, one of the most respectable and complicated disciplines out there, from the public intellectual realm. Idiot.

In researching the public intellectual, I came across an essay by Alan Lightman which I found to be extremely helpful and innovative in defining the public intellectual. Lightman, after making his definition, describes three different levels of being a public intellectual. Level I includes those public intellectuals that speak and write for the public only about thier discipline of expertise, usually writing clear and simplified explanations of specific topics, for example, stem cell research. Level II expands into those who speak and write about their discipline and then connect it to how the discipline relates to the surrounding social, political, and cultural realms. Level III, the most exclusive level, is “by invitation only,” and describes the intellectual who has become elevated to a “symbol.” This intellectual can be asked to both write and speak about a wide variety of public issues which may or may not be connected to their original area of expertise. For example, Einstein’s original discipline was clearly science, but after he gained fame, he spoke about religion, ethics, and philosophy as well.

What I would like to do here to develop my solid definition of a public intellectual, is take Lightman’s framework about perhaps the more “intellectual” side of the term, and combine it with a corresponding level framework on the “public” side of the term. Let me clarify. With this framework, a Level I public intellectual would need the least amount of public recognition and support – so perhaps they only have a widely read blog, or have only published a few interesting articles. A Level II public intellectual would need to step up their publishing action not only numerically, but also begin to publish across many different media facets (newspaper, magazine, book, internet) in order to reach across many different audiences. Lastly, a Level III public intellectual would need not only an extremely high number of well read, published works, but also a widely spread and diverse writing style that could transcend from book writing to blog writing. A Level III public intellectual would need a complete “fan following,” and would have to be well known to even the most average individual.

Of course, that second part of the framework is completely my own innovation, so lots of work would have to be done to specify the amount of published works and public following necessary for each level. Perhaps this would be a way to appease those obsessed with factual and empirical evidence and combine that sort of theory while also attempting to keep the definition fairly broad.

Another thing I quickly want to touch upon with the potential framework I just laid out is the fact that it allows mobility between the different levels of public intellectual, but I do think that it would be hard to move up in the different levels. For example, if I don’t really require Level I intellectuals to have too many popular published works or a public following, how would they ever reach Level II? Could people jump straight to the second or third levels or would it always be a gradual process?

Another key component of my personal definition of public intellectual and something I think is important to the framework I have laid out is the issue of role and responsibility of the public intellectual. In my “level framework,” I definitely think that the role, influence, and responsibility grows as an intellectual moves up the ladder. Lightman at one point discusses the intense responsibility of being a Level III intellectual – he explores the immense amount of responsibility to offer expertise on things that are not the original area of expertise, and describes how these elite individuals must be extremely self aware of their own prejudices and biases in certain issues. This level of self-examination is hard to achieve and is one of the defining factors in determining the uppermost echelon of public intellectuals.

What is the role and responsibility of a public intellectual? I, often admittedly looking through rose colored glasses, still believe that citizen participation is the key feature of American democracy, therefore I truly believe in the role, responsibility, and influence of the public individual, especially of the independent public intellectual. Stephan Mack, in an essay entitled “The Decline of Public Intellectuals,” said “Trained to it or not, all participants in self-government are duty-bound to prod, poke, and pester the powerful institutions that would shape their lives.” I could NOT agree more. Public intellectuals take this duty and push it to the next level, and I think they set a great example for other American citizens. I love the concept and idea, ambiguous as it is, of public intellectuals stirring up innovative ideas and helping communicate complicated concepts to the average American. It essentially helps to preserve some of the key ideals presented by our founding fathers.

Well, we just took quite a journey didn’t we? We asked ourselves some key and thought provoking questions about the definition of a public intellectual to get our wheels turning, and then explored how the arbitrary nature of defining the public intellectual often ties in closely with a person’s personality. Alan Lightman lent to us his Level I-III framework, allowing us to view public intellectuals in a less cut-and-dry definition way, and instead see public intellectuals more in a concentric circles, encompassing many different types of people with different levels of public acknowledgement and achievement. We highlighted the importance of a public intellectual in today’s society, and how the role and responsibility of a public intellectual changes as they move up the ladder. Overall, I strongly believe the term public intellectual encompasses many more people than most scholars limit the definition to. Being my usual subjective and emotional self, I believe that lots of different people can be public intellectuals, and while there is need for guidelines and defining characteristics, having difference echelons of public intellectual allows us to hear the testimony of many; because in the end, the public intellectual is somebody that is passionate about their discipline – passionate enough to give part of their life to helping others learn about it – and when a person finds this passion, I find it difficult to give them the finger and say they can’t have the elusive and arbitrary title of “a public intellectual.”

Works Cited
“The Decline of Public Intellectuals” Stephan Mack –
“The Role of the Public Intellectual:” Alan Lightman, MIT Communications
Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, Posner, Richard A., Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2002.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Quick Question

In other news, all my fellow Laker-ites....

Kobe and his torn tendon - are we screwed or what?? At least he put in his two minutes at the All Star Game, I thought that was sweet of him.

Naturally once we land the deal of a lifetime with Gasol, we get totally f-ed over with an injury to Kobes.

D-Fish is the best player, not to mention person, ever.
But so anyways, Kobe and the torn tendon - is he a total idiot for trying to sandwich a surgery in the summer after the Championships and before the Olympics?? Will he realllly still play in the Olympics??

How to Be a Total Nutjob and A Complete Success Simultaneously

Michael Ball, CEO and Creative Director of Rock and Republic, a high end luxury lifestyle fashion label, is a total nutjob. But if he's a nutjob, then I want to be a nutjob too.

Ball is known for his crazy antics (he once had Victoria Beckham, who guest designed a line of denim for R&R, escorted out of a fashion show), ridiculous personality (claims to have four girlfriends at once), and extravagant spending (R&R has a ridiculous budget). In the media, you either love him, or you hate him. But whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit that he is a stud. His vision is unlike any other in the fashion business right now.

Rock and Republic turns a major profit after being alive for only five short years. Other luxe denim companies that rival R&R such as Seven, or Citizens of Humanity, have several years on Rock and Republic. Ball was able to put together a team of amazing, young, innovative PR professionals to launch the brand, and they have found billions of dollars of success.

However, if you take the time (and it might take awhile) to break down all of Ball's antics and BS behavior, he really has a heart of gold. Ball created a sector of the company entitled "Rock the Cure" where 100% of the profits turned from events in that sector are donated to charity. Ball developed this after realizing what a rip off most celebrity charity events are, usually only donating between 5 and 10% of the profits. Several charities and organizations have awarded Michael for his approach to community service, and he hopes to turn the industry upside down and make giving back the hot new thing. As he likes to say, giving back ROCKS.

Isn't that thought provoking? Ball is thought to be one of the most courageous CEO's to donate so much to charity - most even go so far as to say it's stupid. I think it ROCKS to see somebody who cares enough to try to make a REAL difference rather than just half-ass slap their name on a foundation that doesn't really do any good. What do you think??

Currently Ball's biggest pride and joy outside of his Fall 2008 collection which he just showed in NYC lies with his endorsement of a cycling team, which just embarked on the Tour of California. Follow the team here.

Rock and Republic and its enthusiastic and often minsinterpreted CEO are definitely going to continue to be a top brand, mostly due to Ball's creative and wayyyy outside the box (sometimes a little TOO far outside the box) thinking. Ball is larger than life. Lots to come for this young, sexy company.

"The Most Powerful Man in Washington...that you've Never Heard Of"

Mark Penn. If you live under a rock and don't know the name, you will.

Hillary Clinton made one of the best moves possible for protecting and developing her individual brand with the hire of “Master of the Message” political branding strategist Mark Penn, CEO of public relations firm Burson-Marsteller and past key advisor to huge players Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Bill Gates. Burson-Marsteller is one of, if not the top, PR firm in the nation. Penn, one of the most innovative and interesting personalities in the PR realm, claims his fame on the invention of a concept titled “Microtrends” in which he develops the fact that the most important trends to be examined when developing brand outreach are actually the smallest; in effect, he detects nearly invisible patterns of behavior in American culture that wield a surprisingly and generally unknowingly influence on a political, business, and personal level.

For example, his first identified microtrend was for the Clinton 1996 re-election campaign in which he was able to discover and target the “soccer mom” population. This approach to thinking about problems, wrapping your head around the fact that we should not understand the world today in megatrends but in small currents and discreet demographics that give way to patterns of social change, is extremely hard to do, but rewarding once you can attain that level of understanding. Penn boldly chooses to base his opinions on as much numerical fact and empirical evidence as possible, and that is how he is able to identify the microtrends. Microtrends bring political branding to an entire new, higher, unprecedented level because it finds a way to make that ever important emotional connection with many more people in contrast to campaigning to megatrends (female v. male, old v. young, etc). It is not to say that using megatrends cannon establish the emotional connection – it clearly can and has; it is just to say that examining the microtrends and the corresponding evidence is the most effective way of doing so.

Microtrends sounds wacky at first, and it's really hard to wrap your head around the idea. I have to read every sentence of that book like five times before I can really get at the concepts Penn is talking about. I believe that Penn’s way of brand development will take off in the next few years, but for now, only his select few clients practice it, although they clearly enjoy great success. I am fascinated to see if he can do for Hillary’s campaign what he has done for others and add her onto his extensive success list. He recently published this article touting why Hillary is the chick to beat. He certainly has his work cut out for him. But he is a god damn genius. Keep in mind that everything he writes in the article is something that is HIS idea and HIS doing, not Hillary's. Genius.

Check out an interview with the man himself from ABC Nightline.
He's really kind of a funny guy.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Innovative Technology Fueling 2008 Election; Attracting Youth

In examining the 2008 Presidential Election from a marketing and public relations standpoint, I have always been curious about the most effective marketing tools in the political realm. In 2008, technology is making it easier than ever to not only vote, but gather information and form an opinion. Technology also is helping to reel in the interest of the ever so elusive 18-25 yrs. voting group. released a press release Jan. 24th, describing the official launch of a social networking site called This new and innovative website does not have the intent on guiding you towards choosing a particular candidate – it concentrates on the issues at hand, forcing you to take sides on specific issues facing the candidates rather than “copping out” and just siding with your chosen candidate on every issue. The website, designed to be non-affiliated, gives users the ability to create their own personalized campaign platform and run in a mock presidential elections. Vice President Kim Murdock says of the site: “We came up with the idea because we constantly hear people criticize political candidates. But what would they do if they ran for president?....By designing the site, we’re giving people the opportunity to see if they could win….We’re also giving people a chance to think critically and learn.”, while still in the early stages and no doubt will need to continually evolve, seems like a promising realm especially for young voters who may not know where they stand on the exact issues facing presidential candidates. There is certainly nothing like it thus far on the web, and it will be interesting to see if it takes off or not. Read the press release here.

Speaking of technology engaging the younger voters, this attention grabbing press release also graced on January 31st. The National Youth Political Action Coalition (NYPAC) has announced the launch of the “TxtVoter Campaign.” In this groundbreaking use of technology, Americans have the ability to text the keyword “register” followed by their name and address to 74574, where the campaign gets the message and then mails you a voter registration card. Executive Directior of NYPAC Taylor Brannon stated that he hopes that this is the first step to eventually having the ability to vote through cellular phones.

Maybe it’s just me, and maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think part of the civic duty and even the attraction of voting is going to the polls and casting your vote like a traditional American. I wonder what our founding fathers would say if they saw us texting in our votes…However, in this day and age, to keep up with the times you must evolve – almost nothing which is stagnant succeeds in America.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Effectiveness of Political Branding: You Think You Know, You Have No Idea

“If anyone had any doubt about how we choose the most important political office in the U.S…we do it by the brand rather than the ideas. We choose them as we do diapers or cornflakes. We buy things emotionally.”
--- Richard Levick, president of Levick Strategic Communications
What do you think of when asked to define the word brand? Most would probably immediately think of some form of a label of ownership: a name, a design, or a symbol of sorts. But when asked about the term branding, most fall short of thinking any further than burning a symbol onto a dairy cow named Bess. Branding is indeed a verb, and it has become arguably one of the most important verbs in modern American society. The question is no longer what your brand is, the question is what does it do for you in terms of motivating others - whether it is to buy your product, listen to your album, eat at your restaurant, or vote for you. A brand is essentially an organization or individual’s largest and most profitable asset. When contemplating corporate or consumer realms, the American public does at least an average job of understanding different brand advertisements, target groups, and the goals of the public relations firms that represent corporations and manufacturers, but very few believe or even realize that the same tools and strategies transcend tremendously into the political world. Although many Americans believe themselves impervious to political branding strategies, I strongly hold that political branding is a key, if not the key, mechanism for a successful political campaign, affecting the opinions of Americans in manners which are so effective, the public are generally unaware of them completely. I can prove this assertion of the importance of political branding using the 2008 Presidential Election as the perfect opportunity to explore the different tools, namely the emergence of the internet as a strategic weapon, to conclude what political branding must achieve for a successful presidential campaign: an innovative and solid campaign on a tangible level which results in the establishment of a powerful and automatic association of affirmative ideals and adjectives with a candidate, eventually resulting in a coveted and necessary emotional connection with the voters.
The wondrous, sweeping concept of branding refers to the point when a customer is buying the brand rather than the product. This notion is extremely relevant in today’s world with our Hollywood values and service based economy. A brand takes a product or service and gives it qualities or characteristics that in a sense set it apart from other products – often the brand is associated with a particular image or personality as a marketing tool (Muir). The essence of the word brand tells you a lot about the goal of branding – you want to essentially burn a message into the mind of your target audience whether they are students, consumers, voters, etc. Brand management, the creation of a brand paired with the maintenance and crisis control of a it, is one of the most booming job markets in modern society. Due to the ever increasing amount of media exposure, everyone needs a PR team, a crisis management team, somebody looking out to not only make sure their brand is not tainted, but to also be proactive with their brand to keep the interest and loyalty of the American people. Brands are considered in several contexts and components: the physical, the visual, the psychological, the audible, and most important the attitude perception. For example, when you view an Ipod commercial, you see the logo, you hear the upbeat music, you feel the fun that the person dancing is having, and you then experience an attitude of freedom and fun. The Ipod brand just captured you and almost all of your senses in approximately 45 seconds.

In the political realm, branding applies just as importantly and extensively as in the consumer world, though I argue it is hidden a great deal more. In political branding, instead of attaching a product or service to a brand, you are attempting to attach ideals and promises to an individual brand which can be considerably more difficult. Instead of creating a glitter eye shadow line to capture the “tween” market in a cosmetics line, you are discovering ways to promote ideals or policy initiatives that will capture a specific age group. Many of the same marketing tools are applied to sway the public in terms of political issues that are used by manufacturers to market their products to the same public.

Of course, branding techniques have always been in political campaigns to a certain extent, so the idea of “political branding” itself is not exactly revolutionary. For example, the earliest form of political branding is slogans – slogans cause you to attach emotions and ideas to a particular candidate. In the past, the branding techniques were used only to reinstate fundamental points of difference in very black or white situations – they were there to put you on one side of the fence or the other on broad issues. In the modern political world however, branding has skyrocketed in importance because we can see the key differences between major political parties becoming much more attitudinal rather than substantial (Muir), which in turn communicates a much greater need to appeal to the personalities and emotions of the American public rather than simply laying out the issues. However, for such an important topic, the public is grossly unaware of their susceptibility to political branding techniques.

For example, a poll accompanying an article entitled “Campaign 2008: Buying Brand X” in the San Francisco Chronicle by Carla Marinucci asked the question: “Do you think you are susceptible to the branding of politicians?” An overwhelming 64% answered with a confident choice of “No, I am able to tune out the noise and really just look at the record.” (Marinucci) MORE THAN HALF! This also exemplifies how capable the political branding PR masterminds are – there is no way that 64% of Americans, or frankly, even 6% of Americans are able to avoid the different things that PR branding geniuses do with political campaigns. The public fails to understand the essence and effectiveness of branding. I had a professor in a communications class equate the effect of the media on the American public to a fish swimming through water; we breathe it without even realizing it is running over us through every vessel of our bodies. Every single move the candidates make, every blog post, every tie choice is absolutely strategic and it shocked me to see the naivety of the people answered that poll.

One of the reasons why political branding is so rarely spoken about in the public eye, versus corporate or retail branding, is because people strongly believe that political branding destroys the democratic nature and tradition of an election. Many believe that the obsession with image comes at the expense of a focus on policy and believe that a focus on branding leads candidates to make more empty promises in order to steal the hearts of voters and then turn around and do whatever they want in office. Critics condemn the “Hollywood” values being brought into politics in the modern world, focusing more and more on the personalities and personal lives of candidates and less and less on the issues facing America. I do believe that most people would like to think that they do not buy into the stories and successfully avoid strategy traps and suggestive campaign tricks because often in a social setting it makes you appear less credible and to a certain extent even appear less intelligent if you believe what campaigns tell you (ex: if you believe Hillary Clinton cried on her own during the press conference). However, sorry folks, if you think you are immune to the political branding system, I believe you to be even less intelligent than your peers might think if you believe the campaigns, because the truth of the matter is, it is unavoidable. If you think you avoid it, you just don’t know the extent of it. And so, we continue so that I can teach you.

The people that believe political branding destroys the democratic nature of an election are somewhat right, but should they continue to believe political campaigns can happen without political branding, they will continue to live in a complete fantasy world. There would be no campaign without branding – essentially, a campaign IS 99% branding and marketing. Marketing is necessary in nearly every sector of today’s society. Additionally, branding is not the enemy as these skeptics make it out to be – branding achieves the party’s ability to correctly and emphatically communicate their goals and ideals for the upcoming presidency. Branding simply appeals a more to the emotion of voters – a little more to the right side of the brain than the left. Here is an appropriate point to examine some of the tools that allow candidates to make these emotional connections with voters.

The emergence of the internet as a major strategic weapon in the 2008 presidential race has definitely furthered the importance of branding. Every candidate has a My Space, a Facebook account, official websites, and several blogs, which is essentially unprecedented in presidential elections. Interestingly, now there is even a You-Tube political channel dedicated to the 2008 race! Television used to be the major avenue for political campaigning, but the explosion of the internet now gives voters an entirely new perspective that has one thing television can never have: involvement. Voters can watch speeches online at their own pace, post comments and questions on discussion boards, and share their opinions with other voters through the countless blogs they have to choose from. The internet has opened up another entire avenue for management and is major reason why PR is now quintessential to campaigning (Silverstein). In fact, the internet has truly brought back a key of a democratic election with voter participation, and highlights the participatory element of democracy, which many people find highly attractive.
Conversely, the internet unfortunately can be as much of a threat as it is a proactive tool. With the countless opportunities for freedom of speech and expression, it is nothing short of impossible to completely attain the crisis management level necessary to consistently maintain an image. For this reason many are skeptical, or even dislike the internet’s new role in campaigning. One You Tube video compromising the position or image of a presidential candidate can do irreversible damage within the first three minutes that it hits the internet. There are no ethical checks preformed on internet material – no standards to be upheld by a professional (Silverstein). Republican strategist Mike Murphy spoke the startling truth in an interview with Marinucci: “Once it’s out there…it’s out there. There’s no venue for correction, retraction, or rebuttal. And no authority to whom to appeal for redress.” (Marinucci) Despite the obvious advantages of the world wide web, the lack of regulation is frightening to a campaign, and rightfully so. Murphy solemnly declared: “Taken to an extreme, and with an electoral split recently at 50/50, an exploitative, negative, and possibly false but brilliantly conceived viral ad could shift the views of a million undecided voters in the final hours of a campaign.” (Marinucci) In the future, policy makers will undoubtedly struggle in a search for ways to somehow maintain a standard of journalistic expectations and ethics without stepping on the toes of the beloved first amendment.

An example of the lethal capabilities of the internet was seen when a You Tube video was released that depicted 2008 candidate Hillary Clinton as the “big brother” in a remake of the famous 1984 Apple Macintosh ad. The clip delivered a serious blow to the Clinton campaign because it highlighted one of the greatest differences between other Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Clinton – experience. It turned Clinton’s positive White House experience on which she has consistently relied as one of her main strengths throughout her campaign and replaced with an image of “Clinton as IBM to Obama’s Apple” (Silverstein). The clip portrayed her as the “old” Washington, and Obama as the “fresh face” without even having to mention Obama once. In one minute or so, a voter’s opinion of Hillary’s image can change from an “experienced and educated” Hillary, to an “old, stingy and tired” Hillary, while planting seeds of Obama’s fresh and different campaign (Mariucci).

Interestingly enough (related or unrelated to the release of the video clip), Barack Obama (or his branding strategists, rather) has proven to be the 2008 candidate best using the internet to his advantage in order to build an identity brand – and it has certainly paid off. The internet has been Obama’s greatest branding tool with the creation of his website which is an extensive networking site for Obama followers that includes message boards, fundraising tools, and a clear and concise breakdown of each issue facing the presidential candidates and where Obama stands on each. Obama has also spoken through chats and webcasts to supporters on social networking sites such as, a youthful and next generation approach not employed by any other candidate (Marinucci). His extensive employment of the internet as a strategic weapon no doubt impresses the American public; in a recent poll conducted by Zogby International 44.7% of Americans expect the next President to be internet savvy ( Good move by Obama’s camp!

In addition to avenues of communication like the internet, another important part of political branding is the tangible pieces of the campaign, which are incredibly essential in winning over the American public initially. The easiest but definitely most important tangible piece of a campaign due to its intense and constant exposure is the logo of the campaign. (Silverstein) For example, the logo of Barack Obama is unlike any logo the public has been exposed to in the past. Gone is the corny, exhausted block lettered look, and in its place a sleek, modern, and sophisticatedly simple “O” incorporating a clever usage of the American flag waves a calm, but strong, hello to the American voters. The logo grabs the eye of the public instantly with its unconventional ease. Exploring from another angle, it is interesting to see the “Hillary for President” logo, which although may not the most appealing to the eye, is worth noting because it is clear she avoided using the “Clinton for President” instead choosing to set herself apart, and in my opinion, relate to the voters on a more personal level, by using just Hillary. On the Republican side of things, we have the successful candidate John McCain’s stoic and sturdy logo of a white and black color combination combined with a definite military-esque star above the name which just screams an extremely authentic “trust me.” His logo directly fed into the brand he has lived by in presenting himself as an esteemed military veteran and promoting his experience in that department. Now look at the other side of things – Rudy Giuliani, who recently withdrew from the 2008 Presidential election. Giuliani’s logo resembled a candy bar – which nobody would ever pick up off of the shelf. An unappealing “RUDY” in white letters on a blue background with a red border (patriotic – how original) doesn’t leave a negative impression on voters. Worse however, is that it leaves no image in the minds of voters – no brand at all. Who would have thought simply the structure and color combination of a political logo could say so much about a campaign?

More tools for creating important tangible portions of a campaign were revealed when Americans were presented with a perfect opportunity to be exposed and learn about just how much thought goes into the branding and marketing strategies after the Boston Globe obtained an extensive, internal campaign document outlining Romney’s plan for managing his individual brand, dealing with key issues, and also framing his competitors. What might be some of the top concerns of the Romney campaign in February? Common citizens would most likely answer with specific issues, or maybe a lack of communication with a particular constituency. Instead, some of the reasons the Romney team cited as threats to a Presidential bid included hair that was too perfect, lack of a tough war-time image, and a newfound nickname of “Slick Dancing Mitt.” (Helmen) Initially when hearing this, many common people might want to laugh – I know I did – but the reality of the situation is complete. Physical image is something that needs to be heavily focused on when communicating to the American public. One political marketing researcher, professor Michael Lewis of Washington University, found that when comparing the brand of Republicans against the brand of Democrats, Republicans generally did better when they appeared more competent and trustworthy with the look of a CEO or a high school quarterback, sporting a strong, square jaw and cropped hair. Democrats on the other hand, found their image success in appearing more intelligent and likeable with a look similar to a college professor. (Lewis) “If politics were like high school, Republicans would be the football stars and Democrats would be the chess club captains,” stated interviewer of Lewis, writer Shula Neuman. This research is another tool used to prove that little, even seemingly trivial, aspects of a candidate’s individual brand make extreme differences in voter’s reactions and feelings. So, sir poll respondent and claimer of an unaffected stance, did you realize that one of the reasons you implicitly trust John McCain is because of his haircut and jaw line? Didn’t think so.

Clearly, the branding of a presidential candidate is not all about advertising, logos, You Tube videos and tie choices; it is predominately about communicating who the individual is as a person and what they believe in to both implement and defend. A successful candidate will find a common ground and an emotional connection with voters. Brand strategists use the tangible things, such as logos, to inspire ideals and adjectives that voters will immediately connect with their candidate (Marinucci). Each candidate clearly focuses on different adjectives depending on their specific campaign. However, it is extremely interesting to see parallels between Republican and Democratic candidates. For example, on the Democratic side, the tangible things done by the Hillary Clinton campaign beg us to think experience and leadership – a sturdy candidate we can rely on. Similarly, Republic candidate and war veteran John McCain’s campaign causes the minds of the public to also jump to experience, “straight-talk” and leadership. Both candidates share the marketing of independence – McCain from his military background, and Clinton from her husband’s presidency. On the other side of the coin, we see the sleek Barack Obama campaign which clearly causes thoughts of novelty, innovation, and change, which can draw parallels to Mitt Romney’s campaign advocating in a way which makes us feel a new, energetic, and bold leadership. The fact that we think these adjectives when a candidate is brought up to us is 99% NOT our own thinking, despite what those 64% of silly Americans that took that poll say about their whimsical ability to stay out of the jaws of branding geniuses.

To better understand how much political strategists value the “auto adjectives” associated with their candidates, we can again point to the uncovered Romney document. The presentation gives incredible insight into how the Romney team not only develops the individual brand in a positive manner to compel Americans to associate noteworthy adjectives with the Romney name, but how the strategists also immediately and responsibly pick out Romney’s weaknesses and explore how to focus on immediately minimizing those in the media (often called crisis control, or crisis management). For example, the Romney’s camp admits off the bat that Romney does not have enough of a strong, war hero image like McCain to cater to that kind of crowd; although they establish that he is a credible second choice for those voters, they primarily focus and play up the goal of establishing Romney as a first pick for his group of voters (where McCain would not do as well) who are looking for an “energetic, optimistic, and innovative chief executive.” (Helman) A marketing-oriented graphic portrays McCain as the past, Giuliani the present, and Romney the future. (Helman) Here it becomes incredibly clear that the center of Romney’s brand will be, in essence, a new generation, the future, and the innovator which we have certainly seen played out thus far in the 2008 campaigning process. This document shows us the perfect example of brand strategists targeting adjectives to ideally be associated with a client and then the steps taken to construct a campaign that can achieve those goals.
To wrap things up after an exhaustive discussion, you are influenced heavily by political branding – in fact you are influenced by political branding and strategy almost every time you make a political decision or choice. It is the job of PR professionals who handle crisis communications and political branding to make you feel a certain way about their client. The most effective approach to this is by creating a sound tangible campaign through a creative slogan and logo complemented by a strong personal appearance, both physically and personality speaking, and then continuing on to use the exposure of your tangible campaign to elicit targeted adjectives that automatically connect with the client such as “leader” “experienced” or “innovative.” These automatic adjectives shape the entire direction of the campaign and the brand as a whole. Once the automatic adjectives are established in the minds of Americans, it aids the public in developing an emotional attachment to the client, which, as you read in our opening quote by Richard Levick, is what truly drives an election, and what we can see today driving our 2008 election. Now we just get to sit back, and see which brand America decides to buy.
Helmen, Scott. “Document Shows Romney’s Strategies,” The Boston Globe. 02.27.07.
Marinucci, Carla. “Campaign 2008: Buying Brand X,” San Francisco Chronicle. 04.01.07.
Miller, J and Muir, D. The Business of Brands. (John Wiley, 2004).
Neuman, Shula. “Marketing Strategies for Politics,” Washington University – St. Louis. 1.29.08. Silverstein, Barry. “Branding for President,” 08.06.07. “Voters Expect Next President to be as Internet Saavy as They are, Survey Finds” 1.29.08.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Fire Fighters HATE Giuliani!!!

Well, it seems that the exit of presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani made quite a few people pretty happy today. But who was among them that you NEVER would have guessed?

NYC's bravest - the New York fire department (and all other fire fighters apparently).
Hates Giuliani and is glad he is out.

Giuliani throughout not only his presidential campaign, but also coming out of the 9-11 crisis used the fire fighter "support" as major PR coverage. Having the support of an elite group such as fire fighters, especially after 9-11 when they played such a crucial role, makes a person appear extremely credible to the public. Being backed by fire fighters presents a very strong, public safety oriented image. Not to mention, following 9-11, the American public ASSUMED he would have the support of fire fighters! Who would not figure that his most loyal supporters would come out of those he worked with during one of the greatest tragedies our nation has ever seen?

But no, apparently the fire fighters hated him THE ENTIRE TIME. Unfortunately, in the PR race we all know what controls the press releases and where they get to - MONEY. Do you think the International Association of Fire Fighters had enough money to overtake the Giuliani campaign and say "Hey actually, we think he is awful?"


Well, now they are finally getting their time to shine with the withdrawl (the public wants to know why he withdrew, hence the PR attention finally on the fire fighters as they nix their endorsement), with an extremely strong worded press release given today, January 30th.

IAFF President Harold A. Schaitberger declared that Giuliani attempted to profit both politically AND financially from 9-11 and says that the IAFF have been trying to expose his "selfish motives" since the beginning of the campaign. Schaitberger continues to call Giuliani a "shamless self promoter" who "bragged about his percieved 9-11 accomplishments, using the tragedy as a political launching pad." Read the article here:

OMG - harsh much?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

For Example.

I just looked up the link for the Brett Favre commercial for Wrangler jeans that I mentioned below. (It's not the original audio, but you get the point). Perfect example.

This commercial makes me even want to buy Wrangler jeans, and I, well, care about what I look like.


Many of us don't realize that many of our choices are made for us. Experts often relate American citizens to fish in water: we breathe in the media culture and marketing strategies. PR is a booming business in America - everyone needs someone to better or maintain their image in today's society. Every organization from corporations, to universities, to fashion labels, to luxury hotel chains has people that critique and construct every little move - each word released to the press, each image seen by the American people, ANYTHING that will furthur or damage a reputation. For example.

One of the largest ways that we are influenced by marketing and branding is through campaign elections, which is convenient to examine due to the upcoming 2008 election. Each candidate has employed very different strategies to target different groups of people. Each candidate focuses on certain groups of people more than others - each candidate caters to the interests of those who will elect them. Reputation and image is EVERYTHING in an election. In my blog I will continually explore how each of the candidates uses different marketing tools to label themselves in ways that appeal to the public, and see how each candidate employs certain strategies that fit their personalities to make them the MOST appealing and eventually win the hearts of enough Americans to call them President.

So do you think it was your choice, girls out there, to feel a little tug at your heartstrings for Hillary when she started to cry at one of her public appearances? You think it's your choice, boys, to want a pair of Wrangler jeans after seeing the commerical with Brett Favre throwing his football around with his friends in a country field?

Think again. It's the work of the brand.