Making an ...

Are You Buying What the Suits are Selling?

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The perception of ESPN and the UFC may vary by audience, but there’s no denying they’re both using the same playbook when it comes to staying on top of the news cycle and the social media/network activity that swirls around whatever story is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame. In the span of a few days, both the ‘worldwide leader’ and the dominant promotion in mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting pounced the same way to extend publicity opportunities that were either wholly fabricated or the obvious result of their own actions.

youre-welcome-lebronDan LeBatard*, a Miami-based host of ESPN television and radio shows, was the brains behind a stunt that successfully attached itself to LeBron James‘ coattails, giving life to the faux controversy of the NBA superstar not publicly thanking his former home (and, presumably, its fans) for the success he had four years after taking his talents to South Beach.

Trolling for reaction is a tool often used to generate what used to be called “water cooler conversation” (back when people actually spoke directly to each other), so LeBatard shouldn’t be faulted for feeding our pop culture-obsessed society what it likes to eat. But that’s exactly what the network did (wink wink) by announcing it was suspending its employee two days for actions that didn’t properly “reflect ESPN’s standards and brand.” Not coincidentally, their manufactured outrage helped prolong the story’s lifespan and take it to audiences far beyond those who follow the NBA or its teams in South Florida and Ohio.

Meanwhile, at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it’s time to promote (read: sell tickets and pay per view buys) UFC 178, which is being headlined by a championship bout between Jon “Bones” Jones and Daniel Cormier. To do this, the promotion sets up a photo op known as the ‘stare down,’ where the two fighters literally get nose to nose while cameras record and breathless media pontificate about the intensity of the encounter. jones-cormierAs you can probably guess, sometimes one or both of the combatants take offense with the actions of the other and, being fighters, respond in a physical way, which is what happened between Jones and Cormier. The ensuing melee spilled off the makeshift stage, knocking over banners and chairs to produce video that would make even Don King or the WWE proud.

Nothing sells in combat sports like the belief that real hatred exists between fighters and the UFC has marketed that, whenever possible, since its earliest days. That’s why their reaction following the incident — that Jones and Cormier violated the organization’s code of conduct (no fighting unless we’re getting paid, the code must state) and that they were “prepared to levy sanctions to reinforce the appropriate behavior” — is nothing more than an attempt to raise awareness of the bad blood between the two while customers are deciding whether to spend on UFC 178.

By feeding media’s need for content and providing online audiences the materials to post, share, tweet, and comment on, the two sports-focused entities bought themselves at least another ’15 minutes’ that will be repaid many times over in larger audiences and advertiser/sponsor revenue.

An effective promotional strategy to be sure, if not the most honest. LeBatard, for his part, didn’t overplay the charade like his employer did. “This is a publicity stunt disguised as a movement. Please don’t tell anyone there is no actual movement.”

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 * Full disclosure: I’ve known and worked with Dan LeBatard since the late 1980s, when he was a Miami Herald reporter and I was producing shows at WQAM, South Florida’s first all-sports radio station.   


Crisis? What Crisis?

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I don’t know “Anne,” a woman who works at the school my children attend, but I’m pretty sure today was the worst day of her professional career. She’ll feel even worse when she learns her attempt to remedy an unfortunate situation made things even worse.

Anne has been corresponding with a recruiter from a school district in another state about job opportunities and they made plans to discuss things on the phone later today. How do I know this? I, and presumably all the other parents, were blind copied on the (very) personal email sent from her work account.

Even if you’ve never made that particular email faux pas, most of us have unintentionally replied to all or criticized a boss without realizing he or she was still on the thread. That leads to feelings of panic (rush to the outbox), frustration (where’s the damn unsend button?!), and overwhelming nausea that comes not only from knowing you screwed up, BIG TIME, but also the very real possibility of vomiting on the keyboard. 

I share Anne’s pain not in any attempt to shame her publicly, but for the lesson she provides to crisis communications. While the first email was regrettable, her decision to send another note to the same database, this time asking us to disregard the previous message, was a mistake.

work embarassmentWhile well-meaning, Anne’s approach raised awareness of a situation that many weren’t even aware had happened. It’s very possible they would have missed the original email, maybe wouldn’t have opened it (the subject line was “opportunities with the school district”), or, if they had, not paid much attention to the correspondence. Especially if, like me, they had no idea who Anne was.

One of the things crisis pros hang their hat on is the belief that once a mistake is made, it’s important to quickly address the situation. Acknowledge responsibility, apologize to those hurt by your actions, and share how the mistake won’t be repeated is pretty much Crisis 101.

There are times, however, when that thinking has to be tempered with a willingness to let the dust settle. Taking a step back and assessing what tangible damage has been done, and not basing strategy on paranoid assumptions, is key. If you’ve got a very public media crisis on your hands, by all means get ahead of the story with your follow-up and do what you can to take control of the narrative. In contrast, Anne’s hasty decision led to more people seeing, and understanding, her screw-up than would have otherwise. Human nature being what it is, you can be sure those who saw her second note, and didn’t have any sense of why it was necessary, immediately went looking for what Anne was so insistent be disregarded.

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A Gamble that Paid Off

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Today is Todd Defren‘s birthday and I feel I should get him a present, even though I’ve never met the CEO of Shift Communications in person.


More than five years ago, Todd gave me one of life’s precious gifts, inspiration, with this post on his PR-squared blog. At the time, I was physically present but mentally wandering from a public relations agency job I’d worked for more than a decade. Half in a career that paid the bills and halfway (in my mind) toward the life I wanted to create.

I was at the proverbial fork-in-the-road, a point where fear and insecurity often overtake hopes and dreams. Then Todd’s words in “Your Next Gamble” struck me like a lightning bolt:

“If a rising tide is coming, are you in the right boat? Are you in the boat that will sail you on your way to your greatest achievement? Or are you in a dead-end job, living hand-to-mouth, hoping to simply stay afloat?”

It was a moment of epiphany, and the motivation to transform desire into action. It’s also why a yellowing copy of the post continues to occupy a prominent place in the Impact Players office to this day.

Defren words

“Regret is a nightmare worse than failure,” Todd wrote. “Life is short. The time is now. Take your next gamble, while you can!”

Happy birthday, Todd, and thanks for the words of wisdom.

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Adapt or Die (and that’s no joke)

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Most companies do a good job identifying their target audience(s) but often drop the (marketing) ball when it comes to the all-important next step: delivering the message. They make the mistake of communicating in a way that is most comfortable or convenient to them (I’m looking at you, email blast) instead of the way recipients prefer to receive information. Obviously, a message that never reaches its intended audience has no chance of influencing behavior.

A reminder of the importance of marrying audience/message/delivery method recently came from an unexpected source, the President of the United States. Barack Obama may be the leader of the free world, but he’s also a politician whose agenda includes making young people aware of the Affordable Care Act and the availability of health insurance. Knowing this particular audience needed to be reached in a different way than their parents, the POTUS utilized a guest spot on the Funny or Die comedy series “Between Two Ferns” to make his pitch. (You can see the interview with Zach Galafianakis here).   


Instead of getting hung up on whether a spoof interview on the Internet was beneath “presidential” standards, Obama delivered his words in a forum his target audience viewed favorably. The result? became the number one source of referrals for, the Affordable Care Act’s official website.

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He Left a Trail

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Next month will be a year since I lost a close friend and business mentor in a tragic accident. Jeff Bolton left behind a wife, two kids, parents, a brother, and more people impacted by his short life than can be counted. I know because I’m one of them.

An accountant by trade, entrepreneur in mind, and philanthropist at heart, Jeff’s true gift was the ability to read people, understand what mattered to them, and to see the excellence (one of his favorite words) they could bring to a situation. He relished being the connector, the guy who understood your business, understood mine, and made the introduction that moved agendas forward. Didn’t matter if it was personal or business because, to him, it was all the same . . . friends did business and business was where your friends were.

In the time before his passing and certainly since, I’ve tried to run my public relations firm with his principles in mind. Surround yourself with those you care about, make strategic connections among those you believe in, and always be helpful, whether there’s a financial reason to do so or not. Oh, and have fun. Always have fun.

(photo by Shelley Arminio)

Whenever someone dies young, it’s natural to lament about how much more they could have accomplished with more time. In this case, though, I’ve come to realize that Jeff’s purpose was to inspire, nurture, and teach. He just did it in half the time it would have taken others.

Rest in peace, my brother, and thanks for leading the way.

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(If you are interested in reading more about Jeff and his greatest accomplishment, helping save his son’s life, read this feature by Ethan Skolnick).  


Lessons Learned from a 70-Year-Old Bicycle Shop

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Businesses, and the marketers that represent them, are always looking for the next big thing, which, in today’s social media-focused world, is something that goes viral. And, while it will likely deliver lots of likes, re-tweets, and website hits, 15 minutes of Internet fame may or may not lead to customer loyalty and sales.

Long-term success is more an old-fashioned concept, built on principles that matter in the real world. Do the job right the first time, at a fair price, while making the customer experience a positive one.

Lee’s Locksmith & Bicycle Shop is about as old school as it gets, but I’d walk barefoot across broken glass before taking my bikes anywhere else to be repaired. Why? They’ve made a habit of fixing whatever mechanical problem I have, while I wait, for less than I expect it to cost. They also recognize (by the cycling clothes I’m usually wearing) that I want to get back on the road, so they don’t try to sell me a new bike, gear, or accessories, even though those are things that would bring them higher profits.

Lee’s has been in business in my community for 70 years. Do you think twerking will have the same shelf life?

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How Delta (and others) Miss the Boat

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I flew on Delta Airlines recently. The flights were on time, the service was fine, and I appreciated the mini-pretzels as an option to peanuts. All in all, as air travel goes, a pleasant experience.

Delta, however, will never know I’m a satisfied customer. While they did follow-up via email asking me to participate in an online survey, the link took me to questions asking for feedback on the ‘condition/functionality of the (airplane’s) cabin.’ (Actual question: “How would you rate the condition of the SIDEWALLS?”).

Missing: Motivation

Regardless of the survey content, Delta, like many businesses that should know better, didn’t provide any incentive to encourage the recipient to participate. They want my time, attention, and perspective for their own purposes, but never answered the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question every audience being asked to do something wonders.

what's in it for me

Are we in this together?

In your business interactions, think less about what you want/need and more on what will inspire your target audience to act. Delta knows I’m in its SkyMiles frequent flyer program, so why not offer some token amount of miles in exchange for my survey answers? That wouldn’t guarantee a 100% response, but it would certainly generate more clicks on the link than Delta’s one-sided request for free, market research.

By the way, the sidewalls kept the outside air from entering the cabin as we flew, so I give them an enthusiastic thumbs up.

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Perspective 101

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I’ve been asked to write about ‘what Make-A-Wish Southern Florida means to me,’ but I’d rather share what this wonderful organization and its families have taught me.

While I’m (a little) sorry about not following directions, the perspective gained through the eyes of a little girl is what has stayed with me, nearly a dozen years after she and I met on Fort Lauderdale beach.

Natalie was from Texas and had been through a lifetime of surgeries, even though she was only eight at the time. Her favorite movie was “Titanic” and she had spent much of her recovery time(s) dreaming about the ocean, which she had never seen in “real life.” When Make-A-Wish Foundation volunteers presented the young girl a world full of wish possibilities, she said she’d be happy with a bologna sandwich and green grapes, as long as the food came with an ocean view.

In the movies, Natalie’s long-awaited meeting with the Atlantic would be accompanied by a sunshine-filled chamber of commerce day, but this day was overcast, with wind blowing hard enough that you could feel the sand hitting your skin. While the adults fretted over the weather and worried that it would ruin the wish experience, I noticed that Natalie had a look of pure contentment as she munched on her picnic lunch and gazed at the waves crashing on the shoreline. It was apparently as beautiful as she’d imagined and a little wind wasn’t going to ruin the moment she had waited so patiently for.

I felt small that day, not because I was standing next to a large ocean, but because a sick child was able to see what the healthy adult was overlooking. Nature is its own wonder, happiness comes from within, it’s important to appreciate special moments, everyday life can be beautiful, and if a bologna sandwich is what you like, don’t ask for filet mignon just because you can.

Thanks, Natalie, and Make-A-Wish, for helping me see what’s really important.

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(This post was originally written for Make-A-Wish Southern Florida’s blog.  The nonprofit organization is an Impact Players client).