Lessons from an Online Lynch Mob


Last Friday night, I took a peek at my Twitter feed and noticed that a marketing guy who I follow named Peter Shankman was pleading for some Internet sanity regarding a woman named Justine Sacco.  Said Peter: “Yes [Sacco’s] tweet was awful.  But she’s landing to death threats.  Come on, Twitter, let’s be better than that.”Read More

Blackfish Backlash Continues

The other day, classic rock band REO Speedwagon joined a growing list of musical acts that pulled-out of an upcoming concert series at SeaWorld in Orlando.  The bands are protesting the theme park’s treatment of its killer whales as portrayed in the documentary film Blackfish.  From what I know about orca public relations, I think SeaWorld’s got a big problem.Read More

Person of the Year?


A few years ago, my aunt Rosie told me of a great Thanksgiving tradition: After the big meal, her family discusses who should be named TIME‘s Person of the Year.  Since I typically distribute my blog on Thursday afternoons, I decided to offer up the question as a topic for turkey day conversation and included a survey in this post.  I have suggested a few nominees , and you can vote for one of them or write-in your own.Read More

Crank-Up the Content in ‘14


Saw my first “perfect gift for Dad” holiday commercial this week.  For the man who has everything, you can buy “super-grip” pliers that serve a multitude of macho functions including, this was my favorite, “safely hold materials when you weld and grind.”  Does it get manlier than that?

I figure if they can start advertising the holiday season before Thanksgiving (and, alas, even before Halloween), then we can begin discussing marketing for 2014 now.  Here are a few things to think about as you plan for ‘14:Read More

Bullying of a Brand


Embroiled in one of the biggest sports scandals of the year, the Miami Dolphins face allegations of bullying, racism and hazing. The details of “offensive lineman” Richie Incognito’s alleged bullying of teammate Jonathan Martin have been well-reported in recent weeks, and the problems continue to swirl-around a football team that was already struggling.Read More

Digital Reality Meets Jurassic Park

For years, the public relations sales pitch included a reminder that “perception is reality.”  How we are viewed by others helps define us, whether we like it or not.  But the definition of perception is actually changing, and it’s not just the mental image that people have of us that matters.  Today, we have to look beyond traditional mental imagery and also focus on how we are perceived digitally.

Perception is also digital reality.Read More

Sorry Beyoncé, You’re No Bob Geldof


Can someone please tell me why Beyoncé and Jay-Z went to Cuba?  The first couple of hip-hop traveled there on their anniversary earlier this month and started a classic “political firestorm.”  In my opinion, they gave the Cuban government a huge public relations victory.  As soon as photos of the couple walking the streets of Havana hit the Internet, the U.S. embargo took center stage and put many politicians on their heels.  Reporters, columnists and TV “talking heads” relentlessly questioned why we have the embargo, which is exactly what the Cuban government wants. 

But why did Beyoncé and Jay-Z go?  Why flex their considerable celebrity muscles to support a communist island.  It makes little sense.

If they were trying to use their fame and fortune to help a political cause, why not support a deserving domestic one?  The whole event seems like a misguided stunt, particularly when you compare it to political efforts made in the past by other musicians and celebs. 

Rock stars have a long history of political involvement, going back to support of groups like Amnesty International decades ago.  The first one that I remember was called Band-Aid.  In 1984, some of the biggest names in music gathered in London to record a song to benefit starving children in Ethiopia.  “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was the number one song in the U.K. for five weeks and raised millions of dollars for famine relief.  The project was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, lead singer of a band relatively unknown in the U.S. called the Boomtown Rats.  Geldof parlayed the success of Band-Aid into a huge benefit concert called Live-Aid.  His efforts were recognized with a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, and he was later knighted.  Now Sir Bob Geldof serves as the de facto model for rock star activism.

Not to be outdone, musicians in America started USA for Africa in 1985 and recorded “We Are the World,” also to fight hunger and homelessness in Africa.  The effort, whether you like the song or not, raised tens of millions of dollars and helped continue to shine a light on an important world issue.

Band-Aid and Live-Aid also spawned Farm-Aid.  Willie Nelson and John Cougar Mellencamp (I get to return the “Cougar” to his name because it’s my blog) spearheaded a concert which raised funds for struggling domestic family farms.  Nelson and Mellencamp then brought family farmers before Congress to testify about the state of family farming in America. Congress subsequently passed the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 to help save family farms from foreclosure.  Effective stuff.

More recently, U2 lead singer Bono has been called the world’s best-known philanthropic performer and the most politically effective celebrity of all time.  His campaigns for third-world debt relief led to the cancellation of debt for 23 countries, and he regularly meets with world leaders to discuss critical issues like the AIDS pandemic.  Time magazine named him Person of the Year in 2005, and he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.  Also knighted.  Also impressive activism.

Whether you agree or disagree with Bono’s or John Cougar’s political leanings doesn’t really matter, because at least they used their celebrity capital to accomplish something worthwhile.  Over the years, big stars from the world of music have proven that they can make a difference for important causes.

So again, can someone please tell me why Beyoncé and Jay-Z went to Cuba? 



Author: John P. David

Miami’s No Stranger to Scams


Two weeks ago, I published a blog post (When “Nigeria” Comes Calling) about my experience with a scam artist who appeared to be a new business prospect but was actually trying to drain my bank account.   I was originally a bit embarrassed about the story because I felt that, while I hadn’t been officially duped, I did get strung-along for a while.  Despite my apprehension, I published the post because it was an interesting tale, and I figured there was a chance I might prevent another person from falling for a similar scam. 

The response to the post was fascinating.  Many people who read my blog knew someone who has been scammed, and I was not the only PR person in Miami to hear from this guy.  I want to share some of my interesting feedback.

One of my readers, a local banker, said that wire fraud cases have been on the rise lately.

Another told me of a physician who got taken for $60,000:  “Somehow an alleged ‘Nigerian Entrepreneur’ contacted him by cell phone and made all sorts of promises about easy money, if he would just send some ‘seed money’ to him.  Well, desperation prevailed over high I.Q.  This doctor ultimately sent six tranches of $10,000 a piece before he spoke to his attorney, who told him to STOP.”

Branding agency owner Michael Gold of Goldforest warned there’s another successful scam out there involving video production in China: “They’ve actually GONE to China to get punked!”

A local insurance industry executive told me that he had “a family friend who fell for the scam about 15 years ago.  He actually flew to Nigeria for a meeting in connection with the representation of an oil company and they held him for a $25,000 ransom.”  He also pointed out that if these scammers used their mental abilities for legitimate business, they would probably be successful.

Honestly, I never imagined the possibility of being “locked-up abroad,” but my aunt did.  She was glad I didn’t get scammed and reminded me that “of course, you know that we would all band together to get you out of a Venezuelan jail.”

Peter Kelley, editor of Life & Health Advisor magazine and a self-described ‘scam-o-phile’ said he was disappointed that I ended my story where I did as he “wanted to know how they would make their next move.”  Peter explained that in the past he has attempted “to engage a number of fallen princes, interior-wonks, disgruntled aides and otherwise plugged-in facilitators to ‘hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars.’”

Kelley would probably enjoy speaking with a Miami attorney I know who has strung one of these guys along. 

He wrote: “I was to collect a large sum of money from a company just blocks away from me.  However, I insisted on first receiving a cashier’s check as a ‘non-refundable review fee’ which the scammer had offered.  I deposited the check, warning my bank that I had concerns.  As suspected, the cashier’s check supposedly from a Canadian bank was a well done fake.  I took some mild pleasure in causing them to spin their wheels, although I had also spun mine.  You should take equal pleasure.  The more they spin their wheels without reward, the better for us.”

I wasn’t the only public relations agency to hear from the Venezuelan oil man.  The principal of a local firm told me they got the call a few months ago: “We thought it sounded legitimate (big budget, alternative energy, tied-in with the governor’s office) but when we were told we had to fly to Venezuela, that put us off, as it did you.”

Much to my surprise, the post caught the attention of more than one journalist.  Peter Kelley, who I mentioned earlier, asked and received my permission to run my story on his outlet’s website.  In addition, Kevin Gale of the South Florida Business Journal liked the new Venezuelan spin on the old “Nigerian” scam and wrote about it in his blog.

Of course, I enjoy the feedback and it’s a fun ego boost, but the best news came last week when a fellow PR person in Miami sent me this message: “I received a call at the office from a man with an accent saying they were calling regarding PR for a project in Venezuela. It came from a blocked number and I remembered your post and hung up immediately.”

Mission accomplished.



Author: John P. David

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

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