Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pretending to Be Famous

Step and repeat.

That’s what you call the photos taken in front of promotional banners at charity and awards events.

It’s also where, tongue in cheek and smiling widely, I like to have my photo taken lately so that, like Zelig, I’ll chance to appear years from now in historical photos.

Welcome to life in 2014… when everyone aspires to fame and fortune, and all the children are above average.

The truth is, deep down, I think we all realize that pretending to be famous is so much easier than actually doing something that changes the world for the better.

But, deep down, we can’t help ourselves. It all has to do with aurochs and angels, and the secret of durable pigments.

No, my narcissism isn’t a matter life and death. It’s just kind of silly, and even self-deprecating…

A useless longing for immortality.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

“Ulysses" in the Age of Buzzfeed

Marilyn Monroe reading "Ulysses"
Did you know... you have an 8-second attention span?

That’s one second less than a goldfish’s.

Also, if I haven’t hooked you into reading this within the next 11 words, you’re outta here.

Those are essential web-writing tips from Andrea Smith, an award-winning digital communications consultant. She came all the way to Basking Ridge, NJ, to offer advice to Verizon's PR team. Other tips: use short sentences. And numbers. And bullets.

The advice was truly terrific for the type of writing I often do. But I enjoy writing other things, and the workshop happened to take place on the day after Bloomsday. I thought: What if I were James Joyce, trying to make a living in PR these days?

I could only imagine:

4 Homerically Interesting Observations About Dublin

Things got interesting on a first date this past week. I’m not going to write about that here (I’ll save it for Snapchat or some other form of private communication). But it got me to thinking about ordinary life and romance in my home town.

So here’s a list of 4 things I’m sure all Dubliners can appreciate:

  1. No grey trousers. Ever. 
  2. There’s history on every corner! (Of course, all the tourists are just a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.) 
  3. Want to be taken seriously? Try shouting in the streets
  4. Local cats cry “Mrkrgnao!” when they are hungry. 
That’s just a taste, of course. Right now, I have to run. My girl just asked me would I yes to say yes, and my heart is going like mad. So, yes I said yes. I will. Yes.


That’s it. Exactly 150 words! Flesch reading ease of 92!! Cats!!!

I suppose if you really want to learn more about Joyce's novel, you could start with the backstory behind Eve Arnold's click-bait photo I’ve attached to this post.

I tried reading “Ulysses” myself this past week, but gave up on it.

As I eloquently observed to my nephew Steven yesterday while loading a cargo van with things he had borrowed for college, “I thought ‘Ulysses’ was a pretentious pile of garbage.”

Steven happens to be a linguistic prodigy. He will someday earn his doctorate from Michigan State in classical languages and someday publish a new translation of “The Odyssey” that will make Grene and Lattimore look like bumbling idiots.

“A pretentious pile of garbage?” Steven laughed… then delivered a pitch-perfect reply, as if a siren putting me back in my place:

“Well, Uncle Bob, I can see why you’d think that.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The First Rule of "Gotcha Journalism"

"Fight Club" fans already know the answer to this. The first rule of "gotcha journalism" is you do not talk about "gotcha journalism."

So when asked to speak at last week’s Bulldog Reporter webinar on the topic of how PR spokespeople can combat overly aggressive tactics, I punted and said, "It's just journalism."

Thinking back on years of interaction with journalists, I recall only a few legitimate fights and not too many sucker punches.

A little over a year ago, I took a call from a Guardian reporter I didn’t know. After he laid out his story premise and research, I thought, “I bet I know who’s going to win the Pulitzer Prize next year,” before connecting him with a colleague who declined comment on behalf of the company.

Surely, that wasn't "gotcha journalism." (It may have been something else, given what we soon publicly learned of Glenn Greenwald's source, but that's an even thornier issue.)

As a PR person, I may not like or expect a reporter’s question, but that doesn’t make the question unfair. Similarly, a reporter may not like my answer, but that doesn’t make the answer – even when I must decline comment -- any less valid.

This give-and-take between journalist and source is changing due to technology. PR can't reliably play the "let's-go-off-the-record" game because not everyone follows the same rules. The New York Times can't play the "you-have-150-words-to-respond-with-a-letter" game because it doesn't own the printing press anymore.

Today everyone – including PR people, brands, trolls, conspiracy theorists and even my mother – can be a publisher. That may level the field a bit for PR, but it also makes the role of the journalist even more critical.

It's getting harder and harder for readers or viewers to find authenticity online. With that in mind, here’s a suggested start at my New Rules of Media Relations:
  1. Show a little faith in people – including parents, teachers and, yes, even journalists – who try to help people find or discern the truth.
  2. Do not talk about this with journalists.