Archive for January, 2012

Putting His Money Where His Mouth Is–Starbucks’s Howard Schultz

Amid the swarm of scandalous news of late–much of it involving leaders in government, major companies and organizations worldwide–a comparatively quiet effort has been taking shape, and growing, designed to bring pride, leadership and employment back to Americans. (We say quiet, because after an initial flurry, we haven’t heard much more about it in the news.) In fact, the Create Jobs for USA campaign spearheaded by Starbucks’s CEO Howard Schultz is a major bright spot is what appears to be the dismal landscape of corporate America. In our last blog, we called it a game-changer, because at least temporarily, it’s somewhat cooled the divisive political rhetoric and given us a cause nearly all Americans can champion. What began with a PR flourish (full-court newspaper and TV interviews, full-page ads, etc.) is now a bona fide movement and organization. To date, Starbuck’s and its partners, the Opportunity Finance Network, has leveraged more than $6.5 million for the admirable cause of putting American back to work. (The program was kicked off with a reported $5 million investment from the Starbucks Foundation and the rest has been raised from customers through the sale of colorful wristbands at $5 each. This money has gone into a revolving loan fund for small businesses and others providing community-based jobs.

While Schultz and his efforts have come under some criticism from manufacturers (http://www.manufacturing.net/blogs/2011/12/does-starbucks-create-jobs-for-usa) and from unions re: barista wages, Schultz’s initiative and commitment to this larger cause should be commended. Yes, businesses and corporations do good things every day, and for that we can all be thankful: They provide jobs for people and philanthropy for the communities where they operate, and collectively they contribute to the health and well-being of our nation’s economy (for the most part). Yet, as we have seen, they can also do a lot  of harm–need we even recite a list: BP, Countrywide, “Wall Street” firms, Fannie Mae, etc. Typically today, when a major company talks about a bold move, it’s in the wrong direction–layoffs, ethical lapses, political quick-fixes, and scandal-ridden operations. This has been an ongoing since at least 2001, seemingly since the bankruptcy of Enron, and no less likely, even before.

While others may raise questions about the sincerity and commitment of Starbucks’s Create Jobs for USA–mind you, no corporate action impacting the public should go unscrutinized–we should also give kudos when a corporate leader stands up, takes on the prickly issues, and puts his money where his mouth is. Way to go, Howard!

One Practitioner’s Review of 2011 Public Relations

What can we learn about public relations from the fractious events of 2011? Here are our thoughts on lessons provided by the mistakes and success of others.

Our 2011 Public Relations “Roses” & “Brickbats”

Brickbats            

Jerry Sandusky & Penn State: The biggest PR mistake would be to take on Sandusky as a client. Even as this case wends its ugly course through the criminal justice system and the courts, we know that there are some practitioners just chomping at the bit at the opportunity to sign up this high-profile client. Yes, we know, we’ve heard it all before. “A PR agent is like a defense attorney–every miscreant deserves one.” If you believe that, then you should be barred from PR practice. PR will never maintain professional legitimacy if every alleged social predator and sociopath is able to find a “spin doctor” to plead his or her cause. In PR, as in society, some acts must be indefensible.

Anthony Weiner: Where do we even begin with a public figure who has admitted to the arrogant, half-witted behavior of former Congressman Anthony Weiner? We can all be glad that Weiner has graciously retreated from public life–at least for now–to mend his life, and especially his family life. Amen, and all good wishes to him. Perhaps after some amount of reflection and time away from public life, PR specialists will flock to represent what some–at least in New York, say is a really talented guy. Until then, goodbye and good riddance.

Let’s Wait & See

Netflix: What happens when you do the right thing the wrong way? Faced with an inevitably changing business model, Netflix  moved, apparently too aggressively, to spin-off its declining, old-school DVD mail-delivery service from its growing, and increasingly profitable, video downstreaming service. What CEO wouldn’t? Alas, the devil is in the details. Tone-deaf implementation–in the form on a sudden announcement about two different services provided by two different companies–led to a consumer revolt worthy of the reformulated Coke debacle. What should have  been good management judgement nearly ruined this once-popular company. Within months its stock value dropped by two-thirds. Ham-handed implementation and almost no regard to the convenience and versatility that loyal customers valued in this company nearly led to its downfall. Can good PR save Netflix? The company has clearly learned some valuable lessons about its customers and how to communicate with them. (For now, they’ve continued their existing business model, emphasizing the more profitable downstreaming in their marketing; income has rebounded.) Bet they’ve gotten a better sense for how to handle inevitable price increases!

A Rose

Starbucks: In a year, and possibly an era, when there aren’t a lot of large-scale good-news stories coming out of corporate America, we give Starbucks a rose for its Create Jobs for USA corporate social responsibility program. (We’ll be taking a closer look at this in our next blog.) For us, this program was a game-changer. It changed the quality of the discourse about corporate, political and civic leadership in America during a period that has been particularly bleak, divisive, and some might say de-moralizing. The program’s tackled some tough and touchy subjects today: unemployment, concentration of wealth, corporate mismanagement and executive accountability, civil discourse and public leadership, yet it’s championed a cause we can all believe in. Thanks, Howard!

Hello world!

Welcome! This is the inaugural blog for PR Doctor-Chicago. Just a few words to get started.

If you arrived here from social media, that’s great–what we’re doing is working. You’re probably aware then that that this site is for review, insight and commentary about the practice of public relations.

In this blog, we’ll expound on our thoughts about current and best practices, using thoughtful analysis and historical context, along with equal doses of humor and gravitas.

Keep in mind, public relations has never been the exclusive domain of those schooled in its practices. For every Arthur Page and Edward Bernays, there’s been a P.T. Barnum or any of many modern-day Svengalis.

We’ll state our professional opinions, and invite yours. We want to hear from you!


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