When ”Nigeria” Comes Calling


Last week, my firm was offered an opportunity to pitch a terrific piece of new business.  An international oil company will soon announce a major public private partnership to build a huge energy facility in Florida – creating thousands of new jobs, lowering gas prices statewide and offering my company an A-List client for years to come.

Too bad it was all fake.

I was hit with a variation of an old scam – ancient actually – but with modern, current updates that sounded legitimate enough to make me stop and take notice.

It started with a phone call from a man who said he worked for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, based in Venezuela.  Following the recent death of Hugo Chavez, he said the Venezuelan government wanted to show things were “business as usual” and was trying to fast-track a project in Florida to build an energy facility.  He said it would be a public-private partnership among his company, Venezuela and Florida and that they wanted to announce the project in Miami at the end of June.  Time was short, and making matters worse for him, his wife was in the hospital, preparing to have his first child.  He asked if my firm had the capabilities to handle this project and more importantly, if I had any problems representing a project affiliated with Venezuela.

I fell for it – almost.  Seeing dollar signs, I focused on the controversial aspect of the proposal first.  Would I, a PR guy with a firm in Miami, be willing to represent an endeavor associated with socialist Venezuelans?  How would this play with my clients and friends with ties to Latin America and the Caribbean? 

I called my politically savvy brother and ran the Venezuela issue by him.  He said I needed to be careful but that it shouldn’t stop me from taking the next step.  After repeating the proposal to him, I also realized the whole thing could be a complete scam.

Later that day, I called a couple contacts of mine to see if they would be interested in helping me if I landed the business.  I made sure to tell them that it was very preliminary, and “you never know, I may be getting punked.”

The next day, I called the guy back, and he gave me more details regarding the deal: Quasi-governmental project with approval of the governor’s office, subcontracting with a major international oil company, big event with heads of state in Miami and a requirement of confidentiality and top-flight security.  I asked him if he was talking to other PR firms and he mentioned Edelman, which is indeed a very large international firm. 

Then things got weird.  In order to start the engagement, I would need to fly to Venezuela and sign a non-disclosure agreement within the next few days.  The agreement had to be signed by me and in-person. [Sounded odd.]  After we both signed the agreement, I would have to get it notarized at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.  I would then bring the agreement back to the U.S. and meet with the governor’s office. 

Where would we meet and how would I get there, I asked?  He suggested either the Marriott or Ritz Carlton in Caracas.  I could fly there first class.  He would wire me the money.  [Sound of squealing brakes!]

There’s more to the story, but you can see where it’s going.

I shared the details with a close friend who, coincidentally, collects copies of Nigerian letter e-mail scams.  We pondered stringing-along our scam artist, but I chose to just run away quickly.

As l recounted the story, I felt a bit embarrassed.  I almost fell for a scam as old as the hills; but this wasn’t a wealthy Nigerian prince sending me an anonymous e-mail.  It was similar but also a bit different. 

Here’s what I should have noticed immediately and what others should look for.

Delivery method can be anything, but message is the same
We are all familiar with the e-mail scam, but this one came as a phone call.  The key is the message is always the same – seemingly easy money.  In my case, if I was willing to act fast, I would have a lucrative contract without a complicated and exhaustive bid process.
The whole point of the elaborate story was to get me to forget about the risks of offering up my bank information.  The scam artist got me to worry about the Venezuela issue, which diverted my attention from other warning signs. 

Sounds just real enough
Doesn’t it make sense that the Venezuelan government would want to show things are business as usual after Chavez’s death?  The fraudster said he was affiliated with a large, international company and knew just enough about organizing a large media event to keep me hooked.

Time is short
The scammer works to develop a sense of urgency.  If the victim is focused on acting quickly, then he will cut corners and make a mistake.  The Nigerian prince’s life is in danger.  Save him fast and you will be richly rewarded.  In my case, act quickly and get the prized contract.

Reviewing what happened to me, I’m still somewhat embarrassed, but I figure sharing what happened to me might help the next guy who gets a new business call that’s actually a Nigerian letter.



Author: John P. David

Carnival’s Social Nightmare


“Instead of taking my family on a Carnival cruise for spring break, we’re just going to half fill the bathtub, climb in, and poop.”— recent Twitter post.

Problems at Carnival Cruise Lines have been widely reported by traditional media, but social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter have had an interesting impact on the cruise line and its brand.

First, the funny stuff.  A quick check of Twitter the other day found some really amusing observations.

Someone who answers to Bweezy (@bweezy1974) posted this: In order to rehabilitate its image, Carnival Cruise Lines has hired a man named Gilligan to act as first mate on its next three hour cruise.

Writer and television actress (I have never seen her) Sarah Thyre (@SarahThyre) suggested: Naming your cruise line Carnival is like naming your motel chain Toothless Hoarder Garage Sale.

Comedian and “Saturday Night Live” alum Kevin Nealon (‏@kevin_nealon) said: Glad Carnival Cruise Is not an airline. (Nothing subliminal about that one.)

And it was actor Joshua Malina (@JoshMalina) who played Will Bailey on “The West Wing” and also pioneered poker on television (I’m not kidding)  chimed in with the quote listed above: Instead of taking my family on a Carnival cruise for spring break, we’re just going to half fill the bathtub, climb in, and poop.

And my favorite by someone called Andry H’tims (‏@Thing_Finder) who said: Carnival Announces Plans to Scrap “Survivor-Themed” Cruises: CEO Says People “Just Don’t Seem to Get It”

Aside from offering an outlet for professional and amateur comedy writers to try new material, social media plays an increasing role in how we learn about crises and disasters – and also how communications and PR pros must respond to the same mishaps.

Just a few years ago (before texting, Facebooking and Tweeting were ubiquitous), we might have not heard a word about the Carnival Triumph’s poop cruise until it was all over.  On the first week-long cruise I took about 10 years ago, I paid about $150 for the privilege of logging-on to the Internet to check my e-mail while we were at sea.  I remember a half dozen computers available in a lounge area; it was not a crowded place.

Today, most cruise ships have some form of wifi onboard and for a fee, you can post like a fiend to your social media accounts.

Tweets and posts gave media outlets access to real-time information about what was happening on the Triumph, at least until everyone’s phones died. 

The main lesson here is that every company should monitor social media as a matter of course, but especially during a crisis. 

Last week, when Carnival’s Dream got stuck in St. Maarten, Twitter was blowing up with reports of the happenings on the ship.  Carnival’s PR team (@CarnivalPR) actively reached out to media outlets that were reporting on the broken down ship.

For example, when Fox News reporter Joshua Rhett Miller tweeted that toilets were overflowing on the Dream, Carnival’s PR team responded with information clarifying that only one toilet had overflowed – hardly news.

Here’s the original tweet:
 ‏@joshuarhett #Carnival Dream turns nightmare: Power outages, overflowing toilets reported @CarnivalCruise http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/03/14/power-outages-overflowing-toilets-reportedly-plague-another-carnival-cruise/#ixzz2NWNzJGrT

And here was Carnival’s response:

@CarnivalPR @joshuarhett Saw your story on Carnival Dream, wanted to make sure you had latest info & details regarding plumbing: http://bit.ly/ZQ0WqS

The link pointed to this statement:

Information on Carnival Dream and Alleged Toilet System Issues
Mar 14th, 2013 @ 12:33 pm › Joyce Oliva
We have had multiple conversations with the ship’s management team related to this subject.  Based on the ship’s service logs and extensive physical monitoring of all public areas, including restrooms, throughout the night, we can confirm that only one public restroom was taken offline for cleaning based on toilet overflow and there was a total of one request for cleaning of a guest cabin bathroom.  Aside from that there have been no reports of issues on board with overflowing toilets or sewage.  The toilet system had periodic interruptions yesterday evening and was fully restored at approximately 12.30am this morning.

Despite all the criticism Carnival has received for its handling of recent incidents, the company’s PR team clearly has plans in place to respond to negative postings online.  Perhaps the Triumph incident was just such a huge operational mess that the PR team was beyond overwhelmed.

Prior to the social media revolution, public relations and communications pros spent most of their time worrying about what reporter’s said and wrote.  Today, we have to watch multiple fronts.  Social media’s use as a news gathering and reporting tool by media outlets must always be part of the overall crisis communications plan.

Do you think Carnival can rehabilitate it’s image?  Do you have a plan in place to monitor social media for mentions involving your company?



Author: John P. David

Specialists Outflank Daily Newspapers


Each morning, I walk outside and pick up my copy of The Miami Herald, rescuing it from my driveway after its morning skid along the asphalt.  Sometimes I wonder how many dinosaurs like me remain, actual subscribers who read the print edition of a daily newspaper.  Except for the Sunday edition, which still has some heft, the Herald continues to thin.
Experts and novices alike have been waiting to “call the body” on dailies like the Herald for more than a decade.  But the publication lives on, as do dozens of other “major” dailies around the country.  Not only are the metro dailies thinner, but the long-term revenue model appears untenable (has for years).  And a daily newspaper has to be the “least green” product imaginable – it’s made from trees and is usually obsolete a few minutes after it hits your stoop.
While the advertising model is a monster challenge and the printing costs are exorbitant, what I believe is truly grinding down dailies is their continuing effort to try to be media generalists.  Papers like the Herald cover national news, the crime beat, entertainment and food, fashion, sports, neighborhood happenings, and on and on.  If I tried to get venture capital funding for a business that wanted to cover all these areas on a metro level, I would get laughed out of the room.  Speaking to my friend and really smart marketing guy Carlos Blanco about this, he was cold-bloodedly forthright: “The Internet killed the generalists.”  My take: He’s right and the big dailies don’t know it or can’t seem to admit it.
Meanwhile, the specialists soar.
One of the breakout stars of the 2012 election coverage was a wonky blogger named Nate Silver.  His FiveThirtyEight.com blog was licensed for publication by the New York Times, and for the final weeks of the campaign, his polling prognostications were like “must see TV.”  Friends on Facebook were checking his blog several times a day with cult-like verve.  Silver is the ultimate media specialist.  His Wikipedia bio calls him “an American statistician, sabermetrician, psephologist, and writer.”  I don’t even need to look those up; certainly, he’s no generalist.  A couple days after the election, Silver appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart!”  (Watch it here).  I’m guessing this was the first time Stewart featured a psephologist (which is an expert in the study and scientific analysis of elections – OK, so I did look it up).
For local stories, specialists triumph too.
One of the biggest “Miami” stories in recent memory is the saga of Ponzi schemer and ne’er-do-well former University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro.  Yahoo Sports first reported his exploits, which allegedly included supplying cash and prostitutes to football players.  Somehow, a gifted specialist working for the editorial side of a flagging search engine swooped-in and scooped the Miami Herald on one of its most-prized beats.
Another big story, the steroid scandal involving Major League Baseball players, more UM athletes and others, was first reported by Miami’s New Times, a paper with the main goals of muckraking and entertainment coverage.
And it’s not just here.  Do you think daily reporters in Chicago and South Bend, Indiana were happy to see Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o’s story break on DeadSpin.com?  Aside from learning the wacky details of the fake girlfriend, I was surprised to read that several members of the team of specialists from the Gawker.com-owned DeadSpin were actually interns.
Back home, generalist daily publications like the Herald are trying to cover subjects as varied as the Everglades, county hall, Castro, condos, Art Basel, the Heat and the humidity.  It’s an impossible mandate because the reporters, regardless of their talent, don’t have the time to cover all of these areas well.  And if they dig-in on one topic, they will have to leave another unguarded – and that’s when the specialists will jump in and eat their lunch.
I’m not sure what the answer is for metro dailies.  They face tremendous institutional pressure to be the catch-all media outlets in their markets.  Sadly, I don’t think it will necessarily be printing costs that lead to their ultimate demise.  As long as metro dailies remain “masters of none,” the specialists will continue to siphon-off their readers and their revenue.

Do you still get a daily newspaper delivered to your home or business?  Let me know.  And to see other blogs from top Florida marketing minds, visit www.marketinggroupie.com



Author: John P. David

Not Calling the Marlins Disingenuous


Some PR efforts don’t succeed.  Last week, Miami Marlins owner Jeffery Loria bought full-page ads in South Florida’s daily newspapers and published an open letter to fans.

He defended last year’s dismantling of the team, suggested that money it receives from tourist taxes is not “public” money, and largely blamed everyone but himself for the team’s tattered reputation and abysmal ticket sales.  He followed the widely panned letter with a press conference reasserting the same points.  None of it was well received.
A columnist for the Associated Press has since asked the question: “Is Jeffrey Loria the worst owner in the history of sports?” 

Aside from all the rich material here, I was struck by the word choices and tone taken by Marlins President David Samson in a recent story in The Miami Herald: “I’m not going to say Miami is not a sports town,’’ he said. “Or that there is something wrong with the fans? I would never say that.”

Oh you wouldn’t, would you?  I think you just did.

I find this type of language fascinating.  A former client once said to me: “I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job, but I think…”  Guess what?  He was telling me how to do my job, just as Samson is saying there’s something wrong with the fans in Miami.

Given my fascination for this “saying it but not saying it” tactic, I decided to seek an expert opinion.  I called my friend Dr. Oren Wunderman, a psychologist who also serves as CEO of Miami’s Family Resource Center, a wonderful non-profit group that helps foster kids get adopted.  Oren has forgotten more about psychology than I will ever know.

He called Samson’s language a “paradoxical assertion,” where a person asserts a point in one part of a statement and then negates it in another.

“State it and withdraw it,” said Wunderman.  “Very sneaky.”
For some of his adolescent patients, Wunderman says such language is unconscious, and he doesn’t hold them accountable for it.  With adults, he sees it as a form of manipulation.

Now, I don’t just want to pound on Loria and Samson while they are down.  I have never met Loria, but I like Samson.  I have heard him speak several times at chamber of commerce meetings and he’s a very smart guy.  He’s an advocate for the arts, a proponent of increased fitness and was even pretty good in his cameo role in the recent “The Three Stooges” movie (I’m not kidding: Here’s more on it).

Regardless, the Marlins leadership misjudged how the latest PR efforts would play out.  To right the ship and reconnect with South Florida’s fickle fans, I have a few suggestions for Loria and Samson.

Stop talking about the public financing issue.  Some people will always be upset that your stadium is publicly financed.  Stop worrying about how the stadium was paid-for and stop bringing up the negatives.  Get over it.  In Miami, we are used to government using our money incorrectly.  Defending the financing plan is impossible – our last mayor lost his job because of it.  And by the way, whoever gave you the “it’s not public money” sound bite ought to have their head examined.  “It’s not public money because it’s from the tourist bed tax?”  Are you kidding me?  So the millions in tourist taxes would just evaporate into the humid Miami night if we didn’t earmark it for your stadium?  A lot of people will hate it forever and you can’t change them; so move on.

Stop blaming.  Blaming is bad for business.  Sorry, but it is neither the media’s nor the fans’ fault that the vitriol is flying and nobody wants to buy a season ticket.  Yes, people are piling-on, but every sports franchise has to take the good with the bad.  Each time a Marlins executive blames the fans or media, he sounds like a petulant child.  At this point, nobody cares if you take your ball and go home.  Remember, the fans pay your salary and right now they don’t think you have earned your pay.  As for the media, no other business aside from sports has multiple pages of daily newspapers devoted to it everyday.  Media coverage is a tremendous gift, but with coverage comes scrutiny.  You have to roll with it. 
Stop being so disingenuous.  Right now, all fans hear is whining and double-talk.  Saying that the team is better off now because it has improved its farm system doesn’t play at all in “win-centric” South Florida.  My suggestion would be for the team’s executives to sit down with fans and season ticket holders and get their feedback.  Listen to your base of support and hear them out.  Take your medicine, then explain your decisions and be honest that you believe this strategy gives you the best chance to get back to the World Series.  Next, develop a long-haul position that focuses on what fans will see on the field this year.  Lastly, get your promotions team working on plans to put some butts in seats, so you can start genuinely re-earning faith.

The Marlins face a long rough road to improve their on- and off-field performance.  If they back down from the negative messaging, and take a long-term and genuine approach, then they can win back South Florida fans.  If not, expect the chilly relationship to continue.

What do you think?  Did the Marlins need the reboot or is it another money grab?  Will you be going to any games this year?



Author: John P. David

Reality TV is None of Your Business


It’s nine o’clock on a Sunday night and my wife and two children are watching the season finale of a reality show on Bravo called “The Shahs of Sunset.”  For some reason, the show has been on television in my house all day, and quite frankly, I’m waiting for all three of my kin to wander out with their gray matter actually oozing from their heads due to an overdose of brain-melting vapidity.

This particular show features an ensemble of fabulously wealthy Persians in Beverly Hills.  Scantily clad girls in heavy make-up and “manscaped” dudes in designer threads, the “Shahs” party hard and, in general, create drama by taking major offense when a member of their group does anything annoying – real or imagined.  Today, I watched two instances where cast members “uninvited” another cast member to two separate events.  Think about that: They picked up the phone and called a girl and said “Hey, we decided we don’t want you at the birthday party tomorrow.”  Then they did the same thing in the next episode, to the same girl: “Hey, we are uninviting you to the trip to Mexico.”  Cold-blooded.

In my opinion, so much of what is on reality television is just so wrong.  From the plastic surgery overdoses to the manufactured conflicts to the gratuitous displays of wealth (without evidence of employment), reality TV is actually mauling our sense of, well, reality.  (Also, it has led to the likely permanent destruction of the word “fabulous.”) 
Aside from showcasing a whole lot of non-reality to our young people, reality TV has changed how one becomes famous in America.  Sure there have always been people who were famous for being famous: Think about half the “stars” on game shows when we were kids.  For example, I don’t think the regular judges on “The Gong Show” were Oscar winners.  Today, however, hundreds of people are famous for seemingly no other reason than they look good in a cocktail dress and know how to sling a good insult.

If I had my own television network, I would implement some programming guidelines that not only apply to improved reality shows but also to good business and marketing.  Here are the programming rules of JohnTV:

Do an Actual Job Well 
Sorry, on JohnTV, being a Hilton is not a job, nor is being an NBA player’s ex-wife.  If you want to be on my network, open a real business, add to the economy, showcase your expertise and pass on your knowledge.  Ratings winners: “Pawn Stars,” “Oddities.”

Do It Better or Cheaper
If you know how to remodel a home or save a business, then you are a candidate for JohnTV.  If you are house flipper who creates artificial emotional conflicts or a star chef who enjoys berating his employees, take a hike.  Show me how a business can improve or how to remodel on a budget and I’m sold.  Ratings Winners: ‘Restaurant Impossible,” “This Old House,” “Undercover Boss.”

Teach Me Something
We are big fans of Food Network, but any show where people merely talk about the best thing they once ate has no shot on JohnTV.  Show me how to make perfect lasagna, how to stop my dog from chewing-up the sofa or how to escape a world-class jam and I’m all ears.  Ratings Winners: Cooking shows where people actually cook, “Man vs. Wild” and “Dog Whisperer.”

Make Money
Sure your hobby may be interesting, but if it doesn’t generate income, JohnTV will respectfully pass.  If you can finance the purchase of a commercial fishing boat, fend off icebergs, dodge flying metal, outflank competitors and actually make money, your show is a contender.  If you can rummage through someone else’s junk and figure out a way to earn a living, I’m watching.  Ratings winners: “Deadliest Catch,” “Storage Wars,” “American Pickers.” 

So there you have it, core values for business, marketing and my network.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for entertainment on television, but on JohnTV, we want more than ratings for ratings sake and fame from being famous.  Now, can anyone help me find re-runs of “The Gong Show?”

Which reality shows do you think teach business skills and lessons?  What would you put on your TV network? 



Author: John P. David

Check out this link to an old Gong Show clip.  Can you find the young David Letterman?


Write The Book On It

Writing a business book offers many marketing opportunities: It adds credibility, speeds-up the author’s chances to be a media source and creates a marketing platform.  If you add-in that publishing your own book has never been easier and that we typically hold authors in high regard, it clearly makes sense to be the one who “wrote the book” on a topic.

Right now, I know several executives who are either writing or have finished books on subjects as diverse as small business loans, branding, IRAs, cruise line safety and financial planning.    

Be the Expert
While there are millions of books on the market, your category may still be open.  For example, my friend and client Chris Hurn of Mercantile Capital Corporation wrote his book “The Entrepreneur’s Secret to Creating Wealth” about a little known U.S. Small Business Administration loan program which helps small business owners grow their wealth by owning, rather than renting, their commercial property.  Hurn was already regarded as a media source on SBA “504” loans, but publishing the book cemented him as the leading expert.  He also has effectively boxed out his competitors, who may have thought about writing a book but are now likely discouraged.

Friend and branding expert Bruce Turkel has written two books: “Brain Darts: The Advertising Design of Turkel Schwartz & Partners” and “Building Brand Value: Seven Simple Steps to Profitable Communications.”  When I asked him about the benefit of writing his books, one of his first answers was credibility.  “They’re the best business cards ever designed as they provide almost instantaneous credibility,” he said.  Turkel has spoken about branding around the world and has recently been a guest on a number of cable news shows.  Being an author is another valuable line on his resume.

Another client is working on a book for the reasons mentioned above but also because it will help differentiate him from his competitors.  If you are in a business with an 800-pound gorilla, then writing the book offers a way to be viewed as an expert despite the long shadow of a competitor.  I recently advised a young entrepreneur to consider writing a book about her nascent industry.  While her market isn’t crowded, one major competitor secures a big share of the publicity.  If the new kid on the block can “write the book,” then she has a credential that can be used to differentiate her company from the more established competitor.

Marketing Platform
For Mercantile’s Hurn, his book has been the cornerstone of his company’s marketing in 2013.  He has done a number of local and national television appearances since his book was published last October as well as dozens of radio interviews to go along with blog mentions and other press coverage.  Hurn talks about his book but also the commercial real estate market, and his company gets a favorable mention too.  And for his PR team, the credential of being an author adds to the strength of media pitches.

Education Curve
Upon further discussion with Turkel, I learned of yet another benefit.  Your book can educate your prospects and directly aid your sales process.  “If our clients or potential clients read the books and use our nomenclature when they’re discussing branding, it makes it much easier for them to understand what we’re talking about and to hire us,” said Turkel.  Just imagine the value of a prospect “already speaking your language” before you even start your sales pitch.

“Amazon Democracy”
While the actual act of writing a book hasn’t gotten any easier, getting published certainly has.  I call it “Amazon Democracy.”  A quick search online will find dozens of book publishers who can not only help you write your book  but also secure distribution through Amazon.com and other online booksellers.  Getting into brick and mortar bookstores still remains a challenge, but sadly those companies have their own issues to contend with.

Let me know if you are interested in writing a book for marketing purposes.  While I haven’t written mine yet, I have heard a lot of war stories and can probably help you avoid some pitfalls.

Both Hurn and Turkel are active bloggers and social media heavyweights.  Visit Hurn’s Amazon.com page at http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Hurn/e/B0096D6PWY, read his blog at www.504blog.com and follow him on twitter at @thechrishurn.

Visit Turkel’s Amazon.com page at http://www.amazon.com/Bruce-Turkel/e/B004SH42WS, read his blog at http://turkeltalks.com and follow him on twitter at @BruceTurkel.



Author: John P. David

Boy Scouts Man-Up, Drop Ban on Gays

News broke yesterday that Boy Scouts of America (BSA) plans to change its longstanding policy of excluding gay leaders and scouts.  As a five-year adult leader of a Cub Scout den that includes my son, I was pleased to hear this news – it hit me on several levels.

The issue reached a flashpoint last summer when a clever Eagle Scout named Zach Wahls started a petition on Change.org, asking the BSA to change its policy.  The son of lesbian parents, Wahls believed (correctly in my opinion) the policy was not only exclusionary but also discriminatory.  Many adult leaders like me had no idea the policy even existed, but a volunteer scout leader friend of mine resigned his post and pulled his son from Scouts.

The national issue had hit home, and the more I thought about the policy, the more I realized it had to be changed.  While I chose to keep my son in Cub Scouts, I made a personal pledge to try to help change the policy from the inside.  Though I could have done much more, I did write to BSA board members at AT&T and Ernst & Young and discussed the issue with a local BSA official.  I also chose to withhold any donations to BSA aside from my son’s required dues.  And I signed Wahls’ petition.

As I public relations professional, I was surprised that it took BSA this long to make the change.  Even though it is a private organization, it’s truly a public “institution.”  We feel like scouting belongs to all of us, not the national organization or its board.  The policy excluding gays is antithetical to scouting ideals, and I have always believed it was an untenable position.  Back to the clever Eagle Scout: Not only did he start a petition to fight the policy, but he also went after some of BSA’s largest donors, including Intel and UPS.  Late last year, both corporations dropped their support of BSA and pulled their funding – a nearly million dollar hit according to MotherJones.com.  While the policy was wrong and public backlash was beginning to gain traction, the move to go after funding sources (follow the money) was likely the smartest and most effective tactic employed by Wahls.  A non-profit organization can weather a PR storm and endure op-ed page badgering, but losing major donors hit them where it counts.

Amazingly, my friend who pulled his son from scouting due to this issue has already inquired about re-joining.  Intelligent, sensible positions can drive speedy results.

The other winners, aside from Wahls and Change.org, are the BSA board members who knew the policy was wrong but navigated through the negative publicity and made meaningful change happen.  They did their best – and ultimately made every scout proud.

Do you agree with BSA’s new position?  Let me know what you think.



Author: John P. David

Is Tim Tebow the Next Anna Kournikova?

With football season coming to a close and no games until the Super Bowl Feb. 3rd, I decided to fill the void with a conversation about fame and football.  So let’s take a moment and discuss one of the most polarizing individuals in professional sports and the most famous third-string quarterback in NFL history.  Of course, I’m speaking of Tim Tebow.

After a storied college football career at the University of Florida (my alma mater), winning two national titles and a Heisman Trophy, Tim Tebow was controversially selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos.  Along with his football skills, Tebow brings an ardent following of fans that are drawn to his persona as a clean-cut athlete and a good Christian.  Reports even suggest he is (cue gasp) a virgin.  Despite only playing a few games during his first year with the Broncos, he led the NFL in jersey sales and quickly became a nationwide fan favorite.  He steered Denver to a playoff win during his second season, but was later traded to the New York Jets and spent most of the recent season riding the bench.

Tebow’s a controversial guy.  Fans love him, but because he’s a poor practice player who seems to prefer running over passing, many analysts believe (some vociferously) he can’t be an NFL quarterback.  Some say he too overtly wears his religious beliefs on his sleeve.  Some people just don’t like him. Today, it appears that the Jets will release him, and his NFL career is in question.  Rumors abound that he may end up with any of a half dozen teams next year or possibly in the Canadian Football League.

I wonder what will become of Tebow and his brand.  Has he already had his 15 minutes of fame?  Will his off-the-field image continue to outweigh his on-field performance?  Has Tim Tebow’s fame actually hurt his football career?  And, can we compare him to any other public figures in recent memory?  Following are few possible scenarios for how we might see him in the future:

He’s Anna Kournikova
A Russian tennis star with supermodel looks, Anna Kournikova has been a gossip column and entertainment page regular for years.  While she packs a mean serve and volley, the blond and beautiful athlete is typically referred to as one of the most popular tennis stars who never won a singles tournament.  She will always be famous, but less for how she played the game than how she looked doing it.

He’s Kris Humphries (Mr. Kim Kardashian for 72 days)
An NBA power forward, Humphries burst onto the celebrity scene when he started dating and then quickly married reality television “A-Lister” Kim Kardashian.  Though they split after 72 days, Humphries was one of the few NBA players who was more famous for who he was married to than for his prowess on the basketball court.  While not a hall of famer, Humphries remains a pretty good NBA player, but he will always be known as a hoops star who married into mega-fame.

He’s Sarah Palin
The one-time governor of Alaska, hockey mom, reality show star and vice presidential candidate rocketed to the front page when John McCain named her as his running mate in his 2008 campaign for president.  A risky selection due to a lack of experience and questionable (and unvetted) political decisions, Palin remains both a conservative darling and frequent liberal target.  Despite her many detractors and the ease at which she is mocked by writers on Saturday Night Live (“I can see Russia from my house”), some still consider the popular Republican Palin a viable, future presidential candidate.

He’s Jeremy Lin
Cue “Linsanity!”  Professional basketball player Jeremy Lin became one of the biggest stars of the 2011-12 NBA season despite being virtually unknown when it began.  A Harvard grad who spent most of his NBA career in the developmental league, he burst on the scene after a series of injuries pushed him up the New York Knicks depth chart.  Lin became the first NBA player to score at least 20 points and have seven assists in each of his first five starts.  His play during 26 games captivated New York and the nation for a period of several weeks, so-called Linsanity.  The New York Times called him the Knicks’ most popular player in a decade.  Despite his success last season and a big contract from the Houston Rockets, some still believe he is merely a bench player.

Based on my expertise from listening to too much sports radio, I think Tebow will still be in the NFL next year but not with the Jets.  His brand will endure, but he needs to land with a team that can handle his off-the-field fame and also give him a chance to raise his game to the level of his celebrity.

What do you think?



Author: John P. David

Sex, the Inauguration and a PR Blindside

The presidential inauguration took on new meaning in our little corner of the world last week when President Obama’s inaugural committee named Richard Blanco the inaugural poet.  Richard’ brother, Carlos, works from an office down the hall and is both a friend and client.  While I know little about poetry and even less about Richard (I have never met him), I plan to watch the inauguration to hear what the “other Mr. Blanco” has to say.  Media coverage of Richard’s sexual orientation has also raised some hackles.

Richard was born in Madrid and raised in Miami.  He worked as an engineer before earning a Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Florida International University (this is big news for FIU, too) and has earned many poetry-world accolades for his work.  Now living in Maine, he was, indeed, plucked from relative obscurity and named the inaugural poet.  He’s Hispanic, spent his formative years in a state crucial to presidential candidates and, as no news outlet has failed to mention, gay.

The prominence given to this aspect of Richard’s life has been a subject of conversations between his brother and me.  When a local television station interviewed him about his brother, Carlos said all the right things: “We’re thrilled for him and proud …”  However, the station chose to produce a segment that included some Miami musicians also   participating in the inauguration.  The musicians happen to be gay as well, so the reporter decided that would be his angle.  Carlos was taken aback by the coverage asking: Why is this “a gay thing?”  Here’s a link to the segment, also embedded below if you want to pass your own judgment. http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/South-Florida-Musicians-Poet-To-Appear-at-President-Obamas-Second-Inauguration-186258042.html

As a public relations consultant, I wasn’t surprised.  While you can deliver the perfect message points to a journalist, you have no control over what they will ultimately write or broadcast.  In addition, in the news biz, one uncommon instance of something may be deemed “interesting,” but two uncommon instances become a “trend.”  Reporting on Miami gays (plural) at the inauguration was too tantalizing for this particular journalist.  When the musicians in the segment offered sound bytes that aligned with the reporter’s angle, the story became about sexual orientation at the D.C. ceremony and not talented individuals at the inauguration.

Preventing a Blindside
What happened to Carlos and Richard is difficult (sometimes impossible) to prevent, but you can try.  As I mentioned earlier, one of the things you give up when offering an interview to a reporter is control over what is ultimately printed or broadcast.  If a reporter is sloppy, unprofessional or maybe just not that good at their job, you can get a result that you don’t like.  Frankly, I think instances of journalists doing wildly dramatic stories for the sake of ratings are rare – usually confined to political and entertainment reporting.  Here are a few things to consider so you don’t get blindsided:

Develop Message Points and Practice
I don’t advocate scripted interviews, but preparation of main message points and practicing possible tough questions prevent a lot of grief.  Think about two or three main points that you want to convey in an interview and write them down.  Review them before your interview, and if it’s a phone interview, have them in front of you.  We also recommend thinking about possible questions which might make you stumble or trip you up (PR people are usually good at helping with these).  In most cases, if you know how to answer the toughest questions, the others are easy.

Avoid Distractions
I have seen instances when people lost their train of thought during an interview and even completely forget what they said to a reporter.  Remember, you are always “on the record,” so try to avoid distractions.  If doing a phone interview, sit in your office with the door closed, computer monitor turned off and your phone on vibrate.  Focus on the moment and keep your message points in front of you  (This tip is doubly important for anyone who gets nervous during interviews).

Take it Seriously
While it is OK to make small talk with a reporter, be sure to keep it serious – don’t try too hard to be funny.  Humor cuts tension but when dealing with a reporter who doesn’t know you, it can be a recipe for disaster.  While you needn’t be stiff, being serious helps prevent you from saying something that can be misperceived.

Set Some Ground Rules
If a topic was reported incorrectly in the past or if reporters tend to get it wrong or miss the nuance, feel free to set some ground rules – carefully.  For Carlos, this might mean telling reporters, before an interview, that he has been disappointed in prior coverage because reporters focused heavily on his brother’s sexual orientation.  He can tell reporters that, while he can’t stop them from reporting the facts, he would prefer it if the story focused on his brother’s talents and this accomplishment first and foremost.  Most reporters that I know, and I know hundreds, would take that into consideration.

Don’t Go “Off the Record”
While I sat-in on many interviews where sources went “off the record” to their advantage, I generally don’t recommend it.  The simplest tactic is to treat everything you say to a reporter as on the record.  If you don’t want a reporter to know something, don’t say it.  Most reporters honor “off the record” information, but placing the burden on the reporter makes a blindside (even an inadvertent one) more likely.

This and That
Just for curiosity’s sake, I checked to see if you could buy tickets for the swearing-in or other inaugural events on Stubhub.  Because most of the events are free, Stubhub’s site says it won’t offer them for sale.  Craigslist and EBay share no such ethical commitment as tickets there have been fetching as much as $2,000 apiece.
When not shooting the bull about his brother, Carlos has his fingers in a number of entrepreneurial endeavors.  He is one of the principals of ER Texting, a company that enables hospital emergency rooms and urgent care centers to offer wait times via text message.  He also recently started Aftermath which offers post-divorce services in a one-stop, online environment, helping with everything from getting a new passport to properly dividing retirement accounts.  

Be sure to tune in to the inauguration on Monday to hear Richard’s poem.  We will have it on at our office in the Dadeland area if you want to stop by.  Coffee’s on me.

Do you have any tips on how to prevent a PR blindside?  Please feel free to share them.


Author: John P. David

Why Lance Armstrong Can Mount a Comeback

Late last week, the New York Times reported Lance Armstrong might come clean regarding the doping allegations which led to his ban from professional cycling and stripped him of his Tour de France titles and Olympic medals.
Lance Armstrong
While I don’t know if cycling’s authorities will lift his lifetime ban or if he can ever compete at a high level again, it is possible that he can “come back” as a sports figure of some kind.  It’s uncharted territory, but I believe such things are possible.

Forgiving Culture
Americans embrace forgiveness.  While we all feel cheated by Armstrong’s actions and the damning evidence against him, no one, I presume, wants to see him hanging from the gallows.  In Miami, the former adopted refuge of O.J. Simpson, I saw people publicly back-slapping Simpson, a man who was convicted of killing a man.*  And while infidelity isn’t a crime, former President Bill Clinton is cheered at every turn.  In America, we like to forgive and forget (Don’t even get me started on underdogs).  So, anyone in America can come back.

Will Take Time
It won’t happen quickly.  Former home run king Mark McGwire, who handled performance enhancing drug allegations worse than most, now serves as a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.  He was out of baseball for eight years before being hired by the Cardinals in 2009 and officially admitting his steroid use in 2010.  It’s doubtful that McGwire will ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but he certainly raised his stock among the vast swath of disgraced former athletes.  Armstrong needs to take his first step and see where it leads him.

Legal Mess
One thing that public relations can’t fix and is likely holding him back is his legal mess.  Sponsors feel jilted, and former teammate Floyd Landis is, ironically, a party in the whistleblower case which could cost Armstrong millions.  When meting out PR advice, we need to check with the lawyers and make sure a needed public apology won’t land our client in prison.  If Armstrong can come clean and not get led-away moments later in leg irons, then he should do it.

Why Do It?  Why Now?
This goes back to the forgiving culture argument.  Life is short and while Armstrong may never be viewed as a national hero again, he can be a contributing member of society.  His fundraising efforts for Livestrong were tremendous, and I imagine that cancer survivors can still look to him as inspirational, albeit less miraculous.  There’s a place on this spinning orb for Armstrong, as long as he confronts the past.

Start with the Truth
My recommendation to Armstrong would be start with the truth, and it might look something like this: U.S. Anti-Doping Agency testimony (as summarized in Sports Illustrated last October) suggests that years ago Armstrong knew other cyclists were doping, and he, tired of losing to them, wanted to level the playing field.  Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it’s a plausible beginning to the arc of his cheating.  He certainly could have only fantasized about later winning seven tours, dating a rock star and being the head of a globally recognized powerhouse charity.  A dramatic upward spiral, much like that experienced by Bernie Madoff, would have been difficult to simply step-away from.  I’m not condoning what he did, but you can surmise that he found himself in a situation where continued cheating was easier than doing the right thing.  Such messaging makes sense.  From there, he will have to try to justify his arrogance, obfuscation and lying.  But a believable and relatable narrative makes a comeback possible.

What TV-Producers Call a “Get”
With message points in-hand and well-rehearsed, Armstrong will begin a whirlwind tour of another kind.  Starting with the biggest “Get” of 2013 with Matt Lauer, Piers Morgan, or Diane Sawyer, he will do the media circuit with his apology tour and try to start anew as a sports figure.  Will he cry?  I doubt it, but he can make himself look human and vulnerable and hopefully appear genuine.

Time Heals, Right?
And then we will wait.  If reinstated, Armstrong will start competing in triathlons, mountain biking or the like and attempt to mend his battered reputation.  It will take years, but he’s still young, and we know he is stubborn and determined.  If he approaches his climb back with humility, he has a chance to make a return like that of McGwire.  If he remains arrogant and in denial, then he may be doomed to a reputation like that of Barry Bonds or Pete Rose – unrepentant to the end.

In summary: Get approval from the lawyers, lead with the truth, be humble and then let our forgiving culture and time heal the wounds.  He can do it.

What do you think?



Author: John P. David

*On February 6, 1997, a jury unanimously found there was a preponderance of evidence to hold Simpson liable for damages in the wrongful death of Goldman and battery of Brown.