Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Snowpocalypse 2009

Those of us in the Washington area got an early Christmas present this past weekend that measured in around 20". The Blizzard of 2009, or "Snowpocalypse" as it was dubbed online, crippled transportation, the federal government and many businesses. It also created a picture-perfect winter wonderland in the nation's capital.

Happy Holidays to everyone! We'll see you next year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Promoting Safe Happy Holidays

The holiday season. It’s a time for family, generosity and, apparently, hordes of multicolored decorative lights. I’m probably too young to be a bit of scrooge about holiday lights, but the fascination with elaborate house decorations is beyond my comprehension. Each night when I get home from the office and sit down on my bedside chair, I stare out at a holiday lights display that can surely be seen from space. Well, bah humbug. You laugh but I’m donning sunglasses.

While it’s easy to be lighthearted about holiday decorations, here at PCG we’ve have had holiday electrical safety on the mind. We’ve been helping the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) and electrical experts from local Home Depots provide safety tips to TV audiences across the country. We have arranged appearances on more than 20 local TV stations and an interview with ESFI’s President, Brett Brenner on CBS’s Early Show.

Let’s be honest – everyone has a story to tell about holiday decorating gone wrong. It must be the excitement of the season, but people seem to disregard basic safety for the perfect decorative display. ESFI and Home Depot have provided some easy tips to keep us all safe. For example, use LED lights instead of incandescent lights. They are safer, resistant to shock, more energy efficient, allow more strings to be connected together and can last 50 times longer.

So, on behalf of PCG, please be safe this holiday season and remember electrical safety. For more great tips from ESFI, visit its holiday site, Below, is Brett Brenner’s appearance on the Early Show.
- Potomac Communications Group

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Monday, December 14, 2009

Investigative Journalism Version 2.0

Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, did his part for the future of journalism last week. Is this an unlikely advocate for the free press? You bet. But many reporters are too busy being their own writers, copyeditors and photographers to do much investigative journalism anymore. Last week, Orszag made this kind of reporting possible again.

Orszag’s “Open Government Directive” will create a host of new tools that make government the public’s business and give time-strapped reporters fewer excuses for not having the facts at their fingertips. The recondite ways of “computer assisted reporting” are going away. Reporting on government activities, even those some agencies would rather avoid seeing covered, will become easier than ever.

Orszag issued a directive to federal agencies that is designed to add teeth to the Presidential “transparency memo” issued on President Obama’s first day in office. The OMB’s directive provides guidance to all federal agencies on how to become more open, participatory and collaborative. It itemizes tasks and deadlines. More significantly, it requires that information be distributed in downloadable files that can be retrieved, indexed and searched by web search applications like the one you’re using to read this post.

Public records have long been tools of the journalism trade. Soon, news organizations will have much easier access – as will their readers – and we’ll come to expect new, more detailed reporting and coverage. Consider how corruption was routed out of mayor’s office in Detroit by the Detroit Free Press. The newspaper’s investigations of public records disgraced former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for his deception and led to jail terms for two officials. The paper’s dogged reporting won a Pulitzer Prize. It also required a vast amount of paperwork, lawyers, court appeals and a whole lot of waiting that could be eliminated with the OMB’s new directive.

The Open Government Directive may reinvigorate news organizations’ commitment to their 4th estate responsibilities. Maybe that will help keep journalism, as we have known it, alive.

– Potomac Communications Group

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Best Magazine Covers of the Year

Many magazines don’t seem to be suffering from the competitive shockwaves that have left the newspaper industry in critical condition. Other than “newsmagazines” – which increasingly seems a contradiction of terms – many are thriving.

How? One reason: If they can’t compete on speed, they’re competing on creativity. And doing it well.

Here’s some evidence. Time has named the top 10 magazine covers of the year. And the creativity is amazing. One of them – The New Yorker cover, below – was even developed on an iPhone app, called Brushes.

Personally, I was pleased that half the winners came from my three favorite magazines – The New Yorker, New York and Texas Monthly. (Does that indicate a certain amount of schizophrenia?)

Check out all 10, here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A "Surprising Solution" to Critical Challenges

Creating high-quality products and services, and offering them at competitive prices may not be enough to ensure business success in the 21st century marketplace. Tomorrow’s most successful enterprises will be those that also embrace social responsibility, according to Dr. Bruce Piasecki, an expert on corporate strategy.

In his new book, The Surprising Solution: Creating Possibility in a Swift and Severe World, Bruce, a long-time PCG client and friend who has studied the subject for more than 25 years, says the world’s largest multinational corporations are more powerful than most nations. In fact, he reports, more than half of the world’s 100 largest economies are corporations, not nations.

Hence, corporate giants will play a greater role in solving critical social problems like climate change, energy security, health care and poverty through innovation and response to social market forces. Those that do it best, he says, are the ones that will enjoy the greatest success.

Some multinationals are already stepping forward to address some of our most pressing problems, and are scoring big in the marketplace, he notes. General Electric, for example, is spending billions to develop wind power and other green technologies as part of its “Ecomagination” campaign. Toyota pioneered the efficient hybrid power train and is now the world’s largest auto maker. And Walmart, the behemoth that serves more than 175 million customers each week, is implementing a sustainability program focusing on such things as reduced packaging and more efficient transportation, not only for its 7,400 stores worldwide but for its entire supply chain as well.

We believe that Bruce – who also wrote In Search of Environmental Excellence and Corporate Environmental Strategy (for which our founding partners wrote the introduction – has made another important contribution to our understanding of the role of corporations in an environmentally sensitive world. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Leveraging the mainstream & social media convergence

The success of the direct selling industry, most famous for companies with household names like Avon, Herbalife and Mary Kay, is based on the person-to-person experience that consumers have with consultants. In other words, it’s a social business. And the world of social media has presented new opportunities and ways for direct selling companies to connect with their consultants and consumers. I was able to see some of these applications first-hand at the Direct Selling Association’s Internet & Marketing Communications Seminar in Las Vegas last week. For example, with more than 50,000 Facebook fans and counting, jewelry company Lia Sophia is using its page to introduce people to new products.

I had the pleasure of attending and co-presenting at the meeting. The attendance has historically been very strong and this year, the turnout was double that of 2008.

Melissa Meinzer, managing editor at Military Spouse Magazine, and I discussed effective ways in which DSA's member companies can leverage social media to help with their media outreach. For example, I shared stories on how I’ve used LinkedIn to pitch reporters whom I may not have talked with or seen in years. Or how I use to see which reporters are on Twitter. The site lists their beat, Twitter ID, job title and so on.

Other tips we shared: Take advantage of the media convergence. It allows greater visibility and reach, increases search engine optimization and has interactive components to help engage your audience. Look at social media as a supplement and not as a replacement… for now at least. And lastly, start today… literally. Share links to coverage via Facebook or LinkedIn. Embed videos of recent coverage (from news sites that allow you to do so) onto your own corporate Web site or blog.

A few years ago, who would have thought that a marketing conference would devote two full days to social media and Internet marketing? Times are indeed changing, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn about DSA member companies’ use of new media – and to share some of what we’re doing at PCG to leverage social media on behalf of our clients.

Friday, December 4, 2009

And Now: Reporters Reporting to Salesmen?

Here’s the most worrisome news of the day, for anyone who cares about traditional media. The Dallas Morning News – the only newspaper, in the nation’s eighth biggest city, with a daily circulation of more than 250,000 – seems to be placing its news staff under ad sales managers.

The weekly Dallas Observer just published an internal memo to the Morning News staff from the editor, jointly signed by the senior vice president of sales, announcing the restructuring. It divides the newsroom into 11 “business and content segments,” with each segment reporting to a newly created “general manager” whose responsibilities will include sales and business development. The rationale: “to better align with our clients’ needs.”

An Observer blog features an interview with the News’ editor, Bob Mong, who insists that the paper is still a “journalism-first company” and that the lines between advertising and news content will not be crossed.

Let’s all keep an eye on the News. Will this experiment be a model for other newspapers to follow? Or will the relationship between news and the business needs of the paper become so evidently cozy that others will be scared off. Stay tuned.

(Full Disclosure Dept.: I’m from Dallas, and in college I worked as a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald, which was then the afternoon competitor to the Morning News. So don’t expect total objectivity . . . )

Thursday, December 3, 2009

After the Pardon, This Turkey Flies High

It’s one of the most successful PR events of all time: Every Thanksgiving, the National Turkey Federation – a PCG client for many years – presents the President of the United States with the National Thanksgiving Turkey (and an alternate, should the first turkey not be able to perform its duties) to be pardoned.

NTF has presented turkeys to commanders in chief since Harry Truman started the tradition, and for more than 50 years the event has generated hundreds of press clips. CNN provided live coverage of President Obama’s first pardon.

“It’s always a lot of fun, and a big media event,” said Sherrie Rosenblatt, NTF’s vice president of marketing and communications. “This year, ‘Courage’ was a very good tom, but that’s not always been the case. In 2002, the pardoned bird pecked at President Bush in a very, uh, inappropriate way.”

“Fortunately, the president was a good sport – and we did make the front page in dozens of papers that year,” she added.

For the last five years, Disneyland has provided the pardoned turkeys with a home. Sherrie has had the privilege of escorting the turkeys to California aboard United Airlines Flight “Turkey-1” several times. The photos posted here are exclusive from Courage’s trip.

“It’s always amazing to see the strange looks and questions we get from other passengers on the plane, but they all want to get their pictures taken with the birds” she said. “The turkeys are great conversation starters.”

Courage served as the honorary grand marshal of Disneyland’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and now he and his alternate, “Carolina,” will live out their days at Big Thunder Ranch in Frontierland.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Former Senator Pete Domenici Talks Nuclear at National Press Club

Former Sen. Pete Domenici (R- New Mexico) today gave reporters and other industry insiders his latest thoughts about the nuclear renaissance at a National Press Club event sponsored by the United States Energy Association and the Bipartisan Policy Center. We attended the event and the themes in his speech were reminiscent of his 36 years in office where he became a staunch supporter of nuclear power.

“We can continue to pursue a long-outdated policy and try to avoid real participation in the new global nuclear reality. Or we can seize the opportunity to act now,” said Domenici. (Click here for a full transcript of his speech)

Especially interesting was his position that the Obama administration is pro-nuclear. He noted the administration has hired several high-profile pro-nuclear executives at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Domenici also discussed the recent resurgence of natural gas as the fuel of choice for energy generation. He said that natural gas is a good bridge to the future, but most utilities understand that nuclear energy is a better long-term investment.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hope for the Media Pros. Opportunity for the Masses.

Is journalism really dying? What is to become of journalism as the digital age marches forward? According to News Cycle, there have been 14,662 newspaper jobs lost in 2009. Circulation figures are falling. Editorial staff levels are being cut to the bone, and just recently AP laid off 90 newsroom employees. Online subscription models are unpopular and digital ad sales unpredictable.

It may be that journalism isn’t dying, but just migrating to the Blogosphere as it did with television and radio before that. Google CEO Eric Schmidt sees a need to differentiate between “bloggers” and those in traditional news that also blog. There’s no bright line, to be sure. But there is a sense that the distinction runs far deeper than the technology.

In Zachary Seward’s recent piece on Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Schmidt said he thinks blogs from legitimate organizations will be “treated differently than an individual blogger who’s using his or her right of free expression to say whatever he thinks.” He cites the presence of an editor, as an example. “You know, an editor that’s not your mom,” he said.

It may not be an official distinction, but it does show that many of us are still willing to hold real journalism aloft and differentiate it from hobbyists who just express opinions, as opposed to gathering information. That said, some amateurs are taking advantage of the opportunities created by the technology, and taking it rather seriously.

The Washington Post is mining this newfound trove of bloggers to find America’s Next Great Pundit. The contest puts 10 entrants through their pundit-paces with a 750-word column challenge, testing their blogging skills (write tight and bright, switch gears and respond to a reader comment), and taking live questions from readers.

The Prize? The lucky winner has the opportunity to join the Post’s Pulitzer-winning stable of opinion contributors in the print and online editions.

Much remains to be seen where technology will ultimately take the news business. But one thing is certain. Journalism is far from dead. Whether it’s mortally wounded or rapidly evolving may be one of the most important questions of our time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'Tis the season for thanks and giving

Our long-time client, Amy Robinson of the Direct Selling Association, appeared live on the NBC “Today” show Monday to kick off the 16th annual Holiday Toy and Gift Drive. She presented more than $15.7 million dollars in products and cash donated by 25 DSA member companies to help needy children and families across the US. What a great way to spend a morning. But more importantly, what a difference a day makes.

These companies donated a host of items ranging from cosmetics and children’s clothing to backpacks and jewelry. For so many children and adults across the country, gifts presented by groups like DSA are the only ones they'll receive this holiday season. And at a time when so many people are in need but few organizations are in a position to give, the kindness and generosity extended by DSA's member companies means so much.

Over the last six years, DSA member companies have donated more than $52 million in products, services and cash to the TODAY Holiday Toy and Gift Drive. The following DSA member companies donated this year: 4Life, Amway, Arbonne, Avon, Blessings Unlimited, Creative Memories, CUTCO, DeTech, Essential BodyWear, Jafra, L'Bel Paris, Lia Sophia, Mary Kay, Oxyfresh, PartyLite, RealKidz Clothing, Rodan & Fields, Shaklee, Stampin' Up!, TARRAH Cosmetics, Team National, The Pampered Chef, Thirty One Gifts, USANA, Vantel Pearls

Nine companies will be featured individually on TODAY over the holidays to present their donations.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Media Panel Cites Importance of Digital Communications in Crisis Situations

Last week at the American Nuclear Society (ANS) Winter Meeting, I organized and moderated a panel composed of four of the best energy journalists around: George Lobsenz, Executive Editor of The Energy Daily; Angie Pointer of Dow-Jones; Jim VanNostrand, Web Editor of McClatchy Newspapers; and Matt Wald of The New York Times. Attendees said it was one of the best sessions at the conference, which, of course, was completely due to the insights of the panel members.

One of the first questions was about reaching the media in an emergency situation. Matt Wald gave an answer that every communicator should pay attention to: any company dealing with the media and the public only via phone and fax during a crisis is asking for trouble. It takes Web-based communication, with its instant accessibility, to be timely and relevant. This doesn’t make the news release obsolete, but it does mean that it needs to be pushed electronically, posted on Web sites and constantly updated. And it should be augmented by other Web-based communications that push information to media and the public.

All the journalists agreed that scientists and engineers are great sources of technical information, but they need to present it in English rather than acronyms and “tech-speak.” Views on bloggers as sources of information were mixed, with all agreeing that they choose their information sources with great care

How to interest a journalist in covering your story? According to these panelists, ask yourself, “why should they care?” as you’re formulating your pitch. Editors like stories about people, counterintuitive facts and surprising anecdotes. That’s why The New York Times placed on Page One a story about a worker who walks through crucial areas of a nuclear plant every hour as part of its fire protection protocol, but put a story on a production record set by a nuclear power plant at the back of the far-less-read science section. The first offered more human interest.

Dan Yurman, a well-regarded blogger on nuclear energy, did a great job in covering this panel as well as another interesting session at the conference, sponsored by AREVA and attended by PCG’s Laura Hermann and Conor Bernstein, on blogging and other social media. The irony of mainstream media representatives being covered by new media makes me smile – and may have made some of them a little uncomfortable. Here is a link to Dan’s coverage and an ongoing conversation among his readers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bringing Meetings to the Members

We’ve been working for the National Fenestration Rating Council (think windows) for more than a decade. Recently, they asked us to find a way to inform members who can’t attend their meetings about what goes on there.

Our solution? A “live meeting update” in the form of a blog. We call it NFRC News Now, and we produce it live from the meeting site in real time. Just minutes after a committee wraps up its work, we post a summary on the blog for everyone to review.

We’re just back from NFRC’s fall meeting in San Antonio, where the blog really came into its own. We had close to 500 visits from 14 countries, some as far away as Australia and South Africa. At one point, we surveyed the room and close to half the attendees had the blog up on their laptops, even as they participated in the actual meeting! And here’s the best part: the fenestration trade media now cover the meetings from the blog.

Member relations and media outreach wrapped into one, through the magic of social media. It’s a solution that every trade association and professional society should consider.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holiday Travel Tips: No Longer as Simple as Over the River and Through the Woods

I’ve learned holiday travel tips the hard way — by missing flights, enduring extremely long delays and fighting back fears (and sometimes tears) that I won’t make it back to my family! Since I have yet to experience a smooth trip home for the holidays, I thought I’d share with you some of this new found wisdom. In my experience, reaching your holiday destination can be an adventure and exercise of one’s charm and wit!

Always remember that a relaxing holiday is aided by careful planning and a positive attitude. This is especially important if you will be flying to see your loved ones during the crowded travel season. Holiday air travel is expected to be even more difficult this year than in the past as many airlines have cut flights and raised fares, due to the current state of the economy.

Annie’s Top Five Travel Tips:

1. Book your flight early and try to make flight arrangements during the week. Airlines often raise rates on the weekends because that’s when most people want to fly. Try to avoid peak travel days as much as possible—several of the largest U.S. airlines have increased surcharges for travel on the busiest days to $20 each way, up from $10. If you have any travel questions, the Washington Post Travel Section recently added a live chat and Q & A section.

2. Choose non-stop flights if you can. The worst, most brutal delays occur in connecting airports, where you have no home, friends or family for support. I almost spent last Christmas in an Arizona airport, due to an unexpected West Coast white-out. Special “Annie” Tip: If you miss your flight and don’t make it for Christmas, send your mom the prettiest flowers you can find! I actually had to do this and my mom placed the flowers at my place setting at the dinner table. Above all else, guilt from my mother has made me a smarter and more careful traveler.

3. Delays are far less likely for morning flights and at the beginning of the holiday weekend, with each successive day getting a little busier, more difficult and more expensive. For the Thanksgiving holiday, the Air Transport Association of America said the holiday's busiest travel days are expected to be on November 20, 25, 29 and 30. What’s the bottom line? Travel off-peak whenever possible.

4. Be prepared for anything! This year, Google is offering free Holiday Wi-Fi at 47 airports to help ease the frustration of holiday travel. Be sure to give your cell phone a full charge the night before. Creating a special soundtrack for your trip can help to keep your mind on the excitement of the holiday. Mine always includes Simon & Garfunkel's “Homeward Bound” and John Denver’s “Country Roads.” And, last but never least, pack a sweet, seasonal treat, like snicker doodles, candy canes or sugar cookies to maintain the holiday spirit (even if you run into travel mishap)!

5. If you get stuck in an airport, don’t hide behind a book. Talk to people. Every traveler has a story to share. Remember: your destination is not always a place, but a new way of seeing things.

Holiday “Clause”: If you’re living in Manhattan and flying home the day before a major holiday, it would be far easier to scavenge your way through the Macy’s Day Parade than battle the crowds trying to get to the airports!

My first trip home after moving to Manhattan was over Thanksgiving. I arrived at my Delta departure gate 2.5 hours early—I’ve always been a planner—but still missed my flight! There were so many people and so many flights departing from the same gate that the commotion and confusion was just too overwhelming!

Many others missed that same flight, including my fellow “estranged travelers” in this picture. We bonded after realizing we could not get on a later flight for two days. A college professor, marketing coordinator, Rutgers student and Sarah Lawrence student made a split-second decision to rent a car and drive 7.5 hours to Pittsburgh. We took turns driving, getting to know one another and telling stories for the duration of the “surprise” road trip. We shared a deep appreciation that the same force was driving each of us—doing whatever it took to celebrate with our friends and family. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

Wishing you the blessings of warmth and good cheer this Holiday Season as you embark on your journey! Good luck!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blog from the ANS Meeting

Here at the biggest meeting of the American Nuclear Society in years, PCG VP Laura Hermann and I are mixing and mingling with more than 1,600 nuclear engineers, scientists and energy experts. The mood is upbeat about the future of nuclear electric power.

The plenary session held yesterday morning set the tone of optimism. Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy Pete Miller announced that he expects the federal first loan guarantees for nuclear power plants to be granted by year-end. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Jim Webb (D-VA) unveiled their bill to jumpstart the nuclear energy renaissance. Its provisions include $100 billion for clean energy projects, with $37 billion devoted to nuclear energy as well as money for small and medium-sized reactors, increasing the efficiency and lifetimes of existing nuclear power plants, augmenting the workforce and setting up five mini-Manhattan projects to advance the development of nuclear fuel recycling, clean coal, advanced biofuels, solar power and advanced batteries.

The session attracted more than 20 print and broadcast journalists, and the media scrum after the session was crowded and enthusiastic. It yielded plenty of media coverage. And there’s more to come. Today, I’m moderating a panel of great journalists – The New York Times’ Matt Wald, McClatchy’s Jim Van Nostrand, Energy Daily Executive Editor George Lobsenz and Dow Jones’ Angie Pointer. We’ll attract a big crowd, and ANS members will learn a lot about why journalists cover nuclear energy the way they do. More later this week …

Friday, November 13, 2009

Who Will We Pitch When The Reporters Are Gone

(An Ode to Change)

Who will we pitch, when the newsroom is shuttered,

When the hardened old vets are replaced with blog clutter,

Will E-bay create a journalism site,

With a buy-it-now option, just for spite,

In this brave new world, aren’t we all reporters,

Should we pitch ourselves and demolish the borders,

There’s the Huffington, the Drudge, in which pundits opine,

Our story hasn’t landed and we’re running out of time,

It’s time for a pitch and a top-flight post,

We’ll Facebook, and Twitter until some lucky host,

Decides that his blog, needs our brand of chatter,

The content we send may make his site matter,

Success, oh how sweet, we go to our clients,

And proudly beam like PR Giants,

We landed a spot on a Technorati leader,

Please go viral to millions of readers,

As we celebrate in the waning  hours,

We wonder, has journalism turned sour,

I guess it’s the way of things, to change from old to new

Who will we pitch, you ask,

If you have a moment, it could be you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Electricity and the Theatre

You don’t often think of electric utilities and the theatre industry as sharing a common goal. However, during a recent D.C. theatre showcase, the desire to educate children, their parents and teachers about renewable energy and the realities of climate change brought the two together. As a former teacher, I was excited to learn that PCG landed the opportunity to work on a project that would mix my past classroom experience with the work I do now.

Last month, two acting troupes from the National Theatre for Children (NTC) descended upon 18 Washington, D.C., and Maryland elementary and middle schools to teach these important lessons. The week-long event was sponsored by Pepco in support of Gov. Martin O'Malley's “EmPOWER Maryland” initiative, an effort to reduce Maryland’s energy consumption 15 percent by the year 2015.

From identifying schools early on, to securing media coverage and organizing a cocktail event, we had a hand in bringing it all together.

The reactions of the nearly 6,000 students that experienced the performances were priceless. Roaring chants like “go green, keep energy clean” and laughing students made for a fun-filled educational experience.

D.C. and Maryland state officials, education and energy leaders, Pepco employees, and a host of others got their own opportunity to view the performance about climate change during an executive reception hosted by Pepco President Thomas Graham at the Renaissance Washington Hotel. Several kids were there too, and they got a chance to be a part of the evening’s sketches. It was amazing to see their faces light up and to watch them absorb some pretty complicated information that the actors made interesting and entertaining.

It was a great experience. We had an amazing turnout at the cocktail event, and we secured coverage on WJLA-TV - Washington’s ABC affiliate, News Channel 8 and in the Maryland Gazette papers. But most importantly, we helped to inspire young minds and to encourage them to be good stewards of our environment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Non-Runner’s Guide to Running; or Why I Hate Myself

The funny thing about running is you have to beat your body into accepting it. Even people who love running will tell you the first couple miles are the most difficult to finish. It’s almost like you have to have a pep talk with yourself beforehand.

“Body, listen: you’re not going to like this, but we’re going running this morning.”
“Please, no.”
“Has to happen, sorry. Our increasingly-fatter self cannot continue to sit and do nothing.”

Eventually, the body gives in. “Sigh…OK, OK, OK. I’ll go.” Once I got to that point, where my body effectively submitted and accepted running, I no longer hated waking up in the morning before work to run.

Here’s why that’s important: I ran my first half-marathon the day after Halloween. Here’s why THAT’S important: my official position on running prior to the start of my training schedule in August was “No, thanks. I’d rather kick myself in the face.”

So there it is.

On Nov. 1, 2009, in Raleigh, N.C., I toed the starting line at 7 a.m. in steady rain and temperatures in the mid-50s and ran 13.1 miles. Before I started training, the longest I’d ever run with any regularity was between two and three miles.

Obviously, you’re asking, “Brian, WHY did you do that if you didn’t like running?” To which I say, “That’s a good question. Obviously, I have strong feelings of dislike toward myself.” No, here’s the deal. I’m a competitive person. I have three friends who’ve each run in similar races. I would go to support them, and I increasingly felt extraordinarily lame waiting for them at the finish line.

So I essentially dared myself not to do it. Which, of course, meant I had to do it.

And on that cold, rainy day in Raleigh, I actually did it. The training guides say not to set at time goal for your first half-marathon. Finishing should be a good enough goal. But I knew I’d be disappointed if I couldn’t finish in two and a half hours, so that was my goal. And I did it. I crossed the finish line with an official time of 2:19:51 – more than 10 minutes faster than my goal.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but this was not my last half-marathon. What a rush.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When Trust Is Low, Women Make the Best Spokespeople

When we lead risk communication training, we emphasize the “gender gap” that heavily favors women as company spokespeople when concern is high and trust is low among audiences you are trying to reach. Research shows that most Americans view women as naturally more caring, honest and dedicated than their male counterparts.

So for organizations in emotionally fraught high-concern, low-trust situations, whenever possible, and all other things being equal, choose a woman as your spokesperson. And if you must send a man, make sure he gets a chance to talk about his family, charitable activities, and anything else that will show him to be a caring, honest and dedicated person.

Of course, female spokespeople can still get into trouble – but they can also recover more quickly. A great example is a recent interview conducted by 60 Minutes about a massive coal ash spill in Kingston, Tenn.

Anda Ray, an environmental expert at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was asked if she would be willing to swim in the river that was polluted by the spill. She thought for a moment, and then said yes. Unfortunately, she later remembered that her company had advised people against swimming in the river. Oops.

It was a faux pas, but she clarified the mistake later and all in all got through a tough situation. Check it out for yourself:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Magic Johnson

When I was told I was going to be a part of the team securing D.C. media coverage for Magic Johnson, I just about fell out of my chair. We do a lot of media outreach at PCG, but this was different. Magic Johnson is an American icon, a boyhood idol for many and, as I would soon find out, one terrific public speaker.

Magic, in a partnership with Best Buy, came to Washington to talk to students at Bell Multicultural High School about entrepreneurship and the importance of education.

His visit was a huge hit. He captivated the 800 students in the Bell auditorium from the moment he took the stage. His celebrity helped, but it was his honesty that really won them over. He made it clear to his audience that he was one of them. He had grown up poor in Lansing, Mich., had struggled in school, and he knew first hand how difficult it can be to get ahead.

He spoke to the students and took questions from them for more than an hour and a half. They asked him about basketball-related subjects like Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. They also had pointed questions about living with HIV and how to get scholarships for college.

The opportunity to work in a school and experience the kids’ excitement was fantastic. We placed coverage of the event in The Washington Post, The Washington Examiner, several local blogs and on every local network affiliate as well as Comcast SportsNet. Check out Magic in action for yourself. Below is FOX 5’s coverage of the event.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Beltway Boo’s!

My kids are lucky enough to attend one of the D.C. area schools selected to participate in the White House Trick or Treat celebration (see Press Secretary Robert Gibbs briefing transcript from Friday, Oct. 30). My eight year old twins, Colin and Clare, go to Antietam Elementary School in Woodbridge, Va. They were two of only 175 kids and parents who received tickets.

Along with our neighbors, we set off Saturday afternoon for the Pentagon City Metro to avoid parking hassles downtown – all in time to make our appointed 5:30 p.m. entrance time.

Entertainment on the grounds was to be Chicago’s Redmoon Theater. Some of their past performances got me excited to see what they might do for the First Family on Halloween!

Well, it was fantastic! Due to the threat of rain, we were prepared and dressed warmly. The kids were impressed, but getting treats from the President and First Lady was such fun for all of us. And the entertainment did not disappoint!

After 20 years in the D.C. area, and countless strolls down Pennsylvania Avenue, this was the first time any of us had been on the White House grounds themselves. What fun! I know there was some small controversy over which kids and schools should be invited, but we were thrilled to have an opportunity to be a part of it all!

Covering the Coverage (Episode 1)

“Thus the stakes are greater than when we began to chronicle this story four years ago, for another failure almost certainly will lead to greater public disgust and political turmoil.”

That’s the final sentence of the forward to the paperback edition of The System: The Way of American Politics at the Breaking Point, written in January 1997, by two of Washington’s savviest political journalists, Haynes Johnson and David Broder. The book tells, in great detail, the story of the epic failure of Bill Clinton’s attempt to pass health care reform in 1993 and 1994.

We’ve been rereading the book in light of Barack Obama’s attempt to finish the job, and we highly recommend it.

We’re a non-partisan bunch at PCG. So, rather than dwell on the details of health care policy, this seems like a good time to take a look at the first draft of history that’s still being written on the subject.

With Johnson’s and Broder’s “chronicle” still fresh in our minds, we present the first in a regular series looking at political journalism through our PR lens. Here are our five favorite links from the health-care battles of the summer and early fall, each using a different public relations approach (from personal connections to the flash-mob style of the Tea Partiers):

The summer what was - The Town Halls of August

When the political is personal - “How American Health Care Killed My Father”

Sound analysis of both the policies and politics in play – “The Treatment” blog at The New Republic

What do the CBO’s numbers really mean? – “…those numbers are just numbers”

A recent look at how an actual bill might pass both houses – “End Game”