Archive for the ‘Media Hype’ Category

May 4 Rant: Bye, PR Weak (Indeed)

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

[a special cross-linkage with my Bad Pitch Blog]

I

Why No One Runs For Office Today: An Allegory

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

I would never run for office but there are some good people who get sucked into it. This is a story about a friend of mine who tried to help his local citizenry. His name is Jeff Perlman and he was twice elected Mayor of Delray Beach, Florida — where an election takes place this month that he will be far away from — and he taught me one thing about politics that we should remember as we sit judging the elected officials we chose.

You know this already: Politics is not a good place for a good human being to hang out.

We are going to have a lot of trouble getting young people to want to be our leaders. Notably after any of them read this story.

I spent time with Jeff Perlman (my firm, RLM PR, helped him through one of 25 crises while he was Mayor; he was the only client who ever handled a crisis with good cheer and constant reassessment and skill…but got the bad end of every stick) while people gave this hard-working man of the people a tough time for everything but wearing jeans. He was a part-time Mayor and skilled in PR; he got paid about $20,000 a year for his work as Mayor (Delray is a very small city) and was stopped by the people for taking any part-time jobs “on the side.”

He and his family just about got by on his wife’s salary. Yet when he tried to do some consulting at a local media relations firm, the towns folks went into a tizzy, calling it a conflict of interest. This little firm had no government clients — not even close — and yet he had to leave it because the voters, who had no hobbies, refused to allow it.

Jeff Perlman

The former Mayor explains how Delray citizens demanded to know his clients at all times: “I got sued for accepting a contract to publish a monthly newsletter for the school district, a job which netted less than $20k for a year’s work. The suit, filed by a political rival’s millionaire wife, cost me in excess of $20,000 to have thrown out, only to have it re-filed within hours of a deadline costing me another $10,000.” Perlman settled the second suit because defending himself again would have cost him between $25,000 and $30,000.

In its coverage of a town where the news people also have too much free time, the Palm Beach Post placed the first suit on the front page above the fold and above an item announcing that Al Qaeda had developed a nerve weapon.

When Perlman bid on a PR contract with the South Florida Water Management District (keeping in mind that other part-time elected officials do work for other governmental agencies), the Post wrote several stories costing him the contract even though he was actually he lowest bidder, was amply qualified, and executives were pleased with his work.

Says Perlman: “After a lawsuit and dozens of negative stories in the media, I no longer pursued any public work.” He feared an ulcer.

Here’s what Perlman’s public life was like:

February 2005: A young black man, Jerrod Miller, is shot and killed by an off-duty Delray Beach police officer. Story after story runs about how Delray is “split along racial lines…” But this is news to people who live there. The local press blames the Mayor, who has won all his elections by landslides, works tirelessly, and helps everyone get along and get what they need in Delray Beach.

May 2005: Jerrod Miller’s family files suit against the City of Delray Beach.

August 2005: The police officer who killed Miller is cleared of criminal wrongdoing in by a Grand Jury. The Mayor is taken to task for not holding enough meetings with the local NAACP. But the national NAACP doesn’t think this is an issue. Mayor Jeff has been doing whatever he can to heal the City; no one credits him with anything!

October 2005: Hurricane Wilma knocks out power to the whole city. Florida Power and Light (FPL) takes more than a month to turn it back on. Somehow, the Mayor is caught up in this, and he is powerless to do anything to stop the bad press — or FPL. “I simply didn’t sleep much. I spent hours driving neighborhoods, delivering ice and working with FPL to and state authorities to get real help.”

November 2005: Hurricane Wilma had ripped roofs off at Carver Estates (public housing), and the City decides to tear it down and rebuild, for which the Mayor is vilified. Prior to Wilma, the buildings were declared dangerous due to 40 years of federal and local neglect that the Mayor inherited. “We made it a priority and worked feverishly to relocate every single family to safer homes. Moving expenses were paid, and hefty stipends were secured, which enabled everyone displaced by the storm to find better homes.” The media went wild.

March 2006: Police chase…and eventually catch…a burglar in Perlman’s backyard. “This was an 18 hour manhunt for a criminal who was skilled at home invasions. Helicopters, K-9s and heat seeking radar were used before they fished him out of bushes in my canal.” You cannot make this up.

March 2006: Delray — under Perlman’s leadership — places a moratorium on building McMansions, which upsets those who don’t give a rat’s tush about historic preservation or conservation. One of several historic preservation-related scandals over the years and of course Mayor Perlman is caught up in it.

August 2006: Commissioner and former Vice Mayor Jon Levinson speaks (too) frankly and Perlman is forced to make a statement saying he doesn’t endorse Levinson’s actions. “Levinson went off in a goal setting session, pointing out the City Manager David Harden was mismanaging bond issue projects and failing to follow commission directions. While Jon’s remarks were far from diplomatic…he was 100% right.

The headline in the Post said we questioned the ‘work ethic’ of city workers. Not true. In fact, we praised City workers for their hurricane response but we had the temerity to challenge the manager who was indeed failing to complete projects or follow clear policy directions because of general incompetence. We criticized him. I did tactfully. Jon, not so tactfully.”

The Post writes an editorial that “Harden is Not the Problem” and credits the Manager for healing the city during the recent racial unrest. But the Mayor tells me: “Not quite. He was AWOL the whole time.”

August/September 2006: Because the city has a minimized budget, it is not able to pay firemen and paramedics well, so there are now 16 vacancies at one point, and the townspeople are in an uproar. Also, smoking is banned on City beaches. For once the press loves something — but smokers hate the Mayor and protest vehemently (and publicly).

December 2006: Two streets get converted from one-way to two-way, which required some closures and merchants were livid. Just guess who was blamed?

December 2006: Delray allows a developer to build town homes on the site of a monastery. Later (in February), Palm Beach Diocese backs out of deal to sell a house to eight elderly nuns, and blames the city of Delray Beach.

December 2006: Delray (and Boynton Beach) had been dumping their sewage into the ocean for four decades. But, when the permit comes up for renewal, some say it was Perlman’s fault that it was being dumped into the ocean to begin with! Perlman actually headed the group that decided to end the practice and had begun a major water re-use program. Press ignore this basic fact, even though when the story broke the City had cut emissions by 40 percent and were well on the way to 100 percent as soon as construction was complete on new pipes.

January 2007: Office Depot, among the biggest corporate businesses in town, leaves Delray and Perlman is blamed, but well used to this, he sets about resuscitating the Office Depot site and is successful.

March/April 2007: A spanking budget disaster now overshadows all Perlman’s good work: “An email to a lame duck City Commission notified them that the city had to borrow about $40.5 million if certain improvement projects were ever to get off the ground. Mayor Jeff Perlman never saw the email before the meeting.” (Palm Beach Post).

Perlman tells me: “The City Manager [Harden] never told us about the problem and in fact insisted we were fine, stating that there was no need for new borrowing. It turns out we did not need $41 million, a task force knocked the number down to $27 million and that included millions of new goodies sought by the manager including a new city environmental services building, a new fire station, a new IT building and an expansion of City Hall. Not funded: What the voters asked and paid for: a new senior center. The FBI launches an investigation into the bond issue.”

He did not run for reelection that year even though he was granted a 72 percent approval rating when he left office. You can pretty much see why.

July 2007, from the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel: “Over the weekend, former Mayor Jeff Perlman denied trying to pressure the City Commission to fire City Manager David Harden. But on Monday, an email was leaked that he had sent to most of the commissioners chastising Harden and [new] Mayor Rita Ellis. The July 17 e-mail was sent in reaction to a Sun-Sentinel article that disclosed public comments were being edited out of City Commission meetings that are posted on the city’s Web site. The removal was ordered by Harden.” Perlman responded, and the Sun-Sentinel followed up with an editorial saying he should not in fact exercise his first amendment right to express an opinion.

September 2007: City settles with Jerrod Miller’s family for $1 million; the suit, says the local press “blamed then-Mayor Perlman, city commissioners and other city officials for embracing policies that it says led to Miller’s death.”

And now it turns out that there was illegal managing of city funds (so typical now) going on behind the scenes. Indictments are handed down. Perlman is not even a footnote in any of it. Political power broker and long time County Commissioner Mary McCarty and her husband Kevin are heading to jail. 18-year veteran Harden is implicated in a corruption scheme that is like a Hollywood tale with a severely bad rewrite.

Mary and Kevin McCarty

Mary McCarty, who seemed so business-like and austere when I met her, certainly played her part well. She was charged with conspiracy and mail fraud, stemming from her alleged failure to give her constituents honest services after voting on several bond issues that directly benefited her husband Kevin’s employers, including, yep, Bear Stearns. The McCartys allegedly received about $300,000 as a result of the votes. McCarthy also allegedly failed to disclose hotel stays provided by one of the county’s vendors.

A committee examination of how Harden’s decisions as Manager led to McCarty Mania should have been completed by now. Naturally, it’s going to come down after Tuesday’s big election, where the mayorality and other public offices are up for grabs.

Who was the scapegoat in Delray Beach? Jeff Perlman proves my thesis: Why on earth would anyone run for office and spend low-paid days and nights handling the “mishegos” of people who make you feel less than adequate no matter how hard you work? This is one man’s story, but it is certainly not as big an anomaly as you think.

It’s just the best one I know.

It Happened One Month

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Today we have all kinds of interesting things for your enjoyment. First up: three ways to improve corporate America.

  1. Stop with the private jets, already. In the depths of this recession, no one has any money. People can

Hasn’t February Been Fun?

Monday, February 9th, 2009

It’s been pretty cold in this country, and we don’t even have George W. Bush around to blame for it, either.

The Super Bowl did a good job of brightening at least one depressing, frigid, winter Sunday. The game has been over for more than a week, but the ads are still fun to talk about.

Super Bowl stalwart Anheuser-Busch had already told or warned us its ads would be less funny in favor of something featuring Clydesdale horses in honor of its neo-American offering–namely Budweiser.

MMM... beer.

So a beer-pony is playing fetch with another. Anheuser’s ad guys told the Wall Street Journal the horses’ image “reinforces our brand values and…that we are not changing, and we are the same company.”

Gee how romantic. I have no idea how you can be both, but then again nothing says “Beer me again, Budweiser,” like watching a behemoth-horse play fetch.

I get that your beer is an icon and all, but once upon a time Schaefer was “the one beer to have” and it’s not having too much fun now. So my pro advice - I do run a PR firm, kids–for this newly Eurofied Anheuser is simple: Announce your beer will taste better. You’ll get more attention. These days a little honesty goes a long way; at least on this blog.

With that, I bring you The Bleak Economic Report: Surprisingly un-spared by effects of the recession is, tada!, The Porn Industry. It appears the only thing that has hurt PORN is the sexually transmitted disease that most Americans suffer from, better known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

DOES NOT COMPUTE

Recently adult entertainment moguls… er… porn guys Larry Flynt of “Hustler” fame and young prot

It

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

This in from Bea, a wonderful AE in my office (you did know I

Trends for the Long-Awaited New Year

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

1. BAILOUT FOR BOOKS
First people stop buying books as Wii, DVR, and Hulu make it too easy to do eye exercises. Prez Obama sinks a cool billion into life support for the publishing doofuses. Taxpayers take to the street to protest; then the hullabaloo makes people realize Barnes & Noble is in fact a bookstore, not a coffee shop.

Empty bookstore.


2. MACY’S GOES CASUAL
People learn Target and Macy’s basically sell the same stuff and stop paying attention to their advertising. Macy’s becomes “Walmart without dog food and toilet paper.”


3. A HEART-WARMING BLOCKBUSTER?
A movie opens quietly that touches people’s hearts and yet has no celebrities. What occurs is this: Wes Anderson changes his name to something obscure and recruits actors via YouTube auditions. They shoot the feel-good movie of the year in Prospect Park, and it grosses more than a billion. But alas, the goodwill is ruined by the studio’s DVD-release hype.


4. BLOOMBERG VS. CHAINS
The City of New York bans store chains from opening more than one location in any neighborhood. As 7-Elevens invade the territory reserved for the grimy neighborhood bodega, third-termer Michael Bloomberg proclaims that every city block ought to have at least one store where it’s fine for locals to sit outside on milk crates and drink $2 Snapple out of paper bags . Subsequently, taxes rise. I heart NY.

BODEGA


5. A MAGAZINE STAYS OPEN, SELLS ADS
The post-millennial Saturday Evening Post announces that it is merging with Playboy, and suddenly Martha and O’s magazines are in big trouble. The new mag publishes things people want to read and engenders brand loyalty in its readers by being authentic and dirty. The printed word is the new black.


6. A BIG IDEA
Someone not named Donnie Deutsch takes over the 10 p.m. spot on CNBC and does interviews with people who have something to say that isn’t a prepared statement by flacks. Jeff Zucker for once gets a night’s sleep.


7. THE IPHONE TIDE
The iPhone is given away with boxes of Tide detergent. Steve Jobs takes to the stage at MacWorld and proclaims that Tide is all he ever uses on his closetful of black turtlenecks and jeans because, “like Apple, Tide is a noun, and I like nouns.” The iPhone is priced down to $9.99, and Americans begin to make all their spending money selling ideas via the App Store.

1984.


8. BANDWAGONING
After the calamitous failure of several self-help biz books, we start noting how much cheaper it is to enact someone else’s great idea — and pretend it’s ours. The ‘09 way to live a saner and more successful existence is by, you guessed it, jumping on the bandwagon in order to forgo sitting at the reins trying to blaze the trail ourselves.


9. BAD TV IS BANNED
All remaining reality TV gigs, “One Tree Hill” and the ridiculously skinny “90210″ are banned by the feds because a CDC study proves they are in fact not guilty pleasures at all but instantly kill brain cells upon viewing. The ACLU challenges the move as a violation of free speech, or at least a bad use of pee breaks. The liberals win, and a Fox reality show is quickly constructed. Its title: “ACLU-Ville.”


BIG BROTHER


10. EXECS SELL THEIR SOLES
Those bass-ackward Kenneth Cole HELP ads inspire jobless executives to hawk $500 loafers on New York’s Canal Street. In a similar story, “My Super Sweet 16″ is canceled because no one is able to afford to pay for parties that huge and absurd anymore. Rational people rejoice. 2009 is heralded as a banner year!

Man Bites Dog: Newspapers Outlive Themselves, Are Bizarrely Unaware

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

News came on Friday that the Old Grey Lady is starting an Instant Op-Ed feature online. This new technology will “allow the paper’s Web site to post immediate expert viewpoints on breaking news,” said Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal.

LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!


Thank you, New York Times.

Golly, imagine. I can get Maureen Dowd’s opinion on something before tomorrow’s paper comes out! I can even, gasp, comment on what she wrote! Paul Krugman can tell me what to think of economic news in the middle of the day!

As one editor reaching put it: “This could be a forum for one of those people to express themselves in a more extended way.”

Well. We are witnessing harnessing of the awe-inspiring power of the Internet…yeah, if this were 2001.

Oh, my Times. What you’ve created is called a weblog - or a blog. These have been around for several years. They’ve been scooping you for probably the last few. Your own paper has blogs that are starters. The guys over in Sports run an awesome baseball blog appropriately called “Bats.” There’s “Bits” with several of our well-informed friends writing on tech-smart topics far and wide. This blogging is not a new concept, friend.

As an imbiber of the Times since my days in small pants, I have to wonder and I need to worry. Are they unaware that blogs exist, or are they hoping we don’t know blogs exist? Or, most interestingly, are they calling their blog “Instant Op-Ed” in order to make their so-called experts seem like more than mere bloggers?

This is problematic because - everyone take notes - there are smart people in the world who write blogs without needing the validation of being called an “expert.” A guy named Duncan Black, who holds a Ph.D in Economics writes a fabulous political blog that merits reading daily. A lawyer/veteran from El Salvador has with a single hand organized the entire left into electoral victory with the power of HTML. Heck, the trombone player for our local Philharmonic just started a blog that The Times even wrote about last week. Heavy sigh.

The point is that the New York Times may have officially jumped over the ship, sailed over the shark and run over my admiration. Not only has its Op-Ed department not embraced the technology that has existed for years, they apparently are so hung up on the concept of “expert” that they fail to understand that anyone with a blog tendency is, can be, and should assert themselves with their expertise.

The old-fashioned Op-Ed is dead now. Freely ask anyone with Wordpress capabilities if you think not.

…For more like this, see the book (or, even better: buy it) “2011: Trendspotting.”

Good News Is Out: Bad

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Bad news is the new good news. Jump on the bandwagon.



Bad news is absolutely everywhere. It is unavoidable. The economy is in shambles, 50 million Americans are without health insurance, unemployment is on the rise in numbers that scare even me, and 43 out of 50 states are now operating on a budget deficit. Meanwhile, some enterprising projects have figured out how to keep their heads above water and even prosper in some cases despite experiencing these bleakest of times by making the (now official) recession seem almost cool.

Kind of.

A great example of the general mopiness of society today is found on television. Maury Povich, the veteran host whose syndicated

Obama Wins: America Has Nothing to Whine About Anymore

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Barack Obama: President of Sunglasses

I was reading through a bunch of email newsletters and saw the travel guy I used to respect relating how we might not be able to “trust” Obama. That’s when it hit me: Of course he will win. Republicans with attitudes like the newsletter dude need to be pushed aside in favor of positive enforcement that the world is actually a decent place.

Quote from him: “I’m certain that in one case we can [trust the candidate] - a man with a proven record of decades of unswerving integrity and loyal support and love for his country. I fear the other candidate’s vision of change (because, for sure, he has no record to run on at all, except that of shadowy associations with people who hate America and wish us harm) may be a dark and scary thing quite different to that which many of his starry eyed supporters wish it to be.”

Then the so-called Travel Insider ended with “Nuff said” a smiley face, and I unsubscribed to his letter after seven years. (Travel Idiot for sharing: I’m sure I was one of several hundred who did.)

Obama has done everything in his power to prove himself as a good man — a solid individual who has zigzagged throughout this country telling us what he will do when elected. He’s been consistent and has run a fabulous campaign. We know that. But one aspect of his candidacy is hardly spoken about — the fact he has strived to keep everything above board. He has nothing to apologize for and has handled the entire 21 months with aplomb and forthrightness. Even when I wasn’t sure of him (admittedly) there was always that part of me that shook my head and said “I wish I could be like that.” Even-handed and measured, the way I imagine a president was before I was born.

The fact is, Mrs. Clinton, John McCan’t, Tina Fey Palin, Crazy Huck, and most of the other candidates in this never-ending freak show worked our nerves every time we listened to them, tossing out bright shiny objects until we were dizzy. It made me feel bad that they had to take such cheap shots in order to stay in the race. But our man, Senator O, did not see that road, never even took the easy shots at President Bush when Obama could have beaten the Chief up for acting, if not being, a real shmuck.

It’s time for the world to stop being snarky at every turn (too easy anyway) and to realize we’re all in this together. There’s a lot of muck out there and in the end we are better for it when we act respectfully and honorably, no matter what. In the last few weeks of this election season two of the two biggest purveyors of “oh my G-d did you see that” rumors — Gawker.com and Radar magazine — have seen their fortunes die out. This is not by chance. I think us all, Republicans and Democrats alike, so-called independents and the ones who side fervently, have a single thing in common: we want us to stop complaining, bitching, or making fun! Let’s see the good side instead of piling on the dirt.

To paraphrase a song from my 20’s: Whine time is over. After this election is over, let’s all take a deep breath, live with the meltdown, and say out loud: “What can I do to make this a better world?” And to you who think this all sounds Pollyannaish, I offer the final words of this soliloquy:

“Deal with it. You’re secretly hoping everyone can start acting like our country (and perhps the world) is one big village. Smile a little. Encourage good behavior. Compliment someone for the hell of it. Don’t make fun of the next guy. Just be yourself. Look upwards. Hide from no one. Say something to the person standing by you about where you are headed in life. And celebrate a new beginning, one that says “Uh huh, the last eight years were one big messy period. So what? We don’t have to look backwards anymore. We can change.”
Congratulations. We are on the way up.

I’m Richard Laermer, and I’m the author of a hopeful book, 2011: Trendspotting.

You’re Gay. Yeah, Whatever.

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Clay Aiken

According to Clay (”Don’t Touch Me!”) Aiken, it is a big gay world out there. And that’s what the press wants you to believe. From my viewpoint, as a fuchsia card-carrying gay alpha male, every few years there’s a boondoggle in gay stories in America: the Supreme Court said OK to sodomy in Texas; Iowa in the heartland says OK to gay weddings; Richard Chamberlain (Richard! Chamberlain!) claims he’s a homo; while finally (my favorite) MTV said OK to the airing of a band (t.A.t.U.) that portrays itself as being “all lesbian, all the time.” The mega-ratings grabber Tia Tequila featured a bisexual lady of indiscriminate taste, but I’m not sure if she’s into sex as much as she is into showing off her inanity.

Yawn, digress. Is all this really the series of huge breakthroughs the media are suggesting? Because it sounds to me like just a lot of hype to sell a bunch of dying papers. Truth is, we’ve seen this all before. As I clamor for someone to just enact a single bold headline: “He’s Gay, So What?”

A generation and a half ago, Rock Hudson came out to the world on his deathbed because of complications from AIDS, smack-dab in the middle of Reagan America. At that point, a scant few years before the Supremes said no to sodomy in Georgia, the mass media talked a good game and asked Americans to be a lot more compassionate in their dealings with their gay brothers and sisters.

Then we waited for 24.5 years — past noise like “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” past Barry Winchell’s horrific death from homobashing Army boys, past that shady Defense of Marriage Act and doe-eyed Matthew Shepard, to, finally, a gay bishop happening upon the scene somewhere up north.

So the big news now is that it’s OK to be gay. Of course, it isn’t entirely OK. The media message of the moment notwithstanding, Bill Frist, once the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate, reacted to gay movement forward by grandstanding that he’d like an amendment to the constitution that gay marriage be disallowed. That is progress with a small “p.” Not gay with a capital “G.”

So how can we explain this dichotomy? Perhaps the public isn’t really so much more accepting and the culture isn’t really that much different — just as it wasn’t back in 1985, when Rock died. Perhaps the reality is that the media have grabbed onto this story line more because it’s a sellable one than because it’s the truth.

Let’s go back to Chamberlain, who has been an icon much longer than Aiken (and take Lohan, please…). Chamby’s story says a lot about why people were going “Senator Craig?” (who cares; just go away) last year. Chamberlain’s publicist insisted breathlessly that he should get a big “wow!” for his act of boldness. He should? For 40 years he played dull and, oh yeah, straight. Then he got exciting and on the cover of People magazine for telling the world that he’s gay. Really? And, oh yeah, he happened to have a book for sale.

Which I’m sure is just a coincidence. Much like Liz Smith, who also conveniently came out in what very briefly became a must-read memoir. But don’t get me started on Liz Smith.

One day after Richard’s big moment, I stood in a trendy Santa Monica video store and spotted the original Bourne Identity, which was remade last year with the straight (well, today!) Matt Damon. Chamberlain played Damon’s role in the first version, which no one remembers now, since Damon has turned this into his role. I had to laugh at the laboriously butch face Chamberlain was making on the box. He hasn’t had that kind of fame in years, and his new efforts — retired and notoriously gay — reek of a last-ditch effort to gain a buck off fame.

To make matters smellier, the old boy told Dateline at the time that he is “not a romantic leading man anymore and [no longer needs] to nurture that public image anymore.” Did anyone in the press ask about his implicit suggestion that his fans are total idiots? What Richard Chamberlain’s old-world PR people were pulling was very 1950s: let’s tell the world he’s gay to get some more attention. Right. Ask Rosie O’Donnell how far being queer’s gotten her, really. Certainly not the lead of Price Is Right or a punditry on MSNBC. Chamberlain is an actor who has been downgraded to his generation’s Larry Storch. You know, another TV actor who has had to pay the rent by appearing in, say, cheaply constructed bus and truck companies of My Fair Lady. Now that he’s gay — I guess this goes for Clay–maybe people will pay attention to him.

Again.

I’m the author of 2011: Trendspotting. Essays like this fill the damn thing.

Buy the Book - 2011

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