Why Do Pit Bulls Have Such a Bad Rep? Is it Simply a Matter of “Bad” Breeding?

 

My sister has been talking about getting a dog for the last four months. But that’s only the four months that I’ve known about her wanting a dog. According to her, it’s been going on for a lot longer than four months. She had a dog that passed away several years ago and after that, her son brought home another dog but took that dog with him when he moved out west to work at a brewery, then on a “farm” (lucky dog, both of them).

So we’ve been looking at dogs in animal shelters for a while now.  Not every day.  Not even every week, but here and there when the mood strikes her and the shelter happens to be within the general area of some other errand she needs to run.  The problem is there’s simply not enough dogs to go around these days.  I know, you’re probably thinking, “Wait. I’m always hearing stuff about the horrors of ‘kill shelters’ and how people need to get their dogs neutered because there’s just too many dogs out there and not enough good homes for them!”

That’s true to a certain extent.  There are quite a few dogs available for adoption, but not enough puppies.  And everyone wants a puppy; not a mature dog whose personality, bad habits and poor training has already been drilled into them by some other, most likely, inept and possibly unstable, human being.  So yes, there are some mature dogs out there but they’ve already been poisoned by their previous “daddy or mommy” and taken on the neuroses, faults, and frailties of that unhinged parental alpha figure, who, probably due to some major psychological disorder, had to give up said dog for adoption several years into his or her young life, rendering said dog “unadoptable.” And don’t believe the line they give you at the shelter about how the previous owner had to move and their new landlord doesn’t allow pets.  That’s bullshit.  Or, that the dog was owned by an eighty-year-old lady who recently passed away and had no family to take the dog in. Ask yourself:  “Why would an eighty-year-old lady adopt a dog that was in all likelihood going to outlive her?”

So there’s that to worry about when you consider adopting an adult dog.  Not only are the available mature dogs probably suffering from some disturbing and irreparable personality disorder, but they are are also most likely, of the pit bull variety. Now please don’t get all indignant and start bombarding me with information that purports to dispel the myths and misconceptions about pit bulls.  I know, pit bulls can be very kind, gentle animals that are wonderful with kids!  They also have a bite force (the scientific measurement of the amount of pressure in a dog’s bite) of 235 pounds.  Sounds pretty scary, but in reality not all that impressive.  A wolf has a bite force of 406 pounds, but that can go as high as 1,200 when it’s protecting itself or its family.  Rottweilers clock in at 328 pounds; Dobermans at 600, and a mastiff can push 525 pounds.  So, when you really think about it, the bite force of a pit bull isn’t that bad.  But they’re still scary.  There’s that whole thing about them being (according to Wikipedia) “particularly serious, as they tend to bite deeply, and grind their molars into the tissue” that you may want to consider when you’re thinking about going near a pit bull.

Contrary to popular belief, pit bulls do not have a “locking jaw mechanism” but they are known to have “wide skulls, well-developed facial muscles, and strong jaws.” But fear not!  Breaking an ammonia capsule and holding it up to their nose can sometimes get them to release their hold!  Good to know. I will lay in a big supply of ammonia capsules and carry them with me wherever I go and hope that they don’t break in my pocket and lead people to wonder if I have pissed myself.

So why are pit bulls so misunderstood?  Maybe it has to do with their history.  By that I mean, what they were originally designed for. Pit bulls are the result of cross-breeding “bull-baiting dogs” (dogs that hold the faces and heads of larger animals such as bulls in their mouth), with terriers.  Nice.  They’re also known as really good “blood sports” dogs, and are especially good at hunting bulls and bears.  Whew!  I feel so much better now that I understand them.  Over the years, pit bulls became the choice of dog for illegal fighting matches (to the death) and also for nefarious purposes such as guarding illegal narcotics operations (blame Wikipedia, not me).  Again, not the pit bull’s fault, but still a  pretty tough stigma to “shed.”  Hmm, I’m thinking about getting a dog that likes to kill other dogs when it’s not guarding heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine…

Many years ago, in an effort to re-brand the animal and encourage greater adoption, the people at the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) came up with a “brilliant” idea.  They renamed the pit bull “The St. Francis Terrier.”  I don’t know if this was to give “props” to Saint Francis of Assisi (a well-known religious leader and animal lover) or just because San Francisco translated from Spanish to English, is “Saint Francis.”   Or is it “Whale’s Vagina?”  No, that’s the English translation of San Diego, according to Ron Burgundy (from the movie “Anchorman”). Either way, it didn’t work out so well.  Oh, it did increase adoption rates all right. Some sixty “temperament-screened” pit bulls (I mean St. Francis Terriers) were adopted. Unfortunately, the newly adopted dogs killed many, many cats and the re-branding effort was immediately halted… goodbye cats, goodbye St. Francis Terrier, welcome back pit bull.  The New York Center for Animal Care and Control tried something similar and started a movement to rename pit bulls “New Yorkies.” Probably because pit bulls are virtually indistinguishable from Yorkies. Yup.  I shit you not; like, they were separated at birth! That re-branding effort was dropped in the face of overwhelming opposition.

In spite of all the efforts and money spent on trying to dispel the myths surrounding pit bulls and their viciousness (or lack thereof), they are still misunderstood.  In fact, they’ve been the target of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) that’s been passed in more than 550 jurisdictions, and adopted by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Legislation that has either banned possession of pit bulls outright, or has put severe restrictions and conditions on their ownership.  Some have called for mandatory spaying/neutering, microchip implanting, and owner liability insurance.  Others prohibit convicted felons from owning pit bulls (which I support wholeheartedly).  Sorry, those of you who consider yourselves felonious “monks.”  Get it? No, huh?

Anyway, the airlines, always eager to embrace any reason to pose further restrictions on anything, jumped on the bandwagon by placing embargoes on pit bulls, who they deemed as “brachycephalic animals,” which puts them at high risk for injury or death due to the heat and humidity associated with air travel. (I’ve always thought it’s supposed to be really cold and dry at 30,000 feet, but that’s just me).  Air France does not permit pit bulls, no explanation given — none needed — as pit bulls are an American breed and we all know how the French hate, I mean HATE, the Americans.

Alaska Airlines has a “fly at your own risk” policy, meaning no payout for you if the dog is injured or dies during transit.  I wonder, does the pit bull have to put his paw print on a release form before he can fly? American Airlines’ policy states, “no brachycephalic or ‘snub-nosed’ dogs allowed as checked luggage.”  Does that mean they’re free to roam about the cabin, terrorizing old people and small children as they snarl and snap their toothy mouths set in wide skulls with strong facial muscles?  Delta says that snub-nosed dogs will be embargoed when the temperature at the departure point or any stop along the travel route is expected to exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  United Airlines has no problem with pit bulls and embraces a full-on, hearty, “Welcome aboard, D-Pitty!” attitude. I believe United even gives pit bulls those plastic pilot wings as they board the aircraft.  I still think it’s a good idea if you’re a pit bull, to get yourself a complete physical before traveling and to bring a doctor’s note with you to the airport that says you are in fact, fit to fly!  Just in case.

So, back to my sister and her mission to adopt a dog.  I mean, a puppy. A puppy that is NOT a pit bull.  A few days ago she asked me if I would take a ride from her home in central New Jersey to an adoption center on the North Shore of Long Island.  Sure, no problem, love to.  We left her home at 1:00 pm and discussed our plan of attack along the way.  By plan of attack, I’m referring to the Seinfeld-esque discussion that all New York/Jersey people have whenever driving anywhere.  And that is, what’s the best way for us to get there. That’s when opinions usually start to fly.

Should we take the Garden State Parkway to Woodbridge, then jump over to the Turnpike and take that to the Outer Bridge Crossing and cut through Brooklyn?  Or, should we stay on the Turnpike and take it to I-80 East to the G.W. Bridge, and if we take the G.W., should we take George or Martha (meaning Upper or Lower… it’s a Jersey thing)…  Nah, let’s do the Turnpike to the Lincoln Tunnel and cut through the city (Never say Manhattan, it’s just called “the city”).  Oh, shit, we’re on the 1/9 now, guess we’re taking the Holland Tunnel and we can go up the West Side Highway or Seventh Ave. to 34th Street and take that crosstown to the Midtown Tunnel.  Yeah.  Good.  Except now we’re on the Long Island Expressway (L.I.E.) and it’s not moving.  Quick, take the Van Wyck to the Grand Central Parkway.  Shit, the GCP isn’t moving either.  Take the Cross Island back over to the L.I.E.  What-Eva!

By the time we got to the adoption center, it was after 4:00 pm and there was a line of about 40 people standing in the rain outside.  Apparently, since the center is so small, they only allow thirty or so people in at a time and everyone waiting outside, in the cold rain, has to wait for the warm, dry people to come out before we can go in.  We waited, for like, an hour.  Then we went in and found out that you could not “reserve” a dog, then go home and think about it for a while, and come back to get him or her in a few days.  You had to pull the trigger right there, on the spot, right then.  Adopt now, same day, or risk losing the one non-pit-bull-puppy-on-the-planet forever.

We looked at  a lot of puppies, many of whom were labeled “lab/terrier mix or Shepard/terrier mix, or yadda, yadda, yadda/terrier mix,” descriptors which are all really dog shelter code for pit bull.  It was fun, though, looking at all these funny, little dogs.  But it was more fun looking at the people wanting to adopt all the funny, little dogs.  There was this one shelter worker holding a puppy in front of a nice family while saying, “He has conjunctivitis in his left eye, an intestinal infection and he’s being treated with antibiotics for worms.”  I couldn’t help myself and blurted out, “and his name is Lucky.”  Blank stares, all around.

There was a really nice Puerto Rican guy who joined in the fun with me, as he was adopting a dog that had scarring on his cornea, and as a result was blind in one eye.  I pointed out to him how much fun he could have sneaking up on the dog’s “blind side” and he was in full agreement.  Then, there was this hippy-dippy-nuts-and-granola-eating-Subaru-driving-type lady with her three (no doubt marvelous) children who my sister asked if they had picked a dog out yet, to which they enthusiastically replied, “Yes! We have!”  My sister then asked the mother what they named the dog, to which she replied, “Mars.”  I pointed out that Mercury is in retrograde and she explained that her and her children (all under the age of seven) were “artists” and that “Mars” was short for “Mars Black,” a paint pigment.  I later found out that “Mars Black” is an iron oxide pigment that is more opaque and less toxic than other black pigments.  Oh yeah, and it’s rated as one of the most satisfactory black pigments for acrylic paints with regard to opacity, light-fastness, and permanence.  And, it takes its name from Mars, the God of war and patron of iron.  Just so you know, it’s quite safe for her marvelous artist children to (hopefully) ingest, otherwise, I would have reported her.  (I think I still should’ve reported her just for referring to her under-the-age-of-seven children “artists.”)  Really… pass the crayons, and make mine “Mars Black” please.

Back on point.  This woman then asked my sister if we had picked a dog and if so, what might its name be?  I couldn’t help myself and instantly said, “Cerulean Blue!” I was delighted at my quick wit and that I even knew enough to say “Cerulean Blue” at all!  She was not as impressed with me as I was, and corrected my pronunciation of “suh-ril-ee-un” blue (which I later googled and found my pronunciation to be spot on).  She should consider herself lucky because I held myself back from saying the rest of what I really wanted to say which was, “We’re kind of on the fence still, and thinking about maybe naming him ‘Titanium White,’ or ‘Burnt Sienna,’ or maybe ‘Sea-Foam Green,’ you know, that color that was really popular in the more ostentatious houses in Boca Raton in the 80s?”  She (that woman) is the reason why I like dogs better than people.

So my sister got her dog, a twelve-week-old “lab mix” and she named him Leo.  I like Leo.  He’s smart, polite, calm, and pisses and craps pretty consistently on newspaper.  I’ve been watching him closely for a few days now and I’ve noticed that his back legs stand out from behind his body in a somewhat threatening, ready-to-pounce posture, and his head seems to be getting more wide and square by the minute.  He also has these whitish toenails (not black, or even “Mars Black” like most other labs have), and the interior of his gums seem unnaturally pink. He kinda looks like he could, maybe just a little… be part pit bull? Nah. No way. Nuh-uh. But still, I’m thinking about having his “bite force” tested at some point down the road.

What Would Moses Tweet? (WWMT?)

Last week I shared a brief musing about what I thought Jesus might “tweet” if he were with us now.  Today, in observance of Passover, I share some of my musings about Moses, another key religious influencer (KRI) who played a major role in the shaping of one of the most popular books in historical and contemporary culture (second only to “Mein Kampf, which —  believe it or not — is still the highest grossing book of all time).

So again, in keeping with the theme of Twitter and other social media platforms that are so critical to contemporary communication, I’ll explore the significant events associated with Moses and how he might craft his own narrative around them were he alive today, starting with his LinkedIn profile:  “Thrill-seeking Leader of Israelites who was given up at birth, but adopted later by an Egyptian Princess who was the daughter of the current Pharaoh.  Inititated and supervised the Exodus of thousands from the land of Egypt, was temporarily replaced in absentia by “Golden Calf” only to regain Leadership role after returning from Mount Sinai with new business directive/model written on stone precursor to modern thin, portable, touchscreen “tablets.”

And how about Facebook ?  What would Mose’s FB page look like?  Would he post a picture of the Nile River and say “This is where I had my first boat ride!”  I can see him posting photos of the Red Sea with a caption like “Me and my friends at The Red Sea… where  ‘parting’ is such sweet sorrow….NOT!”  Or, perhaps a photo of the burning bush with a caption that says “This is where it all started… I got my first job and my marching orders straight from the top!”  I wonder if Moses would use the Facebook “Live” feature to stream cellphone footage of the Red Sea closing up around Pharaoh’s Army while shouting “Hey, I sure do hope you guys know how to swim!  Ha, ha, ha!”

I’m sure Mose’s would be a prolific Twitter user as well if he were around today, with tweets like:

“Sorry Ramses, but I have better hair and Mom always liked me more than you!”

“Yo, Ramses, you may want to re-think that whole ‘bald head with the single pigtail’ thing!

“You think you got rid of me for good Bro? Guess what?  I got a round-trip ticket!  Dab!”

“Hey look, I know we were in a hurry and all but seriously, no one thought to bring some yeast or baking soda with them?”

“Trust me, just put this stuff of your front door and everything will be fine!”

“Alright millenials, get ahold of yourselves.  I was here like, a millennial before you!”

“Sorry about inventing that whole circumcision thing guys, but it seemed like a good idea at the time and I guess I let that go to my head!”

“Love the new tablets they have today….much more gigabytes and a hell of a lot lighter than the ones I’m used to!”

“Sure, you can take these Stone Tablets….. From my cold, dead hands!”  (Sorry to borrow your sound bite #ChuckHeston but I did let you play me in a movie once!)

Okay, so now that I have exhausted my Moses musings, I can sit back, relax, and enjoy my Passover and Easter Holidays being the good Roman Catholic-raised-but-married-a-nice-Jewish Girl-then-divorced-her-kind-of-Agnostic-guy!  Peace everybody!

 

 

WWJT (What Would Jesus Tweet)?

I like to begin each day with a quote.  Not every day, but most days.  I try to find a quote online and then post it to several social media sites for all to ponder, enjoy, and if they want, share with others.  So, the other day I found a quote from Chris Cornell, a now-deceased singer/musician from the band Stone Temple Pilots.  His quote was something along the lines of “What would Jesus tweet if He were here now?”  ‘Has anyone seen Judas?  He was here just a minute ago.’  I posted it and got a pretty good reaction from most people, who gave it smiles, thumbs-up and comments.

That got me thinking. And for me that usually spells trouble.  Once I start thinking about something I can’t turn it off.  A thought gets in my head and it’s like a pitbull clamping down on a bone.  There’s simply no way it’s going to give up and let go. It hangs on and on and on until something must be done about it.  So, as this idea percolated in my brain for several days, random thoughts would pop up about Jesus and what He might “tweet” if He were alive today.  The “What Would Jesus Tweet?” (WWJT?) thoughts then started crossing from twitter into other social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Things were just popping into my head faster than I could write them down.  Thoughts like, if Jesus were alive today what would his LinkedIn profile look like?  I imagine it might read something like this:

  • Messiah, Prophet, and Son of God, has extensive experience in carpentry, and general contracting (negotiating bids, securing supplies, and project supervision from start to completion).  Helped build amphitheater for King Herod; supervised team of 12 (followers), anointed hundreds, cured thousands.  Conducted presentations to large audiences and key influencers, leading to greater engagement and significant increases in “likes,” “shares,” and measurable conversion rates.  Ability to work vertically and cross-funtionally.  Currently working in the Kindom of Heaven (C-suite level) on the right hand of the CEO, supervising Peter as he onboards millions annually.
  • Hobbies:  wine-making, walking on water, dining out/breaking bread. #NapaValley#winery#wonderbread

From LinkedIn I jumped back to WWJT (What Would Jesus Tweet) and the following potential tweets popped into my head:

  • “Nazareth is really nice but there’s not enough Christians.”  #NicePlaceToVisitBut.
  • “It’s really dark now, but only three more days to go and I’m outta here!” #LetThereBeLight#SayNoToSperlunking

And how about Facebook?  Would his “About” section have things like, “In a relationship with Mary Magdelene?  Leader of many, follower of Me?”  Would he have 2.3 billion friends (current # of followers of Christianity)?  Would he “unfriend”  Judas and Pontius Pilate?  Or, in the spirit of forgiveness, would he say something like, “Hey Judas, the things we do for money, huh?”  Or, “Yo, Pontius, I thought you nailed it for a minute there, but I guess my Dad had other ideas and resurrected my original plan.”

And what pages or groups would Jesus “like” or “follow”…?   Christianity: founded in 27 A.D.,  United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Knights of Columbus, Freemason’s Society, and Jews for Jesus?  And what might he “message” to other historical figures like Hitler?  “Hey, bro, I had a little problem with the Jews too, but you man… really? I MEAN REALLY?”  Or how about Robert Oppenheimer?  “Dude, I thought the Manhattan Project was the name of a band!  What were you thinking when you split that atom?  That was like, really nasty!”  Would he be bullied online because of rumors that he’s now “frenemies” with Mohammed?

Would he be hounded by social media marketers, deluging him with free products and sliver coins because he’s a Key Influencer and they want him to tweet about them?  Would he wake up each day and check his social media accounts to see if he’s had more “likes” and “followers?”  Would he pay to boost his posts and include more hashtags to increase his visibility and status?  And would he google himself all day, every day, and click on his name to increase his SEO?

These are the the thoughts that cycle through my brain, causing me to write this blog.  If I didn’t share these thoughts with others my head would literally explode.  With that said, please, bible thumpers, do not vilify me as I cannot control what pops into my head, just as you cannot control your urge to knock on doors, unsolicited, to spread your word just as I have spread my words on this page.

Next up for Passover…   “Follow Me Guys, Trust Me, I know the Way…” WWMT (What Would Moses Tweet)?

News Coverage Interruptus!

I’ve written about several public relations and/or publicity efforts that have come apart at the last minute, either fortuitously, by an act of God, or just plain by mistake.  Sometimes these things happen and you just have to make the best of them with what you’ve got, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do except just grin and bear it.  Here are a few more enticing tidbits of cringe-worthy moments that have happened over the years…

Many years ago I had a PR agency client who represented a nationally-recognized brand of hair color products (in this case, inexpensive, fast-working hair color for women).  The agency had secured a “celebrity” to act as spokesperson for the brand.  She was an actess who had been very popular a couple of decades prior, part of a trio of actresses who played sleuths on a cop show in the seventies.  We secured  about 25 interviews and were set to go on the morning of the tour with our clients happily conversing in the green room, excited about all the interviews that were about to take place.

Then there was “breaking news.”  Deadly words to hear when you are about to conduct 25 live shots with local morning shows who will now be pre-empted by the networks.  The breaking news story was the release of the Linda Tripp/Monica Lewinsky tapes (recorded phone conversations between Linda and Monica regarding her affair with then President, William Jefferson Clinton).  This is where things got ugly,.  Real fast.  It seems that no matter how much you prepare a client and the spokesperson for the possiblity of being pre-empted, they just don’t get it when it happens to them.  I mean, really, what’s not to get?  The networks have pre-empted local programming, you tell them.  There is no Good Morning Dallas, or Houston, or Atlanta, today… the networks are broadcasting on their stations.  Still, they don’t get it.

We explained this to them and suggested that we just wait it out and see what we can salvage if the networks stop pre-empting.  Worst case scenario, we can reapproach everyone we’ve booked interviews with and reschedule for another day.  Uh, uhnn.  Can’t do it.  Celeb will want more money and studio has to charge us for another day.  We’re all dead in the water.  So we sat for what felt like an eternity while the celeb(?) sat on the set, angrily reading The Wall Street Journal, practically tearing the pages out of the paper as she turned them.  Hopefully we’d have better luck at the event we were having at a New Jersey mall later in the week (cue the scary “Jaws” music).

Okay, so Part II of the story goes like this:  the celebrity will be appearing at a mall in New Jersey to encourage women to get their hair colored to help benefit a national charity that this celebrity was fond of.  For every head colored a pittance would be donated.  We arrived at the mall, got the celebrity seated in the mall meet-and-greet area (after much time spent on her hair and makeup) and were good to go.  (“Jaws music builds…..).

Women were lined up and our celeb was signing autographs and everything seemed fine, until it didn’t.  The spokesperson excused herself to go to the ladies room and promptly disappeared.  Our clients were frantic, and a search ensued to locate this purportedly nationally-recognizable celeb that no one recognized as leaving the mall.

We found out much later in the day that she had experienced a panic attack, and flagged down a mall security guy in the parking lot who was in one of those little SUVs with yellow lights on the roof and made him drive her all the way back to her hotel in Manhattan.  End of event, end of coverage, end of story.  And yes, I do mean “end of story.”  I’ve got nothing more to say about this as I’m still to this day, traumatized.

Social Media: The Jury is In, Video is Guilty as Charged

You’d have to be living on a different planet if you haven’t already heard or figured out for yourself, the important role that video plays in social media marketing efforts.  Yes, the experts have spoken and all agree that given the short attention span, and the need for instant gratification (especially visually) of the fast-moving, time-strapped society we now live in, it’s essential to make video priority numero uno if marketers expect any kind of interaction between their brand and it’s target audience.  But what you may not know is that these same experts are now placing a very high premium on super HIGH-QUALITY video as potential viewers become more discerning about who or what they will “click” on and watch.

Yes, the days of the “down and dirty” cell phone cam and/or low budget “wanna make it look viral” videos are gone!  Viewers want more bang for their, well, I can’t say “buck” but you know what I mean.  Earlier this week I posted an article that appeared in Variety about Jeffrey Katzenberg’s (the “K” of DreamWorks SKG) new start up (New TV), which will take aim at the 18-34 demo with high-end, short-form (10 minutes or less) videos that will employ the use of major film studios and talent (both behind — and in front of — the camera) to win the hearts and minds of that coveted chunk of the population.

Key word here being: high-end, because making videos for videos’ sake is simply just not going to cut it anymore.  So, to stay in play, many clients and their marcomms may have to start putting those “sharpened” pencils away in favor of the dull ones they’ll need for developing bigger budgets to compete in a much bigger game.  For more reading check out this great article:  https://www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing/social-media-marketing-trends-2018/

 

Yo! Life! Stop Interrupting My Dreams!

 

I sometimes have trouble sleeping.  Not just the “trying to fall asleep, and winding up tossing and turning for hours type of sleep trouble,” but the kind of trouble where I go to sleep easily and then wake up, unexpectedly, without warning, and entirely too early,.  Like tonight, for example; I fell asleep after a very long, physically, and mentally demanding day during which I moved from Northern New Jersey to the Shore area.  I went to sleep exhausted at around 11 pm and just woke up (it’s about 2 am.)  The worst part about it is that I didn’t feel like trying to go back to sleep, so I brewed coffee instead; had a smoke and a cup of coffee and I’m now writing this.

Right before I woke up I was having a really vivid dream in which I was in Central Park (it’s a really big park in NYC in case you’re not from around here) hanging out with a whole bunch of people from way back in my past that, of course, because it’s only a dream, had no business all being in the same place with me at the same time.  You know what I mean?  Friends from childhood mixing it up with friends from your late 20’s and early 30’s?  People you knew from different geographic locations all gathered together in one place — in this case, Central Park?

I even remember saying to some of the friends in my dream, “What are you doing hanging out in ‘the park’… I never thought I’d see you in the city hanging out in ‘the park’?”  So there in my dream, were two friends from 20+ years ago;  George (Jorge) and his wife, Marla, who owned (and still own) a great restaurant in Forest Hills, Queens.  Since it was my dream and I’m the one awake right now at 2 O’Clock in the morning, drinking coffee, I feel I’ve earned the right to plug their restaurant for them:  it’s called “The Five Burro Cafe” and has the best margaritas and Mexican food in all of the “Five Boroughs.”  Get the idea for the restaurant’s name now?  Oh, and while I’m at it I might as well give those who are not from New York (and many who are) a free and unsolicited lesson in geography:  The Five Boros (sometimes NY’ers don’t use the “o-u-g-h” part, we just call them “boros,”) consist of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Manhattan).  Which reminds me of another thing that bothers me…. why do the powers that be always feel the need to rename stuff that used to have “boro”  in their names?  Like the Triborough/boro Bridge is now the RFK bridge.  The Interboro  Expressway changed decades ago to the “Jackie Robinson Expressway” and the “Westside Highway,”  has some parts that are called “Joe DiMaggio Highway” and other parts that are called the “Henry Hudson Parkway.”  What’s next?  Are they gonna change the “FDR Drive” to the “Trump Thruway?”   Or the “Major Deegan Expressway” to the “Colonel Ollie North Expressway?” And other things that had perfectly good names have changed too, like National Airport is now “Reagan-Nationa,l  “Houston Intercontinental Airport”  is “Bush” and Newark Airport is “Liberty National.”  It pisses me off so much that I still call all of them them by their old names.  To cab and car service drivers.  Who immediately “get” what I’m saying.

Anyway, George and Marla were in my dream hanging out with my ex-wife Marilyn (only in my dream she was not my “ex-wife” yet).  I can almost always trace my dreams back to things that actually occurred during the day — or day before — incidences that I blame for triggering my bizarre dreams.  So, when thinking about it, I remembered that Marla, George/Jorge’s wife, has been posting a lot of photos on FB lately of a house they are having built in the mountains of Colombia(?)  The lot they picked looks beautiful!  Best of luck to you both, and vaya con dios mi amigo y mi amiga!

Marla’s postings kind of got me thinking about what I’ll do when I’m too old too work, and where I will wind up living. The thought was probably was more active in my brain yesterday because I was moving from the town house that I’d lived in for  nearly 11 years and I’m kind of on the fence as to where I will ultimately end up… ya know, to live out my remaining years until I die.  Final resting place and all that.

Then, there was a message last night from an old Ogilvy PR buddy who’s career has been nothing short of spectacular who mentioned to me that he’s staying on at a major tech company where he’s currently Chief Marketing  Officer and Chief Communications Officer (CMO/CCO).  I think when I was falling asleep I was thinking about all the gobs of money and stock options he must have packed away over the years and how if I had not made the choice to co-found a business (RCM Broadcast) 24 years ago and stayed working agency or client-side, I would have had quite a mattress full of money of my own by now.  Or a least a bit in a bank in the Cayman Islands, or Panama.

Ahhh, but the quality of life by I have enjoyed by owning my RCM for all of these years cannot be surpassed!  But having tons of money right now wouldn’t suck either.  So, because of a “message” from an old work colleague, I dreamed that I had money; lots and lots of money.  Then I woke up and it was all gone!  The dream, the money, sleep, Central Park, everything!

A lot of my wacky, recent dreams also stem from changes I am having to make with the re-branding of RCM and other changes I may have to make as I enter a new chapter in my life.  I know I’ve mentioned in previous articles and social media posts how PR agencies have transitioned themselves into MarCom companies and now have hordes of people on staff handling all things “digital/social.”  Well, as a result, most of the PR firms that were clients of ours now have the in-house capabilities to do what we used to do for them.  Specifically, video production (albeit not as good as we do it).  That means my business partner and I have to reinvent our “old” business in several ways in order to remain relevant, in-demand and fiscally sustainable.

That means that we have to more aggressively market the things we still do for PR (sorry, I meant MarCom) agencies that they don’t yet do in-house; like satellite, radio and internet media tours, co-op satellite media tours, public service announcements, and live, remote webcasts, etc.  We also must start marketing our services directly to some end-clients, that is, small to medium sized businesses that really can’t afford to engage the services of a big agency.  If that doesn’t work, and also to hedge our bets, we will actively seek out “real” employment opportunities.  Hey, 50 is the new 30, right?

In a perfect world we would do all three of those things by continuing to partner with our big agency clients, begin offering full service marketing communications services to small and medium size businesses, and also finding gainful “employment” within the PR/MarCom sector.

The last idea is actually quite interesting and also frightening:  I just revised my resume for the first time since 1993!  So, onward and upward I say!  May the road always rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back and may all PR/MarCom people be in Heaven a half-hour before the Devil knows we’re dead!

P.S.  Resumes and references are available upon request. By the way, I’m going back to sleep now as it is 3:20 am.  I’ll be posting this on FB and other sites at 11 am, 3 pm and 8 pm today based on the following research that I cut and pasted:  “Here are some of the big takeaways: The three biggest usage spikes tend to occur on weekdays at 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. ET. The biggest spike occurs at 3:00 p.m. ET on weekdays. Weekday usage is pretty steady, however Wednesday at 3:00 pm ET is consistently the busiest period”

“The Batter Steps Up! He Swings! He Hits! And, It’s a…”

In some of my earlier articles that I’ve posted, I’ve mentioned a few of the pitfalls and uncontrollable, “acts of God” that can befall pr professionals, causing events or projects to either “crash and burn,” (see earlier articles on “New Year’s Eve…”  and “Bette Davis”), or be “rescued”  or resuscitated through last-minute, on-the-fly solutions (see “Toast N’ Eggs) that literally (most often) saved the day.  I’ve had quite a few mishaps  in my day and shall share one in this article.  It’s about a situation that occurred that required immediate, and decisive action on my part, in order to salvage an opportunity that otherwise may have been lost.

Early on in my career, working in pr was still much like living in an old black and white movie; like life was depicted on the show “Mad Men.”  I found myself in a situation in which I was thrust in front of a network news camera and forced (by the situation and myself) into being a spokesperson, but I’ll get to that in a minute or so.

The agency I worked at, represented the trade association for the candy and chocolate manufacturers in the US., a piece of business that I worked on.  The association had recently hired a new “number 2″ in their communications department; a young, affable, somewhat boisterous guy who had not yet begun drinking the” Kool-Aid,” and as such, was still open to having fun and keeping things loose.  I’ll call him Bob, for anonymity purposes.  Bob was of Irish descent and so was I, and we had a lot of other things in common that conspired/inspired to bring us closer together and cause us to develop a good friendship that went beyond the usual “client-agency rep” relationship.

We’d talk for long periods of time on the phone, trading jokes and gossip and generally just having a good time.  I learned he was recently married, was a former jock and liked to let his hair down, not unlike myself.  After about nine months or so, of talking and laughing over the phone, we were scheduled to attend the annual convention of the association he worked for and we were both looking forward to finally meeting in person so we could really cement the bond we had formed.

The convention was held in Los Angeles at the same time the Grammy awards show was happening.  I, having conducted several radio promotions for other clients with a top radio station in New York, managed to get us tickets to the Grammy’s.  This now required me getting a tux and renting a limo so we could go in style, while also further cementing the bond between us. (Anything for the good of the agency.)  The Grammy’s were great, we all had a good time, then more of a good time until it became very, very late and it was time to call it a night.

The following morning, we were all in the “war room” (the press room) in the convention center, when a producer and cameraman from CNN showed up and wanted to do an interview with someone from the trade association. I told my client, Bob, who was very reluctant to do it.  I said, “Bob, you’ve got to do it, it’s CNN!”  My client was quite hung-over and didn’t want to do the interview and begged me to do it instead.  I jumped at the idea of taking a bullet for my client… for the good of the association and the good of the agency I worked for.  And of course, I would do this because I knew that we had, for years, been trying to get the media to deliver a scripted message that we had been attempting to get across for years.  The message:  “Candy and chocolate can be a part of a healthy diet that’s based on variety and moderation.”

I smoothed my tie and shirt, tugged down on the sides and back of my suit jacket (just like they teach you in media training) and delivered my sound bite.  It didn’t matter what question I was asked (and I think there were a few), I would consistently reply, “What we’re saying here today is that candy and chocolate can be part of a healthy diet that’s based on variety and moderation.”

I need to back track just a bit here to say that my client’s boss had recently retired, and a new director of communications of the association had just taken over.  The new director had issued a(n) RFP and was looking to interview other pr firms to represent the association.  All the more reason for me to finally deliver that sacred message that we had, for years, being trying to deliver.  Which, as I already mentioned, I had already done.

The convention ended and I was given the green light to take a few comp days off, so a colleague of mine and I drove out to Palm Springs for some R&R.  While I was baking poolside in Palm Springs, I was contacted by my boss and told I needed to get back to New York ASAP to help present our pitch to the association’s new “number 1” the following day.  I was not supposed to be on that pitch, I mean, that’s why I was in Palm Springs relaxing, and not in NY.

But, that changed because of CNN, who at the time, was the first and only 24 hour cable news network.  CNN, the first and only 24 hour news network had run a story about the candy convention and used my sound bite after introducing me as a spokesperson for the association.  The only problem was, the anchor, Lou Waters (google him), while sitting behind the news desk,  looked directly into the camera after I delivered my sound bite (“Candy and chocolate can play a role in a healthy diet that’s based on variety and moderation”) and said with a smirk, “Yeah, riiiiiight!”  It was the sound bite heard ’round the world.  I literally got calls from people in the U.K, Belgium and I don’t remember where else.  And back then CNN repeated their half-hour newscast, well, every half-hour for 24 hours.

So, I raced to LAX, jumped on a “red-eye” flight and arrived in New York at around 6:30 am.  Went home, showered, changed, and met my boss at the airport and got on a shuttle flight to D.C.  An interesting thing happened on the flight that, while it has no real bearing on the story, I feel like telling anyway.  Directly across the aisle from my boss and I, were two young women who were going over their printed “deck” (we didn’t have “Power Point” or laptops back then) while discussing and rehearsing their “pitch” that they were going to give to the association we represented!  When the flight landed and they reached up to grab their stuff from the overhead bin, I could not help myself and asked, “So are you guys from Porter or Fleishman and what time are you slotted to pitch?”  All the color ran from their faces and they looked like they might become sick at any moment.  My boss was mortified and told me I shouldn’t have said anything, to which I replied, “Why?  Now they’re going to scramble and have to re-do their pitch because they know, that we know, what they’re planning on presenting.”

We made our pitch, proudly playing a tape of the CNN Newscast in which I had delivered the sound bite heard ’round the world, and we promptly lost the business.  I found out later that the new “number 1” at the association had a previous, long-term relationship with another agency, so I didn’t blame the loss on the interview I gave or the sound bite I delivered.  Either way, it was fun, memorable and a lot of people got a lot of good laughs out of it, especially Lou Waters, CNN’s most prominent and respected, first cable news network anchor, at the first and only all-news cable network of its time.

 

PR: A Noble Profession? You Decide.

 

I recently found myself having a conversation with someone about the profession of public relations and I felt the need to defend the industry, those who practice it and what we actually do for a living.  Given the lingering misconceptions about PR; that we are slick, manipulative people who exist only to further our clients’ point of view, best interests, and bottom lines, I was not surprised at having to defend and indeed, explain (for the millionth time) what pr actually is.  I have an Uncle who, for years, asked me questions like, “How’s the advertising business?” or said things like, “I saw your commercial for Cover Girl the other night.  Pretty clever; I bet that’ll sell a lot of make up.”

I don’t fault people for having misconceptions about the profession; after all, people have been bombarded their whole lives with negative messages about pr and pr people, through movies (Thank You for Smoking, Wag the Dog), books, second-hand stories and constant reinforcement from members of the media.  When I think about it, long before Trump starting accusing the media of creating “fake news,” our industry was constantly being called “purveyors of corporate, paid, fake, and manufactured news.”  These false characterizations set us up to be viewed as an industry ridden with deceitful, despicable, misleading and manipulative people who lack any decency and walk through life with a broken moral compass.

Now, more than ever, we’re under the scrutiny of media and consumer watchdog groups, and living in fear of being accused of misleading, misrepresenting, or just plain lying about a client’s product, position, or “real” motive behind something they are doing or taking an interest in; be it a charitable donation, supporting a social cause or taking an opinion or action on a trending, albeit controversial, topic.

It was only 14 years ago that a tactic used for decades by the pr industry came under attack by an aggressive and derogatory campaign by the media and by a media watchdog group called the Center for Media and Democracy.  The tactic, or tool, was called a “Video News Release,” commonly referred to as a “VNR.”  Similar to a written press release, a VNR was a scripted video story that was a fully produced, ready-for-air “news package,” funded by a corporation, lobbyist group, trade association, non-profit group, government institution or basically any group, or coalition who had a story or point of view they wanted told by television news reporters

The downfall of the VNR happened in 2004 when George W. Bush signed a new Medicare law designed to help the elderly with the costs of prescription medicines.  A VNR, promoting the new law and what it meant, and funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), was produced and distributed to TV newsrooms nationwide by a Washington, D.C.-based pr/communications firm who made the fatal mistake of using a former television reporter, Karen Ryan, to provide the voice-over for the segment, misleading viewers into thinking she was actually “reporting” the news segment.  To make matters worse, they identified her in the “suggested anchor intro” script, and had her close the piece with her voice saying, “In Washington, this is Karen Ryan reporting.”

The Center for Media and Democracy, jumped on this and conducted a poll among TV news directors asking if they ever used story ideas and video news releases generated, funded and provided by outside sources. They went on to also ask the news directors, if they did use them, did they “source” or “credit” the material to its originating sponsor. Of the seventy or so news directors they polled, the majority said “no, we don’t use those things.”  The media watchdog group then enlisted the services of a news monitoring company who provided them with actual newscasts that the seventy + TV news stations polled, had recently aired.  Nearly every station had indeed, used “outside” material (video, sound bites and prepared scripts) provided by communications companies working on behalf of corporate, or other clients.  Furthermore, the TV stations who used the material did not practice “transparency,” i.e., they did not “credit” or “source” the material, instead, “allowing” viewers to believe the news segment was produced by members of their favorite, local news team.

All hell broke loose; Federal Investigations into the HHS-sponsored VNR were launched, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) started dropping their hammer down (at some point even fining TV stations for lack of transparency), and critics were saying that the failure to clearly label and identify the use of VNRs and Audio News Releases (ANRs)… violates the letter and spirit of the Radio and Television News Directors Association’s (RTNDA) “Code of Ethics.”

Suddenly, almost overnight, an industry was decimated,  My company, RCM Broadcast Communications, along with many of my competitors who also produced and distributed VNRs to television news via satellite, were persona non grata among the news directors who, for so long, had welcomed, appreciated and even come to depend on, our “free and unrestricted” material that they otherwise would not have had.  Our VNRs were now viewed with suspicion and avoided like some kind of contagious disease that no one wanted to get caught with, lest they too may get investigated and fined!  Annual revenues of companies, like mine, who produced VNRs, plummeted; some companies went bankrupt, many jobs were lost and TV stations were no longer going near the once useful content that helped them to educate and enlighten their viewers about informative, sometimes valuable, corporate or institutional news announcements.  You know, those, silly, inconsequential things like new, break-through treatments for cancer, treating diabetes, and new products that help people live easier, healthier and more productive lives.

This brings me back to the original point I was making about what we, as an industry and as pr professionals really do.  Do we develop story ideas, publicity stunts, etc, to promote our clients?  Of course we do, that’s our job.  Is the goal of pr to sometimes help sell an idea or a product?  Of course it is.  What profession does not have the ultimate end goal of putting forth the image of someone or something in the best light possible, with the goal of generating goodwill, increased awareness or greater sales?  Are the Disney employees who say “Have a magical day!” to everyone they greet, engaging in a form of pr?  You betcha!  Same with the WalMart greeter, and the waiter or waitress who asks you “How’s everything with your food?”  All a part of an organizations “brand” and image and ALL a form of pr.

Is all pr self-serving and done for nefarious reasons?  Absolutely not!  In fact, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working on many campaigns over the years that, while increasing sales, and bottom lines for clients, had the dual purpose of also raising awareness of an issue or a disease that helped save lives.  Awareness campaigns for deadly, vaccine-preventable illnesses like influenza, bacterial meningitis, Hepatitis “B”, and Pertussis (Whooping Cough).  Campaigns that were funded by pharma  but included partnering with organizations like the CDC, the American Lung Association, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and others, whose altruistic motives are to help prevent unnecessary deaths , disabilities and hospitalizations.

So remember this the next time someone tries to “dis” our industry and our people.

Also remember this quote:  “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.” — Bill Gates.

Sometimes Good Times End and New Good Times Begin

 

I was recently asked why I decided to start my own business.  For those of you who don’t know, I’m Co-owner of a PR company, specializing in (the sub-specialty) of broadcast PR, which means we focus (or used to focus exclusively) on helping marketing partners to secure coverage within television and radio, but more recently through internet outlets like magazine dot.com sites.

When I wrote “…used to focus” above (in parentheses), I was referring to the fact that, over the years, our capabilities had evolved to include advertising (long before PR firms became MarCom’s and started executing social media advertising/sponsored/paid content).  I remember developing media plans, radio ad copy and conducting national radio buys for clients as far back as the mid-90’s.  Our company (I have a really great business partner named Marie, which is why I said “our company”) has also evolved to include developing and distributing social media content, Blogger media tours, live webcasts and all sorts of other good stuff.  With that said, we’re currently in the process of re-branding our company and will be getting back to you soon with all the details.

But let’s get back to the radio advertising stuff I was talking about.  Oh, yeah, the only difference between then and now was that we, and our clients, would refer to these radio buys as “radio promotions.”  We did this intentionally because if we called them ad buys, the “end client” would probably say, “Ad buy?  Why we would have our PR agency do an ad buy when we have an Ad Agency for that?”  So we called them radio promotions.  I really don’t consider what we did as being deceptive, because all of the material, or “copy,” was unbranded and public service in nature and, as such, sounded like PSAs.  In fact, oftentimes they were actual PSAs that we had produced and distributed through real PSA distribution channels, but also supported them with paid ad buys, to bump up the numbers.

It’s interesting that PR agencies (now MarComs) are pretty much doing the same thing with social media.  That is to say, creating “native advertising” with content that’s designed to look and feel as close to a third party’s site content (e.g., blog) as possible, and is given space via “pay-to-play”.  There is one caveat:  the “native ad” usually carries a bunch of warning labels around the content the marketer has created, for purposes of transparency.  Our radio PSA copy (and paid on-air ads) did not.  Hmmmm, I wonder if we could claim in our capabilities that we were pioneers, you know, one of the first PR shops to conduct paid advertising that sounded like and was, unbranded content? Probably not, as I’m pretty sure someone else was doing it before our time.

I did it again!  I started out talking about why I started my own business and drifted off topic.  So, back to the topic I intended to discuss:  “Why did I start my own business?”  Okay, so, I was working at Ogilvy & Mather PR which, at that time, consisted of four groups;  the Consumer Products Group, the Food Group, the Health & Medical Group and the Corporate/Public Affairs Group.  I was in the Consumer Products group at the time working on accounts that included distilled spirits, a confectioner’s trade association, and a nationally-recognized consumer battery manufacturer.

Ogilvy was considered a hot-bed of creativity at that time and had an unbelievably great corporate culture.  There were lots of after work outings (official and unofficial), lots of camaraderie, and everyone loved working there.

Then we merged with another agency.  It was called Adams & Rinehart and they focused entirely on Mergers & Acquisitions, IPOs, and some other really spooky stuff that we didn’t care to know about.  I remember at one point someone decided to charter a bus to bring all of us Ogilvy people to our soon-to-be new office space to meet our new colleagues.  We had beer and music on the bus and everyone was somewhat excited, but cautiously optimistic.

We got off the bus, went into the building, listened to a few people speaking about how this merger would be good for everyone, blah, blah, blah.  After the speeches, we mingled with our new colleagues, who all had slicked back hair, Brooks Brother’s suits, and wore suspenders and yellow “Power Ties.”  (Google it).  At one point I introduced myself to a guy from the “other” firm and asked what he did and he replied, “I do deals.”  He really said that.  I shit you not.  That’s what he said.  So, when he asked me what I did, I replied truthfully and said, “Booze, batteries and candy.”  It was the beginning of the end.

Our Ogilvy titles changed from Account Executive to Associate,  from Senior AE and Account Supervisor to Senior Associate, from Senior Account Supervisor and Managing Supervisor to Partner (I think?) and from SVP and EVP to Principal.  I mean, really?  This operation and the people working there acted as though they were working at some stodgy, old lower Manhattan law firm, with law firm titles and everything.

Everything changed almost overnight.  Our fun, edgy, creative shop imploded as it was swallowed up by a crusty old man (who shall remain nameless) and his twisted dream of how this new, improved agency should be.  Our president left to start her own agency, the CEO “left” and a few VPs “left” as well.

I was stuck in the wolves den, unprotected, and couldn’t get out of there quick enough.  The problem I had was that several of the people who had “left” got real nice going away “packages” that I wanted too, but couldn’t get because they wouldn’t make me “leave”.

So I came up with a plan.  I started putting on my best “interview” suit a few times a week and would leave for lunch with my portfolio in hand, announcing loudly to all of my  “good-old-days-Ogilvy friends, I’ll see ya in an hour or two, I have at interview at Porter Novelli!)  The next day it would be lunch with Cohn & Wolfe, then Fleishman-Hillard, then Burson….  you get the picture.

After a very short time I was summoned to my EVP’s (Oops, I mean Principal’s) office, where the new General Manager/President was already present, and they both explained to me how my obvious interview excursions were bad for morale, and offered me a nice package to “leave.”  I gladly took it. They asked if I would be “alright” and what my plans would entail, to which I replied, “I’m going to take the summer off and play golf.”

My future business partner Marie, had already left the company to go freelance as a media relations specialist and was, ironically, working freelance at the newly-christened Ogilvy, Adams & Rinehart, billing hourly and making a lot more than she ever made as an employee.  I had a few offers from other agencies on the table, but I had a bad taste in my mouth and felt like I needed to try something new, so I approached her with the idea of starting our own gig rather than us both going freelance and billing hourly.

We agreed to get a logo designed, print some letterhead and business cards.  She bought a computer and I bought a fax machine.  We decided we’d give it six months.  That was 24 years ago and I learned that being my own boss allowed me to have a lot of fun, gave me a great work/life balance and enabled me to play a hell of a lot of golf. I often wonder what ever happened to that guy who said, “I do deals.”

I like to imagine him sitting in a Federal Corrections Institution somewhere cold, doing time for insider trading or some other nefarious white-collar crimes.