Saturday, December 16, 2017

When Real Life Meets Social Media

I have a great deal of fun curating a Tumblr site called "Found in New Jersey."

What I particularly like about Tumblr -- just like Instagram, and unlike Twitter or Facebook -- is that it's usually pretty drama-free. Tumblr can be very artistic and self-expressive (also very pornographic), but it's usually a one-way street, where people just "like" stuff and move on.

So when I received a real message from one of my Tumblr connections today, I was jolted back to real life and how different it is from social media.

It was about this column in today's Newark Star-Ledger by Mike Di Ionno: "During Murder Hearing, Father of Victim Counts Blessings."

It's a heart-breaking story. You should read it. My Tumblr connection is a real-life friend of the Tevlins, the family of the murder victim.

All this has nothing to do with social media's tidy and vacant proclamations of "thoughts and prayers." This is real life, so messy and complicated... and often so sad and yet hopeful.

Friday, November 24, 2017

November Reviews: The Boys in the Boat and The Sarah Book

T.S. Eliot was wrong. November, not April, is the cruelest month. Especially if you, like me, happen to be a fan of Notre Dame football.

I’m definitely not a fan of the cold weather, the dying leaves, all the reminders of mortality.

One good thing I have to say about the month is that it provides the perfect backdrop to read or listen to a good book. I gave two a try over the past few weeks. One, I liked unreservedly; the other left me wondering. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, I suppose.. so forgive me, Scott McClanahan, for this lesser mortal's snarky attempt at imitation. Blame it on November.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin OlympicsThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last month I posted on Facebook looking for a book recommendation, and several friends recommended “The Boys in the Boat.”

When I read previews of the book, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a long book, about a topic — competitive rowing — in which I had not even an iota of interest. It was a true story, but set more than 80 years ago, and all the people involved in the drama are no longer living. So what did my friends see in this book that I didn’t?

I asked this of myself again and again as I began listening to the audio version recorded by the great Ed Herrmann just a year before his death. I started listening. I stopped. I started listening again.

Gradually, I was pulled into the story — and then I became enthralled.

This is a great book. It’s what story-telling is all about: it enlightens; it entertains; it expands horizons. The writing brings the past — notably, the Great Depression and the Berlin Olympics — back to life, and the research that went into this is astounding. Maybe the story was a little too perfect in the retelling, maybe the life-lessons are a little too pat… but, oh, what a terrific time I had along the way.

I even followed this up by watching the PBS “American Experience” documentary, “The Boys of ‘36.” It was interesting to see real-life footage of the same scenes that appeared in this book. The thing is, the book was even better.

The Sarah BookThe Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a car. I was listening to this book while driving my car. My wife was with me. “What's that?” she asked. I told her it was an audio book. An audio book called The Sarah Book. My wife said, “It’s an audio book?” “Yes,” I said. “It’s called The Sarah Book.” “It sounds like it’s written by a third-grader,” my wife said. “It isn’t,” I replied. “Well, it’s the way kids in my third-grade class would tell stories,” she said. “Just one thing after another. It’s very repetitive.” “Well,” I replied, “It’s actually a very well-reviewed book. And it’s short. I’m trying to keep an open mind about it. Everyone loves it.” Everyone but my wife.

Then the author continued reading in his mesmerizing drawl. It wasn’t one of the good parts. I had heard some good parts, but this wasn’t one. This part was about an old dog, and I couldn’t tell whether it was supposed to be humorous, pathetic or ironic. Or whether it mattered. I had thought some parts were poetic. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was right. Maybe my feelings are just a metaphor for life, and we’re all trapped inside this book review. All of life is just one big book review, and we don’t even know if the author is reliable or not. Did he really take his kids on a joyride while drunk? I don't think we can ever be sure.

So I need you to forgive me. Also, I know I’m using the word “I” a lot. I’m just warning you: if I were you, and I purchased this book, I would get used to it. Anyway, I know that all is lost. Everything we love will be lost. So what does it matter?

View all my Goodreads reviews

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Holy TMP! This Press Release May Save Your Phone

This iPhone is dead, right?

Its screen is cracked; its insides are showing. It's unresponsive.

Well, let me tell you the happy story of how it was brought back to life… because, in the immortal words of Arlo Guthrie, you may know somebody in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation.

Here’s how to protect yourself when your phone’s screen (be it iPhone or Android or Windows) is cracked and seemingly beyond repair: Get a mobile device protection plan.

I mean, pardon the commercial interruption, but there’s a great deal on something called Total Mobile Protection (TMP) that Verizon is offering until Nov. 17.

You should really check it out. NOW.

A few weeks ago, I told the story here of how I was tripped up by supernatural forces and landed on my iPhone to break my fall. Sadly, I could not revive the device, so I put it in a drawer and transferred my number to a trusty old Droid. (By the way, despite the fact that I work for Verizon, I'm not automatically given new phones... we make sure all the latest/greatest phones are made available to customers first.)

Then, by coincidence, I happened to see a draft of this press release... the press release...

Phone-saving press release my Seattle-based colleague Scott Charlston. He told me he was arranging screen-repair demos in the New York area with Asurion, a company that provides insurance services for wireless devices, and that Andrew Testa, who works in the same office I do, would be happy to take my phone to see if it could be fixed.

If my phone could be fixed, anybody's phone could be fixed. I had nothing to lose. So I gave my baby to Andrew.

A few days later he tweeted these before and after photos of "Pete from Asurion," who Andrew was evidently holding captive in a suburban garage...

Unbelievably, he fixed it!

Pete from Asurion raised my iPhone from the dead!

I only hope that someday Andrew lets him out of that garage. Pete really deserves so much more than the current $29 TMP deductible.

Here's my iPhone; good as new...

...The home screen is a photo from the Grotto on the Notre Dame campus. There's a story behind that too, but that's for another blog post on another day. Some day after Notre Dame plays Miami later tonight.

Go Irish!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Shameless Self Promotion

Google Album of Bob in front of step-and-repeat banners
Google Photos is a harsh mistress.

Looking back on my automatically saved photos usually forces me to confront sobering questions about my life choices, like...

Why did I take selfies in front of 21 step-and-repeat banners over the past three years?

I've pondered this question before, and my best defense is simply that it's a harmless and joking way to keep myself entertained at business and charity events.

At least that's what I'd tell strangers. What I'll tell you -- since you've cared enough to read this far -- is that the truth is more complicated.

I unapologetically want to leave a mark on the world... whether it's through my family and work relationships, or through sharing on social media in different ways that will lead to real-life connections or somehow have meaning in someone's life.

So, yes, I'm a shameless self-promoter.

I plan to keep putting stuff out there too because someday, somehow, it may make a difference. Here are 10 places you can find me... if you don't happen to have a step-and-repeat banner handy:
  • Right here, where I plan to post more writing and poetry and music in the future (and, I think, even fill out past years with diary entries I've not previously shared).
  • On Instagram (my favorite platform), where I have two accounts: a main account, where I post images from everywhere (hello, NYC, my favorite city), and an experimental, slice-of-New-Jersey-life account.
  • On Tumblr (my second-favorite platform), where I'm curating "Found in New Jersey," about the quirky land I love.
  • On Twitter, where I tweet an awful lot of work stuff (including Verizon news releases and stories from me and my colleagues), but try to keep a sense of humor about it (and of course I follow back, if you're active and not a bot).
  • On LinkedIn, where I also post work stuff, and try to keep things a bit more professional and promote others -- and sometimes write original posts related to PR.
  • On Facebook, where I share posts publicly when it doesn't impact my family's privacy.
  • On Medium, where I re-post things no one ever reads (except for my oft-updated book-review post, which is a compilation of my short Goodreads reviews).
  • On The Good Men Project site, where I post things that are well-read and heavily promoted, thanks to the tremendous support of its great editorial team.
  • On Pinterest, where I indulge my love of penguins. 
  • On Google+, where I post things simply because I feel that Google can otherwise be a vindictive mistress, too. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Haunting in New Milford

It’s October; time to get spooky. Do you believe in ghosts?

I do, or want to. There must be more to life than what we can see, and it's comforting to believe in an afterlife.

But only once in my life did I really think I saw a ghost.

Years ago, the 21 Red and Tan commuter bus from New York dropped me off right on River Road by the side of my old, historic house in New Milford, NJ. From the bus stop, I could see my wife in our back bay window. She was reaching up, hanging a flower pot.

Moments later, I was home and in the living room. No one had greeted me at the front door, and I found nothing hanging in the window. All I found was a note in the kitchen from my wife, saying she had taken our two young daughters on a play date and would be late arriving home.

I was more puzzled than frightened. I’ve lived there many years since without any similar incidents, and the back bay window was long ago replaced during a renovation. Still, my daughters swear they sometimes heard “ghost cats” from their bedrooms when they were young. That might be explained by mice or squirrels. I can’t explain what I think I saw with my own eyes.


So it was with some curiosity that I saw New Milford DPW workers recently install a banner reading “Nightmare on River Road” over the very spot where I once thought I saw a ghost. At first I thought, “I know our fence needs some repairs, but ‘nightmare’ is a little harsh!”

On further review, I realized it was an advertisement for one of New Jersey’s “premiere indoor haunted house attractions,” right in the center of my home town. There’s a a website with further information, a Facebook page (of course) and this news story in the Bergen Record, which gives plenty of details about the 23-room site, open weekends during October.

During the day, I went to check it out for myself before it opened, and a friendly representative of New Milford Boy Scout Troops 78 and 291 invited me in to look around – as long as I didn’t post any photos. The attraction was still in set-up mode – but I was impressed, both by the quality of the project and by the enormous volunteer effort that has made this remarkable Boy Scout fundraiser come to life. Or death.

Despite the warning, I did take a single photo: the one posted at the top of this page... a behind-the-scenes, real-life messy sink. It wasn’t part of the attraction, I rationalized – although it looks like it belongs in a serial killer’s lair.

I was admiring this shot on my cell as soon as I turned to head home… and promptly tripped. I instinctively used my iPhone to break my fall to the concrete. I’m OK, but the screen was shattered.

Somehow, I managed to extract the photo of the sink as a grim reminder – and warning to you -- to always listen to whatever a Boy Scout leader tells you to do, even in matters of the paranormal.


Aside from the Nightmare on River Road, I know of few other haunted places in New Milford.

The borough is, however, bookended by two sites where people have claimed to see ghosts. One is the old Steuben House at historic New Bridge Landing just over the border on the south side.

I ask you, though, does this room look haunted?

OK, so it does.

Just over the border on the north side of town, there’s also this…

… It’s the abandoned Oradell Water Treatment Plan on the Van Buskirk Island property owned by United Water (formerly the Hackensack Water Company). You can’t tell me that place isn’t haunted.

Finally, just for an October's eve adventure, I drove to another allegedly haunted site a few miles away that for years has attracted attention from the girls (my daughters included) at Holy Angels High School: The Devil’s Tower in Alpine.

According to local legend, if you drive or walk backward around the tower at least three times, you see the ghost of a woman who leapt to her death there. You might also find yourself face-to-face with the devil.

I took these 13 photos of The Devil’s Tower, but I didn’t dare drive or walk backward while there. When it comes to the supernatural, I’m a skeptical believer… not a fool.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Joe Girardi Illustrated 5 Ways Business Leaders Fail -- And 1 Way to Win

Back page of the NY Post the morning after
I grew up a Yankees fan, although these past few years I've really only followed the Mets. My wife is a lifelong Mets fan, and I have come to appreciate and believe Roger Angell's quote from "The Summer Game" that "there is more Met than Yankee" in every one of us.

Still, I like the Yankees -- and they are responsible for some of my life's most vivid memories... watching countless games on TV at home with Dad in Totowa, NJ, and a memorable Aaron Boone home run live in the Bronx with my friend John Bonomo. What's not to like about Aaron Judge or Didi Gregorius or even Joe Girardi?

Well, I found plenty not to like about Joe's managing of Friday night's Game 2 of the ALDS -- and wrote the following and posted it on LinkedIn without even getting out of bed Saturday morning. Since then, on Day 2, Joe has admitted to making errors in judgment during the game, so I'll add a 6th lesson here: Learning from mistakes is a winning strategy. Here's hoping the Yankees recover and win today and tomorrow and again next Wednesday. In the meantime, here's what I posted yesterday:

If and when New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi leaves his career in baseball, he might consider a teaching job at the Harvard Business School. He’d have valuable first-hand lessons to teach on how business leaders can fail:
  1. Rely too much on process. Girardi’s post-game “they only us 30 seconds to decide” excuse for not seeking a replay challenge of the ball that allegedly hit Lonnie Chisenhall (and ultimately changed the outcome of last night’s Game 2 of the AL Divisional Playoff between the Yankees and Cleveland Indians) is a classically lame corporate copout. It’s akin to saying “we’ve always done it this way.”
  2. Rely on poor metrics. Last night, baseball viewers were informed by cable TV announcers that the Yankees led the league in successful replay challenges (75%). And likely there are Yankees replay staff, responsible for recommending whether the manager should ask for a challenge, who stake their job security and expect a raise this year for producing such an impressive number. The thing is, it’s the wrong number. In fact, if you successfully challenge only 5% of replays – and one of those 5% happens to turn the tide of a playoff game – that’s the only right metric to be concerned about.
  3. Don’t seize the moment. OK, Joe, so you do have only a limited amount of time and your replay staff has let you down. What do you do? Nothing, is not the correct answer. (And, here, history repeats itself, because 10 years ago in the playoffs Yankees manager Joe Torre similarly did nothing as his team was literally attacked by a plague of locusts on the same field). Instead, seize the moment. Channel former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver. I believe Earl would have shot out of the dugout, gotten in the face of the erring umpire, thrown a few things around the infield – and given his 75%-right staff more than 30 seconds to see that Yankees pitcher Chad Green had actually produced an inning-ending strikeout instead of a hit batsman to load the bases.
  4. Lack a creative spark. Oh, but Joe later explained, he didn’t want to interrupt Green’s rhythm in that situation by calling for an extended replay review. That proved very wrong. The non-interrupted Green proceeded to surrender a grand slam to Francisco Lindor, the next batter. Perhaps, given that Joe said he knew from his prior experience as a major league catcher that “interrupted rhythm” was a real concern, he could have, with a little creativity, both delayed the game to ensure a proper replay review AND had another pitcher warmed up to replace Green before he faced Lindor. So few people -- and I'll include myself here -- are able to think three moves ahead in the heat of a pressure-packed moment. The people who do are the people who lead business revolutions.
  5. Don’t listen to employees. This is the worst offense. Joe’s own on-field captain, catcher Gary Sanchez, clearly motioned to the dugout that the ball had been foul-tipped and caught, rather than hit the batter. Joe, who has recently publicly criticized Sanchez’ defensive skills (another management error), evidently didn’t believe him. What do you think Sanchez’ psyche is like now? Or Green’s? Or Todd Frazier, who Joe later pulled from the game at second base for pinch runner Roland Torreyes... who was promptly picked off, later meekly struck out, and then, having replaced Frazier in the field, allowed Cleveland’s winning ground ball to pass between him and third base on the final play of the game.
All that said, losing in a team sport – and losing in business situations – is always a team effort.

The Daily News' take
Sanchez looked at a third strike with a runner in scoring position, team superstar Aaron Judge didn’t produce a single RBI when it was needed most, and Green DID give up a grand slam. Even external forces produced “headwinds” (corporate jargon alert) that worked against a Yankee victory. Remember, it was home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna who first made the incorrect call on the strikeout – much to the surprise of the batter and catcher. And a New York Post photographer interfered with a play that gave Cleveland an extra base in a crucial spot. And Karma.

Winning is a team effort too. Let’s not forget that Lindor actually hit a grand slam, that catcher Yan Gomes’ cannon arm produced the Torreyes pickoff, that Jay Bruce hit a home run when his team needed it most, and that Gomes also ultimately (unlike so many hitters before him) hit a game-winning RBI in extra innings.

If and when Girardi takes that professorship at Harvard Business School, sign me up. I'm sure Yankees fans only hope it’s a course that's offered in the coming spring semester.


Read all 28 articles I've posted on LinkedIn, all touching on PR issues. Also, special thanks to my friend Michael Kasdan. He's an editor at The Good Men Project, a website founded in 2009 as a collection of men’s stories about the defining moments in their lives. GMP reposted this yesterday, just as it has so graciously posted some of my other rants.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Kurt & Me: A ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ Review Unstuck in Time

Slaughterhouse-FiveSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s October 2017, and a chubby, graying PR person driving a white Ford Fusion hybrid has just pulled to the shoulder past the Harter Road exit on Route 287 South in New Jersey.
He’s shouting, but there’s no one else in the car.

His radio, which earlier that morning had informed him of yet another mass shooting in America, was now streaming an Audible book. In an otherwise listless narration of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” the actor James Franco had just read this passage (read further for the context):
“It was a movie about American bombers in World War II and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this: American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans though and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again."

Listen: Bob Varettoni has come unstuck in time.

It’s October 1977, and he is sitting in an undergraduate American literature class at a large Catholic university in northern Indiana. He has not completely read the latest assignment, “Slaughterhouse-Five,” because he did not have the time or (at that time in his life) the nerve to return his copy of the book to the Hammes bookstore (the old small one off the South Quad, not the megastore that graces the campus in 2017).

He had bought the book weeks earlier, but upon starting to read it he was distressed to notice that the binding was flawed. Several of the folios were missing. So whole sections of the novel weren’t included, including the description of Billy Pilgrim viewing a war movie in reverse.

Nevertheless, by that time Bob had already read “Cat’s Cradle” and “Breakfast of Champions” so he concluded he had already read enough of Kurt Vonnegut’s work, and gotten the gist of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” to submit a critique – which received an A – stating the author was too clever by half in writing about such a serious topic as the firebombing of Dresden.

Bob smugly recalled this A years later, while watching a Jon Lovitz sketch on “Saturday Night Live.” As Master Thespian, Lovitz would perform a ridiculously self-centered conceit, an over-the-top bit of stage business – which would all be explained and justified by the catchphrase, “Acting!”

That’s the way Bob, for decades, had thought of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” smugly thinking that its Famous Author had (much like this review) called more attention to his craft than to his message:

“And so it goes... WRITING!” “Brilliant!” “Thank you!”


Vonnegut and Krementz, a 1978 photo by Saul Leiter.
It’s now October 1997, and Bob is attending a breakfast event at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan. He works for a telephone company called Bell Atlantic, which has sponsored a Columbia Journalism School series about First Amendment issues.

An elegant, dark-haired woman approaches Bob to say hello. She’s the photographer Jill Krementz. Bob had recently helped fix problems with her phone service.

Jill greets Bob warmly and turns to introduce her husband – who, a surprise to Bob, is the Famous Author, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Jill invites Bob to sit at their table and whispers something to Kurt. He smiles and asks Bob about his job. “It’s only PR,” Bob demurs. Kurt replies, “Nothing wrong with that…” adding that he used to do PR for GE in Schenectady many years earlier. Soon others are vying for his attention, and panel presentations begin.

The speakers spoke fluent Academia, and sometimes their words struck Bob as unintentionally funny. Bob tried not to react, but caught Kurt’s eye from across the table, and the two had a great time over the next hour conspiratorially exchanging glances. They were, it seemed to Bob, the only people in the room who were in on the joke.

Kurt had a twinkle in his eye, reminding Bob of the times he spent as a boy with his witty, unconventional, larger-than-life grandfather, whose photo he keeps at his desk in his virtual office in the year 2017.

In the photo, Bob’s grandfather is nearly passed out drunk at a table, while Bob obliviously plays at his feet. You really can’t see Bob in the photo… just one chubby arm and a sliver of a child’s body in overalls… but somehow, this image never fails to make him happy.

Back in October 1997, Bob gathered his courage at the end of the breakfast, shook the Famous Author’s hand, and said, “I’ll never forget this morning.” Kurt wordlessly bowed, like Master Thespian.

And now it’s October 2017 again, and Bob Varettoni is driving to work.

He has wearily turned off radio news accounts about someone who had somehow purchased 33 guns in the past year, converted many of them to automatic weapons and stashed them in a Las Vegas hotel suite, from where he then shot 58 people to death the previous Sunday evening.

Instead of listening to more of this, Bob attempts to finally listen to the entirety of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” 40 years after he was originally assigned to read it in class.

Approaching the exit to Harter Road on Route 287 South, he hears James Franco intone, “It was a movie about American bombers in World War II and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this…”

The absurd, and clever, genius of the images that followed… the scene’s message of peace and nonviolence, and its literal deconstruction of all the senseless weapons… is the stuff of great literature. Bob got goosebumps as he continued to listen. These words were so utterly unexpected in the context of his life it was as if someone had pried open the top of his head to fill it with something altogether new.

By the time the narrator reached the part about dismantling the cylinders and separating the dangerous contents into minerals and how – touchingly – it was mainly women who did this work, Bob had to pull over to the side of the road to collect his thoughts.

When James Franco continued to read about how the minerals were shipped to specialists in remote areas… about how it was their job to return the minerals to the earth, hiding them cleverly, “so they would never hurt anybody ever again… “ Bob pounded his hand against the steering wheel of his parked Fusion hybrid and shouted, “What the hell!... I mean, seriously, what the hell!!”

Perhaps he even used an expletive other than “hell.” He repeated, in astonishment, “What the hell was THAT?”

That was Kurt, the Famous Author, finally saying goodbye.

And so it goes.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Corporations Can't Buy Love... But Can They Earn It?

Verizon's Credo, on the wall of corporate hq
Driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike on the Sunday Hurricane Irma made landfall, I saw a convoy of Con Edison trucks heading south, toward Florida.

The crews were speeding in the opposite direction of safety, already on their way to help Florida Power & Light restore electricity.

Working in PR for Verizon, I knew colleagues who were, just then, staffing Florida command centers in hardened facilities built to withstand Category 5 winds. They were assessing damage and coordinating with emergency teams to provide support as soon as it was safe and possible… just as other colleagues had done days earlier when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.

Also at the same time, the roster of corporations donating funds and services in response to hurricanes Harvey and Irma was reaching impressive proportions. CNN reported that donations alone totaled nearly $160 million in the immediate aftermath of Harvey. Verizon donated $10 million, with $2.5 million as part of the Hand in Hand telethon, which included more than 4,000 employees answering phones during the benefit.

Press releases and social media posts soon announced one corporate donation after another … all the way up to Walmart upping its initial $20 million commitment to $30 million.

Cars honked and flashed their headlights in appreciation at the Con Ed trucks. In my own car on Sirius XM’s new Beatles channel, Paul McCartney sang, “Money can’t buy me love.”

I wondered, was “buying love” what corporate America was trying to do? Was this outpouring of support for Floridians and Texans really just marketing in sheep’s clothing?


Consider the recent wave of CEO activism on political issues. TheStreet’s Tucker Higgins wrote that it’s been a banner year for public position-taking among U.S. corporations. For example, the President’s immigration policy sparked dozens of CEOs to issue public statements.

This is especially interesting in the context of a recent Weber Shandwick finding: more than half of surveyed millennials said they were more likely to buy products from a company led by a CEO who shares their values on social issues. An ancillary benefit is that CEOs who express socially-responsible policy views can help recruit and attract employment talent – or at least social media advocacy -- from a millennial base.

This is, and should be, important to business leaders. After all, the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust is in crisis around the world. The general population’s trust in all four key institutions — business, government, NGOs, and media — has declined broadly.

Without an authentic connection to customers on a human level, business leaders today risk a consumer sentiment exemplified by corrupt Sen. Geary in “The Godfather Part II.” “I’ll do business with you,” he tells Michael Corleone, “but the fact is I despise your masquerade.”


A larger movement among businesses began a dozen years ago when another hurricane made landfall. As Causecast CEO Ryan Scott observed, “Hurricane Katrina not only devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. It also shattered the confidence Americans had in their government to respond to domestic emergencies.” This, he argues, changed the nature of corporate social responsibility forever.

Lowe's employees in Texas
Corporations are made up of people, and when other people are in dire need – and there’s instant access to their plight via social media – it’s just human decency to do the right thing. If there’s an undercurrent of self-interest, does it even matter?

Think about it: in recent days, a grassroots effort among the business community has marshaled and mobilized an immediate, effective collection of essential services and funding to support the well-being of countless thousands of individuals. Fueled by new media, this effort has been unprecedented in scope – and its beneficiaries are not just customers, not just shareholders, but society as a whole.

I see three takeaways in this for PR professionals:

  • It’s time to take a renewed pride in our profession.
I recall conversations over the years where reporters would call the PR profession “the dark side.” These conversations have been more infrequent lately – perhaps correlating with the Edelman Trust Index finding that the media is even less trusted than the business community. It used to be that traditional media fueled social media; now, it’s the opposite. This means PR advocacy is more important than ever.

The truth is, advocacy for agents of positive change is a wonderful thing. If gaining recognition for a company that’s doing good works -- with an authentic concern for customers and employees -- is considered the dark side, then call me Darth Vader.

If you’re not proud of the PR work you’re doing, you’re advocating for the wrong company or client. If that’s the case, get out. Now.

  • It’s time to re-double our commitment to ethics.
September is recognized as Ethics Month by the PRSA, and there’s no better time to review its ethics code. The guidance relates to the values of advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness.... because, ultimately, our job is to help our company/client do the right thing. The best PR is built on the best business practices.

I still recall Bob DeFillippo’s words before he retired as Prudential’s chief communications officer. He was asked what he would have done differently during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to reduce the damage to BP’s reputation. He replied, “I would have capped the well faster.”

He also said, “I never had to compromise my integrity because of concerns over profit or to avoid admitting that we did something wrong.”

I can say the same. I’ve seen more mutual respect, civility and decency evident in corporate America than in general society… or even in a church parking lot. At my company, there’s an oft-cited one-page Credo that also reminds us, when hurricanes strike, “We run to a crisis, not away.”

  • It’s time to be more respectful of our audiences.
Because of social media, there’s an accelerating trend in corporate PR where internal and external communications are melding. There’s good in this, but there’s also a danger… especially in times of crisis.

Press releases, tweets and Facebook posts that self-proclaim employees as heroes are counter-productive to the greater good in this new age of corporate social responsibility. Yes, there’s internal value in building employee culture by recognizing good work during crises. But, externally, a hero is a first-responder who puts his or her own life on the line in the service of others.

PR professionals need to resist self-serving external communications that make it appear, at best, a company is being inauthentic and, at worst, a company is taking advantage of a tragedy to try to gain positive attention.


In “Uprising,” Scott Goodson, chairman of StrawberryFrog, writes about the power of social movements in the business world: “As businesses become involved with the right kinds of movements – and if they do so in an authentic manner that supports and facilitates rather than tries to exploit – I believe this can help companies themselves to attain a higher sense of purpose.”

As McCartney’s bandmate once asked, “You say you want a revolution?”

Well, you know, when it comes to corporate America's response to helping other people in a crisis, there’s already one underway. It’s a revolution, PR people should know, where your work has direct and vital impact.

This post originally appeared 9/25/17 on Nasdaq's MarketInsite.