Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Babies, Breakfast and Brevity

What a couple of days in LA and the country.

First we find our dear friends and public relations masters Joann Killeen and Michael Furtney hired to represent the mother who had eight babies and facing intense scrutiny for having fertility treatments. Joann and Mike are seasoned pros and know how to treat this one with the highest ethical standards. Joann is the former leader of the Public Relations Society of America and Mike has represented many large national and international companies. Both are Accredited in Public Relations and are PRSA Fellows, significant achievements that distinguish their skill, expertise and professional ethics. In addition, they are professors at Los Angeles area universities. If we're lucky, we may get to hear more about Joann's and Mike's handling of this story in November at the international conference of PRSA.

What the news media and others often forget is that there are other sides to the story. The poor mother has not had the chance to speak, but plenty of others have taken their shots at her. So, it is entirely logical for this family to bring on board seasoned communicators who can help bring some balance to the discussions.

This drama unfolded at the same time the Los Angeles Times announced further layoffs and a consolidation of its section. Receiving the most attention was the elimination of the separate California section, which used to be the "local" and "Metro" section. Reaction has been loud across several sectors.

And, today, Feb. 3, 2009, we saw a great public relations effort unfold with the added potential of capturing a telling glimpse into the state of our country. I speak, of course, about the "Grand Slam" free breakfast giveaway at Denny's. Like many of us, I ventured out in the morning hours to take advantage of a free breakfast. With an ample supply of milk and Honey Nut Cheerios at home, I ventured out mostly because I was curious.

What would I find?

As I guessed and as news stations reported this evening, there were long lines across the country. All day long. Long lines.

But there was more to the story.

These were not folks who liked pancakes, sausage and eggs over-easy delivered to them in minutes with a smile, and free coffee refills. No. The majority of people I saw and spoke to were in need of a break. In well-worn clothes and tattered shoes, they resembled some of the folks I come across at homeless shelters and food pantries. They are surviving on the edge. Barely employed or recently laid off. A free meal meant they could extend by a day their measly offerings at home.

So, here we were. A great opportunity for some enterprising city desk editor or assignment editor at a local TV station to capture a great story. An incredible human interest story. But for reasons that escape me, the story came and went with barely a notice.

Was it because news editors didn't want to give a free promotion to Denny's? Well, that's silly when you consider the steady flow of features we read and see of actors promoting their next movie. Or, as I suspect, have we lost so many well-trained, veteran newsmen and newswomen to budget cuts that this story simply wasn't on anyone's radar?

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