Monday, August 23, 2010

August 23, The Week

The national and international public relations scenes are busy. Pros are scrambling more and morewith crisis projects than product announcements. From tainted eggs, to a tainted cyclist, to the economy to reviving off-shore drilling to international work, like helping a company with a rash of suicides.

This sort of work is a blessing because of so many projects being shelved.

In California, the world seems to revolve around electronics (all things Silicon Valley), energy, politics, unemployment and going back to the school. Look behind the headlines and you'll find teams of PR pros hard at work on these subjects.

The biggest story in the works is the economy. Look for a rash of stories being developed and pursued this week and next about back-to-school sales as any sign of hope for our economy. Followed by news of layoffs and store closings. Message points are being crafted now to demonstrate the strength of chain retailers - in spite of the gloom. Can Christmas be saved as the ships begin to land in the LA and Long Beach harbors with goods from China?

Meanwhile, PR pros are doing their best to keep the "home energy" story in the news. Somewhere, there is a belief that consumers have the ability to buy or install more efficient devices. What? Not throw away my money on an iPad or new cell phone?! Watch for unique campaigns in the coming weeks to convince consumers to buy energy efficient washers, refrigerators and similar consumer goods. What? You haven't noticed these items being pushed into the main aisles at Lowe's and Home Depot?

Cities, businesses and utilities are required to buy more "green" energy. As the City of Los Angeles scrambles for cash to develop more wind and solar projects it will own, it will be forced to rely on buying green power from existing sources. Case in point is today's announcement about a nearly half-billion-dollar debt sale to "pre-purchase" wind energy from ...Washington. What happened to all the wind farms and solar projects in the Southern California desert?

Mid-term elections are keeping many communicators busy across the country. In CA, the final push begins for the multiple ballot measures and our two big races - Governor and Senator. Public affairs pros are putting the final touches to the annual post-Labor Day surge. Get out your goggles and rain coats, the mudslinging will reach hurricane strength.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A good person

One hopes the memories don't fade quickly.

A capacity crowd jammed the chapel at Forest Lawn in Glendale last Friday (Aug. 13) to pay their final respects to Lynne Doll, the president and partner of The Rogers Group.

Aside from the shock of her early passing - she was only 48 - it became clear to the audience that Lynne had "left her hand print on the hearts of everyone she met" (as one speaker noted).

Aside from her incredible achievements as a public relations executive, it became clear that Lynne was a dedicated and loving mother and wife, sister, daughter and more. As I and others know by being within her presence over the years, Lynne made everyone feel special, like you were a good friend, your suggestions and ideas were to be treated with respect and dignity and the time to live is for today.

It became very clear that Lynne packed two normal lives into one. She just had that much drive and zest for life. And, for that, there was a large turnout.

As many of us commented afterward, the mark of a good life is how many people turn out at your funeral. Hers was an envious one for all the right reasons.

Aug. 16 Week Ahead

It's back to school for many. And, with Labor Day approaching, we're just a few weeks away from California's final big election push.

So, let's look at one upcoming story important to public relations professionals.

Land development
California has received much attention over a November ballot measure to suspend a state law requiring reductions in greenhouse gases. Backers of Proposition 23 argue that it doesn't make sense to force companies and institutions to spend large sums of money on greenhouse gas reductions in a bad economy. The state ballot measure, if passed, would suspend "AB 32" until unemployment rates drop to 5.5 percent. (The current jobless rate is more than 12 percent).

However, another state law is on the books, not subject to a "recall" ballot initiative and is on its way to make life more challenging for cities and builders. "SB 375" is designed to "influence" local governments in planning decisions to reduce urban sprawl and encourage more "transit friendly" cities. To read more about the impacts of this law, read a recent Riverside Press-Enterprise story.

While the next few weeks of attention will be on the state ballot measure to suspend one greenhouse gas law, perhaps the more far-reaching law is proceeding.

After water, greenhouse gases are the biggest environmental story in CA. The state will continue to grow, so laws are being written to make communities more sustainable. In general, this means reducing commute times and improving public transportation to reduce air pollution.

Public affairs professionals, mostly those within the building industry, are doing their best to influence the design and implementation of the rules and "targets" surrounding SB 375. The draft plan covers 18 metropolitan areas. The CA Air Resources Board will consider these rules at a Sept. 23 meeting. As you read this, many public affairs officials in the Golden State are busy drafting comments for their clients.

For now, the immediate impact of these proposed rules is with the multi-million-dollar building industry. However, other industries and organizations are gearing up to help cities comply. These will include the public transportation sector, energy devices and others. In short, a lot of industries and private businesses that have or will need public relations help.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The lawyer in me

As a journalist, I think I had to sign a pledge to hate attorneys.

Most were always in the way, blocking the path from the information I wanted for a story. A few I could work with and get off-the-record background.

Yet, I understood attorneys had a role to play: To protect their client.

As I transitioned into public relations, "protecting the client" was among my new duties, too.

I soon learned many of the tactics used by attorneys also worked well in public relations. (Please, don't tell them I said this).

Among these lessons that came in handy were:
  • Short statements. We call this: "Staying on Message." For attorneys, the less "information" out there, the less room for interpretation and innuendo. This is especially helpful in crisis communication situations. If we put out too much detail too soon, we're giving the story more life than it needs at the moment.

  • Investigation. Some of the best defense attorneys and prosecutors I know (I covered many high-profile criminal cases) and some great detectives always assume nothing. Usually, the first story changes as facts are gathered and the investigation proceeds. What may appear to be solid "facts" invariably change.

These two lessons were in play this week for JetBlue and their former flight attendant who received a lot of attention for his use of multiple "f" bombs and an emergency chute to resign.

JetBlue didn't say much right away. First statement was standard. Then they had a little fun with their blog and reminded everyone that the rest of their flight attendants really do care about customer service, passengers, safety, etc. They gave out $100 vouchers to the passengers.

The reason they didn't want to say much is that investigations can turn up some interesting details. And, investigations take time. Especially, when police and others need to interview passengers, collect evidence ($25,000 to replace a chute), etc. And, to find out more about Steve the flight attendant.

And, for JetBlue, there was an unexpected bonus: A surge of sympathy for all flight attendants and the crap they have to put up with.

So, now, it seems, after a little more investigating.... the pendulum is swinging against our working class hero. The lovable image, the thousands of Facebook friends, the sympathy from others who feel just the same, the "Free Steve" t-shirts and a nation who seemed to embrace this guy....may soon fade as we begin to hear reports that our former flight attendant may not be so much a victim as a perpetrator. Heck, even Donald Trump is calling this guy a lousy employee and raises a great question about whether we all could count on a potential unstable flight attendant in an emergency.

Time will tell if he remains a folk hero. Much of this depends, I reason, on whether he makes it on Leno, Letterman or one of the morning TV news shows. And, how soon he does this. The longer he waits, the better his 15 seconds of fame disappear.

The PR community is going nuts on this one, with every expert offering their advice. If I were JetBlue, I would read these blogs and comments on trade articles - because it's all free. Some great ideas are out there -- just for (Hey folks, stop giving away this stuff).

From a corporate perspective, JetBlue has been handling this perfectly. They said little and let investigations take their course. And, guess what, the story is changing.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Politically correct political donations

As we PR veterans know all too well, one act can undo years of good work.

Following negative media coverage and store protests, Target's CEO last week apologized to employees for a $150,000 donation to a Minnesota organization that supported a Republican candidate for governor, who happened to endorse a constitutional amendment supporting "traditional marriage."

It is pretty clear Target's intentions were narrowly focused on supporting an organization that was pro-business. The challenge for any major, highly visible corporation is, therefore, to conduct the due diligence and secure the agreements that ensure the organization being supported with such a large check doesn't venture too far off the farm.

A company can't expect the organization receiving the funds to automatically recognize all parameters of how the donation is to be used, or evaluate all the repercussions of the organization's actions. An organization may think it is acting responsibility, but it's up to the company to explain every last detail and practically direct the organization's political movements.

The Wall Street Journal on Friday covered the dangers of new campaign finance rules for companies. Target seems to be the first test case, although it would seem a company the size of Target would have known better.

Although Target clearly states (on its web site, primarily) the intentions of political contributions, the rules of the game work differently. It's impossible for a company to donate to a cause or candidate and add "we only support 'this' side/part of the candidate." A candidate's "total" platform is taken into consideration for any donation.

Thus, Target soon was placed on the mantel of supporting an anti-gay candidate for the donation to a pro-business organization, which then happened to endorse a GOP candidate who....

The single donation has nearly wiped out Target's previous stellar reputation as being an LGBT-supportive employer.
So, what does this all mean?
Well, I'm sure over the next few days, you'll hear all sorts of suggestions for PR, such as:
  • Target should ask for its donation back.
  • Target should reinforce its ties to gay organizations.
  • Target should support a pro-gay candidate.
  • Target should embark on a subtle gay outreach advertising effort (following the first two efforts).
Fact is, Target shouldn't change too much. The much-publicized boycott won't work, they never do. So, there is no need to over-react. The apology letter should work, for now. And, I'll bet my next paycheck, Target is working this behind the scenes with all its existing contacts in the established (read: moderate) gay community to maintain dialogue.
Plus, Target has invested heavily over the past 5+ years in corporate social responsibility and being a progressive employer and buyer. This "bank" of goodwill is available and will eventually pay dividends in this latest detour.
An over-reaction by Target could do serious harm to the rest of goodwill bank. An over-reaction could make Target look like it's "scrambling": unorganized, afraid, doesn't know what it's doing, weak, etc.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Week Ahead: Aug. 9-13

New Feature

Starting today, PR in LA will post every weekend its best (ha!) predictions about a few, select anticipated events, news and other actions that public relations professionals should watch, run away from or will be unable to avoid because they are part of it. (Feel free to tell the editor what he's missing)

So, here goes:

Water in California
Monday, Aug. 9.
In an unprecedented event, the CA Legislature is expected to vote on bills to remove the $11 billion water bond from the November ballot. Opponents want to keep Prop. 18 on the ballot... so it can be defeated. Prop. 18 was shaping up to be another famous and expensive CA ballot battle, which meant good revenue news for a few public affairs agencies, video companies and advertising agencies. Organized labor was gearing up to defeat it, which meant the same good revenue news for those agencies on that side. This battle was growing. It even had DC-based groups getting into the act.

WHY IMPORTANT: Hundreds of local water agencies used the ballot measure - and the multiple news stories about "dire" water future - to ask customers to reduce water use. It's a lot easier to get people to act when water is in the news all the time. With the "buzz" gone, agencies must scramble to find new ways to catch the attention of their customers to keep them "water efficient." Plus, the ballot measure had loosely defined money for education and outreach programs, which could have meant contracts for PR/PA agencies for at least 5 years or longer. (Unless these funds get "lost" like relief aid to Haiti).

PREDICTION: Legislature will pull it from the ballot. Opponents will now gather themselves for less visible and more scientific-based battles, like the "Delta Stewardship Council" and water flow reports (Read: only the water geeks will follow). Water PR goes local and will be spotty, at best. Agencies would be smart to start meeting with local water utilities to plan for 2011 outreach plans, develop budgets and convince utility officials of the importance of "investing" in customer good will now for future rate hikes and, perhaps, a ballot measure in 2012.

Thursday, Aug. 12.
The city of Los Angeles is still limping along trying to shed its dependence on coal and natural gas as a source of power, and keep up its efforts to create more green energy production. The battle plan for this is the agency's "integrated resource plan," just released last month. No surprise: it's going to cost $3 billion or more to not only seek new, greener power, but to also maintain aging infrastructure (i.e. "reliability."). Translation: rate hikes.

WHY IMPORTANT: Public outreach is critical. The LADWP has been beaten up severely in the past for not doing enough to warn customers or get them engaged in the rate process. Add to this the battle between the City Council and LADWP over the last rate request. DWP has a new leader and how he handles this IRP and outreach effort will likely be highly scrutinized. (We hope someone notices). A kick-off workshop on Thursday, Aug. 12, should garner some news media coverage, unless another celebrity is thrown in jail.

PREDICTION: It's still a no-win situation for LADWP. The November CA ballot has Prop. 23, designed to remove aggressive greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts promoted by our governor. This battle is raising doubts about green mandates hurting economic recovery. Uncertainly over how hard to push for alternative energy sources, at least for the next few months, will make it extremely difficult for LADWP to promote a realistic energy plan to the public. And, the IRP is a complicated document to communicate. Plus, most utilities simply hold "workshops" (rather than aggressively promote them) to "comply" with outreach requirements. If Thursday's initial workshop gets a large turnout (public and media), then public opinion may turn toward LADWP's favor.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Services set for Lynne Doll

UPDATE: Services are now set for 2:30 p.m. Aug. 13
Here is the release from The Rogers Group about Lynne's passing. Services are set for Aug. 13.

Lynne Doll
Public Relations Industry and Community Leader Dies at 48

Lynne M. Doll, president of The Rogers Group and widely-respected leader in the public relations industry, died Aug. 3 of a stroke at Glendale Adventist Medical Center in California. She battled cancer for three years and was cancer-free at the time of her death. Lynne was 48.

For more than 25 years, Lynne was instrumental in expanding the breadth of The Rogers Group’s expertise and leading a series of high-profile and award-winning campaigns for major corporations, brands and government agencies.

A nationally recognized crisis communications expert, Lynne was known for her handling of tough challenges in public relations and risk management, and was sought out by top corporations for her counsel. Lynne also directed the agency’s public sector practice, serving as a key strategist for several major social marketing campaigns and leading the agency to win numerous awards and national accolades for public education campaigns in the areas of health, environment, education and early childhood development.

For her professional and community contributions, Lynne was recognized with several awards, including: “P.R. Professional of the Year” by the Public Relations Society of America’s Los Angeles chapter; Los Angeles Business Journal’s “Women Who Make A Difference,” for her commitment to non-profit organizations; and the “Distinguished Alumni Award” from California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

Of equal importance to Lynne was being a hands-on manager known and loved for her integrity, keen insights, and sharp wit. Under her leadership, TRG cultivated a working environment that values camaraderie and innovation along with a commitment to ongoing professional development, leading the company to be named one of the top agencies in the country to work for by The Holmes Report.

Lynne’s passion for community involvement and volunteerism was a driving force behind the development of the agency’s Community Involvement Program, which encourages staff to contribute time, talent and money to organizations in need, with support from TRG.

“Lynne was one of a kind, “said Ron Rogers, chairman of TRG. “For 25 years, I have treasured our friendship and our mutual trust, loyalty and business partnership. I have always admired her and will miss her beyond measure.”

Lynne served on the Boards of Directors for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and The DAISY Foundation. Previously, she served on the national and regional Boards of Directors for the National Conference for Community and Justice, an organization that fights bigotry and racism, as well as the Los Angeles Fire Department Community Advisory Committee and the Advisory Council for the president of CSUN. She was also past president of the Board of Trustees for The Walden School, a private elementary school in Pasadena, where she served on the Board for six years.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Lynne was married to her husband, David Lans, for 24 years. Her 13-year-old daughter Natalie carries on family traditions of philanthropy, culinary prowess and good humor. Lynne also is survived by her mother, Carol Doll, and three sisters.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Lynne’s name to Planned Parenthood Los Angeles ( and/or The DAISY Foundation (
Services will be held at Forest Lawn Glendale on Friday, Aug. 13 at 9 a.m.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Good One Leaves Us Too Soon

Lynne Doll was one of those rare individuals. Not only was she smart, quick, a proven leader and thoroughly knew her profession, she also possessed that rare quality of being a nice person.

I don't know any other way of describing her.

The business world is full of executives who've stomped on others on their way to the top, or found sport in humiliating others in public. Lynne was not in that category, not even close.

Don't get me wrong. She was no pushover. But, she never saw the need to degrade anyone or "position" herself as better than others to prove a point, excel or emerge the winner in a debate.

Lynne, who died suddenly last night (Aug.3), left us way too early. Hers is a devastating loss for many reasons.

She was among the first PR executives I encountered in my second career. She wasn't quite president and partner of The Rogers Group, but she was getting close. I was used to hard-nosed managers, having come from the newspaper world. I heard stories about similar managers and executives in the corporate and agency public relations world. As a rookie in the PR business, I expected to get criticized for mistakes or not having a complete strategy or idea to share.

So, I was braced for abuse, tough talk and more.

In my first job at an agency, my firm shared an account with Lynne's. My first experience with her was the same as my last - pleasant, easy to work with, encouraging ideas no matter how stupid. She appeared genuinely interested in you and what you had to say.

So, I responded in kind and a professional relationship ensued that has lasted nearly 18 years. As I got involved in other PR activities, including being on the board of the Public Relations Society of America/Los Angeles, I would find the occasion to call on Lynne - usually for a favor. She always answered my call, or returned it that same day. She wasn't upset or somehow concluded that I was taking advantage of her pleasant demeanor. Perhaps I was. But she didn't mind.

Her career as a public relations professional was marked by many successes, and giving back to her profession. So, it's no mystery why the PRSA/LA chapter honored her, when she was still executive vice president at Rogers, in 1999 as PR Professional of the Year.

A recent telling quote about Lynne's professional accomplishments was in this week's Los Angeles Business Journal interview with the guy who hired her. Ron Rogers said the best decision he made in his career was hiring Lynne.

We will miss you. And, I hope all who you touched will remember the lessons you left behind.

A true class act.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Just wait for it...

Tracking - and anticipating - public attitudes are fundamentals to public relations.

But, with quicker access to information via Google, Twitter and other online resources, are attitudes changing faster? And, if they are, is the conventional wisdom to "go with the flow" and adapt your strategies as soon as the shifts occur?

Or, do you take the "long view" and promote a steady, more constant message or program with the understanding (hope?) that opinions will eventually come back to the point where they started?

It's like that history lesson - do you win the battle but lose the war?

It's also like driving Los Angeles freeways. (OK, it's like war). You can hold steady at 65 mph - in a lane other than the "fast lane" -and let all the others whip by you at 80. If you've done this before, you know that eventually, you'll catch up with the speeders because traffic moves in groups. The "blockage" formed by the next "group" of motorists will cause the speeders to slow down and allow you to catch up - at your nice even pace of 65. You may have lost the temporary battle, but you won the war.

But if you drive in LA, it's hard not to speed when given the chance.

So, are we then "tempted" to speed up and change our PR habits because everyone around us is moving faster? Or, is the better action to create a message and stick with it through the rough spots, knowing the war will be won?

Check out what has happened in cities around California when it comes to using treated wastewater and turning it into safe drinking water.

Almost 10 years ago, this idea was dead in the water (sorry for the pun). A Los Angeles City Council candidate (he didn't win) wanted an edge (publicity grab?) and coined the phrase "toilet to tap" in his singular campaign platform to block a proposed wastewater treatment experiment by the city. Although the science backed the city's idea and state regulations would prevent any direct use of treated wastewater in the city's water system, "Toilet to Tap" did the trick. It was easy to say. The phrase created an ugly image and, bam, the idea was killed. The city was ill prepared for the public anger created by a simple phrase, and never got the chance to recover from the initial blows.

But rather than totally abandon the concept, other public agencies stuck to their guns and proceeded with the same plan. The science and the process were improving. And, it also helped that California's water future was becoming more and more dire.

The first agency to succeed in changing public opinion on "treated wastewater" as a drinking water solution was the Orange County Water District.

This summer, it was the City of San Diego's turn to demonstrate how a proposed water supply solution, bolstered by a consistent message and unwavering strategy, allowed an idea to reach its proper destination.

As chronicled by a San Diego Union Tribune writer, not only was there no public opposition to the decision to proceed with a "toilet to tap" plant, the city received support from some very notable and high-powered environmental organizations, among others.

For sure, success for Orange County and San Diego was attributed to other important public relations tactics - primarily in coalition building and, in the case of Orange County, significant public outreach. And, for sure, they had the benefit of evaluating past failures and making adjustments.

More importantly, in my opinion, was that public agencies did not change course for the early, easy wins. Even with the speed of information at supersonic levels over the Internet, and the risk of public opinion getting out of control because a few well-placed antagonistic comments, these public agencies demonstrated the value of holding onto the long view.

Does this mean you can't make adjustments? Of course not. But as these examples have proven, public opinion can shift back to your favor - if you allow it.

Presidential perspectives and an update

If you missed it, the recent PRSA/Los Angeles presentation of "Presidential Perspectives" with four current or past White House communications officials was a smashing success. For those of you who did not plunk down some money and hoped to see it on a video somewhere soon...the wait is going to be a little longer.

My hope is that this one event did demonstrate to non-PRSA members the value of being a member. If the rare insights into communicating from an international platform were not enough, then consider the chance to mingle with many "heavyweights" in the PR industry in the prime networking hour before the start of the program.

Meanwhile, one of the panelists is moving on. Camille Johnston is leaving the White House to become Siemens Vice President of Corporate Affairs. The release is here. It's a great move for Siemens, which is moving its corporate headquarters to Washington, D.C. Glad we caught her when we did for our panel.

The best question posed to me that night was: "Is this an annual event?" Whew! It was a miracle pulling this one together, but I'd be open to an annual event of this magnitude. Send me your ideas to