Farewell to the House

After four years of service as the Press Secretary for Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, my time in the Legislature has come to an end. Due to term limits, my boss could not run for re-election. The new Speaker decided to “go in a different direction” with the next press secretary and so I’m saying farewell to the House.

The last full session day was Thursday, Dec. 18, which went past midnight and so we technically had a bonus session day that went from midnight on Friday, Dec. 19, until about 6:45 a.m.

My wife, Jessi, was around the chamber for most of the night and helped me document my last real session day. (I will be returning to the House floor on Dec. 30 to take part in Sine Die — when the Legislature adjourns “without day” — but that doesn’t really count as a real session day.)

It’s a bittersweet time in my career, when all the crazy hours, incredible social media frustrations and triumphant media relations moments cascade down around me and swirl about among my memories. But that aside, here is a collection of photos and videos shot by Jessi and I during those last hours, with some commentary to help provide context. (You can click on each picture to enlarge it if you so desire.)

Speaker Bolger office

This is the hallway outside the Speaker’s Office. When I got to work on Thursday, Dec. 18, I decided to document a few things that had become routine — something that we all risk no matter where we work. I used to always tell new employees to stop and look around from time to time – that no matter how busy they were, they should take a minute to revel in the amazing building where they were privileged to work.

Speaker Bolger office sign

The main hallway inside the Speaker's Office suite.

The main hallway inside the Speaker’s Office suite.

The actual Speaker's office - the place Jase Bolger always thanked visitors for allowing him to borrow. That sentiment is part of what made him a great public servant. I spent a lot of hours at that big table during strategy meetings.

The actual Speaker’s office – the place Jase Bolger always thanked visitors for allowing him to borrow. That sentiment is part of what made him a great public servant. I spent a lot of hours at that big table during strategy meetings.

The Speaker's desk is at the end by the window; this is an angle shot while standing at the table in the previous photo.

The Speaker’s desk is at the end by the window; this is an angle shot while standing at the table in the previous photo.

This is an old Speaker's chair - at one time it actually sat at the rostrum on the House floor but has since been replaced. Many of us have memories of sitting in this chair waiting to see Speaker Bolger; it seemed a fitting place to pass the time.

This is an old Speaker’s chair – at one time it actually sat at the rostrum on the House floor but has since been replaced. Many of us have memories of sitting in this chair waiting to see Speaker Bolger; it seemed a fitting place to pass the time.

This was the last press conference I helped Speaker Bolger with. He was speaking about the roads deal reached between the legislative leaders and Gov. Snyder. The press conference was held in the Governor's Capitol Office Parlor. If you take the Capitol tour, there are times when this room is open for viewing.

This was the last press conference I helped Speaker Bolger with. He was speaking about the roads deal reached on Thursday between the legislative leaders and Gov. Snyder. The press conference was held in the Governor’s Capitol Office Parlor. If you take the Capitol tour, there are times when this room is open for viewing.

I lost track a long time ago how many times I've gone running up and down these steps before, during and after session. This is the back stairwell that leads up to the House chamber. It's behind a "No Visitors Beyond This  Point" sign in the main Capitol hallway. I guess that will be me now.  :/

I lost track a long time ago how many times I’ve gone running up and down these steps before, during and after session. This is the back stairwell that leads up to the House chamber. It’s behind a “No Visitors Beyond This Point” sign in the main Capitol hallway. I guess that will be me now.

Here is a video of the last time I said the Pledge of Allegiance on the House floor for a regular session, which was shortly after midnight on Dec. 19 when we started a “new” session day. I will always remember saying this for opening every session, but especially when we had a school group in the gallery watching us. Few groups can say the Pledge as loud and proud as a group of elementary schoolkids!

This is a very private place behind the scenes, as it is the House Republican Caucus Room. The House Democrats have one, too. It is a well-heeded rule in our caucus that what is said in this room stays in this room. It's a place where I saw Republicans spend many hours debating policies and issues with fervor but always ending with their friendship and camaraderie intact.

This is a very private place behind the scenes, as it is the House Republican Caucus Room. The House Democrats have one, too. It is a well-heeded rule in our caucus that what is said in this room stays in this room. It’s a place where I saw Republicans spend many hours debating policies and issues with fervor but always ending with their friendship and camaraderie intact.

The House Press Desk, where the Capitol Press Corps sits during session. I spent a lot of hours standing at this desk providing information and cajoling reporters, not to mention taking a few good-natured hits in return.

The House Press Desk, where the Capitol Press Corps sits during session. I spent a lot of hours standing at this desk providing information and cajoling reporters, not to mention taking a few good-natured hits in return.

Jessi took this shot, so I'm not sure what was happening. It appears I was watching a vote go up on the board. She has several shots of me standing like this throughout the night. I never realized how much I cross my arms while observing things!

Jessi took this shot, so I’m not sure what was happening. It appears I was watching a vote go up on the board. She has several shots of me standing like this throughout the night. I never realized how much I cross my arms while observing things!

Jessi took this picture, too, of Rep. Frank Foster, R-Petoskey. I don't know what he was watching or what he was thinking; since he lost his primary election and won't be returning, I can't even imagine it. In his farewell speech, Foster told the House that we need "more politicians who are bad at politics." He is absolutely correct, and will be sorely missed in the GOP Caucus next year.

Jessi took this picture, too, of Rep. Frank Foster, R-Petoskey. I don’t know what he was watching or what he was thinking; since he lost his primary election and won’t be returning, I can’t even imagine it. In his farewell speech, Foster told the House that we need “more politicians who are bad at politics.” He is absolutely correct, and will be sorely missed in the GOP Caucus next year.

The Speaker's job is so intense and so stressful; people have no idea how much a legislative leader and his family must endure. I love this shot that Jessi took though, because it shows Jase Bolger sharing a laugh with a colleague on the floor. Often, no matter how stressful things had gotten, Jase would let others lighten the mood with a joke and then laugh right along with them. It helped us all relieve some stress.

The Speaker’s job is so intense and so stressful; people have no idea how much a legislative leader and his family must endure. I love this shot that Jessi took though, because it shows Jase Bolger sharing a laugh with a colleague on the floor. Often, no matter how stressful things had gotten, Jase would let others lighten the mood with a joke and then laugh right along with them. It helped us all relieve some stress.

This was a chance shot that I took with Google Glass as everyone was leaving the House floor after session adjourned on Friday. I happen to glance over and catch Speaker Bolger wishing Speaker-Elect Kevin Cotter well as he prepares to take over next year.

This was a chance shot that I took with Google Glass as everyone was leaving the House floor after session adjourned on Friday. I happen to glance over and catch Speaker Bolger wishing Speaker-Elect Kevin Cotter well as he prepares to take over next year.

I didn't know Jessi had taken this picture until days later. It was on my last trip down the back stairs after session ended on Friday morning. A classic shot that I'm so glad she took.

I didn’t know Jessi had taken this picture until days later. It was on my last trip down the back stairs after session ended on Friday morning. A classic shot that I’m so glad she took.

It was just after 8 a.m. on Friday and we'd all been at work well over 24 hours. But that didn't stop Speaker Bolger from agreeing to do an interview with Frank Beckman for his radio show. It's a testament to Jase and his willingness to be open with the media right up to the very end. It also documents that even while talking on a phone, he has to use his hands to explain concepts to people. :)

It was just after 8 a.m. on Friday and we’d all been at work well over 24 hours. But that didn’t stop Speaker Bolger from agreeing to do an interview with Frank Beckman for his radio show. It’s a testament to Jase and his willingness to work with the media right up to the end. It also documents that even while talking on a phone, he has to use his hands to explain concepts to people. 🙂

The previous picture was shot on my Google Glass, and unbeknownst to me, Jessi was taking a picture of me taking that picture! This angle also shows how the Speaker's office was already being torn down and boxed up, but he and I were still working, because there was still work to be done.

The previous picture was shot on my Google Glass, and unbeknownst to me, Jessi was taking a picture of me taking that picture! This angle also shows how the Speaker’s office was already being torn down and boxed up, but he and I were still working, because there was still work to be done.

The last shot of me in my empty Capitol office before I left. Maybe it was best that I ended my work day about 27 hours after it ended, because by then I was ready to leave.

The last shot of me in my empty Capitol office before I left. Maybe it was best that I ended my work day about 27 hours after it started, because by then I was ready to leave!

This is a video I shot on the House floor with my Google Glass. It was of Speaker Bolger’s final time at the rostrum for a regular session day. It includes his farewell to the chamber and the last time he says, “The House will stand at ease at the call of the chair.”

And that’s all folks!

Advertisements

The media’s coverage of low voter turnout is a self-fulfilling prophecy

dickerson columnThe Detroit Free Press’ Brian Dickerson has it mostly wrong in his recent column about why such a small percentage of voters voted in last week’s election.

People who do not vote should not be held up as “the new normal” or the people who are making the best decision because they don’t like the choices they are given. Democracy isn’t meant to be easy and freedom isn’t free. If you fail to show up and vote, you have no right to complain about who got elected. If you fail to fight and try to make a difference in the things you want to see changed, you have no right to complain that things aren’t the way you want them.

Voters today are part of a society driven by Hollywood’s and TV’s interpretation of the world, biased cable TV news networks, bloggers with no professional standards held up as real journalists, and real journalists hog-tied by shrinking budgets and corporate management intent on web clicks and social media likes instead of credibility.

Admittedly, I haven’t done any exhaustive research on this. But when you review the political coverage of the recent elections, I suspect you will find a vastly larger number of articles based on polling results that are questionable at best, a focus on who is funding candidates, reviews of what the latest blistering negative TV ads are spewing, and the supposedly campaign-ending scandals that aren’t nearly as evil as the media and election ads portray them. And, let’s not forget the large number of articles focused on how difficult it supposedly is to vote in the Unites States.

What’s missing is in-depth reporting on candidates, their credentials, the issues they care about, what they would actually do if elected and why people need to vote to have their voices heard. And the rest of the year, when electioneering isn’t driving the news coverage, it would be nice if the media reported on the day-to-day activities of elected officials. The Capitol Press Corps in Michigan has shrunk dramatically over the years, and many reporters have shied away from “process stories,” because editors (in those newsrooms where they still exist) don’t think the public will click on them. But the process is where all the interesting news happens. The final votes taken on the floor of the House and Senate are a very small part of all the work that has gone into a law being crafted. Floor speeches, while great for soundbites for a media driven by sensationalism, rarely have any real impact on how a person’s colleagues will vote. That’s because all the true debate, the hashing out of ideas, and the bipartisan compromise happened weeks and months prior in a committee process deemed “too boring” for the public to be told about.

Is it any wonder then that the public is feeling disenfranchised and wondering why they should bother to vote? Instead of being given a manual on democracy to study they are being fed the equivalent of Cliff’s Notes. In an ever-growing and concerning trend, we may not even receive that version anymore but instead the equivalent of a movie trailer.

My 18-year-old daughter voted in her first general election this year. She texted me one day while reviewing her absentee ballot (provided to her because she is away at college).

“This is difficult. How do you choose? There are so many people and none of their websites make sense. The troubles of a teenage voter.”

I was so proud of her for actually doing research on the candidates and not just listening to her dad’s opinion! I responded with the best advice I could think of that wouldn’t drive her to just do what I suggested.

“Democracy isn’t supposed to be easy and I applaud you for trying to research the candidates!”

If only more voters cared as much as my daughter, post-Election Day news coverage wouldn’t be all about the hand wringing over low voter turn out. And if only more media outlets understood their post-Election Day news coverage is a self-fulfilling prophecy, then we might actually get some true news coverage of government instead of sensationalistic, half-baked reports designed to increase computer clicks instead of voter intellect.

Sincerity, Transparency, Relevancy & Accuracy are key for social media success

Reprinted from Dome Magazine

Social Media S.T.A.R
August 16, 2011

There have been plenty of discussions over the past two years about social networking and how the online outlets are the new grassroots movement. I’ve often said it myself and encouraged politicians and business leaders to get involved and engage if they want to be successful at interacting with their constituents and customers.

I’m often asked about tips and tricks for how to do that in a way that is beneficial for everyone, so I thought I’d share a few hints here. Of course, there is no perfect way to do anything, especially with the fast-growing and even faster-changing world of social media.

One of the most important lessons I often share comes from comedian Bill Cosby, who is credited with saying, “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone.” That statement is great anyway, but in the context of social media, it is vital to remember.

Not only will you not please everyone with what you are doing online, the medium allows “everyone” to give you instant feedback on what’s working and what’s not. That can lead you down a tumultuous path of constantly changing your style and content, to the point where no one really knows what to expect. The downside is they could see that as a reason to stop following you and, therefore, stop listening to you.

So it might help if you remembered some basic rules that I have turned into the acronym S.T.A.R. It stands for Sincerity, Transparency, Accuracy and Relevancy.

Sincerity is about being true to yourself and those who follow you. One of the greatest compliments I can receive is to meet someone in real life who has only known me through social networking, and to have that someone realize I’m the same person in both places. I have the same beliefs, the same sense of humor and the same demeanor in person as I do online.

I don’t use any online tools to make myself seem different or better in some way. If people don’t get enough out of what they see when following you online, they can easily stop following you. But if you show them that you are different in each of your online accounts and in real life, they will soon wonder who the real you really is and doubt what you’re saying in all venues.

Transparency is vital for building trust and for establishing relationships with people. Generally, consumers don’t want to follow a brand, they want to interact with people who happen to work for a brand. It helps us get the feeling of being connected behind the scenes somehow.

Politicians are brands, too, now more than ever. That’s why you must clearly state who is operating the Facebook or Twitter accounts you’ve established for your business or your political office.

If more than one person is adding to the account updates, they can be clearly identified by using the ^ symbol and the writer’s initials. There’s nothing wrong with having staff tweet for an elected official or business owner. But you need to be transparent about it to make sure the brand doesn’t lose the trust of those following it.

Accuracy is important in every aspect of our lives, and that is magnified when you’re online. People are used to getting instant information now and acting upon it very quickly.

Another topic for debate some day will be the desire for all of us lately to know everything right away and take immediate action for or against it, rather than waiting until we have all the facts and developing a well thought out plan. But, in the meantime, if you operate a social networking account, you have to make sure that what you are posting is accurate.

If you find you have made an error, declare so as soon as possible and correct it. Simply deleting your inaccurate post and moving on won’t cut it, because you can never truly delete a post from any account. It often will still exist in someone’s Twitter stream or Facebook news feed, or someone may have made a screen capture that can easily be broadcast to the world to show everyone your error.

People are quite willing to overlook human frailties, and they understand that we all make mistakes sometimes. They do not take kindly to being misled, however, which is what happens when you try to cover up a mistake.

Relevancy means keeping track of who is in your audience and sending them updates that are appropriate. One key to good communication is remembering that communicating is about the recipient more than the sender.

That means you need to post updates that matter to the people who are following you on that particular network. I post regularly to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Empire Avenue and Foursquare. I rarely cross-post the exact same message to multiple services.

When I do want to share the same information, I often tweak it so that it is written in a way that would be more appealing to that audience. Sure, it means spending a little more time and effort, but if you aren’t willing to spend those on every form of communication, then why bother communicating at all?

There are several third-party programs available that let you send the same message to multiple outlets with a single click. This, however, is not communication, it is robotic shouting.

It’s important to note that doing all the things in STAR requires some time, effort and patience. None of this is easy or free (although, technically, the pure dollar investment is quite minimal). But, as the old saying goes, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. These days, we should add “multiple times.”

Be careful not to let your worlds collide

George Costanza

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently about how they used to enjoy my Twitter feed more before I became the spokesman for a politician. It was an eye-opening discussion in a couple of ways.

For a bit of background, my personal Twitter feed is @aribadler, but I also am the primary operator of the Twitter account for my employer, Speaker of the House Jase Bolger. That feed is @SpeakerBolger.

I thought I was doing a good job of keeping the two worlds separate, at least as much as you possibly can when it comes to social media. I have no delusions that what I post to both accounts can and will be used against me personally or in my role as the Speaker’s press secretary. So, I’ve been careful with what I’m posting to @aribadler, to make sure I’m not saying or doing anything that can be twisted on me. Of course, the political ideologues will always find a way to use every utterance out of context, but I’m basing my decisions on what reasonable people would think, not those blinded by political rage.

What I had not really considered was whether what I’m doing at work could impact my personal account. I haven’t done much more political ranting on @aribadler than I had in the past, but I’m sure some stuff has shown up there. I have put links to various news stories that I’ve been in on my Twitter feed and on my Facebook page. They weren’t there so much as a way to spread the message contained within, but rather as a way to show my friends and followers what I’ve been up to as a press secretary.

That’s why the conversation from the other night was so enlightening. I’ve been careful not to let comments from my personal world invade into my professional world, and yet I haven’t been as vigilant in the other direction. As this person said, she’s always enjoyed reading my Twitter stream because it was about a lot of things — some interesting to her and some not, some funny and some not. But, she said, it’s not going to be as enjoyable to follow me if I let too much political messaging seep in.

I’ve scrolled through my feed and haven’t seen too much more political stuff there than I had previously, but it does exist. So, I’m going to put up a better barrier — one that keeps my worlds from colliding not just on the work side, but on the personal side, too. I’m sure George Costanza from Seinfeld would agree that’s really for the best.

Why McDonald’s flap over franchisee’s politics actually helps PR pros

This is a piece I was commissioned to write for Ragan.com:

Published: 11/1/2010 

Why McDonald’s flap over franchisee’s politics actually helps PR pros
By Ari B. Adler

When a single location’s owner taints a global company, who ya gonna call?  

McDonald’s Corp. is working to get some Egg McMuffin off its face after astory hit the Internet about a franchise in Canton, Ohio, distributing a paycheck stuffer suggesting which political candidates the employees should support.

The McDonald’s legal team will be working overtime trying to pull the company out of the deep fryer on this one, but that’s not the most interesting thing to me. As a media relations professional, I’m interested in seeing how one of the world’s most-recognized global brands deals with a local mistake that spreads across the world.

The story broke Friday and, thanks to the Internet, there were news stories, blog posts and tweets going out at a rapid pace. If history is a good predictor, the fun has only just begun for the McDonald’s corporate communications team.

Legal issues aside, readers’ comments on at least one blog entry added up fast and quickly turned vitriolic. The majority of readers at the Thinkprogress.org post were quick to blend the fast-food chain’s reputation with the apparent Republican agenda to take over the world one minimum-wage vote at a time.

Missteps can happen with a corporation as large as McDonald’s, and the risk is even greater when your company is built on franchise operations. That means it’s your logo, your brand and your reputation, but it’s at the mercy of every local yahoo who has paid enough to open a store with your sign out front.

Remember the disgusting Domino’s food video last year? That was at a franchise store where corporate had no say in who was working there. If they had, they might have been able to sniff out a problem faster than the franchise owner did.I’ve been in media relations for many years, and it is amazing to me how much things have changed in just the past few. We used to worry about a story getting in the local paper and, perhaps, going even more widespread if it hit the TV news that night. Should it have gotten out of control, we might have received coverage by a national news outlet. Now we have to deal with every potential outlet, including blogs and social media. And many of the new outlets don’t play by the old rules. Actually, some of them don’t play by any rules. Even if a given outlet tries to be fair in reporting on something, reader comments often are the most damaging part of the attack on your brand and reputation.

I recently heard Tim McIntyre, Domino’s vice president of communications, talk about how the online mentions of the gross employee video peaked and then plummeted after the company posted its response video on YouTube. Unfortunately, the company posting the video ended up drawing the attention of the mainstream media, and the second news cycle on the issue immediately got under way.

The odds seem insurmountable sometimes, because it just doesn’t seem possible to keep up with it all. But that does not mean we should be throwing in the towel. Media relations professionals have myriad tools available to them to monitor, track and respond to mentions in mainstream and online press as well as Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.

Instead of getting frustrated with all the work we see laid out before us, perhaps we should see it as job security instead. I’m certain some corporate executives are wondering why, at a time when the mainstream press is crumbling, their media-relations department really needs the budget it has requested. When corporations realize how fragile their brand is, however, and how easy it is for anyone and everyone to launch an attack these days, that should help those of us on the front line land a little more support.

Media relations is no longer just about the media in the traditional sense. Certainly we have to work with the mainstream press, but we also have to broaden our horizons to take on online news outlets, bloggers, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and many more. If it can be used for communication, we need to be aware of it, monitor it, understand it and work with it.

So keep that in mind as the company budgets are being prepared for 2011. The media team is no longer effective if your company’s definition of “team” is you and a Google news account. There are hardware and software costs that must be budgeted for, as well as having the necessary number of employees on hand to handle the growing list of media relations tasks.

The CEOs of the world often focus on the bottom line. But they still are going to spend some money on property insurance in case a fire happens at one of their facilities. It’s high time companies started paying attention to the reputation-focused firefighters they have on staff, too. Otherwise, the next time a three-alarm blaze erupts and you try to douse it with some pitiful Google news alerts, their bottom line is likely to end up all burned and crunchy—like a McDonald’s fry left floating in a basket of hot oil for too long.

Touche! Let’s go have a beer

What this world needs is more people willing to disagree, have a debate and then simply agree to disagree with no hard feelings.

The Internet has made the world smaller and yet generational and social divides are expanding. Mainstream news has turned into a fear fest. And politics as usual is unusually nasty and divisive. It’s rare to find people anymore who are willing to have an honest, intelligent debate over an issue. It’s not a fight, it’s a debate. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the exercise of broadening your horizons and hearing what other people have to say. It’s about learning what other people’s perspectives bring to an issue.

I can be stubborn and opinionated, of that there is no doubt. But I like to think that I can debate with someone on an issue without it becoming a personal matter.

Whatever happened to civility in debating the points of an issue? Perhaps it’s the explosive growth of the Internet and social media, where we have a microphone available for us to shout at the world 24/7. Folks involved in social media talk about the importance of a conversation, and yet they often won’t have one online. They’ll post a comment on Twitter or Facebook, or even write a blog post, but then won’t accept a challenge to an open debate about what they said. That’s not being conversational, that’s screaming from your soapbox and then walking away without bothering to listen to what your audience might have to say about your comments.

One of my favorite people is Nathan Triplett. We have opposing political views, from both a fiscal and social sense, as far as I can tell. We are in different age groups. We don’t really have that much in common and we don’t hang out. Why does he deserve “favorite” status then? Because we have some great debates. We debate on Facebook. We debate on Twitter. And, hopefully, we’ll soon be debating on a political talk show that I’m a frequent guest commentator on. Nathan gets it. He has his opinions and believes in them strongly enough to stand up for them. But he also is willing to hear what you have to say. He will try to change your opinion, which is a fine goal for debating. But if he can’t, he just agrees to disagree with you. I hope he sees me in the same light, because I would gladly trade beers and barbs with him anytime.

In my community, there’s already a breakfast club, a happy hour club, a tweet-up group and many other organizations. But a lot of those gatherings revolve around small talk. They rarely get into personal opinions or rough-and-tumble debates where we may change someone’s mind or, perhaps, find our own enlightenment on an issue.

Maybe it’s time to change that. Maybe it’s time to start the Lansing Debate Club. Our motto can be, “Touche! Let’s go have a beer.”

That’s going to leave a mark

UPDATE — I’m not sure when it actually happened, but as of Monday, Sept. 13, the video has been removed by the Michigan GOP. I can’t say for certain that my blog posts, the media coverage and many people joining me in deriding this ad had an effect, but I’d like to think so. Thanks to all who commented or sent notes of support.
~aba
—————

I’ve had active blog posts before, the kind that get people talking and commenting on the page, via Twitter or in person. To date the largest single day of visits came when my post about President Obama’s handling of the Henry Gates situation was featured on CNN.com for a while. And I’ve had many posts that had more visitors than the one I wrote on Tuesday about a Michigan Republican Party YouTube video that I felt sullied the Lansing community. But the “Pure Crap” post has easily claimed the title for drawing the most attention from mainstream media.

After word started spreading about the video and my post railing against it, I was contacted by several reporters while others simply wrote about the situation without talking to me. Tim Nester read the post on his TalkLansing.net show. I was featured in radio segments on City Pulse On Air and Ebling and You. The City Pulse wrote an article, as did Gongwer News Service. And this morning I was mentioned in a political column in The Detroit News.

Certainly, my post wasn’t that extraordinary. What really got the media interested is that I was writing about disagreeing with a Republican video and I’m a former Republican spokesperson, having been the press secretary for a Michigan Senate majority leader. That’s what makes the whole thing newsworthy. And, hopefully, that’s going to leave a mark on the communications strategies for the state Republican and state Democratic parties. Both have been slinging the mud for so long now that people have come to expect it. But that doesn’t make it right and I needed to say it — regardless of my supposed political loyalty. As I mentioned in several of my interviews, many political operatives I speak with say “negative works,” while the average voters on the street I speak to often complain about the negative messaging.

I’ve also been involved in politics long enough to know I’m probably going to be asked by more than one person what I’ve been smoking. But I felt it was important to speak out and leave my mark. I hope that, even if my efforts don’t change the tactics of political operatives in this state, that I might inspire a few more people to stand up and say something when it needs to be said.

So I’m challenging everyone reading this blog to stand up, speak out and leave their mark. Even if it doesn’t change things immediately, it will make you feel better knowing that you tried. And, just maybe, if enough of us inspire others, we might actually see the power of positive change in Michigan. Who is with me?

Politics in Michigan are Pure Crap

UPDATE — I’m not sure when it actually happened, but as of Monday, Sept. 13, the video has been removed by the Michigan GOP. I can’t say for certain that my blog posts, the media coverage and many people joining me in deriding this ad had an effect, but I’d like to think so. Thanks to all who commented or sent notes of support.

~ aba

——–

I saw a video yesterday that offended me. I don’t suppose that’s very newsworthy since people are probably offended by things on YouTube every day. But this was a video from a political party who found  a way to misrepresent the community I live in as part of their attempt to smear the record of their candidate’s opponent.

The Lansing I live in is nothing at all like what the Michigan Republican Party has portrayed it as in their video titled Pure Lansing. Unfortunately, both political parties in this state have been racing to the bottom and simply creating a more jaded electorate with their efforts.

I am not going into great detail to rip apart the video I linked to above. Instead, I’m simply going to disagree and practice what I’ve been preaching. I’m going to be positive.

If you want to know what “Pure Lansing” is really like, you can listen to political operatives pandering for votes, or you can listen to the people who live, work and play in a place they are proud to call home.

If you are on Twitter, follow the hashtag #lovelansing. If you are on Facebook, follow the Lansing Breakfast Club or Lansing Happy Hour Club groups.

Or watch this news piece about Ignite Lansing:

Or this news piece about Kiplinger naming Lansing one of the top 10 cities in America for young professionals:

Is everything in Lansing wonderful? Of course not. Is everything perfect in any city? Hardly. But what makes a city a place you want to call home is the community that exists within it. There are so many examples of good things happening in Michigan’s capital city. Visit our capitol or one of the great museums, like Impression 5. Wander around Potter Park Zoo, stroll through Old Town or enjoy one of the many new restaurants peppering the Washington Square area.

Lansing is changing for the better. I wish Michigan politics could do the same.

(Photo courtesy of Brian Forbes.)

“PR” doesn’t stand for Problem Repair

Associated Press Television News photographer Rich Matthews went diving in the Gulf of Mexico to take a closer look. (AP Photo)

The public relations industry is taking a beating lately because of the BP Oil catastrophe since those in charge seem to think PR stands for “Problem Repair.”

Whether it’s customer service, product design, political popularity or a giant gash you cut in the bottom of the ocean, PR can’t fix the root cause of your troubles. Sure, public relations practitioners not adhering to the Code of Ethics can divert attention away from the situation, but they cannot do so indefinitely. At some point, the truth will be revealed, the problem will continue to grow, people will no longer be fooled and the ultimate answer — fixing the problem — will have to be addressed.

Ad Age recently interviewed “Leroy Stick,” the pseudonym of the creator behind @BPGlobalPR on Twitter. In the interview, Stick said:

I started this account because I think most people in PR are liars and most people in the media don’t have the balls to call them out on it. There’s a system set up where companies make press releases and the media regurgitates them. Personally, I’d love it if more journalists delved into why companies say what they say rather than simply presenting what they say.

I can’t help but think a little about the pot calling the kettle black, since “Leroy Stick” won’t reveal his true identity and is, therefore, also a liar. But I digress. The bigger problem is that BP executives and government officials all the way up to President Barack Obama are looking to public relations professionals to make this problem go away. There is only one way to the make the problem of oil flowing into the ocean go away: stop the gusher you created.

Talking about sealing the gash won’t close it. Pointing fingers at who might be responsible won’t let nature start its cleaning process. Demanding money or agreeing to pay it won’t bring back the livelihoods of people affected by oil slicks hitting beaches. Having a photo opportunity with the families of the oil workers killed in the explosion won’t bring those men back. And trying to change the subject to a political agenda pushing for more controls over greenhouse gas emissions won’t save the fish, the birds and the mammals being poisoned to death.

I’ve been involved in media relations and public relations as a journalist, a practitioner and a university instructor for more than 20 years. I’ve learned a few things along the way. One of the things I’ve had to teach to students, colleagues and bosses is that PR can help you explain difficult answers and it can help you repair your reputation after you’ve had to publicly offer a difficult answer. But PR is not the answer.

So if you have horrible customer service, pushing PR messages about how great your Twitter team is handling complaints about it won’t help in the long run.

If you have a dangerous product, pushing PR messages about how much you care about your customers won’t change the fact they are at risk.

If you’re responsible for opening a hole in the Earth that is spewing millions of gallons of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, pushing PR messages about how you’re going to make things right won’t stop the oil flow.

And if you’re the man elected to lead this nation in times of crisis, pushing PR messages about caring for the environment more than the other political party won’t change the fact that people disapprove of your leadership.

Sure, I’ve stood up and said I’m responsible for oil spills. But as a public relations professional, I’m here to tell you we don’t cause bad customer service, dangerous products, holes in the ocean floor or poor leadership decisions. So stop expecting us to be miracle workers. Fix your damn problem; then we can talk.

Legacies don’t stand a chance in a judgmental and unforgiving society

President Obama gave Helen Thomas cupcakes for her 89th birthday in 2009. Earlier this month, he called her comments on Israel and Palestine "offensive" and "out of line."

It used to be that a person’s legacy stood for something. But in today’s era of instant communication, instant sharing and instant judging, the power of a solid reputation or a history of greatness means very little.

Take Helen Thomas for example. A veritable institution in political news coverage, Thomas began her rise to White House fame by covering President-Elect John F. Kennedy in 1960.

According to Wikipedia:

Thomas has received numerous awards throughout her career and more than 30 honorary degrees. In 1976, Thomas was named one of the World Almanac’s 25 Most Influential Women in America. Thomas received an Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media from the Freedom Forum in 1991. The White House Correspondent’s Association honored her in 1998 by establishing the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2000, her alma mater, Wayne State University, established an award for journalists in her honor, the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity award. In 2007, Thomas received a Foremother Award from the National Research Center for Women & Families.

There are few who would argue against the concept that Helen Thomas paved the way for women to be respected as professional journalists. She is an institution among all journalists, male and female, when you consider something else Wikipedia points out: “Thomas was the only member of the White House Press Corps to have her own seat in the White House Briefing Room. All other seats are assigned to media outlets.”

I had a brief discussion on a colleague’s Facebook page about Thomas the other day, which you can see here:

It is interesting that a bastion of old-school journalism has been taken down by modern online “reporting” of a citizen with a Flip-style video. More important than how it happened, however, is why it happened. Again, without debating the merits of what Thomas said about Israel and Palestine, did the fact that she shared a fiery opinion negate everything she has done for journalism and women for more than half a century?

Have we become that judgmental and unforgiving? I’d like to hear your thoughts and all opinions are welcome here. I may not agree with your comment, but I promise not to judge you for it!

(Thomas/Obama photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)