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.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Luna Parc, Photographer's Paradise

Luna Parc, the private home and studio of Paterson-born artist Ricky Boscarino, is an immersive work of living art in rural Sussex County, NJ.

It's not open to the public often, but Asbury Park's Suzanne Spitaletta, founder of the mighty social-media-based photography community Black Glass Gallery, arranged a tour for the group, led by Ricky's neighbor Scott on a hot and humid September Saturday.

I tried to control myself, yet took over 200 photos. Here's a shared Google folder with 70 of my photos.

Everywhere I looked there was something to see and appreciate. If only real life was like that, right?

Well, maybe it is. And maybe that's the point.

Anyway, here's a portrait of Ricky...

And here's a display of Ricky's Mom's wedding dress...

And here, on the kitchen counter, is a photo of what this formerly modest cabin looked like nearly 30 years ago when it was first purchased...

According to Scott, Ricky intends to keep adding to the property until the day he dies, and leave it to the world as his legacy.

I look forward to the photos that will be posted on Black Glass Gallery's website and Instagram feed. Meanwhile, Luna Parc's website contains much more information, so you can find a way to plan a visit for yourself.

Prepare to be overwhelmed, and enchanted.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dimensionalize That Paradigm!

Two books converge in the woods, and I choose the one more complicated

A long-favorite short story by James Thurber, “The Macbeth Murder Mystery,” tells of an American woman at a hotel in the English countryside, circa 1955. She wants to read a good mystery story before going to sleep, but the only thing close at hand by her bedside was Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

So she reads it as a murder mystery, and comically reads too much into everything.

I’ve just done the same thing with two shortish novels – “Private” by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro and “The Reason You’re Alive” by Matthew Quick – that happened to be taking up space in my Kindle library. I figured, “Well, what the hell…”

The only thing the two books have in common is that the protagonists of both are war heroes, with unlimited access to funding.

I fear I’ve read far too much into both books, however. I’m now all worked up about the art of storytelling.

Private (Private, #1)Private by James Patterson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Private,” the first book in the Jack Morgan series, is a relentless plot machine. Resistance is futile. Every chapter is bite-sized and fast-moving. Multiple plots are juggled with ease. Celebrities make cameos. The men are more manly; the women all sleep with Jack. One plot involves the NFL… accompanied by the mafia, of course. Another involves obligatory cyber-genius serial killers preying on young females. There’s plenty of sex, violence and advanced forensics. In short, it’s a typical late 2000s episode of “CSI” or “Criminal Minds,” with the loose ends neatly tied up before a closing ad for Kraft Foods.

The thing is, you can’t put the book down – and you can’t argue with its success. It’s like eating peanuts from the generous bowl the bartender always places in front of Jack because he’s such a big tipper. You always think, “Just another chapter or two before I put this down…”

“Private” is published under the James Patterson Brand… ghost-written by Paetro and, judging from the acknowledgements, researched by a small army of assistants. It takes a village to be a best-selling author these days.

The Reason You're AliveThe Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After this naked, tour-de-force of storytelling, reading “The Reason You’re Alive” reminded me of a corporate parody video I once saw where a marketing manager urged his staff to “dimensionalize that paradigm.”

I now think I finally know the meaning of that phrase. You see, I see what you did there, Mr. Quick. You dimensionalized the paradigm of storytelling.

“The Reason You’re Alive” isn't all about the plot. It's told by an unreliable narrator in a PTSD mental fog – a non-politically-correct war hero. There are graphic descriptions of war crimes, combined with lots of casual and mean-spirited obscenity. There’s also a deus-ex-machina Vietnam buddy who provides the funding that makes the ending possible.

Still, in the end, I didn’t really enjoy the book that much, to be honest. It was all a little too forced, a little too quirky. The war crimes are over-the-top but, hey, I’ve read that Miramax has purchased the movie rights, so maybe it’s just me. I probably never watched enough episodes of “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” to become as desensitized as a studio executive.

Still, if forced to choose between the two books, I’d choose “The Reason You’re Alive” in a heartbeat. It’s not like everything else. And “Private” is precisely like everything else.

The moral here is that I’m going to re-think the “reading whatever is close at hand” trap I’ve fallen into lately.

I’m now looking for something that dimensionalizes the storytelling paradigm, but that that also isn’t a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I hear “Macbeth” might be a pretty good read.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Michelangelo in Paramus

From my Instagram feed about New Jersey

You don't see this every day in a shopping mall parking lot: an exhibit of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel artwork.

I visited there last night and took these photos.

Here's further information about it posted on the sponsor's website:
"Up Close: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel" recreates the awe and wonder of one of mankind’s greatest artistic achievements, while allowing its visitors to experience this art from a new perspective. The ceiling paintings from the Sistine Chapel have been reproduced using state-of-the-art technology. In order for the observer to fully engage and comprehend the artwork, the paintings have been reproduced in their original sizes.

Westfield Garden State Plaza will host the exhibit September 1-October 15th in the West Parking Lot nearest Lord & Taylor in Paramus.
Just another reason to love New Jersey.

PS- Regarding the artwork, I have to say... there was a lot of finger-pointing at the exhibit!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A New Generation Runs to a Crisis

My 9/11 Pinterest site
Driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike this morning – on the eve of the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- I saw a convoy of Con Edison trucks heading south, toward Florida, to help restore electricity in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

The crews were speeding in the opposite direction of safety, because they knew they had a job to do.

I’m proud to see the same ethic on display at my own job.

I work in PR at Verizon, and I know colleagues who are, right now, staffing Florida command centers 24x7 in hardened facilities state-wide, built to withstand Category 5 winds. They are already assessing damage and coordinating with emergency management teams to provide support as soon as it is safe and possible. Just as other colleagues did in Texas last week… and just as still others did nearly 16 years ago today.

I recently had the chance to review and comment on a publisher’s proof of a history of Verizon. Although I was with the company on 9/11/01, I was lost in the details of my own experience while safely in Midtown Manhattan, and so I was astounded and moved to read the detailed story of the extraordinary bravery and commitment to service by workers at Ground Zero who miraculously reopened the New York Stock Exchange just days later.

I’ve been archiving materials I’ve come across about these efforts. I’ve posted them on this Pinterest page. The most amazing artifact is a 38-minute video of the key participants who led efforts to restore service, in their own words.

This year, I’m also sharing a separate Google folder of archival photos detailing the damage to Verizon’s communications hub at 140 West Street, adjacent to Ground Zero, just days after the attacks.

Part of Verizon’s employee Credo is that “we run to a crisis, not away” – and since 9/11/01, many thousands of employees have been on site to repair and restore damaged networks, and still more have responded with monetary aid and donations to about three dozen emergency situations through the company’s Disaster Relief Incentive Program. This includes Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, tornadoes in Missouri and Alabama, and – just this past week – Hurricane Harvey, the Mexico earthquake and now Hurricane Irma.

This afternoon, as I was writing this, I retweeted a network status update from Verizon’s Florida PR contact, Kate Jay. When I did, I happened to see the tweet below by John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile, promoting his “Slow Cook Sunday” Facebook Live feature, just a few hours after Irma made landfall on the Florida coast.

Legere has amassed more than 4 million Twitter followers and often insults competitors. One recent Sunday morning, he retweeted a story about the first-ever telescopic picture of a black hole. “Wait…” he commented, “Is this a photo of Verizon’s soul??”

It was a joke; I get it.

But this Sunday, I’m not in the mood to laugh.

Yes, Verizon does have a soul. The evidence was on display in 2001, just as it has been this Sunday.

We run to a crisis.