The Spirit of Pittsburgh

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I love Pittsburgh.  There I said it.  My friends may not think I’m being honest here because I complain so much about the weather.  And the cult-like devotion to the Steelers. And the cronyism in the political realm that has held back the city in many ways.

But in light of the horrific, unspeakable tragedy at Tree of Life Synagogue, I have watched our city do what it does best.  Come together and show the rest of the world what tolerance and acceptance looks like.  To show the Spirit of Pittsburgh.

Watching speaker after speaker at last night’s memorial filled me with anger and sadness, but more importantly – hope.  To see the head of the Islamic Center announce the fundraising effort (that at last word was more than 100K) for the victims told me everything I already knew about my city.

We don’t hate.  Unless it comes to the Washington Capitals or the gray skies – and that’s really all in fun, right?

We live in neighborhoods with people of all faiths, races and ethnicities.  My wife grew up on Hastings Street just blocks away from Tree of Life.  Her Greek parents were part of a neighborhood of people from every faith and nationality you could imagine.  Squirrel Hill is her hometown and this tragedy struck way too close to home.  Our early days of dating and marriage were spent at the many restaurants in Squirrel Hill, the sidewalks of Shadyside and her parent’s front porch and back yard on Hastings.

Maybe everyone feels this way about their hometown, but despite its flaws, I wouldn’t have wanted to raise my kids anywhere else.  They both had the experience of the city during their daycare and pre-school days and while we moved to the suburbs, we aren’t stuck in the Wexford bubble as we have ventured to the city often throughout their young lives.  There is nothing like the Strip District on a Saturday morning.  Nothing.

My oldest – in a surprise – chose Pitt as her college – and is falling in love with city life the way I did 100 years ago when I first arrived in Oakland.  And because we are in Pittsburgh, I think that the community of Pitt students adopts that same mentality of closeness – then and now – that is reflected in the neighborhoods from the South Side to Oakland to Squirrel Hill and extends even into the suburbs.

Evil and hate have visited Pittsburgh.  But we can’t let it linger.  It is truly up to each and every resident of this city – of this region – of this country – to start practicing love.

I vividly remember the time in our country right after 9-11. I remember people standing in long lines at airport security – either quietly waiting or chatting with one another.  I remember friendly nods and eye contact as I got on a plane for months afterward.  But it didn’t last as the last time I flew there was grumbling in line and zero eye contact.

Pittsburgh has been a leader in so many ways over the centuries.  From its steel-town roots to today’s education, medical and technology innovations.  I have no doubt that my city will be a leader again today – and this time the subject is love, tolerance and acceptance.


When Bad Things Happen to Great Companies

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canstockphoto20806235_1_origCrisis doesn’t always take the form of mass violence or major tragedy. From data breach and system failure to corporate or officer wrongdoings, legal issues and employee accidents, crisis has many faces, comes without warning and discriminates against no company, school, non-profit organization or office building. A crisis can happen at any minute, in any place, including at one of your organization’s locations as evidenced from this week’s tragedy at Ohio State. And on one fateful day a year ago in San Bernardino, a crisis of unspeakable horror reached a small office park.

“Just another day in the United States of America. Another day of gunfire, panic, and fear. This time, in the city of San Bernardino….” is how the BBC began its coverage of the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

Sure the correspondent didn’t know at the time that this was a terrorist attack and he could be forgiven since some talk in the U.S. media was around “workplace violence” which of course turned out to be painfully untrue. But the fact is that an everyday part of American life – the workplace, a Christmas party – was the site of an attack by brutal terrorists with no regard for human life.

And for employers, this was a wakeup call on many fronts. From basic safety and security to being on point with its crisis plan right down to the right communications protocol when the unthinkable happens.

Office workers not in the line of fire talked of terrifying sounds and sights and not knowing what to do despite reports of active shooter drills just weeks prior. There is no doubt that in the moments of a surreal, unbelievable event like this that the last thing most people are thinking about is communications.

But that is why it is so urgent to have a crisis communications plan in place – with very specific protocols on what to do when faced with the worst.

  1. Establish policy and protocol. Who is the key communicator? Who is the backup if that communicator is not available for any reason?
  2. Create a chain of communication, especially when working in a large work environment. Make sure that every employee knows that protocol.
  3. What is the forum for communication? Is it a text blast, an email blast, PA announcements or all of the above?
  4. What is the message? Some combination of prior training and on-the-ground advice from law enforcement officials could be communicated based on information available, allowing people to better know how to react.
  5. How do you keep the general public informed? Families in the San Bernardino event faced hours of uncertainty as the situation was fluid for a long time. Many people raced to the scene putting themselves in peril. Some communication tools could have been used – websites, phone system messages, social media – or direct delivery through media sources – to keep those individuals better informed.

Every company should have these five things in place – and every employee should know where to look for information when it seems that there is nowhere to turn. No crisis communications plan is going to prevent a tragedy from happening but it can assist in reducing panic and keeping all informed of what the authorities know.

Any crisis situation demands some level of communications and companies today must be prepared for any scenario – whether it’s a terrorist attack, a weather emergency or a healthcare crisis.

The strength of an organization’s leadership can be tested during times of crisis or extreme challenge. Your reputation takes years to build, and in today’s information age, only seconds to lose.  Crisis situations require an immediate response, a firm position or plan of action delivered with honesty and genuine empathy.

Knowing your response will be what’s remembered, organizations of every type should protect their reputations with thoughtful, swift response to media inquiries, followed by messages developed with calm consideration of the fears and concerns its people.  No-one can predict the future, but smart leaders prepare for the worst by building the trust and confidence necessary to overcome a crisis situation.

Bad things happen to great companies. Don’t let your organization be caught like a deer in the headlights when the unthinkable becomes reality. Visit http://www.crisisPRexperts to learn more.



Talkwalker On Cutting Edge of First Made-For-Social-Media Election

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slide1The 2016 presidential election has been called the first made-for-social media campaign. With just two weeks to go, Talkwalker, an international social media analytics company, has created a dashboard to analyze the online discussions about the two major presidential candidates as we head into debate season and the final push for the Clinton and Trump campaigns.

Want to know what the breakdown is between the candidates in terms of overall share of online buzz, share of topics, hashtags being used, overall positive and negative posts about each candidate or emerging people and topic themes, this real-time social media dashboard does all that and more.

Data is updated every 15 minutes and you can find even more detailed insights by hovering over a broad variety of elements. This open resource is available for you to use to get up to date statistics for use in blogs, tweets and articles. If you want to dig deeper, for even more in-depth information, don’t hesitate to get in touch and we’ll do our best to help you out.

Jeff Durosko Communications has been working with Talkwalker throughout the debate season to assist news media nationwide with using the data to monitor and illustrate the conversation around the two major candidates in perhaps the most acrimonious presidential race in most of our lifetimes. Media like Voice of AmericaTech RepublicDigidayPR DailyAdweekThe DrumMediaFiledDC and CNET, along with TV and radio stations around the U.S. have called on Talkwalker statistics to tell their stories.

As the election draws nearer, the social media chatter will increase and Talkwalker will be monitoring it moment-by-moment.

Trump and Clinton Think They Can Say Anything They Want

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imagesWith the election approaching its 50 day mark, you would think the two presidential candidates and their campaigns would have well-oiled machines and not be making PR gaffes on a seemingly hourly basis.

Do their staffs not know what they are doing? Are they not taking the advice of their staffs? Have the candidates spent too much time shielded from the real world that they think don’t understand that what they say WILL come back to bite them? Or are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump really that stupid?

Any of these scenarios are scary as hell for the country. Heaven knows that other presidents have had PR issues throughout their terms but I can’t remember the level of stupidity that I am seeing in this campaign.

Just in the last week, Clinton chose to use a speaking engagement to insult millions of Americans by using the term “basket of deplorables.” It was stunning not just in the word used but in the explanation that she offered to describe these individuals. When she tried to apologize, she only apologized by offering that she shouldn’t have used the word “half” in saying that that’s how many of Trump’s followers are deplorables. News flash for Clinton and her team: everyone who supports Trump now feels you were talking directly to them. Everyone.   And whether she truly feels that way or not, since when was it okay to insult in such a nasty way citizens of the country that you want to lead? Sounds like something that a dictator would use to crush a revolution.

And then there’s Trump. With Clinton plummeting in public opinion polls because of the deplorables comment and questions about her health, he just can’t leave well enough alone. Looking inside his mind, did he really come up with “Let’s talk about where Barack Obama was born because that has always served me well.” The birther movement may have been how Trump first captured attention on a political level but do he and his team not realize that they didn’t capture POSITIVE attention for it? This is the kind of thing that you just want to push down in the Google results with better news ahead, but now the first search results you will see on Trump will once again be all about the birther movement.

It’s truly stunning to watch these two candidates try to hand each other the election. And it’s truly frightening for the future of our country that these two candidates are what we are left as the choice for America. Check closely in New York Harbor because Lady Liberty is weeping.


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Child crying

Since when did scream talking become the preferred method of giving a speech? I have seen it performed in many venues this year but nowhere more so than among national politicians.

The two most glaring examples are Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. Now they both take very different approaches to scream talking, but the result is the same. Cringing. Holding my ears. Not listening to what they are saying because of HOW they are saying it.

With Giuliani, it is almost scary. He is clearly screaming in your face. That’s right – each and every one of you. And me. And I guess his reasoning is that he wants to make sure we hear him and know how important the message he is delivering.

With Clinton, it is worse. It is a whiny drone at top volume. Her approach seems to also involve the need to make sure we all know how important she is and how her message is the only one that matters. The elongated vowels. The rising tempo and volume. It’s headache producing.

Now these aren’t the only two versions of this as it seems like other speakers are adopting the same approach, much as teenage girls all decided they had to take on the “vocal fry” of a Kardashian. Or how young women of a certain age were all anxious to sound like a Valley Girl.

Don’t these political leaders have minions who tell them to stop scream talking? Are they actually taking lessons in scream talking? Perhaps the worst part is that they didn’t always speak like this. I don’t remember Clinton or Giuliani being particularly loud or screamy in their past lives. I also wonder if they type their emails in all caps.

As someone who has conducted countless spokesperson training sessions, I can assure you I have never advised anyone at anytime for any reason to scream. Or even raise his or her voice. Measured tones go a long way in getting your message across.

This presidential campaign is horrifying on so many levels. If everyone would stop screaming at us to listen, maybe we would better be able to absorb whatever message they are trying to communicate.

Trump PR Machine Hitting Bumps in the Spotlight

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road-44143_1280During the primary campaign, I wrote about the masterful job of PR that the Trump campaign conducted – and even when they weren’t doing things right they didn’t seem to take any heat for it.

For a campaign that seemingly couldn’t do anything wrong, the launch into the limelight of the Republican National Convention exposes a group that can’t do anything right. It’s like what happens with a lot of companies who plod along doing an adequate or even good job of keeping their image on the positive end of the scale but blow up when the lights get too bright or they are hit by a crisis.

The Trump campaign hit both bumps in the road last night when the candidate’s wife, Melania gave what was a pretty impassioned speech before the delegates. The trouble started when it seemed that some passages of her speech mimicked a similar address from current First Lady Michelle Obama in 2008.

So many of these speeches sound the same and use the same themes. And perhaps it can be argued that they merely used similar words to describe similar experiences, but unfortunately for the Trump campaign it wasn’t that simple to explain away. So what went wrong?

  1. Calling the speechwriter, please come to the podium. Really, what were the speechwriters thinking at such a pivotal moment that could have been a huge win for the Trump campaign, you have to make sure that you have checked everything. Every. Thing.   At the very least, run it through an online tool that checks for plagiarism for heaven’s sake.
  2. Uh, campaign staff, you don’t run every word past a team of people? Then shame on you. And if no one in the campaign noticed the similarities, you are not very bright. If you did and decided you didn’t care, then you are downright stupid.
  3. If I were Trump, there would be hell to pay. You leave your candidate’s wife out to dry and to be the butt of every joke on late night TV and in the social media world? You’re fired! Period.
  4. Missed opportunity. The best word I can use to describe Melania is brave. This isn’t her world. She’s a model. By all accounts she is a smart, classy model but she is neither a public speaker nor a politician. All the Trump speechwriter needed to do was substitute those similar phrases with personal anecdotes that tied back to the theme. That’s all. It would have made that speech stronger and avoided the potential controversy.
  5. Tell the truth. Now I realize that this is an odd concept to politicians around the world but in particular in today’s U.S. political system. But geez – after the questions came up about the speech, what’s the real story? Did Melania write it? (I doubt it, not because she couldn’t but I can’t imagine a campaign allowing it). Did the speechwriter screw up? (uh yes) and is he or she going to be canned (should be). But there must have been six different stories that came out afterward to try to explain the similar phrasing and that should worry anyone who follows the Trump campaign and cares about how it communicates in a crisis. I thought Clinton had that part screwed up royally but it seems that both sides of the aisle are equally unable to handle tough questions in times of crisis.

For a campaign that had done so many PR things right and seemed to be pretty Teflon when messages weren’t on point, this counts as a major screw up and is perhaps a sign of things to come. Stay tuned to the Convention coverage to see what’s next.



At Penn State, Is PR a Four-Letter Word?

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I hate Penn State. There I said it. I used to have a button that said that and wore it to every Pitt-Penn State game when I was an undergrad at the University of Pittsburgh. We called what transpired in so-called Happy Valley a cult. Little did we know.

My hatred back then – in the late 1970s until graduation in 1981 – was rooted in the football rivalry and the holier than thou attitude of the Penn State football program and its “saintly” coach Joe Paterno – who said he didn’t want to leave the world of college football to (then Pitt coach) the Jackie Sherrills of the world.

But he was okay to leave it to the Jerry Sanduskys and yes, Joe Paternos of the world. While we will never know how much Joe knew, when he knew it and what he did or didn’t do about it – or to cover it up – one thing is sure. Penn State is a continuing case study in what to do wrong when it comes to public relations.

PR professors for decades to come will have more material than they know what to do with when discussing crisis communications and Penn State. The ongoing failures in this realm are so breathtakingly bad that I think the PR world has just accepted that they are going to screw it up and not even care. Maybe that’s because the school continues to recruit students at a record pace, despite these failures. But at what point do you care enough about your reputation to do things the right way?

If the current Penn State president is any guide in this regard, the answer to that question is never.

Now I hate Penn State on the football field, but even I can’t sit on the sideline and watch them make every mistake in the book. As I read the letter that Eric Barron wrote to the Penn State community – before it was even dissected in the media – I was screaming at my screen – do you NOT have any good PR advisors? I know that Penn State has a robust internal PR staff and have read that the university has paid millions of dollars to outside counsel, so I can only assume that the president chose to ignore all their advice. Otherwise, that letter never would have been written.

It appeals to the fringe crazies, like those who genuflected on Paterno’s lawn after his death and are consumed with the “football is life” mentality. I know that there are Penn State graduates who are regular people who see this situation for what it is and don’t need to be told that it’s all the media. So in the interest of future communications, I offer the following free advice to Mr. Barron.

  1. Consider your audience – When you publish a letter on the Internet, it is not going to be read by just the fringe crazies you are trying to placate. It is read by the world and you will be (rightly) lambasted for your brazen, ignorant, insensitive approach. You want to say this stuff to folks one-on-one at a cocktail party, go for it. But don’t ever put it in writing again.
  2. When you have a reputation for looking the other way at campus sex crimes, you might want to consider your approach to a horrible, volatile, disgusting episode in your current university’s past. This president had some incidents at his former place of employment – Florida State – that call into question how seriously he takes sex crimes.
  3. It’s almost not fair to critique the actual letter because it is so awful from start to finish. But this passage demands extra attention as perhaps the most heinous thing ever written by a college president: “I can think of few crimes as heinous as the sexual assault of a child. We are, as individuals and as an institution, appalled by Sandusky’s actions, and unified in our commitment to prevention, treatment and education….Unfortunately, we can’t control the 24/7 news cycle, and the tendency of some individuals in social media and the blogosphere to rush to judgment. But I have had enough of the continued trial of the institution in various media.”  Which reads like: “Sexual assault is bad, but the media is worse.”
  1. Which brings me to number four. Don’t blame the media. Ever. The news media can be annoying, it can be biased and it can be a lot of things. But the media didn’t do the crime, whatever it is. In this case, it’s the most horrible crime imaginable and it was a trusted member of the university’s staff who committed the crime. And evidence continues to point to others on staff who covered for this monster. Those are the facts.
  2. If you think the media has been tough on Penn State to date, just look out. You basically screamed, “I’m ready for more” by indicting the news media as the real culprit here. I suggest you ready yourself for more media “attacks” and find a more conciliatory tone or else this conversation will continue forever.
  3. If you are paying for a PR staff and outside counsel and you are not listening to them, you have two choices. Circle the wagons, have a come to Jesus meeting and start listening. Or stop wasting your money on outside counsel if you aren’t going to listen anyway. If you are paying for these folks and they are advising you that this letter was a good idea, fire them all now.

Yes I hate Penn State on the football field. But this university is a part of the fabric of the place where I live and choose to do business. I have many friends who are Penn State grads and I know that they aren’t cult members – well most of them – but it’s high time Penn State took responsibility, cleaned up its act and stopped defending monsters who have sullied their reputation to a point where they have become a national joke. Shame on you President Barron for feeding into that joke.

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