The Sherman Effect

January 23, 2014

rpynn by Roger Pynn

I worked as a volunteer alongside a college athletic director who used to say “athletics is different.”  Steve Sloan, then AD at my Alma Mater (University of Central Florida), was talking about how he perceived college sports were to be marketed.  We disagreed.  He believed people attended if you won.  I believe people attend college games for three reasons:  a sense of loyalty, entertainment and pride in your won-loss records.

I also think people admire athletes at all levels for their character, in addition to their athletic prowess.

Standout Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is trending, more for a rant after Sunday’s Seattle playoff victory over San Francisco than for his on-field performance.

Interestingly, the bombastic guy we saw shrieking into Erin Andrews’ microphone is anything but what we saw there.  He’s an articulate, intelligent and thoughtful man who just happens to also play football and gets excited.  Go figure.

The rant that followed his has become equally “excited.”  I’ve seen people I respect posting thoughts on social media in which they referred to Sherman with words you shouldn’t use in public.  And there’s a pretty nasty conversation going on that can only be seen as borderline racist.

I hope people listen to the Sherman who has emerged in post-rant interviews, a man concerned about the social dialogue in our country.  And I hope he and others in sports sit back and look at how temper plays on camera.  It isn’t pretty, and just like racism, out-of-control temperament can’t be a positive influence on the young and impressionable.

Do you think that’s the message he meant to send?

The Curse of Being an Early Adopter

January 16, 2014

rpynnby Roger Pynn

When one of my colleagues announced at a staff meeting that Facebook is “so yesterday,” I was reminded of those lyrics from a Neil Sedaka song (if you don’t remember him, this post won’t mean as much as it does to those who slow-danced to it at sock hops in 1962.

People who grew up in that era face a constant challenge today to keep up with a generation as fickle about its communication technology as we were about the socks we wore (ask any guy … if you didn’t wear Gold Cups, you were so uncool).  And now you want us to say goodbye to what for many is their definition of social media?

Folks my age take pride in their ability, however limited, to make use of tools like texting, Twitter and LinkedIn.  Grandparents who have mastered Skype as a way to be part of their grandchildren’s youth can easily be confused by why FaceTime makes it any better or easier.

If you’ve been an early adopter, anticipating which love you’ll have to discard is scary.  As another young member of my team warned me, “just wait until implanted cellphones.”

As the song said, “Think of all that we’ve been through.  Breaking up is hard to do.”

Prophets, Experts & Braggarts

January 13, 2014

rpynn by Roger Pynn

While reading an item on a message board for public relations and communications professionals today, I was reminded of an old saying with biblical roots:  “you can’t be a prophet in your own back yard.”

In a thread of interesting comments about the art of blogging, one contributor stood out … a self-proclaimed “publicity expert.”

Canadian writer Laurence J. Peter, author of the best-selling book The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, once said that an expert is a person “who makes three correct guesses consecutively.”

And Shakespeare said “it will come to pass that every braggart shall be found an ass.”

Declaring yourself an expert is truly unbecoming.  If you are an expert, others will say so.

The Value of Candor

January 9, 2014

rpynnby Roger Pynn

I’ve blogged before about the sign a longtime friend and client has on his wall that says “Honesty is a value.  Candor is a risk.”

I thought of that today as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faced the media for 107 minutes in what appeared to be a very candid response to a stupid political trick that involved at least one of the governor’s top aides, whom he fired.

Crisis comes in many forms.  The truth comes in just one flavor.  In a crisis, always place an order for candor … just plain candor.

Just Joking

December 27, 2013

rpynnby Roger Pynn

I’ve always remembered advice about reporters using humor from my first journalism teacher Bill Cochenour.  “First, be sure you know how to tell a joke before you try to write about something you think is funny.  Second, be careful with humor because it is easy to hurt someone unintentionally.”

And here’s proof that he was right, first from the pages of LA Weekly, and second from all across the online world as a result of people thinking that a tongue-in-cheek item about Red Lobster was really news reporting.

Darden Restaurants, Red Lobster’s Orlando-based parent company, had its hands full responding to mushrooming media mentions spawned by the LA Weekly article.  It is fair to say the restaurant chain was hurt unintentionally by the fallout from what was intended to be funny.  Kudos to the editors of LA Weekly for this editor’s note to its online version of the story:

“The title of this piece has been changed since its initial publication to reflect greater accuracy. The post was also amended to make it clear that there are currently no plans to shutter Red Lobster restaurants in the SoCal area; we regret any suggestion to the contrary.”

Information moves at light speed these days.  That includes mistakes.

What’s Ahead for 2014

December 17, 2013

rpynnby Roger Pynn

Before long we’ll find our newspapers, magazines, blogs and other favorite forms of media overflowing with predictions of what to expect in the year ahead.  It is as predictable as the ball drop in Times Square.

So it is probably time to look into my crystal ball and ask “what’s ahead in our world of targeted communication?”

  1. Mobile messaging … One statistic touted by advertising media is that 96 percent of us use a smartphone while shopping for a product or service.  Actually, only 56 percent of us have smartphones, but the point is that we carry our media everywhere we go and that increasingly makes the mobile device essential to successful communication.  Hence, the message must first be devised for mobile consumption — no more two-page epics to announce your news.  Keep it short and simple and link, link, link.
  2. Social significance People are convening more than ever, but often through networks of people they don’t know.  Rather they “congregate” intellectually to share information, positions and enthusiasm for issues, causes or brands they have in common.  Being part of their networks is tricky.  Earning trust comes slowly despite the speed of the conversation.  The price of admission often comes at the expense of what traditionalists might see as counter to their interests.  The key is to identify shared objectives.
  3. Clutter consciousness … Given points 1 and 2 it may seem contradictory and certainly the urge to “be there” 24/7 may hard to resist, but meaningful will surely trump abundant when trying to make an impact.  In the twitterized world, having something important to say is far more likely to earn you a following than being like the annoying person who dominates every conversation, interrupts others and simply has to inject a “me, too” comment whether relevant or not.  That will require far more planned communication, but often less of it.

So, there you have it … my crystal ball short list.  Hope that in 2014 you hit your target.

You Don’t Say

December 4, 2013

rpynnby Roger Pynn

We’ve all seen them … stories about a departing executive who “left for personal reasons” or “is leaving to pursue other opportunities.”  And we always ask “what’s the real reason?”

But when I got an email yesterday saying “We wish to announce that _________ has left” the company, it raised other questions.  There was no explanation, but instead it went straight to “we want to thank __________ for …” and then a long description of all the company’s strengths.

Was this really a “goodbye,” or was it using someone’s departure to promote the company?  Was it intended to stave off speculation about whether it had been by choice?

Sometimes it isn’t what you say … but rather what you don’t say … that people remember.  Corporate communication can be tricky and you need to be careful that you don’t appear to be playing tricks.

Class Act

November 15, 2013

by Roger Pynn

I wrote yesterday about a headline debacle in the Orlando Sentinel.  It could have been any newspaper in the country today as publishers struggle to staff their print products in a digital economy and face embarrassing mistakes on a daily basis.

But I doubt few senior editors would have responded the way Breaking News/Communities Editor Mike Lafferty did when I posted my scathing commentary.  He shot a personal note.  He wanted to offer a mea culpa.  “We screwed up.  It was embarrassing.  It may have been the worst thing I’ve ever seen us do.”

I consoled him.  “C’mon Mike, you guys are being asked every day to do more with less.  I get it.  I’m a died-in-the-wool newspaper guy.  I’ll go to my grave clutching what’s left of my daily newspaper.”

He said the newsroom staff had spent a great deal of time focusing on the mistake.  Stuff happens.  What counts is that there are still folks in the newsroom committed to the most basic concepts of journalism.  It is important that we have civil discussions about what’s happening in our world of professional communication where we’re all trying hard to do our job under the watchful eyes of a connected society.

Kudos, Mike … and special recognition to my journalism alma mater for having the foresight to have people in charge like Lafferty.

Is there an editor in the house?

November 14, 2013

 by Roger Pynn

The purpose of newspaper headlines is to capture reader attention … to target reader interests by telling them briefly what a story is about.  Headline writing is an art.  Editing them is a responsibility.

Having sat at a copy desk at a newspaper once or twice in my career, I remember being trained to tell the story concisely by drawing the most important element from the story and writing a headline that fit the available space and told the reader what to expect below.

When newspapers either don’t take the time or no longer have the resources to assure that headlines are doing that, the threads of journalistic responsibility begin to unwind because headlines are often the only thing most readers take with them.  Many people take the headline and nothing else to their conversations around the water cooler, or use them as the fuel for their calls to the sewer of the airwaves (talk radio) or their posts on the sewer of the Internet (newspaper comment boards).  Uninformed, they simply parrot what they saw atop a story they never read.

Here’s a blatant example of a newspaper not editing headlines.

GOP on Obituary Page

On what you might now call the “op-obit page” of the Orlando Sentinel today is a headline that you’d expect to see on the “op-ed page” … one decrying rascally Republicans as uncaring about those who might benefit from the relief of misery through legalization of marijuana.  (Personal note:  I think we ought to legalize marijuana, although very carefully, but this commentary has nothing to do with that.)

The headline (“GOP’s compassionate conservatism missing on medical marijuana) is nowhere reflected in the story.  No one is quoted as alleging Republicans are not compassionate.  Clearly, whoever wrote the headline saw an opportunity to make a political point or two.

When newspapers allow this lack of quality control, is it any wonder why people distrust the news media?  All of us in the world of public relations have to deal with reporters on a regular basis, but we can’t blame them for headlines like this … written by invisible headline writers on the copy desk.

A better headline for this story might have been “Sides split on wording of medical marijuana amendment.”  That would have protected the reporter, Jim Saunders of News Service of Florida, from the ridicule of readers who often don’t realize that reporters don’t write the headlines.  By the way, on its website, News Service of Florida’s headline was far more appropriate:  “COURT FACES SHARP DIVIDE ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA ISSUE.”

Interestingly, I can’t find the story anywhere on

Is Something Fishy?

November 12, 2013

by Roger Pynn

I haven’t watched the documentary “Blackfish” about killer whales (Orcas) kept in captivity in marine parks like SeaWorld.  I’m not sure how it would affect me because although I love the SeaWorld parks, I’ve never been a big fan of zoos where animals are held in captivity and I’m beginning to see pools more like cages the more I think about it.

Regardless the film’s message or where you stand on the ethical treatment of animals, you might want to ask yourself whether there’s something fishy about it becoming a CNN Film … given all the reporting and commentary on the “news” network.

CNN announced the creation of CNN Films a year ago, saying it would acquire and commission feature-length documentaries.  By their nature, documentaries draw – or lead to – conclusions … much like an editorial page.  But often they are produced with such dramatic flair as to border on docutainment.

What do you think?  Does CNN belong in this space?  Since this film had already become a huge story, was it right for CNN to acquire and begin rebroadcasting it … positioning it as a “premiere”?


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