Don’t Let You or Your Company Fall Victim to a Fairness Fallacy


All organizations, no matter how truly noble their cause eventually find themselves attacked.  Yet there persists a common misconception that good deeds alone will safeguard an organization from scrutiny. We refer to this delusion as the “fairness fallacy.”

The biggest concern with this belief is that it often leaves organizations unprepared for or unable to effectively respond in times of crisis. They spend more time discussing the fairness of their predicament, than with actually fixing it.

Decision makers with this false assumption often do not develop a comprehensive crisis communications plan. Doing so seems a waste of time and resources because they believe their code of conduct shields them from crisis in the first place. Some managers even seem to believe that the very act of developing a crisis plan implies some hidden wrongdoing.

Additionally, this delusion often prevents organizations from developing effective messaging in response to the crisis. Rather than addressing the actual cause of the criticism, apologizing, and clearly stating how they plan to rectify the situation, they tend to focus on unrelated positive aspects of their organization. Previous philanthropy and social responsibility can certainly be important aspects of effective crisis messaging, however they do not negate the crucial need to directly address the cause of the crisis.

The potential for even the most ethical organizations to experience a crisis does not, in any way, detract from the value of their good deeds. Organizations are allowed to make mistakes; they can even make BIG mistakes and still remain in high standing with the public and media. It all depends on how quickly and how well they respond.

Are you prepared to handle a crisis? Take our PR Heat Index Quiz to find out.

We All Have a Breaking Point: Except if you are in PR


Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson did what many PR people have only dreamt about doing. He told off a reporter that was antagonistic, demanding and teetering on downright rude. The Clinton aide felt as though he was being attacked and we can sympathize. But quite frankly, different rules apply when you are working with the media. The reporter was only doing the job he was assigned to do. Getting answers to questions so he could finish an article–even if the questions were one-sided and Clinton was clearly the target.

Having represented hundreds of different clients (including political leaders) we talk to reporters on a daily basis. Our job is to work alongside the reporter and provide the best and most interesting information. Most reporters are balanced and fair. Others may have agendas, a bias or may have the full article written before they come to you for comment. And as PR professionals we know this. The real skill is in how we handle that challenge. There is strategy behind it and it doesn’t involve expletives and name calling.

As with the law, “anything you say can and will be used against you” and in this case it was. The spokesperson not only lost his cool, he had it documented in an email correspondence. While it may have been therapeutic in the heat of the moment, his comments will forever be searchable online. The better option would have been to quietly close his office door, let out a soft scream, take a few deep breaths and then get back to emailing the reporter, politely.

Lance Armstrong Shows us How to Make 30% More Money – It’s Easy, Just Give Up


Is the man who biked 15,225 miles (mostly uphill) to win seven Tour de France titles, giving up? It depends what you mean by “giving up.” He’s letting the USADA take his titles. But he is also earning a lot more money for his LIVESTRONG foundation; about $78,000 more a day to be exact.

How did he do it? He made the USADA look like a bully and he its hapless victim.

Even in instances when a person’s (or brand’s) innocence is in question, the public tends to be very sympathetic and even supportive of those that have been victimized.

On August 23rd, Armstrong issued an official statement that he would no longer legally fight the USADA’s efforts.

Armstrong’s skillful wording positioned the USADA as an aggressive bully whose sole goal was punishment regardless of guilt. Perhaps more importantly, he presented himself, his family, his charity and ultimately cancer patients as victims.

Let’s examine the wording he uses to describe the USADA and himself:

USADA: bully, one-sided, unfair, nonsense, punishing me at all costs, nothing even remotely fair, broken the law, turned its back on its own rules, stiff-armed, threatening everyone, challenging the good faith, at U.S. taxpayers’ expense, toll it has taken, in opposition to all the rules, and not right.

Armstrong: family, foundation, truth, good faith, responsibility, devote myself, beautiful kids, fighting cancer, fittest 40-year old on the planet.

In addition to his skillful positioning, Armstrong also transcends the topic of performance enhancing drugs. The conversation now focuses on his work as a great philanthropist and dedicated husband/father; qualities that few refute.

He made himself untouchable.

As Washington Post veteran sports columnist Sally Jenkins writes: “Lance Armstrong is a good man. There’s nothing that I can learn about him short of murder that would alter my opinion on that.”

Are you prepared to handle a crisis? Take our PR Heat Index Quiz to find out.

15 PR Lessons from the King of Rock and Roll


15 PR Lessons from the King of Rock and Roll

by Adele Cehrs

What artist has 2.4 million Facebook fans, 60,000 Twitter followers and 1,500 Google Plus groups?


That’s why I can honestly say everything I need to know about PR I learned from the most famous teen idol dead or alive. I am not talking about Justin Beiber folks – I am talking about the King of Rock and Roll himself – Elvis Aaron Presley!

I am a huge Elvis fan…probably the biggest Elvis fan my age. You may be surprised how much you too can learn from this iconic brand that has been creating fans, advocates and serious revenue for decades.

In the mid-1950s, the post-war Eisenhower era of social conformity in America was at its peak, and musically, the most threatening image appeared when Presley’s good looks, sensuous moves and mesmerizing voice made him an overnight sensation.  At last, teenagers had music of their own to swoon over, while their parents continued listening to Frank Sinatra.

Elvis was always a little ahead of the curve. Here’s how you can follow in the footsteps of a pop-culture legend.

Lesson #1 — Make a Grand Entrance

The Elvis experience begins with a grand entrance. Can’t you just hear his theme song, CC Rider, in your head as you read this?  A tribute to the King’s brand consistency, his entrance and his opening song remained unchanged for his entire career.

Which makes me think – how do you launch strategies for new products, offerings or content? Is your message consistent? If not, how will prospects remember all of your offerings…Every launch has to be planned, strategized and intentional – just like Elvis.

Lesson #1 — Be an Engaging Story Teller

Think about how many Elvis’ songs you remember, even if you are not a fan the lyrics are STICKY.

Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog. Blue Suede Shoes. Suspicious Minds. Jailhouse Rock. Heartbreak Hotel. Love Me Tender. I can go on, but I don’t want to get any songs stuck in your head.

All of these pop songs repeat the chorus several times and have an interesting bridge.

This trick of repetition also works for PR messages. Research shows that you can remember about 3 to 4 items for about 20 seconds before they disappear from memory – unless you repeat them.

For companies, organizations or individuals too many messages can cloud the waters: Be sure to analyze your messages. To be effective and memorable, you should have no more than 3 to 5 overarching messages about your brand and initiatives.

Lesson #4 — Create Raving Fans

I know you’re thinking, “obviously this girl has been to Graceland.” And you would be right.

As the youngest of three, my father and I had very little in common. Except we were both die-hard Elvis fans. On my 9th birthday, my dad took me and my sister on a road trip from NJ to Graceland in an old clunker of a car…Naturally, we made it to the most visited private home in the world and it is still one of my fondest childhood memories.

As you can see some brands, concepts and ideas are cross-generationalBut what made Elvis so timeless?  The answer is many of the same things that can make your organizational messages timeless.

Find the commonalities in your customers and create stories that reflect those cross-generational needs and desires through anecdotal surveys, quick polls on hot topics, etc. Use this data to motivate super fans to get more involved.

Lesson #5 — Create Brand Advocates

Elvis had a gang of friends who were referred to as the Memphis Mafia. He knew these friends for years and felt comfortable that they would provide him honest feedback when he needed it, but would also come to his aid if he needed a bodyguard from an unruly group of fans.

Do you have clients who you’ve known for a while that rave about your company or employees? Do you have a spreadsheet of those people that you can easily access that lists these brand advocates in case you need to reach out to them for a PR initiative or if a PR crisis should arise?  If not, make that a to-do item tomorrow.

Lesson #6 — Don’t Be Afraid of a “Little Controversy”

Elvis’ hips were banned from Ed Sullivan show due to censorship. This created buzz and sensationalism for Elvis, which helped catapult him to stardom.

To make controversy work for you, you must outsmart competitors and react quickly. By understanding your competitors or detractors and develop a corresponding opposition strategy to craft creative and unique PR and marketing initiatives with an “O” strategy.

Developing an “O” (opposition) strategy is more than just competitive research. It’s about understanding key trends, values, and conversations within your industry, and reacting quickly and strategically when they can benefit your organization.

What industry trends can you take a position on? Find at least one and pre-write messages should an opportunity arise to share that position with the media.

Lesson #7 – Don’t Reinvent the Wheel: Do What Works

Elvis made hundreds of movies, which basically had the same plot. Hard-working mechanic, waiter, race car driver – uses his music to overcome adversity – and Elvis always got the girl.

This movie formula was enormously successful – and while many will argue his movies aren’t that great – they are cult classics b/c viewers’ knew what to expect from them and they kept coming back for more.

What events or initiatives get rave reviews? Take note, and tweak them slightly to make them timely, but don’t throw out the good options to try a shiny new communications platform b/c everybody is doing it. Do what works. 

Lesson #8 – Be Platform-Flexible to Remain Relevant

Elvis’ brand right now is adapting to meet the needs of new technologies. As a brand, Elvis’ PR and marketing team could rest of their laurels and say their main target audience is baby boomers who don’t necessarily use social media, but the brand would die out if they just concentrated on their biggest audience.

His brand has a huge following online an off and an estimated 75,000 people went to Graceland to pay tribute to the 35th anniversary of his death.

And, his PR campaign still breeds new fans b/c they are constantly trying new communications platforms to attract new fans.

That’s why you should have multiple audiences you are catering to with through different platforms. Now, I am not suggesting you communicate on all of these platforms, but the ones that are most relevant to your first, second and third-tier clients or prospects.

Lesson #10 — You Don’t Have to Appeal To Everyone

For instance, Elvis loved fried banana sandwichs. This type of food does not appeal to everyone and neither will ALL of your PR messages or initiatives.

Altering a message or a position too quickly to appease a small opposition audience doesn’t work. It creates brand confusion, is disingenuous and breeds rumors. Stay consistent and clear.

If an organization’s position does change, and this is inevitable given the demand for transparency, acknowledge it and articulate the reason for the change.

Lesson #11 — Celebrate Key Brand Milestones

Elvis’ PR and brand team use key anniversaries to gather the King’s Fans. His birthday. The day he died (35th Anniversary Celebration is this year August 16, 2012). Anniversaries of hit songs – you name it they use it as a reason to get people together and reinforce their love for this rock icon.

What can you celebrate to get engagement? Get creative.

Lesson #12 — Embrace Impersonators

Copying your brand is the sincerest form of flattery – embrace it. Elvis’ brand does.

The 2012 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest is where Elvis impersonators compete for $20,000 in prizes and most likely a Vegas gig.

How does this apply to organizations? Consider partnering with similar-minded organizations with the same target market as your organization. Don’t look at them as competitors – look at how they complement or build on your PR tactics and create a program that can pool your resources for bigger brand impact.

Lesson #13 – Practice Vigilant Reputation Management 

Elvis died an untimely death, which many people blame on the abuse of prescription drugs. His fans just refused to believe this and instead made up the idea that Elvis faked his own death. Fans are still reporting sightings of Elvis. That’s staying power.

Do you have a brand that can withstand a PR crisis? Have you properly prepared for a crisis? We, at Epic PR Group, have prepared a crisis assessment called the PR Heat Index and you can take the quiz to see how ready you are to handle a crisis in your organization.

Lesson #14 — You Can Make a Comeback

Elvis always gave generously to his fans. What have you done for your biggest advocates lately? Elvis’ supreme generosity is legendary and one of the reasons that so many fans love to retell those stories over and over again to others who long to make a connection.

Even if you’ve had a PR disaster, like BP, Nationwide or Susan G. Komen, the power of PR is the ability to capitalize on the good will you built from being generous when you didn’t need anything in return.

Be generous in praise, opportunity and recognition and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how that good will; will be returned to you in some form or another.

Lesson #15 — Make an Exit

Every performance and every campaign is a chance to learn something – good or bad. Be sure to go over what went right and also what went wrong in after-action reports. Discuss how to avoid or use these wins moving forward with your communications team.

Elvis knew what would get attention – and he did it so successfully that he is one of the most well-recognized artists of the last century. Elvis knew exactly what his fans wanted and catered to it. As a PR professional you need to do the same thing — find what your members need and provide it to them.

Elvis has left the building.

Thank you, thank you very much! 


Why Your New Agency Might Be Lying to You

 By Adele Gambardella-Cehrs CEO, Epic PR Group

As the CEOliarblog2 of a PR agency, I have recently stopped answering RFP’s. That’s right. We no longer give our ideas away for free and neither should you.

When you provide campaign ideas and creative concepts for nothing – think about the message you are sending to your prospective client.  By not charging for ideation, you are not only undermining the value of your offerings – you are kowtowing to the client’s “perception” of what they “think” are their advertising, marketing and PR issues. But what client’s don’t know is this process does them a grave disservice.

I didn’t realize it – until recently.  After a conference, I went out to dinner with a group of attendees and sat down next to a gentleman whose first question to me was, “What do you do? I said, I own a local PR firm and he said that he just hired an agency.” Coincidently, he was the CEO of a company who sent out a RFP my firm answered. The RFP specified what he thought the organization’s PR problems were and asked firms to generate ideas to fix the issues at hand.  Seemed pretty straight forward, right? Wrong.

The RFP outlined problems in several areas over a host of marketing disciplines. The budget was misaligned with the campaign goals and the target market was wrong for what they were trying to accomplish in the media.  The market analysis included in the RFP was inaccurate and the tactics and media channels they requested ideas for didn’t match the brands’ identity or needs.

When we had our screening call with the client, we asked several questions based on our well-established knowledge of their business and industry. We were friendly and had a productive call with the prospect. We knew the head of the organization and thought we had a good chance of getting the business. We didn’t get the account. Win some, lose some. But, I had never had the opportunity or nerve to ask a prospect why, before that fateful night. So, I took a deep breath and asked.

I said, “no hard feelings, but as a learning experience, can you tell me why you didn’t choose my firm?”

He said, ”The firm we chose provided us exactly what we asked for.”

I said, “That’s interesting.” And, he said, “Why?”

I said, “Can I ask you a few questions one CEO to another?” He said, “of course.”

I asked, “When you go to your accountant, do you tell them how to do your taxes?” He said, “no.”

“When you go to a lawyer, do you tell them how to try your case? He said, “no.”

I said, “Then, why would you use an RFP to tell a PR firm exactly what you need from them, when they are the professionals?” He said, “I had never thought of it that way before.”

And, it hit me. This is one reason why our profession has a bad reputation among the C-suite. We are people pleasers to our profession’s detriment. Most PR folks (internal or external) don’t have enough moxie to provide ideas that will work. They just do as they are told, and are disappointed when executives don’t like the results of a campaign.

In media training, one of the first things we teach our clients is not to be a passive interview participant. We say, don’t just answer the questions the reporter is asking – lead the interview and steer it the way you want it to go with persuasive messaging and bridging techniques.  So why are we taking such a passive approach to new business? The answer is 40 plus years in the making.

On a recent episode of AMC’s Mad Men, Jon Hamm, AKA Don Draper, the main character on the show plays a 1960’s advertising executive in New York City at the top of his game. In the episode, Don is pitching new business to Heinz® Ketchup, a highly sought after account at the time.

Don’s creative team diligently spends a significant amount of time drumming up ideas in secret to be revealed on the day of the pitch. They sweat and toil and stress about their concept – all with the hope of being – “the chosen agency.”

Without realizing it, the pitch is a bake-off between two firms. In a twist of fate, Don is up against Peggy Olsen, his former creative director. Both firms present their ideas and the clear winner is the pitch team with the better concept. Ah, all is right with the world. The only problem is that is Hollywood’s version, not reality.

Today, there are countless firms with great ideas and eager clients who want to hear their ideas for free. Maybe even implement the concepts themselves or hand them off to their underperforming AOR (Agency of Record).

So, most agencies do the same dance they’ve been doing since the Mad Men era. We tell the client what they want to hear for the first year and subtly move them to better strategies that meet their PR, advertising and marketing needs. Is this really servicing the client’s business needs? Of course not, so why do we keep doing it? A few key things are at play:

  • The client is not ready to understand their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and we are too scared to tell them;
  •  Too many firms undercut costs and have junior staff managing accounts who will not be able to ask the right questions, so the firm keeps doing what they are told;
  •  The creative professional does not have a universal system for setting and measuring goals in PR, advertising or marketing.

As PR advisors we need to be strategic partners who are aligned with the business objectives of our clients.  We need to be client-focused service providers, not people pleasers. We need to elevate our staff to execute flawlessly and measure every step of the way. And, we need to focus on eliminating waste by streamlining processes from the outset of a client relationship.

We can no longer take direction like students passively doing what our teachers tell us. We need to be partners with our clients and educate them regarding our profession. My firm is doing this and if yours isn’t – you are no further along than Don Draper’s agency: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.


Philanthropy: Why It’s Good for Your Business

It turns out, giving doesn’t make you broke. Corporate America is growing into a new age, where “neighbor help thy neighbor” creates a win-win scenario shared by community and corporations alike.

With all this cash directed at causes, the primary beneficiary is obvious – the recipient of the cash. However, corporations that give are also winning, especially when it comes to public perception and brand loyalty. Consumers offer their patronage to and recommend brands that give to causes identified by consumers as meaningful.

Consider Starbucks. Patrons will tell you the #1 reason they enter Starbucks is for a cup of coffee, or for the encyclopedia-long list of coffee varietals. But something that buys favorable consumer mindshare for Starbucks is the corporation’s long commitment to charitable causes, including: literacy in North America; supporting coffee, tea and cocoa communities; ensuring access to clean water in developing countries; and a myriad of other global and community services.

The buck doesn’t stop with the corporate millions spent on aiding causes. Corporations are bringing to light the needs that exist in communities throughout the country and around the globe. Patrons who identify with these causes contribute even greater sums than would have been realized had the corporations not shed light on them at all. So, the end benefits are even greater for the communities and causes.

The other side of this win-win equation is slightly less obvious: the corporate brand. Patrons are notably gravitating toward brands that give. In 2012, more than 47 percent of consumers said they buy  at least one brand that supports a good cause per month – a 47 percent increase from 2010. More impressive, 72 percent of consumers say they recommend brands that support a good cause, an increase of 38 percent in two years. That’s powerful!

“This is bigger than a trend. It’s a powerful marketing tool for brands to use to separate themselves from the competition,” says Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the research firm NPD Group.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, thirteen American companies donated more than $100-million in cash, compared to 11 in 2010. Wal-Mart gave the most cash ($342.4-million), followed by Goldman Sachs ($337.1-million). Additionally, five companies increased their giving by more than 50 percent. Starbucks grew the most, with a nearly 197 percent rise, followed by CSX, which increased its giving by nearly 70 percent.

As a distinction, consumers remain leery of brands that ask for a dollar here and a dollar there for a local hospital or animal shelter. Retail campaigns asking customers to contribute a dollar to a cause have failed miserably. Consumers want to know the brand is invested deeply in the cause before giving, and want to know their contribution will be matched at the very least.

Also unpopular among consumers are one-off opportunities, when companies give small amounts totaling less than $20,000. Public perception is that these one-off opportunities are not truly worth their while if it isn’t worth a company’s time and money to sustain a solid, strategic long-term campaign of giving. Further, consumers perceive these efforts as more publicity stunt than providing something of authentic value.

Increasingly, consumers want to learn about causes and how to give. And they are increasingly placing their allegiances behind brands that spend wisely and boldly. This is how corporations have managed to create a powerful win-win scenario with their philanthropic efforts.

Creating good will can also help in a crisis. Eighty three percent say they will trust a company more if it is socially responsible. USA Today features an amazing story on the power of corporate giving: