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Adopt-A-Highway is one way to get some outdoor brand exposure and positive PR.

Adopt-A-Highway is one way to get some outdoor brand exposure and positive PR.

There are a lot of ways to contribute to the community and get some positive PR out of it. One that many of us see every day is the official sponsorship of a stretch of roadway under the local highway beautification program. However, this article gave me serious pause about government standards, slippery slopes, and whether every entity is a good candidate for this kind of citizenship initiative.

It’s going to take a lot more than litter clean-up for the Ku Klux Klan to overcome all the negatives associated with it. There’s some very bad history involving lynchings, cross burnings, and mob intimidation. A couple bag-fulls of fast food trash and tossed cigarette butts are not going to overcome people’s memories of racial hate crimes and white supremacy drives. I don’t care what kind of bleach you use in washing your sheets. Not all good PR is capable of overcoming really bad PR.

Interestingly enough, Adopt-A-Highway, the local PA arm of highway cleanup, Sponsor-A-Highway program, has a statement addressing the KKK story out of Georgia. They are obviously concerned about any associations with Grand Wizards, racial intimidation, and highway cleanup. Meanwhile, whenever I am stalled on the Schuylkill Expressway (which is often), I often find myself ruminating on the subject of who is and who isn’t a good sponsor of highway cleanup. For instance, I am often struck by the sign spotlighting Risque Video for their efforts. Of course, I am never stranded in traffic when scantily clad young ladies are out picking up trash on the side of the road. It is always burly looking guys in orange jumpsuits that I see.

Still, highway cleanup is a terrific cause and unless you are long associated with racial strife, most enterprises can benefit greatly from having their names on an outdoor sign heralding their support of this positive effort. It’s been a long time since a first lady focused the nation’s attention on our litter problem, but I will forever appreciate Lady Bird Johnson for helping to stem the trash tide.

Of course, the other association most people have is with this iconic TV commercial featuring a Native American who is profoundly saddened by the way his land is being mistreated.

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This week, after a very bad week of news in Atlantic City, I was reminded of the industry truism, “Good advertising can sell even a bad product. . .Once.” During a major new tourism campaign, “Do AC,” and the another launching the upscale Revel casino,

two Canadian women tourists were stabbed to death in broad daylight on the boardwalk in front of a casino. Thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of these ladies. It didn’t seem possible to make this horror show worse until news broke that the killer was a paranoid schizophrenic homeless woman and that the incident revealed a pattern of other towns around the state dropping their homeless, mentally ill, and prison parolees, a solution nicknamed “Greyhound Therapy.” Could you ask for worse PR in support of your paid advertising efforts?

But while the “Do AC” and the Revel casino campaigns represent good advertising, Atlantic City is NOT a bad product. My wife and I had our favorite wedding anniversary there, with dinner at The Borgata, followed by an amazing Stevie Wonder concert.  Spent portions of various shore vacations there. Annually attend at least one trade show at the Convention Center. Enjoyed dinner at the fabled Knife and Fork. Shopping at the Havana styled Quarter at the Tropicano. Despite this week’s bad press, Atlantic City still has many great things and places and events to offer. According to this account, Governor Christie has concluded the same and is even upping the ante by trying to push for sports betting. Since AC is often compared unfavorably to Las Vegas, this is one small way to level that playing field.

In spite of this horrendous week, Atlantic City will survive, perhaps in large part because of its romanticized past. You couldn’t be farther from the wholesomeness of the Miss America pageant right now; however, there is a mystique of long odds/down-on-the-luck/always the chance of a big win to AC.  Some of it is tied to organized crime, and much of it still ends badly, but hope always springs eternal.

In 1972, Bob Rafelson made “The King of Marvin Gardens” with Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, and Scatman Crothers. This very good scene between Nicholson and Dern turns “It’s Monopoly out there” on its head with “Go directly to jail.”

Louis Malle captured that spirit in the wonderful Burt Lancaster vehicle, Atlantic City. Here is a truly bad trailer that doesn’t do this exceptional movie justice. The first 10 minutes of the movie does a much better job of hooking viewers. Later in the film, there is a passing reference to Nucky Thompson.

Martin Scorsese and HBO elevated the gangster turned Prohibition politico into a terrific series, Boardwalk Empire. Maybe the folks who recently voted to keep Ocean City dry have been avid watchers and determined that nothing good can come from the business of alcohol, legal or illegal.

Of course, no one has ever captured the criminal and gambler sides of Atlantic City better than Bruce Springsteen in his ode to the town. “Put your makeup on. Fix your hair up pretty. And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”

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Latest Facebook movement is on behalf of kids with cancer.

Latest Facebook movement is on behalf of kids with cancer.

As 2012 starts, we are suffering from a dearth of leadership, and the larger the institution or company, the more likely that no one wants to step up and steer the ship. Latest example is Mattel, which has a social media storm developing outside its corporate walls and it is over something that could be turned into such a positive for all and on all levels. If you haven’t heard about the Beautiful and Bald Barbie Facebook page/group, here is a good primer on it. Essentially, someone came up with a brilliantly simple idea to support little girls going through cancer care and attendant hair loss (as well as those whose mothers are) — a Barbie, the universal doll symbol of beauty, minus all her signature golden locks. With every other possible celebrity and situational version of Barbie, it is amazing that Mattel did not think of this themselves, and therein lies the problem. So far, the official response to this Facebook movement is that official corporate policy is to not accept ideas from outside.

I suppose Mattel is grappling with a lot of legal questions as to who owns this idea and how are they compensated on future sales. Incredibly, this story adds another layer — that early last year Mattel custom-produced a bald Barbie for a single little girl undergoing chemo. So, there is even precedence here.

I have a unique perspective on this, being from the PR industry, and having had a child successfully treated for leukemia. A children’s onco ward can be a scary, lonely place and little gestures of caring and kindness go a long way. How can Mattel be so tone deaf — kids with cancer and a chance to do something socially redemptive — it seems like the easiest corporate green light ever.  Where is the downside?

No response to Bald Barbie movement on any Barbie or Mattel pages.

No response to Bald Barbie movement on any Barbie or Mattel pages.

Instead, with the Beautiful and Bald Barbie Facebook page now approaching 100,000 likes, and a lot of negative comments posted about Mattel, the official Mattel and Barbie Facebook pages, apps, and web site pages do not have any responses to this movement. However, you will find this bit of mission statement gobbledygook:

“”Leadership” at Mattel is the ability to develop and communicate a compelling picture of the future that inspires and motivates others to take action. Leaders at Mattel align themselves with Mattel’s core values, exhibit leadership competencies and drive for success in our business strategies. In this way, we will work to achieve our vision, “Creating the Future of Play.” Every day as Mattel’s 30,000 employees worldwide strive to realize that vision, our leadership team is guiding the way.”

Someone on this page at Mattel needs to stop talking about leadership, throw policy manuals out the window, and actually lead.  It’s the smart thing to do, the right thing to do, and the ONLY thing to do.

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Every business decision can be a way to burnish the brand or avoid nightmarish PR scenarios like this one.

Every business decision can be a way to burnish the brand or avoid nightmarish PR scenarios like this one.

Let’s admit it — as marketing and PR have gotten increasingly commoditized and digitized, C level executives have increasingly tuned out this profession. When high level branding and marketing decisions are made, it is often C level executives themselves who craft the messaging. For bread and butter stuff, too often inexperienced and sometimes entry level people are tasked to administrate programs.

This local news story that escalated to national attention is a perfect example of what can happen when corporate decision-makers limit their thinking to what is legal and to what will save them money in the short run. If you haven’t read this story yet, you need to and to draw your own conclusions. I don’t intend to rehash it; however, it is, as Oprah says, “a teachable moment.”

Now, their need for PR is immediate, but it is crisis PR, and frankly, there is no way to “spin” a story like this so the company and the decision-makers come out looking like reasonable people or good corporate citizens.

There may be a very significant backstory here that makes the decision to terminate this woman seem sensible and a practical course at the time. However, it will be forever drowned out by the ripple effect headlines. It will cost a lot more than this employee’s salary during this period to repair the damage to the company’s reputation. In retrospect, it might have even been forehead slapping commonsensical to retain her instead of taking the weasel course of having her “sign a form” before she left. “What were we thinking?” Light bulbs are probably going off now that perhaps a woman taking medical leave for such a selfless reason is the kind of employee any company would welcome back to work.

The truth is that the best companies recognize and appreciate that corporate branding, marketing, and PR is integral to every business decision made by every department, at every level— it is all about customer service, enterprise operations, employee relations, community involvement, industry thought leadership, etc. The littlest things can sometimes have the biggest impact. It is impossible to anticipate everything that might lead to negative headlines or bigger problems, but when experienced marketing and PR people are part of the day-to-day mix, they see things differently and can serve as a conscience and a buffer to what is strictly legal or totally bottom line driven. Without them, even seasoned business professionals can wind up looking very amateurish.

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Citizens Bank Park, Phils-Red Sox, game 3, view from behind home plate

Citizens Bank Park, Phils-Red Sox, game 3, view from behind home plate

I enjoy watching other sports. I love watching baseball. The unpredictability of so many possibilities on the field (and out of the park) resulting when pitcher, batter, and fielders square off via that small stitched ball make it endlessly enthralling. We are fortunate in my town (Philadelphia) to have arguably the best team in Major League Baseball right now. Definitely, the best starting pitching staff. It gives me bragging rights when trading jabs with my friends who are Yankees, Nats, and Mets fans respectively and my cousin from Atlanta, whose Braves are right behind the Phils in the standings and who e-mailed me at the start of this weekend series to say, “Hey, sincerely hope you guys win………………………………………the Wild Card.” That’s why I was giddy beyond words last week when my friend Steven called with an extra ticket to the 3rd game of the Red Sox series. Nothing like taking in a game at the ballpark and watching events and sports history unfold live.

That enthusiasm spills over to my family, too. My oldest son this morning and three of his friends are trying (so far unsuccessfully) to find tickets for today’s Phils-Braves game on StubHub and eBay. And my youngest had one of our greatest father-daughter bonding memories last fall when I took her to the Phils-Giants NLCS playoff game for her birthday. We sat in the last two rows of centerfield among a section of mostly guys in their twenties who divided their time between drinking beer and high-fiving her after every Phillies hit.

You can’t get more All-American, wholesome, fan-friendly entertainment than Major League Baseball, which is why I can’t get what happened on Thursday at the Texas Rangers game out of my head (and I haven’t even seen the endlessly played video nor do I care to). Drive-time radio talk show host Chris Stigall first brought the incident, and the troubling ethics of news stations constantly replaying the sad footage, to my attention on my way to work yesterday. The family has requested that MLB not post the video, which they haven’t, but news stations are still airing it.

Today’s account in the Inquirer was hard to read. A father, Shannon Stone, who took his young son Cooper to the park in the hope of snagging a ball, fell over a railing, as Cooper watched in horror, upon losing his balance when snagging a ball tossed by the boy’s idol AL MVP Josh Hamilton. Shannon plunged 20 feet onto concrete, then died a short time later at the hospital. Shannon was a firefighter just looking to fulfill a dream for his son. A sadder script, a modern-day Shakespeare could not write.

The zero risk tolerance crowd will soon descend. However, the stadium’s railings met and exceeded Arlington’s building code (26 inches height are required, the Rangers’ park had 33 inches). Major League Baseball leaves safety issues to each club, but a review is promised.

The Rangers as an organization are reeling. Their President, and one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Nolan Ryan, said “We’ll do whatever we have to do to make this stadium as safe as we possibly can for our fans.”

From a PR perspective, it sounds like the Rangers and MLB are saying and doing all the right things in response. But unfortunately, some things cannot be made better with words or deeds. It is very hard to fathom how a moment so wonderful and can be transformed into something so tragic and unfixable. A 6-year-old boy and the baseball player he idolized are linked together forever — both watched in helpless horror as the father suffered that fatal fall.

A different troubling saga is played out in the current and excellent documentary, “Steve Bartman: Catching Hell” about the infamous Chicago Cubs fan forever scapegoated for costing his team the 2003 NLCS over his “interference” with a foul ball that Moises Alou was about to snag for the final out against the Marlins in game 6. It has cost Bartman his life in a very different way, driving him underground a la the witness protection program.

Both these stories have made me question the value of chasing down professional sports immortality in the form of a baseball lofted into the stands. How has the national pastime suddenly become more risky than running with the bulls at Pamplona? No easy answers here. Just immediate thoughts and prayers to the Stone family, Josh Hamilton, and the Rangers organization, and belated ones to the unfairly maligned Mr. Bartman.

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